Decentralization: A Strategy for Liberty

Hardcore libertarians sometimes criticize me because of my focus on the Constitution and political action at the state level to limit federal power. They argue that the American constitutional system will never bring about liberty, and that by working through government at any level, I undermine the cause of freedom.

I am sympathetic to the idea that “where government begins, your freedom ends,” and I believe some of the hardcore libertarians philosophical objections to the Constitution have merit. But to quote Murray Rothbard, “Libertarians must come to realize that parroting ultimate principles is not enough for coping with the real world.”

We live in a real world, with real governments. The question then becomes, what steps can we take that will give us more control, limit the impact of governments on our daily lives and ultimately move us closer to liberty. Certainly, life under the decentralized constitutional system envisioned by America’s founding generation would result in a greater level of freedom than the current system of near absolute federal control over everything. If nothing else, adherence to the Constitution would serve to limit the endless wars and military interventionism America engages in. That would mean less death and destruction around the world, and less intrusive domestic policy at home. As James Madison observed:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

The constitutional principle of limited government also offers a starting point most Americans are familiar with and respect. It provides the most convenient jumping off point to push for liberty within America’s current political culture.

Libertarian theorist Hans-Hermann Hoppe delivered a speech in 1997, later turned into a book titled What Must Be Done. In it, he laid out a strategy to move society toward freedom that closely mirrors my point of view and reconciles nicely with my work at the Tenth Amendment Center. Hoppe argued that the path to liberty lies in a bottom up strategy of decentralization.

Because a monopoly of protection is the root of all evil, any territorial expansion of such a monopoly is per se evil too. Every political centralization must be on principle grounds rejected. In turn, every attempt at political decentralization…must be supported.”

Following are some other excerpts from What Must Be Done. Here you will see the underlying philosophy of nullification through non-cooperation advocated by the Tenth Amendment Center. This strategy centers around James Madison’s blueprint for keeping federal power in check  found in Federalist #46 – “Refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union.”

The State, which was supposed to protect us, has in fact rendered us completely helpless. It robs its subjects of more than half their income, to be distributed according to public sentiment, rather than according to principles of justice. It subjects our property to thousands of arbitrary and invasive regulations. We can no longer freely hire and fire whoever we want, for whatever reason we deem good and necessary. We cannot sell or buy whatever we want, to whoever we want, and wherever we want. We cannot charge prices freely as we wish, we cannot associate and disassociate, separate ourselves with whoever we want, or with whoever we do not want.”

First, from the impossibility of a top-down strategy, it follows that one should expend little or no energy, time, and money on nationwide political contests, such as presidential elections. And also not on contests for central government, in particular, less effort on senatorial races than on house races, for instance.”

If you proceed along these lines on the local level, [local political action undermining central authority] of course, it cannot be avoided that one will come into direct conflict with the upper and especially the federal level of government power. How to deal with this problem? Wouldn’t the federales simply crush any such attempt? They would surely like to, but whether or not they can actually do so is an entirely different question, and to recognize this, it is only necessary to recognize that the members of the governmental apparatus always represent, even under conditions of democracy, merely a tiny proportion of the total population. And even smaller is the proportion of central government employees. Th is implies that a central government cannot possibly enforce its legislative will, or perverted law, upon the entire population unless it finds widespread local support and cooperation in doing so. Th is becomes particularly obvious if one imagines a large number of free cities or villages as I described them before. It is practically impossible, manpower-wise, as well as from a public relations standpoint, to take over thousands of territorially widely dispersed localities and impose direct federal rule on them. Without local enforcement, by compliant local authorities, the will of the central government is not much more than hot air.”

Consistently applied, no cooperation, no assistance whatsoever on any level, the central government’s power would be severely diminished or even evaporate. And in light of the general public opinion, it would appear highly unlikely that the federal government would dare to occupy a territory whose inhabitants did nothing else than trying to mind their own business. Waco, a tiny group of freaks, is one thing. But to occupy, or to wipe out a significantly large group of normal, accomplished, upstanding citizens is quite another, and quite a more difficult thing.

 

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