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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/6070/we-need-an-angel-like-clarence/

We Need an Angel Like Clarence

December 28, 2006 by

As the war drags on and the state expands its reach in nearly every area of life, I’m detecting another moment of despair sweeping through libertarian ranks. Why aren’t all our efforts making a difference? What are we doing wrong? Are we just wasting our time with our publications, conferences, scholarships, editorials, vast web presence, recruitments of thousands of young people? Have our educational efforts ever made any difference?

We need an angel like Clarence to show us that world that might have been.



Kenneth R. Gregg December 28, 2006 at 7:11 pm

Lew says:
“Ideas matter. More than we know. Why haven’t we won? Because we are not doing enough and our ranks are not big enough. We need to do what we are doing on ever-grander scales. We need to make ever-better arguments on behalf of liberty. And we need to have patience, just like the prohibitionists and socialists had patience to see their agenda to the end. They’ve had their day. Our time will come, provided that we don’t listen to the counsel of despair.”

I second Lew on this. What I’ve seen since I’ve became a libertarian in the late 1960′s have been ups and downs, but now we are beginning to see a new crop of young libertarians who are willing to take up the work to expand the foundations of the “freedom philosophy” (as Leonard Read and Robert LeFevre called it) and extend the implications of libertarianism into further regions of action.

About 1980, I had all but given up on the libertarian movement when I saw that the Libertarian Party was taking up more and more resources and directing them into short-term political goals, such as winning some office. I realized that this would not further libertarianism and leave the current movement in the same position that the libertarian political movement of the early 1900′s, the single tax movement, was at: aging activists with no educational organizations to keep it moving into the future and acquiring more supporters. By the time that they realized their error and started a serious effort in education, the Henry George School, it was too late. A generation had been lost and after WWI, it was just insufficient to recoup.

Following the deaths of Leonard Read and Robert LeFevre, we were moving in the same direction. Rand died. CATO moved to Washington. Even Galambos had a stroke from which he never recuperated. I left to become active in the freethought movement, build a career in mediation and take care of my family. A few were keeping the libertarian light alive, but no more than a few.

I started to become involved in libertarian circles again in the mid-1990′s and found a changed world. The LP still dominated, but was shining far less brightly after a number of significant failures. Alternative libertarian centers were growing. The brightest was Murray’s child, the Mises Institute, with Lew at the helm, as it remains today. The Independent Institute, ISIL and FEE, as well as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation have given the libertarian movement a facelift.

I see the last ten years as a tremendous growth period for for the forces of liberty, and the next ten with great potential. We are beginning to change the world. We haven’t yet done so and cannot rest on our accomplishments but need to keep on in the direction of the polestar of liberty.

We should mine our own history for any ideas and actions which apply to our current time, both positive and negative. Study the ones which work and analyze those that don’t. Consider new strategems and roads less traveled. Help the Mises Institute in any way that you can, and any other libertarian group with potential.

The future will come sooner than you may realize.

Just a suggestion.
Just Ken

Dan December 29, 2006 at 12:51 am

I’m one of the new crop. There is no shortage of libertarians out there. We are growing by the day, and worldwide.

I started my own libertarian website that sells libertarian-minded products a few years ago, and now I am one of the biggest online libertarian proprietors out there I know of.

I sell to libertarians daily, and am always impressed at what they buy, and how widespread they are. I won’t plug my store on this site, but if you google libertarian shirts or something like that, there is a 90% chance you’ll see mostly my stuff.

In terms of tenacity, I’ll never quit. I’m 32 years old, and I plan on making libertarianism a household word, along with my stores. There are probably hundreds of talented actors, artists, academics, and writers like me that are inspired by the Austrian school. It only takes a few to make a difference.

Statism is clumsy, lazy, and slow. It simply cannot compete. Its days are numbered in many respects. Thousands like me are using humor, talent, intellect, and love to make sure this will be the case.

Tim Kern December 29, 2006 at 7:44 am

Let us look at the things unseen, and ask why not. With all due respect to Mr. Rockwell (and F. Bastiat and R. Kennedy for the quote), we need to keep up the effort.

