Butler D. Shaffer

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Butler D. Shaffer (January 12, 1935 – December 29, 2019) was an American author, law professor and speaker, known for his numerous libertarian books and blog articles for LewRockwell.com.


  • Because we fear the responsibility for our actions, we have allowed ourselves to develop the mentality of slaves. Contrary to the stirring sentiments of the Declaration of Independence, we now pledge ‘our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor’ not to one another for our mutual protection, but to the state, whose actions continue to exploit, despoil, and destroy us.
  • If, on one occasion, a police officer brutalizes a harmless individual, does that mean that a police-state has arisen? No, but intelligent minds should recognize that such totalitarian consequences are implicit in such an act, and should respond accordingly. I am reminded of that powerful scene at the end of the movie, Judgment at Nuremberg. Judge Haywood (played by Spencer Tracy) has been called to the jail cell of the Nazi judge (played by Burt Lancaster) who has just been given a life sentence for his crimes. The convicted judge tells Judge Haywood: ‘Those people, those millions of people. . . I never knew it would come to that.’ Judge Haywood replies: ‘it ‘came to that’ the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.’

Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival (1985)[edit]

San Francisco, CA, Alchemy Books, 1985

  • To Toto fell the task of exposing the humbuggery that manipulated both the institutional machinery and followers. Because he did not share his companions’ trembling reverence for established wizardry, this free-spirited, tagalong mutt was able to approach the screen that separated the leaders from the followers. In knocking over that screen, however, Toto did far more than simply reveal the systematic bamboozlement of the Ozians. He also made it possible for his companions to discover that the personal qualities they had labored to earn as institutionally-bestowed rewards, were qualities that had always been within themselves. In believing that the virtues they sought lay outside themselves, and that some institutional alchemy could convert their leaden instincts to golden conduct (to paraphrase Herbert Spencer), they had set themselves up to be manipulated and exploited for the benefit of institutional interests.
    • p. 2
  • We offset the pursuit of our well-being with notions of altruism, and temper our happiness with feelings of guilt. In the vernacular of pop psychology, we speak of being ‘self-alienated’ people who have learned to reject our very selves. Whatever other advantages flow to us from our institutionalized world, the personal disadvantages carry a prohibitive price tag.
    • p. 3
  • We delude ourselves with the beliefs that the establish order suffers from only from policy or style defects, and that the new leadership or legislation or organization reforms are sufficient to overcome any problems. We can tinker with the machinery, but dare not think of doing without it. We may be willing to believe that the emperor is naked, but certainly not the empire itself.
    • p. 5
  • [I]nstitutions are the principle means by which conflict is produced and managed in society. Peace is incompatible with institutional activity. Stated in another way, the success of institutions depends upon the creation of those conditions in which personal and social conflict will flourish.
    • p. 6
  • We have allowed our lives to be taken over and monopolized by variety of political, religious, educational, economics, and social agencies over which we have little, if any, influence. These entities have helped us to construct the barriers that not only restrain us, but keep us separated from one another and serve as the boundary lines for the intergroup struggles of which we are a part. Through these groupings, we have helped to institutionalize conflict, to make it a seemingly permanent and necessary feature of human society.
    • p. 6
  • Every institution is a racket. Whether we are considering political, religious, economic, ideological, or educational institutions, each is a formal, elaborate system designed for one purpose: to control people. Each seeks to persuade or compel individual to divert their energies from the pursuit of private, personal objectives, and to dedicate themselves to organizational purposes.
    • p. 7
  • One cannot be devoutly religious, or patriotic, or moral, without differentiating oneself from the ungodly, the disloyal, or the immoral. To be for one’s own group, or nation, or race requires that one be against strangers.
    • pp. 43-44
  • The history of institutionalized society has been principally one of the organization and management of conflict. Do institutions not encourage the duality in our thinking that promotes the practices of projecting good and bad characteristics onto others? Do they not encourage and exploit both scapegoating and authority worship, continually reminding us of the presence of some object of fear or hared, or some other source of conflict, and consoling us that they, alone, can make our lives secure?
    • p. 46
  • Almost all of us have been raised in the belief that political institutions are necessary to provide order and harmony in society. In fact, we have been taught that the political State is synonymous with society itself; that the political State energizes and organizes society, creates and protects human rights, and make economic and social life possible.
    • p. 107
  • We have learned to project onto politicians our capacities for favorably directing our lives, and have come to identify political action as our most effective attribute. If governments are strong, it is because we are weak.
  • p. 120
  • The State has encouraged us to develop expectations of other people, and promised to compel the fulfillment of those expectations. It has persuaded us that others are the cause of our failures, and that others should be responsible for our happiness and well-being. It has offered to save us the effect of developing self-discipline, convincing us of the superiority of institutionally-imposed discipline in providing for social order. It has pandered to our worst fears about ourselves and others, concocting bogeymen and perilous threats from which it has promised protection.
    • p. 120

