The intellectual antecedents of the idea of “anarcho-capitalism”

Introduction: 50 Years and counting

50 years ago I first came across the theory of anarcho-capitalism when I was in my last two years of high school (1973-74). I read everything I could get my hands on and I still have most of those books still in my possession, although they are a bit worse for wear, as you can see from the photo above. Here are the titles of the books in the photo – what is missing from this collection is Roy Childs, “An Open Letter to Ayn Rand: Objectivism and the State” (1969) which I have lost:

  1. Etienne de la Boetie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (1570s, Free Life Editions 1975)
  2. Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Sophisms (1846, FEE 1968)
  3. Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Harmonies (1851, FEE 1979)
  4. Frédéric Bastiat, Selected Essays on political Economy (FEE 1975)
  5. Gustave de Molinari, The Production of Security (1849, Center for Libertarian Studies 1977)
  6. Gustave de Molinari, Les Soirées de la rue Sainte-Lazare (Guillaumin 1849)
  7. Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851, Robert Schalkenbach Foundation 1970)
  8. Lysander Spooner, No Treason and Letter to Thomas Bayard (1870, Ralph Myles 1973
  9. Lysander Spooner, Collected Works, vol. 1 (M&S Press 1971)
  10. Albert Jay Nock, Our Enemy, the State (1935, Free Life Editions 1973)
  11. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957, New American Library, dated by me Jan. 1973)
  12. Morris and Linda Tannehill, The Market for Liberty (1970)
  13. Richard and Ernestine Perkins, Precondition for Peace and Prosperity: Rational Anarchy (1971)
  14. John Hospers Libertarianism: A Political Philosophy for Tomorrow (1971)
  15. Murray N. Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State (1962, Nash Publishing 1970)
  16. Murray N. Rothbard, Power and Market: Government and the Economy (Institute for Human Studies 1970)
  17. Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty (1973)
  18. Murray N. Rothbard, “The Anatomy, of the State” (1965) in Egalitarianism as a Revolt against Nature (Libertarian Review Press 1974)
  19. Robert Nozick, Anarachy, State and Utopia (1974)
  20. Workers Party. Platform (1975)

After the State Member of Parliament, John Ruddick gave his inaugural speech in the Lower House [Youtube: on 28 June 2023, in which he outlined an “anarcho-capitalist” policy agenda which he and the Liberal Democrats Party endorsed, I was asked to explain something about where the term “anarcho-capitalist” came from and what the theory was about. Here are the “interview points” I drew up, along with some recommended reading for those who would like to explore the matter further.

Interview Talking Points

1.) The term AC emerged during the 1970s in the US when the modern libertarian movement began

  1. at a time when the US was still fighting an unpopular and failing war in Vietnam
  2. Pres. Richard Nixon was trying to silence his opponents with a number of criminal activities known as the ”Watergate” break-in and resulting coverup and scandal
  3. the first “Oil Crisis” pushed up prices adding to already high inflation
  4. and in Australia just after the Labor Party came to power in 1972 and began its radical reform program

2.) its basic philosophy is a version, admittedly very radical, of what is known as “classical liberalism”, i.e. a belief that individuals have a right to life, liberty, and property so long as they do not engage in aggression (violence) against others who have an equal right to their LLP; ; what this means in practice is

  1. a belief in the importance the “non-aggression principle”, i.e. that no person (including those who work for the government) has the right to initiate the use of violence e against another person except in self-defense (this is what sets AC apart from other “classical liberals”)
  2. the protection of private property under the rule of law
  3. the right to engage in production and trade of any good or service, (thus free markets in everything)
  4. and to exchange what is produced with others – in other words free trade in everything, everywhere, with anyone
  5. thus, since governments use coercion against individuals on a massive scale (taxation, regulation, conscription, spending), they must be very limited in what they can do (the standard “classical liberal” position) , or better, done away with entirely (the anarcho-capitalist view)

3.) The term was first used and the theory developed by the Austrian economist and libertarian political philosopher Murray Rothbard in NYC, especially in his book For New Liberty (1973) and the Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick’s book Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974)

  1. this is when the idea of AC came to Australia – so exactly 50 years ago – I was still at high school and was a member of a group of libertarians in Sydney at that time who debated its merits; the intellectual battle lines were drawn up between the supporters of the Russian-American novelist Ayn Rand (limited government) and Murray Rothbard and Roy Childs (anarcho-capitalism)
  2. an influential group of people who were part of the Australian Libertarian Party of the period – going under the provocative name of the “Workers Party” – were “anarcho-capitalists”; and wrote the party’s platform and were active in the 1975 federal election which saw the end of Whitlam’s government.

4.) The much earlier antecedents go back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially among the French liberal political economists, who have been my life’s academic interest ;

  1. Jean-Baptiste Say – admired stateless settlements in American mid-west and thought they did a better job than the chaos of the French revolutionary and Napoleonic governments (lectures 1819-20)
  2. Charles Dunoyer – called for the break-up of large states as part of “the municipalisation of the world” in order to break up their power and tax-base (1825)
  3. Gustave de Molinari – the most important one in the group ; he was the first (1849) to see that, once you removed all the things governments should not do in the first place, then all so-called “public goods” (roads, lighting, police, and even national defence) could be better provided by voluntary activity in a free market
    1. either by insurance companies (1849 “The Production of Security”) who would provide police services and courts in order to protect the customer’s property by going after criminals and getting restitution
    2. or by the creation of private “proprietary communities” (1884) where entrepreneurs would build entire communities with all public services provided, which would be paid for those owners who “bought into” the community by buying a house
  4. GdM’s work on “private property insurance companies” caught Rothbard’s eye when he was writing his books in the 1950s and 1960s and this idea became a key component of his theory of AC
  5. P.S.: I should also mention the work of Herbert Spencer in the 1870s and 1880s whose social and economic theory of the state is very is very similar to anarcho-capitalism

5.) There is a new generation of anarcho-capitalist economic theorists working in the US, the most important of which are Edward Stringham and Peter Boettke ;

  1. and I continue to document the history of this tradition in my own writings and the texts I put online on my website, as I have done for over 40 years

6.) The accusation of “utopian” or “impractical” is often made against AC.

