Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What I Learned at Murray’s Knee…

…or Principled Libertarianism from a truly Principled Libertarian.

Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons, living or dead, is a miracle
-        The Three Stooges

Nations by Consent, by Murray Rothbard

I preface this essay: almost every time I read Rothbard I am struck by how he has resolved countless issues of libertarian theory and application decades ago, issues that I have only recently worked through.  The man developed many concepts and applications associated with the non-aggression principle out of whole cloth; it is amazing how well his work stands up to time.

In this essay, Rothbard examines the idea of nation, collective security, secession, anarcho-capitalist open borders and a few other topics.  I will focus on the topics of the nation and open borders.  I have previously offered a minor examination of this paper.  Today, for some reason, it seems like a good day to go into some detail.


Libertarians tend to focus on two important units of analysis: the individual and the state. And yet, one of the most dramatic and significant events of our time has been the reemergence-with a bang-in the last five years of a third and much neglected aspect of the real world, the "nation."

Atomistic-individual-libertarians (i.e. left-libertarians) need such a lesson from Rothbard.  For the rest of us…mmm, we get it already. 

Rothbard is writing at the time of the decentralization of the Soviet Union; if ever a case study involving actual human beings might offer the value that actual human beings put on “nation,” this was the case study (for example).

But let’s not be confused by the term “nation”:

When the "nation" has been thought of at all, it usually comes attached to the state, as in the common word, "the nation-state," but this concept takes a particular development of recent centuries and elaborates it into a universal maxim.

If one defines “state” as an entity with a monopoly of legislating, interpreting and enforcing law, it is a concept developed in the west primarily after the Reformation and Renaissance.

Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture.

Economic efficiency and exchange has never been and will never be the primary glue that holds society together.  “Family, language, and a culture,” or – because I like triggering my leftist enemies – blood and soil.

Open Borders

Can one conclude “open borders” purely from the non-aggression principle?  I say no, but don’t take my word for it:

I raise the pure anarcho-capitalist model in this paper, not so much to advocate the model per se as to propose it as a guide for settling vexed current disputes about nationality. The pure model, simply, is that no land areas, no square footage in the world, shall remain "public"; every square foot of land area, be they streets, squares, or neighborhoods, is privatized.

As Walter Block has offered, full private property rights are one requirement if one is to speak of “open borders” as a principled libertarian policy.  For those who are not sure about our present condition, we do not have full private property rights today.

…on rethinking immigration on the basis of the anarcho-capitalist model, it became clear to me that a totally privatized country would not have "open borders" at all.

Wow!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Wait, I did (about 20 years after Rothbard wrote these words; see here and here for two examples).  But I guess I wasn’t sitting on Murray’s knee when I wrote those pieces; maybe it carries more weight when one hears Rothbard say it.

If every piece of land in a country were owned by some person, group, or corporation, this would mean that no immigrant could enter there unless invited to enter and allowed to rent, or purchase, property.

Is your house an “open border”?  That must be an interesting place.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Socialist Phenomenon

The Socialist Phenomenon, by Igor Shafarevich

Igor Shafarevich has written this book as an examination of socialism, from antiquity to the present age.  Who is Igor Shafarevich?

Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich (3 June 1923 – 19 February 2017) was a Russian mathematician who contributed to algebraic number theory and algebraic geometry. He wrote books and articles that criticize socialism, and was an important dissident during the Soviet regime.

Shafarevich's book The Socialist Phenomenon, which was published in the US by Harper & Row in 1980, analyzed numerous examples of socialism, from ancient times, through various medieval heresies, to a variety of modern thinkers and socialist states. From these examples he claimed that all the basic principles of socialist ideology derive from the urge to suppress individuality.

Shafarevich introduces a concept that I have not read elsewhere, the concept of chiliastic socialism:

Chiliasm: the doctrine of Christ's expected return to reign on earth for 1000 years; millennialism.

The Foreword is written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  He offers:

It seems that certain things in this world simply cannot be discovered without extensive experience.

