A public-school controversy over 9/11 that erupted last spring in Texas demonstrates perfectly the statist mindset in America and how that mindset blocks the libertarian effort to create a proper foreign policy. The controversy also exemplifies the wide gulf between statists and libertarians with respect to moral principles, critical thinking, the exercise of conscience, and the role of government in a free society.
The controversy grew out of a test administered to Texas public-school students based on a video about 9/11 that was prepared by a company named Safari Montage. At issue was this question and possible answers:
Why might the United States be a target for terrorism?
A. Other people just don’t like Americans.
B. Decisions we made in the United States have had negative effects on people elsewhere.
C. Terrorists hate everyone.
D. None of the above.
The suggested right answer, according to the video, is B. When a Texas mother named Kara Sands learned about the question and recommended answer from her fifth-grade son, she was outraged because she felt that the video taught the class to blame “us” for the 9/11 attacks. She contacted the school district, which immediately contacted Safari Montage, which apologized for the matter and clarified that it wasn’t blaming America for the attacks.
Fox News Channel devoted a five-minute news report to the controversy that is worth watching because it exemplifies perfectly the statist mindset in America and the challenge we libertarians face. The report is hosted by Fox anchor Megyn Kelly and features two guests — Sands and Texas state Senator Dan Patrick, a Republican. It matters not that Kelly and Patrick and possibly Sands are conservatives because their mindset mirrors that of Americans on both the left and the right — and for that matter many other Americans who aren’t politically inclined.
You can view the Fox video here: http://video.foxnews.com/v/ 2252757521001/us-to-blame-for-911-school-test-under-fire/.
Notice the familiar conflation of the U.S. government and the American people that we have seen from statists ever since 9/11. That conflation is reflected also in the Safari Montage test question, which discusses the causes of 9/11 in collective terms, such as “we,” “us,” “the United States,” or “America.”
Why is that important? As we libertarians have long pointed out, the U.S. government and the American people are two separate and distinct entities. That phenomenon is best reflected by the Bill of Rights, which expressly protects the American people (and others) from the federal government.
It is no surprise that that point befuddles statists. In their minds, since the federal government and the American people are one and the same, how can the Bill of Rights be protecting the American people from the federal government?
In fact the problem goes much deeper than that. The last thing statists want to confront is the threat the federal government poses to the American people. For statists the federal government is their friend, their benefactor, their parent, and even their god. Oh, they won’t put it that way, but when one carefully examines and analyzes their mindset, he can see that’s how they perceive the federal government.
This is one of the major areas where the welfare state integrates with the warfare state. The welfare state provides people with retirement benefits, health care, farm subsidies, FDIC insurance, disaster relief, unemployment compensation, mandatory minimum wages, drug laws, and a host of other paternalistic programs that are supposedly designed to take care of people. Since Americans are born and raised under a welfare-state way of life, they have come to view the federal government in much the same way that a child views his parents. Knowing that their survival depends on their parents, few children are going to challenge them at a fundamental level, at least not before they become teenagers. That’s the way that statists view the federal government.
Thus, unlike libertarians and our American ancestors who demanded the enactment of the Bill of Rights, statists don’t see the federal government as a threat to their freedom and well-being. Instead they see the federal government as part of one great big national family, one in which the federal government is a parent or a big brother. The result is the conflation of the federal government and the American people in the mind of the statist.
A related phenomenon, one that also distinguishes libertarians from statists, involves the concept of patriotism. Notice how Sands describes her concept of patriotism, an understanding that neither Kelly nor Patrick disagrees with. She points out that the Safari Montage video begins with a patriotic message — one that says that 9/11 brought the nation together, caused people to put American flags in their front yards, and motivated people to sing “God Bless America.” Underlying that simplistic concept of patriotism is an unwavering support of the federal government — or, to be more specific, a mindset that loyally and blindly “supports the troops” without examining or questioning what exactly the troops are doing and why they are doing it.
