Can A Libertarian Society Provide National Defense?

A former military officer weighs in.

By Zack Sorenson

Libertarian Institute

A recent Tom Woods podcast featured a debate about whether the free market can provide for national defense.

Arguing that libertarian society can offer defense “services”, Bob Murphy relies on the idea of insurance paying the costs of defense.

Arguing that a monopoly state should offer these services, Todd Lewis points out numerous historical examples in which government organized national defense is seemingly necessary.

I dislike this kind of discussion in general.  My feeling is that there shouldn’t be such a thing as any kind of organized, politically driven, violence.  The idea of private armies is as horrifying as the idea of a giant state army.  However, this issue is obviously relevant, and worth addressing.  I’m just going to address different issues in no particular order.

First, Todd Lewis mentions the Sengoku Jidai (“feudal” Japan), and also the Roman civil war between Marius and Sulla.  He argues that these are examples of “private” defense, where mercenaries for hire end up fighting brutal wars that devastated each country.  I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.


3 replies »

  1. I think it’s interesting that Bob Murphy should be arguing in favor of privatized national defense. In about 2002, he debated partner Bob Vroman on the subject of my Assassination Politics (AP) essay,

    (try google searching for ‘ “assassination politics” “murphy” “vroman” ‘ The first result for me: )

    In that debate, in about 2002, Murphy argued against AP, Vroman argued for.

    In the article “can a libertarian society provide national defense”, Murphy now seems to be in favor of privatized defense. I welcome him to that position, although he doesn’t currently mention AP as a possibility.
    To be sure, a lot has changed since 2002. Bitcoin has been invented, as well as hundreds and indeed thousands of digital currencies. Also, TOR has become a powerful tool for anonymity. And if you Google search ‘ “Ethereum” “Augur” “Assassination” ‘ you will see that a system seemingly similar to AP is being rolled out as we speak.
    (In saying that, I’m not saying that the Augur death-prediction market is actually AP: There are good reasons that in its current implementation, that system won’t cause any “assassinations”. But relatively little further development would be necessary to implement an AP-type system.)

    I think that Bob Murphy should acknowledge that in the last 16 years, my AP idea has been seen to be practical and effective for defense.

  2. I disagree with the premise that life shouldn’t be taken to protect property. Sure it should, on a personal face-to-face level. No taxation or conscription necessary. My home is my fortress, shelter for my family, and I have no qualms with violence toward Intruders. Life in this universe is inherently violent. If I respect you, and you respect me, you may be welcome in my home. But if you disrespect me….to the survivor goes the spoils. Disputes should be settled between individuals, not armies.

    • I trust you saw my comment above. Needless to say, I want to stimulate discussion of the issue of libertarian or anarchist societies defending themselves. Mostly, because I have a solution to that problem! Where would you suggest I go to start or join a discussion?

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