David M. Hart, “Competing Visions of the Future: Socialist and Classical Liberal”

[Created: 20 June, 2015]
[Updated: January 18, 2017 ]

IHS Advanced Studies Summer Seminar
“Liberty & Scholarship: Challenges and Critiques”
Bryn Mawr College, PA
Sat. 13 - Fri. 19 June 2015

Lectures and Discussion:

  1. Opening Lecture (Sat. 4:15–6:00 pm): “Twelve Keys Concepts of the Classical Liberal Tradition” (alternate title: “The Classical Liberal Tradition: Theory and History Part I”)
  2. Second Lecture (Sun. 9:00–10:45 am): “A Survey of the History of the Classical Liberal Movement” (alternate title: “The Classical Liberal Tradition: Theory and History Part II”)
  3. Discussion Group (Sun. 4:15–6:00 pm): “On the Spread of Classical Liberal Ideas: History, Theory, and Strategy”
  4. Third Lecture (Tues. (11:00–12:45 am): “Images of Liberty and Power: the Subversion of State Propaganda”
  5. Concluding Lecture (Thurs. 11:00–12:45 am): “Competing Visions of the Future: Socialist and Classical Liberal”

Draft: 12 Feb., 2015
Revised: 20 June 2015

Author: Dr. David M. Hart.

  • Director of the Online Library of Liberty Project at Liberty Fund <oll.libertyfund.org> and
  • Academic Editor of the Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat.



  • Liberty Fund: <oll.libertyfund.org>
  • Personal: <davidmhart.com/liberty>

Table of Contents

  • Lecture 4: Competing Visions of the Future: Socialist and Classical LiberalLecture Outline and Readings (9 June, 2015)

    • Lecture Outline
    • Introduction
      • Maps, Means, and “the Vision Thing”
      • Friedrich Hayek and “the Vision Thing” for CLs
      • Would you go to the Barricades for a Limited Government?
      • Political Utopias, Eutopias, and Dystopias
    • Socialist Visions of the Future
      • Karl Marx (1818–1883) and the “Scientific” Socialist Vision of the Future
      • Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) and “Bureaucratic ”Socialist
    • CL/Libertarian Visions of the Future
      • Intro
      • Condorcet on the “10th Epoch”: the Future Progress of Mankind towards full liberty (1794)
      • Richard Cobden’s “I have a Dream Speech” about “free trade in everything” (1846)
      • Frédéric Bastiat’s “The Utopian” (1847)
      • Gustave de Molinari and “The Society of Tomorrow” (1899)
      • Herbert Spencer’s “Political Prospects” (1876)
      • CL Dystopia’s of the State run rampant
    • CL and Socialist Predictions/Visions for/of the Future at the beginning the 20thC (incomplete)
    • Classical Liberal Frameworks and Archipelagos
      • JS Mill’s idea of “experiments in living” (1859)
      • Nozick’s Framework for Utopias
      • Kukathas and the “Liberal Archipelago” (2003)
    • Conclusion

Lecture 4: Competing Visions of the Future: Socialist and Classical Liberal

Lecture Outline and Readings (9 June, 2015)

Lecture Outline

One’s vision of the future depends upon one’s attitudes towards the following:

  • human nature: will it stay the same or must it be changed?
  • social and economic institutions: will they be similar to those which exist today or will new ones replace them?
  • the role of the State and other coercive institutions: can people run their own lives harmoniously or do they need guidance and control?
  • science and technology: should one be optimistic or pessimistic about their impact?

Long socialist tradition of writing utopian visions of a future socialist society, with the following features:

  • the economic problem of scarcity and the knowledge problem have been eliminated
  • the creation of a “New Socialist Man”
  • children prepared for life in the new society by being taken from their families, public schooling, service in the military
  • communal living, ownership of property, working arrangements
  • the end of wage labour and profits
  • rule by a wise and humane managerial elite who rationally plan all aspects of society and the economy

Examples of socialist visions of the future: from the garden of Eden to Star Trek

CLs have far fewer utopian visions of the future (why?) but many dystopian visions of the state run wild:

  • some examples of a CL utopian future: from Bastiat to Ayn Rand
  • examples of a CL dystopian future: from Eugen Richter to “The Hunger Games”

The CL dilemma: there is no one vision of a free, peaceful, and prosperous future society. How then to accommodate different people pursuing their own different visions of the “good life”?

  • Nozick’s idea of competing utopias in a “framework for utopias”
  • Kukathas - the liberal archipelago of “different jurisdictions operating in a sea of mutual toleration”



Maps, Means, and “the Vision Thing”

(I would like to thank George W. Bush for this important concept.)

To go anywhere one needs a map of how to get there. One also needs to know what one’s end destination is and what it will look like so one knows when one has arrived.

In a nutshell, our destination is a world with greater individual liberty, peace, and prosperity. But one might ask, how much greater liberty, peace, and prosperity? 10%? a lot more than that? complete and total liberty?

How do we get there even if we have a map which shows the way? We need a means of transportation (a strategy to achieve change - which we touched in in the Discussion Group) and we need the will or the motivation to go there. And for that we need a vision of what our destination will be like and some idea about why it is worth all the trouble of getting there.

George W. Bush in his usual confused and bumbling manner called this “the Vision Thing” (interview Time magazine, Jan. 26, 1987).

What “vision” of a liberal future world have CLs/libertarians had historically, and what is their vision today (if they have one)?

Friedrich Hayek and “the Vision Thing” for CLs

In a famous article from 1949, “The Intellectuals and Socialism”, the Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek bemoaned the lack of “a liberal Utopia”. He thought that the existence of a socialist utopian vision had been very important in winning over intellectuals to their cause and sustaining them through times of political hardship. Therefore, this was something CLs in his time needed to learn while there was still time before socialism swept the entire world. He wanted them to build their own classical liberal utopian vision:

Section VII

It may be that as a free society as we have known it carries in itself the forces of its own destruction, that once freedom has been achieved it is taken for granted and ceases to be valued, and that the free growth of ideas which is the essence of a free society will bring about the destruction of the foundations on which it depends. There can be little doubt that in countries like the United States the ideal of freedom today has less real appeal for the young than it has in countries where they have learned what its loss means. On the other hand, there is every sign that in Germany and elsewhere, to the young men who have never known a free society, the task of constructing one can become as exciting and fascinating as any socialist scheme which has appeared during the last hundred years. It is an extraordinary fact, though one which many visitors have experienced, that in speaking to German students about the principles of a liberal society one finds a more responsive and even enthusiastic audience than one can hope to find in any of the Western democracies. In Britain also there is already appearing among the young a new interest in the principles of true liberalism which certainly did not exist a few years ago.

Does this mean that freedom is valued only when it is lost, that the world must everywhere go through a dark phase of socialist totalitarianism before the forces of freedom can gather strength anew? It may be so, but I hope it need not be. Yet, so long as the people who over longer periods determine public opinion continue to be attracted by the ideals of socialism, the trend will continue. If we are to avoid such a development, we must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a program which seems neither a mere defense of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty (including the trade unions), which is not too severely practical, and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote. The practical compromises they must leave to the politicians. Free trade and freedom of opportunity are ideals which still may arouse the imaginations of large numbers, but a mere “reasonable freedom of trade” or a mere “relaxation of controls” is neither intellectually respectable nor likely to inspire any enthusiasm.

The main lesson which the true liberal must learn from the success of the socialists is that it was their courage to be Utopian which gained them the support of the intellectuals and therefore an influence on public opinion which is daily making possible what only recently seemed utterly remote. Those who have concerned themselves exclusively with what seemed practicable in the existing state of opinion have constantly found that even this had rapidly become politically impossible as the result of changes in a public opinion which they have done nothing to guide. Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost. The intellectual revival of liberalism is already underway in many parts of the world. Will it be in time?

Source: F.A. Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” The University of Chicago Law Review (Spring 1949), pp. 417–420; reprinted in Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (University of Chicago Press, 1967), pp. 193–94.

Would you go to the Barricades for a Limited Government?

Delacroix, Liberty leading the People on the Barricade (1830)
Delacroix, “Liberty leading the People on the Barricade” (1830)

Robert Nozick in Part III of his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) “A Framework for Utopia” quotes J. R. Lucas’s The Principles of Politics (1966) about how no one would want to die in order to create something as boring as a “limited government”:

A state which was really morally neutral, which was indifferent to all values, other than that of maintaining law and order, would not command enough allegiance to survive at all. A soldier may sacrifice his life for Queen and Country, but hardly for the Minimum State. A policeman, believing in Natural Law and immutable right and wrong, may tackle an armed desperado but not if he regards himself as an employee of a Mutual Protection and Assurance Society, constructed from the cautious contracts of prudent individuals. Some ideals are necessary to inspire those without whose free co-operation that State would not survive.

Thus according to Lucas, the ideal of establishing a limited government would not be sufficient to motivate him to do much towards its creation. There would have to be other, deeper or higher values/ideals at stake in order to get him out of his study chair.

So my question is this: what ideals would inspire you to “go to the barricades” to defend them?

I mean “go to the barricades” in both a literal and figurative sense. Some CLs have fought and died for their liberal ideals in the three revolutions I have discussed - 1640s, 1770s to 1790s, 1848. One could imagine a future in which that might be necessary again.

I also mean it in a figurative sense - what ideals would motivate you to undertake a great deal of exertion, even sacrifice, to achieve a free society? What is your vision of a better freer world that motivates you to do this? Or not?

Nozick it appears rejects Lucas’s rather contemptuous dismissal and would “go to the barricades” for what he calls “the minimal state”. These are the two concluding paragraphs of his book (pp. 333–34):

This morally favored state (the minimal state), the only morally legitimate state, the only morally tolerable one, we now see is the one that best realizes the utopian aspirations of untold dreamers and visionaries. It preserves what we all can keep from the utopian tradition and opens the rest of that tradition to our individual aspirations. Recall now the question with which this chapter began. Is not the minimal state, the framework for utopia, an inspiring vision?

The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual rights with the dignity this constitutes. Treating us with respect by respecting our rights, it allows us, individually or with whom we choose, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the same dignity. How dare any state or group of individuals do more. Or less.

