Emailing: Civil Disobedience and the Libertarian Division of Labor by Dick Clark

Civil Disobedience and the Libertarian Division of Labor by Dick Clark


Disobedience and the Libertarian Division
of Labor

by Dick Clark
by Dick


witnessed first hand the fruits of brutal libertarian in-fighting, I
think it is important to examine the roots of such needless, yet
casualty-producing conflict. Libertarians believe in a legal theory
based upon non-aggression – that is, a respect for the rights of
others. We oppose the idea of a monolithic, ever-present state
wielding arbitrary and capricious power over subjects. Where
so-called libertarians deviate by endorsing some form of aggression,
we should, no doubt, ferret out the incorrect position so as to
prevent anyone from confusing it with a libertarian one. The evil
sell-outs and the misguided retreatists, as
Rothbard called them
, ought to be battled on philosophical
grounds. Not all inter-libertarian conflicts arise from such
principled disputes, however.

Wilt Alston has
addressed the problem here with his posited categories of "pre-lib"
and "pre-con" libertarians. I think that one’s previous political
disposition that may be inculcated by parents, or by some other
means, may color our libertarian lens like Wilt suggests. I think,
though, that the way many libertarians focus their indignation may
be even more obvious and primal than mere prior team affiliation.
When dealing with the government itself, we each see the face of the
state in the areas where we have best tasted of its evil

For those of us
who are successful businesspeople, the taxing power of the state
that has so many times inhibited the growth and success of vibrant
enterprises is the arm of the state that must be attacked. For those
of us who are parenting young children and are required to jump
through legal hoops to home educate them, the specter of
centralized, regimented, state regulation of education is the
usurpation that ought be battled first. For those of us who have a
friend or relative who has been imprisoned for self-medication
outside of the bounds of state approval, on the other hand, the War
On Drugs is the tentacle most in need of a chopping.

It is obvious,
and to be expected, that one would hate the part of the state with
which he has had the misfortune to wrangle most often. Yet, it isn’t
obviously right to say – speaking as a libertarian strategist – that
any of these branches of the state apparatus is necessarily the
right one with which to start. This is because they all are. An
individual soldier must defend the front that he occupies. So too
must we libertarians defy the state’s grasp where it reaches for us
personally – an activist division of labor.

It is some
small satisfaction, no doubt, to moralize about the wrongs committed
against others, and to voice opposition to their oppression. This is
itself praiseworthy, and can be helpful in popularizing a movement,
and in guiding its participants. Yet, when we look for the heroes of
any revolution that casts off one tyrant or many, we must look first
for the individuals who simply stood their ground. The most lauded
heroes – and thus the most effective figures for the purposes of
fomenting revolutionary ideas – are those who did not seek out a
fight, but rather stood steadfastly and refused to yield when
assailed by the usurper.

The search for
libertarian heroes is made more difficult, though, by the fact that
while we libertarians nearly universally recognize an individual’s
inherent freedom to do with his body as he wishes, we don’t
necessarily find the use of intoxicants, or other acts or carnal
indulgence praiseworthy. For example, take the massive
act of civil disobedience
staged by ten thousand students and
activists in Boulder, Colorado on 4/20/08. Some libertarians may
find this sort of behavior foolhardy, even without the risk of
arrest. With that view of the underlying drug use, they then find it
difficult to praise the act of resistance to the state, even though
they advocate the abolition of all drug prohibition. Yet, these
college students are heroes. Whatever a libertarian may think
of the wisdom of smoking marijuana, it cannot be denied that these
particular pot-smoking college students – who were presumably not
picking up the habit solely for this event – were engaging in what
can only be called anti-state activism. Rather than cowering away
from the state, hoping to be overlooked, they risked arrest in an
act of defiance that brought one of the state’s more ridiculous laws
into greater disrepute. And what may be helpful to libertarians who
are apprehensive about fully applauding such behavior is the fact
that they did it without engaging in anything more or less moral
than what they already do anyway

regardless of what one thinks of Wesley Snipes’ acting abilities,
his battle against the IRS is more heroic than Susan Sarandon’s
speeches against the war. After all, while Ms. Sarandon’s antiwar
position – insofar as it is a consistent one – is laudable, it is
only a matter of words. Wesley Snipes acted to defend his property
from federal usurpation – he stood his ground, and paid
heavy consequences
for it.

Now, I do not
mean to say that each and every libertarian must subject himself to
a scourging by the state to show his devotion to resisting it. I
agree with my friend Manuel Lora that libertarianism is not an altar
call for martyrs
. I do not think that most libertarians ought to
pull up stakes and abandon their gainful employment only to throw
their bodies into the cogs of the state. However, when the state
comes roaring towards your home, it is heroism to dig in, stand
firm, and resist for as long as possible. Likewise, those students
in Boulder were already part of a legally vulnerable class of
citizens – recreational drug users. By taking their resistance
outside, where others could see some indication of the strength of
those in defiance, they are to be praised as having made a
contribution to the cause of liberty.

Just as
atheist libertarians should applaud the sentiment of Daniel‘s pious
disobedience to Darius
, so too should socially conservative
libertarians applaud the revolutionary sentiment expressed by those
tie-dyed students in Boulder.

April 22, 2008

Dick Clark
send him
], a native Southerner, currently lives in exile in
the People’s Republic of Cambridge, MA. He is a first-year law
student at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Copyright © 2008



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