Working as a high school teacher, I sometimes feel a moment of unease while teaching, advising, or supervising students in the dorm. While haranguing students about a minor language or noise violation, or lecturing a student who has once again failed to do his homework, I feel as though really, it isn’t as important as all that. My students, for all their shortcomings, don’t lie to me about why they are launching invasions of foreign countries. For all their carelessness, they don’t toy with nuclear weapons, nor do they shoot children, electrocute college students, or physically threaten those who disagree with them.
More to the point, it isn’t clear exactly what service I am providing to them. We like to say we are preparing them for future success, but this doesn’t seem quite right. The world we will be sending them into appears to be one in which success is quite unlikely. Furthermore, the pathways to success that do remain mostly seem to be things we wouldn’t approve of them doing. After all, success is mostly attained by working as a government thug, a media shill, or a collaborator with the Federal Reserve in its crimes against the currency. As children prepare to go into debt to go to college, they are living in a reality where most of the wealth they could hope to earn in the future has already been spent and promised to others. They already are saddled with massive debt, and live in a country with a currency under fierce attack. Even more importantly, it is clear that our republic is dead, and that we are in the process of installing a totalitarian police state. With the Bush administration, the process is nearing completion, as dissent is violently shut down, government transparency and accountability eliminated, and wars are fought without reason or cause. Indeed, Americans are now subject to random arrest and imprisonment, without any right to habeas corpus; Americans may now be tortured freely, the accused have no rights, and none of us is secure in our possessions or our person. The massive power inherent in government has been unleashed and freed, and all of us are now subject to it. In this kind of world, do we really remain convinced that getting good grades, going to college, and getting a good job are the keys to success?
Yet, live on we all must — it beats any known alternative, certainly. How do we adjust to such a life? The first point we must recognize is that our situation is not new in any sense. Murray Rothbard tells us that the story of human history is the story of a struggle through the ages between the individual, yearning to be free, and the forces of the state, yearning to control him. In most places, at most times, the state wins. The state wins most of the time, not because of its overwhelming force and firepower, but because men’s minds can so easily be won over. The state promises men certainty and security in an inherently unsafe, insecure world, and we accept the bargain. When the state grows and expands, some men choose to ignore it, confident that "their" state would not desire totalitarian power over them; others cheer it on, hoping some day to take their place as a ruler in the system; others cheer even without hoping to rule someday, just eager to avoid having to make hard choices. Once the mythology of the state is planted in the minds of the population, growth from the night-watchman state to the all-powerful state is all but inevitable. And so it is that throughout human history, most men have lived under the control of a tyrannical state.
Neither is it really new for the United States. Although the external appearance might be new, the powers assumed by the current government have always been implied, in one sense or another. That they were held by the judiciary, or the legislature, and now are held by the executive is not really such a change. It has always been the case that, if the government grabbed the powers, they would not be stopped from exercising them. The powers had remained latent until this time, but since the government could always exercise them, we always existed in a state of potential tyranny. Now they’ve gone and done it, is all.
The fact that we are not the first to live in tyranny, of course, is of small comfort. Yet, flip through a history of art textbook, or look carefully at the history of ideas. Ask yourself what great products have been produced in the midst of a totalitarian rule. There is no need to conclude that, because we now live under a tyrannical government, our lives are wasted, or that achievement is impossible. If we are now subject to arbitrary arrest and denial of due process, and if that fate awaits you, it awaits you regardless of how you spend your time until it comes. You can spend that time mourning the loss of freedom, and fearing the moment when you will feel the full power of the state coming down upon your head. You could also spend that time achieving something real, leaving behind great philosophy, art, or literature for future generations, generations whom you can picture as overcoming tyranny, living as free men. Then you can picture a time when what you produce will be valued, will be of importance to men living freely. Which sounds like a more noble use of time?
Yes, we should fight — we should produce Austrian literature advancing the cause of freedom, explain economics to men who have lost the art, campaign for Ron Paul, and take advantage of every opportunity to advance the cause of freedom, and push back the totalitarian state that hovers over us at all times. After all, if future generations may live free, it follows that there will come a time, later than now and sooner than an uncertain then, when freedom will prevail. Who knows, that time could be tomorrow. The Ron Paul Revolution, the marches in Jena, the outrage over Duke, anger over a coming currency collapse — any of it could be the tipping point, the time when the forces of freedom overwhelm the forces of evil and the process of restoring freedom begins. I am not counseling defeatism, nor do I suggest that we give up the fight. I am merely suggesting that, if we don’t win tomorrow, we can still live tomorrow. Men can live under tyranny — not well, not pleasantly, but it can be done. Even if the victory doesn’t come in your lifetime, what you do with your life can make a difference, can contribute to the victory your children of grandchildren will fight for.
