John Oliver’s HBO program “Last Week Tonight” has certainly made a name for itself the last couple of years, exposing the inconvenient truth with respect to a wide variety of issues –from America’s frightening infrastructure problems to the corrupt Miss America Pageant. Oliver often makes some great points and does the public a great service – in a very humorous manner of course. Recently, however, in exposing the practices of unscrupulous televangelists, he swung hard and missed – quite badly.
From an Austin resident and Christian libertarian
On February 18, 2010, Joe Stack set the final plan of his life in motion. At roughly 9:00 a.m., he burned his house down, traumatizing his wife and child. By 9:40 a.m., Stack had departed from the Georgetown airport 21 miles from his home in his Piper Cherokee PA 28 airplane. At 9:56 a.m., he crashed this plane into an IRS office near the intersection of Mopac Boulevard and U.S. Route 183 in Austin, Texas, ending his own life, killing one individual, seriously wounding others, and causing immeasurable grief to many more.
On behalf of the libertarian community in Austin, I want to offer our most sincere condolences and prayers for the victims and their families. Our hearts go out to you.
Joe Stack was a disturbed individual. His motivation for violence was outlined on his personal webpage, EmbeddedArt.com (the site has been temporarily taken offline, but you can see an archived page here). Apparently, he was angry at the government, and in particular at the Internal Revenue Service, for their part in causing his financial ruin. He wrote about his painful history of personal economic distress and how tax laws had left him with little to live on. He had been treated unfairly, just as any taxpayer has been. Nevertheless, though is anger was justifiable, his actions most certainly were not. It was not an act of self-defense, but rather distinctly criminal. In my opinion, he may have simply gone insane. Rational people do not believe that crashing a plane into a building will bring about deeply sought change.
For many Americans, this will confirm in their minds that people who hold anti-government ideas are altogether crazy and delusional. Let us as libertarians be perfectly clear: we do not condone aggression such as this whatsoever. Let us be the first to condemn this violent behavior. For that matter, let us be the first to condemn all institutionalized violence as well, for what else is the State but organized violence? Stack was just as much a victim of the evils of government as anyone, but this fact does not give him, nor anyone else, the right to kill others in response.
We have already begun to see comments after news articles decrying “tea party nutjobs” or even libertarians as a whole. Please, friends, do not think that Joe Stack’s actions are representative of true libertarians at all. We wish to be peaceful voices for peace. We do not believe our good ends – ending the coercive State – justify our means. More violence is not the answer.
Those of us who consider ourselves Christian libertarians will be even more quick to say that Stack’s actions were nothing short of evil. Let us recall Jesus and the tax collector Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus was likely a far more aggressive person (if our understanding of history is near accurate at all) than anyone in that building, and yet Jesus still entered his house and ate with him. Doing so put Jesus in a position of immense vulnerability to the violence of the state. Tax collectors in Jesus’ day had the power to destroy people outright. Yet Jesus was humble enough to show compassion to “tax collectors and sinners” and his very presence inspired a profound change of heart in Zacchaeus. Jesus even called Matthew, another tax collector, to be one of his twelve apostles (Matthew 9:9-13). We want to exhibit that same kind of compassion towards those who commit aggression against us.
And for any modern-day “tax collectors” reading this, consider the response of Zacchaeus and Matthew. Are you ready to abandon the use of force and follow Jesus?
Murray Rothbard says it eloquently: the State is “a bandit gang writ large.” As libertarians, we seek to end the institutionalized violence of the State. We envision a society characterized by voluntary interaction between individuals, where aggression being criminal and exceptional rather than commonplace and accepted. But, you may wonder, how can we possibly achieve such a society? How can we quell the cycle of violence?
Any lasting change requires changing ourselves first. Surely, more violence cannot be the means for resolving violence. We must refuse to condone this system that continually brings about strife. We do not need merely a new Congress or president, but a philosophical revolution brought about using the means of peace. Philosophical revolution brought forth at gunpoint is worth very little, but through persuasion and reason hearts and minds are transformed.
This is not an easy task; in fact we may never see the defeat of the State in our lifetimes. It is not as though we can fly a plane into the Death Star and end the Galactic Empire in one fell swoop. To truly defeat the State, we must see a drastic shift in public ideology and morality. Nothing else could possibly work! Those who love liberty have been on the losing side for thousands of years, and we will continue to lose until society abandons its love of institutional violence. Unlike Joe Stack, who said, “Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer,” we know better. Violence is ultimately the greatest enemy, let us not take on the same characteristics of the State that we oppose so much.
May we never forget that we will accomplish our goals by being men and women of peace, not war.
(1) Special thanks to Anthony Gregory for helping me form these thoughts.
Please feel free to comment and express your own condolences.
UPDATE: This article was featured on LewRockwell.com on February 22, 2010.