In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition, 1918-1938 (1997)[edit]

Auburn, Alabama, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2008

  • Firms with established market positions wanted to reduce the impact of such competition and employed voluntary methods (such as mergers, pooling, trade association ‘codes of ethics,’ and other agreements) in efforts to stabilize competitive relationships. When such voluntary means failed due to lack of effective enforcement, influential corporate leaders, having found a condition of unrestrained competition and decision-making unacceptable to their interests, helped promote the enactment of legal restraints upon trade practices.
    • p. 15
  • The attraction of so many business leaders to systems of government-enforced trade practice standards reflected a continuing institutionalization of economic life. The systemwide benefits of maintaining openness in competition—with no legal restrictions on freedom of entry into the marketplace or on the terms and conditions for which parties could contract with one another—were being rejected by business organizations more concerned with the survival of individual firms and industries. As a consequence, business leaders expressed an increasing desire for the maintenance of conditions of equilibrium that would help preserve the positions of existing firms. Free and unrestrained competition demanded a continuing resiliency in responding to market changes. The innovation in products, services, and business methods that made economic life creative and vibrant came to be seen as a threat to the survival of firms unable or unwilling to respond. Concerns for security and stability began to take priority over autonomy and spontaneity in the thinking of most business leaders.
    • p. 16
  • In such a volatile climate, change became one of the few constants upon which businessmen could rely. Economic survival often depended upon innovative resiliency; firms with higher unit costs and prices had to either be- come more efficient or drop out of the race. Instability and turnover were continuing threats with which firms had to contend. The severity of the competitive struggle was best reflected in the automobile industry: of the 181 firms manufacturing cars at some time during the years 1903 to 1926, 83 remained in business as of 1922, while 20 managed to survive through 1938.
    • pp. 17-18
  • In furtherance of the war effort, the WIB centralized the economic life of America into a highly structured bureaucracy under the effective direction and control of leading business interests. Matters relating to the production, pricing, and allocation of strategic goods and services were handled not by the impersonal forces of the marketplace, but by the quite personal direction of businessmen armed with governmental authority. American industry had, in short, become ‘mobilized’ in the most literal, military sense of the word. Depending upon how one viewed the practice, American businesses found themselves subject to political ‘coordination’ or ‘regimentation’ in furtherance of collective goals.
    • p. 22
  • As the historian Robert Himmelberg has pointed out, many businessmen were not only desirous of modifying the antitrust laws in order to permit trade agreements among competitors but of continuing the WIB in order to protect industries from postwar price adjustments. In connection with such an objective, Bernard Baruch recommended to [Woodrow Wilson |President Wilson]] that the board be continued in existence, an action that Baruch felt Wilson could take as part of his general war powers. Wilson declined.
    • p. 26
  • The 1920s are part of that critical period discussed by the historian James Gilbert in his study of the development of collectivist thinking, a phenomenon he relates to the emergence of ‘a new industrial civilization in which the giant business organization was the dominant force.’ As Gilbert has demonstrated, the architects of twentieth century American collectivism had patterned their ideas on the industrial corporation as the central organizational tool. Any form of collectivism is, after all, ‘conservative’ in nature, being premised on the establishment of static, rigidly structured social relationships designed to restrain any influences that would pose the threat of substantial change. A symbiotic relationship thus developed between the forces of "social reform" and those advocating the conservation of existing economic institutions and relationships. In twentieth-century ‘ liberalism, declared the historian James Weinstein, many business leaders saw ‘a means of securing the existing social order.’
    • pp. 28-29
  • The failure of the voluntary methods—whether in the form of codes of ethics or appeals to business ‘cooperation’—to effectively restrain such competitive conditions as price reduction, aggressive sales promotions, and challenges to a competitor's existing markets and clientele caused business leaders to turn to political methods to accomplish their objectives. Recalling Mancur Olson's analysis, where large groups are involved, ‘coercion’ or some other ‘special device’ is necessary to cause individuals to conform their behavior to what is in the interests of the group. It was recognized that the lack of effective means for enforcing restrictive agreements in the marketplace could be overcome by having trade practice standards enforced by political agencies that possessed the requisite coercive machinery.
    • p. 133
  • There prevails a highly romanticized view of the small, independent retailer as the paladin for a system of free and open competition. An examination of the evidence, however, reveals few trades with a better track record than independent retailers at getting to the political arena with programs for depriving somebody of a competitive advantage. Virtually every innovation in retailing has met with the organized and vocal opposition of retailers who were unwilling to adjust their own selling methods to meet the competition, and who responded with legislative proposals to preserve the status quo.
    • p. 183
  • During the years 1918-38, notions of economic autonomy and self-regulating market behavior confronted the forces of industrial concentration. Free competition-with attendant low prices and aggressive trade practices—was identified with the older, unstructured forms of organization characterized by smaller, self-governing business firms. An unrestrained marketplace brought with it the specter of incessant change, a condition that was unacceptable to those charged with the responsibilities of managing and preserving the assets and market positions of business organizations. In the confrontation between ‘individualism’ and ‘instituti6nalism,’ competition came to be identified with the decentralized, unstructured practices representing the past. Individual self-interest, with its decentralizing tendencies, had to be suppressed in favor of the emerging institutional order. The attack on autonomy was a defense of the new order: the institutionally dominant, centrally directed, collective society.

