Friday, January 26, 2007

The Living Dead

Michael S. Rozeff is one of my favorite contemporary libertarian writers and thinkers and his current essay, (The Living Dead) published today, seemed to hit the nail on the head for me with what I've been struggling to give voice to of late concerning the society I live in. I here reprint an exerpt that I think summarizes my feelings in a way that I wish I had the ability to say as eloquently myself. Thank God for others who can say what we can't yet articulate but know deeply in our soul.

"A hundred or more years ago, when philosophers declared God dead; when science shook faith; when socialism postulated new ideals; when the U.S. pursued national power; Americans turned away from the beliefs, ethics, and practices that had brought them bounty. And now, after many years, we can see clearly, if we would or could, that we made a wrong turn. That wrong turn cannot be dismissed, as the young and naïve are wont to do, by pointing to the reduced time it takes to travel from Los Angeles to Toronto or to the breaking of color barriers. These things or others like them in even more bounteous quantity would have occurred had we stayed on and extended the proper ethical course of a limited and just government that minded its own business at home and abroad. That wrong turn is measured by such things as near-continuous warfare, broken lives and families, a dependent and dumbed-down population, static standards of living, ever-deteriorating money, humongous debts, greater cruelty, greater indifference to suffering, a greater use of violence, less liberty, less freedom of choice, increasing authoritarianism and militarism, greater welfare, more crime, less justice, less innovation, less civility, deteriorating art and culture, and less civilization.

The ethical underpinnings, however slight, that girded the myth of the U.S. as a beneficial international power have dissolved. The mistaken ideals that launched the U.S. into World War I and further overseas misadventures have proven empty and false. The ill-considered ideas that entangled the U.S. in the international machinations of the world order of states have backfired.

Domestically and internationally, the machinery of state surrealistically clanks on, but it is hopelessly clogged up. Its rhythm lacks measure and cadence in its chaos of nervous exhaustion. It goes through the motions, incanting the tired slogans and spells of its once-powerful magic. The bizarre atmosphere dispensed by the strange and unbelievable practices of the American Empire contains no life-giving oxygen. It suffocates whatever it envelops with a poisonous gas of laws, pressures, and regulations. Morally and ethically dead, dispersing ever-more utterly outlandish emanations, the machinery of state deals death upon whatever it touches.

Having gutted the ethical foundations of life, we have instituted policies of death. More and more we come face to face with our own madness. Today, people constantly refer to things as "crazy." Yet they do not fully realize what they are saying, how deep this craziness goes, or why it is so prevalent.

Political modernity in America is irrational and senseless. The domestic political machine is geared to produce truly incredible wares that did not exist 50 years ago: thousand-mile walls at borders, denuded travelers at airports, 57 varieties of higher-priced and less efficient fuels, know-nothing graduates, asset seizures, uncaring doctors, dirty hospitals, inflating abortions, inflating money, political correctness, money and speech-controlled political campaigns, jigsawed political districts, food and pesticide bans, deteriorating infrastructure, dependency, irresponsibility, clogged courts, women soldiers, grade school sex education, rampaging prosecutors, thought crimes, asbestos insanity, protected insects and swamps, broken families, murderers freed and drug users imprisoned, class action lawsuits, eavesdropping, wiretapping, books of labor laws, unopenable bottle closures, arbitrary environmental regulations, moon bases, and destruction of the rule of law. Aren’t all these products of our society simply madness?

But, you say, I exaggerate. Are we not healthier, wealthier, and wiser? Where’s the chaos? All is in order, is it not? Appearances deceive. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was suave and urbane. The American inmates are indeed under control, but they are gobbling anti-depressants and other such drugs at a very high rate. Houses are bigger than ever, but meanwhile so are debts and millions of two-earner families run to stay even. Where is the wisdom? Certainly not in Washington or state capitols.

We have only the appearance of a lawful social order. Rigidity combined with outlandish bureaucratic regulation made good by blind obedience are not law but its absence. Chaotic and mad results signify a lack of stable guiding laws of life, not their presence.

The absence of law means an absence of a moral and ethical basis for the products of the American political machine. Those who think there is and defend this insane machine delude themselves as they attempt to delude others. I challenge anyone to show that American political life does anything except constantly flout the Ten Commandments, which are what should be the true source of law, justice, and order. Instead, madness, which is a variety of death that disregards truth and reality, spreads like an infection.

