Archive for the ‘History’ Tag

A Fork in the Road   1 comment

I always considered George Washington to be a principled individual until I read a letter between him and Alexander Hamilton basically plotting the overthrow of the American Confederacy in 1783. It’s what inspired “A Bridge at Adelphia”, an alternative history short story that was published in Echoes of Liberty: Clarion Call 2, an anthology project of the Agorist Writers Workshop.

Image result for image of george washingtonGeorge Washington took office as president in 1789 possessing a reputation of inestimable value. People viewed him as the hero of the American Revolution who, disdaining power, had like the Roman general Cincinnatus returned home to his farm. When he allowed himself, with great reluctance, to be nominated as chief executive, his prestige was unparalleled. Indeed, his reputation was worldwide. When he died,

Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that the standards and flags of the French army be dressed in mourning crepe. The flags of the British Channel Fleet were lowered to half-mast to honor the fallen hero. Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign affairs, … [called] for a statue of Washington to be erected in Paris.1

People of his time were impressed that the indispensable hero of the Revolutionary War did not establish a personal dictatorship upon winning the war. This had to be a good sign for liberty, right?

I now see Washington as a mixed bag. He certainly was a useful figure for showing the world that America could establish a democratic republic and not fall into chaos or depotism, but Washington, though not a principal author of the Constitution, supported calling a convention to revise the Articles of Confederation … in violation of the Articles. Then, at the convention itself, he strongly backed Madison’s plans for centralized control.

On assuming power, Washington soon faced a division of opinion in his cabinet. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was not satisfied with the centralization already achieved by the Constitution. He called for a national bank and a government- directed program of industrial development. Thomas Jefferson raised a decisive objection to Hamilton’s proposal because it exceeded the bounds of power granted the central government by the new Constitution. Hamilton wasn’t fazed by this objection and produced an analysis that granted the central government broad power to do whatever Hamilton thought best. Washington, who had been present during the constitutional convention and surely knew what the Framers had wanted, weighed in on the side of the centralizers, drawing opposition from those who had also been there.

Washinton’s Farewell Address partially redeemed him from a classical-liberal standpoint. He cautioned against America’s involvement in European power politics, with which the United States had no concern. His warning against permanent alliances guided much of American foreign policy in the 19th century; and, in the 20th century, opponents of the bellicose policies of Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt appealed to it. Washington’s prestige for once had beneficial results.

So was Washington’s influence was “good” or “bad” for liberty. By whose standard are we judging? I’m viewing it from a classical-liberal perspective in which the growth of government is viewed as an unmitigated disaster and expansionist foreign policy is resolutely opposed. I support “states’ rights” against increases in federal authority, and increasingly, oppose wars, except in cases of exercising self-determination or repelling direct invasion. 3 On the other hand, the goal of classical liberalism is to promote individual liberty, so while I support states rights, I don’t believe states have authority to abuse the individuals that live within them.

Can you name a time in American history … or just about any other country’s history … when engagement in war resulted in more freedom for individuals while the war was being conducted? Of course not, aggressive war shackles us with devastation and restriction of liberty in order to combat speculative dangers.6

The Articles of Confederation established a much less centralized system than the Constitution. Yet because ratification by all the states was required for the Articles to come into effect, most of the American Revolution was fought with no written structure of authority over the states at all. As Murray Rothbard notes,

The Articles were not exactly received with huzzahs; rather, they were greeted quietly and dutifully, as a needed part of the war effort against Britain. One of the keenest critiques of the Articles, as might be expected, came from Thomas Burke, who warned that, under cover of the war emergency, eager power-seekers were trying to impose a central government upon the states. … [t]he Articles of Confederation were not to be ratified and go into effect until 1781, when the Revolutionary War would be all but over.7

So much for the supposed necessity for a strong central government to combat other nations.

Washington held a decidedly different view. In 1783, he wrote to Alexander Hamilton: “It is clearly my opinion, unless Congress have powers competent to all general purposes, that the distresses we have encountered, the expense we have incurred, and the blood we have spilt, will avail nothing.”8

Among the “distresses” of which Washington spoke, one may speculate that personal considerations loomed large. Throughout his adult life, Washington avidly sought land. “His family had first speculated in Ohio Valley land decades ago [before the 1780s], and Washington owned nearly sixty thousand acres.”9

A project that aroused his interest offered a chance to appreciate greatly the value of his land. “If a canal could be pushed over the mountains to link up with the Allegheny river system, then all the future produce of the Ohio Valley could flow through Virginia land, (not coincidentally, past Mount Vernon).”10

A crucial obstacle confronted Washington’s hopes for a Potomac Canal. Under the Articles of Confederation, a state had the right to levy fees on the use of waterways that passed through its boundaries. If the states bordering the Potomac were to do so, the proposed canal might generate no profit for him. Yeah, Washington may have been motivated toward a central government by business concerns.  As Richard Brookhiser notes, “[h]e was drawn to the plan by important private and public interests, and the political steps he took to fulfill it led directly to the Constitutional Convention, if not a canal.”11 Interstate taxation would be eliminated by a strong central government.

I don’t think Washington was only motivated by personal economic interests, but you cannot neglect his personal interests in explaining his policies.

Regardless of Washington’s motives, the fact that someone of his reputation advocated a Constitutional Convention eased the doubts of those who feared centralization. Some Americans figured that if Washington was involved, the proposed convention could not be aimed at the destruction of liberty. Washington was Cincinnatus, who spurned dictatorship when it was within his grasp. Clearly, the Convention could not have bad intentions if Washington had agreed to serve as a delegate to it. Richard Brookhiser puts the essential point well:

Much of the political class was happy with the current arrangements. … Supporters of change would have to make the case that a new government would not threaten liberty. … Washington’s presence would help immeasurably to make that case. He had already held more power than any man in America, and after eight and half years, he had surrendered it. He was the most conspicuous example of moderation and disinterestedness that the nation could supply.12

At the convention, Washington’s primary aim was not to enact a particular plan of government. The need rather was to act immediately, so that centralization could be secured as fast as possible.

