Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Reprinted from Issue Number 28, May 15, 1997
Delivered April 19, 1997 at the Annual Convention of the Arizona Libertarian Party
The news was very bad the day I started writing this speech. Not in the traditional “Old Media” — where there’s never anything but bad news (mostly government threats and lies which it’s their principal function to convey to the populace) — but in the only source of good news in the Known Galaxy, the internet.
Government, it would appear, is waging war against the people. Here in Arizona, for example, a woman first impoverished and then terrorized by an appropriately named “criminal justice system” had no choice but to plead guilty and to go to prison merely for associating with other individuals who did nothing more, themselves, than exercise rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
Government is waging war against the people. In another state, using his own life-threatening illnesses as a weapon against him, the authorities were systematically murdering a man in jail (if he isn’t dead already; the sheriff is withholding information on his condition from the public, the media don’t care, and a local judge has illegally refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus) a man in jail not for growing a single medicinal marijuana plant on his front porch in plain view of everyone, but for expressing his politically incorrect ideas and ideals openly, often, and at inexhaustible length on the internet.
Government is waging war against the people. In Not-So-Great Britain, a political regime (which came to power only because people wanted more freedom, but which has begun jailing them for carrying utility knives in their cars) announced its decision to outlaw electronic privacy, declaring that from now on, PGP and other encryption programs would be licensed, and a decrypting key provided to the selfsame obnoxious bum-sniffers that these programs were invented to keep out of the individual’s private business in the first place.
Government is waging war against the people. At the same time, the actor Sean Connery — James Bond himself, indomitable hero of dozens of inspiring adventure films and, in real life, the likeliest leader (some say president, some say King) of a free Scotland — was recording vicious, lying voiceovers for advertisements on behalf of the vile English equivalent of Sarah Brady, demanding a complete ban on everything that shoots, right down to .22 single-shot target pistols. In the 90s, apparently, “007” means a license to kill freedom.
Government is waging war against the people. Back home, the National Rifle Association, which calls itself the “world’s oldest, largest civil rights organization” was exposed in an incredibly corrupt and apparently not unprecedented scam in which they offered to defend an individual set up and falsely accused by the BATF — the original baby-butchers at Waco — but only if the NRA got all of the publicity and retained the right to plead the individual guilty (despite his innocence) whenever they reckoned they’d spent enough money on him.
Government is waging war against the people. Meanwhile, the distinguished editor of a high-quality gun magazine wrote an editorial in which he conceded — as if he were a tobacco company executive staring down at the carpet and scuffing it with a guilty toe — that maybe gun control isn’t such a bad idea after all, and that there are undeniably some kinds of people (and who might they be, Jan, the Chinese, the Irish, the Italians, blacks, women?) who probably should be denied free ownership of firearms, despite the fact that it’s been unequivocally guaranteed to them by the highest law of the land, the Bill of Rights.
Government is waging war against the people. The Republican Party — the party that talks very glibly about individual liberty whenever it wants its candidates to win elections, but that spends more time and effort between elections sneaking around behind our backs raping the Bill of Rights with what Charles Curley has called “Pearl Harbor” legislation — the Republican Party lies paralyzed, like a whale stranded on a beach somewhere. And given their recent record, that may be a good thing. One by one, GOP leaders that many had counted on to help fix things were disappointing their constituents: Dick Armey, Trent Lott (don’t forget Ken Starr), maybe even Fred Thompson. And Mr. Spock was wrong: only Newt Gingrich could go to China, on the arm of Albert Gore.
Government is waging war against the people. All over the country, little kids were getting busted: for kissing each other at school; for sharing Midol and Alka-Seltzer; for carrying wee pen knives — by a public institution that long ago proved itself utterly incapable of (and uninterested in) teaching them to read, or of doing much of anything else except advancing the National Education Association’s fascist agenda. At the same time, American jurors were being threatened for rendering the fairest verdict they were capable of, and elderly ladies were being arrested for feeding other people’s parking meters.
Government is waging war against the people. The nation’s courts — more specifically, its judges — have begun converting democracy into a museum of totalitarian horrors. In a state where voters decided that individuals may determine for themselves whether to live or die, and under what conditions, a court determined for them that such a decision was somehow unconstitutional. In another, where voters decided not to create another politically protected class by granting special privileges to homosexuals, courts told them they couldn’t make that decision, either. In yet another couple of states, where voters decided to ease marijuana laws for medical reasons, the government deluged physicians and the public with threats. And in a state where voters decided to sweep away 30 years of unconstitutional preferences based on race, courts again reversed the will of the people, a finding since invalidated, although the quota-socialists still have at least two levels of appeals to fall back on.
Government is waging war against the people. The mass media go easy on mass-murderers like Deng Xiaoping or Janet Reno because in trade where, “if it bleeds it leads,” they’re seen as benefactors. Yet Amnesty International and the so-called “American” so-called “Civil” so-called “Liberties” so-called “Union” maintain their cowardly and hypocritical silence with regard to Waco — which, I suppose, is better than the Anti-Defamation League which actively supports the Clinton massacre and attacks anyone who criticizes it — Waco, an infamously historic event regarding which the so-called “presidential” so-called “candidate” of the so-called “Libertarian” so-called “Party” had to be bullied for two solid years before he even mentioned it in his so-called “campaign”.
Government is waging war against the people. And that was just a single day in the life of a single individual member of this civilization, the day I happened to start writing this speech. It all sounds quite thoroughly insane, doesn’t it? In fact it sounds very much like the ergot-induced mass insanity people suffered from in the Dark Ages. It also sounds like the “Crazy Years” that Robert A. Heinlein predicted and wrote about in his outline of future history.
