How to Fight Conspiracies and Win

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When someone at last discovers that some conspiracy has taken over this or that institution, he gets into a mentality that sees conspiracies everywhere. Anyone who finally accepts the fact that one or more conspiracies have been operating for one or more centuries to control the affairs of his nation, or even the whole world, has a tendency to see everything in terms of conspiracies. He begins to attribute to this or that conspiracy the ability to forecast the future almost perfectly, to control the future almost perfectly, and to thwart all attempts of critics to deflect the conspiracy from its agenda.

Over 40 years ago, the man who would later be my father-in-law, R. J. Rushdoony, warned me about this attitude. He called these people “gravediggers.” This was before Phyllis Schlafly used the phrase. He called them gravediggers because he equated them with people who are required by their executioners to dig their own graves before the executioners execute them. This saves work for the executioners. Rushdoony’s point was that conservatives tend to dig their own graves, with the result that their enemies have much less trouble disposing of them. I have found over the years that his assessment was accurate.

The gravedigger gives up hope. He works diligently, but he has no future. He is not going to be able to escape the plans of the executioners. This is how thousands of conspiracy theorists view their own efforts. They give up any thought of reforming the system that has been infiltrated. They offer no plans to replace it. They just wring their hands and cry, “The Conspiracy! The Conspiracy!”

I recall one man who spent his life clipping newspapers and photocopying items about how conspirators have done this or that. I never heard him offer a solution. I never heard him offer a theory of civil government or economics that would serve as an alternative. Yet he spent 35 years in the presence of the libertarian activists and conservative leaders. I never heard him quote an idea from Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, or anyone else. He was completely devoid of ideas. His entire life was spent with no theory of God, man, law, sanctions, and the future. He had no theory of conspiracies and causation. He only had clippings.

He was not alone.

Rushdoony also made the point that people who are looking for ways to avoid personal responsibility for working to change the infiltrated system have a tendency to blame the conspiracy for having infiltrated any organization that might plausibly produce significant social change. In other words, they dismiss the activities of individuals who really are working diligently to transform the system. They do so on the basis that these people are simply dupes of the conspirators. (For an example, click here.) In this sense, Rushdoony said, the conspiracy theorists attribute to the conspiracy what Christianity has historically attributed only to God. They see the conspiracy as an almost sovereign, almost omniscient, almost omnipotent collective group that has the power to direct history as if the group were God.

He warned me that whenever I found myself surrounded by people who attribute most of what takes place in life to a single conspiracy, I would be wise to disassociate myself from that group. He was convinced that it does no good to participate as a gravedigger. The goal is to transform society, and the way to do this is through religious and intellectual evangelism. He was also convinced that individuals should attempt to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, in the language of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:12). He believed that word and deed evangelism is a system. He was convinced that any form of evangelism, for whatever perspective, that does not include programs for transforming the world is simply spinning its wheels. He called this pietism. He also called it Neoplatonism. He was convinced that both pietism and Neoplatonism were basic to 20th-century Christianity. If he were alive today, he would say that both are basic to 21st-century Christianity.

I have adopted a slogan that I believe represents his view. “You can’t beat something with nothing.” This slogan emphasizes the fact that we need good ideas. We also need plans to implement these ideas if we are to be taken seriously. Anyone who has good ideas but has no good ideas about implementing his good ideas is wasting his time. He is also wasting everybody else’s time.

This does not mean that every plan is going to work. Pareto’s law being what it is, 80% of the plans will not work. The point is, however, that without the 80% of the plans that fail, the 20% of the plans that succeed would not succeed. We have to be willing to face failures in many of the projects we attempt, in the hope and belief that in the long run, our efforts will not be in vain. To think that our efforts will be in vain, no matter what we do, is what Rushdoony called gravedigging.

Rushdoony was a great believer in multiple conspiracies in history. He believed that there has always been a confrontation between God and Satan, and this confrontation manifests itself in rival approaches for transforming the world. He believed that the appropriate course of action is to proclaim the truth of whatever position you are attempting to defend, and to work diligently to implement the principles that you say you believe in. You are to attempt to implement these principles in every area of life.

