L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 243, October 19, 2003
"Walk Through the Fire"
The Art of (Culture) War
Exclusive to TLE
Most of you have at least heard of the famous book, The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, of which many translations and commentaries are available. Many of you have seen the advice from this ancient military wisdom applied to modern situations, from actual war to business and economic competition. Let's take a look at how it can inform our quest to create a libertarian society.
Sun Tzu puts great emphasis on knowledge. Knowing "what" you are determines your strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for knowing "what" your enemy is; this lets you find the areas where your strengths overmatch your enemy's weaknesses, and avoid the converse of that situation. Knowing the situation and terrain is also vital. All these have become military (and business) truisms.
What are our strengths as libertarians? A logically consistent morality. The Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP) is the most moral, as well as the most internally logical, philosophy of interpersonal conduct. We do not engage in so-called situational ethics; rather, we examine each situation through the ethical and moral lens of the ZAP and act accordingly. Commitment to our philosophy. We want freedom badly enough that we sacrifice things for the pursuit of it. In many cases, the social acceptance of the majority of the people among whom we live. Some give up financial security by refusing to accept money or other aid from a government that stole the funds from others. A few have paid with their freedom, and even their lives. Patience. We're willing to wait for the rest of the population to come to our way of thinking, because we will not violate our principles to force anyone to follow our philosophy. We are proselytizers, not conquistadors. This has made most of us pretty good at the art of persuasion. And, frankly, many of us are quite well prepared for a physical confrontation, should it come to that.
What are the strengths of the State? Overwhelming military power. Even if a significant portion of military personnel refuse to fire on American civilians, even if some of these turn on those that would follow such evil orders, we're still vastly outgunned. What is more, the true power of Leviathan is the bureaucracy. The people manning the agencies and boards and departments are mostly believers in the need for a strong government (for a variety of reasons). They certainly do not consider themselves as "bad guys" or evil. Some are even zealots for the missions they strive to accomplish. They control much of the education system, the information system (media) and the economic system through the regulatory process. Even though there is a symbiotic, if not incestuous, relationship, between the regulators and the regulated, even if the control is self-imposed by the regulated, it is control. Just as, on an individual basis, many people will assume the cultural mores of the majority of the people with whom they live and work. It is societal Stockholm Syndrome, if you will the tendency of a hostage to forge emotional bonds to their captors. (See, for example, web2.iadfw.net/ktrig246/out_of_cave/sss.html)
What is our situation in the United States today? (To those in Canada, please accept my apologies. I do not know enough about your situation to comment accurately on it.) The two wings of the Boot On Your Neck (BOYN) Party are distinguishable only by the particular freedoms they hate more than the rest. Yet their partisans act as if each election pits the minions of evil against the forces of light. The non-zealots usually come down on the side that mostly favors the one or two issues most important to them at that time. Or they vote against the candidate they dislike more. The vast majority does not perceive a loss of freedoms as important, as long as they feel comfortable and "secure." That comfort can be economic, social, or emotional. By that last, I mean that they feel safe and protected from predators because the BOYNs told them that's what the SWAT teams, TSA searches, drug busts and the war on Iraq are accomplishing. Most do not even notice a loss of freedoms, even when examples are pointed out to them, unless they have a personal experience with it. The majority does not feel any pain from the current system other than from the occasional brush with the DMV or similar agency. In summary, we have a physically powerful but inflexible Leviathan State and a mostly complacent and partially hostile-to-freedom populace. (Yes, this is a gross simplification. Space here is limited.)
What are the unfavorable matchups? Armed revolution at this juncture seems like suicide by cop. Fiery speeches on street corners and appeals to common sense are not going to have the desired effects now, either. No pain, no Paine. (Sorry, had to get in one pun.) Can we elect people who will reduce the size of government? Unlikely; the resistance from the bureaucracy and the recipients of government favors would be too great. How about the favorable matchups?
We are not going to give up, no matter how long it takes. We point out the emperor's lack of vestments to our non-libertarian friends, send them to www.self-gov.org, ask them leading questions about freedom, ZAP, live-and-let-live attitudes, etc. To borrow a phrase, "Let each one, teach one." Our opposition has little coherent and constant philosophy other than the drive for power. The contradictions inherent within both the left and right wings of the BOYN Party are an exploitable weakness. As the hypocrisy becomes more and more apparent, this avenue of attack should bring more people over to our way of thinking. The lack of moral compass in the BOYN Party will cause them to harm our freedoms and our economy more with each passing year. Laying the groundwork now, by asking questions and noting bad trends, will reap benefits (converts) later. We must not compromise, we must not jump the gun (okay, two puns), and we must lead by example.
So what, you ask? When do we act? I'll discuss that in the next column.
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