Freedom Begins at Home

If a people would be free (and very few people would be free) there are two things they must do, two foundations they must lay and that firmly. First, they must love their neighbors. Second, they must honor their fathers and their mothers.

There is a third as well. They must not commit adultery.

And yet another comes to mind, and maybe it is the foundation for all the rest. They must not steal.

These crimes against the soul are snakes in the garden, cancers in the social body, breakers of wills.

A people governed by sentiment will tolerate thieves and nurture adulterers. In such a society children will learn to dishonor their parents as a matter of right, while abstracting love of neighbor into a substitute to soothe the conscience rather than to obey it.

Such a people will never learn to govern themselves. Each will cry out for protection from and power over the other, some from greed, some from fear, some for vengeance.

Thus, like charity, freedom begins in the home. When husbands fail to love their wives, when children are not expected to obey their parents, when families do not love their neighbors, the blessings of liberty are sought with an ever intensified futility.

For how can she whom we have killed continue to bless us?

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Junkers, Hitler, Efficiency, and Leisure

In my research into Hitler’s rise to power, I came across this in Shirer’s locus classicus on the matter, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

For centuries [Prussia] had lain outside the main stream of German historical development and culture. It seemed almost as if it were a freak of history….

By [1701] Prussia had pulled itself up by its own bootstraps to be one of the ranking military powers of Europe. It had none of the resources of the others…. Even the nobility was poor, and the landless peasants lived like cattle. Yet by a supreme act of will and a genius for organizaton the Hohenzollerns managed to create a Spartan military state whose well-drilled Army won one victory after another and whose Machiavellian diplomacy of temporary alliances with whatever power seemed the strongest brought constant additions to its territory.

There thus arose quite artifically a state born of no popular force nor even of an idea except that of conquest, and held together by the absolute power of the ruler, by a narrow-minded bureaucracy which did his bidding and by a ruthlessly disciplined army…. “Prussia,” remarked Mirabeau, “is not a state with an army, but an army with a state.” And the state, which was run with the efficiency and soullessness of a factory, became all; the people were little more than cogs in the machinery. Individuals were tuaght not only by the kings and the drill sergeants but by the philosophers that their role in life was one of obedience, work, sacrifice and duty. Even Kant preached that duty demands the suppression of human feeling, and the Prussian poet Willibald Alexis gloried in the enslavement of the people under the Hohnzollerns. To Lessing, who did not like it, “Prussia was the most slavish country of Europe.”

All of that is pregnant with signficance, but allow me to draw your attention especially to this next paragraph sequence, which compares the agrarian system of Prussia with that of Western Germany. Something vital is hiding on the surface:

The Junkers, who were to play such a vital role in modern Germany, were also a unique product of Prussia. They were, as they said, a master race. It was they who occupied the land conquered by the Slavs and who farmed it on large estates worked by these Slavs, who became landless serfs quite different from those in the West. There was an essential difference between the agrarian system in Prussia and that of Western Germany and Western Europe. In the latter, the nobles, who owned most of the land, received rents or feudal dues from the peasants, who though often kept in a state of serfdom had certain rights and privileges and could, and did, gradually acquire their own land and civic freedom. In the West, the peasants formed a solid part of the community; the landlords for all their drawbacks, developed in their leisure a cultivation which led to, among other things, a civilized quality of life that could be seen in the refinement of manners, of thought and of the arts.

The Prussian Junker was not a man of leisure. He worked hard at managing his large estate, much as a factory manager does today. His landless laborers were treated as virtual slaves. On his large properties, he was the absolute lord. There were no large towns nor any substantial middle class, as there were in the West, whose civilizing influence might rub against him. In contrast to the cultivated grand seigneur in the West, the Junker developed into a rude, domineering, arrogant type of man, without cultivation or culture, aggressive, conceited, ruthless, narrow-minded and given to a petty profit-seeking that some German historians noted in the private life of Otto von Bismarck, the most successful of the Junkers.

William Shirer: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 137, 138 (emphasis mine)

The United States are certainly not Spartan and we do not seem much inclined toward that vice, but two or three other disturbing trends can be found here that will enslave us if we are not vigilant. Here let me simply highlight the necessity for leisure for a people who wishes to remain free. The civilizing influence of leisure leads to the spread of civilization (please not that civlization is not a matter of power but of form – it is not technology that makes us civilized but, at least, a love of beauty).

The efficiency of the Prussian Junkers stood as a barrier between them and civilization. As a result, they worshipped power and thought of themselves as a “master race.”

The slavs were their opposites. They seem to have had a passivity and an emotionalism that better reflects American society. Even that, however, raises a too simplistic question: do we run the risk of finding a vast portion of our population seduced by the promise of security and pleasure into a state of serfdom to those who are diligent and arrogant?

