Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his Gods,
~ Thomas Babington Macaulay from "Horatius at the Gate"
The Soviet Union was perhaps history’s most illustrative example of the Total State, of statism run amok. During its lifespan, the Soviet government metastasized to all sectors of Russian society. At its height, it completely dominated Russia’s social, economic, and political life. Most expressions of authentic Russian culture were suppressed, corrupted and ultimately destroyed by the voracious monster that was Soviet communism.
When the inevitable collapse came, it left behind a people with almost no vestige of their organic culture. Nothing remained but twisted wreckage, a social wasteland inhabited by alienated and deculturalized refugees.
The statistics are well known. Since the fall of communism, a generation of Russian men has died early deaths due to alcoholism and disease. Hundreds of thousands of young women have been sold into the sexual slavery of a voracious international prostitution industry.
As a result, Russia has been in a state of demographic implosion, with plunging birth rates and a plummeting life expectancy. By some estimates, 70% of all pregnancies in Russian now end in abortion.
These statistics are all the more alarming when one recalls that, historically speaking, Russians have always been a prolific people, deeply immersed in a Christian, Slavic culture. That statism was able to create such a disaster in a relatively short period of time is a grim testament to its destructive powers, particularly in the realm of culture.
This tragedy illustrates a fundamental maxim: Culture is what people do instead of government (and, conversely, government is what people do instead of culture). Like bad money driving out good, statism advances at the expense of authentic, organic culture.
In two previous articles, I described the death of Western culture and its replacement by post-modernism. Those articles generated a lot of email, with many of the correspondents asking variants of a few simple questions: Was I advocating government action to enforce the dictates of organic culture? Do I wish to transform America into a medieval society? Do I want to force people to live like the Amish?
My answers are, quite obviously, no, no, and no. If I did, I could hardly call myself a libertarian (and any attempt to do such things would be destined to fail anyhow).
These correspondents are, in my humble opinion, misguided as to the true nature of where America is right now, culturally and socially, and how we arrived here.
Genuine, organic culture need not be imposed upon a society, because it sprouts from a particular people, their heritage, and their history. It is a spontaneous and natural expression of who they are, and it arises from the need to cope with the challenges of life and the profound, haunting questions of the human experience. Organic culture encompasses a collection of institutions, such as extended families, churches, fraternal societies, and ethnic associations, which function to insulate individuals from the perils of life and to place it in a coherent moral and philosophical framework.
Post-modernism, on the other hand, is the bastard child of statism. Like an evil doppelganger, it mimics organic culture in form, but it leads only to hopelessness and destruction.
As I noted in those previous pieces, the American version of statism is a four-headed monster. Economically, it expresses itself as a crony-capitalist system in which corrupt manipulators gain fabulous riches through the exploitation of "inside connections." In foreign policy, it expresses itself as imperialism (either the liberal kind, such as our assault on Serbia, or the conservative kind, such as our destruction of Iraq). In domestic politics, it takes the form of social democracy, with its choking, all-encompassing micromanagement of our lives. In the realm of culture, statism expresses itself as post-modernism, the disconnected, degenerate lifestyle that has spread throughout the Western world.
None of these manifestations would be possible (in any significant frequency) without the coercive interference of the state. In the process, post-modernism has taken over the functions of organic society and operated like a "cultural agent orange," defoliating everything in its path and leaving nothing but charred ruins in its wake.
While I do not advocate a statist program to impose organic culture, I do believe that organic culture can and should be reinstituted as our dominant civilizational paradigm. This could be achieved with several simple actions that are entirely consistent with libertarian philosophy:
#1 Abolish the welfare state
The family, both nuclear and extended, is the fundamental unit of civilization. It is the indispensable mechanism for the transmission of myths, values, ideals, and historical memory to succeeding generations. Without these things, as beautifully expressed in Horatius at the Bridge, every other human endeavor diminishes to the point of irrelevancy.
Whosoever lays a hand on the family, sets a match to the fabric of civilization.
