I just completed Lew Rockwell’s latest, “Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto.” It is an outstanding read, and perfectly timed for we the living in the early 21st century. I came to this book already familiar with many arguments “against the state.” I was somewhat knowledgeable about the history of the US government and its protaganists, and I have been increasingly concerned with what can I do to help my children and grandchildren. This anarcho-capitalist manifesto hit the spot, helping me better understand what I was seeing around me, and explaining the fundamentals of why it was so, and how to deal with it.
Before I get into my emotional and political reactions to Lew’s latest book, let me describe some technical reasons I particularly enjoyed “Against the State.” It is organized around the key problems that concern me and I think, most Americans today. Why does the US foreign policy fail so spectacularly to achieve its stated goals, even as it becomes more and more costly and aggressive? Why has the personal and household prosperity of non-government employed Americans ratcheted downward in the past 60 years, while that of government workers, beneficiaries, and government itself continues to ratchet upwards? Why do we seem to suffer booms and busts, a chronic inability to save money, increasingly costs for necessities, and live under a poorly understood specter of absolutely unpayable debt? Why are the police today so numerous, so well-armed, so aggressive, and so likely to kill our pets, our children, and our grandparents as they go about their daily work? Why does voting for our favorite candidate not seem to work to make any kind of promised change? What is our government really doing to us with all the monitoring, data gathering, regulating, and “law-based” invasions of personal, financial and entrepreneurial privacy? Why is the Supreme Court so political – and why do we obsess over which party can appoint or block a judge or a justice? Do the three parts of our constitution government really restrain each other as we are taught in school, and if not, why not?
What’s not working in America? Most of us know, or at the very least, suspect, that something is very wrong here. We are told we are free, yet we are Gullivers, immobilized by visible and invisible strings, millions of them, constraining our actions, our speech, our economy, and our very imaginations. We have become domesticated animals, starving and competing amongst ourselves for a bit of daily sustenance and existential meaning from a parasitic state bureaucracy that fears us, hates us and yet needs us desperately.
While some advocacy groups might argue that animals should live as men, few would suggest that it is our destiny to live as animals. Accordingly, we are not comfortable with our roles as livestock — humans throughout history don’t particularly enjoy being serfs and vassals, slaves, or indentured servants. They tend not to like being colonized and occupied by alien powers. As with other conditions of man and his government of the day, or the century, when it isn’t just or right, it feels like a crisis is approaching. And indeed one is!
There is something immoral, unnatural and unsustainable about how our country is governed and organized. The shocker for many of us (and yet as “Against the State” amply illustrates, our founding fathers understood the disconnect well) is that the Constitution, even with a Bill of Rights, was never able to contain or constrain the voraciousness of the state – even one that overtly embraced the role of freedom and liberty of the “people.” I remember in the 1980s, chuckling with my military friends about the wonderful constitution of the Soviet Union, which in many ways was a nice liberty minded document – and yet we knew that the Soviet people were slaves and prisoners to their government. It would be thirty years later, actually with the reading of “Against the State” yesterday that I could legitimately chuckle at our own Constitution for the same reason.
Many of us may have suspected this flaw in the idea of a self-restrained, or self-balancing state, for years. Even so, there is an emotional jolt that is felt when we start to see that there is no possibility of sustained equilibrium between a taking organization based on force (as all states must be) and free people. The inability of the US Constitution to prevent the rise of American fascism, publicly cheered by the leading political parties and the parasitical class, yet quietly hated and privately feared by so many Americans, sometimes coherently, and more often incoherently and intuitively.
“Against the State,” richly and grippingly presents this conundrum of the state, why it exists, and what might be done about it. It’s certainly a satisfying and inspiring read. I found it motivating as well, and one of the points in the final chapter related to courage, and that is something I have been thinking about independently in my own political evolution. It is certainly a time for courage, and I believe “Against the State”, because of how it is written, and what it communicates, has a unique role in helping promote this attribute, which must precede any real change.
A sign of having read a great book of any genre is when you start to see other things around you differently and are able to assess what you see in a more sophisticated or enlightened way. When I got back from the car trip, having finished “Against the State,” I looked at what had come in the mail. One item was Cato’s Letter, from the Cato Institute, a libertarian and limited government thinktank. I read all three articles in the Letter. First, there was a feature by chess master and former Soviet Garry Kasparov on American values. Good intentions I think, but when he mentioned that “limiting government’s power should come before limiting its size” and that, “the rise of China and the arrogance of dictators like Putin and Assad has allowed the superiority of democracy to be questioned,” it is easy to see that a certain logical discipline needs to be applied across the board in how things really work, and the nature of classic liberalism at the very least – even in a libertarian dense environment.
The next article was a Cato scholar profile that spent some time explaining government cost overruns, how public spending isn’t properly motivated by frugality, and how “once weapons system procurements get underway, it is very unlikely that they will be canceled before completion.” The understatement is astounding, even for a layman. In fact, weapons systems procurement rarely if ever ends even after the completion or delivery – but more than that, the tentative and shallow, almost amazed, thinking on the fundamental issue of state economics by this Cato scholar indicates little exposure to Robert Higgs (Crisis and Leviathan) or Hoppe (The Myth of National Defense), or any number of other libertarian and non-libertarian scholars on the nature of the government and defense procurement. Of course, the groundbreaking work on economics and political process by Higgs and Hoppe are referenced in “Against the State” and were fresh in my mind.
The other item in the Cato Letter was a short promotion of a new book, entitled “The Conscience of the Constitution,” that “lucidly explains the intensity of conservatism’s disagreements with progressivism.” The constitution has little to say about conservatism or progressivism. Beyond that, modern conservatism is in practice progressive, and progressivism authoritarian, in the way conservatism used to be criticized by the left. Both are at heart, in this era, equally fond of statism, and ultimately dependent upon it. So, while I might have read Timothy Sandefur’s book a few years ago, today, no matter how “slender” and “lucid” the book might be, I won’t bother. The premise is wrong, and by wrong, I mean not based in reality, and inappropriate for what needs to be done to grow and live liberty at the pace required today.
Lew’s book arrived instantly on Kindle, but more importantly, it arrived at the perfect time for me. Somehow, I think it will for you too. Buy this book, and read it ASAP!