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A Debate Proposal

February 21, 2010

Our blog’s particular focus is on innovations that can increase the quality and diversity of governance. And one key element to improving the quality of governance, we believe, is having the power of exit. Some communitarians have felt our position undermines their favored values and obligations. We feel otherwise, so we’d like to propose an online debate across the political spectrum. Max Borders and I offer you the following prompt:

Community and Coercion

How is community possible? Suppose we all agree that there is a deep-seated human need for community and that people have certain obligations to it. How far do those obligations extend? How much coercion by one person of another is required to sustain community? Liberals and communitarians agree that civil association is vital to the success of human society. But to what degree is community a product of dynamic, bottom-up forces and to what degree does community require top-down guidance by elites with authority? In our view, most of these questions terminate in one’s answer to a simpler question:

“Is a right of exit compatible with our obligations either to community or to a territorial system of governance?”

This statement is meant as a conversation starter. We’d like for as many thoughtful bloggers as possible from across the political spectrum to talk about this claim. We’ve left it relatively free of context so that people can have maximum freedom to comment. As people write posts, we will assemble these links into a single post with links as a point of reference.

So if you feel so inclined, reply to the above proposition and send us a link to your post at

Or not! Of course…


  1. February 28, 2010 1:41 pm

    I think the question “Is a right of exit …” is not the correct one and I share the perplexities pointed out by Adam Knott in his very good comment.
    The question should focus on the right of non-ascription. Let’s put it this way: Can someone ascribe you (put your name) to a certain community according to the place were you where born, or on the basis other qualifications not of your choice, and bind you to certain obligations irrespective of your specific reality and values (e.g. to pay taxes for a war you oppose)?
    In other words, the problem is not the right of exit but the right of non-ascription.
    We have to move from ascribed status to voluntary contract (see Henry Sumner Maine)
    So, I am not asking statists for the right of exit but I want to tell everybody that I do not want to be ascribed to a status I do not like and I will do all I can to alter my situation, in association with other individuals who share this aim. This means to set up projects and devise paths that will annihilate the power of those who want to make me subaltern to their conception (the statists).
    This is the same dynamics that freed the servants from their ascribed status of subjection to the feudal masters. They left the countryside and went to set up free towns. Now there are no virgin territories where to start new communities and we should start new ways of social organization within the old ones. Once those ways are in place (for instance new ways of payment, new ways of providing security, etc.) the monopolistic world will be on his way out (like the aristocratic world of bygone ages).

    • February 28, 2010 5:56 pm

      Thank you for these comments Gian Piero

      The argument I would like to make to Max, Dwight, Grant, and anyone who is open to brainstorming in this direction, is that strictly speaking, I or we do not have to demand that anyone else change their ideology or convictions. We can proceed with our voluntary ways while others proceed with their coercive system. We don’t have to demand that they change it, and instead we can focus our energy on constructing our own communities.

      For example, let’s say that libertarians had their own “million libertarian march” on Washington. Instead of making demands of statists, these million libertarians could all give each other a ten second shoulder massage after which they would each pay one another for said massage. Maybe the payment would be some kind of barter payment. After the march is over, all million libertarians would go home. They would have just established their own “free trade” agreement, right out in public for the world to see. There is no need to demand anything of anyone. It is all voluntary and coordinated action amongst like-minded people. The statists can still have all their laws in place. That is their business and their problem.

      Now, the “million libertarian march” would be expensive for libertarians. They would have to pay for transportation, lodging, and food. Maybe this march is a good idea, and maybe it isn’t.

      But this march needn’t be done in Washington. It could be done over Internet instead, and, Internationally. And then the cost would be very little. The cost would then be the time and effort of those involved. Libertarians can have a “million libertarian march” on the Internet, or something like this. They can establish their own community with other like-minded people, and this doesn’t have to entail any hostile actions or hostile demands toward others whatsoever. All statists can go about their business unharmed, and unharassed.

      What kind of community might be established? How can this be best arranged so that it is easy for libertarians to do, but hard or even impossible for statists to prevent?

      These are the ideas that I’m suggesting libertarians could be discussing. The idea is: what can we do? Not: what can we demand of nonlibertarians.

      Liberty is not emerging because libertarians are seeing libertarianism as a program that seeks to change nonlibertarians into libertarians (by demanding that nonlibertarians change their morals, ethics, and laws). I think liberty will begin to emerge when we abandon the attempt to change the convictions of conscience of nonlibertarians, and focus instead on the beautiful forms of association that only we, as libertarians, know how to construct.

      How to begin? What to construct? If libertarian minds begin to attack these problems, I think liberty might be something we begin to have, rather than something we only talk and write about.

      • February 28, 2010 6:15 pm

        Dear Adam, I have just read your latest message and I am in full agreement with what you say.

  2. David permalink
    February 28, 2010 2:10 am

    Sounds great when do we start? I think the whole government should be fired and replaced with one that upholds the constitution. Non violent prisoners of the drug war should be released. All the wars should stop now befor its to late and there is nothing left.WE THE PEOPLE need to take our country today.

  3. February 25, 2010 4:09 am

    Thank you Grant

    Are you saying that coexisting societies are a reality, or that within the confines of existing State laws various creative collaborative efforts are underway?

