The structure of a libertarian revolution – establishing a pluriarchy

Posted on March 6, 2011


The state system is a conspiracy between sovereign states to preserve each others’ monopolies of justice in their own lands. To break this system, a libertarian society must create the impression that the state’s agents are no longer exempt from the law and are vulnerable to outside force. This requires setting up security units as courts of justice whose purpose is retaliating against the state’s unlawful use of force. These courts must be paid for through protection contracts or mutual defense agreements. With multiple courts of justice in existence within each jurisdiction, the original purpose of democratic republicanism, the establishment of pluriarchy, is achieved, and nothing stops the emergence of markets in all goods.

The nature of power in revolt

The current wave of revolutionary uprisings is giving us all a very vivid demonstrations of the nature of power. Mass demonstrations against brutal, bloody regimes have succeeded at ousting the leaders of these regimes to the extent that killing demonstrators has not stopped the protests. (When the people no longer fear death, you have nothing left to take away from them, and thus can no longer coerce them.) What has not happened as a result is any significant change in the structure of society. In Egypt, for example, the army is still intact and as powerful as ever before, while the other existing potential counter-power, the Muslim Brotherhood, remains in hiding. Any democratic reforms as desired by the demonstrators can therefore come only at the benevolence of the army, and the very premise of the idea shows that there can be no democracy at all. In Libya, on the other hand, organized tribal militias have expelled state agents from towns and encircled the ruling regime in the capital, Tripoli. Should there be a democracy in this country, it would be of a wildly different nature.

In a previous post I defined the ultimate objective of libertarianism to be the creation of an archipelago of free micro-states where libertarian law applies and the economy is a free market. I did not detail what conditions are necessary to achieve such an objective, marginal as it may be compared to total revolutionary overthrow of the state. While the goal of creating free microstates does not create an existential challenge to the sovereign state (thus making it achievable in our lifetime), it is still a reduction of its power and it must therefore come against the will of the entire state structure. We must therefore find a way to act such that the state accepts micro-secessions against its will. Once the will of the state is no longer beyond appeal, a true libertarian revolution has taken place, even if the map of the world has not been altered. True freedom exists when the state can no longer stop the actions of societies that live within its borders. One such action is the creation of free, seceding states.

The failure of classical liberalism

Let us go back to the origin of the modern state, the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The treaties signed during this long conference created the world order of today with the same force that the treaty of Yalta created the Cold War world order. Before the Peace of Westphalia, Europe was characterized by a feudal hierarchy where lords owned hereditary titles to lands randomly dispersed throughout Europe, and whose terms of ownership were set by tradition while bound by covenants with other local lords. As such, it was possible for one noble family, say the Habsburgs of Austria, to owe fealty (and taxes) to a regional lord for one possession, while receiving fealty and taxes for holding the title of Emperor of Germany, and also to own “states” inside and outside this empire. (While the Habsburgs held the title of Holy Roman Emperor, their lands in Hungary were not considered as being within the empire.) War had erupted over land titles and privileges held by the catholic church, most notably the right to collect rents (taxes) from some states, and over the course of a generation Germany was depopulated by one third of its population through the chaos of land-subsisting mercenary armies.  The major powers remaining in force after this devastation arrived at the conclusion that the land-holders should have complete sovereignty over their territory, including responsibility for the war-like actions of its citizens. That is to say, Europe’s state-owners entered into a pact with one another to respect boundaries, to prevent internal conflict from spilling into the neighboring country and to protect their monopoly over justice within their own lands in order to create a world order. This principle is still in force today and is still the basis agreed upon by all states. (The Israeli war on Hezbollah in Lebanon being a recent and foreboding exception.)

