The Duty to End the State

Column by Jim Davies.

Exclusive to STR

Many reading this already understand the Self-ownership Axiom; that we each own our own lives by right, and hence that all government is an unnatural and ruinous appendage. Among those who do, though, surprisingly there is disagreement over what to do about it.

Some hold that resistance by such voluntaryists in the present government-saturated environment must never be more than nonviolent non-cooperation, practicing our principle of non-agression while giving the State no assistance than can be avoided--but otherwise taking no particular action to end its malignant existence. Even among the ”comments” beneath articles, it's not unusual to see posts like ”I have no responsibility to reform society.” And the fact is, those commenters are not incorrect; we don't. Each has only the responsibility to maximize the happiness of his own life--and that responsibility is only to oneself, not to anybody else.

So that hands-off view stems not so much from a perception that that task is not possible – whether expressed in terms of persuading other people against their will, or in those of taking political power from people who have no wish to let it go – but from the view that in any case it ought not to be attempted, for the true voluntaryist is responsible for nobody's conduct except his or her own. There's a confused supposition that pro-active intervention would be inconsistent with the Non-agression Principle even if it could work.

When they read such views even on this website, I reckon statists rub their hands in glee, pop the champagne in celebration, and raise a solemn toast to ”suckers.” They reasonably conclude that they have the ongoing sanction of their victims, even anarchist ones.

The other view, which I hold, is that on the contrary, if government is an obscene, inhuman and ruinous appendage to society, it needs to be ended, and only anarchists are likely to do that, so it's up to us to get to work. I note the name of this website is ”Strike The Root” and suppose that since the root of evil is government, striking it does not mean sitting still and waiting for its agents to strike me. At the very least, if someone chooses not to try, he has no business complaining about what the State may do, to him or anyone else.

So is there a way to reconcile these apparent opposites? How in particular can I justify ”getting to work” as if there were some altruistic ”duty” to the rest of mankind?

Yes there is a way--yet no, there's no such altruistic duty.

A rational system of ethics demands that each person does whatever will best enhance and preserve his own life, for that is his only possession. By the Self-ownership Axiom, he has both the right and (because nobody else has any duty to help him) the obligation to defend himself – though the obligation is to himself alone. There is no valid external authority to decree what is right and wrong. Good is what enhances one's wellbeing (in the long term, obviously) and bad is what damages it. We make choices according to what we judge will make us most happy for the longest time.

That pursuit of happiness runs up against the apparatus of government. You and I gain self-respect and pleasure from making our own choices; government's only function is to prevent us making our own choices, instead to make them for us. Individual sovereignty is incompatible with government and the primary purpose of anyone's life is repeatedly and violently frustrated and denied by government, on a daily basis.

Therefore, in order to fulfill one's rational, self-interested duty to oneself, self-owners must remove those restrictions, and hence do whatever is feasible to abolish the State. That is how the two opposite views above are reconciled. It's a matter of self-defense.

This is, or should be, rather obvious. Someone puts you in shackles, you're not free. Remedy: get the shackles removed. Someone steals half the money you earn, you're not free but 50% enslaved. Remedy: recover the theft, end the slavery. Someone prevents you traveling without interference, you're not free. Remedy: remove his preventive power.

Obvious though it is to me, some appear to have badly misunderstood Harry Browne's excellent book How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World to mean that he believed an “unfree world” is a permanent fixture, and that libertarians need not, cannot and should not do anything about it. On the contrary, it's about just what its title says: living as free as possible for as long as the world remains governed. His views about changing that (to free up the world) can be read in his later book, Why Government Doesn't Work – and deduced from his eight-year double run for US President, for which that book was the platform declaration. I now think he was mistaken to try to free America using politics, but he gave the attempt his utmost effort, and had he succeeded, this question would now be moot. The notion that changing society should not even be attempted is both ludicrous and (because it fails to try to maximize our own happiness) ethically wrong.

