We Have To Do Something!
The following is from an open letter written to Harry Browne in 1995 when he decided to run for president of the United States.
In the end, no matter how forceful, how principled
or how scientific the arguments presented, you and
many of your followers may say, "principle and reason
be hanged, we have to do something!" You can argue
that we can't just stand helplessly by and let the politicians
have their way with us. Even if it is immoral,
even if it is contrary to man's nature, even if in the long
run it is counter-productive, and even if there is no evidence
that political action has ever been productive,
we have to do something. After all, "the only thing necessary
for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
This idea, that something must be done, is a disaster.
History is replete with instances in which wellmeaning
people who didn't understand the nature of
the thing that was hurting them, but intent on doing
something, turned their discomfort into catastrophe.
In past centuries, doctors, ignorant of causes of many
ailments, but wanting to do something for their patients,
commonly bled them, making a sick patient even
sicker. Obstetricians in the mid-19th century, not understanding
the cause of "puerperal fever," but eager to
do something to stop the fatal disease, gave unsanitary
pelvic examinations that spread death from patient
to patient. In order to avoid doing nothing they
were doing something: they were bringing death. When
the Black Plague swept Europe in the 14th century,
people didn't understand the cause, but they wanted to
do something. They killed the cats. They burned the
witches. The flagellants beat themselves and each other
with sticks and chains to atone for their sins. Was "doing
something" to fight the plague better than nothing?
The first rule of medicine, as Hippocrates said, is
"...at least do no harm." Unless you know that the action
you are undertaking is right you're much better
off doing absolutely nothing.
Fortunately, doing nothing is far from the only alternative
to political action. What positive steps can
we take? The energy that is now expended by wellintentioned,
freedom-seeking individuals on the destructive
course of politics can be turned into powerful
steps that will have a positive effect on the future. All
are moral, right and just. None require aggressing
against your neighbor. None require you to abandon
principle. Consider the following.
- Improve yourself. Perhaps the single most important
thing a person can do (before he sets out to improve
others) is to improve himself. Become a model
citizen. Don't use government to attack your neighbor,
even if you don't like his dog or the color of his house or
the color of his skin. If you want to stop others from
aggressing through the political process, start by excising
from your own life all vestiges of comfort and
support for political aggression.
Stop subsidizing your enemy. Stop loaning the
government money. Stop thinking you're profiting by
getting a safer return. You wouldn't loan money to your
local car thief to see him through a dry spell. Why would
you loan it to the thugs in Washington or Sacramento?
Moreover, point out to others that buying T-bills is supporting
the muggers and mass murderers in Washington.
Pull the drapes back and expose these criminals to
the light of day.
- Stop doing business with your enemy. Don't provide
products to the government. Don't accept government
contracts. Don't do business with government
employees. Don't cash government checksówith the
possible exception of tax refunds. If you're in business,
don't cash them for your customers. Don't take government
money. Don't take government subsidies. Don't
be a willing, eager beneficiary of political theft.
- Stop doing business with people who support your
enemy. Boycott businesses that live on government contracts.
Boycott those who lobby for protective legislation.
Tell them you don't approve of them stealing from
you through the state.
- Support private alternatives to government services.
Wherever you can use a private service instead
of a government service, use it. Use faxes instead of
the Post Office. Use private libraries instead of public
ones. Use private schools instead of public schools.
- Create parallel mechanisms to replace government
functions. A positive step for society is to show that private
enterprise is the correct alternative to government
monopolies. By creating Federal Express, Fred Smith
did more to reveal the insanity of a government mail
monopoly than all of the free market politicians who
have ever argued for private mail service on the floors
of congress. Most individuals will never understand that
all services are best provided by the free market. They
do not need to understand the philosophical or intellectual
basis for this truth. All they need to do is be
given the opportunity to use one or the other. Most of
the people who use Federal Express don't understand
that it is superior to the government service because it
is operated for a profit and not by coercion. They just
know it works. Spend your creative energies developing
products that compete with government. Put it out
of business by offering consumers a better product.
Think of all of the things we are told government must
do. Develop better home, neighborhood and personal
defense services, better consumer protection ideas, safer
money, more secure retirement plans, better educational
opportunities. With the government absorbing
more and more of the private sector, the opportunities
for successful private competition are exploding.
- Expose the enemy among us. Instead of talking
your neighbors into voting, spend your energy explaining
why the political process is their enemy. Talk to
centers of influence. Identify the real culprit as the individual
who promotes bigger government by secretly
lobbying for subsidy or privilege. Expose the businessman
who is lobbying for a protective tariff, the defense
contractor lobbying for tax dollars, the individual seeking
government handouts. Call them what they are,
mooches and thieves. Embarrass them. Shame them.
- Master the issues. Libertarians should master the
issues and learn to communicate so they can explain
and persuade others. You, Harry, are the acknowledged
master. You have developed simplicity of example and
persuasion to an art form. Teach others how to confront
the irrational arguments of government advocates.
- Have the moral courage to confront others. When
somebody makes a statement like, "I'm not in favor of
government medicine, but we do have to do something
to help the poor," or "even if there are abuses, legalizing
drugs is not a serious alternativeówe have to enforce
the drug laws," libertarians should never sanction
such statist propaganda by silence.
- Get involved in campaigns designed to enlighten
and enrage the public. Speak out against victimless
crimes. Support organizations such as The National
Taxpayers' Union, Amnesty International, the Fully
Informed Jury Association (FIJA) and Families Against
Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). Work with groups that
are working against regulations. Put pressure on those
who are supporting government intrusion. But don't
get involved in electoral politics. Don't fight crime by
becoming a criminal.
- Engage in civil disobedience if you are prepared
for the consequences. Henry David Thoreau went to jail
for refusing to pay a small poll tax. He believed that
civil disobedience was a moral obligation. His view of
political action as a means of changing government was
succinctly stated in his tract, ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL
DISOBEDIENCE. "How does it become a man to behave
toward this American government today? I answer
that he cannot without disgrace be associated with
- Find ways to avoid taxes. Cut every corner. Make
life miserable for a tax collector. Consider using trusts,
foundations, tax deferred investments and offshore
charities. Your success will be emulated by others, and
every dollar denied a thief makes him that much more
likely to find another line of work.
- Pamphleteer. Follow the noble lead of Thomas
Paine and Lysander Spooner. Tell it like it is. Inundate
the talk shows, newspapers and magazines with rational
arguments against government. Let other people
who are fed up with Big Brother know they are not
alone. But show them there is another way than voting.
- Write free-market novels and produce free-market
movies. Support companies and individuals that
bring a positive message to the audience. ATLAS
SHRUGGED may have had more influence on the direction
of freedom today than all the libertarian political
activity since it was written.
- Consider becoming an expatriate. Stop falling
for the ridiculous cultural blather that says, "my country,
right or wrong." Just because you're born at a place
controlled by a particular group of politicians doesn't
mean they are right. There may be places in the world
where you can live in greater freedom than in the U.S.
Find them. Vote with your feet.