You should be forthright in your proclamation of your first principles, so that people will be able to understand what you’re telling them to do when it comes to implementation. In contrast, a conspiratorial group is not open with respect to its plan. It is not open with respect to its first principles. It works behind the scenes, constantly attempting to subvert the present social order, so that the conspiracy can more easily capture the institutions of power in society.

THE SECRET OF SUCCESSFUL CONSPIRACIES

Rushdoony was convinced that conspiracies can gain long-term power only when their principles are in conformity with the general beliefs of the general population. He did not believe it is possible to control society from behind the scenes in terms of a set of presuppositions totally at odds with the beliefs of the general public. Anyone who attempts to implement a worldview totally at odds with the first principles of the general population will find himself isolated. He will find himself regarded as a crackpot. Nobody will pay any attention to him. It is only when an individual conspires with other individuals to take over the institutions of power in society by means of a secret plan to implement the fundamental principles of that society that you find successful conspiracies. You do not see successful conspiracies that are totally in opposition to what most of the population wants.

So, he concluded, we see all kinds of special-interest groups jockeying for position to control Federal spending. There are many conspiracies out there, he said, that would like to get in control of the Federal government. The reason they want to get into control of the Federal government is because the Federal government has power and money to implement their plans for society.

The reason why the Federal government has so much money and power to implement these plans is because the general population a century ago surrendered such power to the Federal government, and did it on principle. The reason why so many socialist plans get funded by the Federal government is because the public really does like socialism. The public likes the idea of being able to take money from one group and transfer it to another group. The voters think that they will be members of the group that receives the money, not members of the group that has it stolen from them. They are fools, he said, but only in believing that they will not ultimately pay the price. They are not fools in desiring to get the money, given the fact that they believe in the legitimacy of coercive wealth distribution by state power. If you believe in the coercive power of the state, you’re a fool if you don’t attempt to get in control of it.

I learned very early that the conservative movement is mostly about getting in control of state power. It has been a movement devoted to getting its hands into the public trough. It wants its wars, not the liberals’ wars. The liberals say that they don’t want war at all, but they always wind up supporting some Democrat President who takes us into an undeclared war. The conservatives want the same right for Republican Presidents to take us into an undeclared war. So, there is true bipartisanship. Whenever a President takes us into an undeclared war, members of the other political party in Congress openly and vociferously support his action. The result, Rushdoony said, has been that the United States has been involved in a constant series of wars that were unnecessary and liabilities.

I was fortunate in the fact that I first discovered about conspiracies from my study of America’s entry into World War II. I wrote a high school term paper in 1958 on how Roosevelt maneuvered the United States into the war by pressuring the Japanese government to attack us. I have not changed my mind. This alerted me to the fact that wars are major means of expanding the power of the Federal government. I understood early that Presidents maneuver the country into war in order to expand their own power and the government’s power over the general population. Presidents find that the public does not oppose the entry into war, once we’ve gone into war. All resistance ceases. The expansion of the government then can go on without resistance. This is beneficial for the groups that are associated with weaponry. It is also beneficial to all the groups associated with the banking system, which funds the expansion of the arms industry.

In graduate school in 1965, this suggestion was considered a form of lunacy. Later, this began to change when Johnson pushed deeper into Vietnam, and the Gulf of Tonkin attack turned out to be a myth. In graduate school, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was untouchable. He was retroactively the great saint of the 20th century. Any suggestion that Franklin Roosevelt deliberately lured the country into war was considered conspiratorial crackpotism. I was one of the crackpots, so I generally kept my mouth shut on this issue, except in an upper division course on revisionist histories of World War I and World War II — the only such class in the United States in 1962.

This attitude has not changed today. The difference is, today more historians are willing to admit that Roosevelt did maneuver the Japanese into war. What we find, however, is that these historians say that Roosevelt’s action was wise. They applaud the fact that he used conspiratorial tactics to get the country into war. Anyone who says it was wrong for Roosevelt to have done this is regarded as a crackpot, but at least these days you can say that Roosevelt did it. You just are not supposed to say that was a bad thing that he did. However, in the textbooks, the story that prevailed in 1942 in Washington DC still prevails.

