BOOK REVIEW: In which Shannon embarks on a quest to summarize the core concepts of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and explores how public discourse has disintegrated in the age of show business.
(Posted by Shannon Lise on September 24th, 2012)
There are some books which everyone ought to read and few people do. Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death is one of them. His analysis of the devastating effects of the entertainment age on the quality of public discourse offers uncommonly keen insights into the way thought and culture are shaped by technology, and the resulting trivialization of every aspect of society.
In an effort to make the essential concepts of this analysis accessible to people who quite understandably lack the time or the motivation to read the entire book, I have taken the liberty of condensing the main ideas of Postman’s book into a very brief summary, which I hope will at least be thought-provoking.
Of course, no abridgement can conceivably do justice to the original, especially an original of such rare caliber as this, and I naturally do this with some reluctance, part of which stems from the realization that I am not able to retain either the author’s original eloquence or the wealth of examples with which he demonstrates the legitimacy of his claims. But when you recommend books to people as often as I do, you realize that most of the time even the most sincere and glowing recommendations seldom arouse an interest strong enough to lead someone to read an entire book, and a synopsis of some kind is much more palatable.
All culture is a conversation. The transmission of ideas permeates every aspect of society, whether it is politics, religion, education or entertainment. What most people do not realize is that the form which public discourse takes is what regulates the content of that discourse. To some degree, the form actually dictates the content. The medium used to convey ideas provides a unique mode of communication and a unique orientation for thought and expression, and is highly influential in determining what kinds of ideas prevail. Technological developments inevitably alter the way ideas are communicated.
To illustrate how technology influences how people think, take the invention of the clock, which created a moment-to-moment metaphor in our minds, making us think of time as a series of independent, mathematically measurable sequences, dissociated from human events. The microscope, by revealing hitherto invisible biological structures, suggested the purely psychological possibility of a similar structuralizing of the mind. Enhanced medical technology improved health and simultaneously introduced the notion that the malfunctions of nature and the ravages of time are not final, that both the body and mind are artificially improvable.
For a given culture, truth is defined by and derived from the media of communication through which information is conveyed. When we understand media as epistemology, we see that a major medium shift changes the structure of discourse, encouraging certain uses of the intellect, favoring certain definitions of intelligence, and demanding certain kinds of content. Some mediums are more exclusive than others. Smoke signals, hieroglyphics and the spoken word do not have the ability to say the same kinds of things that a written alphabet does. The written word freezes speech and enables criticism and an entirely new conception of knowledge.
Of course, all medium shifts necessarily involve tradeoffs. When print-based epistemology replaces oral-based epistemology, things like modern science, modern prose, and individualism are made possible, but things like poetry, religious sensibility, and sense of community lose their significance. They continue to exist, but their value is seriously undermined and they become a residual epistemology.
The Age of Reason in America and Europe was also the Age of Exposition. America was founded as a typographic nation. One could almost say that it was founded on the printing press, which shaped the political ideas and social life of the country. Of course, today we have more printed material than early America ever did, but we also have other forms of communication which were lacking then: radio, telephone, television, photography, etc., which is why in early America the printed word wielded a monopoly that it does not wield today.
In a print-dominated culture, public discourse tends to be characterized by a coherent, systematic arrangement of facts and ideas, and the focus is on serious, logically ordered content and semantic meaning. The typographic mind is primarily rational. Engaging the written word and following a line of thought requires intellectual alertness, a strong attention span, and considerable powers of classifying, inference-making, and reasoning, as well as the ability to detect falsehoods, over-generalizations, contradictions and other abuses of logic. The written word is propositional and sequential and fosters an analytic management of knowledge.
From colonial days onward, America boasted the highest literacy rates in the world. Literacy was not confined to the aristocracy. Not only books, but newspapers and pamphlets were widely popular, and the oratory of the nation, which was stately and impersonal, reflected its typographic nature. Sermons, lectures and political addresses were generally written speeches recited to an attentive and patient audience who had the ability to orally absorb complex arguments made by means of intricate, lengthy sentences. Oratorical charisma was designed to be easily transferable to the printed page. Because reading was not an elitist activity, and because the masses of the common people had access to the printed word and were capable of engaging in rational discussion, the emergence of a national public conversation was made possible.
