The Gulch, Revisited

Column by Jim Davies.

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Perhaps the most delightful chapter in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is the one describing Dagny Taggart's visit to Galt's Gulch. Exhausted and frustrated by trying to run a railroad in the teeth of bureaucrats and bloodsuckers, she drops in to see what a free society is like--and is given a vision of liberty. If Rand had never written or done anything else, this single chapter (#1 of Part III) would make her life remarkable.

For any who don't recall it, the Gulch is a valley somewhere in the Rockies, almost inaccessible except by light aircraft, inspired by the mysterious and heroic John Galt, and populated by a talented group who, having succeeded in their careers only to see the fruits of their labors stolen by parasites in government and elsewhere, "shrug" off the burden of carrying the world on their backs and go live in this enclave together. Dagny is shown how it works out. If you read it and the saliva fails to flow, something's wrong. Check your premises! And your pulse.

There's an oil prospector, who enjoys his work as never before--because he's free to innovate and by doing so (in his reckoning) he adds to his lifespan, by completing a task in four hours instead of five, for example; and because the fruits of labor are all his to enjoy; no parasite takes a cut. There is a grocer, formerly the owner of a quality car maker, a pig farmer--formerly an aircraft manufacturer--and a chicken and dairy farmer, formerly a distinguished judge. From what I've seen of judges, I pity the fowl; but evidently it worked okay in Galt's Gulch. During the tour, Dagny is shown the compact, the agreement residents have made with each other; and it's a masterpiece:

"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for
the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Drink that in, do! What's the most sacred thing by which one can make a solemn promise? Not "God." Not "my mother's grave." Not "my firstborn," even; but "my life." A person's own life is the most valuable thing he has, the primary purpose of his existence. And so he stakes it, as his solemn oath.

What is it he swears? Here's the other piece of genius: He doesn't promise a positive, but a negative: I will never live for anybody else. It is a declaration of pure selfishness. This is wholly shocking, to generations--centuries--of "Western" people raised to think that the highest virtue is to serve others. It is thrown in the face of Christian ethics. NO! says Rand. The highest virtue is to serve oneself! For only thus can every person's full potential be realized.

Does that extinguish the milk of human kindness, our generosity, our compassion? Not at all, not in Galt's Gulch. Dagny is greeted cheerfully by all she meets, made welcome because each resident sees in her something valuable to himself, for example the pleasure of her company, her conversation, eventually the possibility of trade and exchange with subjective gain to both parties. Such is the engine, the mainspring, of a free economy.

That simple, one-line compact contrasts with some others I've seen, over the years, for this or that proposed libertarian gulch or island or ship or other enclave. A single page was the shortest. More often the contract was as long as a short book, which had to have been written by a lawyer. No need, says Rand; just get the simple principle dead right in a single sentence, and the details will work themselves out. I agree.

So far, so super; and I don't fault Rand for stopping at this point. She clearly had the aim of whetting appetites, drawing back the veil and showing the essence of liberty. Here, her aim was not to provide a full detailed plan for achieving a free society. We do need that, but the "vision thing" comes first, and Rand provided it.

For the same reason, I don't believe she was saying "Do likewise by founding a real Galt's Gulch somewhere." She was just portraying what it will be like in a free society of any size. So the following critique of the enclave idea is not a criticism of her book, rather a suggestion that we need to implement her ideas in any way capable of working in practice; if a gulch will cut it, fine; if not, choose a structure that will.

As I see it, a gulch or enclave will not work, and the various ideas and proposals for creating one have been mistaken; I fear the designers may have been taking Rand too literally while missing the main point of her fiction. Suppose the contrary, to see why:

  • Galt's Gulch was "defended" by magic. This verdant valley was protected from hostile government attention by using so-far undiscovered electronic techniques for making it invisible from above; a spotter plane would see a mirage of mountains like those nearby, rather as if the landscape had been Photoshopped. From beneath, one would see clear blue sky normally and pilots "in the know" could dive through the barrier and land as usual. Magic. Real-life enclaves would need real-life defense.
  • Residents were skilled in various crafts, but there are holes in the account of how the valley's economy worked. Did they all bring wealth in, from the statist world outside? Was there trading with it, across the mountains? In a real-life gulch, how would that square with secrecy?
  • When Gulchers did fly in and out, how did they do so without alerting the FAA?  Filing flight plans?  Assuring "rescue" squads that no plane was missing?

