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On Politics

Recently, I’ve seen much hubbub to the effect that the US Republican Party must adopt libertarian views to retain its popularity. For example, see this article which, in spite of its title, mostly discusses why the Republicans will fail if they don’t abandon “conservatism” for libertarianism.

As other examples, NPR had an extended segment on the news with a very similar topic about a day ago, and I’ve seen friends posting on similar themes.

I should like to take a radically orthogonal view.

I honestly don’t care what will or will not “save” either the Republican Party, or any other party for that matter. Political parties generally disgust me, being organized for much the same purpose as a gang of looters or a crime syndicate, and if only they could all go out of business and their members be sent to prison where they belong I would be pleased beyond measure.

What I do know is this, though: just as the Democrats keep talking about things like “civil liberties” while running Guantanamo and a surveillance state, and talk about “peace” while growing the military and intervening around the world, your odds will be excellent if you bet that a GOP that adopts “libertarianism” so it can win elections will give the ideas lip service while implementing entirely non-libertarian policies to serve their real goals: power and money for themselves and their cronies.

Many people will not understand this distinction between rhetoric and action. After all, few seem to notice it right now. If the rebranding is successful and the Republicans start winning elections, I fear that the public will start blaming “libertarianism” for increased government spending, foreign intervention, business regulation, torture, and whatever else they implement under the pretense of spending cuts, non-intervention, deregulation, civil liberties, and the like.

I suppose that is not really something I can help, though. The underlying problem is that people do not yet widely understand that the higher the political office, the more likely it is that the electoral contest is between two sociopathic con men.

Indeed, the US Presidential election is a sort of quadrennial Olympics for con men. The odds of of a randomly selected untrained amateur winning the Olympic 500m race are poor when hundreds or thousands of professionals train for years for the event. The probability of a decent human being winning the White House when competing against hordes of amoral grifters whose skills are honed to a razors edge by years of competition are even lower.

Worse, people do not understand that even if a decent human being by some astounding accident wins high political office, they are almost inevitably both thwarted and corrupted. The system is built to derail reform, not to enable it, and it holds temptations that few normal people can resist. One is faced with (to name but a few things) the powerful financial interests of the Military-Industrial Complex, blackmail by the intelligence community, lobbyists more numerous than locusts, fellow politicians who do not want their sustenance to end, a press almost as interested in preserving the status quo as the pigs at the trough, Sir Humphrey Appleby‘s spiritual kin, constant luxuries from banquets to private jets to soften one’s moral resistance, and an endless series of instances where one might bend the rules just this once, for the common good.

I would not even trust myself with the power of the Presidency — it should be no surprise that I trust no one else with it either.

I have been asked by some, “then what do you propose we should do, if electoral politics will not work? Surely you must work within the system you have, not the one you wish you had.” This viewpoint reminds me of a political cartoon featuring a pair of Aztec priests removing the heart from a victim. One says to the other, “it isn’t the best possible system, but it’s the one we’ve got.”

I think that until one thinks beyond the current system and its failures, one cannot get away from those failures. You cannot become celibate by increasing your frequency of sexual intercourse, shoot your way to nonviolence, gorge your way to weight loss, or vote your way to a system that respects inalienable rights not subject to the whims of the electorate.

The US’s founding fathers conducted an interesting experiment in whether a strong constitution could restrain the worst defects of democracy. (That was literally their intent, as the Federalist Papers reveal.) We would be fools to ignore the result of that experiment. To be sure, it was a partial success for a time, but it did not last. The rot began almost immediately.

(I have acquaintances who are attorneys who believe in a “living constitution.” They laugh at me when I say things like “but the plain intent of the words `Congress shall make no law[…] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press’ is that Congress isn’t allowed to make laws on that topic.” Apparently a belief that words can have plain meanings is the height of naïveté and shows exactly how stupid I am.)

The only rational way forward I see is to try to build the world I want directly, and to leave the political mechanism, which I wish to see eliminated anyway, behind.

My message, and sadly the best path I have to offer (for it is not an easy one) is this: work on ways to achieve the world you want that do not involve politics, and work on letting others know that this is the only long term path to make the world a better place.

