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On the Tyranny of the Majority

An African-American child at a segregated drinking fountain.

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Many of us mistakenly concede to arguments that end with “Well this is what the majority believes, so it’s just too bad for gays/liberals/whoever.” We erroneously believe that a law, a policy or a practice can be justified simply because the majority agrees with it, because of the flawed notion that democracy, or majority rule, is equivalent to mob rule.

What is mob rule? Well, simply put, it is the tyranny of the majority. It is the tendency of the majority to put its interests and opinions over those of the minority. It is the assumption that the majority has the right to impose its will to enforce discriminatory laws or policies on the minority simply by virtue of its strength in numbers. In his work “On Liberty,” John Stuart Mill wrote:

… there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling: against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them.

Just because an opinion is held by the majority, that does not automatically mean that the opinion is correct or that implementing a rule based on that opinion is justifiable on that basis alone. If the majority of Singaporeans were to believe that say, Hindus, or Muslims (or the people belonging to some other numerically minority race or religion) should be deemed second-class citizens, that alone would not legitimize discriminatory laws against them. Similarly, even if the majority of Americans were to agree with discriminatory Jim Crow laws, that alone would not legitimize the reinstating of such unconstitutional laws. In the same vein, when homosexuals are denied certain freedoms on the basis that the majority of Singaporeans do not approve of those freedoms, there is no reason to presume that the will of the majority is sufficient to vote away the rights of homosexuals.

When it comes to practical issues, it may be perfectly sensible to go with majority rule. But I believe that the majority (or even a political or moral authority) should not be given that power when it comes to issues of personal liberty (as long as these liberties are not in violation of the harm principle). Allowing the majority to deny rights and freedoms to minority groups is no better than despotism.

I am no philosopher or political theorist, and I do not intend to argue about the conservative principles, which value the sacrifice of individual freedoms to the collective will of society. (Not at this moment, anyway.) But I do know that from a liberal perspective, there is little room for the government or society to impose discriminatory laws or opinions onto minorities, because of the ideology’s emphasis on the respect for individual rights and distaste for governmental or societal interference. After all, the smallest minority is the individual, and liberalism is simply the protection of individual freedoms from oppression by the tyranny of societal conformity, the tyranny of the magistrate, and the tyranny of the majority.

Credit: laïcité, “The tyranny of the majority,” under a Creative Commons license

laïcité is an undergraduate who is passionate about secularism and liberal values. Just your average feminist, liberal, atheist, secular humanist, social democrat, environmentalist, freethinking, secularist Singaporean who’s pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-freedom of speech, pro-diversity and anti-authoritarian.

Trust in the State Is Flawed

The government does not hate you. The government does not like you. It is indifferent. The government is not an entity with feelings, remorse, ethics or conscious. It is a collective of individuals working according to rigid flawed guidelines. The government is not an individual therefore the government as a whole has no rights whatsoever. People can have rights; this corporate entity called the United States has no rights. It functions to take rights and to oppress. There are often individuals within the government who wish to do good but overall that is impossible. The nature of government prohibits any good for the very means of which the state reaches its ends is immoral.

Individuals who work within the government or are employed by the government may have rights, but no more than any other individual. This makes the actions of many government employees criminal by the very nature of their jobs. Marines and soldiers often engage in murder and invasion. They justify this by stating that the non-individual the state is responsible. What is the state? It is nothing more than these individuals acting in a criminal manner to assert force and control over other human beings. If a gangster claims they have the right to murder because the gang they belong to calls for this murder, do we accept that as a justified?

As an anarchist I do not seek utopia, but to reject a system that is every bit as criminal as what it claims to oppose. I seek to oppose hierarchy, power over others and oppression. To claim that we must accept oppression on one level to avoid oppression on another level is inaccurate.

Those in the state that seek to keep order are just people, individual human beings performing a job under a misguided ethic. Once we have eliminated the hierarchy and oppression of the state it will still be people or individuals in non-coercive entities and through voluntary means providing similar services. There is a misunderstanding that somehow order is only found with these people if the state exists. The only tool for order is often seen as the state. This is partially because the state has educated us to believe such. Individuals have a difficult time perceiving a system outside of the systems that they have always known.