    If the the former, this would be, bar none, the most important story in the libertarian world. Regardless whether the mainstream press reported on it, in the libertarian blogosphere, this would be the number one story, every day, and we all would know about it.

    My post wasn’t referring to the latter, which I think is what you are referring to.

    I’m talking about coexisting societies, not the infinite possibilities within the existing legal framework.


  4. February 23, 2010 7:18 pm

    Hi Mike

    Here is how I understand our current predicament:

    There is a political philosophy that approaches things from the angle of collective obligation and is against the right of exit. Then there is the opposing political philosophy arguing in favor of a right of exit.

    The arguments are well defined, and there is a symmetry. For every pro-right-of-exit argument there is a con-right-of-exit argument that can be and is made, and vice versa.

    But there is not symmetry with respect to the current political reality. That is based on collective responsibility with no right of exit.

    There is a fundamental asymmetry in the atmosphere within which the discussion is taking place. There are two opposing bodies of scholarship—two philosophies—but only one political reality. And that political reality is of a genus belonging to the libertarian’s opponents. Existing political actions, as opposed to arguments, are taking place according to the coercive model.

    Now, in the argument, we are asking the statists (meaning those who rationalize coercively imposed social obligations) to take the first political step, and “allow” a right of exit. What we are proposing is that they, not us, remedy the asymmetry that exists in our current political situation.

    We are in effect putting our liberty in their hands, and asking them (those who have made it abundantly clear that their convictions of conscience compel them to pursue a political philosophy of coerced obligations) to in effect, change their religion, for us. We are essentially asking them or demanding of them, that they change their religion and “allow” a right of exit. Allowing a right of exit is a libertarian idea, not a statist or socialist, or authoritarian idea. Allowing a right of exit is part of libertarian religion, not statist religion.

    If there are intelligent statists out there, they must be asking themselves:

    “What kind of libertarians ask me to grant them their liberty?”

    They must think we are joking, confused, afraid….. Who knows?

    Bottom line, in asking other people for a right of exit, we are not only asking for permission to embark on a peaceful society—thus demonstrating how little we value it—we are asking others essentially to change their religious beliefs, something none of us are willing to do.

    I think we are making a huge mistake.


    In a forthcoming article, I suggested that the beginnings of a libertarian society (more specifically, a panarchist society) could begin to form without asking for anyone’s “permission,” without taking any hostile actions towards non-libertarians, and without asking anyone to change the political convictions they currently hold.

    I used a specific example in my article, but I’m sure there are better ideas that could be implemented.

    My example was that we could, right now, attach an invoice to e-mails we send to one another, and bill each other for “intellectual services” at the rate of a penny an hour. We could then find some way to settle accounts. These details would have to be sorted out and discussed.

    If we did this, we would have established our own wage and trade agreement, coexisting with (not replacing, not abolishing, and not even altering) the current system. We would essentially have established the beginning of a panarchist society. This means, the beginning of nonterritorial, coexisting societies.

    The example just sketched would be totally voluntary amongst its members. Such a society, or community, or civil association would be nonterritorial, would entail no attempt to alter or abolish anyone else’s political systems or relationships, nor require actions or arguments aimed at those with different political convictions.

    It would be the beginnings of a co-existing society, erected nonviolently, nonterritorially, and entirely voluntarily.

    In my opinion, once such an idea gains recognition and momentum, then it would be virtually unstoppable. We would witness the beginning of a new panarchist world. This is how symmetry could emerge. Future arguments about libertarianism could then take place in an atmosphere where a libertarian society was actually happening. Scholarship and debate then could become meaningful, unlike today, where libertarians are safely protected from any gains or losses their theories might entail, since they have no intention of ever acting on their own theories.

    Panarchist society could emerge and proliferate at the same time current society is in place. The community I referred to above would not directly change the coerced wage and trade agreement that we might be subjected to when we walk out the door and go to work.

    Thus, there would and could emerge a truly pluralistic situation where people might be members of coercive society at the same time they were members of voluntary society. While voluntary society expanded, statist society could remain in place, evolving and accommodating to the newly emerging political realities.

    But none of this requires that libertarians ask statists for permission to have liberty. And none of this requires that libertarians ask statists to change their ideology or political forms.

    Thus, I disagree with the premise of an approach that seeks to convince statists to grant libertarians a right of exit; something considered evil in statist philosophy.

    And I disagree with the premise of an approach that asks others to change their political convictions while we keep ours.

    I think something is wrong here. I think libertarians may actually be afraid of freedom, or at least, afraid of the unknowns involved in attaining it.

    But if that is the case, then who is to blame when liberty doesn’t emerge?

    • Mike Gibson permalink*
      February 24, 2010 5:53 pm

      Adam–Have you seen the latest cover story for the March issue of Wired? It profiles companies like Square and Obopay that are creating ways to electronically transfer money. Not quite cryptographically protected banking, but interesting nonetheless. Take a look.

      • February 24, 2010 6:08 pm

        Thank you Mike

        I’ll look for it today.


      • Grant permalink
        February 25, 2010 3:52 am

        Also, you may want to check out the Ripple Project on sourceforge:

        Though as I’m reading Adam’s comment, this is already happening: WoW, Second Life, and all that. Items are traded in online communities which have real value in real life.


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