Wednesday, October 24, 2012

McGovern and Means, RIP

     Two men who were politically significant in South Dakota in the 1970s have just passed away.  George McGovern was 90; Russell Means was 72.

     Each was considered to be operating from the left side of the left-right paradigm.  Which I suppose they were:  you can't argue with the left-right paradigm, can you?  (But you can change it, for yourself.)

     Senator McGovern's campaign for the presidency in 1972 was coincident with the first presidential election in which I could vote.  And I, quite ignorantly and conventionally, voted for his opponent that year.  I clearly remember walking out of the voting booth, with a voice inside me saying that I had wasted my vote, my first one, on the wrong, winning ticket.  I remember being surprised; I had not expected that point of view.

     It took seven years for me to understand the significance of that inner voice, and I learned it from a fellow teacher.  He was an industrial-arts teacher (and self-taught furniture craftsman), and he and his wife had spent several years teaching on an Indian reservation in South Dakota.  He was firmly happy that he had voted for McGovern in 1972.  (Again I was surprised.  I knew he was a good Christian fellow: and he wasn't pure-bred Republican?)  Clearly, he knew something, up close and personal, that I did not.  But the voice had known.

     Well, back to the present.   Former Senator McGovern has been seriously ill for some time, and his passing was not a surprise.  So there have been several "looking back" articles that have appeared on the web. I'll give some links.

     Bill Kauffman wrote a profile of Senator McGovern several years ago for The American Conservative, titled "Come Home, America." 

     Nick Gillespie has just written a piece for Bloomberg: "George McGovern's Legacy As A Libertarian Hero."

     Here is an article by Conor Friedersdorf for Atlantic: "On War And Peace, George McGovern Will Die Vindicated." 

     Here is a very brief You-Tube tribute. 

     The unspoken theme that is implicit in these viewpoints is that the left-right, evil-good stance simply doesn't work.  Whichever pole we choose, the paradigm forces us to dismiss and oppose people who think differently than we do, rather than listen to their ideas.  We choose to listen to our handlers instead.  Which is usually, in America, the media.  "Secular" or "Christian," take your pick.


     Russell Means was an activist with the American Indian Movement, famous for his participation in a standoff with federal authorities at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973.  I have recently read a couple of books about that incident and its aftermath.  But since I don't know all of Russell Means' beliefs and reasons, I withhold comment about him.

     Suffice it to say that at the time of his notoriety, both South Dakota senators, George McGovern and James Abourezk (Abourezk more than McGovern), saw something in Russell Means and the American Indian Movement that was worthy of their respect and at least qualified support. Both men tried to mediate the conflict between AIM and FBI.  They were not successful.

     Here is a link to an article from the New York Times.

     Ryan McMaken has written a very brief note, "Russell Means As A Conservative Bogeyman."

     I know from direct memory that the Establishment/FBI/media insisted that we all believe that Russell Means and AIM were a communistic organization.  As were all "liberals," such as Senator McGovern and the rest who opposed the Viet Nam War -- communists, fellow-travelers, and radical hippies they were.  So we were told.  So we are still told.

     Am I saying they were right about everything?  No.

     Am I saying they should have been listened to, and their viewpoints treated with serious respect?  Yes.  They were calling attention to important problems, mistakes, and injustices -- most of which we still live with today, and they have gotten worse because we have pretended these situations do not exist.

     At this point, I can not muster up a single cheer for the left-right paradigm.  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Rozeff : Leapfrog The West

by Michael S. Rozeff

Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainians, Omanians, Libyans, Saudi Arabians, Yemenis, Jordanians, Palestinians, and all the other many peoples of the world who are striving for better forms of government that will lead to real improvements in your lives, I wish you well. You are engaged in a difficult enterprise. Many of you are risking much to achieve it. May God be with you.

If I were to sit down with one of you in your country as your guest, after the exchanges and pleasantries of friendship, the conversation might turn to the ways of life that you wish to bring into being. That is my subject.

