Harvesting History: Farmer Activism is Democracy’s Early Warning System

By Nick Deiuliis

Elites have a long history of looking down on and patronizing the working classes. It’s a sad social truth that extends back to America’s founding. Europe’s history of confrontation between the two classes stretches back centuries.

Today’s elites labeling the working class as Deplorables, Flyover Country, and Bible-and-Gun-Clingers is nothing new. It seems the more things change in America and Europe the more they stay the same.

You see the self-perpetuating dynamic with perhaps the original working-class demographic: farmers.

One of America’s first confrontations between the working class and elites was western Pennsylvania farmers initiating the Whiskey Rebellion during George Washington’s presidency. Indeed, farmers have a proud history of being first within the working class to confront excessive government control and elites looking to disenfranchise citizens.

And true to form, farmers across Europe are once again raising the alarm for the rest of society when it comes to loss of individual rights and constriction of liberty. Because the Left, the radical environmental theocracy, and the bureaucrat just can’t stop messing with society’s doers.

With so much at stake, a refresh of farmers’ movements in the United States and a discussion of the current farmers’ uprising in Europe is warranted.

American Farmers: A History of Political Activism

The latter half of the 1800s saw American farmers achieve a new, higher level of political activism that had national implications lasting to this day.1 It all started with disruptive technology.

The 19th century brought unprecedented economic advancement and groundbreaking technology, combining to drastically affect industry and agriculture. Steamships and railroads were game changers.

Along with new, advanced machinery and growing foreign trade, they disrupted everything across the American economy, from the factory floor to the farm field.

But net-net, manufacturing and urban areas benefited much more from the innovation and economic revolution than agriculture and rural areas. The individual farmer and small town were especially hard hit. Cities got bigger, industry became more profitable, but individual farmers found themselves struggling more.

Despite the innovations, farming still lacked scale. And competition was global when it came to demand and pricing for crops. Farmers were affected by global developments out of their control for revenue but had costs set by an inefficient local or regional market. The worst of both worlds created a financial pinch of low, at-risk revenue and high cost.

Adding to the farmer’s difficulty was a reliance on credit and a run-up in debt. As well as having to carry the risks of crop storage and transportation, lease rents for land, and speculators preying on micro-markets.

Indeed, the American farmer was facing seemingly impenetrable headwinds in the latter half of the 1800s.

Farmers decided it was time to unite and become activists to support their cause. Initially they looked to the labor movement in larger cities as the model to follow. The industrial labor unions were posting some impressive successes, so why not copy the playbook?

But farming is not the same as, say, coal mining or steelmaking. Thus, farmers quickly realized they would need their own brand of activism.

Just after the Civil War, the Patrons of Husbandry, also known as the Grange, appeared in the rural South and West.

It was the first national political movement for farmers—focused on setting rate caps on rail rates, which were a key point of contention and major financial risk for farmers in the South and West. The organization is alive and well today, with a Washington, D.C. headquarters and roughly 1,700 local chapters across America’s farming communities.

I feed you all!” lithograph by American Oleograph Co., Milwaukee, 1875.
(Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

After the Grange came the Greenback Party, focusing on addressing the problems of currency and inflation that troubled farmers. The party advocated for a break from the gold standard, fiat money, and a cheaper dollar, reflecting aspects of today’s modern monetary theory, or MMT. It was hoped that such an approach would grow farm revenue while making debt more manageable.2

Although the Greenback Party ran presidential candidates over three national elections (1876, 1880, and 1884), it wasn’t very successful politically. But it was quite successful in calling attention to the shortcomings of the US monetary system.

Around the same time of the Greenback Party, the Farmers Alliances in the Northwest and South were created. The idea was to unite farmers, becoming a force in established party politics and taking on the Gilded Age. The Southern Alliance focused on commandeering the dominant Democratic Party by electing candidates to run for state offices and for Congress. While in the Northwest, the Farmers Alliance started to behave as a separate third party that was populist.

The fourth and most impactful farmers movement was the Populists, centered in the West and also having support in the South. It was known as the People’s Party, the Populists, or the Populist Party. Lack of rainfall got things moving as drought devastated farmers in the Plains in the late 1880s and farms began to fail.

Farmers felt that business interests of railroads and bankers were contributing to, and feeding off, their plight and wanted to do something about it. That started a passionate movement, with followers preaching populism. The People’s Party candidate for president, James Weaver, won 22 Electoral College votes in the 1892 election, winning four Western states outright and winning electoral votes in two others. The party eventually merged into the Democratic Party in the next presidential election of 1896.

Although the People’s Party ultimately died, many of its ideas lived on. Subsequent policies in the coming years affecting conservation, trusts, railroads, and banking trace roots back to the populism of the farmers in the late 1800s. Including the creation of the Federal Reserve and many of President Teddy Roosevelt’s positions and accomplishments.

Europe’s Farmers Rise Up in 2024

The American farmer acting up in the late 1800s shares a lineage to European farmers acting up in 2024. Despite over a century and an ocean between the two, the movements have much in common.

Indeed, history is once again rhyming. Because today’s European farmers find themselves under siege by the arrogant elites.

Farmers are protesting across Europe. Spain, UK, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, France, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, and Poland; from Ireland to Romania. It’s become a truly pan-European movement.

Videos populate the internet of tractors and convoys of farming equipment blocking roads. Clips abound of farmers dumping wine and feed in front of government buildings.

And the protestors aren’t just the farmers in these nations, but also organizations that are affiliated with farmers and agriculture. These institutions have joined what was originally a grassroots protest and morphed it into something bigger and better organized. The movements are starting to win elections, from the local to the national, as seen in the Netherlands.

Typical of governments run by elites, the continent’s bureaucracy is making things worse and not listening.

For example, Spain issued thousands of sanctions or violations against citizens under its Orwellian Citizen Security Law (commonly referred to as the Gag Law). Yet Barcelona was still brought to a standstill by the protests. And Spanish farmers dumped wine in front of a municipal water authority to protest water restrictions.

Italy saw 1,600 tractors poised to enter Rome. A Milan protest saw a cow join in the march. Italian farmers were angered by the expiration of an income tax exemption. Italy’s Prime Minister ultimately relented and agreed to not let the exemption expire.

Greece is experiencing protests everywhere, with a major highway to Athens blocked. The Netherlands got things rolling on the continent with the Farmers Citizens Movement.

Germany is an especially interesting case. The government desired to camouflage the cost of climate policies by using pandemic emergency funds to fund its forced energy transition. Nice idea, but the courts deemed it unlawful, reasoning quite correctly that climate change is not Covid. So, the government decided that the climate policies would continue and that the cost would be offset by removing diesel fuel subsidies to German farmers.

Following the increased costs to farmers from all the other climate polices within the German net zero nightmare, the removal of the subsidy was the last straw. It stripped away the pretend veneer of the myth that net zero plans don’t hurt anyone. German farmers reacted; roads were blocked, from Munich to Berlin, and the world viewed images of farm tractors blocking the approach to the iconic Brandenberg Gate in Berlin.

Farmers protest at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Jan. 15, 2024.
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

European politicians are finally paying attention and assuring that they feel for the farmers being victimized by the EU bureaucracy and the elites who run it.

