Bill of Rights Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 459, March 9, 2008

"There is no more useful death than
in the act of killing tyrants."

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The Last Test of Democracy: Part Four
The Great Moratorium

by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

In 1972, when I was 26 years old and had been a libertarian for a full decade already, I attended a week-long seminar in Wichita, Kansas hosted by the local 7-Up bottlers and the Love Box Company. It was conducted by perhaps the freedom movement's greatest educator, Robert LeFevre.

He wanted everyone to call him "Bob".

Bob said a great many things during those almost magical 40 hours, and I remember a surprising amount of what he said verbatim, even today, 36 years later. (At my age, I've discovered, time flies whether you're having fun or not.) One of the things he said is that there were "on the books" at that point in time, an estimated 15,000,000 federal laws.

I have had a number of individuals argue with me about that figure since then, but none of them has ever offered me a credible counter- estimate, and I have seen the endless rows of lawbooks myself, in libraries and lawyers' offices. If the true number were only a third, or even a tenth of that estimate, clearly we'd still have far too many laws. And, as Bob reminded all of us, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse".

Some of those millions of laws represent legislation properly introduced, shuffled through committees, and voted for on the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate. But a great many more of them — possibly as many as 99 percent — consist of various rules and regulations voted on by nobody, but simply promulgated and shoved down our throats by various agencies full of appointees and bureaucrats, often in direct contradiction to what the legislators originally intended.

And of course, a number of those laws consist of nothing more than judicial reinterpretations that many complain actually constitute the passage of new legislation by judges. Even worse, as America continues to slide down the slimy slope into fascist dictatorship, there is an increasing tendency of "law enforcement" agents to make up the law as they go along, out in the field. With so much legislation already on the books, and its precise meaning perfectly unclear even to those who wrote it, the law becomes whatever minions of the police state say it is.

The vast majority of the existing body of law, and of new law passed every year is, of course, thoroughly unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 8 lists those functions of government that are legally permissible. Anything the government does that is not on that list (probably 95 percent of its current activities) is a clear violation of the law, and the individuals who perform those functions for the government — politicians, bureaucrats, cops of various kinds — are criminals.

When I was a kid, I often heard newspaper and radio editorialists whimpering about the "do-nothing congress" that was failing to crank out enough new legislation to satisfy whatever statist crackpots — they were usually left-wing socialists in those days — were doing the editorializing.

These were the Eisenhower years, I confess, and even as a fairly naive youngster, it occurred to me that, after almost two centuries, the powers that be ought to have passed more than enough laws by now. At that point, I'd spent my entire life — exactly like any kid — being told what not to do. It seemed to me that there was enough of that crap already going around to last us for at least a hundred years.

The more I've thought about that idea over the years, the clearer it has become to me that the indispensable first step toward restoring our freedom in this country, and, at the same time, the ultimate goal of any organization advocating freedom, should be a constitutional amendment forbidding any new legislation for at least that hundred years.

Let's call it "The Great Moratorium".

(For some time, now, I've intended to write a series of stories about the period in history following ratification of this amendment. The first of them, TimePeeper is currently being serialized at

At minimum, such an amendment would provide that, from the date of its passage forward, for a full century, no new legislation may be passed at any level of government — be it federal, state, county, municipal, or any other level — especially including rulings by the court system that, in effect, constitute new law, and treaties of any kind.

Nor may any new regulations be promulgated by any agency of the government.

The only exceptions would be bills of repeal, initiated referenda getting rid of old laws, rulings that declare existing legislation to be null and void, and the official disbandment, dissolution, or abolition of various arms, wings, legs, or other appendages of the government.

Perhaps I should have said, "amputation".

And because nothing political occurs in a vacuum and the opponents of this concept would be inclined to see the handwriting on the wall and attempt to make the most of whatever time they believed they had left, the amendment would automatically repeal any and all legislation rammed through in the final year (or two, or five, or ten) before its ratification.

Naturally, there would be draconian penalties for any violation of this new "highest law of the land". For a long while now, I've been interested in seeing the ancient federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay fully rejuvenated and dedicated exclusively to the incarceration of government lawbreakers. I'm more than confident that tourists on excursion cruises (especially those individuals who had never "benefitted" from indoctrination by the public school system) would pay a reasonable amount for small packages of meat with which to keep the bay's famous sharks interested in hanging around the prison island.

In the meantime, having nothing better to do with themselves (that would show above their newsdesks, anyway), the broadcast media might begin to measure the accomplishments of the nation's legislatures, not by the number of laws they pass, but by the number of laws that they repeal.

The Great Moratorium. And when the century is over, we'll make it permanent. Perhaps ultimately there may only be one law, the Zero Aggression Principle, forbidding the initiation of physical force by anyone — especially government — against anyone else, for any reason whatever.

We might then begin to count ourselves as civilized again.

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.

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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