Libertarian Road to Nowhere

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride
I’m feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

–        Talking Heads

Sheldon Richman has written a piece addressing secession: “TGIF: Is Secession by Referendum Libertarian?”  I call it the libertarian road to nowhere, but this is standard fare and to be expected from many who self-describe as left-libertarians.

Living in the vacuum of theory or in some libertarian fantasy world (both of which happen to be places where many libertarian thinkers live), the answer to Richman’s question is a resounding “no.”

Time to buy old US gold coins

I have concerns about secession by referendum. Individual secession, of course, is no problem; that’s simply libertarianism.

My concerns about group (not individual) secession are over the process of peaceful separation, namely, the referendum. Libertarians have long criticized political democracy — that is, the settling of “public” matters by majority vote either directly or through so-called representatives — as inherently violative of individual rights. By what authority does a majority lord it over a minority?

Well, doesn’t this critique apply to referenda on secession?

Richman asks: why should the minority – those who may prefer to stay within the old system – be forced to secede?  It is a fair question.  If you want pure theory, a political vote is not libertarian as a minority is forced to the will of the majority.  I agree with this wholeheartedly.

With this preamble out of the way, let’s get to the meat of Richman’s piece:

Does this mean we libertarians have no remedy for people who wish not to live under the central government of a large nation-state?

Great!  Let’s have Richman’s solution:

Of course we have: anarchism, in which each individual is sovereign and free to contract with market firms for security and dispute resolution.

So…since libertarians cannot support secession by referendum, we are left with convincing seven billion people of the value of political, individual anarchy.  They will all just opt out at the same moment – no pushback from the state or even their neighbors.  All of them, simultaneously, having this “aha” moment.

This is Richman’s solution.

Expanding on this idea, he cites Roderick Long:

The concept of panarchy comes from an 1860 work of that title by the Belgian botanist and political economist Paul Émile de Puydt (1810-1891). The essence of his panarchist proposal is that people should be free to choose the political regime under which they will live without having to relocate to a different territory.

Under panarchism, individuals could in effect secede, but their next-door neighbors need not. Problem solved! This may not satisfy nationalists big and small, but it would protect individuals.

That’s it, lickety-split!  “Problem solved!”  Seven billion people will simultaneously grasp the concept that they do not have to live under the same governmental jurisdiction as their neighbor!

I have not taken leave of my senses. I realize that panarchism is not on today’s agenda. But it will never be on it if we never talk about it. With secession and conflict in the news, what could be a better time?

I am fully supportive of talking about ideas and especially ideas supportive of decentralization.  Does this support for discussion therefore exclude the possibility of supporting an action that helps bring a decentralizing idea one step closer to fruition?

Let’s Compare

Richman’ road to nowhere: somehow, after we talk about it for a while, seven people will spontaneously decide to secede – to break from their current, forced, political bonds and form new, voluntary bonds.  They will all simultaneously grasp the idea that they do not have to live under the same governmental jurisdiction as their neighbor.

bionic’s road to somewhere: libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  We will not get from something less than 200 political units to seven billion or 1.5 billion (one per household) or even a few thousand without getting to 201 first.

The libertarian solution for those within a seceding unit who do not wish to secede is to support the next secession and the next one and the next one.  But we won’t get to the fourth secession (or four-hundredth or four-thousandth) without supporting the first one.

The western world is handing libertarians the solution to all of our pontificating on a silver platter, yet too many libertarians (and Richman isn’t alone) are unable to grasp this. There is not a country in the western world that is immune from this reality today – current polities are fracturing.

Libertarians such as Richman are perfectly acceptable to those who support the status quo.  They are harmless; they are “safe” to the regime; they pose absolutely no danger.

Libertarians such as these are on a road to nowhere.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.