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Alternatives to Top-Down Provision of Protection PART1

Alternatives to Top-Down Provision of Protection PART1

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Published by CopBlock
This document contains a number of essays that broach the topic of the top-down provision of protection and suggest alternatives. It's housed at http://CopBlock.org/Library and was last updated on 2013.09.14 by Pete Eyre. The content and ideas they contain in no way speaks for all involved with the decentralized Cop Block

PAGE 2 - 16
Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication Of Moral Liberty
by Lysander Spooner

PAGE 17 - 44
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
by Henry David Thoreau

PAGE 45 - 74
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts
by Murray Rothbard

PAGE 74 - 95
Better off stateless: Somalia before and after government collapse
by Peter T. Leeson

PAGE 96 - 169
The Law
by Frederic Bastiat

PAGE 170 - 271
From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation
by Gene Sharp

PAGE 272 - 287
No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority
by Lysander Spooner

PAGE 288 - 358
Rats! Stop Snitching
by Claire Wolfe

PAGE 359 - 417
Chaos Theory: Two Essays on Market Anarchy
by Robert P. Murphy
This document contains a number of essays that broach the topic of the top-down provision of protection and suggest alternatives. It's housed at http://CopBlock.org/Library and was last updated on 2013.09.14 by Pete Eyre. The content and ideas they contain in no way speaks for all involved with the decentralized Cop Block

PAGE 2 - 16
Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication Of Moral Liberty
by Lysander Spooner

PAGE 17 - 44
On the Duty of Civil Disobedience
by Henry David Thoreau

PAGE 45 - 74
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts
by Murray Rothbard

PAGE 74 - 95
Better off stateless: Somalia before and after government collapse
by Peter T. Leeson

PAGE 96 - 169
The Law
by Frederic Bastiat

PAGE 170 - 271
From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation
by Gene Sharp

PAGE 272 - 287
No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority
by Lysander Spooner

PAGE 288 - 358
Rats! Stop Snitching
by Claire Wolfe

PAGE 359 - 417
Chaos Theory: Two Essays on Market Anarchy
by Robert P. Murphy

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fssay CoIIcction - Discussions on AItcrnativcs to Top-Down Provision of Protcction

This documcnt is houscd at http://CopBlock.org/library was Iast updatcd on 2013.09.14 by Pctc fyrc
Thc contcnt and idcas thcy contain in no way spcaks for aII invoIvcd with thc dcccntraIcd Cop BIock
PAGf 2 - 16
Viccs Arc Not Crimcs: A Vindication Of MoraI libcrty
by lysandcr Spooncr
PAGf 17 - 44
On thc Duty of CiviI Disobcdicncc
by Hcnry David Thorcau
PAGf 4S - 74 PAGf 4S - 74
Thc PubIic Scctor, lll: PoIicc, law, and thc Courts
by Murray Rothbard
PAGf 74 - 9S
Bcttcr off statcIcss: SomaIia bcforc and aftcr govcrnmcnt coIIapsc
by Pctcr T. lccson
PAGf 96 - 169
Thc law Thc law
by frcdcric Bastiat
PAGf 170 - 271
from Dictatorship to Dcmocracy: A ConccptuaI framcwork for libcration
by Gcnc Sharp
PAGf 272 - 287
No Trcason: Thc Constitution of No Authority
by lysandcr Spooncr by lysandcr Spooncr
PAGf 288 - 3S8
Ratcs! Stop Snitching
by CIairc WoIfc
PAGf 3S9 - 417
Chaos Thcory: Two fssays on Markct Anarchy
by Robcrt P. Murphy
Vices Are Not Crimes
A Vindication Of Moral Liberty
By Lysander Spooner
Introduction by Murray N. Rothbard
Lysander Spooner: Libertarian Pietist
We are all indebted to Carl Watner for uncovering an unknown work by the great Lysander Spooner,
one that managed to escape the editor of Spooner's Collected Works . Both the title and the substance
of "Vices are not Crimes" highlight the unique role that morality and moral principle had for Spooner
among the anarchists and libertarians of his day. For Spooner was the last of the great natural rights
theorists among anarchists, classical liberals, or moral theorists generally; the doughty old heir of the
natural law-natural rights tradition of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was fighting a rear-guard
battle against the collapse of the idea of a scientific or rational morality, or of the science of justice or
of individual right. Not only had natural law and natural rights given way throughout society to the
arbitrary rule of utilitarian calculation or nihilistic whim; but the same degenerative process had
occurred among libertarians and anarchists as well. Spooner knew that the foundation for individual
rights and liberty was tinsel if all values and ethics were arbitrary and subjective. Yet, even in his own
anarchist movement Spooner was the last of the Old Guard believers in natural rights; his successors
in the individualist-anarchist movement, led by Benjamin R. Tucker, all proclaimed arbitrary whim and
might-makes-right as the foundation of libertarian moral theory. And yet, Spooner knew that this was
no foundation at all; for the State is far mightier than any individual, and if the individual cannot use a
theory of justice as his armor against State oppression, then he has no solid base from which to roll
back and defeat it.
With his emphasis on cognitive moral principles and natural rights, Spooner must have looked
hopelessly old-fashioned to Tucker and the young anarchists of the 1870s and 1880s. And yet now, a
century later, it is the latters' once fashionable nihilism and tough amoralism that strike us as being
empty and destructive of the very liberty they all tried hard to bring about. We are now beginning to
recapture the once-great tradition of an objectively grounded rights of the individual. In philosophy, in
economics, in social analysis, we are beginning to see that the tossing aside of moral rights was not the
brave new world it once seemed — but rather a long and disastrous detour in political philosophy that
is now fortunately drawing to a close.
Opponents of the idea of an objective morality commonly charge that moral theory functions as a
tyranny over the individual. This, of course, happens with many theories of morality, but it cannot
happen when the moral theory makes a sharp and clear distinction between the "immoral" and the
"illegal", or, in Spooner's words, between "vices" and "crimes." The immoral or the "vicious" may consist
of a myriad of human actions, from matters of vital importance down to being nasty to one's neighbor
or to willful failure to take one's vitamins. But none of them should be confused with an action that
should be "illegal," that is, an action to be prohibited by the violence of law. The latter, in Spooner's
libertarian view, should be confined strictly to the initiation of violence against the rights of person and
property. Other moral theories attempt to apply the law — the engine of socially legitimated violence
— to compelling obedience to various norms of behavior; in contrast, libertarian moral theory asserts
the immorality and injustice of interfering with any man's (or rather, any non-criminal man's) right to
run his own life and property without interference. For the natural rights libertarian, then, his cognitive
theory of justice is a great bulwark against the State's eternal invasion of rights — in contrast to other
moral theories which attempt to employ the State to combat immorality.
It is instructive to consider Spooner and his essay in the light of the fascinating insights into
nineteenth century American politics provided in recent years by the "new political history." While this
new history has been applied for most of the nineteenth century, the best work has been done for the
Midwest after the Civil War, in particular the brilliant study by Paul Kleppner, The Cross of Culture [1].
What Kleppner and others have shown is that the political ideas of Americans can be reduced, with
almost remarkable precision, back to their religious attitudes and beliefs. In particular, their political and
economic views depend on the degree to which they conform to the two basic poles of Christian
belief: pietistic, or liturgical (although the latter might be amended to liturgical plus doctrinal.) Pietistic,
by the 19 th century, meant all groups of Protestants except Episcopalian, High Church Lutheran, and
orthodox Calvinist; liturgical meant the latter plus Roman Catholic. (And "pietistic" attitudes, often
included deist and atheist.) Briefly, the pietist tends to hold that to be truly religious, a person must
experience an emotional conversion; the convert, in what has been called "the baptism of the Holy
Spirit", has a direct relationship to God or to Jesus. The liturgical, on the other hand, is interested in
either doctrinal belief or the following of prescribed church ritual as the key to salvation.
Now, it might seem as if the pietistic emphasis on the individual might lead to a political
individualism, to the belief that the State may not interfere in each individual's moral choices and
actions. In 17th century pietism, it often meant just that. But by the 19th century, unfortunately, such
was not the case. Most pietists took the following view: Since we can't gauge an individual's morality by
his following rituals or even by his professed adherence to creed, we must watch his actions and see if
he is really moral. From there the pietists concluded that it was everyone's moral duty to his own
salvation to see to it that his fellow men as well as himself are kept out of temptation's path. That is, it
was supposed to be the State's business to enforce compulsory morality, to create the proper moral
climate for maximizing salvation. In short, instead of an individualist, the pietist now tended to become
a pest, a busybody, a moral watchdog for his fellow-man, and a compulsory moralist using the State to
outlaw "vice" as well as crime.
The liturgicals, on the other hand, took the view that morality and salvation were to be achieved by
following the creed and the rituals of their church. The experts on those church beliefs and practices
were, of course, not the State but the priests or bishops of the church (or, in the case of the few
orthodox Calvinists, the ministers.) The liturgicals, secure in their church teachings and practices,
simply wanted to be left alone to follow the counsel of their priests; they were not interested in
pestering or forcing their fellow human beings into being saved. And they believed profoundly that
morality was not the business of the State, but only of their own church mentors.
From the 1850's to the 1890's the Republican party was almost exclusively the pietist party, known
commonly as the "party of great moral ideas"; the Democratic party, on the other hand, was almost
exclusively the liturgical party, and was known widely as the "party of personal liberty." Specifically, after
the Civil War there were three interconnected local struggles that kept reappearing throughout America;
in each case, the Republicans and Democrats played out this contrasting role. These were: the attempt
by pietist groups (almost always Republican) to enforce prohibition; the attempt by the same groups to
enforce Sunday blue laws; and the attempt by the selfsame pietists to enforce compulsory attendance
in the public schools, in order to use these schools to "Christianize" the Catholics.
What of the political and economic struggles that historians have, until recently, focused on almost
exclusively: sound money vs. fiat money or silver inflation; free trade vs. a protective tariff; free
markets vs. government regulation; small vs. large government spending? It is true that these were
fought out repeatedly, but these were on the national level, and generally remote from the concerns of
the average person. I have long wondered how it was that the nineteenth century saw the mass of the
public get highly excited about such recondite matters as the tariff, bank credits, or the currency. How
could that happen when it is almost impossible to interest the mass of the public in these matters
today? Kleppner and the others have provided the missing link, the middle term between these abstract
economic issues and the gut social issues close to the hearts and lives of the public. Specifically, the
Democrats, who (at least until 1896) favored the free-market, libertarian position on all these economic
issues, linked them (and properly so) in the minds of their liturgical supporters, with their opposition
to prohibition, blue laws, etc. The Democrats pointed out that all these statist economic measures —
including inflation — were "paternalistic" in the same way as the hated pietistic invasions of their
personal liberty. In that way, the Democrat leaders were able to "raise the consciousness" of their
followers from their local and personal concerns to wider and more abstract economic issues, and to
take the libertarian position on all of them.
The pietist Republicans did similarly for their mass base, pointing out that big government should
regulate and control economic matters as it should control morality. In this stance, the Republicans
followed in the footsteps of their predecessors, the Whigs, who, for example, were generally the
Fathers of the Public School System in their local areas.
Generally, the "mind your own business" liturgicals almost instinctively took the libertarian position
on every question. But there was of course one area — before the Civil War — where pestering and
hectoring were needed to right a monstrous injustice: slavery. Here the typical pietistic concern with
universal moral principles and seeing them put into action brought us the abolitionist and anti-slavery
movements. Slavery was the great flaw in the American system in more senses than one: for it was also
the flaw in the instinctive liturgical resentment against great moral crusades.
To return now to Lysander Spooner. Spooner, born in the New England pietist tradition, began his
distinguished ideological career as an all-out abolitionist. Despite differences over interpretation of the
U.S. Constitution. Spooner was basically in the anarchistic, "no-government" Garrisonian wing of the
abolitionist movement — the wing that sought the abolition of slavery not through the use of the
central government (which was in any case dominated by the South), but by a combination of moral
fervor and slave rebellion. Far from being fervent supporters of the Union, the Garrisonians held that
the northern states should secede from a pro-slaveholding United States of America.
So far, Spooner and the Garrisonians took the proper libertarian approach toward slavery. But the
tragic betrayal came when the Union went to war with the Southern states over the issue of their
declared independence. Garrison and his former "no-government" movement forgot their anarchistic
principles in their enthusiasm for militarism, mass murder, and centralized statism on behalf of what
they correctly figured would be a war against slavery. Only Lysander Spooner and a very few others
stood foursquare against this betrayal; only Spooner realized that it would be compounding crime and
error to try to use government to right the wrongs committed by another government. And so, among
his pietistic and moralizing anti-slavery colleagues, only Spooner was able to see with shining clarity,
despite all temptations, the stark difference between vice and crime. He saw that it was correct to
denounce the crimes of governments, but that it was only compounding those crimes to maximize
government power as an attempted remedy. Spooner never followed other pietists in endorsing crime or
in trying to outlaw vice.
Spooner's anarchism was, like his abolitionism, another valuable part of his pietist legacy. For, here
again, his pietistic concern for universal principles — in this case, as in the case of slavery, for the
complete triumph of justice and the elimination of injustice — brought him to a consistent and
courageous application of libertarian principles where it was not socially convenient (to put it mildly) to
have the question raised. While the liturgicals proved to be far more libertarian that the pietists during
the second half of the nineteenth century, a pietistic spirit is always important in libertarianism to
emphasize a tireless determination to eradicate crime and injustice. Surely it is no accident that
Spooner's greatest and most fervent anarchistic tracts were directed in dialogue against the Democrats
Cleveland and Bayard; he did not bother with the openly statist Republicans. A pietistic leaven in the
quasi-libertarian liturgical lump?
But it takes firmness in libertarian principle to make sure to confine one's pietistic moral crusade to
crime (e.g. slavery, statism), and not have it spill over to what anyone might designate as "vice."
Fortunately, we have the immortal Lysander Spooner, in his life and in his works, to guide us along the
correct path.
Murray N. Rothbard
Los Altos, California
[1] Paul Kleppner, The Cross of Culture: A Social Analysis of Midwestern Politics, 1850-1900 (New
York: Free Press, 1970). Also see Richard Jensen, The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political
Conflicts, 1888-1896 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971).
Vices Are Not Crimes
A Vindication Of Moral Liberty
By Lysander Spooner
Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property.
Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another.
Vice s are simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness. Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no
interference with their persons or property.
In vices, the very essence of crime --- that is, the design to injure the person or property of another --- is wanting.
It is a maxim of the law that there can be no crime without a criminal intent; that is, without the intent to invade the person or property of
another. But no one ever practises a vice with any such criminal intent. He practises his vice for his own happiness solely, and not from any malice
toward others.
Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual right,
liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property, and the corresponding and coequal rights
of another man to the control of his own person and property.
For a government to declare a vice to be a crime, and to punish it as such, is an attempt to falsify the very nature of things. It is as absurd as it
would be to declare truth to be falsehood, or falsehood truth.
Every voluntary act of a man’s life is either virtuous or vicious. That is to say, it is either in accordance, or in conflict, with those natural laws of
matter and mind, on which his physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being depend. In other words, every act of his life tends, on the whole,
either to his happiness, or to his unhappiness. No single act in his whole existence is indifferent.
Furthermore, each human being differs in his physical, mental, and emotional constitution, and also in the circumstances by which he is
surrounded, from every other human being. Many acts, therefore, that are virtuous, and tend to happiness, in the case of one person, are vicious, and
tend to unhappiness, in the case of another person.
Many acts, also, that are virtuous, and tend to happiness, in the case of one man, at one time, and under one set of circumstances, are vicious, and
tend to unhappiness, in the case of the same man, at another time, and under other circumstances.
To know what actions are virtuous, and what vicious --- in other words, to know what actions tend, on the whole, to happiness, and what to
unhappiness --- in the case of each and every man, in each and all the conditions in which they may severally be placed, is the profoundest and most
complex study to which the greatest human mind ever has been, or ever can be, directed. It is, nevertheless, the constant study to which each and
every man --- the humblest in intellect as well as the greatest --- is necessarily driven by the desires and necessities of his own existence. It is also
the study in which each and every person, from his cradle to his grave, must necessarily form his own conclusions; because no one else knows or feels,
or can know or feel, as he knows and feels, the desires and necessities, the hopes, and fears, and impulses of his own nature, or the pressure of his own
It is not often possible to say of those acts that are called vices, that they really are vices, except in degree. That is, it is difficult to say of any
actions, or courses of action, that are called vices, that they really would have been vices, if they had stopped short of a certain point . The question
of virtue or vice, therefore, in all such cases, is a question of quantity and degree, and not of the intrinsic character of any single act, by itself. This
fact adds to the difficulty, not to say the impossibility, of any one’s --- except each individual for himself --- drawing any accurate line, or
anything like any accurate line, between virtue and vice; that is, of telling where virtue ends, and vice begins. And this is another reason why this
whole question of virtue and vice should be left for each person to settle for himself.
V .
Vices are usually pleasurable, at least for the time being, and often do not disclose themselves as vices, by their effects, until after they have been
practised for many years; perhaps for a lifetime. To many, perhaps most, of those who practise them, they do not disclose themselves as vices at all
during life. Virtues, on the other band, often appear so harsh and rugged, they require the sacrifice of so much present happiness, at least, and the
results, which alone prove them to be virtues, are often so distant and obscure, in fact, so absolutely invisible to the minds of many, especially of the
young, that, from the very nature of things, there can be no universal, or even general, knowledge that they are virtues. In truth, the studies of
profound philosophers have been expended --- if not wholly in vain, certainly with very small results --- in efforts to draw the lines between the
virtues and the vices.
If, then, it became so difficult, so nearly impossible, in most cases, to determine what is, and what is not, vice; and especially if it be so difficult, in
nearly all cases, to determine where virtue ends, and vice begins; and if these questions, which no one can really and truly determine for anybody but
himself, are not to be left free and open for experiment by all, each person is deprived of the highest of all his rights as a human being, to wit: his
right to inquire, investigate, reason, try experiments, judge, and ascertain for himself, what is, to him, virtue, and what is, to him , vice; in other
words: what, on the whole, conduces to his happiness, and what, on the whole, tends to his unhappiness. If this great right is not to be left free and
open to all, then each man’s whole right, as a reasoning human being, to" liberty and the pursuit of happiness," is denied him.
We all come into the world in ignorance of ourselves, and of everything around us. By a fundamental law of our natures we are all constantly
impelled by the desire of happiness, and the fear of pain. But we have everything to learn, as to what will give us happiness, and save us from pain.
No two of us are wholly alike, either physically, mentally, or emotionally; or, consequently, in our physical, mental, or emotional requirements for
the acquisition of happiness, and the avoidance of unhappiness. No one of us, therefore, can learn this indispensable lesson of happiness and
unhappiness, of virtue and vice, for another. Each must learn it for himself. To learn it, he must be at liberty to try all experiments that commend
themselves to his judgment. Some of his experiments succeed, and, because they succeed, are called virtues; others fail, and, because they fail, are
called vices. He gathers wisdom as much from his failures as from his successes; from his so-called vices, as from his so-called virtues. Both are
necessary to his acquisition of that knowledge --- of his own nature, and of the world around him, and of their adaptations or non-adaptations to
each other --- which shall show him how happiness is acquired, and pain avoided. And, unless he can be permitted to try these experiments to his
own satisfaction, he is restrained from the acquisition of knowledge, and, consequently, from pursuing the great purpose and duty of his life.
VI I .
A man is under no obligation to take anybody’s word, or yield to anybody authority, on a matter so vital to himself, and in regard to which no
one else has, or can have, any such interest as he. He cannot , if he would, safely rely upon the opinions of other men, because be finds that the
opinions of other men do not agree. Certain actions, or courses of action, have been practised by many millions of men, through successive
generations, and have been held by them to be, on the whole, conducive to happiness, and therefore virtuous. Other men, in other ages or countries,
or under other condition, have held, as the result of their experience and observation, that these actions tended, on the whole, to unhappiness, and
were therefore vicious. The question of virtue or vice, as already remarked in a previous section, has also been, in most minds, a question of degree;
that is, of the extent to which certain actions should be carried; and not of the intrinsic character of any single act, by itself. The questions of virtue
and vice have therefore been as various, and, in fact, as infinite, as the varieties of mind, body, and condition of the different individuals inhabiting
the globe. And the experience of ages has left an infinite number of these questions unsettled. In fact, it can scarcely be said to have settled any of
VI I I .
In the midst of this endless variety of opinion, what man, or what body of men, has the right to say, in regard to any particular action, or course
of action, " We have tried this experiment, and determined every question involved in it? We have determined it, not only for ourselves, but for all
others? And, as to all those who are weaker than we, we will coerce them to act in obedience to our conclusion? We will suffer no further experiment
or inquiry by any one, and, consequently, no further acquisition of knowledge by anybody?"
Who are the men who have the right to say this? Certainly there none such. The men who really do say it, are either shameless impostors and
tyrants, who would stop the progress of knowledge , and usurp absolute control over the minds and bodies of their fellow men; and are therefore to
resisted instantly, and to the last extent; or they are themselves too ignorant of their own weaknesses, and of their true relations to other men, to be
entitled to any other consideration than sheer pity or contempt.
We know, however, that there are such men as these in the world. Some of them attempt to exercise their power only within a small sphere, to
wit, upon their children, their neighbors, their townsmen, and their countrymen. Others attempt to exercise it on a larger scale. For example, an old
man at Rome, aided by a few subordinates, attempts to decide all questions of virtue and vice; that is, of truth or falsehood, especially in matters of
religion. He claims to know and teach what religious ideas and practices are conducive, or fatal, to a man’s happiness, not only in this world, but in
that which is to come. He claims to be miraculously inspired for the performance of this work; thus virtually acknowledging, like a sensible man, that
nothing short of miraculous inspiration would qualify him for it. This miraculous inspiration, however, has been ineffectual to enable him to settle
more than a very few questions. The most important to which common mortals can attain, is an implicit belief in his (the pope’s) infallibility! and,
secondly, that the blackest vices of which they can be guilty are to believe and declare that he is only a man like the rest of them!
It required some fifteen or eighteen hundred years to enable him to reach definite conclusions on these two vital points. Yet it would seem that
the first of these must necessarily be preliminary to his settlement of any other questions; because, until his own infallibility is determined, he can
authoritatively decide nothing else. He has, however, heretofore attempted or pretended to settle a few others. And he may, perhaps, attempt or
pretend to settle a few more in the future, if he shall continue to find anybody to listen to him. But his success, thus far, certainly does not
encourage the belief that he will be able to settle all questions of virtue and vice, even in his peculiar department of religion, in time to meet the
necessities of mankind. He, or his successors, will undoubtedly be compelled, at no distant day, to acknowledge that he has undertaken a task to
which all his miraculous inspiration was inadequate; and that, of necessity, each human being must be left to settle all questions of this kind for
himself. And it is not unreasonable to expect that all other popes, in other and lesser spheres, will some time have cause to come to the same
conclusion. No one, certainly, not claiming supernatural inspiration, should undertake a task to which obviously nothing less than such inspiration is
adequate. And, clearly, no one should surrender his own judgment to the teachings of others, unless he be first convinced that these others have
something more than ordinary human knowledge on this subject.
If those persons, who fancy themselves gifted with both the power and the right to define and punish other men’s vices, would but turn their
thoughts inwardly, they would probably find that they have a great work to do at home; and that, when that shall have been completed, they will be
little disposed to do more towards correcting the vices of others, than simply to give to others the results of their experience and observation. In
this sphere their labors may possibly be useful; but, in the sphere of infallibility and coercion, they will probably, for well-known reasons, meet with
even less success in the future than such men have met with in the past.
I X.
It is now obvious, from the reasons already given, that government would be utterly impracticable, if it were to take cognizance of vices, and
punish them as crimes. Every human being has his or her vices. Nearly all men have a great many. And they are of all kinds; physiological, mental,
emotional; religious, social, commercial, industrial, economical, &c., &c. If government is to take cognizance of any of these vices, and punish them
as crimes, then, to be consistent, it must take cognizance of all, and punish all impartially. The consequence would be, that everybody would be in
prison for his or her vices. There would be no one left outside to lock the doors upon those within. In fact, courts enough could not be found to try
the offenders, nor prisons enough built to hold them. All human industry in the acquisition of knowledge, and even in acquiring the means of
subsistence, would be arrested: for we should all be under constant trial or imprisonment for our vices. But even if it were possible to imprison all
the vicious, our knowledge of human nature tells us that, as a general rule, they would be far more vicious prison than they ever have been out of it.
A government that shall punish all vices impartially is so obviously an impossibility, that nobody was ever found, or ever will be found, foolish
enough to propose it. The most that any one proposes is, that government shall punish some one, or at most a few, of what he esteems the grossest
of them. But this discrimination an utterly absurd, illogical, and tyrannical one. What right has any body of men to say, "The vices of other men we
will punish; but our own vices nobody shall punish? We will restrain other men from seeking their own happiness, according to their own notions of
it; but nobody shall restrain us from seeking our own happiness, according to our own notions of it? We will restrain other men from acquiring any
experimental knowledge of what is conducive or necessary, to their own happiness; but nobody shall restrain us from acquiring an experimental
knowledge of what is conducive or necessary to our own happiness?"
Nobody but knaves or blockheads ever thinks of making such absurd assumptions as these. And yet, evidently, it is only upon such assumptions
that anybody can claim the right to punish the vices of others, and at the same time claim exemption from punishment for his own.
XI .
Such a thing as a government, formed by voluntary association, would never have been thought of, if the object proposed had been the
punishment of all vices, impartially; because nobody wants such an institution, or would voluntarily submit to it. But a government, formed by
voluntary association, for the punishment of all crimes is a reasonable matter; because everybody wants protection for himself against all crimes by
others, and also acknowledges the justice of his own punishment, if he commits a crime.
XI I .
It is a natural impossibility that a government should have a right to punish men for their vices; because it is impossible that a government
should have any rights, except such as the individuals composing it had previously had, as individuals. They could not delegate to a government any
rights which they did not themselves possess. They could not contribute to the government any rights, except such as they themselves possessed as
individuals. Now, nobody but a fool or an impostor pretends that he, as an individual, has a right to punish other men for their vices. But anybody
and everybody have a natural right, as individuals, to punish other men for their crimes; for everybody has a natural right, not only to defend his
own person and property against aggressors, but also to go to the assistance and defence of everybody else, whose person or property is invaded.
The natural right of each individual to defend his own person and property against an aggressor, and to go to the assistance and defence of every one
else whose person or property is invaded, is a right without which men could not exist on the earth. And government has no rightful existence,
except in so far as it embodies, and is limited by, this natural right of individuals. But the idea that each man has a natural right to decide what are
virtues, and what are vices --- that is, what contributes to that neighbors happiness, and what do not --- and to punish him for all that do not
contribute to it; is what no one ever had the impudence or folly to assert. It is only those who claim that government has some rightful power, which
no individual or individuals ever did, or could, delegate to it, that claim that government has any rightful power to punish vices.
It will do for a pope or a king --- who claims to have received direct authority from Heaven, to rule over his fellow-men --- to claim the
right, as the vicegerent of God, to punish men for their vices; but it is a sheer and utter absurdity for any government, claiming to derive its power
wholly from the grant of the governed, to claim any such power; because everybody knows that the governed never would grant it. For them to
grant it would be an absurdity, because it would be granting away their own right to seek their own happiness; since to grant away their right to
judge of what will be for their happiness, is to grant away all their right to pursue their own happiness.
We can now see how simple, easy, and reasonable a matter is a government is for the punishment of crimes , as compared with one for the
punishment of vices. Crimes are few, and easily distinguished from all other acts; and mankind are generally agreed as to what acts are crimes.
Whereas vices are innumerable; and no two persons are agreed, except in comparatively few cases, as to what are vices. Furthermore, everybody
wishes to be protected, into his person and property, against the aggressions of other men. But nobody wishes to be protected, either in his person
or property, against himself; because it is contrary to the fundamental laws of human nature itself, that any one should wish to harm himself. He
only wishes to promote his own happiness, and to be his own judge as to what will promote, and does promote, his own happiness. This is what every
one wants, and has a right to, as a human being. And though we all make many mistakes, and necessarily must make them, from the imperfection of
our knowledge, yet these mistakes are no argument against the right; because they all tend to give us the very knowledge we need, and are in pursuit
of, and can get in no other way.
The object aims at in the punishment of crimes , therefore, is not only wholly different from, but it is directly opposed to, that aimed at in the
punishment of vices.
The object aimed at in the punishment of crimes is to secure,to each and every man alike, the fullest liberty he possibly can have --- consistently
with the equal rights of others --- to pursue his own happiness, under the guidance of his own judgment, and by the use of his own property. On
the other hand, the object aimed at in the punishment of vices , is to deprive every man of his natural right and liberty to pursue his own happiness,
under the guidance of his own judgment, and by the use of his own property.
These two objects, then, are directly opposed to each other. They are as directly opposed to each other as are light and darkness, or as truth and
falsehood, or as liberty and slavery. They are utterly incompatible with each other; and to suppose the two to be embraced in one and the same
government, is an absurdity, an impossibility. It is to suppose the objects of a government to be to commit crimes, and to prevent crimes; to
destroy individual liberty, and to secure individual liberty.
Finally, on this point of individual liberty: every man must necessarily judge and determine for himself as to what is conducive and necessary to,
and what is destructive of, his own well-being; because, if he omits to perform this task for himself, nobody else can perform it for him. And nobody
else will even attempt to perform it for him, except in very few cases. Popes, and priests, and kings will assume to perform it for him, in certain
cases, if permitted to do so. But they will, in general, perform it only in so far as they can minister to their own vices and crimes, by doing it. They
will, in general, perform it only in so far as they can make him their fool and their slave. Parents, with better motives, no doubt, than the others, too
often attempt the same work. But in so far as they practise coercion, or restrain a child from anything not really and seriously dangerous to himself,
they do him a harm, rather than a good. It is a law of Nature that to get knowledge, and to incorporate that knowledge into his own being, each
individual must get it for himself. Nobody, not even his parents, can tell him the nature of fire, so that he will really know it. He must himself
experiment with it, and be burnt by it, before he can know it.
Nature knows, a thousand times better than any parent, what she designs each individual for, what knowledge he requires, and how he must get it.
She knows that her own processes for communicating that knowledge are not only the best, but the only ones that can be effectual.
The attempts of parents to make their children virtuous generally little else than attempts to keep them in ignorance of vice. They are little else
than attempts to teach their children to know and prefer truth, by keeping them in ignorance of falsehood. They are little else than attempts to make
them seek and appreciate health, by keeping them in ignorance of disease, and of everything that will cause disease. They are little else than attempts
to make their children love the light, by keeping them in ignorance of darkness. In short, they are little else than attempts to make their children
happy, by keeping them in ignorance of everything that causes them unhappiness.
In so far as parents can really aid their children in the latter’s search after happiness, by simply giving them the results of their (the parents’) own
reason and experience, it is all very well, and is a natural and appropriate duty. But to practise coercion in matters of which the children are reasonably
competent to judge for themselves, is only an attempt to keep them in ignorance. And this is as much a tyranny, and as much a violation of the
children’s right to acquire knowledge for themselves, and such knowledge as they desire, as is the same coercion when practised upon older persons.
Such coercion, practised upon children, is a denial of their right to develop the faculties that Nature has given them, and to be what Nature designs
them to be. It is a denial of their right to themselves, and to the use of their own powers. It is a denial of their right to acquire the most valuable of
all knowledge, to wit, the knowledge that Nature, the great teacher, stands ready to impart to them.
The results of such coercion are not to make the children wise or virtuous, but to make them ignorant, and consequently weak and vicious; and to
perpetuate through them, from age to age, the ignorance, the superstitions, the vices, and the crimes of the parents. This is proved by every page of
the world’s history.
Those who hold opinions opposite to these, are those whose false and vicious theologies, or whose own vicious general ideas, have taught them
that the human race are naturally given to evil, rather than good; to the false, rather than the true; that mankind do not naturally turn their eyes to
the light; that they love darkness, rather than light; and that they find their happiness only in those things that tend to their misery.
But these men, who claim that government shall use its power to prevent vice, will say, or are in the habit of saying, "We acknowledge the right
of an individual to seek his own happiness in his own way, and consequently to be as vicious as be pleases; we only claim that government shall
prohibit the sale to him of those articles by which he ministers to his vice."
The answer to this is, that the simple sale of any article whatever --- independently of the use that is to be made of the article --- is legally a
perfectly innocent act. The quality of the act of sale depends wholly upon the quality of the use for which the thing is sold. If the use of anything is
virtuous and lawful, then the sale of it, for that use , is virtuous and lawful. If the use is vicious, then the sale of it, for that use , is vicious. If the
use is criminal, then the sale of it, for that use, is criminal. The seller is, at most, only an accomplice in the use that is to be made of the article sold,
whether the use be virtuous, vicious, or criminal. Where the use is criminal, the seller is an accomplice in the crime, and punishable as such. But where
the use is only vicious, the seller is only an accomplice in the vice, and is not punishable.
But it will be asked, "Is there no right, on the part of government, to arrest the progress of those who are bent on self-destruction?"
The answer is, that government has no rights whatever in the matter, so long as these so-called vicious persons remain sane, compos mentis,
capable of exercising reasonable discretion and self-control; because, so long as they do remain sane, they must be allowed to judge and decide for
themselves whether their so-called vices really are vices; whether they really are leading them to destruction; and whether, on the whole, they will go
there or not. When they shall become insane, non compos mentis , incapable of reasonable discretion or self-control, their friends or neighbors, or
the government, must take care of them, and protect them from harm, and against all persons who would do them harm, in the same way as if their
insanity had come upon them from any other cause than their supposed vices.
But because a man is supposed, by his neighbors, to be on the way to self-destruction, from his vices, it does not, therefore, follow that he is
insane, non compos mentis , incapable of reasonable discretion and self-control, within the legal meaning of those terms. Men and women may be
addicted to very gross vices, and to a great many of them --- such as gluttony, drunkenness, prostitution, gambling, prize-fighting, tobacco-
chewing, smoking, and snuffing, opium-eating, corset-wearing, idleness, waste of property, avarice, hypocrisy, &c., &c. --- and still be sane,
compos mentis , capable of reasonable discretion and self-control, within the meaning of the law. And so long as they are sane, they must be
permitted to control themselves and their property, and to be their own judges as to where their vices will finally lead them. It may be hoped by the
lookers-on, in each individual case, that the vicious person will see the end to which he is tending, and be induced to turn back. But, if he chooses to
go on to what other men call destruction, be must be permitted to do so. And all that can be said of him,so far as this life is concerned, is, that he
made a great mistake in his search after happiness, and that others will do well to take warning by his fate. As to what maybe his condition in another
life, that is a theological question with which the law, in this world, has no more to do than it has with any other theological question, touching
men’s condition in a future life.
If it be asked how the question of a vicious man’s sanity or insanity is to be determined? The answer is, that it is to be determined by the same
kinds of evidence as is the sanity or insanity of those who are called virtuous; and not otherwise. That is, by the same kinds of evidence by which the
legal tribunals determine whether a man should be sent to an asylum for lunatics, or whether he is competent to make a will, or otherwise dispose of
his property. Any doubt must weigh in favor of his sanity, as in all other cases, and not of his insanity.
If a person really does become insane, non compos mentis , incapable of reasonable discretion or self-control, it is then a crime, on the part of
other men, to give to him or sell to him, the means of self-injury. 1There are no crimes more easily punished, no cases in which juries would be more
ready to convict, than those where a sane person should sell or give to an insane one any article with which the latter was likely to injure himself.
But it will be said that some men are made, by their vices, dangerous to other persons; that a drunkard, for example, is sometimes quarrelsome
and dangerous toward his family or others. And it will be asked, "Has the law nothing to do in such a case?"
The answer is, that if, either from drunkenness or any other cause, a man be really dangerous, either to his family or to other persons, not only
himself may be rightfully restrained, so far as the safety of other persons requires, but all other person --- who know or have reasonable grounds
to believe him dangerous --- may also be restrained from selling or giving to him anything that they have reason to suppose will make him
But because one man becomes quarrelsome and dangerous after drinking spirituous liquors, and because it is a crime to give or sell liquor to such a
man, it does not follow at all that it is a crime to sell liquors to the hundreds and thousands of other persons, who are not made quarrelsome or
dangerous by drinking them. Before a man can be convicted of crime in selling liquor to a dangerous man, it must be shown that the particular man,
to whom the liquor was sold, was dangerous; and also that the seller knew, or had reasonable grounds to suppose, that the man would be made
dangerous by drinking it.
The presumption of law is,in all cases, that the sale is innocent; and the burden of proving it criminal, in any particular case, rests upon the
government. And that particular case must be proved criminal, independently of all others.
Subject to these principles, there is no difficulty convicting and punishing men for the sale or gift of any article to a man, who is made dangerous
to others by the use of it.
But it is often said that some vices are nuisances (public or private), and that nuisances can be abated and punished.
It is true that anything that is really and legally a nuisaance (either public or private) can be abated and punished. But it is not true that the mere
private vices of one man are, in any legal sense, nuisances to another man, or to the public.
No act of one person can be a nuisance to another, unless it in some way obstructs or interferes with that other’s safe and quiet use or enjoyment
of what is rightfully his own.
Whatever obstructs a public highway, is a nuisance, and may be abated and punished. But a hotel where liquors are sold, a liquor store, or even a
grog-shop, so called, no more obstructs a public highway, than does a dry goods store, a jewelry store, or a butcher’s shop.
Whatever poisons the air, or makes it either offensive or unhealthful, is a nuisance. But neither a hotel, nor a liquor store, nor a grog-shop
poisons the air, or makes it offensive or unhealthful to outside persons.
Whatever obstructs the light, to which a man is legally entitled, is a nuisance. But neither a hotel, nor a liquor store, nor a grog-shop, obstructs
anybody’s light, except in cases where a church, a school-house, or a dwelling house would have equally obstructed it. On this ground, therefore, the
former are no more, and no less, nuisances than the latter would be.
Some persons are in the habit of saying that a liquorshop is dangerous, in the same way that gunpowder is dangerous. But there is no analogy
between the two cases. Gunpowder is liable to be exploded by accident, and especially by such fires as often occur in cities. For these reasons it is
dangerous to persons and property in its immediate vicinity. But liquors are not liable to be thus exploded, and therefore are not dangerous
nuisances, in any such sense as is gunpowder in cities.
But it is said, again, that drinking-places are frequently filled with noisy and boisterous men, who disturb the quiet of the neighborhood, and the
sleep and rest of the neighbors.
This may be true occasionally, though not very frequently. But whenever, in any case, it is true, the nuisance may be abated by the punishment of
the proprietor and his customers, and if need be, by shutting up the place. But an assembly of noisy drinkers is no more a nuisance than is any other
noisy assembly. A jolly or hilarious drinker disturbs the quiet of a neighbor-hood no more, and no less, than does a shouting religious fanatic. An
assembly of noisy drinkers is no more, and no less, a nuisance than is an assembly of shouting religious fanatics. Both of them are nuisances when
they disturb the rest and sleep, or quiet, of neighbors. Even a dog that is given to barking, to the disturbance of the sleep or quiet of the
neighborhood, is a nuisance.
But it is said, that for one person to entice another into a vice, is a crime.
This is preposterous. If any particular act is simply a vice , then a man who entices another to commit it, is simply an accomplice in the . He
evidently commits no crime, because the accomplice can certainly commit no greater offence than the principal.
Every person who is sane, compos mentis, possessed of reasonable discretion and self-control, is presumed to be mentally competent to judge for
himself of all the arguments, pro and con, that may be addressed to him, to persuade him to do any particular act; provided no fraud is employed to
deceive him. And if he is persuaded or induced to do the act, his act is then his own; and even though the act prove to be harmful to himself, he
cannot complain that the persuasion or arguments, to which he yielded his assent, were crimes against himself.
When fraud is practised, the case is, of course, different. If, for example, I offer a man poison, assuring him that it is a safe and wholesome drink,
and he, on the faith of my assertion, swallows it, my act is a crime.
Volenti non fit injuria , is a maxim of the law. To the willing, no injury is done . That is, no legal wrong. And every person who is sane, compos
mentis , capable of exercising reasonable discretion in judging of the truth or falsehood of the representations or persuasion to which be yields his
assent, is "willing," in the view of the law; and takes upon himself the entire responsibility for his acts, when no intentional fraud has been practised
upon him.
This principle, that to the willing no injury is done , has no limit, except in the case of frauds, or of persons not possessed of reasonable
discretion for judging in the particular case. If a person possessed of reasonable discretion, and not deceived by fraud, consents to practise the
grossest vice, and thereby brings upon himself the greatest moral, physical, or pecuniary sufferings or losses, he cannot allege that he has been legally
wronged. To illustrate this principle, take the case of rape. To have carnal knowledge of a woman, against her will, is the highest crime, next to
murder, that can be committed against her. But to have carnal knowledge of her, with her consent , is no crime; but at most, a vice. And it is usually
holden that a female child, of no more than ten years of age, has such reasonable discretion, that her consent, even though procured by rewards, or
promises of reward, is sufficient to convert the act, which would otherwise be a high crime, into a simple act of vice. 2
We see the same principle in the case of prize-fighters. If I but lay one of my fingers upon another man’s person, against his will, no matter how
lightly, and no matter how little practical injury is done, the act is a crime. But if two men agree to go out and pound each other’s faces to a jelly, it is
no crime, but only a vice.
Even duels have not generally been considered crimes, because each man’s life is his own, and the parties agree that each may take the other’s life, if
he can, by the use of such weapons as are agreed upon, and in conformity with certain rules that are also mutually assented to.
And this is a correct view of the matter, unless it can be said (as it probably cannot), that "anger is a madness" that so far deprives men of their
reason as to make them incapable of reasonable discretion.
Gambling is another illustration of the principle that to the willing no injury is done. If I take but a single cent of a man’s property, without his
consent , the act is a crime. But if two men, who are compos mentis, possessed of reasonable discretion to judge of the nature and probable results of
their act, sit down together, and each voluntarily stakes his money against the money of another, on the turn of a die, and one of them loses his
whole estate (however large that may be), it is no crime, but only a vice.
It is not a crime, even, to assist a person to commit suicide, if he be in possession of his reason.
It is a somewhat common idea that suicide is, of itself, conclusive evidence of insanity. But, although it may ordinarily be very strong evidence of
insanity, it is by no means conclusive in all cases. Many persons, in undoubted possession of their reason, have committed suicide, to escape the
shame of a public exposure for their crimes, or to avoid some other great calamity. Suicide, in these cases, may not have been the highest wisdom,
but it certainly was not proof of any lack of reasonable discretion. 3And being within the limits of reasonable discretion, it was no crime for other
persons to aid it, either by furnishing the instrument or otherwise. And if, in such cases, it be no crime to aid a suicide, how absurd to say that, it is a
crime to aid him in some act that is really pleasurable, and which a large portion of mankind have believed to be useful?
But some persons are in the habit of saying that the use of spirituous liquors is the great source of crime; that "it fills our prisons with
criminals;" and that this is reason enough for prohibiting the sale of them.
Those who say this, if they talk seriously, talk blindly and foolishly. They evidently mean to be understood as saying that a very large percentage
of all the crimes that are committed among men, are committed by persons whose criminal passions are excited, at the time , by the use of liquors,
and in consequence of the use of liquors.
This idea is utterly preposterous.
In the first place, the great crimes committed in the world are mostly prompted by avarice and ambition.
The greatest of all crimes are the wars that are carried on by governments, to plunder, enslave, and destroy mankind.
The next greatest crimes committed in the world are equally prompted by avarice and ambition; and are committed, not on sudden passion, but
by men of calculation, who keep their heads cool and clear, and who have no thought whatever of going to prison for them. They are committed, not
so much by men who violate the laws, as by men who, either by themselves or by their instruments, make the laws; by men who have combined to
usurp arbitrary power, and to maintain it by force and fraud, and whose purpose in usurping and maintaining it is by unjust and unequal legislation,
to secure to themselves such advantages and monopolies as will enable them to control and extort the labor and properties of other men, and thus
impoverish them, in order to minister to their own wealth and aggrandizement. 4 The robberies and wrongs thus committed by these men, in
conformity with the laws ,--- that is, their own laws --- are as mountains to molehills, compared with the crimes committed by all other criminals,
in violation of the laws.
But, thirdly, there are vast numbers of frauds, of various kinds, committed in the transactions of trade, whose perpetrators, by their coolness and
sagacity, evade the operation of the laws. And it is only their cool and clear heads that enable them to do it. Men under the excitement of
intoxicating drinks are little disposed, and utterly unequal, to the successful practice of these frauds. They are the most incautious, the least
successful, the least efficient, and the least to be feared , of all the criminals with whom the laws have to deal.
Fourthly. The professed burglars, robbers, thieves, forgers, counterfeiters, and swindlers, who prey upon society, are anything but reckless
drinkers. Their business is of too dangerous a character to admit of such risks as they would thus incur.
Fifthly. The crimes that can be said to be committed under the influence of intoxicating drinks are mostly assaults and batteries, not very
numerous, and generally not very aggravated. Some other small crimes, as petty thefts, or other small trespasses upon property, are sometimes
committed, under the influence of drink, by feebleminded persons, not generally addicted to crime. The persons who commit these two kinds of
crime are but few. They cannot be said to "fill our prisons"; or, if they do, we are to be congratulated that we need so few prisons and so small
prisons, to hold them.
The State of Massachusetts, for example, has a million and a half of people. How many of these are now in prison for crimes— not for the vice
of intoxication, but for crimes— committed against persons or property under the instigation of strong drink? I doubt if there be one in ten
thousand, that is, one hundred and fifty in all; and the crimes for which these are in prison are mostly very small ones.
And I think it will be found that these few men are generally much more to be pitied than punished, for the reason that it was their poverty and
misery, rather than any passion for liquor, or for crime, that led them to drink, and thus led them to commit their crimes under the influence of
The sweeping charge that drink "fills our prisons with criminals" is made, I think, only by those men who know no better than to call a drunkard
a criminal; and who have no better foundation for their charge than the shameful fact that we are such a brutal and senseless people, that we condemn
and punish such weak and unfortunate persons as drunkards, as if they were criminals.
The legislators who authorize, and the judges who practise, such atrocities as these, are intrinsically criminals; unless their ignorance be such ---
as it probably is not --- as to excuse them. And, if they were themselves to be punished as criminals, there would be more reason in our conduct.
A police judge in Boston once told me that he was in the habit of disposing of drunkards (by sending them to prison for thirty days --- I think
that was the stereotyped sentence) at the rate of one in three minutes!, and sometimes more rapidly even than that; thus condemning them as
criminals, and sending them to prison, without merry, and without inquiry into circumstances, for an infirmity that entitled them to compassion and
protection, instead of punishment. The real criminals in these cases were not the men who went to prison, but the judge, and the men behind him,
who sent them there.
I recommend to those persons, who are so distressed lest the prisons of Massachusetts be filled with criminals, that they employ some portion, at
least, of their philanthropy in preventing our prisons being filled with persons who are not criminals. I do not remember to have heard that their
sympathies have ever been very actively exercised in that direction. On the contrary, they seem to have such a passion for punishing criminals, that
they care not to inquire particularly whether a candidate for punishment really be a criminal. Such a passion, let me assure them, is a much more
dangerous one, and one entitled to far less charity, both morally and legally, than the passion for strong drink.
It seems to be much more consonant with the merciless character of these men to send an unfortunate man to prison for drunkenness, and thus
crush, and degrade, and dishearten him, and ruin him for life, than it does for them to lift him out of the poverty and misery that caused him to
become a drunkard.
It is only those persons who have either little capacity, or little disposition, to enlighten, encourage, or aid mankind, that are possessed of this
violent passion for governing, commanding, and punishing them. If, instead of standing by, and giving their consent and sanction to all the laws by
which the weak man is first plundered, oppressed, and disheartened, and then punished as a criminal, they would turn their attention to the duty of
defending his rights and improving his condition, and of thus strengthening him, and enabling him to stand on his own feet, and withstand the
temptations that surround him, they would, I think, have little need to talk about laws and prisons for either rum-sellers or rum-drinkers, or even
any other class of ordinary criminals. If, in short, these men, who are so anxious for the suppression of crime, would suspend, for a while, their calls
upon the government for aid in suppressing the crimes of individuals, and would call upon the people for aid in suppressing the crimes of the
government, they would show both their sincerity and good sense in a much stronger light than they do now. When the laws shall all be so just and
equitable as to make it possible for all men and women to live honestly and virtuously, and to make themselves comfortable and happy, there will be
much fewer occasions than now for charging them with living dishonestly and viciously.
But it will be said, again, that the use of spirituous liquors tends to poverty and thus to make men paupers, and burdensome to the taxpayers; and
that this is a sufficient reason why the sale of them should be prohibited.
There are various answers to this argument.
1. One answer is, that if the fact that the use of liquors tends to poverty and pauperism, be a sufficient reason for prohibiting the sale of them, it
is equally a sufficient reason for prohibiting the use of them; for it is the use, and not the sale , that tends to poverty. The seller is, at most, merely
an accomplice of the drinker. And it is a rule of law, as well as of reason, that if the principal in any act is not punishable, the accomplice cannot be.
2. A second answer to the argument is, that if government has the right, and is bound, to prohibit any one act --- that is not criminal ---
merely because it is supposed to tend to poverty, then, by the same rule, it has the right, and is bound, to prohibit any and every other act ---
though not criminal --- which, in the opinion of the government, tends to poverty. And, on this principle, the government would not only have
the right, but would be bound , to look into every man’s private affairs and every person’s personal expenditures, and determine as to which of them
did, and which of them did not, tend to poverty; and to prohibit and punish all of the former class. A man would have no right to expend a cent of
his own property, according to his own pleasure or judgment, unless the legislature should be of the opinion that such expenditure would not tend to
3. A third answer to the same argument is, that if a man does bring himself to poverty, and even to beggary --- either by his virtues or his
vices --- the government is under no obligation whatever to take care of him, unless it pleases to do so. It may let him perish in the street, or
depend upon private charity, if it so pleases. It can carry out its own free will and discretion in the matter; for it is above all legal responsibility in
such a case. It is not, necessarily, any part of a government’s duty to provide for the poor. A government --- that is, a legitimate government ---
is simply a voluntary association of individuals, who unite for such purposes, and only for such purposes, as suits them. If taking care of the
poor --- whether they be virtuous or vicious --- be not one of those purposes, then the government, as a government, has no more right, and is
no more bound, to take care of them, than has or is a banking company, or a railroad company.
Whatever moral claims a poor man --- whether he be virtuous or vicious --- may have upon the charity of his fellow-men, he has no legal
claims upon them. He must depend wholly upon their charity, if they so please. He cannot demand, as a legal right, that they either feed or clothe
him. And he has no more legal or moral claims upon a government --- which is but an association of individuals --- than he has upon the same, or
any other individuals, in their private capacity.
Inasmuch, then, as a poor man --- whether virtuous or vicious --- has no more or other claims, legal or moral, upon a government, for food
or clothing, than he has upon private persons, a government has no more right than a private person to control or prohibit the expenditures or
actions of an individual, on the ground that they tend to bring him to poverty.
Mr. A, as an individual , has clearly no right to prohibit any acts or expenditures of Mr. Z, through fear that such acts or expenditures may tend
to bring him (Z) to poverty, and that he (Z) may, in consequence, at some future unknown time, come to him (A) in distress, and ask charity.
And if A has no such right, as an individual, to prohibit any acts or expenditures on the part of Z, then government, which is a mere association of
individuals, can have no such right.
Certainly no man, who is compos mentis, holds his right to the disposal and use of his own property, by any such worthless tenure as that which
would authorize any or all of his neighbors --- whether calling themselves a government or not—to interfere, and forbid him to make any
expenditures, except such as they might think would not tend to poverty, and would not tend to ever bring him to them as a supplicant for their
Whether a man, who is compos mentis, come to poverty, through his virtues or his vices, no man, nor body of men, can have any right to
interfere with him, on the ground that their sympathy may some time be appealed to in his behalf; because, if it should be appealed to, they are at
perfect liberty to act their own pleasure or discretion as to complying with his solicitations.
This right to refuse charity to the poor --- whether the latter be virtuous or vicious --- is one that governments always act upon. No
government makes any more provision for the poor than it pleases. As a consequence, the poor are left, to a great extent, to depend upon private
charity. In fact, they are often left to suffer sickness, and even death, because neither public nor private charity comes to their aid. How absurd,
then, to say that government has a right to control a man’s use of his own property, through fear that he may sometime come to poverty, and ask
4. Still a fourth answer to the argument is, that the great and only incentive which each individual man has to labor, and to create wealth, is that
he may dispose of it according to his own pleasure or discretion, and for the promotion of his own happiness, and the happiness of those whom he
loves. 5
Although a man may often, from inexperience or want of judgment, expend some portion of the products of his labor injudiciously, and so as not
to promote his highest welfare, yet he learns wisdom in this, as in all other matters, by experience; by his mistakes as well as by his successes. And
this is the only way in which he can learn wisdom. When he becomes convinced that he has made one foolish expenditure, he learns thereby not to
make another like it. And he must be permitted to try his own experiments, and to try them to his own satisfaction, in this as in all other matters;
for otherwise he has no motive to labor, or to create wealth at all.
Any man, who is a man, would rather be a savage, and be free, creating or procuring only such little wealth as he could control and consume from
day to day, than to be a civilized man, knowing how to create and accumulate wealth indefinitely, and yet not permitted to use or dispose of it,
except under the supervision, direction, and dictation of a set of meddlesome, superserviceable fools and tyrants, who, with no more knowledge than
himself, and perhaps with not half so much, should assume to control him, on the ground that he had not the right, or the capacity, to determine for
himself as to what he would do with the proceeds of his own labor.
5. A fifth answer to the argument is, that if it be the duty of government to watch over the expenditures of any one person --- who is compos
mentis , and not criminal --- to see what ones tend to poverty, and what do not, and to prohibit and punish the former, then, by the same rule, it is
bound to watch over the expenditures of all other persons, and prohibit and punish all that, in its judgment, tend to poverty.
If such a principle were carried out impartially, the result would be, that all mankind would be so occupied in watching each other’s expenditures,
and in testifying against, trying, and punishing such as tended to poverty, that they would have no time left to create wealth at all. Everybody
capable of productive labor would either be in prison, or be acting as judge, juror, witness, or jailer. It would be impossible to create courts enough to
try, or to build prisons enough to hold, the offenders. All productive labor would cease; and the fools that were so intent on preventing poverty,
would not only all come to poverty, imprisonment, and starvation themselves, but would bring everybody else to poverty, imprisonment, and
6. If it be said that a man may, at least, be rightfully compelled to support his family, and, consequently, to abstain from all expenditures that, in
the opinion of the government, tend to disable him to perform that duty, various answers might be given. But this one is sufficient, viz.: that no
man, unless a fool or a slave, would acknowledge any family to be his, if that acknowledgment were to be made an excuse, by the government, for
depriving him, either of his personal liberty, or the control of his property.
When a man is allowed his natural liberty, and the control of his property, his family is usually, almost universally, the great paramount object of
his pride and affection; and he will, not only voluntarily, but as his highest pleasure, employ his best powers of mind and body, not merely to
provide for them the ordinary necessaries and comforts of life, but to lavish upon them all the luxuries and elegancies that his labor can procure.
A man enters into no moral or legal obligation with his wife or children to do anything for them, except what he can do consistently with his own
personal freedom, and his natural right to control his own property at his own discretion.
If a government can step in and say to a man --- who is compos mentis , and who is doing his duty to his family, as he sees his duty, and
according to his best judgment, however imperfect that may be --- " We (the government) suspect that you are not employing your labor to the
best advantage for your family; we suspect that your expenditures, and your disposal of your property, are not so judicious as they might be, for the
interest of your family; and therefore we (the government) will take you and your property under our special surveillance, and prescribe to you what
you may, and may not do, with yourself and your property; and your family shall hereafter look to us (the government), and not to you, for
support"—if a government can do this, all a man’s pride, ambition, and affection, relative to this family, would be crushed, so far as it would be
possible for human tyranny to crush them; and he would either never have a family (whom he would publicly acknowledge to be his), or he would
risk both his property and his life in overthrowing such an insulting, outrageous, and insufferable tyranny. And any woman who would wish her
husband --- he being compos mentis - -- to submit to such an unnatural insult and wrong, is utterly undeserving of his affection, or of anything
but his disgust and contempt. And he would probably very soon cause her to understand that, if she chose to rely on the government, for the
support of herself and her children, rather than on him, she must rely on the government alone.
Still another and all-sufficient answer to the argument that the use of spirituous liquors tends to poverty, is that, as a general rule, it puts the
effect before the cause. It assumes that it is the use of the liquors that causes the poverty, instead of its being the poverty that causes the use of the
Poverty is the natural parent of nearly all the ignorance, vice, crime, and misery there are in the world. 6Why is it that so large a portion of the
laboring people of England are drunken and vicious? Certainly not because they are by nature any worse than other men. But it is because, their
extreme and hopeless poverty keeps them in ignorance and servitude, destroys their courage and self-respect, subjects them to such constant insults
and wrongs, to such incessant and bitter miseries of every kind, and finally drives them to such despair, that the short respite that drink or other
vice affords them, is, for the time being, a relief. This is the chief cause of the drunkenness and other vices that prevail among the laboring people of
If those laborers of England, who are now drunken and vicious, had had the same chances and surroundings in life as the more fortunate classes
have had; if they had been reared in comfortable, and happy, and virtuous homes, instead of squalid, and wretched, and vicious ones; if they had had
opportunities to acquire knowledge and property, and make themselves intelligent, comfortable, happy, independent, and respected, and to secure to
themselves all the intellectual, social, and domestic enjoyments which honest and justly rewarded industry could enable them to secure --- if they
could have had all this, instead of being born to a life of hopeless, unrewarded toil, with a certainty of death in the workhouse, they would have been
as free from their present vices and weaknesses as those who reproach them now are.
It is of no use to say that drunkeness, or any other vice, only adds to their miseries; for such is human nature --- the weakness of human nature,
if you please --- that men can endure but a certain amount of misery, before their hope and courage fail, and they yield to almost anything that
promises present relief or mitigation; though at the cost of still greater misery in the future. To preach morality or temperance to such wretched
persons, instead of relieving their sufferings, or improving their conditions, is only insulting their wretchedness.
Will those who are in the habit of attributing men’s poverty to their vices, instead of their vices to their poverty --- as if every poor person, or
most poor persons, were specially vicious --- tell us whether all the poverty within the last year and a half 7 have been brought so suddenly --- as
it were in a moment --- upon at least twenty millions of the people of the United States, were brought upon them as a natural consequence, either
of their drunkenness, or of any other of their vices? Was it their drunkenness, or any other of their vices, that paralyzed, as by a stroke of lightning,
all the industries by which they lived, and which had, but a few days before, been in such prosperous activity? Was it their vices that turned the adult
portion of those twenty millions out of doors without employment, compelled them to consume their little accumulations, if they had any, and then
to become beggars --- beggars for work, and, failing in this, beggars for bread? Was it their vices that, all at once, and without warning, filled the
homes of so many of them with want, misery, sickness, and death? No. Clearly it was neither the drunkenness, nor any other vices, of these laboring
people, that brought upon them all this ruin and wretchedness. And if it was not, what was it?
This is the problem that must be answered; for it is one that is repeatedly occurring, and constantly before us, and that cannot be put aside.
In fact, the poverty of the great body of mankind, the world over, is the great problem of the world. That such extreme and nearly universal
poverty exists all over the world, and has existed through all past generations, proves that it originates in causes which the common human nature of
those who suffer from it, has not hitherto been strong enough to overcome. But these sufferers are, at least, beginning to see these causes, and are
becoming resolute to remove them, let it cost what it may. And those who imagine that they have nothing to do but to go on attributing the
poverty of the poor to their vices, and preaching to them against their vices, will ere long wake up to find that the day for all such talk is past. And
the question will then be, not what are men’s vices, but what are their rights?

