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 Land of the Serf 

April 15, 2004 
A few years ago I was astounded to learn that during the War Between the States, many slaves fought for the Confederacy. Read Joe's columns the day he writes 
them. It seemed a paradox, as if they were fighting against themselves.

Since then I’ve come to see that it’s not unusual for slaves to fight for their masters. No slave system can work unless the slaves accept their servitude and even regard their masters as benefactors. It’s naive to imagine all slaves as shackled, grudging, and dreaming of liberty.

Less then a century ago, when chattel slavery was still rife in Africa (where remnants of it still exist), an English writer was startled to find that runaway slaves were despised by other slaves, who regarded them as ungrateful to their masters. This was true even though slaves were usually acquired in raids by neighboring tribes, who kidnapped them as infants. Unable to remember their own parents, they were raised to regard their kidnappers as virtual fathers.

There is ample proof closer to home. Many Americans see nothing wrong with servitude to the state — in the forms of military draft, limitless taxes, or what is now being touted as “national service.” All these things presume that we belong to the state and must do whatever it demands of us.

In their minds, the state is within its rights to force young men to fight wars across oceans against other states that have done them no harm. Of course these young men are always told that these foreign states are “threats” and therefore that “we” are fighting for freedom. And of course it is treason to suggest that there is a certain paradox in being forced to fight for freedom, let alone that the real enemy of the young men’s freedom is their own state.

Some Americans think the draft would be all right as long as it were applied “equally” — to whites and blacks, to rich and poor, to men and women alike.

[Breaker quote: Fighting for our masters]Jefferson, we need you now! Thomas Jefferson himself, as both slave-owner and politician, would have plenty to answer for, by his own principles. But that only means that his principles were sound. If Moses broke the Ten Commandments, they would remain valid.

Are U.S. troops today fighting for what Jefferson would recognize as freedom? Or are they fighting for an empire — not only a global military empire, but an enormous domestic system of unconstitutional laws, taxes, regulations, bureaucracies, and general infringements of the freedoms our ancestors took for granted?

The answer is obvious. They are serfs fighting for servitude. They are fighting for the CIA, the FBI, the EPA, OSHA, HUD, the Social Security Administration, the departments of Homeland Security, Education, and Energy, and of course the IRS, to name just a few agencies. President Bush says they are fighting for freedom. Jefferson might put it a little differently.

To many Americans, fighting for the U.S. Government means fighting for “America,” and America, no matter how tyrannous its government becomes, always remains, in their minds, a synonym for freedom. Some of these people may even hate what the government has done to this country, yet they are always eager to support it when it goes to war — even when war means new restrictions on freedom at home.

It didn’t start with Rush Limbaugh. During the War Between the States, Lincoln had thousands of Northerners arrested and hundreds of newspapers shut down for voicing Jefferson’s principles. Equating dissent with treason, he created “democracy” minus the freedoms of speech and press and, having made the Union a debate-free zone, won reelection in 1864. The untold story of that war, and its grimmest irony, is the Great Emancipator’s assault on Northern liberties.

The bold libertarian and abolitionist Lysander Spooner condemned both sides in that war. The South, he said, was fighting for chattel slavery, the North for political slavery.

The North won. Chattel slavery was abolished. Political slavery prevailed. You may not belong to a private master, but you very much belong to the state. The chief freedoms you have left are merely things the government still permits you to do. Even these permissions are being steadily narrowed and revoked, because they aren’t yours by right.

Jefferson understood that your government is, in the nature of things, your natural enemy and must be kept on a short leash. Today the U.S. Government keeps us all on a short leash. And some of us, who regard anything short of concentration camps and torture chambers as mercy, still think this is freedom.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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