Political Utopias, Eutopias, and Dystopias

I would like to quickly survey some of the ideals which different groups have had and which have motivated them to undertake to change the societies in which they live. One way to do this is to study the “utopian vision” they have had about what a future desirable political society would look like. These visions may be in the form of fictional works (today filmic) or the more speculative parts of social, economic, or political theory.

Some definitions:

  • “utopia”: from the Greek “ou” (no) and “topos” (place), thus a place that does not exist
  • “eutopia”: from the Greek “eu” (good) and “topos” (place), thus a good or desirable place
  • “dystopia”: from the Greek “dus” (not good, bad) and “topos” (place), thus a bad or undesirable place

In the West, we have two important sources for much of our thinking about utopias/dystopias:

  • the Bible
    • utopia of Garden of Eden
    • utopia of Heaven
    • dystopia of Hell
  • the classic vision of a “utopia” is Thomas More’s book De optimo rei publicae deque nova insula Utopia (Of a republic’s best state and of the new island Utopia) (1516).
Image of the Garden of Eden from Answers in Genesis
Image of the Garden of Eden from Answers in Genesis
Map of the Island of Utopia
Map of the Island of Utopia

In these stories or discussions the author plays around with a number of variables. One’s vision of the future depends upon one’s attitudes towards the following:

  • human nature: will it stay the same or must it be changed?
  • social and economic institutions: will they be similar to those which exist today or will new ones replace them?
  • the role of the State and other coercive institutions: can people run their own lives harmoniously or do they need guidance and control?
  • science and technology: should one be optimistic or pessimistic about their impact?

CL and Socialists have very different assumptions/conclusions about these variables which I summarise as follows:

Classical Liberals:

  • human nature: stays the same, assume an unchanging “human nature” which is observable and understandable
  • social and economic institutions: remain pretty much the same, can be improved with some modification/reforms, more of the same only better; vigorous defence of private property
  • the role of the State and other coercive institutions: much reduced, even eliminated
  • science and technology: mostly optimistic


  • human nature: human nature has to change (gradual evolution or by force/state coercion), “new socialist man” assumes a malleable human nature (end of selfishness, predatory behaviour)
  • social and economic institutions: need to be radically transformed,
    • identify key relationships which need to be abolished (wage labour, exploitation, money transactions, private property, family),
    • completely new institutions need to be created (planning bureaucracies), new habits and discipline introduced via communal living, public schools, conscription into army
  • the role of the State and other coercive institutions: rational planners of all things, Big Brother wise ruler, managerial elite run everything
  • science and technology: can be either optimistic (19thC) or pessimistic (late 20thC)

Socialist Visions of the Future

There is a long socialist tradition of writing utopian visions of a future socialist society, most of which have the following features:

  • the economic problem of scarcity and the knowledge problem (prices to allocate resources rationally) have been eliminated (assumed away)
  • there is a need to create a “New Socialist Man” who can live in this radically new social and economic system (loses selfishness and greed)
  • crucial in building the “New Socialist Man” is to take control over the upbringing of children in order to instill the new socialist values in them; hence the need to take them away from their families, and “socialised” (literally) by public schooling, service in the military
  • people no longer live in private homes (property) as a family or household, or run their private business or work for someone who does, but communal living (barracks), public (state) ownership of property, communal working arrangements (labour army, large state run factories, state bureaucracies)
  • the end of wage labour and profits
  • rule by a wise and humane managerial elite (party) who rationally plan all aspects of society and the economy
  • in some accounts, the prosperity of a few/elite must be supported by the slave labour of others
    • the Morlocks in H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895) - live underground and tend the machines which produce wealth for the Eloi above ground

Examples of socialist visions of the future:

  • the Christian utopia of the Garden of Eden and Heaven
  • Thomas More, Utopia (1516)
  • French Utopian Socialists (Charles Fourier)
  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888)
  • Star Trek (Matt Welch/Reason - worst TV show ever)

Long tradition of Christian thinking on this topic:

  • utopia of Garden of Eden:
    • no economic scarcity (goods or time) other than gathering vegetables and fruit;
    • no freedom of movement (confined to garden); Milton’s depiction of cage surrounded by trees and thorn bushes
    • rule by an enlightened despot to whom complete unquestioning obedience is required
    • utopia is short-lived because of disobedience to the despot by a thinking, critical and curious woman
  • utopia of Heaven:
    • no economic scarcity (goods or time), no need for prices;
    • no conflict between individuals, no crime, is there private property?;
    • rule by an enlightened despot; does he have assistants, confidants, advisers? (is there a class structure in heaven?); we know he has an army (hosts) but what about generals?
  • dystopia of Hell:
    • perpetual torture and punishment of inhabitants for past crimes (sins); very little known about how it functions; ruling elite of Satan and henchman; army and military leadership; are there Kapos among the prisoners to assist in keeping control?; are their escapes or rebellions by the inmates?
  • Christ ordering his disciples to abandon their jobs, private property, family for the approaching end
    • inspired thousands of utopian Christian socialist communities (many in America)

Classical view: Thomas More, De optimo rei publicae deque nova insula Utopia (Of a republic’s best state and of the new island Utopia) (1516).

  • no private property; communal warehouses from which food can be taken
  • farming is compulsory; also must learn a trade
  • existence of class of slaves
  • public health/hospitals
  • reversal of value of scarce goods (gold used to make chains and chamber pots)

Heyday of “Utopian Socialism” (vilified by Marx who was a “scientific” socialist) was first half of 19thC

  • Charles Fourier (1772–1837) and phalanxes (communal living and working)
    • elaborate discussion of housing, communal living and working practices
    • relations between men and women
    • uniforms to identify workers in different sectors
  • Charles Fourier, Le Nouveau monde industriel et sociétaire ou invention du procédé d’industrie attrayante et naturelle, distribuée en séries passionnées (Paris: Bossange père, 1829);
  • Étienne Cabet, Voyage et aventures de lord William Carisdall en Icarie (Paris: H. Souverain, 1840)
  • Cartoon from 1848 by the political caricaturist Amédée de Noé “‘New’ Socialist Ideas in 1848”. See discussion in “‘New’ Socialist Ideas in 1848: An Anti-Socialist Cartoon by Amédée de Noé” http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/new-socialist-ideas-in-1848.
Plan for a Phalanx
Plan for a Phalanx
New Ideas of 1848
New Ideas of 1848

Late 19thC influential American example:

  • Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888) (Penguin, 1984)

Late 19thC Fabian Socialism in England

  • Fabian Society founded 4 Jan. 1884
  • strategy was gradual change within existing institutions such as Parliament
  • named after Roman general Fabius Maximus (nicknamed “Cunctator”, the Delayer) who used tactics of harassment and attrition of the enemy instead of direct confrontation (i.e. revolution)
  • members included H. G. Wells, Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, Ramsay MacDonald, Emmeline Pankhurst, Sidney and Beatrice Webb
  • influenced Labour Party founded 1900
  • very influential in Labour parties throughout English speaking world
  • one of its leading members was George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics
  • key collection of essays and statement of purpose: Fabian Essays in Socialism, ed. G. Bernard Shaw (1889)
  • prompted immediate CL reply: A Plea for Liberty: An Argument against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation (1891); A Policy of Free Exchange (1894), ed. Thomas Mackay

The Fabian Socialist Vision

Goals of the Fabian Society (1884):

The Fabian Society aims at the reorganization of Society by the emancipation of Land and industrial Capital from individual and class ownership, and the vesting of them in the community for the general benefit. In this way only can the natural and acquired advantages of the country be equitably shared by the whole people.
The Society accordingly works for the extinction of private property in land and of the consequent individual appropriation, in the form of Rent, of the price paid for permission to use the earth, as well as for the advantages of superior soils and sites.
The Society, further, works for the transfer to the community of the administration of such industrial Capital as can conveniently be managed socially. For, owing to the monopoly of the means of production in the past, industrial inventions and the transformation of surplus income into Capital have mainly enriched the proprietary class, the worker being now dependent on that class for leave to earn a living.
If these measures be carried out, without compensation (though not without such relief to expropriated individuals as may seem fit to the community), Rent and Interest will be added to the reward of labor, the idle class now living on the labor of others will necessarily disappear, and practical equality of opportunity will be maintained by the spontaneous action of economic forces with much less interference with personal liberty than the present system entails.
For the attainment of these ends the Fabian Society looks to the spread of Socialist opinions, and the social and political changes consequent thereon. It seeks to promote these by the general dissemination of knowledge as to the relation between the individual and Society in its economic, ethical, and political aspects.

Fabian Essays in Socialism, ed. G. Bernard Shaw, (1889)

Goals of the Fabian Society (1888):

  • Complete shifting of burden from the workers, of whatever grade, to the recipients of rent and interest, with a view to the ultimate and gradual extinction of the latter class.
  • To raise, universally, the standard of comfort by obtaining the general recognition of a minimum wage and a maximum working day.
  • To enable all, even the poorest, children to obtain not merely some, but the best education they are capable of.
  • To provide generously, and without stigma, for the aged, the sick, and those destitute through temporary want of employment
  • The gradual public organization of labor for all public purposes, and the elimination of the private capitalist and middleman.
  • To obtain the most accurate representation and expression of the desires of the majority of the people at every moment.

1960s Star Trek as socialist/militarist utopia (1966–69):

  • overcome problem of scarcity (Replicator)
  • no use for money
  • traders are seen in bad light (the Farenghi)
  • ordered military society with wise and compassionate leaders
  • everyone wears uniforms
  • mission is to pacify the known universe under the control of The Federation (the Prime Directive is violated in nearly every episode)
Worf gets a drink from the replicator
Worf gets a drink from the replicator

Karl Marx (1818–1883) and the “Scientific” Socialist Vision of the Future

Reluctance of K. Marx to imagine what a socialist future would look like:

  • assumed capitalist society would create the bureaucratic and organisation forms which would continue after revolution under socialism (static view of economics and planning)
  • only speculated about what future socialist society might be like in a few throw away lines: end of division of labour (famous quote about being a hunter in the morning and a philosopher in the evening)
  • Lenin’s crazy idea of managing a business/economy using basic arithmetic and modelled on the Post Office

In The German Ideology (1845) Marx attacks the idea of the division of labour as the means by which the individual is divorced (“cleavage”) from the broader community as well as enslaving himself by being confined to one area of activity alone and thus hampering his development.

