Peace Requires Anarchy

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Twelve Years a Slave | Solomon Northup

It is difficult to imagine how someone could regret reading this book.

Solomon Northup - Twelve Years a SlaveHere are a few select quotes from Twelve Years a Slave (1853) by Solomon Northup (b. 1808), who was kidnapped in 1841 and brought into slavery for twelve years prior to his legal liberation in 1853.

His psychologically influenced opinion of the character of one of masters:

“But I was sometime his slave, and had an opportunity of learning well his character and disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford. The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery. He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light. Brought up under other circumstances and influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different. Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking uprightly, according to the light of his understanding, and fortunate was the slave who came to his possession. Were all men such as he, Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness.” [p. 41]

A defense of his view by appealing to the psychological influences* affecting his master:

“It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives. He cannot withstand the influence of habit and associations that surround him. Taught from earliest childhood, by all that he sees and hears, that the rod is for the slave’s back, he will not be apt to change his opinions in maturer years.” [p. 99]

Economically efficient slavery:

“It is a fact I have more than once observed, that those who treated their slaves most leniently, were rewarded by the greatest amount of labor.” [p. 45]

No stealing from slaves on Sundays:

“It is the custom in Louisiana, as I presume it is in other slave States, to allow the slave to retain whatever compensation he may obtain for services performed on Sundays.” [p. 94]

It is noteworthy that this is not the case today, since people are forced to give income taxes to governments for money they earn on Sundays.


* Note that I link to Michael Huemer’s presentation The Psychology of Authority (also see Chapter 6 of his book The Problem of Political Authority for a more in-depth examination of the subject) twice intentionally, since the psychological factors Huemer describes that lead people to believe that governments have legitimate political authority are split in the case of slavery, such that some of those factors contribute to a slaveholder’s support of slavery (e.g. social proof, status quo bias, and political aesthetics), while others contribute to Solomon’s charitable view of the moral character of his master (e.g. Stockholm Syndrome and tendency to obey authority figures (see Milgram experiments) combined with cognitive dissonance).


I also highly recommend Frederick Douglass’ fantastic Narrative of the Life of Frederic Douglass, An American Slave. Both books are very emotional and captivating true stories. Additionally, I appreciate the valuable information I gained from them about history, psychology, and justice.


The Machinery of Freedom | David D. Friedman

I just read The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.

Perhaps the most important part of the book is Part III: Anarchy is Not Chaos (pages 58-84). In this section of the book Friedman illustrates and defends his system of anarcho-capitalism. He discusses private police, private courts, private law, and private national defense. He gives his reasons for supporting anarchy over limited government and explains how we might get to anarchy from our present society.

One important thing to point out is that in the book Friedman argues for libertarian positions from a utilitarian or consequentialist perspective, rather than from libertarian principle. He explains why he does this:

[O]ne reason to base my arguments on consequences rather than justice is that people have widely varying ideas about what is just but generally agree that making people happy and prosperous is a good thing. If I argue against heroin laws on the grounds that they violate the addicts’ rights, I will convince only other libertarians. If I argue that drug laws, by making drugs enormously more expensive, are the chief cause of drug-related crime, and that the poor quality control typical of an illegal market is the main source of drug-related deaths, I may convince even people who do not believe that drug addicts have rights.

A second reason to use practical rather than ethical arguments is that I know a great deal more about what works than about what is just. This is in part a matter of specialization; I have spent more time studying economics than moral philosophy. But I do not think that is all it is. One reason I have spent more time studying economics is that I think more is known about the consequences of institutions than about what is or is not just—that economics is a much better developed science than moral philosophy. [page 93]

As much as I would love to now write down my thoughts on many of the interesting things he said in the book, I would love to keep reading even more (Gerard Casey’s Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State is next) (UPDATE: Here is my post on Casey’s book). Perhaps I will come back to this at some point in the future.

Before I get going, however, let me mention one of Friedman’s statements that I added to the Quotes page:

Why don’t we have libertarian anarchy? Why does government exist? The answer implicit in previous chapters is that government as a whole exists because most people believe it is necessary. [page 83]

And let me also mention one of his honorably honest, yet disappointing statements that I did not add to the Quotes page. Note that I am placing the above quote and the following quote together intentionally because they are very related:

What will I do if, when all other functions of our government have been abolished, I conclude that there is no effective way to defend against aggressive foreign governments save by national defense financed by taxes—financed, in other words, by money taken by force from the taxpayers?

