Isabel Paterson’s God

God of the Machine

The following is a review of Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, a 1943 book arguing for free market capitalism.  I wrote this for a college course called Modern Political Thought:

The year was 1943.  Hitler’s Germany was in the midst of all-out war with Stalin’s Russia and Franklin Roosevelt’s United States.  Isabel Paterson, a Canadian-American author, published The God of the Machine, which has become one of the more influential libertarian works of the twentieth century.  Paterson was a radical individualist.  Hitler and Stalin were avowed collectivists, and the well-known human suffering in Russia and Germany during their reigns was too great to be ignored.  Roosevelt’s New Deal represented by far the greatest economic intervention in American history.  The tendencies of world powers toward collectivism were Paterson’s main focuses, but societal attitudes also concerned her.  Many believed that the war economy was healthy, and some even believed that Germany and Russia had gotten it right, increasing their powers by collectivization.  John Maynard Keynes’ interventionism was emerging as the new textbook standard for economic theory.  Radical sloganeers were advancing such ideas as “property is theft” and “capitalism means war.”  Paterson addressed all of these developments.  Her book is an overview of the logic and history behind her answer to the great question that still stands before the political actor today: which interest should be the focus of our political attention, society’s or the individual’s?

If not for its analyses of ancient, modern, and contemporary histories, The God of the Machine may have been criticized as a knee-jerk reactionary critique of world leaders’ current collectivist policies; Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom was widely brushed aside by the political establishment as reactionary.  While the Nobel Laureate’s criticism of Keynesian economic theory was much more influential, Paterson published hers earlier, and she conveys the same message, that government cannot spend an economy back to health.

The individualist political philosophy was first described by John Locke, and there are clear similarities between Locke’s philosophy and Paterson’s.  Obviously both are individualists.  Both believe that government exists to protect the natural rights of life, liberty and property, and that those rights are gifts to man from God.  With respect to property, there are differences between the two thinkers.  For Locke, ownership of objects in nature is initiated when people mix their labor with those objects.  Paterson, contrarily, claims that ownership exists because of the physical laws of space and time. She explains this in a matter-of-fact manner, stating “two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time” (180).  Elaborating upon this obvious statement, which at first sight appears irrelevant to the matter at hand, she points out that no one would farm if his land could be used–without restraint–by anyone who stumbled upon it, nor would any family build a dwelling, if every man were permitted to come in and go out of it as he pleased; the man farms and builds for his own private purposes (180).

David Hume’s legitimate criticism of social contract theory was precisely that it was a theory.  It was based on thought experimentation, and had no historical evidence.  Locke was a social contract theorist, and Paterson accepts his theory, but she is not a social contract theorist; she is a social contract historian.  She makes little reference to an imaginary social contract, as Locke did, because, unlike Locke, she can point to a historical social contract, the United States Constitution.

The modern liberal, socialist, utilitarian, and utopian thinkers came after John Locke.  The father of classical liberalism was long dead before any opportunity to rebuff their arguments presented itself.  In The God of the Machine, Paterson plucks Locke’s intellectual sword from the grave and carries it into battle against the likes of Keynes, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Before that battle can be understood, however, it is necessary to explore Paterson’s social philosophy.  Paterson uses a metaphor extensively throughout the book, comparing society to an electrical circuit.  She perceives individual free will as the “dynamo” in society; in the metaphor, free association and exchange is the “electricity” of the circuit.  She argues that all progress comes from individual action.  Only individuals can think–groups cannot–and “in human affairs, all that endures is what men think” (18).  Paterson’s high potential energy circuit is closed and circulating maximum energy in a free enterprise system, when men are left to think and act however they wish.  It is static under a totalitarian system, when nearly every action must be commanded or permitted (78).  Government intervention into the market is represented by a “leak” in the otherwise complete high potential energy circuit.  A free enterprise society, then, will gain more and more prosperity and power, while a totalitarian society will tend to lose both.  The society in which government is most limited will be the most powerful society, in production and in war (61). Societies that are more powerful and prosperous become that way because they devise political systems that allow the greatest freedom of human action (13). Their circuits of energy are least broken.
Paterson borrows heavily from Herbert Spencer’s ideas.  She replaces Spencer’s “social organism” with her “high potential energy circuit,” and does so with favorable results.  Spencer laboriously pursues metaphors between government types and various biological organisms, flying over the heads of readers possessing even above average biological understanding.  Paterson clarifies Spencer’s message, by using a metaphor the average person can understand, a simple electrical circuit, and she simplifies his message by condensing it.

