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Category: C.Jay Engel

The relationship between the State and Christianity is a three-pronged issue

One deficiency I have observed among Evangelical Christian comments on political theory, especially from the Reformed perspective (because the Reformed tradition is 85% of the Christian material I read), is that there are basically two categories of questions that are addressed in seeking answers regarding the relationship between Christianity and the State.  Evangelical commentary on political theory blur the categories in an unhelpful matter and don’t recognize the significance of a clear cut “three pronged” approach to Christian analysis of the State.

What I am saying is that there are three categories that need to be addressed by the Christian political theorist, but many Christian thinkers only address two.  Not only does this render the analysis greatly incomplete, but it also contributes to the lack of understanding regarding the proper position on a variety of so-called “policy” issues.

The first category that needs to be addressed is whether God has ordained the State in history.  That is to say, the question is, is the existence of the State contrary to God’s ordaining will?  The answer is that God has surely ordained the State to exist in history.  Nebuchadnezzar was referred to as God’s servant (Jer 43:10, 27:6) and since God ordains the existence of every atom and the life and death of every person, so he also ordains the States that exist around the world –yes, even Nero, Hitler, Bush, and Obama.  God is the grand controller of the universe and nothing is unless he has determined it to be.

The second category that needs to be addressed is whether God commands the Christian to subject himself to the StateAgain, the answer is very clearly yes (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2).  The reason that the Bible gives this command to Christians, I am convinced, is because the early Christians were to live at peace with everybody and not stir up trouble so as to attract unwarranted attention from an imperial state that was systematically opposed to the small Christian church during the first century.  Of course, this command is still applicable today, as we must be reminded that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world and it is in vain that we seek to overthrow and take over earthly thrones.  A general admonition to be subject to the State does not mean that we ought to obey the State when it commands us to do what God prohibits (subsidize abortions), nor should we obey the State when it prohibits us from doing that which God has commanded (preaching the Gospel).

Now, here is where the common deficiency exists among Christian thinkers. They stop here and then confuse the second category with the third and final one.  They assume that because we ought to be generally subject to the State, this means that there is no moral (or economic) problem with the State’s activities whenever it doesn’t prohibit that which God commands or command that which God prohibits.  In this way, things like Social Security (a retirement scheme which exists by government coercion), because saving for retirement in itself is not contradictory to God’s precepts, are far too often completely ignored by the Christian political thinker.  But what they don’t realize is that there is a third category that we must consider; namely whether the individuals who run the State have the moral authority to act contrary to God’s transcendent and binding moral law.

It is in this category, that we find the intellectual ammunition to oppose the whole of the modern state, kit and caboodle.  For just because one is a member of the government does not give him moral permission to take money out of the citizen’s paycheck and call it the income tax, take men from their families and call it conscription, enact a special round of taxes and say it is for “Medicare,” force businesses to comply with absurd regulations for “health and safety reasons,” take control over the education system, monopolize the money and banking sector by banning market competition, engage in fraud and currency devaluation by allowing fractional reserve banking, ban the use of alcohol and certain drugs (while subsidizing others), determine by law where certain prices should be (such as wages, gasoline, interest rates, and housing rents), and a whole plethora of other things.  In short, the individuals in the government itself are bound to obey the Ten Commandments as is every other individual in the nation. No person may steal and none may murder.  No person shall order by threat of violence the actions of peaceful men.  No person may initiate aggression against thy neighbor and governments too will be held to account for the deeds that they do.

Beyond the second category, which addresses whether Christians should obey the State that reigns over them, there exists the oft-ignored third category, which is political theory proper (as distinct from practical political theory —see here).  It is here that we must ask ourselves: is a given action of this agency consistent or inconsistent with the ethical stipulations of God?  Yes, we will subject ourselves to its deeds and turn the other cheek when it wrongs us. For in this we portray to the world that Christ, not the world, is our treasure.  But if we ignore this third category altogether, we are failing to apply the law of God to every institution that arises.  As Murray Rothbard once stated, our chief motivation for being libertarians is because we care about justice (see my comments on Rothbard’s statement here). But where the Christian has an advantage over Rothbard is we have a divine lawgiver who provides for us in clear terms the moral standard by which to compare the State.

1.  Know where the State acts wrongly.

2. Subject yourself to it, for Christ will have his vengeance in due time.

3. All things exist for the praise of this glorious name.

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John Robbins on “Christian” Statists in Power

He calls the Bush era effort to subsidize “Christian” groups one of “faith based fascism.” And he ends with the following screed:

End the student loans; they are funded by money stolen from taxpayers; they have driven the cost of a college education out of sight; and they are used to put young people deeply into debt at the start of their lives.

End the child care vouchers; they are funded by money stolen from taxpayers, and they are used to put children into 9-to-5 orphanages.

End the subsidies for medical care; they are funded with money stolen from taxpayers; they have raised the price of medical care to exorbitant levels; they have encouraged people not to provide for their own; and they have made government an idol.

End the subsidies to Catholic Charities and World Vision; they are funded with money stolen from taxpayers. If those charities were half as wonderful as they tell us, their efforts would attract adequate voluntary contributions. The fact that these charities must rely on funds obtained by force suggests that their programs are less than worthwhile, less than efficient, or less than beneficial.

And let’s be clear about charity. Charity is not compelling someone else to give his money to the poor. It is giving one’s own money away; it is freely contributing one’s own time. Government charity is a contradiction in terms, for government has no money except what it collects by force from others. What President Bush proposes is not greater charity, but aggravated theft and increased compulsion. There is nothing Christian or charitable about it. It is a violation of the Ten Commandments.

This writer has heard no “Christian” leader give the correct answers to the President’s questions. They have already agreed in principle with the President’s faith-based fascism. Long ago they abandoned the whole counsel of God, choosing which Biblical doctrines they would believe and teach, and which they would ignore. Many of them have abandoned the Gospel of the substitutionary death of Christ for his people and justification by faith alone. Now they have denied what the Scriptures teach on private property, the role of government, and the social order.

The salt has lost its savor; it has become worthless; and it deserves to be trodden underfoot by men.

