Mises Daily Articles
What Was Wrong With the Old World
Very few men have ever known that men are free. Among this earth's population now, few know that fact.
For six thousand years at least, a majority has generally believed in pagan gods. A pagan god, whatever it is called, is an Authority which (men believe) controls the energy, the acts, and therefore the fate of all individuals.
The pagan view of the universe is that it is static, motionless, limited, and controlled by an Authority. The pagan view of man is that all individuals are, and by their nature should and must be, controlled by some Authority outside themselves.
Everyone has this belief when he is very young. A chick can scratch as soon as it is dry from the shell, and a fish emerging from the egg can swim, but a baby must be spanked before he can breathe, and then he cannot control the little energy that he has. For a long time, he will kick himself in the eye when he is only trying to taste his toes to find out what they are.
He is hungry, and he cannot get food. He is uncomfortable, and he cannot turn over. Food, warmth, comfort, cleanliness, everything he wants and must have, come from a power outside himself, enormously stronger than he. And this power actually does control the conditions of his life.
It does not control his energy — did you ever try to stop a baby's squawling when he merely wanted to squawl? — but doubtless he feels that it does. He wants food; it feeds him. He tries to lift himself up, and it lifts him. When this great power outside himself coincides with his own energy, and does what he wants to do, it must seem to him that it controls his energy. When it does with him what he does not want done, he knows that he is powerless to resist it.
If a baby were able to control his energy in thinking and speaking, any baby would say that experience proves the existence of a Great Power that controls babies.
Men do not remain babies all their lives. They grow up. A time comes when every normal man is a responsible human being. His energy creates a part of the whole human world of his time. He is free; he is self-controlling and responsible, because he generates his energy and controls it. No one and nothing else can control it.
Nevertheless, during some six thousand years of the Old World's history, a majority of men have believed that some Authority controlled them.
In all that time, human energies have never worked efficiently enough to get from this earth a reliable food supply.
Many kinds of insects and some animals seem actually to be controlled by an Authority outside themselves.
A honey bee, for instance, behaves as a cell behaves in a human body. A bee apparently has no desires and makes no choices; a Will of the Masses seems to control it. A bee is ruthlessly exhausted, discarded, replaced by another to be worn out in the same changeless labor for the Swarm, just as cells are worn out and replaced. It appears that a bee has no individual life; the Swarm is the living creature.
The nearest human approach to the bee-swarm is communism.
Some sociologists say that Society began in savage communism and developed through barbarism to civilization; others expect Society to reach its final perfection in future world-communism.
To think of human society as an organism, developing, progressing, or retrograding, is to think like a bee — if a bee thinks. It is to think as a pagan thinks. It is to imagine a fantasy.
In the human world there is no entity but the individual person. There is no force but individual energy. In actual human life the only real Society is every living person's contact with everyone he meets.
So far as Society has any real existence, it exists when boy meets girl, when Mrs. Jones telephones Mrs. Smith, when Robinson buys a cigar, when the motorist stops for gasoline, when a lobbyist tips a bellboy and when he meets a Congressman, and when the Congressman votes on a bill; when the postman delivers the mail and the labor bosses discuss a strike and the milliner brings another hat and the dentist says, "Wider, please." Human relationships are so infinitely numerous and varying every moment, that no human mind can begin to grasp them.
To call all these relationships Society, and then discuss the progress or welfare of Society, as if it existed as a bee-swarm does, is simply to escape from reality to fairyland.
No one knows, or can sensibly guess, how or when or where human life began. If it began in communism, it is beginning now. Plenty of groups of all kinds of persons are living in communism. Groups of American communists have always lived in these United States.
The first thing that European intellectuals did, when the thirteen colonies were free of England, was to establish communism here. Hancock, Harvard, Shirley, Tyringham, in Massachusetts; Alfred and New Gloucester in Maine; Mount Lebanon, Watervliet, Groveland, Oneida (Community silver) in New York; South Union and Pleasant Hill in Kentucky; Bethlehem and Economy in Pennsylvania; Union Village, North Union, Watervliet, Whitewater, and Zoar in Ohio; Enfield and Wallingford, Connecticut; Bishop Hill, Illinois; Corning and Bethel, Missouri; Cedarvale, Kansas; Aurora, Oregon, and scores of other American towns and cities, were communist settlements. In the flowering of New England, Emerson's friends created the communist blossom of Brook Farm. Mr. Upton Sinclair, recently almost elected Governor of California, first established his world-wide renown as a revolutionist by founding the communist settlement of Halicon Hall in New Jersey. The American Indians were communists; so, apparently, were the Mound Builders.
Sparta was a barbarian instance of communism. Plutarch describes the Spartans:
Their discipline continued still, after they were grown men. No one was allowed to live after his own fancy, but the city was a sort of camp, in which every man had his share of provisions and business set out. (Lycurgus) bred up his citizens in such a way that they neither would, nor could, live by themselves; they were to make themselves one with the public good and, clustering like bees around their commander, be by their zeal and public spirit all but carried out of themselves.
That "all but" is the stubborn difference between a man and a bee. A bee is wholly carried out of itself. So (the Spartans believed) was Lycurgus. In history, Lycurgus is a legend. The legend is that, like a bee, he poured his whole life-energy into the public good until, growing old, he killed himself to end a life that had no other value.
For five hundred years the Spartans lived in a changeless commune. King Agis IV tried to raise the standard of living; the Spartans killed him. They continued to live as cells of Sparta until less-communistic Greeks defeated them in war and destroyed the commune.
Twenty years ago the Dukhagini in the Dinaric Alps were living in the same obedience to their Law of Lek. I tried for hours to convince some of them that a man can own a house.
A dangerously radical woman of the village was demanding a house. She had helped her husband build it; now she was a childless widow, but she wanted to keep that house. It was an ordinary house; a small, stone-walled, stone-roofed hovel, without floor, window, or chimney.
Obstinately anti-social, she doggedly repeated, "With these hands, my hands, I built up the walls. I laid the roof-stones with my hands. It is my house. I want my house."
The villagers said, "It is a madness. A spirit of the rocks, not human, has entered into her."
They were intelligent. My plea for the woman astounded them, but upon reflection they produced most of the sound arguments for communism: economic equality, economic security, social order.
I said that in America a man owns a house. They could not believe it; they admired America. They had heard of its marvels; during the recent world war they had seen with their eyes the airplanes from that fabulous land.
They questioned me shrewdly. I staggered myself by mentioning taxes; I had to admit that an American pays the tribe for possession of a house. This seemed to concede that the American tribe does own the house. I was routed; their high opinion of my country was restored.
They were unable to imagine that any security, order, or justice could exist among men who were not controlled by some intangible Authority, which could not permit an individual to own a house.
In precisely the same way, Rousseau could not imagine any civilization if Authority did not control individuals. Twenty-five hundred years after Sparta, only two lifetimes ago, all those brilliant European intellectuals were fighting for the Rights of Man, and expecting human rights to destroy Civilization. They could not imagine any free man but the untutored, noble Red Man, naked and solitary in the American wilderness. (They did not bother to learn that the American Indians, though noble and naked, were communists.)
In 1776, these French thinkers had the freest minds in Europe. They could not imagine that an exercise of natural human rights could create a new kind of civilization. They could not imagine actual human rights; they assumed that some Authority must control individuals.
This false assumption underlies all the thought of the Old World, through its whole history, to this day. It underlies a great deal of American thinking.
This delusion has prevailed so long, and it still lures so many honest minds into escaping from facts, because it seems to solve the human problem. The problem is real; it is the problem of controlling the combined energies of many individuals.
Individuals must combine their energies, to survive on this planet. Their combined energies must work under some control. The question is, What controls them?
The Old World answer is, Authority.
This answer is the basis of human life in the Old World. No Old World thinker has ever questioned it. The question that has always engaged Old World minds is, What Authority?
To find The Authority, men's minds have struggled for thousands of years. To find it, active men, century after century, have revolted against their governments, killed their rulers, slaughtered each other in untold millions and set up form after form, every imaginable form, of living Authority.
From Lycurgus to Lenin, communists reject every form of human Authority. To the question, What Authority controls human beings? the honest communist answers, No living man; no King, no Czar, no despot, no dictator, no majority, no group, no class.
A communist makes this answer because he recognizes a fact, the fact of human brotherhood. He truly says that all men are united in one common effort to survive on this earth. All men share a common human necessity, a common human aim. All men are equally entitled to life, and therefore to the necessities of life.
But from this point, a communist reasons on the ancient, pagan assumption that some Authority controls all men. He does not question this pagan superstition; he takes it for granted.
His reasoning therefore continues: Since all men are humanly equal, no man is an Authority controlling other men. If this Authority is no living man, it must be a superhuman, intangible Authority. To find out what this Authority is, observe how men behave. Their first effort is to get food, clothing, shelter. Economic Necessity controls them.
Here is the fallacy that comes from superstitious belief in Authority.
A naked man alone in the woods can flee in circles until he dies of exhaustion, or he can build a shelter of branches, kill and eat a rabbit, and make a garment of rabbit skins. Historically, men have not run in circles and died; they have survived. The fact is that human life is a struggle between the man's energy, which he controls, and the non-human energies of weather and trees and rabbits.
But the communist is looking for the Authority that controls men, and taking it for granted that the man does not control himself, then the Authority that controls him must be his situation, the sum-total of trees and rabbits and weather. That is, the hunter is controlled by what he hunts. A woman does not control her gas-range, it controls her. Does it?
Since a communist does not know that individuals control themselves, he sees them as cells in Society, which (he believes) has a Great Spirit that is to the individual what the swarm is to the bee.
So far as I know, only the American Indians called this intangible Authority, The Great Spirit. Savages call it tabu. Spartans called it Sparta. My Dukhagin friends called it the Law of Lek. Many groups of communists living in these States call it God. Marx called it The Will of the Masses, and The Proletarian State. Communists in this country now call their Authority, The Party Line, and it lives in Moscow.
In theory, communism is the total self-surrender of the individual to the will of this intangible Authority, which of course is always The Good.
The theory and practice of communism are as old as history. They persist, because the theory is partly based on fact. It recognizes the equality and the brotherhood of man.
In practice, no effort to make this theory work has ever permitted human energy to work effectively, because the theory does not recognize the fact that individuals control their own energy.
Communism succeeds in controlling combined human energies, because individuals control their energies in accordance with their view (whether true or false) of the universe, of Reality, of God; and if they believe that an intangible Authority controls them, they act as if such an Authority did control them. If they do not believe this, they do not attempt communism.
All history proves that communism is a feasible way of living. Men have lived, and are living, in communism at every level of culture and at every economic level ever reached in the Old World.
In order to live in communism, it is necessary only that a number of men and women believe two facts and one fallacy; that all men are equal, that all men are brothers — and that an intangible Authority controls individuals.
The great majority of human beings on earth believe today that a superhuman Authority controls human beings.
Italians call this pagan god Immortal Italy. Germans call it The German Race. Communists begin to believe that History is its name; that history is not a mere record of men's acts, but a Power that controls men's acts. The god has many names: Society ("Society is responsible." "Society must provide — "); The Industrial Revolution ("The Industrial Revolution creates the Capitalist System."); The Machines ("Man is the slave of The Machines." "This is a war of The Machines.") Some Americans lament the death of the god that created these United States and once made Americans strong and self-reliant. Its name is The Frontier.
Experience contradicts this pagan superstition. Whatever the intangible Authority is called, it cannot be seen nor felt nor smelled nor heard. When a man musters courage to act against or without its control, it does not strike him dead. It does nothing whatever.