Your desire to imagine and create new ways of life, to cause to be where nothing was before, is the central human capacity, one that is given by God and one that is shared by all human beings. This creative power is freedom.

To love God I take to be man’s mission and God’s desire. We are in this together. To love God is to love his creation, which includes other people. To love one’s neighbor implies, at a minimum, tolerance of his freedom and the ways of life that he creates. Be slow in judging him. Be slower still in using force to hinder and dominate him. If, in your eyes, his ways are strange or evil, tolerate them. I am not speaking of the crimes such as murder, theft, arson, and rape of which we all know, but of the myriad of other behaviors on which human beings are prone to disagree.

If you desire a good society, you should not pursue it as an abstract goal, nor should you pursue it as a general goal obtained by the State’s uniform laws or by customs dictated to all or enforced on all by social means as supposed ways to make people good. Focus instead on the person, on each and every person. Each person has the highest value, over society and over state. These are not persons. They are merely organizations and tools to achieve other purposes and they are always seriously flawed. The good society is good when its people are able to be persons, which means they are in possession of the unhampered freedom to create.

My advice to you who are now involved in various revolutions and protests is something like the following, in very brief outline.

Leapfrog the West. Learn from the mistakes of the West. Don’t imitate the West blindly in the heat of the moment of attaining new governments. Opportunities like this do not arise often. Make the most of them.

Do not immediately or quickly fasten upon some more or less standard political agenda. They are all deeply flawed. They reflect the sins and mistakes of the West, which the West has not overcome. Seek instead to understand the fundamentals of human life and the human being as a basic guide to social, ethical, and political life.

If your educated class is promoting grandiose social schemes and promising grand results, don’t believe them and don’t approve their agenda. Such promises have been made in the West for several generations. These social engineering and wealth redistribution schemes all are coming to a bad end here. Don’t be enticed into repeating the Western follies.

My view is that the essence of the human being while on this earth is the free human personality. Our being is tied up with freedom at its very root. Every sacrifice of freedom that arises from the pressures, domination, and coercions of family, friends, business, church, society, and state, or from our own personal sacrifice and enslavement by ourselves, destroys a portion of that being or suppresses it, thereby causing a degree of non-being. As I understand the human condition, God created us as free persons. We are free to choose good or evil. Non-being is evil. Being, which presumes freedom and actualizes freedom, is good. The free human personality, as God’s creation, is good. It is a value that is above family, friends, society, organizations, and states. Its worth is above any of these.

Therefore, nurture freedom of the person. Nurture freedom of conscience. Nurture freedom of creativity. Nurture freedom of thought, expression, speech, and action. Nurture all of these at the level of each single person. Do not nurture domination by society, religion, state, family, business, or any other institutions. That which is good is the free spirit in each person.

Make no attempt whatsoever to create the “good life” or happiness or welfare of citizens (or subjects or individuals or voters) by means of the state or any institution or association that dominates and suppresses the person. That approach is godless and wrong. It invariably leads to a confusion of means and ends. The state uses violence as a means. If you allow the state to use violent means in the hope of achieving the ends of happiness or general welfare, you will destroy the freedom of the person. But freedom of the person is the good. It is what God brought into being.

