Category Archives: Philosophy

How Democracy Made Us Dumb


By ilana mercer

From the riffs of outrage coming from the Democrats and their demos over “our democracy” betrayed, infiltrated even destroyed—you’d never know that a rich vein of thinking in opposition to democracy runs through Western intellectual thought, and that those familiar with it would be tempted to say “good riddance.”

Voicing opposition to democracy is just not done in politically polite circles, conservative and liberal alike.

For this reason, the Mises Institute’s Circle in Seattle, an annual gathering, represented a break from the pack.

The Mises Institute is the foremost think tank working to advance free-market economics from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics. It is devoted to peace, prosperity, and private property, implicit in which is the demotion of raw democracy, the state, and its welfare-warfare machine.

This year, amid presentations that explained “Why American Democracy Fails,” it fell to me to speak to “How Democracy Made Us Dumb.” (Oh yes! Reality on the ground was not candy-coated.)

Some of the wide-ranging observations I made about the dumbing down inherent in democracy were drawn from the Founding Fathers and the ancients.

A tenet of the American democracy is to deify youth and diminish adults. To counter that, I’ll start with the ancients.

The Athenian philosophers disdained democracy. Deeply so. They held that democracy “distrusts ability and has a reverence for numbers over knowledge.” (Will Durant, “The Story of Philosophy,” New York, New York, 1961, p. 10.)

Certainly, among the ancients who mattered, there was a keen contempt for “a mob-led, passion-ridden democracy.” The complaint among Athenians who occupied themselves with thinking and debating was that “there would be chaos where there is no thought,” and that “it was a base superstition that numbers give wisdom. On the contrary, it is universally seen that men in crowds are more foolish, violent and cruel than men separate and alone.” (p. 11)

Underground already then, because so subversive—anti-democratic thinking was the aristocratic gospel in Athens. Socrates (born in 470 B.C.) was the intellectual leader against democracy and for the even-then hated aristocratic philosophy. Socrates’ acolytes, young and brilliant, questioned the “specious replacement of the old virtues by unsocial intelligence.”

The proof of the foolish, violent and cruel nature of the crowds is that the crowds, not the judges, insisted on making Socrates the first martyr of philosophy. He drank the poison at the behest of the people.

No wonder Plato, Socrates’ most gifted student, harbored such scorn for democracy and hatred for the mob—so extreme that it led this controversial genius to resolve that democracy must be destroyed, to be replaced by his planned society; “the rule of the wisest and the best, who would have to be discovered and enabled.”

Plato’s “Republic,” seconds the Economist, “is haunted by the fear that democracies eventually degenerate into tyrannies” (June 22, 2019). To libertarians, Plato of the planned society was wrong. However, the fear reverberating throughout his “Republic” is righteous.

A democratic utopia of freedom cannot come about because of the nature of man, thought Plato. Men “soon tire of what they have, pine for what they have not, and seldom desire anything unless it belongs to others. The result is the encroachment of one group upon the territory of another.” (“The Story of Philosophy,” p. 19.)

Plato agreed, that “the diversity of democracy’s characters … make it look very attractive.” However, “these citizens are so consumed by pleasure-seeking that they beggar the economy”; so hostile to authority that they ignore the advice of sages, and so solipsistic and libertine that they lose any common purpose.

Most agreeable to libertarian thinking was Aristotle, who ventured that democracy is based on a false assumption of equality. It arises out of the notion that “those who are equal in one respect (under the law) are equal in all respects. Because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.” (P. 70)

Tocqueville, too, was not sold on the new American democracy. He conducted “his extensive investigation into American life, and was prepared to pronounce with authority [about what he termed the new democracy].” (Russell Kirk, “The Conservative Mind,” Washington D.C., 1985, 205-224)

The American elite, Tocqueville observed, does not form an aristocracy that cherishes individuality, but a bureaucratic elite which exacts rigid conformity, a monotonous equality, shared by the managers of society.” (p. 218) Remarking on “the standardization of character in America,” Tocqueville described it as “a sort of family likeness” that makes for monotony. (p. 210)

What menaces democratic society … [is] a tyranny of mediocrity, a standardization of mind and spirit and condition …  The mass of people will not rest until the state is reorganized to furnish them with material gratification.”

“Pure democracy makes libertarian democracy impossible,” posited Tocqueville. (p. 213) “In America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within certain barriers, an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them … his political career is then over, since he has offended the only authority able to defend it. … Before making public his opinions, he thought he had sympathizers, now it seems to him he has none any more, since he revealed himself to everyone; then those who blame him criticize loudly, and those who think as he does keep quiet and move away without courage. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort, which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.” (p. 218)

Consider that Tocqueville was writing at a time so much smarter than our own.

