You do not defend a world that is already lost. When was it lost? That you cannot say precisely. It is a point for the revolutionary historian to ponder. We know only that it was surrendered peacefully, without a struggle, almost unawares. There was no day, no hour, no celebration of the event—and yet definitely, the ultimate power of initiative did pass from the hands of private enterprise to government.
There it is and there it will remain until, if ever, it shall be reconquered. Certainly government will never surrender it without a struggle.1
We enter 2022 with the hope and optimism made possible only by the most clear-eyed assessment of reality. Garet Garett’s remarkable words, published in 1938, are right at home in the new year. They are also liberating. There is no going back, no restoration, no “reform”—the America we thought we knew is gone. Tens of millions of Americans now believe both the US federal government and the major institutions in this country—from media to big corporations to universities to Hollywood to Big Pharma and the medical establishment—are actively working against their interests. They have no self-interest in defending a world already lost.
We can be melancholy about this or we can be happy and confident about the opportunities presented. Those same millions who no longer believe the system works are eager to build a new one. America is barely a country at this point, beyond a pure economic arrangement. Without material abundance (no small thing, of course), what really connects us? America certainly is not a cohesive nation in any meaningful way—and why should it be, given its vast geography and enormous (real) diversity? This reality, not pining for some fuzzy, long-lost constitutionalism, should inform us, as per Garett’s admonition.
A compelling and viable path forward starts with identifying and coalescing around the many de facto smaller nations which already exist within the US.
The covid regime, for starters, has allowed federalism to reassert itself in ways few of us could have imagined two years ago. Even hapless Joe Biden recently admitted there is no federal solution to a virus, that covid must be “solved” by the states. Governors now openly snipe at one another on social media, and encourage competition among businesses and families looking to relocate. The moving company United Van Lines happily provides with its annual survey. Those who can, given their economic and family situations, are voting with their feet. Regionalism has a new energy not seen for many decades.
Among those nations, two broad paths forward present themselves. One America intends to make 2022 another covid year, complete with business and school lockdowns, mask requirements, and vaccine passports. Another America wants to get back to normal as much as possible, and deal with the virus as a permanent but manageable part of the landscape (like existing flu viruses). This fork in the road forms a flash point simply because the two paths are incompatible, but also because they provide real-time opportunities to apply different policies (often de facto, such as when businesses simply disregard covid rules) in different states and locales. These opportunities in turn provide a blueprint for how intractable issues like abortion and gun control might be addressed more locally, rather than by nine black-robed superlegislators.
These two covid trajectories are almost metapolitical at this point, but they demonstrate the inescapable choice: organize society around the state or organize it around individuals, families, markets, and the institutions of civil society. We can live in a political world or in an economic world. Mixing the two is not working.
Politics won’t go away, of course. But it will remain a lagging indicator. The Left2 is hopelessly consumed by hatred and ingratitude, mired in identity, and animated by a desire to hurt and vanquish the Deplorables (Trump voters, antivaxxers, covid deniers, et al.) as an act of revenge. The Right3 is lost in Trumpian dysfunction, moving further and further from any coherent message about economics or opportunity while allowing neoconservatives to regroup and promote bellicosity toward Russia, China, and Iran. Libertarians, too, have lost the plot—navel-gazing over what kind of circumstances would justify lockdowns and mandates, cheering the deplatforming (even the debanking) of alternative and dissident voices by tech companies, and accepting progressive framing of “climate change” and the like, all while failing to focus on the threats of empire and central banking.
Both “sides” are led by deeply unserious people who are congenitally unfit to organize a sandwich shop, much less lord over 330 million people.
But if politics cannot be eliminated, it can be made more tolerable by an aggressive push toward subsidiarity. Americans already sensed this, but covid accelerated it. Giving up on political universalism is a bitter pill for the political class, but one that must be swallowed. It’s the pill Mises prescribed a century ago in his radically decentralist calls for “liberal nationalism”4 and the right of self-determination as the hallmark of a decent society. Does this mean America must break up into new political entities, as the Austro-Hungarian empire did? Not necessarily, but it does mean accepting a far greater degree of federalism and localism and a dramatically diminished national government. The way forward is apart.
“We Will Win” is a ubiquitous hashtag on Twitter lately, code for the sense of change so many Americans feel but can’t yet articulate. We will win because socialism is incompatible with human nature and a productive material economy. We will win because the Fed’s crazed monetization of Treasury debt and its maniacal fetish for low interest rates are unsustainable. We will win because Uncle Sam will run out of (valuable) money. We will win because entitlements ultimately are unpayable, at least in real terms. We will win because war, empire, and nation building have exhausted themselves and Americans of all political stripes want us out of the Middle East. We will win because woke5 will fail of its own internal contradictions and infighting. And we will win because the digital age is inexorably decentralizing virtually every aspect of human life, and governments cannot escape this forever.
So, We Will Win. But how long will it take, and at what price victory?
No one can know. But great things are happening, and we should take good cheer with us into 2022!
1. “The Revolution Was,” a superb essay published in 1938, was Garet Garrett’s thoroughgoing explanation of the revolutionary changes in American governance and life which resulted from the New Deal period. It was, in Garrett’s words, a “revolution within the form”—a revolution which maintained the trappings of constitutionalism and federalism but in fact ushered in the total managerial state.
3. With notable exceptions, of course, like our friends at Chronicles magazine.
4. See Nation, State, and Economy (1919) for Mises’s remarkable discussion of the breakup of nations and boundaries following the end of the Great War. See also Liberalism (1927) for Mises’s exposition of a benevolent liberal nationalism, something very different from “nationalism” as it is conceived today (jingoistic, aggressive, expansionary, autarkic).
5. Admittedly, “woke” is on the cusp of becoming one of George Orwell’s “meaningless words“—words wildly overused to represent something exceedingly vague but bad. Here the term is used very broadly to represent strident progressive beliefs regarding race, sex, sexuality, equality, climate change, and the like.
Author: Jeff Deist is president of the Mises Institute. He previously worked as chief of staff to Congressman Ron Paul, and as an attorney for private equity clients. Contact: email; Twitter.