Brexit: What is going on?

On the eve of the commons vote that Theresa May has now tried to defer, we gathered to work what is going on, what we want and what is happening next.

The panel included:

Christian Michel – Philosophy and Economics Meetup Organiser
Lucy Harris – Leavers of Britain
Catherine McBride – Senior Economist, IEA Trade and Competition Unit

In their opening statements the panellists gave their point of view. I started by asking Christian why “people” wanted to be part of the EU in the first place?

Christian does not know why “people” want to Remain, but knows why he wants to Remain. This is because he feels that the EU destroys respect for the concept of a state. There is no love for the EU in the same way that there is love for nation states. States that are remote and undemocratic lack moral authority and the end result, he says, will be that the EU exerts less authority than would be wielded nationally.

Catherine, was working in Australia as the EU developed from the EEC into the EU. For her, the institution was an “OPEC for developed nations”. In particular this is what it was presented as in Australia, making its evolution into a sovereign entity with broad and deep powers a bit of a surprise. Such was also the experience of people here, she felt. Catherine also feels that had the EU stuck to the 9 first countries (Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, West Germany, Denmark, Ireland and the UK) it might have worked out better. However the UK in particular was the “oddball” and had different economic needs and alignments, tending to develop ahead of the EU nations thanks to US influence. This meant the UK was incompatible from the the beginning.

Lucy, laments the rapid “twitter feed” progression of events in the current climate. Lucy felt that what the country needed now was a new leader from the Leave side who would be able to be braver and more bold than Theresa May and deliver the result of the vote. This deal, she says, is not Brexit and not the will of the people because it leaves us in the Customs Union. She says the Brexit we need must include “no connection” with the ECJ, freedom of movement, the customs union or single market. The reasons for Brexit are not especially tied to immigration and is not a racist phenomenon.

The panel went on to discuss, in some depth, the nature of democracy and the attitude of the Remain camp toward Brexit voters, and the likely direction of events.


Democracy Will Win, The People Will Lose

In our society “democracy” is a universally positive concept. Many people use it synonymously with freedom. Tyranny and democracy do not go together. It is remarkable that this positive image can continue to prevail, despite the fact that most people are ready to admit that there is a lot that is going wrong in politics.

The main reason that people seem to continue to promote democracy is that they cannot possibly imagine a better alternative to the system. But why are we so willing to accept the popular claim that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others? After all it has brought about some truly bad results. The Nazis, one of the most criminal regimes in human history, came to power in a democratic system. Right now, we have a number of truly ugly governments in power, who have the blessing of the voters, from Erdogan in Turkey to Putin in Russia, Orbán in Hungary and Duda in Poland, to name just the most obvious. All these governments won in fair elections.

And then of course there is the current election in the US. As I am writing this, it is not clear who is going to win this election circus, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Whoever it may be, democracy will have won in the end. Whoever it may be will have come to power with the blessings of the voters.

And that is saying a lot. As before every election, we get the usual ‘this time is the most important election ever’ mantra. I have never bought into that, but I have to say, even to me this time seems a bit different. The wisdom of the crowds has narrowed the realistic choices for the oval office down to two candidates who are so awful that even their supporters often cannot praise them with a straight face. In fact, this election, the vast majority of people seem to vote mainly against the other candidate rather than for someone.

I was surprised to see that even a libertarian like Penn Jillette came out openly saying that he is going to vote for Hillary Clinton, a candidate that he admits he has no agreements with. His vote for Clinton is purely a desperate attempt to keep Trump out of the White House. I cannot even blame him.

This absurd situation is fundamentally the result of a democratic system at work. No one can seriously say that there is something undemocratic about the awful and dangerous situation that the American people find themselves in. And yet, I hardly hear anyone seriously questioning the legitimacy of this evil charade.

That is remarkable, since it does not seem difficult to imagine a better alternative. What about liberty? What about just accepting the idea that people have unalienable rights to their life, liberty and property? What more do we need than that to organise a very attractive society for everyone? There is no need for a government to constantly change the law. All we need is a legal system that enforces these rights. All the details of life that need sorting out can be better arranged by free contracts between the people involved in the decisions, rather than a one size fits all top down government.

