Monday, March 23, 2015

A Strategy for Liberty (Redux)

Kevin Vallier attempts to deal with the problem of “Libertarian Strategy in a Non-Ideal World.”  As if no one ever contemplated such a question before….

I’ve recently finished an early ms of Gerald Gaus’s next book, The Tyranny of the Ideal, which argues, among other things, that we need to know the shape of the “terrain” of feasibility spaces before we can make productive progress towards realizing a just society.

Feasible = start with a compromise and negotiate down from there.

As he writes regularly for the bleeding-heart libertarians, I have a suspicion about what he means when writing about “the ideal.”

[Assume] The path from here, our present social state, to Mt. Justice (some libertarians name it Mt. Market Anarchy), contains no peaks or valleys.

I label it anarcho-capitalism, but feel free to make up a new name to throw others off the scent.  In any case, my suspicion has been confirmed.  At least he has honed in on a “just society” – none of that left-libertarian stuff.

Also assume that we know what the path looks like.

Assume all you want; I am not aware of any well-considered anarcho-capitalist that has made a definitive statement regarding certainty of the path.  But go ahead and build your strawman, as knocking these down is relatively easy.

Vallier then suggests that the path from here to there may not be smooth sailing (duh), but instead contains hills and valleys, none of which are known, knowable, or visible (also duh).  Like no one ever thought of this before.

But wait, shouts Vallier – Mt. Minarchy can be seen, and the path from here to there is sure – no tricks!  Really, he said this:

However, you can see a path to Mt. Minarchy. It is not an easy path, but it is a sure one.

He doesn’t define Mt. Minarchy, of course, as it cannot be defined in any meaningful way; even worse, when tried in the most ideal circumstance, it failed miserably moments before (not after) birth.  But rest assured: the path from here to there is sure!

Just in case you believe Kevin has fallen as far off the rails as one can, please reserve judgment:

In this case, we can see that the cost of transition to Mt. Market Anarchy is unknown. So even if we think that market anarchy is the correct account of justice, we may have strong reason not to seek it, if for no other reason than the risk of walking off a cliff. (Emphasis in original)

Don’t seek the correct amount of justice?  Interesting.  Ok, no need to reserve judgment any longer.

The market anarchy arguments largely claim that Mt. Market Anarchy is very tall, the highest peak in all the Land of Justice. But libertarians have a very poor theory of the terrain, not to mention the theory of illuminating it.

I think Kevin has not read much anarcho-libertarian food for thought on this matter.  Of course, this is understandable, as the author of one such valuable work on this topic is virtually unknown even in the most hard-core anarchic circles.  I will bet none of my readers even know of him.

His name?  I’ll bet you can’t guess it.  Go on, try.

Give up?  OK, I’ll tell you: Murray Rothbard. 

I told you that you never heard of him.  His work is hidden – hardly visible anywhere on the internet.  Almost no one who has studied libertarian theory has even heard his name.  I don’t blame Kevin for never having heard of Rothbard, let alone read anything he ever wrote.  Actually, Rothbard never even wrote very much.

But he did write one or two paragraphs on strategy – how to get from here to there.  I don’t think he ever wrote anything else on any topic even tangentially related to libertarian theory (I might be wrong about this), but he hit this one out of the park.  Here, take a look:

If, then, the libertarian must advocate the immediate attainment of liberty and abolition of statism, and if gradualism in theory is contradictory to this overriding end, what further strategic stance may a libertarian take in today’s world?  Must he necessarily confine himself to advocating immediate abolition?  Are “transitional demands,” steps toward liberty in practice, necessarily illegitimate? No…

How, then, can we know whether any halfway measure or transitional demand should be hailed as a step forward or condemned as an opportunistic betrayal?  There are two vitally important criteria for answering this crucial question: (1) that, whatever the transitional demands, the ultimate end of liberty be always held aloft as the desired goal; and (2) that no steps or means ever explicitly or implicitly contradict the ultimate goal.

There you have it – keep in your sights the ultimate objective, and any interim step that moves toward that objective is acceptable – even desirable.  Any beginning firearms student knows that in order to hit a target, one must actually be aiming for it.

Vallier, however, wants to avoid even seeking the ultimate objective – like shooting randomly and hoping for the best.

Believe it or not, some obscure website has all of Rothbard’s stuff available online – and FREE!  I don’t think anyone besides me and one or two other bugs have ever visited the site – so I can understand why Vallier never found it.  Well, here it is. 

And here is the book that Rothbard wrote on the topic – free of charge!

No need to thank me, Kevin; glad I could help.  I can’t wait to read your write-up on this strategy to achieve actual liberty.

Note: modified to be somewhat less confrontational.  Somewhat.


  1. I'd say there's no need to be less confrontational, I'd say their in need of confrontation with all the drivel that spews out from them. I'm not sure if the site is trying to co opt libertarianism or if they're just ignorant on what a libertarian is.

    I used to read BleedingHearts for at least a laugh, but the more I would read from them the more my head would hurt. For being a libertarian site, they sure do end up at Statist conclusions more often than not.

  2. That's because many of them aren't libertarian (Zwolinski comes to mind) but liberal socialists in sheep's clothing crusading for "social justice," liberty and justice, let alone property in any form be damned. Every time I read Vallier types I see the fairness fairy dancing around in the background masquerading as justice. These bleeding hearts should really read de Jasay, and if they already have, read him again until his arguments sink in. I question if they read any libertarian literature though or whether they just regurgitate their own "social justice" claptrap (there are exceptions like Roderick Long and a few others I respect). As BM pointed out, Rothbard has discussed what Vallier seems to think is some breakthrough new "fountain of youth" discovery by him decades ago.

  3. Every time someone spews out any claptrap about "social justice" I feel the nervous impulse to reach for my wallet to make sure it's still there. These people are nothing less than thieves with keyboards. It doesn't matter to me what lies they paint with their oily words or the faux sheepskins they don to try and hide behind. They all give off the odor of a tomb