John Adams by David McCullough

 

John Adams might have had the most interesting personality of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson, in spite of a multidisciplinary life and his flirtations with anarchism, comes off as a somewhat wooden and aloof figure—not a very good drinking buddy. Adams, on the other hand, had a fiery constitution and an earthy simplicity free of the demagogic populism of the likes of William Jennings Bryan. To be sure, he, like all politicians, was a jackass, but he owned up to it, which makes him more likable. His utter humanity stirs the temptation to forgive him for the Alien and Sedition Acts, but we mustn’t get carried away.

 

David McCullough unpacks John Adams’s colorful character in his classic biography; he commands the reader’s attention for the entirety of this volume, from the protagonist’s early beginnings and entrance exam at Harvard, to lonely walks with Thomas Jefferson as their friendship froze over on Market St. in Philadelphia, to the spellbinding correspondence with Abigail, who in her own right is one of the more remarkable figures of American history. It’s well known that an HBO miniseries has been based upon this author’s work. I actually saw that first, and was utterly transfixed. When I found this book on sale at The Strand at 12th and Broadway, I couldn’t resist.

 

If there was a single idea that animated Adams’s political philosophy, it was his Hobbesian view of human nature: Man is evil and requires restraint, whether as governor or governed. Counterpoise, in his opinion and in the view of many other Founding Fathers, was the only way to deal with concupiscence. This took form most famously as the checks and balances between the several branches of government, so that one body, and in particular one man, the president, could not run amok. In theory, too, counterpoise extends to the relationship between the government and the electorate, but how much of this really exists these days when the moneyed interests make sure that anyone with an original idea is unelectable? I suspect Adams would have a thing or two to say about our current conundrum.

 

A more important question is raised: What is the best kind of counterpoise? A bureaucracy decides that black boxes shall be put in all new cars. Car manufacturers are stuck with higher prices, and so are the customers. There is no mutuality in this scenario. Or what kind of counterpoise exists in an election between two parties, one of which argues for a top tax bracket of 37%, and the other, one of 33%? The American ship of State has become large and lethargic, incapable of meaningfully changing course, unable to go back to the beginning to be reinvigorated by her First Principles, at least when it comes to certain subjects.

 

The best kind of counterpoise, it seems to me, exists between two equal persons engaging in a voluntary transaction. You go to the bakery to buy cookies. Both you and the baker benefit, and if, someday, you decide you’re not satisfied with the cookies, you have the power of the dollar in your pocket to rectify the situation, either by finding a new bakery, asking for your money back, or getting a new order. There is great flexibility in this situation, and creative solutions are often reached because smart businessmen and intelligent customers know that everyone is eager to benefit and be of benefit in such a transaction. It seems to me this should be the model of societal organization as far as possible. What better counterpoise could there be, particularly one that promises rewards rather than threatening punishments?

 

Many political philosophers liken the relationship of a government and its citizens to a business and its customers. It’s called the Social Contract Theory, which I like to call the Social Hijack Theory. It goes something like this: When you’re born, you, or maybe your parents, consent to be ruled by the government that claims jurisdiction over the territory on which happen to you live. This reminds me a lot of infant Baptism or circumcision, and it’s a desperate attempt to pretend that government is anything but what it really is: a monopoly on coercion putatively in order to secure the peace of society. A particularly rich contemporary example of this was the recent statement by Senator Harry Reid that paying income tax is “voluntary.” Now if Social Contract Theory is true, then the Senator is right. If it is false, then taxation, particularly direct taxation, is theft. The Founders believed in Social Contract at least in substance if not in name, but maybe we need to go easy on them, since, for their time, they dared to attempt experiments in freedom that were as yet unaccomplished. But never forget that the Revolution was sparked over a tiny tea tax.