1. To give an insane man a knife, or other weapon, or thing, by which he is likely to injure himself, is a crime.
2. The statute book of Massachusetts makes ten years the age at which a female child is supposed to have discretion enough to part with
virtue. But the same statute book holds that no person, man or woman, of any age, or any degree of wisdom or experience, has discretion
to be trusted to buy and drink a glass of spirits, on his or her own Judgement! What an illustration of the legislative wisdom of
3. Cato committed suicide to avoid falling into the hands of Caesar. Who ever suspected that he was insane? Brutus did the same. Colt
committed suicide only an hour or so before he was to be hanged. He did it to avoid bringing upon his name and his family the disgrace
of having it said that he was hanged. This, whether a wise act or not, was clearly an act within reasonable discretion. Does any one
suppose that the person who furnished him with the necessary instrument was a criminal?
4. An illustration of this fact is found in England, whose government, for a thousand years and more, has been little or nothing else than a
band of robbers, who have conspired to monopolize the land, and, as far as possible, all other wealth. These conspirators, calling
themselves kings, nobles, and freeholders, have, by force and fraud, taken to themselves all civil and Military power; they keep themselves
in power solely by force and fraud, and the corrupt use of their wealth; and they employ their power solely in robbing and enslaving the
great body of their own people, and in plundering and enslaving other peoples. And the world has been, and now is, full of examples
substantially similar. And the governments of our own country do not differ so widely from others, in this respect, as some of us
5. It is to this incentive alone that we are indebted for all the wealth that has ever been created by human labor, and accumulated for the
benefit of mankind.
6. Except those great crimes, which the few, calling themselves governments, practise upon the many, by means of organized, systematic
extortion and tyranny. And it is only the poverty, ignorance, and consequent weakness of the many, that enable the combined and
organized few to acquire and maintain such arbitrary power over them.
7. That is, from September 1, 1873, to March 1, 1875.




%9;5<B %6==A


Essay: “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”
Author: Henry David Thoreau, 1817–62
First published: 1849

The original essay is in the public domain in the United States
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I HEARTILY accept the motto,—“That government is best which
governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly
and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which
also I believe,—“That government is best which governs not at
all;” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of
government which they will have. Government is at best but an
expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments
are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been
brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty,
and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a
standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the
standing government. The government itself, which is only the
mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is
equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act
through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of
comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as
their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented
to this measure.
This American government,—what is it but a tradition,
though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to
posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not
the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can
bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people
themselves; and, if ever they should use it in earnest as a real one
against each other, it will surely split. But it is not the less
necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated
machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of
government which they have. Governments show thus how
successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves,
for their own advantage. It is excellent, we must all allow; yet this
government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the
alacrity with which it got out of its way. It does not keep the
country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The
character inherent in the American people has done all that has
been accomplished; and it would have done somewhat more, if the
government had not sometimes got in its way. For government is
an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one
another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the
governed are most let alone by it. Trade and commerce, if they
were not made of India rubber, would never manage to bounce
over the obstacles which legislators are continually putting in their
way; and, if one were to judge these men wholly by the effects of
their actions, and not partly by their intentions, they would deserve
to be classed and punished with those mischievous persons who
put obstructions on the railroads.
But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who
call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no
government, but at once a better government. Let every man make
known what kind of government would command his respect, and
that will be one step toward obtaining it.
After all, the practical reason why, when the power is once in
the hands of the people, a majority are permitted, and for a long
period continue, to rule, is not because they are most likely to be in
the right, nor because this seems fairest to the minority, but
because they are physically the strongest. But a government in
which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice,
even as far as men understand it. Can there not be a government in
which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but
conscience?—in which majorities decide only those questions to
which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever
for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the
legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we
should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to
cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only
obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what
I think right. It is truly enough said, that a corporation has no
conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation
with a conscience. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by
means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made
the agents of injustice. A common and natural result of an undue
respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonel,
captain, corporal, privates, powder-monkeys and all, marching in
admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills,
aye, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it
very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the
heart. They have no doubt that it is a damnable business in which
they are concerned; they are all peaceably inclined. Now, what are
they? Men at all? or small moveable forts and magazines, at the
service of some unscrupulous man in power? Visit the Navy Yard,
and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can
make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts,—a mere
shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and
standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with
funeral accompaniments, though it may be

“Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the ramparts we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O’er the grave where our hero we buried.”

The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but
as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the
militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, &c. In most cases there
is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense;
but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones;
and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the
purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of
straw, or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as
horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed
good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers,
ministers, and office-holders, serve the State chiefly with their
heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as
likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few,
as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men,
serve the State with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist
it for the most part; and they are commonly treated by it as
enemies. A wise man will only be useful as a man, and will not
submit to be “clay,” and “stop a hole to keep the wind away,” but
leave that office to his dust at least:—

“I am too high-born to be propertied,
To be a secondary at control,
Or useful serving-man and instrument
To any sovereign state throughout the world.”

He who gives himself entirely to his fellow-men appears to
them useless and selfish; but he who gives himself partially to
them is pronounced a benefactor and philanthropist.
How does it become a man to behave toward this American
government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be
associated with it. I cannot for an instant recognize that political
organization as my government which is the slave’s government
All men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to
refuse allegiance to and to resist the government, when its tyranny
or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say
that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in
the Revolution of ’75. If one were to tell me that this was a bad
government because it taxed certain foreign commodities brought
to its ports, it is most probable that I should not make an ado about
it, for I can do without them: all machines have their friction; and
possibly this does enough good to counterbalance the evil. At any
rate, it is a great evil to make a stir about it. But when the friction
comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are
organized, I say, let us not have such a machine any longer. In
other words, when a sixth of the population of a nation which has
undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole
country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and
subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest
men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more
urgent is the fact, that the country so overrun is not our own, but
ours is the invading army.
Paley, a common authority with many on moral questions, in
his chapter on the “Duty of Submission to Civil Government,”
resolves all civil obligation into expediency; and he proceeds to
say, “that so long as the interest of the whole society requires it,
that is, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or
changed without public inconveniency, it is the will of God, that
the established government be obeyed, and no longer.”—“This
principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of
resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger
and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense
of redressing it on the other.” Of this, he says, every man shall
judge for himself. But Paley appears never to have contemplated
those cases to which the rule of expediency does not apply, in
which a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what
it may. If I have unjustly wrested a plank from a drowning man, I
must restore it to him though I drown myself. This, according to
Paley, would be inconvenient. But he that would save his life, in
such a case, shall lose it. This people must cease to hold slaves,
and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as
a people.
In their practice, nations agree with Paley; but does any one
think that Massachusetts does exactly what is right at the present

“A drab of state, a cloth-o’-silver slut,
To have her train borne up, and her soul trail in the dirt.”

