I.D.Card Trial Balloon
It has been brought to my attention that in your March Trends column you printed an item stating that "Frances Knight, Director of the Passport Office created quite a stir with her call for a national identification card for every citizen. Knight's proposal, widely regarded as a trial balloon to test public reaction, now appears to have received its coup de grace." The source for this item was listed as the AP release out of Washington dated December 9, 1976.
We have checked with the AP and received a copy of their story as it appeared in the Los Angeles Times on December 8, 1976 and we find no such reference to me, however, that is not the point of this letter. I wish to state emphatically that at no time have I called for an identification card for every citizen. At no time have I participated in launching a "trial balloon" for any segment of the Federal government nor for any organization or private cause. I would like to see your source for the statement that I have "advocated" such an action, or made a "call" for a national identification card for every citizen. Indeed, I was asked a question in an interview over two years ago as to whether there was a need for some form of nation-wide registration and I replied that due to the growing document fraud situation, the use of fraudulent identities by criminals and the impact of over ten million illegal aliens in the United States, some form of an identity card or document will eventually develop. The time will come when the taxpayers of this country will not be able to afford the conservative estimate of $20 billion going down the drain annually as a result of the use of fraudulent identities by criminals. I certainly do not expect to see national I.D. cards issued by the Federal government to all U.S. citizens in my life time but it is interesting to note that over 34 states have already initiated a system of I.D. cards issued to protect their law-abiding citizens from the criminal elements within the state borders.
Countries such as France, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden have had a national I.D. system for decades and certainly no one would accuse these nations of being Communist or Fascist. Their citizens do not consider I.D. cards an invasion of their privacy.
Furthermore, the editor of Trends failed to report that the Passport Office was not only instrumental in the establishment of the Federal Advisory Committee on False Identification but my Deputy chaired the largest subcommittee of this Advisory group and was personally involved in the preparation of the final report and its recommendations to the Attorney General. Recommendations from the Passport Office have been incorporated but we certainly did not at any time call for a national registration card which under no circumstances could ever be linked to the United States passport. This is a matter of record and we would like to keep it straight.
Frances G. Knight
Director, Passport Office
MR. POOLE REPLIES: The comment in Trends about Ms. Knight began with the words "Two years ago.…" Its source was not the recent AP story but rather a published interview in February 1975. In that widely quoted interview Ms. Knight stated: "It is my considered opinion that the U.S. government owes every American citizen a true, recorded national identity to protect him from criminal impersonations…I predict that national registration eventually may come to this country because it will be demanded by citizens who are sick and tired of supporting nontaxpaying criminals and illegal aliens." This statement was reported in REASON's May 1975 issue (p. 30). Opinions may differ as to whether or not this statement by a high government official represented advocacy or a trial balloon. We are glad to publish Ms. Knight's clarification of her intent, and only wish that her original comments had been less subject to misinterpretation.
Illusion of Reform
One slip in Tim Condon's generally accurate article about the ICC [April] reminded me of a transportation colleague's comment that too much libertarian writing reads like a press release designed to magnify our progress in rolling back the State. I refer to Condon's claim that the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 "permits railroads to set their own rates without ICC approval." Untrue, unfortunately. The RRRRA restricted the ICC's power of suspension only if changes in a rate during one year total less than seven percent up or down, only if the rate change is filed specifically under Sec. 15(8Xc) of the Interstate Commerce Act before February 5, 1978, only if the rate change is not of general applicability, and only if no one with standing makes a complaint that the proposed change "constitutes a competitive practice which is unfair, destructive, predatory or otherwise undermines competition which is necessary in the public interest." As a result of the political dickering necessary to secure this not-very broad ratemaking "liberty" the Commission's antitruster friends gained for it the new power to suspend and prohibit rates on the basis of a railroad's "market dominance." The Act's seven percent "tinkering zone" affects only the ICC's power of suspension based on the rate's level: nothing changed the applicability of sections 2, 3 & 4 of the Interstate Commerce Act regarding unjust and unreasonable rates, nor the railroad's burden of proof to establish that changes are not in violation of those sections. Especially upon consideration of the continued health of the cartelized rate bureau system and the unchanged incentives handed railroads by the rest of the commerce statute, one can only conclude that the railroads are a long way from being free of price controls—explicit or implicit. Indeed, the main impact of the regulatory reform act seems to have been one of throwing a decidedly temporary and minor sop to regulation's opponents as a way of lulling them into silence.