None of this matters, in fiction; the problems can be waved away--it's one of fiction's big advantages. But in real life, an enclave of any kind, even a small one, can not long remain invisible to government snoops; there are too many of them. The movie Enemy of the State may be exaggerated, but not by much. And when the enclave succeeds and prospers--as it certainly would, without the benefits of regulation or taxes--the alarms will sound in enemy HQ and a search and destroy mission will be dispatched. We can be very certain about this; in 1861, a whole group of states decided to form a very large enclave (not a free one, but that mattered nothing to the powers in D.C.), and they were forcibly prevented at enormous cost. If anything like a Galt's Gulch were to form in reality, it would be taken out with a single nuke; and that's true whether it was in the Rockies, or in New Hampshire, or on reclaimed land offshore, or on a big ship built for the purpose, or whatever. When it demonstrates that ordinary folk are much better off without government, government will in the interests of its own survival wipe it out. Magic electronic roofing won't do the job.

So what can be done, to implement Rand's lovely vision of liberty? One other idea has been to form a kind of virtual Galt's Gulch, in cyberspace. Members communicate over the Net with unbreakable encryption, and trade with untraceable electronic cash--but live, physically, in the real statist world. I heard of one in the late '90s, but think it crashed and burned. But it's possible that others are functioning now; if they were, there'd be no way to know  . However, do they really implement the vision? I hardly think so. Possibly members can hide their incomes from government grabbers, but if they do well and spend it (on real, visible stuff), any alert snoop or neighborhood snitch is going to want to know whence it came. All the dismal restrictions on normal life, with which we're only too familiar, will remain in place and all will have to take care, every moment, to live like an undercover agent in hostile territory... which is, actually, what they'd be. Not my idea of fun, or of freedom.

There's another, perhaps more fundamental, objection to the enclave idea; if implemented, it would be a confession of failure. It would declare that living free cannot work for the great majority of human beings, from whom true believers need therefore to separate and perhaps to hide. That is to give away the farm. Freedom does apply to everyone, it is not just for a favored few. If we freedom-lovers cannot show that and persuade everyone else of the truth of that, we'll have failed. Liberty is how everyone can fully live.

Another, creative idea that's been around for two or three decades is W.G. Hill's "Three Flag" principle; a passport from one country, a home in another, and a business in a third--a.k.a. the multiple-passport solution or "perpetual tourism." Pretty good, for medium- or high-earners, as a short term defensive strategy. But it does nothing at all--it fails--to liberate the world, to leave it a more free place than we found it, for the next generation.

The same, needless confession of failure is made by those who don't even bother to propose any kind of enclave or even defense but who just misappropriate the principle of laissez faire and say that they don't care what anyone else does or says, they will just "live free" and leave others alone. This is especially deceptive, because of the accurate language it employs. Of course libertarians leave others alone! That's central. But to do nothing to change their mind is not just culpable idleness, it's a betrayal of the principle of self interest; for those "left alone" will not, alas, leave us alone; they will wreak their malevolence in the form of theft, manipulation and indocrination and will ultimately extinguish all trace of liberty. Either we change their minds, or they will destroy us; to do nothing is not a viable option.

So the real solution, the only one that can work in real life, is to induce everyone in the whole society (America would be a good place to start) to understand why it's appropriate to take the oath of those in Galt's Gulch. Back in 2006, a few of us outlined how; the plan is here and it's under way; and it does mean bringing about a radical, and rational, change in everyone's way of thinking, like that or not. There will be no enclave, hence no need to defend it; the resulting free society will be far too costly for any foreign government to take on and in any case such will be desperately busy fending off the imminent danger of being eliminated by their own freedom-seeking populations. In my Liberty Trilogy I've added some details to Rand's vision of liberty (and corrected her error of supposing that some minimal government would still be needed as referee) and shown how the transition to it will overcome hostility while it's in process. There is to the best of my knowledge no other way to fulfil the vision she gave us; it's that way, or it's no way. Should any disagree, let him spell out his alternative; or if he doesn't have one, let him plug the procrastinating, button up the bellyaching and get on board to help make it happen.  Humanity has waited long enough already. 

