My most reliable sources for articles are government officials who do or say things that, inadvertently, reveal the vicious nature of political systems. It is not so much that these people are too stupid to realize the implications of their words or deeds but, rather, that they are so convinced of the propriety of what they are doing that they see no problem in openly expressing themselves.
Thanks to Wendy McElroy we now have access to the State of Virginia’s directive, to state employees, on how to identify and deal with threats of u201Cterrorism.u201D The governor signed off on this document, declaring the state’s purpose of u201Csafeguarding the people of Virginia.u201D A close reading, however, discloses a different purpose, namely, to protect the state from u201Cthe people of Virginia.u201D
Among those identified, in the document, as domestic terrorist organizations are u201Cproperty rights activistsu201D and u201Canti-government and militiau201D groups. Some of the goals these u201Cterroristsu201D have in carrying out their violent acts include to u201Cundermine confidence in the government,u201D and to u201Cinfluence government or social policy.u201D While it might be argued that such groups and purposes pose a problem only when their actions result in violence, it is equally clear that persons advocating non-violent political change could be labeled as u201Cterroristsu201D for purpose of both surveillance and prosecution.
Suppose, for example, that a group of people who believe in u201Cproperty rightsu201D should express u201Canti-governmentu201D sentiments in order to u201Cundermine confidenceu201D and u201Cinfluence government policy.u201D Suppose they meet for the purpose of criticizing zoning laws or eminent domain powers. Do you think it beyond the imagination of prosecutorial slugs in Virginia — or elsewhere — to indict the participants on grounds of u201Cconspiring to commit terrorist actsu201D?
It is particularly revealing that the State of Virginia could equate u201Cproperty rightsu201D with u201Cterroristu201D inclinations. People who believe in the private ownership of property are, by definition, peaceful. The property principle confines my decision-making to what is mine. When I have reached the boundaries of what I own, my actions must cease. If I wish to enjoy the use of your property in some manner, I must obtain your agreement. Contract not conquest is the social principle in a society premised on privately owned property.
Violence consists of the trespass of the property boundaries of others — be it their person or any other interests they might own. The document here under discussion identifies u201Cterrorist tacticsu201D as u201Cbombing and arson; assassination and murder; hostage taking and kidnapping; hijacking; sabotage; weapons of mass destruction; cyber attack; [and] identity theft.u201D Anyone who understands the property principle knows that each of these acts is, at its core, a violation of the property rights of others. It is no coincidence that what we think of as u201Cproperu201D behavior is the conduct of u201Cpropertyu201D owners.
Private property is also grounded in the premise that each of us is existentially worthy as individuals. Your existence, interests, and purposes are no less valid than those of the elitists who presume the power to reduce you to being a means to their ends. The property principle begins with self-ownership, a condition incompatible with the status of being fungible resources for collective authority.
Political systems are defined by the manner and extent of their control over private property. Communist and more moderate forms of socialism confiscate both title and control of property. Fascist systems leave title to property in private hands, while the state confiscates control. Government and privately owned property are as incompatible with one another as are sexual promiscuity and chastity. Consequently, those who are activists on behalf of private property are necessarily in opposition to political systems. If, as Randolph Bourne advised us, u201Cwar is the health of the stateu201D — thus turning peace activists into u201Ctraitorsu201D — the confiscation of property provides the state with its destructive energy.
It is the state, not u201Cproperty rights activists,u201D that uses violence and terror to achieve its ends. The state is the mobilization of violence and terror, culminating in its most vicious and lethal expression in wars. If peaceful inclinations and behavior were to break out on this planet; if men and women were to become respectful of the inviolability of other people and their property; political systems would cease to exist. The health of the state would turn pathological, with a terminal prognosis.
The government, in other words, is the embodiment of the very intrusive and violent traits the State of Virginia has seen fit to project onto its victims! Those who insist on retaining control over their own lives and living peacefully with their neighbors, have become the threat that now terrorizes state officials. Now you begin to grasp what Pogo Possum meant when he said u201Cwe have met the enemy and they is us.u201D
This document goes on to identify u201Cterrorist toolsu201D and u201Cterrorist surveillance actionsu201D to include the use of u201Cstill or video cameras,u201D and u201Cpersons showing an increased general interest in [a targeted] facility.u201D In what major city are government u201Cvideo camerasu201D not widely employed to observe the behavior of us all? What is a police or FBI u201Cstakeoutu201D of someone’s home or business if not u201Can increased general interest in [a targeted] facility?u201D
How interesting that the cover of this document contains Thomas Jefferson’s classic quotation: u201Cthe price of freedom is vigilance.u201D But to Jefferson, vigilance was a quality that free men and women had to maintain against the state. The State of Virginia has twisted his words into a justification for the state maintaining vigilance against u201Cthe people of Virginia.u201D When Virginia’s most prominent historical figure and former president declared: u201CI hold it that, a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical,u201D he was expressing an attitude on behalf of liberty which, today, might as well be spoken in ancient Greek for its loss of meaning. Is there any doubt that, if Jefferson were alive today, his words would earn him a one-way trip to Guantanamo, a state action that would generate cheers from the boob-hustlers at Faux-News?