But no, unfortunately, liberty is not an option for most people. Or worse, they are so confused that they think liberty is what democracy is. They rather think that this absurd situation of having the choice between Trump and Hillary, having Erdogan, Putin, Orbán and Duda telling them what to do with their lives is the absolute best they can do. That is sad, but I don’t see this changing soon. That means that unfortunately, as ever in fair elections, democracy will win and the people are fucked.

Jo Cox, RIP

Our thoughts are with the husband and family of MP Jo Cox who died in tragic circumstances today at the hands of a mentally ill man. There is little information known about these complex and important events, however, the possibility that this may be related to her work as an MP, in service of our democracy, is deeply concerning.

Video: Consent with Christian Michel

Christian Michel joined us at the Rose and Crown on August 7th to deal with an important issue. As advertised, the premise of the talk was that consent is considered to be the foundation of proper human interactions, but yet it is not frequenty discussed as a concept in it’s own right. How is consent given? Are there limits to what can be consented to?

The words that follow are Simon’s summary including ‘explanatory  restatements’ in single quotes, except for “direct quotes” from Christian in double quotation marks:

Christian opened the talk with an extreme example in which, for reasons of their own, one man consented to be killed by another. The death was video taped and there was various evidence that the death was not only consented to but planned for in advance (with the deceased putting his affairs in order), and consent was maintained throughout the event itself. The German court eventually ruled that the case was an assisted suicide and therefore was illegal in German law. At one point however, the jury condemned the perpetrator without giving grounds and Christian did not dispute the propriety of that verdict. He accepted that death is not something that can be properly consented to.

Christian discussed a couple of dictionary definitions of Consent:

“a non-coerced agreement to what another proposes”

“to freely concede to or acquiesce in what is being done”

He also gives details of some broadly accepted legal principles, and eludidated various examples from medicine and everyday life:

  1. Must be given prior to the action
  2. Has to be specific
  3. Must be informed
  4. Freely given

Point 4 is a key one. Christian gives the example of a sweatshop where starving people have no good alternative options but to work there, however unpleasant that option is. The applicable test, for Christian is whether the sweatshop “created the circumstances” that caused the starving person to agree to the work.

By contrast a mugger, armed with a weapon, offers his victim only one choice (to restate it:) ‘your money or your life’ which is logically similar to (restated) ‘your labour or your life’ (the choice a sweatshop worker might have) but in this case the robber is clearly the person that created the circumstances that lead to the contrained choices of the victim. In the sweatshop example the proprietor is offering a positive choice, and there may be other alternatives (such as a more uncertain rural lifestyle).

Christian states his assumption that denying the autonomy of a person is an undesireable action, that tends only to harm the person, but went on to deal with the case of persons who a temporarily incapacitated. The usual procedure he says, is that we proceed to do the things that the incapacited person would have wanted. This is prone to error, for example, when people have unusual and uncommon beliefs. In contrast in the special case of children we tend instead to decide something more about means by which the child might acheive a happy life becuase they are the ends in themselves. Another view, he said, is that we view children as – for instance – the future of a country, that is, as the means to the acheivement of the common good, which is highly problematic.

Christian then goes onto to give several examples of where the choice we make, be it for a lack of moral courage, moral decency or will power, is different from the choice we believe we ought to make. This set’s him up nicely to consider an important political question:

It is one thing to understand why a minority rebel’s, but why is it that the majority do not rebel?

Christian speculates that there may be a degree of brainwashing,or some natual perogative that leads us to obey leaders. Christian asserts that schools are the mechanism by which many regimes acheive the continued acceptence of their own rule.

In a representative democracy however, it is not even clear what it is that a voter has consented to, regardless of their reasons. For instance, we do not know the bills a representative will vote on, how he will vote and or what will happen and so there is no valid consent in such a process.

Christian repeats that the 4 legal principles he gave will tell us whether someone has consented, and that due to the various problems with democratic decision making, only a libertarian society based on individual and specific consent is a proper model for a humane social structure.