During the constitutional debates, Washington insisted that the Articles of Confederation be overhauled quickly. “Otherwise,” he wrote, “like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing it is contended for, the building is reduced to ashes.” What was needed, Washington thought, was any solid national government.13

Washington was quite willing to push his argument to extremes. So essential did he deem centralization that he contemplated a monarchy for America, should the Constitutional Convention fail. He was not himself a monarchist—far from it. But a letter of March 31, 1787, to James Madison shows that conceivable circumstances might change him into one.

In his definitive study of James Madison’s political thought, Lance Banning summarized Washington’s thoughts in this vital letter:

No one could deny the indispensability of a complete reform of the existing system, which he hoped the Constitutional Convention would attempt. But only if complete reform were tried, and the resulting system still proved inefficient, would a belief in the necessity of greater change begin to spread “among all classes of the people. Then, and not till then is my [Washington’s] opinion, can it [monarchy] be attempted without involving all the evils of civil discord.”14

Which was exactly what most people were worried about when considering a constitutional convention. Were their fears calmed by Washington’s endorsement? Would they have been reignited had they known of this letter? I think it was fortunate for Washington’s reputation that the convention did not fail and the fact that Washington contemplated monarchy remained hidden.

Any centralized form of government, Washington held, was desirable so long as it could be quickly established. This doesn’t mean Washington was indifferent to the type of centralized government established. He soon fell in with the radical nationalism of Madison’s Virginia Plan.

To Madison, Washington’s presence at the convention was essential: It was “an invitation to the most select characters from every part of the Confederacy.”15 Madison reported that Washington arrived at the Philadelphia convention “amidst the acclamations of the people, as more sober marks of the affection and veneration which continue to be felt for his character.”16

Washington’s presence and the presence of “lesser figures of impeccable republican credentials allowed the convention to rebut the charge of being an aristocratic conspiracy while conferring on it the opportunity to behave like one.”17

Strong words, but the details of Madison’s plans bear out the interpretation. Madison and other extreme nationalists sought to entirely eviscerate the power of the states to thwart the will of the nation.

Under the Virginia Plan, which Madison submitted to Washington before the convention opened, Congress could veto any law enacted by a state legislature that it deemed unconstitutional.

It called, as Washington’s summary of Madison’s draft put it, for a “due supremacy of the national authority,” including “local authorities [only] whenever they can be subordinately useful.” … Madison had originally called for an even more sweeping national power over state laws, a “negative in all cases whatever.”18

In fairness to Washington, he did not vote in favor of Madison’s radical proposal of an unlimited congressional veto. But neither did he oppose the plan. Madison noted that

Gen. W. was “not consulted.” How could he not have been consulted? He never missed a session. Most probably, Gen. W. had been consulted privately, and the result of the consultation was that, since Madison had the voters anyway, Washington chose not to take a public stand on an inflamed issue.19

It seems quite clear that opposition by Washington would have at once ended so far-reaching a plan, but it was not forthcoming. Surely then he cannot have been very strongly against it. Had he been, he need only have spoken a word. But why speculate on Washington’s private opinion of Madison’s proposal? Its importance for our purposes is this: Many of those who feared that the convention would strike a fatal blow at states’ rights were reassured by Washington’s presence. But, unknown to them, he was at least a fellow traveler of radical centralism. His image as a Cincinnatus averse to power led many into error. It did not follow from Washington’s personal reluctance to hold office that he was not an opponent of states’ rights, as this concept was understood in the 1780s.

Fortunately, for those opposed to centralism, no version of the congressional veto survived into the Constitution’s final draft. But the Constitution, even without it, was far more centralizing than the Articles; and Washington’s image once again proved useful when the Constitution came up for ratification. Skeptics were reassured by Washington’s image that he would not support a regime that opposed liberty. Thus, in Virginia, opposition to the Constitution was in part disarmed by Washington’s prestige. “Few, if any of Virginia’s revolutionary leaders questioned Madison’s republican credentials. All, no doubt, were comforted by their awareness that George Washington would head the federal government if it were put into effect.”20

Again, I don’t believe Washington’s image sufficed to quell all opposition to the new document. Quite the contrary, in the very passage just cited, Lance Banning maintained that Madison’s skill at argument was needed to win over the recalcitrant. Confidence in Washington was not enough because in 1788, “quite unlike today, few believed that the executive would set the federal government’s directions.”21 Nevertheless, the importance of the “Washington-image factor” cannot be ignored.

The Constitution did not in all respects settle the nature of the American system. What sort of government would result from it? Would its provisions be interpreted loosely, to enable the central government to seize as much power from the states as possible? Two conflicting approaches to government split Washington’s cabinet, one favored by Alexander Hamilton and the other by Thomas Jefferson.

These divergent views have been ably summarized by Forrest McDonald.

In Federalist Essay number 70, Hamilton had said that “energy in the executive is a leading ingredient in the definition of good government.” … In essays 71 and 73, he made his position clearer: “It is one thing,” he said, for the executive “to be subordinate to the laws, and another to be dependent on the legislative body.” In other words, the executive authority must operate independently and with a wide range of discretion in its field, the Constitution and laws providing only broad guidelines and rules.22

Jefferson and his followers saw matters entirely otherwise.

In Jefferson’s view, and that of most Republicans, such discretionary authority was inherently dangerous and smacked of monarchy. … A society would grow better … by stripping social and governmental institutions to the bare minimum so that the natural aristocracy might rise to the top.23

The differences between Hamilton and Jefferson were not confined to abstract argument, but quietly became manifest in practical affairs. Although Hamilton considered himself a student of economics, his views embodied the discredited doctrines of mercantilism.

