Mises Daily Articles
Rockwell on the State, the Military, and Propaganda
Editor’s note: this is a transcript of this interview, courtesy of The Tom Woods Show.
TOM WOODS: This book Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto is getting plaudits from everybody. Charles Goyette likes it, Ron Paul likes it, I like it. Everybody who reads it seems to be thrilled with it. It’s readable in the sense that it’s got interesting, compelling, punchy prose. It’s packed with information, and it’s short enough that the length of it is not daunting. It doesn’t put people off. By the way, length of books does not always put people off. It amazes me how many people read The Creature from Jekyll Island. It amazes G. Edward Griffin how many people read that book. But all the more will read a book of this length. I am really pleased about it.
So I want to continue our conversation because we peeled away only a few layers of the onion last time, and I want to start off with a concept that we talked about on this program just a couple of weeks ago in connection with Teddy Roosevelt. We had the author of a little book called American Fascist talking about Teddy Roosevelt, and I wanted to give him a chance to show that his use of the word fascism was not just hyperbole. That even though we’re not necessarily talking about Hitler himself, there are ideas in fascism that are present to a greater or lesser extent in various regimes. What are you talking about when you say American fascism? What do you have in mind?
LEW ROCKWELL: Well, of course, as you and your interviewee pointed out, fascism comes from the Progressive Era. It’s not a coincidence that Teddy Roosevelt came to power in that time, and this is when Mussolini developed his ideas. This is before Hitler. So fascism antedates Hitler, and it’s not just an epithet. It is an actual, maybe not a very systematic, but it’s definitely an ideological system, a political system, and an economic system. Mussolini himself said really it’s better described as corporatism than fascism because they represented the melding of state power and corporate power, of course, under the politicians and applied against everybody else in society. So what is fascism? And I think the American system, certainly Teddy Roosevelt had his fascist impulses.
Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was entirely fascist. It really was ripped off from Mussolini, and it benefited the big companies that were in cahoots with the federal government—hurt all the companies and the consumers and everybody else who was not in cahoots, and it set out to change American capitalism, and they didn’t do it. So now I would say there have been many, many advances in fascism. The fact that we don’t have death camps is not a refutation that the American political and economic system is not fascist. So it’s the corporate state. It’s a combination of the welfare state, of massive regulation of business, of hatred of the other—in our case maybe it’s Muslims, Islamists and so forth who allegedly justify total surveillance and total control of the American population. It’s government that—in Mussolini’s case it was the labor unions, big business, and government in a combine. Thank goodness in our own country the labor unions are not a significant force anymore and are becoming less and less. But nevertheless, we have big corporations and big government cooperating together against the rest of us. It also involves militarism. Unfortunately most people accept as just the norm, the worship of the police and the military and the so-called first responders. That’s entirely a fascist impulse. The idea that we’re supposed to think that these are higher-level beings, they are far better and more significant people than just regular, what Will Grigg calls “the mundanes.” That it should be—and it’s perfectly plausible and really moral that it’s a far more serious crime to, say, touch your elbow to a cop who’s arresting you, and therefore you’re resisting arrest, than it would ever be to touch a regular person with your elbow by mistake. It’s the glorification. It’s the constant warfare system, the constant wars going on everywhere—Mussolini, Hitler, Teddy Roosevelt all believed that war was in some sense the highest result of civilization, that not only was the flowering of civilization—war—but that it advanced civilization. Well, it advances something, not of course civilization. So the constant wars, the constant militarism, military worship, and planning by the government and the big corporations of all of economic life, and then we have the total surveillance state, and we have unfortunately what is still, as compared to some other regimes, a soft fascism, but it’s becoming increasingly hard, and it’s more than slightly alarming.
On the other hand, I think there’s more and more, especially young people are becoming awakened to what the American system is, what it’s become, how their own lives are being stunted by it, their own economic possibilities in the future—and Ron Paul, of course, is the major factor in this.
All the ideas of the great libertarians and Austrians, Murray Rothbard and everybody else, they are, of course, the foundation for all of this. But Ron by all of his work has awakened the young people not only in this country but all around the world as to the importance of freedom, how it’s being attacked, and why we don’t want a corporate state, a fascist state. Why it goes against every value of decency, and religion, and the Golden Rule, and it just is an attack on, of course, private property, which is the real basis of civilization, of course, not war. You don’t actually have, for the most part, government ownership of the means of production, that is, you have the TVA. You have the VA single payer socialized medical system.
There are some aspects of the American economy that are classically socialist, but mostly private ownership remains in the hands of the private sector. Control is increasingly in the hands of the government, so that whatever government agency we look at, whether it’s the EPA, or the IRS, or OSHA, or the Treasury Department, the Interior Department, all of them, are massively increasing in power, and business people today have to worry first and foremost not what their customers are thinking and might want, but what is the government thinking and what might the government do to them. So they spend vast resources, vast amounts of time that should go into new products and services to attract the consumer and satisfy consumer wants, go into worrying about the government. Hans Hoppe met recently with, I won’t name him, but an important billionaire who’s interested in Hans’s ideas, and he had a lot of the businessmen associated with him, and Hans said all of them were terrified of the government. They were very, very concerned about what might happen to them. For example, if they spoke out, and I think this is what’s—this is the kind of country that we’ve developed. It is a fascist system. On the other hand, it’s sort of theglorification of falsehood so that there’s—and we do have the truth on our side, so that’s, of course, extremely important, and I actually think the future can be bright just because of young people resisting this system. They don’t like the surveillance. They don’t like the wars. Paulianism is spreading. Also, the ideas of anarcho-capitalism are spreading. There have been more attacks on private-property anarchism, libertarian anarchism, or as Murray Rothbard called it, anarcho-capitalism, than I think has ever, certainly in my lifetime, I have ever seen.
The media, whether it’s the New York Times down to Salon or up from Salon, or whatever, many of them, the New Republic, many of these publications and intellectuals, public intellectuals, are attacking our ideas. If they didn’t worry about us, of course, they wouldn’t bother to attack. They are worried about it. They are worried about its appeal to young people. They are worried about the fact that young people and Ron Paul made it possible for conservatives to be antiwar. Everybody had been brainwashed from the time of Bill Buckley that if you weren’t pro-war, you were pro-communist. You were just the worst kind of bad guy. We had to be at war everywhere all the time, and that’s the right way. Of course, it’s not the right way. It’s obviously not the right way. War is, I would argue, nothing but mass murder, and it’s not a good idea. Thank goodness most of us are not equipped to go kill people. It’s why veterans don’t ever want to talk about whatever happened to them. They don’t want to talk about what they were forced to do—what they saw. It’s so horrifying, and it affects them badly for the rest of their lives. It’s why we see so many suicides among veterans, suicides among troops. And then, of course, there’s all the people who are being killed. We’re only supposed to worry about American casualties. For example, I saw something on Drudgethe other day talking about, you know, was Iraq worth it, sorry I don’t have the figures exactly, but something like 4,800 Americans killed—68,000 wounded. But, of course, there probably have been a million people killed in Iraq. The British medical journal Lancet had a very, very good study of this. This is some years ago. It’s certainly hundreds and hundreds of thousands of innocents, people with their arms and legs blown off among the ones who are still surviving. People’s homes destroyed, businesses destroyed, and now, of course, in Iraq we see the alleged al Qaeda taking over and hilariously the Iraqi army just taking their uniforms off and getting out. They don’t want to kill. They don’t want to be killed.
So many, many interesting things happening in the world. The state is actually having trouble. They believe, of course, that everything can be solved by the gun at the head. So all of that takes care of everything. If they have the power to put a gun to your head, that will just solve everything. But of course, it doesn’t solve everything, even for the state. They require people’s active consent, or at least passive consent for what they are doing. That consent, I would argue, is evaporating, especially among young people. They are worried about the ideas of freedom. So I think, as Murray points out, all throughout human history there’s been the struggle between power and market. This is nothing new. It’s a struggle that will never be won this side of heaven, I’m afraid. But certainly we can make progress. We can reduce the amount of evil in the world, and the state, I would argue, is mankind’s greatest earthly enemy. There are spiritual enemies that are more important, but from the standpoint of human enemies, it’s the state, and so I think there’s every reason to look forward to the future because of young people—and also some of us older people are waking up, too, to what’s been done.
Fred Reed did a wonderful column the other day about how many veterans are waking up to the fact that they were used. They weren’t actually serving the country, protecting freedom, and all the rest of the lies that are told. They were misused, and they were misused for terrible and evil things. So I think people are waking up. The Internet continues to be very important as much as the government is trying to restrict it, and people are reading, people are learning. I think libertarianism is spreading, and I think it worries the bad guys, and that’s a good thing, because they should be worried.