From this experience, the believer rarely concludes that his god does not exist. He merely changes its name, or his idea of how it works. (Or, he supposes that it controls everyone but himself. For instance, Mr. Gallup believes that a man's income dictates his opinions. He uses this discovery to make a great change in his own income. Does he find his opinions altering as his income increases?)
Since history began, men in the Old World have never doubted that some Authority controls them. But ordinary experience makes it hard to believe that this superhuman Power is wholly intangible. Most men have believed that it creates a superior kind of man to act as its agent.
The Japanese today believe that their Mikado is a living God. The Tibetans believe that God incarnates Himself in their Great Lama. The Pharaohs of Egypt, and the Emperors of Rome, were believed to be Gods. Until 1911, the Empress of China was sacred.
In 1776, all continental Europeans and the descendants of Europeans living in South America and most of North America believed that a King was God's agent on earth and ruled inferior men by that Divine Right.
After the first world war, all continental Europeans except the French were obeying Kings, and still believing that anyone of Royal ancestry — though crippled, diseased, imbecile, or insane — was, by his birth and nature, a superior kind of human being.
Anyone who believes that Authority controls human beings, and who does not believe that this superhuman Authority is wholly intangible, must believe that it resides in a few living men whose nature is superior to the nature of most men.
Excepting communists, men in the Old World have always believed, and still believe, that superhuman Authority gives some men — by their birth, their race, their color, or by a direct act of God upon an individual — a superior nature and a right to control their inferiors.
Therefore they obey these men, supposed to be superior, who are the Government.
Whenever and wherever any large number of persons believe that Government controls them, they always break the changeless routine of communism. Their energies work, a little, to improve their living conditions.
For instance: During some sixty centuries, human energy (already having the wheel) got a cart onto two wheels, and attached knives to these wheels, to kill men. After a lapse that almost lost the wheel, men got a cart onto four wheels. By George Washington's time, human energy had created a coach, carved and gilded, and suspended by leather straps above four iron-shod wheels. It stands today in the carriage house at Mount Vernon.
Another instance: In Ancient Greece, and perhaps earlier, men knew the principle of the steam engine. The Greeks spread over the known world after the Macedonians conquered it. Yet today on the Tigris and the Euphrates, men are still paddling logs hollowed out by fire, as the American Indians did, or drifting down these rivers in even more primitive bowls of rawhide drawn over basket-work. After thus traveling downstream, they walk back a thousand miles, as the flatboatmen, a century ago, were walking back from New Orleans to Pittsburgh.
In other places, during forty centuries, men built boats with sails. In addition to sails, the Phoenicians used ranks of oars. The Romans used two or three banks of oars, with a slave chained to each oar. Through overseers using whips, the captain thus had some control of the boat's direction and speed. But this advance was lost. Columbus sailed in boats wholly dependent upon the winds.
No one knows the future, and men who carry burdens on their backs might not imagine a wagon. But surely, men have always wanted enough to eat. Yet for six thousand years most men have been hungry. Many of them have always been dying of hunger.
Hunger is normal to nearly all Asiatics and Africans, and always has been. European working classes were hungry until less than a century ago. Only three generations of Europeans have enjoyed enough soup, bread and cheese, spaghetti. They have never yet had enough meat, butter, milk, vegetables and fruits. But no whole villages of Western Europeans have starved to death since 1848.
Famines have continued as before in Africa and Asia. Normally, over the greater part of this earth, a working man gives sixteen hours of literally killing labor for one small bowl of rice. (His ancestors always have.) Every morning in peaceful Shanghai, made prosperous by its European settlements, policemen collected from the streets the bodies of men and women who had died of hunger during the night. It was a routine job.
When men try to make energy work, and it does not work, it fails to work because they are not using that energy in accordance with its own nature. A gasoline engine will never run on water, because it is not the nature of steam to explode when a spark touches it.
When for six thousand years, human energy does not work well enough to get from this earth enough food to keep human beings alive, it does not work because men are not using their energy in accordance with the nature of human energy.
Every human being, by his nature, is free; he controls himself. But in the Old World, men believe that some Authority controls them. They cannot make their energy work by any such belief, because the belief is false.
But they do not question the belief, because when they submit to a living Authority's control, and cannot get food, they can always blame that Authority. This is what they have always done. The history of every group of men who ever obeyed a living Authority is a history of revolts against all forms of that Government.
Look at any available records of any people, living anywhere at any time in the whole history of the Old World.
They revolt against their King, and replace him by another King; they revolt against him, and set up another King. In time they revolt against monarchy; they set up another kind of living Authority. For generations or centuries, they revolt and change these rulers; then they revolt against that kind of Authority, and set up another kind.
From Nebuchadnezzar to Hitler, history is one long record of revolts against certain living rulers, and revolt against kinds of living Authority.
When these revolts succeed, they are called revolutions. But they are revolutions only in the sense that a wheel's turning is a revolution. An Old World revolution is only a movement around a motionless center; it never breaks out of the circle. Firm in the center is belief in Authority. No more than the Communist or the National Socialist (Nazi) today, has any Old World revolutionist ever questioned that belief; they all take it for granted that some Authority controls individuals.
They replace the priest by a king, the king by an oligarchy, the oligarchs by a despot, the despot by an aristocracy, the aristocrats by a majority, the majority by a tyrant, the tyrant by oligarchs, the oligarchs by aristocrats, the aristocrats by a king, the king by a parliament, the parliament by a dictator, the dictator by a king, the king by — there's six thousand years of it, in every language.
Every imaginable kind of living Authority has been tried, and is still being tried somewhere on earth now.
All these kinds have been tried, too, in every possible combination; the priest and the king, the king who is the priest, the king who is God, the king and a senate, the king and the senate and a majority, the senate and a tyrant, the tyrant and the aristocrats, a king and a parliament — Try to think of a combination; somewhere it has been tried.
In 1920 the Albanians tried four quarter-kings and aristocrats and a parliament. The Bedouin of Iraq today combine a tyrant and a majority. The Emir has absolute power of life and death; he owns all property, dictates all marriages, makes all treaties and raids and wars; if he makes one decision that the tribe does not approve, his subjects kill him and give another man his job. This works all right, too; except that the Bedouin do not get enough to eat.
Each of these kinds of living Authority, and every one of the combinations, has worked all right, except that its subjects did not get enough to eat.
Meanwhile, the thinkers from Plato to Spengler have profoundly considered the question, What Authority controls human beings? Every one of them has answered precisely that question.
Plato was a philosopher. He reasoned that the natural Authority is philosophers. He worked out in monstrous detail an ideal system, a totalitarian State (which he called a Republic) in which every human impulse is absolutely controlled by a few philosophers.
Spengler returns to the intangible Authority. He says the Authority is Civilization.
He explains that a Civilization springs (is born? or hatched?) from a changeless, formless, human protoplasm which clings to the surface of the earth, and plows and sows and reaps; this mass is The Eternal Peasant.
Each Civilization grows up, from infancy to youth to maturity. As an adult, it is Greece, or Rome, or England. Then it grows old and has cancer. The cancer appears as a small, unnoticed city; it grows, it becomes a large city, then a Metropolis. At this stage it is too far advanced for surgery; swiftly it swells into a Megapolis, and kills the Civilization.
The helpless human cells in the dying Civilization grow weak, and weaker, losing energy and courage and even desires. The Civilization dies, and they decay into the formless mass, The Eternal Peasant. From this mass another Civilization will spring, to grow up, to grow old, and to die of Megapolis.
This is brilliant and scholarly Old World thinking, now, at this moment. This view of human life is supported by an erudite analysis of all past history, and by a host of Spengler's intellectual followers.
Of course, any American who is not an intellectual knows that this world is not inhabited by gigantic, invisible creatures called Civilizations. He knows that ordinary men and women, using their energies, make a Civilization and keep on making it, every day, every hour, and that nothing but their constant, individual efforts can make a civilization and keep it existing.
I am a contributing creator of American civilization; it does not create me. I control the stem of this civilization that is within my reach; it does not control me. It cannot even make me read Spengler, if I'd rather read a pulp magazine.
Yet on such reasoning as Spengler's, men have tried to act from the beginning of recorded time. On such reasoning, most of the inhabitants of this earth are trying to act now. They do not question their infantile belief that some Authority controls all human beings (except, perhaps, themselves).
Egyptians obeyed the Pharaohs, their living Gods; now the Japanese obey their Mikado. Alexander the Great was a military despot; so was Napoleon; so is Hitler. Twenty-seven hundred years ago, Lycurgus established a commune; twenty years ago Lenin was trying to establish a commune. Nebuchadnezzar was an absolute monarch; so was Louis XV when he governed this country from Labrador to the Gulf of Mexico. Genghis Khan was a tyrant; and what is General Franco?
From time immemorial, and still over most of this earth today, men have never ceased trying to find the Authority that controls human energy. Whether you look at Pharaoh's subjects, obeying a living God, or at Athenian Greeks obeying a majority, you see the same result: people did not get enough to eat.
Egyptians built the pyramids, and sold their children because they could not feed them. Athenians built the Parthenon, and went to their democratic elections through a thin sound of wailing from the pottery jars on their street corners, where babies were dying. Kind friends quickly put the newborn in a jar and set it in a public place, and came back again and again to listen, hoping that before the baby died someone might take her who could afford to feed a child.
If men and women do not want to live like that, then this is a fact: human energy does not work as human beings want it to work, under any kind of Authority that men are able to imagine or devise.
Here is a sketch of a grain-mill and bakery, in the grandeur that was Rome two thousand years ago:
"What a poor sort of slaves were there; some had their skin bruised all over black and blue; some had their backs striped with lashes and were covered rather than clothed with torn rags; some had their members only hidden by a narrow cloth; all were such ragged clouts that you might perceive through them all their naked bodies; some were marked and burned in the forehead with hot irons; some could scarcely see, their eyes and faces were so dim and black with smoke, their eyelids all cankered with the darkness of that reeking place, half blind and sprinkled black and white with dirty flour."1
Here are the English, just before Columbus sailed:
"The houses in what were called cities were built of stones put together without mortar; the roofs were often of turf. The cottages had no other floor than a dried and stiffened bull's hide. In Scotland the peasantry lived on the coarsest food, often on the bark of trees. Bread was accounted a rare delicacy. Over the border in England it was a little better. (Aeneas Sylvius) had bread and wine. The English women gratified their curiosity by breaking the bread into fragments and handing it to one another to smell and giggle at. The cottages were constructed of stakes driven into the ground, interwoven with wattles and covered with flakes of bark or the boughs of trees. The lot of the lower, the laboring, classes for many ages had undergone no amelioration; in a political sense, they were only animals valuable for what their work could produce. They were expected to manifest loyalty to the King and obedience to The Church. There was no career open to them, except to the grave."2
Here are Americans, seven years after this Republic was established.
"Women and children in the month of December traveling a wilderness through ice and snow, passing over large rivers and creeks, without shoes or stocking and hardly as many rags as cover their nakedness, without money or any other provision except what the wilderness affords. Hundreds traveling hundreds of miles, they knew not why nor whither, except it's to Kentucky."3
The snow was two feet deep, for naked legs to wade. Moses Austin, one of the richest men of Baltimore, had lost everything in the crash of the bull-market in western lands. He took refuge one night with twenty of these travelers in a cabin so small that they slept piled upon each other on the earth floor.
They were trying to reach a place where they could live. There were no jobs in the East. The poor had no work, no food; they hoped to get land in the West. But speculators owned every foot of western land; the Henderson Land Company owned Kentucky, and would sell land for $2.50 an acre, when, if there had been jobs, wages were 25 cents for a twelve-hour day.
So much for progress in two thousand years. And why consider such a short time? Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago, people lived in caves in France and Spain. People are still living in caves in France and in the Spanish Pyrenees. The cliffs of Chinchilla have always been inhabited. The pottery workers at Coria live in holes in the banks of the Guadalquivir, without windows or floors. In Italy, and in Greece, and in many places in France, human beings are still living underground.
When American Red Cross workers went into the Balkans after the first World War, they found families living in a clay bank in Montenegro's largest city. They were horrified. So was I. I wrote a piece about those homeless victims of war that should have wrung dollars from the stoniest American pocketbook. Only, before I finished it, I went back with an interpreter to give some first aid to those miserable refugees. My sympathetic questions bewildered them. They were living as they always had lived, in their ancestral homes.
I should not have been surprised. Sixty-five years ago my own mother was living in a creek-bank in Minnesota, and it was not necessary then to say that her father was an upstanding, self-respecting, leading citizen of the community. Living underground was nothing unusual; less than sixty years ago, American families were living in dugouts all over the prairie States.
Since history began, all the people of the Old World have always lived in what is now called "a planned economy."
When anyone says, "a planned economy," he means, a control of the human energy used in producing and distributing material goods, by an Authority consisting of a few men, and according to a plan made by those men — and enforced by the police.
Americans who have not lived in other countries can only imagine a planned economy, for they are used to living in an economy that individuals plan and control. Whenever an American decides how to earn or how to spend any money, or whether to drive his car or walk, or to get a job or go to college, or to plant corn or alfalfa, or to rent a house or build or buy one, he is planning and controlling the American economy.
One result of this individual planning and control is an enormous waste of things. No one can estimate its colossal sum, for normally a hundred million persons are adding to it every day, every hour.
An average American working man's garbage can would nourish bountifully any European lower-middle-class family. In every American city's slums, every morning before the garbage wagons come, immigrants stunned by this waste are picking over the contents of garbage cans, salvaging metal, paper, bones, fat, to sell to dealers. And Americans shudder to hear that human beings get their living from garbage cans.
In New York City's slums during the dreadful 1930's, when most of the people in the tenements were living on relief, the little neighborhood bakers burned in the gutters every evening the loaves of that morning's bread which they had not sold that day. For in America everyone eats fresh bread. Americans normally throw away every year an estimated hundred thousand tons of good white flour, in pies' lower crusts which they do not eat. Normally every month they throw away twenty thousand tons of white sugar, in the bottoms of coffee cups; they do not bother to stir sugar into coffee.
Every year they throw away 2,500,000 motor cars, not because the cars no longer run, but because new cars run better. Along the highways clean across this continent the old cars lie rotting away, fortunes in metal and leather and cloth. Europeans have been saying bitterly, "In America, the blind beggar rides in a Cadillac, guided by a faithful little Ford on a string."
I knew a mechanic who was out of work and broke in the worst of the depression, with a family to support. He picked up from the dumps in Wyoming enough sound structural iron and good steel cables to build a suspension bridge across Snake river, a bridge that the county could not afford to build at the estimated public cost of $50,000. He and his nine-year-old son built it, using a dragline-rig that he had made entirely from junk. It more than satisfied county inspection. The farmers who needed the bridge gladly paid $2,500 for it, and my friend, after paying for cement and gasoline, cleared about $2,000 for his labor. He plans American economy. Americans do.
During that depression, ten or twelve million Americans lost their jobs. Three or four million were on public relief. The others went on planning American economy and supported themselves and those on relief.
There is no waste of material things in other countries. In France, every cigarette stub in a gutter has always been carefully gathered up, and the tobacco from it is put into new cigarettes. The Government has a monopoly of the processing and sale of tobacco in France.
In Italy, where the climate, the soil, and the people are the same as in California's Napa valley, during the recent Armistice a horde of fierce-eyed children pounced upon every cigarette stub, tin-foil package, orange peeling, or a horse's warm droppings. A quick snatcher might salvage enough in a day to exchange for a hunk of bread.
In the Balkans it is always a sin to let a crumb of cornbread fall. A peasant quickly picks it up from the earthen floor and asks God's pardon for such waste before he eats the crumb.
In the Middle East, the salt is salty earth; to leach out white salt would waste some saltiness. The Old World does not waste an atom of anything. It never has.
The billions of men and women who have lived and died young during all the centuries of Old World history, have always lived in a "planned economy." A planned economy does not waste any material thing. It wastes time, and human energy, and human life.
In communism, the men who establish the commune plan its economy. They can plan it only on the level of the living conditions that have already been created in that place at that time. (In 1900, no one could have planned a radio network.)
They always establish economic equality. To do this, they must plan an economy in which "every individual has his share of provisions and business set out." Therefore, no man can be permitted to live after his own fancy; that would not be communism, it would be individualism.
So no one living in communism can use his energy in a new way. Everyone in the commune must govern his acts in obedience to the Authority that decrees his share of business and provisions.
As long as he believes that this intangible Authority — the Public Good, the Will of the Masses, the Proletarian State, the Law of Lek — does and should control him, he cannot even assert his own will against it.
If he does assert his own desire to change living conditions — if, like King Agis IV, he tries to introduce money; or, like the woman of the Dukhagin, to have one whole hovel to himself, when the commune was not planned on any such high standard of living; or if in Amana, Iowa, in 1900 he had wanted to invent a motor car, or in 1940 to buy one — he cannot do this unless he shakes his comrades' faith in the controlling Authority. And this faith is all that keeps the commune in existence. If he succeeds in using his energy to change living conditions, he destroys the commune because he destroys that faith.
This is the history of scores of communes established in these States.
It is not true to say that communism maintains a low standard of living. Actually there is no standard of living. There cannot be one, because human energy creates all economic conditions in the human world, and creates them continuously in Time.
This planet gives nobody any food, clothing, or shelter. A person is fed or not fed, housed or not housed, clothed or not clothed. But the quality of any food, clothing, or man-made shelter cannot be known at any time in any absolute terms.
George Washington never heard of calories or vitamins; he lived on meats and starches through every winter; he never saw a glass of orange juice; his diet was so deficient that he lost his hair and teeth at an early age. His clothes were uncomfortable and unhygienic. He traveled on foot, on horseback, or in a springless carriage. His house had no toilet or bathtub, no furnace or eating stove, no light but candles. What was his standard of living?
It was so high that forty years ago not one American in ten thousand aspired to it.
Only an Old World mind can think in terms of a definite standard of living. Such ideas come from the ancient pagan faith that this universe is static, changeless and limited. A realist now thinks in terms of dynamic, creative energy, and of human energies working to create an unknowable future.
So it cannot be said that a communist economy is one of scarcity. If human energies are working effectively outside a commune, as they have been working outside the communes in these States, then in contrast, the communist standard of living seems to be low. This contrast causes discontent inside the commune.
But in any catastrophe, such as war or drought or economic shock, which temporarily disrupts a free economy, the communist economy will appear, in contrast, to be one of abundance. This contrast causes envy of the happy communists.
I well remember the incredible abundance of food in the Russian Dukhaber commune in Kansas — or was it southern Nebraska? — during the depression of the 1890s, when I and my parents were traveling among the hundreds of thousands of refugees, walking or riding in covered wagons along all America's dusty or muddy roads, looking for work and food. I can see yet those sleek, unmortgaged cows, those brimming pails of milk, those jars of butter in the spring-house, and the smiling Russian woman with her hair in golden braids, who spoke no known language, but opened the front of her blue blouse and took from next her skin a slab of cold biscuits. That was abundance to most Americans fifty years ago.
But all that can be said accurately about a communist economy is that it is static. At whatever level of living conditions a commune is established, at that level the living conditions remain as long as the commune lasts.
The reason for this historic fact is that nothing but a change in the ways of using human energy productively can change living conditions.
Since individuals actually control human energy, any change in its uses can come only from an individual's efforts, experiments, attempts to create things that do not yet exist. Most of these efforts inevitably fail, causing loss and waste.
Communism prevents such waste by preventing individual initiative in using human energy. This also prevents economic progress.4
Men have improved their living conditions in the Old World whenever they believed that living rulers were the controlling Authority.
Whenever they believed this, human energy worked spasmodically, in jerks, so to speak.
Take any few hundred years of Old World experience, outside the communes, and you see a succession of convulsive efforts and collapses, as if a living thing were roped down and struggling.
This is precisely what was happening. Human energy could not get to work at its natural job of providing for human needs, because whenever men began to develop farming and crafts and trade, the Government stopped them.
They believed that the Emperor was God, or the King was Divine, but he wasn't. Men in Government have no more power to control others than any man has. What they have is the use of force — command of the police and the army. Government, The State, is always a use of force, permitted by the general consent of the governed.
If this fact is not self-evident to you, talk to Americans who learned from experience what Government is. In nearly every American community there are men who lived in this country, somewhere between the Mississippi and the Pacific coast, with no Government whatever. They lived in anarchy, and every man carried a gun.
He had to carry a gun, because there was no Government. Government, as Jefferson said, is a necessary evil. It is evil because it is a use of force, and force has no morality and no moral effect. It is necessary because — to date, and perhaps forever — a few men stupidly use force to injure others, and nothing but force will stop them.
When there was no Government, every man had to be able to defend himself, by force. He seldom shot anybody; the need for force is actually very little. But he had to carry a gun and be able to use it, on the off-chance that he might have to shoot it out with a Bad Man.
This state of affairs is a nuisance. Men do not want to lug guns around; they want to get on with their natural job, building towns, raising cattle, mining, drilling oil wells. To get rid of their guns, they had to get rid of the Bad Men. So they called themselves a vigilance committee, went after the Bad Man, and strung him up.
They did this clean across the country, from the Yadkin and the Mohawk to the Rio Grande and the Golden Gate. The invariable result was that the vigilance committee went bad.
This happened, because men recognize the brotherhood of man. Murder is everywhere abhorred.
So when a man had helped to kill another, disarmed and defenseless even though bad, he felt about his action, later, in one of two ways. He hated to remember it, he did not want to repeat it, he figured there was no need to do it again, and he dropped out of the vigilance committee. Or, having once broken the intangible bond of kinship that protects human life on this earth, he became at heart a killer.
The vigilance committee (it had scores, of local names, the Bald Knobbers, the Sand-lotters) always began as a group of men who used force to stop robbers and murderers. It always became a group of men who robbed, and murdered.
Only a still stronger force could stop them. So the peaceful men organized Government.
They chose one of their number and said to him, in effect, "We'll help you dispose of that gang, and after that, you attend to any Bad Man that shows up. One man can handle that job, if he gives his whole time to it, and you're elected. You carry the gun from now on, Sheriff. And you, Judge, call on twelve of us to decide what the Sheriff ought to do with any Bad Man he catches. Now we've got a Government; we can get our work done without any more interference."
This is the essential element of all Government: force, used with general consent.
In any civilization, the use of force is the whole difference between Government and any other organized group of men. The need for Government is the need for force; where force is unnecessary, there is no need for Government.
Without the use of force, men direct the marvelous organized efficiency of the circus, loading, unloading, transporting and parading hundreds of people and animals, establishing and demolishing a tent-city on a schedule of minutes. One man directs all these intricate activities, by general consent. Anyone who doesn't consent can quit.
Without the use of force, men control the almost infinite complexities of radio, networks of human and other energies encircling the earth and working twenty-four hours a day on a schedule of seconds. Directors control it by the consent of thousands of men all over the earth. If a man in the Ural mountains, in the Sahara desert, in Australia, doesn't want to be at the mike when a man in New York wants him to be there, he can cut bait and go fishing. The only penalty is that if he quits, he has quit.
A traffic cop directs traffic by general consent, too. But he is Government; he has the use of force. When the traffic cop moves his thumb, a driver pulls to the curb. If he does not, he will eventually be stopped by force. He shows up in court when he is told to be there, too, (unless he has a pull at City Hall and uses it); if he does not, policemen will take him there, by force if necessary. He pays his fine, and with no back talk, or he will be put in jail by as much force as is needed to put him there.
A club member pays his dues because he wants to. If he does not want to, he does not pay them, and he is no longer a member of the club.
A citizen (or, in the Old World, a subject) pays taxes because he wants to pay them. If he does not want to, he will pay them anyway, because Government is a group of men who have the use of force. They will take his property or his wages, by force, to pay the taxes they assess upon him. If he tries to lie out of paying, and they find it out, they will put him in jail, by force.
"And serve him right!" all the willing tax-payers will say, for Government is a group of men who have the use of force by general consent. Whenever, in all history, they have lost that consent, their subjects have thrown them out of Government and have given the use of force to another group of men. Government always derives its power (to use force) from the consent of the governed.
But a use of force is not control. No living ruler has ever actually controlled his subjects. There is no superhuman power in Government; men in Government have no natural nor Divine superiority to any other man. And no man can control another. No possible use of force can compel any individual to act. A use of force upon him can only hinder, restrict, or stop his acting.
In actual fact, consent to Government is consent to a use of force to hinder, restrain, or stop individuals and minorities who act in ways that a majority does not approve or does not act to defend. Stop, thief!
A "planned economy" is believed to be a Government's control of the productive uses of human energy. It is believed that the men in Government can control, for the general good, the men who produce and distribute material goods.
In thousands of years, they have never been able to do it.
The actual fact is that a "planned economy" is an absolute monopoly of agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce, held by men in Government and maintained — so far as possible — by police and military force.
Historically, this monopoly is always a use of force to hinder, restrict, or stop the productive uses of human energy.
Its first effect is to prevent the use of human energy in new methods of production, or in producing new things. That is, it prevents economic progress.
The reason is that Government, by its nature, cannot permit a competitor within the field of its activities. Everyone knows that Government is a monopoly of the use of force; it cannot permit individuals to use force against each other, or against the Government, nor can it permit another Government to use force inside its frontiers; if it does, it ceases to be Government.
In the same way, a Government which is, for instance, a monopoly of the production, processing and sale of tobacco (as the French government was) cannot permit a rival tobacco company to compete with it; if it does, it ceases to be Government.
When Government has a monopoly of all production and all distribution, as many Governments have, it cannot permit any economic activity that competes with it. This means that it cannot permit any new use of productive energy, for the new always competes with the old and destroys it. Men who build railroads destroy stage coach lines.5
Men in Government who imagine that they are controlling a planned economy must prevent economic progress — as, in the past, they have always done. For economic progress is a change in the use of men's productive energy. Only individuals who act against the majority opinion of their time will try to make such a change. And if they are not stopped, they destroy the existing (and majority-approved) Government monopoly.
To know the everlasting majority attitude toward new uses of productive energy, remember that your great-grandfather did not believe that railroads were possible. At the time, a committee of learned men investigating the question for the British Government, reported that railroads were not possible, for the reason that the proposed speed of fifteen miles an hour would kill any human being; the human body could not endure such a pressure of air.
Remember what sensible men thought of Alexander Graham Bell's insisting that a wire could carry a human voice. Remember that ships could not be made of iron because iron does not float. Recall that the horseless carriage could never be more than a rich man's toy, not only because it cost at least five thousand dollars, but also because it ran only on macadam and therefore could never leave the cities. Or, what do you think of the experimenters in New Mexico who are working on rocket-ships to carry men from planet to planet? How much of your own money will you invest in a rocket-line from here to Mars? No majority will ever take up arms against their Government to defend such men as these.
Anyone who is running a going concern believes in it; he has also a selfish interest in it. The owners of river steamboats would never have encouraged the building of railroads. And when men in Government have a monopoly, they have the use of force (backed by majority opinion) to prevent anyone from attacking their monopoly.
A planned economy, therefore, is a use of force to prevent the natural use of human energy. This explains the historic fact, at first surprising, that in all history the earnest, sincere, hardworking ruler has done the most harm to his own people.
Old World Government has always been (supposed to be) an Authority controlling a planned economy. Actually it is a use of force to prevent material progress. The lazy, selfish, dissolute ruler neglects that job. Caligula, for instance, the worst of Roman Emperors, merely wasted goods in extravagant living and enjoyed torturing a few hundreds of his helpless subjects. People always get along comparatively well under a ruler like that.
It was sober, ascetic, conscientious Augustus Caesar who laid the firm foundations of the misery in which all Europeans lived for generations. He began to establish a planned world-economy, the famous Roman Peace that the Roman legions gave the whole world's people by conquering them. (Just such a peace as Hitler, and some of his enemies, are planning now.)
That Roman Peace was designed to last forever. When Diocletian perfected it, its economy was so thoroughly planned and so well administered that farmers could no longer farm nor workers work, and Government took care of them on the relief that taxes provided, until the increasing taxes pushed so many farmers and workers onto tax-supported relief that there was not enough productive energy left to pay the taxes, and the Roman empire with its world peace collapsed into the Dark Ages.
Or consider the planned economies in this country two hundred years ago. Compare the Kings of France and Spain with the rulers of England.
That little half-an-island was blessed for centuries with some of the worst rulers that ever wore a crown. If King John, for instance, had been half the King that Henry the Second was, there never could have been a Magna Carta.
The only truly able Tudor was Elizabeth, and her father had left England in such an uncontrolled state that she had to use all her energy and wit merely to stay on her throne.
Never was a realm so little governed as Elizabeth's. She built up the British navy by doing nothing for it. She gave her sea-captains orders to do as they pleased, on their own responsibility and at their own cost; she would not even pay for the powder and lead with which they defended England against the Spanish armada. She never had a plan, except to wait and see what happened. With great firmness of character, she always decided to decide nothing today. By this highly intelligent means, she let her subjects found the British empire.
After her came the Stuarts. A charming, careless, self-indulgent breed of Divine Right Kings, the poodle dogs of their species, with not a moral nor the slightest sense of responsibility under their curly wigs.
They governed so negligently that under their rule the very butchers and bakers and candlestick makers got up enough energy to chuck them off their throne, and enough independence of mind to behead one of them, Divine though he was supposed to be, and to make an ex-brewer the ruler of England.
Even after such a lesson, the Stuarts were so lazy that you find Charles the Second giving his Parliament this negligent order, "I pray you devise any good short bills that may improve the industry of the nation."6 That was all.
This is no way to plan and control a national economy. While the King was uttering such useless words, his police were so out-numbered and terrified that it was no longer necessary to bribe them, and British commerce was thriving under their very noses. So many thousands of smugglers were exporting British wool from every port and cove that someone defined the island as a piece of land entirely surrounded by smugglers.7
Yet when the prospering British wool growers expanded production so rapidly that not even the innumerable smugglers could handle all their wool, Charles offered only one little remedy for overproduction: a decree that no corpse could be buried in England that was not wrapped in woolen cloth. This measure was enforced. But ghouls dug up the corpses to steal the cloth, which, through bootlegging, finally covered the nakedness of London's pantless workingmen.
The badly governed English at last revolted against the Stuarts, at the same time putting into English law a grant of some liberties that they had been lawlessly taking. Then they imported the best of rulers, the German line that is still on the throne. The Germans have always been the most thorough rulers and most submissive subjects in modern Europe. But English luck continued; the first two German Kings of England paid no attention to their job and did not even bother to learn English.
The third George was as austere as Augustus Caesar. So long as he was sane, he never for a moment forgot his duty. He toiled from candlelight to candlelight to prepare himself for governing, and as King he continued his ceaseless labor. He curbed English industry and commerce by more than two thousand new regulations.
But his subjects simply turned into grafters and smugglers and went right on expanding British commerce. In England itself, King George could not keep his subjects from getting bootlegged food, and (except the Canadians) his American subjects got away entirely. While they were doing it, the very London newspapers had the unprecedented audacity to print the discussions in Parliament.8
The rulers on the Continent were much more efficient. Production and commerce were so well controlled in the Germanies that they hardly existed. Obedience to Authority was the German way of life. The Landgrave of Hanou and Hesse had his agents round up 3,500,000 thalers' worth of his peasants and sold them like sheep to King George. And the Hessian peasants, broken hearted, obediently came to the unknown other side of the world and obediently killed Americans, without knowing or asking why, simply believing that they could do nothing else.
Meanwhile in France the planned economy was thoroughly planned and enforced:
In every quarter, and at every moment, the hand of Government was felt. Duties on importation, and on exportation; bounties to raise up a losing trade, and taxes to pull down a remunerative one; this branch of industry forbidden, and that branch of industry encouraged; one article of commerce must not be grown because it was grown in the colonies, another article might be grown and bought, but not sold again, while a third article might be bought and sold, but not leave the country.
Then, too, we find laws to regulate wages; laws to regulate prices; laws to regulate the interest of money; customhouse arrangements of the most vexatious kind, aided by a complicated scheme which was very well called the sliding scale — a scheme of such perverse ingenuity that duties varied on the same article, and no man could calculate beforehand what he would have to pay.
To this uncertainty, itself the bane of all commerce, there was added a severity of exaction, felt by every class of producers and consumers. The tolls were so onerous, as often to double and quadruple the cost of production. A system was organized, and strictly enforced, of interference with markets, interference with manufacturies, interference with machinery, interference even with shops.
The ports swarmed with tide-waiters, whose sole business was to inspect nearly every process of domestic industry, to peer into every package, and tax every article; while, that absurdity might be carried to its extreme height, a large part of all this was by way of protection; that is to say, the money was avowedly raised, and the inconveniences suffered, not for the use of Government, but for the benefit of the people. In other words,' the industrious were robbed, in order that industry might thrive.
Indeed, the extent to which the governing classes have interfered, and the mischiefs which that interference has produced, are so remarkable as to make thoughtful minds wonder how civilization could advance in the face of such repeated obstacles. In some of the European countries the obstacles have, in fact, proved insuperable, and the national progress is thereby stopped.
Even in England, where [Government has] for some centuries been less powerful than elsewhere; there has been inflicted an amount of evil which, though much smaller than that incurred in other countries, is sufficiently serious to form a melancholy chapter in the history of the human mind.
…Thus, to take only such conspicuous facts as do not admit of controversy, it is certain that all the most important interests have been grievously damaged by the attempts of legislatures to aid them…. Instead of leaving industry to take its own course, it has been troubled by an interminable series of regulations, all intended for its good, and all inflicting serious harm.
Such are some of the benefits which European trade owes to the paternal care of European legislatures…. The first inevitable consequence was that in every part of Europe there arose numerous and powerful bands of smugglers, who lived by disobeying the laws. These men, desperate from fear of punishment, spread drunkenness, theft, and dissoluteness, coarse and swinish debaucheries, which were the natural habits of so vagrant and lawless a life.9
Indeed, nothing but smuggling kept the poor from starving to death under that Government monopoly, benevolently planned for their good.10
Weekly in the market places the captured smugglers were mercifully hanged for minor crimes of selling food, and for larger commercial activities they were burned alive or killed more slowly by the more agonizing torture of breaking on the wheel.
Torture and death could not stop smuggling, because human beings must live. The use of force in an attempt to control the natural uses of human energy always hinders, restricts and hampers those natural uses, but it cannot entirely stop them. Smuggling, graft, and piracy have always been part of history until this last century, because they are necessary protection of human life against the monopoly protected by force which is a "planned economy." Human life will survive on this earth in spite of hell and high water.
What the planned economies did, of course, was to prevent the development of civilization.
