Bastiat's favorite movie

In one of the most unexpected and startlingly simple (and therefore brilliant) analogies ever offered to the movement, Lew Rockwell helps libertarians see the unseen:

“We Need an Angel Like Clarence”

Bastiat’s favorite movie

In one of the most unexpected and startlingly simple (and therefore brilliant) analogies ever offered to the movement, Lew Rockwell helps libertarians see the unseen:

“We Need an Angel Like Clarence”

an endless and arid dispute over semantics

“You’re not really an anarchist!”

How boring.

But it does happen.

I like Bryan Caplan’s reply:

Let us designate anarchism1 anarchism as you define it. Let us desiginate anarchism2 anarchism as I and the American Heritage College Dictionary define it. This is a FAQ about anarchism2.

Here is Murray Rothbard’s rather longer reply from “Society without a State,” today’s daily article at, originally published in The Libertarian Forum, volume 7.1, January 1975 (available from in PDF):

In attempting to outline how a “society without a state” — that is, an anarchist society — might function successfully, I would first like to defuse two common but mistaken criticisms of this approach. First, is the argument that in providing for such defense of or protection services as courts, police, or even law itself, I am simply smuggling the state back into society in another form, and that therefore the system I am both analyzing and advocating is not “really” anarchism. This sort of criticism can only involve us in an endless and arid dispute over semantics. Let me say from the beginning that I define the state as that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area. An institution not possessing either of these properties is not and cannot be, in accordance with my definition, a state. On the other hand, I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of an individual. Anarchists oppose the state because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights.

Nor is our definition of the state arbitrary, for these two characteristics have been possessed by what is generally acknowledged to be states throughout recorded history. The state, by its use of physical coercion, has arrogated to itself a compulsory monopoly of defense services over its territorial jurisdiction. But it is certainly conceptually possible for such services to be supplied by private, non-state institutions, and indeed such services have historically been supplied by other organizations than the state. To be opposed to the state is then not necessarily to be opposed to services that have often been linked with it; to be opposed to the state does not necessarily imply that we must be opposed to police protection, courts, arbitration, the minting of money, postal service, or roads and highways. Some anarchists have indeed been opposed to police and to all physical coercion in defense of person and property, but this is not inherent in and is fundamentally irrelevant to the anarchist position, which is precisely marked by opposition to all physical coercion invasive of, or aggressing against, person and property.

And a brief note on the other sometimes-disputed term:

Anyone who is still unhappy with this use of the term “coercion” can simply eliminate the word from this discussion and substitute for it “physical violence or the threat thereof,” with the only loss being in literary style rather than in the substance of the argument. What anarchism proposes to do, then, is to abolish the state, that is, to abolish the regularized institution of aggressive coercion.

It’s amazing to me that we somehow never got around to putting up this brief manifesto before today. It’s Rothbard’s great, short introduction to market anarchism. The best thing about it is that it opens by addressing and debunking all the standard confusions and non sequiturs that immediately come up as soon as we speak the dreaded A-word.

Liberty Loves Justice

I was searching for an image of Blind Justice and found this funny picture instead:
If anyone knows its origin, please let me know.

honeymoon cash

“But the movie isn’t about fractional reserve banking, any more than it’s about angels getting their wings. It’s about the positive, cumulative, but unseen benefits to many people of individual acts of charity and honesty. It’s also about capitalism: home ownership, small businesses, and sacrificial hard work. That’s why immigrants should be required to take a test on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ It wouldn’t hurt to have political candidates take the test, either. I suspect that most of them would flunk.”

“‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!'”

by Gary North

reclaiming Christmas

“Those who call for ‘putting Christ back in Christmas’ are only confessing their profound historical ignorance….”

Let’s put the X back in Xmas!


Looking for a good image to go with my praise of Gary North’s recent piece on Scrooge, I looked through the holiday images I’ve used in my blog over the past couple of years.

My favorite by far is Lysanta.

I think it goes particularly well with “Anarcho Claus is Coming to Town” by Samuel Edward Konkin III.

Initiate force?
You better not try.
You better not steal;
I’m telling you why.
Anarcho Claus is coming to town.

He’s taking a risk,
Flying in low,
Smuggling in toys
So the statists won’t know.
Anarcho Claus is coming to town.

He sees when you are trying
To trade what’s good for you
For all that which you really want
So he’ll run it in for you.

