A Journal for Western Man-- Issue XXXIX-- August 11, 2005
The 60s and 70s were a scary time for lovers of freedom.
It was scary to see the student rebellion, hippydom, and the rise of the New Left—the eruption of full-blown, Weimar Republic-style nihilism in our culture.1 It was scary to see the welfare state grow like a monstrous cancer, propelled by endlessly rising inflation. It was scary to see Communism extend its grip to country after country.
It was even scarier to project these trends into the future. Today's student rebel would become tomorrow's nihilist bureaucrat, politician, or secret policeman. A government that kept growing would grow into a dictatorship. The relentless expansion of Communism foretold war, or worse, spineless surrender to tyranny by the last bastions of semi-freedom.
If the continual erosion of freedom finally extinguished freedom of thought, the last hope would be gone. The ideas which could save freedom would be bottled up and kept impotent. The coming collapse could last for centuries.
This raised the apocalyptic specter that slunk through many uneasy dreams: a total collapse of civilization followed by centuries of stagnation—a new Dark Age.
I am happy to report that it didn't happen.
So, was it all a delusion? Nope, countries have gone over the brink into hyperinflation, war, and dictatorship. Civilizations have collapsed into Dark Ages. And they have done so from the kinds of causes we saw operating in the 70s. But it didn't happen: not here, not this time, not to us.
Most student rebels grew up and became normal. Inflation became a political and economic liability to government, and it was stopped.2 The growth of the welfare state slowed as resistance to taxes grew. Communism died when its economic impotence finally became insupportable.
What saved us? What did we leave out of our calculations when we projected the trends forward?
I think we were saved by an unexpected streak of moral fiber in our culture! See if you can spot it in the examples.
The student rebel who said he was willing to die for "the cause," noticed that the cause wasn't getting anywhere, and that life was passing him by. So he said, to hell with it, got a job, and settled down to raise a family.
The central bankers and politicians who had been printing money with reckless abandon, noticed that inflation wasn't working. As investors learned to penetrate the inflationary fog, inflation no longer stimulated the economy; it depressed it. Capital fled to countries with lower inflation. So governments stopped inflating.
Soviet citizens noticed that official propaganda was a pack of lies, and that they were poor by world standards and getting poorer. So when Gorbachev offered them a bit of reform, they seized it and bolted, dragging down the whole Soviet Empire!
Taxpayers noticed that no matter how high taxes become, the welfare state is insatiable, and began to grasp that welfare state promises are worthless.3 So they started to put the heat on politicians to keep taxes down. Clever politicians noted the new mood, and catered to it.4
In every issue and country, enough men noticed a fact, and acted on it. They acted out of self-interest. The threat ebbed.
Rationality and egoism saved us.
Let's not over-estimate the degree of that rationality and egoism. It's no feat of rationality to identify dung when your nose is rubbed in it. It's no pinnacle of selfishness to refuse to swallow it!
But it was enough! Some of history's cultures couldn't muster that much rationality and selfishness. They perished: we didn't.
In the spirit of a doctor watching the course of an illness, we can say that the worst seems to be past. Our culture is still weak and confused, but its heart is sound.
Its sound heart is likely to pull us through the attacks of environmentalism, and of such left-over collectivist mutants as feminism and tribalism. 5
Expect, at worst, the same pattern we saw with the socialist threat. Men may follow these ideas tamely to the brink of disaster, but enough will refuse to follow them into it. We may bleed, but we will survive.
What of the grip of falsehoods on schools, universities, and government? Won't their propaganda make everything steadily worse? Can't they dictate men's thinking?
Nope. If they had that power, the Soviet Union would still exist! For that matter, the Middle Ages would still exist!
Their falsehoods will only discredit them. They are already approaching the irrelevance of those 18th century universities which Adam Smith described as "sanctuaries in which exploded systems and obsolete prejudices found shelter and protection after they had been hunted out of every other corner of the world."6
Which raises a couple of great questions! Who hunted them out of every other corner of the world? And who will hunt today's obsolete prejudices to extinction?
You will hunt them to extinction, together with those others who recognize truth and pass it on! Ideas can defeat armies, and truth propelled by quackgrass activism can extinguish obsolete prejudices!
Quackgrass activism is the virtue of spreading good ideas in multiple copies. It makes good ideas spread like weeds. The name is new, but quackgrass activism is ancient. Establishments have always been helpless before it. The Soviet Union raised censorship and propaganda to art forms, and where is the Soviet Union?
Quackgrass activism needs time to show large-scale results, but thanks to our culture's sound heart, we have that time.
Apocalypse never? Well, at least not for a long, long time.
We have time enough!
Weimar republic was the German regime immediately preceding the Nazis.
For an excellent account, see The Ominous Parallels,
by Leonard Peikoff, Stein and Day, 1982.
Get it from Amazon.com!
You needn’t despair at obsolete prejudices—you can become a Quackgrass activist! Copy this article! Keep the original for future copies. Paper meetings with it! Paper your office! Leave a stack on your business counter! If you expect hostility, use stealth and cunning—it’ll drive your opponents wild! Be ingenious! Have fun!
Michael Miller is an engineer and Objectivist filosofer with thirty years of experience. He had been a member of Boycott Alberta Medicare in 1969 and of the Association to Defend Property Rights from 1973 on. He writes in-depth filosofical theory at his publication, Quackgrass Press, which can be accessed at http://www.quackgrass.com.
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