Previously by Tony Pivetta: The Little Flower and the Black Rose
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
~ Benjamin Franklin
Wily old Ben Franklin assumes too much. No party to his posited transaction agrees to give up anything to purchase anything else. That's not how it works. One party, the State, encroaches on the liberty of the other party, the individual. It does so always and everywhere, unfailingly and as a matter of course. That's the reality. As wily old Thomas Jefferson once put it, "The natural order of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."
This is not to say the State's "customers" don't clamor for safety. This is not to say they aren't willing to sacrifice liberty to get safety. This is not to say the State doesn't in fact deliver — "good and hard," as wily old H. L. Mencken once put it.
This is only to say there's nothing voluntary or contractual about the arrangement. The State is sovereign, not the citizen — democratic mythology notwithstanding.
The meme fails in another important respect: the very notion of trade-off is problematic. Whence the presumption one is sacrificed for the other? It seems reasonable enough to see the two rising and falling together: if you're freer, you're safer. For starters, consider the outfit purporting to protect you. Lew Rockwell has defined it as "the group within society that claims for itself the exclusive right to rule everyone under a special set of laws that permit it to do to others what everyone else is rightly prohibited from doing, namely aggressing against person and property."
These are the people protecting you? The ones with a license to steal, defraud, counterfeit, kidnap, incarcerate, spy, bludgeon, extort and kill?
Libertarians beg to differ: they see aggression as an intrinsically disordered act. "Government interference," in the immortal words of Ludwig von Mises, "always means either violent action or the threat of such action…. The essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning." Can violent means bring about peaceful and orderly ends?
Trading liberty for safety doesn't just mean deserving neither liberty nor safety; it means getting neither liberty nor safety. Centralized chaos — "beating, killing and imprisoning" — does not order make.
"Yes," the statists parry, "but the brutes, like the poor, we will always have with us. What do you propose we do about them? Better to trust the criminals on government payroll — who, at least, wear expensive suits, hold Ivy League degrees, and come off as oh-so-folksy and down-to-earth in their Diane Sawyer interviews — than the unkempt, inarticulate freelancers lurking in dark alleys on the bad side of town. Centralized chaos: you can't have order without it!"
The vaccination analogy applies. (And we all know of the smashing efficacy of that particular public health measure, don't we?) Our supervisors inject a mild dose of violence into the body politic; the body evades onset of the full-blown disease. Even then, though, Jefferson's "natural order of things" asserts itself. Drawn to administering ever-increasing doses, the State's preventive measures will prove ultimately more harmful than the disease. The Mussolini mindset looms: "Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State."
"Those who would give up essential safety to purchase a little temporary liberty deserve neither safety nor liberty"? If Franklin's admonition is flawed, how much more the fascist converse of that admonition!
Happily, most Western statists hold views more measured than il Duce's. They see the liberty-for-safety meme working its magic only within narrow (in their view) social-democratic parameters. Under those conditions, the beneficiaries of the administrative state reap dollops of order, safety, fairness, equality and justice for each unit of freedom sacrificed. But there comes a point of diminishing returns. This even the most hardened social democrat concedes. It then takes dollops of freedom to reap the most marginal enhancement to safety. Returns may even go negative further down the liberty-for-safety curve (LFSC) — for example, when tax rates for cradle-to-grave welfare grow so prohibitive they require police-state tactics to enforce. Then does social democracy cross the line into fascio-communism, with all the strife and privation that entails.
"One might think Yemen is chaotic — and it is. But the security apparatus is functioning with precision."
States rule by coercion, not consent. This fact alone undermines the trade-off meme: one can't very well trade under duress. But ideology mars it as well. To what extent can one trade liberty for safety assuming one is free to do so? Are the two necessarily inversely related? Is perfect liberty or safety possible? Since we value both, how do we best maximize them? Statists, libertarians, utopians, dystopians, authoritarians, social democrats, constitutionalists and anarchists all have their own a priori ideas on the matter.
Plotting units of statism ("Guns & Badges") against units of chaos ("Chaots") shows that they do. The graphs that follow — which, as a humble man of political-economic science, I have dubbed Pivetta Curves (P-Curves for short) — prove illuminating in this regard.
For both utopian and non-utopian statists, an increase in Guns & Badges decreases Chaots across a wide range, as illustrated in Figure 1. For the former, chaos decreases continuously, with LFSC u intersecting the x-axis at some point approaching infinity. This is political nirvana: the utopian's realization of Third Rome, Workers Paradise or The End of History, when all within the applicable fascist, communist or neoconservative realm is sweetness and light. (While many deem neoconservativism only a particularly aggressive brand of social democracy, some of its leading exponents — e.g., David Frum and Richard Perle — entertain definite utopian proclivities.)
