Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Fight the power!
Written by: Beck

Lew Rockwell has a new article up at the Mises Institute's website worthy of consideration. He asks the important question, "What should freedom lovers do?" His answer is three-fold. First of all, he advocates the traditional values that conservatives in the first half of the twentieth century knew seemingly instinctively. In short: work hard, better yourself, and raise strong families.
In the first half of the 20th century, libertarians knew how to oppose statism. They went into business and journalism. They wrote books. They agitated within the cultural arena. They developed fortunes to help fund newspapers, schools, foundations, and public education organizations. They expanded their commercial ventures to serve as a bulwark against central planning. They became teachers and, when possible, professors. They cultivated wonderful families and focused on the education of their children.

His second point is for those who seek to take an active roll in changing government. The message, as spelled out long ago by Misesian patron saint Murray Rothbard: never compromise.
The Rothbardian approach to a pro-freedom strategy comes down to the following four affirmations: 1) the victory of liberty is the highest political end; 2) the proper groundwork for this goal is a moral passion for justice; 3) the end should be pursued by the speediest and most efficacious possible means; and 4) the means taken must never contradict the goal--"whether by advocating gradualism, by employing or advocating any aggression against liberty, by advocating planned programs, by failing to seize any opportunities to reduce State power, or by ever increasing it in any area."

The bulk of the article, however, touches on something which I realized long ago without ever formulating any of the detailed arguments behind it. One cannot reform the state by becoming an employee of the state. I've been asked by many people why I never sought a government job. When I was younger, everyone thought (for surprisingly logical reasons) that I would find ultimate happiness as an employee at NASA. Once older, with a degree in international economics under my belt, people assumed that any number of government jobs would be towards the top of my list of suitable professions. I recoiled from the thought. As I have oft ranted about (though perhaps not in this particular forum), there is less difference between working for the government and working for the mafia than one might think. In fact, working for the mafia is in many ways preferable. They at least are honest about what they do, and the pay is better. Rockwell goes to great pains to spell out the reasons why working for the government is never the solution to successful reduction of government power or successful increase in liberty. Some samples for you:
If often happens that an ideological movement will make great strides through education and organization and cultural influence, only to take the illogical leap of believing that politics and political influence, which usually means taking jobs within the bureaucracy, is the next rung on the ladder to success. This is like trying to fight a fire with matches and gasoline. This is what happened to the Christian right in the 1980s. They got involved in politics in order to throw off the yoke of the state. Twenty years later, many of these people are working in the Department of Education or for the White House, doing the prep work to amend the Constitution or invade some foreign country. This is a disastrous waste of intellectual capital.

It is particularly important that believers in liberty not take this course. Government work has been the chosen career path of socialists, social reformers, and Keynesians for at least a century. It is the natural home to them because their ambition is to control society through government. It works for them but it does not work for us.
It is a long struggle but it is the way the struggle for liberty has always taken place. But somewhere along the way, some people, enticed by the prospect of a fast track to reform, rethought this idea. Perhaps we should try the same technique that the left did. We should get our people in power and displace their people, and then we can bring about change toward liberty. In fact, isn't this the most important goal of all? So long as the left controls the state, it will expand in ways that are incompatible with freedom. We need to take back the state.

So goes the logic. What is wrong with it? The state's only function is as an apparatus of coercion and compulsion. That is its distinguishing mark. It is what makes the state the state. To the same extent that the state responds well to arguments that it should be larger and more powerful, it is institutionally hostile to anyone who says that it should be less powerful and less coercive. That is not to say that some work from the "inside" cannot do some good, some of the time. But it is far more likely that the state will convert the libertarian than for the libertarian to convert the state.
And then the massive apparatus of the state lives up to its juggernaut status, chewing up and spitting out such fighters for liberty.
We've all seen this a thousand times. It rarely takes more than a few months for a libertarian intellectual headed for the Beltway to "mature" and realize that his or her old ideals were rather childish and insufficiently real world. A politician promising to defang Washington later becomes the leading expert in applying tooth enamel.
He concludes the argument with this:
We can learn from this. The thousands of young people who are discovering the ideas of liberty for the first time ought to stay away from the Beltway and all its allures. Instead, they should pursue their love and passion through arts, commerce, education, and even the ministry. These are fields that offer genuine promise with a high return.

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John Beck

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