Bill of Rights Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 398, December 17, 2006

"The Great Moratorium"


Back To Basics: Part Four
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

In three preceding articles, I listed the five steps necessary to get us to something resembling a libertarian future. Here are the five steps:

(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;

(5) Repeat as necessary.

My first three articles discussed the first three items, but it is step (4) that represents the real job of "selling" freedom politics. People have been told for generations, and most of them believe, that socialism—specifically the socialism offered by the two-headed "Boot On Your Neck" party—is necessary to help them, to paraphrase Gordon Sumner, accomplish "every move they make and every breath they take".

The BOYN trick, all along, has been to give people something to fear.

Every form of collectivism creates its own distinct false danger out of thin air that it can then pretend to save us from. Socialism will save us from evil capitalists. Fascism will save us from evil communists—and those whose evil skin color or accent is somehow undesirable.

Environmentalism will save us from evil industrialists—or from our evil selves, if absolutely needful, whether we want to be saved or not.

It will also keep the sky from falling.

None of this is new, of course. It all goes back to the same scam ancient religions used: the gods are angry! Only a coterie of well-fed (well-dressed, well-housed, and especially, well-laid) priests can save you! It's a simple evolutionary fact, taken advantage of, even by those who profess not to believe in evolution: to any set of genes that wishes to beget more genes like it, fear trumps joy every single time.

Leave joy—and all the good drugs—to the priests.

The latest of these ancient religions (except for Islam, of course, which has managed to combine all of the worst aspects of all the other religions in history) has created a new wrinkle, a wholly counterfeit danger it calls "Original Sin", a variety of sin so pervasive, so inherent in the very existence of human beings, that even tiny newborn babies are suffused with it. It then proceeds to offer us an equally counterfeit salvation from this peril it has invented.

All that this salvation will cost us, of course, is every cent we have, every stick, stone, or square inch of soil we own, our freedom, our children, our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations, our futures, our basic decency and honesty, our personal integrity, every moment of true happiness we might otherwise have enjoyed, and, eventually, our lives.

Five hundred years ago, even 300 years ago, this was a problem for everyone. Whether they were true believers or not, they had to behave as if they were—or die. Since 1789, however, the Bill of Rights—specifically the First Amendment which certainly does separate Church and State no matter what conservatives prefer you to believe—has largely protected Americans from whatever Church happened to be on top.

And the concept has swept around the world ever since.

It hasn't done so well with government's non-refusable offers of "salvation". If you don't believe me, ask the Armenians, the Kulaks, the Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and gays of Germany, Chinese "landlords", the Cambodian productive class—oops, but you can't ask them, because they were murdered by their own governments for refusing to be "saved".

Ask the Americans and other lost souls being illegally detained and tortured right now in secret prisons all over the planet as the government pretends to save us from the counterfeit danger of "terrorism".

Consciously or otherwise, folks have developed a flinch from all this promiscuous "saving"—who wouldn't? At all costs, libertarians must avoid coming across like any of these self-appointed "saviors" of mankind.

One approach is to advocate the idea, rather than the personality. That's why I've always greatly preferred to see the Libertarian Party supporting initiatives, in preference to candidates. Candidates, for the most part are liabilities to a movement—short guys with bad breath, bad comb-overs and cheap blue suits with dandruff on their shoulders.

But the guy who is the candidate for the Libertarian Party in a given position, which then rises or falls on his appearance and what usually amounts to a rather poor education in history, economics, ethical and political theory, and, generally, all things libertarian, becomes just one spokesman for a Grand Idea when we're laboring to get an initiative passed, and his appearance, or the the fact that he's misinformed or mumbles is suddenly a lot less important. Maybe he'll even be able to get through to the misinformed mumblers among his audience, and if not, there's always the next spokesman for the Grand Idea.

Once sufficiently motivated, people will begin to answer their own questions.

