The Case for Autostatism

Author’s note: The reader can find everything else I have written about the concept of autostatism here.


Libertarians have always had ambitions that are both universalist and purist. Most libertarians are willing to admit that their vision will not be realizable in their own lifetimes and rather hope that future generations are wiser than they themselves have been. These libertarians take an approach that could only be considered rational when one takes into account the very nature of libertarianism. The search for liberty means always fighting against tremendous odds, as many people care more about increasing their personal power than about liberty. Power is a great direct gain, while liberty is a diffused social gain. This insight, combined with the logic of public choice, tells us that when people seek power, they are more likely to attain it than those who want to destroy power are to destroy it. These people seek power for themselves by being parasites on others, which is generally incompatible with achieving liberty.

The achievement of a libertarian social order requires collective motivation on a scale that is only present when the state has become so oppressive as to be intolerable. The state has adapted to this and tries very hard to avoid any loss of power by being as tolerable as possible and making its operations as covert as possible while openly integrating themselves into the lives of everyone. This helps the state remain an unambiguous sovereign and appear to be a fundamental condition of life from which it is hard to deviate psychologically and intellectually. The modern state makes itself into a leviathan not by lording over people, but rather by integrating itself into the population. This process is neither peaceful nor painless; the methods by which the state integrates itself into a society must be fundamentally based on indoctrination and coercion. But once sufficiently advanced, the state becomes a fact of life that is almost incontestable by any rational person, and support for the abolition of the state will be extremely sparse. Thus it is possible to say that up to a point, the more oppressive a state is, the more it can be expected to have popular support.

Collective Separation

The main premise from which the strategy of autostatism is derived from is that separating ourselves into multiple autonomous governments or stateless localities is a necessary precondition for abolishing the central state. In modern democracies, all sides of all conflicts are under immense pressure and are thus very hostile towards everyone with whom they are in conflict. Since all issues are to be decided by all people in a democracy, the people who have their lives questioned will be the people who resist those who challenge their ability to live their own lives as they please. Note that in a healthy social order, the challengers themselves would be the imperiled group. From this comes a desire to separate from the hostile factors that are directly antagonistic to the individual’s lifestyle and property. There is no reconciliation or common ground within the framework of democracy because democracy intentionally creates unresolvable antagonisms. The common decision-making process is irreconcilable with personal liberty. Having the masses govern the masses thus becomes a self-reinforcing structure of creeping totalitarianism.

This does not necessarily mean that the correct answer to the problems of democracy is statist fascism or monarchism, as the conflicts are still present but heavily suppressed, although a case could still be made for these kinds of states. Even though autocracy has a better incentive structure than democracy in most cases, the state is not the answer to all problems within democracy. Neither is a lack of state; when libertarians think that full rights in property will properly resolve all conflicts, they assume that all people desire to have full rights in their own property. The problem is then a conflict of whether or not there should be complete property rights or whether property rights ought to be limited for the sake of the common good. This is the question of whether property creates society or vice versa.

The answer to this fundamental conflict is the autostate. This is the practical, but largely forgotten notion of governance based on actual consent. The word “autostate” means a government by the self. It can also be explained as a state formed from autonomy. The fundamental difference between a state and an autostate is that the foundational principle of the autostate is that the system of governance ought to require the consent of everyone who is governed. If no such consent is acquired, the government must be invalid and must fall into internal conflict. The notions of tacit or implicit consent that play a prominent role in social contract theory only serve to elevate the conflict inherent in any system of compulsion and suppression.

Since an autostate has the unanimous consent of everyone governed by it, it functions as any other entity on the market. However, instead of a consumer good or a conventional service, the autostate provides governance, which is to say a legal framework and a means of enforcement. Many libertarians are caught up in a fantasy in which all governance is evil. Most people do not agree with that assessment and want to put together a semblance of a social and political order so they can realize their vision for what virtue and political organization should be.

Powerless Politics

The fundamental tenet of autostatism is that the government ought to be completely powerless and can only enact those edicts which people find to be tolerable or benevolent. If this is no longer the case, the autostate could be overthrown without any risk or violence. It is necessary to distinguish between a government and a state. A government is the manager of a land area while a state holds a monopoly of compulsion and coercion. Thus, the autostate is a government, but not a conventional state. The autostate fundamentally requires consent, and consent can be revoked when the autostate stops diligently fulfilling the duties that it has taken upon itself. The autostate can be fascist, socialist, or anarchist in nature and it does not need to have any formal structure at all. What matters is that this structure or lack thereof is first agreed upon. Many anarchists and libertarians see this as conflicting with spontaneous order, but the natural condition of society is deliberate action building upon spontaneous order. It does no good to assume that one system or another is objectively part of human existence.

Furthermore, the prevailing law system in any area is more powerful and consistent if all people within that area follow the same system. This does not mean that autostates need to be dependent on physical area, but autostates are composed of the individuals who subscribe to the legal structure of the autostate. The autostate is simply the reduction of governance to a market entity and the elimination of coercion within governance. However, the autostate can retain the political and personal values that people want to have enacted. The autostatist order can thus be acceptable to everyone who is not wholly influenced by their desire for power or domination. Autostatism can let everyone accomplish their utopian political structure unless it involves the direct subjugation of others. It allows for people to have their own ideals realized in a manner that does not impose costs on those who do not share these ideals.

In essence, autostatism calls for an abolition of competitive politics for the implementation of cooperative politics. Politics should not be a matter of majority consensus but rather the implementation of mutually agreed upon social goals. The politics right now are imposed upon an unwilling population; the politics of autostatism are collaborative and voluntaristic. This can be called either an abolition of politics or a revolution within the nature of politics. Politics should not imply coercive governance, but cooperation for the achievement of mutual goals. It may be true that these mutual goals are reprehensible to others, or that some people will not want to participate in seeking these goals, but the goals themselves are not a threat within the autostatist order because they are strictly confined within consensual relations. These consensual relations mimic governance in the traditional sense, yet they require no authority insofar as that authority is derived from force and compulsion. The autostate as a concept itself allows for a reconciliation between anarchists, libertarians, socialists, conservatives, and every other group that is able to be so intellectually honest as to admit that they are better off when they have their own ideal structures implemented.

