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Smiling Dave Finds Reason for Optimism

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Many a student of Austrian Economics, when the truth first hits him, gets terribly depressed. The govt has the schools, it has the courts, it has the legislature, it has the media, it has the army, it collexts taxes and prints money as it pleases, you are not considered married until the govt approves, all possible power is on its side.

From day one, every child is brainwashed into thinking all sorts of nonsense. The schools tell him, the TV tells him, the movies tell him, everyone tells him, about how good and just and deserving the govt is, and how it behooves him to fight and die for the govt if need be, but if not, to at least pay all taxes on time and never question our fearless leaders. He is ensured that the govt is only taking away his freedom to protect his freedom.

All of this is familiar to students of AE, and can give one a sinking feeling. Can the monster ever be stopped? What can possibly bring its downfall?

Luckily, Smiling Dave found reason for optimism in his perusal of the Ancient Books. Here is David Hume talking about the reign of Richard II of England in the 1300’s:

There was a sensible decay of ecclesiastical authority during this period.
The disgust, which the laity had received from the

numerous usurpations both of the court of Rome, and of their
own clergy, had very much weaned the kingdom from
superstition; and strong symptoms appeared, from time to time, of a general desire to shake off the bondage of the Romish church.

If you read what Hume wrote about the church’s power until then, this is astounding news. Here’s what he writes only 100 years earlier, in the reign of Henry III:

 The chief reason, why protestant writers have been so
anxious to spread out the incidents of this reign, is in order to expose the rapacity,
ambition, and artifices of the court of Rome, and to prove, that the great dignitaries of
the catholic church, while they pretended to have nothing in view but the salvation of
souls, had bent all their attention to the acquisition of riches, and were restrained by
no sense of justice or of honour, in the pursuit of that great object… But this
conclusion…follows indeed, by an evident necessity, from the
very situation, in which that church was placed with regard to the rest of Europe.

For, besides that ecclesiastical power, as it can always cover its operations under a cloak of
sanctity, and attacks men on the side where they dare not employ their reason, lies
less under controul than civil government; besides this general cause, I say, the pope
and his courtiers were foreigners to most of the churches which they governed; they
could not possibly have any other object than to pillage the provinces for present gain;
and as they lived at a distance, they would be little awed by shame or remorse, in
employing every lucrative expedient, which was suggested to them.

England being one of the most remote provinces attached to the Romish hierarchy, as well as the
most prone to superstition, felt severely, during this reign, while its patience was not yet fully exhausted, the influence of these causes…

In other words, the English were the most gullible people in Europe, and the Pope took full advantage, ripping them off right and left. Response of the people: The Pope is right always.

It must be acknowledged, that the influence of the prelates and the clergy was often of
great service to the public. Though the religion of that age can merit no better name
than that of superstition, it served to unite together a body of men who had great sway
over the people, and who kept the community from falling to pieces, by the factions
and independant power of the nobles. And what was of great importance; it threw a
mighty authority into the hands of men, who by their profession were averse to arms
and violence; who tempered by their mediation the general disposition towards
military enterprizes; and who still maintained, even amidst the shock of arms, those
secret links, without which it is impossible for human society to subsist.

Here he’s telling us about the great power the church had, able to stand up against the very nobility. You know, the only guys who had armor and and armies.

The people had become disgusted with the church in the late 1200’s but a little media spin took care of that handily:

 During this reign, the papal power was at its summit, and
was even beginning insensibly to decline, by reason of the immeasurable avarice and
extortions of the court of Rome, which disgusted the clergy as well as laity, in every
kingdom of Europe. England itself, though sunk in the deepest abyss of ignorance and
superstition, had seriously entertained thoughts of shaking off the papal yoke and
the Roman pontiff was obliged to think of new expedients for rivetting it faster upon
the Christian world.

For this purpose, Gregory IX. published his decretals, which are
a collection of forgeries, favourable to the court of Rome, and consist of the supposed
decrees of popes in the first centuries. But these forgeries are so gross, and confound
so palpably all language, history, chronology, and antiquities; matters more stubborn
than any speculative truths whatsoever; that even that church, which is not startled at
the most monstrous contradictions and absurdities, has been obliged to abandon them
to the critics.

But in the dark period of the thirteenth century, they passed for
undisputed and authentic; and men, entangled in the mazes of this false literature,
joined to the philosophy, equally false, of the times, had nothing wherewithal to
defend themselves, but some small remains of common sense, which passed for
profaneness and impiety, and the indelible regard to self-interest, which, as it was the sole motive in the priests for framing these impostures, served also, in some degree, to protect the laity against them.

