Reactionary Liberty is a book about libertarian philosophy by Robert Taylor that approaches this and related subjects from a reactionary perspective. The book is divided into fifteen chapters, with a short introduction preceding.
Taylor begins with a four-page introduction in which he explains his motivations for writing the book. Mostly, this involves the decisive leftward shift in American libertarianism since the Ron Paul presidential campaigns of 2008 and 2012, including a notorious open letter to Paul read at the 2015 International Students for Liberty conference and Gary Johnson’s disastrous presentation in 2016. He briefly explains what is wrong with left-libertarianism and gives an outline of the structure of the book.
In the first chapter, Taylor begins with the non-aggression principle (NAP), self-ownership, and private property rights. Although Taylor notes the important distinction between just property and currently-held property, he fails to properly account for the role of conquest in determining property rights over the long term. Taylor goes on to explain the social and economic difficulties that arise without secure property rights. The failures of central planning are discussed, as are the differences between negative and positive rights. He lays out the history of natural law in Western philosophy, beginning with early Christian thinkers, continuing through Enlightenment philosophers, and culminating in Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics. Taylor contrasts this with the state, which routinely violates natural law and rights. He details the many crimes of nation-states, war and debt slavery being chief among them. Taylor concludes by proposing an alternative to Marxist class theory which vilifies the state rather than the capitalist, and elevates the producer rather than the parasite.
The second chapter deals with the Austrian School perspective on the subject. Taylor takes the reader through praxeology, the action axiom, marginal utility, and the role of prices in efficiently allocating resources. Next, he explains why government and central bank interference with prices is so destructive. The section on money deals with the history of money according to the regression theorem, beginning with barter and commodity money, then progressing to precious metals and receipts for those metals. Taylor shows the reader that modern fiat currencies are a corruption of these receipts into instruments of inflation and debt slavery that facilitate unduly risky financial behavior, state largesse, and wars. In the Austrian view, these behaviors fuel the business cycle of booms and busts by distorting interest rates, which leads investors astray.
Spontaneous order and free markets are the subjects of the third chapter. Taylor begins with the economic calculation problem, the knowledge problem, and public choice theory, showing that central planning cannot succeed because it cannot calculate prices without the market and is further hampered by cynical concerns. He then covers the concept of spontaneous order, making the important and oft-overlooked observation that “there is no such thing as an unregulated market; the issue is, rather, who is doing the regulating.” These regulations take the form of trust, reputation, and freedom to dissociate, unless the state interferes by imposing its coercive regulations. Taylor frames the difference between state and market in terms of who gets profits and who suffers losses. The state privatizes profits and socializes losses, while the market does the opposite. Next, Taylor proposes the term marketization to describe the proper procedures for converting state monopolies into free-market entities, as privatization has acquired the meaning of turning over state monopolies to politically-connected oligarchs, as happened in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed. He concludes the chapter by providing an outline of how businesses may function in a purely libertarian market while noting that the particulars can only be observed in the future, not precisely predicted in the present.
The fourth chapter offers a much-needed treatment of Cultural Marxism, a concept often (and incorrectly) dismissed by leftists as a conspiracy theory. Taylor traces its roots to the failure of political and economic Marxism in Europe after World War I, at which time Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukacs resolved to apply Marxism to culture and use it to destroy traditional Western culture, which they faulted for the failure of communism to take root in most of the West. Taylor traces the ‘long march through the institutions’ from its beginnings in the 1930s all the way to its modern manifestations of identity politics and campus craziness. He calls on libertarians to refute Marxism’s cultural application, just as they defeated its economic application. The next section begins to do this by making the case against egalitarianism, showing it to be both impossible and self-defeating in practice. The second half of the chapter traverses more dubious ground in the form of r/K selection theory. This is an interesting analogy for attempting to understand political dynamics, but it places too much emphasis on nature instead of nurture and encourages dichotomous thinking in complex problems. That being said, it correctly suggests that some authoritarian leftists are beyond reason. The chapter ends with an explanation of the necessity of traditional social and sexual norms, as well as how and why Cultural Marxists have attacked them.