Marx has things completely backwards, as the DoL dramatically increases productivity for both himself as individual workers, and for the community in general. It also is the way is which the individual becomes more closely tied to the community in mutually beneficial ties of reciprocal work. He is not “alienated” from society but become more closely tied to it.

In one of the very few passages where KM speculates on what a socialist society might look like and how it would function, he gives this absurd picture of a society where an individual can “do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner”.

Further, the division of labour implies the contradiction between the interest of the separate individual or the individual family and the communal interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another. And indeed, this communal interest does not exist merely in the imagination, as the “general interest,” but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided. And finally, the division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.

Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01a.htm

Cookshop of the Future
Cookshop of the Future

Later, he was challenged by a reviewer of Capital vol. 1 for not providing more detail about how a future socialist society would work in practice he contemptuously dismissed it by saying that he was not in the business “of writing recipes for the cook-shops of the future”.

Source: Karl Marx, “Afterword to the Second German Edition (1873)” https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p3.htm

Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) and “Bureaucratic ”Socialist

Because KM was a journalist and economic theorists and never held political office he personally could do little damage, but his vision of a socialist future inspired millions of others who did eventually get into positions of political power and attempted to put his ideas into practice. This resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people during the 20thC.

Someone who was inspired by Marx’s vision of a socialist society was Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) who led the Bolshevik party to victory in the Russian Revolution of October 1917. On the eve of taking power his vision of how a functioning socialist society would work was minimal in the extreme (laughable in fact). In his long essay “The State and Revolution: The Marxist Theory of the State and the Task of the Proletariat in the Revolution” written in Sept. 1917. He believed, along with most Marxists, that capitalism had or would soon solve all the technical problems of production and organisation, but not that of distribution (which was skewed in favour of the capitalist class). All the socialists had to do was take over an already existing system and and change the distribution of the goods produced in favour of the newly empowered workers. The capitalist system had already simplified the organisation of itself to the point where anybody with a basic knowledge of arithmetic could handle “accounting and control”. The economic model he had in mind was that of the post office (not the army which previous socialists had admired) where “the whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labor and pay.”

The neo-classical main PO in St. Petersburg
The neo-classical main PO in St. Petersburg

In “State and Revolution” Lenin states:

We, the workers, shall organize large-scale production on the basis of what capitalism has already created, relying on our own experience as workers, establishing strict, iron discipline backed up by the state power of the armed workers. We shall reduce the role of state officials to that of simply carrying out our instructions as responsible, revocable, modestly paid “foremen and accountants” (of course, with the aid of technicians of all sorts, types and degrees)…

A witty German Social-Democrat of the seventies of the last century called the postal service an example of the socialist economic system. This is very true. At the present the postal service is a business organized on the lines of state-capitalist monopoly. Imperialism is gradually transforming all trusts into organizations of a similar type, in which, standing over the “common” people, who are overworked and starved, one has the same bourgeois bureaucracy. But the mechanism of social management is here already to hand. Once we have overthrown the capitalists, crushed the resistance of these exploiters with the iron hand of the armed workers, and smashed the bureaucratic machinery of the modern state, we shall have a splendidly-equipped mechanism, freed from the “parasite”, a mechanism which can very well be set going by the united workers themselves, who will hire technicians, foremen and accountants, and pay them all, as indeed all “state” officials in general, workmen’s wages. Here is a concrete, practical task which can immediately be fulfilled in relation to all trusts, a task whose fulfilment will rid the working people of exploitation, a task which takes account of what the Commune had already begun to practice (particularly in building up the state).

To organize the whole economy on the lines of the postal service so that the technicians, foremen and accountants, as well as all officials, shall receive salaries no higher than “a workman’s wage”, all under the control and leadership of the armed proletariat–that is our immediate aim….

If really all take part in the administration of the state, capitalism cannot retain its hold. The development of capitalism, in turn, creates the preconditions that enable really “all” to take part in the administration of the state. Some of these preconditions are: universal literacy, which has already been achieved in a number of the most advanced capitalist countries, then the “training and disciplining” of millions of workers by the huge, complex, socialized apparatus of the postal service, railways, big factories, large-scale commerce, banking, etc., etc.

Given these economic preconditions, it is quite possible, after the overthrow of the capitalists and the bureaucrats, to proceed immediately, overnight, to replace them in the control over production and distribution, in the work of keeping account of labor and products, by the armed workers, by the whole of the armed population. (The question of control and accounting should not be confused with the question of the scientifically trained staff of engineers, agronomists, and so on. These gentlemen are working today in obedience to the wishes of the capitalists and will work even better tomorrow in obedience to the wishes of the armed workers.)

Accounting and control – that is mainly what is needed for the “smooth working”, for the proper functioning, of the first phase of communist society. All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens becomes employees and workers of a single countrywide state “syndicate”. All that is required is that they should work equally, do their proper share of work, and get equal pay; the accounting and control necessary for this have been simplified by capitalism to the utmost and reduced to the extraordinarily simple operations – which any literate person can perform–of supervising and recording, knowledge of the four rules of arithmetic, and issuing appropriate receipts.

When the majority of the people begin independently and everywhere to keep such accounts and exercise such control over the capitalists (now converted into employees) and over the intellectual gentry who preserve their capitalist habits, this control will really become universal, general, and popular; and there will be no getting away from it, there will be “nowhere to go”.

The whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory, with equality of labor and pay.

Source: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch03.htm
and https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch05.htm.

Clerks and Carriers in Large City PO Smithsonian National Postal Museum
“Clerks and Carriers in Large City PO” Smithsonian National Postal Museum

This “vision” of how socialism would actually work was as sophisticated as it got for the socialists on the eve of the successful revolution in Russia which began the Soviet experiment which lasted from 1917–1991 when it collapsed.

What inspired the workers and party members to participate in the Revolution was not this pathetic vision but other ideals about equality, the end of the exploitation of the workers by wage, the evils of profit making, the chaos of the free market, as well as other things CLs would agree upon such as the injustice of WW1, the corruption of the privileged Tsarist regime, and controls on freedom of speech and organisation, the behaviour of the secret police.

Let us turn to what CLs envisaged would happen when their program for liberty was implemented.

CL/Libertarian Visions of the Future


What do free market economists say future will be like:

  • more of the same as human nature remains same and economic laws universal - there will be markets in everything, people will pursue their goals/ends with limited resources, opportunity costs always present.
  • also totally different because of technological and entrepreneurial innovation
  • hedge bets by saying “ceteris paribus” (other things being equal), “at what price?”

Not very helpful!

CLs have far fewer utopian visions of the future (why?) but many dystopian visions of the state run wild:

  • some examples of a CL utopian future: from Bastiat to Ayn Rand
  • examples of a CL dystopian future: from Eugen Richter to “The Hunger Games”

CL’s utopias (fictional and theoretic/speculative):

  • some examples of a CL utopian future
    • Cyrano de Bergerac - Journey to Sun/Moon
    • Voltaire - Candide (1759) tending one’s own garden
    • Condorcet’s “10th Epoch” (1794–5)
    • Bastiat, “The Utopian” (1847); Barataria (Cervantes?)
    • Molinari, The Society of Tomorrow (1899)

In the modern era:

  • Hazlitt, Time will run Back (1951)
  • Rand, “Galt’s Gulch” in Atlas Shrugged (1957)

CL speculative theory about a future society:

Condorcet on the “10th Epoch”: the Future Progress of Mankind towards full liberty (1794)

Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794)
Marquis de Condorcet (1743–1794)

Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet, Outlines of an historical view of the progress of the human mind, being a posthumous work of the late M. de Condorcet. (Translated from the French.) (Philadelphia: M. Carey, 1796). 6/11/2015. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1669

  • Condorcet died in prison at the hands of Jacobins for his liberal republican beliefs. He was a mathematician and social theorist as well as a very early advocate of the right of women to vote and participate in politics. His last manuscript was somehow saved from his captors and published posthumously.
  • quote: Condorcet writes about the inevitability of the spread of liberty and prosperity while he was in prison awaiting execution by the Jacobins (1796) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/106

Chronicles rise of reason and spread of liberty up to 9th Epoch which is the Enlightenment, American, and French Revolutions.

People now have knowledge of physical and social/economic laws which can be applied to improve human life indefinitely:

  • end of inequality, especially political inequality
  • unlimited expansion of industrial output
  • an end to war
  • improvements in diet, health and human longevity
  • independence and freedom to colonies
  • end of slavery
  • equal rights for women

Some passages to illustrate this vision of the future:

Freedom will spread even to the colonies and there will be “the independence of the entire new world” - end of slavery, and trading monopolies; “those settlements of robbers will then become colonies of citizens” - “this revolution”

Concludes section on colonies:

Then will arrive the moment in which the sun will observe in its course free nations only, acknowledging no other master than their reason; in which tyrants and slaves, priests and their stupid or hypocritical instruments, will no longer exist but in history and upon the stage; in which our only concern will be to lament their past victims and dupes, and, by the recollection of their horrid enormities, to exercise a vigilant circumspection, that we may be able instantly to recognise and effectually to stifle by the force of reason, the seeds of superstition and tyranny, should they ever presume again to make their appearance upon the earth." http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1669#Condorcet_0878_627

rights of women:

Among those causes of human improvement that are of most importance to the general welfare, must be included, the total annihilation of the prejudices which have established between the sexes an inequality of rights, fatal even to the party which it favours. In vain might we search for motives by which to justify this principle, in difference of physical organization, of intellect, or of moral sensibility. It had at first no other origin but abuse of strength, and all the attempts which have since been made to support it are idle sophisms. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1669#Condorcet_0878_667

Economic improvements in arts/industry:

If we pass to the progress of the arts, those arts particularly the theory of which depends on these very same sciences, we shall find that it can have no inferior limits; that their processes are susceptible of the same improvement, the same simplifications, as the scientific methods; that instruments, machines, looms, will add every day to the capabilities and skill of man—will augment at once the excellence and precision of his works, while they will diminish the time and labour necessary for executing them; and that then will disappear the obstacles that still oppose themselves to the progress in question, accidents which will be foreseen and prevented; and lastly, the unhealthiness at present attendant upon certain operations, habits and climates.

