systems do far more than diminish the material quality of our lives
or deprive us of our liberties. To the degree of their power over
us, they help to deplete the passion for living that gives meaning
to our experiences here on earth. One sees a reflection of this
inner emptiness in the zombie-like behavior of men and women who
have long been accustomed to tyrannical regimes, or in the looks
of detachment in the eyes of concentration camp prisoners. We have
all seen newsreel footage of persons being liberated from Nazi imprisonment.
One would think that being freed from months or years of dehumanized
captivity would have brought looks of joy into their faces. Instead,
we saw expressions of the deeper costs of tyranny that go far beyond
the calculation of the dead: the breaking of the human spirit.
do not want us to think in terms of how their practices erode our
sense of being human. While they are not comfortable with our awareness
that their systems resulted in the deaths of some two hundred million
persons in the twentieth century alone, they can live with such
information. After all, these are only collective statistics,
abstractions which, like references to "gross domestic product,"
"rates of unemployment," or the "Dow-Jones industrial
average," cloud the costs individuals always pay at
the hands of the state. Such information may be an embarrassment
to statists, but it poses no significant threat, for it is too disconnected
from personal experience to rouse individual souls from their slumbers.
speak of the dehumanization or spiritual depletion of the lives
of individuals is so alien to most of us that few can even begin
to envision the meaning of such concerns. Our institutional masters
have trained us to regard the depletion of our income, or
savings, or other material factors as the only "costs"
to which we ought to devote our attentions. Sadly, even many of
my free-market, libertarian friends seem stuck on the proposition
that a laissez-faire economic system would be sufficient for a free,
peaceful, and productive life.
be free to make decisions regarding our own lives and property,
and to be able to enter into voluntary agreements with others is,
of course, essential to an individually meaningful life. Having
a daily supply of food and water is equally essential to our lives,
but hardly sufficient for living well. I shall forever recall George
Orwell's description of the institutionalized "tinny stew"
fed to the humanoids in his 1984,
as exemplary of the ways in which the state feeds — but does not
nourish — its conscripts. How reminiscent is this of the cafeteria
offerings in government schools, prisons, or military establishments?
Can one find any correlation between being adequately fed — so as
to sustain the conscripts' usefulness to the state — and the pursuit
of a meaningful life as a human being?
problems we experience at the hands of the institutions to which
we subject ourselves do not derive from the malevolence or ambitions
of power of those purporting to be "authorities" over
us. Rather, they are the consequences of our acknowledging them
to have such authority! Most of our problems originate within
our own minds, and we are generally too frightened of the specters
we might discover therein to want to search out the root cause of
our difficulties. Like the man who searched beneath a streetlight
for the car keys he lost a block away "because the light's
better here," most of us opt for the quick-and-easy explanations
that target institutional flaws. It is so much easier for us to
think of ourselves as victims of the state, than as having suffered
the consequences of our own thinking.
many of us live dispirited lives because we have given up on ourselves,
and look for direction and meaning in life by attaching ourselves
to external agencies or purposes. In the course of doing so, we
emasculate our emotions and feelings as hindrances to the sense
of "responsibility" we believe we have to such external
forces. We repress our inner voices with drugs, alcohol, or programs
to help us "adjust" or "adapt" to our servitude.
Not wanting our children to be left out of the system, we accede
to their being labeled "hyperactive" or suffering from
"attention deficit disorder," when their only offense
has been to pursue the self-directed exploration that is the essence
of life. Like their parents before them, children must learn to
become serviceable to their masters and to live according to agendas
set by others. Dispositions for autonomous thinking or behavior
must be smothered, whether by fear, intimidation, or the on-campus
drugs against which school systems are not at war!
institutional order — particularly the state — requires us to live
externalized lives, in which our attentions are drawn to
the pursuit of values beyond ourselves: wealth, fame, status, power,
or the approval of others. To be an externally-directed person is
to give up on one's sense of being; to admit to the unworthiness
of one's very soul; to seek meaning in others rather than oneself.
Ultimately, it is to embrace the mass-mindedness that inheres
in every collectivist system. The contest between collectivism
and individualism has always been, at its core, a struggle
for the human soul.
live well means more than simply staying alive or being comfortable.
Our pet animals enjoy that status. If life is to be experienced
as our nature has prepared us, we must learn to live with passion;
with a sense of focused, self-directed energy. The study
of economics reminds us that life is a subjective process
of learning, making choices, taking actions. The search for truth
and the principled life occurs within each of us, or not at all.
