For people of the libertarian persuasion, who view government as a giant parasitical and murderous monstrosity, there is a very strong temptation to succumb to two very dangerous ideas. The first idea, which has roots in the libertarian-American revolution against the British, is that libertarians can easily throw off the yoke of their suffocating government if they simply arm themselves sufficiently. Having read about their scrappy forefathers’ glorious victory over the largest and most powerful army in the world, many libertarians assume that all that is lacking is an amply armed revolt in order to restore the Republic’s glorious libertarian tradition. The second dangerous idea is that libertarians can simply, shall we say, "ride out" the tyrannical storm gathering around them if they figure out a way to store enough water, conceal their assets, and have their passports and gold ready for short-notice emigration. Having witnessed the virtually complete eradication of their freedoms and rights, many libertarians assume that nothing can be done except to go into hiding until…well, sometime in the future.
These ideas, to be sure, do spring from genuinely libertarian principles. Libertarians should be amply armed, and they should be prepared to fight against murderous thugs of all stripes. So, too, should they take reasonable precautions to avoid being enslaved, starved, or murdered by their own or any other government. The ideas become dangerous, however, when libertarians start to focus on these ideas to the exclusion of the ultimate goal they are seeking. The goal for libertarians, after all, is not to provoke a bloody war with the state or to flee underground for the foreseeable future. The goal, rather, is to alter the world (or, their own parts of it anyway) in such a manner that it allows them to live in peace, prosperity, and freedom.
To state the ultimate libertarian objective is to point out the obvious flaw involved in focusing only on armed rebellion and hiding from the state. For, in the first place, it should be patently obvious that fighting and hiding are not necessarily means to achieve a more free, prosperous and peaceful world. In fact, hiding and armed rebellion can often serve to make the world even less libertarian. This is especially true of armed rebellion, because war, as Randolph Bourne famously observed, "is the health of the state." Armed rebellion almost always produces a dictatorial state governed by martial law, and it almost inevitably costs some people their lives — not exactly libertarian outcomes.
Hiding, too, can often serve to make the world even less libertarian. If all the libertarians in the world simply run off to the mountains, the general population is thereby deprived of the only ideological bulwark against an even bigger and more despotic government — a situation that the vipers running the government will exploit to the fullest extent possible. This is a problem not only for the unthinking masses the libertarians have abandoned to the mercy of the state, but also the hiding libertarians as well. You can bet your last gold dollar that when the government tires of wringing money out of the general population, it won’t hesitate for a moment to go after the discontented, independent-minded, and gold-packing libertarians — no matter how deeply in the forest they hide themselves. It should also be obvious that libertarians do not advance one step toward the goal of creating a more libertarian world for themselves by living like impoverished and hunted hermits.
Still more generally, the problem with focusing on armed rebellion and hiding at the expense of focusing on the ultimate libertarian goal is that both hiding and armed rebellion can only be effective if the general population sides with rebels and hiders. If the general population does not approve of the rebellion, for whatever reason, the rebels will be either slaughtered or incarcerated There is absolutely no doubt of this point. If the general population, for example, is convinced of the sanctity of the government and the goodness of a giant nanny-police state, armed rebels will never, ever, be able to win their freedom by force of arms. Quite the contrary, they will very quickly find themselves either rotting in prison or hanging from the scaffold, to the cheers of the general population. Similarly, libertarians who try to run and hide from the state can never, ever, find safety or refuge in the midst of a general population that views them as weird extremists, "wreckers," or potential "terrorists" — which is exactly how the government will portray them if they all simply "shrug" and try to hide out from the state.
These observations are not intended to terminally discourage libertarians about the possibility of changing the world in ways that will increase individual liberty. On the contrary, they are merely intended to focus libertarians’ attention on the actual goal they are (or ought to be) pursuing: individual liberty. The ultimate goal of libertarianism is and always will be to minimize or eliminate the utopian, murderous, and demeaning actions of the state, while concomitantly maximizing the sphere of individual liberty, secure property rights, peaceful exchange, economic growth and peace. That these goals are not necessarily served by provoking a bloody war or running into the woods by no means implies that the goals are therefore unattainable. Quite the reverse, all that is implied by these observations is that libertarians need to have realistic expectations about their actions and intentions, and make sure that they are actually capable of advancing toward their ultimate goals.
So, what means can libertarians employ to advance toward the goal of creating a world free of government predation if fighting and hiding won’t work? From the above observations it should be clear that libertarians absolutely, positively must win over the general population to the idea that individual liberty is preferable to state slavery. Fighting and hiding, it will be recalled, are not sufficient means for advancing libertarian goals in the absence of support from the general population. However, if the general population comes to be convinced that the state is a giant, murderous parasite, wonderful things start to occur. First, if the general population essentially becomes libertarian, hiding becomes completely unnecessary for libertarians. Indeed, since the state is comprised of a minority of the population, its henchmen cannot afford to try to hunt down all discontented and outspoken libertarians if the majority of people are all libertarian. They would quite quickly find themselves arresting and antagonizing everyone, which would jeopardize their ability to both dominate and cow the general population and their ability to extract taxes, and would eventually bankrupt them.
Second, if the general population can be convinced in the intrinsic goodness of individual liberty and the inherent viciousness of government, armed rebellion becomes not only a feasible option, but an option that is very likely to succeed. Again, since the state necessarily comprises a minority of the population, its mercenaries cannot possibly win a war against the majority, if the majority of the population refuses to submit to their authority. It is true in the age of nuclear-armed states that the state’s helmsmen and henchmen could attempt to annihilate the majority of the population by nuking them or otherwise butchering them en masse, but, to butcher the general population is to kill the very people who fund the state. The people whom the state employs are not likely to kill off all the people who make their parasitical lives possible. What is more likely is that the state would wage a massive and desperate propaganda campaign to convince the general population that the state is absolutely essential to their prosperity and happiness — a campaign that would fall on the deaf ears of the libertarian population.
The conclusion for libertarians, therefore, is that they ought to measure their actions and intentions against the yardstick of convincing the general population that the state is intrinsically murderous and unnecessary. Any dreams libertarians might be entertaining that they will be able to provoke a war of independence with the state and emerge victoriously should be put aside, unless they have managed to win over the minds of the general population. Any dreams they might have of fleeing into the woods or a different state should be tempered with the knowledge that they will never need to flee and hide if they can manage to win the minds of the general population.
So, by all means arm yourself amply and have your gold and papers ready, but never forget that your primary duty is to spread the ideas of libertarianism to the world.
Mark R. Crovelli [send him mail] writes from Denver, Colorado.