Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Scrap Of Pragmatarian History

Inspired by David Friedman's post... A Scrap of Libertarian History... I decided to share a scrap of anarcho-capitalist, libertarian and pragmatarian history.

Seven years ago I was still pretty much a libertarian.  When I happened to check out the Wikipedia page for Libertarianism... I was really not happy with what I saw.  Here's what I wrote on the Talk page...

Strongly agree! "others striving for complete abolition of the state" Holy crap! Don't say "others" say..."one guy who wrote a book". It's completely ignorant to even mention it at all, especially in the first paragraph. Libertarianism is based on the simple concept that the freedom to swing your fist ends where somebody else's nose begins. If you punch somebody in the nose...then what? If you can get away with it then you have anarchism but if you're punished then you have libertarianism. Obviously you need some form of government in order to enforce that rule. The first paragraph was so completely off base and misleading that I replaced it with a quick substitute in the meantime. 97.93.109.174 (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 22:46, 15 July 2010 (UTC).

What did I know about anarcho-capitalism?  Not much!  But I was sure that anarcho-anything really did not sit well with me and I endeavored to try and fix the page on libertarianism.  Of course the an-caps weren't really happy with my efforts to kick them off the page.

One of the an-caps went to my talk page and tried to school me...

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Libertarianism is based on the simple concept that the freedom to swing your fist ends where somebody else's nose begins. If you punch somebody in the nose...then what? If you can get away with it then you have anarchism but if you're punished then you have libertarianism. Obviously you need some form of government in order to enforce that rule.

'Obviously'? Have you studied the issue? For a thousand years, then, ancient Celtic Ireland had no State or anything like it. As the leading authority on ancient Irish law has written: “There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice.... There was no trace of State-administered justice.”[Joseph R. Pedea] For a New Liberty: A Libertarian Manifesto, Rothbard

For reference...see http://www.DownsizingGovernment.org/ Notice the website name? It's not called AbolishingGovernment.org

There are many billion websites on the internet. For example, http://www.abolishgovernment.com/

Wow. I just looked through some of the discussion on this page...you should be nominated for sainthood. Are you an elementary school teacher? Or do you work with the mentally challenged?

Is this civilized discussion?

...if we were any good at collective action the anarchists wouldn't be peeing all over our page.

'Peeing'? And what is 'our' page? You say you used 'your' because you call yourself a Libertarian. How do you know that others (your 'antagonists') don't? And wouldn't this 'bias' the page?

Anarchism...murder, mayham, rape, pillage, plunder, etc.

Have you studied the issue? How can you claim this? Common Sense may mislead! I suggest, and hope, that you will read more about Anarchism, specially why the proponents say it will work. In particular, if individuals have right to defend themselves, all that you name will (probably) not happen. Check this: http://flag.blackened.net/ Concerning Libertarianism, [Don B.] Kates makes another intriguing point: that a society where peaceful citizens are armed is far more likely to be one where Good Samaritans who voluntarily go to the aid of victims of crime will flourish. But take away people’s guns, and the public—disastrously for the victims—will tend to leave the matter to the police. Before New York State outlawed handguns, Good Samaritan instances were far more widespread than now. And, in a recent survey of Good Samaritan cases no less than 81% of the Samaritans were owners of guns. If we wish to encourage a society where citizens come to the aid of neighbors in distress, we must not strip them of the actual power to do something about crime. Surely, it is the height of absurdity to disarm the peaceful public and then, as is quite common, to denounce them for “apathy” for failing to rush to the rescue of victims of criminal assault. (from the Rothbard's book named earlier)

Wait...I thought our secret plan was to copy ...

This in not 'your' page.

Do us all a favor and focus your energies on editing the page on Anarchism.

Talk only for yourself, not us all.

You are an Anarchist vandalizing a page on modern Libertarianism.

The use of 'vandalizing' is bad. At least she is civil, while you are raging with some holy anger. Besides, see the next comment (here).

You and others have been completely reasonable with her for a really really long time but the line has to be drawn somewhere.