Paterson draws her “Society of Contract” and “Society of Status” from Spencer verbatim.  The society of contract recognizes the divinely given freedom and responsibility of each individual.  In the society of contract, “society consists of individuals in voluntary association.  The rights of any person are limited only by the equal rights of another person” (41). The society status, on the other hand, institutes privilege.  In Paterson’s mind, instituting a privileged status for anyone in society will lead to a class division between rulers and subjects.  She believes the society of status works against nature.  “The logic of status,” she says, “ignores physical fact.  The vital functions of a living creature do not wait upon permission; and unless a person is already able to act of his own motion, he cannot obey a command” (42).  Paterson says that her ideal societal relationships are best exemplified in what is called today’s middle class, which is not a class at all, but a classless society of contract (49).

Paterson bolsters her argument with the historical example of ancient Roman civilization.  She claims that Rome failed because it was a society of status, and the bureaucracy, the privileged class, became too big (and I am unqualified to argue this point with her).  Too much energy was diverted from production into the bureaucracy, so that almost no energy was making it all the way around the circuit.  When the productive class could no longer support the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy came down on the productive class and attempted a planned economy.  Prices were fixed and the currency was debased (39).  Roman civilization was torn apart.  Paterson writes, “Men who had formerly been productive escaped to the woods and mountains as outlaws, because they must starve if they went on working” (40).

Paterson says that the founding of the United States was the first and only time a society of contract was ever attempted.  The famous principle of the Declaration of Independence, that all men are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable right to life, had never previously been used as a basis of political structure (41).  The United States was an experiment in liberty.  Paterson points out that in the United States, for the first time, freedom was recognized as an indivisible whole; to speak of various “freedoms” was to revert to European terminology (68). The proof of the society of contract’s worth was the unprecedented power and prosperity of the United States.  Paterson derides European social philosophy as “mechanistic,” saying that it forgets that each individual naturally has freedom and responsibility, and it essentially reduces people to automatons.  She blames this on the arrogance of “academic planners” and the lust for power of self-described humanitarians. (145-147)

Paterson’s objection to “academic planners” returns us to the aforementioned intellectual battle between Paterson and thinkers like Keynes, Bentham, Mill, Marx, and Proudhon.   She says that John Stuart Mill, under the banner of liberty, in fact sacrificed it to society, saying that it was only justifiable insofar as it “served the collective good.” “Then,” writes Paterson, “if a plausible argument can be put forward that it does not–and such an argument will seem plausible because there is no collective good–obviously slavery must be right” (150).

Paterson views Bentham in much the same light, as another prominent philosopher who sold out liberty to the collective good.  Bentham is famous for attempting to devise a political system according to the principle of “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”  Paterson says that this “is a vicious phrase; for there is no unit of good which by addition or multiplication can make up a sum of good to be divided by the number of persons.  Jeremy Bentham, having adopted the phrase, spent the rest of his life trying to extract some meaning from his own words.  He meandered into almost incredible imbecilities, without ever perceiving why they couldn’t mean anything” (90).

Paterson calls Karl Marx a fool for thinking his utopian idea was an accurate prediction of the future (155).  She says Marx was a “parasitic pedant, shiftless and dishonest, he wanted to put in a claim on ‘society’ solely as a consumer” (96).  His theory of class war, she says, is “utter nonsense.”  Elaborating, she says, “it is physically impossible for ‘labor’ and ‘capital’ to engage in war on each other.  Capital is property; labor is men” (97).  She also criticizes Marx’s dialectical materialism, claiming that it “reduces verbal expression to literal nonsense” (96).  Paterson compares the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” to the phrase “roundness of a triangle” (96).

Keynes famously prescribed increasing government employment as a remedy for recessions.  Because recessions come with unemployment and slumping consumer demand, the theory goes that government can augment demand and employment by hiring more people, who will be consumers, multiplying demand.  In criticizing Keynes, Paterson employs reductio ad absurdum.  She brings up the example of paying a man to stand on the beach and throw pebbles into the ocean, arguing, “it would be just the same as if he were in a ‘government job,’ or on the dole; the producers have to supply his subsistence with no return, thus preventing the normal increase of jobs” (192).

