The Classic Liberals and their mistake

In his book “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto” Murray N. Rothbard gives us a little history of the Classical Liberals of the 17th and 18th century. He wrote the following:

The libertarian creed emerged from the “classical liberal” movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the Western world, specifically, from the English Revolution of the seventeenth century. This radical libertarian movement, even though only partially successful in its birthplace, Great Britain, was still able to usher in the Industrial Revolution there by freeing industry and production from the strangling restrictions of State control and urban government-supported guilds. For the classical liberal movement was, throughout the Western world, a mighty libertarian “revolution” against what we might call the Old Order — the ancien régime — which had dominated its subjects for centuries. This regime had, in the early modern period beginning in the sixteenth century, imposed an absolute central State and a king ruling by divine right on top of an older, restrictive web of feudal land monopolies and urban guild controls and restrictions. The result was a Europe stagnating under a crippling web of controls, taxes, and monopoly privileges to produce and sell conferred by central (and local) governments upon their favorite producers. This alliance of the new bureaucratic, war-making central State with privileged merchants — an alliance to be called “mercantilism” by later historians — and with a class of ruling feudal landlords constituted the Old Order against which the new movement of classical liberals and radicals arose and rebelled in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Classical Liberals sought to overturn the Old Order and level the playing field for all people to the extent that they could, which meant that the State was to be kept extremely small and its tax revenues were to be kept as small as possible. The classical liberals saw that taxes enabled the State and gave it power over the people and they knew that power corrupts.

I once saw a list of beliefs of those of us who urge voluntary cooperation. This list is also a fairly good description of what the Classical Liberals were urging in the 17th and 18th century.

  1. Private ownership of property; not only of personal possessions but also of land, homes, natural resources, tools, and capital goods;
  2. Contracts and voluntary exchange of goods and services, by individuals or groups, on the expectation of mutual benefit;
  3. Totally free competition among all buyers and sellers — in price, quality, and all other aspects of exchange — without ex ante restraints or burdensome barriers to entry;
  4. Entrepreneurial discovery, undertaken not only to compete in existing markets but also in order to discover and develop new opportunities for economic or social benefit; and
  5. Spontaneous order, recognized as a significant and positive coordinating force — in which decentralized negotiations, exchanges, and entrepreneurship converge to produce large-scale coordination without, or beyond the capacity of, any deliberate plans or explicit common blueprints for social or economic development.

The above list is essentially the Classical Liberal vision of laissez-faire capitalism and it is essentially the librarian view as well. The problem is that the list allows for the State in the view of a Classical Liberal. This is the idea of a “night watchman” state where the government is constrained to a few well defined and necessary duties. The government of the US started out just that way under the Articles of Confederation but look at how short a time it took to see power accumulate at the center. After just nine years of the Articles of Confederation we saw the enactment of the present Constitution and then centralized power really took off. From a “night watchman” start, we now have a central government with seemingly unlimited power to do as it pleases. Many recognize that we live in a police state now.


I have seen many people try to put a date on where America really went wrong. A favorite is the war between the states which meant that no state could secede from the union and “vote with its feet” any longer. Others say that it was WWI and the emergence of Empire by the US. Still others blame the reaction to the great depression by Franklin D. Roosevelt. I reject all the various guesses as to where we went wrong. I think that the new nation went wrong by forming a government in the first place. There was no way to write down some rules on a piece of paper that would constrain power-seeking men over time. Sooner or later the new government would grow teeth and bite the people. History is a testament to my view.

After centuries of experience most people continue to believe that “all good things flow from the compassionate nature of government.” Has the record of the actions of governments in the 20th century not shown us the true nature of the beast?

I am convinced that the Classic Liberals have been on the right path, but they need to recognize that the state is far too dangerous to ever make use of. We need to let people interact via mutual free-will consent. People will need protection since men are not Angels, and so private companies will arise to offer that protection to their customers. The free market can provide anything that the state claims to provide — and without pointing a gun at your head to make you buy it.

How to advance the cause of liberty

“Better to die fighting for freedom then be a prisoner all the days of your life.”
― Bob Marley

We are coming up on another election cycle. This one will be the first one in a while that does not have Ron Paul somehow involved in a race someplace. Ron Paul had an ideology and message the last time he ran for the nomination for president that many young people found very attractive. Ron Paul seemed to tap into some sort of energy source when he ran, but he is now out of the running and I don’t see anyone on the horizon that comes close to supporting the ideas of the Classical Liberals as Dr. Paul did.

