Tag Archives: Totalitarianism

Evil Begets Evil, by Robert Gore

Liberty is never an accident. It requires a philosophical acceptance of an individual’s right to his or her own life, and a full understanding of the logical implications and consequences of that right. That acceptance must prevail among intellectuals and through their explanation and leadership, embraced and promoted by a substantial portion of the population. A set of governing institutions has to be devised that are subordinated to the protection of individual rights but strong enough to protect those rights. The difficulties are borne out by history, where attempts to establish political orders based on liberty are few, and their successful and lasting establishment nonexistent.

The argument is made that humanity is unfit for liberty—individuals are incapable of living their own lives peaceably with other individuals. This is true for some individuals, but it has been pronounced as an indictment of the entire species. Because humanity is unfit for freedom, the argument invariably runs, coercion is justified. In other words, individuals—who cannot be trusted with the freedom to peaceably live their own lives—can be given the power to forcibly direct other people’s lives. Chaos, violence, and a world at the brink of epochal collapse are the direct consequences of that inane formulation, yet never has humanity seemed less likely to embrace liberty.

The period from 1865 to 1913 was one of the few in which substantial numbers of people lived in relative freedom, particularly in the US and parts of Europe. The Industrial Revolution, propelled by British and US advances in science, technology, and production, reached its apex during this time. Critics of the period focus on its poverty, degradation, and brutal social conditions and set an impossible benchmark—immediate elimination of those conditions—ignoring their centuries-long prevalence and the most rapid and widespread increases in real incomes and general living standards in history. Footprints are telling: immigrants chose, by the millions, to come to the US, supposedly the most “exploitative” country, and powered the astonishing ascent that took the US from Civil War ruins to the world’s preeminent economy and power in less than five decades.

In the US, liberty was dramatically curtailed in 1913 with the establishment of the Federal Reserve and the passage of the 16th, or income tax, Amendment. The US government would do what governments had always done: forcibly expropriate its people’s wealth and debase the medium of exchange for its own benefit. A year later the relative peace of the preceding period (critics again set an impossible benchmark—the complete absence of war—when judging it) gave way to World War I as governments resumed doing what they’d always done. The US joined two years later. War serves as an excuse for governments to restrict liberty and this one was no exception. The US government jacked up tax rates, instituted conscription, and threw critics of the war in jail.

The alternatives to liberty are coercion, repression, and violence, and the 20th century ranks as mankind’s most coercive, repressive, and violent yet. Totalitarian regimes came to power in Russia, China, Germany, Japan, and a host of smaller nations. For much of the century, they ruled over more than half the global population. Even in countries regarded as “freer,” diminution of individual liberty has been the persistent trend. The basis of the welfare state is theft. The basis of central banking is the production of scrip of no intrinsic value and its coerced acceptance as a medium of exchange. The power of governments and their central banks has continuously grown, always at the expense of individual liberty.

Governments that consistently abridge the rights of their own people will not respect the rights of people in other countries. The thrust of US military policy shifted from primarily defensive (with the exception of Latin America and territory occupied by Native Americans) during the Industrial Revolution to intervention in other nations’ wars in WWI and WWII to an offensive posture since the Vietnam War. Like income redistribution and economic regulation, war invariable increases a government’s power and its share of the nation’s resources. Concomitantly, it reduces individuals’ liberty and takes from them an increasing portion of their own production.

The US government now claims the right to invade any country without the permission of that country’s government. While it has not said so publicly and officially, the government also claims the right to replace governments in other countries that it regards as inimical to its interests. Even a partial list of where the government has exercised its supposed “rights” since the 1890s is long: most of the nations of Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, Yemen, and Somalia. The US military maintains bases and special operations forces in over 150 countries, and the US spends more on armaments and military manpower than the next nine nations combined. In light of all this, the conclusion in inescapable that the US government is an imperial power and aspires to permanent hegemony

One group in American politics shuns or seeks to limit the government’s foreign intervention because the resources devoted to such intervention could be used for domestic programs and income redistribution. Another group opposes such programs and redistribution, but supports intervention. There is an overlapping group. The defining features of all three are intellectual incoherence and an inability or refusal to recognize consequences.

Forcibly taking legitimately produced or acquired wealth from one person for the benefit of the government and its chosen beneficiaries is theft, a fundamental abridgment of liberty—the freedom to productively support one’s self and those one chooses. Evil begets evil. The supposed “needs” justifying redistribution are limitless; production is not. Enslaving producers for the benefit of the government and its beneficiaries reduces and eventually destroys their willingness and ability to produce, and simply destroys the beneficiaries.

