Diagnosing Romantic Nationalism:


As a young man, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) had been inspired by the Continental Enlightenment and many of the ideas that arose out of the French Revolution. He was a student of theology in the late 1780s, which is precisely when the Enlightenment ideas of Immanuel Kant swept over Germany’s intellectual atmosphere and drastically altered many individuals’ perception of humankind’s relation to reason, government, the economy, and to the divine. While on the one hand Kant had given ultimate responsibility for the universe to the individual, since he had effected a final divorce between reason and revelation, between individual intellect and the gnostic transmission of divine knowledge through extra-sensory or extra-individual means (or, more precisely, between individuals and the appointed heads of state churches who claimed the power of secret revelation), he had also placed established religion in its correct light as an institution that sought to divide the individual from his responsibility and self-reliance in improving the human spirit as an individual, instead of a congregation. In so doing, he had sought an individualistic and anarchic picture of human reason—pure intellect, pure criticism, pure mind, as a theoretical stance. By sketching out the groundwork for the Organon, the logical apparatus of mind, he had eliminated the possibility of an outside Organon in society—a social mind, a hive-mind, a government-mind, a culture-mind, or the god-mind of religious creeds.

In Germany, the disparate states of the nation were divided between rival church establishments, much like colonial American society was divided regionally by religious establishments in each colony, and much like 6 state churches remained active on the state level after the ratification of the Constitution; but whereas America underwent a disestablishment process due to the shift of religion into the free market, as a byproduct of its anti-tax movements, Germany had traditionally been embroiled in bloody and internecine religious conflicts. And the French Revolution had scared the conservative establishmentarians into cleaving to religious centralization (instead of market decentralization) in order to stave off the levels of secular insanity and Jacobinism that had arisen in France in the years after the Revolution.

Kant’s idea of enlightenment removed intermediaries from their privileged place between the individual and the divine, whether he wished his philosophy to effect this divorce or not. If institutional religion charged itself with interpreting the correct rites and readings of scripture and orthodoxy, and if the individual were not charged with examining reality for himself by that institution, but instead were charged with accepting another man’s interpretations of God and godliness, then institutional religion was a usurper of reason, and not a guide. For the rules of logic and individualism applied not only to the congregation, but also to the high priests of divine revelation. It was not without reason that Kant was often viewed as a dangerous philosopher. His anarchy of reason was one of the gravest threats to established dogma in the history of Western Civilization.

As a young acolyte of the Critical Philosophy, Fichte had attempted to apply the Kantian method of criticism to divine revelation in An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation in 1792. His goal was not to deny that there was such a thing as divine revelation, but to show that, through the Critical Philosophy derived first by Kant, that there only might be revelation; not that there is revelation, de facto. He sketched out the groundwork for limitation upon the whole field of revealed religion; and in doing so, Fichte bound god to moral rules. Hence, there could never be something revealed in religion—as something higher than the moral rule of the categorical imperative. In his Metaphysics of Morals, Kant had deduced a moral law through reason as follows:

Act only according to a moral rule whereby you could, at the same time, will that this moral rule should be universal.

By this measure, for example one could not wish that theft become a universal rule. For, if one wishes to steal from others, yet wishes others to steal from oneself (as in state socialism), then nobody could ever wish that theft would become the universal norm. At some point, one’s sole aim would be to obtain property for the prolongation of the theft; but one could not will oneself to desire the retention of property, and would prefer to give that property away; and yet, the desire to give that property away would make the “theft” not “theft” in the end. The very notion of theft means that one does not wish others to take one’s property; otherwise, the act would not be called “theft.” It would be voluntary sharing. As soon as a thief obtained his Loot, he would have to will that some other thief should steal that Loot; and if he wished that others should steal his loot, he could never act in accordance with the rule by means of reason because he could never will that he should, as an individual, be in possession of property that he wished others to steal from him. This would cripple the need and desire to work, to labor for the acquisition of resources, and would thence condemn the looter, the thief, and the idealist to starvation. To steal is to appropriate a good or resource; and to appropriate a good or a resource would touch off the moral rule of theft all over again. This is particularly why all socialist dogmas are anti-property at root. They wish to imagine away the thing that makes the whole philosophy falter and collapse at its first toddler step. By abolishing property from the discussion (although they do not thereby abolish it from reality or the mind), they hope to claim a first victory in the cause.

If God were bound to a categorical imperative, Fichte reasoned by extension, then no divine revelation could ever reveal something that would conflict with the categorical imperative and the reason of humankind. God was justified by reason, after all. Revelation and divine reward were not a means of promising recompense for something in conflict with individual moral duty.

Kant was impressed with Fichte’s applications of Critical Philosophy, but the intellectual honeymoon Fichte enjoyed would not last long. As international sentiment turned against the French Revolution in the 1790s after the secularization pogroms and military upheavals turned the Revolution into a massacre, a change in popular sentiment perhaps best exemplified by the correspondence of argumentation between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke, Fichte came to be regarded as a Germanic Jacobin, and a dangerous social usurper:

The tracts which the French Revolution inspired Fichte to write at this time, and which established the rights of the pople on the basis of the inherent moral freedom of man, increased his fame; but at the same time they caused moderate and conservative men to regard him as a radical and dangerous teacher. In spite of this, however, he was called to succeed Reinhold as Professor of Philosophy at Jena in 1794. Here he won immediate success as a lecturer, owing undoubtedly in great measure to the vigour of his thought and to his moral intensity and practical earnestness. His enemies, however, especially the bigoted supporters of the traditional constitution and of the established form of religion, never ceased trying to undermine his position and to secure his removal. They first complained that the course of general moral lectures which he gave on Sunday mornings was an attempt to overthrow Christianity and to introduce the worship of reason in its stead; but meeting with no success, they then attempted to turn to his disadvantage the efforts which Fichte was making to suppress the students’ associations. Throughout these negotiations Fichte, who saw that these associations were productive of much harm, was animated solely by the desire to develop and cultivate the moral and intellectual powers of his pupils. Though again unsuccessful, his enemies did not cease their attacks, and were at last victorious. (1)

What followed was the famous Atheism Controversy in which Fichte, who had identified the moral world order with God, was deemed a dangerous atheist. Such was a terrible charge to have laid at one’s feet where church and state were not effectively separated. This tale itself, which will be featured later this year on the Culture & Anarchy Podcast’s second installment of The Shadow of All Doubts, led to Fichte’s dismissal from his position at the university. Seeking safety, or perhaps just a fresh start, Fichte removed himself to Berlin to start his career all over again with the school of romantic idealists, amongst whom counted Schelling—the other figurehead of German Idealism, apart from Kant and Fichte. It was a contentious new start for the young German idealist, for Fichte was a man of absolute principles (and a disagreeable temperament) who suffered no slackness from others; and when a proposal was circulated for the founding of a new university in Berlin, Fichte delivered his fourteen Addresses to the German Nation before an elite crowd, which he hoped would provide a platform upon which the national foundation of a specifically German education might arise. These addresses, which are often touted as the first essay upon the modern European notion of nationalism, were based on a select set of defining characteristics, which were sufficient to demarcate a nation.

These addresses did not arise in a vacuum, however. The French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, had begun his forays into Prussia in 1806, and by the end of the year he had taken Berlin. Fichte fled from the city during this period of turmoil; which must have been more than a little humiliating to his ideals and his experience. For the totalitarian and constructivist rationalism of the French Revolution, along with its currency collapse at the end of the monarchy, had thrown French society into upheaval and more than a decade of pointless war.

None of this happened in a vacuum either. The English had provoked conflict after conflict with the French in order to keep its own empire secure (and especially after the French had aided American independence), and the French had retaliated time and time again. The two juggernauts of Western Europe had anticipated each other’s moves by destroying alliances and forging temporary wars of convenience throughout a decade of war. Napoleon had, in part, secured some social stability for France; but in doing so, he had pushed the armies of France over the borders of her enemies, and occupied foreign territory as a conqueror.

Perhaps, Fichte must have reflected in self-doubt on more than one occasion, his critics had been correct when they had linked him to the disastrous effects of Continental constructivist rationalism, which believed that utopia might form a plan for the State’s organization.

In August 1807, Fichte returned to an occupied Berlin to find his country under the yoke of Napoleonic rule; and the restless spirit of revolution stirred in him as he found—as is the way with human nature—that an excess of reason beyond culture, which had resulted in the usurpation of his native culture with a foreign despot’s culture, was intolerable. Nothing so stirs the anarchic human breast to revolt as occupation and misrule; for the self-determination of peoples is something at the heart of rational society, rational economy, and a quasi-rational politics (insofar as politics can be something rational). Reason, as the spirit of Anarchy, is always secessionist in temper; it is always extraction; always deduction; always building up towards an individual and away from masses and abstract classes. It is the universal philosophy of the specimen, not the species. And during the large-scale movements of international wars, with their occupations, devastations, destructions, ebbs, and flows, reason seeks secession from disorder. Perhaps this is what tuned Fichte’s intellect and set it towards a plan for a new foundation of Germanic thought—one not tainted by the French Revolution that had betrayed his ideals (and perhaps the French philosophes, as well). If the future was to be the utopia of the individual, the anarchic mind of reason, then surely it was to found in the people of Germany and the home of Idealism.

Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation escaped the censure of the French occupiers of Berlin, despite the nationalism that found its voice in Fichte’s words. Perhaps it sounded too foreign to the Jacobinical universalists who were busy totalitarianizing the world into liberty, equality, and fraternity. Perhaps Fichte’s words were innocuous because Fichte himself—a small German figure—was a mere ant in a giant Napoleonic colony. But whatever the case is, Fichte was mounting a plan for future revolution by means of a plan for a native education, based on German Idealism. This was intellectual dynamite, no doubt; for the concept of a national identity was being wedded with the Idealist’s philosophy of self-reliance, self-determination, duty, change, and industry. Max Weber, who saw in the rise of Capitalism the fingerprints of the Protestant work ethic, could have as easily spied in the nationalist drive the overweening constructivism of German Idealism, which wedded industry to an idyllic bureaucracy. And though Fichte’s addresses did not stir up popular sentiment, they did have an effect upon the “cultured classes” of Germany. The ideas contained therein have been linked, whether justly or in over-extension, with the outbreak of the War of Liberation in 1813, when six German states rose up against their French overlords and—in conjunction with the Duke of Wellington’s maneuvers at Waterloo—forced Napoleon into defeat, and ended the French occupation of Germany. That success, it is sometimes asserted, formed the basis for the renewal of the German State and the unification of the country.

Fichte’s addresses were an attempt to formulate, out of the disparate Germanic states, a feeling of national identity sufficient to demarcate his native region of birth, its culture and its supposed-race, from the occupying forces of Napoleon, as well as its foreign culture (and by extension, its language). In doing so, Fichte utilized German Idealism to join together a people separated by denominational differences and institutional squabbles. He wanted to find the common substrate of Germany itself within its people, knowing that underneath it all was the human nature, the Organon, that Kant had discovered in his probing Critical Philosophy. He utilized his understanding of idealism’s real target—which is the theoretical framework for human nature and human reason—to grant to the German people the honor of best-exemplifying human nature and reason. German nature, as a result, became the pinnacle of human society and development, whereas before Germany had but been the collection of states and principalities with tenuous and shifting alliances.

Fichte rooted these national characteristics in the concepts and categories of race, ethnic solidarity, heredity, art, language, custom, and prejudice. As one can well imagine, in the aftermath of World War II and nearly a century of backwards-looking philosophical reflection, many is the thinker that has linked Fichte’s Addresses to the swell of nationalism that would eventually be responsible for everything leading up to the nationalist socialists and the Holocaust. This is an unfortunate characterization resulting from historical circumstance, and it tends to arise wherever any sense of German nationalism and idealism is examined in history. More’s the pity that this tendency has led to very shallow analysis of the ideas that Fichte canvassed in his orations. In the evolution of the concept of a nation, Fichte provides one of the first “building-up” plans for the modern statist mindset, and it is with this understanding that we here endeavor to examine his ideas within the whirl of identitarian conflicts that arose out of the French Revolution, which pitted the anarchic mind of human reason against the cultural prejudices of conservatism, and wound up trying to engineer a mass movement based on the establishment of reason as a governing policy in society, but to the detriment of individualism. Where America succeeded prior to the Civil War and the destruction of its own Constitution, was in the state-by-state shift of religious institutions into the un-taxed marketplace in accordance with the federal prescription of laissez-faire. There was never a central plan, but only a gradualist plan for religious voluntarism.

There is a reason to examine Fichte’s arguments for more than historical interest. Fichte was codifying, on a large scale, what before had been the expression of a tribal impulse, now transformed into a national identity. His platform was interested in justifying a form of identity politics that was in reaction to foreign occupation. Similar nationalisms had arisen in the preceding generation both in America and Europe, where the English empire had split in twain amongst a parent culture and its bastard American children—the disenfranchised brats of a crumbling world Empire who had secured liberty from the clutches of its imperious overlords. In the future, the nationalism that arose would no longer be linked to military occupation and specific outrages like poll taxes, direct taxes, or tea taxes, but to the challenges to culture that would arise through trade, commerce, exchange, and the free mobility of labor (immigration and emigration). The new outrages were universal and monoloithic; they required nothing less than a changing out of the old gods, the Titans, with a new class of godly equalitarians in the service of cosmic justice. The costs to culture could be mitigated by gains in wealth and economy. But with the rise of the Welfare State in the post-WWII era, and the attempt, most disastrously, by the 20th Century’s demographic engineers to support the Welfare State with a growing tax base as it became more unwieldy, we are beginning to see the rise of nationalism in a different sense than even in the past. Whereas Fichte could actually point to a military dictator exercising a foreign influence, we can only point at democratic governments, the demographic engineers, and the wealth redistribution/government-handout-fueled drive for taxpayer subsidized immigration and refugeeism.

It is a known fact that any population, if it is to remain stable, must maintain at the very least an average 2-child home. For every two people in a nation, two children must survive in order to prevent the decline in number from the population’s equilibrium. In a Welfare State, this means that in order to maintain (even though it was flawed plan from the start and could not be maintained economically) the current level of benefits from taxpayers to tax consumers, from the young to the elderly, there must be a growing population base to sustain the machine. If the birth-rate were to decline below the 2-child household on average, then the Welfare State would have to cut benefits to payees and jack up taxes on a dwindling population base with an insufficient replacement rate.

