“[Government] is apprehended, not as a committee of citizens chosen to carry on the communal business of the whole population, but as a separate and autonomous corporation, mainly devoted to exploiting the population of the benefit of its own members… The intelligent man, when he pays taxes, certainly does not feel he is making a prudent investment of his money; on the contrary, he feels he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him”
— H.L. Mencken, ‘More of the Same’, American Mercury 1925
Imagine a country unfortunate enough to have succumbed in conflict to a foreign enemy and now subject to a thorough-going military occupation by the forces of their victorious foes.
Young men, who have been conscripted in a vast profusion, are marched in to pacify the vanquished nation’s populace, to patrol its streets, watch over its borders and constantly to patrol its coastlines – though, in truth, much of their activity soon palls into a dull routine, being merely work for work’s sake, meant to deny the devil too many idle hands for mischief, rather than because the doing of it fulfils any useful purpose of itself.
Some of these warders of the conquered realm are barracked in camps where their basic material needs are catered to in large, centralized facilities specially built for the purpose, while others are billeted on civilian householders in their homes – whether or not these latter show any willingness to have their property used, their provisions divided, and their privacy violated in this way.
Aside from the fighting force itself, there is an even larger host of administrators, technicians, and other support staff abroad in the land, many of its members busy overseeing the activities of the conquered – issuing requisitions to the factory owners; commandeering resources; ordering farmers what to grow and where; and generally re-organizing a significant part of the people’s economic lives in order to serve the needs of their new masters in place of those of their own.
War, after all, had best be made to pay for war and all those martial souls need to be fed, shod, clad, sheltered, and even re-armed if they are to maintain their military effectiveness.
Finally, however, the glad day dawns when the war is ended and blessed peace takes its place. Bested on some far distant battlefield, the invader negotiates a peace, its armies meekly surrender their arms and the erstwhile Hectors and Horatios shuffle apprehensively off to wire-strung detention centres, there to await their fate. Meanwhile, the bells ring out in carillons of joy and young and old alike take to dancing in the streets in a great celebration of regained liberty.
As it soon transpires, large numbers of the former garrison have no wish to return to a homeland many can scarcely still remember. Besides, they have grown to love their new surroundings and many of them have found wives and sweethearts there, to boot. They plead to be allowed to stay and – at first with reluctance, but gradually with a laudable hope for reconciliation (for this occupation, while not without its share of accompanying evils, was not marked by wholesale rapine or blemished with overmuch outright atrocity) – the authorities accede to more and more of these very human requests.
Even amid the rejoicing, however, there are one or two grumblings to be heard. Will all these former soldiers not still be have to fed and clothed at our expense, some ask or – worse to some – finding productive work at last, will they not represent a drug on the market for labour, depressing the wages of us, the long-suffering natives?
Not so, reply the wiser heads. For we should see them not as a surplus, but rather as a vital human resource and each, eager to earn his keep and ply again a peaceful trade, will have to give as much value as he gets, in future, if he is to earn the goods he formerly took simply by merit of his uniform. This can only be to the benefit of all.
But, there are others, too, whose feelings of relief are decidedly mixed – the sutlers and the swordsmiths, the bar-keepers and the bawds, the munitions-makers and the mule-breeders – for all those who supplied the enemy have lost the greater part of their custom, even though their conscience must have told them that their living was being made at the final expense of those unconsenting fellow citizens whose wealth and income were being tapped to make up the soldiers’ pay and quartermasters’ drafts.
At length, they, too, still their complaints and resign themselves to seeking out another kind of clientele; to producing ploughshares not poniards or pikestaffs, all the while consoling themselves that, now the exactions of war have been stopped, the majority will have more money in their pockets and that, in the general hunger for the things long denied them during the grim, grey years of subjection, trade and industry will soon be booming once more and commerce will again flourish.
Some good while may pass before they see it this way, but certainly, no-one among even those who flourished most – or languished least – will so rue his temporary loss of business that he will advocate striking up a quarrel with some other likely nation, in order to capitulate as abjectly as possible and so refill the deserted camps and cantonments with another batch of loose-pursed intruders!
So far, the verdict here seems indisputable. The end of the occupation – though occasioning a measurable difficulty for the few, as well as a by no means trivial challenge of readjustment for the many – will overwhelmingly redound to the common weal: a truth which will be instinctively recognized in an intuition of good to come which almost everyone will later find to have been a correct one.
