Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 734, August 18, 2013

Not a single American alive today was ever a slave—
except, of course, of the military and the RS. Not a
single American alive today has ever kept slaves—
except, of course, for the politicians and bureaucrats.

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The New Libertarianism: Anarcho-Capitalism
(From Objectivist Basic Principles to Political Concepts)
By J. Michael Oliver
Reviewed by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

I am ethically obliged to begin with a disclaimer.

J. Michael Oliver and I are friends, and have been for some time—although not as long as we might have been. He and I go back in what is now the libertarian movement to the 1960s. We seem to have traveled in similar circles and have known many of the same people. I was familiar with his magazine _The New Banner_. It is a statistical wonder that we didn't meet back then and haven't been friends for decades.

Ancient dinosaurs that we are.

Equally, the book I'm about to review here is a marvel. Just for starters, it features the most succinct and cogent exposition of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism since Paul LePanto's memorable and useful Return to Reason. Its treatment of the history and of the vital tenets of anarcho-capitalism may be unique in libertarian literature.

We are all extremely fortunate in the circumstances that made this book possible, It began as an academic work in the early 1970s, and that shows, to a degree. However had it been published when it was written, more than forty years ago, it might easily have gotten lost or overlooked among a plethora of lesser volumes then available on libertarian theory. Now, in the 21st century, it stands tall above the philosophical salt flats that the libertarian movement has regrettably become.

Things, you see, have changed since 1972, In certain circles—especially where it's most badly needed—theoretical discussion has long been unwelcome. Once a libertarian party was established, and the vote became more important than any other consideration (including the very principles that the party had been created to communicate) pure theory complicated sound-bite campaigns, making those normal political processes—gradualism, compromise, sleeping with the enemy—quite impossible,

Theory had the unfortunate habit of taking long strides and principled stances that embarressed the sorts of cowards and weaklings who ran for office by pretending that libertarianism is something other than what it is and always was: a march to liberate individuals the whole world over, and to abolish coercive institutions of every kind.

One by one, the "suits"—less and less distinguishable from Republicans every day—drove the original thinkers who had created the movement they now exploited, and whom they dismissed derisively as "purists" (an epithet the morally corrupt always use against those determined to maintain integrity) from the party until it stands like a headless statue in a ruined landscape, incapable of anything but decay.

Proper definitions may be annoying or constraining to political shape-shifters who don't wish to be inconmvenienced by them, but they are vitally important to any intellectual progress, and ultimately capable of determining the destiny of individuals and organizations alike.

Ambiguity, however convenient in the short run, produces nothing but disaster in the long run, Very few observers, for example, seem to be aware of the "whiplash" damage done to the Libertarian Party by the dismayingly contradictory presidential candidacies of California corporate attorney Ed Clark in 1980, and Texas Congressman Ron Paul in 1988.

Clark's campaign, directed by employees of the Koch brothers' Cato Institute, presented the man, ideologically, as a heretofore unknown Kennedy brother, emphasizing parts of the party platform likely to be perceived by voters as "liberal" or "progressive". People drawn to the party by such blandishments were shocked and disappointed by long-held libertarian values (deliberately soft-pedaled by the campaign) they saw as deeply inimical to their original point of view—the absolute right of individuals to own weapons, for example, and an unshakable insistence on "hard" money—and either left the party in revulsion or, worse, stayed on and attempted to twist it to suit their personal prejudices.

Paul, on the other hand, brought a distinctly conservative color and flavor to the party, and those who signed up on his account were equally shocked and disappointed by the vastly broader content of libertarianism, which included the total repeal of all drug laws, opposition to foreign wars, and a painfully-wrought neutrality on abortion. In the long run, they, too, either abandoned the party as unhappy liberals had in 1980, or attempted to wrench it in their own direction.

In fairness, it should be noted that Dr. Paul has obviously made enormous personal progress in the direction of real libertarianism, and that his Presidential candidacies in 2008 and 2012 may yet prove to have changed the course of American—and therefore world— history.

But the fact is that libertarian positions on various issues have developed consistently from a single source, the concept of absolute individual self-ownership. Any resemblance they bear to established liberal or conservative orthodoxies—which have accreted more by historical accident than by any logicallly consistent process—is coincidental.

There is little evidence to suggest that significant numbers of conservatives or liberals, drawn to the Libertarian Party under false pretenses, managed to broaden their personal beliefs as a result. Instead, various individuals within the party, calling themselves "big tent pragmatists" cravenly eviscerated its uniquely forthright and highly principled platform until it could offend—and inspire— nobody.

More lately, there has been an ill-considered attempt, mostly by personalities of the sort who sophomorically relish the shock value of wearing Che Guevera t-shirts, to divide libertarianism into "right" and "left" camps. This, of course, is nonsense. Individuals either own their own lives and all of the products of their lives, or they do not; there is nothing "right" or "left" about that. Right and left are simply different halves of a looting and killing machine with which libertarianism has nothing to do. Both the traditional right and the traditional left would have us believe that our lives and property belong to someone else, to the family or the community, to God or the State.

Likewise, it is either morally acceptable to initiate physical force against another human being or it is not. And once again, the absolutely revolutionary libertarian answer to this question, which nobody ever thought to ask before, is centuries beyond anything the traditional right or left has ever conceived. The truth is that they both subsist on the ill-gotten gains of initiated force and on little else.

In addition to its other virtues, this little book contains the best explanation of the way natural law applies to human beings and their interrelationships as fully as it does to the flight of planets in their orbits and of electrons around their nuclei. It explains why civilizations that aren't built on this foundation of natural law, or which permit their foundations to decay, invariably decline and collapse.

Written early in the final third of the 20th century, it is amazingly (and, by turns, depressingly) prophetic with regard to the unnecessary decay of individual liberty that we are now witnessing in the western democracies and the concomitant decay of civilization itself.

However, unlike a book on the same topic written by any number of conservatives (who love to wail that the sky is falling but seldom offer suggestions for repairing it), this book does not end with a whimper but with a sober albeit glorious panorama of libertarian futures and highly-educated guesses about the way that they might work.

So I'll put it to you straightforwardly: this book belongs on your bookshelf, real or virtual, and that of anybody who claims or aspires to be a libertarian, as well as the hands of anybody you'd like to see become one. It is available in trade paperback form at right now, and may be had as a Kindle book a few days after you read this.

179 pages. Mike says he's pricing it to sell.

Buy at

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
$12.92 in paperback from

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