Video: Martin Keegan on the Evolution of Private Cooperation

How and why do we cooperate? Often we cooperate because the government forces us to. We also cooperate to make a profit. But what about cooperating to do things that are we think are just, you know, good? Who decides what are or are not worthy cooperative purposes? Does the government monopolise, or insist on overseeing, all such decisions and commitments? Or are citizens able to make such decisions for themselves, by forming cooperative groups of their own devising, for their own purposes. Martin Keegan concentrated in his talk on that latter sort of cooperation, cooperation that is not-for-profit. And he particularly focussed in on the institution of the Trust.

Crucial to the development of the Trust, in the Anglo-American legal systems, is that you didn’t and don’t need the particular permission of the government to form a particular Trust.

Nevertheless, once a Trust is formed, the courts provide legal remedies if any of the agreements made between the contracting parties get broken.

By means of a Trust, a group of people place resources in the hands of Trustees, who guard and spend those resources, even after the deaths of all the original benefactors, or Trustees.

The Trust, then, is the means by which Civil Society, the society of what Edmund Burke called the “little platoons”, becomes a reality. All manner of cooperative enterprises, which those directly involved consider to be a good thing and of potential or actual benefit to the wider public, but which many or even most others might consider of doubtful value or even harmful, are thus able to get started and to thrive, for decades and even for centuries. Minority religious institutions, controversial educational enterprises, obscure intellectual or scientific bodies, artistic ventures, charitable foundations, schemes to build what we now call infrastructure, can all get started and stay active indefinitely. Opposition political parties can form. Libertarian Home can exist not just as a bunch of people, but as a bunch of people with heritable assets, devoted to a particular purpose. Keegan himself offered this example.

How could a government explicitly agree to that happening? Answer: in a free society, it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to.

Keegan found time also to talk also about the Islamic equivalent of the Trust, namely the “Waqf”, an institution by means of which private citizens in the Islamic world could do publicly valuable things, like build fountains. But the Waqf was rather inflexible. The purpose of each Waqf was highly specific, and it was bad at adapting to changed circumstances.

Trusts have their origins in tax avoidance, and are now under attack because they are still regarded as being predominantly for that purpose. And the accusation is sort of true. A world in which Trusts flourish is a world in which individuals decide what is to happen to their wealth, and not just governments.

Also, many hitherto independent institutions are now being sucked towards the public sector. They are ceasing to be vehicles for shared but not universally accepted purposes. Whereas Continental law was very slow in allowing Civil Society to emerge, the Anglo-Saxon world is in danger of stifling it, by moving, legally, in the opposite direction, towards a more Continental system.

This talk was a deceptively down-beat affair, strong on seriousness but lacking laughs and certainly lacking histrionics. No attempt was made by Keegan to get his audience, either on the night or on the internet, worked up. But it would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of a subject like this one, merely because the guy doing the talking is keeping the emotional temperature strictly at lukewarm.

Unlike many Libertarian Home speakers, Keegan confined himself almost exactly to his pre-suggested time. This video is well worth the relatively short time, just over twenty minutes, needed to watch it.


  1. Cooperation is, by definition, voluntary. If one is forced to “cooperate” then it is really coercion.

    When leftists, say the writers of “The Simpsons” repeating what they were taught at Harvard, talk, via “Lisa Simpson”, of “cooperation” and “sharing” they really mean forcing (making people do things they do not want to do) and stealing (taking the property of others without their voluntary consent).

    As Brian rightly says cooperation can be for profit or non profit – but both of these things come under the same principle of voluntary (chosen) conduct. J.S. Mill is just wrong when he claims (in “On Liberty”) that commercial activity comes under a different principle – on the contrary it comes under the same “principle of liberty” (as any “Old Whig” could have told him). It is also nonsense to say that regulations on what one can buy are a violation of liberty but regulations on what one can sell are NOT a violation of liberty – and this is not economics, it is basic philosophy (based upon our ability, with great effort, to CHOOSE what we do – to do otherwise than we do).

    As for Trusts – like clubs and churches and so on it is vital that these “corporate forms” can exist without prior government approval.

    The idea (that even some “libertarians” sometimes state) that the corporate form, with limited liability and so on, is “the creation of the state” or even “a 19th century creation of the state” is nonsense.

    The members of a club (or a church) are not individually responsible for the debts of the club (unless they have engaged in fraud – or are personally negligent in their responsibilities) and the same is true of a Trust.

    This is not to say that a Trust will always be well run – on the contrary I think, for example, that the local “Wicksteed Trust” (that runs the local park) is rather badly run (that rather undermines my chanced of being employed by Wicksteed again – but I do not think they were going to employ me anyway), but that does NOT mean that the freedom to form and run a Trust should be violated.

    By the way……

    A university should be treated exactly the same way as a “Trust” – anyone (a Church – or even just a group of individuals forming a club) should be allowed to create a “university” and grant degrees.

    The idea that “the state” needs to be involved is historically wrong (the early universities were mostly founded by the Catholic Church – not the state) and politically (and morally) dangerous.

    Yet 19th century British liberalism (under the influence of German philosophy) blandly accepted this false idea – not just J.S. Mill but his rival Sir Ian Hamilton accepted “the state” as part of the very DEFINTION of a university, and even Gladstone just assumed that the state had a right to change how universities ran their affairs.

