A Well-regulated Militia

The time is approaching when we will be compelled by an act of Congress to register our firearms.

We are continually reminded that “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That part is clear to everyone except those promulgating law in Washington, D.C. Few people, though, understand what is meant by the first part of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Let’s begin with an account of a genuine muster of the well-regulated militia:

The four pages of text in these images (following the title page of the book from which they are copied) give a brief illustration of the reason for the much-misunderstood Second Amendment.  Ezekiel Porter, mentioned on the second page, was my fourth-great-grandfather, by the way.

This excerpt describes the forming of the militia in Farmington, Franklin County, Maine, which at the time was in Kennebec County, Massachusetts.  They had good reason to become “well-regulated” and they were expected to use their privately-owned guns.  Yes, those guns were simple black-powder muskets, long rifles, and pistols and, in the event of an invasion, those citizens would come up against the same sorts of weapons they themselves owned plus a few cannons that the invaders could drag with them.  There was no standing army in the USA of 1790.  And this militia, described in the History of Farmington and comprised of capable men of the area towns, was smart to train for battle, because the British surely did come back and invade the United States in the war of 1812.

The Constitution provides for a navy, but it specifically prohibits a standing army for a period of longer than two years.  That provision has never been rescinded by any amendment.  However, we have supported a standing army (and more) ever since the last time Congress made a declaration of war on June 5, 1942, now 75 years longer than authorized by the Constitution since we’ve had no threat of invasion of this country in that time.

Among the powers granted to Congress in Article I, Section 8, are these:
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy; To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.

Then the Second Amendment clarifies: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Now compare this language from the Constitution to the truncated excerpt from the History of Farmington, above.

Should the United States be policing the world? Or instead, should we citizens throughout the country be training ourselves regularly in order to repel invaders?  I’m not sure, but I am sure that I am not proud of the politics since 1945 that have been driving us into a permanent worldwide policing role and military presence.  We have been in Korea, for instance, since 1950.  Could we not have trained the South Korean military in self-defense in a little over two years from the cessation of gunfire in 1953?  Could we not have withdrawn our forces from that country by, say, 1955?  (See A Parting Tribute to my Uncle Woody.)

The constitutional prohibition against a standing army and the provision for a well-regulated militia, together, are what make the debate about the right to bear arms so complicated.  Perhaps the original threat giving rise to the Second Amendment, defending ourselves from an invading foreign army, has evaporated, but perhaps a new basis has cemented itself just as firmly.  Perhaps the invaders we must defend against are hidden within our midst.

The National Guard, a term in use since 1824, now fills the role of the constitutional militia.  The Militia Act of 1903 redefined and recreated the traditional state militias as the “organized militia,” that is, the National Guard.

So how is it that we also maintain a standing army dispersed to permanent undeclared wars and other assignments around the world?  Please comment if you have the answer to that.

In spite of these developments, it remains indisputable that the Constitution provides for the citizenry of the country, not the professional army of the federal government, to keep and bear arms.

It was clear to the founders of the United States that an armed population is comprised of citizens, an unarmed population is comprised of subjects.  George Washington is credited with the statement: “A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”

The Second Amendment, then and now, is about defending the United States of America from forces that would destroy it, from outside or from within.  Originally, every home was equipped with one or more firearms anyway — standard equipment for hunting and personal defense, and readily diverted to the purpose of defending the country.  It can certainly be argued that a citizen might properly own a weapon in any class of arms that could be deployed against the United States, the better to emloy such a weapon in the service of the militia.

In the centuries that have passed since the adoption of the Second Amendment in 1791, the National Guard, better trained and better equipped, has taken over for the militia described in the History of Farmington.  I accept that, and while I have no desire to own my own fleet of Phantom jets, I also do not intend to jeopardize my permanent right to own the firearms that I consider important to my own safety as well as my country’s defense.