The power of the state is facing more than a resurgence of interest in privately owned property. Social systems are becoming rapidly decentralized, a process that is bringing about the collapse of vertically-structured power systems. Plato’s top-down, pyramidal power system is being replaced by horizontal networks to which no one’s subservience is commanded. Individual autonomy is replacing collective obedience as an organizing principle. This transformation is a manifestation of the resuscitation of private property as the basis for a free and peaceful social order.
The examples of decentralized systems abound. Alternative health practices — in which the patient actively participates in maintaining health and assessing illnesses — are becoming more prevalent forms of medical practice. Private schools, home schooling, and other alternative forms of education conducive to the preferences of parents, are challenging state-run, union-controlled government schools.
Alternative religions — in which individuals take greater responsibility for their spiritual direction — confront established, doctrinal churches. Holistic, collaborative law practice is beginning to attract practitioners and their clients away from lawyer- and judge-centered to client-centered methods for resolving disputes. The lawyer’s role is increasingly being seen as interconnected with the client to help achieve client ends that go beyond the mechanistic function of giving u201Cexpertu201D advice as to what his or her rights are. Men and women are increasingly turning to the Internet and other alternative systems in lieu of traditional top-down, unidirectional institutionalized information sources.
In each of these alternative, decentralized systems, individuals both control and are responsible for their decision-making. Be they patient, parent, or client; or seekers of knowledge or spiritual experiences, individuals are transforming themselves from passive recipients of the judgments of others, into active creators of their own purposes. They are learning to question the reliability of what they are told, be it in the realm of health-care or news reporting, and to seek out alternative opinions. This reclaiming of authority over their own lives is the expression of self-ownership, the property principle that political systems — such as the State of Virginia — now experience as u201Cterror.u201D
Even within the realm of politics, decentralist tendencies are apparent. Secession and separatist movements confront centralized power. Antiwar demonstrations have brought millions of people to the streets in protest around the world. Massive peaceful demonstrations against immigration policies (in America) and youth employment laws (in France) have paralyzed government action in these areas. When millions of people — not just hundreds or thousands — organize to publicly voice their discontent, the state is unable to respond in its traditionally violent ways: it cannot lock up everyone, or machine-gun tens of thousands of men and women.
As we learned on 9/11, and as people in the Middle East have known for years, even war itself has become decentralized. Suicide bombers — whether at mosques, shopping areas, or the World Trade Center — have become the u201Cweapons of mass destructionu201D to which the state can make no clear response that does not call into question its own involvement in mutual destruction. In order to maintain the u201C’us’ against u2018them’u201D mindset that is essential to all state practices, Congress has provided a definition of u201Cterrorismu201D as u201Cpremeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.u201D
Intellectually honest persons in the major media could — if they were willing to risk their jobs — point out the politically self-serving nature of this definition. Had the prefix u201Csubu201D been deleted from u201Csub-national,u201D and the word u201Cclandestineu201D been omitted altogether, the statute would have left us with a definition that included the United States as a practitioner of u201Cterrorism.u201D But such a task must be left to others. Peter Ustinov got to the essence of what this current war against another phony bogeyman is about, when he observed: u201CTerrorism is the war of the poor, and war is the terrorism of the rich.u201D
u201CTerrorismu201D is not a formal organization, but a strategy. It is one among many options from which people may choose in their efforts to direct violence against others. Were more of us not cowards in the matter, we would openly admit that the violence perpetrated upon the rest of the world by the United States has generated terrorist responses from its victims. We would also have to acknowledge that both the United States and terrorist organizations are engaged in a symbiotic dance that allows the violence of each side to be used as a rationale for extended power over their respective constituencies. This is the meaning of Bourne’s characterization of the state’s dependency upon war.
Having admitted such harsh truths to ourselves, we would then have to go on to recognize a way out of this destructive, dehumanizing, anti-life madness: to learn to respect the inviolability of property boundaries. To live without trespasses — either upon us or by us — is to be self-controlling, self-responsible beings. But a world free of the contrived conflicts that define political behavior will always be looked upon with a sense of terror by those inconvenienced by our unwillingness to play their games.
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.