Freedom Is Honesty, and Honesty Is Freedom

Email Print

a public lecture in New Haven, CT on January 16, 1899, Yale sociologist
and laissez-faire advocate William Graham Sumner did what an intellectual
is supposed to do: he told the truth. After America's easy military
victory against Spain, by which Puerto Rico and the Philippines
became possessions of the United States, Sumner took the curious
position that Spain won the war. Not Spain the country, but Spain
the idea, Spain the Empire. By engaging in this conquest, we had
become what Spain was. As Sumner put it:

was the first, for a long time the greatest, of the modern imperialistic
states … We have beaten Spain in a military conflict, but we are
submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies.
Expansionism and imperialism are nothing but the old philosophies
of national prosperity which have brought Spain to where she now
is. These philosophies appeal to national vanity and national cupidity.
They are seductive, especially upon the first view and the most
superficial judgment, and therefore it cannot be denied that they
are very strong for popular effect. They are delusions, and they
will lead us to ruin unless we are hardheaded enough to resist them.
In any case the year 1898 is a great landmark in the history of
the United States." ("The Conquest of the United States
by Spain," in On
Liberty, Society, and Politics: the Essential Essays of William
Graham Sumner
, Robert C. Bannister, editor)

was in part prophetic, in part not. He was right in seeing no good
result in our takeover of the Philippines, right about militarism
in Europe, right about Negroes "falling out of fashion"
according to new partisan alliances, right that there are some things
that government just isn't able to do. He did not foresee decades
down the road, but who can? The advent of the income tax and unlimited
government, which quickly gave us the resources to join World War
I, Sumner did not foresee. So he obviously couldn't have predicted
any subsequent wars, or that such wars were justified in the most
grandiose moral language. Our war against Spain in Cuba in 1898
was fraudulent and wrong, as all of our wars have been. Nevertheless,
the Spanish-American War had to do with saving a neighboring (Cuban)
people from chaos and injustice (winning the Philippines was an
unintended consequence). The Spanish-American War had limited aims;
it was not about saving the entire world.

could not have foreseen the process of lies and propaganda by which
America became the savior of the entire world – not just a
colonial power with rivals, but the dominant power on earth. It
achieved this because a religious zeal overtook America in its wars,
in which the principle of "non-aggression" became the
actual excuse for aggression. Like Star Trek's Starship Enterprise
obeying the Federation's "Prime Directive," the United
States wouldn't interfere in the domestic affairs of any other civilization,
unless that civilization had contrary interests to ours, or was
morally hypocritical or otherwise repugnant. The fact that these
criteria would indict every nation, just as it would every civilization
the Enterprise ever visited, does not invalidate the high moral
principle. We will just use our superior power and technology, in
one way or another, to demonstrate to backward peoples the error
of their ways. That's the American way, and it happens to be Captain
Kirk's way, too.

dreaded the thought that America would adapt Rudyard Kipling's justification
for British Empire as a morally inevitable "White Man's Burden"
which our country was obliged to undertake. And, ultimately, we
didn't, at least not exactly. But it's hard to say what we really
have fought for instead since World War I. We gained nothing at
all from World War I; we only made things worse. We fought the Nazis
in World War II, willingly gave half the world over to the Communists,
and then realized (!) that communism was actually more hostile to
America than Nazism or Fascism ever could be.

War II proved nothing but that Democracy hates human life. Russia's
Communism? A democratic movement. Italy's fascism? The same. Hitler's
Nazism? The same thing. The extension of socialism in Britain? Same
thing. Nationalism in the United States (direct election of Senators,
income taxes, Prohibition)? The exact same movement. All were justified
not by a commitment to liberty, but by submission to Democracy.

is genocide, mass bombings, mass murder. Democracy is the principle
that the individual doesn't count. Democracy is resentment and envy;
it is venomous hatred of foreign peoples and anyone not like "us,"
especially, not like "me." Democracy is the principle
that all people should suffer equally.

didn't foresee any of this. How could he? Nevertheless, our nation
and the world have become even worse because we didn't heed his
warnings. What I love about Sumner's speech is that at this stage
of his life he was free to speak. He had come to regret his political
activism of the 1870's. He was now free to speak in opposition.
He spoke as one with no stake in the fight, Democratic or Republican.
He did not endorse imperialism with some "concerns" or
"reservations." He instead thought imperialism to be impractical,
a Constitutional conundrum (are conquered peoples subject to the
Constitution? Are they to be made states?), and immoral. He felt
free to criticize his country, not just one Party.

reminds me that, to find the truth in any historical period, it
does little good to look at the partisan newspapers. Better to look
for those who wrote in opposition. Henry David Thoreau and John
C. Calhoun were diametrically opposed on the issue of slavery. Nevertheless,
the one's individualism and the other's theory of state's rights
each make more sense than Lincoln's "Tariffs – {cough}
ahem, excuse me – Union Forever!" approach. Both Thoreau
and Calhoun would have let the Southern states, or any state, secede.
That's the point: Thoreau wouldn't want to pay taxes to a state
or federal government that supported slavery. I wish I had that
courage with regard to paying for somebody else's abortion through
my taxes.

