A little while ago, I had the pleasure to step in as an Ambassador for the Mises Institute and receive the Roland Baader Prize on behalf of Lew Rockwell, as he unfortunately wasn’t able to travel to Germany due to health issues.
He received this prestigious prize for his life-time achievements from the Institute for Austrian Asset Management, founded by my friend Steffen Krug in Hamburg. The commendation speech was given by another old friend, Rahim Taghizadegan, who founded a “real academy” called Scholarium in Vienna. All winners of the Roland Baader prize have been great personalities and individual thinkers, basing their ideas on classic-liberalism and the principles of Austrian Economics, without ever compromising them. All of the prize winners have also been influenced by the great German philosophers of the enlightenment such as Immanuel Kant. So, Lew Rockwell definitely belongs to this wonderful circle of liberty minded champions.
With the opportunity of the Roland Baader prize, I attempted to summarize the speech of Lew Rockwell with some thoughts from my side, in an article that might serve as a reminder of the values and principles that make such occasions, and such people, so important.
Lew talked about how together with Mises’s widow, Margit, they had the idea to start the Mises Institute. After her husband’s death, she wanted to make sure his works stayed in print and continued to be translated into other languages. She agreed to be involved and to share her counsel as long as Lew pledged to dedicate the rest of his life to the Institute. As we all know, he has kept that pledge.
When Murray Rothbard was told about the proposed institute, he applauded and said, he would do whatever was necessary to support it. Ron Paul also agreed to become the distinguished counsellor and was a huge help in securing early funding, as well as in being an inspiration through his ideas and character.
Murray would later say, “Without the founding of the Mises Institute, I am convinced the whole Misesian program would have collapsed.” Of course, we can’t know how things would have turned out had we made different choices. Lew simply wanted to do what he could, with the help of dear friends, to support the Austrian School during some very dark times, and he was prepared to let the chips fall where they may. They promoted and kept in print the works of Mises, the Nobel Prize-winning works of F.A. Hayek, and the indispensable catalogue of Murray Rothbard. Beyond that, they’ve made available to the world, free of charge, an enormous library of the most brilliant and important works ever written on Austrian economics and libertarian theory. Through the years, the aim of the Mises Institute, was always to introduce students to the thought of Mises and his great student Murray Rothbard, and to spread their sound ideas that are perhaps today more relevant than ever.
Lew also spoke about Roland Baader’s strongest principles – the importance of sound money, something he learned from Mises. Both of them knew that man can only be free if he enjoys private property rights and a monetary system that allows him to save, with the certainty that his money will appreciate and not depreciate over time and that its value is not up to the willfulness of man. Lew recalled that Murray used to say “The dollar is just a unit of weight, dammit!”.
Something Baader and Mises also had in common was their picture of a sound family. They saw that the radical feminist movement was just another form of the old political doctrine “Divide et Impera” and as a result, defended the natural family model strongly. What they clearly understood and defended was the importance of the family as a fundament for a sound society: The natural process of a man and a woman that fall in love with each other and decide to have children together, to raise them with parental love and responsibility and guide them on their journey to become self-determined, free thinking individuals. This is what Baader, Mises but also Rockwell found essential for a healthy society. Now let me ask you, what is wrong with this picture and the values linked with it? In a world were man does not feel obliged to protect his family, any attempt at civilization is doomed.
Traditional family values today are often shouted down as old-fashioned at best, or as oppressive and even fascist at worst, judged as toxic and “extreme” by our intellectual elites. It is sad to see that the decade-long propaganda by the government, the media and the education system, has left deep tracks in the minds of the people. Willfully blind to the long-term consequences, people keep buying into a political agenda that focuses on denigrating those natural family values and they have been indoctrinated to look at every topic from the perspective of the oppressed looking for an oppressor.
Parents are downgraded to so-called “caretakers” and the child is claimed as the property of the state. Just think about the fact that you have to send your child to school; if you don’t, they will come after you. Even if you want to travel with your family outside the official holiday season, it is hard (in some European countries even illegal) to get your children out of school. Imagine, it is your child, your responsibility, and even if you have a perfect, model family, still the government has more “parenting” power and rights than you do. This says a lot about individual freedom and the lack of self-ownership and self-responsibility. For if we can’t look after ourselves, how can we take care of others?
