Journey into a Libertarian Future: Part IV – The Journey into a Libertarian Past

Yves here. As the summer wanes, we continue with our reprise of Andrew Dittmer’s series on libertarian thought, as a reminder of how we got where we are.

This post was first published on December 2, 2011

By Andrew Dittmer, who recently finished his PhD in mathematics at Harvard and is currently continuing work on his thesis topic. He also taught mathematics at a local elementary school. Andrew enjoys explaining the recent history of the financial sector to a popular audience.

Simulposted at The Distributist Review

This is the fourth installment of a six-part interview. For the previous parts, see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Red indicates exact quotes from Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.”

ANDREW: The GLOs in your future libertarian society will be continuations of GLOs that exist now – basically large corporations and high net worth individuals. And the modern GLOs are continuations of GLOs that existed in the past.

CODE NAME CAIN: True – GLOs have a long and proud history.

ANDREW: In our society and in the past, both GLOs and regular governments have certain legal rights.

CNC: That’s right. But the legal rights of the governments are all completely illegitimate, whereas the legal rights of GLOs are all completely legitimate. That’s why I act morally when I hide my assets from the U.S. government.

ANDREW: How did it come to happen that the GLOs split into two kinds – the good non-government kind and the bad government kind?

CNC: As the libertarian Robert Nozick says, “Whatever arises from a just situation by just steps is itself just.” When rights were first created, the non-government GLOs legitimately claimed them. Since then, they’ve handed them down to their heirs and traded them among themselves. All of these transactions were strictly voluntary, and so all of the rights of modern GLOs are legitimate. On the other hand, governments seized all of their rights unjustly, and nothing that has happened since can transform their illegitimate rights into legitimate ones.

ANDREW: Maybe you should tell us the whole story.

CNC: Prepare to be surprised – mainstream sources have mutilated this history almost beyond recognition.

A long time ago, everybody lived in a state of liberty. Now, in any society that is not entirely primitive, a few men acquire elite status. Owing to superior achievements of wealth, wisdom, [or] bravery… some individuals come to possess “natural authority,” and their opinions and judgments enjoy widespread respect. Moreover, because of selective mating and marriage and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are more likely than not passed on within a few noble families.

…. it is these very leaders of the natural elite who typically act as judges and peacemakers, often free of charge, out of a sense of obligation required and expected of a person of authority or even out of a principled concern for civil justice, as a privately produced “public” good. [71]

ANDREW: So the first security GLOs were noblemen, and they got their power because other people recognized their superior leadership qualities. These nobles were basically like little governments, except better because they were non-coercive and respected natural rights.

CNC: Exactly. The great philosopher John Locke understood this principle well. Some bonehead living in Locke’s time had said that governments had much more authority than GLOs… because they sometimes led men into battle. Locke retorted,

A Planter in the West Indies has more [than three hundred slaves in his household], and might, if he pleased… Muster them up and lead them out against the Indians, to seek Reparation upon any Injury received from them, and all this without [being] a Monarch…

In other words, GLOs, such as planters in the West Indies, had the same rights that governments did as far as war-making was concerned.

ANDREW: This is the first time you’ve mentioned governments, as opposed to non-government security GLOs. How do governments enter the picture?

CNC: In big cities, there end up being many different and independent security GLOs, all exercising their authority in complete harmony. For a government to arise it is necessary that one of these judges, arbitrators, or enforcement agencies succeed in establishing himself as a monopolist. [177] How is this possible? Why would other security GLOs ever allow one organization to obtain a monopoly and to usurp their own rightful powers?

Clearly the only way that this can happen is for one of the security GLOs to promise to be more than an impartial judge in matters relating to one’s own race, tribe, or clan [178]. You see, in the state of nature a security GLO would treat all of its clients fairly, applying a uniform standard of justice. Governments come about when one security GLO pledges to enforce the law in a way that unfairly favors its own race or tribe – this unethical scheme allows such a GLO to seize power over its rivals. If racism stops being effective, the next resort of the rogue GLO is typically an appeal to the universal… feeling of envy and egalitarianism, i.e. to social class (the untouchables or the slaves versus the masters, the workers versus the capitalists, the poor versus the rich, etc.) [180].

