the failure of Proposition 1. How could this be? Elections are generally neither noteworthy nor meaningful in the sense that they impact our day-to-day lives, and they certainly shouldn't ruin an event as hallowed as Mother's Day. Get together with family, share a meal, and leave your politics at the door. Regardless of what day it is, consider that it is almost statistically impossible to be the deciding vote that tips the scales one way or the other, and you are left with the conclusion that it is generally best to stay out of the sticky mess of politics altogether... but this time it's different.
The sole item up for vote was Proposition 1, a confusingly-worded ballot initiative that sought to overturn a recent City Council ordinance regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft in several ways, most notably requiring fingerprint background checks on all drivers. Both companies have warned that they will be forced to leave the city of Austin if these regulations are enforced, and as of today they have proven good on their word. Uber and Lyft have shut down their service to the detriment of the 10,000-15,000 full and part-time drivers and the hundreds of thousands of their satisfied customers.
In the grand scheme of things, the City Council’s regulation on ride-sharing companies is a small crime of the State. Compare it to 1,000,000 dead Iraqis or dropping atomic bombs on civilian cities and it's easy to dismiss this event as a first world problem. However, just as some of my favorite pieces by Jeffrey Tucker concern the little ways the State screws us every day, like why our toilets require plungers or why our clothes aren't clean, the sorry tale of Prop 1 is a microcosm for why every day, in a million different ways both seen and unseen, the State makes our lives worse.
So on this celebration of Motherhood, when thousands of Austinites are going to open their iPhones expecting to effortlessly catch a ride to their favorite trendy brunch-spot and realize that 56% out of the 17% of eligible Travis County voters have made one of their most important apps stop working overnight, we should use this opportunity to restate the case that can never be made enough: that the State is the common enemy of mankind.
The Losers of Prop 1
To take the representatives of Lyft and Uber at their word, the decision to pack up and leave Austin is no small decision. Obviously, they wouldn't have launched in Austin to begin with unless it were profitable to do so, so shutting down implies a reduction of those same profits. When a new law or tax is passed, sometimes the additional cost can be passed onto the consumer, but many times it can be the breaking point between a company staying open or moving on to greener pastures. So in this sense, the corporate employees and owners are the direct losers of Prop 1, but these individuals are not likely to draw sympathy from the selfish voter. Instead, let's consider how the users, the drivers, and the average Austinite who doesn't use a ride-sharing service will suffer due to this action by the State.
To relay a personal story, I recall my weekly trips to the airport being an anxious crapshoot. Every Sunday I would pre-order my taxi for the following morning, and it seemed half the time there would be some kind of problem. Maybe the taxi would arrive late, or maybe the order would get lost and no one would show up at all. This unpleasant game went on for years, and I had resigned myself to accept it, thinking that I would never see a higher level of service in this lifetime.
But then the skies parted, I rubbed my tired eyes and found Uber and Lyft. Imagine my delight at opening the app and immediately seeing how many mere minutes away the nearest driver was from my location. I could track, in real time, the driver approaching my home. When my driver arrived I was often welcomed with complimentary water, and this stellar level of service was achieved for nearly half the cost of my previous taxi trips. In other words, Uber and Lyft achieved both a higher quality of service and a lower cost, the holy grail of market competition. And now, due to the actions of the State, hundreds of thousands of ride-sharing users like me are forced back into barbarism.
Now let's consider the drivers. Whenever I used a ride-sharing service I always asked my drivers how long they had been pursuing their occupation and how the liked it. I met single mothers who drove 1 day a week for supplemental income. I met an Uber driver who started out part-time, but switched to full-time after repeatedly calling in sick to a dead-end job to drive instead. I met the newly retired, driving for Lyft because they found their social-security benefits lacking or just because they enjoyed meeting new people and finding exciting things about the city. All of them loved their job and the freedom to make their own hours and be their own bosses. What awaits these former ride-sharing drivers now, Wal-Mart greeters? The taxi-medallion mafia? Destitution? What kind of government "protection" is this?
Both users and drivers of apps like Uber and Lyft are examples of what is seen. Now, let us consider the consequences that are not seen. The first example is the user of Uber whose primary draw isn't its higher quality service but its lower cost. Perhaps this individual will only pay for a ride if it can cost $10, but will not purchase the same ride from a taxi for $20. Now the entire economic transaction is lost. On the flip side, consider the aforementioned single mother who can only get a part-time job if it can be on her terms and her hours. Without this option, all the economic transactions that would have taken place with her extra income as a ride-sharing driver will no longer happen. And it is these innumerable mutually beneficial transactions that will now never take place that make our society inexorably poorer as a result.
Finally, to end with a sobering note, remember the people that may die as a result of this decision. Given our Sovietized road system and the high cost and unreliable service from the government-monopolized taxi industry, it is plain that the removal of the ride-sharing option will result in more drunk drivers on the roads. Whether it is a factor of cost or convenience, inebriated individuals who would otherwise have ordered an Uber or Lyft driver with the swipe of the finger will instead get behind the wheel. This is an ironic but expected result of a government mandate purported to increase safety. Like the anti-Midas touch, everything the government attempts to do fails miserably and generally produces the exact opposite of what they were hoping to achieve.
Ride-Sharing Apps: Benefactors of Mankind
Now that ride-sharing regulations have driven this service out of the market, let's review the actual function that companies like Uber and Lyft brought to Austin. To do this, we first imagine a truly free market society where caveat emptor ruled the day. In this world, anyone would be at liberty to start driving their car as a service with nothing more than slapping on a hand-drawn sign that says "Bob's Ride-Sharing". Even ignoring the real-world regulatory perils of the taxi-monopoly, Bob would face major obstacles from earning any kind of meaningful income from his enterprise.
First, Bob would have to get his message out to his potential customers. Without the capital of a company that can invest in market analytics and an advertising budget, Bob will have a hard time finding all the people that need a ride at a particular time and place, and letting them know that "Bob's Ride-Sharing Co." can meet their needs.
Second, even if Bob could solve this Herculean task before him, he will have a hard time convincing his potential customers to accept his business. The average person does not know Bob, they don't know the quality of service he will provide, the cost he will charge, or the recourse they will have if they are unsatisfied with the experience. Perhaps a determined person could spend all their time overcoming these obstacles through word of mouth, but if we consider the "part-time Bob" who is just looking to make money on the side a few hours a week, there is no feasible way for the transfer of knowledge to be facilitated between the "Bobs" of the world and their potential customers. Those mutually beneficial transactions have no chance of taking place.
But then, mirable dictu, in comes Uber and Lyft, companies that leverage the latest technology to swiftly and simply solve all the problems for Bob and his potential customers. First, they create the platform for people like Bob to get knowledge of his service out to everyone that seeks it. Second, they agree on a price point that is satisfactory to both Bob and his customers. And third, they are in the business of ensuring a safe and reliable product, bringing confidence and value to their brand. This is the indispensable element of ride-sharing apps that gets to the heart of Prop 1. It is the brand which allows ride-sharing customers to put faith in their drivers, men and women whom they have never met.
