Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 548, December 13, 2009

Left-wing/right-wing, either of them will
cheerfully kill you and cook you and eat you.

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American Rights?
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

—Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

Permit me to begin this by stating plainly, and for about the millionth time in the past forty-seven years, that I am an unabashed individualist.

The best philosophical expression of my individualism is called libertarianism. The best ethical expression of my individualism is called the Zero Aggression Principle. And the best working political expression of my individualism, thus far, is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights.

It should be clear from the above (and from thirty-odd years of writing and public speaking) that I am not a liberal of any kind, nor a progressive, nor a Democrat, nor a leftist, nor a socialist, nor whatever the hell else that kind of people want to be called these days.

Regrettably, it isn't equally clear, at least to some, that I am no conservative. I have business associates, publishers and editors, for the most part, who've known me and worked with me for twenty years who don't understand that, and still think I'm some sort of right- winger.

I think this happens because Republicans are better liars in some ways than Democrats, but at the same time, they're less competent at getting elected to office. Republicans talk a lot about individual liberty whenever they're out of power. They're little different from Democrats in this respect. But because they're out of power so much of the time, we hear it more continuously from them than from the other side.

Once they seize the reins of state, however, all of that freedom talk stops—except as Orwellian cover for unAmerican travesties like the Patriot Act, the no-fly list, and the twisted logic they employ to explain away illegal abduction, false imprisonment, and torture. When Republicans have power, the Bill of Rights becomes "just a piece of paper".

In this, too, they're no different from the Democrats.

I was listening to one of the conservative radio Holy Trinity this afternoon, explaining to a poor, dumb listener who had become confused by attempting to think for himself, why those individuals accused by the United States government of various acts of terrorism—many of whom have been held illegally against their will for years on the merest presumption of their guilt—do not deserve a proper trial, but should get some kind of drumhead ritual instead, before they're locked away in some dark hole forever or simply put before a firing squad.

What this clown's argument came down to, in the end, was that the prisoners in question are not Americans, and therefore don't deserve to exercise "American" rights. (This is the same illogic by which the government can do anything as long as it does it outside American borders.)

This is not the view of things on which America was founded. Take a look at the quotation from the Declaration of Independence at the beginning of this article. It was Thomas Jefferson's view, unanimously ratified by the remainder of the Founding Fathers, that every human being has exactly the same rights, simply by virtue of being a human being. Moreover, these rights are not uniquely American in character but are possessed equally by everyone, everywhere. America was to have been exceptional, not because its people had these rights, but because its government—alone in the world in their times—had been deliberately constructed from the ground up to uphold and defend them. Nor was government given any legal authority to suspend or abrogate them.

No one has to earn his rights. No matter how many puffed up monarchs and tin-pot dictators suppressed them, no matter how many centuries they have been suppressed, no matter how many millennia, they represent his natural state of being, his by virtue of his existence.

None of this is about what you and I are allowed to do, it's about what the government is not allowed to do. Properly—as Barack Obama recently lamented—all rights are negative, in that they derive from a single basic right, as Robert LeFevre put it, not to be molested.

To be left the hell alone.

Any "rights" that impose any kind of obligation on anybody else to do anything at all except leave you alone, are not properly rights, but government-granted privileges and entitlements—a license to make slaves of whoever provides the goodies—exactly the kind of corrupt, abusive practice that most Americans fought the Revolution to abolish.

But once again, I have digressed.

Please don't tell me that our nation is at war, which miraculously allows the rule of law to be set aside. It is not at war. This country hasn't fought a constitutional, legally-declared war since 1945. Those conservatives who attempt to push the destructive notion that somehow such a detail doesn't matter, are acting as lawlessly as the Obama or Clinton Administrations ever did. America wasn't attacked on September 11, 2001 by another nation-state, but by a self-consciously stateless band of violent criminals. It has used the excuse to invade and wreck two innocent countries for reasons completely different from those given.

The American legal system comes to us originally from England, where it evolved, over a thousand years, to protect the rights of the individual. These days, it doesn't seem to work very well, either here or in England, chiefly because it has devolved, degraded by the alien philosophy called socialism, and now seeks, above all else, to protect the power of the government at the expense of the individual, in just the same way any military tribunal's first purpose is to serve the military.

Socialism is an assertion that the individual is of little or no moral importance, and that the needs or wants of the collective, no matter what that might be, always trump whatever a "mere" individual may desire, even when it comes down to his own life, liberty, or property.

Both conservatives and liberals are dedicated to one form of socialism or another—right wing socialism or left wing socialism—and both are more than willing to lie, cheat, steal, and murder in order to advance their collectivist agendas. Only the excuses differ, the pablum mouthed by the left most frequently being "social justice" and the pablum of the right being "national security", for the sake of which either of them will cheerfully kill you and cook you and eat you.

That people can no sooner expect to achieve profound and lasting individual liberty under conservative rule than under "progressives" should be excruciatingly obvious in this Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama epoch.

However badly it may work at present, however desperately it needs to be radically reformed, the American justice system represents inalienable rights possessed, not just by American citizens, but by every human being. If politicians have the power to deny due process to alien prisoners today, it will find an excuse—perhaps by declaring us "unlawful enemy combatants"—to deny it to you and me tomorrow.

It's already happened in a couple of cases.

If, on the other hand, we take that power away, in the Renaissance that follows, people in other countries will see America as a beacon of liberty once again, not as the brutal oppressor it has become. Our freedom will spread, by itself, to every corner of the Earth. Unlike democracy, which is in so many ways the opposite of freedom, it will be embraced by billions, and will not have to be imposed at bayonet point.

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 more than 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 is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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