Editor’s Introductory Note: The following essay on censorship was posted nearly 20 years ago, in The Resister . I miss that site. This article is re-posted with permission. – JWR
“How we burned in the prison camps later thinking: What would things have been like if every security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive?”– Alexander Solzhenitzyn, The Gulag Archipelago
What would be the tripwire resulting in open rebellion? Examining the Bill of Rights, and considering existing laws only, and not failed attempts, you will find that every clause has been violated to one degree or another.
Documenting those violations would fill volumes, and it is important to remember that only government can violate the exercise of unalienable individual rights and claim immunity from retribution. We omit martial law or public suspension of the Constitution as a tripwire. The overnight installation of dictatorship obviously would qualify as “the tripwire,” but is not likely to occur. What has occurred, what is occurring, is the implementation of every aspect of such dictatorship without an overt declaration. The Constitution is being killed by attrition. The Communist Manifesto is being installed by accretion. Any suggestion that martial law is the tripwire leads us to the question: what aspect of martial law justifies the first shot?
For much the same reason, we will leave out mass executions of the Waco variety. For one thing, they are composite abuses of numerous individual rights. Yet, among those abuses, the real tripwire may exist. For another, those events are shrouded in a fog of obfuscation and outright lies. Any rebellion must be based on extremely hard and known facts. Similarly, no rebellion will succeed if its fundamental reasons for occurring are not explicitly identified. Those reasons cannot be explicitly identified if, in place of their identification, we simply point to a composite such as Waco and say, “See, that’s why; figure it out.” Any suggestion that more Wacos, in and of themselves, would be the tripwire, simply leads us back again to the question: what aspect of them justifies rebellion?
For the same reasons, we leave out a detailed account of Ayn Rand’s identification of the four essential characteristics of tyranny. She identified them quite correctly, but together they are just another composite from which we must choose precipitating causes. These characteristics are: one-party rule, executions without trial for political offenses, expropriation or nationalization of private property, and “above all,” censorship.
With regard to the first characteristic of tyranny, what is the real difference between the Fabian socialist Republican Party and the overtly [Bolshevik] socialist Democratic Party? Nothing but time. Regarding the second we have the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and the ATF’s enforcement branch. In action they simply avoid the embarrassment of a trial. Regarding the third, we have asset forfeiture “laws,” the IRS, the EPA, the FCC, the FDA, the Federal Reserve, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, and a myriad of other executive branch agencies, departments, and commissions whose sole function is to regulate business and the economy. Regulating business for the common good (fascism) is no different in principle than outright nationalization (communism).
However, the fourth characteristic of tyranny, censorship, is the obvious primary tripwire. When ideology and the reporting of facts and how-to instructions are forbidden, there is nothing remaining but to fight. Freedom of speech and persuasion — the freedom to attempt to rationally convince willing listeners — is so fundamental an individual right that without it no other rights, not even the existence of rights, can be enforced, claimed, debated, or even queried.
Does this censorship include the regulation of the “public” airwaves by the FCC, as in the censorship which prohibits tobacco companies from advertising — in their own defense — on the same medium which is commanded by government decree to carry “public service” propaganda against them? Does it include federal compulsion of broadcasters to air politically-correct twaddle for “The Children”? Does it include the Orwellian “Communications Decency Act”? Does it include any irrationalist “sexual harassment” or tribalist “hate speech” laws which prohibit certain spoken words among co-workers? The answer: unequivocally yes.
Although the above do not pertain to ideological or political speech, yet they are censorship and are designed to intimidate people into the acceptance of de facto censorship. We say that any abrogation of free speech, and any form of censorship, which cannot be rectified by the soap box, the ballot box, or the jury box, must be rectified by the cartridge box — or lost forever.
Americans have been stumbling over tripwires justifying overt resistance for well over 130 years. On one hand, we submit that gun confiscation is a secondary tripwire only. It is second to censorship because if speech is illegal we cannot even discuss the repeal of gun control, or any other population controls. If only guns are illegal, we may still convince people to repeal those laws. On the other hand, gun confiscation may be a sufficient tripwire because the primary one, censorship, can be fully implemented only after the citizenry has been disarmed.
