Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fairytale Ideals of Libertarianism

Of late, I have decided to turtle out of my beloved self imposed exile of Rothbardian style anarchocapitalism and see (really read) the world.  Oh my, there are a lot of folks that have not a clue about libertarianism.  For now, as is my usual practice, I use the term libertarianism to refer to the Misean/Rothbardian school of anarchocapitalism encapsulated and blossomed by the likes of Lew Rockwell, Hans H Hoppe, Stephan Kinsella, David Gordon, Tom Woods, and Robert P Murphy. I have read through and studied other schools of libertarian thought, and while I have picked up some views here and there, I have mainly returned to the Rothbardian approach.  Well, the use of purely Rothbardian may be somewhat nostalgic for me since I have such great admiration for Rothbard--I have of recent years taken on a more Hoppean approach.  Mind you this is still firmly Rothbardian, as Hoppe was Rothbard's pupil and Rothbard himself saw Hoppe as his successor, and I do consider Hoppe the perfect extension of Rothbardian thought.

I recently was reading a wonderful site, Social Matter, and came across this article: State-Society. Now, granted almost all people outside of libertarianism get at least some part of libertarian theory wrong, heck even some libertarians get some things wrong.  However, rarely does an author stumble over so much so deeply all the while claiming some key knowledge on the topic of criticism.

Right out of the gate the author, David Grant, stumbles and stumbles badly. 

  "Libertarians lay claim to being morally superior to, well, everyone else on account of their refusal to legislate morality. "

Let us be clear, it is not likely for a libertarian to claim for himself a position of moral superiority based upon what someone else may or may not do.  A libertarian is strictly and solely concerned with the proper use of aggression within the frameworks of property rights.  This is it.  The author is mistaken in claiming that a libertarian would base his moral view of anyone else founded upon the tenets of libertarianism.  He may lay claim to moral superiority but this would not come from libertarian tenets but from his own moral framework.  The two, morality and libertarianism, are unrelated categories.
Additional the author goes on to state:

  "Libertarians want everyone to be just like them, allowing differences of opinion and behavior only in areas that don’t matter."

No, no they don't...and most libertarians I know would not care what or who you are as long as you do not violate the non aggression principle .  Now it is true, I think libertarians in a libertarian world would self segregate into communities that would most closely approximate themselves.  It does not follow that libertarians holding vastly different social and cultural values would initiate aggression against each other or desire that others be like themselves.

  " There is a body of law—let’s call it the Constitution—that embodies libertarianism..." 

Once again, libertarianism is a political and legal philosophy that is concerned only with the proper use of aggression and property rights.  It merely defines the framework to be filled, it does not embody it.

Let's briefly touch upon the libertarian understanding of the state, government, and "society" .
The state is most assuredly not "us".  That is to say it exists as a self-perpetuating, self-interested engine separate and apart from the individuals it exercises power over.  Government, theoretically, could take on a non coercive form and thus qualify as libertarian but truly this never happens in our presently structured world. When libertarians refer in a positive sense to government they usually mean governance.  Many libertarians shun the term society and I think this is because of the preference to view issues in terms of the individual (which may or may not be a good). I think this is splitting hairs--I typically use society and community interchangeable--much to the dislike of some. 

The author then tries to combine what he calls "leftist notion that I'll call state-society" and libertarianism.  Thereafter he spends the body of the article drawing out how strange and unnecessary this "state-society" would be.  I entirely reject this; libertarians categorically reject the state in all its forms and may wholly embrace whatever society or community they voluntarily join.  The end--but no.

Libertarianism does not speak to how a community or society may be structured.  This is forbidden. Libertarians, being grounded in sound economic thought, approach the structuring and organization of society praxeologically.  That is to say human action dictates in a spontaneously ordering way how each community would self organize.  This spontaneous ordering, of course, would be based upon fundamental founding principles of the community as well as other factors.

Lastly, I will address a theme of criticism I find commonly used by many who do not understand libertarianism in its finality, that is to say when it is taken to its logical end.  This is the allegation of utopia.

  "Unfortunately, there is no good rhetorical counter to dreams of state-society. Deconstructing it and showing it to be utopian is a good plan, but even then many will support it. Utopianism, effectively expressed, will always triumph over pragmatism in the realm of words. Fortunately, speeches and majority decisions don’t actually decide things in the long run. For that you need iron and blood."

