Getting Libertarianism Right

Chapter 2: On Democracy, De-Civilization, and the Quest for a New Counterculture

Because every action requires the employment of specific physical means — a body, standing room, external objects — a conflict between different actors must arise, whenever two actors try to use the same physical means for the attainment of different purposes. The source of conflict is always and invariably the same: the scarcity or rivalrousness of physical means. Two actors cannot at the same time use the same physical means — the same bodies, spaces and objects — for alternative purposes. If they try to do so, they must clash. Therefore, in order to avoid conflict or resolve it if it occurs, an actionable principle and criterion of justice or law is required, i.e., a principle regulating the just, lawful, or “proper” vs. the unjust, unlawful, or “improper” use and control (ownership) of scarce physical means.

Logically, what is required to avoid all conflict is clear: It is only necessary that every good be always and at all times owned privately, i.e., controlled exclusively by some specified individual (or individual partnership or association), and that it be always recognizable which good is owned and by whom, and which is not or by someone else. The plans and purposes of various profit-seeking actor-entrepreneurs may then be as different as can be, and yet no conflict will arise so long as their respective actions involve only and exclusively the use of their own, private property.

Yet how can this state of affairs: the complete and unambiguously clear privatization of all goods, be practically accomplished? How can physical things become private property in the first place; and how can conflict be avoided in these initial acts of privatization?

A single — praxeological — solution to this problem exists and has been essentially known to mankind since its beginnings — even if it has only been slowly and gradually elaborated and logically re-constructed. To avoid conflict from the start, it is necessary that private property be founded through acts of original appropriation. Property must be established through acts (instead of mere words, decrees, or declarations), because only through actions, taking place in time and space, can an objective — intersubjectively ascertainable — link be established between a particular person and a particular thing. And only the first appropriator of a previously unappropriated thing can acquire this thing as his property without conflict. For, by definition, as the first appropriator he cannot have run into conflict with anyone in appropriating the good in question, as everyone else appeared on the scene only later.

This importantly implies that while every person is the exclusive owner of his own physical body as his primary means of action, no person can ever be the owner of any other person’s body. For we can use another person’s body only indirectly, i.e., in using our directly appropriated and controlled own body first. Thus, direct appropriation temporally and logically precedes indirect appropriation; and accordingly, any non-consensual use of another person’s body is an unjust misappropriation of something already directly appropriated by someone else.

All just (lawful) property, then, goes back directly or indirectly, through a chain of mutually beneficial — and thus conflict-free — property title transfers, to prior and ultimately original appropriators and acts of appropriation. Mutatis mutandis, all claims to and uses made of things by a person who had neither appropriated or previously produced these things, nor acquired them through a conflict-free exchange from some previous owner, are unjust (unlawful).

Let me emphasize, that I consider these elementary insights argumentatively irrefutable and hence, a priori true. If you want to live in peace with other persons — and you demonstrate that you wish to do so by engaging in argumentation with them — then only one solution exists: you must have private (exclusive) property in all things scarce and suitable as means (or goods) in the pursuit of human ends (goals); and private property in such things must be founded in acts of original appropriation — the recognizable em-bordering or enclosure of scarce resources — or else in the voluntary transfer of such property from a prior to a later owner.

We can say, then, that these rules express and explicate the “natural law.” “Natural,” given the uniquely human goal of peaceful interaction; and “natural,” because these laws are “given” and merely discovered as such by man. That is, they are emphatically not laws that are made-upcontrived, or decreed. In fact, all man-made (rather than discovered or found) law, i.e., all legislation, is not law at all, but a perversion of law: orders, commands, or prescriptions that do not lead to peace, but to conflict, and hence are dysfunctional of the very purpose of laws.

