There is going to be a time of repression in this country. It may be quite harsh. For many, including libertarians, it may be frightening and discouraging. For the only vaguely committed it will be too much to bear and they will move back to safe positions in liberal-land or conservative-country, those establishment enclaves whose philosophically peripatetic borders seem now to overlap lovingly and lastingly on the American political landscape.
The facts of the repression are clear even if not overt. The Deputy Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, an old friend who, I can assure you, is more than capable of matching rhetoric to action, has been quoted in the Atlantic as saying that student dissenters would be “rounded up” and placed in “detention camps”. His subsequent denial of the quotation was not categorial but only complained that he had been, as politicians apparently always are, misquoted and that, ah hah, even if he had said something like that he hadn’t meant anything like that.
Mr Kleindienst, as with every one of his political associates with whom I have worked, is sensitive first and foremost to national mood. Although they may sometimes seem to buck it’s ordinary ebb and flow, they all turn and run in the face of it’s occasional floods. Such a flood is now evident, with more than 80 percent of persons answering recent polls saying that they approve of stringent crack-downs on student dissent. It is my notion that buried in these responses, and not by too much racist dirt at that, is an implicit desire also for a crackdown on black militants.
The Administration, with some of the most attentive political antennae we have ever seen–look at the power wielded in it by publicists!–is surely going to play the repressive mood for all it is worth. And how much it is worth is, in turn, clearly evident in the fact that Super Semanticist S. I. Hayakawa has become Puissant Politician merely and solely because he has bumbled himself, like the British at Balaclava, into a bloody, dumb, eventually disastrous position of pig-headed glory. The fact that merely cracking a few student skulls has been enough to propel this second-rate social democrat into a first rank of right-wing respect, equal to and possibly even in advance of that other pillar of West Coast educationism, Max Rafferty, must be lesson enough to Richard Nixon and his court that there are political riches in the blood of repression.
There is, however, a growing interpretation, even among some who call themselves libertarians but who probably would be more comfortable as conservatives, that the New Left has brought it all on themselves and, consequently, upon the rest of us and that, in a convenient application of what the Christians might call the Agnus Dei shift, it is the New left into whom all the daggers of recrimination may be thrust.
It is the libertarian instinct and interpretation that tells us that it is the state, and not those who attack or resist it, that is the guilty or most guilty party in the development of any repression and that to call repression merely reaction is to overlook or even deny the dynamics of state development.
In that dynamic development, the state, any state, always becomes more repressive over the long run rather then less. There are no exceptions to this in the development of any state where the power has been delegated by the people to the politicians, no matter how benign those politicians may seem at any particular point of the development.
Thus, the actions by the New Left, or even the Crazies, that have goaded the state into its current quiet frenzy, are hastened by but not created by those actions. The state must, sooner or later, become more rather then less coercive and repressive. That movement may be accelerated by people’s resistance but it is not created by that resistance. Has not, in fact, the structure of government, state, local, and national, actually become more repressive year by year in this country whether in times of peace, war, languor or riot? The answer is that it has and the very political party which now occupies (and occupies is just the word) the positions of power today is also the very political party which in past campaigns has documented and dealt with that onward course of repression in greatest detail. They are silent now, of course, because what it once called oppressive under Democrats becomes orderliness under Republicans.
Libertarians, who, throughout modern political history, have presented the only clear and consistent analysis of state power, know that the difference between the natural or spontaneous order of a free society, and the enforced order of a state system, is the very difference between the day of human liberation and the night of state coerciveness.
(Some details of that night as it now unfolds in Washington, appear to include the systematic arrest, on a vide variety of unrelated charges and as often as possible by local police, of student leaders and, subsequently, and perhaps depending upon the reaction to that, of non-student militants and radicals. The Black Panthers, of course, face a repression far more harsh and the key to it’s success very likely is simply to what extent local police forces, now frothing with a really rabid zeal, can execute Panthers without publicity. They will be helped, probably, by all of those liberal and conservative editors who feel that Panther revolutionary rhetoric is a threat to the orderly development of their own political programs.)
Libertarians, have a rather clear-cut choice in facing the repression. They tacitly or otherwise support the state or they can remain with the Resistance. There is no convenient middle course such as simply opting out of the struggle. There may be an appearance of such an option but it is illusory. For instance, even if one is able to retreat to a position in which one has no contact with either the state or the Resistance, a reaction in regard to the state-resistence question is inevitable. For one thing there will be many times when a friend who has not retreated could use your help. By not helping him, and if he is resisting, the state itself has been helped. This is not to call for selfless heroics, but only for principled recognition of the fact that there are two sides in this struggle and libertarians, whose analysis is the most pertinent of all, should not contemplate being able to avoid taking one of those sides. Nor should they avoid the possibility–and I say it is inevitability–that a choice which does not support the Resistance, even if with grave reservations regarding some of its character or characters, actually opposes it and that any choice which does not oppose the state, actually supports it.
Not every libertarian should or could be found at the barricades resisting or in the tunnels undermining state power. None, of course, want to end up in jail. And now they will see the power of the state, awesome and even frightening, and they will see the jails eagerly eating the revolution.
Tactics may have to change. That is only wisdom. But direction? Never! The course is to liberty. The state is the enemy.
Originally published in The Libertarian Forum Vol I. No. V, June 1, 1969.