SEK III’s “Agorism: Our Goal”


Extracted from The New Libertarian Manifesto by Samuel Edward Konkin III

@ Art of Not Being Governed

Continued from Statism: Our Condition

The basic principle which leads a libertarian from statism to his free society is the same which the founders of libertarianism used to discover the theory itself. That principle is consistency. Thus, the consistent application of the theory of libertarianism to every action the individual libertarian takes creates the libertarian society.

Many thinkers have expressed the need for consistency between means and ends and not all were libertarians. Ironically, many statists have claimed inconsistency between laudable ends and contemptible means; yet when their true ends of greater power and oppression were understood, their means are found to be quite consistent. It is part of the statist mystique to confuse the necessity of ends-means consistency; it is thus the most crucial activity of the libertarian theorist to expose inconsistencies. Many theorists have done to admirably; but we have attempted and most failed to describe the consistent means and ends combination of libertarianism. [1]

Whether or not this manifesto is itself correct can be determined by the same principle. If consistency fails, then all within is meaningless; in fact, language is then gibberish and existence a fraud. This cannot be over- emphasized. Should an inconsistency be discovered in these pages, then the consistent reformulation is New Libertarianism, not what has been found in error. New Libertarianism (agorism) cannot be discredited without Liberty or Reality (or both) being discredited, only an incorrect formulation.

Let us begin by sighting our goal. What does a free society look like, or at least a society as free as we can hope to achieve with our present understanding? [2]

Undoubtedly the freest society yet envisioned is that of Robert LeFevre. All relations between people are voluntary exchanges – a free market. No one will injure another or trespass in any way.

Of course, a lot more than statism would be to be eliminated from individual consciousness for his society to exist. Most damaging of all to this perfectly free society is its lack of a mechanism of correction. [3] All it takes is a handful of practitioners of coercion who enjoy their ill-gotten plunder in enough company to sustain them – and freedom is dead. Even if all are living free, one “bite of the apple,” one throwback, reading old history or rediscovering evil on his own, will “unfree” the perfect society.

The next-best-thing to a free society is the Libertarian society. Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty (Thomas Jefferson) and it may be possible to have a small number of individuals in the marketplace ready to defend against sporadic aggression. Or large numbers may retain sufficient knowledge and ability to use that knowledge of basic self-defense to deter random attacks (the coercer never knowing who might be well versed in defense) and eliminate the profitability of systematic violence initiation.

Even so, there remain two problems inordinately difficult for this system of “Anarchy with spontaneous defense.” First is the problem of defending those who are noticeably defenseless. This can be reduced by advanced technology to people who are quadriplegic morons (assuming that won’t be solved by sufficient technology) and very young children who require constant attention anyways. Then there are those who for a brief time go defenseless and the even rarer cases of those who are overwhelmed by violence initiators wishing to test their skills against a probably weaker foe. (The last is most rare simply because of the high risk and low material return on investment.)

Those who need not – and should not – be defended are those who consciously choose not to be: pacifists. LeFevre and his disciples need never fear some Libertarian will use methods they find repugnant to defend them. (Perhaps they can wear a “dove” button for quick recognitions?)

Far more important is what to do with the violence initiator after defense. The case in which one’s property is violated successfully and one is not there to protect it comes readily to mind. And finally, though actually a special case of the above, is the possibility of fraud and other forms of contract violation. [4]

These cases may be settled by the primitive “shoot-out” or socially – that is, through the intervention of a third party who has no vested interest in either of the two parties to the dispute. This case is the fundamental problem of society. [5]

Any attempts to force a solution against the wishes to both parties violates Libertarian principle. So a “shoot-out” involving no risk to third parties is acceptable – but hardly profitable or efficient or even civilized (aesthetically pleasing) save to a few cultists.

The solution then requires a judge, “Fair Witness” or arbitrator. Once an arbitrator to a dispute or judge of an aggression has performed judgment and communicated the decision, enforcement may be required. (Pacifists may choose arbitration without enforcement, by the way.)

The following market system has been proposed by Rothbard, Linda and Morris Tannehill, and others; it need not be definitive and may be improved by advances in theory and technology (as this author has already done). At this stage of history, it seems optimal and is presented here as the beginning working model.

