How Empires Bamboozle the Bourgeoisie
[This speech was delivered on October 28, 2006, at "Imperialism: Enemy of Freedom," the Mises Institute Supporter's Summit.]
The US Population just passed an important demographic marker this year. It finally reached 300 million. The reactions to the news were predictable. Many on the Left celebrated the growing diversity of the population, while many on the Right came to the defense of rising population for fear that the news would be spun in favor of social policies with which they disagree.
Environmentalists like Vicky Markham of the Center for Environment and Population regretted that all these people are wreaking havoc on the environment. If by "wreaking havoc" she means transforming it to the good of the human population, this is a point that might be made about Adam and Eve.
But there were two considerations that were not addressed, and they are the most fundamental ones. First, what kind of economy is necessary to support this level of population? After all, whether a rising population is good or bad depends on the capacity of the economic structures to support the people's well-being. Second, why should it be necessary that all these people should have to live under the same central government?
Let us address the first question. A population of 300 million is about 5 percent of the world's population today but it was the whole of the world's population 1,000 years ago. The dramatic emergence of complex capital structures in the late middle ages and the Industrial Revolution led to the most explosively large increases in human well-being ever recorded. No pharaoh or Caesar lived as well as the poor live today in the United States. The vital statistics tell a similar story, as each generation since the development of complex capital structures has lived better than the previous one. The free market is the most pro-life policy there is.
If we could somehow transport the whole population of today back to a millennium ago, with the level of technology and capital present at the time, what would be the results? Nothing short of mass starvation. While it is true that people are a resource, even the ultimate resource, people still must be fed, clothed, and housed. This would not be possible with the present level of population with the existing state of economic development 1,000 years ago.
There are many people today who long for a system of economics that prevailed in the Middle Ages. On the Left, we have the neo-Rousseauians who imagine that modern technology has a hopelessly corrupting effect, while many on the Right dream of a guild-dominated system of small craftsmen and home-based production. But these fantasies are not only unworkable; in reality, they are nothing short of lethal. Most of the world's population would die immediately if such a system were imposed.
There is only one system that can support a national and world population on this scale, and it is not socialism, primitivism, or any other than capitalism. Moreover, no form of government can create wealth. So we need not credit the Constitution except to the extent that it has justified the curbing of government's reach. Nor can we credit any political leader. So let's not hear about the glories of our great presidents. It is capitalism alone that has supported this level of population growth and keeps it contributing to the common good. And by naming capitalism as the benefactor of mankind, I also intend to include the many millions of entrepreneurs, workers, savers, and investors who push forward economic growth.
Now, someone might quickly respond that the welfare state does its share of the work, but keep in mind that the welfare state produces nothing. Redistribution of wealth does not create wealth. It only shuffles it around from its most economically suitable uses toward purposes that serve the needs of the political class. If any property is forcibly made to serve anything other than its first most suitable purpose, its value is reduced. When it is channeled into purposes that serve the interest of the state, it is done at the cost of freedom as well.
And yet in all the discussion of this landmark of population, I didn't hear a word about the critical question of how it is that all these people can be supported. Indeed, the very source of wealth in society gets hardly any press at all. People act as if the given level of prosperity is like good weather: it just appears and disappears in a manner that is largely beyond human control.
This is precisely what good economic education seeks to correct. It must draw attention to both the question and the answer. This is what good economists have done since the 14th century. And then as now, the press that capitalism does get is usually of a negative nature. We hear about businessmen going to jail, about food manufacturers trying to poison our kids, about fraudulent and unlicensed professionals, about rapacity and greed. Partly because of this propaganda, capitalism today is hamstrung, taxed, regulated, regimented, distorted and twisted in a hundred million ways. And yet it remains the one and only source of wealth that serves to feed, clothe, and house the growing multitudes of the American population.
A hundred years ago, when the US population passed the 100 million mark, there was much talk about many subjects concerning the growth, but one subject was not raised, and this is the very subject that dominated the headlines this year: the environment. There seems to be some kind of consensus, one that is not open to dispute, that a growing population is a disaster for the environment.
