The Most Liberating Word

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“Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

~ Jesus of Nazareth, as quoted in Matthew 5:37

Years ago, somebody coined the aphorism, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” While some grammarians might disagree with that conclusion, “no” is incontrovertibly the most powerful word that a freedom-focused individual can utter — assuming, of course, that he has the fortitude to let it be his final answer.

To say “no” in reply to an offer, suggestion, or demand is to assert authority. The same can be said of “yes,” but only when it is said in particular circumstances. “Yes” can signify either honorable agreement or craven submission. Saying “no,” on the other hand, is a way of claiming one’s sovereignty and demanding that it be respected.

Refusing consent is an assertion of the most elemental property right. Saying “no” during a business negotiation may abort a transaction, or it may facilitate a mutually agreeable arrangement on slightly different terms. In either case, parties involved in such a conversation understand and respect the sovereignty of each other, and agreement doesn’t occur until and unless both sovereign actors are satisfied with the terms.

When “yes” is said in this context, the rights and interests of both parties are protected, assuming that both follow the admonition from the Sermon on the Mount that they will make good on the promises they freely made.

We are routinely told that the government ruling us rests on the “consent” of the governed. “Submission” is a more appropriate term.

Think of it for a second: How often does the State recognize our right to withhold consent? Are those in the State’s employ generally willing to accept “no” as a final answer, or do they generally treat it as an act of criminal rebellion?

In myriad ways, from the smallest imposition to the most grotesque mass murder, agents of the State treat non-compliance as justification for the use of potentially lethal force. If an armed stranger in a state-issued costume demands that you submit to an abduction called an “arrest” despite the fact that you’ve done nothing to injure anybody, what will happen to you if you refuse to cooperate?

Consider the Census drone who just materialized on your doorstep. He may appear to be a harmless and inoffensive guy who’s just overjoyed to be getting (not “earning,” mind you) a paycheck as the economy implodes. But if you assert your independence by turning him away outright, or even by supplying him with no more than the minimal information he’s “legally” permitted to acquire, the State that employs him may seek to steal up to $5,000 from you as punishment for your refusal to consent.

Today, as it was in the days of Caesar Augustus, the census is intimately connected to the State’s practice of official theft via taxation. The IRS, with a brazen dishonesty appropriate to any totalitarian enforcement agency, insists that collection of the income tax depends on the “voluntary compliance” of tax slaves. This is true in exactly the same sense that the consummation of any other extortion demand depends on the “voluntary compliance” of the victims.


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The otherwise charming western Idaho town in which my family lives is home to a tax accounting firm claiming the perfectly Orwellian name “Liberty Tax Service.” The “service” offered by firms of that kind is a bit like what we could expect from a “dating” service catering to rapists. A sign displayed near the firm’s storefront office proclaims, “Satisfaction guaranteed” — as if satisfaction should be the victim’s appropriate response to being efficiently and professionally robbed by an insatiable assailant.

To maintain the illusion of consent, the State promotes the fiction of “representative government.” In such a system some people can supposedly “consent” to the theft of property belonging to other people, and sanctify the plunder as an act of “mutual” consent. Exactly the same claim can be made by any other robber band. Of course, this comparison is unfair, since private criminals rarely treat their victims to sanctimonious lectures about their lack of “public-spiritedness.” This is one reason, among many, why democracy is the most insidious form of tyranny.

Few, if any, have penetrated to the heart of the evil pretense of “representative government” more incisively than Chief Joseph during the U.S. Government’s campaign to expropriate the heroic Nez Perce Indians.

Like many other Indian communities, the Nez Perce had no central governing authority. This complicated matters when Washington sought out an individual leader, or ruling oligarchy, whom it could seduce or intimidate into “consenting” to the theft of Nez Perce lands.

Washington solved that problem by creating a central government and appointing a Quisling “leader” — named, quite suitably, Lawyer — who promptly signed over the Wallowa Valley in the name of the entire tribe. (This would become a model for the dispossession of Indians across the continent, and it continues today wherever hapless people enjoy the blessings of U.S.-imposed “liberation”; think of the U.S.-created puppet “governments” in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

In 1877, General Oliver O. Howard summoned Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs to a meeting at which it was announced that they would be evicted from lands they had not sold. Neither Joseph nor his compatriots had consented to the 1863 treaty signed by Lawyer. Howard had repeatedly acknowledged that there was no legal or moral justification for the seizure of the Wallowa Valley and the confinement of the Nez Perce to a reservation. Yet when required to do so Howard was willing to carry out his orders to “occupy the Wallowa Valley in the interest of peace.”

