"As to the evil which results from censorship, it is impossible to measure it, because it is impossible to tell where it ends." ~ Jeremy Bentham
Exclusive to STR
October 15, 2007
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Inevitably, a day will come when America's descent into tyranny stops and begins to reverse. The character, details, and timing of that day are important.
Day One might arrive via the ballot box, as most Americans would expect, or it might arrive in a different fashion. Certainly, there has been little to suggest that the American electorate would snap out of its stupor and insist on a reversal of the big-government and corporatist policies imposed upon them with stealth and cunning by the power elite.
Some believe that by now even a libertarian-minded president could do nothing to improve our situation. Given that this country has had several small-government libertarian presidents -- Washington and Jefferson, to name two -- we already know that such a president is not enough to prevent the federal government from eventually growing like a cancer. Likewise, many past presidents have talked about reducing federal power or (as with Bush) employing a humble foreign policy only to behave very differently once in office.
Even the tiny U.S. government of the late 1700s and early 1800s managed to grow into what we have today. Actual experience, in other words, shows that any forcible government is a danger, and thus that only abolitionism stands a chance of eventually eliminating that danger.
The question is: How can we best move things in the direction of liberty -- of no coercive government? What approach has the best chance of leading to a voluntaryist society -- not merely a dysfunctional, post-collapse society where survival of the most ruthless becomes the norm, but a society where compassion and respect are the norm? Which path will best serve the cause of abolitionism and ultimately create a world of love and freedom, without coercion by government or anyone else?
What can we do to hasten that day?
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Some believe the current system must collapse in order for a free society to emerge, but history does not support such a position: Social and governmental collapses typically lead to tyranny and widespread cruelty and hardship rather than to freedom and widespread compassion and prosperity. An outright collapse is seldom a life-enhancing event for the people of a nation, even when compared to the tyranny that preceded the collapse. The German collapse after WWI is a well-known example: With war and hyperinflation having destroyed the Weimar government and German society generally, many Germans longed for a strong leader who could "get the trains running on time" and turn the economy around. The leader they got was a repressed, angry little man named Adolph Hitler.
If an outright collapse is not in our best interests, then what about reversing course and systematically dismantling our descent into tyranny? Not everyone thinks that would be a good idea. Jim Davies recently wrote a column for STR claiming that a libertarian president (and in particular, Ron Paul) would actually cause harm. Davies describes Paul as offering "vague half-promises" that would, even if implemented, hinder rather than help the cause of freedom.
Davies also bemoans the fact that, unlike Harry Browne and his 1996 Why Government Doesn't Work, Paul hasn't written a campaign book. Yet Browne's book failed to bring the topic of freedom into the mainstream the way Paul's GOP presidential bid has; in comparison to Dr. Paul, Browne was nearly invisible to the American public. Paul has appeared in several nationally televised Republican debates, has been interviewed repeatedly on national television, and has become by far the most popular candidate on the internet by almost any measure. He has won several state straw polls outright and done well in others. Paul's growing army of volunteers around the country (and even overseas) already provides millions of dollars in publicity and marketing savvy without cost to the campaign. They do this because they are excited about Paul's message of freedom. Both the message (coming from a viable national candidate) and the dramatic popular response to that message are new in my lifetime.
In short, Paul has already done more for the cause of liberty than Browne (or Davies or I, for that matter) ever did. That isn't to slight Mr. Browne, who I supported and who was, I believe, an excellent spokesman for the cause of freedom. Browne's relative obscurity shows mostly that third parties in America are still ignored by the old media and are not seen as viable alternatives by the public at large. Oddly, one benefit of Dr. Paul's Republican campaign may be to bring new respect and clout to third parties because Paul ran on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1988 and his many new supporters know that fact. Paul's supporters are vividly aware that the two old power parties (and the old media, and the power elite generally) oppose Paul's message of freedom. If Paul fails to win the GOP nomination, many of his supporters may vote Libertarian for the first time in their lives. Even more important: those supporters will have a passion for liberty for the rest of their lives. Some will move to the abolitionist position; many will find ways to create or support non-government solutions to market needs and problems; all will oppose, in some fashion, the tyranny that our government has become. That opposition will not end when the Paul campaign ends, regardless of whether Paul wins the presidency.
If you doubt the passion or intelligence of Paul supporters, check out the comments left by readers of this short Wall Street Journal article (Learn from Ron Paul, Internet Icon by Ben Worthen) on Dr. Paul. Sixteen hours after the article went up, my wife printed it out and found sixty-four pages of erudite, civilized, intelligent, and often insightful commentary from WSJ readers. These people sound far more clear on the value of freedom than I would have expected, and reading their commentary lifted my spirits. This is just one positive example of hundreds I could cite about the Paul campaign. The real-world, decentralized, spontaneous, and enthusiastic response to Paul's message of freedom is unlike anything I have ever seen. Best of all, as Dr. Paul himself has pointed out, it is indeed the message of freedom itself that people are responding to. Paul supporters are not looking for a demagogue; much as they may like Paul as a person, what they really want is their heritage of freedom back.
