Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

Posts Tagged ‘Murray Rothbard’

The Role of Intellectuals in Societal Change

Posted by Orrin Woodward on May 20, 2012

The late Murray Rothbard was a polymathic genius. I have read few authors who have studied and understood history, economics, philosophy, sociology, liberty, and power, in as entertaining and informative a manner. I find that, even when I disagree with Rothbard, he still makes me think. In truth, isn’t this the goal of all reading? I don’t read to believe everything the author writes; rather, I read to sharpen myself on the iron thinking of other great minds. Unfortunately, our school systems, newspapers, magazines, television sets, and radio stations are all geared to tell you what to think (propaganda) instead of teaching you how to think (education).

After reading Rothbard’s analysis of the Revolutionary War from his book Conceived in Liberty and the role of intellectuals in the conflict, it became crystal clear to me who the court intellectuals are today.  Invest the time to read Rothbard’s analysis of 18th century America for yourself. See if you can identify some of the court intellectuals today who share the ruling statist ideology in our society. Likewise, think of some of the anti-statist authors and organizations who faithfully teach our English heritage from the Magna Carta, Petition of Rights, and Bill of Rights. These great documents protected the citizens against un-checked statist power, helping create a society ruled by law to protect life, liberty, and property.

Did anyone ever study these three documents in high school? How about college? Amazingly, three off the most precious documents in the history of the English-speaking people that, along with the King James Bible, flowered freedom to a level previously unknown throughout the world is largely forgotten. Even though these documents produced a level of liberty that was the envy of every other European nation. Indeed, the West would not even be conceivable without these documents. However, if this is true, then why aren’t these great truths shared in every school in every English speaking country? Moreover, is there anything that English speaking citizens from around the world can do about this catastrophic, at least from a liberty perspective, series of egregious events?

Call me a dreamer, but if only there were communities who inspired people to begin a self-directed education. If only people began reading, learning, and sharing from the original sources with one another to learn the great truths of freedom by working around society’s purveyors of propaganda. 🙂 Imagine the impact of millions of people taking the Mental Fitness Challenge and launching a self-directed education into their personal lives while associating with others taking the same journey? Yes folks, the road ahead will be challenging; however, great leadership is only revealed when the obstacles encountered cannot be resolved with anything less. Like my friend Chris Brady says: Today’s the day!


Orrin Woodward

The essence of the state throughout history is a minority of the population, constituting a power elite or a “ruling class,” governing and living off the majority, or the “ruled.” Since a majority cannot live parasitically off a minority without the economy and the social system breaking down very quickly, and since the majority can never act permanently by itself but must always be led by an oligarchy, every state will subsist by plundering the majority in behalf of a ruling minority. A further reason for the inevitability of minority rule is the pervasive fact of the division of labor: the majority of the public must spend most of its time going about the business of making a living. Hence the actual rule of the state must be left to full-time professionals who are necessarily a minority of the society.

Throughout history, then, the state has consisted of a minority plundering and tyrannizing over a majority. This brings us to the great question, the great mystery, of political philosophy: the mystery of civil obedience. From Etienne de La Boetie to David Hume to Ludwig von Mises, political philosophers have shown that no state—no minority—can continue long in power unless supported, even if passively, by the majority. Why then does the majority continue to accept or support the state when it is clearly acquiescing in its own subjection? Why does the majority continue to obey the minority?

Here we arrive at the age-old role of the intellectuals, the opinion-molding groups in society. The ruling class—be it warlords, nobles, bureaucrats, feudal landlords, monopoly merchants, or a coalition of several of these groups—must employ intellectuals to convince the majority of the public that its rule is beneficent, inevitable, necessary, and even divine. The leading role of the intellectual throughout history is that of the court intellectual, who, in return for a share of, a junior partnership in, the power and pelf offered by the rest of the ruling class, spins the apologias for state rule with which to convince a misguided public. This is the age-old alliance of church and state, of throne and altar, with the church in modern times being largely replaced by secular intellectuals and “scientific” technocrats.

When state rulers act, then, to use and aggrandize state power, their primary motivation is economic: to increase their plunder at the expense of the subject and the taxpayer. The ideology that they profess and that is formulated and spread through society by the court intellectuals is an elaborate rationalization for their economic interests. The ideology is the camouflage for their looting, the fictitious clothes spun by the intellectuals to hide the naked plundering of the emperor. The economic motive behind the ideological garb of the state is the heart of the issue.

But what of the actions of the rebels against state power—those infrequent but vital situations in history when the subjects rise up to diminish, whittle away, or abolish state power? What, in short, of such great events as the American Revolution or the classical liberal movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? Of course, an economic motive exists here, too, in this case one of defending the private property of the subjects from the depredations of the state. But our contention here is that, even when conjoined as in the American Revolution, the major motive of the opposition, or of the revolutionaries, will be ideological rather than economic.

