60 Years of Atlas Shrugged: Celebrating Property Rights and the Spirit of the Individual

BY VAL MULLERatlas shrugged

Today, October 10, marks 60 years since Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was published. For those of you who haven’t read it–it is, after all, a lengthy tome–we wanted to highlight some of the freedom aspects we love about the novel.

Having grown up in Russia, Rand saw her father lose his successful business to government thuggery. Under a government that disrespected property rights, Rand and her family faced the possibility of starving to death. As a result, property rights is a value reflected in her works. When property gets taken over by governments that the societies in her work degenerate.

In the novel, the railroad industry crashes when a combination of over-regulation, cronyism, and other government meddling cause the entire system to malfunction. In her work, government regulation essentially means the loss of private property rights. With the collective ownership that follows, no one truly bears the consequence of a decision. Instead of going out of business or losing a job, politicians can always ask “the rich” to pay a little more of “their fair share” i.e., raise taxes to pay for incompetent decisions–until everyone suffers the consequence in a very literal way.

I don’t have to look far for example of the failures of collectivism. Where I teach, we have laptop carts, each with a set of laptops that can be borrowed for a class period. When these carts belonged to the entire school, they were returned at the end of the day in–we’ll call it “less than desirable” condition. Cords were everywhere, laptops were in the wrong slots (or missing), doors were jammed open. Since no one truly owned the carts, there was no incentive to keep them in any kind of working order. And if anyone asked, it was easy to blame the last person who had the cart–someone “in another department.” In the anonymity of the whole school, it was easy to shirk responsibility and abuse the collectively-operated equipment.

But this year, we switched to department-specific carts. So if I borrow the cart first thing Monday morning, I make sure it’s in tip-top shape before passing it to the next teacher on the schedule. After all, the other teachers are all in my department now. They are my friends and colleagues–not some anonymous “others”–and I feel accountable to them. This is the closest thing my school has come to enforcing private property rights, but it goes a long way in demonstrating how it works. The closer I come to possessing ownership over something, the more I care to take care of it. If that laptop cart were mine to keep in my classroom exclusively for the entire year, you can bet I’d take even more care of it, knowing that I (and my students) would benefit from its good condition and that my efforts in keeping it neat would not be undermined by an irresponsible and faceless colleague I barely know.

Closely related to the physical implications of property rights is the mental confidence built when one has control over one’s own home, business, and actions. In Atlas Shrugged, the “good guys” are pushed to their limit in suffering abuse from the government. Changing regulations make it impossible for businesses to find a stable plan for producing goods and providing jobs. And in the end, well-intentioned (in some cases, anyway) government regulation removes economic consequences, leading the country to make decisions that business owners would never make if they had control of their own businesses. Crop failure and energy shortages occur, and in a country once as wealthy as America is now, people fear starving or freezing over the winter.

And what it all comes down to is power. In Rand’s work, government outreach for power is seen as theft. Those elected to power have not done anything to earn it other than engage in demagoguery and promises to redistribute other people’s tax money in a way advantageous to a particular voting group. Elected officials are not inventors. They are not engineers. They are not enlightened philosophers. The more their policies fail, the more their constituents rely on them to “fix” what is broken, and the more likely they are to be reelected. Rand recognizes the ultimate paradox and hypocrisy of our system: that to improve one’s chances of being re-elected, one must be inefficient. After all, if someone could come in and solve all of our problems in one term, he (or she) would essentially be making his own job obsolete. Who would go through all the effort of running a campaign and fundraising only to eliminate one’s own job? The types of people who would and could have no interest in doing so.

And really, the heart of Rand’s novel gets to the heart of Freedom Forge Press’s beliefs. Rand believed that, allowed to be free of government’s chains, humans would be free to live to the best of their abilities. Living with the shackles of government, people are encouraged to stifle their flames of individuality and live meaningless lives, or lives that fall far short of each individual’s potential. At Freedom Forge Press, we believe each individual should be free to live, question, and work as he or she chooses, free of government overreach. We understand that freedom means responsibility and believe, like Rand, that limited government means the imposition of other types of regulations, such as economic ones, that help us make the best decisions for ourselves and for everyone we touch.