One of the things I found fascinating about the Fox News video is that neither of the commentators in the video ever divulged what he felt was the right answer. Neither did Kelly. It was almost as if it didn’t matter. All that seemed to matter was that B was the wrong answer and that every student needed to be told that.
After all, there is a range of possibilities in answering that question. Theoretically one could concede that the U.S. government did in fact do bad things to people in the Middle East before 9/11, but that that wasn’t what motivated the terrorists to commit the attacks. Or one could concede that the things that the U.S. government did, in fact did motivate the terrorists, but that such things were not bad at all because they were part of the U.S. government’s effort to be a “force for good in the world.” Or one could concede that the U.S. government’s actions, while motivating the terrorists, were unfortunately necessary to “keep us safe” or to protect “national security.”
It is clear from watching the Fox segment, however, that that is a door statists simply do not want to open. It’s too terrifying for them to even examine such possibilities. Better to simply keep that door closed and continue believing that “we” didn’t do anything to generate the anger and hatred that motivated the 9/11 attackers.
We witnessed this phenomenon during the first GOP presidential debate in 2008, when Ron Paul pointed out that the 9/11 terrorists came “over here” because the U.S. government was “over there.” Wow! You could hear the collective gasp from the statists who filled that auditorium, including Paul’s fellow candidates on the stage. That’s just not something any red-blooded, genuine American patriot is supposed to say. Paul was considered a traitor, an America-hater, a terrorist-lover, and a heretic. Ironically, that’s when his campaign took off, owing to the large number of people who agreed with his assessment.
The flap over the Safari test question actually involves a much bigger political issue, one that, once again, separates statists from libertarians. That issue is public (i.e., government) schooling.
What would a libertarian say should be the right answer to that test question? We take the issue to a higher level — that there should be no public schooling at all. We say the state has no more role in education than it has in religion. We would repeal compulsory school-attendance laws and school taxes and privatize the school buildings. We would separate school and the state in the way our ancestors separated church and state.
One can see the difference between the statist and libertarian mindsets by examining Patrick’s remarks on Fox News. He points out that before online learning became so popular, the state department of education could maintain better control over what children were learning through the approval of textbooks and curricula. He complains that online learning is now exposing students to all sorts of dangerous ideas, such as the possibility that the U.S. government’s actions abroad motivated the terrorists to strike on 9/11.
Patrick’s observations go to the heart of why governments everywhere demand control over the education of children. Their ultimate aim is not to educate but rather to create good little citizens whose mindset is characterized by conformity, regimentation, and deference to authority. When one watches Kelly, Sands, and Patrick, one cannot help but see that they are model public-school success stories, as demonstrated by their immediate condemnation of any suggestion that the U.S. government’s actions abroad might have served as a motive for the 9/11 attackers and by their simplistic “my government, never wrong” concept of patriotism.
Think what a fascinating discussion it could have been for students to openly and freely discuss and debate the issue. Has the U.S. government done bad things to people abroad? Were those things motives in the 9/11 attacks? Were those things actually good? Were they intended to keep Americans safe or to protect “national security”? Is the U.S. national-security state a force for good in the world, as it claims? Do foreigners hate America for its freedom and values? Was that why the 9/11 attacks occurred? Is the problem a religious one, one in which Christians and Muslims are at war with each other?
Alas no public school in America would dare permit students to engage in that kind of open discussion and debate. It’s not only too frightening; it’s also not the type of mindset that public schools want to inculcate in students. They want to form the opposite mindset — one that does not engage in critical thinking and instead simply defers to the authority of governmental institutions, especially the U.S. national-security state.
Unfortunately the result is not only a mindset unable or unwilling to engage in critical thinking. That would be bad enough. The problem is much worse, especially from the standpoint of morality and right conduct. The person with a mindset of conformity, regimentation, and deference to authority inevitably abandons his conscience, the God-given gift that helps people choose between right and wrong. The statist has subordinated his conscience to the power of the national-security state.
