Friday, May 29, 2009

Tom Paine, Indians, & Tom Jefferson

As far back as one can follow the run of civilization, it presents two fundamentally different types of political organization. This difference is not one of degree, but of kind. It does not do to take the one type as merely marking a lower order of civilization and the other a higher; they are commonly so taken, but erroneously. Still less does it do to classify both as species of the same genus – to classify both under the generic name of “government,” though this also, until very lately, has been done, and has always led to confusion and misunderstanding.

A good understanding of this error and its effects is supplied by Thomas Paine. At the outset of his pamphlet called Common Sense, Paine draws a distinction between society and government. While society in any state is a blessing, he says, “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” In another place, he speaks of government as “a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.” He proceeds then to show how and why government comes into being. Its origin is in the common understanding and common agreement of society; and “the design and end of government,” he says, is “freedom and security.” Teleologically, government implements the common desire of society, first, for freedom, and second, for security. Beyond this it does not go; it contemplates no positive intervention upon the individual, but only a negative intervention...

So far, Paine is sound as he is simple. He goes on, however, to attack the British political organization in terms that are logically inconclusive. There should be no complaint of this, for he was writing as a pamphleteer, a special pleader with an ad captandum argument to make, and as everyone knows, he did it most successfully. Nevertheless, the point remains that when he talks about the British system he is talking about a type of political organization essentially different from the type that he has just been describing; different in origin, in intention, in primary function, in the order of interest that it reflects. It did not originate in the common understanding and agreement of society; it originated in conquest and confiscation. Its intention, far from contemplating “freedom and security,” contemplated nothing of the kind. It contemplated primarily the continuous economic exploitation of one class by another, and it concerned itself with only so much freedom and security as was consistent with this primary intention; and this was, in fact, very little. Its primary function or exercise was not by way of Paine’s purely negative interventions upon the individual, but by way of innumerable and most onerous positive interventions, all of which were for the purpose of maintaining the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class, and a property-less dependent class. The order of interest that it reflected was not social, but purely anti-social; and those who administered it, judged by the common standard of ethics, or even the common standard of law as applied to private persons, were indistinguishable from a professional-criminal class. Clearly, then, we have two distinct types of political organization to take into account; and clearly, too, when their origins are considered, it is impossible to make out that the one is a mere perversion of the other.

Therefore when we include both types under a general term like government, we get into logical difficulties; difficulties of which most writers on the subject have been more or less vaguely aware, but which, until within the last half-century, none of them has tried to resolve.

Mr. Jefferson, for example, remarked that the hunting tribes of Indians, with which he had a good deal to do in his early days, had a highly organized and admirable social order, but were “without government.” Commenting on this, he wrote Madison that “it is a problem not clear in my mind that [this] condition is not the best,” but he suspected that it was “inconsistent with any great degree of population.” Schoolcraft observes that the Chippewas, though living in a highly organized social order, had no “regular” government. Herbert Spencer, speaking of the Bechuanas, Araucanians and Koranna Hottentots, says they have no “definite” government; while Parkman, in his introduction to The Conspiracy of Pontiac, reports the same phenomenon, and is frankly puzzled by its apparent anomalies.

Paine’s theory of government agrees exactly with the theory set forth by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. The doctrine of natural rights, which is explicit in the Declaration, is implicit in Common Sense; and Paine’s view of the “design and end of government” is precisely the Declaration’s view, that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men”; and further, Paine’s view of the origin of government is that it “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Now, if we apply Paine’s formulas or the Declaration’s formulas, it is abundantly clear that the Virginian Indians had government; Mr. Jefferson’s own observations show that they had it. Their political organization, simple as it was, answered its purpose. Their code-apparatus sufficed for assuring freedom and security to the individual, and for dealing with such trespasses as in that state of society the individual might encounter – fraud, theft, assault, adultery, murder. The same is clearly true of the various peoples cited by Parkman, Schoolcraft and Spencer. Assuredly, if the language of the Declaration amounts to anything, all these peoples had government; and all these reporters make it appear as a government quite competent to its purpose.

