Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 544, November 15, 2009

Life goes on.

Previous Previous Table of Contents Contents Next Next

Classical Liberalism: Fail
by Jim Davidson

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

    "It is excellent, we must all allow; yet this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the government had not sometimes got in its way."
    On Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau

In 1848, looking back on 61 years of ratification, implementation, and operation of the constitution for these united States of America, Henry David Thoreau concluded that the government was to be avoided. Rather than concluding, as some apparently have, that the constitution was divinely inspired, he realised that it was muck.

He was also the progenitor of a school of thought that classical liberalism had failed. You should read his complete essay at the link above, or on your favorite web site archive of such material.

"There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor; which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose if a few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow men. A State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect and glorious state, which I have also imagined, but not yet anywhere seen." So says Thoreau in his conclusion.

Why does the state fail? Was it not founded with the consent of the governed to secure the rights to life, liberty, and property? The short answer is no, and because the answer to the second question is no, the state cannot possibly succeed.

The fallacy of classical liberalism was cogently stated in the Declaration of Independence—that a just government derives its powers from the consent of the governed; that it is instituted to secure rights. The truth is much worse.

The men who drafted the constitution had no intention of asking the consent of the governed, any more than the Southern gentlemen among them would ask the consent of their slaves to continued bondage. The ratification process asked for approval of the states, not the population.

Nor was there any secret to the process for growing the national government. All the design information was put in place to encourage the Supreme Court to dislocate a metaphorical shoulder on the way out of the strait jacket. One of the better analyses of this situation is Ken Royce's Hologram of Liberty.

The horrible truth is: the United States government was instituted to separate the unwary from their property for the benefit of those who run the state. It was designed to impose surplus order. It was developed to steal, rape, and pillage. It now plunders the world.

The question then becomes: what to do?

One possible answer is: build something better, stronger, and use it to bash down the state and replace it. That is the sort of answer one might get from a Continental Congress. Or an alliance of other nation states. But it is a false answer.

For what we face here, now, is tyranny. And if you were to participate in building something stronger and more powerful, capable of overthrowing tyranny, relying on it to safeguard your property, liberty, and life, who would guard you from the new guardian? The current government seeks to be all pervasive, to rain fire from Predator drones from the sky, to watch for every sign and subtlety of rebellion, to crush lives, rape women, slaughter children wherever they may be. Do you want something stronger than that? No.

Etienne de la Boetie pointed the way in his essay on voluntary servitude many centuries ago. The tyrant cannot see every rebellious act—he does not have enough eyes. He has to hire spies and pay them. The tyrant cannot torture every prisoner to death—he has not enough arms. Nor enough fists to pummel every rebellious spirit in the streets. He has to hire police, torturers, prison guards, you know, pigs.

You don't have to put your hands on the tyrant to make him fall. Just remove your support. Withdraw your consent, if any were ever given, and withdraw your support. Stop supporting the tyrant and he will fall, as surely as a statue whose pedestal has been removed. So said de la Boetie in his essay in 1548.

He pointed the way to agorism, the philosophy of Samuel Edward Konkin III and others. A few months back, I came up with an acronym: avoiding government and operating realistic, individualistic, sensible markets. But the word agorism actually derives from the Greek "agora" referring to a free market and gathering place for free minds.

Does this mean no order? Chaos? Not at all. Merchants and consumers like order. They want an orderly shop where goods and services are on display, where there is a process for payment that they can comprehend and engage, where things are not shoplifted and purses are not stolen, where a customer can use the restroom without being undressed by security guards nor raped by transients. They also want a process for service after the sale, for addressing complaints to mall management, for answers when they have legitimate grievances.

People create orderly markets through cooperation, and are eager to do so. Where there is no free market, people will risk a great deal to create a black market—called black by those scum in government who aren't getting their cut. But really a golden market, a market of free and equal sovereigns cooperating in finding market clearing prices.

What people don't want is surplus order. I use this term from the book Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence on the Edge of the 21st Century by Alvin and Heidi Toffler. Surplus order is when the state kicks in your door at 3 a.m., revokes your passport, hauls you off kicking and screaming, and puts your children in an orphanage for re-education.

Surplus order is also common to red markets, where market share is gained by killing competitors, where a prostitute is coerced by addiction or violence, where rape and murder are for hire. Red markets are very much like the state, in that they separate the unwary from their property for the benefit of those who run the red market. I follow J. Neil Schulman in calling such a market red in describing the bloodshed involved. It is also his term "the golden economy" to describe a free market without surplus order.

