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A Dim View of Libertarianism, Part I: What is Libertarianism?

Editor’s Note: As our present environmental realities are a consequence of the economic and political framework we live within (positive or negative activities are incentivised, disincentivised, encouraged, discouraged, allowed, enforced or outlawed by them), we will run a series on libertarianism over the ensuing days. Part I is below – additional parts will be linked to from the bottom of each as they go up.

Part I of a seven part series.

Copyright 2010 by Ernest Partridge. Published here with permission of the author.

A half century ago, when liberalism was ascendant in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, libertarianism was a fringe curiosity. Now it has become a formidable political and economic force in the United States.

No existing democratic governments fully endorse and implement libertarian doctrine, for no national electorate would tolerate so radical a system of political economy. (The Libertarian Party in the United States has never attracted more than one percent of the votes in a Presidential election). Nonetheless, libertarianism deserves careful critical analysis since in theory, if not in practice, it is the ideological “spear-point” of “free market reform” throughout the world. Furthermore, many of its prominent exponents, such as Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Robert Nozick, are highly esteemed by scholars throughout the world. Thus, while its principles may appear stark, unqualified and unyielding and its proposals over-simplistic, because of its widespread and growing influence, libertarianism must be taken very seriously.

For all its acquired respectability in contemporary political discourse, I will argue in these essays that libertarianism is a grave threat to the very existence of the American system of justice and representative democracy as we have come to know it. Libertarianism poses this threat not because of the cogency of its doctrines but rather because of the enormous financial and media resources that promote it.

These are serious accusations that require careful and extended justification. I will attempt to provide that justification in these essays.

These essays are drawn from numerous articles, both published and posted on the internet, that I have written during the past decade, as I have witnessed with much consternation, the spread of libertarian dogmas into American political and economic policies, and beyond the United States to many countries abroad. This series attempts to put some of those writings into a coherent order, and thus it is more than a quilt of stitched-together excerpts. All the material has been carefully reviewed and revised as necessary, and there will be a considerable amount of new material.

It is important to note at the outset that libertarianism divides neatly into two aspects: personal libertarianism and economic libertarianism. This division puts the libertarians at odds with both the political right and the political left. I hesitate to use the terms “liberal” and “conservative” since the public media have abused both terms to the point that they are essentially meaningless. In the American political scene today, self-described “conservatives” are more accurately identified as “regressives,” since they seek to return society and government to the conditions of earlier times. Accordingly, I will favor the word “regressive” in place of “conservative.” I will use the essentially synonymous words “liberal” and “progressive” interchangeably. (See Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 of my book in progress, Conscience of a Progressive, to which I will frequently refer in these essays).

The liberal (or progressive) tends to agree with libertarian insistence that law and government are not justified in interfering with the personal lives of individuals. They agree that in a free society there is no place for laws regarding sexual preference, abortion, drug use, euthanasia, etc. Liberals and libertarians thus endorse John Stuart Mill’s proclamation that “over himself, over his own mind body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”1 To the contrary, the right, and especially the religious right, has no trouble endorsing government interference regarding these matters of personal conduct.

On the other hand, the liberal left strongly opposes, and the right endorses, the libertarian positions regarding market fundamentalism, deregulation of commercial activity, minimal government, and privatization. Economic libertarianism has for all practical purposes been adopted into the platform of the Republican Party, even though that party is reluctant to embrace the term “libertarianism.”

Because economic libertarianism poses the greater threat to the American system of government and traditions of justice, I will devote most of my attention to that aspect of libertarianism.

These are the essential doctrines of libertarianism.

While not all individuals who describe themselves as libertarians will fully agree with all of these stipulations, (there are, after all, several varieties of libertarianism), the following formulations will identify the “targets” of my analyses in these essays.

  • Natural Rights. There are three fundamental human rights: to life, liberty and property. These rights are all “negative rights,” in that they all stipulate “freedom from” interference from other persons or from governments. There are no natural “positive rights:” i.e., rights to receive, e.g., an education, a livelihood, health care, etc.
  • The like liberty principle: All persons are entitled to maximum freedom consistent with equal liberty for all.
  • Minimal government: The only legitimate function of government is the protections of each individual’s rights to life, liberty and property All other functions of government are illegitimate. Taxation to support these illegitimate functions amounts to a theft of private property.
  • Spontaneous Order. The fundamental social institutions arise “spontaneously” out of individual voluntary associations. No planning or regulation “from the top down” is necessary.
  • Social atomism. There are no separate entities called “society” or “the public.” These are simply aggregates of individuals.
  • Privatism. Private ownership is always preferable to public ownership.
  • Market Fundamentalism: The “free market” – the unregulated and undirected summation of all private buyer/seller transactions – is always “wiser” than centralized economic planning.

