Friday, April 8, 2011

Election Propaganda as Child Abuse


An election poster reads:

YOU WOULDN'T LET YOUR PARENTS CHOOSE WHAT YOU WEAR [sic]

THEN WHY LET THEM CHOOSE YOUR GOVERNMENT [sic]

YOUR CHOICE. YOUR VOTE [sic]
MAY 2ND, 2011

For more information go to www.elections.ca
________________________

"But dad, what if I don't want government to make my choices, either?"

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Some Objections to Liberty

Here are some objections to a free society, supplied by a reader. His comments are in bold, and my responses follow.

. . . these are relatively extreme views compared to the 'norm'.

True, but at one time slavery and religious persecution were regarded as normal. So were illiteracy, serfdom, usury laws, and judicial torture. For much of history, the notion of rights was alien, and the scientific method was a revolutionary challenge to our conception of the nature of the universe.

I firmly believe that any type of society is possible if people believe they can make it work. Even one portrayed by Tolkien with the elves!

I agree. The problem is that the state prevents people from living in the manner they choose. It is true that some states are more restrictive than others, but they all override our decisions about our own lives.

But to be honest, I do not want the type of anarchy necessary to tear down our current one in order to build a new one from its dust. It's party selfish, but mostly because I have a family and do not wish that type of anguish for them. And I wonder if such a 'drastic' change can be done slowly.

Actually, anarchy means the lack of government, not chaos and disorder. A free society would have order insofar as its opposite, disorder, is rejected as being inimical to peaceful action. To be more precise, order is the absence of disorder, and disorder is the disruption of peace. Peace is essentially equivalent to freedom because both preclude force and intimidation. Thus, peace and order can be thought of as synonyms for freedom. In addition, freedom is inseparable from the recognition and consequent enforcement of property rights. This is because the violation of property rights is a physical invasion which disrupts order, peace, and freedom. Therefore, order, peace, freedom, and property rights are intrinsic facets of each other. Because the state is an institution distinguished uniquely and solely by its program of systematic rights violations, we can infer that the existence of the state introduces disorder and insecurity, undermines freedom, and destroys property rights enforcement. A free society, by contrast, would respect property rights by definition of its being free, and the security of these rights would be strengthened by the lack of a state to violate them. Likewise, people would be able to defend their property against common criminals, unhampered by laws that restrict firearms and impose costs and barriers to private defense.

One might argue that the state provides physical security from invasion, but as I pointed out elsewhere, the state is itself the leading rights violator in terms of the number of violations and in the magnitude of individual violations. An urban resident might be mugged once in his life and an unlucky suburban dweller might have his house broken into once or twice and his bicycle or car stolen, but such losses are much rarer, smaller, and less regular than those imposed by the state's seizure of property—which amounted to 45.9 percent of a small or medium Canadian business's annual profit in 2008 (Doing Business 2009: Country Profile for Canada, p. 33 [PDF]) and is about 44.8 percent of the average Canadian's yearly income according to the Fraser Institute's calculation that Tax Freedom Day fell on June 13 this year. Illegal theft can be mitigated by insurance, but there is no real protection against larceny by the state.

So, the state is not a rug that when pulled away would cause society to crash. The state is a destructive, parasitical imposition on society, not a pillar that supports it. Think of the state as a wet blanket that smothers us or an albatross that weighs us down. If order is the absence of disruption, only the state has the resources, power, and institutional will to disrupt our lives in any significant and systematic way. Removing the state would permit the market to operate more efficiently so that supply could more perfectly match demand—to everyone's benefit. If the market is the economic expression of people's desires, state intervention into the market always and wrongfully thwarts legitimate activity.

There is concern that the transition to a stateless society will be violent as the power elite fights to preserve its status. Indeed, the state has historically reserved the harshest, most brutal, and cruel sanctions for those who threaten its rule, labeling such "criminals" traitors or terrorists. Such a response, which could involve mass arrests, the establishment of concentration camps, and troops in the streets, would openly and unambiguously demonstrate the virulence of the state and the necessity of its demise. Of course, the state would propagandize its actions as the necessary "restoration of order" and the timid would continue to obey orders, but the state would be terminal at that point. On the other hand, the Soviet Union collapsed without mass violence. Libertarians advocate a nonviolent rejection of the state by means of the simultaneous withdrawal of consent by a significant portion of the subject population, a strategy designed to mitigate violent reprisal.

I also believe that democracy (LOL... by accident I just spelt it "democrazy"...) is the best system we have going, I, personally, just don't like the way it is set up, it just seems too complicated without getting a desired result.... however I have not given it enough thought in the last 10 years to suggest a remedy.

One of the problems with democracy, which Hans-Hermann Hoppe defines in his book Democracy: the God that Failed (2001) as publicly-owned government—in contrast to monarchy, which is privately-owned, and natural order, which is the absence of government altogether—is that it operates with a short-term mentality owing to the status of its officials as temporary caretakers. In other words, public officials have little incentive to preserve or enhance the value of the resources available to them during their terms of office, whereas private owners have an interest in maintaining the value of their holdings over the long term. Furthermore, instruments typical of democratic regimes, such as high tax burdens, endless and expansive regulations, central banks, fiat money, cheap credit, and inflationary monetary policy, encourage high time preference behavior (i.e., a tendency towards immediate gratification characteristic of childlike, dependent personalities) and penalize the low time preference behavior necessary for capital formation and investment (inflation gradually wipes out savings).

The theoretical availability of public office to anyone helps cement democracy's legitimacy by appearing to erase historical us-versus-them boundaries between rulers and ruled, creating the impression that the state is coterminous with the citizenry whose collective will it is thought to represent, but this is dangerous because while increased legitimacy deters factional violence and civil war, the other side of the coin is that the democratic state, which, because of its inclusive nature, lacks popular or class-based resistance that in the ancien régime acted as a restraint against governmental excess, inevitably expands in size, scope, and power at the expense of ordinary people, and is more likely to engage in war. Democratic wars, which post-date the French Revolution, tend to be total wars waged between or against entire societies in which mass murder and other atrocities committed against civilians are routine because they are rationalized on ideological grounds and because of the democratic but erroneous conflation of government and citizenry. Democracy has served as a modern religion, a justification for military and police intervention all over the globe. Domestic dissent is accordingly marginalized because it is viewed as an attack on society. It is hardly surprising that democratic states, unhampered by weak internal opposition, tend to extend their control over more and more areas of the lives of their subject populations. This process would seem to culminate in totalitarianism, the total control and regimentation of every aspect of life by means of terror and force, and indeed, the totalitarian regimes of the U.S.S.R., Maoist China, and Nazi Germany, whose literary paragon was Orwell's Oceania in his Nineteen Eighty-Four, were democratic. The United States appears to be well on the way to a totalitarian dictatorship.

For me the fundamental flaw in your last [post] is the statement that "Political candidates want to assume power over our lives. What could be more pathologically arrogant?" In its most basic, yes, an elected politician has power over decisions that make their society run, and therefore, to a degree, our lives. But I do not believe that it is inherent that anyone who wishes elected office, or even decides to do so, is a bad person or has bad ideas and intents, or will become so once in office. From that point we diverge. Regardless of so many people like Bush, who actually believe they are doing a good thing, but are (I don't want to use the word "evil") ... bad, there are others who do things for the right reasons. While he was in office I always thought Trudeau was one of these guys .

No one can build his security upon the nobleness of another person.

Willa Cather (1873-1947)


There has to be something wrong with a person who thinks he has the right or the duty to use force to counter the decisions ordinary people make about their own lives. Only a degenerate personality would seek a position from which to direct violence against innocent people. It scarcely matters that the candidate/politician thinks he will be doing good, for his motivations, which we cannot truly know anyway, are overshadowed by his actions, and it is actions which harm. Moreover, evil acts are presented by government as necessary and virtuous, so it is a mistake to take a politician's words at face value. And whatever one's intentions, the acquisition of political power is intrinsically malevolent because it entails the anti-human belief that other people are masses of flesh subject to unilateral force rather than personalities with goals and lives of their own who deserve to be unmolested. Therefore, there are no right reasons for aspiring to political office—unless one intends to dismantle or roll back the state.

As I see it, the only true Libertarian society is one that would be similar to a Native American tribal society of pre-whiteman era. The society would have to be primitive in its material needs and desires. You cannot have a society with complex money-driven companies producing cars, cell phones, games, etc... this is a society based upon a hierarchy of rules, regulations and those who enforce them.

