Tag Archives: Libertarianism

Is Libertarianism Compatible With Religion?

by Laurence M. Vance

Recently by Laurence M. Vance: The Fluoridation Question Revisited

 

This talk was given at the 2011 Austrian Scholars Conference at the Mises Institute.

I never met Murray Rothbard. I still remember the day when I received a postcard in the mail announcing that he had died. I think that he, an agnostic Jew, and I, a devout Christian, would have gotten along just fine since we shared a common enemy – the state. I still have the postcard and the admiration for Rothbard that I had sixteen years ago.

I think that libertarianism has reached the point where we can safely say that more than at any time in the last fifty years a great number of libertarians are religious people. It was twenty-three years ago – a time when many of us still identified ourselves as liberals or conservatives, and some of you were not old enough to know the difference – when Rothbard opined that “the libertarian movement, and the Libertarian Party, will get nowhere in America – or throughout the world – so long as it is perceived, as it generally is, as a movement dedicated to atheism.” “Nock, Morley, Chodorov, Flynn et al. were not atheists,” he continued, “but for various accidental reasons of history, the libertarian movement after the 1950’s consisted almost exclusively of atheists.” “There is nothing inherently of wrong with this,” explained Rothbard, “except that many libertarians have habitually and wrongly acted as if religious people in general and Christians in particular are pariahs and equivalent to statists.” Just a few months before this, Rothbard had lamented that he was “getting tired of the offhanded smearing of religion that has long been endemic to the libertarian movement.” “Religion,” he said “is generally dismissed as imbecilic at best, inherently evil at worst.”

Although I think that things have greatly improved, many libertarians today are no more accommodating of religion than those in Rothbard’s day. Even though many religious people perhaps deserve the disdain of libertarians because of their faith-based statism, religion itself certainly doesn’t. It was the nonreligious Rothbard who acknowledged that “the greatest and most creative minds in the history of mankind have been deeply and profoundly religious, most of them Christian.”

The question I want to address today is simply this: Is libertarianism compatible with religion? Many libertarians say no, the two are not compatible. Some of them even consider religion to be a greater enemy of human liberty than the state, a proposition that Walter Block has debunked. Many religious people also say no, the two are not compatible. In the minds of some of them, libertarianism is just a synonym for libertinism, an erroneous idea that has also been debunked by Walter Block. (Is there any false notion about libertarianism that Walter Block hasn’t debunked?) Even some conservatives say no, the two are not compatible. Thomas Fleming, the editor of Chronicles magazine, considers the phrase “Christian libertarians” to be “as oxymoronic as Christian socialists.”

Now, although I have some strong opinions about religion – and enough degrees in theology to make sure I offend the greatest number of people – what I personally believe about religion is totally irrelevant. The question of “Is libertarianism compatible with religion?” is a question that Walter Block or the most militant Randian could ask and answer without changing the content of this talk. What you personally believe about religion is also completely immaterial. Whether you think that a particular religion is the absolute truth that you would be willing to die for or that all religions are just a collection of myths and stories mixed with history doesn’t affect the importance of the question. In the end, people are going to side with their religion over the ideas of dead Austrian economists. It is therefore imperative that the question be answered.

Libertarians who ignore the question do so at their peril. If libertarianism is not compatible with religion, then we who believe that the principles of libertarianism are true, just, and right must engage in the futile task of trying to get people to abandon their religion to accept libertarianism. We would face the impossible task of destroying someone’s faith in his God and/or scripture before we could convince him of the truth of libertarianism. Now, you may be both a hard-core atheist and a libertarian, but as Rothbard warned: “We libertarians will never win the hearts and minds of Americans or of the rest of the world if we persist in wrongly identifying libertarianism with atheism. If even Stalin couldn’t stamp out religion, libertarians are not going to succeed with a few Randian syllogisms.”

The title of my paper is no accident. I think religious people have more of a problem with libertarianism than libertarians have with religion. I think it is harder to convince a religious person that libertarianism doesn’t violate the tenets of his religion than to convince a libertarian that religion doesn’t violate the tenets of libertarianism. Although some libertarians deserve the disdain of religious people for their libertinism, I put most of the blame for the need for this talk on religious people because of their ignorance of both libertarianism and religion.

So, all that being said, my short answer to the question of whether libertarianism is compatible with is religion yes. But since it would not be enough just to say “I am religious, I am libertarian, so the answer to the question has to be yes, thank you and good day,” my long answer is what follows.

In order to determine if libertarianism is compatible with religion we must first understand what libertarianism is. The world is full of mistaken notions about libertarianism. It is often misunderstood and mischaracterized by its opponents as discounting human nature and disdaining morality while being grossly naïve and overly utopian. We have all heard the standard clichés, usually out of the mouth of conservatives, religious or otherwise:

  • Libertarians are for abortion.
  • Libertarians are for drug use.
  • Libertarians are against religion.
  • Libertarians are against traditional values.