ANDREW: Noblemen and masters were obeyed because their serfs and slaves recognized that some people were naturally superior to others – but then some GLOs came in and started messing everything up by appealing to racism and jealousy. These “rogue GLOs” are where governments come from.

CNC: That’s right. Now let me tell you about the history of territory GLOs. This part of the story is even more important – you see, libertarianism… is a systematic law code, derived by means of logical deduction from a single principle, the validity of which… cannot be disputed without falling prey to… contradictions…. This axiom is the ancient principle of original appropriation [200].

Now what does “original appropriation” mean? It means that you find something that no one else owns and you claim it. Whenever you claim rights in this way, it makes some people better off and no one worse off.

ANDREW: It does?

CNC: Well, it obviously makes you better off. At the same time, [your] action does not make anyone else worse off… Others could have appropriated those resources, too, if they had considered them valuable. Yet they… did not do so. Indeed, their failure to appropriate them demonstrates their preference for not appropriating them. Thus, they cannot possibly be said to have lost any utility as a result of [the] appropriation. [122]

ANDREW: Let me see if I understand the idea. Suppose that I find the only oasis in a desert and claim it as mine. Suppose some refugees flee into the desert and want to drink at my oasis. Can I threaten to gun them down if they come too close, unless they agree to become my effective slaves in a rights-respecting manner?

CNC: Of course – it’s your oasis.

ANDREW: Can you give me some real historical examples of how GLOs have justly appropriated rights?

CNC: [T]he English settlers [in] North America… demonstrated how… private property originated naturally through a person’s original appropriation… of previously unused land (wilderness). [267]

ANDREW: North America was uninhabited when the English settlers got there?

CNC: Opponents of libertarianism love saying “What about the Indians?” They get excited at the thought that libertarians will be forced to defend the property rights of dispossessed native peoples, which a lot of libertarians would rather not do. What they don’t realize is that John Locke solved this problem three hundred years ago. Locke explained that

…the Benefit Mankind receives from [an acre of land in England], is worth 5 [pounds], [whereas the benefit from an acre of land in America] possibly not worth a Penny, if all the Profit an Indian received from it were to be valued, and sold here; at least, I may truly say, not 1/1000. ‘Tis Labour then which puts the greatest part of Value upon Land, without which it would scarcely be worth any thing…

ANDREW: Wait. Did Locke just start to suggest that since the Indians did not do efficient agriculture, they did not really own the land?

CNC: Exactly. To properly claim land, you have to do real economic work on the land, and the Indians did not do that because they were too primitive. So Locke proved that that the Indians did not own the land. That meant the settlers could treat the land as if it was unclaimed.

ANDREW: Are you sure that’s what Locke meant? Locke is famous for defending liberty and natural rights.

CNC: Why are you surprised? In this example, Locke defended the liberty of settlers to claim unused land, and their natural right to keep that land once they had claimed it. And yes, I’m sure that’s what Locke meant – go read his second Treatise on Government.

ANDREW: Were the original territory GLOs in Europe also security GLOs?

CNC: Well, you can get wealthy by claiming unused land, and security GLOs were typically wealthy noblemen with long-established records of superior achievement, far-sightedness, and exemplary personal conduct [71]. So there was probably a lot of overlap.

ANDREW: Didn’t a lot of people in Europe get land because their king or queen liked them and granted them land as a gift?

CNC: Well, you have to remember that the king or queen, being a government, did not own the land legitimately. Land can only be justly claimed by individuals or corporations, and so all “public” property is… the result of some form of expropriation [135].

ANDREW: So if you could prove that part of a particular organization’s wealth came from inheriting a royal land grant, would that wealth be illegitimate? Would you consider yourself justified in claiming that wealth as unowned, provided that no one could stop you?

CNC: Interesting question… But you see, sometimes we have to accept that bad things happened a long time ago, and it would be too confusing to try to correct the injustice. Sometimes you have to let bygones be bygones.

ANDREW: So governments that were established a long time ago might have rights that we have to respect, because it would be too confusing to correct the injustice?