The gratitude that usually flows from recipients of private, voluntary charity to their benefactors gives way to an entitlement mentality and sloth, invariably encouraged by declarations from the government and its supporters about the rights of some to the fruits of others’ labor. For a right to be a right it must be universal, and we all cannot enjoy these so called “rights” to have someone else support us. The rampant social pathologies of the class dependent on direct monetary aid and myriad government programs are obvious—crime, illegitimacy, the drug and prostitution trades, decaying inner cities, and riots, et. al.—but will be ignored by proponents of redistribution until production grinds to a halt and funding fails.

That failure will inevitably lead to widespread violence and chaos among beneficiaries denied their benefits. Indeed, some of redistribution’s intellectual lights call for just such an outcome—the collapse of the present system, to be replaced by full-on socialism. The question of how a society that can no longer afford quasi-socialism will be able to afford the full-on version is left unanswered. Totalitarian slavery is the outcome, the answer that dares not speak its name.

The intellectual failure of those who identify the inherent flaws of redistribution and its negative consequences, but who nevertheless propose that the government forcibly intervene in countries that have neither attacked the US nor pose a danger to it, is greater than that of domestic redistribution’s proponents. If, in the immortal words of Ringo Starr, “Everything government touches turns to crap” at home, how can anyone who embraces Starr’s wisdom expect a different result when government goes abroad? Most Americans would not choose to live in inner city Detroit, Newark, Chicago, Washington, or any other of our urban hellholes, but would if the alternative was Baghdad, Kabul, Kunduz, Benghazi, Tripoli, Damascus, or Beirut.

Venality rather than obtuseness accounts for the plainly erroneous assessments of government’s efficacy in reordering other countries. Reality has obliterated whatever idealistic sentiments animated US forays into Vietnam and the Middle East and northern Africa; they made existing situations far worse. Redistribution—the forced transfer of wealth that many proponents of intervention criticize when practiced in the homeland—is the impetus for continuing intervention. Military adventurism and its associated surveillance state are multi-trillion-dollar endeavors that support a large percentage of the government’s payroll and legions of private contractors. Peace and a noninterventionist foreign policy are their worst nightmares. They recycle some of the largess received from the government back to officials to prevent them.

The spread of terrorism and violence far beyond the borders of Middle Eastern and Northern African nations are readily identifiable but generally unacknowledged blowback from foreign military intervention in those nations, as are the consequent refugee flows. The “surprise” expressed by the intervenors is disingenuous. Violence begets violence. For the interventionist nations, the dozens killed in Paris last week are a tragedy, the millions killed across the Middle East and Northern Africa the last few decades are a statistic, except for the interventionists’ “warriors.” The wonder is not the attack, but that the death toll in interventionist nations is so small relative to the death toll in the nations in which they have intervened.

To say that there is some sort of security apart from securing individual rights and liberty is fallacious; the supposed choice between liberty and security is a false choice. There can be no security for a collective when there is no security of rights and liberty for the individual members of that collective. To “safeguard” our security the government could lock each of us in our own steel and concrete cell. The security supposedly safeguarded would be meaningless compared to the complete loss of liberty, but the arrangement would have its advantages. It would demonstrate that security without liberty is not security at all; it’s restriction, confinement, and slavery. And it would demonstrate an important historical truth, the leitmotif of the twentieth century and on present course, the twenty-first: the most dangerous threat to both liberty and security is government.

Evil begets evil. The violence and abridgment of individual rights and liberties inherent in today’s welfare/warfare states lead to more violence, repression, and chaos. The term cycle of violence is both overused and wrong, because the word cycle implies a return to a starting point, when in fact violence and its attendant repression and chaos produce only a downward spiral.

Paris, the bombing of the Russian jet, and terrorist massacres in Beirut and Ankara, all within the last few weeks, make it appear that the descent is accelerating. It may well be, or it may be that the kind of carnage and death tolls that are the daily routine across the Middle East and Northern Africa have forced their way into consciousnesses blissfully ignorant of what their governments have wrought. Either way, the recent incidents will lead to more violence and repression as those governments respond to public cries to “do something,” ensuring a commensurate response from those they are directed against, and more displacement, despair, and death among the innocent.

Individual rights and liberty, and government subordinated to their protection, offer the only prospect of enduring security. The chance of their adoption by the present order is nil. Liberty is never an accident, but the memory of and the longing for it are never extinguished. Downward spirals are not perpetual motion, sooner or later their destructiveness must result in their own destruction. That time may be closer than anyone thinks. When it happens, those who would make liberty more than memory and a longing must stand ready to sacrifice, fight both physical and intellectual battles, and risk all, for that is what liberty has and will always require.