A smaller portion of ground will then be made to produce a proportion of provisions of higher value or greater utility; a greater quantity of enjoyment will be procured at a smaller expence of consumption; the same manufactured or artificial commodity will be produced at a smaller expence of raw materials, or will be stronger and more durable; every soil will be appropriated to productions which will satisfy a greater number of wants with the least labour, and taken in the smallest quantities. Thus the means of health and frugality will be encreased, together with the instruments in the arts of production, of curing commodities and manufacturing their produce, without demanding the sacrifice of one enjoyment by the consumer.

Thus, not only the same species of ground will nourish a greater number of individuals, but each individual, with a less quantity of labour, will labour more successfully, and be surrounded with greater conveniences. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1669#Condorcet_0878_650

No limits to improvement in equality, enlightenment, liberty:

The advantages that must result from the state of improvement, of which I have proved we may almost entertain the certain hope, can have no limit but the absolute perfection of the human species, since, in proportion as different kinds of equality shall be established as to the various means of providing for our wants, as to a more universal instruction, and a more entire liberty, the more real will be this equality, and the nearer will it approach towards embracing every thing truly important to the happiness of mankind.

It is then by examining the progression and the laws of this perfection, that we can alone arrive at the knowledge of the extent or boundary of our hopes.


Final passage (written while he was awaiting death or execution by the Jacobins):

Such are the questions with which we shall terminate the last division of our work. And how admirably calculated is this view of the human race, emancipated from its chains, released alike from the dominion of chance, as well as from that of the enemies of its progress, and advancing with a firm and indeviate step in the paths of truth, to console the philosopher lamenting the errors, the flagrant acts of injustice, the crimes with which the earth is still polluted? It is the contemplation of this prospect that rewards him for all his efforts to assist the progress of reason and the establishment of liberty. He dares to regard these efforts as a part of the eternal chain of the destiny of mankind; and in this persuasion he finds the true delight of virtue, the pleasure of having performed a durable service, which no vicissitude will ever destroy in a fatal operation calculated to restore the reign of prejudice and slavery. This sentiment is the asylum into which he retires, and to which the memory of his persecutors cannot follow him: he unites himself in imagination with man restored to his rights, delivered from oppression, and proceeding with rapid strides in the path of happiness; he forgets his own misfortunes while his thoughts are thus employed; he lives no longer to adversity, calumny and malice, but becomes the associate of these wiser and more fortunate beings whose enviable condition he so earnestly contributed to produce. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1669#Condorcet_0878_691

Richard Cobden’s “I have a Dream Speech” about “free trade in everything” (1846)

Richard Cobden (1804-1865)
Richard Cobden (1804–1865)

Quote: Richard Cobden’s “I have a dream” speech about a world in which free trade is the governing principle (1846) http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/326

On the eve of victory for the free trade Anti-Corn Law League, the British Member of Parliament Richard Cobden (1804–1865) gave a speech in Manchester on January 15, 1846 in which he outlined his dream of a future world where the principles of free trade “in everything” was the governing principle. In this speech on the eve of victory in the House of Commons (15 January, 1846 - the repeal came on 27 January 1846) Cobden was at pains to show that his motives had never been personal or pecuniary but were based on deeply held moral and economic principles that were above the specific place and time of his campaign. At the very end of the speech Cobden gave what is in effect his version of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech in which he outlined what his vision of the world would look like 1,000 years hence when “the Free-Trade principle” he advocated had become universal. Cobden sincerely believed that this would result in “the greatest revolution that ever happened in the world’s history”.

But I have been accused of looking too much to material interests. Nevertheless I can say that I have taken as large and great a view of the effects of this mighty principle (free trade) as ever did any man who dreamt over it in his own study. I believe that the physical gain will be the smallest gain to humanity from the success of this principle. I look farther; I see in the Free-trade principle that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe,—drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace. I have looked even farther. I have speculated, and probably dreamt, in the dim future—ay, a thousand years hence—I have speculated on what the effect of the triumph of this principle may be. I believe that the effect will be to change the face of the world, so as to introduce a system of government entirely distinct from that which now prevails. I believe that the desire and the motive for large and mighty empires; for gigantic armies and great navies—for those materials which are used for the destruction of life and the desolation of the rewards of labour—will die away; I believe that such things will cease to be necessary, or to be used, when man becomes one family, and freely exchanges the fruits of his labour with his brother man. I believe that, if we could be allowed to reappear on this sublunary scene, we should see, at a far distant period, the governing system of this world revert to something like the municipal system; and I believe that the speculative philosopher of a thousand years hence will date the greatest revolution that ever happened in the world’s history from the triumph of the principle which we have met here to advocate. I believe these things: but, whatever may have been my dreams and speculations, I have never obtruded them upon others. I have never acted upon personal or interested motives in this question; I seek no alliance with parties or favour from parties, and I will take none—but, having the feeling I have of the sacredness of the principle, I say that I can never agree to tamper with it. I, at least, will never be suspected of doing otherwise than pursuing it disinterestedly, honestly, and resolutely.

Source: Speeches on Questions of Public Policy by Richard Cobden, M.P., ed. by John Bright and J.E. Thorold Rogers with a Preface and Appreciation by J.E. Thorold Rogers and an Appreciation by Goldwin Smith (London: T.Fisher Unwin, 1908). 2 volumes in 1. Vol. 1 Free Trade and Finance. 6/11/2015. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/927

Frédéric Bastiat’s “The Utopian” (1847)

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)
Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850)

Bastiat’s visions:

  • “The Utopian” (1847);
  • “Barataria” (Cervantes?)

Shortly after Cobden wrote his dream of “free trade in everything” his friend and colleague F. Bastiat wrote a short essay (sophism), called “The Utopian”, about what he would do if the King of France made him “dictator”.

ES2 11 “L’utopiste (The Utopian) (January 1847) FEE ed. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/276#lf0182_head_076.

Bastiat envisages a radical classical liberal politician who dreams of being able to form a new government with the power and authority to enact his dream slate of policies in order to reform France. It is structured as a conversation between an unknown interlocutor and the politician, and Bastiat runs wild imagining what he would do if he were given such power. The policies he proposes are really quite radical in their scope (and some were in fact enacted in the first year of the Revolutionary government which came to power in early 1848), as the following proposals indicate (it should be noted that the French government at this time got most of its revenue from indirect taxes of various kinds and tariffs):

  • cut the tax on postage from 43 to 10 centimes
  • cut the salt tax from 30 c./kg to 10 c./kg
  • end the prohibition and high tariffs on imported goods and have a universal 5% tariff rate on both exported and imported goods
  • abolish all tolls imposed on local goods brought into French cities
  • disband the national army of France and replace it with local voluntary militias
  • end all state subsidies to religious groups and enact freedom of religion
  • end all state funding of education and enact freedom of education
  • nationalise the railways which were private monopolies and allow economic freedom in the transport industry
  • pay off the national debt

An extract:

“I will think about this. So, now we have settled salt, the postal services and customs duties. Is this all?”

U: “I have scarcely begun.”

“I beg you, let me into your other Utopian plans.”

U: “I have lost 60 million on salt and the postal services. I have recovered them on Customs duties, which have given me something even more precious.”

“And what is that, if you please?”

U: “International relationships based on justice, and the likelihood of peace, which is almost a certainty. I would disband the army.”

“The entire army?” (400,000 men)

U: “Except for some specialized divisions, which would recruit voluntarily just like any other profession. And as you can see, conscription would be abolished.” …
“In short, you are disarming the country based on a Utopian faith.”

U: “I said that I was disbanding the army and not that I was disarming the country. On the contrary, I intend to give it an invincible force.”

“How are you going to sort out this heap of contradictions?”

U: “I will call on the services of all citizens.” (local militias) …

The Utopian becomes excited: “Thank heavens; my budget has been reduced by 200 million! I will abolish city tolls, I will reform indirect taxes, I …”

“Just a minute Mr. Utopian!”

The Utopian becomes increasingly excited: “I will proclaim the freedom of religion and freedom of education. New projects: I will purchase the railways, I will reimburse the debt, and I will starve stockjobbing of its profits.”

“Mr. Utopian!”

U: “Freed from responsibilities which are too numerous to mention, I will concentrate all of the forces of government on repressing fraud and distributing prompt and fair justice to all, I …”

“Mr. Utopian, you are taking on too much, the nation will not follow you!”

U: “You have given me a majority.”

“I withdraw it.”

U: “About time, too! So I am no longer a Minister, and my plans remain what they are, just so many UTOPIAS.”

In the end, the Utopian politician resigns because he realises that his reforms are literally “utopian” since they would have to be imposed upon a population which did not share his political and moral values and that reform from above would prove to be counter-productive in the long run. For economic reforms to work, Bastiat thought, they had to be supported overwhelmingly by public opinion which was the raison d’être for his economic journalism and pamphleteering in favour of free trade and deregulation.

His second utopian vision is more like a dystopia which is only narrowly averted by a liberal-minded ruler at the last moment. Interestingly it uses two characters from Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, is the only significant reference to Cervantes in Bastiat’s writings, and was never published in Bastiat’s lifetime. The story is a series of letters written between Sancho, who has been appointed dictator of the island of Barataria, and Don Quixote, who has been advising him about the best way to rule the island, like a typical socialist might in 1848. Like Robinson Crusoe (as will be discussed below), Bastiat makes Don Quixote the advocate of interventionist and protectionist policies, while Pancho/Friday is the free trader and non-interventionist. Don Quixote urges Sancho to use his powers to treat the island and its inhabitants like a machine whose parts can be ordered at will by the “mechanic” or ruler. He wants him to re-instate slavery for 95% of the population and force them to labour for the benefit of the ruling 5%. This ruling class would devote themselves to martial activities and the pursuit of “virtue” much like the Romans whom Bastiat despised so much. Don Quixote tells Sancho that the people will willingly obey him if he can persuade them that he has supernatural powers and can intimidate and fool them into obedience. Sancho on the other hand rejects Don Quixote’s advice because he observes that neither the people nor the society they have created works like a machine which can be regulated by single ruler. He tells the people to “Do as you please”, work in the fields, and trade their goods with each other. Sancho’s view of the role of the state is the “nightwatchman” state as this speech he gave to the Baratarian Grand Assembly shows:

God has given you land. Cultivate it and produce crops from it. Exchange these with one another. Let some plough , others spin, still others teach, plead in court or cure illness; let each person work as he wishes.
For my part, my duty is to guarantee to all two things: freedom to act and the freedom to dispose the fruit of his work. For my part, my duty is to guarantee two things for each person: the freedom to act and the freedom to dispose of the fruits of their work.
I will constantly endeavor to repress your disastrous inclination to rob each other, wherever this is evident. I will give all of you total security. The rest is up to you.
Is it not absurd for you to ask anything more from me? What do these piles of petitions mean? If I took them seriously, everyone would steal from everyone else in Barataria, and with my connivance! On the contrary, I believe that my mission is to prevent anyone from stealing from anyone else.
Baratarians, there is a great difference between these two systems. If in your view I am to be the instrument by means of which everyone steals from everyone else, it is as though you were saying that all of your property belongs to me, and that I can dispose of it as well as your freedom. You will no longer be men, but brutes.