But we have slid a long way. Consider: “The alcohol prohibitionists managed to pass a constitutional amendment banning all liquor — think of that! — but their victory was short lived.”

Yes — but today the enviro-tyrants and health nannys are doing the same thing with smoking. The big difference is that, when alcohol prohibition was tried, everyone understood that such state intervention would require the Eighteenth Amendment (and the 21st to repeal). Today, in our “democracy,” we recognize no limits at all on what the state can or should do, as long as there is some popular support for the ruling class aspirations of whatever busybody wants everyone to do.

We need to keep pounding the idea that, if one’s arguments aren’t strong enough, that does not mean that one must turn to government to force them on people; and we need to keep emphasizing that we still have a very adequate Constitution which, if followed, will ensure a lot of freedom for a lot of people. Maybe it isn’t “pure,” but it’s a lot better than what we’re practicing!

We don’t yet need more “libertarianism.” As a first step, and to give people a taste of freedom, we need simply to go back to the Constitution. It should be an easier fight — it’s still the law, right?

Brad December 29, 2006 at 9:59 am

We need an emisary from the Big Boss who says to take what fate gives you, dirt sandwich or not, because a Hell will result. I think we already have too many Clarences and they’re all in Politics. As always, the credits are reckoned but never the debits. Would George not have met someone else in his travels, who is now doomed to spinsterhood, and those kids never born? Or perhaps saving someone from falling from a bridge project that he supervised instead of staying home? It can be a wonderful life one way or another.

Perhaps off topic, but we don’t need Clarences or those who think they are as omniscient. My brand of libertarianism doesn’t make any promises of a better life due to freedom, it may or may not. Regret can exist no matter what road is taken. I certainly don’t care to dangle Hell in front of people, other than a life lived according to someone (or something) else’s philosophy by force.

Reactionary December 29, 2006 at 10:22 am

>>>Why haven’t we won?< <<

Because the libertarian movement (a largely youth-dominated movement) spends most of its energies on personal license, objectivism and global trade. They theorize about elaborate rational constructs rather than supporting the organic institutions that make peacable society possible in the absence of a bureaucratic state: Church, family, and the Anglo-Saxon common law.

If the libertarians really want to be radical and subversive, then they can start by raising their children in orthodox Christianity.

Artisan December 29, 2006 at 10:25 am

My opinion as a newly convinced libertarian, is that some frustration comes directly out of the great hope and the new sense that this philosophy is able to suddenly convey for oneself. I don’t remember when my conscious conversion to free market anarchy happened though I could check… only that I reacted on a comment over legalization of narcotics on Mises’ site. What struck me at Mises.org was not the rationale of legalization with which I was familiar but the feeling of certainty that the answers expressed and which pointed to a very original type of data. In fact, I still believe that it is dangerous to waste too much energy on narcotic legalization… (because the subject is too much “loaded”) but now I understand why deep down it is “right”, even though drugs are “wrong”. Since the day I opened that link to Mises… I rediscovered a new liveliness for things to accomplish and to discuss anyways, it is true. My father who has always been politically center right oriented, now thinks I talk a bit too much about politics in fact, and as a lawyer, he tends to shift his views to the left even in order to press more justification out of me. That can be frustrating, sure. More frustrating is to see how the political views of successful relatives are mostly made out of lobbying. Doctors in my family claim they don’t make enough money under the European welfare system, while they also claim that the cure for the poorest people can only be financed through State welfare. Basically they just ask for a bigger piece of cake…. Mind you, they claim but they don’t have the time to think about a better social solution at all. They seem to have too big a human responsibility for wasting their precious time on economy, be it more rotten than a tumor. My brother in law, a sales executive in Brussels, with production site in cheap Poland (MBA, so he doesn’t even feel like having to listen to my polite arguments) pretends to know that tariffs on Chinese textile is only normal as one “has to defend oneself”… Yawn! If I can’t even convince those close relatives, is there any hope for the philosophy of von Mises to bring anything positive to this world at all? Well yes, I found one of the good things is that now I tend to feel close to totally unknown individuals who just happen to come across the same path of honesty and like me, defend libertarism… (regardless of their financial net worth!)