Whatever moral and spiritual values a man may develop during his lifetime, whatever heights of philosophy, ethics, art, he may achieve, depend first of all upon his remaining alive. The first necessities are food, clothing, and shelter from weather. The Old World remained brutal, bloody, inhumane and indecent for six thousand years, because never in all that time did men escape from planned economies long enough to establish a reliable food supply.
Every time they almost did it — as they did, during the upheavals and disorganization of Government in fights between groups for the governing power, which are called "the rise of" Egypt or Persia or Greece or Rome or France or Spain — they ended by establishing a firm, good Government, an Authority supposed to control them. This Government then enforced a planned economy with an increasing firmness, restricting the natural use of their energies until they could no longer get enough to eat nor support their Government. Then you see "the fall of" Egypt or Persia or Greece or Rome or Spain or France.
That is the history of planned economy for thousands of years.
The problem of human life on this earth is the problem of finding the method of applying combined human energies to this earth to get from it the necessities of human life.
This problem has never been solved by assuming that an Authority controls individuals. To the degree that men in Government have assumed this authority and responsibility, and have used their actual police force in attempting to control the productive uses of human energy, to that degree the energy has failed to work.
For instance: When the French weavers believed that Louis XIV controlled weaving, there was one whole season when they did not move a shuttle. They were waiting for the King to say how many threads of warp and of woof they might put into each inch of each kind of cloth. True, if they had not waited they would have lost their looms and perhaps their heads, for Government is a use of force. But it is a use of force that depends upon the consent of the governed. If the French people had not believed that the King should and did control weaving, they would not have been so ragged and cold that winter.
Another instance: More than two hundred years ago, the French in Missouri were producing wines that competed in France with the wines of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux vintners set up a howl to the King, for protection. He protected them, by prohibiting the exportation of wine from Missouri.
Notice that everyone, including the Missourians, believed that the King was controlling the production of wine. He was doing nothing of the kind; he couldn't. Human energy produces wine, and individuals control human energy. Louis XIV was using the force that is Government, and force cannot control human energy; it can only stop the use of human energy.
Missourians stopped producing more wine than they drank. If they had not stopped, they might have wrecked the vintners of Bordeaux. Certainly they would have planted more grapes, produced more wine, lowered the price of wine. They would have needed more casks, more boats, more settlers. America might be France today.
The King was encouraging settlements, to hold America for France. He was taking every care of the settlers. Still, there are two facts: They planted no more grapes. The settlements grew very slowly.
Here is another incident: In the spring of 1789, Moses Austin, the first American west of the Mississippi, applied to the Governor in New Orleans for permission to put millstones in a mill to be built at Mine a Breton in Missouri. He had the millstones there, and his request was mere routine, for Don Moses Austin was so important to New Spain that the King had given him one square league of rich mining land.
Six months later, he set his foreman to finishing the mill, while he rode to St. Louis to get the permit. It reached the authorities while he was there. He returned, to his domain with it, and found that not a stroke of work had been done on the mill. In his absence, the foreman had gone fishing.
Moses Austin had made two large fortunes in the new States, and lost them in two nation-wide crashes, caused by collapses of land-speculating booms. There were no such calamities in orderly New Spain. But for some reason, amiable Moses Austin's temper became unreliable there. When the foreman returned from fishing, Don Moses fired him.
This could not be done. In New Spain, not even the most powerful Don could discharge the lowest workman without the Alcalde's permission. Don Moses Austin was summoned before the Alcalde in Ste. Genevieve, two days' journey from the unfinished mill.
The case was postponed from time to time, but finally all witnesses were assembled. The Alcalde heard their testimony, reprimanded the foreman, and approved his discharge. Next year, Moses Austin got his mill to working, so that for the first time, Missourians were released from grinding grain by hand with pestle and mortar. A mill that could have been built in a month had taken a year.
The early history of nearly every State in this Union is crammed with such instances of "planned economy," for this country belonged to the Old World for as long as the history of the Republic.
The planned economy's invariable destruction of the Government that tries to enforce it, is an almost fatal result, because Government is necessary.
The human race is not yet so intelligent that all men can work together with no use of force to protect them from each other. So far, men have never been able to begin a civilization without first handing their guns to a policeman.
The policeman's — Government's — function is to stop the few robbers and killers who hinder the others' working. From what their work produces, the majority supplies the policeman with food, shelter, and other necessities.
When the policeman turns his gun upon them all, in the delusion that force can control life-energy, he not only hinders and prevents their working' for themselves; he also cuts off his own source of supply.
This is a very simple picture of what happens. The world seems infinitely more complex and complicated than that. Yet the most incomprehensibly complex mechanisms work upon very simple principles. A boiling tea-kettle explains the world's railroads and ships; a few marks on paper explain to a mathematician all of radio.
A "planned economy" destroys Government because when men use force in an attempt to control productive energies, they have no means of knowing real costs, and these costs automatically increase at an increasing rate until the people can no longer pay them.
During the recent interim between wars in Europe, every American living there could observe this principle in operation.
The effects of the American Revolution have been disrupting the old planned economies of western Europe for a century. But remnants of these Government monopolies everywhere survive, and European belief in Authority has extended Government monopoly over many products of the industrial revolution.
Railroads, telegraph, telephone, radio, are Government monopolies everywhere outside this Republic. Salt and tobacco remain Government monopolies in many places. All Europeans and Asiatics take these monopolies for granted. It no more occurs to them that salt, tobacco, railroads, telegraph, telephones, radio, need not be owned by Government, than it occurs to Americans that the postal service need not be.
So an American abroad discovered at once that Government monopoly is absolute, and that therefore it operates under difficulties that make it destructive to the Government.
Being absolute, and maintained by police force, a Government monopoly need not please its customers.
A traveler in Europe obeys the railway officials and takes the service they provide, or he does not travel by train. He can not, so to speak, get mad at the New York Central and give his patronage to the B. and O., or vice versa, because Government monopoly has no competitor. The passenger who pays for his ticket has no effect upon that monopoly; it need not fear his displeasure, not lure him with club cars and Idaho baked potatoes. And it doesn't.
Government monopoly need not make a profit; it can run indefinitely on a deficit, as the American postal service does. Taxes make up the deficit; the Government collects them. French peasants who never set foot on a train in their lives, lived on their famous soup to support the men who managed the French railroads.
The proper and necessary function of Government is the use of force. Old World Governments (for reasons I shall consider later) always use this force against each other, in war. Their principal function, therefore, is military force. In intervals between fighting, this force is potential and expressed in diplomacy, or power politics.
Since free men have created railroads, telegraph, telephone, radio, oil wells, modern' factories, during this century, a Government that owns them must use them to serve its primary function. Every European government needs them for war, and it will build them and keep them running and make its subjects keep on paying for them, whether or not any subject ever uses them for their natural economic purposes.
Many Europeans regard the Baghdad railway as the final cause of the first World War. The Kaiser did not try to build the Baghdad railway because the Baghdadi Arabs raise dates that Berliners are eager to buy and eat. The German Government wanted that railroad to extend its political-military power, its use of force. The British Government does not object to a German's eating dates. The men in British Government prevented the Baghdad railroad because it would extend the Kaiser's use of force.
The Russian Czar's Government did not build the railroad across the empty Armenian plateau to make a profit by putting settlers on the land and hauling the food they would produce from it; Government need not make a profit, it takes what it wants. Government ran that railroad straight from the Czar's huge army-barracks to the Turkish frontier, missing Armenia's large capital city by four roadless miles. (As well my battered and indignant bones remember.) Nor are the great centers of Russian production in the Ural mountains now, for any natural economic reason.
No Government can manage an economic monopoly for economic purposes. The proper, necessary function of men in Government is the use of force. That is their job. They should regard their country from a political-military point of view. For example, when Texas entered this Union, men in Washington regarded that land as an area over which their use of military force extended; that was their duty. Just as it is a farmer's business to regard land as a source of crops.
When men in Government hold an economic monopoly, they must use it to serve Government's proper function, which is use of force.
The result is that the services of all the European remnants or extensions of "planned economy" are — to an American — notoriously bad. When I had been living for some years in Paris, I got an undeserved reputation for wit, in a small circle, by naïvely stating a fact. An American visitor, after trying for half an hour to get a Paris telephone number, asked me, "What on earth do you do here, when you want to telephone someone?" And I replied truthfully, "I take a taxi."
The Government monopoly, being maintained by force, does not depend upon its customers. Their desires have no direct effect upon it.
Therefore, the men in Government who manage the production and distribution of goods and services, have no means of knowing the real costs of these goods and services.
The real cost of any object or service that human beings need or want is the amount of human energy that they must use to get it.
Whether a man is earning money or spending it, or spading his garden, he measures the value of what he gets by the amount of energy that it costs him. If it costs too much, he will get something else; if both cost too much, he will get neither.
This natural measure of costs works directly upon an unprotected economy. The owners of sailing ships knew immediately when their service cost too much; their customers used steamboats. The river steamboat owners knew when their service cost too much; their customers went to the railroads. The railroad and street-car monopolies knew when their costs were too high; their customers bought motor cars. The railroads took refuge with Government; the street cars are gone.
When an unprotected monopoly charges too much, the people destroy it by deserting it. The first faint pang of threatened desertion makes its owners sit up, right now. They know they are done for, as owners, unless they reduce costs — real costs, in terms of human energy.
But this threat of desertion does not exist for men in Government who have the monopoly of all goods and services that is a "planned economy." Their monopoly is absolute; it has no competitor; the people who pay its costs in human energy cannot desert it. If its costs are too high, they pay them without ever getting the goods or using the service — as European peasants pay for railroads and in all their lives never travel farther from their birthplace than they can walk. Except when they are shipped to military training and to war.
So, to the men who manage European railroads, it always appears that the trains are giving all the service that anyone wants, at a reasonable cost — in the artificial terms of marks and francs and lira.
They have no means of knowing the real costs in human energy, because the people who pay those costs have no peaceful means of registering a protest that these costs are too high.12
And these real costs must constantly increase, because the attempt to exercise a control of human energy that cannot be exercised, is a waste of human energy that must constantly increase.
I will illustrate what I mean:
Suppose that during the Armistice you bought a spool of thread in a French department store. Not that it is a spool; the thread is wound on a scrap of paper, for the thrifty French do not waste wood.
It takes a few seconds to say, "A reel of cotton thread, please; white, size sixty." With leisurely grace, the clerk takes the thread in her hand, comes from behind the counter, and courteously asks you to accompany her.
She escorts you across the store, perhaps half a block, and indicates your place at the end of a waiting line. In twenty minutes or so, you reach the cashier's grating. He sits behind the bars on a high stool, a wide ledger open before him, ink bottle uncorked, and pen in hand.
He asks you, and he writes in the ledger, your name, your address, and — to your dictation — one reel of thread, cotton, white, size sixty. Will you take it, madame, or have it delivered? You will take it. He writes that. And the price? Forty centimes. You offer in payment, madame? One franc. He writes these amounts, and the date, hour, and minute.
You give the franc to the clerk, who gives it to the cashier, who gives you the change, looks at the thread, and asks if you are satisfied. You are. A stroke of his pen checks that fact.
The clerk then wraps the thread, beautifully, at a near-by wrapping counter, and gives you the package. You have spent thirty minutes; so has she; the cashier has spent perhaps five. An hour and five minutes, to buy a reel of thread
French department stores were as good as the best in the world. The French are expert merchandisers. They knew pneumatic-tube systems; the Paris government owned one that carried special-delivery notes more quickly than anyone could get a telephone number. Department store owners admired the cash-systems in American stores. But if they had installed them, they would still have been obliged to keep the cashier, his ledger, and his pen and ink.
