Phase Is Getting Closer
When I first
got into the habit of ending every edition of The
International Speculator (and later The
Casey Report) with a quote — starting about ten years ago
— I almost always referred to at least one of my four favorite modern
philosophers — Mikhail Bakunin, Peter Kropotkin, Edward Gibbon,
and H.L. Mencken. I used all of these quotes from them so long ago
now that many current subscribers either haven't seen them or have
let them fade into the further reaches of their consciousness.
We've put some
of them together, and I've appended a current observation on many.
Take a few of the quotes you like best and tape them on your computer
or your fridge. They'll provide a continuing measure of solace and
Let's set the
tone with Einstein. I don't quote him often, but two of my all-time
favorite observations are courtesy of him:
things are infinite — the universe and human stupidity. And I'm
not sure about the former."
hydrogen, the most common thing in the universe is stupidity."
At the opposite
end of the fame spectrum from Einstein is Mikhail Bakunin, the Russian
anarchist. Bakunin, like Kropotkin, was a revolutionary. Unfortunately,
neither had any understanding of economics. But they had a fantastic
grip on the nature of the state and a great sense of life.
deflates the concept of patriotism — which is really just a nice
word for nationalism or jingoism. Patriotism boils down to the belief
that your country is the best in the world, because you were born
patriotism may be defined as follows: an automatic and wholly
uncritical, instinctive attachment for hereditary or traditional
ways of life which are collectively accepted, and an equally automatic
and instinctive hostility toward any other way of living. It is
love for one's own, and a hatred for everything foreign…"
patriotism that is extolled to us as an ideal and sublime virtue
by the poets, by politicians of every school, by governments,
and by every privileged class, is rooted not in man's humanity,
but his animality."
Letter to Swiss Comrades, 1869
Acton's view on the corrupting nature of power:
is more dangerous for man's private morality than the habit of
command. The best man, the most intelligent, disinterested, generous,
pure, will infallibly and always be spoiled at this trade. Two
sentiments inherent in power never fail to produce this demoralization;
they are: contempt for the masses and the overestimation of one's
Power Corrupts the Best, 1867
addresses the state. Of course, American readers (the same as British,
Chinese, Russian, Canadian, and every other nationality represented
in our readership) will reflexively think their state is
different and better:
supreme law of the State is self-preservation at any cost. All
States, ever since they came to exist upon the earth, have been
condemned to perpetual struggle — a struggle against their own
populations, whom they oppress and ruin. A struggle against all
foreign States, every one of which can be strong only if the others
are weak. And since the States cannot hold their own in this struggle
unless they constantly keep on augmenting their power against
their own subjects as well as against other States, it follows
that the supreme law of the State is the augmentation of its power
to the detriment of internal liberty and external justice."
The Immorality of the State, 1870
No truer words
than these have ever been spoken… and I promise you will never hear
them, or any like them, spoken on the evening news, or written in
the New York Times. That's especially true when a war is
being fomented and it's time to be patriotic:
Diplomacy has no other mission. Every time a State wants to declare
war upon another State, it starts off by launching a manifesto
addressed not only to its own subjects but to the whole world.
In this manifesto it declares that right and justice are on its
side, and it endeavors to prove that it is actuated only by love
of peace and humanity and that, imbued with generous and peaceful
sentiments, it suffered for a long time in silence until the mounting
iniquity of its enemy forced it to bare its sword. At the same
time it vows that, disdainful of all material conquest and not
seeking any increase in territory, it will put an end to this
war as soon as justice is reestablished. And its antagonist answers
with a similar manifesto, in which naturally right, justice, humanity,
and all the generous sentiments are to be found respectively on
mutually opposed manifestos are written with the same eloquence,
they breathe the same virtuous indignation, and one is just as
sincere as the other; that is to say both of them are equally
brazen in their lies, and it is only fools who are deceived by
them. Sensible persons, all those who have had some political
experience, do not even take the trouble of reading such manifestos."
from Bakunin when someone starts blathering about the government
being necessary, having good intentions, doing good, blah blah blah…
its very beginnings it (the State) has been — and still remains
— the divine sanction of brutal force and triumphant iniquity.
