Challenging the State is an extremely dangerous business – not just for individuals, but for society as a whole. There is great danger in losing such a confrontation – but great danger in winning as well. Toppling those who rule the State does not destroy the power of the State, no more than removing a Godfather destroys the power of organized crime. In fact, the power vacuum created provides greater incentive for a new ruling elite to claw their way to the top.
It is very important to understand this fact, since the reason that people do not want to challenge the State is that they are very afraid of such a confrontation – and with good reason. When arguing with people, it is important that we respect that very real fear.
These days, no one really believes that the State helps the poor, heals the sick, educates the ignorant or protects the innocent – simply because the evidence against such foolish ideas has been mounting for the past century or so. Every intelligent person is fully aware of national debts, high-level corruption, interest groups and the constant expansion of State power.
Thus, when people defend the State, they may claim that they are doing so because they want to help the poor, heal the sick and so on, but that is not the real reason for their arguments. People argue for the State for two reasons:
1. They benefit from State power, or;
2. They fear that things will get worse if the State is challenged.
Thus those who defend the State take basically the same position as abused women. Such women either stay with their abuser because he pays the bills, or because they fear greater injury if they try to leave. To rationalize their position, of course, they will sing the praises of their husband, but don’t be fooled by that perspective. A woman does not stay with an abusive man for love of his virtues, but rather for fear of his vices. Coaxing her to leave him by arguing that he is not really very virtuous will not work, since in her heart she knows that already. Arguing that he is evil will also not work, since she has learned to live with that evil already.
No, the only way to get a woman to leave an abusive husband is to help her understand that she is doomed to a life of escalating misery, degradation and physical injury. That things will only get worse if she does not act. If she cares nothing for her own life and happiness, then the argument must be expanded to include her children. By staying with her abuser, she is exposing her helpless children to escalating brutality, and quite likely inflicting a lifetime of continued abuse and self-hatred upon them.
In other words, if people do not understand that the State will always grow in power until it destroys society, they will have no real incentive to question or oppose the State. If this understanding is not reached, then all other arguments are rather futile. Smokers quite smoking despite the hellish discomfort because they understand that cigarettes have a good chance of killing them.
This raises a challenging question about how to change people’s minds about the inevitable destruction of ever-expanding State power. Libertarians have a habit of complaining about the State – and then feeling guilty about their negativity and trumpeting the virtues of liberty. This is like saying: ‘cigarettes are bad’ (not ‘cigarettes will kill you’) – and then saying ‘your life would be better without cigarettes’. Of course, it’s true that people would be better off without the State, but unless they understand that the State will destroy them, they won’t act against it.
How does this work in practice?
Try asking the following questions:
· Can you think of a single society in history that has not been destroyed by its own government, either through wars, revolution or collapse?
· Can you think of a State that voluntarily reduced itself in size? (The Soviet Union doesn’t count, since it went bankrupt.)
· Do you think that State power is growing, shrinking or staying about the same?
· What do you think is the logical end of the expansion of State power?
· How do you think that the national debt is going to be paid off?
· How much longer do you think we have before our freedoms are essentially gone?
· Do you think that there are more poor people, fewer poor people, or about the same number as when the War on Poverty began? (repeat for drugs, illiteracy etc.)
· Given that State programs produce more of what they are supposed to combat, what do you think the logical end is of those programs?
· How would an 80% tax affect your ambition?
· What kind of world do you think your children will grow up in? Will they have more freedom, less freedom or about the same amount of freedom as today?
· Do you think that your children should have at least the amount of freedom that you have today?
I find this approach very productive. Once you get people away from the immediate issues, and quiet the ‘disaster static’ that roars up whenever people think about cutting State programs, the trends generally become quite clear. There is no logical end to the expansion of State power except dictatorship, slaughter, poverty and collapse – an endless paradise for sadists and sociopaths; a living hell for any decent human being.
Once people begin to see what lies ahead, they can begin to change their behaviour in the present. Skin cancer prompts sunscreen; heart disease prompts exercise; lung cancer prompts butting out. Future danger spurs current change. If the future danger is unseen, stagnation and decay are inevitable, since no spur to action exists. It is this danger that we must make people aware of. If we do not see the oncoming train, we shall leave nothing behind but wet tracks.