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Diversity in Law, But not in Morals

Because all humans, regardless of whether they are elect, are in the Noahic Covenant, things like civil laws and the role of governance in society are for everyone’s benefit. The goal of civil laws are not to make men right with God, but to keep the world progressing until every elect person is saved. God promised not to flood the earth again because he doesn’t want it destroyed until everyone who has been elected has been justified. Thus, civil laws and governance are temporarily concerned and can be crafted and initiated together with believers and unbelievers in the common kingdom. As Calvin said after noting the Judicial laws had been “taken away:”

“surely every nation is left free to make such laws as it foresees to be profitable for itself.”

Of course, Calvin made major mistakes in the area of jurisprudence, but his words are in the right direction, even if not all that close to a pure libertarian formulation. But the point is that because God’s people are not a single physical nationality, as was arranged under the Old Covenant framework, he no longer has a strict blueprint set of laws for post-Christ governments.

There are moral principles indeed (Calvin refers to the principle of love— and we libertarians define this more specifically to relate to non-aggression), which ought to guide the specifics of a code, but there is not single list of divine-granted codified stipulations for civil engagement as there was under the Old Covenant.

The divine purpose of civil law is to promote peace among men, to deal with the problem of conflict (per Hoppe), and to keep things moving forward until the full number of elect have been saved. And property owners ought to take this concept of civil law and craft the appropriate rules and regulations about the use of their property. Unfortunately, the State has swept in to monopolize and make artificial the entire purpose of the law.

While there can be diversity in positive laws, there is one moral code applicable to everyone. And we use this moral code to judge the wrongdoing of the state and it’s bastardization of the purpose of law: conflict avoidance in accordance with property ownership rules.

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Gary North versus Bionic Mosquito

Well this is juicy.

I republish many Bionic Mosquito articles. I’ve enjoyed correspondence with him over the years. His real name is Jonathan Goodwin and he has been around the libertarian movement for some time.

Recently, he wrote a fictional post, found here. It was a hypothetical about a nearly ideal “propertarian” community and how they solved a property rights situation in a peaceful way. He wrote it in the first person.

Gary North read it. He thought it was a true story. He wrote up an article about it and put it on his site.

Then he found out, per BM’s follow-up post, that it was a fictional account.

Now North is angry, and likely embarrassed– the former because of the latter.

North writes:

The anonymous editor of the Bionic Mosquito has crossed the line. I will never trust him again.

He made up a story about his community. In my summary of it, I said it sounded amazing. I had never read anything like it before. Well, there was a reason for that: the article was a hoax.

I suppose he thought he was clever. He is not clever. He is a willful deceiver. He betrayed his readers without qualms. He also betrayed the people who gave him publicity and helped him build his site.

Now he finds that his hoax has multiplied. This seems to come as a surprise to him. It shouldn’t. He was trusted.

Bionic Mosquito is open about his name– Jonathan Goodwin. He’s not trying to deceive anyone, those who read him consistently recognize his writing style. At any rate, it seems petty of North to get so worked up about it. He doesn’t know Goodwin, as he admits, and there’s no reason to assume Goodwin was planning a hoax. It was a parable.

Kinda humorous, if you ask me.

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The State as a Contradiction in Terms

Ethically, we have in the State, as defined above, a contradiction in terms.  For if the State is the means by which private property is supposed to be ultimately defended, and yet the State declares, independent of the will of the property owner, what the property owner must pay him or be recipient of violent expropriation, then the private property itself, rather than being defended, is threatened.  As Hoppe notes: “However, a tax-funded life-and-property protection agency is a contradiction in terms: an expropriating property protector.”

Moreover, if the State claims unto itself the right to act as the sole provider of its services and actively seeks the elimination of any competitors, then in driving other competitors out of business, here too it contradicts its very intended role.  Any State that allows its citizens to choose another criminal punishment corporation if they desire, that is, any State that does not consider itself as the sole provider of its “services,” cannot last as a State any longer than the citizens allow it. And thus, being essentially a voluntary organization, it loses its status as a State; for States are force, not cooperation.  Therefore, a State must, to retain its label, actively seek the eradication of all jurisdictional competitors; and in doing so, it contradicts its role of defender of private property.  For it must violate the private property of its competitor in order to eliminate it.

[…]

The private-law society is one in which all individuals are bound by the same law and there is none who is legally allowed to exempt himself. There is no “public property,” and every owner of property is the ultimate decision maker over the use and restrictions of his property.  There are no public officials who can for “the public interest,” expropriate wealth from the property owner, restrict by force the entrepreneurial activity of the owner in the form of regulations, or create tax-funded bureaucracies, for whatever purpose he has in mind.  No one is allowed to acquire property except by way of original appropriation or voluntary trade; neither is anyone allowed to “prohibit anyone else from using his property in order to enter any line of production he wishes and compete against whomever he pleases.” (Hoppe).

Taken from: http://reformedlibertarian.com/articles/history/the-civil-magistrate-vs-the-state/

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A Note on the Religious and the Secular

It’s dawned on me that our understanding of the nature of the Kingdoms (the City of God and the City of Man, to use Augustine phrases) influences our understanding of the meaning of religious as opposed to secular. Clearly, for the Neo-Kuyperians, dominionists, and other one-kingdomers, everything is religious because there is no other alternative, being as there is only one kingdom.

To clarify the way I use the language, given my understanding of the covenants, let me say this. If “religion” means having to do with the kingdom of heaven, then it can be properly juxtaposed with secular, which refers to the second (earthy) kingdom. If religion means worldview or, as I prefer, “philosophical system,” well then juxtaposing with with “secular” makes no sense.

Clearly, my favorite definition, in general, of religion is philosophical system. But when I use religion in the context of a religious/secular distinction, I am actually trying to communicate the distinction between the kingdoms. In this case, therefore, I am not drawing a distinction, as the one-kingdomers might blame me, between living/thinking philosophically neutral and living/thinking religiously.

“Secular” doesn’t refer to a state of philosophical “neutrality,” it refers to whatever is not in the very narrow kingdom of heaven (the church). Secular refers to the “mixed” covenant, in which stands both the elect and the non-elect.

