Monday, December 23, 2019

Roger Williams and the birth of American liberty

“Without freedom of conscience no other freedoms are possible.”
                 — George H. Smith, Freethought and Freedom

The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, otherwise known as “Rhode Island,” brought forth to the world a product often talked about but rarely achieved: personal liberty.  Since its founding in 1636 as a refuge from Puritan persecution, it has compromised its libertarian purity for a perceived need to establish a compulsory social order.  But unlike other settlements in early America, it offered true freedom of conscience.  A person could express his religious convictions in early Providence without fear of reprisal, at least from other residents.  In a world long dominated by fanatical religious intolerance this was unthinkable.  

But one man did think that way: Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams.  He exemplified the toughness of body and spirit, and especially the fearlessness of thought, that proved necessary to give liberty a chance in a world hostile to its existence.

In Christianity’s formative years during the Roman Empire, toleration had its spokesmen.   George H. Smith (no relation) in Freethought and Freedom mentions Tertullian (c. 145-225), sometimes called “the founder of Western theology,” who believed that 
Every man should worship according to his own convictions: one man’s religion neither harms nor helps another man.
Somewhat later, Lactantius (c. 240-320) held that any god that demanded worship by violent means would be unworthy of our worship.  He also rejected the “for their own good” argument, because it “is not a kindness which is done to one who refuses it.” 

Religious toleration reached its zenith with the Edict of Milan in 313, but was overturned in AD 380 when Roman Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, decreeing that Nicene Christianity would be the state religion of the Roman Empire and other variants would be regarded as heresies, subject to persecution.  

As Smith observes, “Thus did a religion born in opposition to the state become its friend and ally.”  So much for “live and let live.”

Theologians favoring intolerance

Augustine (354-430), who some adorn with the title of saint, began his intellectual life by defending religious toleration then switched to “righteous persecution,” a phrase he used to justify saving people from the torments of hell.  Unlike Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and others who followed, Augustine opposed killing heretics for their own good, favoring fines and banishment instead.  The “for their own good” argument, in its modern variant, has proven indispensable to governments seeking to justify invasions of privacy.

Exterminating heretics received major intellectual support during the Middle Ages and after.  Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) argued that heretics are worse than wrong; they are stubbornly wrong, a result of egoistic pride, and “should be submitted even to bodily compulsion.”  

Martin Luther (1483-1546) defended toleration early in life then later “turned from persecuted to persecutor,” as Smith tells us.  Luther famously wrote:
Heretics are not to be disputed with, but to be condemned unheard, and whilst they perish by fire, the faithful ought to pursue the evil to its source, and bathe their hands in the blood of the Catholic bishops, and of the Pope, who is a devil in disguise.
John Calvin (1509-1564), a believer in predestination who apparently thought of himself as one of the elected, called for the extermination of heretics and blasphemers because they violated God’s honor.  He arranged for his Spanish friend Michael Servetus, a philosopher and physician credited with discovering the pulmonary circulation of the blood, to be burned at the stake — slowly, using green wood — for publishing The Restoration of Christianity in which he rejected the trinity and predestination.  

Being alive was not necessarily a qualification for being persecuted.  Earlier, John Wycliffe (c. 1320s-1384), “the Morning Star of the English Reformation,” the first person to have the Bible translated into English (1382), was persecuted well after his death.  Unlike other priests who recited Mass in latin, Wycliffe preached and lectured in English so that commoners could hear his messages and tell others about them.  He regarded monks, friars, priests, and every other species of cleric as corrupt representatives of Christianity and considered the pope an Antichrist.  For Wycliffe, it was the Bible (Scripture) alone that revealed the truth about God.  In 1427, forty-four years after Wycliffe’s death, the pope ordered his bones exhumed and burned, with his ashes tossed in a river.

Whether one would be persecuted as a heretic depended largely on who was in power.  Under the five-year reign of “Bloody” Mary I of England (1516-1558), over 280 Protestants were burned at the stake.  Her successor and half-sister Elizabeth I (1533-1603) returned the nation to Protestant when she became queen in 1558.  Pope Gregory XIII excommunicated Elizabeth and declared that killing a heretic such as she was no sin.  In 1588, King Philip II of Spain, her brother-in-law, sent his seemingly invincible Armada against her for the purpose of making England Catholic again.  Protestants viewed the English victory as a sign that God had blessed them.  

Elizabeth established a spy system aimed at Catholic enemies, and many Catholics were executed or died in prison.  But as John Barry explains in Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, Elizabeth did not kill because of religion, as Mary had.  “Acts, not thoughts, concerned her. She said she would ‘open no window into men’s souls.’” 