Now, to an elaboration of these doctrines:

Individualism and Social Atomism: Libertarianism is a radically individualistic doctrine. The optimal libertarian society (if “society” is the correct word) is an aggregate of individuals in voluntary association, secure in their “natural rights” to life, liberty and property. (Thus, as we have noted, the only legitimate function of the “minimal government” is to protect these rights). Since, in A. Myrick Freeman’s words, “each individual is the best judge of how well-off he or she is in a given situation,”2 there is no agency (government or otherwise) entitled to curtail an individual’s liberty to pursue his own welfare, provided that pursuit does not interfere with the equivalent liberty of others. (Once again, the “like liberty principle.” ) Thus “society,” ideally, is a simple summation of individuals, in voluntary association, privately optimizing their satisfactions.

Natural Rights: To the libertarian, the Lockean rights of the individual to life, liberty, and property are fundamental. Because these rights reside in the individual, the only legitimate function of government is to protect these rights from usurpation by other individuals or institutions – especially the government itself which, according to John Hospers, is “the most dangerous institution known to man.”3 Accordingly, the scope of government must be scrupulously confined to the protection of life, liberty and property from foreign enemies (through the military), from domestic enemies (through the police and criminal courts), and from the private activities of others (through the civil courts). This last function of government is justified by the maxim that each individual is entitled to maximum liberty consistent with “like liberty” of others; i.e., that I am forbidden only to constrain the liberty of my fellow citizens. We shall later argue that “the like liberty principle,” embraced in the abstract by libertarians, proves in practice to be both the undoing of libertarianism, and the foundation of liberal politics.

Thus Libertarians stress so-called negative rights (or “liberty rights”) which entail duties of forbearance on the part of others. For example, my right to free speech entails your duty not to prevent that speech. However, to the libertarian, there are no “positive” or “welfare rights,” which entail the duty of individuals or of government to positively provide benefits or sustenance to others. The poor have no “rights” to welfare support, and the only children that have a right to our support are our own.

William Bayes4 expresses the essence of libertarianism with admirable clarity:

The freedom to engage in any type of enterprise, to produce, to own and control property, to buy and sell on the free market, is derived from the rights to life, liberty, and property … [but] when a government guarantees a “right” to an education or parity on farm products or a guaranteed annual income, it is staking a claim on the property of one group of citizens for the sake of another group. In short, it is violating one of the fundamental rights it was instituted to protect…

All that which an individual possesses by right (including his life and property) are morally his to use, dispose of and even destroy, as he sees fit….

Where do my rights end? Where yours begin. I may do anything I wish with my own life, liberty and property without your consent; but I may do nothing with your life, liberty an property without your consent….

The liberal, while accepting the libertarian triad of negative rights, also proclaims the citizens’ “positive rights” – to an education, to employment with a living wage and safe working conditions, to a clean and safe environment, etc. These rights arise from the fact that the liberal, unlike the libertarian, recognizes social benefits and public interests. Communities flourish when they include an educated work force, when the citizens are assured that their basic needs for livelihood and health-care are met, and when the citizens share the conviction that the society is their society and that they have a role in its governance. And because the communal activity produces more wealth than would be obtained by the sum of individual efforts, members of the community have positive rights to a share of that wealth, and to community assistance in case of misfortune.

Accordingly, the liberal insists that Ayn Rand’s Ubermensch, John Galt, is a fantasy. There is no fully “self-made man,” morally free of all responsibility and obligation to the society that nurtured him and sustains him.

Privatization, Environment, and the Commons Problem: According to the libertarians, all environmental problems derive from common ownership of such natural resources as pasturage, fisheries, and even air, water and wildlife. The solution? Privatization of all such resources. Does this sound extreme? Consider the following from Robert J. Smith (my emphases): “The problems of environmental degradation, pollution, overexploitation of natural resources, and depletion of wildlife all derive from their being treated as common property resources. Whenever we find an approach to the extension of private property rights in these areas, we find superior results.”5

The environmental devastation in the former communist countries, the libertarians argue, proves the rule: that which is the property of everyone (i.e., the state) is the responsibility of no one. In contrast, they argue, resources will be best protected when the costs of environmental degradation fall upon the property owner. Accordingly, when the environment and its resources are privately owned, there is no need to urge the owners to practice “good ecological citizenship” for abstract altruistic reasons or through the threat of government sanctions. Instead, the libertarian believes, self interest and economic incentives will suffice to motivate the property owner to maximize the long-term value of his property.

Public Accommodations and Property Rights. Because property rights are inviolable, the owner of a restaurant or motel or other “public accommodation” is entitled to refuse service to anyone at the owners’ sole discretion, which means that the owner has the right to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or whatever. Thus the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 constitutes an illegitimate violation of personal property rights. The libertarian might agree that discrimination is morally indefensible, and that private citizens are fully entitled to protest and to boycott establishments that elect to discriminate. Nonetheless, the property rights of the owners are inviolable. (See my Property Rights and Public Accommodations).

