Last week I had an awesome time on my college tour exchanging ideas on liberty with students and non-students at four colleges in Florida: Florida International University (Miami), St. Petersburg College (St. Petersburg), Santa Fe College (Gainesville), and University of Central Florida (Orlando). The audiences consisted primarily of students in the Young Americans for Liberty, a nation-wide organization with local chapters on campuses all across the country. (And in sunny 80-degree weather all week long, a welcome reprieve from a particularly brutal winter here in Virginia.)
At each campus, we blocked out a two-hour period for each talk but I figured I would speak for 40 minutes and leave about 20 minutes for discussion. Well, things were so lively that we went the entire two hours at practically every venue.
The theme of my talk was “Libertarianism: The Hope for America.” I opened the talks with the importance of ideas on liberty and explained how such ideas have the potential for transforming people and societies in major ways.
I then talked about the life of constant, ongoing crises that Americans live under given the welfare-warfare state way of life under which we have been born and under which we live.
Social Security—busted. There never has been a fund. It’s just a welfare program, one in which the government confiscates money from the young and middle-aged to give to seniors.
Healthcare—costs continue to soar. The crisis is rooted in Medicare, Medicaid, regulation, and occupational licensure.
Immigration—a never-ending 5-year cycle of crises stretching back decades, with lots of people continuing to have periodic panic attacks over the “invasion” by the illegal aliens. The never-ending crisis is rooted in immigration controls and immigration central planning.
Drug war—death, destruction, corruption, highway robbery, and ruination of lives. Some 60,000 dead people in Mexico during the past 7 years—all because of the drug war, not drugs.
There is no way to reconcile the welfare state with the principles of a free society. A free society necessarily entails having the right to keep everything you earn and decide what to do with it. A separation of charity and the state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. Freedom also entails the right to ingest anything a person wants, and it’s none of the government’s business.
That’s the welfare state side of things. It’s worse on the warfare state side. We now live under a government that has the power to round up, incarcerate, torture, and detain Americans as much as it wants, with impunity. Also, the power to assassinate Americans. There is no way to reconcile such totalitarian powers with the principles of a free society.
And there are the never-ceasing new official enemies and crises. I told the students that they’ve grown up under the “war on terrorism,” where they have been expected to live in fear that the terrorists are coming to get us. It was no different when I was their age, only communists were substituted for terrorists. We were expected to look under our bed for communists. They were everywhere. They were coming to get us. Communists were scarier than the boogeyman. When they lost the communists as their official enemy, they replaced them with Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, the terrorists, ISIS, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Boko Haram, and, most recently, Venezuela, who, we learned just last week, now poses a grave threat to “national security.”
The revolutionary change in favor of a welfare state occurred during the 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt foisted his New Deal onto the American people, without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. From that point on, the primary aim of the federal government on the domestic level became to take care of people. That’s why it’s sometimes called the paternalistic welfare state — because people look upon the federal government as their daddy who gives them an allowance or a dole. Let’s not forget that as part of his revolution, FDR nationalized gold coins, which had been the official, constitutionally ordained money of the United States for more than a hundred years, thereby enabling federal officials to spend as much money on their welfare-state and warfare state programs.
The revolutionary change in favor of a warfare state came during the 1940s, when the national-security state was adopted in the form of a permanent, vast military establishment, the Pentagon, and the CIA, followed by the NSA. The national-security establishment was (and is) a totalitarian-like structure that was grafted onto our original constitutional structure, once again without a constitutional amendment.
Both the welfare state and the warfare state have not only infringed the liberties of the American people, they are also leading our nation to bankruptcy, just like Greece. Ever-increasing spending, taxes, and debt. U.S. officials tell Americans not to worry about it. Let the young people worry about it, they say — i.e., you college students, who will end up having 50 percent or more of your income being withheld to pay for the ever-growing Social Security and Medicare payments and for the ever-growing national debt.
I told the students that they will be told that they are bound by the economic and political system chosen by seniors but, I said, that is absolutely false. Every generation has the right to choose its own system. Just because previous generations have chosen socialism, interventionism, imperialism, and militarism doesn’t mean that young people have to choose that way of life too. They can choose instead a system of economic liberty and a constitutional republic — i.e., the way of life envisioned by the Framers. And they can combine with us older libertarians to adopt a new system now, not later.
Don’t forget, I told them, that Americans in, say, 1890 lived in a society in which there was no income tax, no IRS, no Social Security, no Medicare, no Medicaid, no occupational licensure, no drug laws, no gun control, no immigration controls, no public schooling, no big military establishment, no military empire, no CIA, no NSA, a relatively few economic regulations.
We libertarians living today can start with that baseline and even go beyond it. For example, how about a constitutional amendment that reads: “No law shall be enacted respecting the regulation of trade or abridging the free exercise thereof”? If our ancestors could achieve religious liberty, there is no reason why we can’t achieve economic liberty.
I also told them that as they embark on the road to libertarianism, they will be faced with a choice: whether to devote their efforts to reforming the welfare-warfare state or to dismantling it. Reform can (but not necessarily) make life better for welfare-warfare serfs, just as slavery reform might have led to better conditions on the plantations for 19th-century slaves. That’s fine except for one thing: A reformed serfdom is not freedom, any more than a reformed slavery was. Freedom necessarily entails dismantling — abolishing — infringements on freedom.
One of the highlights of my trip was when a student said something along the following during the discussion period: “You started out your talk with the power of ideas on liberty. When I walked into this room, I was absolutely convinced that we needed the warfare state to keep us safe. As a result of your talk, I no longer believe that. I will be leaving this room tonight a changed person.”
A sincere thanks to the YAL chapter heads for going to all the trouble to arrange the meeting and to all the people who came out for the talks and welcomed me with your warm hospitality. Keep exploring libertarianism. It is one of the grandest and most glorious movements in history. And it is the only hope that America has for extricating our nation out of its ongoing crises and chaos.