Excerpts from the Jeffersonian Republic project:
This page Copyright © 2010, Karl Leffler
A circle of friends dreams of an ideal society.
17 August 2004 CE
Home of Kurt Vetter
Northwest of Forest Grove, Oregon
"Obviously the American Constitution is a great place to start."
"Yes, but it needs to be brought up to date-"
The table lurched. "Sorry, my knee jerked." Nervous laughter fluttered around the table. They were walking holy ground.
Gathered for dinner in the rural hills far to the west of Portland, Oregon, they were:
Erik Johansen, computer and electronics technician;
Gerald Edwards, carpenter, knifemaker, and former race car driver and state-champion wrestler;
Sarah Drummond, auto mechanic;
Kate Allan, data processor and sometime photographer;
Miriam Daniels, structural engineer;
Miles Hawthorne, software engineer, blacksmith, and more;
Lynna Bjolnir, librarian, martial artist, and corporate chief of security for Vetter Aerospace;
And Lynna's husband, Kurt Vetter, gunsmith, competition shooter, and aerospace industrialist, the madman who had browbeat them all into gathering in his house that day. He had an Idea, and was using them for a sounding board.
The Idea was for a whole new world.
"We know what your ideal is," said Sarah: "A pistol on every hip and a machinegun over every fireplace."
"And why not?"
"Well, for one thing, most people don't know how to handle that kind of responsibility-"
"No, no no no no, you're thinking too small!" Kurt replied. "This society would start from scratch, from nothing. We'd have the priceless opportunity to teach them, from the very beginning, everything, right and wrong, duty and responsibility, how to defend themselves, how to defend their nation, how to keep tyrants down. A blank slate! Tabula ever-so rasa! The first wave of colonists would be chosen, would be considered elite in this run-down society, supremely educated, morally superior, they'd start out on a higher level and pass those qualities on to their children."
"And would the later waves of immigrants be so carefully 'chosen?'"
"Heh, heh. Yes, but not the way Hitler and his misguided monsters thought. They'd be chosen, yes, but for ability, for merit, not for the color of their skin or the name of their god or who their parents were. And that's another thing: they'd have to earn their citizenship. Everyone would be born a, a subject, everyone, and no matter how rich they were or how famous or whatever, they'd all have to earn status as a Citizen, everyone under the same set of rules. Not buy it, not inherit it, not get it automatically at some arbitrary age, but really earn it."
"Now, I don't think that's realistic-"
"Hey, now, it works for the Swiss," said Miles. "Not exactly the way he's saying, but basically similar. I think he's suggesting an expansion of the basic Swiss concept, am I right?"
"Yes, that's it exactly! Citizenship is worthless if you just get it automatically like people do in most nations. But if you have to work for it, train for it, if a Citizen can do and have and be things that a non-Citizen can't, then Citizenship means something, then it's worth having."
"What sort of things?" asked Miriam. "Like, voting rights?"
"Yes, of course, but more than that; the right to bear arms (or certain kinds of arms; self-defense is a civil right, after all), to hold public office, perhaps even to own land."
"Now, wait, that sounds like apartheid to me-" protested Kate.
"No, no, you're still thinking too small! We make people want to be Citizens, reward them for becoming Citizens, and more and more of them will be Citizens! There will be no lower class, just a group of youngsters who haven't earned their Citizenship yet, and a statistical handful of, oh, conscientious objectors or such who for some reason or other don't want to earn Citizenship. If Citizenship is so attractive that most people go and get it, the few who don't won't be enough to be a burden on society or a focus of resentment."
"These, ah, subjects, would they be denied the right to bear arms?" asked Erik.
"Not if I can help it. After all, nearly all Subjects would be potential Citizens, Citizens-in- training, really. The Citizen's rights, to bear arms and to do other things, will be guaranteed, but the Subject's will not be denied without cause. And if most people do earn Citizenship, there will be no disparity, just a bunch of kids looking forward to earning their rights and a few random eccentrics."
"What about taxes?"
"That one worries me. I'd like to have a tax-free society. Taxes are insulting. A person works hard, earns her money, wants to go buy or do things, and there's some nosy government with its hand in her purse. Unfortunately even the most benign form of government needs some kind of revenue - especially the most benign form.
"What I'm thinking of is to run the government like a business, at a profit, somewhat like Perot proposed; perhaps by government control of certain industries, perhaps even monopolies, though of course that's very dangerous. But there are several potential sources of revenue; lotteries, casinos, sale or lease of land or land rights. If I do have to have a tax, Kate there has suggested a flat tax, one or two percent universally on income, property, sales, and so on, like what has been proposed here in Oregon from time to time."