Yes, it’s clear that government is waging war against the people. But if you haven’t given up altogether — given up on civilization, given up on humanity, given up on yourself, given up on the future of any of those things — if you haven’t given up, then the next questions that naturally arise are these:
- “Why is government waging war against the people?”
- “Why is all of this insanity happening?”
- “And what, if anything, can we do about it?”
The first thing you need to know, in order to establish some perspective and avoid panic, is that the violent government excesses we’re seeing today are far from unprecedented. They don’t represent a new pattern at all, but one that’s very old indeed — even in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.
In World War I (just to begin in the 20th century, and as a single example out of thousands from that era) a young Hutterite — Hutterites are a German pacifist sect who immigrated to America to avoid conscription by the Kaiser and settled principally in the Dakotas — a young Hutterite boy who refused military service for reasons of religious conviction, neverthless agreed to do everything required of him by the Army except put on its uniform. Taken to the prison at Fort Leavenworth in the dead of Kansas winter, he was suspended for weeks by wrist-manacles from a pipe in a cellar with a foot of water on the floor. When he caught pneumonia and died, before his grief-stricken mother could arrive by train to claim her dead son’s body, the Army buried it.
In a uniform.
In World War II, Japanese-Americans were confined in concentrations camps illegally, while the homes and farms they’d labored all their lives to build were stolen from them by neighbors or local governments, often never to be returned.
In the 1950s, federal agencies invaded a community of Mormon polygamists, sorted the families out like herds of animals and made humiliating photographs of them, while the husbands and fathers were held in prison until they signed written statements denouncing plural marriages and rendering their children illegitimate.
We all know how tax-resistor Gordon Kahl was ambushed, publicly defamed, hunted down, and finally gassed, machinegunned, and incinerated (and where have we heard that before?), while his daughter was found mysteriously shot to death in her car on a lonely country road a year later. Most of us also remember how a group of people in Philadelphia, accused of nothing more serious than disturbing the peace, was bombed by a police helicopter. The resulting fire killed 11 and destroyed 60 homes, and the mayor who ordered the bombing was reelected.
What it all means is that you can’t let anybody get away with claiming that today’s horrors are rare, regrettable exceptions, aberrations, the acts of isolated renegades within the government. What they are — what they’ve always been — are expressions of policy, a policy that invariably places every consideration before that one indivisible value the United States was created to cherish above all others, the life, liberty, and property of the individual.
Since 1750, human lifespan has been lengthened 3 1/2-fold by science and capitalism. But how much, on average, has it been shortened by governments which, in just this century alone have murdered a quarter of a billion people? There can be no net benefit from government. The worst thing about the Nanny State is that Nanny needs babies to mind, and if she can’t find them, she’ll make them out of the materials at hand. And if the potential babies resist — well, you can’t have Hillary’s healthcare without Hitler’s Holocaust. They arise from exactly the same source, the power of the state to use brute force against the individual to get whatever it is they — Hillary and Hitler — decide they want.
There is, however, one highly important difference between yesterday’s failures of the American Dream and those we witness with increasing alarm today.
A few years ago, my good friend and esteemed colleague, Alan Bock of the Orange County Register, wrote a book called The Fourth American Revolution: Reviving the Dream (still unpublished, which is significant in and of itself) in which he asked the question of our age. The Cold War, Alan observed, the most prolonged and terrible conflict between good and evil in the history of mankind, is over. We won it. Now think about what Times Square looked like at the end of World War II, the famous photo of the sailor kissing the girl — how come we aren’t all out dancing in the streets?
The answer of course is that, no matter what the hagiographers of Saint Ronald Wilson Reagan would have us believe, “we” didn’t win the Cold War, at all. Any society based on central planning and a command economy is untenable, against the laws of nature, and bound sooner or later to collapse of its own weight, whether acted upon by an outside force or not. And the dismal historic truth is that most of the “outside force” that came from us was meant not to defeat the Evil Empire, but to prop it up. “We” didn’t win the Cold War. “They” lost it.
And, more importantly in the present context, a surprising number of that “they” who lost the Cold War still make up a majority of those by whom we find ourselves governed, in what we naively once believed was the Free World. I’ll repeat that, since it’s central to everything else I’ll say tonight. Some of that “they” who lost the Cold War are those by whom we now find ourselves governed.
I once said — or I will; I get confused when I’m writing more than one book at a time as I am now; it’s almost as bad as time-travel — that if you put a “little” man in a position to say “no”, he inevitably will. Robert A. Heinlein spoke more to the point: “Don’t frighten a little man. He’ll kill you.”
The domestic foes of individual liberty — those by whom we find ourselves governed — are “little men”, deep down inside. They see themselves that way, exactly as they were bred to do. Exactly as they were indoctrinated to do. Otherwise, they’d be doing something else, something genuinely productive for a living. Otherwise, they’d leave us the hell alone. Otherwise, they’d be us.
What’s more, these “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed, who were unable or unwilling to learn a lesson from the fatal flaws spreading within its foundation like cracks caused by the settling earth, have watched the world of their fondest, most cherished hopes and dreams collapse with the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
To them, because they were unwilling or unable to learn the fundamental laws of nature, it must have seemed an inexplicable nightmare. What we all witnessed in those heady days was a rebirth of long-suppressed freedom. What the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed were forced to witness was the humiliating and — to them — mysterious fall of their counterparts, their alter-egos, people they admired, people to whom they offered as much political and economic support as they dared, people with whom they attended glittering cocktail parties and diplomatic receptions. People with whom they knocked back vintage champagne and beluga caviar as if somebody else were paying for it.
Which we were.
Publicly of course, these “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed always claimed there was a universe of difference between the collectivized East and the particularized West.
Privately, they know their own thoughts.