Ride-sharing companies have a financially-driven vested interest in making sure "Bob", "Tom", "Sally" and the thousands of other drivers are worthy of representing the Uber or Lyft brand. While taxi companies don't need to focus on quality of service when they’re the only game in town through government-enforced monopoly, a private company sinks or swims depending on the whims of the consumer. Given these natural incentives of the market, it should be no surprise that you actually see Uber having more stringent background checks then those enforced by the State for taxi cartels.
To drive the point home I'll end with a personal example. One of my Uber drivers relayed a story of how he was working a Saturday night and accepted two rides for a "pool" trip, where different people accept the same driver at a reduced cost. His first passenger was a female and the second was male. The driver became alert to the male passenger's intoxication after he made an inappropriate comment, and then immediately stopped the car when the female yelled, "DON'T TOUCH ME". This entire scene was caught on video, and the driver demanded that the male passenger get out immediately or he would be arrested. When this was reported to Uber, the company responded by banning the male passenger for life, refunding the female passenger's money, and offering to pay the full cost of litigation to prosecute the male passenger.
Uber's response was commendable, but ultimately makes common sense in a voluntary, market-based context. If Uber allowed this kind of behavior then passengers would stop using their service and go to a competitor like Lyft. Compare this response to what you'd expect from the government-monopoly alternative, and not only would nothing of the sort have been done to compensate the female passenger for her trouble, but at best, she would be taxed for the prosecution!
Not Yours to Regulate
Many of the anti-Prop 1 commentators have focused on reasoning like "they should follow the same rules as taxi companies" or "the government can regulate commerce, so just like we license doctors, we can create safety rules for any company". However, these assertions confuse the concept of something being promoted because it is right in itself, versus promoted because it is merely a precedent of how things have been done in the past - which speaks to neither the thing's rightness nor wrongness.
To absolutely prevent the charge of hypocrisy or false comparisons, let's be clear - the way to reach "fairness" is not to bring new regulation against companies that currently avoid it via loophole, but to de-regulate all industries. In the examples above, a true sense of "fairness" makes it plain that any customer of "Bob" has the absolute right to accept or reject his service, just like any passenger can request or reject a private ride versus a pool-ride from Uber. If an individual dares to assume the inherent risks of an uncertain world by merely getting out of bed in the morning, they should be free to engage in any transaction with anyone else that does not violate the right of another. So when the question is posed to Austin City Council of whether or not to regulate ride-sharing services, it should not be answered by an analysis of whether the benefits for or against regulation outweigh one another, but to modify a famous speech by Congressman Davy Crockett, the sacred domain of voluntary transactions should simply be not yours to regulate.
Why do we need to continually restate this maxim that everyone follows in their personal lives and follows directly from the golden rule? When put simply, it is absurd to argue the opposite. I can't run into a grocery store and forcibly stop someone from buying produce that I think is too expensive or less healthy than some alternative. I can't force my "protection" on them no matter how right I think I am, nor should I even if 98 out of 100 other people agree with me. And yet, with the failure of Prop 1 we're not looking at the Tyranny of 98 over 2, but the Tyranny of 56% out of 17% of eligible voters. With 49,158 voting for Prop 1 in a county with over 1.1 million people, that is the Tyranny of 4 over 96! Remember this sham when Austin Mayor Steve Adler says "The people have spoken tonight loud and clear." Rid yourself of the glib expressions and you're left with the shocking fact that our "representative democracy" has just ratified that 4% of the people can enforce their beliefs with the all-powerful violence of the State regarding with whom one can or cannot get a ride from down to the grocery store!
If the myths of "we are the government" or "the government serves the people" had any merit whatsoever, the draconian regulations regarding ride-sharing companies should put an end to such nonsense. If I have no business inserting myself between two consenting adults regarding a voluntary transaction as innocent as getting a ride in a car, then putting on a costume and calling myself the government does not change that. Put simply, if I do not have the power to do something, and the government serves me, then how could the government do that very thing in my name? How can the servant have more power than the master? How do multiple people acquire the moral authority to do something that a single person cannot?
The only logical answer is to accept the myth of government answering to the people as an outrageous lie. The government does not serve the people in the way that a servant obeys the commands of his master, but as a chef serves chicken for dinner. We are the dinner. We are fed on by those that presume to rule over us like chattel. The only good thing that has come from Proposition 1 is the hope that some politically apathetic souls will panic when they realize their Uber and Lyft apps no longer work, and they will begin to question just what happened to their "free country".
Search for the "worst types" of conservatives or liberals and you'll find just what you expect, the blue team attacking the red team, and vice versa. It makes logical sense, likely born out of an instinct to distrust and fight the neighboring tribe. Rather than look for complex answers to the question of why a world with such technological wonders can be so screwed up, it's easier to blame the other team for not voting the right way.
Alas, libertarians don't have it so easy. We lack a consistent 49% to 51% voting bloc, creating a constant tug-of-war with friends and family split evenly down the middle. Libertarians see the rulers, the ones who weld a monopoly of violence, against everyone else. It's not the left vs. the right; it's all of us vs. the State.
But the State is so abstract, so far way. Few of us have the opportunity to be in contact with a real "enemy" - a Bush or a Clinton or a Rockefeller. We need closer, more tangible enemies to explain our own shortcomings. So maybe that explains articles like this, The Top 10 Worst Kinds of Libertarians, written by a libertarian who purports to examine our faults as a movement so that we can be more successful. If our enemies are ignoring us, we might as well attack each other.
Full disclosure: I identify with more than half of these categories, so I must be the worst of the worst. I was hoping for a perfect 10, but I don't consider myself to be a creeper, a jerk, or a bigot - so that knocks me down to 7. When it comes to smoking pot, I abstain not because "libertarians must point out the negatives of drugs", but because drugs are a trap set by the government to make you a slave, so that puts me at a solid 6.
There are two ways to respond to this article. The first is by dismissal by pointing out what libertarianism is: a philosophy concerned with the permissible use of violence. While some believe that social contracts or special costumes grant the ability to initiate violent acts against the innocent, libertarians believe that all such aggressions are illegitimate. As Lysander Spooner wrote, the government is worse than a highwayman. Rothbard identified the State as a gang of thieves writ large. So what is the point of calling out those of us that are jerks, pot-smokers, or "anti-science"? These attributes have nothing to do with our core philosophy. A libertarian can be a church-going social conservative or a drug addicted atheist philanderer; abide by the Non-Aggression Principle and both are equally libertarian.