  1. The first point I would make is “like” has to be compared with “like”, in other words that
    1. the ideal of socialism should be compared to the ideal of AC
    2. and that the actual practice of socialism be compared to the actual practice of free markets
    3. too often socialist like to compare the ideal of socialism with the practice of highly regulated “capitalism” which is what we have today
  2. I would also argue that the true utopians are
    1. the socialists, who falsely believe that
      1. human nature can and should be changed so people are no longer “selfish” and “acquisitive”
      2. and the corollary that politicians and bureaucrats do not also have “selfish interests” which they pursue while in office
      3. that they can ignore or wish away the fundamental economic problem of scarcity and the need for “trade offs”
      4. that they can ignore or wish away “the knowledge problem” (Hayek) or the “economic calculation problem” (Mises)
    2. the “liberals”, who falsely believe that,
      1. even if they manage to reduce the size of government, it will not stay limited for long
      2. and all of the same beliefs the socialists have which I have listed above

Further reading

1.) Modern advocates of AC:

  • the collection of essays and extracts edited by Edward P. Stringham, Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice (The Independent Institute and Transaction Publishers, 2007)
  • a collection of essays by Peter J. Boettke, The Struggle For A Better World (Arlington, Virginia: Mercatus Center, 2021). Online;
  • the collections of essays which survey the current state of the libertarian movement:
    • The Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. Edited by: Jason Brennan, Bas van der Vossen, and David Schmidtz (New York : Routledge, 2018),
    • The Routledge Companion to Libertarianism. Edited by Matt Zwolinski and Benjamin Ferguson (Routledge, 2022) – note that I have an essay in this volume on classical liberal ideas on “Class”, pp. 291-307. A longer version of which is online <>

2.) On the “Paris School” of Political Economy:

Œuvres complètes de Gustave de Molinari

The Institut Coppet has recently published volume 9 of the Œuvres complètes (Complete Works) of Gustave de Molinari, thus completing the first 10 years of his long and very productive life. Only 60 more years to go!

See a comprehensive (though probably still not complete) bibliography of his works which consists of 73 Books, Printed Pamphlets, and Intros to books; and 240 articles.

I have also put online dozens of his stand alone books and magazines/journals which he edited and wrote for, as well as three anthologies of his work:

  1. an overview of his life and work: “Gustave de Molinari (1819–1912): A Survey of the Life and Work of an “Économiste Dure” (A Hard-Core Economist)” here
  2. a bibliography with links to his works online here
  3. and this list of recently added items
  4. these three anthologies of Molinari’s writings for the bicentennial: “The Bicentennial Anthology of the Writings of Gustave de Molinari on the State (1846-1911)” (Nov. 2018) the first.
  5. “The Collected Articles by Gustave de Molinari from the Dictionnaire de l’économie politique (1852-53)” (June, 2019) the second
  6. “Molinari’s Collected Writings on the Production of Security (1846-1901)” (Aug., 2019) the third.

The Institut Coppet Edition of the Collected Works of Molinari

The set so far consists of the following volumes:

  • Volume 1 : Avant la conversion au libéralisme (1842-1845)
  • Volume 2: Libre-échange et réforme électorale (1845-1846)
  • Volume 3 : Le libre-échange sans compromission (1846)
  • Volume 4 : L’entrée au Journal des économistes (1846-1847)
  • Volume 5 : Dans la tempête révolutionnaire (1848)
  • Volume 6 : La liberté des gouvernements (1849)
  • Volume 7 : La république menacée (1850)
  • Volume 8 : La solitude et l’exil (1851)
  • Volume 9 : En exil dans son propre pays (1852)

I have put together the full tables of contents of these volumes into one file.

Below are the full publishing details, a brief description of the contents of each volume, and links to the downloadable PDFs (free of charge) from the Institut Coppet website. Below that, there is an abbreviated table of contents listing the 64 main parts of the collection.

Œuvres complètes de Gustave de Molinari, sous la direction de Mathieu Laine, avec le soutien de M. André de Molinari, et avec des notes et notices par Benoît Malbranque (Paris: Institut Coppet, 2019-).

Volume 1 : Avant la conversion au libéralisme (1842-1845). — Les premiers écrits, redécouverts pour la première fois, témoignent que le jeune Molinari était d’abord éloigné des principes du libéralisme. PDF

Volume 2: Libre-échange et réforme électorale (1845-1846). — Après sa conversion, Molinari s’engage dans la défense du libre-échange aux côtés de Bastiat, dans des textes retrouvés pour la première fois et inédits. PDF

Volume 3 : Le libre-échange sans compromission (1846). — Suite des articles inédits de Molinari sur le libre-échange. L’auteur s’affirme progressivement comme un libéral radical. PDF

Volume 4 : L’entrée au Journal des économistes (1846-1847). — Suite des articles inédits. Ayant fait ses preuves, Molinari intègre aussi le Journal des économistes et le « réseau Guillaumin ». De larges notices donnent sur ces faits des éclairages tout à fait nouveaux. PDF

Volume 5 : Dans la tempête révolutionnaire (1848). — Les évènements révolutionnaires de février et juin 1848 forcent Gustave de Molinari à abandonner ses premiers combats, notamment en faveur du libre-échange, pour une action journalistique de réaction qui doit sauver les assises de la société face à la menace rouge. Après une large notice, en tête de volume, revenant sur cet environnement éminemment nouveau, ce volume donne à lire une masse d’articles retrouvés dans la presse parisienne et inexplorés jusqu’à aujourd’hui. PDF