Tocqueville in the 19th century, and Solzhenitsyn in the 20th, noted that conformity of thought is powerfully prevalent among Americans.

This column, now in its 20th year, can attest that writing in the Age of the Idiot is about striking the right balance of banality and mediocrity, both in style and thought, which invariably entails echoing one of two party lines and positions, poorly.

Let us not forget Friendrich Nietzsche (admired by H. L. Mencken, whose genius would have remained unrecognized had he been plying his craft in 2019).

Born 39 years after Tocqueville, Nietzsche saw nothing good in democracy. “It means the worship of mediocrity, and the hatred of excellence. … What is hated by the people, as a wolf by the dogs, is the free spirit, the enemy of all fetters, the not-adorer, the man who is not a regular party-member. … How can a nation become great when its greatest men lie unused, discouraged, perhaps unknown … Such a society loses character; imitation is horizontal instead of vertical—not the superior man but the majority man becomes the ideal and the model; everybody comes to resemble everybody else; even the sexes approximate—the men become women and the women become men.” (“The Story of Philosophy,” p. 324.)

For their part, America’s founders had attempted to forestall raw democracy by devising a republic.

In his magisterial “Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government,” constitutional scholar James McClellan noted that universal suffrage and mass democracy were alien to the Founders: “They believed that a democracy would tend toward mediocrity and tyranny of the majority.” Writing about the first state constitutions (penned between 1776-1783), McClellan attests that, “A complete democracy on a wide scale was widely regarded throughout the colonies as a threat to law and order.”

Why, Pennsylvania became the laughingstock in the colonies when it “abolished all property qualifications for voting and holding office. This confirmed the suspicions of many colonial leaders that an unrestrained democracy could drive good men out of public office and turn the affairs of state over to pettifoggers, bunglers, and demagogues.” A conga-line of those you witnessed at the CNN/New York Times Democratic debate, the other day.

“The Founders wanted representation of brains, not bodies,” observed McClellan, noting that, at least “for a number of years, the best minds in the country dominated American politics.” No more.

**

Watch ilana mercer’s entire address, “How Democracy Made Us Dumb,” on YouTube.

The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude


By Andy Duncan, Vice-Chairman of Mises UK

I’ve just spent the last ninety minutes reading an amazing short book by Étienne de la Boétie, written in 1553, on the nature of how the state gains mass obedience and on how we can reduce and then eliminate the state by reducing and eventually eliminating that obedience in a completely non-violent manner, in a bid to create Hoppe-World. Yes, it’s a long battle, but one worth fighting for. Now I’ve read it, I think this book may be essential reading for all believers in property, freedom, and liberty.

My favourite quote:

“Let us therefore learn while there is yet time, let us learn to do good. Let us raise our eyes to Heaven for the sake of our honor, for the very love of virtue, or, to speak wisely, for the love and praise of God Almighty, who is the infallible witness of our deeds and the just judge of our faults. As for me, I truly believe I am right, since there is nothing so contrary to a generous and loving God as tyranny—I believe He has reserved, in a separate spot in Hell, some very special punishment for tyrants and their accomplices.” – Étienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, 1553 A.D

A close runner-up, and my second favourite quote:

“Place on one side fifty thousand armed men, and on the otherthe same number; let them join in battle, one side fighting to retain its liberty, the other to take it away; to which would you, at a guess, promise victory? Which men do you think would march more gallantly to combat—those who anticipate as a reward for their suffering the maintenance of their freedom, or those who cannot expect any other prize for the blows exchanged than the enslavement of others? One side will have before its eyes the blessings of the past and the hope of similar joy in the future; their thoughts will dwell less on the comparatively brief pain of battle than on what they may have to endure forever, they, their children, and all their posterity. The other side has nothing to inspire it with courage except the weak urge of greed, which fades before danger and which can never be so keen, it seems to me, that it will not be dismayed by the least drop of blood from wounds. Consider the justly famous battles of Miltiades, Leonidas, Themistocles, still fresh today in recorded history and in the minds of men as if they had occurred but yesterday, battles fought in Greece for the welfare of the Greeks and as an example to the world. What power do you think gave to such a mere handful of men not the strength but the courage to withstand the attack of a fleet so vast that even the seas were burdened, and to defeat the armies of so many nations, armies so immense that their officers alone outnumbered the entire Greek force? What was it but the fact that in those glorious days this struggle represented not so much a fight of Greeks against Persians as a victory of liberty over domination, of freedom over greed?” – Étienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, 1553 A.D.