One of the duties of the federal government, according to the Hamilton philosophy, is the active promotion of a dynamic industrial capitalist economy … by establishment of sound public finance, public investment in infrastructure, and promotion of new industrial sectors unlikely to be profitable in their early stages.

As Hamilton wrote in The Report on Manufactures:

Capital is wayward and timid in leading itself to new undertakings, and the state ought to excite the confidence of capitalists, who are ever cautious and sagacious, by aiding them to overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of all experiments.24

Where the State would acquire the requisite understanding to direct the economy, Hamilton neglected to inform his readers; and Jefferson and his followers were reluctant to take the matter on faith. In particular, the Jeffersonians rejected Hamilton’s plan, as part of reforming public finance, to establish a national bank.

In this opposition they had a seemingly irrefutable argument. Hamilton’s plan for a bank clearly violated the Constitution. Nowhere does that document give Congress the power to charter a national bank. So small a matter did not deter Hamilton from avid pursuit of his scheme.

In response to a request by Washington, Hamilton delivered a “Defense of the Constitutionality of the Bank” to him on February 23, 1791.

The well-known part of the defense spelled out the “loose constructionist” doctrine of the Constitution. The Constitution, said Hamilton, defined only in general terms the broad purposes for which the federal government was created. … If Congress determined to achieve an end authorized by the Constitution, it was empowered by the final clause in Article I, Section 8 [the “necessary and proper” clause] … to use any means that were not prohibited by the Constitution.25

Hamilton’s argument had much further reach than just the bank, though that was no small thing. If Hamilton’s views were accepted, little of limited government could remain. Given the vaguest aims, for example, the promotion of “the general welfare,” the government had the power, Hamilton alleged, to do whatever it thought was needed to attain them.

Faced with so blatant a challenge to constitutional rule, what did Washington do? He accepted Hamilton’s opinion, refusing Madison’s advance to veto the bank bill. Hamilton’s “defense convinced Washington, and on February 25 [1791], he signed the bank bill into law.”26

Once again Washington lent his prestige and authority to the cause of a strong central state. From a classical-liberal perspective, his course of action was a disastrous blunder.

But the record is not all black. Looking at it from a certain angle, Washington seemed an opponent of the libertarian tradition the country was founded on. He used his fame to secure unwarranted credence for a convention that aimed to strengthen the central government. At that convention, he gave the most extreme centralizers at least tacit support. He then accepted an argument that freed the government from all constitutional restraint. Nevertheless, from the classical-liberal perspective, Washington almost redeemed himself.

In his Farewell Address, Washington set forward principles of foreign policy that, if followed, would virtually immunize America from involvement in foreign wars. (The Address was not delivered as a speech. It was a circular published in The American Daily Advertiser, September 19, 1796.)27

In the Address, Washington sharply separated European affairs from those of the United States.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificialities, in … the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships, or enmities.28

It can’t be argued that Washington thought that European politics shouldn’t concern Americans at all. He recognized that European aggression could affect America and that we might need to actively prevent domination.

Washington rejected this contention in advance.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain in one People, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance. . . . Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground.29

Here Washington adopts the much maligned Fortress America stance so derided by critics of isolation. Given the manifest perils of war, Washington suggested a classical-liberal system could take advantage of a favorable geographic position to steer clear of foreign entanglements. Washington’s argument on this subject and, for once, his immense prestige aided the cause of liberty.30

Opponents of American entry into the world wars frequently appealed to the Address. If they were ultimately unsuccessful, at least the fame of the Address and its author helped slow the race toward war and statism. Unfortunately, his assent to the Constitutional system and the modifications in policy requested by Hamilton has slowly, but surely resulted in the vexing situation we have today.

I contemplate these things while I consider expanding upon that alternative history short story. Lai has more things to say about an era of history we seem not to be truly aware of.

 

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Posted January 16, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History

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When Did the Tea Party Really Start?   Leave a comment

December 16, 2017 is the tenth anniversary of the modern Tea Party.

Naw, that can’t be true! According to the mainstream narrative the Tea Party began on February 19, 2009 when Rick Santelli, live on CNBC from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), declared a rebellion against “socialism”. It was one month into the Obama administration.

Image result for image of tea party december 16 2007Take a pause. Think about this. Rick Santelli on establishment NBC lit the spark of an anti-establishment rebellion. Yeah, I always found that hard to believe too. Obama was merely proposing bailouts for mortgage holders and it was just four months after most conservatives were either silent or defending George W. Bush’s $700 billion TARP bailout of Wall Street.

I always thought it didn’t really seem right and over the years I’ve run into people who will insist they were tea partiers before Obama was president. Are they just delusional or was there reality behind their tales? What really happened ten years ago and how was the Tea Party transformed from a libertarian grassroots movement to today’s controlled-almost-to-death establishment version? And are there lessons to be learned from this?

The ground-zero event in the formation of the Tea Party occurred when supporters of Ron Paul’s first presidential campaign registered the Web address TeaParty07.com on October 24, 2007/

tp1.png

Twelve days later, on November 5, Guy Fawkes Night, Paul supporters held the first “money bomb” fundraiser, which (for Internet fundraising) raked in a record $4.3 million. Days after this came the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Paul supporters in Boston re-enacted the dumping of tea into Boston Harbor and a newcomer to politics, ophthalmologist Rand Paul, spoke at Faneuil Hall. A second money bomb held on this commemoration of the Tea Party raised over $6 million, shattering the previous record set eleven days before.

At root, this schism of the American right was a rebellion against the Bush Republican party’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drunken-sailor federal spending (e.g., a $500 billion unfunded expansion of Medicare for a new prescription drug program), and a burgeoning post-9/11 federal spy and police state (e.g., the Patriot Act of 2001).