“Barataria” (Barataria) (c. 1848) [an unpublished fragment of what was intended as a short pamphlet.] [OC7.77, pp. 343–51, CW, vol. 4 (LF forthcoming).

In the story “Barataria” it is not clear whether Sancho resigns from office as “The Utopian” did or the other Sancho did in Cervantes’ novel because Bastiat left it unfinished.

Bastiat also wrote what might be called short “dystopias” about protectionists and interventionists who run wild imposing their policies on France with dire conseqeuences:

  • ES2 13 “La protection ou les trois Échevins” (Protection, or the Three Municipal Magistrates) (c.1847) which was in the form of a long play in four acts about an over-regulated Paris and its subsequent economic decline.
  • ES1 17 “Un chemin de fer négatif” (A Negative Railway) (c. 1845). Bastiat takes the argument in favour of forcing railway companies to make stops at certain towns in order to stimulate the local trans-shipping and hotel industries, universalises the principle into the idea that the railway should be forced to stop at every town along its path for the same reason, thus resulting in a railway journey that will never get to its final destination, but which will supposedly enrich everybody along the way. It is like “Groundhog Day” for the passengers, forever getting on and off the train and never being able to complete their journey.
  • ES2 16 “La main droite et la main gauche” (The Right Hand and the Left Hand) (December 1846). Bastiat takes the interventionist’s idea that the true wealth of a nation can be measured by the amount of labour its people undertake (in our day, the number of “jobs” in the economy). It follows from this that, if a government wants to increase national prosperity, it should increase the amount of labour people have to do (increase the number of jobs). He urges the King to ban the use of his subjects’ right hand in all economic activity in order to increase the amount of work which has to be done, and thus make the nation richer.

What FB is able to do in these stories in to cleverly capture a vision of what kind of society would be produced by different economic polices, free trade or interventionist, which could either be inspiring or terrifying. This shows his great skill as a writer and he was without doubt the best economic journalist who has ever lived.

Gustave de Molinari and “The Society of Tomorrow” (1899)

Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912)
Gustave de Molinari (1819–1912)

The 2 CLs of the 19thC who gave the most thought to the specifics of what a future free society might look like and how it would work were the French/Belgian economist Gustave de Molinari (19189–1912) and the English political theorist and sociologist Herbert Spencer (1820–1903).

Spencer was encouraged to do this because it was the next logical step in his massive multi-volume work on the theory of social and political evolution in which he discussed the evolution of society from simplicity to complexity, from status to contract, from militant society to industrial society, from bondage to freedom. Because he was presciently able to see that classical liberalism was beginning to wane in the 1880s he also wrote some very perceptive and foreboding dystopian account of what "over-legislation: was going to bring to England and the rest of the world.

Such as: “The Coming Slavery” in The Man versus the State (1885): Herbert Spencer, The Man versus the State, with Six Essays on Government, Society and Freedom, ed. Eric Mack, introduction by Albert Jay Nock (Indianapolis: LibertyClassics, 1981). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/330

Molinari did this because in 1849 he came up with the most radical application of free market ideas ever conceived, concerning the private and voluntary provision of all public goods - including police and defence, and met such opposition even by his free market colleagues that he felt obliged to argue in detail about how this might be achieved in practice. He continued to do this in a series of works up until 1899 (or 1906??).

his vision of an anarcho-capitalist future:

  • brief extrapolation of how private insurance companies might provide police and defence services to premium paying consumers (“Production of Security” and “The Eleventh Soirée” in 1849 and then in more detail in Cours in 1855)
  • his radicalism was somewhat tempered by 1899 when he now argued that small proprietary communities would provide “public goods” such as police services to its members (The Society of Tomorrow (1899)


  • Gustave de Molinari, “De la production de la sécurité,” in Journal des Économistes, Vol. XXII, no. 95, 15 February, 1849), pp. 277–90.
  • Gustave de Molinari, The Production of Security, trans. J. Huston McCulloch, Occasional Papers Series #2 (Richard M. Ebeling, Editor), New York: The Center for Libertarian Studies, May 1977.
  • The “Eleventh Soirée” in SRSL (1849)
  • Cours, Douzième leçon, “Les consommations publiques,” pp. 480–534. Molinari,* Cours d’économie politique, professé au Musée royal de l’industrie belge,* 2 vols. (Bruxelles: Librairie polytechnique d’Aug. Decq, 1855). 2nd revised and enlarged edition (Bruxelles et Leipzig: A Lacroix, Ver Broeckoven; Paris: Guillaumin, 1863).
  • Gustave de Molinari, Esquisse de l’organisation politique et économique de la Société future (A Sketch of the Political and Economic Organisation of the Society of the Future) (Paris: Guillaumin, 1899).
  • English transaltion: The Society of Tomorrow: A Forecast of its Political and Economic Organization, ed. Hodgson Pratt and Frederic Passy, trans. P.H. Lee Warner (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/228.
  • “Où est l’Utopie?” Questions économiques (1906), pp. 377–80

During the Economists’ campaign against socialism during 1848–49 Molinari rethought the problem of public goods:

  • private provision of all public goods discussed in Les Soirées de la rue Saint Lazare (1849)
  • S11 on the private production of security (also article JDE, Feb. 1849)
    section on Public Goods in Cours d’économie politique (1855)
  • banned or regulated industries as well govt. monopolies will be supplied on the free market
  • every “industry” will have its own entrepreneurs
    • entrepreneurs de prostitution (prostitution business - brothels)
    • entrepreneurs d’education - entrepreneurs in the education business (schools)
    • entrepreneurs d’industrie agricole - entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry (farms)
    • entrepreneurs de diligences - entrepreneurs in the coach business (cabs)
    • entrepreneur de pompes funèbres - entrepreneurs in the funeral business
    • le laborieux entrepreneur, naguère ouvrier - entrepreneurs who have emerged from the working class, i.e. “self-made” entrepreneurs
    • entrepreneur de sécurité - entrepreneurs in the protection business (police & defense)

GdM also argued that economists should not really have to do this in the first place. All they had to do was show that the same economic principles were valid for good A (say apples) and good B (say shoes). They did not have to be able to say how exactly good B would be produced (how many vendors there would be, where they would be located, what the price would be, etc.) In his treatise, the Cours (1855), he imagined a society in which a single supplier had always supplied groceries through a monopoly system of production, distribution and sale. Most of the villagers, and the grocer too of course, believed in the “antique superstition" that groceries could only be supplied by a monopoly and that their supply of groceries would break down if the business were to be opened up to competition. Molinari then proceeds to show how the villagers are mistaken, how free and open competition by grocers would lead to greater variety in the choice of food, lower prices, and even more work for people in the grocery business. He asks the reader to “poursuivons jusqu’au bout notre hypothèse” (follow us to the end of our hypothesis” and reaches the following conclusions about the benefits of competition in all things:

l’on découvrira, non sans surprise, qu’il n’est pas vrai, ainsi que les monopoleurs s’étaient appliqués à le faire croire, le croyant du reste eux-mêmes, que le monopole soit la forme nécessaire et providentielle du commerce de l’épicerie. En conséquence, au lieu de poursuivre l’œuvre impossible d’une meilleure “organisation” de ce monopole, on travaillera à le démolir, en faisant passer successivement les différentes branches de commerce qui s’y trouvent agglomérées, dans le domaine de la concurrence. Cette agglomération contre nature étant dissoute, chaque branche devenue libre pourra se développer dans ses conditions normales, en proportion des besoins du marché, et la société débarrassée d’un monopole qui la retardait et l’épuisait croîtra plus rapidement en nombre et en richesse.

C’est là l’histoire des gouvernements depuis que la société a commencé à passer de la phase du monopole dans celle de la concurrence.

Quote: Cours, vol. 2, pp. 510–14. original; and Évolution pol., pp. 514–5 original ??

But in Feb. 1849 when he first put forward his (utopian) vision of the private production of security he felt obliged to offer some specific details. He did this by extrapolation from what people already knew about the activities and structure of insurance companies. The conceptual leap forward was to see property protection and security were just another thing that could be insure against. In the 1960s Rothbard took up Molinari’s ideas virtually intact only rephrasing them in the modern conceptual language of Austrian economics.

See Rothbard, Power and Market (1970). Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles, with Power and Market: Government and the Economy. Second edition. Scholar’s Edition (Auburn, Alabama: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009).

This is a summary of his argument:

Given the powerful need for protection of person and property felt by consumers (“les consommateurs de sécurité”), and the fact that there were individuals who had the knowledge and skill to provide protection services for a fee (“les producteurs de sécurité”), it was inevitable that an individual or association of individuals would emerge as a producer of security to do just that. This was in fact exactly how the market operated for everything else. In smaller localities like a canton “un simple entrepreneur” (a simple entrepreneur) would emerge to satisfy the needs of the local community. In larger localities with several towns it would be “une compagnie” or more formally organized corporation which would emerge to provide these services. Prices would be kept low and services would improve under the stimulus of competition since consumers would have the option of giving their business to “un nouvel entrepreneur, ou à l’entrepreneur voisin” (a new entrepreneur or a neighboring entrepreneur). Molinari even spelled out some of the terms and conditions which a budding security entrepreneur in “l’industrie de la sécurité” (the security industry) would have to offer consumers in order to get their business and to provide an effective service:

(1) penalties would be set for any infringement of the liberty or property of the customers, which would be imposed on both individuals outside the company (i.e. who were not - customers) and customers within the company if they infringed upon the rights of others

(2) customers would agree to certain obligations to assist the company in their investigations of the crime

(3) customers would pay a regular premium (Molinari uses this insurance term) to cover the costs of being protected by the company, which would be based upon the risks involved and the value of their property being protected.