"I object to government-sanctioned gambling," Miriam stated. "Gambling can be as much an addiction as drugs or alcohol."
"It can be, yes, but one simple solution I've considered is to put a limit on each person's spending; that is, no person will be allowed to purchase more than a certain number of lottery tickets, or lose a certain amount at casinos, within a given period." Vetter raised his hand before the table could lurch again. "Unfortunately this would require collecting information on people, which should make most of our knees jerk. Casinos would of course be much more difficult to use such controls in without scrapping the underlying principle of individual liberty and privacy, but lotteries generally require proof of identification in order to claim a prize, so it might be easier to swallow there. But more importantly we return to the social issue, parents teaching their children a sense of right and wrong and personal responsibility and not expecting government to raise their children for them."
"This is sounding more and more like the Libertarians."
"Yes, quite, though I prefer the term Constitutionalist, which is slightly different - at least under the American Constitution it's only slightly different, which is why we're starting with that document."
"What about religion?"
"'Let men worship what gods they will.' And let church and state keep their noses completely out of each other's business."
"What about prostitution?"
"Free trade, free enterprise. As long as it's not a public health risk, it shouldn't be anyone else's business. -Our current government makes quite a fuss about 'preventing' lots of things: crime, disease, poverty. Unfortunately the one solution they keep turning to is the passing of more and ever more restrictive laws, which punish innocent people for something they might technically be capable of, whether they've actually done it or not."
"What about drugs?"
"What about them?"
"Well, drugs do a lot of damage to society."
"And the war on drugs has wrecked most of our Bill of Rights, doing far more damage - unless you think the right to privacy, right to property, freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial are all somehow less important than the government's right to tell you what you can and cannot do with your own body." Vetter's friends were, at least, honest; they fell silent at this. "Suppose medical techniques were developed which could, relative to current methods, quickly, painlessly and reliably cure drug addiction? And suppose the government, in its own enlightened long-term self-interest so it wouldn't have to waste as much money and resources and ruin as many lives as ours does, made such techniques available at little or no cost - let's say, free the first time, and repeat addicts have to pay their own way. Would that not make far more sense than prohibition, which has been proven time and again not to reduce but to increase crime, at the cost of public safety and civil rights?"
"Yes, of course, but such medical technology doesn't exist."
"I bet it would if we spent one percent of the DEA's budget on it." Bjolnir smiled, though rather sadly; she regretted having to keep secrets from her friends, but comforted herself with the thought that it should not be necessary much longer. "But that's another problem; the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and similar government agencies want to hang on to the bureaucratic power - and budgets - they've accumulated over the years. Which is why we would have to abandon the current society altogether and start fresh."
"And where would we go to do such a thing?" Erik asked. "Unless you've got a starship in your pocket?"
"No, he's just glad to see you," Kate answered, which got her pelted with pretzels.
Vetter and Bjolnir smiled together. "I can dream, can't I?"
"What about Affirmative Action?"
"Hiring someone because of the color of their skin is no better than firing them for the same reason. And, of course, government doesn't belong in a job interview; businesses must be free to hire the best person for the job, or you don't have a free economy."
"And minimum wage?"
"Artificial economic control - and if we've proved anything over the last century, it's that governments can't handle money. Also, forcing employers to pay a minimum wage can drive some businesses out of business, and if anyone here thinks that's good for a nation's economy, you're a communist - hold still while I get a couple swords so we can have a more pointed discussion."
"What about abortion?"
"I'll come right out and say it: I'm pro-choice. Some people would have us believe that life begins at conception; I say that a two-celled organism is not a human being, nor a four-celled or eight- or sixteen-celled organism.
"But, obviously, at some point a line must be drawn; let's say, not based in folklore or hysteria but in tangible science: the beginning of measurable brain activity in the fetus. Before that point abortions would be legal, afterward not except in cases of rape, incest, medical need, or suchlike. But the underlying point is this: each woman must make her own decision, based on her own situation, her own beliefs, her own conscience. Government does not belong in a woman's womb! Forcing a woman to carry a child to term is little better than forcing her to get pregnant in the first place.
"Now, a really elegant solution would be technological: an artificial womb. Unwanted pregnancies could be transplanted early in the term to such a device, brought to full term and adopted as newborns. Even women who want their children would likely take advantage of such technology; after all, even in the 21st Century, childbirth is still a risky procedure. But of course, such technology does not yet exist."
"What about the poor?"
