Consent and Secession

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

Carl Watner wrote an interesting article, back in 2000, concerning an apparent conflict between government by consent, and the difficulty of secession. At first glance, it appears that if government exists through the consent of the people, then secession should be possible and easy. Yet that is not the case today, or ever. How can that be?

He writes,

For politicians and government, consent theory was loaded with dynamite because it recognized the right of each and every person to choose which government (if any) they wished to adhere to, and allowed that choice to be changed at will. In short, consent theory was the “universal demolisher of all Civil Governments, . . . not the builder of any,” because, as Josiah Tucker wrote in 1781, the principle of secession has no logical stopping place until it has reached the lone individual.

Strangely though, the very people who most often go on about the “consent of the governed” are the politicians themselves. One would think they’d be more inclined to sweep such notions under the rug and to hope people would forget about them.

The answer to this dilemma is simple. When politicians talk about “consent of the governed,” they are crossing their fingers behind their backs. They certainly don’t mean consent of all the governed, each and every one of them--although that is what the phrase seems to imply. What they really mean, but never say out loud, is “consent of the powerful.” So, “consent of the governed” is just euphemism, a bit of propaganda designed to keep dissent tamped down and manageable. That’s probably all it ever was.

Strangely, Watner never quite comes to that fairly obvious conclusion. Instead he gets himself all balled up in discussions about religious notions such as rights.

A majority of those living in the territory defined as New York State have no right to impose their collective will on the minority who do not wish to secede from the United States. The seceders may take their persons and property and remove themselves from the authority of the United States, but they have no right to disrupt the authority of those who accept the United States as their rightful government. Neither do those who accept the United States as their government have the right to impose its jurisdiction over those who do not consent to its authority. Government “by consent” implies the right to not consent, or to withdraw one’s consent at a later date.

What is “collective will” anyway? And rights? Watner seems to take the language of statists at face value. No wonder he is having difficulty.

"To contend that [individual] consent is the moral justification for government is to lay the groundwork for” voluntaryism. (19) There is a large unbridgeable chasm between the idea of consent and political government based on majority rule. For inevitably to contend that government rests on consent is to embark down the slippery slope to secessionism that will eventually lead one to voluntaryism. (20)

Well then, the obvious conclusion is that “consent” is a fanciful notion. There is no groundwork for voluntaryism being laid down here. Those in government don’t have to be consistent or logical. That’s what it means to have power.

Some day in the distant future, when unicorns roam in the parks, the rulers really will concern themselves with the consent of each and every individual. At that point we will be able to merely ask to secede and have it handed to us on a platter, and this apparent contradiction will cease to exist.

I suppose Watner’s audience might be the average Joe, and he is merely pointing out inconsistencies and questioning legitimacy. That’s not a bad idea, but there are limits to how fruitful such an approach may be while using state-approved language, and taking its concepts as a given. Maybe we’ve come a bit farther in understanding since his article was written. To paraphrase Lew Rockwell, just take everything you hear from anyone in government as a lie, and you won’t be far wrong. “Consent of the governed”? Just another lie.

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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Samarami's picture

Étienne de La Boétie had a peculiar skill nearly 500 years ago in assessing your quandary:

    I should like merely 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!
    Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more
    and wonder the less at the spectacle
    of a million men serving in wretchedness,
    their necks under the yoke,
    not constrained by a greater
    multitude than they.


Robert Higgs over 5 years ago:

Apropos for the season, Paul. I hope a much, much larger plurality will take your cue and awaken this fall and choose to abstain from beans. Sam

Samarami's picture

Oh, and I intended to comment on your main point: Carl Watner having difficulty letting go of latent statism. I see this as rather of an indisposition suffered by many "libertarian" authors nowadays. To truly strike at the heart of the root seems to create an eerie angst of sorts.

Is there such a thing as "collective will"? The term appears to address fear of complete independence or a total individualistic poise that seems to create trepidation within rather than action without.

It's almost as if I'm afraid that if I become totally independent -- an individualist -- I cannot be a good neighbor or friend or grandpa. A contagion that must be exorcised, I think, if one is to project good libertarian thought. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

I'll take the word of Carl Watner over that of Paul Bonneau any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.
As for rights being a "religious" concept (ie one grounded not in fact and reason but on faith) my STRticle Liberty: Rooted in Rights should dispose of that nonsense. It quotes Murray Rothbard on the subject, in part with "For the assertion of human rights is... because of a rational inquiry into the nature of man and the universe."
Bonneau is therefore setting his opinion against those of two of the most distinguished minds in the libertarian movement, and so once again raises the question of why he continues to be allowed to publish on Strike the Root.

Samarami's picture
    "...why he continues to be allowed to publish on Strike the Root..."

(emphasis decisively mine)

And why not???

Would you prefer STR to be an exclusive "club" -- not to permit "...outside..." perspectives?