The non-utopians are mainstream statists. They include European social democrats, American Democrats and Republicans, and — though they'll surely dispute it — Beltway Libertarians. This camp's LFSC n bottoms out when Guns & Badges reaches K. Beyond this point, Guns & Badges enters the realm of marginal disutility: additional units debilitate and de-civilize. (Beltway Libertarians' K may well fall to the left of other statists'K, and their n curve rise more steeply beyond, but that's all we can say about it.)
Moving on to Figure 2, we come to the LFSC of the camp most diametrically opposed to utopian statists: utopian anarchists. These ideologues promise a New Age of Perfect Freedom and Security if only society (really, a critical mass of individuals within society) comes to its senses and shrugs off political force. Needless to say, this vision bears as close a resemblance to reality as that of any utopian, namely, none at all. In this fallen world, there's no escaping, ultimately, the thousand natural shocks human action is heir to: e.g., petty theft, defamatory performance appraisals, backstabbing coworkers, barroom brawls, dine-and-dashers, shoplifters, petty thieves, unethical used car salesmen, domestic quarrels, missed roughing-the-kicker calls and the heartbreak of GERD. The State preserves far more disorder than it prevents, but disorder exists nonetheless in a state of nature. At some level, insecurity is a fact of life.
Figure 3 encapsulates the Weltanschauung of limited-government libertarians, Constitutionalists and other mainline minarchists. These people view society as largely self-ordering, even as they accept constitutionally limited (point C on the x-axis) violations of the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). In their view, the market is not equipped to deliver national defense, local policing and adjudication. Only a territorial monopolist of force can provide those services.
Nevertheless, mainline minarchists tend not to see civil society unraveling as a result of too much freedom. Their LFSC rises gently with diminishing G & B units less than C. Accordingly, this camp is likely to err on the side of liberty when faced with issues of balancing. Note also the disdain for utopianism: at no point does the mainline minarchists' LFSC cross the x-axis.
Figure 4 summarizes the view of the camp we might call the Constitutional Order Obsessives. Like the mainline minarchists represented in Figure 3, COOs regard any application of G & B units in excess of the constitutionally stipulated minimum inimical to liberty and safety. Unlike their counterparts, the COOs do not see human interactions as largely self-policing: their LFSC spikes with diminishing G & B units less than C. Government is a necessary evil!
COOs espouse few and enumerated violations of the NAP, as stipulated by the Constitution. They elevate those violations of the natural law to the stature of natural law itself. The contradiction doesn't faze them in the least. They believe the State must assault life and property in order to protect life and property.
COOs often see shadowy forces at work undermining the their Constitutionally-limited government. These sinister entities push for too many Guns & Badges or too few — sometimes both at the same time. "Pressure from above, pressure from below," the COOs call it. Chaots spike under either scenario. Since only an optimally sized nation-state can generate the tax revenue required to support an optimally sized protection racket meting out optimally sized violations of the NAP, COOs do not look favorably on secession movements. Fragmentation of their brave little republic ripens it for plucking by the Illuminati, who will proceed to collapse it into a one-world crypto-communist government. FEMA camps for the lot of us!
Erring on the side of liberty will not do. Striking the proper balance between liberty and safety is of paramount importance. The stakes are high.
"If you want to stop crime in America, start in the White House and work your way down."
Finally, we come to Fig. 5, the Rothbardian LFSC. This we might characterize as the sober anarchist model. While our best assurance of safe streets and personal freedom lies in the anarcho-capitalist ideal, i.e., rollback of Guns & Badges to nil, this camp entertains no illusions regarding the perfectibility of man. Freelance crime is a fact of human existence. Rothbardians recognize that fact; they aim only at keeping the overall level of crime — both freelance and State-perpetrated — to a minimum.
Eliminating the State eliminates society's most pervasive criminal element. This consideration alone recommends it. Moreover, by enlisting market forces in the battle against freelance crime, anarcho-capitalism, i.e., a fully privatized social order, is our best assurance we can keep the lesser knaves and ne'er-do-wells at bay. Entrepreneurs will fill the void left by the State's security (such as it is) apparatus. As is the case with every other good and service, the market will deliver the highest quality security at the lowest price.
"Liberty is the mother of order, not its daughter."
~ Pierre Proudhon
One might think the freedom movement, whether represented by libertarians, Constitutionalists or anarcho-capitalists, comprises reasonably kindred spirits. But the vehemence with which each camp attacks the other tells us otherwise. P-Curves points to the crux of it all: conflicting liberty-for-safety paradigms.