Do away with notions of sovereignty by any person or group or institution. The U.S. Constitution is deeply flawed from the outset in its assumption that We the People are sovereign. Sovereignty is a godless concept. It is entirely at odds with the idea of a free person. God is not sovereign over human beings either. He does not determine what we do with our freedom. Even being sovereign over oneself distorts the idea of a free and creative spirit. In the same vein, the libertarian notion of “owning oneself,” although consistent with and correctly emphasizing the idea of freedom, is essentially a cold and bloodless view of a human being. The human being has a more fiery, passionate, hotter, and loving core in its free and creative spirit. The attempt to justify freedom by beginning with a natural right or self-ownership derives from an agnostic or atheistic view of human life. It doesn’t ground freedom in God and his creation. It treats the human being as matter or as a socially-derived institution of property. It doesn’t make us all brothers and children of God. It isolates the personality and thrusts the human being toward egoistic individualism. This is not an entirely false depiction of fallen human nature, of course. And yet the human spirit naturally reaches out to other similar spirits and to God. It reaches backward to creation and forward to the last days and the Kingdom of God. Purely rationalistic concepts of the human being that were born in the Enlightenment and have carried through in different forms to modern day democratic, social-democratic, socialist, and communist governments are insufficient to understand human nature and insufficient to move firmly away from the many varieties of slavery, overt and covert, and toward freedom. These old Western ideas have resulted in Western governments that suffocate and suppress persons. They culminate in efforts to spread the same kind of governments worldwide and to have one worldwide government.

The U.S. Constitution gets off on the wrong foot by making the general welfare an end. This leads only to the sacrifice of the person. Utilitarianism, which is the philosophy that sets happiness as the ultimate human value, is deeply flawed. It is basically another godless concept and one that leads to the adoption of violent means to create the end of happiness, thereby sacrificing the free person, which is the actual value.

Do not attempt to eliminate the everyday human failings and limitations by using force or the powers of society and state. Human beings must be free to choose between good and evil things. They must be free to make mistakes. Human beings cannot be moral beings without making choices for and by themselves. They cannot share in God’s grace without such freedom. Do not be legislating personal morals. Do not be imposing societal sanctions on beliefs, speech, clothing, art, sexual behavior, and discovery. Do not be attempting with such broad powers to create earthly utopias. This is not only impossible, but attempts to accomplish this go directly against the free and creative human personality, which is God’s creation.

Don’t bother catching up to the flawed Western ideas of politics. Surpass these ideas. They are not rooted in God, despite the rhetoric to that effect that attempts to fuse God, country, nation, and State. As such, the Western ideas lead to godless behavior. This was evident early on in America and is becoming increasingly marked over time.

Do not create theocratic states, however. They too are inimical to human freedom of thought, conscience and action. Power over the human person cannot be turned over to priests, clerics, and ayatollahs any more than to secular politicians. The combination of a powerful church and a powerful state is a recipe for suppression of the person.

Separation of church and state is a good idea. In practice, however, the State makes itself the new God. It tries to surround its immoral activities with an aura of high morality. In the U.S., there are many religious denominations. Somehow, though, the churches either make very little noise about the welfare-warfare State or else support it outright. The State has managed to get organized religion on its side, by and large.

Revolutions usually go about constructing a new State that is in no essential way much different from the old one. Avoid this at all costs. Otherwise, the people are doomed to another 50 or 60 years until the next revolution breaks out.

You simply must understand the nature of the State if you are to leapfrog the Western political structures. If you understand it thoroughly, then you will wish to minimize the State.

The State is the sword, that is, power. Its essence is power: holding power, increasing power, and administering power. This has been evident for several thousand years if one examines the rise and fall of empires throughout the entire world as well as their conquests, wars, and legalities. The state has no central interest in justice, righteousness, rights, or the freedom of people, its own or others. It would just as soon enslave everyone if people did not resist. It would make war continually against others or against its own citizens if it could. It makes war to prevent peaceful secessions. It claims territory through war and dictate, through ruse and stratagem, through conquest, blood and violence. It claims all within its boundaries.

The totalitarian states of the twentieth century provide clear examples of the demonic nature of the State. The worst of them under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot butchered untold millions of persons. They sought meticulous control over economy, press, thought, money, and travel. The Western social democracies are not far behind in these respects, and they are already past masters at making war. Reject them as a model of government. Jesus rejected “all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them.” Follow his example.