Are you trying to frighten her? And a logical error: if the behavior is 'reasonable', how is it wrong?
I suggest two things here (which you are free to not accept): form an opinion only after studying the issues, and be civilized in talking.

—Preceding unsigned comment added by N6n (talk • contribs) 05:04, 23 July 2010 (UTC)


  • Celtic Ireland? Talk about regressive. Give everybody guns and we'll be living in a spaghetti western where justice is administered by a posse. In the Army I carried big guns around all the time and it's not nearly as fun as it sounds. Self-actualization should not be dependent on how well you shoot.
  • Rothbard holds an extreme point of view that should not be given any weight on the page on Libertarianism.
  • Yes, there are a billion websites on the internet and the problem with you and CarolMooreDC is that both of you would give equal weight to both of those websites. However, only one of those websites is run by the fifth most influential think tank in the world.
  • No, I wasn't trying to frighten her. And the logical error was yours for not realizing whose behavior I was calling "reasonable".
  • I understand both sides of the issue and have shared my thoughts in a civilized manner in this section... Talk:Libertarianism#Common_Ground 
  • --97.93.109.174 (talk) 21:39, 23 July 2010 (UTC)


Hello, I suppose guns were not restricted when the US gained independence. Anyway, the outlaws heed no gun-control laws, so, in effect, only the law-abiding people are deprived of guns. Do you know that 80% of the murders committed on the street go unpunished? [1] Perhaps lesser stranger-crimes will happen if the would-be criminal would expect a potential victim to be armed. (And I've heard that the 'Western' is a myth, the real life was not like what the Hollywood portraits.)
Anyway, gun-control is just one issue. What about the ever-expanding bureaucracy (for example, the IRS), wars half-way around the world, unchecked printing of paper-money, huge public debt, government spying, etc. If it looks possible to live without a government, we ought to look into it. N6n (talk) 12:34, 24 July 2010 (UTC)

Libertarianism is of course against gun control...so you're preaching to the choir. However, I lived in Afghanistan for a year and tribalism is the natural consequence of Rothbard's idea of completely getting rid of the state. Tribal warfare is inevitable because the grass is always greener on the other side. A state has to exist with enough power to enforce laws and protect people from the largest and strongest organizations and countries. So at a very minimum you need an army, police, courts and prisons. --97.93.109.174 (talk) 21:56, 25 July 2010 (UTC)


I agree with all your points about Afghanistan. But what is true for A. is not necessarily true for the US. Karl Popper's Open Society v. tribalism distinction is useful here. People in A. are loyal and subservient to their tribe, as far as my understanding goes. This is no basic for a republic, let alone anarchy. Change in consciousness does not happen overnight, the West has had 500 years of Enlightenment, give A. a couple of centuries too!

Rothbard's society will (probably) not be a return to tribalism. The powerful will not seize power, for there will be no power to seize. If you are concerned about couple of powerful people uniting and then forcing everyone else to serve their will, consider that (i)this will be very difficult (as free people will not agree to become subservient overnight), and that (ii)what stops the oligarchs in democracy(nothing, in my opinion).

And an earlier point: you said that Rothbard "holds an extreme point of view" and thus should not be given weight. Is being an "extremist" wrong per se? Quoting William Lloyd Garrison “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.” And allow me to point once again that you have not studied how such a society is supposed to work.
Are such stable and consistent law codes possible, with only competing judges to develop and apply them, and without government or legislature? Not only are they possible, but over the years the best and most successful parts of our legal system were developed precisely in this manner. Legislatures, as well as kings, have been capricious, invasive, and inconsistent. They have only introduced anomalies and despotism into the legal system. In fact, the government is no more qualified to develop and apply law than it is to provide any other service; and just as religion has been separated from the State, and the economy can be separated from the State, so can every other State function, including police, courts, and the law itself! 
As indicated above, for example, the entire law merchant was developed, not by the State or in State courts, but by private merchant courts. It was only much later that government took over mercantile law from its development in merchants’ courts. The same occurred with admiralty law, the entire structure of the law of the sea, shipping, salvages, etc. Here again, the State was not interested, and its jurisdiction did not apply to the high seas; so the shippers themselves took on the task of not only applying, but working out the whole structure of admiralty law in their own private courts. Again, it was only later that the government appropriated admiralty law into its own courts. 
Finally, the major body of Anglo-Saxon law, the justly celebrated common law, was developed over the centuries by competing judges applying time-honored principles rather than the shifting decrees of the State. These principles were not decided upon arbitrarily by any king or legislature; they grew up over centuries by applying rational—and very often libertarian—principles to the cases before them. The idea of following precedent was developed, not as a blind service to the past, but because all the judges of the past had made their decisions in applying the generally accepted common law principles to specific cases and problems. For it was universally held that the judge did not make law (as he often does today); the judge’s task, his expertise, was in finding the law in accepted common law principles, and then applying that law to specific cases or to new technological or institutional conditions. The glory of the centuries-long development of the common law is testimony to their success. [Rothbard, For a New Liberty: A Libertarian Manifesto]
N6n (talk) 03:37, 26 July 2010 (UTC)

