This essay was originally published in Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom, edited by John V. Denson, pp. 667—696. An MP3 audio file of this article, read by Dr. Floy Lilley, is available for download.
In a recent survey, people of different nationalities were asked how proud they were to be American, German, French, etc., and whether or not they believed that the world would be a better place if other countries were just like their own. The countries ranking highest in terms of national pride were the United States and Austria. As interesting as it would be to consider the case of Austria, we shall concentrate here on the United States and the question of whether and to what extent the American claim can be justified.
In the following, we will identify three main sources of American national pride, the first two of which are justified sources of pride, while the third actually represents a fateful error. Finally, we will look at how this error might be repaired.
I — A Country of Pioneers
The first source of national pride is the memory of America’s not-so-distant colonial past as a country of pioneers.
In fact, the English settlers coming to North America were the last example of the glorious achievements of what Adam Smith referred to as “a system of natural liberty”: the ability of men to create a free and prosperous commonwealth from scratch. Contrary to the Hobbesian account of human nature — homo homini lupus est — the English settlers demonstrated not just the viability but also the vibrancy and attractiveness of a stateless, anarchocapitalist social order. They demonstrated how, in accordance with the views of John Locke, private property originated naturally through a person’s original appropriation — his purposeful use and transformation — of previously unused land (wilderness). Furthermore, they demonstrated that, based on the recognition of private property, division of labor, and contractual exchange, men were capable of protecting themselves effectively against antisocial aggressors — first and foremost by means of self-defense (less crime existed then than exists now), and as society grew increasingly prosperous and complex, by means of specialization, i.e., by institutions and agencies such as property registries, notaries, lawyers, judges, courts, juries, sheriffs, mutual defense associations, and popular militias.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe [send him mail] is distinguished fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and founder and president of the Property and Freedom Society. His books include Democracy: The God That Failed and The Myth of National Defense. Visit his website.
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