Therefore when Mr. Jefferson says his Indians were “without government,” he must be taken to mean that they did not have a type of government like the one he knew... Th[eir] type of government, nevertheless, has always existed and still exists, answering perfectly to Paine’s formulas and the Declaration’s formulas; though it is a type which we also, most of us, have seldom had the chance to observe. It may not be put down as the mark of an inferior race, for institutional simplicity is in itself by no means a mark of backwardness or inferiority; and it has been sufficiently shown that in certain essential respects the peoples who have this type of government are, by comparison, in a position to say a good deal for themselves on the score of a civilized character. Mr. Jefferson’s own testimony on this point is worth notice, and so is Parkman’s. This type, however, even though documented by the Declaration, is fundamentally so different from the type that has always prevailed in history, and is still prevailing in the world at the moment, that for the sake of clearness the two types should be set apart by name, as they are by nature. They are so different in theory that drawing a sharp distinction between them is now probably the most important duty that civilization owes to its own safety. Hence it is by no means either an arbitrary or academic proceeding to give the one type the name of government, and to call the second type simply the State.


One mind, indeed, came within reaching distance of the fundamentals of the matter, not by employing the historical method, but by a homespun kind of reasoning, aided by a sound and sensitive instinct. The common view of Mr. Jefferson as a doctrinaire believer in the stark principle of “states’ rights” is most incompetent and misleading. He believed in states’ rights, assuredly, but he went much farther; states’ rights were only an incident in his general system of political organization. He believed that the ultimate political unit, the repository and source of political authority and initiative, should be the smallest unit; not the federal unit, state unit or county unit, but the township, or, as he called it, the “ward.” The township, and the township only, should determine the delegation of power upwards to the county, the state, and the federal units. His system of extreme decentralization is interesting and perhaps worth a moment’s examination, because if the idea of the State is ever displaced by the idea of government, it seems probable that the practical expression of this idea would come out very nearly in that form.

There is probably no need to say that the consideration of such a displacement involves a long look ahead, and over a field of view that is cluttered with the debris of a most discouraging number, not of nations alone, but of whole civilizations. Nevertheless it is interesting to remind ourselves that more than a hundred and fifty years ago, one American succeeded in getting below the surface of things, and that he probably to some degree anticipated the judgment of an immeasurably distant future.

Nock, Our Enemy, The State

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Enemy Within

Th[e] process – the conversion of social power into State power – has not been carried as far here as it has elsewhere; as it has in Russia, Italy or Germany, for example. Two things, however, are to be observed. First, that it has gone a long way, at a rate of progress which has of late been greatly accelerated. What has chiefly differentiated its progress here from its progress in other countries is its unspectacular character. Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1823 that there was no danger he dreaded so much as “the consolidation [i.e., centralization] of our government by the noiseless and therefore unalarming instrumentality of the Supreme Court.” These words characterize every advance that we have made in State aggrandizement. Each one has been noiseless and therefore unalarming, especially to a people notoriously preoccupied, inattentive and incurious... Under covers of a nation-wide, State-managed mobilization of inane buffoonery and aimless commotion, it took place in so unspectacular a way that its true nature escaped notice, and even now is not generally understood. The method of consolidating the ensuing regime, moreover, was also noiseless and unalarming; it was merely the prosaic and unspectacular “higgling of the market,” to which a long and uniform political experience had accustomed us…

The second thing to be observed is that certain formulas, certain arrangements of words, stand as an obstacle in the way of our perceiving how far the conversion of social power into State power has actually gone. The force of phrase and name distorts the identification of our own actual acceptances and acquiescences. We are accustomed to the rehearsal of certain poetic litanies, and provided their cadence be kept entire, we are indifferent to their correspondence with truth and fact. When Hegel’s doctrine of the State, for example, is restated in terms by Hitler and Mussolini, it is distinctly offensive to us, and we congratulate ourselves on our freedom from the “yoke of a dictator’s tyranny.” No American politician would dream of breaking in on our routine of litanies with anything of the kind. We may imagine, for example, the shock to popular sentiment that would ensue upon Mr. Roosevelt’s declaring publicly that “the State embraces everything, and nothing has value outside the State. The State creates right.” Yet an American politician, as long as he does not formulate that doctrine in set terms, may go further with it in a practical way than Mussolini has gone, and without trouble or question. Suppose Mr. Roosevelt should defend his regime by publicly reasserting Hegel’s dictum that “the State alone possesses rights, because it is the strongest.” One can hardly imagine that our public would get that down without a great deal of retching. Yet how far, really, is that doctrine alien to our public’s actual acquiescences? Surely not far.

