Francis commends our attention to a rather brilliant 1994 (!) exposition by Sam Francis which, unfortunately, will live forever, its relevance undiminished.
On the morning of September 22, 1993, a law-abiding citizen named B.W. Sanders was driving his car down the street in Raleigh, North Carolina, when all of a sudden he found himself flagged down by a policeman and presented with a ticket for $25. Mr. Sanders, it turned out, had not been wearing his seat belt, and under a new state law, that crime carries the penalty he received. But in this case it was not just a traffic cop who flagged down Mr. Sanders. It was a force of some six dozen police officers as well as the governor of North Carolina himself, James B. Hunt. The governor was searching for a photo-op with which to advertise both the new seat belt law and his own personal devotion to law-and-order. Not only the 70 or more police officers but also an innumerable supply of newspaper reporters and TV newsmen were on the scene to record the governor’s triumph over the forces of lawlessness, and the next day Mr. Sanders’ wicked ways were recorded in the public press for his family, his employers, his neighbors, and indeed posterity to gander at. To make doubly certain that criminals like Mr. Sanders got the message loud and clear, Governor Hunt held a news conference near the state capital and harangued a crowd of some 150 police officers and state troopers, who were able to take time off from the apprehension of public enemies like Mr. Sanders to attend the governor’s words. “I took an oath to protect the people of North Carolina,” intoned the Tar Heel State’s answer to Dirty Harry, “and this is one way we must do it. . . Folks, we’re serious. We mean it. We’re going to do this.” And indeed, serious he is. As part of the war on the unbuckled seat belt crisis, the Raleigh News and Observer reported, “Law officers in all 100 counties [of the state] will intensify their efforts to find and cite motorists not using their seat belts. Agencies will compete against each other, winning cash for turning in the best performance.”
Governor Hunt’s grandstanding might be harmless enough were it not for certain other facts about certain other crimes in North Carolina that also sometimes make the news. Only a week before the apprehension and public humiliation of Mr. Sanders, the same newspaper reported on the state’s prison crisis. It seems that North Carolina has another new law in addition to the one on seat belts. This other law, passed by the General Assembly, imposes a cap on how many inmates can be incarcerated in the state prison, and the crisis is that, under this cap, most of the inmates now eligible for parole were imprisoned for violent and assaultive crimes. Most of the less dangerous criminals have already been turned loose, and now the prison system must release public enemies even more dangerous than drivers who do not buckle their seat belts. Since last June, no less than 14 parolees (including one of the men now charged with the murder of Michael Jordan’s father) have been arrested and charged with murder, and another parolee, a veteran of the state’s death row, murdered his girlfriend and then committed suicide, thereby unfairly depriving Governor Hunt of yet another photo-op. Last August alone, North Carolina paroled 3,700 prison inmates. One might think that if the governor of the state and the 150 police officers and state troopers who took time out of their public jobs to listen to him slap himself on the back for busting poor Mr. Sanders were really interested in upholding their oaths of office, they might turn their attention to the results of releasing hardened and violent criminals who have already been caught, sentenced, and imprisoned.
But the saga of the Napoleon of Crime in the homely person of B.W. Sanders is not an isolated incident. It is a representative tale that illustrates what I take to be an entirely new form of government, one that as far as I can tell is unique in human history and unknown to political theory, ancient or modern. Probably no other society has failed as dismally as the United States in the late 20th century to meet the basic test of any civilization: to enforce simple order and protect the lives and property of its members. History knows of many societies that have succumbed to anarchy when the central government proved unable to control warlords, rebels, and marauding invaders. But anarchy is not quite the problem here.
In the United States today, the government performs many of its functions more or less effectively. The mail is delivered (sometimes); the population, or at least part of it, is counted (sort of); and taxes are collected (you bet). You can accuse the federal leviathan of many things—corruption, incompetence, waste, bureaucratic strangulation—but mere anarchy, the lack of effective government, is not one of them. Yet at the same time, the state does not perform effectively or justly its basic duty of enforcing order and punishing criminals, and in this respect its failures do bring the country, or important parts of it, close to a state of anarchy. But that semblance of anarchy is coupled with many of the characteristics of tyranny, under which innocent and law-abiding citizens are punished by the state or suffer gross violations of their rights and liberty at the hands of the state. The result is what seems to be the first society in history in which elements of both anarchy and tyranny pertain at the same time and seem to be closely connected with each other and to constitute, more or less, opposite sides of the same coin.
This condition, which in some of my columns I have called “anarcho-tyranny,” is essentially a kind of Hegelian synthesis of what appear to be dialectical opposites: the combination of oppressive government power against the innocent and the law-abiding and, simultaneously, a grotesque paralysis of the ability or the will to use that power to carry out basic public duties such as protection or public safety. And, it is characteristic of anarcho-tyranny that it not only fails to punish criminals and enforce legitimate order but also criminalizes the innocent. At the same time the governor of North Carolina grotesquely fails to uphold his famous oath to protect the citizens of his state by keeping convicted felons in prison, he has no problem finding the time to organize a massive waste of his time and the taxpayers’ money to hound and humiliate a perfectly innocent citizen for the infraction of a trivial traffic law.
