"Government means always coercion and compulsion and is by necessity the opposite of liberty." ~ Ludwig von Mises
History Repeats Itself: A Trip to Germany
Exclusive to STR
There is nothing like travel to remind us that “this happened before” – especially when it comes to examples of government running amok. I recently spent a few weeks in Germany, and I was reminded that individuals from that region are responsible for a staggering number of cultural contributions – in music, art, philosophy, theology, architecture, science and technology, literature, cuisine, and history writing. Even more, to a voluntaryist, it was refreshing to visit a place that already has gotten over its fling with National Socialism. At the same time, it saddens me that so many U.S. citizens are recreating the same abuses on this side of the Atlantic, but in a form that is purely A-mur-ican.
Despite Germany’s continuing embrace of flat-earth socialism, the place makes you feel young in small ways. There were actually cigarette vending machines out in the open! No bars or locks between you and those tasty cancer sticks! No health Nazis forbidding you to light up in a park or on a beach. I’m not a smoker, but back in San Diego, where people seem more concerned with what they put in their mouths than into their brains, the friendly neighborhood Gauleiter will throw you in the slammer for lighting up outdoors. And now that the Obamatons have delivered the Rosemary’s Baby of health care plans, our neighbors will poke their noses more deeply into our personal lives. After all, with everyone forced to subsidize everyone else’s lifestyle choices, socialists finally have an excuse to slip on those latex gloves and root around to their heart’s content where they would have no business going in a free society. Hint: socialism (whether left or right) really means not respecting personal boundaries.
My wife and I also noticed a refreshing lack of intrusive physical barriers in high places – the kind intended to keep you from taking a flying leap into the void. While there are plenty of barrier-free places in the United States, they are becoming rare outside of wilderness locations. Buildings are now so festooned with litigation-proof vantage points that architectural design has more to do with insurability than inspiration. I remember my first European rooftop experience at Salisbury Cathedral in England. I walked around the perimeter of the roof nearly 100 feet off the ground in gale-force winds. The only barrier was a calf-high rail that was more likely to trip you than stop a fall. In Germany, you can have similar experiences – most notably at Castle Trifels, where King Richard I (Lionheart) of England was imprisoned and held for ransom in 1193 as he returned from the Third Crusade. What? You thought Dubya and Obama were the first to carry out missions to “fix” people in far-away places? Too bad they can’t meet the same fate as Richard – and lose the key.
There was even an example that property rights were held in higher esteem under the Prussian monarchy than under our democratic republic with its monopolistic “legal decider,” the U.S. Supreme Court. Remember the 2005 Supreme Court ruling on Kelo v. City of New London, Connecticut? In that infamous case, the city of New London, Connecticut had condemned and seized the homes and property of Suzette Kelo and her neighbors in the 1990s. The purpose was to proceed with a community redevelopment plan – transferring ownership from Ms. Kelo to the pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, which sought to build a research and development facility on the land. It was yet another instance of socialist-corporate group “rights” trampling genuine individual rights. The excuse was economic growth. You know: jobs, jobs, jobs. And the Supreme Court bought it – violating Ms. Kelo’s right to hold property. Fortunately, Karma bit the greedy politicians of New London in the ass – good and hard. As of late 2009 (and at the time of this essay), the land remains vacant and covered with weeds. Pfizer’s project never materialized, and New London politicians are weeping over the loss of hoped-for tax revenues. Cry me a river. In contrast with the Kelso ruling, a case settled in 1787 between King Frederick the Great (Frederick II, 1712-1786) of Prussia and a miller named Grävenitz provides a happier outcome from a voluntaryist perspective. Herr Grävenitz had built a windmill on his own land in 1738. He used the power harnessed by the windmill blades to grind grain in the mill located below. Years later, beginning in 1744, King Frederick began to build the summer palace called Sanssouci. Unfortunately, the new palace blocked the flow of wind to the mill. Herr Grävenitz took the king to court and won a lawsuit requiring the king to purchase a new mill for Grävenitz, which he did in 1787. The triumph of a private citizen over a monarch adds weight to the argument made by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in his book, Democracy: the God That Failed. There, Hoppe makes the point that democracy is a more dangerous (and spendthrift) form of government than monarchy. Why? Because the false – but nonetheless widespread – belief in the intrinsic rectitude of democracy (vox populi, vox dei) encourages people to act in ways that are more despotic that most monarchs would ever dare. Among other examples, Hoppe points to the bloody 20th Century (the “century of democracy”) as proof of his thesis.