First, always leaving out these who choose not to participate, one insures oneself against aggression or theft. One can even assign a value to one’s life in ase of murder (or inadvertent manslaughter) which may range from the taking of the violence-initiator’s life to taking replaceable organs (technology willing) to restore life to the payment to a foundation to continue one’s life’s work. What is crucial here is that the victim assigns the value to his life, body and property before the mishap. (Exchangeable goods may simply be replaced at market rate. See below.)

A finds property missing and reports it to the insurance company IA. IA either through another division or through another division or through a separate detective agency (D) investigates. IA promptly replaces the object to A so that loss of use of good is minimized. [6] D Now may fail to discover the missing property. In that case, the loss to IA is covered by the premiums paid for the insurance. Note well that in order to keep premiums low and competitive, IA has a strong incentive to maximize retrieval of stolen or lost goods. (One could wax eloquent for volumes on the lack of such incentive for monopoly detection systems such as State police forces, and their horrendous social cost.)

IF D does discover the goods, say in B’s possession, and B freely returns them (perhaps induced by reward), the case is closed. Only if B claims property right in the object also claimed by A does conflict arise.

B has insurance company IB which may perform its own independent investigation and convince IA that D erred. Failing that, IA and IB are now in conflict. At this point, the standard objections to market anarchy have been brought up that the “war” between A and B has been enlarged to include large insurance companies which may have sizeable protection divisions or contracts with protection companies (PA and PB). But wherein lies the incentive for IA and IB to use violence and destroy not only its competitor’s assets but surely at least some of its own? They have even less incentive in a market society long established; the companies have specialists and capital tied up in defense. Any company investigating in offense would become highly suspect and surely lose customers in a predominantly Libertarian society (which is what is under discussion).

Very cheaply and profitably, IA and IB can simply pay and arbitration company to settle the dispute, presenting their respective claims and evidence. If B has rightful claim, IA drops the case, taking its small lose (compared to war!) and has excellent incentive to improve its investigation. If A has rightful claim, the reverse is now true for IB.

Only at this point, when the matter has been fully contested, investigated and judged, and still B refuses to relinquish the stolen property, would violence occur. (B may have only been bothered so far as being notified of IB’s defense on B’s behalf, and B may have chosen to ignore it; no subpoena could be issued until after conviction.) But PB and IB step aside and B must now face a competent, efficient team of specialists in recovery of stolen property. Even if B is near-mad in his resistance at this point, he would probably be neutralized with minimum fuss by a market agency eager for a good public image and more customers – including B himself some day. Above all, PA must act so as not to invoke anyone else or harm other’s property.

B or IB is now liable for restoration. This can be divided into three parts: restitution, time preference, and apprehension.

Restitution is the return of the original good or its market equivalent. This could be applied even to parts of the human body or the value set on one’s life.

Time preference is the restitution of the time-use lose and is easily determined by the market rate of interest which IA had to pay to immediately restore A’s property.

Apprehension is the sum of the cost of investigation, detection, arbitration and enforcement. Note how well the market works to give B a high incentive to restore the loot quickly to minimize apprehension cost (exactly the opposite to most statist systems) and to minimize interest accrued.

Finally, note all the built-in incentives for swift, efficient justice and restoration with a minimum of fuss and violence. Contrast this with all other systems in operation; note as well that in parts all this system has been tried successfully throughout history. Only the whole is new and exclusive to Libertarian Theory.

This model of restoration has been spelled out so specifically, even though it may be improved and developed, because it solves the only social problem involving any violence whatsoever. The rest of this Libertarian society can be best pictured by imaginative science fiction authors with a good grounding in praxeology (Mises’ term for the study of human action, especially, but not only, economics.)

Some hallmarks of this society – libertarian in theory and free-market in practice, called agorist, from the Greek agora, meaning “open marketplace” – are rapid innovations in science, technology, communication, transportation, production and distribution. A complementary case can be made for rapid innovation and development in the arts and humanities to keep up with the more material progress; also, such non-material progress would be likely because of total liberty in all forms of non-violent artistic expression and ever-more rapid and complete communication of it to willing recipients. The libertarian literature extolling these benefits of freedom is already a large body and growing rapidly.

One must conclude this description of restoration theory by dealing with some of the arcane objections to it. Most of these reduce to challenges to ascribing value to violated goods or persons. Letting the impersonal market and the victim decide seems most fair to both victim and aggressor.