Europe, for one, has tried to solve this problem by bringing in refugees and immigrants en masse, in numbers that boggle the mind. Worse yet, it has done so at the taxpayers’ expense, and with ample welfare-support for the incoming generation of future Europeans, who are not becoming more European in outlook. But given the demographics of the replacements—Somali, Libyan, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, North African, etc.—it is by no mean clear that the Welfare State is importing its future taxpayers, and not its future tyrants. The birth-rate decline, mixed with the demographic change and the influx of Muslim populations, will be the story of the coming generation. And if the present climate of nationalism is to give us a hint at what is to come, we are likely to see a splintering of nationalism along altogether new lines.

We thought that we lived in a secular age; but we are seeing the rise of intolerant faiths. Multiculturalism has failed, and nationalism is rising. We cannot predict its path, but we must be prepared to face down its excesses where the European State seems unwilling to address its course with a critical eye, and where opposition to demographic replacement and cultural annihilation is actively libeled as racist, xenophobic, and intolerant. Rational conversation has all but ended, and few are the divided parties who can brook peaceful argument. All this in a region where opinion polls regularly show that the ideals of each nation’s figureheads are at odds with the vast majority of the people who are ruled by those lawmakers and international bureaucracies. Already, the large-scale influx of more productive Muslim birth-rates and importation of an foreign culture with some very intolerant and anti-Western elements, may threaten the long-run viability of Western European Civilization.

It is for this reason that it is worth revisiting the arguments reared by nationalism’s first proponents, for if history will teach us one overarching lesson, it is that the same old ideas always get rehashed, always tailored for the new generation by the particular challenges that it faces. Fichte very much had a definition for his nation; though perhaps not of a theory of the nation. His model could never be universalized, though it managed to have a very particular utility for its time and place. The century that succeeded his Addresses would repeatedly show how prescient (even if not justified by reason) his hypothesis were; for they arose everywhere, in almost every nation, on every continent, and now rise to challenge free markets and catallactics with renewed vigor.

Hayek argued that catallaxy was the foundation for what was worth preserving in Western Civilization; that it was, in fact, at the base of the very idea that Western Civilization was a positive thing. In the marketplace, win-win negotiations and free trade (as opposed to ceaseless war, Napoleonic campaigns, strife, conflict, and tariffs) were the means best suited to the preservation of society. Through voluntary exchange, or catallactic exchange, one turned one’s enemies into one’s friends without requiring a pact from some governing body. One could, by exchange, effect change over time in equilibrium with each market participant’s decisions to consume goods or to refrain from accessible consumption and enjoyment. A century of Keynesianism and Welfare Statism has pushed the accelerator of change to the very floor. The Welfare Statists wished to leapfrog over the equilibrium of the marketplace in order to speed up the path to superabundance; but in the process, they jammed the gears and broke the throttle. We must enter our own age with full recognition of the consequences that follow from such State policies. We cannot afford to be deluded by the utopianism of the engineers as we careen down this road full-tilt.

When this drama plays out, it will play out on all social fronts. It is a drama that will affect our culture, our freedom, our equality, our institutions, our markets, our families, and our very lives. We shall hear many appeals to history, to our historical memory, as if the past were something that could rise up to meet us as a savior. But our history has brought us to the present dilemma.

We had better be prepared to meet the future with eyes wide open.

1. Jones, R.F. and G.H. Turnbull, eds. “Introduction.” In Addresses to the German Nation by Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Chicago: The Open Court Publishing Company, 1922. Google Books. Web.

Also Sprach Emerson:


The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, was heavily influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like Emerson, Nietzsche had little formal training in classical philosophy and was largely a self-directed autodidact; and from Emerson, he took his philosophical duty as a trailblazer on a wild and savage path. He took delight in Emerson’s style, his wit, his aphoristic way of writing, and his abandonment of prior forms and historical thoughts in the record of thinking. Here, in Emerson, was a thinker at last. An active intellect, unconcerned wit the contents of other men’s thoughts because he was secure in the form of his own critical thought.

The Transcendentalist movement, in America and abroad, has always been viewed as something esoteric and sophistical in the history of literature. As a philosophical movement in Germany, in the wake of Immanuel Kant, German Idealism became something wearisome and overwrought—leading to its decline into universal solipsism through Fichte, Schelling, and, worst-of-all, Hegel. What Transcendentalism was, at base, was Kant’s Critical Philosophy in application, touching new ideas with the light of reason, which is the same old light that had shed its influence over history and animated its halls with flickering shadows of mankind since time immemorial. What had changed, thought Emerson, was that the light was now understood; its form was secure, and the individual’s critical capacity for self-knowledge had been freed from the dogmatism and second-hand wisdom of the ages. There was a danger in this new era; the danger of abandoning traditional wisdom and the best that had been thought and said. In that abandonment lay the pitfalls of error; the chance that the thinker might be led down a winding path that had already resolved itself into a dead-end before. And though custom, culture, old usage, and religious tradition might assure the thinker that its own dogmas were surefire prescription against these errors, as the ossified quintessence of historical wisdom, a true thinker had to shed that dogmatism and risk his soul in the quest for truth.

Between 1862 and 1889, the year when Nietzsche suffered his mental breakdown, Nietzsche is known to have read Emerson exhaustively every single year of his life. To anyone who has plunged into Nietzsche, or perhaps into Nietzsche’s American partisan, H.L. Mencken (an heir to Emerson’s legacy returned again to America from Nietzsche’s Germany), one can trace these Emersonian influences all throughout his life’s works—but not in definite particulars. In Nietzsche, as in Emerson before him, we find an authentic thinker in the mold of Kant, a self-reliant thinker as he is in the anarchy of reason. As one critic notes,

Although it is not obvious in the published works, Nietzsche continually praised and quoted Emerson throughout his life. The young Nietzsche read and excerpted much from Emerson. The letters in which he recommended Emerson to his friends…have been lost but are likely to have been highly enthusiastic…Later, in 1874, Nietzsche referred to “the excellent Emerson,” and in 1879 he referred to “Emerson, the richest American.” In 1881 Nietzsche was still more effusive: “Emerson. I have never felt so at home, and in my home, in a book as—I cannot praise it, it stands me too near.” Shortly thereafter, Nietzsche called Emerson “the author richest in thought this century.” In 1882 Nietzsche took a saying from Emerson as a motto for his The Joyful Science and placed it on the title page, and in the book he praised Emerson as one of the four greatest authors of the nineteenth century. In a letter to Overbeck from 1883 Nietzsche wrote, “I experience Emerson as a twin-soul [Bruder-Seele]” […] And in an early draft to Nietzsche’s autobiography Ecce Homo (1888), in which he described his own development and reading, he wrote: “Emerson, with his Essays, has been a good friend and someone who has cheered me up even in dark times: he possesses so much scepsis, so many ‘possibilities,’ that with him even virtue becomes spiritual.” 1

Many scholars have seen in Nietzsche’s crowning literary achievement, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, sparks of Emerson’s wit, style, and individualism in the character of Zarathustra himself. While this may be an overreach, it cannot be denied that Zarathustra’s spirit and essence would have been at home in Emerson’s essays as much as in Nietzsche’s notebook. In the figure of Zarathustra we find a man who, on the advice of Emerson in his essay, Self-Reliance, removed his coat of many colors, which is colored by others perceptions that others have of him, tossed it to the ground, and fled to live his life unencumbered by so many superfluous opinions.

In his essay Self-Reliance, Emerson cautions the reader away from the power of precedent and authority and challenges the reader to—in essence—abandon the essay in order to life the examined life: to fill his book with the sights and smells of nature, and to take his gospel therefrom. He challenges the reader to take care to keep his spirit from being caught up in singular ends to the detriment of his being. To the abolitionist dogmatist, he tenders the caution that he should take care to keep his familial tenderness, to care for his babe, to speak to his peers as men, and as a man, and not to lose himself in the dogmatism of his political or social cause. He scorns the philanthropist and the beggar, for he wants to meet with men who offer him a challenge, rather than a plaintive appeal for subsistence. To the patriot and the acolyte of the nation, he sends out his warning: in the nation, in the herd, in the sphere of other men’s expectations and perceptions—there lies a want of self-reliance and the corruption of the soul.

Kant identified three different modes of reasoning: skepticism, criticism, and dogmatism. The challenge for all critical thinkers was to probe the limits of reason, to canvass the limitations of skepticism, and to avoid dogmatism at all costs. In the first Introduction to his Wissenschaftslehre, one particular student of Kant, J.G. Fichte, identifies the mode of dogmatic thinking:

Dogmatism wishes to use the principle of causality to explain the general nature of the intellect as such, as well as the specific determinations of the same. The intellect is in this case supposed to be something that has been caused; i.e., it is supposed to be the second member in a series.2

Furthermore, the battle between dogmatism and criticism is a veritable battle for the human soul:

The dispute between the idealist and the dogmatist is actually a dispute over whether the self-sufficiency of the I [i.e., the Subject] should be sacrificed to that of the thing [i.e., the Object], or conversely, whether the self-sufficiency of the thing should be sacrificed to that of the I. What, therefore, could drive a rational person to declare himself in favor of either one of these two systems? 3.

The idealist was battling the specter of materialism, the crass mind-as-matter and nothing else credo of the skeptical atheist or the conservatism of the dogmatist, and risking everything upon the anarchy of the human intellect.

In his essay, Self-Reliance, Emerson continually cautions mankind to avoid unexamined and inherited obligations, customs, and cultural rites. He speaks to specific causes, specific rites, and specific traditions—i.e., philanthropy, abolitionism, and orthodoxy—but his target is dogmatism. The goal is to shed that sweet influence of the rebellious individual spirit; to remind all parties of all disputes that he individual’s mission in life is self-knowledge and a higher enjoyment of life. To the dogmatist, he advises that one should shun the activism of the moment, the politically expedient ritual and virtue because, as Nietzsche would write in Beyond Good and Evil:

“Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that he does not become one himself. And when you stare for a long time into an abyss, the abyss stares back into you.” 4

There is a reactive state of mind that is a mental and spiritual decay to the dogmatist. Committing himself to a cause, the cause consumes a portion of his being and his time. He becomes a reaction to his mission. He is the antithesis to his opponent’s thesis. He anticipates the maneuverings of the thesis of which he is the opposing element; and in staring into that abyss of oppositions, he loses somewhat in his personal associations; but his associations lose nothing in consuming a portion of his life. Nevertheless, there is less of him. Because he takes first from the cause to give his life meaning, he runs a perpetual spiritual deficit. True change, Emerson seems to assert, can only come through the individual’s self-improvement and critical reflection. Only by these means does the individual offer something worth the investment of time and labor. Never to define himself by his opposition, he sought to surround himself with only those who had something unique to offer his mind, his enjoyments, and his whims.

Throughout the essay, Emerson attacks the notion that man has an inborn allegiance to other men as the default state of his existence. As the extension of his pursuit of the transcendental mode of living, Emerson urges us to spurn dead churches, other men’s morals, philanthropies, public charity, and the obligations of the State. To the individual, Zarathustra spoke a similar gospel:

Whoever has gained wisdom concerning ancient origins will eventually look for wells of the future and for new origins. O my brothers, it will not be overlong before new peoples originate and new wells roar down into new depths. For earthquakes bury many wells and leave many languishing, but they also bring to light inner powers and secrets. Earthquakes reveal new wells. In earthquakes that strike ancient peoples, new wells break open.

And whoever shouts, “Behold, a well for many who are thirsty, a heart for many who are longing, a will for many instruments”—around that man there will gather a people; that is: many triers.

Who can command, who must obey—that is tried out there. Alas, with what long trials and surmises and unpleasant surprises and learning and retrials!

Human society is a trial: thus I teach it—a long trial; and what it tries to find is the commander. A trial, O my brothers, and not a “contract.” Break, break this word of the softhearted and half-and-half.” 5

In Emerson we find mankind as he is; and in Emerson we discover a writer at peace with man’s place in the world. It is not mankind’s duty to reform the world into utopia by ordering about his fellow beings, to break into parties, to agitate for perfection, to demand higher perfection from outside influence so as to ennoble the individual spirit in the quest for a perfect society; rather, it is the charge of mankind to accept his place within the world, and within that world to discover himself as he is and to discover in that equilibrium with Nature the perfection of himself. In the debate between liberty and equality, he damns the equality as criminal, as a self-immolation or a self-sacrifice with no reward.

Liberty, now shown through the light of reason, is the essence of being and living in harmony with one’s knowledge of oneself. Liberty is the quest to seek the good and to risk injury to dogmatic tradition. It is a quest perhaps best summed up by Zarathustra’s gamble:

1. Brobjer, Thomas H. Nietzsche’s Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2008. 24-5. Print.
2. Fichte, J.G. [First] Introduction. In Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre and Other Writings (1797-1800). Ed. and translated by Daniel Breazeale. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994. Print. 21.
3. ibid., 17.
4. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Eds. Rolf-Peter Horstmann and Judith Norman. Transl. Judith Norman. London: Cambridge UP, 2002. 69. Print.
5. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Transl. Walter Kauffman. Penguin Classics, .
6. Ibid., .

Emerson’s “The Transcendentalist”:


In an essay entitled, “What is the Enlightenment?” (1784) Immanuel Kant declared his credo for the coming intellectual reforms of the Nineteenth Century, which he believed would mark a transition from stale religious and intellectual forms of rote custom and bureaucracy into a new kind of human consciousness. This new consciousness, secure in its method, assured of its theoretical grounding, was the culmination of the Aristotelian project in analytical philosophy: an Organon, or science of thinking, which would equip every user and proficient practitioner with the ability to process reality minus the varying creeds, illusions, lies, errors, and propaganda that seek the oppression, beguilement, and delusion of the human mind in order to secure compliance with established authority. In other words, Kant envisioned a new century governed by self-government and personal responsibility; a world that could transcend the norms of culture with the freedom of self-appointed philosophers found in anarchy:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”—that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction, nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age. If I have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay—others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. (1)

The Enlightenment, which proceeded somewhat chaotically throughout the late 1700s in Europe and America with varying degrees of success, and with varying degrees of commitment to the contending ideals of liberty and equality, unseated empires and created new hegemonies. It led to the Lockean reforms of the American continent and the dystopian, secularist, totalitarian Jacobins of the French Revolution, with the attendant collapses and reconstitution of the ancien regime throughout Europe. It is true that revolutions are messy, and are generally opportunist and populist in nature. The intellectuals who whip up agitation and radical change are rarely the same individuals who direct philosophical reform. For every Kant, Jefferson, Burke, and Thomas Paine, there is a Sam Adams—an opportunist, propagandist, and pedagogue who can whip up popular sentiment in order to effect violent change for good or ill.

