Yves here. We trust you’ll enjoy the second installment of Andrew Dittmer’s examination of distilled libertarian thinking.


This post first ran on November 30, 2011


By Andrew Dittmer, who recently finished his PhD in mathematics at Harvard and is currently continuing work on his thesis topic. He also taught mathematics at a local elementary school. Andrew enjoys explaining the recent history of the financial sector to a popular audience.


Simulposted at The Distributist Review


This is the second installment of a six-part interview. For the previous part, see here. Red indicates exact quotes from Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s 2001 book “Democracy: The God That Failed.”


ANDREW: Do other libertarians agree with your idea of a libertarian society?


CODE NAME CAIN: Well, we do have our differences. For example, the Cato Institute is severely compromised by numerous left-leaning libertarians such as David Boaz. The Cato tag-alongs and certain other prominent libertarians imagine that an extremely small government would be better than no government at all. They are, of course, wrong. They have not yet recognized that every government is destructive of what they want to preserve [235-236].


ANDREW: It sounds like you and Dr. Hoppe and Murray Rothbard are strongly critical of those other libertarians. But when I looked through the Cato web site, I found that while they sometimes express disagreements, they are surprisingly respectful of Rothbard and Hoppe. Why do you think this is?


CNC: Three reasons. First, pro-government libertarians have probably realized how difficult it is to refute Rothbard and Hoppe, and so prefer instead to learn from their ideas. Second, many agree with Tibor Machan, who says that libertarians should not let their small differences over this issue “distrac[t] from the far more significant task of making the case for libertarianism in the face of innumerable bona fide statist challenges.” But third, you have to reckon with the Human Shield Effect.


ANDREW: The what?


CNC: Libertarian Bryan Caplan says that “hard-core libertarians’ comparative advantage is to play watchdog for moderate libertarians – and make them seem reasonable by comparison.” You see, on many areas other libertarians secretly agree with us, but they are afraid to acknowledge it openly. Instead, they prefer to let us take the heat for our principled positions, and to wait for us to turn previously “radical” ideas into common sense.


ANDREW: So you can count on at least some support from other libertarians. But in order to make your revolution happen, you will have to convince other people as well. Are you going to try to get a majority of U.S. voters to support the future libertarian society?


CNC: It won’t work – persuade a majority of the public to vote for the abolition of democracy and an end to all taxes and legislation? […] is this not sheer fantasy, given that the masses are always dull and indolent, and even more so given that democracy… promotes moral and intellectual degeneration? How in the world can anyone expect that a majority of an increasingly degenerate people accustomed to the “right” to vote should ever voluntarily renounce [it]? [288].


ANDREW: If it’s not a good idea to try to persuade a majority of Americans to surrender the right to vote, what is the right approach?


CNC: It has to start with a small elite. As Étienne La Boétie said, these are “the men who, possessed of clear minds and farsighted spirit, are not satisfied, like the brutish mass, to see only what is at their feet, but rather look about them….” These people will start to secede from the United States.


ANDREW: Meaning?


CNC: It means one regard[s] the central government as illegitimate, and… treat[s] it and its agents as an outlaw agency and “foreign” occupying forces [91].


ANDREW: You don’t pay your taxes?


CNC: One tries to keep as much of one’s property and surrender as little tax money as possible. One considers all federal law, legislation and regulation null and void and ignores it whenever possible [91]. One needs to be ready in case the government makes a move, and invest in such forms and at such locations which withdraw, remove, hide, or conceal one’s wealth as far as possible from the eyes and arms of government [92].


ANDREW: Is this why you have a code name?


CNC: It took you a while, but you figured it out in the end.


ANDREW: How will a few people seceding lead to an anti-state revolution?


CNC: It won’t. … it is essential to complement one’s defensive measures with an offensive strategy: to invest in an ideological campaign of delegitimizing the idea and institution of democratic government among the public [92].


ANDREW: Did you say earlier that trying to convince the public would be difficult?


CNC: With the secession strategy, you don’t need a majority. That’s good, because [t]he mass of people … always and everywhere consists of “brutes,” “dullards,” and “fools,” easily deluded and sunk into habitual submission [92]. Still, there can be no revolution without some form of mass participation. … the elite cannot reach its own goal of restoring private property rights and law and order unless it succeeds in communicating its ideas to the public, openly if possible and secretly if necessary… [93].


ANDREW: Even if you do it secretly, convincing the masses that they are inferior sounds tricky.


CNC: That’s true, but you don’t have to convince Joe the Plumber that he is a brute. You can convince him instead that he is a hardworking, productive individual, and that other people are brutes who are making it so Joe has no control over his life.


ANDREW: I see.


