“Here again is a profound lesson for us today. Too many libertarians have absorbed the negative and elitist conservative worldview to the effect that our enemy today is the poor, who are robbing the rich; the blacks, who are robbing the whites; or the masses, who are robbing heroes and businessmen.
In fact, it is the state that is robbing all classes, rich and poor, black and white, worker and businessman alike; it is the state that is ripping us all off; it is the state that is the common enemy of mankind.
And who is the state? It is any group who manages to seize control of the state’s coercive machinery of theft and privilege. Of course these ruling groups have differed in composition through history, from kings and nobles to privileged merchants to Communist parties to the Trilateral Commission. But whoever they are, they can only be a small minority of the population, ruling and robbing the rest of us for their power and wealth. And since they are a small minority, the state rulers can only be kept in power by deluding us about the wisdom or necessity of their rule.
Hence, it is our major task to oppose and desanctify their entrenched rule, in the same spirit that the first libertarian revolutionaries opposed and desanctified their rulers two hundred years ago. We must strip the mystical veil of sanctity from our rulers just as Tom Paine stripped the sanctity from King George III. And in this task we libertarians are not the spokesmen for any ethnic or economic class; we are the spokesmen for all classes, for all of the public; we strive to see all of these groups united, hand-in-hand, in opposition to the plundering and privileged minority that constitutes the rulers of the state.”
“…Hence, a strategy for liberty must not include any means which undercut or contradict the end itself—as gradualism-in-theory clearly does. Are we then saying that “the end justifies the means”? This is a common, but totally fallacious, charge often directed toward any group that advocates fundamental or radical social change. For what else but an end could possibly justify any means? The very concept of “means” implies that this action is merely an instrument toward arriving at an end. If someone is hungry, and eats a sandwich to alleviate his hunger, the act of eating a sandwich is merely a means to an end; its sole justification arises from its use as an end by the consumer. Why else eat the sandwich, or, further down the line, purchase it or its ingredients? Far from being a sinister doctrine, that the end justifies the means is a simple philosophic truth, implicit in the very relationship of “means” and “ends.”
What then, do the critics of the “end justifies the means” truly mean when they say that “bad means” can or will lead to “bad ends”? What they are really saying is that the means in question will violate other ends which the critics deem to be more important or more valuable than the goal of the group being criticized. Thus, suppose that Communists hold that murder is justified if it leads to a dictatorship by the vanguard party of the proletariat. The critics of such murder (or of such advocacy of murder) are really asserting, not that the “ends do not justify the means,” but rather that murder violates a more valuable end (to say the least), namely, the end of “not committing murder,” or nonaggression against persons. And, of course, from the libertarian point of view, the critics would be correct.
Hence, the libertarian goal, the victory of liberty, justifies the speediest possible means towards reaching the goal, but those means cannot be such as to contradict, and thereby undercut, the goal itself. We have already seen that gradualism-in-theory is such a contradictory means. Another contradictory means would be to commit aggression (e.g., murder or theft) against persons or just property in order to reach the libertarian goal of nonaggression. But this too would be a self-defeating and impermissible means to pursue. For the employment of such aggression would directly violate the goal of nonaggression itself.”
“We may test the hypothesis that the State is largely interested in protecting itself rather than its subjects by asking: which category of crimes does the State pursue and punish most intensely—those against private citizens or those against itself?
The gravest crimes in the State’s lexicon are almost invariably not invasions of private person or property, but dangers to its own contentment, for example, treason, desertion of a soldier to the enemy, failure to register for the draft, subversion and subversive conspiracy, assassination of rulers and such economic crimes against the State as counterfeiting its money or evasion of its income tax.
Or compare the degree of zeal devoted to pursuing the man who assaults a policeman, with the attention that the State pays to the assault of an ordinary citizen. Yet, curiously, the State’s openly assigned priority to its own defense against the public strikes few people as inconsistent with its presumed raison d’etre.
A final caveat: the anarchist is always at a disadvantage in attempting to forecast the shape of the future anarchist society. For it is impossible for observers to predict voluntary social arrangements, including the provision of goods and services, on the free market. Suppose, for example, that this were the year 1874 and that someone predicted that eventually there would be a radio-manufacturing industry.
To be able to make such a forecast successfully, does he have to be challenged to state immediately how many radio manufacturers there would be a century hence, how big they would be, where they would be located, what technology and marketing techniques they would use, and so on? Obviously, such a challenge would make no sense, and in a profound sense the same is true of those who demand a precise portrayal of the pattern of protection activities on the market. Anarchism advocates the dissolution of the state into social and market arrangements, and these arrangements are far more flexible and less predictable than political institutions. The most that we can do, then, is to offer broad guidelines and perspectives on the shape of a projected anarchist society.
