Unrepentant Aggressors Must Die For Liberty

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments were addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed here.

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

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

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

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

Reece’s argument is basically summed up as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I said nothing of killing families in their homes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He claims I do not understand that the state “will not magically disappear” if people stop providing it resources. “When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long,” he contends. But how successful is the violence of a man who cannot find armaments? Who cannot obtain fuel? Who cannot pay for food and clothing and shelter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

This did not go unaddressed; in “Resolve To Understand The Struggle” I explained that this is no argument against revolution because refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As that great man said:

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

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

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

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

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

This is not in dispute.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Of History and Possibilities

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counterrebuttals. I countered the first two of these here, and the third here. Underhill has responded yet again, so let us deal with this round of faulty logic as well. His historical arguments will be addressed here, and his arguments against the case for revolution will be addressed separately.

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

I have already said; a civil war generally lasts longer and necessarily involves fighting between regular military forces representing each side, while a revolution does not necessarily involve this. One could further note that a successful revolution results in a change of organizational structures. But Oliver Cromwell was essentially a king by the different name of Lord Protector; he held the position for life, passed it on to his son, and wielded power on par with that of a king. The only structural change of note was the abolition of the House of Lords between 1649 and 1660, but the House of Commons had been gaining in influence for some time and was the more influential of the two by 1649.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a valid point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is also wrong when he claims that “[t]he War of the First Coalition began in response to the Declaration of Pillnitz, a threat made by King Frederick William II of Prussia and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II against the revolutionaries if they should harm King Louis XVI or his family”. The Declaration of Pillnitz was specifically written to avoid war as Leopold II did not want to fight a war at that point; the language required a war if and only if every single other European power declared war first. Reece is basically arguing here that preemptive strikes are acceptable based on the nation-states equivalence of finger wagging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defending the Reecean Proviso

On March 7, I published an article which discusses a libertarian theory of property rights as well as a proviso thereto which covers the case of a conflict between one person’s self-ownership and another person’s private property rights in external objects. This invited a lengthy criticism by Coralyn Herenschrict in the comments section which bears addressing in the form of a point-by-point rebuttal.

Another in a long historical line of strenuous but unsuccessful attempts to undermine property rights by exception. …Attempting to turn property ownership from a fundamental human right of an individual by virtue of his interactions with the natural world into a privilege conditionally granted by other men by virtue of their state of being.

The Reecean proviso is not an effort to undermine property rights; it is an effort to examine what happens when one person’s property rights in one’s body comes into conflict with another person’s property rights in external objects. That property ownership is a fundamental right of an individual by virtue of one’s interactions with the natural world is not being questioned.

Thus, private property rights over external objects are dependent upon the property right over one’s physical body. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent. Therefore, self-ownership stands above private property rights in external objects.

This conclusion makes two errors. It confuses states that must coexist both with states that must remain true and with states that have hierarchical precedence. It also confuses negative rights with positive rights.

This is not so, as we shall see.

For example, I must own myself to homestead land for that act to be valid. But once valid, it is forever valid. Regardless of if I die, sell myself into slavery, or otherwise subsequently lose ownership of myself. The dependency on my self-ownership is scoped temporally to the period in time of the act of homesteading. The dependency does not extend into the past before that period nor into the future beyond that period.

This is not entirely true. A person who loses self-ownership loses all corollaries thereof a fortiori, and private property is one such corollary. This happens if a person dies or commits murder while having no heirs or will and testament. Death is the cessation of the biological processes which produce self-ownership. Committing a murder negates one’s self-ownership through the violation of another person’s self-ownership because the moral hypocrisy of claiming one’s own rights while having irreparably violated another person’s rights cannot be rationally advanced in argument. One cannot sell oneself into slavery; as Murray Rothbard explains[1],

“A man can alienate his labor service, but he cannot sell the capitalized future value of that service. In short, he cannot, in nature, sell himself into slavery and have this sale enforced—for this would mean that his future will over his own person was being surrendered in advance. In short, a man can naturally expend his labor currently for someone else’s benefit, but he cannot transfer himself, even if he wished, into another man’s permanent capital good. For he cannot rid himself of his own will, which may change in future years and repudiate the current arrangement. The concept of “voluntary slavery” is indeed a contradictory one, for so long as a laborer remains totally subservient to his master’s will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary; whereas, if he later changed his mind and the master enforced his slavery by violence, the slavery would not then be voluntary.”

Herenschrict continues:

I must simultaneously have various rights in order to blast a watermelon with a shotgun for fun. I must have the right to be on the land. I must have the right to use the shotgun. I must have the right to destroy the watermelon. But none of these rights requirements takes philosophical priority over the others by virtue of the need they coincide. In case of conflict between these rights, philosophy does not supply any basis to grant dominance to any one of them.

None of these rights are dependent upon any other of these rights, so it is correct to conclude that philosophy does not supply any basis to grant dominance to any one of them.

Your claim that a property right in one’s own body is not actually a property right but is a different kind of right taking precedence over property rights is not established.

This is a straw man; I did not claim that a property right in one’s physical body is not actually a property right. I made the case that the property right in one’s physical body is logically stronger than a property right in an external object. This is established by the fact that the property right in one’s physical body arises through direct appropriation and inhabitation, while property rights in external objects can only be established through exercising the property right in one’s physical body. There is a clear relationship of dependence here, so the precedence of the property right in one’s physical body over property rights in external objects is established.

Self-ownership does not convey a positive right obligating others to action to keep me alive. I will not repeat the extensive argumentation elsewhere demonstrating the invalidity to the notion of positive rights except to mention its conclusion that positive rights necessarily contravene property rights.

This is another straw man, as a positive right obligating others to action to keep someone alive is not being defended. In fact, the Reecean proviso does not even call for obligating others to inaction to allow a person to keep oneself alive, as a property owner could prevent the proviso from being used simply by making the life-saving property unreachable or by defending it in such a way that it cannot be taken without posing a threat to the property owner.

First, the person’s life must be in jeopardy due to the aggressions of another person and not due to the person’s own action or inaction. Otherwise, a person could make a series of poor choices so as to engineer a situation in which the person is reduced to a stark choice between using another person’s private property or dying and then take advantage of this situation to take private property from another person by underhanded means. Because one inherently consents to what one does to oneself, one cannot commit acts of aggression against oneself. Thus, the threat to one’s life that would allow the Reecean proviso to be used cannot be of one’s own making.

This is an impossible standard to set up as existing philosophically above respect for private property. It is indistinguishable from arbitrary behavioral standards which necessarily must be subordinate to respect for private property. Various degrees of action or inaction may make encountering various types of aggression more or less likely. What constitutes “of one’s own making?”:
– If I fail to save money or work hard enough to feed myself or defend myself
– If I fail to read enough books and develop my negotiating skills enough to optimally manage my interpersonal relationships with potential aggressors and/or allies
– If I fail to make wise choices of career or neighborhood to live in

Can any or all of this be mixed in a pot and out pops a determination that a particular act of aggression upon me was “of my own making” or not due to various particular actions or inactions on my part? That’s an impossible determination to make on any basis other than completely arbitrary.

This is not impossible or arbitrary; in fact it is quite simple. A situation is of one’s own making if it was not forced upon oneself against one’s will by an external agent. As such, all of the above examples would be of one’s own making and not sufficient cause to apply the Reecean proviso.

How would a property owner be able to make this determination on the fly when he detects someone claiming qualification under the Reecean proviso trying to take his stuff? How would a victim himself be able to make such a determination on the fly to know whether he may morally take someone else’s stuff? To think the integrity of one man’s property rights would be philosophically dependent on some other men’s personal views on such matters makes a mockery of the notion of property rights.

This may well be impossible in practice. However, a property owner may be unaware of such a taking until it has already occurred, which would remove the need for the property owner to make such a determination. A person who is in such a position to use the Reecean proviso will know it, as it requires one to be near death and without any other means of preserving one’s life besides appropriating owned property. The objection that the integrity of one person’s property rights would be philosophically dependent on some other person’s views on such matters confuses theory with practice.

Second, the person must not knowingly endanger the life of the property owner.

How in the world can the person know what endangers the life of the property owner?

It is simple to know that some takings would endanger the life of the property owner. If a person is kidnapped and taken to a desert area where only one cactus is within reach, and that cactus bears fruit which is being used by its owner as his sole source of sustenance, then taking some of it after witnessing the owner do this would endanger the life of the property owner and thus be outside of the Reecean proviso.

How in the world can the person know the financial situation of the property owner, his health care needs currently and in the future, his quality/quantity of life trade-off equation, not only for himself but for spouse, his children, his heirs, or other beneficiaries of his property?

This is unnecessary because a person cannot be responsible for knowledge that he does not have and lacks the means to get, as a person in position to use the Reecean proviso would.

Since the sole philosophical role of property is the support of human life, and limits to life directly correspond to limits of property used to support and extend it, any deprivation of property is inherently life threatening by nature. The larger the deprivation, the larger the threat to life.

Does a solitary person who owns thousands of apple trees suddenly suffer a life-threatening circumstance because a desperate person picks one apple? Of course not.

Third, the person must not appropriate any more privately owned resources than are required for survival in the moment. Going above and beyond the bare minimum is an act of theft, as it is not required for survival in the moment. Even taking some extra “for the road” is not allowed, as it cannot be proven that doing so will be the only possible method for survival. Fourth, a person may only travel through territory in which the person is unwelcome if survival requires that one do so. Doing so when there is another path available, or when survival is not in jeopardy, constitutes trespassing. Fifth, a person who is traveling through territory in which the person is unwelcome must traverse the territory as quickly as possible. Taking more time than is reasonably required constitutes loitering and trespassing.

Herenschrict objects to all of these by asking who would determine what is required, what the bare minimum is, what constitutes survival, and what constitutes as quickly as possible. The theoretical answer is that there are objectively true answers to all of these questions, therefore no one determines them. The practical answer is that the property owner, proviso user, and any dispute resolution services they retain will come to some agreement after the fact, as is the case for any other civil dispute.

Survival is an odds game. It is a continuum.

Survival is a binary function; either one lives or one dies. There is no state of being in between the two.

The more resources and easier journey, the higher my chances of survival. If I can slowly trespass on 100 miles of private land in a valley with lush fruit for me to eat, or quickly trespass on 1 mile of private land across high mountains with dangerous arctic snowblasts, am I morally justified to trespass on one but not the other?

One would have to take the shorter, more treacherous path because it minimizes the appropriation of private property belonging to other people.

If I can avoid land trespass entirely by commandeering a car at gunpoint to maximize speed of property violation and maximize my survival prospects, is that the only morally justifiable path?

Herenschrict demonstrates a level of misunderstanding here that can only be intentional. Commandeering a car at gunpoint threatens the life of a property owner, therefore it is not permitted under the Reecean proviso.

If you think transferring private property from some parties to others under certain conditions leads to a more prosperous, happy society, then by all means make voluntary relinquishing of those property rights a condition of membership in your private defense organization so such rules apply among mutually consenting parties. But don’t act as if your vision of a society that disregards property rights for the greater good just some of the time has any philosophical basis and binds even those who do not agree.