Paterson says that Proudhon is responsible for “perhaps the most senseless phrase ever coined even by a collectivist” (179).  She is referring to Proudhon’s famous slogan, “property is theft.”  Clearly this statement is non-sensical, because theft presupposes property (179).  The slogan follows in the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who may well have agreed with its spirit, if not its words.  Both Rousseau and Proudhon saw property as an unnatural institution, and the source of inequality and unfairness.  Paterson contends otherwise, asserting that unfairness and inequality are unavoidable in any system, and that sacrificing property rights for the sake of fairness is foolish (200).  She explains, “The incidental hazard of a free society, which is that of nature, that some individuals may be temporarily unable to command a livelihood, is the permanent condition of every man living in a collective society.  In giving up freedom, the individual gets nothing in return, and gives up every chance or hope of ever getting anything” (200).

Paterson criticizes collectivists by analyzing their language and showing its errors.  She frequently uses “nonsense” as a descriptor of their rhetoric.  There is a tinge of hypocrisy in her critique, because she does not hold herself to the same exacting standards.  Proudhon’s “property is theft” is “senseless” to Paterson, but Paterson herself, in no uncertain terms, asserts that “profit is production,” which is evidently “senseless” to anyone with an understanding of economics (221).

Even accepting Paterson’s political principles and her criticisms of the collectivists, there remains a very important question: What is the alternative?  What political system does Paterson suggest?  Her ideal society is the “the private property, free enterprise society of contract,” but in The God of the Machine, the political apparatus responsible for protecting property and enforcing contracts is difficult to pin down.  The absence of a comprehensive, alternative political system may be the most prominent weakness of her argument.  Paterson thinks the very idea of political “leadership” is a threat to civilization, because every free man must lead his own affairs (80). She echoes classical liberals in saying that, ideally, government is a necessary evil.  Paterson explains, “since human beings will sometimes lie, shirk, break promises, fail to improve their faculties, act imprudently, seize by violence the goods of others, and even kill one another in anger or greed, government might be defined as the police organization” (69). Her ideal system seems to be liberty with a police man, a system that completes her high potential energy circuit for the machine of society, maximizing the creative use of human energy.  It requires equal protection of the laws, with privileged status for no “type” of person, be they impoverished, wealthy, numerous, or within government.  Paterson never even posits a method of determining who will make up the “police organization” that is government.

Some aspects of Paterson’s political system are clear.  She dislikes passports, or any other national identification (45).  She thinks “democracy inevitably lapses into tyranny” (16).  She favors a metal currency, saying the economist who advocates fiat money is “below the mental level of savages” because he has “forgotten how to apply number” (202).  She rejects compulsory public education as “the complete model of the totalitarian state” (258).  She also rejects licensing and regulation, which are impediments to free association (50).  However, Paterson’s political structure remains enigmatic.  As long as every individual is treated equally by the law, their natural rights are protected, and contracts are enforced, it does not concern her who governs, or how they are chosen.

Paterson, Isabel (1943). The God of the Machine. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. ISBN: 1560006668

Melville’s Billy Budd: a Commentary on Burke vs. Paine?

 Paine Burke

Paine (left) wrote Rights of Man as a dagger against Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France

When I began reading Billy Budd, I established a literary and apolitical mindset, but it was an admittedly weak one that could not withstand Melville’s torrent of political references. For example, Melville named Billy’s merchant ship Rights-of-Man, which he left to board a man-of-war called Bellipotent (the names could not be more politically provocative). Because of my intimacy with both Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, I kept both men’s philosophies in mind as I read. Their opposing books, following the French Revolution, became the bases of classical liberalism and modern conservatism. In my opinion, Melville uses Billy Budd to glorify Paine’s liberal view and humiliate Burke’s conservative one.

