Today is a big day for me. It probably isn’t a big day for you, but it is a big day for me.
On this day, 40 years ago, the first issue of Remnant Review was mailed to subscribers. It was a technologically primitive newsletter. Most newsletters were, back in 1974. You can download it here.
I still publish it once a month, as you can see. Back then, I published it every other week. When it started, it had four pages. It grew to six pages. It grew to eight pages. Then, beginning early in this century, I ceased publishing it in paper form. From then on, it varied in length in terms of digits. There is no particular length for the issues.
I had left the Foundation for Economic Education in March 1973. I joined Ron Paul’s staff in June 1976. So these two years constituted my breakthrough. I began to escape the golden manacles of a salary. My escape came in the fall of 1979. After this, I was self-supported. I was a full-time entrepreneur. That began in the months leading up to May 1974.
A gold coin salesman and newsletter publisher named René Baxter persuaded me. I was attending an economics conference in early 1974. He asked me this: “Why don’t you start a newsletter?” There were lots of very good reasons, but I didn’t know them at the time. (Baxter soon joined the tax revolt movement, and he disappeared from public view.)
On May 15, 1974, my wife and I sat at a table in a rented house in Long Beach, California. She had typed names and addresses on sheets that served as masters for Avery peel-off labels. I got these photocopied at a local print shop. This was before Kinko’s.
I had about 300 free trial subscribers, as I recall. Then I converted about 20% of these to paid subscribers. But my memory is vague here. I may have had more than 300. I may have converted more than 20%.
I could not have guessed that, five and a half years later, I would have 22,000 subscribers at $60 a year.
I had begun writing for money nine years earlier. I wrote book reviews for the Riverside, California Press Enterprise. Less than two years later, my first nationally published article appeared in The Freeman. You can read it here.
I did not think about how long I would be publishing the newsletter. I just wanted it to be successful. Had I known about the trials and tribulations of newsletter publishing in 1974, I would not have launched the venture. But it has worked out, all things considered. In retrospect, I’m glad I did it. But it was a good thing that I did not see in advance what would be involved to keep the publication going for 40 years.
Over the next 25 years, I learned direct-mail marketing. I learned book production. I learned about typesetting on microcomputers. I learned the World Wide Web. I might not have done any of this, had I not started the newsletter.
40 YEARS LATER
I thought it would be appropriate to offer a few thoughts regarding the nature of the battles we face. I had been aware of some of this since 1956. It took almost 20 years for me to make the decision to sell my thoughts on such matters on a subscription basis. I did a lot of learning between 1956 and 1974.
I have seen a lot of shooting stars in this business. I have seen people come and go. I have seen causes come and go. I have seen organizations come and go. This is normal. Most people do not start out as stars when they are in their 20′s, and then maintain this position until they retire half a century later. Most start-up organizations do not survive for five years. Of those that do, a century later there will be no trace of most of them. There is a constant winnowing process. This is liberty at work. This is the free market at work. Most things fail.
This is not the same as saying that most things have no effect. Lots of things have effects; it’s just that the effects that they have are not visible. They leave no major trace in history, because history is complex, and historians can barely get a grip on the tiny segment of what happens in history. Most people leave no trace 10 years after they die, other than their children. This does not mean that they had no influence. They just don’t leave any public trace.
As you know, one of my recommendations is that people stick to their knitting. They find out what it is they can do best, and they continue to do it for as long as they can. I believe that this leads to increased skills, which means increased production. Over a period of five years, not many people can achieve a great deal doing anything. Unless they make some major invention, or stumble into it, they should not expect that their work will have any significant effect. But, if they stick at this for 40 years, then they may have some influence.
Once you recognize that most projects fail, the fear of failure should not paralyze you. The fact that you invest a lot of time in some project, and the project fails, should not bother you. Nobody likes failure, but success is a long shot, even under the best conditions. Any time you try to do something important, you should expect to fail. If doing something important requires that the odds be in favor of it, right from the beginning, then people would not attempt to do things that turn out to be important. This would reduce the number of things in history that are important.
