Mises Wire

Secession and the Production of Defense

[Chapter 11 of The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production, edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 2003), pp. 369–413.]

Few people object to the private production of shoes or rock concerts. But almost everybody believes that certain goods cannot be produced on a purely voluntary basis. Cultural goods such as classical music and opera, welfare services, and in particular the definition and enforcement of law have to be entrusted to compulsory organizations like the modern state.

According to a school of laissez-faire economists, this view is unwarranted. These economists argue that purely private production is superior to compulsory schemes in all fields, even in the production of security and defense.1 Individuals and voluntary associations of individuals are not only capable of producing all goods and services that governments and other state organizations can produce. In every single case they also achieve better results than these organizations.

One practical implication of the works of this school is that government organizations in the field of law enforcement and defense should either be abolished or reformed in such a way that they henceforth operate on purely private terms.

Such reforms may be implemented, theoretically at least, through government organizations themselves. This approach is generally discussed under the headings of privatization, denationalization, desocialization, etc.2 Another strategy is to abolish government control, without any involvement of government organizations. This approach has only recently caught the attention of economists and other social scientists, who have generally discussed it under the heading of “secession.”3 But most of these works are rather unsystematic and do not discuss secession from the point of view of economic science.

The present essay is meant to fill this gap. In particular, we will analyze the conditions for successful secession and demonstrate that the most important condition to be met is of an ideological, rather than military, nature. Our study is also a contribution to defense economics, a notoriously unsystematic and underdeveloped part of economic theory, which has neglected the case of secession altogether.


Secession is commonly understood as a one-sided disruption of bonds with a larger organized whole to which the secessionists have been tied.4 Thus, secession from a state would mean that a person or a group of persons withdraws from the state as a larger whole to which they have been attached.

However, defining the entity from which the secessionists defect as a “larger whole” is not useful and defies common sense. Consider, for example, the case of a tenant, say Smith, who refuses to pay his rent. Even though Smith is but a part of a larger community of landlord and tenants, one would not therefore speak of Smith’s action as secession, but rather as a breach of contract. The same thing would have to be said about a business division that defects from a firm. Here too the withdrawal would not qualify as an act of secession, but as theft and breach of contract.

It is not useful to classify breaches of contract as secessions because such a definition would be too wide. Our aim is to distinguish disruptions of social bonds that are “good,” because they bring about a purely private order, from inherently antisocial “bad” disruptions, such as theft, fraud, murder, and breach of contract. We thus have to come up with a more pertinent definition that reconciles common sense and the purposes of our analysis.

We will use the term secession to denote the disruption of what Mises calls a hegemonic bond, as opposed to the disruption of a contractual bond. As Mises points out:

There are two different kinds of social cooperation: cooperation by virtue of contract and coordination, and cooperation by virtue of command and subordination or hegemony. … In the frame of a contractual society the individual members exchange definite quantities of goods and services of a definite quality. In choosing subjection to a hegemonic body a man neither gives nor receives anything that is definite. He integrates himself into a system in which he has to render indefinite services and will receive what the director is willing to assign to him.5

One can further clarify the difference between contractual and hegemonic bonds by taking a closer look at the way by which the Misesian “director” acquires property. There are in fact only two fundamentally distinct ways of acquiring property that already has a rightful owner. Either the property is acquired with the consent of its present owner, or it is acquired against his will, thus violating his property rights. Tertium non datur. In the words of the German sociologist Franz Oppenheimer: Either one uses the economic means of appropriation, or one uses the political means of appropriation.6 By consenting to the transfer of his property to another person, the present owner renders this transfer definite, whereas all transfers that do not respect his will are thereby indefinite.

Violations of property rights committed by “normal” people are everywhere held in contempt. What murderers, thieves, robbers, etc., do is seen to be incompatible with life in society. By distinct contrast, the “director” violates other persons’ property without being considered a criminal. The other members of society—or at least a substantial majority among them—regard his violations of other people’s property rights as compatible with civilized intercourse. Therefore, they actively support these activities when they are directed against other persons, and do not obstruct them when they are directed against themselves. This is the nature of the hegemonic bond between the director-ruler and its subjects.

Now, secession is the one-sided disruption of a hegemonic bond by the subjects. It thus means two things: (A) the subjects no longer support the ruler’s violating property rights of other people, for example, they stop paying taxes or serving the ruler; and (B) they start to resist him when he violates their own or other people’s property rights.

Secession is a special subclass of political reform. It is not the rulers who carry out the reform by modifying existing political bonds, but the ruled, who unilaterally abolish these bonds. More precisely, the secessionists abolish the hegemonic aspect of existing institutions. For example, in the area of the production of defense, secession does not necessarily mean that a presently existing police force or a presently existing army is dissolved. The police or the army could continue to exist, provided it operates on the basis of purely voluntary bonds with the rest of society. There would then be no more draft, and their monetary proceeds would no longer stem from taxation, etc.


Secession is not all-or-nothing but covers a whole continuum of disruptions of hegemonic bonds. It may sever only a part of all existing hegemonic bonds, and it may sever geographically unrelated “islands” rather than territories with contiguous and connected borders.7

In some historical cases, continuous territories defected from a larger geographical whole—for example, when the U.S. seceded from Great Britain in 1776, the Southern Confederacy from the U.S. in 1861, or satellite states like Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, or Armenia from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

By contrast, at other times and places, secession was limited to geographical islands within larger territories that continued to maintain the hegemonic bonds. Such was the case, for example, with the seceding Swiss cities and cantons in 1291, which for centuries did not form an integrated territory, or with the Hansa cities, which in their best days were “free,” that is, not subject to imperial taxation. Also, throughout the High Middle Ages, various individual cities—especially in northern Italy but also in Flanders and southern Germany—defected for some time from the Holy Roman Empire. In most cases, they then either were ruled by city patriarchs or became city republics.

The continuum of geographical dispersion of political regimes is best illustrated by the present-day case of Baarle, a Belgian town in the Netherlands. Strikingly, this enclave is not politically homogeneous, but has Dutch enclaves within it, and these in turn have Belgian enclaves in them! Thus, some streets are Dutch and subject to Dutch laws, whereas other streets are Belgian and subject to Belgian laws, and sometimes even the houses on one street belong to different nations and are subject to different laws (they are marked by Dutch and Belgian flags).8

Another good illustration of the geographical possibilities for secession is the disintegration of the Frankish Empire in the mid-800s, which established the feudal order so characteristic for the Middle Ages. As a consequence, the German emperors only controlled a few remaining islands of imperial fortresses (the Pfalzen) and monasteries.

Rather than being an exception, hegemonic bonds with islands of territory surrounded by independent territories were in fact the normal case for centuries of Western civilization. By heritage, marriage, purchase, and also by secession, medieval aristocrats would come to own territories that were sometimes dispersed all over Europe. Similarly, dozens of “free” or imperial cities were only subject to the emperor, who was weak almost throughout the entire history of the Empire, and often was surrounded by territories belonging to local aristocrats. This state of affairs was particularly characteristic for Germany until the Thirty Years’ War reversed the tendency.

Colonial possessions of European powers in other parts of the world are another example of geographically disconnected territories under common hegemonic bonds. And the process by which, after World War II, most of these territories gained their independence was of course nothing else but secession.

Finally, as we have mentioned above, secession does not necessarily mean that all the hegemonic ties between the ruler and its reluctant subjects are severed. Here too we face a continuum. Secession might simply mean that the subjects demand lower taxes or refuse to serve in the army of the ruler. It can mean that they do not respect special monopoly privileges granted to certain individuals or groups.

Also, the bonds between governments and their various subjects by no means have to be homogeneous. This is amply illustrated by historical evidence. For example, the Jews in central and eastern Europe for centuries not only suffered but also profited from their particular status, which often granted them some form of moderate territorial sovereignty. The famous “ghettos,” far from being institutions of pure oppression, as they are often represented today, were also islands of freedom from some oppressive laws that bound most other citizens. (For example, the ghetto-Jews were exempt from non-Jewish jurisdiction and various forms of taxation.)9 Another example is the case of soldiers and foreign diplomats, who are commonly subject to a different set of rules than the rest of the population, although in the case of soldiers these ties are both more severe in some respects and more lax in others.10 Most of these special regimes have not been created by secession. For our purposes, however, it is sufficient to note that such regimes as a matter of fact can exist next to one another, for this proves that such a state of affairs can be a realizable goal of secession.

The only limits for the geographical dispersion of “political” regimes are given by the boundaries of private property. Theoretically, each property owner—and in particular each landowner—might choose to set up a different set of rules that the users of his property (land) have to respect.11

Let us notice in this context that even if I rejected a government only in thought and obeyed it merely out of prudence, this would already be “originary secession” since my brains are undoubtedly part of my property. The government would then no longer control my thoughts, and its control of my behavior would also be diminished.

