Why I Reject Mike Gravel’s National Initiative

For some time now, Mike Gravel, a former Democratic Senator representing Alaska, has been advocating the National Initiative for Democracy (NI4D).  It was, in fact, the main focus of his 2008 campaign for the U.S. presidency.

The NI4D is a proposal, put forward by The Democracy Foundation, to create ballot initiatives at the U.S. federal level, that is, allow the American people the power to propose and vote on laws directly, bypassing the politician in Washington.  Along with Gravel, Ralph Nader and Tom Knapp have also endorsed this proposal.

Gravel makes this sound good, claiming that the people can, under his proposal, repeal the many egregious laws foisted upon us by the political class.  He provides a solidly libertarian defence, saying that this initiative will “stem[] government growth.”  Writes Gravel,

American citizens can gain control of their government by becoming lawmakers and turning its purpose to public benefit, and stemming government growth—the people are more conservative than their elected ofcials regardless of political party.

With all due respect to Mr. Gravel, whom I still consider to be a hero for his role in ending the draft and the Vietnam War, I reject the NI4D proposal.  While it’s not the worst proposal in the world, it fails to address the fundamental problem of governance vis-à-vis the natural, inalienable rights of the individual.  It does not promote true self-government, but rather erects an illusory self-governance.

We need to devolve all government power, not simply down to the state level, not simply down to the county level, not simply down to the level of the local community (although that would certainly be a step in the right direction), but all the way down to the individual level.  No person should be able to have power over another person’s life except insofar as the second person chooses to allow the person to have said power, and for a duration no longer than the second person allows. Unfortunately, democracy allows majority factions to rule over minorities, and as such, I have to reject democracy in favour of individualist anarchism.

Now, by anarchism I certainly do not mean that chaotic state of existence we call lawlessness or anomie.  By anarchy, I merely mean that state of existence in which no person is considered to legitimately rule over the person or justly-acquired property of anyone else.  My anarchism is clearly a libertarian anarchism, for I consider such actions as rape, murder, and the theft or unconsensual destruction of someone’s justly-acquired property as violations of natural law, what I call “natural crimes.”  Of course, one is justified in using defensive force, if one so wishes, against these “natural criminals,” so long as the defensive force used is proportional to the initiatory forced employed by the criminal.

Benjamin Tucker, the nineteenth century individualist anarchist most famous for his newspaper Liberty, defined anarchists as

simply unterrified Jeffersonian Democrats.  They believe that “the best government is that which governs least,” and that that which governs least is no government at all.  Even the simple police function of protecting person and property they deny to governments supported by compulsory taxation.  Protection they look upon as a thing to be secured, as long as it is necessary, by voluntary association and cooperation for self-defence, or as a commodity to be purchased, like any other commodity, of those who offer the best article at the lowest price.  In their view it is in itself an invasion of the individual to compel him to pay for or suffer a protection against invasion that he has not asked for and does not desire.

Gravel correctly notes, in his defence of the NI4D, that “[g]overnments throughout history have been tools of oppression,” but he then incorrectly adds: “they need not be.”  The state is an inherently oppressive, inherently aggressive institution, for all states, in order to be states, either must steal the products of someone’s labour, must dictate how people may live their lives and spend their money (even when said people are acting entirely nonviolently), or must use aggression to prevent private security agencies from having an equal footing under the law with itself.  If the state were to cease doing these three things, then it would cease to be a state, but would instead become simply a private charity or firm.

In an address delivered in 1877, the venerable liberal Lord Acton stated,

It is bad to be oppressed by a minority; but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority.  For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist.  But from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason.  The humblest and most numerous class of the Athenians united the legislative, the judicial, and in part, the executive power.  The philosophy that was then in the ascendant taught them that there is no law superior to that of the state, and that, in the state, the law-giver is above the law.

If the NI4D is established, people will be no freer than they were prior to its establishment.  All that will have changed is that the individual will gain a single, minuscule vote on matters of dire importance, a vote that will be completely overwhelmed by the combined votes of the others.  In other words, the individual will still be under the tyrannical control of others, will still be a victim of oppression.

If people are reticent in telling George Bush and Barack Obama, “No, you don’t have a right to run my life,” how much less willing will they be to say that to the supposed vox populi?

In summation, the National Initiative for Democracy sounds nice, but it won’t give people the freedom to control their own lives, all it will give them is a vote in the control of the lives of their neighbours.  Worse yet, because it will create the illusion of self-rule, of self-government, it will discourage people from fighting for their own liberation, and as such, is a highly anti-libertarian and counter-revolutionary idea.

—Alexander S. Peak

My response to this and some other libertarian purism is this: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” ~Yogi Berra

IF EVERYONE would play by Alex’s rules, it sounds nice. But history shows that “power abhors a vacuum.” If nobody is in charge, the very worst people TAKE charge. If EVERYONE is in charge, as in Gravel’s NI4D, it is the best form of government, though not perfect like a theoretical one.

Libertarians think THEY should determine the functions of government, instead of ALL of us. I reject such cultism. Don’t tell me what’s “natural”: I live outdoors half the time, and with indigenous peoples from Mexico and Guatemala who have many centuries of PRACTICE, not theory, of self-government. When left alone most groups let EVERYONE participate in setting law and policy, and the much-evolved result is quite different from Alex’s or others’ theories -and varies from place to place. The Zapatista rebels of Mexico have set the standard with local, state, national and even international “consultas” [consultations or referenda, like in Gravel’s project].

Evan Ravitz