The Age of Exposition is over. Today, our culture has abandoned typography for television, and simultaneously entered the Age of Show Business. We must realize that every technology has an inherent bias, and no technology is simply an extension of a previous technology. Television is not a new and improved version of the printing press; it is a totally different medium with a totally different message. To say that television is entertaining is an obvious and hardly threatening observation. But television is not merely entertaining. Television has made entertainment the natural format for the representation of all experience. Television doesn’t simply present entertaining subject matter; it presents all subject matter as entertaining. The distinction is subtle but essential. Entertainment has become the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. It gives us the impression that nothing is to be taken seriously and it produces a fragmented cultural conversation.
There are several reasons for this. For one thing, television is an image-based medium. It uses pictures, not words. Employing exquisite photography, accompanied with suitable music, it is aimed largely at emotional gratification and requires minimal skills to comprehend. With clips that average less than 3.5 seconds, the mind is never forced to concentrate or focus for long periods of time, but instead is trained to be passive and inattentive. Television inevitably implies a strict time constraint, and all material must be seriously abridged and summarized. Thus, television focuses only on the highlights, and there is no room for verification or extensive explanation. Details are overlooked. Doubt or uncertainty of any kind is impermissible. There is no time to pursue a particular line of thought, and no time for reflection. Sustained, complex discussion is simply not suited for television, which must compress the content of ideas in order to fit the requirements of visual interest. The show has to keep moving. It is all about performance. A televised ‘discussion’ is comprised chiefly of witty, one-line comebacks that give impressions, but have no depth. Television, by its very nature, cannot accommodate depth because it doesn’t have space for it. It orchestrates the transmission and exchange of images, not of ideas.
There is a vast difference between symbols that demand conceptualization and reflection and symbols that evoke feeling. Language is cognitive, appealing to the mind; images are affective, appealing to the emotions. Propositions are true or false. Pictures are not. You can like or dislike a commercial, but you cannot disagree with it, because it is not based on a propositional truth claim. Advertising is not a statement about the value of the product, but a pseudo-therapeutic drama focusing on the value of the consumer. Businesses focus on market research, not product research. Commercials do not convince, they entertain. Our thought processes are controlled by media that is image-centered rather than word-centered. These forms have no concrete message and do not say anything definite. Rather, they work by powerful implication to impose their special interpretation of reality on our minds. The philosophy television commercials expect us to accommodate can be summed up in the belief that all problems are solvable, and that they are solvable instantly, through the intervention of technology and technique.
Television is different from film, music and radio because it is the only technology that encompasses all forms of discourse, from sports and weather to scientific advances and government policy. The demands of good showmanship trump the demands of any particular discipline. Television dictates how the world is to be staged, and the metaphor persists even off screen, controlling the way that politics, religion, business, education and other essential social matters are conducted.
The shift in technology started with the world of news and reporting. Significant developments in this area began even before the advent of television, with the invention of the telegraph. Born out of the 19th century ambition to conquer space and make the world small by disassociating communication from transportation, the telegraph created a continental information grid that destroyed the prevailing definition of public discourse and introduced context-free information, the value of which was no longer based on its usefulness, but on its novelty, interest, or amusement, transforming news into a commodity. The new definition of ‘newsworthy’ that evolved from this alteration embraces irrelevance and amplifies impotence. The majority of the information the average person hears on the news is divorced from any possibility of meaningful action on the viewer’s part. Today, ‘watching the news’ is the act of listening to an anchor rattle off a series of disconnected and largely useless facts and events concerning people and places that mean nothing to the listener. News has become a show, revolving around all the essentials of a show – good actors, appropriate music, and sensational stories. It has turned into entertainment.
We see the political effects of this same phenomenon in the reduction of political campaigns to advertising that focuses not on a candidate’s carefully articulated sociological perspective on the world, supported by historical background, economic facts, and coherent arguments, but rather on an artificial projection of that candidate as a likeable, experienced, virtuous (and preferably good-looking) man or woman, who has easy, simple solutions to every problem. Politicians are no longer expected to be statesmen; they are expected to be celebrities, and they are assimilated into the general culture as such. This commercialized approach robs political discourse of authentic ideological content.
