A Glossary of Social Justice Warrior Terminology

The use of language by social justice warriors frequently departs from both the dictionary definitions and the common understanding of words by most of the general population. As such, a guide to social justice warrior speech may be helpful to the layperson, along with commentary about how their uses of words relate to reality. This will take the form of an informal and potentially humorous glossary, which will not be exhaustive due to some terms being understood in the same manner by social justice warriors and the layperson, and due to the continual invention of new terms. This glossary will focus on how such terms are used in practice rather than how social justice warriors might define them in theory.

Ableism
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects people with disabilities, regardless of validity.
Ablesplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a able-bodied person to a disabled person. See Condesplaining
AFAB/AMAB
(abbreviation): assigned female/male at birth. This tends to be a statement of biological reality concerning people whose brains do not conform to said reality.
Ageism
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects young or old people, regardless of validity.
Agesplaining
(verb): condesplaining to a person of a different age. See Condesplaining
Agender
(adjective): a person who identifies with no gender. Usually (but not always) a denial of biological reality.
Anti-Semitism
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects Jewish people, regardless of validity.
Appropriation
(noun): the use of parts of a culture by someone who does not identify as a person from that culture. Although appropriation has been responsible for the spread of new and better ideas and technology throughout the world, social justice warriors view appropriation as problematic.
Bigender
(adjective): a person who identifies as a mixture of two genders. Usually (but not always) a denial of biological reality. See Intersex
Bigotry
1. (noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects a group which is said to lack privilege, regardless of validity. See Ableism, Ageism, Homophobia, Racism, Sexism, Transphobia.
2. (noun): a combination of prejudice and power.
Brocialism
(noun): the belief that socialism will result in gender equality.
CAFAB/CAMAB
(abbreviation): coercively assigned female/male at birth. A term used by social justice warriors for an intersex child who is assigned a gender by parents and/or doctors.
Cisethnic
(adjective): a person who identifies with the ethnicity indicated by their externally observable features. This is usually a sign of a healthy mind.
Cisgender
(adjective): a person who identifies with the gender indicated by their externally observable features. This is usually a sign of a healthy mind.
Cisplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a cisgendered person to a transgendered person. See Condesplaining
Condesplaining
(verb): the act of a person said to be privileged explaining something to a person said to be oppressed in a manner believed to be condescending. In practice, there need not be anything inappropriate or condescending about said explanation.
Consent
(verb): to agree to participate in an activity, especially activity of a sexual nature. Consent cannot be given when someone is intoxicated, unconscious, or has been threatened or manipulated into compliance, but social justice warriors only recognize this if a female is in such a condition.
Content Warning
(noun): an alternative to trigger warnings which was created because some people complained that a trigger warning is itself triggering. See Trigger Warning and Triggering
Dangerous
(adjective): See Problematic
Derail
(verb): to divert a discussion from its intended topic. This is frequently done by social justice warriors through a variety of means, including accusations of bigotry, unchecked privilege, etc.
Discrimination
(noun): the expression of any less-than-favorable preference toward a person or group believed to be less privileged or more oppressed than oneself, regardless of validity.
Econosplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a wealthier person to a poorer person. See Condesplaining
Essentialism
(noun): the idea that people, objects, and ideas can be identified based on externally observable features. Although this is empirically true, social justice warriors consider this idea to be problematic.
Ethnocentrism
(noun): the idea that one’s own culture is superior to others. This is viewed negatively by social justice warriors, even if it is factually justified.
FAAB
(abbreviation): See AFAB
Feminism
(noun): the idea that women should have the same rights and privileges as men without having the same responsibilities and drawbacks.
Gender binary
(noun): the idea that there are only two genders; male and female. This is viewed as problematic by social justice warriors, despite being a biological truth (with the notable exception of intersex people).
Gender equality
(noun): the belief that people should receive equal treatment and not be discriminated against on the basis of gender. Frequently accompanied by a denial of inherent biological differences between the genders.
Gender identity
(noun): a person’s internal sense of gender. This may or may not be in alignment with biological reality.
Genderfluid
(noun): a gender identity that changes over time. No biological basis for such an identity exists in humans.
Genderqueer
(noun): an umbrella term for gender identities other than male and female. See Third gender
Hate crime
(noun): a crime said to be motivated by bigotry against some aspect of the identity of the victim, such as race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability. Most social justice warriors deny the possibility of hate crimes against people who are said to be privileged.
Heterosplaining
(verb): Condesplaining by a heterosexual person to an LGBT person. See Condesplaining
Hijra
(adjective): see Third gender
Homophobia
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects homosexuals, regardless of validity. Note: Most social justice warriors deny the possibility of bigotry against heterosexuals, due to their belief that bigotry is a combination of prejudice and power.
Internalized oppression
(noun): a term used to denounce a member of a group said to be oppressed who deviates from social justice ideology. Variants include internalized racism, internalized misogyny, internalized homophobia, etc.
Internalized superiority
(noun): a term used to denounce a member of a group said to be privileged who deviates from social justice ideology.
Intersectionality
(noun): the social justice warrior method for analyzing the various privileges or oppressions that a person may experience. This creates the progressive stack.
Intersex
(adjective): a person who is born with genitals which are not male or female, but something in between. While a legitimate concern, social justice warriors spend relatively little time addressing it.
Kyriarchy
(noun): see Intersectionality
MAAB
(abbreviation): See AMAB
Manarchism
(noun): the belief that social anarchism will result in gender equality.
Mansplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a man to a woman. See Condesplaining
Men’s rights activist (MRA)
(noun): any man who rejects social justice dogma, especially of the feminist variety.
Microaggression
(noun): any activity that makes a social justice warrior uncomfortable. In reality, there is no such thing as a microaggression because the law of excluded middle requires that an act be either aggressive or non-aggressive.
Misogyny
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects females, regardless of validity. Note: Most social justice warriors deny the possibility of sexism against men, due to their belief that bigotry is a combination of prejudice and power.
Neutrois
(adjective): See Agender
NTsplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a neurotypical person to a neurodivergent person. See Condesplaining
Oppression
1. (noun): discrimination at the group or societal level. See Discrimination
2. (noun): see Microaggression
Other
1. (noun): the idea that other people and groups are distinct beings different from oneself, even if they are not believed to be inferior.
2. (adjective): a person or group recognized as distinct from oneself.
3. (verb): to place another person or group into the position of an Other. This is generally a useful way of dealing with social justice warriors, as well as some of the more delusional types of people mentioned in this glossary.
Otherkin
(adjective): a person who self-identifies as a non-human. Otherkin are either one of the most delusional types of people given consideration in social justice ideology or trolls who are faking it to make fun of social justice warriors.
Patriarchy
(noun): a system of male dominance that suppresses non-masculine traits and behaviors. This is considered to be problematic by social justice warriors, even if such a system is formed voluntarily and proves more successful than other forms of social organization.
Policing
(verb): to reprimand a person who is not acting in accordance with social justice ideology, regardless of validity.
Polysexual
(adjective): a synonym for bisexual used by people who reject the gender binary.
Power
1. (noun): a person’s perception of one’s ability to influence outcomes to meet one’s needs and wants.
2. (noun): the ability to make decisions that affect another person
3. (noun): control of societal institutions
Prejudice plus power
(phrase): the social justice warrior standard for bigotry. This leads them to deny possibilities such as anti-white racism, misandry, heterophobia, cisphobia, and other bigotry against groups said to be privileged.
Pride
(noun): the celebration of a non-cisgendered identity or non-heterosexual orientation, despite the fact that having such an identity or orientation is innate and not an accomplishment.
Privilege
(noun): the sum of the advantages (or lack of disadvantages) that a person or group has, regardless of whether those advantages are innate, legitimately earned, or illegitimately taken.
Privsplaining
(verb): See Condesplaining
Problematic
(adjective): that which is at odds with progressive or social justice ideology, regardless of truth value. This glossary would be considered highly problematic.
Progressive stack
(noun): an arbitrary and capricious method used to decide how privileged a person is relative to others. Often referred to by non-SJWs as the Oppression Olympics. See Intersectionality
Questioning
(adjective): a person who is unsure of one’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Racism
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects minority racial groups, regardless of validity. Note: Most social justice warriors deny the possibility of racism against white people, due to their belief that bigotry is a combination of prejudice and power.
Rape culture
(noun): the belief that brutally victimizing women while they scream for help is considered to be socially acceptable.
Reactionary
(adjective): See Problematic
Safe space
(noun): a location where emotionally unstable and/or immature people who are upset may gather to receive comfort and counseling for the traumatic experience of being exposed to a mere difference of opinion.
Self-identification
(noun): the idea that one can choose one’s identity, regardless of empirical facts.
Sexism
(noun): see Feminism. Note: Most social justice warriors deny the possibility of sexism against men, due to their belief that bigotry is a combination of prejudice and power.
Shaming
(verb): to suggest that degenerate behavior has negative consequences and should therefore be discouraged. Social justice warriors consider this to be problematic.
Shitlord
(noun): a person who engages in problematic speech and/or behavior.
Sizesplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a “normal-sized” person to a person widely perceived to be too small or large. See Condesplaining
Social construct
(noun): an idea created and developed in society. While a valid concept, social justice warriors misuse this concept to reject a priori truths.
Stereotype
(noun): a fixed image about a person or group that collectivizes them and denies their individuality. Social justice warriors tend to reject these unless they concern people said to be privileged, but they tend to ignore the fact that stereotypes frequently have a basis in reality.
Straightsplaining
(verb): See Heterosplaining
SWERF
(abbreviation): sex-worker exclusionary radical feminism. Some social justice warriors meet this description, while others find the concept to be problematic.
SWETERF
(abbreviation): See SWERF and TERF
TERF
(abbreviation): trans-exclusionary radical feminism. Some social justice warriors meet this description, while others find the concept to be problematic.
Thinsplaining
(verb): See Sizesplaining
Third gender
(adjective): a distinct gender that is neither male nor female. No biological basis for such an identity exists in humans.
Transabled
(adjective): a person who does not identify with the ability/disability indicated by their externally observable features. This is usually a sign of an unhealthy mind, and may lead a person to alter one’s externally observable features in an effort to make them resemble that of one’s ability identity.
Transethnic
(adjective): a person who does not identify with the ethnicity indicated by their externally observable features. This is usually a sign of an unhealthy mind, and may lead a person to alter one’s externally observable features in an effort to make them resemble that of one’s ethnic identity.
Transgender
(adjective): a person who does not identify with the gender indicated by their externally observable features. This is usually a sign of an unhealthy mind, and may lead a person to alter one’s externally observable features in an effort to make them resemble that of one’s gender identity.
Transphobia
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects transgender people, regardless of validity. Note: Most social justice warriors deny the possibility of bigotry against cisgendered people, due to their belief that bigotry is a combination of prejudice and power.
Trigger Warning
(noun): an advisory that following content may upset emotionally unstable and/or immature people.
Triggering
1. (adjective): content may upset emotionally unstable and/or immature people.
2. (verb): to engage in communication which may upset emotionally unstable and/or immature people.
Two-spirit
(noun): see Genderfluid
Verbal violence
(noun): the nonsensical idea that speaking words can inflict physical harm upon someone.
Victim blaming
(verb): to suggest that people have some responsibility for their own well-being and self-defense.
Whitesplaining
(verb): condesplaining by a white person to a person of color. See Condesplaining
Xenophobia
(noun): any criticism or negative sentiment that affects people who are different from oneself, regardless of validity.

