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L. Neil Smith's
Number 681, July 29, 2012

"UN Small Arms Treaty Dead!"

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On Courage and Cowardice
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I was at a meeting the other day, of a new group that was looking for a name. The name that was proposed, under which the individuals at the meeting had gathered in the first place, was a fine, tradition-evoking one, stemming from the early American Revolution. It stated a purpose, it sent a message, and I was very proud to be associated with it.

Almost immediately, however, a few participants began to object to the name and to the logo that went with it. It was "too edgy", someone said. It looked too "aggressive" (believe me, the posture involved is one of pure self-defense). It might offend some people. It might make them reluctant to join the organization or (gasp!) to give us money. It might keep other groups from affiliating with us. Worst (and most hysterically funny of all), it might bring us to the attention of the government.

I said a few words in support of the original idea, and then a few more in opposition to a display of timidity that had caught me entirely by surprise and quite literally made me sick to my stomach. This, I wanted to say, is how the Libertarian Party ended up with the Hollow Woman for a logo, a copper can full of stale air. Apparently it's how the Free State movement decided on the porcupine, one of the most perfectly brainless animals ever to waddle the face of the planet.

But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. The whole damn thing was typical of all too many would-be libertarian undertakings, and fully explains an almost unbroken forty-year record of dismal failure on the part of the political side of the movement. I dealt myself out, having run out of patience with this kind of thing since the last Libertarian Party National Platform Committee I served on, back in 1979.

It took me a long time to cool down and lose that gut-wrenched feeling I was having. I guess I've been spoiled, running my own online journal, edited by a real hero and his heroic spouse and filled with heroic writings by heroic individuals. After searching for decades, I have a publisher who considers himself a real, old-fashioned liberal, and doesn't care what I think or say as long as I get as much of it down on (virtual) paper as I can before they haul me off to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time ... I also write for others who are equally heroic and who urge me (of all people!) to be more radical.

So it was dismaying, all this talk at the meeting about fear and being afraid. Does anybody actually think we can create a free society—pull off a cultural revolution—while speaking of nothing but hollyhocks and daisies? Does anyone think the Founding Fathers weren't afraid—for their lives, their fortunes, and heir sacred honor—when they put their names to what too many libertarians today would prefer Thomas Jefferson had called "Respectful Sentiments of Mild Dissatisfaction"?

I have no respect for people like that. I can feel nothing but disgust. I hate timidity. I hate cowardice. I hate pusillanimity of every kind, in any form in which it chooses to manifest itself. I hate it most of all because I myself possess each and every one of those qualities myself and I have to fight them down every day, practically every hour, in order to do the work that must be done to make us all free.

when I was a little boy, I was always the smallest kid in the class, and because I was usually the smartest, as well, I attracted bullies like a magnet attracts carpet tacks. Somehow, though, it never shut me up, and before I discovered in a class photograph that I had grown and was now the biggest kid in the class (except for poor Buzz, who'd been held back two grades) I'd beaten up the neighborhood bully twice.

He was a slow learner.

I had to do the same thing in high school, but it got done. Over the intervening period between bullies, I had taught myself, made it a reflex, whenever I felt afraid, not to back off, but to take a step forward.

Let me say it right here, just this once: I'm afraid.

I'm afraid all the time.

I've been afraid for more than half a century, ever since I first became a libertarian and began to see the real shape of the world. For a long time I've gone to bed every night, afraid that, maybe because of something I wrote thirty-five years ago, machinegun-toting goblins of one jurisdiction or another are going to smash their way into my home, terrorize, brutalize, kidnap, or kill my family and me, steal or destroy everything we've worked for, stomp our cats to death and laugh at the expressions on our faces, or drag us off on some kind of phony charges to torture us or execute us without anybody ever hearing about it.

Anyone who lives in Police State America today and isn't afraid of that kind of thing is either deaf, dumb, blind, or lives in the White House.

But I can promise you, solemnly, as a student of history and human nature, that crouching and freezing like a bunny rabbit isn't going to prevent it. Fear is not a legitimate reason for stopping, no, nor even for changing course. Fear is a natural reaction to danger, but most of the dangers that we all face today can be quelled by taking that step forward.

If I learned to, so can you.

L. Neil Smith is the Publisher and Senior Columnist of L. Neil Smith's THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE, as well as the author of 33 freedom-oriented books, the most recent of which is DOWN WITH POWER: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis:
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