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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5061/are-you-a-decentralist-libertarian-or-a-centralist-who-wants-to-impose-liberty-and-ends-up-creating-despotism/

Are you a decentralist libertarian or a centralist who wants to impose liberty (and ends up creating despotism)?

May 18, 2006 by

Here is a test case to separate decentralist libertarians, who believe that divided sovereignty is the best long-run protection for liberty, from the centralist libertarians, who mistakenly believe that a distant government that is not friend of liberty should be empowered to defend liberty and property rights.

The case concerns an unmarried couple in Black Jack, Missouri. The couple has three children. The town wants to deny them an occupancy permit. Because the permit is issueed by the government and not a private property, this is a violation of their rights and imposition on their freedom of association and economic liberty.

Should the Feds intervene, or should the ACLU sue under federal law? No, because that would enlist the federal government, the worst enemy of liberty, as the sovereign over all issues of local residency in the US. We’ve been down this road before, and look where it got us.

Some discussion here.


Manuel Lora May 18, 2006 at 11:38 am

No one should indeed sue under any federal law or perhaps even state law. I will agree that a horizontal and decentralized structure of government, if it must exist, is better off than one gigantic mega-state that oversees everything.

No, I am not defending any government. To require permits to inhabit a home is atrocious. It needs to stop. That said, divided sovereignty allows people to “vote with their feet” even if that would mean surrendering to the government.

They should not have to move or be evicted. But it’s better to have hundreds or thousands of small governments, which are escapable, than just one, where escape becomes extremely costly.

M E Hoffer May 18, 2006 at 12:09 pm

If these issues are not fought in courts with the, now, appropriate subject matter jurisdiction, how are the powers, accrued via fiat, ever, peacably, rolled back?

This seems a mighty catch-22.

Manuel Lora May 18, 2006 at 12:20 pm

I think the point here is that even if there are lawsuits, the results should be applied only to the jurisdiction in question (county/city at best, maybe state (in the case of the U.S).

The problem is when you can sue in a federal circuit court that could reach the Supreme Court. Then, that decision affects everyone.

The way to avoid the catch-22 is to limit jurisdiction as much as possible. Bad laws stay confined.

scineram May 18, 2006 at 1:50 pm

I hope they will sue and win. This is so disgusting.

M E Hoffer May 18, 2006 at 1:53 pm

Yes, I agree. Though, one of the problems we face is the USGov’s passing Laws and issuing Statutes that warp the nature of “local control”.

I, still, hear the point that “local” laws should be fought locally.

Wonder whatever happened to the 9th and 10th ammendments?… Seems like, soon, the only “recourse” will be “defund to defend”…

gmlk May 18, 2006 at 3:49 pm

Good government never depends upon laws, but upon the personal qualities of those who govern. The machinery of government is always subordinate to the will of those who administer that machinery. — Frank Herbert

Give me the judgment of balanced minds in preference to laws every time. Codes and manuals create patterned behavior. All patterned behavior tends to go unquestioned, gathering destructive momentum. — Frank Herbert

Governments, if they endure, always tend increasingly toward aristocratic forms. No government in history has been known to evade this pattern. And as the aristocracy develops, government tends more and more to act exclusively in the interests of the ruling class — whether that class be hereditary royalty, oligarchs of financial empires, or entrenched bureaucracy. — Frank Herbert

Do not put YOUR trust in nobles,
Nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs. — Ps. 146:3

Keith Preston May 18, 2006 at 9:47 pm

I’m in the decentralist camp if ever anyone was but, as M.E. Hoffer suggests, tyrannical local law should be fought to the death at the local level. Given that the present state is already centralized to the point of no return other than a Soviet Union’91-like collapse, it probably wouldn’t make any difference if such laws were struck down by the fed courts. It’s not like a case like this is going to result in the downfall of the federal bureaucracy one way or the other. The problem with that strategy is that it serves to inculcate the idea that the feds are somehow the protectors of individual liberty, an absurd idea if ever there was one.

The problem with centralist libertarianism is that there’s no stopping point. Why stop at a continent wide regime as the alleged upholder of rights? Why not a global libertarian regime? I once saw a piece by Robert J. Bidinotto arguing that the only problem with such a regime would be that the unwashed masses of the Third World have yet to become sufficiently enlightened with the ways of Western liberalism in order to make such a global regime viable. This strikes me as an utterly asinine view. The corporate-social democracies of the West may be preferable to Idi Amin or Stalin, but they are hardly vanguards of the libertarian revolution. Besides, power is dangerous, regardless of who holds it or what their proclaimed ideology is. A world wide liberal-libertarian regime with President Lew Rockwell might not be so bad? But what if his successor turns out to be President Kim Jong-Il?