Spontaneous Order. “The great insight of libertarian social analysis,” writes David Boaz, “is that order in society arises spontaneously, out of actions of thousands or millions of individuals who coordinate their actions with those of others in order to achieve their purposes.”6  Because an orderly society arises “spontaneously” out of the free associations and activities of individuals, without the support, investment or coordination of any overarching institutions (e.g., governments), a well-ordered society is a “free gift,” for which nothing is owed (i.e., taxes ) by the component individuals for its maintenance.

Minimal Government. Accordingly, it follows that government has no function other than to protect and secure each individual’s natural and inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. Any additional functions of government, for example public education, public parks, museums, support for the arts, scientific research, welfare payments, foreign aid, are illegitimate, and taxes levied to support these functions constitute theft of private property.

Market Fundamentalism. “The wisdom of the market place” – prices that arise out of the numerous free transactions between autonomous individuals – will always exceed the “wisdom” of regulated markets, controlled and coordinated by superordinate (namely government) agencies. Milton and Rose Friedman clearly enunciate this central dogma of libertarianism:

A free market [co-ordinates] the activity of millions of people, each seeking his own interest, in such a way as to make everyone better off… Economic order can emerge as the unintended consequence of the actions of many people, each seeking his own interest.”7

In the phrase “the activity of millions of people, each seeking his own interest…” we see the concept of social atomism at work. And in the clause, “economic order can emerge as the unintended consequence…” we find a reiteration of the concept of spontaneous order.

In the essays that follow, we will critically examine these fundamental doctrines of libertarianism, with the goal of proving our opening assertion that libertarianism is both false and dangerous.  We turn our attention first to “social atomism” — the radical reductionist claim by the libertarians that, strictly speaking, “there is no such thing as “society” or “the public.” 

Continue to Part II

Notes and References:

  1. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty.
  2. Freeman, A. Myrick (1983), “The Ethical Basis of the Economic View of the Environment,” The Center for the Study of Values and Social Policy, University of Colorado.
  3. John Hospers, “What Libertarianism Is,” The Libertarian Alternative, (ed.) Tibor R. Machan, New York: Nelson Hall. 1974.
  4. Bayes, William W. 1970). “What is Property?,” The Freeman, July 1970, p. 348.
  5. Smith, Robert J., "Privatizing the Environment," Policy Review, Spring, 1982, p. 11.
  6. David Boas, Libertarianism: A Primer, New York: The Free Press, 1997, p. 16.
  7. Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980, pp.13-14.


  1. Attack by Distortion

    by Tibor R. Machan

    [Posted October 21, 2010]

    Suppose someone defined the game of golf in terms of riding in carts, wearing funny pants and large shirts, and occasionally using the various clubs to beat one’s dog. Would this be fair?
    Chances are, someone who gave such a definition of the game would probably be on a warpath to disparage it, encourage attacks on it, not to explain its true nature.
    So consider how the critics of individualism deal with that far more important contemporary social doctrine. Instead of explaining that individualism regards human beings as sovereign, essentially capable of and responsible to govern their own lives while forging voluntary unions with others like them, they caricature it as atomism, self-sufficiency, etc., etc.
    Individualists are for them anti-social–simply because they do not accept that anyone has the right to herd them into groups they haven’t chosen to join. For these folks a Rotary Club, an athletic team or an orchestra isn’t a social undertaking unless people are drafted or conscripted into it! They like Charles Taylor’s smear in his essay “Atomism” and refuse to pay any heed to, for example, my own book, Classical Individualism (Routledge, 1998) in which this nonsensical caricature is refuted and rejected with a theory of neo-Aristotelian individualism. If you want to know about what most libertarians think of the human individual, I suggest you read some of their works instead of those who embark upon distorting their ideas so as to score points and try to justify their coercive regimes.

  2. Do we really need to discuss this stuff here?

    I realise you’ll respond that politics underpins all we do, and people need to understand the systems we work within and where various interests are trying to drive them, but it’s a distraction from the real work of permaculturists.

    Politics and political blogging seems to be a big American pasttime, but it doesn’t seem to be very productive. Everybody argues with each other and thinks everyone else is wrong, but nobody ever changes their mind so the arguing doesn’t actually achieve anything.

    I know people who are into permaculture and are libertarians. They’re going to be put off by these attacks on their beliefs, and you’ll lose them as readers. Discussing politics simply polarises people, when what we really need to be doing is working together and sharing ideas.

    Similarly, I wouldn’t want to see articles about “my religion is right and all the others are wrong”.

    I fear you’re just going to lose readers, and with them lose some of the diversity of input that we need in order to find real solutions.

    I much prefer the Transition approach, where they essentially ignore politics and politicians, and get on with the job at hand. If politicians or governments want to help, then by all means let them, but trying to get them to change or to solve our problems for us will never work.