The United States is composed of an incredibly diverse group of people. We have different races, different levels of education and wealth, different religions, different political views...we all coexist in relative stability not in spite of the state...but because of the state. Take away the state and people will reorganize themselves into tribes...or communities...that will invariably disagree over resources/ideology and conflict will ensue. Then what? Will one community pay for conflict resolution or will they pay for additional mercenaries to attack the other community? If a court consisting of volunteers finds one side in violation of the non-aggression axiom will a posse of volunteers saddle up to administer justice?

That Rothbard was willing to push the theoretical button that would have instantly eliminated the state is a testament to how fanatical he was. Is being "extremist" wrong? Well...that's not really the question. The question is whether his fanaticism has any relevance to modern Libertarianism...and the answer to that is a resounding no. He was an anarcho-capitalist who trusted that incentives exist for the private sector to provide every single public good. --97.93.109.174 (talk) 11:40, 26 July 2010 (UTC)

The critical idea here is that aligning yourself in such groups is “bad for business”. Businessmen are known to “betray” their countries by doing illegal business with their “enemies”, even during wars. (a notorious example: Rothschilds funding both British and French governments during the Napoleonic wars.) Besides, why what you envision does not play out on the inter-national level? Business! Rothbard says on a similar problem:
But what of personal, rather than strictly economic, “discrimination” by the landlord? Suppose, for example, that the landlord is a great admirer of six-foot Swedish-Americans, and decides to rent his apartments only to families of such a group. In the free society it would be fully in his right to do so, but he would clearly suffer a large monetary loss as a result. For this means that he would have to turn away tenant after tenant in an endless quest for very tall Swedish-Americans. While this may he considered an extreme example, the effect is exactly the same, though differing in degree, for any sort of personal discrimination in the marketplace. If, for example, the landlord dislikes redheads and determines not to rent his apartments to them, he will suffer losses, although not as severely as in the first example. In any case, anytime anyone practices such “discrimination” in the free market, he must bear the costs, either of losing profits or of losing services as a consumer. If a consumer decides to boycott goods sold by people he does not like, whether the dislike is justified or not, he then will go without goods or services which he otherwise would have purchased.[For a New Liberty] 
This would need that people care more for their profits than for building utopian societies. But that is so, and is it not what capitalism is most denounced about? It is businessmen (i.e., people as businessmen) that keep the rulers madness into check.

For a 'vision' of how things will proceed if the State collapses without preparation (the hypothetical button), check a novel by J. Neil Schulman-- Alongside Night. http://www.alongsidenight.net/ —Preceding unsigned comment added by N6n (talk • contribs) 13:26, 26 July 2010 (UTC)


How can you honestly support a model where everybody's behavior is determined by whether something was bad for business? Yes, if that were the case then maybe a stateless society might work. In our current society though, people are like kids that recognize the need for adult supervision. We elect representatives to look out for our best interests. The fundamental flaw in Rothbard's vision was he that totally assumed that just because he views the state as coercive...so must everybody else. They don't...they see it as a division of labor that allows them to worry about other things. They see it as the product of 500 years of "Enlightenment". For them taxes are not robbery...taxes are payment for the public goods and services that they use on a daily basis. Taking away the state would be tantamount to tyranny of the very very very small minority.

