Other things have helped change my mind. R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii calculates that in the twentieth century alone, states murdered about 162,000,000 million of their own subjects. This figure doesn’t include the tens of millions of foreigners they killed in war. How, then, can we speak of states “protecting” their people? No amount of private crime could have claimed such a toll. As for warfare, Paul Fussell’s book Wartime portrays battle with such horrifying vividness that, although this wasn’t its intention, I came to doubt whether any war could be justified.
My fellow Christians have argued that the state’s authority is divinely given. They cite Christ’s injunction “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” and St. Paul’s words “The powers that be are ordained of God.” But Christ didn’t say which things — if any — belong to Caesar; his ambiguous words are far from a command to give Caesar whatever he claims. And it’s notable that Christ never told his disciples either to establish a state or to engage in politics. They were to preach the Gospel and, if rejected, to move on. He seems never to have imagined the state as something they could or should enlist on their side.
At first sight, St. Paul seems to be more positive in affirming the authority of the state. But he himself, like the other martyrs, died for defying the state, and we honor him for it; to which we may add that he was on one occasion a jailbreaker as well. Evidently the passage in Romans has been misread. It was probably written during the reign of Nero, not the most edifying of rulers; but then Paul also counseled slaves to obey their masters, and nobody construes this as an endorsement of slavery. He may have meant that the state and slavery were here for the foreseeable future, and that Christians must abide them for the sake of peace. Never does he say that either is here forever.
St. Augustine took a dim view of the state, as a punishment for sin. He said that a state without justice is nothing but a gang of robbers writ large, while leaving doubt that any state could ever be otherwise. St. Thomas Aquinas took a more benign view, arguing that the state would be necessary even if man had never fallen from grace; but he agreed with Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all, a doctrine that would severely diminish any known state.
The essence of the state is its legal monopoly of force. But force is subhuman; in words I quote incessantly, Simone Weil defined it as “that which turns a person into a thing — either corpse or slave.” It may sometimes be a necessary evil, in self-defense or defense of the innocent, but nobody can have by right what the state claims: an exclusive privilege of using it.
It’s entirely possible that states — organized force — will always rule this world, and that we will have at best a choice among evils. And some states are worse than others in important ways: anyone in his right mind would prefer living in the United States to life under a Stalin. But to say a thing is inevitable, or less onerous than something else, is not to say it is good.
For most people, anarchy is a disturbing word, suggesting chaos, violence, antinomianism — things they hope the state can control or prevent. The term state, despite its bloody history, doesn’t disturb them. Yet it’s the state that is truly chaotic, because it means the rule of the strong and cunning. They imagine that anarchy would naturally terminate in the rule of thugs. But mere thugs can’t assert a plausible right to rule. Only the state, with its propaganda apparatus, can do that. This is what legitimacy means. Anarchists obviously need a more seductive label.
“But what would you replace the state with?” The question reveals an inability to imagine human society without the state. Yet it would seem that an institution that can take 200,000,000 lives within a century hardly needs to be “replaced.”
Christians, and especially Americans, have long been misled about all this by their good fortune. Since the conversion of Rome, most Western rulers have been more or less inhibited by Christian morality (though, often enough, not so’s you’d notice), and even warfare became somewhat civilized for centuries; and this has bred the assumption that the state isn’t necessarily an evil at all. But as that morality loses its cultural grip, as it is rapidly doing, this confusion will dissipate. More and more we can expect the state to show its nature nakedly.
For me this is anything but a happy conclusion. I miss the serenity of believing I lived under a good government, wisely designed and benevolent in its operation. But, as St. Paul says, there comes a time to put away childish things.
Can the Government Keep Us Safe?
by Andrew P. Napolitano
Recently by Andrew P. Napolitano: What Is a Right?