That conclusion is underscored by John Pugsley's famous (1995?) open letter to Browne that begged him not to run. It's a passionate reminder that political action is counterproductive and immoral. It contains, however, not a syllable to discourage other actions designed to bring down government, and lists 15 possible ones having that express purpose, though not, as it happens, one like the TOLFA team prepared a decade later. Further, in my opinion, the 15 fell far short of what was needed, as I hope to show in a future STRticle--but to misinterpret his letter to mean that government should just be suffered indefinitely is to dishonor Mr. Pugsley's memory. It's a brilliant polemic not against trying to abolish the state, but just against politics as an alleged way of doing it.

It's also underscored by the example of slavery. Imagine you're a slave, but have figured out that by right, you own yourself – you've understood the Self-ownership Axiom. This realization on its own will bring a large degree of happiness, for instead of supposing yourself permanently downtrodden as some inferior class of human, you'll know that the bad situation you're in is not your natural state. You'll feel better, and hold your head high. You'll have “found freedom in a (very) unfree world.” But the next thing you'll do is to look for a way to escape slavery, to make the self-ownership real.

That was very far from easy, as we know, and the Southern slaves were unable to free themselves. I can see a way in which they might have done, but in the event Lincoln succeeded in (to use Hummel's words) “emancipating slaves, enslaving free men.” We, in our different kind of slavery, must do the job unaided. The process is under way, and the duty – to ourselves alone, to maximize our enjoyment of life--is being fulfilled. Any here who are failing in that duty to themselves are invited to participate and correct the error.

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Jim Davies's picture
Columns on STR: 243

Jim Davies is a retired businessman in New Hampshire who led the development of an on-line school of liberty in 2006, and who wrote A Vision of Liberty" , "Transition to Liberty" and, in 2010, "Denial of Liberty" and "To FREEDOM from Fascism, America!" He started The Zero Government Blog in the same year.
In 2012 Jim launched , to help lead government workers to an honest life.
In 2013 he wrote his fifth book, a concise and rational introduction to the Christian religion called "Which Church (if any)?" and in 2016, an unraveling of the great paradox of "income tax law" with "How Government Silenced Irwin Schiff."


Dylan Delikta's picture

It seems to me that a good amount of "bigger" libertarians in the 70's and/or 80's relied on using political power to make the changes we want to see in the world. While it may be an okay method of education, it seems to not work as well because it teaches, albeit unconsciously, reliance in the state to protect liberty. I know you know this already, but it still sucks that they did. I mean, one could even throw out the moral view on non-political stances and still reach a non-political stance, but it seems like a good amount of libertarians ignored or down-played the argument.

Moral of the story: we need more SEK3, Thoreau, et. al., in our lives

Paul's picture

"When they read such views even on this website, I reckon statists rub their hands in glee, pop the champagne in celebration, and raise a solemn toast to 'suckers.' "

I suspect they celebrate at your articles, not at mine. I will explain in a coming article.

"At the very least, if someone chooses not to try, he has no business complaining about what the State may do, to him or anyone else."

Funny, I got this very same carping over my supposed "do nothing" behavior from people urging me to vote for Romney in the election. Of course the problem was, as here, not that I was doing nothing, but that I was doing other than what they thought was the proper course. They knew better than I, what was good for me.

"Therefore, in order to fulfill one's rational, self-interested duty to oneself, self-owners must remove those restrictions, and hence do whatever is feasible to abolish the State."

Your "hence" does not follow. The correct "hence" is, "hence do whatever is feasible to personally escape the state's oppression and control", an entirely different thing.

"I now think he was mistaken to try to free America using politics, but he gave the attempt his utmost effort, and had he succeeded, this question would now be moot."

Well, nothing would have changed, fundamentally. We would have been faced with the exact same questions, ultimately. Libertarians in office are not the answer.

"But the next thing you'll do is to look for a way to escape slavery, to make the self-ownership real."

I have no argument with this. I argue with your selection of means for that end, which I think is counterproductive; and with your insistence that even people who want government for themselves may not have it. The only way this can happen is by violently imposing your will on them.