With a long and penetrating foreword by Murray N. Rothbard, the book is freely available to download:

For those who like that sort of thing, there is also an accompanying audio book:

 

Yes, The Left Stole Liberalism And Sold Out The West


By ilana mercer

Liberals have taken to promoting socialism, which is the state-sanctioned appropriation of private property. Or, communism.

In communism’s parlance, this theft of a man’s life, labor and land is referred to as state-ownership of the means of production.

Liberals are less known for misappropriating intellectual concepts. But they do that, too.

Take the term “liberal.” It once belonged to the good guys. But socialists, communists and Fabians stole it from us.

Having originally denoted the classical liberalism of the 18th and early 19th century, “liberal” used to be a lovely word. However, to be a liberal now is to be a social democrat, a leftist, a BLM, antifa and MeToo movementarian; it’s to be Chris and Andrew Cuomo.

A French classical liberal, Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), explained what liberalism stood for:

“Individuals must enjoy a boundless freedom in the use of their property and the exercise of their labor, as long as in disposing of their property or exercising their labor they do not harm others who have the same rights.” This is the opposite of communism aka socialism.

By harm, classical liberals mean aggression, as in damage to person or property. To contemporary liberals, “harm” encompasses anything from Donald Trump’s delicious tweets to the economic competition posed by a kiddie lemonade stand.

In the UK, those in-the-know still use the word liberal in the right way. The august Economist—essential reading for, unlike American news outlets, it covers The News—has recently lamented that democracies are drifting towards “xenophobic nationalism,” and away from liberal ideas.

At the same time, the magazine allows that “liberalism is a broad church.” It mentions the “Austrians” as being among liberalism’s “forerunners”—a mention that gave me, as a devotee of economist Ludwig von Mises, the opening I needed.

So, let me ask the following:

Have the Economist’s left-liberal editorializers (excellent writers all) read what liberal extraordinaire von Mises had to say about nationalism vis-à-vis immigration?

Mises was a Jewish classical liberal in the best of traditions—a political economist second to none. He escaped the Nazis only to be treated shoddily in the American academy, by the Fabian “forerunners” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s teachers.

Another formidable, younger classical liberal thinker is David Conway (a friend). Dr. Conway has argued most convincingly and methodically—he’s incapable of arguing any other way—that nationalism is in fact a condition for the emergence of liberalism.

To that end, Conway invokes Mises. In  “Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition,” published in 1927, Mises warned that,

“In the absence of any migration barriers whatsoever, vast hordes of immigrants … would … inundate Australia and America. They would come in such great numbers that it would no longer be possible to count on their assimilation. If in the past immigrants to America soon adopted the English language and American ways and customs, this was in part due to the fact that they did not come over all at once in such great numbers. … This … would now change, and there is real danger that the ascendancy—or more correctly, the exclusive dominion—of the Anglo-Saxons in the United States would be destroyed.”

Mises was not only a true liberal, but a master of the art of argument. Still, he didn’t imagine he needed to explain why the West had to stay Western to be free.

And in “Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War,” published in 1944, Mises could not have been more emphatic:

“Under present conditions the adoption of a policy of outright laissez faire and laissez passer on the part of the civilized nations of the West would be equivalent to an unconditional surrender to the totalitarian nations. Take, for instance, the case of migration barriers. Unrestrictedly opening the doors of the Americas, of Australia, and of Western Europe to immigrants would today be equivalent to opening the doors to the vanguards of the armies of Germany, Italy, and Japan.”

As Conway surmises, “Mises feared a massive immigration into the liberal democracies of peoples of vastly different ethnicity, culture and outlooks. Without strict immigration controls, Mises thought, host populations would rapidly become national minorities in their own lands. As such, the hosts would become vulnerable to forms of oppression and persecution at the hands of new arrivals.”

As far back as 1927, when the seminal “Liberalism in the Classical Tradition” was published, Mises, a gentleman from Old World Vienna, understood the following:

Once illiberal, unassimilable people gain “numeric superiority,” they will turn their population advantage into political advantage, using the host population’s liberalism against it.

