Peace Requires Anarchy


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“The Problem of Political Authority” by Professor Michael Huemer

The Problem of Political Authority | Michael Huemer

The Problem of Political Authority

Michael Huemer is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he has worked since 1998. He is also an anarcho-capitalist.

His book “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey” is divided into two parts. The thesis of Part One is that no government (nor other person or group) genuinely possesses the special moral status called political authority. I already agreed with the thesis before I began reading, but I must say that I have never seen it argued so well. I interrupt my reading of the book to tell you about it.

Huemer bases his argument on common sense moral premises that essentially everyone already accepts. He has said that he believes this approach of arguing for libertarian political views is superior to using rights-based arguments or economic arguments. Two weeks ago I wasn’t so sure. I said that I would wait until I read his book to decide whether or not I agree that the common sense approach to arguing for libertarianism is best. Now that I have read Part One of his book I can say confidently: I agree, definitely. This is the kind of argument that is most likely to be effective at converting the masses of intelligent people to libertarian anarchism.

Bryan Caplan has said:

I’ve read almost every major work of libertarian political philosophy ever published.  In my view, Michael Huemer’s new The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey is the best book in the genre.

I assumed this was exaggerated, but surprisingly it may not be. Of the books I have read, including Murray Rothbard’s “For a New Liberty,” David Friedman’s “The Machinery of Freedom,” Gary Chartier’s “The Conscience of an Anarchist,” Gerard Casey’s “Libertarian Anarchism: Against the State” and many essays and other works related to libertarianism including classics such as Lysander Spooner’s famous essay “No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority,” Part One of Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority” is simply the best.

Michael Huemer

Professor Michael Huemer

Whether you are a libertarian or not, you should purchase a copy of Michael Huemer’s “The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey.” I recommend it, more highly than I’ve ever recommended any book, essay, article, or other work before.

After you buy it on Amazon, you can read the first chapter which is available online.

Now I am going to read Part Two, in which Huemer argues the practical case for anarcho-capitalism. His thesis is that “a livable society could exist with no recognized central authority.” Note that, in addition to the thesis of Part One, it is necessary to argue this thesis to convert the reader to anarcho-capitalism, because without it minimal state libertarianism would be justified since common sense morality dictates that aggressive coercion can be justified if it is necessary to avoid a sufficiently great harm. Huemer’s lead essay for Cato, “The Problem of Authority,” which summarizes the content of his book well, elaborates on the need for this second thesis.

UPDATE 08/21/2013: I finished reading Mike Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority today. It is better than any other book on libertarian political philosophy I have read. I highly recommend it.

I really think his “common sense morality” approach to defending libertarianism (as opposed to the rights-based approach or the consequentialist economic argument approach) is most likely to be the most effective way to persuade people to reject political authority and embrace libertarian anarchism.

Other Blog Posts on The Problem of Political Authority:


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How Bad Would Anarchy Have to Be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?

Michael Huemer is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is the author of the book The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey. The following is the body of an email I sent to him questioning the specifics of the criteria he uses to determine whether or not the relative consequences of not having a particular rights-violating government program are bad enough to justify having the program. His response can be found here.

In your Cato essay “The Problem of Authority” you write:

“If we really stand in danger of some sort of all-out Hobbesian war, then the state would be justified in employing the minimum coercion necessary to prevent the state of war from occurring.”

Allow me to clarify: Why? Because a society without law and order (a Hobbesian war) is a sufficiently disastrous outcome that aggression would be justified to avoid it.

In a Goodreads review of your book (that everyone should buy, like I just did two days ago) a critic writes:

“The second half of the book sketches how ‘law and order’ might work without government, and why a military might not be necessary, but there’s not even the briefest attempt to explain how things like roads and water supplies would be dealt with.”

Michael Huemer(Note that Bryan Caplan thinks this is a legitimate criticism.)

Is a road-less society or a society with poor water supply a sufficiently disastrous outcome that a minimal-road-building state or a minimal-water-supply-system state would be justified to avoid it?