Now, when speaking of this question of the environment, it is good to clarify our terms. If by the environment we mean, for example, clean air, I can promise you that there is no surer way to clean the air than air conditioning. And this is distinctly a product of the human population. The same can be said of water: a rising population engaged in the capitalist project of bottling water to sell is the great path to clean water.
Nature left to its own devices is cruel and dirty. But many people don't see it this way. For them, the best environment is the one that is utterly uninhabited. This dream provides a strangely perverse justification for socialist policies, the end result of which is finally poverty and death. The New Scientist, for example, has published an article oddly titled "Imagine earth without humans."
"Humans are undoubtedly the most dominant species the Earth has ever known," the article begins. "In just a few thousand years we have swallowed up more than a third of the planet's land for our cities, farmland and pastures. By some estimates, we now commandeer 40 per cent of all its productivity. And we're leaving quite a mess behind: ploughed-up prairies, razed forests, drained aquifers, nuclear waste, chemical pollution, invasive species, mass extinctions and now the looming specter of climate change. If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet."
"Now just suppose they got their wish," the article continues. "Imagine that all the people on Earth — all 6.5 billion of us and counting — could be spirited away tomorrow, transported to a re-education camp in a far-off galaxy. … Left once more to its own devices, Nature would begin to reclaim the planet, as fields and pastures reverted to prairies and forest, the air and water cleansed themselves of pollutants, and roads and cities crumbled back to dust."
Of course no article that seems to long for the end of humanity would be complete without a quotation from an expert scientist. So here it is: "The sad truth is, once the humans get out of the picture, the outlook starts to get a lot better," says John Orrock, a conservation biologist at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California.
We can gather from this statement that there is at least one form of extinction that some environmentalists would not entirely regret. The irony is that the policies of the environmentalists have moved far beyond the early conservation movement that saw merit in the wonders of the Grand Canyon and California Redwoods. It has become an all-encompassing political ideology that argues against the well-being of people and on behalf of anything non-human. In its reductio ad absurdum, it aspires to the extinction of the human race, and, in its politics, it works to kill off the source of prosperity, and therefore works toward extinction in bits and pieces.
The truth is that this country has entirely too much unused nature, as is obvious when you take a coast-to-coast flight in the United States. From a bird's eye view, this country is hardly overcrowded, a fact that is also underscored in, detailed maps. Indeed, most of the landmass of the United States is empty. Our population density is far lower than the rest of the world, especially that of Asia, Latin America, and Europe.
And yet you can't make that kind of statement in American politics and expect any kind of assent. Yet the issue of immigration has become a hotbed. People are increasingly angry about all that they associate with immigration.
But a consideration that sheds light on the issue is that all the problems we associate with immigration stem not from the presence of people but from the institutional arrangements in which people interact. Immigration of some types forces on the domestic population new requirements for public infrastructure. Schools must be built and funded, and new public-sector employees hired. The demands on the public purse grow.
New immigrants can receive public assistance. They coalesce based on language and ethnicity and gain control of local governments, through which they then coerce others. They have national voting interests, and their votes are up for grabs by parties representing special interests, which means both parties.
Whereas people will suffer through incredible abuses when imposed by people who share their nationality, they will not tolerate the same from those whom they regard as alien.
The result is social and political upheaval. And what is the source? Not capitalism. Not immigration as such. Rather the core problem is the state, which enables some people to rob others on their own behalf. All other concerns are a distraction from the key issue. The best immigration reform is one that would provide neither impediments toward work for anyone nor subsidies of any sort.
Eliminating the subsidies alone would also help alleviate the resentment that comes with immigration. It would also stop the subsidies that cause people to immigrate for the wrong reasons. In any case, it is pointless and dangerous to pursue the method of using government power to round up illegals and throw them out — a power that is used to the detriment of commercial freedom — when the law still encourages demographic upheaval through subsidies and special rights.
And let us recall that the federal government has no real incentive to stabilize and control immigration in any sense that would be beneficial to American citizens. Whatever the government does, it ends up conspiring against private property owners. In areas of Arizona where private lands bumped up to the border, for example, the government actually restricts the ability of landowners to control trespassing.
