Monday, November 30, 2009
Babylon & Beyond
Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond
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SAUDI ARABIA: Kingdom steps up hunt for 'witches' and 'black magicians'
November 26, 2009 | 7:59 am
When the popular 46-year-old Lebanese psychic Ali Sibat went on-air and made his predictions about the future, the phone lines of the satellite television station Sheherazade used to be flooded with calls.
But what the star psychic probably did not predict was that his claims to supernatural prowess would land him a death sentence.
"He was the most popular psychic on the channel," the Lebanese news agency Naharnet quoted Sibat’s lawyer May Khansa as saying. "The number of callers, including from all over the gulf, spiked in number when he appeared."
But while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia last year, Sibat was spotted by religious police in the holy city of Medina. Their job it is to battle vice and uphold virtue in the ultraconservative kingdom. So they arrested Sibat in his room at the Medina Hotel on charges of sorcery.
On Nov. 9, Sibat was given a death sentence by a Mecca court for allegedly practicing witchcraft.
Sibat’s fate is common in Saudi Arabia.
Scores of alleged witch doctors, fortunetellers, and black magicians each year are dragged through the Saudi courts, including Fawza Falih, who’s been on death row since 2006 for witchcraft.
Her accusers include a man who claims the 51-year-old, illiterate Falih is the reason for his impotence.
The witch hunt in the kingdom and a recent rise in witchcraft and sorcery cases are causing concern among human rights groups. News reports say at least two other people have been snatched for witchcraft only in the last month.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi government Tuesday to overturn Sibat’s death sentence and all other witchcraft convictions for crimes the group says are loosely defined and used in an arbitrary way.
“Saudi courts are sanctioning a literal witch hunt by the religious police,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a news release. “The crime of ‘witchcraft’ is being used against all sorts of behavior, with the cruel threat of state-sanctioned executions.”
Judging from previous witchcraft convictions in Saudi Arabia, anyone who publicly displays what authorities describe as suspicious behavior risks becoming a target of the religious police.
Take the case of Muhammad Burhan, who carried a phone booklet with writings in the Tigrinya alphabet from his native Eritrea. Perhaps it was his way of protecting himself against the evil forces out there. Maybe it was his lucky charm for a little extra success in his love life or in business.
But the booklet convinced Saudi authorities that Burhan was a black magician and charged him with "charlatanry," for which he was lashed 300 times and sentenced to 20 months behind bars. He was then deported after having served more than double the prison term he was sentenced to, according to Human Rights Watch.
Most recently, the Saudi daily Okaz carried a report on the arrest of an Asian man nabbed by the religious police in Ta’if on Nov. 19 for “sorcery” and “charlatanry.”
The man was said to have used supernatural powers to make people fall in love with him and to solve marital disputes.
This year, Saudi Arabia started implementing what it called a "comprehensive judicial reform," but it has yet to write down its criminal laws.
Human Rights Watch called on King Abdullah to order the codification of criminal laws and ensure they comply with international human rights standards.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Someone in a costume awaits the screening of a Harry Potter film in a cathedral in Gloucester, England, this year. Credit: Matt Cardy / Getty Images
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Suicide rates in the U.S. military are at record levels. Are these deaths a result of repeat deployments? Are the U.S. armed forces dealing with mental health issues in a meaningful way? Dina Gusov...
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Antiwar Radio with Scott Horton on KPFK
Scott Horton is a 10+ year veteran of Austin's leftist and punk rock pirate radio scene and assistant editor at Antiwar.com. In that time, Scott has conducted over 1,000 interviews, with some of the best, most insightful, most authoritative jounalists, columnists, authors and experts discussing the vital matters of war and peace, torture, surveillance, and all matters related. Like Chalmers Johnson, Scott believes that a nation cannot have an empire abroad without repression at home. The purpose of the weekly program would be to illuminate this critical connection.
With his show, Scott will bring his informed, compelling and irreverent style to KPFK. In his devotion to peace, civil liberties, human dignity and respect, Scott embraces and advances the Pacifica mission. KPFK audiences will appreciate the practiced, professional, yet accessible approach that Scott brings to his broadcast journalism.
Here's what the Austin Chronicle (Austin's liberal weekly--their version of the LA Weekly) said when he won a 2007 Best of Austin Award.
"Best Iraq War Insight and Play-by-Play: ‘Antiwar Radio,’ 95.9/92.7FM--A locally based program broadcasting in Austin, streaming and podcasting worldwide online, Antiwar Radio offers high-caliber commentary and guest interviews on the ongoing Mideast misadventure. Host Scott Horton, armed to the teeth with little-reported news and info, jettisons the pleasantries and PC radio lingo and tells listeners how it really is. As an added bonus, Horton often verbally lays waste to those seeking to prolong the billion-dollar bloodbath. Antiwar Radio can be heard on local frequency KAOS 95.9 and 92.7 – twice recognized on these very pages for fine iconoclastic broadcasting: Arrrrrrr."