 

For me, Social Contract Theory is the stumbling block to Statism. It sits on the fulcrum of what it means to be truly free. I don’t want to take a too-sanguine view of human nature, which, if it is not wretched as such, turns to wretchedness often enough to warrant extreme caution. Nevertheless, Social Contract is a contradiction, a sacred myth to make us feel better about the more extreme measures we take to keep things under control. If any politician were ever to have the courage to publicly announce that human beings are like cattle that need to be poked, prodded, lassoed and fenced in, I would actually have some respect for him or her. At least there would be honesty involved. John Adams believed in Social Contract. He also believed that humanity was more or less depraved and that sometimes the government needed to step in to crack the whip. Liberty, for him, was defined more or less in a very strict paradigm.

 

Beyond the idea of counterpoise there isn’t much that points toward a self-contained political philosophy on Adams’s part. He was no Paine (who, Adams argued, was better at tearing down than building up) or Jefferson, however much Jefferson damaged the credibility of his own beliefs with his actions. There are a few Christian ideas that generate the classical liberal movement, but above these elementary principles, Adams carves out a path that is largely pragmatic. Perhaps it’s because he understood what Fred Reed has elucidated, that the trouble with self-contained worldviews is the failure to take into account the buoyancy of human excrement. Lest anyone think Adams unprincipled, however, one ought to take note of an important difference between pragmatism and convenience. Pragmatism is the art of sorting out what works; convenience is a system of excuses to get what one wants. In the case of a politician, this is usually tyranny. Adams had only one failure in this respect that I know of: the Alien and Sedition Acts, which for all the injustice they created—These laws prefigured American xenophobia about Mexicans and Arabs by 200 years—were not quite so severe as Abigail would have had them be. One gets the impression that if she had her way, accused “libelers” would have been taken to dungeons in Fishtown to be hung upside down to die of starvation. All the same, it’s hard to picture John Adams, who risked his life numerous times for the cause of freedom, having much patience for the pre-flight booby groping of the TSA. Moreover, the few evils Adams committed are arguably outweighed by the smack down he put on Alexander Hamilton, whose bellicose ambitions did not go unnoticed by the President, thanks in part to his First Lady. Standing armies had no part to play in the America of John Adams, even though he was almost alone in his insistence on building a formidable navy whose strength contributed to the avoidance of war with France.

 

As difficult as they are, the problems of human nature and the maintenance of a free society are always dealt with more profitably when the people of a given country are well educated. In contemporary Dumberica, we consider “education” to be glorified, over-priced vocational training. Beyond a given craft many people are afflicted with an appalling lack of curiosity, unless the subject has something to do with what a given celebrity is doing with his or her private parts.

 

John Adams, on the other hand, favored the traditional liberal arts education, familiarity with ancient languages, the classics, and even of music. He understood that the whole person needed to be formed. He held forth on this matter when he drafted the Constitution of Massachusetts and included a paragraph on education that happily went unmolested by the committee that reviewed it. Alas, if this approach ever took root across the land, Andrew Carnegie and other industrialists ruined it all when they re-tooled the schools to create, in the words of George Carlin, “obedient workers.” It wasn’t long afterwards that we had Prohibition and trashy novels while we progressed from savagery to barbarism without ever having experienced civilization, to quote George Bernard Shaw.

 

John Adams, for all the posts he held, never once campaigned for political office. He admitted to being beset by ambition; all the same, a part of him longed most to be with his family on his farm at Peacefield. Sadly, late in life he regretted being absent so much from his younger sons Charles and Thomas, both of whom foundered in their cups in adulthood; Charles even drank himself to death. Adams’s sense of guilt in this is palpable. While modern presidents daydream about what their legacy will be, Adams focused on all that he had given up in order to be a central figure in early America. He who loses his life finds it.

