THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 155, January 7, 2002
THE BRIGHT AND THE BLEAK
The Winter of Our Discontent
by L. Neil Smith
Special to Net Planet News
Winter has come to the United States of West America. Days are dark, nearly as short as they're going to get, and cold. A bitter wind blows down from the Wyoming plains, having arrived there from Siberia.
It's winter for the cause of liberty, too. Religious criminals have dealt a shattering blow to the heart of the nation's principal city. Politicians, instead of trying to discover who really did it, or acting to keep it from happening again, concentrate on measures that guarantee it will keep happening because, politically, there's everything to be lost, and nothing to be gained, from stopping it.
As a result, young American men and women have been shipped off to fight and kill and die in another illegal, undeclared war in a parched and frozen wilderness, while politicos, safe and comfortable at home, propose scheme after scheme to obliterate the unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human rights that for centuries have made America unique both in the world today and in the history of mankind.
Not content with violations of the Bill of Rights that have been common since the War Between the States, the President and his evil cronies conspire to eradiate rules of evidence, due process, speedy and public jury trials, and as many other laws and customs -- laws and customs Americans rely on to protect them from capricious or malicious prosecution by the government -- as they can. Hundreds are kidnapped and sequestered from their families and lawyers.
The nation's secret police -- FBI, CIA, NSA, DIA, and countless others that have no legal standing to exist, let alone operate under Constitutional law -- pry into the lives and businesses of anyone and everyone, giving a suspicious slant to the most innocent comings and goings of the people they falsely claim they're protecting. Uniformed, machinegun toting thugs have taken over America's airports and use their malign power to grope, fondle, strip, probe, or incarcerate anyone they want, or to deny the right to travel to anyone bold enough to differ with them about what they're doing.
At the same time, owing to the incompetence and ignorance of two administrations in a row, the country finds itself slipping backward, inexorably, into something that can't possibly be a Depression because we don't call them that any more. Meanwhile, brave and glorious entrepreneurs, on and off the internet -- who succeeded in staving off disaster for almost a decade before they fell at last, exhausted by the wayside -- are blamed for what's happening to the economy.
With only a handful of exceptions, both major political parties -- even some within the libertarian movement, inside and outside the Libertarian Party -- and all of the Old Media applaud what's going on. Opinion polls indicate overwhelming support for it, too. A socialist senator from New York, a foul creature whose legislative activities are directly responsible for the disaster that seems to have changed the course of history, writes a newspaper column -- or has it written for him -- in which he gloats that the age of taxpayers and voters demanding a smaller government has finally ended.
As the nation's population nears 280,000,000, only a few thousand yearn for a return to the rule of law -- which would have made the atrocity that sparked the current resurgence of fascism impossible. Many of them are young, new to the freedom movement; many others are middle-aged or elderly and have given their lives to it. A bleak moment in the long history of the struggle for individual liberty seems to linger forever. Our hopes, wishes, and dreams appear frozen in the air before our eyes, distant and unattainable. Many of those who have been struggling the longest look for excuses to give up.
Then, on top of everything else, as if things weren't already nasty enough, one of the best and brightest in the movement composes a compelling essay, explaining in a manner that absolutely nobody can misunderstand, why a political effort, however well-intentioned, not only can't get this poor, miserable nation-state out of the putrid mess it finds itself in, but will inevitably make things hideously worse. Whereupon another of the best and brightest explains why an armed rebellion is out of the question, too.
Which brings us to the present moment, when many of the remaining best and brightest are giving thought to turning on the gas and lying down. Now you know how they must have felt at Valley Forge, in the blackest moment of the Revolution, when the British and their Hessians seemed unbeatable, our side was cold, hungry, and nearly naked, and most reasonable individuals believed the cause was lost.
And yet ...
Here we are today, broke, maybe, but well-fed and toasty, relaxing comfortably in our homes and offices (instead of tattered, makeshift tents pitched in a howling wind and four feet of snow), fighting for freedom with electrons and photons -- so far, at least -- instead of powder and ball. If we choose to disbelieve opinion polls that haven't been trustworthy since the 1960s, and mass media whose only function is to relay government lies and threats to the public, we know that the American people are better armed at this moment, and more aware of their rights -- thanks to those electrons and photons -- than they have ever been in American history. And no matter what happened on September 11, nobody trusts the government.
It's not a time for giving up, but a time when victory for liberty is closer than it has ever been, a time when the utter helplessness of government -- or government-style "solutions" -- is more apparent to the average person than at any other period in history. It is a time when it is easier than ever to show people that they must start relying on themselves, because they can't rely on government.
