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On 9-11: To all who stayed true

I wasn’t going to write anything to mark this anniversary. I can’t stand the annual rehashing, the verbal digging up of the dead, the demand that we always remember, remember, remember — but somehow never analyze, reflect, or correct.

Then Jim Bovard reminded me of something that really matters. He noted that Thomas Szasz, who just died, was one of the prominent libertarians who stayed true to his principles after that handful of villains wrought their havoc 11 years ago.

So many didn’t. So many people who claimed to be libertarian tossed their alleged principles out the window as fast as they could make the throw.

Individualism? What’s that? No, let’s punish all the Arabs. Or all the Muslims. Or whoever. Non-aggression? No, we must have war-war-war! Privacy? How can we be so selfish as to think of our own petty little concerns when our government needs to protect us? The Bill of Rights? That might be okay for Americans in peaceful times, but it doesn’t apply to foreigners or in emergencies!

I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now how people who believed in individual rights and claimed to hold solid principles of freedom could scurry like rats to groupthink and statism the moment they felt scared.

What on earth is the point of principles if you aren’t willing to live by them? How could anyone who had thought out their beliefs jettison them so automatically?

Eleven years later, where are those sellouts? Some are still around and doing as well as ever. A certain nationally prominent “libertarian” radio host discovered after 9-11 that being a neo-con pays better. A few have just slunk back to libertarian positions, hoping no one would remember they sold out. Many more — people who were rising or well-established libertarian commentators in the 1990s — are just … gone. I can think of a dozen whose names you don’t even hear any more, or whose reputations shrank to nothing after their sellout.

And good. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

As Jim and I got to talking about this, I was surprised at how much that betrayal of liberty by friends and colleagues still rankled all these years later.

But when people turn out to be something other than they claim to be it does rankle. You can never trust them again. You should never have trusted them at all. But when you look back and ask, “Where were the signs? Could I have seen that they didn’t really mean it?” … there were no signs.

One day, they seemed as staunch as the best. The next day … convenience, control, and war-war-war was all they wanted.

But to hell with them.

Today, let’s salute those who stood true. Hooray for those who understood, even in the midst of chaos and fear, that freedom still matters — who understood, in fact, that freedom and the principles behind it matter more than ever in those moments when the rest of the world is screaming for protection — or blood. Salutes to everyone who understands now and understood then that freedom gives us the path out of savagery and that tyranny serves no purpose except the purposes of tyrants.

On this dreadful anniversary, salutes and kudos to those who stood against the powerful blast of hatred, propaganda, and poisonous legislation. Salutes to those who were called “unpatriotic” or “naive” or “unrealistic” for asserting that tragedy is not an excuse for negating freedom. Salutes to you who understand (even when it’s the most vanishing minority position) that freedom works — in good times and bad.

40 Comments

  1. Jim Bovard
    Jim Bovard September 11, 2012 12:36 pm

    Great post, Claire! This is far more insightful & uplifting than the deluge of 9/11-related material on the web today.

  2. Jim Bovard
    Jim Bovard September 11, 2012 12:37 pm

    If only Wayne Root had read this piece in time, he might not have felt compelled to leave the Libertarian Party.

  3. Joel
    Joel September 11, 2012 12:42 pm

    Amen, Claire. I’ve forgotten the names of quite a number of writers whose work I followed with interest – before 9/11. Afterward it was all “support the troops,” and “death to Muslims.”

    Screw’em. If their principles they espoused didn’t survive a stress test, there was either something wrong with the principles or something wrong with them. History and use suggests it’s the latter.

  4. Claire
    Claire September 11, 2012 12:44 pm

    Ohlord, Jim. How ’bout we swear a pact never, ever to mention the name W***** A***** R***** again?

    But I guess the LP doesn’t have to worry; they’ve now got Gary Johnson in there to promote the “perpetual war theory of libertarianism.”

    Other than that … thanks for the good words, and the idea for the piece.

  5. Claire
    Claire September 11, 2012 12:45 pm

    Thanks, Joel. Yep. “Stress test.” That’s what it was — and how many now-forgotten libertarians turned out to be about as strong as Bear Sterns or Lehman Brothers?

