What purpose does it serve to talk about wrongdoing of fifty years ago? What relevance does the past have to us to today? So what if Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill, and Stalin cooperated in the murder of over 1,000,000 innocent Russian people? So what if FDR, Truman and succeeding presidents abandoned 20,000 American servicemen to Soviet gulags? Why not simply let bygones be bygones? Why bring up this dark and painful period in American history?
To confront reality is sometimes a very difficult and painful process. Human beings will often do whatever they can do to avoid the pain of facing reality. Nowhere is this more true than in how Americans view their country. Americans simply will not accept or believe that for the past fifty years, the U.S. has had an economic system that is totally different from the economic system established by our Founding Fathers. Instead, they live the life of myth and delusion that they were taught in their schools — that the welfare-state and regulated-economy way of life is simply a modified form of free enterprise.
Moreover, it is easy to accept that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi forces committed war atrocities. It is much more difficult for many Americans to accept, no matter what the evidence, that two presidents they have been taught to love — Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, along with American military forces — did the same.
But if we are ever going to return to a free and prosperous society, it will be essential to confront the reality of where this country has been, where it is now, and where it is going. A strong, healthy, and free society is only possible through the rejection of myth and delusion and through the acceptance of truth and reality. In his profound book The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (1978), M. Scott Peck put the matter this way:
The third tool of discipline or technique of dealing with the pain of problem-solving, which must continually be employed if our lives are to be healthy and our spirits are to grow, is dedication to the truth. Superficially, this should be obvious. For truth is reality. That which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world — the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misconceptions and illusions — the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions. Our view of reality is like a map with which to negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will generally know where we are, and if we have decided where we want to go, we will generally know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we generally will be lost.
To underscore why this is so important to me, I would like to share with you my own personal background and my own experience with truth and reality, some of which has been quite painful.
I grew up on a farm in Laredo, Texas, which is situated on the Mexican border. My father’s family had immigrated to Texas from Germany in the 1800s. My grandfather — Jacob G. Hornberger — owned an insurance company in San Antonio, lost everything in the Great Depression, and died soon thereafter, when my father was sixteen. My father moved to Laredo soon after World War II.
My mother’s family immigrated to Texas from Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. The revolutionaries confiscated their property and “retained” it for “public use.” (The home in which my grandmother was born and raised in Lampasos, Mexico, today still houses the local city hall — ugh!) As a young man in Laredo, my grandfather — Matias de Llano, who could barely speak English when he came to the U.S. — delivered newspapers on horseback; he later founded a hat factory that produced hats for people during the Depression.
My parents were married soon after the end of the war. My father was an attorney. My mother was a housewife. My father was authoritarian and strict, and we grew up “well behaved.” We had no doubts that we were raised correctly in a “nice” family.
My “leftist” credentials go back a long way. My father was active in Democratic Party politics. As a young boy, I stuffed campaign envelopes to help elect John Kennedy president. During the campaign, I attended a political barbecue at the Johnson Ranch in the Texas hill country, where I shook hands with Lyndon Johnson! I was even the local youth representative for Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification of America campaign! (I knew this last one would really impress you!)
I attended college at Virginia Military Institute, where I opposed the Vietnam War. After graduation from law school at the University of Texas, I became the local representative in Laredo for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I also served on the board of trustees for the local Legal Aid Society, a governmental agency that provided legal assistance to poor people.
I was a real leftist. I had no doubts that the primary purpose of government was to assist those at the bottom of the economic ladder. And government programs for the poor were a central part of Laredo life. As part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, my grandfather had brought the first public housing project to Laredo — La Colonia Guadalupe — which, unfortunately, is still operating today. In 1960, the Census Bureau named Laredo the poorest city in the U.S. And Laredo was one of Lyndon Johnson’s first Model Cities in his Great Society.
One day in the late 1970s, I came across a collection of libertarian essays that had been published many years before by The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. That was the major turning point in my life — a true “road to Damascus” experience. Authors included Leonard E. Read (who had founded FEE in 1949); Henry Hazlitt; Frank Chodorov; F.A. Harper; Ludwig von Mises; Albert J. Nock; Paul Poirot; John Chamberlain; Frederic Bastiat; and Edmund Opitz.
As I read and re-read the essays, I recognized that my belief of the proper role for government in society had been wrong. I had, in essence, been living a life of the lie — a life of deception and delusion. The welfare state was evil and immoral because it was based on political stealing. The regulated economy was evil and immoral because it was based on coercive interference with peaceful choices. And I realized that this wrongful way of life had not helped the poor — it had instead helped to destroy them.
I resigned my positions with the ACLU and the Legal Aid Society. Many years later — in 1987 — I left the practice of law to accept a position with FEE, the organization that had changed my life. In 1989, Richard Ebeling and I founded FFF.
Three years ago, I had to confront another lie that I had been living for quite some time. I was in a relationship with a woman whom I had every intention of marrying. At the same time, I fell into a deep emotional depression. Even worse, I began to increasingly emotionally abuse her. I could not understand how I could hurt someone who meant so much to me.