"Heinlein has some things to contribute there, from Starship Troopers if I recall correctly. There's always something they can do to contribute to society. Suppose it's just someone down on his luck - there'll be some work program they can sign up for, digging ditches or unloading trucks or the like; some limited-term thing like working in a mine, unskilled or semiskilled labor, but good, honest work, maybe even dangerous. They go do that for a few months and find themselves out of debt. I foresee an entire subculture of seminomads, who sign up for such a tour, live the high life 'til their money runs out, then sign up again and again."
"What if someone's just lazy?"
"Heinlein covered that. If all they want to do is sit and watch TV all day, hook 'em up to sensors and see what they watch, maybe how they react to it. Entertainment companies would pay for that information, so, there's a 'job,' there's compensation for doing that 'job.' Of course it can't be much compensation, we certainly don't want to make that kind of thing too attractive, but that's just fine-tuning."
"What about driver's licenses?"
"There's a good question - freedom of movement should be a civil right. The way I figure it, driver's - or pilot's - education will be a requirement for Citizenship; so, your Citizenship status will be a kind of magic wand enabling one to do and have, well, anything, while a Subject will have to earn Citizenship to enjoy the same freedom."
"How about licensing and registration of vehicles?"
"I'd rather not license and register anything, on principle, of course. There will probably have to be some kind of safety organization to see that vehicles are manufactured and maintained to reasonable standards, but I think that the manufacturing aspect will be taken care of as a selling point in a free economy: 'Our company's vehicles are safer and more reliable than our competitor's.' Maintenance will be the responsibility of the individual operator, of course, and a sense of responsibility will be, well, indoctrinated in them at youth. Huxley's cautionary tale can be used for good."
"If there's a market for insurance, sure, more free enterprise - but let's not require it by law." Vetter held up a hand to forestall the protest. "Suppose some uninsured person makes a mess of some other person. How often does that happen, really? The whole insurance industry is based on the presumption that it doesn't - that the insurance company makes piles more money selling policies than they lose paying those policies off.
"Let's dissect this a moment. What's insurance for? Medical costs and property damage, right? Something bad happens to you, the insurance you buy spits out money to pay for repair or replacement. Someone causes something bad to happen to you, their insurance pays. So the question is, 'What if that other someone doesn't have insurance?'
"First option: the insurance industry, in their own enlightened self-interest, creates a slush fund to absorb the costs of such rare occurrences as we're discussing. They can sue the irresponsible party to recoup their costs later, after the innocent victims are taken care of. Good PR for the insurance companies, eh? Sell a lot of policies with that kind of benevolence.
"Second option: a penal system. Instead of the insurance company or industry, the state pays - then gets their pound of flesh out of the offender by having him break rocks or load trucks or whatever. Yes, there's potential for abuse there too - but that's what Constitutions are for, to keep governments on a nice short leash. Now there's two possible solutions to the insurance problem off the top of my head, and I'm sure that a bright bunch of people like us can come up with several more - later. Next question.
"What about crime?"
"I don't want a police force," Vetter stated firmly. "Power corrupts, and police have power. Why should a cop be allowed to have and do things that an ordinary Citizen can't? Sure, police risk their lives for the sake of society - but does that make them some sort of upper class? Should it? Does his badge make him superior, more stable, more trustworthy? Take a look at the Rodney King case before you answer, or the racial profiling scandal in Chicago, or the corruption scandal in Los Angeles, or the innocent, unarmed and incidentally non-white people regularly killed by police in New York, or the protestors gassed and beaten practically every week in any city you'd care to name. Police did all those things." The people around the table winced by degrees at each example. "I refuse to sacrifice essential liberty for a little temporary security! These people we're talking about will make their own security, not buy it from some hired gun - or hired thug.
"That being said, I'd like violent crime to be self-correcting. No unarmed victims in my utopia! Rape, for example - instead of treating a woman like a criminal for defending herself, like we do here, we should reward her, make her a role model, an example to discourage others from committing similar crimes. Naturally there's potential for abuse with such a system, naturally there would be an investigation in many such cases, but I think there's far more potential for abuse in the system we're using now."
"What if someone 'gets away with it?'"
"Hopefully that will be such a rare occurrence that a small, veteran corps of detectives - no, investigators, somehow I like that word better - can track the criminal down and bring him to justice, calling out a posse of Citizens if he needs backup. That's how police got started in this country, you know; look at the Constitution, all those clauses restricting the military, well, the same philosophy applies to police for most of the same reasons - something we've forgotten. The first big-city police were unarmed, and if something happened, they'd blow their whistles and armed citizens would come boiling out of their homes to deal with the problem. That didn't last long here, probably because it wasn't done right. I'd like to do a better job with it in the Republic."
