"'Any day is a good day to fight for liberty'," by Ronald N. Neff, part five

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TOC for Neff's article.

The two Americas

I first learned of Walter Karp when a copy of his essay "Republican Virtues," reprinted by the Council for a Competitive Economy under the title "Republic or Nation? Defining America," fell into my hands. [12]

Probably more than any other essay, it breathes with Karp's love of liberty and his rejection of state worship. He understood perfectly the artificial patriotism of flag-worship, of military drill, and of nationalism. Above all, he recognized that state worship was inextricably bound to a "large" foreign policy. Recognizing that nationalism can express itself only in international activity, he always sided with the American republic against the American nation.

He understood also that it was in education that citizens will first meet one or the other of the two Americas. He saw that the modern school was designed to keep the republic a stranger to them, and to acquaint them rather with the nation and teach them to acquiesce in its demands:

The educational establishment is not even content to produce passive minds. It seeks passive spirits as well. One effective agency for producing these is the overly populous school. The larger schools are, the more prison-like they tend to be. In such schools, guards man the stairwells and exits. ID cards and "passes" are examined at checkpoints. Bells set off spasms of anarchy and bells quell the student mob. PA systems interrupt regularly with trivial fiats and frivolous announcements. This "malevolent intruder" ... is truly ill willed, for the PA system is actually an educational tool. It teaches the huge student mass to respect the authority of disembodied voices and the rule of remote and invisible agencies. (BA, p. 57)

Large schools create passive and compliant minds, and that, Karp says, is their chief reason for being. (BA, p. 57) Men intend the foreseeable consequences of their actions.

The hope for restoring liberty and republican virtue, Karp thought, lay in a radical extension of local government to make politics "visible" again, though it is unclear whether he understood that that was not possible unless federal funds were cut off from local governments. He recognized the possibility that ward-type government could yield worse policies than rule by usurpers — indeed, that to say "that the citizenry will prove themselves wise, vigilant, and liberty-loving would, of course, be fatuous." (IE+, p. 310) But he was confident that the probability of evil outcomes could be immeasurably reduced by a proper republican education, "the very core and spine" of which must be history, political history,

that vast and wonderful stage of public action, which reveals what is most noble and most vile in men, which discloses the scope of man's power over forces and processes, which displays ambition under all its shapes, which tells stories of the death of kings and of republics. Such stories ... would be far more interesting to the young, just as they would be far more instructive, than the prancing of Dick and Jane, the "evolution of transportation" and the whole farrago of "social studies" which is now obliterating the very idea of political history from the minds of the young in accordance with the oligarchs' fundamental pedagogical commandment: thou shalt not be taught what free men must know. (IE+, p. 312)

Karp also believed that only local control could secure such an education, and although there is a danger that, in this or that community, education will be stifled, like liberty itself, "the evils which flow from the ignorance of free men are far less injurious than the miseducation carried out by general and deliberate policy." (IE+, p. 313) By "local control" he did not mean free-market schooling, but he did not confuse it with a centralized program of "vouchers," either.


Any day ...

From this brief examination, it would be easy to infer that Karp was just another leftist himself, susceptible to so many of the traps into which other critics of Power fall. But he avoids them almost without noticing that they are there, just by having cultivated habits of thought not compatible with them.

Thus, was he mesmerized by Robert Kennedy? Listen: "What was truly singular about Robert Kennedy [is that] he aroused extravagant political hopes while standing opposed to all that was best and most promising in his day." (BA, p. 191)

Could popular causes tempt him to abandon his? "It is a crime now in forty-three states to drive a car while carrying 0.1 percent alcohol in one's blood.... Not a crime to do something, but a crime to be something — the bearer of criminal blood...." (LUS, p. 217)

Was he taken in by New Deal-type programs? "New Deal ... farm legislation aimed at relieving farmers of their chronic plight, which it actually did by the final solution of relieving them of their farms." (IE+, p. 111)

How about World War II? "From the time of William McKinley to the present ... America has waged five wars and in none of them did we fight for a clear-cut national interest of the kind diplomatic historians recognize in the affairs of nation-states.... There is not a single modern American war that the oligarchs could not have readily avoided had they chose." (IE+, pp. 242, 245)


Unlike POW and IE, LUS lacks the kind of footnotes a reader of political history might want, and certainly an index would have been welcome. Both would have helped readers perceive a little more certainly what Karp had already perceived so clearly. Such co-perception is greatly to be desired, for in his perception of the world, Walter Karp saw many things free men are not supposed to see, things that Power would prefer remain hidden. When I agree with him, I find that he has stated a position and reasons for it in a way that I should never have thought of. When I disagree with him, I find that his position and reasons are more wonderfully interesting and instructive than much of what I might agree with elsewhere.

And whether there is a possibility of one's living to see liberty flourish, as he thought, or not, as I think, he was indisputably right in this: "Any day is a good day to fight for liberty."

Posted June 17, 2002

© 2002 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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