Volume 6 : La liberté des gouvernements (1849). — Après les tremblements de la révolution de 1848, Gustave de Molinari renouvelle la défense de la liberté et de la propriété, notions si attaquées, en étendant le champ d’application du libéralisme traditionnel. Ses théories dites anarcho-capitalistes, sur la privatisation des fonctions régaliennes de l’État et la liberté des gouvernements, sont exposées dans le Journal des économistes puis la même année dans les Soirées de la rue Saint-Lazare, et font date dans l’histoire du libéralisme. PDF

Volume 7 : La république menacée (1850). — Après avoir imaginé la privatisation des gouvernements dans deux contributions fameuses, Gustave de Molinari devait affronter, en journaliste de tous les jours, les déceptions du suffrage universel et les dangers de l’agitation socialo-communiste. Sans grand enthousiasme, mais parce que la survie de la civilisation en dépendait, il se ralliait politiquement au camp de l’ordre, représenté par la figure sans cesse montante et dominante du président bientôt empereur, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte. PDF

Volume 8 : La solitude et l’exil (1851). — L’année 1851 est une époque de transformations importantes dans le paysage intellectuel de Gustave de Molinari, entre l’annonce de la mort de Frédéric Bastiat, qui ouvre cette année troublée, et le coup d’État du président Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, qui la clôt et contraint l’auteur à l’exil. Dans des centaines d’articles donnés à la presse quotidienne parisienne, Molinari étudie cette montée en puissance du régime présidentiel bonapartiste, qu’il perçoit d’abord comme une espérance, un rempart face à la « menace rouge », mais qui se révélera finalement plein de dangers. PDF

Volume 9 : En exil dans son propre pays (1852). — Éloigné physiquement de la scène du libéralisme économique français, Gustave de Molinari poursuit sa collaboration aux grandes œuvres du mouvement : le Journal des économistes, et le nouveau Dictionnaire de l’économie politique. En Belgique, il ouvre un cours d’économie politique et prononce des conférences. La menace que Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte représente pour les libertés en France mais aussi en Belgique apparaît lancinante, et domine l’arrière-plan. PDF

The Collected Tables of Contents of the Coppet Edition

Volume 1 : Avant la conversion au libéralisme (1842-1845)

Préface, par Mathieu Laine, p. v

Introduction. — La jeunesse belge de Gustave de Molinari, p. 1


  • (001) CHRONIQUES POLITIQUES (Le biographe universel, revue générale biographique et littéraire), p. 11

  • (002) BULLETIN LITTÉRAIRE (Le biographe universel, revue générale biographique et littéraire), p. 65

  • (003) BIOGRAPHIES (Le biographe universel, revue générale biographique et littéraire), p. 70


  • (004) LAMARTINE, p. 99




  • (007) ÉTUDES ÉCONOMIQUES. Le Courrier français, octobre-novembre 1844, p. 215

  • (008) L’INSTRUCTION PUBLIQUE. Des compagnies religieuses et de la publicité de l’instruction publique, 1844, p. 241

  • (009) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 264


  • (010) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 287

  • (011) LA MOBILISATION DU TRAVAIL. De la mobilisation du travail, La Réforme, 9 juin et 9 juillet 1845, p. 352

  • (012) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 371

Annexe, p. 447

Volume 2: Libre-échange et réforme électorale (1845-1846)

1845 (suite)


  • (014) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 30


  • (015) ÉTUDES ÉCONOMIQUES, p. 226

  • (016) LA RENCONTRE AVEC FRÉDÉRIC BASTIAT. Souvenirs, p. 313

  • (017) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 315

Volume 3 : Le libre-échange sans compromission (1846)

1845 (suite)

  • (018) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 5

  • (020) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 273


  • (022) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 411

Volume 4 : L’entrée au Journal des économistes (1846-1847)

1846 (suite)


  • (024) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 53



  • (026) LE COURRIER FRANÇAIS, p. 107

  • (027) LA QUESTION DES DOUANES, p. 120





  • (032) CONGRÈS DES ÉCONOMISTES À BRUXELLES. Souvenirs, p. 320

  • (033) JOURNAL LE LIBRE-ÉCHANGE, p. 325

  • (034) UNE CRITIQUE DE PROUDHON, p. 342




Volume 5 : Dans la tempête révolutionnaire (1848)


Introduction. — De nouvelles circonstances, p. 5





  • (042) JACQUES BONHOMME, p. 171


  • (044) LE COMMERCE, p. 256

Volume 6 : La liberté des gouvernements (1849)


  • (045) CORRESPONDANCE, p. 5




  • (049) LA LIBERTÉ DES THÉÂTRES, p. 301

  • (050) LA PATRIE, p. 334


  • (052) MARIAGE avec Mlle Edmée Terrillon. Annonce officielle, p. 470

Volume 7 : La république menacée (1850)


  • (053) LA PATRIE, p. 5


  • (055) LA PATRIE, p. 306

Volume 8 : La solitude et l’exil (1851)


  • (056) LA PATRIE, p. 5



Volume 9 : En exil dans son propre pays (1852)









A Workers Party Reunion: What’s in a Name?

A group of founders and early supporters of Australia’s first “libertarian party” – provocatively and toungue-in-cheek perhaps called the “Workers Party” – are getting together later this month for a “Reunion”. To encourge discussion and reflection on those tumultuous years nearly half a century ago I have listed below some of my recent blog posts and other contibutions to the liberty movement.

Some Thoughts on the Name

An attempt at ideological reclamation

Some of us thought that it was wrong that communists, socialists, and nazis had claimed the exclusive right to speak on behalf of “the workers” and so felt they were entitled to use the word “worker” in the name of their political parties. Something similar could be said about “labour” (or “labor”) and the parties which claimed to speak on behalf of those who “laboured”. CLs and libertarians believed that all workers and labourers should be represented politically, whether they worked with their hands, or their minds, or other organs (such as their voice (singers), their tongues (wine tasters), or their fingers (guitarists and pianists)).