CNC: No. The injustice done to GLOs by forcing them to accept man-made laws (“regulations”) and to pay taxes must never be forgotten. Every day that governments usurp rights, the debt owed to GLOs grows. The voice of that debt cries out from the ground for redress, and it will be heard.

ANDREW: I’m not sure why this question just popped into my mind – why did you choose “Cain” as your code name?

CNC: The fact that you have to ask that question shows that you have been misled by the conventional description of Cain as a thoughtless psychopath. That view is a caricature, spread by religious intellectuals subservient to modern democracies. A more measured appraisal of Cain leads to the conclusion that he was, in reality, a hero.

ANDREW: Maybe you’d like to explain further?

CNC: In the Cain and Abel story, Cain is a farmer, whereas Abel is a nomadic shepherd. Cain is therefore a representative of civilization and economic progress, while Abel represents a more primitive and superstitious form of society.

Cain and Abel go to make sacrifices to God. According to extra-biblical sources, Cain comes up with an idea for making the sacrifice process more efficient – instead of sacrificing productive agricultural goods, he will burn thorns and cow dung. The resulting fire and smoke will be just as impressive, and Cain will be able to preserve useful resources. Everyone will be better off.

Abel gets angry and says that God will not be pleased. That was obviously a coded threat to go tell their father Adam (the government) and to get Cain in trouble. If Cain hadn’t done something, his goods would soon have been confiscated for the sacrifice by governmental authority, i.e. coercion. Cain was forced to take action to protect his property.

ANDREW: So you see Cain as as the first strong defender of private property?

CNC: And as the original inventor of the concept of a Pareto improvement. But he paid a heavy price for his integrity – instead of recognizing that Cain had acted justly, his family kicked him out, destroyed his reputation, and forced him to live life as a trader, moving from place to place.

Maybe you can see now why I am proud to take “Cain” as my code name.

In part 5 of this interview, Code Name Cain argues that libertarians who favor a minimal government are deluded. CNC then goes on to explain how the inherent flaws of government compel honorable men to make what are sometimes difficult choices.

Notes:

Whatever arises from a just situation by just steps is also just.  Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 151.

A Planter in the West Indies… John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, First Treatise, section 130.

Suppose that I find the only oasis in the desert and claim it as mine. This example is due to the libertarian Israel Kirzner, ‘Entrepreneurship, Entitlement, and Economic Justice,’ pp. 405-406 (cited by Widerquist, ibid.).

The Benefite Mankind receives from [an acre of land in England]… John Locke, Second Treatise, section 43.

According to extra-biblical sources… e.g., the Cornish “Creation of the World” by William Jordan, known from a 1611 manuscript.  cf. also the Middle English Chester cycle, II, 537-540:  “Hit weare pittye… those fayre eares for to brenne… thou of hit gett ought.”

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20 comments

  1. jr

    ” Moreover, because of selective mating and marriage and the laws of civil and genetic inheritance, positions of natural authority are more likely than not passed on within a few noble families”

    Aren’t aristos known for their problematic adherence to selective mating? As in first cousins?

    https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/24610/20200107/inbreeding-among-royals-14-monarchs-who-experienced-the-side-effects-of-incest.htm

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-7739531/Centuries-inbreeding-European-royals-caused-deformity-known-Habsburg-jaw.html

    Reply
  2. Carolinian

    I had to go back to part one to find out what a GLO is (Government Like Organization).

    And I don’t think one has to take these theoretical libertarians very seriously to nevertheless point out that in a socialist system–or for that matter our current system–land use is also controlled on a standard of greatest social benefit. However private citizens don’t get to make that decision and seize my property. This Randian fantasy of private individuals acting boldly and making their own rules for all our benefit ignores human psychology and all that goes with it, i.e.greed, selfishness, aggression and the zeal to dominate. We have governments because humans on their own are not inclined toward Utopia. We are, however, inclined to employ a great deal of rationalization.

    Reply
  3. Jim Z

    One who inherits property has done nothing to earn it. Examples of unworthy heirs are too famous and too numerous to list here. One is in the WH today. Thus the whole argument breaks down. Libertarians’ social development not to mention understanding of history basically flatlined at around junior high.

