The Lawless State

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This
article was first published as The Lawless State: A Libertarian
View of the Status of Liberty. Volume IV, No. 4 in the National
Issues Series of Politics, (Constitutional Alliance, 1969).

The Nature
of Government

Government
has gone wild.

Today, in the
land we like to think of as the most free on earth, government reaches
into every level of our lives. It controls and it coerces, it bullies
and it brags, it browbeats and it blusters. It grows and it grows,
feeding without restraint on the energy, the talents, the hopes,
the fears, and the futures of the people.

Endless arguing
about, or even rigorous voting for "better" government
has not altered and can not alter the fact that it is the nature
of government, the state itself, that has shown itself in such a
dark light. For it is in the nature of the state and of government
as it has developed to do all of the things that it now is doing
– regardless of which partisans, which technicians, operate
it at any given point.

After each
American election there are the weeks and months of elation in which
partisans euphorically tell one another that "problems are
going to be solved" by the "good" and "strong"
and "wise" men about to take office. The losers, meantime,
say just as flatly that the world is going to hell in a breadbasket.

And very little
changes.

In terms of
actual change, as a matter of fact, there hasn’t been an election
in the United States since its inception that has driven the country
solidly onto a course toward less government and more liberty. Each,
rather, has driven the country toward more government and less liberty.

Parties and
promises notwithstanding, this is the way it is. To not recognize
that one overpowering fact is to let the meaning of the entire political
history of our time utterly escape you.

The nature
of the state, the growth of government has been unchanged by politicians.
Only the politicians themselves have changed.

Too many Americans
for too long have been diverted by the changes of faces and factions.
They have permitted their attention to be diverted from the unchanging
problem of government itself.

To the extent
that they continue to be so diverted, government has a free hand
to continue its development toward despotism.

Particularly
now, with one more election and with one more chorus of paeans and
plaints, one more magic-lantern display of changing images in an
unchanging show, those who profess an interest in liberty need to
turn away from illusions and shadows and look at the actual and
concrete facts of government here and around the world.

They need to
ask not whether it is possible simply to tame government, or to
make it more economical, or to make it more favorable to this or
that ideology, class, or interest; they need to ask the most fundamental
questions about government. What is its purpose? What is its limit?
What is its legitimacy? What is its relation to liberty? To the
individual?

Those who weigh
the cost of government only in dollars will vote for the most economical
government, the most efficient – perhaps not bothering to ask
if that efficiency is in the service of or to the detriment of liberty.

Those who assess
the value of government only in terms of its output of "good"
programs will vote for the most active government – perhaps
not bothering to ask if the action serves the need or greed of some
men, or the liberty of all.

Others may
measure government only by its arms and martial spirit, praising
the way in which it guards the borders or the outposts but remaining
curiously uninterested in the garrisons it may be building at home.

Some will ask
only that government benefit them, protect them, comfort them, preserve
their status quo and suppress any who would disturb it. And they
too will have forgotten to ask any question at all about liberty.

Questions about
liberty have, of course, long been most notably neglected by those
who have called themselves liberals in America. One result has been
that the entire liberal position now stands discredited and, even
more humiliating to its leadership, hopelessly outdated and irrelevant.

But the same
is more and more true of those who call themselves conservative.
They too, more and more, ask simply who controls the government
("our" guys or "their" guys) rather than what
we should do about government itself.

It has become,
as a result, a political truism of our time that the differences
between the two major political parties are marginal at best. One
editor recently pointed out that in terms of sheer differences of
political approach there now is more difference between factions
behind the Iron Curtain than between the major political factions
in the United States. It is not altogether fanciful to say that
the United States has, finally, become a one-party state.

And it is merely
common sense to observe that, beyond it all, government rolls along
– widely accepted, widely supported, largely unquestioned as
the father of us all, the focus of life, lever of all power.

Riots in the
streets may concern some. Riots on the campus may concern others.
But it is the riotous, growing power of government gone wild
that should preoccupy the serious and concerned friend of liberty
in this land once so hopefully dedicated to freedom.

It is in that
dedication, as a matter of fact, that may be found that inspiration
to return to concern about government itself and not simply to its
current cost or management. For in that dedication we can clearly
see a time when men, serious men, were concerned very candidly not
with who should run the government but with how to restrain, repress,
and even eliminate government. They were concerned with purpose,
not merely with program.

