The Euphemism of Libertarianism

March 17th, 2013   Submitted by Christopher Zimny

EphemismThe libertarian world can be summed up, ultimately, as freedom from crime. Based on the principles of private property and non-aggression, many anarcho-capitalist writers propound and rework “ideal” visions of a “libertarian world”. Events and interactions in such a world usually include, for example, a free market healthcare system, unencumbered by the coercion of government, a free banking system which places the production of money and regulation of interest rates into a free market, varying forms of education that serve the specific demands of market participants, and so forth.

What must never be admitted into such a world by writers of this stripe is a coercive government, even when it is admitted that force will nevertheless exist such a world. (This is dealt with by such writers with a handy stroke of the pen: there will of course be a relative demand and consequent production of police and protection services by freely exchanging individuals). But there seems to be something slightly amiss in this idea, even perhaps at a first glance. Such writers theorize a world in which no force is used by individuals who make up a State, but wherein force is used by still other individuals, such as petty thieves or gun-wielding extortionists—aggression which is usually admitted as impossible to fully eradicate.

If the non-aggression principle were the absolute mark of a libertarian society, the society would be characterized by purely voluntary interactions between individuals. This, of course, means no crime, no rape or murder, no robbery or extortion, nor any other act of aggression. Such things would not exist in a society in which property rights were universally recognized and respected. However, it is inherent in human action that individuals prefer to gain goods with the least amount of effort and time, and it is beyond dispute that people will sometimes prefer the more direct route to gaining goods even if it means infringing on another person’s property rights in order to do so. In theory, this is dealt with quite easily: protection will increase to meet the amount of aggression that takes place. Thus, at best, the libertarian world assumes that aggression and protection tend constantly toward an equilibrium in which protection is adequate relative to aggression, thereby preventing aggression from occurring.

But it must be realized that insofar as one admits the existence of unwarranted force into such a society—and it would indeed be absurd to pretend that it would be otherwise—one must also admit that compulsory states exist in it too. For if one admits robbers and murderers and extortion rackets will crop up in any degree, there is no degree to which individuals of this kind will be necessarily limited. In a perfectly libertarian world, the degree of aggression is nil, or, if one wishes to concede a bit, is at least met by a certain level of protection. An ideal libertarian world as most libertarian authors think of it is not an exposition of the principle of non-aggression per se, but a world in which force is kept to a lower degree than the world in which we actually find ourselves. This is to say the kind of aggression is not different from the lone gunman to the execution squad; it is only a matter of the extent to which such aggression is carried out.

There is another critical point one must consider: the influence that thieves have over their victims. Aggressors, given enough skill, can create a shortage of willingness and ability of individuals to protect their property and wherein the aggressors have the ability to continuously plunder individuals of their possessions, at least until individuals are willing to reclaim their right to protect themselves. This is the natural state of affairs, and would be met by increased protection by individuals of their possessions. But one may quite fairly assume that thieves might gain lasting influence over their victims and create a permanent shortage of protection by convincing their victims, in whatever way (say through direct force or threat of it) to begrudgingly accept their theft. This is how extortionists gain the ability to regularly plunder their victims, and indeed how compulsory states themselves come into existence.

There is nothing unnatural about this; that a thief gains a handy amount of influence over his victim is precisely analogous, in the theoretical sense, to the individual producing too much protection for himself, perhaps by direct force or intimidation in regard to the thief. (This claim is only to say that these things occur in the regular course of events—it is not to say that either party is in the right or in the wrong.)

The libertarian who stoutly extols the principles of private property and non-aggression stands admirably fast, but the world that some libertarians theorize as “the world that would exist absent the State” is simply misleading. In actuality, we are living in a libertarian society, and states do exist in it. Public opinion has been warped to such a degree that it allows the Leviathan state to have massive influence in the affairs of individuals. But it must be stressed that there is nothing particularly unnatural about this. Rather, it leaves it to the individual to decide for himself whether to succumb to aggression or to reclaim his right and ability to protect his own property.

