If you have not read Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” then take a moment to do so.
The story describes a city that is perfect except for one thing. One child must suffer so that others can be happy. Furthermore, the people who live in Omelas are all shown the suffering child when they come of age, so no adult lives in Omelas without knowing how the system really works.
This is, of course, an apt analogy for statism. Every state exists through taxation, which victimizes at least one person. All states in history have inflicted additional suffering on both those who live in their territory and those outside of it. So Omelas might be considered an ideal state — one with minimal suffering and maximum happiness.
In the story, those who come of age in Omelas do one of two things. Most rationalize the abuse of the child and continue to live their comfortable lives. However, a few decide instead to leave Omelas. In the same way, those who support government are the majority in modern society. They want to live in Omelas and are willing to sacrifice others to do so. A few, however, realize that this is unethical and make the hard choice to reject statism regardless of the changes it might bring.
Importantly, limited government libertarianism does nothing to escape this fundamental problem. The minarchist sees the benefits of liberty but instead of pursuing total liberty for all people with a relentless passion, he hesitates. He makes excuses. Eventually, he finds himself giving in and trying to justify a little bit of suffering so that most people can be safe and happy.
Except the real world is not idealized fiction. When a minarchist gives up his own liberty, and sacrifices the liberty of others, what does it buy him? Not a Utopian paradise. Instead people get somewhat-free markets and moderate amounts of personal liberty. At best, it is a rough approximation of freedom. At times, it is a glint of hope in society slipping towards totalitarianism. On a few sad occasions, it is only an echo in the dark of democide and war.
On the other hand, anarchist libertarians are intransigent. They would give up all of the niceties and comforts in the world rather than commit crimes against a single innocent person. In other words, they do not give in to evil. As the motto of Ludwig von Mises says, “Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito”.
It is a lesson budding libertarians should learn, but often only come to understand after months or years of intellectual struggle. It is hard to accept that government is totally illegitimate. It means recognizing that changing the world is not as simple as voting, campaigning, lobbying, or trying to fix a broken system. It means something much more arduous and much more dangerous: bringing down the most menacing and most powerful criminal organization in history. It means working towards a goal that will likely not come to fruition for decades, if not centuries.
On the other hand, it also means that victory will usher in an entirely new era of liberty and prosperity. It will be one of the greatest achievements in history and truly something one can be proud to take part in. It may seem daunting, but you will not be alone on the journey. Many have already begun walking and are waiting for you to join them. More will come to follow, once you have led the way.
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