Excerpted from the
All history reveals the existence of the great human struggle for survival and supremacy. This struggle has two arenas: the arena of nature and the arena of political action.
In the arena of nature, man matches his wit, skills, and strength against his natural environment in an effort to wrest from the forces and materials of nature sufficient for his survival and comfort.
In the arena of political action, man arrays his wits, skills, and strength against others of his kind in an effort to obtain supremacy over them and by this means to control them to his advantage.
In both of these arenas, human energy has always been organized. One of the earliest characteristics of man to be discovered is the characteristic of social organization. Although some theorists have held that men in earliest times lived as isolated and unorganized units, no evidence has yet been unearthed to substantiate this theory. As artifacts are uncovered and as scholars continue to probe, a growing mountain of evidence reveals that individual human beings have coordinated their efforts in some kind of social structure for at least a million years of human and near-human existence. They united behind a skillful hunter or trapper. They united behind a shaman or witch doctor. They united behind a man of power or of property. Finally, they united behind political leadership. When men joined forces in hunting, trapping, fishing, trading, or manufacture, they did so because it was clearly to their advantage to do so. Economic necessity is ever present. Life on this planet does not favor the slothful and indolent. To live requires certain basic necessities and a host of comforts most men value far beyond their minimal caloric intake.
When they combined their energies in the hunt or in other economic ventures, they did so motivated by a central desire to stay alive and to stay alive with a full stomach, relative security, and a degree of pleasure and satisfaction. They were motivated by a search for gain or profit. Conversely, they were motivated to escape the grim necessities the nature of the world forces upon men. To prevent the loss of life and of items of value, great effort must be expended. From earliest times and continuing to this day, every human being seeks to add to his gains and to diminish or eliminate his losses. That he acts at all can be attributed to economic necessity and to the fact that man has a sense of uneasiness occasioned by that necessity. If there were no uneasiness, no economic necessity, the chances are excellent that man would not act at all. His ease would become apathy; his apathy, stagnation; his stagnation, death. It is economic necessity and the urge to survive that postpone death, minimize stagnation, and overcome apathy.
When men combine their energies into political organizations, a slightly modified motivation on the part of some can be discerned. Economic organization presumes individual self-seeking and personal interest. Political organization presumes a search for the “common good.” Man, within a political structure, is not always seeking to benefit himself. He is seeking to benefit all. All political organization is nothing more nor less than enforced altruism at the common expense.
It is true, of course, that the professional politician has precisely the same personal motivation as the early hunter, forager, or marauder. He is personally involved with making gains and preventing losses for himself. But he conducts his affairs within a structure which disregards the common nature of man and creates, instead, a class culture in which some men have authority over other men, hence power over other men. This political structure is invariably based upon the ability of some to exploit others to their own advantage by force or the threat of force.
Economic structures so long as they remain strictly economic, lack the ability to coerce anyone. Nature is the general coercer, demanding effort if death is to be postponed. But in economic structures, all men cooperate in one gigantic, desperate effort to escape nature. Their cooperation is voluntary in the face of the common natural enemy, economic necessity. No man is forced to cooperate with any one. He cooperates because it is to his advantage to do so. If it is not to his advantage, as he sees it, he withholds his cooperation. With economic structures, cooperation is sought on a voluntary basis for mutually held interests. If it is not forthcoming in a given case, the project is abandoned or cooperation is sought elsewhere.
Within political structures a mystique is summoned. It is presumed that the total numbers of a given group form a “society.” From this it is but a step to assume that there is a kind of social entity having what has been called general will, social responsibility, social consciousness, social conscience, social awareness, socialism. The presumed “good” of the social whole is contrasted against the actual “good” of each individual within the group. In order to provide for the general “good,” private “good” and private interests are systematically ravaged. Human sacrifice makes its appearance. Any person who does not agree to the “general good” can be forced by the strong or more numerous to help provide for it anyway. Repeated negligence or repeated resistance summons ever larger employment of coercion. The person who will not submit to the theme of “general good” is victimized. He is victimized up to and including his ultimate demise, if this is deemed in harmony with the “general good.” This is the single unvarying characteristic of all political organizations. They require victims. When theocracies flourished, either the shaman and the strong man combined their resources or a single man assumed both mantles. Human sacrifices for the “general good” became the murderous rule. Modern warfare is nothing more than mass sacrifice of opposing nationals for the “general good.”
If Sherman was correct when he suggested that “war is hell,” then all political action is merely purgatory. It is the arena of purge wherein those having power determine the names, the races, or the nationalities and faiths of the next victims.
The mystique of enforced altruism now engulfs the world. Virtually without numerically significant opposition, the masses of humanity, whether they view themselves as “common men,” “aristocrats,” “intellectuals,” or mere observers, adhere to the “common good” mystical illusion.