In other words, if you want to see people fed, work on ways to feed them — one Norman Borlaug beats a million “food security activists” begging for stolen money. If you want to see people better able to communicate in privacy or avoid censorship when they wish to speak in public, build computer protocols and software to help them do that regardless of the desires of bureaucrats. (The people who built Tor, PGP and the like did not wait to be given “permission” to do so, they simply built what they felt the world needed. You can, too.) If you want to help people live longer and healthier lives, do medical research or open a clinic.

So, if you want to be free, live as freely as you can right now, and help others to be free as well. Build the institutions and technologies you wish existed to support freedom today, not someday after “they” have given you permission to be free. “They” will never grant their permission, so you will be waiting forever. Besides, waiting for “them” to throw you crumbs of freedom is servile. Not only will the things you build improve your own life here and now, those things will also undermine the power of those who would enslave you. (“They” would prefer that you believe yourself to be powerless and dependent on what “they” choose to do. Ignore “them”.)

Most of all, do not believe the con men, do not join them, and do not aid them. (Try to help other people understand that they should not believe or aid them either.) The con men are not your friends. The last several millennia of experience with elections are not a fluke to be dismissed as mere experimental error. The next politician and the next election will not be different than all their predecessors. The next politician will not usher in “change”, or “hope”. The next politician will, if experience is any guide, care mostly about self-maximization. It doesn’t matter how hard they pander to your prejudices, they don’t care about what you want, they’re in it for what they want. If you want a better world to live in, build it yourself instead.

46 comments to On Politics

  • Fraser Orr

    This kind of reminds me of Harry Browne’s book “How I found freedom in an Unfree World” which I read a few years ago. (Harry Browne was twice the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee here in the USA.)

    The book was several decades old when I read it. What struck me about it was that so many of the great strategies that Browne suggested had been overwhelmed by the regulatory state.

    Some of the examples you use are similarly being overwhelmed — the regulatory state is doing everything it can to kill services like Tor and Encryption as the terrifying events surrounding the preemptive shut down of various encrypted email services have shown. Terrifying particularly because not only did the state force the shutdown of legitimate businesses, but the owners can’t even talk about what happened under threat of going to jail for a million years.

    Which is to say your idea seems great in theory, but the voracious relentlessness of the state makes it a disturbingly futile task.

  • Doing everything we can to show politicians for what they are is certainly a great thing to do. But in my opinion there are politicans who are genuine libertarians: e.g. Steve Baker here in Britain and Rand Paul in the US. Increasing their influence at the expense of statists must surely be a good thing.

  • Brilliantly written rant, sir. However, I’ve got to keep on trying to change one county in Texas by getting some Libertarians elected.
    And yes, they’ll be corrupted, but not before (I hope) I can get some more Libertarians elected.
    That’s the only way we’ll ever starve the beast.
    But my fear is similar to yours. We might start winning the elections around the time that the Bush/Obama inflation monster hits, and we’ll take the blame.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    As I suggested to Bloke in Spain, in a different column, perhaps libertarians can bring about a freer society by skirting or breaking stupid laws- set up a local breathe-easy bar for smokers and pot traders, and people who want to buy guns. Prohibition was eventually repealed because the public kept breaking a stupid law. Maybe the same could happen in our time.

  • therealguyfaux

    As far as effecting any change whether within or without any system, and whether it were sheer madness even to try:

    I propose a new ethos, which for lack of anything better, I call Mahatma-Gandhi-Billy-Joelism:

    “BE the lunatic you are looking for– first they will ignore you, then they will ridicule you, then they will persecute you– but don’t care any more, this is YOUR life.”

    Because I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints– the sinners have much more fun.

  • veryretired

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes from the series about WW2, “World at War”, when Churchill is invited to address a joint session of Congress.

    He looks out over the assembly and says, “What kind of people do they think we are? Is it possible they do not realize that we will never cease to persevere against them?”

    Or, I guess, you can just give up and let collectivism lead the world into a new dark age, as long as you can live your own life the way you want.

    How the latter is supposed to happen is, understandably, somewhat obscure.

    But, there clearly is an upside to the idea that some people should remove themselves from public life and just focus on their own little world.

    At least it would get them out of the way, and spare us a lot of pretentious nonsense.

  • I have some sympathy with this article but it is undermined by my experience of seeking and achieving election to Parliament in two and a half years.