This is yet another straw man, as no such things are argued by the Reecean proviso.

Sixth, a person who deprives a property owner of value in order to survive must make restitution for that value if and when this becomes possible.

You know your philosophical reasoning has gone completely off the reservation when you must solve the socialist calculation problem in order to employ your principles. What constitutes “fair” restitution, below which one violates the Reecean proviso and cannot morally seize another’s private property but above which one fulfills it and can morally seize another’s private property?

This would be a devastating criticism if there were any truth to it, but there is none. There is no need to solve an economic calculation problem because the property owner, proviso user, and any dispute resolution services they retain can come to an agreement on what restitution, if any, should be made without making such a rigorous calculation. “Seize” is not the most accurate term for what the Reecean proviso allows, as it does not allow for force that threatens the property owner.

Ask any eminent domain victim how well involuntarily imposed determinations of “fair” compensation for seizures of their property work. Since values are subjective, “fair” prices for goods are settable only by their owners. And such individual prices can vary wildly from item to item from moment to moment, depending on the owners personal circumstances, state of mind, and decisions, including may items owners rightfully regard as “not for sale at any price.”

The field of straw men keeps growing, as the compensation is to be determined voluntarily between the property owner, proviso user, and any dispute resolution services they retain, not involuntarily imposed. The only exception to this would occur if the proviso user refused to make any restitution for the property that was used, in which case force could be used against the proviso user to get said restitution. An item rightfully regarded by its owner as “not for sale at any price” will either be something that has high sentimental value or something that the owner requires to survive. The former is not needed by the proviso user for survival (and probably cannot be obtained without threatening the property owner), while taking the latter would threaten the property owner. In both cases, the item cannot be appropriated within the Reecean proviso.

Passively owning property is not interfering with the self-ownership rights of another.

In the vast majority of cases, this is true. The Reecean proviso exclusively addresses so-called “lifeboat scenarios” in which it is false.

If a property owner put a sturdy, impenetrable fence around his property he would be guilty of aggression because this would thwart the attempts of Reecean-proviso-qualifying individuals to seize his property. By your reasoning to remain moral he must provide his private property to them on demand, because if they demand it, it’s not his property any more, it’s theirs by right.

The Reecean proviso allows people who are in extreme circumstances a negative right to keep themselves alive. This is not a positive obligation upon the property owner to assist in such an act. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the property owner may thwart the Reecean proviso by making the life-saving property unreachable or by defending it in such a way that it cannot be taken without posing a threat to the property owner. The property is not theirs by right; they may simply use it if and only if they can and they must.

One may, in spite of the above limitations, try to equate the Reecean proviso with a form of socialism or forced redistribution. But if there is to be forced redistribution, then there must be someone who will do the forcing. Such a person would be acting as the jeopardized person’s agent, and would therefore be subject to the same restrictions on conduct that apply to the jeopardized person.

Enter the ambulance-chasing attorney eager to become the agent of anyone and everyone around the planet who fulfills the conditions of the Reecean proviso (for a cut of the loot he can obtain for them, of course). If there is an impoverished rice farmer in rural India whose life becomes imperiled by aggression but could be saved by his seizure of private property, the attorney will be there in a flash offering to become his agent.

As explained in the original article immediately following the quoted section, if one is able to get someone to forcibly redistribute wealth to keep one alive, then one will have other, less aggressive options available, such as arranging survival aid and evacuation from the desperate scenario to be carried out by the person who would act to forcibly redistribute wealth. The arrival of the attorney gives the imperiled person an alternative to appropriating another person’s private property, as the attorney should be able to make a return trip with the imperiled person, thus removing the person from the imperiling condition. Note also that by inserting himself into the situation, the attorney makes the vehicle in which he arrives as well as his personal possessions prime targets for appropriation, which disincentivizes ambulance-chasing attorneys from seeking such cases.

Then, armed with the full moral authority of Reecean proviso, the attorney can appropriate the private property of anyone. Of course if the Indian farmer suffered severe, traumatic injuries from the aggression requiring an immediate helicopter flight to a major city and immediate extensive reconstructive surgery in order for him to survive, his medical bills could be substantial. Fortunately for him, by the Reecean proviso every private property owner in existence is obligated to pay these bills to make sure this man does not immediately die and the attorney will gleefully make sure they do.

This is completely false, due to the defenses that private property owners may make against the Reecean proviso, such as making such property unreachable or by defending it in such a way that it cannot be taken without posing a threat to the property owner.

The Reecean proviso amends Rothbard’s response to say that the encirclers may not keep the encircled in a situation where survival is impossible.

You may not amend Rothbard’s response. Rothbard’s response was what it was for a reason. Your amendment contradicts it.

I may do whatever I wish with Rothbard’s response. However, my readers will be the judge of whether such an action is legitimate by voting with their donations and page views.

References:

  1. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 40-41

The Case For Damages For Abortion

At a town hall on March 30, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that if abortion is outlawed, then women who still have abortions should face “some form of punishment”, though he did not elaborate upon what that might be. Outcry from both anti-abortion and pro-abortion activists led him to walk back his statement, saying,

“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. The woman is a victim in this case as is the life in her womb. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”

But is there a form of punishment for the woman that is compatible with libertarian principles? Let us examine this from both a criminal and a civil perspective.

The act of abortion involves removing a fetus from a woman’s uterus and killing it. The reason that most people have difficulty in figuring out the morality of this is that it weighs fundamental rights against each other: the woman’s right to liberty and property in her body versus the fetus’ right to liberty and property in its body. But before the point at which the fetus is viable outside the uterus, the only way the fetus can keep itself alive is to rely upon the woman for sustenance. The rights to liberty and property cannot be exercised without exercising the right to life, and that which is dependent cannot supersede that upon which it is dependent. Thus, the fetus’ right to life overrules the woman’s rights to liberty and property. Therefore, the logical position is to be pro-life until the fetus is viable. After the fetus is viable, the woman may choose to evict it but not to kill it.

Of course, there are some special cases where this calculus is altered and an abortion is clearly justifiable. If a woman’s life is in imminent danger and the fetus is not yet viable, then there may be a choice between aborting a fetus to save the mother and letting both die. In such a case, the fetus is out of luck and the abortion should proceed to preserve what life can be preserved. A birth defect or other illness which causes the fetus not to have the potential to become a sentient being (e.g. anencephaly) also legitimizes an abortion, as carrying the pregnancy to term will accomplish nothing and fail to produce a being with self-ownership. But aside from these circumstances, a fertilized egg which implants into the uterus has the potential to become a sentient being. (Implantation is a better starting point for when life begins than conception because at least half of fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterus, but instead leave the uterus as menstruation does.)

When none of the above special cases apply, killing a fetus is unjustifiable. Therefore, stopping someone from killing a fetus is justifiable, as is applying some sanction to someone who has killed a fetus. If an abortion is performed against the woman’s wishes, then the performer is clearly a criminal against both the mother’s body and the fetus’ life. But if an abortion is performed at the woman’s request, then she bears some vicarious responsibility for hiring the abortion provider to act as her agent. But how may someone be stopped from killing a fetus? To whom are the people complicit in the abortion responsible? What kind of criminal sanction or civil restitution is just? These are not easy questions, but let us attempt to answer them.

Using force to protect a fetus from being aborted must be done carefully; otherwise, such an effort may cause the very problem it is intended to prevent, as well as aggress against innocent bystanders. Such an effort would have to be directed solely against those who perform abortions and never against the women receiving abortions. This will probably always be difficult, if not impossible, so let us consider the matters of responsibility and restitution once an abortion is performed.

In all cases where killing a fetus is unjustifiable, the criminal liability for destroying a potential sentient being is upon the abortion provider. While there is some vicarious responsibility on the person who hires the abortion provider (usually the mother), the general rule is that there is no vicarious liability in criminal law. This is because a crime is composed of both an actus reus and a mens rea, and the mother has the latter but not the former. As such, the mother’s responsibility is best handled civilly.

The responsibility for restitution depends upon what was negotiated between the mother and father of the fetus. The default condition, which should apply when no other explicit agreement was made between the couple, is that agreeing to engage in an act which may result in pregnancy creates an obligation to be responsible for the new potential sentient being which may be created. One may assert a preference that a pregnancy not occur, and one may act upon that preference by using contraceptive measures, but the only guaranteed method of contraception is abstinence. If an abortion is performed, then the responsibility for the new potential sentient being has been shirked, and its heirs, if any, are due restitution. A fetus has only its parents for heirs, and restitution for an act of aggression cannot be due to a person who is complicit in the act. Thus, the restitution must be due to the father of the fetus, and only in a case where he did not consent to the abortion, as this would make him just as culpable as the mother. If the couple did make an explicit agreement to terminate any pregnancy resulting from their sexual activity, then there is an injustice against the fetus, but no restitution for it because there is no one who can receive said restitution.

Finally, let us discuss what sort of restitution may be appropriate. If a mother aborts a fetus against the father’s wishes, then he is deprived of offspring that he would otherwise enjoy. But to compel specific performance in terms of forcing the woman to bear the aborted fetus’ father a child would legitimize both rape and slavery. This makes specific performance inappropriate in the circumstances of the case. While damages cannot adequately compensate a father for the deprivation of offspring, a monetary judgment would have to suffice, in an amount which is best determined by specialists in such cases.

A Case Against the First Amendment

One of the most esteemed parts of the United States Constitution is the First Amendment, which reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Certainly, this will sound like a good idea to the vast majority of people. Most people would agree that a state which is allowed to interfere with the speech, writing, assembly, and religious beliefs of its subjects can quickly become oppressive and authoritarian, and that people should be able to seek a redress of grievances from the state. But there are several flaws with this position. Let us examine the failings of the First Amendment and why a free (stateless) society would be better off without this standard.

The first thing to note is that the interpretation of this amendment, like every other part of the Constitution, is decided by judges who are paid by the state in courts which are monopolized by the state. Thus, the First Amendment means whatever people in black costumes say it means, which need not be in keeping with common usage or dictionary definitions because there is no effective challenge to their power once the appeals process is exhausted. (There are the possibilities that a judge will be impeached and removed or that the Constitution will be amended, but these possibilities are rare enough to dismiss in most cases.) The incentive of people who are paid by the state is to encourage the health of the state, which means erring on the side of expanding the size and scope of government as well as kowtowing to popular opinion rather than handing down consistent rulings. This constitutes a threat to individual liberty and tends toward the curtailment of civil liberties.