Why? Because in the markets of Napoleon's time, sellers cheated buyers. Napoleon protected the buyers. He decreed that the details of every sale must be written in a book, with pen and ink, in the presence of both seller and buyer, by a third person who must see the article and the transfer of money; the buyer must declare himself satisfied, and the record must be kept, permanently, to verify the facts if there were any future complaint.
During this past century, French merchandising had grown enormously. It had completely changed; but not this method of protecting buyers.
I asked an owner of the largest French department store why Napoleon's decree was not repealed. He said, But, madame, it has been in operation for more than a hundred years! It cannot be repealed; think of the sales girls, the cashiers, the filing clerks, the watchmen who guard the warehouses of ledgers. They would lose their jobs.
He was shocked. He saw me as the materialist American, thinking only of profit, caring nothing for all those human beings.
I thought they were unemployed. They did not appear as unemployed on any record, but the actual unemployment in France and throughout Europe, was enormous. For every purchase in a French department store, something like an hour's time was unemployed; millions of hours a day. And the cashiers, the filing clerks, the watchers of those records, never did a stroke of productive work.
All this enforced unemployment made it impossible to do anything quickly. European life was leisurely; it had to be. This charmed the Americans gaily passing by, all the tedious waiting done for them, all the red tape untied, all the police stamps got onto their papers by Cook's or Amexco or their bankers or hotel porters. How serene, how cultured was European life, they said. No one hurrying, everyone with time for meditation and enjoyment, walking through the parks, sitting at café tables under the plane trees. How harassed, how hurried and rude and crude was American life in comparison, they said.
You recognized an American as far as you could see him, by the way he walked. Chin up, head high, briskly going somewhere, with an unconscious mastery of the earth he trod. No European moved like that. Europeans walked prudently, slowly. Their every gesture consumed time in merely letting time pass. That made their lives and their countries seem so restful, to Americans. And you can see precisely that same way of walking, that same sense of useless time, in the prisoners in any American prison-yard.
A friend and I bought a Ford in Paris. A French Ford, made — or perhaps assembled — by French mechanics, whose skill is unsurpassed in the world. I do not know what wages were paid to the men who made that Ford, nor how they lived, but I do know how skilled French workers, in general, lived, because I have friends of the French working class.
Their wages enabled them to live — where their class-status kept them, anyway — in the workers' quarters of the cities; that is, where the narrow streets are filthy with human excrement, because the tenements have no plumbing; where their food was bread and cheese and sometimes horse-meat; where their bedrooms have no windows because of the high tax on windows, and their teeth rot away in their jaws — for how can workers afford dentists? — and two of every three of their babies die less than a year old.
Taxes made the Ford cost in dollars twice what it would have cost in these United States; to a Frenchman, the price was a fortune. It was an ordinary Ford, then the butt of thousands of jokes in America. In Europe, our owning it announced (preposterously) that we were wealthy. A French worker, by careful planning and good luck and months or years of sou-pinching thrift, might own a bicycle.
Having bought this splendid Ford, my friend and I set out to get permission to drive it, and to drive it out of Paris and out of France. We worked separately, to make double use of time. For six weeks we worked, steadily, every day and every hour that Government offices were open. When they closed, we met to rest in the lovely leisure of a café and compared notes and considered ways of pulling wires. Exhausted, we rode home second-class in the subway. (Workers, of course, ride third-class in Europe.)
One requirement was twelve passport pictures of that car, taken full-face, without a hat. I exaggerate; regulations said nothing about a hat. But this was a Ford, naked from the factory; not a detail nor a mark distinguished it from the millions of its kind; yet I had to engage a photographer to take a full-radiator-front picture of it, where it still stood in the salesroom, and to make twelve prints, each certified to be a portrait of that identical car. The proper official pasted these, one by one, in my presence, to twelve identical documents, each of which was filled out in ink, signed and counter-signed, stamped, and tax-stamped; and, of course, I paid for them. One was given to me.
After six hard-working weeks, we had all the car's papers. Nearly an inch thick they were, laid flat. Each was correctly signed and stamped, each had in addition the little stamp stuck on, showing that the tax was paid that must be paid on every legal document; this is the Stamp tax that Americans refused to pay. I believe we had license plates besides; I know we had drivers' licenses.
Gaily at last we set out in our car, and in the first block two policemen stopped us. European policemen always go in pairs, so that one polices the other. I do not know whether this makes it impossible to bribe either, or necessary to bribe both. I never tried to buy a policeman.
Being stopped by the police was not unusual, of course. The car's papers were in its pocket, and confidently I handed them over, with our personal papers, as requested.
The policemen examined each one, found it in order, and noted it in their little black books. Then courteously they arrested us.
No one had told us about the brass plate. We had never heard of it. The car must have a brass plate, measuring precisely this by that (about 4 x 6 x ¼ inches), hand-engraved with the owner's full name and address, and attached to, the instrument board by four brass screws of certain dimensions, through four holes of certain dimensions, one hole in each corner of the brass plate.
My friend wilted on the wheel. "It's too much," she said. "Let's chuck it all and go by train."
"Gentlemen, we are completely desolated," I said. "Figure to yourselves, how we are Americans, strangers to beautiful France. Imagine, how we have planned, we have saved, we have dreamed and hoped that the day will arrive when we shall see Paris. At the end, here we are. We see with our eyes the beautiful Paris, the glory of French culture and French art. Altogether naturally, is it not? we seek to conduct ourselves with a propriety the most precise. In effect, gentlemen, what is it that it is that we have done? Of what fault it is that one accuses us? You see our passports, our cards of identity, our permission to enter France and to remain in France and to enter Paris and to live in Paris, and, unhappily, to leave France and to depart from Paris, for all joys must end, is it not? That is life. In fact, you have well examined all these, and you see that all are altogether completely in order, is it not? And the receipts for our rent, and for our window tax, and for our foreigners' tax, and for our income tax, and the quittance of our lease, all well made, is it not? all well viewed by the authorities. Good, that is that. But, it must be, the good logic always, is it not? It sees itself that we, we have committed no fault. It is not we who lack the brass plate; it is the car. Gentlemen, one must admit in good logic that which it is that is your plain duty; arrest the car. Good. Do your duty, gentlemen. As for us, we repudiate the car, we abandon it, we go—"
We were detained. The policemen accepted my logic, but courteously they said that the car could not stand where it was; parking there for even one instant was forbidden. My friend suggested that the salesman would take it back. Courteously the policemen said that, without the brass plate, the car could not move an inch from where it stood; that was forbidden.
"In all confidence, gentlemen," we said, "we leave this problem in your hands." We hailed a taxi and went home.
Mysteriously next day the car was in the salesroom. In two weeks the brass plate was beautifully hand-engraved. Exactly two months after we had paid for the car, we were able to drive it.
Of course we could not simply drive out of Paris. We were stopped at the city limit, "the barrier," while an official measured the gas in the tank and wrote the number of pints on our permit to re-enter Paris. This arrangement allowed us to choose the road by which we returned, for the permit was good on any road.
When we came back, the gas in the tank would be measured again, and we would pay the Paris tax on any pint we imported. That is just, isn't it? Should we, the wealthy who owned a Ford, be permitted to bring gasoline into Paris untaxed, while the middle classes paid the tax on the gasoline they used to clean their clothes?
These incidents illustrate the commonplace. Europeans, and other people everywhere, take such regulation for granted. If sometimes you fail to be as patient as they are, they say in surprise, "But naturally, it takes time to get permission."
Ask why you can't lift an innocent finger without permission, and your lack of the simplest reasoning power baffles them. One must always have a permit; how else could the authorities maintain the social order?
In every instance, that will stop you. There is no other way by which Authority can maintain a social order.
The tragedy of the Old World is that this only way by which Authority can maintain a social order must inevitably destroy the social order and any form of Authority that tries to maintain it.
The energy of a constantly increasing number of bureaucrats has always been subtracted from productive energy in the Old World.
In modern Europe, some years of every young man's life are consumed in training for war. But a far greater loss of productive energy is in the attempt to control productive energy. All their lives, all workers pour an enormous amount of energy into producing food, clothes, shelter, light, heat, transportation, all the necessities and comforts, and mountains of paper, pens, ink, stamps, filing cases, and acres of beautiful buildings, all to be used by men in Government who produce nothing whatever.
Men in public office do not use their energy productively; that is not their function. Their function is to use human energy as force to stop the uses of human energy that a majority does not approve, or at least does not defend. Men in Government must take the wealth they consume, from the wealth that productive men create.
The important question is, What amount can they take safely?
Because they use force, they have no means of knowing the answer to that question. They can always suppress by force any individual's, or minority's, objection to paying taxes; and of course they should suppress it; their function, as Government, is to stop by force any action that a majority does not approve or defend.
The inevitable disaster comes from the fact that, when men in Government try to control the natural uses of human energy in producing and distributing goods, the amount of produced wealth that they take must constantly increase, and the amount of energy that they subtract from productive energy must constantly increase.
The only way to make me stand in line for half an hour to buy a spool of thread, or to make me spend six weeks in getting stamps on paper when I want to drive a car, is to use the energy of persons who otherwise would be making more thread and more cars.
I submit to their so-called control because, under all the circumstances, I am willing to. But they must be right there on the job, or I wouldn't. No one would.
These men are a waste of energy in two ways. To live, they must consume the goods that productive men create; and, since they produce nothing, their own energy is subtracted from the amount of available productive energy.
Both these wastes must increase as time passes. They must increase because the fact is that all men are free; individuals control human energy. Therefore an attempt to control individuals is compelled, constantly, to come into closer contact with each one of them.
Nobody can plan the actions of even a thousand living persons, separately. Anyone attempting to control millions must divide them into classes, and make a plan applying to these classes.
But these classes do not exist. No two persons are alike. No two are in the same circumstances; no two have the same abilities; beyond getting the barest necessities of life, no two have the same desires.
Therefore the men who try to enforce, in real life, a planned economy that is their theory, come up against the infinite diversity of human beings. The most slavish multitude of men that was ever called "demos" or "labor" or "capital" or "agriculture" or "the masses," actually are men; they are not sheep.
Naturally, by their human nature, they escape in all directions from regulations applying to non-existent classes. It is necessary to increase the number of men who supervise their actions. Then (for officials are human, too) it is necessary that more men supervise the supervisors. Still, individuals will continue to act individually, in ways that they plan. These ways do not fit into Authority's plan. So still more men are needed, imperatively needed, to stop or to supervise these new ways of acting; and more men to supervise these supervisors; and more men to co-ordinate the constantly increasing complexity of all this supervision.
An attempt to exercise a control of individuals that in reality does not exist, must increase in volume.
Bureaucrats are not to blame for increasing a bureaucracy; bureaucracy by its nature must increase. Consider those twelve photographs of our Ford. When cars were made by hand and no two looked alike, someone reasonably ordered that pictures be taken of a car, for identification. A million cars now look precisely alike; those pictures are worthless. The bureaucracy needs another bureau, to comb out of it all the orders which productive men, behaving in new ways, have made obsolete. Then how shall motor cars be identified? Another committee — which will become a bureau — is needed to decide such questions.
This tendency to waste energy is in all organizations of human beings. It develops in all business organizations; the larger the business, the greater the tendency to waste human energy. But an organization not maintained by police force, but dependent for its existence upon the multitudes of individuals whom it serves, encounters a natural check to this waste. If its costs in human energy are too high, its customers desert it. Business men call this check, "the law of diminishing returns."
There is a natural limit to the amount of human energy that Government can waste, too. Human energy on this earth must be used productively. Men cannot live, unless they use their energies to create their necessities from this earth which gives human beings nothing whatever.
But because men in Government are using police force, they have no means of knowing what this natural limit is.