Jim Davies's picture

Yes, Sam, I most certainly do. STR's "About" page states "The mission of STR is to advance the cause of liberty." It is not an open-to-all-views forum, it is an advocacy site, and long may it remain so. Therefore, articles that fail to conform to that mission should be excluded.
The one I referenced establishes that liberty is rooted in rights; hence, an attack on rights is an attack on liberty and hence on STR's stated mission. If you think I (and Rothbard, and many others) got that wrong, go ahead and try to rebut its reasoning.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

My contention is that "rights" are in reality little more than opinions. However, they possess two essential characteristics: 1.) They must be something that at least a significant portion of the population recognizes as such, and; 2.) they must be things that you have a reasonable chance of defending or restoring, in the event they are abrogated, by either peaceful and/or violent means.
Think about it: If you were alone in the world, would you have "rights?" The entire concept becomes superfluous. We only entertain the idea of "rights" once other humans come into the picture. This pretty much deep-sixes the idea of stand-alone concrete "rights" that don't depend upon outside human approval. Any contention to the contrary, again, is instantly reduceable to mere opinion. 
Beyond that, Jim, your need to attack, attempt to belittle, and talk down to anyone who happens to disagree with or distemper you -- even when they present a perfectly valid viewpoint worthy of consideration -- seems to continue unabated, doesn't it?  So you shouldn't wonder when others prefer to sever communication with you altogether.

Jim Davies's picture

The confusion here is immense. Rights, you say, Alex, are contingent on popular assent? Nonsense! If that were the criterion, nobody would have any. 99 people could cheerfully agree to violate all the property and personal rights of the 1 whom they dislike, without any basis for complaint.
And they are contingent on one's ability to restore or defend? Nonsense again! At any one time, it's quite possible that such restoration is beyond reach; that emphatically does not mean they do not exist. Consider a Jew, freshly arrived in 1944 Auschwitz. He is being marched into the gas chamber. His situation is 100% hopeless, he has no chance at all of defending his right to life. Does that mean he has no such right? - very much the contrary. Otherwise, Rudolf Höss did nothing wrong.
Then, does one have rights if one is alone in the world? - of course! Suppose there were 2 people living, or some other small number. Each would have the right to life, self ownership etc. Then unhappily a plague took all their lives except the one. He had his rights before the last of the others died, so he has them intact and unchanged after that moment.  Naturally, since nobody remains who might challenge them, they are no longer of great practical use, that I concede, but so long as he is alive he retains them. They are integral to being human.
What I'm opposing and will certainly continue to oppose are the false perceptions that seem to penetrate even STR. I'm sorry if that seems sometimes to spill over into ad hominem attacks. Take the example of an IRS agent who flouts reason, logic, law and all the rights we have; we agree he is doing evil, yes? But is he personally evil, would you and I demean him, call him a tyrant etc? There is a fine line, I'm not sure. In your post above, you have written some stupid things; does that make you stupid? - I am not saying so. I'll try harder to maintain the difference.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

No, I think it's YOU who happens to be rather confused, Jim -- not to mention blinded by your own ego, and grasping at straws.
You've only proven my point.  All you're expressing are opinions that possess ZERO practical value.  You contend that Jew had a "right" to live?  Really?  Fat lot of good it did him, if so.  So now prove he had that "right."  Concretely and absolutely.  No opinions -- just hard proof.  That I happen to think he did, and you too, is of zero moment.  No "right" existed outside of a number of opinions insufficient in this case to save his life.  In another kind of society, in a different place and time, he'd have lived.  In neither case did some abstraction become solid granite separated from human opinion.  I can't think of a more useless and purely academic contention that he somehow had a concrete "right" that exists, entirely outside of human constructs, no matter what anyone else might think or do.  Simply put, such an idea is pure bullshit.
As is your pathetic attempt to justify yourself, or even your presence here.  

Jim Davies's picture

No straw-grasping here, Alex, and no ego-blinding either. Kindly bottle your anger against me personally, it doesn't help your credibility. Very far from having "zero value", the concept of rights is fundamental to libertarianism and to justice.
Try this: if arguendo humans have no rights, what basis do you propose for rational ethics?
What it seems to me to lead to is the view that might makes right. The guy with the biggest gun prevails, and if a Jew (or a few million Jews) are exterminated because they lack the power to prevent it, too bad, so be it. No wrong has been committed, no sense of justice outraged, no recompense due. This is of course exactly the principle upon which government operates.
Some here who hold that view may well do so after having been misled, or confused - yourself, I think, among them. Others may be here full well knowing that they are spreading disinformation, in a deliberate attempt to undermine this vanguard of the freedom movement. A few years ago I suggested that Paul Bonneau was one such.  I cannot prove it. But his latest lamentable article, above, adds one more item to the evidence supporting my opinion.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

The "concept of rights."  Imagine that!
Other than being a laughable and wholly childish attempt to avoid actually answering to the points I've raised (you've once again provided zero evidence of your preposterous contention -- only more opinion) your pathological accusation that Paul Bonneau is some kind of government plant...well, I think it speaks for itself in terms of how truly delusional you are.
This happens, I understand, to those unable admit wrong -- those whose egos and narcissism are of such magnitude that they cannot even conceive of a world in which their thoughts, ideas...and opinions...are not always 100% correct and in turn regarded as such -- even objectively -- by everyone with whom they come into contact.
I won't say that when you're ready to provide concrete evidence of "rights" we'll talk, because I already know you can't provide such evidence.  I think you do too, but are simply unable to deflate your own absurd sense of self-worth enough to admit it.
So be it.  This is a worthless and time-consuming conversation at any event, and I have better and more intelligent things to do than to continue to be party to it.  