However, I find myself in the unique position to relish scoring a 6 out of 10, so rather than dismiss the article, I'll defend the "worst libertarians". While these are characteristics that have nothing to do with being a libertarian, I wear them like a badge of honor. Not only that, but it's not often that I find so many of my favorite fallacies contained in a single article, so for that alone I am grateful to the author.
In Defense of Conspiracy Theorists
Starting at the very top, the #1 worst kind of libertarian is the "conspiracy theorist". We can answer this charge merely by defining our terms. A conspiracy theory is a hypothesis that two or more people secretly did something illegal. Unbelievable! Yes, libertarians may believe that aggressive violence is impermissible, thereby relegating all coercive acts of government as illegitimate, but accuse them of secretly doing something illegal? What kind of monster are you?
In all seriousness, it's one thing to use the term "conspiracy theory" in a derogatory way when the CIA first "weaponized" the term in the 1960's. There is no excuse when it is 50 years later and there are dozens of declassified, main line "conspiracy theories", from the Gulf of Tonkin attack that never happened to the NSA's illegal spying which continues to this day. A person who is awake to libertarianism but brushes off conspiracy theories as preposterous must be pitied; the mental gymnastics required to hold such contradictory views must cause the most painful cognitive dissonance.
With all due sympathy to the author, let's review the patently lame arguments he presents against conspiracies:
"It is truly amazing that the same types of people who believe that the government is far too inept to plan a central economic structure think highly enough of that same bureaucracy to surmise that state actors could orchestrate a full-scale ruse upon the public. There is a simple line of thought that destroys nearly every conspiracy theory ever to exist: if this were ever to happen, it would necessitate the involvement of hundreds, if not thousands of individuals; for the conspiracy to go unnoticed, not one of those parties involved could ever reveal the slightest hint. Furthermore, there would be millions, if not billions of dollars in media waiting for someone who would break such a story."There are three false arguments here, and unfortunately, they are the same ones I've seen countless times before. The first, however, is unique in that you only hear it from fellow libertarians and fiscal conservatives. It comes down to this: how can the government be incompetent in one area (central planning), but clever in another area (conspiracies).
However, this question just highlights a subtle but important point in the case against central economic planning. The problem is not that the individuals attempting to orchestrate the central plan aren't clever - the problem is they are trying to make decisions without the benefit of the pricing system. No individual, group of individuals, or even a super computer could direct scarce goods and resources to their optimum place in space and time as well as the pricing system, which coordinates all mankind's true preferences as expressed by their choice to buy or not buy in a global marketplace.
This is really the same fallacy that Hayek describes in Chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom, "Why the Worst Get on Top". Hayek's point is that whatever the character of the dictator, angelic or demonic, incompetent or clever, the mission of central planning is doomed from the start. Hayek's great insight is that when the carefully laid plans of the czars inevitably result in shortages and surpluses, shoes without laces and cars without wheels, the economic dictator will come to a decision point: "assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans", such that "the totalitarian dictator would soon have to choose between disregard of ordinary morals and failure".
The reason the government cannot plan a central economic structure also explains why we can expect increasingly immoral and corrupt individuals to be the ones governing. While those in the market economy are busy specializing in their profession, be it art, athletics, or business, those in government are specializing in how to govern: how to achieve power and stay in power through whatever means necessary. They specialize in the art of blackmail, bribes, back-room deals, insider trading, and all forms of violence and corruption. Do not confuse the State's inability to centrally plan the economy with inexperience in orchestrating a "full-scale ruse", several wars founded on lies that have killed millions of innocents and continue to this day should be evidence enough of this fact.
The second fallacy comes straight from talking point number 4 part C of the declassified CIA Dispatch 1035-960: a conspiracy would require too many people, and someone would talk. But even since the 1960s the answer to this misbelief hasn't changed: it's called compartmentalization and the most obvious example is the Manhattan Project. It was October 9th of 1941 when President Roosevelt approved the atomic program, and it wasn't until the bombings of 1945 that the 100,000 people involved in the program even knew what they were a part of. As written in a 1945 Life article, "[p]robably no more than a few dozen men in the entire country knew the full meaning of the Manhattan Project, and perhaps only a thousand others even were aware that work on atoms was involved."
However, compartmentalization only answers the question of how hundreds or thousands of people could work on something "like moles in the dark" and not be aware of the end result, there would still be some people that would know the truth. The answer to this belief that "someone would talk" is to point out… people have talked! One doesn't have to look any farther than Sibel Edmonds, the "most gagged person in American history". But she's just one notable example in the 9/11 Truth Movement. There are hundreds of professionals in the military, intelligence service, and the government, as well as architects, engineers, and pilots who question the "conspiracy theory" put out by the government in favor of a different conspiracy - and that includes the co-chairs of the 9/11 Commission Report!
Ah, but what about the millions and billions of dollars in media just waiting for the right gumshoe reporter to break the story? Again, maybe this type of argument would work for mainline republicans or democrats who religiously watch MSNBC or Fox News, but is this really supposed to speak to libertarians? In a world where all major media outlets are owned by 6 corporations with intimate ties to the military industrial complex, does this argument even deserve a response? Perhaps the author just recently became a libertarian and is unfamiliar with the media's coordinated treatment of a certain libertarian congressman from Texas during his presidential runs of 2008 and 2012. Ultimately, the best person to respond to this would be Gary Webb, who was a true believer in the media until his exposé of CIA drug running caused his entire profession to turn against him. He realized his prior success was an illusion, because in all his previous works he "hadn't written anything important enough to suppress".
In Defense of Purists
More horrifying than creepers, jerks and even bigots is the dreaded "purist", coming in as the #2 worst kind of libertarian. According to the author, the libertarian purist drops a turd in the punch bowl just to ruin the party. This contrarian by nature compares libertarian credentials as an "artificial contest" simply for the perverse goal of sabotaging the movement. There is no "perfect libertarian", so the author says we should welcome a broad group of individuals as long as they are "willing to lessen the size and scope of government", "willing to defeat government overreach", "reduce taxes and keep government accountable", or have the correct positions on spending and surveillance.
Interesting that when offering various criteria that could be used to judge one's libertarian credentials the author never speaks the words of the twin pillars supporting our entire philosophy: Self-Ownership and the Non-Aggression Principle. Reducing taxes and the scope of government may be positions compatible with libertarianism, but they certainly do not define it. Our philosophy is not a random hodgepodge of political issues that change with the wind. We have something much stronger, much more beautiful than that.
So what would a "perfect libertarian" be in theory? Here's an answer: someone who believes in these two foundational principles and uses perfect logic to apply them to every issue pertaining to the use of violence in society. This person may have unimpeachable libertarian credentials and yet could be a far stretch from being a perfect human being. This duality of being a perfect libertarian but a flawed person is entirely consistent when libertarianism is defined within its proper scope. It has nothing to say about whether people should be charitable or stingy, accepting or intolerant, egalitarian or elitist. This is the heart of why libertarianism can reach such a diversity of people: refrain from initiating violence against the innocent and you can live your life as you see fit.