I have no idea. I cannot see the future. The past only gives clues, not knowledge.

  

Patrick Henry Explodes

Patrick Henry famously demanded of the Virginia House of Burgesses, bending down on his haunches like a lion about to leap, then exploding upward as the words passed out of his soul through his mouth and into the stunned chamber: “Give me liberty, or give me death.”

Increasingly, I am persuaded that those really are our only two options. Slavery of any sort, acceptance of slavery of any sort, the preference for security over life, is a form of death in life.

Once upon a time, boys dreamed of growing up to be advernturers. David Farragut was fourteen years old (!) when he was given command of a ship full of British prisoners and told to bring them from somewhere around Florida up to, I think, Boston.

Fourteen!

Now the admiral or somebody would be arrested for defying child labor laws.

We are a frightened, effiminate peopl,e terrified of suffering, but embracing death every time we turn around. We live in mortal fear that our neighbor might out-perform us on the SAT (itself a product and cause of anxiety), that we might miss a promotion, that we might have to drive an old car, that we might not be able to rely on our chosen bureaucracy to provide for us and our heirs till we die.

As a result the only ones who rise to the top are those who have the temerity to promise us whatever we think will make us safe. Then they walk around protected by a bodyguard.

A great picture of our attitude to life is summed up in the Toyota commercial where the little child is encased in football equipment to play tennis.

To which I say, “A little pain never hurt anybody.”

We fear death in all its effects, but I think the power of death can be summed up in three areas: pain, shame, and weakness.

The only way to handle death is to fight with it directly. What shame do you fear? What loss of power intimidates you?

Have at it.

Aristotle suggested that the dissipation of your wealth is a form of suicide. I never understood that until recently. Andrew Pudewa has convinced me that student loans are an entrapment, a means by which many thousands of young people are enslaved to debt even before they begin their careers.

And for what? 90% of the time it is for a certificate that says nothing more than that you paid a lot of money to get a certificate.

Why do people do this? Why do they play this game and thus empower the frauds that create it?

Fear.

But “Life is risky, and those who withdraw from it embrace death,” as David Goldman of First Things expressed it.

We enslave ourselves to unmanning debt, to oppressive governments, to folly, because we are afraid to run the risk of living. Heck, we are afraid to run the risk of thinking or even of speaking what we are actually thinking.

So what are we to do?

Cast your bread upon the waters.

If you don’t, you will, as certainly as the moon drives away the sun at night, become a slave.

I wish our president would address the American people like this:

You are all going to die. Between now and then, you are all going to suffer. We cannot prevent that. If you measure our compassion by how much we pretend to be able to prevent it, we will have no choice but to enslave you because you have no will to freedom.

You, therefore, have a choice. You can either embrace that suffering by ignoring it and fulfilling the purpose of your life as self-governing people and communities, or you can run from that suffering into the hands of an ever greater emptiness of the soul and government of the state. There you will continue to suffer, but you will add to your suffering a shame that you will find so unliveable that you will cry out for the death from which you ran.

The government cannot help you in these areas. We will do all we can to defend your freedom, but even that, in the end, can only be maintained by your own will to freedom.  

I would advise you, therefore, to start a business or, if you can’t find anybody to buy what you want to make, go back a step further. Go to the ground itself and put your strength and your intelligence in it. Then you can draw wealth from it.

The more of you are willing to do that, the more free we can be.

But we can’t protect you from the pain and death and failure you will confront while you do it. You’ll have to grow up and be a man to handle this.

Then he could launch into the words of that manliest of poets, Rudyard Kipling (which I quote from memory and therefore, I am quite certain, with errors):

If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…

If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it all on just one turn of pitch and toss
And lose, and never breathe a word about your loss…

If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run…

Yours is the world and everything that’s in it,

and, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.

The book of Hebrews tells us that when our Lord went to His sufferings, He went with an attitude of defiance, “despising the shame.” In a sense, He didn’t take suffering seriously.

Neither did Paul. “This momentary light affliction,” works in us “an eternal weight of glory.”

We must renew the risk of living or we will find that, not demanding liberty, we were given death.

A Contemplation of Liberty

Can we be free without God?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. The history of western Europe from the 16th through the 20th centuries is supposedly the story of increasingly secular and increasingly free societies.

With the fall of the Berlin wall and the Soviet Empire, the world was supposed to be ushering in an era of freedom unknown to any previous generation.

Has it?

I’m not convinced, neither about the current spread of freedom under the WHO and the UN (those bastions of democratically elected officials), nor about the myth of the spread of freedom over the past 500 years.

I believe that our United States are nowhere near as free as we have allowed ourselves to pretend. The reason we think we are still “the leaders of the free world” is because we have tried valiantly to redefine freedom.