What a week we have all just endured! While the Democrats were re-writing the federal takeover of healthcare behind closed doors, the public face of the federal government was fixated on denying and then explaining all the gaps in its intelligence gathering. The Obama administration has been finger-pointing over who in the government let a murderous thug on a plane in Amsterdam that he tried to explode over Detroit. First, the government said that the system worked. Then the President said it didn’t. Then he announced that the intelligence communities and security people would start to talk to each other so the bad guys could be kept out. Weren’t they supposed to be doing this all along?
At Newark Liberty Airport last Sunday, a TSA agent left his post, and a young man walked past it to kiss his girlfriend good-bye. Then the young man turned and left the secured area and left the airport. So far no harm, no foul. But because the government’s surveillance cameras in the airport didn’t work, the feds panicked and ordered over 10,000 passengers to leave the terminal, go out into the 15-degree Newark, NJ cold at night, and then re-enter the airport. Flights were delayed and missed, kids did not get to school on Monday morning, and soldiers were listed as AWOL. All because the government overreacted to a kiss. This humiliated the feds: New Jersey’s 86-year-old senior Senator Frank Lautenberg demanded that the guy who kissed his gal be hunted down and prosecuted because of the chaos he caused. He caused? Let’s see; the government has cameras that watch us every time we scratch our noses, and when those cameras don’t work, the government blames the person whose picture it was supposed to be taking? Come on.
All this, of course, brings out the false argument of liberty versus security. And we hear it from the Progressives that the government must take our freedoms in order to keep us safe. That’s hogwash. Freedom is our birthright. It doesn’t come from the government; it is part of our humanity. America is the only country in the history of the world dedicated to the truism that we are endowed by our Creator, as Jefferson wrote, with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The government has forgotten basic civics: “Endowed by our Creator” means that our rights come from God and not from the feds. “Inalienable” means that we and our freedoms cannot be separated, unless and until we are convicted by a jury of violating someone else’s rights. What is the value of being safe if we are not free? Did our forefathers flee the kings and despots of Europe and come here to be safe? Did Patrick Henry say "Give me safety or give me death?" Here is the mistake that the Big Government crowd wants to thrust upon us: They want to balance liberty and safety. There is no such thing as balance when it comes to freedom. We will not trade freedom for anything, or balance it against anything, and we certainly won’t give it up to the TSA.
Can the government keep us safe? I don’t think so. Airline travel is safer today because pilots have guns, cockpit doors are like bank vaults, and the passengers have become courageous. All this was done by individuals in the private sector, not by the government. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if the feds had not stripped us of our natural rights to keep ourselves safe – by keeping and bearing arms – 9/11 would never have happened. How about letting the airlines decide who gets on the planes, rather than a TSA worker who leaves his post? When industry competes for your business, you fly where you want to go, you get there in comfort and safety, and you do all this at a competitive cost. When the government runs the show, you stand in the cold night air for six hours because of a kiss. The government can’t deliver the mail, it can’t operate surveillance cameras at an airport; it can’t pay back its debts; it can’t tell the truth. That would be the same government that wants to manage your healthcare.
America, do you see what happens when we rely on the government too much? It gets authoritarian and we get weak. Our children grow to expect from the government what we once did for ourselves. Government is a fearful master. It is not faithful to us; it is not truthful to us; it can’t produce for us. It doesn’t obey its own laws; it doesn’t keep us safe; and it won’t leave us alone. It is mortgaging our futures, raising our taxes, and treating us all like children.
What to do? Challenge it at every turn. Expose it to friend and foe. Educate all you know about what you see and hear every day on this show. And return no one to the government who has stolen your freedom.
And one other thing: The God who gave us life also gave us liberty. He loves us. Praise Him from the roof tops, and ask Him to save us from a government that is out of control.
January 11, 2010
Andrew P. Napolitano [send him mail], a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel. His next book is Lies the Government Told You: Myth, Power, and Deception in American History, (Nelson, 2010).
Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
The Best of Andrew P. Napolitano
You Are What You Grow
April 22, 2007
A few years ago, an obesity researcher at the University of Washington named Adam Drewnowski ventured into the supermarket to solve a mystery. He wanted to figure out why it is that the most reliable predictor of obesity in America today is a person’s wealth. For most of history, after all, the poor have typically suffered from a shortage of calories, not a surfeit. So how is it that today the people with the least amount of money to spend on food are the ones most likely to be overweight?
Drewnowski gave himself a hypothetical dollar to spend, using it to purchase as many calories as he possibly could. He discovered that he could buy the most calories per dollar in the middle aisles of the supermarket, among the towering canyons of processed food and soft drink. (In the typical American supermarket, the fresh foods–dairy, meat, fish and produce–line the perimeter walls, while the imperishable packaged goods dominate the center.) Drewnowski found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of cookies or potato chips but only 250 calories of carrots. Looking for something to wash down those chips, he discovered that his dollar bought 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.
As a rule, processed foods are more “energy dense” than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening. These particular calories also happen to be the least healthful ones in the marketplace, which is why we call the foods that contain them “junk.” Drewnowski concluded that the rules of the food game in America are organized in such a way that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly–and get fat.
This perverse state of affairs is not, as you might think, the inevitable result of the free market. Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?
For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system–indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat–three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades–indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning–U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.
That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow.
A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called “an epidemic” of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup. But such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation’s agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives. And the subsidies are only part of the problem. The farm bill helps determine what sort of food your children will have for lunch in school tomorrow. The school-lunch program began at a time when the public-health problem of America’s children was undernourishment, so feeding surplus agricultural commodities to kids seemed like a win-win strategy. Today the problem is overnutrition, but a school lunch lady trying to prepare healthful fresh food is apt to get dinged by U.S.D.A. inspectors for failing to serve enough calories; if she dishes up a lunch that includes chicken nuggets and Tater Tots, however, the inspector smiles and the reimbursements flow. The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.
To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact–on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities–or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.
And though we don’t ordinarily think of the farm bill in these terms, few pieces of legislation have as profound an impact on the American landscape and environment. Americans may tell themselves they don’t have a national land-use policy, that the market by and large decides what happens on private property in America, but that’s not exactly true. The smorgasbord of incentives and disincentives built into the farm bill helps decide what happens on nearly half of the private land in America: whether it will be farmed or left wild, whether it will be managed to maximize productivity (and therefore doused with chemicals) or to promote environmental stewardship. The health of the American soil, the purity of its water, the biodiversity and the very look of its landscape owe in no small part to impenetrable titles, programs and formulae buried deep in the farm bill.
Given all this, you would think the farm-bill debate would engage the nation’s political passions every five years, but that hasn’t been the case. If the quintennial antidrama of the “farm bill debate” holds true to form this year, a handful of farm-state legislators will thrash out the mind-numbing details behind closed doors, with virtually nobody else, either in Congress or in the media, paying much attention. Why? Because most of us assume that, true to its name, the farm bill is about “farming,” an increasingly quaint activity that involves no one we know and in which few of us think we have a stake. This leaves our own representatives free to ignore the farm bill, to treat it as a parochial piece of legislation affecting a handful of their Midwestern colleagues. Since we aren’t paying attention, they pay no political price for trading, or even selling, their farm-bill votes. The fact that the bill is deeply encrusted with incomprehensible jargon and prehensile programs dating back to the 1930s makes it almost impossible for the average legislator to understand the bill should he or she try to, much less the average citizen. It’s doubtful this is an accident.
But there are signs this year will be different. The public-health community has come to recognize it can’t hope to address obesity and diabetes without addressing the farm bill. The environmental community recognizes that as long as we have a farm bill that promotes chemical and feedlot agriculture, clean water will remain a pipe dream. The development community has woken up to the fact that global poverty can’t be fought without confronting the ways the farm bill depresses world crop prices. They got a boost from a 2004 ruling by the World Trade Organization that U.S. cotton subsidies are illegal; most observers think that challenges to similar subsidies for corn, soy, wheat or rice would also prevail.