    People often ask how I did it, as if the answer would involve sophistry and patronage. In fact, I simply declared plainly what I think to be true, just and moral about life in society and people liked it. I continue to do so. For example, Conservatives who are conservative usually prefer the idea that the state should get out of marriage to the actual policy that the state should maintain the right to define it. In this case, the libertarian policy is more popular amongst conservatives than the one in which the state forces progress.

    As Popper argued, people are not on the whole clever and evil: our mistakes are better explained as honest but incompetent and clumsy attempts to do what is good. I do not doubt for a moment that if my Association members thought I was in politics for self-enrichment rather than the general good, they would de-select me. I feel sure the same is true elsewhere.

    No doubt politics often produces loathsome outcomes but the surveillance state is the product of technology plus the desire to be safe and secure. The welfare state is born of a moral passion to eliminate real human suffering. That people have chosen the wrong means to their ends is a product of their errors, not their wickedness.

    Outright political anarchism undoubtedly serves a purpose: it draws the terrain of debate away from statism substantially and it maintains a crucial reference point in the war of ideas. However, British political institutions at least are not so repulsive, perhaps thanks to the low caps on what can be spent in campaigning.

    I remain convinced that those institutions are susceptible to the ideas of freedom under law. I would encourage today’s believers in liberty to join some of the great figures of the past by engaging in practical political action.

  • Plamus

    “America is at that awkward stage. It’s too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards.” – Claire Wolfe

  • Lee Moore

    “The only rational way forward I see is to try to build the world I want directly, and to leave the political mechanism, which I wish to see eliminated anyway, behind”

    I don’t think this is rational. When you leave the political mechanism, where exactly is it that you plan to go, to escape the attentions of the bureaucrats ? It’s like declaring a nuclear free zone and imagining that that will prevent other people dropping bombs on you. It’s delusional.

  • Thank you, Perry – I could not agree more. It does not mean that one should not try and gain some temporary tactical advantage by partially engaging in the political game – as long as one’s expectations are accordingly temporary and tactical (and very limited even at that). IOW, what WS said.

  • While I also feel that starting directly on the construction of a free society is a viable strategy, and one that can (must?) be done in parrallel I was immensely encouraged by Stephen Davies’ talk on the History of Individualism and the total victories individualists achieved in the past. Listening to it 10 times to write up a thorough summary helped. The resulting text and video is linked below.


    Have a listen, it might cheer you up.

  • I agree with Simon, it is not an ‘either’… ‘or’… these things need to be done at the same time.

    That said, I am very much in sympathy with the notion of Perry M’s notion that working within the system also carries huge risks. Indeed I would say the great majority of party politics and playing the politics game is not just a waste of time but actually counter productive. I am reminded of a conversation I once had with the person who I regard as perhaps the most indispensable activist in the UK today… Guy Herbert… who was of the view that many of the enquiries and state sponsored ‘evidence giving’ session he participated in were pretty much consciously designed to waste the time of people like himself rather than see that time spent on effective opposition.

  • And thanks for the comment Steve. Indeed when someone like yourself appears and somehow makes it past the screening process designed to keep classical liberal conservatives out of the Conservative party, I find my complete despair with the system at least somewhat tipped on its side.

    Still as I have often muttered in articles here, you are a bit like some fantastical medieval beast from an illuminated manuscript: fascinating and awe inspiring but it is hard to believe you actually exist! Yet I have eye witness accounts from that intrepid explorer Micklethwait that you are not merely a figment of our fevered imagination. Go figure!

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Steve Baker writes: “I have some sympathy with this article but it is undermined by my experience of seeking and achieving election to Parliament in two and a half years.”

    I will not dismiss your personal experience, but let me note that in spite of being in Parliament, you have not been able to observably alter the public policy or laws of the UK. You have doubtless also been expected (and indeed, obligated, albeit informally) to vote with the majority on a number of measures that you found questionable (though I note that you have, to your credit, sometimes refused to follow the whip — but if exercised too often, that independence would result in your ejection from your party).

    In spite of your presence, and the fact that you’ve devoted years of your life to this, loathsome measures (such as internet censorship, to name only one) have proceeded apace, and the state’s grip has not been rolled back in any significant way. I will also note that fairly few have tried to destroy you as of yet, perhaps because, as a rare voice with no real ability to block legislation, you are not much of a threat.

