by Rose Wilder Lane
book is important because it is revolutionary thinking. To appreciate
its value correctly, we should remember the World Revolution’s career
Not two centuries
ago, refugees and castoffs on a wild coast between an empty ocean
and an unknown wilderness, farther from the world’s affairs than
Samoa is now, made an epochal discovery of man’s real nature. "We
hold these truths to be self-evident," they said, "that
all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty
that liberty, as real as life, is the nature of "all men,"
challenged the basic belief and the practical arrangements of the
whole world. And to defend it these low-class underlings rose, "a
rabble in arms," and defied the world’s Great Powers.
They came from
frontier cabins along the James, the Delaware, the Connecticut,
the Mohawk, walking in moccasins and fringed deerskin up the trails
of Virginia, the Carolinas, York State, the Hampshire Grants, to
meet the solid fire of the British Regulars with musket shots and
their revolutionary war cry, "Liberty and Property!" And
a poor refugee printer spoke for them all: "These are the times
that try men’s souls. . . . There hath not been such an opportunity
since the time of Adam. We have it in our power to make a new world."
and lost, fought and lost, fought again – and lost, for eight
years, to a contemptuously broken treaty and a pause. The Great
Powers stood around them, ignoring them, preparing to fight each
other for the new continent: Spain south and southwest of them,
France in the west, Great Britain northwest, north, and using their
eastern ports. These enemies’ secret agents were among them, bribing,
conspiring, plotting. The commander of their little army was in
the pay of the king of Spain. The Republic of Vermont was a wavering
ally. Many New Englanders were ready to return their States to Great
Britain. In that precarious time their President, John Quincy Adams,
discussing their policy, remarked in passing:
the day shall come for your representatives to determine whether
the territories of Ceylon and Madagascar, of Corsica and Cuba, shall
be governed by rules and regulations emanating from your Congress
. . . and whether their people shall ultimately be constituted into
States represented upon the floor of your national legislative assemblies
. . . ."
For their discovery
of the natural liberty of "all men" was world-revolutionary.
The world of God-Kings, of Ruling Classes and wretched peasants,
serfs, slaves enduring brutality, hunger, misery, could not survive
for it again – losing on land, their Capitol looted and burned,
but winning on the Great Lakes, boldly winning in Britain’s own
coastal waters – to the Treaty of Ghent, a real peace; and
at last, after forty years, real recognition of the existence of
their Republic – their revolutionary "republican" federation
of thirteen little, poor, but "free and sovereign States."
Again and again,
through the long past, leagues of nations had failed. This was a
league of "all men," based on the nature of man; so in
time, as its makers thought it must, it could be a federation of
all mankind, a new world of free men. Including Eskimos.
printer wrote: "An army of principles will march on the horizon
of the world, and it will conquer."
Now a strange
thing occurred. In the source and center of this real World Revolution,
the men who were making it – forgot it.
of free men, while overcoming the fierce resistance of a wild continent,
actually created here a wholly new way of human life, never before
imaginable. Men engaged in this stupendous task put their whole
minds into it. And the minds of American intellectuals remained
in the Old World, with the thinkers who were reacting against the
In 1789, George
Washington was President, and Jefferson and Lafayette were taking
the Revolution to France. In 1792, the Jacobin socialists ousted
the French republicans. The Jacobins decreed "unity,"
dictated and, wrecked the economy, tried to enforce unity and obedience
by massacres and the Terror, collapsed, and made way for Napoleon,
the first Hitler. Then appeared in American text books the European
view: "The French Revolution began the spread of liberal ideas."
In the 1830’s
and 1840’s, active Americans were annexing the Republic of California.
Americans in northern Mexico, at San Antonio and San Jacinto, were
fighting and dying for freedom and their dream of the Lone-Star
Republic of Texas. At Yale, an honored guest, the French socialist
Fourier, was enthralling his learned audiences with his visions
of a Socialist World, and New England’s intellectuals were fondly
trusting that their Brook Farm commune was a beginning of the future
Communist World Commonwealth. It wasn’t.
was arousing reaction against it, everywhere in the Old World, from
Mexico in 1820 through all South America, to Italy in the 1860’s,
Germany in the 1880’s, China in 1911, Russia in 1917. The whole
Old World was wrecked. That ancient world of rulers and ruled, tyranny
and slavery, poverty, misery, famine, torture, human degradation,
was smashed by its violent reaction against the discovery that "all
men" are endowed by their Creator with liberty, as real, as
inalienable from a living person as life itself.
the Jacobin reaction has been organized. The first Communist International
failed in France in 1870, and its disheartened members disbanded
it in Philadelphia in 1876. The Second Communist International collapsed
in 1914; its former members became Fascists in Italy, National Socialists
in Germany. The Third Communist International is now an armed Power,
and the issue at last is clear; in the ruins of the Old World, the
Reaction faces the New World with bared teeth and claws, snarling,
"We will bury you."