Decentralization is the focus of the fifth chapter. Taylor gives the reader a history lesson in the creation of Western traditions and common law through decentralized institutions after the fall of the Roman Empire. He blames centralization elsewhere in the world for preventing those peoples from enjoying the liberty and prosperity of Europeans. Turning to America, these two descriptions show the difference between what the United States was supposed to be and what it has become. As a remedy, Taylor proposes breaking up the US into at least 100 smaller territories. He concludes the chapter by praising those who have taken a strong stand for decentralization in the face of oppressive state power.
The sixth chapter attacks state power as a concept. Taylor explains how people are ruled indirectly through propaganda and mythology rather than directly by force, as the masses are sufficiently numerous and armed to defeat such an effort. He discusses the role of government schooling in indoctrinating the masses to accept such an arrangement, as well as the insufficient efforts to resist the imposition of compulsory indoctrination in the 19th century. The concept of situational Leninism comes next, followed by an overview of famous psychological experiments that demonstrate the willingness of people to obey authority toward reprehensible ends. After this, the role of language control and thought policing in maintaining authoritarian leftist control is examined. Taylor finishes the chapter with Ludwig von Mises’ concept of statolatry, in which statism becomes a sort of secular religion.
The attack continues in the next chapter, as Taylor turns to the flawed ideas of minarchism. He returns to the American example to show how limited government does not stay limited. He explains that the Constitution was not actually written to limit government, contrary to popular belief. It gave the federal government more power than it had under the Articles of Confederation, which Taylor praises in relative terms. He shows how Americans of the time were deceived, taking the reader through the tax rebellions of the 1780s-90s and the Alien and Sedition Acts. In the next section, he contrasts traditional monarchies with modern democracies, finding the former to be far less limited and more destructive due to inherent incentive structures. The chapter concludes with a strong explanation of why democracy grows the state and harms the cause of liberty.
In the eighth chapter, Taylor addresses police statism and what Samuel Francis termed ‘anarcho-tyranny’, a situation in which real crime goes unpunished while those who try to defend themselves are attacked by the state. He begins by noting the difference between a peace officer and an agent of the state. His description of several US Supreme Court cases is accurate, but misses the larger point that a coercive monopoly has no enforceable obligations because no one can enforce obligations against them, regardless of any court rulings. Taylor reviews Cultural Marxism through the lens of anarcho-tyranny, then explains some of the more obnoxious leftist behaviors in terms of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. The successes of the alt-right are explained in terms of their willingness to use the left’s tactics against them, unlike conventional conservatives. Next, he covers the origin of modern policing in the UK and the US, then proposes a private alternative to state police forces. The last section contemplates violent resistance against the state, though not with nearly the length and depth that the topic deserves.
While the eighth chapter considers the enforcers, Chapter 9 is concerned with what they enforce. Taylor begins by illustrating just how much poorer everyone is today as a result of lost economic growth due to regulations. Next, he refutes the progressive narrative about the antebellum South and the industrial captains of the 19th century, showing the negative aspects of both to be the result of government intervention rather than its absence. He then profiles James J. Hill, a largely forgotten hero of free-market capitalism in the late 19th century. Hill’s good deeds are contrasted with those who used the state to get undue favors and suppress competition. Taylor also corrects the record on John D. Rockefeller. The following section covers the history of expanding regulations after the Civil War, through the Progressive Era, and on to the present. He accuses those who point to regulations as the cause of improvements in safety and reductions in pollution of committing the broken window fallacy and ignoring the fact that some regulations have made people less healthy. The chapter concludes with many examples of faulty regulations that do more harm than good.
The transition from voluntary mutual aid to coercive welfare statism is the subject of the tenth chapter. Taylor introduces the subject with the age-old statist question, “Without government, who would take care of the poor?” Of course, one must begin by pointing out that government does no such thing, as Taylor does. He spends the first part of the chapter educating the reader about mutual aid societies, which were common before the Progressive Era but were destroyed by government intervention into the healthcare and insurance industries. Taylor shows how the state has reduced the supply of medical care, thus increasing its cost and decreasing its availability. Unfortunately, Taylor’s approach ignores the Social Darwinist perspective that natural selection should be allowed to remove the least successful humans from the gene pool. The second half of the chapter debunks at length the myth of Scandinavian socialism.
