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.