Insights from “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William R. Shirer

I just finished listening to “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” from Audible and highly recommend it. It left me enlightened and frustrated. I gained a lot of insight and information from the writings of Shirer, who was a war-time correspondent living in Germany from the early 1930’s through the early days of World War II.  I think there are some essential lessons from this book that are necessary for our day. Some of these might be uncomfortable.

FIxing Things

This op-ed in the New York Times, and this other from the Economist, have me worried. They both describe an increasingly common view in America that “the other” is “evil” and that government as broken beyond repair to the point that violent revolution is an option. I don’t agree with everything in the news pieces, but I am worried because I know a lot of people who are so convinced government is the cause of all the problems in their lives that they tread into the ground of hatred and violence these editorials describes. I am worried because, to a degree, I share some economic views, some social views, and even some political concerns with the “nuts” the editorials writes about.

A Republic of the "Mass"

Thomas Jefferson, ever the democratic republican, believed that the safest repository of power was in the masses. The right to political power is always with the people, not with the representatives, and only when the masses exert that right will the power be effectively and appropriately checked. However, the masses are very easily swayed, mainly by three influences: 1) education, 2) forms, and 3) economics. When these influences are mal-aligned with liberty, the people allow their political power to be assumed by the aristocracy. And an unchecked aristocracy is the greatest threat to liberty, according to both John Adams and Jefferson.

Obama Speech Connects to the Founders

Obama Speech Connects to the Founders' Foreign Policy | Christopher Preble | Cato Institute: Commentary

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A New Beginning

This is what I have been waiting for. I don’t think he goes far enough with the non-violence idea, but it’s a start. Please read the entire thing. If Pres. Obama’s presidency accomplishes nothing else than changing the tone regarding U.S.-Islam relations, it will have shifted the world in a critical direction.

Freedom Precedes Virtue

The critical nature of virtue, both public and private, for the preservation of freedom is fundamental for conservatives and those who venerate the founders and read their writings. I would like to ask the inverse question: Is it Freedom that is essential for attaining Virtue?

Appropriating More than Man has a Right To Own

Lastly is the problem with our current economic system in the West: hoarding. Locke warns us of the mechanisms that exist to allow appropriation of more than we have a right to take from the common stock. These two mechanisms are money and the State.

The measure of property nature has well set by the extent of men’s
labour and the conveniencies of life: no man’s labour could subdue, or appropriate all; nor could his enjoyment consume more than a small part; so that it was impossible for any man, this way, to intrench upon the right of another, or acquire to himself a property, to the prejudice of his neighbour, who would still have room for as good, and as large a possession (after the other had taken out his) as before it was appropriated. This measure did confine every man’s possession to a very moderate proportion, and such as he might appropriate to himself, without injury to any body…But be this as it will, which I lay no stress on; this I dare boldly affirm, that the same rule of propriety, (viz.) that every man should have as much as he could make use of, would hold still in the world, without straitening any body; since there is land enough in the world to suffice double the inhabitants, had not the invention of money, and the tacit agreement of men to put a value on it, introduced (by consent) larger possessions, and a right to them; which, howit has done, I shall by and by shew more at large.

This is certain, that in the beginning, before the desire of having
more than man needed had altered the intrinsic value of things, which depends only on their usefulness to the life of man; or had agreed, that a little piece of yellow metal, which would keep without wasting or decay, should be worth a great piece of flesh, or a whole heap of corn; though men had a right to appropriate, by their labour, each one of himself, as much of the things of nature, as he could use: yet this could not be much, nor to the prejudice of others, where the same plenty was still left to those who would use the same industry. To which let me add, that he who appropriates land to himself by his labour, does not lessen, but increase the common stock of mankind: for the provisions serving to the support of human life, produced by one acre of inclosed and cultivated land, are (to speak much
within compass) ten times more than those which are yielded by an acre of land of an equal richness lying waste in common.

Thus the invention of money, although it facilitates exchange and allows economic growth to occur at a rapid rate, allows humans to store up their labor in a non-perishable manner and promotes the “appropriation” of more property (land or otherwise) than one can use, violating natural laws that place natural limits on the amount we use. This promotes abuse and exploitation of natural resources and, worse, of humanity.

Appropriation of extra land, as encouraged by the invention of money and promoted by the advent of the state (remember back to J-B. Say’s quote), also violates the natural limits that exist in Locke’s state of nature.

Before the appropriation of land, he who gathered as much of the wild fruit, killed, caught, or tamed, as many of the beasts, as he could; he that so imployed his pains about any of the spontaneous products of nature, as any way to alter them from the state which nature put them in, by placing any of his labour on them, did thereby acquire a propriety in them: but if they perished, in his possession, without their due use; if the fruits rotted, or the venison putrified, before he could spend it, he offended against the common law of nature, and was liable to be punished; he invaded his neighbour’s share, for he had no right, farther than his use called for any
of them, and they might serve to afford him conveniencies of life.

As long as our economic system uses money to promote the appropriation of more property than we can use we will continue to abuse and exploit, in violation of the laws of nature. As long as the State legislates in favor of the corporate interests (in the case of fascism) or monopolizes the means of production (in the case of the State socialism), humanity will be left without the liberty that God and nature give us.

Even more problematic is the rise of an international finance structure that unifies these two violations of natural law (money and the state) into a global structure that encroaches on liberty in almost insurmountable ways. Fighting against these structures in our choices as consumers, producers, workers, and citizens must be at the forefront of this battle to preserve liberty and opportunity for prosperity.

Land as Property

Locke next launches into the very difficult proposition of land as property. Somehow he sees land (ideally) as something that, like water (theoretically), is inexhaustible (a requisite for claiming something out of the common stock) and thereby rationalizes the ability of individuals to fence in land and claim it for their own.

The Purpose and "Bound" to Property

In my prior post regarding Locke’s ideas on property, I attempted to establish that property is, by nature, common to all man and that it become personal or private only by labor that separates that property unto the individual. A couple of further quotes will help to drive home Locke’s thoughts and position here:

Property and Economics: The Foundation of Politics

Both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes (and almost every other political philosopher) start their discussion from a state of nature. Locke’s state is one of liberty and love. Hobbes’ is a state of fear and war.

However, both opine that government is instituted in order to securitize property and peace. For Hobbes, the state of war that exists in the state of nature requires a Leviathan, an omnipotent entity, whom everyone else fears and to whom total sovereignty is granted in order that peace and security can exist.

For Locke, only if property is secure can human beings have the increased liberty that exists in a society to pursue further happiness and enjoy that liberty and life. And without a government established by consent of the majority that is able to secure life and property, one’s efforts are all spent trying to maintain what one has.