Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Libertarian Road to Nowhere

We're on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin' that ride to nowhere
We'll take that ride

I'm feelin' okay this mornin'
And you know
We're on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

-        Talking Heads

Sheldon Richman has written a piece addressing secession: “TGIF: Is Secession by Referendum Libertarian?  I call it the libertarian road to nowhere, but this is standard fare and to be expected from many who self-describe as left-libertarians.

Living in the vacuum of theory or in some libertarian fantasy world (both of which happen to be places where many libertarian thinkers live), the answer to Richman’s question is a resounding “no.” 

I have concerns about secession by referendum. Individual secession, of course, is no problem; that’s simply libertarianism.

My concerns about group (not individual) secession are over the process of peaceful separation, namely, the referendum. Libertarians have long criticized political democracy — that is, the settling of “public” matters by majority vote either directly or through so-called representatives — as inherently violative of individual rights. By what authority does a majority lord it over a minority?

Well, doesn’t this critique apply to referenda on secession?

Richman asks: why should the minority – those who may prefer to stay within the old system – be forced to secede?  It is a fair question.  If you want pure theory, a political vote is not libertarian as a minority is forced to the will of the majority.  I agree with this wholeheartedly.

With this preamble out of the way, let’s get to the meat of Richman’s piece:

Does this mean we libertarians have no remedy for people who wish not to live under the central government of a large nation-state?

Great!  Let’s have Richman’s solution:

Of course we have: anarchism, in which each individual is sovereign and free to contract with market firms for security and dispute resolution.

So…since libertarians cannot support secession by referendum, we are left with convincing seven billion people of the value of political, individual anarchy.  They will all just opt out at the same moment – no pushback from the state or even their neighbors.  All of them, simultaneously, having this “aha” moment.

This is Richman’s solution.

Expanding on this idea, he cites Roderick Long:

The concept of panarchy comes from an 1860 work of that title by the Belgian botanist and political economist Paul Émile de Puydt (1810-1891). The essence of his panarchist proposal is that people should be free to choose the political regime under which they will live without having to relocate to a different territory.

Under panarchism, individuals could in effect secede, but their next-door neighbors need not. Problem solved! This may not satisfy nationalists big and small, but it would protect individuals.

That’s it, lickety-split!  “Problem solved!”  Seven billion people will simultaneously grasp the concept that they do not have to live under the same governmental jurisdiction as their neighbor!

I have not taken leave of my senses. I realize that panarchism is not on today’s agenda. But it will never be on it if we never talk about it. With secession and conflict in the news, what could be a better time?

I am fully supportive of talking about ideas and especially ideas supportive of decentralization.  Does this support for discussion therefore exclude the possibility of supporting an action that helps bring a decentralizing idea one step closer to fruition?

Let’s Compare

Richman’ road to nowhere: somehow, after we talk about it for a while, seven people will spontaneously decide to secede – to break from their current, forced, political bonds and form new, voluntary bonds.  They will all simultaneously grasp the idea that they do not have to live under the same governmental jurisdiction as their neighbor.

bionic’s road to somewhere: libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  We will not get from something less than 200 political units to seven billion or 1.5 billion (one per household) or even a few thousand without getting to 201 first.

The libertarian solution for those within a seceding unit who do not wish to secede is to support the next secession and the next one and the next one.  But we won’t get to the fourth secession (or four-hundredth or four-thousandth) without supporting the first one.

The western world is handing libertarians the solution to all of our pontificating on a silver platter, yet too many libertarians (and Richman isn’t alone) are unable to grasp this.  There is not a country in the western world that is immune from this reality today – current polities are fracturing. 

Libertarians such as Richman are perfectly acceptable to those who support the status quo.  They are harmless; they are “safe” to the regime; they pose absolutely no danger.

Libertarians such as these are on a road to nowhere. 


  1. The issue with majority voted succession to the Libertarian is that the minority can always appeal back to the original central state for protection or to ensure their rights and this does not violate the Nonaggression Principal. So the succeeding majority better be real nice to the minority.

    And in the current example in Spain, the new government better be nice to minorities there and may want to carefully examine their proposed constitution to make sure that the minorities have the ability further succeed.

  2. "Seven billion people will simultaneously grasp the concept that they do not have to live under the same governmental jurisdiction as their neighbor!"

    Maybe this is part of the upcoming singularity that everyone's talking about. How fortunate for us. Well, you can stop writing Bi-Mosq; looks like it's all going to resolve itself on its own.

    1. Yeah, I am sure we could get Soros to fund this idea....

  3. Hoppe in NYC summed it up perfectly, per Rothbard. Essentially give no quarter intellectually/theoretically but compromise in practice, otherwise NCAP never moves beyond theory. Plus, with a few more "sellouts" like Ron Paul willing to participate in the system, the ideas spread much more rapidly. But I am sure Sheldon Richman's plan will magically come to fruition ...

