Reply To: Contracts have same problems as Constitutions?


Why, if we are free, do we have states? Good question! (Incidentally, I’m unable to see your diagrams properly in these panels. Right-clicking on them produces an error message.)

In Freedom’s Progress? I address (in passing) this question. Here’s an excerpt from the “Preface”.

“While the desirability and necessity of individual liberty may be obvious to libertarians, however, it is not quite so obvious to everyone else. As H. L. Mencken noted, most people want security in this world, not liberty. ‘Libertarians,’ writes Max Eastman, ‘used to tell us that “the love of freedom is the strongest of political motives,” but recent events have taught us the extravagance of this opinion. The “herd-instinct” and the yearning for paternal authority are often as strong. Indeed the tendency of men to gang up under a leader and submit to his will is of all political traits the best attested by history.’ [Eastman, 37] As Brian Doherty notes, ‘…many people loathe and fear liberty, and not just for others—that tyrannical impulse is easy enough to recognize—but even for themselves.’ [Doherty, 509] Not everyone values freedom, then, for with freedom comes responsibility, and the necessity to accept that success or failure are, in part at least, a function of one’s own actions and abilities. ‘Freedom aggravates at least as much as it alleviates frustration,’ remarks Eric Hoffer. ‘Freedom of choice places the whole blame of failure on the shoulders of the individual. And as freedom encourages a multiplicity of attempts, it unavoidably multiplies failure and frustration….Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden’ [Hoffer, 35, §26] In a revealing statement made shortly before the Second World War, a young Nazi remarked to Ida Wylie, ‘We Germans are so happy. We are free from freedom.’ [Wylie, 2]

“The libertarian vision, or at least, my libertarian vision, is not of rugged John the Baptists living alone in the wilderness dining on locusts and wild honey but rather one of individuals integrated into society by virtue of voluntary association, not just because of their status, personal history, family connections, place of birth or other adventitious circumstances. ‘No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’ [John Donne] The completely isolated individual is a creature of fiction; the dichotomy—either group or individual—is false. Some libertarians are so concerned to defend the individual against subsumption into the group that they can give the impression that the ultimate human desideratum is a kind of social atomism, while reluctantly conceding that we must, regrettably, associate with other human beings from time to time! But few men, if any, can be satisfied with their own narrow, time-bound and limited lives and most seek some way in which to transcend their individual limitations. Self-transcendence can come in many forms—social, sporting, military, religious or other. In his legitimate quest for self-transcendence, the contemporary isolated individual risks being re-submerged once more in the group, only this time in much larger and more dangerous groups than his predecessors. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have seen more than their fair share of such cancerous forms of self-transcendence—Militant Nationalism, Fascism, National Socialism and Communism. Liberty’s progress throughout history has been real and substantial, but it is still a far from complete and its advances are yet capable of reversal”

And here’s an excerpt from the chapter on “The Reformation”.

“Boétie was perhaps the first thinker to explore systematically what may well be one of the most fundamental mysteries of politics—how is it that the few, or the one, succeed in dominating the many? For Boétie, human beings are naturally free and equal: ‘we are all naturally free, inasmuch as we are all comrades. Accordingly it should not enter the mind of anyone that nature has placed some of us in slavery, since she has actually created us all in one likeness….Since freedom is our natural state, we are not only in possession of it but have the urge to defend it. [de la Boétie, 51-52] Being thus free and equal, if one man dominates another, that domination stands in need of explanation and justification. Perhaps that man is stronger than his victim. That may well be so one on one, but it can scarcely explain how, as in the case of political rule, one man or a small group of men succeeds in dominating thousands or millions. ‘For the present,’ he writes, ‘I should [desire] to understand how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation!’ [de la Boétie, 42] In words that are eerily reminiscent of 1 Samuel 8: 11-18, too reminiscent perhaps to be entirely coincidental, Boétie details the depredations typically inflicted on subjects by their ruler: ‘You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows—to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed.’ [de la Boétie, 48]

“The mystery of political domination becomes even more enigmatic when the people are dominated not by some alien conqueror but by one of their own, one who owes his power precisely to the obedience of those whom he dominates. ‘All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin,’ writes Boétie, ‘descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death.’ [de la Boétie, 48] This enemy is only one man or, at most, a few, staggeringly outnumbered by the subject population. ‘He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you? What could he do to you if you yourselves did not connive with the thief who plunders you, if you were not accomplices of the murderer who kills you, if you were not traitors to yourselves?

“Boétie believes, correctly, that it is not by primarily by force that the many overbear the few. ‘Whoever thinks that halberds, sentries, the placing of the watch, serve to protect and shield tyrants is, in my judgment, completely mistaken. These are used, it seems to me, more for ceremony and a show of force than for any reliance placed in them….It is not the troops on horseback, it is not the companies afoot, it is not arms that defend the tyrant.’ [de la Boétie, 71] The real political structure isn’t a direct relationship between the one and the many, but rather a human cascade, with the ruler being supported by a small number of supporters or collaborators (sometimes rivals), they, in turn controlling a rather larger number of supporters or clients, and so on downwards. Boétie remarks that ‘there are only four or five who maintain the dictator, four or five who keep the country in bondage to him. Five or six have always had access to his ear, and have either gone to him of their own accord, or else have been summoned by him, to be accomplices in his cruelties, companions in his pleasures, panders to his lusts, and sharers in his plunders. These six manage their chief so successfully that he comes to be held accountable not only for his own misdeeds but even for theirs. The six have six hundred who profit under them, and with the six hundred they do what they have accomplished with their tyrant. The six hundred maintain under them six thousand, whom they promote in rank, upon whom they confer the government of provinces or the direction of finances, in order that they may serve as instruments of avarice and cruelty, executing orders at the proper time and working such havoc all around that they could not last except under the shadow of the six hundred, nor be exempt from law and punishment except through their influence.’ [de la Boétie, 71-72]

“If it is not by superior force that rulers keep their subjects in submission; what is the source of the ruler’s power? In an anticipation of a theme that would later emerge in the writings of David Hume, Boétie believes rather that political rule is grounded in the voluntary subjugation of the many, based upon a habit of obedience deriving from prescription, custom and habit, the whole psycho-social edifice propped up by an array of ideological supports. ‘[T]he essential reason why men take orders willingly,’ Boétie writes, ‘is that they are born serfs and are reared as such. From this cause there follows another result, namely that people easily become cowardly and submissive under tyrants.’ [de la Boétie, 62] Astonishing as it may seem, the mass of men actually consent to their own servitude, and Murray Rothbard notes that ‘this consent is engineered, largely by propaganda beamed at the populace by the rulers and their intellectual apologists. The devices—of bread and circuses, of ideological mystification—that rulers today use to gull the masses and gain their consent, remain the same as in La Boétie’s days. The only difference is the enormous increase in the use of specialized intellectuals in the service of the rulers. But in this case, the primary task of opponents of modern tyranny is an educational one: to awaken the public to this process, to demystify and desanctify the State apparatus.’ [Rothbard 1975, 35] If customary obedience is the ground of political rule, then disobedience is the means by which political rule can be undermined; ‘if tyranny really rests on mass consent, then the obvious means for its overthrow is simply by mass withdrawal of that consent. The weight of tyranny would quickly and suddenly collapse under such a non-violent revolution.’ [Rothbard 1975, 16-17]”

If you’re thinking of buying my book, check around on Amazon for the ‘ X used from…; Y new from…’tab to see the best price. The Book Depository is also a reasonably good option.

Best wishes,