By February 2009, the GOP lay in complete tatters. In addition to its endless wars and domestic spending spree, it had added a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street after the financial crisis of 2008. (Never mind a series of smaller outrages such as a ban on incandescent light bulbs and the TSA, which should have been a private effort, if at all, from the beginning).

On top of all that, instead of nominating Ron Paul in 2008, the GOP had nominated conservative “war hero” John McCain and Alaska governor Sarah Palin. A war-weary public completely rejected the ticket in favor of a younger, articulate Barack Obama who promised (falsely) peace and a revived economy.

The Santelli rant sparked the conservative and GOP establishments to transform a marketing vehicle that would serve to not only distract the public from their recent colossal policy failures, but also serve as a gold mine of self-enrichment: t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, Taxed Enough Already (TEA) yard signs, fluff books from the conservative pundit class, Glenn Beck rallies promoted by the Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh iced tea, and children’s books.

As Sarah Palin replaced Ron Paul as the face of the movement, a surreal change in advocacy followed. The anti-interventionist Tea Party, once outraged about the endless occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, was now wanting the U.S. to attack and invade Iran. Rally chants of “End the Fed” eventually disappeared.

By 2014, the faux Tea Party’s fifth anniversary, it was clear that the mainstream media were firmly devoted to advancing the new establishment narrative, as 2014 headlines such as “Tea Party Marks Fifth Anniversary” make clear.

Still, glaring inconsistencies remained. The grassroots Paulist Tea Party began on December 16, 2007, the 234thanniversary of the original Sons of Liberty protest of 1773. The conservative and GOP forgery of February 19, 2009 was not connected to anything but the advancement of the corporatist interests of the mainstream GOP. Even its supposed founder, Rick Santelli, was quickly pushed offstage while the Fox News Channel, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and others took center stage.

And, here in Alaska, where Paul had strong support, people like me were often confused by stands of the Tea Party when we knew so many “tea partiers” who didn’t agree.

While the Ron-Paul Revolution, from the spread of homeschools to Austrian economics, continues on in educating people around the world, the Tea Party is all but completely dead. In the age of Donald Trump, its lessons are more vivid than ever.

The two-party U.S. duopoly, which insulates itself from competition and outsiders through regulatory barriers such as ballot-access laws, front-loaded primaries, and super delegates, presents obstacles even to billionaires who wish to challenge it.

Trump was an outsider who promised a less interventionist foreign policy, full repeal of Obamacare, and a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The two-party cartel not only sunk these promises that Trump supporters wanted, but installed a special prosecutor to investigate wild allegations of Russian hacking to help elect Trump. Make America Great Again has yielded to bizarre rabbit holes such as bombing Syria and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

On the opposite side of the aisle, the Democratic Party’s sinking of Bernie Sanders holds the same lessons. Had progressives pursued decentralization instead of Obama’s empty promises and the mirage of a Sanders presidency, California, Vermont, and Oregon could be much better prepared to separate from the rest of the U.S. and pursue their preferred policies from collectivist health care to sanctuary cities unhindered by the Trump administration.

Decentralization and autonomy is what the U.S., going back to the Articles of Confederation, was originally about. Those paths, instead of trying to wrest control of leviathan, would be far more effective in getting all sides much of what they want. As Brexit has shown, postponing the process only makes it more difficult to implement later on.

Posted January 9, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in politics

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Fascism & Communism   Leave a comment

Before the question, how about a few statistics? The 20th century was mankind’s most brutal century. Roughly 16 million people lost their lives during World War I; about 60 million died during World War II. Wars during the 20th century cost an estimated 71 million to 116 million lives (http://tinyurl.com/ya62mrqa).

Found on Lew Rockwell

The number of war dead pales in comparison with the number of people who lost their lives at the hands of their own governments. The late professor Rudolph J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii documented this tragedy in his book “Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900.” Some of the statistics found in the book have been updated at http://tinyurl.com/y96tqhrl.

The People’s Republic of China tops the list, with 76 million lives lost at the hands of the government from 1949 to 1987. The Soviet Union follows, with 62 million lives lost from 1917 to 1987. Adolf Hitler’s Nazi German government killed 21 million people between 1933 and 1945. Then there are lesser murdering regimes, such as Nationalist China, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam and Mexico. According to Rummel’s research, the 20th century saw 262 million people’s lives lost at the hands of their own governments (http://tinyurl.com/lu8z8ab).

Hitler’s atrocities are widely recognized, publicized and condemned. World War II’s conquering nations’ condemnation included denazification and bringing Holocaust perpetrators to trial and punishing them through lengthy sentences and execution. Similar measures were taken to punish Japan’s murderers.

Death by Government: G…R. J. RummelBest Price: $32.96Buy New $41.42(as of 10:00 EST – Details)

But what about the greatest murderers in mankind’s history — the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin and China’s Mao Zedong? Some leftists saw these communists as heroes. W.E.B. Du Bois, writing in the National Guardian in 1953, said, “Stalin was a great man; few other men of the 20th century approach his stature. … The highest proof of his greatness (was that) he knew the common man, felt his problems, followed his fate.” Walter Duranty called Stalin “the greatest living statesman” and “a quiet, unobtrusive man.” There was even leftist admiration for Hitler and fellow fascist Benito Mussolini. When Hitler came to power in January 1933, George Bernard Shaw described him as “a very remarkable man, a very able man.” President Franklin Roosevelt called the fascist Mussolini “admirable,” and he was “deeply impressed by what he (had) accomplished.”