Make no mistake, the government hates freedom. They want your blood. They want your property, especially your money. That's why governments have such cozy relationships with bankers. Bankers will levy your account without a trial, without so much as a court order, if the IRS writes them a note.

And the government will be happy to come to your home, kick in the door, and put you in a cage. They'll seize your computer and use its information against you and everyone you know. But doing so will have two unintended consequences. They'll have to pay to keep you in a cage and pay torturers to waterboard you. And they won't have your economic activity in the broader economy hiring people who end up paying fuel taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes (except as they are very creative). So, every one of us who ends up in a cage is undermining the system that much further, adding to the budget deficits, dragging down the system.

Mind you, it takes ten or twenty times as many people to investigate you and you shouldn't make it easy for them. But don't be disheartened if you spend some time in jail or in prison. Life goes on.

Sure, the president of the United States, who taught constitutional law at fancy University of Chicago has said that he has constitutional authority to put you in a cage without charges, without habeas corpus, without a lawyer, without you having ever done anything criminal, and torture you to death. Sure, his military and his CIA have done so, over and over again.

But they cannot torture 8 billion people to death and have an economy. Even the People's Republic of China has only killed two or three hundred million. And they won't lend money to the USA government forever.

Besides, what are the odds? I might be a target. I'm loud. I've eleven broken bones thanks to my last major encounter with pigs. But you have the opportunity to be quiet, to make a bigger difference by creating more wealth, and doing it out of sight.

Nor is there much alternative. Join the state to impose surplus order? No thanks. Form a red market, like assassination politics conceives, to overthrow the state? No thanks.

The golden economy is the way forward.

* * * *

Ben very kindly suggested we face a scale problem, to have agorism adopted widely enough. I responded.

I'm not sure we face that scale problem, Ben. For example, I tend my garden. You tend yours. What needs to scale?

What we've found, over the decades and centuries, is that centralisation was an error. A massive and complex electric power grid is prone to sudden widespread failure. It provides links for tracking and tracing. Electric power lines can carry signals. How long until they do? And how does that reduce your privacy?

Perhaps we ought to be looking more closely at distributed power solutions. Solar, wind, water, diesel generators (buried to reduce the noise). Maybe pocket nuclear radioisotope thermo-electric generators. Methanol can be made from wood and trees are renewable. Race cars burn methanol, why not regular cars? Diesels can be converted to burn french fry grease from the fast food joints. There are even things being done with depolymerisation which suggest that a lot of oils can be made into fuels.

Why centralise? You end up with a big bureaucracy. You end up without innovation. You end up pinned to the ground. Your big factory isn't mobile. A tiny factory is—and with CAD/CAM and numerically controlled machines, nearly any material can be made into nearly anything inside of a shipping container. Which means any shipping yard could have a factory today, and gone tomorrow.

Centralised phones? Why? Makes it easy for FISA scum to hook into every call. (Except, I think the ones at AT&T are morons—they keep dropping calls when they hook in. You can almost hear them breathing. Through their mouths.)

Look, there's a huge network for communications that is entirely decentralised. Except for the root name servers, and they can be worked around five ways from Sunday. The whole point of the Internet was to decentralise, make it robust, make it survive a nuclear war. The exercise was: what if DC were nuked? Can you imagine? It is 1969, nobody has hooked two computer networks together before, reliably, and they want a design that can have any node wiped off the face of the Earth. And we have that. It went commercial around 1971-73 and became pervasive in education around 1976. It is extremely pervasive now, and you can still chop any node out without losing the network.

So you don't want to scale up agorism to the point where it is big and obvious and centralised. You want to scale down operations to the point where they are ubiquitous and robust. You want to have a widely distributed network where no one person, no one factory, no one location, no one technology is on the critical path. If I were hit by a Mack truck, tomorrow, my part in the process would be picked up by several other people. So everyone and every thing is a line replaceable unit, after a fashion.

It sucks to get killed off, or thrown in prison, but so what? The network continues and remains robust.

Central banking? Stupid. A terrible idea. Hawala works better. Cell phone credits work great, too. Gold and silver coins can be digitised as digital bearer instruments. A network of storage facilities, a network of auditors, a network of Fair Witnesses, a network of counting houses, a network of digital real bill automated clearinghouses.

Yes, sure, a particular exchanger might be picked off. So what? If the network is all based on the centralisation mythos, then the system collapses. But if it is robust and distributed, if it is just a frickin' network protocol, anyone can pick up the slack and move the packets—bits or coins or whatever.

