“How can anyone, finding himself surrounded by a rising tide of evil, fail to do his utmost to fight against it? In our century, we have been inundated by a flood of evil, in the form of collectivism, socialism, egalitarianism, and nihilism. It has always been crystal clear to me that we have a compelling moral obligation, for the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, our posterity, our friends, our neighbors, and our country, to do battle against that evil.”
~ Murray Rothbard, “On Resisting Evil”
It is hard to be a libertarian and stay positive. The inexorable advance of government intrusions into our lives, and, consequently, the drastic reduction of our freedoms, seems to grow on a daily basis. The headlines are filled with reports of war and militarism, debt and deficits, inflation and recession, a “crisis” or two, and the latest political battle. There are those who think that the future is hopeful but are wondering how to increase their own liberty and that of their friends, family and community.
We believe that while the quest for freedom is always an uphill battle (and maybe unreachable during our lifespan), it does not make it an unworthy objective (aggression is always unjustified and evil). Moreover, the tools that exist today have never been available to any previous generation. We will see that we are in a unique position to help us with the libertarian endeavor of increasing liberty.
The Internet is a tool for exchanging information. Every day, more people have access to it. Even after State intervention, it is still a free enough system to allow mostly unmoderated speech in most of the world.
Two things make the Internet the libertarian’s best friend. First, it is decentralized; it has no head, no main hub, no central planner. (Yes, we are aware that there are root DNS servers, major backbones and other technical aspects that are not completely decentralized, but so long as those remain relatively free, anyone can easily connect to it.) Second, the structure of the Internet is horizontal. There is no hierarchy from an information point of view. (Again, there are some technical issues with the previous comment such as priority routing and other tweaks, but this is not a major issue so far.) Clients and servers are on a pretty equal plane and traffic (“demand”) goes to the better sites and services.
Compared to other media, access to the Internet is easy and cheap. We do not mean the price of a connection but rather the ease with which people and groups can collaborate and contribute globally. With free email clients, blogging software, instant messaging, and even free operating systems, the Internet is a cosmopolitan smorgasbord. Furthermore, a low entry barrier means that diverse content can be found online. Thousands of pages are appearing every second. New technologies make it possible to browse the web wirelessly almost everywhere you go (this is slowly becoming true even in developing countries) from laptops, cell phones and other devices. What does this all have to do with liberty? Simple: we can bypass the State.
Before the advent of the Internet, it was very costly to hide operations. A business had to exist in a physical space and, even in the underground market, it was visible. On the Internet, the management and operations of a business can be totally decentralized and managed electronically. People do not even have to know each other and interact anonymously. The goods and services, of course, have to exist somewhere and be provided to the customer, yet on the Internet, it is possible to keep many (if not most) of the details of the business private.
Bypassing the State used to be extremely costly. Not anymore. There are now, for example, digital currencies, some even backed by gold or other metals. A proliferation of modern technology with the desire to be free from taxes and regulations, coupled with hard-to-trace monetary payment systems means that a free market, albeit a small one, now exists.
It would not be a bad idea for the libertarian activist to get acquainted with some of the software that is available online. Set up a store or play with encryption. Google and Wikipedia are great resources to get started.
Education, culture and activism
Libertarians should agree that education needs to be the basis for the final victory of liberty over socialism. But what about smaller victories? Education is also vital there.
If the only way to secure our freedoms is to erode not only the mechanisms but also the spirit of aggression in our fellow human beings, then we must consider what Thomas Sowell has to say about children. We can consider them as “barbarians inside the gates,” which means that we must teach them a certain set of values before they take their place in society. But the same can also be said of our neighbors. Only by spreading the libertarian values regarding the respect for life and property will assure living in a free, prosperous and peaceful society in the long run. Activism, journalism, leadership and formal education all play a role in this process.
Let’s use an example. Libertarians will surely help plenty of people live a better life by spreading the word on good economics. Understanding how wealth is created, and the role of property, money, commerce, banking, etc. is invaluable in a civilized society. Also, understanding taxes, inflation and regulations is important in order to understand how they lead to inefficiency, chaos and rights violations. As Mises said, “Economics is the main and proper study of every citizen.” Sound economics and sound ethics, which of course go hand in hand, are key for the education of our children and the persuasion of our fellow man.
