“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.
The presumption throughout the text is that tyranny should never again be tolerated. Despotism was for the old world. Tyranny was outdated. It belonged nowhere in a land conceived in liberty. The only question was when and how to overthrow despotic rule. The upshot of Paine’s book was that now is the time. Waiting would only lead to calamity.
It worked. He got his revolution. The British were defeated, and America was born. Freedom had its asylum. The world began anew, full of promise.
Then, in a matter of 50 years, the American experience changed everything. The middle class was born. Lives lengthened. The standard of living soared to new heights. Technology took over. Spectacular things were everywhere. Freedom had done its work. It had liberated the human mind to create, build, empower, and change the face of the Earth.
Then something changed again. When? Maybe it was during the Civil War. Maybe during World War I. FDR and the Great Depression entrenched it. Or maybe it was the ghastliness of World War II. Perhaps there was some hope that freedom could be saved even up to the response to the crimes of Sept. 11. But after that watershed of 12 years ago, there was no turning back.
The world that Thomas Paine dreaded — the thing he feared the most and the tyranny that he had dedicated his life to opposing — was upon us. Today, successors like Edward Snowden are not writing monographs for us to read, but languishing in sanctuary in Russia, of all places. The brilliant innovators and freedom fighters of our time are no longer welcome even inside our own borders — in the very country that fought a revolution for the rights of the individual against the state.
Why, then, isn’t this astonishing monograph called Common Sense censored? If the power elites want to preserve their rule, they probably should consider it. For it is impossible to read this and not get the message: Now is the time. There is no more waiting.
As with other classic writings on this level, you discover things about it in each new reading, material you might not have noticed or been prepared for in the past. This time, I was overwhelmed with a sense that he is speaking to us right now, trying to embolden us to see what is going on around us right now.
I experienced the white-hot rhetoric of this piece while American politics has descended into the depths. The government remains “shut down” for all services anyone might actually use, but fully functional in all its oppressive apparatus. We still pay taxes and obey the regulators, but now the illusion that we are getting something for our money is stripped away.
The whole charade seems designed to remind us just how much we need and love the feds. But the real effect has been the opposite. It is yet another sign that we might be living in the last days of Leviathan. The once indispensable institution, the reputed cornerstone of civilization, the grand power structure of story and song, is looking more ridiculous by the day.
Every service that has been shut down could easily be abolished or privatized. The remaining, supposedly essential parts of the state — the police, security, taxing, regulating, military powers — are actually the most damaging parts of the regime, the ones that bring massive human suffering where it is completely unnecessary.
Meanwhile, right now private enterprise continues on its merry way, providing goods and services to the whole population and doing its best to ignore Washington’s antics. In other words, the net result of this shutdown is to make the anarchy government fears appear like an ever more beautiful possibility.
But wait. Isn’t anarchy something we should fear? The worst of all worlds? Well, maybe not. A world without the impositions of Washington would be initially disorienting, but the disruption itself could yield a new and better world. Society would continue to work, and even thrive. After all, it is not government that makes our lives wonderful, but each other, cooperating through free exchange and human association of our own choosing.
Thomas Paine speaks directly to the issue:
“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
With government in general sinking in popularity, it makes more sense just to shut the whole thing down, privatize the essential services, sell off the monuments and zoos, tap private enterprise for everything else, return all the money to the taxpayers, and be done with it.
This is what Common Sense suggested be done in 1776. Contrary to myth, Paine wasn’t actually calling for war and bloodshed. He was calling for kicking the bastards out of their perches of power. He wanted an end to British rule. That’s doesn’t necessarily mean war. It can happen peacefully if the rulers just walk away.
We might call this the Paine plan. The Democrats are denouncing this as the rise of anarchist ideology in the Republican Party. Would that it were so! The truth is that Republicans are just as wedded to the power apparatus as the Democrats; they just feel a greater attachment to some parts over others.
That means in the end, it is up to us. We should all be working every day and in every way to detach ourselves from dependence on our oppressors. We can make the freedom that the 18th-century intellectual giants like Paine dreamed of an actual reality. Many of us, if not most of us, are doing this every day.
In Paine’s writings, you find a revolutionary idea that he was correct in thinking had descended on the world for the first time. It was the idea of liberalism — classical liberalism, more precisely. His rendering of this idea was particularly radical, but at its core, it summed up the views of a generation that truly did set the world free.
The idea was that society needed no overarching ruler to give it direction. It needed no official church to make it religious. No king was necessary to give society decorum or to manage relations with other nations. It needed no central plan to spell out a list of priorities. It was an attempt to wholly recast the way people thought about how the world works.
And people believed it would work. Why? Because they saw it all around them. The world of the Colonies was made by Americans, not by some far-off, distant, deeply ignorant ruler in ermine robes living in London.
In the same way, we look at our own our lives and we see and experience beautiful things, but think of it: How much of what we love was actually built by the politicians, bureaucratic armies, and the central planners within the Beltway?
These are the disposable ones.
How enduring is the message of Paine? Listen to these words:
“O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”