Madness has its own cleverness and intelligence, mind you. It feigns sanity. It accuses the sane of being mad; it makes the sane wonder if they are the ones who have lost their minds. The demon vampire promises everlasting life."

The full text can be found here:


Audie said...


I bet you'd have less to write about on your naturalflorida blog if it weren't for "protected swamps" -- the latter of which Rozeff considers a sign of madness.

I don't really take issue with Rozeff's main point, about the dangers of a too-large government, but as usual with these lewrockwellian writers, if they'd only learn to reign in their pomposity, and renew their poetic license on time instead of driving for so long without one, libertarians might just earn a bigger audience.

For instance, he bemoans the day "when science shook faith." What is he suggesting? That we all put blinders on and stifle our natural human curiosity about our world?

He talks fondly of the "ethics and practices that had brought [the early Americans] bounty." Yeah, genocide, overt racism, and might-makes-right are a few of the chief "ethics and practices that brought the early Americans bounty." Shall we join him in longing for those good ol' days?

I also really doubt that we have less freedom of choice today, that there is less innovation, or that art is deteriorating.

Does he really think that our hospitals are dirtier today than "a hundred or more years ago"?

And, there's a "moon base?" Does he have photographs of this thing, or has he just been watching too much SciFi Channel?

And what's wrong with having a greater variety of fuels? And what are they less efficient than -- and is efficiency the only legitimate measure of a fuel, anyway? Really?

And isn't complaining about pesticide bans kinda stupid (especially considering that only a relative few are banned -- and for good reason). Are the remaining thousand not enough for Mr. Rozeff? -- Does he live in the midst of a thick jungle somewhere and there's a hole in his netting?

He bemoans also "static standards of living." Would it be too difficult for him to cite a reference here? What is he talking about? As if a hundred or more years ago there were a great number of people becoming self-made millionnaires. No -- there were the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies, and a few others. Most folks led lives that were "nasty, brutal, and short." And why is he suggesting that a "static standard of living" is inherently a bad thing, anyway? Is rampant consumerism a more rewarding life? Haven't you yourself, Bemis, opted for a relatively static standard of living over the past decade or two, in a sense? Weren't you comfortable for years, living in a beautiful quiet place, defying the typical American work-in-a-cubicle-so-that-I-can-accumulate-more-and-more-(i.e., increase my standard of living)-just-because)? Isn't not ever being satisfied with one's standard of living sort of a disease?

And... lastly... you reckon the "philosophers [who] declared God dead" is a reference to Nietzsche? If so, perhaps Rozeff should read Nietzsche's "The Gay Science" (in which Nietzsche's fictional, archetypal madman makes the statement "God is dead"), in which he would see that Nietzsche was actually predicting Rozeff's article -- 125 years earlier, and more eloquently, IMO (Nietzsche's poetic license was very much current at the time, I would say). An excerpt:

"Where is God gone?" [the madman] called out. "I mean to tell you! We have killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers! But how have we done it? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we loosened this earth from its sun? Whither does it now move? Whither do we move? Away from all suns? Do we not dash on unceasingly? Backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions? Is there still an above and below? Do we not stray, as through infinite nothingness? Does not empty space breathe upon us? Has it not become colder? Does not night come on continually, darker and darker? Shall we not have to light lanterns in the morning? Do we not hear the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God? Do we not smell the divine putrefaction? - for even Gods putrefy! God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console ourselves, the most murderous of all murderers? The holiest and the mightiest that the world has hitherto possessed, has bled to death under our knife - who will wipe the blood from us? With what water could we cleanse ourselves? What lustrums, what sacred games shall we have to devise? Is not the magnitude of this deed too great for us? Shall we not ourselves have to become Gods, merely to seem worthy of it?"

Audie said...

I said: He bemoans also "static standards of living." Would it be too difficult for him to cite a reference here? What is he talking about? As if a hundred or more years ago there were a great number of people becoming self-made millionnaires. No -- there were the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies, and a few others. Most folks led lives that were "nasty, brutal, and short."

I re-read that and thought, well, someone could ask if it would be too difficult for me to cite a reference here, to support my claim.

(1) From an abstract of a 1997 article in the European Review of Economic History: "...The high income countries of 1870 had lower living standards than most of today's Third World...."


