"Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people. When the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers press upon them so fast, that there is no resisting afterwards. The nature of the encroachment upon the American constitution is such, as to grow every day more and more encroaching. Like a cancer, it eats faster and faster every hour. The revenue creates pensioners, and the pensioners urge for more revenue. The people grow less steady, spirited, and virtuous, the seekers more numerous and more corrupt, and every day increases the circles of their dependents and expectants, until virtue, integrity, public spirit, simplicity, and frugality, become the objects of ridicule and scorn, and vanity, luxury, foppery, selfishness, meanness, and downright venality swallow up the whole society." ~ John Adams
Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto (Book Review #7)
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
While he has long since come out candidly as a free market anarchist, Lew Rockwell, through his ever-popular LRC site, has provided a forum for freedom-oriented thinkers ranging from Voluntaryist to minarchist. Indeed, among Rockwell’s other accomplishments and titles are serving as editorial assistant to small government Austrian-economist Ludwig von Mises, and as both founder and chairman of a think tank dedicated to his writings and philosophy. Rockwell served as chief of staff to former congressman Ron Paul, and as literary executor to anarcho-free marketeer Murray N. Rothbard (to whom the book is dedicated). Thus it is perhaps safe to assume that Rockwell’s own personal journey has led him full-spectrum to his current stance. Safer still when we consider what he writes at page 11 of this newly published volume, within the short introduction titled, “Why I Am An Anarcho-Capitalist”: “Nearly all of us passed through a limited-government – or ‘minarchist’ – period, and it simply never occurred to us to examine our premises closely.”
A thorough examination of such premises is exactly what Against the State: An Anarcho-Capitalist Manifesto proposes to undertake, and does so with greater and lesser degrees of success. It is with an eye primarily towards such that I’d like to dissect Rockwell’s latest offering.
After a short preface and the aforementioned introduction, the book is divided into seven chapters, the first five each ostensibly breaking down a major feature of the leviathan State, and the last two describing both why “limited government” can and will never work, and how and why zero government improves dramatically upon that insufficiency. Chapters one and two, “The War System,” and “The War on Drugs,” both make fairly cogent single-subject criticism of military adventure abroad and the jailing of innocent people at home. Liberal use is made throughout of quotations from other books and authors, the citation of which alone provides a de facto bibliography for further reading. In the case of Chapter One, chronology is seldom adhered to, and so the examples Rockwell cites in order to make his case become quite muddled and confusing. I offer no further insights here, other than to suggest that both chapters, to a somewhat lesser degree, suffer also from the same malady as the chapter that follows.
Chapter Three, “The Assault on Our Liberties,” while describing a wide range of predations and inherent injustices visited upon us all regularly as a result of government bureaucracy – from the Census to gun control, with an especially venomous unmasking of the “environmental” movement and its both fraudulent and flawed agenda – tends nevertheless to jump around somewhat incoherently, bouncing the reader to and fro in a kind of well-intentioned but confusing ping-pong match as Rockwell leaps from one angering intrusion of government aggression after another. It’s a shortcoming that might fail to hold the attention of the uninitiated, or at least present cause for dismissal by the skeptic of anarcho-capitalism as a non-linear philosophy lacking a consistent vision.
But there is no such scattergun approach to chapters four and five – the very meat and drink of Rockwell’s work here. “The Bankers’ War on America: The Fed,” and “American Fascism” respectively, describe with succinct accuracy and considerable elan the history behind the birth and rise of the modern fiat economy, exploding government debt, and the imminent nature of such a system’s demise. Carrying these revelations further, Rockwell articulately defines how such an economic arrangement then translates into the fascist State, summarizing precisely what constitutes fascism in a well thought out series of eight astute points. In the midst of Chapter Five’s marvelously executed concluding passage, at pages 147-148, Rockwell opines:
“I would mark the rise of anarcho-capitalist theory as the most dramatic intellectual shift in my adult lifetime. Gone is that view of the State as the night watchman that would only guard essential rights, adjudicate disputes, and protect liberty.
“This view is woefully naive. The night watchman is the guy with the guns, the legal right to use aggression, the guy who controls all comings and goings, the guy who is perched on top and sees all things. Who is watching him? Who is limiting his power? No one, and this is precisely why he is the very source of society’s greatest ills. No constitution, no election, no social contract will check his power.”
Amen. The last two chapters, “Why Not Limited Government?”, and “How Would Anarchy Work?”, are more or less self-explanatory in their scope, intent, and purpose. What is noticeably lacking in the final chapter is any practical path to arrive at anarchy – the passage merely concerns itself with making the case that such can indeed function, both better than and unlike the folly of states and Statism.
Overall, I enjoyed Rockwell’s effort. I will reiterate my admiration for his ultra-cogent exposé on the Federal Reserve, centralized banking, and their roles as starting points for modern America’s slide into a police state. The book is worth the price of purchase for this alone. As to the remainder, there are certainly better books aimed at intellectual persuasion of the non-anarchist. But of course, read it for yourself, and see what you think. Then pass it on to a Statist friend or acquaintance – and see what they think.
That, of course, will be the ultimate test.