Every product and service we presently enjoy is provided because of the profitability of recognizing and responding to consumer desire. Look around at all the good things in your life—your car, house, computer, home appliances, private-sector employment, iPod™, cellphone, consumer electronics, restaurants, Wal-Mart™, credit cards, travel agencies, Hollywood films, etc.; these are the products of freedom provided by people cooperating and coordinating their efforts to satisfy consumer wants. Competition creates incentives for businesses to improve quality and to reduce prices. In fact, anyone who anticipates and acts on an unfulfilled market demand stands to become very wealthy indeed. Our complex economy is the outcome of market forces that operate despite, not because of, the dead hand of the state. Currency would be stronger and more stable if open to competition; consumers would use those currencies that are sound and reject all others, for who would continue to accept paper dollars?

Libertarians are committed to the belief that individuals, and not states or groups of any other kind, are both ontologically and normatively primary; that individuals have rights against certain kinds of forcible interference on the part of others; that liberty, understood as non-interference, is the only thing that can be legitimately demanded of others as a matter of legal or political right; that robust property rights and the economic liberty that follows from their consistent recognition are of central importance in respecting individual liberty; that social order is not at odds with but develops out of individual liberty; that the only proper use of coercion is defensive or to rectify an error; that governments are bound by essentially the same moral principles as individuals; and that most existing and historical governments have acted improperly insofar as they have utilized coercion for plunder, aggression, redistribution, and other purposes beyond the protection of individual liberty. [Source: Matt Zwolinski, "Libertarianism." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]


I understand all this, and agree with it, but I don't see how it can be applied to our society today -- not without the fear that I expressed above, and it comes full circle. For if a change like this is to occur, it will have to do so violently and abruptly. And I cannot see, given human nature-- and despite what I feel about any society working if people desire it so --- that such a society can exist where "only a proper use of coercion" is used to rectify something done wrong... there will always be degrees of interpretation and debate and eventually, to such a 'logical' species as we are, a need to write this down and make it law.

To take the last part of your comment first, the concept of property defense is relatively unambiguous; even animals defend themselves by instinct. Free people make transactions and incur obligations through contracts and property titles, whether explicit or implied. Arbitrators and courts in a free society can adjudicate disputes on the basis of strict liability tort law, contract law, common law, and case law. There need be no legislation or positive law, and hence, no need for legislators or the states that employ them. The fallibility of human nature is a strong reason to reject organizational systems that grant the power of aggressive force over other human beings, for not only is there is no valid rationale for anyone to wield such power but it is harmful and decivilizing.

As described earlier, there is some risk in abolishing the state. Foreign states, perhaps operating under the UN, might dispatch military forces under the guise of "restoring order," but this cannot succeed if the people are determined to hold on to their liberty. The American colonists succeeded in ejecting foreign interlopers. So did the Algerians, the Indians, the Vietnamese, the Afghans, and some other secessionists. Canadians already have a culture of freedom, and with the literature of freedom so readily available, and its ideas spreading rapidly via the Internet, there is nothing inevitable about the re-establishment of government. It is worth the risk. The alternative could be a Soviet-style collapse, and for much the same reasons, because present trends are untenable. The United States seems on the brink of calamity, thanks to the ruinous, criminal policies of its central government. Certainly no one can know what would happen if we ignore the state, but if an idea's time has come, nothing can stop it. The question is, will the time for liberty arrive in our lifetime? It is up to us.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Why Follow Politics?

I avoided last night's candidates' debate because it represents something so monumentally absurd that the mind reels. That mature adults can be taken in by the charade is depressing. Yet there is hope that more and more people will see the farce for what it is and reject it. All it takes is an open mind and a willingness to confront the truth.

Political candidates want to assume power over our lives. What could be more pathologically arrogant? They want to make decisions on your behalf even though your decisions belong to you by definition. And they're not asking for your permission, either: you are only permitted to vote for who is going to join the gang that rules you. This diminishes your freedom, for a political leader is someone whose decisions are backed by force. The essence of politics is force. Force treats its victims as literal physical objects instead of as personalities. This is directly contrary to the core beliefs of all civilized societies and religious and ethical systems. Because force is destructive of everything we value, it follows that nothing good can come of politics.

You might retort that one must vote for the lesser evil. Yet this only highlights the truth that politicians and politics are inherently detrimental and that the system is deeply flawed. Nobody should ever do evil, lesser or otherwise; isn't this the message of Christianity, et al? How can politics not have a deleterious effect on our morality when it teaches that we ought to obtain our objectives by force rather than mutual consent?

There is something terribly wrong when one can only choose that which harms him least. If someone asks whether you prefer to be punched or shot, wouldn't you respond that there is no imperative to inflict injury in the first place? This is obvious, but politics is so deeply entrenched in our way of thinking that it never occurs to most that the real dichotomy is not punching vs. shooting, but whether people ought to be subjected to aggressive violence at all. Defending the system on the basis that things cannot change is counterproductive because it assists in the continuance of politics through the legitimacy thus attributed to it. Thus, the plague of government on mankind is upheld by our aggregated pessimistic inertia. This pessimistic belief in the permanence of the status quo helps to ensure its permanence and thus constitutes the prime obstacle to the removal of legalized aggressive force from our lives. Its very circularity invalidates it as a serious argument against the advent of liberty.

The political issues are phony because government created them. My skeptics might want to ask themselves which decisions they need politicians to make for them, and whether they are derivative of the political landscape or would exist independently of the state. I can't think of a single genuine issue that requires political intervention. If every problem/issue is an artificial creation of government, it would be bizarre to maintain that we need government for any reason. Obviously, the solution is to show the rascals the door so we can live in a society that is not based on force.

We are supposed to vote for politicians who will "fight" on our behalf—yet please consider what this means. To "fight" for constituents is to protect them from the greater damage that other politicians and bureaucrats would inflict. Here we see that politics creates its own demand. Let this sink in for a minute.

Politicians promise to "fight" for constituents because, in reality, politics is largely a battle between interest groups seeking to use government force to get their way at the expense of the rest of us. It is hard for participants to disengage from this process while the system persists, because to abandon lobbying carries with it the danger that one's opponents will prevail and that force will then be used against the retiring party. The logic of the system helps perpetuate it. Yet the underlying dynamic—that force is to be harnessed and directed against other interests who frequently seek to do the same to you—is bankrupt from both a moral and a utilitarian standpoint.

Unless you are a political insider or an historian, fear of the candidates' proposed policies is the only reason to care about debates and elections, just as the fear of a burglary or a fire is the sole reason to install burglar and fire alarms. Political vigilance, then, serves primarily as defensive monitoring of threats emanating from the halls of power.

Friday, June 20, 2008

But Isn't Libertarianism Kooky?

A common objection to libertarian ideas is that they are kooky, eccentric, strange, outlandish, and irrelevant. Canada is a prosperous country and her inhabitants are free in many important respects, and, because nobody is hauled away in the middle of the night by secret police, serious concerns about government are frequently regarded as misguided and a waste of time. Most of us grumble about the latest tax hike, corruption scandal, cost overrun, policy debacle, civil liberty restriction, taser killing, wrongful imprisonment, or instance of bureaucratic ineptitude, but our lives do not seem to be adversely affected by them. Even if it is acknowledged that we are worse off as a result, most of us remain comfortable and contented with our lives.

The prospect of genuine liberty (i.e., freedom from legalized rights violations) seems risky to most people. After all, why imperil everything that has made Canadian society the envy of many others? What would replace the state? Wouldn't there be widespread lawlessness or gang rule? Perhaps the continuous violations of human rights by the various governments in Canada, which do not seem to be as flagrant as those conducted by many other current and past regimes throughout the world, are preferable to the uncertainties of a free society—where individuals would bear full and discrete responsibility for their conduct and affairs. No doubt there is popular suspicion that, without government oversight, corporations and the wealthy would exploit and enslave us, and inexpensive Third World labor would out-compete us.

Is the State Beneficial?

But even a cursory survey of recent history reveals the gross failure of the state in almost every one of its endeavors. Roads in the Toronto area, for example, inadequately handle burgeoning traffic volumes, and, aside from the 407 Express Toll Route, which opened in 1997, no new major roads have been built in decades—despite a flourishing population. Government schools are producing ill-educated, intellectually homogenous youth. Nationalized health care is a disaster: costs are skyrocketing, doctors are in short supply, and waiting times are appalling. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a crown corporation, has poor viewer ratings. Toronto's garbage "crisis" is the result of government mismanagement and interference, for there is abundant land in southern Ontario to handle our refuse. The Toronto Transit Commission is a perennial money-loser.