As has been exhaustively noted elsewhere, the welfare state functions primarily to replace fathers with government subsidies. The practical effect of this policy is the debasement and disintegration of the family and, therefore, of civilization itself.
The methods by which this post-modern, matriarchal family system destroys civilization are legion.
First, a woman and her children are not, in the majority of cases, a viable and independent economic unit. Thus, this system is inherently parasitic and requires geometrically increasing statist interventions to subsidize it and to administer its manifold social pathologies.
Second, by replacing the responsible functions of men — and by ameliorating some of the negative effects of illegitimacy — the welfare state promotes dysfunctional masculine archetypes. That is a fancy way of saying that the welfare state permits women (and the culture at large) to devalue positive masculine attributes (such as loyalty, foresight, diligence, and emotional maturity) and to glorify negative masculine attributes (the reader need only watch a few minutes of MTV for innumerable examples of those).
Third, due to the absence of fathers (whose presence is actively discouraged by welfare), post-modernism short-circuits the intergenerational transfer of culture and values, with particularly tragic consequences for young men. In healthy, organic societies, the preparation of young men for their future roles as fathers and leaders is the single most important task of the entire culture. Using structured educational institutions, ancient rites and rituals, and arduous trials of the mind and body, a culture’s elders work diligently to channel young men’s aggressive nature toward socially desirable goals.
Without this guidance, young men become loose molecules, a danger to themselves and everyone around them.
Fourth, is welfare’s tragic effect on man’s quest for a legacy. The most important engine of civilization is the desire within a young man’s heart to build something better for his children (and, simultaneously, to honor the contributions of his forefathers by expanding upon their achievements).
In the post-modern system of family disintegration, young men are not sure who their children (or their forefathers) actually are. Families consist primarily of women and their children by various and sundry paramours.
Because of this break in the organic "chain of being," men’s time preferences collapse into a hedonistic pursuit of instant gratification.
After all, they have no ancestors to revere, and they have no descendants to bequeath.
Thus, the net effect of post-modernism, like all matriarchal systems, is an anti-culture marked by indolence, lassitude, and epidemic levels of criminal violence.
By simply unplugging the welfare state, this dysfunctional family system would immediately begin to unravel and be replaced by a more stable and self-sufficient paradigm based on solid, organic culture (without necessitating any "imposition of morality" whatsoever). The "invisible hand of the marketplace" would work its wonders as the cost of the post-modern system would shift to its participants, rather than be inflicted on the shrinking portion of society still capable of producing an economic surplus.
Also, in a culture without a welfare state, immature and dysfunctional paradigms of masculinity would quickly become devalued by women, and admirable masculine traits would become distinctly more desirable. And since young men are keenly attuned to young women’s preferences, those attributes would swiftly become the model for young men as well.
#2 Privatize marriage…and illegitimacy
Throughout the Western world, the state’s involvement in the institution of marriage has been nothing short of a disaster. What is supposed to be the central institution of civilization has become a political football for a bewildering variety of charlatans and ideologues who have encumbered it with a myriad of regulations, taxes, and complicated legalisms.
As should be no surprise, marriage has weakened in direct proportion to the advancing interference of the state. In addition, those institutions of organic culture which have historically functioned to define and enshrine marriage are withering in the face of this assault (yet another example of the maxim that statist "culture" drives out authentic culture).
On top of being destructive, government marriage policies are also unfair and intrusive. It is no business of the government’s whether a particular individual is married or not, and the government certainly has no right to treat citizens differently based on their marital status.
The solution to this whole mess is to divorce (no pun intended) government from marriage.
In practice, this means abolishing civil marriage, common law marriage, and any other laws that define, promote, or interfere with marriage in any way.
Marriage is a private contract between two people. It is not an opportunity for social engineering.
The practical result of the privatization of marriage would be to reinvigorate those institutions of organic culture which have traditionally administered it (which, for the most part, means churches and other religious organizations). These institutions could define their own marriage contract or oversee the negotiation of such a contract between the individuals in question.
