If You Love Your Freedom, Thank a Dirty Effing Hippie

We’ve seen another “patriotic” holiday come and go, and with it the same obligatory maudlin comments from local TV news anchors about troops overseas “defending our freedom.” Just like we saw on Memorial Day, and just like we’ll see again on Veterans’ Day.

Grade AAA, prime, unadulterated, 99 and 44/100% buncombe, of course. Soldiers don’t “defend our freedom.” They serve the state and fight its wars, and the state isn’t exactly interested — the understatement of a millennium — in our freedom.

Wars are started by states, in pursuit of their own agendas. War is simply another instrument of state policy, as Clausewitz noted 200 years ago. And the state’s policies are oriented toward serving the constellation of class interests that controls it. In case you didn’t notice, you and I don’t figure very prominently in that constellation. The Fortune 500, finance-capital and the military-industrial complex, yes. Us, no. As George Carlin put it, it’s a big club, and you and I are not in it.

So the wars the U.S. government fights overseas — and the soldiers who do the actual fighting, however sincere their motives may be — are fought mainly for the freedom of Boeing, Monsanto, Cargill, Blackwater, Halliburton, Exxon-Mobil, Sony, Disney and Microsoft. And to stamp out freedom wherever in the world it may threaten the profits of those companies.

If you believe freedom is something granted by states and other forms of authority, out of the goodness of their hearts, you’re sadly mistaken. And if you call yourself a “small government conservative” yet worship authority in the guise of armed and uniformed state functionaries — the very means by which the state enforces its authority — you’re delusional or worse.

As anarchist Rudolf Rocker argued, our freedom results, not from the state, but from the people’s willingess to defy authority and to resist its encroachments on our freedom. Far from being granted by the state and defended by its armed functionaries, our rights exist because we forced them on the state — very much against its will — from below. And we keep those rights, not because American troops kick down doors in Baghdad or drones massacre wedding parties in Afghanistan, but because ordinary people raise hell and refuse to obey the state here at home.

Every “patriotic” holiday, columnists and editorial page editors trot out that same tiresome column: “It’s not the protestor that gives us free speech, it’s the soldier …” That’s exactly backward. None of our wars abroad has a thing to do with defending our freedom here at home. And if the military is ever employed domestically, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be employed to suppress our freedom at gunpoint.

Every single bit of freedom we have comes from the troublemakers, rabble-rousers, pariahs, the people utterly devoid of respectability — the Dirty Effing Hippies, in Nixon’s parlance — and their willingness to say things the government doesn’t want them to. Our freedom is expanded and defended by the very types of people who are spat upon — run out on a rail — by “good respectable citizens,” and tossed in jail by local cops. Our freedoms come from the people who were imprisoned by John Adams under the Sedition Act, the thousands of Wobblies who packed local jails during the Free Speech Campaign, and Chelsea Manning who is tortured daily in prison for exposing the American government’s war crimes to the world.

The attitude of respectable people — the very people most apt to smugly quote that “it’s not the protestor” column, in fact — toward the actual defenders of our freedom was expressed by the mayor of a Midwestern city back in the 1920s: “Any time I hear somebody talking about freedom of speech, or the bill of rights, I think, ‘That man is a God-damned Red.’ No good American talks that way.”

So if you love your freedom, don’t thank a soldier. Thank a dirty effing hippie.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory