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Alex R. Knight, III

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

Originally published at Voluntaryist.com.

The first time I remember even seeing the word “libertarian,” was in 1994, when I was twenty-five. Years prior to that, like most kids, I had no real philosophical or political leanings. Government was just something that happened to be there, like the landscape, or the weather. As I grew into my teens, however, I began to develop a kind of vague sense that something was wrong – perhaps even horribly so – with the way society was structured. I think the catalysts for this awakening process were things that many young people experience on the path to adulthood: I had my first few brushes with the police – mainly for underage drinking. The paychecks I earned at the several jobs I had over those years had numerous taxes taken out of them. Laws restricting ownership of guns seemed increasingly wrong. The police and the military had them, yet the government wanted to curtail others from doing so. I began, again, like many young people, to distrust and resent authority in all forms.

My new awareness, however, had no cohesive threads running through it. My rapidly developing beliefs didn’t fit into any form of traditional political paradigm. I wasn’t “right-wing.” I didn’t think the police should have many of the powers that they had. I didn’t think drugs should be illegal (after all, I was doing them). I didn’t think the government should have soldiers marching all over the world. But I wasn’t “left-wing” either: As stated, I liked guns, and thought people should be able to own them without asking permission from anyone. I thought people, regardless of how much money they had, should be able to keep that money without having the government confiscate it through taxation. I thought that public schools were run more like prisons and indoctrination centers than learning institutions, and that they should be privatized, and all associated property taxation ended. Indeed, if people were actually supposed to own their houses, how could they be taxed? I didn’t identify with either Republicans or Democrats. I settled for considering myself politically independent. I had no idea what I would do when I became old enough to vote. When I did get there, I did nothing. Based on my beliefs, there seemed no method of voting consistent with my principles.

But in 1994, I chanced upon an article written by one Sean Glennon in a free newspaper published in New Hampshire called Seacoast Times. Glennon was a far leftist, but the piece was about drug legalization, so it held my interest. In it, Glennon made mention of the fact that the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, Steve Winter, was in favor of ending the drug war. This intrigued me. So much, in fact, that I looked up the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire’s toll-free number in the phone book (the Internet was still in its infancy), and left a message requesting an information package. A few days later, a large envelope showed up in the mail. By the time I was done reading all the material therein, I had come to what was for me, at the time, a revelation. All those years, I had actually been a Libertarian without knowing it.

Or, that’s what I thought.

I contacted the LPNH again, and let them know I wanted to get involved in some way. I was kind of excited. I now had some people I could vote for at election time, and a vehicle to advance the philosophy I had always, for the most part, embraced: The Libertarian Party. I went on to become Communications Director, won more media coverage for the LPNH than had accrued in all the prior years of their existence, and was awarded Activist of the Year in 1998.

But there were still some unresolved problems.

Probably the most daunting one was how to reconcile libertarian philosophy with the existence of government. Because, of course, if one follows the non-aggression principle to its ultimate (and only logical) conclusion, no government – not even a miniscule one – can function without the implementation of coercive force. This seemed paradoxical to the notion of a political party attempting to get candidates elected in order to then legislate into existence greater freedom. I wrestled with this concept for some time. I talked with a lot of other liberty-minded people. I questioned, then questioned again, my core beliefs. There were a lot of great books on the subject I now realize I should have been reading, but that didn’t come until later. Things all came to a head for me in 2000 when, at the LPNH’s annual convention, I publicly confronted the late, great Harry Browne on an issue which similarly challenged his candidacy for U.S. President, and the Libertarian Party’s fundamental integrity. As a result of that somewhat discomfiting tableau, I resigned from any and all participation in politics, including voting altogether. I realized that I had become a true libertarian in the purest sense. I had become an anarchist. Or if you prefer, as many do, a Voluntaryist – a believer in non-aggression and peaceful willing relationships amongst human beings instead of the imposed violence governments bring to bear against individuals. I now believe I am on the correct path in doing my part to bring about a truly free and prosperous society. I warmly invite one and all to join me.

Robert Higgs

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

Originally published at BadQuaker.com.

In college in the 1960’s I was not a political person. Although I took a keen interest in politics, especially in the war that was raging in Vietnam, I concentrated on my studies, earning a living, and chasing women. After I began work as a professor, in 1968, I gravitated quickly from my collegiate New Leftism toward classical liberalism. As I learned more about Austrian economics, political economy, public choice, and history, I became increasingly libertarian (minarchist variety). My views continued to evolve, however, and by the time the 21st century arrived, if not sooner, I had finally reached my destination as a libertarian anarchist.

Although I make no apology whatever for this ideological identity, I do not share the seeming expectation of some of my fellow libertarian anarchists that a revolution is now, or soon will be, occurring in the direction of my preferred political ideals. Indeed, my expectation is, if anything, the reverse: it seems to me much more likely that the USA will continue to drift and lurch toward totalitarianism, though this system will surely have a unique red, white, and blue coloration to suit the American people’s history, culture, and tastes. I do not expect a dictator with a funny little mustache and a horde of brown-shirted thugs to take power after smashing heads in the streets. I expect instead an elected dictator who looks like George W. Bush or Barack Obama and a horde of police dressed in riot-suppression gear to turn the trick, though most people will not need to have their heads smashed and will go along gladly.

If I comprehend the world in this way, what, some people wonder, am I doing by embracing libertarian anarchism? Well, I am obviously not taking this position in order to come out on the winning side. If that were my goal, I would already have found a way to make myself useful in the military-industrial-congressional complex. No, I have put myself where I am now somewhat as Martin Luther did when he announced: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

In my case, this declaration means most of all that I am simply doing what seems to me the decent thing; that taking any other ideological position would entangle me in evils of which I want no part. Although I sincerely believe that a stateless world would be better than the present world in countless ways, such as better health, greater wealth, and enhanced material well-being, I am not a libertarian anarchist primarily on consequentialist grounds, but instead primarily because I believe it is wrong for anyone – including those designated the rulers and their functionaries – to engage in fraud, extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. I do not believe that I have a defensible right to engage in such acts; nor do I believe that I, or anyone else, may delegate to government officials a just right to do what it is wrong for me – or you or anyone – to do as a private person.

Still, one might ask, if I do not expect that my vision of a just world can ever be realized, why do I persist in evaluating the events of the nasty “real world” by the standards realizable only in my ideal world? The answer is that everyone must have an ideal; without one, there is no standard against which one may assess the imperfect actions and events of the actual world. Without a standard, one may only shrug his shoulders, like a character in an existentialist novel, in nonchalant indifference to the political wickedness raging on all sides. Just as a devout Christian seeks to live a Christ-like life, knowing full well that no one can live up to the standard set by Jesus, so I aim to live and to make my judgments of the events I hear about in the light of the nonaggression axiom. The initiation of violence or the threat of violence against innocent others is wrong, regardless of the noble ends that one might cite to justify such violence or threat. It is wrong for me, wrong for you, and wrong for the president of the USA and his flunkies.