I mean "Opposition," I don't mean one side or the other
of the "we must hear both sides of the issue," the standard
Democrat line or the Republican line. Whether "under God"
should be in the Pledge of Allegiance is a typical issue which,
so they say, in "fairness" people must hear "both
sides." But it's actually the same side. The premise is that
the purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance is noble, no questions asked.
Devotion to the flag is already understood. You are not to think
about any other flag: not your State flag, not the original Gadsden
"Don't Tread on Me" revolutionary flag, and certainly
not the Confederate flag. To the people in power, only the Stars
and Stripes is sacred, whether or not it is "under God."
But when I mean the Opposition, I don't mean the Party out of power
at the moment who still support the Stars and Stripes. That is merely
the opposing Party, jealous of the power it now lacks. This is different
from the real Opposition.

real Opposition doesn't seek power, because it is anti-government.
Morality from time immemorial suggests, at minimum, "hurt no
one." Do nothing to another person against that person's will.
Respect their freedom. Granted, a higher level of personal
happiness will be achieved if one goes beyond this minimum, to the
idea of "do unto others as you would have done to you"
and even greater with "love your neighbor as yourself."
But these are only higher formulations of the original concept,
and they can't possibly violate it. You can't love someone as yourself
and hurt him at the same time. Freedom of the individual is the
foundation of morality. And those who believe in the freedom of
the individual will have two qualities: a respect for truth and
a distrust of government.

is the radical idea that has always outraged the powerful. When
the economist Ludwig von Mises proved with logic the necessity of
human freedom, he was exiled from his own land and couldn't even
find a university that would pay his salary in the "freest"
country in the world, the United States. That's why it is good to
read his opus Human
. (Or at least some of it!) It was published when
the belief in statism was at its highest in America.

not to say that everyone in the Opposition was necessarily an anarchist.
Mises himself wasn't one – at least, he never thought himself to
be one. Neither were many of his pro-freedom American contemporaries.

Paterson, in The
God of the Machine
laments that the Bill of Rights did not
apply to the states at the very beginning. (But she wrote in 1943
before the Supreme Court went completely insane). And I have never
read a bigger cheerleader for American government than Rose Wilder
Lane, in her Give Me Liberty and The
Discovery of Freedom
. And certainly Garet Garrett was no
libertarian, having, in The American Story even called Prohibition
a “noble experiment.” Nevertheless, these three writers, like Mises,
“get it.” They knew what made America work, and that was
free people encumbered only by small and limited government, which
existed only by their own consent.

comparison, Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken, who were also contemporaries
of the above, were anarchists. America worked best, not where there
was small or limited government, but precisely in those places where
government – more precisely, The State – didn't exist
at all. Yet all of these defenders, anarchists or not, were part
of what Murray Rothbard called the "Old Right," mainly
because they had something truthful to say. Not because they were
all in agreement. Not because everything they said was actually
truthful, but that it was at least honestly truthful in the
eyes of the writer. They believed in what they said, even at the
expense of fame and fortune. It is in such people and such people
alone – those who spoke as honestly as they saw it even at
personal cost – that truth may be found. It might be found
elsewhere, by accident. And it's never found among some kinds of
conscientious dissenters, especially communists and other advocates
of Statism. But where we see, more or less, a commitment to leave
the individual alone, there will we also a commitment to truth and
a strong suspicion of government. Lane, Paterson, and Garrett, and
Ayn Rand afterward, may have been cheerleaders for American-style
government as they understood it. But they never wrote in the hope
of gaining power. They wrote instead on behalf of freedom; they
supported America and American government because of how it protected
American freedoms. Not because of how it took away those

is, without doubt, the primary enemy of The State, because Truth
is Freedom. And it's an exciting time to be an enemy of The State,
to be someone who calls it honestly. Honesty is indeed the best
policy after all, because honesty is the freedom of the individual
to tell the truth as he or she sees it. And maybe, just maybe, this
is the age in which the tide begins to turn, where the Opposition
will actually be listened to. There are strong signs that America
is heading in that direction.

20, 2003

Leroy Wilson [send
him mail
] lives and works in Chicago.


Email Print