If it were not for man’s craving for a universal kingdom, his craving for power, his fears and desire for security, and his susceptibility to the hypnotic temptations that the State generates, this evil institution would not exist. It exists now only to be overcome and bypassed by humanity. Do your part in this endeavor.

The State promises order. Its order is a superficial pastiche of arbitrary laws and measures that typically discriminate unjustly while also imposing uniformity on those affected. The State promises to remedy chaos, but it creates chaos and non-being by suppressing the creative spirit of persons.

The idea of the State as a thing to win is an incentive to warfare and chaos. When a state loses control over the people, warfare often erupts among groups that cannot tolerate one another as all strive to gain control over a new state and impose their agenda on everyone.

One of the worst features of the State is that whatever is immoral for a person is made out to be moral for the State. The State uses its people to kill and maim, to torture and spy, to inform and rat on others, and to assault and destroy, and all of this is approved of and applauded as if nothing were wrong. Brutality becomes something that wins medals and is glorified in motion pictures. The most corrupt and lying politicians gain the most respect.

Putting in place a Western-style democracy is not going to create prosperity. It only introduces a source of friction at the heart of a society. It will be an institution that endangers property rights, seeks greater power, won’t allow secession, won’t tolerate any serious challenge, manipulates the public, caters to special interests, wastes resources, taxes onerously, corrupts the money, and takes every opportunity to control the people.

Taking foreign aid from the West is one of the worst things you can possibly do. You will simply doom yourself to being a satellite of the West and part of its machinations. You may well end up at the mercy of its bankers.

Rather than thinking about a new government, think instead about how to build a vibrant society in which persons can exercise their creative spirits freely, for that is the basis of a good society. Think about generating tolerance. Think about generating trust. Think about well-defined property rights. Think about free markets. Think about incorruptible money. Think about a variety of institutions of justice and defense. Think about justice itself.

The West is strangling in its own debt, its own corruption, its web of lies and deceits, its fearful peoples, and its overly large governments. Why look to the West? Why go backwards when you have a chance to go forwards? In short, leapfrog the West.

March 11, 2011

Michael S. Rozeff is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.

Copyright © 2011 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted,
provided full credit is given.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rozeff : Are They Doing Their Job Well?

A link to a post

     Michael S. Rozeff is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.

     He has just published a very short post that, in my opinion, deserves the broadest possible consideration by the good people of this country. Since this post currently occupies only a tiny corner at Lew Rockwell's website, I fear that it will be lost  -- that is, never even discovered -- by its target audience (you and me) in the welter of information that we all sort through, both urgent and important.

     His post, entitled "Are They Doing Their Job Well?"  poses the question to us, about our western imperial elites.  You can read the whole thing in under five minutes, but I think that it is something that you will want to encourage some of your selected friends to read.


     He has also written a more comprehensive post, which is even more deserving of wide-spread consideration.  I intend to post it, in its entirety, in a couple of days, but I urge you to read it right away.  It gets behind the problems and self-limitations that good people find in the world and in themselves -- including Christian libertarians, of whom I consider myself to be one.

     Blessings to all.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Makers Of History

     I have on my shelves nineteen volumes of a twenty-volume set of books titled, "Makers of History."  A little bit of research on the Internet tells me that this set was first published in the middle of the 19th century, by Harper and Brothers; was aimed at 15 to 25 year olds; was popular in schools and libraries across America; some editions had as many as 33 volumes; and the series enjoyed a republishing history into the early 20th century.  And apparently, some of the books are still being republished in the 21st.

     Although in their day they were classified as "juvenile history" (they were strong on a sense of adventure and somewhat romantic portrayal of their subject matter), their popularity and perceived value went far beyond the students and young scholars who first read them.  If the following quote is to be believed, Abraham Lincoln wrote this to the authors, Jacob Abbott and his brother, John Charles Abbott:

"I want to thank you and your brother for Abbott’s series of Histories. I have not education enough to appreciate the profound works of voluminous historians, and if I had, I have no time to read them. But your series of Histories gives me, in brief compass, just that knowledge of past men and events which I need. I have read them with the greatest interest. To them I am indebted for about all the historical knowledge I have."