    You have perhaps educated a large number of people, but you may have been able to do that even outside of Parliament.

    Meanwhile, however, had you been in private life, you might have been in a position to use the time you have spent do a great deal of good.

    As just one example, when I think of the problem of school reform in the United States, Salman Khan (the founder of Khan Academy, not the actor) has been vastly more useful to millions of students than all the decades of talk people have engaged in, and indeed, has been vastly more effective at altering the terms of the debate. His work may very well succeed at destroying the entrenched system simply by rendering it useless and redundant.

    In economics, we are taught to pay attention to opportunity costs. There are many activities a motivated person may engage in, but only a limited amount of time in a single life.

  • Laird

    While I agree with Perry M’s suggestion that people should simply do their best to “live free”, I cannot agree with the part about ignoring the political process. Politics is as pervasive in modern society as is the air we breathe; to ignore it is folly of the greatest sort. As Perry dH says, many different things need to be done simultaneously. We need individual actors as well as public politicians. That a Steve Baker or a Rand Paul can be elected is significant, and hugely encouraging. It shows that we are making progress, that the core libertarian ideals of individual freedom and personal responsibility are (re-)gaining traction, and that more like them will follow. Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day.

    I agree with much in that article to which Perry M’s original post linked. There is no fundamental principle binding together the Republican Party*; at most it is “don’t change things”. As has been conclusively demonstrated, that merely leads to the well-known “ratchet effect”: the progressives succeed in implementing some program or policy, it becomes standard wisdom, and the Republicans are reduced to trying to manage it more efficiently. That’s a losing strategy. Libertarianism, on the other hand, offers a consistent core philosophy of government which is attractive to many people. The fact that reactionary neoconservatives such as Chris Christie feel compelled to attack it shows that it is succeeding.

    @therealguyfaux, while your relaxed philosophy has some appeal (my preferred quote is “I am a leaf on the wind”), I would caution you to keep in mind the line which immediately follows “sinners have much more fun”.

    * There is no fundamental principle holding together the Democratic Party, either, except “we want more”. Clearly, that is sufficient.

  • AKM

    Steve Baker: “…people are not on the whole clever and evil: our mistakes are better explained as honest but incompetent and clumsy attempts to do what is good.”

    I agree that is a good general rule, however it would be a mistake to underestimate the Fabian Society and the British Communists and the other extreme left-wingers. When they promote divisive identity politics they are fully aware that they are attempting to attack & break-up the conservative (small “c”) majority for their own long-term electoral advantage. As I see it “clever and evil” is a better mental model of the left-wing elite than “honest but incompetent”. Assuming that your political opponents are basically well-meaning seems to me to be a mistake that the right wing has been making about the left for the last 100 years and goes a long way to explain their numerous defeats.

  • bloke in spain

    @Nick (nice-guy) Gray
    You were somewhat preaching to the converted with that suggestion. Can even recommend a bar serves all of your requirements. Which is, of course, the sheer beauty of proscriptive legislation. Every time something’s restricted there’s an opportunity for the entrepreneurial to ensure its continued supply & turn a profit doing so. And the happy satisfied customers join the ever growing community of law breakers.

  • A fair critique Perry (M). Practical politics is compromise and in particular one cannot stand as a party candidate and then rebel without restraint. I have only been able to contribute to small victories it is true but I am not done yet.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Steve Baker: I wish you luck. I will be the first to congratulate you if I prove to be wrong and you manage, over time, to have a substantive impact on the size and scope of government in the UK.

    Meanwhile, as long as you’re there and on the inside, I will point out that the recent actions of the UK’s security apparatus with regard to the ongoing Snowden revelations have been abhorrent. Forcing The Guardian to uselessly destroy disk drives is silly; pretending that David Miranda was a terrorism suspect to allow him to be questioned about future Guardian articles is a repugnant abuse — a violation of the clear intent of the Terrorism Act. As you’re a member of the party, I hope that you use your opportunities to pressure the government to come clean about its actions.

    (If you find that you are not in a position to do so for fear of the impact on your position, that might be a signal to you about the limitations of elected office.)

  • Tedd (Canada)

    Steve Baker:

    Would you be willing to send me a sample of your DNA, so that we might clone you over here in the colony? We have an environment that might be capable of sustaining such a clone, but perhaps not capable of producing an original.