Even if the ultimate goal of a secessionist movement is the liberation of an integrated territory, the establishment of isolated secessionist strongholds is a first step. Such territorial islands are usually dependent on the exchange of goods and services with other territories. The secessionists are therefore compelled to abolish trade barriers and adopt free-market policies. In so doing, they provide a living example for the beneficial operation of purely voluntary forms of social organization. Since this is the best conceivable advertisement for the idea they stand for, secessionist islands are likely to attract ever more territories to adopt their model and thus close the gaps on the political map.12


Before dealing with questions relating to the realization of secessionist urges, let us point out two major advantages of political reform by secession.

First, by its very nature, secession does not transform, but abolishes, hegemonic bonds. All other types of political reform keep these bonds intact and merely modify the way the ruler uses his power. Core organizations like the army, the police forces, the courts, etc., keep their monopoly, and all competitors are outlawed. As a consequence, in the best of all cases, the reform makes the burden of these monopolies somewhat lighter to bear. More open-minded, tolerant persons replace dictatorially inclined office holders. More acceptable political regimes (in our days, democracies) replace regimes that do not meet the political fashions of the day (in our days, for example, monarchies). However, after the zeal of the reformers has ebbed away, nothing stands in the way of a further expansion of the state’s monopoly powers in other areas such as welfare, art, economy, etc.13 And in many instances even the modest reforms of the existing state organizations come to be redressed after the zeal of the reform generation has ebbed away.

In the worst of all cases, and unfortunately these cases happen to be the majority, the reforms are brought about by the creation of additional hegemonic bonds with a more encompassing political agency (centralization). To get rid of aristocratic privileges, the classical liberals first supported the king against the lesser aristocrats, and then concentrated further powers in the democratic central state to fight all regional and local forms of monarchism and aristocracy.14 Rather than curbing political power, they merely shifted and centralized it, creating even more powerful political institutions than those they were trying to supersede. The classical liberals thus bought their short-run successes with very burdensome long-run annuities, some of which we have paid in the twentieth century.

This is the reason why classical liberalism ultimately failed.15 It is important to realize that the quick successes of the classical liberals are not unrelated to the totalitarian schemes that plagued the past century. The fundamental fact is that the liberal reforms were not spontaneously adopted by the various local constituencies, but were imposed on them. It is true that this “technique” was very effective in realizing the classical-liberal program all at once in the whole territory controlled by the new democratic central state. Without it, this process would have been gradual, and it would have implied that islands of the Ancien Régime would have survived for a very long time. Yet like all mere techniques, this was a two-edged sword that would eventually be turned against life, liberty, and property.16

It is not inappropriate to point out an analogy with the laws of the business cycle. Just as business investments unsupported by genuine savings do not spur genuine growth but, after a brief period of growth illusions, lead straight to an economic bust, so the “imposition of liberty” does not create genuine liberty but, after a brief period of liberty illusions, leads straight into totalitarian nightmares.17

The fact is that neither in Europe nor in the United States of America has classical liberalism managed to establish a public order that effectively safeguarded private property and individual liberty for more than a couple of decades. This contrasts sharply with the Middle Ages, when the Christian religion for centuries circumscribed the duties and rights of all citizens of the prospective City of God. Many writers have observed that the Divine Order enshrined the subjection of the population. It is less often pointed out that it also enshrined the subjection of the rulers. Christianity limited the medieval aristocrats in all their endeavors, and these limitations effectively guaranteed the liberties of the subjects.18 In Europe, classical liberalism never created deep roots in the first place, and its short-lived blossom started to perish at the end of the nineteenth century, leading shortly after to the well-known socialist schemes of Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism. In the U.S., the unsuccessful War of Secession gave birth to a welfare-warfare state, which has grown steadily ever since.19 It might be true that the U.S. government cannot yet compare in importance with the German National Socialists or the Russian Bolsheviks as far as its relative internal power is concerned. In absolute terms, however, it has already become the largest and mightiest government the world has ever known, and this supremacy is felt especially in matters of foreign policy and war.20

With hindsight, the real question is not—as most twentieth-century libertarians have assumed—why the happy days of classical liberalism faded away and ushered in a new era of unprecedented government control. The real question is how classical liberalism could flourish even the few decades that it did flourish. The answer is probably related to the time lag required for the new democratic central states to consolidate themselves. The new democratic ways had to penetrate the brains, the new (national) political center stage had to slowly gain its due place in individual consciousness, etc.

Clearly, secession avoids all these fatal long-run consequences of “imposing liberty.” It might take a long time before the conditions for successful local secession are given, and secession might then leave many dark (politically unenlightened) spots on the political map. However, at least these reforms would be genuine accomplishments that do not already contain the seeds of their own destruction.

A second and related advantage of secession is that it is the only type of political reform that is not only able to bring about a private-property regime, but that itself respects the principles of this regime. Whereas a government is by its nature a compulsory organization, the organization of the “political means,” secession is an activity fully harmonious with the respect of private property and the “economic means.” It thus fulfills a major ethical requirement of libertarian reform, namely, that the reform itself should not create new violations of property.21 And this in turn assures that the new order resulting from secession is more peaceful and viable than any imposed order resulting from standard reforms, which leave the political compound intact.22


Secession does not lead to war by logical necessity. However, government has an obvious interest in the maintenance of the hegemonic bonds from which it profits. Since it is therefore likely to resist their severance by the use of force, the secessionists must find the means to overcome this resistance.

The paramount technical problem of the secessionists is, of course, that the government is usually far better equipped with arms and machinery needed in violent conflicts. Moreover, the government usually controls most of the existing organizations created for the efficient conduct of violent conflicts (police and military). In short, government enjoys by and large a monopoly of war material and war organizations.23

However, these short-run problems can be overcome in due time. Criminals and underground military organizations (for example, the Irish Republican Army, the Rote Armee Fraktion, Action Directe or, before its immersion into the “Palestinian Authority,” the Palestinian Liberation Organization) acquire the weapons they need with relative ease on the black market. Foreign governments often support them in this endeavor. Moreover, the very existence of underground military organizations demonstrates that is it possible to build up such structures, especially if foreign powers provide advisers and training grounds. And usually such foreign powers exist at all times and all places.24 It is true that secessionist forces are not able to build up an industrial base in their home country and therefore have to rely on relatively light weaponry (pistols, guns, machine guns, small cannons, grenades, etc.). They will not be able to enjoy the ready services of tanks and fighter jets, and still less so of combat ships or even large military bases with hospitals, arms depots, etc.

However, heavy weapons and military infrastructure seem to be especially advantageous in armed conflicts between clearly identifiable combatants, each of which has a single organization—as in the case of wars between modern states25 —whereas they seem to lose their effectiveness in encounters with enemies who lack these features. Famous examples of the failure of modern state armies against such amorphous enemies are: the Vietnam War of the U.S. Army, the Afghanistan War of the Red Army, the U.N. expedition to Somalia, or the attempted first invasion of the Russian army into Chechnya, 1994–96.26 As this is written, a small group of “Hezbollah” warriors has just driven the modern and highly successful Israeli army out of South Lebanon, which it had occupied for twenty years. These cases illustrate that secessionist insurrections are not necessarily doomed to failure for reasons of equipment and organization.

Neither is sheer number a problem. It is true that the secessionists are a minority of the overall population, and they might be a very small minority indeed. But this is the fate of all politically active groups, even of governments themselves. It is a fact that all members of government taken together are at all times and all places a minority, too. Government could not possibly rule if it had to supervise each citizen at every second of every hour. It can only rule because the citizens by and large comply with its commands, so that it can concentrate its energies on combating those few recalcitrant individuals or groups who do not so comply.

This is one of the great political laws: hegemonic bonds exist because a majority voluntarily complies with them. We might call it Boétie’s Law, after the sixteenth-century French philosopher Etienne de La Boétie, who expressed the matter succinctly: “It is … the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about, their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude.”27 In short, it is not the ruler who turns the citizens into subjects. Rather, the people choose to subject themselves to the ruler. The government seems active and the citizens appear to be passive subjects, yet as a matter of fact the subjects alone are the ultimate social agency by virtue of their free decision-making power. And since by virtue of their free will they can bring hegemonic bonds into existence, they can also abolish them by the token of the same liberty.

Why do the citizens choose subjection? Because in their opinion this is the right, or at any rate the best, thing to do under present circumstances. Ideas or opinions that justify the existence of hegemonic bonds are therefore the ultimate foundation of political power. This is why foreign rulers, who had no ideological legitimacy in the eyes of the population, often chose to rule through local vassals who, due to tradition, had such legitimacy. For example, the Romans ruled the Jews through Jewish kings, and the British Empire ruled the huge territory and population of India through local rulers. It is also the reason why modern states have taken particular care to bring organized education (schools, universities) under their control.

In short, government rules by virtue of ideologies that justify hegemonic bonds rather than by sheer force.28 Thus we see that the single most important factor for the success of secessions is not of a technical nature. Like all transformations of society, secessions are prepared by and depend on previous transformations in the spiritual realm.29 The real foundation of hegemonic bonds is the ideology that in the eyes of the citizens justifies the actions of their government. Therefore, successful secession presupposes a previous transformation of these political beliefs.