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Reich’s 7 Reasons

Notable leftist who calls himself an economist Robert Reich has a list of “7 Reasons Why Trump’s Corporate Tax Cut is Completely Nuts.” Here’s his 7, with my responses under each one in italic:

1. Profitable U.S. corporations already pay on average of only 14% according to the Government Accountability Office. That’s less than a lot of middle-class families pay. (And that’s less than half the official 35% corporate tax rate.) What’s more, some giant corporations pay little (if any) U.S. taxes because of loopholes or because they shift their profits offshore to tax havens.

Good. They should pay even less than 14%. If he’s worried that this is less than middle-class families, then he should know I also wish to slash middle class families’ tax burden. If the government continues to threaten to steal from them via taxation, it makes sense they they are going to continue hiding their money overseas. I too hide my wealth from thieves.

2. Trump’s corporate tax cut will bust the federal budget. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center projects it will reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over 10 years. This will either require huge cuts in services for all of us, or additional taxes paid by us to pick up the corporate tab.

False, a tax cut cannot bust a budget. The only thing that can bust a budget is stubbornly continuing to spend more than is brought in. We should slash all “services” on the basis that they are either completely unnecessary or will otherwise be provided by the market.

3. It’s based on supply-side, trickle-down nonsense. The White House says the tax cuts will create a jump in economic growth that will generate enough new revenue to wipe out any increase in the budget deficit. Rubbish. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both cut taxes mostly for the rich, and both ended their presidencies with huge budget deficits.

One of the myths promoted by the leftist critics of supply side economics is that Art Laffer was promising that all cuts in taxes will generate enough new revenue to replace it. This is false. This doesn’t mean the supply siders were perfect, far from it– they will still trying to find ways for the government to acquire more revenue more efficiently. But in any case, the cited Presidents ended with huge deficits because they didn’t cut spending. This is the fault of their spending habits, not their tax cuts.

4. It will create a new special loophole for hedge fund managers, big law firms and real estate moguls like Donald Trump. They could slash the  tax rate they pay on their business income from 40 percent to 15 percent. 15 percent is what a middle-class person pays. Do you think people like Trump should pay a tax rate that someone making $60,000 a year pays?

Good. We need more loopholes. I propose that we double down on loopholes until the tax code is one giant loophole. Per his question: yes I do think that. They should all pay zero.

5. It creates an international race-to-the-bottom on corporate tax rates that the U.S. cannot possibly win.One of its supposed attractions is it makes U.S. corporate taxes more “competitive” internationally. But we can’t match the rates in tax havens, which are often ZERO. And other countries will just lower their taxes in response. That’s what happened after 1986, the last time the U.S. cut corporate tax rates.

I love races to the bottom when it comes to taxes. Perhaps the US can’t win. This is because the institution of the State is strong in the United States and we have too many crummy politicians trying to make the world a better place with policy and legislation. We should aim to match the tax rates at zero.

6. American corporations don’t need a tax cut to be competitive. They’re already hugely competitive as measured by their profits – which are near record highs– while the share of taxes they pay are at record lows. Corporations should be doing more to pay their fair share, not getting a giant tax cut!

The goal is not to be “competitive.” If every country steals 95% of their citizens’ wealth, there’s no moral bragging point in being competitive in that one country only steals 95%. Corporations pay their fair share by providing goods and services on the market that people willingly pay for. They need more tax cuts to reward this behavior.

7. Corporations won’t use the extra profits they get from the tax cut to invest in more capacity and jobs.That’s the White House line, but it’s baloney.  Corporations are now using a large portion of their profits to pay their CEOs’ hefty pay packages and to buy other companies in order to raise their stock prices. There’s no reason to suppose they’ll do any different even with more profits.

Part of this point is may be true, but the problem is rooted in the corruption of finance due to the Federal Reserve and its destruction of our economy’s capital reserves. But there’s also nothing economically harmful about buying other companies– this is investing in the growth of the business and is aimed at increased business efficiency and productivity. 

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It’s okay to side with a secularist who is right over a Christian who is wrong

The essence of Christianity, as a philosophical system (which I believe to be the best definition of “religion”), is it’s commitment to truth. There are many possible propositions, too many to count. Most of them are false. The ones that are not false are true. All the true propositions gathered together are what the Christian refers to as God, who is, by definition truth itself. Literally, we worship the truth. This is impressive for a philosophical system. And yet so many critics assume Christians refuse to engage in rationality. Perhaps most Christians do. In which case most Christians are not very “Christian.”

The truth of something does not depend upon the human being speaking. One who is not a Christian can speak the proposition: “socialism cannot properly allocate scarce resources according to their most efficient ends.” And he speaks truly. And the Christian can respond: “socialism does not suffer from this predicament.” And he speaks falsely.

Far too many Christians, attempting to be pious and aware various strains of anti-religionism in quasi libertarian circles, dismiss the Christian libertarian as “getting his political theory from secularists.” But this is not an argument. For the alleged “Christian” political theory held by the accuser is itself wrong, regardless of whether it is self-labelled a Christian view.

The nature of the “two-kingdom” structure of this life allows for Christians to agree, and learn from, non-Christians commentary on various topics, including politics and economics. Much economics, especially in the Austrian tradition, is far better than historical sources from the theologians, irrespective to the great insight that theologians have offered in times past. The Christian world, with some glorious exceptions scattered about, have been routinely and devastatingly statist in these areas.

Is the secularist who takes the principle behind the 8th commandment to its logical conclusion to be ignored in preference for the Christian who all but ignores it?

I have often written on epistemological concerns, and how this relates to the recent two-kingdom debates. My view, perhaps shifting somewhat in its emphasis in recent months, is as follows: the philosophical system that is most consistent, based on the demands of logic (a priori reasoning), is certainly a Christian one. But this fact does not cause Christians to be right in every area simply by virtue of their adherence to gospel-related propositions. Christianity can account for, and has a better foundation for, the ethical and logical demands of Austro-libertarian.

But inasmuch as we discuss ideas farther down the line of reasoning than merely foundation, the secularist libertarian (properly defined) is more agreeable than the statist Christian. What the Reformed Libertarian does, it seems to me, is match a solid foundation with the most consistent political and economic theory in history. By foundation, I refer to the idea that the Christian system is able to provide the backdrop, the setting, for proper reasoning.

