Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 552, January 10, 2010

"More than anything, America is an idea"

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Can You Hear Me Now?
by L. Neil Smith

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

It never ceases to disappoint me how many times even the most articulate writer or speaker has to tell some individuals something—how many times he has to break it down into the shortest, simplest paragraphs, the shortest, simplest sentences, the shortest, simplest words—before they finally get a glimmer. Or they have to abandon their deliberate misunderstanding because it's just making them look stupid.

I confess, too, that I'm annoyed by would-be pundits—barely post-adolescent, judging from their writing, evincing little or no genuine experience or understanding of history or human nature—who nonetheless imagine that they're telepathic, and issue asinine, unsupported assertions about what "the people" really want or think or feel.

Or what I really want or think or feel.

I have been sharing my ideas with folks for 15 years now in The Libertarian Enterprise, having started earlier with the Lever Action Bulletin Board System and Xeroxed broadsides I distributed by hand at gun shows. I began writing my first novel, The Probability Broach, 33 years ago, and was bothering local newspaper editors long before that.

When somebody claims familiarity with my work with one breath, and then egregiously misinterprets it with the next, I am inclined to be suspicious, either of their intelligence or their honesty. Ironically, the kindest, most charitable assumption is that they just aren't very bright.

So, with kindness and charity in mind, I will attempt to explain, one more time, my long-held overall strategy for turning America into the free country it was always supposed to be and never quite really was.

To the usual nitpicking idlers who whine that nation states are obsolete, that America is evil, or at least unworthy, and so on and so forth ad nauseam, I will simply add, read my writings. The first part of any job is limiting its scope. Hercules cleaned out the Augean Stables and didn't take on the Known Galaxy. Those who actually read my writing know I regard national borders as bulkheads—like those that separate compartments in a ship—against the cold, dark waters of tyranny. We have a hell of a lot of bailing to do right here and now.

Similarly I tend to do what I do with the English-speaking people of the world in mind—not that there's anything wrong with anybody who doesn't speak English—simply because that's the language in which I speak and write confidently. One of my proposals is for an International Bill of Rights Union formed, at least initially, and owing to our shared history and traditions, in English-speaking countries.

But as usual, I digress.

More than anything, America is an idea (as somebody once said, the best idea for a country anybody ever had) and, as such, it is worthy of defending. Having thought long and hard since my first moment of political awareness 48 years ago—perhaps more importantly, having tried idea after idea, some of them pretty silly—my conclusion is that the only way to defeat tyranny is to overload it, preoccupy it by giving it a hundred or a thousand or a million brushfires to put out, one after another and all at the same time, until the system exhausts itself, exposes itself so even its minions see the light, or just give up.

Along the way, I have never held, as some others do, that there is anything immoral about political activity. I have often questioned its efficacy, and certainly, in the decades that have passed since the founding of the Libertarian Party, we have had a chance to learn that those currently in power will do everything they can, play every dirty, evil, underhanded trick, to keep it from being efficacious for us. Accordingly I have generated viable alternatives to conventional political action, alternatives that take advantage of the system's weaknesses.

Many of those alternatives have taken the form of Constitutional amendments, charter amendments, initiated referenda, and other kinds of proposals, each representing a potential brushfire which the other side will have to divert time, energy, and other resources to putting out. Get two going at the same time, or two dozen, or two hundred, and libertarians won't have to bother running for office. They can fight the year round, without having to depend on a fundamentally broken national party structure or candidates who are often idiots and compromisers.

As I first learned in the early 1960s, there's nothing in politics more frustrating and humiliating than having to defend—or explain away—something stupid or embarrassing your candidate has said or done.

Why bother with politics at all? Because in order to bring about a free society, we have to communicate with our fellow human beings in a manner that they can understand. In this civilization, at this moment in time and space, that means some form of political involvement. If I thought it could be done with libertarian art alone, or by means of a religious-style revival, or by twirling a Hula-Hoop on a street corner in downtown Albuquerque, I'd be trying that. As a matter of fact, I have.

Except maybe for the Hula-Hoop.

Naturally, I have my own opinion about libertarians who think they are too high-minded, cleft-chinned, or nobly-souled to practice icky old politics. For the most part, I try extremely hard to keep that opinion to myself. I detest pointless internecine feuding. I recognize that there are those who are not politically adept but are good at other stuff. So when I can, I leave them alone to do what they're good at.

Until one of them pulls his thumb out of his mouth or some other orifice to call me a dirty name. Like "believer in the government religion".

I've listened to these cooties for decades. They always sound very self-righteous and moralistic, but what I hear, for the most part, is overgrown babies reluctant to get out from behind their computers, shuck off their pajamas, put on grown-up clothes, climb out of their mothers' basements, and risk getting their hands dirty. I would hold them to blame for the movement's failure to gain traction so far, but I don't think there are that many of them or that they're all that significant.

To them I say, be a real libertarian: don't try to tell me how to create a free society. And I won't try to tell you how to play Donkey Kong.

It isn't as if I don't get tired or discouraged myself now and again. I often think, if I could start over around 1965 or so, that I'd pursue my youthful passions for marine biology and paleontology and let politics go straight to hell. Certainly if I'd understood that decades of labor on my part and millions of words wouldn't slow the juggernaut by a single mile per hour, it would have been an attractive alternative.

