On Citizenship And Casual Totalitarianism

This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

There are many statists who actively fight against totalitarianism. This may not seem inherently contradictory, but the key to understanding totalitarian ideology is completely ignored by them. The very machinations of the state require totalitarian control over the population. To say that there can be a state without totalitarianism is a contradiction. Totalitarianism originates largely from early fascist theory but has similarly been associated with authoritarian communism. This seems simple enough; a state that attempts to control all parts of society is totalitarian, while a state that does not is just liberal or conservative. Therefore, there is a distinction between a good justifiable state and an evil unjustifiable state. People can make more distinctions based on economic and political systems, but the vast majority agree that totalitarianism is ultimately what determines whether or not a state is ethical. Very few people act as if the Third Reich was a valid exercise in statecraft, and only a few more similarly defend the actions of the Soviet Union. There are also other such regimes, various authoritarian socialist experiments, and lower profile fascist states.

Control Through Law

It is physically impossible for a state to control the lives of everyone. This problem is solved by having the state legislate and regulate, then allowing the enforcers of these laws and regulations to have special privileges, so as to give the state the ability to convict any person the state wants to convict and punish in any way the state deems appropriate. In this manner, one may create a totalitarian state. For obvious reasons, these sorts of states have no regard for human rights or basic decency. Rather, they are directly opposed to the civilized nature of man. Although most people understand this, they do not understand that any state is inherently totalitarian. There are historical exceptions to this, but they are very few and far between and have long since disappeared. Because this is the case, we cannot act as if the historical possibility of a non-totalitarian state is a valid argument. Even if a state can be free of or largely lack totalitarianism for a limited time, this can never last.

Citizenship and Personhood

At the heart of the issue is the very thing that defines the state for all individuals: the aspect of citizenship. Every person under a state is the citizen of that state, which means that they have a relationship with the state in which the state is in a privileged position of control over the citizen. The relationship is even more integrated as without the state, no one can be a citizen. Due to the form of citizenship practiced in modern states, the ability to delegate citizenship gives the state the power to delegate legal personhood. In this system, a non-citizen is as good as a non-person, as they are without the legal protections that other people enjoy.

Because the actions of the citizens affect the relationship of the state with other states and the rest of the citizenry, the state has an interest in subjugating the people under it. This is because the people who live under a state are by necessity people whom the state must control and is expected to control by the rulers of other states and the citizens of that selfsame state. If the state does not control its people, then the state will lose perceived legitimacy as it fails to curtail adverse social effects that result from individual actors who act contrary to a state’s domestic and foreign policies.

From this, any actions taken in a statist system must not only require the consent of all parties involved, but also the consent of the state. The state effectively becomes a secular god, in that it can arbitrarily decide who is or is not legally a person and how people must or must not act. This must be the case with any state, no matter its size, scope, form, or ideological position. The state must hold a monopoly on law in a certain region, as failing to do so would both run afoul of the definition of a state and allow agents of the state to be held accountable for the crimes they commit under color of law. In order to do this, the state needs to make the people within its claimed territory into its citizens. The modern statist system relies upon citizenship, and the states within it would have no justification without such subjects.

Casual Totalitarianism

By this reasoning, there can be no state without totalitarianism. However, this is not the form of totalitarianism that was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. This is a casual totalitarianism, which is far more insidious than any explicit totalitarianism. In this totalitarianism, the state allows people to sell their labor to a crony capitalist who has swindled for himself special privileges from the state in what is called rent-seeking behavior. Thus, the worker has to either accept terms that no person would rationally accept if given a real choice or work in the black market. This is seemingly voluntary, and most people can get hired to work somewhere, so there can supposedly be no complaining. However, if a person actually tries to do the job that one wants to do as one wants to do it, one runs into mountains of regulations and legislation that an entire team of lawyers must review for compliance. They are also faced with licensing requirements and other privileges that the state keeps for itself and only distributes as the ruling class sees fit. Due to the involvement of the state, we cannot say that there is any legal voluntary economic activity in the current system, as there is no legal economic activity without the state. This is only possible because the state maintains a monopoly on law.

Furthermore, the state can legislate with regard to any relationship, whether interpersonal or political. One cannot engage in any activity without first getting the consent of the state. The state replaces faith and culture when it comes to marriage, as the state decides which marriages and types of marriages are valid and which are not. The state replaces any sense of morality when it comes to law through the doctrine of legal positivism. What matters becomes what is legal rather than what is morally righteous. The state assumes full control over one’s life without arousing suspicion in most people. The state even takes control over what happens between a citizen and himself. That is, the state replaces free will. In the modern world, the state may allow one to engage in any sort of degeneracy under the sun, but the moment the state is harmed or lessened in influence from whatever a person does with himself, the state will forbid it. The state is thus omnipresent, and for many people, this is enough; if they are forbidden from doing something by the state, even when it affects no other persons, they will not do it. People will actively avoid anything illegal, as the state has replaced morality and thinking for oneself.

Because of this, there is no such thing as individualism in the presence of the state. There is effectively only one real person, and that person is the state. No one other than the state can act in any meaningful manner without the consent of the state for fear of being shut down. The state will always make all decisions, even if we do not realize it. Neither will the citizens have a choice in their own minds, as the state has replaced them as people. Thus, we are stuck in a form of totalitarianism, which only differs from place to place and from time to time in the degree of apparent restriction. Some will claim that democracy counters this tendency towards totalitarianism, but if anything, liberal democracy only enables the total state. Without the apparent will of the people, the state cannot designate who the people are without breaking the casual nature of its totalitarianism. The citizens give up their own rights as humans and give the state the right to decide for them. The state needs some sort of mandate, as it needs the citizens to listen to its commands and the government agents to enforce these commands. This may be more or less explicit, but it is always present by necessity. Mass democracy demonstrates this better than any other system.

Ending Totalitarianism

The single greatest show of submission is to beg for the state to lengthen one’s leash, as no matter what happens, one will still be collared. The state will not be changed by begging, as the state is by necessity a totalitarian institution. The only meaningful exercises of power by the people are to subvert the state or overthrow it. The state is antithetical to morality, freedom, and humanity by design, and it cannot be designed otherwise. It is therefore necessary to create an alternative form of governance and defend it against the state. The precise nature of stateless organization will vary from place to place and must be decided by the organizers in each locality.

It is vital that we remove totalitarianism from society if we wish to ever achieve real human liberty. If one believes this, then the precise details become less relevant as it creates an entirely new paradigm of political theory. The alliances and conflicts of previous theories are subordinated to the point of irrelevance. This is not to say that we should support those who call themselves anarchists but simply want global socialism; rather, it is to say that regardless of whether people organize along socialistic, capitalistic, progressive, or reactionary lines, it will be of secondary importance because the highest priority for any living person today should be the elimination of the inherently totalitarian state. Personal preferences about the actions of others will only take precedence once we have freed ourselves from the state and created a society of distinct and free persons. If we do not do this, then we will necessarily choose totalitarianism.

Authority, Anarchy, and Libertarian Social Order

On May 8, Fritz Pendleton published an article at Social Matter in which he argues that liberty is best preserved by authority rather than anarchy. He then proceeds to launch a misguided attack against libertarianism, all while misunderstanding authority, anarchy, liberty, and the nature of a libertarian social order. Let us examine what is wrong with Pendleton’s case on a point-by-point basis.

Stateless In Somalia

Pendleton begins with the old canard of Somalia-as-libertarian-utopia, though to his credit, he does not invite all libertarians to emigrate there. His description of the situation is essentially correct:

“It is a patchwork of warlords who have each parceled out a slice of mud to call his own, to rule according to his whims and fetishes. There are the Islamic warlords of al-Shabaab in the south, the government strongmen who collaborate with al-Shabaab when it suits them, the Somaliland separatists who want a separate nation in the north, and a thousand other men of questionable loyalties.”

