Economic historian and libertarian scholar Robert Higgs appeared on C-SPAN2’s Book TV, in a virtuoso performance arguing for peace and liberty, and is rewarded with hate mail demanding that he kill himself and one lunatic caller who calls Higgs (what else) a fascist apologist for Wall Street and despiser of the poor, and accusing him of shamelessness. (In fact, Higgs like all Austrian economists has argued against bailouts of Wall Street and has critiqued our corporatist economic system as “participatory fascism”.) The mixture of vehemence and ignorance of the callers to this program are incredible, and an occasion (for me, at least) for despair. Meanwhile, Obama promises to salve everyone’s wounds with no new ideas whatsoever, and has lady liberal columnists fantasizing about him in the shower and Hollywood fashion-plates pledging unconditional obedience to his every whim. Who seem more like the real fascists today?
The Book TV callers and Higgs’ hate e-mailers remind me of an H.L. Mencken quote (I’ve quoted this two other places recently, and might as well do it here as well) from “The Beloved Turnkey” in 1923:
The fact is that the average man’s love of liberty is nine-tenths imaginary, exactly like his love of sense, justice, and, truth. He is not actually happy when free; he is uncomfortable, a bit alarmed, and intolerably lonely. Liberty is not a thing for the great masses of men. It is the exclusive possession of a small and disreputable minority, like knowledge, courage, and honor. It takes a special sort of man to understand and enjoy liberty- and is usually an outlaw in democratic societies. It is, indeed, only the exceptional man who can even stand it. The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe. . . .
Except that the government does not really keep anybody safe nor, in the long run, prosperous. I’ve been listening a lot lately to the History of Rome podcast, and I see parallels everywhere. I am convinced that the tyrannical and warlike nature of the state never has nor will ever change, and neither will the appetite of the plebeian masses for bread and circuses (despite the fact that their bad lot is rooted in the control of the state apparatus by the entrenched patrician class). The two feed each other.