Trump Libertarians: Rise of the Anarcho-Statists

Trump Libertarians: Rise of the Anarcho-Statists

I would like to preface this by saying that I have nothing personally against the people that I’m about to discuss in this article. All of them have contributed to spreading the message of freedom to various degrees, and for that I am grateful. One of them, Stefan Molyneux, was a strong influence on me personally when I was first exploring the concepts of self-ownership and voluntary interaction. Without him, my views might not be where they are today.

However, I would be remiss if I were to ignore the problems with the worrying trend that they’ve been a part of. Along with the rise of Donald Trump has come a strain of the liberty movement that looks more like a cousin of the alt-right than a philosophy based on freedom. Between the call for greater border enforcement and even a wall (more on that later), to the cries for “God Emperor Trump” to come down with an iron fist on those on those deemed to be degenerates, those involved often sound more fascistic than libertarian.

Whether it is a deliberate move to attract a bigger audience, a shift in philosophy, or the product of the conservative-minded side of the movement, these “anarcho-statists” have become a vocal and very real part of the libertarian and anarcho-capitalist community. Central to their thinking is that those on the left are the true enemies of freedom, while those on the right are the lesser evil (if not an ally in the fight against liberalism.) They are not necessarily ardent supporters of Donald Trump (although some are), but they often incorporate parts of his message.

Justin Moldow, self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist and founder of the libertarian website Liberty Hangout, is a prime example of this. As I stated in the first sentence of this article, the specific individuals discussed herein (Moldow included), have been an overall plus for the causes of liberty and freedom. But this in no way makes him or any of the others immune to criticism.

In recent months, Moldow has written multiple articles about his issues with the left. Before I go any further, I must say that some of the assertions he makes are entirely true. There is a sizeable contingent of leftists who look to shut down speech they disagree with, as he states in “It’s Time to Admit That Leftists Can’t Be Reasoned With.” Yes, leftists do use the violence of the state to impose their views on others. And yes, many of them (at least those in the mainstream) do erroneously believe that the state is ultimately a force for good. We have no disagreement on these points; I would never claim that liberalism is in anyway synonymous with libertarianism.

The problem with Moldow’s assertions about leftists is not necessarily a factual error, although I do believe he often over-generalizes and overstates the contempt that those on the left have for the liberty movement. The problem is instead an error of omission; those on the right can be just as bad, if not worse, than leftists in these areas. In “Libertarians Who Side With Leftists are Tools for Their Marxist Agenda,” he says that “it’s not the alt-right… encouraging the ongoing violence against peaceful people.” Violence against peaceful people is not limited to the left, whether that be on an individual basis or a state level.

To anyone who believes otherwise, I would encourage you to try to peacefully burn an American flag in protest of the United States government in front of a group of conservatives (on second thought, don’t try that unless you’re able to defend yourself.) Needless to say, they would not respond kindly. There have been numerous occasions in which protesters attempting to peacefully burn flags (a constitutionally protected act) have been threatened with violence or even attacked. I have experienced the vitriol of the right first-hand in response to my article “No Thank You For Your Service: The Fallacy of Troop Worship,” and trust me, they were not comments about how they disagreed with me but still respected my right to free speech.

In the same way that the left advocates using the violence of the state for wealth distribution and forced association, the right uses it for their own means. Although there are exceptions (as there are on the left), those on the right-wing are usually more than happy to use violence against peaceful people if it will result in a larger military, the imprisonment of drug users and others who commit victimless crimes, and fewer foreigners coming into the country. Arguing over whether it’s worse to steal people’s money from them or to throw them in a cage for smoking a plant is like arguing whether it’s worse to get punched in the face or kicked in the groin. You might have a preference, but both are terrible outcomes.

This brings me to my next point and a defining characteristic of those discussed in this article: the demand for the state to crack down on illegal immigration. Those who advocate for this often say that being in favor of open borders is an un-libertarian position, as Moldow does in “Open Borders Are Not Libertarian. They’re Communist.” In it, one of the arguments he makes in favor of closed borders is that immigrants might vote to increase taxes and may support Democratic politicians. Effectively, he is arguing that because of a possible bad outcome, an organization that he deems to be illegitimate should use violence against those who peacefully cross an arbitrary line in order to defend territory that the organization does not rightfully own (the irony of this seems to be lost on him).

This utilitarian defense of initiatory violence is completely at-odds with the non-aggression principle and the philosophy of anarcho-capitalism and would result in an authoritarian state if taken to its logical ends. If it is acceptable to use violence against someone based on a hypothetical, the idea of self-ownership is completely thrown out the window. The fact that someone comes from a bad neighborhood is not enough reason to attack them in defense of them possibly attacking you, just as the fact that someone comes from a poor country is not enough to attack them in defense of them possibly stealing your money. Ironically, the same critique of using initiatory violence to stop initiatory violence that Moldow would likely (and rightfully) use to argue against a state is present in his thinking on immigration.

