Day 175 – My Thoughts on Jeff Knaebel

June 24, 2009

A friend of mine sent me a link to an article about an anti-war protestor renouncing his U.S. citizenship in New Delhi. The man, Jeff Knaebel, declared independence from not just the U.S. government, but all governments, and made a speech about how non-voluntary citizenship is forced slavery. He afterwards destroyed his passport, birth certificate, and all other forms of government-issued identification. The local police then carried him out of the Ghandi national monument area and directed him to turn himself into the local police officials, which he did. Jeff Knaebel voluntarily walked three blocks and informed the police that he was trespassing and did not have a passport. His current status is unknown.

Here are my thoughts on Jeff Knaebel’s actions:

First, his speech laid out that he believes the governments of the world are illegitimiate, he will not obey them, and they have no claim over him. Yet, he voluntarily walked to the local police station and turned himself in. Maybe he thought that if he chose to go, the Delhi police wouldn’t have a claim over him, as he “chose freely”. I am skeptical of this, though. I just don’t get how a man who makes a speech about how he will not obey any government voluntarily walks to a police station and tells them what laws he is breaking.

Also, while I agree with his underlying idea that citizenship should be voluntary, the ugly reality is that we do not yet live in such a world. With Seasteading quickly growing and advancing, we may soon see a world where governments compete for citizens, but we are not there yet. If Mr. Knaebel wants to spread his ideas about the illegitimacy of government as we know it, is the best way renouncing citizenship and winding up in a New Delhi prison the best way to do that? Why not put up with the states’ schemes while taking advantage of the amount that it lets you speak out against it? I don’t think that doing that compromises his position at all. If he already believes that governments do not have control over him, why not out up with their gimmicks in order to be able to speak openly and get people to agree with him? right now he has no seastead or something similar to turn to, so why burn your passport, restrict your physical movement, get trapped in New Delhi, and (presumably) go to jail?

Jeff Knaebel claims that he will not participate in the U.S. government’s murder. So what did he do about it? Destroyed his passport and birth certificate, then walked to a police station. Where did that get him? Is he helping stop the destruction the U.S. is causing? (Not if he is in jail, and definitely not if he can’t come talk to the American people about it because he is stuck in New Delhi without a passport. I am not saying that freedom comes about from the government issuing a passport…I am simply saying that, in order to further the cause of liberty, it might be beneficial to go along with governments’ gimmicks in the short term. As long as you are not going to land in jail for speaking out against a coercive state and showing its major downfalls, inefficiencies, and evils, you might as well take advantage of that. Getting thrown in jail or stuck in New Delhi is not going to help very much if you want to advance liberty. You need to be active and teach those around you why an ever-expanding central state is not a good idea.

I think Mr. Knaebel buys into the false idea that people living in a country means they consent to it. This is simply not true. As of now, there are no other viable options. For one, our property is immobile. Also, there are currently no alternatives. When there are, I will rethink my position. For now, we need to live with what we have, while always working to improve the situation, whether through trying to build cities on the ocean, or spreading the ideas of private property rights and non-aggression to those around you. If the lovers of liberty all simply burn their passports and get thrown in jail, the government is going to keep on functioning as it did before. Jeff Knaebel was right that non-violent action needed to be taken, but not the kind that restricts his movement and lands him in jail. This does not allow him to spread the cause of liberty.

Buying into gimmicks like passports and birth certificates in order to be able to travel and speak out about liberty is a small short-term cost that I think will pay off in the long term. After all, you cannot change peoples’ minds if you are sitting in a jail cell under lock and key. I have a problem with people who believe in no compromise, such as Jeff Knaebel. I think compromising in the short-run can pay off tremendously for their cause in the long run.

Then again, maybe Jeff Knaebel does not actually want to promote liberty. Maybe he just wants to be a martyr.