    1. I remember my own youth in the movement. That RON PAUL dude is a REPUBLICAN!!! Boo hiss.
      And I was right of course. What has he ever done for the cause of individual liberty? As opposed to your's truly, of course.

    2. Yup. Once, during my period of Republican Henry Hyde-like youthful indiscretions, I told a friend I don't need to read LRC and keep up with Ron Paul because I already believed all that they had to say.

      Well, I didn't as evidenced how and where I learned the lesson, but like a thunderbolt Ron Paul's warnings to me finally struck: sitting in an in-country briefing in Kuwait in 2009, you can't leave post because despite the US "liberating" Kuwait, they are sick of us still being there! I was only thankful that I got to hang around a cubicle farm in Kuwait rather than Iraq where they really loved us spreading for making Iraq safe for democracy. That Ron Paul guy is right on foreign policy, so he might be onto something with the Federal Reserve ...

  4. Sheldons real concern is that primary forces that will be looking to secede from the larger political bodies will be the ones interested in preserving their ethnic/cultural heritage from the designs of those who want a mass of raceless consumers where there was once civilization. How do I know this? Because if your real concern was weakening centralized power you would support exactly those forces even if you did not yourself belong to them. He is concerned that there will be countries where rootless cosmopolitans like himself will not be welcome.

    I predict that as the EU project becomes even more insane and viscous than it already is we will see libertarian inc. come up with new and clever ways to defend it.

    >sure we want an end to the EU but not if this means the rise of ethnic nationalism. It would be better for the white genocide....I mean mulitcultural... project to continue apace until all such reactionary sentiments are demolished and then we can push for the secession of "individuals" into a truly free global community where rootless cosmopolitans are at home where ever they go.

    1. yep. (((they))) have infiltrated the libertarian movement from day one, for PRECISELY the reason you cite. The RIGHT to discriminate in contracting and land usage.

  5. What is unspoken, but ever present in Richman's writing in this instance? It is that the Catalonians want independence for the "wrong" reasons. Instead of secession in the cause of gay, minority, or Jewish rights, the Catalonians base their secession on the fact that they are a distinct ethnic group. That means in Richman's mind, they are racist separatists (don't bring up Israel, though, because somehow that is different).

    Can't accept ethnicity as a reason for separation or those racist whiteys in the USA might start getting ideas.

  6. Oh, I forgot to say: Well Bionic, you've re-awoken old memories (again). "Little Creatures". Broke it out and am currently grooving (if you'll pardon the verb)

  7. Hi BM,

    Here's a picture perfect example of two libertarians/voluntarists ranting against the Catalonian sheeple and their supposedly childlike belief in "voting their way to freedom".

    It's on the Corbett Report (featuring G. Edward Griffin every once in a while, but also and increasingly Mr "turncoat" Tucker). Perhaps you've heard of it.
    In the comments section, I contributed my own 2 (euro)cts for what it's worth, mainly taking issue with the solutions on offer at their websites, that could perhaps best be summarized as "going Hippie2.0", but also with the trademark disdain for common folk.

    The video from 13:10 until end of rant is particularly telling.

    So for educational purposes only, here's the link (copy/paste style):

    Kind regs from Amsterdam,

  8. Richman thinks it is unfair is to band together with some individuals then lay claim to a wider geographical area which includes other individuals who don't want to secede.

    Let's say Richman and fellow slaves in his area are grudgingly happy with their current slave owner (who is slowly and "benevolently" expanding his reach). Would Richman think it unfair for him to have to suddenly compete with a rival slave owner?

    I agree with you Bionic. I am in favor of more competition among potential slave owners -- not less. Even when new entrants look worse than what we're used to. Even when they start out as rabid communists and confiscators of private property. Down the road, a slave owner might well offer quite an attractive set of property rights to attract productive beasts of burden to avoid going out of business. Look at the Communist Party of Vietnam today, for example. Competition is a wonderful thing.

    Richman wrings his hands that small governments might collude with each other. He needs to read Rothbard on the history of the progressive era. The only way a collusion between competing entities is successful long-term is if a powerful central state enforces collusion.

    But maybe Richman is not interested in reducing the power of the central state. So it would unfortunately appear.

    1. Arthur, this is very good. Thank you.

      "Richman wrings his hands that small governments might collude with each other."

      I had to chuckle at Richman on this. I thought: Large states don't have to take time, energy or compromises to collude with anyone; is this preferable to Richman?

      I hadn't thought about the Rothbard point on collusion; this is really good.

      As to your last paragraph, I am coming to conclude this is true of Richman and others of his ilk.

  9. I finally got around to reading Richman's piece, the point flow seems to go like this, my comments in paranthesis:

    1. Obligatory defense of Secession as a matter of principle (Okay)

    2. But, Secession might be for the wrong reasons. (Who's the arbiter of Right and Wrong, and how would this arbiter operate in a libertarian capacity when he says "No, you can't".)