Here are some comments about Scott Horton's work from guests on his Antiwar.com radio program:
“I have participated in a great many radio interviews here and abroad. They vary widely in quality. Scott Horton’s program, Antiwar Radio, was one of the most serious that I can recall: very good questions and discussion on well-chosen issues. I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to appear.” --Noam Chomsky, Professor, MIT, author of Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies
"Antiwar Radio is one of the last remaining outlets for truly independent thinking, without a facile left-right agenda. Scott Horton's show is not just informative and challenging to whatever views you might foolishly hold, but it's entertaining--hell, it's like a bottle of fresh cold water in the middle of the Death Valley that is today's media. That's why it's the only program I regularly download. You know Antiwar Radio is truly independent by the way it collects enemies and detractors like trophies, from both sides of the aisle. It's too bad more people didn't listen--we wouldn't have been in the mess we're in today, broke, declining, and geopolitically spent. Until America comes back to its senses, we need Antiwar Radio the way Soviet dissidents needed their samizdats." --Mark Ames, eXiled Online, author of Going Postal
“Antiwar radio has been one of the few media in which power considerations and domestic U.S. politics have not had their pull on the programming and the commentator. I have always jumped at the chance to be interviewed by Scott Horton. He has established a very high standard for truly original points of view on American foreign policy and critical analysis of the failures of the American establishment -- in particular its disastrous decisions to turn away from international law on treatment of prisoners, defending human rights in the face of political opposition, and openness to the greatest degree possible in discussing intelligence collecting activities. I would strongly welcome having his voice appear on KPFK.” --Chalmers Johnson, author of the Blowback Trilogy
“Over the past several years, I've been interviewed by countless radio hosts -- well over 100, from the largest to the smallest stations -- and Antiwar's Scott Horton is, in every respect, among the very best. He is invariably well-prepared and articulate in the extreme, and his interviews, as a result, are always thought-provoking and informative. I have found all of my appearances on Antiwar Radio to be enjoyably challenging, and I listen to Horton's other interviews whenever I am able.” –Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com
“In my area, which is the Middle East, I have found Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio to be a very well informed host who does his homework, knows his stuff and is not afraid to both ask piercing and challenging questions of his guests and to raise issues that shake up conventional thinking. As such, Scott in his style does a great public service and I would hope that he could reach a wider audience.” --Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, former adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative.
“Scott conducts lively and intelligent interviews. He is well-informed on the subjects and his questions provoke the imagination.” –Saul Landau, filmmaker, author of Bush & Botox World: Travels Through Bush’s America
“I thought Scott Horton's interviews of me were highly intelligent and well informed. This has made several long interviews enjoyable because he does not ask the usual cast of questions which I have answered time out of mind. He is particularly good at responding to what I am saying rather than reverting to a sterile and predictable list of questions.” –Patrick Cockburn, London Independent
“In these dark years, Antiwar Radio has been a vital antidote to the torrent of misinformation from state-influenced media. It has been a pleasure to be interviewed by Scott, since he is invariably well informed, while never losing touch with his passion and commitment -- essential ingredients for a first class journalist.” –Andrew Cockburn, author of Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall and Catastrophic Legacy
“Antiwar Radio is cutting edge and unique. As a frequent guest on the show, I am constantly impressed with the quality of the questions and the open mindedness of the host. Despite our political disagreements, the show aims to inform the audience and let them come to their own conclusions without taking sides. It is smart, and at times even biting, but it is an honest and respectful forum where intelligent discussions take place.” –Larisa Alexandrovna, Managing Investigative News Editor, RawStory.com
“Scott Horton is the best informed interviewer on U.S. Middle East policy I've encountered since I've been doing interviews on radio and television. He always cuts to the heart of the issue or issues and keeps the focus there long after others would tire. He has a unique voice which deserves a much wider audience.” –Dr. Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service
“It is a pleasure doing an interview with Scott Horton for Antiwar.com. His talk show has a solid track record. He is always right on the cutting edge of the news, with a stellar selection of guests and always very well informed questioning. My colleague [Harper’s Washington Editor] Ken Silverstein also loves it and has told me so repeatedly.” –The Other Scott Horton, International Human Rights Attorney, Harper’ magazine, Professor, Columbia and Hofstra Law Schools
“Antiwar Radio is a unique and indispensable resource. Where else can you hear such a rich mix of views and insights? From Noam Chomsky to Ron Paul, from John Cusack to Seymour Hersh, from Daniel Ellsberg to Naomi Wolf -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Scott Horton is a remarkable interviewer, giving his guests scope to develop their thoughts and provide context and nuance far beyond the soundbite culture of most other media outlets, even as he keeps the program on track with his own pertinent questions and observations. It's certainly one of the best radio experiences that I've ever known, either as a participant or a listener.” –Chris Floyd, author of Empire Burlesque: High Crimes and Low Comedy in the Bush Imperium
"Antiwar Radio is one of the most consistent voices against Empire on the web. The list of guests is not only impressive, it's unmatched in its intellectual diversity. Scott's show cuts across all political ideologies, expanding the envelope of discourse at every turn. A true asset in our quest for justice, Antiwar Radio would bring a new, critical, articulate voice to KPFK." --Joshua Frank, CounterPunch
“My experience with Scott Horton was extremely favorable. He asked very intelligent questions, let me answer them without ****interrupting****, and showed himself in every way to be an excellent interviewer. I think this is to be unusual for an interviewer – I have given many – and anyone who hires him will be as pleased as I was." -Gabriel Kolko, historian, author of The Age of War: The United States Confronts the World
