The Sovereign Individual
by Helio Beltrão
Award acceptance speech was delivered at the XXIII Forum da Liberdade,
in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on April 12, 2010.
Fração, it is a pleasure to be here, at this XXIII
Forum da Liberdade, whose theme is based on Ludwig von Mises’s Economic
Policy book [known in Brazil as The Six Lessons].
Mises was one of the greatest intellectuals of the twentieth century,
a resolute and uncompromising champion of freedom. Fifty
years ago, Mises came to South America and delivered those six historic
lectures, which are heralded and quoted just outside, at the Forum’s
exhibit. Today, there is a great international revival of
Misesian ideas – including in Brazil – which show the benefits that
consumers and workers derive when they are free to venture, to chart
their course, and to fulfill their desires.
in Porto Alegre, there is a great concentration of intellectual
heirs of Ludwig von Mises. We, from Instituto Mises Brasil, have
just concluded our first Conference, which was a great success,
and it could not have been otherwise! The energy emanating from
you is contagious. We have here today many scholars and experts
of the Austrian School of Economics. Tom Woods, one of the
speakers at our Conference and the bestseller author of Meltdown,
will address you tomorrow. The legendary founder and Chairman of
the Mises Institute – Lew Rockwell – is also among us tonight! Without
Lew, there would be no Mises Institute, no revival of the Austrian
School, no Instituto Mises Brasil. Thank
you, Lew. And above all, thanks to you, President Fração,
to IEE [The Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies], for your support
to our Conference and especially for your achievements in the fight
for liberty. Results come first in this contest; the results of
the work of IEE and of the Forum da Liberdade are both evident and
quantifiable. Congratulations, IEE!
On other occasions,
I customarily speak about finance and economics, about the measures
that are likely to bring about a more prosperous society; in other
words, as did Mises, I usually speak about what works and
what does not.
the first time, I am addressing a different subject. I speak about
what moves me. I speak about where my energy, as an individual,
originates. Its source is here, in this advanced and progressive
libertarian community, which looks forward to real changes;
not merely illusory changes from campaign slogans. I feel
at home. It is a great honor to receive the Libertas Award.
of ethics has been a history of exploitation. From time immemorial,
individuals were set apart into two groups: those that must obey
the rules, and those that need not. The people must observe ethics
and morals, while rulers not.
that you and I must observe correctly advocates that one should
not steal the property of others, should not murder, and should
not force others to do something against their will.
But note that
those ethical rules do not apply to government – the government
takes your money, calls it "democratic taxes," and presto!
– it is now authorized to steal.
If one enslaves
another, this is considered a heinous crime. After all, slavery
is the antithesis of individuality! However, in the case of
government, they will draft you to "serve your nation"
for a year, call this conscription "military service,"
and serfdom becomes perfectly legal.
If one kills
a neighbor, this is murder. However, if he is an agent of the government
– particularly that of the United States – using an olive-green
uniform, and invoking a "preventive" war or similar excuse,
suddenly it becomes permissible to murder; legally.
is a crime, but only for you and me. For the government has the
money-printing machine, or more precisely, the counterfeiting
machine. If it is they doing it, fine. If it is we, we go to jail.
years ago, a substantial part of the population in the Americas
was comprised of slaves. One hundred percent of the fruits of their
labor were the property of their owners. Today,
we are no longer slaves. However, about 40 to 50% of the
product of your efforts and talent are not your property, but your
masters’: that is, the government and its friends. This is what
you pay, whether you like it or not, embedded in the prices of the
products, or through other taxes, duties, or tariffs. We are no
longer slaves, but we are serfs.
the slave owner would threaten to punish with a whip a slave who
refused to work. Now, if you refuse to pay the government, you are
summoned and attacked with lawsuits, until you are finally thrown
into jail. In both cases, the violence is of the same nature. The
gun doesn’t even need to be displayed, as in the case of the customary
robber. The mere threat of violence suffices. But the gun is always
present, in the robber’s pocket and in the ruler’s jacket.
Theft and slavery
are crimes, even if sanctioned by the majority of the people! Theft
of the government, by the government, and for the government is
somehow accepted and rationalized by the population at large.
Why does that majority agree with this theft?