Thanks to the teachers of von Mises.
A happy new libertarian year to all!

Sione Vatu December 29, 2006 at 12:14 pm


Are you serious? Religion is a part of the problem. For a start, adherants lead their lives believing in and according to a book of fiction. Blind faith trumps reason. Church and state are manifestations of the same errors; evasion of reality, failure to use reason logically. No thanks to that nonsense.


N. Joseph Potts December 29, 2006 at 12:42 pm

I’m not youthful (62), and I never had any truck with Christianity. I’m against (intrusive) government, and as for how I’m raising my kids (they ARE youthful), they both identify themselves as libertarians, by THEIR choice.
Neither one is a Christian, orthodox or otherwise. But any of us is as “good” a libertarian as you or your children.

Sione Vatu December 29, 2006 at 1:13 pm


I think the frustration of dealing with “successful” people comes (in part) from realising they don’t want to know. They have an enormous intellectual investment in the “system” as it exists presently- socialist aspects included.

The usual situation pertaining to an individual’s relationhip/ involvement with the state is complex. Most people are reliant on the state for certain benefits, payouts, recognitions, status, regulatory approval or priviledge, special permissions, licenses, protections etc. They are heavily taxed but they percieve they receive protection and benefit. Certainly “successful” people are vulnerable to this sort of thinking. It fails to occur to them that the cost they bear is vastly more than any benefit (which is mostly illusory anyhow). Bastiat was correct about the unseen.

The usual way to deal in argument with these people is to resort to principle. You can demonstrate that tax means the absence of private property rights. One can’t have both. One trumps the other. Then a little ultilitarian argument about benefits for the many outweighing the individual and you can demonstrate that should the govt so decide, then all a person’s property is forfeit. I usually disclose that the profession of __________________________ (insert your protagonists job description here) needs to be taxed at a far heavier rate than presently due to _________________________ (make up trendy excuse or policy). A rate of 85 or 90% plus asset taxes usually shocks them. Since they have already conceded the principle (& accepted democracy and tax) they are left with an uneasy issue which can’t be solved by conventional left/right political thinking. Argue no further. Stop right at that point. That’s when you can suggest they visit the VMI site. Do not give any specific answers to them. Let them study and learn individually.

Success rate is about 50% I’ve found. They do go look.

Best wishes to you for another great year.


Reactionary December 29, 2006 at 1:19 pm


All most libertarians aspire to is the juvenile, individualist sentiment that nobody can tell them what to do. They are no match whatsoever for the ruthless, secular institution known as democratic government. In fact, they work hand in glove with it to impose a tyranny of rights, whereby the most repulsive lifestyles have to be accomodated by everyone under penalty of law.

Lisa Casanova December 29, 2006 at 1:38 pm

Is there something mature about asserting that you have the right to tell other people what to do? Do we pass into true maturity when we realize that random other human beings should order us around just because they claim they know better?

Reactionary December 29, 2006 at 1:48 pm


At the firing range, do you bristle at the rangemaster and insist that you have your own M.O. for firearms safety and he can’t tell you what to do?

When your dad told you to wash the dishes, did you stomp your feet and insist that nobody had the right to tell you what to do?

When your employer imposes a deadline, do you proceed to lecture him or her on why it’s immature to tell other people what to do?

This very site instructs me to post only intelligent and civil comments. Oh the stifling oppression! I can hardly breathe!

Brad December 29, 2006 at 3:08 pm

There is a difference between parents raising their children to be responsible, a person setting rules on their property as to how to conduct oneself, and acting civilly on a message board, and that of a group forcefully interposing itself in your life out some duty to their Utopian constructions. If I were to walk into your house, take some of your property, and force you to do X, contrary to what you would otherwise wish, you most certainly would take umbrage, would you not? And by your logic, parents telling their kids to do a household chore, or an owner of a business setting rules of the contract to use his property, I then have a right to tell you what to do. Is that logical?