The basic reason for this assertion is that the ruling class, being small and largely specialized, is motivated to think about its economic interests twenty-four hours a day. Manufacturers seeking a tariff, merchants seeking to cripple their competition, bankers looking for taxes to repay their government bonds, rulers seeking a strong state from which to acquire revenue, bureaucrats wishing to expand their empire—all of these are professionals in statism. They are constantly at work trying to preserve and expand their privileges. Hence the primacy of the economic motive in their actions. But the majority has allowed itself to be misled largely because its immediate interests are generally diffuse and hard to observe, and because the majority comprises not professional “antistatists” but people going about their business of daily living.

What can the average person know of the arcane processes of subsidy or taxation or bond issue? Generally, he is too wrapped up in his daily life, too habituated to his lot after centuries of state-guided propaganda, to give any thought to his unfortunate fate. Hence, an opposition or revolutionary movement, or indeed any mass movement from below, cannot be primarily guided by ordinary economic motives.

For such a mass movement to form, the masses must be fired up, must be aroused to a rare and uncommon pitch of fervor against the existing system. But for that to happen, the masses must be fired up by ideology. Only ideology, guided either by a new religious conversion or by a passion for justice, can arouse the interest of the masses (in the current jargon, “raise their consciousness”) and lead them out of the morass of daily habit into an uncommon and militant activity in opposition to the state.

This is not to say that an economic motive—for example, a defense of their property—does not play an important role. But to form a mass movement in opposition means that the people must shake off their habits, their daily mundane concerns of several lifetimes, and become politically aroused and determined as never before in their lives. Only a commonly held and passionately believed-in ideology can perform that role. Hence our conclusion that a mass movement like the American Revolution must be centrally motivated by a commonly shared ideology.

How then do the masses of subjects acquire this guiding and determining ideology? By the very nature of the masses, it is impossible for them to arrive at such an opposition or revolutionary ideology on their own. Habituated as they are to their narrow and daily rounds, uninterested in ideology as they normally are, it is impossible for the masses to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps to hammer out an ideological movement in opposition to the existing state.

Here we arrive at the vital role of the intellectuals. Only intellectuals, full-time (or largely full-time) professionals in ideas, have the time, the ability, and the inclination to formulate an opposition ideology and then to spread the word to the people. In contrast to the statist court intellectual, whose role is a junior partner in rationalizing the economic interests of the ruling class, the radical or opposition intellectual’s role is the centrally guiding one of formulating the opposition or revolutionary ideology and then of spreading the ideology to the masses, thereby welding them into a revolutionary movement.

An important corollary: in weighing the motivations of the intellectuals themselves or even of the masses, it is generally true that setting oneself up in opposition to an existing state is a lonely, thorny, and often dangerous road. It is usually directly in the economic interests of the radical intellectuals to allow themselves to “sell out,” to be co-opted by the ruling state apparatus. The intellectuals who do choose the radical opposition path, who pledge—in the famous words of the American revolutionaries—“their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor,” can scarcely be dominated by economic motives; on the contrary, only a fiercely held ideology, centering on a passion for justice, can keep the intellectuals to the rigorous path of truth. Hence, again, the likelihood of a dominant role for ideology in an opposition movement.

Thus, statists tend to be governed by economic motivation, with ideology serving as a smokescreen for such motives, while libertarians or anti-statists are ruled principally and centrally by ideology, with economic defense playing a subordinate role. By this dichotomy we may at last resolve the age-old historiographical dispute over whether ideology or economic interests play the dominant role in historical motivation.

Posted in Freedom/Liberty, Leadership/Personal Development, Orrin Woodward | Tagged: | 24 Comments »

America – Conceived in Liberty: Died in Tyranny?

Posted by Orrin Woodward on April 25, 2012

Murray Rothbard has struck again! Through reading his fascinating, albeit frustrating at times, history of America Conceived in Liberty, I stumbled across some shocking stories. Rothbard is the type of author that even when I disagree with him, I find myself laughing and thinking. I enjoy authors who make their readers think because so few do today. Since recorded history, governments have violated people’s inherent rights, but how these poor precedents proceed in perpetuity is astonishing. Has anyone studied the history of the English postal system? I certainly hadn’t! Let me quote from the irrepressible sacred cow buster Murray Rothbard:

Postal service began in the early American colonies as freely competitive private enterprises of varying forms and types. Letters between neighboring villages were sent by special messengers, who were often Indians. For longer journeys, letters were carried by travelers or regular merchants. Letters to or from England were carried by private ship captains, who often hung a bag in the local coffeehouse to receive letters for shipment. The price was generally a penny for a single letter and two pence for a double letter or parcel.

