John Lennon said it best – the state doesn’t know how to deal with you when you act in peace. They only know how to handle violence. Walk with peace, my friends!
Polycentric Legal Order: Overcoming limitations of state-monopolized power structures
Polycentric Legal Order
Polycentric Legal Order: Overcoming limitations of state-monopolized power structures
The purpose of government can perhaps most simply be defined as the maintenance of
social order through the administration of public law. It is the purpose of public administration
to carry out the required functions to bring into being the dictates of such law, and thus social
order, so that they are representative of more than merely words on paper. While it is not
controversial to hold that social cooperation is dependent upon recognition of and adherence to
some commonly agreed upon rules of conduct, rarely is the fundamental mode of the
administration and enforcement of societal rules questioned. In fact, this questioning is so rare
that certain deficiencies, inefficiencies, and outright failures in public administration are
accepted as necessary evils which can, at best, be minimized through ever-increasing reforms,
regulations and attempts at transparency. It is accepted as a forgone conclusion that these
problems are inevitable and intrinsic to the modern implementation of public policy through
bureaucracy and one of the challenges of modern public administration science is overcoming
these limitations. And while it certainly may be the case that these problems are unavoidable
given a particular policymaking and administration paradigm, we would do well to avoid the
fatal conceit of assuming that the current approach to public administration is the peak of human
development in the realm of political science. In fact, there is ample evidence to indicate that
these difficulties are not somehow peculiar to public administration per se, but are the result of a
“one-size-fits-all” monopolistic legal system.
This paper will investigate the theoretical structures intended to avoid these pitfalls by
presenting an alternative viewpoint of policy and public law administration drawing upon
Polycentric Legal Order
various disciplines of the social sciences including economics and legal theory. Namely, the
topic of polycentric legal order and its relevant criticism will be presented in the following
sections (Barnett, 1998).
Polycentrism: An alternative approach to overcoming monopolistic pitfalls
The primary trait of a monopoly legal system is that there is a single entity authorizing
the use of force or power in a given locality which must be protected by the use of force or
power. In contrast to a market monopoly in which a firm gains a dominate market share through
voluntary market transactions, this is a coercive monopoly. That is, a monopoly which exists by
violence or by threat of violence. It is a necessary quality of this structure that these powers
must be granted to some members of society and excluded from others. An example of this is
that monocentric courts have the power to order arrest, imprisonment, search & seizure, etc that
non-court members of society do not have. (Tannehill & Tannehill, 1984).
Barnett (1998) identified several problems which arise from this coercive monopoly.
The first of these problems are the selection problem, the capture problem and corruption
problem. Respectively, these problems are those of determining who gets the power, preventing
bad people from gaining the power and preventing the corrupting influence of these powers
themselves. One way of lessening these problems is through the project of liberal democracy.
Electoral politics grants a measure of reciprocity to the subjects of the system by allowing them
to decide which members of society are granted the powers and by allowing any qualifying
members of society to be elected and gain that power for themselves. While this is certainly a
way of hedging the potential harm of these problems there are certain ways in which this attempt
in itself falls short. One way is the problem of knowledge which is that those making democratic
decisions have a limited amount of information available to them about candidates prior to
election as well as about their performance after election. The other side of the knowledge
problem is that distant elected representatives lack local information about the people and places
which they rule. Another problem is that the power to choose rulers itself can be corrupting and
abused. For example, when a majority of voters choose rulers with agendas for personal gain
at the expense of the minority group. Finally, there is the problem of exit which is the limit of
subjects of monopolistic legal powers in opting-out, that is, in no longer being subject to these
powers of coercion.
