Resist the Call of Power

by Tom Ender

How can someone who wishes to do so live a free life?

Many people spend time agonizing over that question or questions very similar to it. Often solving that problem motivates them to become involved in politics, whether in one of the ruling parties or a more principled group. They have been taught for most of their lives to think that politics can provide an answer and accomplish positive results.

I can’t state what method, if any, will deliver freedom to all who desire it. I don’t believe any one method will. I can say that I have pursued goals within the political system for ten years and have not yet achieved a real success. In my efforts I ran as, or supported another who ran as, a third party candidate for office.

In pursuing politics I never won an election so I did not have to deal directly with the corrupting influence of power. Someone in the “establishment parties” might say I did not properly “work within the system” since that seems to mean one must run as a government sponsored party candidate. Even so, in each race as election day would draw closer, I would have daydreams of how I would improve government to allow people more freedom. I had been bitten by the “political bug.”

When I consider those who have “worked within the system” by being operatives of one of the ruling parties, I see more clearly the darker side of the problem of politics. Almost every one of them has apparently sacrificed whatever principles they might once have had to achieve the goal of attaining a position of power. I am somewhat in awe of Rep. Ron Paul since he seems to have kept his principles even while being in the U.S. Congress. He may be the Frodo of our time: one who can resist the call of power and remain true to his ideals. (Even Frodo was not able to completely resist the ring in the end. Gollum was necessary to part him from it.)

However heroic Rep. Ron Paul might be, I don’t think he alone will be able to either “unmake Congress” or return America to its “ founding principles,” even if that would be enough to prevent a reoccurrence of what has happened in America since 1789.

In the Lord of the Rings storyline there are supernatural forces at work. Besides Sauron, its creator, the ring of power is not an object of our natural world. Elimination of the One Ring was a transforming event which freed the people of Middle Earth from a force of evil, which sought domination over them. There are other aspects of the story that make Tolkien’s world unlike our own.

Unlike Sauron’s ring, the State is not supernatural. However, it is somewhat insubstantial. The State is mainly an idea. The State is not the buildings used by its minions. The State is not only the minions themselves, although they are some of its beneficiaries. The State is an idea external to most people which restrains them from doing what they will. The State is an idea used by some people to employ the use of force (violence) as a threat to keep other people in line.

The State is not an instrument of self-restraint or responsibility, since its external threat of force is what stops many people from pursuing State unapproved actions. I believe the State is a major problem in the modern world. It is not the only problem, but it may be the one with the largest negative impact. How does one end the harm done by the State? That question often leads people down the route to political action, and because of that, I think it may be the wrong question.

It may be that harm we see as a result of political action is essential to the State since it is always an institution of force intruding in human affairs. Perhaps the question should really be: how can we eliminate the State? Instead of asking how to end the harm, we should be asking how to end its source.

Many individuals, by allowing an idea (“the State”) to have power over them, actually give other people power over them. This occurs because the State is manifested as a group of people. Those who receive power or benefits from the State tend to favor it. Often people capitulate to the State to avoid trouble but increasingly many people receive things they want from the State for their compliance with State goals. As long as they believe they are receiving “the gifts of the State” they will comply.

Many people have been taught when young by State employees (government-run / tax-funded school teachers) that the State is necessary to provide peace and justice. They have heard repeatedly of "market failures" (the market is another word for consensual, or free, activity), for which the State must make amends. For these reasons and others many people believe that they need the State. As long as they have this belief, they will not let the State go. However, it is not clear to me that our current society really has any actual peace or justice. To many observers it is the State which is often seen as the violator of both peace and justice.

Since asking people to give up “the gifts of the State” without any substitute system is not realistic, we must build the replacements for the current State system. Before the rise of the State, private institutions: families, churches, fellowships, mutual aid societies, etc. were strong. The State has hurt those institutions in proportion to its amassing of power.

In our world dealing with power is more mundane than it is in Tolkien’s story. However, in some ways it is the same. As in Frodo’s world, each of us makes choices which determine our own actions. Or as Gandalf said “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

Most of us leave others free to pursue their goals and where beneficial we cooperate in the “division of labor.” If one does this outside the scheme of the present society this might be referred to as “gulching” but it can also still be done within the current framework. Building replacements for functions now supposedly provided by the State may provide an escape from the State system. This escape will not happen overnight, but all successful societal change has been made gradually.

Radical societal change like the French and Russian revolutions of 1789 and 1917 respectively did not make many lasting positive changes. Instead the disruptions and displacements of those times provided the means for particular groups to take control of the state apparatus. An argument might be made that something very like that happened in America too, although it was more subtle, as was the American state for a long period. That subtlety has enabled the American state to survive unrecognized as tyranny, which is now becoming evident to more people with each passing year.

I won’t tell you here to completely eschew political action. To a certain extent I am still involved in the Libertarian Party (LP). My involvement in the LP is now based on two influences: friendship and a desire to educate those who may be the most receptive to the ideas of a truly free and stateless society. However, I will say this: To avoid disappointment, do not put “all your eggs in one basket,” especially if that “basket” is politics.

I had originally intended to have this essay done before election day to counsel people to be prepared for disappointment. Circumstances did not allow that to happen, but perhaps it is better now while the results of the latest election are fairly fresh in many people’s minds. First, if you wish to involve yourself in politics, be careful to resist the call of power. Also, pursue other channels in your work for liberty: spread “your eggs” among several “baskets.”

The middle class world of commerce was built gradually. The earlier feudal world was also. Chose what you would do for your part in the new voluntary society of liberty and build it now. Consider this part of the new free society which you build to be the child of your mind. Each of us will pursue our own efforts. Each will chose what they will do to replace the institutions of State power. There must be no political process to decide what we will do. We must practice freedom to build freedom.

As Richard Ebeling of FEE recently so eloquently wrote “There Is No Central Plan for Winning Liberty.” Make your individual efforts to build your own dream and it will become part of the new free society. Through voluntary action our efforts will build a replacement for the coercive Septic State.

In this way, we will be prepared when the State systems fail and no new State system will be required. The State will no longer be a perceived need and no one -- other than its major beneficiaries: politicians and their patrons -- will care that it fails. It will be replaced by free institutions developed before its failure. The first mammals were roaming the world when it was still dominated by dinosaurs. Be a “mammal,” nurture your children, both those of your body and those of your mind.

published at Endervidualism on  December 16, 2004

Tom Ender edits and publishes this web site — He hopes you enjoy it and return to visit often.