About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Vichy America

Defeating an occupier is cut-and-dried when the invader wears jack boots and brandishes a rifle. In such a case there is no nuance to consider, no truth to divine, no advantage to weigh. There is only the stark line between life and death.

In 1940, after the Nazis subdued and occupied France, the invaders moved the capitol of that war-torn country from Paris to Vichy, a small town to the southeast. There the Nazis allowed the collaborator, Philippe Petain, to establish a puppet government: État Français (The French State). Others knew it as the traitorous regime of Vichy France.

No brutal, foreign army has yet invaded America. Nor has a conquering enemy installed a puppet regime in Washington. Still, this country is occupied. For over a century intellectuals and academics have invaded the American consciousness with the foreign mush of socialist and progressive ideology. American citizens have freely elected politicians loyal to this ideology. These politicians consequently established the massive American social welfare state centered in Washington, DC: Vichy America.

Today, nearly half of all Americans collaborate with and swear allegiance to Vichy America. Comprised of both Republicans and Democrats, these collaborators favor economic and social collectivism, centralized authority and the federal politicization of virtually every aspect of American life. These Vichy Americans willingly betray the principles upon which America was founded -- private property, individual freedom and cooperative peace -- for a host of selfish reasons, among them power, popularity, influence, wealth without sacrifice, profit without risk, personal gain at the expense of someone else, arrogance, peer pressure, fear... 

As in Vichy France, there are in Vichy America true patriots who resist the occupation, not with bullets, but with ideas. Like the Free French, these Free Americans expose the collaborators and sabotage the invading ideology with logical argument wherever and whenever they can. The Free French triumphed over the Germans in a few short years. Free Americans have a longer road before them. But they can triumph over progressivism and the social welfare state eventually, provided elections in this country remain free and fair, and so long as their ability to reason and persuade does not whither.

A few progressive collaborators are outspoken. They wear their ideology on their lapel, like a swastika. Most masquerade as Free Americans. They use words like property, freedom, liberty, cooperation and peace. However, they attach modifiers to them, like that tiny, treasonous word: "but."

"Of course I favor free markets," they proclaim, "but free markets that are controlled and regulated by the federal government. Of course, I favor free enterprise, but a free enterprise wherein profits are fairly confiscated by federal taxes and losses compassionately socialized by government bailouts and subsidies.

In Vichy France, the most lethal threat to the Free French was double-cross and betrayal by cowardly informants. In Vichy America, it is sloppy thinking.

Consider these words of the erstwhile "Libertarian," Will Wilkinson, a popular and successful political pundit who professes to believe in "property rights:"
...A system of secure property rights is conducive to a society of peaceful cooperation that benefits even the least among us. The important thing for libertarians to remember—and the thing that Ron Paul forgets, or, rather, never knew—is that a system of secure property rights is a means to a peaceful society of mutual benefit, not an end in itself. And there are other legitimate public goods beyond the police protection of property rights. The need to finance the provision of these goods can justifiably limit our property rights, just as a system of property can justifiably limit our right to free movement. The use of official coercion to collect necessary taxes is no more or less problematic than the use of official coercion to enforce claims to legitimate property.

Of course, those who suffer most from the absence of adequate public goods are the poor and powerless. So it’s sadly no surprise that this isn't one of those issues that compels Paul to consider the complexities of political practicability. What good are taxes anyway when, as Paul argues, “[t]he only people who benefit are the bureaucrats, and the special interest recipients of government spending programs”? Recipients like poor kids who go to public schools.
No matter what he calls himself, whether a liberal or a libertarian, it is clear that Wilkinson is not a Free American. He is a collaborator, a traitor to the principles of property, freedom and peace, a Vichy American who is willing to abolish property rights and liberty because he believes the right to act freely according to one's conscience and to own property cannot adequately benefit "the poor and powerless."

There is a movie called "This Land Is Mine" which depicts the Nazi occupation of a small town in Europe. The town is unnamed, but it could easily be located in Vichy France. The townspeople are divided, collaborators on one side, freedom fighters on the other, the timid and cowardly in the middle.

As the Nazis imprison and execute freethinking citizens in an effort to flush out resistance saboteurs, a timid school teacher, Albert Lory, played brilliantly by Charles Laughton, is arrested and put on trial for a murder he did not commit. The alleged murder victim, George Lambert, is a businessman who collaborates with the Nazis and informs on a saboteur, Paul Martin, who is his best friend. When Martin is shot and killed by the Nazis, Lambert shoots himself because he cannot bear the shame of his cowardice.

At his murder trial, Albert Lory speaks in his own defense. The prosecution attempts to silence him, but the judge lets him speak freely in the civil courtroom, the only public institution the Nazis have chosen to exempt from their military control [h/t to Livedash for transcript]:

Well, I hope you'll excuse me for speaking badly. I've never been able to speak in public. I hope the prosecutor won't think I'm disrespectful to this court and the legal profession in having no lawyer. And nobody could know the truth as well as I do because I was there. Well, I was the only one who was there.

