Render Unto Caesar?

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As I watched the caisson carrying the casket of Ronald Reagan roll towards the Capitol Building, I felt a wide range of emotions. On a purely human level, it is impossible not to be touched by the heartbreak evident in Nancy Reagan’s eyes. Clearly, their marriage was a pairing of souls…the kind to which most people can only hope to aspire.

But my opinion of Reagan’s presidency is mixed. As many libertarians have been noting, he was not necessarily a liberator of the people from the bonds of big government. Spending went up, regulations increased, and America entwined itself in numerous regions of the world in which we had no business being (Lebanon being the most prominent example).

But I believe this was, to a certain extent, the inevitable result of Reagan’s becoming a part of Leviathan. Anyone who joins the Empire will inevitably have to sell a portion of his soul to it. Reagan was forced to make compromises and "sell out" many of his beliefs in order to survive in the Evil City on the Potomac. This is not to excuse him, but rather is offered as an explanation.

It is also important to remember that this "big government Ronnie" was only a part of his overall record. It is also undeniable that he was a remarkable salesman of liberty. He popularized many of the ideas of Mises, Hayek, and Rand. He introduced a whole new way of thinking to many Americans, and our nation is better off because of it. While these seeds may not have germinated in his presidency, they are still out there in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. And who knows what harvest his sowing of the ideas of freedom might one day reap?

Despite these mixed emotions, I was gravely disturbed by the whole week-long ceremony itself. It was awash in royalism, Caesarism, and state-worship. It was a funeral worthy of an Emperor, but not of the president of a humble Republic. This was predominantly the responsibility of the imperial system as a whole. Even a man who preached that "government is the problem, not the solution" was, in the end, used by the system to aggrandize and mythologize itself. If nothing else, the funeral shows just how deeply rooted this hideous imperial structure really is.

As for specific criticisms…the one thing that I found most upsetting this past week was the suggestion that Reagan be placed on our currency (it seems as though the ten dollar bill is to be the target).

From an idealistic, libertarian perspective, the government should not be involved in our currency at all. It has been disastrous for mankind that we have continually allowed governments to control the medium of wealth storage. Time and again, government has debased and manipulated currency in ways that have ended up looting the people’s wealth and destroying the economy. That story is as old as humanity.

It would be far better to allow private banks or other organizations to issue their own currencies, which would compete against one another in the market place on the basis of soundness and security.

But this is, at least for any time in the foreseeable future, a mere wish.

And so long as we are to be burdened with government currency, we should at least insist that politicians keep their mug shots off of it. I’m not exactly sure where the idea of putting the Great Leader’s likeness on money first arose, but it always signifies the worship of the State and the divine status of the Ruler.

By the time of Imperial Rome, it was well established that the likeness of Caesar (and sometimes his lovers, cronies, or family members) would appear on coinage. Usually, the opportunity for direct propaganda would arise as well. It was common knowledge that the slogans appearing on Roman coins were pure baloney, and usually signified the exact opposite of whatever claims were made. Thus, if Caesar’s new coins stated that "The Legions Love Caesar!", then one could automatically assume that Caesar was worrying about the loyalty of the army. Or if new currency appeared that stated "Victory Soon in Germania!"…then it was a pretty good bet that the Legions were being crushed in Germania.

But at any rate, government officials have no business on our currency. The best tribute that could be paid to the memory of Ronald Reagan (at least to that portion of his actions and beliefs which represented his more noble nature) would be to pass a law to remove all of the politicians from our money.

Ideally, we should replace them with inanimate objects representing the principles of our Republic. The Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, etc. would be much more appropriate on our dollars than depictions of various government officials.

And if we find that we have an irresistible impulse to put people on our currency, then let us replace the politicos with private citizens who have truly accomplished a great deal and who have contributed to humanity in positive ways. I recall reading somewhere that "he who makes two ears of corn grow where only one grew before has done more for humanity than the entire race of politicians put together."

Jonas Salk discovered the polio vaccine. The Wright brothers invented the airplane. Neil Armstrong was the first man to step on the surface of the moon. Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.

What have the people currently on our money (with the possible exceptions of Washington and Jefferson) done to compare to these achievements? Putting authentic, private heroes on our currency would idealize true human accomplishments, rather than engage in the sordid Leviathan-worship that is now inherent in our government coinage.

Ronald Reagan said repeatedly in his lifetime that he believed that the greatness of America was to be found in the citizenry, not in the government. By taking him at his word and restoring republican values to our money, we will be paying authentic tribute to this wise sentiment…a tribute that is far more becoming than the lavish, militarized ceremony which occurred last week in Washington.

Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.

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