Like the Christian who inevitably falls into sin, I may fall short of my ideal. I may act or speak inconsistently with it. Many public issues are complicated, and in regard to them I may fail to discern the best way to act in accordance with my ideological ideal. If you let me know about my inconsistency, I can attempt to set aside my pride, admit my error, and correct it. As new issues arise, the task of sorting out the best way to deal with the most pressing problems will present itself repeatedly. Perhaps, like St. Paul in his letters to the new churches of the ancient world, we can strive to instruct one another in the most defensible understanding and practice of libertarian anarchism. Merely shouting that the existing order is rotten, is on the verge of collapse and, once it has collapsed, will be replaced by libertarian anarchism, however, seems to me so hopelessly naive that I am inclined to urge my ideological comrades who do such shouting to get a firmer grip on themselves. One needs to combine his moral uprightness with a solidly founded understanding of the social, political, and economic world and how it works. Otherwise, our statements and actions become hopelessly quixotic.

I do not expect to live to see a world that even approximates my ideal. In fact, I greatly fear that I shall instead live long enough to see the most obscene species of police state in the saddle in the USA – after all, there is now only a short distance to go to reach this horrible destination, and many Americans seem eager to get to it as soon as possible. Nevertheless, I am comfortable with my ideological convictions. To have embraced anything else would have been a great mistake for me. I took almost a lifetime to reach my current position; I did not come to it lightly or without extended study and thought. Of course, I may still be wrong in every regard; I am a human being, and as such I am certainly subject to running off the moral and intellectual rails. I do not propose to be paralyzed by this universal human susceptibility to error, however. Feeling the need to take a stand of some kind as a participant in the events of my time and place, I have put myself firmly where I now stand. By the light I have been given to see the right, I can do no other.

Jay Gunther

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

I was born and raised in a very strong Christian, very strong Republican family. I remember at age seven when the race was between Barry Goldwater (R) and Lyndon Johnson (D), and although I knew nothing about politics, in my home, it was all about Barry Goldwater. And so it went. Nixon was God, Humphrey was the devil. Nixon was a saint, McGovern was evil… and so forth. I was excited in 1976 when I was finally able to vote and to cast my straight ticket Republican ballot in favor of Gerald Ford and all of the other candidates with an R after their name.

I was a poor history student in school. History bored me to tears, especially anything that had to do with American politics. I remember dating a history major in college whose passion was American History. On our first date, I laughed and told her that as far as I was concerned, history belonged on the bookshelf and there it should stay. I don’t think she was very amused. We never dated after that – so I guess it was not just our first date, but our last date as well.

At about age 22, I started getting very interested in politics. It was during the years shortly following the end of the Vietnam War. I remember some of the treatment that the vets were getting. I hailed them as heroes. Damned be anyone who didn’t. I was proud of our troops and their sacrifices for my freedoms and believed that anyone who didn’t honor the vets or salute the flag needed to be taken behind the woodshed and whipped – before putting them on a boat and sending them out of the country.

I remember writing a paper about how much I appreciated policemen for setting up sobriety check points in order to preserve my safety. I remember feeling a sense of pride when I dutifully paid my taxes. I remember the disdain I had towards anyone who didn’t honor the flag. The list of things I appreciated about the state was long.

Life was good for the first 30 years. I was complacent and ignorant, obedient, faithful and an unquestioning Republican. I remember the day, January 18, 1987, as if it were yesterday. I was in a leadership position in my church and was asked to read a letter to the congregation. The letter was from the president of our church. It was the year of the bicentennial anniversary of the Constitution for the United States of America. The letter contained counsel to our church members to prayerfully study the Constitution and gain a better understanding of it. As I read that letter, I remembered feeling like a hypocrite. There I stood, admonishing the congregation to do something that I had never done nor had any intention of ever doing. But as I read, a strong feeling came over me that said, “YOU NEED TO DO THIS!”

I went home from church and looked through my rather large collection of books to see if I could find any copies of the Constitution. To my amazement, I was able to find such a book. I dusted it off and opened its crisp, new pages and started reading. It was totally foreign to me. It also seemed to be written in somewhat of a foreign language.

I didn’t understand a lot of what I read the first time. There were several words or phrases, like “marque and reprisal,” “habeas corpus,” and “bill of attainder” that flew over my head, yet, it was intriguing enough to me that I had to know what it all meant. The next day, I went to a bookstore and picked up a book for beginners in studying the Constitution. Although I don’t remember what it was, I probably appreciated that book as much as any I have ever read, because it took someone like me, who understood practically nothing about constitutional law, and gently moved me towards a much greater understanding. As I read that book, I thought, “Republicans don’t do that. Republicans don’t believe that. That isn’t anything like the sort of thing I see in the Republican platform.”

The next three months went by in a flash. I read many books and articles, among which were, The Making of America, The Five Thousand Year Leap, An Enemy Hath Done This, The Real Thomas Jefferson, The Real George Washington, The Wealth of Nations, Miracle in Philadelphia and The Federalist Papers. I joined the National Center for Constitutional Studies and The John Birch Society.

About that time, I moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after getting there, I turned the radio to a local talk show and was listening to a most fascinating interview. Everything that the guest was talking about made sense to me. He left the Republican Party in 1987 in disgust and joined the Libertarian Party. I absolutely loved him. I had never previously heard of Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. I said to myself, “This guy has my vote.” I didn’t know anything about Libertarians, but I knew that I wanted to be one. I soon changed my political affiliation from Republican to Libertarian, not yet knowing much about the Libertarian Party. Ron Paul got my vote for president in 1988.

I spent the next four years in a steady course of study. I believed myself to be a staunch defender of the Constitution. By 1992, I was living in Redlands, California. I was again listening to a local talk radio station and heard another Libertarian candidate for president, Richard Boddie. Ron Paul had mostly disappeared from my mind, and libertarianism as well. Listening to Richard Boddie once again piqued my interest. I learned that he was living in Orange County, not far from me. I thought to myself, “What the heck, I need to see if I can find out more about him.” I looked up his name, found a phone number and called. I was shocked to hear a familiar voice on the other end of the line saying, “Hello?”

Richard Boddie was a very warm, friendly kind of guy. It was a joy talking to him. I was flattered when he invited me to a dinner in Costa Mesa where he was getting together with a bunch of his Libertarian friends. I couldn’t resist.

I struggled over the next ten years with the Libertarian party. Some things sounded good, but I was not a fan of their position on victimless crimes, particularly drugs and prostitution. I fought even more on the subject of abortion. While I remained registered as a Libertarian, I was mostly a lone wolf, not really identifying with anyone or any party. The 90’s left me mostly feeling alone, politically. It was during those years that I was raising my eleven children and fighting an endless battle with the IRS and I had very little time or energy to continue my studies. My associations were limited to family and maybe one or two friends.

Life started to settle down a bit by around 2000. I left the Libertarian Party and joined the Constitution Party. I was feeling pretty good about this move and I wasn’t suffering the conundrums I had with the Libertarians.

In 2003, my new boss gave me a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Since it was my boss, I couldn’t disappoint him, so I reluctantly read it. That was a total game changer for me and a new jump start to my past ten years of very little study. By then, the Internet was a normal tool and it made research so much easier than it had been ten years prior. With a lot of kids still at home, I wasn’t able to read books the way I had wanted to, but I could always eek out a little time to read articles here and there on the Internet.