A Recent Historical Perspective

I suppose I am more in tune with the America of the 70 years preceding my birth than the America of the 70 years since I was born.  While I have mastered the skills for “survival” — better to say participation — in the ever-changing society of the past few decades, I have also mastered the skills needed for survival in the ages familiar to my grandparents.

I’ve seen it from both perspectives.  I don’t trust the present — the technology, the world order, the federal government, the culture of the masses, the distribution systems for food and other perishables, or America’s single source for all manufactured goods (China).

That something has changed in the character of our population is obvious to an older American. When I was born (1950) a home typically had one wage-earner. There was a mindset that approved of locking up the mentally ill, and more were locked up than perhaps was right. But some were confined that should have been. Courts did not coddle violent criminals. Children conformed to certain social standards called “manners” and did not dictate the tone of a household or the spending habits of a family. Only a narrow band of entertainment and advertising were aimed at children, not the entire entertainment industry. Education was designed to impart information and promote critical thinking, not to indoctrinate compliant minions of a ruling oligarchy.

When I was five years old the Meadow Gold milkman in Lima, Ohio, still drove a horse-drawn ice-chilled wagon drawn by the mare, Buttermilk.  The man who repaired pots and pans also appeared from time to time on a horse-drawn cart.  Many of the country’s railroad trains were still pulled by steam locomotives.  Our home didn’t have a television or telephone, and my parents survived for months at a time without an automobile.  A long gun in a closet or on the wall was no more unusual than an umbrella in a stand beside the front door.  The elevator at the Montgomery Ward store had a full-time operator who delivered customers to their chosen floors.  It took a nickel to get a six-ounce bottle of pop from a machine and there was a two-cent deposit on a glass bottle.  My grandmother was still mourning my uncle’s death in Korea.

It wasn’t until I was ten years old that I owned my first firearm, a Marlin .22-caliber single shot rifle which I earned by selling Christmas cards in Gomer, Ohio.  I told my customers what I was working toward, and they supported my objective.  I still have the Boys Life magazine with the ad for Junior Sales Club of America, which provided the Christmas cards and the gun.  It was shipped to a local hardware store in my name, and my father had to go with me and sign for it to pick it up.  I haven’t shot anyone with it yet.

I am not nostalgic for the living conditions of those times.  Perhaps, though, I miss the gentle sense of peace, security, and opportunity.  Perhaps I am nostalgic for the freedom to engage in any enterprise as a teenager, from street musician to seller of homemade potholders, from apprentice gardener to newspaper carrier.  I miss coins made from silver, photo albums, and a news media that barely paid attention to politicians and celebrities.

I miss heroes who were actually honored, Sunday school, and shelves full of National Geographic magazines.  I miss holidays that were sincerely celebrated with town ceremonies on the appropriate dates before it became de rigueur to shift them to the nearest Monday for people whose incomes were derived from taxes (and, yes, bank fees have become a new form of taxation with the complicity of Congress, so banks now close on those Monday holidays).

And I miss the respect that Congress once held for the American people. I am not volunteering to register my firearms, but I do think that we are, at last, a conquered people.

=David A. Woodbury=

How to Eviscerate the Second Amendment

The lockdowns of businesses have, as the year 2020 comes to a close, sparked calls for resistance, for example this article in The Federalist from December 8, 2020. (My words which follow do not comprise an endorsement of every call for resistance. I approve civil disobedience in response to every unconstitutional edict of a government. I do not approve violence except in immediate self-defense.)

I’m concerned only that rebellion against covid lockdowns will dissipate the energy needed for resistance once the severe outlawing of liberty begins in 2021.  You don’t see licenses to publish in newspaper offices, because of the First Amendment.  But the license to publish is coming.  Before that happens, the already-eroded Second Amendment will undergo a full-frontal attack. (See another article at this site, A Well-regulated Militia.)

Ersatz-President Biden’s handlers will provide him with the text for many executive orders, on the premise that these orders will serve to implement existing law, or to restore practices, desirable to totalitarians, that were suspended by President Trump — the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Paris Climate Accord, and such.  The latter category will be nothing different than was seen under President Soetoro/Obama.  But several executive orders will constitute new edicts with the force of law.

