Remember, Remember This Fifth of November

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November 5, 2007

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Every person knows what is wrong with the world and what would make things right. This knowledge is buried deep within us and usually stays hidden because it is painfully at odds with the world as we find it.

Yet the knowledge is there, born anew within every child. Occasionally we see this truth in action, as when someone takes a stand in favor of freedom and compassion even at great risk or cost. Examples include those who helped save Jews and others from the Nazi death camps, those who protected victims during the Turkish genocide against Armenians, monks and others who oppose the current regime in Myanmar, the Americans who rebelled against British tyranny, Americans who participated in the Underground Railroad (including jury members who refused to convict fellow citizens for the "crime" of aiding an escaped slave), and millions more.

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Today, November 5th, is the anniversary of a famous event: the foiling of the "gunpowder plot" to blow up Parliament in England . The movie V for Vendetta is based (via a graphic novel by Alan Moore) on a fictional character in the near future who attempts to start a revolution against the British police state by announcing a plan to blow up Parliament in a year's time (on November fifth), and then doing so. You can watch V's stirring speech to the British people (he has hacked into the broadcast media) on his plans here.

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Planning to blow up Parliament did not work well for Guy Fawkes in 1605. He was caught just before setting off his bomb beneath Parliament and then tortured at length and finally executed. His co-conspirators were caught and executed as well.

Even had Fawkes succeeded, the result would have been the deaths of perhaps hundreds in the Parliament building and the resumption of British tyranny under new leadership. Killing or driving out a tyrant almost never results in anything one could call "freedom," but instead sparks an often-bloody power struggle as varying factions fight for control of the coercive State apparatus. Partial exceptions -- where tyranny was decisively reduced even though coercive State power was retained -- include the United States after the American Revolution and the more complex and lengthy Swiss history of revolution culminating in their 1848 Constitution. Even those successes are fading, unfortunately, as the two nations suffer under ever-more-intrusive governments.

For every such (temporary) success, there are hundreds of failures where one tyrant is overthrown only to be replaced immediately by a new one. Violent revolution has an extremely poor record, and is more likely to harm the cause of love and freedom than to help.

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Yet something must be done to advance the cause of love and freedom -- something with a real chance of success, and of at least partial success in the near term. The exponential growth of technological power, combined with our traditional plagues of widespread emotional damage and systematic use of coercion by the State, could lead to conditions of greatly enhanced tyranny (or something worse, including extinction) that cannot be undone. I believe such danger is more a likelihood than a minor possibility.

If you think tyranny is difficult to overcome now, just wait until it is further enabled by the technology of 2015 or 2025, or beyond.

For most of my life I have been pessimistic about the chances for a healthier and freer world. The positive forces pushing things in the right direction have always been met by even stronger resistance in the other direction; the nascent spirit of freedom in the American colonies was opposed and corrupted by the drive for power and of Power's willingness to inflict suffering for gain (slavery in the South and genocide against the Indians, for examples). The pro-power faction in early America was able to replace the Articles of Confederation--which had created a central government so weak it lacked even the power to tax--with the Constitution and its far stronger and more intrusive federal government. Nearly all of America 's current problems stem from that single mistake.

After growing in fits and starts, the federal government came into its own as a coercive power in the 20th Century. An income tax and a central bank were created in 1913, and the U.S. government began growing into the elephantine corporatist-socialist-militarist tyranny we have today. Americans are less free every year than they were the year before. This advance of tyranny in the United States has accelerated dramatically since the attacks of 9/11/2001, and the Bush administration, aided and abetted by the Democrats in Congress, has put in place a "legal" yet unconstitutional framework for martial law, secret courts, suspension of habeas corpus, wiretapping and other violations of the Fourth Amendment without due process, a gulag of seldom-mentioned detention camps (to be used for what, one might ask -- although the major media never has), and other assaults on the freedom and safety of American citizens.

So yes: something must be done to begin turning the tide back in the direction of love and freedom. But what?

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The tiny freedom movement in this country (the Libertarian Party's Badnarik campaign for president in 2004 raised and spent just over $1 million and received 397,265 popular votes (0.34%), yet no other pro-freedom organization is anywhere near the LP's size) is nearly invisible against the high-powered, massively-funded, and well-entrenched opposition. That opposition includes not only the two old power parties but also the military-industrial complex, the corporatist elite, the teachers and college professors who are not only paid by the State but loyal to it and who inculcate that worldview in students, the millions of researchers and scientists paid by government grants or working in government labs, the owners and many of the writers and talkers of the mainstream media, and -- well, millions of other people, right down to your aunt Maggie who wonders why the federal government isn't doing more about health care and every other problem in the world.