In 1972, John Kenneth Galbraith visited Communist China and praised Mao and the Chinese economic system. Michel Oksenberg, President Jimmy Carter’s China expert, complained, “America (is) doomed to decay until radical, even revolutionary, change fundamentally alters the institutions and values.” He urged us to “borrow ideas and solutions” from China. Harvard University professor John K. Fairbank believed that America could learn much from the Cultural Revolution, saying, “Americans may find in China’s collective life today an ingredient of personal moral concern for one’s neighbor that has a lesson for us all.” By the way, an estimated 2 million people died during China’s Cultural Revolution. More recent praise for murdering tyrants came from Anita Dunn, President Barack Obama’s acting communications director in 2009, who said, “Two of my favorite political philosophers (are) Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa.”

Recall the campus demonstrations of the 1960s, in which campus radicals, often accompanied by their professors, marched around singing the praises of Mao and waving Mao’s Little Red Book. That may explain some of the campus mess today. Some of those campus radicals are now tenured professors and administrators at today’s universities and colleges and K-12 schoolteachers and principals indoctrinating our youth.

Now the question: Why are leftists soft on communism? The reason leftists give communists, the world’s most horrible murderers, a pass is that they sympathize with the chief goal of communism: restricting personal liberty. In the U.S., the call is for government control over our lives through regulations and taxation. Unfortunately, it matters little whether the Democrats or Republicans have the political power. The march toward greater government control is unabated. It just happens at a quicker pace with Democrats in charge.

 

Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.

Copyright © 2017 Creators.com

A Hero of Modern Liberty   Leave a comment

I thank my friend Mila for sending me this information. I had never heard about this man before she emailed me.

Международная Леонардо-премия 38.jpgAlexander Yakovlev was a man of humble origins, born in 1923 in Korolevo, a small village near the city of Yaroslavl, 160 miles northeast of Moscow, to a peasant family of loyal communists. After finishing secondary school in 1941, he was conscripted into the Red Army, where he fought until he was discharged in 1943 following an injury. He then joined the Communist Party, studied history and was offered to work for the Party at the local Department of Propaganda and Agitation. His career really took off upon his transfer from Yaroslavl to Moscow in 1953, where he rose through the post-Stalin party ranks. In 1969, he was appointed head of the propaganda department.

1958, Nikita Khrushchev gave a secret speech denouncing Stalin which Yakovlev personally attended. Yakovlev became doubtful of Marxism after this and tried to resolve its numerous inconsistencies. Following this speech, Yakovlev asked to study at the Academy of Social Sciences, where he recounts studying “feverishly” and reading “copiously” in search of an answer.

Eventually, he realized the Marxist ideology itself was flawed:

“It was at the academy, while immersed in studying primary sources, that I became fully conscious of the hollowness and unreality of Marxism-Leninism, its inhumanity and artificiality, its inherent contradictions, its demagogy and fraudulent prognostications.” Yakovlev, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia.

He concluded that the only system viable of being an alternative to Marxism was one based on freedom of choice, private property, and morality which, according to Yakovlev, necessarily accompanies individual freedom.

On the eve of the half-century founding of the USSR, Yakovlev published an article attacking Russian nationalism, ending his illustrious career in as the Soviet propaganda minister. He was exiled to Canada as an ambassador.

In 1983, while still stationed in Canada, he held a long conversation with Mikhail Gorbachev, during which they formulated the ideas of perestroika (restructuring). Within two months, Yakovlev was back in Moscow, placed at the helm of an economic state-run think tank, and in 1985 (upon Gorbachev becoming general secretary) moved back to his familiar territory of propaganda.

Perestroika, accompanied by glasnost (openness), entailed a gradual introduction of freedom into Russian society and economy. This process allowed for some market-like independence of state companies, such as more flexibility in contracts and even retaining a part of the profit within companies. Glasnost showed the importance of ideology. Once in charge of it, and with the daily support of Gorbachev, Yakovlev was able to lift the suppression of political, cultural, and media discussions.

Soviet censorship was relaxed, and previously banned works such as Orwell’s 1984, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago became freely available to Russians. It is primarily thanks to Yakovlev’s ideas and his role in implementing them that Gorbachev would be awarded with the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Yakovlev pointed out the numerous flaws of Marxism, especially its underlying idea of class struggle:

There is a harmony of opposites: cooperation of classes, solidarity of classes. And only because of this does society thrive and develop. Any organization is harmonious cooperation; any division of labor is a mutual complement of diverse and opposite functions.” Yakovlev, The Fate of Marxism in Russia, (1993)

Marxism wrongly believed human nature may be altered by changed social relations. It is not capitalism which leads to alienation, as Marx predicted, but Marxism, wrote Yakovlev, since the abolition of private property alienates the workers from the fruits of their labor.

Marxism did bring about liberation, but it was liberation from responsibility, as it bred laziness and corruption. According to Yakovlev, the expropriation:

[D]eformed the psyche, people’s consciousness. It undermined the motivation for constructive labor and reduced people’s responsibility for their own welfare and lives.” In turn, this resulted in bureaucratic dictatorship.

When confronted with the failings of the realization of their ideology, Marxists were (and are) armed with various excuses: either the timing for the revolution was “wrong”; or the Russians mistakenly implemented the ideas of the “false” Marx, rather than the “true” Marx; or the problem was Stalin rather than Marxism; or as Yakovlev attests,

The theoretical legacy of Marxism ought to be judged today, not by its moral and intellectual intentions, but by what was accomplished on its basis and its ability to see the contemporary world as it is. Neither criteria proves the efficacy of this doctrine.” Moreover, when Marx’s “ideas became reality, they revealed their futility as well as their destructiveness.”

The consequences of this destructiveness shook Yakovlev to his core. In 1988, Yakovlev was put at the helm of a recently established Commission on the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, charged with studying the materials of repression during Lenin’s and Stalin’s reigns. As he recounted in A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia,

The task has been a weary one. To descend step by step down 70 years of Bolshevik rule into a dungeon strewn with human bones and reeking of dried blood is to see your faith in humankind dissolve.