Early in his term, though, he will address his party’s issues with the Second Amendment.  Without presuming either the timing, wording, or sequence (except the first) of these orders, here is what this series of edicts will accomplish.

Executive Orders

Beginning with a certain ill-defined (in fact undefinable) class of rifles, and encompassing all handguns as well, owners of these firearms will be required to register them.  States will implement firearm registration under penalty of loss of federal funds to certain state agencies of government for failure to do so.

Citizens will refuse to register their weapons en masse at first.  The rule will be amended to provide mandatory penalties, of course, which by themselves will not motivate compliance.  

“Buy-back” programs will be tried, (never mind that the government can’t buy back something that the government didn’t buy and provide in the first place), and rewards will be offered for information leading to the discovery and “recovery” of “illegal” firearms.

Eventually the rule will provide that anyone found hunting with an unregistered firearm or who, when registering a big game kill, refuses to declare the weapon used or who falsely identifies the weapon used, will face crushing penalties.  In similar fashion, anyone who uses a firearm in defense of home or property, who might otherwise face no criminal charges for such self-defense, will face severe penalties for doing so with an unregistered firearm.

Defendants charged under these rules will enjoy some initial victories in court (while sitting in jail pending trial and while losing fortunes to their attorneys), but once the rule is signed and the battles begin, the Second Amendment will be under its death sentence.

A further serious blow will be an executive provision that no one may inherit, carry, display, buy, or sell a firearm of any kind that has not been registered.  Therefore, as old gun owners die and their collections, small or large, are handed down, cowering heirs will scramble to register them so they can sell them off quickly.  A prohibition may be added which prevents registration of inherited guns but requires their destruction instead.

The coup de grâce in this will be an executive order requiring, not merely suggesting, that victims of crimes and those shot by home defenders sue firearms manufacturers, ammunition manufacturers, and retail gun sales outlets for injuries.  Gun manufacturers and sellers will be unable to afford the insurance needed to remain in business.  The Second Amendment will remain on the books, since revising or revoking it will be politically impossible, but there will be no armaments left for a citizen, uninfringed, to keep and bear.

You read it here first.  I’m not quoting anyone else on this.  The writing on the wall is more plain than it was at Belshazzar’s feast.

=David A. Woodbury= 20 December 2020

Four Little Words

February 24, 2018

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education on FEE.org. Use this link to see the original article. It is pertinent as we cross over into 2021 because the new administration in the White House will have much to say about guns.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in a public school, a host of familiar recommendations have resurfaced about how to “prevent this from ever happening again.” Predictably, both conservatives and liberals are looking to the government for a solution. Americans have somehow arrived at a point where they cannot conceive of human action that is not either prohibited, mandated, or, at the very least, centrally planned.

The first problem is the goal. It is absurdly unrealistic to believe any set of rules is going to prevent anything from “ever happening again.” If you doubt that, I invite you to examine the war on drugs. Many decades ago, politicians decided American citizens taking heroin was never going to happen again. They banned that drug completely. You aren’t allowed to possess or sell it under any circumstances. Not after a background check. Not with a doctor’s prescription. Not at all.

Today, that drug is at the center of what the same government calls an opioid “epidemic.” Epidemic. So much for heroin overdoses “never happening again.”

Yet, despite this evidence, liberals still suggest what they’ve always suggested: further restrictions on gun ownership. A good portion of them believes that only government employees charged with national defense or public safety should be allowed to carry guns. Ban them completely for the civilian population, they say, and mass shooters won’t be able to obtain them.

You know, just like drugs.

The conservative answer to liberal prohibition (oxymoron?) is to “arm and train the teachers.” While no one has come out and suggested mandating teachers carry firearms or be trained in using them, every suggestion seems to suggest “we” (i.e., the government) need to do the arming and training.