Rather than being a product of a belief in self-ownership and freedom, Moldow’s words look more like those of someone attempting to sell a conservative position to a libertarian audience. His follow-up article “Open Borders Advocates are Hypocritical Nationalists That Also Put America First” was even more perplexing. In it, he claimed that open-borders libertarians who were criticizing Trump’s immigration ban were actually nationalists, due to the fact that they were not speaking out against Iran’s ban against immigration from the United States.

Even ignoring the fact that Iran’s ban was a direct response to Trump’s, you would be hard-pressed to find a libertarian who believes in open-borders who would also be in favor of the Iranian government restricting immigration. The fact that Trump’s ban is focused on more often is a matter of priority, not an indication of support for the Iranian regime. There are far more people who are looking to immigrate to the United States from the seven countries affected than people looking to immigrate to Iran from the US. Using the logic of Moldow’s argument, someone who criticizes the murders committed by a serial killer does not care about or even approves of a murder committed by a one-time killer. Focusing on the greater evil before attempting to draw attention to a lesser one does not make someone a nationalist; it makes them a sane person following a logical strategy.

Christopher Cantwell is another example of this style of anarcho-capitalist that I find so troubling. When he’s not preoccupied with calling people “cucks,” Cantwell is outwardly racist and is a fervent supporter of Donald Trump. He argues for a strong authoritarian leader to rid the world of leftists, all while claiming to be an anarchist. I don’t plan on saying much more about him within this article, but I wanted to point out that there is a real problem with racism in this “Trumpian” brand of libertarianism. I’m not referring to the accusations of racism made by “social justice warriors,” in which innocent actions are deemed to be bigoted by overzealous college students. The type of racism that concerns me is one in which statements about the superiority of a specific race (in this case, whites) are thrown around.

Although Cantwell and his ilk would dismiss my critique as “virtue signaling,” racism is simply another ugly form of collectivism. A person with black or brown skin does not deserve to be judged by the actions of others with the same skin color, just as all whites do not deserve to be lumped in with the authoritarian megalomaniac some call our President. Cantwell and others who focus on race are only turning off potential converts to libertarianism and contradicting the individualism that we preach.

Although I’ve thus far focused on Moldow and Cantwell, there might be no greater example of this “anarcho-statist” mindset than prominent anarcho-capitalist Stefan Molyneux. He has been around for many years and has been a vital part of the liberty movement. Until recently, he argued against closed-border advocates and said that we had much worse things to worry about than immigrants. Around the time that Trump came onto the scene during the 2016 Presidential Election, he did a complete 180 on immigration and became maybe the most vocal Trump-supporting libertarian. His foray into presidential politics was especially ironic due to the fact that he had considered the presidential runs of Ron Paul (who had much greater libertarian credentials than Trump) a waste of time.

Molyneux uses many of the same arguments as Moldow when discussing his newfound desire for border enforcement. Whether they’re based on the idea that illegal immigrants may leach off taxpayers (even though the fact that these immigrants are fearful of being punished by the state is what forces them to work under the table), typical fear-mongering about Islamic Terrorism (you’re significantly more likely to be killed by a cop than a terrorist), or preserving what he vaguely refers to as Western culture (which has brought us the same state we decry as evil), his platform basically boils down to the idea that we must sacrifice our ideals to save them. Eerily reminiscent of George W. Bush’s assertion that he “abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market,” this Orwellian double-think will never result in the fulfillment of libertarian ideals.

Just as there has been up to now, there will always be another crisis that we’re told requires the suspension of our rights or the rights of others. Although the powers that be typically give us assurances that these restrictions will be temporary, they hardly ever are; one needs to look no further than the aftermath of 9/11 and the advent of the mass surveillance state to see this in action. If the state takes away our rights, even temporarily, it should be obvious to us all that the state (and those who support it) never considered them rights in the first place. In the same vein, if we must sacrifice our principles in order to achieve our goals, they were never really our principles.

We must think long and hard about what we believe and why. Are we the philosophy of fear-mongering, collectivism, and authoritarianism when it suits us? Or are we the ones who will stand up to the state and others who wish to take away the rights of those who cannot stand up for themselves?

There Would Be No Snowplows Without Government

There Would Be No Snowplows Without Government

Last week, there was a large snowstorm where I live. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for a New England winter, but it was enough to make the roads basically undrivable.

