In Libya and Elsewhere, the State Depends on Submission

Citing “the law of equal freedom” that binds all human institutions, Herbert Spencer wrote in 1851 of “the right to ignore the state” — of “the right of the citizen to adopt a condition of voluntary outlawry.” For Spencer, the goal was to stimulate “voluntary co-operation” and promote the enlargement of “the area within which each citizen may act unchecked.”

Today in Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya, free individuals, having awoken to the proposition that state power depends on their submission, are disobeying the despotic orders of the political class. In the face of savage violence and the stark disregard of their pleas for freedom, people in these countries continue to gather together in audacious defiance of those who call themselves rulers.

As reported by The New York Times, Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who came to power in 1969, has responded to protests with “a vague package of reforms, potentially including a new flag, national anthem and confederate structure.” Unfortunately for Qaddafi and his ilk of degenerate tyrants, though, desultory references to empty “reforms” will not fulfill the aspirations of people who have, for generations, endured the oppression of a tiny elite.

In places like Bahrain and Libya, the state and its attendants have secluded themselves in the lap of luxury, cordoning off valuable natural resources like oil for the personal benefit of those in the close orbit of the central state. Conditions in Libya are an especially descriptive example of the ways that statist restrictions monopolize resources for slothful corporate and political officials; in that country, though it has — due to its oil sector — one of the highest per capita GDPs in Africa, most of the population withstands a crushing poverty that relegates them to the margins of survival.

Similarly, in Bahrain, which enjoys the first ever “free trade” agreement between the United States and a Persian Gulf nation, a garish corporate elite closely entwined with the monarchic state loots the wealth of society. State-owned companies like Bahrain’s Gulf Air devour huge “loans” covered by the Bahraini worker, the firm hemorrhaging money while its CEOs put their feet up. When the Yemeni state began to fret that the oil was drying up, it was time to escalate its partnership with the U.S. in the “war on terror,” a prime source of U.S. taxpayer millions.

Political elites are eager to latch onto the empire, relinquishing the “sovereignty” they supposedly cherish, when the role of American outpost brings a $300 million payday for politicians and their friends. Unemployment and destitution, long ignored by a state-corporate aristocracy in the Middle East and Northern Africa, have taken their toll.

These countries’ productive majorities are no longer content to prop up and underwrite the dissolute culture of their “leaders,” to work their fingers to the bone while palace parties rage in their capital cities. The truth that statism tries so desperately to muffle is that we are all Yemenis, Bahrainis, Libyans and Algerians. Lines drawn along largely artificial cultural and national lines estrange us if we accept that the state’s arbitrary violence is necessary for us to be able to deal with and relate to one another.

Free market anarchism turns on Spencer’s “law of equal freedom,” the simple idea that everyone ought be left alone to do whatever they would like provided they observe everyone else’s identical right. The people of the Middle East and Northern Africa understand the power of civil disobedience and peaceful interaction, a power that — when carried to its end — means a world without the injustices of states.

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