Love It or Leave It?

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Libertarians who criticize the United States government are sometimes told "If you don't like it here, leave." Sir Walter Scott's lines are a poetic reply:

"Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land? Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd, As home his footsteps he hath turn'd, From wandering on a foreign strand?"

Even the patriotic song "This Is My Country" at least begins well with

"This is my country! Land of my birth! This is my country! Grandest on earth!"

before it veers off into a pledge of allegiance, which is, however, to America, and not to the United States of America, which is America's federal government.

One's native land and country are not the government. America is not the United States of America, which is a government. One's land and country are not the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Transportation Security Administration. Emotion felt toward one's country is different than emotion felt toward the government of one's country.

Why connect one's consent or non-consent to government (one's loving it or not) to staying in the country or leaving it? Why connect consent to location? If one does not consent to a government, why is exit from the country thought to be a necessary implication? Why not simply end one's relations with that government and remain in the country?

The government won't let you. That's why.

A little background first.

Libertarians stand for freedom and against undesirable government coercion, which is coercion that is aggressive in nature and not defensive; or coercion that attacks freedom rather than protects it.

Libertarians are not necessarily anarchists. Anarchists either prefer no government at all for themselves or else are comfortable with a voluntary form of self-government. Some libertarians are anarchists, while others desire various forms of government. Both libertarians and anarchists do not want others to impose their governments on them. Panarchists are persons who desire that all persons, right down to the individual, have the freedom to choose their own governments within one's native land and country. This means that one country could contain many possible governments. As this freedom increases, it means that territoriality of government diminishes or even ceases.

Libertarians, anarchists and panarchists, whatever may be these shades of difference, all would be happy if other people would leave them to their own devices and not coerce them via governments.

Fred Reed recently expressed a degree of panarchist belief when he separated living in a country from consent to its government:

"A fruitful field of disengagement might be called domestic expatriation — the recognition that living in a country makes you a resident, not a subscriber. It is one thing to be loyal to a government that is loyal to you, another thing entirely to continue that loyalty when the Brown Shirts march and the government rejects everything that you believe in. While the phrase has become unbearably pretentious, it is possible to regard oneself as a citizen of the world rather than of the Reich."

This passage refers to a given person residing in a country without consenting (subscribing) to a government. This statement is consistent with panarchism. It contrasts sharply with the exercise of the right of revolution of an entire people that Jefferson proposes in the Declaration of Independence:

"That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…"

Jefferson reserved a right of revolution to an entire people. Panarchism does not preclude this possibility, but this is really not how revolutions proceed. Usually they are led by small groups that manage to install new and coercive governments. By contrast, panarchism is brought into being by any size group, from one person on up, that is able to release itself from coercive government restrictions to any degree.

To panarchists, the right to alter government is not a right only of "the people" as a whole but of every single person. Freedom is at the level of each person. It is not necessarily an idea belonging to an aggregate called "the people". However, whatever person or group or people can gain a freedom-expanding concession from government by removing some coercion, even if others do not, is altering its relation to government. A partial abolition of some facet of government occurs.

For example, there are 564 Indian tribes (nations) in America that currently have their own relations, as peoples, with the U.S. government. This number is not fixed. The Amish do not have a separate nation within a nation but their church officials led a campaign that ended in 1965 with the Old Order Amish not having to pay social security taxes. On the other hand, the government (through the Food and Drug Administration) is enforcing restrictions on Amish sales of unpasteurized milk to willing customers.

Lysander Spooner criticized the Constitution as not being a contract among known individuals who agreed to it and signed it. Spooner's analysis of consent reaches the point where he writes

"The question, then, returns, what is implied in a government’s resting on consent?

"Manifestly this one thing (to say nothing of the others) is necessarily implied in the idea of a government’s resting on consent, viz: the separate, individual consent of every man who is required to contribute, either by taxation or personal service, to the support of the government."

"Separate, individual consent of every man" is the key conclusion of any logical analysis of consent such as Spooner's. This is the panarchist view. Panarchists are aiming for each and every person to get out from under a government that is not of their choice. Jefferson wrote

"That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Panarchists take this seriously. Consent of the governed does not mean consent of an arbitrary group that someone designates as "a people" or as "the people". It means individual consent.

It is the case that some persons wish to be coerced by a government in certain matters. They accept that government willingly and allow such coercion. In this choice there is no diminishment of their freedom. But when that government coerces other persons who do not accept that government's rule, then those involuntarily-coerced persons suffer a loss of freedom.

Those people who want their governments to coerce them in certain activities or want their goverments to have certain powers over them have a right to erect such governments; but they do not have a right to erect their coercive governments over other people who do not want them or choose them.

One denies freedom to others when one denies them their right to consent to coercive governments for themselves. Libertarians and anarchists cannot make others free by abolishing their governments — not if those people want them. Efforts to persuade others of the virtues of life without government should not be misconstrued as attempts to infringe upon the right to choose one's government — even a coercive government at that.

Whoever supports the most extensive freedom of every person cannot favor governments that coerce people who do not wish to be coerced, but they can tolerate governments whose subjects consent to them, as long as they keep their coercion limited to those who consent.

The loss of freedom today is very large because today's governments exercise extensive powers upon non-consenting persons as a routine matter. Since these powers touch so very many aspects of people's lives, freedom of the person is vastly diminished. This would not be the case if governments allowed exit or personal secession within the country; but, to the contrary, they nearly always exclude the freedom of each person to exit from a government's rule while remaining in the country. Governments punish attempts to exit. Governments punish attempts to live under alternative rules and laws.