In fact, we criminalize the innocent all the time in the United States today—through asset seizure laws that confiscate your property even before you’re convicted of possessing illegal drugs; through mandatory brainwashing programs designed to reconstruct your mind with “sensitivity training,” “human relations,” and rehabilitation if you display politically incorrect ideas on certain occasions; through prosecuting people like Bernhard Goetz who use guns to defend themselves; and through gun control laws in general. Under anarcho-tyranny, gun control laws do not usually target criminals who use guns to commit their crimes. The usual suspects are noncriminals who own, carry, or use guns against criminals—like the Korean store owners in Los Angeles or like Mr. Goetz, who spent several months in jail after picking off the three hoodlums who were making ready to liberate him from life and limb.
Indeed, the government response to crime is by far the best illustration of anarcho-tyranny. On the one hand, police forces are better equipped, better trained, and more expensive than ever before in history. Police routinely use computers, have access to nationwide information banks, and carry weapons and communication gadgets that most tyrants of the past would drool over. Yet the police seem utterly baffled by the murder rate. None of their high-tech whiz-bang helps much to catch serious criminals after they have struck, to stop them before they strike, or to keep them off the streets after they are caught. But while the police cannot do much about murderers, rapists, and robbers, they are geniuses at nabbing less serious lawbreakers. They can crack down on tax-dodgers and speeders, jaywalkers and pornography patrons, seat belt nonbucklers and epithet-emitters, gun owners and graffiti-scratchers.
Obviously, such desperate characters are not the reason decent people are scared to walk the streets at night, and no matter how many of them you put in the pokey, civilization and the order it is based on will not survive unless you control the streets. Under anarcho-tyranny, the goal is to avoid performing such basic functions as stopping real crime and to think up purely fictitious functions that will raise revenue, enhance the power of the police or bureaucrats, and foster the illusion that the state is doing its job. The victims of these new functions and laws are precisely, otherwise, law-abiding and innocent citizens. It’s easier and more profitable to enforce the law against the marginal lawbreaker than against those habitually committed to spreading mayhem.
As you may have gathered from the length of my excerpt, this remarkable tour de force is indeed, umm, expansive, shall we say. Nonetheless, Francis somehow manages to keep a tight, laser-like focus on his premise from start to finish; yes, there’s a lot to digest here, but there’s not a wasted word or phrase in it. Another thing to take note of: every last one of the issues Francis cites as examples of creeping anarcho-tyranny is still being used as by our lords and masters today, as justification for another turn of the one-way ratchet, another tightening of the leash.
Worse yet, as familiar as these issues will seem to you, do not fail to note that, likewise in every single case, the “problems” the promoters of anarcho-tyranny claimed to be attempting to “solve”—street crime and public safety; murder; urban chaos and decay; auto-accident deaths; etc—have either held steady or actually gotten worse.
Ahh, but even back then there were shining glimmers of light and hope occasionally—demonstrations of the put-upon citizenry taking matters into their own hands out of sheer desperation, yielding positive results. Exhibit A:
Yet there are signs that some Americans are not buying into the lie of anarcho-tyranny. At least as far as crime and personal safety are concerned, some are awakening to the ancient lesson of republican government, that in order to govern yourself politically you must first be able to govern yourself personally and morally. And, that lesson means assuming responsibility for your own protection. For months in 1987 in Detroit, citizens complained to the police about teenage prostitutes from a crack house in the neighborhood who solicited old men and adolescents on the street, about drug dealers firing guns in the air for fun, and about a shoot-out between drug gangs while neighborhood children played in the street. Not once did the police respond to any of the repeated calls. Then one day after the shoot-out, two local men named Angelo Parisi and Perry Kent walked up the street, set fire to the crack house, and burned it to the ground, and within minutes police arrived to charge them with two counts of arson and assault with a deadly weapon. With community support, both men were acquitted by a jury of all charges, and there are stories similar to theirs in other American cities.
Good on ’em. With things having gotten so very much worse, such examples appear to be ones worth learning from, even emulating as and where feasible. Not that I would ever advocate such brazen vigilantism, of course. Not so’s anybody could tell, I wouldn’t. Francis’s piece closes thusly:
Mr. Parisi and Mr. Kent, Miss Quigley and Mr. Penso, have discovered the dirty little secret that can sweep anarcho-tyranny out of office, that anarcho-tyranny flourishes only when citizens surrender their rights and their duties of protecting themselves, assuming responsibility for themselves, and governing themselves, and that when the anarcho-tyrants promise to take over and perform these duties themselves, they are uttering a lie that leads to slavery and the jungle at the same time. When anarcho-tyranny flourishes, it protects no one except the elites who fatten on it, and it encourages only the withering of self-government and responsibility. In the movie The Magnificent Seven, the bandit leader, played by Eli Wallach, says of the Mexican peasants he is robbing and killing, “If God had not wanted them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.” The peasants in the end show that they are not sheep, not by hiring gunfighters and killers to do their fighting for them, which is what we do when we set up the BATF and “police saturation,” but by learning how to fight for themselves. Sheep do not need to fight for themselves; they have shepherds who do it for them, until the day comes when the shepherds lead their sheep to slaughter. Only when more Americans learn the lessons these citizens have learned, the lessons the peasants in The Magnificent Seven had to learn, and only when they are willing to act on those lessons will anarcho-tyranny itself wither away; only when Americans take back their own streets themselves will they have any streets that are safe. In the words of Lord Byron, “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”
Even as dark as things look today, even though certain specifics of our own admittedly dire situation are in truth unique, really, t’was ever thus. The struggle between liberty and tyranny, between those who would live free and those who would rule over them, is eternal. It does not end, and will not—cannot, actually. It is part and parcel of the human condition: each new generation must face it, in one form or another.