The Political Doctrine of Primus Inter Pares

Column by tzo.
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I am going to comment here on a particular speech that Tom Woods gave in Los Angeles this past May. Mr. Woods has recently written a book about State nullification, which is a tactic he proposes as a response to Federal Government Gone Wild. I have not read the book or extensively studied all of Mr. Woods’ propositions, and so my critique is of this speech only, but it seems that the philosophical underpinnings of his interpretation of proper Constitutional Minarchy are laid out here.
A broad-brush summary is that Mr. Woods advocates increased State power, increased State independence, and reduced Federal power. He believes that multiple, distributed power centers tend to counter the inevitable tyranny that results from centralizing too much power in one location.
It does not seem that he has any illusions that State governments are somehow more angelic than Federal governments, but in a practical sense, he contends that it is better that there be a greater number of smaller power centers that cannot overstep their bounds without having to deal with another nearby competing power center.
In other words, don’t concentrate all the insane sociopaths (a term he uses) in one spot—spread them out and make them worry about each other. Put them to good use for all the respectable, non-sociopathic members of society—keep them busy by setting them one against another.
And so in his view, Constitutional Minarchy’s distilled essence may be formulated as: The science of determining the proper arrangement of armed and empowered sociopathic organizations.
And make no mistake: Mr. Woods acknowledges that he understands full well the nature of the typical politician. Consider his words from [27:07–27:24] of the video:
The States are run by insane sociopaths half the time, too. (applause) Which is precisely why I favor nullification because at least we can put them to some good use. Have them do something for us.
There’s that old dogmatic insistence on the necessity of arming and empowering the sociopaths in order to create a just government. *sigh*
I do not disagree with Mr. Woods in that if the world must be full of governments, then a greater number of weaker ones is better. But from where we are currently standing, there is no way to split up the large power center into smaller ones via the political process other than through force, which is at the bottom of what Mr. Woods is proposing.
It's not enough to say "Well gee, you know, it would be nice if they would listen to the Constitution, then the government would be more limited." Yes, it would be nice. A lot of things would be nice. But power has to counteract power. You can't expect the 10th Amendment to enforce itself. The States have to assert themselves—that's the idea behind State nullification.
Mr. Woods wants to be pragmatic. He believes in the inevitability of government, and he believes that government at the State level is the optimal way to arrange the required bevy of armed sociopaths. Since we currently do not have our sociopaths correctly distributed, his suggestion is to sic the smaller dogs on the one big junkyard dog so they can all regain control over their own respective fire hydrants.
But consider the method: Enforce. Assert. There was a little scuffle a while back in 1861 in which not just one, but a number of States “asserted” themselves in an attempt to “enforce” their “State sovereignty” by taking the least violent approach imaginable—they simply walked away and ignored the Feds.
The Feds were not amused. Ink on paper and recitations from the Founding Fathers did not convince the Feds that they should allow their power to be broken up. They had more guns, they won, and Lincoln became the most popular card in the presidential bubblegum deck. There’s your pragmatics in action.
Less dramatic attempts at State nullification have occurred in U.S. history, both prior to and after the war between the States, and the Feds still have their no-hitter intact. Texas recently flirted with some “TSA nullification,” which resulted in Federal threats of a No-Fly Zone over the entire State of Texas if it decided to ignore Federal mandates.
Declaring a No-Fly Zone implies enforcing a No-Fly Zone. They call that war when that happens. Asking a State to ignore the Federal government is like asking a driver to ignore the police car that’s following him with its lights and siren on. Whether the “nullifications” are just or not is irrelevant—the end results will be the same.
To me, being pragmatic means understanding that the government is a gang of thugs who is robbing you. Everyone acknowledges that the allegedly good government is overstepping its bounds and needs to be taken down a peg or ten. Isn’t it rather silly to expect that by waving a piece of paper in the thugs’ faces and informing them that they are breaking the law, they will stop? Do you think they really don’t know, Captain Obvious?
Is it smart to fight back if the gang is armed to the teeth and you are not (and even if you are, in comparison to the horde, you are effectively unarmed)?
Isn’t it pragmatic to realize that these meat-headed parasites cannot support themselves other than by taking your stuff, and if you just avoid interacting with them, they will eventually starve? That every interaction with them gives them strength and that every avoidance diminishes them?
They are built to fight. It is their forte. If you stand up to them, they will win. Then they will take all your stuff when they’re through. Well, the plan didn’t work, but at least we made the enemy stronger for the effort.
