Communists I Know

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Being
in college, I’ve met plenty of people with some crazy politics,
but I’ve only started to learn about their specific ideas or why
they have them. Of course they all spout the usual platitudes about
helping the poor and promoting equality and maintaining civil order,
and always the ol’ “But what would you do about ______?” My answer
to this question is, “Ah, yes, the one question everyone likes to
ask libertarians. It’s funny no one else has to answer that question,
seeing as how they’re the ones who screwed everything up.”

Since their arguments consist entirely of things like this — “But
that couldn’t work!," “But how would this work?!," “Libertarianism
is just a cruel, greedy, heartless, every-man-for-himself, social-Darwinist
philosophy” — I have learned more from contemplating their ideas
than from hearing about them. I would like to regale you with some
of the ideas two communist friends of mine have. One is a self-described
communist, though he is not quite as communist as you’d think. The
second calls herself a feminist.

The guy’s objections to freedom seem to revolve around police protection.
I’ll try to constrain my rant for the sake of brevity, as Brad
Edmonds
, Bruce
Benson
, and Mary
Ruwart
have already explained why such fears are unfounded.
He thinks people would form security companies with guns, bombs,
and armies for the sole purpose of robbing the people in the next
town over who don’t have as large of an army. People have been doing
that for thousands of years, except they didn’t call them companies,
they called them governments. No company has ever killed lots of
people, and this isn’t because of the supervision of their gracious
governments. I had lots of simple refutations of this fear, but
I’ll content myself with one: It is humanly impossible to think
even a semi-large group of people would voluntarily contribute their
own money and bodies to go to “war” against a non-aggressing group
without a state involved.

He also thinks the poor in the inner city would simply have no police
protection (in stark contrast to their current situation). What
about everyone else’s protection against their agents, our elected
criminal class, who take our money without hesitation? We
literally have no recourse against them, no protection whatsoever.
Where is our state-provided police protection? It would be the crime
of crimes to protect ourselves against agents of the state who come
to take our rightfully earned property to help someone who neither
knows nor cares about us, who thinks it is his right. Forgive me
if I don’t jump at the chance to have money taken from me instead
of giving it voluntarily. Maybe if they were allowed to have their
God-given rights, the wealthy and middle class would help
the poor to have the basic necessities of life that any civilized
member of society deserves. Perhaps if they let it
happen, the poor who haven’t enough money for police protection
would receive the charity — corporate and individual — that
supposedly would not be available in a dark, selfish, greedy, capitalist
libertarian world. I, personally, would prefer to do business with
security companies that did something to help the poor over companies
that didn’t: the good PR alone would boost their business and their
stock, enriching me.

Apparently my argument that we already pay for police protection
now, somehow, so if we had even more money in an even stronger economy,
we could even more easily pay for it, doesn’t convince him. The
free market always has and always will make more goods available
for more people at lower prices. Yes, police protection would be
one of many tough issues a libertarian society would have to deal
with, but how about food, water, housing, electricity, schooling,
and transportation? Those seem just a tad more basic to me, and
the free market has done pretty well with them, where it’s allowed
to. Plus, prosperity reduces crime. (And don’t give me that “rich
get richer while the poor get poorer” crap. Read this.)
But their problem isn’t just doubting that there would be enough
money to pay for police protection for everybody; their problem
is with the free market, which, as Milton Friedman so aptly noted,
underlies “a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

He has other similar objections. They exemplify the alarming misconceptions
about libertarianism possessed by young Americans, which I try to
combat, in part, by sharing my experiences here. “Oh, if this were
a libertarian society, no one would have any water because one person
would buy the whole city’s water supply and say, ‘Ah, sucks for
you! You want my water? $8 a glass.’ No one could afford it!” “Oh,
if this were a libertarian society, there would be no laws, we could
just drive on any side of the street, in any direction, whatever!”
“Oh, I’m a libertarian, I’m going to go kill babies and animals
because there are no laws in a libertarian society!” Obviously,
he’s sort of joking, but he could just reword them seriously and
present them as his real objections to a free society. It’s sad.
I just make fun of him anymore, rather than refuting him.

His main problem is his sort of romantic fondness of the Soviet
Union. He has a hammer-and-sickle flag in his apartment, a T-shirt
that says “CCCP," and one of them fur hat-type dealies he bought
from bornintheussr.com.
Ushankas, I think they’re called. I think he just likes the camaraderie,
the hardiness, the nationalism of the Soviets, the loyalty to Great
Mother Russia when they were an evil empire.

The girl is a slightly more interesting case. She does not call
herself a communist or a socialist, but something she said identifies
her as one. My roommates, several friends, and I were in our living
room watching a Georgia away game together, her and the communist
included. Somehow the topic of shooting intruders in self-defense
came up, and the aforementioned communist easily agreed that people
have every right to shoot anyone who breaks into their home or business.
(See? He has more common sense than you’d think.) This liberal feminist,
on the other hand, said — are you ready? — that we have a
right to defend ourselves if our lives are in danger, but
we have no right to use force to protect our property. I guess
this also includes the threat of force. It would have to, logically.
We would be unable prevent someone from breaking and entering with
no weapons, since she would say no gun owner could claim a threat
to his life from an unarmed intruder. Then again, her solution would
undoubtedly be to remove all guns from society, excluding the government,
of course, so that would get rid of all violent crime altogether,
right?