The expectations of statists for anarchism are far above that which they have achieved with statism. It is the statist who will ask for a solution to a problem, and when given one they are restricted to the statist idea that this is the only solution. They will then ask impossible tasks that they themselves have been unable to resolve.

In closing, I will state that to reject the state is not to stand in opposition to order or to ignore problems that exist, but to embrace the reality that there is no one way that will be the answer to all. We embrace that fact that people can bring solutions and that they should not be disregarded simply because they do not lead to utopia.

Credit: PunkJohnnyCash, “Why Faith In The State Over Anarchy Is Flawed” with no copyright claimed

The Libertarian Message Is Peace

Since I signed on as the campaign manager of the Lee Wrights for President Exploratory Committee I’ve taken some heat from some of my radical and anarchist friends in the libertarian movement, people I love and respect, for getting involved in electoral politics. Some of them have even called me a statist, which is very hurtful.

Now I understand libertarians may have disagreements about tactics, and I understand that some in the movement refuse to participate in electoral politics because it’s based on force and violence. I understand and I agree with many of these views. But a true libertarian attitude is to respect each other’s choices, not condemn them.

I’ve chosen to become involved in the electoral process because I’m driven to do it. I’m driven to do it first because I love and respect R. Lee Wrights and what he stands for, and second because it’s a way to use the networking infrastructure of electoral politics to educate the mainstream about radical libertarianism, the heart and soul of libertarianism.

That’s why I think it’s the right thing to do and I’ll continue to do it. I have no problem with disagreements and arguments over tactics. But disagreement is no reason for good people in the movement to be mean to one another. As Lee has said, libertarianism is a way of life. I’m a libertarian because of what I do, not what I say. If we in the libertarian movement can’t respect the right of each of us to make our own decisions, what kind of message does that send to people outside the movement? What ammunition does that give to our real opponents?

All of us in the libertarian movement are on different parts of the journey. I came from a conservative, classical liberal background and I evolved. We all evolve over time. Some will take a little longer to get to that point where we are not afraid to think about a society without the state. We are all afraid because we have been conditioned to be afraid by the state, by government schools, by our society.

From the classical liberal to the anarchist, no matter where you are on that journey towards freedom I’ll work with you because you are my friend, you are a friend of liberty. I’ll never call you a statist because you participate in electoral politics. I’ll work with anyone wanting to maximize freedom and minimize coercion.

Lee Wrights has earned a well-deserved reputation as a radical, passionate warrior for freedom and liberty. He’s devoted his life to working within the Libertarian Party, one small part of the libertarian movement, in order to secure a freer tomorrow.

Lee chose to participate in electoral politics and the Libertarian Party because he believes Americans can’t vote for liberty and freedom unless there are Libertarian candidates on the ballot. That’s also why he’s made sure ballot access drives were a key component of Libertarian Party activities, including running successful ballot access drives in his home state of North Carolina.

He believes, as I do, that the Libertarian Party should promote a message that represents the views of all libertarians — radicals, reformers, minarchists, anarchists – whatever label you want to apply to yourself. We are all on the same team, we just play different positions. This campaign is focused on representing and celebrating libertarianism in the Libertarian Party.

The message of this campaign is a message all libertarians can and should embrace – stop all war. But before we make peace with the world, we must stop all war within ourselves, and within the libertarian movement.

All of us in the Wrights 2012 campaign agree with Lee that Stop All War is the message the Libertarian Party must champion in 2012. If we don’t, nobody else will. To spread that message across the country, we will need the help of anyone who desires to be free and who opposes tyranny in any form.

Credit: Thomas Hill, “The Libertarian Message Is Peace,” published with permission

Thomas Hill is chair of the Lee Wrights for President Exploratory Committee. He is also executive director of Stop All War and regional coordinator for the Campaign for Liberty. In 2008, he served as aide de camp for the Dr. Mary Ruwart for President campaign. Hill is a past chair of the Libertarian Party of North Carolina and a charter member of the Cabarrus County LP, where he has served as chair, treasurer and membership secretary. He was a candidate for Cabarrus County Commission in 2002 and 2004, the Cabarrus County Board of Education in 2006 and 2008, the N.C. Senate in 2008 and the U.S. House 2010. The North Carolina native now lives in Illinois.