Even in the most democratic countries, like the United States
and Switzerland, it is simply the consecration of the privileges
of some minority and the actual enslavement of the vast majority…
explains to us why ever since history began, that is, ever since
States came into existence, the political world has always been
and continues to be the stage for high knavery and brigandage
— brigandage and knavery which are held in high honor, since they
are ordained by patriotism, transcendent morality, and by the
supreme interest of the State. This explains to us why all the
history of ancient and modern States is nothing more than a series
of revolting crimes; why present and past kings and ministers
of all times and all countries — statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats,
and warriors — if judged from the point of view of simple morality
and human justice, deserve a thousand times the gallows of penal
there is no terror, cruelty, sacrilege, perjury, imposture, infamous
transaction, cynical theft, brazen robbery, or foul treason which
has not been committed and all are still being committed daily
by representatives of the State, with no other excuse than this
elastic, at times so convenient and terrible phrase Reason of
Ayn Rand may
have first gotten her image of Attila and the witch doctor — her
archetypes of mankind's greatest enemies — from Peter Kropotkin:
priest and the warrior. The charlatan who makes a profit out of
superstition and, after freeing himself from the fear of the devil,
cultivates it in others. And the bully, who procures the invasion
and pillage of his neighbors, that he may return laden with booty
and followed by slaves. These two, hand in hand, have succeeded
in imposing upon primitive society customs advantageous to both,
while tending to perpetuate their domination of the masses. Profiting
by the indolence, the fears, and the inertia of the crowd, and
thanks to the continual repetition of the same acts, they have
permanently established customs which have become a solid basis
for their own domination."
and Authority, 1886, Peter Kropotkin
ignorance reigns in society and disorder in the minds of men,
laws are multiplied, legislation is expected to do everything,
and each fresh law being a miscalculation, men are continually
led to demand from it what can only proceed from themselves, from
their own education and their own morality."
French jurist M. Dalloy, quoted by Kropotkin, Law and Authority,
1886, p. 1
Gibbon, it wasn't just what he observed about the collapse of Rome;
it was the language he used to describe it:
most worthless of mankind are not afraid to condemn in others
the same disorders which they allow in themselves; and can readily
discover some nice difference of age, character, or station, to
justify the partial distinction."
and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776, p. 128
that should resonate with American conservatives — but doesn't.
Empires: You've seen one, you've seen them all…
minds of the Romans were very differently prepared for slavery.
Oppressed beneath the weight of their own corruption and of military
violence, they for a long while preserved the sentiments, or at
least the ideas, of their free born ancestors."
Ibid., p. 72
is speaking of the Crusades:
Urban II] proclaimed a plenary indulgence to those who should
enlist under the banner of the cross; the absolution of all their
sins, and a full receipt for all that might be due to canonical
penance. The cold philosophy of modern times is incapable of feeling
the impression that was made on a sinful and fanatic world. At
the voice of their pastor, the robber, the incendiary, the homicide,
arose by thousands to redeem their souls by repeating on the infidels
the same deeds which they had exercised against their Christian
brethren; and the terms of atonement were eagerly embraced by
offenders of every rank and denomination."
Ibid., book 3, p. 426
It sounds like
he might be talking about Bush, Clinton, and perhaps Carter in an
anachronistic déjà vu…
of Britain] "After a war of about forty years, undertaken
by the most stupid, maintained by the most dissolute, and terminated
by the most timid of all the emperors, the far greater part of
the island submitted to the Roman yoke."
Ibid., Ch. 1, p. 3
I doubt he
would have been a fan of Bush, Palin, or most popular TV shows:
use of letters is the principal circumstance that distinguishes
a civilized people from a herd of savages incapable of knowledge
Ibid., Ch. 9
This is pretty
much what has happened with the U.S. military:
the purer ages of the commonwealth, the use of arms was reserved
for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property
to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was
their interest, as well as duty, to maintain. But in proportion
as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was
gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade."