I also believe that we hold our remaining freedoms tenuously (and not tenaciously) for one simple reason: our rights are distributed at the will of the state. Consequently they can be removed by the will of the state.

For this reason, and many others, the summer 2010 CiRCE conference has been announced:

A Contemplation of liberty.

Confirmed speakers so far include Leigh Bortins, Andrew Pudewa, Dr. James Taylor, Leah Lutz, and myself. More will be announced over the coming weeks.

We are gathering on July 15-17 in Dallas, TX, with details being finalized.

Please note that we have moved the conference forward two weeks.

Now get this (and I’d recommend you pass the news on to those you know and love):

Until January 31, we are offering a super early registration fee of only $200/person. If you are a school and you know you want to send, say, five people but don’t even know who they might be yet, you can just tell us the number and we’ll register you for five.

If you are a home scholar and want to save a lot of money, now’s the time to register.

This is a huge savings, over 33% if my calculator is working, as the regular rate is $269.

At last year’s conference we argued that the world has lost its moorings because of the attack on the idea of nature.

Now we are exploring how one of prices of that attack has been and continues to be our freedom.

The problem starts in school. The solution has always been bound up with education.

Will you join us?

To learn more, visit our website for occasional updates or call us at 704 236-3964.

If you know you will be coming and want to secure your huge early bird savings, please visit our webstore at this link and secure your seats early.

I can’t wait to see you in Dallas!

Can we be free without grace?

One thing stood out for me at our conference this year: that education without grace – that human society without grace, cannot be free or healthy.

If education excludes religious discourse, then it cannot include the grace of God as an energizing factor. Yet American education is trying to build a perfect society. Consider what this means:

My goal is to build a great society. I am going to use education to form the sort of people I want this great society to be filled with. Then how will I form them?

I can provide information that will make them know the things I want them to know. 
I can coerce them into doing the things I want them to do.
I can manipulate them into doing the things I want them to do and make them think they like it.

In other words, I have decided that I am wise enough not only to know how people should behave, but also to implement a system to cause them to behave that way.        

But what can I do to influence another person’s behavior if I don’t believe in God? I cannot allow God’s grace to do His work, in His way, at His time. I have to take matters into my own hand. I can use the law and follow it up with coercion or I can use psychological manipulation.

Of course, this is an oversimplification of the appearance of what happens and most people who don’t believe in Divine Grace, no matter their beliefs, are better than their principles. But the issue of scale is important here. The trouble is that these people want to build a better world. To do that, they have to influence a lot of people. To do that, they have to think in abstract, large, impersonal terms.

So they are left with law and coercion or psychological manipulation. And in fact, it isn’t hard to see how this works in our society. When someone wants to change the world these days, his options are 1. to form a bureaucratic agency, preferably within the government where every bureacracy is welcome because the the nature of modern government is to expand through new bureaucracies, or 2. to engage in a PR campaign based on marketing methods.

In the first case, the Champion of the Race is turning to law and coercion. The patron saint of this camp would have to be FDR, who saved the world through no less than who knows how many acronyms. BTW, a world dominated by acronyms is a world out of its mind, KWIM?

In the second case, the Savior of Humanity is relying on psychological manipulation.

The shame is the extent to which these are the means used by Christian organizations. It’s understandable. Ever since Abraham and Sarah we’ve been inclined to take God’s work into our own hands by turning to law or flattery. But God-fearing people don’t have to do that. They can trust in God’s grace, since they, after all, believe in it. They must surely understand that the kingdom of God is not co-terminous with their own ministries. But we forget quickly.

With grace we can let God do His work of renewal according to His own will and modes of acting. We can laugh at martyrdom and sacrifice because He has promised that if we seek first His kingdom all the things the “Gentiles” seek will be provided for us.

In fact, the other thing I took out of the conference was that the culture we want Him to establish is a comic culture. It isn’t established by our imposing it on the age or by arguing it into existence. It is established when we die to ourselves, sacrifice authority, are martyred every day by dying to our ambitions. Because God is the one who will bring it about. We’ll just sit in awe and watch.

It’s a comic culture because it goes to the meek, not the agressive. It’s a comic culture because we build it not by assertion and self-confidence, but by repentence and humility. It’s a comic culture because it is secured through the abandonment of our personal ambitions. And because the lovers of power will not understand but will laugh at the humble, it is a comic culture because nobody will see it coming until their health is restored and their eyes opened by those who were willing to lose all for the sake of the greedy, ambitious, and selfish.

It does not begin and end with “making a diffeence.” It begins and ends with death to self, with concrete acts of love for neighbor.

Because we give up on the quest for control and thus utopia, liberty is possible, but only when the leaders govern by grace. And only when everybody understands that if liberty is possible so is disaster.

But that’s the other comic element. Nothing disastrous can happen to the person who seeks the kingdom of God. “It’s all good.”