FIRST LIBERAL ANARCHIST?
this radical school of economists Molinari stood out
as the most radical. He appears to have been the first
writer to draw the conclusion that government could,
in effect, be replaced by competing companies or agencies
offering to provide security and protection. He first
set out this notion in the Journal des Économistes,
of which he was editor, in 1849. Although his colleagues
were somewhat shocked at this exercise in consistency,
he was not purged or banished from the respectable
economic profession for pursuing his argument to its
one of Molinari's later works appeared in English
in 1904 as The
Society of To-Morrow, a reviewer in Benjamin
Tucker's individualist anarchist paper Liberty
found it very interesting indeed, even though Molinari
had backed off a bit from his views of 1849. The reviewer
warned Molinari that if he visited "the land
of the free and brave people" – the United States
– he would be subject to arrest and deportation as
a dangerous anarchist under existing numbskull American
sometime in the 1950s, the late Murray Rothbard was
aware of Molinari's heresies concerning stateless
market society and their parallel with the system
advocated by Tucker and his associates in the U.S.
Rothbard, of course, went on to integrate this "utopian"
notion with the Austrian economics of Ludwig von Mises.
ON STATES AND WAR
I said in my first column on Murray Rothbard, we need
not resolve such questions here. The point is that
a classical liberal so averse to seeing states as
genuine protectors or saviors – much less as Hegelian
embodiments of Reason – would likely have some interesting
views on states and wars. He did indeed.
The Society of Tomorrow,2
Molinari first unfolds his thoughts on human nature
and the role of economic activity in human society.
Under conditions of primitive scarcity it may have
paid some people to fight and kill their neighbors
and take their goods. In time, such murderous raiding
gave way to more organized exploitation, "once
the more astute spoiler of his neighbour comprehend[ed]
the position." Then, "[t]hose who had previously
ravaged now conquered the land to possess it"
(p. 8). Now they enslaved instead of killing. Such
conquerors "began to devise systems for the better
exploitation of territories and of the populations
which were enslaved" (p. 9). These were the first
– "owners," as Molinari says – of early
states could make higher political profits by either
extracting more wealth from existing subjects or by
conquering new lands and new subjects. Given low levels
of productivity, the first way was unfeasible. The
second was more tempting but meant conflict with other
states – in a word, "war" as opposed to
mere raiding (pp. 10-12).
economic progress, rulers could take higher profits
at home, but much of this growing surplus had to be
spent on armies and materiel in order to avoid defeat
at the hands of other states and to make possible
successful seizure of others' lands. This is the same
upward spiral in which Martin Van Creveld spies the
rise of the modern – or "true" – state.
spiral of war-making and war readiness destroyed life
and capital and, "worst burden of all, the persistency
of war obliges every nation to maintain a vast permanent
machinery of destruction," a policy made more
costly by scientific/technical progress and the need
to "keep pace with the armaments of its neighbours"
the last few decades some economists have taken to
viewing states as firms in the business of providing
security. Unhappily, these economists are not in Molinari's
line and overlook important distinctions between real
firms and states. Molinari says that states are enterprises
"which produce… internal and external security"
(p. 19). But as "owners" of territorial
monopolies grounded on force, state rulers and functionaries
aggrandize their profits by seizing the property of
businesses at home, and "abroad they enlarge
their domination by a policy of territorial expansion"
even if we can describe state behavior in economic
terms, we must remember with Molinari that "this
relation of government and nation, as producer and
consumer, is not a free market" (p. 20,
my emphasis). This is precisely what neoclassical
optimists disregard in their conventionalized discussions
of states as firms. Molinari adds that constitutional
governments are those in which society has some leeway
to negotiate the price of the state's monopoly
provision of security. Even so, as of his writing,
the trend was for states to "refrain [less] from
abusing" their monopoly, while peoples were less
"interested in, and perhaps less capable of,
guarding against such abuse" (p. 21).
notes that so-called popular sovereignty had not altered
matters in principle. Constitutions and separation
of powers had merely unleashed political parties –
"actual armies which have been trained to pursue
power" (p. 26) – raising up a fierce competition
for temporary "ownership" (so to speak)
of the power to exploit society in the name of protecting
it. This is a good time to recall Molinari's role
as mentor to the great Italian economist and sociologist
Vilfredo Pareto, whose critiques of parliamentary
systems and "pluto-democracy" are well known.
the supposed checks on power afforded by constitutions,
press freedom, and so forth, it was clear to Molinari
that the liberal republican program had failed to
reduce government expenditures and make major wars
less likely. Worse, "popular sovereignty"
– ownership of the state apparatus by the people considered
as an abstract, i.e., imaginary and impossible, entity
– made territorial conquests more problematic and
peaceful secession impossible (pp. 52-53). The individual
had not necessarily gained by his theoretical possession,
in France, of one thirty-eight-millionth share in
the national sovereignty. Persecution of ethnic minorities
also followed logically from the "democratic"
theory of the state.
whatever forms, state provision of judicial and protective
services had – and would continue to – center on the
interests of the real owners of the state. Their
security against resistance, revolt, and loss of power
and political profit would come first and the wants
of the "customers" dead last.
STEPS FORWARD, HALF A STEP BACK
spelling out his hopes for a peaceful and productive
future state of society (pp. 77-95), Molinari speaks
of "individual sovereignty" as the goal.
Taxes will be replaced by "contributions"
made to a national "agency" charged with
external defense against aggression. There might an
"agency" in each locality to handle a few
"public goods" like sewer systems. Molinari
sees these agencies operating on the model of insurance
companies to which each person pays a premium. Those
Republican Party worthies who prate about putting
government on a businesslike basis would flee in horror
from Molinari's framing of the issue.
would be no incentive for such a defensive agency
to wage wars of conquest. The only test would be whether
such agencies could actually defend their clients
from neighboring raiders and states. Certainly, as
Molinari says, such agencies would be much cheaper.
Having no charter to provide anything beyond security,
they would have no basis for interference in markets,
property, society, family matters, religion, and so
on. Here we have no Hegelian monstrosity or touchy-feely
therapeutic state bent on social reconstruction. Edmund
Burke famously said that the state should not be viewed
as a mere business partnership dealing with "low
concerns" such as calico and tea. By now, we
might well wish that it had been. Actually, our hypothetical
defense agencies have no business fooling with calico
or tea, either, but had such agencies taken care of
real defense of real clients and nothing else,
it would have been a nicer century.
course, Molinari has made one big concession relative
to his maximum position of 1849. His "retreat"
is this: under the spell of the notion of indivisible
public goods, he has reintroduced the notion of territorial
monopoly into his pure-market theory of defense. The
question naturally arises whether or not this little
opening is big enough for the full-blown state to
drive its eighteen-wheeler back through it. Rothbard
thought it was. Certainly, real limitation of the
power over society of those who are supposedly protecting
it is the key problem in political thought, at least
for those who wish to live in free and prosperous
commonwealths. As I noted in my third column, on Indo-European
myth, the problem is as old as society itself.
de Molinari made a impressive contribution to the
discussion, whether his later partial "retreat"
was mistaken or not.
"An Economist on the Future of Society,"
Liberty, September 1904. For an account of
Molinari's career and ideas, see Murray N. Rothbard,
Economics: Austrian Perspectives on the History
of Economic Thought, vol. II (Cheltenham:
Edward Elgar, 1995), pp. 453-455. Molinari's 1849
essay has been published as "The Production
of Security," tr. J. Huston McCulloch (New
York: Center for Libertarian Studies, Occasional
Paper #2, 1977).
York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904.
argument here parallels that of Franz Oppenheimer,
State (New York: Vanguard Press. 1926).