This has produced results both interesting and disturbing. The Supreme Court never ruled on the Alien and Sedition Acts while they were in force, only noting their unconstitutionality in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). In 1919, the Court ruled on four cases resulting from the Espionage Act of 1917 (though it did not rule on the constitutionality of petitioning against the Act). From these cases, a standard of “clear and present danger” was invented to allow the state to interfere with the rights enumerated in the First Amendment in an ultimately arbitrary fashion. In Valentine v. Chrestensen (1942), the Court upheld a New York City ordinance forbidding the “distribution in the streets of commercial and business advertising matter,” even though such a restriction is clearly arbitrary and capricious (this was overturned in Virginia State Pharmacy Board v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council (1976)). In Dennis v. United States (1951), the Court upheld the Smith Act, which criminalizes the advocacy of overthrowing any level of government in the United States. In Roth v. United States (1957), the Court ruled that obscenity is not protected, and adopted a definition that relies upon “contemporary community standards,” which can be arbitrary and capricious. In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), the Court ruled that publishing statements “with knowledge that they are false or in reckless disregard of their truth or falsity” can constitute a civil offense. In Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980), the Court ruled that “individuals may peacefully exercise their right to free speech in parts of private shopping centers regularly held open to the public,” meaning that any private property used for commercial purposes is effectively no longer private, as the owners may not exercise their freedom of association to expel people from their property if their reason for doing so is a difference of opinion over speech.

To make a case against the First Amendment, one must first understand its function. It was commonly understood by the Framers that rights do not come from the state, but are inherent in each sentient being through what later theorists would call self-ownership. Therefore, the First Amendment was written not to give people the rights it enumerates, but to limit the use of government force against petitioning the government, as well as against speech, writing, religious activity, and peaceful assembly in public spaces. But the First Amendment was only necessary because the Constitution purports to authorize and legitimize a government that imposes common spaces upon the society and poses a threat to the activities enumerated by the First Amendment. If the state were abolished and its common spaces returned to private ownership, then the need for such a mitigating element protecting communication, religious activity, and peaceful assembly vanishes a fortiori, as does the need to petition an entity which would no longer exist. It must also be noted that when the state does actually redress the grievances of one person or group, it almost always commits more grievances against another person or group while doing so.

In a stateless society, the lack of a coercive monopoly eliminates the need for a right to petition. If one has grievances with a person or group in such a society, one handles it much as one deals with other non-state actors today. First, an attempt to negotiate directly is made. If this fails, then one may seek arbitration with a neutral dispute mediator. If this fails, then one may initiate legal proceedings, though this would be accomplished through private courts rather than a state’s court system. Finally, one may resort to the use of force in self-defense. In criminal matters, one would be justified in skipping the first two steps by immediately resorting to legal proceedings or defensive force. Also note that while states initiate the use of force against people who would dissociate from them, this behavior would not be tolerated in a stateless society. A person in a stateless society is thus afforded the option of ostracism of a person or group which causes grievances, as well as the options of associating with their competitors or becoming their competitor oneself.

At first glance, freedom of speech, writing, assembly, and religious beliefs may appear to be reasonable standards for a free society to protect, but these are not fundamental rights that can be traced back to self-ownership. The fundamental rights in a free society are self-ownership, private property, freedom of association, and freedom from aggression. One might object that one must speak or write in order to argue against freedom of speech or freedom of the press, or that one must assemble in order to argue against freedom of assembly, thus creating a performative contradiction, but this only applies within one’s own property or an unowned place. No one has a right to enter into another person’s property and engage in any speech, writing, assembly, or religious activity that is against the wishes of the property owner, and it would be exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) to contrive a situation in which the Reecean proviso would grant an exception. If a person does so, then the property owner has the right to curtail that person’s speech, writing, assembly, or religious activity by trespassing the person from the property and physically removing the person if necessary.

This sort of societal arrangement provides several benefits over a statist system which imposes common spaces upon the society. In a society with common spaces, people at cross purposes will seek to utilize those commons, which necessarily provokes conflicts. This, of course, provides a perfect excuse for the state to raise taxes and expand its security forces in order to “solve” the problem that the state creates in the first place. The only way to truly solve the problem of the commons is to eliminate all common spaces. Once this is done, people with unpopular and abhorrent views will have to either provide for their own security and keep their advocacy within private properties in which such views are welcome or be silenced. No more will such people be able to promote their ideas virtually anywhere and stick the members of society who oppose them with the bill for their protection. At long last, those who promote ideas which are at odds with liberty, such as democracy, fascism, and communism, will be able to be cast out of a libertarian community.

To conclude, the First Amendment is an attempt to mitigate evil rather than to snuff it out, and the misuse of its concepts has infringed upon more fundamental rights. While people living in a free society could decide that they wish to uphold the ideals of the First Amendment within their communities, there are clear reasons not to do so.

Resolve To Understand The Struggle

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two were argued against here, and the third will be argued against here.

To begin his case for revolution, Reece declares that the definition of the concept “leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.”

I do not simply declare that the definition of revolution leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism. Oxford’s definition clearly does this.

The issue is that this “anti-political revolution” and “culture of resistance” are only a path to ongoing conflict and mass chaos.

A competent debater must consider the alternatives, then compare and contrast them. The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. Static means that the state continues, which leaves us in a world of ongoing conflict and mass chaos. This leaves the option of peaceful change, but as argued in “Liberty Requires Revolution,” all methods for peaceful change either lead to failure or to violent revolution. Underhill attempts to argue otherwise in his third counter-rebuttal, but does not succeed in making the case. The remainder of this response will explain his failure on a point-by-point basis.

At this point, Underhill leaves a powerful argument unchallenged, so we may regard it as valid:

“The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. …[T]he state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure.”

He also leaves unchallenged my arguments that cryptography, seasteading, education, and peaceful parenting are helpful but insufficient to end the state.

Reece starts off with criticizing non-violent means of resistance to the state. On many of these, particularly electoral politics, he may have a point.

Either I have a point or I do not; the law of excluded middle forbids any other possibility. Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here for neither accepting my points nor arguing against them, except as noted below.

But he fails to understand the power of other options. In particular, I will note his arguments on agorism and civil disobedience as being very wrong-headed.

I understand their power very well, which is why I described them as helpful non-solutions. These options are capable of weakening the state and growing the number of libertarians, but they will not bring down governments on their own.

He contends that there are “limitations of scale” to agorism; that “there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye”. Now, while it is true that, for instance, starting up a car factory would fall under the risk of government action, it is not inherently true that government is magically aware of the activities of even large scale anti-state endeavors, nor is it true that there is necessarily a central point of failure.

This does not refute the point being made. I have argued that X exists, and Underhill’s response is not to argue that X does not exist (as a proper refutation must), but to argue that the opposite of X exists.

Reece cites the case of Ross Ulbricht as evidence the state can react to agorism quickly, but seems to utterly fail to understand the power of decentralization and removal of central points of control here. Ulbricht may be in jail, but hundreds of copycats and better alternatives have taken his place.

Underhill seems to utterly fail to understand the fact that these operations are not fully decentralized. There is still a buyer, a seller, an exchange operator, and a manufacturer. If government agents can figure out who these people are (and they still do sometimes), those people will be violently victimized by the state.

We also see into the mind of Reece here, when he declares that “a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death.” Here it seems he would rather people die in the face of the state than work around it to survive and even thrive. How perverse is such a sentiment!

We also see into the mind of Murray Rothbard here, who made exactly the same point against Samuel Konkin, although in slightly gentler terms:

“It is possible that the Soviet black market, for example, is so productive that it keeps the entire monstrous Soviet regime afloat, and that without it the Soviet system would collapse. This does not mean, of course, that I scorn or oppose black market activities in Russia; it is just to reveal some of the unpleasant features of the real world.”

The reality is that people will die in the face of the state regardless of whether they revolt against it, and it is better for them to die fighting and damaging the enemy than for them to be farmed and slaughtered like animals. Far from perversity, the idea that people should make present sacrifices in order to secure future gains is the foundation of all meaningful progress.

He continues, stating that:

Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

But is this the sort of “violent revolution” being defended here? For Konkin’s approach did involve violence, but it was strictly that of self-defense and well after a libertarian society had been almost fully established.

Yes, it is. Underhill seems to be unaware that the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, and is therefore subject to logic in the form of consistency. To act aggressively against people and property, make no restitution for doing so, and refuse to stop aggressing is inconsistent with the non-aggression principle. Thus, the non-aggression principle does not apply to such a person, and the use of force against such a person is acceptable. Government agents fulfill this description, therefore using force against them meets the standard of self-defense.

Neither of these things are true in a “storm Washington and rout the bastards” type argument that seems so prevalent when actually discussing the concept of revolution.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that we should “storm Washington and rout the bastards.” (While the article picture for “Liberty Requires Revolution” depicts this, it was chosen solely for its pleasing aesthetic. Never is what it depicts actually advocated in the article.)

Nor does such an action seek to “replace” the current power structure – only resist its imposition upon people who choose to defend themselves. (In this sense, how can it really be called a “revolution”?)

Oxford’s definition says that a revolution is a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system. In this case, the new system is one of a stateless society with individual sovereignty and private property. The current government and social order are overthrown by a sufficient number of people defending themselves from their imposition to end their functionality.

Moreover, this is – of necessity – in an environment where people are generally accepting of such anarchic society, not the current society where resistance to the state, even by a major corporation like Apple, is demonized on nearly every front.

This depends upon the meaning of “generally accepting.” This term could mean anything from enthusiastic support to inactionable hatred. If 95 percent of the people want a state but 5 percent do not, and the 5 percent are able and willing to impose anarchy by force but the 95 percent are not able or willing to impose statism by force, then there will be no state despite the fact that people are not generally accepting of anarchism.

Resistance to the state by Apple has not been demonized on nearly every front. Many people have voiced concerns over privacy and abuse of state power that are in line with Apple’s position.

On civil disobedience, Reece claims that:

multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience.

It’s true that civil disobedience carries with it risk of suffering violence. But in many ways, it is far superior to risk that violence without retaliation than it is to escalate it with further violence.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

In the February Revolution in Russia, the revolt was obtained mostly through non-violence because the military men whose task it was to subdue the populace refused to fire into a crowd of non-violent protesters, many of whom were women. On the other hand, escalation to levels of significant violence most often lead to protracted war – where the result is incalculable.

This is true, but irrelevant to the discussion. The point is that civil disobedience stops being civil when government agents decide to use force.

To reiterate the quote from Doctor Who I included in my original article:

When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die. You don’t know who’s children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill…

Refusing to fire that shot (and it is not the first shot; that would be a government agent’s doing) also means having no idea who will die or how many, except that whoever it is will certainly be an innocent person. Firing that shot means that some who will die will be aggressors, and that less aggression will occur in the long run because the aggressors will face a higher cost for their behavior.

Reece carries on with a comparison of the existence of the state and “power vacuums” to those of physics. Here he simply makes a categorical error. While talk of power vacuums constitutes a common analogy, it is also an inherently false one based on a sociological determinism. From this, Reece draws many erroneous conclusions about the use of force to defend a “partial vacuum”.

A categorical error is a logical fallacy in which one ascribes qualities to a noun that cannot possess those qualities. For example, the statement “that idea is the color red” is a categorical error because concepts in the mind do not reflect particular wavelengths of visible light. As no such quality was attributed to power vacuums, no such error was committed in the analogy between power vacuums and physical vacuums. Underhill then commits a straw man fallacy by invoking sociological determinism, which was not the motivation for the vacuum analogy.