We are volitional, choosing beings; what the poet Seamus Heaney
called "the hunters and gatherers of values."
live with passion is to live an internally directed life that exhibits
a fiery, creative, exploring spirit. When we live this way — rather
than as numbers in faceless computers — we see through the cruel
and brutish ways by which we cooperate with others in degrading
and destroying our lives. This is not some theoretical proposition,
but reflects ways in which humans have occasionally transcended
their bleak and dispirited conditions and experienced life as inner,
Enlightenment was one of the most dramatic and creative of these
epochs. In his study, Peter Gay observed that this period consisted
of a "loose, informal, wholly unorganized coalition of cultural
critics, religious skeptics, and political reformers" in Europe
and North America. Its participants insisted on a number of conditions,
the most important of which was "freedom in its many forms
— freedom from arbitrary power, freedom of speech, freedom of trade,
freedom to realize one's talents, freedom of aesthetic response,
freedom, in a word, of moral man to make his own way in the world."
what of that greatest of all periods for the advancement of the
material well-being of mankind, the Industrial Revolution? In contrast
with collectivists – who feign concern for the welfare of a humanity
that they insist on keeping in abject, but equal, scarcity — inventive
souls discovered the creative potentials of the marketplace. In
the words of the noted English historian, T.S. Ashton, "England
was delivered, not by her rulers, but by those who, seeking no doubt
their own narrow ends, had the wit and resource to devise new instruments
of production and new methods of administering industry."
anti-business zealots, Marxists, and lesser socialists have always
been unable to see the correlation between the spiritual and material
dimensions of life implicit in the Industrial Revolution. This is
a sad reflection of how far our abstract thinking is removed from
the pursuit of those means that exalt and nourish both the body
and spirit of mankind. Are we to believe that any of this was brought
about by men and women marching in lockstep to the beat of statist
drummers? What political leader or agency ever produced anything
that truly advanced the well-being of humanity? When have the collective
efforts of externally-directed oafs – their minds carefully scripted
to vocalize the establishment line — ever produced through opinion
polls, "town meetings," bumper-sticker slogans, or talk-show
babblings, any value or insight that improved the condition of man?
tenacity with which some plead the case for liberty is an expression
of the spirited passion for life. That the autonomous spirit of
individuals not be restrained by others is central to what it means
to live in wholeness as a human being. There is a life force within
us all that statists insist on channeling into behaviors that serve
their ends. Thus, young men are induced to believe there is something
ennobling about fighting and dying in wars, or strapping bombs to
one's body and killing innocent "others." Young adults
grow up thinking that participating in government programs to compel
people to do things they do not choose to do, is a form of "social
is worse, we have been taught to repress our passion for
life, or to confuse "passion" with "excitement."
Rather than regarding our feelings and emotions as warning signs
to apprise us of the folly or danger of a present course of action,
we have been told to deny such voices. We are admonished
to "stay calm" and not "get emotional," particularly
at a time when our emotions ought to be in communication with our
those with ambitions for power conspire to command, plunder, and
destroy the lives of others, it is time to "get emotional";
not in reactive, violent ways that pose no serious threat to their
intrigues, but through introspective means that awaken the inner
spirit. No more than when we are in the midst of muggers and rapists
ought we to "stay calm," like contented cows, amongst
those who seek to ensnare us in their schemes with lies, distortions,
and threats. Such people are telling us, by their conduct, that
they are unable to share with us a life of integrity, and it is
integrity, or wholeness, upon which a focused life depends.
an awakening must begin with an understanding of how personal
liberty is the expression of the human soul in society. But
it must go beyond abstract philosophizing. We need to become truly
inspired, in the root meaning of that word, i.e., "to
breathe in the spirit," or, as I would suggest, to rediscover
the spirit that is already within us. We could reach back into human
history to try to find the source of the spiritual energy that powered
the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Reformation, the Industrial
Revolution, and other periods of individually relevant life.
lessons of history provide insights, but are unable, in themselves,
to affect the transformations of will that must occur within you
and me if we are to reclaim our spiritual sense. Such changes must
begin with a determination that we are individuals worthy
to act within the world for our own purposes, rather than resources
to be acted upon for the ambitions of others.
we are to become emotional about our own existence, perhaps we need
do no more than rekindle that enthusiasm for life we experienced
as children, when the word "why?" was our response not
only to the unknown but to those who sought to restrain us. Might
we rediscover how to live with such a constant variety of things
to do that we lose all sense of time; and with the awareness that
time is too valuable to either count or kill? Might
our work become as joyous as our childhood play; and
might we recapture daydreaming from those who see it only
as "dawdling," rather than a "fine art?" Might
we, in other words, awaken that passion for energized living that
we have been conditioned to keep in repose?