And then there are the eaters, people like you and me, increasingly concerned, if not restive, about the quality of the food on offer in America. A grass-roots social movement is gathering around food issues today, and while it is still somewhat inchoate, the manifestations are everywhere: in local efforts to get vending machines out of the schools and to improve school lunch; in local campaigns to fight feedlots and to force food companies to better the lives of animals in agriculture; in the spectacular growth of the market for organic food and the revival of local food systems. In great and growing numbers, people are voting with their forks for a different sort of food system. But as powerful as the food consumer is–it was that consumer, after all, who built a $15 billion organic-food industry and more than doubled the number of farmer’s markets in the last few years–voting with our forks can advance reform only so far. It can’t, for example, change the fact that the system is rigged to make the most unhealthful calories in the marketplace the only ones the poor can afford. To change that, people will have to vote with their votes as well–which is to say, they will have to wade into the muddy political waters of agricultural policy.
Doing so starts with the recognition that the “farm bill” is a misnomer; in truth, it is a food bill and so needs to be rewritten with the interests of eaters placed first. Yes, there are eaters who think it in their interest that food just be as cheap as possible, no matter how poor the quality. But there are many more who recognize the real cost of artificially cheap food–to their health, to the land, to the animals, to the public purse. At a minimum, these eaters want a bill that aligns agricultural policy with our public-health and environmental values, one with incentives to produce food cleanly, sustainably and humanely. Eaters want a bill that makes the most healthful calories in the supermarket competitive with the least healthful ones. Eaters want a bill that feeds schoolchildren fresh food from local farms rather than processed surplus commodities from far away. Enlightened eaters also recognize their dependence on farmers, which is why they would support a bill that guarantees the people who raise our food not subsidies but fair prices. Why? Because they prefer to live in a country that can still produce its own food and doesn’t hurt the world’s farmers by dumping its surplus crops on their markets.
The devil is in the details, no doubt. Simply eliminating support for farmers won’t solve these problems; overproduction has afflicted agriculture since long before modern subsidies. It will take some imaginative policy making to figure out how to encourage farmers to focus on taking care of the land rather than all-out production, on growing real food for eaters rather than industrial raw materials for food processors and on rebuilding local food economies, which the current farm bill hobbles. But the guiding principle behind an eater’s farm bill could not be more straightforward: it’s one that changes the rules of the game so as to promote the quality of our food (and farming) over and above its quantity.
Such changes are radical only by the standards of past farm bills, which have faithfully reflected the priorities of the agribusiness interests that wrote them. One of these years, the eaters of America are going to demand a place at the table, and we will have the political debate over food policy we need and deserve. This could prove to be that year: the year when the farm bill became a food bill, and the eaters at last had their say.
Copyright © Michael Pollan
The Intellectual Incoherence of Conservatism
Modern conservatism, in the United States and Europe, is confused and distorted. Under the influence of representative democracy and with the transformation of the U.S. and Europe into mass democracies from World War I, conservatism was transformed from an anti-egalitarian, aristocratic, anti-statist ideological force into a movement of culturally conservative statists: the right wing of the socialists and social democrats.
Most self-proclaimed contemporary conservatives are concerned, as they should be, about the decay of families, divorce, illegitimacy, loss of authority, multiculturalism, social disintegration, sexual libertinism, and crime. All of these phenomena they regard as anomalies and deviations from the natural order, or what we might call normalcy.
However, most contemporary conservatives (at least most of the spokesmen of the conservative establishment) either do not recognize that their goal of restoring normalcy requires the most drastic, even revolutionary, antistatist social changes, or (if they know about this) they are engaged in betraying conservatism’s cultural agenda from inside in order to promote an entirely different agenda.