I contend that the only successful formula for determining the proper arrangement of x number of armed and empowered sociopathic organizations is to set x equal to zero. But I understand that many people cannot see that this can possibly happen, and so from that particular springboard, fighting fire with fire is a logical, realistic, and reasonable proposition. I will, however, choose to forego endorsing this particular bloody ride, but thanks for asking.
But the Constitutionalist flavor of Minarchy is not satisfied to stand on or argue about pragmatics alone. There is a natural correctness about Constitutional government that raises the discussion bar to higher levels. The Constitution represents the best efforts of the minds of men to organize a society—indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Amen. You may be seated.
Although a great percentage of politicians are, according to Mr. Woods, insane sociopaths, they are part and parcel of the natural order that is represented by the good and just United States Constitutional system. Ignoring this eyebrow-raising detail, he goes right off the rails when he attempts to explain the “logic” of how and why this particular Constitutional republic was constructed, and why it is good. Here he seems to take up the mantle of the intellectual class of government apologist—successor to the religious class of government apologist—and weaves a secular propaganda fairytale for the gullible masses.
The logic of his Constitutional position is put forth from 12:54–14:05 of the video:
In the American system, no government is conceived of as being sovereign. And by sovereign I mean having ultimate decision-making power. We sometimes talk about State sovereignty, but that's just shorthand for "the sovereignty of the Peoples of the States."
No government is sovereign. That's the Old World European model that Americans fled from. It's the Peoples of the States who are sovereign, and in their sovereign capacity, they apportion powers between the State government and the Federal government. And in so doing, they don't give up their sovereignty, they are merely expressing their sovereignty. They retain ultimate decision-making power.
So if the agent that they themselves created—namely the Federal government—should go beyond the powers granted to it by the sovereign Peoples of the States, then the very logic of the system demands that the sovereign Peoples of the States, by virtue of being sovereign, have to have a last-resort mechanism for intervening when their own system perverts its instrument—namely the Constitution.
That's the logic of it.
First off, this is the year 2011, and here is a highly educated person explaining the “logic” of a system in which he fervently believes, and right smack in the middle is the main supporting pillar of the argument, which can only be defined by lapsing into Ye Olde 18th Century Speake? "The Peoples of the States?" My goodness, the red flags are a-flying.
Well, he brought up the word logic, so let's try to apply it here and see where it takes us.
I want to start off by making one point crystal and sparkly clear here. You may believe that Mr. Woods has proclaimed in the aforementioned 71-second transcript that you, the reader, are sovereign. I believe the projection of this feeling of populist power was the intended result behind his carefully crafted words, and the audience eats it up. Hey, it worked for the Declaration of Independence authors, and if it ain’t broke…
“Yeah! We’re in charge here, not the politicians! They have to listen to us! We need to show ‘em who’s boss! Constitution—Woooooooooo!”
They believe he is saying that they all are sovereign individuals, but they are absolutely, 100% wrong in that assumption. He is stating quite clearly and definitively that they are most certainly NOT sovereign individuals.
How so? Well, the inevitable “logic” of his argument is as follows:
The Peoples is a representation of a collection of individual human beings that magically coalesces into an actual being—perhaps invisible and intangible—but there nonetheless. So if there are 1,000 people in a group, then The Peoples is group member 1,001.
The Peoples is what Mr. Woods declares as sovereign. Not you, not himself, and not any of the other 998 members of the group, just The Peoples. The plural tenses of the verbs makes you believe that you are included in the sovereignty club, but alas, you are not.
Quite simply, if he really thought you and I and he were sovereign individuals, he would have said in plain old 21st century English that each and every individual human being is sovereign. Done. But he takes great pains to avoid saying this, and uses an archaic term to lay the foundation for an archaic argument.
Mr. Woods is no anarchist. He believes in the necessity and goodness of government, as long as it is done right. But the fact of the matter is that individual human beings cannot be sovereign and be subject to a government at the same time, no matter how good the government. This is a contradiction in terms, and I imagine he knows this very well.
Otherwise, the logical nullification action for sovereign individuals would be for them to nullify whatever government law they felt was unjust. Drug laws do not apply to me, Mr. FBI. Nor does that taxation stuff, Mr. State Senator.
That Poof! sound is that of the government disappearing. But this is not what Mr. Woods is talking about.
He is saying that The Peoples is sovereign, while the human beings are not. The sovereign The Peoples then creates a government—another invisible and intangible entity—whose posts are to be populated with non-sovereign human beings that shall be labeled politicians. Of course the government is subject to the sovereign The Peoples, and not the other way around. This is perfectly logical, as The Peoples created the government, and the creation is quite naturally subject to its creator.
Now The Peoples declare that the politicians are not sovereign entities themselves, but they have more power than their non-politician (citizen) counterparts. Politicians are more equal than citizens, because the single sovereign entity on the planet, the superhuman The Peoples, has empowered them thusly.
