"The Secret of Liberty is Not Revolution"

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Gary North is out with a short essay, There Will Be No Revolution. I am tempted to call it the most important essay on advancing liberty since Friedrich Hayek’s The Intellectuals and Socialism, perhaps even more important.

I have long argued here at EPJ that direct confrontation with the government makes little sense. I have also argued that the problem with most revolutions is that generally what occurs is that one bad actor is simply replaced with another.

North in his essay argues that this is the nature of revolution. He writes:

Revolutions centralize power. In order to fight centralized power militarily, you must centralize power, and this only leads to a shift of loyalty to a new group of centralists….

Revolutionaries have to have a centralized agenda. Either it’s open, or it isn’t. But there is always a centralized agenda with every revolutionary movement. Every revolutionary always thinks his revolution is going to be the last one. Every revolutionary thinks that when he gets in control of the hierarchical chain of command, things are going to be different. Yes, they will be different. There will be a different set of looters skimming off the productivity of the victims.

Until conservatives stop dreaming about capturing existing hierarchical systems of power, nothing is going to change.

He also argues that the true path to liberty is not via revolution, that is direct confrontation with the government via another group of centralized operators, but by secession from the government:

 With massive decentralization, there comes, not revolution, but secession. I don’t mean secession like the secession of the American South, which was just another way to centralize power in the South. The governor of Georgia, Joe Brown, saw that one for what it was. It was just another group of armed revolutionaries seeking to centralize power in the region they wanted to control…

You don’t need a revolution to escape the system. You need secession. You need a withdrawal of support for the existing systems. You need to revoke the legitimacy which you extended to these organizations. You need to do it, and everybody else needs to do it. Nobody organizes this. People just learn, scandal by scandal, bureaucratic snafu by bureaucratic snafu, that the system is irreparable. It cannot be reformed. It must not be captured. It must be de-funded. The secret of liberty is not revolution; the secret of liberty is to de-fund the existing centralized order.

North’s observations here are extremely important. They provide an important understanding of how we can get from where we are to a libertarian society.

My one disagreement with North comes with regard to how close we are to a secessionist movement that changes society. He seems to be quite optimistic that it is already starting. My view is that while there may be pockets where secessionist type decentralization is developing, it is far from an overwhelming force. More people need to have the instinct to withdraw “support of the existing systems.” Yes, perhaps it can evolve on its own, but this may take a very, very long time, if at all—the problem is that there are still too many people who see government and/or revolution as the answer. There is nothing wrong with attempting to speed up the secession process by getting the message out that the current system is irreparable, that revolutions don’t work, and that withdrawal of support of centralized power, i.e., the government, is the answer.

Further discussion of North’s observations combined with discussion of Hayek’s observations on the nature of the dissemination of ideas, and the questions and problems he raises, can probably do more to help us understand how to move toward liberty than anything else we can do.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

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