THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 350, January 15, 2006
Pronounced "coo day tot"
Fool Me Twice
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
If politics, as it is frequently observed, tend to make strange bedfellows, certainly the politics of war tend to make even stranger ones.
Recently, thanks to some new friends I've found among my fellow musicians, I've been reading articles written by people who identify themselves unflinchingly as liberals, about the various shortcomings of people who identify themselves as conservatives. I haven't done anything like that for a long while, and it's been interesting in many different ways.
For example, it's amazing to me how ... well, underdeveloped, primitive, naive, for the most part, the analysts that I'm reading arethey write as if much of the last fifty years had never happenedand how blind to the shortcoming of the leaders of their own movement. They're quick enough to see one facet of the truth, that George Bush, his predecessors and his cronies are all thieves, liars, and mass murderers. What they don't seem to see is that exactly the same is true of every Democratic politiciannotably Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and both Clintonssince the War Between the States.
Perhaps I should explain, for the benefit of those who are not my regular readers, that I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative myself, nor anything in between themand never have been. The traditional right-left political spectrum is, to be charitable, a very poor way to measure political phenomena in the real world. In my more cynical momentsfor example, when I'm harkening back to the political science courses I took in college forty-something years agoI think it may even have been devised deliberately, to limit the choices people can make.
For what it's worth, that's exactly what my mentor, the great Robert LeFevre believed. (Bob was an important author and lecturer in the early years of the movement I've been a part of since 1961; science fiction readers know that he served as the template for the character "Professor Bernardo de la Paz" in Robert A. Heinlein's splendid novel, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.) As Bob often asked, rhetorically, at precisely what position on the right-left political spectrum do we find those in power who will not tax you to pay for some putative greater goodas they define it? And at precisely what point on the right-left political spectrum do those people belong who oppose taxation and other such intrusions on principle, as a form of theft?
The traditional spectrum fails where almost every other issue is concerned, as well.
I can tell you where they belonged back in the 1960s, when I was taking those poli-sci courses: precisely nowhere. I once sat through an astonishing two-hour exposition on how the survey responses of certain pesky individuals and individualistslibertarians or fans of Ayn Rand or Henry Georgehad to be thrown out before they were tabulated, because they played hob with the established wisdom. Facts, as we all know, must always take second place behind the currently respectable theory.
I was one of those pesky individuaists, myself, back in the 1960sI have never been anything, politically or philosophically, but a libertarianand I hope that I'm a hundred times peskier today than I was then. Most people seem to believe that their lives belong to someone or something elsetheir families, God, the community, the government. On the other hand, I have no memory of ever believing that my life belongs to anyone but me.
See what I told you?
The socio-political expression of my peskinessthe way it gets appliedis something I call the "Zero Aggression Principle", a concept that defines the libertarian movement. The ZAP holds that the only way that Ior anybody elsecan be safe and secure in the exercise of our self-ownership is to agree with one another that nobody has a right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against anybody else for any reason whatsoever. Naturally, such a principle can't solve every human problem, but it will take care of 95 percent of the problems we have.
Note the word "initiate"this is not some form of pacifism I'm pushing here, just a mutual promise among individuals never to start a fight. Most libertarians are well-prepared, physically and morally, to defend themselves.
But I digress.
If we decide, instead of adhering to zero aggression, to try to solve our problems by initiating force, we invariably cause a vastly worse mess than whatever it was we started with. For the moment, I simply offer alcohol prohibition as a prime example, and the War on Drugs. By contrast, for Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, initiated force or the threat of forcecoercionis almost always the first resort.
To the principles of self-ownership and zero aggression, add one more, and you'll always know where L. Neil Smith and a majority of other libertarians are coming from. As long as government continues to exist, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, areand must remain-- the highest law of the land. They are far from perfectsomebody once described America as the greatest idea for a country that anyone ever thought of; often that's all it's been, an ideabut a civilization that operated one hundred percent consistently with the Bill of Rights would be easy enough to live in that even I could give up politics and concentrate on something more dignified and sanitary.
Almost anything qualifies in that regard.
Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen very soon. In fact, we seem to be sliding backwards at an alarming and accelerating rate. Every time one of the "major" parties comes to power, it passes new laws that violate our self-ownership, threaten us with injury or death if we won't comply, and shred the Bill of Rights. When the other "major" party replaces the firstusually by making a lot of noise about how evil and repressive their predecessors werethey almost never repeal those laws. They simply pass more of their own on top of them.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Now without question, I share my new liberal friends' loathing for the current administration and its war against the American people, the Bill of Rights, and practically everything else. I have deep and severe misgivings, howeveras any principled libertarian wouldabout forming some kind of alliance or coalition with them to get rid of the present menace. I've been through all of this before, back in the 1960s. My liberal friends must understand that, before we can begin to work together again, they must offer substantive assurances that we will not simply exchange one brand-name authoritarian regime for another.
This is particularly important because (given the flow of history and the advance of technology) the only possible rational goal of this or any anti-authoritarian coalition must be to put an end forever to the threat of times like those we're living through now, to entirely reshape the future, and not just deal ad hoc with transitory current events.
They must understand that my entire adult life has been spent in a political struggle to protect some poor, tattered remnant of my rightsmy life, my liberty, and my propertyfrom individuals who call themselves liberals. Conservatives became a threat only relatively recently.
For most of that time, it was liberals who were the first to sneer that the Constitution is "just another goddamned piece of paper". They insisted cynically that it's a "living document" that must be expected to change with the times, not a sacred and immutable covenant between those who have political and military power in this civilization and those who do not. On other occasions, they claimed that the Founders never meant by it what I understood they meant. And anyway, they often added, the Founders' old Dead White European ideas and ideals are obsolete.
If you remember nothing else from this essay, remember this: the seemingly unavoidable tragedy of our times is that only those who are presently out of power place any value the Bill of Rights. To those who are in power, it's exactly what it was meant to be: a crippling obstruction to the ambitions of the current regime.
Whatever regime that happens to be.
Today, George W. Bush chafes in the straitjacket manufactured by the authors of the Bill of Rights, but it is vital never to forget that Bill and Hillary Clinton chafed in their time, as well.
Turn things over tomorrowput Democrats in the White House, Congress, and the Senate, and Republicans out on the streets selling pencils from a tin cupand it is the latter who will sing hymns about the first ten amendments and the former who will curse and sneer.