Ten observations on the Brussels attacks

On March 22, at least four terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State attacked the airport and a subway station in Brussels, killing 31 people and injuring 300 others. Three of the terrorists were killed during the attacks, and one is still at large. Ten observations on this incident follow.

1. Open-borders immigration policy is partly to blame. In a community founded on libertarian principles, immigration would be on an invite-only basis, regardless of who the immigrants are. Someone would have to sponsor an immigrant, have lodging set up for them, have employment set up for them unless the immigrant is wealthy enough to live without working or the immigrant is fleeing an immediate danger, and perhaps have some vicarious liability should the immigrant turn out to be a criminal. Unfortunately, the immigration policies of nation-states do not remotely resemble this standard. They overrule the desires of property owners through their monopoly on initiatory force and exercise exclusive control over who may enter and/or remain within a geographical area. This is bad enough, but to violently monopolize a service and then fail to provide it is even worse. Had Belgium and other European nations refused to allow the terrorists to enter or remain inside their territory or allowed private property owners to impose the same, then the Paris attacks could not have happened.

2. Anti-discrimination laws are partly to blame. Like most Western nations, Belgium violates the private property rights and freedom of association of its citizens by enforcing laws against discrimination. These laws are not as strict in Belgium as they are in France and some other countries, but the Belgian people are disallowed from asserting their individual preferences and working out their biases in action. While the initial response by the Belgian people has been more of a call for unity than a backlash against immigrants, these laws have still deprived them of recourse against an invasion of immigrants that their government has forced upon them.

3. NATO and Pax Americana are partly to blame. Since the United States became the only global superpower, it has taken on a role as a universal defender, particularly of nations which are signatories of NATO. The problem with this is that these nations are less likely to be self-reliant for defense when they can call upon the United States to expend blood and treasure in their stead. This lack of responsibility and initiative leads such nations to be less prepared to deal with threats on their own, and a perception of weakness invites aggressors.

4. The security measures proposed following the Brussels attacks will fail. The three terrorists who attacked the airport detonated bombs near the American Airlines and Brussels Airlines check-in desks, and next to a Starbucks coffee shop. It has been proposed that security measures be located farther away from the airport terminals, but there will be a line of people wherever they are placed, and that is where terrorists will attack.

5. The terrorists have blood on their hands, but so does the Belgian government. The Belgian government let the terrorists in and failed to expel them, banned discrimination against them, disarmed the Belgian people so they could not defend themselves, and conducted an interventionist foreign policy that motivated terrorists to retaliate. While the ultimate responsibility for evil acts falls upon those who commit the acts, there is a vicarious responsibility upon the Belgian government for taking actions which made the attacks possible and likely.

6. The attacks were an example of blowback. Belgium has been a participant in the War on Terror since 2002. Belgian aircraft participated in anti-ISIS operations in 2014-15, and some personnel remain in Iraq. The Islamic State claim of responsibility for the attacks says in part,

“Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central metro station in the center of the Belgian capital Brussels, a country participating in the coalition against the Islamic State.”

7. A backlash is likely to follow. Just as far-right anti-immigrant movements gained ground following the Paris attacks, they are likely to do so again. As Nabil Riffi, an attorney of Moroccan descent who lives in Antwerp, told USA Today, “Recent anti-Muslim rallies in Flemish cities such as Antwerp and Ghent have been relatively small but they may grow in size and become violent. My fear is that they will draw more people to them because the danger is now among us. I think the possibility of the Pegida (an anti-migrant, anti-Muslim movement that started in Germany and has spread to other countries in Europe) rallies in Flanders getting violent is real.”

8. Central governments do not fare well against decentralized enemies. There was a time when major terrorist attacks, like those of 9/11, were the biggest fear of people in the West. This was the height of centralized terrorism, when 19 agents of al-Qaida hijacked four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 civilians in a well-planned, well-funded, highly coordinated operation. Here, the state displayed its strong suit: it can effectively destroy centralized enemies. If there is a physical target that can be bombed or a living person that can be exterminated, states are usually able to carry out those acts. (Of course, they frequently go overboard with their bombings and killings, which gives more people cause to become terrorists, but statists rarely care about this, as prolonged war is prolonged health of the state.) But in the wake of the War on Terrorism, decentralized enemies in the form of small terrorist cells which act independently have emerged. These have proven difficult, if not impossible, to defeat. Without a clear target to destroy, the state is ineffective. Because of this…

9. The people of Europe must defend themselves. This dark side of decentralization is best fought with the light side of decentralization. Because the state cannot be competent at protecting against this threat (and has done much to cause it), the people must take matters into their own hands if they wish to be safe.