Kant’s lasting philosophical achievement was the system of thought he put into action in The Critique of Pure Reason. By means of analytical philosophy and logical deduction, he set into place the certain grounds from which a philosophy might be justified by reason alone through several self-evident axioms. By this criticism, Kant tried to embody the systematic method of thought more so than a codified art of professional complaining. As Peter Gay wrote of the Enlightenment in his history of the era:

The Enlightenment, the Age of Philosophy was also, and mainly, the Age of Criticism. These two names did not merely designate allied activities: they were synonyms, “different expressions,” as Ernst Cassirer has said, “of the same situation, intended to characterize from diverse angles the fundamental intellectual energy which permeates the era and to which it owes its great trends of thought.” This energy was the drive for knowledge and control, a restless Faustian dissatisfaction with mere surfaces, or mere passivity. Its favorite instrument was analysis, its essential atmosphere freedom, its goal reality. For all their brave talk about their need to destroy the wild beasts of superstition, talk that soon gave rise to the charge that the Enlightenment was “merely negative,” the philosophes did not sharply separate their work into tearing down and building up.(2)

For Kant, his personal mission was to justify the rationalist foundations of philosophical investigation sketched out by Aristotle. He was by turns intrigued by the work of the English skeptics, John Locke and David Hume, and horrified by some of their negligences and the implications of their purely empirical philosophy. He very much saw himself as building up towards something secure and true after a great tearing-down had been attempted by the Empiricists. For the Empiricists, much like the modern materialists and atheists, the world consisted only of facts justified by observation and experience. Everything had to be tested. Logic itself, perhaps, was nothing but organized habit and custom—the outgrowth of culture and prejudice. And if Logic could be doubted—if there were no such thing as a “right” or a “self-evident” truth—then criticism was nothing but a constant griping with reality. There were no time-invariant truths; no apodeictic certainties; no laws that we could hold as a priori true regardless of the conditions of the environment in which an event takes place.

But with this Empirical dogma in place, a greater untruth now presented itself: If one could not perceive untrammeled truth, since one could not trust the veracity of one’s senses, then how could one justify the Empiricist’s dogma, which held that there was no time-invariant truth, since this dogma would require of the universe a single time-invariant truth; namely: “There is no time-invariant truth.” As Kant argued in his critique of Reason, one could not hold this truth as binding upon the human subject—the thinker as well as the object of the contemplation. Things are either true or they are not. They cannot be both. And in order to get sure grounds for his theory, Kant tackled the concepts of Space and Time. These, he argued, could not belong to empirical reality. They had to be properties of the mind; things in the mind, and not out there in the things-in-themselves that have traditionally been examined as the objects of “objective reality.” Two trees standing on a bank do not contain in themselves the properties of space; for space will be defined by the observer, by his frame of reference in space and time, and will not be found in objects themselves. There is no concept of space without an observer. Hence, one could deduce a truth that escaped space and time; and if one could deduce one truth, others should surely follow.

Kant did not set out to refute Empiricism, but to show that within Empirical reality, one can find synthetic a priori truths underneath the grounds of sensible information. For if one only accounts for what is observed and what is experienced (both passive-propositions), one has to query prior to the reception of information, what it is that observes and experiences as an active agency. Amongst all of our sensible experiences and observations, there is an intuitive apparatus of mind that, in the absence of which, there could be no experience and observation.

The influence of German Idealism on the American public, and particularly the Transcendentalists of Boston, was unique in its revelation there—as if in demonstration of a time-invariant theoretical truth’s subjective application in different environmental constraints. The first characteristic of American Transcendentalism was that it was fiercely individualistic and self-defining. By self-defining, I mean that the movement—like modern libertarianism—was a collection of people, and not some seamless aggregate of ideology with regard to its particulars. The label “Transcendental” was slapped upon the movement of letters, aesthetics, and latitudinarianism by its critics, who wished to classify it as a foreign and strange means of philosophizing. Because it was not attached to an aggregate movement or activism, it was charged with being lazy. Because it was not bound by empirical characteristics, but instead by a spirit of criticism, it was charged with being negative. Because it preached a kind of paganized Christian ethic, it was non-doctrinal and without a theological component. It was a spirit of Reform, and not an ethic of mere Conservatism. And like all individualistic philosophies without a centralizing principle, it was decried as solipsistic and esoteric. It was perfectly “German.”

More than anything, Transcendentalism demarcated a particular kind of libertarian individualism that did not bind the group to participation in a social rite or promote any kind of activism in and of itself. It was open to suggestion, and Henry David Thoreau, with others, did push towards civil disobedience with regard to national laws if slavery were justified by that national legislature (even in some untenable compromise). The Transcendentalists were seeking something above even the old forms and usages of social contracts, compacts, typical nationalistic traditions and factionalism. They held themselves to a higher ethic than the Constitution. They had no spiritual book to bind their thoughts. Theirs was a kind of declaration of independence in the spirit, in the constant revolution that is required to maintain and nourish a spiritual people in perpetual revolution. It was one of the first truly anarchic expressions of high culture on the American continent, which was not apologetic for its audacity to think for itself and care nothing for the pedagogy of the herd.

Emerson saw an inherent link between the stale traditions of the Congregationalist church establishment, the Calvinist majority of Massachusetts, and the philosophy of Locke. Both, Emerson believed, were limitary in scope; they promoted, in their disparate determinisms, the excesses of materialism and predestination. Locke’s contention that the mind was unable to perceive sensible truth, being always under the bombardment of new information, was deterministic in the sense that it reduced the human spirit (be it mind or matter, or some combination) to outside influence drawn from the past only, entirely without prior capacity to reason. There was something disturbingly similar in the Congregationalist’s contention that humans cannot perceive sensible or logical truths in a universe foreordained by God, but only divine truths in scripture and tradition. For someone with a restive spirit, like Emerson himself, Kant was a bulwark against these crass determinisms. For though, in German Idealism, one accepted the basic reality of Empiricism, one situated within that world of sensible information the Aristotelian Organon, the logical apparatus of mind, which could know the form of knowledge and rational argumentation apodeictically, with absolute and unquestionable certainty, yet without knowing the sure path to the good life or to the salvation of the spirit, or even the objective of objective reality. It was an experimental mindset; the perfect market mechanism; the present-tense active power of man without a doctrine to bind it wholly and completely. Its motto was the motto of the Enlightenment: Sapere aude.

By and large, what Transcendentalism promoted was the active spirit of man, his active power, his ability to reason to certainty and self-reliant, self-evident truths, over and against inherited wisdom. Life became a grand experiment, which, in contradistinction to the old governmental and hegemonic world orders, was now directed at controlling only oneself and making change as an individual—rather than as a mob. This was always most apparent in Emerson’s critique of religious conservatism; for he sought something more in line with the Quaker’s self-definition and the spiritual quests of the New Lights; of Unitarian non-denominationalism. He sincerely and honestly believed in a unity of values in disparate, diverse cultures. He sought wisdom across cultural, national, and racial lines. And while one could make the case that certain constraints upon human action are prized by all cultures (proscriptions of murder and theft within that culture, even though the culture makes allowances for murder of and theft from the representatives of another culture), and that there might be something like a rational ethic for human interaction and exchange (property rights, self-ownership, and keeping one’s word: life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness), it tended at times towards extremes of constructivist rationalism and universalism. If it had an element of social justice, however, it was the benign reform of the individual, and not faction. Still, it was a movement of voluntarism at root, with no central impetus to coercive state policy. It was the ultimate secession from custom and culture by those who trusted most to the power of reason: the individualists. The prototypical American Anarchists who evolved into the continent’s first intellectual libertarians; the unapologetic, non-nationalistic, non-identitarian liberals, who without a centralizing dogma pursued the agorist lifestyle in actual practice. These were those who could see beyond party, faction, positive law, traditional practice, materialist determinism, religious establishment, and clerical dogma.

Last week, we explored Emerson’s essay, “The Conservative,” which is an exploration of the tension between sensible culture and anarchic reason; between old usage and new discovery; between social justice and individualism; between egalitarianism and self-determination; between historic impressions and the spirit of innovation. In “The Transcendentalist,” Emerson gives life to the new generation of individualists who abandoned the lifeless chrysalides of historical limitation to live the life of the transcendental aesthetic; the criticism that dares to know, without fear of retribution; that even in a world of heartache and disappointment, did not fear to fashion new life in enterprises of great pith and moment, though the world might never heap praise upon the individualists in a world fought over by tyrants, factions, and sycophants. In Emerson we see true intellect; and though German Idealism has somewhat lost its shine, we can still capture its essence. It is an essay upon human existence and self-knowledge, entirely without an editor or a footnote, with no references, bylines, publishers, or subscribers. It has no bibliography; no citations; no Works Cited page. In Emerson we see the mind that dares to know, to make mistakes, to reflect, and to live. It is the credo of the autodidact; the antithesis to the modern-day scholar—the ostrich that today buries its head in statistics and seeks to bind the sprinters to the herd. In Emerson’s essay we can, for a moment, recover our legacy of anarchism and ideals, to live without master, and meet him, if we dare, as peers, and not mere paupers.

(1) Kant, Immanuel. “What is Enlightenment?” In The Portable Enlightenment Reader. Ed. Isaac Kramnick. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.
(2) Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1966. Print.

Emerson’s “The Conservative”:


In his critique of social justice, the economist Thomas Sowell summed up his views regarding the current millennium’s drive for socialism in rather prescient form:

The only clear-cut winners in the quest for cosmic justice are those who believe in the vision it projects—a vision in which those believers are so morally and/or intellectually superior to others that their own relentless pursuit of this vision is seen as all that offers some modicum of hope to those who would otherwise be victims of the lesser people who make up the rest of society. It is a very self-flattering vision—and hence one not easily given up. Evidence to the contrary is not only likely to be dismissed, but is often blamed on the malevolence or dishonesty of those who present such evidence. (Sowell 43)

The principles of Cosmic Justice–justice transcending the common law and the treatment of social disorder on a case-by-case basis (rather than one-size-taxes-all regulation), using reason and evidence to decide “what we can do…and at what cost”, or what we should “do collectively about them—and how much…we [should] leave up to individuals themselves”–those principles tend to codify themselves into moral and ethical dogmas that make appeals to extra-evidentiary and superhuman means of understanding in order to achieve the ultimate end proposed, and generally through some unjustifiable means. The end is universal equality, independent of natural constraints and human agency; the eradication of sickness, poverty, and crime, as if these could all be achieved through common means by diagnosing a common cause. The means is generally a monopoly cartel in the hands of government agents, funded by force and fraud, bolstered by coercion, paid through taxation in a fiat paper currency. Even though we do not know the means to achieving pure and universal equality outside of punishing aggressors and fraudsters on a case-by-case basis, or by treating medicine on a case-by-case basis, producing solutions through voluntary trade on a case-by-case basis, it is taken for granted by the cosmic justice warrior that only by seeking the forceful equalization of values and materials can we come to knowledge of how to banish the bugbear of universal inequality from the mortal plane.

As the Republican congress right now debates the proper means of “fixing” Obamacare and the corporatist cartel that it created, which has by now devolved into a monopoly of insurance firms in five states and over 32% of counties the country over, we hear the rumblings of cosmic outrage from the political Left over a non-repeal of a monopoly-creating cartel that the political Right will likely not oppose in substantive form in passage of the American Healthcare Act. The moral courage to repeal immoral, coercive, and destructive legislation is trumped by the moralizing cowardice of relativism required to replace it with another immoral, coercive, and destructive piece of legislation.

What is amazing is that, unlike the revolutionary and outright murderous form of socialism that came to power in Russia to depose a decrepit monarchy, America has drifted towards socialism because of moral cowardice. Those who would oppose force and coercion against private property on point of principle are most apt to buckle to the Left’s outrage and rhetoric when push comes to shove, and generally out of a lack of moral principle; and, even then, primarily out of a bastardized Christian moralism.

There is no room in a vision of Cosmic Justice for the superiority of yet-unknown and indirect means to achieving individual ends. When we oppose socialistic plans with “faith” in the Market process, we are actually not supporting something justified by “faith” at all. We are casting aside the moral panic of faith-based social policy in search of actual, measurable evidence. The Market is, in its scope and process, the scientific method writ large. We do not vote on science; we do not vote on solutions to medical ailments. We do not vote for economic prosperity, upon the best design for a cellphone and the means of production utilized to forward the Market’s productions.

The Market is a method of trial-and-error, production through different means to discover the most efficient, though not necessarily meritorious, means to human flourishing. It seems immoral to the scion of Cosmic Justice that what we cannot achieve by direct apperception we may come to discover by a circuit. We increase the wealth of Society not by pursuing wealth equality and the reduction of wealth inequality, but by preserving individual freedom. We increase individual liberty not by tinkering with coercions and aggressions against private property, but by abolition. And it is in that anarchy of production, the absence of a “faith” in some vague social process and a preference for tangible, verifiable and profitable results, that we find the real causes of human flourishing.

The very notion that something that we do not know—something systemic, extended, and unguided—should be as much a part of our knowledge as that which is current and present in a policy proposal with a plan for tax-funding can be a little frightening to the economic illiterates. They want a proposal. They want something whose means they understand. They want a detailed, bulletined, PowerPoint presentation that they can follow through a handful of detailed steps with grand intentions. The extended order of the Market, because it is not comprehended by some government abstraction, escapes their understanding.

In religion, it is the mystic’s experience and perception of a larger order in existence which attains to truth not by direct means, but by indirect means, which tends to strike the faithful with wonder. Mysticism always lies at the core of religious belief, for it dispenses with evidentiary support and urges upon the credentes a necessary and inexplicable truth with only a couple of guidelines whose fulfillment will bear an individual into the mysteries of the incomprehensible utopia.

Wherever we perceive undirected order in anarchy, in the actually-existent and actually-sustainable marketplace of competition and evidence-based, profit-seeking enterprise, we perceive the scientific method. Where we perceive order in government plans that socialize industry, we are actually staring at the mysticism of cult religion.

Be Market Anarchy in the sum totality of nature, in the ability of causes to produce effects, or the ability of humans to calculate rationally based on market prices to produce goods that no single mind in the entire universe is capable of grasping—that sense of extended order is vital to the human experience and the development of high culture. We nevertheless must be on our guard whenever we cling to reason and evidence, for we have heard similar appeals to unseen and incomprehensible orders from theists and sophists throughout history.

