Spain's Sophisticated Voters

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“I want a government that does not intervene in the economy.”

Don’t we all?

But these are not the words one expects to come out of the mouth of a self-proclaimed socialist — much less the standard-bearer of a socialist party who is about to take power at the head of a major West European nation.

If socialism means anything at all, it is confidence in the government’s ability to manage the economy. But with the communists in China clamoring to endorse private property to buck up their credibility with the capitalist class, and the socialists in Spain swearing to curb the welfare-warfare state, words seem to have lost their traditional meanings.

All to the good. Call peace and freedom what you want. Just make them a reality.

The socialist responsible for the above quotation is Jos Luis Rodrguez Zapatero, the newly elected prime minister of Spain. By condemning the Iraq war as a disaster, and blasting the government for getting Spain involved, he emerges as a leading spokesman for sanity at a time when the lunatics have taken over the management of governments in the West. It is a credit to the Spanish population to have opposed their government’s involvement in the Iraq war to begin with, and to let that opposition show itself in an election.

Zapatero’s victory was all bound up with his position in Iraq. He opposed the collaboration of the government with the Bush administration in that dirty war, and, moreover, he promised to pull the troops out right after being elected. He is sticking to that position after the election despite every manner of pressure not to defy the gods in DC.

This isn’t a call to nationalized industry, no matter how much the Wall Street Journal might try to spin it as a comeback of the bad-guy commies in Old Europe. What’s at work here is nothing but a demand for a non-interventionist foreign policy that stays close to Europe and avoids the moral stain that comes with seeming to approve US imperialism.

What intrigues us in the United States are the circumstances that led to his upset victory. The ruling regime of Jose Maria Aznar received good marks for its economic reform agenda of loosening labor regulations and cutting taxes, but was already deeply unpopular due to its decision to sign up with George Bush in the war on terrorism.

Then the terror bombs hit a train in Madrid, resulting in 200 deaths. The government initially lied about the likely criminals, naming the secession-seeking Basques. That was bad enough. But the real problem was that this sort of blowback was precisely what the opponents of Spanish involvement in the war had expected. They warned that invading other people’s countries tends to make people mad, and they tend to strike back. It would increase, not reduce, terror.

And so it did in Madrid — just as in the United States a war and 10 years of sanctions against Iraq and other interventions in the region led inexorably to 9-11. Millions gathered in Madrid to protest after the bombings, and it wasn’t at first obvious what they were protesting. Americans aren’t used to mobs who think. But it slowly emerged that they were protesting precisely the right thing: a government that defied popular opinion to do the very stupid thing of getting Spain embroiled in someone else’s fight.

After the bombing, Spaniards didn’t shout: “They hate us because we are good!” or “Spain is Number One!” or otherwise pledge their religious devotion to the consolidated Spanish state. Not at all. Instead, they said: that jerk at the top brought this on, because he sold out the nation to appease the Bush administration. There was no Spanish Patriot Act, no creation of a Department of Homeland Security. Instead, there was a wave of good sense which amounted to the following: let’s stop making these people mad by invading and occupying their country.

It is not caving in to the bees to stop poking a stick into their hive.

Put that way, the proper response to terrorism is clear: if you are doing something to provoke it, stop! This is not difficult to understand. What the Spanish case should teach us is that people can understand this simple point.

Americans have somehow come to believe that all acts of terrorism must result in a bigger government. As a result, we have just come to accept the idea that the government will get away with ever more violations of our liberties. In the Spanish case, however, the terror act may result in diminishing government power. This is wholly justified, just as bee stings should teach a person not to agitate them without reason. It is not caving in to the bees to stop poking a stick into their hive.

Why didn’t Americans respond similarly after 9-11? The intellectual elites of both parties and all approved political ideologies agreed to impose a taboo in the days following the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. That taboo was against discussing the events outside the vacuum of that one day. We were all supposed to pretend that the United States government was 100% pure and innocent and had never done anything to anyone.

Incredibly, this was a plausible scenario to many Americans, who had no clue that the US was directly responsible for perhaps a million plus deaths of children in Iraq with its sanctions policies (according to the UN — but say it’s half that for the sake of argument; it makes no difference). Americans are also famously ignorant of Islamic concerns about Infidels With Guns running around in Mecca.

So the elites were able to fob off the lie of US government innocence on the American public because of mass ignorance of US foreign policy. But there was something else in place: the collaboration of the intellectual class in this mass act of censorship. There were a few who dared state the obvious: a professor of Islamic studies in some university somewhere, a commie-style activist, an aging leftist provocateur here and there. They were promptly rounded up and either investigated for their “ties” to the hijackers, or were jeered at and told to leave the country.

It was straight out of Orwell, but it worked. I can think of only a handful of voices who spoke the truth in the month or two following 9-11, and none of them were Beltway think tankers. It could have been otherwise. They could have followed the lead of the Mises Institute, which could not have been more direct (see the last three paragraphs of this piece posted less than one week after 9-11). We were hacked and hit badly as a result, but mostly we were just stunned to find ourselves completely isolated. Would-be allies among those who had warned against US policy in the past just vanished.

With only a handful of voices drawing attention to the reality of American empire — and thank goodness for these voices — neoconservatives and the partisans of federal power carried the day. In the course of a few months, they managed to convince Americans of the most amazingly implausible lies that one can imagine: they bombed us because they hate our freedom and high sense of morality, the attackers were a part of a well-organized conspiracy directed from the center by one or two people, and the best way to fight back is to invade lots of Muslim countries and scrap our remaining liberties at home. All of this, by the way, was touted as patriotism.

The Spaniards know the meaning of patriotism, which is best expressed not in the always-shifting vernacular, but in the ancient Latin phrase: Sic Semper Tyrannis.

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

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