This article has been making the rounds in libertarian circles for the last few days. In it Salon author Michael Lind believes he has finally found the argument that discredits libertarianism in its entirety. His argument is that the complete lack of libertarian countries demonstrates that libertarianism can’t succeed:
Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?
It’s not as though there were a shortage of countries to experiment with libertarianism. There are 193 sovereign state members of the United Nations—195, if you count the Vatican and Palestine, which have been granted observer status by the world organization. If libertarianism was a good idea, wouldn’t at least one country have tried it? Wouldn’t there be at least one country, out of nearly two hundred, with minimal government, free trade, open borders, decriminalized drugs, no welfare state and no public education system?
Before I continue I should note that Mr. Lind has some criteria that determine whether or not a country qualifies as a real country:
But this isn’t an adequate response. Libertarian theorists have the luxury of mixing and matching policies to create an imaginary utopia. A real country must function simultaneously in different realms—defense and the economy, law enforcement and some kind of system of support for the poor. Being able to point to one truly libertarian country would provide at least some evidence that libertarianism can work in the real world.
In order to be a real country there must be some kind of entity providing defense, an unspecified amount of interference in the economy, law enforcement, and some system of support for the poor. Based on Mr. Lind’s previous writings and the tone of this article I am lead to believe that he thinks the state should provide those services and therein lies the problem. Based on Mr. Lind’s criteria there can never be a libertarian country because a libertarian country, by definition, wouldn’t have a state providing those services, they would be provided through voluntary means.
With that said it is now time to jump into the meat of my rebuttal. Although libertarianism is often seen as a political philosophy it is more accurately a philosophy regarding human interaction. Most branches of libertarianism build off of the non-aggression principle, which is a principle that simply states initiating aggression is wrong. Theft, rape, and murder are acts of initiated aggression and are therefore seen as wrong under libertarianism whereas self-defense is seen as a response to aggression and is therefore right. The insidious part about libertarianism is that we live it every day without realizing it. Every time you go to a restaurant and decided to buy your food instead of stealing it you are performing a libertarian act. Voluntary interactions are, by definition, libertarian in nature.
States are the opposite of libertarianism, they are entities built on initiating aggression. The state raises wealth through expropriation. Taxes and fines are both examples of theft because the state is giving the people an ultimatum: pay taxes and fines or face kidnapping, detainment, or death. In fact every law declared by the state has the same ultimatum: obey or be enslaved or killed. Something as minor as a parking ticket can lead to your death. Most people scoff at that claim because they’ve never heard of somebody actually being killed. The reason people aren’t killed over parking tickets isn’t because of the state’s benevolence, it’s because most people perform a cost-benefit analysis and decide paying the ticket offers a greater benefit than a standoff with a state thug. However, if you failed to pay a parking ticket you will likely be kidnapped by a cop who will put you in a cage. After spending some time in a cage you’ll likely be brought before a man in a robe who will order you to pay the ticket. If you don’t pay the ticket that robed man will decided to either put you back in a cage or garnish your wages. The latter option may lead you to work underground so you have no visible income for the state to take and then the state will come after you for not paying income tax. Eventually the only option that will be given to you is a cage and if you refuse to go into the cage you will be forced into it. If you refuse to go quietly, that is to say if you defend yourself, you will be killed. That’s how the state works.
Countries, by definition, are entities recognized by other entities. In our world an entity is recognized as a country if it is ruled by a state. This criteria for recognition isn’t surprising since it’s usually other states that decide whether or not another state is a valid country. The reason there are no libertarian countries is because libertarianism is the opposite of statism and in our modern vernacular the word country is synonymous with state.
Libertarian societies have existed and still exist. Medieval Ireland [PDF], medieval Iceland, the American West, and Neutral Moresnet were all historical examples of, what could be properly referred to say, libertarian societies. Today the region referred to as Zomia still exists as a libertarian society. In the case of Zombia many states claim jurisdiction over the area but none have any actual authority over the people living there because those people refuse to bow down. Instead, for the past 2,000 years, they have preferred a voluntary society based on cooperation, ritual, and tradition instead of coercion.
There are no libertarian countries but there are libertarian societies and each and every one of us lives most of our lives in a libertarian manner. Those who live outside of libertarian manners generally end up in a cage, dead, employes as cops, or politicians.