Americans who understand and want real freedom -- voluntaryists who want freedom from coercion generally, including freedom from the State -- are so small in number, it appears, as to make even the Libertarian Party seem monolithic.

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Despite that, millions of people are interested in freedom -- or at least, in more freedom than we have now. These people are seldom "joiners," however, and getting them together is famously difficult. Creating a large working group of libertarians (or use whatever term you prefer) is often likened to herding cats.

Most of those interested in freedom have a different understanding of freedom than did, say, Thoreau -- who felt "That government is best which governs least" was too weak a sentiment, preferring "That government is best which governs not at all."

Still, one has to start somewhere. People walk before they can run, they learn to add before mastering calculus, and they begin to question authority and tyranny in limited areas before understanding that systematic coercion is always evil and counter-productive to the real needs of a healthy society. Abolitionists and voluntaryists can welcome newbies to the freedom movement or we can oppose them on grounds of their imperfect understanding of the concept. Which do you suppose will be more productive?

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I mentioned above that I have been generally pessimistic about our chances. In the last few months, however, my spirits have been lifted substantially by America 's response to the Ron Paul presidential campaign. No, I am not abandoning my abolitionist ideals and no, I am not thrilled with Paul's every position -- his support for the horrendous border fence is especially annoying despite Paul being clear that he only supports it because our welfare state attracts millions for the wrong reason (Paul is a Congressman in a border state, after all). Ending the welfare state, which Paul wants to do, and in particular ending it immediately for illegal aliens, would end the need for such a fence. Still, I hate the idea of a fence at the border, or even checkpoints.

Despite such details, the Paul campaign is a huge breath of fresh air. Paul plans to end the IRS , the Federal Reserve, and many other federal agencies and programs; he would bring troops home from not only Iraq but from our military bases around the world (and concentrate on an actual defense for this country, not the maintenance of an empire). Until the Paul campaign, one never even heard about such things in the mainstream media. I appreciate movement in the right direction, which is exactly what the Paul campaign is giving us. I appreciate it all the more since it is (maybe) coming in the nick of time. That may be too optimistic, but then again, perhaps not. Time will tell.

An example of why I find Paul's campaign so positive: You may have noticed that today's date is hotlinked at the top of this column; the link is to This November Fifth, a grassroots effort to generate "the largest one day political donation event in history" for the Ron Paul campaign. I expect the group will succeed at that, although they may fall short of their $10 million numeric goal. Either way, the group will have created both a solid influx of cash for Paul's campaign and a newsworthy event that will get coverage on the internet and, almost certainly, in the major media (however reluctantly). Paul raised just over $5 million in the last quarter, a number that put him well above the lower ranks and which generated massive publicity for the campaign, including interviews on the major networks.

Spontaneous action by unpaid volunteers is the hallmark of the Paul campaign -- which is another way of saying that genuine support of his campaign by real people is far larger than the phony polls would suggest. There are literally thousands of volunteer, self-directed efforts in support of Dr. Paul already, and things are just getting started. People are creating videos and signs, writing songs, designing and printing up campaign material, designing and running websites, paying for billboards, joining Meetup groups, and doing hundreds of other things that an "official" campaign would never have time or money for -- or might never think of, for that matter. In many cases, the amateur materials are more appealing than the official campaign ads. Paul's campaign is already third in the GOP in cash on hand (when you subtract the debts of other campaigns) but his massive volunteer force puts him dramatically ahead in many ways -- even Mitt Romney's personal millions cannot buy the level of visible support Paul is getting.

This is the decentralized, emergent power of free human action at work: while the pro-corporatist, pro-war, pro-torture, pro-IRS, pro-Federal Reserve, tyrant wannabe candidates struggle to generate citizen interest, the one candidate who actually supports the ideals of the American Revolution -- who not only says so but who has a long record to back that up -- is enjoying so much volunteer support that it dwarfs his official campaign. And Paul repeatedly points out that it is the message of freedom people are responding to, not him personally. Unlike most politicians, he is personally humble yet confident and sure of his message.

The Ron Paul campaign website is http://ronpaul2008.com. Paul's new book A Foreign Policy of Freedom is already a bestseller at Amazon. Before you dismiss Paul for being a minarchist instead of an anarchist, consider the benefits of a largely unscripted, decentralized, spontaneous and volunteer campaign that is bringing together millions of Americans for the cause of freedom -- and exposing many millions more to the idea of freedom for the first time in their lives.

The ancient Chinese saying "May you live in interesting times" is meant as a curse. Sometimes, however, "interesting" can be positive. We are living through just such a time and I encourage you to make the most of it.

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Glen Allport's picture
Columns on STR: 105

Glen Allport co-authored The User's Guide to OS/2 from Compute! Books and is the author of The Paradise Paradigm: On Creating a World of Compassion, Freedom, and Prosperity.