Elizabeth’s tolerance spawns rebellion

It was under Elizabeth’s reign (1558-1603) that certain Calvinists criticized the Church of England for its Catholic-like practices, such as its Book of Common Prayer, which they rejected as rote worship.  These people wanted a purer worship based solely on Scripture and became known derisively as Puritans.  The most radical of the Puritans, known as Separatists, wanted nothing to do with the Church of England, which they regarded as the Antichrist.  Though small in number they were regarded as a threat to the state, and Elizabeth hanged several of them.

James Stuart, Elizabeth’s successor, wanted to end the war between Catholics and Protestants, and began by curtailing the persecution of Catholics during his first two years.  Still, Catholic plots against him were uncovered, including the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes and followers attempted to blow up Parliament and the king.  

Under Magna Carta the king was under the law, but James declared otherwise, saying as king he took orders only from God.   Puritans and other Protestants were unnerved by James’s move.  When Charles I became king in 1625 following James’s death “he continued his father’s expansion of royal power and impulsion of the Church of England toward Catholic practices.”

For Separatists it was time to get out of Dodge.  And for the crown, it was past time that they did.  Purging the church was considered necessary for the survival of the state.  

Not only religious persecution, but the violence and crowding resulting from the enclosure of lands motivated people to look for an escape.  Through enclosure, the poor were driven from the royal forests to the cities.  In London, hordes of beggars and prostitutes flooded the streets.  To some Puritans this was God’s punishment for England’s sin.  

They looked to America for salvation.  In America Puritans could build a New Jerusalem, they believed.

America beckons the persecuted

A group of Separatists, whom we call the Pilgrims, originally abandoned England for Holland but they found life there too routine, too easy.  Life should be a challenge, and they weren’t being tested enough.  According to William Bradford, their leader, a few preferred the prisons of England to the liberties of Holland, which they considered an affliction.  

They left Holland, passed through England, and sailed on the Mayflower for America.  When they arrived on the Massachusetts coast they found an abandoned Indian village decimated by a three-year plague that began in 1617.  As author John Barry writes,
The English did not fear this plague. They believed God had used it to clear the land for them. They called it Plymouth Plantation. Ninety-nine passengers disembarked from the ship. In less than a year only fifty were still alive. 
Unlike the Separatists, who had no backing in England, a ship of financed Puritans arrived in 1624 on the northern tip of Massachusetts Bay with ambitions to build a new world.  Their investors, known as the Massachusetts Bay Company, or simply the Bay Company, hoped the Puritans would establish a flourishing economy, convert the Indians, and establish the right kind of Protestant religion, as they defined it.  

The arrivals established a settlement in Salem, Hebrew for “peace,” forty miles by sea north of Plymouth.  The settlers were families with livestock and supplies, most of them Puritans.  Five years later, in 1629, the Bay Company sent five ships of families, 350 people total, to Salem.  They consisted of “governors, able Ministers, Physicians, Soldiers, Schoolmaster, Mariners, and Mechanics of all sorts . . .”  

Later in 1629 the Bay Company sent another ship to Salem, with John Winthrop chosen as governor, that included combat veterans.  Winthrop told the passengers they were establishing a “City upon a Hill” and that the “eyes of all people are upon us.”  When they arrived in Salem on June 12, 1630, they found more than 80 of the previous fleet dead and many others weak and sick.   

Because of the debilitated condition of the settlers, Winthrop decided the settlement was vulnerable militarily and ordered the inhabitants to disperse.  They moved to Charlestown and what is now Boston.  People continued to die in the new settlements.  Winthrop wrote his wife “that God had only ‘stripped us of our vain confidence in this arm of flesh, that he may have us rely wholly upon himself.’”  

Winthrop formed a government consisting of assistants known as magistrates.  They met for the first time in October, 1630, and dealt with a troublemaker by the name of Morton.  For this they built a jail, forbade dice and card playing, and forbade smoking in public.  Another agitator, Henry Lynn, was whipped and banished for writing “slanderous” letters against the plantation’s government and churches.  

Roger Williams looks for a home

Back in England, William Laud intensified his campaign to rid the English church of “unworthy” ministers, one of which was Roger Williams.

Williams knew that his convictions made him more than eligible for imprisonment and torture.  Sailing on the ship the Lyon, Williams and his wife, along with John Winthrop Jr., left Bristol December 1, 1630 and anchored in Boston harbor on February 5, 1631.  Writes author Barry:
Williams entered a world of hardship but hardship limned with promise. No inns had yet been built, so leading citizens of Boston or Charlestown entertained him and his wife. He was a most desirable guest.
The Boston church offered Williams the position of teacher.  For Williams, 28, it would’ve been a great opportunity, but he declined, telling them “I dare not officiate an unseparated people.”  The church took offense at his reply.  

According to Williams, the state had no authority to govern an individual’s relationship with God.  None whatsoever.

Salem, considered a backwater by the rest of the settlements, offered Williams a position, and he accepted.  But political pressure from Boston led them to withdraw the offer.  