The next day, I entered into a discussion with someone on social media about government’s role in removing snow from the roads. This person (who was well-aware of my political views) said that “there would be no snowplows without government/taxes.” He was backed up by others saying the same thing.

I made several arguments to try to invalidate what I viewed as a ridiculous proposition. I pointed out that there are already private roads today; many of these roads are plowed without government involvement. Those who own the roads hire someone to plow them, just like any other voluntary transaction. No one in their right mind would argue that there would be no plumbers to fix your toilet or landscapers to mow your lawn if the government were not involved. But yet, the idea of a driver using a tool attached to a car to remove snow and ice from a stretch of pavement without government being included sounds absolutely foreign to many people. The snowplow is hardly a modern technological marvel. We rely on private companies to do things that are astronomically more advanced, such as designing a device that can let us see people on the opposite side of the world through a screen.

Why then, is it so hard for many to imagine how road maintenance could work without government? There are many different theories on how roads could operate in a voluntary society (one without taxation). There have been entire books written about this issue (I highly recommend The Privatization of Roads and Highways by Walter Block), but I’ll outline a few ideas.

Residential roads could be paid for and maintained by homeowners associations or cooperation between neighbors (this already happens in gated communities and other private residential roads). Well-traveled roads would be prime candidates to be toll roads, either on a per use basis or with a subscription (yes, there would be a cost to drivers, but those drivers would have substantially more money in their pockets due to a lack of taxation and the fact that they could choose which services they paid for.) Businesses in a commercial area could enter into a contract with each other to own and maintain nearby roads, as a business has an incentive to allow customers to get to its store. Keep in mind that these are only tentative proposals; if this were to be tried, the market may come up with something even better.

In the social media discussion I was having, I talked about the ideas above and more. And yet, I felt that everything I said wasn’t having much of an effect. This was not a substantive policy discussion; I felt like I was talking to a brick wall with a message written on it. No matter what I said, there was never any thorough examination of my argument. There were only continued assurances that was I proposing would never work; the message never changed.

The interaction was incredibly frustrating to me. As a former conservative, I completely understand how hard it can be to imagine a society without government. Government has performed certain services for our entire lives, and it’s often difficult to think outside the box and question one’s own worldview. I was once the person who said that a society without a coercive government couldn’t work. It was only after hours of reading, listening, and thinking that I realized that a stateless society was a legitimate possibility that would not result in chaos. Even still, the fact that so many people (many of whom are likely very intelligent) could not grasp the idea of supply and demand in the snowplowing industry was perplexing.

Imagine a scenario in which the government announced that it was no longer going to plow the roads. In this scenario, if there were people living on a road who needed to drive somewhere but couldn’t, they wouldn’t just wait around for the snow to melt. People can act and create solutions without government; when there’s a demand for a service, there will be a supply. Those who live in snowy areas would know that plowing would be a frequently-needed service and would come up with a contingency plan ahead of time. To think that these people would say “government won’t plow my road, so no one can” is asinine. Government is not some all-knowing being with superpowers; it is simply another group of people (albeit once that relies on coercive force to fund its actions). There is no service that a government can perform that others cannot.

As those trying to spread the message of freedom, we must remember that sound logic alone will not convince others that a society without a state is advantageous to us. No one likes to feel defeated; a contentious argument often only results in a person digging their heels in more instead of acknowledging their blind spots or contradictions in their thinking. We need to re-examine the way we conduct discussions and debates. Just beating the other person in a battle of reason is not enough.

If at all possible, we must attempt to guide others to an answer rather than show it to them. It is almost always through thinking and self-reflection that one realizes the immorality and dispensability of government, not through being called names in a social media argument. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, although I’ve made a conscious decision in recent years to attempt to cut back. Even still, it’s difficult to overcome years of an unquestioning loyalty to the state by those we are talking to. In my aforementioned discussion about snowplows, I did everything I could to focus on policy and not dismiss anyone’s intelligence. By doing this, I hope to have left open the possibility that I planted a seed in someone’s head that could someday grow and lead them down the same path I’ve gone down.

We must be understanding of the fact that even those who now believe in freedom and self-ownership were not born that way. Many of us were conservatives, liberals, or other ideologies before we got here. Plant seeds and encourage others to ask questions and think for themselves. If we rely on insults and feelings of superiority, we will never achieve our goals.

Freedom 2020: The Case for Adam Kokesh

Freedom 2020: The Case for Adam Kokesh

The 2016 U.S Presidential Election featured two of the most hated major-party candidates in history. On one side was a reality star and businessman who had a history of changing his political positions and making inflammatory remarks; on the other, a career politician with a reputation of corruption. Optimism was high throughout the Libertarian Party; many thought this would be the year that Libertarians would finally be included in the debates and maybe even win a state or two. There were dreams of scenarios in which Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson would reach the White House in a situation where neither Trump nor Hillary reached 270 electoral votes.