One important point to make here is that the advance of modern technology makes anarchistic arrangements increasingly feasible. Take, for example, the case of lighthouses, where it is often charged that it is unfeasible for private lighthouse operators to row out to each ship to charge it for use of the light. Apart from the fact that this argument ignores the successful existence of private lighthouses in earlier days, as in England in the eighteenth century, another vital consideration is that modern electronic technology makes charging each ship for the light far more feasible. Thus, the ship would have to have paid for an electronically controlled beam which could then be automatically turned on for those ships which had paid for the service.”
Murray Rothbard, Society Without a State (1974)
Further demonstrating Rothbard’s point regarding advancements in modern technology and forecasting is the introduction of GPS, spotlights and other modern scanning equipment which have essentially made lighthouses obsolete. Such advancements also solve the “problem” of the free-rider.
What would voting be like in a totally privatized society? Not only would voting be diverse, but more importantly, who would really care? Probably the most deeply satisfying form of voting to an economist is the corporation, or joint-stock company, in which voting is proportionate to one’s share of ownership of the firm’s assets. But also there are, and would be, a myriad of private clubs of all sorts. It is usually assumed that club decisions are made on the basis of one vote per member, but that is generally untrue. Undoubtedly, the best-run and most pleasant clubs are those run by a small, self-perpetuating oligarchy of the ablest and most interested, a system most pleasant for the rank-and-file non-voting member as well as for the elite. If I am a rank-and-file member of, say a chess club, why should I worry about voting if I am satisfied with the way the club is run?
And if I am interested in running things, I would probably be asked to join the ruling elite by the grateful oligarchy, always on the lookout for energetic members. And finally, if I am unhappy about the way the club is run, I can readily quit and join another club, or even form one of my own. That, of course, is one of the great virtues of a free and privatized society, whether we are considering a chess club or a contractual neighborhood community.
Clearly, as we begin to work toward the pure model, as more and more areas and parts of life become either privatized or micro-decentralized, the less important voting will become. Of course, we are a long way from this goal. But it is important to begin, and particularly to change our political culture, which treats “democracy,” or the “right” to vote, as the supreme political good. In fact, the voting process should be considered trivial and unimportant at best, and never a “right,” apart from a possible mechanism stemming from a consensual contract. In the modern world, democracy or voting is only important either to join in or raitfy the use of the government to control others, or to use it as a way of preventing one’s self or one’s group from being controlled. Voting, however, is at best, an inefficient instrument for self-defense, and it is far better to replace it by breaking up central government power altogether.
— Murray Rothbard, Nations by Consent
One of the crucial factors that permits governments to do the monstrous things they habitually do is the sense of legitimacy on the part of the stupefied public. The average citizen may not like — may even strongly object to — the policies and exactions of his government. But he has been imbued with the idea — carefully indoctrinated by centuries of governmental propaganda — that the government is his legitimate sovereign, and that it would be wicked or mad to refuse to obey its dictates. It is this sense of legitimacy that the State’s intellectuals have fostered over the ages, aided and abetted by all the trappings of legitimacy: flags, rituals, ceremonies, awards, constitutions, etc.
A bandit gang — even if all the police forces conspired together into one vast gang — could never command such legitimacy. The public would consider them purely bandits; their extortions and tributes would never be considered legitimate though onerous “taxes,” to be paid automatically.
The public would quickly resist these illegitimate demands and the bandits would be resisted and overthrown. Once the public had tasted the joys, prosperity, freedom, and efficiency of a libertarian, State-less society, it would be almost impossible for a State to fasten itself upon them once again. Once freedom has been fully enjoyed, it is no easy task to force people to give it up.
Back to the libertarian presumption in favor of decentralization. There are several reasons for it.
- Under decentralization, jurisdictions must compete for residents and capital, which provides some incentive for greater degrees of freedom, if only because local despotism is neither popular nor productive. If despots insist on ruling anyway, people and capital will find a way to leave. If there is only one will and one actor, you cannot escape.
- Localism internalizes corruption so that it can be more easily spotted and uprooted. Along the same lines, local government corruption can be rather benign by comparison; it is easier, on a middle-class budget, to pay off the zoning board than to bribe the State Department.
- Tyranny on the local level minimizes damage to the same extent that macro-tyranny maximizes it. If Hitler had ruled only Berlin, Stalin only Moscow, and FDR only Washington, the effects of their demented policies might have been contained. This is not only a utilitarian consideration. It means that evil people are prevented from violating the rights of people outside their jurisdiction.
