The Road Less Traveled

February 6th, 2012   Submitted by Mark Stoval

As a young man I was naturally anti-war. The result of this made me suspicious of governments since it appeared that only governments could start large wars. But other than this tiny seed I was just a “normal” person. I grew up in a labor-union Democrat household but my grandfather had a small business and experienced difficulties caused by the local town codes, regulations, taxes and so forth. I thought that the founders of the USA had it about right; we needed a small government to keep the peace and protect us from foreign powers but other than that the government should let us live our lives. But I also thought we needed the state for still other things: after all, how could the USA have courts and lawyers without government? How could we have roads to take me to another state without the government having eminent domain? How could we get our mail? How could the young go to school? Who would hire and pay the police?

Over time, I read many different voices and realized that there were good arguments to be made for letting the free market handle many things that I previously thought could only be done by the State. An early influence was the economist Thomas Sowell. He taught me that what looks to be one thing on the surface may be something else entirely after you look at it critically (and the facts may not be what you read in that textbook). I read The Road to Serfdom
by economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek. By the late 1980s I certainly would have called myself a libertarian but I certainly still saw the need for a small government. We just needed to find a way to keep a “small” government under control.

Then one day in the mail came an offer to subscribe to the Rothbard-Rockwell Report. I think I even got a sample copy but I can no longer remember the exact specifics since that was so very long ago. I sent off the money and became a reader of the RRR. That was my introduction to the economist, philosopher and historian Murray Rothbard. I found that I agreed with him in many things, but his belief that we could have a country with no government at all left me thinking he was just dreaming of Utopia on that issue. Over the years, I kept thinking that I could find no flaw in Rothbard’s essays but I could just not imagine a stateless society. Then it struck me one day while reading an essay of Rothbard’s on one of our covert wars: it takes a state to do real harm!

Because of reading Rothbard I went and bought the great Mises work Human Action and read it. That was followed by Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State. Long before I finished these two great books (and darn long ones!), I saw that the evil of the State far outweighed any small risk that not having a state would entail. These were followed by the other Rothbard classics, and my favorite to this day is The Ethics of Liberty, which I find to be the greatest work on political philosophy that I have ever come across.

In the end it came down to my inner being crying out that aggression was wrong. But the State is aggression! So, how can I be other than an anarchist? It started with Mises and Rothbard, but many other men and women helped me understand the simple fact that the state is our enemy.

31 Responses to “The Road Less Traveled”

  1. JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

    So when did you become an anarchist?

    • Mark StovalNo Gravatar says:

      “So when did you become an anarchist?”

      I guess about the half way through the run of the RRR. Let us say 1992 or so. It was a very reluctant move since I had been raised to believe that “government == society” and it is hard to change sometimes. But now I can not understand my younger self and why I thought the government was “my friend”.

  2. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    And to think that people paid hundreds of dollars for newsletters back then! Thank God for the internet!

  3. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    Naturally anti-war? Given the history of human being I have doubt as to if a person is naturally anti-war. I am generally anti-war. I am not a warmounger and don’t support starting wars. I am not a pacifist and thus believe in self-defense. I think that the Americans who defended America during the American Revolution were justified in doing so. I believe that people have the right to defend their land and country from an invading army.


    • DagnytgNo Gravatar says:

      I think it’s very natural for a person to be anti-war…if the only wars you ever saw fought were foreign wars.

    • Mark StovalNo Gravatar says:

      At least in the Vietnam War era it was fairly natural for young men to be anti-war since we were killing people in tiny little countries that we could not even spell: and getting killed doing so.

      A good friend was drafted, sent to Nam, and died. That will wake a young man up to the nature of war.

  4. Ryan TaylorNo Gravatar says:

    Great references to further reading! Your story illustrates how the path to enlightenment is better lit with literature. Sharing these stories and the ideas that shape our world is the only way to build a better one. Thank you for sharing. I’m definitely going to look up some of your references and pass them along.

  5. paulNo Gravatar says:

    here is aquick way to determine the outcome of our world…… if you had the opportunity to run the world, HOW would you do it?…what kind of world do you want? by what standards if any, would you employ? think about it …

  6. Mark StovalNo Gravatar says:

    “if you had the opportunity to run the world, HOW would you do it?”

    “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” wrote Lao Tzu.

    I would ‘lead’ by following.

  7. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    War and self defense are two different things – two different natures. Self defense is a natural response to aggression by self owners. War is a natural response to competition by those who keep slaves. The slaves fight the wars.

  8. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    Hmmm… that didn’t come out quite right. 🙂

    Self owners NATURALLY defend themselves against aggression.

    It’s early and I’m a cup low on coffee.

  9. BobNo Gravatar says:

    “if you had the opportunity to run the world, HOW would you do it?”

    I would resign by ordering my entire bureaucracy and office disbanded, permanently.

    However, remember “power corrupts”? When considering this, my mind wandered to “but how about giving myself a small group of tropical islands to retire to?”

    Just goes to show I don’t even trust MYSELF with real power.

  10. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    Indeed, Bob. We are just barely qualified to govern ourselves with integrity. It’s almost impossible to honestly govern anyone else. And those who attempt it – even with the most pure intentions and motives – inevitably become blind to the harm they cause just by standing in the way of other people’s self government and personal responsibility.

  11. EddyKNo Gravatar says:

    Also. Some of the books mentioned are available for free as well, such as human action. There no reason not to read it, other then that you are lazy like me.

  12. IM Rockyfeller/Roth-childNo Gravatar says:

    If I were running the world, I would exterminate the bottom 90% (aka, Useless Eaters) using neutron bombs and sterilization…Then I would have a global currency run by me…err…the World Bank and call it the “Bancor”. I would force everyone..err..ask them to “contribute” 80% of their labor efforts in return for their continued life…err…their protection.

    Get use to it…There are 6 billion mental retards on earth who are willing slaves that will obey – and rat out all those who try to escape.

    • GeneralBanditNo Gravatar says:

      we are in serious danger now, if we were invaded by another country we have nothing to defend ourselves, those being payed to gefend us are bein shipped around the world as bullying tools, those willing to give what matter most for what matters most need to get their heads together, this country is gagging for change, the current stutus quo has its hands bound,

  13. I do not even know the way I stopped up here, but I assumed this submit used to be good. I don’t know who you’re however certainly you are going to a famous blogger when you are not already. Cheers!

  14. Call me curiousNo Gravatar says:

    I know this is an old thread and don’t know if there is still anyone out there who would help me with my question, but the trouble I have with no government is that although I whole heatedly agree that big government is bad, I wonder what would happen if I lived in a libertarian society and my neighbor decided he wanted a pig farm. He only owns a lot, but has decided to set his house up as a pig sty and abattoire because pork bellies are profitable. What happens to my freedom now? Have you ever smelled a pig farm? Yikes! I can’t open my windows, I can’t sit out on the porch and even with windows closed I can’t bear it. What if my neighbor says he can do as he pleases and refuses to give up his pigs? What if my neighbor is a belligerent bastard? What kind of freedom am I left with now that he has his and who can I complain to? How do you see this scenario playing out in a government-less society?

    I am not ant-libertarian particularly and am here to begin with because I love the concept of freedom from govn’t but I would sure be interested to hear what you all have to say about this. Thanks!

  15. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    “Call me curious,” the only thing I can say about this is that you have little or no idea what you are talking about. I would suggest you do some serious reading at von Mises institute about the free market, the voluntary society and self ownership.

    When enough people are willing to become self owners and self responsible, there may be pockets of actual freedom available for those who wish to live that way, but the whole world is not likely to break out in freedom any time soon.

    Those self owners will form small islands of free society based on non-aggression, voluntary association and cooperation. If you choose to live in such a community, you will need to negotiate with your neighbors for mutual benefit and satisfaction – without imposing your desires on anyone.

    If you expect any “government” to “save you” from the pig farmer – or anything else, you will probably never be happy with the outcome. Any government big enough to give you what you want is ALSO big and strong enough to take everything you have – including your life.

  16. Call me curiousNo Gravatar says:

    Yes, I have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s why I was asking. I thought… politely.

  17. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    Sorry, I intended no offense at all.

    It just seems provocative to ask that kind of question if you don’t understand the free market or voluntary society. It tends to get my goat when people ask about some kind of libertarian utopia, and often want us to prove it is possible before they even look at freedom. Trust me… utopia of any kind is not an option. But we can do one hell of a lot better than we’re doing right now! 🙂

    Please… if you want to be free, a self owner, and do NOT want to control others… I’ll be delighted to talk with you at length about it and steer you toward a great body of information you might not otherwise find. my email is mamaliberty – at-

    A GREAT place to start learning about self ownership is here: Man Alive!

  18. Call me curiousNo Gravatar says:

    I guess my question wasn’t a simple one. I’m sorry if it sounded provocative, it sure wasn’t intended. It was just simplistic I guess. There were many other scenarios I could have used to express my concern about the ramifications of this ideal. Less government is very appealing to me but I have questions, as I say. Most times I ask these questions, I don’t get straight answers but, as you say, it may be that I need to read more. Thank you for providing the website and the information on reading material, maybe they will help to answer these questions. The whole idea of the freedom that this political system offers is intriguing. I also have questions concerning Corporate dominance in this kind of environment, but I won’t press you for any more answers. Just askin’ that’s all. Thanks again:)

  19. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    I’d be happy to discuss this with you, but a comment section on a blog is probably not the best place. 🙂

    Just imagine living in a society where you actually own yourself completely, and are actually responsible for that life and your safety. Imagine being free to associate voluntarily with whomever you wished, and never being forced in any way to live or work with people who wish to control and rob you… and have the power to do so.