Before explaining how their relative political philosophies fit into this story, I want to summarize briefly Burke’s and Paine’s worldviews. Burke’s Reflections emphasized the importance of traditional institutions (like church and monarchy) and the rule of law in society. According to Burke, society must run according to written law, however unjust that law may seem. Burke claimed that natural rights did not exist unless they were established by law, and only a change in the law could enable them to be practiced. Burke believed that people needed a legal ruler. In The Rights of Man, Paine exhibited enlightenment views such as individual rights inherent to human existence, peace, freedoms of expression and action, low taxation, and republicanism. According to Paine, society must run according to natural law. He claimed that it was dutiful to break unjust or unnatural laws. Paine believed that people should rule themselves.

Captain Vere shares Burke’s strict adherence to the rule of law, despite its probable injustice. Vere says, “Our vowed responsibility is this: That however pitilessly that law may operate in any instances, we nevertheless adhere to it and administer it” (2510).

Vere also holds Burke’s traditional belief that the people need a ruler. Vere says, “The people have native sense; most of them are familiar with our naval usage and tradition; and how would they take it [mitigating Budd’s penalty]? Even could you explain to them—which our official position forbids—they, long molded by arbitrary discipline, have not that kind of intelligent responsiveness that might qualify them to comprehend and discriminate” (2511).

The same tone expressed here by Vere is consistent with Burke’s Reflections. Burke believed it a bad policy to ever circumvent the law (even in a difficult case such as Budd’s), because he believed the law made people habitually virtuous, and that if the law was not enforced, the people’s habit of virtue would be broken. According to Burke, people are not intrinsically good, but have inherited a system of law and religion that molds them to be good. To undermine the structure of the inherited system, then, is also to risk losing the inherited goodness of the people (this logic also plays out in Vere’s mind, as seen above). To Burke, there are no natural laws; laws are made by men, not nature. This opposes Paine’s views that natural laws exist and should be recognized, and that people have an inherent affinity for natural laws, which gives people natural virtue.

A fundamental difference between the dueling English thinkers that Melville must have known: Paine believes man is intrinsically virtuous and Burke believes man is intrinsically vicious. Melville portrays Billy and Claggart, the master-at arms, as having beliefs parallel to these. Claggart is angry and puzzled by the unsophisticated righteousness of Billy’s character, and later, Billy is as shocked and enraged by Claggart’s evil lie. Is Claggart not like Burke–is Billy not like Paine, in their expectations of others? Claggart and Burke expect vice; Billy and Paine expect virtue. It is no coincidence to Melville that each expected from the other that which they harbored within themselves. Melville describes Billy as good and Claggart as evil—and not only evil—but abnormally so. “To pass from a normal nature to [Claggart’s] one must cross ‘the deadly space between’,” writes Melville (2488). So not only does Melville suggest that some people are good and some evil; he also suggests that the evil ones are aberrations, and that among these are men like Claggart and Burke.

Even today, Edmund Burke is among the most respected English legal scholars ever, and before writing Reflections, he had earned a reputation as a friend of liberty. Melville explains that Captain Vere was very well-read in political non-fiction. In the cases of both Burke and Vere, there is mystery as to why such educated and liberal-minded men as they were would favor law over right. Many of Burke’s critics believed that he was ambitiously hoping to win a sizable pension from the king when he wrote Reflections, and George III expressed his admiration for the book. In Billy Budd, when Vere dies, we learn also of his secret ambition. Melville writes of Vere, “Unhappily he was cut off too early for the Nile and Trafalgar. The spirit that ‘spite its philosophic austerity may yet have indulged in the most secret of all passions, ambition, never attained to the fullness of fame” (2521).

I actually see Melville’s Billy Budd as a fictional continuation of Paine’s arguments in The Rights of Man. To illustrate this, I will present a series of quotes within the two works in which Melville seems to echo Paine’s words:

On war contractors:

Paine: “That there are men in all nations who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of nations, is as shocking as it is true.”

Melville: “war contractors (whose gains, honest or otherwise, are in every land an anticipated portion of the harvest of death)” (2515).
On God and injustice:

Paine: “The name of the Creator ought not to be introduced to witness the degradation of his creation.”

Melville: “It was noted at the time [of Budd’s execution], and remarked upon afterwards, that in this final scene the good man [chaplain] evinced little or nothing perfunctory. Brief speech indeed he had with the condemned one, but the genuine Gospel was less on his tongue than in his aspect and manner towards him.”
On first principles:

Paine: “It is unnatural that a pure stream should flow from a foul fountain.”