That this is largely true for the so-called neoconservatives does not require further explanation here. Indeed, as far as their leaders are concerned, one suspects that most of them are of the latter kind. They are not truly concerned about cultural matters but recognize that they must play the cultural-conservatism card so as not to lose power and promote their entirely different goal of global social democracy. The fundamentally statist character of American neoconservatism is best summarized by a statement of one of its leading intellectual champions Irving Kristol:
“[T]he basic principle behind a conservative welfare state ought to be a simple one: wherever possible, people should be allowed to keep their own money—rather than having it transferred (via taxes to the state)—on the condition that they put it to certain defined uses.” [Two Cheers for Capitalism, New York: Basic Books, 1978, p. 119].
This view is essentially identical to that held by modern, post-Marxist European Social-Democrats. Thus, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), for instance, in its Godesberg Program of 1959, adopted as its core motto the slogan “as much market as possible, as much state as necessary.”
A second, somewhat older but nowadays almost indistinguishable branch of contemporary American conservatism is represented by the new (post World War II) conservatism launched and promoted, with the assistance of the CIA, by William Buckley and his National Review. Whereas the old (pre-World War II) American conservatism had been characterized by decidedly anti-interventionist foreign policy views, the trademark of Buckley’s new conservatism has been its rabid militarism and interventionist foreign policy.
In an article, “A Young Republican’s View,” published in Commonweal on January 25, 1952, three years before the launching of his National Review, Buckley thus summarized what would become the new conservative credo: In light of the threat posed by the Soviet Union, “we [new conservatives] have to accept Big Government for the duration—for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged . . . except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.”
Conservatives, Buckley wrote, were duty-bound to promote “the extensive and productive tax laws that are needed to support a vigorous anti-Communist foreign policy,” as well as the “large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington.”
Not surprisingly, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, essentially nothing in this philosophy has changed. Today, the continuation and preservation of the American welfare-warfare state is simply excused and promoted by new and neo-conservatives alike with reference to other foreign enemies and dangers: China, Islamic fundamentalism, Saddam Hussein, “rogue states,” and the threat of “global terrorism.”
However, it is also true that many conservatives are genuinely concerned about family disintegration or dysfunction and cultural decline. I am thinking here in particular of the conservatism represented by Patrick Buchanan and his movement. Buchanan’s conservatism is by no means as different from that of the conservative Republican party establishment as he and his followers fancy themselves. In one decisive respect their brand of conservatism is in full agreement with that of the conservative establishment: both are statists. They differ over what exactly needs to be done to restore normalcy to the U.S., but they agree that it must be done by the state. There is not a trace of principled antistatism in either.
Let me illustrate by quoting Samuel Francis, who was one of the leading theoreticians and strategists of the Buchananite movement. After deploring “anti-white” and “anti-Western” propaganda, “militant secularism, acquisitive egoism, economic and political globalism, demographic inundation, and unchecked state centralism,” he expounds on a new spirit of “America First,” which “implies not only putting national interests over those of other nations and abstractions like ‘world leadership,’ ‘global harmony,’ and the ‘New World Order,’ but also giving priority to the nation over the gratification of individual and subnational interests.”
How does he propose to fix the problem of moral degeneration and cultural decline? There is no recognition that the natural order in education means that the state has nothing to do with it. Education is entirely a family matter and ought to be produced and distributed in cooperative arrangements within the framework of the market economy.
Moreover, there is no recognition that moral degeneracy and cultural decline have deeper causes and cannot simply be cured by state-imposed curriculum changes or exhortations and declamations. To the contrary, Francis proposes that the cultural turn-around—the restoration of normalcy—can be achieved without a fundamental change in the structure of the modern welfare state. Indeed, Buchanan and his ideologues explicitly defend the three core institutions of the welfare state: social security, medicare, and unemployment subsidies. They even want to expand the “social” responsibilities of the state by assigning to it the task of “protecting,” by means of national import and export restrictions, American jobs, especially in industries of national concern, and “insulate the wages of U.S. workers from foreign laborers who must work for $1 an hour or less.”
