Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
Via E-mail, July 9, 2001
Mr. Charles Moore, Editor
The London Daily Telegraph
Dear Mr. Moore:
A thoughtful individual recently sent me a couple of columns from your publication that I found interesting for several reasons. One of these, “A Free Country”, written by you, asserts bravely, “It is time to take a stand against” [an itch that possesses both Right and Left] “to make new laws that curtail our liberties”.
Unfortunately, in the next sentence, you go on to declare, “The Daily Telegraph does not support the doctrinaire libertarian argument which states that freedom is the only good”.
There are two problems with that sentence, Mr. Moore, both of them symptomatic of the political mess in which you and your countrymen presently find yourselves.
The lesser of the two is that, to my knowledge (and I’m not merely a 40-year veteran of the movement, I’m also its most widely-published and prolific novelist) no libertarian has ever claimed that freedom is the only good. It’s possible to demonstrate, in only a few sentences, that freedom is the greatest good, but that’s not the point. To put words in the mouths of anyone this way betrays malice or ignorance. I shall choose politely, for the moment, to assume that it’s merely the latter.
The other problem is more serious. How badly off would you have to be before you did support a “doctrinaire libertarian argument”? When the government spy cameras now filling your streets invade your home? When you must produce an ID card before you’re permitted to buy food? When you find yourself rounded up and marched into a concentration camp — or out into the countryside, to be disposed of by a blow to the head with a shovel because a fiscally conservative administration has decided you’re not worth the price of a bullet?
Put another way, if you were dying of cancer, would you reject radiation or chemotherapy as unaesthetic or too extreme? If it were gangrene, how long would you hesitate to say, “Go ahead, doctor, and amputate”?
As the author of more than 20 highly political novels, more or less in the tradition (if not the style or ideology) of H.G. Wells and George Orwell, I’m good at making accurate predictions, based — not on tea leaves or the Tarot — but on my understanding of history and human nature. I predicted, for example, 10 years before it happened (and to the derision of my editor at Random House, who was supposed to be a Soviet Affairs expert), the collapse of the Soviet Empire.
To me, it appears that the entire civilized world has cancer at the moment, or, if you prefer, gangrene, in the political form we call socialism, and Britain has what looks to my practiced eye like a terminal case. The medicine your country badly needs is a good, stiff, uncompromising dose of doctrinaire libertarian argument.
In that connection, something else bothers me about your column. You begin it by rejecting your own somewhat distorted notion of libertarianism, but you conclude with the exhortation, Libertad o muerte!. “Give me liberty or give me death,” as the American revolutionary Patrick Henry put it. “Live free or die,” as it still proclaims on New Hampshire’s auto license plates. Yet, in order to regain your liberty, you’re too fastidious to stoop to libertarianism. Does this imply that libertarianism is worse than the death you prefer to not being free?
For the sake of understanding, allow me to define libertarianism properly. I’m entitled, because I’ve written more on this particular subject — defining libertarianism — than anyone else. First and foremost, it’s a philosophy of self-ownership, of absolute moral domain over one’s life and all the products (for better or worse) of that life. Its political expression is the “Non-Aggression Principle” under which no one (especially government) has a right to initiate force against another human being for any reason.
And before you ask, we are not pacifists; the operant word in the definition above is “initiate”.
And again before you ask, you’re right: within these principles, government, at least as we’ve come to know it, could not continue to exist.
One of my favorite mentors, Robert LeFevre, used to say, “Aim at zero”: even if you don’t advocate shutting government down completely, you must always act as if you do. There’s simply so much inertia to civilization that if you don’t overshoot the mark deliberately, you’ll never get anywhere near what you really want. (This is an important principle in martial arts, as well, where you never strike at a face, but through it.) Don’t worry, Bob would say, if you suddenly discover that by some terrible accident you’ve abolished government altogether, you can make a few phone calls and have a new one up and running that same afternoon.
Which brings me to the reason I’m writing: to offer my services, professionally, in helping you “Aim at zero”. Hire me to write a weekly column in the doctrinaire libertarian style you say you don’t want but so desperately need. I’ll hold your enemies’ feet to the fire while giving you cover. I’ll take the heat off you, and provide you with a Fabian-style contrast: you can say to your adversaries, “Deal with us — kindly, moderate, humane conservatives that we happen to be — or you’ll have to deal with the growing number of raving lunatics who agree with L. Neil Smith.”
For what it’s worth, in addition to plenty of fiction, I’ve recently published Lever Action, a respectable collection of speeches and essays written mostly for the internet. For you, I’ll be exotic, with a cache I could never have in my country (a prophet having no honor, as the saying goes, in his own house), and suffused with a typical American energy and enthusiasm that so many Britons find so annoying that they won’t be able to resist picking up your paper every week to get annoyed all over again. I’d even suggest that you leave my American spelling preferences intact — tire, curb, color — for the sake of “flavour”.
On my part, I’ll welcome a chance to return the favor Alistair Cooke did us all on both sides of the Atlantic three decades ago. No Briton ever understood Americans better, including the importance to us of the individual right to own and carry weapons, a right which, to judge by your soaring crime rate, you need to exercise freely once again, as well.
I made a speech, once, in which I promised someday to walk from one end of Manhattan Island to the other with a pistol displayed openly on my hip, something that’s been illegal there since 1917. I’ll make the same promise in writing with regard to London. Imagine how invigorating it will be for your readers (and with any luck, terminally infuriating to your enemies) to read a declaration I made in the same speech, that “Every man, woman, and responsible child has an unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon — rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything — any time, any place, without asking anyone’s permission.”
I needn’t remind you that conservatives in your country have just taken an electoral beating comparable to that taken by the Republicans in America in 1964 when “Landslide Lyndon” Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater by about three votes to one. I was actively involved in that election campaign, and it was not my first. Like 1964, 2001 doesn’t have to be the end of the world for conservatives. They can even avoid the ups and downs Republicans have experienced since then, if they have the spine and guts for it.
Understand that there are those who tell me they don’t.
You have to start tough and stay tough. Every time the parasites running your country come up with a new scheme just short of (but ever closer to) killing you, cooking you, and eating you, you have to make it cost them something. You don’t oppose intrusions and violations by whimpering, “Ooh, pwease don’t do that to me!”. You have to argue to millions of readers that the possession or use of metal detectors, surveillance cameras, or facial recognition software by any government agency or employee must be a felony punishable by life in prison — although I’d greatly prefer making it a hanging offense, myself.
Naturally, once it’s done its work, conservatives don’t have to go on taking this vile libertarian medicine forever. They’ll be free to go back to mildly advocating mild statism — provided they don’t mind going through the whole damned thing all over again half a century from now. In the meantime, you’ll have enhanced your circulation by the number of those who can’t wait each week to be aghast at the next outrageous thing I’ve written, and I’ll have put my daughter through college. All it’ll cost you is 20 cents a word for a weekly 2000-word column, 52 weeks every year, preferably until the sun burns out.
As to the enemies of liberty, themselves, my policy, when I can’t change the hearts or minds they may not possess, is simply to make their stomachs churn, cost them another night’s sleep, and shorten their life expectancies by ten minutes.
That’s over eight and a half person-hours a year. Enough of that, and we’ll win by default.
I look forward to hearing from you,
L. Neil Smith
Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for Number 130, July 16, 2001
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