The following is an excerpt from the Epilogue of Robert LeFevres autobiography A Way To Be Free which was written towards the end of his life. It is his personal reflections on the cause of liberty after a lifetime in pursuit.
What have I learned as a result of my experiences?
I have learned that man-made government is mans great enemy. Further, my own experiences with the Freedom School, and then with Rampart College demonstrates that a man-made government is not necessary. There, in those beautiful foothills of the Rampart Range in Colorado, we lived without government protection and services to the degree possible at this time. Degree possible denotes my own limited ability to create conditions outside and separated from government at any and all levels. Doubtless, others will come along having more ability who will be able to move further in this direction than I can.
The new frontier, waiting to be conquered by man isnt a continent, or even the vast reaches of space. Were a new location to be found were it possible to achieve colonization of some planet other than Earth a flight to take up residence would be an escape, a way of temporizing with the real frontier.
Todays frontier challenge comes from the mind.
It is absurd to suppose that all will see this, or prepare to cope with it. Nor is it necessary. No frontier has ever demanded that everyone cross the barriers. Nor has there ever been a guarantee that those who do cross it will find paradise. Indeed, there is no guarantee whatever. Doubtless many wrong avenues will be followed. Predictably, some persons will fail and even die in making the attempt.
But the future of our species beckons in that direction. Human beings are going to have to learn to live in a society that is not ruled by man-made government. This was not always true, but it is true now. Relocating with the same philosophic baggage in tow will produce the same errors we are struggling with now.
At this juncture, the argument of the unthinking invariably surfaces. Every human being is capable of performing evil deeds, it will be said. And this is true.
We cannot afford the evil that human beings are capable of inflicting on their fellows. This is also true.
It follows, therefore, say my opponents, That we must have a government capable of restraining those who would perform these evil deeds.
Then in a burst of generous condescension, my adversaries exclaim: You would probably be correct, LeFevre, if men would somehow behave themselves properly. But they dont. Clearly, if men were good, government could be abandoned. But human nature wont change. And, therefore, we must have a government to impose by force upon all, so that those evil doers are captured and punished, either on a local scale or world-wide.
I believe I have stated the position of my adversaries fairly. There is invariably the same oversight. If we have a government, it will be human beings who will be hired to restrain the evil in others. Who are these persons who will be hired, either by popularity contests or by direct application? They will be just as human and as much disposed toward evil as those to be restrained.
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If people are capable of committing evil deeds, then the people occupying the offices of government will be cut from the same cloth. They are evildoers, too. There is not a single shred of evidence that they will be otherwise.
If men are capable of committing evil actions, granting them power over others makes evil actions certain. But there is a difference. When men in government commit an evil act, they are legally shielded from the consequence of the act. If ordinary people, endowed with neither rights nor powers over our fellows, began to behave on a daily basis the way the people in government behave, then the world would be in flames. We would have a reign of terror in which ordinary people went from house to house, took what they wanted, and proclaimed that their need justified their performance.
As a matter of fact, that is what we are beginning to experience, and we call it terrorism. But all that is happening is that small groups of persons noting what governments have done since they were devised have set themselves up to emulate their political masters.
The frontier of the mind is a frontier that decries terrorism from all persons, not merely from those without legal protection for the violence they inflict.
If a band of armed men with the latest devices for mass murder raid an opposing country, we wait to learn who sent them. If they are the minions of some state, we applaud their bravery. If they are acting independently of government, we call them terrorists.
But if we care to be honest, it is the nature of an act that makes it one of terror, not the name of the sponsor.
There was a time in mans history when such actions may have been necessary and even fruitful. When man lived in a state of barbarism, governments were the barbaric answer to every problem. Kill or be killed, was the rule.
This was at a time when the best techniques for murder centered on the athlete. They benefited the man strong enough to wield a sword and skillful enough to shoot an arrow, or even a bullet. The people who risked life and limb in these contests was limited by the size of the armies of the respective combatants.
That age has passed. Our technologies have marched in the direction of peace, while our politicians continue to gird for war. Now we have the equivalent of death rays (the laser) and an explosive potential so vast that we talk calmly of wiping out a hundred or more cities at a time.
Our athletes today train for football, basketball, and other spectator sports. And mean little men cower in bunkers far underground, pushing buttons. The same motivation grips them that mastered Genghis Khan or Torquemada.
We are the good guys! they proclaim. Those other guys are bad. For the triumph of good we must kill them or they will surely kill us!