Melville: “The Mutiny Act, War’s child, takes after the father.” (1511).
On monarchy:

Paine: “We must shut our eyes against reason, we must basely degrade our understanding, not to see the folly of what is called monarchy.”

Melville: “How can we adjudge to summary and shameful death a fellow creature innocent before God, and whom we feel to be so?—Does that state it aright? You sign sad assent. Well, I too feel that, the full force of that. It is Nature. But do these buttons that we wear attest that our allegiance is to Nature? No, to the King” (2509).

Billy Budd, as a whole, may be viewed as a story against war. If not for war, Billy would never have left his peaceful trading ship, and the awful series of events that make up the drama of the story would never have occurred. Melville’s antiwar message echoes the sentiments of Paine, who writes, “Man is not the enemy of man, but through the medium of a false system of government.” This follows from Paine’s belief that men are virtuous absent of law. Burke would never agree to such a statement, for it is his belief that man is naturally the enemy of man, but that his warring nature is restricted by the rule of law.

Another similarity is the way in which contemporary society remembered Billy Budd and Thomas Paine. Both were heroes who the newspapers called villains. Both were publicly ridiculed and lied about. Paine’s contemporaries called him—though he professed his belief in God—a blasphemer and an atheist, and a seditious agitator. Melville presented newspaper stories that incorrectly portrayed Billy Budd as a mutinous criminal. Paine died in impoverished obscurity—hated by the very multitudes who once shared his revolutionary spirit—despite his magnanimous contributions to society. On a smaller scale, Billy perished in much the same way.

Melville closes by writing, “The above, appearing in a publication now long ago superannuated and forgotten, is all that hitherto has stood in human record to attest what manner of men respectively were John Claggart and Billy Budd” (2522). One cannot help but wonder if he is not also talking about the manner of men that were Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine.

The conservative views of following the law to the letter and believing in intrinsic evil are supposed to seem unjust in Billy Budd, because Melville favors the liberal view. Whether or not the debates between Burke and Paine inspired this story, only Melville knows for sure, but the similarities are compelling.

Works referenced:

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. New York: Oxford University
Press. 1993

Paine, Thomas. The Rights of Man. Rights of Man and Common Sense. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Everyman’s Library), 1994.

All page numbers cited from the following work:

Reidhead, Julia, Ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Melville, Herman. Billy Budd. Seventh Edition. Volume B. 1820 – 1865. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Shakespeare, who made America and beat Hitler

Shakespeare, taking names and kicking a**

In modern democracies, politics and popular culture are inseparable. While a small percentage of Americans know what was discussed on Capitol Hill this week, a significant number know who was booted from American Idol, and observing this tableau, a political mind may be repulsed. For the liberal philosopher, turning the minds of an apathetic or propagandized public seems an impossible hill to climb. Average people do not really care to read about the meaning of life, the unnecessary confines of their society, or the causes of human suffering. Average people do, however, enjoy a good show. Since the times of the American continent’s first presses and playhouses, in England and its American colonies, that show was Shakespeare. Long before the Beatles, the prolific poet from Stratford-upon-Avon may have posthumously been America’s first British pop sensation-and its most influential. Shakespeare’s attention to detail in the individual identities of his characters, and his intellect for relative moral standards, infused English and American cultures with an unprecedented appreciation for individual liberty, which led to the American Revolution and United States Constitution. Shakespeare’s cultural legacy is the defense of individualism that pervaded everywhere his work was popular, and in the ways that truly matter to society, Hitler was defeated not by the bomb-dropping Allies of World War II, but by a dead English poet wielding only a feather.

This realization came to me as I was reading The Federalist, the famed series of newspaper publications that circulated in the United States in 1787-88. The carefully constructed papers succeeded in persuading the American people to ratify the newly formed Constitution. In the second essay of the series, one of the mystery authors (later revealed as John Jay) refers to “the poet” without explanation, as if every reader should already know that “the poet” is Shakespeare. This is evidence that, to Jay and his intended audience, the American public of 1787, Shakespeare was an assumption that required no specific definition, like air, earth, moon, sun or divinity, or even humanity itself. There is no comparable figure in 2008. When we hear “the poet” today, we need an antecedent, so as not to be confused as to whether it is Dickinson, Frost, Shakespeare, Donne, Hughes, Eliot, Kipling, or Whitman-we do not conditionally assume one. The same can be said for our other modern influences. There is no modern actor, writer, comedian, singer, musician, pundit, et cetera, whose proper identity is an informal extension of common title, so Shakespeare’s influence on early U.S. culture is, by our standards, immeasurable.

