In my previous posts I’ve tried to paint the vision of a future where the technological reality of nuclear conflict will bring us towards a Free Society. Here I try to show that the concept needed for such a society to exist has already been created in the form of the State, here that the coupling the concept of the State with the reality of nuclear escalation will ultimately produce a world run by market-driven law, and here why I think we should have some reason to expect that market-driven law would approach Rothbard’s vision of libertarian law. I will try, in this last post, to address a few objections that I can imagine brewing in most minds.
1.1 Objection no.1 Some readers may object that throughout the last post I never once mentioned the NAP, or what we’d expect the legal framework of a Free Society to be. My reasons for doing so were explained in my very first post, where I tried to show that, should the world really begin to be dominated by market-driven law, this is all we’d need to know as libertarians. The market will sort its own law.
2.1 Objection no.2 A related objection may be that pretending to show how the future will bring us a Free Society without discussing ideas held by the public is ludicrous. Don’t we know our Mises? Don’t we know that without the proper ideological shift in at least a large minority of the public, a Free Society can never be established?
2.2 I will answer that, although I know my Mises, I also know my Hayek: the ideas held by the public (not the individual, though) are themselves a function of cultural evolution and I believe that the results of that process can be heavily influenced by the environment. In trying to show that the future could well be a fertile environment for libertarian ideas, in my own way I’m saying that we can expect the general population to hold libertarian ideas, or that those holding such ideas would prosper far more in the world I imagine.
2.3 Is it, after all, a coincidence that libertarianism was invigorated when the State System made its appearance? Or that it almost disappeared between the World Wars when the environment was all but welcoming, and has made a comeback since, now that the risk of a single global government is remote?
2.4 Another answer would be that libertarian norms cannot be instilled in a short time in a large population previously oblivious to them. It may be all fine and dandy that many libertarians (and I surely count myself in this group) delight in discussing how ‘hard’ legal cases could be settled in a just way (those interested in such discussions should browse that infinite library that the LvMI Community Forums has become), but such discussions may create the illusion that if libertarianism as an ideology could somehow become generally accepted right now, libertarian norms would very soon follow.
2.5 The truth seems rather to be that legal norms need time to evolve, respond to actual cases, interact with the environment and one-another. Will and ideology are not enough to let a whole legal system spring, fully matured, from the heads of a few quick thinkers.
2.6 I have come to see the idea that libertarianism, or any other revolutionary change in our societies, could come about swiftly and with no time to evolve as not credible, and I hope I’ve managed to convince at least a few readers of the same.
3.1 Objection no.3 Another, and yet related, objection might be that a libertarian world coming around without libertarian minds, not ideologically but emotionally speaking, is again unthinkable. At least a few followers of Stephen Molineux would, I imagine, hold that until the day when children are raised in non-coercive ways comes around, nukes can proliferate all they want and we’d still have no Free Society.
3.2 I will let two gentlemen provide my answer here. First, let’s hear Murray Rothbard:
The second criticism I would like to defuse[…] is the common charge that anarchists “assume that all people are good” and that without the state no crime would be committed[…]
In my view, the anarchist society is one which maximizes the tendencies for the good and the cooperative, while it minimizes both the opportunity and the moral legitimacy of the evil and the criminal[…]
[T]he more that people are disposed to be peaceful and not aggress against their neighbors, the more successfully any social system will work, and the fewer resources will need to be devoted to police protection. The anarchist view holds that, given the “nature of man,” given the degree of goodness or badness at any point in time, anarchism will maximize the opportunities for the good and minimize the channels for the bad. The rest depends on the values held by the individual members of society.
M. Rothbard, Society without a State
3.3 And now, let us imagine how Martin van Creveld would reply to the contention that nuclear terror cannot provide peace if most people are as ‘emotionally scared’ as they are nowadays (emphasis added):
[E]xperience indicates that, wherever the weapons in question appeared—even in small numbers, even when their delivery vehicles were primitive, and even when their owners were as mad as Joseph Stalin is said to have been in his latter days—the outcome was peace. Or, if not peace, then stalemate.
