I have long been interested in discovering whether social conditions can exist that maximize both individual liberty and societal order. Conventional wisdom insists this is not possible; that order and liberty are inconsistent values that must be balanced one against the other. We are told we must sacrifice some liberty in order to maintain order in society; that to believe otherwise is to engage in flights of idealistic fancy or utopian visions.
As people find their lives increasingly dominated by formal systems that suppress individual liberty, it becomes evident that the order being served has far less to do with their personal needs than with fostering the interests of the institutions in charge of the machinery of societal control. Men and women intuit a failure of expectations: that neither social harmony nor personal liberty have arisen from their submission to formalized systems of authority. As inter-group conflicts, wars, genocides, economic dislocations, and expansive policing and surveillance of people’s lives continue to dehumanize societies, the possibility of discovering or creating alternative social systems has begun to energize the minds of many. Is it possible for millions to live together in ways in which social harmony and individual autonomy are neither “balanced” nor sacrificed one to the other, but become the integrated expression of what it means to be human? Can such an inquiry proceed not from religious or ideological conviction or other abstract thinking, but from an understanding of the conditions that are essential to the self-directed nature of living systems? Are there principles that would make such life-enhancing conditions possible?
I have sought such principles from a variety of sources: from so-called “moral” and “natural law” philosophies to historical insights and economic reasoning, to name a few. The problem I have with such approaches is that they are too often grounded in certain a priori normative assumptions from which conclusions were derived. It was not that I necessarily quarreled with the premises—I found a number of them very much to my liking—but I sensed there was a more fundamental explanation that lay hidden behind such philosophical abstractions. I felt a need to discover principles that transcended my pre-existing biases and preferences. On the other hand, my quest was clearly driven by subjective sentiments that arose from within me. A vivid moment occurred when I was in law school, and my wife and I were walking along Lake Michigan discussing my concern. I asked the question: why should I have to justify my desire for liberty on any grounds other than the fact that I do not choose to be coerced? Why need I appeal to any principle beyond that of my own will?
Of course, my desire for an unhindered expression of my will could bring me into conflict with others, thus causing my liberty to become a source of social disorder. The dilemma I faced might be a confirmation of the traditional view that the state must be relied upon to balance these conflicting needs. I remained convinced that these values were not contrary to one another, and that they could be reconciled by some principle I had not yet discovered. My training as a lawyer led me to suspect that the answer might have something to do with the concept of property.
As I continued my inquiries, I became acquainted with the writings of the philosopher Robert LeFevre,1 who ran a school in Colorado known as The Freedom School (and later named Rampart College). I studied and later taught at this school, where I discovered the missing pieces to my puzzle. LeFevre’s philosophy was centered on the principle of the private ownership of property; that freedom is possible only when private ownership claims are respected; and that the existence of political systems depends upon the violation of property principles. LeFevre analyzed the property concept in terms of its constituent factors: boundary, claim, and control, elements I elaborate on in chapters 3, 4, and 5.
During this same time period, I discovered the writings of Konrad Lorenz2 and Robert Ardrey3 who first introduced me to serious studies of the territorial nature of other life forms. That animals without any formal legal systems or abstract philosophical doctrines would nonetheless function, within their respective species, on the basis of the inviolability of territorial boundaries, confirmed to me that there is something that ties together the self-directed nature of life and the orderliness that is essential to the well-being of a society. I became convinced that individual liberty and social order are obverse sides of the same coin; two ways of talking about the same thing: how we relate to one another in a physical world.
We are individuals with a variety of tastes and values who, at the same time, are social beings who have both psychic and economic needs for cooperation with one another. This requires us to have realms of personal authority within which we can act without interference from others. But, alas, our self-interest-motivated pursuits are not always restrained by a respect for the inviolability of the interests of our neighbors. We occasionally resort to personal acts of violence in order to promote our interests. Far more dangerous, however, has been our willingness to create institutionalized systems of violence (i.e., the state) to accomplish our purposes, a practice grounded in disrespect for property boundaries. For reasons to be addressed herein, wars against property are destructive of both liberty and social order.
It is from this perspective that this book is written. Our world is in a state of turbulence from which we can either correct the thinking that has created our problems, or face the collapse of our civilization. The fate of what it means to be a human being lies in how we respond to this crucial moment.
In completing this work, I was assisted by a number of persons whom I wish to acknowledge. Foremost has been my wife and editor-in-chief, Jane Shaffer, who insisted that I write the book and whose reading and editing comments were invaluable. She also provided some of the drawings in the book. I also wish to thank two good friends, Spencer MacCallum and David Gordon, for having closely read my manuscript and made critical suggestions that proved most helpful. My daughter, Bretigne Calvert, provided valuable assistance in the graphics that appear herein. I also need to thank Lew Rockwell, Jeffrey Tucker, Kathy White, Chad Parish, and Judy Thommesen at the Mises Institute for their help in putting the book together. Finally, I need to thank my employer, Southwestern University School of Law, in providing me with a sabbatical that gave me the time to write the substance of this book.