Over the next few years, my dissatisfaction with government grew more and more profound. I was troubled about so many things – 911, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the PATRIOT Act, and what seemed to be the ever increasing invasion of our rights and privacy by an ever growing police force. Each new event moved me deeper and deeper into the Libertarian Party where I found more comfort than I had previously found.

I campaigned hard for Ron Paul in 2008 and again in 2012. I rejoined the Republican Party only so I could vote for Ron Paul. I lost a number of friends and alienated family the more I spoke about Ron Paul. I had become the black sheep of the family. One of the most difficult moments of my life came when I offered to drive my wife to Utah for a reunion of her friends of an Internet blog. A few days before leaving, I mentioned on Facebook to a few of my friends (whom I had never met in real life) that I was going to be in Utah County with nothing to do for a day. Within an hour, an event was planned and I would have the opportunity to actually meet dozens of my political associates, most of whom were supporters of Ron Paul.

It was an event that I will always cherish. It was so much fun. The event ended fairly early in the afternoon and I had several hours to kill, so I decided to drive to Brigham City to visit my aged father. I knew that this would be the opposite sort of event from what I had just participated in. I was happy to see my father and he seemed happy to see me, but after a few minutes of niceties, he laid into me like no time ever before in my life. I was informed that I was, indeed the black sheep of the family and that I needed to change my attitude and apologize to my father and all of my siblings as a condition of being “a member of the family again.”

My drive home was painful. It is difficult to be cut off from your own flesh and blood. After a few email exchanges with some of my other siblings, I realized that it was not quite as ugly a picture as my father had painted, but I was nevertheless an outsider.

Ron Paul got clobbered in the primaries. How much of it was his sheer lack of popularity and how much was the result of media bias and corruption, I’m not sure I’ll ever know. All I knew was that I was more disgusted than ever with the GOP and with the whole political landscape of our country. I had been considering voluntaryism as my next line of study for some time. For the last couple of years, when people would ask me in front of my wife what political party I was affiliated with, I would respond that I was a Libertarian and my wife would usually interrupt and say with a smile that I was an anarchist.

Anarchy always sounded so extreme and so chaotic. I had a few Facebook friends who were voluntaryist/anarchist types and I was always impressed with their reasoning on various issues. It also helped that we had common religious ideals. Being able to reconcile my religious faith with my attitude towards anarchy was a big deal to me. My life was busy and I was still not in the place I needed to be to devote my time to the kind of studies that I had been accustomed to. I enjoyed reading articles by some of the well-known voluntaryists. But the reading is not what converted me. I knew in my soul that voluntaryism was right. It just felt right. It didn’t take long before I came to a realization that I am a voluntaryist. I abjure the use of force to further one political idea over another. I also found a lot of wisdom in the voluntaryist ideals of parenting. I had tried force. I was raised in a corporal home. It did not bear the fruits I had hoped for. Fortunately, for my younger children, they learned the virtues of being raised in a more loving, more voluntary environment.

I have come to realize that a truly civilized society is defined by freedom and commerce while uncivilized societies are defined by oppressive laws and regulations. The more uncivilized a society, the more laws it will have. Our nation has become a nation of laws to the point of ridiculousness. How can anyone feel a sense of freedom in a world where virtually everything we do, everything we eat and everything we buy is regulated?

My good friend, Richard Boddie, told me one time that the difference between a libertarian and an anarchist is about six years if you are paying attention and about twenty years if you are not. I was more on the side of not paying attention, but I’m glad I have arrived, even though it has taken a while.

Karen De Coster

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

Originally published in I Chose Liberty: Autobiographies of Contemporary Libertarians.

Typically, when I say I’m a praxeological austro-paleolibertarian, Rothbardian anarchocapitalist extremist, Hoppean propertarian, and politically incorrect canonist, people say “Huh?”

The womb was perhaps the birthplace of my libertarianism. After all, I have no Leftist past lurking in my yesteryears, and no prior liberal leanings, unless you want to count the days when I was fifteen, working at Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips for two-something per hour, and cheering on congressional attempts at raising the minimum wage to three-something per hour. I figured with a raise like that I’d finally be able to afford one of those cool, portable eight-track players. With that kind of reasoning behind me, one can easily absolve me of my earliest economic worldviews.

During my elementary school years, I became an avid reader. This bookmobile thing (a bus turned into a library on wheels) would park on the corner at the end of my street every Friday afternoon, and I’d run to it and ravish the shelves for the next great book. My interests started out with sports and animals, and by the end of my elementary school sentence, my focus had progressed to political biographies, news, and historical events.

I grew up six blocks from 8 Mile, the famous thoroughfare depicted in the current Eminem movie. Detroit was a political hotspot in the nation following the 1967 riot, with the busing issue right on its heels. This issue gave me my first taste of totalitarian government putting the clamp on the right of self-ownership, and thus my individualist radicalism was born.

I had some unusual early influences. In the eighth grade I borrowed an H.L. Mencken book from the city library. I couldn’t understand why everybody didn’t think and write like he did. Also, I became enamored of the Barry Goldwater legend. I read everything I could about him and the famous campaign that I was too young to have remembered. Despite all his faults and hawkish militarism, I was a Goldwaterite born too late.
In high school, I went through my Russell Kirk phase, absorbing his cultural conservatism and meshing that with my more radical anti-state thoughts. I called myself an “anti-government conservative” because the Libertarian Party was young and had not yet had an intellectual influence on me. In addition, I was oblivious to the fact that there was a process of systematic thinking to libertarianism at that time. Reading Kirk led me to Edmund Burke, T.S. Eliot, James Burnham, and many of the other leading conservative writers.

I also took to watching the TV news, and Bill Bonds, the famous Detroit news anchorman, was my favorite character. It was simple stuff, but his constant assault on the political elite whetted my appetite for expressing my views more passionately. This is a guy that went on the air inebriated and challenged Detroit mayor Coleman Young to a boxing match, skewed the gay community for its sexual exploits, and berated the political-correctness police.

Unashamedly, I didn’t often agree with my teachers, and I thought they were unoriginal and uncharismatic. I felt assaulted by the constant worshiping of presidents, political correctness, and government solutions for everything.

In addition, I followed in my parents’ footsteps and eagerly awaited an end to the war in Vietnam. Guys in my neighborhood were getting yanked from their homes to die in rice paddies, and Nixon’s promises to end the war always came up empty.

In my 9th-grade civics class, I saw a movie called The Missiles of October. (Isn’t it amazing how well William Devane mimicked John Kennedy?) My first detailed thought upon watching the movie was how the media and Hollywood continually romanticized government and its leaders. These minions of the regime exalted political leaders, their wars, and their corrupt power trips. I saw that something was very wrong with such idolatry. Besides, that movie seemed to go on forever.

In fact, there was never any government official, in any movie, who ever appeared to be anything less than morally superior, with exceptional leadership abilities and overall God-like qualities. Then along came Oliver Stone to shed some light on that perception.

