A Strategy for Forcing the State Back

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As libertarians,
we like to discuss two things: what could be and what is wrong with
society today. Some of us are intrigued by the promises of a free
society, no matter if we advocate the total abolishment of the State
or wish to radically cut back on its powers. It kind of sets your
mind free to dream of all the things that could be weren't it for
the welfare-warfare State.

Some libertarians
feel the adrenaline flowing when talking about the injustice caused
people by the State: about immigrants being forced back to torture
because they are not the "legal" kind; about poor people
kept out of the labor market by minimum wage laws; about small business
owners forced into bankruptcy because of totally unnecessary regulations
and restrictions; about average Joes being forced off their property
for the "common good"; about people literally being taxed
to death.

Yet others
can't help themselves discussing either of the two.

But there are
few of us who wish to discuss the strategy. We are usually stuck
in the "is" or "ought" — but wish to avoid the
"do." It is rather obvious that we need a good strategy
to get to there from here, i.e. to "ought" from "is."
Some of us get involved in political activism in established parties
or a libertarian such. But whatever we are doing doesn't seem to
work, does it? The Libertarian Party doesn't even get one percent
of the votes in Presidential elections and the libertarians involved
in the Republican or Democrat parties obviously cannot change the
set course of their parties.

To me, it seems
politics isn't the right way. Actually, most of the things we're
doing don't seem right — they aren't very efficient; they are at
least not efficient enough. Even though the numerous libertarian
clubs, societies, institutes, and organizations around the world
are very professional and seem very successful, they aren't successful
enough. Yes, the Soviet Union is gone, but that's not really thanks
to us. And in our own countries in Europe and North America we're
not really heading in the right direction.

So what can
we do? I believe we need to practice what we preach — we cannot
be "verbal libertarians" and expect people to trust we're
right. We need to show people it is the right way; we need to show
them that it is possible to break free and do it without much danger
to self and family. I've discussed this elsewhere (e.g. here,
here,
and here)
rather vaguely and theoretically, but there is great guidance from
great writings by great men. The problem is, it seems most people
don't know these treasures even though they are written by libertarians
for libertarians. (I'm sorry I didn't find these great texts much,
much sooner.)

What I'm proposing
is a mix of two somewhat known recipes that are really liberating
in two distinctly different ways. The first recipe provides instructions
for how to break free vertically through building a decentralized
infrastructure for free communities avoiding the State and its centralized
"solutions" altogether. The other recipe advocates breaking
free horizontally through making use of one's personal network
of friends and colleagues, and doing business out of the State's
reach. One might also call these recipes or strategies the introvert
and extrovert solutions to our methodological problem.

The basis for
both theories is the understanding of life at a micro level rather
than seeing the world only from above. It is not necessary to focus
on the federal government and how to force it back. You cannot win
taking the State on mano a mano so why even bother? But it
is quite possible to break free small-scale and doing it for yourself.
I have no idea why libertarians seem to wish to liberate "the
whole nation," instead of doing what's best for yourself and
your kin first. It isn't very individualistic and libertarian to
think of the collective population first, with the sole result being
you are yourself left in chains. (I usually refer to this as the
"Savior Complex" or "Messiah Complex," the strange
conviction that one has to liberate all of mankind in order to liberate
oneself.)

The Vertical
or Introvert Strategy

As has already
been briefly stated, this strategy consists of falling out of the
large structures of the State in order to at a much smaller scale
build infrastructures and technology to support one's community.
I'm calling this the vertical strategy since it literally means
stepping away from the centralized mode of the State in order to
supply for one's life and well-being in a decentralized, local manner.
It is in the same sense introvert in that it says we should be looking
at what is and not what is not, i.e. to use the resources available
rather than pursuing the unattainable.

What this means
in real terms is to create local or neighborhood networks for self-reliance,
where people in the vicinity get together to find ways to produce
whatever is necessary for survival and a good life. It means creating
local production facilities and markets with no effective State
regulations and without the State's knowledge.

Karl Hess discusses
the enormous possibilities of this approach in his excellent but
small book Community Technology. In the book, Hess discusses
his own experience in creating local networks for creating free
and independent neighborhoods through replacing State "services"
with community technology and voluntarily partaking in neighborhood
activities and projects producing vegetables on rooftops and breeding
fish in basements.

Hess's experience
is that one can provide for a whole neighborhood's demand for vegetables
through setting up greenhouses on a fraction of the available rooftops.
Also, through using the pumps from old washing machines and left-over
construction materials, the people in this neighborhood community
were able to set up a fish-breeding facility producing hundreds
of pounds of fish annually.

This might
not sound like your cup of tea, but these are just two examples
of the enormous possibilities of getting together to provide solutions
for the community. This specific Hessian project was carried out
in Washington D.C., which shows it is possible to create a somewhat
sovereign and independent community even in very urban areas. A
neighborhood not dependent on the State for supplies is a neighborhood
not easily subdued. Also, such a community is not as easily punished
by the government if its independence is discovered and the threat
considered real. A community does not suffer from government refusing
to supply its services if it isn't first wholly dependent on such
services.

