Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty: The New Republic

I’ve been waiting to read the fifth volume of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty for over 30 years.  Now my former student Patrick Newman, professor at Florida Southern College, has miraculously undeleted this “lost work.”  Patrick’s quasi-archaeological efforts are nothing short of amazing, but how does the actual book hold up?

In the first four volumes of Conceived in Liberty, Rothbard tells the story of the American colonies’ rise, rebellion, and victory over the British.  In this final volume, he tells the story of America’s brief time under the Articles of the Confederation – abruptly  (and illegally!) ended by the revolution/coup/counterrevolution that we now know as the United States Constitution.  Rothbard, a vociferous detractor of the Constitution, could easily have subtitled this last book in his series “The Revolution Betrayed.”

Under the Articles of the Confederation, government was much more decentralized – and therefore much better:

Overall, it should be evident that the Constitution was a counterrevolutionary reaction to the libertarianism and decentralization embodied in the American Revolution. The Antifederalists, supporting states’ rights and critical of a strong national government, were decisively beaten by the Federalists, who wanted such a polity under the guise of democracy in order to enhance their own interests and institute a British-style mercantilism over the country.

Rothbard’s main focus, however, is not in persuading the reader that the Articles were superior, but simply chronicling the details of their demise.  As a result, the book is disappointing.  I expected to watch Rothbard debunk the standard civics case for the Constitution – to insist that the Articles fostered rapid economic growth, high individual liberty, and peace both between the U.S. states and between the U.S. and the world.  I expected him to enthusiastically defend the repudiation of war debt.  And I expected him to at least consider reconsidering his earlier support for the American Revolution and its many slave-holding philosophers of freedom.  Instead, Rothbard glosses over the Big Questions in favor of detailed multi-stage Constitutional vote analysis.

Admittedly, quantitatively comparing growth, freedom, and peace under the two colonial regimes would be difficult due to data limitations.  But there’s no excuse for ignoring the implications for revolutionary change.  In his engaging introduction, Newman depicts Rothbard as a dedicated supporter of the American Revolution:

Although the Revolution was enormously costly and resulted in the near destruction of the economy (through hyperinflation, military confiscation of goods, British pillaging of infrastructure and supplies, and the flight of British loyalists), the war was worth it since it led to the achievement of highly libertarian goals of inestimable value. Rothbard explains that the American Revolution was radical and led to the restriction of slavery in many areas, the end of feudalism, the emergence of religious freedom, democratic constitutions with increased suffrage, and revolutions in European nations.

Here’s the rub: How can the war (including the “near destruction of the economy”!) be “worth it” if the libertarian revolution gets cancelled a few short years later?  This is an astronomical price to pay for such a transient gain.  Sure, you could reply, “Well, the war would have been worth it if the Articles had endured.”  But that immediately raises a deeper question: Was the American Revolution even a prudent gamble?  The probability of victory aside, what is the probability of winning the war but losing the peace?  If your answer isn’t, “Very high,” I question your knowledge of the history of violent revolution.

Perhaps Rothbard would insist, “The Constitution was only a partial counterrevolution.  Many of the libertarian gains of the American Revolution endured.”  Then he could point to all the items in the preceding list: “the restriction of slavery in many areas, the end of feudalism, the emergence of religious freedom, democratic constitutions with increased suffrage, and revolutions in European nations.”  Given the hellish history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, I’d say the latter “achievement” outweighs all the others.  In any case, Rothbard barely grapples with the counterfactuals.  How do we know slavery wouldn’t have been restricted anyway?  What’s the probability that the British would have restricted slavery earlier and more peacefully?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Rothbard also fails to grapple with the complex interaction between decentralization and mobility.  As I’ve explained before:

[D]oes decentralization alone really promote liberty or prosperity?  The mechanism is elusive at best. Imagine a world with a thousand sovereign countries of equal size.  This is far more decentralized than the status quo, right?  Suppose further, however, that there is zero mobility between these countries.  Labor can’t move; capital can’t move.  In this scenario, each country seems perfectly able to pursue its policies free of competitive pressure.  Why should we expect such policies to promote liberty, prosperity, or anything else?

The story would change, of course, if you combine decentralization with resource mobility.  In that case, each country’s government has to compete to retain labor and capital at home.  If you don’t make the customer happy, somebody else proverbially will.  But without this “universalist” mobility rule, decentralization leaves everyone under the rule of a preordained local monopolist.

Standard civics classes claim that under the Articles of the Confederation, interstate tariffs were a serious problem; they offered decentralized politics without free trade.  Rothbard only response is to downplay the severity of the regulation:

While Connecticut taxed imports from Massachusetts, and New York in 1787 moved to tax foreign goods imported from neighboring states, the specter of disunity and disrupting interstate tariff s was more of a bogey to sell the idea of a powerful national government than a real factor in the economy of the day.

Perhaps Rothbard’s right, but remember: interstate tariffs only had a few years to get online.  What would have happened to interstate tariffs in the long run if the Articles endured?  And doesn’t the question illustrate the critical insight that decentralization without resource mobility is no recipe for liberty?

To be clear, I enjoyed reading the final volume of Conceived in Liberty.  And to be fair, Rothbard probably would have greatly improved it before publication.  As it stands, though, Rothbard’s lost book dodges the fundamental questions that Mr. Libertarian famously relished.  If you want to read one of his posthumous works, you’d be better off with The Progressive Era – also beautifully edited and annotated by Patrick Newman.

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Privilege Binarism, Euphemism, Statesmen, & Genes and Memes (24m) – Episode 304

Episode 304 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: the binarism of so-called privilege fought against by social justice warrior types; the evils of euphemistic language; why “Statesmen” are not respectable; biological knowledge, cultural knowledge, and evolutionary mismatch; and more.

Listen to Episode 304 (24m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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Police Violence: “Reform” Is Not Enough

Every few years, some particular instance of a pervasive phenomenon — police violence in the form of unjustified or at least highly questionable killings — “goes viral” with the result that America’s cities explode in protest.

Every time that happens, some American politicians complain about a non-existent “war on police,” while others promise “reforms” such as closer supervision (like the increase in body camera use following the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri), civilian review boards to investigate complaints, better training, and of course more money.

After each round of “reforms,” the problem continues.

“We can’t settle for anything other than transformative structural change,” says US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). She’s right, but the bill she’s  promoting — the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 — isn’t any such thing.

The bill isn’t likely to become law. It may pass the Democratic House, but the Republican Senate and White House are already busking for support from police unions and their faux “law and order” base in November’s elections.

And even if it did pass, it’s a glass not even half full. Pelosi herself contradictorily describes it as both “full, comprehensive action” and “a first step” with “more to come.”

The bill would “reform,” rather than eliminate, “qualified immunity.” It would reduce some of the barriers that plaintiffs have to get over in holding police accountable for rights-violating misconduct, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Cops need to be held to EXACTLY the same standards as civilians when it comes to use of force.

The bill would also outlaw “no-knock raids,” but only for drug cases. “No-knock raids” are nothing less than violent home invasion burglaries. They’re precisely the kind of “unreasonable searches” forbidden by the Fourth Amendment and need to be outlawed entirely.

The Justice in Policing Act isn’t “transformative structural change.” It’s a band-aid on a gaping, traumatic wound that is, indeed, structural.

The root of the problem isn’t police violence.  It’s police themselves, and the system they serve. The purpose of police as we know them is to hold the productive class down so that the political class rule and rob us, full stop. Everything else — “serve and protect,” etc. — is incidental or illusory.

Progressives calling for “defunding” of the police are on the right track, or would be if they were serious. Most of them seem to use “defund” to mean “shift funding between state activities,” not to mean “eliminate a state activity.” They don’t want the pepper balls and rubber bullets, but they refuse to abandon the system the pepper balls and rubber bullets prop up.

“Transformative structural change” would require more than re-training and de-militarizing the police. It would require dis-empowering them and going back to voluntary community “peace officer” models of law enforcement.

Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, et al. know their control over the rest of us relies on the existing police state model. The only way for it to go is for them to go as well.

We need a real revolution, not fake “reform.”