The ideal of socialism butts up against the reality of socialism; Solzhenitsyn suggests that only those who have lived it can understand it.  Something for those who dream, unbelievably, of a socialist utopia sadly are unable to grasp.

Shafarevich points out with great precision both the cause and the genesis of the first socialist doctrines, which he characterizes as reactions: Plato as a reaction to Greek culture, and the Gnostics as a reaction to Christianity.  They sought to counteract the endeavor of the human spirit to stand erect.

Shafarevich offers that the twentieth century represents merely the beginning of a profound crisis: “a radical shift in the course of history.”  While he previously felt that the transition during the twentieth century was akin to the transition from the Middle Ages, he has been swayed to a different view, one that sees this as a transition from the 3,000 year period that began with the iron age.

Shafarevich describes the root of socialism:

We see concealed in Marx’s Hegelian phraseology and Aristophanes’ buffoonery almost the same program:

1)      Abolition of private property,
2)      Abolition of the family – i.e. communality of wives and disruption of the bonds between parents and children,
3)      Purely material prosperity.

His first chapter examines the socialism of antiquity – coming primarily with an examination of Plato’s Republic.  Plato describes as the ideal society one which is based on justice”

“…what we did lay down, and often said, if you recall, was that each one man must perform one special service in the state for which his nature was best adapted.”

Society is to be divided into three social groups: philosophers, guardians or soldiers, and artisans and peasants.  The philosophers hold unlimited power; the guardians guard the artisans and peasants.  For the most part, the group into which one is born is the group in which he will remain.

Property in common, meals in common, women in common, and children in common; education of children handled by the state.

It is difficult to deny that Plato’s Republic is morally, ethically, and in purely aesthetic terms far superior to other systems of chiliastic socialism. …modern systems like that of Marcuse seem much nearer to the caricature than to the original.

It is the system offered by Marcuse, I believe, that is the current version underlying the drive to utopia under which we live.


I am not sure that I will write extensively on this book.  Looking through the chapter titles, I see a few topics of particular interest; I will likely focus on these.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Charlottesville Revisited

A review was conducted of the recent events in Charlottesville: Independent Review of the 2017 Protest Events in Charlottesville, Virginia (PDF).  The review was led by Hunton & Williams, a law firm founded in Richmond but with offices now around the world.

The report examines three events in the city during 2017; I will focus only on the most recent one – the one that generated the most coverage, controversy and destruction.  The report is 220 pages; I will not go through all of it, but draw a few excerpts from the Executive Summary and other selected sections.

Jason Kessler obtained a permit to convene a rally at the Lee statue at which he planned to bring together a wide array of right-wing and white nationalist groups… Counter-protesters began mobilizing for this event and similarly recruited a range of left-wing groups to come to Charlottesville to confront the racist ideology of the Unite The Right groups.

You get the idea of the slant.

The scope of the event was not a surprise to city authorities:

City planners understood the scope and challenge presented by the August 12 event.  CPD [Charlottesville Police Department] commanders obtained accurate information about expected attendance at the Unite The Right rally, from online and human sources.  They knew the event would attract hundreds if not thousands of people on both sides.   

City leaders wanted to deny the legally obtained permit; they then wanted to move the march to a different park.  This now required the police to develop a new plan along with the prior plan just days before the event.  They decided to move the event despite being warned that this decision would be struck down in court.  It was.

Even apart from the complexity introduced by the possible move, police planning for August 12 was inadequate and disconnected.

Officials in other jurisdictions where previous protests were held were not contacted; CPD supervisors did not provide adequate training or information to officers; CPD planners waited too long to ask for assistance; they did not seek adequate legal advice.

CPD devised a flawed Operational Plan for the Unite The Right rally.

Constraints to access; adequate separation was not maintained between the groups; officers were not stationed along the appropriate routes, instead standing behind barricades away from the event.

CPD commanders did not sufficiently coordinate with the Virginia State Police in a unified command on or before August 12. 

Formal planning documents weren’t shared; radio communication between the two organizations was not possible due to incompatible systems; no joint training or joint briefing;

Once the unlawful assembly was declared, law enforcement efforts to disperse the crowd generated more violence as Alt-Right protesters were pushed back toward the counter-protesters with whom they had been in conflict.