As we all know, this didn’t happen. Instead, the two major parties dominated the political landscape once again. Even with Americans clamoring for an alternative, many reluctantly voted for the “lesser of two evils” instead of throwing their support behind Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld.

There were many reasons for this, some of which were out of our control, such as general reluctance to vote for a third party candidate, the Republican/Democrat stranglehold on the debates and media coverage, and the fact that the Libertarian Party was simply outmatched in terms of money. But even many of those who voted for Johnson did so not because they believed in the principles he espoused, but because they couldn’t stand to vote for Trump or Clinton.

I have nothing against Gary Johnson; in fact, I think he seems like a good man. A Gary Johnson presidency would likely have been vastly better than what we’ll encounter once Trump takes office or what we would have seen with a Hillary victory. But would anyone really say that the Johnson campaign inspired a revolution, as many said about Ron Paul’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns? Support for Johnson could usually be described as more lukewarm than hot, a far cry from the intensity of support many had for Dr. Paul. Johnson’s run was somewhat similar to Rand Paul’s failed attempt at the Republican nomination, in which many supporters of his father lost interest due to Rand’s often wishy-washy brand of libertarianism.

Johnson and Weld watered down the message of libertarianism. Rarely was there talk of self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, or other fundamental tenets of anti-statism. These ideas were replaced by the slogan of “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” While this philosophy is still better than that of the average politician, it does not describe what libertarians truly believe. Libertarians were represented by the Johnson/Weld campaign as being “moderates.” This implies that rather than being a distinct ideology, we are simply the aggregate of the two parties we despise. This is not an inspiring message, but rather one of compromise. Compromise does not inspire radical change; instead, it furthers reinforces the notion that the ideologies of the two major parties are acceptable. The Presidential candidate of a party that requires signing an oath against the initiation of force should not be describing Hillary Clinton as a “wonderful public servant,” as Johnson did in a CNN town hall.

In 2020, members of the Libertarian Party, as well as non-party members who believe in liberty, need to learn from the mistakes of 2016. Instead of watering down our message in order to achieve mainstream acceptance, we must nominate someone who can create as many new libertarians as Ron Paul once did. We need someone who can teach libertarianism to a new audience and motivate supporters. We need someone who understands that inspiring a lasting movement based on sound philosophy is more important than the results of a single election.

That person, I believe, is Adam Kokesh. Adam has spent years expressing the message of freedom, whether it be through his radio show, his television show, his YouTube videos, or his years of activism, and he has had success winning converts.

Adam has announced plans to run for President (or as he likes to say, not-President) in 2020 on the platform of an orderly dissolution of the United States Federal Government. This means that his campaign could appeal not just to anarcho-capitalists, but also to non-anarchists who recognize that the Federal Government is out of control.

We must take advantage of the fact that an unpredictable authoritarian has been elected President; now is the perfect time to introduce the idea that the Federal Government is not needed into public discourse. Rumblings about secession movements have already started soon after the news of Trump’s victory. Never in recent history has there been a better opportunity to teach the public about the evils of the state and have them be receptive.

Opponents of nominating Kokesh may bring up the fact that he’s never held political office, but this is entirely irrelevant due to his platform. He is not running to rule us, but instead to abolish the institution that does. The concept of experience only applies if he were looking to spend a term in office, not in a situation where he wants to eliminate the office itself.

In the end, this run is not about him. It is about freeing us from the chains of government. He will be effective as a messenger, but his experience, personal life, or anything else about his life history does not affect his ability to end the Federal Government once elected. In fact, it is entirely possible that he could run successfully without even obtaining an electoral victory. A critical mass of secession movements, whether they be by individuals or states, could render the Federal Government obsolete.

Some anarchists are against voting on principle and see it as an act of aggression. In most cases, I do not blame them. But this campaign is different. Those who vote for Adam will not be voting to impose a ruler on others, but instead to free themselves and their fellow human beings. It will be the near-equivalent of voting for “none of the above” and actually having it be counted.

Barring some sort of catastrophe, I do not anticipate Adam Kokesh winning the Presidential election in 2020. But this campaign and the movement associated with it is about much more than just 2020. This is about stimulating a paradigm shift, not an improved electoral showing. The next election will not occur in a vacuum; the message of freedom can be carried on by Adam or others in the future.