    If there was only some way to anticipate who was going to go that way …

  6. Claire
    Claire September 11, 2012 12:54 pm

    One thing I wish I had stressed more strongly … that those people were not just willing to throw away their own principles under stress, but willing to throw away everybody else’s freedom.

    That’s the most shameful thing of all. That the panicking little rats were willing to sacrifice everything and everybody else for their own illusion of safety.

  7. Samuel Adams
    Samuel Adams September 11, 2012 1:09 pm

    Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

  8. L. Neil Smith
    L. Neil Smith September 11, 2012 1:57 pm

    Thank you, dear Claire. No one else could have said it better. One point — and I don’t know if it’s a comfort or not — is that many in the freedom movement were there, ironically, as a product of group-think. Maybe several of their friends had become libertarians, so they hopped on the wagon, too. When the road got bumpy, they hopped off again. We are far better off without them.

    We’re certainly better off without the likes of Wayne Allyn Root, who apparently only joined the party to destroy it — which makes him the Barack Obama of libertarianism.

  9. Claire
    Claire September 11, 2012 2:14 pm

    El Neil, my friend. Honored to have you here.

    Not sure about the “nobody could say it better” part. I just took a break and spent the whole time thinking about how I should have said it, instead. (Every writer knows …)

    Funny, though, I’ve always thought of libertarianism and free-market anarchism as such a long, lonely road it never occurred to me anybody could get here through groupthink.

    Thinking of W**** A***** R****, I always think of you. No offense intended. 🙂 You helped build the LP that I stepped into in the early 1980s. You were the person who pointed out to me that minarchism was not the default position of the LP. In fact, you’re the person who introduced me to free-market anarchism.

    Talk about “rankling.” It must just hit you in the guts (though at the same time not surprise you) that the LP has become a forum for people like WAR. He goes; another like him takes his place.

  10. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal September 11, 2012 2:41 pm

    The events of “9/11” were just another nudge to get me involved. It still took a couple more to get me really out of my shell. I was never one to speak out (who’d listen to someone like me, anyway?) about anything. I wonder what I’d be doing today had that day not gone so tragically bad.

  11. Matt, another
    Matt, another September 11, 2012 4:11 pm

    It is one thing to live by principles. It is another thing to be willing to die in service of those same principles. Many people are willing to do the former, very few the latter.

  12. Joe Smith
    Joe Smith September 11, 2012 5:34 pm

    So because they gave into their fear, we scoff and chide them? So we trade the power of many voices for self superiority and a whisper. That’s good, what’s next “We were right” t-shirts for when we get those lovely forearm tattoos, because they didn’t cross that line just yet, but maybe when they actually just start calling us Morlocks, but maybe not then either, maybe when they do something.. We don’t know what that something is, but we’ll know it… eventually.. we will… yes we will.

    For the silver lining, we get to eat them in a few hundred thousand years for food, if HG Wells Time Traveler was correct. Happy endings indeedy.

  13. Claire
    Claire September 11, 2012 6:01 pm

    “So because they gave into their fear, we scoff and chide them?”

    Yes. These were not people who were standing at the base of the twin towers, after all. These were people far away who endured no personal threat whatsoever. People who claimed to be spokesmen and women for the cause of liberty and individual rights. People who turned tail without hesitation and betrayed everything they ever claimed to stand for. Damn right I scoff.

    “So we trade the power of many voices for self superiority and a whisper.”

    WHAT power of many voices? They’re the ones who started screaming for war and more government intrusion. Not me. Not the others who stayed true. The cowards are the one who deserted the freedom chorus.

    “…just start calling us Morlocks”

    If continuing to believe in liberty even in a time of chaos and fear makes one a Morlock, then hooray for the Morlocks.

    However, it goes without saying I think that comparison is ludicrous. The Morlocks are the ones who prey on others — and the fans of the Morlocks quit wanting liberty and started urging the predators to take greater control.

  14. Joe Smith
    Joe Smith September 11, 2012 7:47 pm

    Claire, you never read the story of Time Machine.