Reason and evidence are what guide us in daily operation because human knowledge is reason-based and evidence-based. Hence, that something undirected and unguided—even something like Evolution or the progression of causes in the Cosmos—should solve problems for human knowledge better than human-imposed orders, is perplexing until grasped. What looks mystical is actually scientific. What appears mysterious is actually comprehensible as a process. Just as understanding the scientific method does not immediately render unto the senses the sum totality of nature or definite knowledge of what Science will eventually teach us, the Market method is comprehensible as a process, even though it does not immediately render unto the sense the sum totality of human potential or definite knowledge of what the Market will eventually produce. What we discover in something like the Market Order, or catallactic exchange (that is, voluntary exchange that turns enemies into friends by win-win negotiations), is a morality that selects the human species and the infima species homo agens as much as humans select their morals and thus exert a pressure upon the process of Evolution. The correct morals can preserve the human species by curbing human action; and the wrong morals can doom that line of genes and sexual predilections to extinction.

In his introduction to Hayek’s Constitution of Liberty, Ronald Hamowy captures this regressive mystical underpinning of Social Justice and the government method, which hearkens back to the mysteries of the Old Testament:

Social justice implies nothing less than that the government be given plenary powers to control the distribution of all wealth, of all that is good in society. Rather than providing the same circumstances for all, the state “should aim at controlling all conditions relevant to a particular individual’s propsects as everybody else.” Previously it had been a central element of our understanding of justice that only those responsible for a particular outcome should be held to account. “Social justice,” on the other hand, hodls that the whole group of which the victim is a member should be recompensed, while the group to which the perpetrator belongs should all be equally penalized. This is a particularly pernicious aspect of current views of justice, that it can as easily be accomplished should rewards and punishments be visited on collectives as on individuals. This constitutes a reversion to the most primitive aspects of the Old Testament, prior to the indtroduction of the idea of personal responsibility, in which the sins of certain individuals issued in punishment of the whole community. It is the antithesis of the idea of justice based on a theory of individual rights that holds that only those responsible for a wrong should be held to account. Doubtless that is why the idea of punishing hostages is so abhorrent to our sense of fairness and equity and why we have traditionally regarded personal innocence as an absolute bar to punishment. (Hamowy 15)

In the particular woe with which we are now confronted in America, natural consequence is now attributed to personal merit and human iniquity, and humans are judged by genetics and evolution instead of by human actions. We have regressed further than many critics believe. We have regressed beyond the collective punishments and collective rewards of the ancient Jews, moving onwards towards an animistic and polytheistic conception of judgment which attributes to human iniquity the various effects of genes, ailments, environmental constraints, and the disharmony of the spheres.

There is a charm in the social justice warrior’s manner of thinking that only appears to be comprehensible—a trend of thinking that Friedrich A. Hayek called “constructivist rationalism.” The idea is that market institutions, government institutions, languages, logic, common laws and Positive Laws, economic principles, customs, habits, religions, morals, and ethics are only an extension of what the individual mind imprints upon reality by proposing means for ends. Intentions matter more than results. Intentions matter more than hypotheses and the manipulation of variables. Intentions are the only justifiable constants. Manipulating variables must fall into line with the overweening moralism of the masses, even where less desirable means with better effects achieve a better end for all who are desirous of what will eventually be produced.

While it is true that epistemology does refer back to individuals of the infima species, and that this epistemology is rationalist at its root, —being bound by a mind/body schism, —it is by no means clear that we construct the world around us from out of nothing whole cloth. There are necessary constraints upon our desires: we do not have infinite desire, infinite demand, and infinite abilities. It is not only true that humans use means to attain ends in space and time—this fact is, in truth, tautologous and axiomatic. Humans cannot act in no-space and no-time, and abstention from action is itself a form of rational action. However, the certainty of our economic theory of human action is separate from the institutions that result from human actions. Not all habits, morals, customs, languages, and institutions are willed into existence as the manifest outcome of specific human values for the aggregate outcomes of what is willed in the particular.

The idea that humans pursue the relief of felt uneasiness through the available scarce means with alternative uses—that idea is not consignificant with the idea of latter-day John Stuart Mills and Bertrand Russells regarding the denotation of “liberty.” For Bertrand Russell or Mill, the notion of liberty was tied to an absence of impediment in motion; and for Russell in particular, the notion of liberty was tied to an absence of restriction upon human desires. The impediments to motion and desire had to be managed through exemplary laws, noble intentions, and shared objectives in the collective. But what was particularly unscientific about Russell’s vision of a socialistic utopia is that not all constraints upon human desires and motion are exerted by other acting men and women. Society is usually poorly-defined in constructivist rationalist visions of utopia, and “Society” means something like “all of us” instead of something more constrained and definite. Society must grok these constructivist ideals into existence in the aggregate, and not in the particular. “We” (which only ever includes the “we” that agrees with us, and never the “we” that disagrees with us) thus embodies the inherent likeness between social justice campaigning and the democratic mindset—an imposed order of means and ends, definite policies and shared objectives, where the objective is always assumed as “shared” by the fact of some particular group’s existence in the diverse democracy.

From this small disagreement in means arises the fundamental difference between Left and Right in human interactions and exchanges. This is the difference between mysticism and science; between the mystically-oriented conservative who seeks for noble intentions in the cosmos, damning evidence, and the reliability of results and the dependence upon evidence championed by the reformer. The present-day Left-Right binary in America is skewed, for the reformer and conservative have polarized themselves into feuding strains of conservatism in secular and religious society. The reforming spirit of the scientific method has practically been marginalized only to the fringes of political thought amongst the libertarians, who have—by and large—abandoned political solutions to human problems, perhaps wisely or perhaps unwisely. The Left is religiously motivated by mystical doctrines of anti-economic illogic, codified into an ethical system, with a distaste for religious doctrines of illogic; and the Right is motivated by mystical doctrines of religious moralism, yet with a substrate of bastardized Christian moralism of the collective (and not personal morality) that overrides their understanding of economic logic and their understanding that Nature is not legislated by morality. Thus, even when the political Right promises to repeal a plan for socialized medicine to encourage personal responsibility and personal morality on the individual plane, —even the morality of charity and kindness, —moral cowardice and cosmic justice overrides that foundational principle of Society and enshrines the drive for socialism and collective punishments and rewards.

Left or Right—the destination is the same. Even so, there is a cultural difference in the vision of humanity that either side espouses. This is why logical consistency is found only in libertarian philosophy, and this is why either side’s divergence from that path marks the particular fork in the road where an individual’s preconceptions (without evidentiary support) run towards moralism instead of moral rectitude. There is always a danger to libertarianism that attends humanity’s progress down the libertarian path. The understanding that collective rewards and punishments should be overthrown for personal responsibility must be counterbalanced by a sense of personal responsibility if one is not to lose one’s very essence, intellect, or soul in the anarchy that results. Postmodernism and libertinism often find their breeding ground somewhere on the path to liberty. By abandoning a common substrate of violence and coercion with the repeal of legislation as a substitute for personal judgments, moralism, excess, cultural decline, and relativism appear upon the scene to attack the core of personal morality and to weaken the spirit of libertarianism as it proceeds down the path of liberty. One’s personal judgments of morality become the rule of social interaction, and culture exerts itself within anarchy to define the space of social engagement. This new basis for human exchange and cooperation strikes the relativists as intolerant and close-minded.

The moral lessons of old have a twofold meaning. In Matthew 7:1, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ issues a moral commandment: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” This moral commandment has often been interpreted as a moral absolute; but as such, it is a moral absolute more often utilized to justify moral relativism than moral uprightness. If one makes no judgments, one raises no standards. And if one raises no standards by which to judge, then there is, indeed, very little by which to judge. While this commandment has entered popular culture to reinforce moral relativism in postmodern society, what is often ignored is the follow-up injunction: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” What we actually see in this moral precept is the recognition that if you judge, you should hold yourself to the standard by which you judge others. Others will hold you to that standard, as a rule. While the path to liberty provides us a legal framework for punishments and rewards for violations and respect of property rights, the path is not a guide to moral absolutes or the triumph of merit. The spirit of reform carries with it the trial of rectitude. One must live by principles or else let principles be dissolved into a relativist abyss. The subjectivity of value and meaning, which are aspects of human nature and human understanding, in no way concedes the postmodern proposition that there is a subjectivity to reality as such.

The difference between the vision of Cosmic Justice and the vision of personal morality (never mind the “common law”) is that if one abandons the cosmic pursuit for a perfect system of rewards and punishments, one does not abandon a personal system for rewards and punishments. The means to fashioning a world of morality becomes particular, rather than universal. It becomes private, rather than public. The instinct to seek perfection is in the liberty to seek perfection, and not in some universal and singular end for all moral actors.

In a pair of essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson captured the spirit of Culture, or Conservatism, and the spirit of Anarchy in transcendental existence. He captured the spirit of the debate that Carl Menger and Ludwig von Mises would extend into the order of economic theory and economic history; the difference between actions performed and the structure of action itself. No individual ever inhabits a single axis on the plane of time. The axis of the present transcendental existence is the same axis from which we may learn lessons from the axis of history. And from our personal axis of history, we deduce the necessary truths of transcendental existence in the present.

Over the next two weeks, we will be featuring these essays and reinterpreting them in the light of Hayek’s insights into spontaneous order and culture. While we find ourselves embroiled in a bitter culture war in the present, it is helpful to remember that this war is as old as mankind, and it has found its expression in more insightful and more productive form than anywhere else at present. The dialogue between Culture and Anarchy, between History and Theory, Conservativism and Reform, is an intergenerational dialogue that only gets repeated. It is never quashed, silenced, or resolved. The tension is between individual liberty and the universal quest for equality. Civilization rises and falls based upon the questions that attend these concepts; and while we are apt to believe that one will win out eventually, this is the experiment that has no end. It has no final solution. This is a debate that surrounds economics, genetics, IQ, race, politics, and war. There is no graduation from this test, for the test is the test of the individual spirit, and not the collective conscious. The revolution of ideas is not backwards-pointing vector in time, but a forward-progressing ray. And while the American experiment was the most audacious attempt to seek a rapprochement or armistice between the warring factions of Culture and Anarchy, it is an experiment that I fear is approaching its final end in the triumph of socialistic conservatism and economic mysticism, which marks the end of the Market’s scientific investigations into human flourishing. The wild crab of conservatism marches on, murdering the spirit of effective reform in Market Anarchy. The Old Gods rise again to prominence, hovering over an age of barnacles and cockleshells, fashioning the tired productions of past ages with the indefatigable industry of patience and ignorance by turns.

I am pessimistic about the short-run prospects for individual liberty, but I tend towards a long-run optimism. An inevitable collapse attends economic conservatism and anti-scientific mysticism, for Nature is not constrained by human intentions. Nature has no goals, and it cares nothing for the stale productions of the Old Gods. When tested by trial, Nature emerges the victor. Economic law trumps legislation. The truths about human nature are in absolute process, and not in changeable intentions.

1 Sowell, Thomas. The Quest for Cosmic Justice. New York: The Free Press, 1999. P. 43. Print.
2 Ibid.
3 Hamowy, Ronald. “Introductory Essay.” In The Constitution of Liberty by F.A. Hayek. Ed. Ronald Hamowy. From The Collected Works of F.A. Hayek, vol. 1. Ed. W.W. Bartley III and Bruce Caldwell. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011. P. 15. Print.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Frank Bridge’s Lament and “A man adrift on a slim spar….”

A man adrift on a slim spar
A horizon smaller than the rim of a bottle
Tented waves rearing lashing dark points
The near whine of froth in circles.
God is cold.

Thus begins another nameless poem by Crane, which was only ever published approximately thirty years after his death.

The poem is perhaps best understood as describing Crane’s near-death experience aboard the Open Boat. While trying to make it to safety, the men aboard the lifeboat suffered a secondary catastrophe when waves overturned the lifeboat and the survivors struggled to float to shore, one man drowning in the process, clinging to the raft for dear life. The poem gives us the vision of a man in cold waters, deep in the night, drifting sightlessly into the distance amidst the silent and cold waters, succumbing to the elements at last. He disappears under the waters with a puff of his coat, as the air trapped under it balloons outwards and bubbles to the surface.

The same haunting vision of a solitary figure succumbing to the waves undergirded the haunting Lament (for Catherine, aged 9 “Lusitania” 1915) for string orchestra written by the English composer Frank Bridge. He wrote the Lament upon news that a family friend’s 9 year-old daughter had drowned in the wreckage after a German U-Boat sank the English cruise liner, which (unbeknownst to the passengers) was actually running armaments from America to England through a German submarine blockade. 128 Americans died in the sinking of the ship, many of them jumping overboard as the boat quickly plunged into the deeps. Investigations into the wreckage of the Lusitania revealed that the ship was carrying 750 tons of artillery and 1250 cases of shells, and it is suspected by some explorations of the wreckage off the coast of Ireland that the Lusitania’s unusually quick sinking was caused by a secondary explosion when the impact of the German torpedo ignited the munitions that the ship was carrying to England through the blockade. Bridge’s Lament (to which I have set the remainder of this podcast) is even more haunting when played upon the piano, and it recalls us to a conspiracy upon the high seas that set the stage for America’s late entry into World War I—one of the most futile and foreboding wars in human history, since the vindictive armistice signed with Germany, which thrust the West’s war debts upon the hapless enemy, set the stage for Germany’s woes, discontent, and eventual revolution under a nationalist socialist dictator amidst a currency crisis and unmanageable debts.

It was shortly after the Spanish-American war in February of 1900 that a twenty-six year-old Winston Churchill found himself introduced by none other than Mark Twain before Churchill was set to deliver a speech about his recent adventures as a journalist during the Boer War in South Africa, which was delivered at eth Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. The tireless old white-haired author, now 65 years-old, had been making the rounds as a public speaker to supplement his income in his later years in a lifelong struggle to pay his debts in full, simultaneously promulgating the cause of the Anti-Imperial League in the aftermath of the Philippine-American War.

Twain said of Churchill, pulling no punches, but with self-effacing humor (herewith abridged):

Mr. Churchill and I do not agree on the righteousness of the South African war…
For years I have been a self-appointed missionary, and have wrought zealously for my cause–the joining together of America and the motherland in bonds of friendship, esteem and affection–an alliance of the heart which should permanently and beneficently influence the political relations of the two countries. Wherever I have stood before a gathering of Americans or Englishmen, in England, India, Australia or elsewhere, I have urged my mission, and warmed it up with compliments to both countries and pointed out how nearly alike the two peoples are in character and spirit. They ought to be united…….yet I think England sinned in getting into a war in South Africa which she could have avoided without loss of credit or dignity–just as I think we have sinned in crowding ourselves into a war in the Philippines on the same terms.