Got it so far? This is a bit like the Federal Reserve’s explanation of how money comes into existence. If you make it complicated and convoluted enough, it transforms into an esoteric science that requires advanced degrees to truly understand. If a lowly plebe questions it, he is chided by the learned experts for not understanding it, and then sent off to bed with a cookie and a pat on the head.
Of course it really is nothing more than print-on-demand scrip. And who needs a degree to understand that?
Anyway, to summarize our current thread of Constitutional logic: When a collection of human beings organize themselves into a society, then The Peoples materializes out of the luminiferous aether and takes on the mantle of exclusive sovereignty. It then creates a subject (to it) government, populated by politicians who are empowered to rule over citizens.
This is the certified and approved creation story preached by the government school system. Wouldn’t want the poor kiddies to think that some people are ruling over others just because they are powerful thugs, would we? No, We The Peoples rule ourselves. There is no “Us” and “Them”—just “We.” And you really would have to study volumes of political science to truly understand the subtleties of this particular esoteric science, so why don’t you just take this cookie and run along to bed.
That's the logic of it.
It’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? For all of you who thought fiat currency was outrageous, here we have fiat sovereigns being created out of thin air! Take that, Federal Reserve!
So once again—and it bears repeating—please understand that in this speech, Mr. Woods is informing each member of his audience that “y’all” are sovereign but you, Bob, are NOT sovereign; you, Karen, are NOT self-governing; you, Mark, are NOT independent; and you, Sharon, do NOT have ultimate decision-making power over your own life.
The Peoples possess sovereignty, and The Peoples say that you are subject to its creation, the government. Sovereigns command, while non-sovereigns obey. Now shut up and get back to work.
Feeling insulted yet? If it is any consolation, he is also claiming that he himself is not sovereign, either. But as he deems himself unworthy of individual sovereignty, he drags the rest of humanity down to this same subservient level. And the audience cheers him! They think he is complimenting them, but he is declaring them inferior! Does he even realize this? Probably not! Chalk another one up for the public school system. Who says it doesn’t work?
Who are we subservient to? The Peoples! Where is The Peoples? Nowhere! Who are The Peoples? Everyone at once, but not any one individually! The Peoples has declared that we are also subservient to politicians. Why? Because The Peoples is sovereign and says so, that's why! Now shut up and get back to work!
Take a moment now to refer back to the 71-second transcript and wherever you see reference to "The (sovereign) Peoples of the States" substitute in “God,” "Santa Claus," or "Cthulhu." You will not have changed the substance of the message, not one little bit.
That's the logic of it.
Logic. He mentions the apportioning of powers to the government—powers like taxation. Powers not possessed by the people, but supposedly possessed by The Peoples, which is created by the people. Huh?
Logic. He states that:
No government is sovereign. That's the Old World European model that Americans fled from.
The Divine Right of Kings—that Old World European model—asserted that a superhuman deity granted superhuman power to certain kingly mortals. The Sovereign Right of The Peoples is the exact same model, except that the invisible God in the sky (perhaps expressing his will via a moistened bint lobbing a scimitar) has been replaced by the invisible The Peoples, the new and improved, secular superhuman distributor of all human rights. Funny how the politicians get the goodies bestowed upon them in both cases. Well, that’s just a coincidence, I suppose.
Look: Quite simply, there is no The Peoples. There are only politicians who claim to have more human rights than citizens, and an elaborate mythos has been constructed in an attempt to justify this unjust state of affairs in the minds of all men. The ruse has been working fabulously up until now, but it has recently shown some signs of fraying around the edges. How about we all just grab those loose threads and pull real hard and see what happens when the shoddy workmanship is put to the test?
I apologize for the non-respectful tone of all this, but you’ll notice I did not rewrite it. Not when it is in response to the message that I am non-sovereign and less equal than some of my non-sovereign fellow-men because an imaginary sovereign creature declared it to be so. What shall I respect about this absurd and patently false proposition?
To believe that government is inevitable, that it is an inextricable evil that will never go away and must be arranged in the least harmful way is an understandable position to take. I don’t agree with it, but it has much grounding in logic, reason, and reality.
But to take the extra step and attempt to justify this evil as a necessary good, and to do so with explanations that rely on creatures akin to unicorns is a bit much. If you lose the fantasy characters from the Constitutional Creation Myth, then you are left with a much simpler picture—a mere four-word speech that wouldn’t draw much of an enthusiastic audience: Politicians rule over citizens.
Same as it ever was.
“… I miss the serenity of believing I lived under a good government, wisely designed and benevolent in its operation. But, as St. Paul says, there comes a time to put away childish things.”
~ from The Reluctant Anarchist, by Joseph Sobran