  • Mr Ed

    Perry, here is the definition of ‘terrorism’ in the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000, Section 1.
    “Terrorism: interpretation.

    (1)In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—
    (a)the action falls within subsection (2),
    (b)the use or threat is designed to influence the government [F1or an international governmental organisation]F1 or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
    (c)the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [F2, racial]F2 or ideological cause.
    (2)Action falls within this subsection if it—
    (a)involves serious violence against a person,
    (b)involves serious damage to property,
    (c)endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
    (d)creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
    (e)is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
    (3)The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.
    (4)In this section—
    (a)“action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,
    (b)a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,
    (c)a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and
    (d)“the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.
    (5)In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.”

    I’m struggling to see how this Brazilian gentleman comes within the definition.

    And the now famous Schedule 7, which allows for 9 hours detention if you enter or leave the UK at a port or are on a ship or aircraft, but it doesn’t appear to apply to people who swim the English Channel.

    Of course it was intended for this purpose. It would have required reasonable suspicion if it was not so intended.

    If the UK government were truly hostile to The Guardian, they would remove advertising from it, and save money in the process.

  • Rich Rostrom

    So we abolish politics because the political process enables the tyranny of the majority.

    What now prevents a majority of your neighbors, or even a forceful minority, from oppressing you at will?

    You might as well speak of abolishing weather.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Rich Rostrom asks: “[In a place not run by elections and political machines, w]hat now prevents a majority of your neighbors, or even a forceful minority, from oppressing you at will?”

    That problem has been discussed extensively and (in my opinion) answered quite well by large numbers of people for centuries now, starting no later than Gustave de Molinari‘s book “The Production of Security” written in 1849.

    Here are a just a few books you can start with that can explain how one might arrange a society without politics, in depth:

    The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey, by Michael Huemer

    The Machinery of Freedom, by David Friedman

    The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, by Bruce Benson

    For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, by Murray Rothbard

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Bloke-in-Spain, if you have such a good bar, then you also have the answer to your question about how to change society in a libertarian image! All we need to do now is set up a metallic exchange system to bypass the tax laws! And I say metallic because the gold standard had some value in the past, AND metal can be shaped and worn as jewelry- you could wear your ‘money’ as a collection of beads on a necklace, and non-libertarian Police would just think ‘dull art’.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I have to agree with Rich – there has been no long lasting libertarian society in history because it’s just not possible. The libertarians always get wiped out eventually by communitarians who can muster much greater coercive force.

    All the books and theories in the world won’t change that, regardless of how well they tried to answer the question. The proof is in the pudding.

    Technology could change the calculations in the libertarians’ favor, but I doubt it very much.

    Drone attacks, anybody?

  • Lee Moore

    I also have to agree with Rich. If his question can’t be answered in a few sentences, but requires a book, it’s a fair bet that the answer’s not worth waiting for.

  • PeterT

    If his question can’t be answered in a few sentences, but requires a book, it’s a fair bet that the answer’s not worth waiting for.

    I take issue with this. Not everything that is true is simple.

    I just finished Huemer’s book and it is well worth a read. Very easy read (compared to Anarchy State and Utopia for example) and covers some of the same ground as Machinery of Freedom.

    In any event I do not think that a State run on classical liberal grounds, which clearly is possible as such State has existed, is such a far cry from libertarianism that we need to worry much about this.

  • RRS

    On Politics

    This is such an enticing topic that I tried to resist commenting. But, nearing the close, I offer some focus on the broad spectrum of light that has been shed so far on this subject.

    There Are “Party Politics” which are the politics conducted within the makeup of factions, and like all “politics” reflect motivations.

    Where the factions have a role in determining the functions of the mechanisms of governments, there is “Politics in Government.” Thus, “Party Politics” feeds through into “Politics in Government.”

    Where electorates have demanded or permitted the assignment to, or arrogation of, functions by the mechanisms of governments, the need for administration of all those functions gives rise to what are labeled “bureaucracies” and in many cases to an “Administrative State.” Subsequently, politics develop within the bureaucracies and become predominant within the Administrative State.

    It’s no new revelation that politics is not limited to matters of governments or the factions that affect their operations and the impact on private lives. There are corporate politics, politics in the military, the naval forces, the labor unions, the school boards, the PTA, academia [where “the contests are so bitter because the stakes are so low”] and even within religious orders that are committed to lives of poverty and service.