The Commission disclosed the diabolical crimes against the “unnecessary” peoples of the USSR: the decimation of seven million kulak households; the widespread hostage-taking, special orphanages, and even concentration camps for “socially dangerous children” of families targeted by repression; the deportation to forced labor camps of the “twice betrayed” prisoners of war of Soviet origin; the repressions of merchants and intelligentsia.

As Yakovlev reveals, particularly horrifying was the terror against the clergy:

“The documents bear witness to the most savage atrocities against priests, monks, and nuns: they were crucified on the central doors of iconostases, thrown into cauldrons of boiling tar, scalped, strangled with priestly stoles, given Communion with melted lead, drowned in holes in the ice.”

All the while, Lenin agitated that the level of murders was too low, instructing his followers to “launch merciless mass terror against kulaks, priests, and White Guards” (Lenin, quoted by Yakovlev). It is precisely these foundations of fear and violence that made the USSR incapable of reform.

Perestroika and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union liberated the Russians from communism – yet according to Yakovlev this had to be complemented with a spiritual liberation, Russian repentance for the sins of communism, and a legal trial of Bolshevism. He urged:

The twentieth century has come to an end. For Russia, it was the most terrible, the bloodiest century, shot through with hatred and intolerance. It would appear to be time to come to our senses, repent, ask forgiveness of the still-living survivors of the concentration camps, kneel before the graves of the millions of people who were shot or who died of hunger, and realize, at long last, that we lived in a criminal state, helping it to enslave us – all of us together and each of us separately.”

Alas, his calls fell on deaf ears, and Yakovlev himself was soon dubbed a traitor and Judas, as he constantly received threats, had funeral wreaths laid on his doorstep, his son shot at, and daughter’s car incinerated.

Unlike thousands before him, Yakovlev could not have chosen to lead a comfortable life and enjoy the rich privileges of the communist elite, because he had realized the only alternative to Marxism was individual freedom. Being a humble man, he most likely did not have himself in mind when he wrote:

Society does not become enlightened all at once, especially a society that is living in non-freedom but does not know it. Enlightenment begins with solitary individuals and then becomes massive and irreversible when life and circumstances begin to give birth, to reproduce on a mass scale the bearers of new consciousness. Such processes are produced from the coming into being of the individual.”

Communism in the USSR would have fallen with or without Yakovlev, but his wise guidance and intellectual rigor ensured that the most brutal regime in humankind’s history ended with a miraculous lack of bloodshed and violence. Today, humanity would prosper if other Yakovlevs would inspire the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and – once again, unfortunately – the unrepentant Russia.

Posted January 2, 2018 by aurorawatcherak in History, Uncategorized

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Meet the Penman of the Revolution   Leave a comment

I enjoy discovering new Founding Fathers and as I consider expanding my alternative history short story “Bridge at Adelphia” into a full length novel, I’ve been doing some digging and I discovered John Dickinson.

Image result for image of john dickinson penman of revolutionDickinson was among America’s most important founders. He was a colonial legislator and member of the Stamp Act, Continental, and Confederation Congresses. He was also chief executive of Delaware, where he was the only one to vote in opposition of himself (by a 25 to 1 vote). I love historical figures who didn’t see themselves a heroes and that certain indicates he wasn’t arrogant. He was later chief executive of Pennsylvania and  president of the 1786 Annapolis convention that led to the Constitutional Convention, being among the most informed and seasoned statesmen to attend it. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that, but for Dickinson and a few others, “the resulting constitution would not have been ratified.”

I’m not wholly convinced that ratification of the Constitution was such a great idea, but that doesn’t diminish my admiration of Dickinson who is best known as the “Penman of the Revolution.” Perhaps his most important writings were his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies. After publication as letters, beginning December 21, 1767, in the Boston Chronicle, they were republished as a pamphlet, reprinted in most colonial newspapers and widely read widely, making him America’s first homegrown hero. As we pass their 250th anniversary, we would again profit by recalling John Dickinson’s words promoting our liberty.

We cannot be happy, without being free…we cannot be free, without being secure in our property…we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away.

[Mankind’s] welfare…can be found in liberty only, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man on every occasion, to the utmost of his power.

Violations of the rights of the governed, are commonly…small at the beginning… They regularly increase…till at length the inattentive people are compelled to perceive the heaviness of their burdens…too late. They find their oppressors so strengthened by success, and themselves so entangled in examples of express authority on the part of their rulers, and of tacit recognition on their own part, that they are quite confounded.

A free people therefore can never be too quick in observing, nor too firm in opposing the beginnings of alteration…respecting institutions formed for their security…the forms of liberty may be retained, when the substance is gone.

Divine Providence…gave me existence in a land of freedom…I shall so highly and gratefully value the blessing received as to take care that my silence and inactivity shall not give my implied assent to any act, degrading my brethren and myself from the birthright, wherewith heaven itself “hath made us free.”

Liberty, perhaps, is never exposed to so much danger, as when the people believe there is the least; for it may be subverted, and yet they not think so.

The love of liberty is so natural…that unfeeling tyrants think themselves obliged to accommodate their schemes as much as they can to the appearance of justice and reason…to deceive those whom they resolve to destroy, or oppress.

For who are a free people? Not those, over whom government is reasonable and equitably exercised, but those who live under a government so constitutionally checked and controlled, that proper provision is made against its being otherwise exercised.

I am resolved to contend for the liberty delivered down to me.

When John Dickinson died, both houses of Congress wore black armbands in mourning because they understood that Dickinson recognized that the essential purpose of government was to maintain liberty against others’ predatory acts and that without liberty, “loss of happiness then follows as a matter of course.” This helped motivate our founders to create a government whose basis in liberty would make them “protectors of unborn ages, whose fate depends upon your virtue.”