Mr. Churchill will tell you about the war in South Africa, and he is competent–he fought and wrote through it himself. And he made a record there which would be a proud one for a man twice his age. By his father he is English, by his mother he is American–to my mind the blend which makes the perfect man. We are now on the friendliest terms with England. Mainly through my missionary efforts I suppose; and I am glad. We have always been kin: kin in blood, kin in religion, kin in representative government, kin in ideals, kin in just and lofty purposes; and now we are kin in sin, the harmony is complete, the blend is perfect, like Mr. Churchill himself, whom I now have the honor to present to you. 1

America had become “kin in sin” in its imperial endeavors, and Twain was right to treat the notion with contempt and ridicule in his characteristically disarming and gregarious way. Little could he know how that kinship in sin would affect his country 5 years after his death, where an older and savvier Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, would play with human lives at sea as if they were no different than the figurines upon his war room’s planning board.

The Lusitania was a British liner with regular passage between Liverpool and New York; the kind of ship that civilians did not question before boarding and heading into the jaws of a German U-Boat blockade in time of war because the ship was so powerful and fast that the U-Boats would have a hard time tracking it and pinning it down. The ship was a passenger liner, but as G. Edward Griffin points out, the ship was registered in the Admiralty fleet register as an armed auxiliary cruiser, its construction having been “specifically…drawn up by the British Admiralty so that she could be converted, if necessary, into a ship of war.” 2

Churchill had already issued orders for merchant ships to charge German U-boats and ram the submarines in order to destroy them—a kind of kamikaze Crazy Ivan maneuver that would discourage U-Boats from surfacing lest they be split in half by reinforced cruiser hulls. As a result, Germany waived its usual obeisance to the Cruiser Rules, which generally demanded that a ship in wartime would warn a civilian cruiser to take to the lifeboats before sinking the vessel in order to spare needless casualties. Furthermore, English merchant ships were advised to fly foreign flags, especially of neutral powers. As Churchill later spoke of his naval strategy:

The first British countermove, made on my responsibility,…was to deter the Germans from surface attack. The submerged U-boat had to rely increasingly on underwater attack and thus ran the greater risk of mistaking neutral for British ships and of drowning neutral crews and thus embroiling Germany with other Great Powers. 3

While many have lauded Churchill as a strategist, the story has more of the ring of conspiracy than savvy statesmanship. It was not unknown that the Lusitania had often carried arms of war between America and England. One German newspaperman, George Viereck, even submitted ads on behalf of the German embassy in the newspapers and warned the State Department that Germany would consider the Lusitania to be an arms-carrying vessel, and thus fair game for targeting. The ads were not printed, much to Viereck’s concern. Something seemed amiss, so he contacted the State Department to find out why they had not been printed, given that American lives were at risk.

Meanwhile, Churchill oversaw his end of the engagement:

When the Lusitania left New York Harbor on May 1, her orders were to rendezovous with a British destroyer, the Juno, just off the coast of Ireland so she would have naval protection as she entered hostile waters. When the Lusitania reached the rendezvous point, however, she was alone, and the captain assumed they had missed each other in the fog. In truth, the Juno had been called out of the area at the last minute and ordered to return to Queenstown. And this was done with the full knowledge that the Lusitania was on a direct course into an area where a German submarine was known to be operating. To make matters worse, the Lusitania had been ordered to cut back on the use of coal, not because of shortages, but because it would be less expensive. Slow targets, of course, are much easier to hit. Yet, she was required to shut down one of her four boilers and, consequently, was now entering submarine-infested waters at only 75% of her potential speed. 4

In essence, the Lusitania, carrying munitions for the British troops, was chugging at 75% of her speed towards a rendezvous in dangerous waters where it was known that a particular U-Boat, U-20, was cruising for targets, where the British Admiralty had already recalled the escort without informing the Lusitania’s captain.

The first torpedo struck the starboard side of the Lusitania, and a second explosion blew off the side of cargo hold number two. The ship sank below the surface in less that eighteen minutes. Panicked civilians dove over the side, having virtually no time to board the lifeboats in the ensuing chaos.

A level-headed William Jennings Bryan tried his best, as Secretary of State, to quiet the immediate calls for war when America learned that the Germans had killed 128 American passengers aboard the Lusitania.

Hitchens, latching onto disinformation spread by British Intelligence’s Room Forty, aptly summarizes the English reaction:

As with the Maine, the evidence of the cause of the disaster had to be rearranged. The Lusitania had broken up and sunk in an extremely short time, after being hit by only one torpedo. It therefore had to be found that more than one torpedo had struck her…It had then to be denied that the Lusitania was carrying any munitions of war. The denial was made repeatedly and strenuously by every organ of the British government. In fact, unknown to the civilians who had book passage on her, the ship had been carrying 1,248 cases of shells, six million rounds of ammunition, and eighteen cases of percussions fuses. These were part of J.P. Morgan’s contribution to the Western Front, financed discreetly by Morgan Grenfell. 5

It appears, after the passage of nearly 100 years as more documents become available to us, that Churchill conspired—or at least conspired to increase the likelihood—of an attack on the Lusitania. It was an attack not only upon a British cruise liner, but also an attack upon American civilians ignorant of the arms trading, and upon J.P. Morgan’s war supplies—one of the key movers in the establishment of the Federal Reserve (the 2nd plank of the Communist Manifesto) and the godfather of our military industrial complex, by which wealthy financiers make obscene profits in the funding of wars by indebting nations to private traders.

William Jennings Bryan reasoned with his President and the nation as a whole: “Why be so shocked at the drowning of a few people if there is to be no objection to starving a nation?” Britain’s naval blockade—as estimated by the German Board of Public Health—led to the starvation of over 763,000 civilians by 1918, although later studies have reduced that number by half. Still, Bryan was perhaps wiser in evaluating, with dispassionate calculation, the reciprocal horrors of war on both sides, where moral superiority was not to be found. And, indeed, had he known—and perhaps he did know—that the Lusitania was carrying a wealthy war financier’s contributions to the arms supply train, Britain and J.P. Morgan earned their share of a secondary blame in the damned, dirty affair. When Wilson ramped up the pursuit of war, Bryan resigned his position as Secretary of State in disgust out of personal conflict. With wisdom (though not typically the wisest of men) he predicted that, “It is not likely that either side will win so complete a victory as to be able to dictate terms, and if either side does win such a victory it will probably mean preparation for another war.

How true his foresight proved.

We end our readings today with Stephen Crane’s poem “The Battle Hymn,” where we see a kind of foreboding of the Twentieth Century; a nation, crying out for war; an empire guided by destiny, where the “seas shall not bar us; / The capped mountains shall not hold us back / We shall sweep and swarm through jungle and pool” Crane returns twice to a vision of the two-faced Eagle, an America looking forward towards its founding principles and backward to the inevitability of Empire—crushing decline and cultural destructionism. And we see new victims, slain soldiers, unmanacled slaves, and savages lying dead and pale as equals beneath the fields of smoking cane, listening to the chanting of a grammatical anomaly—a distingrate; a nation in disintegration, the forward-looking face of the eagle falling out of focus, as the eagle looking back towards the era of empire comes into full focus, emerging out of the smoke choking the native and foreign dead.

A people rebuked, accursed,
By him of the many lungs
And by him of the bruised weary war-drum

1. Twain, Mark.

2. Griffin, G. Edward. The Creature from Jekyll Island: 5th ed. 247.

3. ibid., 249.

4. ibid.

5. Hitchens, Christopher. Blood, Class, and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship. Nation Books: New York, 2004. 189.

Dona Nobis Pacem: Stephen Crane’s War Is Kind

–Introduction to 7 October 2016 Podcast–

This week we continue our exploration of war poetry en route to the November elections as a kind of active debamboozling of the individual mind away from our barbaric and apish instincts to conquer and coerce (mislabeled as flag-waving “patriotism”) and towards a recognition of our common humanity and our distinct American ideals—the legacy of non-intervention in foreign affairs.

Where large democratic societies exist, the word “conspiracy” has a half-life of about forty years before “conspiracy” destructs, evidence is revealed, secrets are leaked, official stories implode, responsible parties die off, documents are declassified, and conspiracy transitions into “historical truth.” Though not a conspiracy theorist, I am a full-on skeptic where it concerns government reporting and intelligence releases. One has no other choice under an imperial regime, shifting by turns between fascism and socialism, than to adopt such a stance when faced with citations from the press departments of the “Leaders of the Free World.” Government reports are ad hockeries intended for pacification of the masses in times of turmoil, which buys the State time to engineer new stories. These reports are not evidence of thorough investigations aiming at truth and revelation, since there are people to protect, jobs to secure, records to redact, and secrets to secret away in State Department vaults.

I am reminded of other historical conspiracies later revealed as historical truths by the recent declassification of the 28 pages from the original 9/11 intelligence reports, which were finally revealed after much protest by libertarians on 15 July 2016. In these recently released 28 pages, we discovered the depth of Saudi Arabia’s complicity in funding and abetting the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, tying the terrorists directly to Saudi intelligence and the royal family—chief American allies in the Middle East and the War on Terror, irony of all ironies. Disinformation, peddled with blatant misinformation in the fog of war, has led us into a willful destruction of the Middle East first under the Bushes, and secondly—as we now know, in large part thanks to intelligence defectors now libeled as traitors (viz. Wikileaks)—under the bloody reign of terror prosecuted by Obama and his bloodthirsty Secretary of State, who unleashed chaos in Libya and Syria, and peddled arms to the most significant forces of terrorism now plaguing the free and unfree worlds.

I begin today’s podcast in this strange, roundabout way, since the age of American interventionism in foreign affairs was born shrouded in conspiracy; and the same format for intervention, centered upon sinking ships and tangled foreign alliances, repeats as a refrain throughout the Twentieth Century. And in order to understand today’s readings from Stephen Crane’s War Is Kind, we must first understand something of the backdrop in which it appeared.

In 1896, America had just recently emerged from a fiery presidential election between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan, which was an election centered primarily upon monetary policy—a concept foreign to our post-Nixonian era where we no longer think in coins and metals, but in fiat paper currencies and government debts . Throughout that turbulent election, the Cuban revolution was in full sway between Cuban revolutionaries looking for independence from colonial rule and their imperial Spanish overlords. There were telling rumors of discontent with America’s longstanding policy of neutrality and independence from interventionist foreign wars rumbling throughout the country. Many Americans had business investments in Cuba, and on both sides of the rebellion; and these interests manifested in discordant pleas for intervention on behalf of the poor revolutionaries or restraint from intervention in order to protect the Spanish system that previously existed in Cuba. The plea was for military might to stir up the market or pacify the rebellion in order to do what free trade could not do by abstention from aggression and coercion.

Amidst the conflicts, the Cubans were looking for a way to capitalize upon America’s inherent sympathy for the “little guy” and they sought a means to cause American investors in Cuban trade to pressure the government into siding with the Cuban revolutionaries. After McKinley defeated Bryan, and the republican (and originally non-interventionist) McKinley assumed office, popular agitation for the Spanish-American War kicked into full gear. McKinley remained dedicated to a non-interventionist stance for a good while, even as the progressive cry for war arose as a political power within his own administration with the likes of the irascible Teddy Roosevelt, who was at the time the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Then the perfect excuse for intervention was provided as a reaction to the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor off the coast of Cuba on 15 February 1898.

Irresponsible and hawkish agents in the press spread wild speculation that the ever-villainous Spanish Catholics had torpedoed the USS Maine, despite the fact that Spain had no reason whatsoever to tempt America into joining the conflict between the empire and its rebels. If anything, nothing would so have upset Spain’s attempt to liberalize its imperial stance than third-party intervention. However, this was the high age of the yellow press; a populist press given to wild speculation, irresponsible headlines, and shoddy fact-gathering. This was a press that was a direct forebear to our contemporary national cable media and cheap online purveyors of clickbait under scare-mongering, sensationalized headlines. Nothing has ever been so profitable for the Press as a good war; and newspapermen were champing at the bit to send America off to Cuba for its first primetime imperial action. The yellow press was a press that was not, perhaps, far outside the norm of local American news making, except that the sensationalism and pettiness characteristic of local newspapers was now internationalized, now spurred onward by imperial hopes, and now burned fiery hot for some great war to break the peace of the times and to scatter the world’s tyrants with entry of a new Jacobinical order. The information war waged most violently between William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, both of which were committed to intervention abroad and direct confrontation with the decrepit Spanish empire.

Political parties, and particularly the Democrats, switched quickly into military mode as a reaction to the alleged attack upon its naval vessel, and most especially after an American investigation into the ship’s sinking contradicted a Spanish report faulting an internal explosion and found that the explosion had come from without the ship, probably from a mine. Conspiracy theories abound upon this subject and studied, scientific investigations differ in attributing causation even to this day. The anticapitalistic and anti-economic Cuban counterrevolutionaries in 1961 tore down parts of the official monument to the USS Maine in Havana during their regression into socialistic serfdom, and added the following inscription to fuel to the conspiracies of the Marxist conquistadors: “To the victims of the Maine who were sacrificed by the imperialist voracity and their desire to gain control of the island of Cuba.” According to Castro’s devoted bowdlerizers of history, the sinking of the USS Maine was an inside job, engineered by the U.S. government to allow America an inroad into the conquest and possession of Cuba. Half of that equation was somewhat correct; though the original impetus to war was largely little more than a bellicosity and public impatience with free trade–the restive spirit for a fight and self-pleasing virtue signalling of American exceptionalism now granted funding by McKinley’s protective tariff hikes. In 1974 Admiral Hyman G. Rickover completed the first comprehensive audit of the evidence in favor of an alternate version of the sinking of the Maine from what the military originally provided in 1898 and the second decade of the Twentieth Century. Rickover concluded that the explosion was likely the result of the ship’s reliance upon bituminous coal, which releases combustible gases, and that a spontaneous combustion resulting from the ignition of those gases likely led to an explosion when a fire reached the ship’s munition storage, which was placed directly below the crew’s quarters. The sinking of the Maine was the key event—though not the final catalyst– that swung Congress into action to greenlight the war against Spain in Cuba, where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders of San Juan Hill rode into action.