    The fascinating/disturbing development in societies that purportedly desire “representative” government, is the evolution of a “Political Class.” The evolution of those “specialists” and the devolution of authority (and increasingly unconstrained discretion and power) to the administrators in the departments and bureaus created for the increasing functions of the mechanisms of government have created additional areas of “politics.” It is these latter areas that are reducing the self-determination effectiveness of the electorates everywhere that this phenomenon is observed. There are extensive historical precedents. That is what has become the shape of “Politics in Government.”

    History also discloses that the ultimate conflicts in the politics within bureaucracies and administrative states results in their ultimate decline and destruction.

    Electorates in the developed economies continue to demonstrate a desire for emancipation from responsibilities by demands for assignment of increased functions to the mechanisms of governments; and by acquiescing in the arrogation of additional functions by administrators, accompanied by subdivision and specializations in the administration of those functions creating further bureaucracies. That’s “Politics.”

    To reduce those “Politics” to less destructive forms requires the reduction and limitation of the functions assigned to or arrogated by the mechanisms of governments. TINA!

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “If his question can’t be answered in a few sentences, but requires a book, it’s a fair bet that the answer’s not worth waiting for.”

    Indeed, that’s a biting logical attack, and one that no one could possibly defend against. Why, the mere fact that people write books on topics like biology, history, mathematics, and even “law” and “economics”, demonstrates that those fields are worthless.

    Anything worth knowing can be described in a few sentences, and indeed, successfully explained to a child in a few sentences. The rest of so-called “human knowledge” is a fraud perpetrated by soi-disant “intellectuals” who are interested in pretending that they’re somehow superior, with their “study”, “reasoning”, “in depth discussion” and other stigmata of shameless self-promotion.

    Indeed, if neurosurgery were really a worthwhile enterprise, a five year old child should be able to perform it after a few moments of instruction — the fact that one can’t, and that it is claimed one needs “understanding” and “skill”, should immediately make one assume that it is nothing but a pack of nonsense.

    On the current topic in particular, it should be obvious even to the thickest observer that the complexities of how one manages law enforcement in an entire society are trivial, and if they cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs in a blog comment, there clearly can be nothing to the topic at all.

    Thank you for opening my eyes. I shall now go off and remove most of my brain with a rusty spoon, as it is clearly of no use at all to a real man. Onward to Year Zero!

  • Rich Rostrom

    Politics is the process by which humans decide how to do things that cannot be done by individuals.

    Take the construction of a bridge. All of the individuals engaged in the construction must follow the same design. At some point that design must be decided on. Some of those engaged in the construction may disagree with some element of the design. Indeed it is possible that no one agrees with all the elements.

    However, all constructors must follow the agreed design. In this way, each constructor coerces and is coerced by the others. The balancing of these coercions is politics.

    Other intrinsically collective activities include the provision of utility services, and the construction and operation of transportation systems. The construction and operation of a city is intensely collective. So is the provision of public security – against natural disasters, the insane, and criminals.

    All of these activities require strict cooperation by large numbers of people; that cooperation is maintained by coercion. The benefits of the cooperation are so large and obvious that it can become a reflex for nearly everyone, and the coercion becomes invisible.

    It’s still there, it still has to be decided on and directed, and that process is politics.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Rich Rostrom: This is the first of two replies.

    Definitional arguments are the lowest form of discourse I’m aware of other than gossip about the sexual affairs of celebrities and campaign advertisements.

    What was meant here by “politics”, as should be clear from context, is the use of and competition for so-called “political authority”. “Political authority” means the claim of some individuals that they are empowered to initiate physical violence against others to enforce their edicts. The apparatus such individuals participate in is generally called “the State”. Sometimes the competition for such power occurs via coup d’etat, sometimes via “voting” and “elections”, but regardless, that is the general topic at hand.

    You may certainly view “politics” some other way, but I am uninterested in such definitions since they’re clearly not what I oppose.

    I was not discussing the sort of process involved in a group of people voluntarily working together to build something — such interactions are not, in my mind “politics” but rather ordinary life. They involve no threats of violence, no elections, no press conferences about how, as a result of the recent election, new groups will be subject to threats of violence.