The polycentric legal order offers a solution to these problems and more by allowing for
multiple centers of power within a legal order. Barnett (1998) cites two simple changes which
can be made to the existing legal order to achieve this end. These are the non-confiscation
principle and the competition principle. The non-confiscation principle is that law enforcement
and adjudicative agencies must not confiscate their income by force, but by contract with the
parties that they serve. The competition principle is that law enforcement and adjudicative
agencies cannot put their competitors out of business by force. This allows for the possibility
of the existence of firms which provide services through voluntary contract that were previously
monopolized (Benson, 2011). This provision addresses the problem of knowledge in which
subscribers to a particular legal center transmit the information about their preferences in the
same way in which other market transactions do (i.e. through profit and loss). This also corrects
the problem of corruption and exit. Because service providers cannot force others to contract
with them they must uphold higher standards of conduct in order to retain competitive market
position. Additionally, service consumers cannot take advantage of other subscribers to the
provider in the way of pursuing their interests at the expense of the minority. This is not merely
theoretical speculation, however. Currently, any number of services outside of the realm of
monopolistic law exist based on these principles (Stringham, 1999). Insurance providers are
one example with private arbitration services being another. In fact, many businesses which
would be forced into never ending litigation in monopoly court systems are only able to continue
operating by their reliance on private arbitration services (Stringham, 2007).
Polycentrism: An experiment in chaos
One obvious criticism of this approach is that a competitive system of law enforcement
and adjudication would result in gang warfare. Such conflicts could be supposed to arise in the
following manner: Customer A (CA) has his property stolen by Customer B (CB). CA contacts
his private protection agency to report the offense. Agency A dispatches to the residence of CB
to reclaim the stolen property or collect for damages. Upon arrival, CB refuses too cooperate
and contacts her private protection agency to report that they are being accosted. CB’s protection
agency arrives to defend their client and conflict ensues between the two respective protection
agencies resulting in a type of turf war. Clearly, this is not a situation conducive to social order.
Another criticism is that in a pay-for-law scenario only those that can afford legal protection can
attain it, resulting in the impoverished being defenseless and victimized by those that can afford
protection (Stringham, 2007).
The polycentric solution also falls short in its lack of explanation of how the competitive
principle alone can prevent a single firm from gaining a monopoly by forcing competitors out of
the market, essentially resulting in the original problem which it attempts to resolve. Related
to this idea is the issue that results from taking rule-setting powers away from the general public
through the democratic process and putting it into the hands of private protection agencies.
Additionally, the case for polycentric legal order fails to address the threat of foreign invasion
from outside monocentric forces. If we are to assume that private protection agencies would
have to rely on weapons of mass destruction for large-scale defense, wouldn’t the result be a
that a dominant private firm could use force to acquire other areas to gain additional customers?
Although the potential problems of monocentrism are acknowledged, the polycentric model does
not adequately explain how those problems can be avoided and could perhaps lead to a worse
scenario in which the existing hedges of monocentrism are abolished (Palchak & Leung, 2011).
Analysis and Rebuttal
The case for polycentric legal order correctly identifies serious limitations of a
monopolistic system and offers some compelling arguments for its adoption. While the
objections to its enactment are valid criticisms there are reasons to believe that the concerns are
unfounded given certain facts about the economics of a market-based system. The first objection
of devolution into gang warfare ignores the costs of violence between competitors. There is
initially the cost of losing property and employee capital to acts of aggression. Secondly, there is
the cost of resolving damages through the litigation process. It is not in the interest of any profit-
making firm to incur preventable costs. Quite simply, negotiation and mediation are far cheaper
than violence. In contrast, the monocentric system which relies upon confiscation by coercion
for its revenue does not incur any of these costs as they are passed on to the consumers, even if
the increased costs are against their will. Essentially, the monocentrists have free reign to pursue
all the benefits of violence without the drawback of paying the price. This means that
monopolistic systems have an inherent incentive to engage in violence while polycentric systems
have an inherent incentive to avoid the high costs of violence (Stringham, 2007).
The second criticism which does not seem to withstand scrutiny is that under a
polycentric legal system a dominant private protection agency could gain monopoly position and
either become a monopolistic system in itself or take advantage of its customers. The first
scenario is impossible because the a firm may only gain market dominance through the
satisfaction of its customers. Stripped of the ability to use coercion to maintain that monopoly a
firm must compete fairly in order to retain market dominance. In fact, natural monopolies do not
exist outside of theory for this very reason. The only monopolies which can exist currently are
those which are based on the monocentric-granted privilege of exclusivity. This fact also makes
the second scenario impossible. For if a market-dominant firm began abusing customers, say
through exorbitant prices, breaches of contract or poor service, a competing provider would have
an opportunity to satisfy those unmet desires (Benson 2011).