He also notes that “the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states”. This is precisely true, but it is absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.

This is exactly wrong. The number of people enforcing the edicts of rulers is an important factor for estimating the number of people needed to thwart them.

These people will not come in with pistols to match the pistols libertarians might possess, but with tanks and military aircraft and missiles. There is no chance of any sort of determined minority resistance prepared to use violence leading any sort of peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles.

One could argue that technological superiority of states in other fields makes nonviolent resistance useless as well, but let us tackle the argument at face value. Using military hardware against the revolutionaries will cause many civilian casualties, especially if the revolutionaries are blended into the general population. This will cause more people to join the revolutionaries in order to avenge their fallen family members and friends, just as drone strikes that kill innocents overseas cause more people to join terrorist organizations today. This would also result in damage to infrastructure that the state needs to keep operational in order to maintain public support and carry out its functions.

Underhill seems to believe that military vehicles are invincible juggernauts that no resistance movement could hope to stop. This is quite false, as many resistance movements have conclusively proven. All vehicles need to be fueled, controlled, and maintained, and all offensive vehicles need to be armed. Someone must perform those tasks, and someone must deliver the resources for those tasks and for the personnel involved. Those people are far more vulnerable than the vehicles themselves. Failing this, 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 revolutionaries 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.

The point is not to lead a peaceful existence with this threat constantly hanging overhead. The point is to eliminate the threat.

His case is briefly summarized in this paragraph:

The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

This summarizes only the part of my case that describes the end goal of such a revolution.

He claims the revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret. I don’t know here if he is unaware of the spying operations of modern states, uncomprehending of the amount of force needed to bring to bear to resist a state military operation, or whether he is just too drawn in to the fantasy of taking up arms against the oppressor, but the scenario described here is almost laughable.

Underhill may be unaware of the potential strength of cryptography, unaware of how fragile the nation-state model of security really is, or just too much of an intellectual coward to think this through.

Further, he talks about a conclusion of this “decentralized revolution”, as if there would be any such conclusion outside of the annihilation of the armed resistance.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

By creating this long-term “culture of resistance” and relying on operation in secret to engage in guerrilla combat, he’s consigned this group to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all.

We are all consigned to perpetual warfare as long as the state exists at all. What revolution does is to allow innocent people to be something other than perpetual victims.

Any attempt to form a peaceful society based on market anarchist principles would be impossible – lives would instead be devoted to engaging in a fruitless violent resistance that could only lead to massive innocent deaths without any achievement of the goal of liberty.

That which is asserted without evidence may be dismissed without evidence.

He answers the charge of the technologically superior military by pointing to the idea of guerrilla combat as well as blowback.

A more detailed answer may be found above.

But this only approaches the problem from the point of view of the anarchist revolutionary. The people would not be so kind as to side with the terrorists in their midst.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Which interpretation is held by the people of the anarchist revolutionaries depends on how numerous they are, how successful they are, how oppressive the state is, how popular alternative media is versus the establishment lapdog media, and so on.

No worries, Reece claims, we will have the “actions of revolutionaries .. carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands”. Certainly. But is he aware that the death of military members and police officers and other government agents, will be viewed as this “collateral damage”.

This also depends on the variables listed above.

The public does not take kindly to “cop-killers” now. Why would this suddenly change because the action is framed as self-defense by some apparent (to them) sociopaths?

This would not suddenly change, nor would it need to. The revolution is not to take place until there is a critical mass of people who are willing to participate. At that point in time, the public perception of those who kill government agents would be more favorable, as explained later.

Next, he arbitrarily claims that “the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets”. He provides no reason to believe this is true other than that they do not “vote with bullets”. He goes on to say that “[i]f the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves”.

There is nothing arbitrary about this claim; it is clearly in agreement with the observable facts. People vote on ballots to get politicians to use state power to give them that which they could not obtain themselves without directly committing crimes against people and property. Most people find it impractical to directly commit crimes not only because being productive is less risky and the state punishes (non-government) criminals, but because their would-be victims may use force to stop them. I then linked to an entire article devoted to explaining this point.

I can’t think of anything more likely to lead to an acceptance of an authoritarian state than rebels forcibly preventing democratic means of government in a nation where the vast majority believe wholeheartedly in democracy. Not only is this proposed “revolution” by Reece historically a bad idea, he seems from the outset trying to design something that will purposefully incense the state-loving populace to the point of cheering on the destruction of any and all libertarians or anarchists.

This is an argument from incredulity; just because Underhill cannot figure out how this will work does not mean that it must fail. Again, the majority of people can believe whatever they want, but if they will not use force and a minority who think differently will, then the minority will win.

In his response to the question of “what protects your revolution from the next one?”, he presents a simple answer: we’ll kill anyone who would resist our system and attempt to reimpose a state. (Presumably, if the rhetoric of Cantwell is any guide, also any leftists or anyone else who disagrees with our values.)

A person who would resist anarcho-capitalism and attempt to reimpose a state would necessarily be user of aggressive violence because doing so would require one to initiate the use of force against people and their property. The use of defensive violence to stop an aggressor is always morally justifiable. Perhaps the answer is simple, but it is also a priori true.

It is not necessary to kill anyone who disagrees with anarcho-capitalism, but it is necessary to keep them from acting upon that disagreement within an anarcho-capitalist society. This may take the form of anarcho-capitalists being too powerful to aggress against, the use of force in self-defense, or physical removal from the society.

This sounds like it would quickly devolve into the chaos of the “anarcho-statists” of Spain to me.

This sounds like Underhill cannot comprehend the case being made.

At the very least, it depends on a perpetually violent populace dedicated to the principles in question… which means it is very likely to fall to another revolution based on other ideas that people have accepted.

Any civilization that wishes to maintain its form must have some group of people who are able and willing to use force to defend that form against threats. The artificial vacuum of state power maintained by a culture of resistance is actually least likely to fall to another revolution; as discussed above, it has advantages that other forms of security do not.

Similarly, he denies the Iron Law of Oligarchy in his call for a “truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership.”

This is not a denial of the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Each small cell of revolutionaries will likely develop a natural leader who is better than others at organization, strategy, martial skills, or some other important attribute. The idea is for no such leader to be allowed command and control of anything beyond the small cell.

While I completely agree that a revolution headed by “a charismatic leader against the state … will yet again fail to solve the problem”, a decentralized resistance is inevitably going to ignore all those special caveats and contentions about “collateral damage” and the like that Reece has already noted would be necessary for his ideal to even work.

The caveats are not necessary for the ideal to work; they just make success easier and shorten the conflict. If a certain group does ignore good strategy and attack innocents needlessly, then they can be disavowed as fakes. This would not be a no true Scotsman fallacy because they would be fake libertarians by definition.

Moreover, it’s extremely unlikely to ever get started.

Perhaps, but its success is more likely than any non-violent method.

Finally, he claims that it will be “time” to start when “enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution … more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end.” It seems that this would require a lot of people. Almost as many people, one might think, as would be necessary to simply refuse to cooperate with the state and force it to its knees without violence.

This is where the fact that the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states is far from “absolutely irrelevant to the question at hand.” A quick strike by 1 percent of the population could subdue another 1 percent of the population with nothing more than revolvers. More realistically, it would probably take between 2 and 5 percent of the population to forcibly end the state and form a culture of resistance. That number of people could certainly disrupt the state through civil disobedience, but this disruption will result in state violence against the disobedient, which brings us back to the choice of either defending oneself with violence or being victimized while giving the state a victory.

We all agree that “[t]he state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper.” Where the disagreement lies is in the idea that resistance without violent revolution constitutes a “position of weakness”.

When aggressors are willing to escalate the use of force beyond the level to which their intended victims are willing to escalate the use of force, the intended victims are in a position of weakness.

Rather, the state is dependent on the people it oppresses for resources, both via taxation and via the acceptance of state-backed money. Remove these two aspects of the state’s power, and it cannot stand. The power of the state is only derived by the people who support it. In the words of Étienne de la Boetie:

How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?

[…]

From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

This is not in dispute. What Underhill cannot seem to understand about this struggle is that the state will not magically disappear if the people it oppresses stop handing over resources. When this happens, government agents will use force to try to take those resources, making real the threats of violence which have been levied for so long. Even if he cannot get more arms to beat us with and feet to trample down our cities from us, he already has many. Even if we resolve to serve no more, this resolve means nothing if the masters are more able and willing to escalate the use of force than we are. Yes, we must resolve to serve no more, but we must also resolve to understand the struggle and do what is necessary to physically resist and defeat the enemy when it moves against us.

Errors in the Face of Revolt

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. I rebutted the article, and Underhill responded with three counter-rebuttals. The first two will be argued against here, and the third will receive a separate response.

Reece begins his case by denouncing my use of the term “English Revolution” as “a Marxist historical revision”. Presumably, he’d be more accepting of the term “Civil War” as a reference to the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell. But this is mere semantics.

Semantics are important. To quote Confucius, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names. We will return to this point later.

Whether one calls it a “revolution” or not, it amounts to the same thing – a violent overthrow of an existing government by people demanding “liberty”. In this case, it was the removal of absolute monarchy based in the “divine right of kings”. This inherently fits the definition of a revolution according to Merriam-Webster: “the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed”. To say that the English Civil War was not a revolution is absurd.

Underhill uses Webster’s definition, while I use Oxford’s. Both are respected arbiters of the English language, so that much is a draw. If there is a difference, it is that a civil war generally lasts longer and necessarily involves fighting between regular military forces representing each side, while a revolution does not necessarily involve this. It is not wrong to call the overthrow of Charles I and the establishment of the Protectorate under Cromwell a revolution, but it is not the most precise term and was not used before Marxist historical revisionism.

Reece continues by citing Austin Woolrych that “the changes in the ownership of real estate, and hence in the composition of the governing class, were nothing like as great as used to be thought” after the revolt that put Cromwell on the throne. I’m not sure what he is attempting to demonstrate here. This vague contention that things “weren’t so bad as used to be thought” does nothing to refute any of the specific claims in the original source.

I was attempting to demonstrate that property rights were not violated to the extent that Underhill claims, and therefore Underhill’s argument is weakened, if not refuted.

Further, he even admits that Cromwell was worse than Charles I, going on to claim that Charles II was less tyrannical. However, he leaves off that Charles II did not arrive at power by violent revolution, but was invited to return to the throne by the English Parliament which was dealing with a political crisis of succession brought on by Cromwell’s death.

A competent historian, much like a competent economist, does not think in a simple and linear fashion. As Hazlitt writes[1],

“[T]here is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of men to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”

Likewise, a historian must account for the long-run effects of an event. Hazlitt goes on to discuss the broken window fallacy as described by Frederic Bastiat, and an analogue about ignoring counter-factual possibilities in favor of historical determinism applies.

While it is likely that Charles II would have directly succeeded Charles I if the English Civil War had never happened, this is a counter-factual, so there is no way to be certain of this. As such, we must conclude that Charles II did arrive at power by violent revolution, even if in a roundabout and indirect manner.

