"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expence, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries. They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expence, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will." ~ Adam Smith
Time for Civil Disobedience?
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
Underlying approaches to the great problem of how to rid society of government parasites without violence is the insight of Etienne de la Boëtie:
"Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces."
That young Frenchman put his finger right on the great weakness of the governing classes: they absolutely depend on the acquiescence of their victims, or "support." Take that away, they will implode or fall. No pushing is necessary; no violence, from either bullet or ballot. His advice has been around-- and repeatedly ignored--for over four centuries. It is, however, a fundamental premise underlying both the Freedom Academy and the movement for nonviolent resistance in the tradition of Gandhi.
What did he mean, exactly, by "Resolve to serve no more"? Probably both the main senses, the general and the particular. Serving the master in general means obeying his commands or laws; everyone living in the domain claimed by a government is affected by this sense. If everyone stops obeying, there is nothing he can do about it; he becomes powerless. He may let off a volley of grapeshot or spray the crowds with machine gun bullets, but ultimately his goose is cooked. All people have to do is nothing, to ignore him. Inducing folk to do nothing is, of course, slightly less simple.
The particular sense of "serving" would be those in literal service to his apparatus of government--government workers. These are crucial; these are the people who wield those machine guns even as the régime is falling. When they "serve no more," his reign ends; for government consists only of people working for it. He can fume and yell and bark as many orders as he wishes, but with no grunts to carry them out, he will be revealed only as the pathetic bully he always was.
It's a brave thing to do, however, to ignore the law; and it's disruptive to quit government employ. Both actions are life-changing and the former is very dangerous. De la Boëtie was correct, but how does one persuade large numbers of people to take such individual action? For such a resolve is personal, it has to be taken one at a time. In the trenches of WWI, it was sometimes effective for a whole mass of combatants to rise simultaneously and charge the enemy, but the nature of trenches and ladders meant that they each had to go "over the top" one by one. Hence, for a moment they were prime targets for enemy riflemen. It doesn't seem to me a very practical idea, therefore, to propose to our fellow victims of government to engage in civil disobedience--necessarily, one at a time--in a period when government guns and gunners are abundant. Such a strategy would create a lot of martyrs, but not many free people. The math is all wrong, the sell is too tough.
Both kinds of support must be withdrawn, though. Even if all government employees walked out (and presently, no law says they cannot), it would still be necessary for the rest of the population to understand why it should no longer listen for commands and look to government for leadership--and goodies. Otherwise, it would be back in business in a heartbeat, and by popular demand! Hence, everyone needs to understand why government is a lethal myth. The re-education needs to be universal; just persuading a minority as "leaders" will not do. I rather doubt that he had worked out the practical implications of implementing his advice, but de la Boëtie was rightly addressing the whole of society, and was referring to "service" in both these senses.
The process is under way, to re-educate everyone, both those employed by government and the rest of us. As understanding is gained, all decide to leave its employ (or not to accept it if offered). Then, as the number of government employees reduces, the risks inherent in civil disobedience recede for everyone else. This is the key, as I see it, to the proper and timely use of civil disobedience.
Try this out on a couple of numbers. Suppose there are 10,000 today who feel inclined to flout government's law--but that there are 800,000 enforcers (various kinds of police, nationwide) ready to pounce when they see us doing it. That would be an 80:1 advantage in their favor, and fatal for us.
But take the stage when just 10% of the population has learned what freedom and government are really all about. Then there might be 720,000 enforcers but (10% of 300M = ) 30 million "civilians" (as they arrogantly call us) ready to wave a middle finger at them. The advantage has dramatically shifted, to 42:1 in our favor--yet that's the stage when 90% of the task still needs to be completed! At that stage, civil disobedience (forgetting to pay taxes, not bothering to renew licenses or register for drafts, driving at sensible speeds, using drugs of choice, carrying guns without permits, declining to accept "legal tender" money, actually committing free enterprise! etc.) will be both safe (it will be 3,300 times less dangerous to flout their laws) and a major assist in the process of getting the remaining 90% into the freedom school(s) by demonstrating that government is weak as well as repugnant. It will markedly accelerate the process, at just the right time to encourage the latecomers (as well as the pioneers or "early adopters") to take part.
To practice civil disobedience today is just premature, but at that time it will become a turbocharger.
Take a closer look at the numbers. The Academy's Growth Page shows how, on simple and credible assumptions, the set of people ready and eager to practice freedom and not to work for government will double annually. Currently we are so few as to be far below noise level, but around a decade from now, one person in 64 will be in that category. Still, few will notice. But then a year later they will number one in 32, and soon after that government Human Resource managers across the land will observe that the normal staff attrition rate has risen by an unexplained 2% or 3%. Then we shall be noticed.
A year on, and we'll be one in 16 and folk will begin seriously to flout laws. The tipping point will happen a year on from then, when we number one in 8; for at that time, government will have a hard time empaneling juries who will reliably convict victimless criminals, since there must be fewer than one in 12 for that to continue. See the turbocharge effect? Victimless lawbreaking will then be seen as almost risk free, so it will blossom like the flowers in spring. That will be the glorious heyday of civil disobedience, lasting three or four years. Government will never recover.
One in four, and there will be a major collapse of all its alleged "services," causing corresponding growth of the "white market." One in two, and even the police (who will be the last to quit) will tell the boss to take their jobs and shove them. Finally the disastrous, ten-millennia age of government will be over, first in America and then everywhere else, and the human race will begin a dramatic new phase of peace and prosperity.
Will there be civil disobedience after that historic transition? In one sense, yes; for freedom consists in ignoring orders. But in another sense, no; for disobedience presumes that orders are being given, which are capable of being disobeyed. And that will no longer be the case.