In other words, if the critics were right that there would be very few roads in a stateless society, would a minimal-road-building state be justified?

As another example, if it were true that there would be very few schools and most people would be much less educated than they are today in a stateless society, would a minimal-school-system state program be justified?

To generalize this question: How bad must the free market disaster outcome be to justify extortion-funded state program intervention?

I am not sure how to answer this question.

On the one hand if I say that no outcome, even a society lacking “law and order,” is disastrous enough to justify a rights-violating minimal state fix, then you’ll accuse me of biting the bullet again. [UPDATE 08/07/2013 4:30 PM: This time, unlike the first time, I believe he would be correct to accuse me of biting the bullet.]

On the other hand, if we accept that a road-less society and a society with a slightly less educated public is a sufficiently disastrous outcome to justify an extortion-funded state school system and road system, then we’re faced with granting that all political authority is justified to the extent that it is beneficial. In other words, we risk conceding that the answers to these two questions are identical:

“The question is not, ‘Why are those programs beneficial?’ The question is, ‘How are those programs justified by the threat of the Hobbesian war that would supposedly result from anarchy?'”

Any state program that is shown to be “beneficial” can be claimed to be justified in light of the fact that it avoids a more disastrous outcome, just as you say a government that “make[s] laws against violence and theft and provide[s] a court system to adjudicate disputes [is justified] in order to prevent a Hobbesian war of all against all [assuming it is true that such a Hobbesian war would occur without government].”

My guess is that you will say that the solution to this problem is, instead of taking either extreme position, simply to draw an arbitrary line somewhere and say, in the words of Bryan Caplan, that aggressive government programs are justified only if they are “highly likely to lead to much better consequences.”

If this is the solution we pick then the task of the anarcho-capitalist ideologist is to show that no aggressive government program is “highly likely to lead to much better consequences” than the consequences that would occur without the aggressive government program.

In addition to debunking the myth that there cannot be law and order in a stateless society, this may or may not include debunking other factual beliefs that people have, such as that the state school system is necessary to educate the nation’s children, etc, since people may or may not think that these other government programs are “highly likely to lead to much better consequences.”

[End of email]

See Prof. Mike Huemer’s response here.

An Explanation of the Title: “How Bad Would Anarchy Have to Be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?”

The title of this post may sound contradictory. To clarify, it uses the term “justify” in the same way that Mike Huemer uses the term when talking about how minimal states would be justified if it were true that anarchy would necessarily be a Hobbesian war of all against all. The term “unjust” is used to refer to government activity that involves violating peoples’ rights as defined by libertarian principles. I believe the law should always uphold peoples’ rights, but if we lived in a world in which the consequences of the law upholding peoples’ rights all the time were somehow very terrible then I would be willing to consider making an exception and support making it legal to violate someone’s rights in order to avoid this terrible outcome. But how terrible would this outcome have to be for me to support making it legal to violate a person’s rights? Hence the title question, since all states necessarily make it legal to violate peoples’ rights by definition, since all states make it legal for them to imposes taxes on their subjects and outlaw competing rights-enforcement agencies, both of which necessarily involve employing aggression.

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This is the second of three related blog posts featuring discussion between Prof. Mike Huemer and I. All three posts deal with the question of when it is moral to support or commit aggression:

(1) Morally Permissible Unjust Acts: Defending the Rights-Based Approach to Defending Libertarianism

(2) How Bad Would Anarchy Have to be to Justify Unjust Government Activity?

(3) Mike Huemer: “We’re nowhere close to the case where government would be justified.”


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WWYD?: Good People, Peaceful Parenting, and Agorism Today

What Would You Do?: A Television Show that Reveals Human Nature

There are more good people in the world than many anarchy-skeptics would have you believe, the ABC television series “What Would You Do?” shows.

From Wikipedia:

“In the series, actors act out scenes of conflict or illegal activity in public settings while hidden cameras videotape the scene, and the focus is on whether or not bystanders intervene, and how. Variations are also usually included, such as changing the genders, the races or the clothing of the actors performing the scene, to see if bystanders react differently. Quiñones appears at the end to interview the bystanders about their reactions.”

Host of the television show “What Would You Do?”

A few weeks ago I discovered this fascinating show on YouTube and have already watched a significant portion of the episodes.

Many of the people on hidden cameras who witness the scenarios the actors act out are revealed to be mean, vicious, racist, sexist, ignorant, or intolerant people, while others are revealed to be very kind, caring, generous, and loving people.

Sometimes we observe the bystander effect, but on other occasions we witness people go out of their way to selflessly help strangers in need.

Since the producers of the show act out each scenario several times over the course of one or a few days of filming and yet only select a few of these run-throughs to be included in the show, we viewers cannot always gather accurate information about how most people respond to each scenario.

However, the show host usually fills us in on how people tended to react, often with specific numbers: “Of the 22 shoppers we confronted, Chris is the only one who really questioned our authority figure.

This means that in addition to providing proof that there are some good people in the world, the television show also provides us with evidence that a large number of people are not the evil selfish kind of people that Thomas Hobbes believed would fight against each other in a war of all-against-all were it not for the “common Power [state] to keep them all in awe.” Continue reading


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First Anniversary of “Peace Requires Anarchy Blog”

A year ago today I wrote Peace Is The Purpose, the first post on this blog. In that post I said that the purpose of this blog was to advocate peace, but I have found that I have mainly used this blog to help improve my own understanding of what peace is and what it means to be “pro-peace” on various issues.

On the About page of this blog, I have clarified that being “pro-peace” means supporting peoples’ libertarian rights by abiding by the Non-Aggression Principle and by advocating that others do as well. Being pro-peace thus means more than simply advocating a situation in which physical violence is not used. As Gene Sharp says in his long essay From Dictatorship to Democracy:

What kind of peace?

If dictators and democrats are to talk about peace at all, extremely clear thinking is needed because of the dangers involved. Not everyone who uses the word “peace” wants peace with freedom and justice. Submission to cruel oppression and passive acquiescence to ruthless dictators who have perpetrated atrocities on hundreds of thousands of people is no real peace. Hitler often called for peace, by which he meant submission to his will. A dictators’ peace is often no more than the peace of the prison or of the grave. [page 14]

Being pro-peace thus also means advocating a situation in which there are no standing threats of aggressive violence. Advocating that people submit to Hitler’s will rather than use defensive force against him or disobey him nonviolently is thus not a pro-peace position. Further, a situation in which people do submit to Hitler’s will is not a peaceful situation, even if no violence actually occurs, due to the fact that if people have to submit themselves to Hitler’s demands then it must be the case that Hitler is threatening them with aggressive violence.

Note that the title of this blog, Peace Requires Anarchy, was inspired by a statement made by Professor Roderick T. Long in his brief letter, An Open Letter to the Peace Movement: “A consistent peace activist must be an anarchist.”

When I created this blog a year ago I did not realize that February 4th was Roderick Long’s birthday, but it turns out that that is the case–an interesting coincidence!

Some other works by Roderick Long that I recommend include:

Happy 49th birthday to Roderick Long and thanks for helping to inspire this blog!

Lastly, a note on the subtitle of this blog: “Advocating peace in all situations, at all times, without exception” means advocating peace consistently, which, as Roderick Long points out, necessarily entails advocating anarchism.

Check out the Works page to see some of what I’ve read and written about this past year regarding peace and libertarian anarchism.

And look at all of the people (3750 views according to WordPress; 4530 according to RevolverMaps) around the world (80 countries according to WordPress; 85 countries according to RevolverMaps) who have found this site in the past year! Amazing. The market will bring peace.

