Liberty and Accountability
Lew Rockwell in a recent article made this statement: “If something is wrong for you or me, it is also wrong for the cop, the soldier, the mayor, the governor, the general, the Fed chairman, the president. Theft does not become acceptable when they call it taxation, counterfeiting when they call it monetary policy, kidnapping when they call it the draft, mass murder when they call it foreign policy. We understand that it is never acceptable to wield violence nor the threat of violence against the innocent, whether by the mugger or the politician.”
Nathan: This attitude and philosophy which Lew correctly rails against is precisely the problem we have seen through history: one group (a “priesthood” or a “king and his nobles” or one tribe or one clan or one dynasty or any other sort of elite) says that THEY are special and that the normal rules do not apply to them, just to everyone else. (And the opposite side of the coin is that these elites designate certain other people or groups of people as being LESS than human, and therefore the normal rules do not apply to those creatures and so they can be treated as animals or dirt.) We find this in Mesopotamia and Egypt and China 4,000 years ago, and in Mesopotamia and Egypt and China and America and Europe in AD 2012: it is a constant evil that must be battled against.
Sometimes these “elites” are seen for what they are: a bunch of thugs with egos and delusions of grandeur: a street gang, a courthouse cabal, a revolutionary conspiracy, a political boss and his cronies. But too often, throughout history, enough people have been willing (or forced) to accept their claims that they have gained power. No longer “thugs” or “rebels” or “outlaws,” they have become “leaders:” mayors, barons, dukes, dictators, kings, queens, presidents, premiers, chairmen, chiefs, and so forth.
And the people who are willing or forced to accept them then go around and say “We must follow our leaders. If they lead us wrong, they will have to answer for our mistakes.”
And so we end up with the god-kings of Akkad and Sumaria, the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Senate of Rome, the kings of France and England, the Emperors of Germany and Russia, and the Congress and President of the United States – right down to the local mayor and chairman of the board of the sanitation district and the secretary of the cemetery board, all an “elite” and able to do things that are recognized as wrong (evil) for normal people. Because they were appointed, or inherited or were elected or whatever.
We end up with the evil: aggression, theft, slavery, killing not in self-defense, and all the rest of the ills of society: not just modern but through the ages. We could call it the “Flip Wilson” defense: “The Devil made me do it.” Or at least “a devil” – a leader of a party or a organization or a committee or a government. And the rest of the people proclaim “we aren’t responsible: we are just doing what our leaders told us to do. Blame them.”
It matters NOT whether our leaders are “elected” or “self-appointed” or take over at gunpoint, WE INDIVIDUALS are responsible for our own actions. Whether you believe in a “higher power” (that is, God, or the Alien lifeseeders or “karma”) or just in history and justice, it should be obvious that each of us must answer for our actions or inaction, and individually. We cannot cede our accountability to someone else, no matter how charismatic or how many battalions or how many dollars he or they have. Nor can we expect to get away, in the long term, without some sort of judgment – even if just the judgment of the future’s historians – when we try to blame someone else for our own personal actions.
“Befehl ist befehl” (An order is an order) was not accepted by the victors at Nuremberg, but today, the descendents (actual or “political”) of those victors are using the same argument. It did not work in 1945 and ultimately it will not work in 2012. It is ironic. Today, a few last (very junior) German personnel – guards at camps and collection points -are still being hunted down for “following orders.” At the same time, more and more people in the very nations that defeated and tried and executed men and women for their “legal” actions between 1933 and 1945 are using the same excuse. And as in the Third Reich, and Ottoman Turkey, and Nova Roma, and Uganda and India and Cambodia, and Alexander’s Greece and Xerxes’ Persia, from the top of the heap right down to the dogcatcher, the welfare specialist, the code enforcement officer, and the township clerk, they all pass the buck. Today, the highest of the high can claim it is “for the people” and thus make it even more disgusting.
Many libertarians have correctly pointed out that loyalty to a person or a group, even a nation or society, is not inherently wrong. What makes loyalty evil – and dangerous politically and socioeconomically – is loyalty which is – to some degree, at least – blind. Either it is “my loyalty is to my leader/family/tribe/clan/city/state/nation/company/union and they can do no wrong,” or “because I am loyal to them, they can do things which would be wrong if I or other people did it, but are right because my leader/etc. is doing it.
The most common example of this misplaced or blind loyalty is found in taxation. Almost all libertarians have addressed the difference between theft and taxation. Who does not recognize that ANY taking of money (or any other property) by use of force or the threat of force is theft, no matter whether a gauleiter or ward boss or king or president or congress or legislature or junta or townhall meeting votes to make it legal or not? Only those who ultimately, support the state and all its activities. It is like being a little bit pregnant.
Now, let this apply to the tax collector. If taxation is theft, and you are told to collect the tax (property tax, excise tax, sales tax, etc.) and you do so, YOU are in effect claiming “befehl ist befehl.” Your only justification for doing so is being forced to do so on some severe penalty.
But it is not just to taxes that this principle applies: it applies to ANY evil done in the name of a leader or a messiah or a philosophy or a religion or a cause. It applies to ANY action which is evil if one person does it. There is NOTHING which we do for which WE are not accountable.
God gives us liberty and we are responsible, to Him, to one another, to history, to “society” or “family” or whatever entity we wish to invoke, for how we use that liberty. Ultimately, we must answer to ourselves. As the old spiritual goes, “not my brother nor my sister but it’s me, O Lord… not the pastor nor the preacher, but it’s me, O Lord…” Liberty, freedom, responsibility, accountability – these do not belong to groups or organizations but to people: to individuals. Until we learn this lesson, we will NEVER be free.
You can find another of my original articles here, if you are interested.