They know that there isn’t a microgram of difference between their innermost philosophy of governance and that of their sadly fallen comrades. They hate, loathe, and despise the free market system. They hate, loathe, and despise private industrial capitalism. They hate, loathe, and despise the Bill of Rights. What’s more — and if you doubt me or think I exaggerate, just have a conversation with any cop, any judge, or any city councilman — they perceive even the slightest manifestation of individuality (let alone of individualism) as an administrative inconvenience and a potential police problem.
Naturally, the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed fear that a disaster similar to that which consumed their Soviet colleagues may overwhelm them.
And they are terribly, terribly afraid.
Remember what Heinlein said: “Don’t frighten a little man. He’ll kill you.”
If you’d like an idea of what the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed are most afraid of — and of how far gone they are in terms of mental and moral health — consider that for decades we’ve been handed a line of guff about how policemen are a “thin blue line” keeping us from being overwhelmed by the barbarian criminal hordes. Uncountable billions of dollars — extracted from us at gunpoint by the very institution that claims to be protecting us — have been spent because of that line of guff, while we’ve been compelled to surrender more and more individual rights the Founding Fathers believed were inalienable and essential.
However now we learn (although it may be buried on page D-143 of the local fish wrapper) that although civilians are attacked by violent criminals three times as often as policemen, policemen kill the wrong individual five times as often as armed civilians. Allow me to reiterate that astonishing statistic: although civilians are attacked by violent criminals three times as often as policemen, policemen kill the wrong individual five times as often as armed civilians.
Now, over the past few years — motivated by the threat of pending victim disarmament statutes originally proposed by Republican theorists like William Bennett and enacted by regimes like the Clinton Administration in collusion with prostitutes like Bob Dole — ordinary individuals have purchased weapons in unprecedented numbers. Americans are better armed at present than at any other period in history. At the same time — also in unprecedented numbers — they are carrying those weapons, whether legally or illegally, about their persons.
Where those two things are going on, violent crime rates have plummetted, calling into doubt the entire concept of government peacekeeping and delegated self-defense. Policemen prevent crime the way a crowing rooster brings the sunrise.
Clinton — who’s actually stated publicly that the Founding Fathers were too radical and gave us too many rights and that it’s time some of them were taken back — has tried claiming that diminishing crime is a result of the limits he constantly imposes on our liberties, citing crime rates that have not fallen in places that already had stringent victim disarmament. The trouble with this lie (which nobody on either side actually believes in any case) is that real deterrents, gun ownership and concealed carry, have never been allowed to work their not-too-terribly-mysterious wonders in such places. And now we discover why. Too many cops and bureaucrats stand to lose secure jobs and fat pensions. Better to let women and children die in the streets … than to give up money and power.
It doesn’t help to allay their fears that President Jed Klampetsky the hillbilly Marxist has been telling anyone who’ll listen that “the era of big government is over”. Because even they can’t tell when he’s lying and to whom, and because it’s bad news to them (and they are human, we must concede, and therefore more inclined to take bad news seriously than good) the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed are more inclined to believe him about its being the end of the era of big government than we ever were.
And, all over again, they are terribly, terribly afraid — for one thing, because not one of them believes he can find employment in the productive sector of the economy.
Understand that for the most part I don’t think any of this represents a fully conscious awareness on the part of the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed. To a greater extent than many of us realize, perhaps, they aren’t capable of a fully conscious awareness of anything. Otherwise, as I say, they’d be doing something productive, they’d leave us alone, and they’d be us.
No, it’s more like the desperate mindset of a trapped animal. The pursuit of coercive power over others will someday be universally recognized as a symptom of profound mental illness. In individuals who already have such power in small or large amounts, the earth- shattering political events of the last decade have given rise to what I was trained to call a “psychotic break”. To put it in technical terms, the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed are all “going postal”. Whenever something happens — whenever anybody does anything — that they interpret as a threat to their authority, their reflex is to overreact hysterically
If you take nothing else from my speech tonight, take this, and understand it clearly: this is not the firm, confident hand of a triumphant conqueror we’re seeing at work here — and certainly not the signature of an enemy too powerful or deeply-entrenched to be dislodged — but the bloodless, trembling, uncertain fingers (although they still lay across the triggers of a million terrible weapons) of the defeated representatives of a rapidly dying way of life.
And so in the long run, as absurd, as ironic, and as horrifying as it may seem, all of the government atrocities that we’ve been witnessing are hallmarks of good news yet to come. However before we begin to celebrate, before I get to what we can do to rid ourselves of the terrified “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed, before I begin discussing how to pry the guns out of their quaking, white-knuckled grasp, we must face one final unpleasant fact together.
You may not know that when a baby dolphin dies, its grief-stricken mother, unwilling to accept the fact of its death despite her finely- honed senses (and probably because of her powerful intelligence) will often work herself into exhaustion for days, in an attempt to keep her dead baby afloat, until its rotting carcass falls apart around her, and drifts slowly to the bottom of the sea.
Beloved friends and comrades … the national Libertarian Party is dead. All you have to do is look, as if for the very first time, at its presidential totals, climbing to a disappointing peak in 1980 — when we spent a shameful, historic, record-breaking five dollars a vote for a mere 900,000 votes — then falling raggedly down to figures that can be accounted for statistically (with more than hundred million people voting) by the number of unfortunates who happened to sneeze at the wrong moment and pull our lever or punch our hole by mistake.
In fact, the national LP has been dead for so long it shouldn’t have been a surprise when the vultures, the hyenas, the jackals, and the maggots moved in and began feeding off its rotting carcass, into the lifeless, speechless, breathless mouth of which, frozen open in the rigor of death, we continued to pour nourishment, unaware of what lay within and was really being fed through all of our sacrifices. Like that pathetic mother dolphin, we simply couldn’t bear to face the truth, that something we had loved so well had left us.
