The Guardian Project
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Take an ultra-rich and dedicated libertarian, a set of possible but unlikely coincidences, and you have the foundation for Aaron Zelman and L. Neil Smith’s most recent collaboration, Hope. The subtitle for this novel reveals the theme of the story: “How would you feel if you no longer feared your government?”
Hope is an indirect sequel to Zelman and Smith’s 1999 book, The Mitzvah, a much shorter and smaller scale tale. Hope details the transformation of the wealthy Alexander Hope from tech mogul to self-financed college history instructor to presidential candidate for the “Free Libertarian Party of America” and eventually to unexpected leader of the United States.
A scandal involving the Republican (Socialist Party A) presidential candidate and an automobile accident befalling the Democratic (Socialist Party B) candidate (a woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to the wife of a certain ex-President and, in 2008, a senator from New York) dispirits even more American voters than usual. As the saying goes, on election day, they stay home in droves. The replacement candidates opposing Hope are pitifully inadequate to the task. Surprising even him, Hope awakes to find himself the president-elect.
Much of the action in this story flows from what has become a mantra of L. Neil Smith: strict enforcement of the Bill of Rights. Smith may personally have reservations regarding the validity of any government. In Hope, however, he and Zelman operate from the assumption that any likely changes to the political reality in America will, for the foreseeable future, have to occur within the framework of the Constitution.
Zelman and Smith couple the power of an actual respect for and adherence to our Constitution and its Bill of Rights with another tool long available for political change: jury nullification. Unfortunately, this impediment to State expansion has largely vanished down the rabbit-hole of current judicial practices. Jury nullification is presently “discredited” by the majority of judges, lawyers, and politicians. This practice — championed today by the Fully Informed Jury Association (FIJA) — acknowledges that the ultimate source and authority for anything the State (legitimately) does arises from individual citizens.
In their capacity as jurists, it is not only citizens’ right but their obligation to judge not only the particular facts involved in a given case but also the law upon which the charges are based. While jurists cannot repeal a piece of legislation, they can, however, work to diminish, i.e., nullify, the negative effects of laws that violate individual rights by refusing to convict people brought to trial in violation of such unconstitutional laws.
Government of the people, by the people, and for the people means little today in terms of the ultimate source of law, i.e., individual rights in a social context. Such ideas have degenerated into an almost total democracy, a tyranny in which the majority runs roughshod over the lives and property of anyone in disfavor. Zelman and Smith’s vision of proper justice would restore control to “the people.”
Despite the fact that such tactics are readily available right now, Hope in many respects reads like a fantasy. Because the majority of the American populace is addicted to big government and dutifully and silently performs the actions demanded of the people by the State — such as paying taxes, surrendering weapons, and obeying destructive regulations and laws — the notion that a significant proportion of the electorate would willfully and gladly wield the tool of jury nullification to impede the progress of the State strikes me as fanciful; an extremely appealing dream, true, but not one likely to occur anytime soon.
I sincerely “hope” I am proved dead wrong. If Americans reclaimed their heritage in a U.S. version of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I would rejoice while happily admitting my abysmal error.
Another, perhaps related, issue is the nature of the characters in this book. (Luckily, these men and women can rightfully be spoken of as “heroes” and not merely “protagonists.”) Alexander Hope, his daughter, Faith-Anne, and NetPlanetNews reporting star, Dana Li, don’t merely react to events impinging upon them, drifting this way and that like flotsam before a storm. Surprise, surprise, they make conscious choices and then take the appropriate actions necessary to achieve the ends they value.
Unlike “anti-heroes” who whine or float through one disconnected scenario after another, Hope and his cohorts are productive, confident, and unashamed as they forthrightly oppose their enemies. Unusual in today’s mainstream literature, the characters handle setbacks in stride, knowing that success is never guaranteed but that failure is if they merely sit and do nothing in the fight for freedom.
And Alexander Hope does, indeed, have antagonists out for his hide...literally. As a man of integrity, Hope does not merely mutter high-sounding ideals and principles. He actually follows through on what he says. Despite tradition and what seems “comfortable” to those surrounding his fledgling presidency, he knows there can be — and should be — no disparity between word and action, the pragmatic and the principled. For example, despite the trained reflexes and prejudices of his Secret Service guards, Hope refuses to allow them to disarm citizens who meet to hear his words.
(Compare this scenario to what happened recently in Utah. In that state, licensed carry is readily available. Leaving aside for the present the injustice of licensing requirements, many adults there carry their weapons. When Vice-President Dick Cheney came to speak, those citizens who did have their guns with them were forced to surrender their weapons at the door. Despite Cheney’s stated support for the Second Amendment, apparently he is incapable in his executive position of enforcing that amendment’s provision and of helping to end the isolation of our political leaders. After all, what part of “shall not be infringed” does he and those working under him not understand? If politicians do not feel safe around the citizens they supposedly serve, how much less safe should we, those very citizens, feel when confronted with the naked and arrogant power of the omnipotent State? This example and the still-intact traffic barriers at the White House provide interesting and ironic real-life asides to illustrate Hope’s subtitle: How would you feel if you no longer feared your government?)
Though there are specific groups and individuals resisting Hope’s ascendancy and his policies, no single antagonist emerges for Hope to overcome. While this undercuts to a degree the dramatic tension inherent in this alteration in the national political scene, it perhaps accurately represents the situation that promoters of liberty face.
The forces of collectivism and statism in America and the world today are diffused throughout society. There is no Hitler or Stalin or Mao to act as a locus for our efforts. The poison seeps into every niche of our culture and our institutions, whether educational, economic, political, or otherwise. The appeal of the warfare-welfare state has so permeated the psyche of so many people that it fades into the background. Taken for granted and unquestioned by the vast majority of people, state intrusion comes to feel as natural and pervasive as the air we breath.
This widespread prejudice for government and support for its agents is, taken discretely, ineffectual. The deeply embedded inefficiencies and contradictions in the practice of state power prevents it from achieving many of its stated goals. (For example, consider the inability of the State to keep drugs and weapons out of heavily guarded and controlled prisons.) The real power of the State is purely destructive.
Even so, because of its myriad, far-reaching tendrils and the general passivity of the populace, government excels at that intimate devastation. Too many of those working under its auspices would carry out the most egregious affronts to our way of life. The stated willingness of police and soldiers to obey gun-confiscation orders is a particularly chilling illustration of this insidious problem.
Zelman and Smith’s abortion example is an excellent analysis in Chapter 21 of the inexorable logic of rights’ violations resulting from bad laws. The law of unintended consequences they sketch out in this controversial area beautifully demonstrates that ill-conceived laws designed to pander to emotional urgings are often more dangerous than bills directly assaulting the Constitution.
In the final analysis, if you believe in freedom, you’ll find little in Hope you disagree with. If you are shaky in your understanding of liberty, however, you’ll find plenty of ideas in this novel upon which to chew. (Imagine a shooting range in the White House!) After you’ve read it, pass it along to a friend who rarely questions the role of government...and watch the sparks fly.