For instance, if a couple wished to be married in the Catholic Church, they would have to accept the Catholic Church’s marital contract (or go elsewhere). This contract could define the tenets of the relationship and could predetermine the consequences (including child support) of a divorce. A divorce, should it occur, would then be handled by the Church’s ecclesiastical courts or in some other way as defined by the contract.
The state need not be involved in any way.
In addition, any institution, corporation or individual would be perfectly free to recognize (or refuse to recognize) any marriage contract.
The flip side of the privatization of marriage is the privatization of illegitimacy, which means that the government and its courts should not impose or enforce a marriage contract where none, in fact, exists.
For instance, if a man fathers a child outside of wedlock, he should have no enforceable rights to that child (visitation or otherwise). If he wanted such rights, he should have arranged for the formalization of the relationship before the child was conceived (or, alternatively, he should form a marriage contract with the mother after the fact).
Either way, it’s none of the government’s business.
On the opposite side, a woman who bears a child without a formal agreement with the father would have no right to child support (providing that support is one of the major reasons for the existence of marriage in the first place).
If the couple can’t — or won’t — reach an agreement on their own, the government has no business forcing one upon them.
This does, of course, raise the question of what happens to the woman and her child if she is unable to support herself and cannot rely on either welfare or government-mandated child support.
This eventuality is a major concern of all organic cultures, which have historically spared no effort in dealing with it. Each of the answers provided by organic culture, in addition to being preferable to post-modernism’s plague of family breakdown, would have numerous positive side effects for society in general.
Specifically, a woman could:
- Form a contract with the father (i.e. get married): This will have the positive effect of encouraging family formation instead of family breakdown.
- Rely on her family for support: Extended families are a centerpiece of healthy, organic cultures. They exist to pool risk and help with hardships that may befall its members. This option would thus strengthen this vital institution of organic culture by increasing its members’ interdependence. Also, this option would encourage families to be more inquisitive about the activities of its younger, female members (after all, the family may end up footing the bill).
- Allow another family to adopt the child: There are plenty of good parents looking for children to adopt.
- Rely on charity: This option would strengthen these important institutions of organic culture. Since most charities are religious organizations (rather than soulless government bureaucracies) they will be able to more effectively address underlying causes of social pathology rather than merely subsidizing them. Also, given the voluntary nature of charities, this option would eliminate the "entitlement" mentality that plagues government-run programs. Charitable institutions could impose a variety of rules and behavioral requirements by which the recipient must abide, or go elsewhere.
Again, whichever option she might choose, the framework of her relationship with the child’s father is none of the government’s business.
Some may object to this analysis by arguing that these policies are not in the "best interest of the child." In reality, there is absolutely nothing about post-modern culture that is "good for children." The situation today, which is rife with illegitimacy, abandonment, and abuse, has created the worst circumstances for children in America’s history. Children need a healthy, organic culture, not the degenerating morass that our statist system has become.
Some might also object that these policies will "let men off the hook," since men could make free with women’s sexuality and suffer no adverse consequences.
My response to this concern is: look out your window. Never in the history of Western civilization have so many men so blithely misused so many women with so few social consequences.
In Victorian England (a much less statist and much more organic culture than ours) a man who seduced a woman outside marriage was considered a scandalous cad. If he fathered a child out of wedlock and refused to marry the mother, he was a blackguard, a social outcast. Frequently, he would be disinherited by his own family, and not infrequently he would be violently confronted by male members of the woman’s family (and the fear of being skewered by an angry father’s rapier is also a remarkably effective form of birth control).
In reality, it is the corrosive effects of both welfare and government-mandated child support that have removed the social stigma of illegitimacy. That has allowed men to indulge in levels of sexual predation never before seen in Western civilization.
Welfare and state-mandated child support are the twin air hoses of the dysfunctional post-modern family structure. If we are to ever have a healthy organic culture again, both of these must be "tied off" so that institutions of healthy culture can grow in their place.
Otherwise, we will continue to spiral into the abyss.