Other times I think America lost a hell of an evangelist when I decided to be an atheist (not that it's slowed down many another mass media preacher). Perhaps I should have gone into talk radio. I have a good voice and (as many will attest) can blather for hours and hours until everyone around me is ready to hang himself. But my timing was all wrong for that particular party—I was too late to be another Long John Nebel, too early to be another Rush Limbaugh—so here I stand.

Wherever the hell it is.

One thing I know certainly: I am not an organizer or a Leader of Men. I am nobody's George Washington. I am nobody's Martin Luther Libertarian. Hell, I'm not even Howard Jarvis. I'm a thinker and a writer. I think and write—in that order. The flea-flicker then asks whether any of my ideas has ever gotten any further than that, then rushes to answer himself, "Apparently not. Proposed today, forgotten tomorrow!"

He has to answer for me, because he's afraid of my answer: "I thought them up, Grasshopper. That's what I do. I haven't forgotten any of them at all. I bring them up again and again at the drop of a hat. I've made speeches and run for office on them. I talk about them on the radio when I get a chance. I've written over 30 books—three million printed words, counting about a thousand articles, essays, and columns—brimming with them. Have you done anything to make them happen?"

Occasionally I manage to deceive myself that not everybody is a carp, that somebody out there somewhere might someday take something I've thought up and written about and use it against the enemies of liberty.

It's actually happened once or twice.

And because it has happened once or twice, I'll keep it up no matter who doesn't like it or why. It doesn't matter whether they're government thugs (if I were intimidated by them, I'd stop writing, now, wouldn't I?), prissy-bottomed electoral pacifists, or anybody else.

Being a libertarian, I realize that everything comes with a pricetag. I've been told more than once, by those in a position to know, that I could have been a "great writer" if I would just give up all this "libertarian nonsense". I'm pretty sure that I'm on New York publishing's blacklist because of my politically incorrect opinions—for example, that kids have a right to the means of self-defense. But what would be the point in being just another bestselling socialist liar?

For many reasons, I sincerely wish circumstances were different. I've been right all along, from the very beginning, about what was going to happen politically, and all that New York conservatives and liberals can do now is whine about Barack Obama and George Bush when they could have been the proud publishers of the fellow who saw it coming.

And maybe had a hand in slowing it down.

Or reversing it.

I see here that I still have to talk about fear. Anyone who grew up in the shadow of the Nazi Holocaust, the murder of ten million Kulaks, the massacre of fifty million Chinese "landlords", or of half the population of Cambodia, and doesn't fear the government is a pitiable fool. Operation Keelhaul, the MOVE bombing, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and Oklahoma City all inform us that it can—and does—happen here.

The Zen revolutionary approach—"be free in your own mind"—is a pathetic fantasy akin to "get laid in your own mind". I know because my wife Cathy and I have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and the ball cap and sent postcards to all our friends. The most obnoxious thing about the government is that it won't leave you alone or let you ignore it. If you try to run it'll come and get you. The three monkeys approach doesn't work. You need both your hands to cover your nether portal.

Watching corrupt and overblown institutions, like the government health system, collapse of their own weight offers satisfactions, until you hear the screams of all the innocent individuals being crushed in the wreckage. Only a collectivist would write people off as "collateral damage". That's why I'd rather see everything medical transferred to the private sector than watch it being destroyed. That doesn't make me a closet statist, it makes me an individualist and a libertarian.

Real courage isn't any lack of fear—that's merely insanity—it's what you manage to do despite your fear. You can't confront the monstrous State directly, but you can tear off pieces of it and bash its head in with them: use the jury system, for example, to thwart its ambitions until gives in or—as is more likely—destroys the jury system and thereby loses one more prop supporting its appearance of legitimacy.

One reason that so many right wing socialists are gibbering with hysterical frustration over granting the "American" right to a jury trial (it is, of course, no such thing; it is a human right) to accused terrorists is that they plan, ultimately, to call people like you and me terrorists, too, and deprive us of the right to a jury trial. Never forget it was the Bush Administration that started this crap.

But once again, I have digressed.

Someone asked recently (and maybe just a little disingenuously) how many Constitutional amendments I've called for in my career as a political writer, ten, fifteen, twenty? Probably not that many. Not more than a dozen. And I'm ashamed it hasn't been a hundred. Or a thousand.

If he'd been just a trifle brighter, he might have pointed out that some of my proposals contradict others. For example, practically every amendment I've suggested, the Taxpayer's Equity Amendment, the "You Go First" Amendment, Separation of Science (especially Medicine) and State, they're all canceled out by the Hundred Year Moratorium on Legislation.

And that's okay. None of it is going to happen all at once, if any of it ever happens at all. None of it has to become law, in order to affect our circumstances. The important thing is to have as many of these notions circulating at any given moment—becoming full-fledged movements wherever possible—as we can, giving the State a massive headache.

The recent "tea parties" and congressional town hall meetings gave us a clear indication that this multi-tentacled method is effective. As far as it goes, being a mosquito against the State is a pretty good idea—Eric Frank Russell's idea, as I recall, only he called it Wasp—but a dozen mosquitos, a hundred, or a thousand are even better.

Okay, 2300 words should be enough. As I said in my essay "Tactical Reflections", "You may never convince the other guy, but it's often worthwhile to keep arguing for the effect it has on bystanders ... " That's why I bothered with this exercise, but I'm through explaining, now.

If you don't get it, get over 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 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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