Part 1: Defensive Authoritarianism
In this series of posts, I am going to try to explain my thoughts on these discussions regarding “post-libertarianism” as well as my own ideas for solutions, a pragmatic case for being principled, and thus why I think that it is important to have consistent answers on these matters. Some say that they do not like the word “post-libertarian”, but I think it might be a fine way to describe my thoughts, but not because I reject the non-aggression principle. I hope to explain that very little of the ideology called “libertarianism” needs to be reconsidered. My issue is that I have always thought it was strange that the non-aggression principle is the fundamental premise of libertarianism. It is strange that liberty is defined by what one is not allowed to do. Indeed, when I read how anarcho-capitalists imagine a stateless society would function, it is clear that one person's freedom would end where other people and their property begin. Such a society would effectively be governed by landlords and contractual obligations and would be no less authoritarian and hierarchical than any which exist now. I do not think I am the only one who understands this, but it seems no one says it so clearly. With this realization, it is easy to question what the meaningful difference is between such private property absolutism and a monarchical state. I try to answer that question in the second post of this series.
I think an arrangement like this might be better called "archo-capitalism" as power would be held by private organizations and the functions of government would be goods produced in the market. If this can be described as anarchy, then I would say it is only Lincolnian anarchism, meaning anarchism only to the extent that Abraham Lincoln was correct when he said, “secession is the essence of anarchy”. Powerful governing institutions should not necessarily be abolished, but rather people should be able to peacefully end their association with them. When someone says that people do not want to be free and the state exists because people demand it exists, I do not see that as a problem at all. Anything worth doing which can be done with aggression can be done without. If this were not so, then no one would have thought the non-aggression principle could be the the principle underlying libertarianism, as not being allowed to commit aggression would be an excessive restraint on one’s liberty. The non-aggression principle is not a tiny box restraining people from taking action needed to solve the problems of this time, as many have said, rather it is only a tiny box around the set of simple and obvious aggressive actions and leaves one free to consider any peaceful, just, and civilized action which requires creativity, long-term planning, and delayed gratification and, thus, would not have been thought of otherwise. Of course, if you are not trying to invent and implement such solutions, then it would be better if you put aside libertarianism. This debate often consists of two sides which both agree that this principle prevents success. One side says this is why the principle should be abandoned, the other disagrees. I think both are wrong, but the former is less so.
It seems like someone who calls himself a libertarian or an anarchist would have a problem with this, but I never thought it would necessarily be a bad thing. I never thought unlimited freedom was the goal. It is not possible, even theoretically, to be completely free. People’s freedom will always be restrained by many different things. As long as people interact with others, they will restrain each other’s freedom in some way or another. The only ways for people to be totally free from others are either for everyone to be completely equal so that no one has more power than others, which is collectivism, or for all people to be totally isolated from each other so that they do not affect each other, which is individualism. Neither is possible or desirable. I became convinced that the non-aggression principle is generally the most just, peaceful, and civilized way for people’s freedom to be restricted. This principle will never be perfectly followed in practice, but it should be a general guide. A non-aggressive means should always be preferred to an aggressive one which achieves the same end.
I think the reason for all the confusion in these discussions is the conflation of the ideas of liberty with non-aggression. The only problem with libertarianism might be that it is misnamed. “Libertarian” sounds like it might describe someone who opposes government coercion because it restrains people’s liberty and would also oppose other restraints such as those resulting from other people exercising their private property rights. “Post-libertarian” seems like it might describe someone who opposes government coercion because it violates property rights and those are more important than people being able to do whatever they want. I might say that post-libertarianism started when Ludwig von Mises said that his version of liberalism could be described with only the word “property”. I might say that the idea that liberty is valuable in and of itself is leftist. Indeed, the first to call themselves “libertarian” were communists. Non-aggression, on the other hand, could also be called peace or order and is right-wing. This contradiction may be why libertarianism has been unsuccessful and those who believe in the NAP have been unable to acquire and hold on to power in ways consistent with it. The libertarian aspect of an ideology of private property is entirely negative in that it only criticizes the existing powers and rarely articulates what would take their place.
When one is completely honest that private property is authoritarian, it is easier to see that it can be abusive, as in the case of private dug mandates. It is not necessarily true that the market will solve every problem if governments would just get out of the way. The market consists of people acting and making use of their property for various ends. The wealthiest people with the most property have the most power and there is a great extent to which they can influence consumer preferences and decide what goods are produced beyond basic needs. Consent can be manufactured. No actions, including peaceful ones, are neutral. It is better that good people have the most wealth, property, and control over powerful institutions and use those for good purposes. This is not to say that violating the property rights of people who may be bad is justified, although it may be the only realistic short-term option in many cases, but this is to say that the struggle for wealth is a struggle for power and that it is better that good people win.
Realizing these things, it becomes clear that the difference between the present condition and “anarchy'“ is not so huge. Existing governments do not need to be abolished or radically reduced. All that needs to change is for people to be allowed to secede or opt-out from them. Instead of trying to deconstruct the prison brick-by-brick, only the door needs to be unlocked. If this were to happen, a government would be a voluntary association and, as such, could do what it wants. It could enact unlibertarian policies and it would not be engaging in aggression, as only people who consent would be subject to them. If the government does not want people to secede, it should make sure that the costs and prohibitions it imposes are tolerable and that the benefits it provides are so great that people will not want to lose them. If the rather small change of allowing secession is all that is needed for any unlibertarian government policy (besides war) to not be aggressive, then perhaps, even without that change, there is no reason to oppose to every policy on principle and one should instead judge them on whether they are effective at achieving good ends. Supporting unlibertarian government policies does not hinder the cause of secession but might do the opposite. If one side of the debate supports big government and the other supports small government, as Republicans have in their rhetoric if not action, then the result is government growing slowly. If the two sides want different kinds of big government, then the obvious question is how that conflict can be resolved.