Pendleton claims that “it takes a certain type of idiot to look at Somalia and see something promising,” then that “it requires an idiot of some erudition to see promise in a failed state like Somalia.” These are not equivalent. To look at Somalia and see something promising is to examine the entirety of their culture and find that there is at least one idea which could be adopted elsewhere to improve another society. To see promise in a failed state like Somalia is to believe that the situation in that particular place can be greatly improved in the foreseeable future. The former endeavor makes far more sense than the latter.

Though he is correct to say that “libertarians are interested in Somalia primarily because its central government is weak and has no effective presence throughout most of the nation,” his assertion that anarchy is not an effective solution to much of anything is confused. An absence of rulers is not meant to be a solution to anything in and of itself; its role in libertarian theory is to remove the statist intervention in the market economy that inhibits and/or prevents individuals from working together to find effective solutions to problems. Pendleton’s passing mention of human biodiversity is also misplaced, as the best means of analyzing anarchy in Somalia is to compare it to statism in Somalia, not to anarchy elsewhere or statism elsewhere. We are thus considering the same thede under different conditions rather than different thedes under the same conditions. His claim that “whatever the merits of decentralization in theory, in practice it mostly involves being subject to the whims of the local warlord and his cadre” is particular to the current cases of failed states. There is good reason to believe that a controlled demolition of a state apparatus by people who wish to impose a libertarian social order would not be like this because the people would have the will and means to disallow it. Even so, a nation-state government is essentially a warlord writ large. Localizing this evil and reducing its strength makes it easier to bribe, escape, or overthrow, which is a definite improvement.

Pendleton claims that a libertarian must search hard to find supporting evidence in Somalia, but the evidence is clear. Before Mohamed Siad Barre’s regime fell in 1991, the annual birth rate was 0.46 percent, the infant mortality rate was 11.6 percent, the life expectancy was 46 years, the annual death rate was 0.19 percent, the GDP per capita was $210, the adult literacy rate was 24 percent, and 35 percent of the people had access to safe water. The most recent measurements are that the annual birth rate is 0.40 percent (2016), the infant mortality rate is 9.66 percent (2016), the life expectancy is 52.4 years (2016), the annual death rate is 0.133 percent (2016), the GDP per capita is $400 (2014), the adult literacy rate is 38 percent (2011), and 45 percent of the people have access to safe water (2016). The telecommunications and money transfer industries have also improved to offer some of the best service in Africa.

It is easy to argue, as Pendleton does, that these improvements are negligible from his relatively cushy first-world environs, where such improvements on either a real or a percentage basis are barely noticeable. But in the third-world hellhole that is Somalia, such improvements can be the difference between life and death, not to mention the difference between having some basic quality of life or not having it. His claim that anarchy is not much different than communism is asserted without evidence and may therefore be dismissed without evidence.

The Case of Tudor England

Pendleton seeks to contrast the anarchy of Somalia with the historical Tudor monarchy of England. His contention that giving people more freedoms is not a prerequisite for a well-run society is technically correct but beside the point. The fact is that a society need not be ‘run’ at all in the sense of top-down management by a ruling class. People can (and in the absence of interference, do) form voluntary associations to solve problems without being ordered around at gunpoint by government minions. That people have flourished in times of gentle oppression, a strange phrase indeed, says more about human resilience than it says about the merits of oppression.

He continues,

“Henry VII and VIII set in motion a series of clever reforms that reached a climax during the rule of Elizabeth I. England had finally found its stride. It must be noted that Elizabethan England, despite its relative freedom, was not keen on handing out legal recognition of liberties to its people. The era was one of unapologetic centralization. The crown’s subjects were given no guarantees of free speech at all; in fact, the censors worked hard and fast to clamp down on anything they perceived as dissent. Freedom of speech was still very far over the political horizon. And yet, despite the book burnings, despite the cages, despite the severed heads around London Tower, the Elizabethan era gave us Shakespeare, Marlowe, Spencer, Jonson, and Bacon. Imagine an era that gave the English language so much genius and not one assurance of free speech to go with it!”

One must ask whether this occurred because of oppression or in spite of it. It is possible, of course, that the great writers of the day produced such memorable works because the adversity of censorship forced them to innovate novel speech patterns in order to evade the censors. In an earlier age, Chaucer gained a lasting place in the canon of English literature for doing just that. But one must wonder, what potential was wasted? What great works were never penned because their would-be-authors feared for their lives? Perhaps the literary marvels of Elizabethan England were due to its relative freedom rather than its censorship, and more liberty would have been better.

Pendleton asks us to consider that the Elizabethan era was when the British Empire began in earnest, but does not explain how this happened. Spain, Portugal, and even France were ahead of England in colonizing the New World and expanding trade routes in the latter half of the 16th century. It was not until Elizabeth died and James VI and I became King of Scotland and England that the English shifted their attention from attacking the colonies of other nations to the business of establishing their own overseas colonies. The burdensome regulations of the day may disappoint a contemporary libertarian, but the English trade policies were about as good as there were at the time.

Chile and Singapore

Next, Pendleton presents Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore as examples of anti-libertarian success stories. Both pursued economic liberty while restricting social and political liberty; as Pendleton says of the left-libertarians, “a libertarian would rather choke on his bow-tie than defend [their political policies].” Though left-libertarians tend to recoil at such measures, a reactionary understanding of libertarianism provides quite a different view. The libertarian reactionary understands that the desired goal of a libertarian social order can only be achieved by physically removing the state from power. Doing this, however, requires a critical mass of the population to use self-defense against the current system. If such a critical mass is absent, then those who seek liberty must turn to other methods. Those libertarians who are capable of checking their autism and doing what is necessary within context may come to support a Pinochet- or Yew-type for the purpose of restoring a balance of political terror. The idea is for libertarians to use a reactionary authoritarian approach in order to suppress leftists and reverse the damage they have done, overthrow the regime once the left is defeated, then maintain the power vacuum by continuous application of defensive force. Furthermore, a libertarian social order will not necessarily offer a great deal of social and political liberty, especially to those who do not hold allodial title over private property and/or disagree with anarcho-capitalism. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“As soon as mature members of society habitually express acceptance or even advocate egalitarian sentiments, whether in the form of democracy (majority rule) or of communism, it becomes essential that other members, and in particular the natural social elites, be prepared to act decisively and, in the case of continued nonconformity, exclude and ultimately expel these members from society. In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one’s own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society.”[1]

This is quite similar to the standard of no voice and free exit advocated by Nick Land and some other prominent neoreactionaries. The only real difference is that the libertarian reactionary is especially concerned with making the sovereign units as small as possible. It is worth noting that both proposals blend anarchy with authority, in that there is an irreducible anarchy between sovereigns who have authority within their private properties.

Pendleton wonders how Singapore would have preserved liberty in the midst of conflicts between the various ethnic groups present there without Yew’s rule, and how the various religious groups could have been kept from fighting in England without Elizabeth I’s despotism. The possible answers to such questions are the same in each case. First, groups may hire neutral third parties to resolve disputes. Second, the groups may voluntarily segregate themselves so as to avoid contact with each other. Third, some groups that cannot get along with others may have a mass exodus. Fourth, a troublemaking group may be forcibly exiled by all of the other groups. Fifth, each side may be armed to such an extent as to create peace through mutually assured destruction. Sixth, the groups may simply choose to fight it out, as some hostilities reach a point of no return. In the first five cases, the preservation of liberty is maximized. The sixth case is far more troublesome, but such quarrels can be formalized and separated so as not to catch innocent bystanders in the crossfire. A system of dueling has filled this role in many historical societies. There are thus many options other than authoritarianism for preserving liberty; the only question is whether people care to utilize them.

