Sunday, June 30, 2013

Daily Bell Interview: Nelson Hultberg

It is heartening to see a comment equating anarcho-capitalism with the model of the early Middle Ages – while not a perfect example, the Middle Ages were a time of significant decentralization.  Sadly, Mr. Hultberg’s interpretation of the Middle Ages is terribly flawed; unfortunately, these are not the only flaws in Mr. Hultberg’s thinking.

Anarchy, as anarcho-capitalists use the term, does not mean an absence of governance.  There will always governance – by the individual, by the family, by peers, by the community, by the church, and by the market.  This was very much in force during much of the Middle Ages.

Such an anarchic condition does not require a state as we know of it today.  And it does not result in chaos.  To the extent one requires a concrete example, the Middle Ages demonstrate this reality quite effectively – contrary to Mr. Hultberg’s assertions.

NH: The linking of society's moral guardians to the coercive arm of the state during the Middle Ages created enough evil and cruelty that we should be cured forever of such a temptation.

BM: First of all, much of the Middle Ages did not have a “state” as we commonly understand the term today.  Second, to the extent the moral guardians applied coercion: this occurred to any great extent only beginning late in this period, perhaps beginning at the end of the thirteenth century.  At least one author points to the Condemnation of 1277 as the turning point; a separation of reason and faith.

NH: The Anglo-Saxon experiment of "voluntary courts of law, armies, and police" led to a warlord society in which all people were raised to be combatants, everyone lived behind castle walls and moats, women were not able to travel openly on the roads for fear of being attacked, ruthless outlaws roamed the countryside impervious to the "voluntary courts," commerce and trade were minimal and sparse, tribal customs were arbitrary, equal rights were nowhere.

BM: The Middle Ages saw a drastic reduction in slavery, a flowering of intellectual and technological progress, women holding equal status in many occupations, etc.  These should not be so casually dismissed by someone who clearly has not read the history.  And based on this comment, Mr. Hultberg has not read the history.

I find the rest of his statements to embody muddled thinking – the kind that results in the advocacy of the Federal Reserve to inflate at 4% per year.  Mr. Hultberg, like many “conservatives,” points to the founding fathers as the wisest of political men: “we must start with the fruits of their labor.” 

The results of this view have been demonstrated in full force over the last 225 years: the lack of philosophical consistency, which Mr. Hultberg advocates, equals pragmatic compromise.  Mr. Hultberg, it seems, believes his book will explain why the last 225 years didn’t happen.

Beyond this, I will not post further detailed comments here, as I do not want to clog DB’s thread.


The following I did not post at DB:

NH: By 1970, however, the movement had become tragically bifurcated. Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard took libertarians off into anarchy…

BM: Thank God for Rand and Rothbard.  Without them, millions would continue to believe the state is the answer.

NH: [In defense of Aristotle’s middle course, or doctrine of the mean] In this case, [the anarcho-capitalist] uses "murderous rampages" and "lying constantly," which are obvious examples where the doctrine of the mean would not be applicable.  Thus we need to discern where it is applicable and where it is not…. This form of rebuttal is an example of "strawmanism."

BM: Somewhere in between such “obvious examples” where it does not apply, and “obvious examples” where it does, who decides on the gray?  Mr. Hultberg?

NH: It should be noted that opponents to the Law of the Mean are always subscribers to some form of extremism (e.g., statism or anarchism).

BM: Without exploring and pressing for the “extremism.” How would one ever achieve movement from pragmatic compromise?

NH: This is equivalent to attacking the Law of Gravity as somehow bogus because it doesn't allow men to flap their arms like wings and fly.

BM: Mr. Hultberg, like many, confuses physical science with social science.

NH: Ayn Rand's philosophical "non-aggression principle" that she articulated so forcefully through John Galt in Atlas Shrugged ("So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate...the use of physical force against others.")….

BM: For this, an extremist position is justified, I suspect.  Let’s check with Aristotle: at one extreme is an acceptance of the initiation of aggression by any actor at any time and place.  At the other extreme is the dis-allowance if the initiation of aggression.  Where in the middle would Mr. Hultberg suggest we meet?

NH: But [the non-aggression] principle, which was the fundamental axiom of [Rand’s] politics, leads philosophically to anarchy if one is to remain consistent.

BM: And applying a philosophy in a consistent manner is a vice?  Let’s apply Aristotle once again: at one extreme is a philosophy not consistently applied, and the other is a consistent philosophy.  In the middle is pragmatism – do whatever happens to work, or whatever feels good at the time.

NH: The other source of the anarchism that plagues libertarianism is Rand's and Rothbard's misunderstanding of the "Either-Or Principle."… It states that there can be no middle ground philosophically and practically between a fundamental good and a fundamental evil.

BM: Either you agree that initiation of force is philosophically either good or evil.  As to the “practically” part, Rothbard, at least, made clear that there were times to accept small victories – as long as the ultimate objective was always kept in view and advocated.

NH: Thus it is either freedom or slavery; the two cannot exist together in the same society….But such a philosophical outlook has made most libertarians think in terms of good and evil being a two-poled spectrum, and that one must then choose between one of the two extremes.

BM: What, exactly, is the middle ground between freedom and slavery?

NH: Herein lies the major flaw of Rothbard's libertarianism. Liberty, via the non-aggression principle, has become the fundamental value from which culture is to evolve in an anarcho-capitalist world. This puts the cart before the horse so to speak, for liberty is not a fundamental axiom.

BM: Should we advocate liberty via something other than the non-aggression principle?  Liberty by force?

NH: It will take more than a Libertarian Law Code to convince a fanatical Islamic fundamentalist that Salman Rushdie has a right to life." … But unfortunately the myth prevails that men can somehow become angels and thrust off all need for government.

BM: Talk about erecting strawmen….

NH: Libertarians don't understand how much damage they are doing to the cause of freedom because big league academics are able to use their anarchist irrationality to discredit the idea of capitalism in the minds of the best and the brightest of every generation.

BM: This is the reason that those who advocate anarcho-capitalism should stop?  Because big league academics don’t like it.

Mr. Hultberg presents a muddles philosophy – I have found this to be true every time I have read him.

He also seems angry that few are listening.  It is difficult to gain attention when one tries to occupy the middle ground of social and political pragmatism – the field is over-populated. 


  1. I found it hard to read the Hultberg interview with a straight face. The muddled thinking that I sometimes refer to as "honkers" were flying off the page.

    Thank-you for taking the time to critique some of them. You showed self restraint in not doing a lot more.

    I secretly thrill at the idea that Dr. David Gordon (The Assassin) might perchance review this book. I would pay money to see that.

    1. A David Gordon review...the thought brings a smile to my face.