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Democide: Understanding the State’s Monopoly on Violence and the Second Amendment

Gun control is predicated on the belief that private citizens cannot be trusted with firearms. That the state should have a “monopoly on violence” because it is less violent than individuals. And that firearms should be taken away from private citizens because only the state is responsible enough to handle them.

There is, however, a major problem with this: States are statistically far more violent than individuals. After all, in the 20th century alone, 262 MILLION people died at the hands of their own governments.

The term for this sort of atrocity is “democide.” It is one of the reasons the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution – to allow citizens some form of protection against agents of a tyrannical government meaning to do them harm, as the Founders were forcibly disarmed as colonists by the British prior to the American Revolution.

You can read the full article “Democide: Understanding the State’s Monopoly on Violence and the Second Amendment” at Ammo.com.

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Laughter Killed the Devil

There’s a story about the theologian Smith Wigglesworth awakened in the middle of the night to see a dark hideous creature in the corner of his room.

“Who are you?”, he asked.

“The Devil”, it replied.

“Oh, just you?”, he said as he rolled over and went back to sleep.

The Soviet Union had a major problem. Lawbreakers were everywhere. They were spreading pamphlets, posters, and graffiti of the most threatening variety to the ruling class. Satire. The most difficult part for the bureaucrats and armed thugs trying to stop it was they didn’t always recognize it. Artists forced to create art for the party would lace it with inside jokes and mockery the average person would spot, but the self-serious government would not.

The government of New York wants you to know they will not tolerate freedom. Every citizen is a prisoner, condemned to their home and allowed brief outdoor excursions as long as they are alone. They want to enlist you to enforce this slavery. So they setup a special number. “Text this number if you see anyone violating our oppression.” And people did text it. A lot. They texted dick pics in such a volume the government was forced to shut down the hotline.

Evil is self-serious. Oppressors and statists can only live by fear. Fear is the only thing they have. If they are not feared, they are nothing. They are a threat only to the extent people fear them as such. There is nothing – nothing – done by the state and the dictators who run it that can be done if people do not fear them.

Courage appears to be the antidote to fear. In a way it is, but courage is such an equal and opposite force that when it meets tyranny the resulting spectacle can spread more fear. A courageous martyr sometimes inspires mass revolt, but often makes an example that sends people deeper into hiding.

Pure ideals and clear arguments can offer some resistance to tyranny. But the stronger those ideas, the more danger that they morph into tyranny themselves. Violent ideological revolutions devolve into a new form of tyranny.

But laughter cannot be defeated. It does not confront head on. It does not play the game evil wants to play, on familiar turf. It plays its own game, speaks its own language, a game and language the devil doesn’t understand. It’s confounding and unstoppable. It undermines the foundation of fear evil relies on.

The degenerate, unserious, self-interested rabble who don’t respect anything enough to not mock it are a greater protection from tyranny than well-meaning high-minded intellectuals.

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I Was a Fool vs. I Am a Fool

“I’m so sorry for the way I acted. I was a fool.”

I’ve had some times when I’ve had to admit to other people (or to myself) my foolishness. I’ve looked back on times in my life when I was so sure I was wise and so wrong about that – and tried to admit my mistake.

Exhibit A: high school, when I was too cool and too smart for my town, my church, family, etc.

When I meet folks from this time, I sometimes feel compelled to apologize for how I acted or seemed back then. Usually when I’ve had these conversations, though, I’ve made a mistake. I’ve said “I was a fool.”

The mistake here is not saying (accurately) that I *am* a fool now. I’ve seen enough revolutions around the sun to know that my understanding is constantly developing, and that every six months I can look back with embarrassment on the “me” of six months ago.

Given that embarrassment and growth in self-knowledge is coming down the line, I probably shouldn’t speak in any way to suggest that foolishness is a one-time mistake on my part. Instead, when I apologize for my foolishness, I should recognize the foolishness of now as well as the foolishness of the past.

“I’m so sorry for the way I acted. I am a fool.”

This is probably the most honest way to put it, and the most realistic. As even Socrates is said to have understood, we know nothing or very close to it. No use pretending that our path to wisdom is a one-failure-and-done kind of affair.

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