Now, officially, I am an enemy of the state. Now, technically, I am a fugitive from one of the state’s national police agencies. Now, fundamentally, I am convinced that in the confrontation between the state and freedom there can be no middle ground, no safe haven, no neutral corner, nook, or cranny.
My own situation is not offered as in any way an exemplary model. It is not a course to be recommended, but simply to be reported. I have for some time refused to sanction or support the state system of this or any nation by the payment of taxes. The Internal Revenue Service‘s police force is, as a result, now in the process of attempting to seize all property belonging to me. Since my property consists of the tools and books needed to make a living, this action is not simply one of administrative punishment but involves an aspect of survival. I believe in self-defense. Therefore, I will surely attempt to thwart them. This is civil disobedience. Fine.
Also, wherever and whenever possible I have been speaking out against the state and attempting to rally opposition to it. One result has been that the Federal Bureau of Investigation apparently has given to various “conservatives” information from government files which they consider derogatory but which, frankly, I do not inasmuch as it simply attempts to make the point that I tend to be extreme in my political views. True enough. I do believe, as a matter of fact, that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice and that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. (Incidentally, I am rather painfully aware of the technique in which the FBI uses its files to defame political dissenters because, when I was on ‘the right side’, I was given, as were many of my colleagues, substantial FBI data to be used against rebels, reds, and resisters.)
As a result of becoming a rebel in active fact as well as a rhetorical rebel, certain notions regarding resistance to the state have come into sharper focus for me. (Needless to say, I do not mean that a purely rhetorical rebel cannot be a real one also. It really depends on whether the rhetoric is, in fact, rebellious or merely windy. My colleague, for instance, is as true a rebel as you will find even though he has not, so far as I know, even been arrested for jaywalking.)
I am more convinced than ever that the state must be resisted, not just debated or evaded. The debate, which has raged in the legislature and even in the courts for generations, has achieved nothing but momentary changes in the velocity of state power development. The direction has never changed. Every year, regardless of the rhetoric of our supposed representatives, the direction of state power has been upward. This has proven to be a dynamic of the system itself and not merely a function of factions within the system. There is every reason to believe that the development of central power will virtually reach critical mass under the present highly defensive, repression-minded, centralist ‘moderate’ or ‘progressive’ Administration (which is supported, do not forget, by the Conservative establishment as well).
The simplest fact of the improbability of representational reform is that in order to get elected, as all agree, a man must promise to “do” something for his constituents. Then, to stay in office, he mustactually do something, or at least appear to. This hardly makes it feasible for the man to resist the state. He must, instead, use it, curry favor with it, or so play the bureaucratic game as to even outpoint it, as in the case of elderly committee chairmen.
Some say, however, that the voters could be ‘educated’ to elect anti-statist candidates. Since all organs of mass media are either controlled by the state or its state-capital ‘partners’, and since almost all schools, also, are either owned or controlled by the state, from elementary grades through the university, the means of reaching, in order to educate, tens of millions of voters is obscure at the very best.
Others say that in a time of crisis, at any rate, people might turn to ‘anti-statist’ candidates for their own self-preservation. Skipping the fact that the notion of an anti-statist candidate is a contradiction in itself, it should be recalled that in this example it is the crisis, not the candidacy that would be the decisive factor. There may be a lesson in that for those who will struggle to learn it.
That I prefer resistance to reform does not, however, mean that I prefer a particular kind of resistance. My kind, civil disobedience and sounding off, might not be appropriate for many others. I certainly do not claim that it is the most effective course. It just happens to be what I can do, therefore I do it.
Would not retreat from government be just as effective? Perhaps so, if that is what one can do best, or all that one can do. It should be borne in mind, however, that all such retreat is done, ultimately, at the sufferance of the state and under the Damoclean sword of the state. When, or if the retreat irks the state, it will end the retreat. The same applies to those who feel that they can coexist with the state because they measure liberty purely in terms of personal property and profit and highly regard or at least tolerate the state so long as it protects that. The point to remember is the same: all property in a state system exists at the sufferance of the state. When it wishes to take the property, it can.
As a radical American politician once put it: “The state that is powerful enough to give you all you want is powerful enough to take it all away.” No better comment could be made upon the illusory hopes of having a state that is both powerful enough to protect you against all ills foreign and domestic and also somehow weak enough never to threaten you.
Finally, there is the matter of alliances. With whom does an enemy of the state make alliances? There may be a million answers of contentious detail. There is only one answer of overall principle: You do notmake alliances with the state itself, you do not make alliances with agents of or supporters of the state—even though you may attempt to change them. The range of alliance, therefore, is restricted to those who also oppose the state.
Within that range there may be many variations of principle, many different goals. Those differences should and must determine future actions. Present actions, however, should be determined by present needs. No need is greater than opposition to the state and reduction of its power. Without that reduction of power all meaning of other differences must remain purely academic.
To refuse to oppose the state we have because we fear, for instance, the state we might have, is to refuse to grasp reality while trembling before ghosts. (Why not, instead, lay the groundwork for resistance to all state power even while resisting the one at hand?)
Today, everywhere in the world, it is established and coercive authority that is called into question, that is under siege. Literally, one cannot even go to the moon to avoid it.
How then neutrality here on earth?
The timeless revolutionary question is timely again: which side are you on? Are you an enemy or friend of liberty? Are you an enemy or friend of the state? Will you be content to act as an agent of the state, or hide as a refugee from it? Or will you resist it where you can, as you can, when you can?
It is liberty that is the idea most threatening to the state. And all men who hold it as an ideal are enemies of the state. Welcome!
The Libertarian Forum, August 1, 1969
More from Karl Hess
- Tools to Dismantle the State
- The Lawless State
- The Role of Community in the Commitment to Liberty
- The Death of Politics
- What The Movement Needs
- FBI And CIA
- My Taxes
- Anarchism without Hyphens