In such a situation I would not try to abolish that last vestige of government. I do not like paying taxes, but I would rather pay them to Washington than to Moscow—the rates are lower. I would still regard the government as a criminal organization, but one which was, by a freak of fate, temporarily useful. [page 75]

In short, Friedman realizes most people support unjust government actions because they erroneously believe that those actions are necessary, yet he says that he would support unjust governments as well if he believed they were necessary.

How smart does he think he is? Isn’t it possible that he could be mistaken as well? Could he really be comfortable supporting certain evils in the name of necessity despite knowing that they may not actually be necessary? Apparently so. I think Rothbard was right: He doesn’t Hate the State.

To be fair to Friedman, he wrote The Machinery of Freedom a long time ago (“Most of this book was written between 1967 and 1973.” – page 3) and may quite possibly have a different view today.

Also, to be fair to 1970 Friedman, he’s almost certainly not nearly as bad in this regard as most of the people who support the state as a necessary evil. Specifically, I am sure that he would be far more careful in his analysis of the necessity of the state than the vast majority of other people. While most others would simply assume that the state is necessary, Friedman would only take such a position after putting a substantial amount of careful thought into the question. I have to give him credit for that.

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Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”

I recently finished reading Henry Hazlitt’s popular 1946 book Economics in One Lesson.

The book is based on Frederic Bastiat’s famous 1850 essay What Is Seen And What Is Unseen, also translated as That Which Is Seen And That Which Is Not Seen. Bastiat’s essay (which I read a few months ago and commented on in a blog post) and Hazlitt’s book both examine the effects of various government interventions in the economy. Specifically, both authors show that for every intended, positive, seen effect that a government policy has, there is almost always an unintended, detrimental, unseen effect that inevitably comes along with it. Further, both authors come to the conclusion that when one takes all off these effects into account, one can see that the government economic policies considered almost always harm the economy as a whole.

To be brief with this blog post I’ll just say that Bastiat’s essay is shorter and, in my opinion, more educational and enjoyable than Hazlitt’s book. (I am sure that there are people who would disagree, but it is not my objective here to prove them wrong. I am just stating my view for anyone who might be interested.) Thus, if you are only going to read one of the two works I recommend that you do not read Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” and do read Bastiat’s classic essay “That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Not Seen” instead.

While you are at it I also recommend Frederic Bastiat’s 1850 essay The Law, which I also thought was a very good read.

Now I will comment on Hazlitt’s political views that he expressed in “Economics in One Lesson” by comparing them to the political views Bastiat expressed in “The Law.” Most of Hazlitt’s book consisted of the economic critiques of government policies mentioned previously. He did not make any libertarian rights-based arguments against these policies that I recall, but instead argued against them purely by examining their economic effects on various groups of people. At multiple points throughout the book, however, Hazlitt paused from his critiques to make it clear to his audience that he was not opposed to all government action:

A certain amount of public spending is necessary to perform essential government functions. A certain amount of public works—of streets and roads and bridges and tunnels, of armories and navy yards, of buildings to house legislatures, police, and fire departments—is necessary to supply essential public services. With such public works, necessary for their own sake, and defended on that ground alone, I am not here concerned. I am here concerned with public works considered as a means of “providing employment” or of adding wealth to the community that it would not otherwise have had.

While both Bastiat and Hazlitt are regarded as classical liberals, Bastiat, unlike Hazlitt, did not explicitly express his support of a limited coercive government in the manner that Hazlitt did above, at least not in either of his two essays that I read. On the contrary, Bastiat’s political views seemed to be entirely anarchical except for the fact that he explicitly supported something which he called a “government.” Specifically, Bastiat expressed his support of a “government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice.”

In my blog post on Bastiat’s “The Law” I replied to his statement about his notion of a “just government.” I argued that what Bastiat meant by a “government” is not something that we would consider a “government” by today’s definition. I argued that if Bastiat was indeed using the term “government” to refer to a voluntarily-funded organization, as opposed to an organization that coercively imposes taxes on people, then perhaps despite his explicit support of “government,” we could still consider him an anarchist. The term “philosophical anarchist” may be a more appropriate term to describe Bastiat to distinguish him from other theorists, such as Gustave de Molinari, who described how market mechanisms could provide “governmental” services in a free, anarchical, market society.