The head of the rotting corpse (an by the way, isn’t “L-PUS” as appropriate a name as “criminal justice system”?) the head of the rotting corpse has been gnawed off; its putrefying juices have been sucked out by a loathsome gang of scavengers who spent 1.6% of the million and a half dollars raised in last year’s presidential effort on actual campaigning, then stuffed the rest into their own bulging pockets, and are now getting ready to do the same thing in California, and to as many other state parties as they can recruit drooling morons in to help them to get away with it.
The sad fact is that none of this tragedy was necessary. If you want to know how to wage the most successful presidential campaign in the history of the Libertarian Party — and spend almost no money doing it — I can tell you how in a handful of sentences. At the same time, I can also tell you how to prove to your own satisfaction that I’m right, and the national LP is dead.
Simply announce, in a speech more or less like the one I’m giving here that you will run for the presidency, say in the year 2000, if those individuals who want you to run can collect at least 2,000,000 certifiably legitimate pledges to vote for you. That’s how Tory Aquino came to be president of the Philippines. Tell them if they want to see your political “platform”, they can find it in every almanac and encyclopedia, and almost every dictionary, in libraries and bookstores everywhere.
It’s called the Bill of Rights.
Tell them to read it carefully, and not to take the word, concerning what it means, of anyone who collects a government paycheck, because if it’s properly enforced — stringently enforced — it’ll shut down 95 percent of that government, and eradicate every last remaining trace of socialism in American civilization.
Add that you don’t want anyone to send you any money! (That thump! you just heard was probably the late, great macho mastermind of the Browne-Cloud campaign passing out cold.) No money, just those formal promises to vote for you. I guarantee that as those promises begin to pile up, you’ll get all of the free publicity — TV, newspapers, radio — that you could ever possibly desire.
Now I’m sure you can see that an enterprise like this has many advantages. For one thing, it isn’t a political campaign at all, but simply one individual in the process of being persuaded by his friends — all two million of them — that he has some chance of making an impact, and therefore ought to run. As such, it isn’t subject to the tangled laws and regulations governing political campaigns.
For another, the pledges don’t have to conform to any standard imposed by the “liitle men” by whom we find ourselves governed. All they have to do is satisfy the potential candidate that they represent real voters and are sincere.
You may want to retain the LP’s 50-state ballot status. Frankly, I’ve always been amazed at the accomplishment it represents. But everything else — everything the LP has ever done to participate in any national election — is a complete waste of motion and money. The League of Women Voters still won’t let you into their presidential debates, not because you don’t qualify, but because they don’t want you in their phoney baloney debates, under any circumstances.
And the way you’ll know that the LP is dead is that, when you walk into the national convention with those 2,000,000 pledges in your pocket, more than twice the number of votes ever earned by any LP presidential candidate — and no way to extract the fillings out of the teeth of anybody who gave you those pledges — the LP, so putrescent with corruption at its uppermost levels that it shines in the dark like fish rotting on a beach, will nominate somebody else.
Almost 140 years ago, the officers and cadets of the United States Military Academy are said to have assembled in a field just outside of West Point to salute each other one last time and ride their separate ways upon the even of the War between the States.
Almost 30 years ago, Libertarians who had owned no other home, politically, but would not lower themselves to endorse conscription or the war in Vietnam, walked out of the Young Americans for Freedom convention in St. Louis and met beneath the great arch to create the Society for Individual Liberty.
Today we have reached another historic crossroad, another parting of the ways. The time has come to separate the cowards, the cretins, and the con-men of the national Libertarian Party from the people of principle and purpose.
Beloved friends and comrades, the national LP is dead, and even if we loved it once, as deeply as the poor mother dolphin did her dead baby, we must be wise enough, and strong enough, and faithful to the truth enough to let it go.
Many people — the entire Libertarian Party National Committee, for example — will refuse to believe that all of that was hard for me to say. But this has been a rough couple of years for me in many ways, characterized by blinding flashes of insight of the kind that are usually accompanied with a slap to the forehead and the Homeric — no, let’s make that Simpsonian — expletive, “Dohh!”
A case in point — and almost the only reason I’m standing here now — is David Brock’s strange and strangely compelling book The Seduction of Hillary Rodham.
If you haven’t read it — and I recommend highly that you do for a reason I’ll get into shortly — on the surface, it’s the more or less straightforward political biography of the most thoroughly detested woman of our times, written by an investigative journalist who displays a novelist’s inclination to become enamored of the character he has created no matter how sick and disgusting she may happen to be. I tend to do this myself, and I understand the impulse very well. Whatever other readers may get out of Brock’s fascinating book, whatever he meant them to get out of it, something else entirely leapt off its pages at me, something he probably didn’t give much thought to beyond its use as the setting in which his principal character acted out her role. Revealing it to you now, I feel embarrassed and ashamed that I haven’t been fully aware of it for each of the 35 years I’ve considered myself a Libertarian activist. Even now it’s difficult to wrench myself around to discussing how naive I’ve been. (See, I’m stalling now!) My only consolation is that, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re going to feel exactly the same way in a moment, and we’ll all spend some time, at least figuratively, slapping our foreheads and exclaiming, “Dohh!”
What it all comes down to is that I’ve been belatedly impressed — if not to say, humbled — by the length, breadth, depth, and — for want of a better expression — the complexly interwoven “density” of the left wing’s cultural and organizational “infrastructure”. Wherever leading Democrats happen to go, whatever they happen to require to advance their agenda, there already exists some well-heeled, well- oiled, well-organized instrumentality, from various “public interest research groups” or the Jane Jeffersons, at the grassroots, to the Children’s Defense Fund or the Legal Services Corporation at a higher level — and everything you can possibly imagine in between — to make it happen.