"Yes, the Jeffersonian Republic, after Thomas Jefferson."
"I feel compelled to point out that Jefferson owned slaves," Miriam stated.
"A lot of people feel compelled to point that out in these politically-correct times. The Californian in you is showing, cousin dear. I feel compelled to point out that, a dozen times, Jefferson introduced legislation that would have ended slavery, either immediately or over a period of time, either in Virginia alone or in all the States. Jefferson also, in case you were out sick that day in school (back when they were still teaching that kind of history), wrote the Declaration of Independence - the original draft of which contained a scathing condemnation of slavery, which Ben Franklin edited out. Jefferson finally gave up - or at least throttled back - his calls to end slavery to save his political career, which I think we can all agree was not insignificant to the history of this nation or the world. We owe our existence as a Constitutional Republic - what's left of it - to Thomas Jefferson. How long would the United States have lasted without his contributions to the Constitution and Bill of Rights? Should we burn the Library of Congress because it was founded by that slaveholder? Most of Jefferson's contemporaries owned slaves - Washington, for example. Should we rename the nation's capitol? Tear down a few monuments? Give Yorktown back to the British? Or should we get the hell over it?"
"All right, enough, I surrender! Pour me some more of that muscat."
"Of course. By the way, have you been practicing?"
"Oh!" Miriam nearly spilled her wine. "Uhm. Well, actually...."
"Uh huh," Lynna scolded. "For shame, oh liberated sister! Come on, there's a range out back, I want to see you squeeze off at least fifty rounds, right now! Come on, get up, you've only had half a glass all night." She persisted, leaving her seat and rounding the table, preparing to drag Miriam away, much to the amusement of most of the observers.
Kurt laughed out loud. "And you thought I was bad! Lynna, darling, let Miriam finish her wine, and we'll get a hundred rounds out of her tomorrow." Lynna returned to her seat, grinning, green eyes sparkling; the others knew how much Bjolnir enjoyed showing her skill with firearms, which had grown to surpass Vetter's own in the years since he had introduced her to the art.
Gerald attacked the subject. "Will you have weapon training in schools, for children?"
"Absolutely," answered Kurt. "Demystify the hell out of it right from the start, and gods help the next terrorist who tries to take hostages or spill some innocent blood. Gun safety used to be taught in public schools in this country, and whaddya know, all those school shootings happened after that stopped."
"What about gun registration?" asked Sarah.
"A hanging offense," Kurt answered squarely. "Society is safer when criminals don't know who's armed. Civil rights are safer when the government doesn't know who's armed. Look at history. Registration always, always leads to confiscation, and an unarmed society is defenseless. Hitler's Nazis said, 'Give up your guns and we will protect you from the communists.' They were 'protected' right into gas chambers. Stalin's communists said, 'Give up your guns and we will protect you from the fascists.' I guess the Russian word for 'protect' is 'purge.' Mao's communists said, 'Give up your guns and we will protect you from the imperialists.' Were those students in Tiananmen Square being 'protected?' From whom? The Liberals in this country say, 'Give up your guns and we'll protect you from yourselves.' Turn on the news tonight and you'll see the Portland police 'protecting' people with clubs and tear gas and rubber bullets. Raise your hand if you want that kind of protection.
"All the great tyrants and murderers of history have disarmed the people: Cambodia against 'educated persons,' Turkey against the Armenians, Guatemala against their native tribes, Uganda against Christians; tens of millions have died in the 20th Century alone because their governments disarmed and then murdered them. The Japanese Shoguns, the Kings of Europe, the Roman Emperors, even Catholic Popes realized that they could not remain in power, could not continue to tax and enslave and oppress the common people unless those people were unarmed. The people can't be disarmed until the government knows who is armed. Giving the government a list of who owns weapons is no better than giving them a list of who owns printing presses, or who follows a particular religion, and for the same reasons. Next question."
"What about the death penalty?"
"It's the only guarantee society has against repeat offenders. How many times did Ted Bundy escape, or get released, before he was finally fried, and how many more women did he torture and kill each time? How many repeat murderers, how many repeat rapists, are getting ready for their next parole hearing right now? How many were let out just today?
"Naturally the death penalty is only for extreme cases. I would call murder extreme. Rape too; at the very least, a woman who kills a rapist in self-defense should be judged to have committed a justifiable homicide. These so-called 'liberal' district attorneys we've been stuck with the last generation or so will show how 'caring' and 'forgiving' they are by charging the woman with manslaughter and allowing the rapist's family to sue her. In my Republic, any lawyer who did such a thing would have to defend himself on the field of honor."