Enter the Spin of the Elites

With the farmer protests undisputedly in plain view for all to see, those looking to divert attention from the root cause jump into spin mode.

Mainstream media and politicians caught off guard by the agrarian working-class protests now blame five root causes for catalyzing these protests: climate policies, inflation, food imports, the urban-rural divide, and economic inequality.

Which is sort of true, but not entirely. Because only the first item, climate change policies, is the true root cause. The remaining four are symptoms of those climate policies. Much like the farmer protestors themselves.

Certainly, the European Green Deal is wreaking havoc on European farmers. One of the primary objectives of climate policies is to make it uneconomic to farm, to provide food, and to eat. At least without government support and approval.

A goal of climate policies is empowering the bureaucrat and the state to dictate what one eats and how much. Under the false flag of saving the planet and the pleasant-sounding optical cloak of ‘sustainable farming.’

Farmers understand climate policies will soon eradicate them, just as such policies initially targeted (and are on their way to eradicating) the fossil fuel industry, power grid, and gasoline-powered cars across Europe. But the farmers aren’t taking this lying down; they refuse to make the same mistakes the complacent domestic energy industry, autoworkers unions, and consumer advocates made when allowing the radical environmental movement to roll over their interests.

What about the other cause of the protests identified by the elites: inflation, food imports, the urban-rural divide, and economic inequality?

Of course, the cost of living and inflation are up. Natural gas costs are up and so is fertilizer cost, which requires natural gas as a feedstock. Farming requires carbon-based energy and products like just about everything else in a modern economy. Thus, if you create energy scarcity while inflating energy costs through climate policies, you do the same for the inputs of farming. Farming soon becomes uneconomic.

The European mainstream media point to inflation and pin it on Russia invading Ukraine, which increased energy costs. Or the media blames drought, caused by (you guessed it) climate change, as raising costs.

Climate policies enabled Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and catalyzed general inflation. And yes, somewhere in Europe, right now, there will be drought. And somewhere in Europe, right now, there will be floods. It is a large continent, after all. But change in weather isn’t causing the existential plight of farmers or inflation. Despite media and academic experts wanting it to.

Farmers are hurt by food imports, but that is yet another symptom of climate change policies that dictate who makes and uses what on a global scale. Nations and the private sector within national economies ultimately lose autonomy under all variations of climate policies, from domestic energy industries to the domestic providers of food.

Climate policies are designed to make European-grown food too expensive. Which then has the desired effect of creating food scarcity. The food supply shifts from mostly European to mostly foreign providers, with Europeans now having to look to places like North Africa and Ukraine. Not exactly geopolitically stable places to get your dinner from.

Then there’s the popular elite excuse of the rural-urban divide stoking these protests. Which is ironic.

It’s not that urban elites don’t care about rural citizens. The government bureaucrat and the experts care greatly; the problem is they care about placing the rural, or what we call Flyover Country here in America, in economic chains and assigning them to a life of reliance on the state. Is it any wonder that rural Europeans tend to be more Euroskeptic? They are more astute than the urban elites give them credit for.

And when it comes to economic inequality, that fifth and final excuse proffered by the media as a cause of the farmer protests across Europe, one is hard pressed to think of anything that is a more regressive tax and regressive value appropriator than net zero plans and climate change policies.

Net zero plans radically catalyze income inequality. Like these other red-herring issues, the media wants to label economic inequality as a root cause of the farmer protests. Yet economic inequality is a symptom of the singular, true root cause: climate policies and their net zero scams.

Where Do Farmer Protests Go From Here?

One should be quite optimistic regarding the implications of European farmers standing up for themselves. Wider society stands to benefit three ways.

First, the farmer protests secured shorter-term successes when political leaders in nations such as France and Italy backed off planned moves that would’ve hit farmers disproportionately and that would have increased the cost of food. That’s created an incentive for farmers in other European nations to join the movement. Which is why the protests quickly spread across Europe, why they’ve extended into March and will likely continue. What’s good for the farmer is good for the consumer and the overall economy.

Second, the reaction of the farmers to climate change policies created a deterrent for European politicians and bureaucrats—forcing them to think twice before unleashing additional and similar draconian moves on other sectors of the European economy and society.

As they’ve done for centuries, the farmer has provided a great service to a host of others. This time their resistance and advocacy for common sense has stymied the consequences of climate policies for countless businesses and families.

Third, the farmer protest movement is winning elections, from the local to national level, as seen in the Netherlands. Candidates opposed to economy-killing climate policies trounced leftist parties obsessed about climate change, Code Red, and irreversible state control of the individual.

Despite these realities, a complicit media is still trying to cover for the bureaucrat in Europe. The overwhelming political upheaval and protest by farmers is precipitating a disingenuous discussion about who pays for climate change policies and net zero plans.

Which is nonsensical to debate, because everyone pays for climate change policies and net zero plans in a modern economy. It is not a question about who pays. Instead, it comes down to how transparent will the costs that are being borne by all be brought to light, and how soon.

Do people wake up before reaching the point of no return? Or do the policies become so embedded within an economy and society that it doesn’t matter what happens once society awakens?

European farmers have performed a noble duty for all Europeans. Following a rich history of American farmer movements. Let’s hope the current protests serve as both a moral and economic alarm clock to wake up society to the threat of climate change policies. Before it’s too late.

1. In the 1930s, historian John D. Hicks was a leading voice on populism and farmer movements.
2. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
3. Climate change is nothing new; been happening for millions of years.

The Illusion of “The End of History?”: Unraveling Fukuyama’s Miscalculations

By Nick Deiuliis

Today the world is trembling with international strife. Russia continuing its brutal grind in Ukraine, Iran funding terror and disrupting Mideast shipping, Israel facing down dual terror threats of Hamas and Hezbollah in Gaza and the Golan, Venezuela massing along its border with Guyana to invade for oil, North Korea opening another nuclear reactor and firing ballistic missiles, and China signaling to everyone that an invasion of Taiwan is imminent.

The geopolitical gameboard is blinking red, with a new Axis of China-Russia-Iran plotting and building hegemony to counter and ultimately destroy the West.

Meanwhile, Western leaders dither and blabber with hollow phraseology that lacks tangible action. Worse yet, those Western elites insist on focusing more on the abstract fear of future climate instead of the tangible danger of present actors. The West fights with itself, where its once-proud institutions and values are systemically overturned and uprooted by our supposed leaders.

A 1989 Root Cause to What Ails the West in 2024

How did our elites and experts arrive at such a state of ineptitude? How did they not see this coming? And why do they continue to behave as paralyzed ninnies as troubling events unfold, one after another?

Thank a person few outside of elite foreign policy and political science circles have heard of: Francis Fukuyama. He is a noted geopolitical analyst, who has done it all in his field, from serving as an advisor to Muammar Gaddafi to being a thought leader for the US neoconservative movement.

In 1989, Fukuyama published his now famous essay, whose title was in the form of a question: “The End of History?” Fukuyama posited that the geopolitical fight between freedom and totalitarianism was over, that right prevailed over wrong, and that classic liberalism reigned supreme and unchallenged.

“The End of History?” influenced many a policy and leader through the years; it was fundamental to the thinking of everyone from Bush the Second to Obama to Kerry to whoever is running foreign policy in today’s White House.1 It was widely accepted as sage and the authority on how one should view geopolitics.

And that was quite unfortunate. Because the core premise of “The End of History?” has proven to be hogwash.

Contrasting the Expert Prediction and the Current Reality

Consider key excerpts from the influential 1989 paper and then contrast them with reality in early 2024. Doing so exposes the danger of Western elite arrogance, smugness, and overconfidence and their bad consequences.

The paper’s opening paragraph starts with a key sentence: “The past year has seen a flood of articles commemorating the end of the Cold War, and the fact that ‘peace’ seems to be breaking out in many regions of the world.”

What is breaking out across the world today? Iran developing nukes, Hamas manufacturing terror, North Korea firing missiles into international waters, Russia annihilating Ukraine, state-sponsored terrorists disrupting global shipping lanes, and China prowling Taiwan. Is that peace breaking out? Or more like the late 1930s when the Axis Powers were aligning and gearing up?

Fukuyama wrote of “ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an ‘end of ideology’ or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.”

Do you feel that classic liberalism is alive, well, and winning—in Putin’s Russia or the Ayatollah’s Iran? Is the free market running on all cylinders in Xi’s China? To posit such today is laughable.

Fukuyama saw much of history and conflict stemming from a war between ideologies. Which is true. Then and now. But here’s what Fukuyama misjudged: he argued that the rival ideologies to republican democracy, the West, and capitalism were dead. Vanquished. Beaten.

Fascism and communism were supposedly wrecked and ruined. The first, fascism, was literally ruined by World War II bombs, both conventional and nuclear. And the latter, communism, was assumed to be destroyed by, for lack of a better term, Westernization and liberalization of places like China and Russia.

Fukuyama was dead wrong about communism and socialism being slain.

Once you assume the alternatives are gone, then it’s not a big leap to declare what Fukuyama proposed: that it’s the end of history, as we knew it. In his words: “That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

That assessment was tragically mistaken. The Left might have been on the ropes in the late 1980s and 1990s, but it was far from the point of surrender. And now the Left and its ideologies have Western civilization on the brink and on the ropes.

If you seek perfect examples of how bold statements that might feel good to say then, or enjoy popularity then, can age incredibly poorly, consider these snippets from “The End of History?”:

“…the appeal of communism in the developed Western world, it is safe to say, is lower today than any time since the end of the First World War.”

It was not, and is not, safe to say that.

And: “…those who believe that the future must inevitably be socialist tend to be very old, or very marginal to the real political discourse of their societies.”

Fukuyama should visit an Ivy League campus these days and see what ideological vibe he picks up from students.

There is an interesting pair of sentences on China sitting in proximity in the essay: “…the past fifteen years have seen an almost total discrediting of Marxism-Leninism as an economic system.” And “But anyone familiar with the outlook and behavior of the new technocratic elite now governing China knows that Marxism and ideological principle have become virtually irrelevant as guides to policy, and that bourgeois consumerism has a real meaning in that country for the first time since the revolution.”

Fukuyama should’ve checked with Chairman Xi first. Marxism and the Left are the things that matter most in China today. By cold, calculating design of the elite there.

Epic Miscalculations of China and Russia

Fukuyama was all-in when it came to the once-popular Western elite view that China would simply Westernize itself once it saw how great of a system we had. That China would become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ among enlightened nations.

He wrote, “…the pull of the liberal idea continues to be very strong as economic power devolves and the economy becomes more open to the outside world. There are currently over 20,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S. and other Western countries, almost all of them the children of the Chinese elite. It is hard to believe that when they return home to run the country they will be content for China to be the only country in Asia unaffected by the larger democratizing trend.”

Too bad it was hard for Fukuyama to believe that. Or for Wall Street and DC. Or for Republican and Democratic presidents. They all believed it. And every one of them got it decisively wrong. It wasn’t until Trump, that threat-to-democracy despot, that the West started to wake up. Yes, the crude-angry-narcissist-megalomaniac of social media got right what all the experts got wrong, at least when it came to China.

It gets worse for the aging of China musings from “The End of History?”

Consider: “The central issue is the fact that the People’s Republic of China can no longer act as a beacon for illiberal forces around the world, whether they be guerrillas in some Asian jungle or middle class students in Paris. Maoism, rather than being the pattern for Asia’s future, became an anachronism, and it was the mainland Chinese who in fact were decisively influenced by the prosperity and dynamism of their overseas co-ethnics – the ironic ultimate victory of Taiwan.”

It is painful to read that in 2024, to where one feels embarrassed for Fukuyama. The CCP, the Left, and communism are beacons today for nations with the Belt and Road Initiative; they run the curriculum across Western higher education and elite academia; and they fund chaos when it benefits them, from Ukraine to Israel.

And Taiwan victory? It doesn’t even officially exist in corporate brochures and on foreign office maps. And it may not actually exist by year end, or whenever China decides to move on it.

On Russia, Fukuyama was just as bad with his predictions. He wrote that Russia was reforming and that it was moving toward a society where “…people should be truly responsible for their own affairs, that higher political bodies should be answerable to lower ones,…that the rule of law should prevail over arbitrary police actions…that there should be legal protection for property rights, the need for open discussion of public issues and the right of public dissent…and of a political culture that is more tolerant…”

Did Putin smile to himself or outright laugh when he read that? And be certain that Putin has read Fukuyama. As has Xi. The Left studies its enemies and is always probing for weakness.

Fukuyama took to task those who said the fall of the communist state USSR would lead to a more nationalistic Russia led by a strongman. He wrote: “The automatic assumption that Russia shorn of its expansionist communist ideology should pick up where the czars left off just prior to the Bolshevik Revolution is therefore a curious one.”

Not so curious now, just ask Ukraine and eastern Europe.

He had the same view with China not going aggressive. He proclaimed, “Chinese competitiveness and expansionism on the world scene have virtually disappeared: Beijing no longer sponsors Maoist insurgencies or tries to cultivate influence in distant African countries as it did in the 1960s.”

Proof positive that Deng Xiaoping’s mantra of ‘hide your strength and bide your time’ was effective in lulling Western elites like Fukuyama into a foreign policy coma.

The opening paragraph of the essay’s conclusion does a great job of summarizing the failure that is “The End of History?” and its apostles with China and Russia policy:

“The passing of Marxism-Leninism first from China and then from the Soviet Union will mean its death as a living ideology of world historical significance. For while there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang, or Cambridge, Massachusetts, the fact that there is not a single large state in which it is a going concern undermines completely its pretensions to being in the vanguard of human history. And the death of this ideology means the growing ‘Common Marketization’ of international relations, and the diminution of the likelihood of large-scale conflict between states.”

Today’s darkening world serves as a decisive rebuke of Fukuyama.

What Filled the Supposed Vacuum in the West?

If the United States was truly a unipolar power and it was indeed the ‘end of history’, then something had to replace the old way in the West.

How we should behave in the end of history era was a big question. A vacuum needed to be filled. Ironically, the very ideology Fukuyama said was eradicated: communism, socialism, the Left, was what filled that vacuum of values in the West.

The Left superimposed its value system on the West once experts and elites like Fukuyama assured and convinced everyone that communism and socialism were dead. That China and Russia would surely start behaving like us.

