In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun:
"Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun, it's so.' Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
From time to time, I'm presented with the ever-present "college PoliSci student questionnaire" regarding how libertarians think. These questionnaires seem to me to be a desperate plea for an alternative to the omnipresent left- and right-wing socialism.
Or, to put it another way, our college-age friends are asking, "Please tell me the truth, is there individual liberty?"
My answer (with apologies to Francis P. Church, author of the famous editorial reply to Miss O'Hanlon's letter):
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the socialism of a socialist age. They do not believe except what they have been told to believe by socialist who wish to control them.
Yes, Virginia, there is individual liberty.
Recently, one of the frequent posters discussion list for the Ad Hoc Conspiracy to Draft L. Neil Smith For President passed on such a questionnaire. As I thought it was sufficiently unbiased and well-written to bother reading, I took a few moments to write an "anarcho-capitalist primer" as a response:
Q: In your ideal society, what do you feel is the province of government?
A: First, let's define an "ideal society."
The ideal is a free society in which its members exercise self-government guided by the Zero Aggression Principle:
"No human being has the right -- under any circumstances -- to initiate force against another human being, nor to advocate or delegate its initiation."
Since its very existence is predicated on the initiation of force, government -- as CONCEPT -- in inherently immoral and therefore has no moral province whatsoever.
Q: What do you want government to do for you?
Q: Is it the role of government to keep law and order?
A: "Law and order" is irrelevant. The appropriate replacement concept is "peaceful interaction between individuals."
Attempts by government to enforce peaceful interaction between individuals are disastrous. Worse, such attempts uniformly lead to tyranny.
The free market ensures peaceful interaction by its very nature. Further, it does so far less expensively than government and without the hideous side-effect of encouraging tyrants.
Q: Does government have any kind of a positive role - that is, is it the place of government to put any sort of program in place?
A: This question makes a basic mis-assumption. Government programs are easily demonstrable as NOT positive.
Further, since government programs must initiate force against the governed in order to be implemented, they are not only negative, they are immoral. Specifically:
In order for government to spend a penny, it must initiate force. It must force the governed -- at the point of a gun, if necessary -- to pay for any and all spending. This is in direct violation of the Zero Aggression Principle and is therefore immoral.
Q: Are there areas of the lives of citizens which government should absolutely not be involved in?
Q: Yes: EVERY area.
There is no reason for government to become involved in any aspect of your life.
Q: What rights do you feel that you have under this society?
Believe it or not, I have no real conception of "rights." I have a substitute that works better.
What most people think of as "rights" is any activity in which I might choose to engage that does not violate the Zero Aggression Principle.
These are same rights I have under ANY society.
Q: Are these rights given to you, or are they innate?
A: This borders on a religious question.
The Zero Aggression Principle is derived from a number of traits of the human species. Specifically, the major traits are sapience, territoriality, and a desire for self-determination.
Just as hamsters are rodents and fish use gills to obtain oxygen so as to breathe underwater, sapience, territoriality, and desire for self-determination are innate to homo sapiens.
What you might call my "rights" are simply the actions of homo sapiens acting in accordance with their nature -- but as self-governed by the Zero Aggression Principle.
Religious individuals might choose to interpret the human species' possession of these traits as indicative that they are bestowed by a supreme being.
Q: What role does the government play in your possession of these rights?
A: None. These characteristics are innate to the species. They exist regardless of government edict.
Fish have gills and hamsters are rodents. Any government edict to hold your hamster underwater until he sprouts gills will result in a dead hamster. Any government edict that requires humans to behave in a manner inconsistent with their characteristics as a species will result in ... well, exactly what we have now.
Q: Are there other organizations that play a role in your possession of these rights?
A: No. Though I can and do occasionally hire other individuals to assist me in protecting myself from those who do not govern themselves in accordance with the Zero Aggression Principle.
Typically, the individuals from whom I am protecting myself are government functionaries or their sycophants.
Q: Are all people born equal?
A: Of course not. There is tremendous individual variation of characteristics within a species.
This is as true of fish and hamsters as human beings.