What is important is this: don’t let yourself get sidetracked. You may decide that a particular venture needs to be abandoned. If you have invested everything in terms of this venture, you probably have made a mistake. Each venture should be part of a long-term process. Most things do not work. But if all of the things that you begin are consistent with your long-term strategy, then the fact that some things fail along the way should not bother you too much.
YOUR PERSONAL USP
This means you have to have a USP. You have to have a unique service proposition. If your various projects are consistent with your USP, then the fact that 80% of projects fail does not mean that your efforts will be in vain. What you should try to do is to identify those projects which will be part of the 20%, which will be worth your continuing efforts. You must be ready to drop the 80%, so that you can concentrate on the 20% that have a legitimate prospect of making a difference. But when you start out, you don’t know. That’s the point. That’s where entrepreneurship takes over. You have to test the waters.
If you go from USP to USP, then you’re almost certain to achieve nothing significant. If you cannot decide on what that unique service proposition is, then you have a major problem. Your failures will undermine your efforts. You will have a series of failures that do not lead to a progressive expansion of something important.
I suppose if I were asked to pick out one person in my line of work who is the poster child of failed efforts, it would be Jeremy Rifkin. He has co-authored book after book after book, each one saying that this crisis is the next big thing, and all of them coming to nothing. He kept identifying the crucial thing that was going to undermine America, and he said that he had the crucial solutions to stop this. Within three or four years, he found a new crucial threat that was going to undermine America, and he co-authored another book on how to stop it. If he has a long-term agenda, I cannot figure it out. He is a standard leftist, but his books never seem to have any continuity. His books are series of discontinuities. They are just one thing after another.
If he had offered a consistent solution, and had shown that this solution is part of a larger approach to make the world better, he would have been more successful. But there was never any clear indication of what it was that he thought the federal government ought to do. There was no system of recruiting people to a larger cause. It was just one thing after another.
GOOD GUYS VS. BAD GUYS
In this life, there are good guys and there are bad guys. Sometimes you spot the bad guys really early, but it takes a long time to spot the good guys.
Once you’ve spotted the good guys and the bad guys, you have to begin an allocation of your time. You have to build something positive, which means you have to get on the side of the good guys. But to build something positive, you have to tear down something negative. This means that you have to inflict pain on the bad guys.
There are people who think you can be good all the time, simply going around lighting candles to chase away the dark. This assumes that there are not people out there who are actively going right behind you, blowing out your candles.
Some people spend their lives doing nothing except fighting the bad guys. I regard these people as misguided. You cannot build anything positive simply by hating, and it is very difficult to spend your life battling a specific group of bad guys, and not become hateful. You can’t beat something with nothing. Also, there is a tendency for these people to burn out. All the feedback in their lives is negative.
Let me give you the obvious example in the Right wing. There are people who are full-time anti-Semites. They hate the Jews. They spend their whole lives hating the Jews. They do not have a list of good Jews and bad Jews; all the Jews are bad. From Karl Marx to Murray Rothbard and Lugwig von Mises, they believe, there is no significant difference. These people waste their lives.
For example, there is no question that a very high percentage of senior Russian Communists in the days of Lenin were atheistic Jews. That is to say, they were circumcised Marxist revolutionaries. The Jew-haters cannot stop talking about this. “Jews created Communism.” It is as if circumcision was the source of the Communism. They do not understand what Ernest van den Haag said a generation ago: a high percentage of Communists were Jews, and a low percentage of Jews were Communists. The Jew-haters can only see the high percentage of Communists who were Jews.
They forget about Stalin, who was not a Jew. He eliminated all of his Jewish opponents, both the supposedly Right-wing communists and the supposedly Left-wing Communists. He tried them and had them executed. Then, close to the end of his life in 1953, he started going after Jewish doctors.
I don’t regard Stalin as being bad because he was a Georgian. I also do not regard Stalin as being bad because he had been a seminary student in the Georgian section of the Russian Orthodox Church. I regard Stalin as being bad because he was a Marxist, a pathological murderer, and a full-time destroyer of civilization. I don’t let him off the hook because he wasn’t Jewish. I also don’t let Trotsky off the hook because he was circumcised.