A century of
heedless builders and reactionary thinkers has had reactionary effects
even within this Republic. Too many Old World fallacies have been
believed here, too many Old World measures imitated. Apparently
only one lone newspaperman, Mr. Haskell, of the Kansas City Star
recognized the "New" Deal as a stale imitation of ancient
Rome in its decline. But the source and center of the World Revolution
is still in this revolutionary Republic, this only successful league
of States, the first ever made to defend every person’s human rights:
life, liberty, property.
A real World
Revolution is not to be won in two centuries. The reaction against
it has wrecked the whole Old World. It wrecked France and retreated
to Germany; wrecked Germany and retreated to darkest Russia and
stagnant China. It can retreat no farther; now is the showdown.
Now the struggle between the old, barbarous past and the new, possible
future involves the whole human world and every one of us alive.
The basic question,
on which the answers to all other questions depend, is: What is
the nature of man? The only political question is: What is the nature
of the institution named "Government"? It is a simple
fact that all men’s future for centuries is being determined by
the answers that Americans give to these fundamental questions.
We have it in our power to make a new world. There has not been
such a responsibility since the time of Adam.
So I would
ask you to sharpen your own thinking on Mr. LeFevre’s genuine thought
about these questions. The value of this little book is its contribution
and its stimulus to true revolutionary thinking. I think you have
not read its like before. If it jolts you, that’s good; these are
the times when minds need waking up. Let nothing keep you from it
~ Rose Wilder
Lane – (1886-1968)
1: Man and His Government
Know then thyself,
presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Man is a conglomerate
of many things. His distinctive characteristic, above all others,
is his ability to create tools. In this department he is unique.
No other animated entity of all creation, so far as we can tell,
has this ability, at least to the extent that man has it.
Man has learned,
because of his remarkable tool-making facility, to extend himself
into all kinds of worlds and situations which would be beyond him
except for his tools. It is the use of tools which gives man mastery
over this planet. If man plunges beyond this planet, it will be
his tools which take him there.
One of the
principal characteristics of the toolmaker is his ability not only
to devise the original tool but to improve upon that tool which
he has devised. It could be argued that a failure to improve a given
tool, while other tools were being improved, might seriously handicap
man’s progress. In other words, if man found himself addicted to
the use of, let us say, the hand ax as the only tool for cutting
wood, to such a degree that he would not consider a better method,
the development of power saws would have been meaningless and impossible.
If man wants to use an ax, and if his desires in this connection
are buttressed by superstitious fear, by religious conviction, by
stubborn willfulness or mental inertia, so that he believes the
use of the ax is right whereas any tool other than the ax would
be wrong, then man would never be able to go beyond the use of the
ax. To convince him that the use of the ax in the midst of far more
effective tools in other categories is no longer desirable, would
require a virtual revolution of thought. Mankind would have to examine
its habits, its thought patterns, its moral convictions, the very
mores of the race itself before it would consider anything else.
man’s use of a particular tool beyond the date of its obsolescence,
though it admittedly had served a purpose at one time, might actually
become a harmful usage. An insistence upon the use of an archaic
instrument could hold back man’s progress, perhaps indefinitely.
Further, if the tool were basic, a dedication to its employment
could become actually destructive. For it might be that this one
tool was of such a nature that it could and would interfere with
the development or the improvement of virtually all other tools.
Man could be bound and limited by the very device which once was,
perhaps, one of his chief aids.
If we can begin
to understand the tools men make, we may begin to understand more
about man’s true nature. The nature of the creator is discernible
in his works.
One of the
most curious and one of the most useful tool-making facilities which
man has is his ability to organize. Any organization made by man
can be classed as a tool.
his organizational efforts by classifying things in groupings according
to his understanding of those things. He learns to make associations
on the basis of identity and similarity. He then learns to make
disassociations on the basis of differences and, finally, opposites.
