Should Libertarians Support Ethnic Nationalism?

The relationship between libertarianism and the alt-right has become a controversial issue in recent years. Views on the issue run the gamut from complete opposition to imperative alliance, with nearly every conceivable position between being advocated by someone noteworthy. Let us thoroughly explore the issue to see what support, if any, libertarians should provide to ethnic nationalist movements.

Ethnic Nationalism and Ethno-statism

Many people who support ethnic nationalism are also ethno-statists. That is, they seek to form nation-states that are ethnically homogeneous or nearly so, and they want these states to advance the interests of the majority population in an explicitly racial sense. While many ethnic nationalists advocate voluntary separation, it is unlikely that enough people would do this on a large enough scale to form the desired ethnic separation on the scale of contemporary nation-states. It would thus be necessary to initiate the use of force in order to achieve this goal, and this is nearly certain to occur regardless of whether leaders of ethno-state movements wish it to occur.

Libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes the acceptable use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never moral, but responding to an initiation of force with defensive force is always moral. This puts libertarians directly at odds with those who would use state power to force people into different associations from those which they would choose. In fact, libertarian philosophy justifies the use of any amount of force to defend against ethno-statists who attempt to forcibly separate people.

At first glance, this may appear to be an open-and-shut case, but there is far more nuance to consider. Unfortunately, most libertarian commentators stop here, failing to consider anarchic forms of ethnic nationalism as well as the role that ethno-statists may play in moving toward a free society, however unwittingly. Let us examine these and other considerations.

Anarcho-ethno-nationalism

The starting point for libertarian ethics is self-ownership; that each person has a right of exclusive control over 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 leads to a contradiction.

Each person has a right to exclusive control of one’s physical body, so it is wrong for one person to initiate interference with another person’s exclusive control of their physical body without their consent. This is how the non-aggression principle is derived from self-ownership. Each person has full responsibility for the actions that one commits with one’s physical body, so one may gain property rights in external objects by laboring upon unowned natural resources, and one owes restitution for any acts of aggression that one commits against other people or their property. The reason for this is that one is responsible for the improvements that one has made upon the natural resources, and it is impossible to own the improvements without owning the resources themselves. To initiate interference with another person’s property without their consent also violates the non-aggression principle because it denies them the just fruits of their labors.

It is possible to form and maintain an ethnic community using these principles. Someone may acquire land and form a community upon it, granting admission only to those who meet criteria chosen by the property owner. Alternatively, a group of like-minded people may purchase adjacent properties to achieve the same result. As long as no acts of aggression are committed, people who form a covenant community may choose whatever rules for admission and continued membership that they wish. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“With respect to some pieces of land, the property title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically damage the property owned by others. With respect to other territories, the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property (voluntary zoning), which might include residential versus commercial use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or without children, or smokers, for example.”[1]

As Hoppe notes, these criteria may have a racial component, as a free society has no state to tell property owners that they may not discriminate on certain grounds that policymakers deem objectionable.

It would not do to leave unaddressed the apparent contradiction in anarcho-nationalism. This is a semantic problem; the word ‘nation’ has become convoluted in its meaning. In this case, nation is to be understood in the sense of the Old English word ‘thede.’ A thede is a group of people who share a heritage, whether this be cultural, genetic, linguistic, religious, or some combination thereof. They define an identity for themselves and consider themselves to be a group of which everyone else is not part. (The term ‘elthedish’ refers to those outside the thede.) A person may be part of multiple thedes or none at all, though the latter makes survival and reproduction much more difficult. Non-genetic thedes can and do exist, but as purely social constructs without a clear biological root, they are less stable and require effort to maintain. With this in mind, it becomes clear that anarcho-nationalism need not refer to the contradictory idea of a stateless state, but to the idea of a group of people with a shared identity and common heritage who reject statism in favor of voluntary forms of social order.

A Liberal Case for Illiberalism

Of course, at this point we may expect outrage from all of the usual suspects that one would lift a finger in defense of racists. The classical liberals among these people would do well to consider their own attitudes toward freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other such freedoms that they hold to be universal human rights. When they defend these ideas, they frequently find themselves standing up for people who make controversial and/or reprehensible statements. This occurs because censors pursue such people almost exclusively. After all, they have no motivation to target people who make ordinary conversation that has no potential to cause meaningful change. Classical liberals defend their ideological opponents from censorship because they believe that there is a short and slippery slope between infringement of the rights of some and infringement of the rights of most. Thus, they follow the quote commonly misattributed to Voltaire but actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall, “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it.“[2]

What they fail to realize is that the same is even more true of private property rights. In the libertarian view, freedom of communication is not a universal right. As Hoppe explains,

“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. …Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal.”[3]

More generally, one has no right to communicate ideas on private property that someone else owns if doing so goes against the wishes of the property owner. Because private property is a more fundamental right than freedom of communication, restrictions on property rights are even more injurious to liberty than assaults upon freedom of speech or freedom of the press. As before, those who use their property in a mundane manner that is unlikely to cause meaningful change are unlikely to encounter interference. Those who are confronted about their non-aggressive use of private property rights will be those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner, such as excluding people on the basis of race. Because there is a short and slippery slope from interference with politically incorrect uses of private property to all manner of interference with private property rights, those who use their property rights in a controversial and/or reprehensible manner (as long as no force is initiated in the process) should be the first people that libertarians (or classical liberals) defend.

Ethnic Separatism

As explained previously, libertarianism stands against an ethno-statist takeover of an existing state apparatus followed by ethnic cleansing, endorsing the use of force to defend against and stop such events from taking place. But ethno-statism need not manifest in this form. Another possibility is the concentration of people of the same ethnicity in a particular area, who then decide to secede that region from a larger state. Although ethno-statism cannot be supported by libertarians in an absolute sense because it is still a form of statism, there are several beneficial effects which may result from a race-based secessionist effort. This may allow libertarians to offer limited support for such a movement as a lesser evil than the current state of affairs with a possibility for greater potential for libertarian efforts in future.

First, let us consider the political orientation of the typical racial separatist. Overt and elevated in-group preference combined with statism results in an affinity for socialism, which tends to manifest as fascism or national socialism among white nationalists and as communism among racial nationalists of other races. If such people become concentrated in a certain area, it follows that the political climate in said area will become more socialist while the political climate elsewhere will become less socialist.

Second, it follows that ethno-statists are useful for breaking up large, powerful states into smaller, less threatening parts. If, for example, white nationalists were successful in seceding Oregon from the United States, and black nationalists were to do the same with Mississippi, then the United States government would be weaker than it is currently, and the two ethno-states would be weaker still. While there would still be much to be desired from a libertarian perspective, it would be an improvement over current levels of state power.

Third, the departure of the most bigoted and hateful individuals of all races into ethnically homogeneous territories would produce a significant reduction in racial tensions. After all, a multiracial society is more likely to succeed if those who deem it impossible remove themselves from that society, and an ethnically homogeneous society is the only way to satisfy such people. That such a scenario would distinguish the true separatists from race-baiting charlatans so as to expose the latter is a decided plus.

Next, let us consider the possible fallout from such a development. Secessionist movements, irrespective of their impetus, tend to inspire a nationalist response in other parts of a state. While this is fraught with its own dangers because nationalism is hostile to decentralization of power below the national level, nationalism is certainly a lesser evil than globalism, and may serve as a temporary makeshift on the path to a better political arrangement than that presaged by the United Nations and the European Union. If secessionists succeed in their efforts, it will inspire other secessionists to try their hand, some of whom may be far more libertarian than the ethno-statists who began the trend.

Just as altering the concentrations of racists and socialists are two-way streets, so is altering the concentration of libertarians. If people who reject libertarianism in favor of ethno-statism wish to concentrate somewhere and separate from the rest of a current state, this is beneficial for the cause of liberty in the remaining area because it raises the percentage of libertarians there. This could be a deciding factor in achieving the critical mass of libertarians necessary to form a libertarian social order.

Crossover Effects

It is necessary to explore the consequences for the libertarian movement from explicitly standing up for the rights of ethnic nationalists. Because any collaborative interaction between groups is likely to result in some degree of personnel exchange, we may expect that some ethnic nationalists would become libertarians and vice versa. If ethnic nationalists would embrace libertarianism, that means that they would accept self-ownership, the non-aggression principle, and private property rights. As a result, they would have to stop initiating the use of force in their advancement of racism and advocating for politicians to do so on their behalf. This should be regarded as a positive development by any sane person. The presence of such people would also help to counter the worrying development of entryism by social justice warriors and other leftists into libertarian circles by triggering them into leaving.

We may also expect that some libertarians will become ethnic nationalists. They are more likely to become the sort of anarcho-thedists discussed earlier than to ally with national socialists, though the latter is not unheard of. This may be a positive development, in that there is a tendency toward politically autistic hyper-individualism in the contemporary libertarian movement. This is an individualism so extreme that it fails to comprehend group identities or interests, and may even deny their existence and relevance. Mingling with ethnic nationalists may awaken libertarians to the realities of demographic issues and alert them to the fact that they will consistently lose to those who organize around a group identity unless they do so themselves.

The Nature of the West

The final matter to consider is the role of ethnicity in libertarianism itself. Anyone who has been to a libertarian gathering knows that the attendees at any such event will skew overwhelmingly white, and anyone who has studied libertarian philosophy will know that most of its authors are white and/or Jewish. Ethnic nationalists have an explanation for this that fits with the available logic and evidence. Like any other species, humans adapt to their environment. Although humans are uniquely capable of adapting the environment to themselves, differences between individuals frequently outweigh differences between groups, and there has been significant mixing of human populations, these do not completely negate the former effect. Humans in different parts of the world have also developed different cultural norms, governing philosophies, and religious traditions as adaptations to their particular environments. This explains why universally preferable values are not universally preferred and why there is a correlation between ethnicity and the acceptance of libertarian ethical norms. Those who view the West only as a portable set of ideas should consider the above explanation for why the portability of those ideas has been relatively poor and why the continued practice of them outside of the West is linked to a legacy of Western colonialism in such places.

At this point, a few caveats are necessary. None of this is to say that individuals of color cannot become libertarians, or that the failure of non-Western cultures to produce a tradition of libertarian philosophy thus far proves that they cannot. Nor should libertarians who are not of European or Jewish descent be anything less than welcome in libertarian groups. But in the aggregate, demographic disparities are natural and should be expected. The disproportionate number of white or white-passing people at libertarian gatherings is neither a problem to be solved nor an achievement to be celebrated; it is simply a result explained by evolution and history. Thus, there is cause for cautious optimism that some white nationalists may come to reject statism and socialism in favor of creating a libertarian social order in their ethnic communities.

Conclusion

Depending on circumstances, libertarians can support some forms of ethnic nationalism, as long as they only involve voluntary ethnic separation and seek to use private property rights to create their ethnic enclaves. However, libertarians should forcibly suppress those who insist on aggressive violence in pursuit of racial agendas. Regardless of whether they agree with such action, libertarians should defend the rights of anarcho-ethno-nationalists to do this, as it is both a litmus test for true belief in private property and the first target that enemies of libertarianism will attack in a larger quest to diminish or destroy private property rights. This is an actual slippery slope that must be vigorously guarded.

No libertarian can support statism or involuntary socialism in an absolute sense, but the kind of self-quarantine of such ideologies that ethno-statists propose may prove useful for libertarians who do not live in an ethno-state. If ethnic nationalism leads people to break apart larger states into smaller ones, this would be a positive step toward liberty. A more general sense of nationalism may develop in response to ethnic secessionist movements, and while this will present an obstacle to further localization in the long-term, it may be a useful temporary ally against statist globalism.

