L. Neil Smith's

Number 23, March 1, 1997.

Down By Law

by Victor Milan

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         When I was a baby libertarian, I came across a number of well-researched, compelling arguments that the income tax was unconstitutional. All fired up, I went to my best friend -- who also happened to be my lawyer, and is also sometime TLE columnist Joseph Reichert -- and said, "See? The income tax is unconstitutional."
         He laughed in my face. "So what?" he said. "What do you think pays federal judges' salaries?"
         I said, "Oh."
         Now I see people claiming we need pay no taxes, carry no driver's licenses, and generally obey no laws we don't feel like obeying. And this is true. If we don't get caught.
         They go on to say that if we get caught we can stand up in court and, simply by brandishing the Constitution or telling the judge he has no jurisdiction over us because we're "sovereign individuals," we can walk. We can even pass Go.
         And that flirts with dangerous delusion.
         All the legal arguments about why the State can't punish you for refusing to pay taxes or wear seat belts seem based on two propositions:
         1) The government does not obey its own rules [palpably true].
         2) When some obscure or tortuously-interpreted rule in some legal document is quoted at them, government officials will be compelled to obey it.
         Doesn't anybody see a problem here?
         Don't get me wrong: resistance is good. Non-compliance is good. Hell, open defiance is fine if you're aware of possible consequences, such as being squashed like a bug by way of example.
         What's goofy is expecting no consequences. It doesn't matter how much research you do, nor how arcane -- or commonplace -- the citations you dig up, whether from the Constitution, the "common law," or the Book of Common Prayer: you will not get the government to let you stand it on its head. That will not happen.
         Imagining you can fend off Leviathan by waving papers in His face takes into account neither the nature of the individuals who make up the State, nor that of the system in which they operate.
         Lots of government officials have authoritarian personality disorders. The rest mostly just want to do their jobs with minimal hassle. If you get in official faces and say they don't have any authority over you, you've a) challenged that which gives their lives meaning; b) made their lives difficult; or c) both. What that is likely to do is give them a personal stake in fucking you good and hard.
         And guess what? They get to. Moreover, if you're defying the authority of government, government will reward them for fucking you. That's a win-win proposition -- for the State and its minions.
         Judges in particular have no sense of humor, especially where their authority is concerned. If you get up on your hind legs in a courtroom and tell that judge she has no jurisdiction over you -- no right to judge -- what the hell do you think is going to happen?
         Hints: don't make too many travel plans. But be ready to meet lots of interesting new people.
         As some jump to point out, you can sue bureaucrats for malfeasance -- and indeed, it should probably be done more often. Have any idea what that costs? Joseph advises me: "Never sue anybody." Because guess what class of people are the only consistent winners of lawsuits? Hint: from what occupation are most lawmakers and judges drawn? Can you say, "house odds?"
         Remember also that in any legal conflict with you, the State can draw upon the deepest pockets of all: yours.
         When I talk about "obscure or tortuously-interpreted" passages, yes, I mean the Constitution too. Sure, it should protect our rights. If there weren't an overt fracture between what should be in this country, and what is, would we be in such opposition to the government?
         Where in "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press" is commercial speech excluded? The Supreme Court, no less, has found the spot, invisible to mortal eye. Where, in the effulgently unambiguous passage, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" is there any possible room for a ban on scary-looking guns, or indeed on concealed carry?
         Try beating a firearms bust by quoting the Second Amendment: "...all of the gun charges would be tried first, without (per Judge Carroll) the defense being allowed... to use Constitutional arguments." [Fran Van Cleave, "The Big One Bites the Vipers," TLE #22].
         Quote me no cases back, please. Lightning strikes sometimes, but the basic fact remains that, if judges haven't been consistently enforcing a given protection for the last 200 years -- or even the last five -- don't expect them to start now, just for you. Unless buying a lottery ticket is your idea of "investing."
         The courts can just barely be bothered to uphold commonly-accepted rights, protections acknowledged by the system and upheld by its own precedents. Do you really think any twist of words can ever make them say, "Oops, we're sorry, 200 years of laws and taxes and we didn't have the authority for any of it. But you've caught us now, you sly dog, so we'll just pitch the whole thing and go seek jobs in the food-service industry"?
         Tell a cop who pulls you over that he has no authority to give you a ticket because the Constitution says you don't have to have a driver's license, and you stand a good chance right off the bat of finding out what it feels like to have your car frame smack you in the face real hard. By accident, of course. And that's before a judge sends you up for contempt or psychiatric evaluation, which is what is overwhelmingly likely to befall you if you assert your "immunity" in a courtroom.
         And you won't have advanced the cause of freedom one inch. You'll just be a stain on the pavement. To the extent anyone else notices you, you'll be dismissed as just another "anti- government crazy," and held up as a reason the government needs more power. Thanks.
         My point isn't that you shouldn't tell the cop or judge or tax collector to fuck off because they have no right to rule you. Indeed, ultimately we're all going to have to do that, to win freedom. It's that if you tell them that and expect them to honor it -- if you expect to say some magic words and be let off -- you are in for one hell of a rude surprise.
         Indeed, you're expecting something for nothing. Civil disobedience has costs. Freedom costs.
         Face it, folks: the law is what the people who have guns and the power to put you in a cage say it is. Isn't that what we're fighting about?

Prometheus Award-winner Victor Milan is the author of over 70 novels, including the just-released CLD from AvoNova and War in Tethyr from TSR.

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