    Reply
    1. Eric Patton

      One who inherits property has done nothing to earn it.

      Just as one who inherits a good mind has done nothing to earn it.

      Reply
  4. Sound of the Suburbs

    Amnesia is the main cause of the rising popularity of libertarianism in the US.

    Do you remember the last time you let the robber barons and reckless bankers run riot in the 1920s?
    No.
    Do you remember the last time you used neoclassical economics in the 1920s?
    No.
    Do you remember how bad it was in the 1970s?
    Yes.
    Do you remember how bad it was in the 1930s?
    No.

    Reply
      1. Sound of the Suburbs

        It is important to remember this.
        You soon start to realise you are just repeating past mistakes.

        As a CEO, I can use the company’s money to do share buybacks, to boost the share price; get my bonus and top dollar for my shares.
        What is there not to like?
        Share buybacks were found to be a cause of the 1929 crash and made illegal in the 1930s.

        What lifted US stocks to 1929 levels in 1929?
        Margin lending and share buybacks.
        What lifted US stocks to 1929 levels in 2019?
        Margin lending and share buybacks.
        A former US congressman has been looking at the data.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zu3SgXx3q4

        At the end of the 1920s, the US was a ponzi scheme of inflated asset prices.
        The use of neoclassical economics and the belief in free markets, made them think that inflated asset prices represented real wealth accumulation.
        1929 – Wakey, wakey time

        ……. etc ……..

        Reply
  5. d

    thinking that they are really advocating for the return of the dark ages, since they seem to favor the lords and barrons be in charge. they also seem to think they were the best and brightest, never mind reality being very different

    Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      yep. 1100 AD, with smart phones and A/C for the Lords of the Manor.
      it’s End Stage Libertarianism.
      see: Mencius Moldbug, the court philosopher of Peter Thiel.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Enlightenment

      I’ve been aware of them for some time, but reckoned it was a movement(sic) of basement dwellers with neckbeards and cheeto dust…but the “Alt-Right” is the surface phenomenon of this deeper, darker mode of thought, and it turned out that the Silicon Valley contained a peculiar variety of sociopathy and self-regard that just so happened to gel pretty well with all this neoreactionary nonsense.
      Moldbug is verbose…so be warned!
      but if “Know Thine Enemy” is important to you, it might be worth getting up to speed. They also expertly wield the gish gallop, and the time honored defense of “if you don’t agree, you must be of the devil”—in this case, the devil is the “Cathedral”, which is like the operating system of the “Liberal International Order” and the Enlightenment Overlords.(yes, really)
      It lends itself to a particularly ugly future of non-geographical, abstracted neofeudalism, where instead of countries, we are all citizens of corporations.
      (except for all us useless eaters, of course)
      the antihumanism of people like de maistre and hoppe on pcp.
      This is one of the more scary,if novel, things waiting in the wings for when things fall apart.
      randian selfishness filtered through 4chan.
      and you thought Neoliberalism was hard to explain to your kids….

      Reply
      1. EMHO

        People need to watch Incorporated, the TV series on SYFY, first aired back in late 2016.
        That’s the future Libertarians envision for us, with themselves at the top, of course!

        Reply
        1. Amfortas the hippie

          see also The Last Ringbearer
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Ringbearer

          which, being something of a lifelong Tolkien Nut, makes me rather ill.
          (never read it, as it was…and still is to my knowledge…illegal to publish it in the West, due to the Tolkien Estate’s efforts. I’d like a copy, just for grins…and because i am averse to banning books, on principal)

          all of this is pretty juvenile when you get down into the weeds of it…but then again, teenage boys(especially the middle aged variety—Moldbug is in his late 30’s, i think) are not known for self-reflection , nor to taking criticism seriously.
          (i have two of them currently, but i expect both of them to mature at some point…not wallow in all knowing nihilism all the way into their 40’s)

          Reply
          1. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

            Heard an interview with Yarvin recently. I think it was the Hermitix podcast. He’s still pimping the ‘natural law’ of monarchy.