The point I'm
trying to make here is not that we should all go rural, live like
cavemen, and grow our own vegetables. I'm saying we should stop
thinking in terms of centralization and large-scale production.
Hess stresses the fact that most, if not all important technology
is equally or better suited for small-scale use on a family or community
level. We do not need to rely on global corporations or the nation-state
to get our hands on what we treasure in life. Community Technology
shows just that.

The Horizontal
or Extrovert Strategy

The other strategy
simply means taking part in and actively creating networks and structures
for black markets. I call this the horizontal strategy because it
is simply the free market in action — individuals trading voluntarily
with each other. It is also an extrovert strategy in that it does
not necessarily focus on the neighborhood or community, but can
easily be stretched throughout a city or state and work in parallel
with the coercive structures of the State.

What it basically
proposes is to trade with people you know and people who are recommended
to you. This can all be done at whatever scale one finds appropriate,
using available technology such as the Internet and e.g. E-bay for
communication and money transactions. A first step could be to hire
the children next-door to mow the lawn or baby-sit. It does not
have to be very sophisticated at first.

This approach
should come naturally to libertarians, since it simply means exercising
trade without bothering with State regulations or paying taxes.
Most people are willing to exchange goods and services without registering
the sales tax, which is a good start. Some of them will also find
it in their interest to do this on a larger scale, producing and
distributing goods and services without ever paying taxes or following
unnecessary government regulations and controls. And most people
don't really care about government standards if they trust their
supplier.

There are probably
a few libertarians in every town who are interested in starting
a private network for free trade. This network can grow and find
other networks to trade with and thus cover a multitude of goods
and services and large areas and perhaps whole continents. The beauty
of it is that it all comes naturally, it is intuitive for people
to exchange favors, goods, and services without first asking the
State's permission.

This strategy
was originally proposed by agorist Samuel Edward Konkin III, author
of The New Libertarian Manifesto (online here),
in which he elaborates the strategy of counter-economics. Konkin's
strategy supposedly starts locally and evolves into regional, state,
and national inter-networks of free trade. When big enough, which
isn't necessarily very big at all, a demand is created in these
networks of free traders for protection and contract enforcement
services. Thus, eventually this strategy would, through the spontaneous
and voluntary mechanisms of the market provide services competing
with the State's "core" functions and services. This undermines
the power of the State and could easily replace it.

It is easy
to see the beauty and power of Konkin's idea of counter-economics
as a means for revolutionary change, especially because of its simplicity
and its intuitiveness for libertarians. It puts the libertarian
principles into practice through individual action and while doing
so it undermines the powers of the State.

Combining
the Two

Even though
Konkin's idea is simple, powerful and principally superior to the
alternatives, it is not necessarily applicable to everybody and
always. For some people it would perhaps be advantageous to not
take active part in trading in the so-called counter-economy (i.e.
all human action not sanctioned by State), perhaps because
they have certain personal convictions or to a too great degree
rely on products dependent on State services. In this case, it would
beneficial to begin with community technology.

Even though
Konkin's concept encompasses such actions and local networks for
self-reliance, it does not stress their importance. While the community
technology approach is applicable to a certain area in which people
live and work, counter-economic action is not necessarily geographically
bound; and while a strong local community does not need to trade
with the "outer" world, there is no assurance that the
practice of counter-economics would identify the advantages of providing
important services locally.

Counter-economic
networks would grow much stronger if combined with the insight of
Karl Hess that people are able to and benefit from taking over the
production of essential goods and services locally. Imagine the
web of counter-economic actors combined with sovereign communities
with production of foodstuffs and technology exceeding their internal
demand. That combined counter-State movement for personal benefit
and profit would provide a powerful adversary to the State.

It would also
benefit from the great advantages of libertarian, non-hierarchical
organization (i.e. the horizontal web through market transactions).
States function only as centralized structures of power and rule
and cannot fight an enemy as diverse and individually motivated
as such a counter-economic movement based partly on community technology
and sovereignty.

What this combined
strategy all boils down to is a decentralized, voluntary, spontaneous,
and for-profit web of actors doing what they perceive as beneficial
and thereby replacing most or all of the State's functions. It provides
also a solution to the problem of discussing only what's wrong and
what should be — through doing right where the State does wrong.
It means action where it is most important and where it is most
beneficial.

It does not
really matter if we as libertarians advocate the total abolishment
of the State or to radically cut back on its powers; the solution
seems the same. We are all pretty sure individually of what we want
to do and how things should work out were it not for the State,
and we are sure what is wrong with the world of today: State coercion.

The only problem
we're having is how to get there and how to get along with whatever
we end up with. The solution actually solves both issues through
providing a base for personal profit and creating whatever solution
you want — while undermining State power. So what are we waiting
for? Just do it.

May
9, 2006

Per Bylund [send him mail]
works as a business consultant in Sweden, in preparation for PhD
studies. He is the founder of Anarchism.net.
Visit his website.

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