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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 , 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)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


MassOutrage's picture

Without knowing it, this article exposes the great problem that Atlas Shrugged, and the proponents of liberty will not acknowledge or address: The vast majority of persons don't want liberty. Ayn Rand's book tacitly admits that most of the people wanted the ridiculous laws about "equality" and government control that the government kept piling on, one after another. Only a few persons still embraced liberty, at least until it ruined them, such as some train engineers and farmers.

Just like then, the vast majority right now continue to choose slavery to government. Otherwise, Ron Paul would be president, and we would be on our way to eliminating the artifact of the constitution and the powers it gave to a strong-arm central government.

We have what the majority want: Not liberty, but theft from others for their own benefit; Not freedom, but crushing laws, regulations and a police state enforcement apparatus. Not mutual respect and peace, but perpetual wars on invented enemies outside the country, and on herbs, thoughts, money, and yes, liberty.

Ayn Rand provided the narrative the proof that it CAN'T work as we wish it might. Maybe we should discern the basic makeup of humans and their motives more wisely, and advocate change in accord with that. Anything else is foolish naivety.

Paul's picture

"So the real solution, the only one that can work in real life, is to induce everyone in the whole society (America would be a good place to start) to understand why it's appropriate to take the oath of those in Galt's Gulch."

What does this mean? That everyone must take the oath? Or think about taking it? Or having the opinion it is a reasonable oath even if they personally wouldn't take it? Or leave alone those people who do take it? What about people already anarchists not interested in taking this oath?

I think Per Bylund has a much firmer grip on reality. But hey, it may actually be that some people are able to be swayed toward freedom by sales tactics like this. More power to you if you can find some of them. Let me know when "everyone in the whole society" has bought your program. Of course it requires people to give up on such things as God himself, so I suspect you will find you are simply selecting from a small fraction of society already inclined in a certain direction, not even the full set of people who are capable of appreciating freedom (since there are plenty of Christian anarchists for example). Even if you have some initial success (how many by the way?), you may find you run out of potential candidates in time.

My main problem with it, is that it requires far too much to get to our desired end. Despite repeated claims that "nothing less will do" that you seem so fond of saying, the reality is that very much less will do just fine. We don't need everybody to go through your program, ending up in complete agreement. We just need enough people to understand and practice simple tolerance - which they naturally do anyway, at least in face-to-face interactions - and practice it consistently. Failing that, to have other incentives, such as fear, to leave us alone. This is a much lower bar than the one you propose.

Bottom line, we don't need everyone. We do need a goodly number, including the influential ones particularly, to tolerate us if not join us. We need the rest to leave us alone for other diverse reasons if tolerance doesn't work for them.

Jim Davies's picture

Surprisingly, Paul, there may be a small area of agreement between us; for you say "We just need enough people to understand and practice simple tolerance - which they naturally do anyway, at least in face-to-face interactions - and practice it consistently." Yes, of course. A free society can work with less than 100.0% support. The key is, what's "enough"?

Omnipotent-state cultists will never, ever be "tolerant" in the sense of leaving us or anyone else alone. We both know that, because A is not Non-A. One cannot be tolerant and intrusive at the same time, and the instant a cultist casts a vote, he is violating your self-ownership right and mine. Accordingly, that idea is Utopian.

"Enough" as I see it is that there are fewer aggressors in the free society than can be handled by its free-market justice system. We could debate whether that is 1% or 3%, but I can see no way it could exceed about 5%. I pick those figures because the existing government "justice" system deals with that many "criminals" - badly.

The shorthand for that is that "everybody" in society needs to be re-educated. If they are not (to the extent that they understand what government is, what freedom is, what responsibility for their own lives means - and accept that understanding) they will be numerous enough to sabotage any liberty that has been won; they will form a new kind of government and try to impose it on all, with violence in one form or another. Or if they dominate a society _within which_ libertarians have made some kind of enclave, they will use their government's existing power to destroy it, as reasoned in my article. So both such outcomes are completely unstable, Utopian, naive.

