Different people use "classless" to mean different things. Perhaps the most common usage is to imply economic equality, the communist ideal "to each according to his needs". If you've read some of my other essays, then you already know that I'm not going there.
In this context, I won't be talking economic stratification. Instead, I'll be referring to class exclusively in the old sense of political or legal status, the differences in privilege and responsibility between ruling nobles, armed knights, freemen, serfs and slaves.
Second, I won't use classless to mean that our legal status can't be classified. Instead, classless can mean that a society has just one class, that there are no class distinctions. If we set aside for the moment children and a few adults proven to be criminals or deranged, our society is classless if we all have the same legal privileges and responsibilities, if we are equal in the eyes of the law.
I set aside children because individual liberty and individual responsibility are two sides of a coin. Since children are not accountable for most of their actions, they are not entitled to all liberties. Unless a minor is emancipated (accepts adult responsibility in consideration for adult liberty), s/he is dependent, not independent.
If we can identify our privileges and responsibilities, then we can define our class. Perhaps most significant is the notion that we the people are supposed to rule ourselves. We not only vote for officeholders, we may hold the offices. We serve on the juries that are supposed to apply the law as we see fit in our communities, and we may petition our government to change its policies. In addition, we can own title to real property, but no one should be able to claim title to own us or our labor. We are supposed to be free to move from place to place until we negotiate our own contracts to establish our own obligations.
Furthermore, we have both a right and a responsibility to defend ourselves and our nation from attackers both foreign and domestic. We can join militias or sheriffs' posses, or simply own and carry firearms to return fire if someone starts trouble within line of sight. Even if we do nothing, most men aged 17 to 45 belong to the unorganized militia, which merely codifies a concept presumed by the Constitution.
Looking at the status classes in stratified societies, we can see immediately that we self-ruling citizens can't be serfs or slaves, bound from birth to land or master. Neither are we merely freemen, because we may do much more than move about and negotiate for our own labor. Voting, holding office, judging our peers, owning title to land, carrying weapons to defend the law and the nation, these are the privileges and duties of titled knights and nobles. If we are to rule ourselves and yet be of one class, then we all must be noble. In America, citizen is a title of nobility.
If you're an American citizen, have you thought of yourself as a member of a noble ruling class? I bet you were never taught such a thing in one of our socialist public schools. The social engineers probably programmed you to view nobility as elitist, likely leaving you aspiring to the proletariat (peasant) class. Try this on for size: Belonging to the nobility is not really elitist if we are all in it together. Being noble in a classless society just means that we have much more than serfdom to aspire to. Let it soak in... integrate it into your identity as an American citizen. Get used to it, then vow live up to it... and to defend your title with your life.
I think that an ideal society (which ours is not) would be classless, composed entirely of nobility. Everyone would be fully privileged and fully responsible, aspiring to the highest virtues of chivalry. Being unselfish, we would all vote wisely. Being just, we would all take turns serving justice on juries. Being industrious, we would all strive to produce enough to provide for ourselves and some surplus. Being generous, we would give charity. And, being brave and faithful, each of us like a knight or a baron would be both privileged and obligated to learn and then carry weapons to defend our selves, our property, and our neighbors.
In essence, while some people made careers of statecraft, all would learn its basics and then provide occasional direction. While some made careers of jurisprudence, all would take turns assuring justice. While some made careers of soldiering or law enforcement, all would be off duty police and reserve soldiers. Neither cops nor soldiers would be viewed as any more or less entitled to firearms than the rest of us because the rest of us would be as virtuous and committed to state and personal security as those who worked at it full time. That's nobility.
It's also the only way one could have a classless society. We can't limit "ordinary" citizens' privileges unless somebody is doing the limiting. Those somebodies, whatever they may call themselves, become a de facto knighthood or ruling nobility apart from the rest, and society then has multiple classes.
From what I know of human nature, I am certain that it is not possible to achieve 100% noble participation in a society numbering millions. There will always be idiots and sociopaths who turn to crime, which means that the rest of us will pay a price by allowing them freedom until we discover and remove them.
