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L. Neil Smith's
Number 589, September 26, 2010

"Why do creators create?"

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When to resist. When to submit.
by Paul Bonneau
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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

I was having a conversation on a forum about the classic Claire Wolfe question, when is it time to shoot the bastards? Seemed like there was a lot of confusion and controversy about this, so I thought I'd take a whack at it here.

Seems to me, the answer varies quite a bit, with the situation. There are what we could call "internal factors" that bear on it; things like your personal convictions, your health, your family situation, your age, and so forth. There are "external factors", things like the current political state of affairs, what your neighbors think, and others.

Now, there may be a few folks out there like John Wayne, who in The Shootist declared, "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." Fewer still who can make it stick. More power to them, I say; but I'm not quite up to that. I imagine most folks are in the same boat as I am. When does submission make more sense than resistance, and vice-versa?

Forms of resistance

Maybe we ought to first define some terms. Resistance can take many forms, from armed conflict on one end to simple noncompliance without confrontation on the other (a homeschooler who "forgets" to register with the state, or a person who carries a gun without a government permission slip, are resisting). In fact to me it almost looks like resistance and submission shade into each other; for example, someone who decides to simply earn less money to avoid being taxed—what is that? Submission or resistance?

In this piece I am taking the two terms in the more extreme senses. What do you do if a SWAT team busts your door down—lie down with your hands behind your neck, or open fire with your battle rifle? I am talking more about your response to an extreme provocation, rather than something like a speeding ticket.

External factors

Following my conversation on that forum, let's break the external situation into 3 different scenarios. The first scenario is freedom, as exemplified by another essay of mine, What Is to Be Done With the Statists? and What Is to Be Done With the Statists?—Part 2. I will call this the "Dickenson scenario" after this quote of John Dickenson's: "Indeed nations, in general, are not apt to think until they feel; and therefore nations in general have lost their liberty: For as violations of the rights of the governed, are commonly... but small at the beginning, they spread over the multitude in such a manner, as to touch individuals but slightly. Thus they are disregarded... They regularly increase the first injuries, till at length the inattentive people are compelled to perceive the heaviness of their burdens. They begin to complain and inquire—but too late. They find their oppressors so strengthened by success, and themselves so entangled in examples of express authority on the part of their rulers, and of tacit recognition on their own part, that they are quite confounded." In other words, starting from a free condition, it is best to nip impositions in the bud rather than ignoring them or putting up with them.

The second scenario is outright war of the state against the people, such as Solzhenitsyn noted in this quote from The Gulag Archipelago: "And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? . . .". We can call this the "Solzhenitsyn scenario".

The third scenario is an intermediate case between the foregoing two, that we could say is roughly equivalent to America today. Yes, the American Gulag has morphed into a ravenous beast concerned mostly with consuming bodies and propagating itself (2.3 million Americans in jail, far higher per capita than virtually any other country) but it has not yet reached near the appetite of Stalin's, and the probability of being arrested remains low. Yes, the "criminal justice" system is quickly becoming a joke, but occasionally justice is still delivered there. Yes, the cops have become a protected class able to get away with literal murder, yet most cops are not murderers. We are halfway between freedom and Hell. Let's call this the "current scenario".

Looking at these external factors, these three scenarios, where does it make sense to resist or to submit?

Oddly, resistance makes the most sense at both extremes, it seems to me. For "Solzhenitsyn", you are simply at war and might as well kill every state thug you can lay your hands on, getting as many as you can before they can get you. If everyone did this, or even just a significant minority, the state security apparatus wouldn't last long; they'd just run out of thugs. For "Dickenson", we have the same conclusion but for different reasons. Starting with the condition of freedom, you have no state security apparatus to fight. It's just the 15 guys over in the Statist City police department. Resistance, up to and including death, has a significant effect on the remaining cops there. They quickly learn to tread carefully around free people. Nipping statism in the bud makes sense, even though the form of resistance may seem out of proportion to the provocation. The point, exactly as Dickenson noted, is that the initial provocations "touch individuals but slightly". Why not absolutely forbid them at that point, when the cost of resistance is likely small?