Here’s a little newsflash for both sides: the teachers are already armed.

No, not every teacher carries firearms and perhaps not as high a percentage of teachers do so as the percentage of the general population that carries. But there are over three million teachers in public schools and some percentage of them have concealed carry permits. It would be unlikely that there aren’t at least some members of every faculty in America that have a concealed carry permit.

It’s not a matter of arming teachers, but rather to cease disarming them when they report to work.

To the extent conservatives acknowledge this option at all, they seem trapped in the same box as liberals in feeling the need to point out there are teachers who are also retired military, in the reserves, or former law enforcement officers. That’s probably true. But there are also tens of millions of Americans, and likely tens of thousands of teachers, who both own firearms and never served in the military or police.

An armed civilian population constitutes that “well-regulated militia” the 2nd Amendment refers to. What makes a militia a militia is the members not being part of the regular army.

I’ve often said the greatest danger to liberty is not a foreign army, terrorists, or even a homegrown tyrant. It is four little words. And they aren’t, “Up against the wall!” That comes later.

They are, “Something must be done.”

Instead of the government “doing something” about mass shootings, it should stop doing something. It should stop prohibiting teachers from carrying into school the same firearms they are licensed and trusted to carry in most other places. It is the path of least resistance to providing realistic protection for schoolchildren. It requires no one to do anything they aren’t already doing.

No, this will not ensure that mass shootings “never happen again.” Nothing will. And not every teacher with a firearm, confronted with the pressure of an active shooter situation, will calmly dispatch the shooter. But as we saw in Parkland, FL, neither will every trained police officer.

Broward County Sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson was assigned to the school as a resource officer and was on the school grounds during the entire incident. He heard the shooting inside the school, but videos show he remained outside for four minutes during the six-minute mass shooting, which claimed seventeen lives.

Peterson wasn’t alone. Three other armed law enforcement officers were on the scene and failed to enter the school before backup arrived.

This wasn’t the only government failure in this case. Local police had been called to Nikolas Cruz’s home thirty-nine times over the past seven years, according to documents obtained by CNN. Members of the family he lived with after his mother’s death report he routinely introduced himself as “a school shooter.”

It wasn’t just local police who dropped the ball on Cruz. The FBI was warned multiple times about Cruz, including by “an unidentified woman close to Cruz” who called the FBI a month before the incident, warning of her fears he would “get into a school and just shoot the place up.” The FBI was also called in September 2017 by a video blogger who said a user named “nikolas cruz” had posted a comment on one of his videos, saying, “I”m going to be a professional school shooter.”

Hopefully, this will inspire more than mere outrage at government incompetence. Americans should take a long, hard look at how much of what should be personal and private they have allowed government to become involved in and how badly it has failed them. And if government can’t run education or health care, it certainly shouldn’t be trusted with something as important as the defense of one’s own life.

Thomas Paine began his pamphlet, Common Sense, widely credited with convincing a critical mass of colonists to support American independence, by making a crucial distinction:

“SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins.” He went on to say, “Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.”

It’s time Americans remembered the miracles possible within that blessing called society and the limitations of an institution based on nothing more than consolidated brute force. Mass shootings are horrible situations under any circumstances, but they may be rendered less horrible if the victims have options other than to call the government and wait.

States that haven’t already should repeal any laws necessary to give the right and the responsibility for self-defense back to teachers and other school employees. Allowing them the option to carry firearms will both act as a deterrent to future shooters and give teachers a reasonable chance to defend their students and themselves the next time the need arises.

The government has had its chance. It has failed. It’s time to try a little freedom.

Tom Mullen
Tom Mullen

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? and A Return to Common  Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. For more information and more of Tom’s writing, visit www.tommullen.net.

Your Day in Court

“If it weren’t for lawyers, dear boy, we wouldn’t need lawyers.”

possibly from the movie “A Murder of Crows” (1998)

Many Americans with ordinary legal disputes never get the trial they thought they were guaranteed by the Constitution. I’m just going to put this link here and let you read the excellent article that it points to.