As I write this, millions of people throughout the world are in opposition to the dehumanizing, oppressive, violent, and destructive essence of the governmental systems we see around the world. The fascist corporate-state systems that are exploiting human beings for ends that serve the overlords are causing an awakening among the downtrodden — especially the young. Peace and liberty is the natural state of affairs that mankind aspires to. Private property ownership and respect for the inviolability of the individual are qualities that people around the world are coming to demand out of their existence.

Those of us who are drawn to the ideas of libertarianism or anarchism are in agreement that we don’t know exactly how things would work in a free world. We have some ideas and can make some educated guesses, but free men and women will remake the world in ways that I can hardly image. When someone asks “who will build the roads” I always like to answer that I don’t know exactly but at least the State will not be killing you or other innocent people and that seems far more important to me.

As we move forward from this point in time, we have an opportunity to show others that the state does not work for the masses but rather against the masses. The news reports from all over the world show us governments brutalizing, impoverishing and enslaving their own populations. At the same time, we see alternative schools, private roads, private security firms, and other examples of the market providing non-state solutions that are far better than the coersive brutality of the state.

I think that the best way to promote liberty is by your own personal behavior. Be the free man your philosophy calls for and let that encourage others to live the libertarian philosophy. Now I realize that the state keeps us enslaved, but I am referring to living as close to the non-aggression principle as current conditions allow. Always look to individuals for solutions and not the state. Don’t think that we will ever be able to free mankind from politics by using politics — you just can’t use evil means to accomplish good ends.

There are all kinds of approaches people might take to further liberty.  We can use peaceful demonstrations against the brutality of the state. We could run for public office like Ron Paul did and use that campaign as a platform to spread the ideas of peace and liberty. Some will try writing op-eds or blog posts. Others might write books. Whatever people try, we should support those efforts that are consistent with furthering the cause of liberty. I feel that as long as efforts are consistent with the N.A.P. then we should be supportive rather than critical. I am of the view that running for political office is counter-productive but I did applaud Ron Paul in his runs for president due to the message he was spreading via his campaign. He succeeded in raising the conscious awareness of millions of people so that they began to see the state for the vicious racket that it is and that was well worth the whole effort. But even so, I warn those who think electoral politics can aid us to not be fooled by the many candidates that will talk “libertarian” to get your vote. Ronald Reagan talked “get the government off your back” a lot, but in the end he built up the power and brutality of the government with every move he made.

As we think about advancing libertarian principles, let us remember that the statists are easy targets since the statists must defend the horrific track record of the states around the world. We have generations of evidence that statist programs grounded in socialistic central planning lead to poverty, brutality, misery, and are utter failures from the perspective of the common man. Even regulatory systems can now be understood to be nothing more than a cover for industry-desired cartelism and corporate welfare. The failure of keeping the state from controlling the economy has led to bankruptcy of entire civilizations. The state is the civilization killer while the free individual working with others in mutual, voluntary cooperation is the civilization builder.

The state leads to a deeper bankruptcy than just in material terms. The state leads to moral bankruptcy as well. Those who use the power of the state to aggress against innocent people are damned by their actions and can not possibly be moral human beings. All the minions of the state are party to the wars, brutal police-state practices, torture, spying, and all the rest. The state is an institutional order that has no moral foundations at all — it is built upon raw aggression. The state will always treat its human subjects as mere assets to be exploited on behalf of the purposes of the state itself.

We must do what we can do to further liberty and freedom, and we must encourage others who are doing likewise. As another election cycle approaches remember that voting for “a good candidate” is not the answer. The problem of politics will not be cured via politics.


Authentic Liberalism

So what is “liberalism” to the average American? I bet most people would say a “liberal” is a Democratic Party voter who favors gun control, abortion, wealth redistribution, compulsory public education, government control of almost everything in life, gay rights, belief that human economic activity endangers life on the planet, and so on with a large laundry list of “causes”. Most people would also say that an American “liberal” is the opposite of an American “conservative”. “Liberals” in the U.S. also love to call themselves “progressive”.

Outside of the U.S. there is a different view of what it means to be a “liberal”.  Outside America “liberalism” is quite distinct from the modern American definition. Liberalism overseas is in the tradition of Adam Smith, John Locke, and Frédéric Bastiat. Ralph Raico once wrote a wonderful description of the classical liberal tradition which is still close to just “liberalism” is some countries but the very opposite of “liberalism” in the U.S.

Classical Liberalism, or “liberalism” outside the U.S., is the political creed of those who favor liberty over the state, practice peace rather than war, and believe that the laissez-faire market, property rights and voluntary cooperation is the foundation of a just society. They see nothing wrong with wealth accumulation as long as it was accumulated  by the peaceful and productive means of voluntary free exchange and not the political means of plunder and government privilege.