What did the Left fill our culture and values with? Well, it is rigidly secular. To the point where it becomes not just ideology, but a new religion. Strangely, secular purity morphs into a religion. With true, ardent believers.

Some call it postmodernism. Its foundational pillars are evident with the big ideas and movements of today. Three stand out.

First, it manifests in the expert class demanding that the global/universal issue takes primacy over national/local issues. There is an ethical duty and responsibility to put yourself, your community, and your country behind and secondary to what is best for the public good or the planet or humankind. The select few decide what best serves the global/universal, of course.

This leads to things like unbalanced globalization and open borders. Consider the open border issue these days. Texas, of course. But also, Italy. And even, of all places, Finland, on its border with Russia. The Left use open borders as an effective divisive tool.

A second notable manifestation of the value system of the Left is a religious fervor on Code Red and climate change. Where the planet is in peril and we all must take a back seat with our interests and place in life to tackle climate change. Climate alarmism looms so large these days, touching everything, that it deserves to be placed as its own foundational pillar of the Left’s new ‘end of history’ toolkit.

The third manifestation is a cleansing. Not an ethnic cleansing, but a values cleansing. Orwellian in many ways. Wiping away, erasing, vilifying, and, yes, canceling the prior values of the West, of capitalism, of the individual and their rights, and of America. Ignoring science to the benefit of ideology. Replacing factual history with subjective fiction. There are many current examples; you know them well.


The epic transformation that Fukuyama predicted was a complete misread. A historic blunder that influenced more historic blunders by those in power who believed it and set policy from it.

The good news is certain thought leaders are calling for a tipping point, where the skewed values that the Left injected into the vacuum created by the “End of History?” crowd are exposed and the West turns against them.2

Carry healthy skepticism about such predictions. Today the Left hasn’t just injected the new values into this ‘end of history’ time, the Left is also running all the wheels of power and influence in the West necessary to keep such ideology in place, fed, and protected.

Academia indoctrinates on behalf of the Left. Indoctrinated minions leave the campus quad and enter the halls of government and corporate America where they end up leading both and setting policy for the former. And many of those minions end up in what has become the ministry of propaganda for the Left: mainstream media.

Yes, have doubts about the tide turning now for the better. It may get worse for America before improving. And let’s hope that prediction ends up being as wrong as Fukuyama’s in 1989.

[1] One example of many: President Obama in 2013 while on a trip to Russia proclaiming an end to the Great Game and how nations now realize no one “benefits from that kind of great-power conflict.” Russia invaded Ukraine six months later.
[2] Gerard Baker of the WSJ is an exceptional thought-leader in this arena.

20 Reasons Why the Worst is Yet to Come with Inflation

The start of 2024 has brought a symphony of assurance from economic experts, the business media, Wall Street, Biden administration officials, and Fed leadership that inflation has been tamed and has run its recent short-lived course.

A range of economic metrics, excuses (what Milton Friedman once facetiously referenced as “special events”), and data are offered to bolster the premise and add an air of clinical objectivity.

Wishing something to be true does not make it so. Unfortunately, inflation has not been brought to heel and the opposite is true.

It’s not just one thing stoking inflation. Rather, there are three broad categories of individual contributing factors: government spending/regulation, monetary policy, and geopolitics. And specifically, there are twenty key contributors keeping inflation at elevated levels, and perhaps worsening it.

1. Unabated growth in the regulatory state makes everything more expensive. The administrative state is exponentially expanding at break-neck pace across all facets of the economy and across all industries. If you make, provide, sell, buy, use, or report something, the costs of compliance are growing at historic rates. Such costs inevitably will be passed down the supply chain, ultimately to consumers, in the price of goods and services.

2. Languishing worker productivity means more cost per unit of output. More constraints are being imposed upon worker efficiency and productivity. Remote work comes with an inevitable reduction of individual and team efficacies. New labor agreements come with hidden but onerous work rules, beyond wage rate hikes, that significantly impede productivity. Output per worker is declining, which will increase costs.

3. Generationally low worker participation rate creates skill scarcity. Worker participation rate has been declining for 25+ years. Pandemic made it worse, and it is projected to decline further in the coming years, to barely above 60%. The reasons are many, but lower participation manifests in lower economic productivity and higher costs.

4. Climate alarmism is making the kilowatt-hour expensive and scarce. Energy is a feedstock for everything used or provided in a modern economy. If electricity costs increase rapidly and electricity availability decreases severely, inflation is stoked. Climate change policies are designed to do both (along with forcing a heavier reliance on electrification).

5. Climate alarmism is making horsepower expensive and scarce. All commerce requires some level of transportation in its supply chain. The transportation sector is now state-controlled, where modes and rates are set by bureaucratic decree. Costs rise, productivity plummets (for a real-time example, look to California’s disastrous mandate of electric trucks) and choice declines; all feeding inflation.

6. Commodities will experience unprecedented demand levels that are impossible to supply and that will explode costs. Climate policies rear their inflationary heads once again, this time by mandating levels of wind, solar, batteries, and electric vehicles that require enormous quantities of lithium, copper, rare earths, nickel, aluminum, and cobalt. Quantities that cannot be commercially produced in any reasonable time frame, and that will manufacture tremendous inflationary pressures for each.

7. Hyper government spending creates private sector scarcity. The US federal government spends over $6 trillion a year, $2 trillion more than it takes in as revenue. That epic level of spending consumes vast resources in the economy, making everything more scarce and more expensive for the private sector to do its thing. Voracious government activity elevates inflation in the real economy, soup to nuts.

8. Entitlements grow wider and deeper, driving potentially productive components out of the economy and keeping them sidelined. Social programs have greatly expanded: Social Security, healthcare for all (Medicare and Medicaid), student debt forgiveness (and higher ed subsidization), universal income, unemployment benefits, ‘affordable’ housing, sanctuary cities and open borders, and so on. The scale and breadth swamp the economy with suboptimal government spending. Worse, the programs often discourage potentially productive contributors of the economy from participating, keeping them out (or pushing them out). None of this bodes well for controlling inflation.

9. Taxes are rising everywhere and for everything, and the tab will be passed on, through the stream of commerce. Government needs a stupendous level of new revenue to fund its ever-growing self. Existing taxes will rise, new taxes will be created, and some new taxes will parade around as something other than taxes. Across local municipalities, states, nations, and global bodies (hello UN, IMF, World Bank, etc.). For driving in cities (congestion pricing), sitting at events (stadium taxes), eating (restaurant taxes and surcharges), shopping online (digital taxes), turning the lights on (carbon taxes), owning a pet (dog license fees) and flushing the toilet (municipal sewer ‘fees’).

10. Crime and heightened security add costs to retail. Shoplifting and theft have become societal norms, from the ransacking of trains carrying packages to flash mobs stripping retailor shelves bare. Businesses are paralyzed with inaction, law enforcement is instructed to not pursue the criminals, and everyone accepts such behavior. Yet the consumer pays for the consequences, from the lost merchandise to the heightened security measures, with higher prices.

11. But before those goods can be swiped off the store shelves, state-sponsored terror is making global shipping of those goods riskier and costlier. Today’s global economy means even the simplest of products carry massive, complex cumulative supply chains behind them (the route from Shanghai to Rotterdam is 12,000 nautical miles and requires a month of sailing). Inevitably, links of that supply chain will rely on water transport, and water-borne commerce hasn’t been this risky since the Republic of Pirates. When a ship is attacked, sunk, diverted to a longer (but safer) route, or delayed, it will increase cost and feed inflation. Shipping also becomes much more expensive to insure and protect, which also boosts inflation.