True, some libertarians might be for and against these things, but so might someone who is not a libertarian.

To get a proper perspective of what libertarianism really is, I turn to two of its greatest proponents: Murray Rothbard and Walter Block.

As described by Rothbard:

Libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. . . . Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.

And as explained by Block:

The non-aggression axiom is the lynchpin of the philosophy of libertarianism. It states, simply, that it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another. That is, in the free society, one has the right to manufacture, buy or sell any good or service at any mutually agreeable terms.

In his seminal article “Libertarianism or Libertinism,” Block compactly states the essence of libertarianism:

Libertarianism is a political philosophy. It [is] concerned solely with the proper use of force. Its core premise is that it should be illegal to threaten or initiate violence against a person or his property without his permission; force is justified only in defense or retaliation. That is it, in a nutshell. The rest is mere explanation, elaboration, and qualification – and answering misconceived objections.

And in an article on plumb-line libertarianism, Block simply says: “Libertarianism is solely a political philosophy. It asks one and only one question: Under what conditions is the use of violence justified? And it gives one and only one answer: Violence can be used only in response, or in reaction to, a prior violation of private property rights.” Clearly, libertarianism cannot be simplistically defined, like some Cato guys recently did, as “fiscally conservative, socially liberal.” And I should also say that libertarianism is a way of life, not a lifestyle.

Now that we know what libertarianism is, in order to determine if it is compatible with religion it we must next look at what we mean by religion. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism – these are all considered to be the world’s great religions. That, however, is where their similarity begins and ends. Although they do have some common tenets, the constraints of my talent and your time mean that we are going to have to narrow our scope.

The focus of my talk will therefore be on Christianity – but not just because I am a Christian. I suspect that most of the people listening to me right now, or who will listen to a recording or read a transcript of this talk in the future, would identify themselves as Christians. This is not surprising since a majority of Americans still identify themselves as Christians. This does not mean that America is a Christian nation – regardless of what Islamic countries and God and country Red-State Christian fascists think (who would have thought those two groups would be in agreement on anything). It does mean that if we are to reach the majority of Americans with the message of liberty that we should know whether libertarianism is compatible with their religion.

This is a significant year in the history of Christianity. The year 2011 is the four-hundredth anniversary of the publication of the Authorized Version, better known as the King James Version of the Bible because it was translated under the authority of King James I of England, beginning in 1604.

But regardless of which version of Bible is used, to the Christian, the Bible is the supreme authority, not the works of Mises or Rothbard, however highly we may regard them.

The Bible is not only the book that has had the greatest impact on Western Civilization; it is the foundation of Christianity. Christians may differ on certain aspects of their religion, but they are all united in their belief that the Bible is some kind of an authority. For a Christian to say otherwise is to reveal that his religion is really meaningless.

For a Christian to respect the Bible as some kind of an authority to the extent that he might reject libertarianism because of it generally means that such an individual holds to a high view of Scripture or a literal view of the Bible. Obviously, not everything in the Bible is meant to be taken literally. The Bible contains idioms and figures of speech just like any other form of writing. And clearly, Christians have genuine differences of interpretation on certain portions of Scripture. A literal view of the Bible simply means that one accepts literally things in the Bible unless it is clear that they are not to be taken so. Miracles and other supernatural events actually happened. The virgin birth was an actual virgin birth. The resurrection of Christ is a real historical event. And most relevant to the question at hand, the precepts of Christ and the Apostles are meant to be obeyed and followed; they are not just opinions or suggestions to be accepted or rejected at will.

I only mention all this because some people wrongly believe that a literal view of the Bible is just a tenet of fundamentalist Christians. True, it is usually those who are the most ardent Bible literalists that are the toughest nuts to crack when it comes to libertarianism. It shouldn’t be that way, as I will argue in this talk, but that’s the reality. But if those who believe the Bible most literally can be persuaded of the compatibility of libertarianism with their version of Christianity, then those who take a somewhat less literal view of the Bible will not be far behind.

Let me reiterate that what you or I personally believe about the Bible is irrelevant. At issue is simply this: If libertarianism iscompatible with a Christianity grounded on the authority of the Bible, then we have many possible “converts” to the cause of liberty and a free society. But on the other hand, if libertarianism is not compatible with a Christianity grounded on the authority of the Bible, then many Christian Americans, if they take their religion seriously, will be forever hostile or indifferent to liberty and a free society since the primary objections to libertarianism are moral.

So, why do I think that religion – in this case the Christian religion – is compatible with libertarianism? Let me give you two verses of Scripture, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, since Christians accept the authority of both:

Proverbs 3:30 – “Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.”

