Decentralization: An Essentially Libertarian Vision

The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; May 15, 1969.

The recent secessionist referendum in Catalunya brought some strong negative reactions from several corners of the libertarian community.  The reasons to be against such a referendum varied, from the idea that any group action is, inherently, not libertarian to the idea that secession is only to be supported by libertarians if the seceding entity is, in fact, libertarian.

I came out on the other side – not only was the referendum in Catalunya worthy of libertarian support, every move toward decentralization is worthy of libertarian support, regardless of the politics of the seceding entity.

I believe libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  Unless one is foolish enough to believe that one day 7 billion people will awaken at the same moment to the non-aggression principle, the only path open to us is to support an ever-growing number of possible governance units from which we might choose one that best suits our desired politics.

My responses to a couple of the anti-secessionist libertarians can be found here and here.  The very short version: we will never get from something like 200 political jurisdictions to 2,000 or 2 billion or 7 billion until we get to 201 first.  Support secession, then the next one and then the next one.  Do this a few dozen times and we might be getting somewhere.

Time to buy old US gold coins

So, what’s the point of this preamble to my next installment in review of this publication?  Believe it or not, it is prompted by the election for mayor of New York City in June 1969.

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I almost skipped this edition when I saw the title, “Mailer for Mayor.”  I am not terribly interested in reading about a failed mayoral candidacy from almost 50 years ago.  I changed my mind within the first three lines (I should have known better than to shortchange Rothbard).

The candidate is Norman Mailer, announcing his candidacy in the Democratic primary.  Rothbard described this as “the most refreshing libertarian political campaign in decades.”  What about Mailer’s campaign brought on this glowing comment from Rothbard?

The Mailer platform stems from one brilliantly penetrating overriding plank: the absolute decentralization of the swollen New York City bureaucracy into dozens of constituent neighborhood villages.

Rothbard is not waiting for the big bang – seven billion people simultaneously seeing the light:

Each neighborhood will then be running its own affairs, on all matters, taxation, education, police, welfare, etc.

As opposed to the idea that there is something un-libertarian about people living next to each other and sharing some desires in common for the neighborhood.  In any case, the smaller and more local the political unit, the more control each constituent has and the more that those in government will be known individually – in person, face-to-face.

Rothbard recognizes that neighborhoods will separate into common groupings; he is not shy about discussing black and white.  He recognizes that the idea of “diversity” is an idea formed to bring conflict; instead, he offers:

…in the Mailer plan, black and white could at long last live peacefully side-by-side, with each group and each self-constituted neighborhood running its own affairs.

Whites and blacks would be independent equals “rather than as rulers of one over the other….”

One of Mailer’s key proposals is that New York City secede from New York State and form a separate 51st State….

That the seceding New York City would likely be far more socialist than the rest of the state didn’t bother Rothbard one bit, it seems – decentralization was the key, the non-aggression principle put into practice.  Also, keep in mind: Mailer ran as a democrat.  Imagine that: a democrat for secession and political segregation.

As to a libertarian newsletter making a political endorsement, Rothbard would have nothing of the idea that libertarians and voting (or at least support for a politician) don’t mix:

While I respect this position, I consider it unduly sectarian.

It’s not as if no one will win; someone will win.  Maybe more important, someone will lose.

…why shouldn’t we at least express a hope that someone rather than someone else will fill such positions?

Even if it is “a piddling choice, a marginal choice, a choice which means little,” Rothbard finds it worthwhile to offer support.  Rothbard cites Lysander Spooner, from No Treason:

In the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent…

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby ameliorating their condition.  But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

This position strikes me as wholly consistent with the approach Walter Block has advocated.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.