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2. Fundamentals of Intervention

1. Types of Intervention

WE HAVE SO FAR CONTEMPLATED a free society and a free market, where any needed defense against violent invasion of person and property is supplied, not by the State, but by freely competitive, marketable defense agencies. Our major task in this volume is to analyze the effects of various types of violent intervention in society and, especially, in the market. Most of our examples will deal with the State, since the State is uniquely the agency engaged in regularized violence on a large scale. However, our analysis applies to the extent that any individual or group commits violent invasion. Whether the invasion is “legal” or not does not concern us, since we are engaged in praxeological, not legal, analysis.

One of the most lucid analyses of the distinction between State and market was set forth by Franz Oppenheimer. He pointed out that there are fundamentally two ways of satisfying a person's wants: (1) by production and voluntary exchange with others on the market and (2) by violent expropriation of the wealth of others.1 The first method Oppenheimer termed “the economic means” for the satisfaction of wants; the second method, “the political means.” The State is trenchantly defined as the “organization of the political means.”2

A generic term is needed to designate an individual or group that commits invasive violence in society. We may call intervener, or invader, one who intervenes violently in free social or market relations. The term applies to any individual or group that initiates violent intervention in the free actions of persons and property owners.

What types of intervention can the invader commit? Broadly, we may distinguish three categories. In the first place, the intervener may command an individual subject to do or not to do certain things when these actions directly involve the individual's person or property alone. In short, he restricts the subject's use of his property when exchange is not involved. This may be called an autistic intervention, for any specific command directly involves only the subject himself. Secondly, the intervener may enforce a coerced exchange between the individual subject and himself, or a coerced “gift” to himself from the subject. Thirdly, the invader may either compel or prohibit an exchange between a pair of subjects. The former may be called a binary intervention, since a hegemonic relation is established between two people (the intervener and the subject); the latter may be called a triangular intervention, since a hegemonic relation is created between the invader and a pair of exchangers or would-be exchangers. The market, complex though it may be, consists of a series of exchanges between pairs of individuals. However extensive the interventions, then, they may be resolved into unit impacts on either individual subjects or pairs of individual subjects.

All these types of intervention, of course, are subdivisions of the hegemonic relation—the relation of command and obedience—as contrasted with the contractual relation of voluntary mutual benefit.

Autistic intervention occurs when the invader coerces a subject without receiving any good or service in return. Widely disparate types of autistic intervention are: homicide, assault, and compulsory enforcement or prohibition of any salute, speech, or religious observance. Even if the intervener is the State, which issues the edict to all individuals in the society, the edict is still in itself an autistic intervention, since the lines of force, so to speak, radiate from the State to each individual alone. Binary intervention occurs when the invader forces the subject to make an exchange or a unilateral “gift” of some good or service to the invader. Highway robbery and taxes are examples of binary intervention, as are conscription and compulsory jury service. Whether the binary hegemonic relation is a coerced “gift” or a coerced exchange does not really matter a great deal. The only difference is in the type of coercion involved. Slavery, of course, is usually a coerced exchange, since the slaveowner must supply his slaves with subsistence.

Curiously enough, writers on political economy have recognized only the third category as intervention.3 It is understandable that preoccupation with catallactic problems has led economists to overlook the broader praxeological category of actions that lie outside the monetary exchange nexus. Nevertheless, they are part of the subject matter of praxeology—and should be subjected to analysis. There is far less excuse for economists to neglect the binary category of intervention. Yet many economists who profess to be champions of the “free market” and opponents of interference with it have a peculiarly narrow view of freedom and intervention. Acts of binary intervention, such as conscription and the imposition of income taxes, are not considered intervention at all nor as interferences with the free market. Only instances of triangular intervention, such as price control, are conceded to be intervention. Curious schemata are developed in which the market is considered absolutely “free” and unhampered despite a regular system of imposed taxation. Yet taxes (and conscripts) are paid in money and thus enter the catallactic, as well as the wider praxeological, nexus.4

In tracing the effects of intervention, one must take care to analyze all its consequences, direct and indirect. It is impossible in the space of this volume to trace all the effects of every one of the almost infinite number of possible varieties of intervention, but sufficient analysis can be made of the important categories of intervention and the consequences of each. Thus, it must be remembered that acts of binary intervention have definite triangular repercussions: an income tax will shift the pattern of exchanges between subjects from what it otherwise would have been. Furthermore, all the consequences of an act must be considered; it is not sufficient to engage in a “partial-equilibrium” analysis of taxation, for example, and to consider a tax completely apart from the fact that the State subsequently spends the tax money.

  • 1. A person may receive gifts, but this is a unitary act of the giver, not involving an act of the receiver himself.
  • 2. See Franz Oppenheimer, The State (New York: Vanguard Press, 1914):
    There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one's own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. ... I propose ... to call one's own labor and the equivalent exchange of one's own labor for the labor of others “the economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means. ... The state is an organization of the political means. (pp. 24–27)See also Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, the State (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1946), pp. 59–62; Frank Chodorov, The Economics of Society, Government, and the State (mimeographed MS., New York, 1946), pp. 64 ff. On the State as engaging in permanent conquest, see ibid., pp. 13–16, 111–17, 136–40.
  • 3. This is to be inferred from, rather than discovered in explicit form in, their writings. As far as we know, no one has systematically categorized or analyzed types of intervention.
  • 4. A narrow view of “freedom” is characteristic in the present day. In the political lexicon of modern America, “left-wingers” often advocate freedom in the sense of opposition to autistic intervention, but look benignly on triangular intervention. “Right-wingers,” on the other hand, severely oppose triangular intervention, but tend to favor, or remain indifferent to, autistic intervention. Both groups are ambivalent toward binary intervention.