The question then becomes: Are the rest of us willing to pay that price in order that we may be treated as nobles without prior restraint? I think that we should, because the cost of tyranny is higher, in both lives and wealth, than the cost of criminals and traitors in a society almost uniformly dedicated to eliminating them.
First, we need guide our future nobles toward their privileges and duties from early childhood. That's the justification for universal education. It should be a tool by which parents groom their little darlings to one day step up into the noble ruling class. Kids should be given descriptions of both high and low status classes at an early age and told that they're expected, presumed destined for the nobility. Then, after boosting their self esteems with such lofty predictions, condition them to shoulder the civic responsibilities.
Aside: Don't get me wrong; I'm not proposing and wouldn't dare mandate such inculcation via government edict; there's too much temptation to mischief. I'm suggesting that parents in an all-noble society should promote good citizenship. Government might pay for schooling, but it should let parents choose how and where. (See Education) Parents who care should be numerous enough to induce good curricula in schools shared by those who don't. If not, then classless society is doomed, and we must think of something else before dedicated peasants pull down the rest of us.
Second, we must remind our government that it serves under us and not vice versa. Nowhere is this more critical than in courtrooms. Juries must be fully informed; 'nuf said.
Third, we should strengthen the citizenry, as in arming. Strong citizens make intimidating targets to both domestic criminals and foreign terrorists. However, we can't arm without teaching and training. Therefore, the first step for those accepting their warrior role as nobles in a classless society is to demystify firearms and then learn how to carry and use them safely.
As a bonus, civilian strength reduces the need for strong government. For instance, if people took a more active role in law enforcement, we wouldn't need so many police. First, there wouldn't be as much crime. Second, police would only be needed to investigate after confrontations... to verify citizen actions, clean up the aftermath, and track down criminals who got away. We shouldn't have police trolling and baiting for trouble. They would be the thin, sharp edge on the sword of justice, and we would be the bulk.
Similarly, if more citizens took an active role in defending the nation, then we wouldn't perceive a need for such a large (and expensive) army. We also wouldn't need much official "homeland security". I got your homeland security right here: It's called militia.
In a nutshell, classless society's enemy is the culture of dependency. Every facet of government that shepherds us into dependency both weakens us and gives government excuses to grow. Almost everything I complain about in so many of my other essays is a series of examples.
First, taking away power and responsibility from citizens weakens us directly, creating the false perception of increased need that tempts us to grant more authority to government.
Second, responding to the perceived need by building bureaucratic crutches weakens us even further. When we abdicate responsibility to loyal vassals and a uniformed knighthood, our muscles of civic duty go unused and atrophy. Instead, we should all develop a sense of responsibility, not just "social workers" and career officers who wear uniforms and badges.
Therefore, the subversion has two prongs: The government giveth crutches and the government taketh away exercise. Beware both.
Conversely, pushing some power and responsibilities back onto citizens should reverse the process. First, it will strengthen us. Second, we won't need so many government crutches anymore.
I've already mentioned armament more than once. No thorough examination of nobility can avoid it. A violent world leaves us no choice but to fight or submit. If we submit, then we are not noble; hence armament. Though I have a whole separate article on guns and gun control, I still need to cover the aspect of the nobility as a warrior class.
The status of self-ruling citizen includes the right to keep and bear arms because that is someone who is expected to defend life, liberty and property, not violate it. We have inherent birthrights that have attached duties. Because we are innocent until proven guilty, those birthrights and duties may not be taken away by prior restraint, but may only be taken away by due process, which is guarded by immunity against double jeopardy and by juries demanding proof beyond reasonable doubt.
To take away the weapons of free citizens, one must first assert that we do not live in a classless society, that most of us are not noble, and that prior restraint can reduce us to the status of "commoners" without due process, without trial by jury, and without being innocent until proven guilty. To be disarmed until joining a government agency is to be born guilty until proven innocent, or to be lowborn until swearing an oath of fealty to commit acts of tyranny only in the name of the King, er, I mean the mayor, governor or president.
Not too long ago, I would probably have fainted if I had seen a gun brandished in anger. I may yet; I am untested. However, when I grasped the concepts of nobility and liberty, I made a conscious decision to face down my anxiety and work through it the way anyone with a phobia should. I have decided to take my place among the nobility who will defend, with our lives if necessary, both our own and our neighbors' liberty and property from both criminals and invaders.
