By any objective standard, the freedom
movement has, over the past fifty years – if not the entire history of
mankind – been an utter and complete failure. More than fifty years
after the publication of seminal works clinching the case against State
control, the power of the State continues to grow. State control
remains either complete or rapidly growing in education, health care,
child care, power generation, media, industry and many other sectors.
Libertarian candidates are virtually invisible in the political arena,
and during the countless conversations I have had with countless
non-Libertarians over the past twenty years, I have yet to meet one who
is even vaguely familiar with basic concepts of freedom, such as the
evils of taxation, the liberty of the free market, or the violent
nature of government power.
Not only have we utterly failed, but
we have failed so completely that we have put liberty at terrible risk.
The cancerous growth of State power has made our task all the more
difficult – and our inability to even slow down the growth of that
power ensures that, unless we radically change our position, we will
helplessly follow society into the general slide towards dictatorship.
has gone so wrong? Why have ideas which are true, logical and proven by
history had so little effect on society? Why have we lost so completely?
view my answer within a context we are all familiar with, let’s look at
the last major success in the limitation of state power, which was the
abolition of slavery – not in America, which was the result of a
corrupt civil war – but in the rest of the Western world.
did not condemn slavery because of its economic inefficiency, or by
arguing that agriculture survived quite nicely before the introduction
of slaves, or by making the case that slavery should be ameliorated, or
reformed, or its evils reduced to some lesser degree.
abolitionists won over the hearts and minds of mankind by thundering,
over and over, that slavery was a moral evil that had to be ended
regardless of effects. They did not discuss costs and benefits. They
did not say that the slave-owners should exercise less
control over their slaves. They did not argue that slavery be should
reduced to some prior historical level. No, they simply and
passionately stated, over and over, for years and years, that it was an
absolute moral evil to treat people as property. They did not consider
slavery an institution which could be changed for the better. It could
only be abolished utterly. For over a hundred years, they refused to
give a single inch regarding the utter moral evil of slavery.
And they won.
is a positive example. Let’s look at a negative one. Soldiers have
always been relatively easy to recruit – and even when they have not,
the imposition of the draft has easily made up for the lack of
volunteers. In the First World War, it could be said that, due to
nearly a hundred years of peace in Western Europe, the boy-soldiers who
flocked to the Front knew nothing about the real conditions of combat.
However, since the rise of "war-nography," or graphic novels, movies
and documentaries about war, no young man can claim ignorance about the
violence, madness and confusion of combat.
Yet still, young
people sign up for the military. Why? There are a number of economic
factors, of course, but they can be solved less radically. The real
answer is simple: Because soldiers are seen as moral.
Soldiers are considered noble, brave, heroic and the highest specimens
of manhood. We think ‘Marine’, we think: tough, disciplined,
honorable, committed to serving the country. Flags, salutes and bugles
rise at their funerals. Even now, given the fraud of Iraq, the
sentimental fantasy about ‘supporting our troops’ trumps any criticism
of their deployment. This position is morally squalid.
The military is
little more than a mentally-destroyed pack of thugs willing to murder
anyone their leader points at. It is the Mafia in uniform – especially
in America, which has friendly neighbors to the north and south, and
oceans to the east and west.
Yet young men still flock to the military
because it is so highly respected. If soldiers were shunned in any
decent society – just as KKK members are – the lie would finally be
exposed, and millions of people the world over would be spared murder
Thus on the positive side, we have a social
movement – abolitionism – which succeeded by unflinchingly,
persistently and passionately condemning the absolute evil of slavery.
On the negative side, we have young men willing to give up their limbs,
minds and lives because society tells them that being a soldier is the
highest moral good.
These two examples – and there are many more – illustrate one basic point. As
advocates of freedom, we have failed because we have argued from the
head, rather than from the heart. To generalize broadly, we have argued
for economics and efficiency, rather than morality and integrity. We
have argued that the government should be limited, or restrained, or
reformed, because it doesn’t deliver on its promises, or is
inefficient, or is self-serving, or other such drab and lifeless
reasons. This is the same as arguing that slavery should be reduced
somewhat because it is economically inefficient. It is not a call to
arms. It is an invitation to yawn.
If we continue to take this
analytical, abstract and bloodless approach, the cause of freedom is
hopeless. We are doomed to lives of futility and rejection. The sums of
our days will be ashes, bitterness, futility and resentment. If we do
not look at our own spectacular failures – and compare them with the
few successful moral improvements in history – then we are condemned to
repeat them until society finally collapses under the growing weight of
What does this mean in action?
