How to Fight For Liberty, Part Seven – Decentralisation and Secession


How to Fight For Liberty, Part Seven – Decentralisation and Secession

By Duncan Whitmore

In the six, previous parts of this series of essays, we have considered a wide range of factors relevant to our attempts to devise a successful libertarian political strategy. In Part One, we explained the difference between libertarian theory and libertarian political activism, and how each was a somewhat separate endeavour that required its own, specialist attention. In Part Two, we looked in detail at the nature and ambitions of the enemies of liberty so as to gain a better understanding of how we should confront them. Part Three demolished some of the obstacles that are often cited as roadblocks towards achieving a freer world, concluding that the task ahead of us is squarely one of motivating people away from social structures such as the state – the power of which is sustained not by guns and gallows but by the perception of its legitimacy. In Parts Four and Five, we assessed the value of radicalism and of conservatism to the libertarian movement, before concluding that our approach requires a synthesis of the two: radical through our uncompromising rejection of state power, but conservative through our efforts to achieve this rejection from the bottom-up rather than imposed from the top-down. Part Six, the most recent instalment, elaborated on the necessity of this bottom-up approach.

In this seventh part, I wish to come full circle by crystallising all of this analysis into a particular concrete component of a political strategy that we first mentioned in Part One: decentralisation. While, at the conclusion of Part Six, I stated that this would be the final part, I will make some concluding remarks in an epilogue subsequent to this instalment.

Decentralisation and Liberty

It cannot be repeated often enough that the primary element in any libertarian strategy must be an uncompromising commitment to the decentralisation and the de-homogenisation of power. This is true almost by definition: the libertarian ideal of every person having complete self-ownership over his body and the property that he has either homesteaded or received in voluntary transaction is itself the ultimate form of decentralisation of decision making power to each and every individual. Thus, anything that moves us away from a greater concentration of power towards its dispersal and diffusion is likely to be a boon for liberty, while, conversely, anything that reverses this process will put us on the path to despotism.

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Finding the State’s Achilles’ Heel


Finding the State’s Achilles’ Heel

By Duncan Whitmore

One of the consequences of the state’s insidious corruption of truth and knowledge – and, thus, a stumbling block in our efforts to make sense of the world – is the failure to identify relevant causes.

Causation is a difficult subject in both the natural and social sciences. For any one event there are thousands of preceding events that could be labelled as possible causes. Take, for instance, the falling of an apple from a tree so that it hits the ground. This would not have occurred without the ripening of the apple, the onset of summer, the watering of the tree, the planting of the tree, nor without the fertility of the soil. Technically, the creation of the universe is a cause of absolutely everything that has ever happened. But which of these, if we wish to understand the event, should be regarded as the relevant cause, the one from which we could truly deduce the existence of a relationship of cause and effect? Such difficulty can be compounded when there are multiple relevant causes, as is often the case with transportation accidents such as plane and train crashes – an unthinkable, but lethal combination of circumstances that unite to produce a catastrophic effect.

For humans, our understanding of cause and effect is praxeological, i.e. is intimately connected to our role as actors. Whenever we investigate causation, our primary interest is in what we would want to do in order to divert the course of history towards either bringing about or preventing a given event, and how such actions would affect the satisfaction of all of our ends with available means. As such, the identity of a relevant cause is heavily tied to the costs and benefits of a given action.

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How to Fight for Liberty, Part Three – Inspiration and Motivation


How to Fight for Liberty, Part Three – Inspiration and Motivation

By Duncan Whitmore

“From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.”  

                   – Étienne de la Boétie1

In this third part of our continuing series on how to fight for liberty, we will build on our conclusion in Part Two that liberty depends primarily on people being motivated to reduce systematised forms of physical enforcement (i.e. the state), and to turn instead towards systematised forms of voluntary co-operation. Our task here is to try and orient ourselves onto this factor as the focus of a political strategy.

One of the questions that any advocate of a free society is asked time and time again is “how can a free society work?” What the enquirer wishes to know is, absent the state, which institutions will guarantee law and order, how will they be sustained, and how will we know that they will succeed? Often implicit, of course, is the presumption that a free society is a hopelessly impossible experiment doomed to failure – a presumption that is usually deemed to be confirmed if, no matter how good his argument otherwise, the libertarian is unable to furnish a satisfactory answer to a just a single part of this enquiry.

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What Libertarianism Is…


…and What it Must Do

 By Duncan Whitmore

Anyone who has taken the time to study in depth the wealth of scholarly literature of Austro-libertarianism cannot help but be enthralled by the intellectual treasures provided by our school of thought. Not only have we uncovered a body of knowledge which – especially in comparison to mainstream social science – is rigorous, scientific, coherent and interdisciplinary, but, as the true successors of classical liberalism, we have an inspiring vision of the future that can sweep away war, conflict, strife and poverty while propelling the human race to unheard of heights of peace and prosperity. Indeed, for many of us Austro-libertarianism has been the most joyous and rewarding discovery of our lives, providing a sheltered harbour in a world which would otherwise leave us adrift in a sea of chaos.

