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Practicing Politics as Self-Defense

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The biggest uncertainty with libertarianism is not whether it is moral but whether it is achievable.

Some form of libertarianism is what ought to be. Aggressive violence can’t be moral under any circumstances. The state is an institution that relies on aggressive violence for sustenance and is, therefore, an immoral entity.

But, despite being immoral, it still exists. I’m beginning to question whether it will ever cease to exist in any form or if we, as individuals, have control over what it looks like.

In their book The Sovereign Individual, James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg argue that individuals have minimal influence on the overarching political structure. Instead, politics on a grand scale is influenced by other factors such as technology, topography, and climate.

“The most important causes of change are not to be found in political manifestos or in the pronouncements of dead economists, but in the hidden factors that alter the boundaries where power is exercised,” Davidson and Rees-Mogg wrote. “Often, subtle changes in climate, topography, microbes, and technology alter the logic of violence.”

Because politics is ultimately a system of violence, circumstances that impact the returns on violence shape the political structure. For example, the shift from swords to firearms in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution led to the spread of mass democracy in the West. Swords were costly and provided a major advantage to an elite that was skilled at using them. Guns could be mass-produced and wielded with little experience. This shifted the upper hand away from skill to numbers and facilitated the rule of large majorities.

The State Is Not in Our Control

In the liberty sphere, we think because we apply abstract principles to politics, others do too. But most people don’t think about politics in moral terms. Rather, they are concerned with what’s immediately convenient.

If the state is immediately convenient to them, they will support it. If conditions support the state, it will exist.

As a Christian, I believe we live in a fallen world. Though we are created in the image of God, we aren’t perfect. In this life, sin is almost inevitable. The state is not a response to sin, instituted by God to suppress it (I don’t believe God granted any “divine right” to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or Jeffery Epstein’s social circle), but rather a result of sin, individual human beings resorting to violence due to pride, wrath, and envy.

Even if the state is immoral, we must understand that it exists and accept that we will not see it disappear in our lifetimes. If we do, it will probably have more to do with factors outside of our control than with anything we did.

Focus on What Is in Your Control

We deal with this by using another timely Christian principle: Focus on what is in your control instead of what you can’t control. Mathew 6:34 reads: “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

This principle doesn’t just exist in Christianity. Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote in his Discourses: “Distinguish and separate things, and say, ‘Externals are not in my power: will is in my power. Where shall I seek the good and the bad? Within, in the things which are my own.’”

If the state is out of our control, it should be lower on the list of things we worry about. The state is immoral, yes, but we could spend all day worrying about immoral things. That would be a waste of time and energy.

We have better things to worry about which are in our control: our character, faith, physical health, families, and communities. Ultimately, we have more control over these things than we do over a country of 330 million people.

Punishment for Politics

Focusing too much on politics can hinder you. In his book Race and Culture, economist and sociologist Thomas Sowell describes how groups who focus primarily on politics tend to suffer needlessly:

As the main focus of talents and ambitions, politics can readily become both intricate and desperate. Preoccupation with politics may become a substitute for productivity, for either individuals or groups…. Groups or nations that are generations behind others in economic skills may also seek political shortcuts to importance, whether through ideology, symbolism, confiscations, terrorism, or war.

Using Politics against Itself

It’s okay to believe that politics is infective or immoral, but that also requires recognizing the limits of your influence. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore politics altogether. I would say you shouldn’t, so as long as you have some influence.

The influence you do have shouldn’t be aimed at changing the overall system. It should be aimed at defending yourself, your family, and your community from aggression.

Not all violence is wrong. Defense is morally permissible. But though defense is okay, it’s not always practical. If retaliation is going to ultimately increase the suffering of yourself and those that you care about, you probably shouldn’t retaliate. You should only retaliate to the extent that it will actually protect you. Doing otherwise would be contradictory to the principle stated earlier.

Further, retaliation has to be directed only against those you are retaliating against. Taking innocent casualties or harming innocent third parties is an act of aggression. Using the political system—voting, lobbying, etc.—is an act of violence. It can either be aggressive, or it can be defensive.

Using the political system to leech off other people via taxation, inflation, or intervention would be to use the system aggressively. Using the political system to prevent yourself, your family, and your community from suffering from taxation, inflation, or intervention would be to use the system defensively. This is the concept of politics as self-defense.

The Implications of Politics as Self-Defense

If you are committed to politics as self-defense, you should want to decentralize politics as much as possible. This way, your influence over the system grows, and you can use that influence to reduce its impact. Decentralization through secession might be currency inviable, but decentralizing through legislation, litigation, and nullification is possible.

When using politics as self-defense, the focus must be bottom up, not top down. National politics must be viewed as less important than state politics and state politics as less important than local politics. The smaller political systems must be leveraged against the larger.

Elect local officials, such as sheriffs, who will refuse to enforce intrusive state laws, reduce dependency on the state, and hold petty criminals (small-scale murderers, thieves, and con artists) accountable. Elect state officials who will nullify intrusive federal laws, refuse to take grants-in-aid with invasive strings attached, and who will hold midlevel criminals accountable.

Elect people on all levels who are going to be cogs in the machine. No candidate will be perfect. Not every candidate will be nice. Just elect those you, based on an informed decision, believe will reduce the impact of politics.

In the process, don’t pay too much attention to what politicians say, even the ones you vote for. None of them can be taken seriously. A few of them might be there for a noble cause (to stop other politicians) but most of them are there because they are skilled parasites who lack the ability to achieve the same level of wealth or self-aggrandizement from their own productive accomplishments.

What to Worry about First

Politics as self-defense is useless if we have nothing to defend. Work on yourself first. Build your mind, body, and spirit. Create a family and rear them in moral principles. Extend your impact to your community, not by proselytizing and virtue signaling but by leading by example, being decent, and giving generously, not out of obligation, but out of love for your neighbor.

If we focus on what is in our control, and we defend ourselves practically, we will reduce the impact politicians have on our lives and our consciences. In that way, we will be freer than we would have been had we distracted ourselves by trying to institute liberty top down.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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