Again, it depends on who you think the bad guys are.
I started out in the conservative movement believing that the bad guys, the worst guys of all, were the Communists. I was brought into the movement by Dr. Fred Schwarz. I continued to believe that the worst bad guys were Communists up until December 31, 1991. That was when the Soviet Union committed suicide. The Communist Party distributed the funds into the senior party members’ bank accounts in Switzerland, and then went out of business.
Why did I think the Communists were the bad guys? First, because they preached a religion of revolution. I wrote a book on that subject, which was published in 1968. Second, because they were heavily armed with nuclear weapons, and I believed then, as I believe now, that you should take seriously what your enemy can do to you, not necessarily what he plans to do to you. You have to make your assessment in terms of his ability to inflict pain on you, and 30,000 nuclear warheads constituted this ability. Third, they were messianic. Marxism had the conquest of the whole world as its goal.
I recognized early that there were a lot of anti-Communists who really did not have a clear idea of what ought to replace Communism. Some of these men were dedicated socialists. The authors of a popular anti-Communist book, meaning popular on campus, was titled The God That Failed (1950). Communism was the God that failed, but it had not failed yet in 1950. The authors were mostly socialists.
There is no doubt in my mind that socialism was a lot better than communism, which was a philosophy based on the concept of the necessity of worldwide revolution. Socialists simply wanted to put a bunch of technocrats in charge of everything, and take away other people’s money to fund the various projects. There was no doubt in my mind, very early, that socialism could not work. I did not find out until my late teens that Ludwig von Mises had devoted his writing in the early 1920′s to proving this point.
I think the best statement of this I ever heard was from my friend Dr. Ernst Winter, the son-in-law of Col. Von Trapp. His father was the vice mayor of Vienna in the early 1930′s, when Austria, and especially Vienna, was being torn apart by armed paramilitary groups: the Nazis and the Communists. His father made an alliance politically with the socialists. He explained to his son the following: “The socialists are totally incompetent, but the Nazis are serious.”
My philosophy regarding tactics is simple enough to state: stay on the battlefield, despite the fact that you have to compromise on certain issues. We must compromise with lots of bad legislation, such as the federal income tax. I don’t think the 16th amendment was ever legally ratified. Bill Benson didn’t either, and he wrote a book about it, The Law That Never Was. But he went to jail because he taught people not to pay their taxes. He almost died in jail. Now, he is out of the fight. The Feds have muzzled him.
I pay my income taxes, even though I don’t think the 16th amendment was ratified. I want to stay on the battlefield. I do not want go to jail. I do not want to be muzzled. I think it is better to pay tribute to Caesar, and then go about your business of undermining Caesar. If your business will ultimately lead to the loss of legitimacy of Caesar and what he stands for, then go about your business. This is what Jesus did in the first century, and it took almost 300 years for the Roman Empire to be captured by the Christians.
Of course, the better approach would have been to show what a systematic alternative to the Roman Empire was. Unfortunately, the early church did not do this, and its members wound up running a gigantic bureaucracy which was inherently tyrannical. It took the breakdown of the Roman Empire to enable a series of local experiments in Christian culture, which we call the Middle Ages, to replace what was clearly a flawed system of centralized government. It was not the proper goal to capture the Roman Empire; the proper goal would have been to eliminate it. That was what happened after the fifth century in the West.
So, you have to know the good guys, and you have to know the bad guys
As to which of the bad guys you fight, and as to which the good guys you support, you have to consider your own abilities. There is the intellectual division of labor. There is no escape from this. I would be a poor candidate to fight Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I don’t know that much about psychology. They were bad guys, and they were dominant for a long time. Freud has finally begun to get his comeuppance, but I would not have done what my father-in-law did, namely, spend time reading the enormous volume of works by Freud and about Freud, in order to produce a 70-page critique. It is a brilliant 70-page critique, but I would not have written it. I hated to read Freud, and I could not have disciplined myself to put up with such utter nonsense for thousands of pages, plus all of the other material written about him. I just didn’t have the stomach for it.