Regarding the death of Heather Heyer:

Early on August 12, CPD had placed a school resource officer alone at the intersection of 4th Street NE and Market Street.  This officer feared for her safety as groups of angry Alt-Right protesters and counter-protesters streamed by her as they left Emancipation Park.  The officer called for assistance and was relieved of her post.  Unfortunately, CPD commanders did not replace her or make other arrangements to prevent traffic from traveling across the Downtown Mall on 4th Street.  A single  wooden  saw  horse  was  all  that  impeded  traffic  down  4th  Street  as  large  groups  of  people  continued  to  roam  the  streets. 

The Executive Summary concludes:

…the City of Charlottesville protected neither free expression nor public safety on August 12.  The City was unable to protect the right of free expression and facilitate the permit holder’s offensive speech.

Unable or unwilling? 

I skipped over the two earlier protests in the city, the previously most recent on July 8 – about one month prior to the events reviewed here.  Somehow that event went off without a hitch, but one month later…catastrophe.

Suffice it to say, the Executive Summary is completely unsatisfactory; a superficial analysis at best. 

I find a couple of additional sections worthy of comment:

IV. Resistance to Cooperation

Over the course of our review, we were unable to access certain information that we requested from various sources. 

Stonewalling, hiding behind potential legal proceedings, deleted text messages, personal email used (and denied), backdated documents intended to hide the lack of preparedness or other shortcomings, refusal to cooperate – all at the local and state government level.

The investigators received cooperation from about half of the Alt-Right groups, including Jason Kessler and various militia members.  They received some cooperation from the groups on the left, but notably not from Black Lives Matter, Solidarity Charlottesville, Standing Up for Racial Justice, and Congregate Charlottesville.

Much like the VSP [Virginia State Police] resistance outlined above, the lack of cooperation from various organizations and individuals engaged in counter-protest activities mirrored their approach to the protest events themselves.  (Emphasis added)

One of the recommendations is curious, but not surprising:

As explained above, current Virginia law prevents localities from restricting citizens’ right to possess firearms in any circumstance.  The General Assembly should change this rule and empower all municipalities to enact reasonable restrictions on the right to carry firearms at large protest events.

Despite the presence of countless firearms, only one shot was fired and no one was shot.  Is it too much to consider that the presence of firearms helped to limit the violence?


The authors of the report, in the face of all of the stonewalling especially from government officials, still conclude that they are confident in their findings. 

What strikes me is what is missing.  Nothing that I see that finds meaningful fault with anyone outside of or above the local police or state police.  Yet, as I recall, there was documented information about the pre-protest roles of local and state politicians (including the governor) – ordering officers to stand down, etc. 

Am I wrong in remembering this?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Borders and Property

I thank Jacob Hornberger for making my case regarding borders and property – and, therefore, immigration.

Wedding Cakes Have Nothing to Do With Free Speech.  In this piece, Hornberger makes an exemplary argument – perfectly libertarian – on this issue of baking wedding cakes for gay couples, etc.  It isn’t a free speech issue – which is how most people argue it; it is a private property issue.

The fact is that the wedding cake controversy has nothing to do with free speech. Instead, the issue is all about private property and the right to discriminate.

Exactly.  Now, some background…

My Case Regarding Borders

I am 100% certain that the issue of borders and immigration in a world of state borders cannot be answered solely via the non-aggression principle.

One has a right to exit; one does not have a right to enter.  This is consistent with a private property order.  In a pure private property order, every border would be closed – or, more precisely, managed.  It would be managed by the property owner.

I am not saying yes or no; I am not agreeing or disagreeing with one side or the other; I certainly do not agree with many of the methods deployed by the state.  I only state that there is no answer to be derived solely from the NAP in a world of state borders.

I will explain…again.  For the anarchists out there: from the non-aggression principle completely applied, one cannot derive a state.  Therefore, what can the non-aggression principle suggest about state borders?  I suggest…nothing.