We found this concise explanation of John Galt’s speech, if you haven’t read the novel or want a refresher course. His speech truly outlines Rand’s beliefs. The heart of his speech gets down to our tagline here at FFP: celebrating the spirit of the individual. In the first part of the speech, Galt argues that humans must be free to live and think for themselves. And when it comes down to it, the crux of what we must be allowed to do is think. Man must be free to know, to think, to say that A is A.

Contrast this, for instance, with Orwell’s hyperbolic 1984, in which unfortunate protagonist Winston is forced to say–then truly believe–that two plus two equals five. The point Orwell makes here goes hand-in-hand with Rand’s argument through the John Galt speech. Abraham Lincoln said, “Let people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” Men are men when they can think for themselves and be allowed to know the truth and to use reason and facts to question those in power.

When ignorance takes over and reason is replaced with what Rand calls mysticism, things fall apart. Mysticism, in a nutshell, is the belief that we must deny our own desires for the “common good,” that we must make sacrifices for someone else, that no one can truly be happy indulging in their own lives, that we must deny the use of reason to defer power to others. In our modern lives, this could be seen as voting away our own tax dollars for bloated government programs because we think it’s the moral thing to do. It could mean overlooking one party’s failures because we believe they are the better choice in a two-party system. It could mean believing one particular set of facts while ignoring another contradictory set simply because it fits in with what those in charge want us to believe. If alive today, Ayn Rand might fear for the future of our country. Bipartisanship seems by design to have removed our ability to use reason.

In Atlas Shrugged, the “good guys” are the producers. They are the thinkers, the ones ready to work hard and make personal sacrifices for their own success and achievement. While their hard work does positively impact others, in the form of advanced medicine, amazing and economical metals, and the like, they did not set out to do things for others. They set out to fulfill their own dreams. And this is why those in power detest them.

In the end, they are tired of being chained by the government. They know the secret that we haven’t quite figured out yet: our inefficient system will only stay in place as long as we keep feeding it. In some ways, John Galt’s speech is just as revolutionary as Tom Joad’s realizations in The Grapes of Wrath: when a system is broken, we cannot keep feeding it. We must let it break and start anew. This is why, at the end of the novel, Rand’s producers decide to boycott society in general. They remove themselves from society. They are the last talent left in the mindless world they inhabit, and without them the politicians have no power. Without their hard work, no one has anything extra to sacrifice for others. Without them, the “mystic” beliefs of the politicians cannot stand.

Like Thoreau and Gandhi, Rand pushes us toward a type of civil disobedience. Once they reach a certain point, laws seem to be merely a civilized way of stealing from some–or all. We like Rand’s work because it makes us question our role in society. We have been trained to be polite, as Rand points out, trained to believe that sacrifice and selflessness makes it okay for a government to steal much of our hard-earned money and create programs we have never heard of and never benefit from.

We have been trained to believe that anyone questioning the system is dangerous. It was once thought to be dangerous when women wanted to vote. It was once thought to be dangerous when someone thought “separate but equal” wasn’t equal after all. Ayn Rand pushes us to think beyond our complacency, really to use reason to question our place in the world. Perhaps the next revolution will be one of enlightenment, allowing each of us to live a life of reason and personal morality guided by true consequences and led by the truly enlightened, the thinkers, the inventors, the producers.

The Grapes of Wrathful Bureaucracy

bureaucracy-1016178_960_720Bureaucracy. It’s a nasty word that literally means “power of office.”

Kafka saw it in the anti-Semitic environment in which he grew up. Orwell saw it in the terrible dictators of the Second World War And Steinbeck saw it in the more disguised—and more dangerous iteration–in Dust Bowl America. Rand saw it everywhere: people were not free to interact with others in a completely voluntary way.

Steinbeck illustrates bureaucracy for us in a scene from The Grapes of Wrath.  A Dust Bowl sharecropper is being evicted after years of failed crops leave him unable to repay loans. The land is being farmed by huge tractors now, and the displaced farmer can only look on while representatives from the bank come to repossess the land. Watching, the farmer reflects on how owning property—something that is being lost to him—changes a man:

“If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it’s part of him, it’s like him. If he owns property only so he can walk on it and handle it and be sad when it isn’t doing well, and feel fine when the rain falls on it, that property is his, and some way he’s bigger because he owns it.”

