"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
Can Voluntaryism Fix the Machine?
Column by Alex R. Knight III.
Exclusive to STR
The much vaunted libertarian journalist and commentator H.L. Mencken once wrote: “I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.”
I don’t consider it a stretch at all to say that this is how any voluntaryist worthy of the title feels. But statists – left, right, and centrist – most obviously disagree. They still remain adamantly convinced that government – whether minimal or all-pervasive – and in spite of all historical evidence to the contrary, remains both a legitimate and useful vehicle for producing an orderly, just, and productive society. And, most maddeningly, they are enamored of conveniently going to whatever lengths necessary to ignore and evade what is perhaps the most important point of voluntaryism: That governments, of whatever variety, can only and ever sustain themselves by the constant, unwavering threat of lethal violence.
I have tried to hammer this point home time and time again to government believers and apologists of all varying persuasions (though, of course, governments are essentially reduceable to the same foundational elements in every case – another unanswerable point that the statists nevertheless pathologically contest time and again), and yet the almost invariable response is pure denial. In fact, I have – though by no means deliberately -- made manifest through my efforts a fairly long list of people who refuse to converse with me ever again, who’ve “unfriended” me on Facebook and other social media, etc. Yet, not one of them has to date ever provided a rational, consistent rebuttal of the very simple and perfectly comprehensible tenets of voluntaryism/anarchism/libertarianism. Not ONE.
In 1968, the writer Arthur Koestler published what is arguably his best known work, The Ghost in the Machine (and yes, you rock and roll fans, The Police named their 1981 album after Koestler’s book). A socio-psychological treatise that owes much of its thesis to Descartes' “duality” concept, the main thrust of Koestler’s theory is that during man’s evolutionary process, the more advanced functions and aspects of cerebral activity developed before other more primal and often irrational instincts and tendencies had sufficient time to be purged from the human cranial cortex, as it were. Consequently, by the 20th Century, a species of being had arisen on Earth both capable of reaching out for the stars, and blowing their native habitat away in a hail of atomic bombs. It suggested an apocalyptic dichotomy without clear resolution.
Similarly, I have, in a prior STR piece, referred to statism as a “poisoned mind.” I still hold to that description, except that I would now expand and clarify that definition by referring to such a philosophy as a disease – similar to alcoholism or drug addiction. The statist pro-government apologist does not rely upon logic as the basis of his or her conviction. The statist, on the contrary, relies exclusively on an emotional investment in the particular wing of statist philosophy they have chosen to hew to, as a means by which to attempt to rationalize what is, at both day’s beginning and day’s end, an entirely indefensible moral and intellectual position. Like the problem drinker or the heroin shooter, the statist has become reliant upon the narcotic concept of aggressive authority as the resolution to all problems, and the imposer of the statist’s ideals on the rest of society. The statist has even come to see governmental authority – in fine Stockholm Syndrome fashion – as a source of personal empowerment, rather than his or her subjugation and enslavement.
Such is the nature and blindness of addiction and disease. And in the case of statism, currently, 99% or more of humanity is infected.
Does this leave voluntaryists – the < 1% -- in a hopeless position? Can voluntaryism fix the proverbial ghost in the machine, and replace statist thought with an entirely different paradigm? Or is the governmental axiom so firmly embedded in the human psyche, the lust for “correcting” the world with aggressive force so great, that there is no hope of any such seismic philosophical shift – much less one in time to save humanity from wiping itself out on the shoals of statism?
I think the first answer to those very pertinent questions is that regardless of perceived odds, it’s incumbent upon us to try. Few listen to us, true enough, and even fewer who actually will listen can comprehend what we’re saying – at least the first time around. That leaves us with those who are willing to listen a second time, and those numbers can get pretty depressing indeed.
That said, statism and government, like all man-made constructs, isn’t and never was a part of Earth’s natural environment. If we were actually crazy enough to be talking about trying to eradicate the sky or the oceans or trees (or marijuana plants, as government at least tells us they want to do), then I’d have to concede that the cause is truly hopeless. Thankfully, however, our ambitions are not directed towards indelible aspects of our environment. What man and woman create, they can uncreate.
You might argue that there’s a catch, though: What about that statist disease I just discussed above? If it’s that endemic to human belief and behavior, what chance is there for ever achieving a voluntary society?
We know that alcoholics and drug addicts, with work, can recover. They can renounce their former ways and get better. There is absolutely no reason – even in spite of some 5,000 years or so of recorded human history – to believe that statists (believers in government) cannot do likewise with sufficient education and environmentally demonstrated example. And these examples are everyday. I walk into a store and buy a loaf of bread. I want the bread more than the medium of exchange (typically money, in some form), and the store owner wants just the opposite. We make the exchange, thank each other, and continue our day. There is no aggression involved. No coercion. No weapons or threats. Only a peaceful, voluntary exchange.
In other words, that feared and hated word: Anarchy.
In addition, here are some things that, not all that long ago on history’s timeline, were almost universally believed by everyone. In fact, those who did not believe these things were considered utter lunatics, heretics, rebels, and dangerous criminals:
*Blacks are meant to be slaves.
*The Earth is at the center of the universe and the sun revolves around it.
*Women are not equal to men in any regard.
*The Earth is, other than a few hills and mountains, a flat plane.
*Aviation is impossible. Only birds can fly.
*Tomatoes are deadly poison. Eat one, and you will die.
*Bleeding a person with leeches will cure their sickness.
*Thunder and lightning means that the gods are angry.
*Governments are necessary for an orderly, peaceful, just, and prosperous society to exist.
Only that last one today remains. There is no reason to believe that it always will. It is possible, I think, to fix the machine – to repair, in other words, what amounts to a centuries-old myth, albeit an exceptionally widespread and destructive one, and reconstruct the world of human affairs based on truth and reality.
And like all before me who have challenged the status quo, I continue to defy the world to prove I’m wrong.