Libertarianism is merely a euphemism for looking at reality in a different way. Libertarians, of course, think that we would live in a better world without the State or theft or crime. It is a matter of seeing these things for what they are and chasing the noble ideal of ultimately stamping them out.  Every end toward that goal is a step in the right direction. In light of this, one may guard oneself more properly—in an intellectual regard—against systematic acts of aggression in the real world. At any given moment, one may simply withdraw consent from such aggression.

La Boétie advises us to free ourselves and end any plunder that we may from time to time encounter “by merely willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.” Though we cannot go back in time, we surely can be aware of our present surroundings and prevent such evils from perpetrating themselves today. Just as large-scale aggressors regularly influence opinion en masse to accept their rule, by merely recognizing and disobeying those that purport to lord over us, we ourselves can end any plunder as we speak—it is only a matter of choice.

30 Responses to “The Euphemism of Libertarianism”

  1. HReardenNo Gravatar says:

    There are liberty advocates who wrongly claim that the state has a monopoly on the use of force. What the state has has rather is a monopoly on the legal use of force. That is, the state legally can use force under it’s laws. Force and aggression has existed in communities thhat have has little to no formal state. The absense of a state does not result in utopia.

    How to selltle a dispute without a state. This is an example of a non-state DRO.
    A miners’ court

    • MAMNo Gravatar says:

      It’s funny the circular reasoning present in the State. It reminds me of creationist “logic”, and is in fact a variation of the manifestation of faith.

  2. MAMNo Gravatar says:

    Life is anarchy, we just happen to be in a state where people have been brainwashed and beaten to the point where they think they can’t live without the abuse. It’s Stockholm syndrome.

  3. JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

    It’s euph”e”mism, right?

  4. jimboNo Gravatar says:

    Hey Chris,

    Nice article, congrats on the publication.

    So, let’s look at it for a moment and see if we have the right understanding. Obviously, what I read and what you wrote might not be the same. You talk about this perfect libertarian world for instance. Supposedly in that perfect world everything is done based on voluntarism. Yet, you insist on injecting force into that world to make your point. If the “perfect” world did in fact exist, then force would not be present, so the premise is wrong.

    You also state that most libertarians would recognize the use of force and allow it to exist and be met with a certain amount of aggression in the form of protection. It would be something akin to equilibrium between the two. If that were true then those libertarians are NOT living in the perfect world. They are in something less than such a world because force is used and in the perfect world that force would not exist.

    Now, of course, there are two types of libertarians. There are the big elle “L” and the small elle “l” libertarians. The small “l” libertarians are routed in anarchy where they do not believe that the state should exist at all. These are apparently the people you are talking about in your article (assuming, that is, that I understand it correctly). While the big “L” Libertarians, they believe in the existence of the state but at its minimalist being.

    Personally, while I would prefer to not have any existing states in the world, I am not foolish enough to believe that the people on earth are anywhere near ready to accept that responsibility. It clearly will not happen in our life time. But that doesn’t mean that the state should be allowed to run wild on its citizenry either. So where is the happy medium for such coexistence? That medium is found in a state which protects the unalienable rights of its citizenry and NOTHING MORE.

    The very moment that the state goes beyond protecting those rights, it is stepping outside its bounds and trampling upon the very rights it is supposed to be protecting. The big “L” Libertarians who understand the need for a state to exist fight to get the state into such a position. When you see realist Libertarians arguing about what government is doing, they are not arguing to “get rid” of the state. They are arguing to put the state back into its box.

    La Boetie’s point was very simple, one that I have been trying to get people to see and understand for a long time. In plain English, all he is saying is that in order to be free of the state one must first recognize that they are free from the state. Therein lays the problem with the majority of Americans. They do not recognize that the power is with them.

    They foolhardily believe that the state is in control and that they must answer to the state. When the people finally realize that they are in charge of the government, and not the other way around, then things will change. Until that time gets here, we will continue to move toward a tyrannical government.