Q: How do we account for different characteristics (cf. Some people are great piano players, and I can't carry a tune in a bucket. Is this equality?)
A: Such equality is irrelevant.
It's unnecessary to account for variations such as these. They simply exist. Attempting to achieve equality of individual characteristics is an exercise in futility.
Q: Should all people be treated equally? How do we measure this equality?
A: Individuals should be treated however you like to treat them within the bounds of the Zero Aggression Principle.
Q: To what extent should the market control the economy?
Q: Social services?
Q: What role does the government have in this regulation?
Q: For instance, is deficit spending to repair the economic damage done by the current recession warranted?
A: This question erroneously presumes that the economic damage and current recession are caused by something other than government meddling in the free market.
Were government to immediately cease meddling in the free market, the resultant sudden economic prosperity would make the boom of the last decade look like Mount Everest beside a small hill in the South Dakota prairie.
Q: Is deficit spending to repair the economic damage done by the current recession within the purvey of government?
A: No. Initiation of force is always immoral, even when done by government functionaries for some presumed collective benefit.
Q: To what extent do you support or challenge the notion of income tax?
A: "Tax" is simply another word for "theft."
The activities are identical. In both instances, individuals are forced to forfeit money or other valuable property. The only nominal difference between "taxation" and "theft" is that "taxation" is government-sanctioned.
Theft is no more moral when sanctioned by government than it is when sanctioned by the Mafia.
Q: Should such tax be proportional, or do you advocate a flat tax, or no tax at all?
A: All taxation is immoral because it violates the Zero Aggression Principle.
Q: How do you feel that this would better a society?
A: A free society is easily demonstrable as being far more successful for its members than some form of tyranny.
Purely on a financial level, taxation by government at all levels currently confiscates something in excess of 50% of every individual's gross income -- regardless of income or marginal tax rate. Even individuals who income is not directly confiscated are still required to pay sales taxes, property taxes, etc.
Further, because government taxes goods and services at every possible point of production, the consumer cost of EVERY item you may ever purchase is increased by something in excess of 800%.
In a society self-governed by the Zero Aggression Principle, individuals would effectively have DOUBLE their current income with only ONE-EIGHTH their current expenses.
Clearly, this would be far more beneficial for any individuals in such a society as compared to the present time.
On another level, support of taxation has the side-effect of lending credence to government authority in virtually any area of life. Lack of taxation would not only be economically in our best in interests, it would also be in our philosophical best interest. Once government had no way to fund itself, it would become crystal clear in extremely short order that it was only causing harm.
Q: How far do you feel that the right to privacy extends?
A: Privacy is not a right per se. It is simply part of the Zero Aggression Principle.
I may morally observe anything about an individual that does not require the initiation of force to do so.
Observing my neighbors having a heated argument on their front porch does not violate the Zero Aggression Principle. Installing surveillance devices in their homes without their authorization does.
Q: Does the right to privacy supersede a government's interest?
A: Government has no moral need to be aware of any individual's activities.
Q: Does the right to privacy supersede a moral interest of government or other citizens?
A: Government has no moral need to be aware of any individual's activities.
Individuals have no moral need to be aware of other individuals' activities as long as those activities do not initiate force.
Q: Does the right to privacy supersede a market interest?
A: Since "the market" is made up of individuals, and as no individual has a moral reason to be aware of other individuals' activities provided that they do not initiate force, then "the market" has no moral need to be aware of other individuals' activities.
Q: To what extent do you see a libertarian philosophy being compatible with a democratic government?
A: It is incompatible.
"Democracy" is simply "mob rule." The tyranny of 50%+1 of a voting populace is no more moral than the tyranny of an autocrat.
Q: A socialist government? Fascism?
A: The same as above. The tyranny of one is no more moral than the tyranny of a bureaucracy.
Q: Do you think that Libertarianism needs to be it's own form of rule?
A: The beauty of self-government guided by the Zero Aggression Principle is that it is independent of government.
Regardless of what type of tyranny happens to be in dominance, any individual can practice self-government.