However, my first full-blown endeavor into politics came in junior high school. Looking back, it was an embarrassing state of affairs. I headed up the Gerald Ford for President campaign in the mock election for our social studies class. I knew I was staunchly anti-establishment, and I shunned liberalism, collectivism, and the welfare state—everything I thought Jimmy Carter stood for. I was discovering that I could not argue for government to do anything that interfered in the lives of individuals.

But please don’t ask me to explain the Ford affair! A lesser of two evils thing, I suppose.

Next up for me was the Reagan rhetorical machine. I fell in love with Reagan’s anti-statist rhetoric and his promotion of the individual as sovereign. He talked in libertarian-populist tones and romanticized a world where a free market would reign. Surely he did what every politician does when they actually get elected, but his early rhetoric had quite an influence on this high school dissident who was seeking legitimate status for her views.

I ended up doing some occasional work for the Reagan campaign—stuffing envelopes and that kind of thing. A turning point for me to get involved in his campaign was the anti-nuke protests of that time, which positively bugged me. I speak not of anti-war nuclear protests, but of the environmental movement where I saw free market haters chaining themselves to gates outside of nuclear power plants, railing against advancing technology, and generally, crusading for an end to the Western way of life.

Another great influence on my early libertarian philosophy was Ayn Rand. Oh sure, she eschewed libertarianism, and the orthodox Objectivists distorted the entire libertarian system; however, Rand’s movement always had a profound influence on young, rational minds looking for an intellectual outlet. I thought Objectivism as a whole was corny, cultish, and overbearing, but there was much to cull from Rand’s work for free markets and individual autonomy. Reading Rand’s Anthem helped me realize what I was up against.

After Rand’s fiction came her non-fiction, all of which I found worthy of reading. However, post-Missiles of October viewing, I became cured of any Cold War tendencies. If I ever thought it held any legitimacy at all, Rand’s zealous military views cured me of that.

In the early eighties, I remember listening to a local radio talk show host by the name of Mark Scott. Though he is an Objectivist, Mark was and is unapologetically relentless in his fight against statism and societal leeches. I didn’t always agree with him, but listening to someone who often thought and spoke like I did gave me even more initiative to immerse myself in my radical passions.

In the course of absorbing myself in the radicalism of Rand, I came upon a reference—perhaps through a footnote—to Ludwig von Mises. Reading Mises and learning of the Austrian School of economics sat perfectly with my worldviews on the free market, which by then had progressed well beyond my hopes for a boost in minimum wage from my fish-and-chips employer.

The war against Iraq in 1991 turned my libertarian views solidly toward a philosophy that saw the eradication of the State as necessary to recapturing freedom from full-blown oppression. During the war, I observed a public that was captivated by CNN’s cartoon coverage of smart bombs and its play-by-play of sortie missions. The meaningless yellow ribbons of “support” that hung everywhere during the war were my clue that the masses were reminiscent of sheep going over a cliff. They bought it all, without question, and I knew I was not one of them.

If truth be told, Bush’s war saw me go from being a skeptic of wars to being a full-blown opponent of the State and its quest for empire. Following Bush’s war, Mark Scott had a gentleman on his radio show: Lew Rockwell from the Mises Institute. My co-workers and I listened to Lew talk for two hours on the evils of the Gulf war, the imperialist State, and the political elite. I was stunned that Rockwell was saying things that were taboo within the collective, mainstream media.

Who was this Lew Rockwell guy and why had I never heard of the Mises Institute? At the behest of a co-worker egging me on, I called the Institute that day, got on its mailing list, and quickly received my first issue of the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. Hence, my introduction to Murray Rothbard, who became my greatest intellectual influence ever.

Unlike other libertarians who were transformed by great thinkers or particular events, I was not converted by Murray Rothbard’s libertarian system. I was affirmed. Reading and learning from his texts taught me three very important things, the first being how to reason through my already principled thinking. He taught me how to mold my thoughts into a consistent philosophical system. Secondly, he taught me that I was not alone in my thinking. I had finally discovered there was more to this movement than the dusty old books I’d been checking out from libraries. After all, I had become distrusting of political processes, and that alone had kept me from ever having any immediate involvement with the Libertarian Party. Finally, Murray’s wisdom taught me that libertarianism was indeed radical, and to be radical was not only okay, it was the ideal position.

Reading Murray led me to discover a bevy of influences, including Lysander Spooner, the 19th-century market anarchist; Albert Jay Nock, the anti-State libertarian; Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, the acclaimed conservative historian; Frédéric Bastiat, the 19th-century economist; C.S. Lewis, the Christian philosopher; and the great figures of the “Old Right,” including H.L. Mencken, Garet Garrett, Frank Chodorov, John T. Flynn, and Robert A. Taft. I became an ardent student of the Old Right and its place in history.

Unfortunately, my first excursion to the Mises Institute was not until after Murray died, so I never experienced the joy of getting to know him. But all in all, it was Murray Rothbard and his generation of irrepressible leaders that inspired me to eventually take my own views out into the public to join in the crusade for freedom.

Little of my later adult life has been mentioned, because by that time, I was merely experiencing philosophical growth as opposed to radical transformation. My childhood to post-high school era was undeniably where the groundwork was laid for my becoming a libertarian. Although my parents had only a slight political influence on me while growing up, my Dad is the principled, self-educating type, and a John Galt of sorts. He definitely passed on his rebel genes to this daughter.

My growth post-Gulf War has included friendships with those whom I consider to be some of the top leaders in the modern libertarian movement. Without being surrounded with such magnificent friends and mentors, I doubt that I’d have been prompted to get as involved within the movement as I have become.
All in all, it’s hard being on this side of the philosophical fence at a time like this. Where it’s entirely robotic and painless to cheer along with the pro-war right, agree with the President’s domestic actions, and parrot the standard policy lines, it’s another thing to stand up for views that are ostracized by the thugs in power and their media shills.

It takes a bulletproof shell to stand on principle and abstain from reciting trendy ideas for the sake of popular status, but someone has to do it. And at LewRockwell.com we all do it every day.

Mark Crovelli

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

Originally published at Voluntaryist.com.

While most of my friends would find it difficult to imagine today, I have not always been a loudmouthed, pain-in-the-ass, libertarian anarchist. In fact, if you asked my friends from high school whether they ever agreed with anything Mark Crovelli ever said, I imagine that more than a few of them would say that they did. By contrast, if you polled my current friends about their feelings about what Mark Crovelli the anarchist thinks, you’d be lucky to find two that will vouch for my sanity.

Looking back on my transformation into a libertarian anarchist, I find it almost miraculous that it ever could have occurred. I was raised Catholic by my mother (my father having converted to Hinduism), and, until relatively recently, I was fanatically devoted to the Catholic Church. I was so devoted to the Church, in fact, that I very seriously considered becoming a priest during my freshman year of college.

As far as my political thinking was concerned back then, I was like many Catholics in that I only cared about the issue of abortion. I knew almost nothing about economics, history, or anything else for that matter, but I knew that I vehemently objected to abortion. It was that hatred of abortion that urged me to study political science as an undergraduate, in the naive hope that such a degree would allow me to fight for the pro-life cause.