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/11/24/why-you-wont-get-your-day-in-court/

NOTE: The article’s no-frills TEXT IS PROVIDED at this page IN THE EVENT THE ARTICLE LINKED TO above HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM ITS ORIGINAL SITE BY THE NEW YOrk REVIEW OR OTHERWISE CANNOT BE ACCESSED.


=David A. Woodbury=

Democracy or Republic

The Constitution, Article IV, Section 4, declares “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”  Nothing in the Constitution suggests that this country was ever intended to be a democracy.  The critical difference is in the matter of rights.

John Adams captured the essence of the difference when he wrote, “You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.”  An individual has a right to his life, a right to defend himself against an aggressor, a right to protect his family, a right to use and to dispose of the fruits of his labor as he sees fit, a right to speak, a right to associate and assemble with others of his choosing, a right to turn his back and walk away, a right to manifest faith in a God, and a right to attempt to persuade — but not to coerce — others.

A republic is the one form of government that is designed to protect the rights of an individual against the whims, fashions, emotions, fervor, and ignorance of the many.  A democracy confers on the majority the temptation to interfere with these rights, to introduce new, arbitrary privileges, and to do either according to popular zeal.  A monarch or dictator may also presume to interfere with the fundamental rights that John Adams described.  Even under a dictatorship, those fundamental rights exist; it’s just a question whether an individual or group of individuals will assert them.

The United States is confused, nowadays, about its form of government.  It is not a democracy, although the original republican form of government has been corrupted into a semblance of democracy.  And the people are deluded into thinking that a republic and a democracy are one and the same, even that a democracy is somehow superior to the antiquated and presumably unworkable concept that we are a republic.

In a democracy, you see, the majority rules (supposedly, and that is debatable, because those hungry for power, whom the majority has elected, effectively rule), while in a republic, the individual is protected from the majority.  In a democracy, the people’s representatives identify groups, often called “communities,” who need special privileges in order to remain more loyal as voters, and the people’s representatives create new “rights” to soothe those groups.  Generally these are “rights” to be free from discomfort and almost by definition infringe on the real rights of every individual.

With this distinction clear, consider now a passage from Nock’s The Theory of Education in the U.S.:

So the popular idea of democracy postulates that there shall be nothing worth enjoying for anybody to enjoy that everybody may not enjoy; and a contrary view is at once exposed to all the evils of a dogged, unintelligent, invincibly suspicious resentment.

The whole institutional life organised under the popular idea of democracy, then, must reflect this resentment.  It must aim at no ideals above those of the average man; that is to say, it must regulate itself by the lowest common denominator of intelligence, taste, and character in the society which it represents.

In a republic, where all the population are free to create, invest, and exercise patience or engage in self-indulgence, an individual may prosper and enjoy comfort that many others do not.  This prosperity may have come his way by birth and inheritance, by effort and good judgment, by sheer luck, or by a convergence of these advantages.  In a republic, a person who enjoys some prosperity may share his good fortune with others, or may choose not to do so.  In a republic, an individual chooses how to dispose of his income and assets, and takes responsibility for the consequences of his actions.  In a democracy, where all the population are free to create, invest, and exercise patience or engage in self-indulgence, an individual may prosper and enjoy comfort that others do not only until those others, many of whom do not want to take responsibility for their own choices, are goaded by people who ache on their behalf and are whipped into mass action that denies a moderate person the fruit of his labor.

=David A. Woodbury=

The Individual Who Can Think and Create

In the words of AJN: Our society has made no place for the individual who is able to think, who is, in the strict sense of the word, intelligent; it merely tosses him into the rubbish heap… Intelligence is the power and willingness always and disinterestedly to see things as they are, an easy accessibility to ideas, and a free play of consciousness upon them, quite regardless of the conclusions to which this play may lead.

Now, the experienced mind is aware that all the progress in actual civilisation that society has ever made has been brought about, not by machinery, not by political programmes, platforms, parties, not even by revolutions, but by right thinking.