    It is really good seeing you in print. I hope to see more of you here. Let me know when the next article comes out. I would be very interested in seeing what you have to say. Stay well and prosperous my friend.

    Yours in Liberty

    • JoeDNo Gravatar says:

      When people realize that THEY are in charge of the govt? It looks good on paper, but it has never been true.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      Your response is almost as long as the blog entry. Utopia is not an option. There is no such thing as a perfect world. There are billions of people in the world and the world is not going to be 100% the way any individual wants it to be. Force will exist regardless of the existence of a state or not. Historicly, whenever a state has been defeated the condition of statelessness did not exist for long. Somebody and often immediately after the fall of a state establishes a new state with himself at the head of it. i.e. South Vietnam fell and became part of Vietnam. Thus, the fall of South Vietnam and controll of it by a regime that was far more oppressive than those who were the political leaders of the former South Vietnam was not a reason to celebrate. The fall of the former South Vietnam did not result in freedom but rather more coersion and oppression. Even the “freedom” achieved as a result of the American Revolution was very short lived. At best between 1783 and 1789. And even some who lived then did not believe they had achieved freedom or were ultimately free. Thus rebelions such as that lead by Daniel Shays which resyulted in the establishment of a central state. I think the mass of men must understand what freedom is and want freedom in order for there to be freedom.

  5. SleepySalsaNo Gravatar says:

    I find it intriguing that the examples used in the first paragraph actually existed during the years of the early American Republic. Granted, while there were government courts monopolizing the provision of arbitration services, generally speaking the federal and state governments were so limited in their powers that it was almost as if they were never there. In fact, as libertarian Roger Roots pointed out in his article, “Are Cops Constitutional?,” what you and I understand today to be “police officers” were not only unknown in the United States in 1789, but only came around almost 50 years after the ratification of the Constitution. The Framers, as well as most of the Founding Generation, considered “law enforcement” as the duty primarily that of private citizens. If there ever was a solid justification for the open-carry of firearms (besides the Non-Aggression Principle), this is it.

    Speaking of which, Aaron Hawkins admitted recently that the NAP is in fact a type of social contract. This is very interesting, for it suggests that the social contract can in fact be voluntary. The 1787 Constitution was ratified by the various state conventions, whose delegates were voluntarily chosen by the individuals who lived in those areas. What this would mean is that the Constitution, as another type of social contract, was actually voluntarily contracted into by the People of the United States (at the risk of using a term to describe a collective aggregate of flesh and blood individuals). Correct me if I am wrong here, but I think this demonstrates that the ratification of the Constitution does not violate the Non-Aggression Principle, since it was legitimately contracted into and agreed upon without infringing upon anyone’s property rights. While Lysander Spooner may have a legitimate concern about whether posterity (which would be us) are still bound by the Constitution, I think it is awfully premature for libertarians to flippantly throw away the Constitution into the trash bin of history, especially considering that the Founders were the only individuals in history to conduct the only successful libertarian revolution the world has ever seen by (at least initially) effectively binding the coercive powers of the State.

    While I do appreciate intellectual exercises regarding the (non-corporate) free market provision of security and arbitration services, I must admit that the emergence of these Dispute Resolution Organizations would have a much better time getting established and operational once the Republic has been restored (which would be evidenced by the, hopefully inevitable, fall of the current American Empire). I don’t quite see how a DRO (which to my understanding of the anarcho-captialist literature I have read thus far, is still only theoretical) can overcome the beginning inertia and lack of stable consumer demand inherent with any “white market” start-up entrepreneurial venture. Since I don’t think the State would appreciate any DRO challenging their jurisdiction (even if they only perceived it as such, and the DRO in question was not in actuality doing such a thing), it makes sense to me that only agorists have any business, at this time, actually organizing their own DROs. Even then, since they are necessarily trading risk for profit, various privacy and informational security measures (at the very least) should be used by them to lower the probability of either them or their clients getting harassed by agents of the State.