1 Peter 4:15 – “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.”

These verses, my friends, embody the essence of libertarianism. Don’t kill anyone, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t do anyone wrong, don’t stick your nose in someone else’s business, and don’t bother anyone if he hasn’t bothered you. Other than that do whatever you want – “Anything that’s peaceful,” as Leonard Read says, for “ye have been called unto liberty,” as the Apostle Paul says. The only caveats for Christians when it comes to liberty are to not let their liberty become a stumbling block to weaker brothers and to not use their liberty for an occasion to the flesh; that is, don’t be a libertine.

And you thought I was going to give you some complicated theological or philosophical argument. The Bible commands the Christian to devise not evil against his neighbor (Proverbs 3:29), love his neighbor as himself (Romans 13:9), show meekness unto all men (Titus 3:2), do good unto all men (Galatians 6:10), provide things honest in the sight of all men (Romans 12:21), and live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:18). If libertarianism is not compatible with these things then it is not compatible with anything.

The Christian is also told in the Bible:

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Colossians 3:17)

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. (Colossians 3:23)

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Can a Christian assault someone in the name of the Lord Jesus? Can a Christian steal from someone heartily, as to the Lord? Can a Christian kill someone to the glory of God? I think the answer to these questions is obvious. And I also think it is apparent that libertarianism is compatible with the Christian religion.

But I would go a step further. Not only is libertarianism compatible with the most strict, most biblically literal form of Christianity, it is demanded by it. The Christian is enjoined in Scripture to go even beyond the non-aggression principle.

He is told, not to just turn the other cheek, but to “endure hardness” (2 Timothy 2:3), “endure afflictions” (2 Timothy 4:5), and “endure grief” (1 Peter 2:19). Revenge and retaliation for the Christian are not options. Some Christians get hung up on Romans 13 and end up making apologies for the state and its wars. It’s too bad they skipped over Romans 12:

Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. (Romans 12:14)

Recompense to no man evil for evil. (Romans 12:17)

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

Overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

So, if libertarianism is more than compatible with the Christian religion, why do religious people – Christians – reject libertarianism? Why aren’t the majority of Christians libertarians instead of liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and other assorted statists? Let me briefly give you some reasons. One, misconstruing libertarianism as a hedonistic philosophy instead of a political philosophy. Two, the poor presentation of libertarianism by libertarians. Three, wrongly thinking that libertarianism demands that one be pro-abortion. Four, morality; the two-fold failure to make a distinction between vices and crimes and crimes and sins. And five, social justice; wrongly applying to the government admonitions given to individuals.

I have developed these latter three points elsewhere. On abortion, see my LRC article “Is Ron Paul Wrong on Abortion?” On morality, see my Liberty magazine article “An Open Letter to My Fellow Christians,” which is based on my 2006 ASC lecture “Christianity and Victimless Crimes.” And on social justice, see my little book The Myth of the Just Price, which is the text of my 2008 Lou Church lecture of the same name in which I argue that there should be no government intervention in society or the economy.

I have tried in this talk to show why I believe libertarianism is scripturally compatible with religion. Is everything that has been done in the name of libertarianism compatible with religion? Of course not. But neither is everything that has been done in the name of religion compatible with libertarianism or even with religion. I think it is possible that it might someday be said not only that the greatest and most creative minds in the history of religion have been deeply and profoundly libertarian, but that the greatest and most creative minds in the history of libertarianism have been deeply and profoundly religious.

March 15, 2011

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Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The Revolution that Wasn’t, and Rethinking the Good War. His latest book is The Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his website.

 


The Elitists Will Not Change Even If they Say They Will.

Our Interests and Their Interests

by Murray N. Rothbard

Excerpted from Rothbard’s 1978 preface to Ludwig von Mises‘s The Clash of Group Interests and Other Essays

In the 20th century, the advocates of free-market economics almost invariably pin the blame for government intervention solely on erroneous ideas – that is, on incorrect ideas about which policies will advance the public weal. To most of these writers, any such concept as “ruling class” sounds impossibly Marxist. In short, what they are really saying is that there are no irreconcilable conflicts of class or group interest in human history, that everyone’s interests are always compatible, and that therefore any political clashes can only stem from misapprehensions of this common interest.

In “The Clash of Group Interests,” Ludwig von Mises, the outstanding champion of the free market in this century, avoids the naïve trap embraced by so many of his colleagues. Instead, Mises sets forth a highly sophisticated and libertarian theory of classes and of class conflict by distinguishing sharply between the free market and government intervention.

It is true that on the free market there are no clashes of class or group interest; all participants benefit from the market and therefore all their interests are in harmony.

