Essay:William Reddie

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By Nathan Larson

It sounds as though William Reddie became distraught over his kid being taken away and decided to commit suicide by cop. Given that he knew he was starting a gun fight with a (fairly small) knife, I doubt he had serious intent to cause injury, but rather was trying to provoke the response that he got. Often, people's kids mean quite a lot, sometimes more than anything else in the world, to them; we see people sometimes stay at jobs or with spouses they can barely stand, for the benefit of their kids.

Some people's preferences or situations are such that their kids are all or most of what they live for, and if you take their kids away, they see no point in continuing to live. And so we see incidents like this. As Bridget Ulrich points out, soaring suicide "rates indicate an underlying necrosis within our society which we must strive to locate, lacerate and extract. . . . The big government wants us to feel meager and insufficient so that we feel we need an omnipotent force to micromanage our daily lives."[1] What point does such a micromanaged life serve? Why is it nobler to live as a slave, deprived of the kinds of enjoyment and usefulness in which, because of one's nature or circumstances, one found all the meaning in one's life, than to accept the reasoning and follow the examples described in Cato's Letter No. 56:

I call upon the great pretenders to philosophy and refined morals, to assign one fair reason, why a Roman, why Brutus and Cassius, should prefer a miserable life to an honourable death; should bear vassalage, chains, and tortures of body or mind, when all those evils were to be avoided by doing only that, which, by the course of nature, every man must soon do. It is better not to be, than to be unhappy . . . . Men in lingering and desperate distempers go, uncalled, to mount a breach in a siege, or into the midst of the battle, to meet certain death. Great commanders have done the same, when the day went against them, rather than survive being beaten. Commanders of ships have blown up themselves and their ships, rather than be the prey of the conqueror. Towns besieged, when they could defend themselves no longer, have first burnt their town, then precipitated themselves desperately amongst their enemies, to procure an honourable death and revenge.

The only part of this Reason article I disagree with is "it is a bad idea to pull a knife on a couple of cops."[2] It sounds like Reddie's first choice would have been to keep his kid; dying was his second choice. So why should he have settled for a third choice, viz. living without his kid? To accept an option lower in one's scale of values, without good reason, would be praxeologically unsound and irrational. And since there was nothing unethical about pulling a knife on an aggressor, I can find no fault with Reddie. Had Reddie not acted as he did, his story would not have reached us; he has done a public service by sparking a debate on important civil rights issues. By dying, he also ceased to pay taxes to the state, and thus stopped contributing to the oppression of the rest of us.

I mentioned to a desultorily suicidal friend that a lot of smart people I know have either been contemplating suicide or have actually killed themselves recently. He replied, "Go watch the Atlas Shrugged film (currently two parts of three) now. It's all about the bright people moving away because of all the moochers." We can't find Galt's Gulch, and many of us are prohibited by law (e.g. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)) from possessing firearms. But we can get a knife and we can find a cop who has a gun. The sad thing is, people will get more upset over a person advocating doing what Reddie did than they will about someone advocating the cops' busting him for weed or taking away his kid.


  1. Ulrich, Bridget (November/December 2013), "Libertarianism: Fuel for the Soul", Virginia Liberty (Libertarian Party of Virginia) 
  2. Sullum, Jacob (30 March 2012). "Why Was William Reddie So Agitated?". Reason.