Whenever politics is involved in public discourse, with the goal of creating political minorities or any other form of mascot identity group, one of the key motivations is to get funding by the taxpayers. Whenever people are forced to give up a part of the fruit of their labor for something they do not even want to have or for the benefit of another group, it automatically and predictably creates conflict and division. This is of course the mechanism of the old Marxist doctrine of constant class struggle. It just continues under a different name. By imposing this strategy on us, we only see collective groups and the individual does not count for anything – despite the fact that the smallest minority is the individual. Nevertheless, this divisive strategy keeps us busy fighting amongst each other and leaves no time or energy to question why we are fighting in the first place and who is really benefiting from it? So distracted we are by symptoms, we forget about the disease itself.
Lew quoted Mises and his thoughts against the radical feminist movement: “So far as Feminism seeks to adjust the legal position of woman to that of man, so far as it seeks to offer her legal and economic freedom to develop and act in accordance with her inclinations, desires, and economic circumstances — so far it is nothing more than a branch of the great liberal movement, which advocates peaceful and free evolution. When, going beyond this, it attacks the institutions of social life under the impression that it will thus be able to remove the natural barriers, it is a spiritual child of Socialism. For it is a characteristic of Socialism to discover in social institutions the origin of unalterable facts of nature, and to endeavor, by reforming these institutions, to reform nature.”
For Mises, the feminist drive to abolish the family rested on a total misconception of the place of women in society. Nevertheless, he always firmly believed and demonstrated, that unencumbered by husband and children, a woman is to move freely, act freely, and live for herself and to strive for the development of her own personality. It is not marriage which keeps woman inwardly unfree and there is no human law to prevent the woman who looks for happiness in a career from renouncing love and marriage. However, these days, we see a deep corruption in the societal values that would safeguard this very freedom of choice and self-determination: With the hypocrisy of radical feminism in full swing, women’s choices are today not expanded, but limited. The choice to have and to raise children, to nurture and to protect them and to be a Mother, over having a career and dedicating her life to making it to the corner office, makes a woman a pariah and a gender traitor. It seems by the perverse standards of this latest feminist wave and the intellectual elite that props it up, women have freedom of choice, only as long as the choice is approved by the moral guardians that know what’s best for her.
Lew went on to highlight that the Mises Institute largely owes its success to the fact that it acts as an inspiration to all sorts of people who dig for the truth. For people from all backgrounds who just want, like Rothbard, to learn as much as possible and who would never have the intellectual arrogance to believe that we know all that we need to know. The Mises Institute and the people who stand behind it follow this model because for them, “a trip through the world of ideas is more exciting and exhilarating than the grandest excursion to the seven wonders of the world, more daring and adventurous than wild game hunting, and far more momentous than any moon shot”. They also demonstrate a rare kind of fearlessness in speaking the truth, much like Rothbard did. He never let fear of colleagues, fear of the profession, fear of editors or political cultures, stand in the way of his desire to say what he thought was true.
Like Mises, Rothbard had no use for the left. He challenged so-called “left libertarians” on an issue that will be of special interest to a German audience, immigration. Shortly before his death, Murray published an article called “Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation State.” He had begun rethinking the assumption that libertarianism committed us to open borders. He noted, for instance, the large number of ethnic Russians whom Stalin settled in Estonia. This was not done so that Baltic people could enjoy the fruits of diversity. It never is. It was done in an attempt to destroy an existing culture, and in the process to make a people more docile and less likely to cause problems for the Soviet empire.
With this in mind, perhaps people should question today who is driving the mass migration agenda; is it the people or is it the government? Why do we bomb countries for decades, support and build up their corrupt regimes, kill innocent civilians en masse, and now have the exact same governments that wreaked havoc in these lands pose as the humanitarian saviors of the very people they destroyed? Furthermore, as one might imagine, it’s only a matter of time before many of the new arrivals realize that the promises they believed in and their dreams of a bright future are far removed from the reality on the ground, in an increasingly hostile environment, with growing social friction and the emergence of parallel societies. Forced tolerance, much like forced integration, is an absurdity and however desirable both tolerance and integration might be in a healthy society, they only worth anything if they are voluntarily embraced. By ignoring the people’s will, those voices who don’t want to have such a migration flood and then be forced to pay for it, governments fueled dangerous tensions on all sides. As Rothbard wondered: does libertarianism require me to support this, much less to celebrate it? And he provided the answer too: in a fully private-property society, people would have to be invited onto whatever property they traveled through or settled on.
