Demunicipalize the Garbage Service

by  E.W. Dykes

Mr. Dykes is an architect in Canton, Ohio.

A friend recently chided us liber­tarians for being so engrossed in “pursuing our busy little semi­nars on whether or not to demuni­cipalize the garbage collectors” that we tend to ignore the most vital problem of our time: war and peace.

Well, I’m not so sure. On the assumption that the “garbage is­sue” is more fundamental than the “war issue,” I take up the gauntlet exactly as our friend has flung it down.

War — like many other of to­day’s problems — is the culmina­tion of the breaking of libertarian principles, not once, but thousands of times. We are challenged to jump in at this point and apply our principles to get out of the unholy mess resulting from years and years of errors on errors. The challenge might just as well have been put in terms like this: “You are a second lieutenant. Your platoon is surrounded. Your am­munition is gone. Two of your squad leaders are dead, the third severely wounded. Now, Mr. Lib­ertarian, let’s see you get out of this one with your little semi­nars.”

My answer: “Demunicipalize the garbage service.”

Now, wait, before you cross me off as a nut. I have a point. That second lieutenant is a goner. And so is the prospect of lasting peace until man learns why it is wrong to municipalize the garbage serv­ice. You can’t apply libertarian principles to wrong things at their culmination and expect to make much sense or progress. You have to start back at the very beginning, and that is pre­cisely what our little seminars are for. There are people who build for tomorrow, others who build for a year, some who look for­ward a generation. The libertar­ian, a part of “the remnant,” takes the long view — forward to the time when war will be looked upon as we now look upon can­nibalism, a thing of the past. And believe me, unless someone takes the long view, wars will continue.

Suppose a group of doctors in a meeting on cancer prevention decide to do with cancer as the state proposes to do with war: “Outlaw it.” What chance would the doctors have? None. And pre­cisely for the same reason that the state can’t outlaw war: They don’t know what causes it.

I think I know what causes war. In an unpublished article called “War, the Social Cancer,” I de­veloped the thesis that war is the malignancy resulting from the growth of interventionism, which invariably becomes uncontrolled, once started. Without interven­tionism — starting way back with things like the garbage service —war simply cannot happen.

Is There a Faster Way?

What do we do in our little seminars? We make the case for freedom, which cannot coexist with interventionism. Slow? Of course, painfully slow. But who can really say and prove there is a better — or faster — way?

I suppose, in a way, we can be thankful — so long as wars per­sist — that there are men willing to tell my son how, when, and where he will fight. I am not will­ing to be a party to telling their sons what they will do, because that would mean abandoning my position. Probably, in a world at this stage of evolution, there have to be both kinds. I can guarantee at least one who disavows initi­ated violence, but only if I hold fast to that position myself.

Depend on it, this view always will be scorned by those who cannot look past tomorrow. You may also depend on it that a time will come when the little seminars will bear fruit. Listen to Albert Jay Nock:

The fascination and the despair of the historian, as he looks back upon Isaiah’s Jewry, upon Plato’s Athens, or upon Rome of the An­tonines, is the hope of discovering and laying bare the “substratum of right-thinking and well-doing” which he knows must have existed some­where in those societies because no kind of collective life can possibly go on without it. He finds tantalizing intimations of it here and there in many places, as in the Greek An­thology, in the scrapbook of Aulus Gellius, in the poems of Ausonius, and in the brief and touching trib­ute, Bene merenti, bestowed upon the unknown occupants of Roman tombs. But these are vague and fragmen­tary; they lead him nowhere in his search for some kind of measure of this substratum, but merely testify to what he already knows a priori —that the substratum did somewhere exist. Where it was, how substantial it was, what its power of self-asser­tion and resistance was — of all this they tell him nothing.

Similarly, when the historian of two thousand years hence, or two hundred years, looks over the avail­able testimony to the quality of our civilization and tries to get any kind of clear, competent evidence concern­ing the substratum of right-thinking and well-doing which he knows must have been here, he will have a devil of a time finding it. When he has assembled all he can get and has made even a minimum allowance for speciousness, vagueness, and confu­sion of motive, he will sadly ac­knowledge that his net result is sim­ply nothing. A Remnant were here, building a substratum like coral in­sects — so much he knows — but he will find nothing to put him on the track of who and where and how many they were and what their work was like.¹

Now, turn to William Graham Sumner:

If we can acquire a science of so­ciety, based on observation of phe­nomena and study of forces, we may hope to gain some ground slowly toward the elimination of old errors and the re-establishment of a sound and natural social order. Whatever we gain that way will be by growth, never in the world by any recon­struction of society on the plan of some enthusiastic social architect. The latter is only repeating the old error over again, and postponing all our chances of real improvement. So­ciety needs first of all to be freed from these meddlers — that is, to be let alone. Here we are, then, once more back at the old doctrine —Laissez faire. Let us translate it into blunt English, and it will read, Mind your own business.2

Again I say: We will never end wars if we do not, at the mini­mum, understand why the garbage service should be removed from the jurisdiction of the police force, that is — government.


1 Albert J. Nock, “Isaiah’s Job” from Free Speech and Plain Language (Wil­liam Morrow & Company, 1937).

2 William Graham Sumner, What So­cial Classes Owe to Each Other (Harper & Brothers, 1883).

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