10. Terrorism cannot be solved by more terrorism. Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal.” Oxford defines terrorism as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” A government is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on the initiation of force within a geographical area. In other words, a government uses violence and intimidation to keep its population obedient and manage external threats to its operation. This leads to an important truth that few wish to speak: every government is a terrorist organization. For decades, Western nations have attempted to defeat Islamic terrorism with more terrorism in the form of military interventions, to build Western democracies among populations whose cultures are incompatible with such an apparatus, and to arm one faction against another even though such weapons frequently fall into the hands of the most evil and destructive groups. What Western leaders fail to realize is that in the irrational game of Middle East politics, the only winning moves for them are to withdraw from the game or to knock over the board.

A Case Against the First Amendment

One of the most esteemed parts of the United States Constitution is the First Amendment, which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Certainly, this will sound like a good idea to the vast majority of people. Most people would agree that a state which is allowed to interfere with the speech, writing, assembly, and religious beliefs of its subjects can quickly become oppressive and authoritarian, and that people should be able to seek a redress of grievances from the state. But there are several flaws with this position. Let us examine the failings of the First Amendment and why a free (stateless) society would be better off without this standard.

The first thing to note is that the interpretation of this amendment, like every other part of the Constitution, is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Thus, the First Amendment means whatever people in black costumes say it means, which need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because there is no effective challenge to their power once the appeals process is exhausted. (There are the possibilities that a judge will be impeached and removed or that the Constitution will be amended, but these possibilities are rare enough to dismiss in most cases.) The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means erring on the side of expanding the size and scope of government as well as kowtowing to popular opinion rather than handing down consistent rulings. This constitutes a threat to individual liberty and tends toward the curtailment of civil liberties.

This has produced results both interesting and disturbing. The Supreme Court never ruled on the Alien and Sedition Acts while they were in force, only noting their unconstitutionality in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). In 1919, the Court ruled on four cases resulting from the Espionage Act of 1917 (though it did not rule on the constitutionality of petitioning against the Act). From these cases, a standard of “clear and present danger” was invented to allow the state to interfere with the rights enumerated in the First Amendment in an ultimately arbitrary fashion. In Valentine v. Chrestensen (1942), the Court upheld a New York City ordinance forbidding the “distribution in the streets of commercial and business advertising matter,” even though such a restriction is clearly arbitrary and capricious (this was overturned in Virginia State Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (1976)). In Dennis v. United States (1951), the Court upheld the Smith Act, which criminalizes the advocacy of overthrowing any level of government in the United States. In Roth v. United States (1957), the Court ruled that obscenity is not protected, and adopted a definition that relies upon “contemporary community standards,” which can be arbitrary and capricious. In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), the Court ruled that publishing statements “with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity” can constitute a civil offense. In Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980), the Court ruled that “individuals may peacefully exercise their right to free speech in parts of private shopping centers regularly held open to the public,” meaning that any private property used for commercial purposes is effectively no longer private, as the owners may not exercise their freedom of association to expel people from their property if their reason for doing so is a difference of opinion over speech.

To make a case against the First Amendment, one must first understand its function. It was commonly understood by the Framers that rights do not come from the state, but are inherent in each sentient being through what later theorists would call self-ownership. Therefore, the First Amendment was written not to give people the rights it enumerates, but to limit the use of government force against petitioning the government, as well as against speech, writing, religious activity, and peaceful assembly in public spaces. But the First Amendment was only necessary because the Constitution purports to authorize and legitimize a government that imposes common spaces upon the society and poses a threat to the activities enumerated by the First Amendment. If the state were abolished and its common spaces returned to private ownership, then the need for such a mitigating element protecting communication, religious activity, and peaceful assembly vanishes a fortiori, as does the need to petition an entity which would no longer exist. It must also be noted that when the state does actually redress the grievances of one person or group, it almost always commits more grievances against another person or group while doing so.

In a stateless society, the lack of a coercive monopoly eliminates the need for a right to petition. If one has grievances with a person or group in such a society, one handles it much as one deals with other non-state actors today. First, an attempt to negotiate directly is made. If this fails, then one may seek arbitration with a neutral dispute mediator. If this fails, then one may initiate legal proceedings, though this would be accomplished through private courts rather than a state’s court system. Finally, one may resort to the use of force in self-defense. In criminal matters, one would be justified in skipping the first two steps by immediately resorting to legal proceedings or defensive force. Also note that while states initiate the use of force against people who would dissociate from them, this behavior would not be tolerated in a stateless society. A person in a stateless society is thus afforded the option of ostracism of a person or group which causes grievances, as well as the options of associating with their competitors or becoming their competitor oneself.

At first glance, freedom of speech, writing, assembly, and religious beliefs may appear to be reasonable standards for a free society to protect, but these are not fundamental rights that can be traced back to self-ownership. The fundamental rights in a free society are self-ownership, private property, freedom of association, and freedom from aggression. One might object that one must speak or write in order to argue against freedom of speech or freedom of the press, or that one must assemble in order to argue against freedom of assembly, thus creating a performative contradiction, but this only applies within one’s own property or an unowned place. No one has a right to enter into another person’s property and engage in any speech, writing, assembly, or religious activity that is against the wishes of the property owner, and it would be exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to contrive a situation in which the Reecean proviso would grant an exception. If a person does so, then the property owner has the right to curtail that person’s speech, writing, assembly, or religious activity by trespassing the person from the property and physically removing the person if necessary.

This sort of societal arrangement provides several benefits over a statist system which imposes common spaces upon the society. In a society with common spaces, people at cross purposes will seek to utilize those commons, which necessarily provokes conflicts. This, of course, provides a perfect excuse for the state to raise taxes and expand its security forces in order to “solve” the problem that the state creates in the first place. The only way to truly solve the problem of the commons is to eliminate all common spaces. Once this is done, people with unpopular and abhorrent views will have to either provide for their own security and keep their advocacy within private properties in which such views are welcome or be silenced. No more will such people be able to promote their ideas virtually anywhere and stick the members of society who oppose them with the bill for their protection. At long last, those who promote ideas which are at odds with liberty, such as democracy, fascism, and communism, will be able to be cast out of a libertarian community.

To conclude, the First Amendment is an attempt to mitigate evil rather than to snuff it out, and the misuse of its concepts has infringed upon more fundamental rights. While people living in a free society could decide that they wish to uphold the ideals of the First Amendment within their communities, there are clear reasons not to do so.

Resolve To Understand The Struggle

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two were argued against here, and the third will be argued against here.

To begin his case for revolution, Reece declares that the definition of the concept “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.”

I do not simply declare that the definition of revolution leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism. Oxford’s definition clearly does this.

The issue is that this “anti-political revolution” and “culture of resistance” are only a path to ongoing conflict and mass chaos.

A competent debater must consider the alternatives, then compare and contrast them. The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. Static means that the state continues, which leaves us in a world of ongoing conflict and mass chaos. This leaves the option of peaceful change, but as argued in “Liberty Requires Revolution,” all methods for peaceful change either lead to failure or to violent revolution. Underhill attempts to argue otherwise in his third counter-rebuttal, but does not succeed in making the case. The remainder of this response will explain his failure on a point-by-point basis.

At this point, Underhill leaves a powerful argument unchallenged, so we may regard it as valid:

“The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. …[T]he state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure.”

He also leaves unchallenged my arguments that cryptography, seasteading, education, and peaceful parenting are helpful but insufficient to end the state.

Reece starts off with criticizing non-violent means of resistance to the state. On many of these, particularly electoral politics, he may have a point.

Either I have a point or I do not; the law of excluded middle forbids any other possibility. Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here for neither accepting my points nor arguing against them, except as noted below.

