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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Meaning, Not Matter

Ludwig von Mises pointed out that economics properly conceived is not about material objects, but about people, their understanding of things, and their actions. If you pay attention you can find many confirmations of this subtle distinction. There is one, for example, in a favorite movie of mine, Galaxy Quest. The movie is about a group of washed-up actors who 20 years earlier starred in a highly successful "Star Trek"-type television program, which is still in reruns. Nowadays the only work the actors get is appearances at "Questarian" conventions filled with fanatical devotees of the program, and computer-store openings. But in another galaxy a group of aliens have been receiving the rerun transmissions and have assumed they are historical documents of real events. Inspired by the heroism, the aliens have built a working copy of the crew's ship, The NSEA Protector. Now the race of aliens is being killed off by a monstrous creature, and the alien leader comes to earth to enlist the help of the Protector's intrepid crew. Without realizing what is happening (the actors think the aliens are simply the nerdiest fans they've ever encountered), the cast is transported into space. Before long the actors realize this is not play acting. The danger is real, and they must rise to the occasion.

Here's the Misesian point: The "Captain" (Tim Allen), realizing the danger, begins to give orders to his "crew," most of whom are understandably reluctant to get involved. After hearing one such order, the Spock-like science officer, "Dr. Lazarus" (Alan Rickman), reminds his fellow thespians: "You don't have to listen to him. He's wearing a costume, not a uniform."

In all the action that line of dialogue may fly past the audience, but it deserves attention. It is entirely possible that a tailor could make two suits of clothes cut from the same piece of fabric and identical in every way. Yet one could be recognized as a costume and one a uniform. What's the difference? Certainly nothing material. The difference is in human interpretation and resulting human action. In the human world, nothing is purely physical.


Stephan Kinsella said...

Brilliant post, Sheldon.

Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Stephan. It really is a good movie.

Brent Bartsch said...

I am not ashamed to say I really liked Galaxy Quest.

Sheldon Richman said...

Nothing to be ashamed of.