Static February 4, 2013 map followed by current map:

4Feb2013BlogVisitorMap

Map


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How An Anarchist Society Would Provide National Defense: The Solution to Libertarianism’s Hardest Problem | Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

How an Anarchist Society Would Provide National Defense: The Solution to Libertarianism’s Hardest Problem

By Jeffrey Rogers Hummel

This lecture was delivered at the University of Texas at Austin on April 7, 1980. It was recorded by Jim Cartwright, who subsequently marketed it as three audio cassettes. The lecture was recently edited and converted into an MP3 audio file with meticulous care by Bill Courtney.

The audio of this speech was obtained from:
http://www.jrhummel.com/

Jeffrey Hummel is a Professor of Economics at San Jose State University:
http://www.sjsu.edu/economics/faculty/jeff.hummel.html

Here is a recent interview of him by Reason.tv in 2013:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4CC1hvddug

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Overall I thought it was a very good lecture. I especially liked how Hummel stressed the importance of “ideological” factors (see 56:34 to 1:10:45 in the video). I agree with him that these ideological factors can play a very significant role in determining whether a government can be imposed on a given society or not, either from within or from the outside via a foreign state.

If Hummel’s position is correct, as I believe it is, then improving these ideological factors can be an effective way to strengthen the “national defense” of a society. In a libertarian anarchist society the ideological factors would likely be so strong against statism that it is very unlikely that the society would ever be ruled by a government again. The ideological factors would have to change again, but that would be about as likely as people in America in the future deciding to enslave black people due to a belief that black people are inferior to white people. Just as that form of slavery will almost definitely never be accepted again by our society, so to would governments never again be accepted once we achieved a libertarian anarchist society. If a foreign state could not take power once it invaded a libertarian anarchist society—if a foreign state could not extract taxes from people once it invaded or enslave them or do any other parasitic governing—then it would have little incentive to invade. The amount of national defense that a libertarian anarchist society would need to deter attack would therefore probably be much less than the amount needed in an equivalent statist society, since there would be no power structure to take over and profit from. If a state attempted to invade the anarchist society anyway then it would soon find that it could not succeed since the population would refuse to be ruled. Upon learning this, the invading state would eventually have to stop waging its costly war against the society.

I have collected several quotes in the How to Achieve a Free Society section of my Quotes page on the subject of governments requiring the voluntary support of many of the population they rule in order to maintain their power. Governments cannot form without this support and whenever they lose it they lose their power and collapse. No government can maintain its power using brute force alone. Once one gains an understanding of the sources of state power it becomes easier to see how to get rid of governments. Further, it makes it clear why the ideological factors in a libertarian anarchist society would probably be an insurmountable obstacle for a foreign state looking to conquer a libertarian society. The state would probably only be able to succeed if it was far larger than the libertarian society and had far more resources to employ and if its population was sufficiently bent on invading the libertarian society. Even then, if the ideological factors were ideal in the libertarian society, I am skeptical that the invading state would be able to successfully impose its rule. To better understand why I am skeptical, let’s see those insightful quotes I mentioned on a significant source of government power.

How To Achieve A Free Society

“Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.” – Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience, p. 47

“It is necessary to recognize that the ultimate power of every government—whether of kings or caretakers—rests solely on opinion and not on physical force. The agents of government are never more than a small proportion of the total population under their control. This implies that no government can possibly enforce its will upon the entire population unless it finds widespread support and voluntary cooperation within the nongovernmental public. It implies likewise that every government can be brought down by a mere change in public opinion, i.e., by the withdrawal of the public’s consent and cooperation.” – Hans-Hermann Hoppe, On the Impossibility of Limited Government

“Why don’t we have libertarian anarchy? Why does government exist? The answer implicit in previous chapters is that government as a whole exists because most people believe it is necessary.” – David D. Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom, p. 83

“Historically, States do not dismantle willingly or easily. While they can disintegrate with startling speed, as in Russia in 1917 or France in 1968, almost always new States arise to take their place. The reason for this, I believe, is that men cannot bring themselves to believe in the practical feasibility of a society in which perfect liberty, security of life and property, and law and justice can be attained without the coercive violence of the State. Men have for so long been enslaved by the State that they cannot rid themselves of a Statist mentality. The myth of the State as a necessary part of social reality constitutes the greatest single obstacle to the achievement of a libertarian voluntarist society.” – Joseph R. Peden, Stateless Societies: Ancient IrelandApril1971 The Libertarian Forum [PDF] p. 3