But the matter changes drastically, Mises points out, when we move to the intervention of government. For that very intervention necessarily creates conflict between those classes of people who are benefited or privileged by the State and those who are burdened by it. These conflicting classes created by State intervention Mises calls castes. As Mises states,

Thus there prevails a solidarity of interests among all caste members and a conflict of interests among the various castes. Each privileged caste aims at the attainment of new privileges and at the preservation of old ones. Each underprivileged caste aims at the abolition of its disqualifications. Within a caste society there is an irreconcilable antagonism between the interests of the various castes.

In this profound analysis Mises harkens back to the original libertarian theory of class analysis, originated by Charles Comte and Charles Dunoyer, leaders of French laissez-faire liberalism in the early 19th century.

But Mises has a grave problem; as a utilitarian, indeed as someone who equates utilitarianism with economics and with the free market, he has to be able to convince everyone, even those whom he concedes are the ruling castes, that they would be better off in a free market and a free society, and that they too should agitate for this end. He attempts to do this by setting up a dichotomy between “short-run” and “long-run” interests, the latter being termed “the rightly understood” interests. Even the short-run beneficiaries of statism, Mises asserts, will lose in the long run. As Mises puts it,

In the short run an individual or a group may profit from violating the interests of other groups or individuals. But in the long run, in indulging in such actions, they damage their own selfish interests no less than those of the people they have injured. The sacrifice that a man or a group makes in renouncing some short-run gains, lest they endanger the peaceful operation of the apparatus of social cooperation, is merely temporary. It amounts to an abandonment of a small immediate profit for the sake of incomparably greater advantages in the long run.

The great problem here is: why should people always consult their long-run, as contrasted to their short-run, interests? Why is the long run the “right understanding”? Ludwig von Mises, more than any economist of his day, has brought to the discipline the realization of the great and abiding importance of time preference in human action: the preference of achieving a given satisfaction now rather than later. In short, everyone prefers the shorter to the longer run, some to different degrees than others.

How can Mises, as a utilitarian, say that a lower time preference for the present is “better” than a higher? In brief, some moral doctrine beyond utilitarianism is necessary to assert that people should consult their long-run over their short-run interests. This consideration becomes even more important when we consider those cases where government intervention confers great, not “small,” gains on the privileged, and where retribution does not arrive for a very long time, so that the “temporary” in the above quote is a long time indeed.

Mises, in “The Clash of Group Interests,” tries to dismiss war between nations and nationalisms as senseless, at least in the long run. But he does not come to grips with the problem of national boundaries; since the essence of the nation-State is that it has a monopoly of force over a given territorial area, there is ineluctably a conflict of interest between States and their rulers over the size of their territories, the size of the areas over which their dominion is exercised.

While in the free market, each man’s gain is another man’s gain, one State’s gain in territory is necessarily another State’s loss, and so the conflicts of interest over boundaries are irreconcilable – even though they are less important the fewer the government interventions in society.

Mises’s notable theory of classes has been curiously neglected by most of his followers. By bringing it back into prominence, we have to abandon the cozy view that all of us, we and our privileged rulers alike, are in a continuing harmony of interest. By amending Mises’s theory to account for time preference and other problems in his “rightly understood” analysis, we conclude with the still less cozy view that the interests of the State-privileged and of the rest of society are at loggerheads – and further, that only moral principles beyond utilitarianism can ultimately settle the dispute between them.

Reprinted from Mises.org.

Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian School, founder of modern libertarianism, and chief academic officer of the Mises Institute. He was also editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and appointed Lew as his literary executor. See his books.

The Best of Murray Rothbard


Justice for All Without the State

http://www.libertarianstandard.com/articles/david-j-heinrich/justice-for-all-without-the-state/

by DAVID J. HEINRICH on JUNE 5, 2010 @ 12:00 PM

Writing on The American Conservative website, Daniel McCarthy argues in “Anarcho-Distributism” that the so-called state of nature that libertarians discuss would not resemble what a Stateless society would look like if the State collapsed. He argues that reasoning from the state of nature may not be the correct starting point for conceptualizing or building an alternative political structure. He therefore claims that anarcho-capitalist arguments about how private defense agencies, protection agencies, or dispute resolution organizations work assume a certain level of equality which would not be present in reality and that these institutions of justice would thus favor the rich. I argue in this article that the free marketcan provide justice without disproportionately favoring the rich.

The State of Nature and the Evolution of Law and Custom

Reasoning from the so-called state of nature is useful for making theoretical arguments about what is justified. To libertarians and other righteous people, justification matters and we need to at least be conceptually capable of justification. That said, of course we also need to consider what norms are assumed in society as it has developed. For example, walking up to someone’s door and ringing their doorbell is not normally considered trespassing. It is also worth noting that there are many libertarians consider the wisdom of common law on other evolved law.

