Libertarian perspectives on revolution

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Libertarian perspectives on revolution include the disparate views held by various libertarians on the desirability of creating fundamental change in power or organizational structures in a relatively short time. Some varieties of libertarianism have revolutionary goals that often include dissolution of current states, creation of new states on the ocean (seasteading), secession and even the abolition of states.


Murray Rothbard, after noting that convincing the ruling groups, and the recipients of their largesse, of their own iniquity would be almost impossible in practice, opines:

...beyond the problem of education lies the problem of power. After a substantial number of people have been converted, there will be the additional task of finding ways and means to remove State power from our society. Since the state will not gracefully convert itself out of power, other means than education, means of pressure, will have to be used. What particular means or what combination of means – whether by voting, alternative institutions untouched by the State or massive failure to cooperate with the State – depends on the conditions of the time and what will be found to work or not to work. In contrast to matters of theory and principle, the particular tactics to be used – so long as they are consistent with the principles and ultimate goal of a purely free society – are a matter of pragmatism, judgment, and the inexact "art" of the tactician.[1]

Samuel Edward Konkin III, who founded agorism, and Wally Conger wrote:

"Get-Liberty-quick" schemes from anarchozionism (running away to a Promised Land of Liberty) to political opportunism will seduce the impatient and sway the incompletely informed. All will fail if for no other reason than Liberty grows individual by individual. Mass conversion is impossible. There is one exception – radicalization by statist attack against a collective. Even so, it requires entrepreneurs of Liberty to have sufficiently informed the persecuted collective so that they laze coherently libertarian-ward rather than scatter randomly or worse, flow into out-of-power statism. These Crises of Statism are spontaneous and predictable – but cannot be caused by moral, consistent libertarians.[2][unreliable source?]

The Libertarian Party, U.S. platform quotes the U.S. Declaration of Independence in the “Self-determination” plank of its platform: "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of individual liberty, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to agree to such new governance as to them shall seem most likely to protect their liberty."[3]

Lew Rockwell states that libertarianism is a revolutionary movement[4] and raises the example of the American Revolution, asking, "who writing about politics today might have joined the founding fathers in their conspiracy to overthrow imperial rule? The question is an important one because this event, more than any other in our history, embodies the core of the American political idea, that men are entitled to liberty from despots. This idea, the founders believed, ought to be acted upon by real people against really existing governments."[5]

Author Pierre Lemieux writes: "Could we say that the more powerless the tyrant, the less likely it is that the revolution will devolve into the destruction of all social authorities? If so, it would mean that a libertarian revolution now would be much less dangerous than a revolution when tyranny has become unbearable. Better to make the revolution when it does not have to be devastating; better to do it sooner than later."[6]

Professor Bruce L. Benson writes about the interaction of rebellion and state power: "Unfortunately, once an economy becomes strong, the opportunity costs of rebellion and other efforts to constrain the state become higher and the temptations to use the state as an internal wealth transfer mechanism get stronger, so resistance to the state can decline. When that happens, the state grows faster, and the economy can collapse under its weight unless the state is rolled back (New Zealand is a recent example that comes to mind)."[7]


Nonviolent action and non-cooperation[edit]

The Voluntaryist, a publication founded in 1982, promotes a libertarian form of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience they call voluntaryism. Its statement of purpose reads: “Voluntaryists are advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society. We reject electoral politics, in theory and in practice, as incompatible with libertarian principles. Governments must cloak their actions in an aura of moral legitimacy in order to sustain their power, and political methods invariably strengthen that legitimacy. Voluntaryists seek instead to delegitimize the State through education, and we advocate withdrawal of the cooperation and tacit consent on which State power ultimately depends.”[8]

Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario told Reason that the "revolutionaries of the 60s and 70s were all socialists. Now the natural impulse of youth to rebel is being channeled against the socialist establishment." He used as examples young people engaging in acts of "self-ownership" like tattooing and piercing, sexual liberty, the freedom to use drugs, as these are all areas where our position is appealing to the young. He described supporting one form of rebellion: "a huge, subterranean informal economy that's opposed by the larger, established companies...'el diputado pirata.' Someone wants to import and sell a used car... we said, 'what's the problem?' Used clothing, used shoes, these are big markets, and we thought it was absurd that there should be legal obstacles to people trading in these things."[9]

John T. Kennedy promoted the libertarian/anarchist technique economic secession, for example, replacing use of fiat money with barter or commodity money, refusing to submit to government regulations and licensing and avoiding taxation.[10][11] Sam Konkin created the similar term counter-economics.[12] Survivalist-libertarian author Claire Wolfe writes about economic and political freedom and withdrawing from state control in her Backwoods Home Magazine column and her books, starting with 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution: Ideas and Resources for Self-Liberation, Monkey Wrenching and Preparedness.[13]

In the novel The Diamond Age, speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson imagines a sudden fall of nation-states brought about by a rapid rise in popularity of cryptocurrencies similar to Bitcoin. Governments are unable to track transactions and income in this scenario and collapse when faced with severely reduced revenues.