M. van Creveld, War in Complex Environments
3.4 If we agree that even sociopaths (or, perhaps, they above all others) have reason to fear their own annihilation, this is all we need to know as far as this theory is concerned. Whether many among the first few generations living freely shall be convinced or merely opportunistic when abiding by just laws is another matter entirely.
4.1 Objection no.4 The theory will appear far too optimistic to those who question its very first step, the only step allegedly going on right now, and which should thus be visible: nuclear proliferation is surely not doing a great job at decentralization.
4.2 Indeed, judging from creation such as the EU, which already encompasses two overt nuclear powers and several virtual ones, or from the informal Pax Americana which encompasses almost the whole world, how can we expect the world to be decentralizing?
4.3 Yet I insist. The Pax Americana is upheld by a combination of a huge, perhaps unique, concentration of conventional military power which cannot fail to impress the non-nuclear third world (and even, as we saw in the last post, a few nuclear but unstable countries) and joint interests with the sliver of truly independent nations. Still, that not all nations can be hectored into any course of action by sheer American will is becoming clearer the sillier American requests are becoming.
4.4 As for the EU, its central tenet, up to now embodied by the famous Four Freedoms, is what we’d expect to see in a world of city-states. Though this organization is nowadays degenerating towards just another Empire, it could still manage to divide libertarian opinions hardly more than a decade ago. Some inertia, especially when coupled with the massive ideological investment in silly memes such as ‘democracy’, ‘multiculturalism’ et al, and the recent past of a continent living under the terror of conventional war, is certainly to be expected.
4.5 If the ease with which the idea of leaving the EU, formerly unthinkable, is nowadays being discussed in the UK is any guide, no nuclear power can ever be kept in such organizations without its own consent.
4.6 Finally, to the degree that the EU is (probably unwittingly) sponsoring separatist movements within its own members by making secession seem far less threatening (notice the developments in Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders and Venice), it is still serving the ends of decentralization.
4.9 All in all, I submit that comparing our world in general, and not specific regions, with its former self of the ’40 and ’50 will be enough to show that the idea that both decentralization and freedoms are gaining ground cannot be ruled out.
5.1 Objection no.5 Others will object that a world living under a Damocles Sword of nuclear war, with continuous conflict between city-states and non-territorial organizations surely does not look like a Free Society. I will retort that I do not expect that situation to last long, this time not due to any technological changes, but due to the adjustment of the general mentality. Once most human contacts are regulated by market-driven (and presumably libertarian) laws, how can we expect this general mentality not to impact the conduct of violence between larger actors?
5.2 The freer individuals become due to the predominance of market-driven law, the less will governments be able to coercively extract from their population. To that degree, the less will non-territorial organizations be able to extract form such governments. Also, the freer trade becomes, the higher will the potential profits to be gained by engaging in activities on the Free Market.
5.3 Put those two trends together, and we can imagine how, in time, both governments and non-territorial criminal syndicates would see their profits dwindle, with more and more of their members and resources moving to the free market. Given enough time, the whole system of the balance of terror would break down, being there no organization left to be blackmailed or threatened by means of weapons of mass destruction.
6.1 Objection no.6 Some libertarians may object that basing our hopes of liberty on such ghastly devices as weapons of mass destruction would be intolerable. Rothbard made his (and, nowadays most of the movement’s) position on nukes clear: such weapons, being incapable of targeting individuals, cannot conceivably be used justly and are therefore illegitimate as a matter of principle.
6.2 Though I find quite a few issues with that treatment, even on libertarian grounds, my reply will be to completely avoid the debate (again, whoever might find such debates of some interest can refer to the many threads on the LvMI Community Forums). Assuming the logic of my argument (that nuclear proliferation will drive the world toward market-provided law) holds to a decent degree, than Rothbard’s firmness against nuclear weapons is to be considered among the costs of his position, adversely affecting the chances that this particular view of his will become widely accepted beyond individual communities.