Unfortunately, we are forced to admit that the intellectual accomplishments of Austro-libertarians are disproportionate to our achievements in effecting real world change which, by comparison, are almost miniscule. Although most forms of direct socialism have been discredited by the disaster that was the Soviet Union, we are today living in a world of unprecedented state power which the majority of the population, buoyed by a sense of control instilled by their occasional visits to the ballot box, views as entirely legitimate. It is bad enough that the modern nation state has accreted to itself power and functions that ancient kings and emperors could only dream of; but we are confronted also by a pervasive attitude that any difficulty, problem, error, injustice or whatever that life may choose to throw at us – including our own personal foibles and failings – is always the state’s responsibility to solve. The problems of paper money, the welfare state, boom and bust, public “education”, crippling regulation, disastrous overseas wars and all of the other ills bred by the state are not going to be vanquished when the majority of the public regards this institution as the magic carpet that will whisk us all away to the land of milk and honey. Continue reading

Libertarian Law and Legal Systems Part Two – Self-Ownership and Original Appropriation


Libertarian Law and Legal Systems Part Two – Self-Ownership and Original Appropriation

By Duncan Whitmore

In part one of this five-part series we outlined some preliminary considerations concerning how a libertarian legal system might unfold and develop. We are now in a position to begin exploring the causative events of legal liability in a legal order governed by libertarian prescription.

Prior to considering any specific area of the law such as tort or contract we must explore the ways in which a libertarian legal system will recognise and enforce self-ownership and also the original appropriation of previously ownerless goods.

Technically speaking, the latter topic at least could be covered as part of the law of consent. This concerns the moral imperative that a person should only be liable for the actions that he has undertaken as a voluntary agent – i.e. through his own choice and volition. Both self-ownership and titles over goods allow their owner to not only enjoy the productive services flowing from his body and external goods, but equally and oppositely they burden him with the responsibility of ensuring that, through his actions, those goods do not physically interfere with the person and property of anybody else. Indeed, although law, as understood by libertarians, responds to actions rather than to ownership per se, there is likely to be at least prima facie liability of the owner of property if that property is found to have physically interfered with the person or property of somebody else. Thus, in the same way that it is unjust to physically interfere with someone else’s property, so too is it unjust to hold someone responsible for property that he has not voluntarily asserted control over through his actions. Continue reading

Libertarian Law and Legal Systems Part One – What is Libertarian Law?


Libertarian Law and Legal Systems Part One – What is Libertarian Law?

By Duncan Whitmore

One of the more fascinating but less discussed areas of libertarian theory is how law and legal systems will operate in a libertarian society. To complete such a survey in its entirety would, no doubt, take a lifetime of study and authorship of one or several treatise-length works. We shall, therefore, be placing a very necessary limit to the scope of this survey by concentrating on where, why and how legal liability would arise in a libertarian society – in other words, our primary question will be what are the causative events that trigger legal liability in a libertarian society, and how will legal bodies develop and apply the law in accordance with libertarian principles? We will not be exploring in too much detail the further questions of legal responses to liability such as punishment, retribution, restitution and so on, nor will we be looking into the question of how competing police and civil or criminal court systems might operate (except, as we shall see below, to contrast them to state-based legislative law-making systems). Even though the treatment of the topic of liability alone will still contain many omissions and areas requiring expansion with more detail, we hope to lay the foundations of how libertarian law might operate.

This first part of this five-part series will examine what law is from a libertarian perspective, how different areas of the law can be categorised, and how legal principles will arise in a libertarian society. Part Two will investigate how libertarian legal systems will recognise self-ownership and the original appropriation of ownerless goods. Parts three and four will explore the laws of consent and of crimes/torts respectively while part five will deal with some miscellaneous but nevertheless significant considerations. Continue reading

Is Libertarianism Utopian?


Libertarianism – and any political position that leans towards a greater degree of freedom from the state – is opposed both ethically and economically on a number of substantive grounds. The proposition that without the state we would have inequality, destitution for the masses, rampant greed, and so on is a familiar charge which attempts to point out that libertarianism is undesirable and/or unjustifiable.

A further point of opposition is that libertarianism and the drive towards it is simply utopian or idealistic, and that libertarians are hopeless day dreamers, lacking any awareness of how the world “really” works. In other words, that, regardless of whether it may be desirable, some combination of one or more of impossibility, improbability or the simple unwillingness of anyone to embrace the libertarian ideal renders libertarianism either wholly or primarily unachievable. It is this specific objection that we will address in this essay.

Let us first of all recount the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, which states that no one may initiate any physical incursion against your body or your property without your consent. From this we can state that the goal of the libertarian project, broadly, is a world of minimised violence and aggression. Consequently, the questions we have to answer is whether a world of minimised violence and aggression is unachievable and, hence, utopian. Continue reading