After decades of
interesting but largely futile discussions, I no longer argue from any
other perspective than moral absolutism. I ask that people clarify
their relationship to violence. If they say that they are against
violence, I point out that the State is nothing but violence. If they
then support the State, I point out their contradiction. If they
continue in their support of violence, then I end the conversation with
the strongest possible moral condemnations. I say that I will be happy
to discuss the matter further, but until they reject violence, then
they have the same appearance to me that a KKK member has to a black
man, or a Nazi has to a Jew.
This shocks people. It really does. And herein lies the greatest power we have as fighters for freedom:
People will do anything to believe that they are good.
will die and kill for the State, if they believe that a good man fights
for his country. People will surrender more than half their income to
the State, if they believe that the State is helping the poor, housing
the homeless, healing the sick, or other such nonsense. They will cheer
blank-eyed murderers if they are convinced that a good person "supports
the troops." They will give up their liberties if they believe that
doing so is "patriotic."
The lesson – and our potential salvation – is that morality rules the world.
Whoever controls morality controls the hearts, minds and future of
mankind. Morality is the invisible physics that rules all our
fundamental choices. Why do thousands of Muslims kneel together?
Because they believe that they are good for doing so. Why do
parents still herd their children into the vicious pens of
Because they believe that education is
essential, and without the State, poor people would be a trapped,
ignorant underclass. Why do they support spiraling taxes and murderous
waiting times in state-run health care systems? Because they don’t want
poor people dying in the streets.
Our enemies, the statists,
know this well. Look at their language. ‘The Patriot Act.’ Who doesn’t
want to be a patriot? Social Security. Health and Welfare. Who wants to
be against those things? Medicare. Who’s against medical care?
at their pillaged paychecks and property taxes, people hate the State
in their hearts, but they feel guilty for it, because the State owns
the moral discourse (which is, incidentally, why the State had to take
control of the schools first). As they say, once a Catholic, always a
Catholic. The same is true for morality. Once a statist, always a
statist. We can fight all we want, but if we don’t utterly condemn the
morality of the statist argument, we will always lose.
so much to learn from our enemies, from those who have successfully
controlled the public discourse for the past century. Look at the
invasion of Iraq. It was presented in purely moral terms. Hussein is
evil. You don’t approve of him, do you? He wants to kill us. You don’t
want Americans to die, do you? Remember 9-11. You don’t want that to
happen again, do you? Therefore, let slip the dogs of war!
There can be only one answer. Not ‘less State’ – just as the answer to slavery was not ‘less slavery’ – but no State.
We have to accept that reform is impossible, because the lessons of the
past and present are too clear. The State can never be diminished. No
matter how it is restrained, it always grows cancerously until it
devours the society it rules. We must provide a real option. We must be
absolute in our condemnation of violence and the brutality of State
power. We must oppose the very idea of the State, or we have lost before we even begin.
is time for us to confidently assert the moral truth about the State.
It is time for us to forget about educating people about capitalism,
economics and political theory.
We can’t anyway, since it’s impossible
to compete with twenty-odd years of State propaganda. We can’t appeal
to a citizen’s self-interest, because as wars graphically teach us,
people consistently act against their self-interest for the sake of
There is only one solution. We must take aim at
the only soft belly the Leviathan possesses. We must reclaim the
language. We must take back the moral core of the debate.
need to explicitly state that our cause is a moral cause. That we are
fighting as the civil-rights leaders fought. As the anti-slavery
crusaders fought. Not for incremental gains. Not to educate our enemies
or sway the undecided with statistics and economics – but to end the
State, the greatest moral evil in the history of the world. With our
words, our moral certainty, we rise to do battle with the State itself,
which slaughters the helpless by the hundreds of millions. Our enemies
are not self-interested politicians, or smarmy leftists, or smug
right-wingers, or manipulative statists, but the ‘moral’ underpinnings
of the most evil scourge that mankind has ever faced. Our enemy is a
murderous social institution that does more killing, maiming and
soul-destroying than slavery ever did. The beast we face slays,
diminishes and throttles us from the cradle to the grave, and preys on
us with the guns and clubs of soldiers, police and prison guards. We
rail against leaders who care for us only to the degree that a farmer
cares for his livestock, and who no more think of freeing us than a
farmer thinks of liberating his cows.
How does this work in practice? I can give you a typical example, based on my own experiences.
Me: All education must be completely privatized.
Person: That would be terrible! The poor would be completely uneducated.
Me: Do you believe that a poor person has the right to rob another person at gunpoint?