A young Winston Churchill, as Christopher Hitchens wrote in Blood, Class, and Empire, got his first taste of giant democracies thirsting for war on the Cuban theater of war; and an ailing Stephen Crane, stricken with tuberculosis, found himself one of America’s top paid journalists, reporting candidly upon the wars progress while traveling amongst the soldiers in Cuba, looking for the next column to earn his daily bread. At the age of twenty-one, Churchill found himself in Cuba, and not a little unlike a younger, foolhardy George Washington during the French and Indian Wars, exhilarated in the fact that he “on that day for the first time…heard shots fired in anger, and heard bullets strike flesh or whistle through the air.”1

It is ironic that in 1974 we would find that one of the first expansionist and imperial wars that roused a relatively peaceful and non-interventionist American republic (though prone to internal strife) was likely based on misinformation and probable disinformation. For only 12 years earlier, in the Gulf of Tonkin, just off of the coast of North Vietnam and within the waters that the country claimed as its own, it was reported that two violent run-ins with North Vietnamese vessels had resulted in a deadly confrontation. On 2 August, 1964, the USS Maddox fired three warning shots at North Vietnamese torpedo vessels approximately 8 miles from the shore before, reportedly, the Vietnamese vessels attacked with torpedoes. The Maddox returned fire, damaging the attacking vessels and killing about four Vietnamese sailors. The Maddox reportedly suffered only a single, insignificant bullet-hole in the side of the vessel, having successfully maneuvered around the torpedoes. The second run-in involving the Maddox with Vietnamese vessels, which sparked a response from the American government, occurred two days later. During rough seas and bad weather, the Maddox fired torpedoes at what appeared to be two approaching vessels—seen only via radar—and reported sinking them both, but without visual confirmation of either the actual ships or their sinking. That same day, it was reported by the National Security Agency that another sea battle occurred between North Vietnamese vessels and American forces. Within thirty minutes of the second skirmish with the North Vietnamese, LBJ declared his intention to retaliate. Congress backed his response. It is telling that only after the second encounter that Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to allow the ever-conspiring LBJ to move forward with anti-communist military actions in Southeast Asia, opening a path to the Vietnam War.

Much later, evidence was found that these ships fired on the second encounter were actually “Tonkin Ghosts”—or radar blips, and not actual ships—that evidenced no such confrontation had ever taken place on the 4th of August. Some even deny that the first encounter ever took place. In a 2003 documentary (The Fog of War), the Secretary of Defense at that crucial time during the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, Robert McNamara, confirmed that the first run-in with North Vietnamese vessels had sparked no response from the Defense Department. The Vietnam War was launched in the fog of war, where misinformation and disinformation blended to bring to bear upon the world’s stage bad actors dressed in patriotic outrage, prosecuting vengeance for phantom offenses, uncaring as to the truth behind the allegations and to the viability of the proposed resolutions. The Tonkin resolution begat a new legacy of declaration of open and idealistic war—war without a particular target but the ideas in the mind—that was to plague America for half of a century going forward. A regrettable legacy we see revived again in our own age’s War on Terror—another vague, shifting, borderless, Orwellian, objectiveless war on ideas and facts with which the yellow press is complicit in poisoning the stream of information between bad actors (the State) and the people at home and abroad oppressed by their high-minded overlords.


Stephen Crane was born in 1871, and he lived a brief and prolific 29 years before succumbing to tuberculosis during this age of American imperialism. He is most remembered for The Red Badge of Courage and a short story (“The Open Boat”) recounting the thirty hours he spent adrift in a lifeboat when he abandoned ship en route to Cuba after his ship, the USS Commodore, struck a sandbar off the coast of Florida and sank. During the Spanish-American War, Crane was employed as a journalist first for Blackwood’s Magazine to cover the preparations for war from Cuba, and afterwards sent stories and sketches back home for the chief papers of the yellow press: Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and later William Randolph Hurst’s New York Journal.

Crane’s personal opinion with regard to the war rebounded between a boyish fascination with battle and his rational terror of the new era of massive guns and munitions. As Willa Cather later recalled, Crane revealed to her that he “led a double literary life; writing in the first place the matter that pleased himself, and doing it very slowly; in the second place, any sort of stuff that would sell.”2 It seems that his poetry, dark, cynical, brooding, wistful, and hopeful by turns, was that which pleased him most and developed slowly—only finding publication as he neared the end of his short life.

In 1899, months before his death, Crane published his poetic reflections upon war in a small book of poetry entitled War is Kind, which contains the eponymous poem and other poetic reflections upon war and death, most of which go without title. Crane generally wrote in free verse without any structural features. War is Kind is a collection of poems that has not earned its due diligence amongst critics. It is, perhaps, too caustic. It is difficult to reconcile Crane’s employments as a yellow journalist, not quite anti-war in character and sometimes praising the “heroic” character of the fearless Rough Riders, with the tone of his poetry, which is incredibly cynical. The volume is largely neglected, perhaps, because it is too inflammatory; too much outside of Crane’s prose character; too much a relic of the days in which Americans like Mark Twain viewed foreign intervention by America (now, the Leader of the Free World) as a great social evil where the Philippine-American war quickly turned popular opinion against foreign entanglements regardless of high-minded intentions to free the world from slavery and oppression; too much a product of the times when dark tales of American impropriety in the East sullied the romantic picture of the casualty-light ten months in Cuba; too much a reminder of a time when anti-Imperial leagues were more than rhetorical virtue signals—when the people understood that America’s destiny was internal greatness and peace through commerce, and that the world outside was a vast wasteland of terrible ideals, bad principles, bad governments, shiftless alliances, bloodthirsty “democratickal gentlemen,” and bloody tyrants. America had no business consorting with such ilk in any governmental capacity; for the same imperial legacy would turn America’s attention from the romantic picture of the Cuban liberation to the Moro Crater Massacre only 6 years later in the Philippines, when American troops squared off against disparate Muslim peoples who had fled their villages to erect a stronghold in an extinct volcanic crater to evade the rule imposed by their new American governor—a veteran of the Spanish-American War. The crater had served the Moro people as a traditional refuge when prior Spanish oppression had been too extreme to weather in the villages. There, within that blasted crater, 750 American troops killed between 800 and a thousand Tausug villagers, with only six Moro tribesmen reportedly surviving the fray.


An infamous photo appeared in the newspapers back in America; a photo of American troops posing over a hillside and a crater heaped with Moro dead—amongst whom numbered a great many women and children. The impact back home was felt immediately; the news confirmed that anxious prickling of the conscience that even the Jacobinical imperialists looking to evangelize democracy and freedom had feared would result from foreign entanglements: that pessimistic truth that no people can be liberated but that they liberate themselves and prep themselves to maintain that liberty with a culture that prides itself on private property and economic freedom; that timeless truth that no free people can bully natives into civilization without breeding resentment at the bullying as tyranny, regardless of the motivation; that civilization is hard-won, and that free peoples must take care first to live as exemplars, and not to make examples of others. The dark side of America’s imperial endeavors warranted a resurgence of criticism of the Treaty of Paris struck at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War—the very treaty that had ceded the Philippines to the care of the United States.

I have always viewed Crane’s War is Kind as a seamless whole, and not as a bunch of lines tagged onto the title poem; a kind of deep, ironic, sarcastic, soul-plumbing, stream-of-consciousness exploration of war from the dispassionate third-party viewpoint not swept up by sentimental views of a fatherland; a viewpoint tempered by a man whose job it was to sift facts from fictions, events from non-events, and humanity from overly patriotic sentiments—and to make it entertaining. At times parable, at other times caustic—these reflections are mementos of Crane’s views on purposeless wars, executed for national prestige and “fetless” romanticism in the fog of war by a network of conspirators, romantic youths, and unprincipled statesmen. The poems are the passionate expression of ideals and ideas that were notably absent from Crane’s newspaper articles in the yellow press. They are evidence of Crane’s double literary life; his brooding alter-ego, which felt much more than his cold personality sometimes conveyed to his acquaintances.

We find, perhaps, the perfect portrait of the Spanish-American War. And we find, in its utter darkness, cynicism, and pessimism the darkening horizon of the new American enterprise—the vast American Peril that came to define the Twentieth Century—arriving with news of the cruelties and injustices visited upon the tribes of the Philippines, who bucked at American overrule, though not themselves an admirable or freedom-loving people. Crane died of tuberculosis before the Moro Crater Massacre; but he wrote as if he could see intimations of that horror awakening from abroad.

In this collection of nameless poems, we find candid men beating skeptics over the head with wooden rods; arrogant, self-important statesmen standing upon a pile of skulls and dead children, declaiming how virtuous they are in defending decency while pursuing war for its own enjoyment in killing; a world in which newspapers, coming of age in the era of the partisan yellow press divorced from skepticism and truth, are a game; a game played for the benefit powerful men (a crash of flunkeys steeped in million-dollar deals, prosecuting war for profit) and the easily-duped readers back home, who are content to seek enjoyment in the warring of newspapermen peddling disinformation as if they were disputing over the artfulness of rival works of fiction; a wayfarer looking at a path lined with barbs and blades, and reflecting with—what in our own age seems something outside of common sense—the sensibility to determine that, “Doubtless there are other roads.” And nearing the close of the collection, we are treated to a parable of flowers, where only the strong are justified for their co-optation of resources by military might, grabbing up the “waste spaces” of the earth in lustful flower-grabs, rather than pursuing free trade through peaceful exchange. And we see a child, a would-be tutor, outraged by this universal norm of brutish imperialism, reflecting after reproach by his stately mentor that only the strong should prevail that, “the stars are unseated by this towering wisdom.” Indeed, the stars were unseated, as America entered into the Twentieth Century to the peril of its past with a new central bank, a new moneyed elite, and the rise of the military-industrial complex, fresh on the heels of America’s first anti-imperial resurgence. The moneyed elite had had to find a way to circumvent the people’s disgust with the new international American State; they’d had to entrench their interests in banking and finance as public institutions through the erection of central banks and paper monies established by law, fed by the income tax, propped by monopoly patent, prepped for more conspiracy, bad actors, and fruitless European wars—which only bred more wars in the negotiations reached by one-sided treaties and armistices.

The Constitution had to be reformed and amended to bring to bear its hybrid, paradoxical form of limited local government and international socialism illimited; our unique brand of American fascism.

We have much to learn by reflection; by dwelling in the spaces between Crane’s poems. His is a poetic debamboozling of the intellect most needed today; in an age riven by disinformation peddled by an all-powerful, all-consuming global media that is the triumph of the yellow press; in an age where war profiteers commandeer the State at nearly every level and pursue international alliances, rather than retreating back to local governance; where the Deep State is too entrenched to prejudice the people away from the military-industrial complex’s feeding trough and the socialistic minions that secure their grip upon human society; where bad actors in the State Department are applauded for their “experience” (all of it inhuman, cruel, corrupt, and bad), and are ushered to the highest offices in America to continue their legacy of bad acting. Where all-powerful states no longer prosecute the massacres all by themselves, but instead prefer to arm feuding tribes and to turn them against one another to secure American interests, which are in the interest of nobody but the powerful elites in government and their wealthy donors.

In the second part of today’s podcast, we will encounter yet another international conspiracy involving the same players, an older Winston Churchill and a conflicted William Jennings Bryan, in a new but strangely familiar imperial saga under the new Progressive presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Churchill and Bryan were men tested by America’s first imperial war for moneyed elites in Cuba, but found themselves divided by the more recent heart-rending conspiracy of international interests centered around the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania. History seems to have looped in only the most disheartening way, and the lessons of old were not learned. Woodrow Wilson’s recent erection of a central banking cartel and the enshrinement of the federal income tax (16th Amendment) in 1913—the fulfillment of two key Communist Manifesto planks (the 2nd & 5th)—had been achieved, and American government was changed, changed utterly for the worse. But I shall leave further word of that heartbreaking incident until after our brief intermission.

1 Hitchens, Christopher. Blood, Class, and Empire: The Enduring Anglo-American Relationship. Nation Books: New York, 2004. 187.

2 Cather, Willa. “The Stephen Crane I knew.”

Why Anarchy? Why Culture? Why Not?

–The answers of a Spurious Jeremiah

In her introduction to Matthew Arnold’s 1869 critique of cultural prejudices, entitled Culture and Anarchy (which you will have noticed, is a chief inspiration for this blog/podcast), Jane Garnett notes that Arnold kept two quotations scribed in his notebook as a guide to his critical reflections upon society:

1. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)

2. “Always place a definite purpose before you.” (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ)1

These two quotations, which represent the cultural legacy of Hebraism and the Hellenic legacy of pure reason, or anarchy, define the totality of human experience and the struggle of the individual to navigate the world. Arnold saw Western Civilization as a struggle to balance these two poles and to rein in their excesses through moderation of reason and cultural prejudice. The individual, and particularly the individualist, must navigate the world, balancing empirical and theoretical reality, without allowing the theoretical world to blind one to empirical reality or empirical reality to blind one to theoretical, a priori, truths.

Matthew Arnold was a devoted and remarkable poet in his early life, thought the muse left him as he entered the middle of his life and turned his attention to critical matters. An educator by trade, he became involved in the reform of Victorian schooling as an inspector and thus turned his attention to cultural criticism and the setting of standards for institutional learning. As a literary critic with a poetic sensibility, he was concerned to pass onto succeeding generations the wisdom of the English people. He wished to see a culture arise for a people born again into an Industrial Age; one that would equip that people to achieve the politeness, refinement, and the heights of learning and peace that, in previous times, had only been available to those with political connections and patents of nobility: the kings, the nobles, the lords, the priestly classes of established churches, and the aristocrats. The old world was dead, the ancien regime in shambles, and gone was the specter of permanence for those who thrived upon the suppression of the marketplace and the subjection of peoples who had not yet discovered the arguments sufficient to urge the overthrow of the pre-capitalistic political order and its socialistic underpinnings, and to take upon themselves the trappings of true individualism. Many peoples have yet to find that liberation and sophistication, even in part. In the 1800s, the English peoples in America and England had cast off its infancy to arrive at adolescence, and was only just beginning to search for guides towards the production of peaceful and fruitful society that could be thought of as more than a mere idle fantasy. It was fighting the first purge against slavery and tyranny with success, and simultaneously beginning to question the imperial legacy that characteristically marked the passage of all-powerful States into ascendency upon the world’s stage.

To quote Jane Garnett’s summation of Culture and Anarchy, Arnold “wanted to defend his role as a thinker, rather than a doer (in the political sense), but, in doing so, to promote the idea of culture as an active principle, an approach to life—as the engaged thought without which action was futile. In Arnold’s view, people needed to think more, and in a more disciplined way.”2

What came of Culture and Anarchy? What was its cultural impact?