While it is acknowledged that the case for polycentrism is not free of potential
drawbacks, it is an important contribution to the area of law and public administration. It
correctly identifies and attempts to addresses many of the current limitations of monocentric
legal systems, particularly problems of corruption, legitimacy, and knowledge. Detractors to the
theory are correct in pointing out that it is not a perfect system. However, it is not intended to be
any more than the status quo is intended to be utopian. What it does do successfully is question
the current paradigm and show that attempts at reform are hamstrung by inherent problems of
the system itself. Just as we have seen the vast benefits that can be derived from allowing
voluntary interaction to satisfy innumerable other human needs so can we benefit from allowing
the same processes to improve law and order. Although the idea of polycentric legal order may
seem shocking or impossible by today’s standards so it must have been for those under feudal
rule to imagine a world in which individuals could function without the rule of that power
Barnett, R. E. (1998). The structure of liberty: justice and the rule of law. New York: Oxford
Benson, B. (2011). The enterprise of law : justice without the state. Oakland, CA: The Independent
Palchak, J. K., & Leung, S. T. (2002). No state required – a critical review of the polycentric legal
order. Gonzaga Law Review, 38, 289.
Stringham, E. (1999). Market chosen law. Journal of Libertarian Studies, 14(1; SEAS WIN), 53-78.
Stringham, E. (2007). Anarchy and the law, the political economy of choice. Oakland, CA:
Tannehill, M., & Tannehill, L. (1984). The market for liberty: Is government really necessary? ; is
government our protector … or our destroyer? New York: Laissez Faire Books.
Command and Control Resistance by Justin Frost 3/31/2013
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four.
Oppression is a dilemma brought about by the existence of a hierarchical state that uses force, coercion, and manipulation to limit the free action of individuals. Historically revolutions have resulted in temporary defeat of oppressors only to have those revolutionaries who take power become the new oppressors. The subjects of the statist religion cannot see past their limited programming to envision an alternative means of organizing society without the state. The widely held belief that the state is necessary for the peaceful operation of society is an irrational fear generated by oppressors to keep a populous subdued enough to allow for the persistence of despotic rule.
Transformation occurs when an individual overcomes a dilemma by evolving beyond their previous paradigm. Transformation is more than just learning new information or becoming aware of a dilemma. One transforms perception by questioning the principles used to make sense of the world and reprioritizing one’s values and directives. Transformation results in strategically changing one’s intentions and perceived purpose to address the conditions of a dilemma.
As an activist, journalist, and scientist I am constantly engaged in the process of cultural action. “Cultural action refers to any type of project which attempts to transform relations prior to the taking of power…. The aim of these projects is to enable people to develop a critical perception of their oppression and as far as possible prior to the revolution, to prepare themselves for full active engagement in cultural revolution. Cultural revolution is a permanent process in which conscientized people engage in the continuous creation and recreation of their society.” (Darder, 429)
No small task, the goal is to free civilization by abolishing the state and with it an entrenched system of slavery. “When a relation is antagonistic, producing domination and subordination, and so on the idea for the radical activist is to abolish or radically transform the relation…” (Darder, 427) There is no new form of government that can successfully transplant the old way. The goal is to achieve autonomy by bringing forth a renaissance of technological advancement. A free market of productive peaceful individuals armed with 21st century technology creates better solutions to problems than the government sector can. The government attempts to monopolize media, education, arbitration, security, food, and medicine. The goal is to out-compete the hierarchical centralized command and control system with parallel systems that render the state obsolete.
