Comic from xkcd. Click to enlarge.
Another good one from Rob Sandwell over at The Libertarian Enterprise this week. In "Ex Post Facto Assumptions", he does a great job framing the real question at hand:
I suggest you try a simple social experiment.
Go to your friends and ask them why we have public schools. Or public roads. Or the military. Or any other supposed public good.
If they admit ignorance, ask them to think on the subject for a moment and then give you a logical reason. I submit that you will get one of two general responses, regardless of the issue in question, and that the response you get will tell you instantly whether the person is generally libertarian, or generally statist.
A statist will think on the subject for a moment, and then reply that there must have been a need in society which was not being filled, and that the government stepped in to fill that need. A libertarian will reply that the government usurped the proper purview of the private sector in order to expand its own authority.
For instance, the statist will tell you that at some point in the past, children were not getting educated. Instead they were being left ignorant and idle, and that the state recognized this as a serious threat to the future of the nation and so stepped in and established proper schooling in order to address the problem.
The reality of course, is exactly the opposite. I wrote as much in a three part essay I published several years ago entitled Educating the Children. The true history of education is one where people were being well and inexpensively educated, and only after witnessing the molding and controlling effects of the Prussian education system did American elites set on a path of establishing compulsory public education. This is very clear in their writings at the time, which describe exactly their aims with regards to education.
Sounds about right. Personally, I am not quite sure that I agree that, as he alludes elsewhere in the article, "they planned it all in advance" with a Mr. Burns countenance and tented fingers--my own opinion is that what happens with the state is simply an inevitability based on the sum of the incentives built into the system--but certainly the evidence of some of the writings of statists is pretty incriminating. And in the end, Sandwell nails the concept:
So why do people come to exactly the wrong conclusion? It is because they lack a working understanding of the true nature of the state. They are beginning with the erroneous assumption that the state is a benevolent force which has only our collected best interests in mind, and proceed from there when determining the motivations for state action. And so, based on that false assumption, they construct elaborate fantasies wherein the state came charging to the rescue in the midst of some imagined crisis.
But the libertarian understands the true nature of statism. The state is a cancer. It begins small and seemingly weak, but it always spreads and corrupts healthy tissue until all of society has become diseased. It then overpowers the immune system of the society contained within whatever semblance of free markets and personal property rights the society observes, and causes complete social collapse. This process is both demonstrable in history, and inevitable in the future.
And so, armed with this understanding, the libertarian is able to grasp the true origins of public institutions intuitively, even in those areas with which he is not intimately knowledgeable. You don't have to crack a history book to guess that the state licenses media outlets, not to protect the population from false histories and firebrands, but specifically to control both the content and the context of the information the public is allowed access to. This is a necessary step in creating a self perpetuating system wherein the slaves create, completely on their own, justifications for their own enslavement. In his classic essay The Anatomy of the State Murray Rothbard describes this process perfectly when he writes,
"...the majority must be persuaded by ideology that their government is good, wise and, at least, inevitable, and certainly better than other conceivable alternatives. Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the "intellectuals." For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the "opinion-molders" in society."
It is of course, no surprise to the libertarian then that the state would demand licensing for media outlets. The message is clear. Speak only that which we approve, or lose the ability to speak at all.
Indeed, sometimes literally. Did not the Khmer Rouge, as but one example, specifically murder this entire class of people as a means to keep them from influencing the masses? And how different is this, really, from the persecution of Socrates (ya just gotta love the irony of the statist Plato, using the persecution of his rather individualist hero at the hands of the state, to illustrate ideas of his own no less tyrannical...) for the completely state-invented crime of "corrupting the youth"? There is, of course, no difference.
I'll try out Rob's suggestion and see how it goes. And above all, I'll try to ask the right questions, because as Thomas Pynchon noted, "if they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers".