Mises Daily Articles
The Birth of a Man
[Chapter 14 of This Bread Is Mine (1960)]
It is time for the descendants of the early American patriots who fought and died for that poorly defined but magnificent idea, liberty, to let their voices be heard once more. It is time for those newly arrived Americans, fleeing the atrocities and tyrannies of Europe and Asia, to speak up boldly in favor of the liberty they came here to find.
Humanity the world over is sunk under a weight of excessive bureaucracy sired by the socialist ideologists.
The American government is no more worthy in its present formation and policy to raise a banner of freedom than is the thundering crew of political slave masters headquartered in the Kremlin.
Welding the Crack
If the crack in the liberty bell is to be welded shut so that the tocsin call to freedom can be heard among the world's oppressed, it must be free men outside of government who perform this welding task. No government that curtails or inhibits individual liberty can possibly man the universal carillon.
What is needed is a rebirth of the spirit of liberty. The Declaration of Independence contained that spirit. But it was limited, not by the desire of the authors but by the circumstances under which it was produced. The oppressed colonists of that prior day were concerned with independence fromBritain. The oppressed individualists of our generation are concerned with independence from government.
They are conscious that moral law must provide the base of their society. They are becoming conscious now that governments, by their very nature, tend to subvert moral law in the interests of expedience.
A new Declaration of Independence is in order. To meet the challenge of collectivism it must be a Declaration of Individual Independence.
The Declaration of Individualism
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one individual to dissolve the political bands which have held him under the dominance of any state, and thus to assume his full stature as a human being among the others of his kind, in compliance with highest moral law and in conformity with nature's laws and in deep humility before nature's God, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that he should declare the causes which impel him to thus stand forth a free being and subservient to none.
These truths are held to be self-evident, that each man is better qualified to govern his own affairs than any other man or combination of men or agencies are so qualified; that he is endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, private ownership of property, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, each man is qualified to select for himself that agency or those agencies which seem to him best suited to protect his life and his property, to maintain his freedom, and which lie within his ability to afford. That whenever any agency evinces characteristics of tyranny, he is well within his rights and his powers to discharge that agency and to find another more suitable to his inclinations and his finances. That he is competent to accomplish this end singly or jointly with others, with the express understanding that no single person may be coerced or trespassed against in the formation or the maintenance of any such joint enterprise.
Experience, indeed, will dictate that governments in practice erode and destroy the individuality of man by virtue of the coercion they exercise against their citizens. Therefore, he will take due cognizance of this fact, and should a new government be deemed advisable and most likely to effect his safety and happiness, he will see to it that the just powers of that government shall be derived from the individual consent of those governed. No man shall be compelled to pay a tax for a product or service he does not wish to enjoy. On the contrary, each man wishing such product or service shall bear the full pro-rata cost of that product or service without resort to taxation.
No man, in making this individual declaration, is seeking by so doing to overthrow or subvert any existing government. He is, rather, intent upon stopping the long train of abuses and usurpations which have pursued a single object of placing him under absolute despotism. If others want tyranny, he is content to let them pursue it to their pleasure. He seeks only to stand free of the political shackles that fetter his own wrists.
He will not use force to secure his objective. He will obey the edicts of his rulers when he is compelled to obey. But he will no longer volunteer to further tyranny, either by beseeching subsidy or support, or by accepting it should it be granted him. He will make his own way, for better or for worse, and hold himself accountable to his God for his success and his failure.
The history of the present governments the world over is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations against humankind, having in direct object the subjugation and the socialization of every human being.
To prove this, let facts be submitted in candor to mankind.
Governments, as presently formulated, have demonstrated their inability to deal with crime. Rather, in certain cases where criminals have been apprehended, the laws have been perverted in such fashion that the courts themselves have conspired to aid the felon. There is a rising tide of lawlessness and delinquency. Yet, where "tough" policies have been enacted, so obtuse and oppressive are the rulings that innocent persons are made to suffer indignities and oppressions of the worst sort, whereas hardened criminals easily secure their freedom.
Governments, as presently formulated, have demonstrated repeatedly that they are simply the tools of various pressure groups. Principles have been abandoned in favor of expediency. And in those places where such pressures have been put down, the citizens live in a state of virtual siege with the government itself providing pressures and exactions against them.