The West, and the liberty that has thus far uniquely developed from its traditions, is neither exclusively genetic nor exclusively ideological; it is partly both. Libertarian philosophy was mostly constructed by members of particular thedes, and other members of those thedes are statistically more likely to accept this philosophy. Ethnic nationalists can inform and remind libertarians of this so that efficiency may be increased by focusing more on the aforementioned thedes in our conversion efforts.

References:

  1. Hoppe, Hans-Hermann (2001). Democracy: The God That Failed. Transaction Publishers. p. 139.
  2. S. G. Tallentyre (Actual author: Evelyn Beatrice Hall) (1906). The Friends of Voltaire. Published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, London. p. 198-9.
  3. Hoppe, p.218.

Book Review: Libertarian Reaction

Libertarian Reaction is a collection of fifteen essays by Insula Qui. The book explores various issues from a libertarian reactionary perspective. The book is divided into three sections; one focusing on reaction, one focusing on liberty, and a long final essay.

The first part begins with an essay on the limits of libertarian ethics. In Savages, Qui deals with several types of humans who cannot be properly be considered people, and must instead be dealt with as lesser beings. The point that there is a difference between colonialism (the imposition of law and morality on people who have no rational conception of it) and colonization (a parallel development of law and morality while not imposing upon others) is important and oft-overlooked. The essay finishes with a denunciation of both Islam and communism as incompatible with libertarianism if each is to be practiced rigorously. The arguments are correct but elementary, which the author has since remedied elsewhere.

In Borders And Liberty, Qui weighs in on the debate over border policy, concluding that while state immigration restrictions are not libertarian and the only justifiable borders are private property boundaries, closed borders are a lesser evil than the forced integration imposed by modern states. He recommends restoration of the right to discriminate, sponsorship of and vicarious liability for immigrants by those who wish to bring them in, and elimination of welfare programs as methods of improving the current situation. References to support the assertions regarding demographics would improve the case made here.

Prerequisites for Liberty deals with the problem of humans who are not savages as described in the first essay but are nonetheless inclined to aggressive violence. Again, references to support demographic arguments would be helpful. Qui notes several obvious but underappreciated truths here, most notably that a libertarian social order cannot exist below a certain intelligence level, as this would preclude people from understanding the necessary rules of such an order. He correctly states that some people may convert to libertarianism by seeing it in practice instead of reaching it through reason. In fact, this is by far the more likely method of conversion in the near future. The role of hedonistic practices in damaging a social order are discussed, as is the folly of accepting non-libertarians into libertarian circles simply to grow numbers.

The next essay is Voluntary Ethnic Separation, and it explains the difference between what libertarianism requires one to accept and the common caricature of all such ideas as hateful racism. Qui shows great insight in tackling common leftist arguments here. He also makes the important point that collectivism can arise as a benign heuristic to help with decisions because people lack the capacity to deal with individuals beyond a certain point. However, the same demographic claims resurface without proper support. Finally, the point that ethnostatism could be a step toward breaking up large nation-states into more local forms of governance is overlooked by most libertarians, but not Qui.

The Antistatist Case for Monarchial Government is a longer essay that Qui included despite having changed his views on the matter, as he views it as being theoretically important. He makes a distinction between government (a manager of land and provider of essential services) and state (an entity that exercises a monopoly on initiatory force) which is lost on many people. He also explains that while a libertarian society would be imperfect, a state has even worse inefficiencies. Later, Qui hints at a potential problem with wilderness areas falling victim to a tragedy of the commons, but this could easily be solved by homesteading such areas. There are two significant errors here: a lack of accounting for the arguments made by Stefan Molyneux and others in favor of private dispute resolution organizations with regard to how law courts could function without a state, and a contradiction concerning redistribution and efficiency. The final part of the essay reads much like Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s case that monarchy is superior to democracy, and is reminiscent of the real-world example of Leichtenstein.

Qui tackles an uncomfortable issue that perhaps interests too many people in libertarian circles with The Libertarian Solution to the Age of Consent. He quickly rebuts the left-libertarians who wish to let children make decisions regarding sexual conduct, describing parenting of young children as a sort of regency until the child gains the ability to use reason. But Qui errs in saying that damages done by improper parenting are no different from any other sort of crime, as one can never truly be made whole from the lifelong detriments caused by improper parenting.

Dysgenics and Market Nobility discusses the corruption of the phrase “all men are created equal” from a statement of equality before the law into a belief in human biological uniformity. In doing so, he distinguishes between the natural elite of a free society and the power elite of a statist society, which are often conflated by leftists. Qui then explains how the two tend to work together in statist societies to keep the same families at the top for centuries rather than let the rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle properly play out. The essay then turns toward dysgenics, which refers to programs that have the opposite of a eugenic effect. The roles of feminism, sexual liberation, and welfare statism are examined in this light.

The first part concludes with Civilization and Natural Law, which makes unconventional but strong arguments in favor of censoring and physically removing people on the basis of their political opinions. Qui’s case is more utilitarian and reserved than it needs to be, but he still reaches the correct result that freedom of speech is a privilege that comes with owning property, not a fundamental right. He then finds that the solution to intractable differences between people and groups is mutual discrimination and exclusion, as forced integration necessarily results in racial tensions.

The second section begins with The Freedom of Government, which revisits themes from several of the previous essays. Qui makes a powerful case that people who claim to believe in democracy but deny people the self-determination to choose their form of governance are charlatans. He also observes that a large enough number of small monarchies is effectively equivalent to a libertarian social order. The only problem with this essay is brevity, as more explanation of each point would greatly improve the presentation.

The Curse of Citizenship explores how the modern state makes its subjects into cogs of its machine through citizenship as a legal concept. Qui shows that democracy, contrary to leftist propaganda, only makes this worse by providing an otherwise absent appearance of legitimacy. He correctly recognizes the futility of localism as an ultimate strategy, as it fails to account for the supremacy of higher levels of government. But his contention that “corruption within the state is nothing other than the people who are creating the illusion themselves being aware of the illusion” is misguided; one can have this knowledge without weaponizing it into corruption, and one can be corrupt without such an awareness.

In The Role of Co-Operation in Competition, Qui refutes several myths about capitalism. First, he proves that capitalism is not as anti-social as its critics claim. Second, he corrects the misconception of competition as being necessarily aggressive in nature. Third, he explains how competition can actually be a form of cooperation, in that individuals or groups can agree to compete in order to find out which methods are superior. Qui segues into several examples of cooperation that are not strictly competitive, such as food companies co-marketing with drink companies and agreements between private road companies. To complete the argument, he examines how the contrapositive is also true; namely, that removing competition also removes an incentive to cooperate. He finishes with a brief discussion of cartels and makes the insightful observation that a labor union is not commonly recognized as a cartel, despite functioning much like one.

It is only in Reverse Claims to Property that Qui truly goes off the libertarian reservation in his thinking, though he admits at the beginning that he may be doing so. Here, he tries (and fails) to invent an inverse of property rights to resolve questions of state-occupied property and wilderness areas. Qui again neglects other libertarian theories on how to deal with pollution. This un-ownership would, as he suggests, legitimize rights violations in some cases.

In Who Watches the Watchmen, Qui explores the libertarian answer to this age-old question, namely that the watchmen (in the form of private defense agencies) all watch each other. Here he enters an off-topic though informative discussion on the impossibility of eliminating the state by democratic means. He then returns to the topic to find that re-establishment of a state is the worst case scenario in a stateless society, but all economic and military incentives work against it. That it is the worst case means that all other outcomes must be better, setting this particular objection on its ear.

National Defence Without Coercion is the last essay in the second part, and it deals with the subject at length. Qui begins by noting the common fallacy committed by statists: using a state to defend people against other states does not change the fact that people are subjugated by a state; it only changes which state is in control. He covers the basics of how a private defense agency should function, but is a bit too enamored with nationalism. His comparisons between a private defense agency and an insurance company make one wonder where such arguments were in earlier essays. The latter part includes some novel thought on how the facilities of a private defense agency might be employed in other ways during peacetime. The conclusion discusses the difference between pre-modern gentlemen’s war and modern total war, with libertarianism likely to end modern warfare and return us to the less destructive pre-modern type of warfare. This essay and the previous essay could have been combined.

The final part consists of one much longer essay titled Examining Cultural Destruction. Qui examines the causes and symptoms of cultural decay, then proposes solutions. The role of the state and central banking in reducing time preferences is explained, then Qui shows how capitalism makes this worse not by being bad in and of itself, but by amplifying whatever inputs it receives. Egalitarianism is blamed in the Rothbardian sense of a revolt against nature, as is the loss of autonomy and identity that statism causes. Symptoms of these causes are identified as the demonization of productive work, the collapse of stable interpersonal and family relationships, the loss of spiritualism and hierarchy, the ascent of shallow materialism, the prevalence of escapism, and the expansion of empiricism into inherently rational disciplines. To solve these problems, Qui recommends absolute private property rights, abolition of central banking and as much of the state as possible, and a restoration of traditional values.

The first word that comes to mind when describing the entire collection is ‘incomplete.’ Qui lacked an editor for the book, and it shows. The grammatical constructions and punctuation are frequently in need of revision, and each of the essays would benefit from a much deeper bibliography. But the thoughts expressed therein are sufficiently intriguing to merit reading despite these flaws.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Art Of Invisibility

The Art of Invisibility is a book about methods of maintaining privacy and anonymity in an age of surveillance by American hacker and cybersecurity analyst Kevin Mitnick. The book gives advice on every aspect of modern technology which could expose one to nosy neighbors, identity thieves, law enforcement, and other sources of unwanted attention. The book is divided into sixteen chapters which advise the reader about various measures that can be taken to improve security.

The introduction begins with the revelations made about the NSA’s activities by Edward Snowden, then discusses the information that is publicly available about most people with very little searching required. The first chapter is about password security and security questions. Tips are given for choosing a strong password, using a password manager, creating answers for security questions, and using multi-factor authentication. The second and third chapters cover surveillance of email and phones. Mitnick covers the concepts of metadata, encryption, and social engineering. He explains how the Tor browser and MAC addresses work. He discusses several current and historic methods of wiretapping phone conversations and pinpointing the location of a phone, then explains how a burner phone may be used to obtain some privacy.

Chapter 4 is about the functionality and use of encryption to thwart eavesdroppers. This is discussed in the context of text messages, cell phones, and computers, each of which is remarkably vulnerable without it. The next chapter begins with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which is now being used to prosecute anyone who deletes browser history that federal prosecutors wish preserved. Mitnick makes the obvious recommendation of not collecting such history in the first place, then instructs the reader on how to do so. He then discusses how Internet browsers track a user’s location and how this may be countered. The chapter concludes with the dangers of connecting devices and cloud storage.

The sixth chapter details various tactics that websites use to track users, such as scripts, single-pixel images, cookies, and toolbars, then offers advice for stopping them. The chapter ends with a basic overview of Bitcoin for overcoming some current legitimate uses for tracking. The dangers of sharing an Internet connection make up the seventh and eighth chapters. Mitnick teaches the reader how to set up an Internet connection that is difficult for malicious users to find and use. Next, he discusses several cases in which webcams were used to spy on people, including underage students. The phenomenon of ransomware, in which a user’s files are encrypted by malware and can only be decrypted by paying an extortionist, concludes Chapter 7. After this comes the pitfalls of public computers and Wi-Fi connections. Lessons on avoiding man-in-the-middle attacks, using virtual private networks, resetting one’s MAC address, and more are found in the eighth chapter.

