“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 […]
Half of Americans think that government is their benefactor. The other half think it is a sworn enemy. Depending on the day and the issue, they can and do switch sides.
These hydraulics are at work in the never-ending arguments about taxes, medical care, marijuana, education, war — you name it. This is how government pits one group against another in mutual pillaging, like primitive tribes of people who have yet to discover how to make stuff, trade, and get along.
The struggle is tearing up civilization in an epic battle that neither side will win. The only real victor in this battle is the government itself.
“It is not that governments begin in virtue only to end in sin,” said one astute observer. “Government begins by protecting some against others and ends up protecting itself against everyone.”
These are the words of Robert LeFevre, a brilliant writer who lived from 1911-1986. He had huge influence in his day, long before these views became mainstream among the smart set. He saw everything government does through this lens of divide and conquer. He explained that war and empire are every bit as dangerous to human flourishing as transfer payments, regulations, and loose money policies. He explained the true nature of government as few others have.
His masterful book The Nature of Man and His Government was published in 1959. I think of this as part two of Bastiat’s The Law. It’s that good.
It astonishes me that something so clear, so prophetic, so penetrating, yet so calmly rational could have been written a half-century ago, at a time when most people think government was pretty darn small (and it was, compared with today’s). This book anticipated our times as few books in his time did.
It’s not really an anti-government screed at all. LeFevre said that government is a tool and nothing more. It is created by people who are fearful of something (invasion, old age, poisoning, violence, etc.). They expect government to take away their fears. Instead, it adds to them.
That’s because government can do only one thing: coerce people. It does this by making and enforcing ever more laws that steal your property and run your life. The more it does this, the less people have money and freedom to run their own lives.
Many people deny this. They imagine the government is the means toward social justice, global peace, equality for all, morality and virtue, health and well-being, racial purity or harmony, and prosperity forever without recessions.
True, none of this ever happens, no matter how much money and power the government is granted. But people are not deterred. Why? Because they have not yet come to terms with the truth that LeFevre explains in this short book.
And that is the root of the vast number of social and economic problems we have today. It doesn’t matter who is running the show, wrote LeFevre, any more than it matters who is operating the guillotine. The government is doing what governments do: divide and conquer society and grind the people’s rights and liberties into the dirt.
The mistake, he said, was in creating one in the first place.
Why not just create government and put restraints in place? Well, that’s what the Founding generation attempted to do with the U.S. Constitution. They created an apparatus that deliberately disabled the ability of government to do what it does. There were three branches, complex systems for making new laws, and checks and balances running every which way as in a Rube Goldberg machine.
Old-world observers laughed and said that this was the most convoluted system of government they had ever seen, one that would guarantee that government would never work very well. What they didn’t understand was that that was precisely the point.
But in time, government broke free of the limits. It was bound to happen.
As LeFevre said, government “is an instrument of force and coercion. And there can never be an instrument of force and coercion which will consciously restrain itself. It must be restrained. Yet there is no tool capable of such restraint. For any type of tool, whatever its nature, which is allegedly formed to restrain and contain government, would, by its own nature, simply become a government’s government.”
People say that government has gone mad in our times. LeFevre disagreed. “Government which passes and enforces endless rules and codes is not out of character when it does so,” he wrote. “It is in character. That is the way any government operates. And the longer a given government endures, the more numerous will be the laws it enacts. It is the business of government to pass laws and to enforce them.”
Keep in mind when you read the following that we are talking about 1959 here:
“Today governments concern themselves in general not with criminals, but with law-abiding citizens. Every citizen is a victim of the aggressive tactics of government… the average person today, buttressed in by government, surrounded and overshadowed by government, finds himself a lawbreaker several times during an average day. And this fact turns him from being a law-abiding citizen into a lawbreaking citizen, and equates him with any criminal who, in fact, breaks a law with aggressive intent.”
Yes, but what about the absurdities of the TSA today? What of the excesses of the police, the aggressiveness of the regulators, the wickedness of the bureaucrats, and the invasiveness of the national spy network?
LeFevre responds: “Government has but a single standard: obedience. Its decrees, good, bad, or indifferent, are enforceable. And the men in government cannot recognize a law which need not be enforced. If the government has adopted a policy, the policy must be carried out, even though one policy may be aimed at social stability and the other at social injustice.”
I’m thinking of my recent investigations into how the car came to be regulated. One group of regulators wanted it to be safer. Another group wanted it to consume less gas. The goals are in tension, even contradictory. They both prevailed, and the results are absurd. They created a mess and, in so doing, shut off the creative forces of the market to invent new and better things.
This is only one case. There are millions more. We are surrounded by the distortions born of government rule. We are poorer, sicker, and less civilized than we would otherwise be. And what’s especially sad is that we don’t necessarily know what we are missing, because government makes invention and creation illegal in any sector it fully controls.
LeFevre says it again and again. Government was created by people as a tool. That tool has not accomplished its goal.
“Government, when it is examined, turns out to be nothing more nor less than a group of fallible men with the political force to act as though they were infallible.”
And so he says with positive optimism: It can similarly be uncreated. It can be undone. It can be dismantled. We can have a society based on voluntary action and trade. We need only to make that choice.
I’m thrilled that this book is going to reach a totally new audience with this Laissez Faire Club release. It is packed with wisdom and accessible to everyone. Maybe this release will also go some distance toward illustrating that Robert LeFevre should rank among the 20th century’s most overlooked prophets of both the problem and the solution to our contemporary problems.