To further make this point, government actions are obviously attempts to produce goods which people demand. If this were not true, no one would tolerate them. Earlier, I wrote that archo-capitalism is when the functions of government are goods produced in the market. States do not produce goods in the market and by respecting private property. Instead, the means they use could be described as socialist. I have often seen people mocking libertarians for saying that every government policy is socialism. At first this seems to make sense. Socialism is a specific thing and not every un-libertarian policy can be described as such. However, if every government action were thought of as the production of an economic good, then it might make sense to say that it is better described as socialist production rather than capitalist production. The absence of private drug mandates is an economic good I and many others demand. A prohibition on those mandates is a socialist means of producing that good. This means the good might be of low quality, high cost, inappropriate quantity, and people’s property rights will not be respected, but it will be produced. On the other hand, not banning the mandates is not capitalism; it is simply not producing the good. If I were put in charge of managing the economy of a socialist state, I would privatize the state-owned farms, but if that were not an option, I would certainly not command them to stop producing food simply because socialism is against my principles. Until a purely capitalist means of stopping these mandates exist, I do not see a huge problem with state and local governments banning them. Of all the civilization-destroying actions states and their cronies commit, this would not be worth mentioning.
In any case, there is a rather obvious way to resolve the debate occurring among libertarians and those questioning or rejecting libertarianism. If someone who believes in the non-aggression principle were to gain control of a state or local government, his goal should be to use that government to produce goods with capitalist means, meaning without violating property rights. Compared to the federal government, state and local governments are always more capitalist in that it is easier for people to leave a smaller polity and move to another one, meaning people are more able to exercise their ownership of their own bodies and any other moveable property in response to the policies of those governments. If someone in control of a government wanted to enact un-libertarian policies, such as banning private drug mandates, which are effective at achieving various ends but without violating property rights, he would only need to create ways for people to opt-out from his rule. This way, the government would produce goods with purely capitalist means. If someone were to violate government prohibitions on anything other than aggressive acts, this would not be a crime, but rather a terms of service violation and the only punishment would be being denied the benefits the government provides. The simplest way to do this is for a government to force violators to leave its territory instead of imprisoning them, or perhaps allowing them to leave prison as long as they leave the territory. The government would act as a landlord which claims ownership of its territory and has the right to evict tenants who do not follow its rules. Obviously, this would still be aggression because governments are not the legitimate owners of their territories, but by doing this instead of imprisonment, a government would totally respect people’s ownership of their bodies and would announce that it does not have the right to imprison people who have not directly harmed others. This change would allow people who recognize the evils of the state to use its power to achieve their ends while also not victimizing people as severely as they would otherwise. If a government could be made into a voluntary association which could do what it wants, then there would be nothing wrong with the faction in control rewarding allies, punishing enemies, and using any Machiavellian means to hold onto power.
The only way what I propose here might conflict with usual libertarian anarchist thought is that it would mean treating governments and their property as legitimate. I think this is justified because the world's history of conquest makes it impossible to truly decide who the just owner of any property is. The only thing a person can be said to justly own with absolute certainty is his own body. Even if all people in the world became Rothbardians and agreed to privatize everything, they would not be able to give reparations to all people who have ever been victimized. If one’s thinking is to be even remotely realistic, he would have to say that people would have to be allowed to own property which were not acquired in ways totally justified according to libertarian principles. secondly, most people are not anarchists, they more or less consent to the state and participate in it, so it is more difficult to say they are victims. For these reasons, I do not think it is absurd to say that at least some government property could be treated as legitimate and defended with force.
If secession and changing existing governments so that they are closer to being voluntary associations were the goal, then libertarian messaging might be far more compelling. Many people would agree with libertarians about the criminality of the people in power, but they do not want anarchy or extremely limited government. They might want smaller government than what exists now, but they want government which is effective at achieving specific purposes. Most people do not see every government action as aggression. A better way to frame the issue is to ask what would happen if a community were to do something as obviously reasonable as secede from a government such that they would neither benefit from nor be burdened by that government, as well as give up the ability to vote and hold office in it. Judging by what happened the last time states in the United States tried to secede, the federal government would wage total war against it and the president at the time would be worshiped as a god. It might be much easier to get people to see that as aggression than the usual everyday actions of governments. This way, it might be easy to show that a democratic state which does not allow secession is a constant condition of both war and slavery as various factions struggle for power and no one wins except the corrupt elites. Simply the idea of secession becoming popular might be enough to force a government to change its most destructive actions. Perhaps a secession movement should issue a declaration of grievances stating what would need to change in order for the secessionists to be willing to remain in the union, listing things such as foreign policy, monetary policy, and what the federal government and its cronies have done to food and medicine, of which the pandemic regime is only the latest offense. On the other hand, the federal government’s historical response to secession would indicate that openly advocating for it or attempting it would be extremely dangerous. It would probably be better for state and local governments to attempt nullification and move towards informal secession in less overt ways, probably by first securing economic independence.