This does not mean that, with the discovery of the principles of natural law, all problems of social order are solved and all friction will disappear. Conflicts can and do occur, even if everyone knows how to avoid them. And, in every case of conflict between two or more contending parties, then, the law must be applied — and for this juris-prudence and judgment and adjudication (in contrast to juris-diction) is required. There can be disputes about whether you or I have misapplied the principles in specific instances regarding particular means. There can be disagreements as to the “true” facts of a case: who was where and when, and who had taken possession of this or that at such and such times and places? And it can be tedious and time-consuming to establish and sort out these facts. Various prior-later disputes must be investigated. Contracts may have to be scrutinized. Difficulties may arise in the application of the principles to underground resources, to water and to air, and especially to flows of water and air. Moreover, there is always the question of “fitting” a punishment to a given crime, i.e., of finding the appropriate measure of restitution or retribution that a victimizer owes his victim, and of then enforcing the verdicts of law.

Difficult as these problems may occasionally be, however, the guiding principles to be followed in searching for a solution are always clear and beyond dispute.

In every case of conflict brought to trial in search of judgment, the presumption is always in favour of the current possessor of the resource in question and, mutatis mutandis, the burden of a “proof to the contrary” is always on the opponent of some current state of affairs and current possessions. The opponent must demonstrate that he, contrary to prima facie appearance, has a claim on some specific good that is older than the current possessor’s claim. If, and only if an opponent can successfully demonstrate this must the questionable possession be restored as property to him. On the other hand, if the opponent fails to make his case, then not only does the possession remain as property with its current owner, but the current possessor in turn has acquired a lawful claim against his opponent. For the current possessor’s body and time was misappropriated by the opponent during his failed and rejected argument. He could have done other, preferred, things with his body-time except defend himself against his opponent.

And importantly also: the procedure to be selected for dispensing justice along the just indicated lines is clear and implied in the very goal of peaceful, argumentative conflict resolution. Because both contenders in any property dispute — John and Jim — make or maintain opposite truth claims — I, John, am the lawful owner of such and such a resource versus no, I, Jim, am the lawful owner of this very same resource — and hence, both John and Jim are interested, partial or biased in favour of a particular outcome of the trial, only some disinterested or neutral third party can be entrusted with the task of dispensing justice. This procedure does not guarantee that justice will always be done, of course. But it assures that the likelihood of unjust verdicts is minimized and errors of judgment most likely and easily be corrected. In short, then, for each and every property dispute between two (or more) contending parties it must hold: No party may ever sit in judgment and act as final judge in any dispute involving itself. Rather, every appeal to justice must always be made to “outsiders,” i.e., to impartial third-party judges.

We may call the social order emerging from the application of these principles and procedures a “natural order,” a “system of natural justice,” a “private law society,” or a “constitution of liberty.”

Interestingly, although the prescriptions and requirements of a natural order appear intuitively plausible and reasonably undemanding on its constituent parts, i.e., on us as individual actors, as a matter of fact, however, we inhabit a world that sharply deviates from such an order. To be sure, there are still traces of natural law and justice to be found in civil life and the handling of civil disputes, but natural law has become increasingly deformed, distorted, corrupted, swamped, and submerged by ever higher mountains of legislative laws, i.e., by rules and procedures at variance with natural law and justice.

It is not too difficult to identify the root cause for this increasingly noticeable deviation of social reality from a natural order and to explain this transformation as the necessary consequence of one elementary as well as fundamental original error. This error — the “original sin,” if you will — is the monopolization of the function of judgeship and adjudication. That is, the “original sin” is to appoint one person or agency (but no one else!) to act as final judge in all conflicts, including also conflicts involving itself.

The institution of such a monopoly apparently fulfills the classic definition of a State as a monopolist of ultimate decision-making and of violence over some territory that it acquired neither through acts of original appropriation nor through a voluntary transfer from a previous owner. The State — and no one else! — is appointed and permitted to sit in judgment of its own actions and to violently enforce its own  judgment.

This involves in and of itself a twofold violation of natural law and justice. On the one hand, because the State thus prohibits everyone involved in a property dispute with itself from appealing for justice to any potential outside third-party judge; and mutatis mutandis, because the State excludes everyone else (except itself) from proffering his adjudication services in such conflicts.