He next proceeds to attack my characterization of the French Revolution, saying:

Underhill’s description of the French Revolution is quite incomplete, and this leads to inaccuracies such as treating the rise of Napoleon as part of the French Revolution when in fact, he had to engineer a coup against the French Revolution in order to take power. Underhill also neglects to mention Napoleon’s positive achievements, such as the Napoleonic Code, the first abolition of the Spanish Inquisition, promotion of equal rights under law, and hastening the end of feudalism.

Here, Reece seems entirely unaware of the history involved in the French Revolution other than his brief foray into Wikipedia. Even before Napoleon’s rise to power in the entirely bloodless Coup of 18 Brumaire, ending the French Revolution, the revolutionary Directory had engaged in a widespread European war (the War of the First Coalition) and started a second (the War of the Second Coalition) which Napoleon continued until 1802.

Just because one did not make reference to something does not mean that one is unaware of it. The coup was bloodless, but not peaceful. On 19 Brumaire, Napoleon stormed into the legislature with a group of grenadiers and drove the two Councils out by force. Then the plotters convened two commissions, each consisting of twenty-five deputies from the two Councils, which were intimidated into declaring a provisional government with Napoleon in charge. Jacobin deputies who resisted were exiled or arrested. There can be little doubt that blood would have been shed if the Council members had resisted to a greater extent.

The War of the First Coalition began in response to the Declaration of Pillnitz, a threat made by King Frederick William II of Prussia and Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II against the revolutionaries if they should harm King Louis XVI or his family. It can therefore ultimately be viewed as a defensive war. No such case can be made for the War of the Second Coalition, but other European powers launched wars of aggression during this time period. Aggressive behavior by powerful nation-states occurred regardless of whether rulers were replaced by new rulers.

There’s a reason that the original article made no reference to Napoleon – Napoleon did not rise to power from violent revolution.

Underhill again commits the error of only looking at direct and immediate cause and effect. Even if one ignores the threatening display made by Napoleon on 19 Brumaire, to say that Napoleon did not rise to power from violent revolution would require one to show that he would have taken power in the absence of the French Revolution. This is impossible because it is a counter-factual.

Whatever his beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France, they have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself.

The idea that Napoleon’s beneficial accomplishments as the Emperor of France have no bearing on the result of the French Revolution itself is laughable. Every event that happens after a given historical episode has some bearing on the result of that historical episode.

(Nor, particularly, are they not themselves debatable, but that is a topic for another article.)

Underhill is guilty of intellectual laziness here. A point should either be debated or left alone, not simply declared debatable and left hanging.

Reece then continues with the claim that the Whiskey Rebellion should have been a violent rebellion. He contends:

Had the rebels at their greatest extent marched against Washington’s forces, they stood a decent chance of defeating him in battle, which would have dealt a major blow to the power of the United States government, perhaps even a fatal one.

This is merely counter-factual assumption. No one knows what would have happened for sure, and I can just as easily contend that such a violent revolution would have – even if it defeated Washington’s army – only led to a more tyrannical American government than that created by the Constitutional Convention that led to the Alien and Sedition Acts not 10 years later. Such counter-factuals demonstrate nothing; we must analyze history as it is, not as we presume it could have been.

Counter-factuals for thee, but not for me? How hypocritical.

Continuing with the Whiskey Rebellion, our critic informs us that I have made a factual error; there were in fact some cases of tax collectors being tarred and feathered and a few deaths as a result of the Whiskey Rebellion. Certainly, this is the case. But it’s almost as if Reece does not understand the difference between isolated cases of violence and a violent revolution here.

A revolution is either peaceful or violent; the law of excluded middle forbids any other status. Once a revolution is violent, it is only a matter of degree.

The Boston Massacre involved colonists throwing things at British Redcoats, followed by them killing five men in retaliation, but it was not a revolution. Neither was, for instance, the protest on May 4, 1970 at Kent State that killed four students and wounded nine others when the National Guard fired into a crowd in order to disperse the anti-war protest.

That it is possible for violent non-revolutionary conflicts to occur was never in dispute, so Underhill commits a straw man fallacy.

Reece begins the logical case by arguing that my claim that revolution against a powerful state does not succeed is irrelevant. As he says, “[t]he idea that something which has yet to happen must be impossible is a logical fallacy.” Of course, I agree with him here; the fact that something has not happened yet doesn’t mean it cannot.

Ceding this point forfeits Underhill’s entire case, but let us continue anyway.

Which is why I consider it a good thing that I backed up this claim with reasons why such a revolution is unlikely to succeed. Among them:

A strong state has both a significant aura of legitimacy and the power to put down a rebellion via fear, propaganda, and military force. The destruction of these “terrorist” rebels is not viewed by the populace as an imposition by a tyrant in these cases, but as the legitimate use of state force to “keep them safe.”

Far from being “historical determinism”, the argument is based in logical reasoning about what a “strong state” constitutes in the first place.

If this is the definition of a “strong state,” then no such entity can exist unless “rebellion” is defined to be a sufficiently small resistance that the aforementioned state can put it down.

Our critic continues here claiming that this is a straw man anyway. According to him, “anarchists are not calling for revolution against a powerful state, but against weak states which only appear to be powerful.” He must have missed the part where the vast majority of the American populace, along with that of Europe, currently suffers many depredations and violations of their liberty,while demanding even more to keep them safe and solve their problems. The idea that the American state is currently “weak” while the majority of its people clamor for it to provide protection from terrorists and malcontents the world over is almost laughable.

They have done this because they do not perceive their survival to be in danger. Due to ruinous economic, monetary, immigration, and foreign policies, this is beginning to change, and will make the next few decades very interesting. The idea that the American state is weak is far from laughable when one considers that a state can have a powerful military but have serious economic problems, as the United States currently does. And as argued in the latter part of “Liberty Requires Revolution,” even a powerful military can be defeated by a small minority of determined revolutionaries.

Reece then turns to the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence as evidence that people rebel against strong states. He must be unaware of the fact that the British Empire was not very strong after the close of the French and Indian War, particularly in the American hemisphere, and did not regain its strength in the intervening years. In fact, many of the taxes and restrictions attempted to be levied against the colonies during that time were rooted in Britain attempting to regain its strength and wealth, and were often repealed within a few years because even the non-violent resistance of the colonies was enough to prevent useful enforcement of the laws in question. The British Parliament had little legitimacy in the American colonies, even among supporters of the King.

Underhill must be unaware that the Treaty of Paris (1763) marked the beginning of an era of British dominance outside Europe, as well as considerable cessions of territory by France to the British. Many of the taxes and restrictions attempted to be levied against the colonies during that time were rooted in Britain attempting to make the colonies pay what they believed to be a fair share of the expenses of defending the British Empire.

He then notes that famines preceded both the French and Russian Revolutions. While this is true, this was only one cause of unrest and only mattered because of the weakness of the French King and Russian Tsar, respectively, to start with.

King Louis XVI and Tsar Nicholas II were weak partly because of the famines, and it was this that made their oppressions no longer tolerable. While Louis XVI was a weak ruler, Nicholas II proved himself willing to put down rebels by force. Again, we have a counter-factual; there is no way to know what would have happened had rulers like King Louis XIV or Tsar Ivan IV been in charge.

Similarly, we can note that far worse famines and direct state genocide in the USSR, Cambodia, Maoist China, Nazi Germany and other states with significant amounts of legitimacy and power resulted in no significant violent revolution.

A famine is only one possible means by which conditions can become such that survival demands revolution; there are of course many others. Even then, just because survival demands revolution does not mean that a revolutionary effort will succeed.

And the American Revolution was decidedly not about survival – the taxes and restrictions were unsettling for colonists, surely, but they were no threat to immediate survival for the populace. Reece’s thesis that “[u]ntil conditions become such that survival demands revolution, most people are not in the proper mindset to overthrow a government” appears decidedly refuted by the basic historical facts.

Tell that to the colonists who were killed by British troops. Appearances can be deceiving, especially to those who ignore obvious evidence.

Our critic then continues claiming that when it comes to the Russian Revolution, I have “conflate[d] two revolutions into one.” Well, this is patently false. While the February Revolution (which was confined to Petrograd and lasted only a week) did bring the Mensheviks to power, it resulted in a weak state that was replaced within the year. Moreover, the February Revolution was, for the most part, non-violent; it succeeded as a result of mutiny by the soldiers that refused to fire into an unarmed crowd. Per the Wikipedia link that Reece cites, not a single government agent was a casualty in this revolution.

This response provides no evidence that the February Revolution and the October Revolution should be treated as one event.

He then notes that “[w]hile the original communist ideal is a stateless society, it is much different from the sort of anarcho-capitalist society that is the desire of those who truly seek liberty.” Surely this is the case, but like the communist goal, what is to stop the revolution from being “betrayed”?

What would keep an anarcho-capitalist revolution from being betrayed is the same thing that would keep any other kind of revolution from being betrayed: the use of force by the participants to thwart attempts at co-option and resist centralization of the movement. It is as though Underhill did not read the entirety of “Liberty Requires Revolution.”

In my original article, I have an aside referencing Cantwell’s support for Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. This is primarily rooted not in a strict adherence to the principles of anarcho-capitalism, but in (an enlarged and near hyperbolic version of) traditional conservative animosity towards leftists. What’s to stop this from happening with this revolution? Particularly because it is people like Cantwell advocating such action?

Properly understood, anarcho-capitalism is a right-wing ideology, so traditional conservative animosity towards leftists is understandable and not something to be stopped.

Reece continues on to cite a quote from Engels to demonstrate that “although Karl Marx and Lenin did speak of violence, the elimination of the state in communist ideology was not universally understood as a violent transition”. Nevertheless, this demonstration does not change the argument. (Rather, it seems like a typical Marxist statement that “that wasn’t true communism”.)

This demonstration was not supposed to change the argument; it was supposed to present a more complete picture of the events being discussed.

Certainly, it cannot be denied that the apparent original intent of the Marxist-Leninist October Revolution in Russia in 1917 was not to replace the state with the tyrannical USSR, but to abolish the state apparatus. Instead, it resulted in authoritarian “war communism” followed by the ever more powerful USSR until Stalin took its reins in 1922 and consolidated his power after Lenin died in 1924.

At best, one can argue that one should never expect liberty from communist revolution. With this much, I agree, but even this much is not proven by the single example of the Russian Revolution.

Reece wraps up his more logical critique with a claim that there are violent revolutions that did not increase the power of the state. He cites the Irish War for Independence, apparently unaware of the ensuing Irish Civil War over the concluding treaty or the “Offences Against the State Acts”, which are about as draconian a way to prevent terrorism and dissension as one can get.

Underhill is apparently unaware that mentioning a single piece of legislation after a revolution is insufficient to analyze the overall degree of state power before a revolution versus after a revolution. The result of Ireland’s separation from the United Kingdom thus far has been positive; as of 2015, Ireland outranks the UK in the Human Development Index, Press Freedom Index, and Freedom in the World Index. Ireland is also less involved in foreign wars than the UK, having followed a policy of neutrality since 1937.