The farmer laments how all that changes when a large, non-human entity is in charge of the land:

“Let a man get property he doesn’t see, or can’t take time to get his fingers in, or can’t be there to walk on it—why, then the property is the man. He can’t do what he wants, he can’t think what he wants. The property is the man, stronger than he is. And he is small, not big.”

The farmer then asks, “Who can we shoot?” In other words, who can he appeal to—fight, even—before his land is taken? He realizes that no one man is responsible for the evictions. Although the farmer notes that “the bank [that is repossessing his land] is only made of men,” he’s told that “the bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men… men made it, but they can’t control it.”

That is bureaucracy.

Steinbeck illustrated the problem with big, faceless organizations like banks. The larger the entity, the smaller the man. In general, people working for such entities are all castrated agents serving a n’er seen master.

I see it in my own career. A public school teacher, I see policies come and go over the years, changing with the fads of education. Plenty of them I disagree with. Plenty of them most experienced and competent teachers disagree with, many that seem detrimental to student learning. Yet I’m up against a behemoth of a machine: policies set by bureaucrats that don’t spend time in the classroom, or spent a year or two and then couldn’t handle it. Even unions seem to care only about pay and increasing union power rather than student learning. No one “owns the land” to touch it and know it. Everyone is less powerful than it.

The point here is the same one that the displaced sharecropper made: when a man is so far removed from making decisions, his job becomes nothing more than a paycheck. The man on the tractor, who has been ordered by the bank to knock down the houses of sharecroppers, used to be a farmer himself. When asked, “What you doing this kind of work for—against your own people?”, he answers, “Three dollars a day.” Questioning the system, he notes, “don’t feed the kids. You get a reputation for talking like that, and you’ll never get three dollars a day.”

And so with the causes of economic prosperity and failure largely invisible to the people, free markets provide an easy scapegoat—one that leads people running to the government for help.

“We’re sorry you don’t live in a house with an in-ground pool and drive your BMW to the Hamptons every weekend. There, there. Let Uncle Sam take you into his arms and protect you from the evil rich people that prosper at your peril.” And so people accept food stamps and tax breaks and welfare and see government as a friend.

It’s a comforting thought, the idea that someone is on your side and feels your pain. In The Grapes of Wrath, the closest thing the Joads found to a “home” was a government-run camp. It was the first time the children saw flushing toilets, and if the family couldn’t pay rent, they were allowed to work off their debt. Just like the idea of a benevolent government being “on our side,” it’s too comforting to question. And so without people questioning it—really questioning it in a meaningful way—the government feeds on its own power, becoming the monster Steinbeck warned us about, the thing that everyone works for yet everyone hates. “The Monster,” Steinbeck notes, “isn’t men, but it can make men do what it wants….When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can’t stay one size.”

How in the world did Hitler convince countless human beings to sentence others to death camps—and to carry out those horrific orders? It was the Monster.

In America, the government is one, too. It grows because it doesn’t want to die. Have you ever heard of a politician who wants to shrink government so small that his job disappears? Governments like to find and even create problems so that it can employ itself to fix them. And the less efficient the fix, the better: more government will be required.

In America, we face a more sinister threat to our freedom than a blatant dictator; dictators are easy to define and fight. We face a slowly-creeping menace, a weasel of a monster slowly feeding on our autonomy and building its own power until we have none. But while Kafka and Orwell seem to leave us largely without hope, Steinbeck and Rand embrace hope in the spirit of the individual. Steinbeck’s entire novel resonates that spirit, the spirit of the individual, the downtrodden, the powerless. The spirit of the novel is that if individuals think and stay together, they will prevail even if not for a generation or more. They are the spirit of Tom Joad. As the displaced sharecropper notes after learning he’ll have to leave land that’s been in the family for generations, “We’ve got a bad thing made by men, and by God that’s something we can change.”

Churchill seems to have understood the situation well: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.”

It’s time to grow.

Book Launch for Blythe

We are extremely excited to announce the official release of Blythe by John E. Kramer!

Book trailer:

We’ve described the book as dark, beautiful and profound but with a wicked twist.

Blythe takes her stand in a world of physical and spiritual torment, while Aaron confronts the village leaders including his own father to find and free his love after an act of betrayal. The darkness consuming Blythe does not limit itself to her prison. Through trickery, traps, and seduction, the evil that claimed her dupes a growing cross-section of the village until only Aaron seems to have the strength to fight back.