The point is that in respect of the relation between the theory and the actual practice of public affairs, the American is the most unphilosophical of beings. The rationalization of conduct in general is most repugnant to him; he prefers to emotionalize it. He is indifferent to the theory of things, so long as he may rehearse his formulas; and so long as he can listen to the patter of his litanies, no practical inconsistency disturbs him – indeed, he gives no evidence of even recognizing it as an inconsistency.

The ablest and most acute observer among the many who came from Europe to look us over in the early part of the last century was the one who is for some reason the most neglected, notwithstanding that in our present circumstances, especially, he is worth more to us than all the de Tocquevilles, Bryces, Trollopes and Chateaubriands put together. This was the noted St.-Simonien and political economist, Michel Chevalier. Professor Chinard, in his admirable biographical study of John Adams, has called attention to Chevalier’s observation that the American people have “the morale of an army on the march.” The more one thinks of this, the more clearly one sees how little there is in what our publicists are fond of calling “the American psychology” that it does not exactly account for; and it exactly accounts for the trait we are considering.

An army on the march has no philosophy; it views itself as a creature of the moment. It does not rationalize conduct except in terms of an immediate end. As Tennyson observed, there is a pretty strict official understanding against its doing so; “theirs not to reason why.” Emotionalizing conduct is another matter, and the more of it the better; it is encouraged by a whole elaborate paraphernalia of showy etiquette, flags, music, uniforms, decorations, and the careful cultivation of a very special sort of comradery. In every relation to “the reason of the thing,” however – in the ability and eagerness, as Plato puts it, “to see things as they are” – the mentality of an
army on the march is merely so much delayed adolescence; it remains persistently, incorrigibly and notoriously infantile. Past generations of Americans, as Martin Chuzzlewit left record, erected this infantilism into a distinguishing virtue, and they took great pride in it as the mark of a chosen people, destined to live forever amidst the glory of their own unparalleled achievements... An envious and presumably dissolute Frenchman may say what he likes about the morale of an army on the march, but the fact remains that it has brought us where we are, and has got us what we have. Look at a continent subdued, see the spread of our industry and commerce, our railways, newspapers, finance companies, schools, colleges, what you will! Well, if all this has been done without a philosophy, if we have grown to this unrivalled greatness without any attention to the theory of things, does it not show that philosophy and the theory of things are all moonshine, and not worth a practical people’s consideration? The morale of an army on the march is good enough for us, and we are proud of it. The present generation does not speak in quite this tone of robust certitude. It seems, if anything, rather less openly contemptuous of philosophy; one even sees some signs of a suspicion that in our present circumstances the theory of things might be worth looking into, and it is especially towards the theory of sovereignty and rulership that this new attitude of hospitality appears to be developing. The condition of public affairs in all countries, notably in our own, has done more than bring under review the mere current practice of politics, the character and quality of representative politicians, and the relative merits of this-or- that form or mode of government. It has served to suggest attention to the one institution whereof all these forms or modes are but the several, and, from the theoretical point of view, indifferent, manifestations. It suggests that finality does not lie with consideration of species, but of genus; it does not lie with consideration of the characteristic marks that differentiate the republican State, monocratic State, constitutional, collectivist, totalitarian, Hitlerian, Bolshevist, what you will. It lies with consideration of the State itself...

