Slavery Reform or Serfdom Reform?
Imagine that we are living in the United States in 1855. Imagine that the Libertarian Party has become the third-largest political party in America. Reform-oriented Libertarians are in control of the L.P.
The reform-oriented Libertarians run candidates who advocate measures to reform slavery and improve the plight of the slaves. They advocate fewer lashings, better food, improved work conditions, and higher-quality food.
The slaves would undoubtedly be happy with the L.P.’s efforts. How could they not be?
But there would be one great big problem with all this. It wouldn’t be freedom, and the slaves would know it. To achieve freedom, it is necessary to remove, not reform, infringements on freedom. To achieve freedom for the slaves, it would be necessary to dismantle, repeal, and terminate slavery, not reform or improve it.
Reform-oriented Libertarians would undoubtedly have responded, “Americans are not ready for the abolition of slavery, Jacob. We have to give them ‘freedom’ in ‘bite-sized portions.’ Anyway, slavery is in the Constitution. We have to be practical and pragmatic. We have to settle for slavery reform and just hope that it will gradually lead to the end of slavery.”
I say balderdash to that sort of reasoning! I would have said: “The Libertarian Party must stand for freedom for the slaves, not reform of slavery. Sure, ending slavery is a difficult task — no doubt about that — but we must never let that dissuade us from continuing to make the case for doing so. It is the only way to find a sufficient number of Americans who will join us in our quest to bring freedom to the slaves. Making the case for slavery reform will only find those who are interested in reforming and improving slavery, not ending it.”
Today, every reform-oriented Libertarians is rock-solid when it comes to slavery. If slavery still existed, they steadfastly maintain, they would be leading the charge for ending it, not reforming it. It is, of course, a very commendable position.
But what has always befuddled me — and what continues to befuddle me — is why reform-oriented Libertarians fail to take the same principled position on the serfdom system under which we live today that they take on the slavery system under which 19th-century Americans lived. Why not advocate the dismantling, the end, and the termination of serfdom, just like they would be doing with slavery if slavery still existed today?
In 1944, Friedrich Hayek published his famous book The Road to Serfdom, in which he warned that Western societies were moving in the direction of serfdom. Most every Libertarian would agree that the end of that road was reached a long time ago and that Americans do, in fact, now live in a serfdom society.
That means that the American people exist to serve the state, not the other way around. We are all expected to work hard in order to provide the vast tax resources that the voracious welfare-warfare state needs on a daily basis to fund its ever-growing welfare and warfare operations.
But serfdom is not freedom, not even when it is reformed or improved, any more than slavery is freedom when it is reformed or improved. Therefore, why should any Libertarian today support serfdom reform, especially when he stands solidly against slavery reform?
Sure, it’s true that living as serfs is not as bad as living as slaves. Nonetheless, serfdom is still not freedom. Freedom entails the dismantling, not the reform, of infringements on freedom. When infringements on freedom are left intact, even if they reformed or improved and even if they are endorsed by Libertarians and couched as “libertarian,” the system is still serfdom, not freedom.
Reform-oriented Libertarians say that a genuine libertarian society is Utopian. We have to be practical and pragmatic, they say. We have to settle for what is possible, which, they say, necessarily means the reform and improvement of serfdom.
Nonsense! Utopian means impossible to achieve. Let’s look at America in, say, 1880: No income tax or IRS, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Federal Reserve, fiat (i.e., paper) money, immigration controls, minimum wage, occupational licensure, farm subsidies, education grants, public (i.e., government) schooling, drug war, Pentagon, CIA, NSA, FBI, foreign military bases, coups, torture, indefinite detention, secret mass surveillance, state-sponsored assassinations, war on terrorism, foreign interventionism, and much more.
How can something be Utopian when it has actually been achieved? And, no, I’m not saying that the 19th century was a “libertarian panacea,” as some reform-oriented libertarians have asserted in the past. What I’m saying is that if late 19th-century Americans could achieve those things, so can we. Why not make their achievements a minimum goal for us Libertarians today and build on them, with the aim of bringing into existence the freest society in history?
I say: Let’s leave serfdom reform to Democrats and Republicans. Let them be the ones advocating school vouchers, health-savings accounts, Social Security “privatization,” income-tax reduction and IRS reform, selective foreign interventionism, “comprehensive” immigration reform, education reform, monetary reform, regulatory reform, drug-war reform, Pentagon reform, CIA reform, NSA reform, FBI reform, getting libertarian-leaning conservatives appointed to regulatory commissions, and other serfdom reforms.
Let us Libertarians be the ones advocating liberty. Let us be the ones leading the world to the freest, most prosperous, most peaceful, and most harmonious nation in history.
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