Recovering Lawns, Failed States, and Reasons for Hope

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Here in western Idaho, amid the waning days of August, summer still announces its presence in afternoon temperatures that retreat just short of the century mark.

But the first signs of an overeager autumn can be felt in the odd, lingering morning chill and seen in the subtle golden mellowness that colors the early evening sunshine.

The unfortunate resumption of government schooling has closed the too-brief parenthesis of liberty each summer provides to the inmates of that system. And I find that much of what little spare time I have is consumed by efforts to rehabilitate our yard, which takes up more than an acre in total area.

Owing to the vagaries of the weather, an abortive attempt to start a garden two years ago, the damage inflicted by a young but vigorous canine, and neglect reflecting circumstances beyond my control, the yard became a frightful and mysterious place.

Over the past month or so, as a welcome but unfamiliar normalcy has taken hold of our domestic affairs, I have been ministering to our yard with various landscaping implements, and doing what I can to aid the grass in its noble effort to reclaim the territory usurped by weeds.

And I’ve found myself impressed, once again, by how little it takes to restore a lawn. There are sections I’ve had to re-seed, and a few really tenacious clusters of weeds that will require some particular attention. But to my surprise, new grass now adorns a few isolated sections of the yard where no seeds had been sown.

From the time we moved here nearly three years ago, those sections were barren except for a dense overgrowth of weeds. Those once-drab areas are now blanketed in green. The grass seeds were dormant beneath the weeds, and resilient enough to take possession of the ground once it had been cleared with a weed-eater, mowed, and watered.

Quite naturally, the resurrection of our neglected yard prompted me to ponder the prospects for the recovery of liberty in our society, which is invaded in every conceivable way by the choking tendrils of state power. This overgrowth has happened not merely by neglect — as is the case when a yard becomes ragged with weeds — but more importantly by invitation.

People have been seduced into believing that they can live in symbiosis with the State that is killing what little liberty and prosperity we still enjoy. We have succumbed to the lure of what Bastiat called “institutionalized plunder,” fallen prey to the temptation to employ the State’s coercive power to live at the expense of others. And now we’ve reached a point where a simple weeding, even a thorough one, won’t suffice.

Something much more invasive, more catastrophic, will be required to beat down the State’s overgrowth and clear the field so that freedom can flourish and genuinely civilized life can recover.

The unfolding economic collapse — which implicates every significant institution of the evil system that rules us — could be a providential catastrophe, if it is dealt with correctly. To put the matter simply, for our civilization to recover, the United States of America needs to become a “failed state.”

That term conjures images of Somalia in the early 1990s, as tribal wolf-packs headed by small-bore thugs grandly calling themselves “warlords” plundered famine relief deliveries, leaving thousands to starve. But as we’ll shortly see, there is more to what we might call the “Somali Model” than warlords and famine victims, and much of it could apply to reconstructing free society following the overdue collapse of the American State.

Between the 1960s and the early 1990s, Somalia was the “beneficiary” of huge loans from the World Bank; by 1987, 37 percent of the country’s GNP was derived directly from such loans. Siad Barre, the Marxist kleptocrat on whom the World Bank bestowed that beneficence, lived in opulent splendor even as the nation’s infrastructure rotted away.

Barre’s regime collapsed in 1991, triggering a brief but bloody civil war among rival aspirants to succeed the tyrant. Starving Somalis offered irresistible opportunities for the purveyors of victim pornography, and saturation media coverage of the famine led to a US-led, UN-mandated “humanitarian” intervention in December 1992. That mission was soon redefined as a “nation-building” exercise — that is, an effort to re-impose a standard-issue centralized regime on a fissiparous tribe-based society.

As it happens, the famine was under control before the military intervention began, and the effort to inflict a government on the Somalis led to a great deal of entirely gratuitous bloodshed. So the UN mission folded its tents and left the Somalis to muddle through without a government. And Somalis did more than merely muddle: After suffering horribly under a World Bank-subsidized central government, they flourished in a state-less society precisely because of the “neglect” of the “international community.”

In Somalia, “the very absence of a government may have helped nurture an African oddity — a lean and efficient business sector that does not feed at a public trough controlled by corrupt officials,” wrote Peter Maas in the May 2001 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

Without the instruments of state coercion to misdirect investments and suppress initiative, private businesses sprang up like blades of grass suddenly freed from an oppressive overgrowth of weeds. This in turn encouraged the development of telecommunications, transportation, and shipping companies to serve the needs of the newly liberated private sector.

Internet cafes began to sprout in Mogadishu, which just a decade earlier had been the scene of astonishing bloodshed. Rather than re-building a state-controlled, taxpayer-financed police force, Somali businessmen hired private security firms to protect their investments and property.