#3 Abolish the Federal Reserve and privatize currency
Our society regularly throws people in jail for the crime of "grand theft, auto."
What, then, should be done with people who commit "grand theft, civilization?"
The Federal Reserve System is essentially a racketeering-influenced corrupt organization (RICO). It functions to debase currency and to hold interest rates below market levels for the alleged purpose of "stimulating the economy." The net effect of this policy is to slowly drain real value away from individuals who store their wealth in the inflated currency.
Central banking is thus little more than theft on a massive, societal scale. The purpose of this policy was summed up by none of than Alan Greenspan in a paper written before he turned to the dark side:
Stripped of its academic jargon, the welfare state is nothing more than a mechanism by which governments confiscate the wealth of the productive members of a society to support a wide variety of welfare schemes. A substantial part of the confiscation is affected by taxation. But the welfare statists were quick to recognize that if they wished to retain political power, the amount of taxation had to be limited and they had to resort to programs of massive deficit spending, i.e., they had to borrow money, by issuing government bonds, to finance welfare expenditures on a large scale.
Under a gold standard, the amount of credit that an economy can support is determined by the economy’s tangible assets, since every credit instrument is ultimately a claim on some tangible asset. But government bonds are not backed by tangible wealth, only by the government’s promise to pay out of future tax revenues, and cannot easily be absorbed by the financial markets. A large volume of new government bonds can be sold to the public only at progressively higher interest rates. Thus, government deficit spending under a gold standard is severely limited. The abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit. [Emphasis mine]
That is an elegant summation of the monster that is now devouring America. By some estimates, the present value of our government’s outstanding financial obligations is somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 trillion dollars.
As terrible as that is, some people might ask what it has to do with the degenerate post-modern culture currently plaguing out society.
The answer is: plenty!
First, as noted by Greenspan, fiat currency allows the government to spend far beyond its means. This enables it to finance the plethora of destructive programs that are choking off organic culture and replacing it with dysfunctional, statist anti-culture.
Second, fiat currencies encourage vice and punish virtue. As the value of money is continually drained by government counterfeiting, the entire culture shifts to accommodate this fact. Borrowing is rewarded over investing. Spending is rewarded over saving. Profligacy is rewarded over thrift.
The net effect is to collapse time preferences toward instant gratification.
The third problem with fiat currencies is that government inevitably uses this power to create artificial booms. By "expanding the money supply," government can create the temporary illusion of wealth. Like all "free lunches," this infusion of unearned wealth exerts corrosive effects on the culture. Those historical periods of credit-stimulated booms always coincide with giddy, gin-soaked episodes of cultural decadence (the two most illustrative examples of this phenomenon were the "roaring twenties" here in the USA and the "cabaret culture" of interwar Berlin — a period which is still glorified by statist academics as being a wonderful age of "avant-garde").
Since there is no such thing as a free lunch, these periods of "boom" are always followed by periods of "bust." Unfortunately, by the time the average citizen catches on to the scam, it is usually too late.
The solution to the plague of fiat currency is the gold standard. Preferably, currency should be removed from the government’s grasp altogether and replaced with private sector currencies. Banks and other financial institutions could print their own gold or silver-backed money, which would compete with each other on the free market. Any attempt by these institutions to "expand the money supply" (i.e. counterfeit their currency and steal from their depositors) would constitute felonious fraud. Individuals could choose whichever currency they like for any particular transaction — based on its soundness and reputation — since legal tender laws would also be repealed.
This system would end the corrupt influences of politically-motivated currency debasement and would cut off an important source of statist contamination of our culture.
Fiat currency is like a prostitute with a mini-skirt and a case of Champagne. She may show you a good time tonight, but there will be some serious regrets in the morning.
The gold standard, on the other hand, is a pious maiden who zealously guards her virtue. If you want something from her, you have to obtain it the old fashioned way…you have to earn it.
#4 Abolish the public school system
The public school system is like a decomposing corpse dressed in a tutu and masquerading as a ballerina. While it may look like a functioning cultural institution from afar, the view from up-close is quite different.