The Ignorance in “Rational Ignorance”

It would seem there is among the politically-minded professoriate a widespread belief that there is such a thing as “rational ignorance,” which holds that it is not particularly rational for any potential voter to waste time studying up on political affairs, researching candidates’ histories and positions, and so forth. Maintaining ignorance of the political factors of the day is “rational.” From this it follows, of course, that any political activism or activity is a waste of time except for those whose hobby, profession, or hustle it is. From which it follow that voting itself may be a pointless activity for any particular individual.

© Colin

© Colin

But wait. Isn’t this the cart pulling the horse? Actually, these foolish intellectuals present the argument for “rational” ignorance based on the claim that any given person’s probability of affecting the outcome of the vote is statistically tiny. And if that’s the case, voting’s a waste of time and, therefore, so is becoming educated on political matters. (It’s important to note that that’s a complete non-sequitur, since you can do a lot to influence how OTHERS vote even if you forgo doing it yourself.) Proponents of this amazingly ignorant doctrine include such up-and-comers as Michael Huemer of the U. of Colorado, who is considered by many to be a libertarian. But Prof. Huemer has plenty of company.


On the contrary.

First, and as to voting most obvious, there is such a thing as the cumulative effect of tiny increments. That, of course, is in fact the way voting works; the very notion of the statistical probability of a given person’s vote’s determining the outcome is really not even applicable.

Usually it’s not because of any one, particular person’s vote that X won the election. It’s because of the aggregated effect of the votes for and against X. And (assuming all the votes are counted accurately and are honestly reported), every vote cast counts toward that aggregate effect. And that includes the votes for the losing candidate or the losing ballot initiative or referendum.

Let me restate from a comment I made in a Libertarian Home discussion last week:

The doctrine is beyond false; it’s downright silly. Why? Because we DO have elections that DO produce winners and losers BECAUSE OF the proportion of votes that WERE cast. The fundamental error in the whole thing is that it isn’t this or that or these or those votes IN PARTICULAR which matter: It’s the cumulative effect of all the votes cast for each candidate or each ballot initiative or in each referendum that makes the difference.

The Democrats always run a huge and successful get-out-the-vote campaign. Because what matters is the bottom line, and they understand that if nobody on their side votes, their bottom line will be a goose-egg: LOSE! But if enough folks can be persuaded to vote (whether by argument, intimidation, or bribe), the result will be WIN!

Returning to my earlier comment:

Had another mere 4% of the voters in 2008 taken the trouble to be aware of Obama, his history, his background, they and we would at least have not ended up with a Chicago-Machine-cum-totalitarian-wannabe as President. –Not everything he said was a lie, however: For those who do understand that there’s a point to non-ignorance, he said forthrightly what he was gonna do, and he’s doing it.

Indeed, according to Wikipedia the final popular vote was 65,915,796 for Obama, 60,933,500 for Romney. Not counting any votes for some other candidate, this adds up tot a total of 126,849,296 votes cast, and Obama won by 51.96% of the total vote; Mr. Romney carried 48.04% of the vote. The spread between them, then, was less than 4%.


Second, it’s true that all of us have only a finite amount of time at our disposal, and (probably) infinitely many ways in which we could spend each second of it. So we must prioritize, and it may well turn out to be, per our own circumstances and value system, better to spend time learning how to take the best possible care of the coming infant than to educate ourselves properly regarding political philosophy, the current situation, and the candidates. But that’s a question of the rational choice of priorities, and persons in different situations might choose differently–for instance, perhaps the pregnant lady has already chosen adoptive parents who will assume parentage of the newborn immediately she delivers, so she can take time gather political information; whereas the lady next door, also expecting for the first time, judges that the more important priority is to learn how to avoid breaking the infant’s neck by accident.


But — this leads us to the third point, which is that each of us has to live with the consequences of the fact that X won. And this will often enough have an effect not only on our own lives even years hence, but also on the lives of the next generation, and the one after that, and ….


