• Freedom Is Honesty, and Honesty Is Freedom

    Email Print
    Share

    In
    a public lecture in New Haven, CT on January 16, 1899, Yale sociologist
    and laissez-faire advocate William Graham Sumner did what an intellectual
    is supposed to do: he told the truth. After America's easy military
    victory against Spain, by which Puerto Rico and the Philippines
    became possessions of the United States, Sumner took the curious
    position that Spain won the war. Not Spain the country, but Spain
    the idea, Spain the Empire. By engaging in this conquest, we had
    become what Spain was. As Sumner put it:

    "Spain
    was the first, for a long time the greatest, of the modern imperialistic
    states … We have beaten Spain in a military conflict, but we are
    submitting to be conquered by her on the field of ideas and policies.
    Expansionism and imperialism are nothing but the old philosophies
    of national prosperity which have brought Spain to where she now
    is. These philosophies appeal to national vanity and national cupidity.
    They are seductive, especially upon the first view and the most
    superficial judgment, and therefore it cannot be denied that they
    are very strong for popular effect. They are delusions, and they
    will lead us to ruin unless we are hardheaded enough to resist them.
    In any case the year 1898 is a great landmark in the history of
    the United States." ("The Conquest of the United States
    by Spain," in On
    Liberty, Society, and Politics: the Essential Essays of William
    Graham Sumner
    , Robert C. Bannister, editor)

    Sumner
    was in part prophetic, in part not. He was right in seeing no good
    result in our takeover of the Philippines, right about militarism
    in Europe, right about Negroes "falling out of fashion"
    according to new partisan alliances, right that there are some things
    that government just isn't able to do. He did not foresee decades
    down the road, but who can? The advent of the income tax and unlimited
    government, which quickly gave us the resources to join World War
    I, Sumner did not foresee. So he obviously couldn't have predicted
    any subsequent wars, or that such wars were justified in the most
    grandiose moral language. Our war against Spain in Cuba in 1898
    was fraudulent and wrong, as all of our wars have been. Nevertheless,
    the Spanish-American War had to do with saving a neighboring (Cuban)
    people from chaos and injustice (winning the Philippines was an
    unintended consequence). The Spanish-American War had limited aims;
    it was not about saving the entire world.

    Sumner
    could not have foreseen the process of lies and propaganda by which
    America became the savior of the entire world – not just a
    colonial power with rivals, but the dominant power on earth. It
    achieved this because a religious zeal overtook America in its wars,
    in which the principle of "non-aggression" became the
    actual excuse for aggression. Like Star Trek's Starship Enterprise
    obeying the Federation's "Prime Directive," the United
    States wouldn't interfere in the domestic affairs of any other civilization,
    unless that civilization had contrary interests to ours, or was
    morally hypocritical or otherwise repugnant. The fact that these
    criteria would indict every nation, just as it would every civilization
    the Enterprise ever visited, does not invalidate the high moral
    principle. We will just use our superior power and technology, in
    one way or another, to demonstrate to backward peoples the error
    of their ways. That's the American way, and it happens to be Captain
    Kirk's way, too.

    Sumner
    dreaded the thought that America would adapt Rudyard Kipling's justification
    for British Empire as a morally inevitable "White Man's Burden"
    which our country was obliged to undertake. And, ultimately, we
    didn't, at least not exactly. But it's hard to say what we really
    have fought for instead since World War I. We gained nothing at
    all from World War I; we only made things worse. We fought the Nazis
    in World War II, willingly gave half the world over to the Communists,
    and then realized (!) that communism was actually more hostile to
    America than Nazism or Fascism ever could be.

    World
    War II proved nothing but that Democracy hates human life. Russia's
    Communism? A democratic movement. Italy's fascism? The same. Hitler's
    Nazism? The same thing. The extension of socialism in Britain? Same
    thing. Nationalism in the United States (direct election of Senators,
    income taxes, Prohibition)? The exact same movement. All were justified
    not by a commitment to liberty, but by submission to Democracy.

    Democracy
    is genocide, mass bombings, mass murder. Democracy is the principle
    that the individual doesn't count. Democracy is resentment and envy;
    it is venomous hatred of foreign peoples and anyone not like "us,"
    especially, not like "me." Democracy is the principle
    that all people should suffer equally.

    Sumner
    didn't foresee any of this. How could he? Nevertheless, our nation
    and the world have become even worse because we didn't heed his
    warnings. What I love about Sumner's speech is that at this stage
    of his life he was free to speak. He had come to regret his political
    activism of the 1870's. He was now free to speak in opposition.
    He spoke as one with no stake in the fight, Democratic or Republican.
    He did not endorse imperialism with some "concerns" or
    "reservations." He instead thought imperialism to be impractical,
    a Constitutional conundrum (are conquered peoples subject to the
    Constitution? Are they to be made states?), and immoral. He felt
    free to criticize his country, not just one Party.

