August 28, 2015

Mises, Patriotism, and Cage Stage Libertarians

By In Blogs, C.Jay Engel

In the world of Calvinist theology and its online proponents, there is a phrase that is used of people who, upon a sudden discovery of the doctrines of Calvinism, will annoyingly and irritatingly ensure that everyone around him gets a taste of the person’s new found enthusiasm for his doctrine.  This phrase is “cage-stage Calvinism.”  RC Sproul writes:

Cage-stage Calvinists are identifiable by their insistence on turning every discussion into an argument for limited atonement or for making it their personal mission to ensure everyone they know hears—often quite loudly—the truths of divine election. Now, having a zeal for the truth is always commendable. But a zeal for the truth that manifests itself in obnoxiousness won’t convince anyone of the biblical truth of Reformed theology. As many of us can attest from personal experience, it will actually push them away.

This “cage-stage” is not just limited to transitions of theological thought. I have noticed that it is just as bad amongst new proponents of libertarian doctrine as well.  They are everywhere.  A whole article can be written on how to overcome the cage-stage and why we need to move past it as quickly as possible. Such an article is for another time.

For now though, I want to apply the concept to a certain word in the political sphere.  This word is “patriot.”  There are many well-intentioned people, especially in the conservative world at large, who use the word patriot as a symbol to reflect their desire to see continual expansion of the US military and who are sharply aggravated toward anyone who doesn’t support all the empire-maintaining wars that the troops are engaged in.  This person labels himself a “patriot” and condemns all dissenters from war and “national strength.”

The cage-stage libertarian, in turn, mocks and pokes at the very idea of “patriot” and rejects its use completely.  What he does not realize, however, is that he is merely associating a bastardization of the word patriot with a historically useful label for one who loves the welfare of his own people of commonwealth.  Ludwig von Mises understood this quite well, and aims to clarify the confusion between the nationalist and the patriot in his book Omnipotent Government.  Mises writes:

Neither is nationalism identical with patriotism. Patriotism is the zeal for one’s own nation’s welfare, flowering, and freedom. Nationalism is one of the various methods proposed for the attainment of these ends. But the liberals [Mises uses liberal in the classical sense– so think “libertarian.”] contend that the means recommended by nationalism are inappropriate, and that their application would not only not realize the ends sought but on the contrary must result in disaster for the nation. The liberals too are patriots, but their opinions with regard to the right ways toward national prosperity and greatness radically differ from those of the nationalists. They recommend free trade, international division of labor, good will, and peace among the nations, not for the sake of foreigners but for the promotion of the happiness of their own nation.

In other words, if the patriot wants to see prosperity, if he wants to see economic flourishing, if he wants toOmnipotent Government The Rise of the Total State and Total War see what is best for the country (or locality or other geographical area) that he loves, then he should become a libertarian.  The nationalistic self-described patriot of today wants the benefits of prosperity and an end to international evil; the problem is that they see the powerful state as a means toward the goal!  This is their fatal flaw.  Only liberty and free trade, only the expansion of the division of labor and peace, only private property rights and capitalism –all of which opposes war and international sanctions– will result in economic prosperity, “welfare, flowering, and freedom.”

So then, the next time you, a libertarian, come across a nationalistic patriot who condemns you for preferring peace and free trade, point out to him that it is precisely your patriotism that demands you oppose the governments wars; it is precisely your love for your people that drives you forward in challenging the narrative that the troops, by definition, always and everywhere do Good Things; it is your goal of a prosperous nation that compels you to support people like Ron Paul and oppose people like Mitt Romney (or whoever wins the nomination this time around).

To edit Mises’ statement: We libertarians too are patriots, but our opinions with regard to the right ways toward national prosperity and greatness radically differ from those of the neoconservatives and GOP hardliners.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com
  • C.Jay Engel

    No zeal for one’s own nation is not treason. Although it depends on how we are using the word. I want my community and the people I love to be free from tyranny and to live lives without despotism. This doesn’t contradict my more long term preference that they also believe the gospel.

    As people belonging to two kingdoms, not just the one, we can have preferences within the temporary kingdom. And patriotism as defined above simply wants good things for one’s community. So flags have nothing to do with it, except that the state loves to use symbols to touch the sentiments of the booboisie.