So far we have seen that a necessary condition for successful secession is that a substantial majority of the population (what this means may vary according to particular circumstances of time and place) repudiates the hegemonic bonds that they have hitherto accepted.

This does not mean, however, that ideological supremacy in a territory automatically assures the success of the secessionist movement. If the rulers can mobilize enough forces to either kill or expel the rebelling population, then the secessionists might be doomed, too.

Both techniques have been frequently applied in the history of counterinsurgency. Genocide, for example, was inflicted upon the seceding Vendée, where the French Republic within a few months razed over 100 hamlets and villages to the ground.30 In the twentieth century, it was also the preferred solution of communist regimes to solve their secessionist problems. Outstanding examples are Soviet Russia’s extermination of the kulaks and the ravages of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.31 Modern examples for expulsion or “relocation” as a means to combat and prevent secessionist movements include, for example, the case of the Philippines (1901–02), of Malaya (1954–55), and of the former German eastern provinces (which today are parts of Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic) from which the German population has been expelled in the aftermath of World War II.32 Right now, plans for the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel are openly discussed in the world press.33

Even if the ruler can mobilize sufficient forces to inflict genocide or expulsion on the secessionists, he might choose not to use these forces. Apart from personal scruples, this might be the result of the other (loyal) citizens’ unwillingness to support such measures. Also, as far as a population involved in industrial division of labor is concerned, genocide would clearly be economically disastrous for the ruler himself.34


Let us now assume that the above-mentioned conditions for secession are given. There are a substantial number of secessionists who are no longer willing to endure their hegemonic bonds. These persons no longer regard the rulers as legitimate governors, but as criminal usurpers, and the rulers themselves are either unable or unwilling to expel or slaughter the secessionists.

Now, the armed forces of these rulers are still in place and enforce the population’s financial support in the form of taxation. How can this enforcement of the old hegemonic bonds be prevented? Clearly, there is no other solution to this problem but the one applied to prevent all other forms of violations of property: the criminals must be punished for their past deeds and, through the prospect of punishment, deterred from further aggression. In short, the secessionists have to use force to combat the armed forces.

Initially, they cannot rely on any organization to wage this war since all armed forces (police and military) are monopoly organizations that are “owned” by the ruling government. However, as we have already pointed out and as we will discuss in some more detail below, this is only a temporary problem.

The main problem is a different one. It relates to the nature of the new defense organizations with which the hegemonic forces shall be expelled. Indeed, one has to make sure that all individual and organized war measures on the side of the secessionists are in strict consonance with the very private order that they seek to bring about. They have to respect the private-property rights of all persons involved—be they friends or foes. This is so not only out of ethical concern, but also out of very practical considerations. For if the military organizations that are bound to emerge in the course of the war, some of which will become defense institutions after the war has ended, rely in their operations on violations of property rights, then the seeds of the next hegemony are already sown. At best, then, a new government will replace the old one, and the hegemony remains.

In short, it is imperative that the secessionists’ war be a purely private war. From the outset, violations of property rights must not be tolerated, so that the various militias and other organizations do not become tainted with the cardinal sin of establishing hegemonic bonds. This is the only way to ensure that, after the war, they will all be healthy elements of the new private order. Additionally, it will have the effect of winning ever more support for the secession among neutral persons and even among its former enemies.35

Private warfare does not mean that only isolated individuals engage in combat. In fact, it is unlikely that isolated action will play any major role in the secessionists’ war, since the cooperative production of defense, like all cooperations, is more physically efficient than isolated production.36 However, private warfare clearly includes isolated activities of self-defense.

One might wonder whether individual undertakings have even the slightest chance of success against the established forces of the police and army. Yet they do. It is true that they cannot overthrow the police and army all on their own. But they can annoy them, put unexpected obstacles in their way, terrorize them in various manners, and thus disturb them in their tranquility.37 Given the context we are assuming—namely, that a great number of citizens are in a secessionist mood—it is very unlikely that the police would catch an isolated warrior, because he can rely on a vast network of people willing to provide shelter and other support to persons like himself. This is an important incentive that will stimulate ever more people to become part-time pains in the neck of the police and army.

More important than such isolated activities are, of course, the coordinated and organized efforts of secessionist militias. They can inflict considerable harm on the unwanted government forces. They can capture enemy forces and disarm them, they can break into arms depots and equip themselves at the government’s expense, and they can disrupt the government’s communication lines and logistical network. In some cases, they might even manage to control a small territory, but only for a short period of time, since such small units cannot withstand a confrontation with the large masses of the regular army.

Such troops can surely also rely on the willingness of the population to provide them with shelter, food, and other forms of support. Yet it is important to realize that they profit from the population in many more, and more important, ways. The spontaneous help by individual citizens, families, or small groups is indeed of paramount importance for the very military operations of the secessionists. We have to bear in mind that the secessionists, at least at the beginning, do not have any kind of organized logistical support or intelligence service. The spontaneous help by the population fills this void by providing the necessary infrastructure: food, shelter, new supplies of ammunition, communication, etc. This spontaneous backing integrates the more or less isolated warriors and militias economically and socially into a larger society. They benefit from the division of labor on a much wider scale and thus immensely increase their productivity.

Although militias are commonly unpaid organizations, it is very conceivable that in the course of time, a body of paid fulltime warriors will emerge. This professionalization would indeed be a natural step in a growing underground economy, and it would, again, spur the productivity of the secessionist warfare.

One should not expect that all secessionist militias be organized under one single command. Quite to the contrary. The natural thing to happen is for various independent groups to form themselves spontaneously. It might be that this is not sufficient to attain all military goals (we will examine this issue below), but it is certainly a workable procedure. For since these groups have a common goal that they all pursue by the same clearly circumscribed activities (prevention of violations of property by government forces and restitution of property to the rightful owners), they do not need to be coordinated by command. As long as they respect private-property rights in all their endeavors, their actions are intrinsically harmonious and cannot possibly contradict one another. Each one of them thus contributes to the common goal, facilitating the tasks of the others.

Hence we see that, even short of the formation of a secessionist army under unified command, the secessionists can create much trouble for the government troops without running any major danger for their lives. The comparatively primitive secessionist warfare in many respects matches and outwits the police and military precisely because it is not just single warriors and small militias who fight the government troops. Rather, it is the whole secessionist movement that engages in the division of labor that sustains their efforts.

The results for the government are by and large devastating. Most important, the costs of controlling the secessionist territories rise astronomically, since small numbers of secessionists typically tie up large occupying forces. For example, after Napoleon had invaded Spain and beaten the regular army, he encountered the fierce resistance of spontaneously organized warriors. Fewer than 50,000 of these famous “guerrillas” engaged up to 250,000 soldiers, or half of his army, which eventually withdrew from Spain. Similarly, Russian partisans engaged up to 20 German divisions in World War II and were thus instrumental in the defeat of the German forces.38 More recently, in 1960, 20,000 Algerian warriors engaged 400,000 well-trained French soldiers and forced them to withdraw. In our days, 500 Hezbollah warriors are reported to have engaged 20,000 world-class soldiers of the Israeli army, which just withdrew from South Lebanon. Thus it is patent that, even short of military success, secessionists can easily create a situation in which it is simply no longer economically worthwhile to attempt to rule them.


The above considerations about the effects of relatively primitive forms of private warfare are by no means a mere intellectual pastime, speculations that could not possibly be applied in the real world. Quite to the contrary, warfare of this sort on a largely private basis has been practiced countless times in the history of mankind. It is “as old as the hills and predates regular warfare.”39 To be sure, it is not generally known as primitive private warfare, but as “partisan warfare,” “small war,” “guerrilla warfare,” or “low-intensity conflict.”

Most famous is of course the expression “guerrilla warfare” (from the guerra de guerrillas fought by Spanish partisans against Napoleon), which in the second half of the twentieth century has been popularized by communist warrior-theoreticians.40 Yet it was practiced at virtually all times and all places, long before the politically fashionable recent guerrilla wars in China, Yugoslavia, Cuba, and Algeria took place. In antiquity, for example, Sparta successfully seceded from the Athenian League, a federation turned nation-state, in the Peloponnesian (guerrilla) War; and Judas Maccabeus fought a guerrilla war against the Syrians. In the Middle Ages, the Welsh guerrilla resisted for 200 years the Norman invasion, which had previously swallowed England after one decisive battle against King Harold. After centuries-long struggles, guerrilla war was eventually lost in Ireland; it was also waged for decades in Holland in the sixteenth century, and eventually won. More recently, noncommunist guerrilla warfare was practiced during and after the American War of Secession, by Arab rebels under the Englishman T.E. Lawrence against the Turks, and by German SS-troops at the end of World War II and after.41

Of all historic forms of military organization, this one best harmonizes with the principles of civil society. Decision-making is decentralized on the level of various militias, which communicate with one another but operate independently. The bonds between them and the population are typically contractual bonds (Mises) or, more precisely, voluntary bonds that link combatants and inhabitants of the seceding territory through a spontaneous network with a common organizational principle: respect and defense of private property.