Despite its failures, government is getting proportionately and absolutely more expensive: Canadian households now spend more on taxes than they do on food, clothing, and shelter combined. The state is a moral hazard, which means it is largely insulated from the consequences of its behavior, and therefore lacks adequate incentives to provide effective services or minimize costs. On the contrary, government failures are frequently rewarded with expanded powers and larger budgets—extorted from productive members of society. The state has a perverse incentive to exacerbate and perpetuate the problems it attempts to solve, most of which it created in the first place. This partly explains why, in the words of libertarian commentator and self-styled "dogmatist" William Norman Grigg, "government is the only entity that grows and prospers through failure." Thus, the rising costs of government, its institutional incompetence, and its damaging effects are complementary and symbiotic. State action results in a net loss to society.

The incentives of a free economy, on the other hand, reward consumer satisfaction. Businesses that fail to satisfy customers must make adjustments or face bankruptcy; either way their capital and resources are reallocated in accordance with anticipated market demand. Thus, a successful business benefits society by pleasing consumers—and only by pleasing customers can a business succeed. Its profits are the measure of consumer satisfaction. This reciprocity is the basis of economic and material progress, for a mutually voluntary transaction (e.g., the sale of a good) benefits both parties. This is so because each party values what is received more than what is given up—no exchange would take place otherwise. In a free economy, entrepreneurs seek new opportunities to meet consumer demand. As a result, every purchase or sale makes our lives better, and the general standard of living improves. Freedom produces a net gain to society.

Is the State Necessary?

The purpose of the post-Enlightenment state is to protect the rights of its citizens. The Declaration of Independence, adopted by the American colonies in 1776, holds "these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, . . ." Similarly, Article II of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen, a document adopted in 1789 by the National Assembly of France, states that "[t]he aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression." A fundamental—and ironic—problem with this rationale is that the state itself is the principal violator of human rights. A right is an absolute entitlement possessed by every rights-respecting adult, and cannot be justly infringed. Nevertheless, all acts of government, being unilateral invasions of private property backed by police power, necessarily violate rights. Ludwig von Mises observed in Human Action that "[t]he essential feature of government is the enforcement of its decrees by beating, killing, and imprisoning. Those who are asking for more government interference are asking ultimately for more compulsion and less freedom." Not only does the state commit robbery through taxation, murder through warfare, and enslavement through military conscription, but its every edict curtails the rights of its subjects inasmuch as it overrules their rightful control of their own lives and property. In short, the very existence of the state constitutes a continuing, systematic assault on rights, property, and wealth. The state, which is fundamentally hostile to rights, is incompatible with liberty, and the expansion of one must shrink the other. The politicization of society, as evidenced by continuous government regulation, is precisely the encroachment of force into the lives of its members at the expense of the personal freedom to which their rights entitle them. In Canada, the naturally voluntary character of many social associations and relationships is gradually being replaced by the principle of coercion. Illogically, the state infringes rights while claiming to protect them.

Moreover, democracy enhances—not curbs—state power, which further undermines the status of rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms notwithstanding, the Canadian government's implied claim that, as a democracy, it embodies the will of the electorate through the rule of law actually empowers the legally based depredation of the citizenry by the state. Election results are interpreted as a mandate for rights violations, and the electorate is regarded as demanding and authorizing its own victimization. (Defenders of government never describe policy and legislation in this way.) When a democratic government carries out your bidding, men with guns acting in your name deprive others of control of their rightful property.

Although human rights are negative concepts because they are freedoms from interference, and hence are incompatible with even minimally interventionist states, the collectivists that fostered the birth of the welfare state in Germany under Bismarck in the 1880s, Britain before the First World War, and America in the 1930s slyly introduced a novel view of rights as positive concepts. The nanny-state ethos of Canada's political establishment, which is consistent with this trend, interprets the rights to life and security as positive duties binding on the state to physically protect its subjects through intervention—rather than as an injunction against intervention. This is an inversion of genuine rights theory. So-called positive rights charge the state with obligations that permit it to vastly expand its scope and power to the detriment of actual rights.

Even if one concedes that state intervention is vindicated on utilitarian grounds, there remains some doubt about whether the state can and does actually protect its citizens from foreign military invasion and domestic crime. The apparent need for state-controlled armed forces highlights the fact that the danger of military attack is posed by other states. This is not an argument for the state. Rather, it is an argument against the state as an institution, for it is the state that wages war. Note that even the Canadian state indulges in military adventurism, and its role in the subjugation and occupation of Afghanistan exposes ordinary Canadians to terrorist retaliation, which, by making us less safe, actually contradicts the purpose of the state. No reasonable adult would agree that forming or joining a street gang is an acceptable long-term solution to the problem of other gangs. Defense is necessary, but it need not be provided by the state. Private defense agencies operating within a free market will be superior to any government military.

Neither is the state necessary to the maintenance of law and order. The modern police were introduced in the nineteenth century as an instrument of social control, not to combat crime. Police rarely stop crime; they typically arrive afterwards. Hence, the target of crime is usually on his own. In fact, the likelihood of aggression increases with the magnitude of the power disparity between a potential offender and his prospective victim. (It is hardly surprising that the degree of state oppression varies directly with the power disparity between the state and the subject population; efforts to disarm the citizenry and curtail its freedoms must be regarded as worrisome.) Assuming the existence of predators, victimhood correlates with helplessness. Reliance on police and the legal restriction of weapons must therefore increase the incidence of violent crime. Thus, the freedom to arm oneself must deter aggression. Weapons significantly reduce the natural force advantage enjoyed by young, aggressive men over the physically vulnerable, such as women and the elderly. In a free society, even the unarmed, who would be visibly indistinguishable from those carrying concealed weapons, would deter crime.

Furthermore, in an untaxed society benefiting from the unhampered growth of an economy devoid of state interference, private security would be relatively more affordable, and therefore more feasible for consumers. Private security agencies would be more effective than government police in reducing crime, for the profit motive combined with market competition would reduce waste and encourage the constant development of better techniques. Because such agencies would likely be modeled on insurance companies, they would seek to reduce claims by actively preventing or solving crimes—whereas police today fail to solve or even investigate many property crimes. Libertarians speculate that, like the automotive insurance industry, private security agencies would have reciprocal agreements to adjudicate disputes among their customers. Murray Rothbard argued that tort law could easily replace criminal law on the basis that all genuine crimes are actually injuries to property. Private arbitrators would have an economic incentive to be impartial; so would professional jurors, who would become experts in evidence and the other legal-scientific technicalities of which dragooned jurors are mostly ignorant (e.g., see the O.J. Simpson murder trial). Punishment would likely consist of restitution. In the present system, by contrast, crimes are regarded as offenses against the state and victims are penalized twice: once by the crime itself, and again when they are forced to fund the criminal justice system. Under a market system, aggressive individuals would be costly to insure if they are insurable at all. Reprobates would be forced to the fringes of society, and the lack of public property would ensure their physical removal from civilized precincts.

A free society would be safer in other ways, too. Just as the legal prohibition of alcohol in early twentieth century America and Canada resulted in the spectacular rise of organized crime, so the current legal prohibition of drugs like cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, methamphetamines, and heroin has enriched criminal organizations and resulted in greater crime. Likewise, anti-drug law enforcement in Canada is costly and intrusive, and threatens to follow the U.S. "war on drugs" model of summary asset forfeiture, botched militarized police raids, the endowment of federal police agencies with unconstitutional powers, the largest prison population on the planet in both absolute and per-capita terms, and unmitigated failure. If drugs can't be kept out of prisons, they cannot be stopped anywhere. There would be no prohibition in a free society—to the detriment of organized criminals and corrupt officials.

Unlike the market, the state is unable to determine the optimum number of police or security officers. This is because the precise degree of desired protection varies from person to person and is based on subjective assessments and individual factors, including the nature of the locality, the ability and desire to protect oneself or others, perceived and actual vulnerability, the value of goods to be protected, and one's available budget. The market responds to these factors through the mechanism of supply and demand; for the government, which cannot act inside the market, this is an impossible task. The same is true of all other goods and services, such as roads, taxicabs, and medical doctors.

But isn't the state necessary to prevent conflicting goals from erupting into violent power struggles? In fact, the state is already the victor in a previous—if mostly theoretical—power struggle. Still, let us examine the two possible types of competing political faction and whether the state is necessary to deal with them: (1) those desirous of seizing control of society by force, and (2) the citizenry.