The municipal courthouse serves a corrupt tyrannical system that exploits the most vulnerable members of society in the name of protecting them. The agents of the court derive their authority over their subjects by claiming to act on behalf of the corporation known as the state. The corporation asserts a monopoly over the exercise of force in a geographic region. The subjects in a fiefdom are not permitted the same rights as the agents of the state. Members of peaceful society do not have the right to impose their will on others. Those who participate in voluntary peaceful production and exchange are merely peasants at the bottom of parasitic feudal system that depends on coercive threats and violence to fleece members of productive society in order to sustain its despotic reign.
I recently went to observe a court room along with several liberty activists and was surprised by the number of school kids that were being slapped with multiple $300 fines for “disrupting class”. In a matter of hours the court reaped thousands of dollars from families struggling with poverty. The students were before a judge to compensate the state for the crime of dissent.
I was appalled by the way the students were treated. One after another, teenagers were brought to stand trial for the crime of disrupting class; a minor offense that would have in a previous era been dealt with by a trip to the principal’s office. Instead these kids were labeled as criminals and not allowed to even discuss what they did wrong or why it was a crime. The judge simply told them to be obedient in school and get a job to pay the fines. “Childhood is a sacred state, one that society demands be protected by public institutions, until the “children” become “criminals,” at which point they are tossed into a moral abyss, perceived as somehow less than human but increasingly held accountable as adults.” (Darder, 129)
The servants of the state dare not allow themselves to ponder the possibility that school is not preparing these kids with useful skills to prosper in the real world. The state can see no blame in its actions since it is the ultimate arbiter of all conflicts, even conflicts involving its self. In matters involving its actions the state always rules itself to be just. This arrogance is the hallmark of tyranny. This command and control system’s one objective is totalitarianism, absolute authority over the individual, and domination of humanity under the state.
There is no contemplation on the court’s part that the school system’s methods might be to blame for a court packed full of young poor minorities. The court claims to be protecting the children by removing these disruptive elements from the classroom and applying zero tolerance policies to any behavior that attempts to disturb the status quo, when in reality it is exploiting children and society by serving the interests of the corporations it has allegiance to. “Public education depends on victims and criminals, potential or actual, to justify its risk management functions, which enmesh industry interests and police actions with educational institutions.” (Darder, 129)
The hypocrisy in this oppressive process is blatant. The double standard and unequal application of the rules highlights the stark difference between the oppressors and the oppressed. The authority figures of the court sit several feet higher than the common citizens and armed guards stand like sentinels at the entrances so the threat of force is ever present. The court room is filled with surveillance cameras embedded in the ceiling. The citizens have no way of knowing who may be watching. There is no accountability of the abuses of the state but every action of the lowly citizen is held to the harshest scrutiny with severe punishment for any misbehavior.
As the conveyor belt of disruptive kids was harvested by the judge, one activist attempted to exercise his right to film this unprecedented process of criminalizing children’s behavior. Without warning, the judge confiscated the camera and forced the activist to erase the video or be charged with contempt of court. The judge treated the adult activist just like a child in trouble at the principles office. There was no regard to the citizen media’s right to film. When the audience in the courtroom protested the judge said that no one could film because minors were present. One activist responded by questioning the judge about the cameras positioned in the ceiling. Indeed the state’s claim is that when a citizen films it is a form of intrusion, but the state records it is a form of protection. As if confiscating the citizen media’s camera wasn’t enough of an outrage, the judge then cleared the courtroom when she realized that dozens of activists were present. The judge allowed main stream media outlets to remain and film, specifically ordering only the citizen media to be cleared from the court. She then threatened criminal trespass to all the activists and ordered police to force everyone to leave the building at threat of arrest.
The audacity of the surveillance state originates in its perverse scopophilia and the distance it creates between those who command and those who are controlled. “Surveillance systems may not directly create prejudice or fear, but they tend to cultivate extreme voyeuristic impulses that enforce divisions between subjects and objects and amplify the base qualities of those doing the watching.” (Darder, 128) The oppressors use video recording to suit their ends and use force to limit being scrutinized themselves. The rules are not applied evenly and equally. The state will use law and reason yet equally resorts to dispatching its opposition with brute force when it suits its ends. Any attempt to hold the police-state accountable will be met with retaliatory force. Fear of retaliation compels people to submit to the state’s beastly authority. Fear fuels the bullying powers of agents of the state. Brave people need only rise up in opposition and the machine of the state will come to a grinding halt. The next phase of human evolution will begin within a stateless society based on voluntary interaction.
