There are two reasons this appeals: First, an awful lot of the practical work (read “repeals” and “defeats” of the state) that has already been done for Liberty, has been done in the name of Thomas Jefferson and even the U.S. Constitution, as odd as that is. The Classical Liberal mistakes do not undo the Classical Liberal victories; every state would like to have its citizens disarmed, censored, monitored, tagged, numbered, and controlled, but for all the power of modern states, this has not been achieved. Not only does the progress of the state stumble over practical matters and the resentment of the governed, it is hampered by the portion of Classical Liberalism that has entered the popular mind, so that no politician can stand up and say “Censorship is what this country needs!” and win his next election.

To write off Jefferson’s experiment as just another state is partially correct, but practically it means setting ourselves against the strongest existing popular impulse in favor of our beliefs. And we can see Anarcho-Capitalists recognizing this fact when they decline to boo a speech that lashes Obama for violating the constitution.

The other reason (as is usual with me) is rhetoric. The opt-out position, which I’ll get to in a minute, puts Progressives and Statists on the defensive, over exactly what is wrong with their philosophy. In order to oppose the abolition of a government program, they need only repeat all of its claimed benefits; but to oppose giving people the choice to opt-out of the program, they must reach into the very heart of their principles, admit that they want people to be forced to participate in the program, and then defend that much more dangerous claim.

This rhetorical advantage is probably familiar to anybody who has argued with “Pro-Labor” folks, meaning of course “Pro-Union” first and “Pro-worker” second. Good luck arguing for Unions’ abolition, or a reduction in their power, that battle is already lost. But concern yourself only with allowing people to stay out of the Union if they dislike it, and you’ve got a viable, defensible position that can only be assaulted by admitting a sort of elitism; the man who holds that workers must be forced to join Unions against their will has already admitted that he believes himself to know better than the worker how best to associate himself. He cannot state his view without broadly displaying his autocratic impulse, and frankly asserting his superiority to his fellow men.

So what am I proposing? I propose making our political program (to the extent that it exists) a push for Opt-out provisions on all of the government’s “For your own good” programs. “I’m not trying to stop the government paying your grandmother back all the money forced her to give in Social Security payments all those years; I just want to forfeit that program for myself.” “I don’t want to deprive anybody else of the benefits of the department of building and safety, but I’d rather hire a contractor and an engineering firm of my choosing. I want to opt out of the protections of permitting.” “I don’t want to deny you the protection of the FDA, you can confine yourself to FDA approved medications very easily; I just want terminal patients or others who need un-approved drugs to be able to sign a form and waive those protections so as to get the treatment they need.”

It’s not that this is exactly what I want; those departments will remain tax-funded as long as they exist, and though the fall in demand might well be devastating to them (particularly building and safety) they will still chug along, sucking up money coercively to the extent that they continue to exist. What Opt-out does do, however, is turn the political arena into a direct ideological duel between Libertarians and Statists. It forces the Statists to defend exactly what is wrong with their philosophy: Coercion and monopoly. The Statist cannot answer such a reasonable demand without admitting that he wants to coerce. There is very little room to position yourself as a benefactor of mankind, when your position on the question before you is, “You may not choose, I must choose for you.”

Now, as a more remote possibility, Opt-out also has the potential to transform states into non-states through an indirect process. Let’s imagine a sort of Rothbardian stateless society, with security and law provided by what we call private firms in that case. People sign contracts, agreeing to both payments and terms to have these services provided; they bind themselves not to steal, authorize certain remedies if they do steal, agree to a specific system of determining guilt, and a rate of payment, in order to likewise be protected against the predations of others. The neighbors of these people may or may not be subscribers to the same service, and this will influence one’s behavior towards them: If your neighbor subscribes to a real fly-by-night security service that doesn’t enforce the contracts of its members to non-members, you’re going to regard business with him as risky. If he’s a member of your own or another well-reputed law concern, contracting with him can be regarded as a relatively safe bet. You might imagine yourself looking for the logo of a law concern in the window of a store before you enter, for assurance (or its absence) that you’ll have some help if the store cheats you. And of course, a fair number of firms may well operate without any¬† law association, getting by with crude remedies (pawn shops, etc) or dealing only with risk-takers.

It seems to me that the very thing that separates the state from one of these law concerns to which people voluntarily associate themselves is exactly, and only, that it is not voluntary. The state enforces territorial monopoly over the thing that we are here providing by voluntary, competitive means. What this indicates to me is that if I were capable of opting out of the whole of Sacramento’s or Washington DC’s “services” and replacing them with those of someone else, those institutions would no longer be states at all. They would be subject to competition, they would have no power to extract taxes from the unwilling or inflict “help” upon the ungrateful. Now, from a politician’s perspective, this is exactly the same unthinkable horror as the wholesale abolition of the state. I propose that we adopt this view as well, and aim to destroy the state by the relatively subtle addition of an Opt-out box at the bottom of its laws. There is an ultimate, and fanciful vision of the outcome of this, whereby the home of everyone who says “Well I like the U.S. government!” has an American flag above it, sends his taxes into Washington DC, and calls up an agent of that government when he wants some law enforcement. And in the same vision, his next door neighbor instead has a sticker that says “MurrayCo.” on his front window, sends his smaller bill to their corporate office, and calls their 800 number when he feels cheated or hears a bump in the night. And the mix of these two (and all the other options) in the neighborhood is simply determined by the choice of the consumers to subscribe or unsubscribe from their choice of service. This, as I say, is a vision quite as remote as frank Anarcho-Capitalism, and would have to be realized by similarly enormous changes in the attitude of the public towards government, or at least towards coercion.

The less-remote part of the vision, however, I eagerly await watching in action, for if Opt-out is our general position, then every time we are heard on the public stage, we will enjoy the delightful spectacle of politicians directly announcing to their believers, “No, you must not be given a choice.”