Finally, in general: while ignorance in any field may be necessary for any of a variety of reasons, it is rarely in and of itself rational–even knowing baseball statistics is of value to some. (Although, very rarely, willful blindness to the realities of the situation may be the only way to overcome panic enough to act.)

“There is no such thing as useless knowledge.”


However, all of this impinges on the issue of whether a society is encouraged to maintain itself in a state of ignorance in general, and is encouraged to believe the educational theory making the rounds in the early 70′s. This was (and, if you believe in Rational Ignorance as a good excuse not to bother learning, still is) that “you don’t need to know it, you just need to know how to Look It Up.” The college-kid sages of that era loved to spout that one. Well, intellectuals have always been full of prunes — I should know, having been pretty pruny myself from time to time — but when the teachers teach such baloney, I call it malfeasance. And similarly for any theory implying that ignorance is a value, that it is irrational to confront and try to affect a situation or event that so clearly can be affected by those with a certain kind of knowledge. (In politics, also by uneducated or miseducated fools, alas.)

Which brings us to the concept of Enlightened Self-interest. The concept includes (among other things) the understanding that one sensibly and rationally seeks knowledge, rather than a comfy maintenance of ignorance, in matters which seem likely to have a serious effect on the long-term course of one’s life. And, as Mr. Robert A. Heinlein wrote:

Politics is “barely less important than your own heartbeat.”

Full text: Democracies, Republics, and Other Unnecessary Evils versus Libertarian Anarchy

This talk comprises a few related and modified entries taken from the draft of my forthcoming Dictionary of Anti-Politics. I shall begin by giving some libertarian analysis of the ideas of democracy, republic, and monarchy—and asking what political systems the UK and the USA really have. Then, as elected oligarchy is dominant, I shall consider some of the issues that surround voting and political apathy. Finally, however—as the best alternative to what we have now—I shall look briefly at anarchy generally and anarchic law in particular.

Jan C Lester reading

This material was also delivered as a talk by Jan C Lester.


There are few ideas about which there is more commonsense confusion and political hypocrisy than ‘democracy’ (‘liberty’ is a rival in this). Etymologically, ‘democracy’ means ‘people rule or power’. The original democracies in Greek city-states involved voting on important matters for all citizens—which at that time excluded women, slaves, and guest workers. A civil organization that freely chooses to adopt some form of voting as a decision procedure is not thereby democratic, as voting itself is not inherently political (i.e., about state rule).

Most Western nation-states today claim to have ‘representative democracies’, which are asserted to be a kind of ‘indirect democracy’. But the people manifestly do not rule or have power. Therefore, this is somewhat like calling slavery ‘representative self-ownership’ or ‘indirect self-ownership’. For these so-called democracies are, in fact, elected oligarchies merely posing as democracies; because of the legitimisation that is afforded by the false propaganda that ‘the people are ruling themselves’ in this way and so somehow ‘consent’ to the consequences. That is, most adults have a vote that collectively decides who is elected (which is the one rare and fleeting moment that a glimmer of democracy might be asserted to exist), and then the elected oligarchs do whatever they want, if they have a majority, until the next election possibly changes the majority party or coalition. However, even most would-be ‘oligarchs’ are themselves, in effect, political eunuchs (or ‘lobby fodder’), unless they are also elected among themselves, or appointed to high office, or (threaten to) collectively rebel by voting against the government.

‘Delegational democracy’ means that people are elected to implement the actual wills of their electors. And this would be a sort of democracy. But it is a mystery how the delegates are supposed to know what the electors want beyond a few issues. If the delegates are going to do regular surveys and adhere to the results, then why would they be needed as delegates? Some form of full-blooded democracy, with people directly voting on any number of issues, would easily be practicable.

It is clearly possible to be far more democratic than we are now, but politicians do not want democracy. This might partly be because they see the pitfalls of rule by an uninformed and capricious majority, but it must also be for the obvious reason that they prefer to be elected as oligarchs with all the power, prestige, and pelf this personally gives them. Luckily for them, most members of the public lack any real interest in, or understanding of, politics; so the public do not seek any serious democratic involvement.

