We Can’t Change the Political System Through Politics

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Recently by Butler Shaffer: The Art of Decentralization

     

Just because everything is different doesn't mean anything has changed.

~ Irene Peter

Operating on the assumptions (1) that Ron Paul will not be the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, and (2) that he is likely to retire from future presidential campaigns, I focus on the question: where are those who advocate peace and liberty to now direct their energies? With three daughters, their husbands, and five young grandchildren comprising my sense of the future of mankind, I am quite interested in how they — and other members of their generations — can best advance the values and social systems that serve their interests rather than the interests of members of the corporate-state.

My experiences and inquiries keep me convinced that trying to dismantle political thinking from within the system is both a futile and contradictory undertaking. I do acknowledge that Ron Paul, using the political process, has done more than any other individual to help intelligent men and women discover the harsh and destructive nature of the state. The central "issues" that whisked George H.W. Bush into the White House in 1988 — whether Willie Horton should have been let out of prison and the sacred nature of the pledge of allegiance — can still arouse applause from aged defenders of the status quo, but the younger generation knows that the quality of their lives depends on more important questions. There is enfolded into the life force of humans a need for fundamentally new thinking and social practices that is — thanks primarily to Ron's concise and principled analysis — unfolding in the kids. At my age, everyone is a kid.

Anyone who believes that Ron Paul has simply dreamed up an ideology that young people find attractive has no understanding of what is transpiring in this movement. Ron has tapped into an energy source that could be likened to a Rupert Sheldrake "morphogenetic field." At both a conscious and unconscious level, tens of millions of people throughout the world are sharing in the spontaneous eruption of opposition to the dehumanizing, oppressive, violent, and destructive nature of the corporate-state systems that exploit human beings for institutional ends. Peace, liberty, private property ownership, and respect for the inviolability of the individual, are qualities insisted upon by growing numbers of persons, not only in America, but elsewhere in the world.

Ron Paul did not invent this mobilization of the human spirit, nor will the energies subside after November's elections. If members of the established order look upon this movement as a "fad" that will disappear when Ron Paul retires, they are sadly disillusioned. The question before us, however, has to do with how this energized spirit will find expression in the following months and years. How will those whom I affectionately refer to as "the kids" advance the cause of peace and liberty when there is no presidential campaign to attract them?

Those who are drawn to libertarian sentiments and ideas are generally in agreement that there is no definitive answer to the question of how free men and women will live. When people ask me the kinds of questions about "how will streets be provided for?," or "how will children be educated?," or "how will the impoverished be cared for?," I respond: "I don't know. I suspect that in a society of free people, there will likely be many different ways in which such services will be provided." F.A. Harper stated the matter quite succinctly: "the man who knows what freedom means will find a way to be free." We ought not be surprised to imagine that, in a society of unqualified liberty, millions of people will find a multitude of ways of living. Uniformity and standardization do not characterize the nature of life.

Libertarians have a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate — both from reasoning and empirical evidence — that human beings are capable of organizing and creating ways of accomplishing whatever they value and to which they are willing to commit their own resources. All that the state can accomplish, in this regard, is to (a) restrain such efforts in order to protect the interests of those who enjoy access to state power, and/or (b) shift the costs of providing such goods or services to those unwilling to pay for them. The history of privately-built roads, alternative schools, early 20th century health-care systems, private fire companies and security firms, are just a few examples of how men and women can resort to voluntary practices to accomplish what politically-conditioned minds believe can only be done through state coercion.

So it will be with the future of libertarian thinking and behavior. The man I have long considered to be the father of modern libertarian thinking, Leonard Read, was of the view that the most successful way to promote the cause of liberty was to be — in your behavior — the kind of person that your philosophy espoused. This is another way of encouraging people to live the centered life; to live with integrity; without contradiction between your ideas and your actions.