Or, they say: We must teach them our catechism so they see the world and Creation as we do. Since our way is good and all others evil, we are doing good if we inflict our wills upon them before they inflict their wills upon us.
Then a further and presumably conclusive argument is offered. We know that those other guys are bad because of what they have done. We are merely evening the score!
Will the government that has never cast a stone please stand up to be identified?
I have spent my life as a crusader. I love my country, which love begot my efforts when I saw what I took to be an alien philosophy encroaching on the concepts set forth in the Declaration of Independence. I am still enlisted in that crusade.
But as I labored to restore the dream of freedom and independence of our ancestors, I realized that the American government in its actions, was much an enemy of freedom and independence as any other government on earth.
In the name of freedom, it enslaved us and made us dependent upon it. In the name of protection, it committed such actions of intervention and violence throughout the world that other people see it as a danger of vast proportions, thus increasing the risk we all face. To cloak its behavior in benign garb, it performed various acts of alleged generosity; it used the money it had wrested from the toiling, perspiring workers by force. It punished success and rewarded failure.
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There is something else I learned as well. Freedom cannot be imposed; it must be earned. It will not arrive with the blare of trumpets and the sound of marching boots. I cannot make you free, much as we both might approve.
Real freedom will come quietly when the idea of liberty so dominates the informed mind that the individual blessed with those thoughts begins to act in accordance with the principles of live and let live.
The merit of human existence is found in human variation, not in cloning. The thrill of achievement comes because an individual learns to excel, not because he blanks out his individuality and makes himself part and party of the group.
This means that, in a total sense, we will never have a free society. We will, instead, have free individuals who strive within a culture where non-freedom continues to lurk. It is our own nature, as human beings, which we must conquer, not the nature of others. The job must be performed one by one.
Why do I see a free society in a total sense as an impossibility? Because we were not all born at the same moment and will not all live in the same way with the same values. Some of us are younger and some older than others. Some of us have had more experience. We are not all endowed with equal potential for wisdom or restraint.
Freedom is not a goal that can be achieved; it is the necessary means to all other goals.
In the final analysis, all governments consist of human beings. We have nothing but people with which to work. To imagine the human beings calling themselves government are endowed with the ability to achieve goals which persons outside of government could not achieve, is to ascribe mystical or divine powers to government.
Where is the evidence to sustain such a conclusion?
I am told that government is necessary for us to have highways and roads.
Governments do not build roads using equipment, natural resources, and manufactured products. Government does not provide any of these things.
I am told that government provides the money with which to pay for the people and the equipment and the products used.
But the government has no money of its own. All that it has it wrests from those who earn money by productive effort. If this were not true, government would immediately halt all taxation. If government halted all taxation, then it would cease to exist.
In short, people provide roads. In the interest of justice and fair play, those who use the roads should pay for them and those who do not use the roads should not be required to pay for them.
I am told that we must have government in order to adjudicate disputes.
Government does not adjudicate anything. People do all the adjudicating that is done.
There are only four possible outcomes of every dispute. You win; you lose; you compromise; or, you keep disputing. There are no other possibilities. It does not require a black robe or a high bench to discern the reality of disputes or their settlement.
Disputes will have to be adjudicated. Government is not needed people are. A judgment is as good as the wisdom within it. The black robe cloaks the lack of wisdom.
I am told we must have government in order to protect society. I marvel at the protection government provides. There is hardly a spot on earth that hasnt been torn up and damaged by war a government exclusive or by roving bands of terrorists who make their own private wars as they emulate governments, or seek to set up one of their own.
I do not see government protection. Each government treats certain other governments with favoritism, thereby awakening the cupidity of some and the envy of others. Government converts the world into an armed camp, in which human beings stand guard so that other human beings wont attack. But the only reason for wanting to attack is the existence of the other government in the first place.
When war comes, people are drafted and shot at in order to protect the government that created the tensions that led to the war.
Government cannot even protect its own politicians.
Two recent Presidents escaped assassination attempts, not because they were well protected, but because their assailants were inept.
The last time a President was assassinated, it occurred in broad daylight on a busy street in front of crowds of people. The government investigation created a continuing dispute as to how many people tried to kill President Kennedy, which one did kill him, and why.
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Meanwhile, a man was arrested and accused of the crime. While the alleged villain was in a police building, surrounded by government protection, he was gunned down in front of a national television audience. We call this protection?
A policeman is only an armed guard. An armed guard is as effective as his skills make possible; whether he was hired by the government or not has little to do with those skills.
