On this intermission episode of The Vonu Podcast, you’ll hear a classic article by myself and Kyle Rearden, originally published on October 21st, 2015, titled, Jumping The Minarchist Ship: Why & How America Came To Be.
Part 1: The Sinking Minarchist Ship, a Metaphor
Part 2: The Metaphor Explained
Part 3: Conclusion
For some reason, it’s been gotten a good amount of traffic on a number of recent occasions; and so I figured I would republish it here for your delectation.
The audio isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad either. Just keep in mind this was 2015. Otherwise, please enjoy!
Part 1: The Sinking Minarchist Ship, a Metaphor
In a land long, long ago, there was an unsinkable ship. It was made from the strongest, most revolutionary industrial steel, known as Rearden Metal. She was envied by other engineers, and other civilized Nations were in awe at this great feat that was accomplished. The name of this ship was “America”.
After gaining its independence from lower quality metals, she gained true freedom. She could go anywhere, anytime, without interference; life was good for America. Although, there was one problem overlooked by the engineers and the passengers. There was an extremely small hole in the stern in the vessel.
It was first noticed by the dockworkers. They pointed this out to the Captain and the engineers, but they were sent away quickly, and were told that this was the greatest ship ever built, and that their concern was misplaced.
But, as you could imagine, the hole got bigger. The dockworkers screamed bloody murder and threatened to get off of the ship, as it was a danger to their life, liberty, and happiness. The Captain and his engineers gave them an ultimatum: “It’s either this ship, or you drown.”
The dockworkers acquiesced, but demanded stronger nails and a redistribution of weight across the ship to put less strain on the stern. So, they moved around some chairs and tables, some of the supplies were moved into the Captain’s Quarters, and the hole was patched temporarily.
Fast forward, and the sea vessel America, in all of her glory, had completed about ¼ of her journey. Life on the boat was still decent; couples danced, fine wine was consumed, and prosperity was enjoyed by most. But again, there was something overlooked: the once extremely small hole in the stern of the ship had now doubled, and the ship was taking on a substantial amount of water.
The dockworkers, again, screamed bloody murder. “Captain, we’re taking on water!” The Captain finally took heed of the dockworkers’ concerns and proposed a solution: a tax on all wine to pay for the ship’s repairs. The dockworkers and passengers were outraged and took up arms against the Captain and the engineers: this was known as the Wine Rebellion.
Resources were running low and they had to find a way re-stock, for all they knew, this could be a long war. The Captain and his engineers had no way to produce these weapons themselves, so they began stealing the technology created by the ship’s private sector and decided to borrow some muskets and swords from a nearby Dutch ship, while passengers and dockworkers fired up additional mills to produce the resources themselves.
Many lives were lost and the authoritative Captain and his engineers had to figure out a way to pay for the war debt. The taxing powers of the established authority greatly increased, and again, the war debt was socialized; the thought of letting the market decide never crossed the Captain’s mind, as his goal was to increase his own power and wealth, while the passengers and workers on the ship suffered greatly.
Life was becoming more and more restrictive upon the vessel known as America, and a gaping hole was now visible; the stern of the ship had begun to capsize. The Captain’s engineers built him a printing press and now had the ability to create money out of thin air. Prices of the goods upon America became inflated, the tax burden increased, and the vessel was consumed by two large-scale wars, with no end in sight.
Although, the passengers and dockworkers still believed that they were free and that this vessel, America, was still the greatest ship on earth. Some believed that the Captain was a benevolent and had their best interests at heart; some believed that the solution was to endlessly tweak the structure of the ship to fit their liking (both of the previous classes are called “sternists”); and then there were those few that wanted to jump ship altogether (otherwise known as volunbowtarists).
The capsizing continued and the sternists were none the wiser. Supplies were disappearing into the ocean, hundreds of passengers drowned, and the volunbowtarists pointed out the bleeding obvious. Nonetheless, the sternists still had faith that the Boathkeepers and military would be able to restore America to her former glory.