My friend — the late Karl Hess — had an interesting metaphor with which to address the question of how libertarians might act to promote their philosophy. Recognizing that there will be all kinds of approaches people might take — from engaging in peaceful demonstrations, to running for public office, to writing op-eds or letters-to-the-editor, or teaching, or writing articles and/or books — we ought to be supportive of any efforts, consistent with peace and liberty, to which different people are attracted. "Imagine that you are boarding a train and want to proceed to a destination of u2018total liberty.' There are some people who will ride with you all the way, but others who will be more comfortable getting off early; going as far as they feel like going." Karl went on to point out that as long as the other passengers are going in the direction of liberty — and not trying to reverse the direction of the train — the rest of us should welcome their support.

I have long been of the view that trying to reform the political system, or running for political office, is counter-productive. I continue to hold to this view even as I greatly admire what Ron Paul has been able to accomplish within the political system. His accomplishments, however, are to be found in helping to raise the conscious awareness of millions of people to see the state for the vicious racket that it is. It must also be noted that Ron is a very exceptional case: he understands the problems of statism with an intellectual depth few others share. Those who cling to faith in electoral politics should be forewarned to pay little attention to the make-believe "libertarians" who bandy about phrases they neither understand nor embrace. There is an important distinction to be drawn between making compromises as to strategy (i.e., how best to advance peace and liberty) and principles. One must learn how to distinguish the two, as there will be many eager for political power who will sound like principled libertarians even as they help advance statism. (Does the name "Ronald Reagan" ring a bell?)

As people weigh the options for advancing libertarian principles, I offer this advice: bear in mind the comparative advantage these ideas have in today's world. Statist programs grounded in socialistic thought and economic planning have had whatever respectability they once enjoyed among most intellectuals dispatched by decades of empirical experience. Even the case for superintending regulatory systems is now understood to be little more than a cover for industry-desired cartelism. The consequence of the failure to maintain a separation of economy and state has been to foster recessions/depressions, inflation, and increased taxation, and to discourage the creativity and production necessary to the survival of civilization itself. In a word, the modern state is economically bankrupt.

But the bankruptcy runs much deeper than what can be quantified in material terms. Our modern culture suffers from a moral bankruptcy as well. Wars against any nations selected by the whims of an empirical president; expanded police-state practices; the use of torture, imprisonment without trial, and assassination of persons selected by the president; increased surveillance, wiretapping, and censorship; the war against the unimpeded exchange of information, combine to reveal an institutional order that has lost whatever moral foundations it might have once enjoyed.

But beyond these more obvious examples of a culture in entropic collapse is to be found its most vulnerable trait: the spiritual depletion of a politically-dominated society. Because the state is defined as an institution that enjoys a monopoly on the use of violence within a given territory, such power is dependent upon having no impediments to its exercise. The idea of a "limitation" on the exercise of state power is purely illusory, offered to give Boobus the feeling that his liberty and individuality are bounded by a cushion of inviolability. But the reality is to the contrary: a limitation on state power is necessarily a denial of its monopolization of the forces of violence. Almost by definition, then, the state must treat its human subjects as assets to be exploited on behalf of the purposes of the state and its institutional owners.

This, I suggest, is where the modern state is the most defenseless and subject to criticism. It is, I believe, the state's war against the human spirit that has so energized not only the Ron Paul movement, but much of the Occupy, Arab Spring, anti-war, Tea Party, pro-Wikileaks, and other widespread, peaceful expressions of civil disobedience and opposition to state power. While the institutional self-serving economic consequences of governmental policies are also helping to drive these various movements, Murray Rothbard's deeper, spiritual sentiments are also being voiced. Forty years ago, he accurately prophesied that "the young kids out there are not going to go the barricades in defense of lowered transaction costs."