Moreover, from the original error predictable consequences follow. As a universal rule, each and every monopoly, shielded from competition, leads to higher prices and a lower quality of the product or service in question than would otherwise be the case. In the special case of a judicial monopoly and the particular service of adjudication, this means on the one hand that the quality of law and justice will fall and natural law will be successively replaced by monopolist-made legislation, i.e., perversions of law. Predictably, the monopolist will use his position as ultimate decision-maker not only to resolve conflict between contending property owners, but increasingly also to initiate or provoke conflicts with private property owners, in order to then decide such conflicts in his own favor, i.e., to expropriate the just property of others to his own advantage on the basis of his own made-up laws. And on the other hand, the price to be paid for justice will rise. In fact, the price of justice will not simply be a ‘higher price’ that justice seekers may or may not be willing to pay (as would be the case for any other monopoly), but a tax that justice seekers must pay whether they agree to it or not. That is, private property owners involved in property disputes with the State will not only be expropriated via legislation, but they must also pay the State for this “service” of expropriating them, thus adding insult to injury.

In effect, with the establishment of a judicial monopoly all private property becomes essentially fiat property, i.e., State-granted private property. Private property is only provisionally private and left under private control, i.e., only until some State-made law or regulation does not decree otherwise, thus creating an environment of permanent legal uncertainty and causing an increase in the social rate of time-preference.

Let me term this process that is set in motion with the institution of a State: the progressive deviation from a natural order and system of justice and the increasing erosion of all private property rights and corresponding growth of the legislative and regulatory powers of the State, the process of de-civilization.

While steady in its direction, the process of de-civilization begun with the establishment of a State may proceed at different speeds at different times or places, sometimes more slowly and sometimes at a faster pace. However, another, additional, error can be identified that will result in an acceleration of the process of de-civilization. This second error is the transformation of the State into a democratic State. This transformation does not involve any change in the status of the State as judicial monopolist. Yet it still involves a significant twofold change: entry into the State and the position of ultimate judge is opened for every (adult) inhabitant of a given territory and the function as final judge is exercised only temporarily, for some short fixed period by the winner of regularly recurring secret and anonymous one-man-one-vote elections.

Predictably, this change will lead to a systematic acceleration of the process of de-civilization.

On the one hand, as Helmut Schoeck above all has amply demonstrated, the feeling of envy is one of the most widespread and powerful of de-civilizing motivational forces. All major (high) religions have therefore condemned the desire for the property of one’s neighbours as sinful. In a natural order or a system of natural law and justice, people too, some more and others less, are tempted to expropriate the property of others to their own advantage. But in a natural order, quite in accordance with religious prescriptions, such temptations are considered immoral and illegitimate and everyone is expected to suppress any such desires. With a State in place, some — a few — people are permitted to give in to such immoral desires for an indeterminate period and use legislation and taxation as means to satisfy their own desire for the property of others. Only with democracy, however, i.e., the free and unrestricted entry into the State, are all moral restraints and inhibitions against the taking of others’ lawful property removed. Everyone is free to indulge in such temptations and propose and promote every conceivable measure of legislation and taxation to gain advantages at other people’s expense. That is, whereas in a natural order everyone is expected to spend his time exclusively on production or consumption, under democratic conditions, increasingly more time is spent instead on politics, i.e., on the advocacy and promotion of activities that are neither productive nor consumptive, but exploitative and parasitic of and on the property of others. Indeed, even the opponents of such a development must waste their time increasingly on unproductive endeavors, i.e., on politics, if only to defend themselves and their property or take precautionary actions against such incursions. In fact, under democratic conditions, a new class of people emerges — politicians — whose profession it is to propose and promote law — decrees and taxes designed to expropriate the property of some to the advantage of others (including and foremost themselves).

Moreover, owing to regularly recurring elections, the politicization of society never comes to an end but is constantly reignited and continued. Legal uncertainty or lawlessness is thus heightened and social time preferences will rise still further, i.e., increasingly shortening the time horizon taken into consideration in one’s action-plans. And in the process of political competition, i.e., in the competition for the position of ultimate decision-maker, such politicians and political parties will rise to the top who have the least moral scruples and the best skills as demagogues, i.e., of proposing and propagating the most popular assortment of immoral and unlawful demands from a near limitless supply of such demands on offer in public opinion.

