"Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, no matter what name it is called." ~ John Stuart Mill
464 Lost Years
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
Recently I re-read part of that seminal essay, Discourse on Voluntary Servitude by Etienne de la Boëtie, written in 1548, or 464 years ago. He said that if you want to topple a tyrant, all you need to do is to withdraw support. No violence, no sweat, just stop helping him.
Yet 24 years later there was a massacre of Huguenot Protestants, indicating that tyranny in 16th Century France became worse, not better, and here we are in the Land of the Free with tin-god tyrants infesting every corner of the country. What happened?
Most of the blame belongs on the heads of all who failed to follow de la Boëtie's perfectly sound advice, and who fail to follow it right now, today. Notice, he nailed the objective exactly right; he wanted the tyrant to tumble. In that recent re-read, I did find a couple of aspects where, helped by 464 years of hindsight, he might have done a bit better. Not to blame him, but I wish he'd said more about what kind of support withdrawal will be most effective in toppling the tyrant. He scorned those who helped the tyrant collect taxes from them, and let him control their children's upbringing, and who worked for him, but it seems he'd not worked out which was the most important to withdraw. My own view puts labor at the top of the list. Government can print its own money and get by with less youth indoctrination, and readily endure minor protests like refusals to sport an approved vehicular label. But without labor--people willing to work for it--it is toast.
Incredibly, some of the passengers on the good ship STR have ridiculed, from the comfort of their deck chairs, the mini-site I launched a few months ago to help accomplish that aim. Now, there is zero hope that it will suffice alone; indeed, it may have only a very minor effect, and I said at the time that it needs to be used in conjunction with other resources. But those government workers who do pay it a visit will learn things they almost certainly never considered before, and when (over time) those thoughts combine with others they will have learned, it will have handsomely repaid the work of creating it. Doing something to start the avalanche of resignations from government service is infinitely better than doing nothing at all. There's some old advice about lighting candles, not cursing the dark.
That ridicule would be fair enough if the task of toppling the tyrant were plainly impossible – if any such attempt were equivalent to tilting at windmills, or if that objective just could not be attained, as if one set out to abolish the law of gravity. That is, however, not at all the case, as de la Boëtie clearly believed. Some may have a different or lesser objective as below, but the total removal of government is entirely feasible; it must be so, because the human race lived for about 80% of our existence without any.
Notice that de la Boëtie's advice is addressed only to those who recognize government as a terrible thing. Those who suppose they can peacefully coexist with it, or that it's not really all that bad – the great majority of our neighbors, in fact – he sees as the core of the problem, as collaborators even if they aren't on the tyrant's payroll. Should there be any such reading this, I can best suggest they spend an unhurried half hour reading any reports picked at random, from the archive of Will Grigg. There can be no faster way to learn that to “govern” and to “leave in peace to govern oneself” are always polar opposites.
So, his prescription applies only to would-be topplers. If one is a secret tyrant-toady who wants to trip topplers up, then there's no call to consider who needs to withdraw what kind of support. Such Trojan horses want to see more support, not less. And what kind of Root Strikers would we be, if we didn't have among us a government infiltrator, a Trojan horse or two, or an agent provocateur?
That's why in the middle of my recent What a Time to Be Alive!, I reproduced five very well-tested principles of strategic planning that are good and necessary for any project or objective whatever, the first and foremost being:
“1. Define and describe the objective.”
It's very simple and obvious, and analogous to a journey; there is no point putting the car in gear without a clear idea of the destination. Among apparent market anarchists, I have noticed that sometimes lesser objectives are held, for example, the following:
To retreat into denial. Some have said that there's no reason why free folk should not live alongside a group whose members wish to be ruled by a government, so long as the free ones are left alone.
This is to withdraw, period; to hide one's head in the sand. It hardly qualifies as an “objective”--it's rather the absence of one, and is pathetic and naïve. It misunderstands completely the nature of government – which is, to govern – and suggests the holders are in urgent need of some radical, rational re-education. It is based on a premise (that a government with the ability to aggress will not, in fact, aggress) which is known to be false – to pretend that the tyrant is not a tyrant. Unlike some below, I see in it no merit whatever.
To survive proudly in an age of supposedly untopplable tyrants--which would probably involve withdrawing visibility. Go on the lam. Destroy all records that might reveal one's existence, shred credit cards, cancel Social Security numbers and US passports, sell the car and buy the kind of moped that needs no licenses, rent rooms to live in – possibly using an alternative name--trade for cash instead of working for a salary, etc. This would have no great effect on the tyrant, but might induce him to pursue easier (more visible) targets. It blends well with nature; the better the camouflage, the more likely is the prey to survive and reproduce. It's very costly, so in my opinion as a former salesman, it would not be saleable to anyone outside a very particular type of person, so it would not topple the tyrant – but if that's not the objective here, but rather just to survive proudly, it would facilitate it very well.