The latter point offense some who feel punishment is required for evil in thought; reversibility of deed is not enough for them. [7]

Though none of them has come up with a moral basis for punishment, Rothbard and David Friedman in particular argue for the economic necessity of deterrence. They argue that any percentage of apprehension less than 100% allows a small probability of success; hence, a “rational criminal” may choose to take the risk for his gain. Thus additional deterrence must be added in the form of punishment. That this also will decrease the incentive for the aggressor to turn himself in and thus lower further the rate of apprehension is not considered, or perhaps the punishment is to be escalated at ever-faster rates to beat the accelerating rate of evasion. As this is written, the lowest rate of evasion from state-defined crimes is 80%; most criminals have better than 90% chance of not being caught. This is within a punishment- rehabilitation system where no restoration occurs (the victim being further plundered by taxation to support the penal system) and the market is banished. Small wonder there is a thriving “red market” in non-State violence initiation!

Even so, this criticism of agorist restoration fails to note that there is an “entropy” factor. The potential aggressor must put the gain of the object of theft against the loss of the object plus interest plus apprehension cost. It is true that if he turns himself in immediately, the latter two are minimal – but so are the costs to the victim and insurer.

Not only is agorist restoration happily deterrent in a reciprocal relation with compliance, but the market cost of the apprehension factor allows a precise quantifiable measurement of the social cost of coercion in society. No other proposed system known to this time does that. As most libertarians have been saying, freedom works.

Nowhere in agorist restoration theory do the thoughts of the aggressor enter into the picture. The aggressor is assumed only to be a human actor and responsible for his actions. Furthermore, what business is it of anyone else what anyone thinks? What is relevant is what the aggressor does. Thought is not action; in thought, at least, anarchy remains absolute. [8]

If you sit up in shock to find I have crashed through your picture window, and then made sure everyone will continue to live, you don’t particularly care if I tripped and fell through while walking by or I engaged in some act of irrational anger jumping through or even whether it was a premeditated plan to distract protectors across the street from noticing a bank heist. What you want is your window back pronto (and the mess cleared). What I think is irrelevant to your restoration. In fact, it can be easily demonstrated that even the smallest expenditure of energy on this subject is pure waste. Motivation – or suspected motivation, which is all we can know [8] – may be relevant to detection and even to prove plausibility of the aggressor’s action to an arbitrator if there may be two equally probably suspects, but all that matters for justice – as a libertarian sees is – is that the victim has been restored to a condition as identical as possible to pre-harm. Let God or conscience punish “guilty thoughts.” [9]

Another objection raised concerns what will be done about violence initiators who have paid their debt (to the individual, not “society”), and are “free” to try again – with greater experience. What about recidivism, so prevalent in statist society?

Of course, once one is marked as an aggressor, one will probably be watched more closely and thought of first when a similar crime is committed. And while work-camps may be used to repay restitution in a few extreme cases, most aggressors will be allowed to work in relative freedom on bond. Thus no “institutions of criminal higher learning” like prisons will be around to educate and encourage aggression.

The distinguishing characteristic of a highly efficient and accurate system of judgment and protection will be that it will occupy a negligible fraction of an individual’s time, thought or money. One can then argue that we have not portrayed 99% of the agorist society at all. What about elimination of self-destruction (which Libertarianism does not deal with), space exploration and colonization, life extension, intelligence increase, interpersonal relations and aesthetic variations? All that really can and need be said is that where present-man must spend half or more of his time and energy serving or resisting the State, that time-energy (physicist definition of action) will be usable for all other aspects of self-improvement and harnessing of nature. It takes a cynical view of humanity indeed to imagine anything but a richer, happier society.

This then is a sketch of our goal and detailed picture or enlarged focus on the aspect of justice and protection. We have the “here” and the “there.” Now for the path – Counter-Economics.