For the 250th anniversary of John Dickinson’s most famous work on behalf of liberty, we can again benefit from his words. He motivated our forefathers to prevent the possibility that “the tragedy of American liberty is finished.” We need to become as motivated as they were.

Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson wrote in Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms:

“Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us,” requiring that we “regard…oppressive measures as freemen ought.”

A Great & Frustrating Read   4 comments

December 4, 2017 – Review a book you’ve recently read.
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So, I read a lot, but lately, the only fiction books I’ve been reading are the yet-to-be-published manuscripts of friends who are fellow authors. I don’t want to review their books before they’ve even published.

One of the most exciting, and frustrating, books I’ve read in 2017 is James Scott’s Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (Yale 2017). In prehistoric times, how did human beings discover how to feed themselves? How did we decide to become settled in one spot rather than move around as hunters and gatherers? Which leads to the biggest question (for me at least), where did the state come and why?

Scott’s fascinating argument is a fundamental challenge to the conventional theory of life on earth circa 15,000 to a half million years ago. Civilization is normally thought to have come into existence with the appearance of agriculture, sedentary living, and stable states. Scott, however, draws attention to the downside of states — taxes, the cruelty of classes, institutionalized castes of elites, merchants, tradesmen and serfs, disease, war, slavery, and so on — and argues that they might have diminished the quality of life as compared to what came before. What if life was better before the coming of what we call “civilization”?

Scott is a borderline left-anarchist and he shows this trait when he argues that there is no real relationship between settled living and “civilization”. Humankind resisted living in one place for many thousands of years precisely to avoid being trapped by states. We just wanted to be free. Scott also suggests that hunter-gatherers had it pretty easy: a good diet, plenty of exercise, and leisure. By comparison, agricultural life was pretty terrible overall and human health declined.

It’s easy to assume that Scott is advancing a Rousseauian fantasy about the blissful state of nature, but he really is trying to come to terms with the evidence as it stands, and assess the impact of state creation on human life. I think he’d find agreement with some Hayek fans — life was better when humans resisted organizing themselves and declined once they permitted themselves to be rounded up and regimented by a ruling class.

Unfortunately, I sense a whiff of primitive socialism in Scott’s premise when he suggests we should be living off the land, moving around a lot, and avoiding property ownership. I could be wrong about my assessment, because in an interview with Vox, Scott asserted that life is much better today than 10,000 years ago. It’s just that he seems to have a problem with the division of labor.

Modern industrial life has forced almost all of us to specialize in something, often in mundane, repetitive tasks. Specialization is good for economic productivity but not so good for individual self-fulfillment. Moving from hunting and gathering to working on an assembly line has made us more machine-like and less attuned to the world around us because we only have to be skilled at one thing.

Yup, that sounds lot like Karl Marx, who fantasized of a communist society where people would be free to move from task to task, able to sample all sorts of jobs, without concern for feeding themselves or keeping a roof over their heads. Of course, we all should know that actual communism (as opposed to Marx’ theory) didn’t quite work that way.

This is where I got frustrated with reading this otherwise challenging and enjoyable book. Scott does not seem to have a sense practical economic considerations, particularly as they pertain to the greatest invention of all, private property. His oversight here simply cannot be deliberate because it is so pervasive. Scott appears to be uninterested in private property as a technology of production. He actually goes out of his way to almost deny the historical importance of the emergence of private property norms. He seems to overlook a basic fact. Even if there was a time when nature provided enough for our needs without having to create additional wealth, humanity came to a point where it needed to find a way to overcome the scarcity of resources. We had to learn how to add to the store of available wealth to house, feed, and clothe ourselves. Scott omits resource scarcity as significant factor in human evolution.

I found that oversight frustrating because he has such insight into human history. Consider his moving observation on the discovery of fire:

Fire [first controlled by hominids 400,000 years ago] was the key to humankind’s growing sway over the natural world–a species monopoly and trump card worldwide…. Fire powerfully concentrates people in yet another way: cooking. It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of cooking in human evolution. The application of fire to raw food externalizes the digestive process; it gelatinizes starch and denatures protein. The chemical disassembly of raw food, which in a chimpanzee requires a gut roughly three times the size of ours, allows Homo sapiens to eat far less food and expend far fewer calories extracting nutrition from it. The effects are enormous. It allowed early man to gather and eat a far wider range of foods than before: plants with thorns, thick skins, and bark could be opened, peeled, and detoxified by cooking; hard seeds and fibrous foods that would not have repaid the caloric costs of digesting them became palatable; the flesh and guts of small birds and rodents could be sterilized.

Who did the fire belong to? How did these early humans divide up the cooked food. What were the rules and who established them? These are all property ownership issues. Without rules governing them, there would be nonstop conflict, which a dictator or tribal leader might resolve with some informal rules, but would be really hard to enforce in a spread-out and mobile tribe.

Because I’m mainly reading books like this to improve my apocalyptic series, I was curious about how private property came into play, but Scott pretty much ignored the question.

 

He writes with passion and vigor about the 4,000-year gap between the domestication of grains and animals and the eventual settling down of humans into organized and sedentary communities. But nowhere does he discuss what innovations in the rules of property claims made this change possible.

In all honesty, looking at reality, at some point, people had to stop stealing each other’s stuff, get smart, and come to agreement. As people, we have to trade our stuff for their stuff, which gives rise to the division of labor. Economic complexity grew from that. Despite what anarcho-communists might wish, that’s how the real world we live in works. I don’t steal your stuff, you don’t steal my stuff — if we want to get each other’s stuff, we have to trade for it. Welcome to civilization!

I’m going to hazard to guess that Scott’s personal ideology blocked him from consider these issues very seriously, which is too bad, because his book would be great if he’d been willing to look at scarcity and how it might drive a mobile tribe of hunters and gatherers into becoming creative and inventing the norm of mine and yours and applying it to land and the products of production.