Practically speaking, the opponents to a reform in Massachusetts
are not a hundred thousand politicians at the South, but a hundred
thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in
commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not
prepared to do justice to the slave and to Mexico, cost what it may.
I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home,
co-operate with, and do the bidding of those far away, and without
whom the latter would be harmless. We are accustomed to say, that
the mass of men are unprepared; but improvement is slow, because
the few are not materially wiser or better than the many. It is not so
important that many should be as good as you, as that there be
some absolute goodness somewhere; for that will leaven the whole
lump. There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery
and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them;
who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin,
sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know
not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of
freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the prices-
current along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner,
and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the price-
current of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and
they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in
earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to
remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret. At most,
they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance and
Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them. There are nine hundred
and ninety-nine patrons of virtue to one virtuous man; but it is
easier to deal with the real possessor of a thing than with the
temporary guardian of it.
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon,
with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with
moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it. The
character of the voters is not staked. I cast my vote, perchance, as I
think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should
prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation,
therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the
right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly
your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the
right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the
power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of
masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the
abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to
slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by
their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can
hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his
I hear of a convention to be held at Baltimore, or elsewhere,
for the selection of a candidate for the Presidency, made up chiefly
of editors, and men who are politicians by profession; but I think,
what is it to any independent, intelligent, and respectable man what
decision they may come to, shall we not have the advantage of his
wisdom and honesty, nevertheless? Can we not count upon some
independent votes? Are there not many individuals in the country
who do not attend conventions? But no: I find that the respectable
man, so called, has immediately drifted from his position, and
despairs of his country, when his country has more reason to
despair of him. He forthwith adopts one of the candidates thus
selected as the only available one, thus proving that he is himself
available for any purposes of the demagogue. His vote is of no
more worth than that of any unprincipled foreigner or hireling
native, who may have been bought. Oh for a man who is a man,
and, as my neighbor says, has a bone in his back which you cannot
pass your hand through! Our statistics are at fault: the population
has been returned too large. How many men are there to a square
thousand miles in this country? Hardly one. Does not America
offer any inducement for men to settle here? The American has
dwindled into an Odd Fellow,—one who may be known by the
development of his organ of gregariousness, and a manifest lack of
intellect and cheerful self-reliance; whose first and chief concern,
on coming into the world, is to see that the alms-houses are in good
repair; and, before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to
collect a fund for the support of the widows and orphans that may
be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the mutual
insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently.
It is not a man’s duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself
to the eradication of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may
still properly have other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty,
at least, to wash his hands of it, and, if he gives it no thought
longer, not to give it practically his support. If I devote myself to
other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I
do not pursue them sitting upon another man’s shoulders. I must
get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too. See
what gross inconsistency is tolerated. I have heard some of my
townsmen say, “I should like to have them order me out to help put
down an insurrection of the slaves, or to march to Mexico,—see if
I would go;” and yet these very men have each, directly by their
allegiance, and so indirectly, at least, by their money, furnished a
substitute. The soldier is applauded who refuses to serve in an
unjust war by those who do not refuse to sustain the unjust
government which makes the war; is applauded by those whose
own act and authority he disregards and sets at naught; as if the
State were penitent to that degree that it hired one to scourge it
while it sinned, but not to that degree that it left off sinning for a
moment. Thus, under the name of order and civil government, we
are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own
meanness. After the first blush of sin, comes its indifference; and
from immoral it becomes, as it were, unmoral, and not quite
unnecessary to that life which we have made.
The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most
disinterested virtue to sustain it. The slight reproach to which the
virtue of patriotism is commonly liable, the noble are most likely
to incur. Those who, while they disapprove of the character and
measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support,
are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so
frequently the most serious obstacles to reform. Some are
petitioning the State to dissolve the Union, to disregard the
requisitions of the President. Why do they not dissolve it
themselves,—the union between themselves and the State,—and
refuse to pay their quota into its treasury? Do not they stand in the
same relation to the State, that the State does to the Union? And
have not the same reasons prevented the State from resisting the
Union, which have prevented them from resisting the State?
How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely,
and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he
is aggrieved? If you are cheated out of a single dollar by your
neighbor, you do not rest satisfied with knowing that you are
cheated, or with saying that you are cheated, or even with
petitioning him to pay you your due; but you take effectual steps at
once to obtain the full amount, and see that you are never cheated
again. Action from principle,—the perception and the performance
of right,—changes things and relations; it is essentially
revolutionary, and does not consist wholly with any thing which
was. It not only divides states and churches, it divides families;
aye, it divides the individual, separating the diabolical in him from
the divine.
Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall
we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have
succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally,
under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until
they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if
they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it
is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than
the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and
provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority?
Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not
encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and
do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify
Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce
Washington and Franklin rebels?
One would think, that a deliberate and practical denial of its
authority, was the only offense never contemplated by
government; else, why has it not assigned its definite, its suitable
and proportionate penalty? If a man who has no property refuses
but once to earn nine shillings for the State, he is put in prison for a
period unlimited by any law that I know, and determined only by
the discretion of those who placed him there; but if he should steal
ninety times nine shillings from the State, he is soon permitted to
go at large again.
If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine
of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth,—
certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or
a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps
you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the
evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent
of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a
counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at
any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.
As for adopting the ways which the State has provided for
remedying the evil, I know not of such ways. They take too much
time, and a man’s life will be gone. I have other affairs to attend to.
I came into this world, not chiefly to make this a good place to live
in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not every thing to
do, but something; and because he cannot do every thing, it is not
necessary that he should do something wrong. It is not my business
to be petitioning the governor or the legislature any more than it is
theirs to petition me; and, if they should not hear my petition, what
should I do then? But in this case the State has provided no way:
its very Constitution is the evil. This may seem to be harsh and
stubborn and unconciliatory; but it is to treat with the utmost
kindness and consideration the only spirit that can appreciate or
deserve it. So is all change for the better, like birth and death
which convulse the body.
I do not hesitate to say, that those who call themselves
abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support,
both in person and property, from the government of
Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one,
before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is
enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that
other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors,
constitutes a majority of one already.
I meet this American government, or its representative the
State government, directly, and face to face, once a year, no more,
in the person of its tax-gatherer; this is the only mode in which a
man situated as I am necessarily meets it; and it then says
distinctly, Recognize me; and the simplest, the most effectual, and,
in the present posture of affairs, the indispensablest mode of
treating with it on this head, of expressing your little satisfaction
with and love for it, is to deny it then. My civil neighbor, the tax-
gatherer, is the very man I have to deal with,—for it is, after all,
with men and not with parchment that I quarrel,—and he has
voluntarily chosen to be an agent of the government. How shall he
ever know well what he is and does as an officer of the
government, or as a man, until he is obliged to consider whether he
shall treat me, his neighbor, for whom he has respect, as a neighbor
and well-disposed man, or as a maniac and disturber of the peace,
and see if he can get over this obstruction to his neighborliness
without a ruder and more impetuous thought or speech
corresponding with his action? I know this well, that if one
thousand, if one hundred, if ten men whom I could name,—if ten
honest men only,—aye, if one HONEST man, in this State of
Massachusetts, ceasing to hold slaves, were actually to withdraw
from this copartnership, and be locked up in the county jail
therefor, it would be the abolition of slavery in America. For it
matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once
well done is done for ever. But we love better to talk about it: that
we say is our mission. Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in
its service, but not one man. If my esteemed neighbor, the State’s
ambassador, who will devote his days to the settlement of the
question of human rights in the Council Chamber, instead of being
threatened with the prisons of Carolina, were to sit down the
prisoner of Massachusetts, that State which is so anxious to foist
the sin of slavery upon her sister,—though at present she can
discover only an act of inhospitality to be the ground of a quarrel
with her,—the Legislature would not wholly waive the subject the
following winter.
Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true
place for a just man is also a prison. The proper place to-day, the
only place which Massachusetts has provided for her freer and less
desponding spirits, is in her prisons, to be put out and locked out of
the State by her own act, as they have already put themselves out
by their principles. It is there that the fugitive slave, and the
Mexican prisoner on parole, and the Indian come to plead the
wrongs of his race, should find them; on that separate, but more
free and honorable ground, where the State places those who are
not with her but against her,—the only house in a slave-state in
which a free man can abide with honor. If any think that their
influence would be lost there, and their voices no longer afflict the
ear of the State, that they would not be as an enemy within its
walls, they do not know by how much truth is stronger than error,
nor how much more eloquently and effectively he can combat
injustice who has experienced a little in his own person. Cast your
whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.
A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not
even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole
weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give
up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a
thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would
not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them,
and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.
This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such
is possible. If the tax-gatherer, or any other public officer, asks me,
as one has done, “But what shall I do?” my answer is, “If you
really wish to do any thing, resign your office.” When the subject
has refused allegiance, and the officer has resigned his office, then
the revolution is accomplished. But even suppose blood should
flow. Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is
wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and
immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see
this blood flowing now.
I have contemplated the imprisonment of the offender, rather
than the seizure of his goods,—though both will serve the same
purpose,—because they who assert the purest right, and
consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly
have not spent much time in accumulating property. To such the
State renders comparatively small service, and a slight tax is wont
to appear exorbitant, particularly if they are obliged to earn it by
special labor with their hands. If there were one who lived wholly
without the use of money, the State itself would hesitate to demand
it of him. But the rich man—not to make any invidious
comparison—is always sold to the institution which makes him
rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for
money comes between a man and his objects, and obtains them for
him; it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it. It puts to rest
many questions which he would otherwise be taxed to answer;
while the only new question which it puts is the hard but
superfluous one, how to spend it. Thus his moral ground is taken
from under his feet. The opportunities of living are diminished in
proportion as what are called the “means” are increased. The best
thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to
carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor.
Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. “Show
me the tribute-money,” said he;—and one took a penny out of his
pocket;—If you use money which has the image of Caesar on it,
and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men
of the State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar’s
government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands
it; “Render therefore to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God
those things which are God’s,”—leaving them no wiser than before
as to which was which; for they did not wish to know.
When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive
that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness
of the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long
and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection
of the existing government, and they dread the consequences of
disobedience to it to their property and families. For my own part, I
should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection of the
State. But, if I deny the authority of the State when it presents its
tax-bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass
me and my children without end. This is hard. This makes it
impossible for a man to live honestly and at the same time
comfortably in outward respects. It will not be worth the while to
accumulate property; that would be sure to go again. You must hire
or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and eat that soon.
You must live within yourself, and depend upon yourself, always
tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many affairs. A man
may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a good
subject of the Turkish government. Confucius said,—“If a State is
governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are
subjects of shame; if a State is not governed by the principles of
reason, riches and honors are the subjects of shame.” No: until I
want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some
distant southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am
bent solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise,
I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right to
my property and life. It costs me less in every sense to incur the
penalty of disobedience to the State, than it would to obey. I should
feel as if I were worth less in that case.
Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the church, and
commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a
clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I
myself. “Pay,” it said, “or be locked up in the jail.” I declined to
pay. But, unfortunately another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see
why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not
the priest the schoolmaster: for I was not the State’s schoolmaster,
but I supported myself by voluntary subscription. I did not see why
the lyceum should not present its tax-bill, and have the State to
back its demand, as well as the church. However, at the request of
the selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this
in writing:—“Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry
Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any
incorporated society which I have not joined.” This I gave to the
town-clerk; and he has it. The State, having thus learned that I did
not wish to be regarded as a member of that church, has never
made a like demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere
to its original presumption that time. If I had known how to name
them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies
which I never signed on to; but I did not know where to find a
complete list.
I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail once
on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls
of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a
foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not
help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which
treated me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be
locked up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that
this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought to
avail itself of my services in some way. I saw that, if there was a
wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more
difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be
as free as I was. I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls
seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all
my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to
treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every
threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they
thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that
stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they
locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again
without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was
dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to
punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person
against whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the
State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her
silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and
I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
Thus the State never intentionally confronts a man’s sense,
intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed
with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I
was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let
us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only
can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to
become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to live
this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to
live? When I meet a government which says to me, “Your money
or your life,” why should I be in haste to give it my money? It may
be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It
must help itself: do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about
it. I am not responsible for the successful working of the
machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive
that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does
not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own
laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one,
perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot
live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.
The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The
prisoners in their shirt-sleeves were enjoying a chat and the
evening air in the doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said,
“Come, boys, it is time to lock up,” and so they dispersed, and I
heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow apartments.
My roommate was introduced to me by the jailer, as “a first-rate
fellow and a clever man.” When the door was locked, he showed
me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. The
rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least, was
the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably the neatest
apartment in the town. He naturally wanted to know where I came
from, and what brought me there; and, when I had told him, I
asked him in my turn how he came there, presuming him to be an
honest man, of course; and, as the world goes, I believe he was.
“Why,” said he, “they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never did
it.” As near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a
barn when drunk, and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was
burnt. He had the reputation of being a clever man, had been there
some three months waiting for his trial to come on, and would
have to wait as much longer; but he was quite domesticated and
contented, since he got his board for nothing, and thought that he
was well treated.
He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw, that, if
one stayed there long, his principal business would be to look out
the window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and
examined where former prisoners had broken out, and where a
grate had been sawed off, and heard the history of the various
occupants of that room; for I found that even here there was a
history and a gossip which never circulated beyond the walls of the
jail. Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are
composed, which are afterward printed in circular form, but not
published. I was shown quite a long list of verses which were
composed by some young men who had been detected in an
attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.
I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I
should never see him again; but at length he showed me which was
my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp.
It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never
expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed to me that I
never had heard the town-clock strike before, nor the evening
sounds of the village; for we slept with the windows open, which
were inside the grating. It was to see my native village in the light
of the middle ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine
stream, and visions of knights and castles passed before me. They
were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an
involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in
the kitchen of the adjacent village-inn,—a wholly new and rare
experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was
fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before. This is
one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town. I began to
comprehend what its inhabitants were about.
In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in
the door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and holding
a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When
they called for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what
bread I had left, but my comrade seized it, and said that I should
lay that up for lunch or dinner. Soon after, he was let out to work at
haying in a neighboring field, whither he went every day, and
would not be back till noon; so he bade me good-day, saying that
he doubted if he should see me again.
When I came out of prison,—for some one interfered, and
paid that tax,—I did not perceive that great changes had taken
place on the common, such as he observed who went in a youth,
and emerged a tottering and gray-headed man; and yet a change
had to my eyes come over the scene,—the town, and State and
country,—greater than any that mere time could effect. I saw yet
more distinctly the State in which I lived. I saw to what extent the
people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors
and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only;
that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they were a
distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the
Chinamen and Malays are; that, in their sacrifices to humanity,
they ran no risks, not even to their property; that, after all, they
were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them,
and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a few prayers, and
by walking in a particular straight though useless path from time to
time, to save their souls. This may be to judge my neighbors
harshly; for I believe that many of them are not aware that they
have such an institution as the jail in their village.
It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor
came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking
through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the grating
of a jail window, “How do ye do?” My neighbors did not thus
salute me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as if I
had returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going
to the shoemaker’s to get a shoe which was mended. When I was
let out the next morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and,
having put on my mended shoe, joined a huckleberry party, who
were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an
hour,—for the horse was soon tackled,—was in the midst of a
huckleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two miles off, and
then the State was nowhere to be seen.
This is the whole history of “My Prisons.”
I have never declined paying the highway tax, because I am as
desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject;
and, as for supporting schools, I am doing my part to educate my
fellow-countrymen now. It is for no particular item in the tax-bill
that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the
State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care
to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man, or a
musket to shoot one with,—the dollar is innocent,—but I am
concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly
declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still
make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in
such cases.
If others pay the tax which is demanded of me, from a
sympathy with the State, they do but what they have already done
in their own case, or rather they abet injustice to a greater extent
than the State requires. If they pay the tax from a mistaken interest
in the individual taxed, to save his property, or prevent his going to
jail, it is because they have not considered wisely how far they let
their private feelings interfere with the public good.
This, then, is my position at present. But one cannot be too
much on his guard in such a case, lest his action be biased by
obstinacy, or an undue regard for the opinions of men. Let him see
that he does only what belongs to himself and to the hour.
I think sometimes, Why, this people mean well; they are only
ignorant; they would do better if they knew how; why give your
neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I
think, again, This is no reason why I should do as they do, or
permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind.
Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men,
without heat, without ill-will, without personal feeling of any kind,
demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is
their constitution, of retracting or altering their present demand,
and without the possibility, on your side, of appeal to any other
millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force?
You do not resist cold and hunger, the winds and the waves, thus
obstinately; you quietly submit to a thousand similar necessities.
You do not put your head into the fire. But just in proportion as I
regard this as not wholly a brute force, but partly a human force,
and consider that I have relations to those millions as to so many
millions of men, and not of mere brute or inanimate things, I see
that appeal is possible, first and instantaneously, from them to the
Maker of them, and, secondly, from them to themselves. But, if I
put my head deliberately into the fire, there is no appeal to fire or
to the Maker of fire, and I have only myself to blame. If I could
convince myself that I have any right to be satisfied with men as
they are, and to treat them accordingly, and not according, in some
respects, to my requisitions and expectations of what they and I
ought to be, then, like a good Mussulman and fatalist, I should
endeavor to be satisfied with things as they are, and say it is the
will of God. And, above all, there is this difference between
resisting this and a purely brute or natural force, that I can resist
this with some effect; but I cannot expect, like Orpheus, to change
the nature of the rocks and trees and beasts.
I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish
to split hairs, to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better
than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for
conforming to the laws of the land. I am but too ready to conform
to them. Indeed, I have reason to suspect myself on this head; and
each year, as the tax-gatherer comes round, I find myself disposed
to review the acts and position of the general and State
governments, and the spirit of the people, to discover a pretext for

“We must affect our country as our parents,
And if at any time we alienate
Our love or industry from doing it honor,
We must respect effects and teach the soul
Matter of conscience and religion,
And not desire of rule or benefit.”

I believe that the State will soon be able to take all my work
of this sort out of my hands, and then I shall be no better a patriot
than my fellow-countrymen. Seen from a lower point of view, the
Constitution, with all its faults, is very good; the law and the courts
are very respectable; even this State and this American government
are, in many respects, very admirable and rare things, to be
thankful for, such as a great many have described them; but seen
from a point of view a little higher, they are what I have described
them; seen from a higher still, and the highest, who shall say what
they are, or that they are worth looking at or thinking of at all?
However, the government does not concern me much, and I
shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many
moments that I live under a government, even in this world. If a
man is thought-free, fancy-free, imagination-free, that which is not
never for a long time appearing to be to him, unwise rulers or
reformers cannot fatally interrupt him.
I know that most men think differently from myself; but those
whose lives are by profession devoted to the study of these or
kindred subjects, content me as little as any. Statesmen and
legislators, standing so completely within the institution, never
distinctly and nakedly behold it. They speak of moving society, but
have no resting-place without it. They may be men of a certain
experience and discrimination, and have no doubt invented
ingenious and even useful systems, for which we sincerely thank
them; but all their wit and usefulness lie within certain not very
wide limits. They are wont to forget that the world is not governed
by policy and expediency. Webster never goes behind government,
and so cannot speak with authority about it. His words are wisdom
to those legislators who contemplate no essential reform in the
existing government; but for thinkers, and those who legislate for
all time, he never once glances at the subject. I know of those
whose serene and wise speculations on this theme would soon
reveal the limits of his mind’s range and hospitality. Yet, compared
with the cheap professions of most reformers, and the still cheaper
wisdom and eloquence of politicians in general, his are almost the
only sensible and valuable words, and we thank Heaven for him.
Comparatively, he is always strong, original, and, above all,
practical. Still his quality is not wisdom, but prudence. The
lawyer’s truth is not truth, but consistency, or a consistent
expediency. Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not
concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with
wrong-doing. He well deserves to be called, as he has been called,
the Defender of the Constitution. There are really no blows to be
given by him but defensive ones. He is not a leader, but a follower.
His leaders are the men of ’87. “I have never made an effort,” he
says, “and never propose to make an effort; I have never
countenanced an effort, and never mean to countenance an effort,
to disturb the arrangement as originally made, by which the
various States came into the Union.” Still thinking of the sanction
which the Constitution gives to slavery, he says, “Because it was a
part of the original compact,—let it stand.” Notwithstanding his
special acuteness and ability, he is unable to take a fact out of its
merely political relations, and behold it as it lies absolutely to be
disposed of by the intellect,—what, for instance, it behooves a man
to do here in America to-day with regard to slavery, but ventures,
or is driven, to make some such desperate answer as the following,
while professing to speak absolutely, and as a private man,—from
which what new and singular code of social duties might be
inferred?—“The manner,” says he, “in which the governments of
those States where slavery exists are to regulate it, is for their own
consideration, under their responsibility to their constituents, to the
general laws of propriety, humanity, and justice, and to God.
Associations formed elsewhere springing from a feeling of
humanity, or any other cause, have nothing whatever to do with it.
They have never received any encouragement from me and they
never will.”

They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced
up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and
the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility;
but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that
pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage
toward its fountain-head.
No man with a genius for legislation has appeared in
America. They are rare in the history of the world. There are
orators, politicians, and eloquent men, by the thousand; but the
speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak, who is capable of
settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence
for its own sake, and not for any truth which it may utter, or any

These extracts have been inserted since the lecture was read.
heroism it may inspire. Our legislators have not yet learned the
comparative value of free-trade and of freedom, of union, and of
rectitude, to a nation. They have no genius or talent for
comparatively humble questions of taxation and finance,
commerce and manufactures and agriculture. If we were left solely
to the wordy wit of legislators in Congress for our guidance,
uncorrected by the seasonable experience and the effectual
complaints of the people, America would not long retain her rank
among the nations. For eighteen hundred years, though perchance I
have no right to say it, the New Testament has been written; yet
where is the legislator who has wisdom and practical talent enough
to avail himself of the light which it sheds on the science of
The authority of government, even such as I am willing to
submit to,—for I will cheerfully obey those who know and can do
better than I, and in many things even those who neither know nor
can do so well,—is still an impure one: to be strictly just, it must
have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure
right over my person and property but what I concede to it. The
progress from an absolute to a limited monarchy, from a limited
monarchy to a democracy, is a progress toward a true respect for
the individual. Even the Chinese philosopher was wise enough to
regard the individual as the basis of the empire. Is a democracy,
such as we know it, the last improvement possible in government?
Is it not possible to take a step further towards recognizing and
organizing the rights of man? There will never be a really free and
enlightened State, until the State comes to recognize the individual
as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power
and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly. I please
myself with imagining a State at last which can afford to be just to
all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor;
which even would not think it inconsistent with its own repose, if a
few were to live aloof from it, not meddling with it, nor embraced
by it, who fulfilled all the duties of neighbors and fellow-men. A
State which bore this kind of fruit, and suffered it to drop off as
fast as it ripened, would prepare the way for a still more perfect
and glorious State, which also I have imagined, but not yet
anywhere seen.

The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts

Police Protection

people can readily envision a free market in most goods and services.
Probably the most difficult single area to grasp, however, is the abolition
of government operations in the service of protection: police, the courts,
etc.—the area encompassing defense of person and property against attack
or invasion. How could private enterprise and the free market possibly
provide such service? How could police, legal systems, judicial services,
law enforcement, prisons—how could these be provided in a free market?
We have already seen how a great deal of police protection, at the least,
could be supplied by the various owners of streets and land areas. But we
now need to examine this entire area systematically.
In the first place, there is a common fallacy, held even by most
advocates of laissez- faire, that the government must supply “police pro-
tection,” as if police protection were a single, absolute entity, a fixed
quantity of something which the government supplies to all. But in actual
fact there is no absolute commodity called “police protection” any more
than there is an absolute single commodity called “food” or “shelter.” It is
true that everyone pays taxes for a seemingly fixed quantity of protection,
but this is a myth. In actual fact, there are almost infinite degrees of all
sorts of protection. For any given person or business, the police can
provide everything from a policeman on the beat who patrols once a night,
to two policemen patrolling constantly on each block, to cruising patrol
cars, to one or even several round-the-clock personal bodyguards.
Furthermore, there are many other decisions the police must make, the
complexity of which becomes evident as soon as we look beneath the veil
of the myth of absolute “protection.” How shall the police allocate their
220 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
funds which are, of course, always limited as are the funds of all other
individuals, organizations, and agencies? How much shall the police
invest in electronic equipment? fingerprinting equipment? detectives as
against uniformed police? patrol cars as against foot police, etc?
The point is that the government has no rational way to make these
allocations. The government only knows that it has a limited budget. Its
allocations of funds are then subject to the full play of politics, boon-
doggling, and bureaucratic inefficiency, with no indication at all as to
whether the police department is serving the consumers in a way respon-
sive to their desires or whether it is doing so efficiently. The situation
would be different if police services were supplied on a free, competitive
market. In that case, consumers would pay for whatever degree of protec-
tion they wish to purchase. The consumers who just want to see a
policeman once in a while would pay less than those who want continuous
patrolling, and far less than those who demand twenty-four-hour
bodyguard service. On the free market, protection would be supplied in
proportion and in whatever way that the consumers wish to pay for it. A
drive for efficiency would be insured, as it always is on the market, by the
compulsion to make profits and avoid losses, and thereby to keep costs
low and to serve the highest demands of the consumers. Any police firm
that suffers from gross inefficiency would soon go bankrupt and
One big problem a government police force must always face is: what
laws really to enforce? Police departments are theoretically faced with the
absolute injunction, “enforce all laws,” but in practice a limited budget
forces them to allocate their personnel and equipment to the most urgent
crimes. But the absolute dictum pursues them and works against a rational
allocation of resources. On the free market, what would be enforced is
whatever the customers are willing to pay for. Suppose, for example, that
Mr. Jones has a precious gem he believes might soon be stolen. He can
ask, and pay for, round-the-clock police protection at whatever strength he
may wish to work out with the police company. He might, on the other
hand, also have a private road on his estate he doesn’t want many people
to travel on—but he might not care very much about trespassers on that
road. In that case, he won’t devote any police resources to protecting the
road. As on the market in general, it is up to the consumer—and since all
of us are consumers this means each person individually decides how
much and what kind of protection he wants and is willing to buy.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 221
All that we have said about landowners’ police applies to private police
in general. Free- market police would not only be efficient, they would
have a strong incentive to be courteous and to refrain from brutality
against either their clients or their clients’ friends or customers. A private
Central Park would be guarded efficiently in order to maximize park
revenue, rather than have a prohibitive curfew imposed on innocent—and
paying—customers. A free market in police would reward efficient and
courteous police protection to customers and penalize any falling off from
this standard. No longer would there be the current disjunction between
service and payment inherent in all government operations, a disjunction
which means that police, like all other government agencies, acquire their
revenue, not voluntarily and competitively from consumers, but from the
taxpayers coercively.
In fact, as government police have become increasingly inefficient,
consumers have been turning more and more to private forms of protec-
tion. We have already mentioned block or neighborhood protection. There
are also private guards, insurance companies, private detectives, and such
increasingly sophisticated equipment as safes, locks, and closed-circuit TV
and burglar alarms. The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and
the Administration of Justice estimated in 1969 that government police
cost the American public $2.8 billion a year, while it spends $1.35 billion
on private protection service and another $200 million on equipment, so
that private protection expenses amounted to over half the outlay on
government police. These figures should give pause to those credulous
folk who believe that police protection is somehow, by some mystic right
or power, necessarily and forevermore an attribute of State sovereignty.

Every reader of detective fiction knows that private insurance detec-
tives are far more efficient than the police in recovering stolen property.
Not only is the insurance company impelled by economics to serve the
consumer—and thereby try to avoid paying benefits—but the major focus
of the insurance company is very different from that of the police. The
police, standing as they do for a mythical “society,” are primarily
interested in catching and punishing the criminal; restoring the stolen loot
to the victim is strictly secondary. To the insurance company and its
detectives, on the other hand, the prime concern is recovery of the loot,
and apprehension and punishment of the criminal is secondary to the
prime purpose of aiding the victim of crime. Here we see again the

See Wooldridge, op. cit., pp. 111ff.
222 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
difference between a private firm impelled to serve the customer- victim of
crime and the public police, which is under no such economic compulsion.
We cannot blueprint a market that exists only as an hypothesis, but it is
reasonable to believe that police service in the libertarian society would be
supplied by the landowners or by insurance companies. Since insurance
companies would be paying benefits to victims of crime, it is highly likely
that they would supply police service as a means of keeping down crime
and hence their payment of benefits. It is certainly likely in any case that
police service would be paid for in regular monthly premiums, with the
police agency—whether insurance company or not—called on whenever
This supplies what should be the first simple answer to a typical
nightmare question of people who first hear about the idea of a totally
private police: “Why, that means that if you’re attacked or robbed you
have to rush over to a policeman and start dickering on how much it will
cost to defend you.” A moment’s reflection should show that no service is
supplied in this way on the free market. Obviously, the person who wants
to be protected by Agency A or Insurance Company B will pay regular
premiums rather than wait to be attacked before buying protection. “But
suppose an emergency occurs and a Company A policeman sees someone
being mugged; will he stop to ask if the victim has bought insurance from
Company A?” In the first place, this sort of street crime will be taken care
of, as we noted above, by the police hired by whoever owns the street in
question. But what of the unlikely case that a neighborhood does not have
street police, and a policeman of Company A happens to see someone
being attacked? Will he rush to the victim’s defense? That, of course,
would be up to Company A, but it is scarcely conceivable that private
police companies would not cultivate goodwill by making it a policy to
give free aid to victims in emergency situations and perhaps ask the
rescued victim for a voluntary donation afterward. In the case of a
homeowner being robbed or attacked, then of course he will call on
whichever police company he has been using. He will call Police
Company A rather than “the police” he calls upon now.
Competition insures efficiency, low price, and high quality, and there is
no reason to assume a priori, as many people do, that there is something
divinely ordained about having only one police agency in a given geo-
graphical area. Economists have often claimed that the production of
certain goods or services is a “natural monopoly,” so that more than one
private agency could not long survive in a given area. Perhaps, although
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 223
only a totally free market could decide the matter once and for all. Only
the market can decide what and how many firms, and of what size and
quality, can survive in active competition. But there is no reason to
suppose in advance that police protection is a “natural monopoly.” After
all, insurance companies are not; and if we can have Metropolitan,
Equitable, Prudential, etc., insurance companies coexisting side by side,
why not Metropolitan, Equitable, and Prudential police protection
companies? Gustave de Molinari, the nineteenth-century French free-
market economist, was the first person in history to contemplate and
advocate a free market for police protection.
Molinari estimated that there
would eventually turn out to be several private police agencies side by side
in the cities, and one private agency in each rural area. Perhaps—but we
must realize that modern technology makes much more feasible branch
offices of large urban firms in even the most remote rural areas. A person
living in a small village in Wyoming, therefore, could employ the services
of a local protection company, or he might use a nearby branch office of
the Metropolitan Protection Company.
“But how could a poor person afford private protection he would have
to pay for instead of getting free protection, as he does now?” There are
several answers to this question, one of the most common criticisms of the
idea of totally private police protection. One is: that this problem of course
applies to any commodity or service in the libertarian society, not just the
police. But isn’t protection necessary? Perhaps, but then so is food of
many different kinds, clothing, shelter, etc. Surely these are at least as vital
if not more so than police protection, and yet almost nobody says that
therefore the government must nationalize food, clothing, shelter, etc., and
supply these free as a compulsory monopoly. Very poor people would be
supplied, in general, by private charity, as we saw in our chapter on
welfare. Furthermore, in the specific case of police there would
undoubtedly be ways of voluntarily supplying free police protection to the
indigent—either by the police companies themselves for goodwill (as
hospitals and doctors do now) or by special “police aid” societies that
would do work similar to “legal aid” societies today. (Legal aid societies
voluntarily supply free legal counsel to the indigent in trouble with the

Cf. Gustave de Molinari, The Production of Security (New York: Center for Libertarian
Studies, 1977).
224 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
There are important supplementary considerations. As we have seen,
police service is not “free”; it is paid for by the taxpayer, and the taxpayer
is very often the poor person himself. He may very well be paying more in
taxes for police now than he would in fees to private, and far more
efficient, police companies. Furthermore, the police companies would be
tapping a mass market; with the economies of such a large-scale market,
police protection would undoubtedly be much cheaper. No police
company would wish to price itself out of a large chunk of its market, and
the cost of protection would be no more prohibitively expensive than, say,
the cost of insurance today. (In fact, it would tend to be much cheaper than
current insurance, because the insurance industry today is heavily
regulated by government to keep out low-cost competition.)
There is a final nightmare which most people who have contemplated
private protection agencies consider to be decisive in rejecting such a
concept. Wouldn’t the agencies always be clashing? Wouldn’t “anarchy”
break out, with perpetual conflicts between police forces as one person
calls in “his” police while a rival calls in “his”?
There are several levels of answers to this crucial question. In the first
place, since there would be no overall State, no central or even single local
government, we would at least be spared the horror of interState wars,
with their plethora of massive, superdestructive, and now nuclear,
weapons. As we look back through history, isn’t it painfully clear that the
number of people killed in isolated neighborhood “rumbles” or conflicts is
as nothing to the total mass devastation of interState wars? There are good
reasons for this. To avoid emotionalism let us take two hypothetical
countries: “Ruritania” and “Walldavia.” If both Ruritania and Walldavia
were dissolved into a libertarian society, with no government and
innumerable private individuals, firms, and police agencies, the only
clashes that could break out would be local, and the weaponry would
necessarily be strictly limited in scope and devastation. Suppose that in a
Ruritanian city two police agencies clash and start shooting it out. At
worst, they could not use mass bombing or nuclear destruction or germ
warfare, since they themselves would be blown up in the holocaust. It is
the slicing off of territorial areas into single, governmental monopolies
that leads to mass destruction—for then if the single monopoly
government of Walldavia confronts its ancient rival, the government of
Ruritania, each can wield weapons of mass destruction and even nuclear
warfare because it will be the “other guy” and the “other country” they
will hurt. Furthermore, now that every person is a subject of a monopoly
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 225
government, in the eyes of every other government he becomes
irretrievably identified with “his” government. The citizen of France is
identified with “his” government, and therefore if another government
attacks France, it will attack the citizenry as well as the government of
France. But if Company A battles with Company B, the most that can
happen is that the respective customers of each company may be dragged
into the battle—but no one else. It should be evident, then, that even if the
worst happened, and a libertarian world would indeed become a world of
“anarchy,” we would still be much better off than we are now, at the
mercy of rampant, “anarchic” nation-states, each possessing a fearsome
monopoly of weapons of mass destruction. We must never forget that we
are all living, and always have lived, in a world of “international anarchy,”
in a world of coercive nation-states unchecked by any overall world
government, and there is no prospect of this situation changing.
A libertarian world, then, even if anarchic, would still not suffer the
brutal wars, the mass devastation, the A-bombing, that our State-ridden
world has suffered for centuries. Even if local police clash continually,
there would be no more Dresdens, no more Hiroshimas.
But there is far more to be said. We should never concede that this local
“anarchy” would be likely to occur. Let us separate the problem of police
clashes into distinct and different parts: honest disagreements, and the
attempt of one or more police forces to become “outlaws” and to extract
funds or impose their rule by coercion. Let us assume for a moment that
the police forces will be honest, and that they are only driven by honest
clashes of opinion; we will set aside for a while the problem of outlaw
police. Surely one of the very important aspects of protection service the
police can offer their respective customers is quiet protection. Every
consumer, every buyer of police protection, would wish above all for
protection that is efficient and quiet, with no conflicts or disturbances.
Every police agency would be fully aware of this vital fact. To assume that
police would continually clash and battle with each other is absurd, for it
ignores the devastating effect that this chaotic “anarchy” would have on
the business of all the police companies. To put it bluntly, such wars and
conflicts would be bad—very bad—for business. Therefore, on the free
market, the police agencies would all see to it that there would be no
clashes between them, and that all conflicts of opinion would be ironed
out in private courts, decided by private judges or arbitrators.
To get more specific: in the first place, as we have said, clashes would
be minimal because the street owner would have his guards, the store-
226 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
keeper his, the landlord his, and the homeowner his own police company.
Realistically, in the everyday world there would be little room for direct
clashes between police agencies. But suppose, as will sometimes occur
two neighboring home owners get into a fight, each accuses the other of
initiating assault or violence, and each calls on his own police company,
should they happen to subscribe to different companies. What then?
Again, it would be pointless and economically as well as physically self-
destructive for the two police companies to start shooting it out. Instead,
every police company, to remain in business at all, would announce as a
vital part of its service, the use of private courts or arbitrators to decide
who is in the wrong.

The Courts

Suppose, then, that the judge or arbitrator decides Smith was in the
wrong in a dispute, and that he aggressed against Jones. If Smith accepts
the verdict, then, whatever damages or punishment is levied, there is no
problem for the theory of libertarian protection. But what if he does not
accept it? Or suppose another example: Jones is robbed. He sets his police
company to do detective work in trying to track down the criminal. The
company decides that a certain Brown is the criminal. Then what? If
Brown acknowledges his guilt, then again there is no problem and judicial
punishment proceeds, centering on forcing the criminal to make restitution
to the victim. But, again, what if Brown denies his guilt?
These cases take us out of the realm of police protection and into
another vital area of protection: judicial service, i.e., the provision, in
accordance with generally accepted procedures, of a method of trying as
best as one can to determine who is the criminal, or who is the breaker of
contracts, in any sort of crime or dispute. Many people, even those who
acknowledge that there could be privately competitive police service
supplied on a free market, balk at the idea of totally private courts. How in
the world could courts be private? How would courts employ force in a
world without government? Wouldn’t eternal conflicts and “anarchy” then
In the first place, the monopoly courts of government are subject to the
same grievous problems, inefficiencies, and contempt for the consumer as
any other government operation. We all know that judges, for example,
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 227
are not selected according to their wisdom, probity, or efficiency in
serving the consumer, but are political hacks chosen by the political
process. Furthermore, the courts are monopolies; if, for example, the
courts in some town or city should become corrupt, venal, oppressive, or
inefficient, the citizen at present has no recourse. The aggrieved citizen of
Deep Falls, Wyoming, must be governed by the local Wyoming court or
not at all. In a libertarian society, there would be many courts, many
judges to whom he could turn. Again, there is no reason to assume a
“natural monopoly” of judicial wisdom. The Deep Falls citizen could, for
example, call upon the local branch of the Prudential Judicial Company.
How would courts be financed in a free society? There are many
possibilities. Possibly, each individual would subscribe to a court service,
paying a monthly premium, and then calling upon the court if he is in
need. Or, since courts will probably be needed much less frequently than
policemen, he may pay a fee whenever he chooses to use the court, with
the criminal or contract-breaker eventually recompensing the victim or
plaintiff. Or, in still a third possibility, the courts may be hired by the
police agencies to settle disputes, or there may even be “vertically
integrated” firms supplying both police and judicial service: the Prudential
Judicial Company might have a police and a judicial division. Only the
market will be able to decide which of these methods will be most
We should all be more familiar with the increasing use of private
arbitration, even in our present society. The government courts have
become so clogged, inefficient, and wasteful that more and more parties to
disputes are turning to private arbitrators as a cheaper and far less time-
consuming way of settling their disputes. In recent years, private
arbitration has become a growing and highly successful profession. Being
voluntary, furthermore, the rules of arbitration can be decided rapidly by
the parties themselves, without the need for a ponderous, complex legal
framework applicable to all citizens. Arbitration therefore permits
judgments to be made by people expert in the trade or occupation con-
cerned. Currently, the American Arbitration Association, whose motto is
“The Handclasp is Mightier than the Fist,” has 25 regional offices
throughout the country, with 23,000 arbitrators. In 1969, the Association
conducted over 22,000 arbitrations. In addition, the insurance companies
adjust over 50,000 claims a year through voluntary arbitration. There is
also a growing and successful use of private arbitrators in automobile
accident claim cases.
228 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
It might be protested that, while performing an ever greater proportion
of judicial functions, the private arbitrators’ decisions are still enforced by
the courts, so that once the disputing parties agree on an arbitrator, his
decision becomes legally binding. This is true, but it was not the case
before 1920, and the arbitration profession grew at as rapid a rate from
1900 to 1920 as it has since. In fact, the modern arbitration movement
began in full force in England during the time of the American Civil War,
with merchants increasingly using the “private courts” provided by
voluntary arbitrators, even though the decisions were not legally binding.
By 1900, voluntary arbitration began to take hold in the United States. In
fact, in medieval England, the entire structure of merchant law, which was
handled clumsily and inefficiently by the government’s courts, grew up in
private merchants’ courts. The merchants’ courts were purely voluntary
arbitrators, and the decisions were not legally binding. How, then, were
they successful?
The answer is that the merchants, in the Middle Ages and down to
1920, relied solely on ostracism and boycott by the other merchants in the
area. In other words, should a merchant refuse to submit to arbitration or
ignore a decision, the other merchants would publish this fact in the trade,
and would refuse to deal with the recalcitrant merchant, bringing him
quickly to heel. Wooldridge mentions one medieval example:

Merchants made their courts work simply by agreeing to abide by the
results. The merchant who broke the understanding would not be sent
to jail, to be sure, but neither would he long continue to be a merchant,
for the compliance exacted by his fellows, and their power over his
goods, proved if anything more effective than physical coercion. Take
John of Homing, who made his living marketing wholesale quantities
of fish. When John sold a lot of herring on the representation that it
conformed to a three-barrel sample, but which, his fellow merchants
found, was actually mixed with “sticklebacks and putrid herring,” he
made good the deficiency on pain of economic ostracism.