Well, the truth is I wanted to kill George Lambert, but I don't think I could have. I'm too weak. I'm a coward. Well, everybody knows it, even the prosecutor. That's why he's making fun of me.

Oh, I'm not a coward here [points to his head]. I have brave dreams. I'm afraid to commit murder here [points to his heart]. I'm lost. I'm a coward.

It's strange. We're two people, all of us, inside and outside. George Lambert was two men. It wasn't until I saw him dead that I realized it, and I knew why he had killed himself. He couldn't face reality, but he was different from me. He was strong outside and weak inside. Inside he was a coward. And when this honest coward had to face what that other George-- the brave George--had done, he couldn't stand it, so he killed himself.

It's strange, but I felt strong for the first time in my life when I saw him dead, and I was sorry for him. I suddenly understood everything. Of course, in a way I was responsible for his death through my mother's love for me. Even love can be a terrible thing. It can commit crimes. Louise [Lory’s colleague on whom he has a secret crush], you thought I informed on Paul. It was my mother. To save me, she told George, and George told the mayor, who told Major von Keller [the brutal Nazi officer who is in charge of the occupation], and Paul was killed.

Even Mayor Manville is two men. They both appear to be strong, but they are both weak. The outside man has to pretend he's saving the town to hide the inside man who is saving himself

[The prosecutor interrupts] Your honor, I object. The accused has no right to seize this occasion to slander our mayor, who is an honorable man.

[Lory speaks] If this is a court of justice, I have a right to be heard. If I am stopped now, how can anyone believe that our civil courts are dealing out justice under the occupation, as the official newspapers insist?

[The judge speaks] Proceed.

[Lory continues] Thank you, sir. Even before the war, our mayor was convinced that the enemy was not the Germans, but a part of our own people. Our mayor was born poor. Then he became powerful, and he began to fear the very people he'd come from. Oh, our country's full of people like that. Every country is.

And George Lambert was not powerful, but he took the side of the powerful men. He honestly admired them, and he found he got on better that way.  …[The trial is abruptly adjourned to the next day as the prosecutor insists on calling the mayor to testify. Lory does not object.]

[That night Major von Keller visits Lory in prison and offers to plant a suicide note in exchange for Lory's collaboration and silence. Lory is left to ponder the Major's offer.] 

[The trial reconvenes and Lory bravely exposes the suicide note as a fraud. He continues speaking in his own defense] I found out last night that I'm a very lucky man. This [courtroom] is the only place left in my country where a man can still speak out, standing where I stand now…

Last night I had a moment of weakness. Oh, I wanted to live. I had very good reasons to live. Major von Keller told me beautiful things about the future of this world they're building. I almost believed him. But it's very hard for people like you and me to understand what is evil and what is good.

It's easy for the working people to understand who the enemy is because the aim of this invasion and this occupation is to make them slaves, but middle-class people like us can easily believe-- as George Lambert did-- that a German victory is not such a bad thing.

Well, we hear people say that too much liberty brings chaos and disorder, and that's why I was tempted last night by Major von Keller when he came to my cell. But this morning I looked out through bars, and I saw this beautiful new world working.

I saw ten men die because they still believed in freedom. Among them was a man I loved-- Professor Sorel. He smiled and waved at me as if he were telling me what to do. I knew then I had to die, and the strange thing is I was happy.

Those ten men died because of Paul Martin. But they didn't blame Paul Martin. They were proud of him. ...Paul died without glory, but in a wonderful cause. I see now that sabotage is the only weapon left to a defeated people, and so long as we have saboteurs, the other free nations who are still fighting on the battle fronts will know that we are not defeated.

Oh, I know that for every German killed, many of our innocent citizens are executed, but the example of their heroism is contagious, and our resistance grows.

Oh, it's very easy to talk about heroism in the free countries, but it's hard to talk about it here where our people are starving. The hard truth is the hungrier we get, the more we need our heroes. We must stop saying that sabotage is wrong, that it doesn't pay. It does pay...but though it increases our misery, it will shorten our slavery. That's a hard choice, I know. But even now, they are bringing more troops into the town because of the trouble that has started, and the more German soldiers there are here, the less they have on the fighting fronts.

Even an occupied town like this can be a fighting front, too, and the fighting is harder. We not only have to fight hunger. First we have to fight ourselves.

The occupation-- any occupation in any land-- is only possible because we are corrupt, and I accuse myself first. For my own comfort and security, I made no protest against the mutilation of truth in our schoolbooks. My mother got me extra food and milk, and I accepted it without facing the fact that I was depriving children and people poorer than we were of their portion.

Now, you're the butcher, Mr. Noble. Naturally, you wanted to survive, and the black market was your answer. You keep your business going by selling meat out the back door at ten times its price, some to my mother, who is equally guilty as I was in eating it.