But he fails to understand the power of other options. In particular, I will note his arguments on agorism and civil disobedience as being very wrong-headed.

I understand their power very well, which is why I described them as helpful non-solutions. These options are capable of weakening the state and growing the number of libertarians, but they will not bring down governments on their own.

He contends that there are “limitations of scale” to agorism; that “there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye”. Now, while it is true that, for instance, starting up a car factory would fall under the risk of government action, it is not inherently true that government is magically aware of the activities of even large scale anti-state endeavors, nor is it true that there is necessarily a central point of failure.

This does not refute the point being made. I have argued that X exists, and Underhill’s response is not to argue that X does not exist (as a proper refutation must), but to argue that the opposite of X exists.

Reece cites the case of Ross Ulbricht as evidence the state can react to agorism quickly, but seems to utterly fail to understand the power of decentralization and removal of central points of control here. Ulbricht may be in jail, but hundreds of copycats and better alternatives have taken his place.

Underhill seems to utterly fail to understand the fact that these operations are not fully decentralized. There is still a buyer, a seller, an exchange operator, and a manufacturer. If government agents can figure out who these people are (and they still do sometimes), those people will be violently victimized by the state.

We also see into the mind of Reece here, when he declares that “a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death.” Here it seems he would rather people die in the face of the state than work around it to survive and even thrive. How perverse is such a sentiment!

We also see into the mind of Murray Rothbard here, who made exactly the same point against Samuel Konkin, although in slightly gentler terms:

“It is possible that the Soviet black market, for example, is so productive that it keeps the entire monstrous Soviet regime afloat, and that without it the Soviet system would collapse. This does not mean, of course, that I scorn or oppose black market activities in Russia; it is just to reveal some of the unpleasant features of the real world.”

The reality is that people will die in the face of the state regardless of whether they revolt against it, and it is better for them to die fighting and damaging the enemy than for them to be farmed and slaughtered like animals. Far from perversity, the idea that people should make present sacrifices in order to secure future gains is the foundation of all meaningful progress.

He continues, stating that:

Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

But is this the sort of “violent revolution” being defended here? For Konkin’s approach did involve violence, but it was strictly that of self-defense and well after a libertarian society had been almost fully established.

Yes, it is. Underhill seems to be unaware that the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, and is therefore subject to logic in the form of consistency. To act aggressively against people and property, make no restitution for doing so, and refuse to stop aggressing is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle. Thus, the non-aggression principle does not apply to such a person, and the use of force against such a person is acceptable. Government agents fulfill this description, therefore using force against them meets the standard of self-defense.

Neither of these things are true in a “storm Washington and rout the bastards” type argument that seems so prevalent when actually discussing the concept of revolution.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that we should “storm Washington and rout the bastards.” (While the article picture for “Liberty Requires Revolution” depicts this, it was chosen solely for its pleasing aesthetic. Never is what it depicts actually advocated in the article.)

Nor does such an action seek to “replace” the current power structure – only resist its imposition upon people who choose to defend themselves. (In this sense, how can it really be called a “revolution”?)

Oxford’s definition says that a revolution is a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. In this case, the new system is one of a stateless society with individual sovereignty and private property. The current government and social order are overthrown by a sufficient number of people defending themselves from their imposition to end their functionality.

Moreover, this is – of necessity – in an environment where people are generally accepting of such anarchic society, not the current society where resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front.

This depends upon the meaning of “generally accepting.” This term could mean anything from enthusiastic support to inactionable hatred. If 95 percent of the people want a state but 5 percent do not, and the 5 percent are able and willing to impose anarchy by force but the 95 percent are not able or willing to impose statism by force, then there will be no state despite the fact that people are not generally accepting of anarchism.

Resistance to the state by Apple has not been demonized on nearly every front. Many people have voiced concerns over privacy and abuse of state power that are in line with Apple’s position.

On civil disobedience, Reece claims that:

multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience.

It’s true that civil disobedience carries with it risk of suffering violence. But in many ways, it is far superior to risk that violence without retaliation than it is to escalate it with further violence.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

In the February Revolution in Russia, the revolt was obtained mostly through non-violence because the military men whose task it was to subdue the populace refused to fire into a crowd of non-violent protesters, many of whom were women. On the other hand, escalation to levels of significant violence most often lead to protracted war – where the result is incalculable.

This is true, but irrelevant to the discussion. The point is that civil disobedience stops being civil when government agents decide to use force.

To reiterate the quote from Doctor Who I included in my original article:

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

Refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

Reece carries on with a comparison of the existence of the state and “power vacuums” to those of physics. Here he simply makes a categorical error. While talk of power vacuums constitutes a common analogy, it is also an inherently false one based on a sociological determinism. From this, Reece draws many erroneous conclusions about the use of force to defend a “partial vacuum”.

A categorical error is a logical fallacy in which one ascribes qualities to a noun that cannot possess those qualities. For example, the statement “that idea is the color red” is a categorical error because concepts in the mind do not reflect particular wavelengths of visible light. As no such quality was attributed to power vacuums, no such error was committed in the analogy between power vacuums and physical vacuums. Underhill then commits a straw man fallacy by invoking sociological determinism, which was not the motivation for the vacuum analogy.

He also notes that “the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states”. This is precisely true, but it is absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.

This is exactly wrong. The number of people enforcing the edicts of rulers is an important factor for estimating the number of people needed to thwart them.

These people will not come in with pistols to match the pistols libertarians might possess, but with tanks and military aircraft and missiles. There is no chance of any sort of determined minority resistance prepared to use violence leading any sort of peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles.

One could argue that technological superiority of states in other fields makes nonviolent resistance useless as well, but let us tackle the argument at face value. Using military hardware against the revolutionaries will cause many civilian casualties, especially if the revolutionaries are blended into the general population. This will cause more people to join the revolutionaries in order to avenge their fallen family members and friends, just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today. This would also result in damage to infrastructure that the state needs to keep operational in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Underhill seems to believe that military vehicles are invincible juggernauts that no resistance movement could hope to stop. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform those tasks, and someone must deliver the resources for those tasks and for the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves. Failing this, military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the revolutionaries present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build.

The point is not to lead a peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead. The point is to eliminate the threat.

His case is briefly summarized in this paragraph:

The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

This summarizes only the part of my case that describes the end goal of such a revolution.

He claims the revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret. I don’t know here if he is unaware of the spying operations of modern states, uncomprehending of the amount of force needed to bring to bear to resist a state military operation, or whether he is just too drawn in to the fantasy of taking up arms against the oppressor, but the scenario described here is almost laughable.

Underhill may be unaware of the potential strength of cryptography, unaware of how fragile the nation-state model of security really is, or just too much of an intellectual coward to think this through.

Further, he talks about a conclusion of this “decentralized revolution”, as if there would be any such conclusion outside of the annihilation of the armed resistance.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

By creating this long-term “culture of resistance” and relying on operation in secret to engage in guerrilla combat, he’s consigned this group to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all.

We are all consigned to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all. What revolution does is to allow innocent people to be something other than perpetual victims.

Any attempt to form a peaceful society based on market anarchist principles would be impossible – lives would instead be devoted to engaging in a fruitless violent resistance that could only lead to massive innocent deaths without any achievement of the goal of liberty.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

He answers the charge of the technologically superior military by pointing to the idea of guerrilla combat as well as blowback.

A more detailed answer may be found above.

But this only approaches the problem from the point of view of the anarchist revolutionary. The people would not be so kind as to side with the terrorists in their midst.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Which interpretation is held by the people of the anarchist revolutionaries depends on how numerous they are, how successful they are, how oppressive the state is, how popular alternative media is versus the establishment lapdog media, and so on.

No worries, Reece claims, we will have the “actions of revolutionaries .. carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands”. Certainly. But is he aware that the death of military members and police officers and other government agents, will be viewed as this “collateral damage”.

This also depends on the variables listed above.