Before you can contemplate alternative structures to society...it's essential that you have a firm grasp on how and why our current structure works. A good starting place is the book Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. --97.93.109.174 (talk) 21:22, 26 July 2010 (UTC)

(i) Everything determined by "business": I don't say that everything will be kosher with a stateless society, but we only have to worry whether it will be better. Please read the third and fourth paragraph here: [2] (summary of Karl Popper's views on Open Society v. tribalism)

(ii) people are like kids that recognize the need for adult supervision: This description will fit most people I know too. But my primary responsibility is to myself.

(iii) they see it as a division of labor that allows them to worry about other things: Why stop here, clothes and shoes are also essential. Why should government not manufacture them? (if it can be shown that the market can take care of law and order) Imagine the argument a couple of centuries back (everywhere), or even now in fully tribal societies. Who would believe that clothes can be taken care of by the market, or that the market can supply a rich (and abundant) variety of goods. Wouldn't competing merchants cause chaos? Some rich merchant would buy all bales of cotton/milk produced, and nobody will have clothes in the winter!

(iv) For them taxes are not robbery...taxes are payment for the public goods and services that they use on a daily basis: This is wrong. All this a monarch would also claim. Besides, Rothbard [Ethics of Liberty]:

It would be an instructive exercise for the skeptical reader to try to frame a definition of taxation which does not also include theft. Like the robber, the State demands money at the equivalent of gunpoint; if the taxpayer refuses to pay his assets are seized by force, and if he should resist such depredation, he will be arrested or shot if he should continue to resist. It is true that State apologists maintain that taxation is "really" voluntary; one simple but instructive refutation of this claim is to ponder what would happen if the government were to abolish taxation, and to confine itself to simple requests for voluntary contributions.Does anyone really believe that anything comparable to the current vast revenues of the State would continue to pour into its coffers? It is likely that even those theorists who claim that punishment never deters action would balk at such a claim. 

(v) tyranny of the very very very small minority: Stateless society is the end of the road for decreasing State power. Voluntary exchange directly between people, the market, now manages to take care of much of societal needs. I think that a Stateless society, if possible, will be good. But, even if it isn't possible, it is well to keep that as an ideal. Read Thoreau's essay Civil Disobedience if you wish.

(vi) I will read the de Tocqueville book. N6n (talk) 04:14, 27 July 2010 (UTC)

When Rothbard claims that the state is a robber...how come so few people agree? Robbery is a pretty straightforward concept. How come there hasn't been a second American Revolution? The answer is simply that now we have representation. We elect representatives to decide how much taxes we should pay and what our taxes should be spent on...so it's absurd to claim that we are robbing ourselves.

Every society needs leaders. In Rothbard's society some people would want to log Yellowstone while others would want to turn it into a national park. Each group would have their own leaders so how would the dispute be settled? The Libertarian law wouldn't be relevant because it's entirely based on the non-aggression axiom.

Did you read the Open Society vs Tribalism document in its entirety? This passage by Burke was included. It's pretty decent as long as you notice the "not"s.

Society is indeed a contract. Subordinate contracts for objects of mere occasional interest may be dissolved at pleasure---but the state ought not to be considered as nothing better than a partnership agreement in a trade of pepper and coffee, calico or tobacco, or some other such low concern, to be taken up for a little temporary interest, and to be dissolved by the fancy of the parties. It is to be looked on with other reverence; because it is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature. It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born

Pure individualism or self-interest might result in Yellowstone being logged and/or developed...but part of the value of a government is in its ability to make decisions that won't screw over future generations. So rather than trying to get rid of the state...the goal should be improving the "partnership" aspect of the state. --97.93.109.174 (talk) 12:05, 27 July 2010 (UTC)