Jim Davies's picture

When you've cooled down and before you go, do re-read my Liberty: Rooted in Rights. I just did, and cannot improve here on what it says.
It includes this: "suppression of an understanding of the self-ownership right is a vital priority for government people" and Suspected-Agent Bonneau has done a fine job for them. You, alas, have given him useful assistance, and having known your former self, that brings me much sadness.

Samarami's picture
    "...your pathological accusation that Paul Bonneau is some kind of government plant..."

And this, Alex, is also an interesting study. So... what if you, or I, or Davies, or Bonneau, happen to " some kind of government plant(s)..." -- or, conversely, " some kind of anarchist plant(s)..." Would that by itself indicate that we (or they) would best be banned from STR??? Or any other libertarian-oriented forum??? Is my stance (behind the great facade that I present to y'all) so fragile that I can't sort the wheat ("right" of self-ownership) from the chaff (statism)???

If you "...are a government plant...", I'd like to be of influence in helping to effect the overcoming of your delusion. I can't very well be that influence for you if we throw you out. If my foundation is firm, I can do that (be a positive influence). If not, I'd better run.

I recall the early days in Alcoholics Anonymous, and the controversies over " to tell if a newbee (I can't remember the term we used to use to refer to newcomers in AA) is really an alcoholic, or if s/he just wants some attention s/he can't find in other groups or associations..." The girls discovered early in the game that AA was one of the few places where the guys outnumbered the gals. Groupies showed up in droves. I wouldn't vouch for the health of "13th step romances" that developed as the result -- but a few did result in sound and happy marriages that have lasted for many years.

There were lots of "closed" AA meetings in those days, for-alcoholics-only. Well, we were paranoid. There was the old joke, "..just because you're paranoid does not mean they're NOT out to get you!.."

But we'd come down to the principle that YOU determine whether or not you belong in our group. Go over to the nearest bar, take a couple drinks (do it more than once) -- you'll quickly find out if you really belong in AA. You're an alcoholic (and a fully inaugurated AA member) if YOU say so. Nobody can make that determination for you. Most closed AA meetings are a thing of the past, in deference to "open" meetings. Outsiders will not harm us.

So, what if I'm a government plant??? If I am, I can assure you that I'm quite well educated and highly skilled in the covert art of obfuscation. You won't know I'm a mole. Not if I'm good at it. Remember, I was trained for almost two years at Yale University as a snot-nose kid in the field of "Military Intelligence" (an oxymoron if there ever was such a thing). At age 19 I spoke much better Mandarin Chinese than I've ever spoken English -- and I'm supposed to be an "English Major".

If there are any of you out there who are government plants and agents, come on in. This is the place for you. You can't harm us. You might even benefit by your presence at STR and your association with us.


Jim Davies's picture

"If there are any of you out there who are government plants and agents, come on in. This is the place for you. You can't harm us."
In one sense, Sam, you're quite right: STR exists to promote liberty, obviously to those who don't understand or value liberty; and it cannot fulfill that mission unless such people "come on in" and read what STR writers have to offer. And sure, anyone here who has his head together about the principles of liberty isn't going to be "harmed" when such folk visit and pay attention.
That's not the same, though, wouldn't you agree on reflection, as having someone actively opposed to liberty engaged as a writer for STR? - for then, it would be opposing its own mission by promoting the opposite of liberty, in one or several respects, to readers who still need convincing.
Test this, I suggest, rather easily. Would you really invite Paul Krugman to write an article for STR on economics? Or Hillary Clinton, one on foreign policy? Or Admiral Rogers on the dangers of surveillance? Might you really welcome a re-publication of some account of the virtues of Social Security written by F D Roosevelt?
If so, nice a guy as you are, I'm rather glad you're not our Editor.

Samarami's picture
    "...someone actively opposed to liberty..."

The squabble here is mired in judgemental attitudes. If you don't agree with me, you are in dire danger of being "...someone actively opposed to liberty..." And if you do agree with me, you are "...supporting the STR mission by promoting liberty..."

How simple is that?

I often harken back to our old friend, White Indian. Remember him? Sort of a foozball, I guess -- but he did have a lot to say (against "libertarianism"). And he probably wasn't totally wacko. He did make some good points.

But so many got their feathers in a ruffle over his incessant expositions and shot him full of so many holes that he abruptly disappeared. I have no idea whether he was "banned", or just drifted off to greener pastures. But White Indian, too, took a number of participants with him. Not "with" him, but I've not seen them post here again.

I'm presenting extremes here, but few of us have the exact blueprint for liberty. None of us that I know of. Except me.

Kidding, of course. Nobody that I know of is "invited" to post at STR. It seems that a guest editor locates interesting (interesting to her or him) articles on other sites and offers them here for our discussion. Then some like you and a host of others (too few nowadays) will occasionally post their own essays. Some are quite controversial. I made a list of a few of those topics yesterday on another thread. I don't always totally agree with your take, Paul's take, or Alex's take. But not agreeing totally with me does not make either, any or all of them "...actively opposed to liberty..."