In “The Production of Security” he does not specify exactly what kind of company he had in mind other than general references to small local single entrepreneurs, or larger companies based in towns. In S11 he talks about much larger companies ("vastes compagnies”) and even “ces compagnies d’assurances sur la propriété” (these property insurance companies) and how they would have an economic incentive to cooperate with each other in settling disputes between their consumers and compensating them for lost property or violated liberty. He gives as an example how they might set up “facilités mutuelles” (joint or shared offices) in order to keep their costs down. It is at this moment that society as a great mutual insurance company stops being metaphorical and, and least in Molinari’s mind, becomes a literal possibility to solve the problem of government.

Molinari had an equally radical vision about how long it would take to move from the monopoly of security provision in France in 1849 to a fully free anarch-capitalist system - 1 year! A transition period which is surely “utopian”.

Therefore, I maintain that if a community were to announce that after a given delay, say perhaps a year, it would give up financing the pay of judges, soldiers and policemen, at the end of the year that community would not possess any fewer courts and governments ready to function; and I would add that if, under this new regime, each person kept the right to engage freely in these two industries and to buy their services freely from them, security would be generated as economically and as well as possible. (S11, p. 274–75.)

Draft of Soirées trans. http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/molinari

S11 http://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/molinari-revised-chapters-1-3-6-11

S11 my revised trans. <davidmhart.com/liberty/FrenchClassicalLiberals/Molinari/S11-revised.html>

Quote from S11 my revised trans:

THE CONSERVATIVE: But, once again, it is inconceivable how the industry that provides the security of person and property could be organized if it were made free. Your logic leads you to dreams worthy of Charenton.
THE ECONOMIST: Let’s see! don’t get angry. I suppose that after having just found out that the partial communism of the State and commune is completely wrong, you would leave free all branches of production except for justice and public defense. So far, there is no objection. But a radical economist, a dreamer, comes and says: Why then, after having freed the different uses of property, won’t you also free that which insures the preservation of property? Won’t these industries, like the others, be exercised more equitably and more usefully if they are made free? You claim that this is impracticable. Why? On the one hand, aren’t there, in the heart of society, men who are specially qualified to judge the disputes which arise among property owners, and to assess the crimes against property, and others who can defend the property of persons and things from the aggression of violence and fraud? Aren’t there men whose natural aptitudes make them specially suited to be judges, policemen, and soldiers? On the other hand, don’t all property owners without exception have need of security and justice? Aren’t they all prepared, therefore, to impose sacrifices on themselves in order to satisfy this urgent need, especially if they are unable to satisfy it themselves or if they can’t do it without a greater expenditure of time and money?
Now, if there are, on the one hand, men able to provide a need of society, and on the other hand, men prepared to suffer sacrifices in order to satisfy this need, isn’t it enough to leave both of them free to go about their business so that the goods demanded, material or non-material, are produced and that the need is satisfied?
Doesn’t this economic phenomenon happen irresistibly, inevitably, like the physical phenomenon of falling bodies?
Am I then not justified in saying that, if a society gives up the provision of public security, then this particular industry would nevertheless be provided? Am I not justified in adding that it would be better under the regime of liberty that it was under the regime of the community?
THE ECONOMIST: That is of no concern to economists. Political economy can say: if such a need exists, it will be satisfied, and it will be better under a regime of total liberty than under all others. This rule has no exception! but how this industry will be organized, is a technical matter about which political economy cannot speak.
Thus I can maintain that if the need to be fed is manifest in the heart of society, this need will be satisfied, and that the freer each person is to produce food or buy it from whomever he wishes, the better it will be.
I maintain further that things would happen in exactly the same way if, instead of food, it was a matter of security.
Therefore, I claim that if a community gave notice that after a certain interval, a year for example, it would cease the payment of judges, soldiers and policemen, at the end of the year this community would not have fewer courts and governments ready to function. And I add that if, under this new regime, each person retained the right to freely engage in these two industries and to freely buy these services, security would be produced most economically and would be the best possible.
THE CONSERVATIVE: I still reply that it is inconceivable.
THE ECONOMIST: In the period when the regulatory regime held industry prisoner in the confines of the communes, and when each corporation was the exclusive ruler of the communal market, it was said that society was threatened each time an audacious innovator tried to challenge this monopoly. If someone had come and said then that instead of the weak and wretched industries of the corporations, liberty would one day set up immense factories supplying products less dearly and more perfectly, this dreamer would have been treated in la belle manière. The conservatives of the time would have sworn by the gods that this was inconceivable.
THE SOCIALIST: But let’s see! How can one imagine that each individual has the right to govern himself or to choose his government, or even to not choose it…. What would happen in France if, after having made all other industries free, French citizens announced with one voice that they would cease supporting the government of the community at the end of a year?
THE ECONOMIST: In this respect, I can only conjecture. However, this is pretty nearly how things would happen. Since the need for security is still very strong in our society, it would be profitable to found government enterprises. One would be assured of covering costs. How would these enterprises be founded? Separate individuals would not be able to do it any more than they can construct railroads, docks, etc. Vast companies would thus be established to produce security; they would procure the material and the workers that they would need. As soon as they were ready to function, these property insurance companies would call for clients. Each person would contract with the company which inspired in him the greatest confidence and whose conditions appeared the most favorable.
THE CONSERVATIVE: We would line up to subscribe. We would surely line up!
THE ECONOMIST: Since this industry is free, one would see established as many companies as could be usefully formed. If there were too few, if, consequently, the price of security was raised, it would be profitable to form new ones; if there were too many, the superfluous companies would soon be dissolved. In this way, the price of security would always be reduced to the level of the costs of production.
THE CONSERVATIVE: How would these free companies cooperate to provide general security?
THE ECONOMIST: They would cooperate just as the monopoly and communist governments cooperate today, because it would be in their interest to cooperate. Indeed, the more they established shared procedures for the capture of thieves and murders, the more they would lower their costs.
By the very nature of their industry, the property insurance companies would not be able to overstep certain limits: they would make a loss supplying police in places where they would only have a small clientele. Nevertheless, within their limits they could neither oppress nor exploit their clients, on pain of seeing competitors instantly spring up.
THE SOCIALIST: And if the existing company wanted to prevent competition from being established?
THE ECONOMIST: In short, if it attacked the property of its competitors and the sovereignty of everyone … Well then, all those whose property and independence would be threatened by the monopolists, would rise up and punish them.
THE SOCIALIST: And if all the companies cooperated in establishing monopolies. If they formed a holy alliance to force themselves upon the people, and so strengthened by this coalition, they exploited the unfortunate consumers of security without mercy, if, by heavy taxes, they took for themselves the better part of the fruits of the people’s labor?
THE ECONOMIST: If, when all is said and done, they began to do what the old aristocracies have done until the present … well then, the people would follow the advice of Béranger: “People, form a Holy Alliance and help each other.” This time, they would be united, and since they have the means of communication that their ancestors did not have, and since they are a hundred times more numerous than their old rulers, the holy alliance of the aristocracies would soon be destroyed. I swear that no one would be tempted to establish a monopoly any longer.
Entrepreneurs and Liberty <davidmhart.com/liberty/FrenchClassicalLiberals/Molinari/Articles/EntrepreneursLiberties.html>

entrepreneurs d’industrie (7) - industrial or manufacturing entrepreneurs
entrepreneurs de production (2) - manufacturing entrepreneurs
entrepreneurs du tissage (2) - entrepreneurs in the weaving industry
entrepreneurs de prostitution (1) - entrepreneurs in the prostitution business
entrepreneurs d’education (1) - entrepreneurs in the education business
entrepreneurs de roulage (1) - entrepreneurs in the haulage business
entrepreneurs d’industrie agricole (1) - entrepreneurs in the agriculture industry
entrepreneurs de diligences (1) - entrepreneurs in the coach business
entrepreneurs ou directeurs d’industrie (1) - entrepreneurs or directors of industrial enterprises
entrepreneur de pompes funèbres (1) - entrepreneurs in the funeral business
le laborieux entrepreneur, naguère ouvrier (1) - entrepreneurs who have emerged from the working class, i.e. “self-made” entrepreneurs

Herbert Spencer’s “Political Prospects” (1876)

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)

Spencer’s 20 year project to describe the structure and evolution of society: Principles of Sociology, 3 volumes (1874–96)

Herbert Spencer speculated in some detail about what the future might look like because it was the next logical step in his massive multi-volume work on the theory of social and political evolution in which he discussed the evolution of society from

  • simplicity to complexity
  • from status to contract
  • from bondage to freedom
  • from militant society to industrial society,

Because he was presciently able to see that classical liberalism was beginning to wane in the 1880s he also wrote some very perceptive and foreboding dystopian account of what "over-legislation: was going to bring to England and the rest of the world.

  • “The Coming Slavery” in The Man versus the State (1885) - his emerging dystopian vision
  • “Political Prospect” in The Principles of Sociology (1876) - how a free society might evolve, his positive vision of a free society
  • Chap. XXIII: “The Near Future” in Principles of Sociology vol. 3, Part VIII. Industrial Institutions" http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2633#lf1650-03_label_240


Principles of Sociology, 3 volumes (1874–96)

  • Volume I (1874–1885) – Part I: Data of Sociology; Part II: Inductions of Sociology; Part III: Domestic Institutions
  • Volume II (1879–1885) – Part IV: Ceremonial Institutions (1879); Part V: Political Institutions (1882); Part VI [published here in some editions]: Ecclesiastical Institutions (1885)
  • Volume III (1885–1896) – Part VI [published here in some editions]: Ecclesiastical Institutions (1885); Part VII: Professional Institutions (1896); Part VIII: Industrial Institutions (1896)

According to Spencer’s theory of social evolution, society had begun as a “militant type” of society dominated by the authority of the King and the military, based on coercion, dependent on taxing and regulating productive economic activity. Over centuries, the productive economic activity began to increase and a new type of society began to emerge, the “industrial type” in which coercion by Kings and the military was reduced, taxation and regulation was lessened, and economic exchanges became the dominant form of activity. Britain in the 1870s–80s was on the cusp of becoming a fully industrial type of society but vestiges of the past were holding it back (the rise of socialism and colonialism).