The surveillance state is part of a cancer that has metastasized into every aspect of human existence. The totalitarian state is the antithesis of humanity. To be more human and evolve each individual must shed his dependence on the state in whatever way possible. The abolition of the state requires bold individuals to live independent of socialist systems and strive to outcompete and undermine command and control architecture in every aspect of life.
Darder, A., Baltodano, M., & Torres, R. D. (2009). The critical pedagogy reader. (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Orwell, G. (2004). Nineteen eighty-four. London: Penguin Books.
“We are the beginning of humanity. The group of people who dares to say, ‘we shouldn’t initiate violence against each-other’. How painfully obvious is that? But it needs to be said because most people have been taught that there’s a giant exception called government. Future generations are gonna be really glad we talked about this.”
– Larken Rose
Stage Six Anarchism
by Justin Frost
I’ve gone through several stages of metamorphosis to mature into the anarcho-capitalist I am today. In my early 20’s I lived by a set of goodly rules and civilized standards so as to get along with others, and indeed desired to be a good person in my heart, but still I ran into problems defending my position on political and economic issues.
According to Kohlberg’s model I was shifting to Stage Five moral reasoning as I accepted the common standard that I am bound to a social contract. The concept of the ‘greater good’ is something I believed without question as a young adult. In my early college days I was apt to accept the well meaning philosophy that posits that each member of society should live to provide for the good of the whole. “The end of adolescence, from a developmental standpoint, occurs when the young person’s perspective shifts from self-absorption to absorption of… the collective voice of those who define what it means to be an adult in that society or community.” (Taylor, 2000, p.350)
I unconsciously accepted the societal norm of collectivism, an Aristotelian ideology that claims “the community can and properly should make demands on its members and that universal individual rights can be carried too far.” (Noddings, 2012, p.11) At the time this socialist philosophy seemed to be in alignment with my intention to do good for humanity. The idea that “a community’s needs and welfare can, and should… sometimes override individual rights, and a good citizen expects to contribute to the state not simply demand its protection of individual rights,” seemed morally responsible according to the dichotomy of good versus evil I categorized behavior into. (Noddings, 2012, p.11) I believed quite simplistically that selfishness was evil and living for others was good.
Some years ago I fell in with a rabble of liberty activists who enlightened me about the non-aggression principle, a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate, which serves as the foundational ethic around which peaceful society organizes. (Non-aggression, Wikipedia) The non-aggression principle is a standard that all behavior can be checked against to determine if an act is just or criminal. Before I learned about the non-aggression principle my ethics were disorganized as there was no central rule which I applied to every aspect of my life. Until I took the time to assess how the non-aggression principle applied to my existing moral code I was prone to conforming to the status quo of a statist society. I have come to understand that the NAP is the golden rule around which we can organize a society of responsible individuals free from regulation by the state
By practicing skepticism and questioning everything, especially information from authority, I came to reject many of the beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes that are generally accepted by mainstream society. Through this critical process of reflecting on and assessing my values according to the non-aggression principle I transitioned to Kohlberg’s sixth stage of moral development. “In stage six moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. Legal rights are unnecessary, as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action. The individual acts because it is right, and not because it is instrumental, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon.” (Lawrence, Wikipedia) Developing this level of reasoning I achieved a greater awareness of my self and my role in the world as a sovereign individual.
“Although Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who consistently operated at that level.” (Lawrence, Wikipedia) Considering how radically opposed my current views are from mainstream society it is no wonder consistent Stage Six minds are hard to come by. Democracies do not value the absolute sovereignty of an individual, so exercising sovereignty is essentially an act of defiance and usually results in the mob ostracizing those who disagree with the decisions of the collective. The very existence of democracy asserts the group is more important than the individual. The individual is always a minority in a democracy thus has no voice.
