Why don't Egyptians seize the moment and create freedom for themselves — their Persons — now? By freedom for Persons, I don't mean democracy or a so-called free society or a society under some government, be it democratic or democratic-socialist or theocratic or autocratic or whatever. I don't mean elections, coalitions, parties, votes, leaders, taxes, and so on. I mean freedom of each and every person.
And I do not mean to single out Egyptians. I raise the same question for Americans. Why not freedom for all Americans now? Why not freedom for any People anywhere now?
As Egyptians start to have their voices heard throughout the world, we are hearing what individual persons are thinking and assuming. We are given help in discovering why Egyptians and Americans and Chinese and Russians and all Peoples in the world are not creating freedom for their Persons now.
Suppose that the following Reuters report has some grains of accuracy to it:
"Initially unorganized, the protests against Mubarak are gradually coalescing into a loose reformist movement encompassing many sections of Egyptian society."
The words "reformist movement" mean that the idea that is spreading or forming among "many sections" is to reform the government. They would keep the State but alter it. This won't produce freedom of all Persons.
I'm not denigrating what Egyptians are doing. Not at all. I'm not criticizing or judging them. They want to get rid of Mubarak. I am certain they will succeed. I am taking the opportunity provided by what they are doing to understand better, if I can, why, even if Mubarak goes, choices are flowing in some directions, toward maintenance of the State, and not others, to freedom of Persons. There are lessons to be learned here that are widely applicable throughout the world.
My concern is broader. The possibility of eliminating the State is present in every land. The masses can accomplish this at any time. We the People can accomplish this whenever enough of us decide to. Enough of us haven't. Since Egyptians and any People are always on the cusp of eliminating the State altogether, we have to ask why they don't do so. Why don't Americans get rid of their State?
The same Reuters article quotes one person:
"u2018We are calling for the overthrow of the regime. We have one goal, and that is to remove Hosni, nothing else. Our politicians need to step in and form coalitions and committees to propose a new administration,' said Ahmed Abdelmoneim, 25, a computer engineer."
This opinion may or may not be typical of many other persons in Egypt. It sounds as if it could be typical. This is, after all, the same kind of thinking that goes on in America at every election and in between elections. Most everyone is after changing the government or changing its policies. They're not after eliminating the government and State altogether.
We then hear in this article about another group, one which may form a type of voluntary society within Egypt, namely, the Muslim Brotherhood. I do not know for sure if it is entirely independent of the State or if it has links to the government, but we read that Mubarak banned it from politics. The important thing, from my perspective here, is the political view that Reuters attributes to this group:
"What will come after Mubarak if he steps down is not so clear. Egypt’s opposition has been fragmented and weakened under Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has the biggest grassroots network with its health and other social charity projects.
"The group, banned from politics under Mubarak, says it wants an Islamic, pluralistic and democratic state."
This is probably reasonably accurate. It is probably the case that the Muslim Brotherhood is not after freedom of all Persons. It is after a "pluralistic and democratic state." It is after politics as usual, i.e., a State. This is despite the fact that it is a "grassroots network" that carries out some functions ordinarily associated with democratic (or democratic/socialist) governments.
Confirming this conclusion is a quote from a person who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood:
"u2018The revolution won’t accept Omar Suleiman, even for a transitional period. We went a new democratic leader,' said Mohamed Saber, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood."
We then hear from another voice, namely, a lawyer:
"u2018Our country has many people capable of being president,' said Essam Kamel, 48, a lawyer, although he said he did not want Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who has said he was ready to take on a role in the transition.
"But Kamel added: u2018We are Muslims, but we don’t need an Islamic government.'"
This again underscores the same assumption: There is to be a State. There will be a transition to a different kind of State perhaps, but a State nonetheless. Kamel alludes to those who may want an Islamic government, such as in Iran. That group also wants a State.
One person who comments on this article speaks up for the pro-Mubarak contingent:
"They are not the majority! The majority approves Mubarak but their voices are not heard! The protesters are just more vocal activists, that is it."
In sum, no one is quoted as wanting no State at all. The different groups cited here are all talking about an Egyptian government. It will be perhaps a different government, or if the pro-Mubarak contingent wins out, generally the same kind of government, but it will still be a government.
If there are anti-State voices, they have not made it into this press release.
Why do people think only of maintaining the State in one form or another? Why is it that after such a poor experience with their State, they don't assign it to the trash heap of history? What is holding back the concept that people can live without the State and live better without it?
