Bits and Pieces
[Originally published in analysis. Reprinted
from Fragments, April-June 1965]
This, then, is a call to counsel. Shall we go again to war? Rather
shall we permit our thinking to be so channeled that resistance to war
Even the pacific speeches of our great and near-great hint at an
undercurrent of war thought. News despatches are laden with it, while
the redundant cackle of radio commentators is suggestive of a drum-up.
Pounding on our nerves is palaver all too reminiscent of that which
led up to the recent slaughter of 300,000 Americans alone. Have we
forgotten so soon?
Decidedly, we do not want more war But the time to prevent it is now
-- not after another Pearl Harbor leaves us without the faculty of
reason. While there is a bit of sanity in our midst, let us counsel
with one another on what war is all about. Perhaps reason can so steel
our will that we can resist the madness with an unmistakable: NO.
Aristotle said that man is a "political" animal. His
definition of "political" does not fit modern usage, but if
it did, he would have been more to the point if he had described man
as a blundering idiot.
Three men are importuning me to hire them. I'm only one of about two
million who are in on the hiring, but the way they implore me over the
radio and through the newspapers, you would think I cast the deciding
The job they are after pays handsomely, not only in cash but also in
ostentation. One cannot blame the applicants for their lack of
reserve. How they embellish their qualifications! I too have put in
applications for jobs in my time, and can make allowances for
Not only does each applicant puff up his own capabilities and
intentions, but each pays his respects to the other two. If what they
say of each other is not true, then they are all base liars and hardly
to be trusted at any job. On the other hand, if there is any truth in
the references each gives his opponents, it is a certainty that not
one of them is fit to be mayor of any city; or even fit to live with.
Reflecting on their self-praise and mutual disparagement, I come to
the history of the mayoralty. I have lived under a number of
administrations, and cannot recall one that came through scot-free of
corruption and mismanagement; if memory serves me right, every mayor
who finished his term of office was finally dismissed because of
unsatisfactory or unsavory performance; at least two had to resign
Also regarding past administrations, every one of them has found it
necessary to impose on me heavier taxes than its predecessor. I can
reasonably assume, therefore, that whichever of these three applicants
gets the job, he will use it to make further inroads on my earnings.
Under the circumstances, I am certain that whatever my decision in
the coming election, I shall regret it. I will be hiring, or will
contribute to the hiring, of an incompetent, or worse. There is no way
out of it. Perhaps incompetence and corruption are inherent in the
Some of my co-hirers agree with me, but insist that the "least
of three evils" is better than none. Is it? Why must I choose an "evil"?
The American under forty is well inured to these facts of existence:
that one-third of all he produces belongs to the State; that the State
owes him an education, and that the education should prepare him to
produce in order that he may pay taxes; that his body belongs to the
State, whenever wanted; that his aspirations and dreams are delimited
by his army career; that "social security" makes thrift and
accumulations unnecessary; that venture is futile and adventure is a
mirage. That is, faith in the omnipotence and omniscience of the State
takes precedence over faith in oneself. Patriotism to the mind so
inured is another word for obedience.
The essential characteristic of the State is force; it originates in
force and exists by it. The rationale of the State is that conflict is
inherent in the nature of man, and he must be coerced into behaving,
for his own good. This is a debatable doctrine, but even if we accept
it, the fact remains that the coercion must be exercised by men who
are, by definition, as "bad" as those upon whom the coercion
is exercised. The State is men. To cover up that disturbing fact, the
doctrine of the super-personal State is invented; it is more than
human; it exists distinct from the people who staff it. That fiction
is given plausibility by clothing it with constitutions, laws and
litanies, like "my country right or wrong." A religion of
authoritarianism is built up around an idol.