The first factional type seeks exclusive hegemony over society, and is opposed by one or more contending factions of the same type. The resulting conflict is to determine which faction will establish or control the state. It is illogical to maintain that we need a state to prevent the formation of a state. On the other hand, it might be argued that one group's ideology (e.g., liberal democracy) is more desirable to the majority of the population than its opponent's (e.g., fascism), and that the rule of the former safeguards its subjects from rule by the latter. Yet civil war is unlikely in Canada, for no violent faction threatens to overthrow the federal or provincial governments, nor are we threatened by a foreign power. It might be supposed that such violent factions would form in the wake of the state's disappearance, subjecting us to civil war or outright subjugation. This is the contention made by Thomas Hobbes who, in his Leviathan (1651), argued that the peace imposed by the sovereign is always preferable to civil war, and that men, being reasonable, ought to surrender their liberty to permanently forestall that possibility. Unfortunately, an existing state encourages civil war precisely because of what it is: a legal apparatus designed to govern society through violent compulsion—the very prize of power-seekers and the means by which the greatest harm is inflicted on the population. Without a state to seize, however, those who pursue power must literally subdue every single inhabitant and install a state from scratch. This is a very difficult prospect considering that ordinary forms of legitimacy would be lacking. For example, no quasi-historical social contract could be invoked, and the would-be regime would be unable to justify itself on the past results of popular elections. If a deeply-entrenched state like the one operating in Canada can be dislodged, the establishment of a successor state would scarcely be possible. Furthermore, since all governments require tacit consent by their subjects, rule by force alone is not possible. Only by persuasion could a state be established, and even then, consent would not be unanimous. Attempts to subjugate the remaining territory and its inhabitants would generate a resistance movement that would be strengthened by Canada's traditions of individualism and liberty and by the unequivocal knowledge that the pretender state is engaged in a criminal program to deprive free people of their liberty. History furnishes several examples of powerful states ousted by resistance groups: the British Empire by American revolutionaries, the Soviet Union by the Afghan mujahadeen, and the United States government by the Viet Cong. It is true that these resistance movements were aided by other governments, but Hans-Hermann Hoppe, economics professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, maintains that, owing to market incentives, private defense organizations would be more than a match for government militaries, which suffer from the gross inefficiencies and waste characteristic of all government programs; consider, for example, that the United States government has almost bankrupted itself in its unsuccessful attempts to impose a state in Iraq. It is also noteworthy that these regimes had been established as governments before they were ejected; in the hypothetical scenario under discussion, the power-seekers have not even gotten that far.

Citizens, who constitute factions of the second type, are accommodated by the political system through an ostensibly peaceful mechanism that purports to reflect their wills. Citizens are said to be represented by elected politicians, and the ballot box is supposed to ensure that their wishes are ultimately enacted in the public sphere. The system rests on the assumption that dissatisfaction with government is the result of flawed politicians and fallible party ideologies, and therefore, that public sector problems can be resolved if the right people are voted into office. Thus, elections peacefully replace the politicians who have failed to please constituents. Indeed, this cyclic pattern has made the public accustomed to, if not tolerant of, inveterate government failure and waste, for, as noted above, government programs are predisposed to fail due to the perverse incentives built into the state's essentially coercive nature.

An additional problem of democracy is that newly-elected governments frequently refuse to revoke the legislation or policies of their predecessors even though political parties are supposed to be ideologically adversarial. Indeed, bipartisanship tends to diminish the advantages of the electoral process by ignoring the wishes of dissenting voters and reducing them to the role of a mere collective imprimatur—which actually strengthens the power of the state. For instance, the federal Goods and Services Tax was imposed by the Progressive Conservative party of Brian Mulroney in 1991 but survived the 1993-2006 Liberal reign. The same Liberal government committed troops to the occupation of Afghanistan in 2001, but the successor regime of Stephen Harper's Conservative party has maintained Canada's military presence there. Thus, bad policies continue, bad laws accumulate, the electoral-representative process is undermined, and dissent is neutralized.

As a mechanism for influencing government policy, elections are absurdly inadequate. For a given electoral office, the voter casts but a single ballot every few years. All his important concerns are supposed to be reducible to a single choice from among a tiny and narrow slate of candidates which he did not select, and his vote is diluted by being but one among a multitude. Finally, the representative nature of our democracy precludes a strict causal link between the voter's desires and the ensuing actions of his elected representative—for whom he may not even have voted, and who is disproportionately influenced by lobbyists, special interest groups, and campaign contributors. Thus, the citizen's input is infrequent, his choices limited, and his influence infinitesimal. Government cannot possibly represent him in any real sense. It is an insult and a fraud. Defenders of this arrangement point out that anyone can run for office or become a lobbyist, but this suggestion does not alter the mathematically-based unresponsiveness of the democratic system to the wishes of its constituents, nor does it address the contradiction of having to defer one's private pursuits in order to commit time, effort, and money to overcome political obstacles that stand in the way of one's private pursuits.

Furthermore, one must ask why we need political representatives at all. Why is it assumed that the goals of citizens conflict in a way that requires the intervention of state power? As long as we respect the property rights of others, which are based on the universal, primary right of self-ownership, there is no conflict. Force is only required against rights-violators—who themselves initiate force or refuse to abide by the terms of binding contracts to which they were voluntary signatories. Moreover, unlike the electoral processes of democratic states, a free economy is highly responsive to consumers, whose wills are expressed as market demand. If freedom is simply the absence of unprovoked violence, capitalism, being the economic facet of freedom, is the voluntary interaction of people according to their inclinations and desires. Every dollar spent or withheld is, in effect, a vote that reflects the actor's will in relation to society at large. Whereas political elections are sporadic, imprecise, and crudely simplistic, virtually every act of a free person communicates and advances his particular desires within the highly complex web of human interconnections in which the market economy resides. Demand and supply guide the rational allocation of resources amid rapidly changing market conditions. Prices, which inform economic decision-making by signaling scarcity or abundance in relation to demand, are themselves the outcome of millions of transactions conducted by buyers and sellers. A free economy is democracy for grownups; it addresses real needs in real life.

Cynics who maintain that libertarians are too optimistic about human nature believe that untrammeled liberty will lead to exploitation and domination. Their pessimism is misdirected, for cynicism argues in favor of liberty. A free society can marginalize corruption and deal with physical aggression precisely because offenders would be correctly perceived as criminals. As mentioned earlier, violent predation is enabled by power disparity, and power disparity is at its greatest and most systematic between the state and its citizens. Only the naïve would entrust anyone—let alone ambitious power-seekers—with the immense power of the state, an apparatus designed solely to coerce. Checks and balances like constitutions, elections, and the courts are helpful in restraining outright tyranny, but they do not adequately address the fallibility of human nature and have been unable to prevent the historical and ongoing excesses and injustices of government. Moreover, cynics are right to suspect the motives of those who seek political power. Considering that those who run for public office are, almost without exception, scoundrels with a desire to wield power over their fellow men out of a deluded belief that they know better, and whose arrogance in presuming to overrule the free will of other human beings—when even God Himself refused to do so—is breathtakingly megalomaniacal, it is astonishing that democracy is held in such esteem. The economist Frank Knight wrote that "the probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping-master in a slave plantation."

Is the State Inevitable?

In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.

—Benjamin Franklin


Similarly men will grow accustomed to the idea that they have always been in subjection, that their fathers lived in the same way; they will think they are obliged to suffer this evil, and will persuade themselves by example and imitation of others, finally investing those who order them around with proprietary rights, based on the idea that it has always been that way.

—Étienne de La Boétie, Discourse on Voluntary Servitude


The state seems to be a permanent feature of humanity. Rights have been violated throughout history, and with certain limited exceptions there has always been political rule. If the state is regarded as inevitable, efforts to eradicate it might seem pointless or foolish.

Nevertheless, as a species we strive to eliminate the evils that plague us—even if the prospects for ultimate success appear hopeless. Yet if crime, for example, can only be minimized, isn't the same true of the state, and, therefore, isn't a minimal "night-watchman" state the best we can hope to achieve? The answer is no. While murder and other crimes are difficult to check because universal condemnation has made them clandestine, the state practices them openly under such labels as warfare, collateral damage, taxation, and expropriation. Because all state actions are crimes according to the common-sense view of rights, they are disguised with euphemistic language and authorized by the state through its own legislation. Outrageously, the state then criminalizes activities that do not harm people or property (e.g., illicit drug use, unlicensed handgun ownership, and tax evasion). The potential exposure of this double standard by opinion leaders imperils the state's hold.

The state exists only in our minds; it is an abstraction, an idea. In the concrete world—the real world—there are only individuals, and the state is nothing more than a group of individuals issuing commands to other individuals. Legislation, parliaments, and political offices are artificial concepts which obscure this elementary truth and make the state seem legitimate and inevitable. In fact, the state's authority rests on public acquiescence, as law student Étienne de La Boétie pointed out in the sixteenth century—although he was referring to tyrannies specifically. We grant our rulers the power to abuse us; they have no independent authority. Therefore, freedom is attainable if we simply withdraw our consent.