The trivialization of religion is perhaps even more blatant. When religion is translated from its traditional context into an entirely different medium, it is no longer the same thing. Television strips religion of everything that makes it a profound, historic, sacred activity; tradition, ritual, dogma, theology – it is all lost. A television show is not a frame for sacred events. There is no religious aura, no slice of enchanted space-time removed from the ordinary and profane world around us and transformed into an otherworldly reality. When religion is turned into televangelism and presented as entertainment, it is impossible for it to retain its essential focus and the door to idolatry is opened. Even if unwittingly, the preacher, with his indispensable charisma, inevitably takes center stage. Religion becomes a show. Furthermore, because people have no obligation to watch any particular television show, and will only watch a show if they want to, televised religion must offer people something they want. It must be something fun and emotionally satisfying. Thus, there is no room for complexity or stringent demands. But true religion has never offered people what they want; only what they need.
There are many more examples that could be made, but hopefully the ones included here are enough to convey an idea of the impact that a technology shift like the one our society has experienced, along with the resulting evolution of communication mediums, can have on a culture, as well as the potentially disastrous effects.
There is no reason to believe that medium shifts necessarily result in equilibrium. Some media are epistemologically superior to others, and typography is superior to television, for clear reasons. Of course, the shortcomings of television as a medium of communication do not lie in aesthetic considerations. There is no objection to the trivialities of television, as long as they are recognized as trivialities. It is when television becomes a medium for ideas which are allegedly ‘significant’, that it becomes dangerous. When television becomes the central agent of public discourse, the seriousness and clarity of that discourse is threatened and is in danger of degenerating into silliness and absurdity. When that happens, the culture loses its coherence and creates a generation of people who are so addicted to entertainment and so busy amusing themselves, that they are all but incapable of rational thought. And people who are incapable of rational thought are incredibly easy to control.
Biochemist Michael Behe, PhD
BOOK REVIEW: Biochemist Michael Behe takes the theory of evolution to a molecular level in Darwin's Black Box, seeking to establish whether the origin of complex biochemical systems can be explained in terms of Darwinian evolution
(Posted by Shannon Lise on April 05, 2012)
Rated: A – The High Tide Journal highly recommends this book
In Darwin’s Black Box, biochemist Michael Behe takes the theory of evolution to a molecular level, setting out to establish whether or not the origin of certain complex biochemical systems can be explained in terms of Darwinian evolution, natural selection, random variation, and gradualism. His findings are remarkable.
Starting out with detailed examination of the functions of several different all-important biochemical systems, (including cilium, antibodies, the immune system, protein transport systems, and blood-clotting), Behe explains how every cellular process is initiated and controlled by highly sophisticated, finely calibrated molecular machines. He then goes on to demonstrate why the inherent complexity of many of these systems is indeed irreducible. Illustrated with brilliant analogies, his expositions are not only meticulously accurate, but also entertaining and readable.
An irreducibly complex system is one with no functional physical precursors. Irreducible complexity on a macroscopic scale has been featured in many scientific discussions and many people are familiar with Darwin’s classic explanations of how complex structures such as the eye might have gradually evolved. But Darwin’s explanations are only addressed to a macro-level of anatomical steps and structures that Darwin believed were simple, but which we now know are not, thanks to improved technology. Our knowledge of the workings of microscopic biochemical systems is greatly increased, but the theory no longer matches the data, and no new explanations reconciling gradualism with molecular complexity are forthcoming. Instead, questions about molecular evolution are faced with a complete lack of relevant scientific literature on the topic and condescending silence on the part of the scientific community.
Maintaining scrupulous objectivity, Behe goes on to discuss the theory of intelligent design, which is based on the assumption that if a biological system was not produced gradually, it must have arisen as an integrated unit - it must have been designed. Analyzing the scientific community’s overwhelmingly negative reaction to a discovery that is as groundbreaking as the quantum revolution, it cannot be denied that the tension surrounding the theory of intelligent design has its roots in the supernatural ramifications of the theory. However, while historical antagonism between science and religion is regrettable, it must not be allowed to color our thinking and influence our willingness to follow the observational data wherever it leads. Science is a vigorous attempt to make true statements about the physical world, and a priori philosophical commitment puts artificial restrictions on legitimate scientific inquiry. Insisting that the behavior of the universe can be explained through purely material causes is scientific chauvinism. As Behe aptly states:
‘The philosophical commitment of some people to the principle that nothing beyond nature exists should not be allowed to interfere with a theory that flows naturally from observable scientific data. The rights of those people to avoid a supernatural conclusion should be scrupulously respected, but their aversion should not be determinative.’