Libertarianism and Reaction

Pendleton writes,

“The reactionary and libertarian both agree that small governments are good. But the reactionary feels that small governments are made not by relinquishing authority, as the libertarian would do, but by strengthening it. Liberty is too precious to be entrusted to anarchy in the same way that diamonds are too precious to be entrusted to one’s doorstep.”

Here, he misunderstands what a libertarian would do, at least those who are not leftists. A libertarian reactionary seeks not to relinquish authority, but to make it as absolute as possible in the hands of the private property owner within that person’s private property. And contrary to Pendleton, liberty requires anarchy because the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them is violated by a state apparatus by definition. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. Therefore, it is clear that liberty cannot be protected by state authority; such a threatening protector is a contradiction of terms.

Final Arbitration

Next, Pendleton presents a case to make the ‘final arbiter of disputes’ criticism of libertarianism:

“Suppose we have one of those highly attenuated legal battles where the details of the case are complicated and emotionally charged. Let us suppose that a drunk driver crashed into a tree and his passenger was killed when she flew through the windshield; she had not worn her seat belt. The grieving husband of the passenger demanded compensation from the driver to help take care of his kids in place of his now deceased wife. Daycare is expensive these days, after all. The driver apologized profusely but pointed out that the passenger was just as responsible for her death because she was not buckled into her seat. The husband countered by saying that the belt would not have been an issue if the driver had not been drunk and crashed into a tree.

Since these men live in a libertarian utopia, there is no superseding legal authority to arbitrate: a third-party arbitration company will have to be hired. Now let’s suppose that one of these arbitration companies is owned by a brother-in-law of the driver, and not surprisingly, the driver only agrees to hire that company. The husband refuses. The driver in turn refuses to pay any compensation whatsoever. The furious husband now threatens to kill the wife of the driver to make him understand what it feels like to lose a loved one.

How can any libertarian who sings the praises of anarchy not see how this situation will only continue to escalate? How can there be any justice for the woman who lost her life in the original crash and what about the violations of liberty that will ensue when this conflict devolves into a family feud? If there had been one authority to take control of this dispute the liberties of everyone involved would have been much more safely guarded. In a world where emotion forms the greater part of human action, liberty requires authority.”

This situation may be resolved in advance through contracts. The owners of the road set the conditions for operating vehicles on their private property, with violators subject to physical removal not unlike the traffic stops, arrests, and impounding of vehicles today. They may demand that everyone using their roads have arbitration services which do not involve such conflicts of interest, and contrary to some myopic analysis to the contrary, are almost certain to frown upon drunk drivers. They might even have all cars on their roads driven by robots, which nips this scenario in the bud. Failing this, a person who has committed an offense and refuses to make restitution can be ostracized from society until compliance is gained. Furthermore, such a person may rightly be forced to make restitution because an unrepentant aggressor is not subject to the non-aggression principle through his continuing violation of it. The driver’s wife, however, is an innocent bystander unless she was responsible for getting him drunk and/or making him drive while intoxicated. Threatening her absent these conditions makes the widower an aggressor to be subdued. As a libertarian society would have several private defense agencies available to handle such applications of defensive force and almost everyone would have a protection policy with one of these companies, an escalation is quite unlikely. Even if this kind of situation does escalate, it pales in comparison to the carnage wrought by the one authority that Pendleton defends. States were responsible for 203 million democides and war deaths in the 20th century alone. This is hardly a price worth paying to stifle a few family feuds.

More generally, a final arbiter of disputes cannot exist because no person or institution can absolutely guarantee that any issue will be resolved forever with no possibility of review. The way that disputes ultimately end in any social order is that some party finds the dispute to no longer be worth continuing. Everything else, whether statist courts and legislatures or anarchic arbitration services and private defense agencies, is simply window dressing on this immutable truth.

Of Rules and Rulers

Pendleton writes,

“A libertarian who is honest with himself has to ask why even jungle tribes have a chief and why high schools have hall-monitors. Human beings require authority, and if authority is to mean anything at all, it requires the power of compulsion; liberty cannot last long in a nation that thinks of its authority as a polite suggestion.”

It is important to understand the true meaning of anarchy. Anarchy comes from Greek ἀναρχία, which is typically translated as ‘without rulers.’ More precisely, it means ‘without beginning to take the lead.’ This is not the same as ‘without rules’ or ‘without leaders.’ Having a ruler means that there are no rules because the ruler has authority over the rules and not vice versa. That the lead is not taken does not mean that no one can lead because leadership can be freely given. This is well-understood in every aspect of life other than politics. In the words of Mikhail Bakunin,

“Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. …But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others.”[2]

Additionally, compulsion and initiatory force are not equivalent. This is because compulsion may take the form of defensive force or of less violent means such as shaming and ostracism. Thus, if human beings require authority (and Pendleton does not prove that they do), a libertarian social order is quite capable of compelling people through contract law, ostracism, and private military forces.

Mischaracterization

Pendleton laments that not many libertarians will be swayed by his arguments, but does not understand why. It is not the case that libertarians are “far too busy sketching intricate political systems on paper to be bothered with considerations of human psychology.” Libertarianism, properly understood, is anti-political; its primary interest in political systems is in finding ways to destroy them without causing unnecessary damage to the social fabric. As for considerations of human psychology, they should lead one to reject the state as an enabler and multiplier of evil in the world. Ultimately, libertarians are not swayed by his arguments because they are easily refuted, as shown both above and below.

The Definition of Liberty

Pendleton writes,

“Liberty, as we now know it, is a set of unquestionable boundaries that are owed to all citizens: the right to peaceable assembly, the right to free speech, the right to a free press, and so on. The problem with these ‘rights’ is that they are very enticing ideas that are very murky in their specifics. They exist in the minds of Americans as a hazy bundle of entitlements, as things that they are owed, rather than things that they must earn.

The greatest problem with this notion of liberty as an entitlement is that once citizens start declaring rights as ‘universal’ and ‘God-given’ there is no mechanism to stop them from continually inventing new ones. The ‘right to privacy’ or the ‘right to universal healthcare’ are muddled ideas that our founding fathers never anticipated. Jefferson and Madison almost certainly would not have approved of them, but they are ideas that have as much legitimacy as America’s own Bill of Rights: if Madison can conjure up new rights with a few quill strokes there is likewise nothing to stop Supreme Court justices from doing the same thing. And so the list of entitlements owed to Americans steadily grows longer as its list of responsibilities dwindles.”

He correctly criticizes the contemporary understanding of liberty in liberal democracies. As I have explained elsewhere, these rights belong to private property owners within the spaces that they own. No one has a right to assemble, speak, print, and so on within private property if the owner disagrees with such activities. Those who would do so are trespassing and thus subject to physical removal. The current problem is that the state has greatly interfered with private property. This is a problem of the commons, and the only solution is to eliminate the commons and return it to private ownership.

From here, as Pendleton realizes, it only gets worse. When people fail to connect rights to logic and ownership of property, or more simply, to thought and action, they confuse negative rights with so-called “positive rights.” These positive rights cannot be valid because their provision violates the negative rights of other people. For instance, a right to healthcare implies that someone must be forced to provide healthcare, even if it against the provider’s wishes to serve that person.