Since I viewed my study of political science as a vocation of sorts, I never wavered or doubted that political science was the subject I should be studying. I did not take well to my classes, however. I did well in terms of my grades, but I found everything that political scientists claimed to be studying completely mind-numbing. I still do.

At some point during my junior year of college, however, I had a small epiphany. I was taking an especially mind-numbing class about law, and one of the assigned readings was a short excerpt from a book entitled Law, Legislation and Liberty by F.A. Hayek (I forget which volume). When it came time to discuss the reading in class, which I had luckily read the night before, I was shocked to witness the Professor completely misinterpreting Hayek’s words. I had found Hayek extremely difficult to read, but I could plainly see that my professor was completely butchering what Hayek had written.

This incident led me to search out more of Hayek’s works, because I had agreed with what he had written in the small excerpt I had read. The only book I was able to find in the local bookstore was his extremely dense little book The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism, which I promptly purchased and read. I found the book almost excruciatingly difficult to read, but I completely agreed with the parts that I fully understood. The long list of Hayek’s other publications on the cover of The Fatal Conceit prompted me to try to hunt down some more of his books in the school library.

The section of the library where Hayek’s books were located absolutely fascinated me. I didn’t know any of the authors, but almost every book had the word “liberty” in the title. I checked out several of them that day, including a small, blue, wear-worn book entitled The Ethics of Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard.

Rothbard’s book turned me into a full-blown libertarian anarchist within two weeks. I didn’t even read any of the other books that I checked out that day. I just kept reading and rereading Rothbard’s book for a full two weeks.

Try as I might, I could not help but agree with Rothbard’s logic. As a Catholic I was already committed to the idea that stealing is wrong, so how could I morally consent to taxation if taxation is really nothing but stealing? The clarity and force of Rothbard’s writing left me with no other option other than to declare taxation a form of robbery. As far as I was concerned, (and I still believe this), the fact that I was forced to concede that taxation is nothing but robbery was all that was needed to make me an anarchist. The rest of the book filled in the gaps to make me a consistent libertarian anarchist.

My Rothbardian awakening led me to start searching for more about Murray Rothbard online. I soon found the Ludwig von Mises Institute’s website and eagerly delved into their vast library of audio lectures (there were few videos way back in 2001). This was followed by a scholarship to attend a conference at the Mises Institute within a few months.

That, in a nutshell, is how I became a libertarian anarchist. Or, put differently for those of my friends who doubt my sanity, that is how I came to lose my mind. I suppose the take away message is this: Beware of reading anything by Murray Rothbard unless you are prepared to have every political belief you cherish shattered into tiny pieces.

Larken Rose

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

Originally published in The Voluntaryist, 1st Quarter 2012.

I was raised in a conservative home, in a conservative town, with some libertarian leanings. I grew up thinking the good old U.S. of A. was the land of the free and the home of the brave, and that “our” Constitution made us fundamentally different from every other country. I was a big proponent of “limited government” – meaning police and military, and not much else.

Back then I considered myself quite adept at explaining and arguing why collectivism and communism are immoral and irrational, and why “government” should have only a very limited role in “society.” Since almost everyone was more pro-“government” than I was, I was almost always arguing against “government” doing this or that. I had little practice in rationally justifying “government” doing what I did want it to do.

But there was a problem. My arguments for why “government” should not be taking care of the poor, controlling education, running the health care system, and so on, applied equally well to the things I thought “government” should be doing. For example, if individual liberty was the moral and practical choice when it came to food production, why was it not the moral and practical choice when it came to protection and defense? If a welfare state forcibly robbing people in the name of fighting poverty was immoral and counter-productive, why was forcibly robbing people in the name of protecting them from thieves and invaders any better? Arguing “it’s for your own good,” or “it’s necessary,” or “the collective need justifies it,” made me sound exactly like the communists I routinely railed against. And saying “The Constitution says so” was a complete cop-out, as if my philosophical position didn’t need a rational basis as long as it matched what a sacred piece of paper said.

I’ve enjoyed arguing for as long as I can remember. And whenever one engages in intellectual battle, the chinks in his armor will always be his own inconsistencies. I had made a hobby out of aiming for the giant holes of inconsistency in the “armor” of collectivist ideas (socialism, communism, democracy, etc.). And I wanted my own philosophical armor to be invincible. To put it another way, because I considered the truth to be what matters above all, and because the truth can’t be inconsistent with itself, I wanted to make sure there were no contradictions or inconsistencies in my own belief system, and in what I was advocating. So I spent lots of time looking at my own philosophical “armor,” and saw that it had some gaping holes in it – in other words, I saw that my philosophy contradicted itself. And that wasn’t okay with me.

So I set out to remove those inconsistencies, no matter what. If my reverence for the Constitution got in the way of being principled and philosophically consistent, then the Constitution had to go. If “limited government” didn’t fit with a coherent, rational, consistent set of principles, then it had to go, too. In short, I had to back up, past all of the “civics” stuff we were all taught, and start from scratch. What I found was very freeing, and very disturbing. I found that the entire mythology about “government,” “authority” and “law” was nonsensical garbage. Despite the fact that the mythology was being repeated just about everywhere, by just about everybody, it made no sense at all, for a dozen different reasons.

I should mention that a lot of this examination and reconsidering was the result of my wife and me throwing ideas at each other. She’s another one of those wacky people who want to know the truth – whatever it is – and who don’t want to believe in lies and contradictions. Having both been “limited government” believers, over time we basically “corrupted” each other into becoming anarchists, eventually giving up the mythology of “government” entirely. (Don’t talk or think too much, or the same thing might happen to you!)

Now, most of the anarchists I know gave up statism because they decided that, as a practical matter, a completely free society would work better than any “government”-controlled society, and that “government” is not really necessary. But I arrived at anarchism/voluntaryism by a different route: I figured out, via simple logic, that “government” is impossible. I don’t mean that good “government” is impossible (though it is); I mean that the entire concept of “government” is a self-contradictory myth. There’s no such thing, and can be no such thing. There can never be a legitimate ruling class, so arguing about what kind of ruling class we should have, or what it should do, was a completely pointless discussion. If “government” isn’t real, debating what it should be like is silly.

Of course, the gang of mercenaries is very real, as are the politicians, but it is the supposed legitmacy of their rule that makes them “government,” and makes their commands “law,” and makes disobedience to such commands “crime,” and so on. Without the right to do what they do – without the moral right to rule – the gang ceases to be “government,” and becomes organized crime.

By trying to reconcile contradictions in my own political beliefs, I proved to myself that “government” can never be legitimate. It can never have “authority.” However necessary it supposedly is, and however noble the stated goal might be, I eventually realized that it is utterly impossible for anyone to acquire the right to rule others, even in a limited, “constitutional” way.

There are several ways to prove this, and each of them is astonishingly simple. For example, if a person cannot delegate a right he doesn’t have, then it is impossible for those in “government” to have any rights that I do not personally have. (Where and how would they have acquired such super-human rights?) Furthermore, unless human beings can actually alter morality by mere decree, then all “legislation” is pointless and illegitimate. If one accepts the principle of non-aggression, then “government” is logically impossible, because a “government” without the right to tax, regulate, or legislate (which are all threats of aggression) is no “government” at all. And just as no one can have the right to rule me, I can never have any obligation to obey anyone’s command over my own “conscience,” which rules out any possibility of any outside “authority.”

