On Getting Libertarianism Right

The social theory sailing nowadays under the label “Austro-Libertarianism” has a long and prominent history going back many centuries, culminating, during the second half of the 20th century, in the work of Murray N. Rothbard, and continued today by his various intellectual disciples and students, including myself. The theory provides a simple, argumentatively irrefutable (without running into contractions) answer to one of the most important questions in the entire field of the social sciences: How can human beings, “real persons,” having to act in a “real world” characterized by the scarcity of all sorts of physical things, interact with each other, conceivably from the beginning of mankind until the end of human history, peacefully, i.e., without physically clashing with one another in a contest or fight concerning the control of one and the same given thing?

Put briefly, the answer is this: Absent a perfect harmony of all interests, clashes regarding scarce resources can only be avoided if all scarce resources are assigned as private, exclusive property to some specified individual or group of individuals. Only then can I act independently, with my own things, from you, with your own things, without I and you ever clashing.

And who owns what scarce resource as his private property and who does not? First: Each person owns his physical body that only he and no one else controls directly. And second, as for scarce resources that can be controlled only indirectly (that must be appropriated with our own nature-given, i.e., un-appropriated, body): Exclusive control (property) is acquired by and assigned to that person, who appropriated the resource in question first or who acquired it through voluntary (conflict-free) exchange from its previous owner. For only the first appropriator of a resource (and all later owners connected to him through a chain of voluntary exchanges) can possibly acquire and gain control over it without conflict, i.e., peacefully. Otherwise, if exclusive control is assigned instead to latecomers, conflict is not avoided but contrary to the very purpose of norms made unavoidable and permanent.

In short, then, formulated as a principle: You shall not aggress against another person and his justly acquired property and you may use physical violence exclusively in defense of your own person and property against an aggressor.

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While the importance of this “Austro-libertarian” insight can hardly be overrated, however, it is just as important to recognize what questions this theory does not answer.

When we look at the real world we cannot but notice that it is distinctly different from a libertarian social order. And yet the libertarian theory in itself does not entail an answer as to why this is so – except to conclude that people apparently are not intelligent or willing enough to recognize and embrace its truth – and consequently, how to actually achieve the ultimate libertarian end of a Stateless society from some distinctly un-libertarian starting point. Nor does the theory imply much if anything concerning the question of how to maintain a libertarian social order once achieved and make it sustainable. To answer these questions pure theory is insufficient and must be complemented by empirical study. One must turn from pure theory to human history, psychology and sociology.

Unfortunately, all-too-many self-proclaimed libertarians have neglected or refused to do so and naively embraced the currently reigning – and only “politically correct” – view that all people and in particular all groups of people are essentially equal as regards their mental and motivational make-up, and that any observable inequalities are either the result of mere accident and circumstance or past injustice and as such can and should be made good by some corrective, “equalizing” measures.

The acceptance of this belief in the empirical equality and hence, the interchangeability, substitutability and replace-ability  of all people and all groups of people, has led many libertarians – the now so-called “left”-libertarians – to endorse and promote the very same agenda pursued presently already more or less vigorously by the ruling elites all across the Western World (are they all secretly libertarians?): of multi-culturalism, unrestricted “free” immigration, “non-discrimination,” “affirmative action” and “openness” to “diversity” and “alternative lifestyles.”

Given this curious programmatic alliance between left-libertarians and the ruling elites, it is not entirely surprising that, notwithstanding the dearth of any outstanding left-libertarian intellectual talent, the “elite” main-stream media (MSM) has attentively followed and reported on their every position-paper or pronouncement and thereby helped create the impression in the public mind that left-libertarianism is libertarianism.

At the same time, to the same effect and equally unsurprising, the very same MSM systematically ignored the contrary fact – or else deliberately misconstrued and misrepresented it – that left-libertarianism, already at its first public appearance, had come under heavy attack from, above all, Murray Rothbard, the very founder and fountainhead of modern libertarianism, as only fake-libertarianism. Owing to their patently false, unrealistic assumptions concerning the nature of man, he had pointed out,[i] the very means and measures advocated by left-libertarians for the attainment of libertarian ends were false as well. In fact, given the libertarian end, they were counter-productive and would lead to more rather than less conflict and infringements of private property rights.

