|Issue #77 • September/October, 2002|
Mac’s back. After a long absence our poker-playing friend from southern California, O.E. MacDougal, walked into the Oregon offices of Backwoods Home Magazine.
Poof, and there he was. No phone call, no e-mail, no letter saying he was on his way, no nothin.’ We hadn’t even heard from him for at least six months. Then, after an almost two-year absence, he just walked through the front door as if he’d stepped out for lunch and had just come back.
For a moment, I didn’t even realize who he was. Then, just as it dawned on me, I heard Dave yell from the other side of the office, “Mac!”
Mac smiled faintly as Dave crossed the room and I rose from my desk.
There were handshakes all around and Mac settled into one of the stuffed chairs while Dave and I returned to our desks.
“You look tired,” I said.
“Once I left Ventura, I drove nonstop until I got here. Made a couple of stops for gas and another couple to eat.”
“No sleep-stops?” I asked.
He shook his head no.
“Wine? A beer?” Dave asked.
Mac looked at the clock. “It’s about that time. I’ll have whatever you’re having.”
Dave looked at me as if to ask if I wanted to imbibe and I nodded, and he went to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of Concha Y Toro Merlot and popped the cork. He got three glasses from the table near the refrigerator and poured some into each, then passed them around.
We all sat back and there followed some catching up on the news. Mostly it was news about guys Mac and Dave knew way back when.
“What brought you up here?” Dave finally asked.
“I just wanted to get away. Do some fishing. Maybe even do some hiking and see where I may go hunting in the fall.”
“Well, we’d be glad to have you come back up,” Dave said.
“By the way,” he added, “we ran an eight-part series on the stuff you talked about last time you were here. We called it The Coming American Dictatorship.”
“I saw a few installments,” Mac said. He glanced at me and smiled because my byline was on it.
“It was generally well received,” Dave said.
“Well, that’s nice to hear,” Mac responded.
“But we got some letters, I added, “and I spoke with some people who either disagreed with or objected to things you said.”
He nodded as if this was something to be expected. “If most people actually agreed with me,” he said, “the world would be different.”
“If we have some time while you’re here, I’d like to do a wrap up,” I said.
“Do what?” he asked.
“You know, answer some of the objections people have.”
“Like what?” Mac asked.
“Among them some people have said you take the Constitution too literally. I’ve talked with people who say our interpretation of the Constitution has to evolve.”
Without saying anything, he looked at me funny, as if expecting further explanation.
“You know,” I said, “times have changed. They say we need some progress. We can’t be solving today’s problems with a document that’s 200 years old.
“We live in a more dangerous world,” I added.
“That’s what they’re saying?”
“Well, some of them are. They’re saying there have never been so many threats to the United States as there are today. The world we live in is more dangerous today than the world of our Founding Fathers.”
“Let me give you a different perspective on this,” he said:
• In 1776, this country went to war with what was then the world’s only superpower.
• We lived on a narrow strip of land along the Atlantic seaboard. For better or worse we had numerous wars, right here on what is today American soil, with the original inhabitants, the Indians.
• We feared the English, the French, and the Spanish. In fact, we feared all of the European powers.
• There were no police forces to speak of.
• The average person only lived into his or her 40s.
• No one knew if the United States would succeed or fail, and virtually every monarchy wanted us to ultimately fail, even if they were temporarily lending us their support during their struggles with each other. The thought of a true democratic republic succeeding, never mind flourishing, was a threat to monarchies everywhere.
“Despite all the dangers, despite living in a dangerous and uncertain world when all of the world’s powers wanted democracy and the concept of natural rights to fail, we gave ourselves a relatively weak central government and allowed more rights than any people had ever enjoyed in all of Western history.
“If anything, the world of 225 years ago was a more dangerous and uncertain world, and if there was ever a time with excuses to have a strong central government, a time to limit rights, that was it.
“Today we’re the world’s only superpower. No one can defeat us. Even a nuclear bomb placed in one of our major cities couldn’t defeat us. We have never been as secure from foreign forces as we are at this very moment. Yet, many people feel as though now we have to give up our freedoms.