Some conspiracy theories are accurate (mine). Not all conspiracy theories are accurate (theirs . . . and maybe yours). Most conspiracy theories are inaccurate. The reason why I say this is that there are a lot of conspiracies that are in conflict with each other, and they can’t all be equally successful. Some of them were, and others lost. But anyone who says that special-interest groups do not connive behind the scenes in order to persuade the public to accept new laws that infringe on the finances and liberties of the public is nave beyond belief. Such conspiracies do exist, and they have been successful in history.

Nevertheless, Rushdoony’s point is correct. Conspiracies have not been successful in opposition to the general ethical principles that prevail in the voting population. The conspirators use a kind of institutional jujitsu in order to gain what they want. They are able to overthrow the general population only because the general population is already off balance because of its commitment to the same sorts of wealth distribution and power expansion that the conspirators are secretly pursuing.

CONSPIRATORS WITH CLAY FEET

This makes it difficult for those of us who do believe in conspiracies to avoid the constant pressure from newcomers that we should get involved in the pursuit of a dozen other conspiracies. There is no agreement among the conspiracy theorists about which is the major conspiracy. There are a lot of conspiracies. They cooperate, as the Bilderbergers do, but they cooperate as alliances of criminal conspiracies cooperate. They cooperate in the way that various gangs of the Mafia cooperate. They cooperate at the expense of the general public, but they are always maneuvering for greater power and greater influence at the top.

So, when we go off to research our favorite conspiracy, we had better do so on the assumption that these people are richer than we are, more influential than we are, smarter than we are, but just as blind to the realities of the world as the rest of us. The old line about every man putting on his pants one leg at a time is correct. These people hit brick walls the same way we do. They are thwarted by the same kinds of unpredictable change that we are.

Think about the World Wide Web. The establishments of the world did not think in 1990 that anything like this would be possible. The basic communications technology existed, but until Tim Berners-Lee developed a system for setting up addresses on the Internet, the World Wide Web did not exist. The Web now is undermining establishments all over the world. Yet there are people who are convinced that the Web is itself a conspiracy, and the conspirators are somehow using the Web to gain control over the population. I realize that there are not many of these people, but I do get e-mails from time to time telling me that the Web is capable of being used effectively by the conspiracies against defenders of truth, justice, and the American way.

The conspirators are very rich, and they associate with other conspirators who are also very rich. There are various levels of conspiracy, and there are lots of conspiracies out there trying to get their hands into the till. We should not expect to see some centralized plan being implemented in front of our eyes, because there is no centralized plan, because the conspirators don’t trust each other. The various local gangs of the Mafia know that some other gang leader is always ready to send hit men out to kill them. They cooperate, but they don’t trust each other.

WHY EXPOSING CONSPIRACIES CHANGES NOTHING

Rushdoony’s main point was this. Any attempt to expose a conspiracy on the assumption that once there is a successful expos, the American public will throw out the conspirators, is nave. Even if we were successful in exposing conspiracies in this way, the public would not change the system. The best that we could hope for would be to get a new set of conspirators running the show.

The problem is not the conspiracies; the problem is the corruption in the hearts of the people. The fact that the voters would allow and even promote the creation of the modern welfare state is indicative of the fact that larceny is in their hearts. It does no good to replace one conspiracy with another conspiracy if you leave the system intact that enables the conspiracies to gain power.

This goes back to the famous chapter 10 in F. A. Hayek’s book, The Road to Serfdom. The chapter is titled, “Why the Worst Get on Top.” Hayek argued that the modern socialist state, meaning the modern welfare state, encourages the worst people to get on top, because the worst people are the most successful in seeking and maintaining power.

Because central economic planning centralizes power, it grants to the state the right to confiscate the wealth of the public. We should not expect kindly people to be successful in the pursuit of power within such a system. We will find, and what we have found, is that the most ruthless people seek out the levers of power, precisely because the levers of power enable them to achieve their goal: control over other people.

THREE THINGS TO MONITOR

Rushdoony warned me about all of this in the mid-1960s. Nothing that I have seen since then has indicated to me that anything fundamental in the United States has changed. The same conspiratorial groups are still dominant in structuring the agenda that the politicians and intellectuals promote. Nothing has changed in the hearts of the people, because they’re still fanatically committed to gaining their benefits from the welfare state. (You can read his chapter, “The Conspiracy View of History,” in his book, The Nature of the American System [1965]).