Unlike the arbitrary intellectual foundations of the state, human rights are grounded in nature and discoverable by reason. Discernable in the human condition itself, they exist independently of—and despite—the state. Reason tells us, indisputably, that a person owns his body, formulates goals, and acts to achieve them. As long as a person respects the rights of others, then, he is entitled to live without interference. Likewise, there is a natural right to the defense of the self and others. A right is, in other words, the treatment of a person as a human being rather than as a lump of physical matter. This account of rights explains the universal historical recognition and prohibition of genuine crimes like murder and theft. It logically follows that rights are neither granted nor revoked by human agency; they can only be upheld or violated. Slavery, for instance, contravenes human rights regardless of its status in law. By contrast, the laws that support the state were devised, written, and legislated by human beings, and therefore are fundamentally arbitrary, subject to repeal or modification, and, most significant for the purpose of this article, vulnerable to truth and alterations in public opinion.

Complacency and tacit acquiescence to political rule, then, are the links of the chain that binds us in servitude. We are trapped by the inertia of our own collective consensus. Our chief political instrument is the ineffectual electoral ballot, which, through its very egalitarianism, tends to inculcate a sense of powerlessness in its subjects. The individual's will, considered equal to everyone else's, is countered by the will of every other individual, and we are taught that the majority deserves to have its way. Not only does the prospect of prevailing against the majority appear futile and hopeless, but democratic politics operates on the false assumption that there are authentic conflicts that must be resolved by aggressive coercion. Such conflicts are contrived and artificial; no individual or minority—or majority, for that matter—ever needs to triumph over the rest of the citizenry—except in the negative sense of safeguarding rights against political power. Thus, the impotence of individuals is an illusion fostered by the democratic political system itself. In addition, the democratic nanny state institutionalizes envy, dependence, and infantilization, a strategy which promotes the erosion of faith in freedom, diminishes confidence in the ability of people to manage their own affairs, and leads to greater tolerance of legal controls. Leonard Read's classic short essay "I, Pencil" provides a concise illustration of the spontaneous, efficient, and complex cooperation of individuals acting freely. Democracy also strengthens the state's grip by narrowing the range of acceptable viewpoints. The social pressure to conform to conventional opinion, which is disseminated through government schools and reinforced by shallow mainstream media, relegates critical thinking to the realm of the kooky. Dissent is channeled into party politics, where ideological differences are superficial and fundamental questions are rarely raised. The racial, religious, sexual, and linguistic privileges bestowed by government divide us into squabbling groups and distract us from larger questions. This Stockholm Syndrome-like tolerance of the state is strengthened by the large constituency of tax-consuming parasites, who have a financial stake in the state's extortion of productive citizens, and whose numbers are increasing as the already-bloated state continues to enlarge itself.

If opinion sustains the state, what can change it? In addition to demonstrating that the state is unnecessary, destructive, and criminal, there are what I call the logical argument and the moral argument. The logical argument is that even if you consent to the state, you are necessarily placing a preeminent value on your freedom to make that choice, and, by extension, you are likewise implicitly affirming the supremacy of everyone else's freedom to choose. In opposing the libertarian position, you affirm it. This is true because you value your opinion—whatever it might be. Similarly, every person values his own opinion, a fact which contradicts the state's involuntary character and proves the libertarian case. Of course, the state—wisely, from its perspective—does not seek your formal and explicit consent, thus rendering your opinion hypothetical and meaningless. You might as well consent to the fact that you are mortal.

The moral argument against the state is that it is wrong to inflict physical violence on the innocent. An innocent person is one who respects the rights of others. The moral argument does not require the positing of extreme hypothetical scenarios, such as whether one ought to physically harm a child in order to avert a global catastrophe. One need only reflect on everyday acts of state aggression against the innocent, such as taxation or the legal requirement to obtain a government license in order to open a business. While it would seem that the collection of taxes, for instance, is not an overtly violent action, it is invariably backed by the threat of force: Failure to pay will culminate in property seizure, which, if resisted, will result in incarceration. Because of the clear implication that noncompliance will be met with force, threats of physical violence can be subsumed under the concept of physical violence itself. That submission to the demands of political authority rarely involves the actual use of physical force means only that reluctant citizens are intimidated into obedience by their estimation that refusal will ultimately lead to violence in the same way that most unarmed people would "willingly" surrender their wallets to a mugger. Compliance does not negate the violence inherent in threats, and blows need not be struck to create a degrading environment manufactured by permanently-activist legislatures in which a growing constellation of human relationships are governed by terror—defined by The American Heritage Dictionary as "Violence committed or threatened by a group to intimidate or coerce a population, as for military or political purposes."

Libertarians affirm the moral argument. Everyone else must deny it. There is really no middle ground. Thus, those who defend the state must approve of bodily violence inflicted on innocent people—perhaps in the service of an alleged greater good which ostensibly justifies the treatment of innocent human beings as mere physical objects. Apologists for the status quo consider it proper to strong-arm anyone who fails to comply with the most trivial of the multitude of official directives that regulate much of life. Accordingly, they are prepared to have motorists violently hauled away if, for example, they have neglected or forgotten to carry their legally-prescribed documentation while operating a motor vehicle—a grossly disproportionate response to harmless behavior. Though defenders of the state might disagree with particular laws, they are impelled, by the logic of their stance against the moral argument, to prefer physical violence to peaceful, rights-respecting noncompliance towards the laws of which they do approve. Their position is that might makes right—i.e., that morality ought to be subordinate to physical force, and that it is proper for the strong to dictate to the weak. In fact, they must deny that there is such a thing as objective morality or that individual human beings have real worth or dignity. This may seem like a stark, unrealistic appraisal of non-libertarians, but it does follow from the rejection of the moral argument.

Is libertarianism kooky, then? It is certainly outside of the mainstream, but it appears to be gaining credibility and serious consideration thanks to the Internet and to the Republican presidential candidacy of American congressman Ron Paul. Yet it is the ideas that matter most. Is it kooky to believe that your life belongs to you? Is it kooky to want to eliminate violence against peaceful citizens? Is it kooky to notice that government perpetually fails to achieve its stated goals? Is it kooky to suggest that government agencies ought to surrender their monopolies and permit free market competition? Is it kooky to point out how much wealthier we would be without the state, whose every intervention distorts the market and hinders wealth creation? Is it kooky to acknowledge that the state does not and cannot create jobs or wealth? Is it kooky to notice that higher prices are caused by the state-controlled central bank's inflation of the money supply, and that this explains the rising price of petroleum-based fuels? Is it kooky to question the state's wars against strangers on the other side of the planet against whom you or I have no hatred? Is it kooky to want to be left alone?

Friday, May 2, 2008

How I Became a Libertarian

I remember driving with my family to our Lake Simcoe cottage in the early- to mid-1970s and seeing the protest signs of Pickering residents whose homes and property had been expropriated by Canada's federal government in order to build an airport. Something is wrong when a mere child can discern the injustice of theft to which adults are blind.

Even as an unlearned youngster, I recognized that people have a right to be left alone. The idea was inchoate at the time, but I can expand on it now. Every person's fundamental status as a human being precludes political arrangements. It is axiomatic and therefore undeniably true that we pursue goals, and hence that free agency inheres in the very structure of human reality. Rousseau was right: We are free by default. Politics, by contrast, which is the initiation of physical force or intimidation, is an artificial imposition that necessarily disrupts natural human enterprise. It impedes free will by forcing us to act contrary to our desires—in effect reducing our status from that of human personalities to mere physical objects, from ends to means. Any act of violence rejects its target's volition and thereby his personhood, treating him instead as a lump of matter. (Note that defensive violence simply respects the aggressor's demonstrated decision to treat persons as lumps of matter.) Even a threat of violence eliminates choices that would otherwise have been available to the person threatened; think of an armed mugger who demands your wallet or a policeman who orders you to stop your car. Politics, then, in suppressing what is human in us, is intrinsically anti-human. It always and everywhere interferes with our lives, infringes on our activities, and is therefore destructive of civil society. In my youth, these thoughts were intuitive and imprecise, and I was unable to articulate them. Because they also seemed irrelevant and naïve, and alien in a social milieu that did not seem to value liberty beyond shallow rhetoric, I did not pursue or develop them.