6.3 Of course, as I explained in paragraph 5.3 above, the chances exists that, after all is said and done and we have achieved a Free Society, nuclear terror will no longer be needed, and we may feel free to get rid of all such devices.
6.4 Yet, beside my personal disbelief that we will ever be able (or willing) to wholly destroy our stocks of nuclear devices, two problem will remain: the technology and know- how to (cheaply) construct such weapons will survive, unless we plan some sort of massive witch-hunt-cum-book-burning sessions to erase this knowledge. Second, the knowledge that Freedom has been achieved by such ghastly means will still trouble the conscience of a principled Rothbardian, even after (and if) nukes have been gotten rid of.
6.5 To make a final, though chilling, addition to this objection, I cannot be sure that in a world of cheap nukes no more cities will be reduced to radioactive rubble. My belief that the nuclear balance of terror will hold in general does not translate into an absolute guarantee that no nuclear victims will again be made.
6.6 But, horrible as it is, there may be no way to prevent such an outcome, should technology really make nuclear proliferation and unstoppable trend to a far larger degree than nowadays. The millions of victims that a limited nuclear exchange may claim will be horrendous, but I remain convinced both that these exchanges will never amount to more than a few isolated cases and that the alternative of grand-scale conventional wars would be far more damaging, probably by orders of magnitude.
7.1 Objection no.7 A final, and to my mind very important, objection might still be raised: isn’t basing our hopes on a single technology risky? What if some means to counter nuclear blackmail and deterrence are discovered?
7.2 Should this happen in the near future, I myself will lose much of my optimism regarding the future of Liberty. Should the world return to the logic of “bigger is better”, no amount of libertarian agitation or peaceful parenting may suffice to prevent the ultimate emergence of a totalitarian world government, perhaps subject to cyclical descents into anarchy and chaos, as the former Chinese Empire was.
7.3 But I remain hopeful, as I cannot even conceive of a way to counter the threat of small nuclear devices. If anything, the technological trend seems to be pointing solidly in the other direction.
7.4 I am also hopeful that the threat of nuclear annihilation (as opposed to the isolated exchanges of paragraph 6.5) subsisted with the end of the Cold War: any other nuclear power beside the larges two has found that at most 300 devices will suffice to deter any comer. An accidental war between two or even a few such powers would be horrible, but it literally would not be the end of the world.
7.5 But even allowing for the possibility of a ‘cure’ being discovered (in the distant future though), I remain confident that if our Evolutionary Stable Strategy survives for enough time to create a full-fledged Free Society, the vast enrichment of society and the diffusion of power that market-driven law will hopefully provide will make the medium-term profit margin of any ‘state-building’ exercise not worth it.
7.6 To see what I mean here, imagine that my analysis turns out to be mostly correct, and we do end up, a hundred or two hundred years hence, in a Free Society. Even if conventional war now becomes practicable again, an organization even remotely similar to the government we have today would have to evolve again step by step, initially as a small territorial band not too different from any modern criminal group, and works its way up.
7.7 And, though the end result of a large, territorial government exercising almost totalitarian control over a large population would probably be stable, only a few of the intermediate steps would be profitable. In a hugely rich world used to trade peacefully, starting down the path of coercion with a few people would almost surely not be worth it: I submit that even the least-skilled job available would trump the profits realizable in a life of petty crime several-fold.
7.8 Thus, even if a large, territorial government would once again become technologically viable, none of the intermediate steps need to create such governments (and how many of those would be needed!) would be. To take an example from the field of evolution: a bat would probably be better off with a bird’s flight apparatus, but none of the intermediate steps needed to make that transition are profitable in themselves. Evolution is stuck in a local optimum (which sure looks like a very global optimum to us slaves, though) and we can still enjoy our Batman universe. May it come to pass for us to likewise enjoy our freedom.