Stateless Governance

Stateless governance may seem like an ultimate nonsensical contradiction. When there is no state, the government supposedly lacks the power to do what it needs to do. And within libertarian circles, the government is seen as an inherently coercive and violent entity. Thus, stateless governance seems impossible. But we must realize that without a state, the government is nothing other than a manager of a certain society or community. If a government is a voluntarily funded managerial entity which only ensures that the social order is kept functional, there is nothing inherently unethical about that government. A critique of the state cannot be a critique of governance, as the governance is derivative of the state only in modern society.

The distinctly libertarian view that all governance and control over an individual are inherently evil, and we should all be free and not tied to any obligation, is naive and unrealizable. Most people do not want to fully determine the path of their lives and do not want others to do so either. People have values that go beyond individual liberty and they want to exercise those values. The reality is that most people want society and themselves to be controlled, appealing to liberty as an ultimate end is only convincing when appealing to people who would inevitably become libertarians themselves if given enough time to reflect on their beliefs. We must acknowledge that government is not something that is inherently evil, but rather a tool that can be used for the accomplishment of certain goals. However, when the government is tied to a state, it will be fundamentally exploitative, as the incentive structures allow for such exploitation and cater to those who would engage in such behavior. The problem is statism and not governance.

Fourth-Wave Libertarianism

Libertarianism is currently in a serious identity crisis. To explain this, let us begin by sorting the development of libertarianism into four different periods. The first period was the classical liberal era, in which the primary conflict was between the liberals and the mercantilist-feudalist tendencies within the social order. Between the high point of the first period and the high point of the second period, there were the Anglophone anarchists. People such as Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker developed a theory of natural law and individualist anarchism which would later be adopted in part by Rothbard. Although integral for the development of the third wave in libertarianism, they were not influences on the later or earlier thinkers. The second period was the most desperate period, in which Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek, and Ayn Rand were the most active and the period in which the groundwork was laid for the modern libertarian movement. This was the active defense against communism and socialism as they were becoming the dominant forces in the world. This was followed with the wave of libertarianism that had Rothbard at the forefront. This was a drastic attack against the state itself that went beyond the anti-socialism of the previous wave. The third wave accumulated thinkers such as Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Walter Block, and reached a somber crescendo with the campaigns of Ron Paul. The neoliberal movement was also created at this time, although this movement does not follow the particular development of libertarianism and as such is excluded.

Each of these waves has a distinct attitude, and all of them shared the consistent strategy of trying to reach libertarianism by being the most reasonable and intellectual people. But this only works when libertarians are attacking something dangerous and imminent; the success was not due to rationality, but due to how threatening the opposition was. However, there is an emergent fourth wave, and although Hoppe falls solidly in the third wave of thinkers, he is either the eminent inspiration or the primary intra-movement antagonist for most of the fourth wave. These fourth-wave thinkers do not stick to political or economic issues, but rather involve social issues at the core of libertarianism and do not allow for libertarianism to be nihilistic without properly defined morality and values. The classical liberalism of the previous waves is also under scrutiny, with some calling for a more positive outlook on reactionary thought.

Since libertarians are split into the left, right, and neither camps when it comes to social and cultural values, the fourth wave is in a disorganized and dysfunctional crisis. If we wish to preserve the libertarian tradition, we need thinkers who can unite the libertarians who want to preserve the social orders that they value alongside the purist notion of liberty. Fourth-wave libertarianism must make a drastic change and must use different tactics than the last three waves. Libertarians have always been best when they face significant issues and behemoths that seem to be immortal, and there is no larger challenge today than forced integration and coercive democracy. Autostatism offers an answer to these issues that neither the status quo nor more conventionally purist libertarians can.

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  • John Taylor

    I admire your elegant arguments and your writing style as well. I fear, though, that your logic falls on tone-deaf ears. I have abandoned libertarianism for two reasons (which appear to be unrelated). First, I have come to believe that “the mass of men” are not stirred by libertarian positions. Take, for instance, Daylight Savings Time. A libertarian would argue that DST is an unnecessary government edict having no justification whatsoever and we the people should insist on abolishing it. I have argued this for years )to a sympathetic audience) to no avail. If we cannot bond on such a simple issue, what chance do we have of tackling a more complicated one?

    Secondly, recent events have called into question the issue of freedom of movement as it relates to unchecked immigration and national borders. Here, where the rubber actually meets the road, we have an issue where the “proper” libertarian position appears to be essentially suicidal as regards the seeking of liberty for all.

    Sorry to be so long-winded. I am struggling mightily to find my footing.

    • geoih

      I would suggest that most people consider your daylight savings time arguments a tempest in a teapot. Time zones and a 24 hour day are completely arbitrary. The sun rises and falls when it will, no matter what gauge humans put on it. Regular people have bigger things to get excited about.
      As for immigration, the “proper” libertarian argument ignores the realities of the welfare state and the politics of how the State manipulates immigration to advance the short-term self-interests of politicians and bureaucrats inside the State. Immigration today is an orchestrated state program, and like any state program, well disserving of the contempt of libertarians.

      • John Taylor

        The point of my example was that if such an obviously meaningless government infringement was not worthy of effort, then there’s no surprise that more meaningful others are not as well. And the immigration issue is addressed enthusiastically by the “alt-right” and the libertarian position is indeed ignorant. And thus again to my point.