Fighting the State (James E. Miller)
Tuesday September 10th, 2013
It's is unfathomable how much brain power goes into hatching schemes to "reform" societal governance. From increased taxation to prying apart the grip of the monopoly state, the breadth of the political spectrum spends a great deal of time arguing over the correct course of action. Progressives never fail to adopt a new scheme to ratchet up the size of government. Conservatives, bless their instincts, are always fighting the last war of state encroachment. For the libertarian, rolling back Leviathan is always a priority – or at least it should be. The grand question always is: How best to make it happen?
The battle between dogmatism and pragmatism is an ongoing kerfuffle between proponents of a free society. There are some who think it best to infiltrate the state and jam a proverbial wrench in its gears of oppression. Others hold the sincere belief that putting the "right" people in public office will somehow drain the misbegotten swamp. A minority take to education through various publication outlets. An even smaller sect completely dismisses the state altogether and live their lives absent government interaction to the fullest extent possible.
These are men and women who do not just secede from compulsion in sentiment, but in practice. They do not pay income taxes and travel without mandated licenses. In sum, they withhold all reverence to the state. For this criminal and immoral transgression, they are seen as a danger by regime enforcers. In Canada, these individuals label themselves "sovereign citizens" or "natural persons" and are fast becoming a nuisance to law enforcement. Speaking to the National Post, Brian Arthur, a self-styled "Freeman-on-the-Land," asserts that the sovereign movement does not advocate violence. Similar to Thoreau's isolated sojourn to Walden Lake, they merely wish to be left alone.
Of course, autonomy is frowned upon by the sole institution that leeches off the productivity of the larger public. It was only a matter of time before the band of thieves calling themselves "government" came knocking for their cut. When one man challenged the authority of the Criminal Code and made threats toward police officers in Nova Scotia, he was sentenced to over three years in jail. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police views the group as a potential threat. The United States government, which has a far more bellicose police state than its Northern neighbor, considers the "sovereign" movement a domestic hazard. Then again, raw milk producers and supporters of Ron Paul are cast in the same the shadow.
There is much to admire about these rugged individuals who act in accordance with their own natural freedom. It is worth asking, though, if theirs is the right path to take in whittling away at the state. To its merit, the sovereign lifestyle bypasses the corrupting exercise of political affairs. The total unwillingness to not pay taxes, fees, liens, or any other shakedown keeps money out of government's ever-grubby hands. There is large risk to living out such a life however. Unless the newly-freed separatist is robustly self-employed, they will only make do on a meager allowance of income. Monopoly government may be brutish, but it is smart enough to keep that which is vital within its grasp. Bank accounts, municipal water supplies, food inspection, roads, waste collection, and financial clearing houses are all ensconced within the state for a reason. Therefore, survival for the Freemen must largely depend on the black market.
As Murray Rothbard noted, advocates of a free society need not be martyrs to their cause. To firmly reject compulsion does not necessitate taking off to the woods and scrounging for dead varmints to eat. It does not require putting yourself or your family at risk for imprisonment by declaring you will put not one more dime into the state's coffers – though anyone who goes to great lengths is estimable in my opinion. And living a free life amidst aggression certainly does not dictate you pick trouble with the uniformed meathead who mistakenly believes he is enforcing actual law.
So, what then are the alternatives to completely eschewing the luxuries of modern society?
In a speech given a decade and a half ago, philosopher Hans-Hermann Hoppe offers up a decentralized model as a means of tearing apart from the centralized, bureaucratically dumb force of government. Hoppe quickly brushes aside the futile efforts to hijack the federal state and its subsidized branch of academia from the inside. He argues that localities are where energy is best invested as the reformist can succeed in running for public office on a decidedly anti-democratic agenda. Once elected, it is imperative that voting be allotted only to property owners and taxpayers – with the vote value being determined by the caster's wealth. This way, the parasitical entities that feed at the government trough are barred from exercising influence on the proceedings. The slow depletion of local power starts with privatizing assets and refusing to enforce unlawful (in a natural law sense) diktats.
In another time, perhaps Hoppe's plan could be feasible. The very minute voting rights – which are just privileged claims to state plunder – are challenged is the same moment irate minority interest groups petition the federal government to intervene. It matters not whether any of the alleged sufferers have truly been stripped of the ability to cast a ballot. Victim-mongers specialize in creating injustices out of thin air. And given that the central government's enforcement division is typically staffed by egalitarian autocrats, this is prime grist for the mill. The secession will invariably be squelched, less the Podunk town is resourceless to the point where it serves no purpose to the national overlords.
I do not mean to disparage the Hoppean method or the sovereign citizen approach to ridding one's self of the coercive state machinery. Should the practitioners succeed; more power to their cause. But there is another way to undermine the modern form of serfdom – one which does not pose a great detriment to personal freedom.
Secession does not always require physical removal from the thieving arm of government.
One can liberate himself through pure reason and the recognition of what constitutes moral, as well as ethical, behavior. The state is not just an oppressor of the body, but also of the mind. Formal education, the news media, and social life's ineluctable focus on the political class create an aura of necessity. Severing rationality from this wave of indoctrination is a freeing process by itself. Recognizing right from wrong, peace from aggression, production from theft, order from chaos, and humanity from other inhabitants of the world are among the great challenges for man's intellect. To meet these great questions of knowledge outside of the state construct is to undermine the authority of monopoly government. It is an individual endeavor but the one most capable of succeeding.
Given enough time, the state will fall on its own, or at the very least be forced to cut down significantly on its various operations. The gluttony of the authoritarian hunger for power eventually consumes its own. The law of diminishing marginal returns weaves its way into all sorts of affairs. The Roman Empire eventually rotted away. Maoist China had little choice but to go along with Deng Xiaoping's land privatization. Soviet communism withered due to its own internal economic contradiction. Mass casualties and conquest were the terribly unfortunate byproducts of these failed experiments, but the pain eventually ended.
Fighting oppression does not require a powerful call-to-arms. As the French Revolution showed, exuberance in physically tearing down the ruling class can lead to another sect of crimes. The state functions based solely off consent of the governed. Each individual who dissents and embraces the true rule of law is acting to remove their own chains. To stake out a free-enough living with an understanding of, and adherence to, natural order is perhaps the greatest weapon against totalitarianism. Virginia Wolf's declaration of there being "no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind," applies to all who choose to accept such independence. Glorious will be the day when millions unshackle themselves from their own mental binds. Only then will the process of restoring civilized society begin.
James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Send him mail