Although Ron Paul has not written a book for this campaign, he has written several books, along with scores of columns and articles on liberty and related topics (for example, here is Paul opposing creation of the Department of Homeland Security). There are also dozens of videos of Paul describing his positions and saying specifically what he would do if elected (such as abolish the IRS and pull the troops out of foreign wars and foreign bases), including by now a large body of his responses in nationally televised debates and interviews (here are Paul's October 12, 2007 interviews at PBS and at CSPAN; both are terrific). In addition, Dr. Paul has for years written a weekly column posted at his congressional website. Unlike Browne, Paul is a ten-term congressman. We don't have to wonder if Paul will live up to his pro-freedom rhetoric when in office; we can already see for ourselves that he does so. Paul is so famous for voting against unconstitutional power that his nickname is "Dr. No."
Perhaps the best argument that Paul is truly a force for freedom is the barely-disguised hatred and fear being shown to Paul by the power elite in the media and in government itself (including by some of his fellow candidates, who openly laughed at Paul as he spoke at a debate about restoring constitutional restraint to the federal government). Paul won the latest CNBC poll with over 70% in some categories, at which point the poll was taken down from the internet. Here is Allen Wastler, Managing Editor at CNBC, on the topic. The excellent DailyPaul.com -- one of many independent, unofficial Paul websites -- has posted several responses to Wastler. Among the best short observations on the CNBC story comes from Szandor Blestman at the American Chronicle website:
"It seems to me that poll after poll shows that public sentiment is more and more against the war. I've seen numbers between 65-80 percent of the public are against the war. Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate that has come out against the war. You took down your poll when Ron had 75 percent of the vote. That falls right in line with the numbers against the war.
Perhaps the poll makes more sense to you now."
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So Paul might have a chance to reach the White House, and he has a record of actually working to reduce government power -- not just talking about it. Still: Could a principled, libertarian president really make dramatic improvements in our situation? Absolutely: a president could repair liberty in powerful ways on his first day -- even before lunch. In addition to his campaign book (and other books), Harry Browne wrote a column on the subject of "the president's first day" seven years ago; quite a lot of that column fits, unsurprisingly, with what Dr. Paul has written and said during his campaign. Browne's column is worth re-reading not only as a reminder of what could be done but of how contemptuous of liberty our presidents have been in recent decades, and of how much liberty we have lost in the United States over the years.
It should be no surprise that presidents have real power to make changes for the better because for decades, presidents have been making incredible changes for the worse. For example, presidents have inserted thousands of executive orders into the Federal Register, most of which "give federal employees powers for which there is no constitutional authority," says Browne (a recent example: Executive Order: Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq). Browne would have removed these orders -- an obvious action that any president with integrity could do easily.
Removing unconstitutional executive orders is just one small step on the road to freedom. In The President's First Day in Office, Browne tells us that, for starters, he had planned to:
"Pardon everyone who had been convicted on a federal, non-violent drug charge, order their immediate release, reunite them with their families, and restore all their civil rights. (Anyone convicted of using violence against someone else in a drug case would not qualify as 'non-violent.')"
Browne would have next pardoned "everyone who had been convicted on any federal gun-control charge, tax-evasion charge, or any other victimless crime, order their immediate release, and restore all their civil rights."
No legislative or judicial oversight is required for pardons. It makes no difference whether Congress is supportive or strongly against a pardon; if the president has the backbone to pardon people innocent of any real crime, he can do so, and nothing in the Constitution allows for anyone to stop him. (For that matter, other than in cases of impeachment, the president can pardon anyone for anything; even innocence or guilt has nothing to do with the power granted to pardon). Furthermore, any president elected on a platform that included abolishing the War on Drugs and the IRS would clearly have wide popular support for such actions.
Dr. Ron Paul is running on just such a platform (that is, on a platform that includes abolishing the IRS and the War on Drugs). I don't know if Paul plans to do all the things Harry Browne discusses in his First Day column, but the point is: the level of change a president can effect, on his own and despite the wishes of Congress, the courts, or anyone else, is huge.
