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A book worth re-reading

This week end I got caught up in re-reading a book which I come back to at intervals: L. Neil Smith’s, ‘The Probability Broach’. Even if you have read the full novel and the numerous sequels about that parallel universe where there is real freedom, I strongly recommend you try the graphic novel treatment by Scott Bieser. It is great fun and a pleasant read and re-read and re-re-read.

Smith explains libertarianism by showing you what sort of world it would be if America had truly gone down the path of liberty instead of bureaucratic state control. His alternate universe is an educational one… and enticing. Bieser’s rendering of it in classic comic book format draws you in and injects our memes directly into your lower brain stem. Read this book and all your bases are belong to LP!

I always have it sitting in view, ready for me to thumb through at the odd moment.

11 comments to A book worth re-reading

  • Alternatively, the graphic novel can be read online at – http://www.bigheadpress.com/tpbtgn?page=1

  • tomWright

    While I certainly wish the U.S. had gone more down the path of liberty, I feel if it had gone as far as L. Neil depicts, America would look more like a Balkanized, christian version of the Sharia-ridden Levant.

    Looking at what has happened with fundamentalist Mormon compounds, and other lesser known cults like the Hutterites, all with varying degrees of isolation from the outside world, and varying amounts of internal oppression.

    Add to that, the seemingly bottomless well humanity has for suffering under rulers and the never-ending supply of would-be tyrants and power-mad political and religious messiahs, and I have little doubt that L. Neils Utopian fantasy is just that: Fantasy.

    Humans are apes, and behave like apes. We have troops, alpha males and females and all the trappings of a hierarchical social structure. So some sort of government is inevitable. In simple gatherer-hunter cultures, the structure is simple, in more technological culture, it is more complex.

    L. Neils anarchist vision is not an alternative, it is an invitation to chaos and eventual tyranny by the brutal and violent.

    While western democracies are far from getting it right, they have done better over all than the alternatives.

    That does not mean we shouldn’t try to improve them, if that moves towards more freedom for people to pursue peaceful activities and also defend against those that pursue not-so-peaceful ones.

  • nick g.

    In fact, whilst I like the book, it could do with a better name. ‘The World That Killed Washington’ would be a better title, because it’s more attantion-grabbing.
    And I think he is wrong on another point- the US would have a lot of strong states, all differing, instead of his idea of an Anarcho-Capitalist free-for-all. Still, something like Switzerland is better than Uncle Samson, the balled Eagle.

  • Sam Duncan

    Dale, CC, thank-you. I stayed up till 4am reading the graphic novel online. (I almost posted a comment then, but I’m bad enough at composing a coherent case at the best of times.) Sod the repeated attempts to get anAtlas Shrugged movie off the ground; I want to see a film or miniseries of that.

    Having said that, I have similar reservations to tomWright. I don’t see how people bent on the exercise of power over others – Smith’s Hamiltonians – can ever be kept in check without a strong but minimal government dedicated to doing so. They’re too good at persuading people it’s for their own good for even a heavily armed citizenry to be enough guarantee against them. It’s not that I don’t trust the people; I don’t trust “Hamiltonians” to be straight with them. “Charming liars”, as one character called them.

    The point being that the book’s version of early American history is entirely plausible: a people who recently threw off an oppressive government see another being created in their own back yard, and repeat the process. But that’s not what actually happened. These people, so recently filled with revolutionary fervour, were happy to accept from “their own” what they’d rejected from a King. Free people can be duped with kind words – Mister President, not “His Majesty” – and charm. Politicians know it, and rely on it.

    One other thing struck me: the similarity of Smith’s idea of what went wrong in revolutionary America – the creation of a permanent federal government – and what’s going on right now in Europe. It’s especially striking since the book was written long before the European project’s true nature was widely known: I’m sure the coincidence is entirely unintentional, but no less significant for that.

  • TomWright and others:

    Firstly, what is wrong with people living in isolated compounds if they wish – they are not harming others.
    Secondly – in an anarchist society they may decide they do not need to since the government backed oppression will not be there.

    As for who will keep those wishing to wield power over others – certainly not the government, since the government is those who wish to wield power over others. True they come into contact with other gangsters who’d like to take on the role of government, but that doesn’t mean that they themselves are not gangsters – they use force to get what they want.

    As to who will prevent that – those who do not want people to rule over them – they will cooperate to prevent it.

    SEKIII had some ideas about how this would word and how to obtain it which he set forth in his New Libertarian Manifesto.
    David Friedman, Murray Rothbard and many others have done a lot of work on this from a modern libertarian perspective, and the individualist anarchists of the 19th Century made a lot of progress into how a non-state society would work.

  • nick g.

    Weren’t the colonials revolting over the issue of representation? They were being taxed, but had no say in the matter.
    If so, then they had already conceded tax-free liberty in exchange for a share in government. They never objected to ALL taxes, nor to the idea of a government over them. They didn’t have as thorough an understanding of libertarianism as we do now, and they probably believed they needed something like Congress to co-ordinate armed men in case the British tried to re-invade, or other European powers decided to take the land.
    Once you concede on any taxes, history shows that governments take root and grow!

  • Midwesterner

    what went wrong in revolutionary America – the creation of a permanent federal government -

    What went wrong was not the federal government, it was the federal government unilaterally redefining itself as a national government. Step one, repeal the 17th amendment (direct election of senators). Get the states’ power working to rein in the national government.

  • Laird

    Agreed, Mid. And Step two would be to modify Article 2 to specify that the selection of delegtes to the Electoral College must be by the state legislature itself, not via general election. We need to move farther away from the concept of election of the President by popular vote.

    I find it ironic that we (that is, everyone from elected officials, to the media, to citizens in general) persist in referring to the national government as the “federal government”, when in fact it is anything but “federal” in nature.

  • Midwesterner

    It appears to have been rooted in deliberate bait and switch by the Federalists (Hamilton, et al) who were actually Nationalists and the true federalists were stuck with Anti-Federalist for a moniker.

    This is probably not the thread for it, but I am interested in your thoughts re the Electoral College. Perhaps when another thread on how to restrain government comes along you can elaborate.

  • Laird

    You’re right; this is not the thread for such a discussion. I’m sure the two of us could suck up a lot of bandwidth on that one!

    And you’re also right about the usurpation of the “Federalist” name by Hamilton et al. That was truly an eigtheenth century marketing coup. (Fitting that this closes the loop and brings us right back to The Probability Broach, since Hamilton was the principal villain there.)