The deepest
concern then, as it should be now, was not the sort of law to impose
upon citizens, not the sort of order to impose upon citizens, not
the sort of privileges and prerogatives to bestow upon government,
not the tasks to assign it or the titles to enhance it. No. The
concern was to impose law upon government.

It was to curb
government; to cut it back and cut it down.

The concern
was liberty.

The Declaration
of Independence

The Declaration
of Independence says it all and says it well.

… that
all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments
are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government
becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people
to alter or to abolish it.

To the men
who founded the United States, that Declaration was the essence
of the law insofar as the state was concerned. There were among
those men some, perhaps many, who had little sympathy for the state
at all. They accepted it as a necessary evil. Others conceived it
only as an evil and not actually necessary at all.

All finally
agreed, however, that they could live under or at least coexist
with an agreement of government, an agreement of lawful government
that established the sole function of government as in "securing"
the "rights" of the people: life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness. Government would, in effect, be merely an instrument,
voluntarily subscribed to, that would prevent anyone (including
governments) from taking or abridging life, liberty, or the pursuit
of happiness. That is all.

It has been
the constant breach of that law that has marked the development
of the state ever since then.

It is the gathering
momentum of more and more breakage of that law that marks the only
crucially important political question facing Americans, or, indeed,
people anywhere. This is no longer a problem of any one state. It
is a threatening reality in all states, around the world.

The Omnipotent
State

Government,
gone wild in growth and its powers, has gone also above and beyond
the law. Today it is widely accepted, as a matter of fact, that
Government Is The Law. Just as a "divine" king
once could say, "I am the state," governments today everywhere
say they are the law, even that they are the people.

Each citizen
can ask himself the most grave questions in this regard. Frank self-answers
should be revealing.

Do you feel
that the state is more important than you are?

Do you feel
that the state should enjoy freedoms that you do not?

Do you feel
that the state should be able to rise above the law?

Do you feel
that you could not live unless the state protected you?

Do you feel
that you could not thrive unless the state nourished or subsidized
you?

Do you feel
that service to the state is more desirable or more noble than service
to your self, your family, your neighbors, or your own ideals?

Do you feel
that it actually is a privilege to pay taxes?

Do you feel
that since the government, the state, is more important than any
one man, that every single man should be prepared to give his all,
even his life, to or for his government?

Do you feel
that the state is something with a life and identity of its own,
beyond the men who might hold office in it?

Do you feel
that "the government" and "the country" are
the same?

Do you feel
that, when all is said and done, your life belongs to your government?

Do you feel
that your "rights" are given to you by government?

Do you feel
that, when all is said and done, if big problems are to be solved
in this world that government will have to do it?

The crucial
separation between men today is not anything more or anything less
than the separation between those who answer yes to those questions
and those who answer no. The only important gradations in the thinking
that separates men today will be found along a scale of how many
yes and how many no answers are given.

My own position
is a resounding NO to every single one of these questions.

The demonstrated
purpose of both major political parties, and including the new,
conservative administration is yes to at least a majority of the
questions.

And it probably
would be fair to say that the response of most Americans, sincerely
and in heartfelt patriotism, also would be yes.

That the so-called
liberal response has been yes all along does not require exposition
at this point. Readers of average care know this is true from a
generation of reform-liberal, New Deal-type programs in which every
action of government has been condoned and expanded. "Liberal"
programs have, without exception, strengthened government, and have
rejected by their very actions one particular approach to problem-solving.
That approach is liberation; the liberation of people from
political control rather than simply trying to advantage them by
political favoritism.

Conservative
Contradictions

Conservatives,
it now turns out, have little to crow about either. They have howled
at the expenditure of tax-taken money for welfare programs but have
jumped to support vast outpourings of the same sort of money for
the entire panoply of the military-industrial complex and the garrison
state; many supported racial laws at the state level but wept when
reverse-racial laws became Federal; many gleefully seek government
subsidy and protection of business even when they rail against government
protection of unions; many ask tariffs to protect their particular
interest; few object to farm boondoggling when it gives millions
to a man with vast acreage, but many decry the support of another
man with a small and unproductive plot.

The examples
abound; examples of inconsistency, of outrage at government when
it benefits someone else, and of red-white-and-blue support for
government when it’s "on our side."