  3. While I respect your viewpoint Darren, I’m afraid I don’t agree. It’s politics and economics that have shaped our present state of affairs. Not only shaped, but encouraged it. We will never get out of this mess unless we build a political/economic framework that works for the good of people and place. That’s what the whole ‘Strategies for an alternative global nation’ is about.

    It’s because we “ignore politics and politicians” that the status quo continues.

    Keep in mind, these articles are not an attack on anyone. They’re reasoned articles that encourage people to think about the basic concepts they’ve subscribed to. People who are interested can read and discuss, learn and be edified as a result. If it’s not your cup of tea, simply read the articles you prefer. Perhaps one day you’ll come to appreciate their importance. Perhaps soon, when governments make decrees that seriously and directly impact on your ability to survive – when you realise you cannot live outside of politics, but must transform it into something that works.

    And please keep in mind that many people are interested in these topics. Respect their choices also please.

  4. Darren – I’m curious if you read part II. You might start to see why this topic is important. A society of individuals only thinking in their own interest will end up, well… much like the world we see today.

  5. > I know people who are into permaculture and are libertarians.

    I’m one of them. I still like reading this site for all the agricultural/gardening articles – but I steer clear of the political articles :)

  6. Yes Craig, you are right. The only interest we should have is to design systems that set people and the nature in harmony or balance with each other. Earlier traditional permanent cultures, who managed this, did it because of cooperation and shared pattern languages. Equal relevant for gardening as for people.

    But keep in mind we permaculturist are not ideologists, we are like the roots of a tree, ALWAYS searching NEW ways!

  7. Darren, I see your point; “leadership from the bottom”, to quota Wendell Berry:

    But surely it should help if we could get a little help from the top!

    What to be the worst problem today, libertarianism, or totalitarian democracy , I surely don’t know. What is for sure is that why the popularity of libertarianism is growing today, is because many feel suffocating from the control of bureaucracy.

    Still, libertarianism is equal as dangerous. Just as little as a totalitarian democracy has to do with cooperation, has libertarianism. They are both antithesis of permaculture, because permaculture is all about cooperation!

  8. JBob,

    considering that this and the subsequent article discuss some of the major problems with libertarian ideology in great detail, and makes a number of interesting points, can’t you word a more appropriate answer than just: “When will the banner graphics reflect the name change? ‘The Permaculture and Anti-Libertarian Research Institute’ “?

  9. When will the banner graphics reflect the name change? “The Permaculture and Anti-Libertarian Research Institute”

    Interesting debunk of the article series so far JBob.

    JBob, I’m sure without you these articles would never have come up.

    This is accurate. There were repeated calls from JBob to simply remove government and privatise everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING – land, seas, rivers, bugs, bears, etc.) and let the invisible hand magically make everything right again. When asked to outline (by way of a blog post or even just comment) more details on steps he’d like to see taken and how he saw things playing out if those steps were taken, JBob refuses to give any evidence that he’s thought this through fully. Instead he continues to just make brief dive-bomb assaults by way of negative comments without any substance.

    I’ve taken JBob’s comments seriously, and in the course of doing so have run into idealogical concerns that have prompted me to look into this libertarian mindset more than I otherwise would have.

    Now, I want to be clear on something – I sympathise with a lot of JBob’s views, in that the behaviour of politicians and the policies they produce are often, or even generally, counterproductive. I also agree that people tend to look after what is their own – people need some sense of incentive and reward to motivate them – but areas where I part company are the belief that everything on the planet should be owned by an individual, that there are no institutions and services that are needed and should be funded by a nation in aggregate, and that unrestrained market forces will somehow magically heal the landscape.

    JBob’s chant has been one of “remove government”, “privatise everything” and “we’ll just sue each other into nirvana” after that.

    My chant has been one of waking people up to present realities, and pushing for a participatory democracy movement of holistically educated, objective, ethically minded people who will get more involved in the decision-making process through recognising that governments work for us, not the other way around.

    And, as Øyvind Holmstad expressed in a comment on part II of this series – I put Ernest’s excellent posts up also just to save me a lot of time. I’ve previously felt the need to respond to JBob’s comments because of their potential to lead other readers down a ‘just remove government and all will be well’ road that even JBob doesn’t appear to have considered fully (at least not enough for him to share how he sees it working). I would much rather spend my time working on other areas.

    If JBob is unwilling to flesh out his views and turn it into a blog post others can consider, but instead continues to divebomb with sporadic unsubstantiated comment-fire, then such comments will no longer be moderated through. I don’t have the time for it, and our readers deserve better.

    Other libertarians who make similar comments in the future will simply be referred to this series and requested to respond intelligently to the points made, or otherwise please troll elsewhere.

  10. Craig,

    I’ve previously felt the need to respond to JBob’s comments because of their potential to lead other readers down a ‘just remove government and all will be well’ road that even JBob doesn’t appear to have considered fully (at least not enough for him to share how he sees it working).

