Joseph R.


February 14, 2000

Anschluss 2000, Or Get It in Writing


The ongoing excitement, hysteria, and agitprop surrounding the internal affairs of Austria has made me postpone a topic in order to address a few matters which may be of some interest to our European friends. Certainly, "fascists" are everywhere these days. There are so many in fact that it might be worth reactivating some of those peacefully retired, never-persecuted Stalinist secret police guys to help out. They’re real old, but they do know how to deal with "fascists."


At a recent conference, I heard a slogan attributed to the late Murray Rothbard: "universal rights, locally enforced." This requires some exposition. Rothbard was a rationalist in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, who believed in natural law, from which can be derived natural rights. Now this is not your Mexican Constitution of 1917 list of rights, or your UN Declaration of Universal Rights, or even new rights lately found oozing out of the "penumbras" and "emanations" of favored amendments. Rothbard had in mind what might be called the 18th-century "short list" of rights, corresponding roughly to the rights of Englishmen as understood in the thirteen colonies as of 1776, or those addressed by writers such as John Locke. The Anglo-American threesome – life, liberty, and property – is at the heart of this conception of rights. The whole thing got somewhat garbled in the French transcription, with unfortunate results.

So much for the rights. What about that "local" enforcement? This is rightly a source of much concern. In fact, it seems very wicked. It leaves nothing for Boutros and Kofi to fret about and no one for the Empire or NATO to bomb into submission. It leaves room for slippage, local exceptions, and a slackening of Progress. But Progress is a universal project best left for interpretation to Mr. Francis Fukuyama and his predecessor M. Alexander Kojeve, Hegelian philosopher, Russian émigré, and French bureaucrat (whom unkind souls have lately marked as a Stalinist agent who gave away French secrets to historical forces embodying the World Soul, that is, the KGB). As such, Progress is not to be denied.

Rothbard was an Austrian School economist and the slogan came up at a recent conference at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama. This is very suspicious indeed. Austrian economists might be suspected of partiality towards Austria. They have been known to say that socialism as an economic system cannot calculate rationally. They point to the Soviet collapse as a real-world instance. They question the worth of the entire array of softer social-democratic economic interventions, as well as centralized state management in general.

Accordingly, Austrian economists, most of whom are not Austrians these days, criticize the EU’s corporatist and social-democratic establishment. Joerg Haider criticizes that same establishment. Joerg Haider is said to be Hitler. For the Left, then, Austrian economists will be seen to agree with Haider, whom they have equated with Hitler. The conclusion must be obvious. The Left are honorable men. They would not lie to us about these things. This is very troubling.


This is all by way of coming to one of the most strife-laden questions in all political thinking, namely, what is the proper locus of decision-making in geographically extensive states, empires, federations, or customs unions? Briefly, there are those strong in the faith that all decisions should be made at the center. Opposed to these centralists are those who would devolve decisions to the lowest appropriate level. This is sometimes called "subsidiarity" – a term taken from Catholic social thought. EU centralizers have caught onto the popularity of this concept and have taken it up, appropriately emptied of all real content. It may well go the way of "civil society" in short order. "Small is beautiful," especially when implemented from Brussels.

In the United States we don’t speak of subsidiarity, but a similar notion – state rights or state sovereignty – used to exist. Its failure to deliver social democracy on schedule is held to have discredited all talk of division of power, responsibility, and the like between the central government and localities. To confuse matters even more, the central government, more and more distracted by its duty to micromanage the world and schedule all those air strikes, is still referred to as "federal," implying the existence of a federation, which in turn implies some division of powers, responsibilities, and the like….

Clearly, we Americans have theorized our way into a corner, mostly by not thinking at all about our institutional traditions. Fortunately, not thinking is something Americans have come to be very good at. A few more decades of our world-famous "schooling" and no one in the ruling elite will have to worry about informed discontent arising from that quarter – provided, of course, the elite has taken care to send its children to different schools. But I digress.


Anyhow, the words "state rights" and "state sovereignty" are associated with those awful Southern states, which in the present climate renders further discussion unnecessary. To continue would probably be as deliberate and criminal a provocation as the flag over the South Carolina capitol. I only bring these distasteful things up in relation to a larger point, which is that there nonetheless remain some drawbacks flowing from the ideal of centralized power and universal management.

We might start with the millions of people murdered by centralized regimes with historical missions in this century. A visit to Mr. Ruml’s website is in order for those who wish to see some numbers. We could question the historical missions, I suppose, but not really, since only one of them is open to criticism – having come "from the Right," whatever that might mean. Actually, that regime’s program was a compendium of all the half-baked ideas of the times – socialism in one country, national fraternity, aggressive military Darwinism – most of them owing something to the Left… but never mind. That regime’s leader was an Austrian. Case closed. The other regime alluded to stood for much the same program and killed even more people, but avoided that upsetting rhetoric about racial essences – and was, therefore, a force for Progress.