But if you'll settle for a figure of around 98% for "enough," we have a deal.

Mark Davis's picture

I agree with both MassOutrage and Paul. I see most people wanting someone else to take care of them and make them feel safe. Thus the state has become the surrogate parent for so many people. And we don’t need to convince everybody that individual responsibility is superior to enslaved dependence; just enough to create a functioning market with a division of labor sufficient to allow for increasing productivity and opportunities. Those that choose dependence on the state will find life increasingly difficult while those preferring liberty will prosper until eventually most will see the light. Still, not everybody will. I still am amazed at how many people don’t see the comparisons between North and South Korea or East and West Germany as being indicative of this phenomenon. Die-hard statists will just have to be left to their own devices until they are extinct.

Still a good read Jim.

MassOutrage's picture

I don't see from history that most people will "see the light". I know it sounds negative, but most people will go to war, pay high taxes, go to worshipful Obama rallies, and never ask themselves why North and South Korea are different.

I also disagree that those who choose dependence on the state will find things more difficult. I see them adapt to gaming the system more efficiently all the time. The new welfare racket is to get "crazy checks" (Social Security Disability) for mom and for all her little whelps that have no steady father at home. The Parasite-American community is growing fast, and the sluggard/theft lifestyle is becoming more lucrative all the time.

In the end, when has any people been able to throw off government, and keep it thrown off for more than a few months. People demand it, relentlessly. And there is always a Saddam/Obama/Bush at the ready to demagogue himself into power. The most ruthless guy with the least conscience, the best guile, and the smiley-est face gets to the top and the people tolerate it. See e.g. Ettiene de La Boitee., Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.

Thunderbolt's picture

I am a strong supporter of the Jim Davies' approach to our problem.
He is using reason in a way that would delight Th. Jefferson.

I note with considerable interest that the U.S.-funded Israelis are using assassination to destroy the governments of their enemies. Indeed, it may well be that Iranian citizens are also assassinating their own leaders. (Of course, Obama is now assassinating some Americans who openly disagree with his foreign policies, including a 16 y.o. Denver teenager, whose only crime was having the wrong father.) The Israelis are using their own spies, and perhaps "Black Market Reloaded" (tor accessible) operatives, which are reputedly anonymous and untraceable, and will contract in several countries. For just a few thousand dollars, they can target Iranian ? tax collectors or scientists, brutal police, ? Syrian politicians, ? Iraqi bureaucrats, and even ? Americans who disagree with their policies. That Jewish newspaper fellow in Atlanta made the same point. He was not joking. It is an interesting approach, with which I suspect Jim Bell will be in accord. What if someone had put out an anonymous hit on Hitler or Stalin or Mao, or even Lincoln. Would unnecessary wars have been averted, for the cost of single bullet? Bell argued in an essay about ten years ago that some day all governments would be eliminated in this manner. The Israeli government, especially, is testing his thesis, as it continues its quest for domination of the Middle East, using its U.S. proxy army. I presume government officials of Israel pray that their enemies do not have computers, perhaps including some Israelis.

Jim Davies's picture

Thank you, Thunderbolt, it's surprising that such support is so thin in this forum; one is reminded of William Safire's felicitous phrase about "nattering nabobs of negativism" who seem to be forming themselves into "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history."

I'm also reminded of Jonah. According to Jonah 3:4 at the Lord's command "he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" - so going way out on a limb. But Ninevehans repented of their evil ways (I forget what they were) leaving Jonah up a creek without a paddle; and he pouted mightily, and sulked real sore. "It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry" (4:1.) The answer came in vv 10, 11: "Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night; And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?"

Intriguing phrase, that "also much cattle." Had the cattle also repented? - if so, what _had_ they been up to?

Whether this tale is fact or fiction, Jonah failed utterly to get the big picture. The purpose of his preaching against the wickedness of the city was not to prove himself right, but to rescue its residents. Perhaps he was the first Nattering Nabob.