The Cold War

A few years before the fall of the Iron Curtain, I found a book in my high school library about the Cold War. Though I must have known it was pro-Western propaganda, its portrayal of Soviet misdeeds convinced me the struggle was against black hats, and consequently I presumed that "our" hats were white—just as my lifelong fascination with World War II and Nazi oppression blinded me to the culpability of Allied atrocities in that war, such as the terror bombings of Axis cities, the internment of racial Japanese in North America, and the atomic mass murder of innocents at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After all, I did not see oppression around me, and life was good. From that day I became a pro-American Reaganite/Thatcherite who feared Communist domination brought about by peaceniks who would convince effete Western governments to unilaterally disarm. I read Toronto Sun columnists like George Jonas, Barbara Amiel, Lubor Zink, Peter Worthington, and David Frum. I read most of Jonas' books, agreed with everything he wrote, and came to identify myself as a fellow classical liberal. Copies of his columns were handed out to friends in the hope that rational, well-articulated arguments would banish erroneous ideologies. (I still believe that history is captive to ideas, but know better than to badger friends about it—which partly explains why I have decided to air my thoughts in a format which is by nature passive and thus less likely to generate self-defeating resistance, and which invites the reader to consider ideas at his leisure, when he is most receptive. This is important because a thinker who cannot refute an argument is logically compelled to adopt it.) In addition, Jonas made me aware of Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek, the distinguished free-market economist—though I was unable to find any of Hayek's books at that time (this was before the Internet). I would later encounter Hayek's ideas in connection with the Austrian school of economics. The writings of Barbara Amiel, Jonas' former wife and the present Mrs. Conrad Black, introduced me to the term statism, though I dismissed it because it seemed unduly provocative and did not fit with my advocacy of muscular democracy. Lubor Zink was a vociferous and implacable critic of the Soviet Union whose maverick cynicism about glasnost and perestroika heightened the perceived threat posed by the "evil empire." I thought David Frum was a conservative and a proponent of freedom. I believed Israel was a perpetual victim on the verge of destruction—despite her victor status. My views, in retrospect, lacked nuance, and their weaknesses went unexamined. The U.S.S.R. was always the aggressor, always the sole villain. It was proper for the anti-communist regime in South Vietnam to have invited U.S. military forces into the country, but wrong for the Soviets to send its army into Afghanistan years later at the behest of communist Kabul. The anti-Sandinista Contras were noble freedom fighters deserving of U.S. taxpayer funding even if laws had to be broken. Democracy was the apotheosis of political organization, as expressed by Francis Fukayama, and force was sometimes necessary to extend it. Charles Krauthammer, polemicist for Time magazine, masterfully articulated this view and also influenced my thinking on foreign policy, which was dangerously close to the Trotskyite notion of perpetual global violence—but in the service of democracy.

And yet, even when they promoted destruction and suffering, my early opinions were at least grounded on the conviction that freedom was important. My belief that life was worthless without freedom dovetailed with the Cold War slogan, "better dead than Red," so I saw no contradiction in championing American militarism abroad. Opposing communism seemed to be both necessary and sufficient, despite the moral error of advocating evil against a greater evil.

In 1984 or 1985—late in my high school career—I recall being derided by my history class for describing the KGB (the Soviet equivalent of the Nazi SS) as an instrument of repression. The teacher, a Mr. Christidis, was a Castro apologist and explained that the Berlin Wall was erected to keep West Germans out of the GDR. To my disgust, the students seemed to believe him.

Anti-nuclear activism was perhaps reaching its zenith at the same time. Toronto's municipal government declared the city a nuclear-free zone. On a particularly fine summer day I observed a large disarmament rally at Nathan Phillips Square, which adjoins City Hall. It was my lunch hour, and I was wearing a suit due to the requirements of my summer job. After the crowd had mostly dispersed, I approached one of the speakers, an American who served as a medic in Vietnam. The conversation grew heated when he asked me if I would be prepared to drop a nuclear bomb on a communist city, knowing that children would die. I said I would do it, and in his understandable outrage he punched my shoulder. I was a gloating punk who had misdirected his thoughts into avenues of evil. This was perhaps the nadir of my intellectual development.

Political Correctness

In domestic affairs, I opposed that virulent and anti-rational aggregation of postmodern ideologies, popularly known by the Marxist term political correctness, which sought the segregation of Western society into ethnic, racial, and sexual collectives, and which gained influence and momentum in the 1980s. As I saw it, political correctness implicitly rejected the very concept of humanity insofar as its proponents proclaimed that identity-based groups are defined and separated by insurmountable epistemological barriers, preventing us from understanding other times and cultures. Truth and morality were held to be culture-bound, and even mathematics and the natural sciences were declared to be Western artifacts with no necessary correspondence to reality—never mind that the academic underpinnings of political correctness are themselves a subspecies of Western thought and that its claims to truth are logically self-contradictory under its own terms. And despite what its defenders maintain, P.C. is not inconsistent with racism, since both imply the alienation and dehumanization of "the other." These trends drove me to read books like Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987) and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education (1991).

The mass media often latched on to what I now regard as frivolous, tangential cultural issues, such as whether Canadian Sikhs and officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police should be permitted to carry kirpans (daggers) or wear turbans, respectively, or whether government schools ought to exclude recitations of the Lord's Prayer. My opposition to what I saw as pandering to ethnic interests was largely motivated by the apparent danger posed by multiculturalism to Western values, because although political correctness was and is a Western phenomenon, I feared that massive and sustained immigration from the Third World was undermining the intellectual and cultural foundations of our society, and that newcomers would vote for the ruling political party that had devised official multiculturalism and opened the borders. I dismissed as economic opportunists those who were drawn to Canada by our superior standard of living. In retrospect, my anxiety about immigrants was largely misdirected, since it is the bureaucracy—not immigrants—that propagates conflict among and between Canadians as they struggle to control or deflect official multicultural policy. Rights-respecting ethnic minorities offend only bigots, for race, language, culture, and religion are at worst annoyances to the majority. Thus, it should scarcely matter to the public if an RCMP officer wants to incorporate a turban into his official costume. Nevertheless, government intervention strips away the wealth and decision-making power of ordinary people without substantial recompense—except for a lingering perception that we have a proprietary stake in the public sector. Yet the monolithic and centralized nature of political bureaucracy not only excludes the wishes of large segments of the population but forces them to abide by its directives, which may be driven by special interest groups and lobbyists. Since government policy cannot please every taxpayer, its very existence fosters discontent among the subject population. It is no coincidence, then, that all culture-based controversies are centred on government institutions. In a truly free society, parents would simply send their children to the private schools of which they approved, taking account of whether the morning announcements include the recitation of the Lord's Prayer—or not, as they might choose. Similarly, consumers who disapprove of turbans could choose a private security firm that did not allow its employees to wear them; the lack of such firms would indicate either an untapped market demand—and a business opportunity—or the lack of a demand. Everybody would be satisfied.

As a post-secondary student I witnessed the now-forgotten Darryl McDowell affair at the University of Toronto's Scarborough College. McDowell, a member of the student government, provoked outrage for an article in a student newspaper in which he opined that a student-funded feminist group, which disallowed male executive members, ought to fund themselves rather than obtain financial support from the larger student population—which included men, of course—without their express consent. He also scandalized the university by telling fat jokes on the air at CSCR, a campus radio station at which I spun blues records (McDowell and I never met). He was hauled before a student hearing and a petition was circulated to dismiss him from his elected position. As far as I know, I was the only one who refused to sign it. It was a disappointment to learn that so many students and faculty were seemingly unable to discern or appreciate that only unpopular speech and ideas need protection from would-be censors and speech code advocates. Free speech, and therefore, free thought itself, is obviously meaningless in such a hostile climate. It was sobering to witness such ire directed towards something as trifling as a tasteless joke. At around the same time, the university meekly stood by when one of its professors, Jean Cannizzo, was hounded during her lectures by belligerent "anti-" racism activists, some of whom were not students at the university, for her work as the curator of an African exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. Perhaps more than anything else, my university education taught me about the frightening influence of establishment orthodoxy, and the inability of most people to resist—let alone recognize—it.

Decentralization and Freedom

The amalgamation of Metro Toronto into a "mega city" by the nominally conservative provincial government of Premier Mike Harris in early 1998 seemed like a good idea, and I was persuaded by the self-styled conservative Toronto Sun's editorial position that consolidation of local municipalities would eliminate waste and reduce costs. I was wrong about that, too. Centralized bureaucracies are more remote from the people they rule, are less receptive to the wishes of taxpayers, attract the more ambitious careerists, and therefore tend to be unaccountable, unresponsive, tyrannical, and stupid. Political decentralization, on the other hand, confines mismanagement and corruption to smaller political units, which reduces their harm. Also, the degree of liberty enjoyed by citizens tends to be proportional to the number of political jurisdictions available. When people have more migration options, governments competing for productive subjects have an incentive to minimize their own interventions.