Ultimately, no scientific theory can compel belief in a specific worldview, whether it is atheism, Christianity, or Buddhism, and there is no reason to be afraid that it will. We must give everyone broad latitude for their beliefs. People must be free to choose their own defining philosophical principles. But when Richard Dawkins insists that anyone who denies evolution is ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked, when John Maddox predicts that religion will soon have to be regarded as anti-science, when Daniel Dennett compares religious people to wild animals who may have to be caged, then we have reason to fear that aggressive intolerance will lead to coercion as people try to force their convictions on other people in the name of science.
When it comes to intelligent design, it is worth pointing out that the scientific community faced a very similar situation not too long ago. Until about eighty years ago, scientists believed in a stationary universe that was eternal and infinite. The idea of a finite universe that expands and had a beginning was extremely repulsive to many people, partly because it appeared to be friendly towards the Judeo-Christian creation account. Einstein hated the idea so much that he manipulated his equations in order to make them predict a stable universe. In the end, the observational data won out, and the Big Bang model succeeded. Today, intelligent design is in the same predicament. But as the weight of the scientific evidence shifts dramatically, we would do well to keep up with it. According to Behe:
‘A rigorous theory of intelligent design will be a useful tool for the advancement of science in an area that has been moribund for decades.’
G.K. Chesterton, author of The Everlasting Man
"The Everlasting Man is a brilliant annihilation of the clichéd assertion that Christ and his religion stand side by side with similar myths and religions..."
(Posted by Shannon Lise on December 1st, 2011)
‘There are two ways of getting home,’ Chesterton writes, ‘and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.’ The Everlasting Man is for those of us who are having a hard time getting home by the first way. This refreshing and intensely unique work of Christian apologetics invites us to step back and make an imaginative effort to see the whole idea of Christianity from the outside.
The Everlasting Man is a brilliant annihilation of the clichéd assertion that Christ and his religion stand side by side with similar myths and religions, which Chesterton denounces as 'a very stale formula contradicted by a very striking fact.' It is the story of the spiritual journey of collective humanity.
In true Chestertonian style, there are sections that tend to be a little repetitive and wordy, but they are all so incredibly witty and entertaining that we forget to be exasperated. The author makes generalizations in order to emphasize his point, and probably oversimplifies some things, but his insight is remarkable. His reverent sincerity is not in the least compromised by his devastating sense of humor, and his knack for turning secular dogmas inside out and transforming them into solid arguments for the legitimacy of Christianity is astounding. By putting the Christian story into context, he endeavors to demonstrate that Christianity is a sensible, enlightened conclusion that has yet to be successfully contradicted.
The first chapter, which is really an attack on H.G. Wells’ Outline of History and focuses primarily on how man is fundamentally different from animals, is admittedly a little dated, and Chesterton’s speculations concerning prehistoric man show the influence of early 20th century Darwinian thought. In the face of the intimidating ‘new science’ and the tremendous implications thereof, Chesterton felt the need to demonstrate that Evolution and Christianity were by no means mutually exclusive, and show how the secular Evolutionist's sociological explanations of man's religious development have no basis in fact.
Moving on, Chesterton provides an in-depth analysis of paganism, which is inestimably beneficial for anyone who is hopelessly confused as to why there are so many religions, and how to make any sense of the confused and chaotic history of mankind. He distinguishes the several universal elements of human religion, and explains the historical, mythological, and philosophical roots of Christianity and religion in general, highlighting the legitimate role of each and contrasting the Western and Eastern mindsets. He calls to our attention a certain awareness of God which manifested itself from the beginning of civilization in every mythology, in every culture.