We must break free from the logically empty claim that the Christian himself is necessarily right. He is only right inasmuch as he perceives truth correctly. And the secularist may sometimes be right as well. If one assents to a true proposition (“it is wrong to steal”), it is only the thinker who reasons forward with proper logic that discovers true inferences. Whether he is a Christian or not.

For the record, most Christian “presuppositionalists,” (and I say this as a Clarkian) are absurdly bad logicians, political theorists, and economic thinkers as well. 

The secularist may have an improper foundation, but the Christian who does not properly use his foundation is no better off.

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Ownership, Rights, Christ Owns the World?

In a certain Christian Facebook group, the below comment was written:

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This sounds pious, but it is highly misleading and wrongheaded. The debate over property rights is not a matter of whether a certain piece of property is owned by either us or God. Rather, conversations relating to property rights and property ownership refers to who has the legal authority– among men– to make decisions regarding the scarce resources in the world. Property is scarce and individuals each have different desires in mind for how to employ given resources. But we cannot all have our way. Thus, we need a way to determine who has the legal authority to make decisions.

As a solution to this, God has delegated authority to individual stewards and we are told that man has the freedom to use the property under his stewardship according to his or her own determination. We know this because it is wrong to steal, that is, to decide the use of a given resource without the authority of the owner. This does not imply, of course, that every decision regarding the use of that property is per se morally sound; but rather that despite its moral soundness or unsoundness, other men are not allowed to interfere in the use of the property in discordance with the wishes of the steward.

This is the foundation of civilization, for economy, for the furtherance of the world societies. Without property rights, without a clear determination of who owns what, there is only chaos and decivilization.

Property rights are therefore a wonderful gift to mankind.

Finally, man cannot give up his rights. This is a common mistake. He can choose not to exercise them, but they cannot be alienated from him because God created the rights as part of mankind’s nature. That is, these rights have been imputed to the human race, on an individual basis, and the only choice that man has is either to not exercise them for themselves (as in the commenters statement) or else completely ignore their existence in others (in the case of governments, criminals, etc.).

Ironically, in the comment above, it is the respect of rights that could immediately solve the problem of Christians dying. It is a turning away from the systemic breach of rights by thug groups and states, that could magnificently shift the sad situation into a more peaceful scenario.

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The Benedict Option Isn’t “Two Kingdoms” Enough

Brandon already made excellent points about the Benedict Option and I don’t have much more to add. But one thing stands out to me and I’ve had something on my mind for a couple weeks and this is a good excuse to mention it.

First, a summary of the Benedict Option. Dreher:

The “Benedict Option” refers to Christians in the contemporary West who cease to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of American empire, and who therefore are keen to construct local forms of community as loci of Christian resistance against what the empire represents.

Important clarifying interpretation from Brandon:

Dreher laments the downfall of Christendom and sees the Benedict Option as a backup plan to keep Christianity afloat (he calls it an ark) during the coming “dark age” until it can re-emerge when people are “ready to hear the gospel again” in order to re-establish Christendom (“establish your shelter, your monastery in a safe place so you can be there for the rebuilding”).

Now my own take. The Benedict Option is being seen as an alternative to One Kingdom cultural transformationalism. It is being seen as an alternative to the “change the world” mentality. Thus, the danger exists of seeing all dissenters from the Benedict Option as being in the alternative camp. So when I say the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, I actually mean that I am on the opposite extreme as the transformationalists.

As Brandon noted, the problem with the Benedict Option is not in its “withdrawing from the world” per se, it is in its assumption that there is ever a time to pursue Christendom at all. Dreher thinks that “now is the time” to seek shelter and live “in the world but not of the world.” The problem with this is that it is not radical enough; it does not emphasize our pilgrimage enough; it is not reflective of a strong Two Kingdoms paradigm because it sees our current predicament as a backup plan.

Thus, the Benedict Option does not go far enough. It does not separate that which is temporary (the physical world) from that which is eternal (ideas/truths) in a consistent matter. It waits for a time when Christendom will return, when temporary institutions can once again be united with the Church. But this misses the entire point of Two Kingdoms theology.

Now, don’t get me wrong at all. From a cultural commentator standpoint, I tend to enjoy Dreher and the rest of the American Conservative folks. I certainly read their content and am pleased that there is a voice on the right that is not leftist/neoconservative. I love the Old Right and traditional conservatism. But the Benedict Option isn’t quite where I’m at, though it’s heading in the right direction by withdrawing from the empire. I would just ask that it be more radical in doing so.

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The Sadness of Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig-von-MisesLudwig von Mises:

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.”

Since my college years, I’ve had a hidden fascination with the history and culture– and tragic disintegration of– Old World Austria. One might suppose that my interest in Austrian economics plays a heavy role in that, but while true, there’s always been something deeper than that. Perhaps it was my own mother’s love of the Sound of Music movie. I always connected, at an emotional level, with the tale of Captain von Trapp and the sad fall of Old Austria.

In one scene in the movie, von Trapp gazes off into the distance and reflects on the rise of democratic statism and very painfully laments a “world that is slowly fading away.” It’s a sad moment. Internationalistic statism was gaining the upper hand in Europe and forever changing the European landscape. It was the rise of globalism, of one-world-orderism, multiculturalism, the loss of national sovereignty.

Mises' apartment door-- from my trip
Mises’ apartment door– from my trip

Did you know that the Habsburgs, the Family Elite of Old Austria, opponents of global government and the evils of democracy, were supporters of Ludwig von Mises? The son still lives and even reflected on the Mises he remembered.

For my first anniversary, my wife and I travelled to Vienna for two weeks. It was remarkable. I was able to visit Mises’ apartment, walk where he walked, read where he read. It was surreal.

For all his heroism and courage, Mises too felt the deep pain and loss of the beloved culture of his ancestors. It was not just that Hitler was a bad man. It’s that socialism and revolutionary leftism destroyed an entire Old World culture that pulled deeply at Mises’ heart. In fact, his wife Margit reflected on this pain when she wrote:

From the day of our marriage he never talked about our past. If I reminded him now and then of something, he cut me short. It was as if he had put the past in a trunk, stored it in the attic, and thrown away the key. In thirty-five years of marriage he never, never– not with a single word– referred to our life together during the thirteen years before our marriage.