In some ways this question brings us back to a couple of problems derived from Hobbes and from Enlightenment universalism. The early attacks on decentralism offered by Hobbes, Bodin and others paved the way for the rise of the modern nation-state system, which has been a disaster for our species. Martin Van Creveld has presented some powerful evidence that the nation-state is declining and hopefully he’s correct. Good riddance. And universalism has been used as an intellectual foundation for centralism and imperialism since at least the time of the Jacobins.

I have argued before that I consider these questions to be the most important intellectual problems faced by modern political philosophy. Indeed, I think these are some of the principal areas, along with strategic considerations, where many libertarians miss the boat. If we are ever to advance the cause of liberty against the tyranny of modern states, we need to embrace not only decentralism but also to reject universalism. Instead, I might recommend a perspective kind of like the idea of the “Prime Directive” that you find in some of the “Star Trek” shows/movies, the idea that other cultures, nations, communities, ways of life, etc. are sacrosanct, and that tampering by external interlopers is impermissable for any reason, regardless of how repulsive others might find their way of life.

Is anyone here familiar with a point of view known as “national-anarchism”? It’s a tendency with origins in the European right-wing that promotes the idea of a type of “unity of separatists” for the purpose of eradicating the New World Order and decentralizing conventional states into sovereign local communities. Here’s some of their web sites:


I think Rothbardians have much to offer in the realm of revisionist history, legal theory, economics, foreign policy, political philosophy and so on, but I think the National-Anarchists seem to be a much superior tendency in the strategic realm. Here’s an article of mine on national-anarchism from a few years ago:


I encountered some similar ideas when I was around the militia movement in the 1990s. There were these groups calling themselves “sovereigns”, meaning they completely renounced the feds, and sometimes even state and local governments, refused to pay taxes, carry driver’s licenses, obtain social security cards, etc. Some of these blossomed into full-fledged secessionist tendencies like the Republic of Texas. National-anarchism applies some similar ideas on a more global scale. It’s definitely something worth checking out.

Mark May 19, 2006 at 2:18 am

I live in St. Louis county (Black Jack is a stupid little suburb of St. Louis). Since I rarely watch the local media, and decreasingly the national media (except to see how much leftist propaganda the networks are spewing out), I haven’t really been following the story that much.

But I’d like to make a more general point about laws in general, and I’m sure everyone around here is already aware of – that once a law is on the books it almost never comes off.

I’m pretty depressed these days about the statist direction the country is going. The so-called conservatives are as bad or even worse in some respects than the left.

I’ll be sure to have my passport handy after the next 9/11 because you know the sheeple will bow down to any authoritian, anti-liberty legislation the fascists throw at them

Marcus May 19, 2006 at 11:41 am

It seems to me that this ordinance was established with approval by the local electorate. If the citizens of this community voted this ordinance to be law, isn’t this democracy? Shouldn’t the rights of the supporters of this ordinance be respected as well? In my opinion, it is the owner’s, that is selling or leasing the property, rights that is being trampled on. However, what I gather is that the seller or leasor willfully complies to the ordinance.

Coincidentally, doesn’t the same type of law apply to public housing by the US government?

TGGP May 19, 2006 at 1:16 pm

I found that “national anarchist” article really intriguing. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can be in their club, unless its decentralization extends to opposition to some of its goals. I like consumerism and say good riddance to the age where most of the workforce was in agriculture. I’m rather pro-Zionist and say god-speed to that wall they’re building. I don’t think the U.S should invade places, but the nature of the people our military fights makes me hope they get their asses kicked so hard their dead grandparents feel it. I’m generally in favor of separatism, but most of the militant “anti-imperialist” groups I hear about strike me as even more oppressive and centralizing than the status quo.

Keith Preston May 19, 2006 at 5:10 pm


Actually, your comment that “I don’t think I can be in their club, unless its decentralization extends to opposition to some of its goals” is fairly accurate. Based on my personal contacts with N-A’s and my extensive readings of their literature and web sites, it seems as though most of them distinguish between what they call “core ideas” (like decentralization, anti-imperialism and anti-globalism) and “peripheral ideas” (like racialism, this or that religious practice, particular economic or ecological positions, etc.)If N-A or something similar were to eventually become the dominant outlook of intellectual or cultural elites, there might very well be independent communities, free cities or cantons espousing the commercialist values advocated by Hans Hermann Hoppe and there might also be “back to the land” or “back to nature” communities like those advocated by John Zerzan or the Unabomber (or the Amish).

On the Zionism question, some N-A’s seem to be approaching the level of old fashioned anti-Semites, while others seem to object to Zionist imperialism and its influence on the US government rather than Jews and/or Zionists per se. I have seen some N-A’s use the example of Israel as a proto-type for an N-A intentional community or intentional nation. There are also Jewish N-A’s and Third Positionists. There also seems to be considerable interest among N-As in Jewish dissidents like Noam Chomsky or Israel Shamir.