In short, whatever protection is possible can be and has been provided by people. Government has merely provided a mystique. It suggests that by granting a group of persons a license to steal, beat up, and murder others, society will be protected.
The final argument is that if the laws are stern enough if the police are granted total power, are armed, and stationed at frequent intervals on the street then crime will cease. Particularly if the courts back up the police in their accusations.
Were such a procedure to be followed, freedom would cease and every urban center would be no more than a prison. But even this would not stop crime. In support of that last conclusion, might I suggest that an examination of the incidence of crime occurring inside prisons be undertaken. There, in a confined area, with armed guards in sight of everyone, we have one of the largest and most persistent recurrences of every crime known to man.
I could go on with one illustration after another; but cataloging governmental failures is not necessary. The reality we confront as a result of human nature stands starkly before us all.
There are three points that must be looked at now. Each stands in the way of our maximizing human well being. They may even stand in the way of human survival.
One is human gullibility. What we want is a world in which crime never appears. That is impossible to achieve as a totally free society. It will never occur. A few moments serious reflection should show that there would always be someone who is angry, maladjusted, emotionally upset, or sadistic. Some of those persons will, at the same time, be cunning and clever. Crimes will occur.
But we are gullible. When a politician announces that he will achieve what we want if we grant him more power, we grant him that power. He will not achieve it, because such an achievement is contrary to the reality with which we must deal.
But our gullibility, our belief in centralized power, now administers the coup de gras to our reason. If we shift the problem to the shoulders of government, then we can shift responsibility. And that is what we want. We can put the problem out of our minds. When a crime occurs, it is now the other fellows fault. So we authorize the government to commit crimes which, were we to do them, we would be criminals ourselves. So we change the meaning of words. A crime committed against a criminal is no longer a crime.
The second point we must consider has an equally fallacious base. It is the assumption that, to improve human well being, we must all act together. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, we will never all act together. That is contrary to human nature. If human history tells us anything, it tells us that human beings do not agree. There are a half dozen major religions in the world and at least half a hundred interpretations of those religions.
There are scores of philosophies and thousands of explanations of practically everything.
Human beings do not yet universally agree that there is a right or a wrong, that two and two add up to four, that the world is round, or that human beings cannot fly.
I have met thousands of human beings. I have never yet met a man totally capable of handling his own affairs. We all make mistakes. Our species falls far short of the perfection of which we like to dream.
But I have reached one conclusion that has to stand. While no human being can manage his own affairs perfectly, he will handle the affairs of others with less effectiveness than he handles his own. Most believe the contrary, demonstrating that we believe according to our fantasies, not according to reality.
And now a third point.
Like children, we want to even the score. We want vengeance and retaliation. We want restitution from, and punishment inflicted upon the wrong doer.
That is the glowing ember of hate that keeps governments alive.
To achieve vengeance, retaliation, to command restitution, and to punish others demands the ability to injure human beings.
My opponents at this point can be heard on every hand. Why dont you think he deserves to be injured? Look at what he did?
I carry no brief in favor of the criminal. That is why I carry no brief in defense of those in government. Setting a thief to catch a thief doubles the amount of loot stolen.
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But look at all the evil deeds that have been committed! I am urged; Do you want those villains to get away with it?
My answer is: They already got away with it or they would not be criminals.
Nor am I comforted by those who say to me: youre right, LeFevre. And government is wrong. So we will set up private agencies of retaliation and restitution (which will be called protection companies.) Then, when we go after the criminals and force them to repay or we will imprison or kill them, we will be doing good since people will voluntarily pay for our services. Taxation can be dispensed with.
Any agency that carries out the public will to commit violent acts upon other human beings whether authorized by legal federal or by sponsors putting up the funds is, by its actions, a form of government.
Government is nothing more than a group of people who sell vengeance and retribution to the inhabitants of a limited geographic area at prices made possible by force (either monopolistic or competitive) and charge by those who carry the guns.
So the cry continues: Let us even the score. Then, we can have peace.
Let us see about, evening the score.
The United States was, to a large degree, wrested from the prior inhabitants by force, trickery, or both. To even the score, this land must be returned to its former owners.
I do not condone what happened and I cannot deny it. But the fact is that those persons performing the trickery and imposing the force are all dead. The wrongs perpetrated cannot be made right. Many of us who live here now are the descendants of some of those persons. Many others are not. But long before the first European settlement appeared on these shores, those holding the terrain stole the same resources from each other.