None of this is intended to argue for real democracy. Any more-serious form of democracy would almost certainly be more dangerously authoritarian, even totalitarian, than the current elected oligarchy. Democracy as such is inherently a form of majoritarianism. There is no democratic principle limiting what democracy can interfere with. However, any attempt at democracy would probably soon collapse into a less dangerous oligarchy following Robert Michels’s (1876-1936) “iron law of oligarchy”: as career politicians come to dominate the apathetic masses.

Just like elected oligarchy, all forms of democracy are the continuation of ‘civil war’ by other means. One side proactively imposes on the other by threat of force but without actual bloodshed. Thus democracy is an enemy of liberty and also welfare; not least as it flouts the efficient economic calculation of the market. A ‘liberal democracy’ is more or less a contradiction in terms, at least insofar as ‘liberal’ refers to liberty. The more it is liberal, the less it is democratic. A completely liberal system would be a libertarian anarchy.


In the UK, especially but not solely, a republic is popularly contrasted with the UK’s own supposed constitutional monarchy. The US was established as a republic, but this was intended to be contrasted with a democracy as much as with a monarchy. The main republican conception is that the people, or at least those entitled to vote, have ultimate power but that they have some type of representatives operating within some type of constitution. As with many political terms, definitions and theories vary. And there is considerable confusion in practice. For instance, some so-called ‘constitutional monarchies’ are, in effect, crowned republics, while some self-styled ‘republics’ are more like monarchies.

From a libertarian viewpoint, is any kind of republic superior to any kind of monarchy or any kind of alleged democracy? The first thing to say is that none of them is libertarian and so all of them ought to be abolished. After that, the only really useful thing to observe is that these are mainly empirical and contingent matters. But there appears to be no good reason to press for any of them in preference to the others, particularly as that distracts from the more libertarian task of directly arguing for rolling back whatever state powers whichever of them happens to have.


‘Monarchy’ is literally, a single ruler; usually—but not necessarily—by inherited title to that position. Monarchs are almost entirely figureheads in the Western world. If we were to abolish any remaining powers and income to them from taxation, and return or equitably disperse any wealth founded on expropriations, then they would be completely depoliticised and there is no reason that they could not remain purely as traditional figureheads for those who wish to regard them as such. Any titles they might confer, or sell, would not proactively impose on anyone; nor would any money they might earn from tourism, which would surely be a source of profit for others as well. Nevertheless, while politics exists, a figurehead monarch as a head of state can offer a very useful check to the status and power of the government of the day.

Although a literal monarchy might well do less damage than a so-called democracy, and much less damage than a real democracy, it seems perverse to argue for one, as some paleolibertarians have done, rather than for full libertarian anarchy.

So what exactly are the real political systems in the UK and the USA?

UK political system

Officially, the United Kingdom is a ‘constitutional monarchy’, with a ‘democratic’ constitution. But the monarch’s power is little more than nominal compared to that of the elected oligarchs’ (though this power might revive if the monarch were ever to challenge an unpopular regime: all state military swear loyalty to the monarch, not the government). And so it might be more accurate to say that the UK is a ‘constitutional, elected oligarchy with a hereditary, figurehead monarchy’.

USA political system

Originally the United States of America saw itself as a federal constitutional republic. But the president is practically an elected monarch, albeit that he is constrained by the elected oligarchs. He is somewhat like a feudal king with powerful barons that need to be appeased. The president is far more powerful than most so-called monarchs in the modern world, who have next to no power by comparison. So the US is more like a constitutional, elected monarchy plus elected oligarchy, with appointed Supreme Court.

So where does the ordinary subject fit into these systems?


Voting in voluntary organizations or associations is a legitimate way of making decisions if that is what the participants agree to do; although there is no moral principle that makes voting the right way to make decisions. Political voting is a different matter. One thereby helps to legitimise the state, which is why the state allows and encourages voting. As the state is a criminal organization, it is prima facie immoral to vote in its elections (which makes a fair political voting system in principle impossible). But one might sometimes overcome that immorality by voting for the most libertarian candidate.