Again, that is something that distinguishes libertarians from statists. We not only engage in critical thinking, especially with respect to what the government does to people, we also exercise our conscience and respond to its dictates. If we determine that the government is engaged in conduct that violates fundamental principles of right and moral conduct or that violates God’s laws, then we take a firm stand against such actions.
Thus our concept of patriotism is totally different from that of statists. To us the genuine patriot is the one who is willing to take a stand against his own government’s wrongdoing, as the British citizens who signed the Declaration of Independence did. We hold that position not only because we believe it’s the right thing to do but also because we believe that it’s incumbent on the citizenry to set the government on the right course when it is on the wrong course.
A good example of the libertarian concept of patriotism is the White Rose, a group of Germans, predominantly college students, during World War II. Risking their lives, they took a stand against their own government — in the midst of a major war in which thousands of German soldiers were being killed every day. The White Rose students even exhorted the German people not to support the troops.
Not surprisingly we libertarians look on the members of the White Rose as heroes and genuine patriots for their courage in standing up to the wrongdoing of their own government and incurring the wrath and condemnation of their fellow citizens, whose mindset was statist in nature.
Moreover, by engaging in critical thinking and the exercise of conscience, libertarians are able and willing to do something that statists cannot do or are unwilling to do: put ourselves into the shoes of foreigners who have been victimized by the power of the U.S. national-security state.
Consider, for example, the 1979 revolution in Iran, when Iranian revolutionaries took American diplomats hostage for about a year. American statists would focus on that event and simply conclude that the revolutionaries were evil terrorists who hated “us,” “America,” or “our freedom and values.”
Libertarians, on the other hand, would say, “Let’s study this in more depth. Let’s ask why the Iranian revolutionaries were so angry at the United States.” We would learn that 25 years earlier the U.S. national-security state, through a CIA-instigated coup, ousted the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, a highly respected figure who had been selected as Time magazine’s “man of the year.” We would also learn that the CIA restored to power a brutal absolute monarch, the shah of Iran. We would also learn that the CIA trained the shah’s
national secret police/intelligence force — SAVAK — in the art of torture to enable him to enforce his brutal tyranny on the Iranian people. We would learn that the reason the U.S. government did all that was to protect British oil interests in Iran. We would learn that that’s why the Iranian people were so angry. We would learn that the reason they kept American diplomats hostage was to ensure that the U.S. national-security state didn’t try to restore the shah to power again.
We libertarians have done the same with respect to 9/11. We have been unafraid to examine the U.S. military’s intentional destruction of Iraq’s water- and sewage-treatment plants which was inflicted with full knowledge that infectious illnesses would very likely spread among the populace; the brutal sanctions against Iraq that contributed to the deaths of innocent children; the callous declaration by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it”; the stationing of U.S. troops near Islamic holy lands; the unconditional U.S. support of the Israeli government; the U.S. foreign aid provided Middle East dictators to help them enforce their tyrannies on their own people; and, of course, the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which have killed untold numbers of people, most of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
We have also been unafraid to point out that such actions were morally wrong and that many of them served as motives for the 9/11 attacks and, for that matter, the terrorist attacks that preceded 9/11 — i.e., the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole, and the attacks on the U.S. embassies in east Africa.
We have also been unafraid to call for the cessation of such actions as well as the termination of the U.S. national-security state’s invasions, occupations, sanctions, embargoes, interventions, wars of aggression, indefinite incarceration, torture, assassination, military tribunals, Guantanamo Bay, secret prison camps, and the like. Indeed, we have been unafraid to call for the dismantling of the entire Cold War national-security state apparatus.
Today young people are gravitating toward libertarianism and away from statism in increasing numbers. They are breaking out of the mindset of conformity, regimentation, and deference to authority to which they have been subjected. They are engaging in critical thinking and the exercise of conscience. They are the vanguard of a movement that has the potential of leading America out of the darkness of statism and into the light of freedom, prosperity, and harmony with the people of the world.
This article was originally published in the June 2013 edition of Future of Freedom.