“As the U.S. and its allies wage multiple wars, antiwar activists must study and try to comprehend information about the people who endure the consequences of these wars, while also relying on analysts to help us understand what motivates the war makers. What's more, it's important to consider strategies for abandoning war. Antiwar radio provides needed education during a time when the military-industrial-congressional-media complex maintains a vice-like grip on education about U.S. foreign policy. Scott Horton refuses to accept the notion that foreign policy should be based on threat and force. His preparation for interviews involves a long history of engaging in news analysis and conversation about current events. I feel quite appreciative of his commitment to outreach and education within the community of antiwar activists and greatly hope that his voice will be amplified well beyond this community. Please accept this note as an enthusiastic commendation to you of Scott Horton, talk show host” -- Kathy Kelly, Coordinator, Voices for Creative Nonviolence
“Antiwar Radio, a service of the nation's most complete geopolitical news and leading antiwar internet site, makes a substantial daily contribution to an enlightened public debate. This is all to the credit of Scott Horton, an extraordinarily well-informed and engaging talk show host. Scott unerringly locates high-profile guests, men and women of insight and accomplishment, that challenge, reveal, and inform. His subjects are important; his style is lively. Scott has been a frequent guest - and even filled-in for me in in my absence - on my popular talk show in Phoenix. I couldn't ask for better!” -Charles Goyette, former Talk Show Host, Air America, Phoenix, AZ
"Scott Horton never shirks controversy. He finds voices that the mainstream doesn't even know it needs to hear. He's regularly ahead of the curve." --Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com
“I had the pleasure of being interviewed on Scott Horton's show during the last blockade on Gaza. I extremely enjoyed the chat, and it is something I am sure I'd love to repeat. I am a fan of Antiwar Radio, because I am also an Antiwar.com fan. Being a Middle Easterner, this show kind of reflects what we personally think as Arabs, and as Middle Easterners regarding the wars, especially Iraq's and Afghanistan's. Before the show I was a bit taken aback, but just after a few seconds, I was open and having a pleasant conversation rather than an official interview. I like Scott's method of leading conversations in an extremely casual-friendly, yet professional path.” –Rana El-menshawi, IslamOnline, Cairo, Egypt
“Scott Horton and Antiwar Radio have emerged as an essential franchise and extremely valuable, credible platform in the network of thinkers, writers, policy analysts, and activists that are working hard to achieve far greater transparency about US foreign policy and national security issues than existed before 9/11. Horton is more anti-war than I am, more libertarian than I am, probably more liberal than I am -- but I have always found him smart, engaging, fair and reasonable and highly worth every moment I have spent with him on his radio show.” --Steve Clemons, Director, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation and publisher, The Washington Note
"Antiwar Radio is, in my opinion, unique and a national treasure. There is no more important issue than war and peace but the national media accepts without question the status quo policies that have brought misfortune in Iraq and Afghanistan. Antiwar Radio takes no prisoners, challenges all assumptions, and examines critical issues through well informed and penetrating interviews that go far beyond the conventional bumper sticker thinking that fills the airwaves. Scott Horton is always completely prepared and challenges the interviewee to make his case, resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable and informative radio experience. It is the way talk radio should be." –Philip Giraldi, former CIA officer, Antiwar.com
“Passionate, well-informed and committed to exposing the crimes of government, Scott Horton has always been a delightful interviewer, on the many occasions that we have discussed the ‘War on Terror’ on Antiwar Radio. I'm always happy when an email arrives asking if I'd like to talk.” –Andy Worthington, author of The Guantanamo Files
“I love being a guest on Scott Horton’s Antiwar Radio. Each interview demonstrates that he has done his homework, knows the background of the cases at issue, and asked insightful questions. The time always flies by and left me wishing we had more time to talk.” –Elaine Cassel, attorney, author of The War on Civil Liberties
The proposed program will be one hour weekly, each show featuring two or three guests on the vital issues of the day.
http://www.larouchepac.com -- Lyndon LaRouche delivers a powerful address. As the economic breakdown is playing out as he has warned, according to his "triple curve" forecast, we have seen the R...
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
800,000 Americans Busted Annually For Pot
By Sherwood Ross
Mon, 09 Nov 2009 17:18:00 +0000
(The Intelligence Daily) -- Seven million Americans have been arrested since 1995 on marijuana charges and 41,000 of them are rotting in federal and State prisons---but the public is starting to rebel against “the preposterous war on pot,” two political scientists say. Thousands of other pot users and sellers are confined in local jails as well.
“People convicted of possessing even one ounce of marijuana can face a mandatory minimum sentence of a year in jail, and having even one plant in your yard is a federal felony,” progressive organizer Jim Hightower and co-author Phillip Frazer point out in the November issue of “The Hightower Lowdown.”
Police arrest someone in America every 36 seconds on marijuana charges, with a record 872,000 arrests made in 2007, “more than for all violent crimes combined,” Hightower and Frazer point out. They note that 89 per cent of all marijuana arrests “are for simple possession of the weed, not for producing or selling it.”
They argue the drug war “is doing far more harm than marijuana itself ever will,” because (1) it diverts hundreds of thousands of police agents from serious crimes “to the pursuit of harmless tokers”; (2) it costs taxpayers at minimum $10 billion a year to catch, prosecute, and incarcerate marijuana users and sellers; (3) it enables government to snatch the cars, money, computers and other properties of people caught up in drug raids even if they have had no charges filed against them; and (4) it allows “police agents at all levels to trample our Bill of Rights in their eagerness to nab pot consumers.”
The drug war has also unleashed a torrent of racism in the form of unjust sentencing, which confines crack-cocaine users who are mostly black to prison for longer terms than powder snorters, who are mostly white.
Hightower and Frazer say authorities have perverted the infamous “Patriot Act” of 2001 for use in non-terrorism cases, allowing “sneak-and-peak” search warrants to be used in drug war probes, including pursuit of marijuana users. The Act’s provisions were supposed to be applied only for suspected terrorist acts. Only three of the Justice Department’s 763 requests for “sneak-and-peak” last year were used for terrorism searches, they report in Lowdown.