In short, there is no contracting or exchange or intercourse taking place between us that gives rise for me to make any stipulations as to what you do. I am disinterested. That is the basic element lost to interventionists, when there is an inherent interest or disinterest. All the varioius Statist mentalities originate from the inability to control their Utopian projections and create an “interest” out of thin air. Libertarians know when to be disinterested.

Reactionary December 29, 2006 at 3:39 pm


The point to be taken from this is that people who can govern themselves do not need a bureaucratic government. As a friend puts it, a traditional and stable three-generation family hardly needs a government for anything, while a secular, licentious culture generates nursing homes, pensions, daycare centers, single moms, working moms, etc., all of which generate a democratic pressure for government services. Logical positivism does not build stable and traditional families. Quite the opposite in fact, since logical positivism leads quickly to the conclusion that the individual and his present being are all there is.

That is why I say the most radical and subversive act any self-styled libertarian can take is to raise a child in orthodox Christianity. But since the traditional institutions of Church, family and the common law involve that libertarian bete noir–the authority figure telling somebody what to do–then the libertarians happily join forces with the Marxists as permanent levellers of organic society.

Brad December 29, 2006 at 4:43 pm

I agree with much of what you say, but the conclusion drawn that only one moral set of values can create an environment where bureaucracy is necessary. One could assert that as long as any one philosophy existed there would be no need for a State, as everyone would agree. But that’s not the case, there are many philosophies, many conflicting, which is why a free-market sorts out material/economic resources best.

Any rational individual will see that associations with others have a positive effect on their lives, as long as they are voluntarily grouped, ultimately entered into and exited from freely. I am an atheist, while other libertarians are not. Is it too much to ponder that I see that libertarianism can brook sectors of religiosity or secularism, while your view point seems to indicate that there is no room for the secular? Just as the free-market would allow some to form sub-collectivist unions if they so choose while collectivists don’t brook free-market subsets.

Libertarianism is about not forcing anyone with whom you are disinterested from doing as they otherwise would, as long as life and property are not at risk, clearly and presently. Under such an umbrella many ideals and philosphies can exist. Sloughing it off as the product of juvenile minds not willing to accept a narrowing set of ideals is to not understand it at all. And if the argument keeps up any longer, I just might have to point out that perhaps a degree of juvenility exists in needing a Godhead to derive a sense of security to operate in. Yet, I allow anyone their constructs and fantasies that get them through their life, as long as they don’t find them so wonderful as to force me to exist under its tenets. I am certain that anyone who believes that only through some affiliation of Orthodox Christians can Utopia be structured, and the State dissolve, is the foundation for its own tyranical State.

Reactionary December 29, 2006 at 5:03 pm


>> I am certain that anyone who believes that only through some affiliation of Orthodox Christians can Utopia be structured, and the State dissolve, is the foundation for its own tyranical State.<<

Actually, in traditional, orthodox Christianity it is a grave heresy to try and create Heaven on Earth. Recall Eric Voegelin’s admonition not to immanentize the eschaton.

Can you provide me with any a priori reason to respect other people’s property in a godless universe?

Sam B December 29, 2006 at 7:42 pm

Reactionary – unfortunately, it seems hard to prove that Christianity is the only set of beliefs that will provide the necessary environment for liberty. Sufficient – probably. Necessary – how do you prove that without invoking faith?

Nisbet argued in The Quest for Community (in 1953!) that one of the reasons for the decline of the family was that the state usurped its role; families aren’t simply together to be together, they have to have a functional task as well.

If the family is to be re-built up again, then, I guess Christianity could help in providing such a functional task here. But even watching some of my most religious friends have the strongest families, as a nonreligious person I have a hard time accepting the argument that the family can’t be a proper family without a religious conviction.