I am only part way there, having overturned my childhood support for gun grabbing legislation, and having learned some basic gun safety, usage, and laws (which, incidentally, are too confusing, too irrational, and too numerous). Though others in my family have owned guns for years, I never have. By the time you read this, I may already have taken that next step.
Well, America is supposed to be, but too many Americans believe as my online European critics who say, "Government does not 'infringe' on your rights, it merely takes back privileges that it granted in the first place."
Spoken like a true European. Here's a critical difference between American and European history: In America, civil liberty was not granted by the king of England, the people won their independence from him by force of arms. Only then did we create our government and grant to it certain authority to perform certain tasks. In other words, in America, the government is empowered by and therefore serves under the people.
The people are the source of all national authority and sovereignty, and the government is supposed to exercise only what the people give it. For the government to exercise any more would be an usurpation, which would be treason against the people, and the people would have legal justification to overturn the uppity government, by force of arms if necessary. Read again the words of the American Declaration of Independence as if for the first time, and let the meaning of the last clause quoted sink in:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to ABOLISH it..."
However, we no longer seem to understand the principle. We have the illusion of a classless society because the ancient titles and their patterns of formal inheritance are absent. However, setting aside increased economic mobility, I believe we definitely have status classes in American society with entirely too many people agitating toward reinventing the stratification of ancient days.
If government monopolizes guns (or gold or land or electricity or water or education or any other source of influence) as too important or dangerous for "ordinary" citizens to handle, then we create a class break between those who are commissioned by government (police, soldiers etc.) and everybody else. This would be analogous to the class break between knights and peasants. Over time, it would amount to the same thing. Uniformed officers respect each other's liberty and property (and those of the people in their power structures) while lording over the politically weak.
We can already see this happening in the war on "drugs" where most confiscations are not even associated with charges being filed; property is simply seized on "suspicion" and never returned. Consider, as another trivial but telling example: Cops can speed while the rest of us can't. They might only be late for dinner, but they're not going to stop each other, so they can drive 90 mph on the freeway with impunity for reasons that would cost us dearly and damage our reputations (insurability). The titles have changed, but class, rank, privilege and the aura of superiority remain. With their badges, even heraldry is not completely dead.
It's as if we've created a new knighthood, each police and federal agency being a separate order of knights who have privileges denied the rest of us, and responsibilities that we peasants are not noble enough to contemplate. Have we gone so soft that only a few, proud uniform wearers can confront armed enemies? I think the heroes on flight 93 proved otherwise.
Some people are so distrustful of their fellow citizens. That much I can understand, given the daily litany of tragedy on TV news and in the papers. What baffles me is that these same people are willing to blindly trust uniformed officers.
Newsflash: There's no magic in badges or blue threads. Officers are made of the same stuff and conditioned by the same social environment as the rest of us. However, the irrational among us treat them as if there's magic in the uniform or the badge that confers nobility and virtue.
In FAA regs (108.11) we even trust federal agents to fly with loaded firearms. No, I'm not just referring to sky marshals... any agency that allows firearms can fly its agents armed. That means we may have "highly trained" EPA agents sitting next to us with guns while pilots, with our lives already in their hands, (many having combat experience too) are routinely denied.
There's no magic filter that selects the virtuous pinnacle of an otherwise rotten society to carry our guns and gold for us. Random citizens are at least as likely as police and federal agents to be noble; police and federal agents are at least as likely as random citizens to be ignoble.
As nobles, none of us needs a uniform to make us as worthy of carrying the weapons of the day and trusting each other to use them nobly to defend each other's lives and property. There is no magic within blue or olive-drab threads that confers virtue upon those who wear them. To paraphrase a famous line, "Badges! We don't need no stinkin' badges!" *
In other words, we are all off-duty reserve police officers with arrest powers, and we are all inactive militia with civil defense duties. We Americans need to awaken to our noble heritage and live up to it, otherwise we will probably have it taken from us, possibly in a fight, but probably in a swindle.
