For the 4th: Rothbard quotes on Libertarian Ireland

On the fourth of July I celebrate my wife’s birthday, and the memory of the great warrior for liberty; Murray Rothbard. I always celebrate the memory of Murray by reading some quotes of his and meditating on how those quotes hold up against the news of the day. Try it yourself.

First a few quotes that I like and then a few on the freedom of the libertarian Ireland that my ancestors enjoyed.

Random favourite quotes:

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

“If a man has the right to self-ownership, to the control of his life, then in the real world he must also have the right to sustain his life by grappling with and transforming resources; he must be able to own the ground and the resources on which he stands and which he must use. In short, to sustain his human right.”

On Adam Smith: “The problem is that he originated nothing that was true, and that whatever he originated was wrong.”

“I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual.”

Rothbard quotes on the libertarian Ireland of 650 to 1650:

(Sources: For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty, both by Murray N. Rothbard)

“For the libertarian,  the most interesting and certainly the most poignant example of the creation of a State through conquest was the destruction of the libertarian society of ancient Ireland by England in the seventeenth century, a conquest which established an imperial State and ejected numerous Irish from their cherished land. The libertarian society of Ireland, which lasted for a thousand years –and which will be described further below- was able to resist English conquest for hundreds of years because of the absence of a State which could be conquered easily and then used by the conquerors to rule over the native population.”

“The most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts, however, has been neglected by historians until very recently. And this was also a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but where they operated within a purely state-less and libertarian society. This was ancient Ireland –an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the seventeenth century. And, in contrast to many similarly functioning primitive tribes (such as the Ibos in West Africa, and many European tribes), pre-conquest Ireland was not in any sense a “primitive” society: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of Western Europe.

“For a thousand years, then, ancient Celtic Ireland had no State  or anything like it. As the leading authority in ancient Irish law has written: “There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of justice… There was no trace of State-administered justice.”

“How then was justice secured? The basic political unit of ancient Ireland was the tuath. All “freemen” who owned land, all professionals, and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each tuath’s members formed an annual assembly which decided all common policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed their “kings.” An important point is that, in contrast to primitive tribes, no one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kingship or of geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did, secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Often, two or more tuatha decided to merge into a single, more efficient unit. As Professor Peden states, “the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its members constituted its territorial dimension.” (B) In short, they did not have the modern State with its claim to sovereignty over a given (usually expanding) territorial area, divorced from the landed property rights of its subjects; on the contrary, tuatha were voluntary associations which only comprised the landed properties of its voluntary members. Historically, about 80 to 100 tuatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland.

“But what of the elected “king”? Did he constitute a form of State ruler? Chiefly, the king functioned as a religious high priest, presiding over the worship rites of the tuath, which functioned as a voluntary religious, as well as a social and political, organization. As in pagan, pre-Christian, priesthoods, the kingly function was hereditary, this practice carrying over to Christian times. The king was elected by the tuath from within a royal kin-group (the derbfine), which carried the hereditary priestly function. Politically, however, the king had strictly limited functions: he was the military leader of the tuath, and he presided over the tuath assemblies. But he could only conduct war or peace negotiations as agent of the assemblies; and he was in no sense sovereign and had no rights of administering justice over tuath members. He could not legislate, and when he himself was party to a lawsuit, he had to submit his case to an independent judicial arbiter.

“Again, how, then, was law developed and justice maintained? In the first place, the law itself was based on a body of ancient and immemorial custom, passed down as oral and then written tradition through a class of professional jurists called brehons.  The brehons were in no sense public, or governmental, officials; they were simply selected by parties to disputes on the basis of their reputations for wisdom, knowledge of the customary law, and the integrity of their decisions. As Professor Peden states:

“… the professional jurists were consulted by parties to disputes for advice as to what the law was in particular cases, and these same men often acted as arbitrators between suitors. They remained at all times private persons, not public officials; their functioning depended upon their knowledge of the law and the integrity of their judicial reputations.”

“Furthermore, the brehons had no connection whatsoever with the individual tuatha or  with their kings. They were completely private, national in scope, and were used by disputants throughout Ireland. Moreover, and this is a vital point, in contrast to the system of private Roman lawyers, the brehon was all there was; there were no other judges, no “public” judges of any kind, in ancient Ireland.

“It was the brehons who were schooled in the law, and who added glosses and applications to the law to fit changing conditions. Furthermore, there was no monopoly, in any sense, of the brehon jurists; instead, several competing schools of jurisprudence existed and competed for the custom of the Irish people.

“How were the decisions of the brehons enforced? Through an elaborate, voluntarily developed system of “insurance,” or sureties. Men were linked together by a variety of surety relationships by which they guaranteed one another for the righting of wrongs, and for the enforcement of justice and the decisions of the brehons. In short, the brehons themselves were not involved in the enforcement of decisions, which rested again with private individuals linked through sureties. There were various types of surety. For example, the surety would guarantee with his own property the payment of a debt, and then join the plaintiff in enforcing a debt judgment if the debtor refused to pay. In that case, the debtor would have to pay double damages: one to the original creditor, and another as compensation to his surety. And this system applied to all offences, aggressions and assaults as well as commercial contracts; in short, it applied to all cases of what we would call “civil” and “criminal” law. All criminals were considered to be “debtors” who owed restitution and compensation to their victims, who thus became their “creditors.” The victim would gather his sureties around him and proceed to apprehend the criminal or to proclaim his suit publicly and demand that the defendant submit to adjudication of their dispute with the brehons. The criminal might then send his own sureties to negotiate a settlement or agree to submit the dispute to the brehons. If he did not do so, he was considered an “outlaw” by the entire community;  he could no longer enforce any claim of his own in the courts, and he was treated to the opprobium of the entire community.

“There were occasional “wars,” to be sure, in the thousand years of Celtic Ireland, but they were minor brawls, negligible compared to the devastating wars that racked the rest of Europe. As Professor Peden points out, “without the coercive apparatus of the State which can through taxation and conscription mobilize large amounts of arms and manpower, the Irish were unable to sustain any large scale military force in the field for any length of time. Irish wars… were pitiful brawls and cattle raids by European standards.”

“And perhaps the major reason it took the English centuries to conquer ancient Ireland is that the Irish had no State, and that there was therefore no ruling governmental structure to keep treaties, transmit orders, etc. It is for this reason that the English kept denouncing the “wild” and “uncivilized” Irish as “faithless,” because they would not keep treaties with the English conquerors. The English could never understand that, lacking any sort of State, the Irish warriors who concluded treaties with the English could only speak for themselves; they could never commit any other group of the Irish population.”

“The idea of primacy for restitution to the victim has great precedent in law; indeed, it is an ancient principle of law  which has been allowed to wither away as the State has aggrandized and monopolized the institutions of justice. In medieval Ireland, for example, a king was not the head of State but rather a crime-insurer; if someone committed a crime, the first thing that happened was that the king paid the “insurance” benefit to the victim, and then proceeded to force the criminal to pay the king in turn (restitution to the victim’s insurance company being completely derived from the idea of restitution to the victim).”

“Moreover, in ancient Ireland, a society existing for a thousand years until the conquest by Cromwell, “there was no trace of State-administered justice”, competing schools of professional jurists interpreted and applied the common body of customary law, with enforcement undertaken by competing and voluntarily supported tuatha, or insurance agencies. Furthermore, these customary rules were not haphazard or arbitrary, but consciously rooted in natural law, discoverable by man’s reason.”

“For a thousand years ancient Ireland, until the Cromwellian conquest,  enjoyed a system of numerous jurists and schools of jurists, and numerous protection agencies, which competed within geographical areas without anyone becoming dominant.”


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