“If states have everywhere been run by an oligarchic group of predators, how have they been able to maintain their rule over the mass of the population? The answer, as the philosopher David Hume pointed out over two centuries ago, is that in the long run every government, no matter how dictatorial, rests on the support of the majority of its subjects.” – Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty, p. 66 (PDF page 77 of 432)

“The vigilante movements that were so common in the American West and the decisions by many to establish and enforce their own custom-based laws illustrate an important point about a valid legal system. Vigilantes re-established law when government officials were ineffective or corrupt and, therefore, in violation of the law. The power of law is not absolute, even when it is in the hands of a government authority. As Hayek observed, ‘the allegiance on which this [rules established by a legislature, or government] sovereignty rests depends on the sovereign’s satisfying  certain expectations concerning the general character of those rules, and will vanish when this expectation is disappointed. In this sense all power rests on, and is limited by, opinion.'” – Bruce L. Benson, The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, p. 321, quoting F. A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, vol. 1, p. 92

“Contrary to popular opinion, even totalitarian dictatorships are dependent on the population and the societies they rule.” – Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy, p. 20 (PDF page 28 of 102)

“[A]ll governments can rule only as long as they receive replenishment of the needed sources of their power from the cooperation, submission, and obedience of the population and the institutions of the society. Political defiance, unlike violence, is uniquely suited to severing those sources of power.” – Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy, p. 30 (PDF page 38 of 102)

“The degree of liberty or tyranny in any government is, it follows, in large degree a reflection of the relative determination of the subjects to be free and their willingness and ability to resist efforts to enslave them.” – Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy, p. 20 (PDF page 28 of 102)

“There’s one thing that’s been ‘learned’ maybe from Tunisia and Egypt that I think is a mistake. And that is that the existing ruler has to resign. He doesn’t have to resign. You take all the supports out from under him; he falls. No matter what he wants to do. This is the distinction in the analyses between nonviolent coercion in which he has to resign, but he’s forced into it, and disintegration when the regime simply falls apart. There’s nobody left with enough power to resign.” – Gene Sharp, How to Start a Revolution (2011) documentary

“The [hunger] games provide that key elements that every state, no matter how powerful or fearsome, absolutely must have: a means of distracting the public from the real enemy. Even this monstrous regime depends fundamentally on the compliance of the governed. No regime can put down a universal revolt.” – Jeffrey A. Tucker, Democracy Is Our Hunger Game

Also see the 6-minute viral animated video The Tiny Dot by Larken Rose.


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The Machinery of Freedom | David D. Friedman

I just read The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

Perhaps the most important part of the book is Part III: Anarchy is Not Chaos (pages 58-84). In this section of the book Friedman illustrates and defends his system of anarcho-capitalism. He discusses private police, private courts, private law, and private national defense. He gives his reasons for supporting anarchy over limited government and explains how we might get to anarchy from our present society.

One important thing to point out is that in the book Friedman argues for libertarian positions from a utilitarian or consequentialist perspective, rather than from libertarian principle. He explains why he does this:

[O]ne reason to base my arguments on consequences rather than justice is that people have widely varying ideas about what is just but generally agree that making people happy and prosperous is a good thing. If I argue against heroin laws on the grounds that they violate the addicts’ rights, I will convince only other libertarians. If I argue that drug laws, by making drugs enormously more expensive, are the chief cause of drug-related crime, and that the poor quality control typical of an illegal market is the main source of drug-related deaths, I may convince even people who do not believe that drug addicts have rights.