It appears to me that with the depletion of social power going on at the rate it is, the State-citizen should look very closely into the essential nature of the institution that is bringing it about. He should ask himself whether he has a theory of the State, and if so, whether he can assure himself that history supports it. He will not find this a matter that can be settled off-hand; it needs a good deal of investigation, and a stiff exercise of reflective thought. He should ask, in the first place, how the State originated, and why; it must have come about somehow, and for some purpose. This seems an extremely easy question to answer, but he will not find it so. Then he should ask what it is that history exhibits continuously as the State’s primary function. Then, whether he finds that “the State” and “government” are strictly synonymous terms; he uses them as such, but are they? Are there any invariable characteristic marks that differentiate the institution of government from the institution of the State? Then finally he should decide whether, by the testimony of history, the State is to be regarded as, in essence, a social or an anti-social institution?

from Our Enemy, The State (1935) by Albert Jay Nock

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We’re All Rush Fans Now (the band, not the windbag)

You know the First World is in serious trouble when an impeccable motor company like Honda produces a crappy car like the Insight. Trying to stay ahead of the politically-correct curve, Honda created the Insight in anticipation of “greener” days to come under Eurobama socialism. Honda wants to stay in business, and it knows that more stringent laws and regulations on vehicle design and emissions are coming forthwith.

Trust me, the economy will stabilize. We’ll all (including the Third World) be the poorer for it. And we’ll drive around (if we get to drive at all) in paper-thin peddle-cars that struggle to reach 50 mph. I might be forced to take the light rail after all.

Back in college I was an avid fan of Rush, the Canadian progressive rock trio. The early ‘80s were what I dubbed Rush’s “middle period,” i.e. when their musical style transitioned from long, rambling epics like “Xanadu” to more compact but no less adventurous songs. On Permanent Waves drummer Neil Peart’s Objectivist philosophy came into clear view, especially in the preachy “Freewill.” The follow-up album, Moving Pictures, presented Randian themes in more subtle, metaphorical images. “Tom Sawyer” finds in the spirit of a restless teenager the embodiment of individual anarchism. “Witch Hunt (Fear, Part II)” alludes to ecclesiastical abuse but is open-ended enough to suggest political tyranny as well. But the crown-jewel of Moving Pictures is “Red Barchetta,” possibly the best song in the entire Rush repertoire.

My uncle has a country place
That no one knows about
He says it used to be a farm
Before the Motor Law
And on Sundays I elude the eyes
And hop the Turbine Freight
To far outside the Wire
Where my white-haired uncle waits
“Red Barchetta” tells the story of a youth who escapes to the countryside home of an uncle who keeps a restored, gasoline-powered Barchetta in a barn. He describes stripping away the protective covering and taking the sports car for an exhilarating spin through the country – until he meets up with the police in the form of a “gleaming alloy air-car, two lanes wide.” A one-lane bridge allows the young man to escape and return safely to his uncle’s home. Musically, this song pushes the pistons with every note.

The illegality of the event heightens the story’s tension and the euphoria of freedom. Had the boy been without the Barchetta’s horsepower he would no doubt have met with some grim fate at the hands of the State. The repressive circumstances of the story are set in the first verse, quoted above. “No one knows” about the uncle’s hidden place. That it “used to be a farm, before the Motor Law,” suggests the State outlawed both rural property use and certain forms of motor vehicle transport – methods of constraining and controlling populations. Eluding “the eyes,” the youth has to hobo as a means of getting beyond the State’s borders.

Clearly, the protagonist of this song lives in a totalitarian State, where freedom of movement and method of movement are restricted.

Can’t happen here? Test drive an Insight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Look Ma, I’m a Leftist

In addition to Mother’s Day, today (May 10) is Confederate Memorial Day in North Carolina. For those who care, it is a day to commemorate a “lost cause” – one that most Americans associate with the worst kind of proto-fascist racism. The truth of the matter is not so easily defined. The white Anglo-Scots Southerners that comprised the majority of the Confederate army (beyond the Native Americans, Germans, Jews, Hispanics, Asians, and not a few African Americans scattered among the ranks) were of the non-slaveholding middling and lower classes. The misnamed “Civil War” was less to them about slavery than simply being left alone.