In modern times, ostracism became even more effective, and it
included the knowledge that anyone who ignored an arbitrator’s award
could never again avail himself of an arbitrator’s services. Industrialist
Owen D. Young, head of General Electric, concluded that the moral
censure of other businessmen was a far more effective sanction than legal

Wooldridge, op. cit., p. 96. Also see pp. 94–110.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 229
enforcement. Nowadays, modern technology, computers, and credit
ratings would make such nationwide ostracism even more effective than it
has ever been in the past.
Even if purely voluntary arbitration is sufficient for commercial dis-
putes, however, what of frankly criminal activities: the mugger, the rapist,
the bank robber? In these cases, it must be admitted that ostracism would
probably not be sufficient—even though it would also include, we must
remember, refusal of private street owners to allow such criminals in their
areas. For the criminal cases, then, courts and legal enforcement become
How, then, would the courts operate in the libertarian society? In
particular, how could they enforce their decisions? In all their operations,
furthermore, they must observe the critical libertarian rule that no physical
force may be used against anyone who has not been convicted as a
criminal—otherwise, the users of such force, whether police or courts,
would be themselves liable to be convicted as aggressors if it turned out
that the person they had used force against was innocent of crime. In
contrast to statist systems, no policeman or judge could be granted special
immunity to use coercion beyond what anyone else in society could use.
Let us now take the case we mentioned before. Mr. Jones is robbed, his
hired detective agency decides that one Brown committed the crime, and
Brown refuses to concede his guilt. What then? In the first place, we must
recognize that there is at present no overall world court or world
government enforcing its decrees; yet while we live in a state of
“international anarchy” there is little or no problem in disputes between
private citizens of two countries. Suppose that right now, for example, a
citizen of Uruguay claims that he has been swindled by a citizen of
Argentina. Which court does he go to? He goes to his own, i.e., the
victim’s or the plaintiff’s court. The case proceeds in the Uruguayan court,
and its decision is honored by the Argentinian court. The same is true if an
American feels he has been swindled by a Canadian, and so on. In Europe
after the Roman Empire, when German tribes lived side by side and in the
same areas, if a Visigoth felt that he had been injured by a Frank, he took
the case to his own court, and the decision was generally accepted by the
Franks. Going to the plaintiff’s court is the rational libertarian procedure
as well, since the victim or plaintiff is the one who is aggrieved, and who
naturally takes the case to his own court. So, in our case, Jones would go
to the Prudential Court Company to charge Brown with theft.
230 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
It is possible, of course, that Brown is also a client of the Prudential
Court, in which case there is no problem. The Prudential’s decision covers
both parties, and becomes binding. But one important stipulation is that no
coercive subpoena power can be used against Brown, because he must be
considered innocent until he is convicted. But Brown would be served
with a voluntary subpoena, a notice that he is being tried on such and such
a charge and inviting him or his legal representative to appear. If he does
not appear, then he will be tried in absentia,

and this will obviously be less
favorable for Brown since his side of the case will not be pleaded in court.
If Brown is declared guilty, then the court and its marshals will employ
force to seize Brown and exact whatever punishment is decided upon—a
punishment which obviously will focus first on restitution to the victim.
What, however, if Brown does not recognize the Prudential Court?
What if he is a client of the Metropolitan Court Company? Here the case
becomes more difficult. What will happen then? First, victim Jones pleads
his case in the Prudential Court. If Brown is found innocent, this ends the
controversy. Suppose, however, that defendant Brown is found guilty. If
he does nothing, the court’s judgment proceeds against him. Suppose,
however, Brown then takes the case to the Metropolitan Court Company,
pleading inefficiency or venality by Prudential. The case will then be
heard by Metropolitan. If Metropolitan also finds Brown guilty, this too
ends the controversy and Prudential will proceed against Brown with
dispatch. Suppose, however, that Metropolitan finds Brown innocent of
the charge. Then what? Will the two courts and their arms-wielding
marshals shoot it out in the streets?
Once again, this would clearly be irrational and self-destructive behav-
ior on the part of the courts. An essential part of their judicial service to
their clients is the provision of just, objective, and peacefully functioning
decisions—the best and most objective way of arriving at the truth of who
committed the crime. Arriving at a decision and then allowing chaotic
gunplay would scarcely be considered valuable judicial service by their
customers. Thus, an essential part of any court’s service to its clients
would be an appeals procedure. In short, every court would agree to abide
by an appeals trial, as decided by a voluntary arbitrator to whom
Metropolitan and Prudential would now turn. The appeals judge would
make his decision, and the result of this third trial would be treated as
binding on the guilty. The Prudential court would then proceed to
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 231
An appeals court! But isn’t this setting up a compulsory monopoly
government once again? No, because there is nothing in the system that
requires any one person or court to be the court of appeal. In short, in the
United States at present the Supreme Court is established as the court of
final appeal, so the Supreme Court judges become the final arbiters
regardless of the wishes of plaintiff or defendant alike. In contrast, in the
libertarian society the various competing private courts could go to any
appeals judge they think fair, expert, and objective. No single appeals
judge or set of judges would be foisted upon society by coercion.
How would the appeals judges be financed? There are many possible
ways, but the most likely is that they will be paid by the various original
courts who would charge their customers for appeals services in their
premiums or fees.
But suppose Brown insists on another appeals judge, and yet another?
Couldn’t he escape judgment by appealing ad infinitum? Obviously, in
any society legal proceedings cannot continue indefinitely; there must be
some cutoff point. In the present statist society, where government
monopolizes the judicial function, the Supreme Court is arbitrarily desig-
nated as the cutoff point. In the libertarian society, there would also have
to be an agreed-upon cutoff point, and since there are only two parties to
any crime or dispute—the plaintiff and the defendant—it seems most
sensible for the legal code to declare that a decision arrived at by any two
courts shall be binding. This will cover the situation when both the
plaintiff’s and the defendant’s courts come to the same decision, as well as
the situation when an appeals court decides on a disagreement between the
two original courts.

The Law and the Courts

It is now clear that there will have to be a legal code in the libertarian
society. How? How can there be a legal code, a system of law without a
government to promulgate it, an appointed system of judges, or a
legislature to vote on statutes? To begin with, is a legal code consistent
with libertarian principles?
To answer the last question first, it should be clear that a legal code is
necessary to lay down precise guidelines for the private courts. If, for
example, Court A decides that all redheads are inherently evil and must be
232 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
punished, it is clear that such decisions are the reverse of libertarian, that
such a law would constitute an invasion of the rights of redheads. Hence,
any such decision would be illegal in terms of libertarian principle, and
could not be upheld by the rest of society. It then becomes necessary to
have a legal code which would be generally accepted, and which the
courts would pledge themselves to follow. The legal code, simply, would
insist on the libertarian principle of no aggression against person or
property, define property rights in accordance with libertarian principle,
set up rules of evidence (such as currently apply) in deciding who are the
wrongdoers in any dispute, and set up a code of maximum punishment for
any particular crime. Within the framework of such a code, the particular
courts would compete on the most efficient procedures, and the market
would then decide whether judges, juries, etc., are the most efficient
methods of providing judicial services.
Are such stable and consistent law codes possible, with only competing
judges to develop and apply them, and without government or legislature?
Not only are they possible, but over the years the best and most successful
parts of our legal system were developed precisely in this manner.
Legislatures, as well as kings, have been capricious, invasive, and
inconsistent. They have only introduced anomalies and despotism into the
legal system. In fact, the government is no more qualified to develop and
apply law than it is to provide any other service; and just as religion has
been separated from the State, and the economy can be separated from the
State, so can every other State function, including police, courts, and the
law itself!
As indicated above, for example, the entire law merchant was devel-
oped, not by the State or in State courts, but by private merchant courts. It
was only much later that government took over mercantile law from its
development in merchants’ courts. The same occurred with admiralty law,
the entire structure of the law of the sea, shipping, salvages, etc. Here
again, the State was not interested, and its jurisdiction did not apply to the
high seas; so the shippers themselves took on the task of not only
applying, but working out the whole structure of admiralty law in their
own private courts. Again, it was only later that the government
appropriated admiralty law into its own courts.
Finally, the major body of Anglo-Saxon law, the justly celebrated
common law, was developed over the centuries by competing judges
applying time- honored principles rather than the shifting decrees of the
State. These principles were not decided upon arbitrarily by any king or
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 233
legislature; they grew up over centuries by applying rational—and very
often libertarian—principles to the cases before them. The idea of
following precedent was developed, not as a blind service to the past, but
because all the judges of the past had made their decisions in applying the
generally accepted common law principles to specific cases and problems.
For it was universally held that the judge did not make law (as he often
does today); the judge’s task, his expertise, was in finding the law in
accepted common law principles, and then applying that law to specific
cases or to new technological or institutional conditions. The glory of the
centuries- long development of the common law is testimony to their
The common law judges, furthermore, functioned very much like
private arbitrators, as experts in the law to whom private parties went with
their disputes. There was no arbitrarily imposed “supreme court” whose
decision would be binding, nor was precedent, though honored, considered
as automatically binding either. Thus, the libertarian Italian jurist Bruno
Leoni has written:

…courts of judicature could not easily enact arbitrary rules of their own
in England, as they were never in a position to do so directly, that is to
say, in the usual, sudden, widely ranging and imperious manner of
legislators. Moreover, there were so many courts of justice in England
and they were so jealous of one another that even the famous principle
of the binding precedent was not openly recognized as valid by them
until comparatively recent times. Besides, they could never decide
anything that had not been previously brought before them by private
persons. Finally, comparatively few people used to go before the courts
to ask from them the rules deciding their cases.

And on the absence of “supreme courts”:

…it cannot be denied that the lawyers’ law or the judiciary law may
tend to acquire the characteristics of legislation, including its
undesirable ones, whenever jurists or judges are entitled to decide
ultimately on a case…. In our time the mechanism of the judiciary in
certain countries where “supreme courts are established results in the
imposition of the personal views of the members of these courts, or of a
majority of them, on all the other people concerned whenever there is a
great deal of disagreement between the opinion of the former and the
convictions of the latter. But…this possibility, far from being

Bruno Leoni, Freedom and the Law (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing Co., 1972), p. 87.
234 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
necessarily implied in the nature of lawyers’ law or of judiciary law, is
rather a deviation from it….

Apart from such aberrations, the imposed personal views of the judges
were kept to a minimum: (a) by the fact that judges could only make
decisions when private citizens brought cases to them; (b) each judge’s
decisions applied only to the particular case; and (c) because the decisions
of the common- law judges and lawyers always considered the precedents
of the centuries. Furthermore, as Leoni points out, in contrast to legisla-
tures or the execut ive, where dominant majorities or pressure groups ride
roughshod over minorities, judges, by their very position, are constrained
to hear and weigh the arguments of the two contending parties in each
dispute. “Parties are equal as regards the judge, in the sense that they are
free to produce arguments and evidence. They do not constitute a group in
which dissenting minorities give way to triumphant majorities….” And
Leoni points out the analogy between this process and the free- market
economy: “Of course, arguments may be stronger or weaker, but the fact
that every party can produce them is comparable to the fact that everybody
can individually compete with everybody else in the market in order to
buy and sell.”

Professor Leoni found that, in the private law area, the ancient Roman
judges operated in the same way as the English common law courts:

The Roman jurist was a sort of scientist; the objects of his research
were the solutions to cases that citizens submitted to him for study, just
as industrialists might today submit to a physicist or to an engineer a
technical problem concerning their plants or their production. Hence,
private Roman law was something to be described or to be discovered,
not something to be enacted—a world of things that were there,
forming part of the common heritage of all Roman citizens. Nobody
enacted that law; nobody could change it by any exercise of his
personal will…. This is the long-run concept or, if you prefer, the
Roman concept, of the certainty of the law.

Finally, Professor Leoni was able to use his knowledge of the opera-
tions of ancient and common law to answer the vital question: In a
libertarian society, “who will appoint the judges... to let them perform the

Ibid., pp. 23–24.
Ibid., p. 188.
Ibid., pp. 84–85.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 235
task of defining the law?” His answer is: the people themselves, people
who would go to the judges with the greatest reputation of expertise and
wisdom in knowing and applying the basic common legal principles of the

In fact, it is rather immaterial to establish in advance who will appoint
the judges, for, in a sense, everybody could do so, as happens to a
certain extent when people resort to private arbiters to settle their own
quarrels…. For the appointment of judges is not such a special problem
as would be, for example, that of “appointing” physicists or doctors or
other kinds of learned and experienced people. The emergence of good
professional people in any society is only apparently due to official
appointments, if any. It is, in fact, based on a widespread consent on the
part of clients, colleagues, and the public at large—a consent without
which no appointment is really effective. Of course, people can be
wrong about the true value chosen as being worthy, but these
difficulties in their choice are inescapable in any kind of choice.

Of course, in the future libertarian society, the basic legal code would
not rely on blind custom, much of which could well be antilibertarian. The
code would have to be established on the basis of acknowledged
libertarian principle, of nonaggression against the person or property of
others; in short, on the basis of reason rather than on mere tradition,
however sound its general outlines. Since we have a body of common law
principles to draw on, however, the task of reason in correcting and
amending the common law would be far easier than trying to construct a
body of systematic legal principles de novo out of the thin air.
The most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law
and courts, however, has been neglected by historians until very recently.
And this was also a society where not only the courts and the law were
largely libertarian, but where they operated within a purely state-less and
libertarian society. This was ancient Ireland—an Ireland which persisted
in this libertarian path for roughly a thousand years until its brutal
conquest by England in the seventeenth century. And, in contrast to many
similarly functioning primitive tribes (such as the Ibos in West Africa, and
many European tribes), preconquest Ireland was not in any sense a
“primitive” society: it was a highly complex society that was, for
centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of
Western Europe.

Ibid., p. 183.
236 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
For a thousand years, then, ancient Celtic Ireland had no State or
anything like it. As the leading authority on ancient Irish law has written:
“There was no legislature, no bailiffs, no police, no public enforcement of
justice…. There was no trace of State-administered justice.”

How then was justice secured? The basic political unit of ancient
Ireland was the tuath. All “freemen” who owned land, all professionals,
and all craftsmen, were entitled to become members of a tuath. Each
tuath’s members formed an annual assembly which decided all common
policies, declared war or peace on other tuatha, and elected or deposed
their “kings.” An important point is that, in contrast to primitive tribes, no
one was stuck or bound to a given tuath, either because of kinship or of
geographical location. Individual members were free to, and often did,
secede from a tuath and join a competing tuath. Often, two or more tuatha
decided to merge into a single, more efficient unit. As Professor Peden
states, “the tuath is thus a body of persons voluntarily united for socially
beneficial purposes and the sum total of the landed properties of its
members constituted its territorial dimension.”
In short, they did not have
the modern State with its claim to sovereignty over a given (usually
expanding) territorial area, divorced from the landed property rights of its
subjects; on the contrary, tuatha were voluntary associations which only
comprised the landed properties of its voluntary members. Historically,
about 80 to 100 tuatha coexisted at any time throughout Ireland.
But what of the elected “king”? Did he constitute a form of State ruler?
Chiefly, the king functioned as a religious high priest, presiding over the
worship rites of the tuath, which functioned as a voluntary religious, as
well as a social and political, organization. As in pagan, pre-Christian,
priesthoods, the kingly function was hereditary, this practice carrying over
to Christian times. The king was elected by the tuath from within a royal
kin- group (the derbfine), which carried the hereditary priestly function.
Politically, however, the king had strictly limited functions: he was the
military leader of the tuath, and he presided over the tuath assemblies. But
he could only conduct war or peace negotiations as agent of the
assemblies; and he was in no sense sovereign and had no rights of

Quoted in the best introduction to ancient, anarchistic Irish institutions, Joseph R.
Pedea, “Property Rights in Celtic Irish Law,” Journal of Libertarian Studies I (Spring
1977), p. 83; see also pp. 81–95. For a summary, see Peden, “Stateless Societies: Ancient
Ireland,” The Libertarian Forum (April 1971), pp. 3–4.
Peden, “Stateless Societies,” p. 4.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 237
administering justice over tuath members. He could not legislate, and
when he himself was party to a lawsuit, he had to submit his case to an
independent judicial arbiter.
Again, how, then, was law developed and justice maintained? In the
first place, the law itself was based on a body of ancient and immemorial
custom, passed down as oral and then written tradition through a class of
professional jurists called the brehons. The brehons were in no sense
public, or governmental, officials; they were simply selected by parties to
disputes on the basis of their reputations for wisdom, knowledge of the
customary law, and the integrity of their decisions. As Professor Peden

… the professional jurists were consulted by parties to disputes for
advice as to what the law was in particular cases, and these same men
often acted as arbitrators between suitors. They remained at all times
private persons, not public officials; their functioning depended upon
their knowledge of the law and the integrity of their judicial

Furthermore, the brehons had no connection whatsoever with the
individual tuatha or with their kings. They were completely private,
national in scope, and were used by disputants throughout Ireland.
Moreover, and this is a vital point, in contrast to the system of private
Roman lawyers, the brehon was all there was; there were no other judges,
no “public” judges of any kind, in ancient Ireland.
It was the brehons who were schooled in the law, and who added
glosses and applications to the law to fit changing conditions.
Furthermore, there was no monopoly, in any sense, of the brehon jurists;
instead, several competing schools of jurisprudence existed and competed
for the custom of the Irish people.
How were the decisions of the brehons enforced? Through an elaborate,
voluntarily developed system of “insurance,” or sureties. Men were linked
together by a variety of surety relationships by which they guaranteed one
another for the righting of wrongs, and for the enforcement of justice and
the decisions of the brehons. In short, the brehons themselves were not
involved in the enforcement of decisions, which rested again with private
individuals linked through sureties. There were various types of surety.
For example, the surety would guarantee with his own property the

238 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
payment of a debt, and then join the plaintiff in enforcing a debt judgment
if the debtor refused to pay. In that case, the debtor would have to pay
double damages: one to the original creditor, and another as compensation
to his surety. And this system applied to all offences, aggressions and
assaults as well as commercial contracts; in short, it applied to all cases of
what we would call “civil” and “criminal” law. All criminals were
considered to be “debtors” who owed restitution and compensation to their
victims, who thus became their “creditors.” The victim would gather his
sureties around him and proceed to apprehend the criminal or to proclaim
his suit publicly and demand that the defendant submit to adjudication of
their dispute with the brehons. The criminal might then send his own
sureties to negotiate a settlement or agree to submit the dispute to the
brehons. If he did not do so, he was considered an “outlaw” by the entire
community; he could no longer enforce any claim of his own in the courts,
and he was treated to the opprobrium of the entire community.

There were occasional “wars,” to be sure, in the thousand years of
Celtic Ireland, but they were minor brawls, negligible compared to the
devastating wars that racked the rest of Europe. As Professor Peden points
out, “without the coercive apparatus of the State which can through
taxation and conscription mobilize large amounts of arms and manpower,
the Irish were unable to sustain any large scale military force in the field
for any length of time. Irish wars… were pitiful brawls and cattle raids by
European standards.”

Thus, we have indicated that it is perfectly possible, in theory and
historically, to have efficient and courteous police, competent and learned
judges, and a body of systematic and socially accepted law—and none of
these things being furnished by a coercive government. Government—
claiming a compulsory monopoly of protection over a geographical area,
and extracting its revenues by force—can be separated from the entire
field of protection. Government is no more necessary for providing vital
protection service than it is necessary for providing anything else. And we
have not stressed a crucial fact about government: that its compulsory
monopoly over the weapons of coercion has led it, over the centuries, to

Professor Charles Donahue of Fordham University has maintained that the secular part
of ancient Irish law was not simply haphazard tradition; that it was consciously rooted in
the Stoic conception of natural law, discoverable by man’s reason. Charles Donahue,
“Early Celtic Laws” (unpublished paper, delivered at the Columbia University Semi nar in
the History of Legal and Political Thought, Autumn, 1964), pp. 13ff.
Peden, “Stateless Societies,” p. 4.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 239
infinitely more butcheries and infinitely greater tyranny and oppression
than any decentralized, private agencies could possibly have done. If we
look at the black record of mass murder, exploitation, and tyranny levied
on society by governments over the ages, we need not be loath to abandon
the Leviathan State and… try freedom.

Outlaw Protectors

We have saved for the last this problem: What if police or judges and
courts should be venal and biased—what if they should bias their
decisions, for example, in favor of particularly wealthy clients? We have
shown how a libertarian legal and judicial system could work on the
purely free market, assuming honest differences of opinion—but what if
one or more police or courts should become, in effect, outlaws? What
In the first place, libertarians do not flinch from such a question. In
contrast to such utopians as Marxists or left-wing anarchists (anarcho-
communists or anarcho-syndicalists), libertarians do not assume that the
ushering in of the purely free society of their dreams will also bring with it
a new, magically transformed Libertarian Man. We do not assume that the
lion will lie down with the lamb, or that no one will have criminal or
fraudulent designs upon his neighbor. The “better” that people will be, of
course, the better any social system will work, in particular the less work
any police or courts will have to do. But no such assumption is made by
libertarians. What we assert is that, given any particular degree of
“goodness” or “badness” among men, the purely libertarian society will be
at once the most moral and the most efficient, the least criminal and the
most secure of person or property.
Let us first consider the problem of the venal or crooked judge or court.
What of the court which favors its own wealthy client in trouble? In the
first place, any such favoritism will be highly unlikely, given the rewards
and sanctions of the free market economy. The very life of the court, the
very livelihood of a judge, will depend on his reputation for integrity, fair-
mindedness, objectivity, and the quest for truth in every case. This is his
“brand name.” Should word of any venality leak out, he will immediately
lose clients and the courts will no longer have customers; for even those
clients who may be criminally inclined will scarcely sponsor a court
240 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
whose decisions are no longer taken seriously by the rest of society, or
who themselves may well be in jail for dishonest and fraudulent dealings.
If, for example, Joe Zilch is accused of a crime or breach of contract, and
he goes to a “court” headed by his brother- in- law, no one, least of all
other, honest courts will take this “court’s” decision seriously. It will no
longer be considered a “court” in the eyes of anyone but Joe Zilch and his
Contrast this built- in corrective mechanism to the present-day govern-
ment courts. Judges are appointed or elected for long terms, up to life, and
they are accorded a monopoly of decision- making in their particular area.
It is almost impossible, except in cases of gross corruption, to do anything
about venal decisions of judges. Their power to make and to enforce their
decisions continues unchecked year after year. Their salaries continue to
be paid, furnished under coercion by the hapless taxpayer. But in the
totally free society, any suspicion of a judge or court will cause their
customers to melt away and their “decisions” to be ignored. This is a far
more efficient system of keeping judges honest than the mechanism of
Furthermore, the temptation for venality and bias would be far less for
another reason: business firms in the free market earn their keep, not from
wealthy customers, but from a mass market by consumers. Macy’s earns
its income from the mass of the population, not from a few wealthy
customers. The same is true of Metropolitan Life Insurance today, and the
same would be true of any “Metropolitan” court system tomorrow. It
would be folly indeed for the courts to risk the loss of favor by the bulk of
its customers for the favors of a few wealthy clients. But contrast the
present system, where judges, like all other politicians, may be beholden
to wealthy contributors who finance the campaigns of their political
There is a myth that the “American System” provides a superb set of
“checks and balances,” with the executive, the legislature, and the courts
all balancing and checking one against the other, so that power cannot
unduly accumulate in one set of hands. But the American “checks and
balances” system is largely a fraud. For each one of these institutions is a
coercive monopoly in its area, and all of them are part of one government,
headed by one political party at any given time. Furthermore, at best there
are only two parties, each one close to the other in ideology and personnel,
often colluding, and the actual day-to-day business of government headed
by a civil service bureaucracy that cannot be displaced by the voters.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 241
Contrast to these mythical checks and balances the real checks and
balances provided by the free- market economy! What keeps A&P honest
is the competition, actual and potential, of Safeway, Pioneer, and countless
other grocery stores. What keeps them honest is the ability of the
consumers to cut off their patronage. What would keep the free- market
judges and courts honest is the lively possibility of heading down the
block or down the road to another judge or court if suspicion should
descend on any particular one. What would keep them honest is the lively
possibility of their customers cutting off their business. These are the real,
active checks and balances of the free-market economy and the free
The same analysis applies to the possibility of a private police force
becoming outlaw, of using their coercive powers to exact tribute, set up a
“protection racket” to shake down their victims, etc. Of course, such a
thing could happen. But, in contrast to present-day society, there would be
immediate checks and balances available; there would be other police
forces who could use their weapons to band together to put down the
aggressors against their clientele. If the Metropolitan Police Force should
become gangsters and exact tribute, then the rest of society could flock to
the Prudential, Equitable, etc., police forces who could band together to
put them down. And this contrasts vividly with the State. If a group of
gangsters should capture the State apparatus, with its monopoly of
coercive weapons, there is nothing at present that can stop them—short of
the immensely difficult process of revolution. In a libertarian society there
would be no need for a massive revolution to stop the depredation of
gangster-States; there would be a swift turning to the honest police forces
to check and put down the force that had turned bandit.
And, indeed, what is the State anyway but organized banditry? What is
taxation but theft on a gigantic, unchecked, scale? What is war but mass
murder on a scale impossible by private police forces? What is
conscription but mass enslavement? Can anyone envision a private police
force getting away with a tiny fraction of what States get away with, and
do habitually, year after year, century after century?
There is another vital consideration that would make it almost impossi-
ble for an outlaw police force to commit anything like the banditry that
modern governments practice. One of the crucial factors that permits
governments to do the monstrous things they habitually do is the sense of
legitimacy on the part of the stupefied public. The average citizen may not
like—may even strongly object to—the policies and exactions of his
242 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
government. But he has been imbued with the idea—carefully
indoctrinated by centuries of governmental propaganda—that the gov-
ernment is his legitimate sovereign, and that it would be wicked or mad to
refuse to obey its dictates. It is this sense of legitimacy that the State’s
intellectuals have fostered over the ages, aided and abetted by all the
trappings of legitimacy: flags, rituals, ceremonies, awards, constitutions,
etc. A bandit gang—even if all the police forces conspired together into
one vast gang—could never command such legitimacy. The public would
consider them purely bandits; their extortions and tributes would never be
considered legitimate though onerous “taxes,” to be paid automatically.
The public would quickly resist these illegitimate demands and the bandits
would be resisted and overthrown. Once the public had tasted the joys,
prosperity, freedom, and efficiency of a libertarian, State- less society, it
would be almost impossible for a State to fasten itself upon them once
again. Once freedom has been fully enjoyed, it is no easy task to force
people to give it up.
But suppose—just suppose—that despite all these handicaps and obsta-
cles, despite the love for their new- found freedom, despite the inherent
checks and balances of the free market, suppose anyway that the State
manages to reestablish itself. What then? Well, then, all that would have
happened is that we would have a State once again. We would be no
worse off than we are now, with our current State. And, as one libertarian
philosopher has put it, “at least the world will have had a glorious
holiday.” Karl Marx’s ringing promise applies far more to a libertarian
society than to communism: In trying freedom, in abolishing the State, we
have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

National Defense

We come now to what is usually the final argument against the libertar-
ian position. Every libertarian has heard a sympathetic but critical listener
say: “All right, I see how this system could be applied successfully to local
police and courts. But how could a libertarian society defend us against
the Russians?”
There are, of course, several dubious assumptions implied in such a
question. There is the assumption that the Russians are bent upon military
invasion of the United States, a doubtful assumption at best. There is the
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 243
assumption that any such desire would still remain after the United States
had become a purely libertarian society. This notion overlooks the lesson
of history that wars result from conflicts between nation-states, each
armed to the teeth, each direly suspicious of attack by the other. But a
libertarian America would clearly not be a threat to anyone, not because it
had no arms but because it would be dedicated to no aggression against
anyone, or against any country. Being no longer a nation-state, which is
inherently threatening, there would be little chance of any country
attacking us. One of the great evils of the nation-state is that each State is
able to identify all of its subjects with itself; hence in any inter-State war,
the innocent civilians, the subjects of each country, are subject to
aggression from the enemy State. But in a libertarian society there would
be no such identification, and hence very little chance of such a
devastating war. Suppose, for example, that our outlaw Metropolitan
Police Force has initiated aggression not only against Americans but also
against Mexicans. If Mexico had a government, then clearly the Mexican
government would know full well that Americans in general were not
implicated in the Metropolitan’s crimes, and had no symbiotic relationship
with it. If the Mexican police engaged in a punitive expedition to punish
the Metropolitan force, they would not be at war with Americans in
general—as they would be now. In fact, it is highly likely that other
American forces would join the Mexicans in putting down the aggressor.
Hence, the idea of inter-State war against a libertarian country or
geographical area would most likely disappear.
There is, furthermore, a grave philosophical error in the very posing of
this sort of question about the Russians. When we contemplate any sort of
new system, whatever it may be, we must first decide whether we want to
see it brought about. In order to decide whether we want libertarianism or
communism, or left-wing anarchism, or theocracy, or any other system,
we must first assume that it has been established, and then consider
whether the system could work, whether it could remain in existence, and
just how efficient such a system would be. We have shown, I believe, that
a libertarian system, once instituted, could work, be viable, and be at once
far more efficient, prosperous, moral, and free than any other social
system. But we have said nothing about how to get from the present
system to the ideal; for these are two totally separate questions: the
question of what is our ideal goal, and of the strategy and tactics of how to
get from the present system to that goal. The Russian question mixes these
two levels of discourse. It assumes, not that libertarianism has been
244 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
established everywhere throughout the globe, but that for some reason it
has been established only in America and nowhere else. But why assume
this? Why not first assume that it has been established everywhere and see
whether we like it? After all, the libertarian philosophy is an eternal one,
not bound to time or place. We advocate liberty for everyone, everywhere,
not just in the United States. If someone agrees that a world libertarian
society, once established, is the best that he can conceive, that it would be
workable, efficient, and moral, then let him become a libertarian, let him
join us in accepting liberty as our ideal goal, and then join us further in the
separate—and obviously difficult—task of figuring out how to bring this
ideal about.
If we do move on to strategy, it is obvious that the larger an area in
which liberty is first established the better its chances for survival, and the
better its chance to resist any violent overthrow that may be attempted. If
liberty is established instantaneously throughout the world, then there will
of course be no problem of “national defense.” All problems will be local
police problems. If, however, only Deep Falls, Wyoming, becomes
libertarian while the rest of America and the world remain statist, its
chances for survival will be very slim. If Deep Falls, Wyoming, declares
its secession from the United States government and establishes a free
society, the chances are great that the United States—given its historical
ferocity toward secessionists—would quickly invade and crush the new
free society, and there is little that any Deep Falls police force could do
about it. Between these two polar cases, there is an infinite continuum of
degrees, and obviously, the larger the area of freedom, the better it could
withstand any outside threat. The “Russian question” is therefore a matter
of strategy rather than a matter of deciding on basic principles and on the
goal toward which we wish to direct our efforts.
But after all this is said and done, let us take up the Russian question
anyway. Let us assume that the Soviet Union would really be hell-bent on
attacking a libertarian population within the present boundaries of the
United States (clearly, there would no longer be a United States
government to form a single nation-state). In the first place, the form and
quantity of defense expenditures would be decided upon by the American
consumers themselves. Those Americans who favor Polaris submarines,
and fear a Soviet threat, would subscribe toward the financing of such
vessels. Those who prefer an ABM system would invest in such defensive
missiles. Those who laugh at such a threat or those who are committed
pacifists would not contribute to any “national” defense service at all.
The Public Sector, III: Police, Law, and the Courts 245
Different defense theories would be applied in proportion to those who
agree with, and support, the various theories being offered. Given the
enormous waste in all wars and defense preparations in all countries
throughout history, it is certainly not beyond the bounds of reason to
propose that private, voluntary defense efforts would be far more efficient
than government boondoggles. Certainly these efforts would be infinitely
more moral.
But let us assume the worst. Let us assume that the Soviet Union at last
invades and conquers the territory of America. What then? We have to
realize that the Soviet Union’s difficulties will have only just begun. The
main reason a conquering country can rule a defeated country is that the
latter has an existing State apparatus to transmit and enforce the victor’s
orders onto a subject population. Britain, though far smaller in area and
population, was able to rule India for centuries because it could transmit
British orders to the ruling Indian princes, who in turn could enforce them
on the subject population. But in those cases in history where the
conquered had no government, the conquerors found rule over the
conquered extremely difficult. When the British conquered West Africa,
for example, they found it extremely difficult to govern the Ibo tribe (later
to form Biafra) because that tribe was essentially libertarian, and had no
ruling government of tribal chiefs to transmit orders to the natives. And
perhaps the major reason it took the English centuries to conquer ancient
Ireland is that the Irish had no State, and that there was therefore no ruling
governmental structure to keep treaties, transmit orders, etc. It is for this
reason that the English kept denouncing the “wild” and “uncivilized” Irish
as “faithless,” because they would not keep treaties with the English
conquerors. The English could never understand that, lacking any sort of
State, the Irish warriors who concluded treaties with the English could
only speak for themselves; they could never commit any other group of the
Irish population.

Furthermore, the occupying Russians’ lives would be made even more
difficult by the inevitable eruption of guerrilla warfare by the American
population. It is surely a lesson of the twentieth century—a lesson first
driven home by the successful American revolutionaries against the
mighty British Empire—that no occupying force can long keep down a
native population determined to resist. If the giant United States, armed

Peden, “Stateless Societies,” p. 3; also see Kathleen Hughes, introduction to A. Jocelyn
Otway-Ruthven, A History of Medieval Ireland (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1968).
246 Libertarian Applications to Current Problems
with far greater productivity and firepower, could not succeed against a
tiny and relatively unarmed Vietnamese population, how in the world
could the Soviet Union succeed in keeping down the American people?
No Russian occupation soldier’s life would be safe from the wrath of a
resisting American populace. Guerrilla warfare has proved to be an
irresistible force precisely because it stems, not from a dictatorial central
government, but from the people themselves, fighting for their liberty and
independence against a foreign State. And surely the anticipation of this
sea of troubles, of the enormous costs and losses that would inevitably
follow, would stop well in advance even a hypothetical Soviet government
bent on military conquest.

Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
Better off stateless:
Somalia before and after government collapse
Peter T. Leeson
George Mason University, MSN 3G4, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA
Received 22 May 2007; revised 30 September 2007
Available online 10 October 2007
Leeson, Peter T.—Better off stateless: Somalia before and after government collapse
Could anarchy be good for Somalia’s development? If state predation goes unchecked government may
not only fail to add to social welfare, but can actually reduce welfare below its level under statelessness.
Such was the case with Somalia’s government, which did more harm to its citizens than good. The gov-
ernment’s collapse and subsequent emergence of statelessness opened the opportunity for Somali progress.
This paper investigates the impact of anarchy on Somali development. The data suggest that while the state
of this development remains low, on nearly all of 18 key indicators that allow pre- and post-stateless welfare
comparisons, Somalis are better off under anarchy than they were under government. Renewed vibrancy in
critical sectors of Somalia’s economy and public goods in the absence of a predatory state are responsible
for this improvement. Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (4) (2007) 689–710. George Mason Univer-
sity, MSN 3G4, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.
© 2007 Association for Comparative Economic Studies. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
JEL classification: P59; O12
Keywords: Anarchy; Somalia; Predation
E-mail address: pleeson@gmu.edu.
0147-5967/$ – see front matter © 2007 Association for Comparative Economic Studies. Published by Elsevier Inc. All
rights reserved.
690 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
[O]ppression by the government . . . has so much more baneful an effect on the springs of
national prosperity, than almost any degree of lawlessness and turbulence under free institu-
tions. Nations have acquired some wealth, and made some progress in improvement in states
of social union so imperfect as to border on anarchy: but no countries in which the people
were exposed without limit to arbitrary exactions from the officers of government ever yet
continued to have industry and wealth.
John Stuart Mill (1848, pp. 882–883)
1. Introduction
In the developed world, the relationship between state and society is fairly straightforward.
Although rent-seeking, public corruption, and government abuse exist, to a large extent devel-
oped economies have developed precisely because they have succeeded in overcoming these
problems. While far from perfect in this respect, government in the United States, for example,
does a good job of protecting citizens’ property rights and uses its monopoly on coercion to
provide public goods that, at least in principle, stand to make society more productive.
In the developing world, however, the relationship between government and citizens can be
quite different. Here, many political rulers routinely use government to benefit themselves and
their supporters at the expense of citizens. These governments are unwilling or unable to protect
their citizens’ property rights, but remain strong enough to prey on society. In the extreme, they
devolve into little more than organized thuggery, seizing every opportunity to extort their citizens.
Ultra-dysfunctional states not only fail to provide public goods and protect citizens’ property.
They are in fact the primary threat to their citizens’ property rights and security.
It is common to think that most governments in world are the well-functioning variety.
However, this conventional wisdom has it backwards. Well-functioning, highly-constrained gov-
ernments that protect property rights and supply public goods are the exception, not the rule.
According to the 2007 Failed States Index, nearly 16 percent of the world’s countries (32) have
“failing states” (Foreign Policy/Fund for Peace, 2007). In them, governments are often ultra-
predatory, dysfunctional, and threatening collapse. According to this index, another 49 percent
of the world’s countries (97) are in “warning” mode. Although they have not yet reached the
deterioration of those in “alert” mode, they are approaching it. If these measures are correct,
in over half of the world, states are either critically or dangerously dysfunctional. The world’s
“experiment” with government, then, has been a far more mixed one than most people think.
Since dysfunctional and predatory governments are disproportionately located in the poorest
countries, this raises an important question about the link between state and economic devel-
opment in the developing world. Is it possible some least-developed countries could actually
perform better without any government at all?
Although a properly constrained government may be superior to statelessness, it may not be
true that any government is superior to no government all. De Long and Shleifer (1993), for
instance, find that in pre-industrial Europe, countries without unified governments performed
better in some ways than those with absolutist autocracies. If a state is highly predatory and its
behavior goes unchecked, government may not only fail to add to social welfare, but may actually
reduce welfare below its level under anarchy.
Moselle and Polak (2001) provide a theoretical model demonstrating when this is the case.
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 691
To investigate this question I examine the case of Somalia. In several respects, Somalia is
typical of many least-developed countries (LDCs). Like most other LDCs, Somalia is located in
Sub-Saharan Africa. Similar to other countries in this region, Somalia was a former European
colony, achieved independence, and subsequently came under the rule of a brutal and highly-
predatory political regime. Somalia is quite different from other LDCs in one important respect,
however. It has no government.
In 1991 Somalia’s state collapsed, creating anarchy in its wake. Although, as I discuss below,
there have been a handful of attempts to resurrect central government in Somalia, to date these
have been unsuccessful, leaving the country effectively stateless. Somalia therefore provides an
interesting natural experiment to explore the hypothesis that if government is predatory enough,
anarchy may actually prove superior in terms of economic development.
There has been much hand-wringing over what to do about the situation of anarchy that has
characterized Somalia since 1991. Reports from international organizations commonly express
fear about the “chaos” of Somalia without a state. According to the International Relations and
Security Network, for example, under anarchy Somalia has had “no functioning economy.” In-
stead, “clan-based warfare and anarchy have dominated” the country (Wolfe, 2005). Shortly after
Somalia’s government collapsed, the United Nations was similarly “Gravely alarmed at the rapid
deterioration” of Somalia and expressed serious “concern with the situation prevailing in that
country” (UN, 1992, p. 55). The popular press has tended to go even further in its condemnation
of the “internal anarchy . . . [that] has consumed Somalia for the last 15 years” (Gettleman and
Mazzetti, 2006). The view commonly presented by these observers is that Somalia “been mired
in chaos since 1991” when statelessness emerged (Hassan, 2007).
To be sure, this concern is not without cause. In the year following the state’s collapse, civil
war, exacerbated by severe drought, devastated the Sub-Saharan territory killing 300,000 Somalis
(Prendergast, 1997). For a time it seemed that Somali statelessness would mean endless bloody
conflict, starvation, and an eventual descent into total annihilation of the Somali people. Thus,
conventional wisdom sees Somalia as a land of chaos, deterioration and war, and is certain that
statelessness has been detrimental to Somali development.
The reason for this belief is twofold. On the one hand, popular opinion sees government as
universally superior to anarchy. Government is considered necessary to prevent violent conflicts
like those that erupted when Somalia’s state first crumbled, which disrupt economic activity.
Government is also considered critical to supplying public goods such as roads, schools, and law
and order, which are important to the process of development. From this perspective it is easy to
conclude that Somalia, which has no central government, must have been better off when it did.
Second, there is a tendency upon observing problems in distressed regions of the world to
see only on the “failure” of the current situation, ignoring the quite possibly even worse state
of affairs that preceded it.
This is especially easy to do for Somalia, which by international
standards is far behind indeed. Educational enrollment is abysmally low—a mere seven percent
for combined primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. Average Somali income is less than
$1000 (PPP), and preventable diseases like malaria are a genuine threat to Somalia’s inhabitants.
These facts, however, say nothing about the status of Somalia before its state collapsed. Thus,
This remains a common problem in evaluations of Russia as well. The tendency here, like with Somalia, has been to
focus on the significant defects that remain without an appreciation of the fact that, however severe these troubles are,
they pale in comparison to the troubles of Russia under communist rule. Russia is undoubtedly better off today than it
was under socialism. On this see, Shleifer and Treisman (2005).
692 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
forgetting Somalia’s experience under government, it is easy to imagine that nothing could be
more damaging to Somali development than the current state of anarchy.
This paper investigates the impact of statelessness on Somali development. I compare the state
of 18 key development indicators in Somalia before and after its government collapsed. These
indicators are comprehensive in covering all angles of development for which data are available
pre- and post-statelessness. While it is important to avoid romanticizing Somalia, the results
suggest that statelessness has substantially improved Somali development. I find that on nearly
all indicators Somalia is doing significantly better under anarchy than it was under government.
This improvement has been made possible by renewed vibrancy in key sectors of the economy
and public goods in the absence of state predation.
Due to data limitations, my analysis of Somalia stops in 2005. Since then, the situation in
Somalia has changed somewhat. Most significantly, in late 2006 Somali conflict renewed when
the international community-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) attempted to oust
the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC), which controlled the southern Somali city of
Mogadishu. This conflict disrupted the relatively long-lasting period of peace that preceded it,
resurrecting the violence Somalia had largely under control leading up to this. As I discuss in
greater detail below, in early 2007 the TFG succeeded in taking control of Mogadishu. However,
like previous attempts to reinstate government in Somalia, the TFG’s authority is extremely weak
and it is not yet clear whether it will succeed in establishing a newcentral government in Somalia.
Section 2 of this paper considers Somalia’s pre-stateless political economy. Section 3 com-
pares Somalia’s welfare under government vs. anarchy. Section 4 investigates what accounts for
Somalia’s improvement under statelessness. Section 5 concludes with a discussion about post-
2005 Somalia and the prospect of reestablishing central government in Somalia.
2. The grabbing hand: Somalia under government
In 1960 British Somaliland and Italian Somalia gained independence from their colonizers
and joined together to form the Republic of Somalia. A bloodless coup in 1969 led by Major-
General Mohamed Siad Barre overthrew the democratic government that ruled Somalia since
independence. Barre went on to take power, and established an oppressive military dictatorship.
He reigned for 21 years until 1991 when Somalia’s government collapsed and statelessness en-
In 1970, under the influence of the Soviet Union, Barre transformed his military dictatorship
into a socialist one. Full-scale central planning pursued under the government’s policy of “scien-
tific socialism” brutalized the Somali people. The government slaughtered civilians who posed
threats to the government’s plans or political power, used coercive intimidation to create artificial
support for its activities, and forcibly relocated others to further the political or economic ends of
Barre and his cronies. “Both the urban population and nomads living in the countryside [were]
subjected to summary killings, arbitrary arrest, detention in squalid conditions, torture, rape,
crippling constraints on freedom of movement and expression and a pattern of psychological
intimidation” (Africa Watch Committee, 1990, p. 9).
The state ruthlessly suppressed free speech and controlled all forms of information reaching
Somalis. Newspapers (only one was officially permitted by the government), radio, and televi-
As is often the case in dictatorships, technically, the Somali “constitution” of 1979 guaranteed democratic elections
for its “president.” In practice, however, this guarantee was worthless. The first “election” for Barre was in 1986 in which
he received 99.9 percent of the votes (US Library of Congress, 2006).
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 693
sion were fully censored and dissent in any form squelched with force. Under Somalia’s National
Security Law No. 54, “gossip” became a capital offense. Twenty other basic civil freedoms in-
volving speech, association and organization also carried the death penalty.
The state invested aggressively in building its military. Besides weapons and troops for foreign
defense, massive resources were devoted to military structures of domestic repression. Govern-
ment created a secret police squad called the National Security Service and paramilitary unit
called the “Victory Pioneers” for spying on and eliminating dissenters. Both had legal discretion
to detain, invade, kill, and torture at the state’s behest (Africa Watch Committee, 1990).
This created a twofold dire effect for development in Somalia. On the one hand, it left few
resources for investment in public goods, like education, health, or transportation infrastructure.
This was especially so in pastoral areas where most Somalis lived (Little, 2003, p. 15). On the
other hand, Barre’s military dictatorship eliminated any vestiges of restraint on the government’s
predatory power. Law No. 1 repealed the constitution and all democratic checks. There were no
elections for any political positions; all were appointed by Barre. Military suppression prevented
popular uprising. Even dissent through free expression was eliminated. Government was let loose
to plunder and abuse citizens for the ends of political rulers.
The state was notoriously corrupt and violent. Political actors and bureaucrats embezzled state
funds, extorted and murdered weak portions of the population, and engaged in aggressive asset
stripping of state-owned firms. As the UN Development Program characterized it, “The 21-year
regime of Siyad Barre had one of the worst human rights records in Africa” (UNDP, 2001, p. 42).
This is no small feat considering that during this period Africa was home to some of history’s
most savage dictatorships, including the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Mobutu.
In 1975 all land was nationalized along with nearly all major industries and the financial
sector. This facilitated government’s ability to expropriate citizens’ property for state projects,
like massive state-operated farms, and for politicos’ personal use. Unpopular minority groups,
such as the Gosha, were particularly easy prey. In the 1970s and 1980s Barre expropriated Gosha-
occupied land to create state-owned irrigation schemes that benefited his allies. In other cases
his minions expropriated land for their private use, making Gosha serfs on their own property
(Menkhaus and Craven, 1996).
State control of industry in Somalia created inefficiencies like in the Soviet Union. Between
1984 and 1988, for instance, the government-owned Kismayo Meat Factory was open only three
months per year. Government also owned tanneries. The “Hides and Skins Agency” paid herders
less than half the market value of hides to process in these factories. These firms also utilized only
a tiny fraction of their capacity. All told, capacity utilization of Somalia’s state manufacturing
firms was less than 20 percent (Mubarak, 1997, p. 2028).
Incentives to be productive, keep costs down, or cater to consumer demands were virtually
absent. Factory managers cared only about meeting quotas. This led them to pursue wasteful
activities, such as purchasing inputs worth more as raw materials than the output they produced
(Little, 2003, p. 39). Some state-owned enterprises were developed purely to benefit political
rulers and their friends. For instance, government created the Water Development Program to
subsidize private watering holes for the livestock of Barre’s allies.
In the late 1970s Barre abandoned full-blown socialism to attract aid from the IMF. However,
government continued to rely on central planning. “Parastatal companies continued to receive
subsidies, foreign aid was channeled through state institutions and the state remained sole arbiter
in the allocation of profitable contracts. Private sector autonomy was further curtailed by political
patronage, which was the easiest way to access resources controlled by the state” (UNDP, 2001,
p. 140). In the 1980s there was only one bank in Somalia, state owned and operated. Government
694 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
used it to keep afloat failing public firms and to reward political supporters. Only state enterprises
or politically well-connected Somalis were able to obtain loans (Mubarak, 1997).
Government also remained involved in most other important economic sectors. Livestock and
pastoral-product exports have long been critical to Somalia’s economy. In the 1970s Barre nation-
alized most of this trade and continued to control it throughout the 1980s. Government restricted
imports and exports and introduced a bewildering array of regulations. Foreign exchange con-
trols were also strict. They required exporters to exchange at least half their foreign exchange
earnings at the state-set rate, which in 1988 overvalued the Somali shilling to the US$ by more
than 120 percent (Little, 2003). This benefited wealthy political patrons who consumed imports
but decimated Somalia’s export industry.
In the 1980s government turned to inflation to finance its corrupt and bankrupt projects. Be-
tween 1983 and 1990, average annual depreciation of the Somali shilling against the US$ was
over 100 percent. In some years depreciation exceeded 300 percent (Little, 2003). Hyperinfla-
tion destroyed the savings of Somalis who managed to accrue modest sums over time. It also
incapacitated the monetary unit as a means of economic calculation.
Government’s willful mismanagement of public resources prevented the state from being self-
supporting. International development agencies, eager to woo Somalia from the influences of
Eastern Europe, filled the shortfall with massive inflows of foreign aid. By the mid-1980s 100
percent of Somalia’s development budget and 50 percent of its recurrent budget was funded by
foreign aid (UNDP, 2001, p. 118). In 1987 more than 70 percent of the state’s total operating
budget was financed this way (Mubarak, 1996).
The early-1980s saw a temporary spike in government expenditures on items like education.
But by the late 1980s the weight of nearly 20 years of rampant corruption, repression, and state
control had reduced Somali welfare to horrifically low levels. Well prior to the government’s col-
lapse the agricultural economy was in shambles, and malnutrition and starvation were common
place (Samatar, 1987). In the 1980s Somalia had one of the lowest per capita caloric intakes in
the world (UNDP, 2006). At the end of the decade government spent less than one percent of
GDP on economic and social services, while military and administration consumed 90 percent
of the state’s total recurrent expenditure (Mubarak, 1997).
Government consistently used state resources to privilege members of Barre’s clan at the
expense of others. “The Barre regime awarded certain client groups preferential access to arable
land and water . . . Indeed, the Somalia case is a good example of ethnic (and clan) favoritism
where private land-grabbing in the Jubba and Shebelle Valleys favored the late president’s clan,
the Marehan, while alienating other groups” (Little, 2003, p. 36). In 1988, for example, Barre
supported Marehan herders’ unlawful appropriation of Ogaden water points in Southern Somalia.
Barre’s “ethnic favoritism” created tension between Somali clans. In the late 1980s exploited
clans reacted by forming faction groups like the Somali Patriotic Movement (comprised largely
of Ogaden), the Somali National Movement (comprised largely of Isaaq) and the United So-
mali Congress (comprised largely of Hawiye). United against government’s predation on non-
Marehans, they joined forces to oust Barre. Unfortunately, the inter-clan tensions Barre created
did not immediately disappear with him. The seeds of clan conflict sewn by 20 years of “divide
and rule”
policy erupted into violence when government crumbled.
The application of this terminology to Barre’s regime is from Little (2003).
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 695
3. The hidden hand: Somalia under anarchy
In 1988 civil war broke out in the northern part of the country (Somaliland), setting in motion
the beginning of the end of government in Somalia. In January of 1991 a coup d’état toppled
Barre’s regime, creating statelessness in its wake.
Tellingly, the same year anarchy replaced
government, 400,000 Somali refugees in Ethiopia returned to their homes in Somalia (UNDP,
2001, p. 59). For the next two years, rival factions fought to establish power. These were the
days when Somali “warlords,” such as General Hussein Aideed of Mogadishu and Ali Mohamed
Mahdi, battled to solidify their bases of strength. At the same time severe drought struck the
country, creating famine in its aftermath. In 1992 the UN sent troops to Somalia to quell the
conflict and ease suffering, but failed to establish authority, stability or peace in the region.
Some fighting continued into the mid-1990s, but died down considerably since 1991. By the
late 1990s peace prevailed over most of Somalia. Until 2006, when the attempted reestablishment
of central government sparked new violence, conflict was isolated and sporadic, confined when it
did occur to pockets of small-scale rivalry in a few areas (Menkhaus 1998, 2004; Nenova, 2004).
Important to this expanding peace was expanding commerce, discussed below (Menkhaus, 2004;
Nenova, 2004).
Most depictions of Somalia leading up to the 2006 period grossly exaggerate the extent of
Somali violence. In reality, fewer people died from armed conflict in some parts of Somalia than
did in neighboring countries that have governments. In these areas security was better than it was
under government (UNDP, 2001). About the same number of annual deaths in Somalia during
this period were due to childbirth as were attributable to war—roughly four percent of the total
(World Bank/UNDP, 2003, p. 16). And these deaths were combatants, not civilians. “Atrocities
against civilians . . . [were] almost of unheard of” (Menkhaus, 2004, p. 30). This is still too high,
but far from cataclysmic. In fact, it’s not far from the percentage of deaths due to homicide in
middle-income countries such as Mexico, which in 2001 was 3.6 (WHO, 2006).
In 2006 “a loose coalition of clerics, business leaders, and Islamic court militias known as
the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC)” gained increasing dominance over key areas
of Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu (CIA World Factbook, 2007). In response to this,
the international community-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) attacked the SCIC,
leading to a battle between them for power. It remains to be seen what long-run impact this
conflict will have on Somali peace. But in the short run, at least, this conflict reversed the strides
toward more peaceful anarchy that Somalia had largely succeeded in creating prior to the TFG-
SCIC clash.
When Somalia’s government first collapsed, clans in the northwestern part of Somalia declared this territory an
independent sovereignty called the Republic of Somaliland. Somaliland continues to exist, though unrecognized by
the global community. In 1998 a number of clans in neighboring eastern portions of northern Somalia also declared
themselves autonomous, forming Puntland. Unlike Somaliland, Puntland does not aimat independence from Somalia, but
instead sees itself as an independent territory within Somalia. Although Puntland and Somaliland (to a lesser extent) both
have “governments,” and thus more formal structure than the southern part of Somalia, these “states” remain weak at best.
Neither “government,” for instance, has exhibited the ability to raise significant revenue through taxation. Somaliland and
Puntland also dispute territory along their border creating confusion about which entity governs what, and contributing
to the stateless or quasi-stateless atmosphere in both.
Interestingly, after the UN evacuated the country in 1995, rather than deteriorate, the Somali economy actually im-
proved (Little, 2003, p. xvii).
696 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
3.1. Improved overall human development
There is no statistical office in Somalia to collect economic, demographic or other types of
data that could be used for regression analyses.
Even before 1991, government collected almost
no such information. However, the UNDP, World Bank, CIA, and World Health Organization
have collected sufficient data to conduct a study that allows us to compare Somali development
before and after statelessness emerged. To do this I examine all development indicators in So-
malia for which data are available pre- and post-statelessness, using figures for the most recent
available year in each case. 18 key development indicators allow for comparison. I consider the
last five years of government preceding the emergence of statelessness (1985–1990) and the most
recent five years of Somali anarchy (2000–2005) for which data are available.
Before considering the results of this analysis, it is important underscore several features of
the comparison. First, because there are not yet data for the period since the SCIC-TFG clash
in late 2006, my comparison does not capture any change in Somali performance on these in-
dicators post-the recent conflict. Second, this analysis compares Somalia under government to
Somalia under anarchy circa 2000–2005, not to Somalia anarchy in the period of intense civil
war immediately following government’s collapse circa 1991–1992. Of course, when state col-
lapse coincides with high levels of armed conflict, economic development is not possible. Third,
while highly suggestive, these data must be interpreted with caution. The correlation established
here cannot establish causation. In addition to the possibility that state collapse is the reason for
the improvements we observe in Somali development over this period, it is also possible that
other factors may have contributed to this improvement. I will discuss what these are and their
plausibility relative to the government collapse hypothesis below.
Data for the pre-1991 period come from the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP)
Human Development Report-Somalia 2001 and the World Bank/UNDP’s (2003) most recent
Socio-Economic Survey in Somalia. Data for the post-stateless period are from the CIA World
Factbook (2006), UNDP’s (2001, 2006) Human Development Report, the World Health Or-
ganization’s WHO (2004) Somalia Annual Report 2003, and the World Bank/UNDP (2003)
Socio-Economic Survey in Somalia. Table 1 contains all 18 indicators and the results of the pre-
and post-statelessness comparison.
The data depict a country with severe problems, but one which is clearly doing better under
statelessness than it was under government. Of the 18 development indicators, 14 show unam-
biguous improvement under anarchy. Life expectancy is higher today than was in the last years of
government’s existence; infant mortality has improved 24 percent; maternal mortality has fallen
over 30 percent; infants with low birth weight has fallen more than 15 percentage points; ac-
cess to health facilities has increased more than 25 percentage points; access to sanitation has
risen eight percentage points; extreme poverty has plummeted nearly 20 percentage points; one
year olds fully immunized for TB has grown nearly 20 percentage points, and for measles has in-
creased ten; fatalities due to measles have dropped 30 percent; and the prevalence of TVs, radios,
and telephones has jumped between 3 and 25 times.
Per capita GDP (PPP) is lower than its 1989–1990 level, but the data overstate the size of
average income in the pre-1991 period, which is likely lower than in it is today. Three sources
of bias inflate pre-1991 per capita GDP as a measurement of well-being. First, firm managers in
planned economies have strong incentives to over-report output to meet quotas or obtain rewards
The “governments” in Somaliland and Puntland have been able to collect some statistics, but nothing substantial or
that covers Somalia as a whole.
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 697
Table 1
Key development indicators before and after statelessness
2000–2005 Welfare change
GDP per capita (PPP constant $) 836
Life expectancy (years) 46.0
One year olds fully immunized against measles (%) 30 40
One year olds fully immunized against TB (%) 31 50
Physicians (per 100,000) 3.4 4
Infants with low birth weight (%) 16 0.3
Infant mortality rate (per 1000) 152 114.89
Maternal mortality rate (per 100,000) 1600 1100
Pop. with access to water (%) 29 29
Pop. with access to sanitation (%) 18 26
Pop. with access to at least one health facility (%) 28 54.8
Extreme poverty (%< $1 per day) 60 43.2
Radios (per 1000) 4.0 98.5
Telephones (per 1000) 1.92
TVs (per 1000) 1.2 3.7
Fatality due to measles 8000 5598
Adult literacy rate (%) 24
school enrollment (%) 12.9
UNDP (2001);
CIA World Factbook (2006);
1987–1990, World Bank/UNDP (2003);
2004, UNDP (2006);
2000, UNDP (2006)
2002, WHO (2004);
2002, World Bank/UNDP (2003);
1999, UNDP (2001);
Refers to primary, secondary, and
tertiary gross enrollment.
(Shleifer and Treisman, 2005). Although Somalia officially abandoned socialism by 1980, the
state continued to play a significant role in production until its collapse. In this environment,
firm managers likely inflated reported output, leading to artificially high GDP figures. Second,
under government a great deal of Somali production was military hardware that citizens did not
consume. In fact, to the extent that this hardware was used to suppress the Somali population,
this sizeable portion of pre-1991 GDP was actually negative value added from the perspective
of citizens’ welfare. Finally, in the pre-stateless period Somalia was one of the largest per capita
foreign aid recipients in the world (UNDP, 2001). In fact, “Pre-war Somalia was considered a
classic case of an aid-dependent state” (UNDP, 2001, p. 118). By the mid-1980s foreign aid was
58 percent of Somali GNP (UNDP, 1998, p. 57) compared to only nine percent today (UNDP,
2001). In 1987 more than 70 percent of the state’s operating budget was financed by foreign
aid (Mubarak, 1996). And before government collapsed, nearly 100 percent of Somali education
was financed by foreign aid (UNDP, 2001, p. 120). This discrepancy inflates pre-1991 GDP per
capita compared to per capita income today.
If it were possible, accounting for fictitious production under government, the negative value
added of military expenditures, and the “foreign aid gap” would likely reduce Somalia’s pre-1991
average income level below its post-1991 level.
The dramatic increase in post-1991 Somali con-
sumption depicted in the data corroborates this fact. A substantial observed rise in consumption
The census information used to calculate pre-1991 per capita GDP in Somalia is also controversial (UNDP, 2001,
p. 57) and, if understated, would further overstate per capita GDP under government compared to statelessness.
698 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
without an attendant rise in per capita GDP suggests an unmeasured increase in per capita income
between the pre- and post-anarchy periods not reflected in the data.
Only two of the 18 development indicators in Table 1 show a clear welfare decline under
stateless: adult literacy and combined gross school enrollment. Given that foreign aid was com-
pletely financing education in Somalia pre-1991, it is not surprising that there has been some fall
in school enrollment and literacy. This is less a statement about the Somali government’s abil-
ity to generate welfare enhancing outcomes for its citizens than it is a reflection of foreign aid
poured into Somali education by the international development community before government
Importantly, the indicators in Table 1 also do not measure the substantial increase in personal
freedoms and civil liberties enjoyed by Somalis since the emergence of anarchy. The Somali
government ruthlessly suppressed free speech, censoring newspapers, radio and television. Most
forms of free expression were punishable by death and foreign travel was severely restricted.
Today, in contrast, Somalis are free to travel as they please (restricted only by governments of
other nations) and enjoy greater freedom of expression, both privately and publicly. 20 private
newspapers, 12 radio and television stations, and several Internet sites nowprovide information to
the Somali public (Freedom House, Reporters Sans Frontieres, 2003). Satellite-based televisions
enable the transmission of international news services, including CNN (Little, 2003, pp. 170–
171). Authorities in Somaliland and Puntland have attempted to interfere with media providers
in their territories, but freedom of expression remains improved compared to its status under
government. This constitutes an additional important, though unmeasured, increase in Somali
welfare under anarchy.
As a point of comparison, it is useful to consider Somalia’s development improvements from
the 1985–1990 period to the 2000–2005 period relative to movements in the same development
indicators in its neighboring countries, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Looking at these countries
helps to interpret the findings in Table 1. In particular, it helps to establish if Somalia’s devel-
opment improvements were the result of its predatory government’s collapse and substitution
with anarchy, or if Somalia would have experienced the same improvements even if it had re-
mained under government simply because ‘it was time’ for Somalia to improve. Similarly, this
comparison helps to establish if, for instance, the rise of new information technology in this part
of Africa is responsible for Somali improvement and would have occurred with or without gov-
ernment collapse, or rather there is something unique about Somalia—namely the collapse of its
predatory state—that accounts for Somalia’ progress.
In Table 2, I perform this comparison for all development indicators that data permit. I calcu-
late the percent improvement (+) or decline (−) for each indicator in each of Somalia’s neighbors
between the 1985–1990 period and the 2000–2005 period. The comparisons are unavoidably
rough in the sense that they do not compare the precise years from Table 1 in all cases. Fur-
ther, they fail to capture the fact that Somalia’s pre-anarchy government was considerably more
predatory than the governments of Djibouti, Kenya, or Ethiopia. Thus, the experiences of these
countries provide imperfect points of comparison that tend to understate the difference between
Somalia’s strides under anarchy and the strides it would likely have made under Barre. Never-
theless, they are sufficient to address the general question I am interested in.
Furthermore, according to one source at least, overall enrollment in Somalia may actually be higher than its peak in
the 1980s (Nenova, 2004).
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 699
Table 2
Somalia vs. its neighbors. % Improvement or decline in development indicators between 1990 and 2005
Djibouti Ethiopia Kenya Somalia
GDP per capita (PPP)
– +15.5 −4.1 +?
Life expectancy (years)
−15.4 +9 −15.6 +5.4
Adult literacy (%)
– – +3.7 −20
Infant mortality rate (per 1000)
+16 +28.5 +7.4 +24.4
Pop. with access to improved water (%)
+1.4 −4.3 +35.6 0
Pop. with access to improved sanitation (%)
+3.8 +333.3 +7.5 +44.4
Telephone mainlines (per 1000)
+40 – +28.6 +1150
Except for Somalia:
1990–2005, World Bank (2005) and CIA World Factbook (2006);
1990–2006, World Bank (2005) and CIA
World Factbook (2006);
1990–2004, World Bank (2005) and UNDP (2006);
For sources and years, see notes in
Table 1.
The data reject the hypothesis that Somalia would have improved equally whether it remained
under government or not. Consistent with Table 1, Somalia performs worse on adult literacy
compared to its neighbors between the periods. Still, on the majority of the indicators consid-
ered here, Somalia improved more than its neighbors over the same period, suggesting that the
collapse of government resulted in greater development improvements than would have occurred
in its absence. In a number of cases, Somalia has been improving while its neighbors have been
Although this analysis helps to exclude some alternative factors that might be driving Somali
improvement apart from state collapse, with the data that are available only a tentative conclu-
sion can be drawn. Further, the comparison in Table 2 does not help to exclude other possible
sources of Somalia’s improvement unrelated to anarchy. For example, the period of Somalia’s
state collapse coincides with the rise of a large Somali diaspora, which supports an enormous re-
mittance economy that has undoubtedly been important to Somalia’s improvement. Similarly, in
1993–1994 UNOSOM intervened in Somalia and provided large quantities of humanitarian and
other resources to Somali citizens, which might also have contributed to Somalia’s improvement
without government.
While the importance of these factors cannot be definitively decided, there is some reason
to be skeptical that they, rather than state collapse, are responsible for Somali development.
For example, rather than an independent cause of Somali improvement under statelessness, the
rise of Somali remittances after government’s collapse may in fact be a result of government’s
collapse. In stateless Somalia remittances are handled through the hawilaad system, discussed
below, a private and self-enforcing financial system for transferring remittances sent to Somalia
from abroad. Under Barre’s government, however, the hawilaad system’s predecessor, the franco
valuta system, which served a similar purpose, was eventually criminalized, making it more
difficult to remit finances to Somalia. When the government collapsed this barrier was removed,
leading to the growth of Somali remittances under anarchy.
Similarly, although UNOSOM’s intervention provided critical humanitarian aid to many So-
malis, its affect on the situation in Somalia was not purely positive. UNOSOM’s presence led
to surges in Somali violence, both against UNOSOM and between competing factions, which
feared a shift in the balance of power that UNOSOM’s presence threatened to create. Thus, in ad-
dition to providing resources, which likely helped Somali development, UNOSOM also spurred
additional violence, which likely inhibited Somali development.
700 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
Another factor that complicates my analysis is Somaliland and Puntland, the two northern
regions of Somalia, both of which, nominally at least, have some kind of government. Somaliland
declared itself a fully independent sovereignty in 1991. Puntland, in contrast, identified itself
as an independent territory within Somalia in 1998. Although Puntland and Somaliland both
have “governments,” and thus more formal structure than the southern part of Somalia, these
“states” remain weak at best. Neither, for example, is recognized as a state by the international
community. Further, neither exhibits some of even the most basic characteristics we associate
with governments. For example, the “governments” in Puntland and Somaliland do not have a
monopoly on the law or its legitimate enforcement. Although some public laws and courts exist,
in both regions, the legal system functions primarily on the basis of private, customary law and
mechanisms of enforcement—the legal system that governs the totally stateless southern portion
of Somalia—which I discuss below (van Notten, 2005).
Similarly, neither Somaliland nor Puntland has proved very successful in extracting taxes
from their citizens. In Puntland, government’s “[r]evenue capacity is very limited” (UN, 2006,
Chapter III, p. 6); likewise, Somaliland suffers from “weak revenue collection capacity” (UN,
2006, Chapter IV, p. 3). In addition to this, similar to fully-stateless Somalia, in both Puntland and
Somaliland, the private sector delivers many, if not most, public goods (UN, 2006, Chapters III,
IV). Calling Puntland or Somaliland “governments,” then, is misleading. It is more appropriate
to think of these as ultra-minimal states, if they are states at all.
Unfortunately, there are little data that would allow for a disaggregated examination of So-
mali improvement in the post-state collapse period. Nevertheless, in Table 3, I present all of the
disaggregated data I could find that allow for a comparison of Puntland and Somaliland develop-
ment to Somalia’s development overall to try to get some sense of how these somewhat different
regions might be influencing the overall figures presented in Table 1.
Only five indicators allow even partial comparison. However, what they suggest is somewhat
mixed. Somaliland has substantially better access to water and sanitation than Somalia overall.
On the other hand, Somaliland actually fares worse on maternal morality than Somalia overall
and has about the same GDP per capita and infant mortality rate. Puntland also has significantly
better access to sanitation, but does worse than Somalia overall on access to water and infant
mortality. Although disaggregated data that would allow for a thorough comparison are lacking,
these figures suggest that although Puntland and Somaliland may be “pulling up” Somalia overall
on certain indicators, they may be “pulling down” or not really influencing Somalia overall on
several others. The UNDP (2001) reports that Puntland and Somaliland are doing better than
southern Somalia, which may well be the case. However, it does not seem that these regions are
the exclusive locations of post-Barre progress in the country. Still, the absence of additional data
renders any judgments along these lines very tentative. It is therefore important to keep in mind
Table 3
Somalia disaggregated
GDP per capita
Infant mortality
rate (per 1000
live births)
mortality rate
(per 100,000)
Pop. with access
to water (%)
Pop. with access
to sanitation (%)
226 114.89 1100 29 26
250 113 1600 45 47
– 133 – 25.9 41.5
See Table 1;
UN (2006, Chapter III);
UN (2006, Chapter IV).
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 701
that the indicators reported in Table 1 do not disaggregate the regions of Somalia, and thus reflect
overall conditions that include both citizens in Puntland and Somaliland, as well as citizens in
the fully-stateless, southern portion of Somalia.
4. The sources of Somalia’s progress
4.1. Economic advance
Much of the credit for Somalia’s improved development belongs to its economy, which has
been allowed to grow in the absence of government predation. Although economic advance has
been uneven, “in some areas, the local economy is thriving and is experiencing an unparalleled
economic boom” (Mubarak, 1997, p. 2027). Somalia’s cross-border cattle trade with Kenya is
particularly instructive of this progress. Livestock is the most important sector of the Somali
economy. It constitutes an estimated 40 percent of Somalia’s GDP and 65 percent of its exports
(CIA World Factbook, 2006). Examining changes in the cross-border cattle trade before and
after statelessness is therefore a useful way of establishing changes in Somalia’s economy since
anarchy emerged.
According to data from the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development col-
lected by Peter Little (2003), Somalia’s export of cattle to Kenya more than doubled between
1991 and 2000. Figure 1 provides an event study investigating the effect of statelessness on So-
malia’s cross-border cattle trade.
This figure examines changes in the Somali–Kenya cross-border cattle trade between 1989
and 2000. These data draw on the cattle trade at Garissa, the main Kenyan border district and
a major livestock trading market in the Kenya–Somali borderlands. The dashed vertical line at
Fig. 1. Cross-border cattle trade.
702 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
1991 demarcates the emergence of anarchy. Since this time the value of the cattle trade has
increased 143 percent, and its volume has increased 132 percent. Between 1989 and 2000 the
value and volume of the cattle trade increased 250 and 218 percent respectively. Even during the
most intense period of civil war between 1991 and 1992 the cattle trade grew substantially.
This growth tends to understate the true increase in cross-border cattle trade since the onset
of statelessness. In 2000 severe drought struck Somalia and Kenya closed its border
to Somali
livestock for fear of importing animals infected with Rift Valley Fever. This depressed livestock
trade in the final year for which data are available, shrinking its growth for the period 1991–2000.
Between 1991 and 1998, for instance, the value of cattle traded at Garissa grew 400 percent, and
between 1989 and 1998 this trade grew 600 percent. In terms of volume, annual sales grew from
less than 25,000 cattle in 1989 to more than 100,000 by 1998.
Further, these data reflect only official cross-border cattle exports from Somalia to Kenya.
They do not include the substantial cattle trade that occurs without the Kenyan government’s
approval. In 1998 unofficial exports entering Kenya from the Lower Jubba region alone add an
estimated 70,000 cattle to these data (Little, 2003, p. 38).
The frequency of larger-scale livestock traders has also grown under statelessness. In 1987–
1988, 80 percent of livestock traders had annual sales between one and 600 (small scale). Only
20 percent had annual sales above this level (large scale). By 1998 the percentage of large-scale
traders had doubled. Consider Table 4.
Information about crime in stateless Somalia can also be gleaned from this sector. The cross-
border livestock trade is facilitated by brokers (dilaal) who certify for buyers and sellers that
traded livestock are not stolen. Dilaal incur liability if livestock they certify is illegitimate. In
this capacity they act as insurance for cross-border traders. Data on brokers’ fees pre- and post-
anarchy suggest that fees have not risen since government’s collapse. Between 1988 and 1998
dilaal fees remained the same (Little, 2003, p. 109). If thievery increased between 1988 and 1998
we would expect to dilaal fees to have risen. The fact that they have not suggests that, at least
in the sizeable livestock sector, thievery has not increased under anarchy. In fact, dilaal fees are
lower on the Somali side of the cross-border trade than they are on the Kenyan side, indicating
that thievery is more problematic in Kenya, which has a government, than in Somalia.
The livestock sector’s expansion is not limited to cross-border trade with Kenya. During the
1990s Somalia accounted for more than 60 percent of all livestock exports in East Africa. In the
northern part of Somalia (Somaliland and Puntland) production and annual exports of sheep and
goats from the major ports of Berbera and Bossaso have surpassed their pre-1991 levels (Little,
Table 4
The growth of large-scale livestock traders
Annual sales Percentage of traders
1987–1988 1996 1998
1–300 50 17 34
301–600 30 18 26
601–900 – 20 5
901–1200 5 28 22
>1200 15 17 13
Notes. Data from Little (2003).
Saudi Arabia also banned livestock exports from Somalia during this period owing to the Rift Valley Fever.
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 703
2003, pp. 37–38). In 1999 these two ports alone were responsible for 95 percent of goat and 52
percent of sheep exports for all of eastern Africa (Little, 2001, p. 194).
Further, Somalia’s economic improvement under statelessness is not limited to its largest eco-
nomic activity. Other sectors that have grown under anarchy include service and hospitality.
A large part of this progress has been in telecommunications. Local providers have joined forces
with multinationals like Sprint, ITT and Telenor to provide cheap, high quality, and extensive mo-
bile phone coverage (UNDP, 2001, p. 107; The Economist Anon., 2005). Transportation is also a
growing service industry in Somalia. In addition to local transportation services, Somali-owned
airlines provide international service for Somalis. By 1997, 14 firms operating 62 aircraft were
up and running, an improvement over this industry’s status under government (Nenova, 2004).
In the hospitality sector, “unprecedented” construction is taking place in Mogadishu and other
major urban centers (UNDP, 2001, p. 203), facilitating the growth of new restaurants and ho-
tels. “In Hargeisa, Mogadishu, and Bosasso, investments in light manufacturing have expanded,
indicating local investor confidence in the economy and local security” (UNDP, 2001, p. 39).
An improved monetary climate has also contributed to Somalia’s stateless economy. Infla-
tion was a significant problem pre-1991 when government appealed to the printing presses to
fund its corrupt activities. Skyrocketing inflation made it increasingly difficult to purchase con-
sumables. It also created business uncertainty and distorted monetary calculations of economic
participants. Although the monetary situation in Somalia is still problematic, under anarchy the
Somali shilling (SoSh) has been more stable.
The SoSh was the official currency of pre-1991 Somalia. Post-1991 there was no government
to mandate its usage; however the SoSh continued to trade on the world market. Today the SoSh,
along with the US$, is the basis of Somalia’s private monetary system.
There is no central
bank or treasury in Somalia. This means that primarily old notes circulate, though in some cases
discussed below private parties have printed new currency, adding to the SoSh supply. Figure 2
examines the SoSh/US$ exchange rate between 1986 and March of 2000.
The first dashed line in 1991 indicates the emergence of anarchy. Under Barre’s predatory
regime the exchange rate soared. Steep depreciation drove the SoSh from SoSh 110 per $1 in
1986 to SoSh 5700 per $1 by 1991. Following the coup the exchange rate fell precipitously to
SoSh 4200/US$ despite the fact that Somalia was in the throws of civil war. Under statelessness,
the SoSh has shown significantly greater stability. It lost significant value against the dollar twice
during this period—first around 1996, and then after March of 1999. These dates, indicated by
the second and third dashed lines, mark two monetary increases. The first was instigated by the
Mogadishu-based warlord, Hussein Aideed, who imported new shillings he had printed abroad
to fund his faction’s activities. The second was instigated by the fledgling Transitional National
Government in the spring of 1999. In an attempt to establish the TNG as a formal authority, its
supporters imported SoSh 30 billion they had printed in Canada.
Since 2000, TNG supporters have further added to Somalia’s money supply leading to addi-
tional depreciation against the dollar. Nevertheless, the average annual rate of depreciation under
anarchy is still only a fraction of its size under government. In just the last four years under
government (1986–1990), average annual depreciation of the SoSh was nearly 120 percent. In
the first nine years of statelessness (1991–2000), average annual depreciation of the SoSh was
just over six percent. The 2000 monetary injection of TNG supporters boosted the 1991–2001
average to around 14.7 percent, and more recent injections promise to depreciate the currency
Somaliland also has its own currency, the Somaliland shilling.
704 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
Fig. 2. SoSh/US$ exchange rate.
Still, money appears to be more stable under Somali anarchy that it was under the last
years of government.
The SoSh’s improved stability is also reflected by the fact that, at least until several years ago,
in parts of neighboring Ethiopia the SoSh was used more extensively used than Ethiopia’s own
currency (Little, 2003, p. 144). In fact, prior to the large monetary injections in Somalia in March
of 1999 and then in 2000, the SoSh showed greater stability than the national currencies of both
Ethiopia and Kenya. From 1996 to February 1999 the SoSh depreciated against the US$ only
12.14 percent. Between 1996 and 1999 the Kenyan shilling lost 32.55 percent against the US$
and the Ethiopian birr depreciated against the dollar 26.58 percent.
Somalia’s financial market has also improved under statelessness. Numerous remittance firms
discussed above, called hawilaad, handle an estimated $500 million–$1 billion sent by members
of the Somali diaspora to their friends and family in Somalia each year (UNDP, 2001). Haw-
ilaad are instrumental in connecting Somalis with the resources they need to survive and expand
their enterprises. At least one of the Mogadishu-based firms is multinational with branches in
countries throughout the world (Little, 2003; UNDP, 2001). Remittance businesses are also mor-
phing into private depository/lending institutions and will likely contribute to the development
of a Somali banking sector. Some offer travelers checks and non-interest bearing deposits, make
small loans, and perform other bank-related services (Nenova, 2004). Though still in its nascent
stages, Somalia’s financial sector affords greater access to most Somalis today than it did un-
der government when financial services (especially loans) went exclusively to public enterprises
Calculated using data from Little (2003) and UNDP (2001).
Calculated using data from IMF (2006) and Little (2003).
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 705
and political allies (Mubarak, 1997). As a result, under anarchy, “Somalis lend and borrow an
extraordinary amount of money to one another” (Menkhaus, 2004, p. 34).
The financial sector is not alone to attract attention from multinational businesses. Others have
also found stateless Somalia an attractive place to invest. Dole Fruit, for instance, has invested
in Somalia. General Motors’ Kenya subsidiary has as well. Total Oil Company now operates in
Somaliland, and the BBC has forged a formal affiliation with one of Somalia’s emergent media
companies. Several international companies have expressed interest in investing in Somalia’s
energy industry, and numerous fishing fleets from Europe and Asia have reached agreements for
commercial fishing in Puntland (Little, 2003, pp. 166–167). The Somali economy has a long way
to go, but in many ways has progressed since statelessness emerged.
4.2. Improvement in public goods
Supporting the growth of the Somali economy is an improved public goods sector. Public
goods remain extremely low, especially in Somalia’s rural areas. However, like Somalia’s econ-
omy, they show progress under anarchy. While factions are able to “tax” Somalis traveling on
roadways they control, taxes and restrictions on Somalis’ movement and trading activities are
substantially lower under statelessness than they were under government. “Taxes, payable to a
tentative local authority or strongman, are seldom more than 5%, security is another 5% (more
in Mogadishu), and customs duties are next to nothing. There is no need to pay for licenses, or
to pay to put up masts” (The Economist Anon., 2005). Further, it does not seem that Somalis are
any less likely to enjoy the benefits of fees paid to militia leaders than they were when they paid
considerably higher taxes to government (Little, 2003, pp. 7–9).
Public goods come from a variety of sources in stateless Somalia, including the “taxes”
charged by militia. Clan militias provide security to citizens in their territories, and militiamen
for hire protect businesses, seaports, large markets, and trade convoys. In other cases shari’a, a
form of religious law/courts discussed below, provide security by including guards in their court
militia in return for payment from businessmen (UNDP, 2001, pp. 109–110). Clan leaders also
work together to provide needed public goods in areas outside of Somalia’s big cities where very
few exist.
Law and order is provided privately by xeer, Somali customary law, which establishes rules
regarding marriage, war, resource use, and social contracts between clans. It is also supported
by diya, which defines rules regarding the punishment of misconduct, such as murder or theft.
Although some secular courts exist, shari’a courts perform an instrumental function in creating
legal order. Private courts are funded by the donations of successful businessmen who benefit
from the presence of this public good in urban centers. Under anarchy, dispute resolution is
free and speedy by international standards (Nenova, 2004; Nenova and Harford, 2004). This
constitutes an important improvement in the provision of law and order compared to before 1991.
Under government, the legal system was often used as a tool for preying on Somali citizens and
punishing the opposition (Africa Watch Committee, 1990; Menkhaus, 2004). “[H]arassment,
arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, denial of a fair public trial, and invasion of the home were
common features of the life of the Somali citizen” (Hashim, 1997, p. 90). Rampant corruption
and political pressures rendered the police and judiciary useless for most Somalis. Because of
the state’s collapse, private providers of law and order have been freed to step in. Somalia’s
On the private provision of law and order see, Benson (1990, 1991, 1995).
706 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
stateless legal system is far from perfect. The justice system is still subject to abuse and the
climate in a number of areas remained insecure even before the renewed conflict in late 2006.
Nevertheless, there has been improvement compared to the situation under government. “[I]n
some parts of Somalia, local communities enjoy more responsive and participatory governance,
and a more predictable, profitable, and safer commercial climate, than at any time in recent
decades” (Menkhaus, 1998, p. 220).
Education has also benefited in important ways under anarchy. There are more primary
schools in Somalia today than there were in the late 1980s under government (UNDP, 2001,
p. 84), and this number is growing. The number of formal schools has increased from 600 in
1990 to 1172 under statelessness (UNICEF, 2005b). There are many Koranic schools as well.
These focus mostly on the Koran, but students also learn Arabic. Higher education has simi-
larly benefited by statelessness. There was only one university in Somalia prior to the emergence
of anarchy. Under statelessness, universities have emerged in Borama, Hargeisa, Bossaso, and
Mogadishu. These universities offer subjects from computer skills to accounting. According to
UNICEF, although the state of education in Somalia remains poor, there is evidence of “gaining
momentum in the education sector” (UNICEF, 2005a, p. 2) and improving children’s literacy and
Somalia’s “private sector has [also] proved to be a relatively effective provider of key so-
cial services, such as water or transport” (UNDP, 2001, p. 42). Transportation for freight and
people connects even small villages in Somalia to major urban centers, and is relatively inexpen-
sive (Nenova, 2004). A state-owned electricity provider opened in Hargeisa in 2003. However,
most Somali electricity is privately provided. Water needs are also supplied by private firms.
Private social insurance provides a safety net financed through remittances from abroad. These
remittances average $4170 annually per household (Ahmed, 2000, p. 384). Expansive domes-
tic clan-based social networks also provide social insurance. In hard times, private welfare can
contribute as much as 25–60 percent of household income (UNDP, 2001, p. 68). Private health-
care is also available. Although the state of medicine in Somalia remains extremely low, medical
consultations are affordable ($0.50/visit) (UNDP, 2001, p. 108). Further, the percentage of So-
malis with access to a medical facility has nearly doubled since 1989–1990 before statelessness
emerged. Privately-provided public goods like “education and health care services . . . and utility
companies such as electricity and water, are also providing new income generating and employ-
ment opportunities” (UNDP, 2001, p. 39) that have further contributed to Somalia’s economic
5. Concluding remarks
Somalia remains a country with severe problems. But it appears to have fared better under re-
cent statelessness than it did under government. A comprehensive view of the data that allow pre-
and post-anarchy welfare comparisons suggest that anarchy has improved Somali development
in important ways. Contrary to our typical intuition, in Somalia it seems that social welfare has
improved because of, rather than despite, the absence of a central state. Somalia’s government
was oppressive, exploitative, and brutal. The extent of this predation created a situation in which
social welfare was depressed below the level it could achieve without any government at all.
The emergence of anarchy in 1991 opened up opportunities for advancement not possible before
government’s collapse. In particular, economic progress and improved public goods provision in
critical areas flourished in the absence of a monopolistic and corrupt state.
P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710 707
Recognition of this is not to deny that Somalia could be doing much better. It clearly could.
Nor is this to say that Somalia is better off stateless than it would be under any government.
A constitutionally-constrained state with limited powers to do harm but strong enough to support
the private sector may very well do more for Somalia than statelessness. Further, Somalia’s im-
provement under anarchy does not tell us whether continual improvement is possible if Somalia
remains stateless. It is possible that past some point, to enjoy further development, Somalia might
require a central government capable of providing more widespread security and public goods.
De Long and Shleifer (1993), for example, show that while pre-industrial European countries
under “feudal anarchy” performed better in some ways than those under absolutist autocracies,
countries under limited government performed better than both. But this was not the type of
government that collapsed in Somalia 15 years ago.
The relevant question for Somalia’s future is thus whether or not a government, were a stable
one to emerge, would be more like the constrained variety we observe in the West, or more like
the purely predatory variety that systematically exploited Somalis between 1969 and the emer-
gence of anarchy in 1991. In the latter case, even if Somalia’s ability to improve is constrained
by statelessness, Somali development would still be better served under anarchy than it would
be under government. If “good government” is not one of the options in Somalia’s institutional
opportunity set, anarchy may be a constrained optimum. Among the options that are available,
ultra-predatory government and statelessness, statelessness may be preferable.
In August of 2000, select Somali clan leaders gathered in Djibouti at the urging of the interna-
tional community. At this meeting they established the Transitional National Government (TNG)
in an attempt to reestablish formal government in Somalia. The TNG, while remaining in name
for three years, failed to establish authority. It was crippled by a lack of popular support and an
inability to raise tax revenues. The terms of the TNG expired in 2003. This gave rise in 2004
to the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), led by Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. The plan was
for the TFG to go to Mogadishu and set up the center of the new central government. However,
strong divisions within the members of the TFG initially prevented this. Instead of creating a
new government, the TFG effectively fractured into two new rival faction groups that did not
fundamentally differ from the “warlord”-led factions it sought to replace.
In May of 2006, the TFG and the Supreme Council of Islamic Courts (SCIC), which provided
the basis of Somalia’s private legal system, entered a conflict over control of Mogadishu and
other key areas in Somalia. With Ethiopia’s assistance, in early 2007 the TFG succeeded in
taking control of the capital city where it now resides. The SCIC continues to mount small-scale
resistance, but for the moment at least, is not in a position to regain control of Mogadishu. The
renewed violence this most recent attempt to reestablish formal government in Somalia created
has undermined the relative peace and stability that preceded it in the earlier period of Somali
Despite the TFG’s victory over the SCIC and movement to Mogadishu, Somali statelessness
persists. The TFG enjoys the support of the international community, but like the TNG, lacks the
domestic support needed to establish genuine authority. Surprisingly, it seems that Somalia’s pri-
vate sector and has not totally collapsed in the face of the new violence. As one Mogadishu-based
electronics store owner commented, for example, even “After the fighting between the Islamists
[the SCIC-backed militia] and the warlords [the TFG-backed militias], people are still buying
computers. The security [situation] is very, very good” (quoted in Tek, 2006, p. 31). Further,
while it is certain that the renewed conflict has been harmful to the progress Somali achieved
leading up to this, what little updated data we have on Somalia suggests that this conflict has not
totally reversed the strides toward improvement Somalia has made since 1991. The only two de-
708 P.T. Leeson / Journal of Comparative Economics 35 (2007) 689–710
velopment indicators from Table 1 available for 2007, infant mortality and life expectancy, both
show improvement not only over their levels under Somali government, but also over their levels
in 2006. The improvement has been minimal in only one year, but is present nevertheless. Infant
mortality has fallen from 114.89 to 113.08 and life expectancy has risen from 48.47 to 48.84
(CIA World Factbook, 2007). Whether or not this improvement is part of a larger trend remains
unclear. However, it provides at least some reason to be less pessimistic about the possible impact
that recent Somali fighting has had on the progress Somalia achieved under anarchy before this
Harold Demsetz (1969) famously cautioned economists to avoid committing the “nirvana
fallacy,” which compares an imperfect reality with a hypothetical ideal state. Instead we should
compare the situation we confront with the relevant alternatives actually available to us. The
plans for a path from here to there must be grounded in an assessment of how things were, how
they are, and how they realistically could be. His caution is especially useful when considering
reforms in the developing world and, as Coyne (2006) points out, for Somalia in particular.
A consideration of the relevant alternatives based on realistically assessing Somalia’s past
and present suggests it is unlikely a new central government, at least in the near future, would
resemble anything like a constrained, supportive state. The history of Somalia’s experience under
government, as well as the ongoing experiences of its neighbors, implies less optimism than is
often projected by the advocates of recreating government in Somalia. The factional disagree-
ments that led to civil war in the few years after government’s collapse remain strong. Any ruler
to come to power from one of these groups would likely turn the state’s power against its rivals
rather than to the good of the country, much as Barre’s regime did before it ended. The TFG
has sparse domestic support precisely because of this and because faction leaders recognize the
strong possibility that any one faction gaining too much power could mean the virtual annihila-
tion of the others.
Indeed, thus far in the stateless period, the three greatest disruptions of relative stability and
renewed social conflict have occurred precisely in the three times that a formal government was
most forcefully attempted—first with the TNG, later with the TFG, and finally most recently
when the TFG mobilized violently to oust the SCIC. In each case the specter of government
disturbed the delicate equilibrium of power that exists between competing factions, and led to
increased violence and deaths due to armed conflict (Menkhaus, 2004). At the moment at least,
it seems that in upsetting this delicate balance of power the attempted reestablishment of govern-
ment in Somalia will lead to more conflict and obstacles to progress rather than less.
I thank Peter Boettke, Tyler Cowen, Christopher Coyne, Andrei Shleifer, Russell S. Sobel,
William Trumbull, the Editor, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments and sugges-
tions. Matt Ryan provided valuable research assistance.
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-./0/.1' 2&*31&3 45
A Conceptual Framework for Liberation
Fourth U.S. Edition
Gene Sharp
The Albert Einstein Institution
All material appearing in this
publication is in the public domain.
Cilalion of lhe source, and nolihcalion lo lhe
Albert Einstein Institution for the reproduction,
translation, and reprinting of this publication, are ted.
First Edition, May 2002
Second Edition, June 2003
Third Edition, February 2008
Fourth Edition, May 2010
From Dictatorship to Democracy was originally published in Bangkok
in 1993 by the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in Burma
in association with Khit Pyaing (The New Era Journal). It has since
been translated into at least thirty-one other languages and has been
published in Serbia, Indonesia, and Thailand, among other countries.
This is the fourth United States Edition.
Printed in the United States of America.
Printed on Recycled Paper.
The Albert Einstein Institution
P.O. Box 455
East Boston, MA 02128, USA
Tel: USA +1 617-247-4882
Fax: USA +1 617-247-4035
E-mail: einstein@igc.org
Website: www.aeinstein.org
ISBN 1-880813-09-2
A continuing problem 2
Freedom through violence? 4
Coups, elections, foreign saviors? 5
Facing the hard truth 7
Merits and limitations of negotiations 10
Negotiated surrender? 10
Power and justice in negotiations 12
“Agreeable” dictators 13
What kind of peace? 14
Reasons for hope 14
The “Monkey Master” fable 17
Necessary sources of political power 18
Centers of democratic power 21
Identifying the Achilles’ heel 25
Weaknesses of dictatorships 26
Attacking weaknesses of dictatorships 27
The workings of nonviolent struggle 30
Nonviolent weapons and discipline 30
From Dictatorship to Democracy v
Openness, secrecy, and high standards 33
Shifting power relationships 34
Four mechanisms of change 35
Democralizing effecls of ¡oIilicaI dehance 37
Complexity of nonviolent struggle 38
Realistic planning 39
Hurdles to planning 40
Four important terms in strategic planning 43
Choice of means 48
Planning for democracy 49
External assistance 50
Formulating a grand strategy 50
Planning campaign strategies 53
Spreading the idea of noncooperation 55
Repression and countermeasures 56
Adhering to the strategic plan 57
Selective resistance 59
Symbolic challenge 60
Spreading responsibility 61
Aiming at the dictators’ power 62
Shifts in strategy 64
Escalating freedom 69
Disintegrating the dictatorship 70
Handling success responsibly 71
vi Gene Sharp
Threats of a new dictatorship 73
Blocking coups 74
Constitution drafting 75
A democratic defense policy 76
A meritorious responsibility 76
From Dictatorship to Democracy vii
One of my major concerns for many years has been how people
could prevent and destroy dictatorships. This has been nurtured in
part because of a belief that human beings should not be dominated
and destroyed by such regimes. That belief has been strengthened
by readings on the importance of human freedom, on the nature of
dictatorships (from Aristotle to analysts of totalitarianism), and his-
tories of dictatorships (especially the Nazi and Stalinist systems).
Over the years I have had occasion to get to know people who
lived and suffered under Nazi rule, including some who survived
concentration camps. In Norway I met people who had resisted
fascist rule and survived, and heard of those who perished. I talked
with Jews who had escaped the Nazi clutches and with persons who
had helped to save them.
Knowledge of the terror of Communist rule in various countries
has been learned more from books than personal contacts. The terror
of these systems appeared to me to be especially poignant for these
dictatorships were imposed in the name of liberation from oppres-
sion and exploitation.
In more recent decades through visits of persons from dicta-
torially ruled countries, such as Panama, Poland, Chile, Tibet, and
Burma, the realities of today’s dictatorships became more real. From
Tibetans who had fought against Chinese Communist aggression,
Russians who had defeated the August 1991 hard-line coup, and
Thais who had nonviolently blocked a return to military rule, I
have gained often troubling perspectives on the insidious nature of
The sense of pathos and outrage against the brutalities, along
with admiration of the calm heroism of unbelievably brave men
and women, were sometimes strengthened by visits to places where
lhe dangers vere sliII greal, and yel dehance by brave ¡eo¡Ie con-
tinued. These included Panama under Noriega; Vilnius, Lithuania,
under continued Soviet repression; Tiananmen Square, Beijing,
during both the festive demonstration of freedom and while the
hrsl armored ¡ersonneI carriers enlered lhal falefuI nighl, and lhe
jungle headquarters of the democratic opposition at Manerplaw in
“liberated Burma.”
Sometimes I visited the sites of the fallen, as the television tower
and the cemetery in Vilnius, the public park in Riga where people
had been gunned down, the center of Ferrara in northern Italy where
the fascists lined up and shot resisters, and a simple cemetery in
Maner¡Iav hIIed vilh bodies of men vho had died much loo young.
It is a sad realization that every dictatorship leaves such death and
destruction in its wake.
Out of these concerns and experiences grew a determined
hope that prevention of tyranny might be possible, that successful
struggles against dictatorships could be waged without mass mu-
tual slaughters, that dictatorships could be destroyed and new ones
prevented from rising out of the ashes.
I have tried to think carefully about the most effective ways
in which dictatorships could be successfully disintegrated with the
least possible cost in suffering and lives. In this I have drawn on my
studies over many years of dictatorships, resistance movements,
revolutions, political thought, governmental systems, and especially
realistic nonviolent struggle.
This publication is the result. I am certain it is far from perfect.
But, perhaps, it offers some guidelines to assist thought and plan-
ning to produce movements of liberation that are more powerful
and effective than might otherwise be the case.
Of necessity, and of deliberate choice, the focus of this essay is
on the generic problem of how to destroy a dictatorship and to pre-
vent the rise of a new one. I am not competent to produce a detailed
analysis and prescription for a particular country. However, it is my
hope that this generic analysis may be useful to people in, unfortu-
nately, too many countries who now face the realities of dictatorial
rule. They will need to examine the validity of this analysis for their
situations and the extent to which its major recommendations are, or
can be made to be, applicable for their liberation struggles.
Nowhere in this analysis do I assume that defying dictators will
be an easy or cost-free endeavor. All forms of struggle have complica-
viii Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy ix
tions and costs. Fighting dictators will, of course, bring casualties. It
is my hope, however, that this analysis will spur resistance leaders
to consider strategies that may increase their effective power while
reducing the relative level of casualties.
Nor should this analysis be interpreted to mean that when a
s¡ecihc diclalorshi¡ is ended, aII olher ¡robIems viII aIso disa¡¡ear.
The fall of one regime does not bring in a utopia. Rather, it opens the
way for hard work and long efforts to build more just social, eco-
nomic, and political relationships and the eradication of other forms
of injustices and oppression. It is my hope that this brief examina-
tion of how a dictatorship can be disintegrated may be found useful
wherever people live under domination and desire to be free.
Gene Sharp
6 October 1993
Albert Einstein Institution
Boston, Massachusetts
In recent years various dictatorships — of both internal and external
origin ÷ have coIIa¡sed or slumbIed vhen confronled by dehanl,
mobiIized ¡eo¡Ie. Òflen seen as hrmIy enlrenched and im¡regnabIe,
some of these dictatorships proved unable to withstand the concerted
¡oIilicaI, economic, and sociaI dehance of lhe ¡eo¡Ie.
Since 1980 dictatorships have collapsed before the predominant-
Iy nonvioIenl dehance of ¡eo¡Ie in Lslonia, Lalvia, and Lilhuania,
Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar,
Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Nonviolent resistance has fur-
thered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia,
South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thai-
land, Bulgaria, Hungary, Nigeria, and various parts of the former
Soviel Inion (¡Iaying a signihcanl roIe in lhe defeal of lhe Augusl
1991 attempted hard-line coup d’état).
In addilion, mass ¡oIilicaI dehance
has occurred in China,
Burma, and Tibet in recent years. Although those struggles have
not brought an end to the ruling dictatorships or occupations, they
have exposed the brutal nature of those repressive regimes to the
world community and have provided the populations with valuable
experience with this form of struggle.
The lerm used in lhis conlexl vas inlroduced by Roberl HeIvey. ¨IoIilicaI deh-
ance” is nonviolent struggle (protest, noncooperation, and intervention) applied
dehanlIy and acliveIy for ¡oIilicaI ¡ur¡oses. The lerm originaled in res¡onse lo
lhe confusion and dislorlion crealed by equaling nonvioIenl slruggIe vilh ¡acihsm
and moraI or reIigious ¨nonvioIence.¨ ¨Dehance¨ denoles a deIiberale chaIIenge lo
aulhorily by disobedience, aIIoving no room for submission. ¨IoIilicaI dehance¨
describes the environment in which the action is employed (political) as well as
the objective (political power). The term is used principally to describe action by
populations to regain from dictatorships control over governmental institutions
by relentlessly attacking their sources of power and deliberately using strategic
¡Ianning and o¡eralions lo do so. In lhis ¡a¡er, ¡oIilicaI dehance, nonvioIenl re-
sistance, and nonviolent struggle will be used interchangeably, although the latter
two terms generally refer to struggles with a broader range of objectives (social,
economic, psychological, etc.).
The collapse of dictatorships in the above named countries cer-
tainly has not erased all other problems in those societies: poverty,
crime, bureaucralic inefhciency, and environmenlaI deslruclion are
often the legacy of brutal regimes. However, the downfall of these
dictatorships has minimally lifted much of the suffering of the vic-
tims of oppression, and has opened the way for the rebuilding of
these societies with greater political democracy, personal liberties,
and social justice.
A continuing problem
There has indeed been a trend towards greater democratization and
freedom in the world in the past decades. According to Freedom
House, which compiles a yearly international survey of the status of
political rights and civil liberties, the number of countries around the
vorId cIassihed as ¨Iree¨ has grovn signihcanlIy in recenl years:
Free Partly Free Not Free
1983 54 47 64
1993 75 73 38
2003 89 55 48
2009 89 62 42
However, this positive trend is tempered by the large numbers
of people still living under conditions of tyranny. As of 2008, 34% of
the world’s 6.68 billion population lived in countries designated as
“Not Free,”
that is, areas with extremely restricted political rights
and civil liberties. The 42 countries in the “Not Free” category are
ruled by a range of military dictatorships (as in Burma), traditional
repressive monarchies (as in Saudi Arabia and Bhutan), dominant
political parties (as in China and North Korea), foreign occupiers (as
in Tibet and Western Sahara), or are in a state of transition.
2 Gene Sharp
Freedom House, Freedom in the World, http://www.freedomhouse.org.
Many countries today are in a state of rapid economic, political,
and social change. Although the number of “Free” countries has in-
creased in recent years, there is a great risk that many nations, in the
face of such rapid fundamental changes, will move in the opposite
direction and experience new forms of dictatorship. Military cliques,
ambilious individuaIs, eIecled ofhciaIs, and doclrinaI ¡oIilicaI ¡arlies
will repeatedly seek to impose their will. Coups d’état are and will
remain a common occurrence. Basic human and political rights will
continue to be denied to vast numbers of peoples.
Unfortunately, the past is still with us. The problem of dictator-
ships is deep. People in many countries have experienced decades or
even centuries of oppression, whether of domestic or foreign origin.
IrequenlIy, unqueslioning submission lo aulhorily hgures and ruI-
ers has been long inculcated. In extreme cases, the social, political,
economic, and even religious institutions of the society — outside
of state control — have been deliberately weakened, subordinated,
or even replaced by new regimented institutions used by the state
or ruling party to control the society. The population has often been
atomized (turned into a mass of isolated individuals) unable to work
logelher lo achieve freedom, lo conhde in each olher, or even lo do
much of anything at their own initiative.
The result is predictable: the population becomes weak, lacks
seIf-conhdence, and is inca¡abIe of resislance. Ieo¡Ie are oflen loo
frightened to share their hatred of the dictatorship and their hun-
ger for freedom even with family and friends. People are often too
lerrihed lo lhink seriousIy of ¡ubIic resislance. In any case, vhal
would be the use? Instead, they face suffering without purpose and
a future without hope.
Current conditions in today’s dictatorships may be much worse
than earlier. In the past, some people may have attempted resistance.
Short-lived mass protests and demonstrations may have occurred.
Perhaps spirits soared temporarily. At other times, individuals and
small groups may have conducted brave but impotent gestures,
asserling some ¡rinci¡Ie or sim¡Iy lheir dehance. Hovever nobIe
lhe molives, such ¡asl acls of resislance have oflen been insufhcienl
to overcome the people’s fear and habit of obedience, a necessary
From Dictatorship to Democracy 3
prerequisite to destroy the dictatorship. Sadly, those acts may have
brought instead only increased suffering and death, not victories or
even hope.
Freedom through violence?
What is to be done in such circumstances? The obvious possibilities
seem useless. Constitutional and legal barriers, judicial decisions,
and public opinion are normally ignored by dictators. Under-
standably, reacting to the brutalities, torture, disappearances, and
killings, people often have concluded that only violence can end a
diclalorshi¡. Angry viclims have somelimes organized lo hghl lhe
brutal dictators with whatever violent and military capacity they
could muster, despite the odds being against them. These people
have often fought bravely, at great cost in suffering and lives. Their
accomplishments have sometimes been remarkable, but they rarely
have won freedom. Violent rebellions can trigger brutal repression
that frequently leaves the populace more helpless than before.
Whatever the merits of the violent option, however, one point
is clear. Bq p|ccing ccnµ!cncc in tic|cni mccns, cnc ncs cncscn inc tcrq
type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superior-
ity. The dictators are equipped to apply violence overwhelmingly.
Hovever Iong or brießy lhese democrals can conlinue, evenluaIIy
the harsh military realities usually become inescapable. The dictators
almost always have superiority in military hardware, ammunition,
transportation, and the size of military forces. Despite bravery, the
democrats are (almost always) no match.
When conventional military rebellion is recognized as unrealis-
tic, some dissidents then favor guerrilla warfare. However, guerrilla
varfare rareIy, if ever, benehls lhe o¡¡ressed ¡o¡uIalion or ushers in
a democracy. Guerrilla warfare is no obvious solution, particularly
given the very strong tendency toward immense casualties among
one’s own people. The technique is no guarantor against failure,
despite supporting theory and strategic analyses, and sometimes
international backing. Guerrilla struggles often last a very long
time. Civilian populations are often displaced by the ruling gov-
4 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 5
ernment, with immense human suffering and social dislocation.
Lven vhen successfuI, guerriIIa slruggIes oflen have signih-
cant long-term negative structural consequences. Immediately, the
attacked regime becomes more dictatorial as a result of its coun-
lermeasures. If lhe guerriIIas shouId hnaIIy succeed, lhe resuIling
new regime is often more dictatorial than its predecessor due to the
centralizing impact of the expanded military forces and the weaken-
ing or destruction of the society’s independent groups and institu-
tions during the struggle — bodies that are vital in establishing and
maintaining a democratic society. Persons hostile to dictatorships
should look for another option.
Coups, elections, foreign saviors?
A military coup d’état against a dictatorship might appear to be
relatively one of the easiest and quickest ways to remove a particu-
larly repugnant regime. However, there are very serious problems
with that technique. Most importantly, it leaves in place the existing
maldistribution of power between the population and the elite in
control of the government and its military forces. The removal of
particular persons and cliques from the governing positions most
likely will merely make it possible for another group to take their
place. Theoretically, this group might be milder in its behavior and
be open in limited ways to democratic reforms. However, the op-
posite is as likely to be the case.
After consolidating its position, the new clique may turn out to
be more ruthless and more ambitious than the old one. Consequently,
the new clique — in which hopes may have been placed — will be
able to do whatever it wants without concern for democracy or
human rights. That is not an acceptable answer to the problem of
Elections are not available under dictatorships as an instru-
menl of signihcanl ¡oIilicaI change. Some diclaloriaI regimes,
such as those of the former Soviet-dominated Eastern bloc, went
through the motions in order to appear democratic. Those elections,
however, were merely rigidly controlled plebiscites to get public
endorsement of candidates already hand picked by the dictators.
Dictators under pressure may at times agree to new elections, but
lhen rig lhem lo ¡Iace civiIian ¡u¡¡els in governmenl ofhces. If
opposition candidates have been allowed to run and were actually
elected, as occurred in Burma in 1990 and Nigeria in 1993, results
may simply be ignored and the “victors” subjected to intimida-
tion, arrest, or even execution. Dictators are not in the business
of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.
Many people now suffering under a brutal dictatorship, or who
have gone into exile to escape its immediate grasp, do not believe that
the oppressed can liberate themselves. They expect that their people
can only be saved by the actions of others. These people place their
conhdence in exlernaI forces. They beIieve lhal onIy inlernalionaI
help can be strong enough to bring down the dictators.
The view that the oppressed are unable to act effectively is
sometimes accurate for a certain time period. As noted, often op-
pressed people are unwilling and temporarily unable to struggle
because lhey have no conhdence in lheir abiIily lo face lhe rulhIess
dictatorship, and no known way to save themselves. It is therefore
understandable that many people place their hope for liberation in
others. This outside force may be “public opinion,” the United Na-
tions, a particular country, or international economic and political
Such a scenario may sound comforting, but there are grave
¡robIems vilh lhis reIiance on an oulside savior. Such conhdence
may be totally misplaced. Usually no foreign saviors are coming, and
if a foreign state does intervene, it probably should not be trusted.
A few harsh realities concerning reliance on foreign intervention
need to be emphasized here:
ª IrequenlIy foreign slales viII loIerale, or even ¡osiliveIy as-
sist, a dictatorship in order to advance their own economic
or political interests.
ª Ioreign slales aIso may be viIIing lo seII oul an o¡¡ressed
people instead of keeping pledges to assist their liberation
at the cost of another objective.
6 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 7
ª Some foreign slales viII acl againsl a diclalorshi¡ onIy lo
gain their own economic, political, or military control over
the country.
ª The foreign slales may become acliveIy invoIved for ¡osi-
tive purposes only if and when the internal resistance move-
ment has already begun shaking the dictatorship, having
thereby focused international attention on the brutal nature
of the regime.
Dictatorships usually exist primarily because of the internal
power distribution in the home country. The population and society
are too weak to cause the dictatorship serious problems, wealth and
power are concentrated in too few hands. Although dictatorships
may benehl from or be somevhal veakened by inlernalionaI aclions,
their continuation is dependent primarily on internal factors.
International pressures can be very useful, however, when they
are supporting a powerful internal resistance movement. Then, for
example, international economic boycotts, embargoes, the breaking
of diplomatic relations, expulsion from international organizations,
condemnation by United Nations bodies, and the like can assist
greatly. However, in the absence of a strong internal resistance
movement such actions by others are unlikely to happen.
Facing the hard truth
The conclusion is a hard one. When one wants to bring down a
dictatorship most effectively and with the least cost then one has
four immediate tasks:
ª Òne musl slrenglhen lhe o¡¡ressed ¡o¡uIalion lhemseIves
in lheir delerminalion, seIf-conhdence, and resislance skiIIs,
ª Òne musl slrenglhen lhe inde¡endenl sociaI grou¡s and in-
stitutions of the oppressed people;
ª Òne musl creale a ¡overfuI inlernaI resislance force, and

