Mises Wire

Are You an Enemy of the State? Most Likely.

Donald Trump, Julian Assange, Alex Jones, and Rudy Giuliani are in deep trouble with the US state. How about you?

Most likely you feel safe because your voice hasn’t attracted a large following. What would the state’s enforcers gain by attacking a little guy? They’re big-game hunters. Pull the plug on the big guys and their everyday followers float away like bathtub water down a drain.

Possibly you believe you aren’t really attacking the state with your social media posts, just the corrupt regime currently in power. As long as your words don’t go too far off the rails you think trouble will leave you alone.

That’s the theory, at least.

Most libertarians are not Rothbardians. They think the state is necessary but needs to be slashed, not done away with—much like what the heroic Javier Milei is doing in Argentina. Their comfort zone is a minimalist state, and they write or lecture from that position. As such, these people are explicit defenders of the state per se and therefore cannot be considered enemies of the state.

The SWAT team hacking at your door couldn’t care less.

Why pick on you? What if they did decide to make an example of you, an inconspicuous promoter of seditious thoughts? The big guys have money and influence to defend themselves. You have nothing. You would be at their mercy, and they have no mercy. Would you stand your ground or crumble like a sandcastle during a tsunami? Would you wave your First Amendment rights at their weapons, or would you forget your own name? Your story would shake the social media world, exactly their reason for attacking you.

Is it really worth your life to defy the state?

In June 1989 Tank Man stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks as they advanced on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to crush a student protest. No one knows who he was or what happened to him. Yet for a few tense minutes he stopped the progression of tanks by holding his hand up before being swept away by Chinese officials. He did this in daylight, while in full public view. Most people are asleep at six in the morning when the SWAT boys come knocking.

The Firebrand Thomas Paine

Perhaps the power of your writing will elevate you to the state’s crosshairs. Thomas Paine, an Englishman, wrote Common Sense as a talented commoner living in Philadelphia, and it inspired a revolution. He even took up arms against his native country and joined George Washington’s army.

Paine wrote another inspiring piece in late December 1776 that the general had his officers read to their ragged troops on Christmas Day. With their spirits temporarily boosted, they seized Trenton from the hungover Hessians early the next morning. It was a pivotal victory for the patriots.

Paine, being an ocean away, paid no price for his treason.

Later, while in England, Paine wrote another book that did get him in trouble. Rights of Man: Part the First, published in 1791, written as a defense of the early French Revolution and as an answer to MP Edmund Burke’s attack on it, expressed Paine’s undying contempt for government: “Lay then the axe to the root, and teach governments humanity. It is their sanguinary punishments which corrupt mankind. In England the punishment in certain cases is by hanging, drawing and quartering; the heart of the sufferer is cut out and held up to the view of the populace.”

And in Rights of Man, footnote 24, “It is scarcely possible to touch on any subject, that will not suggest an allusion to some corruption in governments.”

For Part the Second, published later, Paine fled to France to escape arrest, and while there the English convicted him in absentia of seditious libel. They would have ceremoniously hung him if he ever returned to England, which he never did.

Nevertheless, according to Paine biographer Jack Fruchtman Jr., “Other than the Bible, The Rights of Man outsold all other books in English history.”

You might think Paine would have been recognized as a hero in his time. If he was, the public had a strange way of showing it. As I wrote in an earlier essay, “The man who inspired the country to secede from a corrupt state had six people in attendance at his funeral [in 1809], none of whom were dignitaries.”

Much later, Teddy Roosevelt famously described Paine as “a filthy little Atheist.” It was a false characterization, but most people neither know nor care that it is.

The White Rose

Led by five students and a professor at the University of Munich, the White Rose was an intellectual resistance group in Nazi Germany that lasted from June 27, 1942, to February 18, 1943. Four days later three members—Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl, and Christoph Probst—were guillotined by the People’s Tribunal in Munich, ending the movement:

The students got their hands on a manual printing press and began to write texts that encouraged readers to resist the Nazis. They urged readers to engage in passive resistance, reject Nazi philosophy, sabotage the war effort and break through their apathy. “Do not forget that every nation deserves the government that it endures,” they wrote in the first pamphlet, peppering calls to rebellion with poetry and historical references.

They also painted graffiti on walls with the phrase “Hitler the Mass Murderer!” and other treasonous expressions.

Anti-Nazi speech was carefully monitored and investigated by the Gestapo, and the danger of a denunciation was ever-present. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie took a suitcase filled with leaflets to the University of Munich. They were caught throwing extra pamphlets into a courtyard from a balcony, arrested, and interrogated by the Gestapo. Dozens of the group members were subsequently imprisoned.

Each of us should inventory our degree of bravery for the times ahead. Tank Man, Paine, and the White Rose risked their lives opposing a corrupt state. Are you ready to die, if necessary, in defense of your convictions? Are they the backbone of your life or just ideas you’re flirting with? Is death preferable to slavery? Or is slavery death by other means? We must decide and act accordingly.

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