The freedom to exit the oppressions of unwanted government is a long-sought centuries-old goal, often accomplished through migration or physical exit from a country. This goal is far from being a reality. Present-day governments with constitutions would have us believe that all of us are free because of various voting procedures or some semblance of rule of law, but of course all of us are not free. Most of us can find many denials of freedom in our lives.

Libertarian calls for greater freedom and libertarian statements that many people in this and other "free" countries lack freedom often meet with denial, resentment and anger. Libertarians are sometimes told to pack up and leave if they don't like it. This suggestion only proves that the freedom to exit is exactly that freedom which people do not currently possess, for freedom to exit from a government means freedom to choose one's government where one lives.

It is undeniably true that one may expatriate or emigrate as a means of seeking greater freedom, but why should a person have to move? Being forced to move in order to exit a government means that one is subject to a government's coercion. Moving should be voluntary. One's country and one's land are not the same as the government that claims to rule that country and the persons living in that land. Leaving the country, leaving one's land, and leaving one's relations and relationships behind in order to exit a government is not a solution consistent with full freedom. That action is chosen by some only because the government coercively claims jurisdiction over territory and all persons within that territory. Those who leave their country are being involuntarily coerced into a second-best solution.

Panarchists point out that territory is the heart of the matter. Territory is the device by means of which governments inflict uniformity of law when what is required for full freedom is non-uniformity of law within a given land. One person's government may wish to forbid drugs for its subscribers, but another person's government may not. One person's government may wish to coerce everyone into a health insurance policy while another person's may not. One person's government may wish to tax its subjects, arm some of them and attack Libya while another person's government may not. A high degree of freedom in a land or country cannot occur when government is government by territory and when that government possesses power over many facets of life and living.

All of Spooner's No Treason is worth reading carefully. Spooner wrote of the Civil War

"The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.

"No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom."

Majority rule doesn't determine right. Freely-given consent is the support of a government of free persons:

"Majorities and minorities cannot rightfully be taken at all into account in deciding questions of justice. And all talk about them, in matters of government, is mere absurdity. Men are dunces for uniting to sustain any government, or any laws, except those in which they are all agreed. And nothing but force and fraud compel men to sustain any other. To say that majorities, as such, have a right to rule minorities, is equivalent to saying that minorities have, and ought to have, no rights, except such as majorities please to allow them."

The only way that persons can all agree to a set of laws and a government within what we call a country like America is to abandon the idea that a government must be territorial. A government of free people is not marked by borders and territory imposed by government or arrived at by wile, treachery, seizure, and warfare, but by people who freely consent or subscribe to it. Instead of the territorial notion of government, or the notion that majority rules in a given territory, government is properly thought of as something to which a group of persons willingly subscribe, while leaving other groups to subscribe to their preferred governments or none at all.

If some persons form a government, what right do they have to govern, make laws and tax everyone within a territory that their government claims, even those who do not consent? None. Governments routinely rule out secession by their claims to territory and their claims to rule over everyone within that territory. They back up these claims by force, not right.

It is when governments peacefully allow exceptions to their coercive laws for some persons or groups, or recognize different laws for different groups within their borders, or allow some lands to escape their jurisdiction, or allow peoples to secede and form their own governments that we get movement in the direction of greater freedom.

There are many separatist movements throughout the world. They struggle. This is because governments and majorities refuse freedom to minorities. It is quite often the case that groups seeking to end the domination of one government behave no differently from the government they seek to replace or secede from. They often believe in coercing those who may fall into its newly-won domain as defined by a new set of borders. Even secessionists fail to recognize that the principle of secession as a bulwark of freedom of the person can only be applied consistently right down to the personal level.

The right or freedom personally and individually to choose one's government goes largely unrecognized, unacknowledged and unsupported. It is not only not taken seriously in today's world by almost everyone, it is a freedom that is denied by governments worldwide and denied with force of arms and bloodshed.

Consent of the governed should be a matter of clear, open and free choice of each person. Consent of the governed cannot be inferred from a situation in which government has the guns and individual persons obey, or in which citizens must follow a set of highly complex voting procedures, determined by governments and parties, within and bounded by bordered territories in which governments reign without competition.

The usual ways to alter this situation are unusual. They involve revolutions, rebellions, and bloody secessionist movements; and they often lead right back to governments that are territorial. The alternative is to recognize the right to choose one's government and that government need not necessarily be territorial.

Across the world, people are automatically placed beneath and under governments by virtue of where they happen to live. The spot of territory where one happens to be born or where one spends one's life is the criterion that governments use in order to identify, tag, monitor and coerce people. The territorial principle that governments invoke is, with few exceptions, that all those people within its borders are its subjects or citizens, regardless of whether or not they willingly accept the coercions that such a government entails. Governments at all levels do not allow people under them to opt out. They do not allow secession down to the personal level, which is what freedom to choose one's government actually means.

Governments fight tooth and nail against secession. The very existence of these governments as territorially-coercive entities is why they fight secession, and this resistance to secession is clear proof that today's governments are coercing people who do not want to be coerced.

Government by territory and by coercion within territory cannot be reconciled with full freedom of the person and consent of the governed. At the extremes, it is one or the other. In between the extremes, which is life as we know it, there is a constant struggle that moves us toward greater coercion or toward fuller freedom of the person.

Who has the gall to tell the Amish that if they do not like the government's milk regulations that they can jolly well pack up and leave the country? The FDA does. The government does. This is the government's policy and if you live in this country, you shall obey.

Almost every American today is the Amish. Everyone must obey all sorts of objectionable uniform laws and regulations, without exception. Love it here or leave. The reason for this connection is force, not justice. This is coercive government by territory. It is not government by consent.

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.

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