The decade before their marriage was their time in Austria, before they were forced to flee as the Nazis raided his apartment and burned his books and writings. It was too painful, what became of his beloved homeland. Indeed, for Mises, the rise of socialism and the German statism was a reflection of a “world that was fading away.” Margit:

Lu followed the political situation in Germany and Austria with passionate interest. He saw the slippery road the Austrian leaders were forced upon. He knew Hitler’s rise to power would endanger Austria, and he knew exactly what the future would bring. Only the date was a secret to him. Lu was a typical Austrian. He loved his native country, the mountains, the city of Vienna, the beauty of the old palaces, the crooked streets, the fountains-but this, too, was something so deeply imbedded in his soul he rarely would talk about it. But I knew how he felt and how deeply he was hurt.

I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.
I took this photo of the Schonbrunn Palace.

Not many people understand how the world changed during the world wars. It was during these times that the entire west became rich soil for the doctrines of etatism (Mises’ word, which meant statism) and socialism and democratic egalitarianism. Which is why Rothbard’s essay on World War I is called “World War I as Fulfillment.” War is the stepping stone to cultural and academic upheaval. Hence why Progressives love war and true conservatives despise it.

When one reflects on the fall of Western Civilization, it’s not just the state itself that must be blamed. It’s the entire culture. Look at what happened to Charles Murray. Everything is racist, sexist, bigoted. These words have no meaning. They are merely bully clubs intended to destroy the remnants of Old World traditions and mannerisms.

Consider then Margit’s remembrance of Mises’ pain:

In retrospect I judge these attacks differently, and I believe I understand the reason for them. Lu wrote some notes in 1940, and I read them again and again. He wrote of Austria and of Carl Menger, who as early as 1910 recognized that not only Austria but the whole world was getting nearer to a catastrophe. Lu, thinking alike, tried to fight this with all the means he had at his disposal. But he recognized the fight would be hopeless, and he got depressed– as were all the best minds in Europe in the twenties and thirties.

He knew that if the world would turn its back to capitalism and liberalism (in the old sense of the word) it would tumble into wars and destruction that would mean the end of civilization. This terrible fight against corruption, against the foes of liberty and the free market had broken the spirit of Menger, had thrown a dark shadow over the life of Lu’s teacher and friend Max Weber, and had destroyed the vitality and the will to live of his friend and collaborator Wilhelm Rosenberg.

Theirs was a fight for a world that did not want to be helped. Few people recognized the danger, and even fewer were readyto fight alongside Lu. It was like being on a sinking ship on which people were dancing though the end was near. Lu recognized the danger. He knew how to help his fellow passengers. He tried to lead them to the right exit, but they did not follow him– and now doom knocked at the door.

_________________________

“Occasionally I entertained the hope that my writings would bear practical fruit and show the way for policy. Constantly I have been looking for evidence of a change in ideology. But…I have come to realize that my theories explain the degeneration of a great civilization; they do not prevent it. I set out to be a reformer, but only became the historian of decline.” –LvM

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Gordon Clark on Truth and the Eternal Mind

In a world where “science” (rarely defined) reigns supreme and where “scientific studies” determine whether or not something is to believed, the idea of God smacks of anti-reasonable (in the purist meaning of the term) and almost barbaric, unenlightened. This can be blamed partially on the rise of the dominance of mechanism, but also partially on certain and influential theories of “religious” teachings; even, sadly, amongst self-described Christians themselves.

The attempt to dismiss logic and reason from religion and instead emphasize something that is allegedly completely distinct from reason, namely faith, has given ammunition to critics of Christianity to blame it for being unreasonable and backward in its thinking. Why, without reason, Christianity is no different from the pagan and polytheistic religions of Old. Mostly, this is true. There is no point in embracing “religion” without reason and in pursuing “faith” without “logic.” If it’s all some undefinable “leap of faith” (Kierkegaard) that is more similar to emotion, the critics have it right.

Unfortunately those who might be agnostic or atheistic are quite on the money when they dismiss Christianity as being against reason, if by Christianity they mean what is popularly presented as a Christian understanding faith and reason. And I don’t just mean in the world Joel Osteen. I mean in conservative, evangelical, oftentimes Reformed circles as well.

This is one reason why delving into the Christian thought of Gordon Clark has refreshed me over the years and why I so often return to his clear headed account of Christianity, reason, and religion. For Clark, religion means philosophical system, if it is definable at all. In that sense, everyone has a philosophical system. Once we explain this, the atheist might take us more seriously; for who can blame us for having a system except the anti-intellectual? We are comparing conglomerations of epistemology, metaphysics, linguistics, ethics, and so on. What is faith? For Clark, it is not some undefinable emotional “longing” or “hope” or anything non-intellectual. Faith is synonymous with belief, which means to mentally assent (mentally assent is technically a redundancy, but it clarifies) or agree with a proposition. It is, in Clark’s framework, given a purely intellectual (mental) definition. So then, every proposition that is agreed to, is an example of faith (belief, assent). This is a radically unique definition of faith in relation to both pop-Christianity and modern atheistic understanding of the Christian system. In one fell swoop, those Christians who hold to the intellectualist framework of Christianity completely rock the presumptions, perpetrated by many Christians themselves, of non-Christian atheists.

Next, “reason” itself in the Clarkian framework, is stripped of its empirical contents in favor of a purely aprioristic understanding of epistemology. In this sense, we can agree by technicality with the accusation that “Christians don’t use reason like scientists do.” Very true. Instead, we use reason like the apriorists and rationalists do. Or as Clark once wrote after dismantling empiricism, “a satisfactory theory of epistemology must be some sort of apriorism….” Suddenly, we must be classified more similarly to apriorists like Ludwig von Mises because, when framed like this, Mises himself doesn’t “use reason like the scientists do.” The reason why this is a powerful clarification to use in talking with atheists (especially those who know Mises of course) is because they mean to accuse us of being anti-reasonable altogether. But we need to help them see that reason itself has differing meanings based on differing schools of thought and classifying them all as “scientific” is historically wrongheaded. What about the non-empirical rationalists and those, like Descartes, Mises, and Hoppe, who consider truth to be a product of logic/deduction rather than empirical “testing?” There’s the “reason” of Thomas Aquinas, and there’s the reason of the later rationalists. To refuse these distinctions is to equivocate.