So there you have it, three cheers for the purists! It is a title to which we should all aspire. It is especially important when all kinds of bizarre distinctions are being thrown around which try to expand libertarianism beyond its function. "Thick vs Thin", "sophists vs brutalists", there are even those who purport to combine libertarianism with goals of social justice and somehow arrive at supporting a government mandated minimum wage! For those that have such goals, fine, let's form alliances and work together on issues with which we find common agreement, but the purists must ensure those individuals do not abuse the term libertarian and distort our message. Someone must be the vanguard against those that are hopelessly confused or actively trying to subvert our cause.
In reality, there are very few issues that cause serious disagreement among libertarians. Every Libertarian Party national convention highlights the two biggest ones: minarchism vs. anarchism and abortion. The LP's model for handling this difference of opinion is one that should be followed. Whether one wishes for a night-watchman state limited to purely defensive services or goes bravely forward to a full-blown anarcho-capitalist utopia free from any organization with a monopoly of violence, both sides can agree that we are so radically far from both of those end-states that we might as well work together and settle our differences once we're there. Hence, the Dallas Accord is a tacit agreement from the LP's founding that all statements in our platform will be sufficiently vague to satisfy both anarchists and minarchists. For instance, we may say there is a maximum role for government in offering defensive services, which logically allows for a minimum role of government that does not exist. The LP platform makes the same principled compromise on abortion, simply stating that since libertarians of good faith will forever disagree on this issue, we can at least agree that government should be kept out of the matter and move forward from there.
Stick to the Non-Aggression Principle and keep an open mind to those rare cases where libertarians can make passionate arguments on both sides. For those that hold positions totally inimical to the N.A.P, then let's enlist them in our "liberty friendly" alliance and make progress towards common goals. That is a recipe for big-tent libertarianism and success.
In Defense of the Hard Core
Using terminology straight from the lexicon of what Tom Woods would call the gate-keepers of allowable opinion, "Neo-Confederates" are listed as the fourth worst type of libertarian, and "civil disobedience warriors" take the #7 slot. The author states that there is no libertarian reason to defend the confederacy because the CSA was not itself libertarian. When it comes to those that "endanger one’s own life and liberty to protest" minor laws that appear to be just, those that are sent to jail are " being in fact not principled, but selfish in their pursuits of liberty and justice".
How could a libertarian defend the wicked "neo-confederates"? Simple, first unask the leading question and examine what libertarians are really supporting: the right of secession. After we abandon the convenient myth that the Civil War was fought over slavery and accept that the southerners and northerners were both guilty of many crimes, first of those being slavery, we have a simple decision to make. Can you defend the right of secession even if you don't agree with the culture of the seceding group, or do you throw your lot in with the invading army? Put another way, do you have the courage to defend the freedom of speech from a group who has terribly nasty things to say, even if they are racist or sexist? Do you have the conviction to defend the rights of religious fundamentalists not to bake a cake, even if their refusal is based on homophobia?
These are serious questions. It's easy to talk about standing up for people's rights when everyone agrees with how they are exercised; it's much harder to defend unpopular speech and politically incorrect decisions. This is the difficult but logical consequence of the Non-Aggression Principle. We libertarians have plenty of potential responses to vices, but violence isn't one of them. If the author of the "worst libertarians" list can't even muster the imagination to foresee this argument, then no wonder he takes such a bizarre stance as to call the "civil disobedience warriors" selfish for sacrificing their liberty in defiance of unjust laws, or as he would smugly call it, "rabble-rousing".
Just think of how far we've come, from a nation of rugged individualists who were willing to risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for their cause, to these nervous nellies that are terrified to plainly state their beliefs in the fear of hurting someone's feelings. Lysander Spooner showed the way: he wrote and spoke and used every medium he could to spread a bold and unflinching libertarian message, he engaged in civil disobedience to the point of conspiring in support of slave rebellions, and he was one of the strongest supporters for the south's right to secede.
The fact of the matter is that we need libertarians of all kinds, armchair intellectuals and hard-core activists. Some people just don't find the same pleasure in debating the exotic cases of libertarian thought as others do, they want to see action, to feel like they are doing something to make a difference. Someone who is ready to "walk the walk" will do far more to get people out of their comfort zones and motivate the kind of action we need than those that just talk. After all, our great conclusion is that the State is nothing more than a gang of thieves, so what better way to teach this lesson than to show that all of its dictates, even the most minor infractions, are ultimately backed up by the real threat of kidnapping, imprisonment, and death. This is the bizarre "social contract" we've signed, and we owe a debt to the "civil disobedience warriors" for reminding us of this unfortunate fact.
Should libertarians be conspiracy theorists, purists, or civil disobedience warriors? There is a time and place for everything. When running as a candidate for the Libertarian Party, one is there to represent libertarianism, not to promote 9/11 truth, the benefits of a Paleo Diet, or a love of juggling because libertarianism, as rightly defined, is neither here nor there on these issues. So while libertarianism has nothing to say as to whether or not you should subscribe to conspiracy theories, question government funded science, or long for a world where the noble right of secession was not cursed with the connection of slavery, I for one think libertarians would benefit from being open to these ideas.
Just as conspiracy theorists that don't have an understanding of libertarianism and Austrian economics could be led down the false path of the Zeitgeist movement, those that are confined within a "range of allowable opinion" that stops thought like a shock collar whenever terms like "conspiracy theory", "anti-science", "neo-confederates", or other derogative terms are used will not appreciate the full scope of the challenge we face. If you can be scared out of these opinions, you can be scared out of any principled libertarian stance, and we desperately need those brave enough to defend the undefendable.
It comes down to this; people are not the same and will respond to different messages. For many, an unapologetic and fiery defense of freedom will inspire hearts and minds where a half-measured wet-noodle libertarianism will fail. Some may first start down the rabbit hole via research into a particular conspiracy theory, and when confronted with a problem without a solution, will then stumble upon the glories of libertarianism. Thus, we need libertarians well versed in conspiracy research just as we need purists and "civil disobedience warriors" that will energize our movement with the boldness of their words and deeds. We probably even need those like the author who sit safely in the camp of government-approved libertarians, as people like him may spark a small flame in the minds of those who would otherwise be quickly scared off from a libertarian message revealed too boldly in all its consistency and implications. But if that flame is to grow, than we must be open to the full expression of the libertarian message, not spending time writing half of us off on "the worst" lists.
A multi-millionaire, New York City real estate mogul's wife goes missing. Friends and family suspect foul play, but the case gathers dust as a missing person mystery never to be solved. Twenty years later, a stool pigeon reignites the authorities' interest in the disappearance, this time setting their eyes on the husband who just might have gotten away with murder. The couple's former house is swept for clues, divers search the lake for a body, and just days before the primary person of interest can be interviewed for the first time - unbelievably - she is executed at point blank range in her home at the opposite end of the country.