Lampoons, mostly, of the stodgy old Victorian Englishman, dour-faced Arnold himself, who had overthought the matter in his pursuit of social reform not through political means, but by cultural means. He believed in the importance of the prejudice and morality demanded of a good people in order to fashion and preserve a good society. His was not the vision of utopia imposed, but instead the vision of a peaceful equilibrium at which humans could arrive if only they could temper their own baser instincts to violence and intolerance. His was the vision of a society governed by deep thought, reflection, and calculation, with theory as a guide—not force, socialistic revolution, imperialism, statism, and the organized chaos reminiscent of decrepit Prussianism’s ceaseless warmongering. Politics was a surer means of forcing cultural change, and one utilized in our own age to our own destruction. Even in Arnold’s time, the revolt against reason and the Enlightenment caused anchor-dragging counterrevolutionaries to move towards Marxian dogmas and Victorian welfarism. The regressives rebelled against capitalism and private property, in pursuit of utopia that did not represent a world where real men and women think and act freely. There was a push for social engineering an mechanical doctrines of the overweening materialists. The State, when once the old tyrannies of the Church had been cast off, was the surest means to achieving that goal of cultural suppression, since the State already had the network of graft, force, taxation, and militarism to prosecute secular revenges against faction in favor of uniform economic leveling. It was no coincidence that in the decline of religious moderation as a cultural principle—and, here I speak as an atheist, not as religion’s advocate, but one interested in culture as the alternative to dead-end statecraft—it was no coincidence that this decline in religious power was marked by an ever-increasing faith in the State, in law, in regulation, and in welfarism as a principle of socialization. Progressivism was the heir to the pre-capitalistic age and church bureaucracy, recovered from its obsolescence—the heir to imperialism and colonialism. But now the imperialism was inverted, aiming at a colonization of the self and the colonization of domestic factions. It was the permanent search for the underclass to the prejudice of the culture that made the parasitism and wealth destruction moderately sustainable in the first place by providing the fodder for controversy.

Even today Arnold has the reputation of a conservative reactionary. In the university, he is just one more “old dead white guy.” He was a man trying to suppress the Progressive spirit of the social reformers looking for spiritual ecstasy in egalitarian mediocrity or else to push back against the Tory blowhards looking for social salvation in established church doctrines pushed by law and statute. He was questing for a doctrine of equilibrium.

Arnold was not a radical man, with radical opinions, and I am by no means dedicated to expanding his particular insights. But he was a man with some rather keen insights into human nature and societal progress and the twin forces of reason and practicality that guide human beings every day in their voluntary transactions and unguided lives. In philosophy and epistemology, he was a man savvy to the rising concern over the hypermaterialism emerging from the catholic empiricism of Locke and Hume; a man savvy to the counterarguments of Kant, and the emergence of pure reason as a critical apparatus, which allows the individualist to engage with the world firsthand through deduction, beholden to no man’s mere prejudice. Reason, the anarchy in which an individual grasps the world without third party mediation, had to find a balance to check its excesses where evidence and sensation—the natural sciences—provided checks on feckless optimism. The “rationalist” Jacobins had turned the world upside-down during The French Revolution in the quest to “make the world rational” by force of arms and through social leveling and engineering; and this “rational” progress needed checks, the checks of evidence and reality, since logic and pure reason had obvious limitations. Culture was that balance to rational anarchy.

Anarchy is a harsh word to the modern American. “Anarch,” literally “without a head”—it conjures up the demonic vision of Baltic communists and hoodlums in balaclavas rioting through peaceful streets with Molotov cocktails where no State exists to repel the rioters and looters. It is a word that is associated with violence and destruction, with Satan (in Milton’s terms, the “Anarch old”) and his legions in Hell. We find this kind of anarchy in the power vacuums created by failed States, where political regimes collapse in bankruptcy and devolve into baser tribalism.

But anarchy is also, and always remains, a rational ideal—the ultimate expression of individual freedom. It is the drive to have no other lord or master than one chooses to follow voluntarily; and even to have neither lord nor master at all.

There is always a balance between practicality (culture) and reason (anarchy). The story of this balance is the story of evolved humanity. Reason, logic, and the human sciences give us a world of dead perfections—a world in which we understand humans through deduction from the world as it exists in order to gain a skeleton of human action’s time invariant properties. By making these deductions, we are better equipped to navigate the world and to obtain resources that do not appear out of thin air at our beck and call. The rational, ordered, time-invariant world is a world without scarce resources that have alternative uses. It is the world we understand through reflection and calculation. But as soon as we factor variables into the time-invariant stereotype of human action, which is human nature, and observe how human actors adjust to ever-changing conditions in quality and quantity with regard to human valuations of the means on a margin required for the sustainment of life, the world gets complicated. And, what is even more extraordinary, the world becomes more orderly. People begin to barter and exchange; and as the voluntary sphere expands to prejudice society away from coercion and aggression, the baser aspects of our brutish instincts, a spontaneous order appears, manifesting in money, market prices, and rational economic calculation.

Property becomes a means of dispute resolution and restitution. And as property arises, the brutish instincts re-emerge amongst the least fit to survive in voluntary Society, least equipped for reflection and calculation—a kind of resurgence of unevolved instincts, which have yet to transcend our apish ancestry. There are good actors and bad actors; thinking men and brutes. Anarchy—a world without lords and masters—is the world as represented in pure theory, since it is the world of human interaction and exchange. Such is the world of the individual. But many people see anarchy as a razing to the ground—the abandonment of civil society and traditions in government. As soon as people begin thinking and acting for themselves, what horrors are people not capable of bringing to bear as they stray away from the State that binds them to their lesser brethren in the human tribe?

Meanwhile, the history of the State reveals a single fact: All states fail and devolve into chaos, force, taxation, czarism, and violence. When culture is tied to the State, culture falls into disarray when the State collapses and declines, and the human tribe must rediscover in the chaos the principles and morals capable of sustaining social interrelationships peaceably, such that they should ever find the irresponsibility to institute States amongst themselves to their own detriment and cultural decline.

Anarchy—a world without a monopoly of lords and masters—is the world that we desire, and the one that we tend to be most afraid to seize. It is the free market—a world in tune with nature, a world striving for equilibrium and rational calculation outside of a single Plan, without a single head to guide us all, where supply and demand guide human flourishing and push us all forward, even though no single human mind can grasp at all the variables in order to bring them to heel in a single understanding. It is a dynamic world of constant change; a flurry of motion, of displacement, of property, of happiness. We have to have the courage, conviction, morality, and culture in order to reach that goal—the winnowing of the State into nothing. We can arrive at that abolition of a now existing agency by two means—by pursuing the end state of all States, which is bankruptcy resulting in chaos, oppression, and conquest, or by withering the State away into nothing by the repudiation of national debts, the adoption of decentralized monies, and the adoption of cultural standards that expect more from one’s countrymen than a mere birthright or a sheet of paper.

And still the word anarchy sounds cold to some.

At least, that is how it is now heard by a people hedged in by democratic socialists, unapologetic statists, and outright fascists, who rail against individualism and liberty and argue us all into economic slavery. There was a time when anarchy meant peace—and not just in theory. There was a time when a farmer upon the frontier homesteaded his land, ploughed and planted his own fields, and suffered the elements in a home built with his own two hands. No State pushed him off of his land by taxing him into oblivion, prejudicing his children to sell upon his death. The land and its fruit was his, and his alone. His labor had been mixed with the soil, and he had truly transformed purposeless Nature into an asset for living. He paid no oppressive taxes, except in his sweat under the heat of the sun. There was a time when anarchy was more than idyllic or a mere ideal; when it described reality. Where frontiersmen traded with natives; when natives interacted with homesteaders in peace. When trade marked society before the arrival of States looking to impose orders from above, with centrally-guiding principles forced upon peoples by mandate. There was a time when the pastoral symphony and the pastoral painting were not just pretty pictures and ditties—when the pastoral described Life, both as it exists and as we would wish it. There was a time when Anarchy described the mindset of individuals in the pursuit of happiness. It is not that Anarchy was a thing. It was the striving. Anarchy was the virtue that inspired the Transcendentalists, America’s first cultural intellectuals, who rebelled against the catholic empiricism of the Lockean tradition in epistemology. They moved away from Puritanical Hebraism towards Unitarian Hellenism. The Transcendentalists saw that there was a role for pure reason in living and striving, and not just in a vague religious sense. Reason was living; it was, to parse what Nietzsche later wrote in Beyond Good and Evil (1886), “estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different.”3 It was not a principle of being. It was the essence of being. This anarchic tradition was the spirit of the American continent and a Western people looking to transcend the statist thinking of their primitive selves still laboring under lords and continental masters back in Europe, subject to the chiefest armed banditti.

Anarchy was never—as its cosmopolitan critics so perceived it—a longing to “go back” to simple times. Anarchy was always forward thinking. It was always aimed at tomorrow. The best way to end any cycle of arbitrary violences and petty revenges remains peace by contract; an agreement that, on the morrow, the revenges shall no longer be arbitrary or the devolutions into mere bickering over mutual offenses, but limited to revenges against the particular individuals who engage in acts of aggression and property destruction. We do not strive to go back to the original days of the Constitution like the political conservative. Those days are done. We wish to go forward to end coercion and aggression by voluntary contract. That contract can be arbitrated by third parties agreed upon in advance of the contract, but it was never incumbent upon that principle that the arbitration be provided by a State. And in the anarchic days of American society, many times those arbitrations occurred outside of government courts. Law is not the property of the State. It is, in fact, the property of civil society, which explicitly lies outside of the purview of the State. Government is not Society. The State is not Society. Individual self-interest is Society.

But now there are no more frontiers. And now, where humans must find a way to peacefully coexist, there is only one means to peaceful interaction and production—free markets and free trade. We know this to be true, since these are the means to voluntary cooperation and peace that we all desire as an end point, even though we vastly disagree on the means of getting there. And we know that culture and anarchy—the anarchy of the marketplace, where competing firms must peacefully jockey for resources in order to best please the consuming public’s diverse and varied tastes—we know that this is the best means to preserving freedom and peace. If diversity is indeed the source of American strength, that diversity is not in one’s color of skin, one’s gender, or one’s political leanings. That diversity is in the marketplace, where individuals compete to provide one another with what each most desires.

With the decline of frontiers swiftly came the resurgence of artificial restraints to check American anarchy—the restraints imposed by States. States strove to introduce a base Hebraism; to place static impositions upon a dynamic market Society: borders, fences, walls, laws, regulations, tariffs, trade barriers, masters, and taxes. States fought cultural enrichment and interpersonal exchange, often prosecuting those revenges in the name of protecting culture and exchange. They regulated race relations and private property. They continually transgressed the outlines of their social contracts, which were binding upon all peoples except those in the employ of the State machinery. The anchor was thrown over the side of the ship, ending the progress of individualism and marking the rise of the destructive herd instinct: collectivism and Progressivism. And now that anchor hangs around our necks like a millstone. It is the anchor now charged with grinding education to a halt. American history is not a march towards progress. It is a march along a winding path, riddled with switchbacks and dead-ends. And we are, right now, nearing the precipice that lies at the most significant dead-end our people has ever encountered.

In our own age, the political firebrand, Andrew Breitbart, may best have captured the spirit of Matthew Arnold’s thinking with his famous quip: “Politics is downstream from culture.” That is, culture is what drives societal change. Politics, the clunky or idyllic bureaucracy of socialistic pipedreams filled with egalitarian automatons (our current climate of cultural Marxism and political correctness), is a barren wasteland. It is the microscopy of adjectives, dividing all integers into victims and classes in order to set self-interest against self-interest through the means of intersubjective thievery and democratic mobocracy. Politics is innately conservative and anti-market. It weaponizes diversity instead of celebrating the Anarchy of individualism. It is like an anchor thrown over a ship where none amongst the crew has troubled himself to batten the sails because nobody aboard is looking to stay rooted in place. Static equilibrium was never the objective of those who boarded the ship. The sailors were looking for dynamic equilibrium. The shipmates boarded their vessel in order to seek the most productive output of their labors while striving towards some distant shore that each laborer prized for his own reasons. The anchor is the manifestation of the fear that the ship will drift too far, too fast, if nothing forces the ship away from the winds. Nobody knows what lies over the horizon, even though everyone aboard the ship is actively working to push the ship across that horizon just to see what the new vantage offers to view. The anchor drags, causes much of a stir about nothing, while preventing the progress of humankind in its voluntary associations. Neither the anchor nor the ship can determine—outside of fixed coordinates plotted by means of the stars or the occasional sighting of land—where exactly the anchor would keep them, or where they might arrive if they cut the anchor free. The ocean is not fixed and static—it is moving freely in relative anarchy, with the free transfer of energy from crest to trough. The sails billow with renewable energy that blows without purpose, only as a particular link in the purposeless chain of causes. And the sails are carrying men through Nature’s disturbances in search of their own souls’ equilibrium. Were it not imposed upon, the waters themselves would settle into equilibrium. The winds would cease to blow.

While nature cannot reach true equilibrium, the satisfaction of desires, humans can. Humans look for rest and satisfaction, however fleeting it is. Each man knows his labors, works for his profit, and searches for the satisfaction of his subjective wants. The crew knows that the anchor is not holding fast to the ground. It is dragging. It is not defining any specific region of the waters, since that region cannot be charted—it is variable. There are better lands, better deals, better technologies to be had just over the horizon, if only the crew could find the gall to cut the anchor that binds them to their desire for a mere illusion of security.

They fear to cut that cord.

It is the one sure means they have to moor their ship when they get to the destination; but they do not know what the destination is, or that there is an end to all of their labors that could ever be within their reach. The anchor has a purpose—to find a root, to latch fast to the bank, and to halt the progress of the ship. And the anchor weighs down the ship, forestalls the advance, threatens to do damage to the ship, and saps the energy and virtue of the crewmen, who must labor all the harder to offset its drag.

What would happen if culture finally cut the cord, let the anchor fall into the deeps, sailed headily towards the horizon, pursuing new fields and oceans, each taking the position best suited to his nature by voluntary association, improving the efficiency and productivity of a ship that will never find a static state in an ocean of shifting variables—scarce resources with quickly-proliferating alternative uses?

A ship, a Society, without lords and masters—that is the noble ideal. A society where individual self-interest is not in conflict with society’s self-interest, since Society is the pursuit of happiness through individual self-interest.