I think these observations explain certain phenomena that — at least to the right wing — remain mysteries even deeper than the first ten amendments to the Constitution. They tell us, for example, why the left seems to own the media. Not only do they run the public schools, where they pound their lying propaganda into helpless children for 13 years, not only do they run the journalism schools where they teach their former victims to do the same thing to others, they’ve created or control hundreds of fraternal organizations, clubs, professional associations, and honorary societies that no journalist is likely to avoid belonging to if he wishes to advance and be respected by his peers.
Now … not only were we Libertarians naive in the extreme to think that the Libertarian Party could achieve success without this kind of … well, I’ve actually been thinking of calling it “infraculture” … the fact is that even the Republicans don’t have anything like it. They have a few political action committees here and there, a scattered handful of think-tanks, even a couple of newspapers whose J-school graduate news personnel smirk at them behind their backs. They have nothing like the Democrats in terms of length, breadth, depth, and complexly interwoven density. Which explains the very narrow range of circumstances under which they can gain and hold power. They can never have the Presidency, for instance, unless the Democrats field a singularly inept candidate like George McGovern, Walter Mondale, or Michael Dukakis.
Republicans can win local elections, because they are capable of creating small, effective, local organizations. And since Congressional elections are all local, they can win and even hold onto Congress — although it’s a toss-up whether they took the Senate through Democratic ineptitude or Republican … well, “eptitide”. Ironically, this makes the GOP rather like the Communists in Italy, who’ve traditionally been most effective at the municipal level. It also explains why Newt Gingrich — whatever his real faults from a Libertarian standpoint — had to be attacked and destroyed. He’d found a way of linking all those effective purely local Republican efforts into an effective national one.
Now, does anything I’ve said rule out political activity on the part of Libertarians? All I’ve said is that we’ve failed on the national level and that the national LP is dead. Where we’re effective — like Republicans — is at a local level, provided we’re willing to be rational about what constitutes success. Several times in the last decade — mostly by accident — we’ve attracted enough marginal voters to swing the election over to the other candidate.
It’s fun to listen to Republicans whimper, “But you’ll give the election to the Democrats!” That part they understand, although why they think that’s worse than Republicans being elected, especially on the basis of their recent cowardly, stupid, morally repulsive performance, I’ll never know. What they never get — what we must make them get — is that all they have to do to prevent it is to be better than we are, principally by enforcing the Bill of Rights. If they’d do that — repeal taxes, regulations, 20,000 gun laws, and the War on Drugs — we wouldn’t be a threat to them at all, now, would we?
But I digress.
Three elements hold the leftist infraculture together. The first is pure power-hunger, as I said earlier, a form of mental illness characterized by a need to influence the behavior of others through the initiation of force or the threat of force. The second is greed, which in this context I define as a desire for the unearnedwealth that only political power can obtain. The third is the actual content of the infraculture, consisting of literature, music, dance, graphics, drama, and other forms of expression which convey its values to each new generation, and reaffirm them in those who already share them.
Two of those elements are forbidden to Libertarians — although this may comes as news to the Libertarian National Committee and their henchmen at the Watergate — power-hunger and greed as I define it here. What remains is the third, and I believe strongest, most effective element of the three: shared culture. Even if it weren’t the strongest, most effective element of the three, it remains the only one that’s ethically available to us, and the one that — having failed to change America politically — we must now begin to emphasize.
It would be more correct to say “begin again“. When the Libertarian movement got its real start in the 1960s, it was almost exclusively cultural in character. This was a time when 80-odd percent of the people who called themselves Libertarians said that they’d joined the movement (if they admitted to having joined anything at all) because of the works of two novelists, one who didn’t know she was writing science fiction and one who knew perfectly well that he was. This was a time when most of us learned everything we know today about philosophy, politics, ethics, and economics by sitting around in each other’s living rooms listening to big black vinyl disks of a little old lady speaking in a heavy Russian accent.
More importantly, it was a time when nobody within the movement would have said that the Non-Aggression Principle is outdated, irrelevant, or excessively limiting, because they understood perfectly what principles are and why they are vitally important. It was a time when nobody would ever have suggested that a “little bit” of aggression — oh, say, a 10% flat income tax or a 5% national sales tax — was acceptable, because they all knew better than that. Because they were all better Libertarians — and better human beings — than that.
Today, “pragmatists” — whose “pragmatism” has earned us fewer votes than the average Flat Earther candidate, “pragmatists” who, for all intents and purposes, have finished off the national LP — sneer at those among us who sat around listening to Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden. They sneer at those among us who were inspired by the novels of Robert A. Heinlein and Poul Anderson and H. Beam Piper. All they’re capable of doing is sneering at others because they have nothing real of their own to be proud of. All they have is a lot of hype and noise and big promises, and when none of them come true, lame excuses and baldfaced lies.
It was, I believe, Newt Gingrich who, taking a look at TV, the movies, popular music, and so forth, identified what was going on inside and outside of those media as a “culture war”, one which his side — and ours no less than his — was losing. I tried telling the same thing to my book editor at Random House — a self-described conservative — 20 years ago, and he laughed me off, just as he did when I predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union 10 years before it happened. I say now that Gingrich was right, and furthermore, that you can’t fight a culture war if you ain’t got any culture. Which is where 20 years of monomaniacal focus on nothing but electoral politics has left our movement.
I’ll say it again: you can’t fight a culture war if you ain’t got any culture.