Unfortunately, English precedent held out little hope for the unhampered development of a freely competitive postal service. In 1591 the Crown had issued a proclamation granting itself the monopoly of all foreign mail, and in 1609 the Crown’s proclamation extended its own monopoly to all mail foreign or domestic. The purpose of this postal monopoly was quite simple: to enable governmental officials to read the letters of private citizens in order to discover and suppress “treason” and “sedition.”

Thus, when the Privy Council decided in 1627 to allow merchants to operate an independent foreign post, the king’s principal secretary of state wrote sternly: “Your lordship best knoweth what account we shall be able to give in our places of that which passeth by letters in or out of the land, if every man may convey letters under the course of merchants to whom and what place he pleaseth…how unfit a time this is to give liberty to every man to write and send what he list….” And in 1657 when the Commonwealth Parliament continued the English governmental postal monopoly, the preamble of the act stated a major objective: “to discover and prevent many dangerous and bigoted designs, which have been and are daily contrived against the peace and welfare of this Commonwealth, the intelligence whereof cannot well be communicated, but by letter of script.”

The first government meddling in the postal service in America came as early as 1639 in Massachusetts. At that time the government appointed Richard Fairbanks to be a receiver and deliverer of foreign letters for the price of one penny; no monopoly privilege was granted, and no one was prevented from using other postal intermediaries. The Dutch government in New Netherland went far beyond this when in 1657 it awarded itself a compulsory monopoly of receipt of foreign mail; anyone presuming to board a vessel first to obtain his own mail was fined thirty guilders. Ship captains were fined heavily for carrying letters for anyone except the government postal monopolist.

In other words, America’s “snail mail” postal monopoly has nothing to do with efficiency (I guess we all knew that :)); it has nothing to do with the poor economics of this generation; and it has everything to do with the State’s desire to spy on people’s thoughts, plans, and actions. This, mind you, from our English forefathers, whose ideas of liberty were modeled in the creation of America. The postal system is one area where we shouldn’t have applied English principles. If government has the right to spy at will, where does this right end? If someone disagrees with the ruling power, does that person have the right to open letters, emails, tap phones, etc? England’s unethical precedent is still affecting America’s postal system to this day.

I love history, but this isn’t the type of lessons I learned in school and neither will you. Since Big Government funds the schools, no one should be shocked about this. Sadly, with today’s further government interventions like the Patriot Act, to name one among many, civil liberties are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Harry Truman, an avid reader, once paraphrased Solomon when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun, only the history you don’t know.” We must educate ourselves on real history and not the government fed history from our schools and other government-funded institutions.

The battles fought over freedom today may be different in detail but astonishingly similar in principle. Yes, America was conceived in liberty; I pray it doesn’t die in tyranny.


Orrin Woodward

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Liberty and Power

Posted by Orrin Woodward on March 23, 2012

That Government is best which governs least – Henry David Thoreau

I woke up this morning with a thought. What is the best way to delineate the coercive powers of State interventions from the free influences of communities within Society? I believe this article does the job the best. After reading this article, one can quickly see why the founders bound the federal governments hands all through the Constitution. Sadly, for freedom at least, the federal government has broken its bounds and reigns as the supreme sovereign across the land.

Were the Anti-Federalist Were Right?

If historians were honest, they would have to admit the Anti-Federalists, men like Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, more accurately predicted America’s future than the writers of the Federalist Papers (Madison, Hamilton, and Jay) did. The growth of consolidation and power by the federal government at the expense of the sovereign states is inarguable. As so often happens in history, however, the losing side is forgotten despite the truthfulness of its cause. Power politics simply coerces people through “might is right” maneuvers. Influence, on the other hand, requires truth and reason to persuade others of the causes rightness and justice. Anyone can use power, but it takes leaders to influence.

State versus Society?

The State (monopoly of force) advances through power, while Society (free communities) advances through influence. Which social structure do you think ensures a person’s property and liberty better? It’s vital to follow the thought wars of each generation. For example, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a person who wasn’t educated on religious issues of the day was lost. Regretfully, because thoughts lead to actions, much blood was spilt before freedom of religion and conscience was adopted in the West.

Ideas have Consequences

Similarly, in the 18th and 19th centuries, political structures dominated the thought currents. With the Glorious, American, and French Revolutions leading the way, governmental structures aimed at providing freedom for the people were the prevalent philosophical currents of the day. Monarchies, republics, and democracies, jockeyed against one another in the battle of ideas. Liberty and power pivoted on the outcomes of these interminable wars.

