Posted by: L | July 28, 2007

Murray Rothbard: the chattering classes and war…

“In his magnum opus, Man, Economy and State, Rothbard wrote that “in all countries the State has made certain that it owns and monopolizes the vital nerve centers, the command posts of the society.”5 Such “command posts” include defense (territorial monopoly or near-monopoly of the legitimized use of violence), communications, “education,” the monetary system (central banking), ultimate say over land-use and ownership, control of rivers and coasts, and the post office. Other social thinkers who noticed this phenomenon shrugged, made reference to “natural monopolies” and such, and went on to other topics. Rothbard, intent on a critical understanding of state-behavior, did not.

Control of education and communication was central to the state’s peaceful existence, and here we find the relationship between states and intellectuals – a problem much larger, unfortunately, than a few art-phonies demanding state subsidies for their bad paintings. States everywhere have understood the need to “keep” intellectuals to spread the word of the state’s good intentions, nobility, supremacy, necessity, and so on. In the past, priesthoods sometimes filled this role. With the rise of state-monopoly school systems matters grew much worse. Add to this the state’s leverage over the airwaves and printed communication, and you have important command posts, indeed. No wonder the usual suspects want to police the web to protect us from all those private criminals out there.

This goes to what Rothbard called “the mystery of civil obedience”6 – or why do people put up with the various oppressions of states over the long haul? Part of the explanation is the role state-allied intellectuals play in shaping public opinion. Matters are even worse in so-called “democracies,” where bureaucrats and special interests reign supreme, while the people comfort themselves with the notion that, in some way, “we are the government” – a proposition that will not withstand the slightest serious inquiry.

The spectacle of the intellectuals rallying around the state, denouncing the “selfish” ordinary citizen as a slacker who fails to understand the heroic things the state is doing for him, is especially noticeable in wartime. The late Cold War, by blurring the distinction between war and peace, greatly heightened the process. Now, with constant demands that the American Empire invade and bomb all malefactors everywhere in the name of keeping “peace” – not to mention Universal Brother/Sisterhood – the distinction looks to remain blurred – quite deliberately, of course. If “war is the health of the state” – Randolph Bourne’s phrase which Rothbard often quoted – then permanent mobilization and endless “peacekeeping” are the perfect setting for long-run growth of state power as against “social power….”

More at Antiwar by Joseph Stromberg.


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