Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Sword and the Lie


I normally wouldn’t quote another work at such length, but the following seven paragraphs are devastatingly true and important, and need to be disseminated as widely as possible. I couldn’t summarize or abbreviate it without losing something crucial. I can only hope to encapsulate its lesson, as I try to in my own contribution after the quote.

From The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 22, by Murray N. Rothbard:

Ideology has always been vital to the continued existence of the State, as attested by the systematic use of ideology since the ancient Oriental empires. The specific content of the ideology has, of course, changed over time, in accordance with changing conditions and cultures. In the Oriental despotisms, the Emperor was often held by the Church to be himself divine; in our more secular age, the argument runs more to “the public good” and the “general welfare.” But the purpose is always the same: to convince the public that what the State does is not, as one might think, crime on a gigantic scale, but something necessary and vital that must be supported and obeyed. The reason that ideology is so vital to the State is that it always rests, in essence, on the support of the majority of the public. This support obtains whether the State is a “democracy,” a dictatorship, or an absolute monarchy. For the support rests in the willingness of the majority (not, to repeat, of every individual) to go along with the system: to pay the taxes, to go without much complaint to fight the State’s wars, to obey the State’s rules and decrees. This support need not be active enthusiasm to be effective; it can just as well be passive resignation. But support there must be. For if the bulk of the public were really convinced of the illegitimacy of the State, if it were convinced that the State is nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large, then the State would soon collapse to take on no more status or breadth of existence than another Mafia gang. Hence the necessity of the State’s employment of ideologists; and hence the necessity of the State’s age-old alliance with the Court Intellectuals who weave the apologia for State rule.

The first modern political theorist who saw that all States rest on majority opinion was the sixteenth-century libertarian French writer, Etienne de la Boetie. In his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, de la Boetie saw that the tyrannical State is always a minority of the population, and that therefore its continued despotic rule must rest on its legitimacy in the eyes of the exploited majority, on what would later come to be called “the engineering of consent.” Two hundred years later, David Hume—though scarcely a libertarian—set forth a similar analysis. The counter-argument that, with modern weapons, a minority force can permanently cow a hostile majority ignores the fact that these weapons can be held by the majority and that the armed force of the minority can mutiny or defect to the side of the populace. Hence, the permanent need for persuasive ideology has always led the State to bring into its rubric the nation’s opinion-moulding intellectuals. In former days, the intellectuals were invariably the priests, and hence, as we have pointed out, the age-old alliance between Church-and-State, Throne-and-Altar. Nowadays, “scientific” and “value-free” economists and “national security managers,” among others, perform a similar ideological function in behalf of State power.

Particularly important in the modern world—now that an Established Church is often no longer feasible—is for the State to assume control over education, and thereby to mould the minds of its subjects. In addition to influencing the universities through all manner of financial subventions, and through state-owned universities directly, the State controls education on the lower levels through the universal institutions of the public school, through certification requirements for private schools, and through compulsory attendance laws. Add to this a virtually total control over radio and television—either through outright State ownership, as in most countries—or, as in the United States, by the nationalization of the airwaves, and by the power of a federal commission to license the right of stations to use those frequencies and channels.

Thus, the State, by its very nature, must violate the generally accepted moral laws to which most people adhere. Most people are agreed on the injustice and criminality of murder and theft. The customs, rules, and laws of all societies condemn these actions. The State, then, is always in a vulnerable position, despite its seeming age-old might. What particularly needs to be done is to enlighten the public on the State’s true nature, so that they can see that the State habitually violates the generally accepted injunctions against robbery and murder, that the State is the necessary violator of the commonly accepted moral and criminal law.

We have seen clearly why the State needs the intellectuals; but why do the intellectuals need the State? Put simply, it is because intellectuals, whose services are often not very intensively desired by the mass of consumers, can find a more secure “market” for their abilities in the arms of the State. The State can provide them with a power, status, and wealth which they often cannot obtain in voluntary exchange. For centuries, many (though, of course, not all) intellectuals have sought the goal of Power, the realization of the Platonic ideal of the “philosopher-king.” Consider, for example, the cry from the heart by the distinguished Marxist scholar, Professor Needham, in protest against the acidulous critique by Karl Wittfogel of the alliance of State-and-intellectuals in Oriental despotisms: “The civilization which Professor Wittfogel is so bitterly attacking was one which could make poets and scholars into officials.” Needham adds that “the successive [Chinese] emperors were served in all ages by a great company of profoundly humane and disinterested scholars.” Presumably, for Professor Needham, this is enough to justify the grinding despotisms of the ancient Orient.

But we need not go back as far as the ancient Orient or even as far as the proclaimed goal of the professors at the University of Berlin, in the nineteenth century, to form themselves into “the intellectual bodyguard of the House of Hohenzollern.” In contemporary America, we have the eminent political scientist, Professor Richard Neustadt, hailing the President as the “sole crownlike symbol of the Union.” We have national security manager Townsend Hoopes writing that “under our system the people can look only to the President to define the nature of our foreign policy problem and the national programs and sacrifices required to meet it with effectiveness.” And, in response, we have Richard Nixon, on the eve of his election as President, defining his role as follows: “He [the President] must articulate the nation’s values, define its goals and marshall its will.” Nixon’s conception of his role is hauntingly similar to the scholar Ernst Huber’s articulation, in the Germany of the 1930s, of the Constitutional Law of the Greater German Reich. Huber wrote that the head of State “sets up the great ends which are to be attained and draws up the plans for the utilization of all national powers in the achievement of the common goals . . . he gives the national life its true purpose and value.”

Thus, the State is a coercive criminal organization that subsists by a regularized large-scale system of taxation-theft, and which gets away with it by engineering the support of the majority (not, again, of everyone) through securing an alliance with a group of opinion-moulding intellectuals whom it rewards with a share in its power and pelf.

There will always be crime: assault, plunder, and enslavement. We will always have “the Sword”. But mankind has natural safeguards to defend against crime: including the ability to recognize justice, and the ability to strike back against criminals.

There will always be deceit: slander, fraud, and supersition. We will always have “the Lie”. But mankind has natural safeguards to defend against deceit as well: reason, skepticism, and the senses.

The state is a pernicious partnership of the Sword and the Lie. The Lie fosters the Sword through twisted sophistries which establish a false legitimacy and engineered consent to disarm our natural safeguards against criminality. The Sword fosters the Lie through compulsory indoctrination (state religions and public schools) and through using its ill-gotten gains to corrupt the persuasive classes (state-beholden media and academia), all of which disarms our natural safeguards against deceit.

The state has us in bonds, but also under a spell. The former could not hold us without the latter. In order to break our bonds, we must first break the spell.


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