If we are to be fair and honest, the effort to even the score must go beyond returning the land. Those of us here have produced nearly everything we have from this same land. Since the land must be restored, if follows that all that has been gained through it must also be returned to the original owners.
That would mean that every non-Indian in America must be pauperized. Sure, you would not want to see the thief gain at the expense of those he has wronged?
Such a procedure is clearly absurd. We dont know precisely who was wronged, or how much and how many have gained thereby. What is done is done, however wrongly.
Consider some of our more current exploits. Consider the bombs we have dropped in Europe, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. That has to be made right, too. Whatever was taken must be restored.
It is impossible.
How about the state of Israel? It was wrested from the Palestinians with the concurrence of certain modern governments including our own. Why? The claim was that it had originally been the land of the Israeli. True enough. After they had wrested it from the Canaanites. And before that? The Canaanites were taking it from each other.
The human race, through its various governments, is facing its past and endeavoring to make the past less bloody than it has been. To do so, we must shed more blood. Our present is filled with gore and our future has become aproblematical.
The amount of human life and treasure expended on taking care of the past is destroying the present and putting the human future into eclipse. All in the name of getting even.
Goethe was never more wise than when he said: Let the dead past bury its dead.
When I recite these facts to those who listen, many respond: You may be right, LeFevre. Peace is better than war. As soon as I got my vengeance, my restitution, whatever is coming to me or mine, we can stop.
On that basis, governments will never stop. Their furnaces are fired by human hatred and the lust from vengeance the desire to get even. This is the human malady. It is the father of terrorism and the mother of the modern state.
War is the luxury of barbarism, a luxury that civilized life cannot afford. It comes down to you and me in a very personal way. Have you ever been wronged? I have. Indeed, if you have managed to absorb much of the foregoing, you have the story of some of the times I have experienced injury at the hands of others.
I am told constantly that the desire for vengeance is an unavoidable characteristic of our kind. It has become a characteristic, but it is not inevitable. Infants are not born with a thirst for vengeance. They learn it. Let them be taught something else.
The truth and I have tried to tell it is that I, too, have wronged others. I havent intended to. Nonetheless, it has happened.
If we care to be honest, few of us can claim no wrongdoing. Presuming, of course, that we have matured enough to attend school.
I find that I am ignorant in many ways. But I do have some competence. I have the ability to develop skills and to earn a living. I am capable of earning enough so that my family and I can eat with some regularity.
I have not done this perfectly, as a reading of my story demonstrates. But I have been skillful enough to feed myself and my loved ones fairly well.
There is no way that I have the ability or skills to feed society. Im not that effective. Neither are you.
Further, I have been able to earn enough to clothe myself and my loved ones (not always as we might have wished), but Ive done a fair job, despite my mistakes.
But, Ill tell you what I cant do. I havent the skills or abilities to clothe society. Neither do you. You may be able to do a better job than Ive done. It may be that some of you have fallen short, in which case my compassion goes to you.
But you cant clothe society, either.
And the same can be said of housing. Like me, you can do a fair job. Sometimes you may find shelter in a hovel, a cave, or under a bench. And possibly youve done well enough to live in a mansion with every comfort and convenience. But there is no way that anyone can house society to its satisfaction.
The same is true of protection. Efforts to food, clothe, house, and protect society are exercises in futility. And when government is called upon to do those things, government cant do it either. What it does is wage financial war upon the productive and pass inadequate funds over to those less productive (for whatever reason), while keeping the lions share to administer the program.
The net result is injury to the poor by helping to create gullibility, dependency, and injury to those less poor by making them more poor.
Is the human situation hopeless? Yes, it is, if we continue to depend on government. But that is something we dont have to do.
For example, there is one crime I can absolutely prevent from occurring. My own.
I cannot prevent you from committing a crime, if you make up your mind to do it. The government cannot prevent it, either. But I can see to it that I dont commit a wrongful act.
I might add that this is not an easy task. I am as prone to anger as any. I cry out against inflicted pain and injustice. I know and understand the emotion that can engulf anyone and make him yearn to inflict an injury on another person.
Also, if I have injured another inadvertently, I can come forward and try to make things right. It isnt easy. But it can be done.
Sooner or later, we must reach the conclusion that government is obsolescent, if not already obsolete. Will everyone agree? Of course not. You cannot control what others may think, and neither can I.
But you can make a beginning. You can decide to support yourself and to provide your own food, clothing, and shelter. Yes, even to provide your own protection, as a result of your own efforts. You cannot do it perfectly because you and I are not perfect. But you can be effective to a large degree.