Spencer’s vision of the future liberal society, or what he called “the régime of voluntary cooperation”, was one were “the ultimate man” fully respected the “law of equal liberty” (i.e. his own liberty and that of others):

Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

Note: that Spencer’s view of liberty is both individualistic and social at the same time; one’s own liberty depends on the fact that everybody’s liberty is also respected.

He concludes his discussion of the future with this quotation from his first book Social Statics (1851):

The ultimate man will be one whose private requirements coincide with public ones. He will be that manner of man, who, in spontaneously fulfilling his own nature, incidentally performs the functions of a social unit; and yet is only enabled so to fulfil his own nature, by all others doing the like. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/273#Spencer_0331_810

This “ultimate man” Spencer would be just as jealous about defending the liberties of others as he was in defending his own, because he realised that they were dependent on each other:

Only a nature which will sacrifice everything to defend personal liberty of action, and is eager to defend the like liberties of action of others, can permanently maintain free institutions. While not tolerating aggression upon himself, he must have sympathies such as will not tolerate aggression upon his fellows—be they fellows of the same race or of other races. As shown in multitudinous ways throughout this work, a society organized for coercive action against other societies, must subject its members to coercion. In proportion as men’s claims are trampled upon by it externally, will men’s claims be trampled upon by it internally.

Herbert Spencer, Chap. XXIII: “The Near Future” in The Principles of Sociology, Vol. 3 http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2633#Spencer_1650-03_2123.

Spencer thought the type of society which would encourage the emergence and flourishing of such “ultimate men” so jealous of each other’s liberties was the liberal, laissez-faire, “industrial type” of society which was beginning to emerge in mid–19th century Britain.

He also called this society “the régime of voluntary cooperation”.

His most detailed account of what such a society would look like was the chapter “Political Retrospect and Prospect” in vol. 2 of The Principles of Sociology (1876, revised 1898).

In this piece, after having developed his theory of the two different forms into which societies could develop, the militant or the industrial types of society (one based primarily on coercion and the other on voluntary transactions), Spencer turns to applying his theory to predict how the society in which he lived would develop in the near future. In the late 1870s and early 1880s when he was writing it seemed that European societies were tending away from war and the coercive “militant” types of political and economic structures which were its product, and were turning increasingly to more voluntary market-based or “industrial” types of societies. If this trend continued, he predicted that more and more activities which had been undertaken by the state would be supplied voluntarily by local communities or by the free market. If this trend were halted by the outbreak of another war or if people chose to align themselves with coercive trade unions or political parties then European societies would be regimented and subject to what he called “State-dictation” with the loss of prosperity and innovation which this entailed. He saw the dangers to liberty coming from a different direction in the United States, where he saw republican institutions increasingly coming under the control of corrupt “wirepulling politicians” would would wield real power in the name of the people. Given the presence of both these forces at work in modern society, the industrial and the militant, Spencer believed that the only thing the advocate of liberty could do was “to facilitate the action of forces tending to cause advance” and attempt to prevent “mis-direction of them” tending to increase the power of the state.

This chapter unfortunately is quite hard to read today because of his dense writing style, his sociological jargon, and his multitude of historical examples. Here are the main aspects of what he thought would be “the ultimate political regime” under full liberty, where “voluntary cooperation (would be) carried to its limit”:

  • the dominating theme would be the gradual and ultimately complete transition from war to peaceful production
  • universal free trade (or the “unshackling” of exchange) would emerge both within the state and with other states
  • the ever deepening of the division of labour and the greater productivity this produces will continue to benefit ordinary people
  • political systems with monarchs and privileged elites would give way to representative systems with an elected head of state (he is thus a republican)
  • centralised government would be replaced by radically localised municipal governement, thus “the carrying of local rule to the greatest practicable limit”
  • an increasingly liberal-minded populace would pressure governments to constantly reduce their power and activities to an absolute minimum, and to fully respect the “law of equal liberty”
  • as the state does less and less, private associations of all kinds would spring up to carry out needed social functions
  • as the state does less, the things it might still have to do (police and courts) would become cheaper and cheaper for ordinary people
  • as the state does less and less, the rivalries between different political parties looking for benefits for the members at the expence of others, would lead to the end of “party antagonisms”
  • all of these changes were dependent on abolishing war for good and replacing it with international arbitration to solve disputes

The end of political parties fighting for spoils:

Rightly to conceive the natures and workings of the central political institutions appropriate to the industrial type, we must assume that along with the establishment of them there has gone that change just named in passing—the decline of party antagonisms. Looked at broadly, political parties are seen to arise directly or indirectly out of the conflict between militancy and industrialism. Either they stand respectively for the coercive government of the one and the free government of the other, or for particular institutions and laws belonging to the one or the other, or for religious opinions and organizations congruous with the one or the other, or for principles and practices that have been bequeathed by the one or the other, and survived under alien conditions. Habitually if we trace party feeling to its sources, we find on the one side maintenance of, and on the other opposition to, some form of inequity. Wrong is habitually alleged by this side against that; and there must be injustice either in the thing done or in the allegation concerning it. Hence as fast as the régime of voluntary cooperation with its appropriate ideas, sentiments, and usages, pervades the whole society—as fast as there disappear all those arrangements which in any way trench upon the equal freedom of these or those citizens, party warfare must practically die away. Such differences of opinion only can remain as concern matters of detail and minor questions of administration. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2632#Spencer_1650-02_1422

The decentralisation or “municipalisation” of the world (compare similar view of Cobden):

Concerning local government we many conclude that as centralization is an essential trait of the militant type, decentralization is an essential trait of the industrial type. With that independence which the régime of voluntary cooperation generates, there arises resistance not only to dictation by one man, and to dictation by a class, but even to dictation by a majority, when it restrains individual action in ways not necessary for maintaining harmonious social relations. One result must be that the inhabitants of each locality will object to be controlled by the inhabitants of other localities, in matters of purely local concern. In respect of such laws as equally apply to all individuals, and such laws as affect the inhabitants of each locality in their intercourse with those of other localities, the will of the majority of the community will be recognized as authoritative; but in respect of arrangements not affecting the community at large, but affecting only the members forming one [656] part, we may infer that there will arise such tendency to resist dictation by members of other parts, as will involve the carrying of local rule to the greatest practicable limit. Municipal and kindred governments may be expected to exercise legislative and administrative powers, subject to no greater control by the central government than is needful for the concord of the whole community. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2632#Spencer_1650-02_1423

“Free trade in everything”:

Already we have seen that in the militant type, political control extends over all parts of the lives of the citizens. Already we have seen that as industrial development brings the associated political changes, the range of this control decreases: ways of living are no longer dictated; dress ceases to be prescribed; the rules of class-subordination lose their peremptoriness; religious beliefs and observances are not insisted upon; modes of cultivating the land and carrying on manufactures are no longer fixed by law; and the exchange of commodities, both within the community and with other communities, becomes gradually unshackled. That is to say, as industrialism has progressed, the State has retreated from the greater part of those regulative actions it once undertook. This change has gone along with an increasing opposition of citizens to these various kinds of control, and a decreasing tendency on the part of the State to exercise them. Unless we assume that the end has now been reached, the implication is that with future progress of industrialism, these correlative changes will continue. Citizens will carry still further their resistance to State-dictation; while the tendency to State-dictation will diminish. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2632#Spencer_1650-02_1431

Private business will do more and more things previously thought only the government could provide (public goods):

And the accompanying conclusion is that there will be simultaneously carried further that trait which already characterizes the most industrially-organized societies—the performance of increasingly-numerous and increasingly-important functions by other organizations than those which form departments of the government. Already in our own case private enterprise, working through incorporated bodies of citizens, achieves ends undreamed of as so achievable in primitive societies; and in the future, other ends undreamed of now as so achievable, will be achieved. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2632#Spencer_1650-02_1433

And most importantly, Spencer’s profound opposition to war, which could still destroy everything, including the emerging industrial society:

But the conclusion of profoundest moment to which all lines of argument converge, is that the possibility of a high social state, political as well as general, fundamentally depends on the cessation of war. After all that has been said it is needless to emphasize afresh the truth that persistent militancy, maintaining adapted institutions, must inevitably [664] prevent, or else neutralize, changes in the direction of more equitable institutions and laws; while permanent peace will of necessity be followed by social ameliorations of every kind. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2632#lf1650-02_label_323


Only further evils are to be looked for from the continuance of militancy in civilized nations. The general lesson taught by all the foregoing chapters is that, indispensable as has been this process by which nations have been consolidated, organized, and disciplined, and requisite as has been the implied coercion to develop certain traits of individual human nature, yet that, beyond the unimaginable amount of suffering directly involved by the process, there has been an unimaginable amount of suffering indirectly involved; alike by the forms of political institutions necessitated, and by the accompanying type of individual nature fostered. And they show by implication that for the diminution of this suffering, not only of the direct kind but of the indirect kind, the one thing needful is the checking of international antagonisms and the diminution of those armaments which are at once cause and consequence of them. With the repression of militant activities and decay of militant organizations, will come amelioration of political institutions as of all other institutions. Without them, no such ameliorations are permanently possible. Liberty overtly gained in name and form will be unobtrusively taken away in fact. http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/2632#Spencer_1650-02_1440

CL Dystopia’s of the State run rampant

(leave this section - not enough time)

More common for CLs to have dystopias of statism, bureaucracy run wild:

  • H. Spencer’s predictions
  • Eugen Richter, Pictures of the Socialistic Future (1893)
  • Yevgheny Zamyatin, We (1927)
  • Franz Kafka, Der Prozess (The Trial) (1925)
  • George Orwell, 1984 (1948)
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games (2008–10)

Rand’s utopias and dystopias

  • We the Living (1936)
  • Anthem (1938)
  • Galt’s Gulch from Atlas Shrugged (1957)

CL and Socialist Predictions/Visions for/of the Future at the beginning the 20thC

(leave this section - not enough time)

GdM’s correct predictions vs Socialist error on a grand scale

Classical Liberal Frameworks and Archipelagos

Having a single utopian vision is hallmark of the statist/socialist. They want to impose this utopian vision on others by force if necessary. The CL/libertairan rejects this idea on two grounds:

  1. force is used on non-consenting individuals
  2. their schemes will not work because they ignore fundamental principles about human nature (selfish) and violate important laws/principles of economics (scarcity, incentives)

The CL dilemma: given human diversity there can be no one vision of a free, peaceful, and prosperous future society. How then to accommodate different people pursuing their own different visions of the “good life”?