Governments, as presently formulated, have so magnified the task of passing laws that in many places the body of law already exceeds the lifetime of scholars for reading purposes. Yet the process continues, and it is so prolific of results that thousands of new codes, rules, regulations, ordinances, and manifestos are issued each moment, the result of which is to place every citizen under the baneful necessity of obeying what he knows not of, and of paying for "benefits" which will never accrue to him.
Governments, as presently formulated, maintain the fiction of representation. But they are no longer either representative or responsive to the wishes, or even the anguish, of the individual citizen. Though it has been widely accepted that the democratic form of government provides a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, it is now seen that as governments are presently arrayed they are organizations of the government, by the government, and for the government.
Governments, as presently formulated, are forever on the search for bigness and power. The tiny and self-contained, largely self-government unit is no longer viable. By the process of merger, metropolitanizing, federalizing and worldizing, through the agencies of bureaus, committees, appointees, and by means of laws, passed legally or put into activity illegally by executive fiat, a vast usurpation has occurred and is occurring so that the rights of the individual are forever placed under a growing cloud of oppression.
In the United States, as an example, each citizen is at once required to obey a minimum of six governing bodies — school district, city, county, state, nation, and United Nations. Since the rules in each case are both costly and in conflict, a mounting confusion grows. The answer given is for a vast merger to occur, a homogenizing of all power with central authority drifting irrevocably toward the hands of a supreme dictator. The rights of the individual have been cancelled out in favor of the bigness and the power of a bureaucracy.
Governments, as presently formulated, have long since abandoned their historic function of keeping law and order. They have usurped a thousand prerogatives and are now advancing the socialist cause by seizing businesses, charitable organizations, and educational institutions, which they operate in the face of mounting financial ruin on every hand. The seizure begins as the confiscation of income and wealth from the citizens. It ends with the government itself competing in every walk of life with the taxpayer, who must not only make a profit to subsist but must pay for the waste and abuse of monopolistic and monolithic competition.
Governments, as presently formulated, are engaged in co-mixing the funds of their own constituents with the funds of constituents of other governments. A universal policy of plundering the citizen has supplanted the policy of a frugal and accountable regime. Additionally, and against all decent usage and custom, governments are compelling citizens to work, attend school, and live in neighborhoods among people with whom they have little in common. Governments are legislating in the field of morals and have declared, if God has not made man equal to each other man, he shall be made equal by universal force and an end of sufferance.
Governments, as presently formulated, have undermined individual responsibility by providing financial rewards for mothers of children born out of wedlock, by paying subsidies to persons who are unemployed, and by rewarding those who refuse to produce. With the unprecedented rise in population and the mammoth support of the indigent and impecunious, the governments are now imaging a bureau to control population and another to further the peopling of other planets of this solar system.
Governments, as presently formulated, have lost touch with the sense of justice and reason. They have become tools of union agitators and will suffer almost any abuse to an individual citizen provided that abuse occurs under union management. They have recently, in the United States, endeavored to reveal racketeering in certain unions, which are momentarily out of governmental favor. But the principles of coercion and violence in every labor union still stand unchecked.
Governments, as presently formulated, have penalized the successful and rewarded the unsuccessful, in violation of natural law.
Governments, as presently formulated, have made a mockery of courts, by causing judges to be responsive to the whim of popular leaders. The courts in large measure now mirror the will of the chief executive and justice is banished to places outside of government.
Governments, as presently formulated, have made a universal draft and military service compulsory, in violation of the rights of free men.
Governments, as presently formulated, have ringed the businessman and producer with a wall of regulations, licenses, reports, taxations, and vexations beyond all reason, to the detriment of all.
Governments, as presently formulated, have manipulated the currency, debauched the medium of exchange, and brought a wholesale inflation upon the world to the ruination of the people.
Governments, as presently formulated, have interfered with the right of a man to travel where he pleases.
Governments, as presently formulated, have plundered the citizens of vast treasure to establish enormous propaganda agencies, which serve in the capacity of singing the self-praise of each government.
Governments, as presently formulated, have moved into the realm of psychology and have presumed to decide who is sane and who is not sane, with arbitrary treatment prescribed for those the governments find to be suffering from an unwillingness to obey or to sanction their immoral actions.