 

The electoral system of the late 18th century allowed the possibility that someone would be dragged into the presidency against his own wishes. Maybe we should return to those days when state legislatures selected their members of the Electoral College and the people, as a result, had only a very indirect influence on the election—and what’s the problem with that, since Social Contract Theory is a mere fairy tale? Think of the peace and quiet! No more political commercials, and instead of victorious candidates giving smug victory speeches on election night, they’ll instead be where they belong: in the bathroom next to the commode, contemplating their difficult future. We should paraphrase a saying of the Catholic Church: He who goes into an election a president comes out a governor, a talk show host, or even a congressman from Wisconsin. Maybe then we’ll end up with leaders who are plausibly sane.

 

Oh, what’s the use? I remain unconvinced by all this poli-sci jibber-jabber. I propose a society of seven billion secessions, a starburst of human freedom and creativity, a world of mutuality and free will, where the counterpoise exists at the micro level, where it can actually be effective. Maybe we’ll never get there, but if we do, some paradoxical thanks will be owed to the likes of John Adams, who dared to take a step out into the deep, into the unknown territory of a freer society than had been known in most places to that point. We would benefit from similar courage, and in this David McCullough’s book on John Adams offers us an excellent profile.

Political Eschatology

Advisory: Coarse language.  I’m tired of mincing words. Sometimes “excrement” just lacks a certain rhetorical punch.

Midnight Sunday night.  I just got home from a late dessert with a friend out on the “payment,” as they call it here in Philadelphia.  (That’s a sidewalk in standard parlance.)  This is a relative luxury, something there may not be much more of when the politicians in Washington get done with us, a subject that came up over carrot cake tonight.

Before I started this rant, I checked to see if any deal had been reached in the debt crisis.  Alas, none.  I feel quite strange about all this.  You know the world is screwed up when a philosophical anarchist is thinking in more practical terms than the politicians. Blame ought to be shared all around, but most infuriating to me is the smug self-righteousness of the Republican Party.  Cut, Cap and Balance should be renamed Sit Down and Shut Up.  This piece of hypocritical legislation is, alas, off the table.

The details of this particular story and of the past several generations are many and hard to keep track of.  I speak under correction, but indignantly nonetheless; we all know that this situation didn’t need to come to pass.  Here goes nothin’.

The Republican Party wants you to believe that it is now and has for a long time been the party of fiscal responsibility, “conservatism,” family values, and all that horse crap.  This is the party whose leadership, namely Richard M. Nixon, cut all ties between the dollar and gold on August 15, 1971, touching off one of the worst inflationary periods this country has seen.  “We’re all Keynesians now,” quipped Tricky Dick, describing a most unfortunate turn of events that set the game clock on the middle class in America.

In the late 1970’s, Jimmy Carter, in a now infamous speech, warned the country that it needed to start living within its means, or there would be trouble.  Ronald Reagan, Boobus Americanus Secundus, came along, using what a late friend of mine called “verbal jujitsu” and said that Jimmy Carter didn’t want America to be great.  Reagan seemed to think that the laws of economics didn’t apply to us, that our Miltonesque shining city on a dunghill covered with snow had a birthright to greatness, and that we knew this was true, because, well, damnit, we say so.  And our military budget was the largest in the world.  And we spent God knows how much money on a stupid war against drugs. Etc.

But Reagan is hailed as a “conservative,” even a “libertarian,” which I find to be horrific, though to his credit, he does deserve polite applause for keeping his illegal wars of foreign aggression under a week in duration. The conservative movement of the 1970’s, a reaction against Lyndon Johnson’s soft socialism, culminated in one of the most financially disastrous presidencies up to that time.  I have to wonder if it was even necessary to outspend the Soviets in the arms race, as the conventional wisdom had it.  A sharp statesman would have found a way to make the Soviets think we were spending more than we were.  But you know damn well that some defense contractors were happier than pigs in shit with the way things were going.

