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Explore the Theory of the Completely Free Society

August 13, 2010

Tags EducationFree MarketsPolitical Theory

Just about everyone is drawn to the libertarian respect for property rights. Yet most people draw back from fully embracing property rights, and taking libertarianism to its fulfillment in "anarchocapitalism" or free-market anarchy. "Sure," the cynics say, "it would be great to live in a society without the government and taxes, but who would write its laws? Who would protect it from foreign invasion?"

We will provide detailed answers to these and other questions in my online class, "The Economics of Private Legal and Defense Services." It is a four-week course that costs $150 and starts on August 24. After taking this class, you will realize that the Founders who called government a "necessary evil" were only half right.

The Scope of the Class

Below are the four topics, one covered each week.

  1. Private Law
  2. Private Defense
  3. Common Objections
  4. Historical Applications

In the first two weeks, we will sketch an outline of how a truly free society — with no agency holding the power to tax or monopolize any type of service — could codify and defend property rights, and how it could defend itself from foreign conquest. (Click on the nearby image for the course syllabus, and note you may need to click a second time on the image for your browser to enlarge it.)

Naturally, we can't say exactly what a free society would look like — libertarians don't have the hubris of central planners. Even so, we can explain how market forces would lead to a much more peaceful and prosperous society than one plagued by a parasitical and violent State.

In the third week, we will deal with common objections to the mechanisms we will have earlier described, including, "Wouldn't the mafia take over?" "The biggest defense agency would turn into a de facto State!" "Why couldn't a convict appeal his case indefinitely?" and so on.

Finally, in the fourth week, we will discuss several historical episodes that illustrate the power of voluntary communities to solve conflicts in a relatively peaceful manner. We will see that not just in theory, but in practice, you don't help a group of people by anointing a small fraction of them as "the authorities," who get all the guns and make all the rules.

The Structure of the Class

The live video lecture will be on Tuesday nights. (All video events will be recorded in case you have a scheduling conflict.) On a typical night, I will provide a prepared lecture from 7pm EDT until 8:10. Then we will take a ten-minute break, followed by a Q&A video session until 9pm. (Click on the screen shot below to see what the video lecture will look like on your computer.)

In addition to the main lecture on Tuesday, on Saturday I will hold "office hours" from 3 p.m. — 5 p.m. EDT. This is an optional block of time during which I will be on call to provide live video answers to the questions posed by students who want to tune in.

Each week I will assign 1–2 hours of readings to accompany the lecture. I will also provide optional readings for advanced students who want to push the analysis deeper than the introductory level that we will provide for newcomers.

For those who want to receive an official grade, there will be a multiple-choice quiz every week, as well as a final exam. Of course, students who merely want to watch the lectures can audit the course without having to take any tests.

Finally, there will be an extensive forum discussion every week, as explained in the following section.

Something for Everyone

While the teaching assistant, Grayson Lilburne, and I were discussing the course, we realized that the topic of free-market anarchy is perfect for in-depth discussion and debate. We also realized that there would be many different types of people attracted to this course, including the complete newcomer, the skeptical minarchist, and the veteran anarchocapitalist who read Rothbard while nursing.

In order to accommodate these different students, every week we will post a list of suggested discussion or debate topics. For example, in the first week the issues would include, "Does society need a Supreme Court?" and "Doesn't the group with the most guns become the government by definition?"

If two students want to volunteer to represent opposing sides on a particular issue, then we will set up a discussion thread devoted exclusively to them. They go back and forth, while the other students can only to comment on the "sidelines" in an accompanying thread. (See Grayson's blog post to get a better idea of how this will work in practice.)

Of course, Grayson and I will ensure that the weekly discussions and debates constitute an ordered anarchy, rather than a free-for-all involving name-calling, Hitler comparisons, and seven species of logical fallacies. Also, in addition to the student-led threads, Grayson and I will also oversee a general "questions on this week's material" thread, for the students who were confused by the readings or a point I had made in the lecture.

Conclusion

The vision of a truly free society, in which no one can legally violate the property rights of anyone, is one of the most exciting topics in libertarian analysis. (Click here to listen to my recent talk at Mises University.) If you want to explore this issue further, I encourage you to join us for the first class on August 24.

 session screenshotLive sessions include a video broadcast of the professor, a public chat for questions and discussion, lecture slides, and a "professor's whiteboard."

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