On the Muslim question, many N-A’s seem to regard Muslims as allies or potential allies against NWO/Zionist imperialism, yet they seem a little more wary of actual Islamic immigration into the West.

As for the pro-centralist or statist views of some anti-imperialist factions, this is a very real issue. Included among these are the more hard-line Communists (like the Maoists or Castroites), Islamic fundamentalists, and the National Socialists. My personal policy is to oppose collaboration with groups who are militarily capable of imposing a worse system than the ones we have now. There aren’t really any groups like that currently operating in the Western countries. As to who is more oppressive among the contenders for power in the Third World (the Baathists vs. the Shiites in Iraq, Chavez vs. the traditional oligarchy in Venezuela… ditto Morales in Brazil, MRTA in Peru, People’s War Group in Nepal), this is probably a matter of individual perspective and individual self-interest. My approach to such conflicts where the primary contenders are both avowed statists is to support the one who is most anti-imperialist at the global level. For example, I generally support insurgent movements against imperialist puppet regimes (like the FARC’s war against the Colombian state).

I am actually more of a national-anarchist “fellow traveler” than a national-anarchist in toto. I agree with their view that a common struggle against the NWO is necessary if we are to avoid the eventual emergence of a tyrannical global regime. Their views on strategy also seem to be superior to what I find in many other camps and I also think they have the most realistic views on what a post-NWO, post-nation/system world would look like, a world of smaller sized political units including a huge variety of economic, cultural, religious and racial orientations. I am a little more skeptical of some of the other enthusiasms many of them have (like racialism, radical environmentalism or the occult), but that’s my problem, not theirs.

I do find the N-As to be much more generally accepting of difference than many if not most other radical factions. For all of the Left’s pious prattle about “diversity” or “multiculturalism”, most leftists actually advocate a type of totalitarian quasi-socialism ordered on the basis of a new race/gender/sexual orientation based caste system where one’s social position is assigned on the basis one’s place in the victimological pantheon. Note the utter hatred displayed by leftists towards those minorities (like Clarence Thomas), women (like Phyllis Schafley) or gays (like Justin Raimondo or Jeremy Sapienza) who do not toe the leftoid party line. As an illustration of this, some of the N-A’s are vociferously opposed to homosexuality for moral, religious or philosophical reasons, yet support the right of “homos” and their sympathizers to form their own sovereign communities along with the right of more conservative/traditional cultural groups to form their own communities. Contrast this idea with those of leftists whose primary article of faith seems to be the extension of abortion clinics and gay bars all the way to the Afghan caves.

I actually think that N-A is eminently compatible with the kinds of decentralized, polycentric, common law based societies favored by Rothbard, Hoppe, et.al, though the two camps are obviously arguing from different premises. There are some economic differences. N-As are less influenced by Austrian thought and more by economic outlooks like distributism or guild socialism. Also, the Rothbardian view of universal “natural rights” is the opposite of the more conventionalist, Burke/De Maistre/Kirk/Nisbet view of “rights” many of the N-As hold to.

I do not consider these to be insurmountable differences. In a decentralized society, there would certainly be room for a plurality of economic arrangements and property systems. We discussed this matter a bit ealier in a prior debate on this blog over JLS recent symposium on Kevin Carson’s economic approach. And there is certainly room for broader philosophical differences. Most of the N-As in Europe that I am familiar with are neo-pagans of some sort, but many of the American N-As are Christians (www.folkandfaith.com) and many of them also take a conciliatory attitude towards Islamic or Afro-centric groups.

For me, the principle question is: How are we going to correct the disastrous mistake of centralism, statism and imperialism that our species has pursued consistently for the past 500 years? Decentralization automatically implies a plurality of cultural, philosophical, economic outlooks, etc. The species is too diverse for everyone to be on the same page about everything all the time. The best we can hope for would probably be a more earthbound version of the Star Trek/”prime directive” idea I referred to in my previous post.

billwald May 23, 2006 at 11:35 am

It is a problem of social contract. A community should be able to establish any social contract as long as people are permitted to leave and take portable assets with them.

drs May 23, 2006 at 4:16 pm

While I sympathize with the idea of decentralization, I think one observation should be made. I am a market anarchist, ergo I think that any manifestation of political authority at any level is criminal. That being said if someone robbed me I would go to the police, because things being as they are that is the only way to possibly get my stuff back. In such a situation I have sought the aid of a more powerful and exponentially more vicious gang of thugs than those who robbed me in the first place. So I can sympathize with someone going to the most evil gang of all ( the feds) if it is the only conceivable means of stopping local tyranny, I am aware of the negative consequences of this, but in a state-run world the rational harmony of self interests is sabotaged.

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