A Libertarian Social Order In The Garden

Since the dawn of civilization, humans have engaged in agriculture. For millennia, gardens have been a source of nourishment, recreation, and social status. As such, many metaphors have been developed which refer to agricultural concepts to make a point about another subject. Examples can be found in both religious and secular texts from every culture. Therefore, it is only fitting that such a metaphor be made for libertarian philosophy in practice. Let us see how a garden can serve as a metaphor for a libertarian social order, as well as what insights this metaphor can provide for the creation and maintenance of such an order.

The Garden Kingdom

A garden is created and maintained by a gardener. The gardener rules the garden as an absolute monarch rules his kingdom, as there is no power within its bounds to challenge the gardener’s authority. The legitimacy of his rule is established like that of any private property owner; he mixes his labor with unowned natural resources to gain ownership of the improvements made. Ownership of the improvements is impossible without ownership of the things improved, so the gardener’s labor entitles him to the land of the garden and everything growing in it. He uses his sole dominion as he sees fit, determining which crops to plant where, which plants may remain where they are, which must be relocated, and which must be removed. He chooses which insects or other animals to allow to remain, which to import, and which to remove. All plants (and other lifeforms) that remain within the garden do so at the pleasure of the gardener, and they serve his needs and wants in exchange for his merciful provision and protection.

A kingdom is not worth much without its productive citizenry, upon whose production the king relies for sustenance. For the gardener, this role is fulfilled by fruit and vegetable plants, as well as pollinating insects. The gardener sows their seeds in the correct season and provides them with good soil so that they may be successful. This is necessary because unlike humans, the crops cannot optimally manage their own affairs and stand in need of a central planner. If the rain should be insufficient, the gardener irrigates the crops. If the plants need fertilizer, the gardener gives them some. If the plants are attacked, the gardener defends them. If the plants produce too much foliage and not enough crops, the gardener prunes them. If the plants drop seeds in an improper place, the gardener cleans up after them. If the plants cross-pollinate against the gardener’s wishes, he separates them further. In time, the plants will feed the gardener in exchange for his good stewardship of them.

Unproductive Citizens, Immigrants, and Threats

But sometimes, the citizenry are not productive. In some cases, this is because their particular environments are not conducive to their well-being. Some plants fare poorly in one part of the garden but would do well in another. But unlike human citizens in a kingdom, the plants cannot move themselves; the gardener must dig them out and move them. And as the gardener has legitimate powers of eminent domain as well as subjects without any human rights, there is nothing wrong with moving them. Other plants may not produce in the garden’s climate, no matter their location within it. If this happens, the gardener may choose not to replant them and instead buy seeds for new crops, just as a king might allow in immigrant workers to perform necessary tasks which no current citizens can perform. Should the new crops prove successful, the gardener may naturalize these new crops as permanent residents of the garden. If not, then the gardener will keep looking for a different crop to fill the void.

In other cases, the citizenry are not productive because they are under attack. Just as in human life, there are many threats to the safety of a fruit or vegetable plant. A kingdom will contain a criminal element which preys upon the productive citizenry. If a king has a duty, it is to safeguard the citizens from attack. The domestic criminals and parasites of the garden consist of weeds and some animals. Weeds deprive the crops of the nutrients that they need in order to thrive. Left unchecked, they can crowd out the crops, depriving them of sunlight. Some will even wrap around crop plants and strangle them. Rodents and other wild animals will eat the crops and sometimes even the entire crop plants, depriving the gardener of his just rewards.

A kingdom must also be guarded from external foes, as foreign invaders and terrorists can be just as devastating as the domestic criminal element should they be allowed to immigrate into the garden. Harmful insects play this part in the garden. They typically live somewhere outside the garden, but enter to prey upon the crops. They damage fruits and vegetables, destroy leaves, and even chew through stems to destroy entire plants. Left unchecked, they can reduce a gardener’s harvest to zero and leave behind eggs which will hatch new insects to do the same to a future year’s crop.

Defending The Realm

These aggressors are not amenable to any sort of reasoning. One does not ask a weed not to grow or a beetle not to eat, as it is against their inherent nature. The only way to deal with such a criminal element is through physical removal, and escalating to a full extermination is frequently necessary. Fortunately, the gardener has many tools at his disposal to deal with such problems, just as a king has guards, sheriffs, and armies. Weeds may be pulled, hoed, tilled, or sprayed with herbicides. Rodents can be handled with traps or by their natural predators, such as cats and snakes. Larger animals that attack the crops, such as deer, can be shot to feed the gardener as well as eliminate a threat to the garden. Insects can be thwarted by natural predators, traps, or a wide variety of insecticides.

Where are such plants and animals to go, if they may not stay in the garden? It is not the gardener’s concern. They are threats to his property, the fruits of his labor, and perhaps even his livelihood and survival. He is justified in using any means necessary to eliminate the threat and defend his property.

In the worst cases, insects may damage a plant beyond repair while marking it with chemicals that signal more insects to come. When this happens, the gardener must make a sacrifice for the greater good and remove that plant from the garden. Allowing that plant to remain and bring pestilence to the healthy plants of the garden will only cause further damage.

Collateral Damage

Like any tools, those that the gardener uses to defend the garden can be used in such a way that causes collateral damage. An errant blow from a hoe can destroy a crop plant, as can a gust of wind that blows herbicide where it should not go. Insecticides can kill bees as well as harmful insects. Fortunately, such mishaps only negatively affect the gardener’s harvest, and do little other noticeable damage. Although crop lives and bee lives matter to a competent gardener, no gardener has to worry about being retaliated against by the crops or bees in any meaningful way should he accidentally slaughter a few. This is partly because of the nature of non-sentient lifeforms, and partly because a gardener has none of the concerns about popular support that a democratic ruler has.


A garden is not a perfect metaphor for a libertarian social order, as none of the residents of the garden are sentient beings on par with the gardener. But this metaphor does illustrate the creation and maintenance of a libertarian social order according to individual preferences in a simplistic case of black and white morality. This example can be expanded and filled in with nuances as needed to extend it to tenants in a covenant community, which are the building blocks of a flourishing libertarian society.

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