The Higgs Boson Article

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

A very short piece by Robert Higgs, recently published on Everything Voluntary, caught my attention in a big way, and you can read it here. The key sentence therein that caught my eye was this: Except for a tiny minority, avowals of the love of liberty are little more than hot air. Given a choice, people choose something else.”

To bolster his case, Higgs points out that it is material prosperity – not predominantly the prospect of individual freedom – that fuels migration to the “freer” societies. One might argue that prosperity of necessity goes hand in hand with freedom, and while this remains true in an overarching sense, one need only look at places like Nazi Germany or modern-day China to see examples of relatively well-heeled despotisms. Were or are these magnets for migrants? If not, it is only because better options were/are available; i.e., societies of greater bounty still, perhaps with better or looser immigration policies in the bargain.

In short, if Higgs's observations are correct – and I see nothing which seriously refutes them – it means that other than a remnant, people don't want freedom inasmuch as they want “free” things. They don't want liberty as much as they want security.

And if these are the conditions under which libertarians labor, where does this leave us, realistically? Hardcore libertarian economic and social theory has been with us now since roughly 1850 or so – both in Europe and North America. The Internet has been here a quarter century, as well. And still, statism runs rampant, people by and large seem to resist libertarian thinking with all of their tenacity, and every effort extended to try educating the uninitiated meets with all the stubborn and headstrong resistance that the human mind can bring to muster. In short, things are going next to nowhere – except in a downward statist spiral. People, indeed, are choosing something – almost anything – other than freedom.

Thus the question stands: What do we, the remnant, do? Forget (at least for the moment) all of our highflown aspirations of some future day where 90% or better of the human race accepts our ideas. Let's suppose that never happens. What then?

In a previous column, I talked about the prospect of a voluntary society not arising in our lifetimes. But what if Higgs describes a permanent condition? What if most people, now and forevermore, truly prefer handouts and the illusion of “protection” over actual freedom? What if, in the words of H.L. Mencken, "The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.”?

The rest of us have few options, in this case. We are vastly outnumbered and surrounded by those whose value systems and ultimate life goals are at sharp, often diametrical odds with our own. We cannot even simply migrate West, into the wilderness, as could those here in North America in a previous age. To paraphrase the late Ronald Reagan (no friend of liberty himself, in spite of much nomenclature and pretension), there is literally nowhere left to run.

We can continue to not vote or register. We can use cryptocurrency, numismatic metals, and barter in the agora. We can prep. And we can continue (for now, anyway) to talk about and spread the ideas of voluntarism – with the caveat that only very few will ever listen, fewer still will actually change their way of thinking, and we will all continue to be islands in a state-infested world.

In the end, it is quite possible – even likely, perhaps – that human beings are simple pragmatists rather than idealists. They gravitate towards whatever affords them the most comfort for the least effort, and leave things at that. They're really not too concerned about principled abstractions that don't immediately equal some short-term gain. And they can't be bothered, for the most part, to expend what little intellectual energy they possess to begin with, contemplating the niceties of true freedom.

I suggest we try to find what semblance of liberty we can amongst each other (and of course there is still much discord among even those who express sympathies towards voluntaryism!): Transacting business, sharing camaraderie, forming relationships, living life. It is a hostile world out there for ideas about freedom – and may well always be so.

Find your own little Higgs boson bubble, and make the most of it.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.


D. Saul Weiner's picture

Reading this, I am left with the question "can mankind undergo the kind of awakening that would allow for the wholesale liberalization of society?"

I think that is what it would take for people to turn their backs on statism, en masse. I pose it as a question, because I don't know if it can happen, but I wouldn't rule it out either.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Let's just say that, perhaps not unlike yourself, I'm highly agnostic about the prospects.  Time will tell.

Jim Davies's picture

Just in case there are any here who still subscribe to STR's raison d'etre ("The mission of STR is to advance the cause of liberty") I'll remind readers that TOLFA remains the only necessary and sufficient way to cause a free and voluntary society to come about.

Samarami's picture
    "...And if these are the conditions under which libertarians labor, where does this leave us, realistically?..."

Free. If that's your choice.

Frustrated -- urgently expending energy and angst attempting to change all them "...out thar in radio-land" -- if it's not your choice.