Dewey claims that there is no inherent discord between the individual and a democratic state. Dewey’s vision of a democratic utopia inspired much of his philosophy but perhaps his grand scheme didn’t take into account the problems inherent in authoritarianism. “An important objection to Dewey’s work is that he paid little attention to forms of systematic oppression and cultural hegemony.” (Noddings, 2012, p.38) Considering he was concerned about protecting American culture during the rise of National Socialism I’m surprised Dewey was so apt to turn to the mechanisms of government when he seems to put so much value in people’s ability to think independently.
“Dewey insisted that state and individual are, ideally, in a relation of mutual support.” I think it is a rather idealistic concept for a pragmatist to hold so dear.
Dewey tends to blur his concept of state with his concept of society. “A good society treasures its dissidents and mavericks because it needs the creative thinking that produces new hypotheses, expanded means, a larger set of alternatives, and in general the vigorous conversation induced by fresh ideas. The individual, similarly, needs a democratic state in which to flourish; it is therefore in his or her best interest to contribute generously to the maintenance of a democratic way of life.” (Noddings, 2012, p.38)
The state is not society. Through my experiences I have come to understand the state to be a group of people who attempt to exercise a monopoly on force, and thus possess the unjust power to coerce others to do their will at the threat of violence. I didn’t just come across this information one day and suddenly become an anarchist; I saw that the world didn’t work the way I was told. “Thinking begins with the nagging sense that something is problematic, something is unsettled.” (Noddings, 2012, p. 30) I started to see the agenda behind much of my education, and subsequently saw through the outright lies the media and government were telling me. I began to see that the individuals that serve the state are invested in influencing the education of others to produce more believers in statism like themselves. I saw the state as a religion devoted to the worship of authority; a fictional entity that zealots indoctrinate others to believe in. I realized that the state does not exist beyond the coercive interactions between individuals; it is merely a banner distinguishing a privileged class that lives at the expense of productive society.
In the same regard, I have come to understand that society does not exist beyond the peaceful interaction of individuals. Society is not a servant to the interests of the state; furthermore individuals don’t live to serve society. I systematically unlearned what I was taught to believe and rebuilt my entire construct of how the world works based on the non-aggression principle. This fundamentally changed me from socialist thinking to accepting anarchy.
Rejecting statism freed me from a widely accepted and persistent delusion. Now, as an anarchist, I see the world through new eyes. A once powerful and threatening authority figure has been revealed to be a nothing but an old man behind a curtain desperately trying to maintain control. Through my rejection of authoritative knowledge I’m able to recognize that the state is a group of humans that attempts to create an illusion of authority through the oppressive architecture of capitol buildings that tower above comparably insignificant individuals in order to convince us we are merely cogs meant to serve its machinations. With my anarchist eyes I now see public schools for what they truly are; nothing more than churches in which the state’s doctrine is taught every weekday. I unplugged myself from the state’s socialist matrix and found myself pitted against a vestigial institution of slavery that places those who initiate force above those who negotiate peacefully.
I am compelled by principle to disobey unjust laws and organize things as I see fit as I am capable of judging what is right regardless of the decisions of any group or official. The actualization of one’s ability to exercise sovereign decision making is the essence of Kohlberg’s sixth stage of moral development and, in my personal experience, harmonious with the evolution of anarcho-capitalist principles.