The second half of the book opens with examples of photo metadata being used to locate people, then tells how to delete such information and prevent it from being created. Mitnick then gives advice on how to get unwanted photographs of oneself removed from websites, though it may not always work. The dangers of posting sensitive personal information on social media or otherwise sharing it with strangers is discussed. The extent to which corporations track commentary on social media is detailed through examples of students found publicly discussing standardized test material. The absurdity of minors facing criminal charges for possessing nude photos of themselves is used to illustrate the potential dangers of Instagram and Snapchat. The chapter finishes with privacy problems that can come from using dating sites and mobile apps.

Mobile device tracking is the subject of the tenth chapter. Mitnick writes about the third-party accessibility of information recorded by fitness-tracking devices as well as the trackability of people through the GPS features of their devices. He also shares an interesting episode of social engineering combined with tracking in which he surprised a careless driver who almost killed him with a stern warning supposedly from the DMV. The use of drones and facial recognition to erode privacy come later in the chapter, along with some prototypical countermeasures. The next two chapters detail how cars and home appliances can be used to track people, then show people how to turn off many of these features. Doing so will deprive users of some convenience, but that is the general cost of privacy and anonymity.

Chapter 13 applies the information discussed in previous chapters to the workplace. The insecurity of copiers, printers, and other such office appliances is highlighted so as to warn readers not to use them for any purpose that one would not want one’s employer or any hacker to see. Videoconferencing and remote file storage systems are covered in the last part of the chapter, with advice given for increasing security on them. The fourteenth chapter details the myriad ways in which government agents violate privacy and interfere with private electronics and communications, then advises readers on how to protect themselves while being aware of the laws in various countries. Also included here are the privacy concerns with hotel keys, supermarket cards, and airline boarding passes should they fall into the wrong hands.

The fifteenth chapter is mostly about the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, describing the mistakes that led to his capture. Devices that masks geolocation, and could thus have hidden Ulbricht from law enforcement had they existed in 2013, are mentioned. The final chapter lays out a step-by-step guide to achieving as much anonymity online as possible.

From beginning to end, Mitnick shares a wealth of information with just the right amount of personal anecdotes and other stories to keep the reader engaged. The Art of Invisibility is an excellent reference that deserves a place on the bookshelf of all who care about online privacy and personal security until enough time passes to render the information within obsolete, which may be on the order of decades.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Case For Judicial Corporal Punishment

The modern penal state is geared towards keeping its prisoners institutionalized, which is to say totally conditioned to the rhythms, desires, and goals of the penal state itself. This process supports the penal state, for institutionalized men and women usually commit more crimes once they return to the outside world. While low intelligence and poor impulse control can explain many cases of recidivism, they cannot explain all cases.

The state and its private prison contractors make more money off of full bunks and crowded cells. Ergo, stringent laws and the growth of the criminal justice system benefits the state at every level. For liberty to exist, this prison-industrial complex must be destroyed. The simplest method for accomplishing this is to return to the pre-modern punishments that the prison-industrial complex replaced. For more serious crimes, exile and outlawry could be reintroduced. For lesser offenses, a return to judicial corporal punishment is a superior alternative to the dehumanizing penal state. Let us explore the history of judicial corporal punishment, make the case for bringing back such punishments, and deal with likely objections.

A History of Violence

In the opening passage of his influential book Discipline and Punish, left-wing philosopher Michel Foucault characterizes pre-modern punishment as a gory spectator sport:

On 2 March 1757, Damiens the regicide was condemned ‘to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris,’ where he was to be ‘taken and conveyed in a car, wearing nothing but a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds’; then, ‘in he said cart, to the Place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and, on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses’…”[1]

The brutal evisceration of Damiens was meant to purge the body politic of one man’s infection. In Foucault’s telling, pre-modern punishment was personal and designed to be didactic (thus the importance of the punishment being seen). Pre-modern punishment was also based around the monarch. For instance, Foucault talks about the ceremony of punishment and how pre-modern kings usually spoke of crime as an assault on them, the office of the sovereign, and, by extension, God. Modern leaders, by contrast, usually speak of crime as aassault on and debt owed to society.

Such public humiliation was not confined to the Old World. Prior to the American Revolution, public executions and lesser punishments such as branding were undertaken by colonial authorities acting on behalf of both the British king and their colonial charters. In Puritan Massachusetts, “scolds” and “brawlers” were placed into the cucking stool. Most commonly associated with witchcraft trials, cucking stools were simple machines whereby guilty parties were repeatedly dunked into “purifying” waters. Elsewhere in colonial New England, bickering couples or fornicators were sentenced to the pillory, where, side-by-side, they were subject to the violent whims of the community that they had angered with their “ungodly” behavior. Property crimes in colonial New England prompted similarly harsh treatment. Those who committed tiefen, or the theft of livestock, food, or clothing from farms, had their ears removed. Counterfeiters suffered the same fate until new laws were established in 1806. Arsonists typically met with a noose.[2]

Popular history has remembered the Puritans as stern and superstitious provincials who saw the Devil peeking around every corner. However, they were a law-abiding society that utilized sharp punishments because of their unusual mixture of theocracy and republican virtue. Namely, every New England citizen was encouraged to spy on each other in order to ensure good behavior. If one local man left his barn door open or if a local woman talked too much, then the delicate covenant with God could be broken. Puritans protected this covenant like they protected their homes against Indian raids—with violence and prejudice.

The colonial South differed very little from New England in terms of its approach to corrective justice. 17th century Virginia saw criminals branded or mutilated in some way. As for prisons, the first one in American history may have been the English ship Susan Constant, the very same vessel that carried Captain John Smith and the Jamestown settlers to the New World.

The Coming of Prisons

British officials were bitten by the criminal justice reform bug early in the 18th century. As a result, James Oglethorpe, who was concerned about debt prisoners in Great Britain, was given control over the Colony of Georgia, North America’s largest penal colony. Here, work and the fresh air became substitutes for dank dungeons or “barbaric” practices like branding or mutilation.

During America’s push westward, physical punishment carried on in much the same way as it had in the 17th century. Horse thieves were hung by vigilante committees, while lynching parties tended to do the work of judges and juries. The lynching parties in the rural South tended to have a racial character, with whites killing black men under charges of rape or engaging in sexual improprieties with white women.

Back on the East Coast, criminal justice reform moved towards a supposedly more humane model of punishment. As was the case in England, American Quakers led the charge for prison systems that were designed to change the behavior of their inmates. From the late 18th century onward, America’s prisons became correctional institutions where wardens attempted to guide their charges to better lifestyles through work, contemplation, and isolation.

For Foucault, the linchpin to this new prison system was the Panopticon—a cyclopean tower that stood in the middle of a ring of prison cells. From this guard tower, prison officials hoped to direct the behavior and thought patterns of their prisoners. He writes,

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary…”[3]

The power of the Panopticon lies in the fact those within the purview of its vision can never be sure if they are being watched. Even if no one is controlling the tower, most prisoners will act as if someone is observing them. The theory of the Panopticon can today be found in the United Kingdom, where closed-circuit television cameras abound on almost every street corner. In the United States, not only is the NSA busy spying on everyone, but technology companies like Google and Facebook use their power to discourage “wrongthink” concerning political issues.

However, as powerful as the Panopticon is, it would have never been born without the Enlightenment and America’s transition from a limited monarchy to a constitutional republic. Rather than seeing crime as an offense against one person (the sovereign) or against a limited community, crime became seen as an offense against the entire society (the demos). It thus became cruel to subject criminals to customized punishments and important that criminals be kept away from the masses. The modern penal state does just that, but the process of creating a separate culture of prisoners actually rationalizes criminality. Criminals were once those who trespassed against divine authority, but criminality is now a profession that has a finishing school called prison.

Peace Through Force

The modern penal state has only been successful in producing more criminals. This is part of its business model, so in order to find a superior alternative, we must do away with the modern penal state. In its place should be private citizens and municipal authorities which do not receive any money from the federal government. Rather than operate contemporary prisons, these communities would subject criminals who have been convicted of serious crimes to flogging, branding, or other such corporal punishments. The most incorrigible criminals would be subject to execution or exile as an outlaw rather than life in prison. Lesser offenses would merit restitution to be performed in a different sort of prison that those which are common today.

It should go without saying that children should not be subject to judicial corporal punishment. Just as using physical violence at the individual level of the parent to discipline children violates the non-aggression principle, so too would the use of communal violence. Instead, every effort to reason with children and teach them virtue must be made. It is only after all such efforts are exhausted to no avail and a disobedient child grows into a criminal adult that they should feel the sting of the lash.

The practitioners should ideally be those aggrieved by the criminals; otherwise, the administrators should be the natural leaders in the community. Because one of the largest problems in modern culture is that the true nature of reality is hidden from the masses, the new corporal punishments should be performed in public, with all citizens encouraged to witness the acts and hear the reasons for them. Bringing back pre-modern punishments would show everyone that violence is disgusting and only righteous when used to deter aggression.

Another added benefit would be that criminal trials and punishments would be an expedited affair. Currently, the average time of criminal trials, whether for misdemeanors or felonies, is anywhere between three months and several years. In the proposed system, trials would be faster, primarily because one of the key components of this system would be a streamlined criminal code. There would be less crimes on the books, for libertarian theory only considers crime to be those offenses which victimize or threaten a person or property. For example, simple possession of drugs or engaging in prostitution in secret would be considered vices rather than crimes, to merit the attentions of the beadle rather than the policeman.

Along with faster trials and more efficient punishments, a return to pre-modern methodologies of punishment would curtail the demand for prisons. At best, only medium-sized jails would be needed to temporarily house those awaiting trial. And since life imprisonment would no longer be an available sentence, there would be no need for “supermax” correctional facilities that cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year. There would only be two options for the most hardened criminals: death or banishment from society.

Objections

As with an earlier proposal for private security, the first likely objection is that bringing back pre-modern punishments would incentivize vigilantism and the madness of crowds. Liberals will claim that such a proposal all but guarantees a return to lynching and racial injustice. Although there is no guarantee that every community would act perfectly rationally, every liberal must answer this question: is it better to have injustice on a small scale or on an industrial scale? Would community-organized punishment really be that much worse than the current penal state, which has seen millions of men pass through its doors thanks to pointless drug laws? The critic would also be conflating racial injustice with the methods of punishment being used, when the two are separate issues. Furthermore, the proposal is not to abandon a judicial structure in favor of vigilantism, but to reintroduce corporal punishment into a judicial structure.

Another possible objection is that the mentally or physically unfit would be subject to corporal punishment. This can be resolved by barring the mentally or physically unfit from certain punishments, although both could still face an array of pre-modern punishments, including permanent house arrest, banishment, and even cruel execution. Doctors and other medical professionals would play a key role in determining whether someone is fit for punishments such as flogging or branding.

A third objection would be that the proposed system would not deter crime. After all, there has never been any conclusive proof that the death penalty deters crime. Indeed, some of the most hardened criminals may even have a death wish. But this may have more to do with the current practice of capital punishment rather than its effectiveness in all cases. Capital punishment in America is a drawn-out process that often sees inmates waiting on death row for decades. Some famous criminals, such as Charles Manson and members of the Ripper Crew, were sentenced to death, but had the good fortune to be housed in liberal states that discontinued capital punishment. A pre-modern regime would not give criminals the chance to languish away in government-subsidized cells complete with food, showers, clothing, televisions, and other amenities. Similarly, rather than be injected with toxins or shocked with thousands of volts of electricity in secret death chambers, criminals would be publicly humiliated in view of all of society. Such an attack on personal pride and vanity would strike a deep cord in most criminals.