Man organizes his thoughts, his time, his physical possessions.
Finally, he organizes his neighbors and politics is born.
Men have made
hundreds of thousands of organizations. Each one has a purpose.
Men have learned to combine their energies around a specific objective;
harness the energies of diverse and sometimes even conflicting personalities;
and concentrate upon a program, project, or product, to the exclusion
of all other things. If you look at this process objectively, you
cannot help but be amazed.
long and bloody history of human progress, the most prolific and
fertile efforts have been put forth by men to create an organization
which is called "government." Government has been deemed
by primitive and semi-civilized men as the single most important
tool ever to be devised.
is important because it is a tool designed to multiply the strength
and power of individuals. If one man is strong, two men would be
stronger. From earliest times man has desired strength. If government,
the invention of man, could be so formed that it multiplied man’s
strength, then man would have an important device of power to use
against his enemies. This is the reason for government. It was the
answer to the search made by primitive men for collective strength
in place of individual lack of strength.
For us to understand
the nature of man, a good beginning could be made by attempting
to understand the nature of this tremendous tool of man’s devising.
What is government?
governments are simply groups of men or women which are put together
for the purpose of finding strength, of providing protection. Every
possible combination of rules, codes, laws, charters, constitutions,
regencies, protectorates, treaties, contracts, specifications, and
customs has gone into the tens of thousands of governments which
have been devised during history’s meteoric course. But however
the framework is made, however the structure is built, the fact
remains that government is a tool of man’s devising, neither better
nor worse than the men who devise and use it, and calculated to
make man stronger and better able to protect himself in his weaknesses,
by the use of force, exerted by some over others. That is all.
of what government is, and what government is not, is of paramount
importance. The importance of understanding government lies not
in the importance of government itself, but in the importance men
place upon their beliefs respecting government. The importance of
understanding government lies in the importance of the security
and protection which governments have been devised to provide. Thus,
while men may believe that a government is important in itself,
beneath this belief is the fact that government is a means to an
end, not an end in itself. So we must not only examine this means,
this tool of protection, but we must also explore protection, and
the necessity for it if it exists.
2: A Reasonable Viewpoint
Men have many
viewpoints respecting the functions and the purposes of government.
Let us explore some of them in turn.
It has been
noted that men are weak and that government is a device aimed at
helping men to overcome their weakness.
mentally, and even morally, men appear to be weak. As we look at
man’s physical nature, we recognize immediately that he is no match
for many other living things. Lacking tools, modern man would survive
with difficulty if at all. Tools multiply his energies, making him
more than a match for other living things. In a hand-to-claw combat
man could be bested by almost any other living creature relatively
near his own size.
outrun the four-footed animals, but his tools can. Man cannot outfight
the wild beasts, but his tools can. Man cannot tame the domesticable
animals, but his tools of fences, ropes, cages, special foods, and
man’s mental stature, again we are prone to discover his weakness.
Men have lived in error. What progress man has made has been made
haltingly, as he rubbed superstition and fear from his eyes, studied
the true nature of matter and learned to rise, by means of the tools
of books, research, test tube and model, into a better world.
what man does not know, even all modern mental achievement is but
a single candle flame flickering in darkness. Yet by means of his
tools, man is overcoming this darkness. Where would man be without,
let us say, the alphabet; the numerals 1 to 10; the printing press;
paper, ink, and glue? Eliminate the tools and within a few generations
man would be engulfed once more by superstition, fear, and ignorance.
And what of
morality? Here is, perhaps, the greatest frontier yet to be crossed
by humankind. What does man know and understand about morals? Very
little. In centuries, he has learned that the Golden Rule is good,
and has less than a dozen basic rules of conduct embodied in the
Here, the church
and religion itself have been man’s most useful tools. But today,
even as man’s technology improves, as his mechanical genius unfolds
and his knowledge of matter increases by leaps and bounds, his ability
to govern himself and to master the precepts of morality approaches
a yawning chasm. It could be said that the area of man’s basic goodness
has been too little shored up by effective tools. While man’s material
tools improve, man’s moral tools are neglected and remain largely
static. It would not be too harsh to say that man’s morality has
gone into a decline.
is man – a moral, mental, and physical entity having life.