In a work of poetic prose in a timeless setting, this cross-genre work of literary fiction plummets us into the darkest recesses of our world and lifts us to examine the most sublime potentials of our spirits.

During the project, we were (and still are) incredibly blessed to work with the talented John E. Kramer, who directs the award-winning communications department at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that litigates for liberty nationwide. He directed the media relations in six landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, always fighting on the side of greater individual liberty. Blythe combines the two core elements of Kramer’s personal life: libertarianism and his Christian faith, each of which, properly pursued, should advance respect for the individual, as well as human freedom and flourishing.

Blythe is available at Amazon.com for paperback and Kindle.
Order Blythe on Amazon

Additionally, you can score a free sample pdf or Kindle file here.

 

 

Free Preview for Blythe

Here is a free preview of the first two chapters of Blythe by John E. Kramer:

 

 

Download a preview for your Kindle

 

Order Blythe on Amazon

Blythe: The Fight for Faith and Freedom

9781940553078.mainWe are extremely excited to report the upcoming completion of another major book project.

Blythe is the story of two lovers. An act of infidelity. A dark and despotic prison. As Blythe takes her stand in a world of physical and spiritual torment, Aaron confronts the village leaders–including his own father–to find and free his love. But the darkness consuming Blythe does not limit itself to her prison. Through trickery, traps, and seduction, the evil that claimed Blythe dupes a growing cross-section of the village until only Aaron seems to have the strength to fight back. In a work of poetic prose in a timeless setting, this cross-genre work of literary fiction plummets us into the darkest recesses of our world and lifts us to examine the most sublime potentials of our spirits.

For this project we were incredibly lucky to work with John Kramer, director of the award-winning communications department at the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that litigates for liberty nationwide.

He directed the media relations in six landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, always fighting on the side of greater individual liberty. Blythe combines the two core elements of Kramer’s personal life: libertarianism and his Christian faith, each of which, properly pursued, should advance respect for the individual, as well as human freedom and flourishing.

Blythe will be available in paperback and for Kindle on June 20; you can pre-order now at Amazon.com.

Book Release: Last Curtain Call

We’re pleased to announce the release of FFP’s latest book, a historical novel addressing the struggles of mining families in western Maryland during the late 1800s.

last-curtain-call-cover-frontAll Annie Charbonneau wants is to stop working at her father’s bakery in her small Maryland coal village, graduate from high school, and go on to college. But in 1894, she is thrust into a personal battle against the ruthless coal company preying on the vulnerable women of her town. Unaware that her actions will bring the evil to her own front door, Annie is caught in a web where her every movement is watched and a vengeance-seeking enemy wants to silence her.

When Jonathan Canavan arrives from Philadelphia and is hired as the new school principal, he becomes an ally, helping Annie to lead the miners’ wives in retaliation against the coal company. As Annie finds herself thrown into a position of leadership, she discovers that sometimes leaders are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. She is forced to choose between fidelity and love. How can she decide to keep her family safe, when she knows it will cause her to lose the man she has come to love?

 

And we’re pleased to share some advanced praise for the novel as well:

“Sittig is a master of coal company town writing. Her characters are so real, I feel I could sit down and have a conversation with them.”
~ Homer Hickam,
New York Times Best-Selling Author, Rocket Boys/October Sky, Carrying Albert Home

“Take a trip back in time to when women shopped daily for groceries and the aromas from Charbonneau’s French Bakery made customers eager to savor the pastries. However quaint this picture may be, know that this story carries with it intrigue, hostility, bravery and courage, in a time when women also became drawn into the violence of local coal mining strikes.”
~ Susan M. Holding
Author, The Little French Bakery Cookbook

“For those of us who live in mining communities like Western Maryland, Last Curtain Call reconnects us back to our past. A thoroughly inspiring and great read.”
~ Jeffrey A. Snyder
Geologist Lead, Maryland Bureau of Mines

Last Curtain Call is available on Amazon and from the Freedom Forge Press publisher store.

Gone (An Election Day Story)

BY VAL MULLER

shoes1 John sat on the seawall overlooking the ocean. The moon was nearly full and reflected on the rippling water. How could the sea always be so peaceful? It seemed strange, somehow, that the ocean went on and on, the tide came and went, when the country was falling apart.

