“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 […]
What is the world’s smallest country? Monaco? Nope. Malta? Too big. Even Vatican City with a mere population of 770 is huge in comparison.
It’s called Sealand, founded and ruled by Paddy Roy Bates, a remarkable man who died this week at the age of 91. He was the original pirate radio operator and the Prince of Sealand, a tiny barge six miles out of the east side of Great Britain, outside the territorial waters of the UK.
From his self-created nation, Bates broadcasted Radio Essex in 1965 and 1966, playing rock music at a time when the BBC frowned on it, and generally showed the world how to communicate beyond the bounds of what the law allowed.
We are talking about a serious pioneer here, a man who showed the way toward the Internet of today. In those days, doing this took real guts and vision to do what he did. He effectively seceded from the nation state to establish his own as a way of guaranteeing his freedom to speak and make a contribution to life in his times.
His new nation had a constitution, a flag, a national anthem, and he did a brisk business in passports (apparently 150,000 have been issued!). The nation’s motto: E Mare Libertas. From the Sea, Freedom. As a self-appointed Prince, he was once arrested by British courts, but the courts threw the case out because his barge was outside UK territory. He won his freedom through serious trial and effort.
Reading through a 2011 interview with his son Michael, we find not wackiness but entrepreneurial genius at work here, a real legacy. For example, I had no idea that Sealand had been represented at hundreds of sporting events all over the world! This is because athletes the world over have elected the affiliation at fencing events, minigolf, and even football. There is even a Sealand coin.
It’s the real thing. I know what you’re probably thinking: make me a citizen now! Well, you can actually go the the website and buy a title for yourself such as Lord, Lady, Baron, Baroness, Count, and Countess. This is capitalism at its best: marketing royalty!
It’s hard for us to imagine what was required in those days when Sealand was first founded. Nowadays, anyone can broadcast to the world just by talking into a smartphone and using the right podcasting software. We think nothing of it. We take the right to be heard for granted and use every technological means to see it happen. I can broadcast live from my office here and show you in real time everything that is happening (presuming that you really want to see what kind of coffee I’m brewing right now).
But back then, it was by no means clear that individuals had the right to just broadcast what they wanted. Television and radio were government monopolies. Governments controlled the content. Nothing unapproved was ever heard over the airwaves. It took pioneers like Prince Bates to show us the way and prove that the world would not fall apart if people could say stuff and heard stuff that the government had not authorized.
We got over our phobias about pirate broadcasting — everyone is a pirate broadcaster today and the world hasn’t fallen apart — but what about the larger point of this entire episode: political secession? That’s what Bates had to do in order to push the world forward a step or two. But today, people recoil at the very notion of secession. But why? If the costs of being governed outweigh the benefits, why should institutions and individuals be forced to maintain the relationship with their governors?
If the government is truly confident that that services it provides us are just fabulous for our well being, why not put it to the test and let people opt out if they regard the costs as too high?
We do this all the time with other services. Let’s say we contract for a pesticide service for our home and it works fine for a time. Then suddenly bugs start appearing all over the place. We call but the bug guy doesn’t come. They don’t return your phonecall. The bug situation gets worse and worse. You try to give the company the benefit of the doubt. But at some point, you throw in the towel and cancel the contract. If enough people do this, the company’s bottom line begins to suffer. It either has to change its ways or go out of business.
We should have the same system for government. Under the current system that doesn’t allow us to cancel the contract — even worse, there is no contract! — the government has no reason to improve. It just keeps dinging our credit card and ignoring our protests. We try to cancel but no one listens. This would never fly in the commercial sector and yet we put up with it every day in the government sector.
The old classical liberals, most famously Thomas Jefferson, saw the right to secede as a matter of human rights. People should not be forced into association with government that does not serve their interests. But there is also a practical matter here. We need some way to check government’s power. Nothing else seems to work. We’ve tried constitutions. We’ve tried “checks and balances.” We’ve tried the whole voting thing. Nothing works. The right to pull away and seek out other arrangements to protect human freedom might work where everything else has failed.
Even if secession doesn’t accomplish this goal, at least it achieves another main objective. The seceder is rid of the problem of paying for a service that doesn’t live up to its billing. That alone serves the cause of human dignity.
Does that mean that we would need to go live on a barge in the ocean? If we choose to do so, that’s fine. But digital technology has actually gone a long way toward breaking down physical barriers that separate us. Today I can enjoy mutually productive associations with people from all over the world. We are all finding out that we have much more in common with each other as people than any of us have with our governments. We can work with this model and, if we were allowed to, accomplish secession without ever leaving our chairs.
It is more technologically feasible than ever before. In fact, people are working toward secession in so many ways today — which is to say, people are struggling to get out from under the boot on the neck. Governments laws have become so burdensome and ridiculously cumbersome that billions of people the world over have decided to go around them in the interest of making something of a life for themselves. This is a safe form of secession.
Secessions have been an important part of the history of liberty. People who break away give liberty a fresh start. That’s what happened to end the Soviet Union’s stranglehold. And it’s what happened in 1776 to establish the new nation called the United States.
The only problem with secession is that the idea is rarely taken far enough. It’s great that the South seceded from the Union but so too should the states of the Confederacy been allowed to secede from the new central government and, in the same way, slaves should have been allowed to secede from their masters. The right of secession is an individual right.
It could happen again today. We still have so much learn from the life of the great man Paddy Roy Bates. He was ahead of his time. He showed us in the physical world what is possible in the digital world. Of course they called him a pirate. Governments are always behind the curve. He was really a pioneer and prophet of the world to come.