    The claim that people involved in a voluntarily contracted joint project are somehow “involved in politics” and “coercing” each other even if they’re engaging only in purely voluntary agreement strikes me as a strange claim — though if you want to redefine the terms to mean that, sure, I cannot in any way stop you. You are allowed to define “rhinoceros” to mean “a large fluffy tabby cat” as well, but that merely impedes rather than aiding in communication.

    In summary, this definition of “rhinoceros” is of no use to a zookeeper, and your definition of “politics” has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic I wrote about.

    If you want to claim that all human interactions when people cooperate are “political”, sure, do so, but I’m no longer interested at that conversation, as it has nothing whatsoever to do with what I was talking about.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    My second reply to Rich Rostrom, who claims: “Other intrinsically collective activities include the provision of utility services, and the construction and operation of transportation systems. The construction and operation of a city is intensely collective. So is the provision of public security – against natural disasters, the insane, and criminals.

    All of these activities require strict cooperation by large numbers of people; that cooperation is maintained by coercion.

    I spent some years in a town where water was supplied by a private company. I currently live in a town where, as with most places in the United States, electricity, phone service, gas, etc. are supplied by private companies. The underground train system of the city I live in, that is, the Subway, was originally built by private firms, though it was later forcibly taken over by the State. Train systems throughout the US were originally built privately. Airlines throughout the US are private enterprises, and there are many privately run airports, though of course many others are run (without any real need, since private organizations can do the job just fine) by the State.

    My home is insured by a private company against natural disasters. In the building complex where I live, a set of private security guards hired by the complex are de facto my protection against theft and other incidents.

    For centuries, the arrest and prosecution of criminals in England and later the United Kingdom was a purely private matter as well, with thieves being generally arrested by privately hired thief-takers and then prosecuted privately in the courts.

    The cooperation of my phone company with me is maintained not by coercion but by a mutual contract. If I stop paying, they cease to give me service. If I cease to get service, I will stop paying. Therefore, both parties have an interest in the maintenance of the relationship — no one has been “coerced” into entering in to it.

    Similarly I might note the contractual relationship I have with a variety of utility providers, and even with the voluntary association of owners of apartments in my building complex through which our private security is hired, is voluntary and mutual, not coercive.

    If you wish to believe human affairs cannot be managed except at gunpoint under the threat of violence, you are free to take that viewpoint. It is not, however, remotely related to the actual facts around you.

  • RRS

    Politics is the process by which humans decide how to do things that cannot be done by individuals



    How about:

    The process by which humans determine how to do things (and what things are to be done) that cannot be done by individuals is cooperation.”

    But must we then accept that:

    All of these activities require strict cooperation by large numbers of people; that cooperation is maintained by coercion. The benefits of the cooperation are so large and obvious that it can become a reflex for nearly everyone, and the coercion becomes invisible.

    Not at all. The great bulk of cooperation is engendered by reciprocal or mutual benefits.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    RRS: rem acu tetigisti.

  • RRS

    Perry: Eugene and I thank you!

  • Yuri

    I feel about anarchy (libertarianism) and anarchists (libertarians) the way Abraham Lincoln felt about slavery and its advocates. To wit, “whenever I hear any one arguing for [it], I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

    Somehow anarchy is going to be preferable to the limited influence that Americans have, up to now, had on their government; rather than being a brutal, brutish contest between even worse con men to muster the most firepower and crush all resistance without ANY restraint. Anarchy is only tyranny writ small. Enjoy your brief freedom, you’ll see me with the crowd trying to reestablish the civil society and limited government …. but not if I see you first.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Yuri writes: “I feel about anarchy (libertarianism) and anarchists (libertarians) the way Abraham Lincoln felt about slavery and its advocates. To wit, “whenever I hear any one arguing for [it], I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.””

    Gladly. Grant me and my fellows sovereign control over a reasonable chunk of land to build ourselves a free city, promise not to interfere in how we govern ourselves, and I’ll happily move there tomorrow. I’m absolutely willing to have it “tried on me”. Personally.

    I don’t even ask that the land be “donated” or any such — I and many others will happily pool our resources to pay for it. You just have to agree that regardless of how we live — even if we happen to allow guns, drugs, gambling and other things you hate — you will do nothing to interfere.

