What Might Have Been

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October 2, 2006

Carl Watner's extraordinary book I Must Speak Out is densely packed with superb material for the student of market anarchism, and one of its chapters reproduces an 1896 essay by Francis Tandy about what means are appropriate for getting from a Statist society to a free one. It is remarkable; and I got to wonder how things might have been for the last century, if his insights had been enhanced in one particular way.

Tandy identifies three possibilities: violent revolution, political activism, and education. In the 110 years since he wrote, I didn't hear that anyone else had found a fourth. Tandy's analysis is as fresh and accurate today as it was a century ago.

Violence is seen by Tandy as perfectly acceptable, since "it is . . . justifiable to meet force by force"--so he doesn't reject it on moral grounds. We might raise an eyebrow there, because of the problem of appropriate force; if goons from the local town government come to throw you out of your house for refusal to pay them an annual tribute, are you justified in shooting them dead? That's a dilemma, which can be argued either way. If you survive the shootout, that is--something unlikely.

Rather, Tandy reasons violence won't do the job because in order to succeed in terminating the State, the freedom fighters would need an overwhelming superiority of force; "unfortunately we are not yet strong enough." Remember, the American Revolution, whose rebels did not have such an overwhelming superiority at all--and which achieved what it did achieve only with the assistance of a professional army from a monarchist state--ended up replacing one state with another. Better, certainly, at first--but now look at it! They did not abolish government, and they did not even set out to abolish it; and even then, they could not command support of more than about a third of the population. It was riddled with Tories and other naysayers.

Then, Tandy brilliantly reasons, if happily you do have an overwhelming superiority of force ready to do battle, you don't need to do battle! ". . . such a revolution might be successful. But then it would be unnecessary, for people having refused to stand in the relation of subjects to it, the State would no longer be king." If none--or very few--want the State to continue, it won't continue! For it absolutely depends, for survival, upon the support of a large fraction of those it subjects to its rule. Therefore violent revolution won't cut it, Quod Erat Demonstrandum.

Voting--or political action--comes under the same relentlessly logical microscope; Tandy argues that while "an election is merely an attempt to obtain the opinion of the majority . . . with the intention of making the minority submit to that opinion" and so is immoral from the get-go, nose-counting is a heap less destructive than musket-firing while having an identical effect; "the ballot is only a bullet in another form." If the superiority of numbers suffices, there will be a change in the team of thugs exercising its rule over us, yes; but if the majority of voters want to abolish the State altogether, they don't need to vote! For the job will have been done already because again, the State cannot survive without the support of its victims. An elegant, one-paragraph demolition of the Libertarian Party's raison d'etre.

Education is the third way Tandy saw to affect change to a free society, and indeed it would be a prerequisite for either of the other two even if one were needed. He wrote, "The first thing that is necessary, to institute the changes outlined in this book, is to convince people of the benefit to be derived from them. This means simply a campaign of education." He continues by saying that even as such a campaign begins to take hold, as for example in a refusal to vote, good results will be seen and some snowballing can be expected. He ends: "Thus education and non-violent resistance go hand in hand and help each other, step by step, towards the goal of human freedom."

This year on Strike The Root and elsewhere I've written (here, here, here and here) that universal re-education is the key--so it's heartening to find this confirmation that I'm right, even though I'm 110 years late. Happily nobody in that century tried to start a violent revolution in the USA , though there has been a big attempt to engage in politics, so far an abject failure; but has re-education been tried, and if so, why did it fail?

As far as I can tell, Francis Tandy did not prescribe a particular program for carrying out the education task, or not at least in the chapter excerpted in Carl's book; and that's the tragedy. Might he have done it, and if so how? Let's put ourselves in his spot, and find out.

He (and we) might have considered founding a correspondence school for liberty.

1896 America had no Internet, no TV, no copiers, no radio and very few telephones--but it did have books and a postal service, albeit monopolized by government (which would have presented one big hazard to anyone daring to use it to promote its termination). So Tandy and his friends could have started teaching liberty by mail; correspondence schools were very popular for many subjects throughout the 20th Century. Why didn't they?

As well as that hazard, probably they reckoned the costs prohibitive. Those would have included staff salaries, book publication, postage of course, and--perhaps the biggest--advertising. All would need to be recovered from the price of the course offered, and I can't see that price being less than $100 in today's "money"--perhaps much more. That, in turn, would have been a severe deterrent to recruitment of new students, meaning that the re-education provided would have been partial and not universal; probably a big majority of the population would never use it and therefore the whole project would fail. I've no idea whether Tandy went through this thought process, but if he had, that's why he would have decided not to start a correspondence school.

However, there's another idea for universal education that apparently Tandy missed; and that one would have worked, even in 1896: it's based on Freedom's Exponential Math. The idea is very simple: one student, having graduated and being full of enthusiasm, introduces every so often a fresh student from among his circle of friends. No teaching is needed from him--he merely connects the newcomer to the source of tuition, which in Tandy's day would be in printed form. Notice therefore that the advertising costs of the Liberty School would have been zero, or close to it; promotion would all have been done by volunteer help in that highly effective way; for as any salesman knows, personal recommendation or reference is the most effective way to advertise.

Further, he might have asked those fresh graduates to put up the money (the equivalent of $25, say) to buy the book and other materials the newly-introduced student would need. Knowing what a vital project was under way, they would have readily done that. Wouldn't you?

