Thomas L. Knapp

Tom Knapp is Managing Editor of Free-Market.Net and publisher of Rational Review.

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Brick and Martyr
(or, Instead of a Book Review)

Like all art forms, the literature of liberty has its own pantheon.

Locke. Cato. Paine. Spooner. Tucker. Rand. LeFevre. Heinlein. And others, of course, too numerous to catalog and whose inclusion or exclusion I am not here to debate. The current generation -- L. Neil Smith, J. Neil Schulman, Ken Macleod, Kathryn A. Graham et al (this list goes on and on as well) -- are creating a body of work just as rich and rewarding, and that will likely stand the test of time just as well.

My purpose here is to talk about one author and his unique and timely contribution to the freedom movement.

martyr: one who sacrifices his life, his station, or what is of great value to him, for the sake of principle, or to sustain a cause.

-- Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

Vin Suprynowicz is creating the libertarian movement's Lives of the Martyrs, a task he began (in book form -- his syndicated column, of course, has been with us for longer and has often served the same function) with 1999's Send in the Waco Killers and continues in the newly released The Ballad of Carl Drega.

There's a subtle difference between the modern American martyrs for freedom and those traditionally defined as martyrs for a religious or political cause. Religious and political martyrs down through the ages have generally died in the act of proselytization or recruitment to their belief or cause. The modern American martyr for freedom have been killed for no other reason than that they wished to be left alone.

The stories of individuals -- common or uncommon, admirable or despicable in their beliefs, noteworthy or anonymous -- who have suffered, and often died, at the hands of American government over the last decade or so: these are the stories which form the backbone of Suprynowicz's work.

Peter McWilliams, choking on his own vomit because a judge denied him the use of medical marijuana.

Vickie Weaver, shot dead as she held her baby because her husband had dared to ignore a bureaucrat's opinion on the proper length of shotgun barrels.

Three-year-old Crystal Martinez, who died in a burning church outside of Waco, Texas on April 19th, 1993 after government tanks pumped flammable, cyanide-producing aerosols into the church, torched it and shot those who attempted to flee.

These martyrs did not so much sacrifice themselves for a principle as find themselves sacrificed by that principle's enemy in its vain attempt to extend its power for one more year, one more day, one more hour.

Ideas matter. Ideas have power. In any conflict, however, the perceived balance of moral credibility eventually begins to shift with the actions of those who stand for competing ideas. The onlooker judges ideas not so much on the basis of some kind of mental calculus, placing syllogisms next to each other and solving for "best outcome," but by the actions of those who support the competing principles.

History has proven that this is a fair rule of thumb: the supporters of bad ideas are compelled to impose those ideas by force and to harass, imprison, even kill those who fail to comply with their edicts. This, in turn, instructs the populace and eventually provokes a necessary reaction. If a revolution is a building, martyrdom is what holds that building's bricks together.

The American Revolution can be rightly said to have begun on the day that British troops shot down colonial militiamen at Lexington and Concord.

The Russian Revolution got its biggest boost when young Alexander Ulyanov was hanged for his part in an attempt on the life of the Czar. His younger brother, Vladimir, eventually came to the world's attention under the adopted pseudonym "Lenin."

The second American Revolution has begun; only time will tell when it began, but I don't doubt that we'll find the event cataloged in one of Vin Suprynowicz's books. Like its predecessor, The Ballad of Carl Drega takes the reader on a journey through the lives of ordinary Americans who find themselves on the wrong end of a government edict or a government gun.

These ordinary Americans -- some of them lying cold in the grave, some merely bankrupted, imprisoned, separated from their families or targeted for harassment for having had the gall and temerity to claim ocontrol of their own lives and property -- are the martyrs of the freedom movement, and Suprynowicz's books are a Common Sense or a What is to be Done? for those of us who survive and observe.

The Ballad of Carl Drega and Send in the Waco Killers are available from The Spirit of 76.