“The irony is today, of all times, is the time when we should be enjoying our rights. Instead, we’re talking about how dangerous our rights are.”
He hesitated. “I will, however, say one thing: if we live in dangerous times today it’s not because of terrorists.”
“Then who is it because of?” Dave asked.
“Our own government.”
“How can you say that?” I asked.
“It’s been that way throughout all of history. The biggest enemy of mankind has not been foreign invaders, or terrorists, or serial killers, or muggers on the street. The most dangerous threat to humanity is almost always our own governments. Hitler killed million of Germans including German Jews. Stalin oversaw the deaths of 20 to 80 million Soviet citizens, Mao another 60 million in China. The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia killed 3 million Cambodians, and who knows how many people Idi Amin killed in Uganda? These aren’t isolated cases. All throughout history the primary killer of people has always been their own kind. Governments have been responsible for more deaths to the governed than war or plague. And the people who are most likely to deprive you of your rights and freedoms are your own government. Terrorists aren’t going to suspend your rights to free speech, the press, the right to bear arms, or jury trials. Neither are Colombian drug lords nor muggers. It’s John Ashcroft, Charles Schumer, George Bush, Tom Daschle, and their kind who will do it.
“Now, since 9/11, we’ve turned to our government for ‘safety’ and a large number of Americans have expressed their willingness to give up their rights—and my rights, too—for the promise of that safety. We’re being told we have to limit our rights and grant more power to politicians, bureaucrats, and the police. We have to give more power to our government. There’s a certain amount of irony in that.”
“But we can trust our government,” I said. “It’s not like other governments.”
“We can’t trust an organization that at one time both harbored and fostered slavery and, later, segregation; that abrogated its treaties with the original inhabitants of this continent—the Indians—whenever it chose to; that threw Japanese-Americans in concentration camps for no other reason than their ethnic background; that currently imprisons a larger percentage of its own citizens than any country in the world; that, for the last 30 years, has held the official position of government that property rights of the citizens don’t exist…I could go on all day, but it would be senseless. Suffice it to say that this country has a perfectly abominable record and cannot be trusted any more than any other country’s government.”
“But, compared to other countries, it could be worse,” I said.
“Of course it could be worse. But do you think it’s not worse because of the innate goodness of our politicians and bureaucrats, or do you think it’s because of the restraints our Constitution has placed upon them?”
“I’d say, it’s the Constitution we should trust,” Dave said.
I didn’t say anything.
Mac said, “We, the American people, should keep in mind that our Constitution, when duly followed and enforced, is a restraint on our government and a document that protects our freedom.
“And it is a mistake to give up any of our rights or to relax our vigilance against our own government, even in light of 9/11.”
The Federal Reserve
We sat silently for a few moments. Then I said, “One reader says you don’t understand the Federal Reserve, that it’s not federally controlled. He said you seem to think it’s a part of the federal government, but that it’s not. It’s a corporation owned by the wealthy. So there’s no government solution.”
He looked at me curiously.
“I don’t care who owns the Federal Reserve. If you go against its edicts, the Rockefellers and Rothschilds are not coming out to your house to visit you. It’ll be federal agents. Without Federal backing, the Federal Reserve is powerless. Even those who take that reader’s position realize that if the American people would just get control of their government, arguments about the Federal Reserve become moot.”
“That makes sense,” Dave said.
A universal draft
“We also got an e-mail from a fellow who said…well, here, let me read it to you.
“Sorry, but I cannot agree with John Silveira’s position endorsing involuntary servitude (or ‘citizens’ army’ as he puts it) in Part VII of his Coming of the American Dictatorship in issue #72.
“I agree we need a smaller military, but conscription gives a president a blank check for unlimited manpower in military adventures. Does anyone think if there had been no draft, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon could have pursued the immoral war in Vietnam? For anyone calling oneself a ‘libertarian’ a military draft should be an anathema! The armed services should be smaller, but they should always be filled with VOLUNTEERS. Conscription is one gateway to tyranny.