While all of this was taking place, a number of volunbowtarists were attempting to accelerate the complete capsize of the vessel known as America. They worked in the counter-economy and were illegally building life-boats for their escape when the ship inevitably collapsed.
Life on the ship became extremely oppressive. The Captain’s Men were harassing, abusing, and murdering many innocent passengers upon the ship; some were tossed overboard for not paying the proper tributes to the authority; and some were inhumanely tossed into the brig for innocuous things, like smoking plants or buying similar weaponry that the Captain already had.
That continued for some time, and then the Captain’s Men outlawed the harpoons and began universal confiscation. War ensued again, and the once great vessel known as America, had capsized. There were no survivors.
Remember the lifeboats?
The legacy of America remains mostly unknown, except for those few that could see the dangers of authoritarianism. While the sternists were living their lives as slaves, the volunbowtaryists utilized the black and grey markets to retain as much freedom as humanly possible, and also to guarantee their survival when the inevitable collapse occurred. Many lives were lost, but the few that survived will be living without authority. “Limited” sternism? – Not even once.
Part 2: The Metaphor Explained
Originally, the United States of America was founded upon the humanistic values discovered throughout the western European Age of Enlightenment, eventually resulting in classical liberalism. This liberalism eventually morphed into the governance structure of constitutional republicanism, which is the officially sanctioned ideology of the several American governments, as evidenced by their “guarantee” of a republican form of government. The explicit intention behind American republicanism was to manifest the conceivably smallest, most limited, and least offensive government in the history of mankind.
Nationally, the first American government was codified under the Articles of Confederation upon its ratification in 1781. Although this first American confederacy lacked any taxing authority, it did carry some notion of American independent governance for the better part of a decade, until the United States federal Constitution was ratified in 1788. The reason given in The Federalist Papers for swapping the confederacy for a federation was due to the alleged inability of the colonists to repay the war debt back to their creditors, such as the Dutch.
This socialization of the war debt was one of the key reasons for scrapping the Articles in favor of the Constitution. In light of the hyperinflation from the Continentals, as well as the counterfeiting of these Continental paper notes by the imperial British government, was the justification used by the Federalists to insist on the Contract Clause (Art. I § 10 cl. 1) to be included within the federal Constitution, so as to “guarantee” that only precious metals are to be considered as money. Unfortunately, this socialized war debt amongst the former colonies was the prime excuse by the Federalists to demand increased centralized government power, above and beyond the quite minimal government of the confederacy under the Articles.
Hitchens’ razor is invaluable for argumentation ethics, and pivotal for understanding both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. At the Philadelphia Convention, the delegates proposed their federal Constitution to remedy the perceived defects in the Articles; in other words, they were making a claim that their Constitution was better than the Articles in executing the principles of constitutional republicanism. Therefore, as critics, the Anti-Federalists did not bear the burden of proof as the Federalists did, so the historical question before legal scholars, and particularly economists, is whether or not the Federalists bore their burden of proof.
The key-defining feature of the ratification period was the Federalist motto of “take this or nothing.” These advocates of increased centralized government authority were not truly interested in public discourse, but rather, they only wrote their rhetoric with the goal of greasing the skids, and maybe even the palms, of those delegates at the various state conventions who were voting on whether or not to ratify the federal Constitution. Another likely reason the Federalists wrote their propaganda was simply to avoid being accused of executing a coup d’état, as coups do not transpire out in public view until after the hostile takeover has been accomplished; this is nothing to say of the intimidation and vandalism caused by the Federalists against the newspapers who dared to print Anti-Federalist letters, as documented by historian Pauline Maier.
Unfortunately, the Anti-Federalists ultimately acquiesced to the ratification of the federal Constitution, simply because they won their most important concession from the Federalists, namely, an enumerated bill of rights. Contrary to Alexander Hamilton’s protestations that the federal Constitution was already a bill of rights in Federalist Paper #84, the Anti-Federalists were politically organized enough to the degree that they were able to successfully logjam ratification until their compromise was agreed to by their Federalist opponents. Once the logrolling (that is, vote trading) was accepted by the Federalists, the ratification of the Constitution successfully passed without any hindered delay.
Between 1787 – 1790, though, the Constitution was “the supreme law of the land,” absent the Bill of Rights. If the constitutional ratification period were to teach us anything, it would be that once you begin making all sorts of concessions and compromises with statists, because that is “the democratic process,” then you are making a deal with the Devil, which never ends well. While there are shades of gray within the human experience, black and white still exists, since there is no such thing as being “a little bit pregnant.”
Ironically enough, it would be negligent to fail to observe the connection between American republicanism and government wars. In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the British Empire imposed higher taxes on the American colonists in order to force them to bear the tax burden of that war, and the decision to socialize the war debt amongst the colonies was made by the Parliament in England; this was the true source behind the various tariffs, such as the infamous Stamp Act. All of these measures were designed to pay down the war debt incurred by the French and Indian War. Needless to say, it would be an understatement that the colonists were not at all thrilled about this.
Naturally, this socialized war debt incurred from the French and Indian War is one of the direct causes of the American Revolutionary War for Independence, which oh-so-conveniently results in yet another war debt. As you can no doubt tell by now, the Hegelian Dialectic is definitely at play here, for the specific formula looks like this:
War (the problem) > Debt (the reaction) > Increased power in order to socialize the war debt (the “solution”)
This increased power, whose purpose was directly advocated as the only way to socialize the war debt, became a seriously real grievance that began the cycle once again, leading inexorably into the next war, with the Whiskey Rebellion acting as the tipping point (this ultimately didn’t happen because George Washington was successfully brutal enough towards those Revolutionary War veterans, many of whom were those militiamen he had openly despised earlier). Would it be that much of a stretch, considering all the aforementioned events, that the earlier Shays’ Rebellion might have been provocateured in order to justify the necessity for the Militia/Insurrection Clause (Art I § 8 cl. 15), despite the fact that this clause directly contradicts the liberally republican right of revolution, as enumerated in the Declaration of Independence?
From what I can tell, the only truly limited national government was the American confederacy under the Articles of Confederation, but this Great Experiment in collective self-governance was carelessly discarded a mere seven years later by substituting this social contract with a noticeably more authoritarian one, and all for the sake of socializing war debts. Because the repayment of these war debts must be centrally planned, according to the Federalists, the free market was not allowed to solve this all too human problem of satisfying debts; in other words, the Federalist central planners chose the State over that of the Market.
In real world terms, what has this pivotal decision ultimately led to, in terms of the success of limited government being able to practically function? It has led Americans on the road to perdition for over two centuries, albeit very slowly. Since Leviathan could only increase its power by feeding on the Market, this was the only true reason economic “regulations” (such as tariffs, taxes, price controls, capital controls, minimum wage, inflation, borrowed government debt, and so on) were initially the least restrictive of any government in known human history, because you can’t squeeze blood from a stone.
Over time, what Leviathan has managed to do is feed on both the wealth and technology produced by the free market in order to systematically infringe upon the liberties of the American citizenry at-large. Therefore, this is why limited government, at least thus far, is hypothetical at best, since according to Hitchens’ razor, it is incumbent upon those advocating such a position to bear the burden of proof, and as a critic, I don’t feel ashamed to declare that those advocates of limited government have failed to bear their burden of proof. The implications of this are nothing short of astounding, especially in light of the many and varied ripple effects throughout Western civilization as it stands, to say the least.
Some might imply that I secretly desire an absolute form of government, whether monarchy, aristocracy, or some version thereof. I respond that these (more honest?) authoritarians have similarly not borne their burden of proof for demonstrating either the morality or effectiveness for their version of the State in producing equitable relations between humans. It would be a false dichotomy to presume that either an individual must be either for or against limited government, as juxtaposed against absolute government, because notice there is never an option presented to challenge the institution of government itself!
Of course, the constitutionalist patriots portray their ideology as eminently practical because of real world experience; I submit to you that real world experience has demonstrated the futility of their position, instead. According to the federal Constitution, the Army Clause (Art. I § 8 cl. 12) specifically enumerates that:
“The Congress shall have Power To…raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years…”
This is rather curious, because the American patriot movement, by and large, is not only supportive of veterans, but more importantly, active duty military personnel, as evidenced by organizations such as the Oathkeepers (much of this brazen support could easily be described as unabashed adoration, such as when Jax Finkel told a veteran, “Thank you for your service”). When put in this light, the very constitutionality of the U.S. Army is greatly brought into question, never mind the U.S. Air Force, both of which could have been solved by way of constitutional amendment; yet, this was never done, so as a matter of constitutionality, the wholesale “support the troops” attitude of the patriots is unconstitutional on its face.
Once you consider the betrayal of constitutionality when the Three Percenters, Oathkeepers, and other American patriots across the country went armed to “protect” the military recruitment stations in the aftermath of the Chattanooga shootings, then any and all claims of republicanism being practical due to real world experience evaporates completely. It is important to be consistent so that you don’t contradict yourself all the time, and sad to say, the American patriot movement has all but died because they’d rather defend the military-industrial complex rather than set up local Committees of Safety; this would be tantamount to the American colonists grabbing their muskets to defend the British regulars (that is, the redcoats). I regret to say that the Bundy Affair was probably the last great contribution the American patriot community has offered the cause of human liberty, and for that, I am grateful; yet, as St. Paul said, it is time to put away childish things.
The takeaway from the ratification period, I think, is to never beg for your freedom, because if you do, the result is tyranny, plain and simple. Whether it occurs immediately, or generations later, any yielding to despots only serves to set back the evolution of the human race. Humans are inherently good, but in order to manifest that practically in the real world, then freedom and liberty must be taken seriously, which is impossible for any government of any kind to ever do.
Part 3: Conclusion
So, what is the takeaway? First off, coercion is ethically decrepit. As libertarians, we hold the twin axioms of non-aggression and self-ownership as serious as a heart attack, and what we have examined previously, is a violation of both of the axioms; the non-aggression principle, being violated by coercion, and the axiom of self-ownership being violated by the socialization of the war debt.
As was discussed previously, the State feeds off of the wealth and innovation created by the free market. For example, the only way dragnet wiretapping is possible is by the State abuse of the technology known as the telephone. The State is a predatory parasite and the free market is a productive host. The number of people working in the private sector must always outnumber those working in the public sector (government), or we all die. Therefore, when you have higher levels of unemployment and increased levels of jobs in the public sector, this would appear to be a fait accompli, considering that the federalists chose central planning over voluntary exchange, because of the way they handled the war debt. The only reason Benjamin Tucker’s four monopolies even exist, is because of the federal Constitution.
Those four monopolies are:
- The ability to coin and borrow money;
- Eminent domain;
- Copyright; and,
- The power to lay and collect taxes and tariffs.
Those are neither the result of congressional overreach, nor administrative agency regulations; but rather, the very foundations of Constitutional Republicanism itself.
“The Republic was doomed from the second the Constitution was written; it was an authoritarian ruling class, theoretically limited. It was doomed to be here. If you read what the anti-Federalists wrote, they knew it. They predicted perfectly, actually underestimated it.”
“If you want a few references to republics in history, democratic republics, representative democratic republics, try the People’s Republic of China, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Weimar Republic, out of which the Nazi Empire grew. Does it seem like republics lead to happiness and peace and justice?”
You can’t centrally plan, you can’t endlessly tweak, and of course you cannot reform the State; Leviathan is not a soft, cuddly teddy bear. And this is why we are jumping off of the minarchist ship.
Josie Wales provides a polite, yet truthful way of explaining the true value of the Founders. She said:
“They were wrong in their assumption that political power could ever be good, or legitimate, or could ever make society what it should be. Basically they were right about every power that they said government should not have, and wrong about every power they said government should have. If there is anything to be learned from the American experiment, it is that limited government is a myth; that political authority cannot be kept in check by any document; and the political process, any election, or any supposed system of checks and balances. If the American experiment proved anything, it’s that once the seed of authoritarian power has been planted, however small and limited it may seem at first, it will find a way to grow, and it will become a threat to peace, justice, and freedom.”