Libertarianism at its most pragmatic level understands forcing another human into conforming or performing action will ultimately result in abject failure and dystopia.  Statism necessarily ensures the ever increasing conflict among individuals over scare goods.  It is truly utopic to advance a social system based upon coercion when all empirical evidence throughout history reveals statism and coercion bring about the very opposite.  Libertarians understand the structural leviathan of statism throughout history and reject it.


  1. Is not the dictating of any 'ought' relationship, (i.e - one ought not violate property 'rights') a legislation of morality?

    With America as a study, it would appear to me that Libertarianism can work for as long as you have a "moral and religious people" as one Founder put it. However, because the Libertarian state must allow individuals who are a threat to the moral and religious consciousness of the people to exist freely ( deviants, unbelievers, foreign agitators, etc.) and thus takes no action to preserve the "moral and religious people", eventually such a people will become the minority. It will begin with activism, infiltration of the halls of power, and the halls of influence, and then before you know it, yesterday's untouchable class becomes the lever-operators of the popular media and uses it to demonize those who made the Libertarian society work in the first place.

    The failure of Libertarianism in my view, is its neutrality in such matters. It refuses to protect that one thing which allows it to function, and that is a society with some semblance of Tradition. This is where authoritarianism and rigid theonomy succeeds. It gives no quarter to those who go against the grain, while largely staying out of the lives of those who do.

    Note that I'm not really calling for any kind of 'statism'. The state in such societies really doesn't impact the public life too much until some deviant element emerges. The monarchs of old certainly didn't care whether your house might endanger the spotted owl, or how your children MUST be in a state school under penalty of a CPS strike.

    Reactionaries and Libertarians have a common belief that in almost all cases, the state's involvement in the economic sphere is negative, and represents a usurpation of authority which has a disastrous historical record. However, we differ when it comes to the culture. The Reactionary views the sovereign power and Traditional religious authorities (as well as the patriarchal leaders of families, who have extra political rights) as being charged with upholding the cultural life, and is willing to give them swords to do it. With all of history taken into account, this is not a very radical position.

    1. Mark,
      Within the structure of statism, moral behavior is often legislated and with long term disastrous effects. The founders of the American state were not libertarian, they were mercantilist intent of establishing a protection of their profit model. You need only look to the US Constitutional convention in order to see this as it was a complete coup against the Articles of Confederation to see the beginnings of the spiral downward.

      Libertarianism stands against the initiation of aggression and thus is contra to everything the state is, so there can be no "libertarian state" in the sense you use. And yes, libertarianism is completely neutral in terms of how a private and voluntary community operates and interacts with other communities. It is my thinking and that of Dr Hoppe's. see:
      that in a libertarian world communities would evolve into highly educated and wealthy ones and the most successful communities would be the traditionalist ones.

      To your point that any state or state agent does not much impact or care of the daily works of its citizens---well, this is both deductively and empirically untrue, History is testament to this.
      Libertarian theory itself, again, is agnostic in terms of the social structure or cultural makeup of a "society", The vehicle that creates and drives culture comes not from mere libertarianism but from another thing. I'm afraid you may unwittingly make the thickist libertarian argument here. I, along with most Rothbardians, categorically reject the thickist argument.

      You are right, though...I, too, find much that libertarians who embrace traditionalism can make common work with much of Neoreaction. The important point is that both groups really understand each other and assume good faith. Zealotry can be a powerful tool, but taken to the extreme and you find yourself sitting alone at the table unable to make any good work.
      With respect to your last statement---this is my entire point. If mankind is to advance in the future instead of slowing and painfully dying on the vine, we must engineer new and radical ways of dealing with the world around us and each other. Thus Rothbard's piece speaks to this:

    2. "To your point that any state or state agent does not much impact or care of the daily works of its citizens---well, this is both deductively and empirically untrue, History is testament to this."

      My point was that in Traditional pre-Enlightenment societies, this was minuscule unless there was some extenuating circumstances. The King did not spend his money on hospitals, schools, and bureaucracies of the kind we have today. He spent it on palaces, grandiose works projects, and the military. This was not even a fraction as invasive upon the public's life as what we have today.

