Political Doctrine of Statism
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.: The
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Act that was rammed through after the September 2001 attacks was
one of the more egregious blows against liberty in our lifetimes.
It shredded core rights and liberties that had been taken for granted
for centuries. Liberties are never lost all at once, but the Patriot
Act, as disgusting in its details as in its name and the rhetoric
that surrounded it, was for the United States the turning point,
the law that best exemplifies a full-scale embrace of statism as
a national ideology. It is a law so severe, so outlandish, as to
cause people to forget what it means to be free.
This is why
I believe Ron Paulís book Liberty
Defined to be one of the most important statements of our
time. He defines liberty clearly and cleanly as freedom from coercive
interference from the state. That is how the liberal tradition from
Aquinas to Jefferson to Rothbard understood it, too, for there is
no greater threat to liberty than the state. Its powers must be
crushed if we are to revisit what liberty means.
Ron goes further
to apply the principle of liberty in many of the most controversial
areas of modern life. The purpose here is not to detail some governing
blueprint. What Ron seeks to do is much more important. He seeks
to fire up the human imagination in ways that permit people to think
outside the prevailing statist norms.
In 1945, Ludwig
von Mises wrote a similar book called Omnipotent
Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War. It
is probably the most blistering and thorough attack on National
Socialism ever written. He details the peculiar characteristics
of Nazi-style statism (its nationalism rooted in the worship of
bloodlines). Just as importantly Ė and very unusually for this genre
of writing Ė Mises sought to explain how Nazism is only a symptom
of a larger problem, which is statism itself. He regarded statism
as a special doctrine that people come to embrace often without
entirely understanding its teaching and claims. It emerges within
a context of economic or security emergency.
There is always
some great excuse for the trashing of the human freedom that built
civilization as we know it. If the state cannot find one, it is
glad to invent one. A population that is ideologically gullible
or afraid for its security can permit government to run roughshod
over peopleís rights and liberties, and a government that gains
such power never gives it back on its own. Rights and liberties
must be reclaimed by the people themselves, and the spark that makes
this happen is reversing the conditions that permitted the rise
of statism. The people must lose their gullibility through ideological
enlightenment, and they must lose their sense of fear that the world
will fall apart if the tyrant is not in control.
Part of this
process of enlightenment requires an understanding of what was lost
when we gave up liberty, and what can be gained by reclaiming it.
Misesís book did not overlook this task, with a pithy description
of the traditional classical liberal vision:
to grasp the meaning of this liberal program we need to imagine
a world order in which liberalism is supreme. Either all the states
in it are liberal, or enough are so that when united they are
able to repulse an attack of militarist aggressors. In this liberal
world, or liberal part of the world, there is private property
in the means of production. The working of the market is not hampered
by government interference. There are no trade barriers; men can
live and work where they want. Frontiers are drawn on the maps
but they do not hinder the migrations of men and shipping of commodities.
Natives do not enjoy rights that are denied to aliens. Governments
and their servants restrict their activities to the protection
of life, health, and property against fraudulent or violent aggression.
They do not discriminate against foreigners. The courts are independent
and effectively protect everybody against the encroachments of
officialdom. Everyone is permitted to say, to write, and to print
what he likes. Education is not subject to government interference.
Governments are like night-watchmen whom the citizens have entrusted
with the task of handling the police power. The men in office
are regarded as mortal men, not as superhuman beings or as paternal
authorities who have the right and duty to hold the people in
tutelage. Governments do not have the power to dictate to the
citizens what language they must use in their daily speech or
in what language they must bring up and educate their children.
Administrative organs and tribunals are bound to use each man's
language in dealing with him, provided this language is spoken
in the district by a reasonable number of residents.
We could add
to this beautiful list of traits of a liberal society. There is
no welfare state (and there was not before Bismarck and FDR).There
are no passports (and there were not before World War I). There
are no government identification cards (there were not before World
War II). People can use any currency they want to use (people could
do so before the Civil War). They can accumulate wealth and pass
it on to their children with the full knowledge and expectation
that their childrenís children will benefit too (so it was before
World War I). They can innovate in the commercial marketplace without
fear of courts, lawsuits, regulators, taxmen, and the customs house.
They can negotiate all contracts, associate or disassociate, and
hire and fire as they see fit. They do not hear government propaganda
piped into stores and other public places. They do not even have
to care about politics because the state is so limited and nearly
powerless that not even the worst of people can change its essential
This is not
a far-flung dream. Misesís explanation here is a composite of how
liberty has worked in various times and various places over the
last several hundred years. And he wrote this as a reminder of what
people have lost in surrendering their lives and the functioning
of society over to government power.
The point that
Mises was making with his book was that it is not enough to hate
a particular regime; we must oppose the ideological underpinnings
of that regime and see what it has in common with the universal
experience of tyranny. Nor is it enough merely to oppose government.
We must also come to love liberty, to see and understand how it
works even though we live in times when liberty is ever less seen,
and ever less understood. This was the burden of his great book:
to highlight Nazism as a particular application of the broader menace
of statism itself.
is also the point of Ron Paulís Liberty
Defined. Yes, he opposes government as we know it. Much
more importantly and much more profoundly, he understands the liberty
that we do not know, and he strives to help us to love it, dream
of it, and work for its achievement.
surprise me that Ronís own son Rand Paul turns out to be the only
member of the U.S. Senate to dare to stand up to the Patriot Act
and call it what it is. He has staked his political career on his
action to stop its reauthorization. It is truly the case that if
we canít see what is wrong with the Patriot Act, we canít see what
is wrong with any despotism in the past or the present. If we can
see what is wrong with it, we have a good start on beginning to
see what is right about human liberty.
H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him
mail], former editorial assistant to Ludwig von Mises and congressional
chief of staff to Ron Paul, is founder and chairman of the Mises
Institute, executor for the estate of Murray N. Rothbard, and
editor of LewRockwell.com.
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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