    By the way, I will point out that if the situation were reversed, and you wanted to live as (say) a communist, I would do nothing to stop you as such. I in no way insist that you live as a free person if you don’t want to. If you wish to have others rule you, that is your choice. Indeed, in the system I prefer, if you would wish to have other impose their will on you through violence, you may contract with them to have them do so. Everyone has a right to their kinks.

    Note, however, that you would have to keep your experiment among yourselves, that is to say, strictly among those who volunteer. You can pool your resources and live communally, but you don’t get to take them from those who aren’t part of your agreement.

    With that restriction, if people want to voluntarily live under communism, socialism, fascism or anything else they enjoy, feel free to make an agreement with your fellows and live that way — provided anyone who isn’t part of your group doesn’t have to follow along. Heck, buy a few hundred thousand acres and build your idea of utopia in our own territory if you want — have at it provided you don’t force anyone who is uninterested to join your experiment.

    So, if you’re willing to let me do the same, and live the way I like, by all means. I’ll be there with bells on. Somehow, however, I doubt you have the courage of your convictions. That is to say, I have yet to see a statist actually say “yes, sure, I’m happy to see the experiment tried, go off and do it, we won’t interfere”. (Pardon me if you are an exception.)

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Wobbly guy- If your only definition of ‘Libertarian’ is anarcho-capitalism, then you are right. But I have a different definition. I think of the Isle of Man as a more libertarian society (less taxes), and I look at Switzerland and see a working Confederation, with strong Cantons, and a weak central government. Either of these are working libertarian societies, compared to their neighbours.

  • Lee Moore

    me : “If his question can’t be answered in a few sentences, but requires a book, it’s a fair bet that the answer’s not worth waiting for.”

    PerryM : “Indeed, that’s a biting logical attack, and one that no one could possibly defend against. Why, the mere fact that people write books on topics like biology, history, mathematics, and even “law” and “economics”, demonstrates that those fields are worthless.”

    You let your sarcasm get the better of your reading. I didn’t say “any” question, I said “his” question. Which you usefully summarised as :

    “[In a place not run by elections and political machines, w]hat now prevents a majority of your neighbors, or even a forceful minority, from oppressing you at will?”

    I am happy to concede that lots of subjects require books to achieve a reasonable understanding, and even quite small subjects require books for a comprehensive treatment. But if you can’t give a succinct summary of your answer to Rich’s question in a few sentences, you haven’t got one. Your approach is reminiscent of a typical discussion with an “intellectual” lefty – ie “I will not attempt to explain what I mean by “racism” because until you have spent four years studying postmodernism, you wouldn’t understand the answer.”

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Lee Moore writes: “and even quite small subjects require books for a comprehensive treatment. But if you can’t give a succinct summary of your answer to Rich’s question in a few sentences, you haven’t got one.”

    Obviously. Your attack is a brilliant use of logical deduction. I don’t see how I could possibly defend against it. There can be no possibility of an easily posed question that requires a rich and lengthy answer — no precedent for that exists at all. Also, the mere existence of the books I cited is clearly insufficient to demonstrate that an argument (whether right or wrong) might exist for my side.

    I concede, and shall go off to join the Communist Party forthwith, as they have short answers for all complicated questions.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    “Nick (nice-guy) Gray”: whether one is an anarchist, or a minarchist, or any other sort of near-libertarian, I think that the sentiment that one would indeed oneself wish to live in a more libertarian society, and as soon as possible, is universal. “Yuri” wishes such a society upon us, as though it would be a punishment and not a condition we ardently seek.

  • Cocklebur

    Perhaps I am overly naive, but I honestly believe that Ronald Reagan was a decent human being, also Calvin Coolidge. So although the odds are very steep for someone of real character would become the President I think it is at least possible.
    Those were the days where character actually meant something, nowadays it means much less, and we find ourselves with the best choice available to be Romney.

  • goin2fast10

    Since some believe succinct (or sound bites) are required, let’s try this:
    Individual effort perpetuates freedom and liberty, creating the greater good, Naturally.

    Our job in this life should be striving to leave our space a little better than we found it. Being submissive to the collective may be included, as long as it is the individuals decision. But when the individual defers to another, individual, or collective, that individual, by definition has accepted a decision be made for him, no matter the consequences.

    Begets, begets. When a gov’t begets it is in an exponential.

    One area I disagree with “Perry”; It is simple. That is not spelled easy.