Do you know, I've lived and worked in places where "the Internet" meant strapping a USB memory stick to a carrier pigeon and sending it into the city twenty miles away. (Twenty miles is nothing in most American or European cities. It can be a week of travel in some countries, and impassable if there's a war between you and your destination.) But the packets get through. And they are, after all, just packets. That's how robust TCP/IP is. It's just a protocol. It doesn't matter whether you have wires or wireless, telegraphs or digital telephony.

The tricky part is to make it ubiquitous. And I don't know anything about how people work. Write a business plan? Sure. Sestina? Done it. Epic poetry? Well, I can make heroic couplets. Anthem for the Ama-gi might be kind of epic, or it once was. I've done database programming, web design, carpentry, all kinds of stuff. Motivating people? You may as well ask me to start a religion. lol

Pambas very kindly suggested that there were no problems with central control of the business enterprises, only of government. My thoughts were as follows:

Centralisation of governmental power is a problem, and a big one, and it has gone too far, again. The death camps and other symptoms of surplus order are again becoming obvious.

Centralised production of power is a problem because when the government wants to shut off the power to some residence, to punish them for having dissident ideas, what can the residents do? Centralised production of telephony services is a problem because when the government demanded unconstitutional, illegal, and warrantless wiretaps on hundreds of millions of Americans, they only had to coerce one or two companies (Qwest didn't want to get in line, but was forced into line) and then later pass a FISA act to retroactively "immunise" companies that had in fact violated the law for the security of the state. Centralised production of automobiles recently resulted in the nationalisation of two of the three remaining auto makers and had previously resulted in a 100% tariff on imported pickup trucks (1968) the malicious and false prosecution of deLorean for daring to make model cars in Ireland and the malicious attacks on Tucker for making cars in the USA. You could look up these facts if you wish.

What else do you like? The centralised production of pharmaceuticals has resulted in pernicious attacks on companies making vitamins. Companies entering the pharmaceutical industry are forced to sell their company to one of the "majors" that are able to comply with the extremely high costs (between $800 million and $2 billion per drug) of governmental approval of new drugs. So innovation is reduced and everyone jumps through more hoops. This affects health care adversely.

The more you centralise production, the more the parasites in government come around. They have shut down private production of dogs for example, so everyone has to go to the inhumane society, be inspected and approved, have random visits from violent thugs. See "Rescue Ink" for examples of violence that attacks private property and individual liberty and is extolled as virtuous. The production of newspapers and of broadcast media is centralised, so these places have been targeted for control and attacks on their freedom of expression. You cannot license a radio station in this country without being rigorously inspected and pre-approved, with associated graft and corruption and control over what you may say on the radio.

Build a factory and it will be shut down by OSHA or the EPA, it will be taxed by city, county, state, and federal authorities. It will be seized for non-payment of taxes. Inspected for "fire hazards" and other nonsense. And you'll have to pay fees, plus graft, to get the doors opened again. If you ever get a "building occupancy" permit, of course. All of which feeds the state and its minions, the parasite bureau-rat and politician.

It is true that nothing forbids me to engage in private business conduct with whomever I want. But, as you can see, there are these bureau-rats and they do sit on some. So, why make yourself a target? Why build up anything for them to see? Agorism suggests avoiding government, first, and operating realistic, individualistic, sensible markets next. There's utterly no point in saying that one withdraws one's consent and then do things in a way that the state gets all the property you have carefully set aside for business operations. Look at e-gold or the Liberty Dollar for examples of what not to do.

There are many solutions to everything. I believe I've made this point. And I've studied engineering. I'm one of the few people who can speak mathematically to a scientist or engineer and convert their ideas to ones that business people can understand well enough to finance. But, at this point, why bother? Why try to raise money in the publicly "regulated" stock markets—it will all be seized when the currency collapses, or when the tax fiends want more, or when the bureau-rats decide to attack, vindictively, again.

I'm very fond of alternative economics. The most dangerous, un-approved, anti-government economics are those of Ludwig von Mises. That's why he was chased out of Europe by the Nazis. That's why the Soviets captured his private papers when they entered Germany and spirited those papers away to Moscow where they were hidden until 1993 (thanks to Richard and Anna Ebeling for their work on tracing the papers and publishing some of the important ones). I am not fond of mainstream economics, as embodied by supremely evil men like John Maynard Keynes.