ª Òne musl deveIo¡ a vise grand slralegic ¡Ian for Iiberalion
and implement it skillfully.
A liberation struggle is a time for self-reliance and internal
strengthening of the struggle group. As Charles Stewart Parnell
called out during the Irish rent strike campaign in 1879 and 1880:
It is no use relying on the Government . . . . You must only
rely upon your own determination . . . . [H]elp yourselves
by standing together . . . strengthen those amongst your-
selves who are weak . . . , band yourselves together, orga-
nize yourselves . . . and you must win . . .
When you have made this question ripe for settlement,
then and not till then will it be settled.
Against a strong self-reliant force, given wise strategy, disci-
plined and courageous action, and genuine strength, the dictator-
ship will eventually crumble. Minimally, however, the above four
requiremenls musl be fuIhIIed.
As the above discussion indicates, liberation from dictatorships
ultimately depends on the people’s ability to liberate themselves.
The cases of successfuI ¡oIilicaI dehance ÷ or nonvioIenl slruggIe
for political ends — cited above indicate that the means do exist
for populations to free themselves, but that option has remained
undeveloped. We will examine this option in detail in the following
cha¡lers. Hovever, ve shouId hrsl Iook al lhe issue of negolialions
as a means of dismantling dictatorships.
Ialrick SarsheId Ò'Hegarly, A Hisicrq cj |rc|cn! Un!cr inc Unicn, 1880-1922 (London:
Methuen, 1952), pp. 490-491.
8 Gcnc Sncrp
When faced with the severe problems of confronting a dictator-
ship (as surveyed in Chapter One), some people may lapse back
into passive submission. Others, seeing no prospect of achieving
democracy, may conclude they must come to terms with the appar-
ently permanent dictatorship, hoping that through “conciliation,”
“compromise,” and “negotiations” they might be able to salvage
some positive elements and to end the brutalities. On the surface,
lacking realistic options, there is appeal in that line of thinking.
Serious struggle against brutal dictatorships is not a pleasant
prospect. Why is it necessary to go that route? Can’t everyone just
be reasonabIe and hnd vays lo laIk, lo negoliale lhe vay lo a graduaI
end to the dictatorship? Can’t the democrats appeal to the dicta-
tors’ sense of common humanity and convince them to reduce their
dominalion bil by bil, and ¡erha¡s hnaIIy lo give vay com¡IeleIy
to the establishment of a democracy?
It is sometimes argued that the truth is not all on one side. Per-
haps the democrats have misunderstood the dictators, who may have
acled from good molives in difhcuIl circumslances` Òr ¡erha¡s some
may think, the dictators would gladly remove themselves from the
difhcuIl silualion facing lhe counlry if onIy given some encourage-
ment and enticements. It may be argued that the dictators could be
offered a “win-win” solution, in which everyone gains something.
The risks and pain of further struggle could be unnecessary, it may
be argued, if the democratic opposition is only willing to settle the
conßicl ¡eacefuIIy by negolialions (vhich may even ¡erha¡s be
assisted by some skilled individuals or even another government).
WouId lhal nol be ¡referabIe lo a difhcuIl slruggIe, even if il is one
conducted by nonviolent struggle rather than by military war?