Some will do a better job than anything I could possibly achieve. Some may not do as well. But youll do a better job of it when you believe in yourself than when you become dependent on politicians and expect them to do it for you.
How can one individual assist in maximizing human well being by advancing the cause of liberty? His first task is to learn his true nature.
1. Each of us has the ability to think and act as he pleases.
2. Each of us controls his own energy. We do it wisely or foolishly, but we do it individually. We may act on the advice or the command of others. Or we may decide not to. Our own energies remain under our individual command and control.
3. It follows that I cannot make you free; I can earn my own freedom by controlling myself instead of trying to control others.
4. What steps do I take when I wish to be free?
5. I free myself from dependency on others when that dependency is created or maintained by force. Since there is no way that I can survive without the help of others, I will always be dependent to some degree. But I can depend upon the voluntary support others provided when they willingly buy my goods or services. If I have to compel them to buy my goods or services either directly at the point of a gun, or indirectly through governmental avenues then I am acting in a way that is counter-productive and anti-freedom.
6. Having recognized this point, I break off all relations with government.
- I will make no contribution to any political campaign or political party.
- I will endorse no issue and no candidate.
- I will not vote.
- I will de-register and refuse to participate in government-sponsored proceedings of any sort.
- I will not run for office, nor hold a political job even if asked.
- I will patronize those persons and firms that have the least to do with government.
- If a firm or individual is heavily subsidized by the government, I will have nothing to do with it; it is an arm of the State.
- I will not ask for government help, guidance, advice, money, or emolument of any kind.
- I will accept no government check for Social Security, welfare, injury, pension, or for any difficulty I may be in. I will solve my own problems.
- I will set my own standards in such a way that I impose on no one.
- I will injure no one for any reason.
- I will be as generous and helpful to others as my ability makes possible.
- I will live up to every contractual agreement I voluntarily enter into.
- I will, therefore, take great care to only enter into those agreements that are worthy of fulfillment.
- I will be true to the highest and best within me, committing no act of theft, dishonesty, or violence against any other human whatsoever.
The foregoing are the rules. How many will follow them? Predictably, very few. That is why human society is in such upheaval. What I have set forth isnt popular.
But it is factual and in harmony with the reality that is man.
The fact that I do not participate in government at any level and in any way does not cause the government to cease to exist. Should you reason your way through the human morass and decide to emulate the non-participation procedure, government will surely continue.
That, in itself, should cause rejoicing. The recommendations I have set forth provide a method that will be as gradual as the dawn of intellectual integrity. That is as it should be. Any other procedure will contain a reaction, a backlash that can destroy any temporary gains.
By employing the method of logic and learning, no one is coerced into accepting an unwelcome or a misunderstood objective. He advances toward freedom and a free society exactly at the speed and to the degree that he is prepared for it. That is the only way it can be done. It will not be popular because we have been nurtured on the hopes of panaceas and quick political solutions. But it is the only way that will never have to be repeated.
Today the world is sick with the greatest social disease of all. It isnt herpes or syphilis. It is, in fact, a pagan faith in the State. Around the world, terrorists are operating under the noses of various governments, often aided and abetted by those same governments.
We will move toward a free society, one by one. We will never achieve a free society in the sense that we can finalize the process. The price of freedom is eternal effort aimed at achieving self-control and self-mastery. We do not achieve this by controlling others. We move toward achievement when we learn to control and govern ourselves. Freedom is self-control, not license to impose on others.
It has taken a lifetime to learn this. I am grateful that I have lived. I am even grateful that I have made mistakes, yet continued to live so that I could learn more. Man learns by trial and error. Few of us learn much of anything by success.
I am also grateful that some across this great country of America agree with at least some of my conclusions. They are out there now, quietly minding their own business, improving their own performance, raising their own standards, and willfully imposing on none.
At the moment, man knows too much and understands too little of what he knows. But the answer you seek for is in your self. There is no logical other place for it to be.
Reprinted from The Center for Self-Rule.
Robert LeFevre (19111986) was a businessman and radio personality, and the founder of the Freedom School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, whose purpose was to educate people from all walks of life in the libertarian intellectual tradition. Before it closed in 1968, it had featured among its rotating faculty Rose Wilder Lane, Milton Friedman, F.A. Harper, Frank Chodorov, Leonard Read, Gordon Tullock, G. Warren Nutter, Bruno Leoni, James J. Martin, and even Ludwig von Mises. His library and papers are housed at the Mises Institute.