WOODS: Lew, I had Bob Higgs on some months ago on the program, and he’s an example of somebody whose thought really did evolve over the years. He was always a limited-government libertarian, but I asked him: you’ve obviously really radicalized over the past five to ten years; what happened? And he said that it finally hit him — and I might add parenthetically, it’s very, very rare for an academic to really have second thoughts about anything. You just double down for your whole career. But he said that as he was doing scholarly work in the field of economics and sometimes economic history, he was describing the state in ways that he realized had no connection to reality at all. He was going along with the standard academic approach to the state, and he realized that this is not how the state is. These are not the state’s motivations. The state is not composed of the sorts of people that the theorists assume that it is. So he’s just abandoned it completely, and he’s entirely a Rockwellian at this point, entirely a Rothbardian in his outlook. And his Facebook updates are some of the best parts of my day, sometimes, even though they can be depressing.
On the military issue, sometimes you and I feel like we’re making a lot of progress, and we certainly are. But one thing that deflates me is the ubiquity of the military worship. It is everywhere. It’s in every sector of society. The military people get discounts on coffee. They get discounts on sandwiches. They get special consideration when they board a plane, and even the progressives, the ones who are supposed to be antiwar, will lamely clap for them on the airplane. And look, I’m sorry: I am just not clapping. And the conservatives, by the way, the conservatives will be against some regulatory agencies, and this regulatory agency is a bunch of thugs, and we don’t like these government employees, but this other branch of government employees can do no wrong. You’ve got to stand up and salute. You’ve got to applaud. They are sacrificing for our freedoms. These pieties are repeated even by people who ostensibly oppose the wars. Thanks for your service. What are you talking about? Am I living in an Orwell novel? What can we do about this?
ROCKWELL: You know, as Joe Sobran pointed out, conservatives are against government programs unless they involve killing people.
WOODS: Yeah. (laughs)
ROCKWELL: So this is what the state specializes in. In fact, I think people who are killers or who enjoy sending others to kill are attracted to the state. Maybe they become hit men for the mafia, but mostly they become politicians, and they actually enjoy starting wars. They enjoy having people killed. They are some people who feel that people like FDR or Bob Dole, who are themselves disabled, sometimes have an impulse. They don’t mind sending strong, young guys off to be mutilated. That they actually like it. So it’s very, very unfortunate. The military worship is, yes, I have never seen anything like it in my life. America’s always been a very militaristic country. It’s not true, for example, that veterans were spit upon when they came back from Vietnam. That’s all just a lie. I can tell you. I was there. The idea that hippies were being nasty to veterans who could beat them up—just, believe me, it didn’t happen. Even then the veterans were exempt, and the troops were exempt from people who always wanted to blame the government. Although, if we listen to Ron Paul’s favorite antiwar song, “The Universal Soldier,”it couldn’t happen without the soldiers. If the soldiers refuse to kill, the whole war operation comes to a halt. It doesn’t matter how big Lockheed-Martin or the rest of these munitions manufacturers are. It doesn’t matter how many people at the Pentagon. They need the soldiers.
So good for Bowe Bergdahl — the guy who apparently sought to change his job, or as they put it in militaryspeak, desert. And he didn’t want to kill anymore, and he didn’t want to be part of the killing, and of course, he didn’t want to be killed, either. They term that cowardice. Although it seems to me a perfectly healthy and normal reaction. So there’s a tremendous amount of propagandizing that goes on. The military training, in fact, as Fred Reed pointed out, consists largely in attempting to suppress the conscience. That’s the job of the chaplains in the military: to suppress the conscience. If we can think of the basic libertarian insight about government, it’s allowed to do everything that we know among ourselves in the private world are crimes. Say an escaped criminal is hiding in somebody’s apartment building. You can’t just bomb the apartment building to get the guy. The state calls it collateral damage. You can’t commit murder. Murder is a crime even if you’re wearing a government uniform. So maybe we have a hope of at least some of these soldiers realizing that they’re being sent out to commit crimes. And of course, they come back with all of these horrible mental problems, and obviously physical problems a lot of times, too. Then we see the government promoting the hiring of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan as police because they will have the right attitude towards the people—which is, of course, not to protect and serve but to control. This is why they have the militarization, the uniforms, the military vehicles that they have, the military weapons—all designed against the people. So the state always fears its own people most. It doesn’t actually fear the Russkies or whoever is the enemy of the moment. It always fears the people, which is why all the propaganda is aimed at us, and of course, as in this military worship, it’s successful. But America, I am sorry to say, has always been a hotbed of military worship. It’s one of the faults of our country.
