LRC vs. the Sheeple

It isn’t easy writing for The readers are sufficiently well informed and critically minded that there’s hardly anything we writers can say that our audience hasn’t already thought of. I wish it weren’t so, because that would make my job a lot easier. On the other hand it’s a good thing LRC readers are so exacting, because they’re what stands between civilization and slavery.

This isn’t a plea for donations — although they’re most welcome — and isn’t a freelance exercise in sycophancy either. No, right now I feel like paying a tribute to LRC readers because every day it becomes ever more obvious what “sheeple” all too many other people are. Most conservatives, for instance. The Ann Coulter Debacle, not to mention NRO’s sensationalistic coverage of the September 11th atrocity in general, would discredit a publication whose readership had any self-respect at all. But NR’s prestige hasn’t been dented, because its readers simply read it because it’s the “conservative” thing to read. To see that kind of Pavlovian conditioning in human beings is disheartening, to say the least.

Sticking with the tried and true is one thing, but there’s no excuse for sticking with the tried and untrue. National Review was specifically founded “to stand athwart history, yelling stop!” but in 47 years, what has the magazine and the movement it spawned succeeded in stopping? Not the growth of the welfare state. Not affirmative action and racial radicalism. Maybe the Cold War, except that this country is more socialist now than it was when the Cold War began. The conservative movement keeps losing, but conservatives stick with it. Eventually you have to conclude that conservatives enjoy what they’re doing, otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it. They enjoy losing; they’re masochists. A businessman doesn’t read National Review so he can learn how terrible taxes are and how he can fight against them, he read NR to learn how necessary the State is and why it’s wonderful that he’s getting fleeced. And how grateful he should be that he’s only getting fleeced at Republican tax rates, rather than Democrat tax rates.

There’s a curious psychological effect here. If someone wants to surrender his earnings to the federal government there’s nothing to stop him from doing so. Yet I’ve met people who honestly believe that they themselves should pay more taxes and don’t simply volunteer the money. Some people really do like to be compelled into doing things. Maybe it’s because the burden of responsibility that comes with free will is too much for the modern man to handle. Thomas Mann suggested as much in “Mario and the Magician,” his parable of Hitler.

No one can rationally expect that any amount of airport security will deter a committed terrorist or that yet more x-rays and baggage searches will accomplish anything. But people support such measures anyway. Likewise it’s clear enough that an armed populace can defend itself, even on an aircraft — and that depressurizing the cabin is hardly a greater danger than going along with suicidal terrorists. But how much support is there for allowing firearms in carry-on luggage? It’s not safety that the public wants — it’s responsibility that the public wants to avoid. For the same reason the airlines ask the federal government to take over airport security. Whether or not it works, it’ll be somebody else’s problem.

This may be the root appeal of social democracy as well as the root cause of the enervation that will bring about its downfall. In economic terms it amounts to externalizing costs, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe discusses it in his recent book Democracy: the God that Failed. But the psychology of it applies very broadly. Even when it comes to entertainment the modern man cannot provide for himself; he tunes in to the Simpsons, builds a personality around Star Trek, and watches sports on television rather than actually playing them.

Which is not to say that some kind of Spartan ethic is the solution. Absolutely not: regimentation is itself an avoidance of individuality. Work can be a means of escape from duty to family and friends too. And besides real pleasure is hard work, as Jeffrey Bernard and Taki could attest. Sybarites need strong livers for one thing. Maybe it’s possible to go too far, but the good life by Hellenic standards was certainly one of cultivated leisure. That’s neither sloth nor busy-ness, the parallel gutters into which today’s culture has sunk.

LRC is a beacon in these dreary times and what should really be cause for hope and even celebration is the “denizens of” are not only the writers (and editor, of course) but also the readers. I know because of both the email I receive, almost always from informed and literate people, and because of what I’ve seen LRC do to my friends. Prolonged exposure to has shaken many of them out of a statist stupor. What’s even more remarkable about the change is that it isn’t passive — people who’ve been influenced by reading LRC often themselves start writing or taking other actions. Readers of this site are alert and interesting people of a kind that are otherwise one-in-a-million among political and ideological types. That does make life a little more difficult for us writers, but at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that our readers are people, not sheeple.