Noddings, Nel. (2012). Philosophy of Education. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
Taylor, Kathleen. Marienau, Catherine. Fiddler, Morris. (2000). Developing Adult Learners: Strategies for Teachers and Trainers. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Non-aggression Pinciple http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Few people are raised in households that fully embrace and promote the ideals of liberty. Most people who deem themselves advocates of liberty are really advocates of limited government. Temporarily ignoring that point, those who come to believe they are advocates of liberty often do so through a tortured path of disappointment and disillusionment with the more celebrated political and philosophical frameworks that rely on various forms of coercion to bring about some so-called greater good. The arguments for creating or defending a society that promotes liberty typically fall into one of three categories: (1) utilitarian – liberty is the most feasible or efficient way to bring about the most desired social and economic outcomes in society, (2) rights – a moral society is one in which natural rights are preserved, with liberty being an essential natural right, and/or (3) logic – liberty is the only logically consistent or rational basis on which humans can build society as all other political or philosophical foundations are rife with contradictions. Of the three arguments, the utilitarian one is the most commonly used when attempting to persuade those who advocate for coercive means. The rights argument is the most compelling when effectively employed as few people will admit that they are willing to champion an immoral system. The logic argument should be able to stand alone, however those who use it are often accused of relying on slippery slope arguments and wasting time on hypothetical extremes.
Acknowledging the challenges of embracing the ideals of liberty in a collectivist world that ridicules those who are viewed as too extreme in their defense of liberty, I hesitate to declare that any book that brings people closer to true liberty may be inimical to liberty. At the same time, when such books provide caveats arguing that certain forms of governmental coercion is necessary, thereby discouraging readers from continuing along the path towards a true liberty position (e.g., anarchism, voluntaryism), it is fair to label such work as inimical to liberty. Milton Friedman’s celebrated book, Capitalism and Freedom qualifies.
The essence of liberty is to be free from the oppression of government. All governments are inherently oppressive as they use the threat of violence to confiscate from the populace through taxation and to compel certain behaviors or limit the actions of the populace through laws and regulations. If a given government was not oppressive, then all actions of that government would be achieved through strictly voluntary arrangements, rendering that government irrelevant. In short, where there is government, there is not liberty, and where there is liberty, there is no government. One cannot accurately claim to be an advocate for true liberty while simultaneously arguing for the necessity of government to secure that liberty (e.g., Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence). Likewise, one cannot be an advocate for true liberty while arguing that the government is necessary to “protect our freedom” as Friedman tried to explain in the introduction (p.2), or arguing that “government is essential” to determine and enforce the “rules of the game” of the free market (p.15).
Given Friedman’s stated acceptance of the misguided notion of the necessity of government, it is no surprise that he spends most of his efforts arguing from a utilitarian perspective, avoiding the rights argument and ignoring the logic argument. While a liberty oriented approach to dealing with the problems of society may produce the most optimal outcomes (e.g., innovation, wealth creation), such justification ultimately gives way to dangerous considerations that threaten liberty. On numerous occasions Friedman argues that it may be acceptable to allow government to take over certain functions in society so that we can have an umpire to settle disputes (p.25), so we can educate children to become contributing citizens (p.86) or so we can protect property rights (p.162). Those who approach liberty from a rights or logic perspective are typically unwilling to accept the aforementioned infringements upon liberty even if it means sacrificing potential utilitarian gains. Had Friedman taken such an approach, not only would his work have warned people about the threat that too much government poses to liberty, but it would have also helped tear down the dangerously fallacious myth that government is somehow an essential component to liberty. Unfortunately, Friedman goes further than simply proposing to sacrifice liberty in Capitalism and Freedom, he directly attacks liberty by stating that the “consistent [classical] liberal is not an anarchist” (p.32).
Friedman, Milton, and Rose D. Friedman. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Antonio F. Buehler
Founder & CEO
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Is the Constitution compatible with a free society?
In this lecture John Bush discusses his thesis that government with its geographic monopoly on force never has been and never will be about protecting the liberty and property of the people. His controversial opinion is that the Constitution actually created less freedom through a massive expansion of a central government. He argues that this piece of paper does not grant you rights, you have rights inherently as a human being. His vision is to transition to mutually beneficial voluntary societies.
Tonight as I work on a few projects I am watching this speech on farming by Joel Salatin. John and I are always trying to learn about the different techniques that can be utilized in gardening, chicken rearing and living more independently over all. I have not been following the food legislation and corresponding grassroots movements since I stepped away from politics. This speech is quite enlightening. Enjoy 😀