    Written in the late nineteenth century and carried the theme of the time of the plight of the worker in its subtext. A theme carried for most of the early 20th century as industrialized made blue collars work to the tune of a clock, another form of slavery to be sure. Until after the Depression and WW2, when such anti-capitalistic ideas were thought of communist ideals, and not the thoughts of a Patriotic Red Blooded Americans. See even then we were manipulated back then, but then they got smart and just lowered the bar on education in High School and then the mother of all coup de grâce, invented reality TV shows, but I digress.

    The original story, the Time traveler made the hypothesis the Eloi were the privileged class and the Morlocks were the working class and eventually after a time the privileged class became benign as they had no need to think or aspire for anything (such as to rule the underclass and maintain their power or place in that power structure) and soon became cattle for the working class who in the harsh conditions became more primal and aggressive as they had to work and think to survive and find a new food source, which turned into the Eloi. The Time Traveler realized man having past his intellectual peak was now, for lack a better term, utterly worthless.

    Actually the Morlocks term was just so I could have a silver lining, actually it was slave, but I thought you of all people would catch the literary reference. Of course this proves one other thing. That they get their comeuppance thousand of years later, when we finally do something, but not because we want our freedom, we’re just hungry.

    As for free from danger, assuming you lived in the woods, yes. Live in a major city, suburb… No, you weren’t safe. Because what if there wasn’t another attack. Least we forget anger and rage mixed with fear and a bunch of people. Yeah, I think the picture is painted well enough.

    Here’s the wiki link for HG Wells Time Machine:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Time_Machine

  15. Claire
    Claire September 11, 2012 8:40 pm

    Well, actually I have read The Time Machine. But I don’t see any relevance to the situation at hand.

    The key to your comment was that you seemed to think those of us who kept our principles should join in unity with those who abandoned theirs. Somehow that would give us a stronger voice. Somehow that would preserve our freedom.

    Morlocks, Eloi … who cares? That’s metaphor. I’m much more interested in what you believe this unified voice would be saying and exactly how making common cause with people who abandon individualism, the Bill of Rights, and belief in non-aggression would accomplish anything good.

  16. Pat
    Pat September 11, 2012 9:16 pm

    “You were the person who pointed out to me that *minarchism was not the default position of the LP.”* [My emphasis]

    Then what was? I kept a copy of the ’72 Platform for years because it so beautifully expressed my position on issues. But it’s occurred to me many times since that’s it is still a political platform and the only way to get it into action would be to VOTE on it. I have trouble not seeing the LP as a part of political machinations.

  17. clarence
    clarence September 11, 2012 9:21 pm

    i will be dying for my principles. they have already tried to kill me for my principled stand and i know they will try again given the opportunity.

    clarence

  18. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth September 12, 2012 12:47 am

    Well said, Claire, as usual.

    Actually, the thought that always goes through my mind as I watch the interminable parade of “Never Forget!” chintz fly by, is this:

    “Forget? How the holy living f*ck could I possibly forget? You people have made a ten-year profession out of making sure I never forget. Complete with f*cking action figures and theme parks!”

    And the irony of that faux piety incantation is just aneurysm-inducing anyway. “Never forget!” invariably seems to come from someone who “forgot” anything of relevance so fast that simple, irrational, carefully-cultivated fear was able to move into completely un-occupied brain space simply because of the damn vacuum.

    Actual freedom was–and is–too much work. Absolution fantasies are a dime a dozen, and they promise a world that would make even PT Barnum blush.

    I’m not sure which atrocity I’m dreading more: the idea that there will some day be a twenty-year retrospective capitalizing on the same event, or the next inevitably (-cultivated) blowback event that replaces a memory that has become too stale for further exploitation.

  19. Joe Smith
    Joe Smith September 12, 2012 5:03 am

    Claire,

    Why? Why not?

    People make mistakes, if they acknowledge their mistake, what is the point in ostracizing other than for one’s own personal ego. Some haven’t changed their tune for whatever reason, but those that have made the realization, should be cast out and never spoken to or listened to again, made to sew a Scarlett letter to their clothing is what I am gathering from your 9/11 blog. Instead of realizing we make mistakes and getting people back on track is far a better goal then making ourselves feel superior.