    The internet can only do so much – and people tend to find what they are looking for on the internet anyway (people tend find what they already believed – not ideas that fundamentally challenge their beliefs, although this is sometimes the case) formal places of learning are needed.

    The principle of Hillsdale College in Michigan, that government regulations should not be accepted and government (taxpayer) money should not be accepted either, is the principle to follow.

    This is what a university should be – they should be “like a Trust”.

    Or they should be commercial – profit making business enterprises.

    And NEITHER should need any prior permission of the government.

    A “business license” is spitting in the face of the Common Law (Chief Justice Sir Edward Cook and Chief Justice Sir John Holt).

    And a Trust and a commercial enterprise should need exactly the same level of prior permission from the state and be under the same level of state regulation – NONE apart from Common Law anti force-and-fraud.



  2. Islam.

    Mainstream Sunni Islam (I will leave aside the various forms of Shia Islam – and also the Sufi form of Sunni Islam) is based on determinism and theological and political Positivism.

    To such a person (as for Martin Luther or Thomas Hobbes) what we do is predetermined (I will leave aside “compatiblism” – that is one thing I actually agree with Kant and William James about, it is a dodge, it is a waste of time to even examine the doctrine). God knows who is saved and who is not – from the start of the universe, and not because God is “outside of time”, but because God knowns in advance what we will do (including whether we will believe in Him or not).

    A determinist being an atheist (or a closet atheist such as Thomas Hobbes) does not alter this – there just is no “God” in the situation – everything is still predetermined.

    We can not do other then we do. So how is it moral to punish us?

    That leads to the theological (and moral) positivism – or “Voluntarism” (in the theological – not philosophical sense).

    Saying that it is wrong to punish someone when they did not choose what they did (when they had no choice – when it was predetermined) is to use one’s REASON.

    But reason is a “whore” (Martin Luther), a “slave” (David Hume) – reason can not decide what is morally right and wrong, these are just “boo and cheer words” (A.J. Ayer – the Logical Positivist).

    If God wants to burn us alive for all eternity for something we did not choose to do, that is “good” because “good” is whatever God says it – and “evil” is just whatever God forbids. To think otherwise is to be part of the “Kingdom of Darkness” (Thomas Hobbes) – to think like a Scholastic (or a non Roman Catholic thinker – such as Richard Hooker the Anglican)

    One does not have to be Islamic to fall into trap of Positivism – an atheist can (but does not need to) fall into this trap also.

    In this case it is THE STATE (rather than God) who is the “Legal Positivist” – it is the WILL of THE STATE that is the law (not the WILL of God).

    Mainstream Islam, like Martin Luther, rejects the idea that reason can find natural justice (natural law) – justice is whatever the ruler (human or divine) says it is.

    This is why Thomas Hobbes had to reject the principles of the Common Law (see his “dialogue” with a fake “student of the Common Laws of England”) – as these principles are based on using reason to find and apply natural justice, even upon the state, – the very thing that Mr Hobbes was against.

    Judges should be Lions UNDER the Throne (to quote the master of Mr Hobbes – Sir Francis Bacon) – judges should be tools of the state, they must never try and limit the state in the name of natural justice (applied to specific cases by the principles worked out in the Common Law over centuries of Richard Hooker or Sir Edward Coke or Sir John Holt style reasoning).

    No 1688 and all that – no Sir John Holt, and no 1776 and all that either.


    Well if you, gentle reader, do not know by now I despair – but one more try.

    If “law” is just whatever the ruler (or rulers) says it is – then if an Islamic (or non Islamic) ruler wants to ban Trusts – that is fine.

    And if the state wants to burn alive anyone who forms a Trust – that is fine as well.

    “But that is evil Paui”

    No, no. no, silly goose – “evil” is just anything the ruler (human or divine) does not like (by their arbitrary WILL).

    If God (or a human ruler or Parliament) say it is “good” to feed someone alive to savage dogs because they do not like the colour of that person’s eyes – then it is “good” (by definition). And it is “lawful” because the law is just whatever the ruler or rulers (say a Parliament) say it is.

    If you dispute this then clever establishment “philosophers” (the great enemies of the tradition of humanity – who have usurped that tradition and place themselves in the very chairs of those who should safeguard that tradition) will sneer at you – and their regime (Islamic or non Islamic) will kill you if you resist.

    Certainly Mr Hobbes would say that a human will still (in a sort of animalistic reflex) defend themselves if attacked by the state – but defend SOMEONE ELSE? Of course not.

    Fight against a State that violates Trusts (or burns other people alive) of course not……….

    Only an “ignorant Redneck” could think in terms of risking one’s life fighting against the State in the defence of other people and their property. After all the state may give you some of the stuff of rich “enemies of the people” – so why should you risk your life defending some rich individual or some rich “Trust”. Obey the state (secular or divine) and you may be rewarded with some of the plunder. After all the state has the right to decide who has what land (see Hobbes on that – or even some 19th century “liberals”). Islamic rulers were quite right take property of rich people (because the ruler or rulers decide what is “right”) – one can not have “rights against the state”. The Bill of Rights (British or American) is just silly reactionary nonsense – but it is best not to say so publically (“ignorant Rednecks” might get upset).

    Such is the “modern” view – which is actually very ancient.

    And under this “modern” view there is no right of freedom to create a Trust – or any other right-against-the-state (divine or human state).



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