You choose. You live the benefits. Nobody can give that to you. Nobody can take it away.


Alex R. Knight III's picture

Hi Sam!  I understand what you mean, at least in terms of mindset, but physically, how are we to "live the benefits" given the realities of State aggression?

Samarami's picture

You and I have had the unique opportunity of hearing that same lament. Only in those days, it was "...given the realities that sobriety sucks!..."

Not a lot I can do about "...state aggression..." (although, I have changed my mindset to never state it that way. "States" don't exist. People do. And it's people who "aggress"). I look at that phenomenon with an eye towards the basic economic principle we all know: supply vs demand. As long as there is a demand for "state", there will be a supply. An eager supply, sad to say. And that's why you and I and Mark and Jim and countless others write. And Jim has even created an exhaustive "program" to attempt to interfere with that demand. I salute him for that effort.

We'd all like to lower the demand for "state", if at all possible.

And, I think that's being done. Slowly, of course, but surely -- and in my lifetime. For example, the "Ron Paul" movement. I wasn't a fan, and I certainly didn't register with the white man and "vote". I even had to disallow my kids from erecting political "Ron Paul" signs on my property. However; many, many quite young and educated men and women were shoved in our direction. The question I had to ask and continue to ponder: how can I help "move them over" from statism to anarchy. Quietly. Without creating disunion. Not to scare them away before they get their feet wet.

Few of us were born with anarchist spoons in our mouths.

Meanwhile, I must be free. I'm 82. I don't have a lot of time left to lament and worry about how that's going to come about. I've gotta live free. Today. And sustain my sanity while the world appears to be going crazy around me.

I have fun treating "authority" in the same manner that I treat rattlesnakes -- gingerly, but not fearfully. They really just want me to treat them as I'd like them to treat me (just leave me alone, please). Of course, I'm old, tough and difficult to chew. It was different in 1977 -- last time I submitted a confession ("...filed a return...") to them mean snakes. But nowadays it's been many years since threatening "form letters" of intimidation have come in the government mailbox.

Lots to think about, and I'm glad to see you keep on keepin' on with your essays and your comments. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

Sam, first of all you went AWOL last year, and I never asked what happened. You fell ill, perhaps? You seem to have recovered, yes?  What was the story, if you'd care to tell it?
Then, I wonder if you'd like to engage in a thought experiment. Imagine that you are an antebellum slave. No doubt about it: you have no choice, but to do what Massa says, for it's that or a whipping. Escape is not an option, for those pious anti-slavery Northerners will catch and send you right back.
So in real reality, you are truly not free. Agreed so far?
Then you hear a visitor (named Rummy Bardroth, perhaps) speak about liberty, as a result of which you come to a Damascus Road epiphany: you realize that by your natural human right, you truly are free and self-owning, and that all those who deny you freedom in practice are usurpers and liars. This discovery has enormous good effect on your self-respect and -esteem, and makes you almost a happy man. You still have to say Yes Massa, but now you can do it with tongue in cheek, treating him like "rattlesnakes -- gingerly, but not fearfully." I don't wish to belittle at all the radical change this realization brings about in you.
But are you really free in practice? Of course you are not. To claim that is ridiculous and confusing. Agreed?

Samarami's picture
    "...To claim that is ridiculous and confusing. Agreed?..."

Absolutely not.

Why agree to a "ridiculous and confoozing need" to change others in order for me to become "free"??? How you process "freedom" in your own life is your responsibility. I suggest a reread of this:

And perhaps even this:

I was hospitalized as the result of an accident for 3rd degree frostbite and hypothermia last year and had to make some temporary changes in living situation. Upon return decided to scuttle internet connection -- for a number of sound reasons (sound to me). Of course I abandoned television nearly 50 years ago, and have been car-free for nearly 10 years now -- reasons of which might not appear sound to others, but I am a free (yes, free) individual.

So, now use government ("public" ha ha) library compooter for web connection, and my "allotted time" is running low or I might have additional comments to your assessment of my "freedom".

Sorry for the absence (without leave???). Sam

Jim Davies's picture

Glad anyway, Sam, to see you back; and thanks for sharing the story of your misfortune. I was kidding, of course, about the necessity of "leave", and hope the time remaining to your life is long.
Since you don't agree to something which is objectively obvious (that a slave, however free he feels and rightly should be, is absolutely not free) I fear there's nothing I can do to persuade you. In this respect, you are beyond the reach of reason.