Continue to read: Counter-Economics: Our Means


[1] To cite the most spectacular so far:

o Murray Rothbard will use any past political strategy to further libertarianism, falling back on ever more radical ones when the previously tried ones fail.

o Robert LeFevre advocates a purity of thought and deed in each individual which this author and may other find inspiring. But he holds back from describing a complete strategy resulting from these personal tactics, partially due to a fear of being charged with prescribing as well as describing. This author has no such fear. LeFevre’s pacifism also dilutes the attraction of his libertarian tactics, probably far more than deserved.

o Andrew J. Galambos advocates a fairly counter-economic position (see the next chapter) but positively drives away recruits by his anti-movement stance and his “secret society” organization tactic. His “primary property” deviationism, like LeFevre’s pacifism, probably also detracts from the rest of his theory more than is warranted.

o Harry Brown’s ‘How I Found Freedom In An Unfree World’ is an immensely popular guide to personal liberation. Having been influenced by Rothbard, LeFevre and Galambos, Browne fairly correctly, if superficially, maps out valid tactics for the individual to survive and prosper in a statist society. He offers no overall strategy, and his techniques would break down in an advanced counter-economic system as it nears the free society.

o A deviation with no particular spokesperson but associated largely with the Libertarian Connection is the idea of achieving freedom by outflanking the State with technology. This seems to have plausible validity in the recent case of the U.S. State deciding not to regulate the explosive-growth information industry. But if fails to take into account the ingenuity of those who will keep statism around as long as people demand it.

[2] When our understanding increases, one assumes we can achieve a freer society.

[3] In The Great Explosion, SF writer Eric Frank Russell posits a society close to that envisioned by LeFevre. The pacifist Gands did have a correction mechanism for occasionally aberrant individuals – the “Idle Jack” cases. Unfortunately, shunning would fail the moment the coercers reached a “critical number” to form a supportive, self-sustaining sub-society. That they could is obvious – they have!

[4] The Mises-Rothbard position that fraud and failure to fulfill contract (the latter may be taken care of by clauses in the contract, of course) is itself theft: of future goods. The basis of contract is the transfer of present goods (consideration here and now) for future goods (consideration there and then).

All theft is violence initiation, either the use of force to take property away involuntarily or to prevent receipt of goods or return of payment for those goods which were freely transferred by agreement.

[5] Society, as Mises points out, exists because of the advantages of division of labor. By specializing in different steps of production, individuals find total wealth produced greater than by their individual efforts.

[6] At this point we must introduce Mises’ concept of time preference. Future goods are always discounted relative to present goods because of the use-time foregone. While individual values of time preference vary, those with high time-preference can borrow from those with lower time-preference since the high-preferers will pay more to the low-preferers than the value they have foregone. The point where all these transactions of time preference clear on the free market defines the basic or originary rate of interest for all loans and capital investment.

[7] Murray Rothbard takes the most moderate position here: he advocates double restoration; that is, not only must the aggressor restore the victim to prior unharmed condition (as much as possible), but must become himself a victim for an equivalent amount! Not only does this doubling seem arbitrary but nowhere does Rothbard provide a moral basis for punishment, let along a “moral calculus” (a la Bentham).

Others are far worse in demanding ever-greater plunder of the apprehended aggressor, making it probable that only the grossest fool who happened to err momentarily would ever turn himself in, and who would rather attempt to cost his pursuers dearly. Many neo-Randists would shoot a child for purloining a candy (Gary Greenberg, for instance); others have chained teenagers to their beds to work off trivial trespasses.

This is yet brushing the tip of horror. Far greater a travesty of justice is proposed by those who do not wish to restitute or even mildly punish but to rehabilitate the violence-initiator. While some of the more enlightened among the rehabilitators would accept concurrent working off of restitution debt, they would seize upon the victim’s delegation of right of self-defense (the basis of all legal action) to incarcerate and brainwash the now helpless apprehended aggressor.

Not content with punishing the person, scourging the body, and perhaps even the relative mercy of cruel physical torture, rehabilitators seek the destruction of values and motivation, that is, the annihilation of the Ego. In more florid but well-deserved language they wish to devour the soul of the apprehended aggressor!

[8] Should telepathy be discovered and practically achievable, it may be at least then possible to investigate motive and intent; still the only use in an agorist system would be for mercy pleas – mercy at the further expense of the victim. This footnote is also relevant to the following paragraph which is why it is twice denoted.

[9] A good question is where did “punishment” ever get started? The concept is applicable only to slaves who have nothing else to lose but lack of pain, to the utterly worthless if any exist, and to very young children who are incapable of paying for restoration and are considered inadequately responsible to incur debt. Of course, a primitive economy generally had far too many problems with rationality and technology to provide much trustworthy detection and measurement of value.

Still, some primitive societies such as the Irish, Icelandic and Ibo introduced systems of repayment to meliorate vengeance – and promptly evolved to quasi-anarchies.

This article originally appeared at Art of Not Being Governed