Uniformed or not, all citizens entitled to vote should be viewed as noble until proven ignoble. To think otherwise is to abandon the ideal of a classless society. Well, maybe we should. After all, some people really don't want the responsibilities that go with being noble. I would prefer to work toward the ideal I described above, but it might be necessary to have status classes again, with duties attaching to privileges. Is there a way to stratify society without resorting to oppression? For one idea, I look to the children I set aside earlier.
One of the caveats throughout much of my writing is that children, being ignorant, dependent, and lacking impulse control, can't shoulder the same responsibilities (therefore not the same rights) as adults. One of the problems with our society is that we capriciously assign adulthood to virtually everyone at age 18. Is there magic in the number? Of course not, not any more than there is magic in blue threads. Many teens are well prepared for adulthood well before they turn 18. We have mechanisms to emancipate some, but they're underused.
At the same time, there are many, many Americans turning 18 who still carry on like children, expecting others to shelter, feed and clothe them and pay their utility bills too. These over-age children are not people who should be granted the authority to write themselves cheques from the public treasury.
Is there some objective criteria by which anyone, regardless of their parents' class, can rise or fall to the level matching his or her own character and merit? The only reasonable criterion I see, that would leave society stratified yet free, is if each citizen chooses what to be (hey, that rhymes; can anyone fix the meter and set it to music?). Perhaps there's a way to let each individual choose when to ascend from childhood to adulthood. We might even let people backslide into a state of dependence.
Perhaps one's legal class should be (in the absence of criminal conviction) a matter of personal choice. If one wants the privileges, one must accept the duties and waive certain coddling programs. If one wants to be protected, cared for, and exempted from civic duties, then one would opt out, but at a cost of certain privileges like voting and jury duty.
By making it an individual's choice, we avoid the problems created by accidents of birth and whims of tyrants. People can choose dependence or independence according to their wants and abilities. Could society stratify itself voluntarily? Could we tolerate adults choosing to waive privileges to vote, to serve on juries, to carry firearms, and to enter binding contracts without supervision? Think about the limited freedom and limited responsibility that children have and realize that many adults clamor for the same lack of responsibility and are very willing to sacrifice their privileges (and mine) in exchange.
In extreme cases, people already deliberately commit crimes so they'll be sent to jail or prison where they'll have a familiar roof over their heads and three meals a day. Having seen that kind of desperation, I wonder if we should create an optional class of dependent adult citizenship before those clamoring for such status become a majority that trades in freedom for all of us in exchange for coddling.
Even setting aside the criminals who simply can't co-operate in society, there will always be those who want to be dependent on and protected by others. They'd like to be able to vote so they can write themselves cheques, but they expect society to feed, clothe, and shelter them and to protect them from harm. I think that's wrong. Privilege and duty are two sides of the same coin; one has no right to one unless one accepts the other.
Incidentally, something that I've noticed over many years of studying history is that cops and soldiers are much better at replying to harm than preventing it. Something else I've noticed is that, in time, those who provide "protection" end up owning all of their society's property, all of it.
However, some people are just not interested in owning property or becoming independent, and it's not right for me to push them toward a lifestyle just because that's what I think is ideal. I think we finally may be on the brink of a two tier society. If so, the best we can do is to steer ourselves toward one where the door is always open so that each individual is free to step up when ready.
One could choose independence with privileges and their attendant responsibilities, or one could choose dependence with security, safety, and no duty (but no vote on either election day or any jury). If we wait too long and lose too many elections, we may be railroaded into a different two-tier society where the door is closed and we're caught on the wrong side. If you hear that Jeff Fisher has suddenly joined the DEA or ATF, know that the proverbial fan is about to breathe fertilizer.
It's not ideal, and I'm still uncertain that it is preferable or necessary, but it would make sense to associate certain civic responsibilities (like voting, holding office, and serving on juries) with individual independence like paying taxes, owning real estate, serving in combat, or at least staying off the public dole.
Everyone owns their own life, liberty and property, but voting is optional. The Constitution grants states the power to decide how to qualify voters. They all start by requiring citizenship on the principle that only those committed to this country should have a voice in running it.