But though he correctly identifies the problem, Pendleton proposes an incorrect solution. He seeks to restore the ancient Roman ideal of liberty rather than to correct the errors in the practice of modern liberty. The Romans viewed liberty in a collective sense, as imposing responsibilities to the state in eschange for individual rights. In truth, liberty is neither a list of entitlements nor a reward for serving society or the state; it is the result of gaining and defending private property. With this understanding, it is not ironic at all that libertarians would condemn a system which subordinates the individual to a collective as fascism (or more appropriately, as communism).

Rationalism and Empiricism

Pendleton claims that the Roman notion of liberty has the example of Singapore while the libertarian has no compelling models; only fantasies and Somalia. Implicit in this claim is a sort of historical determinism that demonstrates a lack of courage and imagination to look beyond what has been and see what is possible but as yet unrealized. As explained above, Somalia has shown improvement without a state. And fortunately, libertarians have more than fantasies; we have a priori theory. In the words of Hoppe, “A priori theory trumps and corrects experience (and logic overrules observation), and not vice-versa.”[3] This is because one may use rationalism without using empiricism, but one cannot use empiricism without using rationalism. That rationalism is independent and empiricism is dependent establishes a clear hierarchy between the two ways of knowing. Of course, this will not convince a strong empiricist of the historical determinist variety, but this has no bearing upon the truth value of the argument.

That being said, it is worth considering why there are no empirical examples of a stateless propertarian society in recent times. The obvious answer is that states initiate violence to sustain their operations, and libertarians have yet to suppress this aggression with enough defensive force to stop it. The other, less obvious explanation is that those who govern in statist systems know at one level or another that their institutions are unnecessary for the functioning of society, but that most people are more empirical than rational in their thinking. It is for this reason that they cannot allow a working example of a stateless society to be created, as this would permanently turn the masses against the state. They thus use force not only to maintain their power, but to ensure that most people never consider alternatives which do not include them.

Conclusion

Pendleton closes by contemplating the issues on the horizon for America, from racial tensions to Islamic terrorists, though he says nothing of the various economic issues. However, the “furious, explosive derailment” he fears is not only unavoidable, but necessary. The current system cannot be fixed; it must end in either a controlled demolition or a chaotic collapse. In any event, the answers are to be found in the restoration and enforcement of private property rights and freedom of association, with physical removal for those who challenge these norms. It is best to work toward emerging from this chaos looking neither like Singapore nor like Somalia, but as something completely novel in time memorial: a functional stateless society of covenant communities.

References:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 218
  2. Bakunin, Mikhail (1871, 1882). God and the State. Mother Earth Publishing Association. Ch. 2
  3. Hoppe, p. xvi.

Fake Libertarianism Revisited

A significant portion of my work consists of critiquing arguments, decisions, and statements made by other people. But sometimes, the lens of examination is best turned inward to correct one’s own missteps. Such is the case for an article I wrote three years ago about the nature of fake libertarianism. In retrospect, I failed to accurately present the structure of libertarian philosophy, and thus erroneously defined what it means to be a fake libertarian. Let us see what is wrong with my former case and make the necessary corrections.

Just as before, we must first have proper definitions for “libertarianism” and “fake” in order to consider the issue of fake libertarianism. Libertarianism is the philosophical position that the proper use of force is always defensive in nature. Initiating the use of force is never justifiable, while using force to defend against someone who initiates the use of force is always justifiable. A fake adherent of a position is either a person who claims to believe in that position while explicitly rejecting the premises of that position or their logical conclusions, or a person who misrepresents the premises of that position. Note that this does not compel action; a person is free to choose not to respond to initiated force with defensive force. Nor does this constrain one’s entire ideology to a single position; one may believe in additional premises beyond a certain position which are not in contradiction with that position without being a fake adherent, but to falsely represent such premises as being contained within that position does make one a fake adherent.

In my previous attempt, I argued that a fake libertarian is a person who claims to be a libertarian but does one or more of the following:

  1. Supports initiating the use of force for any reason;
  2. Rejects a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle;
  3. Claims that another principle can trump the non-aggression principle;
  4. Claims that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain, or vice versa.

Points (1) and (4) are sound, but points (2) and (3) require some revision. The non-aggression principle is neither an axiom nor the basis of libertarian theory, as my previous attempt would suggest. The starting point for all of libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body and full responsibility for actions committed with said control. Note that in order to argue against self-ownership, one must exercise exclusive control of one’s physical body for the purpose of communication. This results in a performative contradiction because the content of the argument is at odds with the act of making the argument. By the laws of excluded middle and non-contradiction, self-ownership must be true because it must be either true or false, and any argument that self-ownership is false is false by contradiction.

Because each person has a right to exclusive control over one’s own body, it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control over their body without that person’s consent. It is clear that self-ownership trumps the non-aggression principle on the grounds that the independent principle overrules the dependent principle. One may also reject a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle if doing so is necessary in order to accept a logical conclusion of self-ownership.

The above would be true but trivial if there were no cases in which the non-aggression principle came into conflict with principles of higher rank, so let us consider three such cases.

Innocent Shields

Strict adherence to the non-aggression principle would suggest that innocent shields held captive by an aggressor are non-aggressors and that harming them is immoral. But if this is true, then anyone who is being more harmfully victimized by the aggressor is doomed. Additionally, considering an aggressor who hides behind innocent shields to be an illegitimate target would provide a means for an aggressor to escape punishment and restitution. Another means of dealing with such a situation is provided by Walter Block’s concept of negative homesteading. To quote Block,

“A grabs B to use as a shield; A forces B to stand in front of him, and compels him to walk wherever A wishes. A then hunts C in order to murder the latter by shooting him. C also has a gun. Is it legally permissible for C to shoot at A in self defense under libertarian law?

[…]

In ordinary homesteading, or what we must now call positive homesteading to distinguish it from this newly introduced variety, it is the first person upon the scene who mixes his labor with the land or natural resource who comes away with the property rights in question. It is the first man who farms a plot of land, who becomes the rightful owner. A similar procedure applies to negative homesteading, only here what gets to be ‘owned’ is a negative, not a positive. This concept refers to some sort of unhappiness, not a benefit such as owning land. The ownership of misery, as it were, must stay with its first victim, according to this principle. He cannot legitimately pass it onto anyone else without the latter’s permission.”

The homesteading principle is a direct corollary of self-ownership, just like the non-aggression principle. This gives them equal standing in libertarian philosophy, meaning that a conflict between the two must not give the non-aggression principle supremacy over the homesteading principle or vice versa.

To use the theory of negative homesteading, we must identify the first homesteader of the misery. In Block’s example, this is B. It is impermissible for B to transfer this misery to C. Thus, the theory of negative homesteading permits C to shoot A and risk hitting B even though a strict view of the non-aggression principle would not. None of this is to say that concern for the innocent shield should be disregarded; only that if an aggressor is too dangerous to ignore and it is impossible to subdue the aggressor without harming innocent shields, then the innocent shields are expendable in order to reduce the overall amount of aggression committed.

Reecean Proviso

The theoretical basis for private property rights in libertarian theory also starts with self-ownership. Because one is responsible for one’s actions, one gains an ownership claim over one’s improvements upon natural resources. It is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves, so property rights over external objects in a state of nature are established through mixing one’s labor with them. As property rights are established and maintained by exercising self-ownership, they are dependent upon self-ownership. As with non-aggression, self-ownership overrules private property in external objects because that which is dependent is subordinate to that upon which it is dependent.

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 will almost certainly 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 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.

A strict view of the non-aggression principle would not allow any appropriation of another person’s private property without their permission, but a case in which self-ownership is in conflict with private property could allow for this. Although this is subject to so many caveats in practice that the appropriate lifeboat scenario may never arise, the theoretical possibility for a situation in which a person is justified to appropriate a small amount of resources from someone else’s property in order to stay alive does exist.