Real libertarians – in contrast to left-libertarian fakes – must study and take account of real people and real human history in order to design a libertarian strategy of social change, and even the most cursory study in this regard – indeed, little more than common sense – yields results completely opposite from those proposed by libertarian fakes.

While members of the same species, men (including women) are strikingly different and unequal. Not just individually, one man from another, but also collectively, one group of men connected more or less closely by a commonality of language, religion, culture and custom from another group of men with another language, religion, culture and custom. (Hardly surprising, if one considers the fact that all present people are typically the descendants of people that have lived far apart from each other going back hundreds or even thousands of years and thus formed separate and distinctly different gene pools!)

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More to the point and just as obvious: Men, not only individuals considered in isolation, but also groups of individuals considered as communities or cooperatives, with their various languages, religions, cultures and customs, display significant differences and inequalities as regards the degree of conformity of their conduct with libertarian principles.

While no society can do without some degree of conformity to the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) at least insofar as its internal relations are concerned – that is: there can be no society that allows for a “free-for-all” of murder, homicide, battery or the “taking” of other persons’ things -, the degree of conformity displayed by different societies or communities is strikingly different. Some appear like permanent war-zones or lawless hell-holes filled with brutality and cruelty, whereas others, at the other (positive) end, approach the libertarian ideal quite closely (say, Liechtenstein).

Viewed from a global macro-perspective, it should be obvious also (especially to a libertarian), that all great libertarian thinkers which successively and gradually built up the system of libertarian law and order have been “Western Men”, i.e., men born and raised in countries of Western and Central Europe or their various overseas dependencies and settlements and intellectually and culturally united by a common lingua franca (once Latin and now English) and the trans-national Catholic Church or more lately and vaguely a common Christianity. That it is in these Western societies, where libertarian principles have found the most widespread public acceptance and explicit recognition as “natural human rights.” That, notwithstanding their blatant shortcomings and failings, it is Western societies, then, that still resemble, comparatively speaking, a libertarian social order most closely. And finally also, unsurprisingly insofar as the widespread recognition and explicit acceptance of the NAP by the members of a society are signs of a comparatively high(er) intelligence and impulse control, that it is these societies, then, that also are the technologically and economically most advanced.

These observations alone should be sufficient to reveal any libertarian advocate of “free,” unrestricted and non-discriminatory immigration of non-Westerners into the countries of the West as a fool. Every such immigrant – not to speak of mass-immigration – poses the risk of further diminishing and undermining the already limited freedom and private property protection presently still enjoyed in the West. To prevent this, any libertarian worth its name must instead advocate the strict and utmost discrimination vis-à-vis any potential immigrant – he might be an avowed communist or socialist or import his familiar hell-hole culture into one’s own midst – and from the very outset he must be strictly opposed in particular to any form of mass-immigration. As well, he should begin to realize that the Western ruling elites currently promoting immigration from non-Western countries are not motivated by libertarian ends, but by a calculated desire of using foreign immigrants as vehicles for the further expansion of their own domestic power, reach and level of interference with the private property rights of domestic residents.

As well, when we shift from a macro- to a micro-perspective and look only at any particular Western society (say, the US or Germany), we reach similar and further specified and refined conclusions concerning libertarian strategy.

Each of these Western societies is ruled by some different gang of people in control of some separate, geographically defined State; and each State-gang claims, concerning everyone and everything on “its” territory, then, that only it, i.e., only State-gang members, are authorized to act as ultimate legal authority, judge, enforcer and executioner in any conflict or contest of wills. In short: each separate State-gang claims and exercises a territorial monopoly of aggressive violence against “its” own private people and property.

No State currently ruling over different parts of the Western World achieved this rank and position as ultimate judge and executioner immediately and at once, however. It took hundreds of years to bring this about and replace or displace a once, for a lengthy period in Western history highly decentralized system of social authority by the present system of centralized and monopolized State authority.

For much or even most of the European middle-ages no State and State authority existed. All authority was social authority. There were hierarchies of authority: heads of family households, priests, bishops and a distant pope; patrons, lords and over-lords; and countless different and separate communities, religious, social and professional orders, assemblies, guilds, societies, associations and clubs, each with its own rules, hierarchies and rank-orders. But no authority was absolute, and no one and no one group of people held a monopoly on its rank or position of authority. Even feudal kings could be called upon and brought to justice by other, competing authorities.