Libertarians support the right of individuals, communities, states and regions to secede from larger entities. Libertarian professor Walter Block writes: "Those who are not free to secede are in effect (partial) slaves to a king, or to a tyrannous majority under democracy. Nor is secession to be confused with the mere right to emigrate, even when one is allowed to take one’s property out of the country. Secession means the right to stay put, on one’s own property, and either to shift alliance to another political entity, or to set up shop as a sovereign on one’s own account."[14]

Many anarcho-capitalists of the Free State Project support non-violent revolution.

Violent rebellion or terrorism[edit]

Reason senior editor Brian Doherty observes in Radicals for Capitalism that "libertarians have always been more likely to head to a bookstore than an armory, which some think is half the problem."[15]

In The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard notes: "To say that someone has the absolute right to a certain property but lacks the right to defend it against attack or invasion is also to say that he does not have total right to that property."[16] However, Rothbard warns against harming innocents: "…the libertarian goal, the victory of liberty, justifies the speediest possible means towards reaching the goal, but those means cannot be such as to contradict, and thereby undercut, the goal itself. We have already seen that gradualism-in-theory is such a contradictory means. Another contradictory means would be to commit aggression (e.g., murder or theft) against persons or just property in order to reach the libertarian goal of nonaggression."[17]

Rothbard's For a New Liberty cites the revolutionary war of the Bengali public against the Punjabi occupying state as being the recent conflict that comes closest to satisfying his criteria for a just war – namely, that it avoids injuring civilians in their persons or property; and uses volunteer rather than conscript armies; and is financed by voluntary methods instead of taxation. In response to Rothbard's rebuttal of the New Libertarian Manifesto,[18] Konkin writes, "Rothbard’s statement that violent revolution (what other kind is there against a ruling class – would he like to mention an Establishment that stepped down peacefully?) never succeeded in history distorts either the language or history," and cites many examples of freedom-fighters throwing off oppressive democratic governments.[19] But Konkin also spoke out against initiating violence against the State in his New Libertarian Manifesto, as mentioned below.

The Libertarian Forum newsletter that Rothbard edited[20] frequently addressed issues related to revolution. Rothbard condemned, on several occasions, "going over into armed struggle" on tactical even if not on moral grounds.[21]

In 1996, Claire Wolfe wrote in her 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution: "America is at that awkward stage. It's too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards." But in her more recent 2003 book, I Am Not A Number: Freeing America from the ID State, she recommended to readers the writings of nonviolent resistance theorist Gene Sharp.

Libertarian and crypto-anarchist Jim Bell invented the concept of an assassination market, a prediction market or dead pool where any party can place a bet on the date of death of a given individual, and collect a payoff if they "guess" the date accurately. After he was found in possession of various allegedly suspicious materials and weapons, and after placing a “stink bomb” in an Internal Revenue Service office, he was prosecuted and convicted of two felonies, for which he served eleven months in prison.[22][23][24]

Opposition to violence[edit]

David D. Friedman argues in The Machinery of Freedom that "civil disorder leads to more government, not less. It may topple one government, but it creates a situation in which people desire another and stronger. Hitler's regime followed the chaos of the Weimar years. Russian communism is a second example, a lesson for which the anarchists of Kronstadt paid dear. Napoleon is a third."[25]

In The Market for Liberty, Linda and Morris Tannehill argue that "not only is violent revolutionary action destructive, it actually strengthens the government by giving it a 'common enemy' to unite the people against. Violence against the government by a minority always gives the politicians an excuse to increase repressive measures in the name of 'protecting the people.' In fact, the general populace usually join the politicians' cry for 'law and order.'"[26]

The Tannehills fear the tendency of revolutionary leaders to seize power: "…revolution is a very questionable way to arrive at a society without rulers, since a successful revolution must have leaders. To be successful, revolutionary action must be coordinated. To be coordinated, it must have someone in charge. And, once the revolution has succeeded, the 'Someone in Charge' (or one of his lieutenants, or even one of his enemies) takes over the new power structure so conveniently built up by the revolution. He may just want to 'get things going right,' but he ends up being another ruler. Something like this happened to the American Revolution, and look at us today."[26]