Okay now, let me offer you an idea — just a single idea out of thousands of potential ideas — of how we might fight that culture war effectively. And to avoid any accusation that I’m advancing my own career here (like a certain former presidential candidate) while pretending to lecture on politics and culture, I’ll talk about somebody else. When I’m through, I’ll talk about myself.
I know of at least half a dozen excellent writers with novels that — like Alan Bock’s non-fiction book — just aren’t getting published. We could infer that New York publishers simply don’t understand these writers, and to certain extent, that would be true. I could tell you stories about that, myself. Or we could infer that New York publishers understand them all too well, and are desperately afraid of the new paradigm they represent — or that they’re simply unwilling to face the negative pressure from colleagues that publishing them would inevitably engender. I have a story or two I could tell you about that, as well.
But the best case in point that I can think of is Victor Koman’s wonderful novel Kings of the High Frontier, a broad, hot, healthy ray of unfiltered sunlight shining into the dark, moldering dungeon that America’s space program has become. And, we must acknowledge sadly, always was. The shadowy creatures who lurk within that musty darkness know this bright light for exactly what it is and apparently their allies in New York have done everything they can to help them avoid the healing radiation Kings of the High Frontier represents. Koman proves that America doesn’t need a space program. It needs a hundredspace programs, a thousand space programs, ten thousand space programs. And the idea that drives this book — this book itself — is the only way we can get them. Our culture — and our culture war — needs Kings of the High Frontier.
Okay, I pretend to hear you say, what can I do about a book that can’t seem to find its way into print? More importantly, what can I do with it? To begin with — believe it or not — thanks to the myriad wonders of the internet, you can buy it. Tell your search engine to find , download Kings of the High Frontier for the princely sum of $3.50, help feed Vic Koman’s family, keep him writing, and sooner or later your efforts in this connection, coupled with those of others, will help force the book into print.
I’m happy to tell you that since I began writing this speech, something has already happened. Claire Wolf reviewed Kings of the High Frontier very favorably in The Libertarian Enterprise, and then The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction gave it a rave review, as well. (This is an unpublished book being reviewed here.) As a direct consequence, the manuscript is back in the hands of at least three publishers that I know of, and with a much better chance at getting a fair reading than it ever had before.
Now, once it’s been published in the conventional sense, your mission in the culture war — should you decide to accept it — will be to help make it a best seller. Buy the book yourself, bestow it as a treasured gift upon your family, friends, and enemies whose lives you want to see shortened by stroke or heart attack. Talk about it on the radio. Write letters to the editor about it. Invite the author to come to conventions, pay him a lot of money so he won’t have to sell real estate for a living, and get him on the radio and TV.
In short, treat the author exactly as if he were your candidate running for the highest office in the land. Invest all of the time, energy, and money in promoting his work that you used to invest — with no measurable effect — in the national LP. You’ll get real results this way. You’ll begin to alter the culture around you far more effectively, far more profoundly than you ever did politically. You’ll know where every dime of your money is going, and you’ll be getting something tangible for it: a book in your hand that you would have written yourself if you were a book writer; a book that you chose to speak for you.
If you can help make Kings of the High Frontier a bestseller, not only will you be broadcasting Koman’s ideas to a wider audience than any of our presidential candidates ever reached — certainly more than ever watch the debates — you’ll be elevating his prestige as a writer and a spokesman for individual liberty. He’ll wind up talking to Letterman and Leno, and you can count on Victor never to geek out or soft-pedal the ideas he’s suffered so much adversity to champion. He’ll be a “candidate” you can “campaign” for proudly, and for more than just a year or two, but for a lifetime and even beyond.
And you’ll embolden other writers who’ve been cautious about expressing their views.
But the advantages of this process — commonly known as the free market system (pardon me for sounding like an infomercial) — don’t stop there. Unlike the collectivist, zero-sum process by which we choose our political candidates, you can promote the author of your choice without cancelling out somebody else’s choice. If Koman’s Kings of the High Frontier is too blatant or noisy for you, you can help Robert Boardman get his novel Savior of Fire (which only seems gentler on the surface) into wider circulation than it’s previously enjoyed, and get his second novel, The Trashers into print. You can invite Bob to your conventions (where he can appear on a panel with Victor), talk about him on the radio, and write letters to the editor about him.
But where, you ask, does all this get us? Science fiction is fun, but in a broader sense, what is it for? Well, so far, we’ve all been “preaching to the choir”. Now it’s time to “play the Palace”, to take our message out and begin altering society with it. There are many, many possible approaches. I offer this idea merely as one example. I call it “Project Zola”, referring to the way French author Emile Zola was able to rally overwhelming public support in 1898 for Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military officer framed, railroaded, court-martialed, and sent to Devil’s Island for the crime of treason — which had actually been committed by one of his accusers. It required 12 long years to vindicate Dreyfus — but then Emile Zola didn’t have the internet to work with!
For lack of a better name, there is a need to establish something we might call “Artists and Writers for Enforcment of the Bill of Rights”, a coterie of individuals with respectable credentials, and of every political stripe, who could begin immediately, by sending a petition over their signatures — echoed in full page newspaper ads — to whatever Executive has authority in the matter, demanding clemency in the case our comrades Dean Pleasant, Wally Sanvil, and their friends the so-called “Viper Militia” who are clearly guilty of nothing more than exercising their rights under clear Constitutional guarantees that, increasingly, are being illegally ignored or swept aside by a pack of power-hungry politicians — the “little men” (and women) by whom we find ourselves governed — and who are apparently unconcerned about turning America into a fascist dictatorship as long as it will sufficiently advance their despicable careers.