I sought help from a psychiatrist, who helped me to confront a painful reality: I was raised not in a “nice” family, but instead in an alcoholic one — one in which my parents were abusive, not only to themselves, but to their children, as well. I discovered that alcoholism does not adversely affect only the alcoholic; it also has consequences on other family members. As I studied the literature that has developed in this area since the early 1980s, I realized that I suffered from many of the symptoms of “adult children of alcoholics.” The therapist helped me to confront the truth and reality about myself and my upbringing. And the more I discover about my family tree, the more I find that alcohol and abuse in my family stretch back for generations.
Two years of therapy have helped to lift my depression and root out the emotional problems. The process has been much like an emotional rollercoaster ride. The realization that I had been living a life of the lie — that everything in my upbringing and family life was not hunky-dory — has been very difficult, but it was an essential step that is bringing me to health and recovery.
I was not able to save the relationship that had caused me to seek help in the first place. If you have ever lost someone you love, then you know that last year was a very painful one for me. But due to her, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned the importance of confronting the core essence of myself. I’ve learned the importance of feelings — that it is okay (and healthy) for men (and women) to express them openly and honestly. I’ve learned that it is okay (and not sissified) for men to cry. I’ve learned why people listen to country music! I’ve learned to enjoy life more. I’ve even learned how to be a little more open about myself with others!
Most important, I learned the importance of a relentless quest for truth and reality, both internally and externally. A life of the lie in either area has enormous, unhealthy consequences.
We are living in extremely dangerous times. America’s economic system today is identical, in principle, to the economic system that existed in Germany in the 1930s — Social Security; Medicare; Medicaid; welfare; public schooling; central banking; and so forth. Yet, the American people insist on living their life of the lie. They continue believing that their system, unlike the Nazi system, is “free enterprise.” They refuse to face the reality of their external lives because it is simply too painful to do so. Peck writes:
What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful, workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn? The painful effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore the new information. Often this act of ignoring is much more than passive. We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality. Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.
The result of their life of the lie is that Americans, like the Germans, continue to relinquish more and more of their lives and fortunes to public officials in order to solve the problems of “freedom.”
It intrigues me that American public officials are still so obsessed with Adolf Hitler fifty years after the man’s death. Notice that whenever a foreign despot becomes too tyrannical, American government officials always refer to him as another Adolf Hitler rather than as another Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and so on. On the conscious level, the notion is that Hitler was a political monster who comes along every few hundred years. But the obsessiveness with Hitler may very well reflect a subconscious belief that comes closer to the truth: that Adolf Hitler was not the aberrant monster who only occasionally appears in history but, instead, that Hitler was “Everyman” — every political leader who becomes corrupted with ever-increasing amounts of political power.
Alice Miller’s psychological profile of Hitler in her book For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence (1983) is fascinating. As a result of the horrible physical and emotional abuse that Hitler received from his alcoholic father (see Part 4 of this series), Hitler was filled with repressed anger and rage. Having neither a wife nor children on which to project his feelings, Hitler used his massive political powers to project his inner, destructive feelings on an entire race of innocent people. In the absence of the political power, Hitler would have been just another German citizen who disliked Jews.
What is equally significant about Miller’s writings is her observation that Hitler did not accomplish his mass murders alone. The Nazi governmental system depended on the active support of thousands of German civil servants, as well as the active and passive support of millions of German people. In fact, overwhelming numbers of Germans loved and idolized Hitler in the same way that Americans loved and idolized Roosevelt. Miller says that the authoritarian society in which Germans were raised — including their families and their schools — caused the German people to view their political leaders as their daddy. Viewing themselves as dependent, adult children of the Reich, individual Germans lacked the self-esteem and inner resolve to take an independent stand against the Nazi tyranny.
Examine the situation in the U.S. today. Millions of Americans come from alcoholic or abusive families; in fact, it has been estimated that only five percent of Americans are raised in healthy families. Most Americans view their government in the same way as the German people — as their daddy who gives them an allowance (what’s left after income taxation); forces them to share with their siblings (the welfare state); spanks them when they put bad things in their mouths (the war on drugs); and protects them from bad decisions (the regulated economy).
Moreover, adult children of dysfunctional families do as Hitler did — they gravitate toward political power. Is it a coincidence that the political rulers who have absolutely no feelings of remorse for the massacres at Waco and Ruby Ridge — Bill Clinton and Janet Reno — come from alcoholic and abusive families? Is it a coincidence that Hitler came from an abusive family? Stalin? Roosevelt?
Does this mean that the solution is to put “better” people into public office? No. Every one of us has his dark side. Political power is no different from alcohol. Drink enough liquor, and the greatest saint will become drunk. Exercise ever-increasing amounts of political power, and the result is the same. Lord Acton was right — power does tend to corrupt; and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
The ultimate solution, then, is to limit the power that public officials have to exercise. This was the idea behind our Founding Fathers’ conception of the Constitution. That document called the national government into existence but strictly limited the powers of those in office. In order to restore a free, healthy, and prosperous society, we need to continually focus on how to constitutionally prohibit public officials from exercising power in illegitimate ways.
How do we achieve this in a society composed largely of people who view government as their daddy? By continuing to focus on ourselves. The only way to improve society is to continue improving ourselves. This means improving our understanding of freedom (the external world) and improving our spiritual and mental health (the inner world). Ultimately, the healthier members of society will reach a critical mass that will lead the U.S. and the American people to the highest reaches of freedom ever seen by man.