Now then, consider the extended quote by Gordon Clark. Here, we see that he frames the Christian view of God –theism– as something entirely unsuspected by the atheist who is loaded with misconceptions about the Christian system. For Clark, quite radically, all propositions that are true, and none that are false, make up the mind of God. What is God? God is the conglomeration of true propositions.

Obviously, if skepticism is to be repudiated and if knowledge is a reality, truth must exist. In ancient Greece Parmenides was the first to state it, and Plato repeated it: If a man knows, he must know something: To know nothing is not to know. Knowledge therefore requires an existing object, and that object is truth – truth that always has and always will exist.

Contrary to ancient and medieval philosophy, the pragmatists and instrumentalists of contemporary times have tried to defend a “truth” that may be true today but was false yesterday and will be false tomorrow. They would quite agree that science is tentative; a scientific law is “true” so long as it works; but progress ensures its replacement by another “truth.” Very able, and, I would say, completely destructive criticisms of instrumentalism have been made, and their common theme seems to be that instrumentalism is self-contradictory. If truth changes, then the popular instrumentalism that is accepted as true today will be false tomorrow. As Thomism was true in the thirteenth century, so instrumentalism is true in the twentieth century, and within fifty years instrumentalism, in virtue of its own epistemology, will be false. But it is to be doubted whether John Dewey would appreciate the imminent passing of his experimentalism.

As was said before, these relativistic theories tacitly assume their own absolutism. This or that hypothesis may be tentatively accepted for a limited purpose; but if all statements without exception are tentative, significant speech has become impossible. It follows, then, that truth must be unchangeable. What is true today always has been and always will be true. Any apparent exception, such as, It is raining today, is an elementary matter of ambiguity. Two and two are four; every event has a cause; and even, Columbus discovered America, are eternal and immutable truths. To speak of truth as changing is a misuse of language and a violation of logic.

The idealistic philosophers have argued plausibly that truth is also mental or spiritual. Without a mind truth could not exist. The object of knowledge is a proposition, a meaning, a significance; it is a thought. […]

With considerations such as these Augustine was able to explain the learning and the teaching process. The teacher in the classroom does not give his students ideas. The ideas or truths are discovered by the student in his own mind; and as he contemplates the truth within, he judges whether the teacher has taught the truth. But though the truth is discovered within the mind, it is not a product of the student. Truth is not individual, but universal; truth did not begin when we were born, it has always existed.

Is all this any more than the assertion that there is an eternal, immutable Mind, a Supreme Reason, a personal, living God? The truths or propositions that may be known are the thoughts of God, the eternal thought of God. And insofar as man knows anything he is in contact with God’s mind. Since, further, God’s mind is God, we may legitimately borrow the figurative language,… and say, we have a vision of God.

Gordon H. Clark A Christian View of Men and Things (Kindle Locations 4666-4728). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

To think a true proposition is to contact the mind of God, who is every true proposition. Or, as Paul writes, “we have the mind of Christ.” Thus, in this framework, to say that the Christian –who believes that there is a God– is unreasonable, a denier of logic and pure rationality, is a complete and total nonstarter; simply by definition.

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The Bible, Political System, Ethics

One difference between a theonomist and a Reformed Libertarian is that the former argue that the Bible offers a political system, a set of laws for government to enforce. For the theonomist, this was originally provided of course in the Old Testament– the Mosaic law. And since, according to their view, these laws were never specifically abrogated, they are to be understood as still in effect. Thus, the Bible demands a certain system and governments are bound to uphold this law.

Some conflate a similar framework with what has come to be known as Reformed Libertarianism– that is, certain well intentioned folks wrongly agree with the theonomists that the Bible has given us a set of laws for government to enforce: it’s just that they are more libertarian ones!

This is a misleading way to look at the problem. It is better to sharply differentiate between a positive law (civil rules of a particular community to be enforced by a government/magistrate) and a moral law. A moral law is synonymous with “Natural Law.” Natural law refers to a law that transcends particular human contexts– it has to do with Ethics, which is not bound by time and space and people group.

Under this framework, the Mosaic civil laws were not abrogated in the sense that certain ethical principles were abrogated. Rather, they were abrogated to the extent that the “particular community,” which existed under a specific covenant no longer exists. It no longer exists because it was always meant to be temporary and to point forward to a better community (the church) under a better covenant (the New Covenant). The Mosaic law code was positive law. It was an application of moral law for the Israelite situation.

Thus, for the Reformed Libertarian, we don’t claim that the Bible offers a specific political system or set of laws for government to enforce. We approach the problem from a different angle altogether; namely, we observe that Natural Law (Ethics) does not have exceptions in regards to the individuals to whom it applies. Since every person is held to the same ethical standard, the implications extend to questions of which types of actions are legitimate for those in a position of governance.

In other words, we don’t go looking in the Bible for a blueprint for building the perfect government system. We merely have a set of ethical principles that we hold each person to indiscriminately. And since the government is made up of persons, we extend the logic to them.

Why are we comfortable with the idea that God doesn’t have a revealed set of positive laws for governments today? Simple: because the New Covenant era is about the spiritual kingdom; eternal things.

By conflating moral law with positive law, all sorts of difficulty is unavoidable.

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Austrian Oriented Investing

AS-for-Investors-Cover
Best Book on Austrian School and Investing

Most of my readers know I’m an Investment Advisor. The last couple months I’ve been busy working closely with Charles Schwab on our firm’s new investment platform. My goal was to craft portfolios that, as closely as possible, reflect what I see going on in the global macro economy. I’ve been paying particular attention to the activities of world central banks and various currency trends. These trends, coupled with the stunning victory of Donald Trump and all his political efforts, of course have implications for investments.

At the same time, while I have my preferred positions and selections, the allocation adjustments need to reflect precisely where my clients are in life. A 25 year old with $10,000 has a different allocation need than a 55 year old with $400,000.

Schwab’s fantastic platform has allowed me to apply my global economic framework and tie in the automatically adjusting and rebalancing features of the modern “passive” investment platforms so that I can accomplish both my above goals. It’s sort of like “quasi” passive investing. I’m actively watching, overseeing, interpreting, and tinkering. But the platform itself is doing its own rebalancing, tax loss harvesting, and risk-level calculating work behind the scenes.

This is so much more perfect for my clients than anything we’ve done before, inside or outside this Intelligent Portfolio platform. I am very happy that I am not limited in my investment choices and can choose from all asset classes in putting together a portfolio that really reflects the way I see the economic horizon. I can manage anything from a retail/brokerage account to a IRA rollover, and traditional/Roth/Sep IRAs as well.

What I am wanting from my readers, if anyone is interested, is questions that I can add to a FAQ page. You can review what I have here (platform overview) and here (investment philosophy page). The only thing I can’t do is give out specific positions, for compliance reasons. Though I’m happy to answer questions relating to certain sectors, trends, etc. My email is cjay.engel90 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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The Spencer-Tucker Incident

I wrote the following in the TRL Facebook group, after some conflict took place as the ISFLC incident was brewing:

Regarding the Spencer incident and Jeff Tucker’s childish (“you’re a Nazi”) overreaction: This group does not allow promotion of actual race-centric nationalism or supremacy. On the flip side, it does not allow attempts to place everyone to the “right” of your own stance in the “white nationalist” category. We neither allow claims of race-based supremacy (this includes leftist positions like black lives matter and general indentitarian victimization) nor do we allow exaggerated accusations of the same (I rarely take claims of “racism” seriously).

We do allow the opinion that some cultural traditions, practices, habits or social structures are superior than others– as long as these aren’t race-based. That is, if the cultural mannerisms do not necessarily depend on race, it won’t result in a warning (per se). For example, saying something like “anglo-american mannerisms are more appealing than Ugandan ones” is not racist and therefore allowed, as long as the tone is civil, respectful, rational, and defined in a sound manner.

I also have three notes of opinion (my opinion–not necessarily the other group admin’s) on the whole incident:

1: Spencer has some distasteful and disagreeable views; but he’s not really the antichrist most people make him out to be. He’s misguided and overdoes his main issue of racial strife (which, thanks to the race-baiters in the Mainstream Media, is now an everyday theme). Okay, I disagree with him, now let’s move on.

2: Jeff Tucker thinks everyone is a fascist. He’s become an intolerable social leftist who goes out of his way to make sure everyone knows how open minded he is, how much he loves all the branded “victim groups,” and how everyone who rolls their eyes at such claptrap is a fascist sympathizer (Trump is LITERALLY HITLER). Tucker is destroying libertarianism by making it a necessarily socially-progressive “movement.”

3: Apparently it was the Hoppe Caucus that invited Spencer. This of course has been red meat to the insufferable Steve Horowitz– that rotten ooze of quasi-libertarian and smarmy-academic circles– who has since attempted to say provocative things like “kids should read Marx over Hoppe.” This was a stupid decision by the Hoppe Caucus, who apparently (much unlike Hoppe) find more pleasure trying to stir up controversy and “trigger” those they don’t like than in actually developing arguments and challenging ideas. This is a direct result of too much internet. As much a cultural rightist I am, I am beyond annoyed by the Pepe-standard self-described rightists on the internet. If you want to be on the right, be more like The American Conservative and Unz, and less like 4Chan.

I know nothing about the Hoppe Caucus, but at this point I hate that such a thing exists. And, as a diehard Hoppean, I think this for the precise opposite reason as people like Horowitz –we need more people interested in the intellectual ideas of Hoppe, not less.

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There is no “Christian Culture,” though Christianity can Affect Culture

It’s important not to confuse the effects that Christian ethics may have on a society with either an expansion of the kingdom of heaven or widespread believe in the gospel itself.

Christianity, being a philosophical system which, among other things, has a theory of ethics, can affect culture in such a way that the moral habits of individuals in society reflect the same principles that are discovered in the Bible. Western Civilization has been very clearly impacted by the Christian religion and this can be recognized in almost all eras since Constantine.

But as our present and loathsome western culture shakes off the last remains of centuries of Old World customs and social norms, it is important to not see this as per se a shaking off of the gospel or a rejection of the true church. Of course, these things are constantly rejected and mocked. But they have been rejected and mocked since Constantine. There have been eras of reformation. Both in Calvin’s time and later in England with the opposition to the state church. And even later with the efforts of Old Princeton and then with Machen and the battle against Progressivism.

But in general historically, an actual gospel-believing and church-embracing group of people within society is a rare event.

The dismissal of the cultural effects of Christian ethics in our time does not mean that true Christianity is just now being opposed. Christianity was rejected in our era long before the cultural remains of its impact were led to the slaughter.

The cultural effects of Christianity can exist- and have existed in the United States– without there actually being a majority of Christians, defined as one who adheres to the gospel and is therefore saved.

As Brandon Adams wrote a couple years ago: “The myth of a Christian nation was the residue of sacralism that is only now being washed off 17 centuries after Constantine hijacked Christianity.”

Just because a nation of people culturally appreciate religious traditions and adhere to social norms and habits that have resulted from a heavy Christian presence, does not mean that the nation is “Christian.” A Christian can only be an individual.

And believe me, I’m a huge fan of Old World customs and social habits. As well, I believe Christianity had something to do with these mannerisms in the Western World. I constantly criticize the state, media, education, and entertainment avenues of cultural destruction. I long for the days of the Old Culture and freedom from leftist claptrap in all its forms.

But the gospel is a set of propositions relating to the work of Christ and the church is the collection of God’s elect. Christianity as a worldview can be related to and have an affect on, but not to be confused with, the culture around us.

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The Truth About Aleppo

The War Propaganda Machine is busy right now with the Aleppo situation. It’s very sad, of course, to hear about some of the events going on there. But the truth of the matter is that the US and its allies are using “babies and children” as a deflection against the reality of the situation. The US government’s interest in the matter is in destabilizing the region and toppling the Assad regime by funding and supporting the very extremist and radical “rebels” that it elsewhere claims as its enemy. Thus, Assad, seeking the help of its Russian allies is responding, perhaps not perfectly, to the scenario that was initiated and fueled by American interventionism.

But as usual, the US government and the NATO allies are posturing the entire mission as a humanitarian effort to save Aleppo from Big Bad Putin.