Land ownership is another telling commitment because you can't pick it up and take it with you if somebody threatens its security. In land, one has an anchor holding one in place and motivating one to defend. In fact, the very notion of government evolved a few thousand years ago for that very reason. Some early farmers settled in one place and wanted protection for the immobile investments they had made clearing, cultivating and building. The first government was a homeowners' association, so representing property owners and protecting property rights is government's first reason for being.
Land owners, soldiers, and taxpayers own or earn stakes in national decisions. Citizens who own their residences in whole or in part, plus those who are currently serving in active military duty, and perhaps those who ever served in combat during a war should always be eligible to vote. Also, as long as we have any income tax (state or federal), citizens who pay a net positive income tax should also be entitled to vote.
Finally, only those who actually cast ballots in a general election should be eligible for jury duty during the following two years, and the "burden" of jury duty should be a well advertised adjunct to voting so that those who aren't serious about civic duty will be deterred from voting in the first place.
With filters and small hurdles like these, apathetic and parasitic citizens will not easily be able to "write themselves checks" at the expense of those who pay taxes... or declare war at the expense of those who must die fighting... or confiscate property at the expense of those who improved it.
Wait, there's still a problem. Many members of our society are not content merely to attain a dependency status for themselves; they feel that they must force the rest of us into the same abject state. Socialist Security is mandatory; I am not allowed to opt out and take full responsibility for my retirement savings. Hillary care would not have been optional; there were prison sentences in the plan to punish both doctors and patients who negotiated privately.
And then there are guns... Will those wanting to ban civilian gun ownership be satisfied in disarming themselves while we choosing the nobility remain armed yet out of uniform? Of course not; the fearful are far more concerned with the guns of others than with their own. That means that my open door policy above will only work for some. For the rest, we need something else...
How can we possibly satisfy these wholly incompatible imperatives, to be noble and to suppress nobility? I see only one way out... and it is literally the way out.
If there were a more noble and free society anywhere outside the US, then we libertarians would already have gone there. If we ever open a new frontier on the continental shelves, in Antarctica, or in space, then we will go there. Unfortunately, those options are not currently available to us. The USA, despite its limitations, is the best hope we have.
However, there are many socialist nations all around the world. They offer a variety of climates cultures, and many even use English as a first language. Therefore, it is possible for socialists to find what they're looking for if we libertarians reform the USA into what we're looking for.
That means three things. First, libertarians shouldn't be shy about overhauling the US government to conform to its original design. Second, socialists shouldn't complain; their dream society is as close as Canada. Third, and I bet most of you never thought of this one, we libertarians should support a federal program to subsidize emigration.
That's right; we should happily and cheerfully pay taxes that will go to foreign governments willing to take our socialists and grant them instant citizenship with full benefits. Don't think they'd bite? First, remember basic economics: if the price is right, they will sell. Second, there must be some socialist governments somewhere that want more dependent votes, or somewhere that has a low cost of living. They should be quite affordable.
By this stroke of genius, we simultaneously provide a free ride to those who feel they need it, we move them into the gun-free society of their dreams without giving up our own, and we revoke their citizenship so that they never vote here again. They get what they want, at our expense, and we get what we want, a classless, noble society of the willing. Hallelujah! Consider it defense spending, and money well spent.
Once we export all of our dependent adults, we won't need domestic support programs anymore... none. Friendships, family ties, insurance, churches and private charity will cover the unlucky breaks of those who have earned good reputations. Citizens who have no friends, who have been disowned, who never bought insurance, who never joined a church, and who have exhausted their welcome at charities can then accept an all-expenses paid change of citizenship to some other nation that will feed, clothe, house, protect, and doctor them for life. Resident aliens can simply be returned to sender. Shocked? I can already hear the first complaint:
...yearning to breathe free... not yearning to sponge off welfare, socialist security, public education, and the best medical system on the planet. People who hurl The New Colossus at me always forget that part because it's not convenient for their socialist doctrine. Surprisingly, my grand scheme would let us do more, not less to honor lady liberty's inscription.
Having exported the programs that make immigration a huge liability, we could afford to open up our borders a bit more. We could even issue invitations again... to all who want to take on the responsibilities of the nobility. We individualists would win both coming and going. We would ship out those who would pull us down at the same time that we replace them with people who are willing to join us and support us. I wonder how voting patterns would change...