Unrepentant Aggressors and Agency

Because libertarian theory is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of rationality and consistency. For private property rights, the non-aggression principle, or indeed even self-ownership, to apply to a person who has violated another person’s rights of the same kind is inconsistent. As such, a thief has no standing to claim property rights, an aggressor has no standing to claim non-aggression, and a murderer has no standing to claim self-ownership until restitution is made for their crimes. In the latter case, restitution is impossible because a murder victim cannot be made whole. An unrepentant aggressor may be attacked in ways which would violate the non-aggression principle if done to a non-aggressor because the aggressor’s actions demonstrate a rejection of the non-aggression principle.

One might protest that a bystander lacks agency in a matter between an aggressor and a victim, but the concept of agency has been shaped in a world dominated by states. Thus, private citizens are discouraged (and sometimes prohibited) from interfering in certain matters between other people because the state claims sole authority to resolve such matters. In a society organized in accordance with libertarian theory, there is no such monopoly on the creation and enforcement of laws, or on the final arbitration of disputes. The concept of agency in a libertarian social order would likely impose fewer limits on an individual’s conduct, thus leaving one free to use force against unrepentant aggressors even if not in an immediate self-defense situation. The possibility of becoming an outlaw subject to the every whim of anyone who cares to attack an unrepentant aggressor presents a strong deterrent against committing acts of aggression.

Strategic Thinking

A separate but related problem is that of libertarian purists denying the context of a situation and refusing to consider less than perfect alternatives. There are situations in which an option which adheres to libertarian principles is not politically viable and libertarians are not willing to do what would be necessary to make such an option viable. In such cases, there will be several options and all of them will involve acts of aggression. Navigating these situations requires us to figure out either which option is most likely to result in the least amount of aggression or which option is most likely to move society closer to a libertarian social order. Advocating for one such option over the others, or ranking them from best to worst, does not constitute an endorsement of aggression because one is not choosing an aggressive option as an ideal or because one wants to, but as a least evil and because there is no good option.

Parts Unchanged

The definition of what constitutes a fake libertarian was in need of correction, but the when, where, and why remain as they were. Fake libertarianism is still a widespread and growing problem. As before, the reasons for being a fake libertarian are to gain recognition in a smaller field of competitors instead of trying to compete directly with more powerful establishment commentators, to destroy the libertarian movement from within by being an entryist, and to gain capital through false representation of something valuable.

Taking a slightly softer tone with some of those identified instead of calling them fakes and running them off may be sound strategical advice in some cases, especially with respect to the anarchist-minarchist debate. But any movement that wishes to take political power for any purpose, including the destruction of said power, must beware of holiness spirals. Libertarian groups have a twofold problem in this regard; that of strictest adherence to libertarian principles and that of leftist infiltration. Those who reduce their circle of allies to only the most ardent libertarians will lack the numbers to accomplish anything. Meanwhile, leftists who infiltrate libertarian circles and fill them with progressive nonsense can manage to run off real libertarians, which helps to explain the growth of the alt-right movement. Both of these problems are dangerous to the goal of liberty and must be countered whenever they present themselves.

Conclusion

There is no better way to conclude than by restating the closing paragraph from the original piece:

“Just as counterfeiters do not make copies of worthless banknotes and forgers do not falsify meaningless signatures, political charlatans do not pretend to hold a position if doing so has no potential benefit. Thus, true libertarians should take heart. The very fact that there are fake libertarians means that true libertarianism is worth something, and that defending it against those who would falsely assume it and attempt to destroy it is worth doing.”

Book Review: The Invention of Russia

The Invention of Russia is a book about the history of the Soviet Union and the formation of modern Russia by Russian journalist Arkady Ostrovsky. The book focuses on the time period of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin. Special attention is paid to the role played by the media in shaping narratives and steering the population from the Soviet era to the present.

The prologue deals with the author’s experience during and immediately after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov on February 27, 2015. He briefly overviews events over the past few decades that factored into Nemtsov’s murder, and the author’s experiences through those years are also discussed.

The book proper is divided into two parts, each with five chapters. The division between the parts is roughly set at the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis. The first chapter begins with the end of the Soviet Union, then backtracks to give the reader a sense of Soviet history up to Gorbachev’s rise to power, with emphasis on the events that foreshadowed it, such as de-Stalinization and the crushing of the Prague Spring. The second chapter covers the time from Gorbachev’s appointment to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The nature of perestroika and glasnost are discussed, as well as how the Chernobyl incident affected both. Later in the chapter, Ostrovsky details the split between the liberal reformers and the Stalinist hardliners, as well as the beginnings of the privatization of state assets which formed the class of Russian oligarchs. The third chapter explores the final two years of the Soviet Union, including the economic difficulties, the rise of Yeltsin, the worries of the KGB and other elements of the Soviet power structure, the January Events in Lithuania, and the 1991 Soviet coup attempt. The fourth chapter looks at the role played by the media in the dissolution of the Soviet Union and how the generational shift from the shestidesiatniki to their children affected the changes. The Kommersant newspaper is highlighted as an example of the new Russian media, as well as one of several examples of less than honest business practices in the early 1990s, which occurred due to the moral vacuum left by communism. The fifth chapter covers the time from the end of the Soviet Union up to the 1993 crisis, with particular attention to the role of television, radio, and print media in shaping the narrative and saving Russia from another Communist takeover.

The sixth chapter continues the discussion of the 1993 crisis, then moves on to the creation of NTV, Russia’s first Western-style television station. Of course, NTV had to compete with Channel One and other state media, which caused tensions with the state when NTV covered the first Chechnya war from the Chechen point of view. The chapter concludes with the 1996 election, in which the media played an essential role in bringing Yeltsin up from single-digit polling to a victory over Gennady Zyuganov, his Communist challenger. The seventh chapter continues with the events after the election, including a battle between oligarchs that turned into a political crisis, continued troubles with Chechnya, the search for a vision for Russia moving forward, and finally, the 1998 Russian financial crisis.The eighth chapter shows how this milieu combined with NATO airstrikes in Serbia and an overly propagandistic media was able to elevate an obscure KGB agent named Vladimir Putin to the presidency of Russia. The decision of most of NTV’s leadership to side against this was the beginning of the end for the station. The ninth chapter covers the time from the beginning of Putin’s rule to the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, including the ouster of several high-profile opponents of the regime, the bringing of NTV into the control of Gazprom and its gradual turn toward the regime, further trouble with Chechen terrorists, the Russo-Georgian War, and the activities of various media personalities. The tenth chapter looks at Putin’s rule in light of Russian popular culture, the rise of the bureaucrat-entrepreneur, the protests of 2011-13, the military operations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and the use of propaganda to manufacture support for foreign aggression.

The book is excellent at face value, providing a perspective that can only come from a native person who lived through many of the events described in the book. But it is even more valuable to libertarians and reactionaries for the obvious parallels between Russian history and the current state of affairs in the West, as well as for the warnings concerning the improper dismantling of government monopolies, as happened during the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia.

To conclude, the unique explanations of historical events and the focus on the role of the media in steering the ship of state make this book an invaluable addition to the collection of any activist, analyst, historian, strategist, or student.

Rating: 5/5

Unrepentant Aggressors Must Die For Liberty

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 counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments were addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed here.

To close, I want to summarize the logical argument against violent revolution in a general sense, as it seems Reece fails to understand this as well. His objections to it are all straw men, wishful thinking and contentions that the form of the revolution will be “just so” as to happen to work.

