What Is To Be Done?


It is ideas that group men into fighting factions, that press the weapons into their hands, and that determine against whom and for whom the weapons shall be used. It is they alone, and not arms, that, in the last analysis, turn the scales. ~ von Mises (Liberalism, p. 51)

Several months ago I asked readers for a suggestion of a practical tool for our age for use in withdrawing support from tyrannical government. It would be, metaphorically, a small crowbar that could be leveraged in the cracks of the armor of the state. It would be a simple and effective tactic, like Gandhi's or Martin Luther King's tool of nonviolence, but suited to our times.

My query implied that the discovery of this tool would come from thoughtful readers like yourself, not from the masses. There was no expectation that this tool would come from the Tea Party, any more than it might have come from Perot's 1992 United We Stand America, or from a spontaneous revolt or Spartacist uprising of any kind. In short, as Lenin stated in his famous apostasy What Is to Be Done?, the change would come from the bourgeois intelligentsia.

I am gratified to report that such a tool just might have been discovered.

I arranged the suggestions that were offered in ascending order of personal risk, and happily, this tool is at the low risk end of the spectrum, and indeed derives its effectiveness precisely from being low-risk. But first briefly consider the other contenders.

Attitudinal shift

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The first, and lowest risk, group mainly concerned adopting a new attitude toward the government and popularizing it. These suggestions included scoffing or passively provoking the authorities through delaying payment of fines and taxes, ignoring the authorities through not voting, and so on. The best suggestion of this group was simple mockery. This could be small scale, as a whispered snicker that's more effective than a punch in the face; or it could be large scale, as in plastering Facebook or your favorite blog with videos of George Carlin on the state.

Lifestyle revolution

A riskier group suggested making radical changes to your lifestyle. This could be small scale, as in homeschooling your kids; or for those willing to radicalize themselves, their families, and their associates in varying degrees, it could mean the practice of autarky or "prepping" or voluntaryism.

Tax defiance

Riskiest of all were those who promoted some of the many forms of tax defiance. For rather obvious reasons, it would be irresponsible to detail any of these schemes. You may think of this defiance as a nonviolent alternative, but you can be confident that the government response will be far more than nonviolent. Pay your minimum legal taxes, to be sure, but pay them all the same.

Conditional campaigning

The effective tool of our times for withdrawing support from the state, or challenging its power, just might be the creation of mass campaigns with a conditional response.

A central defect of democracy is that opposition to any proposal from the centralized state requires an expensive, draining, and nonstop mobilization of factions significant enough to oppose it. Assembling such factions requires endless resources, and it requires the galvanization of popular passion that marginalizes sober thought. For example, which is easier: Whipping up enthusiasm for an imperial war against foreigners with keffiyehs around their heads, or getting a majority to understand the historical case for secession? Anyone who has tried to mobilize voters to vote for someone other than a RepubliCrat candidate is familiar with the response: "I don't want to waste my vote." It is exasperating, but true: No one wants to waste his energy on a venture that is likely to fail.

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Now suppose that your expenditure of energy was conditioned on the involvement of a critical mass of other like-minded people. Suppose that you could somehow commit time, money, and resources on the condition that others, many others, make a similar commitment. The promise, in and of itself, would generate participation from these other people.

This idea was suggested by my friend Randy Dumse, a robotics engineer and owner of New Micros in Dallas, Texas. As he puts it,

the key to pulling such a showdown [with the state] off bloodlessly is not to actually do anything, but only plan to do it, popularize the plan, until so many people sign on, that the government either relents or goes ballistic and reveals its evil. […] Remove support without doing anything illegal.

This is not a hypothetical tool. It has in fact already been used with tremendous success. The success of Ron Paul's "money bombs" in the last presidential election was based in part on the online visibility of a significant number of others with a good prospect of success. And, most gratifying of all, it has been hit upon by someone already familiar to readers of this site, economist Robert P. Murphy. As I said in my original article, this tool might be discovered by "someone like you […] while driving." While I must confess that my article had absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Murphy's discovery, that is exactly how he made it. His discovery was to use the online site ThePoint for gathering and popularizing conditional pledges of sponsorship for various campaigns or causes. In Murphy's case, it is conditional sponsorship of his debate with Keynesian economist Paul Krugman. Read his account, which contains his details of how ThePoint wonderfully implements this idea.

Now then, if this idea — and not just its application by innovators like Robert Murphy and those at ThePoint — is indeed the tool of our times for withdrawing support from the state, the next question becomes: What is the most effective campaign for using it?

October 30, 2010