Well informed readers will recognize that Classical Liberalism is the forerunner of the modern libertarian movement. There are a few modern Americans who self-identify as “liberals” who still claim the legacy of Classical Liberalism for themselves in spite of the fact that classical liberalism is the direct opposite of the state-worshiping “liberalism” of modern America. The classical liberals believe in individual liberty, distrust government, and believe in decentralization and the self-organizing effectiveness of society. In short, my friends, the very opposite of today’s Democratic Party Liberals who favor tax and spend with total control of our lives by the central government.

I once wrote “I want the term “liberal” back!” and I still do. After all, modern American Liberalism is totally inconsistent with the traditions of classical liberalism and modern libertarianism. The modern “liberal-left” talks about humanitarianism and putting people above profits but they favor the iron fist of government domination over the voluntary cooperation of free individuals. People just don’t do what the modern liberal totalitarians think they should do!  Now these statists will usually try to obscure the fact fact they favor total government control by claiming that they do not favor state violence and besides that we all are ruled by government with our consent.  (I never gave my “consent”, did you?)

The state is God to the American liberal-progressive mindset while the libertarian (classical liberal) is not looking for a Utopia on earth but just the maximization of freedom, progress, happiness, and material well being through voluntary cooperation.

The American left-liberal joins the American conservative in being soft on the police state and the imperial war machine. Oh, each side will often decry the other’s wars but nothing changes as one side gets power and the other loses. A change in administration in D.C. often does nothing to end foreign wars but rather we often see a renewed fierceness in foreign aggressions with a change in administration. And both the “liberals” and the “conservatives” love the militarized police since the police is to the state as the edge is to the knife.

The classical liberal tradition needs to re-claim the term “liberal” if we can, but more important than terms is the fact we need to recapture the philosophy of the classical liberals. That would be a wonderful first step towards ending the present police state and world empire that is the U.S. After that, perhaps we can move on to overcoming any State rule at all.


Libertarianism and tolerance

I was reading Robert Wenzel and he referenced a great essay by Murray Rothbard on myths about libertarianism. In that essay we see the following:

 “The fact is that libertarianism is not and does not pretend to be a complete moral, or aesthetic theory; it is only a political theory, that is, the important subset of moral theory that deals with the proper role of violence in social life. . . . Libertarianism holds that the only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal. Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another. What a person does with his or her life is vital and important, but is simply irrelevant to libertarianism.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that there are libertarians who are indeed hedonists and devotees of alternative lifestyles, and that there are also libertarians who are firm adherents of “bourgeois” conventional or religious morality. There are libertarian libertines and there are libertarians who cleave firmly to the disciplines of natural or religious law. There are other libertarians who have no moral theory at all apart from the imperative of non-violation of rights. That is because libertarianism per se has no general or personal moral theory.”  ~Murray Rothbard

There is a point in that quote that is lost on many libertarians. Those of us who are in the liberty movement or who are libertarians do not agree on all things. We don’t have a unifying moral code. What we do have is the non-aggression principle and a strong belief in private property.

Some people try to broaden libertarianism into much more than adherence to the non-aggression principle and all that the principle implies. They seek to claim that libertarians must accept, and even applaud, all manner of deviant behavior from others. They claim we are not allowed to voice disapproval of various life-style choices that we find repugnant or deviant. But these “cosmopolitan libertarians” are dead wrong. I can despise most beliefs and actions of my fellow humans and still be libertarian as long as I do not aggress against them. Heck, I not only will not aggress against them; I try not to associate with the some of the deviant scum at all. I can despise any or all manner of people’s “life-style choices” and remain perfectly tolerant and peaceful toward them.

Libertarianism is not a lifestyle and libertarianism is not libertinism. I remain perfectly libertarian if I choose to not associate with people who cover their bodies with repulsive tattoos. I remain perfectly libertarian if I refuse to associate with people who drone on and on about race in every conversation. I am still libertarian if I choose not to associate with those that I find to be boorish or ignorant — regardless of my reasons for thinking such.

As an example, I don’t care for people who bring children into this world outside of the bonds of marriage. While there are some examples of that working out for the child, I have four decades of work experience that demonstrates to me how utterly terrible single parenthood is for the children. I also know that many times it is not the woman’s fault at all that this happened, but rather the dad who was a real jerk. Regardless, I often will try to avoid conversations with them in any social gathering —  especially that parasite niece in my own family. But under no circumstances would I initiate any kind of aggression against these people. I favor no laws that would punish them in any way. (of course, I don’t favor laws much anyway as many of you might already know)

Libertarians should be “tolerant” if you mean that we should believe in “live and let live”, but we are not “tolerant” if you mean by that we must accept deviant, boorish, thuggish behavior without comment. Heck, in the modern age the “Politically Correct” crowd has gone so far as to label many of us criminal if we do not cheer and applaud outrageous and repulsive behavior.