He tightened his grasp on his bottle of beer. “Did you decide?” he asked.

George shook his head. “Does it matter?” He sighed. “Do you remember elections when we were younger? I’d stay up late watching the news and rooting for my pick. And now, what is there to stay up for? Either way…”

“Either way, the people lose.” John took a long pull. “Used to be a time we didn’t fear what would happen to the country if one candidate won versus the other.”

George scoffed. “Doesn’t matter. Neither one is good news. It’s like—you’re going to Hell. How do you want to get there?”

John clinked his bottle against the stone wall. A toast. “I guess I’ll go t hird party. For what it’s worth.”

George shook his head. “I guess. For what difference it will make.”

“Which isn’t any.” The public was given no choice. The next president would either be Biff Tannen from Back to the Future 2 or else turn America into a secret dictatorship, one in which enemies of the White House disappeared in mysterious and never-spoken-of ways. Either way…

But what could they do? The system was rigged. Each party seemed to choose someone more despicable than the next, and everyone’s arguments centered on “lesser-of-two-evils” logic. But John’s was just one vote. What could he even do? “Unless…”

George turned to him. “Unless what?”

“Unless I just don’t play.”

“You mean you aren’t gonna vote?”

John shook his head. “Not only that.”

“What do you mean?”

John finished his beer and placed the bottle neatly on the seawall. “I’m just gonna leave.” He brought his foot close to him and unlaced his boot and pulled it off his foot. Then he took off the other. “You got a camera?”

George reached for his phone. “Yeah. Why?”

John set his two boots on the wall next to the bottle. “I’m leaving the system. I’m deregistering.”

“So? What good will that do?”

John bit his lip. “Okay, I’ll work for cash only. Not only that. I’ll work for trades. I’ll move out to the middle of nowhere. I’ll move off the grid. I’ll deny them my tax dollars. I’ll—”

George reached for the beer bottle. “Dude, what’s in this stuff? You on something? What you’re saying is nonsense.” John didn’t respond. George laughed. “Okay, what are you, a new revolutionary?” He thought for a minute. “Okay, a sound bite to Tweet out: this election, the people lose.”

“Every election the people lose,” John said. He looked out at the sea. Then he smiled. “Take a picture of my shoes.”shoes2

George turned on his flash and snapped the shot. “Okay, and?”

“Send it out. Put it on Facebook, on Twitter. Send it to your representative. Send it to the national committees and let them know what we think of their candidates. Let them know that John Adler is not playing the game.”

“Dude, you’re just gonna leave your shoes there?”

John stood up on the wall. “Yes. And maybe the first person to find my shoes will be confused. Maybe the second, too. But you post it on social media, and eventually, someone, somewhere, is gonna pick up on it. And pretty soon there will be another pair of shoes somewhere. Shoes from someone who’s tired of playing the game. Shoes from someone who refuses to cast a vote for one of two evils, someone who refuses to play in a system in which third parties are ridiculed and money talks and the people have no voice. And maybe by Election Day, there’ll be five pairs of shoes or ten. And maybe next time there are twenty, and then two hundred, and then two-hundred thousand. And eventually there will be so many shoes that the system has no one to stand on, and it does what it should have done decades and decades ago—and collapses.”

George took another picture. “Better make it a good shot, then.” George turned to his phone. John could see his was busy writing a narrative on Facebook. The post was going to be a long one. George, an adamant blogger, would have fun with it. “Dude, this is inspired, John. Truly inspired.”

The tide disguised John’s departure as George became more and more absorbed in his post. John went to bed, resisting the urge to read his friend’s postings.

* * *

John headed out on Election Day, walking toward the 7-Eleven where the immigrants went to find day work. He hadn’t been kidding. He was moving off the grid, and he’d find cash work until he could figure something more permanent. The elementary school where he used to vote was full of red, white, and blue signs boasting of one candidate or another. People handed out flyers to voters as if their chosen candidate had the power to rid the country of all ills. Did any of them actually believe they held any power?

John shook his head. Sheep, all of them.

Turning the corner toward the 7-Eleven, he stopped. If he still had a cell phone, he would have snapped a picture and texted George. There, on the sidewalk, a pair of expensive-looking brown loafers. Office worker shoes belonging to someone who certainly made more money than John ever would.