- No government can be trusted to use the power to intervene wisely. With such power, central governments will always invoke good motives even when they are a mere mask for power grabs (as when the US invaded Iraq, for example). The typical path goes this way. An intervention takes place that might be celebrated by good liberals, such as the Lochner decision (1905) by the Supreme Court that invalidated New York’s labor regulations. But once that power is gained, it is used to put a legal imprimatur on central planning and prevent local governments from finding an escape (the central planning of World War I was Lochner’s daughter).
- A plurality of governmental forms—a “vertical separation of powers,” to use Stephan Kinsella’s phrase prevents the central government from accumulating power. Lower governments are rightly jealous of their jurisdiction, and resist. This is to the good. In fact, the whole history of liberty is bound up with the glorious results of competing institutional structures, no one of which can be trusted with complete control.
To be sure, this does not mean that libertarians must be agnostic on the question of what government should look like. Law should protect person and property against invasive force. This principle applies in all times and in all places. But that does not mean that there must be a single lawgiver and enforcer. To maximize the chance that good law will prevail over bad, over the long haul, and prevent power grabs from the top, we need a multiplicity of legal forms.
Murray N. Rothbard had a nice phrase that he used to summarize this position: universal rights, locally enforced. Those two principles are frequently in tension. But if you give up one of the two principles you risk giving up liberty. Both are important. Neither should prevail over the other. A local government that violates rights is intolerable. A central government that rules in the name of universal rights is similarly intolerable. Heaven on earth is universal rights, locally enforced. No, it’s not here yet. That’s why libertarians exist, to work for the ideal.
- Reporter: “As you are reflecting back on your campaign, are you unhappy with your party?”
- Ron Paul: “Well, it’s not my party. I don’t like politics at all… As far as being pleased I am super pleased with what’s working… I am super-energized and optimistic about what’s happening, because the ideas are changing. What I’m talking about is an ideological revolution.”
Idealist and Strategist
“So Rothbard often had to make political decisions by weighing the foreign-policy question against a candidate’s domestic program. For example, let’s fast-forward 40 years to the presidential elections of the 1990s. Pat Buchanan challenged George Bush for the Republican nomination, saying that Bush had made two unforgivable errors: he waged an unjust war against Iraq and he raised taxes. Did Rothbard support Buchanan? You bet. And he worked overtime trying to get Buchanan up to speed on broader economic issues while defending him against the ridiculous charges of the left.
But Buchanan lost the nomination, and refused to pursue a third-party option. Rothbard then turned to Perot as the candidate worth rooting for, and on the same grounds: Perot blasted Bush’s war and his taxes. Then Perot suddenly pulled out. That left Bush and Clinton, whose foreign policy was no different from Bush’s but whose domestic policy was worse.
Rothbard then supported Bush against Clinton. His very controversial column appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and it garnered more hate mail than Rothbard had ever received in his life. Many libertarians (not famous for strategic acumen or catching the subtleties of such matters) were shocked by his non-interest in the LP nominee. But by that time, Rothbard was convinced that the LP was running a presidential campaign in name only, that it was a clique devoted not to politics but to lifestyle.
Had Rothbard become a Republican? Far from it: two years later, he blasted Newt Gingrich in the Washington Post even before the new Republican Congress under Newt’s leadership had assembled. Had he become a Buchananite? Take a look at his 1995 piece, reprinted in The Irrepressible Rothbard, in which he predicts that in 1996 Pat would concentrate on protectionism to the exclusion of every other important subject. He was getting trapped into “becoming just another variety of ‘Lane Kirkland Republican’.” That article sent the Buchananites through the roof. But it foreshadowed the fall of yet another promising political force.
The point that few people could fully grasp about Rothbard was his complete independence of mind. He had one party to which he was unfailingly loyal: the party of liberty. All institutions, candidates, and intellectuals were measured by their adherence to that standard and their ability to promote it. Neither did he make (as the old conservative cliché has it) “the perfect the enemy of the good,” as his argument for Bush over Clinton demonstrates. He was always eager to prevent the greater evil in the course of advancing human liberty.
Indeed, Rothbard was a tough-as-nails strategist and thinker, one who was breathtakingly creative as an intellectual force but refused blind devotion to conventional wisdom or any institution or individual that promoted it. Such a man is bound to make enemies. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t run across some wild misunderstanding of his life and work, some outrageous calumny spread by those who know he can no longer answer them, some crazy theory claiming to be an extension of Rothbardian ethics, or, worse, a wildly distorted presentation of history that demonizes Rothbard’s role in some political affair.”