For example, I ignore government edict approximately 95% of the time. Government laws are uniformly irrelevant to my daily existence. I pay attention only when failure to do so will cost me my life.
However, there will come a day when enough individuals are self-governing guided by the Zero Aggression Principle that my life will no longer be in peril. At that point, I will entirely cease to kowtow to government edict.
I am firmly convinced that the American Federal government will ultimately meet its doom in one of two ways:
Either it will collapse due to its own inherent instability or it will simply cease to be relevant.
The latter notion seems to be most likely at this time, considering the size and scope of the black and gray markets in the United States.
Q: How do we distinguish between the rights of citizens and the rights of non-citizens in a libertarian society?
A: It is immoral to make such a distinction.
As it is based on the inherent characteristics of the human species, self-government guided by the Zero Aggression Principle makes no distinction between humans who are members of one group or another.
An individual human being -- regardless of group affiliation -- simply has no right to initiate force against another human being.
Q: Is a conception of justice important to your libertarian philosophy?
A: "Justice" is irrelevant. The appropriate substitute concept is RESTITUTION.
In a free society self-governed by the Zero Aggression Principle, there will be transgressions. There will be individuals who -- by accident or design -- initiate force against other human beings.
Such individuals are morally bound to make restitution to the victim.
Q: How do we insure justice in a market economy?
A: By not interfering with how the free market handles restitution.
Q: Can the market be trusted to give both social and criminal justice to everyone, even those who don't contribute to it?
A: In a free society, the free market is the only entity that can be trusted to ensure restitution by force initators.
Think of it this way:
In a free society in which individuals self-govern guided by the Zero Aggression Principle, there would be no laws, courts, legal precedent, or other associated government baggage.
There would simply be individuals who had initiated force and their victims.
Freed of such "crimes" that do not initiate force (such as the sale or use of guns and drugs, prostitution, failure to pay taxes), the number of instances in which force is initiated becomes very, VERY small.
A huge percentage of force initiations would no doubt be accidental. For example, an individual might accidentally initiate force by losing control of their car and colliding with another individual's car. In such circumstances, the force initiator is morally bound to provide restitution for damages -- and would do so peacefully, either directly or via insurance.
However, there might be a small number of individuals who initiate force by design, so let's examine your garden-variety mugger, rapist, or murderer.
In a free society, individuals are not limited by the type of weapon that they may choose for personal defense. Therefore, there is a high statistical likelihood that any given individual will be armed with deadly weapons, either worn openly or concealed.
(As a side note, I imagine that openly-worn weapons would be an extremely effective deterrent against the initiation of force. Why attack an individual you KNOW is armed?)
Since the Zero Aggression Principle only requires that an individual not INITIATE force, a victim is within their moral right to respond to such an initiation in any way they see fit.
In a free society, the majority of would-be muggers, rapists, and murderers will not survive their first attempt. They will be killed or injured at the hands of their would-be victim.
Also, as noted in John Lott seminal work on the subject, _More Guns, Less Crime_ (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0226493644/qid=1007395764/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_7_1/102-1649459-4322566), there is a significant decrease in the level of violent crime when individuals are not disallowed the use of weapons for personal protection. The reason for this is simple:
The average mugger, rapist, and murderer depends on a population without the ability to defend itself. Where there becomes a high statistical likelihood of death or injury, the mugger, rapist, or murderer chooses not to even ATTEMPT their crime.
(It is, as a side-issue, the same reason the Federal Government is partly accountable for the events of Bloody Tuesday [September 11]. Had it not created airplanes filled with disarmed potential victims, would-be terrorists probably wouldn't have TRIED to take those aircraft. Or if they had, they would not have been successful due to all the armed passengers.)
So, in a free society, very few muggers, rapists, and murderers will even exist because the potential cost is too high.
However, of that small percentage that does try, a many of them will not live to try again.
Of the TINY number that successfully initiates force, what will be required of them is restitution for damage. Even murderers will be morally bound to pay restitution rather than incarceration.
Since there would be no government courts or police, the onus falls to the individual to handle their own affairs. This being the case, an individual might contract with a private security firm to locate and detain a force initiator.