However, considered individually, political voting generally is a complete waste of time at best. The statistical chances of one’s vote making any difference at all to how the oligarchs ‘run the country’ are fantastically smaller than one’s chance of being both struck by lightning and winning the lottery while on the way to the polling station. And even if one personally had the final say on the winning political party, parties treat their own rag-bag manifesti as entirely non-binding general intentions or promises. It does count for something, though, that the oligarchs can be collectively removed if they appear too bad. That at least avoids the sort of violent conflict we have recently seen in Syria, Egypt, and Libya.

Such electoral reforms as proportional representation would hardly make any difference to this. And proportional representation may well undermine even the little stability and direction in rule that the first-past-the-post electoral system achieves. However, any electoral reforms might still be desirable if they could somehow curtail enormous tax-extortion being transferred from some areas of the country to others.

Why do people vote? It seems to be some combination of poor mathematics, a misplaced sense of duty, and the equivalent of cheering on one’s preferred team at a sports event. Attaining an individual political vote is objectively worthless; the idea that something so useless can be ‘wasted’ is absurd. And so apathy would seem to be entirely rational (i.e., prudent).


Politicians often complain about apathy among the public as regards politics, and say that ‘democracy’ needs people to take more interest. As a result, they sometimes suggest that voting ought to be made compulsory; which would be another small loss of liberty for people. The politicians’ complaint about apathy is not made because they want the public to control things democratically, but because they know that their own legitimacy and status as elected oligarchs rests on this very feeble sort of political participation. That so many of the public cannot even be bothered to vote shows just how far away they are from wanting any serious political participation—but that is not what the oligarchs are seeking. Nevertheless, the politicians are strictly right when they cite public apathy as a problem with politics. For what is required of the public to improve matters is active antipathy. Only antipathy can hope to restrict political power and thereby increase human liberty and welfare. However, antipathy will not work well if it is based on mere cynicism. The public have to realise that liberty is moral and productive while politics is immoral and destructive. And this brings us to the alternative to politics of any kind.


Both etymologically and in political theory, anarchy means ‘no rule’ in the sense of no proactively imposed control by a state in any form; and it is to be contrasted with the various forms of state rule—oligarchy, monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, etc. Anarchy does not mean no rules, or no law (that is anomy, or anomie), or no order (that is chaos). Libertarian anarchists are fully in favour of anarchic rules, law, and order instead of the state’s versions of these (the gross inefficiencies of which do cause them to approach chaos to varying degrees).

Statists confuse themselves if they use ‘anarchy’ to mean chaos or the absence of rules, order, and law, and then think that these are reasons to reject what libertarian anarchists are advocating. However, even if these matters can be clarified—for the ideas of ‘anarchic order’ and ‘anarchic law’ appear too oxymoronic for many statists to consider seriously—the strong prejudice remains that ‘someone must run the country’.

Where it has had any press at all, anarchy has had a bad one. Apart from the confusions just mentioned, in recent years this is largely due to activities of so-called anarchists—who are really very confused anti-capitalists—that have been occupying, stealing, and rioting against inequality, big business, and high finance. Only private-property anarchy is practical anarchy. There is no way that any kind of socialist anarchy could exist on a large scale, rather than in small communes, because voluntary market transactions and capital accumulation are needed for advanced production and will always occur unless forcibly suppressed (which in practice requires a state and so is not anarchic; not that such a state could last long as complete economic breakdown would quickly ensue). All that libertarian anarchy requires is that the state be rolled back until there is no state left.

Should libertarian anarchists abandon the word ‘anarchy’ because of the pejorative confusions? No: they really are anarchists and will eventually be revealed as such if they try to pretend otherwise. And the confusions are even a useful and interesting excuse to explain libertarian anarchy. Is it not obvious that libertarian anarchists have no influence at all in the real world? No: that the world is not yet fully anarchic anywhere does not show that libertarian anarchists are without good influence any more than that the world is not ever going to be Marxian socialist anywhere shows that Marxists have no bad influence. And ‘extremists’ can cause the perceived middle ground to move—indefinitely far, with time.