And here, also, are man’s weaknesses, embodied in his very nature.
But as we have
shown, man has, from his earliest beginnings, turned to government
to bolster his weaknesses. Government is man’s chief organizational
tool to be employed against his weaknesses.
men turn to government in an effort to overcome weakness and to
obtain protection, the strength desired is found in compulsive unity.
Government, inherently, places individualism at a low point on any
scale of values. Individuals are the enemies of government. Government
is inescapably concerned with unity. Individuals are the necessary
It is true
that some governments have proclaimed a contrary doctrine. Some
have said that the individual is important and the government is
merely the servant of the individual. But let the evidence be presented
and we discover that this assertion is only a pleasant fiction.
The servant has the power and the strength. The individual bows
before the might of the servant, who is, despite the platitudes,
a master, not a slave to men. Governments rule. Individuals are
must give way to the violent cohesion of government.
If the individual
is physically, mentally, or morally in error, that is to say, if
the individual is physically a criminal, mentally unbalanced, or
morally degenerated, the combined and powerful action of a government
may provide an amelioration. And it is in this area where actions
taken by government are deemed to be not only proper in a moral
sense, but highly practical and desirable. Since it is true that
an individual who refuses to practice self-discipline and practices
theft, for example, can be opposed, apprehended, and even punished
by government, the employment of this tool by human beings has long
been upheld as a prime necessity.
seem to be, then, a reasonable function for the government to have.
What we must explore are some of the other functions which government
has assumed. Also, we must look into this same function – that
of apprehending and punishing criminals – to determine the
actual necessity of the function and also to discover whether the
function could be performed more practically, more morally, more
economically and more certainly by some tool other than government.
has come largely of his ability not only to discover tools, but
to improve tools. Can the thief-taking ability of government be
improved upon by providing a better tool?
3: Aggressive Power
As we look
at government we find that men have organized for the purpose of
protecting themselves and their property. Government is the tool
of this protection.
government is always an agency which plans to use and, indeed, must
use force, we have noted that government derives its power from
a compulsory unification. All persons under the jurisdiction of
a particular government are compelled to agree with whatever that
government does. The agreement can be enthusiastic, tacit, or reluctant.
But the agreement must be there. Government’s power to protect is
based upon that agreement, however secured. Power, to be effective,
cannot permit exceptions.
Thus, the government
is inevitably opposed to individuals. The individual is the natural
prey of the organizational tool. And we have shown that when the
individual is immoral, mentally retarded, or physically aggressive
against others, the government can employ its cohesive power in
a manner which is pleasing to people in general.
In short, it
can act defensively, taking a position against the one on behalf
of the many.
So long as
the matter is simple, the case clear-cut, the individual obviously
out of order, and the protection of the people generally the paramount
issue, government is fulfilling what people generally expect of
are rarely simple and cases have a way of being complicated and
fogged over with a combination of motives, behavior patterns, backgrounds,
and prejudice. Thus, more times than not, an individual will object
to some particular government action only to find himself, by reason
of his objection, the object and the victim of governmentalism.
and law-abiding citizen, for example, may have perfectly sound and
moral reasons why he does not wish to share his money with the government
or the politicians of Yugoslavia. His conviction can be logically
derived, morally certain, and sincerely maintained. In holding to
his conviction, the individual is harming no one. His belief is
not inimical to the welfare of other people. Actions which might
spring from his belief are not aggressive. In other words, physically,
mentally, and morally, such a citizen can be above reproach.
Yet, when the
government adopts a policy which prescribes the sharing of his earnings
with a foreign government, the man who objects to this can be treated
in precisely the same manner as a bank robber could be treated and
for the same reason. The government cannot brook a deviationist.
If the government
decrees against bank robbing, it can permit of no exception. It
will use its full force of unified power to prevent bank robbing,
or, at worst, to apprehend and punish the robber should one appear.
And if the government decrees a universal sharing of its citizens’
wealth with the politicians of another country, it can permit of
no exception here. It can and it will use its full force of unified
power to collect whatever sums it deems advisable and will punish
any person refusing to provide those sums, with arrest, fine, or
imprisonment, and in the event of resistance, with death.
