I’m really happy with this way this article turned out. It is published at Crisis. The editor John Zmirak had initially sent me a piece by the legendary historian Christopher Dawson and asked me to respond. I generally avoid this sort of debate so I didn’t bother to look at the piece for probably ten days or so. In fact, I didn’t really accept the challenge.
Then I read the piece. It was quite incredible. Dawson sweeps his scholarly hand over vast continents and epochs and makes wild claims entirely abstracted from the real experience of humanity. Nowhere does he show the slightest interest in the plight of the common man and his quality of life. He is happy to declare the middle ages to be this wonderful time of faith and order and then proceeds to blast away all of the last several hundred years as hopelessly corrupted by materialism. His target is what he calls the bourgeoisie, and here he admits that his thinking is in line with Karl Marx. But there is a difference. Whereas the Marxists posited a hopeless conflict between capital and labor, his model posits a conflict between real faith and material provision. The two are irreconcilable.
The real danger of the Dawson piece is its erudition in big things and its deep disengagement with the small things that make life good, like clean clothes, medical care, running water, job opportunities, access to food to feed the children, and the like. He cares nothing for these things. He is content to simply praise the past for its Michelangos and Berninis and condemn the present for its Lady Gagas and Justin Beibers. It’s really a cheap trick and an obvious one: pick the best of the past and the worst of the present and you can paint a picture of relentless decline.
My response points to the dramatic change that took hold of the world in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a change that created what we call the middle class today. It gave life to hundreds of millions of people. Without the bourgeoisie and the capitalist marketplace they sustain, the world could not support seven billion. Surely a high-minded cultural historian like Dawson should care about things like this? Surely!
Every year, I like to construct a list of some of the best books released in the past year and a few a others that are worth recommending at any time. Of course, this is my opinion, but if you’re looking for a gift for your libertarian loved one this Christmas season then perhaps you’ll give one of these books a go. So without further adieu, the Top 10 Libertarian Books for Christmas 2011!
1. It is Dangerous to Be Right When the Government is Wrong by Andrew Napolitano – The Judge, host of FreedomWatch on Fox Business, has put together an amazing book that analyzes a host of topics from the standpoint of natural law. I will be reviewing this book on my personal website soon but I’m going to say it now – you need to read this book. The data and stories he presents in the book make it easily worth every penny, and it deserves a prominent place on your (or anyone else’s) bookshelf.
2. Libertarianism Today by Jacob Huebert – This book was on the list last year, but it warrants another mention because you can get it at a significantly reduced price by purchasing directly from the publisher. Huebert’s book is definitely a must-read, and is one of the best recent books on hardcore libertarianism in the past few years. LRC writer Laurence Vance has called it, “The best introduction to libertarianism on the market.”
3. Bourbon for Breakfast and It’s a Jetsons World by Jeffrey Tucker – Check out this review of Bourbon for Breakfast, and you’ll see that it is a super read for anyone looking to circumvent statist restrictions upon their lives. Tucker’s followup work tells exciting stories of the little everyday miracles of the free market at work.
With great solemnity, “Defense” Secretary Robert Gates imparted on West Point cadets this Friday a hard-earned pearl of newly discovered wisdom:
“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it,” Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.
In other words, ”Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”
Sounds like good advi… Wait,what? Not everyone knows this already? Inconceivable!
Any culturally literate person has seen The Princess Bride at least once in the last 24 years1 and certainly knows about the most famous classic blunder:
Steve Chapman extols the benefits of having an all-volunteer military force:
A few decades ago, the draft was a requirement for any major military undertaking. No one would have dreamed of fighting the Germans and Japanese, or the North Koreans and Chinese, without calling up young men for mandatory service. Not until the waning years of the Vietnam War did the nation elect to rely entirely on volunteers.
It was a controversial step, and one whose durability was very much in doubt. But in the intervening decades, the draft has gone from being indispensable to being unthinkable. Even the extraordinary demands of two difficult wars have not induced a reconsideration.
Even the military’s leadership recognizes now that armies perform better when they’re filled with people who actually want to be there, and as Chapman points out, it’s a more efficient use of training dollars to spend them on Army careerists than on guys who’d rather be smoking pot and watching football.
If this is the extent of Chapman’s argument then I agree, but I’m not any more comforted by the fact that the military’s bombing and killing of poor people overseas are performed by people who actually want to do that sort of thing. And he ignores the fact that young men must still notify the government of their whereabouts via Selective Service in case the draft is reinstated. If the military really does not want conscripted men (and possibly women) among its ranks, why does the infrastructure for conscription still exist?
More dubious is Chapman’s concluding paragraph:
It was once a novel experiment: fielding a force to protect freedom without grossly violating freedom by dragooning young men to serve. But it’s worked so well we’ve almost forgotten there’s an alternative.
“Protect freedom” is a canard I expect from National Review, not a supposedly libertarian publication such as Reason. Few if any all-volunteer forces have ever been used to protect Americans’ freedoms, even during the Revolutionary War (see volume 4 of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty); and there isn’t a single military campaign undertaken in the past century that could be called a legitimate defense of freedom. If one wishes to sing the praises of America’s efficient, all-volunteer killers, at least one shouldn’t pretend they exist for any reason other than to satisfy the imperialist aims of the Washington elite.
I offer to readers a term of my coinage: polidicy.
I construct it as “theodicy” was constructed, and I do so in the spirit of the copycat. A theodicy is a vindication of divine goodness in the context of the existence of evil. It is an important theological concept, and you will find theodicies embedded in most understandings of Providence, and nearly everyone who believes in a deity has some sort of theodicy in tow.
Polidicy, then, is a vindication of a state or government body in the context of its own obvious crimes. Most people who are loyal to some state and pretend to possess a moral sense, or conscience, have some polidicy in their head, some set of excuses for why the state’s many crimes do not amount to a moral case against the state as such, and how, even, the state can be said to be “basically good.”