Merits and limitations of negotiations
Negotiations are a very useful tool in resolving certain types of is-
sues in conßicls and shouId nol be negIecled or re|ecled vhen lhey
are appropriate.
In some situations where no fundamental issues are at stake,
and therefore a compromise is acceptable, negotiations can be an
im¡orlanl means lo sellIe a conßicl. A Iabor slrike for higher vages
is a good exam¡Ie of lhe a¡¡ro¡riale roIe of negolialions in a conßicl:
a negotiated settlement may provide an increase somewhere between
the sums originally proposed by each of the contending sides. Labor
conßicls vilh IegaI lrade unions are, hovever, quile differenl lhan
lhe conßicls in vhich lhe conlinued exislence of a crueI diclalorshi¡
or the establishment of political freedom are at stake.
When the issues at stake are fundamental, affecting religious
principles, issues of human freedom, or the whole future develop-
ment of the society, negotiations do not provide a way of reaching a
mutually satisfactory solution. On some basic issues there should
be no compromise. Only a shift in power relations in favor of the
democrats can adequately safeguard the basic issues at stake. Such
a shift will occur through struggle, not negotiations. This is not to
say that negotiations ought never to be used. The point here is that
negotiations are not a realistic way to remove a strong dictatorship
in the absence of a powerful democratic opposition.
Negotiations, of course, may not be an option at all. Firmly
entrenched dictators who feel secure in their position may refuse to
negotiate with their democratic opponents. Or, when negotiations
have been initiated, the democratic negotiators may disappear and
never be heard from again.
Negotiated surrender?
Individuals and groups who oppose dictatorship and favor nego-
tiations will often have good motives. Especially when a military
struggle has continued for years against a brutal dictatorship without
hnaI viclory, il is underslandabIe lhal aII lhe ¡eo¡Ie of vhalever
10 Gcnc Sncrp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 11
political persuasion would want peace. Negotiations are especially
likely to become an issue among democrats where the dictators have
clear military superiority and the destruction and casualties among
one’s own people are no longer bearable. There will then be a strong
temptation to explore any other route that might salvage some of the
democrats’ objectives while bringing an end to the cycle of violence
and counter-violence.
The offer by a dictatorship of “peace” through negotiations with
the democratic opposition is, of course, rather disingenuous. The
violence could be ended immediately by the dictators themselves, if
only they would stop waging war on their own people. They could
at their own initiative without any bargaining restore respect for
human dignity and rights, free political prisoners, end torture, halt
military operations, withdraw from the government, and apologize
to the people.
When the dictatorship is strong but an irritating resistance
exists, the dictators may wish to negotiate the opposition into sur-
render under the guise of making “peace.” The call to negotiate
can sound appealing, but grave dangers can be lurking within the
negotiating room.
On the other hand, when the opposition is exceptionally strong
and the dictatorship is genuinely threatened, the dictators may seek
negotiations in order to salvage as much of their control or wealth
as possible. In neither case should the democrats help the dictators
achieve their goals.
Democrats should be wary of the traps that may be deliber-
ately built into a negotiation process by the dictators. The call for
negotiations when basic issues of political liberties are involved may
be an effort by the dictators to induce the democrats to surrender
peacefully while the violence of the dictatorship continues. In those
ly¡es of conßicls lhe onIy ¡ro¡er roIe of negolialions may occur al
the end of a decisive struggle in which the power of the dictators
has been effectively destroyed and they seek personal safe passage
to an international airport.
Power and justice in negotiations
If this judgment sounds too harsh a commentary on negotiations,
perhaps some of the romanticism associated with them needs to
be moderated. Clear thinking is required as to how negotiations
“Negotiation” does not mean that the two sides sit down to-
gether on a basis of equality and talk through and resolve the dif-
ferences lhal ¡roduced lhe conßicl belveen lhem. Tvo facls musl
be remembered. First, in negotiations it is not the relative justice of
lhe conßicling vievs and ob|eclives lhal delermines lhe conlenl of a
negotiated agreement. Second, the content of a negotiated agreement
is largely determined by the power capacity of each side.
SeveraI difhcuIl queslions musl be considered. Whal can each
side do at a later date to gain its objectives if the other side fails to
come to an agreement at the negotiating table? What can each side
do after an agreement is reached if the other side breaks its word
and uses its available forces to seize its objectives despite the agree-
A settlement is not reached in negotiations through an assess-
ment of the rights and wrongs of the issues at stake. While those
may be much discussed, the real results in negotiations come from
an assessment of the absolute and relative power situations of the
contending groups. What can the democrats do to ensure that their
minimum claims cannot be denied? What can the dictators do to
stay in control and neutralize the democrats? In other words, if an
agreement comes, it is more likely the result of each side estimat-
ing how the power capacities of the two sides compare, and then
calculating how an open struggle might end.
Attention must also be given to what each side is willing to give
up in order to reach agreement. In successful negotiations there is
compromise, a splitting of differences. Each side gets part of what
it wants and gives up part of its objectives.
In the case of extreme dictatorships what are the pro-democ-
racy forces to give up to the dictators? What objectives of
the dictators are the pro-democracy forces to accept? Are the
12 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 13
democrats to give to the dictators (whether a political party or
a military cabal) a constitutionally-established permanent role
in the future government? Where is the democracy in that?
Even assuming that all goes well in negotiations, it is necessary
to ask: What kind of peace will be the result? Will life then be bet-
ter or worse than it would be if the democrats began or continued
to struggle?
“Agreeable” dictators
Dictators may have a variety of motives and objectives underlying
their domination: power, position, wealth, reshaping the society, and
the like. One should remember that none of these will be served if
they abandon their control positions. In the event of negotiations
dictators will try to preserve their goals.
Whatever promises offered by dictators in any negotiated
settlement, no one should ever forget that the dictators may promise
anything to secure submission from their democratic opponents, and
then brazenly violate those same agreements.
If the democrats agree to halt resistance in order to gain a re-
prieve from repression, they may be very disappointed. A halt to
resistance rarely brings reduced repression. Once the restraining
force of internal and international opposition has been removed,
dictators may even make their oppression and violence more brutal
than before. The collapse of popular resistance often removes the
countervailing force that has limited the control and brutality of the
dictatorship. The tyrants can then move ahead against whomever
lhey vish. ¨Ior lhe lyranl has lhe ¡over lo inßicl onIy lhal vhich
we lack the strength to resist,” wrote Krishnalal Shridharani.
Resislance, nol negolialions, is essenliaI for change in conßicls
where fundamental issues are at stake. In nearly all cases, resistance
must continue to drive dictators out of power. Success is most often
Krishnalal Shridharani, War Without Violence: A Study of Gandhi’s Method and Its
Accomplishments (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939, and reprint New York and
London: Garland Publishing, 1972), p. 260.
determined not by negotiating a settlement but through the wise use
of the most appropriate and powerful means of resistance available.
It is our contention, to be explored later in more detail, that political
dehance, or nonvioIenl slruggIe, is lhe mosl ¡overfuI means avaiI-
able to those struggling for freedom.
What kind of peace?
If dictators and democrats are to talk about peace at all, extremely
clear thinking is needed because of the dangers involved. Not ev-
eryone who uses the word “peace” wants peace with freedom and
justice. Submission to cruel oppression and passive acquiescence to
ruthless dictators who have perpetrated atrocities on hundreds of
thousands of people is no real peace. Hitler often called for peace,
by which he meant submission to his will. A dictators’ peace is often
no more than the peace of the prison or of the grave.
There are other dangers. Well-intended negotiators sometimes
confuse the objectives of the negotiations and the negotiation process
itself. Further, democratic negotiators, or foreign negotiation special-
ists accepted to assist in the negotiations, may in a single stroke pro-
vide the dictators with the domestic and international legitimacy that
they had been previously denied because of their seizure of the state,
human rights violations, and brutalities. Without that desperately
needed Iegilimacy, lhe diclalors cannol conlinue lo ruIe indehnileIy.
Exponents of peace should not provide them legitimacy.
Reasons for hope
As stated earlier, opposition leaders may feel forced to pursue ne-
gotiations out of a sense of hopelessness of the democratic struggle.
However, that sense of powerlessness can be changed. Dictatorships
are not permanent. People living under dictatorships need not re-
main weak, and dictators need not be allowed to remain powerful
indehnileIy. ArislolIe noled Iong ago, ¨. . . |ÒjIigarchy and lyranny
are shorter-lived than any other constitution. . . . [A]ll round, tyran-
14 Gene Sharp
Aristotle, 1nc Pc|iiics, transl. by T. A. Sinclair (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, Eng-
land and Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books 1976 [1962]), Book V, Chapter 12,
pp. 231 and 232.
From Dictatorship to Democracy 15
nies have not lasted long.”
Modern dictatorships are also vulnerable.
Their weaknesses can be aggravated and the dictators’ power can be
disintegrated. (In Chapter Four we will examine these weaknesses
in more detail.)
Recent history shows the vulnerability of dictatorships, and re-
veals that they can crumble in a relatively short time span: whereas
ten years — 1980-1990 — were required to bring down the Commu-
nist dictatorship in Poland, in East Germany and Czechoslovakia in
1989 it occurred within weeks. In El Salvador and Guatemala in 1944
the struggles against the entrenched brutal military dictators required
approximately two weeks each. The militarily powerful regime of
the Shah in Iran was undermined in a few months. The Marcos dic-
tatorship in the Philippines fell before people power within weeks
in 1986: the United States government quickly abandoned President
Marcos when the strength of the opposition became apparent. The
attempted hard-line coup in the Soviet Union in August 1991 was
bIocked in days by ¡oIilicaI dehance. Thereafler, many of ils Iong
dominated constituent nations in only days, weeks, and months
regained their independence.
The old preconception that violent means always work quickly
and nonviolent means always require vast time is clearly not valid.
Although much time may be required for changes in the underlying
silualion and sociely, lhe acluaI hghl againsl a diclalorshi¡ somelimes
occurs relatively quickly by nonviolent struggle.
Negotiations are not the only alternative to a continuing war
of annihilation on the one hand and capitulation on the other. The
examples just cited, as well as those listed in Chapter One, illustrate
that another option exists for those who want both peace and free-
dom: ¡oIilicaI dehance.
Achieving a society with both freedom and peace is of course no
simple task. It will require great strategic skill, organization, and
planning. Above all, it will require power. Democrats cannot hope
to bring down a dictatorship and establish political freedom without
the ability to apply their own power effectively.
But how is this possible? What kind of power can the democratic
o¡¡osilion mobiIize lhal viII be sufhcienl lo deslroy lhe diclalorshi¡
and its vast military and police networks? The answers lie in an oft
ignored understanding of political power. Learning this insight is
nol reaIIy so difhcuIl a lask. Some basic lrulhs are quile sim¡Ie.
The “Monkey Master” fable
A Fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, out-
lines this neglected understanding of political power quite well:
In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping
monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju
gong” (monkey master).
Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys
in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others
to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees.
It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of
his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so
vouId be rulhIessIy ßogged. AII lhe monkeys suffered
bitterly, but dared not complain.
This story, originally titled “Rule by Tricks” is from Yu-li-zi by Liu Ji (1311-1375)
and has been translated by Sidney Tai, all rights reserved. Yu-li-zi is also the pseud-
onym of Liu Ji. The translation was originally published in Nonviolent Sanctions:
News from the Albert Einstein Institution (Cambridge, Mass.), Vol. IV, No. 3 (Winter
1992-1993), p. 3.
One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did
the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The oth-
ers said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey
further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old
man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.”
The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we de-
pend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”
ßefore lhe smaII monkey vas abIe lo hnish his slalemenl,
all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awak-
On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen
asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the
slockade in vhich lhey vere conhned, and deslroyed lhe
stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had
in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never
relurned. The oId man hnaIIy died of slarvalion.
Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by
tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like
the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddle-
headedness. As soon as their people become enlightened,
their tricks no longer work.”
Necessary sources of political power
The principle is simple. Dictators require the assistance of the people
they rule, without which they cannot secure and maintain the sources
of political power. These sources of political power include:
ª Auincriiq, the belief among the people that the regime is le-
gitimate, and that they have a moral duty to obey it;
ª Humcn rcscurccs, the number and importance of the persons
and groups which are obeying, cooperating, or providing
assistance to the rulers;
18 Gcnc Sncrp
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 19
ª S|i||s cn! |ncu|c!gc, needed by the regime to perform spe-
cihc aclions and su¡¡Iied by lhe coo¡eraling ¡ersons and
ª |nicngi||c jccicrs, psychological and ideological factors that
may induce people to obey and assist the rulers;
ª Mcicric| rcscurccs, the degree to which the rulers control or
have access lo ¡ro¡erly, naluraI resources, hnanciaI resources,
the economic system, and means of communication and
transportation; and
ª Scnciicns, punishments, threatened or applied, against the
disobedient and noncooperative to ensure the submission
and cooperation that are needed for the regime to exist and
carry out its policies.
All of these sources, however, depend on acceptance of the
regime, on the submission and obedience of the population, and on
the cooperation of innumerable people and the many institutions of
the society. These are not guaranteed.
Full cooperation, obedience, and support will increase the avail-
ability of the needed sources of power and, consequently, expand
the power capacity of any government.
On the other hand, withdrawal of popular and institutional co-
operation with aggressors and dictators diminishes, and may sever,
the availability of the sources of power on which all rulers depend.
Without availability of those sources, the rulers’ power weakens and
hnaIIy dissoIves.
Naturally, dictators are sensitive to actions and ideas that threat-
en their capacity to do as they like. Dictators are therefore likely to
threaten and punish those who disobey, strike, or fail to cooperate.
However, that is not the end of the story. Repression, even brutali-
ties, do not always produce a resumption of the necessary degree of
submission and cooperation for the regime to function.
If, despite repression, the sources of power can be restricted or
severed for enough time, the initial results may be uncertainty and
confusion within the dictatorship. That is likely to be followed by
a clear weakening of the power of the dictatorship. Over time, the
withholding of the sources of power can produce the paralysis and
impotence of the regime, and in severe cases, its disintegration. The
dictators’ power will die, slowly or rapidly, from political starva-
The degree of liberty or tyranny in any government is, it fol-
Iovs, in Iarge degree a reßeclion of lhe reIalive delerminalion of lhe
subjects to be free and their willingness and ability to resist efforts
to enslave them.
Contrary to popular opinion, even totalitarian dictatorships
are dependent on the population and the societies they rule. As the
political scientist Karl W. Deutsch noted in 1953:
Totalitarian power is strong only if it does not have to be
used too often. If totalitarian power must be used at all
times against the entire population, it is unlikely to remain
powerful for long. Since totalitarian regimes require more
power for dealing with their subjects than do other types
of government, such regimes stand in greater need of
widespread and dependable compliance habits among
their people; more than that they have to be able to count
on lhe aclive su¡¡orl of al Ieasl signihcanl ¡arls of lhe
population in case of need.
The English Nineteenth Century legal theorist John Austin
described the situation of a dictatorship confronting a disaffected
people. Austin argued that if most of the population were deter-
mined to destroy the government and were willing to endure repres-
sion to do so, then the might of the government, including those
who supported it, could not preserve the hated government, even if
20 Gcnc Sncrp
Karl W. Deutsch, “Cracks in the Monolith,” in Carl J. Friedrich, ed., Totalitarianism
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954), pp. 313-314.
From Dictatorship to Democracy 21
il received foreign assislance. The dehanl ¡eo¡Ie couId nol be forced
back into permanent obedience and subjection, Austin concluded.
Niccolo Machiavelli had much earlier argued that the prince
“. . . who has the public as a whole for his enemy can never make
himself secure; and the greater his cruelty, the weaker does his re-
gime become.”
The practical political application of these insights was dem-
onstrated by the heroic Norwegian resisters against the Nazi occu-
pation, and as cited in Chapter One, by the brave Poles, Germans,
Czechs, Slovaks, and many others who resisted Communist aggres-
sion and diclalorshi¡, and hnaIIy heI¡ed ¡roduce lhe coIIa¡se of
Communist rule in Europe. This, of course, is no new phenomenon:
cases of nonviolent resistance go back at least to 494 B.C. when ple-
beians withdrew cooperation from their Roman patrician masters.

Nonviolent struggle has been employed at various times by peoples
lhroughoul Asia, Africa, lhe Americas, AuslraIasia, and lhe Iacihc
islands, as well as Europe.
Three of the most important factors in determining to what
degree a government’s power will be controlled or uncontrolled
therefore are: (1) the relative desire of the populace to impose limits
on the government’s power; (2) the relative strength of the subjects’
independent organizations and institutions to withdraw collectively
the sources of power; and (3) the population’s relative ability to with-
hold their consent and assistance.
Centers of democratic power
One characteristic of a democratic society is that there exist inde-
pendent of the state a multitude of nongovernmental groups and
John Austin, Lectures on Jurisprudence or the Philosophy of Positive Law (Fifth edition,
revised and edited by Robert Campbell, 2 vol., London: John Murray, 1911 [1861]),
Vol. I, p. 296.
Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy,” in The
Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950), Vol.
I, p. 254.
See Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973), p.
75 and passim for other historical examples.
institutions. These include, for example, families, religious organiza-
tions, cultural associations, sports clubs, economic institutions, trade
unions, student associations, political parties, villages, neighborhood
associations, gardening clubs, human rights organizations, musical
groups, literary societies, and others. These bodies are important
in serving their own objectives and also in helping to meet social
AddilionaIIy, lhese bodies have greal ¡oIilicaI signihcance.
They provide group and institutional bases by which people can exert
inßuence over lhe direclion of lheir sociely and resisl olher grou¡s
or the government when they are seen to impinge unjustly on their
interests, activities, or purposes. Isolated individuals, not members
of such grou¡s, usuaIIy are unabIe lo make a signihcanl im¡acl on
the rest of the society, much less a government, and certainly not a
Consequently, if the autonomy and freedom of such bodies
can be taken away by the dictators, the population will be relatively
helpless. Also, if these institutions can themselves be dictatorially
controlled by the central regime or replaced by new controlled ones,
they can be used to dominate both the individual members and also
those areas of the society.
However, if the autonomy and freedom of these independent
civil institutions (outside of government control) can be maintained
or regained they are highly important for the application of politi-
caI dehance. The common fealure of lhe ciled exam¡Ies in vhich
dictatorships have been disintegrated or weakened has been the
courageous mass a¡¡Iicalion of ¡oIilicaI dehance by lhe ¡o¡uIalion
and its institutions.
As stated, these centers of power provide the institutional bases
from which the population can exert pressure or can resist dictato-
rial controls. In the future, they will be part of the indispensable
structural base for a free society. Their continued independence
and growth therefore is often a prerequisite for the success of the
liberation struggle.
If the dictatorship has been largely successful in destroying or
controlling the society’s independent bodies, it will be important for
22 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 23
the resisters to create new independent social groups and institu-
tions, or to reassert democratic control over surviving or partially
controlled bodies. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956-1957
a multitude of direct democracy councils emerged, even joining
together to establish for some weeks a whole federated system of
institutions and governance. In Poland during the late 1980s work-
ers maintained illegal Solidarity unions and, in some cases, took
over conlroI of lhe ofhciaI, Communisl-dominaled, lrade unions.
Such institutional developments can have very important political
Of course, none of this means that weakening and destroying
dictatorships is easy, nor that every attempt will succeed. It certainly
does not mean that the struggle will be free of casualties, for those
sliII serving lhe diclalors are IikeIy lo hghl back in an efforl lo force
the populace to resume cooperation and obedience.
1nc c|ctc insigni inic pcucr !ccs mccn, ncuctcr, inci inc !c|i|crcic
disintegration of dictatorships is possible. Dictatorships in particular
have s¡ecihc characlerislics lhal render lhem highIy vuInerabIe
lo skiIIfuIIy im¡Iemenled ¡oIilicaI dehance. Lel us examine lhese
characteristics in more detail.
Dictatorships often appear invulnerable. Intelligence agencies,
police, military forces, prisons, concentration camps, and execu-
lion squads are conlroIIed by a ¡overfuI fev. A counlry's hnances,
natural resources, and production capacities are often arbitrarily
plundered by dictators and used to support the dictators’ will.
In comparison, democratic opposition forces often appear
extremely weak, ineffective, and powerless. That perception of
invulnerability against powerlessness makes effective opposition
That is not the whole story, however.
Identifying the Achilles’ heel
A myth from Classical Greece illustrates well the vulnerability of
the supposedly invulnerable. Against the warrior Achilles, no blow
would injure and no sword would penetrate his skin. When still a
baby, Achilles’ mother had supposedly dipped him into the waters
of the magical river Styx, resulting in the protection of his body from
all dangers. There was, however, a problem. Since the baby was
held by his heel so that he would not be washed away, the magical
water had not covered that small part of his body. When Achilles
was a grown man he appeared to all to be invulnerable to the en-
emies’ weapons. However, in the battle against Troy, instructed by
one who knew the weakness, an enemy soldier aimed his arrow at
Achilles’ unprotected heel, the one spot where he could be injured.
The strike proved fatal. Still today, the phrase “Achilles’ heel” refers
to the vulnerable part of a person, a plan, or an institution at which
if attacked there is no protection.
The same principle applies to ruthless dictatorships. They, too,
can be conquered, but most quickly and with least cost if their weak-
nesses can be idenlihed and lhe allack concenlraled on lhem.
26 Gene Sharp
Weaknesses of dictatorships
Among the weaknesses of dictatorships are the following:
1. The cooperation of a multitude of people, groups, and insti-
tutions needed to operate the system may be restricted or
2. The requirements and effects of the regime’s past policies
will somewhat limit its present ability to adopt and imple-
menl conßicling ¡oIicies.
3. The system may become routine in its operation, less able to
adjust quickly to new situations.
4. Personnel and resources already allocated for existing tasks
will not be easily available for new needs.
5. Subordinates fearful of displeasing their superiors may not
report accurate or complete information needed by the dic-
tators to make decisions.
6. The ideology may erode, and myths and symbols of the sys-
tem may become unstable.
7. If a slrong ideoIogy is ¡resenl lhal inßuences one's viev of
reaIily, hrm adherence lo il may cause inallenlion lo acluaI
conditions and needs.
8. Delerioraling efhciency and com¡elency of lhe bureaucracy,
or excessive controls and regulations, may make the system’s
policies and operation ineffective.
9. InlernaI inslilulionaI conßicls and ¡ersonaI rivaIries and hos-
tilities may harm, and even disrupt, the operation of the dic-
From Dictatorship to Democracy 27
10. Intellectuals and students may become restless in response
to conditions, restrictions, doctrinalism, and repression.
11. The general public may over time become apathetic, skepti-
cal, and even hostile to the regime.
12. Regional, class, cultural, or national differences may become
13. The power hierarchy of the dictatorship is always unstable
to some degree, and at times extremely so. Individuals do
not only remain in the same position in the ranking, but may
rise or fall to other ranks or be removed entirely and replaced
by new persons.
14. Sections of the police or military forces may act to achieve
their own objectives, even against the will of established dic-
tators, including by coup d’état.
15. If the dictatorship is new, time is required for it to become
well established.
16. With so many decisions made by so few people in the dicta-
torship, mistakes of judgment, policy, and action are likely
to occur.
17. If the regime seeks to avoid these dangers and decentral-
izes controls and decision making, its control over the cen-
tral levers of power may be further eroded.
Attacking weaknesses of dictatorships
With knowledge of such inherent weaknesses, the democratic op-
position can seek to aggravate these “Achilles’ heels” deliberately
in order to alter the system drastically or to disintegrate it.
The conclusion is then clear: despite the appearances of strength,
aII diclalorshi¡s have veaknesses, inlernaI inefhciencies, ¡ersonaI
rivaIries, inslilulionaI inefhciencies, and conßicls belveen organiza-
tions and departments. These weaknesses, over time, tend to make
the regime less effective and more vulnerable to changing conditions
and deliberate resistance. Not everything the regime sets out to ac-
complish will get completed. At times, for example, even Hitler’s
direct orders were never implemented because those beneath him in
the hierarchy refused to carry them out. The dictatorial regime may
at times even fall apart quickly, as we have already observed.
This does not mean dictatorships can be destroyed without risks
and casualties. Every possible course of action for liberation will
involve risks and potential suffering, and will take time to operate.
And, of course, no means of action can ensure rapid success in every
situation. However, types of struggle that target the dictatorship’s
idenlihabIe veaknesses have grealer chance of success lhan lhose
lhal seek lo hghl lhe diclalorshi¡ vhere il is cIearIy slrongesl. The
question is how this struggle is to be waged.
28 Gcnc Sncrp