    Well, I don’t know for sure, but my impression so far is that the vast majority of readers of this blog seem quite able to discern between useful perspectives and ideas of the “I have a miracle recipe that will solve all problems – and if it doesn’t, I of course have an explanation for that as well: we have not been faithful enough in its implementation” sort.

  11. Craig – no, I didn’t read Part II (and I won’t be reading Parts III to VII, either). I’m not a Libertarian myself, and don’t feel a need to read about what’s wrong with their viewpoint. I didn’t mean to be critical, and you guys certainly have a right to post whatever you like on your site.

    I just wanted to express my concern that it will spark arguments about political viewpoints and may turn a portion of your potential audience away from your site. I think it was the bit about it being a 7-part series that gave me the shivers! :-)

    Yes, I respect that there are people out there that want to read these topics. I know I can just skip them, and read the ones I’m interested in. But I fear that others my throw the baby out with the bathwater and you’ll limit your audience if you get too political.

  12. Ban libertarian comments? That might be difficult since you refuse to know what libertarianism is.

    Who owns this site? Doesn’t it reflect the views of some sort of formal “PRI” organization? Geoff Lawton? Nobody minds you making it your own personal soapbox?

  13. Thanks Darren. I understand. I just think there is a key issue at stake that you might not perhaps realise the significance of. That being that you and I and JBob and others all seek to see transition. Libertarianism has the distinct potential to see us transition to consumer-/resource-based feudalism, rather than community-based participatory democracy.

    You wrote further above:

    I much prefer the Transition approach, where they essentially ignore politics and politicians, and get on with the job at hand.

    The reality is the transition movement does not ignore politics and politicians at all. Indeed, the transition movement seeks to have local government present at peak oil and other transition meetings, and encourages communities to create change at all levels – bottom up influencing top-down, community-requested policy changes that nurture positive transition. The transition movement seeks to change policies to suit community members’ desires for a transition to relocalise and create more resilient communities.

    The call to just ‘remove government’ leaves us wide open to all kinds of suffering, and doesn’t address the need for staged and peaceful land redistribution, which is going to be a serious dilemma in the ensuing years.

    Here are a couple of examples of what I think needs to happen:

    Libertarianism leads to social atomism (see part II…), not community development. Social atomism is the exact opposite of what we need.

  14. JBob, you wrote:

    Ban libertarian comments?

    No, but ban repeated negative comments where the commenter refuses to clearly outline constructive alternatives.

    That might be difficult since you refuse to know what libertarianism is.

    I’ve repeatedly requested you clearly state:

    1) what actual changes in our ‘invisible structures’ would you like to see made – please give us details.

    2) tell us what you think the outcome of those changes will be (i.e. a projection of how the changes you want to see made in politics and economics will impact us in the short, medium and long term).

    This way the community of readers can try to see your view in a clealy outlined form, rather than the regular, broken-record, brief afore-mentioned negative insubstantial comments. How else can people really take you seriously?

    I’ve repeatedly given you the invitation to come and stand on the ‘soap box’. I’ve repeatedly told you I’ll put your post online, assuming it’s of reasonable quality (i.e. readable, relevant, etc.). As a permaculturist, you’re welcome to have your say. This site is to be used as an open forum, as long as the topic is relevant and conducive to developing a permanent culture or to stimulate discussion on how to acheive this.

    Who owns this site?

    In a sense, everyone interested in permaculture. The site is intended to help transition society to a permanent culture. That entails a broad spectrum of human interest and endeavour – including politics and economics (indeed, these invisible structures are foundational).

    Doesn’t it reflect the views of some sort of formal “PRI” organization?

    It reflects the views of permaculturists who write articles.

    Geoff Lawton?

    I can’t speak for Geoff. I’ll leave him to speak for himself:

    Nobody minds you making it your own personal soapbox?

    As repeatedly said, the podium is yours. Tell us all about what you want to see happen, and how you think it’ll work. Just please think it through thoroughly, as you have a discerning readership listening in.

    Assuming you’ve thought through your beliefs in thorough fashion, it shouldn’t be so hard for you to put something together, and Ernest’s article series should not trouble you either. I haven’t seen any reasonable discourse from you on Ernest’s very reasonable thoughts.

    I think most would have to agree I’ve been most patient with you. And my patience with you negatively impacts others here, as I take time to debate with you that I should be spending on more constructive pursuits. Hence this article series – a bid to get you examining this topic closer and dealing with it reasonably and thoroughly, or, failing that, to get you to quit taking my time up when you consistently fail to give evidence you’ve thought these things through properly.

  15. I thought comments sections are for “comments,” not books I might write to be read only by a couple of people who are not receptive the ideas.

    Pretending that I have never provided you with substantial explanations is disingenuous. I will let my old comments speak for themselves.

    There is much to promote regarding regenerative agriculture and ecological design without getting into political arguments. Perhaps I will hold my nose and continue to make use of this site for those purposes.