By outlawing drugs, Hightower and Frazer contend, Congress has created “a vast, murderous narco-state within Mexico” to satisfy U.S. consumer demand for the drugs. And Plan Colombia, the multi-billion operation started by Bill (“I didn’t inhale”) Clinton in 2000 to eradicate cocoa production there, has failed, judging by the 15 per cent increase in coca production.
For all the legislation against it, pot is more plentiful than ever and 10 per cent of Americans told surveyors they have enjoyed using it in the previous year while four in ten say they used it at some point in their lives. Plus, a 2005 survey found 85 per cent of high school seniors claimed pot was “easy to get”, easier than alcohol, which is a regulated drug, Hightower Lowdown points out.
The publication quotes a University of Michigan student who told them, “If the government trusts society to use alcohol responsibly, it is idiotic to assume citizens are somehow incapable of responsible use of cannabis.”
A Gallup opinion poll in 2005 found that 51 per cent of Americans stating alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana and 52 per cent saying it should be legalized, taxed, and regulated.
State and local governments, Hightower and Frazer report, “have begun walking step by step away from the weed war.” Since 1996, 13 states from Rhode Island to Alaska have passed laws to allow growing and distribution of doctor-prescribed marijuana for medical purposes. What’s more, pot possession is no longer criminalized in a dozen states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oregon.
The drive now is for outright legalization of pot, the authors say. This would enable officials to take the exorbitant profit and violence out of illicit black-market weed by legalizing it and turning it into a revenue-producer that would rake in tax dollars.
Instead, the Office of National Drug Control Policy says, Americans spend $9 billion a year buying pot from Mexico; $10 billion on pot from Canada, and $39 billion on home-grown pot, now America’s Numero Uno cash crop---“topping the value of corn and wheat combined.” By one estimate, legalization would produce annual tax revenues of $6.2 billion. In Portugal, which legalized all drugs in 2001, hard drug use has showed a stunning decline while the numbers of people getting detox aid has soared, Time magazine reported last April 26th. By contrast, USA has the highest rates of drug use in the world.
As Rep. Barney Frank has said, “I now think it’s time for the politicians to catch up to the public. The notion that you lock people up for smoking marijuana is pretty silly.”
There is, however, a downside to the legalization of pot: some of the individuals in the legal system who depend on the arrests of pot smokers might have to find worthwhile jobs instead. Look at all the paychecks that get cut: The cops make their collars. The bail bondsmen get their rake off. The prosecutors make their cases. The social workers write up their interviews. The clerks push their papers. The lawyers collect their fees. The judges render their verdicts. The prison guards make their rounds. The vendors sell their baloney sandwiches. The construction firms build their additions. And the shrinks nod their heads.
One last thought: cigarettes kill 440,000 Americans every year and sicken millions---but no one reportedly ever has been killed by smoking a joint. If the growers and peddlers of pot belong in jail, where do the manufacturers of brand name cigarettes and cigars belong? In two years’ time they kill more Americans than all the Blue and Grays who died (620,000) in the Civil War. Indeed, in the next two years, 440 times as many Americans will be killed by smoking cigarettes than all U.S. troops killed in six years of fighting in Iraq. While this writer opposes the use of all drugs, and does not indulge himself, it’s easy to see the prosecution of pot smokers and growers for victimless crimes is, as Hightower Lowdown (email@example.com) reports, “preposterous.”
(Reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He formerly worked for the Chicago Daily News and wire services.)
By Jessica Geary
There has never been a good war or a bad peace.~ Benjamin Franklin
I abhor war and view it as the greatest scourge to mankind.~ Thomas Jefferson
I am deeply anti war, I am accused of lacking "patriotism" because I don't feel that murder and destruction are conducive to a civilized humanity. I don't apologize for this. I assert that my abhorrence of war is a manifestation of my love for, not only, my country, but for humanity as a whole. To me empty jingoistic nationalism is not patriotism, it is hubris and a maniacal assertion of one's own supposed superiority. It's the manifestation of an empty soul. To accept the idea that fealty to the state is patriotic is to renounce the very heart of the American ideal of a free society. Our country was founded in the belief that the individual had natural rights and no government was divinely granted any power that infringed upon those rights. I am an un-terrified Jeffersonian Democrat, I believe in freedom and I know from history that war is the main mechanism in which the state destroys the liberties of those who live within its borders. So, let us beg the question: What is patriotism?
"...patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be." Socrates
Much like the love of my children leads me to correct them when they make a mistake and teach them to be independent, thoughtful, and polite, my love for my country leads me to want to correct it when it is wrong. To sit silently while atrocities are committed using my money and in my name makes me a compliant co-conspirator in the murder, rape, and theft the state partakes in. My love of the American ideal makes me want my country to act in accord with said ideals, not use it as a shield from criticism. The founders were critical of war, entangling alliances with other nations, and blind devotion to the state. When I question our naked aggression towards others I am carrying on the tradition of American patriotism, I am suspect of the rationalizations I hear and I won't defend the state because I am not willing to sanction their blatant disregard for human life and liberty. I am also unwilling to sacrifice my neighbor's, or my own, children on the altar of the US quest to maintain its bellicose empire. It's time to renounce the broken idea that we can make the world "safe for democracy" or "spread our goodness" by the barrel of a gun. It is not our job to police the world and it is folly to think otherwise.
"PATRIOTISM, n. 1) The inability to distinguish between the government and one's 'country'; 2) A highly praiseworthy virtue characterized by the desire to dominate and kill; 3) A feeling of exultation experienced when contemplating heaps of charred 'enemy' corpses; 4) The first, last, and perennial refuge of scoundrels."