An assertion that there was an alternative theory of class exploitation

There was also a not so subtle dig at the socialist idea of expolitation of the working class (those who worked with their hands) who were paid a wage by a “capitalist class” who took some of their wage as a form of “unearned income” or “profit”. We were aware that there was an alternative theory of class, a “classical liberal theory of class analysis” as it were, which was based on the idea that there were only two ways in which wealth could be acquired, either by

  1. the “economic means”, i.e. producing it oneself or exchanging the things one produced voluntarily with others, in other words via the free market, or
  2. the “political means”, whereby one took by force the wealth produced by others, usually with the assistance of the state. (Note: this distinction was made by Franz Oppenheimer in The State (1908).)

Thus, the aim of the WP was to attempt to place a limit (or completely abolish) the power of the state to take the wealth produced by all kinds of “workers” and “labourers”, and to thus allow the complete freedom of all individuals to produce and exchange the products of their work, and most importantly to keep any profits they had legitimately made (i.e. non-coercively).

The temptation to blame the name for the WP’s political failure

After the disappointing results of the 1975 election, and later ones as well, many in the party placed the blame on the name, which it was thought, “confused” the voters. Hence the move to eventually change the name to the more anodyne “Progress Party”. In my view, the original name was deliberately provocative and opened the way for interesting discussions with sympathetic voters about the nature of politics and free markets, the nature of exploitation, and who exploited whom. The underlying reason for the failure of the WP then and for people in the liberty movement today, is that most people have deeply ingrained views which are fundamentally opposed to CL/libertarianism, and thus the formal name of the political party is a bit beside the point. These views in my opinion are the following:

  1. people do not value individual or economic liberty highly, preferring instead things like “equality”, “diversity,” “inclusion”, “sustainability”, “safety,” etc.
  2. people want to get something for nothing (i.e. to force other people to pay for it), they expect politicians to provide them with these “free” things (hence the existence of elections), and see nothing wrong with politicians and bureaucrats using the powers of the state (force, coercion) to do this
  3. people have a very exaggerated idea of the extent of and reasons for “market failure” and thus the need for government regulation or provision of goods and services
  4. people have barely (if any) idea of how pervasive, profound, and pervasive “government failure” is now and has been historically
  5. there is massive public ignorance of basic economic ideas

Until these five impediments to the spread and public acceptance of these ideas are weakened and (I hope) eventually removed it doesn’t matter what we call our political party.

In a blog post (listed below) I half jokingly described an emerging anti-political group in the last election, the “Negative Political Party.”

The recent legal stuggles of the Liberal Democrat Party over who is entitled to use the name “Liberal” shows that this is an issue that will not go away.

Some Posts and Online Texts to consider

See in general my blog site “Reflections on Liberty and Power” and my website “The Digital Library of Liberty and Power” – an overview and recent additions.

On the Workers Party in particular:

  1. “Reflections on the Workers Party” (28 October, 2020) here
  2. the WP platform (1975) here

On the current state of the liberty movement and the threats we face:

  1. “The Work of Sisyphus: the Urgent Need for Intellectual Change” (25 April, 2020) here
  2. “The State of the Libertarian Movement after 50 Years (1970-2020): Some Observations” (25 March, 2021) here
  3. “A List of Posts on the Current State of Liberty and the Threats it faces” (5 July, 2022) here; in particular:
    1. “The Prospects for Liberty: The Threats it faces and how to counter them” (23 March, 2022) here
    2. “The Threats to Liberty Part 1: Government Expenditure” (29 June, 2022) here
    3. “The Threats to Liberty Part 2: The Size and Power of the State” (7 July, 2022) here

On liberty and liberalism in Australia:

  1. “Liberty in Australia and the Asia-Pacific Region” (5 July, 2022) here
  2. “The Negative Political Party” (11 July, 2022) here
  3. On the “Linoleum Party” (LINO): “The Incoherence and Contradictions inherent in Modern Liberal Parties (and one in particular)” (21 Oct. 2021) here
  4. “The Myth of a liberal ‘Australian Way of Life’” (20 June 2021) here

Some works by Australian CLs/libertarians I have put online:

  1. overview page
  2. “the Australian Frédéric Bastiat” William Edward Hearn (1826-1888)
  3. the radical liberal Bruce Smith (1851-1937)
  4. my online version of the WP platform (1975)

My series on “The Classical Liberal Tradition: A Four Hundred Year History of Ideas and Movements” (24 Oct. 2021; updated: 25 Apr. 2022) here

The Negative Political Party


There was a sizable swing in the 2022 Federal election to the DNV (did not vote) camp as well as the “informal” vote, though this is less marked with the revised updated results than with the early and incomplete result I used in my earlier post. I now calculate that the total number of people who did not vote or whose vote was “informal” and thus not counted (I+DNV) increased from 13.19% in the 2019 election to 14.84% in the 2022 election, or in absolute terms 388,241 people.

I think it is as important to take into account those who did not vote for a candidate or party as those who did. Not voting at all or not voting “properly” (i.e. in the state approved manner) is also an expression of a political viewpoint which needs to be taken into account when trying to understand voter attitudes. I call this the “negative vote” as opposed to the “positive vote” which most journalists and academics consider when analyzing the results of an election. And the combined vote of the DNV (did not vote) and the “informal” vote (I) might be termed the “negative candidate” who stands for a “negative political party”. This “negative political party” did quite well in the last election, coming 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens in the House of Representatives with a combined vote of 2,554,391 or 14.84%; and in the Senate similarly, also placing 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,172,775 (12.62%). By my reckoning this makes the “negative political party” a potentially powerful force in Australian politics.

I have taken my terminology of the “negative political party” from the brilliant and clever essay by Frédéric Bastiat called “Un chemin de fer négativ” (The Negative Railway) which was first published in his first collection of Economic sophisms which was published in 1846. [English version CW3, p. 81; French version here.] In this essay, he satirises the politicians and rent-seekers who want to force the railway company building a new line from Bordeaux to Spain to have as many stops as possible in order to benefit the local restaurants and hotels near the railway station who would profit by forcing the passengers to stop, change trains, and move their luggage, and possibly have to stay overnight. This, they argued, would increase work, wages, and thus increase the national wealth. Bastiat mockingly implies that if this were true, then the more “breaks” in the line the better, so many in fact that the railway would no longer be a railway at all, as the passengers and their luggage would never get to their destination, but the “nation’s wealth” would supposedly have been increased by these measures.