And most of the “facts” and video that you see on social media is pure “fake news,” propaganda.

Read this excellent piece by David Stockman for a quick– albeit punchy– overview. 

 Here is a great overview of what is going on:

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Murray Rothbard’s Review of Star Wars

Murray Rothbard was in his Movie Reviews phase in the 1970s when the Star Wars movies came out. As with his other movie reviews, he wrote this under the name “Mr. First Nighter.” You can find many more of his movie reviews in The Irrepressible Rothbard. This particular review was first published in The Libertarian Forum vol. X no. 6, June 1977.

I’m posting this because it’s fun to get his reaction from over 35 years ago to the first Star Wars movie, in light of the recent Star Wars releases.

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First came the hype. That Star Wars is going to be the biggest popular film success since Jaws means very little. So every season is going to have its oversold smash hit, so what? But the difference, the new hype, with Star Wars was its overwhelming acclaim among the critics. Usually the masses whoop it up for a Jaws while the critics go ape over Bertolucii or Fassbinder. Yet here they were in joint huzzahs, with the critic from Time flipping his wig to such an extent as to call it the best movie of the year and making Star Wars the feature of that week’s issue.

But the oddest, the most peculiar part of it was what my fellow-critics were saying: “Hurrah, a fun movie-movie”; “good escape entertainment”; “a return to good guys vs. a happy ending again”; “movie fare for the entire family”; “like Flash Gordon” etc. Here were men and women who have spent the greater, part of their lives deriding these very virtues, attacking them as mindless, moralistic, unaesthetic, fodder for the Tired Businessman instead of the Sensitive Intellectual. And yet here were these same acidulous critics praising these mindless, reactionary verities. What in blazes was going on? Had all colleagues experienced a blinding miraculous conversion to Old Culture truths? While I do not deny the logical possibility of such a mass, instantaneous conversion from error, my experience of this wicked world has convinced me that it is empirically highly unlikely. So what gives?

The best thing about seeing Star Wars is that my curiosity was satisfied. The mystery explained! For it was indeed true that Star Wars returns to the good guy-bad guy, happy ending, and all the rest. But there is an important catch, and it is that catch that enables our critical intelligentsia to praise the movie and yet suffer no breach in their irrational and amoral critical perspective. The catch is embodied in the reference to Flash Gordon: namely, that this is such a silly, cartoony, comic-strip “movie that no one can possibly take it seriously, even within its own context. No one, that is, over the age of 8. Hence, in contrast to Death Wish or Dirty Harry, where the viewer is necessarily caught up in the picture and must take the viewer is seriously, Star Wars is such kiddie hokum that the adult critics can let their hair down and enjoy it without having their aesthetic values threatened.

To put it another way, our critics, who are bitterly opposed to a moralistic and exciting plot, are scarcely challenged by the plot of “Star Wars, which is so designedly imbecilic that the intelligentsia can relax, forget about the plot and enjoy the special effects, which the avant-garde always approves.

Even on the kiddie level, Star Wars doesn’t really work. It is peculiarly off-base. The hero, for example, is so young, wooden and callow that he doesn’t really come off as an authentic comic-strip hero. As a result, his older mercenary aide becomes a kind of co-hero, which throws off the balance of the story. The hero presumably doesn’t get the Fairy Princess in the end, either, although far worse is the casting of the Princess. For, Carrie Fisher is ugly and abrasive, and if one could care very much about the hero one would hope that nothing came of their proto-romance: Miss Fisher is the quintessence of the Anti-Princess, and this ruins whatever may have remained of interest of value in Star Wars. There are more problems; not only does wise Alec Guinness lose his mighty duel with his evil ex-disciple, but the whole duel is pointless and leads nowhere, even within the context of the plot.

“Not only is this oversold turkey not the best movie of the year, it is not very good even within the sci-fi movie genre. Some of the critics have proclaimed Star Wars as even better than “2001”, but that would be no great feat, since there have been few movies of any genre that have been worse than that pretentious, mystical, boring, plotless piece of claptrap. But Star Wars doesn’t begin to compare with the science fiction greats of the past, e.g.: “The Thing”—the first post World War it sci-fi movie; “It Came from Outer Space”; “The Night of the Living Dead”, and, best of all, the incomparable “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”; None of these movies needed the razzle-dazzle of “special effects”; they did it on plot, theme, and characters. Back to them!

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Ralph Raico Has Passed

Ralph Raico was a Rothbardian original, one of the very best historians in the libertarian movement. The books mentioned, along with his “Rethinking Churchill” essay, have been incredible resources for me. Raico was one of those paleo members of the libertarian movement who never bought into the rising libertine influence on the libertarian movement. He was always fond of traditional values, social institutions, and despised PC culture in academia. It was also Raico who provided the translation for Mises’ classic work on Classical Liberalism. He was a great hero of the revival of libertarianism and a good friend to the Mises Institute from its inception.

David Gordon writes:

ralph-raico-2005I am sorry to have to report that Ralph Raico has passed away. His intellectual brilliance was evident from an early age, and while still in high school, he attended Ludwig von Mises’s seminar at New York University. There he met Murray Rothbard, who became his lifelong friend. Ralph was one of the most brilliant members of Rothbard’s Circle Bastiat. He received a PhD from the University of Chicago, working under Friedrich Hayek. Ralph became the leading historian of classical liberalism and also a renowned authority on revisionist history.  His books Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School and Great Wars and Great Leaders show penetrating analytical skills, immense learning, and devotion to liberty. He lectured at the Mises University and other conferences of the Mises Institute for many years.

Ralph was one of my closest friends for over thirty-five years, and I wish I could convey to those who didn’t know him his intellectual sharpness, wit, and kindness.  Here are a few samples of his comments, taken from emails to me: “Incidentally, in case you were stumped, that ‘nicht wahr?’ in my last email means ‘’not true?’ or, colloquially ‘right?’” “I spent New Year’s Eve finishing off a bottle of cheap Spanish champagne. My resolution is next year to make it a bottle of cheap French champagne. I hope that 2015 will be good to you.”  He loved jokes, e.g., “What’s a sight you never see? Answer: a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”

Ralph was a great man, and I was very fortunate to have been his friend.

Here is an interesting account of how Raico met Mises.

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