The public does not take kindly to “cop-killers” now. Why would this suddenly change because the action is framed as self-defense by some apparent (to them) sociopaths?

This would not suddenly change, nor would it need to. The revolution is not to take place until there is a critical mass of people who are willing to participate. At that point in time, the public perception of those who kill government agents would be more favorable, as explained later.

Next, he arbitrarily claims that “the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets”. He provides no reason to believe this is true other than that they do not “vote with bullets”. He goes on to say that “[i]f the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves”.

There is nothing arbitrary about this claim; it is clearly in agreement with the observable facts. People vote on ballots to get politicians to use state power to give them that which they could not obtain themselves without directly committing crimes against people and property. Most people find it impractical to directly commit crimes not only because being productive is less risky and the state punishes (non-government) criminals, but because their would-be victims may use force to stop them. I then linked to an entire article devoted to explaining this point.

I can’t think of anything more likely to lead to an acceptance of an authoritarian state than rebels forcibly preventing democratic means of government in a nation where the vast majority believe wholeheartedly in democracy. Not only is this proposed “revolution” by Reece historically a bad idea, he seems from the outset trying to design something that will purposefully incense the state-loving populace to the point of cheering on the destruction of any and all libertarians or anarchists.

This is an argument from incredulity; just because Underhill cannot figure out how this will work does not mean that it must fail. Again, the majority of people can believe whatever they want, but if they will not use force and a minority who think differently will, then the minority will win.

In his response to the question of “what protects your revolution from the next one?”, he presents a simple answer: we’ll kill anyone who would resist our system and attempt to reimpose a state. (Presumably, if the rhetoric of Cantwell is any guide, also any leftists or anyone else who disagrees with our values.)

A person who would resist anarcho-capitalism and attempt to reimpose a state would necessarily be user of aggressive violence because doing so would require one to initiate the use of force against people and their property. The use of defensive violence to stop an aggressor is always morally justifiable. Perhaps the answer is simple, but it is also a priori true.

It is not necessary to kill anyone who disagrees with anarcho-capitalism, but it is necessary to keep them from acting upon that disagreement within an anarcho-capitalist society. This may take the form of anarcho-capitalists being too powerful to aggress against, the use of force in self-defense, or physical removal from the society.

This sounds like it would quickly devolve into the chaos of the “anarcho-statists” of Spain to me.

This sounds like Underhill cannot comprehend the case being made.

At the very least, it depends on a perpetually violent populace dedicated to the principles in question… which means it is very likely to fall to another revolution based on other ideas that people have accepted.

Any civilization that wishes to maintain its form must have some group of people who are able and willing to use force to defend that form against threats. The artificial vacuum of state power maintained by a culture of resistance is actually least likely to fall to another revolution; as discussed above, it has advantages that other forms of security do not.

Similarly, he denies the Iron Law of Oligarchy in his call for a “truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership.”

This is not a denial of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Each small cell of revolutionaries will likely develop a natural leader who is better than others at organization, strategy, martial skills, or some other important attribute. The idea is for no such leader to be allowed command and control of anything beyond the small cell.

While I completely agree that a revolution headed by “a charismatic leader against the state … will yet again fail to solve the problem”, a decentralized resistance is inevitably going to ignore all those special caveats and contentions about “collateral damage” and the like that Reece has already noted would be necessary for his ideal to even work.

The caveats are not necessary for the ideal to work; they just make success easier and shorten the conflict. If a certain group does ignore good strategy and attack innocents needlessly, then they can be disavowed as fakes. This would not be a no true Scotsman fallacy because they would be fake libertarians by definition.

Moreover, it’s extremely unlikely to ever get started.

Perhaps, but its success is more likely than any non-violent method.

Finally, he claims that it will be “time” to start when “enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution … more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end.” It seems that this would require a lot of people. Almost as many people, one might think, as would be necessary to simply refuse to cooperate with the state and force it to its knees without violence.

This is where the fact that the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states is far from “absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.” A quick strike by 1 percent of the population could subdue another 1 percent of the population with nothing more than revolvers. More realistically, it would probably take between 2 and 5 percent of the population to forcibly end the state and form a culture of resistance. That number of people could certainly disrupt the state through civil disobedience, but this disruption will result in state violence against the disobedient, which brings us back to the choice of either defending oneself with violence or being victimized while giving the state a victory.

We all agree that “[t]he state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper.” Where the disagreement lies is in the idea that resistance without violent revolution constitutes a “position of weakness”.

When aggressors are willing to escalate the use of force beyond the level to which their intended victims are willing to escalate the use of force, the intended victims are in a position of weakness.

Rather, the state is dependent on the people it oppresses for resources, both via taxation and via the acceptance of state-backed money. Remove these two aspects of the state’s power, and it cannot stand. The power of the state is only derived by the people who support it. In the words of Étienne de la Boetie:

How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?

[…]

From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by 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.

This is not in dispute. What Underhill cannot seem to understand about this struggle is that the state will not magically disappear if the people it oppresses stop handing over resources. When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long. Even if he cannot get more arms to beat us with and feet to trample down our cities from us, he already has many. Even if we resolve to serve no more, this resolve means nothing if the masters are more able and willing to escalate the use of force than we are. Yes, we must resolve to serve no more, but we must also resolve to understand the struggle and do what is necessary to physically resist and defeat the enemy when it moves against us.

Errors in the Face of Revolt

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two will be argued against here, and the third will receive a separate response.

Reece begins his case by denouncing my use of the term “English Revolution” as “a Marxist historical revision”. Presumably, he’d be more accepting of the term “Civil War” as a reference to the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell. But this is mere semantics.

Semantics are important. To quote Confucius, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names. We will return to this point later.

Whether one calls it a “revolution” or not, it amounts to the same thing – a violent overthrow of an existing government by people demanding “liberty”. In this case, it was the removal of absolute monarchy based in the “divine right of kings”. This inherently fits the definition of a revolution according to Merriam-Webster: “the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed”. To say that the English Civil War was not a revolution is absurd.

Underhill uses Webster’s definition, while I use Oxford’s. Both are respected arbiters of the English language, so that much is a draw. If there is a difference, it is that a civil war generally lasts longer and necessarily involves fighting between regular military forces representing each side, while a revolution does not necessarily involve this. It is not wrong to call the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell a revolution, but it is not the most precise term and was not used before Marxist historical revisionism.

Reece continues by citing Austin Woolrych that “the changes in the ownership of real estate, and hence in the composition of the governing class, were nothing like as great as used to be thought” after the revolt that put Cromwell on the throne. I’m not sure what he is attempting to demonstrate here. This vague contention that things “weren’t so bad as used to be thought” does nothing to refute any of the specific claims in the original source.

I was attempting to demonstrate that property rights were not violated to the extent that Underhill claims, and therefore Underhill’s argument is weakened, if not refuted.

Further, he even admits that Cromwell was worse than Charles I, going on to claim that Charles II was less tyrannical. However, he leaves off that Charles II did not arrive at power by violent revolution, but was invited to return to the throne by the English Parliament which was dealing with a political crisis of succession brought on by Cromwell’s death.

A competent historian, much like a competent economist, does not think in a simple and linear fashion. As Hazlitt writes[1],

“[T]here is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”

Likewise, a historian must account for the long-run effects of an event. Hazlitt goes on to discuss the broken window fallacy as described by Frederic Bastiat, and an analogue about ignoring counter-factual possibilities in favor of historical determinism applies.

While it is likely that Charles II would have directly succeeded Charles I if the English Civil War had never happened, this is a counter-factual, so there is no way to be certain of this. As such, we must conclude that Charles II did arrive at power by violent revolution, even if in a roundabout and indirect manner.

He next proceeds to attack my characterization of the French Revolution, saying:

Underhill’s description of the French Revolution is quite incomplete, and this leads to inaccuracies such as treating the rise of Napoleon as part of the French Revolution when in fact, he had to engineer a coup against the French Revolution in order to take power. Underhill also neglects to mention Napoleon’s positive achievements, such as the Napoleonic Code, the first abolition of the Spanish Inquisition, promotion of equal rights under law, and hastening the end of feudalism.

Here, Reece seems entirely unaware of the history involved in the French Revolution other than his brief foray into Wikipedia. Even before Napoleon’s rise to power in the entirely bloodless Coup of 18 Brumaire, ending the French Revolution, the revolutionary Directory had engaged in a widespread European war (the War of the First Coalition) and started a second (the War of the Second Coalition) which Napoleon continued until 1802.

Just because one did not make reference to something does not mean that one is unaware of it. The coup was bloodless, but not peaceful. On 19 Brumaire, Napoleon stormed into the legislature with a group of grenadiers and drove the two Councils out by force. Then the plotters convened two commissions, each consisting of twenty-five deputies from the two Councils, which were intimidated into declaring a provisional government with Napoleon in charge. Jacobin deputies who resisted were exiled or arrested. There can be little doubt that blood would have been shed if the Council members had resisted to a greater extent.

The War of the First Coalition began in response to the Declaration of Pillnitz, a threat made by King Frederick William II of Prussia and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II against the revolutionaries if they should harm King Louis XVI or his family. It can therefore ultimately be viewed as a defensive war. No such case can be made for the War of the Second Coalition, but other European powers launched wars of aggression during this time period. Aggressive behavior by powerful nation-states occurred regardless of whether rulers were replaced by new rulers.

There’s a reason that the original article made no reference to Napoleon – Napoleon did not rise to power from violent revolution.

Underhill again commits the error of only looking at direct and immediate cause and effect. Even if one ignores the threatening display made by Napoleon on 19 Brumaire, to say that Napoleon did not rise to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.

Whatever his beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France, they have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself.

The idea that Napoleon’s beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself is laughable. Every event that happens after a given historical episode has some bearing on the result of that historical episode.

(Nor, particularly, are they not themselves debatable, but that is a topic for another article.)

Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here. A point should either be debated or left alone, not simply declared debatable and left hanging.

Reece then continues with the claim that the Whiskey Rebellion should have been a violent rebellion. He contends:

Had the rebels at their greatest extent marched against Washington’s forces, they stood a decent chance of defeating him in battle, which would have dealt a major blow to the power of the United States government, perhaps even a fatal one.

This is merely counter-factual assumption. No one knows what would have happened for sure, and I can just as easily contend that such a violent revolution would have – even if it defeated Washington’s army – only led to a more tyrannical American government than that created by the Constitutional Convention that led to the Alien and Sedition Acts not 10 years later. Such counter-factuals demonstrate nothing; we must analyze history as it is, not as we presume it could have been.

Counter-factuals for thee, but not for me? How hypocritical.

Continuing with the Whiskey Rebellion, our critic informs us that I have made a factual error; there were in fact some cases of tax collectors being tarred and feathered and a few deaths as a result of the Whiskey Rebellion. Certainly, this is the case. But it’s almost as if Reece does not understand the difference between isolated cases of violence and a violent revolution here.

A revolution is either peaceful or violent; the law of excluded middle forbids any other status. Once a revolution is violent, it is only a matter of degree.

The Boston Massacre involved colonists throwing things at British Redcoats, followed by them killing five men in retaliation, but it was not a revolution. Neither was, for instance, the protest on May 4, 1970 at Kent State that killed four students and wounded nine others when the National Guard fired into a crowd in order to disperse the anti-war protest.

That it is possible for violent non-revolutionary conflicts to occur was never in dispute, so Underhill commits a straw man fallacy.

Reece begins the logical case by arguing that my claim that revolution against a powerful state does not succeed is irrelevant. As he says, “[t]he idea that something which has yet to happen must be impossible is a logical fallacy.” Of course, I agree with him here; the fact that something has not happened yet doesn’t mean it cannot.

Ceding this point forfeits Underhill’s entire case, but let us continue anyway.

Which is why I consider it a good thing that I backed up this claim with reasons why such a revolution is unlikely to succeed. Among them:

A strong state has both a significant aura of legitimacy and the power to put down a rebellion via fear, propaganda, and military force. The destruction of these “terrorist” rebels is not viewed by the populace as an imposition by a tyrant in these cases, but as the legitimate use of state force to “keep them safe.”

Far from being “historical determinism”, the argument is based in logical reasoning about what a “strong state” constitutes in the first place.

If this is the definition of a “strong state,” then no such entity can exist unless “rebellion” is defined to be a sufficiently small resistance that the aforementioned state can put it down.

Our critic continues here claiming that this is a straw man anyway. According to him, “anarchists are not calling for revolution against a powerful state, but against weak states which only appear to be powerful.” He must have missed the part where the vast majority of the American populace, along with that of Europe, currently suffers many depredations and violations of their liberty,while demanding even more to keep them safe and solve their problems. The idea that the American state is currently “weak” while the majority of its people clamor for it to provide protection from terrorists and malcontents the world over is almost laughable.

They have done this because they do not perceive their survival to be in danger. Due to ruinous economic, monetary, immigration, and foreign policies, this is beginning to change, and will make the next few decades very interesting. The idea that the American state is weak is far from laughable when one considers that a state can have a powerful military but have serious economic problems, as the United States currently does. And as argued in the latter part of “Liberty Requires Revolution,” even a powerful military can be defeated by a small minority of determined revolutionaries.

Reece then turns to the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence as evidence that people rebel against strong states. He must be unaware of the fact that the British Empire was not very strong after the close of the French and Indian War, particularly in the American hemisphere, and did not regain its strength in the intervening years. In fact, many of the taxes and restrictions attempted to be levied against the colonies during that time were rooted in Britain attempting to regain its strength and wealth, and were often repealed within a few years because even the non-violent resistance of the colonies was enough to prevent useful enforcement of the laws in question. The British Parliament had little legitimacy in the American colonies, even among supporters of the King.

Underhill must be unaware that the Treaty of Paris (1763) marked the beginning of an era of British dominance outside Europe, as well as considerable cessions of territory by France to the British. Many of the taxes and restrictions attempted to be levied against the colonies during that time were rooted in Britain attempting to make the colonies pay what they believed to be a fair share of the expenses of defending the British Empire.

He then notes that famines preceded both the French and Russian Revolutions. While this is true, this was only one cause of unrest and only mattered because of the weakness of the French King and Russian Tsar, respectively, to start with.

King Louis XVI and Tsar Nicholas II were weak partly because of the famines, and it was this that made their oppressions no longer tolerable. While Louis XVI was a weak ruler, Nicholas II proved himself willing to put down rebels by force. Again, we have a counter-factual; there is no way to know what would have happened had rulers like King Louis XIV or Tsar Ivan IV been in charge.

Similarly, we can note that far worse famines and direct state genocide in the USSR, Cambodia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany and other states with significant amounts of legitimacy and power resulted in no significant violent revolution.

A famine is only one possible means by which conditions can become such that survival demands revolution; there are of course many others. Even then, just because survival demands revolution does not mean that a revolutionary effort will succeed.

And the American Revolution was decidedly not about survival – the taxes and restrictions were unsettling for colonists, surely, but they were no threat to immediate survival for the populace. Reece’s thesis that “[u]ntil conditions become such that survival demands revolution, most people are not in the proper mindset to overthrow a government” appears decidedly refuted by the basic historical facts.

Tell that to the colonists who were killed by British troops. Appearances can be deceiving, especially to those who ignore obvious evidence.

Our critic then continues claiming that when it comes to the Russian Revolution, I have “conflate[d] two revolutions into one.” Well, this is patently false. While the February Revolution (which was confined to Petrograd and lasted only a week) did bring the Mensheviks to power, it resulted in a weak state that was replaced within the year. Moreover, the February Revolution was, for the most part, non-violent; it succeeded as a result of mutiny by the soldiers that refused to fire into an unarmed crowd. Per the Wikipedia link that Reece cites, not a single government agent was a casualty in this revolution.

