Thomas L. Knapp

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Mourn -- and organize -- on the 4th of July, 2003
by Thomas L. Knapp

I've resisted the temptation to go back and re-read the first two annual installments of this series. I'm certain that they'd seem depressingly optimistic when placed in the context of the events that have transpired over the last year, and I'd rather look forward. As a matter of fact, I'm inspired by Mary Lou Seymour's admonition in her latest Liberty Action of the Week column: Don't just mourn, organize!

It would be of little use to recount the minutiae of the last 365 days. You lived through those days, as did I. The best that can be said of them is that they were a time of unmasking: none can now seriously doubt that the United States has descended into banana republic territory, a state of complete disconnection of government from rule of law or adherence to its own stated foundational principles.

In another article, published last week on another site, I described the situation like this:

What is certain is that the United States has entered into a revolutionary situation. Severe financial exigency, a failing economy, a failed foreign policy and an increasingly draconian domestic situation have combined to produce the circumstances under which a fundamental reorganization of American political society is not only desirable, but necessary; not only necessary, but inevitable.

I did not, and do not, make this remark lightly. The libertarian movement has, for half a century or more, sought a peaceful recrudescence of American polity, working within the institutions which civil society provides -- literature, electoral politics and the public debate -- for that purpose. Even as we have done so, that same civil society has crumbled around us.

It would be a mistake to assume that the libertarian movement is the agency of that disintegration. We've never had either the strength or the motive to accomplish such a feat. The agency of disintegration is, and has been, the welfare-warfare state. Like a drowning man at sea, the state stands on civil society's shoulders in a desperate bid for one more breath of air before going under itself.

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The good news, of course, is that it is going under. The bad news is that we have no way of knowing whether its victims -- us -- can get out from under it before it does. If this is to happen, the libertarian movement must, of necessity, play the central role in preserving the institutions of civil society, throwing off the drowning state and prying the dead order's cold hand from that society's ankle so that it can no longer threaten to drag us into the deep with it.

There's room for all kinds of activity within this process. It may be that electoral politics is not at the end of its usefulness. The soapbox will certainly continue to play a role. More and more, however, the focus must begin to move to the actual resolution of conflict and the creation of alternative institutions to replace the disintegrating ones.

I had hoped to place before you today a program of action fully endorsed by the editorial board of Rational Review. This is not a new or novel device. As a matter of fact, the editorial board of Iskra ("Spark") and its program were the nucleus around which the Russian revolution's creators coalesced.

The wheels of Unanimous Consent, however, grind slowly, and while we seem to be in overall agreement, I have not yet obtained the endorsement of all members of that board. Some are travelling; some have apparent email problems at the moment. I will, therefore, place the program before you in draft form, claiming only the endorsements that it has,in fact, received*:

The United States has entered into a revolutionary era. We do not claim to know, with certainty, when this era began, but the events and aftermath of September 11th, 2001, have exposed fatal cracks in the foundations of American political society as we know it. Severe financial exigency, a failing economy, a failed foreign policy and an increasingly draconian domestic situation have combined to produce the circumstances under which a fundamental reorganization of American political society is not only desirable, but necessary; not only necessary, but inevitable.

Fundamental transformation requires a radical agency. The choice facing the libertarian movement on the North American continent is whether it will become that agency and fight to bring forth upon this continent a new and better society based on human freedom; or whether it will ignore the call of history and indulge itself in false moderation and ineffectual reformism, while 300 million human beings are plunged into a new Dark Age by the forces of statism.

The editorial board of Rational Review unanimously holds that the libertarian movement must take up the banner of freedom and move forward -- not as a reformist element within the current system, but as a radical, revolutionary alternative to that system, utilizing all means available to us that can be implemented in a manner consistent with the Zero Aggression Principle. These means may include, but are by no means limited to, electoral and partisan politics.

Any program put forward for the use of the libertarian movement must perforce define the movement which it addresses, and we predicate our definition on the Zero Aggression Principle, which has been stated in many forms. The form we have adopted, articulated by L. Neil Smith, is as follows:

"A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."

We hereby offer our program for the libertarian movement, addressed to all who define themselves, in accordance with the principle stated above, as libertarians.