Resistance, in the context of this article, means those legitimate acts by individuals which compel government to restrict its activities and authority to those powers delegated to the Congress by the people in the Constitution.
The distinction to be drawn here is that the objective of patriotic resistance is to restore original Constitutional government, not change the form of government. To this end we believe:
The enforcement of any laws — local, state, or federal — that through the action or inaction of the courts makes nugatory the individual means of resisting tyranny, justifies resistance.
The operative terms of the above statement are the parameters that must be defined and understood if resistance to tyranny and despotism is to be honorable, and for the cause of individual liberty, rather than anarchy resulting from a new gang of tyrants. Rebellion can never be justified so long as objective means of redress are available, which are themselves not subverted or rendered impotent by further or parallel subjective legislation.
The goal of patriots throughout the country must be the restoration of objective constitutional law and order. The failure to enforce a subjective law (i.e. the Communications Decency Act) does not justify that law existing, but it also does not justify resistance. This is because non-enforcement leaves avenues of redress, including the forbidden activity itself, still available. Should a lower court uphold or ignore a case that challenges subjective law, peaceable means of redress are still open by higher or lateral courts in another jurisdiction.
However, should the U.S. Supreme Court uphold subjective laws, or refuse to hear the cases challenging them, then the legislative, executive, and judicial branches have all failed to guarantee individual liberty, from the widest principles to the smallest details. A single refusal by the highest court in the land to overturn a whim-based subjective law, or to refuse to hear the case, is sufficient to justify resistance to that law because there is simply nowhere left to turn for further attempts at redress. At such time nobody is morally bound by that law. Tyranny gets one chance per branch.
America is either a constitutional republic or it is not. If we can restore our republic it will ultimately occur through reason, and reason will then lead our representatives to make unconstitutional those laws which, by any objective standard of justice, should have never been considered in the first place. However, we cannot assert our claim to restore our liberty if we but accede to a single socialist construct. Freedom and serfdom cannot coexist. We cannot have it both ways.
Life, and the means to preserve it, cannot coexist with disarmament. Liberty, and its rational exercise, cannot coexist with subjective constraints. Property, and its acquisition, use, and disposal cannot coexist with expropriation. The federal government’s first task is to obey the Constitution. It has refused. Our first task as free men is to force the government to obey it again. The Constitution of the United States of America is a constraint on the federal government, not on the individual.
Likewise, the constitutions of the various states are constraints on the state governments, not on the individual. The Constitution contains many provisions allowing the violation of our natural rights as free men by immoral and unethical men in government. The true heroes of the ratification debates were the Anti-federalists, who secured Federalist guarantees that the Bill of Rights would amend the Constitution.
To their undying credit, the Federalists lived up to their promise. Nevertheless, only after constitutional limitations on government have been restored in their original form can we consider amending the Constitution to redress its very few remaining defects (for example, the absence of a separation of state and the economy clause).
Laws that make nugatory the means of resisting tyranny and despotism determine the tripwire. The creeping legislative erosion of the 2nd Amendment is not the only tripwire that justifies resistance. We submit that any gun control is a secondary tripwire. Not only because it can be effortlessly evaded, but also because it strengthens our cause. It is second only to censorship. If speech is illegal we can discuss neither repeal of gun control, or the repeal of any other unconstitutional “law.” Censorship is not a tripwire, it is THE tripwire. Thus, by default, censorship morally justifies rebellion.
Under censorship, no other rights, including the right to be free from censorship, can be advocated, discussed, or queried. It is incorrect to say that after censorship comes utter subjugation. Censorship is utter subjugation. There is no greater usurpation of liberty while remaining alive. After censorship come the death camps, and they are not a prerequisite of censorship, they are merely a symptom of it. Censorship qua censorship is sufficient in itself to justify open rebellion against any government that legislates, enforces, or upholds it.