In distinct contrast to successful conventional warfare, successful guerrilla warfare is thus particularly well-suited to prepare the advent of a purely voluntary society. The hegemonic bonds on which “regular” troops rely (in particular, taxation, inflation, and conscription) are commonly perpetuated after the end of hostilities.42 By contrast, the very weakness of guerrilla militias taken individually prevents them from abusing their position. As a consequence, there are simply no hegemonic bonds to be perpetuated after the war.

Guerrilla warfare in this century has been predominantly waged by communist insurrectionists. However, this does not contradict our contention that guerrilla warfare is essentially a form of private warfare. It was only after their victories that the communists in China, Yugoslavia, Algeria, Cuba, Vietnam, and elsewhere erected compulsory regimes. They claimed that these regimes were a natural outgrowth of their guerrilla organizations and that guerrilla warfare was essentially communist warfare. Yet reality was different. Mao Tse-tung and Fidel Castro paid for their supplies in cash.43 Their recruits were not conscripted but joined them voluntarily. And they were able to rally the population behind them, not so much for their social agendas, but for the fact that, at least initially, they fought foreign enemies (China, Yugoslavia, Algeria) or rulers that were commonly perceived as puppets of foreign governments (Cuba).

This confirms the broad historical record that the average guerrilla is mainly motivated by patriotic, and sometimes nationalistic, motives44 and that virtually all insurrections are liberation movements that seek freedom for their fatherland from undesired rule, often undesired foreign rule.45 The paramount importance of patriotism and liberty as driving forces of insurrection explains why guerrilla warfare could rally entire populations behind communist insurrections. To be sure, the communists claimed that it was their war per se, which won the people over to communism. Yet the people’s real desire was liberation from a government that they perceived as oppressive, and they would follow almost anybody who would take the lead of a liberation movement. Most of them had never before heard about Marx or Lenin, and what they knew about the events in Russia—if they cared at all—they learned from fanatical communists. And, of course, they could not even imagine that things would become worse afterward.

Significantly, the above-mentioned communist guerrillas typically had some kind of primitive tax system, and their political aim was, not to abolish the state apparatus they were fighting, but to take it over (which they did). However, all this changes nothing about the fact that even these guerrillas essentially relied on the voluntary cooperation of the population. A famous practitioner of guerrilla warfare emphasizes the crucial importance of backing by the population for the success of insurrectionist movements:

The guerrilla fighter needs full help from the people of the area. This is an indispensable condition. This is clearly seen by considering the case of bandit gangs that operate in a region. They have all the characteristics of a guerrilla army, homogeneity, respect for the leader, valor, knowledge of the ground, and, often, even good understanding of the tactics to be employed. The only thing missing is support of the people; and, inevitably, these gangs are captured and exterminated by the public force.46

Another astute observer, writing under the immediate impact of the communist guerrilla successes, forcefully underscores this statement:

When we speak of the guerrilla fighter, we are speaking of the political partisan, an armed civilian whose principal weapon is not his rifle or his machete, but his relationship to the community, the nation, in which and for which he fights.47

The population … is the key to the entire struggle. Indeed … it is the population which is doing the struggling. The guerrilla, who is of the people in a way which the government soldier cannot be (for if the régime were not alienated from the people, whence the revolution?), fights with the support of the non-combatant civilian populace: It is his camouflage, his quartermaster, his recruiting office, his communications network, and his efficient, all-seeing intelligence service.48

Many failures of secessionist movements highlight this crucial fact. Wherever the insurrectionists could not obtain the support of the larger population, they were never able to remain independent for any considerable time. Such was the case, for example, with the medieval northern Italian cities which, having gained their independence from the Holy Roman Empire, at once started establishing their hegemony over the adjacent territories, thus alienating these populations. One reason for the Vendée’s near-extinction in 1793 was the alienation of the militarily competent aristocracy from the militarily incompetent peasant population. The Greek guerrilla insurrection in 1946–49 failed because it alienated the population by conscription and raids on the villages. In 1958–61, the Algerian Organisation d’Armée Secrète alienated even the patriotic layers of the populations of France and Algeria with their terror acts. And more recent attempts to wage guerrilla warfare in Peru (Shining Path), Kurdistan (PKK), and several western European nations failed because the insurrectionists did not have any backing in the population; they were isolated terrorist groups, antagonizing the population as much as the government.49

Let us observe, however, that the secessionists are not the only ones to face the danger of alienating the population. It is precisely because the forces of the ruler are confronted by the very same problem that a secessionist movement does not have to fear the initial military supremacy of the ruling government. Large bombs, aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, large units of soldiers, etc., are certainly useful in confrontations with similarly organized enemy forces, but they are counterproductive when it comes to fighting guerrilla units. When a battalion of 500 soldiers shows up in a village to capture a single man, the inevitable result is to alienate the population. For whatever the deeds of the man, such action is a clear sign of either cowardice or distrust. Similarly, large bombs are never, and tanks very seldom, used in a discriminate way. Almost inevitably they hurt or kill innocent people, thus alienating these persons, and their friends and relatives.

The same result obtains when the ruling forces do not care to wage a fair war as our libertarian warriors do; that is, if they do not respect the property rights of the population and their enemies. The pledge to respect the property of friends and foes at first glance looks as an imprudent impediment of one’s liberty of action. But it is not. Rather, it is the most powerful means to convey the support of the population. It is therefore no military disadvantage when our libertarian warriors pledge to respect the property of friends and foes. Quite to the contrary, it would be disastrous for the government not to quickly adopt the same strategy. Hence, the initial advantages of the ruling forces in terms of equipment and moral boundlessness are merely apparent ones. Soon they will have to fight the secessionists on almost equal terms.

These considerations also suggest a cautious use of mercenaries, that is, of foreign professional warriors. They lack emotional ties with the secessionists and do not share their ultimate goals. They have no bonds whatever with the nonsecessionist rest of the population and thus their intervention entails a high risk of alienation. At best, then, mercenaries are useless, for in the case that virtually all persons living in the secessionist territory seek secession, their help would not be necessary.

It is, then, a fundamental fact that warfare for the sake of controlling any given territory is inconceivable without voluntary cooperation between warriors and the rest of the population. This is why it perfectly suits the military needs of libertarian secessionist movements. It is no accident that “guerrilla warfare has been the favorite tactic of separatist, minority movements fighting the central government” and that, although the process of de-colonization has worsened the prospects of guerrilla warfare, this is not so in the context of secession.50

In short, guerrilla warfare by its very nature is warfare based on the respect of private property and voluntary cooperation. It is private warfare short of the formation of large military units. This is so notwithstanding the fact that, historically, guerrilla warfare has commonly been intermingled with statist elements such as small-scale taxation.

Guerrilla warfare being essentially private warfare on a small scale, it follows that the conditions for successful libertarian secession are the very same conditions that must be given for successful guerrilla warfare. Libertarian secession presupposes that a great number of inhabitants of a territory desire to establish a private-property order and to rid themselves of the present rulers. These persons provide the guerrillas with the civil network that enables them to wage their war, and to wage it successfully. We can thus give a more specific description of the “majority” required by Boétie’s Law: it must be a number of persons sufficient to sustain guerrilla warfare.

By distinct contrast, guerrilla warfare that merely seeks to overthrow the present state and to put another regime at its place ultimately contradicts itself. Sooner or later, it must replace volunteers by conscripts and donations by taxes—in short, voluntary support by compulsion. Clearly, it then will no longer be guerrilla warfare and, consequently, will lose all of its advantages.

Two conclusions can be drawn from this. First, the most important activity of a secessionist movement does not take place in armed battle, but in the battle of ideas. The secessionists have to persuade their fellows of the legitimacy and importance of their cause, thus making the idea of a private-property order generally accepted. Only if they win this battle, will they be able to build up libertarian guerrilla organizations that could eventually overthrow the armed forces of the government.

Second, therefore, there is no need to rely on compulsory schemes like taxation and conscription to sustain their war efforts. Either the secessionists have the necessary support of the population—then all compulsion would be superfluous and possibly counterproductive—or they do not have it, and then guerrilla warfare is no viable option for them at all and even compulsory measures could not help them.


We now have to deal with the question of how economically efficient spontaneously formed private war organizations, and even clandestine guerrilla professionals, are as compared to government troops, and whether they can be any match for the latter in purely military terms.51

Voluntary military organizations do respect private-property rights in all aspects of their activities. Their soldiers are either volunteers or hired, and their funds stem either from donations or from defense contracts with private individuals or organizations. By contrast, compulsory military organizations do, at least in some respect, rely on violations of private-property rights. In particular, they might rely on conscription and/or compulsory finance through taxation.

Let us first consider the issue of ultimate control. Who makes the ultimate military decisions in private and in statist warfare? In private warfare, ultimate control rests with each private-property owner who is somehow involved in the production of defense. Since each soldier, donor, and customer controls his property, he can keep it invested in, or withdraw it from, the production process at any time. Most individuals do not have big stakes in the production of defense (or in any other process), yet the fact is that they do have some control over the process, and that this control is clearly circumscribed by their property. If they withdraw their patronage, if they refuse to work for the army or to finance it, they do curtail its production process in favor of nonmilitary ventures.

