The War Against Life
is interesting to observe so many Americans trying to find "meaning"
in the Bush administration’s war against an endless parade of "enemies."
From Afghanistan to Iraq to North Korea, the state continues to
concoct "threats" for the consumption of a public that is neither
empirically nor analytically demanding. The media are quick to play
their assigned roles, providing state-generated "information" and
self-styled "experts" to convince the rest of us that everything
the White House tells us is "just so," and that anyone who dissents
from – or even questions – the state’s purposes or policies is likely
an apologist for terrorism!
state’s ability to gull most of its citizens into an acceptance
of politically defined reality has been made possible by one of
the few successful state institutions: the government school system.
Contrary to those who look upon government schools as failures,
I have long regarded them as shining accomplishments for
state purposes: to produce herd-oriented men and women incapable
of making independent judgments, and who are thus prepared to submit
to external authorities for direction in their lives. In the words
of Ivan Illich, "[s]chool is the advertising agency which makes
you believe that you need the society as it is."
all graduates of government schools share an ignorance of the nature
of social institutions. The study of such fields as history, economics,
and government have long been confined to a compilation of names,
dates, organizational descriptions, and other disconnected data;
but with little genuine critical analysis that would call
into question institutionally accepted political or social doctrines.
I suspect that the typical government school alumnus is more adept
at spotting politically incorrect rhetoric, or putting a condom
on a banana, than he or she is in explaining the causes or consequences
of World War I. While most haven’t the slightest understanding of
how political systems actually operate, they have learned their
catechisms about the virtues of "democracy" (i.e., the illusion
that they and a friend have twice the political influence of David
Rockefeller)! While the bald eagle does represent the predatory
nature of the state, I believe it is time to adopt a national symbol
that more accurately reflects the mindset of most Americans: the
course, it is not in the interests of the state – or of those who
profit from statism – to have the nature of political systems explored;
for to do so, might cause even the institutionally-deferential students
to catch on to the vicious game being played at their expense. It
is not enough to understand that the state often resorts
to war: war is its fundamental nature. Every political institution
– from the local Weed Control Authority to the United States of
America – depends, for its existence, upon men and women being conditioned
to submit to the force and violence exercised by government authorities.
The state is nothing more than institutionalized violence that we
have become conditioned to revere.
lies the fundamental distinction between the marketplace
and political systems: in the marketplace, people
are persuaded to cooperate and exchange with one another
in anticipation of being rewarded for doing so. Political
systems, by contrast, induce participation in their schemes
through compulsion. In place of rewards, threats to the loss
of one’s life, liberty, or property are held out as the consequences
of disobedience. I have always found it remarkable that so many
men and women are prepared to distrust any and all businessmen –
whose appeals, in a free market, they are free to ignore – while
trusting even the most corrupt or cruel politician – whose demands
they fail to meet at their peril.
how do political systems secure such servility to force and violence?
Why would otherwise intelligent human beings submit to such an abject
condition? The state operates on the basis of the most inhumane
and anti-social premises – behaviors that we insist upon criminalizing
if done by private parties – and yet we tell ourselves that we cannot
live well without such brutal practices. Why?
of the explanation, I suspect, is to be found in our sense of fear:
both of ourselves and others. Having been institutionally
trained to distrust our capacities for self-directed lives, while
having unfailing confidence in the judgments of institutional leaders,
most of us have grown up fearing our own sense of responsibility.
To be free is to be accountable for one’s actions. But it
is not to others that we fear accountability, but to ourselves.
In the words of Epictetus: "It is a man’s own judgments which disturb
him." The state is as eager to relieve us of this sense of disquiet
as most of us are to give it up.
looking to others – particularly institutional authorities – to
make decisions on our behalf, we unconsciously tell ourselves, they
can become responsible for the adversity that befalls us! We
are not responsible. We are victims of the failures
of others! If fifty years of smoking has given me lung cancer, it
is the fault of the cigarette companies in producing the cigarettes!
If our children grow up to be crude or unfocused adults, it is not
due to examples we set as parents: the fault lies with rock music
or television! We tell ourselves that the state can rectify all
of this. But if the state is to enjoy surrogate responsibility,
it insists upon having control over our activities, an authority
men and women are increasingly willing to cede to political agencies,
lest the specter of self-responsibility reemerge.
we have also been conditioned to have a fear of others. The
state would be unable to exist were it not for our being frightened
that there are other persons in the world who mean us harm, and
that only our submission to the authority of political authorities
can protect us from such threats. For its own well being, the state
must generate and nurture this mindset, something it has done since
primitive tribal leaders warned their fellow tribesmen of the "Nine
Bows" who lived on the other side of the mountain. The current "war
on terror" reminds us of something every child learned while listening
to ghost stories at night around a campfire: threats can be made
even scarier as the fear object becomes more amorphous and ubiquitous.