All that having been said, some changes do make sense. For one, we need to revise our understanding of success. In a free world, or even a relatively free one, it makes some sense to measure success in terms of money. Bear with me a minute — a fortune, honestly amassed, is at least prima facie evidence in a free economy of having done something worthwhile. After all, if you weren’t serving others, you wouldn’t have earned their money. So, your bank account is an indirect measure of success — it is an easy way to see that you’ve helped others in your life. The problem is, men come to forget just why money was an indicator of success, and use "successful" simply to mean "rich." Then the rules change — we enter a world with a Federal Reserve, with intense regulation of all aspects of the economy, with oppressive taxation and extremely well-paid thugs — and this measure of success becomes entirely ludicrous.
Acknowledging that we now live under a totalitarian government, it is necessary to face the fact that, no matter how much you serve others and do the right thing, you may end up penniless or worse. In the United States today, 1 in every 37 people is either in prison or an ex-inmate; I’d expect this number only to rise. So, you may do the right thing and still end up in prison. We can no longer define success in terms of a good career, either — you may do everything right and have no career in any meaningful sense. Much of our time will be spent complying with regulations, and we will live in an economy which will only worsen. Defining success in terms of staying with a company, or receiving promotions, will only set you up for failure. Success must now be defined in terms of helping others, making person-to-person connections, and doing what is right. The external measures have lost any validity they might have once had. It isn’t your fault you will never be wealthy, or even "comfortable," if you have spent your life doing the right thing and helping others. For that matter, if you wind up in prison, that’s the fault of others, and no reflection on you. If up until you were no longer able to, you were serving others, then you can consider yourself successful, even if from that point on you wind up in prison or worse. These are the ways we need to redefine success to fit the world in which we now live.
So, what kind of lifestyle does this imply? Quite clearly, it implies increased involvement in activities outside of your job. Because of heavy regulation, it is likely that most people can no longer find fulfillment in their jobs, their employment options having been so severely curtailed. So, it would make sense to work the minimum amount necessary to pay for your present lifestyle, along with decent savings (preferably in gold), while making strides to simplify your life further. With the remainder of your time, local volunteer opportunities become important. As the government turns on its citizens, reaching out to your neighbors becomes more important, not less. As government attention focuses more on attacking us, and less on keeping up a pretense of providing traditional government services, new ways of providing these services will be needed. In addition to increased volunteer opportunities, this will mean new market opportunities for well-positioned firms. However, these will have to be small firms, able and willing to work under the radar, as the government will not welcome this competition. We are already starting to see some of this activity — for example, Acadian Ambulance is being hailed as the "anti-FEMA" for its effective rescue operations during the Katrina disaster, and the thousands of lives saved by its employees at that time. Yet can you imagine how angry this must make the FEMA higher-ups?
Education will remain important, when properly understood. As I said before, we need more than ever to educate ourselves in the areas of philosophy, economics, the classics, logic, and all other areas of relevance to freedom. The Remnant needs to continue to operate, and in fact pick up its operations. Those who love freedom must continue to write, to speak — if only to a future world which will need guidance in restoring liberty to our land. Like Orwell’s Winston Smith, we will find ourselves writing letters to an uncertain future. That’s alright — for all we know the day may even come in our lifetimes when educated leadership will be needed for a freedom revolution. So reading Austrian works, as well as other authors of relevance, will be key. Besides the Austrians, and those read by the Austrians, Orwell will be of particular importance, as well as Huxley, Szasz, and Rand.
In the area of education, I have an innovative plan for decentralized, customer-controlled, inexpensive education, complete with unaccredited degrees. Keep an eye out for further details as I work them out.
So, in closing, we know it is possible to live through these dark ages because most men, throughout history, lived in them. Even in the United States, our history already includes Hamilton, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Roosevelt, Wilson, and Nixon. The difference between these men and our current leaders is only one of degree, and the fact of increased technology permitting greater spying. The other difference, perhaps more important, is that our present leaders came to power after all those men, and so can take advantage of the earlier precedents already set, a process that allows each despot to be worse than any who came before. Not only can we live, but we can live successful lives by understanding what success really is. Measure success not in dollars, but in lives touched, men helped, and how much you have done to spread the liberty message, which is the most crucial message in any time. We must lay the groundwork for the restoration of liberty, either in our times or in some later time, and we must teach our children to do the same. The job is hard, but lovers of liberty are up to the task.
Joshua Katz, NREMT-P [send him mail], is the newest member of the mathematics faculty at the Oxford Academy, Westbrook, Connecticut. He has studied philosophy of mind, logic, and epistemology of economics from an Austrian perspective, and is a former graduate student in philosophy at Texas A&M, as well as holding a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He still holds the title of Chief of EMS for the Town of Hempstead Department of Parks and Recreation, and will return to full-time service there in the summer. He enjoys a glass of port and a wedge of Brie, but has discontinued this practice on a regular basis, due to the sugar content of the port.