I fully intend on voting for Adam in 2020 and believe so much is riding on this that I have volunteered to help with his campaign. I hope that others will see the necessity behind it and do the same. Together, we can defeat statism and bring about real freedom within our lifetimes.

The Orlando Shooting: Overreaction, Obsession, and the End of Due Process

The Orlando Shooting: Overreaction, Obsession, and the End of Due Process

In the recent days after the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, gun control advocates have seized on the fact that the shooter, Omar Mateen, was able to purchase a firearm despite the fact that he was previously on the U.S. government’s terror watch list (there’s been a misconception being propagated that he was still on the list at the time of the shooting; this is not the case.) Those who support the idea that those being investigated by the FBI for terrorism should forfeit their second amendment rights view it as common sense.

This emotional plea is semi-understandable in a vacuum, if one is discussing only the case at hand. Mateen would not have been able to (legally) buy a firearm if this policy had been in place. I don’t personally believe that this would have prevented the shooting, as a person who is willing to massacre dozens of innocent people is likely wiling to jump through the hoops set up by the legal system to get a weapon, but I can at the very least understand the motivation behind it.

But as we know, laws do not exist in a vacuum. Their consequences are not limited to their original motivations, and they have the ability to affect us all in one way or another. Once a law is passed granting the government more power, the chances that government will eventually remove to repeal that law are extremely slim. Calling it an uphill battle is an understatement; when we give government an inch, it takes a mile. Taking drastic action directly after a tragedy is often a mistake; it’s not a stretch to say that humans tend to overreact to events that occur in the present without thinking about the future.

One has to look only as far back as September 11, 2001, to see that our important rights and liberties are often trampled upon after a cataclysmic event. Without 9/11 or another large attack, the American public would likely never have supported the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, and mass NSA surveillance. What happened to the victims in Orlando was obviously tragic. But people die in car crashes, from terrible diseases, and are murdered everyday, and we don’t shed a tear about it. Civilians are blown up in air strikes, and we write off their deaths as “collateral damage.” The U.S.-led Iraq War resulted in the deaths of over 100,000+ civilians (with some estimates higher), yet we still wave our flags and chant “U-S-A.” 224 people were killed in the first week of Ramadan in Syria, but one is not likely to see a Facebook status written about it. When we become obsessed over specific incidents, we tend to miss the bigger picture.

We first need to realize that this proposal is about much more than the ability of a terrorist to buy a weapon. An important distinction must be made between those who are on a terrorist watch list and those who have actually committed acts of terror. Convicted terrorists are already prohibited from purchasing firearms. Being on the terrorist watch list does not make one a terrorist, any more than being questioned about a robbery makes one a bank robber. The idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty is a standard we must fight to uphold. If the government does not even have enough evidence to make an arrest, they most certainly do not have enough evidence to punish someone.

If a right can be taken away by putting someone on a secret list (that no one outside of government actually knows the criteria for) without due process, it’s no longer a right. Allowing government to take our rights away without any accountability opens us up to the possibility that government officials will restrict the rights of people they don’t like: whether that be political enemies, those who speak out against the government, or even those that they have personal problems with. And don’t forget about those who have been mistakenly placed on the list, or those who are put on the list with extremely weak evidence; leaked documents showed that almost 40 percent of those on the terror watch list have “no affiliation with recognized terrorist groups”. Those who are on the list mistakenly often have no recourse, as the entire process is shrouded in secrecy.

Even those who support increased gun control should be extremely wary of this kind of power. The FBI has allegedly already used the no-fly list to attempt to coerce innocent Muslims into spying on their friends and neighbors, and with human nature dictating that power is likely to be abused, it is improbable that this was an isolated incident. When an increase in government power is proposed, it’s helpful to think of what would happen if your worst nightmare were to be elected. Imagine a President Donald Trump who chooses to place everyone he doesn’t like on a watch list that precludes them from exercising their individual rights. Imagine if this same idea is next applied to the first amendment instead of the second. It’s not far-fetched to think that politicians could overreact to a future terrorist attack and demand that those on the terror watch-list lose their right to freedom of assembly, in fear that they may be plotting attacks in private.

Those who support banning those who are on the terror watch-list from buying guns are effectively saying that government should be able to find you guilty of a crime without evidence, a trial, or even an arrest. This is not a step toward making us safer; it’s a fast-track to the kind of tyranny that the second amendment is supposed to help protect us from.

Crossing an Arbitrary Line: The Libertarian Case for Open Borders

Crossing an Arbitrary Line: The Libertarian Case for Open Borders

The restriction of movement along the borders of the United States is generally accepted as a fact of life, much like the sun rising in the morning and setting at night. Those on the right-wing of the political spectrum typically argue that those who cross the border illegally should face harsh consequences, up to and including jail time or deportation. Those on the left often support relaxing immigration regulation, but both usually agree that some level of enforcement is necessary.