Recently in Europe, it has been the limit of a majority's willingness to endure the increasing poverty that results from an increasing waste of human energy. No one could know that limit, because it depends upon the thoughts and feelings of a great number of individuals, no two of whom think or feel precisely alike, and all these thoughts and emotions are constantly changing in flowing time. The actual limit of their willingness could be discovered only by reaching it. Then the discovery was too late. All was over for the men in that Government.
In the past history of the Old World, the limit of waste in Government's attempt to control productive energy has always been, not the willingness, but the ability of its subjects to endure starvation.
Sooner or later, the waste of human energy has become too great; the Government's willing subjects have not been able either to support their rulers or to defend them. In the constantly warring Old World, that ultimate failure of energy caused the bloody end of that Government and that civilization.
War has always been the primary function of Old World Government. Men living in the Old World use a large part of their energy in killing men and in destroying food, shelter, and all other necessities of human life.
Americans in general do not understand this. Neither do most continental Europeans understand the American attitude toward war.
When I was living in Albania I had a friend who was one of the finest persons I ever knew. He was an Italian of English ancestry. His mother and his maternal ancestors for many generations had been English. He was fourteen and his brother was nine, when their parents were drowned at sea. The boys had no other near relatives and from that time they were inseparable. They stayed together in schools and universities; they got from the King himself a special permission to do their military service together. They went together to Argentine, and in 1915 returned to join their regiment.
They were both wounded at Caporetto, and abandoned on the field. My friend reached his brother but was too weak to do anything for him. The brother died during the third night. My friend's wounds still required him to return to hospitals at intervals.
For weeks I tried to explain to him the American attitude toward war. He could not understand it.
I was confused, myself, for like most Americans I had taken it for granted that no one wants war. My friend had the best European schooling, Italian, German, and English. He was widely and accurately informed; he was intelligent, open-minded, and eager to understand my puzzling country. The clue, he said, was in our attitude toward war. It baffled him.
He laughed at the superficial European belief that Americans are mere dollar-chasers. He knew several Americans intimately. He did not find them mercenary, nor cowardly, nor weak, nor — exactly — unpatriotic. American patriotism is peculiar, he said. Americans never say "my fatherland," "my motherland." What a peculiar attitude toward your country, to call it Uncle Sam. And notice, he said, the tone in which you say "Uncle Sam," or, "The States." It is affectionate; it has a sound of — what should he say? equality? tolerance? — as if a confident young man were speaking of a good old uncle. That is not the way in which a man speaks of his country, the fatherland, the motherland, the parent whose child he is.
And then, the curious American talk about war. He did not believe that it was entirely hypocritical. But would I explain the facts?
The United States are made by unprovoked military aggression. They attack the Indians and take half a continent; they attack Mexico and take Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California; they attack Spain, and take Cuba; they attack the Filipinos and take the islands. Then why don't they hold and subdue Mexico, when American troops have taken Mexico City? Why don't they attack Canada while the mother country is embroiled in Europe? Why do the United States reverse all history, and fight for an older empire instead of helping to dismember it?
Now (in 1928) the United States are the strongest world power; why do they no have compulsory military training? They have used military power to dictate to all Europe; then why has the army no influence in our foreign policy? Why do the sons of our upper classes go into business or professions, why not into the army and navy? Why do Americans not honor their great Generals above such men as Edison and Hoover? Why, when General Pershing is an American, do Americans make a small-town editor the President of the United States?
One morning his servant brought a note, asking if he might see me at once, for only a moment. He came in, excited, apologizing for calling at that hour, "but I could not wait to tell you! It came to me in a flash, suddenly, just now. It is materialism! As you have said, Signora: Americans hate war because it kills men and destroys property. Suddenly, it comes to me. What are lives and property? Material things. All men die, time destroys all property. Lives and property have no value. The immortal value is the soul of a nation, and war regenerates the nation's soul. Americans cannot see spiritual values. That is it, Signora; yes, yes, that is the truth. Deep down, at base, au fond, your countrymen are pure materialists. You see only the material world; you cannot see what war is, because it is spiritual."
He had seen his brother die at Caporetto, and he died in Ethiopia, a fine, brave, honorable man, who believed with his whole mind that an individual is a cell in the body of The State, that Authority controls all human beings, and that his own life had no value whatever but service to Immortal Italy.
That is the cause of war.
Men who have that pagan belief will always make war. They must make war, because of the nature of human energy. Not knowing that individuals control themselves, they do not recognize and accept that responsibility; they try to make their own energy work on a false basis. It will not work on a false basis, and one of the results of trying to make it do so, is war.
The people of the Old World have made almost uninterrupted war. For three thousand years, one year in fifteen has been an interval without war.
Let us have no more nonsense about capitalism causing war. Any schoolboy knows that Spartans made war. Men living in communism and under all forms of Government have always made war.
History is a spectacle of billions of human beings, naked and shelterless on this planet, with no food, no clothes, no shelter except such as their minds can imagine and their hands make. Not one of them could live if human energy did not ceaselessly attack this indifferent and dangerous earth; not one could live without the help of his kind. Yet they always use their energy to kill their kind and to destroy the food and shelter upon which human life depends.
This is suicidal. War does not only kill individuals; it attacks the very root of human survival.
War does not only destroy the material goods upon which human survival depends. War is an active, destructive denial of the facts of human life, the facts of individual liberty and human brotherhood.
No one who sees the plain fact that all moral and spiritual values of human life are in the individual, can possibly see any spiritual value in war. War comes from the individual's ignorance of his own nature, from his placing responsibility for the moral values of his own life in a fantasy, in a pagan god which he imagines exists outside himself and superior to him and controlling him — an Immortal Italy, a German Race, a Nation, a State.
Americans have fought many wars. They have even begun wars. They have never made a war. Every war that Americans have fought, they have fought to defend the individual against the aggressions of men who did not recognize the fact of individual freedom.
You hear it said that that there will always be war, because men always want war. Is that true? Is human nature anti-human? Hardly. If it were, the human race would not have survived six thousand years.
Certainly, a majority always goes willingly to war. The pacifist is correct in saying that war would be impossible if they did not. Massacres would be possible, and slavery, but not war. War is a use of human energy, and individuals control human energy. Whenever a large number of men (called "a Nation," or anything else) go to war, that is proof that a majority of them is willing to go.
Certainly, too, human beings are fighters by nature. Living is a tough job; only good fighters can do it. Like it or lump it, this planet is no safe place for any living creature. Living is fighting for life, and when anyone does not know this fact, someone else is doing his fighting for him.
Anyone who says that economic security is a human right, has been too much babied. While he babbles, other men are risking and losing their lives to protect him. They are fighting the sea, fighting the land, fighting diseases and insects and weather and space and time, for him, while he chatters that all men have a right to security and that some pagan god — Society, The State, The Government, The Commune — must give it to them. Let the fighting men stop fighting this inhuman earth for one hour, and he will learn how much security there is.
Let him get out on the front lines. Let him bring one slow freight through a snowstorm in the Rockies; let him drive one rivet to hold his apartment roof over his head. Let him keep his own electric light burning through one quiet, cozy winter evening when mist is freezing to the wires. Let him make, from seed to table, just one slice of bread, and we will hear no more from him about the human right to security.
No man's security is any greater than his own self-reliance. If every man and woman worth living did not stand up to the job of living, did not take risk and danger and exhaustion beyond exhaustion and go on fighting for one thin hope of victory in the certainty of death, there would not be a human being alive today.
But fighting does not mean fighting one's own kind. If all men were not brothers, and if most men did not recognize the brotherhood of human kind, there would not be a human being alive.
Being natural fighters, boys find or invent reasons for fighting someone, usually another boy. They are still so nearly babies that they have not learned how to control themselves, and, like babies, they are still protected from their real enemies. Thirteen-year-old Auguste Chouteau, who took command of twenty-six boatmen and responsibility for bringing a fortune in trade-goods on flatboats from Fort de Chartres up the dangerous Mississippi against the spring flood of breaking ice, and landed the goods safely and began building the trading post of St. Louis in a wilderness, did not waste his time and energy in fighting another boy.
Men whose minds and circumstances are childish will fight each other, too. Brawls flare up from the natural fighting spirit of child-minded men when they are protected from their natural enemies. In fire, flood, earthquake, pestilence, these same men will fight as allies against their common enemy.
And a few men, fighting each other, do not make a war. A hundred, five hundred, ten thousand men, fighting each other, make at most a riot. Only a Government can make war. The cause of war is the delusion that Government is an Authority, controlling individuals. Of course, whoever controls an act is responsible for its results. If Government did control individuals, then the men in the Government would be responsible for their subjects' food, shelter, clothing, health, education, religious beliefs, marriages, in short for their whole lives.
Old World rulers, as well as their subjects, have always had this pagan belief. Hitler's delusion is nothing new. All the Kings, Emperors, Czars, aristocrats, upper classes, have always believed that they control, and are responsible for, the majority whom they regard as their inferiors.
But human energy, like any energy, works only under its natural control. Like any energy, it can be prevented from working in any given instance, but nothing but its natural individual control can control it.
So long as human beings live, human energy cannot be stopped. When the pressure exerted to stop it is too great, it explodes destructively, in war.
Examine any war in history; you will find that its cause is an attempt by men in Government to use the proper function of Government, force, as the control of human energy.
Not long ago, Europeans believed that Government's proper function was to control its subjects' religious beliefs. If the King did, or could, control any other man's faith, certainly he was responsible to God and to his subjects for every soul in his realm. And he would serve God, and do good to the conquered, by extending his realm.
Partly from this cause, came the wars called religious wars. Why are there no wars for religion today? Because today most men know that force cannot control anyone's beliefs.
Today it is said that a conflict of economic ideologies causes war. In Russia, Italy, Germany, and Japan, men in Government have tortured and slaughtered multitudes whose ideas differed from theirs. These countries now make war. And what is the one element that modern Communism, Fascism, National Socialism, and Bushido have in common? A fanatic belief that Government is Authority that controls individuals.
Most wars in history come from Government's attempt to enforce an imaginary control of the productive uses of human energy. The "planned economy" hinders, restricts, and reduces production. But human energy must be productive, to keep people alive. When force obstructs it, people suffer privation and hunger. In rebellion against this misery, they rebel against the ruler whom they hold responsible for it.
So history is full of wars of rebellion. Behind the rebel leaders, are men who are hungry. Their rebellion breaks up the mechanism of attempted control; for a little while they are able to improve their living conditions, and for this they thank the new ruler, or the new form of Government. But in the Old World, they always believe that Authority controls them. So all the rebellions have never greatly improved the wretched living conditions that come from trying to make human energy work on the false assumption that individuals do not control it.
In the brief history of these United States there is an instance of the connection between this false belief and war. The most atrocious, bloodiest and most costly war of the last century was the war between these States. Its cause was the Federal Government's so-called "Protective" tariff.
This tariff is a restriction of trade. Its original purpose was to protect this country's infant industries. Ordinary Americans fought it until 1896. Ten years ago, American farmers began taking money from all American tax-payers in payment for reducing this country's food supplies, on the ground that this payment is "the farmers' protective tariff." From the first, this Protective tariff worked as all attempts to control productive human energy have always worked. It made everyone poorer. But the owners of the infant industries, still pagan-minded, still regarding wealth as a static quantity, and Government as Authority, imagined that this restriction of trade was making them prosperous.
How could they prosper, they reasoned, except by taking prosperity from someone else? If this universe is static, wealth does not increase; a man can get a dollar only by taking it from another man. The idea that prices can go down while wages and profits increase naturally never entered their heads, because in all history this had never occurred.