[M]ankind’s five fundamental social instincts — the instinct of workmanship, of intellect and knowledge, of religion and morals, of beauty and poetry, of social life and manners. A civilized society is one which organizes a full collective expression of all these instincts, and which so regulates this expression as to permit no predominance of one or more of them at the expense of the rest; in short, one which keeps this expression on continual harmony and balance.


…organizes it by social assent, not by edict or influence of the State. -DAW


I should say, too, that there would be relatively little difficulty in finding subsidies to almost any extent for promising individuals, although it is true, I think, that our rich men do not as yet go in as much for this form of patronage, which is the oldest, and still seems to get the best results, as they do for the institutional form. For my part, I wish they would do more for it. I know that if I were a rich man I would do precious little endowing institutions, and content myself with nosing out individuals of the right sort, and endowing them.


These four short passages are lifted from Cogitations, which was compiled by Robert M. Thornton in 1970 for the Nockian Society. They are taken from three separate works of Nock. As for the last paragraph, it occurs to me that a rich man does not patronize an individual because he is more interested in the tax write-off for his charity and therefore contributes to State-approved institutions (those which are eligible for IRS 501(c)(3) status). Were the wealthy to patronize individuals of talent, we might find another Tchaikovsky or Dickens in our midst who, for lack of discovery and patronage, is punching the clock at the back of a Ford dealership instead. -DAW

Demagogue and Demaslave

Henry Louis Mencken was a contemporary and acquaintance of Albert Jay Nock.  In The Superfluous Men, a volume of comparative essays compiled by Robert M. Crunden (ISI Books, 1999), Mencken is described as “an enormously prolific writer and editor of newspapers and magazines” who “had great impact on college students and the educated young adults of the first three decade of the twentieth century.”  For H. L. Mencken, “American life was a comedy of conformity, envy, and plutocracy.”  This passage is from Mencken’s Notes on Democracy (Knopf, 1926).


The winds of the world are bitter to Homo vulgaris.  He likes the warmth and safety of the herd, and he likes a bell-wether with a clarion bell.

The art of politics, under democracy, is simply the art of ringing it.  Two branches reveal themselves.  There is the art of the demagogue, and there is the art of what may be called, by a shot-gun marriage of Latin and Greek, the demaslave.  They are complementary, and both of them are degrading to their practitioners.  The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.  The demaslave is one who listens to what these idiots have to say and then pretends that he believes it himself.  Every man who seeks elective office under democracy has to be either the one thing or the other, and most men have to be both.  The whole process is one of false pretences and ignoble concealments.  No educated man, stating plain the elementary notions that every educated man holds about the matters that principally concern government, could be elected to office in a democratic state, save perhaps by a miracle…

The typical American law-maker… knows the taste of boot-polish…  His public life is an endless series of evasions and false pretences.  He is willing to embrace any idea, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him.  I do not describe the democratic politician at his inordinate worst; I describe him as he is encountered in the full sunshine of normalcy.


H. L. Mencken seemed to enjoy the exposure and notice afforded him by the privilege of writing editorials, (which is not to understate the effect of his articles and books).  Albert J. Nock, also an editor and author, seemed content, on the other hand, merely to lay his thoughts on paper and take no heed whether he had made an impression or a difference.  But both men were sharp observers of the behavior of people under the influence of demagogues, and both came to approximately the same dismal prognosis for democracy in America.  -David A. Woodbury-

Village Idiot Refuses to Look for a Job

“I refuse to look for a job in this economy until the government makes the minimum wage a living wage.”  Thus spake an unidentified twenty-ish male follower of the “occupy movement” who was shown just long enough to spout this idiotic conviction on one of the network news broadcasts in the fall of 2011.  If this nincompoop is receiving any local, state, or federal aid of any sort, then he is a thief and I am one who, as a taxpayer, is being robbed.  If he refuses to work, he needs to be completely at the mercy of someone’s private charity for his support.  It is my guess that he is somewhere in between — getting poor-student discounts on public transportation and free care a the local hospital clinic while also living as a parasite on his parents who had at least some influence in making him the poster boy for the occupy fizzle.