Even many libertarians (and others who claim to be in favor of individual freedom) commonly spout rhetoric about “securing our border.” It is argued that the act of crossing the border illegally is wrong given that, by definition, one must break the law to do so. It is viewed as common sense; illegal immigrants are committing a crime, and because of this, they deserve to be punished. But this position rests on a flawed assumption: the idea that law has any kind of moral authority.

A sizable portion of Americans practice an almost cult-like following of the law, in that they will follow it without moral justification even when they are in no danger of any repercussions. Some are even willing to take this to the extreme of calling the police on others who are hurting no one (such as a neighbor who is smoking marijuana). When challenged, those who advocate this position often say things like “it’s the law” and “you do the crime, you do the time.” They seem to believe that morality derives itself from law and not the other way around.

This argument is easily debunked, unless one believes that the most horrible atrocities committed by governments around the world have been morally justifiable (in which case any discussion of morality will likely be futile). If morality is based on law, it means that anything legal is morally acceptable. In accordance with this, one would have to believe that Stalin’s acts of mass murder, Adolf Hitler’s extermination of Jews and others he deemed to be undesirable, and the actions of any other brutal dictator were permissible; these leaders created and maintained the law and could do as they pleased. It would mean that those who aided runaway slaves in the United States were committing a moral wrong, as the Fugitive Slave Acts made this illegal. It would mean that Middle Eastern countries who execute homosexuals are not doing anything wrong, as said homosexuals are committing a crime. It would also mean that morality varies depending on which country an action occurs in. In the United States, genocide would be morally wrong, but in a country where genocide is legal, it would be perfectly just. Suppose a law is passed legalizing the murder of anyone with green eyes. The law also stipulates that anyone harboring a green-eyed person or attempting to stop their murder will be convicted of a felony. Who is morally wrong in this situation: the person breaking the law or the one following it?

Unless one is willing to defend these previous examples, the idea of law dictating morality must be discarded. Law is simply the decree of those in power; it has no moral authority behind it. Breaking the law, in itself, is morally neutral. There are cases in which breaking the law is morally acceptable, and there are cases in which following the law is morally wrong. One must look at an action independent of law to determine if it is justifiable.

In the case of illegal immigration, a person breaking the law is crossing an arbitrary line. The location of this line has been chosen by a small group of people who have almost definitely never been to the place where the person is crossing. The immigrant is probably committing this action peacefully. If they are not, they are committing a different crime, and their act of crossing a line is not the issue. When someone says that they are in favor of penalizing those who cross the border illegally, they are saying that they want violence (or the threat of violence) used against someone who is aggressing upon the rights of no one. They want an armed police officer or immigration official to detain this person; this detention is done under the assumption that any attempt to run away or any attempted self-defense will be met with escalation on the part of the law enforcer, up to and including lethal force. They want this person to be kidnapped and thrown in a cage, eventually being forcibly moved to the place that they were trying to escape from in the first place. Again, this is all because the previously referenced person crossed an imaginary line, harming no one in the process; anyone who was not conditioned to find this normal from a young age would likely find it to be patently absurd.

Many would respond to my argument with the assertion that illegal immigrants are trespassing on the government’s land; this response shows a lack of understanding of the differences between government “property” and the property of an average person. An average person lives on their property or conducts some sort of business on it; most government officials have never even been to a tenth of the areas that the government claims to own. An average person buys their property or inherits it from a relative; government typically takes it by force. Government can take land, simply because it feels like it, through the process of eminent domain (compensation for “fair market value” is required, but the definition of fair market value is decided by the government). The 2005 Supreme Court case Kelo v New London expanded this even further; it established that the government can take land to sell to private businesses if the government believes this transaction is in the interest of the greater good. This effectively means that government can use eminent domain on almost any land that it wants; it simply has to make the argument it did in Kelo. If any other individual or group of people forced sales in this way, their property ownership would surely be viewed as illegitimate. Government should not be afforded special privileges; the rights of those who participate in it are not more important than the rights of others. A group of people who can choose to own vast swaths of land at will does not fit into a theory of just property ownership.