    It
    reminds me that, to find the truth in any historical period, it
    does little good to look at the partisan newspapers. Better to look
    for those who wrote in opposition. Henry David Thoreau and John
    C. Calhoun were diametrically opposed on the issue of slavery. Nevertheless,
    the one's individualism and the other's theory of state's rights
    each make more sense than Lincoln's "Tariffs – {cough}
    ahem, excuse me – Union Forever!" approach. Both Thoreau
    and Calhoun would have let the Southern states, or any state, secede.
    That's the point: Thoreau wouldn't want to pay taxes to a state
    or federal government that supported slavery. I wish I had that
    courage with regard to paying for somebody else's abortion through
    my taxes.

    When
    I mean "Opposition," I don't mean one side or the other
    of the "we must hear both sides of the issue," the standard
    Democrat line or the Republican line. Whether "under God"
    should be in the Pledge of Allegiance is a typical issue which,
    so they say, in "fairness" people must hear "both
    sides." But it's actually the same side. The premise is that
    the purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance is noble, no questions asked.
    Devotion to the flag is already understood. You are not to think
    about any other flag: not your State flag, not the original Gadsden
    "Don't Tread on Me" revolutionary flag, and certainly
    not the Confederate flag. To the people in power, only the Stars
    and Stripes is sacred, whether or not it is "under God."
    But when I mean the Opposition, I don't mean the Party out of power
    at the moment who still support the Stars and Stripes. That is merely
    the opposing Party, jealous of the power it now lacks. This is different
    from the real Opposition.

    The
    real Opposition doesn't seek power, because it is anti-government.
    Morality from time immemorial suggests, at minimum, "hurt no
    one." Do nothing to another person against that person's will.
    Respect their freedom. Granted, a higher level of personal
    happiness will be achieved if one goes beyond this minimum, to the
    idea of "do unto others as you would have done to you"
    and even greater with "love your neighbor as yourself."
    But these are only higher formulations of the original concept,
    and they can't possibly violate it. You can't love someone as yourself
    and hurt him at the same time. Freedom of the individual is the
    foundation of morality. And those who believe in the freedom of
    the individual will have two qualities: a respect for truth and
    a distrust of government.

    This
    is the radical idea that has always outraged the powerful. When
    the economist Ludwig von Mises proved with logic the necessity of
    human freedom, he was exiled from his own land and couldn't even
    find a university that would pay his salary in the "freest"
    country in the world, the United States. That's why it is good to
    read his opus Human
    Action
    . (Or at least some of it!) It was published when
    the belief in statism was at its highest in America.

    That's
    not to say that everyone in the Opposition was necessarily an anarchist.
    Mises himself wasn't one – at least, he never thought himself to
    be one. Neither were many of his pro-freedom American contemporaries.

    Isabel
    Paterson, in The
    God of the Machine
    laments that the Bill of Rights did not
    apply to the states at the very beginning. (But she wrote in 1943
    before the Supreme Court went completely insane). And I have never
    read a bigger cheerleader for American government than Rose Wilder
    Lane, in her Give Me Liberty and The
    Discovery of Freedom
    . And certainly Garet Garrett was no
    libertarian, having, in The American Story even called Prohibition
    a “noble experiment.” Nevertheless, these three writers, like Mises,
    “get it.” They knew what made America work, and that was
    free people encumbered only by small and limited government, which
    existed only by their own consent.

    In
    comparison, Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken, who were also contemporaries
    of the above, were anarchists. America worked best, not where there
    was small or limited government, but precisely in those places where
    government – more precisely, The State – didn't exist
    at all. Yet all of these defenders, anarchists or not, were part
    of what Murray Rothbard called the "Old Right," mainly
    because they had something truthful to say. Not because they were
    all in agreement. Not because everything they said was actually
    truthful, but that it was at least honestly truthful in the
    eyes of the writer. They believed in what they said, even at the
    expense of fame and fortune. It is in such people and such people
    alone – those who spoke as honestly as they saw it even at
    personal cost – that truth may be found. It might be found
    elsewhere, by accident. And it's never found among some kinds of
    conscientious dissenters, especially communists and other advocates
    of Statism. But where we see, more or less, a commitment to leave
    the individual alone, there will we also a commitment to truth and
    a strong suspicion of government. Lane, Paterson, and Garrett, and
    Ayn Rand afterward, may have been cheerleaders for American-style
    government as they understood it. But they never wrote in the hope
    of gaining power. They wrote instead on behalf of freedom; they
    supported America and American government because of how it protected
    American freedoms. Not because of how it took away those
    freedoms.

    Truth
    is, without doubt, the primary enemy of The State, because Truth
    is Freedom. And it's an exciting time to be an enemy of The State,
    to be someone who calls it honestly. Honesty is indeed the best
    policy after all, because honesty is the freedom of the individual
    to tell the truth as he or she sees it. And maybe, just maybe, this
    is the age in which the tide begins to turn, where the Opposition
    will actually be listened to. There are strong signs that America
    is heading in that direction.

    June
    20, 2003

    James
    Leroy Wilson [send
    him mail
    ] lives and works in Chicago.


         

    Email Print
    Share