This talk was delivered at the Costa Mesa Mises Circle on Society Without the State, November 8, 2014.
From the original property one enjoys in his own person we can derive individual rights, including property rights. When taken to its proper Rothbardian conclusion, this insight actually invalidates the State, since the State functions and survives on the basis of systematic violation of individual rights. Were it not to do so, it would cease to be the State.
In violating individual rights, the State tries to claim exemption from the moral laws we take for granted in all other areas of life. What would be called theft if carried out by a private individual is taxation for the State. What would be called kidnapping is the military draft for the State. What would be called mass murder for anyone else is war for the State. In each case, the State gets away with moral enormities because the public has been conditioned to believe that the State is a law unto itself, and can’t be held to the same moral standards we apply to ourselves.
But it’s the third of these ideas I’d like to develop at greater length. In those passages of their moral treatises dealing with economics, the Late Scholastics, particularly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, had been groping toward the idea of laws that govern the social order. They discovered necessary cause-and-effect relationships. There was a clear connection, for example, between the flow of precious metals entering Spain from the New World on the one hand, and the phenomenon of price inflation on the other. They began to understand that these social regularities were brute facts that could not be defied by the political authority.
This insight developed into fuller maturity with the classical liberals of the eighteenth century, and the gradual emergence of economics as a full-fledged, independent discipline. This, said Ludwig von Mises, is why dictators hate the economists. True economists tell the ruler that there are limits to what he can accomplish by his sheer force of will, and that he cannot override economic law.
In the nineteenth century, Frederic Bastiat placed great emphasis on this insight. If these laws exist, then we must study them and understand them, but certainly not be so foolish as to defy them. Conversely, he said, if there are no such laws, then men are merely inert matter upon which the State will be all too glad to impose its imprint. He wrote:
For if there are general laws that act independently of written laws, and whose action needs merely to be regularized by the latter, we must study these general laws; they can be the object of scientific investigation, and therefore there is such a thing as the science of political economy. If, on the contrary, society is a human invention, if men are only inert matter to which a great genius, as Rousseau says, must impart feeling and will, movement and life, then there is no such science as political economy: there is only an indefinite number of possible and contingent arrangements, and the fate of nations depends on the founding father to whom chance has entrusted their destiny.
The next step in the development of what would later become anarcho-capitalism was …