In fact, Buchananites freely admit that they are statists. They detest and ridicule capitalism, laissez-faire, free markets and trade, wealth, elites, and nobility; and they advocate a new populist—indeed proletarian—conservatism which amalgamates social and cultural conservatism and socialist economics. Thus, continues Francis,
while the left could win Middle Americans through its economic measures, it lost them through its social and cultural radicalism, and while the right could attract Middle Americans through appeals to law and order and defense of sexual normality, conventional morals and religion, traditional social institutions and invocations of nationalism and patriotism, it lost Middle Americans when it rehearsed its old bourgeois economic formulas.
Hence, it is necessary to combine the economic policies of the left and the nationalism and cultural conservatism of the right, to create “a new identity synthesizing both the economic interests and cultural-national loyalties of the proletarianized middle class in a separate and unified political movement.” For obvious reasons this doctrine is not so named, but there is a term for this type of conservatism: It is called social nationalism or national socialism.
(As for most of the leaders of the so-called Christian Right and the “moral majority,” they simply desire the replacement of the current, left-liberal elite in charge of national education by another one, i.e., themselves. “From Burke on,” Robert Nisbet has criticized this posture, “it has been a conservative precept and a sociological principle since Auguste Comte that the surest way of weakening the family, or any vital social group, is for the government to assume, and then monopolize, the family’s historic functions.” In contrast, much of the contemporary American Right “is less interested in Burkean immunities from government power than it is in putting a maximum of governmental power in the hands of those who can be trusted. It is control of power, not diminution of power, that ranks high.”)
I will not concern myself here with the question of whether or not Buchanan’s conservatism has mass appeal and whether or not its diagnosis of American politics is sociologically correct. I doubt that this is the case, and certainly Buchanan’s fate during the 1995 and 2000 Republican presidential primaries does not indicate otherwise. Rather, I want to address the more fundamental questions: Assuming that it does have such appeal; that is, assuming that cultural conservatism and socialist economics can be psychologically combined (that is, that people can hold both of these views simultaneously without cognitive dissonance), can they also be effectively and practically (economically and praxeologically) combined? Is it possible to maintain the current level of economic socialism (social security, etc.) and reach the goal of restoring cultural normalcy (natural families and normal rules of conduct)?
Buchanan and his theoreticians do not feel the need to raise this question, because they believe politics to be solely a matter of will and power. They do not believe in such things as economic laws. If people want something enough, and they are given the power to implement their will, everything can be achieved. The “dead Austrian economist” Ludwig von Mises, to whom Buchanan referred contemptuously during his presidential campaigns, characterized this belief as “historicism,” the intellectual posture of the German Kathedersozialisten, the academic Socialists of the Chair, who justified any and all statist measures.
But historicist contempt and ignorance of economics does not alter the fact that inexorable economic laws exist. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, for instance. Or what you consume now cannot be consumed again in the future. Or producing more of one good requires producing less of another. No wishful thinking can make such laws go away. To believe otherwise can only result in practical failure. “In fact,” noted Mises, “economic history is a long record of government policies that failed because they were designed with a bold disregard for the laws of economics.”
In light of elementary and immutable economic laws, the Buchananite program of social nationalism is just another bold but impossible dream. No wishful thinking can alter the fact that maintaining the core institutions of the present welfare state and wanting to return to traditional families, norms, conduct, and culture are incompatible goals. You can have one—socialism (welfare)—or the other—traditional morals—but you cannot have both, for social nationalist economics, the pillar of the current welfare state system Buchanan wants to leave untouched, is the very cause of cultural and social anomalies.