Most self-styled patriots I have come into contact with are not patriotic, they are collectivists who derive their sense of self-worth from vicarious glory, which unfortunately is garnered by murder and torture. There is no threat to them as they sit safely at home criticizing anyone who doesn't blindly follow the talking heads that endlessly reinforce the false virtue of worshiping the state. This attacking of the character of those who oppose war is nothing new:
"But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
As a Nazi minister he was knowledgeable about the state's use of propaganda to further the war racket. The state needs external, as well as internal enemies, to tighten their control over their own people, any war will do.
The "War on Drugs" has been the excuse for the militarization of our local police forces, while the "War on Terror" is an ambiguous unending war that is used to step up the surveillance on and the restrictions of the liberties of the American people. For the state, we are the true enemies, not Muslims in the sands of a far off desert, however they need to maintain their mask of benevolent authority. They do this by enlisting the people themselves into their service by furthering the myth that they are a legitimate enterprise, that they need to go to war for the "good of the people". There has been no cases throughout the entirety of human history where war was justifiable, it has always been those in power using those they lord over as sacrificial lambs in order to keep and expand their power .
For me to follow my conscience I must leave you with this thought: By using violence in any way that is not purely defensive, we are committing an act of evil. If we break our laws in the name of justice, there is no justice. I refuse to submit to the idea that I must support the state to be a patriot, to me dissent is patriotic, as is peaceful resolution of our conflicts. Anything else is just an excuse to hate blindly. So, if this makes me unpatriotic I wear the label proudly, as it means that I think and speak for myself.
The Right to Ignore the State
by Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an incredible prophet and a magnificent defender of laissez-faire. Among his numerous works is The Man Versus The State, first published in 1884. That book launched one of the most spirited attacks on statism ever written. He ridiculed the idea that government intervention of any kind "will work as it is intended to work, which it never does." He drew on his tremendous knowledge of history, citing one dramatic case after another of price controls, usury laws, slum clearance laws, and myriad other laws which, touted as compassionate policies, intensified human misery. Below is one of his essays that explores the principles of self-government, which Henry David Thoreau defended in his seminal essay, Civil Disobedience.
The Right to Ignore the State
1. The Right to Voluntary Outlawry
As a corollary to the proposition that all institutions must be subordinated to the law of equal freedom, we cannot choose but admit the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry. If every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man, then he is free to drop connection with the state — to relinquish its protection, and to refuse paying toward its support. It is self-evident that in so behaving he in no way trenches upon the liberty of others; for his position is a passive one; and whilst passive he cannot become an aggressor. It is equally self-evident that he cannot be compelled to continue one of a political corporation, without a breach of the moral law, seeing that citizenship involves payment of taxes; and the taking away of a man's property against his will, is an infringement of his rights. Government being simply an agent employed in common by a number of individuals to secure to them certain advantages, the very nature of the connection implies that it is for each to say whether he will employ such an agent or not. If any one of them determines to ignore this mutual-safety confederation, nothing can be said except that he loses all claim to its good offices, and exposes himself to the danger of maltreatment — a thing he is quite at liberty to do if he likes. He cannot be coerced into political combination without a breach of the law of equal freedom; he can withdraw from it without committing any such breach; and he has therefore a right so to withdraw.
2. The Immorality of the State
"No human laws are of any validity if contrary to the law of nature; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority mediately or immediately from this original." Thus writes Blackstone, to whom let all honour be given for having so far outseen the ideas of his time; and, indeed, we may say of our time. A good antidote, this, for those political superstitions which so widely prevail. A good check upon that sentiment of power-worship which still misleads us by magnifying the prerogatives of constitutional governments as it once did those of monarchs. Let men learn that a legislature is not "our God upon earth," though, by the authority they ascribe to it, and the things they expect from it, they would seem to think it is. Let them learn rather that it is an institution serving a purely temporary purpose, whose power, when not stolen, is at the best borrowed.
Nay, indeed, have we not seen that government is essentially immoral? Is it not the offspring of evil, bearing about it all the marks of its parentage? Does it not exist because crime exists? Is it not strong, or as we say, despotic, when crime is great? Is there not more liberty, that is, less government, as crime diminishes? And must not government cease when crime ceases, for very lack of objects on which to perform its function? Not only does magisterial power exist because of evil; but it exists by evil. Violence is employed to maintain it; and all violence involves criminality. Soldiers, policemen, and gaolers; swords, batons, and fetters, are instruments for inflicting pain; and all infliction of pain is in the abstract wrong. The state employs evil weapons to subjugate evil, and is alike contaminated by the objects with which it deals, and the means by which it works. Morality cannot recognize it; for morality, being simply a statement of the perfect law can give no countenance to any thing growing out of, and living by, breaches of that law. Wherefore, legislative authority can never be ethical_must always be conventional merely.
Hence, there is a certain inconsistency in the attempt to determine the right position, structure, and conduct of a government by appeal to the first principles of rectitude. For, as just pointed out, the acts of an institution which is in both nature and origin imperfect, cannot be made to square with the perfect law. All that we can do is to ascertain, firstly, in what attitude a legislature must stand to the community to avoid being by its mere existence an embodied wrong; — secondly, in what manner it must be constituted so as to exhibit the least incongruity with the moral law; — and thirdly, to what sphere its actions must be limited to prevent it from multiplying those breaches of equity it is set up to prevent.
The first condition to be conformed to before a legislature can be established without violating the law of equal freedom, is the acknowledgment of the right now under discussion — the right to ignore the state.