On the other hand — as the other side of the same coin — democracy will lead to increasing corruption. With open entry into the State, the resistance against State-rule is reduced and the size of the State will grow. The number of State employees and administrators will increase, and because their income and livelihood is dependent on the continuation of the State’s power of legislation and taxation, they will, not necessarily, but in all likelihood, become reliable and loyal supporters of the State. In particular, the class of intellectuals, i.e., the producers of words (wordsmiths) in contrast to the producers of things (manufacturers), will be thus bought off and corrupted. Because there is only little and fickle market demand for words rather than things, intellectuals are always desperate for any help they can get to stay afloat, and the State, in permanent need of ideological support for its relentless onslaught against natural law and justice, is only too willing to offer such help and employ them as public educators in exchange for the appropriate propaganda.

Yet it is not only State employees that are so corrupted. Tax-revenue and the State’s range of control over other, non-monetary assets and holdings will far exceed what is necessary to employ and equip its workers. The State can also disperse income and assistance to various members of civil society. The loyalty of the poor and downtrodden can be assured through so-called social welfare programs, and the rich and the captains of banking and industry, and indirectly also their employees, can be corrupted through government privileges, contracts, and interest bearing governments bonds. And this same policy can be used also for the purpose of “dividing” the members of civil society, so as to more easily control an increasingly factionalized or “atomized” population. Divide et impera!

While the principal direction of social evolution can be safely predicted based on a few elementary assumptions about the nature of man, the State, and of democracy in particular, all details concerning the process of de-civilization remain uncertain and unclear. To be more specific, history must be consulted. In particular, about the last hundred years must be looked at, i.e., the history since the end of WWI in 1918, when modern democracy came into its own displacing the former monarchical State.

While this history confirms the general prediction, the actual results are truly horrendous, surpassing the worst fears. As far as moral degeneration and corruption is concerned, and taking only the US as the dominant example and model of a democratic State into consideration, a few indicators may suffice as illustration.

In the US, a Code of Federal Regulations — a document listing all government rules and regulations — did not exist at the beginning of the period (until 1937). By 1960, the Code had reached 22,877 pages, and by 2012 it had swollen to a total of 174,545 pages, subdivided into 50 titles, regulating in minutest detail the production of everything imaginable, from agriculture and aeronautics to transportation, wildlife, and fisheries. Whereas natural law is comprised of only three principles: self-ownership, original appropriation, and contractual property transfer from a prior to a later owner, then, today, after a hundred years of democracy, no aspect of production and consumption is left free and unregulated. As well, at the beginning of the period no more than a handful of “federal crimes” existed, concerning matters such as “treason” or the “bribery of federal officials” (while all “normal” crimes were defined and prosecuted by the individual States). By 1980 the number of “federal crimes” had already grown to about 3,000, and by 2007 it had reached 4,450, criminalizing not just ever more non-tortious actions and victimless crimes but increasingly also motives, thoughts, words, and speech.

As a second indicator for the degree of corruption it is revealing to contrast the total population number with the number of State-dependents. Presently, the total population of the US is about 320 million, or about 260 million, if we subtract the number of people below age 18 and ineligible to vote. By contrast, the number of people wholly or mostly dependent for their livelihood on State-funding includes the following: The number of State-employees (of all levels of governments) is about 22 million. Forty-six million people receive “food stamps.” Sixty-six million people are “Social Security” recipients. Eight million people receive “unemployment insurance.” Federal government spending alone on for-profit firms amounts to some $500 billion, accounting according to an estimate by Charles Murray for about 22 percent of the American workforce or about 36 million people. Lastly, non-profit organizations and NGOs, with annual revenues of $2 trillion and almost 12 million employees, receive about a third of their funding from government, accounting for about another 3 million dependents — thus bringing the total of State-dependents to about 181 million people. That is, only 79 million people or about one third of the adult (above 18) US population of 260 million (or about 25 percent of the total population of 320 million) can be said to be financially wholly or largely independent of the State, whereas close to 70 percent of the US adult population and 57 percent of the total population are to be counted as State-dependents.