Millette, you are doing very well in your hotel, even though it's filled with Germans. You've never sold so much champagne, and at such a good price. Of course, they print the money for nothing. You are buying property with it just as the mayor is. I could say the same about many of you.

If the occupation lasts long enough, the men who are taking advantage of it will own the town.

But you should blame yourselves for making the occupation possible because you cannot do these things without playing into the hands of the real rulers of the town, the Germans.

That's why I know you must condemn me to die, not because I killed George Lambert-- which I didn't-- but because I've tried to tell the truth, and the truth can't be allowed to live under the occupation. It's too dangerous. The occupation lives upon lies, as the whole evil world they call the new order does.

Officially, you'll find me guilty of murder. Even if you were to acquit me, and I were to walk out of this court a free man, the enemy would take me and put me up against a wall and you, too. They can find any reason to take hostages.

Oh, there's one final charge I must answer to, and I'm very guilty. [Lory turns to Louise.] Yesterday, I was ashamed when the prosecutor accused me of loving you, Louise. I always loved you secretly, but now I'm not ashamed. I'm proud of it. I don't want to keep it a secret. I want to tell the whole world. I don't feel silly at all. Maybe it's because I'm going to die, but I feel very young.

You know, Major von Keller said a very funny thing to me last night. He told me I wasn't a coward. I think he was right, and I'm not the only one who's not a coward. This town is full of courage. I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be born and die here. Thank you, your honor.

[The jury is deeply moved by the formerly timid Lory’s courageous speech. The jury foreman announces the verdict of “not guilty.” The crowd cheers. Bells ring.]

[Lory rushes to his classroom, knowing the Germans are coming for him. Young men in Lory's classroom, who formerly mocked him, now rise as he enters, recognizing him for the hero he is. Lory speaks to the class.]

Thank you, young men. Sit down. I'm afraid this is my last class. I don't know how much time I have, but if this must be a short lesson, I think I have found the best book. It was given to me by Professor Sorel, and the only reason it wasn't burnt with the others is because I hid it away in my bedroom.

I'm going to read you something that was written by great men, written in a night of enthusiasm a long time ago, 150 years ago [during the French Revolution]. These men came from all classes-- rich people, poor people, businessmen, men of religion, and they didn't fight with each other. They all agreed on that wonderful night.

Now other men are trying to destroy this book. Maybe this copy will be burned, but they can't burn it out of your memories. You will have to rewrite it someday. That's why you young people are so important. You're the new nation.

[Lory reads from the book.] "A Declaration of the Rights of Man. Article one-- all men are born and remain free… ...the purpose of all political parties is the safeguarding of the natural and inalienable rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to tyranny. Article 3-- the principle of all government is that no group, no individual can exercise any authority that does not expressly emanate from the people… …Article 4-- liberty consists in freedom to do everything which injures no one else… …Article 5-- the law has the right to forbid…” [The door opens. German soldiers barge in.]

[Lory glances at the soldiers.] Just one moment, gentlemen, please. [Lory continues reading from the book.] "The law has the right to forbid only those things which are harmful to society…"

[The soldiers move toward him. Lory continues.] Well, I must go. I must go--not because I'm harmful to society, which is you -- but because I am harmful to tyranny. Good-bye, citizens.

[Nazi soldiers yank Lory out of the classroom. He shrugs them off and proudly walks before them to his inevitable execution.]
Why do I quote this fictional hero so extensively? What am I implying?

That those running are government are Nazis? That Will Wilkinson is George Lambert?

Don't be ridiculous and stupid! I'm sick to death of those who spin words to their own nefarious purpose, who find evil motives or treachery where none exists, who stir up passions to shut out reason!  

My fellow, Free Americans, my purpose here is to make this simple observation of fact: This land is mine! And yours! You and I are America! Our principles -- liberty, property and peace -- comprise the modern line between life and death. These principles cannot be taken from us by elite, coercive politicians so long as they live, purely, in our heart.

Vichy America is faux America. We did not become a great and prosperous nation by faux allegiance to the principles that made us so. We do not water down our gasoline and expect it to burn efficiently in our vehicles. We do not contaminate our medicines and expect them to heal. We do not add cardboard to our food supply and expect it to nourish. Why then do we expect our beloved principles to work for our mutual prosperity if we water them down with fillers and contaminants?

If we truly believe that property plus liberty equals peace and prosperity for all, then we must believe that peace means peace, and liberty means liberty, and property means property...no "ifs," no "ands," no "buts."

If we are not vigilant, if we do not think clearly, if we do not cogently defend these ideas on which our country and our prosperity depend, then surely we will lose both.

My fellow Free Americans, know now, what Albert Lory knew so well then: the battle we fight is not with some loathsome, invading tyrant, but with ourselves.

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