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The Logical Endpoint of Fruitcake Libertarianism

Libertarianism has a lot of appeal, let's face it.  This is especially true now, when the reach of government seems limitless; when we have a Supreme Court case about whether throwing away undersized fish is a federal felony; and when little girls get hassled by the cops for running a lemonade stand without a city permit.

Government run amok invites theories of government run amok, and that's what we're getting.  We saw a glimpse of it in the Nevada standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management, in which the government (momentarily) couldn't think of a better way to collect its overdue grazing fees than to bring in the BLM version of Seal Team 6, and Bundy responded by bringing in what sure looked like a militia.

The  subject of how to respond to an overgrown, omnipresent, hectoring and bullying government is really important and really long  --  too long for a blog post.  It' easier, and a lot shorter, to describe how not to respond to it.  That would be to continue to demand the benefits of the rule of law while proclaiming yourself a "sovereign."
I found out about the "sovereign" movement in this article from the ABA Journal. Here are some excerpts:

Sovereigns--also called "freemen on the land" or "organic citizens"--believe that an illegitimate, usurper federal government has taken over, and that they don't have to pay taxes, pull over their cars for police or obey any other law they don't like.

These beliefs may sound silly, but sovereigns can be difficult to laugh off. For one thing, even though they don't believe they're subject to laws, they use laws as weapons. The FBI has called sovereigns "paper terrorists" because they so often fight perceived enemies--generally public employees--by filing false liens, false tax documents or spurious lawsuits. These can hurt the victim's credit, stymie attempts to sell or refinance property, and take years and thousands in legal fees to correct.


And though most sovereigns are not violent, there are exceptions...A sovereign father and son, Jerry and Joseph Kane, were responsible for the 2010 murders of two West Memphis, Ark., police officers, during what should have been a routine traffic stop. Jerry Kane was a known figure within the sovereign movement, traveling the country to sell ideas on debt elimination and stopping foreclosure. His girlfriend, Donna Lee Wray, later made news by flooding Tampa's local government with paperwork when they wanted her to get a dog license.

Nor are officers of the court immune, says J.J. MacNab, a Bethesda, Md., insurance analyst and litigation consultant who has tracked the sovereign movement for years.

"In the recent past, it's mostly been about police officers," says MacNab, who has chaired several ABA committees as an associate member. "But now we're looking at judges, county clerks, prosecutors--even public defenders."

Some sovereigns hold trials in their own "common-law courts," convicting public officials in absentia and sentencing them to death for "treason." This can be seen as an indirect threat against those "convicted."

But the violence can also be direct. Alaskans Lonnie and Karen Vernon, a couple involved in the Alaska militia run by political activist Schaeffer Cox, plotted to kill a federal judge and an IRS officer who handled their tax prosecution. At the behest of his friend Robert Chapman--a sovereign also known as "General Chapman"--sovereign John Ridge Emery III handed a Charlotte County, Fla., traffic judge an envelope he believed contained anthrax.

I want to make it clear that, so far as I know, the leading voices for libertarian theory do not support, and want nothing to do with, "sovereigns."  My point is that libertarians, and the rest of us, need to take more seriously an often overlooked precept:  The whole idea of the rule of law entails the surrender of a degree of individual autonomy in exchange for the benefits of civilized life.

This will occasionally  --  or perhaps in the present day more than occasionally  -- result in a citizen's having to obey a statute or a court ruling he is thoroughly convinced is wrong, unjust or even tyrannical.  But if the rule of law is to mean anything, it means the citizen is required to obey it anyway, subject to his ability (1) to seek by peaceable means to persuade a majority that he's right and the statute has to go, or (2) to petition an independent judiciary to hold that the law in question violates the fundamental charter (in our case, the Constitution) that codifies the social contract in a particular polity. 

The United States is not Nazi Germany (a comparison that, astoundingly, I often hear when this subject comes up in debates with libertarians) and  it is not the antebellum South.  We have a working democracy with essentially full enfranchisement, and we have an independent judiciary.  That these things are not flawless is not the point. No human institution is flawless.  Let's count our blessings: Our governing institutions do the job assigned to them about as well as it's been done in the history of governments.

Given that, it 's not up to cattle ranchers, tax protesters or  --  must I say it?  --  drug users to decide for themselves what laws they wish to obey.  If they dislike the laws we have, they can work to get them changed.  Either that, or they can move back to the jungle, where the only rule is the rule of force.  At that point, they'll discover why the human race developed the social contract to begin with.


Hello Bill,

All that stuff about sovereigns is a straw man because that is not what libertarianism is about.

Libertarianism, as a political philosophy, explores the moral limit of the application of force or violence. The rule of law is premised on the threat of force or violence and the ultimate use of violence to insure compliance.

Using the lemonade stand as an example. The libertarian asks if it a moral use of violence to enforce lemonade stand laws against children. Do we really want to use violence against children who are running lemonade stands? Most people would say no. The libertarian would answer that lemonade stand laws are not moral and we don't need laws regulating lemonade stands run by children.

Taking laws against battery as another question, most libertarians would reply that violence is justified against the act of battery so laws against battery are just.

Not all libertarians agree on what constitutes a moral application of violence so their view will fall upon a spectrum. Finis.

There are plenty of self described "libertarians" who don't know what I just explained. If they don't know that, then they are not libertarians. So before you go beating up on libertarians, please be sure that they are libertarians in the first place.

"... that is not what libertarianism is about..."

This observer seems to find as many libertarian philosophies as there are libertarians.

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