The extent to which Shakespeare shaped America’s early cultural identity is a subject of debate among historians, and each critic brings a unique perspective to the argument, sometimes adding invention to observation. All agree that Shakespeare profoundly shaped England’s language and culture, and most believe the American identity was consequently Shakespearean. Few, however, will go so far as to say Shakespeare was a major factor in American independence. The argument that Shakespeare had little effect on America’s revolutionary founding is centered on the mystery of Shakespeare’s own politics. What Shakespeare’s characters believed was often abundantly clear, but the playwright’s own political opinions will always remain a mystery. It is true that Shakespeare contributed nothing concrete to political discourse. He was an artist. However, the mystery of his politics, along with the variety of characters he created, is actually central to my argument, because as soon as the public learns a writer’s opinions, a large sector of it will ignore his work. We learn, in Shakespeare’s world, that no one’s opinions are right. This realization is the essence of the United States’ liberal individualistic founding, and Shakespeare made it popular in England and the United States. In this way, Shakespeare founded the United States as we know it.

Historians give credit for the modern concept of the self to English philosopher John Locke, who argued that the infant’s mind is a blank slate shaped by experience, but he published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1690, a century after Shakespeare penned his works containing more than one hundred main characters and thousands of developed side characters, each having unique identities. Locke, they claim, is one of American liberty’s founding philosophers, but Locke may have only been observing what Shakespeare revealed in England a century before. In Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human (1998), Harold Bloom argues that “personality, in our sense, is a Shakespearean invention, and is not only Shakespeare’s greatest originality but also the authentic cause of his perpetual pervasiveness.” This seems accurate. We see a multitude of personalities in English, American and French cultures not often seen elsewhere. Distinctive personalities, seen in a positive light in our country, are in non-Shakespearean cultures considered a social obstacle. In talking to a Chinese exchange student, I discovered that in his culture, people have difficulty understanding why anyone would want to restrict the powers of the government. While Shakespeare’s cultures reject government coercion of the individual, collectivist cultures like China’s fear the potential chaos of individual freedoms.

Shakespeare’s influence in America has been taken to the extreme by more than one critic. In 1917, Charles Mills Gayley authored Shakespeare and the Founders of Liberty in America, which argues that Shakespeare had direct contact with liberal leaders in Virginia. Most of his argument is based on a single unpublished letter received by Shakespeare from William Strachey, a liberal member of the Virginia Company. Gayley claims Shakespeare was intimately and directly involved in the beginning of American liberty, but there is little evidence his claim is true. While his assessment that Shakespeare has left a heritage of liberty in England, France, and America is correct, Gayley has-whether imaginatively, vainly, or greedily-overstepped in attributing political beliefs to a political mirage.

The United States and England embraced Shakespeare throughout the nineteenth century, and until radio and television formats revolutionized media, Shakespeare remained dominant in American and British popular culture through print and performance. The individualism highlighted by Shakespeare’s characters remained on the consciousnesses of these nations well into the twentieth century. Early in the twentieth century, when other modern societies turned to combinations of socialism, nationalism, totalitarianism, or fascism-and did so with seeming success-England, France and the United States were, for yet unexplained reasons, unable to undo individualism, despite pleas from religious, scientific and interested communities. Germany was not so lucky. Before Hitler’s prominence, German culture had scientists, religions, artists, philosophers, and politicians-all arguably more refined than those of any other nation. For this reason, many intellectuals in England and the United States admired Germany’s Nazi socialism prior to the onset of war.