Our best and brightest repeat what Lord Acton told us: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For that reason, we shouldn't strive to put our own in office. While I agree with the premise, I disagree with the conclusion, and for a number of reasons.
First, if we ever manage to put our own in office and they turn out to be as bad as those in office now, what, exactly, have we lost? What we've gained is wider public understanding of what libertarianism is all about, and undeniable moral high ground from which the New Media can pelt our new politicians and keep them in line.
Try to remember that, from the outset, the so-called "Republican Revolution" (used by our best and brightest as evidence of humanity's inevitable corruptibility -- and, therefore, the futility of political action) stood for nothing, not a single immutable principle. We must make sure of what our politicians stand for. Instead of that arbitrary mess the "Contract with America", we must offer first the familiar, comfortable, traditional radicalism of the Bill of Rights, and finally the Non-Aggression Principle.
It must be plain that we have dedicated ourselves, not to getting and holding power, but to breaking it down into so many little pieces that you can't call it power anymore, but can only call it individual responsibility.
Second, not every individual is quite as corruptible as Lord Acton believed -- or at least not in the same way. True, each of us probably has his or her limits, but not everyone will have the kind of power to take him or her to that limit. As for me -- I won't argue with the best and brightest; I'm 55 years old and I know myself pretty well by now -- the only bribe that would work is the thing I've worked all my life to obtain for myself and everyone else, anyway: untrammeled individual liberty.
No, it's not a time to give up, it's a time to try new tools. One of them is a nationwide libertarian association of some kind that can evaluate and endorse (or refuse to endorse) candidates on the basis of their dedication to principle, and, as time goes on, their consistency in office. Even a rare Democrat or Republican may qualify. What's required, I've always believed, is a representative in every county, a goal I've striven for with a couple of organizations and failed so far to achieve, but not a goal that's impossible.
Such an organization could also author and promote initiatives and bills the way the Fabian Society did for socialism back in the 19th century.
One thing that's glaringly clear is that, right now, LP candidates have the ability to determine the outcome between Republicans and Democrats. This enrages and frustrates Republicans, of course -- it's more fun to watch than practically anything else I can think of -- but what frustrates me is that LP strategists (if there is such a thing) don't make more calculated use of it, selecting races and tailoring candidacies to take advantage of it.
If Republicans are made to understand that libertarians can take an election away from them, and that the only way to prevent it is to be more libertarian than libertarians are on certain issues, then -- Bush Administration or not -- things will begin to change. That, I submit, is a demonstration of electoral action that doesn't necessarily involve any libertarians becoming corrupted by power. We're not seeking power -- and we'll probably never have it -- what we're seeking is simply change for the better.
I've always believed our first task must be to gather up those who agree with us, before we go out to capture hearts and minds. It may even be time to set aside old feuds within the movement. Lately I've seen writings I've admired, attributed to individuals I've thought of for years as enemies. While I refuse to abdicate any right to judge their future actions, maybe circumstances call for me to stop talking and writing about what they may have done before September 11, in a belief that we need as many pro-freedom individuals as we can get, working to end this war, and this mess.
The ball is now in their court.
There will always be people who will never come around, no matter what. An editor I've worked with for 15 years, easily describable as a "bedwetting liberal", has seen almost every word I've put in my books since the late 1980s. He's a decent fellow in his own terms, and has been kind and unkind and kind again to me by turns (as I've been to him). Nothing I've ever written -- or said in defense of what I've written -- has ever changed him or ever will. Thus I concentrate my efforts on others.
Some of those efforts are little, some of them are big. It would be foolish to give up before we try them all. One involves the Bill of Rights buttons I'd like to see on every lapel as soon as possible, and the explanatory cards I'd like to put in every pocket. Lots of great people have helped me with that. There's no telling what will come of it, absolutely nothing, Something Wonderful, or something in between.
The point is to keep trying.
I've given you a hint at a truly big effort, at the top of this column. Soon, The Libertarian Enterprise, which has been showing up in your e-mail the last five years, is going to explode into a bright new manifestation: NetPlanetNews.com, your portal into a libertarian future. We're not giving up, we're just getting started.
So don't give that New York senator another thought. We love to hate him, but all he wants right now, all he's trying to get with that silly article of his, is a secure place in the new fascist regime. A kid with a high I.Q. who graduated from college when he was 16 -- but never measured up to what he thought was his potential afterward -- he believes he's the last, best hope for socialism. But take a close look at him next time he's on TV -- and how he loves to be on TV -- all he came to be is the last, best hope for Brylcreem.