Williams then joined the settlement in Plymouth, home of the Mayflower Pilgrims, to become a farmer.  He was received with open arms by everyone, including the two governors, Bradford and Winslow.  He became active in the church and soon became an unpaid assistant pastor.  He also maintained a good relationship with Winthrop Sr., telling him in a letter that he had no desire to be an Elder in any church, and that all he wanted was “the natives Soules.”  

To the Puritans, converting the Indians was their most important mission, for two reasons.  One, they wanted to prevent Catholics from gaining more converts, and two, they believed Christianizing the world was necessary for Christ’s return.  

But so far, not a single converted Indian could be found.

Williams uprooted

Williams began his proselytizing not by preaching but with learning the Indians’s language.  He developed friendships with them, began trading with them, and traveled among several tribes.  He entertained them in his home.  He reached the unpopular conclusion that the Indians owned the land they occupied, and that the English had no title to it unless granted by the Indians.  He charged King Charles for telling “a solemn public lie” for claiming it belonged to the settlers.

Later in early fall of 1633, with Governor Bradford’s encouragement, Williams and a few supporters left Plymouth and returned to Salem.  He settled into a spacious home and lived an active social life.    

Meanwhile, the Boston magistrates were quite upset at Williams having called the king a liar.  In a treatise he wrote on request, Williams implied that the king sided with the Antichrist and “committed fornication with the whore” — the Catholic Church as represented by the queen.  They talked to Williams about his treatise, and Williams suggested they burn it if they thought it was so dangerous.  And they did.

Conformity was central to the City upon a Hill.  It spread even to the stabilizing of profits and wages.  It especially applied to childrearing.  If possible, children should not know they possess a will of their own.  Education lay in humility and tractableness.  

Any offenders were subject to excommunication or banishment from the settlement.  Any banished person who returned to Massachusetts was subject to punishments ranging from fines to death.  

Even so, Williams remained in Salem, planting and harvesting crops and continuing his relationships with the Indians.  He acquired fluency in their language and wrote a book about it.  The Salem church made him its teacher, further irritating the Boston magistrates.  When the Boston Court wanted to impose a loyalty oath, in response to pressure from England, Williams objected.  He also attacked forced tithes and the policy of giving tax money to ministers.  He found widespread agreement with his views, but not among the magistrates.

The Boston Court ordered Williams to appear.  They admonished him for his statements but deferred on a decision about banishing him.  He was ordered to appear a second time and refused to recant.  The court then ordered him to depart Massachusetts within six weeks.  

Williams escapes capture in a blizzard

He thought about where would he go.  Returning to England would mean prison, being whipped, having his ears cut off, and his tongue bored.  Returning to Plymouth wouldn’t work because they would fear offending a powerful colony that had banished him.  As he thought about his destiny his thoughts turned toward freedom.  Weeks later his wife bore him a daughter who he named Freeborne.  

In early November he got sick.  The magistrates agreed to delay his banishment because of his illness and winter.  A few supporters began gathering in his home, some praying there.  Word reached Boston.  The magistrates debated executing him but his popularity would upset too many people.  They decided to send him back to England.

The governor ordered a party of soldiers to capture Williams and put him on a boat to England, but a fierce blizzard delayed them for days.  While they waited, Williams was tipped off by a secret messenger sent by Winthrop that he was targeted for arrest and deportation.  

Sick and alone, leaving his family behind, Williams entered the forest and blizzard on foot.  With the snow already deep it was an exhausting trek that lasted for miles.  He survived only because Indians took him in.  

In early spring he found a place near Narragansett Bay, but the Plymouth governor Winslow ordered him and a few others from Salem to move.  He scouted out country owned by the Narragansett Tribe, with whom he had a close relationship.  Canonicus, the tribe’s sachem, and his nephew Miantonomi, gave him permission to settle there.  


Williams was fully free in the wilderness.

He attributed God’s merciful providence for leading him there during his darkest hours.  He called the place Providence, so that “it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience.”

As others straggled in they realized they had no agreement about how to govern themselves.  Williams, the owner of the land, drew upon his experience as an understudy with English jurist Sir Edward Coke (pronounced “cook”), who said every Englishman’s home was his castle, and from Elizabeth, who sought no window into men’s souls.  

Williams sent Winthrop a draft compact that incredibly did not mention God at all, nor did the final version refer to God in any way.  The scant Providence inhabitants unanimously agreed to his compact.  As the government grew its essential nature remained true to the original compact.  John Barry tells us:
Providence would neither impose a religious test for voting nor would it require church attendance of those living there. This was a costly step, since virtually every other government in England and New England collected significant revenues from fines on those who did not attend worship.
Williams went even further.  He maintained that governments governed only with the consent of the governed, rejecting both the divine right of kings and the Puritan view that governors were accountable only to God, not the people.  

He could never forget that savages had saved his life, not his friends and fellow Christians.