This is thoroughly false and misguided, as we will see shortly.

(As an aside, it is important to note that I have never claimed that government agents were not aggressors and that self-defense against an agent of the state is somehow not permissible, but that it will not achieve liberty. This is a large distinction, but one our critic ignores when he reminds us that “using force against them [government agents] meets the standard of self-defense.”)

Underhill did not make this claim, but many other people who advocate against revolution do, so it was necessary to address.

Reece’s argument is basically summed up as follows:

What follows is such a preposterous misstatement of my case that it can only be intentional.

the revolutionaries will all use precisely the appropriate tools to hide themselves, will use precisely the correct strategy to rebuff a more technologically superior military, will act such that the public relations can be turned against the state only,

I never claimed that all revolutionaries will do this; only that a certain number of them will need to do so if the revolution is to be successful.

will not be confused with violent criminals by the mass of the populace,

This concern is largely irrelevant. If we wish to use history as a guide, as Underhill is wont to do, then we must assume that the mass of the populace will not lift a finger one way or the other, regardless of whether they believe the revolutionaries, the state, or both to be violent criminals. Most people are so used to having the state provide them with “security” that they have no concept of how to deal with such issues themselves, let alone take up arms to suppress a group of people who are defeating agents of the state in battle.

will only fight back when the mass of the people are on their side (specifically, on this point, Reece conflates the mixed support for non-violent resistance by Apple with support for violent revolutionaries),

I never claimed that all revolutionaries will wait until there are enough of them to be successful; only that the state will be able to crush them if they make an attempt before they have the means to succeed.

I did not conflate the support for Apple’s resistance to government spying to support for revolution. Underhill claimed that resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front. I merely pointed out the falsehood of that statement.

the populace will not use force against people they view as terrorists killing their families in their homes,

I said nothing of killing families in their homes.

and no revolutionary will kill anyone who didn’t “deserve it” for being a government agent.

I did not claim that this will never happen; only that it should be minimized as much as possible to avoid attempts at reprisal and bad public relations.

And there’s no possible case that any of the leaders of this revolution that engage in organizing such things as coordinated strikes across the country, etc., will see an opportunity to gain power out of this and take it (as Lenin did in the October Revolution – which Reece seems to think only failed because it was communist, despite the fact that communism as described by the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric of statelessness was never obtained out of that revolution).

This is a concern, but if existing nation-states can be overthrown, then so can these revolutionaries-turned-statists. The October Revolution failed to produce a stateless society because anarcho-communism is a contradictory ideology that ignores human nature and economic incentives.

Nor, of course, will there be any disagreement among these cells which have no full knowledge of each other as to what constitutes sufficient support for the state to be worthy of death: there will be no Cantwell-style authoritarians involved, viewing the Left as worse than the state, nor Zwolinski-style leftists involved, wanting to have a universal income imposed to help the poor, nor anyone who, like David Friedman, rejects the NAP as the basis for anarchy (turning instead to utilitarianism).

I did not claim that the same standards would be used by each revolutionary cell across all places and times. People who would violate libertarian ethics in a libertarian revolution, such as Zwolinskians and Friedmanites, would make targets of themselves, as they would be initiating the use of force just as agents of the state do. Cantwell is not an authoritarian, nor does he view the left as worse than the state; his view seems to be that if people will not eliminate the state, then the left must be suppressed because the two will reinforce each other when both are present, leading to societal ruin. As eliminating the state is unlikely in the short-term, the left is a more immediate and addressable problem.

And no one will deem military families, unarmed government agents like DMV employees or postal workers, or simply “voters” as providing enough support for the state, I’m sure.

Of course this can happen, but such people can be disavowed or even forcibly stopped by other revolutionaries, as attacking such people is tactically unwise, even though it may be possible to make a moral argument that they are vicariously liable in some way.

Underhill’s use of the revolving Stalin statue meme at this point solidifies his intentional effort to misunderstand the case for revolution.

When we look at all Reece’s caveats and conditions, it becomes readily apparent how fanciful this idea of using violent revolution to rebuff the state really is.

When one misunderstands the case, as Underhill insists upon doing, it certainly can appear fanciful.

Reece has no conception about the reality of war, only the wishes of his own heart. He has no concern for the life and limb of human beings here, dismissing such concerns as irrelevant.

Underhill proves that it is he who has no conception about the reality of war with his next sentence. Concern for the life and limb of human beings who are engaged in combat against one’s forces is irrelevant for a competent military strategist. The way that wars are won is that a sufficient number of enemy combatants are killed or wounded and a sufficient amount of economic damage is caused so as to make the conflict too costly to continue for the other side. The contention in his subtitle, that fighting fire with fire only burns everyone, further illustrates his ignorance. This only occurs if the two sides are roughly equal in their capacity to use force. But if one side overwhelms the other, then most of the victors will not be burned.

He does not recognize, as Thomas Jefferson did, that “war is an instrument entirely inefficient toward redressing wrong, and multiplies, instead of indemnifying losses.”

Underhill does not recognize, as Otto von Bismarck did, that “not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—but by iron and blood.”

He does not understand the contention of Agatha Christie “that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”

With the notable exception of Pyrrhic victories, this contention is false. To win a war is to maintain control of one’s destiny and to have leverage at peace talks, should there be any. To lose a war is to be at the mercy of conquerors.

He simply dismisses concerns of collateral damage, of mass deaths, of the realities of such violent conflict.

This is false. To compare a situation to the alternative and make the case that the alternative is worse does not constitute a dismissal of said situation.

Just as he dismisses the power of non-violent action.

I did not do this. In “Liberty Requires Revolution,” I said, “None of this is to suggest that [non-violent] methods are useless. But at best, they will not defeat the state by themselves. At worst, they ease some of the pain of oppression, which gives people less incentive to end it. Their purpose, if any, must be to weaken the state and grow the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible, then to aid a revolutionary effort.”

He claims I do not understand that the state “will not magically disappear” if people stop providing it 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,” he contends. But how successful is the violence of a man who cannot find armaments? Who cannot obtain fuel? Who cannot pay for food and clothing and shelter?

How successful the violence of a man who cannot find armaments, obtain fuel, or pay for the basic necessities of life depends entirely upon how able and willing he is to use force to get more. This is primarily a function of what resources he has available at the moment. Underhill seems to believe that whatever they have on hand will vanish once the state fails.

Soldiers who believed their cause most righteous have often quit fighting because of a lack of resources – how much more so when these unpaid and ill-equipped soldiers are fighting against non-violent protesters and peaceful people in their homes solely in the name of the state that is not paying them? Revolutionary War soldiers often quit because they were not getting paid. The US government had to resort to hyper-inflationary money printing to pay soldiers during the Civil War just to keep them fighting.

Some will quit, but others will not. Underhill has no answer for those who will not, and this is why his pacifist approach fails.

A few soldiers even marched (peacefully!) on Congress in the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783 in order to demand payment, forcing the Congress to leave Pennsylvania.

The soldiers took control of the weapons and munitions stores in Philadelphia, blocked the door of the State House where the Congress was meeting, and managed to get the Congress to leave Philadelphia. This was not peaceful activity, although one could make a case that it was justified because the Congress was a criminal enterprise by universal ethical standards.

It is far more powerful to quit using state currency, quit selling to the state, and stop paying taxes. As pointed out by the character Lord Varys in Game of Thrones, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.” And once men stop believing power resides with the state, there is no longer any power the state can bring to bear.

While I agree that alternatives to state currency, refusing to provide services to the state, and refusing to pay taxes are powerful methods, they have the same shortfalls as all non-violent methods. The state will respond to this non-violent resistance with violence long before men can stop believing power resides with the state, and the protesters will either back down, be victimized, or fight back.

The ultimate question here is precisely the one that has gone unaddressed by Reece this entire time, despite it being brought up in the original article I presented. As The Doctor pointed out in the quote I originally used:

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…

This did not go unaddressed; in “Resolve To Understand The Struggle” I explained that this is no argument against revolution because 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.

We return to this to ask this of our critic: who must die so that you can be free?

The answer is simple: unrepentant aggressors must die for liberty. People who commit acts of aggression, refuse to stop doing so, refuse to make restitution, and cannot be subdued by non-lethal means must be killed in self-defense if people are to secure their liberty.

Sure, you’ll start with the government agents; the police and military members that provide the force for the state. But what about their families? What about your family? Your friends? Your neighbors? The people going about their daily lives in peace? Voters? Non-voters? Other anarchists who don’t support your violence? Mothers, fathers, sons, daughters?

Underhill makes a hysterical and intentional effort to misrepresent the case here. None of these people need die. Of course, some may, but this danger does not go away by not engaging in revolution.

Only a fool believes that there will be no innocents slain in your violent revolution that would otherwise go about their lives in peace.

Only a fool believes that the number of innocents slain in an effort to end the state would come close to the number of innocents who have died and continue to die because of the state.

Just as an eye for an eye makes everyone blind, so too does violent retribution only increase death, destruction and heartbreak.

Much like Underhill’s contention that fighting fire with fire only burns everyone, this demonstrates a lack both of historical knowledge and of how conflicts proceed. The threat of an eye for an eye is what ultimately keeps the peace, as evidenced by the efforts of most tyrannical rulers to disarm their citizens and the lack of total warfare since the invention of nuclear weapons. What really increases death, destruction, and heartbreak is a situation in which proverbial eyes can be put out with no consequences for the aggressors.

And so, I must stand with Martin Luther King Jr. and declare that the solution is not violence, but peace, love, and non-violence. Justice and liberty are not served by bloodshed and revolt, but by peaceful resistance and refusal to submit.

Underhill again fails to understand that peaceful resistance and refusal to submit are incompatible as soon as the state resorts to force.

As that great man said:

And the other thing is that I am concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice. I’m concerned about brotherhood. I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence.

If one is concerned about justice, brotherhood, and truth in a world where violent criminals perpetrate injustice and falsehood by force, one must advocate defensive force to stop them.

For through violence you may murder a murderer but you can’t murder murder.

It is impossible to murder a murderer because a murderer has forfeited self-ownership by destroying the self-ownership of another person.

Through violence you may murder a liar but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.

This is not in dispute.

Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that. And I say to you, I have also decided to stick to love. For I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind’s problems. And I’m going to talk about it everywhere I go.

This approach cannot deal with situations in which darkness would put out light. For this, we need Malcolm X’s approach:

“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.”

Let us make a final point to conclude this debate, as further correspondence would appear to be fruitless, given our respective dispositions. Underhill’s general position is described almost exactly in Brandon Smith’s essay “Understanding The Fear Of Self-Defense And Revolution” (2015). Smith laments:

Over the course of half a century, the philosophy of “anti-violence” has come to include a distinct distaste for self-defense. Self-defense is now consistently equated to “violence” (and is, thus, immoral), regardless of environmental circumstances.

Even in the liberty movement, there are people who disregard physical defense as either barbaric or “futile” and have adopted rather less-effective pacifist ideologies of more socialist activism. The problem with certain factions of libertarianism is that they tend to live within their own heads, reveling in a world of Randian and Rothbardian political and social theory, while abandoning the other side of concrete resistance. Some in the survival community call these people “egghead libertarians,” and I think the label fits.

[…]

They have almost no experience with and, therefore, no respect for the concept of self-defense and revolution. And they have no capacity to fathom what such an endeavor would entail. This unknown scenario inspires fear in them — a fear of struggle, a fear of failure, and a fear of death.

While taking action from a position of love for one’s fellow man is indeed noble, it is sometimes not enough in the face of pure evil — the kind of evil inherent in the ranks of elitism and the globalist ideology. It is important to keep at least one foot on the ground when building a movement of dissent and realize that while maintaining the moral high ground is paramount, there are limitations to what peaceful resistance can accomplish, depending on the opponent. If you are not prepared to use both peaceful means and physical defense if necessary, your movement will ultimately fail against an enemy without conscience.

To illustrate this point further, as Underhill indicates an interest in historical fiction in his footnotes, let us consider such a work. “The Last Article” (1988) is a short story written by Harry Turtledove. In this alternate timeline, the Nazis won World War II and thus gained control of the British Raj in India. Gandhi tries the same tactics against the Nazis that he used against the British in our timeline, but the Nazis are unmoved by Gandhi’s pacifism, opting instead to slaughter protesters. The movement collapses in the face of Nazi savagery, and Gandhi gets captured and executed by Field Marshal Walther Model. A state apparatus facing an existential risk at the hands of the citizenry it has long oppressed is far more likely to act like the Nazis than the British toward the resistance.

Finally, let us consider the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote in Gulag Archipelago (1973):

And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…

Of History and Possibilities

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 counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments will be addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed separately.

Reece contends that “semantics are important” in his dispute over whether the English Civil War was, in fact, a revolution, before proceeding to admit that “[i]t is not wrong to call the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell a revolution”. So then what is the issue? According to him, it’s “not the most precise” – despite it meeting both the Webster’s definition I cited and the Oxford definition Reece favors. In what way is this not precise? I contend Reece cannot say other than repeating his claim that Marxist historical revisionists were the first to use the term.

I have already said; 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. One could further note that a successful revolution results in a change of organizational structures. But Oliver Cromwell was essentially a king by the different name of Lord Protector; he held the position for life, passed it on to his son, and wielded power on par with that of a king. The only structural change of note was the abolition of the House of Lords between 1649 and 1660, but the House of Commons had been gaining in influence for some time and was the more influential of the two by 1649.

…not even I would go so far as to argue that the Marxists are simply wrong about everything simply by being Marxists. If one cannot argue the error of something besides associating it with a group of people that is often wrong, there is no argument – only a genetic fallacy.

This is a straw man, as I said no such thing. The point I made is that contemporaries of the events who witnessed them first-hand used the term “civil war,” and it is better to trust the people who actually experienced an event than those who analyze their records much later.

Similarly, in his other article, Reece claims that it is the Oxford dictionary definition that “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance”. Here he missed the point entirely.

It is impossible to the person who makes a point to miss said point.

The argument was not merely whether the dictionary definition included that as a theoretical possibility, but whether it was a rational possibility. As I will argue throughout this article and was arguing with that original statement, believing this is possible is simply wishful thinking; a forcible overthrow of a state will result only in death, disaster, chaos and a new state.

His arguments to this effect failed before, and I will show that they fail again.

Back in the first response, he argues that “[a] competent historian, much like a competent economist, does not think in a simple and linear fashion” in an attempt to counter the point that Charles II was invited peacefully to retake the English throne, saying that “an analogue about ignoring counter-factual possibilities in favor of historical determinism applies” to the analysis of history. This is just nonsense on stilts – nothing more than an attempt to smuggle in his hypothetical counter-factuals as if they were actualities. History is not economics, where logical laws apply that could present counter-factual truths.

The historical record does not work this way, but theoretical history does, and theoretical history is what we are dealing with here.

Reece claims that there is no guarantee that Charles II would have succeeded his father to the throne without the Revolution. But equally there is no guarantee that he wouldn’t have. Or what if the Gunpowder plot had removed Charles I’s father, James I? Or if the Nazis won WWII? Who knows what might have happened if events in history occurred differently?