Me: Then, even if the poor would be uneducated, must people be robbed at gunpoint to provide them an education?
Person: That’s not what happens!
What happens to you if you don’t pay your property taxes to the State?
They come and take you away. And if you resist, they shoot you.
Person: I’m happy to pay my taxes.
Me: That doesn’t matter. You may be happy to be a slave, but you have no right to enforce slavery on me.
Person: I don’t agree.
Me: But you do agree that State education is funded by violence.
Person: (Usually after additional clarification.) Yes.
Me: So then you believe that the State must shoot me if I don’t support your scheme.
Person. (Usually after additional hedging). I guess I do.
Now, imagine that I am a black man in the South. If you were to tell me
that you approve of lynching, how do you think I would feel about you?
Person: Pretty bad, I guess.
Me: Then you understand me when I say: you are advocating my murder. Do you still approve of State education?
Person: Yeah, I guess I do.
Then I will not talk to you as if you were a reasonable or moral
person. In this matter, you are utterly corrupt and contemptible, and
we are just enemies.
I then end the conversation and walk away.
I do not talk to that person again. If he wishes to reopen the
conversation with me, I ask him if he still advocates my murder. If he
says "no," I am happy to talk with him. If he says "yes," then I turn
on my heels and walk away once more.
I have lost friendships over this. I have lost family members. But really – what does that matter? We are talking about freedom
here – the most precious gift that makes life worth living. We are
talking about war and peace and liberty. Do I really want anyone in my
life who is so corrupt that they are happy to see me threatened with
This is my solution. It is time for us to get angry,
get motivated, and get busy. We have to get over the idea that
educating people will save us. A lack of knowledge is not the problem.
After a century of explosive State growth, the fall of totalitarianism
in Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy, endless newspaper articles detailing
government corruption, rising debt, falling services and unjust wars,
the time is long past for people to begin questioning the moral nature
of the State. A man in 1940 may be forgiven for thinking that smoking
is harmless – today, he is simply a fool. Hayek and Rand were writing
far in advance of history in the 1940s. By now, the evidence has been
in for decades, and anyone who continues to believe in the virtue of
the State is a self-blinded dupe. We have not failed because people
don’t have the knowledge. We have failed because people still believe
in the morality of the State. We offer a difference in degree, not in
kind. It is not education that we must pursue, but moral praise and
We must draw the line, and refuse to step across. The time for action is now,
because the hour is growing late. If we do not change our course – and
fast – liberty will not survive another generation. If we act, we shall
all play a part the salvation of civilization, in freeing people’s
necks from the tightening noose of the State. We shall save the
soldiers from the shrapnel, the children from hunger, the old from
poverty, foreigners from our bombs, the young from ignorance, and civil
society from a slow slide into totalitarian savagery.
But if we
do not act – or if we continue to act as we have always acted – then we
shall have done nothing to avert the worst catastrophe that society can
suffer. Collapse, despotism, slaughter, starvation, the end of all that
is noble and good in the human spirit. A new dark age. History is
unequivocal in this matter. States grow until they destroy civil
society. Without strenuous action, we cannot escape. We shall fall into
the chasm, as all prior societies have fallen before us.
If we do
not act, an evil darkness will descend upon our children as surely as
the sun will rise tomorrow. And after the decades or centuries that
shall pass before that darkness is finally overthrown, future
historians shall look back upon us and loathe us for our failures. And
we shall have no defense against their judgments, because we lack
nothing to save the world except the will to constantly condemn the
bottomless evil of the State.
3 Comments in Response to Freedom's Failure: A Theory of Cause and Effect<p>by Stefan Molyneux
Amen! Molyneux is right on target and crystal clear. Americans, for the most part, are in denial about the immoral nature of the system they are enmeshed in. Even seemingly decent Christians e who strive to be godly, honest, constructive and compassionate people have yielded unto Caesar what rightfully belongs to God in blind obedience to the state. Government is nothing but organized crime at it's zenith, a powerful instrument for theft and murder made to appear legitimate through deceit and subterfuge. I want no king but King Jesus, who said "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." Jesus was truly libertarian, the standard for moral leadership. It's too bad more church-goers don't actually follow him as they are praising him. We could change the world!
It is this concept that the Freedom Movement will eventually have to deal with. Very good article to think about.
I've been saying the same thing for quite some time. As examples of the success of pressing the moral case, I use Gandhi's pacifist movement in India (which embarrassed the English into improving their treatment of Indians) and the civil rights movement of the '60s, in which lawmakers were embarrassed into giving minorities equal treatment under the law.