Let us ask a fundamental question: can there be such a thing as overpopulation? The Left seems to say that population growth is always a problem. The Right seems to believe that there can be no such thing as overpopulation. The libertarian-Austrian view is a third position entirely. It argues that every population is optimal provided it reflects the free choice of individuals within a society in which production and exchange — the means of support for all people — are also permitted to reflect the choices of people. A capitalistic society leaves the issue of population to the people.
Under socialism, says Mises, there can be no toleration towards a laissez-faire population policy. Indeed, writes Mises, "Without coercive regulation of the growth of population, a socialist community is inconceivable. A socialist community must be in a position to prevent the size of the population from mounting above or falling below certain definite limits. It must attempt to maintain the population always at that optimal number which allows the maximum production per head…. it is certain that even if a socialist community may bring 'free love,' it can in no way bring free birth."
Population only becomes a problem when government enters the picture. Here is where we need to address the second question with which I began. Why should these 300 million people be forced to live under the same central government? The independent Greek cities, out of which came Western civilization, had populations of 15,000 or so, smaller than Auburn, Alabama, today.
If we followed the Greek model, we would not have one central government but fully 20,000 small communities, each with political autonomy. They would compete for citizens and capital. Those that taxed and regulated their citizens and their property would lose, and those who let people alone would gain. They would be economically unviable on their own, and so they would be driven to permit free trade, not only between the cities but also with the rest of the world.
|"If we followed the Greek model, we would not have one central government but fully 20,000 small communities, each with political autonomy."|
This would not lead to isolationism but rather the very opposite: a heightened economic and cultural internationalism, even as the structures of government would be close at home and easier to control. And as the politically independent Greeks were still all Greeks, we would still be all Americans. But the forces of competition would work to improve the governments under which we live and bring them in line with the old liberal ideal.
If raising the idea of breaking the US into 20,000 autonomous entities sounds completely crazy to you, I look at it this way: if the New Scientist can talk about how healthy the world would be if six billion people were zapped away by aliens, I can talk about the far more realistic and responsible vision of turning fifty United States into 20,000 free and disunited cities.
Moreover, we should reflect on the reality that self-governing communities were precisely the experience of Colonial America. The colonies traded with each other and with the rest of the world. Citizens moved to locations based on the relative liberality of laws. Our colonial ancestors were widely read. They learned from the experience of Rome that republican government can only coexist with liberty when both the territory and the population size are small. Otherwise, they degenerate into despotic and unworkable schemes for central planning.
The knowledge of this reality is what led to the revolt against their masters overseas. School kids are taught that the basis of the American Revolution was the desire of the colonies not to be ruled by a King. But this is a superficial view. It is also misleading to say that the colonists were driven to revolution by taxes or trade monopolies. These were both symptoms of a larger reality that had begun to dawn on them, namely that they were capable of self-government and that therefore the empire was imposing a wholly unnecessary despotism on them. They didn't need to be ruled by some far-flung government on the other side of the world. They could rule themselves, and they had every right to assert that truth, which is what they did in the Declaration of Independence.
The revolutionary generation spoke of the high debts of the British government, of its patronage and corruption, of the cruelty of its colonial administrators, of its arrogance and pride, of its departure from its historic principles of liberty — and all of these were seen as the inevitable consequence of empire, which is nothing more than the attempt to rule too many people over too large a territory under rules and laws that favor interest groups in league with the imperial state.
The colonists spoke aggressively about liberating the colonies from the grip of the British Empire. They spoke of how a revolution against the empire would ultimately prove to be beneficial to Britain itself, because it would help to return it to its first principles. They spoke of how the world would rejoice to see the British Empire humiliated in defeat.
Mercy Otis Warren writes in her history of the revolution that the Americans felt a sense of solidarity with many nations around the world who had been cruelly treated by the British Empire. Their identity began to be shaped around themselves as resistors to empire, and it even affected historiography at the time, as every group that had ever longed to throw off the yoke of Britain came to have new luster in their eyes.
|Empire is nothing more than the attempt to rule too many people over too large a territory under rules and laws that favor interest groups in league with the imperial state.|
Had the taxes and depredations occurred domestically, the level of tolerance would have been much higher, as is always the case. The decisive force in the Revolution was that despotism was being imposed at so remote a distance by a government that knew nothing and understood nothing about the distinctive American cultural and political identity that had been shaped over the previous 100 years and more.
