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L. Neil Smith's
Number 684, August 19, 2012

"Stand Down!"

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Constitution-bashing, a strategic error?
by Paul Bonneau

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

By now it is commonplace to see articles and books whacking the Constitution; I've written them myself. Certainly, it is hard for anyone who has a modicum of historical knowledge and a realistic understanding of human nature to have much use for the Constitution. Yet, could we be making a strategic mistake?

One problem I see with the bashing is that virtually all people in the military, and all people who were once in the military, have sworn to protect it. That's a lot of people, and it includes a lot of dangerous ones. Now, the case has been made that military oaths are meaningless; and as far as that argument goes, it is true. But that is not the end of the story.

Imagine a time in the likely near future, after the ruling class has wrecked the economy. The military has been deployed all over the U.S. to suppress a general rebellion. Now, look at the memes in play.

In the first scenario, the rebels have rejected and ridiculed the Constitution. The generals tell their soldiers that the Constitution must be defended, something they have all sworn to do. They are easily convinced by the position of the rebels on the Constitution, to repress, jail and kill the rebels. Note that for this purpose, it doesn't matter that the US military in the past has not actually upheld the Constitution! It only matters that enemies of the Constitution can be identified. Keep also in mind that support for the rebels among the general population will be muted since many civilians also took that oath.

In the second scenario, the rebels have not rejected and ridiculed the Constitution, but have only pointed to obvious shortcomings in it that need to be corrected. In this case Constitutionalists, including men in the military up to and including the rank of general, happen to agree! It is now a lot more difficult to identify who the real enemies of the Constitution are, and in fact it looks more plausible that those enemies are in Washington, D.C.. Support from the general population for the rebels is, as a result, that much stronger.

Bottom line here, is that it is much easier to succeed at rebellion if the rebels are not easily identified as enemies of the Constitution.

My next reservation with Constitution-bashing goes to the very heart of anarchism itself. That is, it would be an act of tyranny to force freedom on those who don't want it.

When someone bashes the Constitution, the other shoe is somehow never dropped. That is, there is never any proposal as to what should replace it. There might be an implication that nothing at all should replace it, but how realistic (in the short to medium timeframe) is that? Wouldn't that be tyranny, even if anarchists could pull that off (fat chance since we are on the order of 1% of the population)? We'd be betraying anarchy in the very act of imposing it.

No, at least for a while, there will be a federal government (maybe more than one, if the U.S. splits). It is simply a fantasy to believe otherwise, because most people want it. The only realistic question is, what is doable within the confines of that government?

The existence of a federal government is not necessarily a disaster for us, and it does keep us from our own imposition of anarchy which would be an instant betrayal of it. We don't need everyone to be free; we just need for us to be free. This is possible (although not easy) within a federal, Constitutional framework.

Constitutionalists already agree the Constitution must be amended. Well, what sort of amendments are possible?

How about getting rid of the 16th Amendment, direct taxation? That's well within the comfort zone of Constitutionalists. How about explicit recognition of the possibility of peaceful secession? That too is not very controversial among Constitutionalists. How about nullification? Again little argument with Constitutionalists. These three items would vastly improve general liberty. But what specifically is needed to make room for anarchists?

Removal of direct taxation is a must. Next item is removal of the notion that Congress gets to decide the legitimacy of state governments. Congress has already given a pass on direct (non-republican) government in the form of the initiative, but more protection for local (including anarchistic) options is needed.

Even more ideal would be recognition of the right to an explicit, individual opt-out of all federal government actions and mandates. This might be pushing it but I think it is necessary. At any rate, the changes needed to make room for local anarchy might be well within the range of changes that Constitutionalists are willing to tolerate.

Why would Constitutionalists give a damn what anarchists think and want in a revised Constitution? Maybe they won't; there has long been some friction between the two groups. But, they might rather have anarchists working with them in a rebellion than on the sidelines, or even in opposition.

Wouldn't any constitutional convention simply be co-opted by statists just like the last one was? It is possible, but we don't care as long as there are exceptions left for anarchists. Hell, a constitutional convention is inherently statist. No surprises there.

Keep in mind that, in a general rebellion, we have no way of knowing what will result at the end. Constitutional conventions may become moot anyways. I just would rather not multiply my enemies if I can avoid it.

I don't know all the answers. I am just presenting this for discussion, as I think it is time to look beyond simple Constitution-bashing, to see what we are really shooting for.

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