No amount of purely libertarian legal theorizing that is disconnected from socially accepted norms and practices can explain why when you walk into a restaurant and order a meal, you have to pay for it, despite signing no contract.

Analyzing the state of nature, even Robinson Crusoe examples, can help us greatly with some legal questions,  including questions about intellectual property. For example, lets say that Bob and Jane are living on an island. They both catch fish to eat. Lets say that Jane discovers a new and more efficient way to catch fish, perhaps a new technique or some kind of improved tool. Bob observes Jane doing this and copies her. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Jane has no right to prevent Bob from using his body and property to achieve his goals, even if he copies her techniques. This is a simple example, yet it cuts to the heart of the matter regarding patents.1

Of course, while the above type of reasoning is useful, we cannot reason our way up from nothing to a completely formed legal system. The much-maligned armchair theorizing is sometimes useful to analyze the validity of existing law, but it cannot be used by itself generate an entire legal structure de novo. The libertarian legal theorist must account for local customs, traditions, circumstances, and generally accepted norms and understandings. Libertarian legal theorizing can tell us that consent is required for transactions and other interactions, but it cannot tell us precisely what constitutes consent in various cases, nor can mechanical rules be laid out to rigidly determine this (although rules of thumb are useful).

No amount of purely libertarian legal theorizing that is disconnected from socially accepted norms and practices can explain why when you walk into a restaurant and order a meal, you have to pay for it, despite signing no contract. Nor can theorizing alone even explain why contracts or the words “I accept” sometimes constitute consent, but other times do not. We have to draw upon other disciplines. We recognize that — no matter how this situation historically evolved — walking into a restaurant and ordering a meal does constitute consent to pay for that meal. We recognize this by the same way that we recognize other forms of consent — by common sense and understanding of custom.

Pushing the Button

We always seek to abolish aggression, to abolish State intervention, even if that exposes other problems — which are themselves caused by other Statist interventions.

Daniel McCarthy argues that society would not look like what anarcho-capitalists think it would look like if the State disappeared tomorrow. Regarding these “pushing the button” hypothetical situations, they are merely that. All anarcho-capitalist agitators realize that we need an ideological shift in a certain percentage of the population. Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe has talked about this in his book, Democracy: The God That Failed, as has Murray N. Rothbard in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto.2

What Rothbard actually said was that a real libertarian would push a button to instantaneously abolish all invasion of liberty. Because no button to end aggression exists, this is a hypothetical question regarding one’s mental state. The point of it is to influence our thinking on various issues. The point is that we should always seek to abolish aggression, to abolish State intervention, even if that exposes other problems — which are themselves caused by other Statist interventions. This related to Ludwig von Mises’ observation that interventionism leads to more interventionism: problems caused by State intervention lead to the alleged justification for more intervention. Libertarians must not only boldly oppose this, but also agitate for movement in the other direction.

Returning to the issue of the State, most libertarians recognize that even if the State were torn down tomorrow, it would be rebuilt rather quickly, one way or another, quite possibly in a more despotic form. So long as there are enough people at least willing to tacitly approve of the State and tolerate aggression against them, both in their deeds and in their minds, States will continue to exist. Were the State to collapse, while the masses of the population might not work towards rebuilding it, they would readily tolerate others — the “elite” — doing this.3 As is normally the case, there is no “quick fix”.

Walter Block’s Revolutionary Tribunals

Regarding Professor Walter Block‘s proposed trials4 for former Statists in a free society — which would likely have restitution, and possibly retribution-based elements — I do not think that they are necessarily a recipe for discord and strife. People like Donald Trump, who has used eminent domain to help enrich himself5 ought not to be allowed to keep ill-gotten gains. Serious attempts to trace property back to original owners would not normally be made; however, in cases where proof could be provided and this could be done, claimants would come forth to state their cases. Most likely, these trials would work via the homesteading of claims by first-comers, perhaps by insurance companies providing private dispute resolution services.

These trials would not be arbitrary, but would be brought by specific claimants, either specific victims, or defense insurance companies trying to improve market standing, and indirectly acting on behalf of many victims. The benefits might be seen in terms of lower premiums, which insurance companies homesteading claims against Statists could afford to offer to gain more customers. Another way that this might work is through outlawry trials. Offering insurance for private protection is a a business, and companies cannot afford to insure individuals who are incredibly high risks. Individuals who might be the recipients of much hostility and attempted repossession in a free market — i.e., prominent Statists — would likely have difficulty finding protection agencies willing to protect them. Evidence-based trials could be held at the request of these individuals, in which case their guilt may or may not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Despite my theoretical support for Walter Block’s tribunals of Statists, by the time we have a truly free market, a truly free world, it is unclear whether or not there will be many Statists left to prosecute.