On what basis does the government decide what is best for future generations? It doesn't have a code external to the society itself--its values are the societal values. (Pure) Capitalism advocates would claim that if not for government restrictions(which facilitates monopoly, btw), the market would be fluid enough to make sure that societal wishes are followed. So, e.g., if the people of US do not want Yellowstone to be logged, they will show this by making decisions on the market which will affect the parties involved. (e.g., increase in entry cost to the National Park) The owner of Yellowstone would base his/her decision simply on whether using it as a recreational ground/ecological sanctuary is more profitable than logging it. This profit includes the owner's intangible but quantifiable moral values. (e.g., people paying more for green products.) Ludwig von Mises argues all this convincingly. I will post relevant quotes here when I next come across them. But right now, I have access to one from Rothbard:

This sort of argumentation reflects a general double standard of morality that is always applied to State rulers but not to anyone else. No one, for example, is surprised or horrified to learn that businessmen are seeking higher profits. No one is horrified if workers leave lower-paying for higher-paying jobs. All this is considered proper and normal behavior. ... What gives the gentlemen of the State apparatus their superior moral patina? [For a New Liberty]

Who decides how much Oil to produce? Why hasn't Oil been exhausted till now? Those supporting laissez faire claim that all that is good is due to autonomous-agents, and all that is bad is due to government's interference.

how come so few people agree: This is not at all difficult to explain. How about Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent. Rothbard [FaNL] has something relevant:

On the one hand, the stations, since they receive the licenses gratis, do not have to pay for the use of the scarce airwaves, as they would on the free market. And so these stations receive a huge subsidy, which they are eager to maintain. But on the other hand, the federal government, as the licensor of the airwaves, asserts the right and the power to regulate the stations minutely and continuously. Thus, over the head of each station is the club of the threat of nonrenewal, or even suspension, of its license. In consequence, the idea of freedom of speech in radio and television is no more than a mockery. Every station is grievously restricted, and forced to fashion its programming to the dictates of the Federal Communications Commission. So every station must have “balanced” programming, broadcast a certain amount of “public service” announcements, grant equal time to every political candidate for the same office and to expressions of political opinion, censor “controversial” lyrics in the records it plays, etc. For many years, no station was allowed to broadcast any editorial opinion at all; now, every opinion must be balanced by “responsible” editorial rebuttals.

Just to clarify, I won't press the hypothetical button. I first need to be sure that a Stateless society would be better (which I am not).
N6n (talk) 13:36, 27 July 2010 (UTC)