     Hmmm.  Allowing for the fact that expressions of gratitude may be more fulsome than we might truly mean, I think you will agree with me that Abe Lincoln, perhaps the most sainted president of the United States, appears to have been greatly impressed with this set of books.

     So let's do a quick rundown of the titles of this history series that was responsible for "about all the historical knowledge" that Mr. Lincoln claimed to have, and that provided him with "just that knowledge of past men and events which [he] need[ed]."

     In order, here are the "Makers Of History" as they appear on my shelves: Romulus, Alfred, Darius, Xerxes, Alexander, Pyrrhus, Cleopatra, Hannibal, Caesar, Nero, William the Conqueror, Genghis Khan, Henry IV, Hernando Cortes, Elizabeth, Mary Queen Of Scots, Peter the Great, Marie Antoinette, Josephine. (I think that my missing volume is Cyrus the Great.)

     Other editions would have included Charles I and II, Henry VIII, Hortense, Joseph Bonaparte, King Philip, Louis XIV, Louis Philippe, Madame Roland, Margaret of Anjou, and Richards I, II and III.

     Permit me to pose the question:  What was their criteria for selecting these thirty-odd persons to fill their list of "makers of history"?

     Not to criticize the Abbott brothers for selecting outstanding "makers of history" -- they were no doubt deservedly famous -- nor passing any negative judgments of their stylistic handling of their subjects, but do you notice anything, when you reread the list? 

     I don't know for sure what you see, of course, but I see a list of people that leans heavily toward the makers and agents of wars and empires -- or their consorts, or their rivals.  Is that not so?

     Here are some thoughts of mine, framed as rhetorical questions:

     *  Why is this idea of "makers of history" so biased that it selects only characters from political history,  rather than including the explorers, scientists, sages, and saints who also made history?

     *  If we are going to select only from political history, why only from the narrative of "western civ" -- Greece, Rome, Western Europe, and the nations, such as the Persians and the Mongols, who threatened them?  Could we have something to learn of political history from the Arabs, the Turks, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, the Hindus, and many others?

     *  If we are going to restrict ourselves to western-related political history, why do we focus almost exclusively on those characters who were involved with conquest, empire, tyranny, and court intrigue -- and their consorts and their rivals -- rather than those who followed very different lights, and made a better history?  Could we not have used a volume or two, say, on the development of the enlightened kingdom established by Ashoka, or on the founding of the Swiss Confederation, or the beginnings of Ireland, or the development of the Caliphate, with appropriate adventure and romance?

     Forgive my seeming tendentious, what with my obvious bias against war;  but I think that the makers of "the makers of history,"  and the chroniclers on whom they have relied, have been pretty tendentious themselves.  Tendentious toward justifying and romanticizing the "adventure" of war, conquest, empire, race hatred, tyranny, and other gross villainies.

    A more balanced set of the "Makers of History" might well have included, as I said, explorers, scientists, scholars, sages, saints, and founders of religions.

     I could wish that "about all the historical knowledge" that Mr. Lincoln had, had prominently included some things other than what it did.  Who knows, he might have discovered that there were some real and preferable alternatives even to the Civil War.  But, as he said, he had just the knowledge that he needed.

     And, we are reminded, he was a product of his times.  Which we are, in ours, unless we decide to do something about it.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

How To Be A Poet

Two Interesting Links

     How To Be A Poet, by Wendell Berry, which he subtitles, "A reminder to myself."  It is easy to picture him in his "long-legged house," perched on a steep slope, guarded by trees, watching the Kentucky River a hundred feet below, following his own instructions.

     Twice Removed, by Tamara Nicholl-Smith, at Front Porch Republic.   A very different place.


*       *       *

Comments always most welcome.