Saturday, July 10, 2010

How to Fight Conspiracies and Win

by Gary North

When someone at last discovers that some conspiracy has taken over this or that institution, he gets into a mentality that sees conspiracies everywhere. Anyone who finally accepts the fact that one or more conspiracies have been operating for one or more centuries to control the affairs of his nation, or even the whole world, has a tendency to see everything in terms of conspiracies. He begins to attribute to this or that conspiracy the ability to forecast the future almost perfectly, to control the future almost perfectly, and to thwart all attempts of critics to deflect the conspiracy from its agenda.

Over 40 years ago, the man who would later be my father-in-law, R. J. Rushdoony, warned me about this attitude. He called these people "gravediggers." This was before Phyllis Schlafly used the phrase. He called them gravediggers because he equated them with people who are required by their executioners to dig their own graves before the executioners execute them. This saves work for the executioners. Rushdoony's point was that conservatives tend to dig their own graves, with the result that their enemies have much less trouble disposing of them. I have found over the years that his assessment was accurate.

The gravedigger gives up hope. He works diligently, but he has no future. He is not going to be able to escape the plans of the executioners. This is how thousands of conspiracy theorists view their own efforts. They give up any thought of reforming the system that has been infiltrated. They offer no plans to replace it. They just wring their hands and cry, "The Conspiracy! The Conspiracy!"

I recall one man who spent his life clipping newspapers and photocopying items about how conspirators have done this or that. I never heard him offer a solution. I never heard him offer a theory of civil government or economics that would serve as an alternative. Yet he spent 35 years in the presence of the libertarian activists and conservative leaders. I never heard him quote an idea from Mises, Rothbard, Hayek, or anyone else. He was completely devoid of ideas. His entire life was spent with no theory of God, man, law, sanctions, and the future. He had no theory of conspiracies and causation. He only had clippings.

He was not alone.

Rushdoony also made the point that people who are looking for ways to avoid personal responsibility for working to change the infiltrated system have a tendency to blame the conspiracy for having infiltrated any organization that might plausibly produce significant social change. In other words, they dismiss the activities of individuals who really are working diligently to transform the system. They do so on the basis that these people are simply dupes of the conspirators. (For an example, click here.) In this sense, Rushdoony said, the conspiracy theorists attribute to the conspiracy what Christianity has historically attributed only to God. They see the conspiracy as an almost sovereign, almost omniscient, almost omnipotent collective group that has the power to direct history as if the group were God.

He warned me that whenever I found myself surrounded by people who attribute most of what takes place in life to a single conspiracy, I would be wise to disassociate myself from that group. He was convinced that it does no good to participate as a gravedigger. The goal is to transform society, and the way to do this is through religious and intellectual evangelism. He was also convinced that individuals should attempt to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, in the language of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:12). He believed that word and deed evangelism is a system. He was convinced that any form of evangelism, for whatever perspective, that does not include programs for transforming the world is simply spinning its wheels. He called this pietism. He also called it Neoplatonism. He was convinced that both pietism and Neoplatonism were basic to 20th-century Christianity. If he were alive today, he would say that both are basic to 21st-century Christianity.

I have adopted a slogan that I believe represents his view. "You can't beat something with nothing." This slogan emphasizes the fact that we need good ideas. We also need plans to implement these ideas if we are to be taken seriously. Anyone who has good ideas but has no good ideas about implementing his good ideas is wasting his time. He is also wasting everybody else's time.

This does not mean that every plan is going to work. Pareto's law being what it is, 80% of the plans will not work. The point is, however, that without the 80% of the plans that fail, the 20% of the plans that succeed would not succeed. We have to be willing to face failures in many of the projects we attempt, in the hope and belief that in the long run, our efforts will not be in vain. To think that our efforts will be in vain, no matter what we do, is what Rushdoony called gravedigging.

Rushdoony was a great believer in multiple conspiracies in history. He believed that there has always been a confrontation between God and Satan, and this confrontation manifests itself in rival approaches for transforming the world. He believed that the appropriate course of action is to proclaim the truth of whatever position you are attempting to defend, and to work diligently to implement the principles that you say you believe in. You are to attempt to implement these principles in every area of life.

You should be forthright in your proclamation of your first principles, so that people will be able to understand what you're telling them to do when it comes to implementation. In contrast, a conspiratorial group is not open with respect to its plan. It is not open with respect to its first principles. It works behind the scenes, constantly attempting to subvert the present social order, so that the conspiracy can more easily capture the institutions of power in society.