      Now, you say the Founders were not Libertarians, which is an argument I haven't heard many contemporary Libertarians make, but it's an interesting one. If the original American society wasn't largely Libertarian, then can we point to any society that has been?

      The kind of Libertarianism you describe, one that is against the state, strikes me as not really a political theory. If it against the state, then what separates it from anarchy?

      We may have similar goals in that both of us oppose Liberalism, and I have the same kinship perhaps with Fascists and even Stalinists. We all oppose Liberalism. I'm not assuming any ill-will on your part, I just see history cleaved in two between today in which Liberalism stands victoriously at its supposed 'end of history', and yesterday when all governments around the world, universally, featured four main characteristics:


      I am supportive of this kind of anti-Modern society. They are sustained against Liberalism by not allowing its advocates the freedom to propagate their ideology, whether it be condemned through treason or heresy. I'd be interested to know what the Libertarian solution to actually stopping Liberalism in a society is. America seems to have proven that it cannot simply be left up to a free people.

    3. Granted the abuses of the state have accelerated in modern times but this does not excuse the excesses of the past. I'm certain the Roman citizens in Constantinople did in no way enjoy their Latin Christian brothers parking their horses in the nave of the Hagia Sofia, for one small example. In this the Rothbard school of anarchocapitalism is clear--in that the state is the very definition of coercion. Against one or many is only a matter of degree.
      I admit the historical view that I take of the American foundation is rather new but both Hoppe and Kinsella explore this idea as do more and more anarcholibertarians. Being influenced by the history works of the Durants and adhering to the Austrian school of economics, I tend to view history with an economic eye. This may or may not be a strength. I can claim that in the early American state you could find more freedom than today but this is not synonymous with the liberty to be found in a libertarian world.
      For a good read of a nearly anarcholibertarian community see: by Peter C Earle.

      In response to your last query concerning libertarian solutions to the excesses of modern progressivism, I must confess that a serious response is beyond the scope of this comment section and I am in large measure sympathetic to your entire last paragraph. This a topic that I currently am giving a great deal of thought to so hopefully I can fashion an article soon.

    4. I look forward to it. Many Reactionaries who blog today came out of the Libertarian milieu, so we have some ties.

  2. Thanks for the response, David!

    I'm actually one of those reactionaries who came through libertarianism that Mark mentioned, so I completely understand where you're coming from. Three or four years ago, I thought pretty much exactly as you do now. I moved away from libertarianism on account of several of different factors, mostly problems arising from the possibility of enforcing contracts, but also problems of group identity. Libertarianism has a great theory of "I and Thou", but it has virtually nothing to say about "We and Y'all." Additionally libertarianism lacks metaphysical foundations: Rothbard and Hoppe have made stabs at this problem, but I don't think they've even come close to solving it.

    As for my article, I was taking aim at libertarians beyond Rothbard, especially the minarchists. As mightily as Rothbard and others strove to monopolize the word, "libertarianism" does not refer to Rothbardian anarchism only or even primarily. It refers to people who believe that Liberty is or should be the primary social value and that the state should be limited to protecting people and their property from fraud and physical aggression. You're quite right that anarcho-capitalism does not suffer from the same defects as this minarchistic view; I may write something specifically about anarcho-capitalism in the not-too-distant future.

    One thing I have to challenge, however, is your assumption that a society with a state is a "social system based upon coercion". What you're doing is falling into the paradigm of state-society: you're imaging the state as the overseer of society, passing judgment on society while immune from challenge itself. If there is a state, you believe, that state must be the defining element of the society. This is not the case in the real world. The state is embedded within society; it does not stand above and outside of society.

    Again, thanks for the response. Hopefully this can be the start of a beautiful dialogue.


    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting, David.

      I enjoy reading, my hope is that the site continues to explore the mechanics of social structure and culture--this is one of the great strengths of Neoreaction.

      Libertarianism does not deal with this, it deals exclusively with the political and legal theory of the proper application of aggression and property rights. The application of this theory can be applied to individuals or groups of individuals.