With a growing awareness of the dehumanizing and destructive nature of all political systems, and the demonstrated failure of centralized banking and regulatory practices to produce economic well-being, there is a wonderful opportunity for the defenders of liberty to articulate a coherent case that addresses the economic, moral, and spiritual dimensions of the failures of statism. The bankruptcy of state collectivism has left many otherwise intelligent minds without an intellectually respectable basis for their thinking. As we are witnessing in the "war on terror" as well as efforts to advance the "global warming" religion, the statist cause has reduced itself to little more than an attraction to institutionalized violence. What better time to advance an intellectually sound philosophy that values principled integrity more highly than public opinion polling and special-interest funding as the basis for their actions?

As our civilization — and the thinking that's bringing it down — continues its downward spiral, there is a vacuum to be filled by ideas and practices that sustain life. It is in response to such emptiness that Albert Jay Nock's "Remnant" will help to discover alternatives to our politicized mass-minded destructiveness. I have been in attendance at Ron Paul rallies and seen thousands of young faces in the audience, and realized that I was looking upon the Remnant; the future of truly civilized people. What a contrast is found in comparing the attitudes of the young who see their lives enhanced by such transformations, while those who have chosen to become part of the life-destroying military are responding with ever-increasing acts of suicide. What better images to put before our children as they embark on the preparations for their futures!

But to be a part of this metamorphosis will require great effort, not so much in trying to organize and change others, but in developing one's own understanding. The defenders of the ancien regime — having no intellectual foundations for their ambitions for power — will be unable to sustain themselves in intelligent discourse. As we have already seen, they have had to resort to name-calling — "racist," "anti-Semitic," "hate-monger," etc. — as a substitute for clear, principled thought.

The best advice I can offer to those participating in this new renaissance is to devote your energies to the expansion of your awareness of the conditions necessary to a human-centered culture. This involves moving beyond the recitation of clichés and bromides; abandoning ideologies, dogmas, and gurus; and discovering that a creative understanding is to be found not in answers, but in refining the quality of your questions. Two of my favorite quotations are Thomas Pynchon's "if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers," and Milton Mayer's "the questions that can be answered are not worth asking." Learn to employ my favorite word in the English language: "why?" Learn, as well, how to take this question into the ever-deeper inquiries your thinking will take you.

At the same time, do your homework! No matter how knowledgeable you believe yourself to be in various subject areas, keep expanding your awareness. Read with greater depth in such fields as economics — even challenging yourself with Mises' Human Action — history, psychology, philosophy, religion, the genuine sciences (e.g., physics, biology, chemistry, brain/mind studies, geology). There are many sources that can assist you in your inquiries: Mises University, LewRockwell.com, Antiwar.com, the Independent Institute, along with hundreds of other Internet sites.

I am convinced that any emerging life-sustaining renaissance will have its primary focus on the liberation of the human spirit. It is the confrontation between individualism and collectivism that will be the focal point in efforts to civilize and humanize an uncivilized and dehumanized world. As such, extend your inquiries into areas with which many libertarians are unfamiliar or uncomfortable: poetry, art, music, dance, depth psychology, and other spiritual dimensions of what it means to be human. I suspect that what most attracted readers to Ayn Rand's novels was not her logical reasoning, but her passion. Rediscover the liberating works of Shelley, Whitman, Goethe, cummings, among earlier poets, as well as the more recent poetry of Seamus Heaney and Lilija Valis. For spiritual accompaniment on your journey, I offer "The Seedkeepers," written by an unknown Palestinian:

"Burn our Land. Burn our dreams. Pour acid on our songs. Cover with sawdust the blood of our massacred people. Muffle with your technology the screams of all that is free, wild and indigenous. Destroy our grass and soil. Raze to the ground every farm and every village our ancestors had built. Every tree, every home, every book, every law and all equity and harmony. Flatten with your bombs every valley. Erase with your edits our past, our literature, our metaphor. Denude the forest and the earth till no insect no bird no word can find a place to hide. Do that and more. I do not fear your tyranny. I do not despair ever. For I guard a seed, a little live seed, that I shall safeguard and plant again."

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of the newly-released In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918–1938, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, and Boundaries of Order. His latest book is The Wizards of Ozymandias.

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