***

ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook, Gab & YouTube

“We must obey God rather than men”: Lutheran-Calvinist theories of resistance


“We must obey God rather than men”: Lutheran-Calvinist theories of resistance
By Keir Martland 

The theology of Luther, Calvin, and other sixteenth-century Protestants is similar in some respects to that of S. Augustine, and arguably in the case of Calvin, based on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, with Harro Hopfl describing the latter as Luther and Calvin’s “favourite Patristic theologian.” Whatever the provenance of it, there is in the writings of Luther and Calvin a strong emphasis on the fallen nature of man. Now, earlier Christian thinkers with such a view of the impaired, flawed, even wretched nature of man, tended to also hold such a view of society as a whole. When thinkers such as Augustine or later ‘Political Augustinians’ applied themselves to political matters, because of their view of man and society, they gave no ‘naturalistic’ interpretation of government, authority, and power, no account of it independent of the source of all goodness, God, since man and society were, on this account, incapable of any virtue apart from Christian virtue. Their treatments of politics, then, left little room for theories of resistance or even for theories of ownership and political authority independent of the Church; rather, such thinkers tended to view all dominion as belonging ultimately to the Church and they expected at least passive obedience from the Christian to the established secular – delegated – and spiritual authorities. Yet there developed in the sixteenth-century a Lutheran-Calvinist resistance theory, or theories. It is, on the face of it, hard to see how the resistance theory as found in Theodore Beza or the Vindiciae contra Tyrannos developed from the writings of Luther and Calvin. Read more

Towards a naturalistic account of man, society, and politics


Towards a naturalistic account of man, society, and politics
By Keir Martland

For much of the Middle Ages – ordered anarchy though it was, owing to the situation on the ground of overlapping jurisdictions and law codes – the path to a fully-developed political or legal philosophy of any kind was blocked. There were, to be sure, a number of obstacles for the political philosopher, and no single factor can be held entirely responsible. Among these factors was the very idea of Christendom itself, since men in the Middle Ages did not separate ‘Church’, ‘State’, ‘Empire’, ‘kingdom’, ‘Europe’ etc. If ever Hilaire Belloc’s line that “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe” was factually correct, it was during the early to high Middle Ages. Naturally, this lack of clear thinking was one significant impediment to the development of serious political thought. At the same time, this Christendom required, so many thought, a single dominus. Whether pope or Western Emperor, for as long as the secular realm was thought of in the same terms as the spiritual realm, where one Lord and one Faith were both sufficient and necessary, for as long as the mission of the temporal powers was the same as the mission of the spiritual powers, one man on earth surely ought to be lord of the world. As a result, for much of the Middle Ages, while the battle for the position of dominus mundi raged between pope and emperor or pope and king or emperor and king, the ‘political thought’ produced was necessarily to a certain extent propaganda which took for granted the unity of Christendom under one divinely-appointed head. Read more

Bottom up versus top down


Bottom up versus top down

By Neil Lock

Today, I’m going to look at two diametrically opposed ways of thinking, and at the practitioners of those two ways. One way, I call bottom up; the other, top down.

Bottom up thinking is like the way we build a house. Starting from the ground, we work upwards, using what we’ve done already as support for what we’re working on at the moment. Top down thinking, on the other hand, starts out from an idea that is a given. It then works downwards, seeking evidence for the idea, or to add detail to it, or to put it into practice.

These two opposed methods bear on far more than just the way we think. The idea of bottom up versus top down can be applied to many dimensions of our lives. It can be applied to our overall world view, and to our views on religion. To how we seek knowledge. To our ethical and political views. To our conception of government and law. To our opinions on economics and environment. To how we communicate with others. To our views on education and media; and many more. Bottom up versus top down isn’t a single scale of (say) 0 to 100, but a multi-dimensional space, in which each individual’s position is represented on many different axes.

Read more

Praxeology and a priori truth: an interview with David Gordon


By Richard Storey

The following is an interview I conducted with the brilliant philosopher, Dr. David Gordon, who has been described as the semiofficial reviewer of the libertarian community.  There is hardly a better mind to help us understand ‘praxeology’ and the basis for Austro-libertarian thinking in the school of von Mises, Rothbard, Block and Hoppe et al.  Please follow the links for helpful resources to understand the definition of some philosophical terms and to access useful materials mentioned by David.

R: David, you have divided up two schools of thought in philosophy and economics – the German school, which I think stems from the Vienna circle, influenced greatly by the British empiricists, such as Locke and Hume; and the Austrian school spearheaded by Ludwig von Mises who was influenced by Menger and Böhm-Bawerk.  Now, Mises was somewhat of a rationalist; at least, he used the language of Immanuel Kant to show we need some sort of dualism when we engage in the empirical, physical sciences (which use the scientific method and the historical method).  That is, in order to gain knowledge from the world, we must use rationalistic thinking as well.  In that sense, would you say Mises’ thinking hearkens back to Aristotle by ascertaining those irrefutable axioms we can determine rationally for ourselves? Read more

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