Finally, as a third indicator of moral degeneration and corruption, a look at the top of the democratic State-system is instructive: at the politicians and political parties who run and direct the democratic show. In this regard, whether we look at the US or any of its satellite States in Europe and all around the globe, the picture is equally unambiguous and clear — and equally bleak. If measured by the standards of natural law and justice, all politicians, of all parties and virtually without any exception, are guilty, whether directly or indirectly, of murder, homicide, trespass, invasion, expropriation, theft, fraud, and the fencing of stolen goods on a massive and ongoing scale. And every new generation of politicians and parties appears to be worse, and piles even more atrocities and perversions on top of the already existing mountain, so that one feels almost nostalgic about the past.

They all should be hung, or put in jail to rot, or set to making compensation.

But: Instead, they parade around in public and broad daylight and proclaim themselves — pompously, pretentiously, arrogantly, and self-righteously — as saintly do-gooders: as good Samaritans, selfless public servants, benefactors, and saviors of mankind and human civilization. Assisted by a hired intelligentsia, they tell the public in endless loops and variations that as in Alice’s wonderland nothing is what it seems:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

     “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

And it is the politicians, who are the masters, and who stipulate that aggression, invasion, murder, and war are actually self-defense, whereas self-defense is aggression, invasion, murder, and war. Freedom is coercion, and coercion is freedom. Saving and investment are consumption, and consumption is saving and investment. Money is paper, and paper is money. Taxes are voluntary payments, and voluntarily paid prices are exploitative taxes. Contracts are no contracts, and no contracts are contracts. Producers are parasites, and parasites are producers. Expropriation is restitution, and restitution is expropriation. Indeed, what we can see, hear, or otherwise sense does not exist, and that which we cannot see, hear, or otherwise sense does. The normal is a-normal and the a-normal normal. Black is white and white is black. Male is female and female male, etc.

Worse, the overwhelming majority of the public, far exceeding even the number of State-dependents, falls for this nonsense. Politicians are not despised and ridiculed but held in high esteem, applauded, admired, and even glorified by the masses. In their presence, and in particular vis-à-vis “top” politicians, most people show themselves awestruck, submissive, and servile. Indeed, even those opposing or denouncing one particular politician or party do so almost always only to propose or hail yet another, different but equally absurd and confused politician or party. And the intelligentsia, finding its own verbal mumbo-jumbo echoed in the blabbering of this or that politician or political party, virtually drools over them.

And on the other hand: The number of those who still hold on to the principles of natural law and justice as the basis of all moral judgment, and who assess the contemporary world accordingly as an “Absurdistan,” i.e., an insane asylum run by crazed megalomaniacs, makes up no more today than a minuscule minority of the population, smaller in size even than the infamous 1 percent of the “super rich” of leftists’ fame (and with little if any overlap with this latter group). And tinier still is the minority of those, who recognize also, however vaguely, the systematic cause of this outcome. And all of these — the few sane people left within the asylum —, then, are under constant threat by the guardians and wardens of this “Absurdistan” called democracy, and are branded as Neanderthals, reactionaries, extremists, pre-enlightenment dumb-dumbs, sociopaths, or scum.

Which brings me to the Property and Freedom Society (PFS). Because it purposefully assembles precisely such outcast Neanderthals: people who can see through the “Schmierentheater” (fleapit) going on before their eyes, who have had it with all blathering politicians and mass-media darlings, and who have consequently just one wish: to exit, i.e., to opt out of the legal system imposed on them by the democratic State.

