How do you reconcile libertarianism with support of the police?

I’ll admit — my original question was not phrased so diplomatically. It went more along the lines of, OMG what is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how fascist you sound on Twitter?? Nick Szabo was a good sport about it, so here is a summary of his response.

Note: This is the third (and probably last) in a series of questions.

Libertarians believe in the right to life and property. Securing physical things requires the use of physical force. Self-defense and private arms are crucial, but realistically there’s only so much one person can do against a mob, much less an invading army. And not everyone can afford to have private security detail.

There are economies of scale when it comes to physical security. The state does not (and should not!) have a monopoly on violence. But police forces, at several different levels of government, are also crucial. Without a state defense force, you end up with a bunch of roving bandits fighting over the same territory, like the Mexican drug cartels or Somali warlords.

Bitcoin secures digital financial rights with cryptography; a police force secures the rights to physical life and property with violence. Security should be asymmetric – the cost of breaking the law is higher than the cost of enforcing the law, and the cost of attacking ones’ rights higher than the cost of defending them. In cryptography, we make the cipher as strong as possible. We don’t dumb it down with smaller key sizes to give the attacker a “fair fight.” Thinking that people defending their life and property, or police enforcing the law, should “fight fair” is both juvenile and dangerous.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” –George Orwell


Obviously if cops only ever busied themselves with defending life and property, no one would be protesting right now. Maybe the media selectively amplifies certain instances of police brutality, and maybe the wrongful acts of violence are actually few and far between, buuut… What ever happened to consent of the governed?

There’s an Ian Morris book that asks, War! What is it Good For? War is Good, because when a stronger state dominates a weaker state, it suppresses the internal violence that would have occurred between multiple weak states. The government is motivated to do this because the suppression of violence leads to greater economic output and tax revenue. The archetypal example is British colonialism in India, where the British unified multiple warring territories and brought forth democracy and railroads. Or the indigenous tribes in North America — instead of hunting and gathering and battling for turf, the Native Americans now live indulgent lives on reservations while running casinos. Or the Iraqis… oh wait.

So that’s what the cops are doing in Minneapolis and Missouri. They’re waging savage wars of peace. On the other hand, maybe there are populations that would rather not have the forced suppression of violence, and instead keep their own rules and culture and right to self-determination at the expense of gains in life expectancy. But nobody ever asks.

2 thoughts on “How do you reconcile libertarianism with support of the police?

  1. “Or the indigenous tribes in North America — instead of hunting and gathering and battling for turf, the Native Americans now live indulgent lives on reservations while running casinos.”

    Such a simplistic, but common, perception of pre-Columbian American societies, the same people that brought you the potato, tomato, maize, squash, and many other foods that are now staples all over the world, developed by the world’s greatest agronomists. Even though at one point they were the landlords of two continents, they’re supposed to be grateful for diseases that killed almost all of them and a continuous effort by a slightly more technologically advanced invader that brought them Christianity in exchange for everything they had. While slaves were regarded as valuable pieces of property the natives were seen as vermin, usually killed, exiled at best. Yet the misery of the blacks gets all the attention, even though some of them have been the highest office holders in the land and among the wealthiest people in society. After the War Between the States newly-freed blacks were formed into military units called the “Buffalo Soldiers”, whose job was to eradicate the West of its neo-lithic inhabitants. These same freed blacks were given citizenship in 1866, the native Americans didn’t receive this favor until 1924 and later.

    Now the benevolent government has seen fit to allow these supposedly sovereign entities to pander to the children of the invaders with video poker and slot machines. That makes up for everything. But their reservations are still located in the most inhospitable areas of the continent, actually places that were last on the list of desirable property as far as the “pioneers” were concerned. And then there’s this.

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