While the system of Westphalia created what appeared to be social order, it also created the incentive for the perpetual concentration of power and monarchical absolutism. To resolve this matter, enlightenment statesmen and political scientists proposed a division of power between the executive, legislative and judicial arms of the state (just as the state, the bureaucracy created by state-owners to administer their holdings, was gaining power over their owner, for more on this see Bertrand de Jouvenel and Martin van Creveld), as well as bicameral legislative chambers. While this did not restore medieval decentralization, it created many virtual “centers of power” within the state, that is to say different groups derived their power from different sources. (Within the post-revolution Kingdom of France, the constitutional monarchy had to respect the legislative voice of two houses of government, one elected by a small electorate of property owners subject to a poll tax, one made of hereditary peers similar to the English House of Lords. The first American republic, after its rebellion against the United Kingdom, elected one house of representatives based on district representation, while the upper house was made of representatives of member states directly named by state governors or legislatures, and the executive was chosen by an assembly of all of them.) The key factor is that the different branches of government were chosen by different social groups. In theory, this ensured that the legislative process did not become concentrated in the hands of one center of power, and that only those laws that had broad agreement between social classes would be adopted by the state.

As the principles of liberalism and republicanism were forgotten, and the appeal of egalitarianism and socialism became widespread, the different social groups were merged into a single electoral system from which all power derived. Now all members of government were to be chosen by a strictly egalitarian popular vote, resulting in the formation of permanent political societies called “parties” expert at manipulating this vote. This resulted in the return of political absolutism, with all the same abuses that enlightenment political philosophers complained about, but now at enormous scale. Thus, the constitutional monarchy of the German Empire, with power divided between social classes, was replaced after its defeat in war by an egalitarian republic that was soon transformed into the greatest nightmare of history, the Nazi Third Reich.

There can be no successful attempt to undo state power by conquering the oligarchy using the very means that they use to wield power over us, popular elections. The system is carefully maintained to return results predictably favorable by those at the top of the system. To attempt to change the system against the interests of this oligarchy will require the use of force. Our only hope is to create an incentive for the oligarchy to reform itself by creating new centers of power from different social groups capable of enacting (i.e. through action) laws.

The production of laws

Laws are made when people expect the consequences of actions to be predictable. This requires the enforcement of rulings by courts of justice when bad actions are committed. Legislation implies that there is a monopoly over these courts of justice such that a legislative body can simply command from some remote location how all the courts are to rule. A libertarian revolution is the breaking of such a monopoly such that the concurrent rulings of many courts becomes the law (a pluri-archy), making possible a complete transformation of society based on just and economically-sensible law.

The “state” as an acting member of humanity consists mostly of empowered law enforcement agents – individuals given the functional privilege of using force against private individuals, and protected from being retaliated against by their victims. Police or tax officers are tasked with hunting down transgressors who violate the state’s legislation, and, if they are so inclined, bring these violators before a court. (They may also take bribes instead, but only if the victim expects to lose in court.)

The police may be the arms of the state, it is the courts that are its nerves. Police officers stake their careers and promotions on the number of convictions they can obtain. If judges refuse to convict the men that the police bring before the courts, then the police will no longer pursue men for such offenses. They will instead focus on pursuing true criminals for which they can obtain convictions and promotions, or should it please them, do nothing at all.

It is therefore the courts that are the point of maximum focus (schwerpunkt) of a struggle against the state, and it is by making the courts powerless that the state can be crippled and the positions of functional privilege eliminated. There are two ways of achieving this – by protecting the individuals condemned by the courts from having the condemnation executed upon them, and by retaliating against those judges and prosecutors that ordered this condemnation. Both means first require the organization of a libertarian society.

Creating courts

The word court has its etymological roots in groups of armed men that surrounded lords and nobles in medieval times, and were thus present in the court of their homes. Seeking justice from the court meant convincing these armed men, under the command of the lord, to act against the persons guilty of an injustice. Over time the process became centralized, as did the armed men who dealt out this justice. The fundamentals of the system did not change. Any group of armed men who are in the business of providing justice will hold court, formally or informally. To create a court of justice, therefore, involves nothing more than the organization of a group of armed men around someone with correct judgement. This small group of armed men is what we call a libertarian society. The majority of the population is not considered part of the society, only those ready to use arms against violators of justice.