Would Justice Favor Those with the Most Wealth?

Summarily, the wealthy criminal attempting to violate the law at will would, in the very best case, find every conceivable interaction with others much more difficult and expensive and he would rapidly become less wealthy.

Daniel McCarthy argues that in a Stateless society, justice would favor those with the most wealth, and he argues that there would be just as inegalitarian a distribution of wealth in a free market as there is today. I have several responses to this argument.

First, this problem is exacerbated by the State, being a clear target of these aims. Second, this has not happened historically when we have had basically Stateless societies, or nearly so. Consider: Ancient Iceland,6 Ancient Ireland,7 the not so Wild, Wild West,8 and Pennsylvania from 1681 to 1690.9,10 Bryan Caplan, “The Anarcho-Statists of Spain: An Historical, Economic, and Philosophical Analysis of Spanish Anarchism.” This is an excellent article that illustrates the fundamentally Statist mindset of socialist-libertarians when faced with the voluntary decisions embraced by free people. Socialist revolution of any kind, whether allegedly anarchist or libertarian or not, is inherently murderous.

…thousands of people…were murdered because they happened to have political or religious beliefs that the (socialist) Anarchists did not agree with.

When faced with voluntary decisions of free people in a Stateless society, when these decisions affirm a desire for private property rights in objects and land, in consumer and capital goods; the anarcho- socialist, syndicalist, communitarian, communist, neo-Georgist, distributist, etc must either accept those decisions — hence at least tacitly accept the legitimacy of capitalism and private property — or become a Statist and attempt to enforce his brand of socialism.)) Surely, these places did not have basically egalitarian distributions of wealth, and may very well have been more polarized in many ways. Third, almost every market that I can think of caters not just to the rich, but also to the middle class and even the poor. Consider computers, cars, houses, books, food, financial services, restaurants, etc.

Fourth and finally, the argument may be made that justice is different, as it concerns disputes between people, yet this argument is not entirely convincing, partly because of the historical examples to the contrary, but also because even the wealthy in today’s Statist society do not get away with outright theft or crime as is recognized by the masses. The wealthy usually attempt to privilege themselves with the State through systematic rules, not through outright request of special exemptions. Every politically elite group needs at least the tacit approval of those ruled over, no matter how brutal they are. This applies even in the case of dictators who may order soldiers to slaughter protesting civilians, as the dictator needs the soldiers to be willing to follow his orders.

One ought to consider how a private defense agency and associated individuals who protected rich criminals would be perceived in a free market. Their reputation would be ruined, they would not be able to procure clients, they would not be recognized by other dispute resolution organizations, they would be boycotted, etc. Competing private defense agencies would have incentives to cooperate to eliminate these rogue organizations. Furthermore, other wealthy individuals would have incentives to deal with rich criminals. As with the middle class and even poor people, most rich people are good and lawful. Most of these rich people are rich because they provide valuable services or goods that the middle class desire; hence, they have incentive to deal with rich criminals. Rich lawful individuals would also be aware that they too could be victimized by rich criminals.

One more consideration is that life would be difficult for those attempting to circumvent legal norms in a free society and for their protection agencies. Their protection agencies would incur higher costs. And what happens when the wealthy law-breaking clients of these protection agencies have conflicts with one another? Surely they cannot trust their admittedly corrupt protection agencies to provide a just resolution. And seeing as how these corrupt protection agencies would realize they are protecting clients with limited alternatives, would they not charge extremely high premiums? Seeing as how these individuals would be considered outlaws by civilized people, they would also have to pay for bodyguards.

Summarily, the wealthy criminal attempting to violate the law at will would, in the very best case, find every conceivable interaction with others much more difficult and expensive and he would rapidly become less wealthy. He might also find himself considered an outlaw by most (a technical obstacle) and hence a target.

What Libertarians are Fighting For and Against

US law is positive law and for practical purposes of enforcement, the US Constitution means whatevercourts say it means.

It is worth remembering what libertarians are fighting for: liberty, private property rights, the right to one’s body, prosperity, peace, and capitalism. It is also worth remembering what we are fighting against. All of the decrees of the State are ultimately backed by lethal force and necessarily so. If you disobey any State law, edict, executive order, or regulation — no matter how trivial — the police or perhaps soldiers will kill you if necessary. In the United States, at least, they will usually try to apprehend you first. However, if you resist apprehension, and in defending your right to your body use force approaching lethal force, you will be murdered.