A second reason to use practical rather than ethical arguments is that I know a great deal more about what works than about what is just. This is in part a matter of specialization; I have spent more time studying economics than moral philosophy. But I do not think that is all it is. One reason I have spent more time studying economics is that I think more is known about the consequences of institutions than about what is or is not just—that economics is a much better developed science than moral philosophy. [page 93]

As much as I would love to now write down my thoughts on many of the interesting things he said in the book, I would love to keep reading even more (Gerard Casey’s Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State is next) (UPDATE: Here is my post on Casey’s book). Perhaps I will come back to this at some point in the future.

Before I get going, however, let me mention one of Friedman’s statements that I added to the Quotes page:

Why don’t we have libertarian anarchy? Why does government exist? The answer implicit in previous chapters is that government as a whole exists because most people believe it is necessary. [page 83]

And let me also mention one of his honorably honest, yet disappointing statements that I did not add to the Quotes page. Note that I am placing the above quote and the following quote together intentionally because they are very related:

What will I do if, when all other functions of our government have been abolished, I conclude that there is no effective way to defend against aggressive foreign governments save by national defense financed by taxes—financed, in other words, by money taken by force from the taxpayers?

In such a situation I would not try to abolish that last vestige of government. I do not like paying taxes, but I would rather pay them to Washington than to Moscow—the rates are lower. I would still regard the government as a criminal organization, but one which was, by a freak of fate, temporarily useful. [page 75]

In short, Friedman realizes most people support unjust government actions because they erroneously believe that those actions are necessary, yet he says that he would support unjust governments as well if he believed they were necessary.

How smart does he think he is? Isn’t it possible that he could be mistaken as well? Could he really be comfortable supporting certain evils in the name of necessity despite knowing that they may not actually be necessary? Apparently so. I think Rothbard was right: He doesn’t Hate the State.

To be fair to Friedman, he wrote The Machinery of Freedom a long time ago (“Most of this book was written between 1967 and 1973.” – page 3) and may quite possibly have a different view today.

Also, to be fair to 1970 Friedman, he’s almost certainly not nearly as bad in this regard as most of the people who support the state as a necessary evil. Specifically, I am sure that he would be far more careful in his analysis of the necessity of the state than the vast majority of other people. While most others would simply assume that the state is necessary, Friedman would only take such a position after putting a substantial amount of careful thought into the question. I have to give him credit for that.

Continue reading


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Dispelling the Myth of Violent Chaos with the Truth of the Free Market

One of the most common objections people make regarding a free market anarchist society is that such a society would be violent, chaotic and lawless. As economist Bryan Caplan writes in his Anarchist Theory FAQ, “The most common criticism, shared by the entire range of critics, is basically that anarchism would swiftly degenerate into a chaotic Hobbesian war of all-against-all.”

Economist Robert Murphy, in his article But Wouldn’t Warlords Take Over? writes, “On two separate occasions in the last couple of weeks, people have asked me a familiar question:  ‘In a system of “anarcho-capitalism” or the free-market order, wouldn’t society degenerate into constant battles between private warlords?'”

Caplan and Murphy are two people among many market anarchists who have attempted to dispel this myth. Unfortunately, most people remain apathetic and thus go on believing that monopoly governments are “good” and “necessary” institutions despite the countless evils that each and every one of them have been responsible for throughout history. Most people imagine that there is no alternative to government that can be peaceful, orderly, and just. They falsely presume that Society Without a State must be violent and chaotic when in reality observation of The Anatomy of the State reveals that this is the nature of societies ruled by governments, not the nature of societies with voluntary, consensual (and thus necessarily anarchical) social orders.

Unfortunately, most people don’t care enough about peace, justice, and prosperity to bother doing a little reading and thinking, to bother paying attention to the thinkers before them who have already shown the myths to be false, beginning with Gustave de Molinari who first described in 1849 how market mechanisms could lead to the production of “governmental” services of security and justice in a free society and continuing ever since with people like Robert Murphy who continue to show today how The Market for Security is an efficient, just and realistic alternative to the coercive monopolistic governments that necessarily violate peoples’ rights rather than secure them.

If only people cared, the world would be a far better place. As abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said in 1831, “The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten the resurrection of the dead.”