Return to England

In Providence, people worshipped in their homes, not a church, and their homes were arranged in a straight line not around a town common, as found in the Massachusetts settlements.  A meeting place would not be built in Providence for another half century.

As the English expanded in New England the Indians became more of a nuisance.  After a war with the Pequots (1636-1638) they proved more adept at slaughtering Indians than converting them, basing their aggression on Scripture, on the belief they were slaying God’s enemies.  Williams later negotiated a peace to save the Narragansetts in 1645, but could not intervene on behalf of the Pequots.  

Roger Williams returned to England twice, the first time in the spring of 1643 to secure a written charter that would authorize liberty of conscience.   While he was away the Puritan colonies of New England organized into the United Colonies and began meddling with claims about ownership of Providence itself. Williams eventually heard about it, and he knew that unless he could gain the support of England Massachusetts would devour his settlement. 

On March 14, 1644 Williams secured his charter, which gave the colony the power and authority to govern and rule themselves.  It also left all decisions about religion to itself.  

Providence Plantations thereby became the freest known state in the world.

As he left England in June, 1644 Williams left behind a book waiting to be published in which he argued for the separation of church and state, based on the New Testament.  It also struck down the idea that Scripture required the destruction of heretics and blasphemers.  The people were sovereign, and that “All true civill Magistrates have not the least inch of civill power, but what is measured out to them from the free consent of the whole . . .”

Not surprisingly, Parliament ordered the public burning of his book eight weeks after its publication, including the typeset.  As Barry writes, “The book did not bring Williams’ ideas to England.  They were already there, raised by persecuted sects.  His book brought the issues into prominence.”

Conflicting governments

When Williams arrived in Boston harbor he was ordered to leave.  As he approached Providence in a canoe, a flotilla of canoes emerged on the horizon.  They were his Providence neighbors, coming to pay him tribute. They gave him a hero’s welcome, something entirely new to him.

But the tranquility didn’t last long.  William Coddington, the richest man in the colony, tried to get Massachusetts and Plymouth to absorb the Aquidneck Island towns of Newport and Portsmouth. His ally, William Arnold, tried to provoke the Massachusetts magistrates by telling them that Rhode Island viewed them as witches and devils.  Still, all the United Colonies deferred, declaring the proposal to seize the settlements “full of confusion and danger.”

Coddington then went to London and received a new charter for Aquidneck Island, which included making him governor for life.  Violence erupted back home as the two governments clashed.  The United Colonies declared the Coddington’s charter overruled Williams’s charter.

Since Rhode Island lacked the military strength to make the United Colonies back off, Williams left for England a second time to nullify Coddington’s charter.  Oliver Cromwell had become dictator of England, Scotland, and Ireland.  Fortunately, Williams was on good terms with Cromwell, and he eventually reaffirmed Williams’s charter in 1653.  A charter signed by the powerful Cromwell ended the feud with the United Colonies.

The zealous Quakers

The first Quakers in America were two Englishwomen who arrived in Boston in July, 1656.  After hearing one of them say “thee,” authorities knew they were heretics and immediately imprisoned them, keeping them locked up for five weeks.  As Murray Rothbard tells us in Conceived in Liberty, the women were denied visitors, light, and reading material, and were almost starved to death.  They were finally shipped back to Barbados.

Though Williams personally despised Quaker beliefs, his colony’s charter guaranteed their safety.  The rejected the Puritan belief in predestination and the Puritan contention that “careful, scholarly study of Scripture was necessary to understand God’s desires and their own tasks in the world.” The Quakers instead believed in universal redemption and denied the doctrine of original sin.  They discarded all outward forms of worship and believed in an inner light that came from God and was part of themselves.  As John Barry tells us,
They substituted human judgment for Scripture and the rule of law. They eliminated the ministry and all forms of worship. They considered men and women virtually equal and allowed women to speak in worship. They also justified riotous behavior and even disobedience to the law. . . Any one of these beliefs was, to Calvinists, blasphemy; taken together they certainly justified a death sentence.
More Quakers arrived at Newport in 1657, and the United Colonies demanded that Rhode Island banish the Quakers and forbid any new arrivals.  Failure to cooperate would result in an embargo on all trade to and from Rhode Island.  But the little colony didn’t back down, pointing out that Quakers were allowed their freedom in England.  

Thus began Quaker missionary operations in Massachusetts, using Rhode Island as a base.  Quakers used novel ways to draw attention to their beliefs.  One Quaker woman stripped naked and paraded down the aisle in the Newbury church during service, another walked nude through the streets of Boston, another woman was stripped to her waist and whipped so hard her nipples split.  

Quakers Mary Dyer and two men were sentenced to be hung on October 27, 1659.  The men were duly executed, but Mary gained a reprieve, though only after the rope was around her neck.  She was sent back to Rhode Island but defiantly returned to Massachusetts, where she was hanged on June 1, 1660.  