“It’s signed by a guy named Richard Clark.”
Mac nodded. “The war in Vietnam—and you must understand that it wasn’t legally a war because no war was declared—was possible because we only sent children. If 30, 40, and 50-year-olds had been called up, that war would never have happened.
“Furthermore, the Vietnam War ended because of the draft, not in spite of it. Young people took to the streets because they now had a direct stake in it.
“Now, if our military had been like the Swiss, where people up into their 50s are involved, Vietnam wouldn’t have even started in the first place.
“The military service I’m talking about, where every man serves, is quite a bit different from drafting 18-year-olds while the vast majority of mature adults stay home.
“And, just for the record, the small volunteer army Mr. Clark is proposing is what we had in the 19th century, and we were in a state of constant war—with the Indians, with the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the War with Spain thrown in. Try to imagine how popular warfare would have been if guys from 18 to 55 had to go. Particularly the wars against the Indians.
“On the other hand, if a universal citizen army, such as the Swiss have, was the door that leads to immoral wars, then the Swiss would have been involved in more wars than anyone. They’re not involved in any and haven’t been for centuries.
“However, having a military made up of volunteers, which is exactly what we have today, hasn’t brought about the kind of world Mr. Clark wants, nor has it stopped military adventures by the United States.
“As to involuntary servitude, what Mr. Clark and many other libertarians want is the ultimate in welfare. Instead of ‘give me your money, it’s ‘go die for me.’ I, on the other hand, believe there are certain duties, such as jury duty and responding to a subpoena that, though they could be construed as ‘involuntary servitude,’ are necessary to the functioning of a free society. And I hold that universal military service is part of our responsibilities if we want a freer society.
He thought another moment. “Furthermore, a professional military is dangerous. I know the Libertarian argument, that we’d get enough volunteers if someone were to invade our country. And it’s true. But that’s not even close to my point. But if you agree with me that the biggest threat to people since the beginning of civilization has not been wild animals, thugs in the streets, or invading armies, but our own governments, then a professional army must be seen as a danger.
“I believe today’s so-called volunteer army will become evermore the tool of foreign adventures and in the future it will be easier for a President to turn the military on the people.
Again I rummaged around on the mess on my desk, looking for another letter, but I couldn’t find it. “Another reader said the idea of making the bureaucracy smaller or even accountable is just wishful thinking on your part and can’t be done.”
“He’s right on the first part, but not the second.”
I stopped looking.
“What do mean ‘first and second parts?'” Dave asked.
“Well, I think he’s right about the part that the idea of the American people getting control of their bureaucracy is just wishful thinking. It’s the reason why I ended my talk on a down note. I don’t think the American people will actually do anything to change it because they don’t realize that the bureaucrats are now part of an unelected permanent government that neither the people nor the Congress exercise much control over. For this reason, the coming American dictatorship may not rest in the hands of one big dictator, but in the tens of thousands of hands of little ones.”
“Tens of thousands of bureaucrats,” Dave said.
“On the other hand, the part where the reader feels that it can’t be stopped is absurd.”
“Wait a minute,” Dave said. “Do you have examples of things bureaucrats do that we the people, and the Congress in particular, have no control over?” Dave asked.
“Sure. Congress has authorized tax deductions that the IRS has systematically ignored or denied. The Food and Drug Administration has ignored our rights under the 9th and 10th Amendments and has assumed suzerainty over our very bodies. And, just recently, Congress has authorized flight crews to carry firearms on commercial airliners, but the Secretary of Transportation, a Clinton appointee, has unilaterally nixed it. Both Congress and the people seem incapable of taking the steps necessary to stopping them. But, in reality, what recourse do the people or the Congress really have?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but I think you’re going to tell us,” Dave said and looked at me.
Mac smiled. “Am I becoming that predictable?” he asked.
“You’re very predictable,” I said. “But in an unconventional sort of way,” I added.
Mac found that funny.
“More wine?” Dave asked.
We all needed more and Dave rose from his chair and started filling each of our glasses.
Mac sat forward. “I’m not sure your remark is very flattering.”