In short, I came to the conclusion that “government” is one big lie. It is a mythical, super-human deity which people hope will save them from reality. It is a superstition no more rational than the belief in Santa Claus, and infinitely more destructive. “Anarchy,” meaning a lack of “government,” isn’t just what should be; it is what is, and what has always been. And by hallucinating an “authority” and a “government” that is not there, human beings have created an incomprehensible level of violence and oppression, covering the earth and stretching back to the beginning of recorded history.

So now I spend much of my time trying to persuade others to give up the cult of statism. I do not advocate abolishing “government” any more than I advocate abolishing Santa Claus. I just want people to stop letting their perceptions and actions be so profoundly warped and perverted by something that does not exist, and never did. That is why I refer to the belief in “government” and “authority” as “The Most Dangerous Superstition.” If people could give up that superstition, even if they did not otherwise become any more wise or compassionate, the state of society would drastically improve. I don’t pretend to have the ability to make anyone more virtuous, but by pointing out to them the contradictions in their own belief systems – the very same contradictions I struggled with for years – I hope to help some of them reclaim ownership of themselves, so they can start thinking and acting as rational, sentient beings, instead of as the well-trained livestock of malicious masters.

Ben Speers

“Toward Freedom” is an Everything-Voluntary.com series sharing personal stories about the journey toward freedom. Archived stories can be found here. Submit your story to the editor.

A lot of people go through life without ever questioning things, but I’ve always identified with Socrates’ sentiment that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. In the realm of politics, I’ve always been driven by the question, “What are the proper limits on personal freedom?” When I was introduced to voluntaryism (also known as voluntarism), I felt like I had finally found a philosophical home. The journey that took me there was a long one. In a way, it’s the story of my life.

Dad’s Legacy

As a child, my political views were largely informed by my father’s views. Dad was an outspoken conservative. I could probably sum up his views best by describing him as a Reaganite. Dad was not quite a paleo-conservative, but he was in many ways antagonistic towards neocons. While my dad did vote Republican almost all the time, he was aware of rampant corruption within the Republican Party. My father taught me about why communism doesn’t work economically, and he also warned me about the dangers of totalitarianism. In some ways, he was a product of the cold war. It wasn’t until later in life that I fully appreciated what he meant when he said that the US was becoming more and more like the Soviet Union.

Dad talked a lot about small government and individual freedom, yet he worked for the federal government for most of his adult life, right up to his untimely death. He had been raised in a very patriotic family; his own father had fought in WWII. My father believed in the ideal of a Constitutional Republic with a limited government. So he believed in the necessity of having some government while remaining fiercely skeptical about the benefits of having too much of it.

I think Dad’s career was a reflection of that attitude. He enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War in order to avoid being drafted into the infantry. He felt that that route was a reasonable compromise between draft-dodging and sacrificing his life for what he perceived to be a senseless and poorly managed war. Dad later earned a commission as an officer with Air Force Intelligence, but after a few years he could no longer tolerate the incompetent, inefficient, pig-headed bosses who impeded him from doing his job while simultaneously taking the credit for his work. In the ‘80s Dad transferred to the Air Force Reserves, a part-time job, and secured a position with US Customs Intelligence. Eventually, however, he would come to face many of the same problems that he had suffered under in the Air Force in his Customs career. The ineptitude and clumsiness of bureaucracy nearly drove him mad at times.

My dad was always a big believer in self-defense and gun ownership rights, although he never spent much time actually handling guns. In fact, after I was born, he got rid of his guns. But I’ll get back to this topic in a moment.

When I was fourteen, Dad was assigned to work at the US Embassy in London, England. I ultimately spent four years there. This was my first time travelling abroad, and it was a real eye-opener. I toured much of Europe and fell in love with the richness of the history and “high arts.” I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the castles, going to the theatre, and trying new foods. I attended a private American-style high school on the US government’s dime. This school was very different from the public schools that I had attended in America. I was expected to pick my own classes from an extensive list of courses, the teachers really knew their material, and almost none of the students ever engaged in violence at school. I took a Shakespeare class where we went to several world-class productions of the Bard’s plays. And I took an Asian Literature class where over half the students were from Japan and China. Likewise, I took a Middle Eastern Studies class in which several of the students were Arabs and one was a Jew (they were actually good friends!). I also met people from India, Italy, Pakistan, Nigeria, Portugal, and Greece. As you can see, London was amazingly cosmopolitan.

When we lived in London, our home was situated in a large Jewish neighborhood, the largest outside of Israel, I’m told. So I was an outsider on the basis of culture, religion, and nationality. Being a minority in those regards gave me a perspective that I had never experienced before.

But not everything I observed in London was positive. I saw firsthand how England’s socialized medical system created absurd shortages and insane waiting lists. It was not at all unusual for people to wait for months or even years for basic, common operations. Yet because it was “free” (or at least subsidized) very few people complained about the system as a whole. I was also saddened to see that there was a rather large class of people who had been living on government handouts for generations. As far as I could tell, most of these people led purposeless lives, watching TV all day, and generally remaining largely inactive, with the exception of those who engaged in petty crimes just for the thrill of it. My father had warned me about socialism on a theoretical level, but in London I saw the very real, personal destruction and degradation that central planning and the “welfare” state wrought upon people’s lives.

Bookending Mexico

After London I lived in Guatemala for two years as a volunteer for my church. I experienced even more firsts in Guatemala. I experienced what it was like to be a racial and linguistic minority. In some cases people acted like I was the first white person they had ever seen. I actually overheard parents telling their children that I was a bogeyman. Also, I had never before seen such grinding poverty, people living in cardboard shacks with little or no modern plumbing, frequent blackouts, and limited access to even the most basic modern medicine. I actually saw farmers using ox-carts. But the simple life-style didn’t bother everyone. Most people had enough to eat and were fairly content with their lot in life. However, life in Guatemala wasn’t always peaceful. Between the police and the private gangs, Guatemala City was a war zone. I will never forget my first night in the slums of Guatemala City. I sat on my bed counting the gunshots that I heard. I lost track after two dozen. I’d like to say that I faced the danger with courage, but at the tender age of nineteen, quite frankly, I was scared out of my wits, especially at first. Several times I was caught in the crossfire of shootouts between the police and the local gangs. On those occasions all I could do was run like hell. I remember one specific evening when I was inside someone’s home having a conversation with them when we heard a gunshot ring out very nearby. After a moment of trepidation, I poked my head outside the door to see what had happened. There was a small crowd looking down at something several yards away from me. I approached the crowd and saw that the people were looking down at a man lying in the gutter. He died in a pool of his own blood just moments later. On yet another occasion a drunk man put a gun to my head. When he withdrew the gun to chamber a round, I ran away. I was starting to get sick of being so helpless, of always having to run away.