"And what about duels?"
"I think our society lost something useful when dueling was outlawed. I think dueling performs a valuable function as a pressure valve, releasing tensions between individuals that might otherwise build to the point where they spill over onto the innocent. Also, a formal code of the duel, like the code duello in use some centuries ago, keeps the entire affair civilized, and offers honorable alternatives to violence, ways to back out without losing face - or at least, too much face - and at worst confines the violence to the parties directly involved.
"Now, death-dueling can be wasteful of good and honorable Citizens, so I imagine in most cases it would be treated as murder; also, dueling with firearms is, well, unsophisticated. Firearms have many honorable places in our society, perhaps foremost as the ultimate defender of freedom. But duels... in matters of honor, of personal, individual satisfaction as opposed to self-defense or righteous open battle, firearms are just too... cold, too mechanical, too impersonal. For a matter of honor, only live steel will do."
"What about freedom of speech? Freedom of the press?"
"Yes. Next question." The group laughed together, and Vetter continued. "Seriously, I believe that there should be some limitations on freedom of the press-" the table lurched again.
"Knock it off!" protested Miriam. "You'll spill my wine."
Vetter went on: "One of the problems we're having today is a runaway media, concerned very little with the truth, or with integrity and honesty and accuracy, and preoccupied with ratings and sensationalism and sometimes outright demagoguery. I don't have a clear plan yet, but I'd like to see some kind of watchdog organization to put the media on a nice short leash, giving it a good stiff yank if they bark too loud or piddle on the carpet. I'd like the word 'journalist' to mean an honorable and respected position, entrusted to an individual, almost like an elected representative, or at least what a representative was a couple centuries ago. I'd very much like journalists to know that if they step out of line and start spraying the kind of garbage we have to put up with today, they'll find themselves in very deep trouble. Unfortunately any kind of limitation of the press is a very dangerous notion, and I may have to scrap it altogether; I believe it was Thomas Jefferson himself who said 'Given the choice between living in a nation with newspapers but no government or a nation with government but no newspapers, I would vastly prefer the former.' Or words to that effect."
"What about education?"
"The word 'classical' comes to mind. I've got some ideas, of course; most of you know of my experience with public education; if I hadn't dropped out of junior high school I probably never would have gotten anywhere. I want children in the Republic to get a real education, useful stuff, skills they can use in the real world. -Look at the Civil War era. Back then, if a person was educated at all, he or she was really educated. True, the majority weren't, even by modern standards, but those that were make us look like intellectual slobs. Robert E. Lee, for example; long before he commanded the Army of Northern Virginia, he was an engineering student at West Point, and he turned into a truly exceptional engineer, saving St. Louis from a flood, if I recall correctly, something some engineers still call a 'miracle' a century and a half later, isn't that right, Miriam?" The engineer nodded. "I'd like every kid in the Republic to get that quality of education. Right now I've no idea how, but that's what I want. -I've got a couple clues for details; small class sizes, very small by our standards; individual-pace instruction like what I had in Job Corps; but the bigger picture still eludes me. I imagine it will tie in rather closely with the revenue issue, for one thing, so there's another problem that needs to be solved first.
"Now, one easily-overlooked solution - and the fact that it is easily overlooked underscores how far gone we are - is home-schooling. There's an increasing body of evidence showing that home-schooled children are more literate, more independent, more capable of solving problems, than their government-schooled counterparts; also, that home-schooled children are more respectful, more disciplined, more civilized than the products of the mass-indoctrination and sociopath- breeding centers I still have nightmares about. The internet, or an appropriately-evolved internet- like system, could provide parents everything they need for home-schooling - indeed, it would likely offer them plenty of alternatives in curricula, teaching methods, bodies of reference, and so on, none of which you'll likely find in any of our current, tax-funded, Huxleyesque cesspits.
"Government... should stay out of education, for many of the same reasons it should stay out of religion. Government may issue some loose, non-binding guidelines for courses of study; and if the Citizenship process we've already discussed is going to work, government will have to issue some competency standards that students will have to meet - but it certainly shouldn't have more than a token influence, if any, over how those standards are met."
The friends left Kurt Vetter's house by ones and twos, returning to their own homes. Perhaps they would give further thought to the things he had suggested; more likely they would dismiss them, as most did, as unrealistic. But Kurt Vetter and Lynna Bjolnir knew something they didn't.
There were other worlds. And there was a way to reach them.