But it is important here that a fine line of demarcation be made. There are certain things that men do in common. They share a natural desire to live, and to live in relative ease and security. All men seek to own property. They are driven by a mutually experienced sense of frustration and uneasiness. Beyond these areas of common interest, it is a matter of common interest that each person must seek his own personal best interests. Further, in the process of seeking and in the process of keeping, it is a common interest to all that each remain unmolested. Molestation of some by others violates both personal interests and any real “common good” that can be discerned.
The question to be posed is a derivative of the situation men experience. How can a system of procedure be found which will make possible the maximum self-seeking and self-keeping of men individually, without impairing the same maximum self-seeking and self-keeping proclivities of all other men? Must men live in an armed camp, forever engaged in holding back some so that others may prosper? Is there such a scarcity of resources and goods that some must be masters and others slaves? Is our ability to procreate so large and our ability to produce so meager that, as Malthus opined, there will always be those who are pressing upon the food supply and only the fortunate and the strong will eat?
It is against this background that the idea and ideal of autarchy emerges. The fundamental premise of autarchy is rooted in stoicism. (See Zeno, Epicurus, Marcus Aurelius.) The Stoics understood that each man does control his own energy and his own person. Because of this observable fact of nature, and because of the added fact that man has a rational ability to foresee the results of his actions, it follows that each man is responsible for his choices and actions. The preachment of the Stoics can be summed up in this phrase: Control yourself.
To this end, the Stoics were among the first who philosophically supported the idea of individual liberty. Nor did they imagine that liberty was a mere lack of control so that any man could do exactly as he pleased. On the contrary, the requirement was rigid self-discipline. Freedom was not to be construed as license. Liberty could only endure when individuals voluntarily refrained from imposing their wills upon others.
In other areas, the stoic philosophy wanders inexcusably. It counsels a completely rigid submission to the gods; almost makes poverty a virtue; and extols the ability to suffer to the point where self-control becomes self-denial.
Having obtained the stoic virtue of self-control, autarchy passes to the Epicureans and owes them a debt of gratitude. For the Epicureans (see Epicurus) recognized that man is a profit-seeking creature and prefers pleasure to pain. Man will always seek to avoid pain (losses of anything he values) and will always seek to experience as much pleasure (profit, gain) as possible. Nor are pleasure, profit, gain, or even delight and ecstasy forbidden. To live is good. To live well is better. To live in abundance, security, and joy is the acme of living.
Both Stoics and Epicureans saw that a “social whole” is a pleasant fiction. The building material out of which any social unit is created is always the individual. You do not create social perfection by molding a rigid Platonic state in which political (coercive) organization dominates and eclipses the individual. Rather, if you can educate men to control themselves, the social whole will take care of itself.
But the doctrine of autarchy was still incomplete. Granted that each man could and must control himself. Granted that men will seek profit and avoid loss. But is this practical? Isn't it true that men will seek profits by imposing their wills on others? Isn't it true that men will seek to compel others to share in their losses while they reserve their profits for themselves? Isn't it true that some men are fundamentally incapable of self-control and hence, to preserve the “social good” or the common good of non-molestation, an agency of molestation must be created which will hold back the malefactor?
Praxeology offered the answer. Austrian economists, enlarging on the works of Menger and Böhm-Bawerk, were able to define the workings of a free economy in scientific terms. If men are free to pursue their individual economic aims, motivated by grim economic necessity, and if they are unmolested by any agency of coercion, the greatest good for the greatest number will emerge. (See Von Mises, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality
and other writings.)
The Stoics provide the moral framework; the Epicureans, the motivation; the praxeologists, the methodology. I propose to call this package of ideological systems autarchy
, because autarchy
It is true that the word autarchy
has fallen upon evil times. Usually when the word is employed, it has been given a social complexion. Autarchy
(customarily in this usage spelled autarky
) is employed to designate the economically self-sustaining state. But this is improper and a corruption of the original meaning. Auto
. It means that each person rules himself, and no other. The autarchist not only rules himself but operates within a voluntary context respecting economic necessity.
is a similar word with similar origins. It, too, supposes self-rule
. This word has customarily escaped the economic implication which is found in autarky
. It has been employed primarily to denote those communities or nations which practice democracy. An autonomous country is one in which the majority (or a plurality) select the rulers who will impose their wills upon the total population. An autonomist
can be construed as one who supports the idea that self-rule is nothing more than majority rule. This, too, is a distortion, with the social coloration impinging upon the original meaning.
The word autocracy
likewise has been subjected to social implications. This word, also, means self-rule
. But it has been corrupted to mean total rule by one man over others.
The enormous effect of reliance upon political structures and the collective mystique is seen in our vocabulary. Three words, all essentially meaning self-rule and self-control, have been corrupted to imply collective rule of one kind or another. I propose to reclaim autarchy
to its original meaning. There are plenty of other words so that communication and expression will not be impaired by reserving this usage and spelling for what was originally intended. As I will use the word, autarchy
will signify total self-rule
. It will presume a system or social arrangement in which each person assumes full responsibility for himself, proceeds to control himself, exercises authority over himself, supports himself, takes initiative, joins with others or not as he so pleases, and does not in any way seek to impose his will by force upon any other persons whatever.