Two interesting answers to this problem have been given:

  • Robert Nozick’s idea of competing utopias in a “framework for utopias” (1974)
  • Chandran Kukathas - idea of the “liberal archipelago” of multiple jurisdictions in a sea of mutual toleration (2003)


  • Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), “Chap. 10. A Framework for Utopia,” pp. 297–334.
  • Chandran Kukathas, The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). Chap. 1 “The Liberal Archipelago,” pp. 19–40.

JS Mill’s idea of “experiments in living” (1859)

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)

As early as 1859 JSM was “experimenting” (if you will pardon the pun) with a similar idea here he envisaged a free society being one in which individuals could engage in “different experiments of living” in an attempt to discover which one worked best and which ones best suited their needs and interests. He likened the process to that of free speech in which different ideas could be tested in free argument and those that were found wanting could be ignored, and those that proved their truth or usefulness would remain and be used by others. He believed that there should be many instances of “the trial of new and original experiments in living” and that “experimentalists” be completely free to do this, so long as they did so at their own cost. In other words, the way one lived one’s live also operated in a competitive, free market and one could attract adherents to your way of living if your living experiment proved itself like any other good for sale in the market place.

The famous passage from CHAPTER III: “Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being” in On Liberty (1859):

The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people. But if he refrains from molesting others in what concerns them, and merely acts according to his own inclination and judgment in things which concern himself, the same reasons which show that opinion should be free, prove also that he should be allowed, without molestation, to carry his opinions into practice at his own cost. That mankind are not infallible; that their truths, for the most part, are only half-truths; that unity of opinion, unless resulting from the fullest and freest comparison of opposite opinions, is not desirable, and diversity not an evil, but a good, until mankind are much more capable than at present of recognising all sides of the truth, are principles applicable to men’s modes of action, not less than to their opinions. As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them. It is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself. Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions or customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress.

Source: John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XVIII - Essays on Politics and Society Part I, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by Alexander Brady (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/233#Mill_0223-18_952.

Nozick’s Framework for Utopias

Robert Nozick (1938-2002)
Robert Nozick (1938–2002)

Both Nozick and Kukathas are concerned that any free society must also include “the right to exit” - to leave and go somewhere else if you don’t like the society in which you live.

What Nozick argued for in his path-breaking book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) was a “framework” which he described as follows:

a wide and diverse range of communities which people can enter if they are admitted, leave if they wish to, shape according to their wishes; a society in which utopian experimentation can be tried, different styles of life can be lived, and alternative visions of the good can be individually or jointly pursued. The details and some of the virtues of such an arrangement, which we shall call the framework, will emerge as we proceed. (p. 307)

Given human nature, he believed that there would be “many communities trying out different patterns” or “experiments in living” and that there would be “filtering process” which would weed out poorly functioning communities (they would fail, people would leave or “exit”) and leave standing those that performed well in satisfying the needs of their members. Those that could keep their members or attract new ones would flourish and those that did not would stagnate or be wound up.

What makes Nozick’s argument more interesting and richer than JSM’s is his idea that what he is proposing is not just “a bunch of communes” but what he calls a “meta-utopia”, a utopia which consists of the many individual utopias which have been established by the committed individuals who created them:

The conclusion to draw is that there will not be one kind of community existing and one kind of life led in utopia. Utopia will consist of utopias, of many different and divergent communities in which people lead different kinds of lives under different institutions. Some kinds of communities will be more attractive to most than others; communities will wax and wane. People will leave some for others or spend their whole lives in one. Utopia is a framework for utopias, a place where people are at liberty to join together voluntarily to pursue and attempt to realize their own vision of the good life in the ideal community but where no one can impose his own utopian vision upon others. The utopian society is the society of utopianism. (Some of course may be content where they are. Not everyone will be joining special experimental communities, and many who abstain at first will join the communities later, after it is clear how they actually are working out.) Half of the truth I wish to put forth is that utopia is meta-utopia: the environment in which utopian experiments may be tried out; the environment in which people are free to do their own thing; the environment which must, to a great extent, be realized first if more particular utopian visions are to be realized stably. (pp. 311–12)

He goes further. The utopia is not the fact that a framework for multiple utopias has been created, but what come out of that framework over a long period of time, say “150 years”. What kind of societies will be produced by this kind of society cannot be known in advance but he is convinced that “what grows spontaneously from the individual choices of many people over a long period of time” is what will be the most interesting thing.

Utopia is not just a society in which the framework is realized. For who could believe that ten minutes after the framework was established, we would have utopia? Things would be no different than now. It is what grows spontaneously from the individual choices of many people over a long period of time that will be worth speaking eloquently about. (Not that any particular stage of the process is an end state which all our desires are aimed at. The utopian process is substituted for the utopian end state of other static theories of utopias.) Many communities will achieve many different characters. Only a fool, or a prophet, would try to prophesy the range and limits and characters of the communities after, for example, 150 years of the operation of this framework. (p. 332)

Nozick’s final argument is that it is the “minimal state” (his expression for limited government) which makes this “framework for utopias” possible by protecting individual property rights, maintaining the rule of law, and keeping coercion to a minimum. This is why, to return to a quote at the beginning, Nozick would “go to the barricades” to defend the ideal of limited government:

The framework for utopia that we have described is equivalent to
the minimal state. …

This morally favored state (the minimal state), the only morally legitimate state, the only morally tolerable one, we now see is the one that best realizes the utopian aspirations of untold dreamers and visionaries. It preserves what we all can keep from the utopian tradition and opens the rest of that tradition to our individual aspirations. Recall now the question with which this chapter began. Is not the minimal state, the framework for utopia, an inspiring vision?

The minimal state treats us as inviolate individuals, who may not be used in certain ways by others as means or tools or instruments or resources; it treats us as persons having individual rights with the dignity this constitutes. Treating us with respect by respecting our rights, it allows us, individually or with whom we choose, to choose our life and to realize our ends and our conception of ourselves, insofar as we can, aided by the voluntary cooperation of other individuals possessing the same dignity. How dare any state or group of individuals do more. Or less. (pp. 333–34)

Kukathas and the “Liberal Archipelago” (2003)

John Tallis, Malay Archipelago (1851)
John Tallis, “Malay Archipelago” (1851)

The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom (2003)

There are considerable similarities between Kukathas’s theory and Nozick’s. Whereas Nozick is concerned with the question of justice (protecting property rights and minimising coercion) and justifying the minimal state (from attacks by anarchists like Rothbard), Kukathas is not interested in justice but with solving the problem of how communities with very different notions of justice and liberty (which are the result of their different ethnic and cultural differences) can co-exist in some reasonably free and mutually beneficial manner.

He states the thesis of his book on p. 4:

(T)he fundamental principle describing a free society is the principle of freedom of association. A first corollary of this is the principle of freedom of dissociation. A second corollary is the principle of mutual toleration of associations. Indeed, a society is free to the extent that it is prepared to tolerate in its midst associations which differ or dissent from its standards or its practices.

Whereas Nozick talks about a free society being a “framework” of competing utopias, Kukathas see it as an “association of associations” or a “society of societies” (p. 22)

After discussing different metaphors which political theorists have traditionally used to describe political society, such as the “body politic” or “the ship of state”, he prefers to see the ideal political society as an “archipelago” which he describes as follows:

The metaphor offered here to supplant those already describes is one which pictures society as an archipelago: an area of sea containing many small islands. The islands in question, here, are different communities or, better still, jurisdictions, operating in a sea of mutual toleration. (p. 22)

Some of the characteristics of his vision of a liberal society include:

  • people must be prepared to “live and let live” (p. 30) or tolerate each other’s differences
  • accept the fact that there are multiple authorities and jurisdictions where no one is above the other (p. 22
  • that the legitimacy of an authority “rests on the acquiescence of its subjects” (p. 25)
  • that such a society will consist of “a mixture of liberal, less liberal, and thoroughly illiberal societies” (p. 27)
  • the societies must allow individuals to exercise their right of exit if they find that society objectionable (p. 259)

Kukathas concludes with a description of his vision of the liberal state which emerges from his theory:

The state that emerges out of this understanding is a liberal state of a particular kind. It is one that is not guided by any larger purpose or common vision, or shaped by a particular conception of justice. It is a state made up of diverse parts, some of which might be made in the image of the whole – tolerant and liberal - while others are virtually its antithesis - sectarian and inward-looking. It is not, however, a state which evinces a strong social unity liberalism of the archipelago of discrete and separate, though also sometimes overlapping and interacting communities, jurisdictions, and associations. And in this picture, the state is only one community, jurisdiction, or association among many. It might contain many smaller bodies, but it does not subsume them. It does not make up a body politic. It comes out of the sea, but is no Leviathan, being neither terrible, nor all powerful, nor eternal. And in a matter of generations, it will be gone - broken up and reconstituted in some other configuration yet to be imagined.

The liberal archipelago is a realm of mutual toleration, in which multiple authorities coexist. To the extent that authority is not devolved entirely to smaller units, but is also exercised by agencies that govern across jurisdictions and subsume a number of associations, that authority is limited in its scope and constrained in its power. This is the ideal the framers of the American Constitution had in mind when they devised a new system of government. (p. 266)



Hayek’s concern in 1949 that CL’s had lost their utopian vision of what a free society would look like

a vision of the future has been very important for some socialists (Fourier, Bellamy) but not others (Marx)

CL have a long tradition of imagining what a future free society would look like

  • Condorcet’s 10th Epoch of reason, perfectibility, and radical liberty for all
  • Bastiat’s dream of being a Utopian “dictator for a day” and imposing liberty from the top down (and then recoiling in horror)
  • Cobden’s dream of “free trade in everything” and the municipalisation of the world
  • Molinari’s vision of competing private insurance companies providing security like any other good or service in the market
  • Spencer’s vision of an “industrial type” of society in which “the régime of voluntary cooperation” would see the gradual shrivelling of the central state
  • JS Mill’s idea of “different experiments in living”

More recently:

  • Robert Nozick’s idea of competing utopias in a “framework for utopias” (1974)
  • Chandran Kukathas - idea of the “liberal archipelago” of multiple jurisdictions in a sea of mutual toleration (2003)