Mark Brabson December 29, 2006 at 8:24 pm

The main problem with most religions is the total lack of rationality. There is simply no logic to Christianity. Why would a god devise such crazy games as to who gets into heaven and who doesn’t. By some doctrines, Mother Teresa could be burning in hell while some murderer who got “saved” at the end could be in heaven. Islam is no better, essentially the war tool of a sadistic pedophile. Neither are any of the other religions.

I personally went with Deism, a choice which eschews all doctrines and does not pretend to know about God/god/goddess or whatever. My choice of Deism was a priori to my becoming a libertarian, for whatever that is worth.

As for rights. They evolve ultimately from ourselves. When we became self aware, we gained ownership of our bodies and ourselves. Our rights emanate from our own self awareness and our inviolable.

Sam December 30, 2006 at 12:00 am

NB: I am not Sam B. :D

Unfortunately, your viewpoint has been understandable yet a little cringeworthy. Indeed for a society to embrace the concept of No State there still has to be sort agreement of values lest it become one of ‘anything goes’. Hence at the LewRockell site the Libertarian embrace (or seem to) strict traditional Catholicism. Yet religion has been just as bad converting people into ‘them’ versus ‘us’. Indeed the War on Drugs derives its starting philosophy from the opposition to witchcraft.

Perhaps Reactionary please tell us silly wittle agnostics and atheists how such religious values do not descend into a Theocracy?

Serenity December 30, 2006 at 1:07 am

Regarding Reactionary’s comment about working moms.

When a woman stays at home, she frequently loses the right to participate in financial decisions. Contributing to the family finances helps to ensure that the woman retains those rights.

Serenity December 30, 2006 at 1:36 am


You said:

Is there something mature about asserting that you have the right to tell other people what to do? Do we pass into true maturity when we realize that random other human beings should order us around just because they claim they know better?

I’ve never been very appreciative of those who make it their life’s mission to order other people about; however, when two or more people attempt to work together, live together, or even play together, a certain amount of cooperation is necessary.

Sarandon December 30, 2006 at 8:40 am


“By the time that they realized their error and started a serious effort in education… it was too late.”


…well, education & enlightenment of the American populace is our only possible tool; however, a century’s worth of ‘repeated’ effort (…very limited “activism”) has not worked (…what’s that popular definition of ‘insanity’ ?).
Optimism is important, but so are real world lessons-learned with what does NOT work.

The state stranglehold on the education-system is spectacularly successful in mis-educating the populace — until that yoke is broken, no private ‘education’ efforts will sway the masses nor improve the political realities.

Some new tactical method is necessary to defeat the influence of the government public-school/educational system — it’s the core of state power.

Perhaps some grass-roots legal approach — a judo like tactic using your opponent’s own strength against him. For example, compulsory school attendance laws are totally illegal under all American state constitutions, yet nobody challenges them in local courts, nor says a word publicly against them.

Expanding the scope of “activism” with added tactics seems worthwhile.

Serenity December 30, 2006 at 3:24 pm

Having spent some time collecting signatures to help a few people from the Libertarian Party get on the ballot, I found that the majority of people with whom I spoke knew absolutely nothing about libertarianism.

As I approached my “prospects,” I found that my reception was lukewarm, but two simple words…”less government”…generated a great deal of interest. By the end of the conversation, rather than having to offer people my clipboard to collect their signatures, they were reaching for it.

People really are looking for a new direction. Unfortunately, they know only of “left” and “right.” We have to show them that there’s another way.

As for those who don’t like the idea of a political party, I agree with your point of view. But most Libertarian Party candidates will tell you that they don’t expect to win…only that they see it as an opportunity to present basic libertarian principles to people who are looking for fresh faces and new ideas.

M. Seiler December 30, 2006 at 11:19 pm

Serenity wrote:

“I’ve never been very appreciative of those who make it their life’s mission to order other people about; however, when two or more people attempt to work together, live together, or even play together, a certain amount of cooperation is necessary.”

What nonsense is this? “Cooperation” literally means “working together.” Of course folks need to work together in order to work together. That much is stupidly redundant. But folks ordering other folks about has nothing to do with “cooperation.”