This is a valid point which undermines the case for using history as an absolute guide for the future.

He continues to make this mistake later when talking about the French Revolution again, where he claims:

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.

Similarly, “to say that Napoleon rose to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would not have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.”

These are not equivalent because one happened and the other did not (at least in this timeline).

Yet it seems our critic would have us believe that the history of Napoleon’s reign in France can be attributed to the French Revolution, saying “[t]he idea that Napoleon’s beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself is laughable.”

While a competent historian does not think in a simple and linear fashion, this does not mean that one should ignore the particular linear results of this timeline.

While accusing me of linear thinking about history, Reece claims “[e]very event that happens after a given historical episode has some bearing on the result of that historical episode.” I suppose we are to believe that the nature of the Roman Republic must be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms. After all, the latter happened after the former. Clearly, this is ridiculous, but the rationale is the same. Where do we draw the line?

That a given historical episode should be analyzed in terms of what events were set into motion by it is standard practice, and for good reason. That the Roman Republic must be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms is not clearly ridiculous, given that a link may be established between them in that the United States was founded in part upon knowledge of the Roman Republic. It is important to consider what the governing philosophy in a particular place and time motivates other people to attempt in a different place and a later time. I will grant that the time span of two millennia between them makes the link weak and obfuscated, but it is there. Where we should draw the line is in cases where a link may not be established; for example, the Olmec need not be analyzed in the context of Obama’s presidential terms because their governing philosophy did not influence the founding of the United States.

I’d contend that the failure of the French Revolution was evident in its leaders being replaced by Napoleon…

This is a valid point.

…and it is foolish to ascribe Napoleon’s rule, good or bad, to the taking of power by Robespierre.

Again, how does one know that Napoleon could or would have gained power without the French Revolution? It is impossible to say.

Reece then responds to the discussion of the French Revolution by pointing out that the coup by which Napoleon rose to power was “bloodless, not peaceful”. In my view, this is a distinction without a difference.

There is quite a difference between a situation in which no one is willing to use force and a situation in which one side is willing to kill the other but gets what it wants without having to escalate that far. Underhill’s failure to understand this shows that he has no real concept of how power works.

The point I was making when I noted that no one died in that coup was to note the difference between a shooting war and a bloodless coup. More precisely, what Reece is advocating is not a large show of force to get a weakened regime to capitulate, but a violent and drawn out war of resistance against powerful armies.

I am advocating a large but decentralized show of force to get a regime to capitulate, while recognizing that this is likely to lead to a war of resistance against powerful armies. But these armies are not nearly as powerful as most of us are led to believe, as explained in the previous articles.

He is also wrong when he claims that “[t]he 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”. The Declaration of Pillnitz was specifically written to avoid war as Leopold II did not want to fight a war at that point; the language required a war if and only if every single other European power declared war first. Reece is basically arguing here that preemptive strikes are acceptable based on the nation-states equivalence of finger wagging.

A conditional threat is still a threat, and a threat is an initiation of the use of force. As such, defensive force was justified for the purpose of ending the threat.

The article continues to note that “[a]ggressive behavior by powerful nation-states occurred regardless of whether rulers were replaced by new rulers.” This can be addressed quickly: the question was not about whether a state in revolution was more aggressive than its neighbors, but whether the state became more powerful as a result. The French Revolution is a decided case of this happening. Debating over the specific details of the sequence of events only misses this point.

Debating over the specific details of the sequence of events is required to decide the point. Few events in history are solely the cause of one prior event. Most events have multiple causes, and they occur because of some events and in spite of other events. It is quite possible that the French state became more powerful in spite of the French Revolution, or that it would have grown more powerful if there had been no revolution.

Reece also declares that I am “intellectually lazy” for not debating whether Napoleon’s rule was a net positive for liberty or not. It seems that Reece does not understand the concept of a non-sequitur.

It seems that Underhill can only focus on immediate cause and effect, and is unable to take a longer view.

Chasing every red herring in a debate cannot produce a useful discussion of the original topic (in this case, the result of violent revolution for liberty), which I intend to stick to.

Underhill’s case against violent revolution as a means for achieving liberty consists mostly of historical anecdotes, so it is he who has organized the herring hunt, so to speak.

Similarly, he accuses me of hypocrisy, saying “[c]ounter-factuals for thee, but not for me? How hypocritical.” Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t cite any use of counter-factuals on my part to back that up other than the one used explicitly to point out that counter-factuals prove nothing.

That counter-factuals prove nothing is not in contention; at issue is that ignoring them leads on to historical determinism and all of the fallacies thereof.

Continuing on, Reece presents a false dichotomy with the claim that “[a] revolution is either peaceful or violent; the law of excluded middle forbids any other status.” This is no answer to my contention that isolated cases of violent actors does not a violent revolution make. The tarring and feathering of a tax agent does not inherently represent a revolution as a whole. The reason is obvious: such an act would not be deemed revolution if it occurred in isolation. Like a heap of sand, there is no strict dividing line, but a few actions here or there are not enough to constitute a rebellion.

That a revolution is either peaceful or violent is a true dichotomy. Violence can vary in degree, but it is either present or absent. Otherwise, Underhill manages to make sense here.

In fact, our critic goes so far as to claim that my ceding of the point that “it hasn’t happened before” defeats my entire case! What an example of poor logic. It is also true that the fact that no one has made a perpetual motion machine does not constitute an argument against it, but Reece would be a fool to think he could do that!

Recognizing that the fact that revolution has yet to end the state is not proof that it cannot does defeat Underhill’s case, as his case is that we should never expect liberty from revolution. With regard to the perpetual motion machine, Underhill makes a categorical error. The argument against a perpetual motion machine is that physical laws backed by rigorous mathematics say that one cannot be constructed. No such argument can be made against an anti-political revolution to end the state.

He continues by arguing that people clamor for the state’s protection because “they do not perceive their survival to be in danger.” This is a curious objection.

To be more precise, most people do not perceive their survival to be in danger from the state, but this is changing.

Thousands of people die in terrorist attacks and the people fear more such attacks, but they do not perceive their survival to be in danger?!

Most people understand that their odds of dying in a terrorist attack are far less than their odds of being killed by a car accident, a severe storm, or even a non-terrorist murderer.

On the contrary, it seems the more people fear for their life the more they turn to the state if it is viewed as legitimate. This is what is meant by legitimacy – the people believe the state exists for the sole purpose of keeping them safe and thus turn to it when they are afraid.

As technological and entrepreneurial advancement creates ever more private alternatives to state monopolies, this legitimacy is slowly but surely being eroded.

They will not turn away from it because of economic problems, immigration issues or any other such contentions: they will only engage in more clamoring for self-destructive policies. It takes generations to dissuade people of this. Nor will significant acute crisis make them turn from the state’s policy makers; crisis leads to ever more radical authoritarianism, whether it be in the election of Hitler or the turn to a politician like Trump promising protectionism and nationalism.

This cannot continue forever; eventually there will be a point at which people either destroy themselves or turn against the state itself, finally understanding that it is the cause of their problems rather than the solution.

Suffice it to say that Reece continually demonstrates poor handling of historical fact and causality and often misses the entire point of the argument to throw out a red herring in response.

Suffice it to say that Underhill continually demonstrates short-sightedness, lack of imagination, and linear thinking. He frequently relies upon an anecdotal case, only to then accuse a critic of red herrings for dealing with said anecdotes in detail. Additionally, Underhill accuses people of missing his point when they are simply using elements of his case to make a counterpoint.