Fourth, some will condemn the use of corporal punishment as anti-libertarian, or at least counterproductive. As noted above, such arguments are correct when applied to children, but for adult aggressors who inflict bodily harm upon others, these are merely aesthetic and utilitarian concerns which play no role in libertarian theory. As Murray Rothbard writes,

“In the question of bodily assault, where restitution does not even apply, we can again employ our criterion of proportionate punishment; so that if A has beaten up B in a certain way, then B has the right to beat up A (or have him beaten up by judicial employees) to rather more than the same extent.”[4]

This comes not out of concern for efficacy or even deterrence, but out of concern for logical consistency.

Finally, the greatest objection to this proposal in America is the Eighth Amendment, which outlaws “cruel and unusual punishment.” While this amendment was written with the good intention of restraining the state, it prevents the punishment from fitting the crime in the event of cruel and unusual crimes. One could also argue that the entire concept of a prison is cruel and should be unusual. Furthermore, cruelty done in the name of justice is not immoral. While it may be cruel to brand a criminal for horse thievery, the original act of theft may have been just as cruel, if not more so, especially if a family depended on that horse for its livelihood.

Conclusion

The current penal state institutionalizes bad behavior and encourages recidivism in the form of social ostracism and limited economic prospects. By contrast, a pre-modern approach to criminal justice, even with its attendant violence, does more to discourage repeat offenders and the marginally criminally-minded. Better yet, a pre-modern system would do away with lengthy trials and the specter of long, taxpayer-funded waits on death row. Punishments would be quick, vicious, and public, thus increasing the likelihood of deterrence.

Such a system would have no need for the central state. All trials and punishments could be carried out at the local level. Judges, bailiffs, juries, punishers, and executioners could all be local residents. The holding cells would also have little need for federal funding, for local resources are generally enough for temporary housing before trial. A pre-modern punishment regime would decrease crime, cut out the vampiric state and its bloated penal system, and put authority back into the hands of municipalities.

References:

  1. Foucault, Michael (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Random House. p. 3
  2. Mofford, Juliet Haines (2012). “The Devil Made Me Do It”: Crime and Punishment in Early New England. Globe Pequot Press.
  3. Foucault, p. 201
  4. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. Humanities Press. p. 89

Guns Are The Only Bulwark Against Tyranny

On October 5, the New York Times published an opinion column by Michael Shermer in which he argues that the rule of law is a bulwark against tyranny, but guns are not. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis that he has made an erroneous case while committing numerous logical fallacies, and that the opposing view is correct.

“In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre — the worst in modern American history, with 58 dead and some 500 wounded — the onus falls once again to those against gun control to make their case.”

Shermer uses the qualifier “modern,” but does not bother to define it. It seems that to him, events like the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which agents of the United States government murdered 300 members of the Lakota Sioux tribe, including 200 women and children, do not count because they occurred before some arbitrary cutoff date. Ignoring such events is also convenient for the arguments he will make later. That the onus is on the gun rights side rather than the gun control side is simply asserted and may be simply dismissed.

“The two most common arguments made in defense of broad gun ownership are a) self protection and b) as a bulwark against tyranny. Let’s consider each one.”

Another common argument that Shermer ignores is the right to own property in general, of which the right to keep and bear arms is part and parcel. But that would require him to deal in a priori logic, which does not appear to be his strong suit.

Self-Defense, Crime, and Suicide

“Stories about the use of guns in self-defense — a good guy with a gun dispensing with a bad guy with a gun — are legion among gun enthusiasts and conservative talk radio hosts.”

This is because such events happen regularly, to the tune of at least 338,700 events in America in between 2007 and 2011. As will be explained below, this is a low estimate.

“But a 1998 study in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, to take one of many examples, found that ‘every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and 11 attempted or completed suicides.’ That means a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense.

A 2003 study published in the journal Annals of Emergency Medicine, which examined gun ownership levels among thousands of murder and suicide victims and nonvictims, found that gun-owning households were 41 percent more likely to experience a homicide and 244 percent more likely to experience a suicide.”

It is curious that Shermer could not find and cite any more recent studies to support his case, but let us deal with his evidence, such as it is. All such studies suffer from two fatal flaws; they cannot count the number of crimes which did not occur because a potential criminal either saw a gun or believed a gun was present and chose not to offend, and empiricism cannot provide information about counter-factuals. For instance, criminals who have been killed by defensive uses of guns may have otherwise gone on to commit scores of murders, but they were prevented from doing so in this timeline. Without guns, other weapons would be used to commit homicides and other crimes, such as knives, bombs, and vehicles, as occurs in countries where firearm ownership is rare and difficult. That there is a difference between a legally justifiable shooting and a morally justifiable shooting further complicates matters.

Furthermore, Shermer implies that all suicides and accidents involving guns are bad, which is not the case. A person who has a short amount of time to live and will be in excruciating pain for the entirety of that time may decide that nonexistence (or going to whatever afterlife the person believes in) is better than existence as a terminally ill person. In such a case, a self-inflicted gunshot wound can act as a form of euthanasia compared to the protracted suffering which would otherwise lie ahead. (And because many governments still violate the sovereignty of their citizens over their own bodies by prohibiting physician-assisted suicide, these are cases of bad people with guns being defeated by good people with guns, albethey in a different manner.) The tragedy in such a case is not the gun death, but the terminal illness behind the gun death.

Another case can occur during an armed conflict. A person whose position is being overrun by enemy forces may commit suicide to avoid capture, interrogation, and torture at the hands of the enemy. Historically, many women did this to avoid becoming victims of war rape and many people with valuable knowledge did this to keep themselves from being tortured into divulging important information to the enemy. In such cases, a self-inflicted gun death can be the best of a multitude of bad options. Though these situations are unlikely inside of the United States, they are not impossible.

Third, a person whose brain does not function properly can come to believe that putting a bullet through one’s skull has some effect other than ending one’s life, or that self-preservation is not a worthwhile endeavor. While there are many cases in which intervention is needed and the death of the mentally ill person would be regrettable, there are some people who have a chronic and incurable mental condition. A strong desire to end one’s life in the absence of terminal illness or an impending worse fate is a mechanism of natural selection to eliminate organisms which are not sufficiently fit to reproduce and take care of the next generation.

On the subject of accidental gun deaths, some cases are best prevented by education of gun owners, but others are a mechanism of natural selection. The gun owner who handles his guns haphazardly or maintains them improperly can remove himself from the gene pool when the gun either shoots him or fails catastrophically in his hands. The gun owner who is a parent and fails to secure his guns around young children is less likely to get to be a grandparent, great-grandparent, and so on. At any rate, accidents are the fault of people, not guns.

With regard to the claim that gun-owning households are more likely to experience a homicide or suicide, to say that this is because guns are present is a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Additionally, Shermer neglects to mention studies that show a decrease in violent crime as gun ownership has increased. Perhaps he realizes that such data would undermine his narrative. The aggregate is a wash; there is no clear correlation one way or the other.

“The Second Amendment protects your right to own a gun, but having one in your home involves a risk-benefit calculation you should seriously consider.”

The Second Amendment’s utility in this regard is questionable at best, and Shermer’s empirical arguments are highly suspect, but the idea that the decision to have a firearm in one’s home involves a risk-benefit calculation is technically correct.

Tyranny and Rebellion

“Gun-rights advocates also make the grandiose claim that gun ownership is a deterrent against tyrannical governments. Indeed, the wording of the Second Amendment makes this point explicitly: ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ That may have made sense in the 1770s, when breech-loading flintlock muskets were the primary weapons tyrants used to conquer other peoples and subdue their own citizens who could, in turn, equalize the power equation by arming themselves with equivalent firepower. But that is no longer true.”

Shermer unintentionally makes a strong argument that the right to keep and bear arms should be greatly expanded. In order to “equalize the power equation,” let us repeal the National Firearms Act of 1934 to remove taxes on certain categories of arms, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 so that private citizens can own a nuclear deterrent, the Gun Control Act of 1968 to eliminate licensing of arms dealers and manufacturers, the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 to decriminalize private ownership of machine guns manufactured after that date, and numerous other federal, state, and local measures that further restrict what kinds of weapons may be owned by private citizens.

“If you think stockpiling firearms from the local Guns and Guitars store, where the Las Vegas shooter purchased some of his many weapons, and dressing up in camouflage and body armor is going to protect you from an American military capable of delivering tanks and armored vehicles full of Navy SEALs to your door, you’re delusional.”

Shermer follows in the pattern of most other leftists in straw-manning the nature of a violent uprising to overthrow the state. No one seriously believes that a single individual is capable of going up against the armed forces of a nation-state and emerging victorious. Instead, such an effort would require a few percent of the civilian population to use self-defense against agents of the state just as they would against common criminals. Nor is it necessary to achieve the sort of victory that one nation-state would enjoy against another in a war in order to succeed in such a revolution. A sustained effort of decentralized, anti-political, guerrilla attacks need only make the prospect of being a government agent within a certain territory too dangerous of an employment option to be worthwhile, thus physically removing the state from that territory without the need to meet the state’s forces in regular warfare. Note that even a single instance of government agents being killed can greatly reduce oppression, at least in the short term.

As Shermer suggests, a state is likely to deploy its military domestically in an effort to put down such a rebellion. If the rebels are competent, they will blend into the general population when they are not actively engaging their opponents. Thus, using military hardware against the revolutionaries would cause many civilian casualties, especially in the case of area-effect weapons. Just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today, the state’s response to the rebels would cause more people to join the rebels to try to avenge their fallen friends and family members. The state would also damage the infrastructure that it needs to operate in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Shermer seems to believe that military vehicles and personnel are invincible juggernauts that the average citizen could not hope to defeat. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. Military vehicles are quite vulnerable to ambush in close quarters. Improvised explosives can destroy or disable them, as can large amounts of fire, such as from multiple Molotov cocktails. Aircraft are harder to deal with if the rebels present them with a target and cannot keep them grounded, but drones can be hacked and thermal evasion suits are not terribly difficult to build. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform each of those tasks. Someone must deliver the resources for both those tasks and the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves.

While leftists tend to deride such suggestions as pure fantasy, anyone who has bothered to seriously think through such possibilities knows that they are not, including high-ranking United States military personnel who are responsible for preparing plans for such scenarios.

“The tragic incidents at Ruby Ridge, in Idaho, and Waco, Tex., in the 1990s, in which citizens armed to the teeth collided with government agencies and lost badly, is a case study for what would happen were the citizenry to rise up in violence against the state today.”

That these are not useful case studies for the possibility of rebellion against the United States government has been demonstrated in the previous section. One must also consider the difference made by Timothy McVeigh. Although his actions cannot be defended from a deontological perspective, the Oklahoma City bombing appears to have had positive consequences with regard to how the state handles armed resistance. By the standard of Ruby Ridge and Waco, the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, and the Malheur standoff in 2016 all should have ended in mass casualties. But because McVeigh made such massacres costly for the state in terms of blowback, responding to such armed standoffs with overwhelming deadly force has become unpalatable.

Government Failure

“And in any case, if you’re having trouble with the government, a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun. Politicians and police fear citizens armed with legal counsel more than they do a public fortified with guns. The latter they can just shoot. The former means they have to appear before a judge.”