Libertarian and anarcho-capitalist professor Bryan Caplan argues that "when terrorism succeeds in destroying an existing government, it merely creates a power vacuum without fundamentally changing anyone's mind about the nature of power. The predictable result is that a new state, worse than its predecessor, will swiftly appear to fill the void."[27]

Samuel Edward Konkin III wrote, in The New Libertarian Manifesto: "Heed well, you who would be a paladin of Liberty: never initiate any act of violence regardless how likely a 'libertarian' result may appear. To do so is to reduce yourself to a statist. There are no exceptions to this rule. Either you are fundamentally consistent or not.[28]

Robert LeFevre based his view of libertarian theory on aggression itself being inherently statist, and opposed both retaliatory and initiatory violence. He wrote, "We must concern ourselves with the moral recognition that we must not join the ranks of the aggressors, even for what may appear to be cause. Governments, by their nature, are invariably agencies of aggression [...] But to the degree that we rely on government, which is our agency of aggression, to this degree do we reject civilization. If we can learn to recognize the merit of non-aggression, and hence of voluntary action, we will begin to employ the market place to a fuller degree and ultimately we may be able to abandon government reliance totally"[29]


Seasteading is the movement towards creating independent ocean colonies in international waters, outside the jurisdiction of current states. A high barrier of entry (building an artificial island or buying a sufficiently large ship), high upkeep costs, and the difficulty of securing supplies from the mainland, have so far prevented the successful creation of such colonies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. "A Strategy for Liberty". For a New Liberty. ISBN 0-930073-02-9. 
  2. ^ Wally Conger, Samuel Edward Konkin III (2006), New Libertarian Manifesto and Agorist Class Theory (PDF),, p. 44, ISBN 978-1-84728-771-7, archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-02-23 
  3. ^ Libertarian Party, U.S. platform
  4. ^
  5. ^ Lew Rockwell, The General Line,, December 7, 2001.
  6. ^ Pierre Lemieux personal web site.
  7. ^ Bruce L. Benson, The Most Significant Market Failure, Cato Institute blog, August 15th, 2007.
  8. ^ The Voluntaryist main page and "support us" page.
  9. ^ Julian Sanchez, "The Other Guevara, Reason interviews Costa Rica's Libertarian revolutionary", Reason (magazine) interview with Otto Guevara of Movimiento Libertario, August 12, 2003.
  10. ^ John T. Kennedy, Economic Secession at (], March 18, 2003.
  11. ^ Gene Callahan and Paul Birch, Economic Secession Won't Succeed, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, April 10, 2003.
  12. ^ The Agorist Institute Report to Supporters, Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1996
  13. ^ Claire Wolfe, 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution: Ideas and Resources for Self-Liberation, Monkey Wrenching and Preparedness, Breakout Productions; Revised edition (January 1999) (ISBN 1-893626-13-X).
  14. ^ Walter Block, Secession,, July 2, 2002.
  15. ^ Doherty, Brian. Radicals for Capitalism. p. 378. 
  16. ^ Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 12 "Self-Defense," at Ludwig Von Mises Institute.
  17. ^ Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, Chapter 30 "Toward a Theory of Strategy for Liberty," at Ludwig Von Mises Institute.
  18. ^ Rothbard, Murray (November 10, 1980), Konkin on Libertarian Strategy 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ See, for example, "The Mad Bombers" in The Libertarian Forum Vol. II No. 7, April 1, 1970; "Ultra-Leftism" in The Libertarian Forum Vol. I No. XVI, November 15, 1969; and "When Revolution?" in The Libertarian Forum, Vol. II No. 19, October 1, 1970
  22. ^ "IRS Says Man From Tacoma Part of Plot ", The Oregonian, 1997-11-20, p. C02
  23. ^ McCullagh, Declan (2000-11-11). "IRS Raids Cypherpunk's House". Politics : Law. Wired. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  24. ^ Associated Press, "Bell gets 11 months in prison, 3 years supervised release, fine", The Oregonian, 1997-12-12.
  25. ^ Friedman, David D. "Revolution Is the Hell of It". The Machinery of Freedom. pp. 149–50. ISBN 0-8126-9069-9. 
  26. ^ a b Tannehill, Morris and Linda. "The Force Which Shapes the World". The Market for Liberty. p. 161. ISBN 0-930073-08-8. 
  27. ^ Bryan Caplan, Instead of a FAQ, by a Man Too Busy to Write One, Version 5.2, section 22.
  28. ^ Konkin, Samuel Edward III: The New Libertarian Manifesto, Chapter 4: "Revolution, Our Strategy", 1980.
  29. ^ LeFevre, Robert, "Aggression is Wrong", published in The Voluntaryist, text online at

Further reading[edit]