What’s the Government’s Linchpin?

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What’s the thing that holds the government together as an anti-libertarian, anti-liberty, anti-freedom and anti-rights force? What is that linchpin that, if removed, completely undermines the power of any government to suppress its citizens?

The linchpin is the idea that government needs to be a territorial monopolist. Remove this and government alters radically. Allow competing governments on the same territory and the capacity of a sole geographical monopoly government to suppress its citizens vanishes. This happens because with the freedom to opt out from the sole government, without moving out of the land they live in, people can veto the power of that government over their personal lives. It may then conform to the demands of those who remain adherents to it, but these adherents can no longer tax and rule those who opt out.

The defining and therefore central libertarian goal is not to abolish big government, not to end the welfare state, not to replace a cadre of warmongers with peace-loving libertarians, and not to see the government end fiat money and replace it with another kind of money. The goal is not to elect libertarians to office. The goal is not to end the infringement of this or that particular liberty. The central and overriding goal, the goal that is of defining importance for libertarianism, is that every person now under the rule of an existing monopoly government have the freedom to opt out of that government while remaining in the country that that government claims as its territorial dominion. With such a freedom, individuals will have the freedom to stay with that government or to form non-territorial governments of their choice.

Libertarianism is not per se against government. It is against being forced to be under a government that is using territorial boundaries as its criterion for forcing people to obey its laws. If people can opt out from a given territorial monopolist, they can still freely choose to be ruled by a coercive government. They can willingly give up their freedoms and be told what to do or be made to pay taxes set by a dictator or by majority rule or by representatives or by a set of judges or by a council or by whatever organization they prefer. But, if people can opt out, then this government cannot rule those who do not subscribe to it. In order to be fully for liberty, libertarians cannot be against government in and of itself as something wrong, evil or immoral, not if masses of people want a coercive government and want to give up freedoms to get it. Libertarians have to allow for these possible preferences; and as long as such governments are non-territorial, which allows people to opt out, then libertarians have no further political axe to grind.

The wikipedia entry on libertarianism aligns with what I am saying. It reads

“Libertarianism (Latin: liber, “free”) is a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. It is an antonym of authoritarianism.”

If there is to be voluntary association, government cannot necessarily be territorial. (It may be if people under a government voluntarily own contiguous property, but this territoriality is contingent and not a necessary feature of government.) If libertarianism takes voluntary association seriously, as this quote suggests, then it has to favor the freedom of every person to opt out of a territorial government. In the libertarian view, government then becomes voluntarily agreed to.

The same wikipedia passage continues

“Although libertarians share a skepticism of governmental authority, they diverge on the extent and character of their opposition. Different schools of libertarianism offer a range of views concerning the legitimate functions of government, while others contend that the state should not exist at all.”

This divergence in views arises because of a failure to understand clearly the role of territory to monopoly government. Government authority and legitimate functions of government will always be contentious among libertarians if they assume that government in its current territorial form must exist or is the only option available. But such an assumption is unwarranted since it conflicts with the principle of voluntary association. There need be no argument about government functions once it is understood that people may choose a variety of nonterritorial governments if they so desire. There is no need to contrast no state at all with a minarchist state or with some other state that provides some level of social benefits. No one knows what kinds of governments may arise when people have and exercise the basic right of voluntary association, which entails the right to opt out of a government. It is pointless and needlessly divisive for libertarians to argue over these matters.

Let me add a clarification based upon an e-mail. This person is clearly supportive but still going off the tracks in another direction. He wrote

“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.” ~George Washington

“Take this principle to its logical conclusion. Shouldn’t all relations between human beings have as little–i.e., zero, zilch, nada–political connection as possible? Isn’t this a formula for voluntaryism, natural-order anarchy, or what Hoppe calls ‘a fully privatized social order’? Why is this even controversial?”

My reply is this. It’s not my business or that of any libertarian to tell other persons that their relations should have as little political connection as possible. It’s not to advocate for “natural-order anarchy” (whatever that is) or “a fully privatized social order” (whatever that is). These are potential outcomes or possible conditions envisaged by their supporters, but we cannot know what organizations will arise if people have the ability to opt out of existing social-political arrangements that are forced upon them.

Voluntaryism, I should note, is definitely consistent with the libertarianism and non-territorial government being proposed. We are not extrapolating Washington’s principle either.

12:14 pm on May 18, 2014