They may have various motives for withdrawing their support. A person might stop working as a soldier to earn a better living in a steel mill, or a capitalist might withdraw his credit to invest it in a more profitable shoe plant. But a soldier might also give notice, and a capitalist or donor might withdraw his funds because he does not trust the management of this military unit, or he might see no more task for the unit (for example, because there are presently no known enemies) and thus look for other productive challenges. The military might even disgust them now, etc. Yet whatever their motives are, in a private order, individuals can make their value judgments felt. Deciding how to use their time and property, they do have an impact on the whole structure of production.

In a private order, the consumption and investment decisions of all citizens rigidly connect and steadily equilibrate the production of defense with all other productions. And since investment decisions ultimately seek to satisfy consumption needs, it is the citizens as consumers who determine which defense services are produced by which technique and by which type of organization.

If consumers feel a more urgent need for military services, for example, because they apprehend the attack of a foreign enemy, they will increase spending on military goods and services. Some will buy guns and cannons for themselves. Others will also join local or national militias, and still others will simply subscribe to the services of professional defense agencies. (For example, the standard contract of an airborne unit could provide that the unit combat enemy forces within a radius of x miles from the property of the patron.) As a consequence, the production of these defense goods and services becomes more profitable and will thus attract human and material resources that otherwise would have been invested in the production of apples, roofs, etc.

On the other hand, consumers reducing their demand of military services because they sense no immediate threat will reduce their spending on such services and thus make their production less profitable. The defense market will be adjusted accordingly: Its overall size will shrink (in favor of other markets), and its structure will adjust, too. Different forms of organizations will offer different types of goods and services that fit the reduced willingness of the consumers to spend on defense. For example, it is possible that the goods and services used by defense professionals (not only fighter jets, heavy armament, uniforms, but also staff positions of military planners and military theorists, etc.) will be more affected by a shrinking market than those used by amateur militias (small guns, small field cannons, mobile radar equipment, etc.).

In short, in a free society, the production of defense is always as perfectly adjusted to the needs of the citizens as is humanly possible. With consumers directing and balancing all productions through their spending decisions, the producers of defense services are in permanent competition with one another and with the producers of all other types of goods and services. This forces them to use their resources as diligently and as efficiently as possible. They simply cannot afford waste, since it would curtail their income and also the spending on their product.

Moreover, since in a free society, there would be various defense organizations competing for the same human and material resources, these organizations would be embedded in a system of market prices. Hence, they could use the precious yardstick of economic calculation to select the most efficient technology and the most efficient form of military organization for any defense problem at hand.

By contrast, in statist warfare, ultimate military decisions are typically taken by the owners of the production facilities, that is, those who control the tanks, air fighters, ships, guns, bases, etc. This does not mean that statist military leaders are always to be found in the ranks of the generals. In most Western countries, for example, this is surely not the case, at least in peacetime. In these countries, the militarily relevant decisions are taken by high-ranking civil executives, such as the defense minister, the president of the republic, the prime minister, or the chancellor. Yet, in any case, statist production of defense means that those who run the state can impose their value judgments to the detriment of all other members of society. The state conscripts soldiers and confiscates property to finance its war. Whether the soldier wishes to work in the army is no longer a concern; he must serve. Whether the capitalist wishes to invest does not count; his money is confiscated.52

From an economic point of view, the overall result of this is a misallocation of resources. The state produces cannons and warships that take away the resources for the production of shoes, yogurt, books, and cello lessons—goods and services that the citizens would prefer to enjoy if they could use their property as they pleased.

This misallocation is bound to intensify in the course of time. Since statist producers of defense can increase their income by increasing military expenditures, the military now has a built-in tendency to expand its activities without regard for any other considerations. More human and material resources are invested in military undertakings than would be the case in a free society. The state-sponsored military organization will become artificially large, engaging in horizontal and vertical mergers. This means that the extent of defense markets and of the price system will shrink, so that economic calculation becomes increasingly impossible.53 As a consequence, it becomes ever more difficult to rationally select appropriate defense technologies and forms of organization.

Even within the military industry itself, the natural balance between the various goods and services is disrupted. The possibility to ignore the needs of the consumers gives the producers the opportunity to produce goods that only they consider important. Since they are typically the chief executives of professional military organizations, they tend to favor the production of heavy armament and highly specialized manpower (for military staff and academies) over all other types of military products. They discourage competing nonprofessional defense organizations and often even seek to prohibit or reduce private gun ownership, etc.

Freed from the need to serve consumers as efficiently as possible, the producers of defense services now have a bigger margin for wasteful behavior. The institution of conscription has particularly negative effects since it encourages military leaders to expose their troops to unnecessary danger.

Not surprisingly, compulsory schemes for the production of defense are the same economic debacle that they are in all other fields. Let us therefore turn now to the question of whether, at least in purely military terms, regular government troops are superior to spontaneously formed, private war organizations. For if this were the case, the prospects for secessionist movements would be dismal despite all other advantages.


In our examination of the comparative military effectiveness of voluntary versus compulsory organizations we can safely neglect all problems of military technique, that is, everything that relates to tactics, strategy, military aspects of organization, etc. We are here exclusively concerned about the impact of any military unit’s political organization on its military performance.

Let us first consider which type of persons will occupy executive positions in the two political regimes. Again, we can neglect common points and focus on the differences stemming from their different political nature. A typical common point is, for example, that in both regimes, the military will attract a disproportionately large number of patriotic persons. By contrast, as we shall see, the crucial difference is that compulsory military agencies, like all compulsory organizations, are subject to the pernicious influence of bureaucratization.54

In purely voluntary regimes, military leaders are selected exclusively for their military expertise and efficiency. The case is clearest in militias, which commonly elect their leaders. Peacetime militias might, like many other clubs, elect particularly sociable leaders. Yet in times of war, there will surely be a dramatic change, since the election now becomes a matter of life and death. Each single militia member then has an interest to make sure that the most able person is in the lead. It is even certain that members would quit a militia if they sensed that the leadership was incapable.

Things are basically the same in professional defense agencies operating on a voluntary basis. The owner of these enterprises has a personal interest in hiring only the most able persons for executive positions. If he fails to identify these persons, he runs the risk that other companies will hire them and outcompete him on the market. And he is also threatened by the prospect that the other soldiers that he hired will give notice, since they too are unwilling to risk their lives under incompetent military leadership.

These mechanisms are, at least partially, destroyed, by the impact of compulsion. Conscription by its very nature prevents soldiers from quitting when executive ranks are filled with incompetent personnel. Conscripts are also notoriously unmotivated, being temporary slaves. In confrontation with highly motivated private troops, be they ever so few, this represents a huge competitive disadvantage.

The effects of compulsory funding are similarly devastating. It reduces the necessity for the military agencies to satisfy customer needs. As a consequence, as we have seen, the various military executives can start satisfying their own needs, both in respect to the services they produce and in respect to the selection of personnel.

It is important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as “a defense service” or “a defense good.” All goods and services are heterogeneous concrete goods, like “one hour of guarding property X at location Y” or “fortification of hill A against possible assaults by tank divisions of the type B, or by infantry of type C.” In a free society, all consumers involved decide which concrete defense service shall be produced. By contrast, compulsory funding enables the producers to ignore the consumption wishes of their fellows and to place undue emphasis on their own satisfaction. Rather than fortifying hill A, they fortify hill H, because it is not so windy there or because it better protects the ranch of the general’s nephew. Rather than guarding the private property of the civil population, they spend all their time guarding their own bases. Rather than protecting a single house, they close all surrounding streets and shut down the city, etc.

Moreover, rather than hiring the most capable personnel, they start hiring the fellows who know the best jokes, or the children of their schoolmates, or people who share their political, sexual, religious, and other preferences. Or they might hire particularly ruthless individuals, who despise common morality. Also, rather than organizing the defense units in the most militarily efficient way, they acquiesce to other considerations. For example, the recent admission to the U.S. military of females and homosexual males does not seem to be based on military, but political, expediency.

The only way to prevent such excesses is to issue specific directives to all executives on how to use their resources, and to check compliance with these directives by written reports, inspection teams, etc. In short, one has to subject the military to a bureaucratic apparatus and regulation. Military leaders are told what to do when and where, and hiring decisions are made dependent on general standards, that is, on criteria that do not take account of the individual requirements of particular times and places.

At least as far as the selection of personnel is concerned, however, such reforms will be doomed to failure. There is only one way to test the ability of a person: Let him do the job and see whether he can do it. A person hired by a voluntary defense organization will soon have shown whether he is suited for his position because such an organization constantly has to prove its military effectiveness. Only if it is sufficiently effective, will it continue to be patronized. Yet in compulsory organizations, all the tests take place in an artificial environment. For example, one cannot tell whether a soldier or officer is too ruthless or not ruthless enough, or whether he accomplished his task with a sufficient amount of accuracy. For his ruthlessness and the accuracy of his work cannot be judged without standard. And in compulsory organizations, this very standard is arbitrary to a larger degree than in voluntary agencies.