In general, this group (maybe scientists and scholars would form a sister organization later on, and there are even a few pro-freedom educators and lawyers out there) would stand publicly against the violent hysteria of the BATF, the FBI, and other agencies, demand real justice with regard to Waco and similar atrocities, an end to RICO and the War on Drugs, and advocate stringent enforcement of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution as the only viable alternative to our becoming the world’s largest banana republic. I can think of many relatively well-known writers — right, left, and libertarian — who would probably be willing to help, at least by going on record, and there will be many more as they persuade their friends and colleagues. If we had even a hundred such outspoken individuals to begin with, this could become an extremely effective effort.
And after a dozen such effective efforts, or a hundred, or a thousand — or how ever many it takes — in the same way that we all put an end to the war in Vietnam a generation and a half ago, we will teach this culture to laugh at and reject the “little men” by whom we’ll finally find ourselves left the hell alone.
And all because you helped a deserving writer get published and become a bestseller.
I haven’t even scratched the surface of the advantages of the cultural approach. The possibilities are endless. We typically get stuck with one candidate who usually can’t resist the temptation to try to be “all things to all men” by watering down principled Libertarian positions on the issues until they’re almost undistinguishable from those of Republican or even Democratic candidates. By contrast, somebody who can’t be reached by one of our writers may be accessible to another, without the ideas we stand for being diluted at all.
Now I’m only going to address the cultural area I’m familiar with. I won’t even try to begin talking about the backbone of the movement, thousands of books by hundreds of philosophers, historians, and social commentators from Lysander Spooner to Murray Rothbard to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel (whose august ranks I plan to join in a small way with my own collection of essays, Lever Action). What I know best is fiction — with an emphasis on practically the only “literature of ideas” that remains in human civilization, science fiction.
But understand that we have others practicing in other areas, some of them famous, like humorists Dave Barry and P.J. O’Rourke, screen writer, producer and director John Milius, Clint Eastwood, Orson Bean, Michael Moriarty, and the unclassifiable Dr. Demento. (I won’t discuss the critics here, useless parasites I have difficulty considering human, let alone Libertarian.) We do have non-fiction writers who specialize honorably in cultural matters, supreme recognition — with oak leaf clusters — going to Wendy McElroy, who began her tenure in the movement as a poet. And where would any of us be without an individual I’m proud to call my friend, and happy to have on my side in this brawl we call the marketplace of ideas, Andrea Millen Rich of Laissez Faire Books?
But to get back: if your prospect for “conversion” to Libertarianism is of a traditionalist frame of mind, then the “proto-Libertarians” like Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, or Eric Frank Russell may be just the ticket.
Or how about “classic” Libertarian novelists like: Robert Anton Wilson, co-author (with the late Bob Shea) of Illuminatus!; F. Paul Wilson, author of An Enemy of the State and the forthcoming Deep As the Marrow; Vernor Vinge, author of Across Realtime; Melinda Snodgrass, formerly of The Next Generation and author of the Circuit trilogy; J. Neil Schulman, author not only of two fiction works, Alongside Night and The Rainbow Cadenza, but of two important non-fiction efforts, Stopping Power and Self Control Not Gun Control; Victor Milan, author of The Cybernetic Samurai; Brad Linaweaver, author of Moon of Ice; Ken MacLeod, author of The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, and, forthcoming, The Cassini Division; Victor Koman, who gave us The Jehovah Contract and Solomon’s Knife long before Kings; James P. Hogan, author of The Gentle Giants of Ganymede and Voyage from Yesteryear; Glen Cook, author of A Matter of Time, and (he mumbled modestly), yours truly, the author of some 20 books including The Probability Broach and Pallas. Watch for Bretta Martyn in August followed later by The American Zone.
Help feed my family; keep me writing.
I mentioned the late Robert Shea, author on his own of Shike. He’s not the only classical Libertarian novelist we’ve lost. There’s also the late, and very greatly missed Kay Nolte Smith, author of The Watcherand Venetian Song, and my friend Brian Daley (author of the Star Wars Han Solo trilogy, the “Coramonde” books, and my personal favorite, Brian’s Hobart Floyt-Alacrity Fitzhugh trilogy). Brian never understood, I think, why I insisted that he was a Libertarian, but he never advocated the initiation of force in any of his novels, and stood up for the freedom of the individual at every turn. These brilliant, hardworking people passed away before they could see any cultural result from their many labors. They’ll be remembered fondly by Libertarians until they’re celebrated by everyone as the courageous and hardy pioneers they were.
Happily, we have many newcomers to take their places. I mentioned Robert Boardman, who, interestingly enough is the second cousin by marriage (I think) to my managing editor at The Libertarian Enterprise, Yiing Boardman. There’s also W.T. Quick, not exactly a newcomer, but whom I recently met thanks to the internet. Wendy McElroy informs me that she just sent her first SF novel off to her agent. And last but not least, your own formidable Fran van Cleave who has penetrated the statist inner sanctum of Analog with her story, “Second Chance”.
And we have the even newer comers, those who’ve completed novels but not yet sold them: my old comrade David Anderson (the fellow who “piped me in” to the address I delivered at the 1993 national LP convention in Salt Lake City), distinguished former USA Today columnist Patrick Cox, and my friend John Cornell.
Think of them all as your perpetual presidential candidates. They will help you to accomplish many wonderful things you thought were impossible. By spending your money elsewhere for the next several years, you’ll be able to starve the Watergate and National Headquarters parasites in exactly the same way you’d cut off its blood supply in order to kill a tumor. When the money’s gone at national, they’ll go away to work some other flim-flam on some other suckers.