Less than a year later, the man that was suspected but never charged with committing two murders is arrested for dismembering his elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas. He's caught red-handed, with knives and saws in the back seat of his car. Without realizing the true identity of their suspect, the police grant him a $250,000 bail, which is promptly paid the next day. He goes on the run, a nationwide man-hunt is issued, and he's busted for stealing a chicken salad sandwich with $500 cash in his pocket.
This is story of Robert Durst - so sensational, so bizarre, that it proves the idiom "truth is stranger than fiction". Of course it became the subject of a major motion picture, and that's when things took another unexpected turn. Apparently Durst was so moved by the film that he contacted the director, Andrew Jarecki, and asked him if he'd be interested in interviewing him and working together on another project. That was the beginning of The Jinx, which was a word Durst used to describe himself when asked why he was adamant about not having children, and in retrospect of his perfectly timed arrest on the eve of the season finale, it's a fitting title for many of his inexplicable actions.
For countless viewers, The Jinx has set a new standard in the young genre of confronting suspected killers in the documentary form. For many, there's nothing like it: a chronicle of 3 murders over 4 decades with the assistance of the suspect himself. Key information is revealed throughout each episode, culminating in a shocking pseudo-admission when Durst forgets about his microphone while in the bathroom. "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course." Jaws drop, ratings soar! It's received coverage on every major publication, and undoubtedly, the trial will consume media attention for months to come.
While there are plenty of haters, kudos to director Andrew Jarecki and producer Marc Smerling. They smelled their rat and followed it through, potentially bringing a murderer to justice while creating a truly engaging and unforgettable television experience in the process. They couldn't have invented a more perfect villain: a guy that was born into millions of dollars and got away with admittedly chopping up his neighbor into little pieces. In the era of the 99% and an unhealthy focus on income inequality, it's hard to say which is the bigger crime - but with Durst we get the perfect combination of both.
However, for all the press this event is receiving, and giving fair credit to The Jinx for a job well done, this reminds me of another documentary that exposed crimes far greater by orders of magnitude, and yet, got a fraction of the coverage. Not only that, but while Mr. Durst was accidentally recorded while talking to himself in the privacy of a bathroom, which is hardly equivalent to a true confession, this other documentary is overflowing with footage of individuals bragging about killing hundreds of people. In one case, a triple homicide suspect is swiftly brought to trial, but in the other, the criminals continue to not just roam, but rule the streets with impunity. Why the double standard? What's the lesson to be learned? Perhaps Mr. Durst's real crime was murdering without a government uniform.
The Act of Killing
"In 1965, the Indonesian government was overthrown by the military.These are the opening words to The Act of Killing, the only historical background we are given to a genocide that claimed 500,000 to 3 million lives in a single year. With the most widely accepted estimate at half a million deaths, it didn't pass the threshold to be included in Rummel's catalog of democides, Death By Government. With the United States merely supporting the Indonesian government with money and weapons as part of its overall anti-communist policy, but not actively orchestrating the overthrow of their government, the military counter-coup did not make Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow. Not only has this event gone down the memory hole in the western world, but the events of 1965-1966 are a forgotten page in the Indonesian history books as well. This is the reason Joshua Oppenheimer went to Indonesia - to meet with the survivors and document the genocide so that it can be rightly included with the other great sins of the 21st century. However, there was one problem with this approach: the people that committed the genocide are still in power, ruling their victims by fear and terrorizing them from speaking out. When it seemed that the government would be successful in preventing their story from being told, the survivors gave Oppenheimer one last request: go interview the killers and the executioners, see if they will talk to you. He did so, and it resulted in arguably the most unique, powerful, and universally important documentary… ever.
Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese.
In less than a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million "communists" were murdered.
The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings.
These men have been in power - and have persecuted their opponents - ever since.
When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did.
To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever ways they wished.
This film follows that process, and documents its consequences."
Ever? A case could be made, not because of the importance of the genocide itself, but because Oppenheimer has done something totally unprecedented and amazing in the history of film. He was able to capture government murderers bragging about their horrendous crimes while still in power. It's like a real-life House of Cards; like footage from a Man in the High Castle parallel-world with Nazi's bragging about carrying out the holocaust with the smug assurance that nothing will ever be done about it because they won the war.
These people are free, heroes in their country, totally sanctioned by their government, media, and history books - and yet they brutally killed hundreds of people by their own hands. It can't be overstated enough - they were complicit in the murders of thousands, tens of thousands, likely over 2 million collectively, and they brag about it! With the innocence and naiveté of a child, the leading subject of the film, executioner Anwar Congo, will demonstrate how he was inspired by American gangster movies to pioneer a cleaner and more efficient way of killing people by strangling them with wire, and in the next moment he'll show off his dancing ability with the cha-cha-cha. It's absolutely surreal, and Anwar's Jekyll / Hyde persona is perfectly contrasted with fellow executioner Adi Zulkadry, who, rather than being a strange and inexplicable figure, is someone we know all too well.
Anwar and Adi: Reflections of the Statist Mind
As Oppenheimer has explained in several interviews, The Act of Killing is made possible by Anwar Congo's willingness to explore the crimes of his past to satisfy his conscience. Anwar suffers from nightmares; he sees the open eyes of the people he killed, their ghosts haunting his dreams. If Anwar can create a "beautiful family film", then maybe he can finally justify his actions and bring closure to his guilt and suffering. It's a logical goal, as there are dozens of films that try to paint the ugly truths of war and violence as beautiful and heroic every year, some of them winning prestigious awards.
Anwar ultimately expresses guilt and takes some responsibility for his actions while simultaneously maintaining that "he did what he had to do", but fellow executioner Adi Zulkadry holds no such incompatible delusions. If Anwar represents the American vet suffering from PTSD, ashamed and conflicted with the crimes he committed while "serving his country", then Adi is the stalwart officer of the law, 100% committed to his justifications and convinced that he was "only doing his job". Combined, they represent the range of the statist mindset. Neither of them can ever truly face the reality of their crimes: the fact that a government uniform did not alter the morality of their acts by one iota. But on one extreme, Anwar is at least conflicted and suffers guilt, even although he does not understand it. On the other end, Adi is a Javert like character that has accepted every statist lie and has nowhere else to go in this life.
