Why Freedom?

Sometime during the late 80′s or early 90′s, George H.W. Bush delivered a speech in which he waxed eloquent about what is generally called the fall of communism, the wave of revolution that swept Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War.  In this allocution he said that tyranny fell “not to the force of arms, but to the force of an idea:  Freedom works.”

Freedom works.  This is the line of thinking that has been used by many in the political discourse.  Does freedom work?  Currently we’re in a time when many claim that it has not worked, and thanks both to the verbal jujitsu of the Republican Party and the stupidity of Boobus, this is widely accepted wisdom.  Never mind the fact that what the GOP calls a free economy is riddled with aspects of Fascism.  Our current situation, despite the popular perception, is not proof of the failure of freedom, and we should not feel obligated to give in to the Keynesian orgy presently taking place.  Wherever freedom has been tried, it has worked.  

But we need not belabor the point, for this utilitarian angle is not only useless, it is dangerous.  More on the danger in a bit.

If the “freedom works” argument is irrelevant, what is?  I would argue that the argument for freedom is found in the concept of natural rights—the right of self-determination, the right not to be robbed or shot by anyone, including the State.  From this perspective, it really doesn’t matter if freedom “works.”  The salient point is that freedom—a system of voluntary mutual exchange, one that respects individual rights and private property rights—preserves each man’s natural rights.  Period.  End of story.

Now let us return to this “Freedom works” utilitarian claptrap.  The contemporary Right, and even figures like Ludwig von Mises, have enthroned so many of their arguments on this premise.  Its danger lies not in its untruth; indeed the truth of the matter is not what I intend to dispute.  The problem is that this line of thought presents a beautifully engraved invitation to those who are unfriendly to laissez-faire capitalism:  The minute something goes wrong, they can blame freedom (they usually say “capitalism” to try to make it sound evil, a la Karl Marx) and say that we can no longer tolerate this irresponsible freedom.  

And so it’s time for the real friends of laissez-faire capitalism to stand up and say that this is truly the system that best preserves the rights that belong to us and cannot be taken away.

This is an age-old battle, really, one that started during the Exodus, when the wandering Israelites begged for a return to slavery because it was so much easier than their new-found freedom.  But nothing in life that’s worth a damn is easy, and some things are worth any price.  Freedom—from violence, theft, coercion, and other hobbies of the State—is one of them.

On learning to stand up straight

I generally have a tendency to think about things too much, and to be too cautious in my decision making. I have, at times, passed up opportunities because of too much risk, or so I thought. In the area of music, which is my profession, this happens a lot. I shy away from projects with indefinite outcomes.

Today, however, I may have turned a corner. During my late night practice session, something clicked in me, and I caught myself being bold, taking the initiative, in a certain way. We have such a tendency to walk around with “the look of the hunted,” as Richard Weaver said, unsure of ourselves, and asking, “Is this right?” or, “What will others think?” I have been plagued by this kind of stupidity for years.

With boldness, however, comes achievement. I got more work done tonight than I’ve gotten done in days. I was operating with less sleep and later in the day, but there it is. The thought occurred to me that our ability to meet our expectations depends upon the posture we take. If we crouch down like the hunted, we will be eaten alive. If we stand up straight and make bold to do something, we have no boundaries.

The first posture is one of safety, the second is one of liberty. Most people do not want to be free, they want to be safe, said Mencken. But only the free will be able to do anything that’s worth a damn. Sure, if things go badly, one tumbles hard, but it sure beats being a cog in the wheel of the “Mediocracy,” doesn’t it?

All of this would seem to advise us to avoid ordinary people. If we spend our time with the fearful and the unremarkable, we too will be unremarkable. It is far better to fill our contact lists with the names of the extraordinary, for the extraordinary man brings out the good qualities of those around him.

F.A. Hayek once remarked that societies which suffer an onerous government are often less virtuous than freer societies. It’s probably true as well that freer societies have more excellent men in them. Indeed, liberty encourages boldness, and vice versa, and liberty also encourages harmony amongst men. And so, if we are free, we can sing along with the Psalmist, Ecce quam bonum, et quam jucundum habitare fratres in unum!

Remembering Murray Rothbard

Just last week, I finished reading Murray Rothbard’s grand discourse, The Ethics of Liberty, surely a must read for anyone who fancies himself a libertarian, or, as some of us prefer to call ourselves, anarcho-capitalists. Rothbard’s Ethics is highly intelligent, intensely insightful, and at times painfully consistent. In short, it is the work of a real philosopher, a man who took the problems of life seriously, and didn’t just write books in order to hypnotize his readers into some sort of political voodoo.

I have been thinking a lot about Murray Rothbard these days. I did not know him; I didn’t even know who he was until a few years ago. Nevertheless, if there is one person whom I wish I could converse with but cannot about the economic turmoil we presently face, it would be Murray Rothbard. To these kinds of issues he brought all the common sense of Ron Paul, with the addition of devastating wit and a dash of pizzaz. (Who would not be charmed by his choice of hypothetical names such as “Hohenzollern” and “West Ruritania?”)

Rothbard devotes the final chapter of his Ethics of Liberty to discussing the prospects for a libertarian future, a future full of peace and prosperity and devoid of the State. He completed this work in the early 1980′s. At that time, the issues of hyperinflation, gas shortages, high unemployment and other economic tortures were quite present in the American mind. The government had quite openly, over the course of the preceding six decades, gotten its grubby mitts on the market, and the end result was sheer turmoil and Peanut Man’s “Misery Index.” In those early years of the Reagan administration, only modern liberals and fools (but I repeat myself) seriously thought that more government was the solution to the country’s woes. The prospects for true liberty, enthused Rothbard, were thus quite promising.

Not ten years later, Rothbard delivered a triumphant lecture after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he was, if anything, more encouraged than ever before.

Fast forward to 2008. The economy is collapsing. Markets are falling, even after the Federal government tried to fix everything with its $700 billion magic wand. Banks are collapsing because they gave bad loans–loans that were often promoted by Leviathan. One might be tempted to say that this marks the end for all forms of Central Planning, that the Emperor is naked and everyone now sees the plain truth of the matter.

Alas, I cannot bring myself to be so hopeful. Indeed, I dare say that the Rothbardian hopes of the 1980′s and 1990′s have now eluded us, that we are in a decidedly worse position than we’ve been in for decades. Why? Because, while the government has, yet again, been sticking its grubby mitts in the marketplace, and while yet again the result–utter calamity–is the same, all of this meddling has been advertised by the present administration as “free market principles.” Jeff Tucker quite astutely observed the other day that the mindset of the present GOP sees the free market not as an entity which can function on its own, but rather as a policy to be enacted by bureaucrats.

The sharper knives in America’s drawers will be able to perceive all of this; nevertheless, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer-Voter-Serf only know that this economic downturn has come at the end of an era in which the government has been giving itself credit for enacting “free market” policies. Surely the socialists are licking their lips.

Were it not for the unjust prerogatives which the State enjoys, we could sue the Republican Party for false advertising, if not for fraud, too.

I suppose that we are left to hope that, somewhere up there, Murray Rothbard is organizing all the right principalities and powers so that, someday, somehow, the victory of liberty will be upon us. Until then, it’s hyperinflation and Central Planning for the lot of us.

Watch the Rally for the Republic Live

At the Campaign for Liberty’s webpage.  Ron Paul is scheduled to speak tonight at 7:05pm CDT.

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