            Reply
  6. Jim

    I want to know what dimension these libertarians are from where they think nobles were not only naturally superior (to the point that it’s inheritable! no bad heirs here!), but felt compelled to use that natural superiority for the benefit of the (presumably inferior) general public. The whole ideology seems like justification for hoarding your wealth and saying family blog you, I’ve got mine.

    Reply
    1. IceyX

      Personally, I think they favor inherited titles because they figure they are (or should be at any rate) the lords and barons. They really seem to like eugenics and genetic determinism for the same reason — its flattering to them personally. The science, logic and benefits to society are beside the point.

      Speaking of logic…

      When rights were first created, the non-government GLOs legitimately claimed them. Since then, they’ve handed them down to their heirs and traded them among themselves. All of these transactions were strictly voluntary, and so all of the rights of modern GLOs are legitimate. On the other hand, governments seized all of their rights unjustly, and nothing that has happened since can transform their illegitimate rights into legitimate ones.

      Muddling through this, but classic “no true scotsman”? Or maybe I shouldn’t try to pick out the logical fallacies?

      Reply
  7. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I suppose that the fella I came across on youtube could be called a libertarian who does podcasts mainly on military history, which he does a pretty good job of as in relation to his series on the Eastern front centred on Stalingrad, he uses good sources primarily Glantz & is fair in regard to the lying of Generals on both sides, especially Mannstein.

    However, I found another podcast of his which set out to prove that Hitler was a socialist. Now I suppose in the National Socialist sense when he was in cahoots with the Worker’s party & the Drexler brothers, but as I understood it he dumped all of that when he made a deal with the Banker’s & Industrialists in order to get into the Reichstag.

    I did not have time to look to closely but it seems the Fuhrer was actually a Red, because he indulged in Fiscal stimulus, work programs & regulated banks. His privatisations were also not really that but just methods of taking total government control – perhaps someone here knows more as I don’t have the time to go into it.

    I decided to check the bibliography he had the provided & lo & behold, the names I knew from the articles & occasional books listed were Hayak, Freidman & the Mises Instsiitute – the others were parroting much the same opinion from what I found & read as quickly as I could.

    I wonder if today’s Nazis are aware of this & I imagine that if the above criteria is correct then most governments could actually be or have been occasionally Socialist when I was under the impression that they were Right Wing. I did question the guy but just got a tirade of cognitive dissonant verbiage about how Socialism was the greatest evil ever & had caused the present mess, QE was a giant work program, nurses have to be paid ??…it’s a weird old world.

    Reply
  8. skippy

    Back during the time NC was examining the Austrian mind set just post GFC I linked to a series of get togethers in the U.K. and the EU sponsored by the Austrians and their benefactors.

    It was at these events attended by leaders in private and public administration that they were all informed by their success – in achieving such positions of authority – that it was, could only be, attributed to their Natural [tm] abilities and as such they should embrace this individual success, as well, enjoy all the personal benefits it offered no matter how it was obtained or at what cost.

    Anyone disagreeing with this perspective would be summarily dismissed as a “self hater”. Best bit is these junkets were doing the rounds since the 90s around the globe, personally saw music men come to Australia and get face time on public TV, where they dismissed the cultural view called tall poppy syndrome, based on the argument that anyone not cheering on the accumulation of great wealth and power was diminishing society and dis-incentivizing achievement.

    And here we are ….

    Although I do observe a niggling under currant which some are questioning the results of above in such quarters, but the response seems to be at a individual or family level. Seems many are concerned taking on the machine is a bit like standing in front of a steam roller and what pressure valves that are on offer are quite narrow in scope and fractious affairs.

    Reply
  9. Samuel Conner

    Now I realize why I find “gardening” so compelling. It maintains my right to ownership of the little plot of land on which my home rests.

    /s

    I would love to see an updated Dittmer “take” on how libertarians envisage a society ruled by GLOs would have provided for the general weal in the years prior to the current pandemic. Me thinks that they would not have wanted to invest in protective measures. Why would private entities run by finite-lived profit-seekers be good at hedging tail risks?

    Reply

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