Governments, as presently formulated, have cut off the trade of some persons with the trade of other persons.
Governments, as presently formulated, have permitted their citizens to be tried in courts beyond their own jurisdiction, despite the fact that these citizens are under their exclusive regulation and have paid taxes for the support of their own system of jurisprudence.
Governments, as presently formulated, have raised the taxes repeatedly, compelling those who object to the taxes to pay at the same rate as those who do not object. Additionally, some are compelled through a form of involuntary servitude to act for the government and to collect taxes from others against their own will and against the will of others. Nor are they recompensed for so doing.
Governments, as presently formulated, have created a debt so monstrous that it will take generations of future citizens to cope with it and despite the moral question as to whether an unborn child can be held responsible for debts incurred before his birth.
Governments, as presently formulated, have confiscated private property, often for light and whimsical reasons, paying for the property at a rate pleasing only to the government.
Governments, as presently formulated, have set up arbitrary restrictions on the use of private property, preventing individuals from the full enjoyment of what they own.
Governments, as presently formulated, have taken up arms against ordinary citizens, have bayoneted harmless persons in the streets, and have stood by in the midst of lawless insurrection, giving countenance and standing to riot and property damage.
Governments, as presently formulated, have stimulated their own citizens to prepare to take up arms against possible foreign aggressors, while at the same time encouraging these potential foes with entertainment, largesse, and legal advantages and immunities.
Governments, as presently formulated, have created a vacuum in the minds of youths by indoctrinating them from their tenderest years in government institutions, which operate on the theory that money can do everything and that what the government demands in the way of money is always morally justified.
In every stage of these oppressions, individual citizens have petitioned for redress, in the most humble terms. Their repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. Any government whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyranny, is unfit to be either the ruler of or the protector of individuals.
Nor has the individual been wanting in his esteem and affection for individual political figures he may know and admire. Repeatedly, these political figures have been asked to right the wrongs being heaped upon their fellow citizens. Party support has been switched, encouragement has been given to well-meaning and outspoken politicians who promise a surcease of these manifold woes. But to no avail. It appears that the government office is now so large that it dominates the man, and that no man in power is large enough to dominate his office.
Appeal has been made to a sense of justice, a sense of fair play, and a sense of economy. The men in government have been deaf alike to the voices calling for justice or even for a recognition of the fact that they, too, are human.
Therefore, while the necessity is deplored, it must be declared that men in office who are performing coercive functions in violation of nature's laws have become themselves a part of the state, which is the source of the difficulties. They are either helpless to right these numerous wrongs, or they are willingly perpetrating them.
I, therefore, a citizen of this nation, standing by myself and exerting no influence or coercion over any, and appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of my intentions, do, in the name and by the authority which resides in all free men, solemnly publish and declare, that I am and of right ought to be a free and independent human being. I will therefore, now and henceforward, refrain from participation in all agencies of government whenever and wherever I am permitted. I will be independent and self-supporting, looking neither to government nor to any similar agency of force to provide for me. Nor will I willingly join with any organization, group, or person who counsels or urges violence, coercion, or the forceful regulation of my fellow man in any particular whatsoever.
And for the support of this Declaration, I pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honor.
The idea and the ideal of individual resolve will be slow to take hold. Men are gregarious and by instinct fearful of full reliance on their independent judgment. But the case for individualism will rest its plea on the laws of nature and nature's God, and it will be justly judged in time.
There will always be those who will assure themselves they would like to be a full-fledged individualist if only they could be certain that others would take the same position. The true individualist will not permit himself to be comforted or protected by that alibi. The true individualist will root out all traces of socialism within himself and act independently, even though he may be the only person to so strip himself of comfort and to so act.
If it is true, as has been argued, that our problem with socialism resides inside each human being, then it must follow that the cure for socialism is one which must be self administered. You cannot control any other person. This is a physical impossibility. Your rights are unalienable, even by your own willingness and connivance to alienate them.
The cause of individualism and human liberty is too important a cause to be entrusted to any organization or group of men. Only you can improve yourself to the point where you are competent and capable of defeating socialism within yourself. Only by so doing can you become able to serve the cause of freedom for all men.