CNC: Still, you’re right. Convincing the masses of the superiority of the natural elite is not the most important part of our communications strategy. The central task of those wanting to turn the tide… is the “delegitimation” of the idea of democracy… [103] It is not enough to focus on specific policies or personalities… Every critic and criticism deserving of support must proceed to explain each and every particular government failing as an underlying flaw in the very idea of government itself (and of democratic government in particular). [94]


ANDREW: Now that I think of it, I have heard people saying things like that.


CNC: There is still a long way to go. There remain far too many people who make unnecessary compromises with the idea of democracy. In fact, there must never be even the slightest wavering in one’s commitment to uncompromising ideological radicalism… Not only would anything less be counterproductive, but more importantly, only radical – indeed, radically simple – ideas can possibly stir the emotions of the dull and indolent masses. And nothing is more effective in persuading the masses to cease cooperating with government than the constant and relentless exposure, desanctification, and ridicule of government and its representatives [94].


ANDREW: A lot of Americans think that democracy has helped the country to be prosperous.


CNC: What better evidence of the limited mental horizons of the so-called “ordinary person”? Hans-Hermann Hoppe has debunked this idea entirely, but too many people still think that the collapse of the Soviet Union had something to do with the absence of democracy! [A]s for the economic quality of democracy, it must be stressed relentlessly that it is not democracy but private property, production, and voluntary exchange that are the ultimate sources of human civilization and prosperity. [105]


ANDREW: So let’s see if I understand. At this point, there will be a small elite dedicated to revolution. Meanwhile, many ordinary people will no longer believe that democracy is a good system. Will you try to do this everywhere, or just in a few key places?


CNC: It doesn’t matter if people in any one city think that what we’re doing is wrong and dangerous. As long as the people who oppose us continue to wring their hands together and to talk only to people who already agree with them, they will not obstruct our efforts to find or create secessonist majorities… at hundreds of locations all over the country [290].


ANDREW: Aren’t you a little worried about how the government might respond to all of these people choosing not to obey the law?


CNC: You mean, considering how the U.S. government has become entangled in hundreds of foreign conflicts and risen to the rank of the world’s dominant imperialist power[?] [How] nearly every president [since 1900] has also been responsible for the murder, killing, or starvation of countless innocent foreigners all over the world [244]? Of course I’m worried. The U.S. president in particular is the world’s single most threatening and armed danger, capable of ruining everyone who opposes him and destroying the entire globe. [244]


ANDREW: But then, what will you do?


CNC: We will work to create a U.S. punctuated by a large and increasing number of territorially disconnected free cities – a multitude of Hong Kongs, Singapores, Monacos, and Liechtensteins strewn over the entire continent [291]. This approach offers two advantages. First, a “piecemeal strategy” will make secession seem less threatening. Second, the more the secession process continues, the more the government’s strength will be eroded.


ANDREW: But there could still be conflicts between the new libertarian mini-states and the existing democracies.


CNC: If there is a conflict, it will be because a democracy has not respected the rights of the free mini-states. But you are forgetting that the mini-states will not be defenseless in such a conflict.


ANDREW: What will they do?


CNC: Since they will be no-tax free-trade haven[s], large numbers of investors and huge amounts of capital would begin to flow immediately. [132] It will therefore be possible to pay large multinational insurance companies to develop military forces capable of defending the free mini-states against government aggression. Keep in mind that, unlike the military forces of the democracy, these military units will be provided by private firms, and so will be much more efficient. If there were to be a conflict, these insurers would be prepared to target the aggressor (the state) for retaliation. That is, insurers would be ready to counterattack and kill, whether with long-range precision weapons or assassination commandos, state agents from the top of the government hierarchy [from the] president…. on downward… They would thereby encourage internal resistance against the aggressor government, promote its delegitimization, and possibly incite the liberation and transformation of the state territory into a free country. [264-265]


ANDREW: Will it stop there? Or will you eventually get rid of the small city-states as well?


CNC: At the correct moment, all remaining governments will be dissolved. Protection against violence will be provided exclusively by insurance firms. As I see it, public property should be distributed among taxpayers, with shares based on how much each individual or firm, up to now, has been forced to pay in taxes. Since public employees and welfare recipients are obviously recipients and not victim of taxes (theft), they will receive nothing.


ANDREW: Would you like to say anything else before I end this part of the interview?


CNC: Let me quote the conclusion of “Democracy – The God That Failed.” If and only if we succeed in this endeavor, if we then proceed to return all public property into appropriate private hands and adopt a new “constitution” which declares all taxation and legislation henceforth unlawful, and if we finally allow insurance agencies to do what they are destined to do, can we be truly proud again and will America be justified in claiming to provide an example to the rest of the world. [292]


In part 3 of this interview, Code Name Cain will show that he is unafraid to explain how a libertarian society will work in detail.


The Étienne La Boétie quote is from “The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary
Servitude,” New York, Free Life Editions, 1975, p. 65 (cited at Hoppe, p. 93).


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