Thus, in practice,
the tool of protection, which men have devised out of their weaknesses,
can be employed and is employed with equal vigor and ferocity against
both the criminal and the good and harmless citizen. Here the bank
robber and the patriot who loves his country are equated.
has but a single standard, obedience. Its decrees, good, bad, or
indifferent, are enforceable. And the men in government cannot recognize
a law which need not be enforced. If the government has adopted
a policy, the policy must be carried out, even though one policy
may be aimed at social stability and the other at social injustice.
This is one
of the characteristics of weakness contained in man’s nearly universal
tool of strength. The device of protection can be employed as a
weapon both defensively and aggressively.
4: The Law Factory
that a government can perform a defensive function by apprehending
and punishing the criminal, we must look at government on a broader
It is immediately
apparent that there is no government in all the world, saving only
extremely small and local constabularies, which reserves for itself
solely this simple and at least partially constructive function.
The prevention of crime and the punishment of the criminal have
become, in most instances, subsidiary departments of government.
In the main, governments have gone far beyond this field of activity.
concern themselves in general not with criminals, but with law-abiding
citizens. Every citizen is a victim of the aggressive tactics of
government. Government begins by seizing the arbitrary and total
power of deciding how much money it wants. Then it collects the
money without a care or concern for the plight of the individual
who must pay or be punished like a criminal.
Next, the government
establishes hundreds and thousands of regulations which prescribe
particular practices and proscribe others. Almost every action of
every citizen has its legal "do" and "don’t."
The list of
prohibitions and compulsions is too lengthy for cataloguing here.
But it pertains to business operations, licenses, building regulations,
zoning, hours of employment, prices, trade, quotas, embargoes, subsidies,
grants-in-aid, traffic, assembly, slander, libel, trespass, health,
cleanliness, quality, quantity, method, education, indoctrination,
propaganda, news, pictures, morals, food, drink, clothing, housing,
sanitation, roads, farm products, transportation, search, seizure,
mental outlook, exchange of parcels by post, and so on.
It can truthfully
be said that there is almost no activity in which human beings engage
which is free of legality. Think what you will, do what you will,
there is a law somewhere which either compels, limits, or prohibits.
Try to think
of something that people do. With the possible exception of breathing,
laws bristle from the activity like quills from a porcupine. And
the result of all these laws is to make any individual who does
not conform in every respect, a lawbreaker.
Thus, the average
person today, buttressed in by government, surrounded and overshadowed
by government, finds himself a lawbreaker several times during an
average day. And this fact turns him from being a law-abiding citizen
into a lawbreaking citizen and equates him with any criminal who,
in fact, breaks a law with aggressive intent.
But the government,
as has been shown, cannot concern itself with anything but the universal
obedience it must enforce. Thus, any violation of law becomes in
essence a punishable offense. And whereas the government does maintain
certain classifications – civil, criminal, and the like –
the fact remains that even in civil matters government can and will
punish and apprehend with vigor. This is not the fault of government.
This is the nature of government.
This is the
major point which must be understood eventually. Government which
passes and enforces endless rules and codes is not out of character
when it does so. It is in character. That is the way any government
operates. And the longer a given government endures, the more numerous
will be the laws it enacts. It is the business of government to
pass laws and to enforce them. These laws are the productive sum
of all governmental effort. Therefore it is not to be wondered at
when thousands and thousands of new laws come into existence every
year. It would rather be a marvel if this did not happen.
is a law factory. It passes laws in the same manner that another
type of factory extrudes metal molding. Government is a lawmaking
a factory which extrudes metal molding is providing a product which
is useful to the citizens generally, and which certain citizens
will purchase voluntarily; the government factory extrudes compulsion
which is useful principally to the government, itself, but is purchased
in advance by the people, who are never in a position to refuse
5: Government as Competitor
We have now
shown that government has a single, possibly legitimate, function,
that of apprehending and punishing the criminal. We have also shown
that government has, in its manifold legal actions, gone far beyond
its possible legitimacy by passing thousands upon thousands of laws
and rules which tend to equate the average individual, who is peaceful
and orderly, with the criminal who commits acts of aggression with
Now, we must
continue to look at government as it goes even beyond this limit.
For within our own lifetimes, our own governments – national,
state, and local – have gone beyond even the excessiveness
of multiple legal prohibitions and compulsions.