  16. Hm, I am hesitant to even comment as I can not make any claim to know much about the topic of freedom. From my experiences with libertarian philosophy, it could simply be stated that “man does not know.” He does not know what is best for him, where he is going, how he got here or what he should be doing. Because of this state of ignorance, any forced push in a direction will lead to a collapse of sorts.
    I guess this is where religion, theology or ethics comes into play. If we recognize that there are indeed “self evident truths” to be had in this world gained from the observation of nature or contemplation of reality then the truth will guide us.
    So, when I think about it. Maybe it comes down to this. Is the discovery and implementation of guiding truth better found out by the individual in a scatter shot method that could lead to a lot of individual suffering. Or is is better left to a collective group, which could push in the wrong way and do a great deal of damage in the process and potentially never get there.

    I think the end result is the same, if the individual discovers the truth and is able to put it into practice, then the larger population can see the benefits yielded and integrate it into their own lives. If the collective is led in the right direction, they could make enormous progress very rapidly towards a widespread deployment of what ever this insight is.

    Is this the disconnect between Craig and Jbob, Craig feels that we know the truth and need a large scale rapid push towards implementing it. While Jbob feels that if he simply gets his affairs in order and lives in accordance to the truth he has distilled it will spontaneously organize itself for the rest of us?
    Or am I completely wrong?

  17. JBob – my invitation was for you to present your case via blog post, not comments. You do know that (I’ve said it clearly several times).

    Not disingenuous at all. Your side of the debating has never included a clear enunciation of your ‘game plan’, which is what I was after. Without that we can never be sure of what you would like to see. We can only get vague libertarian assumptions that don’t mesh with present realities.

    Perhaps I will hold my nose and continue to make use of this site for those purposes.

    Thank you – that would be appreciated, and this series may have served its purpose.

  18. Is this the disconnect between Craig and Jbob, Craig feels that we know the truth and need a large scale rapid push towards implementing it. While Jbob feels that if he simply gets his affairs in order and lives in accordance to the truth he has distilled it will spontaneously organize itself for the rest of us? Or am I completely wrong?

    Christian, to get a better understanding of my personal (subjective) view, you’d need to go through quite a few of my articles and through the subsequent comment threads. And my view is, like everyone, an evolving one also, from reading, writing, listening, and observing – not just from a screen, but from rather dramatic exposure to people living very difficult lives in many situations worldwide.

    The key concept I’d like to get across is ‘cooperation’, not individualism. And that cooperation must be based on objectivity and, as you say, observation of self-evident truths – notably demonstrated in the natural world. Further, objectivity and observation must be built upon ethics. Self-interest must give way to self-sacrifice, ambition to humility and voluntary simplicity.

    I think it’s important to note that ideological beliefs are subjective, but that not all are benign. There are practical outcomes from ideologies. We just need to look around us. The oft-quoted statement that you cannot get out of a situation by using the same thinking that got you there is certainly appropriate here.

    Many may prefer not to have these discussions, but few actual, tangible acheivements come without pain, without much thought and observation and discussion. And some issues come down to base principles which if followed lead mankind down one road or another – one positive, one not.

    As per the article Oyvind linked to above, about a talk by a man I admire greatly (Wendell Berry):

    A passive populace obsessed with easy answers has led to an economy that is destroying America’s land.

    Because of my work, I’m acutely aware of how behind the 8-ball we are as a race. To get people back onto the land, with small scale systems being encouraged and incentivised, I can see only one option – an increasingly lucid population seeing the need to relocalise food/clothing/housing production, in a carefully staged but rapid pace that minimises suffering as much as possible. Simply dismantling government cannot accomplish this, and only leaves the door wide open for a last ditch resource scramble. While it may never happen, and, I would venture to say, it probably won’t, the only really doable strategy I see is for an increasingly aware populace pushing government to adjust policies, subsidies, incentives and regulations to foster the transition towards a new economy – one that’s steady state, not perpetual growth and accumulation, and one that puts value back into natural capital, as opposed to short term gain and gadgets.

  19. See this as one of billions of examples Christian:

    They’re seeking to privatise resources. Then, once accomplished, they’re apply the self-interest principle to ‘their property’. Self interest melts the arctic, self interest profits from the results. A few make short term gains, while the majority suffers (ultimately the majority become everyone in total). An alternative is a tide of discontent – born of increasing holistic education in present realities and lucidity as a result – urging the placement of regulations that enforce a decree that that oil and gas should remain right where it is.