Massachusetts then passed the Cart and Whip Act.  Women, especially, were subject to this punishment.  In one case three women were stripped to their waists, “tied to a cart’s tail, and whipped through eleven towns, through deep snow, and lashed up to ten times apiece in each town. And yet the tortured women met their fate by singing hymns as they went.” [Rothbard]

Finally, in 1664, King Charles II sent a commission to New England to put an end to the persecution of Quakers.  As Rothbard notes, the Massachusetts theocracy, successful in driving out Roger Williams, failed to stop the indomitable Quakers.  


Rhode Island’s legacy as a staunch defender of freedom was not completely lost with the passage of time.  On May 4, 1776 it became the first colony to repudiate its allegiance to England, the fourth among the newly independent states to ratify the Articles of Confederation on February 9, 1778, and it became the last state to ratify the Constitution on May 29, 1790, but only after assurances that a Bill of Rights was forthcoming and under threats of crushing tariffs from other states.  It was also the only state to boycott the Constitutional Convention.  (For those who think the boycott was a blight on Rhode Island’s record, I invite them to consider the research of Leonard L. Richards in his Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle.)

Like all US states, Rhode Island today suffers from politics, debt, and taxes, more so than most states.  Taking money out of the hands of those who have earned it and putting it in a political pot to redistribute is still regarded as sound policy and morally respectable.  Yet I find hope for its future.  One might think the state’s full name would be regarded by most as obsolete in the 21st Century’s free lunches, political correctness, identity politics, and war.  But residents don’t think so.  In 2010 they voted 78% - 22% to retain the full name - the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.  

Retaining the original name keeps current Rhode Islanders connected to the tough, libertarian thinker who founded their state.

George Ford Smith is a former mainframe and PC programmer and technology instructor, the author of eight books including a novel about a renegade Fed chairman (Flight of the Barbarous Relic), a filmmaker (Do Not Consent), and an advocate of stateless market government.  He eagerly welcomes speaking engagements and can be reached at 

Monday, October 28, 2019

A State that went deep in the night

The Deep State is an outgrowth of the democratic State, without which it could neither expand nor exist.  In a totalitarian regime there is no distinction between the two; there is just the State as the autocratic ruler of the territory it claims as its own.  As democratic states become more totalitarian the line between State and Deep State fades, as you would expect.

States have been around for so long it seems there is no other way to organize society, and therefore the best we can do is control them.  For that purpose constitutions have been imposed, though it hasn’t worked because the State itself turns out to be the constitution’s enforcer, the fox that takes charge of the henhouse.  Still, the myth persists that the people can hold the State to its purpose of protecting their rights.   

This is a futile strategy.  Natural rights are those conditions necessary for an individual’s survival.  Since we need to sustain our lives through productive work, we need protection of “persons, liberties, and properties,” as Bastiat made clear.  Men formed societies for this purpose, to protect what they already have by virtue of being alive, and since individuals have the right to self-defense, States cannot have any purpose other than to protect us.

But in fact they do.  

There are multiple ways people can live at the expense of others, and the State can serve as the instrument for making this happen legally.  How did it happen here, in the U.S.?  Check out the following: Shays's Rebellion: The American Revolution's Final Battle, Hamilton's Curse, The Real Lincoln, The Triumph of Conservatism, The Creature from Jekyll Island, War is a Racket, End the Fed, and my own The Flight of the Barbarous Relic.  That’s a lot of reading but if we want a better world we need to engage in “hard thinking and scholarship,” as Rothbard advised.

These works, though, while brilliant for illuminating State treachery, don’t question the legitimacy of the State itself.  One supposes that if presidents such as Lincoln and Wilson got the country into unjust wars that wrecked economies while killing hundreds of thousands of people, then it’s up to us to elect better people or encode better laws.  If central banking is a counterfeiting racket that funds unjust wars while making a few rich then we need to rally support to repeal the Federal Reserve Act.  

As both approaches seek to limit state power, I doubt they will work.  Through control of media and education, not only has the State escaped culpability for these initiatives but is widely seen as the champion of our well-being in times of crisis.  Thus, wars were fought to keep us free, the Fed exists to “promote the health of the U.S. economy and the stability of the U.S. financial system.” 

The authors of the foregoing works, in other words, don’t call for replacing the government structure we live under, notwithstanding its gross failure.  For radical treatments that expose the bedrock of the State, its legal monopoly of force, then good places to start are Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State and For a New Liberty, Rockwell’s Against the State, Murphy’s Chaos Theory, and Hoppe's The Private Production of Defense.

But these alone won’t get far into the details of the U.S. Deep State.  

For that, you can find scholarly treatments in Laurent Guy√©not’s JFK-9/11: 50 Years of Deep State (2015) and Michael J. Glennon’s National Security and Double Government (2014).  Let’s examine some of Glennon’s points.