[Note: In the edition I edited for Liberty Fund I included in the Appendix a witty piece by Mark Twain who noticed something similar when he was visiting Australia, in having to change trains in the middle of the night at Albury on his way to Melbourne from Sydney. See CW3 – Appendix 5. Mark Twain and the Australian Negative Railroad, 517.]

The House of Representatives

Data source: the Australian Electoral Commission website for the 2022 election results; for the 2019 election results.

In the 2019 election in the HR there were the following:

  • 16,419,543 eligible voters of whom
  • 14,253,393 (86.68%) voted “formally” (i.e. in the government approved manner) and
  • 835,223 (5.09%) voted informally for a combined total of 91.77%.
  • 1,330,927 (8.11%) Did Not Vote (DNV)
  • which made a total of 2,166,150 (13.19%) who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV). If this group were considered as a “negative candidate” or a “negative party” it would have placed 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,166,150 or 13.19%.

In the 2022 election in the HR there were the following:

  • 17,213,433 eligible voters of whom
  • 14,659,942 (85.16%) voted “formally” and
  • 802,337 (4.66%) voted informally for a combined total of 89.83%
  • 1,752,054 (10.18%) DNV
  • which made a total of 2,554,391 (14.84%) who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV). If this group were considered as a “negative candidate” or a “negative party” it would have placed 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,554,391 or 14.84%.

[See a larger version.]

Thus compared to 2019, in 2022 there was

  • a slight decline in the number “formal” votes (86.68% down to 85.16%) as well as “informal” votes (5.09% down to 4.66%).
  • but there was an increase in those who DNV, up from 8.11% to 10.18%. In absolute numbers this was an increase of 421,127, which is a sizable number of the eligible voters (2.45% of all eligible voters)
  • thus the total number of people who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV) increased from 13.19% to 14.84%, or in absolute terms 388,241 people

In the NSW seat/division of Mackellar in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney a safe Liberal seat was won by one of the new “Teal” light Green independents. The sitting Liberal member won the primary vote (36.87%) but the collapse in the votes for the Labor candidate (from 15% to 7,34%) and the Green candidate (10.15% to 5.43%) meant that he second place Teal candidate won on preferences with 34% of the primary vote. Compared to the 2019 election, the informal vote decreased slightly (from 4.38% to 3.49%) and the DNV increased slightly from 6.95% to 7.46%). The combined I + DNV decreased slightly from 11.33% of the vote to 10.96%. With the collapse in the vote for the Labor Party, the previous Independent (now replaced by the Teal), and the Greens, the DNV “candidate” went from 5th position ion 2019 to 3rd in 2022.

See a larger version.

The Senate

To simplify a very complex matter, I will only consider the primary vote for Senate candidate, nit the final, allocation of seats by quota.

In the 2022 election there were the following

  • 17,213,433 eligible voters, of whom
  • 15,040,658 (87.38%) voted “formally” and
  • 532,003 (3.09%) voted “informally” for a combined total of 15,213,433 (89.82%)
  • 1,640,772 (9.53%) Did Not Vote
  • which made a total of 2,172,775 (12.62%) who did not vote or whose vote was not counted (I+DNV). If this group were considered as a “negative candidate” or a “negative party” it would have placed 3rd behind the two major parties and ahead of the Greens with a combined vote of 2,172,775 (12.62%).
  • 40 of the 76 Senates seats were contested with the Greens winning 6, Labor 11, and Liberal/National 17. Who knows how many seats my “negative political party” might of won in this election.

[See a larger version


The large number of disaffected, disillusioned, and indifferent voters in Australia is large and increasing as voters turn off the mainstream political parties and either look elsewhere among the smaller parties and independents, or give up and could no longer be bothered with voting at all. My “negative political party” is one way to measure this disaffection. All this party needs now is a “negative prime minister” to whip it into shape.

On Making the Argument/s for Liberty

[Honoré Daumier’s “Le Défenseur (Council for the Defense),” c. 1862-1865.]

Note: This is part of a collection of posts on “The Current State of Liberty and the Threats it faces”.

In this post I want to discuss the following issues:

  1. the multi-dimensional nature of Liberty requires a multi-dimensional approach to arguing for it
  2. the main kinds of arguments we can use: moral, economic, political, historical
  3. identifying those who might be sympathetic to arguments for Liberty
  4. identifying those who are likely to be resistant to arguments for Liberty
  5. the impediments we face in making the argument for Liberty

The Multi-Dimensional Nature of Liberty requires a Multi-Dimensional Approach to arguing for it

I will quote again here the important observation of the French political economist Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) who most eloquently made the point that “Liberty” is made up of a collection of other “freedoms”:

[French original] – Et qu’est-ce que la Liberté, ce mot qui a la puissance de faire battre tous les cœurs et d’agiter le monde, si ce n’est l’ensemble de toutes les libertés, liberté de conscience, d’enseignement, d’association, de presse, de locomotion, de travail, d’échange; d’autres termes, le franc exercice, pour tous, de toutes les facultés inoffensives; en d’autres termes encore, la destruction de tous les despotismes, même le despotisme légal, et la réduction de la Loi à sa seule attribution rationnelle, qui est de régulariser le Droit individuel de légitime défense ou de réprimer l’injustice.

[my revised translation 13 Aug. 2021] – And what is “Liberty,” this word that has the power of making all hearts beat faster and of moving the entire world, if it is not the sum of all freedoms? — freedom of conscience, teaching, and association, freedom of the press, freedom to travel, work, and trade, in other words, the free exercise by all people of all their non-aggressive abilities. And, in still other terms, isn’t freedom the destruction of all despotic regimes, even legal despotism, and the limiting of the law to its sole rational function which is to regulate the individual’s right of legitimate self defense and to prevent injustice?