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The Only Issue That Matters by Robert Gore

The most radical idea in human history is that might does not make right. For centuries the contrary tenet has held brutal sway. History book are chronicles of rulers and ruled, conquests, empires, and inevitably, failure and collapse. If people’s histories had been written by the forerunners of Howard Zinn, they would have detailed lives of subjugation and misery. The common folks were fodder for their rulers, who exercised first claim on their lives and property. The only checks on power were the occasional insurrection or military defeat, but the new boss was usually the same as the old boss.

The printing press was probably the most significant invention in human history. At the time (1439), the concept of individual rights was heresy, treason, or both. Its fragile shoots first poked through during the Reformation and grew during the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Europe’s clergy and aristocracy, their entitlements supposedly granted by God, fought the idea ferociously. However, challenges to privilege, along with both intellectual and emotional arguments for individual rights, enjoyed widespread appeal among the subjugated, but increasingly literate (thanks to Gutenberg), masses.

The American Revolution was definitely the most significant revolution in human history. Any freshman political science major can point out where actual practice of the Founding Fathers diverged from the stated ideals and aims of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The breathtaking historical departure was that those ideals and aims had been declared as a basis for the colonists’ rebellion and then incorporated into a charter of government. The design— separation of powers, checks and balances, explicit limitations on the government’s power, explicit protection of individual rights—was the product of elaborate compromises among strongly held passions, but no longer would might make right. Might was to be put in service of rights and subordinated to them.

By 1835, when Alexis de Tocqueville published the first volume of Democracy in America, it was clear to this astute foreign observer that something extraordinary was happening in America. Freedom was breeding a new kind of person—the autonomous and empowered individual, who wanted the government to maintain public order and not do much else. The flow of immigrants from Europe, which would later become a flood from all over the world, recognized an unprecedented opportunity to live their lives and improve their situations almost completely unhindered by the governing power. This was the bedrock of American exceptionalism: freedom and its consequent opportunities. Tocqueville argued that slaves would never be as productive as free workers and that the north’s industrializing economy had already eclipsed the agrarian south’s. Slavery, the most glaring contradiction to our founding ideals, was doomed, and that economic divergence would have ended it if the Civil War had not. As it was, northern industry and transportation systems proved decisive in the war.

Freedom and the economics of freedom—capitalism—produced the wonder of the Industrial Revolution. The forty-eight-year period after the Civil War was stunning testament to what a free people could do. It is no exaggeration to say that science, technology, industry, productive capacity, and the average standard of living advanced more in that period than they had during all the centuries prior. The period came to an abrupt end in 1913, when the ratification of the 16th Amendment gave the government the power to levy income taxes and the establishment of the Federal Reserve led to the gradual imposition of fiat money.

Over the next one hundred-and-one years the freedom that had worked spectacularly well was abandoned for a grab bag of doomed-to-fail political philosophies. The twentieth century was easily history’s bloodiest, with one particularly malignant doctrine—communism—responsible for an estimated 60 to 100 million deaths. The defining feature of the grab bag was reversion to historical type: might once again made right. Individuals are again subservient to the state, whatever its governing philosophy. They pay taxes; fund vote buying, forced redistribution, corruption, and cronyism; obey arbitrary laws and regulations; fight wars; cower in civil-liberties-stripping fear of whatever their leaders say they should be afraid of, and mouth stale pieties that provide those leaders with a veneer of legitimacy.

When your freedom is gone, it doesn’t matter who took it or what “ism” they spout. All you see is the gun. Freedom has one foot in the grave in the US and the eventual coup de grâce will amount to a trivial irrelevance. Perhaps it will be the masters of our police state apparatus going full rogue, some sort of outrage by a group the government labels as terrorist, the threat of an epidemic, or something else, but only the stubbornly myopic do not see the totalitarianism on the horizon. While “freedom” and “liberty” occasionally appear in campaign materials, in actual practice they are kept hidden away, treated as one treats embarrassing photographs from one’s younger days. In the younger days of what used to be our republic (mob rule is the best description of what we have now), an infringement of the people’s liberty could be invoked as an argument against the government’s expansion. Nowadays such invocations are treated as appeals to the lunatic fringe.

The 2014 election has shaped up as a content-free contest between the parties to prove which of them dislikes President Obama and his policies more. The Republicans have the natural advantage and the polls indicate they may pick up a Senate majority. This will leave Washington gridlocked, but nothing checks the government’s nonstop, liberty-destroying usurpation of power. Freedom versus coercion and its corollary—the individual versus the state—have been the leitmotifs of history. Whatever else the candidates blather about, restoring the Founders’ towering legacy—liberty, individual rights, subordinated and limited government—is the only issue that matters. By ignoring it, we ensure that our government will end up on the same scrap heap as all those other doomed-to-fail governments.

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See Batting 1000 by Robert Gore