More-or-less anarchist societies have most famously included, for hundreds of years, ancient Iceland and Ireland. States eventually grew in these by combinations of error and conquest rather than any inherent instability or weakness with anarchy. Somalia is a recent, if more contentious and less impressive, example: better off than when it had a functioning government and even still improving relative to other African countries under state rule. But that Somalia has a continuing political ‘civil war’ means that it is far from fully anarchist. As there has never been a world government, anarchy has always existed, and without war in most places, among all the states of the world. Therefore, anarchy is extremely robust and far from inevitably bellicose even while these dangerous criminal organizations (states) do exist. Anarchy might also be said to exist in every area of life in which the state does not intervene: in the interstices of state commands. So what of anarchic law?

Anarchic Law

Any system of enforceable rules would seem to be a kind of ‘law’ as the word is normally used. It is not necessary that these rules be just, otherwise we would have to accept the implausible view that an ‘unjust law’ is a contradiction in terms. So it would be perverse to deny that state law is a form of law. However, 1) the state did not originate law, 2) the state does not maintain law, and 3) the state’s fundamental purpose for its law is not the protection of persons and their property from aggressive invasion. I shall elaborate a little on these three points.

1) Like language, money, and markets, law originates and evolves anarchically to form a spontaneous order. All societies require enforceable rules and they will find ways to implement these, both in stateless primitive societies and in stateless advanced ones; such as historical Ireland and Iceland. The state has rarely, if ever, imposed law on previously lawless societies. It has, rather, politicized any existing legal system for its own purposes. 2) The state has merely to depoliticise the legal system for a society to revert to full anarchic law. Even as it is, much law in the form of enforceable arbitrations already exists outside the state. 3) The anarchic function of law as a service is specifically to protect persons and their property from aggression. The purpose of state law is specifically to subvert this protective purpose in order to allow the state to proactively impose in the interests of itself and its supporters. A ‘state’ that merely protected persons and their property would not be a state. It would be a private protection agency: a business like any other.

Thus we see that accepting state law means accepting the command theory of law, sometimes known as the ‘big stick’ theory: you will do what I say because I have a big stick and will hit you if you don’t. So it’s easy to see why many libertarians view state legislation as a perversion of real law, just as state currency is a perversion of real money.

Criticisms of Anarchic Law

The main criticisms of the idea that there could be efficient private law include the following three: 1) the rich would simply buy the rules that suited them to oppress the rest of the population, and thereby become a state; 2) private protection agencies would use aggressive force on behalf of their clients, or simply compete in the market, until only one is dominant, which then becomes a state; or 3) all private protection agencies must agree to a common higher agency to adjudicate disputes, which higher agency then becomes a state.

Outlines of answers to these criticisms include the following three points. 1) The rich collectively do not have enough money to outbid the rest of the population. Further, given a libertarian culture, any rogue agency would simply be regarded as criminal and dealt with as such by all the other agencies. 2) Aggressive force is much too expensive and risky for a business to engage in. And there is no more reason to think that competition will result in a monopoly protection agency than that it would result in a monopoly bank. Even if it were to do so, an agency that genuinely protected persons and their property for a voluntary payment would not itself be a state any more than any other monopoly business would be. 3) In order to avoid costly conflict, it is entirely likely that competing agencies would agree on an agency to adjudicate disputes. However, these only need to be bilateral agreements, for the most part, and so there can be any number of such agencies. And, again, even in the unlikely event that a single one would be chosen by all, it would not itself be a state or engage in any aspect of aggression.

Strategy Conclusion

I conclude, then, that it is not good long-term libertarian propaganda to argue for various alternative systems of politics, or incremental political changes, on the basis that they are somewhat better than what we have now and they are more easily achievable than radical libertarianism. For such a strategy can only waste endless time in endless compromise, while failing to explain properly the libertarian alternative and thereby making converts. It is far better to argue immediately and always for the radical libertarian option.


Jan is the author of Escape from Leviathan and Arguments for Liberty.