F.A. Hayek describes the evolution of Germany’s national socialist thought in The Road to Serfdom (1944), which is considered among the most important social criticisms ever written, and is a warning to politicians in all individualistic societies. In it, we learn Germans believed that in realizing the advantages of socialism, they had discovered an advantage over Anglo-American individualism. He quotes German Nobel Prize winner Wilhelm Ostwald saying, “I will explain to you now Germany’s great secret: we, or perhaps the German race, have discovered the significance of organization. While the other nations still live under the regime of individualism, we have already achieved that of organization.” This reveals the cultural difference between Germany and England during World War II: individualism. For some reason, English culture cherished individualism while German culture esteemed organization. Germany had an advanced scientific and artistic society; what German culture was missing was the Shakespeare effect. The underlying presence of Shakespeare explains the awareness that standards are relative to the individual (and not society as a whole), to which the inhabitants of England, France, and America so desperately clung during World War II.

Germans felt socialism was the answer to their economic woes. However, implementing socialism required the unscrupulous denial of certain individual rights, and Hitler was the only leader strong enough to make it work. It was not until after the outbreak of war that we became acutely aware of the dangers of Germany’s collectivist thought. Their patriotic socialism, though it may seem favorable in concept, becomes an uncontrollable and brutal beast in practice, because socialism can only be implemented by means most socialists detest. With its comfort in conformity, corporate interest in government, promises of safety, and mystical faith in the benevolence of power, socialism is more similar to the tyranny of the past than the prosperity of the future.

Although we did not formally recognize the evils of Nazi socialism until Hitler showed them to us, something in our culture told us it was wrong-and that something was Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s redefinition of the English language throws a wrench into the very notion of “organization” in society. It was Shakespeare’s personalized characters that instilled individualism, which made American independence seem so right. It was the same individualist lens through which socialism seemed so wrong. Everywhere his work is popular, individual liberty is Shakespeare’s legacy, and in the absence of his popularity in America today, we should realize we are at greater risk of internalizing collectivist ideals; in the spirit of Shakespeare, let us not be governed by them.

Going hiking (05.16.08)

Yesterday we went to Zevat, a beautiful old city with a history of violence.  I bought a photograph (artistic double exposure) of a man praying at the Western Wall.  The drive north to Zevat was highlighted by the border fence between Jewish Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  There is a quiet but undeniable animosity between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinians, that seems certainly unnatural–if not an abomination–and allows for an easy segue into the most interesting event of the day, the Kabbalah lecture in the gallery of David Friedland.

David talked about Kabbalistic mantras of non-dualism and universality.  Many members of our group were unmoved by David’s words, but I found myself in profound agreement with him.  Are we really so incompatible–the Palestinians and Jews?  Both religions value the same characteristics–the oneness of God, humility, respect, love–but still manage to fall victim to the soul-corrupting forces around them.

What reason has the peaceful farmer of one country to put down his plow, and lift up sword against the peaceful farmer of another, but through the means of a false authority?  This is a useful question that, I believe, is at the heart of what David Friedland was trying to convey.

To talk of the “peaceful farmer” of one nation with any true authority, one must first know that man exists, and I do.  One of the soldiers in our group, Tzahi, led us to his family’s farm, just three kilometers from the Lebanese border.  Here was a small farm not unlike the one my grandmother grew up on, decades ago in rural Tennessee.  The family was a peaceful and welcoming bunch.  They allowed us to ride their horses, eat fruit from their trees, and collect eggs from their hen house.  I would be willing to bet there are peaceful farms like this one, on the other side of the border, with peaceful, welcoming families, who are also mournfully propagandized by a false authority that pits humankind against itself in war.  It seems to me that this cannot be the will of God, but a result of the human ignorance thereof, or a human arrogance that would assume rule over God’s domain.

Last night we stayed in cabins, and the common area had a basketball court and picnic tables.  We played basketball and guitar, and sang–“Freebird” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room” were my humble contributions.  Today we hike and swim.

Dead Sea and Masada (05.20.08)

Today we went to Masada and the Dead Sea–both were beautiful and unique.

Masada’s history, which glorifies religious terrorism, is more than a little ironic.  Historically, we regard Jewish terrorists with reverence, but presently, Islamic terrorists are considered lower than the salt floors of the Dead Sea.

Standing atop Masada, one can look down on creation, and almost see the word of God.  It is the closest view of revelation I have ever experienced.  What so-called religious scholars have defined as revelation, or the literal word of God, is nothing more than hearsay.  Revelation is by definition direct, from creator (or creation) to individual, and cannot be designed in human language.  Therefore the only experience one can rightly call revelation is a direct individual experience that requires neither language nor interpreter.  Creation and creator speak for themselves, and are best understood through the studies of science and philosophy, as well as rational individual existence.