The previous two sections clearly refute the idea that the politicians and their agents can just shoot the public. As for citizens armed with legal counsel, they are going into a government courtroom, of government law enacted by those very politicians, presided over by a government judge, funded by taxes that the government extorted from them via the guns carried by those very police. This is a conflict of interest of astronomical magnitude that would never be tolerated in any situation that does not involve the state. The idea that a lawyer is a much more potent weapon than a gun for resolving trouble with a government is thus risible at best.

“A civil society based on the rule of law with a professional military to protect its citizens from external threats; a police force to protect civilians from internal dangers; a criminal justice system to peacefully settle disputes between the state and its citizenry; and a civil court system to enable individuals to resolve conflicts nonviolently — these institutions have been the primary drivers in the dramatic decline of violence over the past several centuries, not an increasingly well-armed public.”

The correlation between declining violence and the civil society he describes does not establish a causal link, so Shermer commits another cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. He also assumes that the state is necessary to provide these essential services. In fact, the opposite is true. Rule of law is the idea that people should be governed by laws rather than by the arbitrary decisions of rulers. A state is a group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force in a certain geographical area. People who have a monopoly on initiatory force necessarily have a monopoly on the enforcement of laws. This means that they can choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof. Thus, in the presence of a state, those who wield state power rule the law and not vice versa. Therefore, the only possibility for rule of law, as well as the peace and justice that follow from it, is to have no state.

The civil society Shermer describes has its own set of intractable problems. First, the professional military may protect its citizens from external threats, and the police may protect civilians from internal dangers, but this is the security of a farm animal rather than the security of a free person. The state uses its military and police to prevent exploitation of its subjects by other powers only so that it may monopolize their exploitation. And should this monopoly decline and fail, the citizens will be less secure than they were before its inception. The criminal and civil courts cannot perform their functions correctly due to both the conflict of interest explained in the previous section and the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

“States reduce violence by asserting a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, thereby replacing what criminologists call ‘self-help justice,’ in which individuals settle their own scores, often violently, such as drug gangs and the Mafia.”

The goal of those who wish to create a superior form of social order should be a reduction of aggression, which does not necessarily entail a reduction of violence because aggressive violence may be reduced by overwhelming displays of defensive violence. That being said, government agents murdered over 200 million people in the 20th century, which is hardly a reduction in violence compared to pre-modern conditions.

Shermer then presents a false dilemma between a state monopoly on criminal justice and a vigilante free-for-all, completely ignoring the possibility of market provision of criminal justice through competing private businesses. He also neglects the fact that drug gangs and other organized crime make much of their income through goods and services which do not involve aggression against people or property but have been outlawed by the state regardless. Without state interference in the economy, much of the economic activity which currently involves violent dispute resolution between criminals would instead involve peaceful dispute resolution between legitimate business interests.

Finally, given that the state monopoly on force creates a system in which justice for the crimes of its agents is functionally impossible coupled with anarcho-tyranny, there are cases in which “self-help justice,” better known as vigilante justice, is superior to no justice at all.

“Homicide rates, for example, have plummeted a hundredfold since 14th-century England, in which there were 110 homicides per 100,000 people a year, compared with less than one per 100,000 today. Similar declines in murder rates have been documented in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands and Scandinavia. (American homicide rates are around five times higher than in Europe, owing primarily to the deadly combination of guns and gangs.)”

Again, this does not tell us why homicide rates have fallen. Better economic circumstances and declining exposure rates to toxic substances that increase aggressive behavior also contribute to declining violence. That guns and gangs are primarily responsible for the higher homicide rate in America is simply asserted and may thus be simply dismissed.

“There’s no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. But it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise. Far superior are nonviolent democratic checks and balances on power, constitutional guardians of civil rights and legal protections of liberties.”

There is indeed no question that tyrannical states have abused the freedom of their citizens. What Shermer fails to understand is that all states are necessarily tyrannical and must abuse the freedom of their citizens in order to perpetuate their operations. The idea that it is no longer realistic to think that arming citizens to the teeth is going to stop tyranny should it arise has been thoroughly refuted above. Nonviolent democracy in the context of statism is a contradiction of terms because the state rests upon a foundation of aggressive violence, and democratic forms only pour gasoline upon the fire by setting part of the citizenry against another part. Checks and balances do not really exist in practice, as the various parts of a state apparatus invariably come to conspire together toward their common goal of dominating the society under the leadership of the most powerful branch of government. The Constitution itself and the laws passed under it are similarly useless as guardians of rights and protections of liberties because the very powers they are supposed to limit (if we ignore the fact that the Constitution expanded state power far beyond what the Articles of Confederation allowed) are in charge of their interpretation, enforcement, and amendment.

Conclusion

Shermer’s case is deeply flawed from beginning to end. His cherry-picked studies fail to demonstrate his case, as studies with opposing findings exist and the aggregate is inconclusive. He makes unfounded assumptions regarding self-defense and suicide, has thoroughly failed to understand the use of self-defense against the state, and presents a view of civil society that is starry-eyed and naive. Contrary to Shermer, the only bulwark against tyranny is the credible threat of forcible removal of tyrants from power, and this requires the possession and use of guns.

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.

Twelve Observations On The Catalonia Independence Vote

On September 6, the government in Catalonia announced that it was going to hold a vote on October 1 to decide whether the region should secede from Spain and become a nation-state unto itself in the form of a republic. It also announced that should the people choose independence, the government would declare secession within 48 hours. Spain’s constitutional court declared the vote unconstitutional, and the central government in Madrid said that it would attempt to stop the vote. Neither side backed down. The Spanish government seized ballots and tried to shut down polling places, resulting in violence that left over 840 people injured. The vote still took place, with nearly 90 percent voting for independence. In response, pro-secession protests occurred throughout Spain and a general strike was called across Catalonia. Spain and the European Union have rejected Catalonia’s requests for mediation, and King Felipe VI has denounced the secession movement. Twelve observations on these events follow.

1. One cannot understand the present without knowing the past. The formation of the current Spanish state can be dated to 1469, when the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon were united by the marriage of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Under their leadership, the last Muslim rulers were expelled from Spain, Christopher Columbus was sent to the New World, and royal power was centralized at the expense of local nobility. Even so, Spain has always been a multi-ethnic state, composed of Basques, Catalans, Galicians, and others. In the 19th century, nationalist feelings among these groups grew. These aspirations took a back seat during the Cuban War of Independence, Phillipine Revolution, and Spanish-American War. Regions of Spain were granted greater autonomy in the Second Spanish Republic (1931-39), but this was brutally repressed during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (1939-75), such that people were not even allowed to give their children Basque, Catalan, Galician names. After Franco’s death, Spain was turned into a semi-federal state with 17 autonomous communities, some of which have their own languages and cultures, as Catalonia does.

2. The Catalan independence movement cuts across ordinary political lines. Some people in Catalonia believe that independence would bring order to the region’s finances, or make taxes paid by Catalonians provide more benefit to Catalonians. Others are migrants who became involved with the Catalan movement and have no loyalty to the government in Madrid. Still others have particular political objectives that they believe to be easier to achieve on a smaller scale, such as an independent Catalonia rather than the entirety of Spain. In American terms, the parties which are in a temporary alliance to achieve independence run the gamut from the Constitution Party to the Green Party.

3. The harder one clenches one’s fist, the more sand slips through one’s fingers. For the Madrid government, responding with peaceful dismissal of the independence vote would have been more effective. Instead, they met peaceful efforts by Catalans with violence. In the words of a Spanish politician, “We have given them the pictures they want.” By forcefully opposing the self-determination of Catalans, the Spanish government is pushing swing voters toward the independence movement, as such actions raise the specter of Franco that is still remembered, particularly among older people. Furthermore, the creation of a new state is much easier if existing states recognize it, and images for foreign consumption of people trying to vote and being hit with truncheons and shot with rubber bullets for it will create pressure on other governments from their people to recognize Catalonian independence.

4. The voting results are questionable. The Catalan government rushed through the legislation for the referendum and passed it in a late-night session without the opposition being present. They vowed to secede even if turnout was low, and engaged in smear tactics against those who opposed independence. Turnout was only 42.3 percent, and the anti-independence side did not campaign because the government in Madrid declared the vote to be illegal.

5. This will provoke greater nationalist sentiment in the rest of Spain. Whenever separatist sentiment grows in one part of a nation, a unionist sentiment tends to grow elsewhere in reaction to it. In some cases, this occurs because the separatists threaten to remove an economically important area from the nation, such as a mine or a seaport. In others, such as the American Civil War, the separatists are engaged in activities that the unionists find morally reprehensible. Sometimes, a central government simply wishes to keep separatists subjugated so as to discourage other separatist movements elsewhere in the nation, such as in the Basque country. Whatever the case may be, nationalism in Madrid is likely to grow alongside secessionism in Catalonia. This will be bolstered by the fact that Catalonia is more leftist than the rest of Spain, as nationalism tends to be more common on the right.

6. Nationalism is not an ally of liberty; merely an enemy of some of liberty’s enemies. The nationalist sentiments of Catalans or anyone else in Spain will not lead to liberty in and of themselves. Only by coupling such sentiments with the principles of self-ownership, non-aggression, and respect for private property can a libertarian social order emerge. Nationalism is also hostile to any decentralizations of power below the national level. That being said, nationalism is certainly a lesser evil than globalism, and may serve as a temporary makeshift on the path to a better political arrangement.

7. The EU will be weakened regardless of the end result. If Catalonia becomes independent, it will be outside the EU, having to either apply to rejoin or have its move toward independence also serve as a Catexit, so to speak. Given Catalonia’s population of 7,522,596 and GDP of $255.204 billion, this would remove 1.47 percent of the population and 1.23 percent of the GDP from the EU. By contrast, Brexit will remove 12.83 percent of the population and 13.45 percent of the GDP from the EU. Even though Brexit is a much larger issue, the impact of a Catexit would still be noticeable. Catalonians are unlikely to want to exit the EU, but doing so may be unavoidable if they cannot gain admission once they are independent.

As per the previous point, it is also necessary to contemplate a Spexit, with or without Catalonia included. Growing nationalism in Spain as a reaction to growing separatism in Catalonia may lead to euroskepticism there. This, combined with longstanding economic issues in Spain such as high unemployment, may lead conservatives to contemplate the possibility of a brighter future outside of the European single market. A complete Spexit would remove 9.08 percent of the population and 5.94 percent of the GDP from the EU, while only Catalonia remaining in the EU would remove 7.61 percent of the population and 4.71 percent of the GDP from the EU. Though not as impactful as Brexit, a second member state leaving the EU could signal the beginning of the end.

Finally, regardless of whether any exits occur, the EU will almost certainly appear to be weak and ineffectual as a result of recent events. Calls for it to mediate the dispute have gone unanswered, and the EU seems intent on ignoring repression of a democratic vote. Given the EU commission’s threats of sanctions against Hungary and Poland for their anti-democratic policies, this seems rather hypocritical. One must also consider that the EU has no mechanism for dealing with such an issue. Article 3a of the Treaty of Lisbon calls for the EU to “respect their essential State functions, including ensuring the territorial integrity of the State, maintaining law and order, and safeguarding national security,” so it is unlikely to help the separatists. Nor is it in the rational self-interest of anyone who wields power in the EU to intervene, as doing so would encourage separatists in other EU nation-states.

8. Secessionist movements are fueled by economic hardship and government mismanagement. The role of the Catalan people in Spain is both privileged and marginalized. Even though Catalans have maintained a distinct identity, they contribute more to Spain than they receive in return, especially in terms of institutional influence, which remains dominated by Madrid. Since the 2008 financial crisis, this has exacerbated tensions, and the continued economic problems in Spain lead some Catalonians to believe that they could do better for themselves with more local governance.