Walter Block (who favors open borders) says as much.  While he states, rightly, that on topics such as drug use, slavery, etc., the state need only do one thing – that is, eliminate the law that makes illegal such activities that by themselves are not violations of the NAP – regarding borders, the state must do two things.  From Walter:

What I’m trying to do is to apply the libertarian theory I learned at Murray’s knee to immigration, and my conclusion is that the proper answer is full private property rights and open immigration. Both.

To which I replied:

…to achieve a libertarian condition regarding borders and immigration requires two actions – according to your own construct: removing the NAP-violating law AND privatizing all property.  One action without the other does not achieve a libertarian condition – as you say.

Walter concludes:

I think your point about me needing two things, while in legalizing drugs, ending slavery, we only need one thing, is very important. You are a very formidable debating partner.

And there you have it.  The non-aggression principle, fully applied and on its own, cannot answer the question in a world of state borders – a world in which private property is not fully recognized.  (I await a further reply from him that deals directly on this point.) 

Now, to the minarchists: minarchism allows for the government to provide proper defense from invasion.  How on earth can this be done properly without having some idea of who is passing through the border and for what purpose?  Any consistent minarchist theory (I know; an oxymoron) cannot be extended to the idea of open borders.

Again, I am not saying right or wrong; I am just saying that the theory cannot answer the question.

So, Back to Hornberger

Let’s start with a simple example: the owner of a home. I think everyone would agree that he has the right to decide who comes into his home. He’s the owner, after all. That’s part of what private ownership is all about — the right to exclude others from coming onto his property.

So far, at least, the government has not trampled down this right (well, other than government agents having virtually free access).  But, from a libertarian standpoint, Hornberger is 100% correct.  This is the non-aggression principle, perfectly applied.

Suppose the homeowner throws a party in which he excludes blacks, Jews, immigrants, and poor people. All of his 100 invited guests are rich white Americans.

And this is the extension of the principle. 

Under principles of private property and liberty, the homeowner has the right to discriminate. If the state were to force him to invite blacks, Jews, immigrants, and poor people to his party, there is no way that he could be considered to be a free person. Freedom necessarily entails the right of the homeowner to discriminate on any grounds he wants when it comes to who enters onto his property.

So…let’s take the next step: what if my neighbor and I throw a party, and we agree to exclude “blacks, Jews, immigrants, and poor people”?  Have we violated the NAP, or are we completely consistent with the NAP? 

What if we get together and throw a block party – 100 homes in the neighborhood – and we decide to exclude “blacks, Jews, immigrants, and poor people”?  NAP violation: yes or no?  A thousand homes?  Is it possible that there is no violation if I take this action individually, with my home, but there is now a violation if my neighbors and I agree to similar conditions?

The answer should be obvious, but I will make this one easy: no violation of the NAP; perfectly consistent with the NAP; derived directly from the NAP.  It is illogical to suggest that what one individual has a right to do under the NAP becomes a violation if he and his neighbors jointly agree to do the same.


The non-aggression principle, fully extended, allows for managed borders of property.  Property implies discrimination by the property owner; in the case of his property borders, this means the visitor has a right to exit, but not a right to enter.  The property owner may exclude anyone from his property for any reason.

When it comes to “borders,” the state has made the private property owner impotent in terms of gathering with his neighbors and agreeing to this completely libertarian principle.  The state removes from me my property rights.  The only means I have by which to exercise these rights is via the state – and this is the single argument against state-managed borders, that it is the state acting as the agent.

Is the property owner’s impotence on this topic where the non-aggression principle leads?  Is the property owner’s impotence on this topic the non-aggression principle fully applied?  I hope not – impotence when it comes to property rights would kind of be the death of the non-aggression principle as a meaningful principle.  But then I don’t look for the NAP to answer all questions on all topics; so I am not burdened by such questions.

The entire weight of libertarian principle comes down on the side of managed borders; this butts up against the state doing the managing (as if there is a different reality possible in a world of state borders).

I conclude: one cannot derive the answer of borders and immigration from the non-aggression principle in a world of state borders.  Full private property rights come up against the state as the only lawful manager – how is the NAP supposed to square that circle? 

Thanks, Jacob!