3. The People as the Source of Power
Upholders of pure despotism may fitly believe state-control to be unlimited and unconditional. They who assert that men are made for governments and not governments for men, may consistently hold that no one can remove himself beyond the pale of political organization. But they who maintain that the people are the only legitimate source of power — that legislative authority is not original, but deputed — cannot deny the right to ignore the state without entangling themselves in an absurdity.
For, if legislative authority is deputed, it follows that those from whom it proceeds are the masters of those on whom it is conferred: it follows further, that as masters they confer the said authority voluntarily: and this implies that they may give or withhold it as they please. To call that deputed which is wrenched from men whether they will or not, is nonsense. But what is here true of all collectively is equally true of each separately. As a government can rightly act for the people, only when empowered by them, so also can it rightly act for the individual, only when empowered by him. If A, B, and C, debate whether they shall employ an agent to perform for them a certain service, and if whilst A and B agree to do so, C dissents, C cannot equitably be made a party to the agreement in spite of himself. And this must be equally true of thirty as of three: and if of thirty, why not of three hundred, or three thousand, or three millions?
4. Subordination of Government Authority
Of the political superstitions lately alluded to, none is so universally diffused as the notion that majorities are omnipotent. Under the impression that the preservation of order will ever require power to be wielded by some party, the moral sense of our time feels that such power cannot rightly be conferred on any but the largest moiety of society. It interprets literally the saying that "the voice of the people is the voice of God," and transferring to the one the sacredness attached to the other, it concludes that from the will of the people, that is of the majority, there can be no appeal. Yet is this belief entirely erroneous.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that, struck by some Malthusian panic, a legislature duly representing public opinion were to enact that all children born during the next ten years should be drowned. Does any one think such an enactment would be warrantable? If not, there is evidently a limit to the power of a majority. Suppose, again, that of two races living together — Celts and Saxons, for example — the most numerous determined to make the others their slaves. Would the authority of the greatest number be in such case valid? If not, there is something to which its authority must be subordinate. Suppose, once more, that all men having incomes under 50 pounds a year were to resolve upon reducing every income above that amount to their own standard, and appropriating the excess for public purposes. Could their resolution be justified? If not, it must be a third time confessed that there is a law to which the popular voice must defer. What, then, is that law, if not the law of pure equity — the law of equal freedom? These restraints, which all would put to the will of the majority, are exactly the restraints set up by that law. We deny the right of a majority to murder, to enslave, or to rob, simply because murder, enslaving, and robbery are violations of that law — violations too gross to be overlooked. But if great violations of it are wrong, so also are smaller ones. If the will of the many cannot supersede the first principle of morality in these cases, neither can it in any. So that, however insignificant the minority, and however trifling the proposed trespass against their rights, no such trespass is permissible.
When we have made our constitution purely democratic, thinks to himself the earnest reformer, we shall have brought government into harmony with absolute justice. Such a faith, though perhaps needful for this age, is a very erroneous one. By no process can coercion be made equitable. The freest form of government is only the least objectional form. The rule of the many by the few we call tyranny: the rule of the few by the many is tyranny also; only of a less intense kind. "You shall do as we will, and not as you will," is in either case the declaration: and if the hundred make it to the ninety-nine, instead of the ninety-nine to the hundred, it is only a fraction less immoral. Of two such parties, whichever fulfils this declaration necessarily breaks the law of equal freedom: the only difference being that by the one it is broken in the persons of ninety-nine, whilst by the other it is broken in the persons of a hundred. And the merit of the democratic form of government consists solely in this, that it trespasses against the smallest number.
The very existence of majorities and minorities is indicative of an immoral state. The man whose character harmonizes with the moral law, we found to be one who can obtain complete happiness without diminishing the happiness of his fellows. But the enactment of public arrangements by vote implies a society consisting of men otherwise constituted — implies that the desires of some cannot be satisfied without sacrificing the desires of others — implies that in the pursuit of their happiness the majority inflict a certain amount of unhappiness on the minority — implies, therefore, organic immorality. Thus, from another point of view, we again perceive that even in its most equitable form it is impossible for government to dissociate itself from evil; and further, that unless the right to ignore the state is recognized, its acts must be essentially criminal.
5. The Limits of Taxation
That a man is free to abandon the benefits and throw off the burdens of citizenship, may indeed be inferred from the admissions of existing authorities and of current opinion. Unprepared as they probably are for so extreme a doctrine as the one here maintained, the radicals of our day yet unwittingly profess their belief in a maxim which obviously embodies this doctrine. Do we not continually hear them quote Blackstone's assertion that "no subject of England can be constrained to pay any aids or taxes even for the defence of the realm or the support of government, but such as are imposed by his own consent, or that of his representative in parliament?" And what does this mean? It means, say they, that every man should have a vote. True: but it means much more. If there is any sense in words it is a distinct enunciation of the very right now contended for. In affirming that a man may not be taxed unless he has directly or indirectly given his consent, it affirms that he may refuse to be so taxed; and to refuse to be taxed, is to cut all connection with the state. Perhaps it will be said that this consent is not a specific, but a general one, and that the citizen is understood to have assented to every thing his representative may do, when he voted for him. But suppose he did not vote for him; and on the contrary did all in his power to get elected some one holding opposite views — what them? The reply will probably be that, by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority. And how if he did not vote at all? Why then he cannot justly complain of any tax, seeing that he made no protest against its imposition. So, curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted — whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter! A rather awkward doctrine this. Here stands an unfortunate citizen who is asked if he will pay money for a certain proffered advantage; and whether he employs the only means of expressing his refusal or does not employ it, we are told that he practically agrees; if only the number of others who agree is greater than the number of those who dissent. And thus we are introduced to the novel principle that A's consent to a thing is not determined by what A says, but by what B may happen to say!