The survival of the State is supreme

He makes a distinction between the government Madison and his cohorts created and the one Truman set in motion that executes the “national security” policies of unelected insiders.  Under President Harry S. Truman, Congress passed the National Security Act of 1947, “which unified the military under a new Secretary of Defense, set up the CIA, created the modern Joint Chiefs of Staff, and established the National Security Council.” Glennon refers to these governments by their creators, as the Madisonians and the Trumanites.   

Two broad reasons were given for the Trumanite government: One, the need to respond quickly to anything mass murderer Joseph Stalin might try, and two, the desire of the U.S. military to spread democracy all around the globe.

At the time some conservative members of Congress were critical of this arrangement.  Republican Senator William Langer of North Dakota thought the real enemy was the Pentagon where “military leaders had an insatiable appetite for more money, more men, and more power.”  Conservatives talked about a garrison state, a police state, and a slave state. They invoked Washington’s Farewell Address, with his advice to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world,” they summoned the 1821 speech of John Quincy Adams who warned against going abroad in search of monsters to destroy, they pointed out the shifting of congressional responsibility to administrative policymaking. 

They spoke truth to power, but power won big.  Red Scare II, along with the awesome threat of the state they lived under, a state that lost no sleep over incinerating civilians with nuclear weapons and firebombing, frightened Americans into compliance.  

The Deep State keeps growing

Glennon sites a 2011 Washington Post article that, following a two-year investigation, 
identified forty-six federal departments and agencies engaged in classified national security work.  Their missions range from intelligence gathering and analysis to war-fighting, cyber-operations, and weapons development. Almost 2,000 private companies support this work, which occurs at over 10,000 locations across America.  The size of their budgets and workforces are mostly classified, but it is clear that those numbers are enormous—a total annual outlay of around $1 trillion and millions of employees.
He also refers to a 1970 article by Henry Kissinger: “The nightmare of the modern state is the hugeness of the bureaucracy, and the problem is how to get coherence and design in it.”  Kisssinger’s wrong.  The State, modern or otherwise, is coherently a leech upon free people and a psychotic bully in global affairs.

If the Deep State keeps growing, we will have just one State, deep and tyrannical in every respect, all in the name of “national security.”

The Deep State would fold if the State on which it depends couldn’t extract the necessary loot from the people it feeds on.  As a rogue organization the Deep State doesn’t have many fans outside of its ranks.  If people took a hard look at the State itself, they might find they don’t cherish that entity much, either.  But they’re reluctant to call for radical change because they’ve been told the free market is a jungle only the State can control.  This is patently false, as Rothbard points out
In the jungle, some gain only at the expense of others. On the market, everyone gains. It is the market—the contractual society—that wrests order out of chaos, that subdues nature and eradicates the jungle, that permits the “weak” to live productively, or out of gifts from production, in a regal style compared to the life of the “strong” in the jungle.
People are sick of the State’s taxing, counterfeiting, nannying, warmongering, lying, scandal-ridden, bureaucratic ways.  They need to break out some books and learn that pushing for an unfettered free market is the path to their deliverance from tyranny.

George Ford Smith is a former mainframe and PC programmer and technology instructor, the author of eight books including a novel about a renegade Fed chairman (Flight of the Barbarous Relic), a filmmaker (Do Not Consent), and an advocate of stateless market government.  He eagerly welcomes speaking engagements and can be reached at

Thursday, October 24, 2019

We need to know who’s hitting us

Which of the following statements is politically correct?

A. End Foreign Aid to Israel and Everyone Else
B. Conscription Is Slavery
C. U.S. Soldiers Died for Nothing in WW I
D. Abolish the National Anthem
E. Memorial Day Is Based on a Lie
F. Abolish the FBI, America’s KGB
G. The Soviet Union Won WW II
H. Thank You for Your Killing

None of them, of course.  Each is the title of an article written by Jacob Hornberger and can be found in his blog at the Future of Freedom Foundation.  Hornberger, refreshingly, has never been delicate in his treatment of political issues.  He fires his thoughts straight at us, like a bullet on route to its target, without detour or apology.   