There are many articles posted on the STR board by guest editors that I believe are totally adverse to our general philosophy (read: MY general philosophy). I often take issue with them with my comments. Does that mean those articles should not be posted? I think not. How else would I have come this far in liberty had I not ever been challenged to think things through and interchange with friends here and at other forums?

I did not get here through force-feeding. I credit Barry Goldwater, Karl Hess, and other of the old timers (many of whom I would totally disagree with today) for starting me on my journey here. I won't allow squabblers and/or attackers to run me off or bring me down to their level. I will learn from them, however. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

Sam, in my post to which this seems to be a reply, I posed you some questions. They were directly related to an earlier post by you, and their words are followed by "?" marks. In your reply, though, I cannot see any answer to those questions.
Do you plan to place them in a follow-up post?

Samarami's picture
    "...Would you really invite Paul Krugman to write an article for STR on economics?..."

I would not hesitate to discuss on STR with Krugman any content of any article he might produce. The question, would Krugman wish to discourse with me -- or you, or Paul Bonneau, or Alex, or any of the other "major hitters" who once participated and made sense here at STR. I don't know about you, but I'm not afraid of the likes of Krugman. If I am, I perhaps should find another forum. Would I invite him? If I were a guest editor and invitations were asked to be extended by me, certainly. Why not? If I know the likes of Krugman, however, I'm certain he will not debate outside his New York Times domain.

    "...Or Hillary Clinton, one on foreign policy?..."

Again, Why not? What about Ms Clinton do I have to be afraid? Does she have answers that I should fear??? I think not. Am I as capable of obfuscation and dissembling as she? I hope not. But written forums such as STR are places where one can at least get thoughts and facts together first before blurting responses -- unlike political "debates". (Would I be willing to engage in a debate with her on national stage with Chris Wallace or Martha Raddatz as moderators? Probably not -- I'm not quick on the uptake, and I detest shouting matches).

But, again, I would welcome a forum discourse with any or all of these people at STR -- with some of the old root-strikers for support: come back, Per Bylund, Fred Reed, Bob Murphy, Rod Long, etc etc!.

Same response as above. Just what is it, Jim, that you imply I might have reason to be afraid of? With Rogers I might interject inappropriate digs, since spying seems to be a natural resource for psychopathic warmongers, and I would not be bashful at letting that opinion be known.

Were he to be willing to come to STR for said discourse. Which neither he, nor Clinton, nor Krugman would be willing to do. Those types play on their home fields with large cheering sections. And I've become weary of traipsing to the "comment" sections of their exceedingly large domains, since libertarian-ism elicits nothing but evil, hateful responses.

Waste of time.

This entire interchange is fraught with personality conflicts. Nothing else of substance. And it does not belong at STR. In my opinion.

Waste of time.


Jim Davies's picture

Thank you, Sam; that does answer my questions. Yes, you say, you would (if Editor) invite any of these prominent statists to write STRticles.
You and I therefore have a radically different view of what STR is for. You appear to see it as some kind of debating club. I see it as one of the very few web sites where a reader can find carefully considered articles that strike at the root of evil, namely government. It is (with some unfortunate exceptions, like the article above) therefore an advocacy site for liberty.
The support for my view lies in the mission statement, already quoted: "The mission of STR is to advance the cause of liberty, primarily by de-mystifying and de-legitimizing the State." Where is the support for your view?
You say I "imply I might have reason to be afraid of" [statist writers.] No, I did not. You're a brave guy, and don't scare easily. Whether or not you are afraid of them is irrelevant.
Unfortunately we also disagree on whether or not this exchange is a waste of time. You say you think it is: I think it is highly relevant to why STR is no longer the white-hot site for freedom that it once was.

Samarami's picture

It might not be a total waste of time, Jim, so I'll take that back and offer my apology. Discoursing with you is never a waste of time -- as long as we do so in a civilized, non-name-calling way, which you and I do rather well.

As to why STR " no longer the white-hot site for freedom that it once was...", we still have some disagreement betwixt ourselves on that one -- but I'm not dogmatically certain about my stance on that either. I suppose we'd need to attempt to contact and poll some of the old heavy-hitters as to why they no longer post essays or even offer comments here any more. A daunting task.

A "debating club" is not in my agenda -- if you feel I in fact have an agenda in all this. You presented dubious questions to which I gave dubious answers. Silliness.

All over the base bone of contention: whether the editor(s) of STR should "ban" people from writing essays adverse to your or my philosophies (and presumably "ban" them from STR altogether, if your declaration "...that STR does not have room for both of us..." was not merely an asinine outburst). None of us are in conflict (far as I know) regarding STR's purpose for being -- except you.

I'm not aware of any philosophical litmus test required to post on STR. There are many, many articles posted by guest editors almost every day that are strictly of a statist mindset. I often take issue with them. So do you. There are many, many essays posted by our "root strikers" that engage in what I (and Delmar England) refer to as "the language of slavery" (reification, "our leaders", "our country", "our government"). I've been trying to hold my tongue with them.