Samarami's picture
    " are beyond the reach of reason..."

Times like this, Jim, I'm grateful for my "belly-button theory".


mishochu's picture

May I take a stab at that Alex?

I hide, and I hide well. It doesn't hurt to have more than your standard issue blue passport (pitting two, three, or more states against each other is handy when they come calling to claim ownership of some part or all of you). I didn't do this on purpose, I was an immigrant from an early age.

I endeavor to earn nothing, as far as the world knows. I'm gainfully unemployed. Decentralization makes it possible.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Hi mishochu!  Well, understand that not only are you in a fairly limited group of people who have or can reasonably obtain that flexibility, but your ability to stay obscure and avoid direct taxes on your earnings still only gains you some greater freedom from states.  There are still plenty of other taxes you're subjected to -- including, of course, the artificially elevated costs of everything from soup to nuts as a result of governmental intervention (regulations, corporate taxation, inflation, etc.).  
Then comes your physicality.  You are still not shielded from the potential actions of the police wherever you may happen to be -- whether at a governmental checkpoint (border, airport), or just out and about living life.
Only total abolition can deliver actual freedom.  Mindset, extra passports, cryptocurrency, etc. all help -- but they are not final answers, unfortunately.

mishochu's picture

True. I just can't wait for everyone else to catch up and start believing what I know to be true, I have time preference for living as free as possible, right now (even "where I'm `at`").

I wish those willing and able to do the proper convincing much luck.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

I certainly don't disagree with you.  But you see the basis for my (and Higgs's) skepticism.

Samarami's picture

Thanks, mishochu, for the clear and unarguable stance. It is indeed difficult for some (particularly of "manager and controller" bent) to not naysay your and my claims to " free as possible..."

Once, while using the rattlesnake analogy (pertaining to armed statists), I stated: "...but I am not free to walk barefefoot in the woods...". A friend, once a regular reader and commenter at STR, responded: "...but you ARE free to walk barefoot in the woods..." (another naysayer, I'm 'feard). He was merely pointing up the sad situation that, even with what seem to be iron-clad anarchists on the surface, there often appears a vestige of that "dangerous superstition" referred to by our friend, Larken Rose. Sam

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Another piece in this vein just published by Dr. Robert Higgs:

Samarami's picture

Thanks, Alex, for the contribution of your thoughts in this essay. It's easy to lose sight of the freedom each of us "rugged individualists" (thanks, Ludwig von Mises) at STR have achieved -- naysayers be damned. Not a whole lot most of us can do for the superstition that besets almost all of our neighbors and friends -- even family members -- that often seems to keep the beast at our doorsteps.

Was recently reading an old (1972) von Mises piece:

    "What restricts the individual’s freedom
    is not other people’s violence or threat of violence,
    but the physiological structure of his body
    and the inescapable nature-given scarcity
    of the factors of production.
    It is obvious that man’s discretion to shape his fate
    can never trespass the limits drawn
    by what are called the laws of nature.

    "To establish these facts does not amount to a justification
    of the individual’s freedom from the point of view
    of any absolute standards or metaphysical notions.
    It does not express any judgment
    on the fashionable doctrines of the advocates
    of totalitarianism, whether “right” or “left.”
    It does not deal with their assertion that the masses
    are too stupid and ignorant to know what would serve best
    their “true” needs and interests and need of a guardian,
    the government, lest they hurt themselves.
    Neither does it enter into a scrutiny of the statements
    that there are supermen available for the office of such guardianship".

~Ludwig von Mises, 1972, “The Anticapitalistic Mentality” (pdf file)

Von Mises was perhaps not "anarchist" as most of us today view anarchy; but he was definitely not "statist". He opened the door to much, much liberty and freedom of thought.

One of the things my absence from internet service at home has accomplished in my months of rehab has been my review of hundreds -- yea, thousands -- of files, comments, and entire books I had downloaded over a period of years; and never taken the time to peruse thoroughly. This was merely one of many I've taken this opportunity to study in depth. Seems every day for years I would paste and copy into "word" and "pdf" files essays and books and threads of comments to essays; always with the intention of coming back and reading more comprehensively. Then, dozens of downloads later, would forget I had even put them into "read later" files and folders.