“But you are kind of predictable,” Dave said. “Unfortunately, I’ve never seen it carry over to the poker table.”
“Well, thank heavens for that small blessing,” he said and sat back again.
“But, back to your question, if, at the very least, bureaucrats had to allow jury trials—before randomly chosen and fully informed jurors—and if they had to prove guilt, as opposed to having the accused prove innocence, 99 percent of their bureaucratic nonsense would evaporate. It would be too difficult and too expensive to enact and enforce anything but the most sensible regulations. The way it is now, when accused of anything by a bureaucrat, you are too often assumed to be guilty, unless you can prove you are innocent.”
“Maybe we should just get rid of the bureaucracy,” Dave said.
“No, though we have a problem with our bureaucracy, it can be useful, but only when it’s under control. We like to think of ourselves as having a representative form of government where elected officials go to the legislatures or Congress, debate the law and exercise the will of the people, all within the framework of the state and federal constitutions with a full eye on our rights. But once it’s in the hands of bureaucrats, it’s as if the Constitution no longer exists. And although we expect the laws that are passed to reflect the will of the people, more and more it isn’t the peoples’ representatives who are making policy, but unelected bureaucrats. Too often rules and regulations are made that thwart the will of the people, simply because the bureaucrats making the laws can’t be voted out, nor can they be recalled.
There was another lull in the conversation as Dave and Mac began talking about fishing and the prospects of hunting in the fall.
What do Libertarians want?
Finally I interrupted. “Hey, I said, “another theme running through some of the letters is that no one knows what Libertarians want. There are people who feel that if Libertarians had their way, nothing would be illegal. There’d wouldn’t even be traffic lights or stop signs.”
They stopped talking, but Mac didn’t say anything. He was looking to me for clarification.
“One even said we’ve got to draw the line somewhere; otherwise, we’d have people urinating in the street. We’d have people killing each other left and right.”
There was a long silence. Finally he asked, “What are you talking about?”
“Another objection to what you said in the series.”
“No, I mean, what’s this about traffic lights and peeing?”
“It’s just that we can’t have total freedom or we’d have anarchy and chaos.”
He looked around as if making sure I was talking to him. “Where are you going with this?” he asked. He appeared to be genuinely puzzled.
“We’ve got to have rules,” I said.
Finally he said, “You know, I’ve heard other people make statements like you just made. Things like there being chaos, anarchy, no stop lights when you drive, and who knows what else if Libertarians are elected to office. I’ve asked other Libertarians if they know anything about this or if this is somewhere in Libertarian doctrine or in the party platform and they’re at as much of a loss as I am.”
“Then what do you Libertarians want?” I asked.
“If you want a rough idea of what we want, take a look at the Constitution including the Bill of Rights. Basically, the Libertarians want what’s there. And if that’s not clear enough, try to think about what Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or George Mason would want. Do you think when they spoke of freedom they were talking about urinating in the streets or killing each other? Do you think they had urinating in the streets or anarchy when they wrote the Declaration of Independence or the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution?”
He looked at me for a long moment and I realized this wasn’t a rhetorical question. He wanted an answer.
“No,” I said.
“Well, Libertarians want roughly what those men wanted.”
“What do you mean ‘roughly’?” Dave asked.
“There are some differences and disagreements among Libertarians just as there were differences among the Founding Fathers.”
“What are some of the things Libertarians differ on?” Dave asked.
“There are different positions on abortion, the military, and even the death penalty.
“But there are very few differences concerning freedom of speech, freedom of religion, jury trials, the right to bear arms, property rights, and the like.
“On the other hand, the people who worry about free stop signs and peeing in the street must only be Democrats and Republicans because they’re the ones who bring it up when they’re talking about Libertarians.”