Leaving to one side the kindly ultimate motives and the "scientific" eschatology of the Stalinist empire, let me just say that its kill ratio, like that of its Teutonic antagonist, may give pause – in the more nervous classes – as to the wisdom of handing all decisions over to central authority, anywhere. I say this in full knowledge that the gentle Eurocrats – and their Great Atlantic Protector – would never harm anyone for any reason, unless, of course, they are opposed in something about which they care deeply, like their power, their perks, their self-image, their electoral prospects, their inoperable futurist programs, their right to rule because they overthrew the Persians….

Then they will set their mechanized legions, panzers, bombers, and cruise missiles on the path of total, merciless "social sanitation" – to use one of Harry Elmer Barnes’ phrases – until the new Hitlers in their path, however unlike the real Hitler, are bouncing with the rubble. So, really, it’s all very simple. Do what they want and they will let you enjoy the full scope of your subsidiarity, civil society, and local plebiscites to confirm what they have wisely decided for you. Submit or die. That seems fair enough, although there is that little echo of Oriental-Despotic reasoning.


Well, perhaps I am getting too far ahead of the facts. Perhaps the EU is not a power-hungry union of the European political class bent on creating a sub-empire-by-stealth under the Americans’ general supervision, as certain hotheads regularly say in the Salisbury Review. Perhaps such talk is just the English reactionary counterpart to the late Garner Ted Armstrong’s theory that the EU represented a reconstituted Holy Roman Empire and thus a deplorable but theologically necessary step on the way to pre-millenialist Armageddon.

Maybe so. Nonetheless, I wish to pass something along to our European cousins, or those of them who haven’t knowingly chosen to abdicate their self-government, civil society, and even that terrible thing, sovereignty, to the Brussels sprouts. That something is a lesson we learned in the Southern states of the American union during the 1860s.

We can best get at this by deconstructing Texas v. White (1869), my all-time favorite US Supreme Court decision. This is more than appropriate because of all those postmodern "silences" and "absences" in it. Actually, many things are "there" – you just have to pay attention to the text. Anyway, I claim the Nine Delphic Oracles as founders of deconstruction, as many decisions (especially since 1937) seem to show.

In 1861, His Honesty launched a war against the South on the claim that it was conceptually impossible for a state to leave the union. His successors, the Radical Republicans tried having the concept both ways and their antics are the source of lingering doubts about the "ratification" of the liberals’ favorite amendment. Texas v. White hinged on whether Texas had continued to be a "state" while wickedly pretending to be outside the old union and part of another confederation.

The Court cobbled together a school-boy rendition of the theory that the union was "older" than the states, and moved in for the kill: an argument from unacceptable consequences. Texas had remained a state and its people US citizens all through the Confederate period: "If this were otherwise, the State must have become foreign, and her citizens foreigners. This war must have become a war for conquest and subjugation." My emphasis. Oh yes, that dog appears to hunt. Draw up the right premises and any law clerk can get the right answer. Anyway, the Court had already declared it "needless" to discuss whether any right of secession had ever existed.


The point is said to have been "settled" by the surrender of Lee’s army, if not by the ingenious dodgings of the high court. Maybe. Maybe not. I won’t rehearse that argument here.

On the basis of experience, I merely wish to caution our European friends that such questions can arise in federations voluntarily entered by sovereign states and peoples. We didn’t get it in writing – and look what happened. It was dead obvious that the union was an experiment, a thing of instrumental and not ultimate value, but two generations down the road there arose those who knew not Joseph and didn’t much care about him or the colonial and revolutionary background of the second US constitution.

Get it in writing that you can withdraw – secede - from the dear old EU and wave good-bye to the sprouts. Then you will at least have one of those "parchment guarantees" of which John Randolph so disparagingly spoke. Then, when the EU meets your recalcitrance or withdrawal with economic discrimination, starvation blockades, and the like, you can point right at that written provision and put yourselves in the historical right. Sorry – come to think of it, the sort of people likely to come to power in the New Europe don’t care much for historically sanctioned right. True "diversity" must be imposed from the center.

So forget everything I just said. I was merely pointing out the problem. Don’t rely on words on paper. Get out now! Just do it sometime when Uncle is preoccupied with dissenters on his other properties. No telling what he’ll do, if he’s paying attention.

One more thing: If the Euro-lords can dictate the composition of an Austrian government, may we refer to that as a sort of Anschluss? Does that mean there’s good Anschluss and bad Anschluss? No matter, as long as there’s no "voice" or "exit" for those suspected of not being quite ready for the projected post-European "Europe." I suppose the Left will have to quit talking about exit and voice. The wrong sort might want some, too.

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Joseph R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since 1973, including The Individualist, Reason, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the Agorist Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He is a part-time lecturer in History at the college level. You can read his recent essay, "The Cold War," on the Ludwig von Mises Institute Website. His column, "The Old Cause," appears each Monday on

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