The current debate in Libertarian circles regarding whether the ‘origin of things’ is important or not misses the point. Whether the Fed came into being through corrupt political maneuvering, or whether State education was brought about by desperate and slightly incompetent teachers, or whether the income tax is legal or not, is all rather beside the point. The simple fact is that most of us are scared to make the moral case for freedom, because the simple fact is that this will utterly and irrevocably alienate most of our friends and families. And this is where the movement not only falters, but fails. Most of our friends and families are not Libertarian. They are, at best, pragmatists who shrug and praise and curse the world, but have no interest in understanding why things are the way they are, or how they could be better. For the most part, the world is populated by altruists who believe that subjugation is noble, or cynics who believe it is inevitable. If we cannot openly condemn the blindness of the altruist and the cowardice of the cynic, we have no place in the theatre of ideals.
Let us say that I have a brother who is a socialist. Or a mixed-market man. Or a generalized statist. How am I to deal with him? For most of us, the answer is to avoid politics at Christmas and Thanksgiving, and every year or two have a blowout argument which achieves absolutely nothing, except perhaps to give everyone the impression that philosophy is really just sibling rivalry with additional syllables.
Yet what is the truth of the matter as we define it? We argue that socialism leads to totalitarianism. To the enslavement of all by the government. To slave-camps, torture, war, genocide and the endless murders of the omnipotent State. How strong do our convictions appear when we sit down and chat amiably with those who fully support such monstrosities? If we are Jewish, and loath Nazism, but sit and talk and laugh with Nazis, don’t our convictions appear little more than inconsequential preferences, like our choice of a tie or haircut? If a woman opposes slavery, but goes every weekend to visit and laugh with her slave-owning family, what depth does her opposition really have?
There are really only two approaches to the world. The first is that the truth matters above all, and that our only loyalty is to what is just and right. The second is that we must strive to be as pleasant as possible, to speak our minds but embrace our enemies, to avoid condemning others and strive to avoid drawing any real moral lines between good and evil. In this view, ideas are really just abstract toys that happen to fascinate us. We love to explore and manipulate them, but they have no real importance in our daily lives. They are for History, or Mankind, or Society and other such non-existent and oft-capitalized abstractions. We like to talk about Economics, or People, or the Market – not Bob and Achmed and Sally and you and I. We like to say things like: ‘the market is more efficient,’ or that ‘government is force,’ – we really don’t generally say that ‘by defending public education, Bob, you are saying that, if I don’t agree with you, you would fully support someone putting a bullet in my brain.’
Is that extreme? Does it make you uncomfortable? But why should that be so? Isn’t that what we’ve been preaching for all these years? What could be more in line with our philosophy? For decades, we have railed against socialists for their habit of shrinking back from the inevitable results of their own premises. Why should we then excuse ourselves from the consequences of our own ideals? If government is force, then those who support government are supporting violence against us! Where does this logic break down? Government certainly is force. Those who support the actions of government are supporting violence. If you disagree with me, and I threaten to stab you, am I doing the right thing? Would you then be happy to come back to my house and debate some more? Should we forget our differences and go see a movie together? Wouldn’t any further interaction with me be rather insane? And wouldn’t it make your opposition to violence look rather anemic, if not utterly pathetic? If I wave a gun in your face, and you’re still chatty and pleasant with me, are you really opposed to violence? Of course not. If you claim to be against slavery, but are good friends with a slave-owner who regularly orders his slaves whipped, I can only assume that your objections to slavery are mere pretension.
What are our options? Well, if we are interested in the truth, and wish to live with integrity, we have only three options. We can either change our minds, our convictions, or our actions. In other words, we can either prove that government is not force, give up our opposition to violence or stop associating with people who support the use of violence.
For many years, advocates of political liberty have criticized socialists for clinging to their beliefs even when the facts of reality continually proved them wrong. One could be a socialist in 1900, we say, but surely now it is a ludicrous position. That spotlight, however, can as easily be turned on us. We believe that the government is inefficient. Has any fact in the last century disproved that? Or that the market works? Or that government continually grows? Or that increasing debt and financial instability are the hallmarks of that growth? What in the past century has disproved our contentions? Nothing. And yet still we hesitate in the face of social pressure. We continually approach political discussions as if violence were not at their root. We argue with people as if they were not recommending that we be shot for our opinions. As if they would not rather see us dead in the ground or in prison for believing that, say, anyone with legs can deliver the mail.
We continually hide the problem of violence, of bullets through torsos and blood on the ground – and then we have the audacity to argue that people like using the power of the State because the violence of that power is hidden from them! Who hides that violence more than we do? Who else sees it more clearly, but works as hard to obscure it from people? Who else claims to better understand the direct path from ideas to guns, but socially treats ideas as inconsequential?
Of course, our primary problem is that we still believe we may be wrong. And that is fine. It is healthy. Doubt is one of the healthiest ingredients in any rationality philosophy. But we must be rigorous, if we want to live with integrity. If a scientist doubts a theory, he does not argue it as if it were true, except as an academic exercise. If we do not believe that the State is violence, and that those who support State policies are advocating violence against dissenters, then we must examine this logic until we find a flaw. Perhaps the State does not use violence. Perhaps all State programs are voluntary. Perhaps when a person says ‘State’, he really means a charity, club, business or other such voluntary social group. You never know. But until we have resolved our doubts about our ideals, we cannot act as strong advocates for them. We do them far more harm than good, because not only do we discredit ourselves, but also we discredit those who come after us.
We are either in doubt or we are certain. If we are uncertain, then we cannot advocate what we doubt, but must examine our hesitations to ascertain their validity. If we are certain, then we must act with integrity, and refuse to associate with those who advocate the use of violence against us. We must first help them identify their error, and then, if they persist, we must condemn them in the strongest possible terms, and cut off all contact. No other action is possible, unless we are willing to utterly give up on rationality. False sentimentality will not save us when those around us finally get their wish, and we are dragged off to the concentration camps. For let us not deceive ourselves – it is us, not them, who will be the first to go.