Rushdoony’s position was that it is a moral obligation to preach and teach against the welfare state, because the welfare state is based on the principle of theft. It is based on the principle of the right of one group legally to extract wealth from another group. The moral foundation of the welfare state is corrupt.

This is why he was always opposed to the public school system. He wrote one of the early books against public education: Intellectual Schizophrenia. He wrote it in 1961, and I read it in 1962. I was convinced. He also came up with a slogan regarding people who were opposed to higher taxes. “They have tithed their children to the state, and then they expect us to take seriously their demand for lower taxes.” He knew this position was intellectually unsustainable. He also knew there was no hope that the United States will ever reverse its course and go back to limited civil government for as long as the public school system is being funded by local governments. He had no illusions about any reform of the public schools. He understood that this would mean simply substituting one group of educational conspirators for another group.

This is why I have little confidence that the Tea Party movement will be a positive tool for reforming the Federal government. When the Tea Party movement comes out foursquare against Social Security and Medicare, I will begin to take it seriously. I do not expect this.

On the other hand, young people who have come into the movement, who are not committed to Social Security and Medicare, and who would jolly well like it if those two programs were abolished, are the political hope of the nation. If these people become consistent in their opposition to welfare for the aged, we may convince them to become fanatical in their opposition to welfare for the young, namely, the public school system and tax supported education at the collegiate level. When individuals are willing to give up their own share of the loot, or their own age group’s share of the loot, then I will begin to take seriously the Tea Party movement.

LOCAL RESISTANCE

At the local level, there is reason for optimism. At the local level, the conspiracies are not well developed. The benefits for taking over local government are too limited. The amount of loot available to redistribute is too limited. So, at the local level, I think it is possible to begin to establish spearheads of political reform.

I think lots of voters will be willing to vote for politicians who say that there should be no increase in taxes. I believe it is possible to restrict the expansion of the public school system if local school boards are adamant in not increasing the amount of money allocated to the schools. In this sense, the schools can be starved to death, especially in a period of price inflation. I believe that people are willing to vote today in favor of candidates who call for a freeze on taxes. This is not the same as rolling back the welfare state, but it at least draws a line in the sand. If it is successful, and if the Federal Reserve System inflates the money supply, rising prices, when coupled with a freeze on local spending, will shrink the state.

Anyway, it will shrink the county government.

One of the great failures of the conservative movement over the last 40 years has been its unwillingness to focus on local government. The conservative movement has raised its money inside the Beltway. The fund-raising letters have gone out to stop this or that boondoggle, this or that expansion of Federal power. The money rolls in, but the Federal government does not change. It is still huge. It is still gobbling up tax money, and it is surely gobbling up borrowed money.

What the conservative movement should have done, beginning in the mid-1960s, was to focus on county government. Here, it would have been possible to train people to get themselves elected, or get people they believed in elected. It would have been possible for conservatives in 1,000 rural counties out of over 3,000 counties to develop institutional barriers against the extension of Federal money and Federal power. But no conservative organization systematically pursued the idea of creating a true grassroots political movement. (The Eagle Forum came close.) Some of them talked a good line, but none of them followed through with money, time, and training materials. The focus has always been on Washington, and especially the next presidential election.

Because so much money flows into Washington, and so much power flows out of Washington, the name of the conservative game has been to gain influence in Washington.

We have lost the game. It is difficult to prove the conservative movement in any systematic way restricted the expansion of Federal power.

It is interesting that the deregulation of Federal agencies took place under the Carter Administration, not under the Reagan Administration. That is rarely discussed in conservative circles.

RESISTANCE TO TAXES AND DEFICITS

There is no question that Ronald Reagan destroyed Republican resistance to the expansion of the Federal deficit. He oversaw the complete destruction of effective resistance to the Federal debt. As it turned out, Bill Clinton was more successful in balancing the budget than Reagan, Bush I, and especially Bush II.

If deficit spending is the great evil today, and if political resistance to deficit spending by the Tea Party movement is the heart, mind, and soul of the political transformation of America, then the great enemy of the Tea Party movement ought to be Ronald Reagan. Yet Republicans and conservatives during the Reagan administration applauded his administration, and almost nobody systematically called attention to the fact that his deficits were undermining the future of the country.

The one person who really fought him on this was David Stockman, who was the director of the budget. Reagan was disappointed with Stockman, and Stockman finally resigned. Stockman was right, and Reagan was wrong. Stockman was right, and Art Laffer was wrong. Reagan never vetoed a spending bill for years. He made no attempt to stop the expansion of Federal spending. If Federal spending is the great problem today, then Ronald Reagan is the grandfather of it in the era after Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt at least had a justification: World War II. Reagan had no similar justification. He just oversaw the destruction of the principle of the balanced budget.

All of this should be obvious. All of this has been in front of us for almost 30 years, yet the conservative movement still venerates Reagan. Reagan did do a good job in cutting top marginal tax rates. I have to give him credit for that. He also bankrupted the Soviet Union. But his unwillingness to veto Congressional spending measures has led to the disaster that we are facing today.

It does no good to expose the conspirators. Hardly anyone will believe you, and even if the person does believe you, there’s not a thing you or he can do about it. The public has finally figured out that the system at the top is structured against them, because they saw what happened to the banks in 2008. They saw the banks get the bailout money, not the man in the street. This upsets them, because they wanted the bailout money. They wanted their snouts in the trough. They deeply resent the fact that the bankers got their snouts in the trough first and deeper. They have only come to this conclusion recently. The far Left and the far Right have known about it since 1913. But who took them seriously?

I enjoy reading books about conspiracies. I especially enjoy reading heavily footnoted, carefully documented books about conspiracies. I enjoy books that do three things. First, they follow the money. Second, they follow the confession of faith. Third, they follow the media. If you show me what leaders believed, how they financed their beliefs, and how they got out their message to the general public, you have shown me what I really need to know about the history of any organization, any society, and any government. I don’t care whether you’re talking about conspiracies or the good old boys who were aboveboard about everything. You have to show me what they believed, how they financed what they believed, and how they got their message out to the voters.

Almost no book does this. You can look at the anti-conspiracy books, and they may follow the money, but they don’t usually concentrate on what the fundamental ideas were all about. And they almost never talk about media, except after 1930.

So, I am a conspiracy theorist. I believe there are lots of conspiracies, and most of them fail. The biggest and most powerful of the conspiracies are those that have been closest to the dark side of the general population. Conspirators appeal publicly to the good side of people, but they implement their programs by means of the dark side. They say that they want to help the poor, but they will help themselves. The voters say they want to help the poor, when in fact they help themselves.

If you want to talk about money that is not really helping the poor, take a look at college scholarship programs. The poor don’t make much use of those scholarships and loans, but middle-class Americans surely do. Higher education absorbs close to a half a trillion dollars a year in the United States, and most of this is government money. If you think most of that money is going to people whose families make under $20,000 a year, you have not been on campus recently.

The problem is not the conspiracies. The problem is the widespread acceptance by the voting populations around the world that it is legitimate for the government to send out tax collectors and extract wealth from certain groups of society in order to fund the favored boondoggles of some other group in society. The moment people think that they can make a living by voting instead of making a living by producing, they turn the government and the social order over to one or another conspiracy.

If there were no power and no money from organizing to capture the government, conspiracies would have to raise their own funds. They would have to get their projects implemented by persuasion rather than power. They would just be another special interest group.

Secret or not, they could not get into our wallets unless we allowed them to. It is the essence of the conspiracy to persuade the public that the right and moral thing to do is to allow the state to help some group. As soon as the conspiracy persuades the public of this, the game switches from persuasion to power. It switches from donations to taxation. It switches from liberty to tyranny.

What I’m waiting for is a march on Washington with young people caring signs that say “I’ll give up college if you’ll give up Medicare.” I want to see old people carrying a sign saying “I’ll give up Medicare if you’ll give up college.” That would be a real threat to the conspirators. I cannot imagine anything that would be a greater threat to the conspirators. Take away their control over the education system, and the game is just about over. To get rid of that control over education, Social Security and Medicare recipients will have to accept a quid pro quo. They’re going to have to get off the dole.

They are not willing to get off the dole. So, the conspirators will continue to exercise power, the bankers will continue to get bailed out, and the deficit will continue to grow.