In order to clarify this, it is only necessary to recall one of the most fundamental laws of economics which says that all compulsory wealth or income redistribution, regardless of the criteria on which it is based, involves taking from some—the havers of something—and giving it to others—the non-havers of something. Accordingly, the incentive to be a haver is reduced, and the incentive to be a non-haver increased. What the haver has is characteristically something considered “good,” and what the non-haver does not have is something “bad” or a deficiency. Indeed, this is the very idea underlying any redistribution: some have too much good stuff and others not enough. The result of every redistribution is that one will thereby produce less good and increasingly more bad, less perfection and more deficiencies. By subsidizing with tax funds (with funds taken from others) people who are poor, more poverty (bad) will be created. By subsidizing people because they are unemployed, more unemployment (bad) will be created. By subsidizing unwed mothers, there will be more unwed mothers and more illegitimate births (bad), etc.
Obviously, this basic insight applies to the entire system of so-called social security that has been implemented in Western Europe (from the 1880s onward) and the U.S. (since the 1930s): of compulsory government “insurance” against old age, illness, occupational injury, unemployment, indigence, etc. In conjunction with the even older compulsory system of public education, these institutions and practices amount to a massive attack on the institution of the family and personal responsibility.
By relieving individuals of the obligation to provide for their own income, health, safety, old age, and children’s education, the range and temporal horizon of private provision is reduced, and the value of marriage, family, children, and kinship relations is lowered. Irresponsibility, shortsightedness, negligence, illness and even destructionism (bads) are promoted, and responsibility, farsightedness, diligence, health and conservatism (goods) are punished.
The compulsory old age insurance system in particular, by which retirees (the old) are subsidized from taxes imposed on current income earners (the young), has systematically weakened the natural intergenerational bond between parents, grandparents, and children. The old need no longer rely on the assistance of their children if they have made no provision for their own old age; and the young (with typically less accumulated wealth) must support the old (with typically more accumulated wealth) rather than the other way around, as is typical within families.
Consequently, not only do people want to have fewer children—and indeed, birthrates have fallen in half since the onset of modern social security (welfare) policies—but also the respect which the young traditionally accorded to their elders is diminished, and all indicators of family disintegration and malfunctioning, such as rates of divorce, illegitimacy, child abuse, parent abuse, spouse abuse, single parenting, singledom, alternative lifestyles, and abortion, have increased.
Moreover, with the socialization of the health care system through institutions such as Medicaid and Medicare and the regulation of the insurance industry (by restricting an insurer’s right of refusal: to exclude any individual risk as uninsurable, and discriminate freely, according to actuarial methods, between different group risks) a monstrous machinery of wealth and income redistribution at the expense of responsible individuals and low-risk groups in favor of irresponsible actors and high-risk groups has been put in motion. Subsidies for the ill, unhealthy and disabled breed illness, disease, and disability and weaken the desire to work for a living and to lead healthy lives. One can do no better than quote the “dead Austrian economist” Ludwig von Mises once more:
being ill is not a phenomenon independent of conscious will. . . . A man’s efficiency is not merely a result of his physical condition; it depends largely on his mind and will. . . . The destructionist aspect of accident and health insurance lies above all in the fact that such institutions promote accident and illness, hinder recovery, and very often create, or at any rate intensify and lengthen, the functional disorders which follow illness or accident. . . . To feel healthy is quite different from being healthy in the medical sense. . . . By weakening or completely destroying the will to be well and able to work, social insurance creates illness and inability to work; it produces the habit of complaining—which is in itself a neurosis—and neuroses of other kinds. . . . As a social institution it makes a people sick bodily and mentally or at least helps to multiply, lengthen, and intensify disease. . . . Social insurance has thus made the neurosis of the insured a dangerous public disease. Should the institution be extended and developed the disease will spread. No reform can be of any assistance. We cannot weaken or destroy the will to health without producing illness.
I do not wish to explain here the economic nonsense of Buchanan’s and his theoreticians’ even further-reaching idea of protectionist policies (of protecting American wages). If they were right, their argument in favor of economic protection would amount to an indictment of all trade and a defense of the thesis that each family would be better off if it never traded with anyone else. Certainly, in this case no one could ever lose his job, and unemployment due to “unfair” competition would be reduced to zero.