He also cites the Romanian Revolution in 1989, which was itself more “riot” than “revolution” in terms of its violence, but also resulted in the least effective transition away from Communist rule (having the June 1990 Mineriad not a year later, with the violent suppression of protests against the new ruling party).

After denouncing disputes over semantics, Underhill engages in one. Again, we must consider the long-term results. While the June 1990 Mineriad was oppressive and the initial transition away from communism was slower than in other former communist countries, the Human Development Index, Press Freedom Index, and Freedom in the World Index in Romania have caught up to most of the others and surpassed several of them.

Compared to the power remaining with USSR satellite states in 1989, the Romanian state that replaced Ceaușescu was quite powerful. Ceaușescu is, after all, a man whose entire military mutinied after his last speech before he attempted to flee the country. To believe that this satellite state of the USSR required violent revolution to overturn in 1989, as non-violent revolutions succeeded in every other such satellite state, seems contrary to the facts.

Underhill commits a straw man fallacy here, as I never argued that Romania required a violent revolution; only that it benefited from one.

Lastly, Reece declares that “[t]he case that historical revolutions result in growth of the state is further weakened by the fact that the state has generally grown regardless of whether revolutions occur.” While this is, of course, true, it has no real bearing on the argument at hand. The state could easily grow from revolution and from other factors in the absence of revolution, and in fact does. This doesn’t change the fact that violently rebelling generally results in a more powerful state, and certainly cannot be expected to achieve a free society.

Logically, it remains the case that revolution is at the very best an extremely poor way to achieve liberty, and at worst will only further the existence and power of the state.

Actually, it has a great deal of bearing on the argument at hand. A competent historian must always ask, “Compared to what? What is the alternative?” The alternatives to violent revolution are peaceful change and static. The state has generally grown over time regardless of which of the three options were in use. The critic of violent revolution must account for this, but Underhill fails to show that violent revolution is a worse method than the alternatives, committing a multitude of errors along the way.

References:

  1. Hazlitt, Henry (1946). Economics in One Lesson. p. 3-4

The Reecean Proviso

The institution of private property is fundamental to economics and indeed, to civilization itself, as we know it. Classical liberal and libertarian theorists have constructed rational arguments to describe and defend the nature of private property, and an overview of these arguments will follow. After this, the Reecean proviso to private property rights will be introduced, elaborated upon, and defended from likely objections.

We begin with Thomas Hobbes, who writes[1],

“Therefore, whatever results from a time of war, when every man is enemy to every man, also results from a time when men live with no other security but what their own strength and ingenuity provides them with. In such conditions…the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

[…]

A further fact about the state of war of every man against every man: in it there is no such thing as ownership, no legal control, no distinction between mine and thine. Rather, anything that a man can get is his for as long as he can keep it.

In other words, one effectively owns whatever one can take and defend, no more and no less. Hobbes theorized that people needed to enter into a social contract and live under a nearly absolute monarch in order to escape this condition. He believed that private property rights would return us to the state of nature if not for the ability of the state to take and use any and all individual property for the collective good.

The fundamental error of Hobbes is that the state of nature he describes is inescapable. Regardless of which theories of just property ownership are developed and put into practice, what one effectively owns is still whatever one can take and defend. The state simply transforms the war of all against all into a war of some against others, and is the result of one person or group managing to dominate the war. The extent to which life is not “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” is possible not because of the state, but because of the private property that Hobbes condemns. His social contract theory is also faulty; a contract is invalid unless all parties voluntarily agree to its terms. The state will initiate the use of force against people who do not wish to enter into the social contract, meaning that any such consent must be under duress and therefore invalid.

The intellectual foundation for a libertarian theory of property rights begins with John Locke. Locke writes[2],

“Though the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person; this no body has any right to but himself. The labor of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labor something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men. For this labor being the unquestionable property of the laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others.”

The idea that “every man has a property in his own person; this no body has any right to but himself” is called self-ownership, and its validity was proven by Murray Rothbard in a straight-forward manner[3]:

“Now, any person participating in any sort of discussion, including one on values, is, by virtue of so participating, alive and affirming life. For if he were really opposed to life, he would have no business continuing to be alive. Hence, the supposed opponent of life is really affirming it in the very process of discussion, and hence the preservation and furtherance of one’s life takes on the stature of an incontestable axiom.”

What Rothbard points out is a performative contradiction contained in all arguments against self-ownership, and the presence of one of these within an argument falsifies the argument. By the law of excluded middle, if all arguments against an idea must be false, then the idea must be true.

The last part of the above quote from Locke, that people may establish private property unless doing so causes there not to be “enough and as good left in common for others,” was termed the Lockean proviso by Robert Nozick[4]. Interestingly, Locke moves on to the next section of his work without even bothering to explain why such a limit should be in place. The Lockean proviso does not withstand scrutiny; as Tibor Machan explains[5],

“[S]ome have argued that in terms of it the right to private property can have various exceptions and it may not even be unjust to redistribute wealth that is privately owned. I argue that this cannot be right because it would imply that one’s right to life could also have various exceptions, so anyone’s life (and labor) could be subject to conscription if some would need it badly enough. Since this could amount to enslavement and involuntary servitude, it would be morally and legally unacceptable.”

The Reecean Proviso

It is possible, however, to construct another proviso from first principles that limits absolute private property rights to a far lesser extent. To my knowledge, this has not been done elsewhere, so I will call this the Reecean proviso. We begin with self-ownership, that each sentient being has property in one’s own physical body through exclusive direct control over it. This direct appropriation necessarily precedes any indirect appropriation, as the only way that one can create private property through labor upon unowned natural resources is by directly controlling one’s physical body in order to control such resources indirectly. Thus, private property rights over external objects are dependent upon the property right over one’s physical body. That which is dependent cannot overrule that upon which it is dependent. Therefore, self-ownership stands above private property rights in external objects.

Next, let us note that all sentient beings are equal in their self-ownership, in that all sentient beings have property in their own physical bodies through exclusive direct control over them. Although the nature of their bodies (and minds) may result in different beings appropriating different quantities of external resources and in different beings having more or less capability to defend those resources from challengers in practice, the theoretical strength of a particular property right over an external object by one sentient being is equivalent to the strength of another particular property right over another external object by another sentient being. Applying this standard to the fact that self-ownership stands above private property in external objects, we get the result that the self-ownership of one sentient being stands above the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being. This is the Reecean proviso.

At first, this result may appear to be sufficiently broad as to collapse the whole idea of private property into a Hobbesian nightmare, or at least a socialist dystopia. But in order for this result to apply, the self-ownership of one sentient being must be in conflict with the private property rights in external objects of another sentient being. The possible scope of such a conflict is quite narrow, as it requires a person’s life to be in jeopardy with no other possibility for survival but to use another person’s private property. But even this is not narrow enough, as restricting the scope no further would allow for several absurdities. Let us see just how narrow this scope is.

First, the person’s life must be in jeopardy due to the aggressions of another person and not due to the person’s own action or inaction. Otherwise, a person could make a series of poor choices so as to engineer a situation in which the person is reduced to a stark choice between using another person’s private property or dying and then take advantage of this situation to take private property from another person by underhanded means. Because one inherently consents to what one does to oneself, one cannot commit acts of aggression against oneself. Thus, the threat to one’s life that would allow the Reecean proviso to be used cannot be of one’s own making. Second, the person must not knowingly endanger the life of the property owner. If this were to occur, then we would no longer be weighing one person’s self-ownership against another person’s private property rights in external objects, but one person’s self-ownership against another person’s self-ownership. In such a case, the property owner gets to decide whether to use force to defend against the newcomer’s aggression. Third, the person must not appropriate any more privately owned resources than are required for survival in the moment. Going above and beyond the bare minimum is an act of theft, as it is not required for survival in the moment. Even taking some extra “for the road” is not allowed, as it cannot be proven that doing so will be the only possible method for survival. Fourth, a person may only travel through territory in which the person is unwelcome if survival requires that one do so. Doing so when there is another path available, or when survival is not in jeopardy, constitutes trespassing. Fifth, a person who is traveling through territory in which the person is unwelcome must traverse the territory as quickly as possible. Taking more time than is reasonably required constitutes loitering and trespassing. Sixth, a person who deprives a property owner of value in order to survive must make restitution for that value if and when this becomes possible. To take and keep the value when one could make restitution constitutes theft.

Objections

With the Reecean proviso properly limited, let us address some likely objections. The first is that using this proviso may appear to be an act of aggression. The non-aggression principle is not an axiom, but a logical corollary of self-ownership. If each person owns one’s physical body, and all instances of self-ownership have equal theoretical strength, then it is wrong to exercise one’s self-ownership to interfere with another sentient being’s self-ownership. As such, it makes more sense to call this the non-aggression theorem. The Reecean proviso does not permit interference with anyone’s self-ownership; only with another corollary thereof, that of private property rights in external objects.

The second likely objection comes from Walter Block’s theory of negative homesteading. This comes into play when discussing the problem of innocent shields, and leads to the conclusion that an innocent shield may be harmed in the course of subduing an aggressor if there is no way to subdue the aggressor without harming the innocent shield. But the innocent shield problem, as well as the lightning transfer problem that Block discusses, weighs one self-ownership against another, not self-ownership versus private property rights in external objects. As such, this objection is also of no help to the critic of the Reecean proviso.

Third, one may, in spite of the above limitations, try to equate the Reecean proviso with a form of socialism or forced redistribution. But if there is to be forced redistribution, then there must be someone who will do the forcing. Such a person would be acting as the jeopardized person’s agent, and would therefore be subject to the same restrictions on conduct that apply to the jeopardized person. The result of applying these restrictions is that all the property owner need do is to defend the property in such a way that it cannot be taken without threatening the property owner’s life. It must also be noted that if one is able to get someone to forcibly redistribute wealth to keep one alive, then one will have other, less aggressive options available, such as arranging survival aid and evacuation from the desperate scenario to be carried out by the person who would act to forcibly redistribute wealth.

Fourth, one may object that it will be difficult to determine when the Reecean proviso applies versus when a desperate person has committed aggression by taking more than what is required. For the proviso to apply in a dispute resolution arbitration, it must be true and provable that a desperate person abided by the proviso. Proving that one did not bring the situation upon oneself, endanger the property owner, take more resources than needed, go onto private lands without cause, stay on such lands longer than necessary, or fail to make required restitution will be all but impossible. This is a fair point. With the preceding point in mind, the most plausible objection to the Reecean proviso is that it is so limited in scope that it may become a triviality, being in the libertarian philosophical tradition but never finding a practical use. We can only hope that this is true; that no non-aggressive person should ever be forced into a situation where the only available options are to commandeer a small amount of another person’s resources or to perish of hunger, thirst, and exposure.