p. 207

  • Businessmen came to embrace the industrial theology of ‘responsibility,’ and learned a new set of cartelizing catechisms. The campaign to reform trade practices and promote ‘fair’ competition had little, if anything, to do with business ethics, efficiency, ‘justice,’ ‘fairness,’ the elimination of waste, or any of the other rationalizations employed on behalf of ‘industrial self-rule.’ It was, instead, part of a strategy designed to secure the political supervision indispensable to the group domination of industry members. Only in the structuring of economic behavior, it came to be thought, could the status quo be maintained against the inconstancies and uncertainties of the marketplace.
    • pp. 207-208

Boundaries of Order: Private Property of a Social System (2009)[edit]

Auburn, Alabama, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009

  • For our world to be predictable and controllable, it must be mechanistic and linear in nature. But, the illusions of the behaviorists to the contrary notwithstanding, there is nothing less mechanistic and linear in nature than the human mind, whose intricacies and capacities have yet to be matched by even the most sophisticated computers.
    • p. 47
  • The efforts of one organism to live at the expense of another is, when confined to members of the same species, a form of cannibalism.
    • p. 63
  • The belief that order must be intentionally generated and imposed upon society by institutional authorities continues to prevail. This centrally-directed model is premised upon what F.A. Hayek called ‘the fatal conceit,’ namely, the proposition ‘that man is able to shape the world according to his wishes,’ or what David Ehrenfeld labeled ‘the arrogance of humanism.’ That such practices have usually failed to produce their anticipated results has generally led not to a questioning of the model itself, but to the conclusion that failed policies have suffered only from inadequate leadership, or a lack of sufficient information, or a failure to better articulate rules. Once such deficiencies have been remedied, it has been supposed, new programs can be implemented which, reflective of this mechanistic outlook, will permit government officials to ‘fine tune’ or ‘jump start’ the economy, or ‘grow’ jobs, or produce a ‘quick fix’ for the ailing government school system.
    • pp. 35-36
  • Even as modern society manifests its collapse in the form of violent crime, economic dislocation, seemingly endless warfare, inter-group hostilities, the decay of cities, a growing disaffection with institutions, and a general sense that nothing ‘works right’ anymore, faith in the traditional model continues to drive the pyramidal systems. Most people still cling to the belief that there is something that can be done by political institutions to change such conditions: a new piece of legislation can be enacted, a judicial ruling can be ordered, or a new agency regulation can be promulgated. When a government-run program ends in disaster, the mechanistic mantra is invariably invoked: ‘we will find out what went wrong and fix it so that this doesn’t happen again.’ That the traditional model itself, which is grounded in the state’s power to control the lives and property of individuals to desired ends, may be the principal contributor to such social disorder goes largely unexplored.
    • pp. 36

The Wizards of Ozymandias: Reflections on the Decline and Fall (2012)[edit]