Wrap the same old garbage in a new name and slogan, and the people fall for it:

Another expedient, devised by the church of Rome, in this period, for securing her
power, was the institution of new religious orders, chiefly the Dominicans and
Franciscans, who proceeded with all the zeal and success that attend novelties; were
better qualified to gain the populace than the old orders, now become rich and
indolent; maintained a perpetual rivalship with each other in promoting their gainful
superstitions; and acquired a great dominion over the minds, and consequently over
the purses of men, by pretending a desire of poverty and a contempt for riches. The
quarrels which arose between these orders, lying still under the controul of the
sovereign pontiff, never disturbed the peace of the church, and served only as a spur
to their industry in promoting the common cause; and though the Dominicans lost
some popularity by their denial of the immaculate conception, a point in which they
unwarily engaged too far to be able to recede with honour, they counterbalanced this
disadvantage by acquiring more solid establishments, by gaining the confidence of
kings and princes, and by exercising the jurisdiction assigned them, of ultimate judges
and punishers of heresy. Thus, the several orders of monks became a kind of regular
troops or garrisons of the Romish church; and though the temporal interests of
society, still more the cause of true piety, were hurt, by their various devices to
captivate the populace, they proved the chief supports of that mighty fabric of
superstition, and, till the revival of true learning, secured it from any dangerous

Bottom line, never has the church been stronger than right before the reign of Richard II. It knew every trick in the book, and used them all to tremendous advantage. The popes added to their powers day by day, each pope chipping away at the authority of the kings of Europe, usurping more and more to himself. So great was their sway on men, that after a mere two hundred years or so of constant propaganda, they convinced some people to never get married, the better to serve the church.

Yes, the church looked unstoppable. But it did have an achilles heel. And what was it? When you are are ripped off, day after day, year after year, with no end in sight, eventually you wise up:

The disgust, which the laity had received from the
numerous usurpations both of the court of Rome, and of their
own clergy, had very much weaned the kingdom from

That’s Dave’s reason for optimism. Even the stupidest dullards, drowning in a sea of brainwashing, wise up eventually, provided you mistreat them long enough and badly enough. So History teaches us.

Devil’s Advocate: What are you talking about, Dave? The people did not overthrow the govt. They never got any more freedom. So they were weaned from superstition. What has that to do with our current situation?

Dave: I’m just talking about one thing, the loss of trust in the system. Nowadays most people really think the govt is the solution of all our problems, and should be put in charge of more and more aspects of our lives. As long as everyone believes that, nothing can change. My optimism is about the loss of this belief, about eyes being opened to the horrors of the current system.

It happened before, to a system that had a stronger sway on mens minds. That’s all I’m saying.



  1. I would take things a step further and conclude that the monopoly held by Rome met some strong competition and wrestled control of the market. The “stupidest dullards” as you call them found themselves under new statist control. From the commoner’s perspective, their day-to-day freedoms probably never changed.
    I am one of those “stupdiest dullards” by the way and I am proud of it.


  2. Smiling Dave says:

    I see from your comment that I should have spelled things out a bit more.
    I added a few words of dialogue between Devil’s Advocate and Dave to clear things up.


  3. Lio says:


    Have you read the last post of Kurt Schuller at freebanking.org? He criticizes Mises’s methodology on economics through Bob Murphy’s posts on his blog.


  4. Smiling Dave says:

    His first paragraph: “I don’t think bla bla.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I guess.

    Second paragraph: “Math has multiple axiom systems. Therefore economics must also have them.” Non sequitor. Economics has one set, the true ones. There cannot be multiple truths.

    Third paragraph: “The tree doesn’t fall if no one hears it.” See first par.

    “There is not one (“the”) concept of money, there are multiple concepts.” Mises meant that in his book he defines the word “money” [in a way generally accepted nowadays, see wikipedia], and all the properties of money [as he defines it] follow from the definition [as he defines it].

    “He does not cover the great variety of monetary arrangements that existed in his day.” Note that Schuller does not show that any of Mises’s assertions about money do not apply to those other moolahs. It’s like saying that yes, Mises proves Pythagoras Theorem, but he did not talk about the many triangles a train ride away from Vienns, like the pyramids.

    Fourth paragraph: Bla bla unbacked assertions.

    “I find it hard to imagine bla bla.” This is what passes for science nowadays? You do not disprove a statement by saying you have a hard time imagining how someone thought of it.


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