John didn’t allow his heart to beat too quickly, though. Probably just coincidence. Maybe someone just pulled over to change out of the uncomfortable shoes after some meeting—and then forgot and left them on the side of the road.

Don’t get your hopes up, John.

He took a few more steps. He could already see the convenience store, a gathering of workers waiting for the day’s work. Some of them brought their own shovels and pick axes, looking for a random day job. John hurried to join them until he was stopped again in his tracks.

Another pair of shoes. This time a bit more casual. Brown loafers kicked off right there in the street. One pair, maybe, but two? This had to be intentional. John squinted across the street, and he knew. Three’s a charm. A pair of athletic flip-flops, the expensive kind.

He headed toward the 7-Eleven with renewed enthusiasm. His revolution had started.

* * *

Editor’s Note: “Gone” originally appeared on the author’s webpage on 10/20/2016 as part the Spot Writer’s flash fiction project.

 

Freedom Friday: A Win for Free Market Capitalism

This  blog post was originally posted by our editor at www.ValMuller.com as a “Fantastic Friday” story, but we liked the freedom angle so much, we decided to repost it here “Freedom Friday.”

“Fantastic Friday: Capitalism”
By Val Muller

This week, 7-11 gave out a free small Slurpee to all customers. Then, Chick-Fil-A celebrated the next day with “dress like a cow” day. All customers who dressed “cow-like” were given a free entrée.

Without trying to be too political for a Fantastic Friday post, I wanted to celebrate the wonders of capitalism. I know that sometimes our system of “crony capitalism” rubs people the wrong way (as it should, when certain businesses are given favors by corrupt government officials and politicians). But while I was on a road trip the other day, I listened to an NPR story about what’s happening in Venezuela, about how the instability in the country is forcing talented young folks to leave if they are able. Their socialist economy has collapsed, and people cannot secure even basic essentials. In some cases, people are so desperate for food that they wait in line even while witnessing a murder—because they cannot afford to lose their place in line.

Juxtapose that with two businesses in the course of a week vying for customer business by giving away goods. Here’s a picture of the small 7-11 parking lot, which is never crowded. This time, I had to park in a lot next door because there were no spaces left.711-license plates blurred

Are all the customers who received a free drink or a free entrée going to return and patronize those businesses? Probably not. But you can bet a good deal of them will (I’ll be one of them, but I love Chick-Fil-A’s lemonade and sweet tea so much that sometimes I dream about them!).

I’m building a gate in my back yard, and it’s amazing that I can go to Home Depot and secure a handful of various-sized screws and bolts (not sure which I’ll actually need) for a relatively inexpensive cost, along with a bag of pea gravel, a square, various sizes of wood, and several other odd but available items. All there for me at a moment’s notice. And on the way home, if I get hot or thirsty, I can stop at any convenience store or drive-thru and purchase a beverage for a dollar or two and a minute of my time.

It strikes me that capitalism—pure, unadulterated, free market capitalism—is the most hopeful type of economy. It puts faith in human beings who want to serve others the best they can and rewards them—monetarily—for doing so.

The employees at Chick-Fil-A were all friendly and seemed happy to be there, enjoying looking at customers’ strange cow costumes. And the customers were all happy, even despite a line that wove to the end of the restaurant. When we saw how long the line was, my family and I could have easily gone down the street to McDonald’s or KFC, but everyone in line was friendly, and the employees succeeded in moving the line along in record speed—even though most of the items being ordered were free. In exchange, customers gladly spent extra money to add items to their free entrees.

I believe it was John Stossel who mentioned on one of his shows that a capitalist economy is the only one where you will have both customer and vendor say “thank you” to each other—because in free market capitalism, it is truly a system that works to the mutual benefit of both parties.

When humans are left alone, they strive to please each other to mutual benefit and mutual pleasure. And that’s something to celebrate.

Fighting for Freedom From Fortress Bastille to “The Fortress” in the Vercors

Prise_de_la_BastilleToday marks the 227th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a prison in Paris that became a symbol of the corrupt authority of the French monarchy during the rule of Louis XVI. The storming and fall of the Bastille would become marked as one of flash points of the French Revolution.