The occupiers are furiously jealous of the “one percent,” who, in fact, can be loosely identified as the people who already contribute fifty percent of the tax revenue in this country.  The occupy hiccup is just one more manifestation of the envy phenomenon that Irving Babbitt described in Democracy and Leadership (Houghton Mifflin, 1924).  Using some quaint but effective prose, Babbitt explained how these recurring movements are fomented and how those with earned wealth could redress the inequality of human existence if they would lead exemplary lives of moderation and magnanimity — which they unfortunately don’t seem to understand.

One’s view of work and the rewards that it deserves will determine necessarily one’s attitude towards property.  From the point of view of civilization, it is of the highest moment that certain individuals should in every community be relieved from the necessity of working with their hands in order that they may engage in the higher forms of working and so qualify for leadership.  If the civilization is to be genuine, it must have men of leisure in the full Aristotelian sense.  Those who in any particular community are allowed to enjoy property that is not the fruit of their own outer and visible toil cannot, therefore, afford to be idlers and parasites.  An aristocratic or leading class, however the aristocratic principle is conceived, must, if it hopes in the long run to preserve its property and privileges, be in some degree exemplary.  It is only too clear that the members of the French aristocracy of the Old Régime failed, in spite of many honorable exceptions, to measure up to this test.  Some have argued from the revelations of recent writers like Colonel Repington and Mrs. Asquith that the English aristocracy is also growing degenerate.  People will not consent in the long run to look up to those who are not themselves looking up to something higher than their ordinary selves.  A leading class that has become Epicurean and self-indulgent is lost.  Above all it cannot afford to give the first place to material goods.  One may, indeed, lay down the principle that, if property as a means to an end is the necessary basis of civilization, property as an end in itself is a materialism.  In view of the natural insatiableness of the human spirit, no example is more necessary than that of the man who is setting limits to his desire for worldly possessions.  The only remedy for economic inequality, as Aristotle says, is “to train the nobler sort of natures not to desire more”; this remedy is not in the mechanical scheme for dividing up property; “for it is not the possessions but the desires of mankind which require to be equalized.”  The equalization of desire in the Aristotelian sense requires on the part of individuals a genuine ethical or humanistic working.  To proclaim equality on some basis that requires no such working will result ironically.  For example, this country committed itself in the Declaration of Independence to the doctrine of natural equality.  The type of individualism that was thus encouraged has led to monstrous inequalities and, with the decline of traditional standards, to the rise of a raw plutocracy.  A man who amasses a billion dollars is scarcely exemplary in the Aristotelian sense, even though he then proceeds to lay out half a billion upon philanthropy.  The remedy for such a failure of the man at the top to curb his desires does not lie, as the agitator would have us believe, in inflaming the desires of the man at the bottom; nor again in substituting for real justice some phantasmagoria of social justice.  As a result of such a substitution, one will presently be turning from the punishment of the individual offender to an attack on the institution of property itself; and a war on capital will speedily degenerate, as it always has in the past, into a war on thrift and industry in favor of laziness and incompetence, and finally into schemes of confiscation that profess to be idealistic and are in fact subversive of common honesty.  Above all, social justice is likely to be unsound in its partial or total suppression of competition.  Without competition it is impossible that the ends of true justice should be fulfilled — namely that every man should receive according to his works.  The principle of competition is, as Hesiod pointed out long ago, built into the very roots of the world; there is something in the nature of things that calls for a real victory and a real defeat.  Competition is necessary to rouse man from his native indolence; without it life loses its zest and savor.  Only, as Hesiod goes on to say, there are two types of competition — the one that leads to bloody war and the other that is the mother of enterprise and high achievement.  He does not perhaps make as clear as he might how one may have the sound rivalry and, at the same time, avoid the type that degenerates into pernicious strife.  But surely the reply to this question is found in such sentences of Aristotle as those I have just been quoting.  The remedy for the evils of competition is found in the moderation and magnanimity of the strong and the successful, and not in any sickly sentimentalizing over the lot of the underdog.  The mood of unrest and insurgency is so rife to-day as to suggest that our leaders, instead of thus controlling themselves, are guilty of an extreme psychic unrestraint.