Even when it came to monetary policy, the Reagan administration was a band of thieves.  Keep the interest rates low—that’s all they cared about.  The story is told—I believe it’s in Bob Woodward’s book on Alan Greenspan, called Maestro—about Fed chairman Paul Volcker, a Carter appointee, being pressed by the president and a close aide to keep rates low, i.e. pump more money into the system.  Volcker, in a testament to his character, resisted.  He was quickly replaced at the end of his term with Captain Printing Press.  Low rates stimulate the economy, said the administration.  Here’s the dirty little secret: the higher supply of money can also be used to pay for pet projects that no sane citizen would tolerate paying for with his taxes.  Inflation is an insidious, silent tax, levied on every dollar earned, spent, and saved in this country—and it is a regressive tax at that, because it affects the lower income levels the most.  But most people simply treat it as a fact of life rather than a factor of policy.

Skip ahead a generation, and we’ve got W. in the White House, the biggest megalomaniac since FDR. He made the Reagan and Johnson presidencies look like exercises in restraint, singing loud Te Deums of Why don’t we just bomb the sunsabitches?  Self-described fiscal conservatives credit him with cutting taxes, but again, the unpopular projects were paid for through monetary inflation.  And how much has that Medicare reform cost us? And the Every Child Left in the Dust Act? Bush II was a naive Wilsonian ideologue who rode the coat tails of the evangelists, the conservative Catholics, and the xenophobes (I use this last term in an unconventional, all-encompassing sort of way) into the White House. Or at least his close advisors were.  One wonders how we got from “No nation building” in the 2000 campaign to making the Middle East safe for dumbocracy.  These are expensive propositions, paid for by your retirement fund.  The tribal leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq thank you very much.

And here we are now, with a debt crisis, a Democrat sitting in the White House, and the GOP running the House of Representatives. This crop of elephants promised us in 2010 that they really meant it this time—they really were conservatives.  Small government this, fiscal responsibility that.  But even in the midst of this debt crisis, there are programs, sacred cows, that they refuse to touch.  Sure, Barack Obama, though he has compromised more than many thought he would, might be playing the same game, and we all know how expensive Obamacare will be, but he didn’t yammer on about small government in his campaign—quite the opposite, as we know.  What I wish to point out here is less the policy and more the hypocrisy of the Republican Party.  The GOP favors small government.  Ok, cut every non-essential, outdated portion of the defense budget.  Fat chance.  Stop chasing down drug users who are not committing violent crimes.  Ohhh but there might be something against that somewhere in the Bible.  Maybe it’s in Matthew 24. Et cetera, ad nauseam.

This is all a dog-and-pony show, my friends.  The Republicans don’t want a small government any more than I want to go country line dancing.  Their libertarian-flavored stance is a self-contradiction: If they believed government to be evil, they wouldn’t be so eager to exercise power when they can get it, and they wouldn’t so gladly be generous to fat cat contractors with the tax money of us mere proles.  I am reminded of the two-part question that Satan, as narrator, asks repeatedly in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (a fantastic book not so beloved by certain governments): 1) What kind of idea are you, one that compromises or holds firm when you lose? and, more importantly, 2) How do you act when you win?

Well, we have seen how the Republicans act when they win, and it can hardly be described as fiscally conservative.  If we could say otherwise, the present behavior of the Republicans might be defensible, even heroic.  But after years of pleading that politics is the art of compromise—and therefore we can’t be as conservative as we’d like—they have chosen the worst possible moment to pose as principled people.  I’m not convinced that John Boehner is the problem here; he may well have unenviable realities within his caucus to deal with.  But some people somewhere in the Republican party have chosen to thump their chests instead of beat their breasts, which is what they, along with the Democrats, should be doing.  They have both screwed us over, and—shame on us—most of us are dumb enough to believe it’s all one side or the other. The politicians feed on this Super Bowl mentality and use dire situations like this to score points with their base.

Compromise is a dirty word.  I myself hate it.  But someone needs to face up to the fact that this moment was arrived at through decisions that were made years ago.  If you dance with the devil, you have to pay the fiddler.  Well, dear reader, the violin case has been opened.  The real options here are limited, and all of them involve the implication that the political leadership of this country has been an abysmal failure. Wanna take bets on that happening?

To create electoral theatre, the leaders in Washington are playing with the future of this country. A default would send the dollar tumbling.  How far?  I doubt anyone knows, but in the inflationary days of the Weimar Republic, wheelbarrows full of Marks were required to buy a loaf of bread. Do you think the workers’ salaries rose at the same rate?  Hardly.  That spells destitution.  I’m no fan of social security, but why should old folks who have nothing left pay for this bumbling around?  I’m convinced that, from a practical perspective, it is an injustice. Starving welfare recipients with stubbornness is not the way back to Thomas Paine and John Locke.

Am I saying, “Raise, the debt limit?” Well, yes, if it’s what it takes to buy the time necessary to crash land rather than plunge directly into the ocean. We shouldn’t be in this mess, but we are.  The time for principle was eighty years ago, but every self-described fiscal conservative since Hoover has failed in this regard.  That milk has been spilled, the fat lady has sung, and it’s time to own up to it all. If the libertarian right insists on being brittle now, it will be broken forever. (Bulls of Excommunication from fellow libertarians can be sent to me via email. The tendency to orthodoxy is an affliction of the entire human race, even of the most freedom-loving.)

I get the impression that many on the libertarian right think that this is the dawning of a new age.  Good luck with that.  As much as I have advocated a stateless society, I have always felt that such an order would have to come from a foundation of ideas—a gargantuan task (laughably so, some smaller minds would argue), but all successful revolutions have been ones of thought and not of arms.  Violence and catastrophe only breed chaos, and more states. The dollar collapses and people live happily ever after in their little Agorist paradises? Uh huh.  I got some bridges for sale.  This week’s special: The Walt Whitman for two Diet Pepsis and cheesesteak.

Chaos breeds tyranny.  Always.  The nationalists will be whipping up fascist plans, and the Left Wing will be dreaming up socialist plans, and certain religious types will be chanting their epistles of theocracy from beyond the moat.  Who wins is anyone’s guess. Reason, surely, will not prevail; bread will decide the victor.  I forget who said that a hungry man has no principles.  “We hold these truths to be….”  And the mob yells, Oh, shut up!

You think I’m over-reacting; I know you do.  When we read history books about the decline of civilizations, it’s easy to see the unhappy ending from afar.  Hindsight is a great benefit, and it also affects the imagination.  Look around.  The utilities still work. There are no ruins (except for the inner cities…).  Everything seems so normal.  I suspect that on the precipice of collapse many former societies thought everything was okay, too.  But ruin, like many fallings-out, comes both gradually and all at once.  Its approach becomes apparent, but the exact moment of its arrival is never certain, until it’s too late.

An important implication: This means that no one is in as much control over this as anyone might think.  More reason for the pols to stop fiddling. This, of course, assumes that they give a damn about us.

More snow on the way

It’s been dubbed the Upside-down Winter:  more snow to the south; less to the north.  And there’s more on the way—about a foot more for the city of Philadelphia.  Most of my work is done in isolation, so thankfully it doesn’t affect me as much, unless the bad weather comes on a show-face day.  It does not in this particular case, but I cannot imagine what commuters have been going through this year.

Before settling in for the night, I bought more food-in-a-box—I’m a bachelor after all—and made sure there was sufficient caffeine to get me through the worst of the storm and then some.  Last time I got exactly as much as I needed to deal with what was forecast, and then awoke to find out that the weathermen had underestimated by a good eight inches.  Ah, well.  If I had to predict the future I wouldn’t be so great either.

At a recent meeting of the Philadelphia Anarcho-Capitalists, one person observed that Philadelphia is a failed State.  Anyone who didn’t believe him then must certainly believe him now, two-and-a-half snowstorms later.  Earlier this month it took days to get side streets plowed out.  In these situations the city constantly pleads its case that the workers are doing the best they can.  Maybe they are, but if they are, that doesn’t speak well for the public ownership of road resources.