Thus we see that private defense agencies, while enjoying all virtues of compulsory schemes, do not suffer from certain specific disadvantages of the latter. In particular, they are likely to attract and select more capable personnel, and they will react to the military requirements of any given situation in a far more flexible way.

However, so far we have only dealt with small private units, as they are typical in guerrilla warfare. Our foregoing considerations about economic and military efficiency would thus merely imply that, given equally small units, the private secessionist forces would have a comparative advantage over the government troops. Yet as a matter of fact, government troops are typically much larger in size. Are our small private units able to confront these large and concentrated forces of the government’s army?

Before we pursue this question any further, let us observe that such a confrontation might not be necessary in the first place. The purpose of the secession is to break the compulsory ties between the secessionists and a government which they no longer accept. It concerns only the secessionists. It does not concern those who wish to continue to be ruled and protected by the government. Therefore, it is at least conceivable that, as a result of a successful secession, the government troops remain in the seceding lands, to protect the loyal subjects. The territory would then no longer be politically homogeneous, but sprinkled in the colors of the secession and of the government. There is no reason to assume that such a setting would be inherently unstable and plagued by violence,55 so that we can go on with our original question.

Thus, suppose that all inhabitants of a given territory wanted to secede, but that the government troops refused to quit the country. Suppose furthermore that the troops could not rightfully claim any piece of land in the territory as their own. They would then clearly be aggressors, and the inhabitants would be entitled to expel them. Yet, how can the secessionists do this? Can they build an army of comparable size to beat the enemy in the open field?

Again, we first should raise the question of whether the secessionists need to build up a big army in the first place. We have already mentioned that our libertarian partisans enjoy the advantage of operating on the basis of the same principle of respect for and defense of private property. This is a powerful organizing principle, which gives a common direction to all their scattered individual actions and which makes sure that they hit the right target in all instances. Thus, to a very large extent, they can do without a common agency. They do not need the unity of command, since they enjoy the unity of principle.

We have pointed out the benefits and limits of this stage of the secessionist struggle. Decentralized organization in small units can be sufficient to make the costs of ruling unbearably high. Yet in most cases, it will not be sufficient to rid the country of the government troops and, thus, of the tax men.

The government troops must be beaten if they do not go on their own. Can they be beaten? This depends essentially on whether the government can concentrate enough forces in the seceding territories to beat any secessionist army. If it can, the formation of larger units will be futile, and the secessionists are best advised to continue their guerrilla struggle until better opportunities arise.56 If the government cannot mobilize enough forces, then the formation of larger secessionist units is advisable. This can be effectuated under the three forms of concentration known from civil business: (1) growth, (2) merger, and (3) joint venture.

The possibility to form big private armies through growth and merger is amply illustrated by history. In fact, all armies are in a way “private,” since they are controlled by one agency. And during most of history, armies were owned by individual human beings, the warlords, who personally led their forces on the battlefield. Famous owner-warlords of the past include Alexander the Great, Caesar, Attila, Otto the Great, Wallenstein, and Frederick the Great.

Yet even short of merger and growth, history has demonstrated again and again that, in times of dire crisis, private defense organizations have formed joint ventures to meet great threats. At crucial junctures in the history of Western civilization, such independent troops have spontaneously joined forces to confront overwhelming enemies. Examples are the battles against the Huns in 451 A.D., against the Saracens in 732 A.D., against the Magyars in 955 A.D., against the Turks in 1683, against Napoleon in 1813, and against Hitler in 1941–45. Even secessionist movements have successfully practiced military joint ventures, for example, in the case of the Netherlands and Switzerland.

To sum up, private defense organizations are ceteris paribus more effective than compulsory organizations. Successful secessionist warfare does not necessarily require the expulsion of the government troops, but it might lead to different, equally satisfying settings. Expulsion of the enemy requires a concentration of troops of similar size, which in turn can be accomplished in ways common to other forms of business.


We have seen that secession is the only type of political reform that does not by its very nature contradict the goal of establishing a purely private order. We have furthermore emphasized the harmony between libertarian secession (which essentially is resistance by denying support to any type of ruler) and private warfare (which is property-respecting resistance by using force against the rulers). Successful libertarian secession presupposes that a substantial majority of the population has adopted the secessionist agenda. The very same condition must be given for individuals and spontaneously emerging troops to wage a successful war on a purely voluntary basis. If they are given, the libertarian secessionists can take up any enemy, enjoying superior efficiency and military effectiveness.

On the one hand, we thus have to reemphasize the traditional libertarian stress on education as a means to prepare the advent of a free society. On the other hand, one should not expect the establishment of a free society to be a singular event covering at once the entire territory formerly controlled by the rulers. Rather, secession is most likely to be a gradual and spontaneous process that involves various subterritories, and even various strata of the population, at different points of time.

These results might not satisfy the aesthetic predilections of those who abhor political maps sprinkled in different colors. But it will help those who strive for liberty long before their fellows are ripe for it, because it sets their minds free to care about what is attainable here and now.