You and I have both agreed that Walter Block has stepped 'way off bounds with his current support of political candidate(s) and his previous insistence that if one did not support Ron Paul s/he could not be called a "true libertarian". Should Dr Block be "banned"? I think not.

Let's congratulate Mr. Bonneau for an essay that has elicited perhaps the most responses of any article in perhaps the past year; albeit you and I have led the parade. But I believe we have covered some very important ground in the doing. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

"None of us are in conflict (far as I know) regarding STR's purpose for being -- except you."
I'm in no such conflict, Sam. I merely quoted its published mission statement, verbatim.
It's the Editor's job to ensure that articles submitted to him are consistent with that mission. In my opinion, which I have of course shared repeatedly with Rob, several of Bonneau's oppose it.
A correction, if I may: the declaration that STR does not have room for both him and me was not "asinine" and was first issued by Paul Bonneau, not by me. However, I agreed with him 100%. We then jointly asked Rob to choose one of us, but he declined. On the principle that I will not be associated with a writer whom I believe is a government agent here to sow discord, I then quit.
Forgive me, but I will not join you in congratulating him on anything.

mishochu's picture

I think there is room for, and to congratulate, the both of you. Your messages appeal to two different kinds of people.

Yours is a multigenerational approach. His is about understanding one's liberty and how one can have some more of it (with risks) today.

I am mortal. I have a time preference in the matter. I donate to people like you (or more specifically institutes for Ron Paul's message and Mises). However, I also weigh the risks and try to be more free today. There's nothing wrong with either approach.

Jim Davies's picture

No, alas there's not. A is not Non-A. Either humans have integral rights, or we do not. If one is correct, the other is flat wrong.  Per Aristotle: "Contradictions do not exist, except in the minds of those who fail to think clearly."
Thanks though for your kind sentiment.

mishochu's picture

[Ignore this comment]...Pesky double clicks

Jim Davies's picture

Alex, your rejection above of the concept of rights moved me to write the current edition of the Zero Government Blog, to compare it with some other familiar concepts that are entirely real.
You are not the villain here, but you have been badly misled, and that makes me sad. I hope the Blog will help restore your understanding of the rational foundations of liberty.

Samarami's picture
    "...99 people could cheerfully agree to violate all the property and personal rights of the 1 whom they dislike, without any basis for complaint..."

Which is more-or-less the way the world shapes up today, looking at it (inversely perhaps) from the perspective of the non-sovereign -- the 99%. I think the "Occupiers of yore" may have been onto something, seeing the world from their points of view. And contentious me, of course (in my dotage): I could not resist the temptation to bike up and down streets and bike trails with a large yellow sign with black writing: "I AM THE 1%" affixed to my backpack and providing the base for my red flashing light for night riding.

Purposeful contention is what we're dealing with here on the "rights" issue. And there's really no need for it at STR (as I see it). Because nothing changes: so, if I'm "right" (pun intended), so what??? Or if I'm "wrong", what's the big deal??? I'll still choose the term "choices" over "rights". To you it might appear a huge impediment to freedom. To me it's not whether "rights" is "right" -- it's the quarreling and the bickering that present the greater impediments -- on this particular forum, at least.

Because -- with this and a couple other minor squabbles over "theory" -- one major player childishly picks up his bat and his ball and leaves the playing field, taking the majority of the participants with him. Well, not "taking them with him" -- he certainly hasn't gained any followers. But he has succeeded in creating an unfriendly climate. They cease participating and find other games -- the ones who truly want to continue "the movement". The rookies get lost in the shuffle.

And the poor manager of the playing field is caught in the middle -- he has no dog in the fight. He just wants to present a habitable and hospitable environment for all participants of the very important activity for which the arena was designed and kept in place. He doesn't want newbies, potential heavy-hitters, thwarted. He'd just like to see everybody get the chance to play.

Divide and conquer: the sustenance of the Hillaries and the Trumpsters. We libertarians are so good at fighting amongst ourselves -- and snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory!

If there's one thing I've had to learn in gettin' old: I've got to constantly stave off the natural rage that seems to beset old men if we're not vigilant with ourselves. My kids -- and I'm truly proud of each and every one of them -- have strayed from "...everything I've tried to teach 'em...!". Some have chosen to be Demopublicans, others Republicrats. At least one is a Libertarian (capital "L"). And I won't get into the religion thing (which I don't see as "religion" at all, but a way of life that them kids otta be adhering to and teachin' to my grandkids!). All but one have left the Israelitishness of their youth. And that one's a royal pain in the arse -- chiding me over my lackadaisical slippin' and slidin'!