But wherever these Neanderthals happen to reside, they find themselves in the same predicament: the exit is barricaded or entirely barred. Secession from the State’s territory is not permitted. One may emigrate from one country to another and thus leave one State-jurisdiction A for another jurisdiction B. But one’s immovable property remains thereby subject to the jurisdiction of A, also and especially in the case of sale, and likewise remains the transfer of all moveable property subject to A’s jurisdiction. That is, no one, anywhere, can exit with his property left intact, whether in staying or moving elsewhere. And not only is secession prohibited and considered treasonous by politicians, but it is viewed as illegitimate, as shirking one’s duties, also by the overwhelming bulk of the ‘educated’ or rather brainwashed public. Thus, matters appear hopeless for Neanderthals.

The PFS cannot offer a way out of this predicament, of course. Its gatherings, too, must take place on the ground and are as such subject to State-law and jurisdiction. It cannot even be taken for granted that meetings such as ours will be always and everywhere permitted to take place. PFS meetings can offer no more, then, than a brief escape and reprieve from our real life as inmates of an insane asylum, if not on the ground then at least in the virtual reality of ideas, thought, and argument.

But, of course, these meetings have a real purpose. They want to accomplish a change in the world of things. At the very minimum, they want to prevent the Neanderthal culture, i.e., the culture of natural law, order, and justice, from going entirely extinct. They want to help sustain and provide intellectual nourishment for this increasingly rare species of people and culture.

More ambitiously, however, the PFS wants to help these Neanderthals and their culture regain strength in public opinion by putting them on open display and showcasing them as a uniquely attractive and fascinating species and counterculture.

To achieve this goal, the PFS, seemingly paradoxically, engages in a policy of strict discrimination, i.e., of exclusion and inclusion. Thus, on the one hand, the PFS systematically excludes and discriminates against all representatives and promoters of the present, dominant democratic State-culture: against all professional politicians, State-judges, -prosecutors, -jailers, -killers, -tax-collectors, and -bankers, all warmongers, and all advocates of socialism, legal positivism, moral relativism and egalitarianism, whether of “outcome” or “opportunity.” On the other hand, positively, the PFS seeks out and admits only people, who have adopted for themselves Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that “There is not a truth existing which I fear … or would wish unknown to the whole world,” who accordingly know of no intellectual “taboo” and of no “political correctness,” and who are committed instead to uncompromising intellectual radicalism, willing to follow the dictates of reason wherever these may lead. More specifically, the PFS seeks out and admits only people dedicated to the recognition of justly acquired private property and property rights, freedom of contract, freedom of association and of dis-association, free trade, and peace.

Following this strict policy of discrimination the PFS, after ten years of its existence, has established itself as a veritable monopoly in the world of intellectual societies: a society made up of exceptional individuals of all ages, intellectual and professional backgrounds and nations, free and unpolluted by all Statists and everything statist, unrivalled in the interdisciplinary breadth and depth of its radicalism, gathered in beautiful surroundings and united in a spirit of conviviality and comradeship; a society smeared, despised, and even hated (and yet secretly envied) by all the usual suspects, and yet hailed by all those who have had the wisdom and fortune to see and experience it.

Unlike other, ‘regular’ monopolies, however, it is not my goal to preserve and maintain the PFS’s current monopoly position. Quite to the contrary. In setting an example, by producing an appealing and indeed beautiful product — a privately produced public good, if you will — it is my hope that the PFS’s present monopoly position will only be a temporary one, and that its example will serve as an inspiration to others, that more and more similar associations and meetings will spring up, that the dominant democratic un-culture will thus be put increasingly on the defensive and opened up to public ridicule, and that ultimately they, the proponents and exponents of the reigning democratic un-culture, will be considered  outcasts in polite society.

There are some positive signs: the one-day Mises Circle events across major US cities, Rahim Taghizadegan’s Wertewirtschaft gatherings in Austria and Andre Lichtschlag’s Eigentuemlich-Frei conferences in Germany. However, I am afraid that to match the accomplishment of the PFS will be a difficult task and that it is to maintain its unique status for quite a while. Personally, I am planning to continue this project as long as my and especially also Gülçin’s strength holds up and, even more importantly, as long as you keep coming and effectively supporting the intellectual product and enterprise that is the PFS.