In my formulation of this insight, I group these “freedoms” into 4 major categories: personal freedoms, economic freedoms, political freedoms, and legal freedoms.

[See my post on “Liberty as the Sum of All Freedoms” (26 April, 2022) here and this accompanying schematic.]


Different political ideologies may (or may not) focus on a few freedoms from this broader list (or “palette” if you like) but only the CL appreciates the importance of “the group of four” as comprising a consistent whole based upon the foundational principles of avoiding the use of coercion and respecting every individual’s rights to life, liberty, and property.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. if someone expresses interest in, say, economic liberty but not so much (if at all) for the other forms of liberty, then we need to show them the necessary and logical connections between the different kinds of liberty; this of course assumes that people think that logical consistency matters; this view was shared by Milton Friedman who believed economic and political liberty were intimately connected and that you couldn’t have one without the other (the existence of Singapore might be a good reason for rethinking Friedman’s position)
  2. if someone expresses interest in one kind of economic liberty but not other kinds, we need again to show them how one liberty is connected to the others, and how they rest on the same or very similar principles

The main Kinds of Arguments we can use: moral, economic, political, historical

It is my view that there are four grounds on which the case for CL rests: moral, economic, political, and historical grounds. These grounds can be used as the basis for different kinds of arguments we can use to advocate CL. Very briefly they can be summarised as follows:

  1. the moral grounds: CLs believe that there is a strong moral argument for having respect for the individual as a unique and important person with rights to themselves (self-ownership), and also rights to property and liberty; and that the use of coercion violates these fundamental rights
  2. the economic grounds: letting people be free to engage in all kinds of non-coercive economic activity, to trade with each for mutual benefit, is the best way we know how to increase prosperity for both these individuals and for the broader society in which they live and work
  3. the political grounds: “liberal democracy” operating within a constitutional framework and “the rule of (just) law” is the best means we know to limit the power of the predatory state in order to allow individuals to live their lives and go about their business as they fit, to guarantee the ownership and enjoyment of property, and protect the functioning of “civil society” [note here Hayek’s important distinction between “law” and “legislation” – the “rule of law” is completely different from the “rule of legislation”.]
  4. the historical grounds: in spite of the fact that I think that the old “Whig interpretation of history” and the more recent arguments of Francis Fukuyama about “the end of history” are incorrect, it is true that after centuries of often bitter and bloody conflict some countries were able to build fairly liberal societies which protected individual rights to life, liberty and property (what I have called “the Great Emancipation”), which was the precondition for “the Great Enrichment” the benefits of which we still enjoy today. The fact that this actually occurred in “liberal societies” and not authoritarian or communist ones is a very important factor in the case for CL. The other side of the coin, which CLs should not tire of telling people about, are the catastrophic results of central planning, whether attempted on a universal scale in the Soviet Union and Communist China, but also on a more modest scale by all governments around the world (in Australia the National Broadband Network is a good example, as was the attempt during the Covid lockdowns to bureaucratically decide which was an “essential industry” and which was not).

[See my posts on “Classical Liberalism as a Revolutionary Ideology of Emancipation” (13 Oct. 2021) here, and “A Balance Sheet of the Success and Failures of Classical Liberalism” (21 Apr. 2022) here.]

Since different people respond differently to different kinds of arguments, it is important to choose the right kind of argument to suit a particular person’s interests and inclinations.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. Some people find “economic” arguments repulsive / heartless and respond better to ones based on moral or ethical arguments
  2. Other people reject ethical arguments (say based on natural law and natural rights principles) and thus are more interested in “hard headed” economic or utilitarian arguments which stress the waste and economic inefficiency of government intervention, or the impediments intervention erects in front of economic expansion and development
  3. if people insist that in a crisis “the government has to do something” we can point out how similar efforts have failed in the past (historical), how such efforts are usually doomed to failure (economic), and how such efforts usually result in an increase in the size and power of government which is very hard (if not impossible) to remove afterwards (political, historical)
  4. people often argue that there are certain “public goods” which only the government can provide; this argument can be countered with the many historical examples we have of non-government, voluntary, and for profit market solutions to these problems (historical)

Identifying those who might be sympathetic to arguments for Liberty

In spite of the pro-state and anti-market stance taken for decades in the school curriculums and adopted for the most part in the universities, there are still a few individuals who are sympathetic to the ideals of the free market and the limited state. Many have become disconnected from the political mainstream (and do not vote at all or vote “informal”, i.e. in non-state approved methods) or are resigned to choosing the “least-bad” alternative in elections, and therefore “hold their nose” when they are in the voting booth.

Here is my list of those who might be sympathetic to arguments for Liberty and on whom we might focus our limited time and resources:

  1. the disconnected voter or the “swinging” voter who is “shopping around”; it is the job of a CL political party to find these people and persuade them to vote for candidates who truly believe in individual liberty and free markets. [See my post on this group in “Some Thoughts on the May 2022 Federal Election in Australia” (26 May 2022) here.]
  2. people who are still forming their political and economic opinions, such as students, or those who have become disillusioned with the status quo and are looking for an alternative; this is the job for groups like Mannkal, CIS, IPA, or FEE in the US
  3. educated people who might be swayed at the margin to vote for lower taxes and more limited government; they are not “true believers” but might be persuaded to become one in time (CIS, IPA, the Cato Institute in the US)
  4. sympathetic academics and intellectuals such as journalists, writers, artistic types (if there are any!) (IPA, CIS, Liberty Fund in the US)
  5. those groups who resent paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits, who are appalled at the waste and inefficiency of government, or who disapprove of some of the recipients of government subsidies and transfer payments; some of these people have been attracted to anti-establishment parties like One Nation or United Australia; whether they can be persuaded to join a more consistent CL group remains to be seen as they have “populist” economic notions which run against free market principles

It helps in identifying political groups which are close to CL on some issues and thus potential allies, to have a more sophisticated way of positioning political parties than that provided by the traditional “left-Right” spectrum.