"Killing is the worst crime you can do. So the key is to find a way not to feel guilty. It's all about finding the right excuse.Throughout the film, Anwar demonstrates that he does not agree with Adi's belief in relative morality. When visiting the site where he tortured and killed hundreds of people, he is overcome with emotion, saying, "I know it was wrong - but I had to do it." He has a physical reaction, throwing up a little, and continues, "Why did I have to kill them? I had to kill… My conscience told me they had to be killed." In this instance he confuses his conscience with his friends in government and the Pancasila Youth - they were the ones that painted the "communists" as savages and sub-humans that deserved torture and death. However, it is his recognition of the inherent immorality of his acts that allow him to identify the defining characteristic of government on par with the great Lysander Spooner:
For example, if I'm asked to kill someone, if the compensation is right, then of course I'll do it, and from one perspective it's not wrong. That's the perspective we must make ourselves believe. After all, morality is relative."
"...Parliament should be the most noble place in society, but if we see what they do there, they're really just robbers with ties."Yet again, Adi has a different perspective that reflects an attitude that is all too common in the west. In one of Oppenheimer's most confrontational moments in the film, he asks Adi what he'd do if he was sent to the Hague and charged with war crimes. The executioner responds indignantly:
"I don't necessarily agree with those international laws. When Bush was in power, Guantanamo was right. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. That was right according to Bush, but now it's wrong.When John Oliver interviewed Oppenheimer on the Daily Show, he specifically referred to this scene, saying, "You can't argue with him". Well of course you can! But if you did, you'd be forced to confront Adi's ugly truth. A more honest statement from Oliver would be that you can't logically denounce the mass killings in Indonesia while justifying the crimes of other nations like the United States, such as dropping atomic bombs on civilian cities, killing 500,000 children through sanctions, or torturing sheepherders in Guantanmo Bay. In both instances, actions that would be deemed as wrong by an objective moral code are dressed in the cloak of "authority" and magically change their moral status. The only difference is that we can't accept the authority of the Indonesian government when viewed through Oppenheimer's lens. Lucky for the libertarian viewer, there are several other learning opportunities in The Act of Killing that demonstrate the true nature of government.
The Geneva Convention may be today's morality, but tomorrow - we'll have the Jakarta Conventions and dump the Geneva Conventions.
'War Crimes' are defined by the winners. I'm a winner. So I can make my own definitions. I needn't follow the international definitions."
A Look Behind the Curtain: The Nature of Government
One of the most eccentric characters in The Act of Killing is Herman Koto, a gangster who spent his entire life in the ranks of the Pancasila Youth paramilitary organization. A large man with a simple mind and a penchant for cross-dressing, Herman is as brutal of a killer as any and takes his directorial duties very seriously, second only to Anwar. So it seemed too good to be true when Herman Koto decided to run for parliament because he's "well known". Three cheers to Oppenheimer, the few minutes of the film covering Herman's campaign didn't move the story of the 1965 genocide, but it does offer the clearest and most honest insight into the mind of a politician outside of the fictional series House of Cards.
Once Herman dresses up for campaign photos and plasters his image all over his campaign car, he's ready to shake hands and kiss babies. After practicing his best Obama impression, he rides down the street, yelling "Long live the Businessmen and Workers Party! I am Herman - ready to fight for worker's rights!" But in the next scene he reveals his real ambitions for elected office. Herman explains:
"If I get elected and get on the Building Commission - I can get money from everyone. For example, if a building is 10 cm too small, I can demand "Tear down the building!"The Act of Killing doesn't just show the true motivation behind code enforcement, it also tackles eminent domain. Haji Anif, a paramilitary leaders and businessmen, looks across his vast acreage of land and explains that he gave it to the birds because it makes him happy. To show what a clever and powerful man he is, he explains how he got the land:
They'll say, "Please don't report us, Here's your money"
Even if nothing's wrong with the building, if I threaten them they'll give me money anyway.
Not just a little money, in a block of 10 buildings if each pays $10,000, just do the math - that's already $100,000. That's only one neighborhood!"
"Everybody's terrified of the paramilitaries… When a businessman wants land where people are living , if he just pays for it, it's expensive. But we can solve his problem. Because people are terrified of us, when we show up - they say, 'just take the land. Pay what you like.'"What refreshing honesty! Who needs libertarian class analysis with such candid political elites? For all the horror and the trauma that the Indonesian people have been through, at least they can clearly identify their enemies. In these moments, The Act of Killing highlights many of Hoppe's arguments in Democracy: The God that Failed, as a government this openly corrupt doesn't suffer from the army of useful idiots parroting "we are the government". That said, there is at least one moment in the film when a government official thinks he may have gone too far and considers his public image. Before filming the attack on Kampung Kolam, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sport Sakhyan Asmara makes a special appearance to give the actors a pep talk, and before long he's in the middle of a foaming-at-the-mouth blood rage. "Crush the comments! Wipe them out! Slaughter them! Kill them all! Don't let any escape! Take no prisoners! Destroy them all! Burn down their houses! Kill the communists! Chop them up! Burn them! Kill them all!" It's pretty intense, so Sakhyan Asmara decides to give a disclaimer:
"Now I'm speaking as a leader of Pancasila Youth. What we've just shown is not characteristic of our organization. We shouldn't look brutal, like we want to drink people's blood. That's dangerous for our organization's image. But we must exterminate the communists. We must totally wipe them out - but in a more humane way."So there we have it. When it comes to official government policy, it's important to be humane when you kill a million or so people. This is the primary reason why the Indonesian government requires paramilitaries like Pancasila Youth. By all objective accounts they certainly meet the criteria of the state; they are an integral part of the "monopoly of violence". They kill, rob, shake-down, and commit all sorts of other crimes with total impunity. Not only do they receive privileges usually reserved for government enforcers, but top members of the government are also members of Pancasila Youth! But just in case any "uncharacteristic" event spins out of control they always have plausible deniability. Vice President of Indonesia, Jusuf Kalla, explains the importance of Pancasila Youth this way:
"The spirit of Pancasila Youth, which people accuse of being gangsters... Gangsters are people who work outside the system - not for the government.If there was ever a reason to take a step back and consider the pros and cons of Obama's call for a civilian security force, this would probably be it.
The word 'gangster' comes from 'free men'. This nation needs 'free men'!
If everyone worked for the government - we'd be a nation of bureaucrats, we'd get nothing done. We need gangsters to get things done."
The Act of Killing brings about such a sense of unease in the viewer because it goes to the heart of a commonly promoted superstition: that the human species is going ever onward and upwards - righting wrongs, learning from mistakes, and making progress. Footage of Nazi's bragging about their crimes wouldn't elicit the same reaction, the take away would be that they lost the war because they were evil and got what they deserved in Nuremburg. But here you have to contend with an unjust world, one where a group of mass-murdering gangsters won control over their government, put down their opposition, controls the masses through fear and propaganda, and are still in charge today. It is a film that shows that crime pays - only if the crime is big enough.