I often wondered why life in Guatemala was so different. What was the cause of all that poverty and violence? This question really got me thinking about the effects of culture and politics on society. In Guatemala I had seen the dark side of humanity, and I wanted to fight the darkness. Yet my understanding of human nature and human rights was still in an embryonic stage. A fellow volunteer in Guatemala introduced me to a magazine called The New American, which had a connection to the John Birch Society. I was intrigued, and being an impressionable young man, I quickly latched on to much of TNA’s ideology. I became a Constitution-loving, welfare-warfare-state-hating anti-socialist. Everything that TNA said about the dangers of big government, unaccountable politicians, the welfare-warfare state, and the police state all rang true to me. However, I often wondered if the goal of saving the Constitution and restoring a balanced republic was a realistic one. Nevertheless, I revered the Constitution and practically worshipped the Founding Fathers. “That’s unconstitutional!” became my war cry and “That’s not what the Founders intended!” became my motto. While TNA was very good at pointing out many of the things that were wrong with America, it came up very short in terms of providing satisfactory, realistic solutions. Furthermore, there was never a clear, consistent system of ethics to back up TNA’s positions. I frequently pondered the question, “What exactly are the legitimate limits on human freedom?” but I could only come up with vague answers like, “People should be able to live their lives without a lot of interference from government.” I was as yet unclear on how much interference was too much or what the legitimate origins and purposes of government were. Furthermore, I was infuriated at the manner in which the forces of evil were able to make corrupt deals with the government in order to line their own pockets, but I had no idea how to stop such corporatism. I should also note that I was suffering an increasingly acute cognitive dissonance on the issue of illegal immigration. Having lived with people from all over the world, deep down I had mixed emotions about the concept of barring people’s right to travel from one part of the world to another.

After Guatemala I moved to El Paso, Texas, where my parents had moved to while I was in Guatemala. My newly acquired Spanish-speaking skills came in quite handy. I was back in America, but in El Paso I was still a racial and linguistic minority. It’s amazing what people will say about you, to your face even, when they think you can’t understand what they’re saying. In spite of the heavily Mexican-influenced culture, from El Paso the difference between America and Mexico was obvious and staggering. There are some places right on the border where you can see shanty-towns on the Mexican side and ivory towers on the American side. I always thought it was funny that there was a gargantuan Mexican flag flying from Ciudad Juarez (the Mexican city adjacent to El Paso), as if they were compensating for something by waving a bigger flag. The border problems that I saw in El Paso strengthened my anti-immigration views somewhat.

While the border presented a stark contrast of America versus Mexico, no border is absolute, and the violence in Mexico did sometimes spill over into American soil. When my father became aware that one of the drug cartels had put a bounty on the heads of all American counter-drug officials (which included my father) he decided that it was time to buy a gun. I joined him in that decision. We both bought guns and learned how to use them from a former Navy SEAL who was a friend of my dad. This SEAL taught me a brief pistol course as part of my application for a concealed carry license, which I was proud to obtain. Pretty soon I was carrying my pistol everywhere that was legally allowed to do so.

Around this time I noticed my father complaining more and more about his dissatisfaction with his job with US Customs (which eventually became part of ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement). I remember him telling me that the war on drugs would never be won by trying to undercut the supply side of the equation because as long as the demand remained, there would always be new suppliers to pick up where the old ‘neutralized’ (i.e., incarcerated or dead) suppliers had left off. I thought that was quite an admission from a Customs official, but ultimately it reflected my father’s sound grounding in capitalism.

Into the Breech

A few years later I was living in Utah and had joined the Utah Army National Guard. My family had a long history of military service, going at least as far back as the American War of Independence. I felt that there was a certain degree of honor in defending one’s country, and I wanted to shoulder my share of the burden of protecting America. For a young single man, the siren call of the possibility of martial action was just too strong. I had a romanticized ideal in my mind of what I thought “life as a warrior” would be like. I never could have imagined the depths of human depravity, stupidity, and sycophantry that I would witness in the Army. And there was the bureaucracy! Every time I thought I had witnessed the very zenith of inane, banal, redundant, time-wasting bureaucracy, the system would one-up itself with something even more ridiculous. I quickly realized that even the most combat-oriented units in the Army spent most of their on-duty time filling out paper work, standing around waiting for orders, and finding regulations violations with which to fault their inferiors. Most of these many, many regulations had nothing to do with being able to execute the unit’s mission. I’m talking about things like making sure that your boot laces are laced up right over left, making sure that your camouflage combat uniform is neatly ironed, and shining your combat boots. Because heaven knows you can’t kill people efficiently while wearing a mussed up uniform.

I was truly shocked by the utter lack of humanity, honor, and critical thinking in most of my fellow soldiers. I knew that Army recruits weren’t supposed to be the cream of the crop, but I had no idea that the bottom of the barrel was so very, very low. And if these folks weren’t bad enough when they signed up, the Army did its best to brainwash everyone into becoming unquestioning little killing machines. Even I was seduced by the faux glory of becoming an effective warrior. I really wanted to kill a ‘bad guy.’ But I never did accept the idea that the Army’s authority was something to be respected without limit or regard for common sense. From my perspective, the military’s rigid command structure gave too much power to incompetent, sadistic idiots whose only skills were working the system and shifting blame. Very few of my leaders felt the need to actually earn my respect.

However, I did find some exceptions to the rules in the 19th Special Forces. I was just a lowly supply guy doing logistical support work for the real commandos—Team Guys, as we called them. I quickly noticed that many of these soldiers were men of action. Many of them treated me with a degree of dignity that I was never afforded elsewhere in the military. I was fortunate enough to do some interesting training with some of the Team Guys. Inside the Special Forces there was a subculture of rule-breaking and general roguishness that I found liberating when compared to the obsessive-compulsive automatons in other units. I was especially fascinated with learning about guerrilla warfare. I learned that guerrilla warfare was all about fighting outside the system, being unpredictable, and not playing by the enemy’s rules. And there was something powerful about the idea of a few guys sneaking around in the wilderness fomenting an insurgency.

But even in the Special Forces, the Army was, to a certain extent, still the Army. The military literally treats people like government property. I heard a story about a marine who got sunburned and was subsequently punished for “damaging government property,” i.e., himself! In the old days, long before my enlistment, the military actually gave human beings serial numbers, just like a piece of equipment. Now they use your Social Security number. On several occasions I actually heard soldiers misspeak and ask someone “What’s the social [security number] on that rifle?” The idea that I was someone else’s property made me sick. I felt it was degrading, but the military tried to sell the idea to people on the grounds that “the unit has to work as a team.” It was not uncommon for drill sergeants to ask recruits, “What’s the matter? Do you think you’re an individual?” with the very clear implication being that there was no room for individuality in the military. Speaking of basic training, we spent a lot of time marching in neat little lines—called “formations”—while singing songs about killing. There was never any mention of when it was appropriate to kill. In fact, some of the songs were as simple as “1, 2, 3, 4, trained to kill! 1, 2, 3, 4, kill we will!” I thought it was funny that the Army openly refers to its training as indoctrination.