Glock27's picture

First paragraph: self-ownership--government is unnatural. True but it is an organism, a parasitic organism. It has no brain other than to coordinate its appendages to gather in its food source. It collaborates with other organisms like the U.N. and others to build and develop a relationship to put a certain class of people on the top rung. I would not be supprised that showers will be awaiting us soon since the U.N. wants a goal of reducing the world population by 80% to 90%. Only one way that will be achieved and it's not wars.

Second paragraph: ignore. It doesn’t play any part regarding the organism that creates its pogroms.

Paragraph 3: Since the government is an organism and has no human traits, characteristics or qualities the idea of aggression against it in some form should not impinge upon the sacrosanct do no harm policy of Natural Rights or Natural Laws. If it is not human then these rules should not apply.

Paragraph 4: What statist is going to give this site a look see? That was a fun statement.

Paragraph 5: Totally agree. The problem is how to do it. Should sabotage be legitimate since it is an organism and any acquirements it may have garnered are illegal then it should be right of seizure. Hm-m-m. The biggest problem is that there are real human beings (zombies) like maybe Darlics would be more accurate, that are engaged in various operations of keeping the organism intact, so an aggression principle could not apply to them. How to get around this? Hm-m-m-m.

Paragraph 6: Just a bunch of questions with a conclusion that is not concludable. Is this a valid statement?

Paragraph 7: Don't like the answer to that. Only one statement can be true or one false. Which is it?

Paragraph 8: I like this one because it seems to be trying to find a way to resolve the right to re-obtain what was originally stolen by the organism. Individually it is workable but collectively seems as if it would lead to problems. Does the organism honestly have the right to take the possessions of the people and do the people have a right to defend themselves against the organism just as you would from a robber. While in your home and at 1:00 a.m. shattering glass awakens you and you snatch up your .357 and shine a flashlight on two guys carrying out your 72 inch plasma T.V. you bought yesterday and paid $150 to have installed do you or do you not have a right to shoot them to death to retain your property. Under the man law of many states now this is an axiom. Yep! You can pull the trigger. But the Moral and Ethical dilemma is should you. What if they say "We just want your T.V. man. We aren't here to hurt you, just get you’re T.V. and maybe your lap top there." Morally and ethically under any system you have no absolute right to shoot them dead. If you cannot shoot them then how do you stop them because if you move to restrain them a fight will more than likely ensue. How does this apply to the organism? You can't shoot it (well you could try), your can't restrain them (Ha! Good luck on that one.

Paragraph 9: I disagree. I believe the organism makes decisions based on its own self-ownership and it’s of self-interest, what is best for it f**k the subjects. Overall this is still a very agreeable statement carrying an implicit idea
and it is interesting to apply self-ownership and best interest to an organism like the government.

Paragraph 10: OMG yes. I have been saying this. “Self-defense”. I whole heartedly agree with this by popping bottles of moonshine and drinking Hail Mary. God Remove the King.

Paragraph 11: Here’s the Hydra of the organism “Remedy” It’s all stated too simplistically like we can go out and just remove the shackles and go our merry way. That aint gonna happen and that is exactly what many people all over the world are trying to do but to achieve this they need to be armed and when the organism is using all its tentacles to remove any form of firearm from the citizens the next step is pure, unadulterated, one-hundred percent proof tyranny. You will be 100% useless regardless how much you want to shout self-ownership, natural rights and natural law. See the U.N. with Global Gun Control, Agenda 21, and another one which I don’t understand yet deals with the disabled (there is some tricky stuff hidden inside this innocent help the crippled ruse).
Most remedies involve aggression and all too many attempts to remove a current organism winds up being another organism only much worse. Castros Cuba e.g.

Paragraph 11, 12 and 13: Not much to say here but rather substantive supportive material for the preceding propositions, and that TOLFA is the only way to success. There may be some truth to this but it will take a massive army of willing and able minded individuals to make the necessary dent being called for but for the total extermination of the Organism still appears impossible. It’s like the Alien, she’ll just keep cranking out the eggs till the organism becomes established again. How do you defeat an organism of this nature. I believe science has shown an answer by infecting it with a virus. To change the organism will require viruses to be implanted at every election and for some to get over the impossibility of voting to get the virus implanted. This is the exact same method that has been used on this Constitutional Organism. Pugsley says don’t work around them vote with your feet, run away (Coward). My suggestion here is not working around them it’s working to infect them to kill the organism from the inside with the disease of freedom. From my point-of-view this is the only real remedy. and I have only one supporter--me! Standing on the outside yakity yakking aint makin a dent. See what has been brought forth. I shan’t tromp through Pugsley’s swamp.

