Sunday, August 15, 2004

On the Birthday of Napoleon

“There is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous.”

– Napoleon Bonaparte

Today celebrates the birthday of Napoleon, who was born this day in 1769. Napoleon, of all the modern tyrants, seems to me to be in some ways the most sympathetic. Napoleon was a great legal reformer. Not since times Byzantine had a ruling sovereign so systematically endeavored to return society and government to heel under the rule of law. And by reviving Roman law, which had in so many respects lapsed during the age of absolute monarchy, Napoleon helped to rebuild for France and for Europe a solid foundation from which individuals, and indeed civilization could thrive. That reform continues to bear his name: “The Napoleonic Code.” On the other hand, much of this is owed to Napoleon’s march of conquest across the Continent, where he sowed his legal seed along the way. But then I suppose in a cosmic sense nothing comes without a price.

Napoleon’s rise to power was directly related to the chaos and lawlessness facilitated by a string of corrupt and uncontrollable governments during and following the French Revolution. Anyone who has studied this era of European history understands that two of the primary forces driving the French Revolution were taxes and forced prohibition against social mobility. In other words, the people were tired of getting fleeced, and were unwilling to accept a situation where they could not hope and work for a better lot in life. Only governments can impose such restrictions, and we should remember that they do so at the point of the bayonet.

Engaging in speculative history is futile at best. But I imagine that had ole’ Louis cut certain taxes and removed the exclusion of ordinary people from achieving wealth and rank, (i.e. he allowed the people to rise or fall socially under their own private labors) not only would the French Revolution never have happened, but the monarchy would likely have survived in some form even to today. Of course, then we would have no reason to celebrate the birthday of Napoleon, who today would have turned 235.

Napoleon Bonaparte

(1769 – 1821)

R.I.P.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

On Olympic Games, World Community, and the Nation State

As the 2004 Olympiad races off in all its banner waving glory, I am stuck by two somewhat contradictory notions. First is the notion of world community. I suspect that anyone who watched the opening ceremonies on television could not help but to be caught up in the excitement of these countless peoples being brought together to this one place; marching in step not as to war, but in peace and celebration. Men and women who on the battlefield would consider one other his mortal enemy compete instead on a field of athletic excellence. And one could be forgiven for buying into the tired commentary of journalists better suited to newsroom sound bites than rhetorical eloquence who call all humanity to see in ourselves the potential for peaceful coexistence and community.

And yet, simultaneously I note that these many and varied faces – Mongolian and Montenegrin, Angolan and Argentinian, Jewish and Jamaican – are still marched under their government’s flag. Even in the midst of one of the greatest showings of world community man is nonetheless segregated into his nation state of origin. Libertarians, for the most part, envisage a world where governments are all but irrelevant, or at least are invisible to the course of normal daily life. What this year’s Olympic opening ceremony shows me is that far from being a world community, we are at present a world of national communities. I suppose it is only fitting in the context of my remarks here that this Olympiad be held in Athens; for ancient Greece, the seat of western civilization, refined democracy (Athens) and communism (Sparta) thousands of years ago. The common thread running through both is the individual’s subordinance to the state. And the Olympic tradition of representing nations and countries, not individuals, seems to me to perpetuate that belief of state first, self second.

As long as the notion of individual submission to all-powerful government survives, there can never be such a thing as a world community, for the very nature of governments precludes it. There is a significant difference between the notions of world community and world government. Far too many commentators do not seem to make this distinction. Man does not merely need to be bound to a New World Order or some other governmental structure like it. Rather, what people everywhere need is the freedom to interact with one another without the constant threat of coercion from tax collectors, regulative commanders, and self-appointed moralists.

We should unreservedly embrace those things that build bridges and facilitate peace between us. But let us not be too eager to embrace those things that merely serve to bind us to one form of government over another, from a local bureaucracy to another less local one. Let us embrace instead the spirit of the Olympiad, where all men on the earth are free to compete together, each allowing the invisible hand to guide him. In this season of commemoration and celebration, we should not loose sight of the fact that the Olympics give us a veiled glimpse of the kind of future that all men could well have, should he but decide to seize upon it.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Welcome to Great Ron

Thank you for taking the time to join us. As the heading proclaims this blog is dedicated to social criticism in the tradition of Albert Jay Nock and H.L. Mencken, both of who were instrumental in helping to keep alive ideals which had in their day come to be held outdated and obsolete. In the face of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and a time of great social upheaval, these men made imaginative use of the journalistic mediums of the day – namely newspapers and magazines – to challenge readers to renew their skepticism of power and authority, and essentially to rediscover within themselves something they had signed away: autonomy. Take note: this is not an anarchist blog. But this author does hold to a minimalist view of government, and the blog will no doubt reflect that view.

Blogging, it has become clear, is the journalistic medium of the decade. Frankly, I wasn’t quite convinced that the blog would survive; suspecting that it was more like the Iomega zip disk technology, which while taking up space on my desktop serves to provide no practical function. Also of concern to me was the niche-oriented nature of blogs, which seems to appeal only to very limited audiences. But alas, as the market share of online journalism continues to grow, and as major news outlets place greater and greater attention to their online presence, it seems increasingly likely that blogs are here to stay. It seems fitting, then, that I too should launch out into the world of online information, and that I should make use of so adaptable a platform as the blog through which to do so.

You may find that I experiment with the structure of this blog from time to time. The profile of a blog reader is often quite different from one who reads print material only. I may therefore endeavor occasionally to retool this blog in an effort to be as effective and as informative as possible. I greatly appreciate your patience as we explore this new world together. My pledge to you is to provide a quality blog with thoughtful and intelligent reflection on the world around us, and writing that is commensurate with the reading level of the educated public. The quality of too many blogs languishes as a result of low-ball writing and poor use of language. I hope that you come to expect a high standard of excellence here at Great Ron, and that you find yourself returning again and again.

Once more, thank you for joining us.

-Ron