9. The state is legitimized only by force. The simple truth is that any other basis for legitimacy is subject to reason and defeated thereby. A deity fails because no such being is proven to exist. A constitution fails because any person or group can write one, leaving the state’s legitimacy constantly imperiled. An appeal to tradition fails because all traditions and states must begin somewhere, leaving them unable to be formed in the first place. A supranational body fails because it begs the question of how it gets its legitimacy. A social contract fails because a valid contract must be entered into willfully by all parties. Democracy fails because it is a logical impossibility, which could not even appear to function without the state already in place, thus resulting in circular reasoning.

Mao Zedong spoke truly on the nature of state legitimacy; “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” A state continues to operate because it violently subjugates anyone who would attempt to end its operation, and it maintains territorial integrity by violently suppressing any efforts by its people to secede from the state. The only factor preventing individuals or sub-national groups from gaining sovereignty is the fact that they lack the force of arms and/or the willingness to use them for that purpose.

10. Self-determination must be taken and defended by force. Given the previous point, the path to true independence is clear. A separatist movement must first declare independence, but this will never be sufficient. The larger state will seek to retain any breakaway provinces by force, and if the separatists wish to form a new nation rather than be imprisoned or executed on charges of sedition or treason, they must respond with defensive force to the aggressions of the larger state. This has been the norm at least since the American Revolution, and the Catalonian situation is shaping up to be no different.

In a more general theoretical sense, self-determination must be taken and defended by force because the failure to do so will result in some group of aggressors infringing upon one’s self-determination. As Vegetius said, “He, therefore, who desires peace, should prepare for war.” Only by doing this can one present an effective deterrent against those who would return a free people to a state of bondage.

11. Repression by the Spanish government may provoke terrorism. Should the violence escalate, as appears likely, some Catalonians may end up following the Basque model. In the Basque Country, there is a moderate nationalist and separatist movement, much like the Catalonian independence movement. But there is also the ETA, a paramilitary group that has engaged in terrorist acts for decades. The group was founded in 1959 during Franco’s regime, but continued carrying out attacks for decades after the restoration of regional autonomy. Other examples of this throughout the world include the Irish Republican Army and the PKK in Kurdish regions of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Notably, the Kurds are also attempting to create a new state for themselves at the time of this writing.

12. The international community functions as a cartel. Catalonia and Iraqi Kurdistan are currently attempting to become independent nation-states, and both are being met with a mixture of indifference and contempt from existing nation-states. That such movements provoke hostility from the remainder of their current states is understandable and has been addressed above, as has the uneasiness of foreign governments to recognize the independence of separatist movements. But there is more at work here, which may be explained by considering the role of cartels in a marketplace and the effects that decentralization would have if taken to its logical conclusion.

The standard libertarian view is that cartels are inherently unstable, as the incentive of each member has a profit motive to betray the cartel. This incentive is frequently countered by state interference in the economy to protect a cartel from this effect. There is no more profitable venture in the current system than the management of a state, so this profit motive is amplified alongside the protectionist motive as an equal and opposite reaction. But libertarians tend to under-appreciate the role of aggressive violence in the marketplace, which is a service for sale like any other. This keeps them from fully understanding situations like these, in which established players seek not only to out-compete upstarts or hamstring them through regulatory capture, but to engage in direct violent suppression of competitors.

Finally, the rulers of nation-states must be aware at some level that the entry of new polities into the established order has the potential to remove that order from power. In the words of Murray Rothbard,

Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy,’ why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person? But, of course, if each person may secede from government, we have virtually arrived at the purely free society, where defense is supplied along with all other services by the free market and where the invasive State has ceased to exist.”[1]

Taken to its logical conclusion, political exit may be disintegrative, but stopping somewhat short of atomized individualism would both remove the Cathedral from power and create the opportunity to build a superior form of social order. The establishment has no interest in allowing this to happen and would rather nip it in the bud at the expense of looking oppressive and/or indifferent than risk losing their global hegemony.

Taken together, these explanations help one understand why the established nation-states, despite their contrary interests, can agree that no new members should be able to join their club.

References:

1. Rothbard, Murray (2009). Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Scholar’s Edition, 2nd ed. p. 1051.

Privatizing State Security

The title of this article is an intentional contradiction. Not only is the modern state a coercive body that initiates and sustains itself through violence (thereby lying through its teeth about “national security”), but the real aim of this article is to bypass the state security apparatus altogether. In short, this article will make a modest proposal: in order to subvert the military-industrial complex, citizens and parallel alternative institutions should think of security in private terms.

First and foremost, security is the duty of individuals. Everyone should realize that nobody can care about their own lives as much as they do. Therefore, owning a gun or any other weapon is neither an extravagance nor an antisocial threat; it is the most effective means of protecting one’s most fundamental right, the right to life.

If a disability or some other impairment makes self-protection an impossibility, then families or communities should fulfill that role. In contemporary society, many people suffer when these steps of self-defense are bypassed completely and the state is given total control over security, especially those who live in urban centers or states with restrictive gun laws. The police cannot be everywhere at all times, and much of their time and effort is consumed by enforcing useless laws which actually endanger the public.

Besides inefficiency, relying on the state for one’s personal safety is a gross waste of money. On a national scale, there is no entity that drains the coffers quite like the Pentagon. Late in 2016, the Defense Business Board released a report criticizing the Pentagon for trying to cover up $125 billion in bureaucratic waste. Besides wasting roughly $400 billion on the clearly deficient F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the United States military apparatus wastes taxpayer money on such vague extravagances like “overhead” and “administrative fees.”

If such monumental waste is not enough to convince people that America has a problem, then the continuing mess in Afghanistan should. After sixteen years of warfare, the Taliban is still holding large swaths of the country, ISIS is putting up a fight, and the government in Kabul remains mind-numbingly corrupt. This is what $714 billion of taxpayer money has won us so far.

President Donald Trump came into Washington, D.C. with promises of making “America First” not only an economic slogan, but also a foreign policy motivation. Before he became a candidate, he railed against the waste of the Afghan war and hinted that, if elected president, he’d pull US troops out of the country.

The president had a chance to do just that in August 2017. He chose instead to send a small, additional force of 4,000 troops—the type of force that is big enough to look like his administration is doing something, but too small to have any meaningful significance on the ground. Half-measures usually mean nothing, but half-measures really mean nothing if they do not go hand-in-hand with policy changes or new modes of strategic planning.

President Trump’s Afghanistan strategy should only merit our attention because it briefly shined a light on a true alternative. Erik Prince, the former US Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater USA and now runs Frontier Services Group Ltd., proposed replacing America’s military with private contractors. Prince’s solution promised to not only save $40 billion a year, but its establishment of a “viceroy” (an old imperial term that Prince used in a somewhat cheeky fashion) and a smaller, more specialized American military force would mean less bodybags coming home on C-130s every year.

Prince’s proposal was not only shot down like an enemy plane, but, while discussing his plans on NPR, Prince was labeled a “warmonger,” criticized for trying to undermine the morale of military NCOs, and lambasted by nominal liberals for denying the state its right to unlimited control over violence. Throughout it all, Prince kept reminding his opponents that private warfare is as old as prostitution, and is certainly not uncommon in American history.

Private warfare is due for a comeback. However, not all mercenaries are equal. Each type of private warfare that can be found in history has had its downsides. Several will be discussed below with an eye towards finding which one could be best utilized in the fight against the tyrannical warfare-welfare state. A private military ethos could not only break the back of warfare socialism, which has become standard in the United States with or without war, but it could also begin the process of conditioning American citizens away from thinking about the state as being synonymous with security.

The Freikorps Model

Right after the armistice to end World War I was signed, millions of German troops returned to a Germany that they thought would welcome them as heroes. That is not what happened at all. Following the declaration of the German Republic, which was controlled by the Majority Socialists (the Social Democratic Party, or SPD), many on the German left seized the opportunity to formalize Karl Marx’s dream of a communist German state. The most organized of these groups were the Spartacists, a collection of radical Bolsheviks led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (the latter of whom was a naturalized German citizen of Polish-Jewish ancestry). The Spartacists and their sympathizers briefly controlled Berlin, and were in certain parts joined in their rebellion by mutinous sailors from the major German port of Kiel.

For the Sparticists, this revolution was not only in fulfillment of Marx’s dream of a proletarian utopia in Europe’s most industrially advanced nation, but it was also a way to kill the “sellout” republic in its infancy. In this one respect they were right, for many of the Social Democrats like President Friedrich Ebert and Minister of Defense Gustav Noske were Wilhelmian patriots who had supported the war and who were not entirely committed to the aims of the leftist elements in their party.

The new government needed to put down these rebellions quickly. The problem was that several members of the German defense establishment were on the side of the communists. The Chief of Police in Berlin at the time was Emil Eichhorn, a member of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) and a man dedicated to supporting the Bolshevik takeover of the Prussian capital. At one point, Eichhorn released several political prisoners, including several well-known communists.

Desperate to suppress this communist rebellion, the Republic turned to the new private militaries known as the Free Corps (Freikorps). Not wanting to return to normal life and what they saw as the constraining norms of the bourgeoisie, thousands of soldiers volunteered to serve in regiments headed by authoritarian junior officers. From the very outset, these troops loathed the new German Republic and saw its supporters as the chief reason why they lost the war (the “Stab-in-the-Back myth”). But, for the time being, Ebert and Noske believed that these battle-hardened veterans would need little encouragement to begin attacking communists on German streets. They were right.

However, in making a pact with the devil, the Weimar government spelled its own doom in 1919. After all, Freikorps soldiers despised liberal democracy and always saw the eradication of “Western” values in Germany as their raison d’être. In the book Vanguard of Nazism, Canadian historian Robert G. L. Waite quotes one Freikorps soldier as saying that their mission was always political:

“These people still believe that could build on the same lies and false sentiments with which—in spite of unheard of sacrifices on the part of soldiers—they had lost the war against the Western world. Now this lie was fulfilled through the acceptance of Western democracy. Now this blasphemy was made official. The western bourgeoisie had triumphed…We [the students of 1918] replied: We must become nihilists in order to crush tis rottenness underfoot.”[1]

Not long after performing services on behalf of the government, the Freikorps soldiers became, in their own words, “outlaws” who rampaged and pillaged ostentatiously on behalf of German nationalism, but, more truthfully, on behalf of their own desire for action. Freikorps units, which designated their commanding officers as Führer, believed in the principle of “primitive man.”

One of the admirers of Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, the leader of the best Freikorps unit, the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt, was positively described as having a “primitiveness and simplicity” that exuded a “stoic soldierly instinct” that had no time for “political or philosophical convictions.”[2] Such mindless destruction saw Freikorps units pillaging the Baltic territories on behalf of Germany and the White Russian Army. Other Freikorps soldiers found more appeal in the violent radicalism of the Bolsheviks and the Führer Vladimir Lenin.[3] These “Freebooters” craved action and violence. They became a law unto themselves, as evidenced by the Feme murders, a series of political assassinations that may have killed as many as 354 “traitors” on behalf of the German Volk.[4]

The problem with recreating a Free Corps movement in America is obvious: such political militias can never be fully trusted by owners of property or those who seek a stabilized social order. The Freikorps glorified in chaos, and chaos is the enemy of liberty. The story of the “beefsteak” Nazis (brown on the outside, red on the inside) also sheds light on the fact that Freikorps soldiers routinely switched their allegiances, especially between the two most powerful totalitarian ideologies.

While a Free Corps movement made up of American veterans may not be so prone to utopian ideologies, America in 2017 is not Germany in 1918. American degeneracy is caused by prosperity, not material poverty or the shame of military defeat.