This response provides no evidence that the February Revolution and the October Revolution should be treated as one event.

He then notes that “[w]hile the original communist ideal is a stateless society, it is much different from the sort of anarcho-capitalist society that is the desire of those who truly seek liberty.” Surely this is the case, but like the communist goal, what is to stop the revolution from being “betrayed”?

What would keep an anarcho-capitalist revolution from being betrayed is the same thing that would keep any other kind of revolution from being betrayed: the use of force by the participants to thwart attempts at co-option and resist centralization of the movement. It is as though Underhill did not read the entirety of “Liberty Requires Revolution.”

In my original article, I have an aside referencing Cantwell’s support for Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. This is primarily rooted not in a strict adherence to the principles of anarcho-capitalism, but in (an enlarged and near hyperbolic version of) traditional conservative animosity towards leftists. What’s to stop this from happening with this revolution? Particularly because it is people like Cantwell advocating such action?

Properly understood, anarcho-capitalism is a right-wing ideology, so traditional conservative animosity towards leftists is understandable and not something to be stopped.

Reece continues on to cite a quote from Engels to demonstrate that “although Karl Marx and Lenin did speak of violence, the elimination of the state in communist ideology was not universally understood as a violent transition”. Nevertheless, this demonstration does not change the argument. (Rather, it seems like a typical Marxist statement that “that wasn’t true communism”.)

This demonstration was not supposed to change the argument; it was supposed to present a more complete picture of the events being discussed.

Certainly, it cannot be denied that the apparent original intent of the Marxist-Leninist October Revolution in Russia in 1917 was not to replace the state with the tyrannical USSR, but to abolish the state apparatus. Instead, it resulted in authoritarian “war communism” followed by the ever more powerful USSR until Stalin took its reins in 1922 and consolidated his power after Lenin died in 1924.

At best, one can argue that one should never expect liberty from communist revolution. With this much, I agree, but even this much is not proven by the single example of the Russian Revolution.

Reece wraps up his more logical critique with a claim that there are violent revolutions that did not increase the power of the state. He cites the Irish War for Independence, apparently unaware of the ensuing Irish Civil War over the concluding treaty or the “Offences Against the State Acts”, which are about as draconian a way to prevent terrorism and dissension as one can get.

Underhill is apparently unaware that mentioning a single piece of legislation after a revolution is insufficient to analyze the overall degree of state power before a revolution versus after a revolution. The result of Ireland’s separation from the United Kingdom thus far has been positive; as of 2015, Ireland outranks the UK in the Human Development Index, Press Freedom Index, and Freedom in the World Index. Ireland is also less involved in foreign wars than the UK, having followed a policy of neutrality since 1937.

He also cites the Romanian Revolution in 1989, which was itself more “riot” than “revolution” in terms of its violence, but also resulted in the least effective transition away from Communist rule (having the June 1990 Mineriad not a year later, with the violent suppression of protests against the new ruling party).

After denouncing disputes over semantics, Underhill engages in one. Again, we must consider the long-term results. While the June 1990 Mineriad was oppressive and the initial transition away from communism was slower than in other former communist countries, the Human Development Index, Press Freedom Index, and Freedom in the World Index in Romania have caught up to most of the others and surpassed several of them.

Compared to the power remaining with USSR satellite states in 1989, the Romanian state that replaced Ceaușescu was quite powerful. Ceaușescu is, after all, a man whose entire military mutinied after his last speech before he attempted to flee the country. To believe that this satellite state of the USSR required violent revolution to overturn in 1989, as non-violent revolutions succeeded in every other such satellite state, seems contrary to the facts.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that Romania required a violent revolution; only that it benefited from one.

Lastly, Reece declares that “[t]he case that historical revolutions result in growth of the state is further weakened by the fact that the state has generally grown regardless of whether revolutions occur.” While this is, of course, true, it has no real bearing on the argument at hand. The state could easily grow from revolution and from other factors in the absence of revolution, and in fact does. This doesn’t change the fact that violently rebelling generally results in a more powerful state, and certainly cannot be expected to achieve a free society.

Logically, it remains the case that revolution is at the very best an extremely poor way to achieve liberty, and at worst will only further the existence and power of the state.

Actually, it has a great deal of bearing on the argument at hand. A competent historian must always ask, “Compared to what? What is the alternative?” The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. The state has generally grown over time regardless of which of the three options were in use. The critic of violent revolution must account for this, but Underhill fails to show that violent revolution is a worse method than the alternatives, committing a multitude of errors along the way.

References:

  1. Hazlitt, Henry (1946). Economics in One Lesson. p. 3-4

The Reecean Proviso

The institution of private property is fundamental to economics and indeed, to civilization itself, as we know it. Classical liberal and libertarian theorists have constructed rational arguments to describe and defend the nature of private property, and an overview of these arguments will follow. After this, the Reecean proviso to private property rights will be introduced, elaborated upon, and defended from likely objections.

We begin with Thomas Hobbes, who writes[1],

“Therefore, whatever results from a time of war, when every man is enemy to every man, also results from a time when men live with no other security but what their own strength and ingenuity provides them with. In such conditions…the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

[…]

A further fact about the state of war of every man against every man: in it there is no such thing as ownership, no legal control, no distinction between mine and thine. Rather, anything that a man can get is his for as long as he can keep it.

In other words, one effectively owns whatever one can take and defend, no more and no less. Hobbes theorized that people needed to enter into a social contract and live under a nearly absolute monarch in order to escape this condition. He believed that private property rights would return us to the state of nature if not for the ability of the state to take and use any and all individual property for the collective good.

The fundamental error of Hobbes is that the state of nature he describes is inescapable. Regardless of which theories of just property ownership are developed and put into practice, what one effectively owns is still whatever one can take and defend. The state simply transforms the war of all against all into a war of some against others, and is the result of one person or group managing to dominate the war. The extent to which life is not “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” is possible not because of the state, but because of the private property that Hobbes condemns. His social contract theory is also faulty; a contract is invalid unless all parties voluntarily agree to its terms. The state will initiate the use of force against people who do not wish to enter into the social contract, meaning that any such consent must be under duress and therefore invalid.

The intellectual foundation for a libertarian theory of property rights begins with John Locke. Locke writes[2],

“Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person; this no body has any right to but himself. The labor of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labor something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men. For this labor being the unquestionable property of the laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others.”

The idea that “every man has a property in his own person; this no body has any right to but himself” is called self-ownership, and its validity was proven by Murray Rothbard in a straight-forward manner[3]:

“Now, any person participating in any sort of discussion, including one on values, is, by virtue of so participating, alive and affirming life. For if he were really opposed to life, he would have no business continuing to be alive. Hence, the supposed opponent of life is really affirming it in the very process of discussion, and hence the preservation and furtherance of one’s life takes on the stature of an incontestable axiom.”

What Rothbard points out is a performative contradiction contained in all arguments against self-ownership, and the presence of one of these within an argument falsifies the argument. By the law of excluded middle, if all arguments against an idea must be false, then the idea must be true.

The last part of the above quote from Locke, that people may establish private property unless doing so causes there not to be “enough and as good left in common for others,” was termed the Lockean proviso by Robert Nozick[4]. Interestingly, Locke moves on to the next section of his work without even bothering to explain why such a limit should be in place. The Lockean proviso does not withstand scrutiny; as Tibor Machan explains[5],

“[S]ome have argued that in terms of it the right to private property can have various exceptions and it may not even be unjust to redistribute wealth that is privately owned. I argue that this cannot be right because it would imply that one’s right to life could also have various exceptions, so anyone’s life (and labor) could be subject to conscription if some would need it badly enough. Since this could amount to enslavement and involuntary servitude, it would be morally and legally unacceptable.”