Many people who are sympathetic to the argument outlined above have one major reservation to the idea of granting amnesty to illegal immigrants: the use of government benefits by illegal immigrants. Libertarians especially say that while they agree with the philosophy of open borders, they can’t support it at the moment because illegal immigrants will take advantage of government programs. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is actually government programs, not immigration, that the anti-immigration libertarian is arguing against. It should make no difference what side of an arbitrary line a person receiving these benefits is from. This categorization of immigrants is a form of the collectivist thinking that libertarians typically argue against. It is generalizing a group of people and taking away their right to freedom of movement in order to prevent a small amount of them from doing something, which is analogous to banning gun ownership for all because someone may commit a gun-related crime. Even citing statistics about the use of government programs by immigrants (regardless of their validity) should not be enough to generalize vastly different people. These people should be viewed as individuals, not groups. Those on one side of a line are no more deserving of life and liberty than those on the other side.

Closed border advocates sometimes argue that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from hard-working Americans. In reality, this is misleading, as illegal immigrants often take low-skilled and low-paying jobs that many Americans would not want in the first place. But even if it were true, this would not be a valid reason to restrict their ability to work. Competition for employment from an illegal immigrant is no more a violation of anyone’s rights than competition from a neighbor. If one wants to ban people from other countries because they may “take jobs”, than why not ban people from other states? Why not ban people from other towns or even other neighborhoods? Being born between the arbitrary lines of another government does not make a person less deserving of opportunity. We should not be basing our identities on the government that rules us, but on our shared experiences as human beings.

Someone who cares deeply about freedom would not advocate for banning free speech in order to maintain order. In that same vein, they should not argue for banning freedom of movement. We should all be wary of vague, consequentialist arguments arguing for the restriction of freedom for our safety or “the greater good.” We also must remember that law is not infallible. It is the duty of good people to disobey laws that trample on our rights and the rights of others.

No Thank You For Your Service: The Fallacy of Troop Worship

No Thank You For Your Service: The Fallacy of Troop Worship

There is a pervasive idea in today’s American society that regardless of political philosophy or party affiliation, one must never criticize the members of the United States military. Conventional wisdom holds that we must appreciate the sacrifice soldiers have made to “fight for our freedom,” and even if one is against the war, they must always “support the troops.” This line of thinking is not coming solely from the pro-war crowd; many of those who consider themselves anti-war (or at least oppose a specific war or conflict) have the utmost regard for those who fight in them. But is this canonization of those who take up arms in the name of the United States government truly just? Or is it a falsehood based on propaganda, emotion, and a lack of critical thinking?

The first myth that must be debunked is the previously-mentioned idea that the job of a soldier is to protect “our freedom.” This assertion is unequivocally untrue. The role of U.S. soldiers, first and foremost, is to obey the orders of their government and commanders, whether these orders support or infringe upon the freedoms of Americans and those in other countries. A soldier is not beholden to the average American, but instead to a small group of people in authority. His job is not to keep us free, but to do what he is told, even if that includes participating in the deaths of innocent people. Propaganda slogans aside (“a government for the people, by the people”), governments are not the people of a country. A soldier is not accountable to us, but to them.

Many troop supporters would also point out that the job of a soldier includes disobeying illegal orders. In theory, this seems like an appropriate safeguard. But in practice, this rarely happens. Take the 2003 Iraq War, for instance, which was viewed by many in the U.S. as an unconstitutional war. The war was also viewed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as a violation of international law. In theory, one would have expected a sizable contingent of soldiers to disobey the orders of President George W. Bush and refuse to step foot on Iraqi soil. Instead, a full-fledged invasion was launched. There are numerous other instances of soldiers breaking the law to do what they are told, whether it be the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib or the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War. Even for soldiers who refuse to break the law, the legality of a war or order is fairly irrelevant in practice; those who are in power are able to bend the law to their liking, as the Bush administration did when it argued that “enhanced interrogation” (otherwise known as torture) was not in violation of the Geneva Convention. It is entirely possible that an individual soldier could at least attempt to opt out of performing illegal actions. But, there’s a relativity good chance he would be punished instead of commended. Even if he were to succeed without any repercussions, there would still likely be many more soldiers willing to do what he refused to.

The Iraq War is also a relevant example of the falsity of soldiers fighting for our freedom. Saddam Hussein was no threat to the freedoms of everyday Americans. He was not attacking us and had no plans to do so. What American freedoms were at stake in Iraq? The United States government, with its domestic spying, draconian drug laws, and disregard for our civil liberties has done far more to reduce the freedoms of the average American than Saddam Hussein ever did or could have. Yet the war raged on, killing somewhere from 150,000 to 1 million Iraqis (estimates vary) and over 4,000 U.S. soldiers. In reality, the only thing this war did was make Americans less safe. The disposal of Saddam Hussein paved the way for the rise of the Islamic State, which is now viewed as a greater threat to attack the US than Saddam ever was. But beyond that, the killing of civilians (estimated to be more than 100,000 by the Iraq Body Count Project) furthered a problem that the CIA refers to as “blowback.” Blowback is the idea that there are indirect consequences resulting from US military and government actions. In this case, the murder of civilians (dismissed by many as “collateral damage,” as if the victims were less than human) and the destruction of homes from bombings and drone strikes resulted in increased anti-American sentiment, which leads to increased recruitment by terrorist groups and more attacks on innocent people. It’s not hard to imagine why the killing of an innocent family member or friend by a foreign invader could lead to someone having an intense feeling of anger; it only requires us to think of Iraqis as people like us and not statistics. If a foreign invader were bombing American cities and killing civilians, Americans would be rightfully outraged.

