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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Against Paranoia

There is a tendency among Libertarians to worry obsessively about every infringement by the state, to link up instances of state oppression, and to deduce from this either that there is a vast campaign to destroy freedom, or that we’re powerless to combat the tide of enslavement. This makes us seem obsessive, paranoid and miserable company, except to others of a similar emotional condition.

One of the problems is that it is literally possible for a single libertarian activist to discover every single instance of arbitrary power by state officials on a given day. The posting by Brian on some local bureaucratic monster in the U.S. state of Illinois is a case in point.

Most Europeans would be unable to pick out the state of Illinois on a map (so much for the vaunted European superiority at geography). Yet thanks to Brian’s posting, any English-speaking European looking for examples of state oppression could discover that – somewhere in Illinois – there is an instance of heavy-handedness happening now.

Consider what our knowledge in Europe would be of the Waco massacre if it had taken place before outside television broadcasts. Instead of assuming that everything’s worse because our databases are overflowing with complaints, we should note that we have the tools to expose state oppression almost anywhere on this planet. Think of Rodney King. Did police officers never beat black men before hand-held video cameras existed?

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2 comments to Against Paranoia

  • Well, I think I could probably pick out Illinois on a map (or at least beneath my feet). I like knowing about this story for obvious reasons. Besides, oppressive policies are often copied from state to state, country to country. Also, knowing that Oregon turned down a “single payer” health plan can give hope to libertarians the world round that yes, you too can make a difference.

    As for Rodney King, his case brought to light a phenomenon which had already been extensively documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and U.S.-specific civil rights groups. The video struck a nerve not only because it was graphic, but also because the situation (in lesser incarnations) was (and largely still is) common in L.A. and elsewhere. The public acquital of the police officers involved sent a message: “The police can do whatever they want and get away with it.”

  • To take a balanced and judicious view of the level of freedom an individual enjoys in each country is only fair.

    It has struck me as bizarre that many libertarians view freedom as a zero-sum game, with a finite amount that is always encroached upon by the state.

    Freedom is the ability of the individual to express their potential and, as such, knows few limits.