Monday, August 3, 2009

The Alternative Continuum

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was my kind of man – a strange quantity known as “liberal conservative.” He taught that we live not for ourselves but in honor of our ancestors and for the sake our children. He was an Anglican man through and through – a respecter of historic Christian tradition passed down by generations of faithful saints, but an embracer of necessary reforms. A role model for G.K. Chesterton, Burke was loyal to his culture and his king (a friend and advisor to King George); but he was for the American Revolution (secession) – after all, the Americans had forged a new society based upon the rights of Englishmen, thousands of miles removed from London. Why should their wealth be expropriated to fund the empire’s continental and oceanic wars? That wasn’t citizenship but slavery. The Americans had taken risks in the New World; Burke believed in the self-determination of people on their own ground. On the other hand, Burke despised the French Revolution and its appeal to abstract “universal” rights. In it he detected the makings of a Total State, a rebirth of Babelesque idolatry of the worst sort.

Albert Jay Nock (1873-1945) and Frank Chodorov (1887-1966) helped me distinguish the State from government. Nock perceived one detail about the American Revolution that Burke missed; that its underlying motivation had been little more than rank land speculation. George III didn’t want Anglo-Scots and German settlers pouring over the Appalachian spine and agitating his anti-French Cherokee allies (whose stateless society Thomas Jefferson admired). That wasn’t to say that the Americans shouldn’t have been cleared of the British yoke; but early on the Antifederalist instinct was snuffed out by a group of opportunists who recreated a modified British system on this continent. Nock identified the State as a “criminal gang,” a group of men who use constitutions and charters to seize as much power and expropriate as much wealth as possible within their term limits.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe (1949- ) taught me that term limits have the ironic effect of making democracies far more violent than monarchies ever were. The 20th century was bloodier than all previous centuries combined in a world “made safe for democracy.” Hoppe is a proponent of natural orders within society.

Hoppe’s Austrian School predecessors (Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, et. al.) taught me that central banking – a key element of Alexander Hamilton’s plan for state-building – devalues currency in order to fund internal improvement projects, often at the expense of farmers and small merchants. In modern times the bank also suppresses the price of borrowing money below its natural rate, which causes consumers to stop saving for the future while simultaneously luring entrepreneurs to invest in the future – resulting in the pernicious “boom/bust” cycle.

The Southern Agrarians (1929) and Richard M. Weaver (1910-1963) taught me the beauty of small things, of rustic values, of humility towards nature, of living off the land and within one’s means. When the former Marxist-skeptic historian Eugene Genovese (1930- ) embraced the Christian faith and an earthy conservatism, his lifelong study of the Agrarians and the Southern tradition helped reshape his thinking.

All of them, from Burke to Hoppe, have taught me that while all men are indeed created equal none of them demonstrate equal talents, abilities, or gifts. To act as if that were untrue is the height of folly.

A special acknowledgement is due historian Joseph R. Stromberg, whose essays and articles directed my attention to, or affirmed my already-existing interest in, many of these thinkers and their alternative ideas.

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