If I may, though, a correction: the only approach I see as feasible is one of _persuasion_, one by one, of everybody. You know why and how that can work and is working. But violence has no part in it.

It's very tempting to visualize assassinating the bad guys at the top, and I must admit that if that had been done at key points in history millions of other lives would have been saved. But that doesn't persuade anyone, hence the paradigm of ruling and stealing would remain. The aim must be to strike at that root, at the disease infecting all society, not just at its soi-disant "leaders."

AtlasAikido's picture

Re: Perhaps the most delightful chapter in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is the one describing Dagny Taggart's visit to Galt's Gulch. Exhausted and frustrated by trying to run a railroad in the teeth of bureaucrats and bloodsuckers, she drops in to see what a free society is like--and is given a vision of liberty. If Rand had never written or done anything else, this single chapter (#1 of Part III) would make her life remarkable.

--"Existence exists and man's mind is capable of knowing it". Ayn Rand

This sums up the three sections of her book "Atlas Shrugged": "A is A"--The Law of Identity. II. "Non-Contradiction"--The Art of non-contradictory identification. III 'Existence Exists"--Reality exists independent of man. ( The axioms are from Aristotle)

In Part III the heroes leave the world to those in Part II whose world has collapsed *because of the contradictions* they continue to hold. And in Part I there are those who understand that "Nature to be commanded must be understood", and that "You can't have your cake and eat it"; And accordingly "Grant me the serenity to change the things I can and the courage to know the difference". And those who do not.

Dagny is indeed "Exhausted and frustrated" UNTIL she comes to see the contradiction she holds thinking she can show (*educate/manage*) others thru the sheer force of reason....

She finds her own freedom when she is able to finally adopt the self rule (anarchy/agorism) principle of "live and let live" which is "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

As Jim might find if he shrugged (went on strike, the original title of "Atlas Shrugged") regarding his unsupported assertion that he and others (we) cannot possibly be free nor live in Gulches until ALL the statists have been re-educated with his re-education program.

Re: Galt's Gulch was "defended" by magic. This verdant valley was protected from hostile government attention by using so-far undiscovered electronic techniques for making it invisible from above; a spotter plane would see a mirage of mountains like those nearby, rather as if the landscape had been Photoshopped. From beneath, one would see clear blue sky normally and pilots "in the know" could dive through the barrier and land as usual. Magic. Real-life enclaves would need real-life defense.

--This so called "magic" would be consistent with today's hologram imaging technology and a verification of good Science Fiction not fantasy nor "magic".

Science Fiction is not like fantasy. Science Fiction has to be plausible, realistic, possible and yes, it has to be real. Even if it hasn’t happened yet, or never happened in the past, Science Fiction has to be possible in some alternate world. Elements that make a story downright impossible make a story something other than Science Fiction.

There is a lot of leeway as to what reality includes, especially when dealing with a possible science or technology. It is important that the ideas appear to be real and do not raise obvious objections.

Furthermore because Jim cannot find nor see the actual Gulches already out there does not mean they do not exist. It does mean that they have been able to maintain the very secrecy and privacy Jim thinks is impossible in an UNFREE world. Just by moving from the East coast to the less densely populated West coast is a good start. Good for them!

DennisLeeWilson's picture

Jim Davies: "No need, says Rand; just get the simple principle dead right in a single sentence, and the details will work themselves out."

With all respect, this statement is simply not true.

In my article at which refers to Galt's Gulch, I quote Ayn Rand on this very issue:
Being an Objectivist morally and philosophically, I [Dennis Wilson] am understandably interested in Ayn Rand’s view of government. After defining the moral principles underlying a proper political system, she really had very little to say about the specific form it would take. She expressed some personal preferences (repeated below) but THERE IS NO FORMAL OBJECTIVIST POLITICS! Ms. Rand said in a magazine interview with journalist Garth Ancier[1]:

* "I do have a complete philosophical system, but the elaboration of a system is a job that no philosopher can finish in his lifetime. There is an awful lot of work yet to be done."