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tzo's picture
Columnist tzo
Columns on STR: 64

tzo now lives in your head.


B.R. Merrick's picture

The essential difference between a minarchist and me is a helping verb:

The minarchist says we CAN'T have anarchy.

I say we WON'T have anarchy, because too many "peoples" refuse to check their premises or their helping verbs.

Another terrific article.

golefevre's picture

Help! Help! I'm being repressed! Tom Woods is certainly no slouch. I speak to so many who look at him with doe-eyed admiration. It must be the nice ties he wears. I become completely incredulous about the future when others can listen to him and buy what he's selling. I suppose it was a natural progression that we'd get this kind of self-promoting cottage industry from people like Woods given the rise in popularity of politicians like Ron Paul. I don't begrudge Woods a living, but please listen very carefully to what this man is selling.

Samarami's picture

Nice work, Tzo. Government, like pregnancy, cannot be stopped at smallness. It will make little difference if "secession" has advances here and there. The state is the state. Not really -- the state is an abstraction. State agents are parasites and thieves and robbers; and whether they start down the street, over in Capitol City, or out in the District of, Columbia, they will multiply themselves, engorge themselves with stolen money, and oppress if and when they get the opportunity.

For our own good, of course. Most totalitarians in history have referred to themselves as "The People". The shapeless masses somehow feel they are playing a part -- that they have the power. The People's Republic of America.

Once you and I declare ourselves sovereign we create a whole new way of looking at agents of state. Like thieves and robbers who slink in dark alleyways, state (city, county, federal, etc) actors will abscond with my valuables if I give them any support or encouragement at all. So I learn skills to avoid them where I can, reduce their pilferage when the thievery is unavoidable (and much of the time it is unavoidable -- but the sovereign individual can nip it in the bud). I never "register, file, voluntarily comply" with anything. I stay "judgement proof" to all extent practicable.

And I have no illusions The-Policeman-Is-My-Friend. No sir ree, Bob.



Suverans2's picture

G'day tzo,

That YouTube exposing "Sen. Inoue's inconsistent logic" is, in my opinion, the perfect example of someone whose mantra is, "Don't confuse me with the facts, I've already made up my mind". From his responses in this interview, it is apparent, to me, that this man doesn't even have a clue what the verb "delegate" even means!! Keeping in mind here that this man is the acting "President pro tempore of the United States Senate", the second-highest-ranking official of the United States Senate, is it any wonder that certain of us here have chosen to withdraw from membership in the body politic? Sheesh!!

Suverans2's picture

Now, perhaps, just perhaps, mind you, it wasn't that Dan [INOUE] couldn't answer Jan's [HELFELD] question, but rather that he wouldn't, because had he done so he would have given away the whole scam.

Dan's first answer was, "Because the government has been authorized by the people". Now, that is true -- as far as it goes. But let me finish Dan's answer for him, (because he may not even know it).

To be more precise, Jan, the government has been authorized by you, Jan, not to take your neighbor's stuff, but to take your stuff, Jan, just as every other member of the body politic has, by not "withdrawing from membership in [the] group[1]", authorized the government to take his or her own stuff, which, of course, each of us has the natural right to do.

Let me ask you a question, Jan. Do you use a membership number, i.e. a Taxpayer Identification Number, to procure certain member-only benefits and privileges? Oh, you say you don't take any "member-only benefits and privileges", Jan? If that be true, then why on Earth would you voluntarily want to identify yourself as a TAXPAYER, Jan? Quit using that damned Taxpayer Identification Number!

    "Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord..."


[1] Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition (c.1991), definition for "Secession".