  • 1See for instance Gustave de Molinari, “De la production de la sécurite,” Journal des Economistes 8, no. 22 (1849); Murray N. Rothbard, Power and Market (Kansas City: Sheed and Andrews, 1977); idem, For A New Liberty (New York: Macmillan, 1978); Morris and Linda Tannehill, The Market for Liberty (New York: Laissez Faire Books, 1984); Hans-Hermann Hoppe, A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989); idem, The Economics and Ethics of Private Property (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993); idem, “The Private Production of Defense,” Essays in Political Economy (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998); Bruce Benson, The Enterprise of Law (San Francisco: Pacific Institute, 1991); St. Blankertz, “Eingreifen statt Übergreifen,” in Fritz Fliszar, ed. Freiheit: die unbequeme Idee (Stuttgart 1995); idem, Wie liberal kann Staat sein? (St. Augustin: Academia, 1997). On denationalizing defense and private armies, see Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, “Deterrence vs. Disarmament: The Practical Considerations,” Caliber 9, no. 5 (1981); idem, “On Defense,” Free World Chronicle II, no. 2 (1984); idem, “The Great Libertarian Defense Debate: A Critique of Robert Poole’s Defending a Free Society,” Nomos 3, nos. 2 and 3, (1985); idem, “A Practical Case for Denationalizing Defense,” The Pragmatist 3, nos. 5 and 6 (1986). For historical instances of private law enforcement, see also John C. Lester and D.L. Wilson, Ku Klux Klan: Its Origin, Growth, and Disbandment (New York: Neale, 1905); Jeremiah P. Shalloo, Private Police (Philadelphia: American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1933); William C. Wooldridge, Uncle Sam, the Monopoly Man (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1970); Joseph R. Peden, “Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 1, no. 2 (1977): 81–95; Diego Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993); Martin van Creveld, The Rise and Decline of the State (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999), chap. 1.
         The author wishes to thank the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for their generous financial support, which made the present study possible.
  • 2See Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, 2nd ed. (New York: New York University Press), part 5; idem, For A New Liberty, chap. 15; Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “De-socialization in a United Germany,“ Review of Austrian Economics 5, no. 2 (1991); Arthur Seldon, ed., Re-Privatizing Welfare: After the Last Century (London: Institute for Economic Affairs, 1996).
  • 3This paper was written in the fall of 1999 and first presented to an academic audience in February 2000. Since then, secessionist strategies have been discussed extensively on the Internet, without adding much to science. Among the scientific studies of the political economy of secession, see in particular Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “Against Centralization,” Salisbury Review(June 1993); idem, “Small is Beautiful and Efficient: The Case for Secession,” Telos 107 (Spring 1997); idem, “The Economic and Political Rationale for European Secessionism,” in David Gordon, ed., Secession, State, and Liberty (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1998). See also the other essays collected in this volume. Noteworthy, albeit limited in scope, is James M. Buchanan and R.L. Faith, “Secession and the Limits of Taxation: Toward a Theory of Internal Exit,” American Economic Review 77, no. 5 (1987). Important works of political philosophy that argue the case for secession are Johann G. Fichte, Beitrag zur Berichtigung der Urteile des Publikums über die Französische Revolution (Leipzig: Meiner, [1793] 1922), in particular, chap. 3; Augustin Thierry, “Des Nations et de leurs rapports mutuels,” Saint-Aubun, ed., L’Industrie littéraire et scientifique liguée aavec l’Industrie commerciale et manufacturière (Paris: Delaunay, 1816); P.E. de Puydt, “Panarchie,” Revue Trimestrielle (July 1860); Ernest Renan, “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?” Œuvres Complètes (Paris: Calman-Levy, 1947); Ludwig von Mises, Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft (Vienna: Manz, 1919), p. 27; idem, Liberalismus (St. Augustin: Academia, 1993), pp. 95 ff.; Murray N. Rothbard, “Nations by Consent: Decomposing the Nation-State,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 11, no. 1 (1994). For discussions of secession from a mainly legal standpoint, see Robert W. McGee, “Secession Reconsidered,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 11, no. 1 (1994), and Detmar Doering, Friedlicher Austritt (Brussels: Centre for the New Europe, 2002). For practical schemes, see Jörn Manfred Zube, Was muss an den Staatsverfassungen geändert werden, damit ein andauernder Friede möglich wird, und wie können dese Reformen durchgesetzt werden? (Berrinia, NSW, Australia: Libertarian Micro-Fiche Publishing, [1962] 1982), and Frances Kendall and Leon Louw, After Apartheid: The Solution for South Africa (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies, 1987).
  • 5Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1998), pp. 196 –97.
  • 6See Franz Oppenheimer, Der Staat ( Berlin: Libertad, 1990), pp. 19 ff. For a detailed and systematic account of the various forms of appropriation see Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty, chap. 6; and Hoppe, Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, chap. 2. Mises (Human Action, pp. 197 ff.) points out that the distinction between contractual and hegemonic bonds (or, economic and political means) is common to all theories of society, and refers in this context to the works of Ferguson, Spencer, Sombart, and Engels.
  • 7On the following examples, see Creveld, Rise and Decline of the State. On the politico-aesthetic ideals of contiguity and connectedness of territory, and the importance of this ideal in armed conflict, see Barry Smith, “On Drawing Lines on Maps,” in Spatial Information Theory, Andrew U. Frank, Werner Kuhn, and David M. Mark, eds. (Berlin: Springer, 1995); idem, “The Cognitive Geometry of War,” in Current Issues in Political Philosophy, Peter Koller and Klaus Puhl, eds. (Vienna: Hoelder-Pichler-Tempsky, 1997).
  • 8I am indebted to Professor Barry Smith for this example.
  • 9See Guido Kisch, The Jews in Medieval Germany: A Study of Their Legal and Social Status(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942).
  • 10J.G. Fichte (Französische Revolution, pp. 113–18) discussed such cases under the heading of “States within the state” and he mentioned in particular the following groups being subject to different laws than the rest of the population: the Jews, the military, the nobility, and the Catholic hierarchy.
  • 11See Rothbard, For A New Liberty, chap. 12; Hoppe, “Private Production of Defense”; Werner Habermehl, “Ein Versuch über Monarchie,” eigentümlich frei 8 (April 1999): 271 ff.
  • 12See Hoppe, “Economic and Political Rationale for European Secessionism.”
  • 13Democratic regimes facilitate the expansion of state powers even more than monarchies. See Bertrand de Jouvenel, Du pouvoir (Paris: Hachette, 1972); Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Democracy—The God That Failed (New Brunswick N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2001).
  • 14See Alexis de Tocqueville, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (Paris: Calman-Lévy, 1887); de Jouvenel, Du Pouvoir; Creveld, Rise and Decline of the State.
  • 15See Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “The Western State as a Paradigm: Learning from History,”Politics and Regimes. Religion and Public Life 30 (1997); idem, “The Future of Liberalism: A Plea for a New Radicalism,” Polis 3, no. 1 (1998); idem, Democracy—The God That Failed.
  • 16Arguably, in countries like Prussia the anti-liberal establishment initially supported the new central state to prevent the emergence of liberal islands, which would have served as bad examples to the rest of the population. (See, for example, the case study by Gerhard Krüger …gründeten auch unsere Freiheit. Spätaufklärung, Freimauerei, preussisch-deutsche Reform, der Kampf Theodor von Schoens gegen die Reaktion (Hamburg: Bauhütten Verlag, 1978). Needless to say, the new central-state elites eventually overthrew the old establishment.
  • 17For a systematic elaboration of this argument in the field of business cycle theory, see Jörg G. Hülsmann, “Toward a General Theory of Error Cycles,” Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 1, no. 4 (1998). One implication in the field of politics is that current plans to establish liberalism on a global scale through armed forces of international agencies like the U.N. or NATO (see, for example, K. Annan, “Two Concepts of Sovereignty,” The Economist[November 18, 1999]: 49 ff.) are bound to bring about, not more liberty, but more devastating slavery, at least in the long run.
  • 18See Fritz Kern, Recht und Verfassung im Mittelalter (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1965); and Otto Brunner, Land und Herrschaft, 2nd ed. (Munich and Vienna: Rohrer, 1942).
  • 19See Gordon, ed., Secession, State, and Liberty.
  • 20See Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); John V. Denson, ed., The Costs of War (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999).
  • 21See Rothbard, Ethics of Liberty, part 5.
  • 22This is the reason why separatist wars have tended to be pacifying, whereas civil wars for supremacy within the existing state usually lead to the domination of winners over resentful and revengeful losers. For a study comparing contemporary separatist and civil wars, see Alexis Heraclides, “The Ending of Unending Conflicts: Separatist Wars,” Millenium 26, no. 3 (1997). I am indebted to Mr. Reinhard Stiebler for bringing this work to my attention.
  • 23Max Weber’s definition of government stresses this technical aspect. See Weber, “Politik als Beruf,” Schriften zur theoretischen Soziologie, zur Soziologie der Politik und Verfassung (New York: B. Franklin, 1968), p. 146. Similarly, Mises (Human Action, p. 149) defines the state as the “social apparatus of compulsion and coercion.” For historical illustrations of the government’s monopoly over war equipment, see Ekkehardt Krippendorff, Staat und Krieg (Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, 1985).
  • 24Rolf Schroers (Der Partisan ) argues that these “interested third parties” also render the important service of providing political recognition to insurrectionist movements, thus preventing their protagonists from being universally presented as criminals.
  • 25Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York: Free Press, 1991, chap. 2) calls such wars “trinitarian wars” that take place in a “Clausewitzian universe,” in which a clear-cut distinction between the three groups of civilians, combatants, and political leaders prevails. He argues that the most recent past has brought about a paradigm shift toward nontrinitarian, “low-intensity conflict” in many parts of the world. Carl Schmitt (Theorie des Partisanen , pp. 51, 79, 81 f., 90 ff.) brilliantly anticipated and described this paradigm shift in the early 1960s.
  • 26See on these examples Creveld, Transformation of War, and Ralph Peters, Fighting for the Future (Mechanicsburg, Penn.: Stackpole, 1999). On the bleak prospects for the Russian army in its current second invasion into Chechnya, which started in the fall of 1999, see Hans Krech, Der Zweite Tschetschenien-Krieg (Berlin: Köster, 2002).
  • 27Etienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience (New York: Free Life Editions, 1975), p. 50.
  • 28See the classic argument in David Hume, “Of the First Principles of Government,” Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1987).
  • 29Few works explore the dissemination of ideas through time and space. For social-science approaches, see Dixon R. Fox, Ideas in Motion (New York, 1935); Lymann Bryson, ed., The Communication of Ideas (New York: Cooper Square, 1964); Fritz Redlich, “Ideas: Their Migration in Space and Transmittal over Time,” Kyklos 6, no. 4 (1953); Nathaniel Weyl and Stefan Possony, The Geography of Intellect (Chicago: Regnery, 1963); and Barry Smith, “A Theory of Divides” (unpublished manuscript, SUNY at Buffalo, 1999). For a biogenetic approach, see Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976); Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme (Seattle: Integral Press, 1996); and Susan J. Blackmore, The Meme Machine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
