16A031 A Time to Break Laws by Jim Davies, 8/30/2016    


A law is an opinion, backed by force. Sometimes it's the opinion of some majority, but still, what makes it a law is the forceful backing. Break it and get caught, punishment follows. Sometimes it has a moral content, eg prohibiting theft and fraud; but there is no necessary connection with good and evil. I recently went on a trip, crossing several state lines; some had signs saying "Buckle up, it's our law" while others did not. Clearly, an act cannot be good on one side of an imaginary line, but evil on the other.

Those who formulate such opinions and arrange for force to be applied to those who won't conform are called "governments." When everyone has graduated from a Freedom Academy nobody will continue to imagine that someone else's opinion can properly determine one's own choices and actions, and so governments will vanish, implode, evaporate; and their "laws" will no longer exist except as marks on bits of historical paper. Society will be radically different; whereas today we're all forced to take account of laws, then we will all make our own decisions, as upstanding independent human beings are equipped to do.

That doesn't mean we'll ignore the views and wishes of other people - just that we'll not be subject to them. There's a huge difference between respect and obedience.

That's then, but this is now; so the question arises, how best shall one navigate one's way around and through laws that are now enforced, like them or not? Self-owning, self-respecting anarchists know full well that laws have no morally binding content, so why not flout the lot of them?

Ecclesiastes 3 holds that there is a season for everything, and a "time to every purpose under the heaven" and gives examples, but to my mind Russell Means expressed the idea more succinctly: "Choose your battles." Russell was the veteran of fights with government at Alcatraz, Boston, Mount Rushmore, Wounded Knee and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and no doubt had many other targets in mind; but he wisely picked the ones that would likely yield most bang for the buck. Thus we are all festooned with laws, but it's smart to be selective - about which ones to break, and when. Prison food is poor, and the wine is terrible.

I suggest lawbreaking should have a purpose. A perfectly fair purpose is to make oneself feel good: "screw 'em, it's my own life." Perhaps the reader recalls the scene in Doctor Zhivago on the train out of Moscow, in which one passenger was shackled because he refused to obey his Communist captors; he said he was the only truly free person on board.

A better purpose would be to deprive government of something; for example to refuse to pay a tax. Some lawbreaking is easy and low-risk; that tends to be hard and high-risk. Governments may not care much if we exceed their speed limit, but they do get antsy about not being paid. To my mind the most valuable lawbreaking actions are those which speed up the demolition of the State. A good example from the '60s was that of burning draft cards; that undermined the State's ability to make war, one of its favorite occupations.

(Parenthetically, regarding tax strikes, the biggest is the "Income Tax" and refusing to pay that seems to flout no law, because nobody has ever found a law to compel payment or filing. So is that an example of this subject, or not? I suggest that even so, it is. Reason: as shown here, "law" consists not just of commands Congress wrote, but of court decisions, often made well outside public view. That fact demonstrates that the visible part of government along with all its election razzmatazz is little more than a two-ring circus, but it doesn't mean that i-tax refuseniks flout no law.)

A few years ago some of the Free State Project folk in Keene, NH deliberately broke some stupid laws and advertised the fact under the banner "Good people breaking bad laws" with the intention of educating the public about the nature of laws. Things like refusing to display a license plate proclaiming the "Live Free or Die State" under force of law! Neat idea, but it cost some imprisonment. TOLFA provides a much cheaper and more thorough kind of freedom education.

After learning what freedom and government are all about, graduates of that Academy leave government employ, thereby progressively reducing its ability to function. My Transition to Liberty visualizes how this may play out, in the final few years of its miserable existence. Now, as it loses staff, it will be progressively less able to enforce its laws, and so it will become progressively less costly (risk of penalties) to break its laws; for example when its court janitors and administrators quit their jobs, its courts will close. When its collectors of tax leave to find honest work, even the timid will stop paying. The resulting revenue loss will slash other employees' pay checks and help move them to quit, too.

Thus, increased lawbreaking will not so much cause the collapse of government, rather it will more be the result of its developing collapse; and ultimately after E-Day none of its laws at all will be obeyed. Prior to then, refusal to obey laws will usefully accelerate the process - but it will not be the main driver.

Hence, Ecclesiastes was about right; there is a right and a wrong time to engage in open lawbreaking. It's always honorable and satisfying (I refer only to victimless acts of course) but it's productive (more bang for the buck) only when government's ability to retaliate has already been sharply reduced. Then, it will help reduce it yet further.

So when the avalanche of government disintegration has already begun, violating victimless laws will be low-risk and valuable; today, while it can retaliate easily, to do so is usually high-risk and ineffective. Any who call for libertarians to practice more of it today have either completely failed to think out how to terminate the State, or may well just be agents provocateurs, whose real aim is to land more of us in a government cage.

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