Such action would be taken with the knowledge that any individual detained who was NOT the force initiator would have force initiated against them -- and so would therefore be due restitution from the firm that detained him. This applies equally to any individual a security firm might question in the course of locating a force initiator.
For example, suppose such a firm questioned the force initiator's best friend as to his whereabouts. Any questioning that initiates force -- such as strong-arm tactics, beatings, or detaining the individual until he "talks" -- would require significant restitution from the security firm.
Once located and detained, the force initiator and victim would contract with a private judge or adjudicator. This individual would be contractually responsible for determining if a force initiation had, in fact, taken place; whether the detention of the force initiator was necessary and appropriate given circumstances; and what restitution was necessary by the force initiator.
The restitution phase would likely entail some kind of negotiation, for which both the victim and initiator would probably retain representatives.
Failure by the initiator to either contract with a judge or provide the negotiated restitution would carry its own punishment.
Consider: in a free society, no individual is required to do business with any other -- and this includes individuals who sell food, water, electricity, or housing.
Also consider that in a free society, there is no crime -- only force initiation. Without government-established crimes that do not involve initiation of force, the number of individuals we might think of as "criminals" is very small.
And remember, we know from current statistics that an armed populace is a deterrent against such individuals.
Therefore, in a free society, unrepentant force initiators will be an EXTREME minority.
Since they are such a minority, it is possible to practice the free market version of "excommunication."
Back to our example, imagine that a force initiator fails to provide the negotiated restitution. The victim is free to take pictures of such an individual and release them to news media, the Internet, or anywhere else they may see fit.
In a society with such low instances of force initiation, even a check-bouncer will receive an enormous amount of publicity.
Once this individual's identity has achieved the notoriety of, say, Jean-Benet Ramsey, he will shortly find that most individuals will refuse to do business with him. It is, after all, clearly not in my interest to support an individual who would initiate force against you. Who knows if he might not initiate force against me, some day?
An unrepentant force initiator will shortly find himself unable to trade for basic necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter.
He will, in short order, begin to provide restitution. If he does not, he will either die or lead a miserable existence -- thus providing further incentive to would-be force initiators to restrain their impulses.
There will also be instances in a free society when an individual cannot make appropriate restitution (such as a murderer), and the victim is unwilling to allow the force initiator to be left to the market. In such circumstances -- bereft of government regulation to interfere with the natural process -- the victim might choose to call the force initiator to a duel.
Q: What is your gender?
Q: What do you feel was the economic class you were born into?
A: This question erroneously assumes that there are more than two economic classes in the United States.
In fact, these "classes" are the Productive Class and the Unproductive Class. The Unproductive Class includes government and its functionaries. The Productive Class is virtually everyone else.
In this context, I was born into -- and have always been a member of -- the Productive Class.
What you probably intended to ask was my parents' income.
My parents' income varied. At my birth, my parents were struggling students. By the time I left home, they were comfortably middle class.
My mother's parents would have been considered middle class during the period I knew them, though I know this had not always been the case. My father's parents (still living) are subsistence-level poor and always have been.
Q: What do you feel is your economic class now?
A: Again, rewording to define income rather than class, I am comfortably middle class.
Q: What is your ethnic affiliation (where did your ancestors come from?)
A: For the last two-and-a-half centuries, my ancestors have been native to the United States.
One -- Thomas Stone -- was a signator to the Declaration of Independence. Another -- Edwin McMasters Stanton -- served as Lincoln's Secretary of War.
Q: How old are you?
A: Rapidly approaching 37.
Q: How typical do you feel your ideas of libertarianism are?
A: Typical in the company I keep. Probably atypical in terms of the Libertarian Party. Most LP members are Constitutionalists, and I am a strict Zero Aggression Principle philosopher.
William Stone, III is a South Dakota-based computer nerd (RHCE, CCNP), security consultant (CISSP), and Executive Director of the Zero Aggression Institute . He seeks the Libertarian Party's nomination in 2004 for United States Senate.