An example that comes to mind which fortunately did not end in that is the case of Edward and Elaine Brown. They barricaded themselves into their house and refused to pay Federal income taxes. Although they had stockpiled weapons and food, they were eventually arrested and sent to prison. They were sentenced to 35 and 37 years in prison and will both be 102 years old when released, assuming they survive that long. Tragically, they had the kooky idea that legal arguments regarding the correct interpretation of what the Constitution authorized would acquit them; these kinds of defenses against tax evasion always have and always will fail.11 US law is positive law and for practical purposes of enforcement, the US Constitution means whatever courts say it means.12,13 For citizens, what matters is not what the US Constitution actually seems to mean as written, but what courts say it means, and anticipating the process by which US courts will come to various conclusions.14

In the case of Edward and Elaine Brown, they were not murdered for defending themselves because they did not escalate their defense to the use of deadly force. They were, however, imprisoned. For people who are not hardened criminals, prison is effectively torture. Edward Brown claims to have been tortured in prison.15 I should also note that while using deadly force to defend yourself against State officials will result in your death, it is not a necessary condition and only condition for this to happen: Many of Gandhi’s pacifist protesters were murdered by British soldiers. It thus ought to be clear that any resistance against States, even if entirely peaceful, can be met with lethal force.

Moving Towards a Completely Free World

It is extremely unlikely that we will ever simply go from having a State to not having a State while retaining the same configurations of property-title ownership. Either there will be complete collapse, and hence ruin of many of the rich, or there will be a gradual decline of States both through political change and secessionist movements. Professor Hoppe talks about this when discussing mass decentralized secession. For the prospects of a free world to have any hope, libertarian intellectual elites must work towards a paradigm shift in public opinion about the State and its legitimacy. When enough people in various regions are sufficiently dissatisfied with the State and of the opinion that the free market can better provide for their needs, mass decentralized small secessionist movements can take place. These kinds of decentralized secessionist movements would be more difficult to prevent than was, for example, the attempted secession of the Southern states from the US during the Civil War.16

Where does this all begin? Freedom begins in your mind. It begins with the realization that taxes constitute robbery, that inflation constitutes a kind of theft or fraud. It begins with the realization that those in the government who would take your wealth are no better than criminals who would rob you at gun-point: simply because one calls something “collecting taxes” does not mean it is fundamentally any different from robbery. So we treat governments and their regulations as mere technical obstacles, not moral obstacles. If we pay taxes, we do so out of mere prudence, not out of any ridiculous feeling of moral obligation. Regarding prudence, we should of course keep in mind the above-mentioned example of the Browns and their fate. Libertarians have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in changing people’s minds.

~*~

David J. Heinrich is a libertarian anarcho-capitalist, pro-punishment pacifist, photographer, and tennis-lover.