Pardoning and freeing millions of political prisoners is just the start of what Harry Browne had planned for the morning of his first day. He also planned to "immediately remove all American troops from foreign soil," "order that no federal asset forfeiture could occur unless the property's owner had been convicted by full due process," and "announce a policy to penalize, dismiss, or even prosecute any federal employee who violated the Bill of Rights by treating you as guilty until proven innocent, by searching or seizing your property without due process of law, by treating you as a servant, or in any other way violating your rights as a sovereign American citizen."
There is more to Harry's morning to-do list, not to mention what he had planned to do after lunch. Even if some of it took weeks or months instead of a single morning, ending the war, stopping the War on Drugs, getting rid of the IRS, and all the rest of that sounds like a LOT more than "nothing" to me.
It sounds like a good start, actually.
With over ten million pot arrests since 1990, and more arrests for possession last year than ever before (nearly three times the number in 1990!), simply ending the drug war would have a positive impact on millions of people. Ending our aggressive foreign wars and occupations would have an even greater impact. Just these two policies would (based on recent history) literally save the lives of millions over the next few decades and prevent the devastation of millions more.
Given the broad support for ending the war in Iraq and the War on Drugs, we can expect much of the public to be enthusiastic about Dr. Paul's policies. They'll want more.
They'll want freedom.
Knowing that freedom is possible, knowing that many others share their desire, and seeing the actual benefits of a decrease in tyranny in their own lives and throughout society, they will, I believe, create a decentralized, spontaneous movement for real freedom that will dwarf even the astonishing, unexpected response to Ron Paul's candidacy. The exponentially-growing public response to Ron Paul's candidacy (oddsmakers have upgraded his odds of success from 200-1 to 6-1 in only a few months) suggests such a response is indeed possible. When people believe genuine freedom is actually in their grasp instead of being a completely lost cause, they stop being "apathetic" and start getting energized.
If we want to see more people putting forth the effort it takes to create a free society, we need to show them, in no uncertain terms, that movement in the right direction is possible. Ron Paul is doing that already and the results are, even at this early point, electrifying.
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It is a mistake to assume that government must necessarily last forever.
The institution marks a certain stage of civilization'is natural to a particular phase of human development. It is not essential, but incidental. As amongst the Bushmen we find a state antecedent to government, so may there be one in which it shall have become extinct.
ANY coercive government is too much coercive government; coercion against peaceful human beings is evil no matter what the excuse. Henry David Thoreau, Auberon Herbert, Lysander Spooner, Herbert Spencer, and many other abolitionist and voluntaryist luminaries have always been right about that. Even a carefully restrained government soon grows beyond its founders' initial intent. Our current predicament is a case in point.
In turn, anything that moves us back in the direction of freedom is positive. To say otherwise is to suggest that we must make the jump from tyranny to total freedom instantly or not at all, in which case we are simply doomed. Massive change does not happen instantly; change takes time and hard work. Our "democratic" prison was not built in a day, and we will not be freed from it in a day either.
Does anyone really believe that letting the neo-con juggernaut continue with its plans for detention camps, its labeling of libertarians as "terrorists"*, its fiscal insanity, its use of torture and war, and all the rest of its continued destruction of America (and of nations abroad) will bring us closer to freedom? If that were true, wouldn't Putin's post-Soviet Russia be a libertarian paradise instead of a notorious police state run by thugs and headed by an ex-KBG officer?
* By, at least until public outrage made them stop, the Alabama Department of Homeland Security; see also here for how we are seen by the "Terrorism Awareness and Prevention" website, which "is provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Health as a Crime Prevention & Safety Initiative."
Instant perfection is not possible, and the all-or-nothing approach thus leaves us with nothing. Movement in the right direction is not, as Davies believes, counter-productive; for a start, it would quickly save or improve the lives of millions by (among other things) bringing home the troops and ending the War on Drugs.
Human perfection is not possible either -- Paul is no more the perfect candidate than was Browne, for example -- but doing nothing until perfection arrives is an excellent way to fail.
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Day One -- the day America officially halts its slide into tyranny and its people begin taking back their freedom -- cannot come soon enough.
Ron Paul's run for president has made millions of Americans aware of what they have lost over the decades. By talking directly and clearly about liberty and human rights -- and about ending our many unconstitutional foreign and domestic wars, and about so many other important things -- Dr. Paul has generated a groundswell of enthusiastic support for freedom.
As Walter Block put it recently in Ron Paul and Matching Funds, "One of the major benefits of Ron's candidacy is that so many, many people are now hearing about libertarianism for the first and only time from one of the best and most attractive spokesmen for this philosophy we have ever had."
Do you want to see, or at least help create, a non-coercive world of love and freedom? Supporting Ron Paul is a good way to start, not least because it helps get the message of freedom out into the public eye. If we can't at least do that, what makes anyone think we can abolish tyranny and create a truly free society?
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Next week: Money.