"Assassination Politics" Part 7, by Jim Bell
Dear libertarian Friend,
I very much understand the concerns you voiced about my idea which I call, "Assassination Politics," because this essay is nothing if it is not radical and extreme. I wrote it, in the middle of last year, partly because I think libertarianism and libertarians in particular need to address what is, if not a "contradiction," is at least an intolerable reality: On the one hand, we are told not to initiate agression, but on the other we are agressed against by the government every time it collects a tax.
I much appreciate the way some people I know have "dropped out" of the system, and the guts that such a tactic requires. But that's the problem, I think: Only those with the "guts" do it, which gives the government fewer targets so that it can spend more time attacking the few who oppose it. The reality is that the government STILL collects taxes, and it STILL uses that money to violate our rights. We all know that's wrong.
My position is quite simple: If tax collection constitutes agression, then anyone doing it or assisting in the effort or benefitting from the proceeds thereof is a criminal. This is quite analogous to current law which prosecutes co-conspirators. While I am not holding out "current law" as some sort of gold-standard of reasonableness that we must always accept, on the other hand I think it's plausible to use it to show that once we have come to the conclusion that taxation is theft, the prescription follows directly by a form of reasoning allegedly acceptable to society: It is reasonable to "attack the attackers" and their co-conspirators, and everyone who is employed by the government is thus a co-conspirator, even if he is not directly involved in the collection of those taxes. That's because he IS involved in _benefitting_ from the proceeds of these taxes, and he presumably provides a certain level of "backup" to the young thugs that governmental organizations often hire.
I realize, and you should too, that the "non-agression principle" says nothing about the EXTENT of the self-defense/retaliation that one might reasonably employ in defending one's own rights: In a sense, that sounds like an omission because it at least suggests that a person might "unreasonably" defend himself with lethal force when far less drastic means might normally be called for. For what it's worth, I think most people will behave responsibly. But I think it is pretty straightforward to argue that whatever means are necessary to stop the attack, are reasonable given the terms of the non-agression principle: If a given means are known to be inadequate to actually stop the attack, then further and more serious means are reasonable and called-for.
To set up a reasonable analogy, if I'm walking down the canonical "dark alley" and am accosted by a man wielding a knife threatening me with it, it is presumably reasonable for me to pull a gun and threaten back, or possibly take the encounter to the final conclusion of gunfire. Even if I should choose to hold my fire and test to determine whether my actions deterred him, I can't see that this possibility binds me morally. And should he advance, despite the gun, as if to attack, I should feel no remorse in shooting him and taking myself out of danger. If you accept the premises so far, you apparently accept the principle that escalation of the self-defense/retaliation is reasonable as long as if the current level of returned counter-threat is inadequate to stop the agression initiated by the other party. To believe otherwise is to believe that ultimately, you are obligated to accept a certain high level of agression simply because you do not have the resources (yet) to resist it. I totally reject this concept, as I hope you would.
So if, hypothetically, I could have an anonymous conversation with a hard-nosed government employee, and asked him, "If I killed one of your agents, would you stop trying to collect that tax from me," his predictable reaction would be, "no, we would continue to try to collect that tax." In fact, he would probably hasten to add that he would try to have me prosecuted for murder, as well! If I were to ask if killing ten agents would stop them, again they would presumably say that this would not change their actions.
The conclusion is, to me, obvious: Clearly, there is no practical limit to the amount of self-defense that I would need to protect my assets from the government tax collector, and to actually stop the theft, so I suggest that logic requires that I be morally and ethically allowed (under libertarian principles) to use whatever level of self-defense I choose.
You raised another objection, that quite frankly I believe is invalid. I believe you implied that until a specific level of escalation is reached ( such as the Feds showing up on your doorstep, etc) then it is not legitimate to defend oneself. Delicately, I must disagree. As we all well know, government ultimately operates primarily not on actual, applied force, but simply the threat of future force if you do not comply. True, there are people who have decided to call the government's bluff and simply drop out, but the reality is that this is not practical for most individuals today. This is no accident: The government makes it difficult to drop out, because they extort the cooperation of banks and potential employers and others with which you would otherwise be able to freely contract. In any case, I fail to see how not "dropping out" makes one somehow morally obligated to pay a tax (or tolerate the collection of one). I trust you did not inadvertently mean to suggest this.
The reason, morally, we are entitled to shoot the mugger if he waves the knife in our face is that he has threatened us with harm, in this case to our lives, but the threat the government represents to the average citizen (loss of one's entire assets) is just as real, albeit somewhat different. Since government is a past reality, and a present reality, and has the immediate prospects of being a future reality as well, I sincerely believe that the average citizen can legitimately consider himself CONTINUOUSLY threatened. The agression has already occurred, in continuously occurring, and has every prospect of continuing to occur. If anything would justify fighting back, this would.
To continue the analogy, if you've been repeatedly mugged by the same guy down the same dark alley for each day of last month, that DOES NOT mean that you've somehow consented to the situation, or that your rights to your assets have somehow been waived. With my "Assassination Politics" essay, I simply proposed tht we (as libertarians as well as being ordinary citizens) begin to treat agression by government as being essentially equivalent to agression by muggers, rapists, robbers, and murderers, and view their acts as a continuing series of agressions. Seen this way, it should not be necessary to wait for their NEXT agression; they will have always have been agressing and they will always BE agressing, again and again, until they are stopped for good.