Endnotes

  1. For an excellent paper rebutting intellectual property, see Kinsella, Stephan N., “Against Intellectual Property,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 15, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 1-53. Download PDF This paper is also an excellent reference for other papers on intellectual property and is worth reading for the footnotes alone! []
  2. Part III, Epilogue, A Strategy for Liberty []
  3. A relevant paraphrased quote is, “If a meteor hits the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the result will not be atheism.” []
  4. Walter Block, “Toward a Libertarian Theory of Guilt and Punishment for the Crime of Statism,” in Property, Freedom, & Society: Essays in Honor of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, ed. Jörg Guido Hülsmann and N. Stephan Kinsella (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009), 137-148 Download PDF and Walter Block, “Libertarian Punishment Theory: Working for, and Donating to, the State,” Libertarian Papers 1, no. 17 (2009): 1-31. Download PDF []
  5. Donald Trump at least attempted to use eminent domain to enrich himself, and had the nerve to express disappointment when on another occasion his vicious plans to use eminent domain to steal another person’s property were rebutted []
  6. Jesse L. Byock, Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas, and Power (California: University of California Press, 1990).
    David Friedman, “Private Creation and Enforcement of Law: A Historical Case,” The Journal of Legal Studies 8, no. 2, Private Alternatives to the Judicial Process (March 1979): 399-415.
    Roderick T. Long, “Privatization, Viking Style: Model or Misfortune?,” Lew Rockwell Column, June 6, 2002.
    William Ian Miller, Bloodtaking and Peacemaking: Feud, Law, and Society in Saga Iceland (Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 1997).
    Thomas Whiston, “Medieval Iceland and the Absence of Government,” Mises Daily, December 25, 2002. []
  7. Joseph R. Pedan, “Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland,” The Libertarian Forum III, no. 4 (April 1971): 3-4,8. Download PDF
    Joseph R. Pedan, “Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 1, no. 2 (1977): 81-95. Download PDF
    Murray N. Rothbard, “Chapter 3: The State: The State as Aggressor,” in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Revised Manifesto. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1973), 45-72.
    Murray N. Rothbard, “Chapter 12: The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts: Police Protection,” in For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, Revised Manifesto. (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1973), 215-241.
    Edward P. Stringham, Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice, Illustrated ed. (Transaction Publishers, 2007). []
  8. Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill, “An American Experiment in Anarcho-Capitalism: The Not So Wild, Wild West,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 3, no. 1 (1979): 9-29.
    Terry Anderson and P.J. Hill, The Not So Wild, Wild West: Property Rights on the Frontier, 1st ed. (Stanford, CA: Stanford Economics and Finance, 2004).
    Ryan McMaken, “The violent and wild west after all?,” Mises Economics Blog, September 15, 2007.
    Thomas E., Jr. Woods, 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, Reprint ed. (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2008). This is an excellent interview by Jeffrey Tucker with Professor Woods. []
  9. Murray N. Rothbard, “Pennsylvania’s Anarchist Experiment: 1681-1690,” Mises Daily, July 8, 2005. []
  10. There is also a list of other anarchist communities on wikipedia, although the description of the socialistic anarchist communities is overly generous. []
  11. Please see the IRS’ Anti-Tax Evasion Scheme website for further details regarding various anti-tax schemes and court-decisions which rebutted them. []
  12. It might be more technically correct to say that US law means whatever courts say provided that officers and soldiers are willing to enforce their decisions; in the ultimate analysis, US law is whatever is enforced via coercive force. It is also worth noting that the same would apply in a free society. In one meaning of the word, law is essentially what is enforced. However, in a free society, the forces acting on the path of the law would be different. []
  13. Although Oliver W. Holmes’ prediction theory of law fell into disrepute after H.L.A. Hart’s attack on it, rehabilitations have been attempted, and it remains a useful framework for citizens to analyze the law within, when deciding upon actions. See:
    Oliver Wendell, Jr. Holmes, “The Path of the Law,” Harvard Law Review 10 (1897): 457, 469.
    Wikipedia, “Prediction theory of law,” Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
    Wikipedia, “Legal realism,” Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
    H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, USA). []
  14. This should disillusion people who think that legal contortions can free them from Statism. []
  15. Margot Sanger-Katz, “When time came, Ed Brown folded (In recorded call, he also complains of cold),” Concord Monitor, October 19, 2007 []
  16. The Civil War was actually not a civil war at all, but an attempted secession by one government and a war of aggression by another. Please see David Gordon’s excellent review, “The Despot Named Lincoln,” of Thomas DiLorenzo’s book, The Real Lincoln. Also consider DiLorenzo’s Lincoln Unmasked.
    David Gordon, “The Despot Named Lincoln,” Mises Daily, September 15, 2009.
    Thomas J. DiLorenzo, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2003).
    Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2007). []

 


The “Ground Zero Mosque” and the Prospects for Liberty

I have to say I agree with this writer. American/Christian exceptionalism has no place in our nation. The attitude christians seem to take against muslims, hispanics and others who have as much right to have the kind of life they choose as any of us, is despicable and completely contrary to The Gospel of The Kingdom.

Muslims did not crash planes into the twin towers on 9/11. a group of radicals did. Hate is a very scary thing. You see the scripture implies that what we hate is what we ourselves become.

As Americans, but especially as believers, we need to welcome the foreigner. In part because we are strangers in a foriegn land ourselves-we are not of this world. More importantly because Scripture commands that the foreigner among us is be treated fairly and kindly. E

by Jacob Huebert on August 19, 2010
The furor over the “Ground Zero Mosque” (which is neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero) doesn’t make me very optimistic about the prospects for liberty.
As a libertarian and just a live-and-let-live kind of guy, I can’t imagine caring much about, let alone vocally protesting, what someone is building two blocks away from me.

Yet apparently many of my fellow Americans are such busybodies that they’ll whine for weeks about something being built hundreds or thousands of miles away from them, in a city where they don’t live and probably won’t even visit. And many of the complainers are among the Tea Party set whom we are occasionally told are “libertarian,” even though they seem to hate Muslims and Mexicans and love war at least as much as they hate the federal government and love liberty.

Jonah Goldberg claims that the conservatives who object “mostly” recognize that the Muslims have a legal right to build their center. But what I hear on talk radio makes me doubt this. A common argument there seems to be that since “liberals” don’t care about the constitution or property rights in general, they aren’t entitled to invoke them now — as though liberals somehow have the power to waive Muslims’ rights.

In any event, even if Goldberg is correct, it’s hard to imagine that the spirit of liberty resides in the sort of people who get so worked up over this sort of thing. The ease with which they’ve been distracted by this issue suggests that reducing government isn’t going to be their top priority once their team is back in control in Washington.

Jacob Huebert is an attorney, a law professor, and the author of Libertarianism Today (Praeger 2010).

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