It is well known that Galt’s Gulch as described in Atlas Shrugged has become THE prime model for those seeking relief from our current culture of ever encroaching tyranny. In The Letters of Ayn Rand, The Later Years (1960-1981) page 626, May 2, 1964, commenting about Galt’s Gulch, Ayn Rand said:

* "I must mention that Galt's Gulch is not an organized society, but a private club whose members share the same philosophy. It exemplifies the basic MORAL principles of social relationships among rational men, THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH A PROPER POLITICAL SYSTEM SHOULD BE BUILT." [EMPHASIS ADDED]

* "It does not deal with questions of political organization, with the details of a legal framework needed to establish and maintain a free society open to all, including dissenters. It does not deal with specifically political principles, only with their MORAL base. (I indicate that the proper political framework is to be found in the Constitution, with its contradictions removed.)" [EMPHASIS ADDED]

Later in my article I point out that

"Galt’s Oath and the libertarian Non Aggression Principle (NAP/ZAP) are moral/ethical principles. The Covenant of Unanimous Consent is a political statement of interpersonal relationships based on those moral principles."

And I proceed to explain why I think such.

Elsewhere I have pointed out that minimum requirements for living peacefully amongst other people do not require a person to be "fully rational". Education levels vary enormously as do levels of rationality! The basic or minimum requirement is understanding and adhering to the Non Aggression Principle (NAP), a very simple MORAL/ethical concept that is even readily apparent to children.

But sometimes moral statements are not sufficiently explicit or not easily applied to particular situations. [I have witnessed some pretty gross rationalizations, created in the name of Galt's Oath and/or by people who claim to be Objectivists, that would have undoubtedly outraged Ayn Rand--and perhaps you have witnessed such also...Dennis] Because of varying education levels, understanding the full consequences of moral statements and/or applying them consistently can become problematic.

And THAT leads to the need for Political Statements.

A characteristic of political statements--and a reason why they exist--is that they are more explicit and do not depend as heavily on education level as do moral statements and they are less subject to "interpretations".

DennisLeeWilson's picture

"I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself." ~ Aldous Huxley

Found on Strike the Root, 2012-April-15

Suverans2's picture

"It is thrown in the face of Christian ethics." ~ Jim Davies

As much as you seem to enjoy throwing things in the face of Christians, it really does depend on what one reads, or reads into That Book, as the case may be. Think of That Book as a smorgasbord, a buffet, where you can pick what you want and leave the rest and one might be surprised at all the useful information. Irrational individuals usually find all the "bad stuff" and then use that as an excuse to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'.

Here are a just a few tasty morsels that the "Christian anarchists" adhere to.

1Corinthians 7:23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

2Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? [Unbelievers being, among other things, those who believe that other men are born to be their "servants".]

2Corinthians 6:17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord... [Individual secession]

Revelations 18:4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. [Withdraw from membership (individual secession) in "her";"her" being Babylon, the "melting pot of the world"; and one of "her" greatest sins, according to That Book, is that "she" makes "merchandise of...slaves, and souls (lives) of men".]

2Peter 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you... ["Covetousness", they desire to have all your stuff without earning it; "feigned words", is the legalese used by the to plunder your stuff, and the "merchandise", in this case, is "human resources"; they are traffickers in human flesh. Know any who are like that?]

Luke 11:46 And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. [nomikos, "expert in"]

Luke 11:52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

Samarami's picture

You have a unique ability to get the troops thinking, Jim. Another good article.

I agree Galt's Gulch left a lot to the imagination. Many of us will agree Ayn Rand merely opened the door to a host of libertarian/anarchist thought, shortly before the advent of the web. Neither she nor any of us really know how a "free society" is going to actually play out. Rand came out of a nightmare of totalitarianism to a relatively "free" part of the world to write a successful novel that forebode how socialism would ensnare a "free" economy, and how "revolutions" might develop.

Who knows -- the Ron Paul "Revolution" might be the forerunner of a 21st century Galt's Gulch. These kids right now see government as serving a socially useful purpose if they can just work hard enough and inspire enough "voters" to elect Ron Paul. They don't think far enough downstream to understand they'd have to "elect" a thousand Ron Paul's immediately to do the equivalent of creating a silk purse out of a sow's ear -- and even that would turn sour in time -- but not to mind.