    This now brings me to what is probably the heart of the matter here, which is the viability of civil disobedience. As Henry Thoreau famously said, this method is rooted in the right of revolution. Since the right of revolution is simply collective self-defense for when the Law (as Frédéric Bastiat conceptualized it) fails to prevent an absence of plunder (as evidenced by the domination of the Administrative Agencies), I fail to see why so many libertarians eschew preparing for revolution or even individual self-defense against government agents, especially considering their approval and practice of civil disobedience (as demonstrated by the Free Staters up in the Shire). If your principles dictate freedom and Liberty, then being trained to deal with the violent coercion of others is the only way I can see of practicing internal consistency with your professed values.

    Granted, it is true that you cannot be a “freedom fighter” from prison (for the most part), but if libertarians were knowledgeable about guerrilla warfare theory (at the very least), they would understand that, as a guerrilla, you would operate on your schedule and timetable, not the enemy’s. So, in this regard, there are certain “utilitarian” decisions that you would end up making in a particular situation (such as talking to a cop during a traffic stop instead of shooting the damn bastard), but that is only for the purpose of buying you more time that you can then use to secure your Liberty for the long run. I know this is a touchy subject amongst libertarians since it concerns both tactics and strategy, but I think it is time to start seriously evaluating what options we have left at our disposal all the while the statist Orwellian Nightmare is strangling us tighter and tighter.

    • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

      The men who agreed to the US constitution were the signers of it and those in the state legislative bodies who ratified it. The fact is that in 1787-1789 at best the percentage of men who had a voice in the state governments of the 13 states was 2%. Do you actually believe it is ok for 2% of a population to establish public policy that will govern the entire population? Only 2% of the population at best were allowed to vote for the men who ratified the constitution. This means that it is possible that a rather large percentage of the populations of the 13 states were not in favor of the constitution. Of course we don’t know what that percentage is because they were not allowed to vote. The terms of a contract only applies to the signers of the contract.

      Again an example of a DRO- This sort of thing was not uncommon in the past

      • SleepySalsaNo Gravatar says:

        Your “fact” that the percentage of men who had a voice in the state ratifying conventions was 2% is bogus. Nearly all those who were male, of European ancestral lineage, and over 21 years of age were able to participate in the selection of their delegates. Given that the domestic population at that time was almost 4,000,000 (according to the 1790 Census), you’re asserting that only about 60,000 participated when in actuality it was more on the order of 700,000 (assuming my math here is correct). Regardless, you’re claim of the so-called “Philadelphia Conspiracy” is baseless. I would encourage you to correct your error by studying the ratification conventions of the late 1780s; a good place to start is with Pauline Maier’s “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787 – 1788.” You must remember that the Constitutional Convention sent the Constitution as a proposal to the states, which means that the states created the central government, not the other way around.

        Your example of a DRO is from an episode of “Bonanza,” which in fact depicts what seems to be a jury trial. To my understanding, DROs don’t use juries; it’s all trial by judge, at least that’s how the tiered arbitration was described to me. Assuming that is the case, then the only other likely distinction between a DRO and a jury trial held under the common law is that the DRO is a for profit (non-corporate) business whereas a jury is the only true positive obligation imposed upon the citizenry. I would remind you to re-read the Bill of Rights and notice that the only liberty in there that necessarily imposes upon your fellow citizens is that of what you now consider to be jury duty. The penultimate question you must ask yourself, when evaluating whether DROs are preferable to common law juries is, should justice be provided for free, or a fee?

        • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

          I believe based on historical records that you are incorect about the percentage of men who could vote. In VA prior to 1786 for example voting was limited to freeholders. The requirements for being a freeholder were: 1. You must be White(caucasion). 2. Male. 3. A member of the state church (Episcopal-prior to the Revolution it was the Church of England). 4. Over the age of 21. 5. You must own at least 50 acres of land. At that time only 2% of the men in Va met all of those requirements. After 1786 there was no longer a state church in VA but the other requirements still existed in order to vote in 1788. The other states had requirements that were similar and some still had a state church even after the constitution was ratified. I would also like to inform you that less than 100 men in the entire USA were allowed to vote for the POTUS and VPOTUS in 1792. Even today only 538 people actually vote for the POTUS and VPOTUS. In 1792 there was no pretence of people voting at polling places for the POTUS and VPOTUS, only the electors in the states voted and there were less than 100 at the time.

          As for the example of the DRO I posted a link to, that was a miners court which was a private court establed to settle land disputes not a state court. In the 19th century ad hoc courts such as that were established to settle disputes. That is the definition of a DRO.


        • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

          Btw, I forgot to mention. In that episode the judge not the jury made the judgement of who was right. I recommend that watch the entire episode starting from part 1 to understand what happened.


        • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

          Why does a DRO have to be for profit? I think of a DRO as a market organization and Rothbard defined it as such. However, state courts resolve disputes and thus by the strict definition of words a state court is a DRO.


  6. LibertyViniNo Gravatar says:

    Arguing for a perfect libertarian world incarnate is quite a different thing from championing the ideal.Accepting a little aggression is the same as accepting a little theft. Now and again, forbearance in a given instance may be the prudent thing to do. It still does not require us to accept it.

    • Accepting a little aggression as being possible in a construction of a “libertarian world” is quite different from accepting actual aggression in the sense of accepting theft. In the former, it merely means recognizing that aggression will occur in a libertarian world, and in the latter (your sense), actually submitting to such aggression. I agree that one must stand on principle and not accept it at all, but one cannot deny that it will occur nevertheless, of course, whether we like it or we do not.

  7. AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

    There is an article by Seth King where he explains that we are already living in anarchy, it’s just that we’re surrounded by many criminals (i.e. the state and all those who aid and abet it).

    • MAMNo Gravatar says:

      I was browsing the forum when I ran into a post where he says that. Literally blew my mind. Seth King is a genius.

      • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

        “We”? Who is this “we” who are living in anarchy? Are you living on a private stateless island with others ?

        • MAMNo Gravatar says:

          I will try to explain this, but I’m not sure it’s going to do any good.

          Life is anarchy, human action is all that exists. The state of nature is anarchy with a free market.

          Humanity literally lives in anarchy with a free market right now. But the vast majority of the actors are criminals thus we have things like the State.

          In a free market people buy the things they want. Well the State is what people want and we have it.

          • HReardenNo Gravatar says:

            You sound like you are a praxeologist. I suppose in the that is right just like there is no such thing as a citizen because the state doesn’t claim that it is obligated to protect anyone even in exchage for allegiance. In the USA the courts have ruled that law enforcement has no obligation to provide protection. Anarchy actually means without rulers so given that no man has to accept (at least in his own mind) that another man is his ruler then in that sense there is anarchy.


      • Also check out the paper “Do We Ever Really Get Out of Anarchy” by Alfred G. Cuzan.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      It’s been a long time since I’ve read or referenced that article, so I decided to look it up and read it again. You know, that might be one of my best articles. Here it is: ng/

  8. IljaNo Gravatar says:

    The libertarian principles do not mean that libertarians are stupid to assume that nobody will violate them. There will be a right to keep arms for self-defense, and there will be voluntary associations for defense. The libertarian belief is that such organizations will be strong enough to minimize crime so that it does not become too dangerous, and that this is possible even if the organizations themself do not violate libertarian principles.

    Of course, there is the possibility that organized crime becomes too strong and revives the state. Such is life. We have to fight for our freedom, and there is no certainty that we will win.

    But libertarian organizations for self-defense are not states, even if they use force against aggressors. The difference is that these organzations do not require for themself any monopoly of force. Everybody else is free to keep arms and to organize an own organization of self-defense, with the same rights. No monopoly means no state.

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