[See my posts on “Plotting Liberty: The Multi-Dimensionality of Classical Liberalism and the Need for a New ‘Left-Right’ Political Spectrum” (17 April, 2022) here and “The Spectrum of State Power: or a New Way of Looking at the Political Spectrum” (10 Aug., 2021) .]

I prefer a 4-way matrix like the following. It is my attempt to place Australian political parties in a matrix made up of “economic freedoms” on the y-axis and “social freedoms:” on the x-axis. There is a clustering of parties in the “Populist” quadrant, the “Centrist” position is populated by both the two major parties which are hostile to both sorts of freedoms, and there is only one party in the “Libertarian” quadrant which supports both kinds of freedoms. This shows how “interventionist” all the Australian political parties in fact are. The “Liberal” and Labor Parties are circling each other in the centre trying to attract the same set of voters.

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. I have indicated above which organisations might be the most appropriate ones to focus on these different groups of potential supporters of the ideal of liberty
  2. Given the small size of the CL movement in Australia it is important that we focus our limited resources according to a division of labour and expertise
  3. as my “Four-Way Political Matrix” shows, CL or libertarian political groups have more in common with “the left” on many social freedoms (gay rights, same-sex marriage, decriminalization of drug production/sale/use) than they do with “conservatives”; on the other hand they have more in common with populist groups who have a strong distrust in and dislike of traditional political elites and high taxes; and with the “Old” Liberal party when it came to deregulation and cutting taxes and when it has a so-called “Dries” faction which seems now to have become thoroughly “wet”.
  4. the tactic which a small group of CL elected representatives could adopt in Parliament is a version of Bill Clinton’s policy of “triangulation” where the CL politicians side with “the left” on social issues which promote liberty and with “the right” on economic issues which promote liberty.

Identifying those who are likely to be resistant to arguments for Liberty

I believe that there is a strong correlation between the ideas one holds and the interests one has, and that this connection cuts both ways. One’s interests often influence the ideas (and values) one holds – for example if one sees that there is easy money to be had by selling something to the government or getting a government privilege (like a monopoly or a protective tariff), then one quite likely has political views which support the right and duty of the government to provide these benefits and the obligation of taxpayers to pay for them, and to vote accordingly at election time. Conversely, if one has strong beliefs in the need for a powerful and interventionist welfare state one is probably inclined to work for an institution which makes this possible, such as in a government department dispensing welfare to the people, or in a university teaching students about the benefits of a welfare state and the evils of unregulated “capitalism”, thus one’s job provides one with an “interest” to protect, such as salary, retirement benefits, psychic satisfaction, and so on, which one will defend at the polling booth at election time.

Here is my list of those who are likely to be the most resistant to arguments for Liberty for the reasons given above:

  1. those who work for the state, such as politicians, senior bureaucrats, and their advisors; this group is commonly known as the “political class”
  2. another important group of people who work for the state are school teachers who work in the pubic schools
  3. those who benefit from the state, such as those who receive government privileges (subsidies, monopolies), and who receive benefits (welfare, pension) – the former are known as “crony capitalists”, the latter as the “dependent class” of welfare recipients
  4. those who are ideologically committed to a powerful state and large-scale government intervention in the economy, such as avowed socialists, Greens, Left wing academics and journalists (the ABC??)

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. The sad conclusion I have reached is that it may not be worth sacrificing our limited resources in appealing to most of these groups as they are made up of committed interventionists and statists who are adamantly opposed to free markets.
  2. some public sector school teachers (of economics, history, geography) might be reachable if they had alternative sources of information concerning the benefits of free markets (“capitalism”), the harms caused by state intervention, and the myths (both scientific and historical) concerning “the science” of catastrophic climate change; I do not know of any groups in Australia who are undertaking this important task of “re-educating the educators”; I have given some talks over the years to high school teachers and others about how they might better teach free market ideas to their students; I have done this via the Bastiat Society in the US [see some of my lectures here] as well as David Schmidt’s group at the University of Arizona – link. We need a branch of the Bastiat Society in Australia to find and reach out to people in the community who might be sympathetic.
  3. English high school teachers need to be provided with intellectual ammunition in order to defend the teaching of the classics or “Great Books”of the Western Tradition, which I believe has a very strong CL component within it [see my website]; I have been active for many years with the Association of Core Texts and Courses which is the professional association of college teachers of great books programs in the US; the Ramsay Institute has recently been set up in Sydney to promote the teaching of and learning about “Western Civilisation” which has been met with strong opposition from within the universities; I do not know if they have a program to reach out to high school teachers; so far they have largely ignored me in spite of many emails
  4. for decades Liberty Fund has organised small-group conferences (15 people) for academics who are sympathetic to CL ideas but who are “trapped” within very hostile academic institutions where they work on a day to day basis; many Australian academics have been fortunate to attend LF conferences both here (organised by Geoff Brennan) and in the US; there is nothing like that here in Australia and whether we have enough resources to do something similar for our academics is a moot point; I worked for LF for nearly 20 years building the Online Library of Liberty website to promote its publishing, conference, and Great Books of Liberty programs; it was getting millions of hits and downloads every year when I was summarily sacked in late 2019 and forced into early retirement.

The Impediments we Face in making the Argument for Liberty

The impediments we face in making the case for a more liberal society have been created by a combination of economic “interests” and false thinking (the “ideas” which they hold). Those who earn a salary paid for by taxpayers, enjoy a subsidy or monopoly, receive a welfare benefit, and so on will be very reluctant to relinquish these if a true CL party ever came to power and began dismantling the welfare/administrative state. People are likely to dismiss the intellectual arguments for a free market out of hand if they have deeply held misunderstandings about the benefits of free markets and the harms caused by government intervention. Thus, the combination of having a vested interest in the continuation of the status quo, as well as having false ideas about the government and free markets, is a very potent obstacle to the creation of a free society.