A Continuation of Policy by Other Means
If all the foregoing seems unobjectionable – and we fully trust that it will – then consider how little the argument changes if there is no foreign occupation, but instead the imposition of martial law by those in power domestically.
We still have the same diminution of the private sphere; still the same tyranny over people’s lives, however softly velveted is the mailed fist which holds the nation down. We still have the same forcible redirection of employment and still the same sequestration of income and arbitrary denial of property as we did when the perpetrators spoke a foreign tongue – and, on that account, we will be just as glad to be rid of all their impositions when the laws are at length repealed or the regime is toppled in the dust of despots past.
Finally, even where the intent is in no way overtly malign – where the nation has been put on a purely defensive war-footing in order to deter the aggression of a hostile neighbour – the very same conditions will apply and the very same relief will be felt when the Dogs of War are finally put back on their slips and ‘Havoc!’ no longer cried.
So, if you are with me this far, tell me why it is any different when the Home Army carries few actual arms and when most of those who fill its ranks wear no obvious uniform, or bear no fluttering pennons, but whose stormtroopers and Sonderkommandos nonetheless boss us and direct us; telling us what we can and cannot do; relieving us of a good portion of our income to pay their keep and to enact their schemes of domination; and hemming in our natural rights to property with rules and regulations which we ourselves pay for them to conjure up and to impose upon us?
What if this occupying army is in service to – nay, if it actually constitutes – the government itself?
What if comprises a host grown fat and bloated and officious as it siphons off the best milk from our herds and swipes the choicest fruit from our orchards in order to satiate its vast, pestilential, multi-million array – its troops of tax-gatherers and health-and-safety tinpots; its platoons of permit peddlers and planning panjandrums; its ranks of red-tapers, rubber-stampers, and rubbish recycling-bin riflers; its columns of closed-circuit televoyeurs and carbon credit cozeners; its divisions of dole deceivers and disability dissemblers; its junta of jobsworths, Jacks-in-Office, and gender outreach counsellors; its cohorts of Cultural Marxist commissars, and clipboard commandants; its echelons of egalitarian engineers, its squadrons of subsidy-suckers – and all the other plunderers who make up this Legion of the Damnable?
A Set of Lies Agreed Upon
Why, then, should we listen to the hand-wringing of the punditocracy when they tell us that to disband even the most ineffective and ill-disciplined section of this rapacious army of permanent occupation is somehow to condemn ourselves to ruin?
Why should we heed the brow-beating of the leader writers when they insist that to reduce even some of the country’s unsustainable deficit – not even, you will note, to try to eradicate the whole of the annual shortfall, much less to address the noxious legacy of debt accumulated over long years of easy profligacy – is for the Emperor to condemn all of us to his former nakedness if foregoes his customary non-attire (one cut by his charlatan couturiers from the virtual cloth of spending what he routinely does not earn) and dons, in its place, a debilitating hair shirt of ‘austerity’ ?
No! Better that we stop our ears to the insidious wheedlings of all the Philosopher Kings – the Stiglitzes and Soroses, the Krugmans and Kaletskys and all the other intellectual Vichy who would perpetuate our subjugation – and press on with the attempt to demobilize as many of these battalions of bad husbandry as possible.
Nor should we be persuaded that, without the reckless dollops of Other People’s Money which the vote-buying minions of the State dish out in all their counter-productive billions, the real economy will crumble and blow away in the wind: that shops will empty and factories shutter; that the lights of enterprise will dim, and flicker, and fade – any more than they would if a foreign conqueror were to relinquish his pitiless hold upon those who own them and allow them to take charge, once more, of their own destinies.
Rather, we should steel ourselves for the challenge ahead in a frame of resolute self-reliance and, to show our true intent, we should first make plain our utter rejection of the doom-mongers’ vision of a people grown too servile and enervated under the heels of the horde which strangles their growth and saps their strength that they dare not greet their own liberation with the utmost, unqualified, clarion jubilation.
Otherwise, this will be a long, protracted war, and, as Sun Tzu himself noted all those centuries ago, no country has ever benefited from such a calamity – to which aphorism, we might add, all too few have emerged with even their money, much less their wealth, intact, either. It may also be true that ‘there’s a great deal of ruin in a nation,’ but keep in mind that when Adam Smith penned those words, at a bleak moment in British history, he was making an observation, not a policy recommendation.