It is for those who quote Blackstone to choose between this absurdity and the doctrine above set forth. Either his maxim implies the right to ignore the state, or it is sheer nonsense.
6. On Civil and Religious Liberty
There is a strange heterogeneity in our political faiths. Systems that have had their day, and are beginning here and there to let the daylight through, are patched with modern notions utterly unlike in quality and colour; and men gravely display these systems, wear them, and walk about in them, quite unconscious of their grotesqueness. This transition state of ours, partaking as it does equally of the past and the future, breeds hybrid theories exhibiting the oddest union of bygone despotism and coming freedom. Here are types of the old organization curiously disguised by germs of the new — peculiarities showing adaptation to a preceding state modified by rudiments that prophesy of something to come — making altogether so chaotic a mixture of relationships that there is no saying to what class these births of the age should be referred.
As ideas must of necessity bear the stamp of the time, it is useless to lament the contentment with which these incongruous beliefs are held. Otherwise it would seem unfortunate that men do not pursue to the end the trains of reasoning which have led to these partial modifications. In the present case, for example, consistency would force them to admit that, on other points besides the one just noticed, they hold opinions and use arguments in which the right to ignore the state is involved.
For what is the meaning of Dissent? The time was when a man's faith and his mode of worship were as much determinable by law as his secular acts; and, according to provisions extant in our statute-book, are so still. Thanks to the growth of a Protestant spirit, however, we have ignored the state in this matter — wholly in theory, and partly in practice. But how have we done so? By assuming an attitude which, if consistently maintained, implies a right to ignore the state entirely. Observe the positions of the two parties. "This is your creed," says the legislator; "you must believe and openly profess what is here set down for you." "I shall not do any thing of the kind," answers the non-conformist, "I will go to prison rather." "Your religious ordinances," pursues the legislator, "shall be such as we have prescribed. You shall attend the churches we have endowed, and adopt the ceremonies used in them." "Nothing shall induce me to do so," is the reply; "I altogether deny your power to dictate to me in such matters, and mean to resist to the uttermost." "Lastly," adds the legislator, "we shall require you to pay such sums of money toward the support of these religious institutions, as we may see fit to ask." "Not a farthing will you have from me," exclaims our sturdy Independent: "even did I believe in the doctrines of your church (which I do not), I should still rebel against your interference; and if you take my property, it shall be by force and under protest."
What now does this proceeding amount to when regarded in the abstract? It amounts to an assertion by the individual of the right to exercise one of his faculties — the religious sentiment — without let or hindrance, and with no limit save that set up by the equal claims of others. And what is meant by ignoring the state? Simply an assertion of the right similarly to exercise all the faculties. The one is just an expansion of the other — rests on the same footing with the other — must stand or fall with the other. Men do indeed speak of civil and religious liberty as different things; but the distinction is quite arbitrary. They are parts of the same whole and cannot philosophically be separated.
"Yes they can," interposes an objector; "assertion of the one is imperative as being a religious duty. The liberty to worship God in the way that seems to him right, is a liberty without which a man cannot fulfil what he believes to be Divine commands, and therefore conscience requires him to maintain it." True enough; but how if the same can be asserted of all other liberty? How if maintenance of this also turns out to be a matter of conscience? Have we not seen that human happiness is the Divine will — that only by exercising our faculties is this happiness obtainable — and that it is impossible to exercise them without freedom? And if this freedom for the exercise of faculties is a condition without which the Divine will cannot be fulfilled, the preservation of it is, by our objector's own showing, a duty. Or, in other words, it appears not only that the maintenance of liberty of action may be a point of conscience, but that it ought to be one. And thus we are clearly shown that the claims to ignore the state in religious and in secular matters are in essence identical.
The other reason commonly assigned for nonconformity, admits of similar treatment. Besides resisting state dictation in the abstract, the dissenter resists it from disapprobation of the doctrines taught. No legislative injunction will make him adopt what he considers an erroneous belief; and, bearing in mind his duty toward his fellow-men, he refuses to help through the medium of his purse in disseminating this erroneous belief. The position is perfectly intelligible. But it is one which either commits its adherents to civil nonconformity also, or leaves them in a dilemma. For why do they refuse to be instrumental in spreading error? Because error is adverse to human happiness. And on what ground is any piece of secular legislation disapproved? For the same reason — because thought adverse to human happiness. How then can it be shown that the state ought to be resisted in the one case and not in the other? Will any one deliberately assert that if a government demands money from us to aid in teaching what we think will produce evil, we ought to refuse it; but that if the money is for the purpose of doing what we think will produce evil, we ought not to refuse it? Yet such is the hopeful proposition which those have to maintain who recognize the right to ignore the state in religious matters, but deny it in civil matters.
7. Progress Hindered by Lack of Social Morality
The substance of the essay once more reminds us of the incongruity between a perfect law and an imperfect state. The practicability of the principle here laid down varies directly as social morality. In a thoroughly vicious community its admission would be productive of anarchy. In a completely virtuous one its admission will be both innocuous and inevitable. Progress toward a condition of social health — a condition, that is, in which the remedial measures of legislation will no longer be needed, is progress toward a condition in which those remedial measures will be cast aside, and the authority prescribing them disregarded. The two changes are of necessity coordinate. That moral sense whose supremacy will make society harmonious and government unnecessary, is the same moral sense which will then make each man assert his freedom even to the extent of ignoring the state — is the same moral sense which, by deterring the majority from coercing the minority, will eventually render government impossible. And as what are merely different manifestations of the same sentiment must bear a constant ratio to each other, the tendency to repudiate governments will increase only at the same rate that governments become needless.