Some citizen complaints, too, were misplaced.  Many erroneously believed that their street was not plowed properly, if at all.  Often, however, the case was that the plows came, did the best job they could, and in the ensuing days deep icy ruts nonetheless formed, making safe driving impossible even at very slow speeds.  This comes from people throwing snow back into the streets.  I personally witnessed this, though anyone that lives in a place where snow is common will not have a hard time believing the story. Of course, all the officials—the mayor, the police commissioner, Santa Claus, and maybe even the Cardinal Archbishop—went on television to beg people not to throw snow back into the streets, but they did anyhow.   The uniformed are chagrined at this.  Why won’t people just listen to us? I have a theory:  since the streets are owned by everyone, they’re effectively owned by no one; therefore, there is no incentive to take good care of them.  The public ownership of the streets creates an animalistic world in which it is every man for himself, and oftentimes the most efficient solution for Johnny Q shoveling out his Hyundai is to throw the snow out into the driving lane.  To hell with everyone who has to drive through this mess for the next week while we wait for temperatures to struggle their way back to forty degrees.

During one of the recent snowstorms I jokingly mused whether or not Locke’s theory of homesteading applied to digging a car out from two feet of snow, and if, therefore, people “owned” the parking spaces they had dug out.  Does that much fluff render a parcel of land “previously unused?”  Probably not—and please don’t take all this too seriously.  But I suppose it’s a more fun way to get at the idea that only privately held property is conducive to order and peaceful cooperation.  Tempers flared more than once in the past few weeks over parking spaces, and even public officials came to embrace an attitude that the space a resident dug out for himself should be respected.

In the wake of these storms, I did most of my traveling as a pedestrian or as a runner.  Guess which sidewalks were in the worst shape.  If you guessed the sidewalks adjacent to city and federal property, you would be correct.  Private property: 3; public management of necessary resources:  0.  Garbage pickup is also way behind schedule.  Make it 4-0.

I am in the process of resting a weary Achilles tendon, so if it is going to snow, I say go ahead and get it over with.  February already sucks anyhow.  Being disappointed in February weather is like being put out with a politician.  Surely we must know better.

Ron Paul, the prospects for 2012, and an anarchist’s response

I like Ron Paul; I really do.  If I had the chance I’d take him to dinner.  He did a lot of good for me in the formation of my own thinking during his campaign in 2007 and 2008.  Please keep all of this in mind as I indulge in what some might consider to be counter-productive quibbling.

Dr. Paul has, of course, become the de-facto leader of the libertarian right and even an admired figure amongst many anarch0-capitalists.  His efforts have brought the Federal Reserve and its counterfeit money under the microscope of mainstream society.  He predicted the economic collapse which occurred in late 2008, though as yet Rudy Giuliani has not apologized for laughing at him like an immature jock during the presidential debates.

There is some chatter about Paul running for president again in 2012, and anyone who’s even remotely connected to libertarian circles has doubtless received umpteen invitations to join this or that Ron Paul group on Facebook.  This weekend he gave a speech at CPAC, and he even won the straw poll, which elicited boos from the advocates of the warfare State.  I took some time last night to listen to Paul’s speech, and while it contained lots of ear candy for the Old Right, I have to say that talk of constitutionalism, limited government, etc., just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

There is a certain naivete, in my opinion, on the part of libertarians.  Limited government sounds good; in fact, if we had a limited government, there would be no “market,” as it were, for the ideas of anarchism.  But limited government seems to be an historical and practical impossibility.  The same could be said for constitutionalism.  There is no good reason, therefore, to expect the situation in the territory commonly referred to as the United States to be any different, especially when one also considers the fact that the government is responsible for interpreting the very constitution which is supposed to limit its powers.