It was this that gave rise to such rhetoric as is found in the sermon of Pastor Jonathan Mayhew in 1750: "For a nation thus abused to arise unanimously, and to resist their prince, even to the dethroning him, is not criminal; but a reasonable way of indicating their liberties and just rights; it is making use of the means, and the only means, which God has put into their power, for mutual and self-defense. And it would be highly criminal in them, not to make use of this means."
It was the successful overthrowing of an empire that inspired the first code of government after the Revolution: the Articles of Confederation. The United States was to be an assembly of republics. We must understand that the word republic in those days was synonymous with small. The territory would be small. Monarchies could be larger, but even they had to divide as their populations grew. This view toward the size of republics was due to the influence of Montesquieu, who argued the point in great detail. In his view, large republics were necessarily corrupt and contained the seeds of their own destruction.
Montesquieu was the favorite thinker of the intellectuals and activists who opposed the creation of the US Constitution on precisely the grounds that such a big state would constitute an empire.
Robert Yates, writing under the name Brutus, said against the Constitution:
"History furnishes no example of a free republic, anything like the extent of the United States. The Grecian republics were of small extent; so also was that of the Romans. Both of these, it is true, in process of time, extended their conquests over large territories of country; and the consequence was, that their governments were changed from free to the most tyrannical that ever existed in the world."
Patrick Henry, as usual, was more eloquent than anyone:
"If we admit this consolidated government, it will be because we like a great, splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things. When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: liberty, sir, was then the primary object. … But now, sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country into a powerful and mighty empire. If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great, consolidated empire of America, your government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together. Such a government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism. There will be no checks, no real balances, in this government."
So powerful was this argument that Alexander Hamilton was forced to reply in the Federalist Papers: "the opponents of the plan proposed have, with great assiduity, cited and circulated the observations of Montesquieu on the necessity of a contracted territory for a republican government. … When Montesquieu recommends a small extent for republics, the standards he had in view were of dimensions far short of the limits of almost every one of these States. Neither Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, nor Georgia can by any means be compared with the models from which he reasoned and to which the terms of his description apply."
Do you see the sleight of hand here? He is citing the case of the states as not being empires. But what was at issue was not the states — they were already sovereign — but the creation of the national government. That was what the antifederalists feared. The federalists (who were of course misnamed) promised that the states would retain political autonomy, but that begged the question of why there was a need for a federal government at all.
All such questions must be considered in context. Might Hamilton have reversed his judgment had he lived to see the federal government trample on the legal rights of the states, or seen the states expand from 13 to 50, or seen the empire spread from the Northeast and all the way to Hawaii and Alaska? Might he have eaten his words if he could have seen the dreadful results of the attempt of the US empire to even impose its rule in a long series of wars? It is difficult to say, but this much we do know: the antifederalists were precisely right that the creation of the new federal government would create too many temptations to empire.
I'm particularly intrigued by Patrick Henry's comments. He says that a free people do not speak of imperial greatness but of liberty itself. They do not seek to be feared by the world but appreciated, admired, and emulated. In the same spirit, a free people do not rule by tanks and guns and bombers; they win converts to their cause through peaceful cooperation and good example to the world.
This is the ideal of Patrick Henry. He fought to immunize the American people against the great error that has bamboozled the producers from the ancient world to our own time: the myth that imperial greatness can be achieved without the expense of freedom. All nations that aspire to imperial greatness lose their liberty and learn, but always at a date too late.
In the early part of the 20th century, following World War I, Europe faced a similar crossroad. Would it choose the path of liberty or would it attempt to shore up the old imperial states that existed in the 19th century? A new democratic age had dawned, and monarchies had been overthrown. Mises was the new Montesquieu, warning against large states and urging radical devolution of government as the only path to peace and prosperity.
|"Mises was the new Montesquieu, warning against large states and urging radical devolution of government as the only path to peace and prosperity."|
The book in question is called Nation, State, and Economy. It was Mises's first book on politics. His explicit purpose was to map out a plan for Europe to avoid future war. To Mises, that meant turning the nationalist impulse toward a productive use in the creation of much smaller states, and avoiding the error of empire.