Some of the beliefs that people hold (both people in government as well as the voters) about the legitimacy of what the state does and what the people who work for the state do to deserve their position, are as follows:

  1. the state and the people who work for it are doing good things for society at large that would not be done at all if left to the market (public goods, HEW)
  2. that the free market (capitalism) is a dangerous rapacious force which tends towards monopoly and exploitation unless held tightly in check by the government and the regulatory state
  3. that although the state can make “mistakes” they are minor compared to the harms caused by “unfettered capitalism” and can be controlled by good people working within a well-intentioned government and bureaucratic structure
  4. that things can continue as they are, or continue to steadily improve indefinitely, with more government and bureaucratic intervention when necessary, regardless of the tax burden on tax payers, the regulatory burden on producers, and the financial burden on everybody caused by government borrowing and artificially low interest rates.

The following is a list of four key ideas which I think are common to many if not all forms of justifications for state control and intervention in the economy and in people’s lives in general; the morality of using coercion, overstating the extent of “market failure”, ignoring the extent of “government failure”, and the widespread ignorance of economic principles. To undermine or refute any one of these key ideas would, I think, take us a long way to persuading people to rethink their faith in government intervention in our lives:

  1. the morality of using coercion: traditional CLs (both “radical” liberals and “moderate” liberals in my terminology) believe that the initiation of the use of coercion against individuals is immoral and should be banned (note: some “modern” liberals reject this view as too “absolutist” and accept a considerable use of coercion by the state as an unfortunately “necessary evil” but this should be kept to an minimum if possible). Most people however see the state’s use of coercion as not only necessary but just if certain socially desirable results are to be achieved – this is the policy of “expediency”. Most people also do not see the actions of the state as coercive in the first place. To them, the coercive “iron fist” of the state is not visible – which leads me to conclude that here we have, to rephrase Adam Smith, the problem of “the invisible fist” of the state. This widespread belief has resulted in what I call “the normalisation of state coercion”. By this I mean the acceptance by the vast majority of the people that the use of state coercion is normal, necessary and inevitable in order to solve our social and economic problems. They thus hardly ever question this belief and demonstrate strong opposition when CLs/libertarians do question it.
  2. the frequency of market failure – there is a widespread belief that the market has inherent flaws which inevitably lead to serious problems unless “corrected” by government action (i.e government coercion). These “market failures” are typically thought to be things like the monopoly and predatory power of large corporations, the boom-bust economic cycle, environmental “degradation” caused by any industrial activity, and the inability to provide all kinds of “public goods”.
  3. ignoring the extent of government failure – the theoretical counterpart to the concept of “market failure” is the notion of “government failure” which is largely ignored; there is a near universal belief that governments and “experts” (technocrats) employed by the government can solve problems, “manage” the economy, and provide services which private individuals cannot; this belief has been maintained in spite of the many disastrous attempts by government in the 20th century to “plan” or “manage” the economy, and the theoretical work of the Public Choice school of economics, whose insights are almost universally ignored by the economics profession
  4. there is near universal public ignorance of basic economic insights which makes points 2 and 3 possible; for example, that there are opportunity costs for every economic decision one makes; that there are “the seen and the unseen” consequences of economic actions (especially government intervention in the economy); the idea that every action has a cost and a benefit which is different for different people and groups; the inevitability of “unintended consequences” of government regulations, and so on

Some Thoughts on Strategy

  1. making visible “the invisible fist” of the state – it should be the role of journalists to expose the true nature of state regulation by showing how those regulated and those who oppose this regulation are in fact coercively treated by the state and its officers; some coercive acts by the police were brought to our attention during the almost fascist lockdown in the state of Victoria last year, but it was largely ignored by the public (which in itself, shows the depth of the problem CLs face); the problem then is for us to find those journalists who are sympathetic to the free market, cultivate and encourage their work, and to educate them further in sound thinking about liberal political economy
  2. making the moral case that the use of coercion is wrong – in the 19thC in Britain there was widespread popular belief in moral principles such as “self help” and “minding one’s own business” and leaving others free to go about their business, as well as the utter immorality of slavery; this provided the moral backbone to the broader liberal movement of that period; we need to cultivate a similar set of moral principles in Australia but how this might be achieved in a moot point; such moral principles used to be part of dissenting church doctrine like the Methodists and the Quakers; however, most churches today preach a version of “the social gospel” which in my view is a form of socialism not liberalism;
  3. teaching the public about basic economic theory – especially concerning the benefits of the free market, the harms of government intervention, the myths about “market failure”, and the pervasiveness of “government failure; we need something like an Australian version of the “Bastiat Society” organised at the grass roots level to help teachers, self-employed people, and professionals learn more about economic ideas; if we were looking for the Australian equivalent of Bastiat we might look at William Hearn (1826-1888) the first professor of economics at the University of Melbourne, who was in fact a follower of Bastiat, or Bruce Smith (1851-1937) who was a member of the NSW Parliament and a radical liberal [I have put some of their work online at my personal website]; Bastiat made a name for himself by writing short articles for newspapers in an attempt to expose the fallacies of economic thinking which were widely held by the public and government officials; we need something similar today – a good modern example of someone working in the tradition of Bastiat are the “letters to the editor” written by Don Boudreaux at the Café Hayek) website.


The above comments paint a rather bleak picture of the threats which face the liberty movement and the enormous difficulties which we face in trying to resist them. I will conclude by saying that my recommendation is that we in the liberty movement should constantly stress the following two points, namely to emphasize the benefits of liberty to both individuals and the communities in which they live, and the harms caused by the use of state coercion and intervention.

One might hope that if these alternative visions of the benefits of liberty and the harms of state coercion can be presented to enough people in a form they find appealing and persuasive, then we in the liberty movement might be more confident about the future of liberty.