In addition, how can one expect political stability from a piece of positive legislation?  This is essentially what the constitution is.  It is not a statement of natural rights or of political philosophy; it is a document drawn up in part in response to Shay’s Rebellion, which caused the elites of this country to converge to create a stronger central government.  (So can we put all this nonsense about the founders being for small government to bed?)  It is ironic that the constitution gives the government the explicit right to tax; King George III, on the other hand, never enjoyed such a luxury, a fact which almost certainly contributed to the American revolution.  Are we really supposed to believe in light of things like this—and eminent domain, and…..well, let’s not be too pedantic—that the constitution is a founding document of a government that gives two shakes about individual liberties?

Contrast the constitution with the way monarchies were set up:  “Divine Right” was not, at first, the right of a King to make up a law on his own whim; rather, it meant that all his laws had to be in accord with Divine, or “natural,” law.  It was a means of circumscription.  It, too, was eventually violated, but it took much longer than the constitution, which was “nothing more than a g*ddamned piece of paper” within a few decades, at the very most.

But I digress, a bit.  The point is that this system would seem to be broken, and that there’s no point in trying to work within it in order to rehabilitate order in our society, since its brokenness is related to intrinsic flaws rather than simple mismanagement.  Therefore I believe that Ron Paul could do much more good by being a thinker and speaker than by being a politician who asks neoconservatives at CPAC to consider his cause.  Do you really think he influenced so many people because he came in fourth place in some presidential primary?  Hardly.  It was the ideas he brought with him that did it, and ideas—not politics—are what move society from a lesser condition to a better one.

Congressman Paul seems to believe that working within the Republican Party is the way to promote his ideas.  He is probably in a better position than I am to make this determination.  I’m left wondering, though, if this doesn’t invite a certain kind of adulteration to take place.  Look at what has happened to the Tea Party Movement.  They went from End the Fed to Sarah Palin in only about a year.  Would Ron Paul be better off making himself out to be more on the fringe?  (I know that must sound ridiculous to some people, but from the anarchist perspective it makes sense.)  A sharper line in the sand just might help to prevent the kind of co-opting that political parties thrive on.  Think of the way the conservative movement was watered down and popularized in the late years of the 20th century.

Finally, is it a contradiction to use the political process as a means to promote liberty?  Politics, as Dr. Paul himself has noted, is the art of the majority voting to take away the rights of the minority.  This is anything but liberty and anything but private property rights, which are the foundation of individualism.

All that said, in a world in which Dr. Paul were president, we would be much better off.  Likely the American troops would be out of at least some of the 140 countries in which they are now stationed.  Taxes would be lower.  The first amendment might mean something again, depending upon who the attorney general would be.  This raises a question for the convinced anarchist, whether to side with gradualism or radicalism.  Both have their strong points.  For me, it would seem that radicalism is the answer.  If taxation under Bush at x percent is theft, and taxation under Obama at y percent is theft, then taxation at z percent under Paul—even if it were only hidden taxes such as tariffs showing up as part of the price of a good—would also be theft.  (But don’t think for a minute that Paul would actually be successful at eliminating the income tax.)

I guess it all boils down to the fact that, for me, government as such is the problem, and that it does no good for a good man to become a part of the problem.  Like I said, I like the man.  I’d take him to dinner.  I’d ask him questions about economics and political philosophy.  But not even a man as good as Ron Paul could get me into the political vortex again.

Stand up comedy from CPAC

Television these days seems to be filled with a lot of creepy stuff—shows about cops, crime, hospitals, etc.  As a light sleeper I can’t watch this crap.  I sat down tonight to eat some dinner after a very satisfying run, and turned on the prole box for some light distraction, and, finding my options limited—most of the shows being of the creepy variety—ended up watching the CPAC conference.

These Republicrats never cease to be entertaining.  When I resigned myself to watching this dross, George Will was at the podium, offering up thought-provoking quotes from Alexis de Tocqueville about the tendency of democratic societies to turn into soft tyrannies.  On this point, many commentators would be in agreement:  H.L. Mencken, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Richard Weaver, and, apparently, George Will.  It’s fascinating, however, that if you mention such ideas to most conservatives, they will sneer at you.  Democracy is their false idol, and one dare not speak an ill word about it.  But put them on the losing end of a presidential election and suddenly they start to see the point.  Fair is foul and foul is fair, etc.