Pure individualism or self-interest might result in Yellowstone being logged and/or developed...but part of the value of a government is in its ability to make decisions that won't screw over future generations. (However) From Human Action, von Mises:
Carried through consistently, the right of property would entitle the proprietor to claim all the advantages which the good’s employment may generate on the one hand and would burden him with all the disadvantages resulting from its employment on the other hand. Then the proprietor alone would be fully responsible for the outcome. In dealing with his property he would take into account all the expected results of his action, those considered favorable as well as those considered unfavorable. But if some of the consequences of his action are outside of the sphere of the benefits he is entitled to reap and of the drawbacks that are put to his debit, he will not bother in his planning about all the effects of his action. He will disregard those benefits which do not increase his own satisfaction and those costs which do not burden him. His conduct will deviate from the line which it would have followed if the laws were better adjusted to the economic objectives of private ownership. He will embark upon certain projects only because the laws release him from responsibility for some of the costs incurred. He will abstain from other projects merely because the laws prevent him from harvesting all the advantages derivable. ... 
The extreme instance is provided by the case of no-man’s property referred to above.[9] If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is utilized without any regard to the disadvantages resulting. Those who are in a position to appropriate to themselves the returns—lumber and game of the forests, fish of the water areas, and mineral deposits of the subsoil—do not bother about the later effects of their mode of exploitation. For them the erosion of the soil, the depletion of the exhaustible resources and other impairments of the future utilization are external costs not entering into their calculation of input and output. They cut down the trees without any regard for fresh shoots or reforestation. In hunting and fishing they do not shrink from methods preventing the repopulation of the hunting and fishing grounds. In the early days of human civilization, when soil of a quality not inferior to that of the utilized pieces was still abundant, people did not find any fault with such predatory methods. When their effects appeared in a decrease in the net returns, the ploughman abandoned his farm and moved to another place. It was only when a country was more densely settled and unoccupied first class land was no longer available for appropriation, that people began to consider such predatory methods wasteful. At that time they consolidated the institution of private property in land. They started with arable land and then, step by step, included pastures, forests, and fisheries. The newly settled colonial countries overseas, especially the vast spaces of the United States, whose marvelous agricultural potentialities were almost untouched when the first colonists from Europe arrived, passed through the same stages. Until the last decades of the nineteenth century there was always a geographic zone open to newcomers—the frontier. Neither the existence of the frontier nor its passing was peculiar to America. What characterizes American conditions is the fact that at the time the frontier disappeared ideological and institutional factors impeded the adjustment of the methods of land utilization to the change in the data. 
In the central and western areas of continental Europe, where the institution of private property and been rigidly established for many centuries, things were different. There was no question of soil erosion of formerly cultivated land. There was no problem of forest devastation in spite of the fact that the domestic forests had been for ages the only source of lumber for construction and mining and of fuel for heating and for the foundries and furnaces, the potteries and the glass factories. The owners of the forests were impelled to conservation by their own selfish interests. In the most densely inhabited and industrialized areas up to a few years ago between a fifth and a third of the surface was still covered by first-class forests managed according to the methods of scientific forestry. [10] 
Footnote [10]: Late in the eighteenth century European governments began to enact laws aiming at forest conservation. However, it would be a serious blunder to ascribe to these laws any role in the conservation of the forests. Before the middle of the nineteenth century there was no administrative apparatus available for their enforcement. Besides the governments of Austria and Prussia, to say nothing of those of the smaller German states, virtually lacked the power to enforce to such laws against the aristocratic lords. No civil servant before 1914 would have been bold enough to rouse the anger of a Bohemian or Silesian magnate or a German mediatized standesheer. These princes and counts were spontaneously committed to forest conservation because they felt perfectly safe in the possession of their property and were eager to preserve unabated the source of their revenues and the market price of their estates.
N6n (talk) 15:32, 27 July 2010 (UTC)


You seem to be confusing anarchy with lawlessness and violence. Common, but wrong.

ANY society - democratic, communist, fascist, anarchy, religious dicatorship, monarchy, feudal, dictatorship, whatever, has to have the vast majority of its citizens respect the rights of others. Tian has pointed out that the vast majority of us do not bomb federal buildings out of fear of beign caught - we refrain from doing so just because we recognize that killing others and destroying property is wrong and we don't do so. Fear of getting caught is a very minor secondary concern if we even consider it at all.

Any society - ANY SOCIETY - that loses this is gone. It can't survive. This includes a society with no government. Most likely there will be a period of chaos followed by a dictatorship. Something like this happened when the Nazis took over Weimar Germany.

If we went into a period of no government - aka anarchy - with the vast majority of citizens respecting the lives and property of others, it would work. Mechanisms would be developed to deal with the few who needed dealing with.

If we did not have this and a significant portion of the population killed, stole and destroyed just because they thought they could get away with it, anarchy would not work. Neither would any other system.
http://dwrighsr.tripod.com/heinlein/RatAnarch/Quotes_AFH.html N6n (talk) 07:09, 5 August 2010 (UTC)


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That was my first interaction with an ancap.  It was fairly substantial.  I remember thinking that if I genuinely wanted to defeat his arguments... then I had better do some homework.

I read quite a bit of Rothbard's work and certainly was not at all impressed with his moral "taxation is theft" argument.  However, in other parts there was more than a hint of the Invisible Hand.

It was only later on when I read these two papers that Rothbard had written...

Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics
The Myth of Neutral Taxation

... that I really appreciated that he had correctly diagnosed the fundamental problem with government... the massive scarcity of individual (earner) valuation.  It's just a shame that most of his devout followers focus more on his moral arguments than on his economic arguments.

David Friedman is also an anarcho-capitalist.  He's great because all his arguments are entirely economic in nature.

See also: Concentrated Benefits and Dispersed Costs, House of Cards And Wikipedia


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