Getting deeper into the ancient tangled tree of mythology, the book makes a crucial distinction between mythology and the two darker branches - demonism and eroticism - that grew up alongside it, complicating the scene. Eventually, the development of demonism led to a major conflict that culminated in the epic power struggle between Rome, which represented the best of paganism – honor, virtue, justice, structure, and an ethical concept of man and society – and Carthage, which represented the very worst – a demon-infested, devil-worshipping inhumanity. (I guarantee you will never look at the Punic wars the same way!) In the end, a Roman victory was what preserved a state of civilization capable of receiving the ultimate divine revelation – the Messiah incarnated.
The second half of the book is about the coming of Christ Himself, the escape from Paganism, and the growth and role of the Church. It explains Christianity’s relation to comparative religion, contrasting it with Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism, showing how all other belief systems overlap, and how Christianity is fundamentally different from every other creed and is the ultimate consummation of all genuine religion, transcending all others.
Chesterton also talks about the ‘melting pot’ movement that came to ascendance during the decline of Rome, blurring the lines of cultures and religions, and wantonly mixing gods and traditions from every corner of the globe. For awhile it threatened the newborn Church with extinction, not by extermination but by absorption and compromise, seeking to undermine the concept of a single almighty Deity, a concept that had been rigorously preserved for thousands of years through Judaism, which was the only creed with a god who was ‘narrow enough to be universal.’
In the end, the Christian story was what fulfilled all the mythologies. The Christian story was what broke the philosophers’ static and circular infinity and produced a philosophy that could move forward. The Christian story is the greatest story because it is true. The real purpose of The Everlasting Man is to retell that story in a new and revelatory way by putting it into context.
If you'd like to read this book online for free, click here.
Infamous Nazi dictator and eugenicist, Adolf Hitler
BOOK REVIEW: Bernhard Schreiber's "German Warning to the World"
(Posted by Bryana Joy on November 13th, 2011)
Rated: A – The High Tide Journal highly recommends this book
(Note: You can read this book online for FREE)
Did you know that before World War II almost every country in the developed world had a National Eugenics Society? That an estimated 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilized by the US government in the earlier part of the 20th century? That in 1970 a bill was introduced in Hawaii that would order physicians to forcibly sterilize all women who had two living children? That 34 Nazis committed suicide or died mysteriously in prison custody during or before their trials for war crimes?
If you answered no to any or all of these questions, don’t feel too badly about it: apparently, many young people don’t even know who Adolf Hitler was.
All kidding aside, we have lost the memory of a crucial part of the past. It is not taught in our schools or featured on any television programs. The history of a sinister and frightful crusade is being deliberately suppressed. Bernhard Schreiber seeks to recover it in his groundbreaking work, The Men Behind Hitler. He also shows us why it matters that we know about it.
While the book is certainly meant to be an expose of the worldwide eugenics movement that inspired and fuelled the Nazi ideal, Schreiber is determined to let the facts speak for themselves. He offers very little commentary and hesitates to connect the dots for readers. More a thoughtful compilation of research than a volume of ideological opinion, The Men Behind Hitler is a brief and concise work which invites readers to draw informed conclusions from the evidence presented, but also leaves them haunted and concerned, prepared to inquire deeply and to do research of their own.
BOOK REVIEW: Arguing About Slavery by William Lee Miller - the lost history of the congressional civil rights battles that paved the way for the American Civil War
(Posted by Shannon Lise on October 10, 2011)
As appropriate as the title is, William Miller’s landmark book is not really about arguing about slavery. It is about the fight for the right to argue about slavery in the first place – a subtle, but significant distinction. Miller takes us back to the pre-Civil War America of the 1830’s and 40’s, an America where any discussion of the issue of slavery at all was taboo. Arguing About Slavery is a compelling account of a fascinating and all but forgotten episode in the history of the greatest humanitarian victory of the age. The Civil War itself has a habit of eclipsing everything else around it. But the fact is that battle over slavery didn’t start with Sumter or the Confederate Secession. It started twenty-five years before Lincoln’s inauguration, on the floor of Congress.