These youngsters are about where I was in 1964 with my ardent support of Barry Goldwater. I have never registered or voted since. But I had to go through Goldwater to get to Sovereignty. Few of us were born anarchist. I take that back -- we were probably born anarchist, but quickly found ourselves inundated with governmentalist ideas and mentality, which had to be exorcised for us to become anarchist.

Over time. Not immediately. Line upon line.

I look back at my early exposure to some of your articles, Jim. You and Robert Higgs were probably my greatest influence in my acquisition of a state of sovereignty. Perhaps it has to do with us all being in the same age group.

You wrote an essay I've linked to often. I think it was titled, "Your Tax Dollars At Work". I know it's buried on my hard drive somewhere. I'm sure I'll find it if I surf "Take Life Back". It was several pages long, had charts comparing the malevolence and high cost of various government actions with free market alternatives.

My point is this: I wonder if you give yourself adequate credit for the influence you've already shown many of us in our quest for liberty. In looking for your article I surfed the "On The Other Hand" section of "Take Your Life Back" and thought, it would take HOURS to just peruse a part of the many, many articles and essays you've written.

There's a thing going around -- it's called "The Serenity Prayer" -- everybody's probably heard it. And I think even "believers" will agree The Book denigrates the idea of out-loud, public prayers; and I wouldn't want to proselytize or force prayers on anybody even if I believed in them. But the idea is good:

I hope to always carry the attitude to have:

    The serenity to accept the things I can not change

    The courage to change the things I can

    And the wisdom to know the difference.

I'll weigh in with Mass Outrage, Paul, Mark, Atlas and the others who believe it's time for us to shrug like Atlas Shrugged. I can change only one individual at a time -- and I can't change him or her much, that's for sure.

But I can put forth my very best effort. I can have the courage to resist state incursions wherever possible. I can set good examples of sovereignty and liberty.

And I can be free. Right here. Right now.


. .

Jim Davies's picture

Sam, thank you for those very kind words.

By "Your Tax Dollars at Work" I think you refer to a few web pages I wrote five or six years ago, still at

The numbers are out of date, but the proportions are still mostly valid.

Samarami's picture

Jim Davies:

That's the one! Many thanks! I suspect I may have accidentally overwritten your essay in my M/S "Word" file. Lew Rockwell had a more recent essay with the same title.

It's one of the first of yours I encountered that caused me to recognize you as among the premier libertarian writers on the web. Another, which I'll attempt to emulate before this summer is over, is your "A Dollar In Peril". Although you and I have not met in person, you wrote that with such lucidity I could actually see you and your serious, concerned expression as you conversed with the crusty old New England statist in the post office line, and I could hear the sincere cadence of your voice. Same with the later scene in the barber shop.

Never sell yourself short, Jim. I think you're already providing what I sense is your overarching frustration: that an adequate abundance of others are not "coming to see the light" quickly enough for any of us to be free. I'll side with Paul on this: I don't need their conversion to anarchy and liberty for me to be free. Yet.

I often end my rants with:

You can be free.

Yes, you can.


Jim Davies's picture

Again, Sam, you're very generous. I just re-read "Dollar in Peril", and alas that FRN is now lost and gone for ever.

You wrote "I don't need their conversion to anarchy and liberty for me to be free. Yet" - and I'm glad you added that "Yet."

Might you agree that there are two degrees of freedom, at least; the first we begin to experience the moment it dawns on us that _nobody_ else has the right to run our lives; that their pretended authority is a total bust. Paul Hein has a splendid STRticle out today on one aspect of that kind of freedom; an imaginary defendant punctures the pomposity of a government court. In a real sense, he is free.

The enjoyment of that is marred, though (wouldn't you agree?) by the fact that even though they have no _valid_ authority to interfere with us, they do so anyway; by voting, and by everything in the well which voting poisons. To take Paul Hein's example: the defendant was free in the first sense when he realized the court was a fraud; but it put him behind bars anyway. Manifestly, being caged is not being free.