William D. Burt
Polytechnic Institute of New York
AT LAST! An article [May] that clearly and concisely, with supporting data, shoots down the anti-gun nuts! Thank you.
I may not agree with everything you print but I fully agree with the idea of liberty for all people with restraints only applied when one person extends his liberty far enough to infringe on others' liberty. Nowhere has this been more rampant than in the matter of firearm ownership. Right now, powerful leaders and well-financed groups are attempting to brainwash the people into an unreasoning hatred of guns and gun-owners. The Second Amendment rights we have cherished for so long are in immediate danger of destruction.
Thank you for speaking out against this frightening trend toward what many fear to be some form of totalitarianism.
Evergreen Park, IL
Liberty and South Africa
I cannot let Marc Swanepoel's latest column [April] remain unanswered. His categorization of the revolutionary movements in Southern Africa suffers from the same conservative bias that is probably the most important factor in the failure of any pro-freedom advocates to have any impact on the peoples of Southern Africa. Again and again Mr. Swanepoel writes like this: "the so-called 'black leaders' are all confirmed Socialists", "the South West Peoples Organization (SWAPO), an outspoken prosocialist group." Then to cap it all he writes: "I detest the harsh security laws where people are detained without trial—but I have to admit that most of these people who are eventually brought to trial have been conspiring to overthrow the existing system with violence and replace it with a Communist system." [Emphasis added.] This, to borrow a phrase from Ayn Rand, "I submit is obscene."
Does Mr. Swanepoel mean to say that as libertarians we should not defend the rights of communists, socialists and freedom fighters to self defense? Does Mr. Swanepoel mean that one should not conspire to violently overthrow those who are violently suppressing one?
To those so-called defenders of freedom who are now with righteous glee pointing to the suffering in Mozambique and Angola I would put the question: "Where were you during the 50 years of Portuguese dictatorship, and why did you leave the fighting to the communists?"
The American revolution was a success precisely because the signers of the Declaration of Independence were willing to lose their privileges, power, and property and did not flap about the country prattling about the evils of one-man, one-vote, or that the Tea Party of Boston was the work of a small group of inhabitants of Massachusetts, or of giving these people separate areas where they could eventually develop to self government.
To quote from Ms. Doris Lessing's book Going Home:
"With the opposition in South Africa defeated, and filth being piled on its memory by very efficient propagandists, I want to pay tribute to the Communists and Socialists there who fought so well and bravely.…They can be faulted on mistaken judgments about the Soviet Union, and on their analysis of the 'class struggle' in Africa, but not on common sense about the colour struggle, nor on courage, nor on humanity. When I became political and Communist, it was because they were the only people I had ever met who fought the colour bar in their lives. Very few other people did—not the Labour Party…not the 'liberals'…not the members of the churches. No one. But when you joined the Communists you met, for the first time, people of other races, and on equal terms. It was for this reason the Communist party had influence; not because of its theories."
I could go on and cite statistics and instances of the brutal horror of the South African system. People I know have been persecuted and prosecuted on the flimsiest of pretenses. Yes, some of them are communist and socialist, but what they had in common was a disgust at the racism of the system.
As libertarians it would not do for us, like the conservatives, to support any regime from the Republic of Ireland to South Korea to South Africa, so long as the leaders are religious and one can still make a good profit there; or, like the left, support any regime from North Korea to Bangladesh to Tanzania, so long as their leaders are not religious and mouth Socialist platitudes. We, above all, should not be so terrified of communism that we would accept and legitimize fascism.
This is why we should be wary when Mr. Swanepoel says: "[South Africa] is one of the few remaining bastions against communism, the demise of South Africa will indeed be a sad day for the West." With bastions like that who needs detente? And I will be damned if I am going to shed one tear on the demise of the South African regime. Mr. Swanepoel shows an extreme lack of intellectual honesty when he categorizes South Africa as "a relatively capitalistic" system when he himself writes: "I regret that honest, law abiding blacks cannot own property in or near white cities," neglecting to add that it is difficult for a black man even to own property in his so-called "black homelands" where the land is tribally controlled (under the supervision of the white South African government) and owned. He neglects to mention that blacks are severely restricted in acquiring and selling even their skills on the "open market" and yet he has the nerve to call this system "capitalistic"; elitist fascist would be a far more accurate description.
