Why Whiskey & Gunpowder... And Why Now?

As soon as the noose was around his neck, Guy Fawkes broke free from the hangman and leaped off the scaffolding — guaranteeing a quick drop with a stop sharp enough to break his neck cleanly…

It seems like an odd result for a man to be in such a hurry to get, at least until you consider the alternative.

Guy had just watched his fellow English Catholic conspirators hanged until nearly dead. Then they were cut down and had their most private parts and entrails removed and burned before their eyes. Then they were beheaded.

This all happened to Guy Fawkes, too…except wily Guy made sure he was too dead to notice.

What offense warranted torture and dismemberment? The conspirators had felt that the crown was making life miserable for the Catholic minority in England…and in truth, the crown was doing exactly that. So they decided to pack a few dozen barrels of gunpowder under Parliament and blow up the king.

The conspiracy was uncovered and thwarted. Torture, confessions and painful executions followed. So ended the Gunpowder Plot.

The Whiskey Rebellion

Our own local rebellion for Independence nearly 200 years later had a much, much higher body count. By the end of it, this country’s founders got this government thing as right as any human ever had. They came up with a Constitution that’s purpose was to limit government’s reach into the life of the governed.

We only wish that Constitution hadn’t been continually ignored almost immediately after that.

The fledgling and recently united states had massive debts by the end of the Revolutionary War. The new centralized government assumed these debts, but it didn’t have any honest way to pay them off. Governments, you see, don’t actually have any money of their own; they steal it from their productive private citizens or borrow it into existence from their central banks.

Alexander Hamilton hadn’t convinced Congress to charter a central bank yet…so he instead convinced it to tax whiskey, which had become commodity money in the far reaches of the frontier.

The tax resulted in protest and revolt. Gen. Washington got back on his horse and led federal forces to Pittsburgh to put down the Whiskey Rebellion. For the first time under the new United States Constitution, the federal government used military force to impose its will over U.S. citizens.

The Constitution itself was a compromise between the much more government-restraining Articles of Confederation and the desire by some (like that Scottish bastard Hamilton) who wanted a stronger centralized government. Government would eventually break the Constitution’s boundaries anyway and ooze its way into every aspect of citizens’ lives. In truth, the process started before the ink on the new Constitution had dried.

It’s a story as old as human civilization. The humble village and modest republic eventually grows into a bumbling empire; liberty diminishes; death and taxes come along for the ride.

Anarchists and various anti-government types often appropriate a stylized simulacrum of Guy Fawkes’ face as their symbol because Guy was the one caught preparing the barrels of gunpowder. He is most closely associated with the anti-government plot in the popular imagination…

But Guy wasn’t interested in permanently or drastically reducing the reach of power of government; he merely wanted a Catholic monarch in power to persecute the Protestants, instead of the prevailing situation in which a Protestant monarch was persecuting the Catholic minority.

Guy was actually much like your garden-variety nationalist. He wanted his kind of people in power. This is not unlike the supporters of the few politicians we like — like Ron Paul.

But around this Bar, we will be raising the question of how much government is best. Maybe it’s none at all. Is it more productive to work with the existing political system to try to change it…or to put the bloated mess to a merciful end and start over?

We’re not promoting violence. No, our gunpowder is less physical, but it’s even more potent…

Instead of barrels of gunpowder, we’re going to be trafficking in books and ideas. From Adam Smith to von Mises, Rothbard, Hayek and beyond.

We’ll explore the works of the greats of the Austrian School of economics, as well as the Chicago School…and the Objectivists, paleo-conservatives, classical liberals and all those who help us question the place of the state and the far-reaching consequences of the political and economic policies we’re forced to live with.

There are the issues about taxation, central banking, fiat money, commodity money, government intervention into markets…

We have a lot to cover.

Gary Gibson
Managing editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

The Daily Reckoning