Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto
all the Inhabitants thereof Lev. XXV X

Inscription on the Liberty Bell

The evident repudiation of “austerity” by the unwashed masses and “intellectuals” of France and Greece has set the stage for the final decline and fall of Europe. Socialism is the enemy of robust economic activity, and it seems that most Europeans favor the opiate of socialism over economic reality. Europe is therefore doomed to low (perhaps negative) economic growth and its concomitant, social unrest. The end will come with the arrival of men and women on white horses, promising an unattainable Nirvana and delivering enslavement to the dictates of the state. The tragedies of the Third Reich and the USSR will be replayed in somewhat less brutal fashion.

Given the trend of American history since the early 1900s, there is great danger that Americans will follow Europeans into abject submission to the state. If the trend is not reversed, and soon, Thomas Sowell will have been right to say that “the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.”

Sowell remains at large, which leads me to believe that I might, with impunity, embellish on Sowell’s observation.

I take Sowell to mean something like this: Thanks to the coercive and propagandistic efforts of government officials, bureaucrats, journalists, educators, and intelligentsia (the vast, left-wing portion thereof) — and thanks to the venality, gullibility, and ignorance of voters — America is now so far from being a civil society based on limited government and personal responsibility that it cannot again become one through the electoral process. In short, the Constitution has been subverted.

Sowell is correct in his diagnosis of the state of the nation. And he may be right to suggest that limited government, and with it civil society, can be restored only by extra-constitutional means. A hypothetical alternative to that hypothetical option is outright rebellion.

As long as I am speaking hypothetically, let me speak of a third option: an underground society. An underground society would comprise persons and enterprises whose personal and business transactions are founded on mutual trust and respect, who rely on consensus to establish and enforce codes of behavior, and whose affairs have been arranged so as to escape the notice of established governments (except perhaps the notice of a sympathetic local authority). (For more, see this and this.)

My assessment of the three options:

  • Underground society. No underground society can become large enough to perform the functions of an aboveground society before it is targeted for suppression by established governments. An underground society is more likely to attract unarmed flower children/academics or armed loudmouths — all easily detected and suppressed — than it is to attract persons possessing sufficient wealth and guile to bankroll extensive underground enterprises. Such persons, on balance, will favor the existing order because uncertainty and disorder are threats to their wealth. But all it takes is a (relative) handful of good (and wealthy) liberty-lovers.
  • Coup. Military personnel (careerists, in particular) are disciplined, have direct access to the tools of power, and many of them are trained in clandestine operations. Therefore, a cadre of properly motivated careerists might possess the wherewithal necessary to seize power from a corrupt regime. But a plot to undertake a coup is easily betrayed. And a coup, if successful, might deliver us from a relatively benign despotism into a decidedly malign despotism. Though, on that point, I am willing to take my chances, given the political trajectory of the nation.
  • Revolution. We are a long way from the conditions of the 1770s, when it was possible for a relatively small portion of the populace — albeit an able, courageous, and determined one — to rebel overtly and successfully against the ruling regime. It was only 90 years later that a much larger portion of the populace — equally able, courageous, and determined (though fighting for the wrong cause) — failed to defeat the ruling regime. Another 150 years on, we find a ruling regime with too many adherents and too much power to be overturned by overt rebellion.

Those Americans with a grasp of the reality that looms face two realistic (if uncertain) routes toward liberty. One route is to continue fighting the war of ideas. That war is being fought by libertarian think-tanks, a relative handful of politicians and “public intellectuals,” and a pitifully small portion of the populace (consisting mostly of bloggers, it seems). The odds of success are low, but not zero. In any event, there can be no change for the better if no one is fighting (intellectually and politically) for that change.

The other realistic route — the one taken by those of our ancestors who came to America for its promise of liberty — is emigration. That may be a route toward greater liberty for those who are willing and able to make the necessary financial and psychological sacrifices to venture it. The question, then, is where to go. The most promising and plausible answers given by the Fraser Institute and Heritage Foundation are Australia, New Zealand, and Switzerland — none of which, I daresay, has the degree of liberty that once prevailed in the United States.

So — being too old for emigration and skeptical of its benefits — I have rededicated myself to the war of ideas. But if the war of ideas cannot be won, I favor an underground society, a military coup, or a revolution (in that order).

See also “The Constitution: Myths and Realities“.