Ch. 1, p. 9
Scores of thousands
— even hundreds of thousands — of Americans are now getting out
of Dodge annually for exactly the same reasons Romans once did:
Roman government appeared every day less formidable to its enemies,
more odious and oppressive to its subjects. The severe inquisition,
which confiscated their goods and tortured their persons, compelled
the subjects of Valentinian (425-455) to prefer the simple tyranny
of the barbarians, to fly to the woods or the mountains, or to
embrace the vile and abject condition of mercenary servants. They
abjured and abhorred the name of Roman citizens, which had formerly
excited the ambition of all mankind. If all the barbarian conquerors
had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction
would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still
survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of
The sage of
Baltimore, H. L. Mencken, was without question the soundest and
most literate writer and thinker to have ever graced the pages of
an American paper. Mencken coined the term Boobus americanus,
a phrase that often occurs in TCR these days. The following
should give you a flavor of his thought:
average man doesn’t want to be free. He wants to be safe."
on Democracy, 1926, Part III, p. 148
great masses of men, though theoretically free, are seen to submit
supinely to oppression and exploitation of a hundred abhorrent
sorts. Have they no means of resistance? Obviously they have.
The worst tyrant, even under democratic plutocracy, has but one
throat to slit. The moment the majority decided to overthrow him
he would be overthrown. But the majority lacks the resolution;
it cannot imagine taking the risks."
surest way to get on in politics in America is to play the leading
part in a prosecution which attracts public notice."
A Contribution toward the Interpretation of the National Mind,
by George Jean Nathan and H.L. Mencken, preface
In a way, it's
a good thing Mencken didn't live to see Vietnam, Grenada, Panama,
Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among other military entanglements:
[of the Americans'] foreign wars have been fought with foes either
too weak to resist them or too heavily engaged elsewhere to make
more than a half-hearted attempt. The combats with Mexico and
Spain were not wars; they were simply lynchings."
– On Being
an American, p. 43
This, of course,
is much more true now than it was in Mencken's day. And, back then,
not only was a college degree somewhat rare, but it didn't cost
the equivalent of $50,000 a year.
average American college fails… to achieve its ostensible ends.
One failure… of the colleges lies in their apparent incompetence
to select and train a sufficient body of intelligent teachers.
Their choice is commonly limited to second-raters, for a man who
really knows a subject is seldom content to spend his lifetime
teaching it: he wants to function in a more active and satisfying
way, as all other living organisms want to function. There are,
of course, occasional exceptions to this rule, but they are very
rare, and none of them are to be found in the average college.
The pedagogues there incarcerated are all inferior men who really
know very little about the things they pretend to teach, and are
too stupid or too indolent to acquire more…. Being taught by them
is roughly like being dosed in illness by third-year medical students."
Report, 1956, p. 51
argument that capital punishment degrades the state is moonshine,
for if that were true then it would degrade the state to send
men to war… The state, in truth, is degraded in its very nature:
a few butcheries cannot do it any further damage."
Hey, is he
allowed to say this?
average soldier… found in the Army a vastly more spacious life,
with many of the privileges of a chartered libertine…. If he
did a little stealing, it was one of his privileges as a savior
of humanity. If he was rough and brutal, it was a sign of his
fighting spirit. Moreover, he could look forward to distinction
and respect for the rest of his life, with a long list of special
privileges. In every community in America, however small, there
are local notables whose notability rests wholly on the fact that
they were once drafted into some war or other…. Their general
intelligence is shown by the kind of ideas they advocate. They
are, in the main, bitter enemies of the liberty of the individual,
and are responsible for some of the worst corruptions of politics.
The most grasping of all politicians is the war veteran."
Mencken Chrestomathy, 1949, p. 90
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