Example

Finally, let us consider an example. A classic problem in libertarian theory is the issue of encirclement. Nozick writes[6],

“The possibility of surrounding an individual person presents a difficulty for a libertarian theory that contemplates private ownership of all roads and streets, with no public ways of access. A person might trap another by purchasing the land around him, leaving no way to leave without trespass. It won’t do to say that an individual shouldn’t go to or be in a place without having acquired from adjacent owners the right to pass through and exit. Even if we leave aside questions about the desirability of a system that allows someone who has neglected to purchase exit rights to be trapped in a single place, though he has done no punishable wrong, by a malicious and wealthy enemy (perhaps the president of the corporation that owns all of the local regular thoroughfares), there remains the question of ‘exit to where?’ Whatever provisions he has made, anyone can be surrounded by enemies who cast their nets widely enough.”

Rothbard responds[7],

“One example of Nozick’s sanctioning aggression against property rights is his concern with the private landowner who is surrounded by enemy landholders who won’t let him leave. To the libertarian reply that any rational landowner would have first purchased access rights from surrounding owners, Nozick brings up the problem of being surrounded by such a set of numerous enemies that he still would not be able to go anywhere. But the point is that this is not simply a problem of landownership. Not only in the free society, but even now, suppose that one man is so hated by the whole world that no one will trade with him or allow him on their property. Well, then, the only reply is that this is his own proper assumption of risk. Any attempt to break that voluntary boycott by physical coercion is illegitimate aggression against the boycotters’ rights. This fellow had better find some friends, or at least purchase allies, as quickly as possible.”

The Reecean proviso amends Rothbard’s response to say that the encirclers may not keep the encircled in a situation where survival is impossible. If the encircled can survive where they are, then they must either stay put or devise a method for flying over or burrowing under the private property in which they are unwelcome. But if survival is impossible, then the Reecean proviso says that their self-ownership trumps private property rights in external objects. This allows them to leave the place where survival is impossible. But does it allow them to return? Not through the encirclement, because returning to the position where survival is impossible constitutes both an engineering of the situation and traveling through territory where one is unwelcome without having to do so. The encircled, if they choose to leave, can only return if the encirclement ceases or they find a way to access the encircled area without infringing upon property rights.

References:

  1. Hobbes, Thomas (1651). Leviathan. p. 58-59
  2. Locke, John (1689). Second Treatise of Government. p. 11
  3. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 32
  4. Nozick, Robert (1971). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. p. 175-76
  5. Self-ownership and non-culpable proviso violations Politics, Philosophy & Economics February 1, 2015 14: p. 67-83
  6. Nozick, Robert (1971). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. p. 55
  7. Rothbard, Murray (1982). The Ethics of Liberty. p. 240

Liberty Requires Revolution

On February 21, an author known as Mr. Underhill published an article in which he argues that revolution is not the appropriate method for achieving liberty. It was then republished at Liberty.me in a column by people who, judging by their other articles, should know better. In this rebuttal, I will argue that revolution is not only an appropriate method, but the only possible method.

Underhill’s Case

Underhill begins by denouncing the stereotype of the bomb-throwing, omnicidal anarcho-communist, and rightly so. He then notes that some right-libertarians, such as Christopher Cantwell, also advocate violent revolution. (His dig at Cantwell for supporting Donald Trump is ill-informed, though better-informed criticism on this point is valid.) Most of the rest of the article denounces the tactic of armed rebellion on the grounds that it has historically resulted in a greater degree of statism.

Underhill begins with the English Revolution (better known as the English Civil War), and the use of this term to refer to the execution of Charles I and rule of Oliver Cromwell is a Marxist historical revision. Contrary to Underhill’s claim that a great part of the property in private hands was seized, Austin Woolrych[1] notes that “painstaking research in county after county, in local record offices and family archives, has revealed that the changes in the ownership of real estate, and hence in the composition of the governing class, were nothing like as great as used to be thought.” While Cromwell was generally more oppressive than Charles I, Charles II was generally less oppressive than either Charles I or Cromwell.

Underhill’s description of the French Revolution is quite incomplete, and this leads to inaccuracies such as treating the rise of Napoleon as part of the French Revolution when in fact, he had to engineer a coup against the French Revolution in order to take power. Underhill also neglects to mention Napoleon’s positive achievements, such as the Napoleonic Code, the first abolition of the Spanish Inquisition, promotion of equal rights under law, and hastening the end of feudalism.

In his description of the Whiskey Rebellion following the American Revolution, Underhill actually undermines his argument by citing an example where a failure to engage in violent revolt led to a more powerful state. Had the rebels at their greatest extent marched against Washington’s forces, they stood a decent chance of defeating him in battle, which would have dealt a major blow to the power of the United States government, perhaps even a fatal one. Underhill also commits a factual error; the Whiskey Rebellion was not a non-violent affair. Some tax collectors were whipped, tarred, feathered, and run out of town. Three or four rebels were killed, along with two neutral civilians.

Instances like these are indeed why revolutionaries must seek to abolish state power rather than to wield it. Underhill attempts to rebut this idea with several fallacious arguments. First, he says that revolution against a powerful state historically does not succeed. The idea that something which has yet to happen must be impossible is a logical fallacy. If this idea were true, then there would be no innovation whatever and we would still be in the same state of affairs as our primitive ancestors. This sort of historical determinism is a sign that one lacks courage and imagination, especially the former. This argument is also a straw man because anarchists are not calling for revolution against a powerful state, but against weak states which only appear to be powerful. And even if this were not so, the idea that “peoples never rebel against a power which squeezes the life out of them and grinds them underfoot” is exactly wrong. The truth is as stated in the Declaration of Independence:

“[A]ll experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Until conditions become such that survival demands revolution, most people are not in the proper mindset to overthrow a government. Notably, famines were precursors to both the French and Russian revolutions.

Speaking of the Russian Revolution, Underhill misunderstands this as well. Once again, he conflates two revolutions into one. The February Revolution deposed Tsar Nicholas II and established Menshevik rule, then the October Revolution deposed the Mensheviks in favor of Vladimir Lenin. While the original communist ideal is a stateless society, it is much different from the sort of anarcho-capitalist society that is the desire of those who truly seek liberty. Note also that anarcho-communism is only the final step, and although Karl Marx and Lenin did speak of violence, the elimination of the state in communist ideology was not universally understood as a violent transition. Friedrich Engels writes[2],

“The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the processes of production. The state is not ‘abolished’; it withers away.”

Underhill fails to mention instances of violent political revolution which work against his argument. The Irish War of Independence neither increased the power of the British state in Ireland nor led to an Irish state more oppressive than the British state. The Romanian Revolution overthrew the despotic Ceausescu regime and led to much greater economic freedom. The case that historical revolutions result in growth of the state is further weakened by the fact that the state has generally grown regardless of whether revolutions occur.

A Different Revolution

With Underhill’s empirics refuted, let us consider the nature of a libertarian revolution. The word ‘revolution’ is defined as “a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system.” Historically, this new system has been another government, but this need not be the case. This definition leaves room for a stateless system which would be brought about by an anti-political revolution and maintained by a culture of resistance to any effort to reintroduce statism.

The Nature of the Problem

The primary reason why revolution is not only a feasible option but a required one is that no other method adequately addresses the problem. Those who bankroll political campaigns receive a far better return on investment than they would receive from any free market use of capital, and if they did not make such donations, their business rivals would. Wielding political power causes the same biochemical responses as drug abuse. There are people who carry weapons in the name of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of politicians because they lack the skills and temperament to be productive members of society. There is a dependent class of people who have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society. In sum, the state is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it, so they will not do so without a fight. As such, any strategy that does not deal with the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will use force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure. In particular, various libertarians propose using electoral methods, agorism, cryptography, seasteading, civil disobedience, education, and peaceful parenting to end the state. Let us explore the faults of each of these methods.

Helpful Non-Solutions

Properly understood, libertarianism is antithetical to any kind of statism, but is particularly opposed to democracy. To quote Hans-Hermann Hoppe, democracy promotes shortsightedness, capital waste, irresponsibility, and moral relativism. Whereas a monarch (or any other private property owner with allodial title) owns the capital stock of the property, elected officials serve as temporary stewards. This means that while an allodial title holder is incentivized to care for property to preserve it as an inheritance and capital good, an elected official is incentivized to plunder property while he or she can. Democracy encourages moral relativism by replacing objective ethics with an appeal to the masses. The results of the electoral process are all around us, and they are unquestionably disastrous. To quote Albert Einstein, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we (or our forefathers) used when we (or they) created them. Democracy as a strategy for libertarians either requires uncomfortable truths to be more popular than comforting lies, or for hundreds of anarcho-capitalists to win elections under false pretenses. Even if the matter could be reduced to a simple referendum on the continued operation of the state apparatus, it would still require a majority of voters to support it in order to be successful.

Agorists and crypto-anarchists have the idea that using black and gray markets instead of state-approved markets can starve the state of funds and cause its demise. This method ignores limitations of scale; there are some industrial endeavors which simply cannot be performed entirely outside of Leviathan’s watchful eye. Perversely, a black market can even be counterproductive toward the goal of libertarian revolution, granting people the means to suffer evils rather than allowing them to face the stark choice of revolution or death. We have also seen that the state is faster to react to agorist and crypto-anarchist activity than Konkin thought; the example of Ross Ulbricht is instructive here. Finally, agorism is actually not a non-violent strategy as originally conceived. Konkin wrote that in the final stage of his strategy, black-market agencies use force to defend against the state, and this is the sort of violent revolution being defended here.

Some libertarians believe that escaping to the oceans will save us from statism. (The far more starry-eyed idea of colonizing space for libertarian purposes also belongs here.) The idea is to colonize the oceans by building permanent dwellings on the high seas outside of the territory claimed by any government. This would create an anarchist control zone that allows anyone to make an effort to live there, escape the state, and build a better future for oneself and one’s descendants. This is all well and good, but it fails to account for the response of governments. Governments do not have a track record of going gently into the night or of tolerating existential threats. If history is any guide, then the response by governments to seasteads that are brain-draining, talent-draining, youth-draining, and investment-draining their territories will be to initiate the use of force against them. When a government warship approaches a seastead and makes demands, the residents will have three options: they can give in, which defeats the purpose of the seastead; they can refuse and be sunk, which also defeats the purpose of the seastead; or they can defend themselves against the warship, thus resulting in a violent revolution.

Another method of resistance is civil disobedience, in which people refuse to obey laws until force is brought to bear. Civil disobedience is a better option than democracy, in that less than a voting majority could stop a government. But the historical examples frequently cited, those of the struggle for Indian independence from the British and the American civil rights movement, were anything but civil. In both cases, multitudes of demonstrators were violently victimized by government agents. Remaining peaceful in the face of violent oppression only ensures that aggressors are empowered, victims are weakened, and onlookers are given an example of government violence as a solution to the “problem” of disobedience. As taking civil disobedience to its logical conclusion requires the protesters to tolerate lethal violence being used against them while not fighting back or fleeing, most large attempts at civil disobedience result in either a defeat of the disobedient or an escalation to violent revolution.

Lastly, the strategy of relying upon education and peaceful parenting to defeat the state is essentially a surrender. To fall back upon this option is to write off a solution as impossible in our lifetimes, thus passing the problem on to our progeny. While it is true that if children were raised to initiate the use of reason rather than the use of force, the state would cease to function due to a lack of people willing to act on its behalf, statists will also be breeding and raising their children violently while libertarians try to raise a better next generation. This is also the worst solution in terms of the number of people required for success. Long before this strategy alone would succeed, a democratic effort would be successful, and the other methods all work before voting the state out of existence would.