Arming a libertarian society

Weapons are determined by the objective they intend to achieve. They are not technological by nature, but tactical. The war in Afghanistan, for example, is fought with machine guns, artillery and makeshift trenches in outposts, the same technologies in use during WWI. The reason no additional technologies are being brought to the fight is that the technologies applicable to such objectives have already been perfected a century ago, and the objectives being pursued are exactly the same.

It is customary for many libertarians to be proponents of personal firearms, but these firearms are a weapon only in a very limited tactical range. They can be used to injure or stop a single attacker, such as a robber, but are utterly ineffective against the better armed, better armored and better organized state agents. (As we have seen in Iraq, the most common weapon deployed against the U.S. military was the remote-controlled explosive. Firearms were considered worse than useless.) Thus, in order to create an effective libertarian society capable of using force against the state, there must be an intelligent, creative attempt to develop arms designed specifically to injure or disrupt the operations of the state. Because, under the Westphalian system, all states have made war on each other so as to capture each other whole, the weapons that have been created and perfected over the last centuries are irrelevant to a conflict intended to neutralize or cripple a state. New guerrilla groups have, however, experimented with new weapons against which the state is extremely vulnerable.

The hacker group Anonymous holds court in an IRC chat channel. When a case is brought up to launch an attack, the group deploys its arsenal of weapons, infiltration of computer systems, against the guilty party. Because they are not confident in the security of their computer systems, because they do not know how to retaliate against the hacker group due to its hidden nature, and because they value the integrity and use of their computer systems, organizations such as the HBGary security group will make appearances in their court to plead for truce. It is with such creative use of force that the state can be made to negotiate.

Aggressive stance and defensive stance

An effective court must fulfill two functions in order to create law within its jurisdiction. It must successfully defend from retribution those who are falsely accused, and it must extract justice in favor of victims from those who are truly guilty.

It is a rather simple matter to perform these activities against petty criminals, thieves, robbers, and even murderers. Any minimally organized group of people can bring them to justice, and any minimally organized group of people can defend an innocent person from a single accuser. The truly difficult matter is providing justice against the crimes of state agents.

The state, in order for its legislation to have force, must punish those citizens and sub-citizens who transgress legislation with taxation and imprisonment. While it is very difficult to bring wealth out of the reach the state, it is nevertheless possible to bring people out of the reach of the state. People can be hidden and smuggled around the globe in a network of safe houses, much as existed during the first American republic’s underground railroad. Many victims of state repression against drug use could thus be hidden and shielded from imprisonment, provided new identities, and then continue living their lives normally. If successful, such a defensive stance would make the state’s drug repression completely moot, and being unable to obtain any convictions for their arrests, state agents would cease pursuing drug users.

A virtual fortress solves the issue of the most violent use of state power, total imprisonment, but most of the state’s abuse of power is in the broader and shallower range of extracting fines and taxes, as well as random physical abuse. Because of the enormous resources and organization of the state, providing justice against the state requires waging a low-intensity covert war against the agents who choose to exercise the power granted by the state to commit crimes against persons and property. This retaliation is an aggressive stance, a focused attack on the agents specifically abusing the power granted to them, leaving alone those agents who choose to act within the boundaries of the law. Once the incentive has been established not to abuse the state’s power, the state’s legislation becomes irrelevant, and only the good judgement of state agents makes force of law, in interaction with all concurrent non-state courts. This means, de facto, that a pluriarchy has been established.

The light of public opinion

Because 21st century warfare relies on remaining hidden (covered), it is primordial for any libertarian society to keep public opinion on its side against the state, thus to make sure that every common citizen has the incentive to collaborate information to the libertarian courts and to conceal information to state agents. This means that any ruling applied by a libertarian society must be just in the eyes of the majority of the public. More specifically, it means that all forceful actions against state agents must be proportional to the force employed and abused by those agents. For example, taxation can only be retaliated against with seizure of wealth, while imprisonment can be retaliated with abduction. The end result is the incentive for state agents to undo their abuse of power in order to recover their property, and to cease attempting to abuse power any longer.