Paragraph 14 and 15: This is the central core. What will it take to make your self-ownership real and not illusory? Daily the organism continues to suck up the very life out of everyone whom proclaims self-ownership. Criminals, cheats, liars, anti-Americans, fascist Muslims are placed in positions in the White House to solidify the foundation for the complete enslavement of American Citizens. Jim is not even half wrong in the idea of building an army of illuminated Americans. To do so is developing the self-defense shield, the iron dome. I believe, regardless of any differences that may exist, that his proposal is one step. I also deeply believe the organism must be infected from the inside or nothing is ever going to be different. Ron Paul seems to be one of the first viruses to get implanted but the Organism is far to great for one lone virus that can't replicate to be effective. Rand Paul, whom I believe to be a RINO, seems to be wrecking havoc, but even a single RINO virus is not quiet enough to get the job done. I think many anarchists, voluntaryists, libertarians and other -isms need to do some reconsidering.

I've said enough and as Suverans2 would say. What a waste of space. lol.

mhstahl's picture

"Paragraph 4: What statist is going to give this site a look see? That was a fun statement."

I tend to agree.

That said, the government does spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on anything that appears "radical", and trolling for those stupid enough to be ensnared in a sting operation through the use of undercover agents or informants. In the militia movement they used to say that you could always tell the fed-they always wanted to blow something up...

mhstahl's picture


Would you mind defining "self" in a way that the term "ownership" is meaningful that does not refer to a supernatural entity?

You seem to be suggesting that human beings consist of something more than a handful of chemicals running on heat and electricity. What, exactly? I really wonder how that entity-for which there is no-and never can be any-physical evidence at all-is any more definable than "God"*?

I ask because I recall one your proofs that "god" does not and cannot exist was that it is not definable.



*I actually think that most religions define their "gods"  far better than I've ever seen anyone define "self" in the context of ownership.

Jim Davies's picture

Hi there Mike. Your question is tough, and perhaps others have a better answer, but I'll try.
Along with everyone else, you've not yet defined "god" and so it seems you concur that he/she/it is no more than a theoretical construct. I've pointed out that the entity is not detectable by any of the senses we have - touch, hearing, smell, taste or sight. Additionally, nobody has shown irrefutable proof by reason, that any such entity must exist. Accordingly, by every means of detection we have, he/she/it does not.
So reference to that entity merely muddies the waters. The "self" on the other hand refers to everything that I (and you and everyone else) am and consist of; all those genes and chemicals and electric pulses which by the amazing wonder of evolution have developed out of the primordial soup. Ultimately all is physical, and so far not all of it is explained; for example, precisely what the difference is between a person just before and just after the moment of death at present eludes me. Am I greater than the sum of my parts? - yes, perhaps. Those pulses enable me to reason, and imagine, and be creative sometimes. All that is part of the me, the self; and everyone else likewise.
But mark this, Mike, all of that can be detected by observers like you (except such actions and thoughts as I elect to keep private, and government is even trying to winkle its nose into those...) I can be seen, heard, touched (by permission), tasted (likewise) and, I suppose, occasionally smelled. At least by dogs. And I hope very much that sometimes the results of my reasoning are worth attention. I am not imaginary, I am real; and every particle and attribute that makes up "me' is something properly and by right under my control, not under that of anyone else. I am a self-owning entity, and so are you.
For now, in five minutes, that's the best I can do for self-ownership. Someone else have a go!

Suverans2's picture

I'm not Jim, but I will attempt to answer your question.

Self means the total being, i.e. body, mind and spirit (life); self-ownership, therefor, means that I own my body, mind and spirit (life), and the production thereof, unless, of course, I either consent[1], or acquiesce for it to be otherwise.

[1] Forfeiture, in my opinion, is a form of consent.