Inevitably, having to contend with this reality begs the question - if the Indonesians still live in a country ruled by mass-murderers and brainwashed with a corrupt media that portrays villains as heroes - what can I say for sure about my own government? Is it possible my "duly elected leaders" have the same contempt for me? In this way Oppenheimer is able to open a window into the true nature of government for anyone watching it - regardless of what country they come from. A Stockholm Syndrome defense mechanism would kick in if you showed someone a film attacking his own government; all the years of childhood indoctrination ensures that one can always double-think out of any unpatriotic thought. But the Act of Killing lowers those defenses, it captures the imagination by showing a world far removed from our day to day life, and the anxiety we feel when watching it is a long-dormant moral compass awakening and challenging the inherent illogic of living in a modern state.
The Jinx may be a ratings success for HBO, and undoubtedly the trial of Robert Durst will receive significant airplay for months to come, but in the end, Durst is a sloppy piker compared to the likes of Anwar Congo. Sure he's got millions of dollars, but what is that compared to the power of government? What are 3 murders compared to a genocide of 3 million? If the answer is "a million times worse", then shouldn't Oppenheimer's masterpiece still be receiving the attention it deserves? Unfortunately, The Act of Killing's temporary rise and fall just goes to show that when it comes to judging the importance of a murder, the most important criteria is whether or not it was done with the authority of the state.
The Ludwig von Mises Institute recently hosted their annual get together in Houston on the heroically controversial theme of secession. Mises Institute President Jeff Deist opened the morning with a speech advising us to secede in our local capacity, starting at the individual level. Dr. Brian McClanahan detailed America's rich history of secession, from the 13 colonies' war of secession from Great Britain to Texas' war of secession against Mexico. Lew Rockwell contrasted the rich libertarian history of secession to the regime libertarians' knee-jerk reaction to such an unapproved opinion. After lunch, New York Times best-selling author Tom Woods highlighted the absurdity of viewing secession as blasphemous while the decision to kill half a million children is a matter of public policy. Finally, Dr. Ron Paul closed out the afternoon by speaking of secession as just one tool to be used in the greater contest for liberty.
It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with so many like-minded people from all over the country that chose to travel long distances for a one-day seminar on a topic that is viewed by the mainstream as antiquated and unorthodox at best. In retrospect, the most amazing part of the event is how we were able to have a rational, thoughtful dialogue on this topic without ever bringing up the elephant in the room: slavery and the civil war. It's like we all took it for granted that everyone was familiar with the works of authors like DiLorenzo and didn't need to rehash the history taught in public schools that Lincoln heroically fought the civil war to free the slaves and save the Union against the traitorous secessionists of the South. We didn't need to waste time analyzing that myth; we could immediately jump to more productive and enlightening dialogue.
However, the sad reality many of us faced traveling home was that it is nearly impossible to continue that rational conversation on the merits and challenges of secession with most of our coworkers, friends and family. Raise the specter of secession and the Pavlovian responses of "racism", "slavery" and even "neo-confederate" predictably follow. But what else should we expect in a society with 12+ years of government indoctrination and a mainstream media that foams at the mouth and is undeniably dishonest when someone has the gall to question the necessity of the war considering that slavery was peaceably ended in every other country without requiring the loss of 620,000 lives and billions in damages and debt.
The civil war was fought to free the slaves. The secessionists were traitors. These are the commonly held myths we must dismantle before the rest of society can join us in a reasonable and common-sense discussion on the right of secession.
Why was the Civil War fought?
The government-approved history of the Civil War goes something like this: the Southern states illegally seceded from the United States to protect their institution of slavery. This prompted a Civil War, causing a tremendous loss of life and property on both sides, but ultimately ending with Lincoln fulfilling his quest by preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.
This narrative may seem undisputable but it suffers from fatal errors once you scratch the surface. On the first point concerning the cause of secession there is no major disagreement. While the Southern states did have grievances against the Federal Government like protective tariffs that unfairly benefited the North at the expense of the South, the major reason cited in the state's secession documents was the issue of slavery. Thomas Fleming's A Disease in the Public Mind points to the colliding forces of unrelenting abolitionism in the North and the South's fear of a race war which made it impossible to find an agreeable end to the system of slavery.
So while seven of the Southern states seceded over the slavery issue, the reason for the war given by Lincoln himself was not slavery, but to prevent secession. As Lincoln repeatedly said,
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."Lincoln made this point numerous times such that it cannot be directly challenged by regime historians, but what happens instead is a logical fallacy built under the guise of the familiar mathematical axiom that if a = b and b = c, then a = c. In other words, "if the cause of secession was slavery, and to prevent secession was the reason for the war, then the reason for the war was slavery". This may seem a trivial point, but it is imperative that the undisputed good of ending slavery is not used to cloud our judgment when considering the true motivations for the ugly and brutal war that preceded it. Any fantasy that the North was fighting a war of racial justice must be dismantled so that we can objectively look at the agreed upon reason for the war, secession, in an unbiased light.
manumission, denied free blacks suffrage, and generally did all they could to make their states white only. Conversely, Fleming noted that only a small minority of Southern men owned slaves or otherwise had a direct financial incentive in the practice - so why would they fight over it and risk their lives and everything they owned? The simple answer is they wouldn't. So what would they fight for? Of the seven slave states that originally stayed in the Union, four of those states only seceded after Lincoln had put out calls to raise an army of invasion and the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter. If it war was over slavery, can we imagine that Lincoln would have called it quits if the seceded states had freed their slaves? Of course not! It wasn't slavery that drove Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee out; Lincoln made it clear he had no quarrel with that institution in any loyal state. They joined the confederacy and fought out of disbelief that Lincoln would declare war and invade the southern states which they believed had every right to peaceably withdraw from their government, just as their great-grandfathers had done 90 years earlier from King George III. It might have been slavery that prompted the first 7 states to leave, but that's not why 11 states fought a long and brutal war - they fought for self-government.
Unbelievably, it is the fine print of the Emancipation Proclamation itself that best shines a light on the dubious claim that Lincoln freed the slaves. Proving Lincoln to be the master politician, that document only applied to the states in rebellion, specifically exempting the states that had stayed loyal! So the slaves that Lincoln had the power to free were to remain slaves, but he supposedly freed the slaves in states that had already left the Union and formed their own country. H.L. Mencken said it best,
"Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah... An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run. But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable - until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely running his way. Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven."Ultimately, there are many contending theories of precisely why the Federal government invaded the Confederacy. While Thomas Fleming discusses the "diseases in the public mind" that fueled the Civil War, Thomas DiLorenzo unmasks the real Lincoln, showing how his ideology favoring a strong central state led him to launch an unnecessary and illegal war to destroy the doctrine of state's rights. John Avery Emison takes just about everything we were taught about the Civil War and turns it on its head, first showing us that it would be more accurate to call it America's second war of secession, and from there demonstrating how our first "total war" paved the way for the horrors of the 20th century's world wars and set the precedent for the most egregious violations of federal power today. As if it couldn't get any worse, John Graham makes the case that it wasn't historical accidents that caused the War for Southern Independence, but "antagonisms… deliberately agitated during the 1850s by great international banking houses with a preconceived motive of provoking secession" to generate unpayable debts and establish the financial empire that still rules this country. Regardless of these various theories, we should all be able to agree with Walter Williams when he unequivocally states, the Civil War wasn't about slavery.