Let not any be alarmed, therefore, at the promulgation of the foregoing doctrine. There are many changes yet to be passed through before it can begin to exercise much influence. Probably a long time will elapse before the right to ignore the State will be generally admitted, even in theory. It will be still longer before it receives legislative recognition. And even then there will be plenty of checks upon the premature exercise of it. A sharp experience will sufficiently instruct those who may too soon abandon legal protection. Whilst, in the majority of men, there is such a love of tried arrangements, and so great a dread of experiments, that they will probably not act upon this right until long after it is safe to do so.
8. The Coming Decay of the State
It is a mistake to assume that government must necessarily last forever. The institution marks a certain stage of civilization — is natural to a particular phase of human development. It is not essential, but incidental. As amongst the Bushmen we find a state antecedent to government, so may there be one in which it shall have become extinct. Already has it lost something of its importance. The time was when the history of a people was but the history of its government. It is otherwise now. The once universal despotism was but a manifestation of the extreme necessity of restraint. Feudalism, serfdom, slavery, all tyrannical institutions, are merely the most vigorous kinds of rule, springing out of, and necessary to, a bad state of man. The progress from these is in all cases the same — less government. Constitutional forms means this. Political freedom means this. Democracy means this. In societies, associations, joint-stock companies, we have new agencies occupying big fields filled in less advanced times and countries by the State. With us the legislature is dwarfed by newer and greater powers — is no longer master, but slave. "Pressure from without" has come to be acknowledged as ultimate ruler. The triumph of the Anti-Corn Law League is simply the most marked instance yet of the new style of government, that of opinion, overcoming the old style, that of force. It bids fair to become a trite remark that the law-maker is but the servant of the thinker. Daily is Statecraft held in less repute. Even the "Times" can see that "the social changes thickening around us establish a truth sufficiently humiliating to legislative bodies," and that "the great stages of our progress are determined rather by the spontaneous workings of society, connected as they are with the progress of art and science, the operation of nature, and other such unpolitical causes, than by the proposition of a bill, the passing of an act, or any other event of politics or of State." Thus, as civilization advances, does government decay. To the bad it is essential; to the good, not. It is the check which national wickedness makes to itself, and exists only to the same degree. Its continuance is proof of still-existing barbarism. What a cage is to the wild beast, law is to the selfish man. Restraint is for the savage, the rapacious, the violent; not for the just, the gentle, the benevolent. All necessity for external force implies a morbid state. Dungeons for the felon; a strait jacket for the maniac; crutches for the lame; stays for the weak-backed; for the infirm of purpose a master; for the foolish a guide; but for the sound mind in a sound body none of these. Were there no thieves and murderers, prisons would be unnecessary. It is only because tyranny is yet rife in the world that we have armies. Barristers, judges, juries, all the instruments of law, exist simply because knavery exists. Magisterial force is the sequence of social vice, and the policeman is but the complement of the criminal. Therefore it is that we call government "a necessary evil."
What then must be thought of a morality which chooses this probationary institution for its basis, builds a vast fabric of conclusions upon its assumed permanence, selects acts of parliament for its materials, and employs the statesman for its architect? The expediency-philosopher does this. It takes government into partnership, assigns to it entire control of its affairs, enjoins all to defer to its judgment, makes it, in short, the vital principle, the very soul, of its system. When Paley teaches that "the interest of the whole society is binding upon every part of it," he implies the existence of some supreme power by which "that interest of the whole society" is to be determined. And elsewhere he more explicitly tells us that for the attainment of a national advantage the private will of the subject is to give way, and that "the proof of this advantage lies with the legislature." Still more decisive is Bentham when he says that "the happiness of the individuals of whom a community is composed — that is, their pleasures and their security — is the sole end which the legislator ought to have in view, the sole standard in conformity with which each individual ought, as far as depends upon the legislature, to be made to fashion his behavior." These positions, be it remembered, are not voluntarily assumed; they are necessitated by the premises. If, as its propounder tells us, "expediency" means the benefit of the mass, not of the individual, — of the future as much as of the present, — it presupposes some one to judge of what will most conduce to that benefit. Upon the "utility" of this or that measure the views are so various as to render an umpire essential. Whether protective duties, or established religions, or capital punishments, or poor-laws, do or do not minister to the "general good" are questions concerning which there is such difference of opinion that, were nothing to be done till all agreed upon them, we might stand still to the end of time. If each man carried out, independently of a State power, his own notions of what would best secure "the greatest happiness of the greatest number," society would quickly lapse into confusion. Clearly, therefore, a morality established upon a maxim of which the practical interpretation is questionable involves the existence of some authority whose decisions respecting it shall be final, — that is, a legislature. And without that authority such a morality must ever remain inoperative.
See here, then, the predicament, a system of moral philosophy professes to be a code of correct rules for the control of human beings — fitted for the regulation of the best as well as the worst members of the race — applicable, if true, to the guidance of humanity in its highest conceivable perfection. Government, however, is an institution originating in man's imperfection; an institution confessedly begotten by necessity out of evil; one which might be dispensed with were the world peopled with the unselfish, the conscientious, the philanthropic; one, in short, inconsistent with this same "highest conceivable perfection." How, then, can that be a true system of morality which adopts government as one of its premises?
1 Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) was the most renowned of English jurists.
2 Hence may be drawn an argument for direct taxation; seeing that only when taxation is direct does repudiation of state burdens become possible.