“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 saddest quotation from classical liberalism. On the eve of World War I, British foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey stated, “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.” The lamps or lights were freedom and peace. Grey did not see them again.
Today the lights are going out all over America. Many people are sick at heart about the future of freedom, and understandably so. But there is no need to live in darkness. Freedom is not an external flame or circumstance that is beyond individual control; it is internal and the natural state of man.
Many people realize that government does not create wealth but they still believe it creates freedom. And, so, when freedom becomes scarce, people look almost automatically to government to restore or create it. They agitate for a law, they vote for their candidate, they sign a petition. As with wealth, however, the government can only confiscate freedom, not grant it. Ultimately, all appeals to authority amount to pleading for less to be taken…or for the return of a portion of what was stolen before.
Appeals to government are prevalent in America where the myth of being “the freest nation in the world” is tied to its political system. For example, the Founding Fathers are credited with establishing a free nation as though freedom did not exist before the Constitution. In reality, the Founding Fathers were remarkable not because they created liberty but because they usurped so little of the liberty that already existed. Even the Bill of Rights did not establish freedom; no piece of paper can. The Bill of Rights recognized the prior existence of specific freedoms such as free speech and, then, set up restrictions on how far the government could intrude upon them. The Bill of Rights said “leave the people alone in their freedom.” And that is remarkable enough.
Where does liberty come from? In his pivotal book Democracy in America (1835-1840), the classical liberal Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the expansiveness of American freedom, especially when compared with Europe. He attributed this freedom to one phenomenon; namely, the American character.
Two traits dominated this character: a zeal to join; and, a stubborn individualism.
De Tocqueville called America a “nation of joiners.” Whenever three Americans gathered in one place, associations and clubs seemed to spring forth. From construction crews to town hall meetings, from religious societies to fraternal organizations, Americans were driven to combine and improve society. They had a passion for civil society through which average people themselves conducted the business of living together with government rarely in evidence.
At the same moment, an irrepressible spirit of independence and self-interest also drove the American character. Of this trait, de Tocqueville was critical. He wrote, “I see an innumerable multitude of men….Each of them withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself, and though he still may have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland.”
De Tocqueville was puzzled by the what he considered a contradiction: Americans were profoundly self-interested and, yet, they were a nation of joiners.
He wrote, “There is perhaps no country on earth where one meets fewer idle people than in America, or where all who work are more passionately devoted to the quest for well-being….An American will attend to his private interests as though he were alone in the world, yet a moment later he will dedicate himself to the public’s business as though he had forgotten them….The human heart cannot be divided this way. The inhabitants of the United States alternately exhibit a passion for well-being and a passion for liberty so strong and so similar that one can only believe that the two passions are conjoined and confounded somewhere in their souls.”
De Tocqueville embraced a false dichotomy. There is no contradiction between economic well-being and liberty. There is no tension between being active in a voluntary society and retaining your individuality. Indeed, the characteristics are two sides of the same coin. The more secure a man is in his personal sovereignty, the more goodwill he feels toward neighbors. He naturally reaches out to them to cooperate for the immense mutual advantages that civil society offers the individual. Indeed, civil society is the result of masses of people pursuing their own self-interest and, then, going home.
This was the American character. Average people administered the business of society while remaining vigorously individualistic. And, so, the American was free.
Today the business of society has been almost completely usurped by government so that no one can so much as buy a tomato without a license and payment of tax being involved. As people lose the ability to administer society so, too, do they lose personal liberty. The one-to-one correlation between the two is strong enough to be considered a cause-and-effect.
Freedom needs nothing so much as Americans returning to character. The nation of joiners needs to join with each other instead of with government in order to resume the administration of civil society. At the same time and at every juncture possible, people need to privatize their own lives by removing government from their actions, attitudes and expectations.
The lights of America will be lit again, one by one, by individuals who reclaim the business of society while privatizing their own lives. There is no need for darkness.