All freedom-lovers hunger for an answer to a basic and seemingly-essential question: when will we win? When will the headlong rush of State power be arrested – let alone reversed? We can we begin the process of exploring just how little violence is needed in a free society?
The odds are formidable, of course. The State has overwhelming force, almost all the money, control of education and the media, and massive phalanxes of well-bribed dependents. So how on earth are we going to win?
Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth – but first, some methodology.
My first premise in examining our possibilities is to work with both current empirical and past historical evidence. My second is that it is only rational to apply our willpower to spheres we have the greatest effect on. The third is that the future of society as a whole is – except in the broadest categories – unpredictable. The fourth is that if we have ideas which we do not put into practice in the spheres we have the greatest effect on, they are not worth having at all.
So – first of all, we have to accept the fact that the current system is so embedded in the hearts, minds and wallets of the general population that no mere argument can prevail against it. From von Mises in the 1920s onward, over eighty of years of powerful arguments for the free market and limited government has done almost nothing to reduce the modern State’s continued aggregation of power, violence and wealth. I doubt anyone out there can write better philosophical novels than Ayn Rand’s, or better books than Adam Smith, Ludwig von Mises or Murray Rothbard.
Thus it seems fair to say that abstract argument, compelling evidence or passionate speeches will never grant us victory. The logic of the free market does not convince. The historical success of capitalism does not convince. The ongoing failures of government do not convince. Barn-burning speeches do not convince.
There is also no society in history that I have ever read about (I have a Masters in history from the University of Toronto) that has been able to reverse the growth of government power. From the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks to the Romans to the Enlightenment English and Americans to the Russians, Italians, Germans and modern Western societies in general, the pattern is everywhere and always the same: more state, more compulsion, more corruption, more democratic bribery, more debt, more taxes, more regulations – more of everything except freedom.
All such societies eventually and inevitably crash – and ours will be no exception. It is not a question of whether, but when. When will this crash occur? It is impossible to say. My own opinion is that within 10-15 years, everything will absolutely fall apart. The demands of the elderly for health care and pensions will shatter the economy, and a fascistic form of youth-power will emerge, as the young violently attempt to throw off the exploitation of the aged. (This is what happened in Germany and Italy in the 1930s.)
Sadly, history shows that institutional violence is a pandemic virus that must just run its course – it grows exponentially, peaks and then self-destructs. State violence becomes so deeply embedded in society (and so carefully hidden through the corruption of common sense) that its exponential growth cannot be stopped.
Thus it makes little sense for us to spend our energies attempting to oppose the state in its current form. Governments were far smaller in the 1920s than they are now, and the freedom movement failed to restrain their growth even then – what chance do we have now? We must look elsewhere to effect change.
If the lesson of the past is that argument and reason do not work, the question becomes: what will?
The first thing to recognize is that we only have control over our own thoughts and actions – controlling others is impossible save through violence, and violence can never build a free society. Thus we can only change our own behaviour, not the minds of others. (Changing our own thoughts and behaviours will have an effect on the thoughts and behaviours of others, but that effect cannot be predicted in advance.)
We currently live in a society so bereft of logic and evidence that people generally judge the truth of a belief based on the passion and conviction of the speaker. Knowing the truth is all well and good, but we will never convince anyone until we act on it. Thus freedom-lovers must display the greatest possible integrity if freedom is to have any chance at all.
This simple fact is the greatest challenge involved in advocating freedom. If I oppose state violence, but remain ‘friends’ with those who support it, they immediately understand that I are merely posturing, and my ideas mean very little. If I constantly say that I passionately oppose racism, but continue to associate with outright racists, what does that say about my convictions? Won’t they appear little more than a shallow form of oppositional pomposity?
If, on the other hand, I make my convictions clear to those around me – and then refuse to associate with those who reject them – then I am beginning to treat the truth with the seriousness it deserves.
For instance, if I oppose the initiation of force used in the invasion of Iraq, and make the case to my friends and family, I must insist that they either refute my case or accept my position. If they do neither, I have a choice. I can either reject my beliefs, or stop associating with them. There is no honourable ‘third way’.
In the 19th century, the abolitionists who successfully opposed slavery didn’t sit around endlessly arguing with slave-owners. They made their case, and then refused to associate with anyone who turned a deaf ear to reason and evidence. The fact that they took their ideas so seriously helped society in general see that the ideas themselves were serious.
Thus if we love freedom, we must stand for the truth against all social convention. This hard, of course, but wins us several significant benefits.
The first – and most important – benefit is that we rid our lives of irrational people, and so of empty and difficult relationships. We can never gain satisfaction from any ‘relationship’ based on conformity, accidental family history or a rejection of what we know is good and true and right.
If you refuse to give up either your beliefs or your false friends, you undermine the cause of truth in an abhorrent fashion. You may choose to betray the truth for the sake of social conformity, but at least have the decency to stop pretending that the truth is at all important – if you don’t, you make it that much harder for the rest of us!
What is important in life is not family, or spouses, or careers, or money – but truth, integrity, morality and rationality. The reason for this is purely practical – nothing in life is worth a damn if it is not earned honestly. Whether we like it or not, we are so constituted that truth and integrity are all that can give us joy. We can only truly relate to people through a mutual respect for reality and rationality – everything else is habit and illusion and corrupting conformity, and will only bring us pain in the long run.
Thus don’t worry about the State or how we will ‘bring it down’. The first step is to recognize that rationality is its own reward. Standing up for what is right – although difficult – will bring you deep and intense pleasure – and ditching the corrupt and blind people around you will give you self-respect, since you won’t be playing both sides of the fence anymore.
The State will likely fall of its own accord. We cannot predict when, or what will follow. We only know that speaking the truth and living with integrity is the greatest service we can do for the truth, reality, goodness – and those who will come after us, who we hope, if we fail, will inherit our thoughts and take their own stand.