One of the most moving examples of the suffering caused by government, however, was the devastation – both moral and physical – symbolized by two examples of German religious architecture. The first and by far the oldest was the church of Saint Servatius at Quedlinburg. Completed in the late 11th century (but consecrated later), the crypt of St. Servatius once held the remains of Henry I of Saxony, founder of the Ottonian dynasty (named after his son, Otto I). It is important to recall that Hitler’s National Socialist regime was fond of portraying itself as the Third Reich. Use of the term helped to legitimize Nazi rule by reaching into the past and linking the regime to the revered First Reich (the Holy Roman Empire of Otto I, which claimed sovereignty from 962-1806) and the Second Reich (1871-1918) founded by Otto von Bismarck. With such a strong link to the German state (or Reich), it should not surprise us that on February 6, 1938, the superintendent of the church was forced to hand over the keys to the German SS. In what is considered the building’s darkest chapter, St. Servatius was converted into a Nazi place of worship until the end of the World War II. We can only ask: Are the many war-mongering churches in the United States – with their “Support the Troops” and “God Bless America” slogans – really so different? They symbolize the moral implosion of organized Christianity and its surrender to the welfare-warfare state. In San Diego, a nearby Roman Catholic parish (and it has plenty of Protestant company) regularly solicits prayers for the troops and for Obamacare (that is, before its passage by the U.S. Insane Asylum Congress). Today’s catechism apparently dispenses with the Fifth Commandment (Thou shalt not kill), the Seventh (Thou shalt not steal), the Tenth (Thou shalt not covet…), and the Second (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain). While I am not a Christian, I must ask: What is this new and improved type of Christianity that turns its own ethics completely upside down? Antichrist, anyone?
The second example of state-induced religious devastation was provided by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Built in the 1890s, it was nearly destroyed by the allies during World War II along with the rest of the city. Its ruins have been preserved to remind us of the murderous price of state-sponsored conflict resolution, sometimes known as war. Just as the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church was destroyed by the allies during a bombing raid, the World Trade Center was attacked in retaliation for the war waged in the Middle East by the U.S. government for nearly 50 years: (1) by providing economic and military aid to the state of Israel against the Palestinians, (2) engaging in the military occupation of Muslim holy places such as Mecca and Medina, and (3) enforcing an embargo against Iraq, which by 1996 had caused the death of more than 500,000 children. If you recall, President Clinton’s United Nations Ambassador, Madeleine Albright, told Lesley Stahl during an interview on the program, 60 Minutes, that “the price is worth it.”
The destruction of the German church and of the World Trade Center are metaphors for what happens when people adopt a hollowed-out philosophy of socialism and nationalism – waging war against neighbors both at home and abroad. The consequence is always the same: utter ruin, an outward reflection of an ethical vacuum within. And now that Obama has replaced Dubya, many previously anti-war Democrats have made their peace with mass murder. In effect, they made a deal with the Devil and engaged in a bit of bloody “political calculus.” How? They elected Obama on the questionable grounds that he was pro-peace, but what they really wanted was increased spending on social programs. To these Democrats, as with Ms. Albright, the victory of Obamacare made it “worth the price” paid by the growing pile of innocent victims in Afghanistan and Iraq as Obama continues the wars that – quite correctly – made Dubya a war criminal. How about yet another definition of socialism: making other people pay a price for something you want.