Particularly
today, the conservative contradiction is glaring. Of a sudden, as
though smitten by righteous lightning, conservatives are discovering
that government is good and big government is even gooder. Where
is the conservative voice being raised to ask, of the new administration,
that it use its every power not to "improve" government
but to, quite literally, get it off the backs of the people altogether.

Instead, the
talk most popularly is of such things as "tax incentives,"
as though letting a man keep some of the money he has earned is
an act of supreme wisdom and charity on the part of the government.
Only those who, deep down, believe that the government actually
does have first claim on everything legitimately, can find inspiration
in a system that merely uses taxes to "pay off" this or
that class or faction.

Where, instead,
is the conservative voice that says do not simply reform the tax
system; replace it!

There are few
such voices to be heard. Ironically, only on the libertarian right
and in some portions of the New Left or among true anarchists are
there voices crying against not programs and not against personalities
but against government itself.

It is in this
very context and against this very background, of the widespread
acceptance of government as good, that liberty must beg, must implore
all with some concern for her to pause, to reflect – ultimately,
to resist.

The Nature
of Man

Philosophically,
the resistance to government has roots running to the very nature
of man himself. There are questions to be asked, in care and conscience,
on that score just as on the political score.

Do you feel
that your life is unimportant when compared to the lives of others?

Do you feel
that the noblest thing you could do would be to give your life for
someone else?

Do you feel
that the value of each man is simply what "society" says
it is?

Do you feel
that man actually is incapable, as an individual, of knowing what
is right or wrong: and that only the wisdom of "society"
can establish such values?

Do you feel
that the life of each individual person belongs in large part to
society?

Do you feel
that individual men are nothing, but that "mankind" is
everything?

Do you feel
that man’s reasoning mind is just a veneer and that under it he
is only another animal, very much like all others?

Do you feel
that man is basically bad?

Do you feel
that if man didn’t have restraints he always would run amuck?

Do you feel
that man’s mind is so limited, in the long run, that it just isn’t
safe to think you know anything for sure?

Do you feel
that your life is swept along, determined by invisible forces over
which you have no control?

The person
who answered no to the liberty-degrading questions listed earlier
should answer no also to these life-degrading questions. But the
sad truth is that, to a greater or lesser degree, the most acceptable
answer has become yes, yes, yes.

Just as liberty
has become a low order of priority for concern politically, so has
the individual become a low order of priority for concern philosophically.
And, of course, it follows. The collectivist view of society, which
dominates politics of both parties and most people today, also dominates
the view of man himself. In both instances the word of the day is
that men must be ruled, that they are unworthy of liberty, and that
progress is only possible through the programs of a special elite,
the politicians.

To the abiding
discredit of most of us, the fundamental question of liberty and
man, of man versus the state, has been neglected, rarely even asked
as the right and left, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican
have preoccupied themselves with the lesser questions of political
spoils.

The challenge
to liberals today is whether they will mutter in their tents about
the amounts of welfare programs or the progress of some particular
war or whether they will become concerned by the principles of liberty
that underlie the programs and the conflict. Liberals cannot have
it both ways.

The problems
of poverty and prejudice are not solvable by piling official restrictions,
more control, and more coercion on top of old, informal repressions.
It is to the liberation of people, not their regimentation that
liberals should have addressed themselves had they not been swept
up in the current concern for political control as an end in itself.

Nor can liberals
have it both ways about war. Wars are waged, solely, by governments.
The bigger and stronger the government, the bigger and more likely
the wars it will wage. Liberals who worship the state, and forsake
liberty, who oppose one war but whoop it up for others (against
"bad" guys), are no friends of liberty or of peace.

Conservatives
are similarly challenged and they have similarly failed.

After decades
of platform ranting about the perils of big government, they have
been in the forefront of those who advocate all-encompassing government
to protect industry, wage war (against their enemies, of
course) and, above all, to establish and enforce norms of conduct
and morality as they have conceived those norms.

Both liberals
and conservatives, to sum it up, become preoccupied with the ways
in which to use government, each for their own ideological or class
benefit.

Neither have
offered a body of libertarian doctrine. Neither have, so far, returned
to the concern over liberty which marked the founding of the nation.

Read
the rest of the article

November
2, 2009

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