At that point, the question shifted to one of practicality: Sure, theoretically we might morally have the "right" to protect ourselves with lethal force, but if they have any reputation at all, government agents have a habit of showing up in large numbers when they actually apply direct force. To take a position that you can only defend yourself when _they've_ chosen the "where" and "when" of the confrontration is downright suicidal, and I hope you understand that I would consider any such restriction to be highly unfair and totally impractical. Understand, too, that the reason we're still stuck under the thumb of the government is that to the extent it's true, "we've" been playing by THEIR rules, not by our own. By our own rules, THEY are the agressors and we should be able to treat them accordingly, on our own terms, at our own convenience, whenever we choose, especially when we feel the odds are on our side.
I understand, obviously, that the "no initiation of agression" principle is still valid, but please recognize that I simply don't consider it to be a valid counter-argument to "Assassination Politics," at least as applied to targets who happen to be government agents. They've "pre-agressed," and I don't see any limit to the defenses I should be able to muster to stop that agression completely and permanently. Not that I don't see a difference between different levels of guilt: I fully recognize that some of them are far worse than others, and I would certainly not treat a lowly Forest Service grunt in the same fashion as an ATF sniper.
Now, there is one more thing that I would hope we could get straight: As I originally "invented" this system, it occurred to me that there could be certain arguments that it needed to be "regulated" somehow; "unworthy" targets shouldn't be killed, etc. The "problem" is, what I've "invented" may (as I now believe it to be) actually a "discovery," in a sense: I now believe this kind of system was always inevitable, merely waiting for the triad of the Internet, digital cash, and good encryption in order to provide the technical underpinnings for the entire system. If that is genuinely the case, then there is no real way to control it, except by free-market principles.
It would be impossible, for example, to set up some sort of "Assassination Politics Dictator," who decides who will live and who will die, because competition in the system will always rise to supply every demand, albeit at possibly a very high price. And if you believe the maxim that "absolute power corrupts absolutely," you wouldn't want to accept any form of centralized control (even, perhaps, that of your own!), because any such control would eventually be corrupted. Most rational people recognize this, and I do too. I would not have invented a system where "Jim Bell" gets to make "all the decisions." Quite the contrary, the system I've described absolutely prevents such centralization. That, quite frankly, is the novelty and dare I say it, the beauty of this idea. I believe that it simply cannot be hijacked by centralized political control.
As I pointed out in the essay, if _I_ were running one of the organizations accepting those donations and offering those prizes, I would selectively list only those targets who I am genuinely satisfied are guilty of the violation of the "non-agression principle." But as a practical matter, there is no way that I could stop a DIFFERENT organization from being set up and operating under DIFFERENT moral and ethical principles, especially if it operated anonymously, as I antipate the "Assassination Politics"-type systems will be. Thus, I'm forced to accept the reality that I can't dictate a "strongly limited" system that would "guarantee" no "unjustified" deaths: I can merely control my little piece of the earth and not assist in the abuse of others. I genuinely believe, however, that the operation of this system would be a vast improvement over the status quo.
This, I argue, is somewhat analogous to an argument that we should be entitled to own firearms, despite the fact that SOME people will use them wrongly/immorally/illegally. The ownership is a right even though it may ultimately allow or enable an abuse that you consider wrong and punishable. I consider the truth of such an argument to be obvious and correct, and I know you would too.
I realize that this lacks the crisp certitude of safety which would be reassuring to the average, "pre-libertarian" individual. But you are not the "average individual" and I trust that as long-time libertarians you will recognize rights must exist even given the hypothetical possibility that somebody may eventually abuse them.
I do not know whether I "invented" or "discovered" this system; perhaps it's a little of both. I do genuinely believe that this system, or one like it, is as close to being technologically inevitable as was the invention of firearms once the material we now know as "gunpowder" was invented. I think it's on the way, regardless of what we do to stop it. Perhaps more than anyone else on the face of this planet, this notion has filled me, sequentially and then simultaneously, with awe, astonishment, joy, terror, and finally, relief.
Awe, that a system could be produced by a handful of people that would rid the world of the scourge of war, nuclear weapons, governments, and taxes. Astonishment, at my realization that once started, it would cover the entire globe inexorably, erasing dictatorships both fascistic and communistic, monarchies, and even so-called "democracies," which as a general rule today are really just the facade of government by the special interests. Joy, that it would eliminate all war, and force the dismantling not only of all nuclear weapons, but also all militaries, making them not merely redundant but also considered universally dangerous, leaving their "owners" no choice but to dismantle them, and in fact no reason to KEEP them!
Terror, too, because this system may just change almost EVERYTHING how we think about our current society, and even more for myself personally, the knowledge that there may some day be a large body of wealthy people who are thrown off their current positions of control of the world's governments, and the very-real possibility that they may look for a "villain" to blame for their downfall. They will find one, in me, and at that time they will have the money and (thanks to me, at least partially) the means to see their revenge. But I would not have published this essay if I had been unwilling to accept the risk.
Finally, relief. Maybe I'm a bit premature to say it, but I'm satisfied we _will_ be free. I'm convinced there is no alternative. It may feel like a roller-coaster ride on the way there, but as of today I think our destination is certain. Please understand, we _will_ be free.
Your libertarian friend,
Klaatu Burada Nikto