(2) This from a pro-Friedman, pro-laissez faire economics blog (admittedly not a peer-reviewed-journal citation):

"The Haves: Almost every living American born after 1920

The Have-Nots: Almost anyone born anywhere before 1920.

As David Henderson once pointed out to me, if you consider the universe of people ever born, even a poor person in America today lives better than most people who have ever lived, putting almost all living Americans' standard of living in the top 1%."

beamis said...

I'm not going to go into a point by point defense of Rozeff's essay, but will let you know that the moon base was an idea NASA floated last month, that will cost about a hundred billion dollars. Sounding just like one of the park service memos that I'm so fond of quoting, the NASA press release stated that the moon base would re-energize the mission of the agency. I guess to preserve their careers they need to do something more interesting to entertain the public besides flying shuttle missions to an ultra boring space station. People only seem to be interested in these flights when they spectacularly explode.

Also you won't catch me in a hospital any sooner than you might find me on a Carnival cruise ship. Modern American hospitals ARE very dirty and full of pathogens that infect and kill many each year (a fact not well publicized). The socialized management structure that runs most of these inhumane asylums would make the former Eastern Bloc countries look like models of efficiency by comparison. American hospitals totally give me the creeps.

As for open space and the preservation of nature I believe there would be plenty of both without the heavy hand of land management bureaucracies that accompanies the raw power of legislative action, as the immediate and reflexive response to hysterical Chicken Littles running to Big Brother to save this or that parcel of land every time they feel it has become "threatened". Using the imperial powers of theft to achieve a "common good" is the same impulse that leads to war and genocide. Thou shalt not steal, means just that, you DON"T steal from others. Just look at the creation of Shenandoah and Grand Teton National Parks if you want to feel ashamed of thuggish jack-booted theft in all of its "for the good of society" glory. If you don't think this leads to arrognace and inhumanity in other spheres you are wrong! It only emboldens the devils! Environmentalism is the training ground of tyranny.

I agree with Rozeff's thesis that our current society is rotting at its core and that just about everything that the government does is against the 10 Commandments in spirit, if not in deed. You can pick apart his essay all you want, but to me he was dead on about this being a society of the living dead. There's no question in my mind.

Audie said...

As I said, I agree with his main thesis, too -- and don't forget I am (or at least want to be) sympathetic to the libertarian cause. My point was simply that if the movement can't hurry up and find some people who can write more carefully, then very few people are gonna stop ignoring them. I was merely lamenting that.

Devastatin' Dave said...

I've been reading Lew Rockwell's site for some years now and it's no secret that it, along with Strike the Root, are two of my favorite sites on the web.

Rozeff is a recent contributor to LRC and I haven't warmed up to his writing. I would guess that I've read less than 5 of his articles start to finish. Basically, he bores me. I tried reading the article in question and I got through about 4 or 5 paragraphs and had to stop. GET TO THE POINT! PLEASE! NO MORE MINUTAE OR RHETORIC!

Like Audie, I'm sympathetic to what he's trying to convey, but, in my case, he's preaching to the choir. If he wants converts, then he better write more lucidly.

Oh for the days when Rothbard was still alive producing his witty, lucid and devastating prose. Although people can still read his works, you need a vanguard to carry on the tradition. And in these days of ubiquitous, visual media, a spokesman that is clear and succinct only helps the cause.

For the most part, there are some writers on the site that I won't even read anymore. The ones I read often are Gary North, Paul Craig Roberts, Chris Floyd, Fred Reed and Pat Buchanan, to name a few. They always keep my interest and I almost always learn something new from them.

(more in a bit...)

beamis said...

I like his stuff.

Devastatin' Dave said...

True dat.

Devastatin' Dave said...

More to Audie's point about getting people to stop ignoring libertarians...

Libertarians need to quit pontificating on visions of change in D.C. It ain't gonna happen. D.C. needs to be ignored and shunned, not changed. Let them wallow in their cesspool.

Libertarians need to start fomenting secession movements. Since D.C.'s existence relies on tax monies, then stop funding it. Seceeding states would accomplish this. In order for this to happen, they need to articulate their position clearly and concisely, as Audie suggests. MHO.

Devastatin' Dave said...

The timing of this is uncanny...

Make sure to click on the "Free New York" and "Libertarian Hall of Fame" links within the article.

Devastatin' Dave said...

We must have sent out some strong vibes. A man after my own heart...