In the spirit of freedom and the fight for individual rights, we thought it an appropriate occasion to announce our latest acquisition, a novel called The Fortress by debut author Madeleine Romeyer Dherbey. The novel takes place during WWII France:

The occupation has not made much of a difference in Alix’s life. Her father has seen to it that she grow up, unaware but safe in her tiny village under the cliffs of the Vercors. All around her he has built a fortress whose walls he defends-until the 27th of April, 1944. That day he makes a stupid mistake up on the edge of the cliff, and the walls come crashing down. The war breaks into Alix’s life with unrelenting violence, unforeseen possibilities. Whom then on, every decision she makes will mean life and death.

We’re excited to share the novel because at the heart of it lies everything Freedom Forge Press is all about: an individual’s search for freedom in a world that seems it will never be free. We asked Madeleine to write a bit about what inspired her to write the novel:

(Sharing the post from Madeleine’s website:)

madeleineromeyerdherbeyLand of revolutions and invasions, France has a deep, almost intimate relationship with the fortress, whether it stands in the way of tyranny or freedom. Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the people of Paris rose and stormed the Bastille fortress, a symbol of oppression and corruption, and took the first steps to claiming their God-given right to chart their own destiny. Seventy-two years ago on the same fateful date, Vassieux-en-Vercors was destroyed by the Nazis, sealing the fate of that last of French fortresses, the Vercors libre. To commemorate the occasion, I wanted to reflect on the reason I wrote The Fortress.

It started when I looked around one day and realized things were no longer making any sense. First I thought, maybe it’s me. My internet is slow, I don’t have satellite TV or a cell phone, I must have missed the Hi Tech revolution. The change, the hope, the promised land.

And then I thought again. It was not me, it was really the world that was changing fast, much too fast for me or anyone to understand. Maybe all of us, safe, successful, and inclined to look the other way, had missed, or rather ignored, what is really happening.

“What are you going to do about it?” my husband said. “It’s too late for America.”

Because he was right, I started writing. And because he was wrong, I kept on writing.

I had to go back two generations, to a time when strong women liked strong men, people knew which bathroom to use, and we weren’t killing babies, in order to find the broken thread. Two generations ago we could name our enemy and look him in the face. Two generations ago we knew what it took to stay free. But even then we waited till it was almost too late. The reckoning was painful—an absolute concept if there are any. We had to be routed first, utterly crushed before we understood what we had lost. When that handful of men came to the Vercors Mountains, they were beyond debating the meaning of life and moral purity. They had nothing left, no friends, no allies, no hope of ever succeeding. Dying an honorable death to redeem the shame of defeat was their last dream, and the Fortress was their last stand.

Today we don’t have to die, but there’s something to be said for Resistance. Uncompromising, vigilant, always rational, the indestructible belief that the last spark of light will conquer darkness. Maybe it’s called Faith.

Which brings me to my main point. The past, the present, the future, nothing is accidental. We build tomorrow, one individual at a time, one decision at a time. An act for freedom, an act for servitude. An act of resistance, or surrender. Neither Alix nor Marc, the two protagonists, set out to change the world when the war breaks into their lives. They finally find the point beyond which life is no longer worth living, and stop backing up.

Whether the world makes any sense—has it ever? We all find that point, the starting point of our resistance. Agree, stand down, shut up—or not. How we choose to resist remains our decision, and ours only. Our dream, our fortress, our spark in the darkness.


PHOTO CREDIT
Prise de la Bastille (The Storming of the Bastille) by Jean-Pierre Houël via Public Domain

Of Sparklers and Property Rights: A Libertarian Reflection

2550178805_5afb1b72c0_oBy Val Muller

My favorite Independence Day memory involves me running around the backyard, catching fireflies, and waiting until it was dark enough to light sparklers. While waiting, we ate through courses of burgers, ‘dogs, and s’mores. I didn’t have to wear shoes, I didn’t have to worry about bedtime for school or how many burgers I could eat or how sticky my hands got from the melted and flaming marshmallows.

It was kid freedom.

When I reflect about what went into making my favorite memory, I realize at the core of sticky marshmallows and burgers was a more durable principle: property rights. It’s one of the pillars that makes this an exceptional country.

