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Time Is on Our Side

Mises Daily: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 by

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Living at the intellectual margin can challenge even the most ardent advocate of free markets and liberty. However, I contend that history is on our side.

In the preface to his book Marx's Religion of Revolution (1989), Gary North writes of an intellectual movement that was for years confined to the dark recesses of coffeehouses and tearooms.

Igor Shafarevich, the Soviet mathematician and critic of Marxism, made a very important observation in his classic book, The Socialist Phenomenon (1975). He said that peculiar little socialist groups debate for years about the details of their odd-ball social theories, and then, almost overnight, their ideas become widely believed, and societies are restructured in terms of them.

When I am feeling down because of the political landscape, I think of that passage. Change one word and you have this bit of encouragement, "He said that peculiar little anarcholibertarian groups debate for years about the details of their oddball social theories, and then, almost overnight, their ideas become widely believed, and societies are restructured in terms of them."

What a powerful statement. And a statement that may soon ring true, if we all do our part.

At one point during the recent The Birth and Death of the Fed conference, I sat with three other Austrians in the hotel sitting room discussing the details of our supposedly oddball social theories — the theories of free markets and liberty. Around us sat other peculiar little groups proposing various means for these very same theories to become widely believed once again, to serve as the guiding lights for a near-overnight restructuring of society. While the theories we debated are still not mainstream, a tipping point of sorts may be near.

In the not-too-distant future, it is likely that we will see the ideas of free markets and liberty begin to take hold. And we will watch as societies start to restructure themselves without the burden of the oppressive state. Questions arise: How will this restructuring occur? Will it be through political action?

Politics is about today — tomorrow be damned. The politician wants to get elected and stay elected, and retire well off. He only cares about getting votes from constituents he abhors. He cares nothing of their lives, their struggles, or their successes.

In the politician's mind, he is of the vaunted political class, and his constituents are nothing more than groundlings to be manipulated and entertained by his double entendres and rhetorical sleights of hand. So it is no wonder that heartless politicians cannot stand the sight of the little folks, those whose votes decide the next coronation — the bestowing of the power and the prestige each politician so desperately desires.

It is obvious that politics is not the answer. And neither, it turns out, is violent force — politics by other means. This is a nation conceived in the ideas of liberty. Given time, ideas would have won the day. But our forefathers resorted to force. And by doing so, they birthed, so to speak, the desire for a new state — a powerful central authority to guide the several free states.

Shortly thereafter, unable to control their fetish for a state, our forefathers went behind closed doors and crafted the so-called perfect union that secured the blessings of liberty to themselves alone, leaving their posterity to suffer under an ever-growing Leviathan — a Leviathan now larger by magnitudes than the one they had so recently deposed.

You may object: Wasn't the Soviet Union the product of both political action and violent force? Yes, to a point. The actual revolutions (February and October) were more political than violent.[1] And even that political action was the product of something else. What was that something else?

Ideas, of course.

Ideas have consequences that, in the long run, trump the politics of the day. Nevertheless, we are currently engaged in the battle over ideas. And as Mises so clearly stated, it is a battle we must all fight.

Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us. (Ludwig von Mises, Socialism)

Each of us carries this burden. And we must engage in the great historical struggle that none of us asked for. But a struggle that is ours nonetheless.

Remember the peculiar groups and their oddball theories. And remember the tipping point. The failures of the state are becoming obvious and folks are taking notice. It is our responsibility to vigorously thrust ourselves into the intellectual battle and relentlessly advocate for free markets and liberty.

Each individual who embraces our oddball theories and joins our peculiar groups brings us that much closer to the tipping point and pending restructuring — and free markets and liberty.

Notes

[1] The revolutions were fairly bloodless. The blood came later during the consolidation of power.