The Condottieri Model

It is easy to romanticize the military engagements of the Middle Ages. After all, unlike modern wars perpetrated by nation-states, warfare during the medieval age was a small-scale affair between kings and their private armies. Most of the time, medieval cities and villages were left alone so long as they paid a fee and offered up no resistance. In Anatomy of the State, Murray Rothbard quotes F.J.P. Veale in saying that “the rich burghers and merchants of medieval Italy were too busy making money and enjoying life to undertake the hardships and dangers of soldiering themselves.”[5] Therefore, these townspeople hired foreign mercenaries to defend them. When a threat was neutralized and the job was done, these mercenaries were paid and told to go away.

The benefit of this system was that civilians were mostly left alone and could continue with life and trade. Theoretically, these mercenaries would try to avoid unnecessary casualties, and would only attack villagers and burghers if their payment was not forthcoming. Unfortunately, this is not always how it played out. As noted by Joseph R. Stromberg, many mercenaries of the Early Modern period set out to become territorial lords, which essentially meant that they began wars of aggression in order to claim private kingdoms. “Many mercenary captains aspired to become outright political rulers—men on horseback—rather than mere subcontractors in the business of security provision.”[6]

Although these mercenaries, known in Italy as condottieri, did not engage in the type of warfare that indiscriminately killed civilians or created undue hardships to lives and property, they nevertheless injected political chaos wherever they went. Then as now, mercenary bands attracted men of action who grow easily bored with too much peace. Such men are prone to engaging in conflict only to satisfy their boredom. In the 19th century, American filibusters (not to be confused with the parliamentary tactic) undertook private military expeditions to Latin America in order to aid local liberals, establish private fiefdoms, and/or spread the business of slavery. In the 20th century, adventurers have had a hand in destabilizing Germany, Africa, and Asia.

The idea of creating modern mercenaries in America is downright silly. First, foreigners should never be in charge of another nation’s security. Second, mercenary warfare in the presence of states is almost always offensive in nature, thereby making imperial expeditions all but a certainty.

The Militia Model

The militia has a long and storied tradition in American history. Militia troops were key to the American victory in the Revolutionary War, for militia units utilized small-scale tactics, guerrilla warfare, and targeted assassination of British commanders that forced the British to penetrate deep into the American hinterlands. This over-extended British supply lines, thereby making it easy for American militia fighters to win the day in small to medium-sized battles.

Militias are also synonymous with republics. The Second Amendment not only enshrines the right to self-defense, but the right to form militias as well, though both came under heavy attack by the Supreme Court in the intervening years. In a better world, all American communities would be able to form their own militias in order to protect their property rights and dissuade the vampiric state from overstepping its official limitations. Militias do not have to be standing forces, but it would be in the best interest of a community if all able-bodied men were well-trained and adequately prepared for emergencies and insurgency-style warfare. The best feature about militias are that their small size and local focus make them best-suited for defensive warfare rather than offensive warfare. Militias are not designed for long, extended wars of conquest. Rather, a militia unit is designed for low-intensity conflict wherein they have the advantage in regards to intelligence, knowledge of terrain, and maneuverability.

Modern America will undoubtedly recoil at the very proposal of forming militias. Thanks to a campaign of disinformation during the 1990s, when homegrown militias became synonymous with white supremacist politics and domestic terrorism, any militia that forms today will be quickly infiltrated by government agents. A militia directly threatens the state’s monopoly on violence. The state and its supporters know this. Look no further than the overreaction surrounding the standoff between Ammon Bundy and Western ranchers against the Bureau of Land Management. The same people who fret over “Islamophobia” and police brutality towards blacks were the same ones advocating for dropping bombs on American citizens.

Conclusion

The painful truth is that all these options would be snuffed out by the modern Leviathan state. From a purely logical perspective, an American Free Corps might work, so long as sympathetic junior officers decided that it was right to let their men become political soldiers. The US military has many regulations dictating what service members can and cannot do while in uniform. Therefore, any Free Corps creation would automatically go against the oaths that many of its potential members took upon enlisting in the US military. Most take these oaths very seriously.

The likelihood of American mercenary bands serving stateside is nil. While libertarian or right-wing mercenaries serving abroad is a bettter idea than current practices, these men will undoubtably face prosecution on charges of treason or terrorism for daring to fight for a country or an idea that goes against progressive liberalism.

In the end, a militia force makes the most sense if Americans are serious about maintaining their local liberty in the face of an increasingly tyrannical state. That said, this militia must function in strict secrecy. Wearing uniforms and bearing flags is a sure way to draw the attention of the FBI or local law enforcement. Conversely, without such uniformity, many military bands lose cohesion and fall into infighting.

Unfortunately, there are no perfect answers to this situation. The idea of a powerful state is now unthinkingly accepted by Democrats, Republicans, and centrists. Republicans rely on the votes of military members past and present, and so would be unlikely to support any measure that threatens the force and violence monopoly enjoyed by the Pentagon. Democrats would shriek “racism” and “terrorism,” and would run to the receptive state in order to have these units put down with extreme prejudice. It is also unlikely that many ordinary Americans will rush to join bands of guerrilla fighters, despite the promise of status and a bit of excitement.

At this point in time, the best thing that could be hoped for is that a wide swath of Americans would come to accept the reality that the security of their lives and the lives of their neighbors depends on them and their willingness to use force in defense of life, liberty, and property. This thought crime starts the process of rejecting the state’s monopoly on violence, and could ultimately lead to a new, more privatized model of security. But until we can produce more thought criminals, arguing over how to best create private security entities is a fruitless endeavor.

References:

1. Waite, Robert G. L. (1969) Vanguard of Nazism: The Free Corps Movement in Postwar Germany, 1918-1923. W.W. Norton and Company. p. 55.

2. Ibid, p. 165.

3. Ibid, p. 274-275.

4. Ibid, p. 216.

5. Rothbard, Murray (1974). Anatomy of the State. The Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 49.

6. Stromberg, Joseph R. (2003). “Mercenaries, Guerrillas, Militias, and the Defense of Minimal States and Free Societies.” The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the theory and History of Security Production, ed. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. p. 219.

The Ethical Notions Of Personhood And Savagery

This article expands upon an essay found in Libertarian Reaction.

A fundamental fixture of Christian values is the inherent sanctity of life. Christian values are at the basis of all modern Western philosophy, and as such this also applies to libertarianism, as it is fundamentally born out of thinkers and theories from Christian Europe. Although the contemporary libertarian movement owes much to Jewish thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, it still has the Western Christian roots with which it began.

It is important to note that Christian values are somewhat divorced from the Christian faith. One can still agree with the basic values of Christianity without adhering to the religious practice, as evidenced by the idea of cultural Christianity, which regards Christian teachings as useful even if they are not necessarily true. Because of this influence, libertarians often assume at the basis of their ethics that any living human can be considered a person, and thus every living human can be held to the same moral standard. But this is demonstrably not the case, as there exist humans who are unwilling or unable to be moral actors.

We must consider these humans under a different set of ethics, and we must recognize that there are humans to whom we cannot apply our notions of personhood. There exist humans who reject the idea of a right to life. In order to effectively deal with their performative contradiction, we must exclude humans who reject the right to life from the protected status of having a right to life. If one assumes that life is valuable, then one must take one of two positions: either that life is valuable even if it goes against life, thus contradicting the main principle; or that life can cease to be valuable. With the second assumption, one can still hold that life is valuable. However, it has a clause that it loses its value when it goes against life. From this, we can formulate a theory that allows for killing in limited circumstances when this would preserve life rather than destroy life.

The Edge Of Personhood

At this point, we are introduced to both a fascinating and a potentially terrifying concept. There is a possibility that some humans are fundamentally incapable of mutual respect for life, and thus they are not persons in the ethical sense. If this is true, then libertarian theory needs to exclude certain humans entirely. After all, one cannot expect to achieve a libertarian world if it is populated by humans who do not respect life, liberty, or property, and respecting the latter two is meaningless if one does not respect life, as there is no liberty or property without life.[1] Due to this, there can be no cohesive libertarian social order without the exclusion of this subsection of humans who cannot be properly considered persons. These humans are incompatible with life, liberty, and property, and accepting them as people will create a theory and practice that cannot result in a libertarian social order.[2]

It is necessary to classify humans into two groups: those who have the capacity to observe ethics based on the preservation of life and those who do not. The first group are ethically and morally persons, the second are savages. One cannot conflate persons and savages without contradiction, moral relativism, or outright nihilism. In order to make such a classification, it is necessary to establish a set of criteria that would exclude someone from the classification of person and make one a savage. This may be done by observing that rejecting certain principles will make someone incapable of respecting the lives of others.

There are humans who cannot understand the ethical reasons for preserving the life of other humans even when it may be inconvenient to them. These humans value their own lives and will protest if anything is done against them. However, these protests are empty because they will not afford the same courtesy to others. To them, the idea of a right to life is not an inherent right for everyone, but a political weapon that they can use for their own benefit. They will defend their own lives at the expense of everyone else in their society. These humans will be a minority of any non-primitive society, but they are still a significant theoretical and practical concern, especially when one considers the rise of some groups who show increased tendencies to be opposed to the life, liberty, and property of others.

It would also be meaningless to introduce the notion of savages without defining the traits in humans that are capable of creating respect for life, liberty, and property. Since all action starts in the mind, there must be psychological reasons to explain why some humans are able to respect rights and others are not. One can attempt to rationalize why some humans are savages and try to use it as an excuse for savagery, but this ignores the main issue, which is that some humans are pathologically incapable of respecting life. The reasons for this are irrelevant in ethical considerations, and are only important insofar as one cares to prevent more humans from becoming savages in future. On an interpersonal level, we must show compassion for these humans, but compassion alone cannot dictate our philosophy.

Forming Morality

There are three conditions that must be met in order to form morality. First, people have to prefer morality over the lack thereof. Second, people have to prefer reason over the lack thereof. Third, people have to be capable of empirical observation. If any one of these conditions is not met, there can be no morality on an individual scale. Most humans are capable of all three. Many are poorly capable in some regard, which creates an inconsistent regard for life, liberty, and property, but it still is a degree of respect which makes humans able to function within a society based on law. A human who does not prefer morality cannot prefer to be moral over being immoral, which means that these humans cannot be moral actors and are therefore in the savage category. If a human is fundamentally incapable of preferring morality, then they can have no place in a society that aims to create virtue and/or wealth.

The most important of the three is the capacity for reason. Whereas rationality is the defining feature that separates humans from other animals and the basis of all morality, there is no personhood without rationality. Without reason, one cannot know what is moral beyond what one can instinctively distinguish or what one can absorb from external sources. This may be enough for some humans, but external conditions are always changing. The need to temper empirical results with logic produces a constant need for reason in morality. Abstract thinking requires well-developed rational faculties, and morality is based in abstractions of virtue. Additionally, even perfect knowledge of morality must be accompanied by the wisdom to properly apply it to real-world circumstances. There are situations in which different moral ideas will collide and without reason, these conflicts cannot be productively and consistently resolved.

Furthermore, there are moral values that are eternal and unchanging, and these too require reason to comprehend. These are values ingrained in the very nature of man which would require many generations of evolution to change, thus placing such contemplations outside of the context at hand. These are the base drives that manage to uphold and sustain society. Without reason, we can lose control over these drives. Humans are easily confused; our urges can be misdirected, and the only way to prevent this is with constant vigilance through reason. Without reason, humans are incapable of fully comprehending the purposes for the existence of morality. If humans lose touch with the purpose of morality, then they will lose touch with morality itself.

