Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 422, June 17, 2007

"Aim at zero!"


A Word of Explanation. . .
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

An extremely wise man—Robert LeFevre, whom many know better as Professor Bernardo de la Paz in Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress—once advised libertarians that, even if they didn't consider themselves anarchists, they should nevertheless "aim at zero".

Bob's reason? Inertia, which affects human affairs as surely as it does the physical and mechanical world. Because of what you might call social and political friction, you're always going to end up with less from any given effort than you wanted to begin with. But if you strive for more than you desire, you might possibly get close to what you want.

And if you discover that you've gone too far, you can always make a couple of calls and have a new government up and running in a matter of hours.

It's a basic principle of barter, thousands of years old.

So if minarchistic libertarians (a contradiction of terms in my view) want to significantly reduce the size and power of government, then they should "aim at zero", no less than do their anarchistic bretheren.

The same idea applies in many other areas. Suppose the FBI decides it wants a regulation promulgated (a four-dollar word meaning "imposed illegally"): "for reasons of national security", they want everybody to be forced to walk around naked. Left-wing and right-wing socialists (known otherwise as liberals and conservatives) will both object to such a regulation. If they manage to beat it back politically (as they did the recent immigration bill) then they'll give a little whistle and wipe their collective brow, believing that they've won a victory of some kind—until, of course, the next time such a regulation is proposed.

Libertarians—if they are as wise as Bob LeFevre—will take a completely different approach. "The very existence of the FBI is not mandated by the Constitution, and it's therefore illegal. This new regulation it's advocating is simply more proof that it should be abolished."

Since all human organizations tend to act as if they were living organisms in and of themselves, and since the first objective of such an organism is always its own survival, it is far likelier—provided enough people start talking about abolishing it—that the FBI will circular file its spiffy new totalitarian idea simply for the sake of self-preservation.

This is not a guess. My many sad and stupid experiences with our own weenies in the libertarian movement assure me that the weenies in the enemy's ranks will display the white flag long before it really becomes necessary. Since the leadership on the other side consists of unprincipled scum, it won't have the intellectual or moral wherewithal to stop them. That since the day they were born, they have had the mythical virtue of compromise pounded into them only makes our job easier.

Mind you, the process only works if it's done radically enough. A few years back, in a keynote address to the New Mexico Libertarian Party, I proposed making it a capital offense for any member of the government—elected or appointed, from policeman to President—to lie to any member of the public for any reason. If duly convicted, the miscreant should be hanged by the neck until dead—no tidy little bag over the head to conceal the bulging eyes and swollen tongue—all such executions being accessible and broadcast live on national television.

Did I really mean that any politician or bureaucrat who lies should take the long drop? Of course I did. Throughout the course of American history alone, government lies have arguably cost millions of lives. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's baldfaced lies ended in the deaths of something like sixty million human beings in World War II. Lyndon Johnson's fabrication of the Gulf of Tonkin "incident" killed around sixty thousand Americans and over two million Vietnamese. Where George W. Bush's lies about September 11, Afghanistan, and Iraq are concerned, the counter is still clicking away. But it's clear: government lies kill.

Do I really think that such a law will ever pass? Between you and me—and everybody else in the world who's reading these words—no, I don't. But I don't care, and neither should you. As a result of my personal political experience, and from my observations of history and human nature, I don't believe we actually have to pass a law in order for the idea behind that law to take effect. Nor is it necessary for libertarians to get anybody elected to office, in order to change society.

All libertarians have to do—and I'm not claiming that it's any small matter—is to start enough people talking about whatever it is that they want to happen. The other side has its wet, sticky finger in the air at all times in an attempt to determine which way the wind is blowing. They have their opinion polls and their focus panels and every other mechanism that a pack of human hyenas need when they don't believe in anything and are guided only by what they perceive as expedience.

With them, as they are not reluctant to tell us, perception is everything.

So when it appears to them that there's a "groundswell" in favor of hanging government liars, to forestall such a law being passed, they'll have to come up with some other measure to satisfy a public that hates their guts and would love seeing them swing. Whatever they dream up—the "Truth in Government Act of 2017"—won't work. It'll have loopholes you can drive a regiment of tanks through. But it'll be a start. And for once, it'll be up to us, the next time the subject comes up, to tighten the invisible ratchet around their lives another notch.

Naturally, you can't make such a proposal timidly if you want it to have the desired effect. This is why we must never soft-pedal the measures we advocate, and why self-styled pragmatists, moderates, gradualists, and reformers should be invited out of the Libertarian Party and told to go play in traffic. The least sign of wimpiness on our part loses us everything. By "everything", I mean everything that we have lost, everything we are losing at this moment, and everything we stand to lose in the future if the current situation is allowed to continue.

It's gone this far because our side bargains so very badly, the most recent example being the way that the National Rifle Association seems to have fallen into bed once again with the Democratic Party. The NRA are extremely bad bargainers. They're much better appeasers, willing—no, make that eager—to fasten the slave collar around their own necks, and ours, rather than inconvenience their socialist masters.

I've often said they ought to call themselves the NCA—the Neville Chamberlain Association—and adopt his umbrella as their logo.

The point of all this is that when you hear or read some proposal I've made of the "there oughta be a law" variety (I hasten to add that I never say "there oughta be a law" unless it will apply only to those in government), I don't necessarily believe it will ever be enacted. I'll be satisfied if the number of folks talking and writing about the new law is enough to make the badguys behave themselves for a while. If public reaction to a new gun prohibition or tax threatens to cost them what they already have, they'll label it a "third rail" and back away.

If it doesn't cost them anything, they'll keep on trying to do it. So next time any part of the government does something that's clearly unconstitutional, don't be satisfied merely to denounce them for it. At least 95% of everything the government does is illegal—that is, unsanctioned by the Constitution. As to the rest, government does only two sorts of things: those things that can be done better, cheaper, and more safely by the free market, and those things that shouldn't be done by anyone at all. Rather than denounce the thing that shouldn't have been done, call for the abolition of the agency that did it, and call for reparations from the soon-to-be-former employees of that agency.

Corporations, too. The best example of that might be the forcible liquidation of Halliburton, Blackwater USA, and all their parasitic ilk to repay the American taxpayer for a war in Iraq waged to benefit them.

Hey, it's just idea.

Talk it up.

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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