We hear peoples the world over argue for less government, for individual freedom and happiness, and for the rights of people to coexist freely. And yet we hear the same old tired solutions proposed for our problems: “Reform! Representation! Regulation!” And we get more government, less individual freedom and happiness, and fewer rights of the people to coexist freely. More representation results in less freedom than the marketplace first presents to the human tribe. We want more presentation, and less of the representation. Still the situation becomes direr as representation increases. More stridently the peoples cry: “Reform! Representation! Regulation!” The urgency still increases.

We must rediscover the forbidden virtue of anarchy. We must find the willingness to abandon a now-existing agency, a kind of golden calf of State—the anchor of State that drags us down—in favor of a non-binding, decentralized voluntary order. It is an order that is prejudiced, subjective, and unfixed. It competes; its evolves; it remains open to change. It is an order that is free and dynamic, and finds equilibrium in that dynamism like the surface of water—not a static equality of outcomes. We will not make a better society by setting in place a giant State that will teach us our morals and our equality as some elite class of politicians would engineer them. We are equal when we stand outside of the State and its moral teachings; when we obey the laws governing justly-obtained property and individual self-ownership. Freedom lies not in the separation of any two governmental bodies to prevent conflicts of interest. Freedom lies in the separation—the vacuum that opens up between coercive agencies when competition is allowed to diversify human interests. Remove the coercive agencies, and one finds anarchy. An anarchy governed by voluntary corporations, private defense, and localized cultures.

There is no Game for which humanity is a problem to be played to find the right rules sufficient to achieve a lasting victory for all time, if only we can socially-engineer human activity from the top-down by means of taxes, coercion, and aggression. There is peace through trade and free markets. And then there is violence.

It is our choice to pursue the better option, but the cry of the peoples can no longer be “Reform! Representation! Regulation!” It must be “Repeal! Abolition!” It must be pursuit of anarchy, the toppling of the old order and the rediscovery of a rich and vibrant culture without a demand that the void be filled from the top-down from a human, or elected group of humans, purporting to stand in the shoes of a priestly class speaking on the behalf of a god-like agency. We must argue for the absence of a now-existing agency, the State, in favor of a yet-non-existent agency that has been punished out of existence by the State’s co-optation of resources that would be available to competitors with alternative uses for those resources, if only the State would release its grip upon human destiny.

Freedom is anarchy. It has no other definition. A man is not free to be fed without work. Nature imposes certain restrictions upon us, and we must utilize the means to which we have a just right in property in order to satisfy our wants. Property is our means of dispute resolution; the thing that can be traded for mutual benefit. There will be no other world; no other state of affairs. Where man lives, man acts; and where man acts, he lacks something. Reality does not pause or look for a reset button. Equilibrium is there, just beyond the next horizon, only if on our own horizon we stamp out coercion and aggression in the quest for the Society that every day eludes us in the State’s predations.

As Garnett aptly sums up Matthew Arnold’s reflections in Culture and Anarchy, “the critical categories which [Arnold] developed were dialectical: the tension between the ordinary self and the best self; strictness of conscience versus spontaneity of consciousness; right acting versus right thinking. These were aspects of the overarching critical opposition which he developed in Culture and Anarchy: that between Hebraism and Hellenism. These terms carried different connotations at different parts of the argument; each tendency in theory carried the same aim of perfection, and, if held in proper balance, they would contribute together to that ultimate goal.” Hebraism—the Hebrew ethic driving Christian society and Western Civilization—was the practical guide to life, the imposition of rules and norms. It consisted of guides to action, prescribed taboos, recommended behaviors, prejudices, restrictions, and—even—guides to ostracism: how best to inoculate society against its destructive bad actors without resorting to stoning all bad actors to death, regardless of the severity of offense to sensibility and property. Balancing that practical, earth-bound ethic for interpersonal association was the more metaphysical spirit of Hellenism—that is, the spirit of Greek and Roman philosophy. Hellenism was the quest for reason—for critical thinking in the moment, in the abstract, in the time-invariant theoretical sphere.

In Arnold’s time, Hellenism was most expressed by two rival factions—the free market capitalists and the socialistic reformers. While the quest for individual freedom was in full sway throughout the 1800s, free market capitalism won out for its practicality and its proven track record, even though the theoretical debate would rage until the early 1900s. Free Market microeconomic rationalism has won the theoretical debate; and, in fact, it won the theoretical debate in the 1870s when Marginal Utility Theory and the Austrian school of economics wiped away the errors of objective value theory in Classical Economics, destroying socialism in the process. Even still, the materialists and socialists tore through the world, heedless of the free market critics, breeding enormously oppressive states, genocidal world wars, counterfeiting central banks, and currencies based in government debt, all of which have combined to decimate cultures and peoples through reckless Hebraism. Social engineering won out, but it only won out by oppressing peoples devoted to private property and the natural law while promoting the logical fallacies that cannot work—they violate sound principles of mathematics, every rule of morality, and even basic addition. The socialists found, much to their theoretical (Hellenic) chagrin, that socialism was only practicable if it could co-opt the resources of a capitalist society; and it found the surest means to promoting socialistic parasitism by destroying our Hebraic legacy and trashing culture: by promoting democracy’s inherent attraction to envy, covetousness, revenge, and greed for a neighbor’s house, his wife, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, and anything else belonging to said neighbor.

How tragic! And how ironic and telling that this same socialistic drive for welfarism lies at the heart of every established religion, from Anglicanism to the Church of Rome. There is something religious in the drive to purge from American life the spirit of anarchy, of individualism.

This debate between the excess of Hebraism and Hellenism has never ended, and it is now being pitched more violently than ever, both in rhetoric and in deathdealing. Politics has supplanted culture. We have lost our prejudices; we have emptied ourselves of our traditions; we have destroyed voluntary association and reared, in their decease, a Welfare State that thrives upon war and egalitarian mediocrity. The patriotism of property owners with moral and cultural links was reduced to the patriotism of parties and conquests. America is no longer seen as something separate from its government. We have become a nation of faction and not of Law. A nation of punishments instead of principles. We have reared upon our ideals vast monoliths, these debtor nations who pay their debts by destroying lesser nations while passing off the burdens of socialism and fascism upon those least able to bear the hardships. We have scrapped the anti-colonial thinking of the free marketers in favor of Western imperialism all over again. We have become the very thing that in 1776 we sought to unbecome. The new colonial legacy is envisioned as social reform, and it is marked by political globalism achieved by means of gigantic international bureaucracies that are irresponsible to individuals and their local governments. Socialistic organizations now rule popular opinion and rear up a generation of ingrates, mere trembling apes that are slouching back into submission—taxed, intellectually and financially, by public schools, public colleges, supranational organizations, and our federal overlords. Gone is the specter of the anarchy that was present in the globalization of free markets and the evisceration of taxation, which would have moved in coordination to cultural change, in stride with sustainable economic gains. Gone is the intellectual tradition of the American Transcendentalists and the frontier farmers, who eschewed stale universities in favor of a balance between Unitarian Hebraism and radically anarchic Hellenism.

This podcast is dedicated to reversing American “Progress.” To be clear, we, the freedom-loving radicals, do not wish to “go back” to anything. The “Progress” that the Progressives thought that they were achieving was a regression; a regression back into feudalism and czarism under collective immiseration. It was always backward thinking; a mere anchor; always looking to experience without the aid of reason. We wish, instead, to move towards the abolition of now-existing agencies, which will not be replaced by any means of force, fraud, or theft. We do not require an all-encompassing Plan for Society. Society is unplanned. It is human progress through the diversity of conflicting ideals and aims. The Twentieth Century was the most destructive century in human history; its wars made the bubonic plague look like a mild case of the flu. We are now fulfilling that destructive legacy in the midst of the longest war in U.S. history, and we have no goals, no means to victory, and no prospect to sue for peace. And despite the burdens saddling human ingenuity from a hundred years of spiritual decline, the human spirit innovated through the Twentieth Century, reacted to the wealth destruction by wealth production, and pushed technological revolutions to counter the State’s predations. Anarchy, a reaction to stifling conformity, revolutionized the American people. The century’s reckless pursuit of political substitutions for culture through socialism and welfare statism destroyed the world’s finest associations—the voluntary brotherhoods and sisterhoods that long sustained local communities. That century brought us to endless war, currency destruction, and debt. That legacy is destroying education by divorcing parents from their role in childrearing in order to make up for the losses imposed upon their incomes by an oppressive tax regime. It is a legacy of predation that has broken apart families and subsidized single motherhood to the prejudice of the family. And we know that such “Progress” is unsustainable. A people without a cultural legacy is a people without a reason to continue living and producing; it is a people always looking backwards, mistaking foolishness for wisdom. This is not a culture prepped to step forward into liberty.

There will come a time, in the very near future, that we shall find ourselves looking once again to our forefathers for wisdom. We must guide our progress with moderation, calculation, and prejudice against what our grandparents allowed to come to pass; and we must look, with clear sight of reason and vision, so that we do not confuse past poisons for future tonics. We must winnow the grain from the chaff; mark the fool from the soothsayer. We will do this as individuals, and we will accomplish this only by cutting ourselves free of that dragging anchor that halts our progress, testing the ground before us with small steps in the anarchy of production.

I am biased and I am prejudiced. I am an unapologetic free market libertarian and voluntarist. I am an atheist and a rationalist with a high esteem for the human spirit. Austrian economics guides my reasoning and deduction in the theoretical sphere. But art—specifically art and history—guide my prejudices. Literature, religion, art, and criticism are the guide to practical living and the pursuit of beauty and perfection where humans are left to pursue their own devices in the decentralized marketplace where liberty thrives. As Mises once noted in his economic treatise, Human Action: “The living is not perfect because it is liable to change; the dead is not perfect because it does not live.”

Perfection is theory; it is static and deductive, time-invariant and a stereotype of action. Life is imperfect, it is liable to change. Our values and our motivations change with regard to the alternatives available to us, but we strive towards self-perfection by finding a balance between self-consistent theory and the best that has been thought and said. We must find a way to bridge the two worlds, one foot in each, and take care to never lose ourselves within prejudice or perfection to the obliteration of freedom. If we are to survive, we need more than theory. We need culture. We need the best that has been thought and said.

This podcast is dedicated to the great story of humankind; it is about America. It is not about the State that governs and destroys America and pretends that it is America in form and function. This podcast is, instead, about the real America: the land, the people, the language, the marketplace, the symbolism, and the pursuit of freedom. Where the people has erred, where statism has crept into American institutions, these errors, of which the Twentieth Century is the fullest expression as the triumph of democratic welfare statism—these errors have had a deleterious effect on American culture. And we must recover—even in our industrialized civilization—the principles of pastoral anarchy. They still exist. They guide the most of us through our daily operations, but we stop ourselves short of realizing those ideals in full when we feel the anchor of past errors tug upon us. We fear to contradict the old talking heads who warn us away from pure reason; and we fear to find that those old talking heads were foolish because they are fearful. It is the brute in human experience that calls us back to the rule of coercion and aggression, when we know that voluntary contract, even for defense, is possible. . Ours are the principles of the family, of decency, of kinship, of principles, and of virtue. A society reared upon these values cannot fail if it has the strength to trust in them. Along with these, we must recover the humor, the subversive deviance, the witty cruelties, and the delicious satire of anti-establishment prejudice. The monstrous regiment of political correctness and statist presumption requires a reversal, and there are a good many patricians dependent upon the State who we must unseat, both in reality and in culture, by ostracism and prejudice—the self-assertion of our own individual values. It is time to secede from the Twentieth Century and to declare our individual sovereignty.

The Culture & Anarchy Podcast will range and romp through philosophy, literature, religion, poetry, and history, by turns, and seek those principles of anarchy in American life while they can still be recovered from the destruction of our unique intellectual tradition. I am particularly versed in the diverse trends that bred the culture which begat the American Revolution, and much of what I will discourse upon in this podcast will be drawn from reflections upon this formative period in American history through the Civil War. This is a podcast in the tradition of Milton, Algernon Sidney, Crevecoeur, The Cato Letters, Jefferson and the Declaration, the hooting and hollering rebels in Boston Harbor; of Emerson, Thoreau, Rothbard, and Mises. It is in the spirit of Albert Jay Nock and Frank Chodorov. It is a podcast for man as he is, not as he ought to be. It is a podcast for man as he is, and as he strives to be.

I will leave this brief introduction (or perhaps a manifesto) to The Culture and Anarchy blog/podcast with the following passage from the first chapter of Culture and Anarchy—a chapter that was originally an 1867 speech that Arnold delivered to an audience at Oxford under its original title, “Culture and its Enemies”:

If culture, then, is a study of perfection, and of harmonious perfection, general perfection, and perfection which consists in becoming something rather than in having something, in an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not in an outward set of circumstances, –it is clear that culture, instead of being the frivolous and useless thing which Mr Bright, and Mr Frederic Harrison, and many other liberals are apt to call it, has a very important function to fulfil for mankind. And this function is particularly important in our modern world, of which the whole civilisation is, to a much greater degree than the civilisation of Greece and Rome, mechanical and external, and tends constantly to become more so. But above all in our own country has culture a weighty part to perform, because here that mechanical character, which civilisation tends to take everywhere, is shown in the most eminent degree. Indeed nearly all characters of perfection, as culture teaches us to fix them, meet in this country with some powerful tendency which thwarts them and sets them at defiance. The idea of perfection as an inward condition of the mind and spirit is at variance with the mechanical and material civilisation in esteem with us, and nowhere, as I have said, so much in esteem as with us. The idea of perfection as a general expansion of the human family is at variance with our strong individualism, our hatred of all limits to the unrestrained swing of the individual’s personality, our maxim of ‘every man for himself.’ The idea of perfection as an harmonious expansion of human nature is at variance with our want of flexibility, with our inaptitude for seeing more than one side of a thing, with our intense energetic absorption in the particular pursuit we happen to be following. So culture has a rough task in this country, and its preachers have, and are likely long to have, a hard time of it, and they will much oftener be regarded, for a great while to come, as elegant or spurious Jeremiahs, than as friends and benefactors. That, however, will not prevent their doing in the end good service if they persevere; and meanwhile, the mode of action they have to pursue, and the sort of habits they must fight against, should be made quite clear to every one who may be willing to look at the matter attentively and dispassionately.4

1 Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy. Ed. Jane Garnett. Oxford UP: New York, 2006. vii.
2 ibid.
3 Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1966. 1.2.10.
4 Arnold, 37.

Studies in Perfection: "The best that has been thought and said."