A Novel Response to LRC

What if America, that little agrarian republic of 200 years ago, developed into a world-straddling empire? What if Americans found themselves repeatedly dragged into distant wars for vague reasons, sold by a flood of propaganda in the mass media, even in religious institutions? What if we had a mandatory school system designed to make us stupid and obedient? What if all our communications were subject to constant surveillance, while government agents infiltrated any opposition? What if state police could assault and murder citizens with little fear of reprimand, much less criminal charges? What if the state controlled the economy?

Readers of and will find nothing new in these ideas – they’ve been unfolding around us for a long time, accelerating in recent years. The actions of the state, and the effects of these actions, including the current economic disaster, rarely surprise those who study Austrian economics. As Albert Jay Nock asked in response to reports of atrocities by world powers: “What would you expect? – look at the record!”

Our current course, from the PATRIOT Act, to the endless wars, to the blatant control of the Treasury and Fed by Wall Street, could take us into a total state on the scale of the Soviet Union. But it would not be Soviet Russia, which took up the reins from the Czar. Nor would it be Orwell’s 1984, imagined from the viewpoint of postwar Britain.

I wrote my novel Dominion trying to envision a 21st-century totalitarian America, built on a combination of history and current trends. There are other dystopias, but I don’t know of any specifically built on Austro-libertarian thought. In fact, I’m not aware of much fiction specifically built on Austrian ideas, thought there are some good science fiction writers who explore libertarian and anarcho-capitalist ideas (Neal Stephenson is a personal favorite). The Mises Institute offers wonderful free-market fiction by Garet Garrett and Henry Hazlitt. (Please write if you know of more.)

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The society portrayed in Dominion owes much to the insights offered by LRC. Laurence Vance’s writings about relationship between religion and war helped shape the state’s use of religion in the story. Linda Schrock Taylor and Vin Suprynowicz pointed me to the life-changing (and free) Underground History of American Education, from which I learned to design a crushingly oppressive school system. Paul Craig Roberts charts the decline of civil liberties, while Michael Gaddy looks at the state’s dark underbelly. William Lind and Eric Margolis give a better picture of foreign policy and war than any 24-hour news network.

Crisis and Leviathan makes it clear that a major national emergency, real or manufactured, is the most expedient way for the state to expand and grab new powers. In Dominion, a nuclear bomb destroys a major American city a few years from today, and the state leaps at the opportunity, seizing direct control of communications, opening massive prison camps, launching a slew of wars, and generally putting its boot everywhere. The story takes place twenty years after that event.

The book focuses on ideological control, thanks to Austrian insights like those expressed by Lew Rockwell in his introduction to The Left, the Right, and the State:

The reality of the state is that it is a looting and killing machine. So why do so many people cheer for its expansion?…The very idea of the state is so implausible on its face that the state must wear an ideological garb as means of compelling popular support. Ancient states had one or two: they would protect you from enemies and/or they were ordained by the gods.

Because a state feeds off the market, it must consist of a minority of the society or else grow too large to support financially. The state does not rule only by force or threat of force, but also (and perhaps primarily) through ideology.

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For this reason, I chose for the main character in Dominion a “news” reporter who never knows whether he is reporting truth or not. While working as a propaganda conduit, he suffers a growing obsession with finding the truth, though any actual research will eventually land him in prison, or worse.

In 1984, Orwell leaves us with the impression that the Party system could rule forever, breaking down any opposition through surveillance, propaganda and brainwashing. Economic activity is planned by the Ministry of Plenty.

However, Socialism by Ludwig von Mises explains that a centrally planned economy cannot last, but must collapse. The command economy is unable to coordinate and calculate – only a market price system is capable of that. Mises correctly predicted the economic collapse of the Soviet Union decades in advance.

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Because of that, I realized the state portrayed in Dominion was on an ultimately self-destructive course. Its aggression, domestic and internationally, must be the desperate clawing of a giant beast struggling to survive, even as it crushes the economy beneath it with state control and runaway inflation. This led me to conclusions different from those reached by Orwell.

Finally, Jeff Tucker’s recent live blogging of Against Intellectual Monopoly inspired me to release the entire book for free under a Creative Commons license.

It is also available on demand as an Amazon paperback or Kindle e-text – I guess I’m avoiding the “100-year sentence” for now. I also felt a strong desire to get this one out to people as quickly and easily as possible.

The runaway, fiscally unsustainable growth of the state and its empire endangers our future. I’ve attempted to find what that might look like down the road, based on what I’ve learned from a few years of studying Austrian economics (and a lifetime of being American). I thought it was a subject worth exploring, and the results seemed worth sharing with you.

June 11, 2009

A Novel Response to LRC by JL Bryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.