The strategy that any would-be-State promoter had to pursue, then, and that all Western States continue to pursue until today, has been dictated by this quasi-libertarian medieval starting point. In a nutshell, it boils down to the rule: You must undermine, weaken and ultimately destroy all competing authorities and hierarchies of social authority. Beginning at the highest levels of authority and from there on successively down, ultimately to the most elementary and decentralized level of social authority invested in the heads of individual family households, you (every Statist) must use your own initial authority to undermine all rival authorities in stripping away their right to include and exclude: to determine autonomously who is a member and who can come before you and who is not or cannot, and which conduct is or is not in accordance with its own membership rules and may result in various penalties ranging from admonishment or warning to outright exclusion or expulsion.

Kings must no longer be allowed to freely determine who is another king or the next king, and who can or cannot come before them for justice and assistance; and assemblies of kings must no longer be allowed to determine who to include or elevate to their own rank and who to exclude or demote. Likewise, for any separate community, association, order, club, etc.: No one must be free to autonomously determine its own rules of admission and exclusion. And ultimately so also for all individual family households: No head of household must be allowed to set down his own house-rules governing the admission to his house and the conduct of all household members. In sum: Free association and dis-association (separation) of people in physical space and free affiliation and dis-affiliation of people through shared or un-shared memberships in various organizations must go.

And how to achieve this? By enlisting the support of everyone resentful of not being included or promoted in some particular association or organization or for being expelled and excluded from them. Against this ‘unfair’ discrimination you, the State or would-be State, must promise the excluded ‘victims’ to help get them in and get them a ‘fair’ and non-discriminating treatment in return for their binding affiliation with you. On every level of social authority, you must encourage and promote deviant behavior (behavior preventing inclusion or leading to exclusion) and then use these deviants to undermine any authority other than your own. Free association and affiliation must be replaced by forced integration and forced affiliation – euphemistically called multiculturalism and affirmative action.

In light of these observations, it should become rather obvious why the left-libertarian program does not and cannot achieve the supposedly libertarian end of a State-less social order, but, to the contrary, will lead to a further expansion of monopolistic State powers.

“Free” mass immigration from the non-Western world, “multiculturalism,” “affirmative action,” “non-discrimination,” the propagation of “openness” to “diversity” and “alternative life-styles,” to “feminism” and “gay- and gender-ism,” and of “anti-authoritarianism,” – they all are and must be seen as means to further diminish whatever little discretionary, discriminatory and exclusionary powers still remain in Western societies in the hands of non-monopolistic social authorities and hierarchies of social authority, and to correspondingly expand and increase the powers centralized, concentrated and monopolized in the hands of the State.


For more than two decades, following in Rothbard’s footsteps, I have tried to get libertarianism right again – most prominently with my Democracy – The God That Failed (2001) – in complementing libertarian theory with social realism (history, psychology and sociology), and to rescue libertarianism from left-libertarian flakes and fakes and repair the public misperception that they are and represent what libertarianism is all about. The reaction to these endeavors – in particular Rothbard’s and mine – from the side of left-libertarians has been furious. This notwithstanding, however, they were instrumental in that today, among self-described libertarians, left-libertarianism is in retreat, while the influence of realistic-right libertarianism has steadily grown.

Throughout the entire period, the Ludwig von Mises Institute – mises.org – and Lew Rockwell – lewrockwell.com – have stood out as bulwarks against the infiltration of libertarianism by leftist thought. As well, Ilana Mercer has been an early critic of left-libertarianism with her paleo-libertarian blog – barelyablog.com. More recently, outlets for explicitly and decidedly anti-leftist libertarian thought have proliferated. There is “Bionic Mosquito” with his blog – bionicmosquito.blogspot.com. There is Sean Gabb’s and now Keir Martland’s British Ludwig von Mises Centre – mises.uk.org. There is Jay Engel’s blog – austrolibertarian.com. There is Matthew Reece’s site – zerothposition.com – and Chase Rachels’ radicalcapitalist.org. There is Robert Taylor’s excellent and highly important book Reactionary Liberty: The Libertarian Counter-Revolution (2016). And there is Stefan Molyneux with his show on freedomainradio.com and Tom Woods with his show on tomwoods.com.

[i] Murray Rothbard, “Big-Government Libertarians,” in: L. Rockwell, ed., The Irrepressible Rothbard, Auburn, Al: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000, p. 100-115.