    3A. What about the people who don't want to secede? (I share the concern for the short term, at least)

    3B. Sheldon says these people have the burden of choosing their next action based on current circumstances (Outside of libertopia, we call that reality - Left Libertarians need to decide if they're out to be libertarians or Utopian engineers, and their decision will be telling. Wait a minute! Didn't Sheldon say we should be cosmopolitan? These dissenters - these victims, should feel right at home).

    4. Hey guys, did you forget the south and slavery? (C'mon.)

    5. Why don't we talk about Panarchy? (Diving into panarchy might be out of scope for now, but wouldn't this, at least in more than enough circumstances, not lend argument to being in favor of secession for any reason on any scale?)

    I'd wrap this up with a conclusion on his piece, but I'm not convinced even Sheldon has a conclusion for his piece.

    1. "why don't we talk about Panarchy"

      As bionic points out, the panarchy prescription would effectively allow the central state to stay in power **all across** the globe.

      "An" means "no", as in no government, anarchy. "Pan" means "all across" as in... one-world government? Ironic.

  10. Bionic, I posted a comment, hit “preview”, and it disappeared. Is it locked in moderator limbo?

    1. Nothing in the spam folder and I have not blocked any comments. So I don't have an answer for you.

  11. I live in a place that probably fits the description of a community you would seek to insulate from infiltration by cultures that don’t respect the NAP. It’s rural, working class, pretty homogeneous. The people who live here respect property rights. However, if you *ask* them, they are mostly statists, especially the wealthier and more socially-active folks. You say it is naive to stick to pure principle and anticipate that humans can evolve socially in positive ways. But why is it realistic to think that human societies can be insulated from incursion in ways that worked historically, when technology and travel was more primitive? If we seek to maintain political borders *because* people don’t endorse the NAP (and most of the people who are respectable and active in my community are all for humanitarian and multicultural statism), how is that going to solidify libertarianism in a sustainable way?

    1. I am not sure I fully understand your question / point; I will answer the point that I believe you are raising. If I am wrong, please correct.

      I do not suggest that a common culture leads to a libertarian society; I suggest that a libertarian society will be difficult / impossible to maintain or achieve without an underlying common culture.

    2. If I understand Hoppe and what I read here, your position is that the world is full of inferior cultures that must be kept away from better cultures, lest they sully them. I use these value terms because youmve made clear that your libertarianism is a moral position, so a culture that embraces libertarian biases is morally superior, in your view. (And I share the view that first principles should be moral). However, the percentage of people in the middle and working class communities where I have spent my life that intuitively *and intellectually* embrace the NAP and private property rights is shrinking, and, if political trends mean anything, that’s true everywhere that the NAP historically had some sway. Therefore, I wonder if a strategy of insulation and exclusion can generate or sustain any positive growth of libertarianism. Isn’t is looking backwards to an older older of nationalism to attempt this? And if so, what sense does it make to pin the future on a past that rested on completely different technology of communication and travel? Our world is increasingly borderless, ideologically.


    3. Sally

      "Our world is increasingly borderless, ideologically."

      Which will leave us in hell. One ideology around the world? Guess who wins THAT battle.

    4. Well, that is *a*question, but not the one I was driving at. What I meant by the concept of “ideological borderlessness” is not one ideology the world over, but that what unifies people intellectually and ideologically is no longer the same as what unifies them geographically. For instance, I would be comfortable with you as a neighbor, I think. But I don’t even know where you live! So I don’t see how national boundaries can be the answer to this problem. I’m curious as to how you navigate that. Hoppe (and Mises before him) seem to me to be speaking to a different time, in this aspect.

    5. Yet we see secessionist movements springing up everywhere.

      In the end, the result could be the same - enough secessionist movements and geography will grow continually less relevant.

    6. But if secession is catching on, and *if* it is catching on for the *right* reasons (that people wish to govern themselves in a manner consistent with their values), then why doesn’t that bode equally well for virtual individual secession as for narrow micro-nationalism (small extended natal groups governed independently)?

    7. Isn't that what I said?

      And it doesn't matter to me if they secede for the "right" reasons (as if you or I are capable of deciding this for anyone else).

      Just support secession: if you ever want to get to 7 billion or 1.5 billion or even a few thousand governance units, we have to get to 201 first.

    8. I feel like we passed each other a little on that last exchange, but yes, support secession.

      As for the “right” reasons, if we can make value judgments about the relative merits of different cultural practices, than I think we can make generalizations about “right” and “wrong” secessionist motivations. That doesn’t mean that we interfere with the process.

    9. I think there may be some confusion because I probably should have started this comment thread on the Hoppe column, rather than this one.

  12. But if secession is catching on for the *right* reasons (desire for self-governance consistent with one’s cultural values), then why doesn’t that bode equally well for virtual individual secession as for micro-nationalism (small groups of like-minded people who wish to govern themselves)?

  13. Sorry for the double post. Don’t know how I did that.