    May I ask what is the point in being black and white especially when the world is in color?

  20. Matt, another
    Matt, another September 12, 2012 6:19 am

    Often when people have what they consider uncompromising principles, they see those principles as black and white. If principles are subject to being of mixed colors (gray, yellow, blue) it would suggest they are not really principles, but generic guidelines, that while held fondly by a person are something that can be negotiated away.

    Anybody willing to compromise away my freedom, my liberty deserves derision and ostracism.

  21. Claire
    Claire September 12, 2012 6:48 am

    “Anybody willing to compromise away my freedom, my liberty deserves derision and ostracism.”

    … in particular if they have previously presented themselves as champions of freedom.

    I’m pretty sure that all of us here are of “big tent” persuasion — happy to share the freedom movement with people who may disagree with us on many, many issues — including big ones (abortion, religion, and IP are three that come quickly to mind).

    But people who espouse one set of principles — then dump those principles and start agitating for aggression and statism the minute things get rough — are another matter.

  22. Claire
    Claire September 12, 2012 6:57 am

    “May I ask what is the point in being black and white especially when the world is in color?”

    Per my comment just above … I’m not talking about black & white. Nor am I talking about people who, after experience and thought, altered their principles (something we all do over time if we’re growing and learning). I’m talking about people who claimed to believe in individual rights and non-aggression but who actually didn’t.

    Scarlet letter? No. Never speak to them again? That depends on circumstances.

    And yeah, if I knew somebody who said, in the aftermath, “OMG, I must have gone temporarily insane there for a while. Now I’ve learned something about myself and my beliefs,” that would make a difference.

    But trust? That’s not hard to earn. But it’s really, really hard to re-earn once it’s been abused.

  23. Claire
    Claire September 12, 2012 7:01 am

    BTW, Joe, you didn’t respond to something I asked: What would a unified voice between individualists and people who abandoned individual rights say? And how would joining with them increase freedom?

  24. Claire
    Claire September 12, 2012 7:04 am

    “I’m not sure which atrocity I’m dreading more: the idea that there will some day be a twenty-year retrospective capitalizing on the same event, or the next inevitably (-cultivated) blowback event that replaces a memory that has become too stale for further exploitation.”

    Amen, Kevin. Well said.

    And why is it that all the cries to “Remember” or “Never forget!” also carry the implication, “But never think very hard about it; just jerk those knees”?

  25. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal September 12, 2012 7:34 am

    Seems this mirrors the snitch issue.

  26. just waiting
    just waiting September 12, 2012 7:52 am

    One of life’s truths is that once someone does it once, they will always do it again, no matter how many times they promise they won’t. Hitting their partner, stealing from their boss, leaving the toilet seat up or abandoning their principles, doesn’t matter how mundane or extreme the action, once they’ve done it once, they’ll always do it again.

    So how do you rely on someone, trust someone, once they’ve hit you, stolen, or otherwise broken that trust? And why would you want to? To wonder when they’re going to do it again? Trust me, it will be at the most inopportune or dangerous time possible.

    I guess I’m getting colder as I get older, but my life remaining is far too short to bother with those who I expect to injure me. Yea, I know all about “I am my brother’s keeper”, but there are plenty of people out there that share my ideals that I haven’t met yet. I think its more productive to spend my time looking for that new brother/sister than spend it waiting for the brother I had to somehow screw me over again

  27. Stryder
    Stryder September 12, 2012 8:24 am

    I said it then, I say it now, by changing our stance (Patriot Act, airplane boarding screening) the terrorists WON. They acheived their goals, and, if you think on it, I did not say who the terrorists ARE.

  28. Kevin Wilmeth
    Kevin Wilmeth September 12, 2012 8:56 am

    Regarding this by now well-hammered betrayal topic: for me, it’s about how it’s handled in the aftermath. I just went through a different sort of humble pie of my own, and labored considerably to ensure that the acknowledgement of my own mistake (and dammit, it was that) was crystal-clear. I had to do this; I’d not be able to sleep if I didn’t.

    Let’s say the subject is on my mind.