Auburn, Alabama, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2012

  • Modern society is in a state of turbulence brought about, in large part, by political efforts to maintain static, equilibrium conditions; practices that interfere with the ceaseless processes of change that provide the fluctuating order upon which any creative system—such as the marketplace—depends. Institutions, being ends in themselves, have trained us to resist change and favor the status quo; to insist upon the certain and the concrete and to dismiss the uncertain and the fanciful; and to embrace security and fear risk. Life, on the other hand is change, is adaptation, creativity, and novelty. But creativity has always depended upon a fascination with the mysterious, and an appreciation for the kinds of questions that reveal more than answers can ever provide. When creative processes become subordinated to preserving established interests; when the glorification of systems takes priority over the sanctity of individual lives, societies begin to lose their life-sustaining vibrancy and may collapse.
    • p. 12
  • As the creators of sophisticated technologies, we have made ourselves increasingly machine-like; robotic servants of institutional systems we have been conditioned to revere, whose purposes we neither understand nor control, and of which we are afraid to ask questions. Our corporate-state world plunders, enslaves, controls and destroys us, all in the name of advancing our liberty and material well-being. Most of us are dominated by an unfocused fear of uncertainty, a longing for the security of emptiness.
    • p. xv-xvi
  • The hubris that attends all political programs of central planning is fueled by an ignorance of the forces of chaos.
    • p. xvii
  • Western Civilization is in the crisis it is because we have sacrificed more profound values than the immediate and quantifiable consequences we tend to associate with the pursuit of our material interests. Among these are peace; liberty; respect for property, contracts, and the inviolability of the individual; truthfulness and the development of the mind; integrity; distrust of power; a sense of spirituality; and philosophically-principled behavior. But when our culture becomes driven by material concerns, these less tangible values recede in importance, and our thinking becomes dominated by the need to preserve the organizational forms that we see as having served our interests.
    • p. 3
  • The origins of any productive system seem to be traceable to conditions in which the self-interest driven purposes of individuals are allowed expression. These include the respect for autonomy and inviolability of personal boundaries that define liberty and peace and allow for cooperation for mutual ends. Support for such an environment has led to the flourishing of human activity not only in the production of material well-being, but in the arts, literature, philosophy, entrepreneurship, mathematics, spiritual inquiries, the sciences, medicine, engineering, invention, exploration, and other dimensions that fire the varied imaginations and energies of mankind.
    • p. xviii-xix
  • The problem with all of this, as historians advise us, is that the institutionalization of the systems that produce the values upon which a civilization depends, ultimately bring about the destruction of that civilization. Arnold Toynbee observed that a civilization begins to break down when there is ‘a loss of creative power in the souls of creative individuals,’ and, in time, the ‘differentiation and diversity’ that characterized a dynamic civilization, is replaced by ‘a tendency towards standardization and uniformity.’ The emergence of a ‘universal state,’ and increased militarism, represent later stages in the disintegration of a civilization.
    • p. 4
  • Is an alleged ‘common good’ intended to convey the idea of a universal good, one that is applicable to everyone? If so, the only value I have found to which all persons would seem to subscribe, is this: no one wants to be victimized. I have yet to find an individual to which this proposition would not apply. No one chooses to have his or her person or other property interests trespassed upon by another. The failure to recognize both this fact and the fact that all of our values are subjective in nature, has given rise to the silly notion of altruism, the idea that one could choose to act contrary to his or her perceived interests.
