By Insula Qui
Many libertarians insist that authoritarianism must be a force contrary to libertarianism, and this is a very justifiable position to hold. In a traditional view of state politics, we can see authoritarian governments colliding with libertarian governments. The ultra-authoritarian regime of Mao Zedong is obviously much worse than the ultra-libertarian regime of the US under the Articles of Confederation. But here we are met with three conceptual problems.
First, both the regime of Mao and the early US were not sustainable and eventually gave way to a more libertarian China and a more authoritarian US. This is even to the point that both states are now comparable in the degree of authoritarianism. Obviously, the US still has many rights that Chinese people do not, but the overall condition of both countries falls within the global norm. The countries have been steadily trending towards a balance of government size and government scope. Second, the economic orders of the countries started out as liberal and communist experiments. This allowed for an ideological justification for the size of the respective states.
But both of those questions are irrelevant to the matter currently at hand. We must see authoritarianism within the realm of a libertarian society and not simply as a matter of governance. This is because libertarianism is only a statement on the role of the state while authoritarianism describes the role of the individual in relation to authority. If the role of the state is to provide authority, and if the individual is subject to that authority, it will result in a loss of liberty. However, when the authority is provided on a non-state basis, any authoritarianism must not be coercive and as such must not be illibertarian.
There are two ways that there can be authoritarianism in a libertarian society. The first is a natural outgrowth of the libertarian philosophy, there could inherently be something about libertarianism that makes it conducive to authoritarianism. The second is a system imposed incidentally on top of libertarianism by there being a demand for that system. We need to first tackle authoritarianism that is inherent to libertarianism in order to accurately portray incidental authoritarianism in the context of a libertarian social order.
The market itself is an authoritarian system, this is for three reasons. All people are restrained in their choice of occupation to that which they have natural proclivities for, that which they have training in, and that which is in the most demand by the society at large. A low IQ person cannot become a surgeon and there is very little money to be made by mass-producing petroleum lamps. A person must do the job he is the best at while doing the job that the society wants the most, individuals only have any input on their choice of occupation if they can cover the costs of training. That is unless an individual sacrifices wealth and security to be outside of this system, but the market punishes those who do not submit to its authority by reducing their wealth and security. Authoritarianism is a natural outgrowth of the market economy and not contradictory to the market. The division of labour requires that each individual performs the most socially necessary duty that they have an aptitude for.
The second reason why libertarianism can be inherently authoritarian is that free choice in social relations can find the natural authority, these are the people who are the best rulers. And in a libertarian society with a perfect division of labour, the best rulers would lead. Whether these people lead communities or companies is irrelevant, libertarianism is still a system that can use the market to find the best authorities. And in a system where the authorities are those who are the best at being authorities, the benefit that authority brings is the highest it can be. The libertarian social order has authorities that are socially responsible and can be trusted, this is contrary to the statist system. There is a natural inclination towards beneficial authorities, which is best manifested in a libertarian society.
And finally, all production is determined by the market. It’s not only the individuals that are bound to the market system but the producers of goods as well. Those who own capital must also find the best social uses for capital and not waste that capital on lesser uses. No individual determines the goods that the market produces, but rather the market itself is responsible for what individuals produce. The owners of capital are perpetually restrained by the system of profits and losses which incentivizes them to best serve the market as its own sovereign entity. The market fundamentally serves the role of an authoritarian dictatorship as it controls all production, labour, and provides the most capable authorities.
Libertarianism cannot be aptly described as a system with no rulers, the ruler in a libertarian society will always be the market as its own distinct entity. There is no higher power than the market provided that there is a stateless capitalist order. And this is not necessarily a materialistic view of the world, the market is the outgrowth of a people and not an engine for the highest possible GDP. It is the aggregation of all goals, all talents, and all desires. However, there are still two social reasons for why a libertarian would not want to accept this conclusion. First, the market being authoritarian is a part of the communist critique of the market economy and conceding this seems to concede that the communists are right. But this would only be true if rule by the market was a bad thing. And if the market is a capable ruler, there is no problem with it being in power. This is the axis on which we should tackle communism. Secondly, authoritarian statists are not inclined towards the market, but this is easy to comprehend, the power of the market is antagonistic to the power of the authoritarian state.
On top of these facts we can now develop a theory on how authoritarianism is not only a universal market phenomenon, but can also be an incidental mode of social organization in a libertarian society. This means that there can be authoritarianism in a libertarian system that is not directly caused by libertarianism but simply by the preferences of particular people within that system. This is the notion of market governance and libertarian statecraft, entities on the free market which can demonstrate their value and provide governance above and beyond the state. These are not universal facts of life in a libertarian society, but they are still an important concept to address.
The first and most important question is why anyone would want governance if they are libertarians. Why get rid of the state when it will only lead to governments reforming and creating a new form of organized governance within libertarianism? And the answer to this is fairly simple, we are not aiming towards creating a libertarian order for the sake of creating a libertarian order, we want to have the most efficient system that respects property rights. And there is nothing within libertarian governance and statecraft that goes against any rights. The market government would serve as an agency without any particular privileges above any other entity.
And here we need to make the crucial distinction between what is a market government and a state. We cannot conflate the two as doing so would lead to a mischaracterization of the government as being something exclusive to the statist system, and we cannot assume that this is true. We have already, as libertarians, combated the notions that defence and law are not exclusive to the state. It would not be a stretch to create a system in which governance is possible without the involvement of the state. Governance simply becomes large-scale property management without any malicious connotations. This allows us to fundamentally reconcile liberty with authority and resolve the tension between these two worldviews. We don’t need to oppose authority to be libertarians.
Now that we have established the possibility of authority under libertarianism, we can repurpose the previous paragraphs to form a cohesive argument for why authority is desirable other than simply being possible. First, since the division of labour is inherently libertarian, we must also admit that according to the division of labour, not every person is as fit to manage property. And since governance without the state is simply managing property, libertarianism would necessarily imply that property management is delegated to an agency on the market and would not be done by each solitary individual. There will be authority as personal profit demands that the most apt manage property.
Furthermore, since the natural aristocracy is given free reign, they will always rule and this rule will be beneficial. Libertarianism finds this aristocracy and gives them the mandate to obtain as much influence as they can justify having. This aristocracy will be an inherent part of libertarianism and is a desirable part of the philosophy. This form of authority is also a natural outgrowth of the inherent workings of the market and will lead to the incidental form of authority created by human organization.
And lastly, since all production is done according to demand, this governance will never be corrupt as it has to supply good governance to sustain itself. Market governance will fundamentally strive to fulfill the wishes of those who are governed and will not be a parasitic entity like statist governance is. Thus, supply meets demand, the quality of products increases, and the price charged for those products decreases. The market creates as much authority as is efficient and good governance will be found in a libertarian social order.