Were the Secessionists traitors?
With the end of slavery properly understood as a happy by-product of the Civil War, but not at all the reason that 620,000 fought and died, we can examine the legitimacy of the war through fresh eyes. Was Lincoln justified in waging a war against the Confederacy to preserve the Union, and just what did he preserve?
First, it might be instructive to take a step back and examine the points made by Emison concerning just what we should call this decisive event in American history. Unlike the civil war in Spain, the American Civil War was not a battle of two competing factions fighting for control over a common central government. The Southern states had no dictates to the North, no terms other than to be left alone. Jefferson Davis even sent a peace delegation to promote friendly ties between the two countries, which Lincoln refused to see. So what do we call a war when one side has formally withdrawn and entered into a state of self-government and the other side invades that country to bring it into submission? A war of independence or a war for secession certainly fits the historical circumstances better than a civil war.
At this point our government indoctrination might be kicking in - am I possibly making the argument that the traitorous South had the moral high ground in this war, the exact opposite of what the victorious Federal Government has led us to believe? Indeed, Murray Rothbard concluded that there are only two American wars that have met the criteria for a "just war", that being the first war of secession against Great Britain, and the second war of secession of the Southern states.
But how could this be? The Southern states seceded for slavery, the act of depriving individuals from exercising their free will, one of the greatest crimes that man can commit. Doesn't this fact tarnish secession? But consider the reverse scenario. If secession is to be judged by the worst vices of those that endorsed it, shouldn’t we also look at the crimes of those that did not believe in secession but instead in an all-powerful central government? Adolf Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf that secession was illegal because "it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states." Similarly, the violence wrecked by omnipotent central governments that were no fans of secession counts some 200 million dead in the 20th century alone.
Rather than only focusing on the worst qualities of those that believed in secession, let's recall that one of our most famous founding fathers was explicitly in favor of secession and nullification to combat the growth of centralized government in the Principles of '98. Thomas Jefferson postulated that it was "not very important to the happiness of either part" of the country if the United States broke up. In a live and let live fashion, he said that in separation "God bless them both, and keep them in the union if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better".
At the time Lincoln invaded the South there were five living ex-presidents, every one of which opposed the war in one way or another. Some did not agree with the decision to secede and did their best to convince the Southern states to remain in the Union, but they ultimately believed in the right of secession. After all, Vermont seceded from New York, Texas seceded from Mexico, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War itself. And as previously mentioned, the United States itself seceded from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. You'd think that would count for something.
Historical precedents aside, we can also look at this logically and constitutionally. An established precedent of law is known as legislative entrenchment, meaning that what one legislative body has the power to do, another can do or undo. A prior legislative body cannot rule from the grave and if the state legislature of 1787 has the power to ratify the constitution, so then can the state legislature of 1861 choose to repeal that ratification. Indeed, Virginia's secession document explicitly stated it was a lawful repeal of the ratification of the Constitution. Can we imagine that the 13 colonies, having just had their full sovereign nature individually acknowledged by Great Britain, really joined a union that they could never leave? Every historical precedent from the federalist papers to the state ratifying conventions says otherwise.
but he certainly didn't preserve our republic. What we had was a voluntary association of independent states united under the contract of the Constitution. Lincoln's war of aggression most assuredly killed that system of government for all the states, replacing it with the federal leviathan that knows no boundaries and gives no thought to the consent of the governed. He won the war and we still suffer the losses.
What is Secession?
Just think of what a glorious preventative check the threat of secession is to the limitless goals of our federal masters. Imagine the contrast with a "marriage union". Even though it is a document signed "till death do us part", all modern states recognize the right of divorce, the equivalent of secession. As Emison questioned, would an abusive husband treat his wife better or worse in a society where divorce was legal or illegal? The question answers itself, and it also explains why the federal government is able to propose increasingly egregious legislation on battered, defenseless states that have nowhere to run and no hope of retaliation.
How bizarre that in a country founded on the principle of secession time has allowed this cornerstone of liberty and bedrock of freedom to be marginalized and disgraced. After all, as Tom Woods noted in his speech at the Mises Circle, its practical effect is nothing more than to say, "maybe this imaginary line should be drawn up here instead of over there."
Lew Rockwell defined secession in more human terms, reminding us of the moral obligation we have to our fellow men and the responsibility we carry when we endorse our political agents to carry out violence in our name. He summed up the the libertarian perspective this way:
"It is morally illegitimate to employ state violence against individuals who choose to group themselves differently from how the existing regime chooses to group them. They prefer to live under a different jurisdiction. Libertarians consider it unacceptable to aggress against them for this."View the right of secession as a moral imperative to not aggress against others that want to go in peace. Recognize the arbitrary nature of all government boundaries and the absurdity in going into hysterics if one of those lines should change. Acknowledge secession as the foundation of this very country and think of how it could be a very realistic solution to the issues we face today. But above all, rescue secession from the dustbin of history that ignorance has placed it. Secession is a noble, practical and moral idea that deserves our attention and respect.
Around the world people want freedom and if they can't have that, a more representative government will do. The CIA and military industrial complex provides us with all kinds of "approved" secessions and revolutions around the world from despots who have inexplicably leaped from the ally to the enemy category - but dare suggest that Texas may be better of seceding if the federal government continues its unsustainable path, or that the citizens of California would be better represented if certain counties seceded to create new states - well you must be a closet racist! This hypocrisy and doublethink can’t go on forever.
As Thomas DiLorenzo recently documented, secession is a global phenomenon that isn't going away:
"There are 32 secessionist movements in Africa; 114 secessionist movements in Europe; 20 secessionist movements in North America; 83 secessionist movements in Asia; 11 secessionist movements in South America; and 26 secessionist movements in Oceania. Neo-Confederates are everywhere!"However, the most exciting thing about secession isn't just the prospect of replacing one government with another one, but the larger philosophical impact for the libertarian movement. Followed to its logical conclusion, when the state can secede from the country, and the county from the state, and the town from the county, we can envision a practical path to our anarcho-capitalist utopia. But ultimately, if the right of secession is accepted and respected, we could imagine a government that has an actual incentive to stay within its delegated boundaries, a government that actually serves its supposed purpose of contributing to the happiness of the people instead of to their destruction. It may be impossible to keep the state with its monopoly on violence within the boundaries set by those that consented to its jurisdiction, but if it were to be possible, it is certainly only so in a society where the right of secession is alive and well. Let us fight to create such a society, not through violence - that is the government’s specialty, but in the war of ideas.