To harass and annoy the tyrant is another possible objective one might have, and there are many ways to accomplish it. One might “obey” his laws many times over, such as filing corrected tax returns every month each time some trivial rounding error is “discovered,” so as to monkeywrench his administration; alternatively one might withdraw obedience to his more loathsome laws, for example by refusing access to his property-tax assessors as in the Tamworth Millionaire Program. I also recall Paul Jacob telling me how he had, in the early 1980s, refused to register for a draft and, when hauled into a government court, worn a T-shirt calling on readers to “F**K THE STATE.” That garment was a heap less dangerous than the judge's plain black robe, whose wearer gave him several months in Club Fed. Perhaps Hizzoner took it personally.
Such brave acts of civil disobedience do a nice job of irritating the tyrant and perhaps of drawing public attention to his misdeeds, but unless done by large numbers of people, they don't withdraw vital support and hence will not topple him. To get them done by large numbers is again the key, and it would need a sales tongue a great deal silkier than mine, to sell this proposition widely; but again, no matter: If the objective is not so much to topple the tyrant as to annoy him, such techniques serve splendidly.
To earn a martyr's crown is another objective some seem to have, by attempting something impossible, such as “withdrawing from the State” – though it's hard to tell, they may just be repeating some ill-understood semi-idea ad nauseam like demented parrots. But in case they mean it, note that it uses the same verb as de la Boëtie, but in a different sense; it's not withdrawing support, which is transitive, but withdrawing from something, which is intransitive (if I recall the rules of grammar). To withdraw from a club is easy – just send in the letter of resignation and cancel the standing order for the annual fee – but withdrawing from the state cannot be done, short of emigration to another, any more than an antebellum slave could withdraw from his plantation. One can send all the resignation letters one wishes, and even spurn its offered benefits in large measure (though certainly not in total), but the letters will be ignored when the State comes a-calling for tax payments or other forms of obedience or submission.
With luck, “income” and Social Security taxes may be avoided by working for cash in the underground economy, the White Market. Good. But sales tax cannot be avoided if one buys anything above ground, the inflation tax cannot be avoided if any government “money” is used, and property tax cannot be avoided at all (short of claiming “exemptions” by jumping through hoops). Live in a tent in the “wilderness” (all such land is claimed as government property) and when discovered, rent will be demanded even if you're allowed to continue. You live in a house or apartment – owned or rented -- you will pay property tax, directly or via the landlord. Refuse it, they will seize the house. Refuse them entry, they will kill you. Ed and Elaine Brown know that, as does Randy Weaver; the former did what Paul Bonneau suggested and became “dangerous” by preparing an armed home defense – but Ed lost his nerve at the last moment (for which I don't blame him at all) and was caged for 40 years. But for the intervention of E-Day, he would die there; should he decline to accept the benefit of government food, he will do that sooner rather than later.
Hence, withdrawal from the state is impossible . . . presuming one wants to go on living. But if the objective is to join the pantheon of libertarian saints in the wild blue hereafter, that is no obstacle. Attempted total withdrawal from the state furnishes a fast way to achieve it.
To Topple the Tyrant tops the lot, though, in my opinion. Some reasons for the pick:
- Things will otherwise get far worse. In de la Boëtie's France, there came the massacre of Protestants, then a steadily tightening grip on the economy by the ruling class, then the bloodletting of the Revolution, then the unprecedented slaughter of the Napoleonic Wars, then those of 1871, 1914 and 1940. In our part of the world, personal liberty has been decreasing at an ever faster rate, as far back as the eye can see, since 1781. There is no reason to think this trend will not continue as long as government continues – and by “government,” I include non-state fanatics who may acquire WMDs with which to commit suicide and mass murder in retaliation for past FedGov outrages. The probability of total slavery gets ever closer, and that of nuclear annihilation gets ever more likely. The “do-nothing” option is utopian; the current status is wholly unstable. Freedom will shrink, fast, much further, unless this objective is aggressively pursued. It's no exaggeration to say that survival of the human race depends upon it.
Nothing less will suffice for self-defense. This objective has nothing to do with altruism, rather it's to get the tyrant's boot off one's own neck – see The Duty to End the State.
- Freedom fits human nature. We are not fully human until we are fully free.
- This objective was de la Boëtie's choice also, and he was pretty smart.
Human nature also cherishes children, and wants the best for them. To endow ours with liberty is the greatest legacy we could provide.
- Done right, it takes very little work or time, no cost at all, and is a bunch of fun. One introduction to the method is shown here.
Once done, the first three of the four alternative objectives above become moot anyway, so I need apologize only to enthusiasts for the fourth; when the State has evaporated, that particular route to martyrdom will vanish with it. Real sorry about that.