“But I’ll tell you what,” Mac said, “and I think I’m speaking for almost all Libertarians when I say this, we’ll make a deal with you: You give us back the Constitution, including the political freedoms in the Bill of Rights, and abide by the rules spelled out in Article I, Section 8, which sets limits on the power of the federal government, and Article V, which explains how the Constitution is to be amended—and it’s not by reinterpretation—and we’ll give you all the stop signs you want. We’ll put them every 50 feet, if that’s what you really want. And if the Democrats and Republicans want to pee in the streets, go ahead. I can assure you the Libertarians don’t really want to join you—at least the ones I know won’t. But if you guarantee us the right to do what we want with our own bodies, to express ourselves the way we want to, to have fair trials before juries that aren’t handpicked by either the state or defense attorney—but especially by the state—we’ll allow you to pee anywhere you want. And, if this is what it takes, we’ll even pee with you.”
I thought Dave was going to fall out of his chair.
“What about abortion,” I asked.
“That’s a genuine debate among Libertarians. There are those who feel abortion is okay because they focus on the rights of the woman. But there are also those who feel that a human’s civil rights begin with conception.”
“But at conception it’s not human yet. It’s just tissue.”
He shrugged. “You’re playing a semantics game here,” he said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“If a woman randomly gave birth to fish, dogs, and ponies, as well as human babies, I’d say you have a point calling it just tissue. But they don’t. So it’s hard to take the ‘just tissue’ arguments seriously.
“The question among Libertarians is: When do you want to confer civil rights? Do you choose to do that when the fetus is viable, do you wait until the child reaches the first grade? If you wait until the first grade you practice something akin to infanticide, and there are societies that condone infanticide. But pick a point when someone has rights. Just don’t use the ‘just tissue’ argument because I don’t understand it and I don’t buy into it.”
“This sounds like the same argument that exists between the pro-choice advocates and the pro-lifers,” Dave said, “except that they’re arguing about when life really begins, or when there’s a soul, or whatever.”
“Yes. But Libertarians generally confine it to a political argument,” Mac replied.
“So Libertarians don’t just march in lockstep,” I said. “They actually do disagree among themselves.”
“The ones I know do,” Mac said.
We sat there while Dave and Mac stared at me. They knew I wasn’t going to let them go on with more pleasant thoughts of hunting and fishing until I asked all of my questions.
I thought about other objections I’d heard.
“Yeah,” I said, “another opinion I’ve heard raised by several people is that there is far too much worry about ‘our rights.’ These people feel that if you just do what you’re supposed to do, you know, obey all the laws and regulations, and if you’ve got nothing to hide, you don’t have to worry about your rights.”
“They’re right,” Mac responded.
“Sure. But it’s not only true here, it’s true in every country. ‘Toe the line and you won’t get in trouble.’ Think about it: If the women in Afghanistan, living under the Taliban, just wore their burkas as they were told to, refrained from driving, and stopped trying to get an education they would have been all right.
“If students in South Korea and China hadn’t insisted on demonstrating for what they called human rights, they wouldn’t have been beaten by the police. If people hadn’t pressed for freedom and reforms in Chile in the ’80s, they wouldn’t have ‘disappeared,’ and if slaves had just toed the line in the 1800s they wouldn’t have been beaten or hung and there wouldn’t have been a War Between the States.
“In fact, if blacks in the American South hadn’t insisted on equality in the 60s, and if they hadn’t staged their sit-ins, civil rights marches, and access-to-the-ballot-box demonstrations they wouldn’t have been arrested, thrown in jail, or killed.”
He waited for a response, but I didn’t say anything.
“You see, all you’re really saying is, ‘Do as you’re told and you’ll be all right.’ And, John, it’s true. If we just let the government use all of the tools available to it, even if its actions contravene the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, you’ll be okay as long as you don’t complain and go along with the program. And if you don’t stand up for the people who do protest, and just let the authorities deal with them as they see fit, you’ll still be okay. In World War II the Nazis may have put Jews in ovens, but if you were Lutheran or Catholic and didn’t complain about it, nothing happened to you because you were doing as you were told and obeying the law.”
“But that stuff is different. What I mean is that if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear,” I said.