On the Québec issue, I was a Canadian nationalist—though I opposed the Meech Lake Accord (1987) and voted no on the Charlottetown Accord in 1992. As I saw it, the people of Québec had no right to secede—but I didn't think they deserved special privileges, either. My view was bolstered by legal treaties that granted Québec much of its territory as a condition of its membership in the Dominion.

Another argument against Québec secession was that even if separatists carried a referendum by 50 percent of the votes "plus 1," the minority had a right to retain its Canadian citizenship—but since this was unworkable in a winner-take-all contest, separation had to be rejected. I did not see at the time that this minority problem exposes two decisive weaknesses in democratic theory. First, since a right is an absolute entitlement possessed by every person, no majority can justifiably violate the rights of even the smallest minority. Thus, the prevention of a minority's extrication from a given political arrangement amounts to involuntary inclusion, enforced by police power, which is a violation of the minority's right to opt out and be left alone. The democratic state is supposed to be our servant, but if the social contract on which our polity is said to be based is not mutually consensual, honesty demands that we stop pretending that the contract metaphor is accurate. Second, the domain of a popular election not only influences its outcome, but also is a measure of its justice. Had all Canadians been able to vote on the future of Québec, for instance, the majority would surely have chosen to keep the province within Ottawa's grip. Yet this would have thwarted every separation-minded Québecer, guaranteeing the continuation of the minority problem. On the other hand, had each of Québec's administrative regions held its own referendum instead, it is highly likely that some regions would have elected to secede—thus mitigating, but not eliminating, the minority problem. But if smaller domains yield more equitable results, why not ask individual neighbourhoods—or, better yet, individual Québecers themselves—if they wish to remain subjects of the crown? Clearly, the minority problem in Québec is caused not by the desire for secession but by the political establishment's insistence on collective solutions that, in the event of a separatist victory, would consign all Québecers, including those wishing to retain the privilege of paying taxes to Ottawa, to a new nation-state. By contrast, referenda held at the level of the citizen—allowing, in effect, people to opt out of federal government control altogether—permit everyone to get his way and solve the minority problem. Canadian nationalists would continue filing federal tax returns and secessionists would make their own arrangements—which might include disengagement from the provincial government as well. The implication here is that every adult has a right to secede from all political authority.

I endorsed the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and its 1992 expansion, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Later I would learn that genuine free trade—as opposed to the state-managed trade of NAFTA—does not require legislation. A moment's reflection reveals that free trade, the unhampered exchange of goods and services between two or more contracting parties, is a universal human right. Free trade is simply laissez-faire or economic liberty, the direct economic expression of our wills. My money, labor, and goods are mine by definition, and therefore I am morally entitled to retain, sell, or bestow them according to terms of my choosing, subject to the voluntary acquiescence of those with whom I wish to conduct a transaction. Regulations imposed by a third party which limit or add costs to trade constitute an unjust interference in my affairs. The solution, then, is the removal of all imposed economic barriers—whether between individuals or nation-states.

The Emperor's New Clothing

Although initially skeptical of the Internet and the World Wide Web, I came to embrace it as a resource that rivals any other human accomplishment. One day, probably in 2000, I discovered LewRockwell.com. At first I was attracted to its deliciously contrarian articles, for arguments that challenge my assumptions are always a pleasure to read. Indeed, I have come to suspect that most commonly-held beliefs—including, frequently, my own—are mistaken, and sites like LRC show us where we stand in Plato's cave and provide a map to the exit.

Winston Churchill, resolute defender of English-speaking civilization against the encroaching abyss of a new Dark Age, had been a hero of mine since I was a teenager. After having reached the third volume of his Second World War, I encountered historian Ralph Raico's revisionist article, "Rethinking Churchill." My exasperation at Raico's unflattering assessment of the great man prompted me to furiously make notes for a rebuttal that I planned to send to the author. Eventually, the truth of Raico's thesis—that Churchill was a warmongering socialist—sank in, and I abandoned my efforts at refutation. Further critical re-examination of the widely-accepted facts of the conflict led me to a disturbing but, I think, more honest assessment of Allied involvement in the war. Who can deny the hypocrisy of France and Britain declaring war on only one of the two invaders of Poland, a futile gesture which not only failed to help the Polish people but also resulted in the conquest of France and the exposure of Britons to aerial bombing, starvation, and the threat of invasion themselves? Appallingly, the Western Allies consigned Poland and much of eastern and central Europe to the Soviet slave system at the war's conclusion. My ideas were shifting in accordance with a view of history stripped of jingoistic chauvinism and cultural conceit. The light of truth destroyed history's cartoonish simplicity and revealed the hand of the propagandist.

My immediate response to the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States was a rather immature and indignant suggestion for a policy of extreme religious isolationism. In a post to an automotive-themed electronic mailing list on 20 September 2001, I wrote:

My idea would be for North America to refuse entry to any person who is of the Islamic faith, and to expel Muslims who are not citizens. To test claimants who may be lying, they would be placed in a holding room for a 24 hour period to see whether they pray to the east five times.

Admittedly, it was an asinine proposal—but I had much to learn, and the blatant prevarications of the Bush administration would eventually goad me into reviewing my long-established stance on U.S. policy.

I was shocked to hear, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, talk of the FBI using torture against suspected terrorists. My dismay stemmed from my longstanding interest in the dark side of history. I became a horror buff as a youngster, building Aurora model kits, poring over books about horror films, reading Poe and Dracula before the age of 10, and amassing horror comic books and issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Later, I studied the European witch-hunts and totalitarianism. Of all the outrages visited on human beings by their rulers, torture fascinated me most because its utter horror always surpassed my understanding. I could not fathom the depravity necessary to deliberately inflict agony on fellow human beings. For while murder is the deliberate and permanent termination of human experience, torture is the total subjection of human experience to suffering and thus is the supreme assault on human dignity. Like murder, torture removes its victims from the world. These early interests probably stimulated my aversion to bullying and, later, to its institutionalized form, the state. Ostensibly, the Enlightenment in Europe spelled the end of torture in the West until its recrudescence under authoritarian regimes in the twentieth century. But those states had passed from the scene, and torture was dead—or so I thought. My alarm at news stories that the United States government, post-9/11, was prepared to make men scream in the name of security and, ironically, freedom was amplified by the shattering of my naïve belief that all civilized people categorically rejected the practice, as evidenced by the very existence of a debate on the subject rather than outright and unanimous condemnation.

The stupendous transparency of the lies and equivocation employed by the administration of George W. "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building" Bush in its attempts to justify plans for the final destruction of Iraqi society—after a previous war and a decade-long policy of murderous sanctions and air strikes—forced me to question my previous and uncritical support of U.S. and British foreign policy. I do not know if the Toronto Sun (helmed at the time by Lorrie Goldstein, for whom I have much respect) or other local dailies, which I no longer regularly read by that time, provided a critical or factual counterpoint to the dishonest propaganda used to mobilize public support for the forthcoming invasion, but the Internet did provide access to a wealth of material, from mainstream press stories to independent analyses and reports from a wide variety of sources across the partisan spectrum. Not only could I not support the war, but my newfound skepticism revealed a pattern of deception used by past American presidents to galvanize their nation into the wars the political rulership wished to have its subjects fight: Wilson's promise to keep America out of World War I and his reversal after Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, and the linking of America's entry into the war with the purported need to combat the alleged threat to international order posed by the Central Powers; the U.S. government's manipulation of events leading to the Japanese government's attack on Pearl Harbor; the nixed scheme, code-named "Operation Northwoods," to stage fake or real "false flag" terrorist incidents against American targets that could be blamed on the Castro government in order to shape American public opinion into supporting a military response; and the phony Gulf of Tonkin Incident that led to the escalation of U.S. military intervention in Vietnam. Thus, the naked evil of the Bush-Cheney administration opened my eyes to greater truths and enlarged the scope of my political skepticism. I may not have become a true libertarian otherwise—so at least something good has come of evil.