The right to free association and the right to speak one’s mind were important to the Classical Liberals who fought the American Revolutionary War. We have reached the point where the crazed PC lefties (and others) in the U.S. think that we should all believe as they believe and love or even cheer the deviance and thuggery we see all around us. Frack that! The PC crowd now goes even further these days with claims that I can’t even politely voice my opinions about the latest mindless social fads of the day. I refuse to pretend that a bunch of tattoos on a woman is anything but off-putting. I also refuse to keep my mouth shut about it simply because some would say such thoughts are “intolerant”. Perhaps the should read a classic Rothbard post on “tolerance”.

Mutual and voluntary cooperation does not mean that we have to accept and applaud immoral or stupid behavior from others. It only means that we voluntarily cooperate without coercion with other people at times and places that we choose to do so. If we don’t choose to cooperate with someone, then that is our choice. We are not slaves to “tolerance”.


Withdraw your consent to be governed

The “voluntaryists” are forever telling you to withdraw your consent to be governed and so are many other flavors of anarchist to boot. But what the heck does that mean exactly? Can I do it from my sofa or do I need to get beat up by a cop in the street? Withdrawing your consent to be governed by the state means more than some one time act or marching in a protest march.

To withdraw your consent from the state is to divorce yourself from the state as much as you can; having no loyalty to the state and having nothing to do with the state except when you can not avoid it due to the state’s power and aggression against you. You must see the state as fundamentally unfair and immoral: “a gang of criminals writ large”. You must seek to dissociate yourself from any of the rituals, myths, and symbols of the state as you have no respect or loyalty to the entity that is so hostile to peace, prosperity and your family. Abandon all forms of patriotic worship of the state with its adoration of the state’s flag, its pledge to the flag,  its parades, songs and monuments. Never think of yourself as a “citizen” or member of the state’s minions; and certainly never have good feeling about any of the state’s victories over others.

To withdraw your consent to be governed means to, much as possible, avoid all interaction with the state and its government. This does not mean you need to become an anti-social loner. No, it means being very social and living with your friends, family and neighbors in voluntary cooperation. Help to build society and its natural order.

Try to learn as much as possible about the natural order and what voluntary cooperation among free men and women means: see this post about the old west in America for example. There are historic examples of anarchy or near anarchy that show that people can and do build orderly societies in the absence of the predatory state. Remember that the artificial legal order of the government with its legislator made law is vastly inferior to the system of laws made by the people themselves; see here and here.

To withdraw your consent to be governed can include joining an “underground economy” but it does not mean you have to do that. It would mean talking your children out of the government’s indoctrination camps (“schools”) if you can find some way to do that. You should also avoid believing the main stream media’s account of any story as they are a propaganda arm of the state. Support alternative media.

It is not necessary to “take to the streets” in ’60s style protest marches to withdraw your consent to the idea that the state has some legitimate right to own you and your family. You can first just stop voting. Don’t watch any movies or TV that glorify the military, police, or the state. Don’t support the state in any manner. There is no need to engage in violence; just work to educate others that the state is mankind’s most powerful and hostile enemy.

To withdraw your consent from the state means to have faith in the natural order and that people form lasting societies in ways that rely on voluntary cooperation without the coercion of the state. Murray Rothbard and others have written extensively about how society in the absence of the state can function. We must seek to eliminate the state in all its forms and that first means stop supporting it in any manner. We must somehow educate people that their ancestors the Classical Liberals who built a relatively free country in the beginning were on the right trail — even if they did not see that any state at all, no matter how small, will ultimately become a tyranny.


But the main thing we must do is remain optimistic in the face of the growing power of the Empire and its police state. We may not live to see the end of the state but it is coming as the trend lines are clear. Once upon a time in America is was said that all the libertarians in the country could fit in Murray Rothbard’s living room and did often meet there. We don’t face as hard a task as the original classical liberals did in the 1700s in working for a free society because we now know that it can be done. We have every reason to be optimistic for the long run even as we fear the brutality and horror in the short run as the dying beast can be very dangerous in its death throes. I once wrote that the Austrian School of Economics is enjoying its most spectacular surge in growth in my lifetime. It is obvious that Ron Paul awakened many to the ideas of liberty and the ideas that Austrians have been putting forth ever since its founding by Carl Menger. Now a new generation of young people are reading Austrian economics. The economics of the Austrian school informs these young folks that government is the eternal enemy of peace, prosperity, and liberty. The Mises Institute is now an important and powerful force for good on the internet and there are many, many others as well. The philosophy of liberty sells well.

It is time to live your life in as many ways as you can without any consent to be governed. It starts in your mind. Begin today.