    That’s where it all has to start. Self ownership and responsibility. Its a scary thing to most people. They’ve lived all their lives with the lie that they NEED the “will of the majority” to decide just about everything. They’ve grown up with the idea that – no matter how hard they work and how carefully they save – what they have can be wiped out in a moment by this “majority” at any time, either by “taxes” or simple asset forfeiture.

    And so much more. The corporate/government monster is a snake with its tail in its mouth. They each point to each other, and laugh as people fear first one, then the other. Keeping people fearful and desperate for rescue gives them all the power they need to continue the rape and pillage of our prosperity and keep most folks begging for more of the same. As long as they can convince people that real freedom is not “safe” or even possible, the rape and murder will continue. The snake only has the power the people are willing to give them… clamoring to be kept “safe.”

    Do YOU claim complete ownership and responsibility for your life and property? Are you willing to do the hard work and take the honest risks of living as a free human being? If so, we do need to talk. 🙂

  20. alexNo Gravatar says:

    I’ll agree that the state is overall detrimental to most peoples’ happiness and well-being and support for the state is usually irrational on a number of levels, but what turns me off the entire anarchist “voluntaryist” movement is the self-righteous moralistic undertones. Most anarchists I’ve encountered are just like the ones on this board, they have some grand childish notions of right and wrong which serve as their main motivation for hating the state and keeps them in a delusional self-righteous state of mind. They imagine some great awakening in the near or distant future in which people come to realize that the state is evil and protest/secede it out of existence. Bullshit. If the state goes for good it will go from a general lack of interest out of a general realization that it does a shit job. If it goes it will be because people would rather sit at home than get up and vote because they’ve mostly lost confidence in the system.

    • MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

      Ah… pardon me… but it is somehow “self righteous” to repudiate all theft and coercion? Is the idea of “right and wrong” really “childish?” Do you actually have any real question about what is RIGHT? Is aggression, theft, murder, etc. ever right? I doubt you think so.

      Delusional? Possibly… while a majority of people are happy to engage in such.

      Many of us “secede” from this sorry state of affairs as much as possible in our daily lives, refusing to participate in aggression of any kind. What other people do in their own lives is their business and their problem.

      All I ask is that they leave me alone. The “state” vanishing from a lack of interest is one of my favorite dreams.

      • alexNo Gravatar says:

        Yes it is self-righteous. Anarchists, especially “voluntaryists”, such as yourself offer a buttload of moral imperatives but absolutely no compelling reason to follow them. There are plenty of good reasons not to lie, steal, commit fraud, use coercion, etc., and there are probably only few circumstances with good reasons to do any of those things, but “self-ownership” and “rights” are as fictitious as the world religions, and the idea of “right” and “wrong” is childish. The fact that it has so much popular support doesn’t indicate otherwise, it just means there are plenty of adults with silly ideas, a notion I’m sure you can agree with.

  21. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    I see… I hold non aggression as an absolute. It is never legitimate to aggress against others, and I work hard to be prepared to defend myself against a**h())s who think otherwise.

    “Popular support” or the “will of the majority” is totally irrelevant to me. I live and therefore I am. I don’t need your permission for anything.

    The whole thing is that you are perfectly free to believe or think anything you please. You are not, however, free to impose it on me.

    • alexNo Gravatar says:

      You may not believe me, but I seriously, honestly, do not anymore believe it is wrong to murder, steal, commit acts of aggressions, etc. I am totally familiar with every aspect of this anarchist movement. I was a hardcore stefbot watching, NAP worshiping, Lewrockwell reading, anarcho-capitalism loving, voluntaryist for more than a year. As far as moral theories it is the most intuitive and least idiotic, but surely you must be aware to some degree, whether consciously or subconsciously, of the deficiencies in just accepting the “self-ownership” non-aggression axiom without reason. There is a more rational worldview that doesn’t depend on “holding these truths to be self-evident” or some copout bullshit like that. Voluntaryism allows people to do whatever they want to do except insists on non-aggression, but this insistence offers no reason. There are ultimately circumstances in voluntaryism, though perhaps rare, which would require me to place the welfare of others above myself. What compelling reason can you give me to forfeit any degree of personal happiness for other people under any circumstances? Your non-aggression shrine is a non-answer.

  22. Paul WakferNo Gravatar says:

    “There is a more rational worldview that doesn’t depend on “holding these truths to be self-evident”

    Absolutely Alex! You can find such a worldview begun in the philosophical writings of Ayn Rand, later in the Ethics of Liberty, and fully fleshed out in my own treatise: Social Meta-Needs: A New Basis for Optimal Interaction at: I would love to have you read it in depth, ask me any questions and make any comments/critiques about it on any public forum.