The Government's kind protection was taking money from most Americans and giving it to the factory-owners, thus making their customers poorer and reducing the market for factory products. Believe it or not, this is what the factory-owners wanted, and they got it and kept it, by buying Daniel Webster and assorted lots of cheaper Congressmen, both northern and southern.
Ordinary dumb Americans fought that tariff for a hundred years, because it was counter-revolutionary and because it was a use of force to take money from most citizens and give it to a few. Southern Americans fought it politically until 1860, for the same reasons and also because they were selling cotton on the world market and wanted to buy manufactured goods at world prices. They claimed a right to nullify the tariff in their own ports; they did open their ports, and the Federal Government threatened war and made them close them.
The election of 1860 decided that this tariff would be raised still higher. So Southerners claimed the right to leave the Union, which all States had until then maintained, and they did leave it. They formed a Government, and when Federal troops would not withdraw from their States, they attacked the Federal troops.
That was the most brutal war that civilized men had ever fought. In that war, Americans revived a barbarity that had not been practiced since Genghis Khan, but is Hitler's method today: cold-blooded atrocities committed on unarmed civilians and women and children, by regular troops acting under orders.
Northerners fought to save the American Revolution by saving the Union. Southerners fought to save the Revolution by defending the rights of the States.
During the war, European troops moved into Mexico, thus proving that the Northerners were right. A shift in the Constitutional balance of power in this Government, ever since that war ended, may yet prove that the Southerners were right.
That war cost the lives of half a million Americans. It cost a generation's loss of energy in the north, and half a century's loss of it in the south. The war and its effects were caused by a little intrusion of the ancient planned economy here, a little use of force as an attempted control and an actual restriction of the productive uses of human energy.
The form of the Government makes no difference. Whether the ruler is a majority, as in Greek democracy, or a King or a dictator or elected members of Parliament, if men in Government use the force that is Government in an attempt to control human energy, one result is war.
Since the ruler is believed to control his subjects, it is believed that he makes the war. What actually happens — as in the case of the religious wars — is that he cannot control his subjects. His imaginary control fails to work.
So the ruler (and his subjects) recognize that something is hampering his control. This is true; the opposition is in the nature of human energy. But neither the ruler nor his subjects reject their delusion that he controls them. They reason that his control does not work well because it is not strong enough, or because it does not cover a large enough area of the earth.
The ruler, whoever he may be, therefore increases his use of force in more determined efforts, and as the results are always more disastrous, his subjects make a war of rebellion against him, or they make a war to enlarge the frontiers of his imaginary Authority.
An Old World frontier is a bayonet-line that marks the geographical limit of a ruler's attempt to control individuals. The Government's actual use of force is stopped there, where the guns and garrisons of another Government face his.
Since Government's planned economy has always kept people poor, the almost static living conditions through all Old World history seem to verify the pagan belief in a static universe. All Old World thinking about economics assumes that wealth cannot be increased, but must be divided.
So the Old World ruler (and his subjects) assume that to get prosperity, they must take it away from someone else. They see no means of raising their standard of living, except by using force to move the frontiers beyond the farms and mines and factories that are already created.
No doubt many Germans believe sincerely that in order to live, they must enlarge the German frontiers. And so long as frontiers are limits of a Government's use of force in an attempt to control human energy, this will appear to be true.
For twenty years, all European Governments have been starving Europeans. Imagine every State line in this Republic fortified, garrisoned, guarded by two lines of soldiers and police and two lines of bureaucrats, all taken from this country's productive population and supported by the remainder of that population.
Imagine that no train nor car nor person nor package can cross any State line here, without twice being stopped and twice being examined, nor without police permission to leave one State and police permission to enter the other. Imagine that from one State you can take or send only fifty dollars, from another ten, and from some States no money at all, so that no one outside the State of Michigan can buy a car; and imagine that the currency changes at every State line, and that merchants use one kind of money, and travelers another, and that at any moment a Government decree may change the value of either kind. Imagine that some States do not admit cigarettes and some exclude ready-made dresses and others require a deposit of the total value of a car or truck to insure that it will not be sold within the State, a deposit that will be returned when the car leaves the State at the point where it entered. And try to do business, try only to live, when only Florida will admit Kansas wheat, and Maine can export potatoes only in exchange for Texas carrots, and Syracuse china can be exported only to Vermont and only to the extent that New York State's politicians permit an importation of Vermont maple sugar, which New York's bee-keepers oppose as an invasion of their market for honey. Go on imagining; you cannot equal the European reality.
This is what a belief in Authority made of the American insistence, during and after the first world war, upon "self-determination of peoples."
The inevitable reaction to such a state of affairs is war. Too much energy is subtracted from productive energy. Too much force is opposed to the natural uses of men's energies. The people are hungry. And will they curb their Governments? Will they abolish such a use of force? Does that kind of action occur to them?
Not at all; they blame their rulers. They rebel, and change their rulers. That is what they have done, in Italy, in Greece, in Austria and Romania and Poland and Germany and Spain.
The pattern is as old as human life. The new rulers use more and more force, more police, more soldiers, trying to enforce more efficient control, trying to make the planned economy work by piling regulations on regulations, decree on decree. The people are hungry, and hungrier. And how does a man on this earth get butter? Doesn't Government give butter?
But Government does not produce food from this earth; Government is guns. It is one common distinction of all civilized peoples, that they give their guns to Government. Men in Government monopolize the necessary use of force; they are not using their energies productively; they are not milking cows. To get butter, they must use guns; they have nothing else to use.
So you hear that the causes of war are economic. You hear of wars of hate and revenge. You hear that nationalism causes wars, and that only a World State and a "planned" world economy (which is what Hitler is fighting for) can bring world peace. (Another Roman Peace, and another Dark Ages.)
Well, there is a frontier between Missouri and Kansas. Men of different cultures, antagonistic ideologies and ancient enemy-races met at that frontier, eighty years ago.
Missourians were aristocrats, tolerant, self-indulgent, slave-owning descendants of the Catholic Cavaliers; their political faith was rooted in Magna Carta, feudalism, and the feudal class-rights of man.
Into Kansas came the hard, narrow, fanatic Protestants from New England, iconoclasts, hating aristocracy, hating feudalism and class-distinctions, standing for individualism and human rights and the abolition of slavery.
Behind the Missourian was French Missouri, that had been French for almost two hundred years. With the New Englander was the German, the "lop-eared Dutch," so newly come from the crushed revolutionary efforts in Germany that he spoke only his native language. They met, on this frontier, the German and the French, whose ancestors had fought each other on the Rhine since before Caesar went into Gaul.
If you speak of a conflict of cultures, there was one. A conflict of political ideologies? There it was. Hate? Revenge? when the feudal slave-owner met the wild-eyed fanatic who was stealing his slaves and betraying them to starvation and gangs of murderers? when Germans met French, with memories of a thousand years of war between them?
Missourians and Kansans killed each other for six years before the guns spoke at Fort Sumter and two Governments made war. Kansans and Missourians are not precisely fond of each other yet. Listen to the crowds' roars at the annual "Turkey" football game between Kansas U and Missouri U. You do not hear that sound at football games anywhere else. Kansans have not forgotten the border raids and the Lawrence massacre; Missourians remember the burning of Independence and Order Number Eleven; now, after eighty years.
But the Missouri-Kansas line is not an Old World frontier. No one guards it. No one wants to move it, because it is not the boundary of an imaginary control of individuals and an actual use of force.
Recently there has been a faint general belief that American Government is Authority. It stops your car on a State line, as if that line were an Old World frontier.
ALL CARS STOP, the sign says. Someone questions you a little, not quite knowing why. You see another sign: OIL TRUCKS STOP HERE. Americans are almost believing that Government controls the energy that produces oil from the earth. That is an old story to Missourians who remember that Louis XIV imagined that he controlled the production of wine.
Some fifteen hundred such assertions of a non-existent Authority have actually been put on the statute books of these States. And, when the Old World attacked this Republic, and Americans had to fight for their lives and for the recognition of human liberty on this earth, fifteen hundred of these Hitler laws were tangled around their feet in their own country.
Americans are so carelessly rich that they let those laws stand so long as they were hindering American production and trade. But when they hindered this fight for life and liberty, in eight days every State abolished them.
That is what Americans do, when they see their enemy. This Republic is not the Old World. Not a State line in it, nor the national boundary, is an Old World frontier.
If Missourians believed that Missouri's Government controlled them and therefore must provide for them, the politicians in Jefferson City would have to guard the Missouri-Kansas line with police and troops, and staff it with bureaucrats examining permits and cars and purses and shipments of goods. There is no other way by which men in Government can attempt to control individuals.
Then Missourians would need Kansas wheat and oil and salt and revolving doors from the world-monopoly of their manufacture in Independence, Kansas, just as they need these things now. Kansans would need Missouri's apples and lead and zinc and bauxite, just as they need them now. To men in each Government it would seem necessary to get these things into their own State, to relieve the people's increasing poverty. And Government has only one means: war.
Both Missourians and Kansans are good fighters. They would fight that war to a standstill, and resume it again and again, until it might seem that the only way to end it would be to crush Missourians utterly, or to smash every Kansan beyond possibility of recovery.
This solution might seem necessary, if you did not know that utterly crushing the enemy has always been the method used to end war. For six thousand years that method has been ending war. It does not end war, because war is not caused by the enemy.
War is caused by the ancient pagan belief that Authority controls individuals, and must and should control them. This belief is in individual minds, and no force whatever can change any man's mind. War will end when a majority of men on this earth know that every man is free. Each person must see for himself that everyone is self-controlling and responsible.
So long as any large group of persons, anywhere on this earth, believe the ancient superstition that some Authority is responsible for their welfare, they will set up some image of that Authority and try to obey it. And the result will be poverty and war.
- 1. The Golden Ass of Apuleius, Adlington's translation.
- 2. Aeneas Sylvius' Pon. Max. Asiae Europeaque Elegantissimo Descriptio, 1534.
- 3. The Austin papers, quoted in American Historical Review, April 1900.
- 4. The "progress" in Russia during the past twenty years has come from a dictator's efforts to industrialize Russia (that is, to bring living conditions up to the level already created in America). The imitation of America was Lenin's plan. The theory is that the dictatorship is temporary; that the communist commonwealth will be established when Russian production equals the present capitalist production.
- 5. Russians and Nazis are not developing new uses of productive energy. They are imitating uses previously developed in America, England, and France.
- 6. Parliamentary History, Vol. 4, p. 295.
- 7. English weavers made such poor cloth that they could not compete with continental weavers. To aid them by destroying the continental weavers, Parliament prohibited the export of British wool to the Continent. Of course this measure would have ruined the English wool producers, thus raising the cost of wool to English weavers and making their cloth worse. But, as always in all past history, grafters and smugglers rescued commerce.
- 8. Poor King George. In 1771 he wrote to Lord North, "It is highly necessary that this strange and lawless method of publishing debates should be put a stop to. But is not the House of Lords the best court to bring such miscreants before; as it can fine, as well as imprison, and has broader shoulders to support the odium of so salutary a measure?" Horace Walpole, George III, vol. 4, p. 280.
- 9. Henry Thomas Buckle, History of Civilization in England, Vol. 1, pp. 200, et seq.
- 10. "C'est a la contrebande que le commerce doit de n'avoir pas peri sous l'influence du regime prohibitif; tandis que ce regime condamnait les peoples a s'approvissioner aux sources les plus eloignees, la contrebande rapprochait les distances, abbaissait les prix, et neutralissait l'action funests des monopoles." Blanqui, Histoire de l'Economie Politique en Europe, Vol. 2. Paris, 1845.
- 12. They may have a vote. Americans vote; how much does your vote affect the rulings of the Inter-State Commerce Commission?