Displaying a patience transcending that of most Christian saints, Joseph made one final appeal to Howard’s conscience in the form of a property rights parable every bit as lucid and cogent as anything given birth by Frdric Bastiat’s capable pen.

“Suppose a white man should come to me and say, ‘Joseph, I like your horses. I want to buy them,’” Joseph stated. “I say to him, ‘No, my horses suit me; I will not sell them.’ Then he goes to my neighbor and says, ‘Pay me money, and I will sell you Joseph’s horses.’ The white man returns to me and says, ‘Joseph, I have bought your horses and you must let me have them.’”

“If we sold our lands to the government,” Joseph concluded, “this is the way they bought them.”

This mattered not at all to Howard, who — despite his oft-repeated claim to be a Christian believer — was content to act as an instrument of official corruption.

Seeking to protect his people from a war with a vastly more powerful and utterly amoral enemy, Joseph relented to the demand that the Nez Perce relocate to the Lapwai reservation. This didn’t end the matter, however, as hostilities between Indians and settlers led to bloodshed.

Matters came to a head when a group of irregular troops — defying a truce flag — fired on a Nez Perce encampment at White Bird Canyon, leading to an engagement in which the U.S. Army endured an unambiguous, and richly deserved, ass-thrashing. Joseph would later lead his 700-member band — most of whom were non-combatants — on a 1,500-mile strategic retreat, repeatedly winning hit-and-run engagements against the U.S. Army.

Eventually Joseph and his band were cut off by a force commanded by Colonel Nelson Miles near Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains, just forty miles shy of freedom in Canada.

If the objective was to force the Nez Perce to remove themselves from the Wallowa Valley, why did Washington insist on capturing them, rather than allowing them to leave the country? The answer is obvious to anyone who understands the malignant logic of government: Joseph and his colleagues had ultimately refused to submit. Yes, they agreed, in the face of prohibitively superior force, to go on the reservation. But when they came under criminal assault, the Nez Perce acquitted themselves as men, rather than serfs. They reclaimed the right to say “no,” and they stuck with that answer.

To those who presumed to be their masters, it was impermissible for the Nez Perce to leave the United States on their own terms. Sitting Bull, who had fled to Canada with his Sioux band, received similar treatment for exactly the same “offense.”

In 1875, when he was informed by a federal emissary that Washington wanted to purchase the Black Hills, Sitting Bull clutched a pinch of earth and, releasing it to the wind, replied: “I do not want to sell any land to the government — not even as much as this."

The following year, Sitting Bull and his allies annihilated Custer’s force at the Battle of Greasy Grass, an engagement the losers refer to as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. That Sioux triumph is the last victory won by any Americans in an armed struggle for freedom prior to the Branch Davidians’ successful defense of their home against the ATF’s criminal assault in February 1993. Alas, both of those triumphs proved to be tragically reversible.

Amid mounting retaliation by Washington, Sitting Bull and his band withdrew to Canada. In July 1881, facing the specter of death by starvation, they returned to the United States. After being illegally imprisoned at Fort Randall, Sitting Bull was forced to endure a totalitarian homily preached by Republican Senator John Logan of Illinois.

“You are not a great chief of this country," Logan declared. "You have no following, no power, no control, and no right to any control. You are on an Indian reservation merely at the sufferance of the government. You are fed by the government, clothed by the government, your children are educated by the government, and all that you have and are today is because of the government…. The government feeds and clothes and educates your children now, and desires to teach you to become farmers, and to civilize you, and make you as white men."

In the interests of brevity, Logan could have stated the same case in a single austere phrase: From now on, you are not permitted to say “no.”

The Leviathan State slaughtered, persecuted, and dispossessed Indians in order to compel them to live “as white men.” That same State is now reducing Americans of all descriptions to a status akin to that of the conquered Indians: Helpless, dispossessed, subject to whatever our rulers see fit to impose on us.

Sitting Bull was murdered by police on the morning of December 15, 1890: The unarmed chief was shot in the chest after refusing to submit to an unlawful arrest. In death, however, he claimed a small but priceless victory by reclaiming his right to say “no.”

The all-pervasive influence of our enemy, the State, offers us an ironic blessing in the form of myriad opportunities to win similar victories — if we have the fortitude to say “no” and mean it. If enough of those victories accumulate, eventually the state will be undone.

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