Yet such a full-employment society would not be prosperous and strong; it would be composed of people (families) who, despite working from dawn to dusk, would be condemned to poverty and starvation. Buchanan’s international protectionism, while less destructive than a policy of interpersonal or interregional protectionism, would result in precisely the same effect. This is not conservatism (conservatives want families to be prosperous and strong). This is economic destructionism.
In any case, what should be clear by now is that most if not all of the moral degeneration and cultural decline—the signs of decivilization—all around us are the inescapable and unavoidable results of the welfare state and its core institutions. Classical, old-style conservatives knew this, and they vigorously opposed public education and social security. They knew that states everywhere were intent upon breaking down and ultimately destroying families and the institutions and layers and hierarchies of authority that are the natural outgrowth of family based communities in order to increase and strengthen their own power. They knew that in order to do so states would have to take advantage of the natural rebellion of the adolescent (juvenile) against parental authority. And they knew that socialized education and socialized responsibility were the means of bringing about this goal.
Social education and social security provide an opening for the rebellious youth to escape parental authority (to get away with continuous misbehavior). Old conservatives knew that these policies would emancipate the individual from the discipline imposed by family and community life only to subject him instead to the direct and immediate control of the state.
Furthermore, they knew, or at least had a hunch, that this would lead to a systematic infantilization of society—a regression, emotionally and mentally, from adulthood to adolescence or childhood.
In contrast, Buchanan’s populist-proletarian conservatism—social nationalism—shows complete ignorance of all of this. Combining cultural conservatism and welfare-statism is impossible, and hence, economic nonsense. Welfare-statism—social security in any way, shape or form—breeds moral and cultural decline and degeneration. Thus, if one is indeed concerned about America’s moral decay and wants to restore normalcy to society and culture, one must oppose all aspects of the modern social-welfare state. A return to normalcy requires no less than the complete elimination of the present social security system: of unemployment insurance, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, etc.—and thus the near complete dissolution and deconstruction of the current state apparatus and government power. If one is ever to restore normalcy, government funds and power must dwindle to or even fall below their nineteenth century levels. Hence, true conservatives must be hard-line libertarians (antistatists). Buchanan’s conservatism is false: it wants a return to traditional morality but at the same time advocates keeping the very institutions in place that are responsible for the destruction of traditional morals.
Most contemporary conservatives, then, especially among the media darlings, are not conservatives but socialists—either of the internationalist sort (the new and neoconservative welfare-warfare statists and global social democrats) or of the nationalist variety (the Buchananite populists). Genuine conservatives must be opposed to both. In order to restore social and cultural norms, true conservatives can only be radical libertarians, and they must demand the demolition—as a moral and economic distortion—of the entire structure of the interventionist state.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe is professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Read and sign the Hoppe Victory Blog. This essay is based on a chapter from Democracy, The God that Failed (2001) that was given as a speech in 1996. Post Comments on the main blog.
On contemporary American conservatism see in particular Paul Gottfried, The Conservative Movement, rev. ed. (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993); George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (New York: Basic Books, 1976) Justin Raimondo, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (Burlingame, Calif.: Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993); see further also chap. 11.
Samuel T. Francis, “From Household to Nation: The Middle American populism of Pat Buchanan,” Chronicles (March 1996): 12-16; see also idem, Beautiful Losers:Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1993); idem, Revolution from the Middle (Raleigh, N.C.: Middle American Press, 1997).
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, Scholar’s Edition (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998), p. 67. “Princes and democratic majorities,” writes Mises, “are drunk with power. They must reluctantly admit that they are subject to the laws of nature. But they reject the very notion of economic law. Are they not the supreme legislators? Don’t they have the power to crush every opponent? No war lord is prone to acknowledge any limits other than those imposed on him by a superior armed force. Servile scribblers are always ready to foster such complacency by expounding the appropriate doctrines. They call their garbled presumptions “historical economics.”
Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis (Indianapolis, md.: Liberty Fund, 1981), pp. 43 1-32.