Blowback has not just been a problem stemming from the Iraq War; the United States has a long history of meddling in the Middle East. installing dictators (as it did in Iran in 1952), toppling leaders, and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people (if not more) in the process. U.S. interventionism in the Middle East was cited by Osama bin Laden as the main reason for his planning of the 9/11 attacks (they did not simply “hate us for our freedoms”). One would be hard-pressed to find an American war in the last fifty years in which our freedoms were actually being protected. Some would say Afghanistan, as the original purpose was said to be finding those responsible for 9/11. But it quickly turned into a nation-building exercise with many of the qualities of the Iraq War.

Even many of those who would agree that the aforementioned wars have made us less safe and agree that the killing of civilians in war is morally reprehensible believe that soldiers do not deserve any of the blame. They blame solely the politicians who send them to war, and excuse the actions of the soldiers by saying that they’re “just doing their jobs.” Of course, the politicians do deserve a great share of the blame and in no way escape moral responsibility for the atrocities they’ve proposed or supported. But such actions could not occur without members of the military willing to carry them out. If it were true that “doing their jobs” excuses their actions, it would mean that someone getting paid for something (even if that something is morally wrong) automatically makes that action ok, or at least excuses the person from any moral responsibility. If this were true, it would be ok for a contract killer to commit a murder; he’s simply doing his job. It would be ok for a slave-catcher to hunt down, kidnap, and return a runaway slave. A Nazi concentration camp guard would not deserve any blame for shooting those who attempt to run away; he is paid to do so, and he is just trying to feed his family. Of course, this is utter nonsense; individuals are responsible for the choices they make and the actions they commit. Soldiers choose to sign up to kill who they are told to by a government. Soldiers are the ones fighting pre-emptive wars against those who have done nothing to them or their country. Soldiers are the ones bombing hospitals to take out a suspected enemy, even though innocent people will be killed or disfigured in the process. Ultimately, unless someone is coerced into an action under the threat of violence or some other type of harm, that person is responsible for the things they do.

This is not to say that all soldiers, or even most, are bad people. While I’m sure there are a collection of soldiers that delight in exercising their power over others or killing those they view as sub-human (as Chris Kyle, the subject of the movie American Sniper, did), I have no problem asserting that many soldiers believe they are doing the right thing. I am also sure that some do so for selfless reasons, like protecting others. But someone believing that they’re doing the right thing does not mean that they actually are. Many who commit horrific acts do not believe they are doing anything wrong. Members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups believe that their actions are morally correct; this does not make them so. If soldiers are excused of moral wrongdoing when they aggress upon others because they believe they are protecting our freedoms, one would have to believe al-Qaeda is also excused of moral culpability when they kill innocent people. Every soldier, even the most self-sacrificing, who participates in the war machine shares at least some responsibility. But this is not to say that some don’t join for the benefits, both monetary and otherwise, that they receive. Americans in particular practice a form of troop worship: responding angrily to anyone who dares to criticizes soldiers, thanking soldiers “for their service” without even knowing what they’ve done, and valuing members of the military and veterans as a higher, protected class. Soldiers are also honored at public gatherings and sporting events. Beyond that, soldiers are paid for what they do, and receive benefits such as free or reduced tuition at colleges and universities. They also receive on the job training that can help them in other careers. Regardless of how taboo it is to say in our culture, there are selfish reasons to join the military; a low-skilled worker could create a better future for himself by joining the military than by taking a minimum-wage job.

Americans are taught from a young age in public schools that the government does what is best for us, and as an extension of the government, soldiers are here to protect our freedom. This is a “truth” that many carry with them throughout their lives, never bothering to rethink it and immediately shutting down those who attempt to dispute it. This is not by accident, but instead by design. No one would attempt to disagree that a Catholic school would teach what the Catholic Church would want to be told. No one would disagree that a Jewish school would teach from the viewpoint of Judaism. It is not a stretch to believe that a school run by the government would teach us what the government wants us to believe. Recognizing the differences between logical thought and our preconceived biases is the first step toward ending the reign of the military-industrial complex.