lying to the state

For the most part, embracing ethical libertarianism meant that my actions were far more restricted. For instance, I had previously had no problem in principle with the justice of punching someone in the face for mere verbal abuse. The concept of coercion — and specifically, the emphasis on the initiatory nature of coercion — narrowed the field of ethically legitimate options.

There is one thing, however, (and some might see it as quite a major thing) that I had previously considered unethical which became quite straightforwardly legitimate when submitted to the Do-Not-Initiate-Force-Or-Fraud Test.

I refer to the question of lying to the police — or to state operatives in general.

Previously, I had considered it wrong to lie. Does that mean I would have told the Nazi soldiers where exactly I had hidden the Jewish family in my annex?


First of all, I distinguished candor and honesty. My personal restriction against lying was very technically about the truth content of my statements, and not about any positive obligation to give people all the information they want. Secondly, it was clear to me that the hypothetical Nazi soldiers didn’t count, although I’m not sure I could have given a coherent explanation why.

The Non-Aggression Principle is demanding. It leads inexorably to philosophical anarchism, after all, if you’re willing to follow the logic to its … logical conclusion. But it also makes clear that state agents are automatically aggressors, and just as it is ethically legitimate to defend oneself against force by using force against the aggressor, just as it is potentially legitimate even to seek retribution for the initiation of rights-violations, so too is it ethically righteous to lie to thugs and liars. Hitting back is not the same thing as hitting first, no matter how many TV heroes tell you it makes you “no better than them!” (But notice that these action-show moralists are never pacifists: they want you to let the police take care of it. Talk about propaganda for a monopoly!)

Here’s how Dom Armentano put it:

In my view the victim has absolutely no moral duty to be truthful to anyone hell-bent on harming him or stealing his property, especially if the truth would make the crime even more likely. Simply put, criminals forfeit their right to truth when they steadfastly refuse to respect the sanctity of life and private property. Therefore it would be entirely appropriate, I dare say mandatory, for a potential victim to fib or lie (about the nearness of the police, for example) if the fib could prevent the robbery or help catch the criminal. And since 99% of politics concerns the suppression of liberty and the forceful redistribution (theft) of property, I would argue that the same fib loophole applies there — and with a vengeance.

And here’s Rothbard on the same point:

If the State, then, is a vast engine of institutionalized crime and aggression, the “organization of the political means” to wealth, then this means that the State is a criminal organization, and that therefore its moral status is radically different from any of the just property-owners that we have been discussing in this volume. And this means that the moral status of contracts with the State, promises made to it and by it, differs radically as well. It means, for example, that no one is morally required to obey the State (except insofar as the State simply affirms the right of just private property against aggression). For, as a criminal organization with all of its income and assets derived from the crime of taxation, the state cannot possess any just property. This means that it cannot be unjust or immoral to fail to pay taxes to the State (since it cannot be unjust to break contracts with criminals).

Hemingway, on the other hand …

Here is a blockquote within a blockquote on Ernest Hemingway among the lefties:

When left-wing critics of the 1930′s attacked him for not embracing doctrinaire Marxism, Ernest Hemingway replied:
I cannot be a communist now because I believe in only one thing: liberty. First I would look after myself and do my work. Then I would care for my family. Then I would help my neighbor. But the state ‘I care nothing for. All the state has ever meant to me is unjust taxation … I believe in the absolute minimum of government.

A writer is an outlyer like a gypsy … If he is a good writer he will never like the government he lives under. His hand should be against it….

(Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story by Carlos Baker, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969)

In the foreword to his own book, Baker writes: “If [Hemingway] was the fierce individualist who resisted fad and fashion like the plague … who believed that that government is best which governs least, who hated tyranny, bureaucracy, taxation, propaganda….”

- Jerome Tucille, “From Libertine To Libertarian,” Libertarian Forum, 2.2, January 15, 1970, available from in PDF.

consistency is a harsh mistress

I say in my review of Robert A. Heinlein’s most libertarian novel,

There are many of us who are grateful to Heinlein for introducing us to the distinction between liberty and democracy, between personal freedom and collective sovereignty, between the society and the State.

But after giving us our first push in an unpopular and unsupported direction, he then refused to follow us to the natural conclusions of his own arguments. He was our ideological forefather, not our brother.

I won’t comment any further on this short article I found in a 1969 issue of Murray Rothbard’s Libertarian Forum, other than to note that agorists Sam Konkin and J. Neil Schulman were not only big fans of Heinlein, but defended him as a libertarian.


One of the more distressing tendencies among American right-wing “libertarians” is a symptomatic willingness to identify popular authors as freedom-loving if they so much as use the term liberty in their works. The undisputed guru of this coterie is Robert A. Heinlein, writer of scores of science fiction short stories and novels; his book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, is often singled out as representative of “anarchist” or “libertarian” science fiction. It is an enthralling novelette describing a futuristic moon colony which rebels against planet Earth under the aegis of a small group of classical liberals who have come into power via revolution. The rhetoric of these bourgeois revolutionaries is unabashedly Randian, although a signal character is identified as a “rational anarchist”.

“Moon” is the latest production of the prolific Mr. Heinlein, noted also for “Stranger in a Strange Land”, which supposedly captivated the attention of hip people several years ago. One would expect Heinlein to be somewhat sympathetic to the Movement, having read his utopian creations which hint at the possibilities of an open society; to the contrary, a bitter awakening is in store for Heinlein fans who are more than armchair devotees of liberty.

According to a February issue of National Review magazine, Robert Heinlein is one of 270 signers of a jingoist petition circulated in the US Author’s Guild by the facile William Buckley and his spiritual cohort Frank S. Meyer. The petition, a belated retort to an earlier anti-Vietnam war roster of authors (which was eminently successful), calls for “the vigorous prosecution of the Vietnam war to an honorable conclusion.” Deep contemplation is not necessary to comprehend the statist, authoritarian implications of such New Right weasel words and the concomitant beliefs of men who would endorse it.

Only one other science fiction writer joins Heinlein in the missive, Poul Anderson; the other signatories are well known in the rightist arsenal (Stefan Possony, Eugene Lyons, Brent Bozell, John Dos Passos, Francis Russell . . . ad nauseam). The case of Robert Heinlein is useful in evaluating both the politics of his followers and the commitments of entrenched and established American writers: It is clear that a writer cannot serve two masters, both justice and the mighty dollar — one must give way, if not on the written page, then in one’s personal life. While Heinlein has never been so explicitly libertarian as to be judged hypocritical, the lesson remains an open and obvious one.

An interesting footnote to this question comes from our British comrades: Several years ago, in Anarchy magazine, the monthly publication of Freedom Press in London, an article appeared on science fiction in the English language, in which Heinlein was singled out as “the only fascist science fiction writer in America.” This prophetic note comes from a libertarian community that has no need for propertied quislings.

- Wilson A. Clark, Jr.

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