Scott’s empirical account does not contradict this thought, but his premise seems to identify statism with ownership, trade, the division of labor and the rise of civilization.

Except for that flaw, I’d love to have Scott for a history professor and to delight in his discussion of all the stuff that matters, but he fumbled the ball by avoiding the problem of scarcity and property. Scott claims to be an anarchist — or at least advocates for looking at history through an anarchist lens, which made this book a delight, but his failure to grasp a fundamental economic principle makes me wonder if he truly understands what anarchism is all about.

 

 

2 Corinthians Introduction   Leave a comment

I’m turning my attention to 2 Corinthians because the two letters really are joined at the hip in many ways. The apostle Paul wrote this letter. How do we know?

Image result for image of second corinthiansIn general, the external and internal evidence for Pauline authorship of 2 Corinthians are the same as for 1 Corinthians. There are three bits of evidence for this to consider.

  1. The external evidence is quite strong for 2 Corinthians, though not as strong as for 1 Corinthians. Scholars use quotations by the early Church Fathers as evidence that the book was of 1st century origins. 2 Corinthians is not quoted by Clement, but it is quoted by Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian. Further, it is listed in Marcion’s Apostolicon and the Muratorian Canon.
  2. Internally, using 1 Corinthians as a benchmark of authenticity, this epistle easily passes the test. The literary style and form of argumentation are the same.
  3. There is another significant piece of internal evidence which, though present in traces in 1 Corinthians, is much stronger in 2 Corinthians. A pious imitator would be unlikely to portray Paul as an apostle in danger of losing his authority at Corinth or an apostle struggling to preserve the Corinthians from apostasy.”

It may be helpful here to rehearse the contacts and correspondence between Paul and the Corinthians.

  • Spring 50 AD, Paul arrived in Corinth and stayed there one and one-half years (Acts 18:11), in the home of Priscilla and Aquila.
  • Fall of 51 AD Paul sailed for Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila. Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus while Paul returned to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). While in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla met and trained Apollos, sending him back to Corinth to minister in Paul’s absence (Acts 18:24–19:1).
  • Summer/fall of 52 AD, Paul returned to Ephesus (after passing through the Phrygian-Galatian region) on his third missionary journey, and ministered there almost three years (Acts 20:31). Probably in the first year of his ministry in Ephesus, Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians—a letter which is now lost (see 1 Corinthians 5:9).
  • Probably in the spring of 54 AD, Paul learned of other problems in Corinth from Chloe (1 Cor 1:11) and the delegation of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus (1 Cor 16:17). He then wrote the letter we call 1 Corinthians. He was in the second year of his ministry at Ephesus.
  • In the summer/fall of AD 54, he visited Corinth as he had indicated he would in 1 Corinthians 16:6, but he was not able to spend the winter with them. It’s possible Timothy had warned him the Corinthians hadn’t taken kindly to his rebukes in 1 Corinthians. What was originally planned as a positive time ended up being Paul’s “painful visit” (2 Cor 2:1) because of a particular man who was acting immorally (2:5-11; 7:12)—and was, indeed, creating doubts among the congregation about Paul’s apostolic authority. It was also painful because it was done in haste (he went directly to Corinth, bypassing Macedonia) and was much shorter than planned.
  • After the painful visit, Paul returned to Ephesus (Fall 54). Because of his humiliation at Corinth, Paul wrote a “severe letter” (2 Cor 2:3-4; 7:8), which was apparently carried by Titus (2 Cor 7:5-8). Scholars tentatively suggest a date of spring 55 for this severe letter
  • Paul left Ephesus in the spring of 55 AD for Macedonia, probably Philippi (Acts 20:1). On the way he stopped at Troas, intending to meet Titus there on his way back from Corinth. But he could not find Titus and sailed for Macedonia without him (2 Cor 2:12-13), hoping to meet him there.
  • Paul met Titus in Macedonia, learned from him that the Corinthians are getting straightened out (2 Cor 7:6-16), and while in Macedonia he wrote 2 Corinthians. Most likely, it was written in the fall of 55 AD.
  • Finally, in the winter of 55-56 AD Paul again visited the Corinthians (Acts 20:32 Cor 12:14).

If this reconstruction is correct, Paul visited Corinth three times and wrote four letters to the Corinthians, the second and fourth of which have been preserved.

There’s all kinds of different theories as to why the first and third letters no longer exist. There are some scholars who so fear that people will come to question the inspirational nature of scripture that they must twist themselves into pretzels to find some parts of these missing letters in either of the two existing letters. I’m more practical than that.  I think, and scholars at Dallas Theological Seminary appear to agree with me, that the harsher of the four letters weren’t circulated or copied and so, disappeared into the dustbin of history. Rebukes are painful and when a church has no intentions of adjusting to discipline, neglect of correspondence happens.

Nowhere in the Bible is there a claim that inspiration will protect a letter from loss. What we are promised is that what we have preserved now is God’s word. We know from the ending of John, that much more of Jesus’ words could have been recorded, but it would be too much and so, it wasn’t.

Paul began his second (canonical) letter to the Corinthians with a customary greeting (1:1-2), followed by a customary thanksgiving (1:3-11). But the thanksgiving this time is not for the church’s progress in the faith (as is usual in Paul’s salutations), but for God’s comfort of him in the midst of great hardships (1:3-11).

This note on God’s comfort in affliction is a natural bridge to the body of the epistle, for 2 Corinthians is focused on God’s glory in the midst of suffering. There are three main sections to this epistle:

  • defense of Paul’s apostleship in the light of his critics’ charges (1:12–7:16)
  • exhortation of the Corinthians to give to the collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem (8:1–9:15)
  • final affirmation of Paul’s apostolic authority (10:1–13:10).

Posted November 12, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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