“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 […]
It is the strangest dysmorphic transformation of any holiday in history. The day that overthrew a government, July 4, 1776, now celebrates the power of a government that is far more vast, predatory and imperialist than the one overthrown.
Not only is the real meaning of Independence Day forgotten; it has been turned on its head. The ethos of the real July Fourth celebrated sedition as essential to life and liberty. The ethos of the July Fourth that people celebrate today bolsters a government and standing army that punishes sedition with a ferocity and cruelty that would have startled even the British.
If you return to the writings of the original Revolutionary generation, you find that seditious and revolutionary spirit, one completely unlike the fatuous pro-American “patriotism” on display today with pledges, flags and songs about national greatness.
As we learn from Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty, the 1776 generation consisted of a people who rallied around a principle, and that principle was liberty (which stands against government control) and its extension in the right of private property.
Since the writings of John Locke and before, the notion had been advanced that all people have the fundamental right to life, liberty and property. But there is a gigantic distance to travel from theory to practice. What made the link is absolutely indisputable: taxation. It was this above all else that caused the revolting generation to make reality accord with an idea that they had already seen working for 150 years.
Pre-revolutionary America was an experiment in practical anarchism that worked beautifully. There was no central state at all and, therefore, no taxes or regulations. The homeland was not a code word for a bureaucracy, but merely the self-organizing community in which people lived. If the community became oppressive, people moved to the next one. This created a dynamic that unfolded over time with a trajectory toward ever more liberty.
So long as the British overlords were benignly neglectful, there was no problem. But as the British began to see the colonies as a revenue source (Britain had war debts to pay!) and an exploitable extension of a growing empire, the Americans refused to go along. This refusal culminated in the great Declaration of Independence, a revolutionary document that continues to inspire every person who seeks to overthrow despotism.
The action began more than a decade before the Declaration. The direct taxes of the Stamp Act of 1765 and the indirect taxes of the Townshend Acts of 1767 combined to light a fire in the colonies.
Eliphalet Dyer of Windham, Conn., attacked the revenue bill for supporting a standing army and called on the colonies to unite in protest. If they failed to do so, they may “bid farewell to freedom and liberty, burn their charters and make the best of thralldom and slavery.”
The New York Assembly’s “Remonstrance and Petition” proclaimed that exemption from taxation was a “natural right of mankind… a right… inseparable from the very idea of property, for who can call this his own which can be taken away at the pleasure of another?”
The Committee of Correspondence of West Jersey said, “we look upon all taxes laid upon us without our consent as a fundamental infringement of the rights and privileges secured to us as English subjects, and by charter.”
The consistent rallying cries across the Colonies became:
- “Liberty, Property and No Excise”
- “Liberty, Property and No Stamps”
- “Liberty and Property!”
Sir Francis Bernard, a British administrator, wrote on the rural people’s reaction to the Stamp Act: “They talk of revolting from Great Britain in the most familiar manner, and declare that … the British forces… never will subdue the island.” He rightly observed that when the militia refused to obey his orders, “the real authority of the government is at an end; some of the principal ringleaders in the late riots walk the streets with impunity; no officers dare attack them; nor attorney general prosecute them; and no judges sit upon them.”
John Holt, editor of a New York paper, emblazoned on his newspaper the motto: “Liberty, Property and No Stamps.” A British officer who had boasted that he “would cram the stamps down their throats with the end of his sword” had his home burned down.
The Sons of Liberty of Windham at New London, Conn., resolved:
“That every form of government rightfully founded originates from the consent of the people… That whatever those bounds [on government, set by the people] are exceeded, the people have a right to reassume the exercise of that authority, which by nature they had before they delegated it to individuals… That every tax imposed upon English subjects without consent is against the natural rights and the bounds prescribed in the English constitution.”
An aging William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, sympathetic with the plight of the Colonies, presented the following speech in Parliament in 1766:
“Gentlemen, sir, have been charged with giving birth to sedition in America. They have spoken their sentiments with freedom against this unhappy act, and that freedom has become their crime. Sorry I am to hear the liberty of speech in this House imputed as a crime. But the imputation shall not discourage me. It is a liberty I mean to exercise. No gentleman ought to be afraid to exercise it… The gentleman tells us America is obstinate; America is almost in open rebellion. I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people, so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest…. The gentleman asks, ‘When were the colonies emancipated?’ I desire to know, when were they made slaves?’”
Massachusetts attorney James Otis urged one and all to “defend our liberties and privileges… even unto blood.” Gov. Francis Bernard called Otis’ speech “the most violent, insolent, abusive, treasonable declaration that perhaps was ever delivered.” Silas Downer, a lawyer and leader of the Sons of Liberty of Providence, denied the right of Parliament to make “any laws whatsoever to bind us…”
Samuel Adams summed up the essential point in 1772:
“It is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is for the support, protection and defense of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty and Property. If men, through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.”
Remember, too, that the taxes were small potatoes by modern standards. People today would call them piddly. But the point was not their scale; it was their existence at all. Every tax is enforced at the point of a gun. This generation knew that they had to kill despotism in the crib. A seemingly small violation of essential rights was as egregious as any other.
These were the actual views of the generation we celebrate today, views that if spoken today by any American citizen would risk that person’s inclusion in a watch list that could lead to a denial even of the right to travel. And as we’ve found in recent days, the president himself possesses the authority to murder any citizen he deems a threat to public order.
In the immortal words of The New York Times: Obama is “the first president to claim the legal authority to order an American citizen killed without judicial involvement, real oversight or public accountability.”
The revelation made the headlines one day, cycled through the 48-hour news cycle and was forgotten.
Consider, finally, the astonishing transformation of the term “patriot.” In revolutionary times, it meant a person who was willing to do anything to support essential human rights. Today, one of the most despotic pieces of legislation in modern times is called the Patriot Act.
The mistake of the revolutionary generation was not in overthrowing a government, but permitting another one to take its place.
(This article was co-written with Douglas French)