  20. “The decline of democratic discourse has come about largely at the hands of the elites, or “talking classes,” as Lasch refers to them. Intelligent debate about common concerns has been almost entirely supplanted by ideological quarrels, sour dogma, and name-calling. The growing insularity of what passes for public discourse today has been exacerbated, he says, by the loss of “third places” — beyond the home and workplace — which foster the sort of free-wheeling and spontaneous conversation among citizens on which democracy thrives. Without the civic institutions — ranging from political parties to public parks and informal meeting places — that “promote general conversation across class lines,” social classes increasingly “speak to themselves in a dialect of their own, inaccessible to outsiders.” In “The Lost Art of Argument,” Lasch laments the degradation of public discourse at the hands of a media establishment more committed to a “misguided ideal of objectivity” than to providing context and continuity — the foundation for a meaningful public debate.”


    As I told before, this blog is like a hypercafé, the third room in hyperspace.

  21. Christian,

    I think you’re very much on the right track. And when you say “a collective group, which could push in the wrong way and do a great deal of damage in the process” I would like make to make sure you have in mind the proper scale of “great deal.” We are talking about hundreds of millions dead in the 20th century alone: Mao, Stalin, Hitler (who was *democratically* elected let us never forget), Pol Pot, etc. ( That’s what often happens as the “wrong” people get control.

    The “wrong” people get into places of such power far more often than the “right” people for many reason, one being that normal people don’t want control over others, but sociopaths crave it.

    And remember there is no such thing as “collective decisions” or “public property.” Since humans are not capable of hive-like, Borg-style decision making or property sharing, terms like “collective will” and “public good” are invariably used by tyrants and the elite to fool us into accepting their own dictates as being “our” decisions. This propaganda can be goofy and ridiculous as in North Korea (unless you’re a North Korean who tragically actually believes it) or slick and refined, as in most 1st world countries. But the story of governments everywhere is the same: rule over the many by the few at the point of a gun. It’s not exaggeration to call this a millenia-long enslavement.

    Libertarianism recognizes that each person owns their own life and the justly-acquired property needed to maintain life. Contrary to Craig’s oft-repeated assertion, it in no way reduces cooperation among men. On the contrary, it eliminates coercive command and control and replaces it with true, mutually-voluntary cooperation of limitless variety. The astounding array of mutually beneficial interactions that become possible with such freedom is truly exciting to ponder.

    Libertarianism will not produce utopia, but never forget what it has to be compared to: the institutionalized, ever-present threat of coercive physical force of some men against others, i.e. government. Once you go down the rabbit-hole of seeing governments for what they really are, stripped of all their self-justifying propaganda, you don’t go back.

  22. JBob,

    may I ask you to explain the term “the justly-acquired property needed to maintain life” in some more detail? Life can be maintained in a variety of ways, at a variety of levels – how far does this right go, and what is “justly-acquired” property? Was the land in the US “justly acquired” by the immigrants from its previous occupants? If so, why? If not, why not? Who judges?

    That’s the basic problem with libertarianism: if there is a dispute, if there are conflicting claims, who is going to be the judge? In another comment you claimed that “jurisdiction” would be essentially “just another industry” that would benefit from privatization. So… what if the “product justice” produced by one “jurisdiction company” is only of appeal to one of two customers in a conflict? What would then the other one do? Why would he accept the verdict?

    You keep on insisting that Libertarianism would be the antithesis to the concept of a “state”. But actually, the question “who decides if there is a dispute” is a very fundamental and deep one which every culture has to resolve – also tribal ones. So, in that sense, libertarianism rather is the antithesis to “culture”. Are you really perplexed about why it does not go down well with many people actively involved in perma-culture?

  23. I hope you can get up some posts here about tribalism Craig, with similar quality as these articles made by Ernest Partridge. Because tribalism is of course the way to live in harmony with human biology and nature, we are not generated for “atomism”. Our biology is generated through tribalism, and is hence tribal!

  24. A Tribal World:

    “Instead of falling for false ideas about nature, why not pay attention to what we actually know about human nature and the behaviour of our near relatives? The message from biology is that we are group animals: intensely social, interested in fairness and cooperative enough to have taken over the world. Our great strength is precisely our ability to overcome competition. Why not design society such that this strength is expressed at every level?”


  25. Thomas,

    Justly acquired property: “1. Everyone has absolute property right over his or her own body; and 2. everyone has an absolute property right over previously unowned natural resources (land) which he first occupies and brings into use (in the Lockean phrase, “Mixing his labor with the land”).

    Final arbitration: See #5. And for more detail: and text search for “suppose, then” (Sorry, their in-page linking html doesn’t seem to work right.)

  26. JBob,

    on final arbitration: the perspective proposed in that link pretty much is along the lines of “if I am not happy about the outcome, then the dispute is not settled”. Ah. To some degree that makes me wonder if this perspective is a result of an early socialisation process having gone wrong. Have you libertarians ever played any sports where there was a referee when you grew up?

  27. JBob,

    there is an issue with the idea that “everyone has an absolute property right over previously unowned natural resources (land) which he first occupies and brings into use” wich is so fundamental that it deserves being addressed in a separate comment.