Today, however, the war of ideas has changed fields. Regardless of what governmental structure a country has, the key question concerns the country’s economic perspective. Economic structures can produce liberty or despotism in a monarchy, republic, or a democracy. Governmental organization, in other words, is less vital to liberty than a proper comprehension of economics. In fact, I believe, without exaggeration, that the separation between liberty and power is tied directly to the economic understandings of the next generation of State leaders. Spiritual liberty with civil rights is still despotism if the people are not economically free.

Austrian School of Economics

The Austrian School of economics, in my opinion, is the best systematized culmination of economic truths gained over the last several millennia. When it comes to economics, the American founders can legitimately proclaim they “didn’t know what they didn’t know.” We, on the other hand, do not have the same excuse thanks to Mises, Rothbard, et al. Indeed, any politician who remains ignorant of the Austrian School of Economics has allied himself against liberty in its perpetual war against power.

Cain & Abel

The conflict between liberty and power is as old as Cain and Abel. Which side do you align with? Choose wisely for society’s sake. A limited State with a free economic system is the soil where the liberty tree blossoms. We cannot afford to remain ignorant of these historical truths. Read the article and start your education process for life and liberty.

Sincerely, Orrin Woodward

One of the most important thinkers on the nature of the state was Franz Oppenheimer, who distinguished between the economic means and the political means, and defined the state as the organization of the political means. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains:

Franz Oppenheimer is a left-anarchist German sociologist. In The State he distinguishes between the economic (peaceful and productive) and the political (coercive and parasitic) means of wealth acquisition, and explains the state as instrument of domination and exploitation.

As Oppenheimer wrote in his classic work The State:

I mean by [the “State”] that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought into being by extra economic power. And in contrast to this, I mean by Society, the totality of concepts of all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man …. [from the Introduction]
There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. … I propose … to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others “the economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.” … The state is an organization of the political means. [Ch. 1]

Rothbard was also heavily influenced by Oppenheimer, writing in The Ethics of Liberty:

If the state, then, is a vast engine of institutionalized crime and aggression, the “organization of the political means” to wealth, then this means that the State is a criminal organization.
He goes on:

But, above all, the crucial monopoly is the State’s control of the use of violence: of the police and armed services, and of the courts—the locus of ultimate decision-making power in disputes over crimes and contracts. Control of the police and the army is particularly important in enforcing and assuring all of the State’s other powers, including the all-important power to extract its revenue by coercion.

For there is one crucially important power inherent in the nature of the State apparatus. All other persons and groups in society (except for acknowledged and sporadic criminals such as thieves and bank robbers) obtain their income voluntarily: either by selling goods and services to the consuming public, or by voluntary gift (e.g., membership in a club or association, bequest, or inheritance). Only the State obtains its revenue by coercion, by threatening dire penalties should the income not be forthcoming. That coercion is known as “taxation,” although in less regularized epochs it was often known as “tribute.” Taxation is theft, purely and simply even though it is theft on a grand and colossal scale which no acknowledged criminals could hope to match. It is a compulsory seizure of the property of the State’s inhabitants, or subjects.

If, then, taxation is compulsory, and is therefore indistinguishable from theft, it follows that the State, which subsists on taxation, is a vast criminal organization far more formidable and successful than any “private” Mafia in history. Furthermore, it should be considered criminal not only according to the theory of crime and property rights as set forth in this book, but even according to the common apprehension of mankind, which always considers theft to be a crime. As we have seen above, the nineteenth-century German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer put the matter succinctly when he pointed out that there are two and only two ways of attaining wealth in society:

(a) by production and voluntary exchange with others—the method of the free market; and

(b)by violent expropriation of the wealth produced by others. The latter is the method of violence and theft. The former benefits all parties involved; the latter parasitically benefits the looting group or class at the expense of the looted.

Oppenheimer trenchantly termed the former method of obtaining wealth, “the economic means,” and the latter “the political means.” Oppenheimer then went on brilliantly to define the State as “the organization of the political means.”

As Hoppe noted, Albert Jay Nock was also “influenced by Franz Oppenheimer. In Our Enemy, The State he explains the anti-social, predatory nature of the state, and draws a sharp distinction between government as voluntarily acknowledged authority and the State. Nock in turn influenced Frank Chodorov, who would influence young Murray Rothbard.” Nock, thus, likewise drawing on Oppenheimer, wrote:

The State, then, whether primitive, feudal or merchant, is the organization of the political means.

The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner. On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origin. Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution “forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group.”

Mises also focuses on the state’s use of violence as a defining feature:

The total complex of the rules according to which those at the helm employ compulsion and coercion is called law. Yet the characteristic feature of the state is not these rules, as such, but the application or threat of violence. [Omnipotent Government]

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