In any case, I quickly saw that nothing I did in the military had anything to do with protecting American freedoms or upholding the Constitution. Quite the opposite, in fact. I was accepting tax dollars (in the form of my salary) to do the following things: trying to comply with fussy rules and regulations, filling out reams of paperwork, and trying to kill people who were, for the most part, only trying to kill me because the US military had invaded their country. I saw my share of death, abusive behavior, and a profound disregard for basic human dignity. And as a logistics specialist I was acutely aware of the incredible amount of resources that were wasted, misused, or outright stolen. I had to ask myself what it was all for. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that the military served no practical, legitimate purpose, and that it existed to prop up a corrupt government while making a few military-industrialists very wealthy. I got sicker and sicker of the nonsense, but I didn’t know what else to do.

I even took a full-time job as a Spanish translator for a mixed civilian-military linguist “company” for a while. Initially, I was told that the unit did “all kinds” of translation work, but I soon learned that almost all the work was transcribing and translating wire taps of suspected drug dealers. Over time I found out that most of the “criminals” I was listening to were not the slick, ultra-violent cool guys depicted in Hollywood. Maybe the guys at the very top of the cartels are like that, but the guys we were going after were just simple folks, mostly illegal immigrants trying to make a living any way they could. They were ridiculously poor and laughably peaceful. I lost track of how many of them got beaten up and had their drugs stolen from them without so much as lifting a finger to defend themselves or retaliate. They weren’t hurting anybody, as far as I could tell.

I actually met quite a few libertarians in the military. They were only a small minority, but there were still far more of them than I would have expected. They were easily the most intelligent, most well-read, and most interesting people that I met in the military. Most of them were Ron Paul supporters.

Getting Warmer

It was during my darkest hours in the belly of the beast, so to speak, that I realized that I was a libertarian. I went from being a conservative with caveats to being someone who believed in a bare minimum of government, what I would now call a minarchist, though at the time I was unaware of the term. I was still clinging to my romantic notions about the Constitution, but only just barely. I started watching Alex Jones videos, which were a fascinating combination of very interesting facts and a fair amount of conspiracy-theory bluster. In any case, I couldn’t find fault with most of Jones’ conclusions: namely, that the powers that be were rich elitists who used their wealth to control governments which were in turn used to control the masses through brainwashing, mental- or cultural-conditioning, intimidation, and, when necessary, outright violence.

I continued to ask myself two driving questions. First, what are the moral limits of an individual’s rights, and second, how can the power of big business be divorced from the power of the state? I looked to history and was dismayed by what seemed to be a lack of examples of free societies. Everywhere I looked I saw corruption, bigotry, and brutal violence on a massive scale. The ancient Greeks interested me, but their democracy had fallen so quickly to the temptations of tyranny and imperialism. The ancient Romans were also worthy of study, but their republic was always so disgustingly bureaucratic, and the republic’s descent into imperial madness was hardly a model to be followed. It occurred to me that the civilizations that were popularly held to be ‘great’ had been so designated by statist historians. So I started to look into the shadows of history. Perhaps the barbarians were not so terrible, or maybe they possessed some secret that could unlock the political mysteries that defied my understanding.

I had once read that Thomas Jefferson was a devout student of the history, laws, and language of the ancient and medieval Anglo-Saxons and that he had held a very positive view of them. So I read up on the Anglo-Saxons and discovered the concept of common law. I had heard of common law before, but I had never really known very much about it. Common law intrigued me because it seemed to place formidable limits on the power of the king. There was something very egalitarian and down-to-earth about it. It didn’t take me long to see why Jefferson had rejoiced in the renaissance of common law and its subsequent victories over feudalism which had taken place in his lifetime. Two things that I especially liked about common law were 1) the fact that it espoused only a minimal government, most of which was carried out on a part-time basis by the common people, which therefore inhibited the formation of a distinct political class, and 2) that it provided so many defenses for the rights of the individual.

I thought that common law might be the gem that I had been searching for, so I took the concept and pushed it to its logical limits. As a thought experiment, I wrote a constitution for a government based entirely on common law. The resulting theoretical government had no criminal law, no standing legislature, no standing military (only militias), no full-time government employees, and no power of taxation. But in order for this government to function I was forced to give it A) the power to compel men to take up arms and B) the power to forcibly arrest people in order to bring them to trial. As far as I was concerned, without the power to regulate or tax, this government was practically immune to corporatism. But I began to question whether conscription and arresting were legitimate powers for any human being to have over another human being. I was rapidly becoming aware of the fact that the only ‘legitimate’ crime a person could be punished for was initiating violence against another person or another person’s property. Every other ‘crime’ was really just someone forcing their opinion on someone else.

This idea, that people should be free to do whatever they want apart from initiating violence, crystallized in my mind. Soon I realized that there could be no moral justifications for exceptions to this rule. This immediately led me to a conclusion that shocked me to the core, for I had never considered it before. The conclusion that I came to was that there was no moral justification for any violence-based government, which is to say any government at all based on the popular definition of government. Logically, the only road left to me was anarchism.

Paradise Found

Once again, I threw myself into research, this time studying anarchy. I came to see that the conflation between anarchy and chaos was a false one. In fact, I became suspicious that the term “anarchy” had been intentionally hijacked by statists looking to smear the one ideology that could really threaten statism. My initial immersion into anarchy was fraught with irony. I discovered the truth of Proudhon’s statement that “Anarchy is order.” And I was very pleasantly surprised, excited even, to discover that numerous ancient Chinese philosophers, including the legendary founder of Daoism, were essentially proponents of anarchy. In fact, Proudhon’s famous postulate is really just an echo of what Lao Tzu is purported to have said thousands of years ago: “I do nothing, and people become good by themselves. I seek peace, and people take care of their own problems. I do not meddle in their personal lives, and the people become prosperous. I let go of all my desire to control them, and the people return to their natural ways.” There is an elegant symmetry in the concept of spontaneous order, just as there is eternal irony in the fact that violence-based ‘order’ always ends up causing massive disorder.

Through the miracle of the Internet I was able to reach out to what I had previously considered to be the anarchic fringe of libertarianism, which I eventually discovered was really the beating heart of libertarianism. I was ecstatic to learn that there were other people who shared my views. I found that there was even a name for the view on rights which I had previously feared to be held only by me. It was called the non-aggression principle. And people like me, who applied this principle consistently, were calling themselves voluntaryists, or voluntarists.

My journey into anarchy is far from over. There are many more subdivisions and factions of anarchism than I had imagined there would be, but I feel like I have learned something valuable from all of them, especially agorism and neo-tribalism. My desire to fully embrace libertarianism eventually led me to accept the challenge of the Free State Project to get libertarians to move to New Hampshire to create a libertarian-enriched community. I feel like I am finally home physically, socially, and philosophically. But it’s the hope and wonder of that part of the journey which still lies ahead that really drives me. I have freed my mind, and I feel like a limitless world lies before me. I found that there is nothing more liberating than letting go of my own delusions of controlling others. I can love my fellow human beings more fully. I no longer wish violence upon the enemies of the state, for I am one of them. I no longer see borders, laws, and wars as duties that define me, but rather I now recognize them as barriers to be broken down. I have abandoned nationalism and patriotism. The entire human race is now my family, and I will endeavor to unite that family in universal freedom through the peaceful means of logic, reason, persuasion, and love. That is my mission in life, and that is what voluntaryism means to me.