My contention therefore is that in order to be properly free and to enjoy all the benefits and pleasures of a free market which many libertarian authors have described, there _must_ be a free society, ie one without government. Once that point is agreed and fixed, one must rationally figure out how to get one, and it should become clear quite quickly that we certainly _do_ need virtually everyone else to accept the principles of anarchism; as "Gulch" reasoned, mere enclaves will not suffice, for they will be snuffed out.

Suverans2's picture

You can be free, free from complicity.

“How does it become a man to behave towards the American government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace be associated[1] with it." ~ Henry David Thoreau

The natural right of "freedom of association" gives each of us, individually, the The Right to Ignore the State.

"Government being simply an agent employed in common by a number of individuals to secure to them certain advantages, the very nature of the connection implies that it is for each to say whether he will employ such an agent or not. If any one of them determines to ignore this mutual-safety confederation, nothing can be said except that he loses all claim to its good offices, and exposes himself to the danger of maltreatment — a thing he is quite at liberty to do if he likes. He cannot be coerced into political combination without a breach of the law of equal freedom; he can withdraw from it without committing any such breach; and he has therefore a right so to withdraw."

[1] associated adjective connected ~ Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary

Suverans2's picture

As usual, virtually all of the disagreement about whether we can be "free", or not, is hinged on the fact that virtually no one takes the time to define the word "free". We just ass-u-me that the reader knows which one we are referring to.

Noah Webster, in the only dictionary he personally edited, gave TWENTY DEFINITIONS for the word "free", the modern day Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, 11th Edition, 15 DEFINITIONS, the Macmillan Dictionary has no less than A DOZEN, and the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, SEVENTEEN, and those are only for the word "free" when used as an adjective[1].

If we took the time to first define, each time we use it, what WE MEAN by "free", there might be little, or no, disagreement. For example, if by the word "free", I mean, "Having political independence[2]", which is to say, "I do not consent to be in association with any man-made governments, at this time", would any rational individual dare disagree with me when I state that I am "free"?

Now, we can see, (well most of us anyway), why Voltaire reportedly wrote, "Define your terms, you will permit me again to say, or we shall never understand one another...", and why I spend so much time "defining my terms".

Then, of course, one or more of the "less rational", will make some inane statement such as, "Well, there are certainly other definitions for that word, you know!" Yeah, I know, which is precisely why I took the time to show the reader which one I was referring to. Oh, and, in case there is anyone here who hasn't noticed, I love using their own so-called "law dictionaries" against them, for which I am often criticized.

    ...through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you...


[1] Old Noah miscalled it a "noun".

[2] American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language @ 3a

A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

Please clarify what, exactly, you mean by the word selfish. Unfortunately, many people use it as if it were a synonym for greediness or self-absorption, but I think that such usage is scurrilous. One eats because one is selfish, and there's nothing inappropriate about eating when done in moderation and consistent with the needs of the person.

Jim Davies's picture

Hello Liberal in LA, fair question. I was using the word in para 5, 6 and 7 to mean a focus on enhancing the one thing we each have, ie our own lives.

In a free market, that life can be enhanced by bringing pleasure to someone else, in exchange. One need not worry about greed and moderation except to make sure that the sum total of one's own enjoyment is served well. "Needs" are what the life's owner determines, nobody else - so nobody else is entitled to criticize. Rationally he will take a long term view; eg balancing the pleasure of a drinking binge with the horrors of a hangover and any permanent harm it does to health.

This is really radical. It says there is no virtue, in itself, in helping another person. However in most cases helping someone else brings pleasure to the _helper_, and therefore he will do it. I've often noticed that rich folk love to give money away - because it makes them feel good. But if he chooses not to, no blame attaches.

Having created wealth, on this basis there's no way to prevent it benefiting others. He may give some away, as above. Or if he uses it in further trade, on the Misesian subjective theory of value that trade will benefit the other party trading (or else he wouldn't trade.) Or if he saves the money, it will be put to good use as capital to expand commerce, create jobs and new goodies. Or even if he hoards it in the mattress, that takes money out of circulation and therefore causes a general reduction in prices. Only government can destroy wealth, because only government can "trade" with someone against his will.

Jim Davies's picture

Re-posted as a Reply