He wrote that the princely states strive for expansion of territory and for unlimited increases in the number of subjects, with which the prince can expect higher tax revenues. The state believes that its survival depends on its size. The more mighty and expansive, the more it assures its preservation and prosperity.
But the idea of classical liberalism introduced a revolutionary idea into history. It saw that prosperity depends not on the size of the state but on its economic structure. In fact, an expansive state requires high taxes and inflation and these institutions actually war against prosperity. Moreover, it saw that small states are actually more stable and long-lasting because they avoid the expense of war and refrain from cultivating enemies that seek their destruction. Their governments are more likely to remain small and limited.
The old liberal position, then, turned ancient wisdom on its head. It is not through empire that a nation (which is different from a state) achieves prosperity and longevity, but through free markets, free trade, small and localized forms of government, and an international policy of peace. This was the only way forward for Europe, if another war was to be prevented.
There is another point: small government resolves the civil strife that comes when too many people within a diverse population live under a unitary state. The struggle to gain power and impose one group's will on another will always be present. But devolved government keeps people out of each other's hair, and allows all people to interact by means of human choice rather than force. If we understand this point, we can begin to make sense not only of America's immigration problems but also why the war in Iraq has so far proven such an abysmal failure.
"Liberalism knows no conquests," Mises wrote, "no annexations…. It forces no one against his will into the structure of the state. Whoever wants to emigrate is not held back. When a part of the people of the state wants to drop out of the union, liberalism does not hinder it from doing so. Colonies that want to become independent need only do so. The nation as an organic entity can be neither increased nor reduced by changes in states…."
Mises was very shrewd in turning the idea of democracy, which was then heralded by all as the great leap forward out of monarchical states, toward a literal rendering of the idea. To Mises, democracy meant that people consent to a government of their choosing. If people want to leave that government and form a new one, they are following the democratic impulse. Such is usually the case in territories. To prevent people from leaving would be to assert the rights of empire over democracy. "Democracy," he wrote "is self-determination, self-government, self-rule."
The connection with his advocacy of free markets is clear. Just as in political life, people must always consent to the way in which they are ruled, in economics, people should not be ruled without their consent in their exchanges, business enterprises, or choices of any kind. So long as people are not forced against their will in economics or politics, they are free, and it is this free condition that leads to peace and prosperity. So Mises's idea of democracy had nothing to do with democracy today, in which an unwilling majority is ruled by special interest groups under ever-increasing power relations.
While we might not agree with Mises in believing that democracy could work so long as government is in charge, we can commend his attempt to reconcile the idea of law with freedom. This ideal depended heavily on governmental structures that are close to the people and can be influenced by them.
There can be no compromise between the liberal idea and the imperial idea, and no special considerations justify replacing the former with the latter. "The idea of liberalism starts with the freedom of the individual," he wrote. "It rejects all rule of some persons over others; it knows no master peoples and no subject peoples, just as within the nation itself it distinguishes between no masters and no serfs. For fully developed imperialism, the individual no longer has value. He is valuable to it only as a member of the whole, as a soldier of an army."
Imperialism, wrote Mises, "strives for the numerical greatness of the nation. To make conquests and hold them, one must have the upper hand militarily, and military importance always depends on the number of combatants at one's disposal. Attaining and maintaining a large population thus becomes a special goal of policy…. The imperialist wants a state as large as possible; he does not care whether that corresponds to the desire of the peoples."
In contrast, Mises favored a globalism in economic relations and a localism in political relations. To achieve these required an ideological change that set aside grudges in favor of a future of liberal individualism.
Such was the Misesian vision in 1919.
It was not to come to pass. World War I had ended with many resentments stewing and the old longing for empire had not entirely gone away. Germany in particular was ripe for bamboozlement by a leader who could tap into the resentment concerning lost territories. The leader would convince the people that the urge for justice can only be satisfied by re-creating an empire, and only the strongest possible leader could manage to accomplish this against all odds.
