Pliant Mountebanks and Time-serving Scoundrels

I don’t know whether it energizes me to think that people have been voicing these opinions for hundreds of years, or leaves me wildly depressed that 75 years from now someone will look back and say “Hey, back in 2010, they realized that a government that reaches into your pants at the airport might be going a little too far – why didn’t anybody do anything?!”

Either way, here’s Albert Nock, lamenting Prohibition and the New Deal in 1936, courtesy of – some highlights below, but really, go read the whole thing – if for no other reason than the language alone.


But apparently they [Americans] could not rest until they threw their freedom away. They made a present of it to their own politicians, who have made them sweat for their gullibility ever since. They put their liberties in the hands of a praetorian guard made up exactly on the old Roman model, and not only never got them back, but as long as that praetorian guard of professional politicians lives and thrives — which will be quite a while if its numbers keep on increasing at the present rate — they never will.

There is no use, none in the world, of pretending that the praetorian guard dragooned, cajoled, or humbugged the people of this country into taking up with all this appalling nonsense, and at the same time pretending that the country is a republic in which the people are sovereign. You cannot have it both ways. If the professional politicians, who are known of all men to be pliant mountebanks when they are not time-serving scoundrels, and are usually both — if these have power to herd the people headlong into such bizarre rascalities and follies against their will and judgment, then the country is not a republic but an oligarchy built on an imperial model, and its people are not citizens, but subjects.

Prohibition and the New Deal are alike in their professed intention, if one may put it so, to “do us for our own good.” Both assumed the guise of disinterested benevolence towards the body politic. In the one case we were adjudged incapable of setting up an adequate social defense against the seductions of vicious rum-sellers; in the other, of defending ourselves against injuries wrought by malefactors of great wealth; therefore the State would obligingly come forward and take the job off our hands.

Prohibition and the New Deal are alike in their fundamental principle, which is the principle of coercion. Prohibition proposed to make the nation sober by force majeure, and incidentally to charge a thundering brokerage for doing the job. It said to us, “This is all for your own good, and you ought to fall in line cheerfully, but if you do not fall in, we will make you.”


I’ll assume it doesn’t need to be pointed out that sometimes the villains get updated with the times (the “vicious rum-sellers”) and sometimes they don’t even need to be (we just find new names for the rich – from TR’s “malefactors of great wealth” to FDR’s “economic royalists” to the “top 2 percent” today).


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