    Let’s just for now assume that there were no prior occupants of the land (clearly a false assumption for America). Would you then say that, if you first occupy and work the land, you have a right to clear-fell a slope “that belongs to you” and let it erode?

  28. I AM THOROGHLY OFFENDED BY THIS ARTICLE and by the fact that it was published here. I can see plenty of things about permaculture that are quintessentially libertarian. For example, the promotion of self-sufficiency, and the support of local economies is extremely libertarian. Government interference and subsidies, and big government agricultural policies are a huge part of the problem of unsustainable agriculture in the US and around the world.

    Self proclaimed “progressives” are promoting the opposite of progress with their attempts to strengthen big government’s chokehold on individual families who are the true engine of change in the world.

    I have been extremely amazed and inspired by permaculture over the last several years. I even have plans to teach and help convert many old farmers in my area here in Utah and Nevada to permaculture and more natural agricultural practices. My family’s few hundred acres will still see much change, but your political opinions unnecessarily offend many of those who you should be trying to attract to the cause-namely, freedom loving, libertarian FARMERS.


  29. Freedom, libertarian philosophy, and Permaculture all go together.

    I don’t see where violent monopolies can productively come into the mix.

    This article series is highly shameful and disappointing.

  30. Alex,

    there is just one big problem here: nature abhors a vacuum. If you abolished the state today, establishing a lawless situation, you would have multiple organizations, typically those presently labeled as “organized crime”, competing for power. Of course, union brings power, so the organized groups will be the most influential ones.

    What would that mean to a small business owner? You cannot operate without some form of guarantees that what you do today
    will bring benefits in the future, so you cannot function in a completely lawless situation. But who is to provide these guarantees, this basic certainty? Organized crime, of course. Speaking purely in market terms, their product is security (hence they are sort-of private security entrepreneurs), and as you as a business need security, you purchase it from them. They ensure that you won’t be bothered by minor criminals (such as ones operating individually), and ask for a good share of your profits.

    Some call that extortion.

    Now, you would say, what’s so bad about that then – in libertarian anarcho-capitalist terms, let the market decide who will provide security the most efficient way. Well, if providing security requires armed force (as it does here), maintaining the boundaries of your region of influence takes effort, so from the perspective of an armed gang, the only viable strategy is to “provide service” to entire districts, not individual businesses. You as a business owner just won’t have the choice to switch your “security provider” and “let the market decide”. At the very best, you will be able to move and set up business somewhere else. But if you go to another district where there already is someone else providing a similar service, and the ruling armed gang over there knows them as a dependable “client”, while you don’t have good working relations with them yet, then you are, as you try to set up shop, just a problem for a paying “customer”‘s profits, hence, their income – so, switching “security providers” may not be that simple.

    And that, basically, is why it is extortion and not “the security service industry”. You have no choice.

    So, depending on how widespread, well-organized, and homogeneous your organized crime is, you may get anything on the spectrum from the government (which a libertarian probably considers a criminal organization) being driven out by the “next most powerful in the queue other criminal organization” to a dissociation of the state into regions of varying size controlled by different competing groups.

    We have seen this a lot in Russia. Chances are we will see a lot of this in Libya. It certainly is worth watching what happens in Egypt right now.

    I wonder if “let the warlords reign” would be compatible with peoplecare…

    In a certain sense, states emerged through a consolidation process. It pretty much has always been like that. In a sense, you could use the term “gangster boss” to describe ancient chinese emperors. Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who unified China in 221 B.C. functionally was not that different from “the most powerful gangsta in that corner of the world”. Vice versa, it is not too far fetched to describe L.A. gangster boss Tookie Williams by a term such as “king”.

    The alternative? Any form of government has its inherent problems – this includes the “no government” option, as I just reasoned out. Democracy has its problems as well. And here, a very interesting transition took place in the last century. On the one hand, we have the philosophy that “people want and need to be manipulated” (this is how politics is done in the U.S. – if you want to, call it “propagandacracy”), and on the other hand, we have the philosophy that it is very important to ensure that people are educated to a reasonably high level of competence so that they can make up their own mind about issues – and cannot be bamboozled easily. This perspective is especially strong in Germany, where we have had some funny experience with where a propaganda-driven democracy can take us. But German politics as well by now strongly is dominated by propaganda, lobbying, and all sorts of “hidden forces”.

    But we do have people in Germany who are well aware of this, and work hard to keep these forces at bay. With reasonable succes in some areas, less in others. It’s just not easy if the population is so easily distracted with shallow TV shows, fashion magazines, and whatever else, from looking into those things that really matter.

    I can sort-of see why libertarianism is somewhat strong in the U.S., given that this state is about as defunct and corrupt as Italy. But the serious question here is: does it really make that much sense to try preparing the right substrate for organized gangs and gang warfare, or should one not instead work to reestablish those (now badly damaged) fundamental principles that make a democracy function? In the case of the U.S., the bill of rights would be a start.

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