12. War is breaking global supply chains and commerce flow. War has never been conducive to global supply chain efficiency, but today’s geopolitical heat map is especially devilish. Consider Iran as an example: western climate policies shutter domestic energy and create reliance on Iranian energy, which creates market volatility and higher prices for oil, which benefits Iranian revenues, which allows Iran to fund terrorism, which provides the backing for terrorists to attack nations and global shipping, which disrupts supply chains, which drives up prices and scarcity more. Viola, spiraling inflation. And such a dynamic doesn’t apply exclusively to the Mideast and oil. Same cycle for war in Ukraine with grain and a potential war in Taiwan with semiconductors.

13. Deglobalization of supply chains injects inefficiency and higher costs into the system. Today’s global supply chains came to be because of efficiencies and economic advantages (whether built fairly or unfairly) of each link. The evolution and optimization that took decades to evolve are now being broken, sometimes for good reasons and sometime for bad reasons. Nevertheless, breaking down globalization and replacing it with regional or national supply chains is going to necessarily result in higher cost, less choice, and greater inflation.

14. And the links in those supply chains are becoming dangerously thin and unreliable. Decades of just-in-time manufacturing optimization have been applied to every link in very long global supply chains, resulting in over $90 billion in annual cash flow savings for US firms alone. That has gone from strength to weakness with today’s geopolitical volatility and deglobalization shift. The once desirable is now brittle. When one link can’t deliver its piece of the puzzle just-in-time to the next link, the end-results are delayed delivery, higher cost, and inferior effectiveness: hallmarks of inflationary pressure.

15. Economic policy favors consolidating supply and markets into a small group of large entities, creating oligopoly power. The current policy, economic, and geopolitical environment benefits scale in firms and industries. Scale and concentration allow the few to dictate the supply and price of products to the market down the supply chain, ultimately impacting the price of everything from breakfast cereal to smart phones. Once higher prices are established, the oligopoly will be resistant to both new entrants and price discounting. Inflation appears, and once present, persists.

16. Speaking of market power, OPEC is back from the dead as OPEC+, bringing with it monopoly pricing power for oil. What capitalism and innovation slayed with the shale revolution, western climate policies resurrected with draconian prescriptions. Oil is once again controlled by the few, with most of the few being adverse to the US. Since oil is a necessary feedstock for countless products and services in a modern economy, higher prices for oil mean higher prices for everything, which means inflation.

17. The Federal Reserve, despite touting its independence, is quite susceptible to political pressure and may set rates too low. Fighting inflation at central banks is never a fun or popular endeavor, as monetary policy adjusted to a more disciplined path creates short term headwinds and hardships for stakeholders. Politicians worry most about…their popularity…and the short term. That makes for a head-on collision between political leader ‘wants’ and monetary policy ‘needs’ during inflationary times. Don’t be surprised if the Fed folds and acquiesces to the politically expedient when it comes to choosing between what is clinically needed and what avoids criticism/outcry. That could result in too-low interest rates (or cutting rates prematurely), effectively pouring gasoline on the already raging inflation bonfire. For more on the Fed in 2024, listen to The Far Middle episode 136, starting at approximately the 20-minute mark.

18. And the Left (who runs government these days) loves free money, which is an inflation accelerant. Whether it is under cover of impressive-sounding Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) or just plain socialism, the Left sees free money and negative real interest rates as key tactics to reward the favored special interests at the expense of savers/value creators. The Fed buying Treasuries is another tactic utilized here to attempt to keep rates below market. Free money diverts capital flows into funding inefficient activities that crowd out more efficient endeavors. That’s a recipe for inflation.

19. But even with love of free money policies and an impressionable Fed, the cost of debt is inevitably increasing the cost of capital. The party is over for zero interest rates. The benchmark cost of debt set by central banks and the risk premiums above it are being reset toward more normal levels (although still nowhere near normal levels). Capital is still artificially cheap, but no longer free, and capital is the lifeblood of all economic activity. Thus, the products of all economic activity will reset to a higher cost level.

20. The confluence of the prior nineteen contributors creates an incremental, cumulative step-up of inflation. Although each of the prior factors will individually contribute to sustained and perhaps increasing inflation, all in combination will drive an incremental step-up of inflation. A cumulative effect that occurs when all these contributors manifest together.

If you doubt the list above, consider the past few years. Are you waiting longer for goods and services today? Have the costs of everything gone up or down? Has quality improved or degraded? Do you have more choice today or less?

And do you suppose the situation will improve or worsen from here?

No matter how bleak your prognosis view may be, there is still time to course correct. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wisely advised that, “To live without hope is to cease to live.” Let’s hope by advocating for actions that tame inflation so that we all may live better.

Notes from the Underground: Libertarianism Hiding in Classic Lit

By Nick Deiuliis

Fyodor Dostoyevsky is widely recognized as one of the giants of literature.

Of his most noted works, the first and shortest is the novella Notes from the Underground, published in 1864. It’s also his most underrated and most insightful, particularly for modern times.

Some consider Notes from the Underground classic literature.1 Others say it is more political commentary. Social scientists point to it as a study in psychology.

All correct. Yet Notes is first and foremost something else: a basis for philosophy and policy rooted in the freedom of the individual to choose and the individual’s protection from control by the state and wider culture.

I interpret Notes as advocating for triumph of the ‘I’ over the ‘we,’ the ‘self’ over the ‘collective,’ and the ‘individual’ over the ‘public good.’

I read Dostoyevsky’s classic and contemplate a warning of how the Left (whether manifesting through communism, nihilism, or utopianism) presents a danger to the individual; and how the Left cuts against the grain of human nature. In many ways, Notes from the Underground was serving as a foundation for American libertarianism before the movement took root. And it is a decisive refutation of the modern-day nanny state.

A closer look at (or revisit of) Notes from the Underground is worthwhile to anyone who considers himself or herself a classic liberal and defender of the individual.

The Story

The first lines of the novella read, “I am a sick man…I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man.”

Notes from the Underground is not a story for the meek of heart. No sunshine and happy endings. The book is humorous at times, but it is certainly a dark humor.

The main character narrating the story is the anti-hero Underground Man, a miserable bureaucrat who spent his career abusing his position to make life difficult for other people.2 His directional perspective of being ‘underground’ serves as a metaphor for being separate from, an outcast to, society. He falls into some money, quits his job, and writes the notes as a form of confession.

That’s the focus of the first half of the book, titled “Underground”. The narrator observes that utopian society attempts to remove suffering and pain, but that humans desire both and need both to be happy. The narrator confesses his realization that attempting to remove pain and suffering in society takes away an individual’s freedom.

Underground Man realizes human beings are cursed with consciousness; it is what causes us to suffer. But it also allows for our free will and individuality.

He argues that despite humanity’s attempts throughout history to create a utopia where everyone lives in harmony, anyone can decide to act in a way that might not be in their own self-interest as defined by society or government. Some do so simply to validate their existence as an individual and to protest. And no one knows for sure whether the individual will choose a rational or irrational path.

