This article was published in the Winter 1996-97 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Miscellaneous Reflections
by Roderick T. Long

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1. Dangerous Rights
2. The Bureau of Sabotage
3. Theocracy No Improvement

1. Dangerous Rights

As readers of this publication know, I am opposed both to intellectual property rights ("The Libertarian Case Against Intellectual Property Rights," Formulations, Vol. III, No. 1 (Autumn 1995)) and restrictions on admissible evidence in courtroom trials ("The Athenian Constitution: Government by Jury and Referendum," Formulations, Vol. IV, No. 1 (Autumn 1996)). These are views I came to gradually, with some trepidation, but two recent news items have reinforced my stand.

Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega is apparently in court once again, being tried on charges of drug trafficking. The story has it that Noriega attempted to introduce evidence to prove that he had been working for the CIA during the period in question; the point of the evidence was to show that the source of his revenue at the time was the American taxpayer, not the drug trade. (Not that the two have ever been mutually exclusive!) But the court ruled inadmissible all evidence of Noriega's former association with the CIA.

This only serves to confirm my suspicion that the rules on admissibility of evidence, while perhaps well-intentioned, are too dangerous to merit libertarian support. When the government can choose to exclude evidence embarrassing to itself, the defendant is left without recourse, and the right to a trial means nothing.

The other incident that caught my eye is that AT&T is apparently suing competitors who use the word "true" in their advertisements, on the grounds that the effort invested by AT&T in its "True Voice" advertising campaign has supposedly earned it an exclusive right to the use of the word "true" in such contexts.

While this is an extreme example, and perhaps a laughable one (I'm waiting to see how the case comes out before I start laughing), it illustrates the danger that intellectual property rights can pose to freedom of speech and press. Ownership of ideas must lead, in the end, to thought control.

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2. The Bureau of Sabotage

Back in grade school I remember reading a series of tales about the "Bureau of Sabotage," written by science-fiction author Frank Herbert (author of the much more famous Dune series). To the best of my recollection, the premise of the "Bureau of Sabotage" series (which included both novels and short stories) was that well-meaning reformers had succeeded in eliminating all the red tape and bureaucratic rigmarole that make government so inefficient. The result was a government so streamlined, so effective, that it posed a far greater threat to liberty than ever before. Laws were passed at a much higher rate, and enforced vigilantly. Delays and oversights due to incompetence or graft were a thing of the past; now there was no escape from the everpresent eye of the state.

To solve this problem, the Bureau of Sabotage was created. An official governmental body, its sole function was to interfere with the functioning of other branches and agencies of the state to slow them down, to frustrate their plans, to block them at every turn. (As I recall, some institutions, like government hospitals, were exempt.) The Bureau's motto was: "In Lieu of Red Tape."

What set me thinking once again about the Bureau of Sabotage was Rich Hammer's article "A State Can Be Designed to Shrink" (Formulations, Vol. III, No. 3 (Spring 1996). A number of libertarians have suggested designing the legislature's power in such a way as to make it easier to repeal laws than to pass them (for some examples see Forum Proceedings: Constitutions (Autumn 1993)); Rich took this a step further, suggesting that we put our minds to work thinking up additional ways of building law-repealing mechanisms into a political system's constitutional structure. And then I was reminded of the Bureau of Sabotage.

What's distinctive about the Bureau of Sabotage, though, is that, if I recall correctly, its impact occurred not so much at the level of legislation as at the level of enforcement. In other words, what the Bureau primarily did was not to repeal laws or prevent laws form being passed, but to interfere with the government's ability to carry out its statutes. Could there be room for something like the Bureau of Sabotage in the constitution of a free nation?

Now that I think about it, the founders of the American Republic did think they had given us the equivalent of a Bureau of Sabotage. John Adams praised the right of the jury to nullify unjust laws; Thomas Jefferson went further, arguing that any part of government should be able to nullify the enactments of any other part of government (though he didn't like it when the Supreme Court did it to him); and James Madison and Alexander Hamilton pointed to the armed citizenry as the ultimate check on the abuse of government power. But there must be other ways as well.

My memory of Herbert's series is fairly dim, but I don't think it offered any particularly constructive suggestions beyond the basic concept of a Bureau of Sabotage. The actual methods depicted were fairly crude and haphazard, and as I recall, a bit too close to terrorism for libertarian tastes; the author's approach was tongue-in-cheek, not concerned with practical implementation.

I invite readers to join me in trying to imagine safe, workable ways for government agencies to interfere with one another's activities.

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3. Theocracy No Improvement

On television the other night, U. S. Representative Dick Armey quoted George Washington as saying, in 1796, that it's impossible to govern the world without God. Armey then went on to say that the last 200 years have shown us the result of trying to govern the world without God.

The implication of Armey's remarks was that we should try to govern the world with God instead. But that's been tried too. The millennium and a half before George Washington have shown us the result of trying to govern the world with God, and it's not a pretty picture either.

So if mankind first tried to govern the world with God, and made a mess of that, and then tried to govern the world without God, and made a mess of that as well, maybe it's not the God-or-no-God part but the governing-the-world part that's responsible for the mess. Maybe the correct moral to draw from history is that the attempt to govern the world to impose one's will by force on other human beings can only lead to disaster, be one's motives religious or secular.

As long as our rulers (and those whose support or acquiescence keeps them in power) continue to believe that the ills of contemporary society result merely from their having chosen the wrong flavor of government control, no relief from oppression will be in sight and those who value freedom will continue to search for a homeland free of rulers. D

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