The Conservative Playbook

Marcus Tullius Cicero, after whom Teuffel name...

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As someone who so obviously does not fit into the stereotype of a liberal academic, I believe that I have a special responsibility to advance the sort of liberal academic ideals I have outlined. It is quite possible that I can reach students that others cannot. At Ohio State we certainly have many students from rural Ohio, part of “red” America; as someone who does not operate on a simple liberals are good, conservatives are bad moral continuum, such students might be willing to listen to the message I have for them.

Now I always tell my students at the beginning of the quarter that, while I might refer to present day events, the class is not about modern day politics and it is not my wish to see the class turn into a soap box for my politics or anyone else’s. History does not translate into straight forward lessons of “do or do not do this.” I do not talk about my politics in class; if students are interested they are free to read this blog. I even ask students to challenge me if they think I have crossed any lines in sticking my personal politics into the class. I think I do a good job at this and have not received any complaints.

That being said, I do discuss certain fundamental historical concepts that serve to undermine conservative modes of thought. For example, one of the things that I have been discussing and debunking in my 111 class this quarter is what I call the “conservative playbook.” In essence the conservative playbook consists of three steps. Step one, talk about how wonderful things were in a given past. Step two, show how poorly the present compares to that “glorious” past. Step three, the conclusion, we need to go back to the way things were and restore those “traditional values” that once made us great.

We see this conservative playbook all over. Cicero argued for a return to traditional Roman republican values. Both Protestants and Catholics in the sixteenth century claimed to be fighting to restore the true original church of Jesus and the apostles. Needless to say this rhetoric is bread and butter for modern day conservatives like Glenn Beck. Even liberals often get caught up in making conservative playbook arguments. I gave the example in class of liberals who bemoan the current state of rock and roll, how it has been corrupted by corporate America and MTV, and argue that we need to bring back the spirit 60s rock, when rock was “pure” and was about waging a revolution against the “man.”

There are two problems with the conservative playbook, one of them will be present in almost all versions of this argument, the other problem exists by definition. Almost all conservative playbook arguments present a rose-coloured picture of the targeted past. Thus it is the job of the historian to burst such bubbles. For example Cicero’s beloved early Romans, judging by the story of Romulus and Remus and the rape of the Sabine women, were a pack of brigands of bastard parentage, who pillaged and raped anything in sight. Rome was not corrupted by empire and the importation of loose Greek morals; it was a pretty corrupt place from the beginning.

The second more fundamental problem is in the very act of trying to “go back.” People who lived in our “wonderful” past did not do what they did in order to reject the values of some future generation, fight some future set of villains and go back to their present; they already lived in their present. As such the very attempt to “go back” marks a fundamental change.

Whether or not the past was so wonderful that we should want to live in it, it is not possible and no one can claim to present the past. This marks a fundamental hypocrisy in all conservative movements. Conservatives are just as much the products of their generation as the liberals they denounce; their values are just as new and also mark an irreparable break with the past. For better or worse, the past is dead and buried and no one knows that better than a historian, who lives every day with the realizations how fundamentally different people in the past were. We have two options; either we openly admit that we are a different people from those who lived in the past with different values and ways of thinking and therefore try to the do the best we can to produce the best society our minds can fathom or we can close our eyes and pretend that things really are the same. If we choose the latter, things may or may not turn out well, but I can guarantee you that the society we fashion will not be a conservative one.

Will any of this make one of my Republican students vote for Obama? No and that is not my purpose. In the long run though it might just change how he approaches the fundamental questions facing our society. What those changes might be is beyond my place as a historian. I am just doing my job as a liberal academic, opening up the possibility of change.

Credit: Benzion Chinn, “The Conservative Playbook,” under a Creative Commons license

Benzion Chinn is pursuing a Ph.D. in Early Modern Jewish History at The Ohio State University. He received his B.A in History from Yeshiva University and his M.A in Medieval Jewish History from the Bernard Revel Graduate School for Jewish Studies.

How Did You Get More Human Rights Than Me?