The second half of the book, “Apropos of the Wet Snow”, consists of a series of adventures and events that occurred in the narrator’s life.

One of those stories is central to the book. The narrator tries to help a prostitute by promising to save her. She finds herself enthralled by the Underground Man’s lectures, his confidence, and ends up looking to join him. He then revokes everything he said to her, telling her he was laughing at her all along, and ridicules her miserable life and reality.

Then he breaks down and admits he was only seeking power over her and desired to humiliate her. He starts to self-loathe and focuses on his own poverty and embarrassing life. He doesn’t save her, she leaves and is never seen again.

The concluding sentences of Notes recall themes explored by the narrator in the first part, and he tells the reader directly, “…I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway…”

The Learnings from Notes

In the arenas of policy and classic liberalism, Notes contains a plethora of key passages that resonate more than ever.

Start with perhaps the underlying key premise of the book:

“What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead.”

Dostoyevsky is making a subtle but crucial point here: human nature yearns for the ability to self-select for oneself and to not be chained to the decisions of others (whether ‘others’ are controlling individuals, religion, or the state). Arguing that the state or a third party is better informed to make decisions for the individual than the individual himself or herself misses a key point (and is a dubious assumption when considering the track record of anything run by bureaucrat): the individual’s innate desire to decide for themself cannot be quelled.

Underground Man uses the analogy of humans serving as glorified organ-stops in oppressive societies to illustrate how the individual instinctively longs to decide their own destiny:3

“For who would want to choose by rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires, without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ?”

Dostoyevsky freely admits that humans enjoying freedom will often choose paths that are irrational, against their self-interests, and that may lead to misery for society. But that doesn’t mean oppressive forms of government that cripple the individual spirit won’t lead to the same or worse (think of Stalin and Mao and how we measure their ‘transformation’ of society to ‘paradise’ in the tens of millions of murdered innocents).

“In short, one may say anything about the history of the world – anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational. The very word sticks in one’s throat.”

Place those words from 1860s Russia into the context of today; with the war in Ukraine, Hamas terrorism, and Uighur genocide. Or with the breakdown of law in our cities and the epidemic of opioid death in our rural communities. There is no guarantee of rational order in the world, and there never was. Whether it be with democracy, colonialism, communism, socialism, or free will. Truer than ever.

Underground Man provides his thoughts on those who argue moral superiority and wish to superimpose their views or ways onto others. Read the following and try to not be instantly reminded of today’s elite and expert classes:

“There is the odd thing that is continually happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational persons, sages, and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all their lives as morally and rationally as possible, to be, so to speak, a light to their neighbors simply in order to show them that it is possible to live morally and rationally in this world. And yet we all know that those very people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly one. Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with such strange qualities?”

Most experts in the field point to this passage as Dostoyevsky’s criticism of utopianism and, ultimately, communism. The idea that if you eliminate private property and make everyone equal, it not only makes people happy, but it makes the world neatly rational. Nonsense, of course, as shown by the epic misery brought to humanity by the Left.

And today there is a special refinement to the way of the Left. Leaders of the Left no longer bother to live their lives consistent with their preaching to everyone else as to how to live life in a moral and just way. Hypocrisy is paraded in the open, for all to see. That’s why a Hollywood star who is a self-proclaimed climate activist sails around the world on carbon-spewing yachts. And why a self-anointed Climate Czar who looks to impose travel restrictions on society flies private charter jets at will.

If you wish to think of Notes from the Underground as simply great literature and not policy thought-provoking, consider Dostoyevsky’s analysis of human nature:

“Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself–as though that were so necessary–that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar.”

Dostoyevsky concisely summarizes why large government, bureaucratic control, and nanny states ultimately fail to improve the standing of people the state policies were specifically designed to help.

I wonder if Woodrow Wilson, FDR, LBJ, or Barack Obama read Notes from the Underground. If so, did any of them underline that passage? Because it made an impression on them, they agreed with it, or they disagreed with it?

The narrator then addresses head-on what has become an all-too-common rebuttal of the Left, with:

“You will scream at me (that is, if you condescend to do so) that no one is touching my free will, that all they are concerned with is that my will should of itself, of its own free will, coincide with my own normal interests, with the laws of nature and arithmetic. Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a case of twice two make four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that!”

Save that passage for every time one hears the bureaucrat’s defense of onerous control of the individual by the state with the position that government knows what is best on the topic(s) and that the individual remains largely free. Hogwash, as Dostoyevsky’s narrator articulated.

In the first part of the book, “Underground,” the narrator marks the supremacy of the individual to choose whichever path desired, even if the path is illogical or irrational when compared to the norms of society. Check out:

“You, for instance, want to cure men of their old habits and reform their will in accordance with science and good sense. But how do you know, not only that it is possible, but also that it is desirable to reform man in that way? And what leads you to the conclusion that man’s inclinations need reforming? In short, how do you know that such a reformation will be a benefit to man?”

Humans are inherently driven, albeit to different levels. Being truly satisfied is a state many never reach. What makes one think that providing economic security at the cost of surrendering freedom is desirable? We are not sheep.

Consider this sentence from the book:

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately in love with suffering: that is a fact.”

Society cannot be organized in a way that guarantees the happiness of citizens.

And one may argue that being in love with suffering is nothing more than human nature associated with achievement. Someone earns a million dollars, and they immediately desire two million dollars. Someone wins a championship in sports and immediately desires another title. Someone climbs Mount Everest, and they want to start planning to summit K2. The drive to achieve cannot be extinguished by a forced contentment injected by policy.

Concluding Thoughts

Notes is a short book, but an incredibly dense one, packed with passages that speak to so many contemporary policy and current events issues. Invest in a highlighter to mark key sentences, and then place Notes from the Underground close by for easy access in the future. It’s something you will pull off the shelf and reference more than you think.

This is one of those books that every college student should read before graduating (I would argue every high school student should read it, but that might be stretching things in this day and age of failing public education). Notes warrants a place on the syllabuses for English Lit, Civics, Psychology, and Philosophy.

There is something for everyone to take away from Dostoyevsky’s first classic. Now more than ever.

[1] And a bleak one at that!
[2] Dostoyevsky often portrays his protagonists as unattractive and the characters opposing them as more likable. Perhaps he felt doing so made his messages more impactful.
[3] Organ stops are buttons that are manipulated (pulled out or pushed in) by the organ player to send compressed air through a specific organ pipe.

A Dose Of Dissidence And A Pinch Of Living In Truth: Remedy For Troubling Times

Today the West struggles under the Left’s tightening grip on the economy, education, individual rights, and nearly all facets of society. Voices from the past who warned of the perils of the threat resonate more than ever; Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman saw it coming.

Yet there is another leading voice who didn’t just see the Left coming, but who also devised a means to escape it. A voice that doesn’t receive near enough attention.

Vaclav Havel.

You may have just read that name and said: Vaclav who? Understandable, because despite his greatness, Havel is largely unknown in America. But lamentable, especially in times like these, with numerous contributions to explore, learn from, and emulate.

Evolving Excellence in Tumultuous Times

Havel was born in Czechoslovakia just prior to World War II, in 1936. He lived an exceptional life.