We must analyze
the most misrepresented concept nowadays: the concept of democracy.
use of the term "democracy" conveys a certain disrespect
for semantics. Most of us utilize the word democracy when we actually
mean other concepts, such as the "rule of law," "liberty,"
"equality before the law," "individual rights,"
"solid institutions," "justice," and other concepts
that have specific words to designate them. Democracy is, formally,
the regime of majority rule, that is, the majority of voters decides
whatever it sees fit. Or, as is commonly said, it is the tyranny
of the majority – which in practice means the tyranny of the minority:
that of the politicians who rule over our lives and property.
of meanings has practical consequences. When we say that Brazil
is a "democracy," we assume that we are "rulers of
ourselves" – while, in fact, there are still rulers on the
one hand, and citizen-subjects on the other. The concept of democracy
is employed to obfuscate and confound, with the purpose of having
us believe that there is equality among all.
or not by the smoke and mirrors, why do we suffer so much at the
hands of those ruler-governors, if we are many and they are few?
Why do we become enchanted with the belief that our ruler-governors
are just and benevolent, when we experience evidence otherwise every
day, everywhere? Why do we allow so many abuses of liberty and property,
if the power the rulers possess is only that which we bestow onto
them? Why do we let them treat us like beasts?
of our rights does not require that we take up arms, demonstrate,
or even vote – we are, after all, a much larger legion than our
ruler-governors. In a face-to-face combat of the many against the
few, where the many fight for the grand prize of liberty, while
the few fight for the chance to subjugate the many, it is likely
that no shots need be fired before the many are declared the winners.
We, therefore, reach the paradoxical conclusion that we don’t reclaim
our rights because we do not want to; because we support, explicitly
or tacitly, the tyranny inflicted by the ruler-governors.
famous movie The
Matrix illustrates the point. In a somber future, human
beings are enslaved by machines, kept in captivity in a deep hypnotic
sleep to supply energy to the machines, but are led to believe that
they live normal lives. The illusion is virtually perfect – humans
genuinely believe they are walking freely in the streets, or eating
a juicy steak. But that is merely a virtual reality – called "the
Matrix" – which the machines generate by pumping electrical
stimuli into humans’ brains. The machines, originally created to
serve humans, have turned against and enslaved them.
In the movie,
some individuals – those that take the red pill – succeed in seeing
reality as it is: that the Matrix is in fact a prison – the concoction
of a well-devised delusion – and that their bodies are in captivity
without their knowledge. But even those that take the red pill cannot
escape the virtual reality’s elaborate chains. Some refuse to reflect
upon what is really happening; others know they live a delusion,
but rationalize their status – they conjecture that it is tough
to change it, that it was always like this, and end up opting to
live under the comfort of their bondage.
But, as I said
before, nothing needs to be taken from the tyrants – one needs only
to cease giving them what is his own! In the movie, this would take
place if he desires to wake up from the hypnotic sleep, and proceed
to sever the wires that fill his brains with the Matrix, stand up
on his feet and walk, free.
it is simpler to end the bondage. You must become aware that no
one may rule your life without your consent, no matter what the
excuse or argument, smoke and mirrors notwithstanding. You must
recognize that no one knows better than you what is best for yourself;
that there is no political authority above you; that you don’t have
any owners, and therefore, that you don’t need to pay tribute to
obtain your liberty or tranquility. And when that realization comes,
you will say to yourself: I am a sovereign individual!
The Matrix, this insight comes in a scene, in virtual reality,
where countless machine guns are fired against the hero, Neo. He
looks at the guns and realizes that the explicit violence has no
effectiveness without his own consent – the bullets dissolve into
digital zeroes and ones. Neo grabs one floating bullet between his
fingers, and the whole apparatus of the enemy tumbles, powerless.
when we cease to support voluntarily our own serfdom.
would like to point out that it is not necessary to change the world
or to create a nation of sovereign individuals. What matters – and
what one can do right now – is to live as a sovereign individual,
staying close to those who respect you as such, and avoiding the
manipulators and those who desire to live as parasites on your energy,
talents, and virtues. Therefore, we may achieve freedom to a large
extent during our lifetimes, independently of any eventual failure
to end the serfdom perpetrated by the state. If you behave as a
sovereign individual in your personal relationships, you will be
contributing to your happiness and also to the transmission of the
concept of individual sovereignty. That chain of good, I am certain,
will abolish the chains of evil.
Beltrão [send him mail]
is the founder and president of Instituto