For example, we’re encouraged to thank the troops for their service.  But what does that mean, exactly?  What are we thanking them for?  
Killing people [Hornberger writes]. That’s what U.S. soldiers have been doing in Iraq since 1990 and in Afghanistan since 2001. They have been killing people. Lots of people. Hundreds of thousands of people. And they continue to do so on a regular basis. . . . 
Among historians Woodrow Wilson is considered one of the better US presidents.  With the help of a warmongering staff and Lincoln-like aggression against the American people, especially conscription, he was able to send young men overseas to fill the French landscape with American corpses in what became known as World War I.   And in Hornberger’s view were our soldiers heroes, helping to fulfill Wilson’s vision of saving the world for democracy?  Not exactly.  
The 117,466 U.S. soldiers who died in World War I died for nothing. No one can deny that. In fact, that might well be the reason why interventionists changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day. They wanted Americans to stop thinking about the fact that all those American soldiers in World War I died for nothing.
In light of these and many other Hornberger articles, I was puzzled by a recent piece, Politicians Live in a Parallel Universe, in which he critiqued a Mitch McConnell op-ed.  McConnell, a faithful interventionist, thinks it would be a bad idea to withdraw from Syria, defending his position with stale, counterfactual assertions.  To pick just one, McConnell says when the US “threw off the comforting blanket of isolationism in the 1940s and took the mantle of global leadership, we made the whole world better.”  

Isolationism?  Really?
How can he not know about President Roosevelt’s interventionist machinations to embroil the United States in World War II? How could he not know about FDR’s Lend-Lease program with England, his military assistance to British forces, his oil embargo on Japan, his freezing of Japanese assets in the United States, and the humiliating dictates he issued to Japan, all with the aim of provoking Germany and Japan to attack and kill U.S. troops, so that he could manipulate the American people into entering World War II?
As an explanation for McConnell’s manifest ignorance Hornberger concludes he must be “living in a parallel universe.” 

If only that were true!  If only the political class would coerce their world and not ours.  

As he knows, politicians, to our demise, reside right here with us and are coercing us daily.   Yet even as a literary device, saying they live in another world, while making a colorful point, gets them off the hook.  We are led to think of them as oddballs rather than evil — people we have to get along with, somehow, if we want to live in a civil society.  

In McConnell’s worldview a rationale can always be found for the US military to meddle in other countries.  Of course certain people and industries profit from it while others pay.   Of course there are accidents, what the military and media call collateral damage.  Of course there is corruption and cover-ups.  So what?  Let’s admit, this is what’s holding the country together.  Who are we, in our world, to condemn an insider such as McConnell?  Live and let live.

This is no small point.  Hornberger is well-aware of the criminal nature of the state and those who run it.  He knows that people who have seen their families and livelihoods wiped out by American forces would not be impressed with literary allusions such as “parallel universe.”  Neither would other readers who need the full truth, that McConnell, who holds a doctor of law degree and is as fully earth-bound as the rest of us, filled his piece with outrageous lies in defending wanton murder and destruction.  

C’mon, Jacob!  The state has always shrouded itself and its motives in lies.  Its state-educated subjects are too occupied to question them or dig much deeper than mainstream sources.  And who today has the courage to challenge it since hearing about the torture of Julian Assange?  People need to know who’s hitting them (to steal a line from Cinderella Man), and you normally do a superb job in this respect.  They need to be reminded constantly that their government, like all others, is a war among gangs to grab the levers of power, and that unless we change it even a strong country like ours will one day disappear. 

George Ford Smith is the author of eight books, including The Flight of the Barbarous RelicEyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution, and The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty.  He is also a filmmaker whose latest work is a whimsical tale about the threat of nuclear annihilation, Last Day.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The future is yours, if you want it

Mises Institute President Jeff Deist has written an outstanding article that questions whether politics — elections, in this case — can fix what ails American society.  Can it clear up structural problems such as central banking and foreign policy?  Can it solve the intractable differences between Right and Left?  Can the forthcoming national election amount to something other than “throwing gasoline on the fire”?

On rare occasions political solutions do sometimes fix problems that earlier political decisions created, such as the repeal of Prohibition in late 1933.  But killing the Eighteenth Amendment didn’t threaten the governing elite; if anything, it helped their image by making them seem like regular guys.   The Federal Reserve, however, is a different creature altogether.  As a pillar of big government and fountain of Wall Street largess, it is hands-off, always.   

But why should today’s candidates even discuss complex matters such as central banking?  It’s too confusing and boring to most people.  Besides, most politicians don’t understand it themselves.  This is why they avoid being too specific about their promises: They don’t have to go much deeper than “Change we can believe in” or “Drain the swamp.”  A much safer and more popular approach is to stir up the animosity each side already feels for the other. 

Are Americans trapped in their own system?  Not necessarily.  The way out is to see what’s trapping them, which means understanding the difference between government and state.

Not the same

But right away there’s a problem: the two words are used almost interchangeably.  Further, in today’s world all governments are states.  And any society in a condition of widespread chaos is considered to be in urgent need of a strong state, Somalia notwithstanding.  

But let this be step one in understanding: government can and should exist without being a state.  