However, that is not the half of it. Censorship is alone in being the only violation of individual rights that does not require actual enforcement or challenges in court, before rebellion is justified. When the government forbids you to speak or write, or use your own or a supporter’s property to address willing listeners or readers, that government has openly and forcibly declared that the art of peaceful persuasion is dead and will not be tolerated. Upon that very instant, all peaceful avenues of redress have been closed and the only possible method of regaining that liberty is force. Whenever we give up that force, we are not only ruined, we deserve to be ruined.
Censorship is already being “legally” imposed through accretion by compromisers, appeasers, and pragmatists within government at all levels. Note the demands by “progressive” organizations and self-appointed “civil rights” groups to ban so-called “hate” speech (they mean thought and debate), or “extreme” language (they mean principled dissent), or “paramilitary” books (they mean the knowledge of how to resist). When our government imposes censorship, it will be because our ability to use force to resist censorship no longer exists. Buying copies of The Resister is not yet prohibited; buying machine guns already is. Unwarranted search for unlicensed books has not yet occurred; unwarranted search for unlicensed weapons has already begun. As your unalienable right of peaceable discussion and dissent is being daily abridged, your right to peaceably assemble and associate in advocacy of your own self-defense, according to your own free will, has already been outlawed (courtesy of ADL’s “model” anti-militia legislation).
Unconstitutional federal agencies now arm themselves with weapons that you may not own, and train in tactics that you are prohibited from mastering. Before a government is sure you won’t resist, it will make sure you can’t resist.
The most irrational, contradictory, short-range, whimsical notion possible to men who claim the unalienable right to resist tyrannical government is the notion that they must first let their ability to resist be stripped from them before they have the right to use it. This is the argument of so-called conservatives who pish-tosh the notion of legislative “slippery-slopes,” and sycophantic adherents of a supreme Court that has no constitutionally delegated authority to interpret the Constitution in the first place. We reject the notion of mindless compliance with subjective “laws.” Subjective laws must be resisted on metaphysical and epistemological principles, moral and ethical grounds, and on constitutional and historical precedence.
No rational man desires ends without means. No rational man can be faced with his own imminent subjugation and truly believe that, once things are as bad as they can get, “sometime” “someone” will do “something” “somehow” to counteract that trend. Any man who counsels another to appeal to those mystical equivalents of “divine intervention” for “deliverance” from tyranny is our enemy by all principles conceivable within the scope of rational human intelligence.
The time to organize resistance is not after censorship, but before it. The time to prepare resistance is when our ability to resist is being threatened. The time to begin resistance is when that threat has been upheld or ignored by the courts. The unalienable rights that safeguard our ability to resist are limited to those which, if not violated, allow us to plan and use all materials necessary for resistance. We submit that only the following meet that criteria:
- freedom of speech and of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble–so that we may advocate ideas, report and discuss news, and instruct others how to carry out resistance activities 1st Amendment
- the right to keep and bear arms — so that we may have appropriate force in our hands should we need it, and be trained to use such force as necessary (2nd Amendment);
- the right to be let alone — so that we may be free of government intrusion in our lives, liberty, and property (3rd Amendment)
- the right to be secure in our persons, dwellings, papers, and property from unwarranted, unaffirmed searches and seizures — so that our records, ideological materials, and weapons will remain in our hands (4th Amendment).
For the purpose of this discussion, we believe that no other rights are relevant because if every individual right other than those four were violated — although it would be an unspeakably evil act on the part of the government, justifying immediate and unforgiving resistance — their abridgement would not effect our ability to resist. If any of the first four amendments are infringed by legislation, enforced by executive power, and their abrogation is upheld or ignored by the courts, unremitting, forcible resistance, and aid and comfort to its citizen-soldiers, is a moral imperative for every single person who believes that life, liberty, and property are unalienable and self-existing, and not grants of government privilege.
“The United States should get rid of its militias.” — Josef Stalin, 1933
“The foundation of a free government begins to be undermined when freedom of speech on political subjects is restrained; it is destroyed when freedom of speech is wholly denied.” — William Rawle, LL.D. Philadelphia, 1825