Next time we get ourselves free, if we ever find ourselves in a repeat of the "Whiskey Rebellion", we will treat the invading troops exactly the same as the colonists treated the British at Lexington and Concord in 1775, and the George Washington of the day will end up dead. There will be "zero tolerance" for any impositions. I believe we have learned our lessons well.

It makes less sense to resist in the "current scenario", at least where external factors alone are considered, because your actions are too insignificant to make an impression on the imposers (who are numerous), especially when the state propaganda apparatus has control of information. Any significant resistance, such as that leading to killing, appear to bystanders as way overboard (in a way it would not appear in either the "Solzhenitsyn" or "Dickenson" scenarios). Better are more passive strategies like avoidance, non-cooperation and even tactics "within the system" such as political work, letters to the editor and blogging—at least as long as those tactics continue to yield results. Anyway you still have a (small) chance to be vindicated in the courts, if arrested.

Internal factors

People have different internal tolerances for oppression, naturally. On the one hand we have people with nothing left to lose such as old men who have lived a life already and remember more free times, or terminally ill people, or people who have lost everything to the tax collector. On the other hand there are people with a lot to lose, such as parents with young children to raise, or people with others dependent on them, or younger people with lots of possessions and a happy life.

Obviously for people with a lot to lose, unless you are John Wayne it makes no sense to challenge and resist all but the most intolerable of impositions (e.g. outright murder) from state thugs. Submission makes sense, as you have (or should have) more important priorities.

For people with nothing to lose, especially for the terminally ill, why would it even enter one's mind to submit? Why put up with anything at all?

I have wondered why we don't see more resistance from such people. Maybe they become internally directed and the state means nothing to them any more. Maybe they are intent on living what little is left of their life. Maybe the probability of people in that condition running into an intolerable imposition is very small. Still, especially with the state now clamping down on pain medicine (how idiotic is that?), the likelihood of a man seeing his wife die in excruciating pain will increase, and I'll bet we will see some retribution for that in the future.

Cops and other enforcers do tend to leave old folks alone, and there may be more to that fact than that old folks cause little crime. It may be an unconscious recognition that it is dangerous to push people who have little to lose, and who in fact might welcome a quick death, as long as he can take you with him. There is that saying that was floating around the Internet a while back, "Watch out for old men; if they figure they are to old to take an ass kickin', they'll just shoot you."

There was a side effect to the "three strikes you're out" laws that was noticed shortly after these became a fad among statists. A criminal with two strikes had nothing to lose in a police encounter, so cops were more likely to get shot or killed when encountering them. Interesting how that works. Surprise, surprise.

Now, even if you are old, alone, and terminal, it may be that you are still not up to resistance. Many people have spent a completely passive life, and it's a bit much to expect them, all of a sudden, to get some grit late in the game. Such attitudes are another internal factor that bear on the decision.

No Fort Sumters

Mike Vanderbloegh, on the Sipsey Street blog, has made his famous call for "No Fort Sumters", recognizing the huge strategic mistake the South made, playing completely into Lincoln's hands, when they attacked Fort Sumter. It would have make much more sense to let Fort Sumter actually sink a few ships refusing to pay the tariff. This would have foiled Lincoln's plans of getting Northerners behind the war.

I agree entirely with this analysis, but I have to wonder, does this apply to us? We are not the Confederate Government, but individuals. In the end it's just me and a cop, out there on a lonely highway; or something of that nature. If I choose to resist and things go very bad, will the whole nation rise up and say, "Damn those anarchists, throw 'em all in internment camps?" I somehow doubt it. Hell, they might even say the cop had it coming to him, given his thuggish behavor documented on youtube.

The "Fort Sumter" situation does not seem to apply to any individual action, unless I'm mistaken. People didn't start loving the IRS because Joe Stack flew his plane into them.


A lot of people like Thoreau, and his essay Civil Disobedience. I like it too. But let's keep in mind that Thoreau did not actually risk much. He was in small-town America during one of the most free periods. What time did he spend, a day or two in the local jail? How hard is that?

This is not Thoreau's America any more. It is not the British Raj either (although the difference between the way we and Gandhi's India threw off British dominance is instructive). Resistance, serious resistance will come. I'm betting it will happen when the Feds flush the dollar down the toilet and the food riots start, and they decide to try gun confiscation. When we are sliding into the "Solzhenitsyn scenario", you are going to see some action.

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