Chicago’s now ex-mayor Daley is back in town. He’s talking about guns. Typically, those who want gun laws “abhor violence” and yet they use violence to try and get what they want. Ironic.

Yes, if there were no guns, there would be no gun violence. But let’s return to the real world for a moment.

Fewer guns may translate into less gun violence, but if I can’t possess a gun then the only gun violence that can occur in my world is gun violence against me. You know very well that gun laws do not prevent the bad guys from acquiring guns, because bad guys break laws. That’s why they’re the bad guys. Knowing they are armed, you recommend that I be unarmed? No thank you.

Now, do you want to force me to comply? Do you support gun-restriction legislation?

That would mean that if I wish to own a gun but you, the reader, do not want me to, then I cannot. I do not possess the proper authority to own a gun, you might claim, but the only way you can enforce your wish is to point a gun at me. Somehow, you possess the authority to wield a gun, either directly or through some agent to whom you have granted your authority, but I do not.

You obviously have been born with more human rights than have I. How did that happen?

I really do abhor violence, but I don’t think the rational solution is to wish it didn’t exist. It is also not rational to use violence in a misguided and ineffectual attempt to enforce nonviolence.

If my concerns for my own personal safety do not count against the utilitarian end of saving lives in society, please consider that many, many more people die every year due to car accidents than from being shot by guns.

If you want to deny my human right to defend myself by not allowing me to own a gun in the name of saving lives, then I insist on denying your “privilege” to travel by automobile. My action will save many more lives than yours.

If the end result—saving lives—is all that matters, how can you justify all the dead bodies that are a result of you insisting upon a mere convenience?

Credit: tzo, “How did you get more Human Rights than me?” with no copyright claimed

tzo is trying to build the case for the viability of human society built solely upon voluntary interactions.

Start a Black Market Business

The traditional and old way of doing a black market business was to stay invisible. This is not the approach I really recommend but I will say a few words about it. First we have to talk about privacy. There’s lots of different ways to do this. There’s a book by J. J. Luna called “How to Be Invisible” — that will teach you how to “disappear.” It’s a great book. When I was reading it, I was struck by how many things I was already doing, instinctively, not knowing there was already a guide to living and doing business that way! I used to spend a great deal of study on how to become invisible, or “disappear,” until I found a better way. These days my goal as a liberty activist is to simply live in the open as a free man. I don’t want to have to live in fear; I also don’t want to make myself an easy target so that I can be easily shut down, either. So there’s a balancing act. That’s something that you’re going to have to personally decide — where you’re going to come down on this. Are you going to come down where you’re completely open, as I am? I don’t care if people know that I am running this kind of business. I’m proud to be an Agorist. Agorist is a fancy word for a person who believes that you should be able to have a free market without government interference. Will you, like me, be a proud Agorist and “wear it on your sleeve,” or will you stay in the shadows praying you never get caught? My mission in life right now is to encourage this system to grow, so I’m open about it and want to show others it can be done.

The alternative representing the other end of the spectrum would be people who are the complete opposite. You’d never know who they are. They could be a friend, family member or neighbor and you would never have a clue. Many folks like this run a business completely anonymously. You can even run a business overseas anonymously, and if you run your business correctly, nobody will ever know who is making what income, including the state. I’d like to give you a few tips from the book, but in the end, it’s not what I’m trying to focus on. It’s more practical to focus on how to do this without sneaking around. It’s a process. Many people will become interested in escaping the system while they still have a regular job, with paychecks subject to taxes, workers’ compensation insurance and the like.

Use some common sense in your transition into an Agorist lifestyle. If you’re reading this, you’re probably starting to get a little bit excited about launching yourself beyond the reach of the state, and I really have to encourage you to keep both feet on the ground! Don’t quit your job! I know the reason you’re interested in starting a black market business is that you can’t stand your boss, you’ve had enough, etc., but you can’t just stop working without completely destroying your life. You have to ease into this. It doesn’t mean you can’t make this transition or that you can’t sometimes do it quickly. You may be able to. I’ve seen it happen.

Credit: Tarrin Lupo, “How to Make a Living Outside the System,” no copyright claimed