And to top it all off, each of my children has the cheek to earn more money and acquire more "titles" than their Pa ever did! Well, I'll just ride my bike and stay young to age 120. It'll be the first time in the history of mankind that kids have gotten older than the old man. That'll teach 'em. Sam

Jim Davies's picture

"one major player childishly picks up his bat and his ball and leaves the playing field..."
Just in case this refers to me, Sam, thanks for calling me a "major" player but no thanks at all for saying my departure from the ranks of current STR authors was "childish".
On the contrary, it was done with deliberate forethought and strenuous attempts to avoid a breach, on the grounds (with which Paul Bonneau fully agreed at the time) that STR does not have room for both of us. We made a joint approach to the Editor to pick which of us he preferred to keep,  but unfortunately he declined to do so. I therefore quit. I will not be identified with a writer who in my considered opinion is a government infiltrator and agent. That was principled, not childish.
To any who wish to know, however, I continue to write, but in a different place: the Zero Government Blog. It offers "Rational, Refreshing Reflections on What's Happening Now" and so far since August 2010 I've published some 434 essays, or a little over one a week. All of them are firmly based on the rational, accurate and orthodox libertarian understanding of the right of self ownership and anticipate a society from which government has been completely removed.
Its current issue can always be reached via, and its "RECENT" button reveals an indexed archive of the 434 issues. There is an RSS feed option offered, to remind regular readers that a new issue has been published. I also usually post a short notice in the "Blog" section of STR when one has appeared.

mishochu's picture

I think you and Paul are talking about two different things. It's hinted at in your statement, "The confusion here is immense. Rights, you say, Alex, are contingent on popular assent? Nonsense! If that were the criterion, nobody would have any."

You're right...nobody has any "rights". They have permission slips...depending on how you look at it.

If a right has to exist in the minds of every other person on earth for you to have will end up not having them. But that is really just "privilege" or "permission" masked as the "rights" you are talking about.

Americans have a "2nd amendment right"...but no other grouping of "citizens" have that right. That's essentially a permission slip from a document no one living today signed.

Now if you discuss innate "rights" of self defense that you might have (but no one else respects) might still have these "rights" but exercising them in the open comes fraught with ramifications (like having to defend yourself from kidnapping by a second set of assailants). Even though, this "right" exists...what good did it do for you?

I'm beginning to see that real freedom, here and now, is being able to "hide" (in plain sight) and being skipped over when the angel of state (er, ¿death?) passes over you and your loved ones.

So, you have innate "rights" and explicit permissions (from some governments and not others)...but do these "rights" actually advance your desires?

If "I think, therefore I am" and rights exist in the heads of others, the "plebs think not on rights, therefore rights are not". "Rights" may not be defined this way for you, but how has your definition made you more free *today*.

Jim Davies's picture

Thanks for your input. My position on rights is shown in the STRticle Liberty: Rooted in Rights which I mentioned above. Did you take the chance to read it?
If so you'll have seen that the subject is of course natural rights, predominantly the right of self ownership from which all others are derived - not "permission slips" from government, which are not rights at all. Possibly you've confused the two concepts.
As an example, I respectfully suggest you're wrong about Amendment 2. It grants nothing at all. Nobody has a "2nd Amendment right." We humans all have a natural right to defend ourselves any way we wish, and to own any honestly acquired artifact we wish; what Amendment 2 does is to "promise" that the FedGov being founded by those who wrote it would not violate that natural right. Read it again, and see that that is the case!  Even Donald Trump got that one right.
You ask "Even though, this "right" exists...what good did it do for you?" and it's a fair question, when government is trampling over your rights (and actually it never does otherwise.)  I offered the example of a Jew, with a right to life, being herded into the gas chamber in 1944. My answer is that if arguendo he has no such right, nor can there be any such thing as justice or ethics. Six million or so are exterminated, one would have to observe, and so what? Six million ants may be exterminated when an ant hill is destroyed. No significance. Just the way it is. Humans are ants.
I see that as repugnant. Justice and ethics - rational in each case - are vital for human society. Indeed, the knowledge that there is this standard (the innate right of self ownership) is the only basis we have for claiming that government is a gross anomaly, that ought to be abolished. The existence of that right is the reason we can use the word "ought."

mishochu's picture

You can stop being defensive. I am merely pointing out that you two are talking about two different things:

"If so you'll have seen that the subject is of course natural rights, predominantly the right of self ownership from which all others are derived - not "permission slips" from government, which are not rights at all. Possibly you've confused the two concepts."

I'm not confused, I'm actually saying you are talking about something else. That's not confusing two concepts thats affirming you and Paul are talking about two different things.

And yes, I've read your article before.

Jim Davies's picture

No, we're not.

Tony Pivetta's picture

Rights (not God, mind you--that would be "mysticism") are the Ventriloquist. Rights theorists are the Ventriloquist's dummies. There is (or is not) a Right to civilian safety in wartime, "reproductive choice," intellectual property, slant drilling in oil fields, collecting 100 percent of one's income. The dummies all disagree. But they all know Rights exist nonetheless, on a Platonic plane (not Heaven, mind you--that would be "mysticism") somewhere. 
Likewise, the horse I see before me is not a real horse. The real horse exists on a Platonic plane. As does the horse's shit. The horse and horseshit I see before me, in the here-and-now, are not real. For the real horse and real horseshit, I have to visit the Platonic plane. 
So it is with Rights. What Rights I do or do not enjoy in sensory-sensual space-time are meaningless. All that matters is Platonic Rights. You'll find them right next to the Platonic horseshit. It's all so rational!