Mises wrote with an impassioned desire to stop the course of events. "It would be the most terrible misfortune for Germany and for all humanity if the idea of revenge should dominate the German policy of the future," he wrote. "To become free of the fetters that have been forced upon German development by the peace of Versailles, to free our fellow nationals from servitude and need, that alone should be the goal of the new German policy. To retaliate for wrong suffered, to take revenge and to punish, does satisfy lower instincts, but in politics the avenger harms himself no less than the enemy. What would he gain from quenching his thirst for revenge at the cost of his own welfare?"
There is only one problem with the Misesian analysis. While it is true that the people of a nation do not and cannot gain anything from a policy of revenge, government leaders do gain what they always and everywhere seek above all else: power and money. It then becomes the task of the leaders to convince the mass of people that everyone benefits when the leaders benefit.
In short, the people must be bamboozled into accepting some ideological rationale for government to expand and become an imperial power that rules as much as possible. And what kinds of rationales are there available? Almost any idea alive in the culture is open to being co-opted.
If people are religious, the rulers can claim that empire is necessary for religious reasons. If they have a fear of some ghastly ideology like fascism or communism, the leaders can say that they are staving off such systems. If they believe that their economic well-being is being threatened from abroad, an economic nationalism can be advanced. There are many other available rationales.
In the interwar period, for example, race theory became very popular among the educated elite of all Western nations, and this theory was often linked with a socialist plan for using eugenic policies to bring about some purported ideal. Nazism did not invent all this; it only used what was alive in the culture as a way of justifying its power. These ideas were no less popular in Britain and the United States.
Americans have a deep-rooted attachment to the ideal of liberty, which is a glorious thing. But it is also why American leaders have always justified foreign wars in the name of liberating the oppressed people of the world. The mistake is thinking that freedom can be achieved by means of force. The Cold War originated with the idea that the US should do whatever was necessary to roll back the very Soviet client states that the US worked to establish at the end of World War II. Then the US pursued a series of wars in far-flung places that cost lives and liberty and did nothing to stop the spread of communism.
Murray Rothbard saw what was happening in the late 1940s, and emerged as the last-surviving member of the Old Right that united love of free markets with an anti-imperial foreign policy. This eventually became known as libertarianism, which, in its best form, is as much opposed to imperial warmongering as anyone on the Left. His strength as a writer and commentator on public affairs was that he saw through the official lies of the state, particularly in wartime.
The more implausible the imperial war, the more a variety of rationales becomes necessary. Iraq has been justified on grounds of security, safety, religion, vengeance, and economics, each rationale carefully tailored to appeal to a certain demographic group. All that is necessary is that the state convinces a slight majority, however temporarily.
Hardly a day goes by when I don't receive emails from advocates of war explaining why the wars of the Bush administration are actually wonderful and just and great for us. They all have a different tenor. Some are about security. Some emphasize the need to overthrow foreign dictators. Some are religious in nature and express great fear about the old religion of Islam, with which the West has had peaceful and productive relations provided we have not been working to overthrow their governments and invade their lands.
But a theme that emerges from all these emails is the one that we need to be most on guard against: raw enthusiasm for the state as the appointed representative of American interests. In fact, I would say that this attitude is un-American in the most profound sense.
What must a person forget in order to believe in the unity of interest between US foreign policy and the American people? They must forget that the United States was born in revolt against not only the British Empire but also the very idea of empire itself. They must forget that the only way the US Constitution was adopted was the promise that it would not act imperialistically at home or abroad. They must forget the warnings of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and many other leaders of the 18th and 19th centuries. They must forget about the history of failure of our own imperial wars in the 20th century, in which guerilla armies have consistently beat back our regular troops.
|"What must a person forget in order to believe in the unity of interest between US foreign policy and the American people?"|
Every American is right to be mighty angry at the Bush administration. Bush originally campaigned against the big government of Clinton and called for humility in foreign policy. And what did the Republicans do with their political capital? They squandered every last bit of it on an imperial adventure. In so doing, they further discredited other causes with which the Republicans are linked in the public mind, including the cause of free markets. War is all they have to show for themselves, and it's a disgrace.
And at this late stage in the Iraq conflict, the Bush-run state is asking us to forget even how the Iraq war began. Recall that the idea was to bomb Baghdad, create shock and awe, decapitate the head of state, and then watch as the rest of the country celebrated their liberation from Saddam. Today, Iraq is a country in ruins. Death and violence are everywhere. The reconstruction is going nowhere. Almost 10% of the population has fled. The only immigrants coming in are those swearing to kill.
And yet I read the headline of the New York Times, which quotes what is passed on as some sort of revelation from the military commanders in Iraq. They have decided that the future of Iraq depends heavily on taking Baghdad, cleaning out its rebels and dissidents, and enforcing this through massive violence.
Folks, this is how this war began. And it is how this war is ending.
But let me say something in defense of the US military commanders in Iraq who concocted this latest scheme. There is something intuitively plausible and honest about the statement that if a government can't control its own capital, it cannot control the rest of the country.
In fact, I propose that the same approach be used domestically. Before the federal government makes any more attempts to bring their proposed utopia to the rest of the country, let them eliminate poverty, crime, gang war, hate, despair, abuse, corruption, and injustice in Washington, D.C. Once that city is cleared of all such vice, we can talk about moving on to other parts of the country.
I think we can safely predict a quagmire.
The United States has no business attempting to run a government in Iraq, halfway across the world. A policy maker who claims to be surprised by the resistance is feigning ignorance of the heritage of the US. We are all rebels in our hearts. Anyone who longs for freedom must be.
The same can be said of the entire United States. It is an utterly unviable project to attempt to rule 300 million people under a single central government. The experience of all of mankind teaches us that. For that reason a consistent anti-imperialist stance today must not only oppose the US war in Iraq and its attempts to manage governments anywhere in the world, but also favor a complete rollback of the US empire at home on grounds that it is contrary to liberty and contrary to our heritage.
And if we understand something about economics, we must also see that a consistent stance against imperialism must also favor a completely free market, not only within the territory of the state but also with the entire world. A people who live in small independent cities can be the most prosperous in history provided they keep the markets free of any impediments, maintain a sound currency, and not interfere with the right of free association.
The old liberal vision is as valid today as it was before 1776, before 1787, and in 1919. There is a unity in the idea of a free economy at home and abroad, and a reduced and devolved form of government. We must reclaim that spirit that Patrick Henry said was alive in America's youth.
Why is it then that the Mises Institute is nearly alone in championing such a policy? After all, it is part of the conventional apparatus of received opinion in this country that people who love free enterprise also love war, while those who love peace are also friendly to socialism and people-impoverishing ideologies like environmentalism. Why is it that the Mises Institute position on this is so rare?
Well, we can observe that this position was rare in Mises's day too. When Rothbard took up the cause after World War II, he was nearly alone. And today we stand out among institutions for upholding this ideal. And yes, this opinion is still rare. But it need not stay that way. The cause of anti-imperialism and freedom triumphed in 1776 and it can triumph again, provided we have the courage to continue to speak the truth.
Never has the work of the Mises Institute been more essential. This country and this world need a voice that addresses the questions that others not only fail to answer, but also fail to ask. The cause of liberty itself needs the Mises Institute. It needs all our student programs to thrive. It needs our publishing to be even more aggressive and prolific. It needs our web presence to be ever more spectacular.
Academia is in desperate need of thinkers who understand what liberty means. The human population needs liberty in order to continue to grow in numbers and well-being, and liberty needs champions to make it so. This is what is needed for social peace and economic prosperity.
And above all, the Mises Institute needs you, your fighting spirit that inspires our work, and the confidence you give us to forge ahead and say what few others are willing to say. Thank you for all you have done to give voice to the wisdom of the ages, and for enabling us to point to a future in which the idea of liberty rises above all the ideologies that seek to kill the human spirit.
This speech was delivered on October 28, 2006, at "Imperialism: Enemy of Freedom," the Mises Institute Supporter's Summit.