Security in a Libertarian Society

I've been meaning to publish this one for months now but have literally never bothered to sit down and hammer it out properly. Well, given that this weekend is all about setting aside some time to do things that must be done, here goes.

The Libertarian Dilemma

Whenever we libertarians go off on one of our long-winded rambles about voluntary association and peaceful coexistence, people listening to us often try to shut us up with sentiments along the lines of, "that would never work in real life", or,"that sounds great in theory but it could never happen in practice". This is immensely irritating to us, especially when guys like D.J. Aurini (who as far as I can tell actually agrees with a lot of libertarian thinking) post things like this and then believe that they've won the argument. The most infuriating mind-hack, by far, is the one that goes along the lines of, "You want a society without government? Great! Go live in Mogadishu!". Never mind that each one of these so-called hacks is easily "refudiated" (to borrow an amusing Palinism).

One such troll argument against a libertarian society naturally concerns security and policing. Most Americans don't have to think twice about living in peace with their neighbours, and don't generally worry too much about being burgled or having their houses broken into by hostile assailants. And most Americans still believe, for whatever reason, that the police are a positive force in their society. Libertarians who wish to build a society on the principles of voluntary association and non-aggression must, in good conscience, answer a very simple question: how can private security possibly replace publicly paid police?

If we fail to answer this question properly, we are then vulnerable to a number of other (mostly very stupid) liberal arguments about the need for taxation to fund public services such as police and firefighters. And this leaves us with a huge credibility problem. After all, taxation (of income, at least) is anathema to libertarians. We believe unequivocally that taxation is theft. It is the unconscionable use of potentially lethal force against those who have done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

Libertarians and the Police State

Before looking into the ways in which a libertarian society would provide security in theory and then in practice, it's worth asking whether the society we currently live in, represented by an increasing police presence and the corresponding deep decline in civil liberties, is really worth the price we're paying for it.

If you live in the American Northeast, you know full well that police departments everywhere are feeling a major monetary crunch. State governments in this hyper-liberal, and therefore not particularly economically literate, part of the country are facing major budget shortfalls due to decades of mindless tax-and-spend economics. They make up for it, naturally, by squeezing citizens, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. That means that they'll come after you for the most trivial of traffic violations, with speed cameras at stupid locations, and will harass you continually by pretending that you are constantly under suspicion. As this country moves ever closer toward a totalitarian police state, the pervasive influence of the police will make itself ever more heavily felt.

And let's not forget that police tend to become positively dangerous towards the people that they're supposed to be protecting. Fact is, you are much more likely to be killed by a supposed "servant of the public" than by those great American bogeymen, the terrorists (!!!) that you're supposed to be fighting over there so that they don't end up over here, or some such arrant nonsense.

A Libertarian Alternative

The libertarian solution to these problems is really very simple: set people free to defend themselves as they see fit. The common (and frankly hysterical) complaint from advocates of government control is and has always been that if you let people defend themselves, you'll end up with blood on the streets because people can't be trusted to look after themselves. There are several things very wrong with this argument, which I'll examine in turn.

What most proponents of government-backed violence don't understand is that most ordinary people are perfectly capable of figuring out a "proportional response" to aggression on their own. A good example came from one of my Krav Maga classes recently, in which the instructor (a black belt who looks a bit like a hippie but could beat the crap out of me with just one hand) pointed out that if someone comes up to you and taps you on the shoulder slightly aggressively, you don't pluck his eye out; but if he comes after you with a broken bottle, tries to choke you, or pushes you hard to the rear, you do whatever it takes to stop him.

It is worth noting here that libertarian solutions to self-defence really only work in societies that are racially homogeneous and where people have something of a vested interest in maintaining civilisation. Half-savage societies, like the kind you find so common in Africa and parts of South America, simply cannot maintain civilisation because of a concept called time preference, which is absolutely critical to maintaining order and civility. Only when you have a largely homogeneous people, united by common values and ideals, can you maintain a free and orderly society in which people protect those like them because it is the right thing to do.

When this happens in real life, the comparison between the often inept and haphazard efforts of the police, and the highly effective, much lower cost efforts of private citizens, is often startling:
Even kids know that nobody messes with bikers. Bikers look big, and strong, and mean, both in real life and in how they are portrayed on television and in films. They are easy riders, sons of anarchy, not afraid of anything. And they take care of their own. 
A child who has been abused by someone bigger and stronger knows too well what it feels like to be small and vulnerable. BACA shifts that balance by putting even bigger and stronger people - and more of them - on the child's side. 
And if those even-bigger and stronger people are scary-looking too, perhaps with flaming-skull tattoos, chains on their belts and scars of questionable origin, so much the better. 
"The biker image is what makes this work," says Rembrandt, 54, who is tall and wiry strong. "Golfers against child abuse does not have the same feel. The pink alligator shirt and golf shoes standing in the driveway doesn't do the same thing." 
(No offense to golfers. Some bikers golf, too.) 
What Rembrandt knows is that a biker's power and intimidating image can even the playing field for a little kid who has been hurt. If the man who hurt this little girl calls or drives by, or even if she is just scared, another nightmare, the bikers will ride over and stand guard all night. 
If she is afraid to go to school, they will take her and watch until she's safely inside.
(h/t Vox)

When you have this combination of attributes- a homogeneous, non-immigrant society, a common set of beliefs, high time preferences, and the willingness to protect those like yourself- then you have the right environment for a truly libertarian solution to crime, theft, and abuse. A society that is armed to the teeth and unafraid of protecting itself against marauders is almost always vastly more peaceful and better organised and safer than any government-run alternative.

This is something that left-liberals, with their instinctive desire for control and their badly underdeveloped amygdalae, will never understand, because it flies in the face of everything that they have convinced themselves is true. Yet it is true, and we have over 5,000 years worth of evidence telling us that ultimately, the only guarantor of your freedom and security is you.

When an entire society operates on that principle, the result is stability and safety- provided that the society is largely homogeneous and largely united by common beliefs. When a society instead cedes that responsibility to government, instability and even chaos will ensue.


  1. Your discussion of time preference veers very close to the truth of what forms the basis of a productive society. However you must admit that that is in no way part of mainstream libertarian thought, or, if it is, forms a clear contradiction with the mainstream libertarian advocation of open borders.
    If anything, libertarians are more beholden to the ideal of open borders than to the realisation of the ramifications of differing time preference capabilities in different populations. That is one reason why many people say that libertarianism is not a viable model, even though they share and admire many other (even most) libertarian ideals.

    1. Correct. When it comes to open borders, immigration, and free trade, I am one of the very few libertarians that breaks with the orthodoxy on all of those subjects. I used to think very much in line with the mainstream, until Vox Day's arguments against both free trade and immigration convinced me otherwise.

      There is no shame in admitting that the facts on the ground plainly contradict the elegant theories of libertarian orthodoxy. Too many libertarians make the mistake of thinking that all men truly are created equal, and that it is impossible to objectively measure one race's propensity for civilised behaviour against another's. This is of course untrue. The reality is that Western Europeans and their various descendants have done the hard work necessary to become civilised and free over the course of nearly 2,000 years, while Africans plainly have a very long way to go.

      There will be a post coming up related to these subjects, so if this interests you, stay tuned.


Post a Comment

NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. Anonymous comments will be deleted.

Popular Posts