1) We call for the cessation of enforcement -- as well as the repudiation and repeal -- of all laws which (in any way, shape manner or form) conflict with the first ten amendments to the Constitution for the United States of America.

2) We call for trial, by juries of their peers, of any and all persons credibly accused of violating, or attempting to violate, the first ten amendments to the Constitution for the United States of America, in their capacities as employees of any entity, division or subdivision of government, under the provisions of the United States Code, Title 18, Sections 241 and 242. Upon conviction for such offenses, we call for said persons to be punished as mandated by said statutes; and, further, that they henceforward be barred, per the 14th Amendment, from all offices of public trust under the United States of America.

3) In pursuit of the fulfillment of the first point of this program, we call for the American people to resist, by any means necessary, the enforcement of any law which (in any way, shape, manner or form) conflicts with the first ten amendments to the Constitution for the United States of America; and for the members of the libertarian movement to form such associations and conduct such activities as they deem necessary to aid in that resistance, operating always in accordance with the Zero Aggression Principle.

4) In anticipation of a failure of the state to implement the first two points of this program, we call upon the libertarian movement to create, and to offer for the use of the American people, such alternative institutions as may be required to perform the legitimate services required for polity; said institutions shall operate in accordance with the Zero Aggression Principle, upon the basis of the Unanimous Consent of all who deal with them, and in direct competition with the state's distorted versions of said institutions for the patronage of the American people.

5) In similar anticipation of attempts by the state to suppress this implementation of voluntary polity, we call upon the libertarian movement to organize and actively lead such efforts as may be necessary to implement the first point of this program and to protect the new society to which it is thereby giving birth from the existing state, any emergent state or any other enemy which may present itself.

Fulfillment of this program will result, at a minimum, in a return of the United States to Constitutional polity; at a maximum, it will create a truly libertarian polity -- either with no state or with minimal "night watchman" states, upon the North American continent.

We call upon all individuals and organizations composing the libertarian movement to adopt this program and to implement it in such ways as their capacities provide for.

More specifically:

We call upon libertarian publications and policy institutes:
to radicalize themselves and reach out to the American people -- to refuse false attempts to move libertarian ideas to the political center, and to strive, rather, to move the political center to libertarian ideas, stressing, as the bare minimum, the necessity of Bill of Rights Enforcement.

We call upon individual libertarians and libertarian groups:
to work tirelessly in their own circles and communities to promulgate and promote the ideas underlying this program; to arm and organize themselves and those around them for the defense of their rights and the rights of their countrymen; and to assume the leadership role in creating and defending the alternative institutions required by the fourth point of this program.

We call upon the Libertarian Party:
To nominate and support candidates for elective office who will agitate ceaselessly for implementation of the first two points of this program, without stint, compromise or retreat; and to pursue ballot initiatives and litigation which result in the implementation of the first two points of this program.

We also call upon libertarians and libertarian organizations in places other than North America to adopt, and implement, similar programs.

Finally, realizing the peril of the course that this program maps out, the members of the editorial board of Rational Review accept the responsibilities which we are herein exhorting others to take upon themselves. We therefore solemnly publish and declare:

That the American people are, and of right ought to be, free and sovereign individuals;

That the American people are absolved from -- indeed, that they were never rightfully bound to -- any allegiance to any state which holds them, or attempts to hold them, to any other standard;

That all political connection between the American people and any such state is, and ought to be, totally dissolved;

And that as free and sovereign individuals, they have full power to exercise their unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and to defend said rights by any means necessary.

And for the support of this program, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Thomas L. Knapp, July 4th, 2003
Mary Lou Seymour, July 4th, 2003
Brad Spangler, July 4th, 2003
Steve Trinward, July 4th, 2003
R. Lee Wrights, July 4th, 2003
L. Neil Smith, July 4th, 2003
Scott Bieser, July 4th, 2003

Next year, perhaps, in Philadelphia -- if we don't just mourn, but organize!


* The program, from first publication, has been modified by moving the paragraph referring to the Libertarian Party from the top position in its section to third in priority. While endorsement of the program in principle achieved Unanimous Consent of Rational Review's editorial board by July 4th, 2003, this change was implemented on July 6th, 2003, as a friendly amendment to improve the document and make possible Unanimous Consent in practice.