“Mogadishu has the closest thing to an Ayn Rand-style economy that the world has ever seen — no bureaucracy or regulation at all,” wrote Maass in astonishment. “The city has had no government since 1991…. Somali investors are making things happen, not waiting for them to happen.” In the stateless Somali economy, everything “is based on trust, and so far it has worked, owing to Somalia’s tightly woven clan networks: everyone knows everyone else, so it’s less likely that an unknown con man will pull off a scam.”

“If the business community succeeds in returning Mogadishu to something resembling normalcy,” concluded Maass, “it will have shown that a failed state, or at least its capital city, can get back on its feet without much help from the outside world.”

Maass understates the case: Somalia’s transformation would illustrate the ability of a stateless society to overcome the pernicious legacy left by decades of “help” from the so-called international community.

A World Bank study grudgingly admitted: “Somalia boasts lower rates of extreme poverty and, in some cases, better infrastructure than richer countries in Africa.” This is almost certainly because it was not cursed with a World Bank-subsidized central government to poach the wealth created by Somalia’s productive class.

Now, you just knew that the architects of international order simply couldn’t allow that state of affairs to continue.

And sure enough, under the all-exculpating rationale provided by the “War on Terror,” the Regime ruling us from Washington arranged for Somalia to be invaded by the vile government ruling the neighboring country, Ethiopia.

This crime was carried out in the name of “stabilizing ” Somalia, with invading foreign troops deployed “in support of Somalia’s fledgling transitional government,” slaughtering thousands of civilians at a throw and driving the business community into exile.

New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, who apparently fills that paper’s Walter Duranty Chair for Collectivist Apologetics, did his considerable best in a seminal April 2007 report to depict Washington’s surrogate aggression in Somalia as a necessary measure to beat down “raw antigovernment defiance.”

As if that were, in some sense, a bad thing.

“They do not pay taxes, their businesses are totally unregulated, and they have skills that are not necessarily geared toward a peaceful society,” wrote Gettleman in an all-but-audible tone of alarmed disapproval. His prose is drenched in scorn when describing Somalis seeking to profit in the private sector, but maintains his composure when describing how the transitional government arbitrarily closed and confiscated profitable businesses and hiked some taxes by as much as 300 percent. Gettleman uncritically quoted Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the puppet ruler grandly calling himself Somalia’s “transitional president,” who described his political critics as “the guys bringing in expired medicine, selling arms, [and] harboring terrorists.”

Gettleman buttressed that self-serving accusation with supposedly authoritative assessments from conveniently anonymous “Western security officials” — you know, the kind people who arranged for Somalia to descend, once again, into murderous chaos, rather than permitting it to enjoy the benefits of state-less, spontaneous order.

By late 2007, thanks to the attention of Washington and its allies, Somalia’s fledgling market economy was gone, and the country was once again on the brink of famine This is typical of the misery inflicted on much of the world by the Regime that rules us from Washington, and it is a small but potent illustration of why that Regime must die.

No, I’m not talking about tearing up the Constitution, although that document has no documented influence on the people who rule us. In fact, it can be plausibly argued that it is only through the death of the incumbent Regime that the constitutional republic that once existed here could be reborn. I am saying that the recovery and survival of human freedom is much more important than “saving” our present government or any of the collectivist institutions engrafted into the body of our constitutional system.

Somalia may not seem to have a whole lot in common with the USA. One key similarity is found in the fact that the government ruling us, like that of pre-1991 Somalia, is propped up by foreign creditors who simply cannot continue to subsidize Washington forever.

Ending those subsidies would mean the immediate collapse of the Washington-centric system. Indeed, that is just one of many ways that collapse could come about.

Yes, that would be a terrifying thing. But no, it is not the worst thing that could happen: Such a collapse could clear the way for the seeds of freedom to take root and flourish. The worst thing would be for the current system to continue ripening in corruption and aggression until it finally brings about a catastrophic war that would, in societal terms, act like a particularly aggressive forest fire — annihilating the seeds and sterilizing the soil, leaving behind a barren, lifeless moonscape.

Should that collapse come, Americans would have to adjust our living habits in some dramatic ways. We’d have to become re-acquainted with the virtues of local living, and find anew the kind of patriotism that is genuine love of a country, rather than an adolescent pride in the power of a government’s killing apparatus. For American Christians this would probably mean abandoning the comfortable, consumerist religion peddled by mega-churches and learning the hard discipline of unconditional faith in God.

We would have to develop a species of toughness not presently in abundant supply. Many of our ancestors lived in state-less frontier communities, and Somalis were experiencing that blessing until they once again fell prey to Washington’s murderous humanitarianism.

“Rugged individualism” is a phrase that falls easily from the fleshy lips of overfed, morally dissolute Republican talk radio shills. We may be given the opportunity to put that much-admired but seldom-exercised virtue in practice in order to rebuild a state-less — which is to say, a genuinely civil — society.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] writes the Pro Libertate blog.

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