Lew quoted Murray by saying: “If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group, or corporation, this would mean that no person could enter unless invited to and allowed to rent or purchase property. A totally privatized country would be as closed as the particular property owners desire. It seems clear, then, that the regime of open borders that exists de facto in the U.S. and Western Europe really amounts to a compulsory opening by the central state, the state in charge of all streets and public land areas and does not genuinely reflect the wishes of the proprietors”.
Therefore, the conclusion when it comes to the current migration crisis is that it should not be a government task, it can only work on a private level. If someone really wants to help, he then must accept and take over the responsibilities that come with it. This would be a human act, to invite and welcome someone into your home. However, you can’t invite people and force others to pay for it.
Lew also expanded into the fight of certain libertarian groups that attack authorities of all kind. It is definitely true that libertarians have a fundamental tendency to reject or at least be suspicious of all authority and too often place matter before spirit. I know this from my own experience. However, I can only suggest to read Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher and champion of the age of the Enlightenment. He made me understand what “spirit creates matter and not the other way around” meant. Spirit stands for a loving entity that has created this world and men in such perfection, that we can think on our own and use reason to manage our life. We see that when a child is born, it is not just a piece of meat, instead it is a conscious human being with a free will. It is reason that distinguishes us from animals. If you read Marx it is obvious that he believed in the exact opposite. He thought matter creates spirit – therefore you can breed humans, manage them and “guide” them like cattle and by using constant class struggles you can create the new communist breed of man.
This brings me to the final point, which I hope can serve as a “roadmap” of sorts, on how to solve problems in the future. As you might know, I am a Swiss citizen. In our founding Myth of 1291, there is one quote, that reads as follows:
“We want to be free, as our fathers were,
And rather die than live in slavery.
We want to trust in the one highest God
And never be afraid of human power” (or I call it “never submit to the rule of man over men”)
Switzerland and its history are the best example of how a decentralized system, based on the principles of subsidiarity, can and does work. It worked for hundreds of years already. Switzerland was the highest industrialized country on mainland Europe, even before the Confederation was implemented in 1848. The economy was everywhere and politics nowhere. Switzerland became a successful country, because of armed neutrality and sovereignty and most importantly, by decentralizing and limiting as much as possible the rule of man over men. Therefore, Switzerland is the best example for a freer society, based on the spirit of self-determination, private property rights, freedom of speech and with the understanding that “government can’t give you what it has stolen from someone else”. Switzerland needed, because of its decentralized structures, a culture of debate, openly discussing and fully understanding the power and importance of the free competition of ideas. We have proven that it makes sense to allow people more self-determination and to allow them organize freely in communities or states. If someone wants to live in a town that espouses the virtues of socialism and they have to sing the international anthem every morning, then it should be allowed. Whoever likes the sound of that can join, whoever doesn’t can move to a different town, that embraces different ideas and systems. Let the competition begin, by moving away from a centralized government and allowing people to have options. Allow ideas to compete with each other. This would be the first step into the right direction. I personally expect that in the future, people will gather together on a level of municipalities to form their own system of society, based on the ideas all the people on the local level consent to. We can organize everything on the lowest level.
Let me conclude by saying, a true libertarian is first of all not a label or group, instead he or she is a true individual, trying to think independently, without another person’s guidance. And secondly, he or she has understood that we can debate and agree to disagree. A true libertarian understands that we can only win hearts and minds by bringing better ideas and better arguments to any intellectual, political or economic challenge. A true libertarian opposes any kind of aggression and is able to entertain a thought without accepting it. A true libertarian does not seek political power to force others to agree with him and solves problems not with violence, but through debate, free dialogue and reason and by adhering to the golden rule. A true libertarian also has no problem with natural authority, which he considers a precious model for individual development. Therefore, he favors natural authority and culture over crude power. Most importantly, a true libertarian has understood that man is never “a means to an end, but the end in and of himself”.
Lew Rockwell shines bright as an exceptional individual spirit, whose words, ideas and efforts to spread them have left an indelible mark on many people’s hearts and minds, continually encouraging and inspiring more free thinkers on their own journey to the truth. He has dedicated his life to Mises and to the better ideas and he has reached millions of people around the globe. For 35 years, he never made any compromises and it doesn’t look like he’ll start any time soon. Nobody is perfect but man, what a great champion of freedom and a natural-born leader Lew Rockwell is. Thank you very much for your inspiration and guidance for so many years towards the goal of a free society.
Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland
Ambassador Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama