Rejoinder on “Classical Liberalism”


My critique of Sanjeev Sabhlok’s draft on libertarian anarchy, he writes, grossly misrepresented his positions.  I had a hard look at my own article and his reply. I sincerely apologize if I have misrepresented Sabhlok’s positions, but I was unable to see where. By no means did I confuse Classical liberalism with socialism. All I said was that socialism is the logical end result of statism-which means: If we accept the necessity of the state and follow it consistently, we will be taken straight to a totalitarian cage. This is true. Soviet Russia is the logical end result of the philosophy of statism. It should be kept in mind that the difference between classical liberalism and interventionism is only a matter of degree. It is not possible at all for a principled thinker to advocate a particular Government intervention and reject another. A natural law allows no exception, as Gustave de Molinari rightly pointed out.

Public consent

Sabhlok’s claim that the state is a voluntary social contract that has always existed runs into obvious difficulties. If individuals brought a state into existence voluntarily, what existed before it? If the state did, any voluntary action or consent would only be superfluous. As human beings have free will to decide whether to associate or not, this is simply not the case. If I am an anarchist, as I am, and has never consented to the state, why I am I bound to bow my knees to parasites of the state?

In the words of Christopher Pearson, who isn’t a libertarian, even by the wildest stretch of imagination, “The State is not an eternal and unchanging element in human affairs. For most of its history, humanity got by (whether more happily or not) without a State. For all its universality in our times, the State is a contingent (and comparatively recent) historical development. Its predominance may also prove to be quite transitory. Once we have recognized that there were societies before the State, we may also want to consider the possibility that there could be societies after the State.”

The social contract argument holds only if many obvious arguments against it are answered.

1)     Why should majority consent grant the state legitimate authority over the area within its political boundary? What makes the majority sacrosanct?

2)     If John has the right to consent for himself and Jim(who is in the minority of dissenters), why hasn’t Jim the right to consent for himself at least?

3)     If the Government has legitimate jurisdiction over its territory, why don’t you have legitimate ownership over your own property?

4)     If you don’t own your own property or even body, how would your consent matter?

I can easily go on.

Credibility of the State

When someone argues that the Government has far more credibility than the private sector, I have no idea how one is supposed to respond. We all have been cheated a lot many times by both sectors.  However, in a free market where justice prevails, the private sector poses little threat to the common man. Set aside your ideology and ask yourself an honest question: “If you were honest in your conviction that the public sector has more credibility, would you have sent your children to private schools and sought the service of private hospitals when public services were available at a fraction of the cost?” When I am in front of a Government official with my prospects hanging on his whims and fancies, what I feel is not much different from what Charlotte Bronte so beautifully expressed on how Jane feels when faced with John’s bullying: “Every nerve I had feared him, and every morsel of flesh in my bones shrank when he came near. There were moments when I was bewildered by the terror he inspired, because I had no appeal whatever against either his menaces or his inflictions.”

Foreign invasion

Suffice it to say that non violent resistance has more of a chance of a success in war-even in bringing down civilian casualties. See Bryan Caplan (1994) and Roderick Long (1994) Second, there is a seven century long history of successful, profitable privateering in national defense which is well documented. See Larry Sechrest (2001, 2006, 2004, 2007) or Tabarrok (2006)

Checks and Balances

It stands to reason that there are no genuine checks and balances when there are no right incentives (Profit motive). The constitution is not a living entity which ensures that the politicians and state officials stay moral. See Roderick Long (Market anarchism as constitutionalism), Lysander Spooner (No treason) and Randy Barnett (Restoring the Lost Constitution)


Classical Liberalism and Interventionism

By a classical liberal state, Ludwig Von Mises meant a night watchman state which he believed, will protect individuals from coercion, and has no other purpose whatsoever.  As he wrote, “The only task of the strictly Liberal state is to secure life and property against attacks both from external and internal foes.” Sabhlok himself says: “You did not stick to the ONLY function for which the state exists: defence, police and justice. It is socialist, welfare-statist, and Keynesian ideas that have created the governance flaws we often hear about.”

Let’s see how Sabhlok’s ideal state differs. He writes in Discovery of Freedom: “No doubt a free society must feed its hungry as part of a well-designed social insurance paid through taxes, a scheme that ensures reasonable equality of opportunity.” And a sentence later: “They attempt to make ‘freedom from hunger’ a ‘right’. The only real rights are to freedom, subject to accountability.” And later: “Economic redistribution is not within the scope of the government’s mandate, being a form of theft. On the other hand, it is perfectly legitimate to talk about progressive taxation and fully funded and contributory social insurance.” Two sentences later: “Envy is not a matter of interest to the state.” And later: “If everyone is provided with a reasonably level playing field (reasonable equality of opportunity) then no further need arises to deal with the concept of ‘least-advantaged’. A simple income-based insurance scheme is all that we can set up.” And later: “Classical liberals also accept the need for state-operated social insurance with a tightly defined, frugal social minimum. This is not redistribution – which classical liberals firmly oppose! And social justice is not their keyword.”

The Interesting fact is that Ludwig Von Mises meant an entirely different thing with classical liberalism. He was totally against such mushy schemes. Sabhlok writes: “the free society must prevent suicides by providing emergency counseling services – possibly as part of a publicly funded social insurance scheme.” At whose expense? The free people? To cap it all, he quotes Von Mises out of context, listing him among philosophers who justifed social insurance. He points out, “Von Mises noted, while arguing against claims that social policy should create happiness, ‘All that social policy can do is to remove the outer causes of pain and suffering; it can further [advance] a system that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and houses the homeless.’”

Von Mises was fanatically against Social insurance . Ludwig Von Mises clearly states in Human Action: “No civilized community has callously allowed the incapacitated to perish. But the substitution of a legally enforceable claim to support or sustenance for charitable relief does not seem to agree with human nature as it is.” It is much far from Sanjeev Sabhlok’s claim that “There has never been a time in history when private charity was sufficient to feed and educate all the poor. The classical liberal state, of course, on the other hand, takes care of these issues through social insurance.”


I can imagine Sabhlok denying all these contradictions, claiming that I don’t have a grip over the nuances and subtleties of his statements, but I wonder how these statements could be fit into a non contradictory framework.

Private Justice

If, as statists claim, the rich can easily shoot their enemies with the help of their private defence agencies, why is it not more easily possible under the Government? Why the continuous profit signals are a weaker motivation to be just than a signal once in five years? The question makes even more sense when we consider the fact that the worst politicians like had the most “successful” careers (Roosevelt and Reagan, for instance). To think that the masses will topple the unjust state is just a fantasy disconnected from the hard facts of reality.

PS: I nearly laughed when I read “The febrile, adolescent dreams of libertarian anarchists must be nipped in the bud so we can get on with the serious challenge of battling socialism and statism in India.”. It is my kind of humor!