An Uncomfortable Truth

When I first read, in March 2002, Murray Rothbard's "The Anatomy of the State" (Chapter 3 of his Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays), which characterized the state as a parasitical, criminal organization based on violent aggression, I was unconvinced. Although I did not find fault with the facts, I resisted their interpretation—possibly because the conscious recognition of the state's true nature necessitates a paradigm shift for which I was emotionally unprepared. After all, I viewed Western governments as mostly benevolent, despite the cracks I was starting to see in the edifice of Anglo-American state militarism. The implications of Rothbard's thesis are troubling, and it is understandable, from a psychological point of view, why most refuse to acknowledge that the democratic state, seemingly omnipresent in their lives, is neither more nor less than institutionalized physical brutality and extortion—with a near-perfect record of failure tethered to a ballooning price tag that we are forced to pay. The concerns of governments are typically alien and irrelevant to most people—who only wish to raise families and improve the conditions of their lives through work, leisure, love, and friendship, and for whom scrutiny of the unending stream of legislation emanating from the halls of power is an unnatural distraction. Man is naturally apolitical. If it were not for the continuous danger of creeping statism, ordinary people would be able to turn their full attentions to their private goals and become politically apathetic. Political apathy, against which the establishment and high-school activists rail lest meagre voter participation threaten the legitimacy of the political power structure by revealing its irrelevance, is a bad thing only because it compromises vigilance against the state.

The force of Rothbard's argument against the state proved irresistable once I was able to confront it objectively. The state’s malignance is obvious once recognized. There are simply no serious arguments on its behalf. Furthermore, to know the truth is to be burdened by it. Ignoring the truth once known is immoral, just as it would be immoral to turn away from a child in distress.

We have deluded ourselves in order to evade the ugly truth and because we do not wish to acknowledge our diminishing capacity to act as free human beings—a trend for which we bear some culpability, for no state can prevail without at least the tacit compliance of its subjects. By going along with the status quo, we submerge our doubts and tend to identify ourselves with the state. After all, we are told that in a democracy we are the government. Thus, the child who points out that the emperor is naked is frequently disregarded or rebuked. It is easier to ignore the unpleasant facts of our increasing servility and declining standard of living: The continuous benefits imparted by capitalism are reduced by government depredations such as generally rising taxes and fees; shoddy, monopolistic services that are being scaled back; an endless succession of bureaucratic regulations and legal statutes that micromanage our lives at finer and finer levels and which infantilize society by revoking normal adult responsibilities; rising prices caused by inflation of the money supply by government-controlled central banks; the business cycle of boom and bust resulting from government intervention into the economy; the unprecedented growth of global security states in the aftermath of America's foreign policy "blowback;" and ongoing consolidation of trans-national political power into fewer and fewer centralized quasi-state blocs such as the European Union, a possible North American Union, and the United Nations and related international agencies—perhaps culminating in a single world government. We pretend that the electoral ballot makes us masters of the Leviathan state, and that we are in charge of our lives. The truth is that we need official permission for almost everything we do.

The worst acts of violence have always been carried out by governments, and in the West, organized mass brutality did not really begin until the modern state appeared during the early modern period. State atrocities include warfare, torture, democide and other forms of genocide, involuntary medical/radiological experiments on human beings, and slavery. The state also excels at terrorism: The incendiary bombing of Tokyo on 10 March 1945 by American B-29s killed some 80,000 to 100,000 civilians. Altogether between 330,000 and 500,000 Japanese civilians were murdered from the air by the U.S. government during World War II.

Lesser government outrages include capital punishment (abolished in Canada), coercive social control, the indoctrination of children in government schools, continuous and escalating extortion (e.g., taxes, fees, inflation), the gradual neutralization of social units (e.g., the family) that shield the individual from atomization by the state, and the creation of a politicized democratic culture that, in seeking to outlaw everything that is merely undesirable and in empowering government to solve every problem, is increasingly grounded in violence (i.e., because every positive act of the state is backed by aggressive force or intimidation, society becomes more violent as the state's role expands).

What does it say about us that we allow this obvious evil and nonsense to persist? We claim to abhor monopolies because of their high prices and poor-quality products, yet we angrily and often mindlessly defend the only true monopoly—the state—against libertarians who alert us to the emperor’s nakedness, even as our high standard of living—which we owe to liberty—is threatened by the growing tumor of Leviathan. Strangely, it is more comforting to believe that, absent the state, our neighbors would be at our throats—but a moment's thought will reveal this to be a superstition.

Do we really think the state will roll back its own power, wealth, and privileges and restore freedom to us? Is it rational to deny that future crises, real or exaggerated, will not form pretexts for further tyranny, waste, incompetence, and restrictions on our ability to live the lives we wish to live? Do we truly believe that encroaching government authority and its endemic rapacity will cease before our civilization is choked into extinction? Are we too blind to see that the most prosperous societies are also the freest, and that the unconstrained state will destroy society because it is by definition inimical to human freedom and therefore to humanity itself? Is it not apparent by now that the great American experiment in constitutional republicanism, perhaps the most effective constraint on the expansion of executive government power yet devised, is nearing its failure point—after which we may face either: (1) the emergence of an American dictatorship armed with nuclear weapons, furnished with a demonstrated policy of military aggression, and possessed of a dangerously egotistical sense of historical exceptionalism that already fuels its twisted moralistic claim to "benevolent global hegemony"; or (2) a global financial crisis that could break modern civilization and lead to new political orders that in all likelihood will be authoritarian, if we can judge by the accelerating trend of meeting every sort of emergency—as defined by the state—with overwhelming centralized and militarized government force that is akin to martial law?

Nonetheless, there is a chance that libertarian ideas, already spreading thanks to Ron Paul's presidential campaign in the United States, his new book, and the free-spiritedness of the Internet generally, will gain credibility among natural elites who will then be able to reverse the authoritarian trend and lead us away from the state as an organizational principle of human societies—just as slavery, judicial ordeals, and the Inquisition are now unthinkable and absurd (although military conscription is not widely recognized as slavery). It is possible that future generations will be amazed that we could be so stupid as to think the state could be anything other than an enemy of mankind.

The Child is Father to the Man

Cold War propaganda convinced me that if communism were a cruel and destructive ideology, those who opposed it must be the bearers of freedom and virtue—and consequently, virtually any means were justified in combating it. This explains, for instance, the late William F. Buckley, Jr.'s 1952 call for "Big Government" and a "totalitarian bureaucracy" in America—though I never went that far. Analysis proved this to be a false dichotomy. The genuine enemy of humanity is not a particular political doctrine such as communism, National Socialism, or fascism, but the state itself—an institution that has legalized the violation of human rights, and which constitutes an apparatus of coercion that is highly vulnerable to usurpation by psychopathic personalities.

This truth—that the state is the superlative expression of human evil—can also be applied to an analysis of the historical inhumanities perpetrated by religious zealotry. Ecclesiastical rule in the West, which was often characterized by religious persecution, was replaced by secular authority. Yet one must be skeptical of the notion that people today applaud this development because they have a problem with oppression and injustice—given the relative tolerance for state brutality carried out on our alleged behalf. Secular propaganda efforts have successfully transferred our moral distaste for genuine religio-political oppression into an abstract aversion towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. Nonetheless, ecclesiastical horrors such as the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch persecutions, the Counter-Reformation, the Wars of Religion, and the Thirty Years' War were predicated on political power. Religious intolerance has little power to physically harm anyone except through organized aggression, just as fascism, for example, is harmless in the absence of government sponsorship. Moreover, while popular sentiment has demonized the cruel historical excesses of the Roman and Protestant churches, we should be aware that the magnitude of religious killings was generally small by modern standards, that religious authorities typically handed over condemned prisoners to secular officials for execution, and that much of this repression had secular elements (e.g., the Spanish Inquisition was instituted by the crowns of Castile and Aragon). Astoundingly, the modern secular state has not been generally recognized as malevolent, though it has extorted, killed, exterminated, tortured, and enslaved in far greater numbers in 150 years—much of it within living memory, no less—than in the 1,500 years of Christian religio-political domination. The chief ideological difference between religious and secular injustice is the avowed rationale. Rights have been violated for any number of reasons, such as religious heresy (as by the medieval Inquisition), alleged racial inferiority (as in Nazi Germany), unorthodox speech (such as questioning official pronouncements on Nazi mass murder in present-day Germany), improper social class membership (under communism), and victimless "crimes" (such as illicit drug use). The rationales differ, of course, because of historical circumstance, but the injustice underlying them all is the the same: the violation of the rights of innocent (i.e., rights-respecting) persons. Yet our ambivalence towards injustice is demonstrated by our moralizing about the rationales for injustice—as though we believe that the means are justified by the ends.

The true political dichotomy, as I eventually learned, is neither communism versus freedom, nor theocracy versus freedom. Because freedom is the absence of violent aggression, the central struggle is therefore between violent aggression and freedom. The modern state happens to be the most advanced form of violent aggression—and its self-aggrandizement continues.

The progression of my thought, then, has led me back to my nascent observation that mankind is free by nature. Its logical corollary is that the state always imposes itself on society by force. This proves that those upon whom the state inflicts itself are unwilling subjects whose basic human rights are thereby violated. This is obviously true.