The country was divided on many things, but slavery was not one of them. The North vs. South mentality, as it then existed, was based almost entirely on industrial threats to agriculture and the economic and social implications of this tension. The institution of slavery was practically embalmed in the Constitution itself; it had been the great compromise of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. Now it was a part of America and the greatest contradiction of its time went virtually unquestioned by the republic that led Europe to liberty. Even the Northern states that had abolished slavery within their borders, ignored it elsewhere. It was an embarrassing reality that was best not brought up, because nothing could possibly be done about it. In 1830 Abolitionism was a pathetic minority movement that tried to survive in Maine and a few other northeastern states, and was resented and considered radical even by the North. The violent anti-abolitionist reaction to the formation of the American Anti-Slavery society reflected public opinion. It was not encouraging.
But, as is always the case in a good story, there were a few brave people who stood up to the tyranny, people who not only saw the evil of slavery as a crying shame, but had the foresight to realize that it must either be abolished or drag America down into moral and eventually social collapse. Enter John Quincy Adams, cast as the indomitable hero. After a long, productive life of celebrated public service, Adams, nicknamed ‘Old Man Eloquent’ returned to the House of Representatives at age sixty-three, to fight his final political battle.
Using the original transcripts of the Congressional proceedings, Miller tells how the change that started in the House of Representatives infected the rest of the country, and brought about a 180-degree transformation that was nothing short of miraculous. Full of wit and color, the story is told with lively characterization, wry humor that borders on comic relief, and plenty of historical context that makes the era come alive. In addition, we learn a great deal about the practical side of how Congress actually works, about rules and technicalities that are constantly being manipulated to serve a particular purpose.
The book doesn’t get to the Emancipation Proclamation or the Thirteenth Amendment. It ends with the overturning of the infamous gag-rule which had officially prevented discussion of slavery in Congress for years. It was the end of a long, tedious battle against the suppression of free speech and the right to question the moral justification of an accepted conventionality – the right to argue. It was the beginning of a much larger battle that would ultimately decide not only a massively important moral question, but also the destiny of millions of desperate human beings. But that battle could never have been fought if it weren’t for the movement that started in Congress with a few courageous men arguing about slavery.
French liberal theorist, Frederick Bastiat
The proper functions of government and principles of non-encroachment in the context of French liberal theorist Frederick Bastiat's groundbreaking work, The Law
(Posted by Shannon Lise on October 01, 2011)
In 1850 a French liberal theorist by the name of Frederic Bastiat wrote a short book called The Law. It is an extraordinarily unique work - certainly not your typical revolutionary doctrine - and it provides a simple, concise sketch of some fundamental principles of government. (You can read The Law for free! online here)
Reading it inspired me to put together a very brief compilation of what I have come to believe are some of the most important ideas about government.
History has painstakingly taught us that government in general is a necessary evil. There is no perfect government. Men are corrupt. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t need laws. But in the fallen state of mankind, enforced laws are necessary. There are some forms of government that are better than others, and it is worthwhile to figure out what those are. Most people think that the American republic is the best example so far of a national government. That is probably true. But, apart from being universally misunderstood, this monster which used to be called a republic is far from flawless and is screeching towards collapse at roller-coaster speed. Not quite an ideal. I think it would have worked out better and lasted longer if America’s Founders had incorporated some of these principles into the fabric of the government.
First off, to get at the root of the problem, we need to define ‘government.’ The words law and government have been used interchangeably, which is alright, but keep in mind that law is the practical application of moral principles and government is a social force. By its very nature, government is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense. Each of us have a natural, God-given right to defend - even by force - our person, liberty, and property. Those rights do not exist because men have made laws, but on the contrary, they are what have caused men to make laws. Therefore it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force for the constant, collective protection of these individual rights. This government does not intervene in private affairs, and its only duty is to protect men from each other, for the common safety of all. Man must accept the privileges and the responsibilities of his existence, having no argument with the government, and having no reason to blame or thank the government for anything.
The nature of law is to maintain justice, and no society can exist without respected laws to a degree. Law must not contradict morality. It is founded on morality. The myth that ‘we cannot legislate morality’ is false. What else can we legislate? For example, the reason we have traffic laws is so that accidents will not occur, because vehicular manslaughter is murder and murder is wrong.
As seen throughout the entire history of the world, mankind has a fatal tendency towards satisfying his needs and desires with the least possible pain or labor. This is the origin of plundering the products of the labor of others. The only thing that will keep man from plunder is when it becomes more painful than labor. The purpose of the government is to use the collective force to punish plunder and protect property.