Killing state agents must be strictly avoided, as it would very rapidly create a state of civil war. In addition, when someone is killed there remains nothing to negotiate with, and the objective of a revolution is to bring the state to negotiate an agreement to allow multiple centers of justice within its domain (a pluriarchy). The killing of state agents must be held to the same standard of justice as the one employed for murderers – the only justification for killing them is knowing that they intend to kill again in the future and they cannot be stopped any otherwise.

The constitution of libertarian societies

No attempt to restore freedom can succeed without first constituting an organized society. The primary obstacle to this is largely economic – producing justice requires an expense of resources, and someone must pay for this expense. Because humanity is made of wildly different groups with different assets, resources, purposes and causes, a libertarian society can be organized only on one of two forms: a division of labor where a single anarcho-capitalist provides protection for all paying members in proportion to the amount paid, or a mutualist cooperative where all members have similar interests.

The revolution begins with no capital and no reputation, thus it cannot be organized along the standard anarcho-capitalist system of rights-insurers selling protection against crime. Instead it can be organized along cooperative-mutualist lines, where individuals with the same common interests organize as independent courts and begin defending their own interests against the state, forming common fronts with other cells whenever interests between groups align. Within the pluriarchy of such mutualist societies, the anarcho-capitalist system can be established to produce ordinary security against petty criminality. Against an existential threat such as the state, only kinship and common cause can drive individuals to band together and fight.

The different “estates” of traditional republics not only segregated the different social classes in their own centers of power, it also gave them all a single centralized voice (an assembly) in order to turn their will into effective, organized force. It was for this reason that 19th century political intrigue is filled with instances of electoral chambers being assembled or dispersed as power was wielded or coups unfolded. It was only while all in communication with one another that smaller social groups, such as the commons or the nobility, could check the power of the larger groups, such as the monarchy or the army. Fortunately today communication is globalized and instantaneous, hence maintaining an organized society is effortless. What matters is that the interests of this society are perfectly aligned between its members, thus ensuring that no member hesitates to come to the aid of another. (This is largely the society depicted by Neal Stephenson in The Diamond Age.)

The organization of a broad “libertarian party” is therefore twice counter-productive; not only does it pursue an objective of electoral conquest within a system designed to preserve the power of another society, it attempts to align social groups with wildly different interests behind this goal, with the ultimate result that divisive internal politics keeps the movement from achieving anything.

The liberation of capital

With its monopoly challenged and collapsed, the state nevertheless remains in possession of enormous capital assets. These capital assets must be brought into the division of labor under the ownership of the most productive capitalists. Since the libertarian society has established itself as a legitimate judge, it can rule in disputes between the people and the state. It becomes therefore possible to declare taxpayers as the owners of state assets, and make buyout offers for capital directly to these taxpayers, ignoring the state agents entirely. (For example, a group of investors could offer New York taxpayers 100$ per share of New York City, and the mayor and governor, being merely employees of the taxpayers, would have no say in the matter.) It is also likely that the state will collapse into bankruptcy, as the weight of debt and unfunded liabilities creates a payments crisis and the different creditors of these liabilities attempt to use force on the state to collect what they are owed. In such an event the libertarian courts would be the only judge left to arbitrate the bankruptcy, and may act to ensure that a fair liquidation of the state takes place, with the creditors each receiving their fair share of the liquidation value of the state.

Most people are employees of capitalist enterprise or bureaucratic organizations of other types, and cannot separate themselves from this employment without risking their lives. The process of liberation must therefore focus on liberating the capitalists and entrepreneurs from the burdens of the state’s regulations. The first and easiest step is the creation of a new gold currency and sovereign gold bank. With no legal tender laws enforceable, the economy will be restructured based on hard money and long-term credit. All individuals will benefit from this restructuring regardless of whether or not they are members of the libertarian society.

Through all this, it is very likely that the state will continue to perform its traditional activities, or that these activities will be spun-off into new, autonomous organizations. Because it preserves all the functions considered critical to modern civilization, the strategy of a libertarian revolution to pluriarchy is the most likely to succeed and find support amongst the population, and the most likely to create a future world worth imagining, creating and fighting for.

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