      As an anarchocapitalist, surprisingly to most, I am quite unconcerned with liberty but instead I concern myself with property rights and the peaceful exchange of scare goods. In my property rights I find freedom of action( and inaction is action). I am all to aware, especially since Dr Paul's presidential runs, that "libertarianism" has suffered from misuse and abuse. I can do nothing to prevent others, who in my opinion are charlatans, from making use of the term. I was aware your differentiation in the original article, however, I think the points I highlighted were salient with respect to anarchocapitalism as well. If you choose to write something on anarchocapitalism I'd be interested in reading it. If you intend to post something on this please let me know so that I may read it.

      I am unsure if we misunderstand the meaning behind our respective terminologies or if we must, in the end, agree to disagree but I will try to address what I think is the meaning of your last statement. Anarchocapitalism very much see the state as something set apart from the "us". It is an institution unto itself, both Butler Shaffer and Albert Jay Nock address this extensively. There work respectively: and This by no means leads us to believe that libertarians think the state is immune from or should not be challenged. Indeed, it needs to be smashed by the very people it extends its monopoly of coercion over. The state is not the defining element of society--a careful reading of the work of Lew Rockwell and you will find the state viewed as an interloper in society. The state is always warping the natural spontaneous ordering of (voluntary) society. Of course the state worms its way into society, first through propaganda and then violence, and it proclaims that it and society are indistinguishable . This is the great deception and its evidence is all around us. Modern man cannot conceive that even toilets in private households should be subject to state regulation. This is contra to times past when in most places people turned to private methods of rule and dispute resolution.

      Of note: I am glad you receive my response in the spirit it was intended. It is my intention to continue to explore traditionalism and the mechanics of traditional culture, as such I welcome fruitful exchanges of ideas. Sectarianism and ideologues are wonderful "in camp" but make poor pointmen when the group deals with the rest of humanity. I always welcome clear thinking and well reasoned thought.
      If you wish you may send me your email information using my contact information page.

    2. "The state is the great fiction by which everyone attempts to live at the expense of everyone else." --Frederic Bastiat

      You may have encountered the term "the Cathedral", which neoreaction uses to label the ruling class in the Western world. The Cathedral is an alliance among a variety of interests and authorities including academia, news media, major businesses, and, of course, the state united by economic and class interests as well as Leftist ideology. The Cathedral uses its various arms to manipulate public opinion and the democratic process and to enforce its control over its various possessions, whether obtained legitimately or through state coercion.

      But which is primary, the state or non-state aspects of the Cathedral? If you could somehow abolish the state, would the ruling class on simply erect it anew? Indeed, how could you abolish the state without also dismantling the non-state system of propaganda? This is why Hoppe advises opponents of the state to be anti-intellectual intellectuals, because the whole Cathedral, not just the state, has to be the target.

      The unholy alliance that is the Cathedral shows how making a sharp distinction between the state and society is inadvisable. If you say, "I oppose the state but support non-state authority," you're in a pickle when those non-state authorities buttress the state. Anarcho-capitalism takes as its model of the state and the organs of public opinion the bandit lord who settles down and hires a press agent. This model might accurately describe a lot of historical situations, but it doesn't apply generally. Especially under democracy, he who controls the news controls the state.

      At this point I feel as though I've gone a bit afield from the point of my original article since I agree with your main point that anarcho-capitalism does not have the same utopian defect as minarchism. The problem is that state-society is an easy paradigm to fall into. State and society blend together, they affect each other, and the sharp disjunction between the two can obscure how they work together in a mutually reinforcing fashion.

      I write the Monday feature for Social Matter, so I expect to have a piece on anarcho-capitalism up on August 3. I get the sense that we don't really disagree with each other on the subject we're theoretically discussing, but we do have some substantial points of disagreement, ones which deserve fuller attention. I look forward to our continuing conversation.

    3. Thank you, I am familiar with the term but this is by far the most readable definition I have encountered.

      There are anarchocapitalist that take a similar position to yours--mainly that the state and their "courtesans", those non-state agents that are enriched and empowered by their relationship with the state, are equally deserving of disenfranchisement. Indeed, Hoppe and Butler address this extensively in much their work.

      I will look forward to your article. Perhaps, we can explore methods of quickening and promoting traditional social and cultural values in the future.