Notice then, so far: the Liberty School in this form would have had zero advertising costs and zero net publication costs; it would have had to fund the initial printing, but as each student graduated, he would buy a copy for the friend he was about to introduce and so in effect, that cost to the School would be fully recoverable--with a margin, sufficient to pay the staff even if not to contribute a profit. The major impediment to a correspondence school would have been completely removed, and so would most of the danger of interference; there might still have been a book-banning, but the government's Postal Service could hardly have stopped countless individuals mailing subversive materials to each other.

The effect? As the above Math page showed, if each student brought one fresh one to the school every year, the number of people well-informed about, and thirsting for, a zero-government society would have doubled annually--starting in 1896. If Tandy had started with, say, 16 friends (that's 24) and the literate population was 50 million Americans (about 226), that would have taken them (26-4=) 22 years, i.e., until 1918. Now, just think what might have been!

World War One, for America , would have been iffy. On that schedule of growth, in 1916 about a quarter of the population would have been eager for government to dissolve, and so of course absolutely opposed to intervention in a European war. Tandy would have taught them not to participate in voting, but they would still have resisted the draft and so the formation of an adequate army to ship over there would have been tricky. Wilson might just have stayed out--with enormous consequences, for if the combatants had been obliged to finish their own war, it would have ended in a stalemate and the peace agreement would have been equitable, not punitive--and so there would have been none of the bitterness in Germany that propelled Hitler to power and enabled WWII to take place.

Three years earlier than that, there were the dreadful enactments of 1913 that poisoned America from that time to this: the creation of the Federal Reserve and its funny-money, the value of which has since depreciated by over 98%, and of course the alleged income tax, which removes a fifth of everything everyone earns and transfers it to the FedGov to spend on its ruinous adventures. The expansion of a liberty-loving minority would not, alas, have been in time to stop those; by 1913 it would have grown to only to 221 or two million.

By 1918, though, Tandy's dream and ours would have been fulfilled. The doughboys would have returned to find an America actually free, with nobody governing anyone but themselves.

The disappearance of government would of course have been entirely peaceful; as Tandy pointed out, if nobody wants one or supports one then it's impossible for one to exist, for they all totally depend on public support. Ours would have imploded like a punctured balloon. Let's try to visualize how history would then have progressed.

Prohibition would have never occurred, for there would have been nobody to do the prohibiting; nor, therefore, would there have been any resultant violent wave of crime in the 1920s, and if Joseph Kennedy made a fortune, he would have had to do it without the advantage of liquor prices inflated by an artificial shortage in supply.

Money would have quickly resumed its proper form of gold or gold certificates, for the choice would have been made only by the market; the Feds' worthless pieces of paper would have been useful only as curiosity items in the Museum of the Age of Government. Accordingly, the supply of money would have been stable in the 1920s and any stock market correction in 1929 would have been brief and shallow.

Prosperity would have started a literally unprecedented explosion as soon as the free market was in place, fuelled not just by uninhibited technical invention but by a tax-free, regulation-free environment. Living standards in America would have streaked ahead of the rest of the world--so much so that by, say, 1930, similar worldwide freedom movements would have put all but the most repressive governments on the defensive. That rapid rise in living standards would have continued through the present day, in ways in which even I cannot imagine; given freedom, the sky is the limit for the enrichment of the human race.

No Depression would have marred the 1930s, for no government would have been around to interfere with any economic recovery even if one had been needed. No New Deal, no alphabet soup of government agencies to inhibit the creation of wealth, no Social Insecurity to foster an inter-generational conflict, no manipulation of the country into WWII to conceal FDR's utter failure to fix the problem he had created.

Peace would have broken out worldwide. By the time WWII was "due", I very much doubt whether any government would have been left to start it, even if, as above, WWI had not ended in a way that almost guaranteed a replay. Even if somehow Hitler had arisen, no surviving British government would have been so totally stupid as to declare war on him in 1939, when clearly no help could be expected later from the United States . At the very worst, he might therefore have conquered the Soviet Union , and who's to say whether Fascism or Communism is worse for the unfortunate people East of the Elbe ? In any case, the empire would not have lasted many decades, in the face of the worldwide movement towards abolition of government that Tandy would have triggered.

No FDR would have been able in 1939 to refuse entry to Jewish refugees, so it's likely that the Nazis would not have operated a Holocaust even if they had had the power and so, later, there would not have been as heavy pressure for an Israeli State in Palestine--nor could one actually have been formed, absent the relentless support of a US government that no longer existed. Accordingly, the gross aggravation of the Muslim world for six decades, which caused 9/11 and all our current griefs, could not have taken place.

Power (the physical kind) would have fast become plentiful and cheap, without heavy dependence on supplies of oil from unstable areas of the world, if any. That would have happened in at least two ways: (a) in the free-market conditions of the 1920s, it would not have been possible for oil cartels to have developed so as to virtually force vehicle engine makers to standardize on petroleum fuels. Corn alcohol, grown and brewed on farms across America, would have supplied roadside refueling stations at the farm gate and engines would have run on it--exactly as they actually did, for a few years following 1918. Then a little later on (b) nuclear power would have developed peacefully (there being no government to commission bombs to kill humans by the hundred thousand) to provide cheap electricity--and safely, because no government would have protected power plants from liability suits in the event of a spill, as the Price Anderson Act actually did.

One could multiply examples of how the history of the last nine decades would have been unrecognizably different and better, if only Tandy's insight into the need for universal re-education been translated into successful action, as suggested above. Alas, we cannot change history. But we can change the future. Freedom's Exponential Math is still waiting for us to use it, and the Internet is ours to make the task even easier. The history of the next century is ours to write.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched http://TinyURL.com/QuitGov , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?"