Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 538, September 27, 2009

"The plague of authoritarian collectivism"

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The Plague
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Novelist Robert A. Heinlein famously observed that humanity appears to be divided into two basic types, those who believe that other people must be controlled, and those who believe nothing of the sort.

As usual, Heinlein—whose writings successfully predicted a wide variety of future developments, from interplanetary spaceflight to the waterbed—was far ahead of his time. Today, America teeters on the brink of a civil war over that very question, whether individuals ought to be controlled by others, or be left unmolested, to control themselves.

What makes the situation truly dangerous—and, potentially, cosmically tragic—is that one of the two sides appears to be completely unaware of the mortal risk, to everyone and everything, imposing their agenda on the other side entails. Any attempt to warn them they have taken to dismissing as "incivility", and it can be argued that this tendency is suicidal, a symptom of a kind of mental illness.

Epidemic mental illness.

On the one hand, we have lifeforms that have spent just short of four billion years evolving into independent, autonomous organisms, each and every generation of them—barring the occasional planetary catastrophe—more capable and successful than the last. On the other hand, we have these poor, failed offscourings whose desperate wish is to reverse the course of evolution, to crawl back into the Precambrian slime and coagulate hideously somehow into a single, crude, gigantic, shambling nightmare, a multicelled mutant monstrosity they call "the People".

All the zombie movies Hollywood makes can be taken as a metaphor for the plague of authoritarian collectivism that we suffer under as a consequence. As they scuff and shuffle toward you, utterly devoid of physical or philosophical integrity, losing a thumb here, an eyeball there, disintegrating bit by bit as they draw irrevocably nearer, the politically undead will stop at absolutely nothing to make you one of them.

Today (ironically as it happens, given their ultimate objectives) they smear anyone who refuses to share in their carefully cultivated insanity, preferring to be left alone by the state, as a Nazi or a racist. Or they pretend to see "terrorists" in every shadow and under every bed—exactly as they claimed to see communists in the 1920s and the 1950s—faking evidence or forcing confessions out of every hapless immigrant cab driver. Am I wrong about that? How do you know? How can anybody tell if they ever find a real threat, after the way they lied about Dallas in 1963, the Gulf of Tonkin "incident", Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Murrah building, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon?

After the way they have constructed an empire of lies?

Sometimes lies come nested within lies. The nation's financial system collapsed, not because the private market failed, as left wing propagandists would have us believe, but because it was interfered with by the same left wingers, who, among other things, commanded mortgage lenders to make loans to individuals who had no prospect of ever being able to pay them back. That's what created the "housing bubble" and what caused it to collapse, injuring millions of innocent individuals.

Horrific incidents like the events at Columbine High School, which happen only because those in government need to feel necessary, and do their best to render individuals helpless in the face of violence so that the minions of government can pretend to "protect" or "rescue" them (with the usual efficiency and effectiveness of government), are held up as examples of why potential victims should be made even more helpless.

Similarly, why must medical treatment suddenly be regimented by the government? The customary excuse is that medicine in the private market costs more than many people can afford. But why does it cost too much? The dirty little truth is that the practice of medicine is already so rigidly controlled by the government—and has been since at least the 1960s—that complying with every statute and regulation imposed on it has doubled, quadrupled, or octupled the price of doing business. Now government seeks to destroy private medical practice altogether.

Understand this if you understand nothing else: there is no "system" for supplying medical attention in America, nor should there be. (Demanding that opponents of regimented medicine propose their own "system" is exactly like demanding that Libertarians describe their tax policy; real libertarians have no tax policy, their one goal is to eliminate as many taxes as possible until all taxes have been abolished.)

What we have, instead, is individual human action in a specific area, laboring to overcome the irrational handicaps imposed upon it by statism. If the same statists decided to regulate, let's say, carrots, the way they regulate medicine, carrots would cost a hundred dollars apiece. Government is the only institution that breaks both your legs, then criticizes and denounces you as a failure for not being able to run.

The urge to control the lives of others is a psychopathological disorder, arising from a number of identifiable sources, mostly deeply seated self-loathing and "fear of every known phenomenon". Primarily, it is a horrible accident of genetics—a sort of evolutionary cul-de-sac—and it is usually accompanied by an equally strong urge to allow one's life to be controlled by anyone perceived to be in authority.

We call this the "authoritarian personality".

Could the authoritarian personality someday be identified as part of the human genome? Could it be treated, eradicated like the disease it is, with the proper course of gene therapy? Perhaps proposing such a moral outrage might help socialists understand why the rest of us mistrust the mass innoculations this administration wants to force on everybody.

But, as usual, I have digresssed.

Those who suffer most acutely from this tragic disorder perversely attempt to reinforce it in themselves and others—especially those who don't suffer from it naturally—through various institutions and practices, some rather modern, some astonishingly ancient, like public education, organized religion, the military, popular culture, and mass media.

Today, after eight thousand years of bloodsoaked, wretched human history, authoritarianism has spread like a deadly plague all over the planet. As we know, as history teaches us in the most graphic, hideous way imaginable, authoritarianism kills. Even an organization like Amnesty International refers to governments based on it as "killing machines".

If we are ever to get the vile stench of authoritarianism out of our nostrils once and for all, we must find a cure for this plague that threatens to destroy our country and, indeed, the entire human species.

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 more than 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 is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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