    • pp. 37-38
  • It is this institutional group-think that now finds itself threatened by new technologies that do not lend themselves to centralized controls. The Internet and other unstructured tools will continue to destabilize the herds that the institutional order has worked so feverishly to keep confined to their assigned pastures.
    • p. 52
  • The benefits of maintaining openness in competition—with no legal restrictions on freedom of entry, product design, or on the terms and conditions for which parties could contract with one another—have long been rejected by major business organizations more concerned with the survival of individual firms and industries. The phrases ‘laissez-faire’ and ‘invisible hand’ that once articulated an awareness of the conditions under which prosperity might prevail, have been replaced by the dogma ‘too big to fail,’ that have allowed modern governments to ‘bail out’ failing firms with gifts of hundreds of billions of dollars!
    • pp. 98-99
  • The mainstream media and high-ranking government officials feigned righteous indignation over city officials in Bell, California, who paid themselves gargantuan salaries—one as high as $800,000 per year, and with retirement pay nearing $1,000,000 annually. What is most upsetting to such critics, however, is not the enormity of their racket, but that these local officials failed to conform themselves to established methods for the looting of taxpayers. Like Captain Renault in the movie, Casablanca, who informs Rick that he is ‘shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on’ in his business—as he receives his gambling payoff from the croupier—the town government of Bell will receive a selective criticism of its behavior.
    • p. 129
  • The pyramid expresses the essence of a world premised on vertical power, in which interpersonal relationships are yoked together in systems of domination and subservience. No more poignant image of a top-down world—one in which institutional violence operates as a kind of ersatz gravitational force—exists than this. Members of the institutional hierarchy—who long ago learned that they could more readily benefit by coercing their fellow humans than by trading with them—have seen to it that others be inculcated in a belief in the necessity of pyramidalism. Our entire institutionalized world—from the more violent political organizations to more temperate ideologies—is premised on the shared assumption that only in vertically-structured institutionalized authority can mankind find conditions of peace, liberty, and order.
    • p. 220
  • How foolishly we cling to the belief that the state, for instance, exists to protect our lives, liberty, and property interests, even as it continues to slaughter millions of people, restrain their liberties, and despoils their wealth. The life system, itself, constantly pushes the fallacy of pyramidal thinking into our unconscious and often conscious mind. As we look around our communities and the rest of the world and discover how much better decentralized systems perform in providing what political agencies only promise, faith in the pyramid collapses. Not willing to allow its violence-based interests to decompose due to a change in human consciousness, the state—along with the corporate interests that have long benefited as politically-created parasites—desperately reacts to shore up its crumbling foundations.
    • p. 220
  • Those who do not understand the Amish often imagine that their resistance to new technologies arises from a sense of ‘evil’ they see in such tools. But this is not the case. The Amish do employ tools, but if someone wants to consider bringing a new technology into the community, the Amish study it with this thought in mind: will acceptance of this technology make us dependent upon the external world, such that we will be tempted to change our ways? An automobile, for instance, would make the Amish have to rely on parts manufacturers, tire and battery sellers, and petroleum companies to keep it operative.
    • p. 276

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