If I raise the possibility of living without a State to anyone, American or Egyptian, the odds strongly favor that they will look upon it as a crazy idea. I may elicit a condescending smile while they think to themselves that Michael's a nice guy but he has a screw or two loose when it comes to politics.
I believe that most people cannot see beyond the status quo. They have been taught to accept it. It is very possible to accept slavery or various degrees of enslavement and not even know it. People accept death and taxes.
If we push them further in their thinking, they raise many objections. Who will make the laws? Who will run the army? Who will be our leader? Who will aid the old, the disabled, the sick, and the widows? Who will help in emergencies? Who will take care that our neighbors across the border do not invade us? Who will negotiate with them? Who will police us and stop the bad guys from looting the good guys? Who will protect us?
I strongly suspect that if we push Egyptians, Brazilians, Russians, Chinese, Americans, or any People, we will run up against the same kinds of questions. Who is going to do what the governments now do? Even if they do these things unbelievably badly or not at all, we are going to meet with the firmly-held assumption that the State is a necessary thing.
Why do people accept the status quo of poor government? The masses vastly outnumber those in government. Egyptians could dismantle government entirely if they chose to. They are in a position today to do exactly that, but they won't. Why not?
Apprehension does not exhaust the reactions to life without government. There are many other reactions, including those who think that an elite exists who are better equipped to rule the many, and those who want a State for pecuniary reasons, and those who like to rule, and those who want a powerful State that we can hail and that will rule the Seven Seas.
But I believe that most folks are simply apprehensive. My guess is that most people have an uneasy feeling about an uncertain future without government. Not fear, but apprehension. In finance, the concept akin to this is risk-aversion. This apprehension includes distrust of other people.
To raise one's comfort level so as to conquer that apprehension takes education and familiarity, so that one can well-imagine a different future. This reduces the risk. One eliminates from one's mind the possibility of the unrealistically bad outcomes that one at first imagines.
To gain familiarity with living without the State, one may look at the many examples where we live without the State very nicely and comfortably. Alternatively, one may consider the logical aspects of life with and without a State so as to become persuaded that life without a State is not only feasible but a worthwhile goal and better than life with a State.
Apprehension is rational, or at least it is a normal reaction. Apprehension is conquerable, however. As people learn to supply for themselves the things that government provides, the apprehension will diminish. Building up private self-help networks, the private economy, and private means of security is what is meant by supplying things for ourselves.
If people possess irrational and deep-seated desires to be ruled or led by leaders who tell them what to do, this is not the same as apprehension. This, if it is the reason why people demand government, is much more difficult to overcome than apprehension. I don't believe this, however. I've never met large numbers of people that willingly would let themselves be pushed around by me or anyone else. If government pushes us around and people take it, it's for other reasons. I am saying that they see no alternative that carries a low enough risk.
Once a government has a foothold and a place among a people, it has many tools to maintain itself and grow its power. It can use economic and other inducements. It can use force and repression. It can use spying and propaganda. After awhile, even if people believe that they'd be better off without the State, they can't see a way to rid themselves of it. When that happens and the State becomes a Gordian knot, it has to be cut. The people in the Soviet Union cut the knot. The people in Egypt are doing some cutting of their own. The existing reality of life under these States becomes so bad that at least some of the apprehensions pale in significance compared to the potential gains. When one is starving and unemployed, these take priority. However, they don't usually lead so far as to eliminate the government entirely.
After apprehension as an explanation for people's political conservatism, I suspect that lack of imagination is an important reason. Most people simply do not think outside the box they are in. Before one can have apprehensions of life without a State, one must think about that alternative. Most people don't even get that far. They simply accept some version of the status quo. But like apprehension of life without a State, the failure even to imagine life without a State can be overcome. Education and exposure to the ideas helps accomplish that. It introduces the possibilities.
My bottom line is that there are two main reasons why we do not have freedom for all Persons now and everywhere. These are that most people do not even think of the possibility of life without the State and its government, and those who do think about this possibility reject it because of a number of apprehensions.
I believe that the Egyptians will construct some sort of alternative government for themselves, and my prayers go with them that it be a government shorn of as many powers as possible that are or can be turned against Egyptians as Persons. I think that Americans and Peoples in all lands are not in that different a position than the Egyptians who are on the streets protesting, even if we haven't taken to the streets. We are at a point where we are getting much closer to altering our relations with our State and government. We in America would also do well to be thinking about and constructing for ourselves alternatives to our existing State and government.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York. He is the author of the free e-book Essays on American Empire: Liberty vs. Domination and the free e-book The U.S. Constitution and Money: Corruption and Decline.