Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 391, October 29, 2006

This Empire of Lies


Telling the Wrong Right Truth at the Right Wrong Time
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to "L. Neil Smith at Random"

Never believe for a minute that the violent schism between genuine libertarians versus the right wing socialists who call themselves conservatives is anything new. All of the warning signs were in place decades ago, if we'd only seen them, if we'd only understood what they meant.

Let me tell you a story.

Sometime near the end of my association with my first publisher, my editor sent me a new novel written by another of his "stable" of authors. The story involved a large-scale private undertaking, using ships to tow an iceberg from Antarctic waters to some thirsty middle eastern country like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. My editor held it up as a shining example of creative capitalism, and asked me what I thought of it.

Being who I am and all—though I resolved to be as diplomatic and polite as I could—I told him. This wasn't a good example of capitalism, I explained. The conflict in the story (you gotta have conflict or it isn't a story) arose from the fact that certain badguys—I forget who they were or why they were doing it—didn't want the thirsty middle eastern country to get an iceberg full of lovely fresh water.

When the badguys attempted to interfere at sea with the vulnerable towing operation, the goodguys called in the U.S. Navy for protection, and, after some additional adventures, finally (if I remember right) got their precious iceberg delivered at an affordable and profitable price.

Seemingly so, anyway.

Except—and this is where I got into trouble, of course—that any libertarian with an understanding of ethics and economics could have told the author and editor there was a flaw. The iceberg-hauling company didn't have to pay the cost—it would have been considerable—of the escorting warships. That was left to the American taxpayer, who wouldn't have been given any choice (the kind of choice a truly free market offers us nearly every minute) in the matter. The company benefitted from a gigantic subsidy—what we now call "corporate welfare".

This was the early 80s and that expression hadn't been coined yet. At the time, I explained that the older term for this kind of thing was "mercantilism"—a system under which some favored commercial interests get help and support from the government, usually at the expense of other, not-so-favored interests. It's the very system, I explained, that Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations to complain about.

The modern term for it is fascism.

It is not private capitalism, which is all about the decision to delay present gratification in order to realize some greater future gain. The current War on Everything is a totally mercantilist venture, with Halliburton playing a role once played by the British East India Company.

Needless to say, my considered opinion was not received gladly or with thanks. In fact I believe it precipitated my departure from that particular publisher, and to this day, despite some protestations to the contrary by a few individuals, I am still persona non grata there.

There are many who will tell you I should have stifled my opinion and given enthusiastic lip service to a book which, after all, was well-written and absorbing, despite the flaw I noticed. There have been times since—when I was dead broke and worried about paying the mortgage or the phone bill—when, in the gloom of night or the depth of despair, I wondered if perhaps I should have lied, by omission or otherwise. Especially since this was not the last such incident in my career.

It was only the beginning.

It doesn't really matter, now, of course. Wisely or not, I have established for myself a reputation as an individual of unwavering integrity—or a glow-in-the dark asshole—depending who it is you consult about it. I worry that my wife and daughter have not had the material things in life that they might otherwise have enjoyed, and that my ideas have failed to reach as many people as they might have, if I'd somehow remained within the good graces of northeastern publishing.

But there's the rub: what good would my ideas be by now if I had betrayed them by becoming a yes-man? As surely as the sun rises in the morning, I would have let little pieces of what I stood for then get nibbled off, a few at a time, until there was nothing left of me at all. Maybe that's why, in our culture, the system seems to select for the most evil, stupid, and insane among us. Only they can rise to the top.

The truth—whatever the context—is not a welcome thing in this Age of Euphemism, in this Empire of Lies. Someday it may be once again, and, possibly, I may have had some small part of making that happen.

I hope my great great great great grandchildren appreciate it.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas was recently completed and is presently looking for a literary home.

A decensored, e-published version of Neil's 1984 novel, TOM PAINE MARU is available at: Neil is presently working on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Roswell, Texas, with Rex F. "Baloo" May.

The stunning 185-page full-color graphic-novelized version of The Probability Broach, which features the art of Scott Bieser and was published by BigHead Press has recently won a Special Prometheus Award. It may be had through the publisher, at, or at

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