So…Be closing your door,
But not very tight,
The market will clear
Late Christmas night.
Anarcho Claus is coming to town.

My wife and I sang this to our baby boy the other night.

(Thanks to Wally Conger for posting the lyrics last Christmas!)

dining with Scrooge

Our whole culture gets plenty of Scrooge this time of year.

I think libertarians, anxious to defend the Industrial Revolution and the prosperity engine of capitalism more generally, drink in a lot more Scrooge even than the already supersaturated norm.

But Gary North has written such a wonderful piece on Dickens and Scrooge, such a rich and dimensional treatment of the historical background — both of book and author — of the issues Dickens was and wasn’t aware of, and even why Scrooge really did need redemption, contrary to many of his libertarian defenders … I just have to recommend it.

My favorite of the many libertarian pieces on Scrooge, which may sound like damnation by faint praise, but it’s actually hearty praise:

The Shaffer Dictionary

I try to keep track of my own and others’ definitions of the most critical words used in discussing political philosophy. Here’s something Butler Shaffer wrote when I was only 3 years old:

The following definitions comprise a part of my view of reality, in all its humorous — and often frustrating — manner.

an institution of war, theft, murder, rape and predation, . . . the absence of which, it is said, would lead to disorder.

a practice employed by governments in looting all of its citizens in order to obtain the necessary funds to chase down and punish looters.

the price men are forced to pay in order to keep peace among the politicians.

Shaffer’s more recent writings are here.

lying to the state

For the most part, embracing ethical libertarianism meant that my actions were far more restricted. For instance, I had previously had no problem in principle with the justice of punching someone in the face for mere verbal abuse. The concept of coercion — and specifically, the emphasis on the initiatory nature of coercion — narrowed the field of ethically legitimate options.

There is one thing, however, (and some might see it as quite a major thing) that I had previously considered unethical which became quite straightforwardly legitimate when submitted to the Do-Not-Initiate-Force-Or-Fraud Test.

I refer to the question of lying to the police — or to state operatives in general.

Previously, I had considered it wrong to lie. Does that mean I would have told the Nazi soldiers where exactly I had hidden the Jewish family in my annex?


First of all, I distinguished candor and honesty. My personal restriction against lying was very technically about the truth content of my statements, and not about any positive obligation to give people all the information they want. Secondly, it was clear to me that the hypothetical Nazi soldiers didn’t count, although I’m not sure I could have given a coherent explanation why.

The Non-Aggression Principle is demanding. It leads inexorably to philosophical anarchism, after all, if you’re willing to follow the logic to its … logical conclusion. But it also makes clear that state agents are automatically aggressors, and just as it is ethically legitimate to defend oneself against force by using force against the aggressor, just as it is potentially legitimate even to seek retribution for the initiation of rights-violations, so too is it ethically righteous to lie to thugs and liars. Hitting back is not the same thing as hitting first, no matter how many TV heroes tell you it makes you “no better than them!” (But notice that these action-show moralists are never pacifists: they want you to let the police take care of it. Talk about propaganda for a monopoly!)

Here’s how Dom Armentano put it:

In my view the victim has absolutely no moral duty to be truthful to anyone hell-bent on harming him or stealing his property, especially if the truth would make the crime even more likely. Simply put, criminals forfeit their right to truth when they steadfastly refuse to respect the sanctity of life and private property. Therefore it would be entirely appropriate, I dare say mandatory, for a potential victim to fib or lie (about the nearness of the police, for example) if the fib could prevent the robbery or help catch the criminal. And since 99% of politics concerns the suppression of liberty and the forceful redistribution (theft) of property, I would argue that the same fib loophole applies there — and with a vengeance.

And here’s Rothbard on the same point:

If the State, then, is a vast engine of institutionalized crime and aggression, the “organization of the political means” to wealth, then this means that the State is a criminal organization, and that therefore its moral status is radically different from any of the just property-owners that we have been discussing in this volume. And this means that the moral status of contracts with the State, promises made to it and by it, differs radically as well. It means, for example, that no one is morally required to obey the State (except insofar as the State simply affirms the right of just private property against aggression). For, as a criminal organization with all of its income and assets derived from the crime of taxation, the state cannot possess any just property. This means that it cannot be unjust or immoral to fail to pay taxes to the State (since it cannot be unjust to break contracts with criminals).