REPLACEMENT, NOT CAPTURE

Then what is the hope? The hope is for people of principle to educate their own children and other children who may want to come along for the ride. Educate them in the principles of persuasion rather than power. Parents are going to have to fund their own children’s educations, and to keep those children away from the public school textbooks. They are going to have to develop new curriculum materials. They are going to have to teach, or find reliable people on the Web to teach, in order to help their children avoid the indoctrination by all tax-funded education. That is the minimum place that we have to begin. Anything beyond this is gravy.

Show me a person who has a plan to reform the public education system, other than by de-funding the public education system, and I’ll show you a problem, not a solution. Our goal should not be to capture the public schools. Our goal should be to de-fund the public schools.

This is our principle of action: replacement, not capture. We should not attempt to take over the existing systems of power and influence; we should attempt to create alternatives that are more reliable, more efficient, and more beneficial to the general public. We can’t beat something with nothing. We also can’t beat the system by capturing the system and maintaining the system. We are not smart enough to do this, and in any case, we are not ruthless enough to do it.

What I have outlined here I was taught almost 50 years ago. Rushdoony understood this. Leonard E. Reed understood it, and so did the editor of The Freeman, Paul Poirot. These men persuaded me that the quest for power in today’s society is the devil’s own quest.

This is why I don’t have much faith in the Tea Party movement. I do have a sense of optimism about the younger members of the movement, who follow Ron Paul rather than Sarah Palin. Paul understands these principles. He is the only politician in my generation at the national level who has understood this position. This is why he is now known to millions of people, and no other congressman is. (Pelosi is, of course.) He stood alone when it paid nothing to stand alone, and he is now the representative of a movement that could turn into an effective political force at the local level. He exercises this influence precisely because he has not sought to extend power to the Federal government. He has not been involved in a quest for power; he has been in a quest for the decentralization of power, and the de-funding of power.

We can’t beat something with nothing. We can create problems for the government. We can scare Congressman into not voting for another round of stimulus deficits. But we cannot roll back the existing spending. We cannot roll back the Federal debt. We cannot do this, because the public does not want it done.

We can, however, prepare for the day when the capital markets will not pony up any more money to the United States Treasury to fund the boondoggles, especially the boondoggles of Social Security and Medicare.

When the Soviet Union proved that communism could no longer maintain power, Western Marxists lost their faith. They had been Marxists only because they believed in power, and they somehow believed that they, as intellectuals, would be powerful people in a Communist society. They had not read carefully what Stalin did to intellectuals. They had not read what the Pol Pot did to intellectuals in Cambodia. He sent them to the farms or had them executed, if they had hands without calluses or if they wore glasses. He knew an intellectual when he saw one. They died.

I think the same is true of the welfare state in the West. I think the only way that you’re going to see intellectuals abandon faith in the welfare state is when it goes belly up, and they are 70 years old, and the checks don’t come. Then they will finally figure out that the system was not a good thing. But, for as long as the welfare state continues to exercise power and can continue to send out checks, intellectuals are going to be as committed to the welfare state as millions and millions of old people are committed to Social Security and Medicare. You don’t change the system from the inside. You create an alternative system, and you wait for the existing system to go belly up. That is how you change people’s minds.

CONCLUSION

You can’t beat something with nothing. This is why people don’t really want to change it. It costs too much money, too much commitment, and too much time. That is why we face a crisis. That is why the Tea Party movement is probably not going to succeed in anything except being a spoiler.

But, if individuals at the local level begin to organize, this may change. When the checks stop coming from Washington, it is going to be politically acceptable to resist the extension of Federal power. The main reason why local politicians are willing to accept the extension of Federal power is because they fear the withdrawal of Federal money. When there is no more Federal money coming out of Washington, you will see organized resistance to the extension of Federal power. That will be a great day.

Until then, we’ve got to spend time, money, and trouble to develop systematically anti-welfare state ideas. We also have to develop institutions that are based on persuasion rather than power. If we are not willing to do this, it will do no good to go to Washington and carry a sign, like the one that was seen recently at a Tea Party rally: Keep the Guvmint Out of My Medicare. If it was a joke, it was a clever one.

Gary North [send him mail] is the author of Mises on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com. He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible.

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