The eleventh chapter deals with civil disobedience. Here, Taylor stumbles in the way that most libertarians do, in that he fails to understand raw power, celebrates small victories that will not occur on a large scale, and confuses the downfall of a particular regime with ending the state itself. He does this even while reciting the history of preparedness for the use of force among civil rights leaders and noting what the state has done to leaders of nonviolent resistance efforts. Taylor also manages to celebrate the effects of Western degeneracy among Middle Eastern youth. His encouragement of government agents to refuse unjust orders, leak information detailing abuses to the public, and otherwise engage in whistleblowing is more on point, though he notes the powerful incentive structure against doing so. The second half of the chapter details a plethora of private alternatives to services which have long been monopolized and/or heavily regulated by the state.
The growth of cryptocurrency and other peer-to-peer technologies is the focus of Chapter 12. Taylor provides a decent layperson’s overview of Bitcoin, then moves on to practical applications of cryptocurrency, such as funding dissidents suppressed by legacy financial networks, evading capital controls, and engaging in commercial activities forbidden by the state. Next, he covers the P2P revolution, which has greatly expanded liberty and privacy online and in the physical world. The remainder of the chapter runs through various examples of how P2P and blockchain technologies have solved problems and exposed corruption.
In the thirteenth chapter, Taylor addresses the open-borders dogma held by many libertarians. He demonstrates that open borders and forced integration are a form of the aforementioned anarcho-tyranny, with closed state borders being sub-optimal but less evil. The role of forced diversity in creating internal conflicts that lead to less liberty is considered, as is the biological phenomenon of kin selection in creating cohesive groups. Taylor makes the case that open borders are contrary to private property rights because in order to have open borders, the state must override the wishes of property owners who do not want migrants to enter. He then examines the history of US immigration policy from 1790 to the present, noting the shift in demographics admitted after 1965. The contention that the real problem is the welfare state rather than demographic shifts is rebutted both on the practical grounds of American politics and with the counterexample of European nations surviving socialism but falling into turmoil due to migrants.
The fourteenth chapter furthers the themes from Chapter 11 by discussing secession, nullification, and political migration. Taylor notes the myriad benefits of secession, but only briefly mentions the history of larger states violently suppressing such movements. Next, he covers the history of both legislative and jury nullification in opposing unjust laws. Taylor’s exploration of political migration is rather America-centric, but it can be adapted to other situations. His praise for the Free State Project comes off as overzealous, given the thoroughly leftist nature of that organization. He finishes the chapter with a concept called the Benedict Option, in which those who wish to preserve a tradition and begin a restoration retreat from the public and urban life of a degenerate culture.
The final chapter of the book is an argument against democratic government. This reads much like Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed, quoting and borrowing from it extensively as Taylor explains the perverse incentive structures inherent in democracy and makes the case that monarchy has a superior incentive structure. But unlike Hoppe, Taylor contemplates physical removal as a means of achieving a libertarian social order in addition to a means of maintenance. As Taylor writes on page 283, “Economics teaches us that there is no such thing as a free lunch. But in order to achieve and maintain a libertarian social order, there will be free helicopter rides.” His defense of Augusto Pinochet’s actions in Chile and Lee Kuan Yew’s rule in Singapore as better than the alternatives is common in right-libertarian circles, but his defense of Francisco Franco goes a bit too far. Taylor ends with an exhortation to and description of a libertarian revolution, but this is, as before, too brief.
Overall, the book is good, but not great. For a book called Reactionary Liberty, it could have used more reaction in the form of lengthy explanations of traditional norms and power dynamics. Taylor seemed to lack an editor and proofreader, as some typos survived in very unfortunate places that render a few sentences absurd. A few chapters can become tedious when Taylor features a laundry list of examples. That being said, it is a strong presentation of right-libertarianism that is impeccably sourced.