Can You Gain Freedom Through Violence? – The Lowdown on Liberty

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CHINA. Beijing. Tien An Men Square. 'The Tank Man' stopping the column of T59 tanks. 4th June 1989.

With all the polarizing rhetoric making its way through both sides of the political aisle, there’s been an uptick in talk regarding the need for aggression in the pursuit of political ends. With more and more people seemingly embracing this mindset as a morally acceptable outcome, it must be reiterated how self-defeating and pointless this method has proven itself to be.

Violence is never the answer. While it’s often seen as a cliché notion we tell our children, it bears repeating in this conversation.

Not just because of the obvious death and destruction that follows, but also its futility and ineffectiveness at achieving its perceived ends. As Murray Rothbard often said, “It is in war that the State really comes into its own: swelling in power, in number, in pride, in absolute dominion over the economy and the society.” This is because the state is born from aggression, maintained through it, and experiences its greatest swells in the midst of it. Violence and the state are so indivisible, that one cannot embrace violence as a means without inevitably succumbing to the essence of the state as their ends, even subconsciously. It is for this reason that every ‘revolution’ against a state throughout history has resulted in the birth of yet another, oftentimes more aggressive apparatus then the last.

Now, it could be argued that the American Revolution achieved freedom through a violent uprising and is therefore the exception to this rule, as I’m sure critics will say. But the difficult truth is that our tactics only made the state’s return inevitable. The short-lived freedom we gained instead stimulated a level of prosperity never before seen in history. And because the state is indivisible from aggression, and our ‘successful’ revolution normalized it as an acceptable means of achieving political ends, this prosperity only provided the opportunity and ability for the largest reverberation of state control in human history. We see this through the tax burden the US now puts on its citizens (the largest in the world), as well as the current campaign of imperialism, which dwarfs the height of the British, Roman, and even Mongolian empires.

So, a more plausible argument is that the closer a violent revolution comes to being successful at ‘out-aggressing’ the state, the larger the blowback and eventual rebirth of the state will become. Therefore, we can conclude that the state cannot be defeated through violence at all.

But if that’s the case, how can freedom from aggression be attained?

As Ernest Hemmingway wrote in The Sun Also Rises, “Gradually and then suddenly.” We see by observing human tendencies that as prosperity grows, man’s desire for aggression dwindles. For example, it would be ludicrous today to suggest I kick in my neighbor’s door and fight him for a cheeseburger when there are over a hundred nearby places to get one peacefully and for a marginal percent of my wealth. However, if I were starving and had no money, and he had the only one in the state, the option of aggression becomes less outlandish. With that in mind, we can safely say that as we reach continuously higher levels of prosperity, the state’s aggression will become obviously unappetizing to a majority of the population. This constitutes part of the ‘gradual’ portion of the idea.

When it comes to the ‘suddenly’ aspect, the emphasis must be on education. Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “Every battle is won or lost before it’s ever fought.” In this case, the battle hinders on whether the population has been made aware of the truth regarding violence and the state. So far, we haven’t seen a population with the sufficient level of prosperity and knowledge at the necessary time to simply disregard the state in favor of peaceful cooperation, but when we do, that is how it will be won.

All governments eventually collapse, due in no small part to their aggressive nature. Rather than succumb to emotional arguments and calls for aggression, which only perpetuate the cycle of violence, we must focus our attention elsewhere. Let’s concentrate on educating as many people as we can, and promoting peace and prosperity at every turn, so that when this battle inevitably shows up at our doors, we’ll have already won; first, gradually through a foundation of prosperity and education; and then suddenly, through the wherewithal to choose peace and cooperation with one another, rather than the aggression of the state.

Featured image: Wikipedia.org

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Thomas J. Eckert

Thomas J. Eckert is the Managing Editor of Think Liberty and Copy Editor for Being Libertarian. With a passion for politics, he studies economics and history and writes in his spare time on political and economic current events. He is a self-described voluntarist.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Have to disagree with this to an extent, liberty is too much work for most people, hence why so many succumb to the song of socialism. Eventually, freedom will have to be fought for.

    Which, oddly enough, you mention in your article. You make a great point about violence and the state being indivisible and that as violence increases so does the size and scope of the state. But yet, it is impossible not to have violence because the state perpetuates it, any big city is proof of this.

    The bottom line is, violence is inevitable, even you admit this. While education is certainly important, we also must be prepared to do everything we can to ensure good triumphs over evil. While it may result in a new state being formed, we can learn from the past and ensure that liberty lasts.

  2. Mr Eckert, i must disagree with your premise about society and government. You have taken the classic top down view developed by the enlightenment thinkers. Essentially, rather than deal with the basic question of what is truth, what is god, and so on, the philosophers tried to short cut the arguments. God was ignored and nature substituted as the basis of rational thought. So we have become so much the poorer for our inquiries. In reality, the proper study of man is his behaviors, not his institutions. Institutions are so much detritus of the past and screens of the future. If one wishes to truly know what government is for humans, one must study human behavior and primate behavior, not Rousseau. In fact, primate behavior explains must of our own behavior because we have inherited those principles. Grooming, the old you scratch my back and i scratch yours, is one of the basic principles of both primate and human behavior. Small group behavior identifies how we interact with other humans. In fact, the family is the first small group to which we belong. And we will belong to a good many different groups over our lifetime, all of which have important influence upon our behaviors.

    Violence has always been a part of our basic set of behaviors and for very definite reasons. It is a matter of our survival and both individuals and group members. indeed, we turn to cooperation as a prime principle of survival that includes both the peaceful sharing of scarce resources and the violent defense of the same. Society is built from the ground up, not the top down. Your approach is top down and thus doomed to failure. You do not understand human behavior. Tilting at monoliths like “states” gains you nothing. You are blaming ideals. States are merely the collection of individual and group behaviors which you have failed to understand, you believe in the anthropomorphic creation of monolithic behavior that must be greater than those individuals who labor under this thing called state.

    I would urge you to rethink your assumptions for they rest on false ground.

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