One of the
most serious incursions performed by the governments against their
citizenry has occurred in those instances where the government has
abandoned its position as arbiter and compulsionist, and has embarked
in the role of entrepreneur. Today, not content with compelling
and preventing citizens as they go about their daily routines, government
has developed for itself an independent status as a business or
government has taken on this chore in more than nine hundred separate
fields, ranging from corset making, rope manufacture, and candy-bar
purveying to the distilling of low-grade rum. It has become a provider
of electric power, gas, and water; it runs golf courses, zoos, and
tourist attractions; it manages bus and railroad lines, radio and
television stations, newspapers and periodicals. It manufactures
nuts and bolts and copper wire, and engineers immense building projects.
It builds roads and ships, runs hospitals and, even in the end,
Yet all of
these things also are done by private persons, managing their own
affairs under government supervision and by permission – after
taxes; whereas the government cannot supervise itself, pays no taxes,
and consistently competes with the very persons who are compelled
to provide the wherewithal for government enterprise. Nor have state
or local governments been free of the general federal trespass.
In point of fact, in many areas local governments are the principal
This is a very
far cry, indeed, from the simple expedient of catching and punishing
thieves and murderers. Nor is this the end of government’s straying
from its prescribed course.
In our own
case, anew departure in governmentalism has arisen to plague every
American. For in this country chiefly, although the offense also
exists in other countries to a minor degree, our own taxpayers are
compelled to pay taxes for the support of foreign governments. And
this is tyranny of the worst order.
Yet it is not
unknown in history. Weaker states have, from time immemorial, been
compelled to pay tribute to stronger and more vigorous neighbors.
The innovation, circa the 1930’s, was that the United States of
America, the then strongest and most vigorous nation in the world,
began to pay tribute from a position of strength. And this was the
great advance towards barbarism, made exclusively by American politicians.
its humanitarian language and reduced to fundamentals, the payment
of American tax money to foreign powers constituted international
bribery of an order a degree worse than the payment of ransom money
to the Barbary pirates. Fear was obviously at the bottom of the
the greatest and most productive nation on earth, her politicians
became fearful of both the envy of others and the war making potentials
of others. It was as though we lived in a glass house in a neighborhood
of stone throwers. And to prevent the stones from being thrown,
our government adopted a policy of rewarding our neighbors for the
negative passivity of not throwing stones.
The claim was
made that this would win us friends. The most simple and least informed
psychologist could have revealed that this practice would only win
us the contempt and hostility of others. For America was no glass
house. It was a rich and productive reservoir of a high percentage
of all the production on earth, including the production of the
means to defend ourselves. And this our neighbors knew.
6: National Defense
We come at
once to government’s classic usage, that of making war upon government’s
enemies. Whether we begin our examination of government as a warmaker
in clan, tribe, city, state, or nation, or even as a body of nations
joined together, we find this the single most costly and terrible
function that government can ever attempt.
warfare is always the exclusive prerogative of government. Mobs,
groups, families, or individuals may fight. They may riot, destroy,
pillage, and perform in any wanton way. But it takes a government
to conduct a war. Only government has the capacity, extended through
both time and space, to organize sufficient force and violence to
sustain a war. And only government, in our age, can effectively
amass sufficient wealth for such a nonproductive and destructive
warfare can never be justified on any moral ground. The use of initiated
violence is abhorrent to all persons. But what does fall under our
gaze is the apparent occasional necessity for a government to perform
in war as a defendant. It is true, governments being what they are,
that certain governments will plot and plan an aggressive campaign
of combat, however immoral or foolish such a campaign might be.
And it must follow that if any government undertakes so violent
a course, other governments, lying in the pathway of the deliberate
predator, may with some justification inform their citizens of the
be the nature of this information? Since government is merely a
tool, and since it is always the citizens who face the hazards occasioned
by a physical clash in battle, the alert should always be couched
in terms acceptable to volunteers. Further, the call to arms should
come from the people and not from their government.
If there is
a real danger, the danger is one which the citizens will recognize.
Having recognized it, they will do what they can to defend themselves.
They are the actors of the drama.
On the other
hand, it is entirely possible, and in many instances a proven fact,
that the announced danger is fancied rather than real. Governments
tend to make trouble, in a great hubbub of concern for their own
prerogatives. The citizens are capable of discerning the difference
between a scare drummed up by power-hungry politicians and a real
threat to their safety and security. In truth, the citizens are
always in a better position to make this discernment than is their
government. Governments, as instruments of force and power, are
far too prone to operate in an atmosphere of fear. They tend to
engender fear. They end by believing their own engenderings.