Samarami's picture

I think you're right.

But what if you're wrong???


Tony Pivetta's picture

I think I know I'm right, so I'm right. I think.

Tony Pivetta's picture

A Randroid, Rothbardian, and Catholic monarchist walk into a bar: two rationalists and one Sky Wizard obscurantist. As Natural Rights theorists, all three agree Rights are objective, discoverable, and rational.
The Randroid and Rothbardian insist a woman has "a right to choose," much to the consternation of the Catholic monarchist. The Rothbardian and Catholic monarchist insist no nation--not even a "civilized" one like the U.S.--has the right to target "savage nation" noncombatants in wartime, much to the consternation of the Randroid. Nobody can come to any agreement on intellectual property, slant drilling, or the morality of the income tax.
The rancor generated by their conflicting versions of Natural Rights prevents them from enjoying a pint together. That "objective, discoverable, and rational" thing doesn't work for them. Stupid metaphysicists. 

Samarami's picture

Fired in the manner of a true marksman, Tony! I wish I could have been that kosher.

And that brief!


Tony Pivetta's picture

Thanks, Sam!


Darkcrusade's picture

I like this;

Do You Own Yourself?
by Butler Shaffer

One of my favorite quotations comes from Thomas Pynchon: "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don´t have to worry about answers." Our world is in the mess it is in today because most of us have internalized the fine art of asking the wrong questions.

Contrary to the thinking that would have us believe that the conflict, violence, tyranny, and destructiveness that permeates modern society is the result of "bad" or "hateful" people, disparities in wealth, or lack of education, all of our social problems are the direct consequence of a general failure to respect the inviolability of one another´s property interests!

I begin my Property classes with the question: "do you own yourself?" Most of my students eagerly nod their heads in the affirmative, until I warn them that, by the time we finish examining this question at the end of the year, they will find their answer most troubling, whatever it may be today. "If you do own yourself, then why do you allow the state to control your life and other property interests? And if you answer that you do not own yourself, then what possible objection can you raise to anything that the state may do to you?" We then proceed to an examination of the case of Dred Scott v. Sandford.

The question of whether Dred Scott was a self-owning individual, or the property of another, is the same question at the core of the debate on abortion. Is the fetus a self-owning person, or an extension of the property boundaries of the mother? The same property analysis can be used to distinguish "victimizing" from "victimless" crimes: murder, rape, arson, burglary, battery, theft, and the like, are victimizing crimes because someone´s property boundaries were violated. In a victimless crime, by contrast, no trespass to a property interest occurs. If one pursues the substance of the "issues" that make up political and legal debates today, one always finds a property question at stake: is person "x" entitled to make decisions over what is his, or will the state restrain his decision-making in some way? Regulating what people can and cannot put into their bodies, or how they are to conduct their business or social activities, or how they are to educate their children, are all centered around property questions.

"Property" is not simply some social invention, like Emily Post´s guide to etiquette, but a way of describing conditions that are essential to all living things. Every living thing must occupy space and consume energy from outside itself if it is to survive, and it must do so to the exclusion of all other living things on the planet. I didn´t dream this up. My thinking was not consulted before the life system developed. The world was operating on the property principle when I arrived and, like the rest of us, I had to work out my answers to that most fundamental, pragmatic of all social questions: who gets to make decisions about what? The essence of "ownership" is to be found in control: who gets to be the ultimate decision maker about people and "things" in the world?

Observe the rest of nature: trees, birds, fish, plants, other mammals, bacteria, all stake out claims to space and sources of energy in the world, and will defend such claims against intruders, particularly members of their own species. This is not because they are mean-spirited or uncooperative: quite the contrary, many of us have discovered that cooperation is a great way of increasing the availability of the energy we need to live well. We have found out that, if we will respect the property claims of one another and work together, each of us can enjoy more property in our lives than if we try to function independently of one another. Such a discovery has permitted us to create economic systems.

There is no way that I could have produced, by myself, the computer upon which I am writing this article. Had I devoted my entire life to the undertaking, I would have been unable even to have conceived of its technology. Many other men and women, equally unable to have undertaken the task by themselves, cooperated without even knowing one another in its creation. Lest you think that my writing would have to have been accomplished through the use of a pencil, think again: I would also have been unable to produce a pencil on my own, as Leonard Read once illustrated in a wonderful, brief essay.

Such cooperative undertakings have been possible because of a truth acknowledged by students of marketplace economic systems, particularly the Austrians about human nature: each of us acts only in anticipation of being better off afterwards as a result of our actions. Toward whatever ends we choose to act, and such ends are constantly rearranging their priorities within us, their satisfaction is always expressed in terms inextricably tied to decision making over something one owns (or seeks to own). Whether I wish to acquire some item of wealth, or to give it away; whether I choose to write some great novel or paint some wondrous work of art; or whether I just wish to lie around and look at flowers, each such act is premised on the fact that we cannot act in the world without doing so through property interests. It is in anticipation of being able to more fully express our sense of what is important to us, both materially and spiritually, that we cooperate with one another.