    Aside from the amusing image of Claire as a one-dimensional, black-and-white figure (there sure are a fat lot of those in the world today, but one of the reasons I come here in the first place is that Claire is emphatically not one of them, so much so that I think she helps me from becoming one myself), the basic point she makes is not that redemption is not possible, but that redemption is only possible if it is actively pursued. Only then do we–can we–get into the discussion of “can this individual betrayal even be redeemed?” And from there, I too believe that most of us here are (or really want to be) “big-tent” types.

    Shit, given the size of the other damn tent, I’ll take any genuine help I can get.

  29. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit
    The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit September 12, 2012 10:15 am

    Just waiting: Nah. I’ve got files full of people who’ve only “done it” once and have never “done it” again. Punishment can have that effect on the thoughtful, after all, and ostracism, criticism, and outright mockery can have that effect as well. But I disagree wholeheartedly that “doing it once” is any sort of guarantee that it’s always going to be done. Remember the old saying, “Once is an incident, twice is a coincidence, three times is enemy action.”

    Which is not to say that they won’t, or, as Claire said, re-earning trust isn’t a push uphill. And, in fact, it may never BE re-earned, depending on the nature of the breach and the resulting damages.

  30. grenadier1
    grenadier1 September 12, 2012 12:48 pm

    Pardon my ignorance but my reading here post dates 9/11 by quite some time. I am not aware of your position on what the proper libertarian response to 9/11 should have been. Please elaborate if you can?

  31. Claire
    Claire September 12, 2012 1:14 pm

    greanadier, I’m sure you know very well that I don’t have any position on what a “proper libertarian response” should be. You know I’m not in the business of prescribing for others.

    But I can say for dead-solid certain that these are NOT libertarian responses, proper or otherwise: “Kill all the Arabs!” “Throw all the Muslims out of the country!” “The Bill of Rights doesn’t matter in an emergency!” “We just have to trust the government to do what’s right and not worry about our petty concerns!” Or “Let’s go to war with [some group of people who never attacked us]!”

    ADDED: And it’s even less libertarian when the person uttering such horrors claimed, just days earlier, to be devoted to individualism and non-aggression.

  32. just waiting
    just waiting September 12, 2012 1:36 pm

    Hobbit,
    “Done it” once or “got caught” for it once?

    Get caught the first time, and I agree, depending on the level, the scare or the scars will usually deter repetition. Everyone takes a step back, and many stop, but only when they get caught, whether its the first time or fiftieth they’ve done it. But how many get caught their honest to goodness first time doing it?

    As kids we got burned the first time we experienced a candle’s flame, most of us learned and did it just once. But when it came to hitting the cookie jar a few years later, how many times did you go back, even after the first time you got caught? “A thief always returns to the scene of the crime” (BTW, my mom lived for the stories of denial she got out of our chocolate covered faces, the better the story the lesser the punishment, she said it was worth the price of the cookies).

    I don’t think adult activities are much different, although the penalties are more severe. I firmly believe what Ayn Rand said about the creation of laws that are supposed to be broken, and a person’s inability to live a legal life. So, we all do what we have to do to get by, even though by the letter of some statute somewhere we are doing “wrong”. Sometimes its a real wrong, like snitching or hurting someone. But we keep doing this wrong repetitively, because it works for us, right up until we are told by someone we can not, are arrested, are beaten for snitching, are cut off for not putting the seat down, etc.

    When that happens, we find something new to do in order to get by. If we go back to it, we know we suffer the possibility of negativity again. Put the seat down to get affection, leave it up to sleep with the dog.

    Abandoning your beliefs and faith is no different. Its changing activities that aren’t working for them anymore. To some, maybe it wasn’t about values, maybe it was just a job. But when its a public figure, it has a much larger effect. We all have our own values, codes and beliefs. By sharing them with others publicly, as a writer or spokesperson or public face, we let the world know we stand behind these codes and beliefs. We out here respect those who have a voice and stand for a cause, there’s a certain integrity to it. We come to rely on those in the public, like Claire and so few more, who truly, truly believe in and give voice to “the cause”. If Claire told you she had a change of heart and was on tv beginning a nationwide movement for gun surrender and confiscation, something diametrically opposed to the Claire you know, could she ever be forgiven? What if the movement she started became a success?