One of the
most serious mistakes the citizens can ever make is to grant to
their government the power of a draft. Governments which can forcefully
enlist the citizens under them, can shoulder their way truculently
among all foreign powers, confident that they can compel a final
showdown to their liking. Lacking this power, a government is constantly
in review before its citizens. The citizens may, in such a case,
refuse to accept their government’s foreign policies and the errors
perpetrated thereby. This would leave such a government in an untenable
position. It must move warily and peacefully or risk an ultimate
exposure before a hostile force.
From a practical
point of view the volunteer in any war is a better soldier than
the conscript. The nature of man being what it is, men will always
seek to be in the place they wish to be, and they will attempt to
get away from the place they do not wish to be. If a man chooses
to oppose an actual enemy in the field, it is because he would rather
be in such a position than in any other. But if a man is compelled
to take the field, and is uncertain as to the actual hostility in
the breast 0f his supposed enemy, he must be driven and forced at
every turn of the road. Such a man will only stay to fight because
he fears his own government more than he fears the guns of his opponents.
Under such compulsions he does not do his best. Nor is his love
of country encouraged by such outrage.
is not to find a way to compel men to defend themselves. This they
will always do. Our problem is to prevent the evils of conscription
which hamper true defense, create armed forces which contain aggressive
potential, and create a drain of economic wealth beyond all other
actions. We must be vigilant that we are not lured into hostile
poses by a fearful or belligerent government.
But here we
run into a whole series of dilemmas. The dilemmas are occasioned
by the fact that historically the citizens have turned over to their
government all power of decision respecting the preparing for and
the waging of war.
How can a government,
armed and capable of conducting an effective defensive campaign,
be successfully prevented from the slightest act of aggressive war?
To this question, history gives us a discouraging answer. Any government
fully armed and ready for defense is all too prone to prove the
point upon the field.
Alas, the human
record proves another point. Who is the aggressor in any war? With
absolute unanimity the answer is, the other fellow. The bristling
engines of war build up along each national boundary. The pressures
mount behind the barricades. A rising tide, like a great wave, towers
menacingly until sometime, somewhere, the laws of gravity take hold
and the great wave topples, spilling out across the barriers like
an onrushing flood. This is aggression. Who caused the spilling?
The science of tactics and of strategy gives us the official ruling.
"Each act of war is retaliatory." Even the first act of
any conflict is in reprisal for some prior condition.
The prior condition
in itself need not be hostile. Differences between nations and people
abound. Wars have been waged for the flimsiest of reasons. Yet,
when a government decides that warfare is "the only course,"
the slightest pretext, relating to color of skin, religious differences,
tariffs, immigration laws, language differences, differences in
philosophies, or even hostile words, has established at one time
or another a cause for war.
when one government hurls its legions across a boundary in an obvious
attempt to amass land and plunder, the excuse is always given that
the aggression occurred because the government on the other side
of the boundary drove the government on the near side to this final
deadly act of politics.
How can the
ultimate in human foolishness be prevented? Clearly, it is preposterous
to assume that the tool capable of such a holocaust can also be
relied upon to prevent the very thing it is uniquely designed to
do. This would be like supposing that fire will not burn, or that
a fire once started can be extinguished by a larger fuel supply.
One does not call upon one’s government to prevent war. One calls
upon one’s government to wage it. And it is here that the necessity
for understanding man’s own nature as well as the nature of his
tool de main, becomes, in modern times, acute.
If we are to
believe the tacticians, war is always a reaction against some prior
act. But this is only saying what has been said all along, that
war is the natural extension of politics. War is organized force
employed by government against some other government which is under
no constraint to give obedience to alien politicians. Governments
wage wars against their individual citizens and it is called policing.
But when a government wages war against another government, it is
called by its right name.
But let us
ask, in what way is a war against an opposing government different
from government’s eternal war against the individual? The answer
is that in principle it is the same; only the battle- fields and
the size and scope of the arena provide a distinction. But it is
a distinction without a difference in principle. Governments back
up their decrees by force of arms. In the event the decree is leveled
against a citizen, the force of arms required is moderate. In the
event the decree is aimed at a foreign power, an army must be employed
to compel obedience.