Schools are, aside from the family, the most important institution of civilization. An absolutely critical attribute of any educational system is that the particulars of a specific culture be intimately integrated into the fabric of the curriculum. Students must learn their culture’s literary canon, its mythology, its customs and etiquette, and its historical narrative interwoven with their daily lessons. The development of the students’ character must be carefully supervised according to the tenets of a well-defined, consistent code of morality.
These goals are critical to the maintenance of a healthy, organic culture and are more important than the mere transmission of purely academic skills (of what use to society is a compulsive criminal who knows passable trigonometry?)
Our public school system is incapable of fulfilling this function for a number of reasons.
First is the notorious incompetence and inefficiency of any government bureaucracy. That the public school system is, in fact, failing to convey even basic academic skills is too obvious to merit further discussion. Likewise, the well-known deficiencies inherent to nearly all government institutions are also obvious to the point of being self-evident.
Second, America is simply too diverse (polyglot?) for any single school system to adequately address the demands of cultural education. Whose religion, for instance, should it teach? On whose history should it concentrate? Which sacred language should the students learn? (Latin? Hebrew? Arabic?) Whose system of morality should be conveyed?
The public school system has no answers to these questions. Its solution has been to simply divorce organic culture from education altogether (and substitute it with the worship of the state).
The result has been an unmitigated disaster typified by several generations of students disconnected from any organic culture whatsoever.
The public school’s alternate solution has been multiculturalism, the notion that each and every culture should be given equal time and emphasis in the curriculum.
This option is a dismal failure because it conveys nothing but an incoherent mishmash of conflicting (and even mutually-exclusive) cultural principles. A curriculum that tries to be all things to all students ends up being nothing to anyone.
A quick glance at the National Education Association’s curriculum recommendations says it all. It is a horror show of every conceivable post-modern intellectual fetish. It combines the politics of Michael Nifong, the moral philosophy of Paris Hilton, and the social psychology of Dylan Klebold. If this toxic brew fails to turn every student into a gun-slinging drug addict, it certainly isn’t for lack of trying.
A society cannot take a young person who is already being raised in a disastrous system of post-modern family breakdown and send him through an educational system based on these principles.
What pops out the other side is simply not capable of maintaining our civilization.
Since starting this series, many folks have asked me for my predictions.
How will this situation end? Am I optimistic about the future?
Not to sound "Clintonian," but my answer depends on how one chooses to define "optimistic."
Of one thing I am absolutely certain: our contemporary statist system, including its post-modern anti-culture, will eventually collapse. It is based on hallucinogenic debt levels, wildly metastasizing government, and a pompously messianic foreign policy.
It is actually somewhat amusing to hear our elites — especially in academia, government, and media — brag about this system’s alleged virtues (for the best example of this, one need only read the title of neocon Francis Fukuyama’s infamous The End of History and the Last Man). Our elites believe that all human evolution, from the acquisition of the opposable thumb, to the discovery of fire, to the invention of the wheel, has been mere prologue to contemporary Western statism. To hear them tell it, humanity has reached its zenith in our society, with its sleazy, Haliburtonized economy, its corrupt "Duke Cunningham" government, and its underwear-deprived "Britney Spears" popular culture.
That is clearly a self-serving delusion.
In my opinion, the only real question is how this system will die. Will it be methodically deconstructed with wisdom and foresight? Will America consciously decide to shrink its government, re-balance its books, and clean up its culture?
Or will the situation be corrected the messy way, with a Soviet-style economic, political, and cultural collapse?
Obviously, I hope the former is the case, but history shows us that statism is usually defended to the bitter end by those who profit from it the most. While each of the steps outlined in this article would help avoid a catastrophe, they would also seriously disempower our elites.
And pharaohs rarely yield their power voluntarily.
Early 21st Century America has the smell of Brezhnev’s Russia hanging in the air, and judging by the Soviet experience, what comes next is not pretty.
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.