Conclusion: The Libertarian Appeal Part One.Posted: September 17, 2008 | |
I was only nineteen years old when I met Karl Hess. I was attending Lebanon Valley College in 1977. It was a sleepy little Methodist college that ignored the Sixties. The college prided itself on being out of touch with the rest of the world. I was one of the few people on campus who had even heard of Karl Hess. Hess’ income tax strike had been heavily promoted by Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. At nineteen, it never occurred to me that Hefner had a vested interest in eliminating the income tax. I was unaware that eliminating the income tax was one of the rallying cries of Barry Goldwater’s racist right. Goldwater had stopped being a political force when I was still in grade school. All I saw was Hess’ as one lone hero standing up to the government. That is why I avoided writing my theology essay, and went to see the man who was striking a blow for truth, justice, and the American way through income tax evasion.
I never thought to wonder why Hess had not been incarcerated for tax evasion. He claimed that he was fighting it in court, and that he was living on barter so the IRS would not take his money. I mentioned this to my father, a retired Treasury Agent, and my father said that sounded somewhat unlikely. Thirty one years later, I have to agree with my Dad. My years of experience in sales, marketing, and public relations tell me that Hess was full of shit. If he was avoiding his income taxes, he had some powerful influence behind him. Otherwise the IRS would have taken much more direct action to collect their money, such as confiscating his land in West Virginia or jailing him.
Karl Hess was a man of great personal presence. He looked like a mountain man. He was tall and broad shouldered, with the heavy muscles of a laborer. I could easily picture him in the role of wagon train captain or one of the Green Mountain Boys of the American Revolution. Today I recognize this as a deliberate affectation.
Hess was the first truly polished professional speaker I ever encountered. As Barry Goldwater’s speech writer, he had been in the political arena for years and knew all the tricks of public speaking. Later he was an image consultant for the Black Panthers, the SDS, and a Mafia Don. He knew all the little tricks for coming across as sincere. He knew the power of testimonials and storytelling. Years later, working in Public Relations, I came to recognized the professional tricks he had played on us.
Even more brilliant than his approach was the brilliance of his message. Just as the German fascists wed the rhetoric of their socialists adversaries with Mussolini’s fascism to create “National Socialism”, Hess mixed the rhetoric of Sixties radicals with fascism and created what I call “National Anarchism”. He based his ideas on the rhetoric of the SDS. Hess even ripped off the SDS’s name for themselves. He called his movement “The New Left”. The name was the only thing “left” about Hess’s movement. The rest was pure fascism. Like the SDS, Hess emphasized the Constitution and the need for all sides to come together for consensus.
Then Hess split off into Naziville. I will give him this much: he knew his audience. He knew that if he tried to confuse the Constitution with the Federalist Papers, he would have been stone cold busted. So he limited himself to where the Federalist Papers and Constitution agreed and ignored the parts of the Constitution that would have tripped him up. He painted a picture of American history that never existed. It was a history where Alexander Hamilton didn’t create the Whiskey tas never enacted, and the American economy was never bolstered by British-owned monopolies. The Protestant Work Ethic assured all Americans prosperity, so long as we got rid of all those pesky, unnecessary ecological and financial regulations.
Most telling was his point that the federal government was unnecessary. In Hess’ fantasy world, bigotry and prejudice were not that bad. Jim Crow gave African Americans the space to create their own culture, so why have civil rights laws? Why have ecological protection, when the Free Market would starve out polluters? Most telling was his stand on federal financial regulations. Why bother with them, when the free market would adjust itself just like Adam Smith promised? Hess made each point with a telling reference to the Federalist Papers or the Constitution. He adeptly emphasized the parts of the Constitution that backed up his point while avoiding the entire second section and several amendments.
Three years after Hess’s college campus tour, Ronald Reagan and Neoconservatism took over our nation. That was Hess’s true purpose. It did not matter to Hess that his college tour did not pack the lecture halls. Hess was out to find true believers. His job was to prepare college campuses for the Reagan campaign. A majority of Hess’s New Left moved into the Reagan camp, because Reagan’s message of small government and free market capitalism was the same as Hess’s. They were both reiterations of Goldwater Conservatism. The defection of Hess’s New Left shattered the Old Left so there was no effective counter movement against Neoconservatism. Both the New Left and the Right were spouting Goldwater rhetoric. Hess’s New Left was a brilliant public relations maneuver, that paved the way for the mortgage crises.
Who can blame America for falling for this garbage? When I was nineteen years old, I fell for it hook, line, and, sinker. At nineteen, I was really impressed. I was so impressed that I accepted Hess’s invitation and had coffee with him after his lecture. The night I spent talking about Life, The Universe, and Everything with Karl Hess was one of the shining moments of my youth. Hess had reached me at a primal level. He adroitly manipulated my emotions through appeals to the beloved myths of elementary school. In Hess’ world, Washington never told a lie, Lincoln freed the slaves, and the free market was ordained by God. For years I was hurt because he never returned my cards and letters. Today I realize that he was there to do a job. He did it very well. The corporations were able to rape the American public once again thanks to Karl Hess and the New Left.