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ON COURAGE AND COWARDICE

    I was at a meeting the other day, of a new group that was looking
for a name. The name that was proposed, under which the individuals at
the meeting had gathered in the first place, was a fine, tradition-
evoking one, stemming from the early American Revolution. It stated a
purpose, it sent a message, and I was very proud to be associated with
it.

    Almost immediately, however, a few participants began to object to
the name and to the logo that went with it. It was "too edgy", someone
said. It looked too "aggressive" (believe me, the posture involved is
one of pure self-defense). It might offend some people. It might make
them reluctant to join the organization or (gasp!) to give us money.
It might keep other groups from affiliating with us. Worst (and most
hysterically funny of all), it might bring us to the attention of the
government.

    I said a few words in support of the original idea, and then a few
more in opposition to a display of timidity that had caught me
entirely by surprise and quite literally made me sick to my stomach.
This, I wanted to say, is how the Libertarian Party ended up with the
Hollow Woman for a logo, a copper can full of stale air. Apparently
it's how the Free State movement decided on the porcupine, one of the
most perfectly brainless animals ever to waddle the face of the
planet.

    But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. The whole damn thing
was typical of all too many would-be libertarian undertakings, and
fully explains an almost unbroken forty-year record of dismal failure
on the part of the political side of the movement. I dealt myself out,
having run out of patience with this kind of thing since the last
Libertarian Party National Platform Committee I served on, back in
1979.

    It took me a long time to cool down and lose that gut-wrenched
feeling I was having. I guess I've been spoiled, running my own online
journal, edited by a real hero and his heroic spouse and filled with
heroic writings by heroic individuals. After searching for decades, I
have a publisher who considers himself a real, old-fashioned liberal,
and doesn't care what I think or say as long as I get as much of it
down on (virtual) paper as I can before they haul me off to the funny
farm where life is beautiful all the time ... I also write for others
who are equally heroic and who urge me (of all people!) to be _more_
radical.

    So it was dismaying, all this talk at the meeting about fear and
being afraid. Does anybody actually think we can create a free society
-- pull off a cultural revolution -- while speaking of nothing but
hollyhocks and daisies? Does anyone think the Founding Fathers weren't
afraid -- for their lives, their fortunes, and heir sacred honor --
when they put their names to what too many libertarians today would
prefer Thomas Jefferson had called "Respectful Sentiments of Mild
Dissatisfaction"?

    I have no respect for people like that. I can feel nothing but
disgust. I hate timidity. I hate cowardice. I hate pusillanimity of
every kind, in any form in which it chooses to manifest itself. I hate
it most of all because I myself possess each and every one of those
qualities myself and I have to fight them down every day, practically
every hour, in order to do the work that must be done to make us all
free.

    When I was a little boy, I was always the smallest kid in the
class, and because I was usually the smartest, as well, I attracted
bullies like a magnet attracts carpet tacks. Somehow, though, it never
shut me up, and before I discovered in a class photograph that I had
grown and was now the biggest kid in the class (except for poor Buzz,
who'd been held back two grades) I'd beaten up the neighborhood bully
twice.

    He was a slow learner.

    I had to do the same thing in high school, but it got done. Over
the intervening period between bullies, I had taught myself, made it a
reflex, whenever I felt afraid, not to back off, but to take a step
forward.

    Let me say it right here, just this once: I'm afraid. 
    I'm afraid all the time.

    I've been afraid for more than half a century, ever since I first
became a libertarian and began to see the real shape of the world. For
a long time I've gone to bed every night, afraid that, maybe because
of something I wrote thirty-five years ago, machinegun-toting goblins
of one jurisdiction or another are going to smash their way into my
home, terrorize, brutalize, kidnap, or kill my family and me, steal or
destroy everything we've worked for, stomp our cats to death and laugh
at the expressions on our faces, or drag us off on some kind of phony
charges to torture us or execute us without anybody ever hearing about
it.

    Anyone who lives in Police State America today and isn't afraid of
that kind of thing is either deaf, dumb, blind, or lives in the White
House.

    But I can promise you, solemnly, as a student of history and human
nature, that crouching and freezing like a bunny rabbit isn't going to
prevent it. Fear is not a legitimate reason for stopping, no, nor even
for changing course. Fear is a natural reaction to danger, but most of
the dangers that we all face today can be quelled by taking that step
forward.

    If I learned to, so can you.
  
L. Neil Smith THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE


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