Hazlitt’s words quoted above make it clear that he was not an anarchist. His words make it clear that the government he supported was not the possibly “voluntary government” that Bastiat may have supported, but rather was a coercive monopolistic government that imposes involuntary taxes on people much like the many governments that rule people across the globe today.

To be fair to Henry Hazlitt and his book, though, he did not attempt to defend his views in support of government in “Economics in One Lesson,” but rather rightly said that such a discussion was beyond the scope of the book. I thus can’t criticize his book on the grounds that he did not defend his claim that a certain amount of public spending is “necessary.”

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Frederic Bastiat’s “What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen”

Despite knowing that Frederic Bastiat was not an anarchist [UPDATE: Bastiat may actually have been an anarchist], there was a point in his 1850 essay What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen at which I was convinced for a moment that he was about to espouse the anarchist position.

Bastiat wrote:

It is not within the province of this essay to evaluate the intrinsic worth of the public expenditures devoted to Algeria.

But I cannot refrain from making one general observation. It is that a presumption of economic benefit is never appropriate for expenditures made by way of taxation. Why? Here is the reason.

In the first place, justice always suffers from it somewhat. Since James Goodfellow has sweated to earn his hundred-sou piece with some satisfaction in view, he is irritated, to say the least, that the tax intervenes to take this satisfaction away from him and give it to someone else. Now, certainly it is up to those who levy the tax to give some good reasons for it. We have seen that the state gives a detestable reason when it says: “With these hundred sous I am going to put some men to work,” for James Goodfellow (as soon as he has seen the light) will not fail to respond: “Good Lord! With a hundred sous I could have put them to work myself.”

Once this argument on the part of the state has been disposed of, the others present themselves in all their nakedness, and the debate between the public treasury and poor James is very much simplified. If the state says to him: “I shall take a hundred sous from you to pay the policemen who relieve you of the necessity for guarding your own security, to pave the street you traverse every day, to pay the magistrate who sees to it that your property and your liberty are respected, to feed the soldier who defends our frontiers,” James Goodfellow will pay without saying a word, or I am greatly mistaken.

I thought that Bastiat was going to say that James Goodfellow would be irritated yet again and would say that he should be allowed to retain his right to choose which police, security, road, property protection, and soldier services he wishes to purchase and which he wishes not to purchase.

I was thus expecting a parallelism like this:

If the state says to him: “I shall take a hundred sous from you to pay the policemen who relieve you of the necessity for guarding your own security, to pave the street you traverse every day, to pay the magistrate who sees to it that your property and your liberty are respected, to feed the soldier who defends our frontiers,” James Goodfellow would not fail to respond: “Good Lord! With a hundred sous I could hire them for their services myself.”

Bastiat also could have mentioned the possibility that James Goodfellow may think that an army of soldiers is not needed to defend his property and thus may not not want to hire any such soldiers. Bastiat breezed over this possibility when he wrote, “James Goodfellow will pay without saying a word, or I am greatly mistaken.”

Perhaps some James Goodfellows would pay without a word, but certainly not all, so Bastiat is indeed mistaken in some sense. Further, I do not think that this was an unimportant point to just not mention. Rather, it is an important point because it raises questions about the nature of the government that Bastiat supports.

How would the government respond to such a person’s refusal to pay for the soldiers or police? Would the government force James Goodfellow to pay? In other words, is the government coercively taxing James Goodfellow to pay for these police and soldiers? If this is the case, then Bastiat’s limited government is not justified in its actions. Or is the government simply asking James Goodfellow if he would like to voluntarily purchase its police protection services? Perhaps the government would reply, “Okay, James Goodfellow. If you do not wish to purchase our police protection services then you do not have to.” If this is the case, then, as I argued in my post on Bastiat’s essay “The Law,” such a “government” would actually not be a government at all.

Despite a few details like this one that I disagreed with, I thought What Is Seen And What Is Not Seen was a very good essay. I recommend it to anyone interested in the subject as it is both entertaining and educational.