He was many things: author, poet, playwright, dissident. And ultimately a statesman and leader of his nation(s).1  You might remember him as the poet who rose to the presidency of Czechoslovakia around the time the Berlin Wall came down.

Havel served as the first and last president of Czechoslovakia up to its dissolution. He then became the first president of the Czech Republic, serving for a decade.

But Havel first rose to prominence as a playwright. He utilized an absurdist style of writing to criticize the communist system. After participating in the Prague Spring in 1968, he got blacklisted when the Warsaw Pact invaded Czechoslovakia and forcibly put down the movement.

Havel became more politically active, and he spent years under government pressure and as a political prisoner; he spent nearly four years in prison during the late 1970s into the early 1980s.

Havel played a key role in the Velvet Revolution that toppled the communists in Czechoslovakia in the late 1980s. He assumed the presidency shortly after. Havel led the charge to undo the Warsaw Pact and grow NATO eastward.

Czechoslovakian citizens flood the streets of Prague during the Velvet Revolution in 1989
Credit: Velvet Revolution Street Museum

Many of his stances ended up controversial domestically; by the end of his political life, he had greater popularity abroad than at home. Havel continued life as a public intellectual after serving in office and until his death in 2011.

The Big Picture

Havel’s views have been labeled many things over the years. Anti-consumerism, humanitarianism, environmentalism, civil activism, and direct democracy activism.

But one Havel theme reigns supreme over all others: the implications of the individual dissident who decides to live within the truth in a post-totalitarian system.

Let’s unpack that.

Havel feared a future where society’s attention would be diverted by consumerism and television (today add reality TV and social media). The distraction would draw individual citizens’ attention away from the substance of public policy and governance. He foresaw today’s crisis of culture and technology: individuals enslaving themselves because they don’t ask who they truly are and what they should be doing. A form of modern dis- or un-freedom.2  

Havel applied first-hand experience to develop his philosophy and construct his plays.

A key example of this dynamic was a friend of Havel’s who worked at a brewery. The employee-friend was smart, knew of ways to improve the brewing process, took pride in his job, and he cared about the product.

But the employee also knew he should keep quiet and his head down in a socialist and communist system. And defer to his superiors at the beer plant. Yet the employee could not help himself. He spoke up with his ideas for improving brewing efficiency and the quality of the beer. That exposed him to the likelihood of negative consequences.

Havel used that experience to illustrate the key concept of ‘living in truth.’

Even though a single, lowly employee within a giant bureaucracy of an organization or collective had little direct connection to the output (beer), the individual fundamentally cared about the quality of the beer and the efficiency of the process. It connected to the essence of who the individual was, even though the employee didn’t own the brewery and wasn’t responsible for the product. He cared because it was core to who he was.

Havel referenced this employee who speaks up as an individual who chooses to live within the truth. And Havel introduced the idea that the employee brewer, or anyone else trapped in a controlling society who chose to live in truth, were dissidents of the system.3  

Enter The Power of the Powerless

In the late 1970s, Havel penned the essay The Power of the Powerless. It is genius, inspiring, thought provoking, and timely.

He used a character in the essay, a greengrocer shopkeeper, to illustrate how one living within a lie might choose instead to live in truth. Making such a transition means becoming a dissident in a post totalitarian system or society.

Havel’s referencing of ‘post-totalitarian’ does not mean that the system is no longer totalitarian. Quite the contrary. He defined a post-totalitarian system as one where every individual is trapped within a dense network of the state’s governing instruments made legitimate by a comprehensive ideology.4   The post-totalitarian system is a secularized religion of coerced decision-making, repression, fear, and self-censorship.

Havel applied his themes using a communist system as backdrop. But the learnings and lessons apply to the West today with the ongoing stifling of individual freedoms by the Left.

The nameless greengrocer hangs a sign in his shop window that says: “Workers of the world, unite!” Yet the greengrocer cared nothing about that famous line from Karl Marx. It was a stock phrase that everyone came to blindly accept and adhere to. It was not unifying or inspiring to the individual in Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s, whether it be the greengrocer in the essay, Havel’s friend who worked in the brewery, or any other typical individual.

By placing the sign in the window, the greengrocer was telling society that he was compliant, that he fit in, and that he was willing to live in the environment defined to him by the post-totalitarian system.

Note the greengrocer used a common, popular phrase to say this instead of stating something more direct, like “I am a sheep and I blindly and obediently follow what the system (i.e., shepherd) tells me to.” The sign explicitly states one thing but implicitly informs of something very different. Yet the greengrocer was able to communicate the implied meaning through his sign without having to explicitly state it.

And the greengrocer is playing into a form of peer pressure, or what within a post-totalitarian system of government or ideology would be considered as indoctrination. He didn’t receive an order by the government to compel him to put that sign in the window. He did it because he saw that others did it too.

Such behavior becomes self-fulfilling and self-determining. The next person who walks past the shop sees the sign, making it more likely that they will then put the same sign up in their home or business. It feeds on itself as a form of auto-indoctrination.

Havel realized some systems are totalitarian not because a single person, a dictator like Hitler or Putin, has total power. Instead, a system or society may be totalitarian because power is shared in a state of collective irresponsibility. Citizens become both supporters and victims of the totalitarian system, individually and collectively deciding to not live in truth. The system or society becomes post-totalitarian.

Havel highlighted freedom may not always be as we think of it, particularly in post-totalitarian societies. In the West freedom is viewed as doing things we are inclined to do. But Havel taught that freedom is contemplating what you should do as an individual and then having the courage to go do that very thing, even though it will risk the ire of the system or society. That’s a deeper, more meaningful, form of freedom.

Comparing Havel’s Eastern Europe in the 1970s and the West of Today

Today’s West is showing symptoms of becoming a post-totalitarian system, one where many individuals refuse to live in truth (and thus live a lie). Worse, those who decide to live in truth are feeling and looking more and more like those dissidents that Havel spoke of.

The first two sentences in The Power of the Powerless read, “A spectre is haunting Eastern Europe. The specter of what in the West is called dissent.” Havel leads with this to set up an explanation of his premise. And indeed, a similar specter is now haunting the West which is increasingly controlled by the Left.

The post-totalitarian system subdues citizens with the drugs of government subsidy and giveaways to the individual. Havel pointed out how government gifts (rent and housing subsidies, etc.) come with a price: surrendering one’s reason, conscience, and responsibility. A core objective of a post-totalitarian ideology is to rip these away from the individual and assign them to a higher authority.

Today the Left in America and Europe provides government handout after handout to individuals. Entitlements, healthcare, student debt forgiveness, corporate subsidy, and so on. In exchange for something quite precious: surrendering the individual’s right to choose for themselves and to live in truth.

Whether it was Havel’s Eastern Europe in the late 1970s or America today, the benefits bestowed upon citizens by a post-totalitarian system are far from free and are the most expensive benefits one might imagine.

That sign in the greengrocer’s shop window, ‘Workers of the world, unite!’, has an eerie analogy today in the West with ‘Climate action now!’ You see those signs everywhere, in large manicured suburban front lawns (ironic), in corporate public relations materials, at over-priced colleges hanging on bulletin boards, and on T-shirts. Are the people who post these signs truly enthusiastic about climate action? Have they given any serious thought as to what the message might mean?

It’s evident that the overwhelming majority are not and have not.