The hazier the definition of the bogeyman, the more our mind fills
in the frightening details.
would be the likely consequences, to the state, of a condition of
universal peace, wherein men and women no longer lived under state-induced
fears of one another? That question was the subject of inquiry for
a book, published in 1967, titled Report
From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace.
This book purports to have been the results of a secret government
study, begun during the Kennedy administration, on the effects that
peace would have on political systems. It is now generally regarded
as having been a work of fiction, but that should not distract our
attention from its importance. Let us recall that the fictional
works of Orwell, Huxley, Kafka, Rand, and even Shakespeare, have
told us more about the nature of political systems than have most
political science PhD dissertations!
the report informs us, "is the basic social system," and "the end
of war means the end of national sovereignty." Because "[a]llegiance
requires a cause," and "a cause requires an enemy," the "war-making
societies require – and thus bring about – conflicts." A condition
of universal peace, in other words, would be fatal to political
systems. This is the same meaning one finds in Randolph Bourne’s
observation that "war is the health of the state." But the health
of the war-making system, the report goes on, "requires regular
‘exercise.’" It is not enough to just have the capacity for
such systematic violence; deadly force must be employed with sufficient
regularity to keep a nation’s subjects in awe of the powers of life
and death held by the state over their lives. This is why, particularly
since 1941, the United States government has managed to involve
itself in one military campaign after another throughout the world.
"enemies" singled out by a state must be made plausible to the ovine
herds who are to be rounded up and driven by their political leaders.
The Soviet Union served this role nicely for some four decades but,
alas, showed their poor sportsmanship by dropping out of the game.
A new enemy had to be found, and it was part of the alleged
purpose of the Report From Iron Mountain to indicate some
alternative "enemies" should the then-existing ones no longer be
available. From environmental pollution to threats from interplanetary
invaders to ethnic minorities, the report indicated various "alternate
enemies" that could be employed to maintain political power in an
otherwise peaceful world. It was only essential, the report emphasized,
that the threat be one that could be rendered believable to the
public, even if it be one that the state, itself, would have to
secretly engage in for purposes of plausibility.
may recall the various candidates offered up for our consumption
following the collapse of the Soviet Union: child abductors, drug
dealers, pornographers, Satanists, sexual predators, rock music
(particularly that which purported to have hidden Satanic messages
in the lyrics!), religious fundamentalists and, the apparent winner:
international terrorism. All that was required was
to make the threat believable – which events of 9/11 did – and the
state could not only continue to enjoy its wartime powers over the
American people, but could actually expand upon them far
beyond what had existed during previous wars!
is ironic that, not so many months ago, the present-day fomenters
and conductors of the "war on terror" were parading under the banner
of being "pro-life," particularly as such was useful in their campaigns
against abortions. But the use of state power – especially in the
conduct of wars – is anti-life, for it is premised on the
exercise of force against people. To compel others, through
threats and violence, to behave differently than they would have
acted in the absence of such coercion, is to deny the self-directed
nature of all living systems. Through the use of force, we
become servomechanisms, objects, the dispirited automatons implicit
in the institutionalized job description "human resource manager."
years ago, I saw a photo exhibit at a museum in which a scientist
reported on his efforts to examine, under a microscope, the eye
of a mosquito. He reported that, for a while, the eye was ablaze
in brilliant shades of orange and green. But then, the mosquito
died, and the eye became black; the fire had gone out. What a perfectly
sad metaphor for what we have allowed human systems of control to
do to the spirit that is innate within each of us.
must understand all of politics – no matter in what nation
it is practiced – as a system that wars against the very nature
of life. Politics cannot be eliminated by force – for to do so would
only imply an even mightier amassing of power than what is in place.
Neither can it be reformed, the effort to do so being as absurd
as trying to practice a peaceful form of warfare, or a humane system
of tyranny. It can only be transcended, a process that can
only begin by each of us ending the divisions and fears that our
political masters have carefully conditioned us to accept. When
we discover peace and order within ourselves, we shall then withdraw
our energies from the sanctified hostilities and confusion that
are destroying life.
© 2003 LewRockwell.com