I fear I made a grave mistake today. Here I am, in the heart of the silly season, full of my righteous indignation over the folly of the Democrats and near-despondent over the seeming determination of a vocal minority of my fellow countrymen to lead us into peonage, and I spend the morning smoking a fine cigar and reading Kipling. Not just any Kipling, but his little known “American Notes”. My mind has been awhirl with thoughts of Republicanism and Libertarianism, deep in the bowels of Rothbard and Austrain economics, and I go and read this!
First, let me say, if you have not read them, they are a worthy read. They represent his personal experiences traveling across America at the turn of the last century. They were lambasted by critics of the time as beneath his previous work, and are fairly vitriolic, but well written and pithy in their observations.
But it has brought me to political despair! If his observations are, in any way, worthy of being taken for factual then I cannot see how my desire to observe a blossoming American political renaissance of individualism and free market is possible. If, even a hundred years ago when the public position of the average citizen was a fierce streak of independence, the actual movers of political action were really new-money political deal-makers, what hope have we now? His comparison of the lofty ideals presented by the rich at Bohemian Grove stand in stark contrast to his recollections of evenings spent in taverns with the descendants of Tammany Hall. If the average American of the time, still deeply wedded to the ideals of individualism and independence, could be manipulated and swindled to forgo their birthright to the deal makers in smoky pool halls, what chance have we now of bringing a nation blighted by dependence, welfare and ignorance into the Light of Freedom?
As Jefferson said “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” I am also reminded of reading Lafayette’s description of traveling the Appalachian backcountry and his despair at finding the average American unfit to keep his pigs. Is the ideal of a free man, educated but hard-working, fiercely protective of his rights but with a sense of obligé to his fellow man just that, an unattainable ideal? Where or when has such a group ever really existed? Rather, has it not always been that such men are rare and valuable as pearls, the leaven that, spread throughout the loaf, causes it to rise above its mortal self? Am I become an elitist?
It seems our current system is similar to our works along the Mississippi. Old Man River is a wild, tumultuous force of nature. It takes its self from many waters, some muddy and some crystal clear, some great and many small. It provides a home to countless beings and is capable of massive destruction. We, over the century, have attempted to hem it in, to harness it to our will and to make it uniform for our convenience. What happens when we do the same to the great river of humanity? What were our great, monolithic societies of antiquity? Egypt? The Babylonians? The Aztecs? The Han? Great, monolithic, homogeneous, stilted, decayed. And we rush, with our notions of political correctness, universalism, collectivism, to emulate them. Perhaps there is a better way. Perhaps true greatness will return to us when we smash the dams and spillways and give the River of Life her head again. Destructive, yes, but also rich, verdant, productive and fertile. It is not institutions which will save us or pass onto our progeny greatness and opportunity. It is in the unfettering of life, in all its messy abundance, that we find freedom. The question is, are we worthy?