Unfortunately, in practice, the government does not confine itself to its proper function. In fact, it often acts in direct opposition to its own purpose, annihilating the justice it is supposed to maintain, destroying the rights it is meant to respect. It has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous, who aim to exploit others. The imaginary ‘rights’ of the government is one of the biggest lies in the history of the world. If an individual cannot lawfully encroach upon the person, liberty or property of another individual, than neither can the government. This point cannot be overstressed. What right to authority or dominance do men collectively wield that they do not wield individually?
The government cannot operate without a dominating force; this force must be entrusted to one man or one class of men, who will nearly always try to use it to benefit themselves. Thus it is easy to understand how law is exploited and corrupted and morphs into a weapon of injustice. The few practice ‘legal’ plunder upon the many, until the victims of this plunder recognize their state, and according to their degree of enlightenment, seek either to bring an end to it, or to join it. When the latter attitude prevails and the masses rise up and seize the power of government themselves, chaos generally ensues, followed by universal injustice and a battle of classes.The proper function of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. It is a purely defensive, negative concept. It must be. People say that, if the law regulates justice, why shouldn’t it regulate labor, education, and religion? Because then it would be committing an injustice, destroying its first function. The law is force, imposing negation. Applying force to labor, education, or religion, or anything except justice, is destroying liberty - and justice. They tell us our doctrine has stopped at liberty, and should have gone on to fraternity. But that is false philanthropy. Enforced ‘fraternity’ destroys liberty. Justice is the only thing the law can enforce.
The republics of the world have been arguing about ‘universal suffrage’ for as long as we can remember. But if the Law were confined to its proper functions, then everyone’s interest in the law would be the same, and no one would have any reason for trying to control it, and those who voted could not inconvenience those who did not. Unfortunately that is not the case - the law has been perverted, and has taken it into its head to take property from one party and give it to another, under the pretence of organization, regulation, protection, etc. So now every one wants to participate, and every class must fight to control the government and the franchise, either to protect themselves from plunder or to use the law to plunder others. Perverted law causes conflict.
Perverted law, or legal plunder, has an infinite number of names. They call it tariffs, protections, encouragement, subsidies, public schools, minimum wages, guaranteed jobs, insurance, social security, etc. All of these are examples of the government violating its responsibility, acting outside its lawful functions.
People say that the law must take care of ‘charity,’ must protect and provide for people with no money. But the law is not a source of money. Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or class unless other citizens and classes have been compelled to put it there. There is no money outside society. The law cannot be an instrument of equalization unless it takes from some to give it to others, becoming an instrument of plunder.
People say that the law must be responsible for educating the poor. But the law is not a shining torch of learning. In society, some persons have knowledge while others do not. The law can do one of two things - permit a natural transaction of teaching and learning to operate freely, or force people to pay for government appointed teachers to instruct the ‘poor, uneducated.’ The latter is a violation of liberty and property.
Law is force, and it can only provide artificial unity and fraternity.
Socialism confuses the distinction between government and society. And just because some thing should not be done by the government, does not mean that they should not be done at all. Private organizations and individuals can do those things, without the use of force. That is the only difference between private and official. The government cannot be made to produce what it does not contain - wealth, science, religion, and the other things that constitute prosperity.
What is this concept of ‘liberty’ that all this political turmoil is focused on? It bears some definition. What else could it be, but the union of all liberties - liberty of conscience, education, association, travel, labor, trade, and the press? It is the freedom of everyone to make full use of his faculties, as long as he does not harm anyone else while doing so. It is the destruction of despotism. It is the restricting of the law to its rational sphere of organizing the right to lawful defense, of punishing injustice.
If law is confined to preventing injustice, what is the alternative? If we cannot apply law to conscience, education, labor, trade or association, then there are a hundred inherent risks in letting those things alone, with nothing to regulate them, and men will undoubtedly misuse and abuse their liberty in those areas. But that is still the best case scenario and the law still has no authority to regulate them until there is obvious injustice being committed. If we choose to surrender those rights to an absolute, arbitrary, invalid power, the situation is much worse.