At least for a short time those Southerners fought for what Joseph Stromberg saw as the makings of a radical, libertarian movement. Now, on the heels of Jeff Riggenbach’s new book on revisionist American history, we may say the rank-and-file Southern soldier was a downright leftist, a true son of the Whiskey Rebellion, whose motivation for the cause became muddled once he wised up to the true nature of the conservative planter hegemony and dictatorial Confederate central government in Richmond. One need only to read Sam R. Watkins’ first-hand account of the war to understand why the spirit of the Southern soldier dissipated with the realities of Confederate politics. The Johnny Rebs who deserted and walked home did so because the power structure of their leadership was largely inimical to their interests.

But the pivotal fifth chapter of Riggenbach’s book has a wider scope than the War for Total Government Control (1861-65). Beginning with Jefferson and Hamilton, Riggenbach traces through the pens of revisionist historians the distinction between the liberal republicanism of the Jeffersonians and the state-capitalist conservatism of Hamilton & co. From Lincoln’s day on the Federalist-Whig-Republican branch won out, and the Big Government-Big Business-Big Banking axis has sold a collectivist corporate state to Americans ever since.

Citing Murray Boochkin, Riggenbach shows how the conventional political appellations of “left” and “right” are turned on their heads:

[A] brief look at the history of the relevant political terms – Left and Right, liberal and conservative – will persuade us that libertarianism has absolutely nothing in common with anything on the Right. For it is as the anarchist Murray Bookchin said back in 1978: “People who resist authority, who defend the rights of the individual, who try in a period of increasing totalitarianism and centralization to reclaim these rights – this is the true left in the United States. Whether they are anarcho-communists, anarcho-syndicalists, or libertarians who believe in free enterprise, I regard theirs as the real legacy of the left […].” And what about the socialists, the Maoists and Trotskyites, and the liberals of the Democratic party? Bookchin was asked. What about the people most Americans regarded as “the Left”? Those people, Bookchin replied, were “going toward authoritarianism, toward totalitarianism.” They were “becoming the real right in the United States.”

In other words, one who believes in unhindered free markets and individual rights is really on the left side of the political spectrum. Those who favor government intervention in social and economic matters (thus considering themselves flaming liberals) turn out to be supporters of conservatism – unwittingly preserving the statist status quo that under different guises has dominated public affairs in this country for decades.

So, all the years I considered myself “paleoconservative” I had it backwards.

The GOP is the conservative party in American politics, the party that since Lincoln (and Henry Clay and Alexander Hamilton before him) has stood for mercantilism, welfare statism, and war. Libertarians are not conservatives; they are not on the Right. They are on the Left, the last remnant of the original liberals.

And lest we forget that Barack Obama’s #1 campaign contributor was Goldman Sachs,

Though some true liberals remain in the Democratic Party of today, almost all of them have made the error of pursuing liberal goals by conservative means. And the majority in the party has been New Deal liberal – false liberal, conservative in liberal’s clothing – since the 1930s. In effect, the United States is now governed by one or the other of two conservative parties.

Better sit down, Ma. Your boy is a liberal and a leftist.

Friday, May 1, 2009

(Scroll Down)

I have embedded a video of Sam Quinn + Japan Ten at the bottom of this blog. Sam, along with Josh Oliver (piano) and Tom Pryor (pedal steel) are also members of the Everybodyfields, which are currently on hiatus. My wife and I have followed the ’fields closely for the past four years.

What drew me to them, and continues to be a draw in Japan Ten, is what folk musicologist John Cohen heard in the voice of Kentucky singer Roscoe Holcomb; a sound that led Cohen to coin the now over-used expression high lonesome sound. You hear this as Japan Ten tune up their voices in front of an old house in a quiet Greensboro, NC neighborhood before the main video shoot.

Appalachian folk voice is sometimes harsh, modal, eerie and, to unappreciative ears, downright dissonant and annoying. But for me it is a sound that has buzzed in my head from my earliest youth. It is a sound that has antecedents in the folk singing of the Scottish border country and English West Country.

For a Carolina-Tennessee borderer like myself, it is the sound of home.