The General Line

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Not since its inception two years ago has LewRockwell.com laid out its principles, other than to emblazon "Anti-State, Anti-War, Pro-Market" on every page. Another way to sum up that slogan is to say that LRC is pro-liberty. Our aim is to present journalism, commentary, and scholarship that embodies the libertarian ideal — deepening, refining, and applying it across a full range of economic, political, and cultural issues.

LRC presents a diversity of views, and not everyone agrees on every point or even on most, but everyone agrees that a focus on liberty as a theme is greatly lacking in public commentary today. LRC attempts to do something about that.

Everyone claims to believe in liberty, so what’s so controversial? The liberty LRC believes in is both unleashed and constrained by the right to private property as a core principle, and hence it embraces capitalism. It is guarded by a decentralized system of law enforcement, and hence favors subsidiarity and self-determination. It is historically rooted in American tradition dating back to the colonial tradition through the wonderful American revolution, which LRC believes represented a just overthrow of the state.

And that raises a point. Who writing about politics today might have joined the founding fathers in their conspiracy to overthrow imperial rule? The question is an important one because this event, more than any other in our history, embodies the core of the American political idea, that men are entitled to liberty from despots. This idea, the founders believed, ought to be acted upon by real people against really existing governments.

If you had asked this question — who would have joined the founders? — two years ago, at the height of anti-Clintonism, the answer was: huge swaths of the activist right, most of the middle and working class, and many people on the left as well. Today, matters are very different. The most striking change is on the right. Largely because a Republican is in the White House, all but a few have signed on to the war effort.

What does it mean to sign on to the war effort? Not just that you support justice for those involved in 9-11; I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t. What war really means is that you are on the side of the state and all its works. What those works are has been shown to us in the events since 9-11: consolidation of government power, the exaltation of the executive, the curbing or abolishing of civil liberties, the creation of military star chambers, the death of more innocents, political upheaval here and abroad, the entrenchment of empire, the confiscation of person and private property, massive credit creation, the enrichment of those who live off the state, and the fueling of resentment among people who yearn for vengeance.

Moreover, war means censorship, arbitrary power, demonization of dissent. Wars turns politicians into full-time liars and gives generals and journalists a taste for blood. It encourages political philosophers and social reformers who lust for putting history on fast forward to achieve their dream of the planned society. It means supporting tyrants, not overthrowing them unless they happen to live in the wrong foreign countries. Instead of going on — and we could — we could just sum up by saying that war always means the opposite of liberty, as we have been shown once again in recent days.

It means nothing to say that you support the war but oppose the imposition of war despotism. This is like saying you support socialism but oppose the control of people’s lives. One goes with the other. If you say you support the war, it means you support everything that goes with war. To oppose the consolidation of power going on right now means to oppose the war. To separate war and despotism is like trying to take poison out of arsenic. To end the despotism requires ending the war. To start the war means to impose domestic despotism and generally favor destruction, which is all war amounts to.

There are two reasons people who otherwise support liberty support war. One, they do not understand the connection between militarism and despotism, or they naively believe that the imposition of statism is only temporary, a view stemming from historical ignorance. Two, they succumb to the special favors granted to libertarians who support war. The state is always anxious for a libertarian gloss to sell its power grabs, and those who provide it are promised rewards (in the most recent case, a promise that a think tank will be included in Social Security "privatization" negotiations).

Those who do not sign up for the war are a special lot of extremely independent-minded people, serious about the business of liberty. We get called all sorts of names. For example, John Ashcroft recently said: “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve” (Dec 6, 2001).

Of course that doesn’t follow, but notice here the echoes of the Congressional Resolution (Sept 14, 2001) that granted Bush the right to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against "persons he determines…aided the terrorist attacks" in order "to prevent any further acts of international terrorism." You don’t have to be paranoid to see that supporting peace in these times is dangerous.

Now, back to the original purpose of this article. In 1965, Murray N. Rothbard founded a magazine called Left and Right. The point wasn’t to forge a new consensus. "This means in no sense," wrote Murray in the opening editorial, "that we are middle-of-the-roaders, eclectically trying to combine, or step between, both poles." The purpose was to develop "a consistent view of liberty" that "includes concepts that have also become part of the rhetoric or program of right and of left."

This is the LRC vision too.

From the right we get a love of property, local political control, and bourgeois culture (and yes, that includes its roots in faith). Also, it is from this tradition that we inherit love of the market economy. People say we make the market a god. It’s more correct to say that we see in commerce the hand of God using the free actions and choices of billions of people to create orderliness where the pseudo-god of government only creates chaos and destruction. The glory and mystery of global commerce has been observed for thousands of years, but it is no less wondrous to see in our everyday lives how it is that people pursuing their self-interest in peace can only promote the interest of society.

From the left, we inherit a deep suspicion of power, a critical attitude toward the status quo, a defense of cosmopolitanism, a belief in the universal rights of man, and the desire to expose the underlying interest-group relationships behind political control. The hatred of war has roots in the right and left, but the left seems decidedly less inclined to whoop it up for war these days. And like all good people of any persuasion, we reject collectivism in all its forms.

As for the state, there is no need to mince words: it is the locus of earthly evil in our day, and in all of history. It differs from a gang of robbers only in its appearance of moral legitimacy. Can we imagine a world without the state? Certainly, but not a world without law. The "anarcho-capitalist" claim is actually a modest one: it observes that there is nothing the state can do that cannot be done better through the institutions of contract, free association, and property rights, and that goes for the enforcement of law as well (think of how well the typical subdivision keeps order). No exceptions to the rule.

That’s all very serious stuff. If you don’t buy it, or regard it as a hodgepodge assembly of random positions, we offer a growing list of bibliographies to help you see that it all fits: it is the consistent program of liberty. See Gordon on Liberty, Stromberg on War, and Wilson on the South, and the forthcoming Hoppe on Anarcho-Capitalism. Or see the voluminous library at Mises.org.

Serious isn’t always, or even usually, the tone of LRC. We seek to have a good time, to link to fun and funny things, to inform you about trends and ideas that are momentous and also just plain goofy. The business of liberty is all about saving civilization from its enemies, but we can have fun while doing it.

As a final note: the stats on this site are beyond anything you can believe. We owe that to the fabulous writers for this site, who are not paid. That’s not a policy. I would love to change that. But not yet. In the meantime, accept LRC as a gift from people who love liberty to compatriots around the world. Fight the power.

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. [send him mail], is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and editor of LewRockwell.com.

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