by Locker Room contributor
I realize I am likely in the minority on this, but the speech by Lew Rockwell, noted this week in the Locker Room, leaves much to be desired. There is certainly nothing wrong with his desire for freedom, and free markets–I agree and support such a goal. As Larry Kudlow says every week night: free markets are the best path to prosperity.
The problem with Rockwell is that he is not careful enough in some of his distinctions. Example–he writes this:
In the end,
this is what it always comes down to for the state: the
of its own power. Everything it does, it does to secure
and to forestall the diminution of its power. I submit to
everything else you hear, in the end, is a cover for that
power requires the cooperation of public culture. The
for power must convince the citizens. This is why the
be alert to the status of public opinion. This is also why
must always encourage fear among the population for what
be like in the absence of the state.
philosopher who did more than anyone else to make this
was not Marx nor Keynes nor Strauss nor Rousseau. It was
philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who laid out a compelling
vision of the
nightmare of what life is like in the absence of the
state. He described
such life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
society, he wrote, was a society of conflict and strife, a
in which no one is safe.
during the English civil war, and his message seemed
But, of course, the conflicts in his time were not the
natural society, but rather over the control of leviathan
So his theory of causation was skewed by circumstance,
akin to watching
a shipwreck and concluding that the natural and universal
of man is drowning.
Hobbesianism is the common element of both left and right.
sure, the fears are different, stemming from different
sets of political
values. The left warns us that if we don’t have leviathan,
yards will be flooded from rising oceans, big business
rob us blind, the poor will starve, the masses will be
and everything we buy will blow up and kill us. The right
that in the absence of leviathan society will collapse in
of immorality lorded over by swarthy terrorists preaching a
Not quite. Leaving aside his tendency to conspiracy theory, in fact, if anyone opines the core of Hobbesianism, it is Rockwell, for his thought is entirely all about power and considerations of power–just like Hobbes, and his teacher Machiavelli. A further problem is that Rockwell seems to think the State is a person, an entity. So did Hobbes. In the first few chapters of Leviathan, Hobbes argues that the State is an imitation of Nature, and more powerful than Nature. In the end, Hobbes thinks men are motivated by self-interest. Does Rockwell deny the power of self-interest? Regardless, in his views of the state, he thinks of the State like any progressive thought of the State–a living organism that breathes and thinks for itself in a near Epicurean way in order to aggrandize its pleasure. The State does not seek to do X. In reality, people who believe in the power of the State (progressivism, etc) do X. I could continue, but does Rockwell believe that there is more to human life than self-interest? If not, then he is, at his core, in agreement with Hobbes–and even Marx.
More curious is his lumping of Leo Strauss in with Marx and Rousseau. Seriously? Strauss has little in common with the historicists he mentions, and it is a slander to suggest so. Strauss never assented to the conclusions of Marx or Rousseau, much less Hegel. Indeed, he believed that America was the last best hope for the West in terms of preserving freedom. He opened his Natural Right and History with a generous nod to the Declaration of Independence. Does Rockwell disagree there are rights we hold by Nature? Strauss’s body of work is loathe to suggest that history, or mere self-interest, had anything to do with the preservation of liberty. He also, as Harry Jaffa has noted, spent his life in a blistering critique of modernity. Placing Strauss in a list of modernists, then, is irresponsible at best. Strauss, after escaping Hitler’s Germany, arrived in the United States thankful for its existence.
If we follow Rockwell’s logic, there is no teaching in freedom in nearly the first 2000 of western civilization until…Bastiat? Sadly, Rockwell, has more in common with the people he rightly critiques, than Strauss.