At least in the motivation department, my own experience is that fiction works better than nonfiction. Abraham Lincoln, after all, once called Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin "the little woman who started the Civil War". (On the other hand, "Honest Abe" was a pathological liar, so maybe it wasn't that good an idea to quote him.)

So far, over the last 25 years or so, I have offered my readers three distinct models for civilizations that are rooted in individual liberty:

To begin with, there's the North American Confederacy, in which The Probability Broach and subsequent stories in that series are set;

Ten there's the world-altering, pioneering culture of Pallas, which readers will be able to investigate more in Ares and Ceres; and

There's the colorful "alien" society in Forge of the Elders, where alternative Earths had many different dominant species, and the guiding "spiritual" philosophy is called p'Na—for "Principle of Non-Aggression.

Now I'm about to offer my readers a fourth freedom-oriented alternative in the form of TimePeeper, set in the middle of the "Years of the Great Moratorium", a century during which, thanks to a Constitutional amendment ratified about a decade and a half from now, no new laws of any kind may be passed or promulgated—with the nifty exception of repeals. If TimePeeper succeeds, there will be several more Great Moratorium stories representing different parts of that century.

The Great Moratorium is an idea that the libertarian movement—and the Libertarian Party—could pick up and run with. Which is why, of course, I created it. Plenty of people who are not libertarians, even individuals on the left, agree with us already that there are too many laws and will support us in this kind of effort where they would never vote for libertarian candidates. And I expect even Republicans will begin feeling that way once again, over the next three or four years.

There are at least two dozen similar ordinances, laws, statutes, or amendments I've thought of over the years that could be offered, not only at the federal level, but at state and various locals levels, as well, as legislative items or initiatives. Whether they ever pass or not, the discussion they'd generate would be a relatively easy way of getting people to reflect on the totalitarianism that has been raised around us, and whether there might be a better way of doing things.

For example, I've always wanted to see the current President, and the legislators who have voted to enable him by declaring war or just funding his undeclared wars, drafted into the military—regardless of sex, age, or physical condition—and sent immediately to the front. They cast their vote and when they exit the chamber, they're handed their uniform, boots, and the latest regulation piece-of-crap popgun.

And because governments lies and secrets invariably kill (consider Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq), I have proposed that all government secrets must be outlawed, and that any government employee, elected or appointed, who lies to any member of the public for any reason, must be hanged—before a large live audience and on nationwide network television.

If I ever find the time and energy, I plan to do a non-fiction book with a chapter dedicated to each of these and other proposed amendments. Of course they could all be cancelled out by passage of the Great Moratorium amendment, but that's obviously a win-win situation.

Remember that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics once seemed huge and invulnerable. And yet, practically overnight, it blew away like a thin fog. That it's been replaced now by a shabby, threadbare dictatorship only reflects the fact that the government of the United States of America desperately needs as many phony dangers it can pretend to save us from as possible. "Islamofascism" isn't working out exctly the way they'd hoped, so they're holding Vlad the Poisoner in reserve.

The Soviet government collapsed because the people stopped being afraid of it, its minions were too lazy and too stupid to give a damn any more, and popular pressure in the direction of freedom became too high for it to tolerate. The Chernobyl disaster was a key triggering event. If the disaster in New Orleans had happened something like a decade from now, we might be going through a similar process today, ourselves.

That's where the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party come in—pressure. I personally believe that the BOYNers will never let a significant number of libertarians be elected to office, that they will lie, cheat, steal, kidnap, and kill to keep it from ever happening. I could be wrong, I'm not saying don't run if that's your inclination. Just be prepared for another 30 years of futility and failure.

What I am saying is that the social revolution we libertarians have always yearned for—a mass movement demanding change, sparked by libertarians—can be expedited sooner, more quickly, and much more decisively if we concentrate on things, like the Great Moratorium Amendment, that the BOYNers can't control quite as easily as they do elections.

And that's how we get from here to there.

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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