None of this is to suggest that the above methods are useless. But at best, they will not defeat the state by themselves. At worst, they ease some of the pain of oppression, which gives people less incentive to end it. Their purpose, if any, must be to weaken the state and grow the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible, then to aid a revolutionary effort. In preparation for revolution, the electoralist should seek to elect politicians who will obstruct the passage of laws and budgets. The agorist or crypto-anarchist should find ways to sell illegal goods and services that directly target the state, such as forbidden arms and political assassinations. The seasteader should research ways to sink government warships and down government aircraft. The protester should plan events which can cripple infrastructure that is vital to the state but not to the general population. The educator should show people why the use of self-defense against government is no less legitimate than the use of self-defense against a common criminal. The peaceful parent should raise children to view the state as an alien parasite worthy only of destruction.

An Artificial Vacuum

Those who study physics will learn that nature abhors a vacuum. This is often said in politics as well; when a powerful leader is overthrown or a state fails, other actors seek to take for themselves the power that those people and institutions once had. Another lesson from physics is essential to understand what must be done in order to end the state. While it is true that no perfect vacuum exists, it is also true that a partial vacuum which is sufficient for practical purposes may be artificially maintained by the continuous application of force. The political equivalent of this is the goal of a libertarian revolution. Just as matter is forcefully expelled from a vacuum chamber, the state must be forcefully expelled from a libertarian-controlled area. Once this is done, there will be attempts by government agents (as well as warlords, terrorists, mafiosos, and lone wolf criminals) to re-enter the resulting stateless society in order to establish a new coercive enterprise, just as atoms attempt to re-enter a vacuum chamber and restore atmospheric pressure. These people must be physically removed from the society by the continuous application of defensive force, just as atoms must be continually pumped out of the vacuum chamber. Notably, libertarians have two advantages over the physicist using a vacuum pump. First, a vacuum pump cannot destroy atoms, but a libertarian can kill an aggressor. Second, the physicist will never turn the entire universe outside of the vacuum chamber into a vacuum, but libertarians can come close enough to turning the entire world into a libertarian-controlled area to be able to live all but free from aggressive violence while standing by to eliminate any new threat.

This method has advantages over the methods described above. Whereas peaceful parenting requires a vast majority, democracy requires a majority (or at least a plurality), and the other methods require large minorities, the people who carry guns on behalf of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of rulers is rarely more than 1 percent of the population in modern nation-states. There are many historical examples of larger forces being defeated by smaller forces, so defeating the enforcement classes may not even require 1 percent of the population. Whereas the other methods either fail when force is brought to bear or deteriorate into violent conflict, a libertarian revolution deals with the problem of state aggression directly by not only defending against it, but by subjecting aggressors to a taste of their own medicine. Whereas the other methods require peacefully convincing a large number of people to support a movement, a libertarian revolution only requires convincing them not to oppose it so strongly as to bring overwhelming force to bear against it. The revolutionaries can operate almost entirely in secret, while at least some government agents and buildings must be identifiable in order to carry out their functions. While a statist revolutionary movement would require an overt presence, people who simply wish to rid their communities of statism do not. And contrary to Underhill, peace talks are not inevitably required at the end of such a conflict; in fact, the approach of an anti-political revolution followed by a culture of resistance makes such talks impossible. At the conclusion of a decentralized revolution, there is no leader with whom the statists may negotiate for peace. They must simply stop committing crimes under color of law and make restitution for the crimes they have committed or be physically removed from the libertarian-controlled area.

Objections

Naturally, such a bold approach will invite criticism. Let us address some of the most common objections to libertarian revolution.

The enemy is too technologically superior to defeat militarily.

For most high-tech attackers, there exist low-tech defenses which can be effective. Proper uses of terrain and stealth can blunt the advantages of government forces, as can hiding among the civilian population. If government forces resort to their usual methods, the result would be a large amount of civilian blood on the state’s hands, and if abroad examples of blowback are anything to go by, this will motivate surviving relatives of the dead civilians to join the effort to end the state. The most destructive government tactics, such as weapons of mass destruction and large-scale carpet bombing, are out of the question if statists care about winning because these destroy their own infrastructure and sources of sustenance. Also, a domestic deployment could endanger family members and friends of the soldiers, leading to loss of morale, disobedience of orders, and defections to the anarchist cause. Finally, a soldier who fights overseas hardly ever faces reprisals after the war by those who were victimized. But if a government fielded its military domestically, it would be much easier for the details of a person’s military service to be recorded and publicized by alternative media, resulting in a soldier having to watch out for revenge-seekers for the rest of his or her life even if the revolution fails.

Engaging the enemy on their terms will certainly end in disaster, but engaging them on our terms has a much more favorable outlook. Note that one could also argue that the enemy is too technologically superior to defeat peacefully. The whole argument reeks of nihilistic laziness.

Libertarians will be viewed as terrorists.

This is a concern to a certain degree. The actions of revolutionaries must be carefully planned to avoid unnecessary collateral damage, as collateral damage plays into the state’s hands. The side that is viewed as terrorists and oppressors, as well as the side that is viewed as heroes and saviors, are determined mostly by who wins. Might does not make right but it does make outcomes, and history is written by the victors.

The public is likely to resist a libertarian revolution.

This is not nearly the concern that it appears to be. While electoral results may make it seem like there is strong opposition to libertarian anarchism, the ultimate reason that people are voting on ballots is that they fear the consequences of voting with bullets. If the option of voting with ballots is taken away from them, then the public is left with the options of either living peacefully or trying to perform the crimes of the state themselves, and their current behavior shows that they fear the latter.

If you force liberty upon people, they are not really free.

The only time that force can legitimately be used within the non-aggression principle is in an act of defensive violence to stop aggressors, reclaim stolen property, make criminals perform restitution, etc. Thus, forcing liberty upon people would only occur when people commit aggressions and are met with defensive force. As such, forcing liberty upon people is compatible with the non-aggression principle. Furthermore, let us remember that because the non-aggression principle is a logical construct, it is subject to logic in the form of consistent application. In the case of statists, anarchists may impose liberty upon them because statists impose statism upon anarchists, thereby estopping themselves from complaining that force is being used to impose a way of life upon them.

If libertarians can do this, then so could someone else, like a group of statist communists.

This is true, and it demonstrates that the nation-state model of providing security is woefully inadequate. This is actually an argument in favor of ending the state monopoly on military defense in favor of market competition.

What protects your revolution from the next one?

The only thing that can; a population that is willing to fight, die, and most importantly, kill in order to defend its way of life against anyone who would try to establish any kind of new dominion over them.

How will co-option be prevented?

This is certainly a concern, as intelligent statists know that the best way to defeat opposition is to lead it themselves. The only way to be sure is to have a truly decentralized revolution with no top-down leadership. If libertarians look for a charismatic leader against the state, then we will get him, and we will yet again fail to solve the problem because we will demonstrate a lack of understanding of the problem.

Why don’t you start shooting?

The personnel and resources necessary for victory are not yet assembled. Moving too soon plays into the state’s hands. A losing revolution will only give the state more cause to grow and sour the reputation of libertarianism.

How will one know when it is time?

It has been time since the first states began. But the meaning of this question is more likely to be, how will one know that the personnel and resources necessary for victory are available? If enough people are willing to carry out a libertarian revolution, then more people than that will be helping the revolutionaries but not taking up arms, and more people than that will be speaking favorably of revolution without taking action toward that end. The signs of the times will therefore be obvious.

Conclusion

The state is the most evil institution ever devised by humans, and its demise is required in order for humanity to survive and prosper. It makes war upon us, regardless of whether we make war upon it. While some of its agents can be reasoned with, others speak only the language of force, and they must be communicated with in their native tongue. If our enemies will use force and we will not, then we will lose conflicts and negotiate from a position of weakness. If we are to negotiate, let us negotiate from a position of strength. If we are to resist, let us do so boldly. If we are serious about ending the state, let us do what is required for success.

References:

  1. Austin Woolrych (2002), Britain in Revolution, 1625–1660. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 794.
  2. “Withering Away of the State.” In The Encyclopedia of Political Science, edited by George Thomas Kurian. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2011.

Charlotte City Council Takes A Stand Against Liberty

On February 22, the Charlotte City Council approved an expansion of its anti-discrimination ordinance by a 7-4 vote. It will be forbidden by law as of April 1 for places of housing and public accommodation (such as stores, restaurants, bars, and taxis, but not public schools) inside Charlotte city limits to refuse service to LGBT people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression. The ordinance already forbids discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, and religion. More controversially, the ordinance allows transgender people to use the restroom or locker room of their choice, depending on whether they identify as male or female.

In March 2015, proposed changes to the anti-discrimination ordinance without the restroom provision failed by a 5-6 vote. Since then, two new council members were elected, both of whom voted to support the changes. The expanded ordinance is the first of its kind in North Carolina.

Governor Pat McCrory and House Speaker Tim Moore have spoken of “legislative intervention to correct this radical course,” which would occur when the legislature’s next scheduled session begins in late April. The North Carolina General Assembly has ultimate power over municipalities and can strike down all or part of any local ordinance.

Most opposition to the ordinance changes comes either from religious freedom arguments or from concerns that pedophiles and other sexual predators would take advantage of the ordinance to gain entry to women’s facilities or men’s facilities with children in them in order to commit sexual crimes. Supporters of the ordinance changes claim that such fears are not borne out in available evidence and that transgender people are currently at risk of being attacked in restrooms and locker rooms.

While all establishment media attention is focused on the LGBT rights, religious freedom, and potential crime aspects of this event, no attention has been given to a secular argument against this measure on the grounds of private property and freedom of association. When a government decrees that private property owners who run a business within their property must serve people despite their individual preferences not to do so, this is both a violation of private property and a form of forced association. (This is no surprise of course, as private property rights and freedom of association both require anarchy, and we are far from that as of this writing.) While we may decry certain forms of discrimination as ignorant bigotry, this is no excuse for asking the state to initiate the use of force against people to turn their private properties into de facto common spaces simply because they reject civil standards of values and/or have legitimate safety concerns.

The correct action to take, if any at all, is to speak out against and socioeconomically ostracize people who disagree with one’s strongly held positions on issues. In a free market, bigots are punished because they relinquish customers and employees who have the traits against which the bigot is prejudiced as well as customers and employees who are sufficiently offended by said prejudice to ostracize the bigot. This is more than a linear relationship, as those who cannot or will not obtain goods, services, and employment from the bigot will be likely to do so from other providers who are not bigoted rather than do without. This will not only impoverish the bigot, but enrich his competitors. The eventual result is that bigots cannot compete with those who are not bigoted, and must either renounce their bigotry or go out of business.

Unfortunately, seven members of the Charlotte City Council have decided that granting special privileges is more important than protecting private property, freedom of association, public safety, and freedom of religion.