Property rights gave us all a sense of pride. Even though our yard was small, it was ours; and we took care of it. The small but well-loved garden in the corner always bloomed in the spring and yielded bountifully in the summer, fed by the compost pile that we willingly made in the opposite corner of the yard from grass clippings and food rinds.

Even in a simple Independence Day celebration, this right was mirrored in my childhood experience. One year, I was given my own property: a box of sparklers. My sister was given the same. We were allowed to use our sparklers “whenever” we wanted—just not in the house. I don’t remember which of us it was, but we were so excited that one of us lit a sparkler before it was even dark out. Though it was sparkly and awesome, we saw what a waste it was to light them in the daylight. We learned this at the cost of our own sparkler, and it made us treasure the remaining sparklers all the more.

I treated each sparkler like gold, using it only when I had planned out the exact way I wanted to consume it. One, I decided, I would stick in the sandbox and just watch as it burned down. Another, I would race back and forth across the yard with, seeing how many times I could make it before the sparkler burned out. For another, my sister and I coordinated, deciding to write words in the air with the glowing sparklers.

Though a silly childhood story, the larger point is this: people take care of the things they own. But if everybody (and thus nobody) owns something, the experience would have been different. Our sparklers were special because they were ours and there was a limited supply. How would we have acted differently if we could bully our neighbors into giving us their sparklers after we lit off a bunch of them during the day? The sense of ownership and pride naturally led my sister and me to take care of our things, a lesson learned that went far beyond sparklers and summer kid fun.

And what is true at an individual level is repeated hundreds of millions of times over for a nation. Property rights are a pillar of what made America exceptional. Glossed over in school history books – if discussed at all – is the story of New World settlers to America. Both Jamestown and Plymouth colonies flirted with collective property, seeing that each person received what he needed from “the common stock.”

The experiment failed in Plymouth, as Governor Bradford noted people faking illness and not working the “common” farm plots. Communal property was abandoned in favor of individual property rights.

The Jamestown colony was a more vivid and cautionary tale: the colonists also tried communal property and farming and nearly starved themselves to death. Of a colony of nearly 500 in the winter of 1609-1610 only 60 survived, the rest (nearly 90 percent!) perished from starvation. Some resorted to cannibalism or digging up graves to consume the corpses of their fellow colonists in order to survive.

Modern examples exist, too.

Private ownership saved the American buffalo population. When individuals were given ownership (and therefore incentives) to raise buffalo, they did. Now, 90% of the 500,000 buffalo in this nation exist under private ownership, whereas collectively “owned,” they neared extinction.

In Europe, the Landmark Trust rescues historic buildings that would otherwise be lost. Under private ownership, the Trust rents out the properties, using profits for maintenance.

When things are owned by the government or the public at large, “everybody” owns it. So if the US population is 319 million, then you have an ownership stake of 0.00000000313%. And how much do you care about maintaining 0.00000000313% of anything? Everybody owns it and so nobody truly does. And that means nobody takes care of it quite like it would be if it had been owned by an individual.

Consider the federal budget and the fact that the government’s chief auditing agency (GAO) published a report estimating that the number of “improper payments” in FY 2014 was $124.7 billion. These are by the government’s definition simply put, “any payments that should not have been made.” (Examples include Social Security or other benefit payments made to dead people; most improper payments are connected to abuse of an entitlement program.)

To put that into perspective, if “Improper Payments, Inc” were a US corporation, it would be the 15th largest on the list of wealthiest US companies. If it were a country, its annual GDP would be larger than 131 other countries on a ranking of economic output.

But who “owns” the US Treasury? It’s a public federal agency. We all do. So nobody takes the care needed to avoid wasting over $100 billion in tax revenue on an annual basis. What privately-owned company could operate in this manner? Perhaps more depressing to think about, is what other things could have been done with the money wasted on improper payments? Cancer research? Fixing the crumbling infrastructure? Or better yet, returning the money to private hands.

Now grown, I own property myself, and I hope to teach my daughter the same sense of pride and ownership, that good things come when we understand our resources (and their scarcity) and make plans based upon careful study (essentially, the opposite of what our government does!). So as I listen to the fireworks for another Independence Day, I remain thankful for my freedoms, and most of all for my property rights.

PHOTO CREDIT: 

“Sparkler” by Stuart Heath, via Creative Commons License