"Property" also provides a means for maximizing both individual liberty and peace in society. For once we identify who the owner of some item of property is, that person´s will is inviolate as to such property interest. He or she can do what they choose with respect to what is theirs. If I own a barn, I can set fire to it should I so choose. If I must first get another´s permission, such other person is the owner. Individual liberty means that my decision making is immune from the coercion of others, and coercion is always expressed in terms of property trespasses.

At the same time, the property principle limits the scope of my decision making by confining it to that which is mine to control. This is why problems such as industrial "pollution" are usually misconceived, reflecting the truth of Pynchon´s earlier quote. A factory owner who fails to confine the unwanted byproducts of his activities to his own land, is not behaving as a property owner, but as a trespasser. Economists have an apt phrase for this: socializing the costs. He is behaving like any other collectivist, choosing to extend his decision making over the property of others!

But not all of us choose to pursue our self-interests through cooperation with others. Cooperation can exist only when our relationships with others are on a voluntary basis which, in turn, requires a mutual respect for the inviolability of one another´s property boundaries. Those who seek to advance their interests in non-cooperative ways, create another system: politics. If you can manage to drag your mind away from the drivel placed there by your high school civics class teacher, and look at political systems in terms of what they in fact do, you will discover this: every such system is founded upon a disrespect for privately owned property! All political systems are collectivist in nature, for each presumes a rightful authority to violate the will, including confiscation, of property owners. One can no more conceive of "politics" without "theft" than of "war" without "violence."

Every political system is defined in terms of how property is to be controlled in a given society. In communist systems, the state confiscates all the means of production. In less-ambitious socialist systems, the state confiscates the more important means of production (e.g., railroads, communications, steel mills, etc.). Under fascism, "title" to property remains in private hands, but "control" over such property is exercised by the state. Thus, fascism has given us state regulatory systems, in which property owners, be they farmers, homeowners, or businesses, have the illusion of owning what they believe to be "theirs," while the state increasingly exercises the real ownership authority (i.e., control). In welfare state systems, the state confiscates part of the income of individuals and redistributes it to others.

As stated earlier, property is an existential fact. Whatever the society in which we live, someone will make determinations as to who will live where, what resources can be consumed by whom (and when), and how such property will be controlled. Such decisions can either be made by individual property owners, over what is theirs to control, or by the state presuming the authority to control the lives of each of us. When such decisions are made by the state, it is claiming ownership over our lives.

It is at this point that I let the students in on the secret the political establishment would prefer not to have revealed: the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did not end slavery, but only nationalized it! That most Americans acquiesce in such political arrangements, and take great offense should anyone dare to explain their implications, has led me to the conclusion that America may be the last of the collectivist societies to wither away. Most Americans, sad to say, seem unprepared to deny the state´s authority to direct their lives and property as political officials see fit. The reason for this, as my first-day question to students is designed to elicit, is that most of us refuse to insist upon self-ownership.

We may, of course, choose to accept our role as state-owned chattels, particularly if we are well-treated by our masters. We may be so conditioned in our obeisance that, like cattle entering the slaughterhouse, we may pause to lick the hand of the butcher out of gratitude for having been well cared for. On the other hand, we may decide to reclaim our self-ownership by taking back the control over our lives that we have long since abandoned.

Perhaps the insanity of our social destructiveness, including the Bush Administration´s deranged declaration of a permanent war against the rest of the world, will bring about an examination of alternative ways of living together in conditions of peace and liberty. Our political systems cannot bring about such harmonious and life-sustaining ways because they are premised on a rejection of the principle of self-ownership. In a society of self-owning individuals, there would be no place for politicians, bureaucrats, and other state functionaries. Like the rest of us, they would have to confine their lives to minding their own business, and deriving whatever benefit they could from persons who chose to cooperate with them.

There is one person who can restore you to a state of self-ownership, however, and that person is you. To do so, you need only assert your claim, not as some empty gesture, but in full understanding of the existential meaning of such a claim, including the willingness to take full control of and responsibility for your life. While your claim will likely evoke cries of contempt from many, you may also find yourself energized by a life force that permeates all of nature; an élan vital that reminds us that life manifests itself only through individuals, and not as collective monstrosities; that life belongs to the living, not to the state or any other abstraction.

strike's picture

Someone just brought this thread to my attention.  Before I published this column, I asked Carl what he thought about it.  He wrote:

"Very briefly, I think this piece is fit to publish. You ask "is it a fair criticism?" Yes.

I did not link the necessity of the powerful to maintain their rule to the concept of legitimacy (which is something that they require in order to stay in power).

As I recall one of the main points of the article is that if some form of territorial secession is recognized by those in power it logically could lead to secession of smaller and smaller units until those units reach down to the individual.

Spooner had much to say about "consent." I doubt he (Spooner) would consider it a "fanciful notion," as this author describes it Those in government may not "have to be consistent or logical," but consent does have an objective meaning independent of the whims of those in power."

KenK's picture

Historical reality: People live however they want until other more powerful people come around and physically force them to obey.

Paul's picture

If folks are wondering why I have not commented in this discussion, it is only because I did not know it was going on. Not being standoffish or anything. :-)