Review: The Miracle (The Miracle Theatre, Pigeon Forge, TN)

Yes, Jesus is that happy.

The Miracle is the well-known story of Jesus Christ put into the form of a musical with awesome performance effects. I am not a Christian and think organized religion is, to quote the great actor Jesse “the Body” Ventura (of Wrestlemania fame), “a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers, and want to stick their noses in other people’s business.” Nevertheless, I found the show to be very entertaining, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to see some of the more gratifying effects of mass hysteria.

Despite the fact that everyone in the audience knows exactly how the story goes, the production was able to enact several elements of surprise. The shock of seeing live camels walk down the aisle beside me was surpassed only by the terrifying moment that Satan enters stage-look-out-below, flying in directly over the heads of the audience.

It was a spectacle. I do not attend many theatrical performances, but as far as lighting and sound go, this was the best one I have ever seen. The ceiling above the audience had stars that twinkled and changed color when necessary. The back of the scene had a huge screen that could project anything to the audience. Rain was simulated with a unique “light curtain,” that defies my physical understanding of the world around me. There was thunder and lightning at times.

The actors were phenomenal talents. Jesus looked like and sounded like Jesus–perhaps it was the beard and hair, or maybe the fact that he always wore pure white tunics. Satan looked and sounded evil–he dressed in black, and even had blonde hair, which seems accurate. One character that did not work for me was Peter. Peter was played by a very large black man. I am a staunch individualist and therefore I do not consider myself racist, but I had trouble accepting a big black Peter-perhaps I have been passively indoctrinated by the countless fair-skinned Peters I have seen over the years. I do think the man who played Peter did a good job and was a good actor, but I would have cast Peter more traditionally.

Throughout the fine spectacle, the most overwhelming sense I got was mood. I was happy, sad, edgy, content, and even scared at times. I think the sound and lighting contributed a lot to my focus on mood and emotion. I disagreed with the show’s portrayal of Jesus; it’s a commercialized Jesus. I am a student of the Bible and history, and I think Jesus was a much more everyman’s man (less heroic) than the show made him. However, I understand the intent of the show was not historical accuracy, but a sort of marketable presentation of Jesus. Overall, The Miracle was a show worth seeing, if only for its entertainment value.

Wealth, Economics and Foreign Policy

Earthly residence of the devil

A real financial tip: Don’t buy anything you can’t afford, and hold onto whatever property you have through this depression. This is not a sale on financial stocks, nor is it a time to be jumping into shallow pools of capital. This is the beginning of something unprecedented and horrible for this country, and the media is making light of it. The Federal Reserve is knee-deep right now, and it’s only going to get worse over the next two years. If you look at the economic indicators, there is no avoiding rough times ahead, and the people may end up burning down the Fed’s doors by the time everything they have done comes to light. When bond and interest rates start skyrocketing, all hell will break loose, and there will be two choices: massive unemployment or hyperinflation (likely a combination of the two).

The worst thing that could happen: war with Iran. I believe China is trying to bait the U.S. into war with Iran, so that they may become allies with Iran and turn against Europe and the United States. Part of Iran’s political confidence has to stem from some assurance from the Chinese. After China backs Iran in the U.S. invasion, they will then call all of their U.S. Treasury securities, sell U.S. stocks, and leave our economy completely destroyed, which would allow them to realize their long-awaited goal of becoming the world’s top superpower. Our military and economic interests would find themselves penniless and cornered in the Middle East and Asia, and if cool heads do not prevail, we might quickly assume the identity of a nationalist and socialist country, eager to blame anyone but ourselves.

Going forward from the depths of what is sure to come within a score (hyperstagflation and confiscatory tax rates while paying the boomer generation’s debts and entitlements), the important thing to realize is that we already know how to build a solid foundation of self-security.  We did it over two hundred years ago, and we need to follow the Constitution back to prosperity. We must learn from history, practice sound economic and monetary policies, and stop repeating our mistakes.  For now, the writing is on the wall, and I am eager to wash it off as quickly as possible.  The Fed needs to let the market correct itself, and stop prolonging its own demise.