  • 30See John Ellis, A Short History of Guerrilla Warfare (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1976), p. 58.
  • 31See Andrea Graziosi, The Great Soviet Peasant War: Bolsheviks and Peasants, 1917–1933(Cambridge, Mass.: Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University, 1997); Rudolph J. Rummel, Death by Government (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1994); Stéphane Courtois, et. al., Le livre noir du communisme (Paris: Robert Laffont, 1997).
  • 32See Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans, 1944–1950 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).
  • 33See for example Martin van Creveld, “Sharon’s Plan is to Drive Palestinians Across the Jordan,” Sunday Telegraph (28 April 2002); Meron Benvenisti, “Preemptive Warnings of Fantastic Scenarios,” Haaretz (15 August 2002).
  • 34This was the reason why the classical liberals believed that genocidal wars would no longer be waged in an era characterized by an international division of labor. See for example Thierry, “Des Nations et de leurs rapports mutuels,” pp. 23 f.
  • 35We cannot here attempt to enumerate the concrete actions, which in private warfare would be permissible in response to given circumstances. Any such investigation will have to start from the general observations by Rothbard (Ethics of Liberty, chaps. 12 and 13) and reconsider Augustine’s doctrine of just war, and the development it has received in the hands of Aquinas, Grotius, and others. For a survey of current discussions, see James T. Johnson, Morality and Contemporary Warfare (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999). It will also benefit from an analysis of historical positive law relating to situations that were more or less similar to private warfare, such as the Spanish Reglamento de Partidas y Cuadrillas from December 28, 1808, the Spanish Corso Terrestre from April 17, 1809, and the Prussian Edikt über den Landsturm from April 21, 1813.
  • 36See Mises, Human Action, pp. 157 ff.
  • 37See the impressive list of expert instruction for “total resistance” in H. v. Dach, Der totale Widerstand: Kleinkriegsanleitung für jedermann (Biel: Schweizerischer Unteroffiziersverband, 1958), translated as Total Resistance: Swiss Army Guide to Guerrilla Warfare and Underground Operations (Boulder, Colo.: Paladin Press, 1965). Dach is an officer of the Swiss army.
  • 38See Schmitt, Theorie des Partisanen, pp. 58 f.
  • 39Walter Laqueur, Guerrilla: A Historical and Critical Study (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), p. ix.
  • 40In a brilliant discussion of the history of military thought on guerrilla warfare, Walter Laqueur (Guerrilla, pp. 100 ff., 326 ff.) points out that guerrilla warfare had received due attention from modern military theoreticians long before guerrilla warfare came to be associated with communist armed insurgency. Indeed, various late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century theoreticians analyzed the matter in their monographs under the name of “small war” or “partisan war.” See, for example, Johann von Ewald, Treatise on Partisan Warfare (London: Greenwood, [1785] 1991); W. von Valentini, Abhandlungen über den kleinen Krieg (Berlin: Boicke, 1799); C. von Decker, Der kleine Krieg im Geiste der neueren Kriegsführung (Berlin, 1821); J.F.A. Le Mière de Corvay, Des partisans et des corps irréguliers (Paris: Anselin and Pochard, 1823). Military genius Carl von Clausewitz carefully dealt with the lessons of the guerra de guerrillas, too. In his famous treatise On War (New York: Random House, [1943], book 6, chap. 26, and book 8, chap. 6B), he had dealt with the problems of “arming the nation” and “people’s war” rather as side issues. However, while in this work, which was published shortly after his death in 1832, Clausewitz probably had to respect the sensibilities of his employer, in the courses that he taught at the Prussian War Academy he lectured extensively on problems of guerrilla warfare. (See hisSchriften-Aufsätze-Studien-Briefe, W. Hahlweg, ed. [Göttingen, 1966], pp. 226–539.) The first treatise that systematically examined guerrilla warfare’s suitability to establish communist regimeswas probably a 1928 collective volume with contributions from Kippenberger, Wollenberg, Unschlicht, Piatnitzki, Tuchatschewski, and Ho Chi Minh. Two chapters were written by the general staff of the Red Army. The book was published under the pseudonym “A. Neuberg” with the title Der bewaffnete Aufstand. Versuch einer theoretischen Darstellung (reprint Frankfurt.Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1971); translated as Armed Insurrection (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1970). In more recent times, the works by Ernesto Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1961) and Mao Tse-tung, On Guerrilla Warfare (New York: Praeger, 1961) received worldwide attention due to their authors’ success on the battlefield and stimulated various intellectuals to further analyses; for example, Schroers, Der Partisan; Régis Debray, La critique des armes (Paris: Seuil, 1974). Carl Schmitt (Theorie des Partisanen, pp. 38 ff.) traces the development of the theory of guerrilla warfare from Clausewitz to V.I. Lenin, “Fighting Guerrilla Operations,” Collected Works (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1930), vol. 10 ; George Sorel, “Réflexions sur la violence,” Mouvement Socialisté (1906); and Mao (On Guerrilla Warfare). Schmitt’s account parallels the analysis of Stefan Possony, A Century of Conflict: Communist Techniques of World Revolution (Chicago: Regnery, 1953). For further literature see the references in Schmitt, Theorie des Partisanen, p. 65, and Creveld, The Transformation of War.
  • 41For general surveys of the history of guerrilla warfare, see Ellis, A Short History of Guerrilla Warfare; idem, From the Barrel of a Gun: A History of Guerrilla Revolutionary and Counter-Insurgency Warfare, from the Romans to the Present (London: Greenhill Books, 1995); Laqueur,Guerrilla; and Anthony James Joes, Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical, Biographical, and Bibliographical Sourcebook (London: Greenwood, 1996). On guerrilla warfare in the American War of Secession, see, for example, Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, vol. 4, The Revolutionary War, 1775–1784 (New York: Arlington House, 1979); Noel C. Fisher, War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860–1869 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); and Sean M. O’Brien, Mountain Partisans: Guerrilla Warfare in the Southern Appalachians, 1861–1865 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1999). For an account of the post-1865 guerrilla activities of the original Ku Klux Klan, see Lester and Wilson,Ku Klux Klan. On the SS Werwolf guerrilla, see Alexander Biddiscombe, Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).
  • 42See, for example, Jouvenel, Du pouvoir; and Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan.
  • 43In Mao’s case this was crucial, since the Chinese government had wrecked the national currency with a huge inflation. The redistributive effects ensuing from the inflation hurt the middle classes and state employees, alienating these pillars of the old regime from the government. See Kia-Ngau Chang, The Inflationary Spiral: The Experience of China, 1939–1950(New York: Wiley and Sons, 1958). I am indebted to Mr. Daniel Rosenthal for bringing Chang’s work to my attention.
  • 44Laqueur, Guerrilla, pp. 396 ff. Similarly, Martin van Creveld argued that patriotism, rather than national-socialist ideology, motivated the astounding performance of the German Wehrmacht in World War II. See Creveld, Fighting Power (London: Greenwood, 1982).
  • 45See Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1963).
  • 46Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, p. 17.
  • 47Robert Taber, The War of the Flea: A Study of Guerrilla Warfare: Theory and Practice (New York: Lyle Stuart, 1965), p. 18.
  • 48Ibid., p. 20.
  • 49See, for example, on the Italian cities: Creveld, Rise and Decline of the State, p. 108; on the Vendee: Ellis, Short History of Guerrilla Warfare, pp. 55 ff.; on the Greek guerrilla, Taber, War of the Flea, pp. 147 ff.; on the history of secessionist movements in the U.S.: Wesley A. Riddle, “When to Revolt,” Free Market 13, no. 6 (1995); Thomas DiLorenzo, “Yankee Confederates: New England Secession Movements Prior to the War Between the States,” in Secession, State, and Liberty, Gordon, ed.; Joseph R. Stromberg, “Republicanism, Federalism, and Secession in the South, 1790 to 1865,” Secession, State, and Liberty, Gordon, ed.; and William J. Watkins, “Live Free or Separate,” Free Market 16, no. 8 (1998); on the OAS: Schmitt, Theorie des Partisanen, pp. 65 ff.; on contemporary insurrectionists-turned terrorists: Ellis, From the Barrel of a Gun.
  • 50See Laqueur, Guerrilla, pp. 395, 409.
  • 51Our analysis is based on the works quoted in footnote 1, above. All other schools of economic thought have remained, as far as the production of security is concerned, entirely within the intellectual orbit of such classical works as Lorenz von Stein’s Die Lehre vom Heerwesen—als Theil des Staatswissenschaft (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1872). and Johann von Bloch’sDer Krieg—der künftige Krieg in seiner technischen, volkswirtschaftlichen und politischen Bedeutung, 6 vols. (Berlin: Puttkammer and Mühlbrecht, 1899). For a history of (traditional) economic thought on warfare, see Edmund Silberner, La guerre dans la pensée économique—du xvi au xviii siècle (Paris: Librairie du Recueil Sirey, 1939), and idem, The Problem of War in Nineteenth Century Thought (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1946).
  • 52We do not here consider the case of war finance through inflation, which, in addition to the effects analyzed below, brings about a destruction of the monetary system and an intertemporal misallocation of factors of production. See on this point Mises, Human Action, pp. 787 ff., 821 ff., idem, Nation, Staat, und Wirtschaft, pp. 117 ff. See also Aaron Director, ed. Defense, Controls, and Inflation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952).
  • 53See Mises, Human Action, pp. 694 ff. On the importance of a free-market supply of military goods, see the pioneering work by Mises, Nation, Staat und Wirtschaft, pp. 117 ff., and his disciple Stefan Possony, Die Wehrwirtschaft des totalen Krieges (Vienna: Gerold, 1938).
  • 54On the following, see the general remarks in Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1944).
  • 55See Rothbard, For a New Liberty, chap. 12.
  • 56Thus, it might be that the Southern United States lost the War of Secession because it relied on conventional warfare, whereas it would have been better advised to choose a guerrilla strategy. See Robert L. Kerby, “Why the Confederacy Lost,” Review of Politics 35, no. 3 (1973); Grady McWhiney, “Conservatism and the Military,” Continuity 4/5 (1982); and Richard E. Beringer, et al., Why the South Lost the Civil War (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986), esp. pp. 340–47. I am indebted to Jeffrey Tucker and Joseph Stromberg for bringing this case to my attention. History seems to abound with similar cases. For example, according to the Prussian officer Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz (Leon Gambetta und seine Armeen , p. 36), republican France lost the war of 1870–71 against the German armies, which had already defeated the French emperor, because the republican leader, Gambetta, insisted on a “great war.” Yet a guerrilla war would have been far more dangerous for the German armies. Another example is the 1935–36 war in which Mussolini’s Italy subdued Abessinia (Ethiopia today); see Schmitt,Theorie des Partisanen, pp. 42 f. Rothbard (Revolutionary War, 1775–1784, pp. 23 ff.) argues that the seceding American colonies won their war of secession from Great Britain in spite of waging a conventional rather than a guerrilla war.
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