    To run from their beliefs to the diametrically opposite position during times of turbulence means they were never really true beliefs at all, but just an occupation.

  33. Joe Smith
    Joe Smith September 13, 2012 5:46 am

    Claire,
    What would all those voices say? Well if they were rejoining party, I would hope the same thing. What else would they say, why else would they rejoin the group?

    They weren’t giving away your rights or anyone’s rights. I don’t recall any ballot containing allowing me to vote on that anti-terrorist legislation or any legislation that concerned my rights as a US citizen, since 2001.

    To say that we hold true to our beliefs at all times, is a lie, we temper beliefs and idealogy by our environment, social standing, social pressure, and social interaction. The only people who do not are zealots and extremists, who ignore outside factors in decision making and reasoning.

  34. Claire
    Claire September 13, 2012 6:00 am

    Joe — you and I are apparently writing about different people and different things. “Rejoin party”? “Rejoin the group”? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Where in the blog or in comments have I discussed any such thing?

    Also, I never said a word implying that all people should hold unalterable beliefs under all circumstances. I was talking about a specific set of people who behaved as hypocrites, cowards, or turncoats under one circumstance.

    Finally, if you believe that v*ting is the only way that rights are ever surrendered and that people’s attitudes make no difference between liberty and tyranny, then you and I are just on different planets.

  35. grenadier1
    grenadier1 September 13, 2012 9:02 am

    Claire,
    Understood, I just didnt know what YOUR response to the 911 attack was so I guess I was looking for a way to ask that question without coming off as insulting or accusitory. I dont disagree with your assessment of those statements.
    I do have a real tough time understanding the position that some libertarians take regarding the non-agression principle. I think too many libertarians believe that means pacifism or non-violence. I dont agree with that at all.

  36. Claire
    Claire September 13, 2012 10:30 am

    grenadier — My response? Well, nothing and everything. Like a lot of people here, I knew immediately that the fedgov would use the attacks for more power and less freedom. I was totally shocked when so many former freedom lovers wanted war and the destruction of liberty.

    I just kept on writing what I write — and now included articles asking people to calm down and think and articles condemning the new things government was doing.

    But …

    In one case, an editor printed my article, then without a word chopped a key paragraph out of it so that it made no sense. (He was trying to protect the feelings of a “libertarian” who had written an article demanding that all Americans be required to carry an internal ID card.)

    In another, the editor printed my article as written, but got such an angry response from pro-war readers that he never let me write another political article for him.

    Other articles challenging the “patriotic” position on 9-11 got rejected outright. A few of my older “unpatriotic” articles got scrubbed from the Web by site owners. Not many, but a few.

    If you talk to other writers who continued to take individualist, “anti-government” positions after 9-11, you’ll hear similar stories. We spoke out; editors shut us up — as is their right to do. Jim Bovard, another one who still believed in and wrote about liberty after 9-11, got rejected at a much higher level than I.

  37. Claire
    Claire September 13, 2012 10:35 am

    Also — thank heaven for blogs and other forums that enabled dissenters go on having our say.

    I didn’t expect freedomistas to set themselves up as heroes or martyrs after 9-11. But it still hurts that so many considered their principles to be disposable — at exactly the moment when freedom needed all the principled defense it could get.

  38. grenadier1
    grenadier1 September 14, 2012 6:43 am

    Thanks for telling me this.
    Thats a tough row to hoe, to be consistant.
    Thats really what it boils down to for me. I agree or disagree with people all the time but as long as those people are consistant in their beliefs at least I can respect it.

  39. Woody
    Woody September 14, 2012 7:01 am

    Consistency is becoming a rare philosophical commodity, it seems. How many people do you know who thump the Constitution when they think it supports their argument and ignore it when it doesn’t? Or worse, trot out some horribly tortured interpretation of the Commerce Clause, to justify their statist ideas. I have trouble taking inconsistent people seriously.

  40. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal September 16, 2012 7:45 pm

    Now, I think thumping the Constitution is a fine thing to do when you want to point out to the sheeple how criminal their government has become- but then point out that it was rigged from the beginning and when it is wrong, it is WRONG.

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