T.G.G.P December 30, 2006 at 11:43 pm

It’s true that things could always be worse. But I don’t think the Rothbard & Rockwell style libertarians actually affected policy. Those who govern do not care about them (perhaps I should say “us”, except that I’m just extreme but not activist) and are most likely unaware of their existence. Occasionally a Milton Friedman will accomplish something like getting rid of the draft, or highlighting the meme of government being the problem rather than the solution (stagflation helped a lot there though), but I don’t think anyone associated with the Mises Institute has a snowball’s chance in hell. The political idealism Rockwell and some others display reminds me of Bryan Caplan and Robin Hanson‘s explanation of how irrational and self-deceiving political movements are. It doesn’t actually accomplish anything when you give the troops this pep-talk, but I suppose it must feel good.

Serenity December 31, 2006 at 12:12 am

M. Seiler:

I’ve checked your past postings and you have a habit of using words such as “stupidly,” “ridiculous,” and “nonsense.”

It is true that when people cooperate with one another, they are working together; but it does not necessarily follow that people who must work together will cooperate.

jeffrey December 31, 2006 at 6:09 am

T.G.G.P, maybe you missed the whole point of Lew’s piece? The idea isn’t that Rockwell or someone else at the Mises Institute directly cause a government policy to change a libertarian direction. That doesn’t happen, despite the promises of fundraising letters from D.C. activist organizations and think tanks.

You speak of illusions but there is none greater than imagining the state to be a listening, caring, intellectually curious entity that weighs all points of view and acts on the most persuasive one.

What Lew is speaking of instead is applying social, intellectual, and culture pressure against the regime through education at all levels of society. Mises himself wrote at great length on the need for this, and I’ve seen it happen. In the early 1980s, libertarian radicalism was close to near extinction, while Misesian theory in economics had only the smallest intellectual presence. That has dramatically changed, not only in the US but around the world. This kind of intellectual change is the precondition for regime change.

Gurrie December 31, 2006 at 1:32 pm

The comments have drifted away from Clarence and the idea of Libertarians “winning”, and drifted into a favorite Libertarian sport of fine tuning every point so much that only a few cognoscenti are still listening.

I am close to 70 and have been a libertarian since college days. I do not believe that the libertarian philosophy is, or ever will be, suited to gaining a mass following. It is a philosophy which will gain individual adherents only one by one if it gains them at all.

The greatest hope for a more rapid and complete spread of libertarian ideas is the internet, and forums such as this one. Not only does the internet provide an excellent way to teach each other and learn from each other, I see it also as the death knell for the concept that we all need someone to tell us what is best for us and force us to do it by law. The more we can seek truth on our own, the less inclined we are to follow our political leaders blindly.

Keep up the good work, everyone.

T.G.G.P December 31, 2006 at 2:02 pm

jeffrey, I am saying that the Rockwell methods of “applying pressure against the regime” are so ineffective as to be not even worthy of the phrase, like trying to slow down a moving object by wishing it would slow. Perhaps libertarian radicalism has been saved from extinction (I don’t think that was ever actually a danger) but why should I believe libertarian radicalism actually accomplishes anything?

David White December 31, 2006 at 2:49 pm

Gurrie writes:

“The greatest hope for a more rapid and complete spread of libertarian ideas is the internet, and forums such as this one. Not only does the internet provide an excellent way to teach each other and learn from each other, I see it also as the death knell for the concept that we all need someone to tell us what is best for us and force us to do it by law.”

Indeed. And how sweet the irony that the state couldn’t stop itself from launching what the market, had the state not siphoned off so many of its resources, would no doubt have launched long before:



Your fellow Person of the Year

delinetciler April 24, 2007 at 10:42 am

We should mine our own history for any ideas and actions which apply to our current time, both positive and negative. Study the ones which work and analyze those that don’t. Consider new strategems and roads less traveled. Help the Mises Institute in any way that you can, and any other libertarian group with potential.


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