With regard to auto-sufficient fantasy, I am not promoting that idea. Well, I don't think I am. I admit that it is a new way of identifying the "every individual must be self sufficient and produce everything for himself from food to power to Internet connection." Agorism is about free markets. Buying and selling are very agreeable and cooperative non-violent acts.

I do not think that people ought to be sufficient unto themselves, and I would agree that is a fantasy. I do think people should buy and sell, use money, and have more freedom as a result. Specialisation and other benefits arise from free market economics. There is nothing wrong, essentially, with David Ricardo and Adam Smith in their conception of division of labor, assembly line production, etc. The book "The Wealth of Nations" contains many good ideas that were improved upon in "Human Action." But I'm not interested in the wealth of nation states, but of individuals. I don't want wealthier states, but more prosperous people.

In other words, I'm not against what you probably conceive of as classical economics. I am against classical liberalism because of its persistent failure to serve the purposes (protecting life, liberty, and property) which it claims is its reason for being.

The freedom movement has, in many of its parts, been trying to piss up the same rope that Ron Paul has been pissing up. Sure, you get a warm wet feeling around your waist, but does it accomplish anything?

The Campaign for Liberty is an impressively substantial part of the American freedom movement, for example. And the errors of classical liberalism are found in European liberty groups like Liberalia and Liberty International. The International Society for Individual Liberty is now operated from a bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona run by a guy who runs a blog called Classically Liberal, e.g. The Free State Project is about seizing the reins of the state, having Jason Sorens was enthusiastic about how thrilled he is that the federal government is building more baby-killing stuff for the defense department in some factory there (bringing high tech jobs to NH, you see, while killing off those undesirable persons of swarthy complexion who dare to want to live in their own countries in peace). The Free State Wyoming project is more openly racist, sexist, bigoted, opposed to expressions of dissent, and eager for nuclear weapons, based on my personal experiences with the group and the founding goon's book on the topic. (There also seems to be overt xenophobia, near-the-surface homophobia, and a big of religious intolerance, there, as well.)

The overt plan of FSP and FSW are the same—move people to a state or to counties, have them vote, seize thereby the reins of the state, and use it to defend life, liberty, and property. In other words, continue to pursue the same fallacy of classical liberalism. Use the government as a bludgeon to defend people from...the government. Uh, yeah. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes and all that rot.

So, yes, the freedom movement has been wasting a lot of time and spinning its wheels. What Lysander Spooner tried to reiterate in 1874, what Thoreau spoke out against in 1848, what Hans Hermann Hoppe wrote about in 1998, what I wrote in 2003, all have been ignored. It is a classic (if I may pun) case of "the folly of rewarding for B while seeking A."

I've lived in Somalia for periods of several months between 1998 and 2001 and I can assure you that they have not, and are not, trying anarchy. In most of the countryside, in many villages and smaller towns, there is a form of clan governance called kritarchy. It is very sexist, significantly racist, highly xenophobic, and has been made compatible with Islam since around AD 850. Though the Somalis practice one of the more tolerant expressions of Sunni Islam, and enjoy seeing their women in bright garments, I would not recommend the country for anyone looking for a free and open society.

If the freedom movement expects to succeed in making free places for people to live, which appears to me (having traveled in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and Polynesia) to be the only way for such places to come into existence, it would be well if less time were wasted on pointless exercises of various kinds. Some people, of course, cannot learn from the experiences of others, and so much of history follows as Thucydides noted the same pattern as the past, as though the future were a reflection of what had gone before.

Statism and socialism have triumphed, again and again. Lew Rockwell has a bunch of good points on this topic. But, they are false victors. They cannot make prosperity, no matter how much money they print. They cannot make a free market, no matter how many regulations they write. People will ever chafe under their control.

* * * *

What is the golden economy? It is free individuals doing as they please with their own property. It is trade and commerce where that makes sense, mutual aid societies, privacy networks, associations, and loners at different times and places. It may become a robust network for trade and commerce, for secret transactions that can't be detected, prohibited, regulated, nor taxed. Most of all, it is that part of the economy consistent with the zero aggression principle.

Let's make it a golden world.

Jim Davidson is an anti-war activist involved in the divestment project detailed at He is also an author and entrepreneur. His latest book comes out this Autumn at 623 pages plus notes. Two of his current projects involve financing films, one a documentary about destination resorts in orbit. See for details. Visit for more ideas.


Help Support TLE by patronizing our advertisers and affiliates.
We cheerfully accept donations!

Big Head Press