We forget, or maybe you never knew, that in 1959, there was not a single book against Sigmund Freud written from a conservative perspective by a psychiatrist. The only book there was, was written by a sociologist, and was titled The Freudian Ethic. This is no longer true. There are plenty of books against Freud. But he had a free ride for a long time.
Every socialist group, every special interest group, comes to the public with the argument that, if the public would just pay a dollar a day in taxes to support a particular cause, the world would be better off. Everyone has a different suggestion as to which cause deserves the dollar a day. Everybody thinks his cause is the cause. Everybody thinks that his solution is the solution.
This is true of the anti-groups as well as the pro-groups. This is the result of the division of labor. This is a complex world, and there are lots of things that are wrong. This is a complex world, and there are lots of potential solutions to the things that are wrong. In fact, the suggested solutions for the things that are wrong vastly outnumber the things that are wrong.
This is why we need competition. There is competition among the bad guys; there is competition among the good guys. Competition is what keeps the organizations on all sides realistic. They have to interact with the real world. They have to compete for people’s time and money. They have to compete for political legitimacy. They have to compete for power.
Because there are so many different causes, there has to be decentralization for anyone of these causes to gain success. There is too much competition for people’s time and money. Organizations have to start out small, and it takes a long time for them to have any influence. Most of them never have any influence. This is why localism is so important. No matter what it is you believe in, you cannot expect to have much influence beyond a relatively small geographic area. This is why decentralization is so crucial. We have to have multiple experiments, because if we have one gigantic experiment, and it fails, too much is put at risk.
Most true believers suffer from burnout at some point. They finally come to the conclusion that they have devoted their lives to a lost cause. They abandon ship. Maybe they find a new cause, or maybe they just go into retirement. This can come younger than age 65.
Think of the people who committed their lives to Marxian Communism. What do they have to show for it? North Korea. They were absolutely convinced that their solution was inevitable, and that it would transform humanity. It would create the new man. Well, it killed about 100 million people, and it is now a laughingstock. That may be the worst thing about it from their point of view. It is not just that they failed. It is that they were silly people who wasted their lives on a lost cause. How do you rebound from that?
We live today in a unique time in history. Usually, it is fairly easy to identify the good guys and the bad guys. For example, in 1794, there were two figures who incarnated two rival views of the world. One of them was George Washington. The other was Maximilian Robespierre. Both of them were men of the Enlightenment. Washington was part of the Right-wing Enlightenment; Robespierre was part of the Left-wing Enlightenment. One of them believed in a bottom-up system of civil government; the other one believed in a top-down system of civil government.
Robespierre did not live to see 1795. Washington continued to rule for a few more years, and died a national hero. But Robespierre’s vision continued in the underground world of the revolutionary Left of Europe. The best book on this is James Billington’s Fire in the minds of Men (1980). Part of that tradition went to Marxian Communism; the other part went to fascism and Nazism. But they were both part of the socialist Left. When the USSR folded up shop in December 1991, the legacy of Robespierre finally went belly-up. This took almost two centuries.
Today, it’s not clear. I am not saying that we are at the end of history. But we are in a unique situation, in that it is not clear what the next great thing is. There is no secular humanist movement comparable to Marxian Communism today. There is no great secular humanist movement that is said to represent the inevitable future. Optimistic eschatology has faded out of most groups and movements. Mises wrote in 1922 that the socialists’ number-one idea was historical inevitability. “Nothing has helped the spread of socialist ideas more than this belief that Socialism is inevitable. Even the opponents of Socialism are for the most part bewitched by it: it takes the heart out of their resistance.” That faith is now dead. These days, I cannot think of a single secular movement in the political realm that claims for itself anything like historical inevitability.
We are now facing something like the world described by Robert Nisbet in the epilogue to his book, History of the Idea of Progress. He said that every movement needs to have faith in the future, and these days, we don’t find such movements. The epilogue was titled “Progress and Providence.” The Communists proclaimed such a faith for over 150 years. They don’t anymore.
It never hurts to go back to Margaret Thatcher’s statement: “Socialism works until it runs out of other people’s money.” This is equally applicable to the welfare-warfare state.