Bill of Rights Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 396, December 3, 2006

"A Future that's worth looking forward to."


Back to Basics: Part Two
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

    Author's Note: elsewhere in this issue of The Libertarian Enterprise you will find a letter I received from Samantha Atkins, writing in response to my recent article on Libertarian Party strategy, "Back to Basics". Like legions of libertarians before her, Ms. Atkins wants to know "how do we get there from here?" In part, this essay is intended to answer that question.

It has been said that politicians are in the business of bribing people with their own money. That is, at their direction, government at various levels employs physical force or the threat of force—exactly like any other bandit—to take away about half of what the average individual earns, and then doles it back out in niggling bits and pieces, while extracting an enormous middleman's fee for the "service".

Unlike a decent, honest bandit, however, government does the same thing with people's freedom, employing its "monopoly of force" to suppress individual liberty, and then "generously" allowing people to get little bits of it back, in return for their compliance with its edicts.

The middleman's fee in this case is the erection of a vast and powerful police state whose Mussolinoid minions strut about in body armor, displaying—and often using—weapons illegally forbidden to everybody else, pushing people around, violating their rights, spying on them, listening to their conversations, reading their mail, and denying them the most intimate physical privacy, examining their body fluids and probing their anatomical cavities as if they were merely livestock.

Libertarianism is a political and social movement of individuals dedicated to ending these abuses once and for all, punishing those who have been guilty of them, and creating the kind of civilization where they can never happen again. For more than thirty years, however, the movement has flailed around ineffectually, torn constantly between several conflicting strategies, and sadly afflicted with some in its midst who are a bit less dedicated to abolishing the police state than others.

Many of these creatures simply desire to become part of the police state themselves and have attached themselves to the Libertarian Party because they see it as an easier path to power than swimming in the deeper water with the bigger sharks in the Democratic and Republican parties.

Others believe voters can be satisfied with only half the looting, half the slavery, half the torture, and half the war that we endure now.

A worse problem are those who are afraid or embarrassed to express an unpopular or unusual opinion in public, and constantly demand that other libertarians behave as if they were embarrassed, too, and "tone down the rhetoric". These sad, pathetic souls seem more comfortable painting their pictures of a libertarian future in pastels, because they're too timid to use the bold primary colors the task actually requires.

If you are bold and principled, you'll suffer more damage at the hands of "friends" like these than you ever will at the hands of your enemies.

For those libertarians who are sufficiently bold and principled, getting from here to there is surprisingly simple. It consists of only five steps, and superficially resembles the collectivist politician's ancient tactic of bribing people with their own money. I will discuss them in greater detail below, but for the moment, those five steps are:

(1) Find out what people really want;

(2) Determine whether what people really want is ethical or not, and whether or not principled libertarians can ethically offer it to them.

(3) Figure out, in as concrete and colorful detail as possible, how, given enough freedom, people can get what they really want for themselves;

(4) Tell them what stands between them and what they really want; and

(5) Repeat as necessary.

Once enough people are persuaded that the key to having what they really want is freedom, getting from here to there won't be a problem just for libertarians any more. On the other hand, finding out what people really want can be more complicated than it seems—although it's absolutely essential, because everything else you do afterward depends on it—and there are a number of pitfalls that have to be avoided.

The likeliest pitfall you'll encounter is a great mass of negative wishes that are the first thing to come to people's minds when they're asked what they want. These are feelings that the powermongers have exploited (and largely created to begin with) to control people's lives—and more importantly, their bank accounts—for thousands of years.

People are afraid of a great many things. They hate a great many more things that they've been conditioned to hate by the government schools and the collaborationist mass media. People never seem to notice that the promises that politicians, bureaucrats, and policemen make are almost never kept, and invariably make things worse when they are.

A vivid example is the so-called "War on Drugs". People say they don't want their children to be given or sold drugs. They don't want those who maintain civilization—bus drivers, brain surgeons—to use drugs, either. Secretly, they're afraid they might try drugs themselves and like them. So because they lack the character to do it themselves, they ask government to keep their kids in line, certify those offering professsional services, and help them avoid temptation.

With government "help" of course, the drug problem is worse than ever. Every year, it's reported that younger and younger children are using drugs, and that, despite the unspeakable practice of demanding that prospective employees meekly offer up their bodily fluids for scrutiny (a demand amounting to rape), nothing seems to stop not only the widespread use of traditional drugs, but the invention of many newer ones. The fact that drugs (like weapons) are plentiful and cheap in prisons—a completely supervised and controlled environment—shows exactly how effective we can expect any kind of prohibition to be.

Thanks to government activity in this area—increasing the risks involved, and creating artificial shortages of what would otherwise be extremely cheap agricultural or chemical products—the manufacture, transport, distribution, sale, and use of illegal drugs has become one of the largest industries in Western civilization, subsidized, in effect, by the influence that government has on the market, and vastly more competitive and rewarding than anything else happening in the economy.

And because the manufacture, transport, distribution, sale, and use of drugs is so competitive and rewarding—and at the same time, illegal—civilized means of protecting one's business and settling disputes with customers and competitors are unavailable, leading to turf wars, drive-by shootings, and all of the other crimes we once associated with alcohol Prohibition and now see associated with drug laws.

Similar patterns exist where poverty and hunger, the size and power of corporations, the misuse of personal weapons, and so-called "terrorism" are concerned. Government, for the most part, creates the problem to begin with, and then pretending to make it better, makes it worse.

Explaining these unfortunate facts of life to people would be good for the cause of liberty if they were willing to stand still long enough for you to do it. Usually, they won't. It's more productive to address individual wishes, hopes, and desires. Most individuals want relatively simple things, a nicer house, a better car, a decent job, an education for their kids, and a future that's worth looking forward to.

It is that last item which is the key to creating a libertarian society.


Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at

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