Finally, there is the capacity for empirical observation. If a human is incapable of seeing reality as it is, he may act immorally while trying to be moral. Moral theories must be subject to testing in the real world in order to be useful for creating and maintaining civilization. New knowledge and discovery must always be put to use when we discuss morality in the current state of society. Even though some staunch traditionalists will disagree, this is not fundamentally in opposition to tradition. Tradition is cultural knowledge that is both maintained and created, a millennia-long collection of best practices. Tradition is the only starting point which can provide this knowledge, but it should evolve in order to absorb new information. By carefully integrating new knowledge in new conditions into tradition, we are able to maintain morality on a societal scale.

The Nature Of Savagery

If there exist humans who are savages, then we must consider who they are and how they act. There are two groups of humans who are obviously savages; the power-hungry members of society who sacrifice the well-being of others to advance their own status, and members of uncivilized societies who are trying to integrate into civilized societies. In the Western cultural sphere, these manifest as leaders of large corporations, politicians, and immigrants from Islamic and African countries. It is a well-known fact that there is a correlation between sociopathy and other pathologies that make it difficult to care for the well-being of other humans, and the humans who hold high positions of power. In fact, almost every modern institution that controls our societies consists of these immoral humans who are in high positions of power. Their savagery is hard to see for many humans, as they perform most of their immoral actions through proxies and covert pressure, but they are still immoral.

There are obviously humans with the same pathologies who do not manage to reach high positions of power, but due to the current institutional incentives, the institutions of power are built to accommodate their behavior. However, we can elaborate that all humans who are narcissists, psychopaths, or other mentally disturbed individuals do not possess the capacity to value the lives of others. In fact, the only way they can demonstrate that they can value life is if they are actively seeking help. Perhaps more importantly on a cultural level, the rejection of individualism and enlightened self-interest is in large part due to this sort of subnormal behavior. Few would associate self-interest or individualism with evil if it was not portrayed as such by humans who are incapable of respecting others. If those who wish to create a society of self-interest and individualism, which is supposed to be beneficial for those within the society, do not reject anti-social behavior, they will fail on both a philosophical and cultural level.

The obvious examples of the second group are devout Muslims and many third-world immigrants. We may just act as if they lack the capacity for reason, but that is only the truth with certain immigrants from the third world. In parts of Africa and Latin America, the development of societies based on rational laws has not occurred. This has not been improved by the political, economic, and social colonization of Africa by whites. There can be no principled opposition to conquering land if it was previously occupied by savages, but this cannot justify the current affair of near-total control over developing nations. It is not the business of first-worlders to interfere in the workings of others, and it will only result in a worse condition of the world for everyone. However, due to the current institutions of the West, there is an influx of immigration from the third world. Many of these humans are irrational and do not assimilate to rational laws. There are exceptions, but the majority of these migrants will only serve to decivilize more advanced countries.

With devout Muslims, the issue is not that they are unable to understand reason alone, but rather that they are incapable of applying it to the real world. Their religion distorts their worldview to such an extent that they often apply their morality in extremely inconsistent and often reprehensible ways. Even though the extreme social conservatism may appeal to some reactionaries in the form of white sharia, it is important to understand that their beliefs are borne not out of principle, but rather the dominance of their religion. It is also clear that Islam in its current state is a misogynistic religion, as tainted as that word has become, and it is important to protect women in healthy societies. Furthermore, the opposition to homosexuality and other degeneracy in Islam is not the civilized sort that is present in Christianity, but simply violence and often perversion. However, ex-Muslims in general and female ex-Muslims in particular show a capacity to function normally in society.

In the previous group, we also must include Antifa and some other communists. This may seem shocking, as they have been raised in civilized societies and have mostly lived in civilization for their entire lives, but many of them have been decivilized by their college educations. The constant drive to go against morality, “whiteness” (European values and cultural attitudes), and society in these institutions causes some humans to lose their ability to comprehend reason and empirically observe reality. They create their own culture, which is based on a system of analysis that only feeds more into their own culture, resulting in them functionally living in a different reality than the rest of us. As such, they are not acclimated to civilization and we cannot consider this group of young humans to be capable of civilization until they learn how to observe reality and use logic again.

The final group consists of humans who commit such heinous crimes that one must assume that they lack one or more faculties necessary for morality. They are savages because they have demonstrated their savagery, and not because we know how they lack certain attributes. These are the pedophiles, sadists, rapists, and mass murderers. They are humans who are not capable of moral reasoning and are savages due to how they behave. One may not understand the mental deficit of each of these humans, but they must lack something in order to commit crimes of such a depraved degree. Although it may be fashionable to oppose the death penalty, there cannot be an ethically sound argument against the death penalty once one considers that not all humans are in the same category of personhood. Note that this does not mean that the state should hold the power of the sword; only that it is morally possible for someone to do so.

Conclusion

A society can use coercive sociopolitical systems to counteract savage tendencies, but this is unacceptable as a solution from a libertarian perspective. Thus, libertarians must ensure that communities founded on libertarian principles are intolerant of humans who are incapable of being virtuous. Otherwise, there can be no libertarian social order. The notion that everyone should sacrifice their freedoms for the protection of the social class of savages should be thoroughly immoral to all libertarians. Savages will always bite the hand that feeds, so it is only detrimental to feed them. This does not mean an extermination of savages, but rather a systematic exclusion of savages from libertarian societies. While the result may be the same if they cannot survive without parasitism upon civilized people, morality is not dependent upon results.

Footnotes:

  1. It is important to note that some people violate the rights of others in certain moments of criminal passion, and that this is a separate concern from what is being discussed here. We are concerned here with those who are pathologically opposed to fundamental ethical norms.
  2. Note that the need to create an exception for those who are pathologically incapable of ethics both defeats and makes possible the common notion of universalist ethics. It is vital to create two classes of humans; however, one may argue that if these two classes exist, then ethics cannot be universal.

Why Price Gouging Is Good

When a natural disaster strikes, it is almost guaranteed that there will be yet another uproar about price gouging. Media pundits will take to the airwaves to virtue signal against people who would dare to exploit disaster victims. Government officials will use the crisis to score political points by portraying themselves as defenders of the common people against greedy capitalists. But how accurately does this reflect reality? Let us explore the nature of price gouging to see the economics of such a situation and explain the behavior of journalists and state agents.

Economic Forces

In order to intelligently approach the concept of price gouging, one must first define it. Price gouging is a sudden, sharp increase in prices that occurs in response to a disaster or other civil emergency. Though this defines the act well, it does not explain the mechanisms behind it. When a disaster approaches, there are certain goods that people wish to acquire in greater quantities than normal, such as clean drinking water, non-perishable foods, wooden boards for protecting windows, and so on. If supply is held constant, then this sudden increase in demand for such goods will produce a sudden increase in their prices.

If left unhindered by the state, this upward pressure on prices will produce important benefits. First, it serves as a signal to producers and distributors of those goods that more supply is needed. The producers and distributors thus learn where their goods are most urgently in demand, allowing them to engage in mutually beneficial transactions with disaster victims. This is how free markets are supposed to function in order to meet the needs of customers.

Second, price gouging encourages proactive preparations. A potential business model for a firm is to invest in equipment that allows it to operate when a disaster would otherwise force it to close, and use the proceeds from price gouging to amortize the cost of the equipment. This helps consumers by allowing them to purchase goods at higher prices rather than be left without essential items during a crisis.

Third, price gouging provides an important benefit by conserving the fixed amount of resources which are present before more deliveries can be made to the disaster area. The higher cost of scarce goods disincentivizes people from buying up supplies that other people need, thus helping to keep the items in stock. This keeps scarce resources from being wasted on marginal uses, directing them toward their most valued uses and the people who most need them instead.

Markets And Malice

Unfortunately, not every instance of price gouging is so benevolent. Business owners who seek to exploit vulnerable people in order to make money do exist. But engaging in such behavior in a free market produces a short-term gain followed by a long-term loss. In a pure capitalist environment, reputation is everything for a business. Whatever profits may come from gouging disaster victims in the present will be more than outweighed by the sales that one will lose in the future because of the damage that this does to one’s brand. After all, most people would view such behavior as adding insult to injury and vote against it with their wallets. Though it is impossible to accurately count sales that do not happen, to dismiss this effect as nonexistent is to commit the broken window fallacy.

Enter The State

Most people are economically illiterate, so they tend to focus on the malevolent type of price gouging and be unaware of the benevolent type. In a democratic state, this has predictable results. Politicians and other government agents will frown upon price gouging and seek to punish anyone who they believe to be engaging in it. But it can be difficult to distinguish the natural effects of demand spikes and limited supplies upon price from the efforts of greedy exploiters of disaster victims, especially for government officials who are too far removed from the disaster area to be intimately familiar with the economic dynamics there. Thus, all price gouging is suppressed by the state, and while this may protect a few people from exploitation, it causes more harm than good by disrupting the market signals which would have informed producers and distributors that their goods need to be sent to the disaster area. The end result is that scarce goods are depleted and not replaced, leading people to once more blame the market for failing them when the actual cause of their shortage was a government failure.

Suppression of price gouging has several deleterious effects. First, by placing price controls on goods, the state deprives entrepreneurs of the profit motive to bring additional supply to the disaster area. Without state inteference, people who live outside of the disaster area and are willing to travel there in order to bring supplies could charge enough for their goods to recover their travel costs and be compensated for the inconvenience of spending time in a disaster area, all while making enough profit to make such a venture more attractive than other economic opportunities. Price gouging laws remove such action, leaving only state agencies and altruistic private groups to provide aid. Note that like all government regulations, price gouging laws are subject to regulatory capture by the largest businesses.

Second, removing the incentive for proactive preparations makes untenable the business model for operating during a disaster described above. Third, removing the conservation effect of price gouging forces business owners to sell goods below their market-clearing price. This incentivizes hoarders to buy more than they need and scalpers to buy goods for resale. The existence of scalpers also makes desired goods more difficult to find, as resellers will be more difficult to locate than established stores. Thus, laws against price gouging do not eliminate the practice, but rather shift it from primary markets to secondary markets and cause a different set of people to profit. Taken together, these effects result in artificial scarcity that makes conditions in a disaster area even worse.

A Pair of Razors

Given the clear case in favor of price gouging, one may wonder why so many people in positions of political power rail against it. Reece’s razor suggests that we look for the most cynical explanation when attempting to determine a motive for state policy. No other possibility prioritizes the self-interest of politicians and their minions over the lives and properties of citizens quite like the idea that government officials want to suppress the natural response of markets in order to make government disaster relief agencies look effective and necessary, thus justifying their existence and expansion, so Reece’s razor selects it.

However, it is not in the rational self-interest of elected officials to increase the suffering of disaster victims who are capable of removing them from office in the next election. A better explanation is offered by Hanlon’s razor, which says that one should not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. In this view, government officials are not trying to increase the harm done during a disaster; they simply know no better because they are just as economically illiterate as the electorate, if not more so. This razor is a better fit for the available logic and evidence.

Conclusion

It is clear that price gouging has an important economic role in ensuring that goods both go to those who need them most and remain available in times of emergency. Market prices are important signals that tell producers and distributors where their goods are most urgently needed. When the state interferes with this process by imposing price controls, it turns off the signal and incentives for market actors to send aid, encourages hoarding and scalping, and discourages conservation and farsightedness. These effects mean that laws against price gouging harm the very people that they are ostensibly supposed to help. Therefore, price gouging should not be punished by the state or demonized by the press.