Included are also many old essays by my would-be (but jocular, for the most part) antagonist and friend, Mr. Davies.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

Hi again, Sam -- thanks for your thanks.  :-)  
I have that LVM book here at home in hard copy.  I need to re-read it sometime soon.

Jim Davies's picture

Robert Higgs' well-crafted article in EVC is so blatantly false that I suspect he wrote it so as to shake libertarians awake, to stimulate rebuttals. If so, he will have been sorely disappointed by the pathetic response above, here on "Strike the Root."

Today I tried to repair the damage in the Zero Government Blog, subtitled Half Full. Santé!

D. Saul Weiner's picture

"How can any one possibly know whether he "wants to live in a free society" until he has some fair understanding of what a free society will be like? Robert Higgs's assertion may be quite true, but nobody can "want" something until he knows that it exists, or could exist, and roughly what it's like." 

That really is the question now, isn't it? In my own work, I try to stimulate the "demand for freedom" by highlighting ways in which our medical system is so inferior to what we could reasonably expect it to be in a free society. Yet I find that there is a lot of complacency on this topic. People have an attachment to our system which does not seem warranted to me. Now I may not be the world's best salesman or promoter (scratch that, I most emphatically am not). But nonetheless this is most assuredly a tough nut to crack.

Jim Davies's picture

Excellent, Saul, and because they come from you, an "expert", the suggestions about health care in a free society will carry all the more weight. Then, it's cumulative. A ZGS would deliver better A, better B, better C and so on; and when they see them all add up they begin to ask Yes, maybe, but how could we possibly get all this?
The answer is ready.

Samarami's picture

Fully agree, Saul. State has been inculcated almost virtually into the very air we breathe from time immemorial. Nobody -- even those who lived in the place they began calling "the usa" over 200 years ago -- has been capable of shaking "state" from his or her thinking. Not for long, they haven't.

It's everywhere. Always has been. Or, has been for a long, long time -- well before my time. "Them good ole' days" were a mirage.

One might lament, "...well, if 'the citizenry' had rejected government ('public' ha ha) schooling a hundred or so years ago, 'we' might be free of 'state-ingrained homeostasis' (my new medical term) today!"

Not so, I'm 'feared. One of the first articles I read by my friend, Mark Davis, right here at STR, helped me "over the hump" many years ago. In it, Mark first stated a truth that should have been self-evident. But I had to hear it from him, here at STR:

    "...I suggest that if an individual really wants to be free then they should begin to act free themselves; that is, choose to be free..."

Simple stuff. But powerful. And in the same essay Mark showed me the real reason I had abstained from voting in political elections since 1964:

    "...Working within the system means to become a part of the system. When you go into the voting booth, the only meaningful significance that your action will have is to show that one more person supports the state..."

I knew in 1964 I did not want to be involved in "the-political-process" any more. But it took Karl Hess, Harry Browne, and a number of others' books and articles to open my eyes as to why.

It seems Mark's essay tilted the glass for me, even though I had been an anarchist "...waiting to happen..." for years.

So, keep up the good work. Just because I may not totally agree (yet) with everything you, or Mark, or Jim, or Alex, or mishochu -- or the many, many who seem not to be contributing essays here any more -- does not mean your work is not effective. It merely means the fire has yet to be ignited.

A remnant is awaiting your message. Sam

Mark Davis's picture

"Find your own little Higgs boson bubble, and make the most of it."
Exactly, Alex. It is extremely difficult to remain hopeful that others will seek liberty, much less enlightenment, when so many repeatedly choose security, and willful ignorance, instead. However, liberty will survive and flourish when the existing state system collapses of its own weight and the parasites die along with the host. The remnant survives because of the individuals that retain self-sufficiency, self-responsibility, a sense of family, community and brotherhood that comes voluntarily from within, not imposed by far-away authoritarians. So, the key to human survival is liberty-minded individuals networking among themselves and not going down with the ship of state. The greatest difficulty typically arises when the rats realize the ship is sinking and they begin to scavange among remnant resources forcing hard choices and conflicts of conscience as to who to save and who to let drown.