“And what do you mean by ‘wrong?’ Does the state determine what’s wrong? If so, then if freedom of religion is deemed illegal, or free speech goes away, or if we dispense with trial by jury, then as long as you don’t complain and you do what the government tells you, and you don’t stand up for people who are persecuted for demanding these freedoms, then you’re okay.
“That’s a prescription for total tyranny, especially as the bureaucrats, politicians, and special interests get bolder. They already deny us the right to carry arms without permits, they seize our property with civil forfeiture laws—without even charging us with crimes, they even deny us the right to do with our own bodies as we please with their medical laws and laws about consensual sex. They are making more and more things ‘wrong’ all the time. And worse yet is that a lot of the things they find wrong are what we call consensual crimes, like smoking pot or playing poker—although the states ignore their own lotteries. I can’t even enter into certain contracts with another consenting adult for medical aid, legal advice, or to have a rumpus room put on my house unless the state blesses it.”
“You’re saying there’s no virtue in just following orders,” Dave said.
“No, there isn’t.”
“What do we do?” Dave asked.
“You know, all the time I spoke before, you kept asking for solutions,” Mac said. “Here’s the solution to everything:
“If Americans really want their rights and constitutional government back, the first thing they’ll do is regain control of the jury system—our jury system—and most of the silly laws in this country will just evaporate away.
“Remember, it’s not the government’s jury system, it’s ours. And it’s not there for the benefit of the government nor of lawyers, but for us. We’ve let the entire jury system be subverted by lawyers, judges, bureaucrats, and politicians.
“But if Americans aren’t willing to regain possession of the jury system by making themselves aware of jury nullification and demanding random juries, then how are we going to regain possession of more difficult aspects of our government? We’re not.”
“But there are others who think that you’re wrong here,” I said. “They feel that in the United States it’s senseless to complain about the government because here the people are the government.”
“I don’t know who first came up with that saying,” he said. “It’s an Orwellian concept and it’s not true either in fact or in theory. If it were true, the Constitution wouldn’t be written the way it is. The Constitution is very clear that there are the people, the states, and the federal government. It is also pretty explicit in how it puts limits on the federal government—not that anyone pays much attention to that anymore.
“And, one other thing, this aspect of the Constitution—its purpose of being a restraint on government—should be taught in the schools. That would be another part of the solution, to start showing people what the Constitution actually says, right from the time we’re kids.”
Dave said, “Everything you’re saying still comes back to the fact that things aren’t going to get better unless the American people actually get off their collective butts and do something, and…”
Mac and I sat there for a moment waiting for him to finish..
“…and what?” I finally asked.
“…and, Mac, you don’t expect us to do it, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“We’re different, now. Different from the guys who founded this country. You know, if you ever get around to reading about the actual events that led up to the Revolutionary War, the things that led farmers to take to the heights of Bunker Hill to fight the British and which eventually led to the Declaration of Independence and the War itself, they will seem, by today’s standards, to be almost nothing. It was just a few unfair taxes, curtailment of some of our natural rights, and an unresponsive government. Americans today bear oppression hundreds of times worse with nary a protest. We’ve gotten used to it. And as we become accustomed to the abuses and incursions into our rights, what may be outrageous and unbearable today will become the norm tomorrow and new incursions will be made.
“And anyone who complains, or points out that our federal government is illegal by the terms of the Constitution, is stereotyped and branded as a right wing extremist, a carper, or a complainer.”
“And it is for those very reasons that you think an American dictatorship is inevitable,” Dave said.
“That’s right. I’ve come to think that subservience of the people to kings, bureaucrats, etc. is the natural state of mankind and that the concept that the people have individual rights is just so much rhetoric, and no one has ever said anything to make me think differently.”
“So, you stand by everything you said that I put in the series I wrote,” I said.
He thought several seconds, and then he nodded. “I do.”
“Then that answers the last objection I remember,” I said, “and that was why the series ended on a down note.”
“Freedom is always within our grasp,” he said. “The question is, will we reach for it? And I don’t think, as a people, we will.”
There was another silence.
“So, what do you want to hunt?” I asked.
“Upland birds, water fowl, maybe some deer.”
“Let’s start making plans,” Dave said.