Rushdoony was convinced that conspiracies can gain long-term power only when their principles are in conformity with the general beliefs of the general population. He did not believe it is possible to control society from behind the scenes in terms of a set of presuppositions totally at odds with the beliefs of the general public. Anyone who attempts to implement a worldview totally at odds with the first principles of the general population will find himself isolated. He will find himself regarded as a crackpot. Nobody will pay any attention to him. It is only when an individual conspires with other individuals to take over the institutions of power in society by means of a secret plan to implement the fundamental principles of that society that you find successful conspiracies. You do not see successful conspiracies that are totally in opposition to what most of the population wants.

So, he concluded, we see all kinds of special-interest groups jockeying for position to control Federal spending. There are many conspiracies out there, he said, that would like to get in control of the Federal government. The reason they want to get into control of the Federal government is because the Federal government has power and money to implement their plans for society.

The reason why the Federal government has so much money and power to implement these plans is because the general population a century ago surrendered such power to the Federal government, and did it on principle. The reason why so many socialist plans get funded by the Federal government is because the public really does like socialism. The public likes the idea of being able to take money from one group and transfer it to another group. The voters think that they will be members of the group that receives the money, not members of the group that has it stolen from them. They are fools, he said, but only in believing that they will not ultimately pay the price. They are not fools in desiring to get the money, given the fact that they believe in the legitimacy of coercive wealth distribution by state power. If you believe in the coercive power of the state, you're a fool if you don't attempt to get in control of it.

I learned very early that the conservative movement is mostly about getting in control of state power. It has been a movement devoted to getting its hands into the public trough. It wants its wars, not the liberals' wars. The liberals say that they don't want war at all, but they always wind up supporting some Democrat President who takes us into an undeclared war. The conservatives want the same right for Republican Presidents to take us into an undeclared war. So, there is true bipartisanship. Whenever a President takes us into an undeclared war, members of the other political party in Congress openly and vociferously support his action. The result, Rushdoony said, has been that the United States has been involved in a constant series of wars that were unnecessary and liabilities.

I was fortunate in the fact that I first discovered about conspiracies from my study of America's entry into World War II. I wrote a high school term paper in 1958 on how Roosevelt maneuvered the United States into the war by pressuring the Japanese government to attack us. I have not changed my mind. This alerted me to the fact that wars are major means of expanding the power of the Federal government. I understood early that Presidents maneuver the country into war in order to expand their own power and the government's power over the general population. Presidents find that the public does not oppose the entry into war, once we've gone into war. All resistance ceases. The expansion of the government then can go on without resistance. This is beneficial for the groups that are associated with weaponry. It is also beneficial to all the groups associated with the banking system, which funds the expansion of the arms industry.

In graduate school in 1965, this suggestion was considered a form of lunacy. Later, this began to change when Johnson pushed deeper into Vietnam, and the Gulf of Tonkin attack turned out to be a myth. In graduate school, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was untouchable. He was retroactively the great saint of the 20th century. Any suggestion that Franklin Roosevelt deliberately lured the country into war was considered conspiratorial crackpotism. I was one of the crackpots, so I generally kept my mouth shut on this issue, except in an upper division course on revisionist histories of World War I and World War II – the only such class in the United States in 1962.

This attitude has not changed today. The difference is, today more historians are willing to admit that Roosevelt did maneuver the Japanese into war. What we find, however, is that these historians say that Roosevelt's action was wise. They applaud the fact that he used conspiratorial tactics to get the country into war. Anyone who says it was wrong for Roosevelt to have done this is regarded as a crackpot, but at least these days you can say that Roosevelt did it. You just are not supposed to say that was a bad thing that he did. However, in the textbooks, the story that prevailed in 1942 in Washington DC still prevails.

Some conspiracy theories are accurate (mine). Not all conspiracy theories are accurate (theirs . . . and maybe yours). Most conspiracy theories are inaccurate. The reason why I say this is that there are a lot of conspiracies that are in conflict with each other, and they can't all be equally successful. Some of them were, and others lost. But anyone who says that special-interest groups do not connive behind the scenes in order to persuade the public to accept new laws that infringe on the finances and liberties of the public is naïve beyond belief. Such conspiracies do exist, and they have been successful in history.

Nevertheless, Rushdoony's point is correct. Conspiracies have not been successful in opposition to the general ethical principles that prevail in the voting population. The conspirators use a kind of institutional jujitsu in order to gain what they want. They are able to overthrow the general population only because the general population is already off balance because of its commitment to the same sorts of wealth distribution and power expansion that the conspirators are secretly pursuing.


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