Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Decentralization: An Essentially Libertarian Vision

The Libertarian Forum, edited by Murray N. Rothbard; May 15, 1969. 

The recent secessionist referendum in Catalunya brought some strong negative reactions from several corners of the libertarian community.  The reasons to be against such a referendum varied, from the idea that any group action is, inherently, not libertarian to the idea that secession is only to be supported by libertarians if the seceding entity is, in fact, libertarian.

I came out on the other side – not only was the referendum in Catalunya worthy of libertarian support, every move toward decentralization is worthy of libertarian support, regardless of the politics of the seceding entity. 

I believe libertarianism in theory is decentralization in practice.  Unless one is foolish enough to believe that one day 7 billion people will awaken at the same moment to the non-aggression principle, the only path open to us is to support an ever-growing number of possible governance units from which we might choose one that best suits our desired politics.

My responses to a couple of the anti-secessionist libertarians can be found here and here.  The very short version: we will never get from something like 200 political jurisdictions to 2,000 or 2 billion or 7 billion until we get to 201 first.  Support secession, then the next one and then the next one.  Do this a few dozen times and we might be getting somewhere.

So, what’s the point of this preamble to my next installment in review of this publication?  Believe it or not, it is prompted by the election for mayor of New York City in June 1969.

I almost skipped this edition when I saw the title, “Mailer for Mayor.”  I am not terribly interested in reading about a failed mayoral candidacy from almost 50 years ago.  I changed my mind within the first three lines (I should have known better than to shortchange Rothbard).

The candidate is Norman Mailer, announcing his candidacy in the Democratic primary.  Rothbard described this as “the most refreshing libertarian political campaign in decades.”  What about Mailer’s campaign brought on this glowing comment from Rothbard?

The Mailer platform stems from one brilliantly penetrating overriding plank: the absolute decentralization of the swollen New York City bureaucracy into dozens of constituent neighborhood villages.

Rothbard is not waiting for the big bang – seven billion people simultaneously seeing the light:

Each neighborhood will then be running its own affairs, on all matters, taxation, education, police, welfare, etc.

As opposed to the idea that there is something un-libertarian about people living next to each other and sharing some desires in common for the neighborhood.  In any case, the smaller and more local the political unit, the more control each constituent has and the more that those in government will be known individually – in person, face-to-face.

Rothbard recognizes that neighborhoods will separate into common groupings; he is not shy about discussing black and white.  He recognizes that the idea of “diversity” is an idea formed to bring conflict; instead, he offers:

…in the Mailer plan, black and white could at long last live peacefully side-by-side, with each group and each self-constituted neighborhood running its own affairs.

Whites and blacks would be independent equals “rather than as rulers of one over the other….”

One of Mailer’s key proposals is that New York City secede from New York State and form a separate 51st State….

That the seceding New York City would likely be far more socialist than the rest of the state didn’t bother Rothbard one bit, it seems – decentralization was the key, the non-aggression principle put into practice.  Also, keep in mind: Mailer ran as a democrat.  Imagine that: a democrat for secession and political segregation. 

As to a libertarian newsletter making a political endorsement, Rothbard would have nothing of the idea that libertarians and voting (or at least support for a politician) don’t mix:

While I respect this position, I consider it unduly sectarian.

It’s not as if no one will win; someone will win.  Maybe more important, someone will lose.

…why shouldn’t we at least express a hope that someone rather than someone else will fill such positions?

Even if it is “a piddling choice, a marginal choice, a choice which means little,” Rothbard finds it worthwhile to offer support.  Rothbard cites Lysander Spooner, from No Treason:

In the case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof of consent…

Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppressive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it, if they could see any chance of thereby ameliorating their condition.  But it would not, therefore, be a legitimate inference that the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had voluntarily set up, or even consented to.

This position strikes me as wholly consistent with the approach Walter Block has advocated.


  1. What is not realized STILL.... are the forces from EVERY side that will NOT ALLOW a change.

    What does it take for people to wake up?

    IF it wasn't a FIXED election even at that time, if Mailer had been elected, he'd have been assassinated.

    What is it about the elephant in the kitchen that no one notices?

    He-e-ello Bionic.

    The CIA and military-- or the US secret police -- or the US Stasi -- or the US Gestapo [which is what they are] -- are running the show with the most advanced surveillance and sci-fi EM weaponry.

    Yet no one seems to think this is a problem.

    No, no, no.

    Lah dee dah.

    Let's just go on dreaming about 'libertariansim' and 'elections' and 'freedom' and all that good stuff. Let's keep writing useless articles to keep everyone dreaming that it might change in the future with the same criminals in place who have all the power and murderous weapons.

    This is the scariest part.

    That activists are so deluded, so brain dead that they actually think that things can change without ridding themselves of the cancer first.

    Good luck

    1. Advice from "Anonymous." I can't tell you how valuable this is to me.

      Really. I can't.

  2. Decentralization is a biblical vision, where every community is governed by biblically qualified men of God (judges) who are a blessing to the righteous and a deterrent to the wicked.

    This is the Apostle Paul's vision in Romans 13:1-7, which, in turn, is our template for biblical dominion. Romans 13 has nothing whatsoever to do with a secular civil government and everything to do with a biblical civil government, like those established here in 17th-century Colonial America.

    See blog series "Ten Reasons Why Romans 13 is Not About Secular Government," beginning at

    Part 1 of an audio series by the same title can be found at

  3. Why not have a REAL “Secession”, but secede to Him and His Kingdom/Will on earth and do it in our homes first and then at the local level, i.e. His civil body politic ??

    The only way to save this nation is to turn back to Him, His Perfect Moral Laws, Statutes and Judgments, i.e., His Kingdom/Will On Earth.

    “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, And I will give you rest. Take My yoke (i.e., His Law 1 John 5: 2 & 3, as well as His tithe [tax] system) upon you , and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and ‘YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS.’ (Jer. 6: 16). My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” Matthew 11: 28 – 30.

    He told us that if His people ” … shall humble themselves (e.g., quit thinking we’re the sovereign, take our proper place and quit usurping His), and pray, and seek my face (e.g., He’s to be the ONLY law giver), and turn from their wicked ways (e.g., seek His Kingdom/Will and promote the enforcement of His Laws, Statutes and Judgments); THEN will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

    AND save us from the monster that has morphed from the god "We The People"'s Creation, i.e., the constitution, but He will NOT, if we keep telling Him "We'll do it OUR way".

  4. I think secession should always be advocated by libertarians, but I will add one qualifier: except when the seceding majority openly plans on committing genocide on its minority population. I think this is the one case where libertarians can denounce a secession. Otherwise, if the seceding majority only wishes to steal a little more from its population via more virulent social democracy, I say it is still a win for liberty.