Then it came time for the presentation of the John M. Ashbrook Award, named in honor of a congressman who challenged Richard Nixon from the right in 1972.  A video tribute to this late congressman played first, extolling his virtues and crediting him with paving the way for Ronald Reagan in 1976 and 1980.  Anyone who watched the reaction to Ron Paul’s campaign in 2008 must surely have been struck by the irony here.

The Ashbrook Award was  given to Roy Innis, National President for the Congress of Racial Equality.  Can you say “identity politics”?  Let’s be honest:  this African-American was chosen as a counterpoint to Barack Obama.  In the age of television, image is all that seems to matter.  Call me cynical; you’d have a point.  But the timing is a little too perfect, if you ask me.  And of course, the occasion was used to claim the true mantle of Martin Luther King, Jr.  A bit presumptuous, no?  The same behavior from liberals provokes sneers from the right.

Innis advocated bringing the Tea Party into the Republican fold, which doesn’t really upset me, given my a-political inclinations, along with a pretty strong sentiment that the Tea Party is basically conservatism on xenophobic steroids.  More insidious was Innis’ contention that third parties are harmful.  (George Will made a similarly ridiculous point that the two party system represents free thinking, which assumes two fantastic ideas:  1) that there are only two possible solutions to any given problem and 2) that there is an appreciable difference between the two contemporary major political parties.)  The goal is to win, and that has always been the goal in politics.  Even Benjamin Franklin, the primordial Boobus Americanus, understood this.

In this midst of all this, someone—it might have been the master of ceremonies—made a crack about out of control government spending under the Obama administration.  This from the party that just managed eight years of spending that outstripped Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Vietnam War.  How short the American memory is!

All in all, it was an entertaining twenty minutes.  Politics is the same as ever, and as unworthy of my participation as ever.  So what are you going to do to improve society? the Statists usually ask me.  That’s easy.  I will learn, read, and talk about ideas. I will share ideas with others, debating them and feeling for the truth as we paw our way through the dark night of human existence.  Politics does not determine ideas.  Rather, ideas determine what the politicians do, since they merely moisten their fingers and feel for the direction of the wind.

NEA: Propaganda Tool?

Drudge linked to this blog today, from Patrick Courrieiche, who is involved in the arts community and recently took part in a conference call in which the NEA was dangling proposals in front of artists to get them involved in the political process through their work, i.e., by making art which promotes a particular agenda.

I told you so.

The Obama Administration: Change in pennies, part 6,437

“This time, it’s different.”

How many times have we heard this before?  Oh yes, the mainstreamers say, all those other decisions—Vietnam, Korea, the Bay of Pigs, Iraq II, etc.—were mistakes, and the United States should never have stuck its nose into those situations.  But this time, it’s different.

In the video below, Congressman Ron Paul explodes U.S. foreign policy in front of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who, having listened—or at least remained silent—during Paul’s remarks, says, “Afghanistan is not Iraq.”  Then he pulls one of Dick Cheney’s rabbits out of his hat:  “September 11, 2001…..”

This man works for the administration of Barack Obama, the candidate of “change.”  Before the election, I warned people not to expect any real change from Obama.  “Oh, you’re being pessimistic,” I was told.  “Yes, every other president in the past two generations has backed away from his campaign promises, but…….(drumroll, please)……this time, it’s different.”

So much for that.  

Such lunacy will continue to the end of the world, so long as people allow themselves to be hypnotized by these mountebanks each time the olympiad rolls around.  It could change, but I doubt it ever will.  Human nature is flawed, and one of those flaws is gullibility.  One of the evils of the State is that the gullible, who elect these clowns, bring down the rest of us with them.  Maybe someday this will be different, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Hat tip to LRC.