This essay was submitted as part of the First Annual Libertas Essay Contest, with cash prizes totaling $2,000! You can view all of the essay submissions here.
This essay won the $1,500 grand prize for being selected as the winner of the first annual essay contest.
The quintessential libertarian, Murray Rothbard, wrote an article in the 1977 Libertarian Forum called “Do You Hate the State?” In this article Rothbard urges us to radicalism. Of course, this term means different things to different people. Just recently I posted a comment from Rothbard’s article on Facebook. I received a reply from an individual I do not know. He wrote, “‘Radical’ is neither left nor right nor sensical.” I think he has missed the point by saying it is non-sensical. Rothbard sums it up: “Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment to the spirit of liberty and anti-statism that integrates reason and emotion, heart and soul.”
So, do you hate the State? I hate the State. These seem like strong words and they must be explained. Why do I hate the State?
The root reason why I hate the State is because it takes away our humanity. Each one of us by the very fact that we are human has relationships with others. The State aggressively inserts itself in between these relationships. For example, it places itself in between two people who fall in love and want to memorialize their love for each other with a wedding and marriage and demands a license for such action; in between parents and their children demanding the education be done on the State’s terms. It inserts itself in between two consenting adults who want to begin or continue a business relationship: trade stock, buy bonds, exchange goods across varied geographic and political demarcations. It places itself in between someone with means and someone without means and in essence demands that charity be given on the State’s terms. In effect, the State says, “your humanity is not enough to drive you to help others, so we must do it for you.” Ultimately, the State takes away our humanity by perverting these relationships that exist because of our humanity.
I think that the above view must be radical. It must be based “root-and-branch” on liberty (to borrow Rothbard’s term). As I talk to and associate with people I have realized that having these views places me in the minority. As a minority, how can I live free? If most of the people around me either do not know or do not care about “radical” views of liberty how can I live free?
I have heard many who hold liberty dear say that the key to making us more free is education. I agree that education is important. But I cannot force people to educate themselves or read literature that promotes liberty. I have had the opportunity to take part in different classes where principles of liberty were taught; unfortunately, attendance was not high. Education cannot, unless people are motivated to become educated, make us free.
Changing things at the ballot box appears to be a losing proposition as well—at least in the foreseeable future. The results of the last primary elections held here in Utah were proof of that. Liberty lost in a significant way.
Except for the rare exception of the person who has figured out how to live “off the grid,” the State pervades our lives to such a degree that we cannot totally escape it. I have to drive on state roads; I must pay $500 every two years for licenses to operate my business or risk losing my livelihood. I must abide at least some forms of regulation to avoid incarceration.
So how can I live free? What can I change? Who can I change? What can I control? The short answer is: me. I can educate myself, change my actions; I can control me.
The key to living free in an unfree world is to minimize as much as possible the State’s influence and intrusion into our lives. This means different things to different people. Some people will be able to negate the State much more than others. We cannot condemn the 65 year old who relies on Social Security and Medicare. We cannot judge or question the person who has decided to send their kids to public school (no matter how strongly we feel about home schooling). What we can do is look at our own lives. Are there areas in which we can prevent the state intruding?
Does a young student really have to rely on Medicaid, or is there a way to work a little bit harder for some extra money to help pay for private insurance? Does a non-profit or educational institution really need to take a grant from the State for their project or, with a little creativity, can the funding be found through other sources? These questions are not meant as judgment—we all need to find for ourselves ways to negate the State.
I had the opportunity, nearly twenty years ago, to live in the Czech Republic. It was so soon after the communist government had fallen that much of its residue still lingered on the people. I got to know Olga Demeterova. I learned that she wanted nothing more in life than to be an elementary school teacher. She was denied this opportunity because she would not adhere to the Communist Party line. She would not sell her humanity for a mess of pottage. Instead, she spent the better part of her life working in a factory. She did not give in to the State. In this aspect of her life she was free. In this way she was able to keep part of her humanity.
Each of us will choose for ourselves which battles we can fight and when we can fight them. One may choose to opt out of the public school system, one may choose to avoid taking the government dole, or ignore a city ordinance against idling cars. Our task is to find those areas we can control and help others to find theirs. By doing this we can live free. Like Olga Demeterova we can decide to live free in an unfree world. Some around us may find these decisions radical but until we begin to make some radical decisions living free will be little but empty rhetoric. We may begin by having, as Rothbard put it, “integrated intellectual opposition to the State.” Beginning with this “integrated intellectual opposition” we can find and expand those areas of our lives where we can live free—where we can say to the State, “this is the line and no further.” At first, we may only have the strength to battle the State in our minds, with our intellect. But as we grow in liberty we will find those parts of our life where we can realistically take our humanity back—where we can fight the State.
The State has encroached upon us incrementally—taken our humanity from us piece by piece. Like Olga we can begin to take our humanity back bit by bit. So let us ask ourselves: where can I fight the State; what part of my humanity can I take back? As we do this we will begin to live free in an unfree world.
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