A state is a clique holding a monopoly of force over a delineated territory.  As it happens, states have sectioned off all the land of planet Earth, including Antartica.  If you’re on, over, or under land you’re subject to some state’s rule.  From a state’s perspective we are like corralled animals that can leave only with its permissionAs Lincoln made abundantly clear, with the right crisis a state can always step outside its legal limits.  And the state itself is a good bet to be the author of that crisis

By contrast, government in the sense proposed excludes monopoly and force; there are no state elections because there is no state — no president, no legislature, no IRS or any other tax collection agency because there are no taxes.  Lawfulness and security are established and funded through the free market, relying on market institutions and incentives for our well-being.

Another crucial difference

Long ago Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded a computer company and called it Apple.  Its computers appealed to others so much they ponied up money to buy them.  As we know Apple has become a market giant in this manner.  At varying scales this sort of thing happens often.  It’s how free markets work. 

But the free market has the dark shadow of the state hovering over it. 

With Apple you’re a customer it tries to please.  With the state you’re a subject it deals with at its pleasure.  

The state is the chief criminal element in society.  The words parasite, bully, and monopoly apply to it, among others.  This certainly can’t be the foundation of a sustainable civilization.

In every interaction with the state it is in charge, not you.  Curiously, none of us, not even those the state employs, explicitly agreed to this arrangement.  Why would people who consider themselves free, as Americans do on Independence Day, participate in a system that authorizes their permanent subservience to a coercive organization?  Why do we go about our lives dealing with others on a consensual basis but snap to attention when dealing with the State?

Seriously, why?

Thomas Paine, the most influential founder of American independence, observed in Rights of Man Part II that
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilized community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together.
We’re really not a state

Most Americans think of their country as their beloved republic for which many have sacrificed in its defense, on those occasions when it was believed to be under attack.  The USA a state?  Only among ivory-tower eggheads.  We have holidays, parades, heroes, military graveyards that stretch endlessly here and overseas, special and often grandiose ceremonies to remind us of our good fortune in living under its rule.  Yet isn’t it odd that the leaders getting us into wars are never the ones who do the actual fighting, who never pay the “ultimate sacrifice,” but instead, if they occupy the White House, are often sanctified as “great”?  Isn’t it stranger still that people put up with this?

In honoring the state we presume innocence on its part.  We believe state personnel would never intentionally act in such a way that might endanger us.  If it goes to war it’s to stop a belligerent that threatens us, not to spur the profits of the war industries or to distract attention from embarrassing domestic problems.  If it criminalizes the sale or use of certain drugs, it does so to protect us, not as “a political contrivance to criminalize and oppress the anti-war left and black people in post-Vietnam America.”  When it declares it’s going to eradicate poverty and finds after 50 years that it’s a monumental failure, it carries on in the name of the poor, even at the cost of destroying families and discouraging self-sufficiency.  When it bails out big banks in this country and overseas, it’s to “save” the heavily-regulated free market, regardless of the moral hazard it creates or the costs to everyday Americans.  

The stratospheric national debt?  A wash, we owe it to ourselves, they tell us.  When Saudis attacked the country with hijacked jets, the government bombed the hell out of two countries that had no connection to the attack, and Americans cheered. And amidst the cheering they submitted quietly to further incursions on their freedom.

There is widespread belief that without the state we would live in constant danger, because only an organization with a monopoly on violence can protect us from violence.  Under a stateless existence — anarchy — we would be vulnerable to perpetual gang warfare, we’re told.  Life would be nasty, brutal, and short.  

But what has life under state rule brought to the world? Economic historian Robert Higgs, who describes himself as a libertarian anarchist, gives us some idea:
Anarchists did not try to carry out genocide against the Armenians in Turkey; they did not deliberately starve millions of Ukrainians; they did not create a system of death camps to kill Jews, gypsies, and Slavs in Europe; they did not fire-bomb scores of large German and Japanese cities and drop nuclear bombs on two of them; they did not carry out a ‘Great Leap Forward’ that killed scores of millions of Chinese; they did not attempt to kill everybody with any appreciable education in Cambodia; they did not launch one aggressive war after another; they did not implement trade sanctions that killed perhaps 500,000 Iraqi children.
Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.

There is much to be thankful for in our world, but it’s not the state.  The exponential growth of technology is launching ordinary people into the surreal realm of science fiction, while on the other side the state confiscates our wealth to weaponize technology.  Every lame excuse to expand the state makes the headlines, often by entrepreneurs and others who should know better, as well as political hacks fishing for votes. 

Voting has always been a prerogative of the state.  It doesn’t have to be.  With the internet and widespread adoption of technology that can access it, we have the technology to vote outside the voting booth.  We don’t have to vote to sustain the state’s rule and our subjection. We can call for a different form of government, one that’s market-driven, on Election Day or any other day.  Let’s throw the rascals out by throwing the state out and begin to take control of our future.

George Ford Smith is the author of eight books, including The Flight of the Barbarous RelicEyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution, and The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty.  He is also a filmmaker whose latest work is a whimsical tale about the threat of nuclear annihilation, Last Day.

The State Unmasked

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