I was taken aback by this. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t think anyone
could think one but not the other. We can defend our bodies, but
not what we earn and produce with our bodies? This is what passes
for logic among college students? This is the level of understanding
of civics, society, politics, and property possessed by young American
adults who can vote?

So to whom does it fall to protect private property, defend against
criminals, punish perpetrators? I guess that’s the almighty, omniscient
government’s job. If she had read the wonderful, beautiful, short
treatise on government that I recommend to everyone who will listen,
Bastiat’s The
Law
, she would not have such dangerous ideas contaminating
her otherwise robust mind.

In The Law, Bastiat explains how the law (government) “is
the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.”
The government is not some extraneous entity that graciously watches
over us like a lord or a god and rights what it thinks is wrong.
It is not outside society, apart from us. Rather, the government — or
whatever name is given to a society’s system of property protection — is
an extension of each citizen. (And by “lawful,” he of course means
abiding by the moral, human laws given to us by our creator, the
ones that are engrained into the universe, not the ones that corrupt
men in legislatures wrote.) “Each of us has a natural right — from
God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These
are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of
any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of
the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our
individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?”

But why do we have these innate rights? Why is the protection of
one dependent on the other two? This paragraph sums it up nicely:
“Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality,
liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning
of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede
all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and
property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary,
it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand
that caused men to make laws in the first place.” This might very
well be my favorite political quote of all time. I feel I must stop
with The Law before I get carried away and just quote the
entire pamphlet.

By separating possession of property (an individual function)
from protection of property (a state function), her notion
separates the state from the society, which isn’t entirely surprising
since the state and society are incompatible and mutually exclusive.

Under this type of state, assuming we still have the rights to own
and acquire property, why do we have them? Why do life, liberty,
and property supposedly exist? Because the state “protects” them.
Because it gives them to us. Because it says so. Which means it
can say not. It can take them away. The logic is clear to me, but
if you don’t see that it follows logically, it certainly follows
realistically, that if the government is the supreme protector and
arbiter of “our” property, then it will eventually become the owner
of “our” property. It is easy to grasp how easily and naturally
a government that is granted extra-societal status will soon begin
to follow extra-societal rules, i.e., rules it makes up on its own.
These rules are, by definition, different from our innate, individual
human laws. This means it can and will do things we individually
cannot do. In doing so, it violates the very rights it was created
to protect! This is why the state and civilization are mutually
exclusive. Where one exists, the other must not exist.

Even if not one of its subjects nor the elected and unelected criminals
in the government realizes this, it will happen. Rights will be
violated, little by little, intentionally and unintentionally. It
has happened in every human society that ever existed, and will
happen in every one that exists for a considerable time into the
future, until people slowly get it right. Maybe one of God’s tests
for us is to achieve an entirely stateless human universe, to eliminate
coercive government altogether
. We will definitely be settled
on moons and planets in other solar systems before that happens,
if we can survive that long. If not, I think we’ll know what
to blame.

What my friend and millions of other leftists do not understand
is that if our intrinsic right to defend our property is
not recognized, then our rights to own and acquire
property become equally unrecognized. If this communist policy of
hers were enacted, then no, our rights to our current and future
property would not magically vanish in practice as they do in logic;
they would, rather, become steadily less and less recognized and
thus less and less allowed, until the state’s position as our lord
and master were so engrained into the minds of its subjects that
private property rights of any kind would become unrecognized. This
is precisely the essence of any communist state. The state will
always grow, by its nature, no matter what you do. If you make it
not only legitimate but necessary that the state be large
and powerful, then its growth is thereby accelerated greatly.

Just as the government would no longer be an extension of society,
our property could no longer be considered an extension of ourselves.
The one necessarily implies the other. This is because government
(just government) is the protection of property. By taking away
our supreme rights to what we own, the state would be taking away
what we have produced, which are the fruits of our labor, which
is, in effect, our labor itself, which means it would be taking
away what we have done — our past. Our past actions
are part of ourselves, and no person or entity can claim a part
of another person’s life. But this is what an inability to protect
our property amounts to. It is not always easy to see, and less
easy to elucidate, but it is true nonetheless.

I know her solution to the problem of unbounded state power is,
“Well, if we could just elect enough Democrats, or the right Democrats,
and not such a large proportion of them men, who are violent and
aggressive by nature, then our gracious government would protect
us justly, as it should.” Yeah, right. Typical leftist anti-realism,
which unfortunately has been exhibited by the leftists in that other
party an awful lot, too.

I will probably never know what leads her and other communists to
think self-defense does not include defense of property. It isn’t
a lack of exposure to libertarian literature such as The Law,
because I have thought shooting intruders was not only a right but
a noble service to society ever since I was a child. It isn’t hubris,
envy, or scapegoating, which are the root causes of all evil acts
ever committed. Now, it is certainly hubris that leads one to think
that a government that is both powerful and just isn’t a metaphysical
impossibility, and that a powerful government run only by liberal
feminist Democrats would both do what she wants and engineer
the economy and society to something resembling harmony or prosperity.
But it doesn’t explain why she thinks we don’t have a right to injure
or kill someone who is forcefully taking our property. Maybe there
is no root psychological reason. Some people are just wrong about
things, and only the observation of the harmfulness of their ideas
put into practice can make them see that. Let’s hope it doesn’t
come to that.

March
10, 2004

John
Petrie [send him mail]
is a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in genetics, and
is the webmaster and vice president of the Libertarians
of UGA club
.


        
        

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