WOODS: Well Lew, in our society you don’t win any popularity contests by saying that maybe, just maybe, the troops might bear some moral responsibility here. I do understand that there is so much propaganda that it’s possible that somebody could really not know, not understand the moral significance of what he is doing. But that can go only so far. If you’re going to sign up for a job that you know involves killing people, you’ve got at least crack open a book. You’ve got to look at the history of the area that you’re going to bomb, have some remote sense of what’s going on there. I have distant relatives who have been in the military who have not got the first clue about anything in the world other than the U.S. is great and rah, rah, rah.
You mentioned “The Universal Soldier.” I am sure you will recall at Ron Paul’s Rally for the Republic in 2008 he had Aimee Allen sing that song because he has always appreciated that song. Then in his own remarks—I was really moved by this—he said that he sometimes looked back on his own time as a flight surgeon in the military and asked himself, “Was I the universal soldier?” That in my own small way, I enabled this. Maybe I should have just said no to the whole thing. And again, how unusual is it for somebody in his ’70s to look back and say, in public no less, maybe I did something that was seriously wrong, and I looked back on it, and I wish I had it to do over again.
ROCKWELL: And this, by the way, is a man who became a physician so he would never be called upon to kill people for the government. Ron was interested in many—he might have become another kind of scientist. He might have done many other things. He might have become a businessman, a successful businessman, too, but that’s why he became a doctor. So that was his—of course, this comes about through introspection. I don’t think you—of course, obviously I am for reading books—your book, my book, many of Rothbard’s. It’s essential. But can we also know from introspection? Isn’t this the Catholic doctrine of the natural law? Certain things are written on the human heart by God. One of them is, it’s not a good thing to kill people. Murder is a problem. It’s why these kids get brainwashed. A lot of times, because of the Fed and other government economic policies, they don’t have any kind of economic future in the private economy, or that’s what they feel, and so they joined for that reason. If something is in your economic interest, of course, it’s very easy to think it’s okay, and everybody is trained to believe that anybody who is resisting the U.S. is an untermensch who deserves to be killed, deserves to have his throat slit, and that’s true of his wife and children and his grandparents and so forth, too. They made the mistake of Leonard Peikoff, the horrible guy who is Ayn Rand’s successor as the head of the Ayn Rand Institute, who said you can kill everybody. He was for nuking all Arabs, and I guess he still is, but he was arguing for this. And he was asked the question about non-combatants. He said they are living in that country; therefore, they are responsible.
WOODS: Yeah, so he takes the leftist view that just by standing somewhere, you’ve consented to the regime. That’s the most totalitarian view of all, and also, from some of these official Randians — I don’t want to get complaints from ordinary Objectivists; I’m talking about the official mouthpieces of various Objectivist organizations — we hear repeatedly the use of the term “terrorist countries.” Now, these are the same people who call themselves individualists, and yet they speak in this horrifying collective about “terrorist countries.” And then, as you say, repeatedly you see Objectivist scholars saying we should not worry for a moment about collateral damage. And this is the school that portrays itself as the philosophy of reason. Heaven help us!
ROCKWELL: (laughs) No, of course, it’s true. And if we’re going to start to talk about terrorist countries, I don’t think you’re talking about the country, but terrorist regimes — why isn’t the U.S. right at the top of the list? If we think of the U.S.’s official definition of terrorism — and by the way, it has to be non-state. They start right off by saying it’s a non-state thing, terrorism. And it’s the use of violence or the threat of violence against civilian populations and civilian targets to attempt to bring about political change. Well, what’s the U.S. doing in all its wars? I mean, ordering all the drones and so forth, and when they bomb a wedding party, they feel that they can just give the surviving families a couple thousand dollars, and that’s fine. And everybody is trained to think it doesn’t matter. They are gooks. They are not really human. So it’s a horrendous—the National Socialists didn’t invent this sort of attitude. Maybe it’s always been present in the human heart, along with some other bad things.
WOODS: It’s intensified by the state.