Nowhere, perhaps, are the disagreements marked by greater rancor than between Rothbardians and Constitutional Order Obsessives. At first glance, this is surprising. Most Rothbardians trace their intellectual development to the classical-liberal foundations of the Constitution. Even as anarchists, they retain a sentimental attachment the document. The politicos swear to uphold it. Why not hold their feet to the fire? Why not publicize their customary and unreasonable violations of it? Publication can foment discontent, which is all to the good. Limiting government to the powers enumerated in Article I, Section 8, would do much to advance the cause of freedom. Still, the Rothbardians ask, why draw the line there? What makes defense, policing and dispute resolution sui generis? Who says only a territorial monopolist of force is qualified to deliver them?
Special they are, the Constitutional Order Obsessives aver. There's a reason we call them "public services." So long as God's in Heaven, only a territorial monopolist of force is qualified to deliver them. It's right there in the 13th chapter of St. Paul's epistle to the Romans. Don't make the market the end-all of human existence. Besides, what's the alternative? Anarchy? Anarchy is flaky! Utopian! It's downright satanic!
COOs purse their lips disapprovingly. Anarchists trust people too much! They're so naïve!
As if parchment-limited government attracts only angels and automatons to its ranks. As if the COOs have formulated an elegant and compelling theory showing that it does. As if their beloved parchment-limited United State (sic) serves as exemplar for their theory.
Talk about naivety. The late, great Constitutionalist-turned-Reluctant-Anarchist Joseph Sobran learned to "put aside childish things." COOs fasten to them with idolatrous devotion.
The COOs flout the leftists' penchant for democracy. "The Commandment reads ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal,’" they chide, "not ‘Thou Shalt Not Steal Except By Majority Rule.’” Then they turn around and defend the "strictly limited" Thou-Shalt-Steal provisions of the Constitution, which even under a narrow reading (whose?!) justify all manner of assault on life and property.
“Thou Shalt Not Steal Except to Fund the Few and Enumerated Powers of the Federal Government as Stipulated by Article 1, Section 8,” the COOs argue. Who can mock that?
Like all statists, COOs posit a nexus of consent between the State and the citizenry. Unrestricted democracy may not embody the General Will, but a parchment-limited republic surely does. Put that in place, and you can be sure the State will act only in response to the people's implicit plea:
"Please, dear Criminal Government, tax me and lie to me. Debase my currency. Draft me, spy on me, toss me in the hoosegow. Read my email. Tap my telephone calls. Pry into my finances. Encourage my neighbors to "say something if they see something." Bomb, bilk and blockade foreigners in my name. When the foreigners retaliate, blame it on their hatred for my few remaining freedoms. Rendition me in an extraordinary manner to faraway and not so enchanting lands. Waterboard me. Threaten me with bodily injury up to and including death. Mock me, flout me, make sport of my garb. If you don't do it, the bad guys will. If the bad guys do it, chaos, anomie, apostasy, moral turbidity, debilitation, discord and despair will follow me all the days of my life.
"Take your guns and point them at me. Menace me softly with your song. Do it only to fund those few and enumerated public services spelled out in the Constitution. For you alone are authorized to interpret that u2018g**damned piece of paper!' You alone can deliver those services. You alone are sovereign lord. Yes, you will be inclined to interpret your powers expansively and my rights restrictively. But that's the price I'm willing to pay. I can't have order any other way. Besides, I'll be watching you! You know you'll have hell to pay if you overstep your bounds!
"Sing it with me now! No, not love — order! That's right: u2018I don't care what they say, I won't stay in a world without order!'"
Too bad order means accountability to the law. Too bad the State is accountable only to itself. Too bad an entity accountable only to itself is an inherently unaccountable entity. Too bad unaccountable means rogue and criminal. Too bad none of the minarchist strategies — ballot boxes, Bills of Rights, separation of powers — designed to make the State accountable have made it accountable to anybody but itself.
"The oligarchs think that the people are both dangerous and stupid. Their point is moot. But we do know that the oligarchs are a good deal more dangerous to the polity than the people at large."
~ Gore Vidal
So you're willing to sacrifice liberty for safety? How's that worked out for you so far? Sure, you're less free. Are you safer? You mean you're less free and less safe?! Funny how that works. When, by the way, was the last time somebody asked whether you were willing to give up liberty in return for safety? What's that? Nobody asked?!
"Want peace? Work for justice." So the leftist mantra goes. To which the anarcho-capitalist counters, "Want justice? Work for property rights. You won't have liberty, safety or justice without them."
Tony Pivetta [send him mail] lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, where he pines for a bygone era in which baseball actively strove to maintain its continuity with its past. He draws dark parallels between the rise of publicly financed stadiums and the demise of both the Grand Old Game and the cause of American liberty.