To his last sentence "Oh liberty, what crimes will be committed in thy name" I reply that I, for one, am going to take my chances with the crimes committed in the name of liberty; but with crimes daily committed in the name of security, anticommunism, law and order, profit, privilege and, above all, race, I have no chance. For even as a white South African I would, should I return now, again be enslaved by the South African Army. As a "runaway," my mail to and from that country disappears or is opened and read. I dare Mr. Swanepoel to openly distribute to the young men of South Africa Libertarian position papers against the draft. These white young men who are now "volunteering" to fight those black young men who in their struggle to comprehend the concepts of freedom were given only the answer of the communists.
Rudolph J. Laubscher
Hook on Rights
Thank you for the revealing interview with Dr. Sidney Hook [May]. I am truly shocked that someone with the international reputation of Sidney Hook is so inconsistent and oblivious of the contradictions in his statements. I was especially intrigued by his fundamental statement on "natural rights" of humans: "they do not exist in rerum natura." In other words, each of us is given his rights by society (the State). No wonder that there can be no understanding between socialists and individualists.
David Michael Myers
Abortion and Rights
Beverly J. Combs doesn't understand the abortion issue [May], but conservatives who protest abortion as well as gun control, side with individual rights. On both questions. Abortion is not a religious issue covered by the First Amendment. It is a moral issue. Abortions kill children and as an atheist, I object on libertarian grounds.
All living human beings have the right to life. The fertilized egg and the old person are one and the same individual, a well known fact of biology. Beverly rejects the valid idea that human life begins, therefore, at the "moment of conception," but she made no attempt to present her idea of what is the moment.
Proabortionists try to deny the humanity of the unborn by pretending that there are two classes of living human beings: those with rights and those without. Rather than admit that rights are a corollary of human existence, they say that some people have the right to determine the rights of others. That is a dangerous idea which governments have applied many times in the past with pernicious results. But government actions, past or future (Beverly's "bedroom amendment") are immaterial to the abortion issue itself.
Libertarians for Life
MS. COMBS REPLIES: Conservatives who protest abortion as well as gun control, are doing exactly what I said—fighting for the Second Amendment while trying to destroy the First Amendment.
Ms. Gordon seems to think the religious belief that men may bomb babies in the name of war, or cause a woman to abort in the name of war, is immaterial to the abortion issue. In other words, what men do is immaterial and irrelevant. Now you let some woman stand up and declare she has the right to go into combat, and bomb children and pregnant women—in self defense, of course—and most of these conservative "pro-life" men have a twitching fit: "That's a man's job! Besides, we can't allow women to die on the battlefield!"
But let a woman die in childbirth or from a pregnancy-related illness, and these men don't blink an eye. Yes, they'll allow any number of women to die in the name of "right to life."
And what kind of life does Ms. Gordon think people have a right to live? She says "government actions past or future are immaterial to the abortion issue itself." In other words, the probable results of the anti-abortion amendment are immaterial—just keep those blinders on, and get it passed!
Ms. Gordon says abortion is not a religious issue, but a moral issue. I say the "right to life" group professes great love and concern for the "unborn"—which they have not seen. But it seems to me they show little love and concern for the born—which they have seen.
I could almost believe it was planned that way: Tibor Machan's article, "In Defense of Philosophy," and the Spotlight article on Petr Beckmann in the same issue. Just compare the following quotes.
Machan: "There is a good deal that is objectionable about dividing the world into various departments and claiming that all of it fits into one or the other. It encourages elitism, bad blood among otherwise decent folks, and so forth. But most of all, it is unfounded. Reality is a rich mixture, and coping with it rationally cannot amount to reducing it to a simple formula. Incidentally, there is also much more fun in diversity, should anyone be concerned with that."
Beckmann: "My long-term goal is the defense of science and technology against superstition, sham-environmentalism, the 'small is beautiful' mentality and other types of hypocrisy, which, in my view, is part of the struggle of individualism and the free enterprise system against statism of all sorts."
I can't imagine a better example of what Machan thought objectionable than Beckmann's statement. Categorizing what you oppose as hypocrisy ("Them people are crooks and liars and they know it!") has kept this planet in a state of exciting, although somewhat bloody, turmoil for quite a few thousand years.
Guy W. Riggs
While reading Sam Konkin's letter [May] re John Hospers' article "Getting from Here to There," the quotation "Casting pearls before swine," kept running through my mind. The inevitability of this happening to men of Hospers' stature, who are published all over the world, is understandable; the waste, never will be.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".