The Reecean Proviso

It is possible, however, to construct another proviso from first principles that limits absolute private property rights to a far lesser extent. To my knowledge, this has not been done elsewhere, so I will call this the Reecean proviso. We begin with self-ownership, that each sentient being has property in one’s own physical body through exclusive direct control over it. This direct appropriation necessarily precedes any indirect appropriation, as the only way that one can create private property through labor upon unowned natural resources is by directly controlling one’s physical body in order to control such resources indirectly. Thus, private property rights over external objects are dependent upon the property right over one’s physical body. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent. Therefore, self-ownership stands above private property rights in external objects.

Next, let us note that all sentient beings are equal in their self-ownership, in that all sentient beings have property in their own physical bodies through exclusive direct control over them. Although the nature of their bodies (and minds) may result in different beings appropriating different quantities of external resources and in different beings having more or less capability to defend those resources from challengers in practice, the theoretical strength of a particular property right over an external object by one sentient being is equivalent to the strength of another particular property right over another external object by another sentient being. Applying this standard to the fact that self-ownership stands above private property in external objects, we get the result that the self-ownership of one sentient being stands above the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being. This is the Reecean proviso.

At first, this result may appear to be sufficiently broad as to collapse the whole idea of private property into a Hobbesian nightmare, or at least a socialist dystopia. But in order for this result to apply, the self-ownership of one sentient being must be in conflict with the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being. The possible scope of such a conflict is quite narrow, as it requires a person’s life to be in jeopardy with no other possibility for survival but to use another person’s private property. But even this is not narrow enough, as restricting the scope no further would allow for several absurdities. Let us see just how narrow this scope is.

First, the person’s life must be in jeopardy due to the aggressions of another person and not due to the person’s own action or inaction. Otherwise, a person could make a series of poor choices so as to engineer a situation in which the person is reduced to a stark choice between using another person’s private property or dying and then take advantage of this situation to take private property from another person by underhanded means. Because one inherently consents to what one does to oneself, one cannot commit acts of aggression against oneself. Thus, the threat to one’s life that would allow the Reecean proviso to be used cannot be of one’s own making. Second, the person must not knowingly endanger the life of the property owner. If this were to occur, then we would no longer be weighing one person’s self-ownership against another person’s private property rights in external objects, but one person’s self-ownership against another person’s self-ownership. In such a case, the property owner gets to decide whether to use force to defend against the newcomer’s aggression. Third, the person must not appropriate any more privately owned resources than are required for survival in the moment. Going above and beyond the bare minimum is an act of theft, as it is not required for survival in the moment. Even taking some extra “for the road” is not allowed, as it cannot be proven that doing so will be the only possible method for survival. Fourth, a person may only travel through territory in which the person is unwelcome if survival requires that one do so. Doing so when there is another path available, or when survival is not in jeopardy, constitutes trespassing. Fifth, a person who is traveling through territory in which the person is unwelcome must traverse the territory as quickly as possible. Taking more time than is reasonably required constitutes loitering and trespassing. Sixth, a person who deprives a property owner of value in order to survive must make restitution for that value if and when this becomes possible. To take and keep the value when one could make restitution constitutes theft.

Objections

With the Reecean proviso properly limited, let us address some likely objections. The first is that using this proviso may appear to be an act of aggression. The non-aggression principle is not an axiom, but a logical corollary of self-ownership. If each person owns one’s physical body, and all instances of self-ownership have equal theoretical strength, then it is wrong to exercise one’s self-ownership to interfere with another sentient being’s self-ownership. As such, it makes more sense to call this the non-aggression theorem. The Reecean proviso does not permit interference with anyone’s self-ownership; only with another corollary thereof, that of private property rights in external objects.

The second likely objection comes from Walter Block’s theory of negative homesteading. This comes into play when discussing the problem of innocent shields, and leads to the conclusion that an innocent shield may be harmed in the course of subduing an aggressor if there is no way to subdue the aggressor without harming the innocent shield. But the innocent shield problem, as well as the lightning transfer problem that Block discusses, weighs one self-ownership against another, not self-ownership versus private property rights in external objects. As such, this objection is also of no help to the critic of the Reecean proviso.

Third, one may, in spite of the above limitations, try to equate the Reecean proviso with a form of socialism or forced redistribution. But if there is to be forced redistribution, then there must be someone who will do the forcing. Such a person would be acting as the jeopardized person’s agent, and would therefore be subject to the same restrictions on conduct that apply to the jeopardized person. The result of applying these restrictions is that all the property owner need do is to defend the property in such a way that it cannot be taken without threatening the property owner’s life. It must also be noted that if one is able to get someone to forcibly redistribute wealth to keep one alive, then one will have other, less aggressive options available, such as arranging survival aid and evacuation from the desperate scenario to be carried out by the person who would act to forcibly redistribute wealth.

Fourth, one may object that it will be difficult to determine when the Reecean proviso applies versus when a desperate person has committed aggression by taking more than what is required. For the proviso to apply in a dispute resolution arbitration, it must be true and provable that a desperate person abided by the proviso. Proving that one did not bring the situation upon oneself, endanger the property owner, take more resources than needed, go onto private lands without cause, stay on such lands longer than necessary, or fail to make required restitution will be all but impossible. This is a fair point. With the preceding point in mind, the most plausible objection to the Reecean proviso is that it is so limited in scope that it may become a triviality, being in the libertarian philosophical tradition but never finding a practical use. We can only hope that this is true; that no non-aggressive person should ever be forced into a situation where the only available options are to commandeer a small amount of another person’s resources or to perish of hunger, thirst, and exposure.

Example

Finally, let us consider an example. A classic problem in libertarian theory is the issue of encirclement. Nozick writes[6],

“The possibility of surrounding an individual person presents a difficulty for a libertarian theory that contemplates private ownership of all roads and streets, with no public ways of access. A person might trap another by purchasing the land around him, leaving no way to leave without trespass. It won’t do to say that an individual shouldn’t go to or be in a place without having acquired from adjacent owners the right to pass through and exit. Even if we leave aside questions about the desirability of a system that allows someone who has neglected to purchase exit rights to be trapped in a single place, though he has done no punishable wrong, by a malicious and wealthy enemy (perhaps the president of the corporation that owns all of the local regular thoroughfares), there remains the question of ‘exit to where?’ Whatever provisions he has made, anyone can be surrounded by enemies who cast their nets widely enough.”

Rothbard responds[7],

“One example of Nozick’s sanctioning aggression against property rights is his concern with the private landowner who is surrounded by enemy landholders who won’t let him leave. To the libertarian reply that any rational landowner would have first purchased access rights from surrounding owners, Nozick brings up the problem of being surrounded by such a set of numerous enemies that he still would not be able to go anywhere. But the point is that this is not simply a problem of landownership. Not only in the free society, but even now, suppose that one man is so hated by the whole world that no one will trade with him or allow him on their property. Well, then, the only reply is that this is his own proper assumption of risk. Any attempt to break that voluntary boycott by physical coercion is illegitimate aggression against the boycotters’ rights. This fellow had better find some friends, or at least purchase allies, as quickly as possible.”

The Reecean proviso amends Rothbard’s response to say that the encirclers may not keep the encircled in a situation where survival is impossible. If the encircled can survive where they are, then they must either stay put or devise a method for flying over or burrowing under the private property in which they are unwelcome. But if survival is impossible, then the Reecean proviso says that their self-ownership trumps private property rights in external objects. This allows them to leave the place where survival is impossible. But does it allow them to return? Not through the encirclement, because returning to the position where survival is impossible constitutes both an engineering of the situation and traveling through territory where one is unwelcome without having to do so. The encircled, if they choose to leave, can only return if the encirclement ceases or they find a way to access the encircled area without infringing upon property rights.

References:

  1. Hobbes, Thomas (1651). Leviathan. p. 58-59
  2. Locke, John (1689). Second Treatise of Government. p. 11
  3. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 32
  4. Nozick, Robert (1971). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. p. 175-76
  5. Self-ownership and non-culpable proviso violations Politics, Philosophy & Economics February 1, 2015 14: p. 67-83
  6. Nozick, Robert (1971). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. p. 55
  7. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 240