George Bernard Shaw wrote that a government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always count on the support of Paul.  That’s obvious, of course, and cute.  But it’s also sinister.  A Scottish professor alive around the time of the American Revolution, Alexander Fraser Tytler, gave voice to the sinister side of Shaw’s equation:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government.  It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world’s great civilizations has been two hundred years.  These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependency, from dependency back to bondage.

Amazing that Tytler could have teased this assessment from the history of the world up to his own time.  How precisely we have followed his prediction in this country!


Eric Hoffer in The True Believer (Harper & Brothers, 1951) wrote:

There is a fundamental difference between the appeal of a mass movement and the appeal of a practical organization.  The practical organization offers opportunities for self-advancement, and its appeal is mainly to self-interest.  On the other hand, a mass movement, particularly in its active, revivalist phase, appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self.  A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.

People who see their lives as irredemiably spoiled cannot find a worthwhile purpose in self-advancement.  The prospect of an individual career cannot stir them to a mighty effort, not can it evoke in them faith and a single-minded dedication.  They look on self-interest as on something tainted and evil; something unclean and unlucky.  Anything undertaken under the auspices of the self seems to them foredoomed.  Nothing that has its roots and reasons in the self can be good and noble.  Their innermost craving is for a new life — a rebirth — or, failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause.  An active mass movement offers them opportunities for both.  If they join the movement as full converts they are reborn to a new life in its close-knit collective body, or if attracted as sympathizers, they find elements of pride, confidence and purpose by identifying themselves with the efforts, achievements and prospects of the movement.

To the frustrated a mass movement offers substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life bearable and which they cannot evoke out of their individual resources.


I cannot improve on the observations above and feel privileged to have been able to bring them together on one page. -David A. Woodbury, 9 January 2011-

…For I Am Their Leader

Not long ago I saw a sticker on a car bumper which read: “There they go.  I must hurry and catch them, for I am their leader!”  Amusing.  I’ve seen a variation of this notion in action; it happens with great regularity in politics.  I was a college student in Ohio in 1969-1970, and for a couple days after the Kent State debacle in May 1970 my friend, Royce Rumsey, and I made a point of observing the activity on the University of Cincinnati campus, which culminated in a “student” march on downtown Cincinnati.  We did not march.  We rode the bus downtown and watched the parade approach the city center.  Just as it came into our view, a pair of “students” trotted themselves into the front of the entire procession, and, on a pole they carried between them, they bore a very large Viet Cong flag, as a pair of bearers will carry a banner ahead of a marching band.  They gave the parade the appearance of being a march in support of the North Vietnamese enemy that we were fighting in Vietnam.  The peace marchers behind them had no idea; more than followers of a cause, they were a herd to be paraded.

The cute bumper sticker recently spotted seemed original enough, but I had only to go back to Nock’s 1948 A Journal of Forgotten Days to discover that he attributes the this illogical imperative to “the French revolutionist” and, furthermore, brings in the opportunism of the flag-carriers.  -DAW-

Slave-mindedness is the hateful thing, whether it follows Hitler, Stalin, Roosevelt, Mussolini — what matter?  Is not the mass-leader, too, the most slave-minded of all?  The French revolutionists saying: I must follow the mob, because I lead them, ought to be embroidered on every national flag, it strikes me.  How right Huxley was about what he called the coach-dog theory of political leadership, i.e., that a leaders duty is to look sharp for which way the social coach is going, and then run in front of it and bark.  -AJN, Journal, p. 231-232