ROCKWELL: Well, the state, of course, lives off it. This is the source of the state’s power. That and the drive towards egalitarianism is another one. But war, yes, it’s famously said war is the health of the state. War is sort of the foundation of the state. War is the essence of the state. I always find it interesting that there’s so many troops in Washington, D.C., that they are only allowed—they are ordered, in fact—that you must, of course, wear your uniform on Tuesday, but not the other days of the week, because if all the soldiers and Marines, and Navy guys, and Air Force guys wore their uniforms every day, the place would look like an armed camp. And of course it is an armed camp, and it’s engaged in what Jack Douglas calls the annihilation of nations. Look what they’ve done to Iraq and Afghanistan. We even hear rumors about a possible first strike using atomic weapons against Russia to eliminate them once and for all as one of the few countries that’s actually challenging the U.S. desire to rule the globe through global domination. Certainly, many, many political leaders and dictators have been accused of wanting to rule the globe, and maybe they all do, but very few of them have had the wherewithal. The U.S. government actually has the wherewithal and has pretty much achieved it, world domination and world rule, and I guess they want to rule the solar system and the universe, too. But the two countries that are giving them trouble and not obeying are China and Russia. So there are people who in the evil Herman Kahn’s neocon view think the unthinkable. That is this sort of routine use of atomic weapons against civilian populations as a way to control opposition in other countries.
Bob Higgs has said in a tremendous talk to the Mises University last summer at the Mises Institute —and you can see it online at Mises.org — he thought the U.S. state was actually capable of exterminating life on Earth. They were actually so crazy as well as evil with all their—just to take one aspect: in Fort Dietrich, Maryland there’s this vast government enterprise, and there are others in other parts of the country, too, that exist only to create deadly diseases. And there’s a bunch of government scientists right now who are engaging in attempting to restore the Spanish flu virus that came about as a result of World War I and that killed 50 million people. That’s sort of erased from history and from people’s memories because the whole thing was so unbelievably horrendous in this country, too, by the way. I had people from my family in those days died from this, too, and I think this was true of almost every American family. So these scientists funded by the government are attempting to bring this virus back. Only the government would do that. You can’t imagine a private company doing that. This is the government. So they produce biological weapons. They produce chemical weapons. There have even been efforts to bring about diseases and bacteria that would attack different ethnic groups like Arabs or whatever. So Dr. Evil doesn’t quite describe these people.
WOODS: Lew, early on, before they launched the war in Afghanistan, we know that there was a slide show that was shown to Condi Rice and Rumsfeld, and it was called “Thinking Outside the Box: Poison the Food Supply.” This was just considered a possible policy option that they might consider. As we’ve been talking it’s occurred to me that very often we hear people say, I believe in the free market, but the one issue where I just had trouble coming on board with you guys was foreign policy, was war. That was the last hurdle for me, and then when I finally saw it, then I joined with you guys. Isn’t it funny? And that was true for me, too, by the way. But isn’t it funny that it should be that way? That we’ve been so bamboozled by the state that the worst thing that it does is the thing we have the most difficulty letting go of. Why shouldn’t war be the first thing that we see as wrong? And then the minimum wage be the last one? Isn’t it funny that it goes the other way?
ROCKWELL: Yeah, it is funny, and I can remember one of the first acts of the Bush regime when it attacked Iraq was to bomb and destroy every single waste treatment facility in the country.
ROCKWELL: In order to cause disease, in order to make sure that the water couldn’t be pure. It’s why, of course, long before there was a military attack, baby food, medicine, all kinds of things were banned from being exported to Iraq. So this is the fabled sanctions, which are also evil, which also violate the moral law. Another way to think of anarcho-capitalism or libertarianism is the state and its employees are not above the moral law. The moral law applies to them just as much as it does to the rest of us. This is very difficult for people to accept. Even clergymen have a difficult time. In fact, some of the worst defenders of the war system are some of the clergy.
WOODS: Oh, yeah. And that’s been true for a long time. Even the progressive Social Gospel clergy were so in favor of World War I, the rhetoric would shock you.
ROCKWELL: No, it’s true. Of course, they were all in favor of it, and they actually thought it would build the Kingdom of God on Earth. Rothbard writes a lot about this in his history of thought and otherwise. But they thought that building the Kingdom of God on Earth can be done by the state, and the most important and best thing the state did was to kill people. So that would bring the reign of God. Well, not quite. So it’s the reign of the devil or something that they’re actually promoting.