Contra the “all or nothing” view of some, we should consider all advances towards liberty as what they are: modest but valuable steps. If a polycentric law system (a.k.a. anarchocapitalism) could be subverted or taken over somehow (see medieval Ireland), and if the liberal republics in the 19th century could be eroded one step at a time (see Argentina, Switzerland and the U.S.), the opposite is also true. If any new intervention by the State is to be rightly deplored, so must we celebrate any reduction or elimination of taxes, bureaucracy or legislation. In the same spirit, and for the same reasons, secession must be a primary goal for the libertarian.
Secession should not only be aimed at the local level but its concept must also be made respectful and palatable to the masses (please randomly select two or three pieces from this list before attacking us for something we are not favoring). Secession can even be the final step to a series of decentralizing administrative advances. Why not? If any step towards centralization — a keystone of the socialist program — is to be deplored and resisted vigorously, then we should rejoice and welcome the opposite.
Any step towards the devolution of political power to local governments (which does not mean delegation or outsourcing, of course, because that would only make centralization/interventions more efficient) is to be actively sought by the libertarian. We can be a powerful and articulate voice towards that goal.
Civil disobedience and critical mass
What would happen if in the near future a significant number of people simply stopped paying their income tax? Imagine that 5% of employers decided to pay cash or stop withholding all taxes from their employees’ salaries. The government is comprised of an extremely tiny minority of people whose jobs is to violently rule over others. This aberrant situation would become quite noticeable if tens of thousands or even a few million people started to disregard the State’s mandates. There would be no way to throw the protesters in jail as there is not enough room in the packed jails already (and I suspect that the rate of jail building is far below what would be needed to imprison a healthy, ever-growing group of protesters). Furthermore, the number of police officers is greatly lower than necessary to deal with the millions trying to assert their right to be left alone. Finally, against a critical mass, the bureaucracy handling and processing fines and paperwork would most likely burn out and become utterly atrophied.
To obtain a critical mass, enough folks must start risking life, limb and wallet. If the conditions are right, the effect would be contagious; it could catch on and continue. We do not know what the critical mass would be, though I suspect that, at its peak, it would have to be large enough to a) remain visible for quite a while; b) galvanize a sufficiently cohesive group of supporters who would legitimize the ongoing acts of civil disobedience; and c) have a real and tangible effect.
Our personal belief is that this approach would be most effective in smaller communities/states/provinces where homogeneous groups can band together. The Free State Project is a great example of this approach. Regardless of whether it is in the end successful, it is nonetheless imperative that such organizations exist as a tool to expand the message of liberty.
There is no magic bullet that will change us all at once. The technology-education-secession trifecta is just one of the things that we believe can make a substantial difference in our efforts not only to bypass government control but to help form a liberty-oriented society, even if it’s a small one. Secession is a way to fragment the State in smaller political units that may (and should) be anarchic between themselves. And education, of course, is the only way to maintain any advances towards freedom and counter the stench of politicians and their lust for ever more power. This approach is also peaceful. Perhaps there is no need to organize a full rebellion; let’s just try to work around it.
Murray Rothbard was ultimately correct when he warned libertarians not to take shortcuts to liberty. Efforts to become hermits or to retreat from social life should be recognized by what they are: a very costly alternative to real liberty. Be principled, greet any advance towards freedom, do not sell out, emphasize plumb line libertarianism, and above all, do not condone aggression by the State or otherwise.
But can this really make a change? Maybe. But the proposal that we have explained is to be applied at the local level. There, we believe that medium to long-term prospects for liberty are decent. Beyond that, it’s a sea of statism. As Rothbard put it, “what the heck, if you fight the enemy, you might win!”
Manuel Lora [send him mail] is a freelance TV producer and multimedia specialist in New Orleans. Juan Fernando Carpio [send him mail] lives in Quito, Ecuador. He is finishing his Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurial Economics from Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala and is the founder of the Movimiento Libertario del Ecuador, a young libertarian movement in his country.