In the end
we will see that only governments make war. The people in all nations
do the fighting and the dying. But our quarrel is never truly with
them. Our quarrel is always with their government, which sets them
We are not
suggesting a dismantling of the tool of our possible protection.
But we are
suggesting that we examine this tool, recognizing that while it
is capable of defensive action, it is a1so capable of so conducting
itself at home or abroad that defensive action, in the end, becomes
the only course open to us.
Here, as in
every other case, that which was formed for our protection becomes,
finally, the very reason we need to be protected. This tool of defensive
potential inevitably contains the seeds of aggressive force and
violence. The larger and more powerful it becomes defensively, the
more it is apt to use its vast ability in some aggressive manner.
7: A Government’s Government
If we would
understand why our government has so invaded private rights; if
we would learn why our government has expanded so greatly during
the past two and a half decades; if we would comprehend the thinking
which has caused our government to resort to bribery in an effort
to maintain friendly relations, and is even now considering the
advisability of launching a war to prevent a war from breaking out
– we must look to the nature of man, and not to the nature
as we have attempted to show, is merely a tool. Man, the maker of
government, is, in the final analysis, the master of government.
Yet man has made government to perform the opposite function and
to master man. And while all governments begin with the premise
that they will protect the many peaceful from the few who are belligerent,
it is in the nature of governments that the rules will be extended
and expanded until the state itself becomes man’s mortal permanently
damages a priceless relic.
The tool is
blameless. And thus, the government, within itself, is blameless.
It is simply a ravening monster, naturally, and will continue to
grow, to expand, to pounce upon its victims and devour them in foe.
We cannot blame
a lever if, in our exercise of it across a fulcrum, it slips from
our grasp and smashes a toe. We cannot blame a shovel if, in the
hands of the wielder, it plunges into an ancient tomb and the normal
course of its activity. That is the kind of tool it is. Man made
the tool to perform in that fashion.
It is an instrument
of force and coercion. And there can never be an instrument of force
and coercion which will consciously restrain itself. It must be
restrained. Yet there is no tool capable of such restraint. For
any type of tool, whatever its nature, which is allegedly formed
to restrain and contain government, would, by its own nature, simply
become a government’s government.
In other words,
the restraining tool for a compulsive instrument would have to contain
a greater accumulation of power than the compulsive instrument or
it would be ineffective. But this, in essence, would also be a government.
It would simply be a larger, more compulsive, more dangerous and
more mischievous tool and less subject to restraint than the original
instrument of coercion.
Nations falls into this category, as – does every other prior
political organization aimed at universal peace. The United Nations
is simply a government’s government. The members of the United Nations
are, by definition, not the peoples of the world, but the nations
of the world, at present eighty-two in number.
people cannot belong to the United Nations. Only governments can
belong. The delegates to the United Nations are simply politicians
who have been appointed by the member governments. And it is in
the nature of the United Nations that it will look after the governmental
interests of its members. Hence, the things that the member governments
desire to do will become the policies of the United Nations.
But the thing
all member governments desire to do is to rule their own people
and to collect money from them. This is inherent in their natures.
So the United Nations, perforce, will aid and abet the member governments
in their universal desire to maintain a coercive hold over their
Thus, the United
Nations is a government of the governments, by the governments,
and for the governments. And it cannot and will not restrain these
governments, for the members support the giant, looking to it for
backing, even as the individual citizen supports his own government
and looks to it for backing.
So much for
the nature of government, and even for the nature of a government’s
But at the
root of all government stand the people. What is it in the nature
of human beings which causes them to look to a government?
There is only
one thing which causes man to look for and to organize a tool which
is an instrument of compulsion and prohibition. That thing is fear.
Men look to government to protect them because they fear. And virtually
without exception, everything that human beings fear becomes a project
LeFevre (1911–1986) was a businessman and radio personality,
and the founder of the Freedom School in Colorado Springs, Colorado,
whose purpose was to educate people from all walks of life in the
libertarian intellectual tradition. Before it closed in 1968, it
had featured among its rotating faculty Rose Wilder Lane, Milton
Friedman, F.A. Harper, Frank Chodorov, Leonard Read, Gordon Tullock,
G. Warren Nutter, Bruno Leoni, James J. Martin, and even Ludwig
von Mises. His library and papers are housed at the Mises