But someone, or something, produced those signs and then distributed them to the greengrocer in Havel’s story or to the suburbanite, corporation, or student in today’s America. The signs go up because everyone is doing it; because that’s the accepted norm within the system. If you don’t sport a sign, there will be consequences. You show the sign to get along in life. It assures you of not being hassled.

Those displaying the sign are telling us something subliminal yet powerful. That the greengrocer then, or the college student today, knows what one must do and how one must behave. And the sign looks to deliver such a message to those in power as well as to fellow citizens.

Such behavior through the signs also implies that the individual is scared, intimidated, and a follower. That’s where the role of the explicit message on the sign comes into play; it provides a salve to the ego of the obedient individual. Because the explicit message demands proactive action: uniting the workers or climate action, both with an exclamation point.

The approach in a post totalitarian system is diabolically genius: it provides an explicit illusion of being moral while the reality underneath makes it easier for the individual to part with his or her morality. And that’s true whether it was for communism in Eastern Europe in the late 1970s with the greengrocer and his workers sign or with the Left running the West today with the student or suburbanite and their climate signs.

Havel illuminated the difference between the objectives of the post-totalitarian system, or government run by the Left, versus the objectives of a meaningful life and the human spirit. There was what he referenced as an abyss between the two.

With the individual’s human spirit, there is a striving and hunger toward variety, choice, individualism, self-determination, and a fulfillment of one’s own potential.

Compare that to the objectives of the post-totalitarian system: forcing individuals into predefined states and a movement toward rigid structure and belief.

That post-totalitarian approach, or the playbook of the Left, forces individualism to be secondary to a blind obedience that drives the system. Individuals are not deemed by the system or the state to be worth much, only inconsequential cogs in the machinery of the post-totalitarian system.

Building and growing the post-totalitarian system generates continual hypocrisy and irony.

  • Government by bureaucracy is called popular government, even though it’s anything but.
  • The middle class becomes enslaved within the system, but that occurs in the name of the middle class.
  • Taking away the freedoms of the individual is in the name of defending the rights of the individual.
  • Denying society information and censoring is labeled as making things transparent, truthful, and accessible.
  • A bureaucrat’s subjective and wide use of power gets labeled as adhering to the law or the Constitution.5
  • Suppressing free speech becomes a way to protect individual rights, including free speech.
  • And punishing scientific thought and the scientific method is to further ‘The Science.’

To propagate the charade in the post-totalitarian system of Havel or with contemporary government run by the Left today in the West, the system must fabricate and contort statistics, data, and history. Climate change is a prime example, with the cherry-picking of statistical datasets for climate models, selectively reporting one set of weather events while ignoring other sets of weather events, and by constantly changing predictions into the future and conveniently ignoring prior predictions that keep proving inaccurate, time and again.

The culmination is the system transforms reality into a ritual of signs and pseudo-reality. Science gets replaced with political science. Objective reality is replaced with religion of the system. Backed by signs and slogans such as ‘climate action now’ and ‘code red.’

It impacts everyone in society, from the lowliest of the working class to the most elite of the educated class. That’s why some of the most educated and successful individuals blindly adhere to ideologies such as extreme environmentalism. The process that the post totalitarian system employs works across all strata of society and all education levels.

There is a psychology at play. People sport the slogans and the signs not looking to persuade others, but instead to conform and contribute to the wider view and objective of reminding people what is expected of them. It’s affirmation of the herd, and subliminally coercing others to comply or face alienation and losing the peaceful lifestyle that comes with obedience. Individuals are conscripted into the system’s effort to assist each other to become obedient; instruments of control and at the same time subjects of control.6

Pivoting to Living in Truth

What happens if the greengrocer decides to pull down the sign in the window or if the homeowner removes the ‘climate action now!’ sign from the suburban yard? What if both start to say what they think, and start following objective truth and what conscience demands?

Perhaps it’s a form of revolt. But Havel defined it as an attempt to live within the truth.

Living within the truth breaks the veneer of the system and exposes it as a manufactured scheme. Living a lie is exposed as just that, living a lie. Like the Wizard of Oz, one finally gets to see what’s behind the optics. Thus, for the post-totalitarian system (or for government run by the Left in the West today), the ultimate fundamental threat to its power will be individuals daring to live in the truth.

Just as there was a cumulative effect that plowed society into living the lie, when an individual chooses to live within the truth, the system runs the risk of teetering and crumbling.

Trust that the post-totalitarian system will react. Today the Left will accuse someone speaking their mind as wanting attention, money, clicks, or notoriety despite none being true. In fact, most individuals who decide to live within the truth have no prior political activity or affinity for politics. They just want to be able to exert their own individual freedoms: to speak, participate, and think.

And freedom to achieve, create value, make decisions for themselves, and utilize energy. Starting to see how climate change and Code Red are foundational tactics of the Left’s post-totalitarian system today?

This is why Havel considered individuals looking to live within the truth in a post-totalitarian system as dissidents. It’s a different connotation than what we typically think of dissident; it’s not so much that the individual proactively acts as a dissident as much as it is the system treats the individual as a dissident.

The media will shun and ignore individuals living in truth. But if the individual speaks freely despite the system looking to suppress them, the views of the dissident living in truth start to stretch beyond immediate circles and start to gain wider traction across society. The individuals in this category start to be known for their thoughts and ideas beyond their respective professions.

That’s how Havel evolved from a renowned poet and playwright into a political leader. He was the ultimate dissident living in truth in a post-totalitarian system.

Individuals living within the truth in a post-totalitarian system are often labelled rebels. But they don’t consider themselves to be. They aren’t rejecting anything. Instead, they are exerting freedom. They are thrown into the situation by a sense of personal responsibility coupled with the times.

And when these individuals say aloud what others are afraid to say or cannot say, dissidents living in the truth become inspiring. Another threat to the system. Especially if the dissident living within the truth jumps from no longer living within the lie and into proactively advocating for the truth, becoming vocal and visible to all.

There is a key difference between the post-totalitarian system of the Left and a dictatorship.

A dictatorship has no need to respect the law. But the post-totalitarian system, or today’s big government of the Left, has great use for the law. It uses the law to create power and to preserve it in the form of control over the individual. Tightly regulating and weaving an intricate web of complexity within the law are useful tactics for the post-totalitarian Left.

What Would Havel Think Today?

Havel, interestingly, considered himself an environmentalist. But environmentalism back then is a far cry from what it is today. No doubt that much of what he exposed of the post-totalitarian system is embedded within today’s extreme environmental movement. One wonders what Havel would think of today’s Code Red and Climate Action Now!

I’d like to believe he would carry the torch of dissidence when it came to the supposed scientific consensus of Climate Action Now!

Let’s follow his lead in the full spirit of living within the truth.


(1) How many people can lay claim to leading two nations in a lifetime? And being the first democratically elected leader of both? And being the last president of one?
(2) For related reading on enslaving and distracting individuals, check out the essay, “When a Blinded 1930s Writer Saw the 2022 Future.”
(3) Dissident had a different meaning within Havel’s philosophy compared to what we typically think of in the West. Read on for an explanation.
(4) As summarized by Havel biographer John Keane.
(5) Hello, Chevron precedent.
(6) Using Havel’s words, “They are both victims of the system and its instruments.”