When I returned to the LP in 1993, following an absence of some 13 years, I was shocked to see the way it had “grayed”. Where were all the young people to pick up the torch of liberty when we drop it and carry it into the future? Well you see, young people don’t have much money to contribute to campaigns and to the “consultants” who feed off them, so the LP’s future had been abandoned. If we let that trend go on, it won’t be just the LP that’s dead, but the movement. And I can guarantee that we’ll attract and win and hold many more young people with Anthem, Red Planet, The Starfox, The Great Explosion, and, dare I say, The Probability Broach, than we ever will with Why Government Doesn’t Work.
Ayn Rand was well known for her negative opinion of Libertarians and the Libertarian Party. Part of it was merely an understandable (if not entirely forgivable) conflict of time and place. Rand was the greatest philosopher, advocate of reason, and champion of liberty of her time. She was also a little old immigrant lady, not unlike my wife’s Bohemian grandmother, who couldn’t accept the logical conclusion — anarchism, as Roy Childs pointedly informed her — that her philosophy of uncompromising individualism inevitably leads to, who didn’t like men to wear long hair and beards (I’m sure earrings would have blown her mind completely) and who was disgusted by certain expressions of uncompromising individualism such as homosexuality and recreational drug use.
On the other hand, Rand tried to warn us that America wasn’t ready for a Libertarian Party. In essence, she said you have to change society first, and that the political payoff — provided you do things right — comes later. Over the past three decades or so, I’ve thought a great deal about the position she took on this. I even think I always agreed with it. America isn’t ready for a Libertarian Party. (Arizona may be.) But make no mistake: one individual’s unsupported opinion — even Ayn Rand’s opinion — didn’t constitute a sufficient reason not to try.
Now we know that she was right. Not only can’t you fight a culture war, you can’t fight a political war if you ain’t got any culture. The political payoff — provided you do things right — comes later, and I might add, easily.
Look: even if a Libertarian president were elected by a miraculous fluke this very minute, he’d be able to accomplish absolutely nothing. Like Newt Gingrich, he’d be forced to waste every minute of the next four years fighting for his political life. Maybe even for his literal life. At the very least he’d be impeached for the “high crime and misdemeanor” of attempting to enforce the Bill of Rights.
Change the culture and you won’t be able to stop people from voting Libertarian, or from bringing about the political changes we’ve fought for all our lives.
I’m sure many of you must have noticed that until this moment, I haven’t mentioned today’s date, April 19th, and the many historical events associated with it. April 19th was first marked by the “shot heard ’round the world”, the battles of Lexington and Concord and the start of the American Revolution. April 19th is the date associated with resistance to the Nazis at the Jewish Alamo, the Warsaw ghetto. In 1993 the “little men” by whom we find ourselves governed got their revenge at the Waco ghetto. Two years later, in Oklahoma City, they bulldozed the evidence as fast as they could, just as they had in Texas.
I saved mentioning it until last because I want to make a promise to you. Someday, April 19th will be everything it should have been for the past two centuries, a holiday that surpasses the Fourth of July. It will become a day when, by tradition, laughing children will burn the “little men” by whom we find ourselves no longer governed in effigy, and the land will echo with the ringing of bells and the rattle and bang of fireworks bought and set off by individuals.
In the immortal words of Elvis Presley, “Thank you very much.”
Before I finished composing this speech, I wrote to various individuals on the ‘net, requesting names of Libertarian “culture- warriors” I may have overlooked. Although the appointed day came and went, data kept coming in. I felt much of it was important enough to pass on in this addendum to the “as-delivered” version of my speech.
To begin with, Tibor Machan (if philosophers were treated like rock stars he’d be at least the Mick Jagger of the movement) endorses the works of David Karp, author of One and The Last Believers. According to Wendy McElroy, among others, David Brin, author of Startide Rising, deserves mention, and I’m prepared to say that anybody who puts talking porpoises in his novels is all right by me. Andrea Millen Rich wrote me about Shelly Reuben and Richard Uberto.
Individual works people mentioned include Dean Koontz’s Dark Rivers of the Heart, Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, and The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson. Henry Hazlitt also wrote a novel, although I believe it’s been out of print a long while. My vote in this category (I’m not kidding) goes to Dr. Suess for Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose and Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, which concern themselves with the evils of altruism and power-hunger.
This summer will see publication — at long last — of Free Space, an amazing collection of (A) stories by Libertarian writers and (B) Libertarian stories by “civilians” (a mixture of established names and newcomers) all set in the same universe and edited by Brad Linaweaver and Ed Kramer. The trials involved in getting this pioneer work into print — consisting of a bitter struggle against ideological bias and political “correctness” — comprise an adventure tale in themselves and will be told here when it becomes practical to do so.
It’s only fair to add that Brad’s been doing novelizations and original print stories for the TV series Sliders and informs me that what they love him for most is the Libertarian content of his writing.
What else? Emil Franzi, who interviewed me on the radio in Tucson certainly deserves to be noted as a veteran combatant in the culture war. And the title of Patrick Cox’s (temporarily) unpublished novel is //Mechanical.Solstice:Dark_cycle~.
Finally, Anders Monsen, prime mover-and-shaker at the Libertarian Futurist Society and editor of its wonderful newsletter, Prometheus, put me onto Zach Smith, author of the novels Cloth, The Bot Who Wept, Man-Like, and numerous short stories. Anders also mentioned Michael Flynn, Steven Burgauer, Titus Stauffer, and Karen Michaelson, writer and leader of the Libertarian rock band “Point of Ares”.
Anders is probably the best person to alert whenever you discover another Libertarian writer. It’s important in this connection to say that you can enlist immediately in the culture war by joining the Libertarian Futurist Society and helping to choose the winners of the annual Prometheus Award. Write Anders at [email protected]
L. Neil Smith
Fort Collins, Colorado
April 28, 1997
Delivered April 19, 1997 at the Annual Convention of the Arizona Libertarian Party