In Chapter One we noted that military resistance against dictator-
ships does not strike them where they are weakest, but rather where
they are strongest. By choosing to compete in the areas of military
forces, supplies of ammunition, weapons technology, and the like,
resistance movements tend to put themselves at a distinct disadvan-
tage. Dictatorships will almost always be able to muster superior
resources in these areas. The dangers of relying on foreign powers
for salvation were also outlined. In Chapter Two we examined the
problems of relying on negotiations as a means to remove dictator-
What means are then available that will offer the democratic
resistance distinct advantages and will tend to aggravate the iden-
lihed veaknesses of diclalorshi¡s` Whal lechnique of aclion viII
capitalize on the theory of political power discussed in Chapter
Three` The aIlernalive of choice is ¡oIilicaI dehance.
IoIilicaI dehance has lhe foIIoving characlerislics:
ª Il does nol acce¡l lhal lhe oulcome viII be decided by lhe
means of hghling chosen by lhe diclalorshi¡.
ª Il is difhcuIl for lhe regime lo combal.
ª Il can uniqueIy aggravale veaknesses of lhe diclalorshi¡ and
can sever its sources of power.
ª Il can in aclion be videIy dis¡ersed bul can aIso be concen-
lraled on a s¡ecihc ob|eclive.
ª Il Ieads lo errors of |udgmenl and aclion by lhe diclalors.
ª Il can effecliveIy uliIize lhe ¡o¡uIalion as a vhoIe and lhe
society’s groups and institutions in the struggle to end the
brutal domination of the few.
ª Il heI¡s lo s¡read lhe dislribulion of effeclive ¡over in lhe
society, making the establishment and maintenance of a
democratic society more possible.
The workings of nonviolent struggle
Like miIilary ca¡abiIilies, ¡oIilicaI dehance can be em¡Ioyed for a
variely of ¡ur¡oses, ranging from efforls lo inßuence lhe o¡¡onenls
to take different actions, to create conditions for a peaceful resolu-
lion of conßicl, or lo disinlegrale lhe o¡¡onenls' regime. Hovever,
¡oIilicaI dehance o¡erales in quile differenl vays from vioIence.
Although both techniques are means to wage struggle, they do so
with very different means and with different consequences. The
vays and resuIls of vioIenl conßicl are veII knovn. IhysicaI vea¡-
ons are used to intimidate, injure, kill, and destroy.
Nonviolent struggle is a much more complex and varied
means of struggle than is violence. Instead, the struggle is fought
by psychological, social, economic, and political weapons applied
by the population and the institutions of the society. These have
been known under various names of protests, strikes, noncoopera-
tion, boycotts, disaffection, and people power. As noted earlier, all
governments can rule only as long as they receive replenishment of
the needed sources of their power from the cooperation, submission,
and obedience of the population and the institutions of the society.
IoIilicaI dehance, unIike vioIence, is uniqueIy suiled lo severing
those sources of power.
Nonviolent weapons and discipline
The common error of ¡asl im¡rovised ¡oIilicaI dehance cam¡aigns
is the reliance on only one or two methods, such as strikes and mass
demonstrations. In fact, a multitude of methods exist that allow
30 Gcnc Sncrp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 31
resistance strategists to concentrate and disperse resistance as re-
Aboul lvo hundred s¡ecihc melhods of nonvioIenl aclion have
been idenlihed, and lhere are cerlainIy scores more. These melhods
are cIassihed under lhree broad calegories: ¡rolesl and ¡ersuasion,
noncooperation, and intervention. Methods of nonviolent protest
and persuasion are largely symbolic demonstrations, including pa-
rades, marches, and vigils (54 methods). Noncooperation is divided
into three sub-categories: (a) social noncooperation (16 methods),
(b) economic noncooperation, including boycotts (26 methods) and
strikes (23 methods), and (c) political noncooperation (38 methods).
Nonviolent intervention, by psychological, physical, social, econom-
ic, or political means, such as the fast, nonviolent occupation, and
¡araIIeI governmenl (41 melhods), is lhe hnaI grou¡. A Iisl of 198 of
these methods is included as the Appendix to this publication.
The use of a considerable number of these methods — carefully
chosen, applied persistently and on a large scale, wielded in the
context of a wise strategy and appropriate tactics, by trained civil-
ians — is likely to cause any illegitimate regime severe problems.
This applies to all dictatorships.
In contrast to military means, the methods of nonviolent strug-
gle can be focused directly on the issues at stake. For example, since
the issue of dictatorship is primarily political, then political forms of
nonviolent struggle would be crucial. These would include denial
of legitimacy to the dictators and noncooperation with their regime.
Noncoo¡eralion vouId aIso be a¡¡Iied againsl s¡ecihc ¡oIicies. Al
times stalling and procrastination may be quietly and even secretly
¡racliced, vhiIe al olher limes o¡en disobedience and dehanl ¡ubIic
demonstrations and strikes may be visible to all.
On the other hand, if the dictatorship is vulnerable to economic
pressures or if many of the popular grievances against it are eco-
nomic, then economic action, such as boycotts or strikes, may be
appropriate resistance methods. The dictators’ efforts to exploit the
economic system might be met with limited general strikes, slow-
downs, and refusal of assistance by (or disappearance of) indispens-
able experts. Selective use of various types of strikes may be con-
ducted at key points in manufacturing, in transport, in the supply
of raw materials, and in the distribution of products.
Some methods of nonviolent struggle require people to perform
acls unreIaled lo lheir normaI Iives, such as dislribuling Ieaßels,
operating an underground press, going on hunger strike, or sitting
dovn in lhe slreels. These melhods may be difhcuIl for some ¡eo¡Ie
to undertake except in very extreme situations.
Other methods of nonviolent struggle instead require people
to continue approximately their normal lives, though in somewhat
different ways. For example, people may report for work, instead
of slriking, bul lhen deIiberaleIy vork more sIovIy or inefhcienlIy
than usual. “Mistakes” may be consciously made more frequently.
One may become “sick” and “unable” to work at certain times. Or,
one may simply refuse to work. One might go to religious services
when the act expresses not only religious but also political convic-
tions. One may act to protect children from the attackers’ propaganda
by education at home or in illegal classes. One might refuse to join
certain “recommended” or required organizations that one would
not have joined freely in earlier times. The similarity of such types
of action to people’s usual activities and the limited degree of depar-
ture from their normal lives may make participation in the national
liberation struggle much easier for many people.
Since nonviolent struggle and violence operate in fundamen-
tally different ways, even limited resistance violence during a po-
IilicaI dehance cam¡aign viII be counler¡roduclive, for il viII shifl
the struggle to one in which the dictators have an overwhelming
advantage (military warfare). Nonviolent discipline is a key to suc-
cess and must be maintained despite provocations and brutalities
by the dictators and their agents.
The maintenance of nonviolent discipline against violent op-
ponents facilitates the workings of the four mechanisms of change
in nonviolent struggle (discussed below). Nonviolent discipline is
also extremely important in the process of political jiu-jitsu. In this
process the stark brutality of the regime against the clearly nonvio-
lent actionists politically rebounds against the dictators’ position,
32 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 33
causing dissention in their own ranks as well as fomenting support
for the resisters among the general population, the regime’s usual
supporters, and third parties.
In some cases, however, limited violence against the dictator-
ship may be inevitable. Frustration and hatred of the regime may
explode into violence. Or, certain groups may be unwilling to aban-
don violent means even though they recognize the important role of
nonvioIenl slruggIe. In lhese cases, ¡oIilicaI dehance does nol need lo
be abandoned. However, it will be necessary to separate the violent
action as far as possible from the nonviolent action. This should be
done in terms of geography, population groups, timing, and issues.
Otherwise the violence could have a disastrous effect on the poten-
liaIIy much more ¡overfuI and successfuI use of ¡oIilicaI dehance.
The historical record indicates that while casualties in dead
and vounded musl be ex¡ecled in ¡oIilicaI dehance, lhey viII be
far fewer than the casualties in military warfare. Furthermore, this
type of struggle does not contribute to the endless cycle of killing
and brutality.
Nonviolent struggle both requires and tends to produce a loss
(or greater control) of fear of the government and its violent repres-
sion. That abandonment or control of fear is a key element in destroy-
ing the power of the dictators over the general population.
Openness, secrecy, and high standards
Secrecy, dece¡lion, and underground cons¡iracy ¡ose very difh-
cult problems for a movement using nonviolent action. It is often
impossible to keep the political police and intelligence agents from
learning about intentions and plans. From the perspective of the
movement, secrecy is not only rooted in fear but contributes to fear,
which dampens the spirit of resistance and reduces the number of
people who can participate in a given action. It also can contribute
lo sus¡icions and accusalions, oflen un|uslihed, vilhin lhe move-
ment, concerning who is an informer or agent for the opponents.
Secrecy may also affect the ability of a movement to remain nonvio-
lent. In contrast, openness regarding intentions and plans will not
only have the opposite effects, but will contribute to an image that
the resistance movement is in fact extremely powerful. The problem
is of course more com¡Iex lhan lhis suggesls, and lhere are signih-
cant aspects of resistance activities that may require secrecy. A well-
informed assessment will be required by those knowledgeable about
both the dynamics of nonviolent struggle and also the dictatorship’s
means of surveiIIance in lhe s¡ecihc silualion.
The editing, printing, and distribution of underground publica-
tions, the use of illegal radio broadcasts from within the country, and
the gathering of intelligence about the operations of the dictatorship
are among the special limited types of activities where a high degree
of secrecy will be required.
The maintenance of high standards of behavior in nonviolent
aclion is necessary al aII slages of lhe conßicl. Such faclors as fearIess-
ness and maintaining nonviolent discipline are always required. It is
important to remember that large numbers of people may frequently
be necessary to effect particular changes. However, such numbers
can be obtained as reliable participants only by maintaining the high
standards of the movement.
Shifting power relationships
Slralegisls need lo remember lhal lhe conßicl in vhich ¡oIilicaI deh-
ance is a¡¡Iied is a conslanlIy changing heId of slruggIe vilh conlinu-
ing interplay of moves and countermoves. Nothing is static. Power
relationships, both absolute and relative, are subject to constant and
rapid changes. This is made possible by the resisters continuing their
nonviolent persistence despite repression.
The variations in the respective power of the contending sides
in lhis ly¡e of conßicl silualion are IikeIy lo be more exlreme lhan in
vioIenl conßicls, lo lake ¡Iace more quickIy, and lo have more diverse
and ¡oIilicaIIy signihcanl consequences. Due lo lhese varialions,
s¡ecihc aclions by lhe resislers are IikeIy lo have consequences far
beyond the particular time and place in which they occur. These ef-
fects will rebound to strengthen or weaken one group or another.
34 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 35
In addition, the nonviolent group may, by its actions exert in-
ßuence over lhe increase or decrease in lhe reIalive slrenglh of the
opponent group to a great extent. For example, disciplined courageous
nonviolent resistance in face of the dictators’ brutalities may induce
unease, disaffection, unreliability, and in extreme situations even
mutiny among the dictators’ own soldiers and population. This
resistance may also result in increased international condemnation
of the dictatorship. In addition, skillful, disciplined, and persistent
use of ¡oIilicaI dehance may resuIl in more and more ¡arlici¡alion in
the resistance by people who normally would give their tacit support
lo lhe diclalors or generaIIy remain neulraI in lhe conßicl.
Four mechanisms of change
NonvioIenl slruggIe ¡roduces change in four vays. The hrsl
mechanism is the least likely, though it has occurred. When mem-
bers of the opponent group are emotionally moved by the suffering
of repression imposed on courageous nonviolent resisters or are
rationally persuaded that the resisters’ cause is just, they may come
to accept the resisters’ aims. This mechanism is called conversion.
Though cases of conversion in nonviolent action do sometimes hap-
¡en, lhey are rare, and in mosl conßicls lhis does nol occur al aII or
al Ieasl nol on a signihcanl scaIe.
Far more often, nonviolent struggle operates by changing the
conßicl silualion and lhe sociely so lhal lhe o¡¡onenls sim¡Iy cannol
do as they like. It is this change that produces the other three mecha-
nisms: accommodation, nonviolent coercion, and disintegration.
Which of these occurs depends on the degree to which the relative
and absolute power relations are shifted in favor of the democrats.
If the issues are not fundamental ones, the demands of the op-
position in a limited campaign are not considered threatening, and
the contest of forces has altered the power relationships to some
degree, lhe immediale conßicl may be ended by reaching an agree-
ment, a splitting of differences or compromise. This mechanism is
called accommodation. Many strikes are settled in this manner, for
example, with both sides attaining some of their objectives but nei-
ther achieving all it wanted. A government may perceive such a
sellIemenl lo have some ¡osilive benehls, such as defusing lension,
creating an impression of “fairness,” or polishing the international
image of the regime. It is important, therefore, that great care be
exercised in selecting the issues on which a settlement by accom-
modation is acceptable. A struggle to bring down a dictatorship is
not one of these.
Nonviolent struggle can be much more powerful than indicated
by the mechanisms of conversion or accommodation. Mass nonco-
o¡eralion and dehance can so change sociaI and ¡oIilicaI silualions,
especially power relationships, that the dictators’ ability to control
the economic, social, and political processes of government and the
society is in fact taken away. The opponents’ military forces may be-
come so unreliable that they no longer simply obey orders to repress
resisters. Although the opponents’ leaders remain in their positions,
and adhere to their original goals, their ability to act effectively has
been taken away from them. That is called nonviolent coercion.
In some extreme situations, the conditions producing nonviolent
coercion are carried still further. The opponents’ leadership in fact
loses all ability to act and their own structure of power collapses.
The resislers' seIf-direclion, noncoo¡eralion, and dehance become so
complete that the opponents now lack even a semblance of control
over them. The opponents’ bureaucracy refuses to obey its own lead-
ership. The opponents’ troops and police mutiny. The opponents’
usual supporters or population repudiate their former leadership,
denying that they have any right to rule at all. Hence, their former
assistance and obedience falls away. The fourth mechanism of
change, disintegration of the opponents’ system, is so complete that
lhey do nol even have sufhcienl ¡over lo surrender. The regime
simply falls to pieces.
In planning liberation strategies, these four mechanisms should
be kept in mind. They sometimes operate essentially by chance.
However, the selection of one or more of these as the intended mecha-
36 Gene Sharp
nism of change in a conßicl viII make il ¡ossibIe lo formuIale s¡e-
cihc and muluaIIy reinforcing slralegies. Which mechanism (or
mechanisms) to select will depend on numerous factors, including
the absolute and relative power of the contending groups and the
attitudes and objectives of the nonviolent struggle group.
DcmncratIzIng cIIccts nI pn!ItIca! dcñancc
In contrast to the centralizing effects of violent sanctions, use of the
technique of nonviolent struggle contributes to democratizing the
political society in several ways.
One part of the democratizing effect is negative. That is, in
contrast to military means, this technique does not provide a means
of repression under command of a ruling elite which can be turned
against the population to establish or maintain a dictatorship. Lead-
ers of a ¡oIilicaI dehance movemenl can exerl inßuence and a¡¡Iy
pressures on their followers, but they cannot imprison or execute
them when they dissent or choose other leaders.
Another part of the democratizing effect is positive. That is,
nonviolent struggle provides the population with means of resistance
that can be used to achieve and defend their liberties against existing
or would-be dictators. Below are several of the positive democratiz-
ing effects nonviolent struggle may have:
ª Lx¡erience in a¡¡Iying nonvioIenl slruggIe may resuIl in lhe
¡o¡uIalion being more seIf-conhdenl in chaIIenging lhe
regime’s threats and capacity for violent repression.
ª NonvioIenl slruggIe ¡rovides lhe means of noncoo¡eralion
and dehance by vhich lhe ¡o¡uIalion can resisl undemo-
cratic controls over them by any dictatorial group.
ª NonvioIenl slruggIe can be used lo asserl lhe ¡raclice of
democratic freedoms, such as free speech, free press, inde-
pendent organizations, and free assembly, in face of repres-
sive controls.
From Dictatorship to Democracy 37
ª NonvioIenl slruggIe conlribules slrongIy lo lhe survivaI, re-
birth, and strengthening of the independent groups and in-
stitutions of the society, as previously discussed. These are
important for democracy because of their capacity to mobi-
lize the power capacity of the population and to impose lim-
its on the effective power of any would-be dictators.
ª NonvioIenl slruggIe ¡rovides means by vhich lhe ¡o¡uIa-
tion can wield power against repressive police and military
action by a dictatorial government.
ª NonvioIenl slruggIe ¡rovides melhods by vhich lhe ¡o¡u-
lation and the independent institutions can in the interests
of democracy restrict or sever the sources of power for the
ruling elite, thereby threatening its capacity to continue its
Complexity of nonviolent struggle
As we have seen from this discussion, nonviolent struggle is a com-
plex technique of social action, involving a multitude of methods,
a range of mechanisms of change, and s¡ecihc behavioraI require-
ments. To be effective, especially against a dictatorship, political
dehance requires carefuI ¡Ianning and ¡re¡aralion. Iros¡eclive
participants will need to understand what is required of them.
Resources will need to have been made available. And strategists
will need to have analyzed how nonviolent struggle can be most
effectively applied. We now turn our attention to this latter crucial
element: the need for strategic planning.
38 Gcnc Sncrp
IoIilicaI dehance cam¡aigns againsl diclalorshi¡s may begin in a
variety of ways. In the past these struggles have almost always been
un¡Ianned and essenliaIIy accidenlaI. S¡ecihc grievances lhal have
triggered past initial actions have varied widely, but often included
new brutalities, the arrest or killing of a highly regarded person, a
new repressive policy or order, food shortages, disrespect toward
religious beliefs, or an anniversary of an important related event.
Sometimes, a particular act by the dictatorship has so enraged the
populace that they have launched into action without having any
idea how the rising might end. At other times a courageous indi-
vidual or a small group may have taken action which aroused sup-
¡orl. A s¡ecihc grievance may be recognized by olhers as simiIar
to wrongs they had experienced and they, too, may thus join the
slruggIe. Somelimes, a s¡ecihc caII for resislance from a smaII grou¡
or individual may meet an unexpectedly large response.
While spontaneity has some positive qualities, it has often
had disadvantages. Frequently, the democratic resisters have not
anticipated the brutalities of the dictatorship, so that they suffered
gravely and the resistance has collapsed. At times the lack of plan-
ning by democrats has left crucial decisions to chance, with disastrous
results. Even when the oppressive system was brought down, lack
of planning on how to handle the transition to a democratic system
has contributed to the emergence of a new dictatorship.
Realistic planning
In the future, unplanned popular action will undoubtedly play sig-
nihcanl roIes in risings againsl diclalorshi¡s. Hovever, il is nov
possible to calculate the most effective ways to bring down a dicta-
torship, to assess when the political situation and popular mood are
ripe, and to choose how to initiate a campaign. Very careful thought
based on a realistic assessment of the situation and the capabilities of

the populace is required in order to select effective ways to achieve
freedom under such circumstances.
If one wishes to accomplish something, it is wise to plan how to
do it. The more important the goal, or the graver the consequences
of failure, the more important planning becomes. Strategic plan-
ning increases the likelihood that all available resources will be
mobilized and employed most effectively. This is especially true for
a democratic movement – which has limited material resources and
whose supporters will be in danger – that is trying to bring down
a powerful dictatorship. In contrast, the dictatorship usually will
have access to vast material resources, organizational strength, and
ability to perpetrate brutalities.
“To plan a strategy” here means to calculate a course of action
that will make it more likely to get from the present to the desired
future situation. In terms of this discussion, it means from a dic-
tatorship to a future democratic system. A plan to achieve that
objective will usually consist of a phased series of campaigns and
other organized activities designed to strengthen the oppressed
population and society and to weaken the dictatorship. Note here
that the objective is not simply to destroy the current dictatorship
but to emplace a democratic system. A grand strategy that limits
its objective to merely destroying the incumbent dictatorship runs
a great risk of producing another tyrant.

Hurdles to planning
Some exponents of freedom in various parts of the world do not
bring their full capacities to bear on the problem of how to achieve
liberation. Only rarely do these advocates fully recognize the
extreme importance of careful strategic planning before they act.
Consequently, this is almost never done.
Why is it that the people who have the vision of bringing po-
litical freedom to their people should so rarely prepare a compre-
hensive strategic plan to achieve that goal? Unfortunately, often
most people in democratic opposition groups do not understand
the need for strategic planning or are not accustomed or trained to

40 Gcnc Sncrp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 41
lhink slralegicaIIy. This is a difhcuIl lask. ConslanlIy harassed by
the dictatorship, and overwhelmed by immediate responsibilities,
resistance leaders often do not have the safety or time to develop
strategic thinking skills.
Instead, it is a common pattern simply to react to the initiatives
of the dictatorship. The opposition is then always on the defensive,
seeking to maintain limited liberties or bastions of freedom, at best
slowing the advance of the dictatorial controls or causing certain
problems for the regime’s new policies.
Some individuals and groups, of course, may not see the need
for broad long-term planning of a liberation movement. Instead, they
may naïvely think that if they simply espouse their goal strongly,
hrmIy, and Iong enough, il viII somehov come lo ¡ass. Òlhers as-
sume that if they simply live and witness according to their principles
and ideaIs in face of difhcuIlies, lhey are doing aII lhey can lo im¡Ie-
ment them. The espousal of humane goals and loyalty to ideals are
admirable, but are grossly inadequate to end a dictatorship and to
achieve freedom.
Other opponents of dictatorship may naïvely think that if only
they use enough violence, freedom will come. But, as noted earlier,
violence is no guarantor of success. Instead of liberation, it can lead
to defeat, massive tragedy, or both. In most situations the dictator-
ship is best equipped for violent struggle and the military realities
rarely, if ever, favor the democrats.
There are also activists who base their actions on what they
“feel” they should do. These approaches are, however, not only
egocentric but they offer no guidance for developing a grand strat-
egy of liberation.
Action based on a “bright idea” that someone has had is also
limited. What is needed instead is action based on careful calcula-
tion of the “next steps” required to topple the dictatorship. Without
strategic analysis, resistance leaders will often not know what that
“next step” should be, for they have not thought carefully about the
successive s¡ecihc sle¡s required lo achieve viclory. Crealivily and
bright ideas are very important, but they need to be utilized in order
to advance the strategic situation of the democratic forces.
Acutely aware of the multitude of actions that could be taken
against the dictatorship and unable to determine where to begin,
some people counsel “Do everything simultaneously.” That might
be helpful but, of course, is impossible, especially for relatively weak
movements. Furthermore, such an approach provides no guidance
on where to begin, on where to concentrate efforts, and how to use
often limited resources.
Other persons and groups may see the need for some planning,
but are only able to think about it on a short-term or tactical basis.
They may not see that longer-term planning is necessary or possible.
They may at times be unable to think and analyze in strategic terms,
allowing themselves to be repeatedly distracted by relatively small
issues, often responding to the opponents’ actions rather than seiz-
ing the initiative for the democratic resistance. Devoting so much
energy to short-term activities, these leaders often fail to explore
several alternative courses of action which could guide the overall
efforts so that the goal is constantly approached.
It is also just possible that some democratic movements do
not plan a comprehensive strategy to bring down the dictatorship,
concentrating instead only on immediate issues, for another reason.
Inside themselves, they do not really believe that the dictatorship
can be ended by their own efforts. Therefore, planning how to do
so is considered to be a romantic waste of time or an exercise in
futility. People struggling for freedom against established brutal
dictatorships are often confronted by such immense military and
police power that it appears the dictators can accomplish whatever
they will. Lacking real hope, these people will, nevertheless, defy
the dictatorship for reasons of integrity and perhaps history. Though
they will never admit it, perhaps never consciously recognize it, their
actions appear to themselves as hopeless. Hence, for them, long-term
comprehensive strategic planning has no merit.
The result of such failures to plan strategically is often drastic:
one’s strength is dissipated, one’s actions are ineffective, energy is
vasled on minor issues, advanlages are nol uliIized, and sacrihces
are for naught. If democrats do not plan strategically they are likely
to fail to achieve their objectives. A poorly planned, odd mixture of
42 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 43
activities will not move a major resistance effort forward. Instead,
it will more likely allow the dictatorship to increase its controls and
Unfortunately, because comprehensive strategic plans for libera-
tion are rarely, if ever, developed, dictatorships appear much more
durable than they in fact are. They survive for years or decades
longer than need be the case.
Four important terms in strategic planning
In order to help us to think strategically, clarity about the meanings
of four basic terms is important.
Grand strategy is the conception that serves to coordinate and
direct the use of all appropriate and available resources (economic,
human, moral, political, organizational, etc.) of a group seeking to
allain ils ob|eclives in a conßicl.
Grand strategy, by focusing primary attention on the group’s
ob|eclives and resources in lhe conßicl, delermines lhe mosl a¡¡ro-
priate technique of action (such as conventional military warfare or
nonvioIenl slruggIe) lo be em¡Ioyed in lhe conßicl. In ¡Ianning a
grand strategy resistance leaders must evaluate and plan which pres-
sures and inßuences are lo be broughl lo bear u¡on lhe o¡¡onenls.
Further, grand strategy will include decisions on the appropriate
conditions and timing under which initial and subsequent resistance
campaigns will be launched.
Grand strategy sets the basic framework for the selection of
more limited strategies for waging the struggle. Grand strategy also
determines the allocation of general tasks to particular groups and
the distribution of resources to them for use in the struggle.
Strategy is the conception of how best to achieve particular ob-
|eclives in a conßicl, o¡eraling vilhin lhe sco¡e of lhe chosen grand
slralegy. Slralegy is concerned vilh vhelher, vhen, and hov lo hghl,
as well as how to achieve maximum effectiveness in struggling for
certain ends. A strategy has been compared to the artist’s concept,
while a strategic plan is the architect’s blueprint.
Robert Helvey, personal communication, 15 August 1993.
Strategy may also include efforts to develop a strategic situa-
tion that is so advantageous that the opponents are able to foresee
lhal o¡en conßicl is IikeIy lo bring lheir cerlain defeal, and lhere-
fore capitulate without an open struggle. Or, if not, the improved
strategic situation will make success of the challengers certain in
struggle. Strategy also involves how to act to make good use of
successes when gained.
Applied to the course of the struggle itself, the strategic plan is
the basic idea of how a campaign shall develop, and how its separate
com¡onenls shaII be hlled logelher lo conlribule mosl advanla-
geously to achieve its objectives. It involves the skillful deployment
of particular action groups in smaller operations. Planning for a
wise strategy must take into consideration the requirements for suc-
cess in the operation of the chosen technique of struggle. Different
lechniques viII have differenl requiremenls. Òf course, |usl fuIhII-
ing ¨requiremenls¨ is nol sufhcienl lo ensure success. AddilionaI
factors may also be needed.
In devising slralegies, lhe democrals musl cIearIy dehne lheir
objectives and determine how to measure the effectiveness of efforts
lo achieve lhem. This dehnilion and anaIysis ¡ermils lhe slralegisl
to identify the precise requirements for securing each selected objec-
live. This need for cIarily and dehnilion a¡¡Iies equaIIy lo laclicaI
Tactics and methods of action are used to implement the strat-
egy. Tactics relate to the skillful use of one’s forces to the best ad-
vantage in a limited situation. A tactic is a limited action, employed
to achieve a restricted objective. The choice of tactics is governed
by lhe conce¡lion of hov besl in a reslricled ¡hase of a conßicl lo
uliIize lhe avaiIabIe means of hghling lo im¡Iemenl lhe slralegy. To
be most effective, tactics and methods must be chosen and applied
with constant attention to the achievement of strategic objectives.
Tactical gains that do not reinforce the attainment of strategic objec-
tives may in the end turn out to be wasted energy.
A tactic is thus concerned with a limited course of action that
hls vilhin lhe broad slralegy, |usl as a slralegy hls vilhin lhe grand
slralegy. Taclics are aIvays concerned vilh hghling, vhereas slral-
44 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 45
egy includes wider considerations. A particular tactic can only be
understood as part of the overall strategy of a battle or a campaign.
Tactics are applied for shorter periods of time than strategies, or in
smaller areas (geographical, institutional, etc.), or by a more limited
number of people, or for more limited objectives. In nonviolent
action the distinction between a tactical objective and a strategic
objective may be partly indicated by whether the chosen objective
of the action is minor or major.
Offensive tactical engagements are selected to support attain-
ment of strategic objectives. Tactical engagements are the tools of the
strategist in creating conditions favorable for delivering decisive at-
tacks against an opponent. It is most important, therefore, that those
given responsibility for planning and executing tactical operations be
skilled in assessing the situation, and selecting the most appropriate
methods for it. Those expected to participate must be trained in the
use of lhe chosen lechnique and lhe s¡ecihc melhods.
Method refers lo lhe s¡ecihc vea¡ons or means of aclion. Wilhin
the technique of nonviolent struggle, these include the dozens of
particular forms of action (such as the many kinds of strikes, boy-
cotts, political noncooperation, and the like) cited in Chapter Five.
(See also Appendix.)
The development of a responsible and effective strategic plan
for a nonviolent struggle depends upon the careful formulation and
selection of the grand strategy, strategies, tactics, and methods.
The main lesson of this discussion is that a calculated use of
one’s intellect is required in careful strategic planning for liberation
from a dictatorship. Failure to plan intelligently can contribute to
disasters, while the effective use of one’s intellectual capacities can
chart a strategic course that will judiciously utilize one’s available
resources to move the society toward the goal of liberty and democ-
In order to increase the chances for success, resistance leaders
will need to formulate a comprehensive plan of action capable of
strengthening the suffering people, weakening and then destroy-
ing the dictatorship, and building a durable democracy. To achieve
such a plan of action, a careful assessment of the situation and of the
options for effective action is needed. Out of such a careful analysis
bolh a grand slralegy and lhe s¡ecihc cam¡aign slralegies for achiev-
ing freedom can be developed. Though related, the development of
grand strategy and campaign strategies are two separate processes.
ÒnIy afler lhe grand slralegy has been deveIo¡ed can lhe s¡ecihc
campaign strategies be fully developed. Campaign strategies will
need to be designed to achieve and reinforce the grand strategic
The development of resistance strategy requires attention to
many questions and tasks. Here we shall identify some of the im-
portant factors that need to be considered, both at the grand strate-
gic level and the level of campaign strategy. All strategic planning,
however, requires that the resistance planners have a profound
underslanding of lhe enlire conßicl silualion, incIuding allenlion lo
physical, historical, governmental, military, cultural, social, political,
psychological, economic, and international factors. Strategies can
only be developed in the context of the particular struggle and its
Of primary importance, democratic leaders and strategic plan-
ners will want to assess the objectives and importance of the cause.
Are the objectives worth a major struggle, and why? It is critical to
determine the real objective of the struggle. We have argued here
that overthrow of the dictatorship or removal of the present dicta-
tors is not enough. The ob|eclive in lhese conßicls needs lo be lhe
establishment of a free society with a democratic system of govern-
menl. CIarily on lhis ¡oinl viII inßuence lhe deveIo¡menl of a grand
slralegy and of lhe ensuing s¡ecihc slralegies.
Particularly, strategists will need to answer many fundamental
questions, such as these:
ª Whal are lhe main obslacIes lo achieving freedom`
ª Whal faclors viII faciIilale achieving freedom`
ª Whal are lhe main slrenglhs of lhe diclalorshi¡`
ª Whal are lhe various veaknesses of lhe diclalorshi¡`
ª To vhal degree are lhe sources of ¡over for lhe diclalorshi¡
ª Whal are lhe slrenglhs of lhe democralic forces and lhe gen-
eral population?
ª Whal are lhe veaknesses of lhe democralic forces and hov
can they be corrected?
ª Whal is lhe slalus of lhird ¡arlies, nol immedialeIy invoIved
in lhe conßicl, vho aIready assisl or mighl assisl, eilher lhe
dictatorship or the democratic movement, and if so in what
Choice of means
At the grand strategic level, planners will need to choose the main
means of slruggIe lo be em¡Ioyed in lhe coming conßicl. The merils
and limitations of several alternative techniques of struggle will need
to be evaluated, such as conventional military warfare, guerrilla
varfare, ¡oIilicaI dehance, and olhers.
In making this choice the strategists will need to consider such
questions as the following: Is the chosen type of struggle within
the capacities of the democrats? Does the chosen technique utilize
strengths of the dominated population? Does this technique target
48 Gcnc Sncrp
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 49
the weaknesses of the dictatorship, or does it strike at its strongest
points? Do the means help the democrats become more self-reliant,
or do they require dependency on third parties or external suppliers?
What is the record of the use of the chosen means in bringing down
dictatorships? Do they increase or limit the casualties and destruction
lhal may be incurred in lhe coming conßicl` Assuming success in
ending the dictatorship, what effect would the selected means have
on the type of government that would arise from the struggle? The
types of action determined to be counterproductive will need to be
excluded in the developed grand strategy.
In ¡revious cha¡lers ve have argued lhal ¡oIilicaI dehance
offers signihcanl com¡aralive advanlages lo olher lechniques of
slruggIe. Slralegisls viII need lo examine lheir ¡arlicuIar conßicl
silualion and delermine vhelher ¡oIilicaI dehance ¡rovides afhrma-
tive answers to the above questions.
Planning for democracy
It should be remembered that against a dictatorship the objective of
the grand strategy is not simply to bring down the dictators but to
install a democratic system and make the rise of a new dictatorship
impossible. To accomplish these objectives, the chosen means of
struggle will need to contribute to a change in the distribution of
effective power in the society. Under the dictatorship the popula-
tion and civil institutions of the society have been too weak, and the
government too strong. Without a change in this imbalance, a new
set of rulers can, if they wish, be just as dictatorial as the old ones.
A “palace revolution” or a coup d’état therefore is not welcome.
IoIilicaI dehance conlribules lo a more equilabIe dislribulion
of effective power through the mobilization of the society against
the dictatorship, as was discussed in Chapter Five. This process
occurs in several ways. The development of a nonviolent struggle
capacity means that the dictatorship’s capacity for violent repression
no longer as easily produces intimidation and submission among
the population. The population will have at its disposal power-
ful means to counter and at times block the exertion of the dicta-
tors’ power. Further, the mobilization of popular power through
¡oIilicaI dehance viII slrenglhen lhe inde¡endenl inslilulions of
the society. The experience of once exercising effective power is
not quickly forgot. The knowledge and skill gained in struggle will
make the population less likely to be easily dominated by would-be
dictators. This shift in power relationships would ultimately make
establishment of a durable democratic society much more likely.
External assistance
As part of the preparation of a grand strategy it is necessary to as-
sess what will be the relative roles of internal resistance and external
pressures for disintegrating the dictatorship. In this analysis we have
argued that the main force of the struggle must be borne from inside
the country itself. To the degree that international assistance comes
at all, it will be stimulated by the internal struggle.
As a modest supplement, efforts can be made to mobilize world
public opinion against the dictatorship, on humanitarian, moral, and
religious grounds. Efforts can be taken to obtain diplomatic, political,
and economic sanctions by governments and international organiza-
tions against the dictatorship. These may take the forms of economic
and military weapons embargoes, reduction in levels of diplomatic
recognition or the breaking of diplomatic ties, banning of economic
assistance and prohibition of investments in the dictatorial country,
expulsion of the dictatorial government from various international
organizations and from United Nations bodies. Further, international
assislance, such as lhe ¡rovision of hnanciaI and communicalions
support, can also be provided directly to the democratic forces.
Formulating a grand strategy
Following an assessment of the situation, the choice of means, and a
determination of the role of external assistance, planners of the grand
slralegy viII need lo skelch in broad slrokes hov lhe conßicl mighl
best be conducted. This broad plan would stretch from the present
to the future liberation and the institution of a democratic system.
50 Gcnc Sncrp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 51
In formulating a grand strategy these planners will need to ask
themselves a variety of questions. The following questions pose (in
a more s¡ecihc vay lhan earIier) lhe ly¡es of consideralions required
in devising a grand slralegy for a ¡oIilicaI dehance slruggIe:
How might the long-term struggle best begin? How can the
o¡¡ressed ¡o¡uIalion musler sufhcienl seIf-conhdence and slrenglh
to act to challenge the dictatorship, even initially in a limited way?
How could the population’s capacity to apply noncooperation and
dehance be increased vilh lime and ex¡erience` Whal mighl be
the objectives of a series of limited campaigns to regain democratic
control over the society and limit the dictatorship?
Are there independent institutions that have survived the dic-
tatorship which might be used in the struggle to establish freedom?
What institutions of the society can be regained from the dictators’
control, or what institutions need to be newly created by the demo-
crats to meet their needs and establish spheres of democracy even
while the dictatorship continues?
How can organizational strength in the resistance be developed?
Hov can ¡arlici¡anls be lrained` Whal resources (hnances, equi¡-
ment, etc.) will be required throughout the struggle? What types of
symbolism can be most effective in mobilizing the population?
By what kinds of action and in what stages could the sources
of power of the dictators be incrementally weakened and severed?
Hov can lhe resisling ¡o¡uIalion simuIlaneousIy ¡ersisl in ils deh-
ance and also maintain the necessary nonviolent discipline? How
can the society continue to meet its basic needs during the course of
the struggle? How can social order be maintained in the midst of
lhe conßicl` As viclory a¡¡roaches, hov can lhe democralic resis-
tance continue to build the institutional base of the post-dictatorship
society to make the transition as smooth as possible?
It must be remembered that no single blueprint exists or can be
created to plan strategy for every liberation movement against dic-
tatorships. Each struggle to bring down a dictatorship and establish
a democratic system will be somewhat different. No two situations
will be exactly alike, each dictatorship will have some individual
characteristics, and the capacities of the freedom-seeking population
viII vary. IIanners of grand slralegy for a ¡oIilicaI dehance slruggIe
viII require a ¡rofound underslanding nol onIy of lheir s¡ecihc
conßicl silualion, bul of lheir chosen means of slruggIe as veII.

When the grand strategy of the struggle has been carefully
planned there are sound reasons for making it widely known. The
large numbers of people required to participate may be more willing
and able to act if they understand the general conception, as well
as s¡ecihc inslruclions. This knovIedge couId ¡olenliaIIy have a
very positive effect on their morale, their willingness to participate,
and to act appropriately. The general outlines of the grand strategy
would become known to the dictators in any case and knowledge
of its features potentially could lead them to be less brutal in their
repression, knowing that it could rebound politically against them-
selves. Awareness of the special characteristics of the grand strategy
could potentially also contribute to dissension and defections from
the dictators’ own camp.
Once a grand strategic plan for bringing down the dictator-
ship and establishing a democratic system has been adopted, it is
important for the pro-democracy groups to persist in applying it.
Only in very rare circumstances should the struggle depart from
the initial grand strategy. When there is abundant evidence that the
chosen grand strategy was misconceived, or that the circumstances
of the struggle have fundamentally changed, planners may need to
alter the grand strategy. Even then, this should be done only after a
basic reassessment has been made and a new more adequate grand
strategic plan has been developed and adopted.
52 Gene Sharp
Recommended full length studies are Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action
cj Ncntic|cni Aciicn, (Boston, Massachusetts: Porter Sargent, 1973) and Peter Acker-
man and Christopher Kruegler, Sircicgic Ncntic|cni Ccnßici, (Westport, Connecticut:
Praeger, 1994). Also see Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Stuggle: Twentieth Century
Practice and Twenty-First Century Potential. Boston: Porter Sargent, 2005.
From Dictatorship to Democracy 53
Planning campaign strategies
However wise and promising the developed grand strategy to end
the dictatorship and to institute democracy may be, a grand strat-
egy does not implement itself. Particular strategies will need to be
developed to guide the major campaigns aimed at undermining the
dictators’ power. These strategies, in turn, will incorporate and guide
a range of tactical engagements that will aim to strike decisive blows
againsl lhe diclalors' regime. The laclics and lhe s¡ecihc melhods of
action must be chosen carefully so that they contribute to achieving
the goals of each particular strategy. The discussion here focuses
exclusively on the level of strategy.
Strategists planning the major campaigns will, like those who
planned the grand strategy, require a thorough understanding of the
nature and modes of operation of their chosen technique of struggle.
}usl as miIilary ofhcers musl undersland force slruclures, laclics,
logistics, munitions, the effects of geography, and the like in order
lo ¡Iol miIilary slralegy, ¡oIilicaI dehance ¡Ianners musl undersland
the nature and strategic principles of nonviolent struggle. Even then,
however, knowledge of nonviolent struggle, attention to recommen-
dations in this essay, and answers to the questions posed here will
not themselves produce strategies. The formulation of strategies for
the struggle still requires an informed creativity.
In ¡Ianning lhe slralegies for lhe s¡ecihc seIeclive resislance
campaigns and for the longer term development of the liberation
slruggIe, lhe ¡oIilicaI dehance slralegisls viII need lo consider vari-
ous issues and problems. The following are among these:
ª Delerminalion of lhe s¡ecihc ob|eclives of lhe cam¡aign and
their contributions to implementing the grand strategy.
ª Consideralion of lhe s¡ecihc melhods, or ¡oIilicaI vea¡ons,
that can best be used to implement the chosen strategies.
Within each overall plan for a particular strategic campaign
it will be necessary to determine what smaller, tactical plans
and vhich s¡ecihc melhods of aclion shouId be used lo im-
pose pressures and restrictions against the dictatorship’s
sources of power. It should be remembered that the achieve-
ment of major objectives will come as a result of carefully
chosen and im¡Iemenled s¡ecihc smaIIer sle¡s.
ª Delerminalion vhelher, or hov, economic issues shouId be
related to the overall essentially political struggle. If eco-
nomic issues are to be prominent in the struggle, care will be
needed that the economic grievances can actually be rem-
edied after the dictatorship is ended. Otherwise, disillusion-
ment and disaffection may set in if quick solutions are not
provided during the transition period to a democratic soci-
ety. Such disillusionment could facilitate the rise of dictato-
rial forces promising an end to economic woes.
ª Delerminalion in advance of vhal kind of Ieadershi¡ slruc-
ture and communications system will work best for initiat-
ing the resistance struggle. What means of decision-making
and communication will be possible during the course of the
struggle to give continuing guidance to the resisters and the
general population?
ª Communicalion of lhe resislance nevs lo lhe generaI ¡o¡u-
lation, to the dictators’ forces, and the international press.
Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Ex-
aggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the cred-
ibility of the resistance.
ª IIans for seIf-reIianl conslruclive sociaI, educalionaI, eco-
nomic, and political activities to meet the needs of one’s own
¡eo¡Ie during lhe coming conßicl. Such ¡ro|ecls can be con-
ducted by persons not directly involved in the resistance ac-
ª Delerminalion of vhal kind of exlernaI assislance is desir-
abIe in su¡¡orl of lhe s¡ecihc cam¡aign or lhe generaI Iib-
eration struggle. How can external help be best mobilized
54 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 55
and used without making the internal struggle dependent
on uncertain external factors? Attention will need to be given
to which external groups are most likely, and most appro-
priate, to assist, such as non-governmental organizations (so-
cial movements, religious or political groups, labor unions,
etc.), governments, and/or the United Nations and its vari-
ous bodies.
Furthermore, the resistance planners will need to take measures
to preserve order and to meet social needs by one’s own forces during
mass resistance against dictatorial controls. This will not only create
alternative independent democratic structures and meet genuine
needs, but also will reduce credibility for any claims that ruthless
repression is required to halt disorder and lawlessness.
Spreading the idea of noncooperation
Ior successfuI ¡oIilicaI dehance againsl a diclalorshi¡, il is essenliaI
that the population grasp the idea of noncooperation. As illustrated
by the “Monkey Master” story (see Chapter Three), the basic idea is
simple: if enough of the subordinates refuse to continue their coop-
eration long enough despite repression, the oppressive system will
be veakened and hnaIIy coIIa¡se.
People living under the dictatorship may be already familiar
with this concept from a variety of sources. Even so, the demo-
cratic forces should deliberately spread and popularize the idea
of noncooperation. The “Monkey Master” story, or a similar one,
could be disseminated throughout the society. Such a story could
be easily understood. Once the general concept of noncooperation
is grasped, people will be able to understand the relevance of future
calls to practice noncooperation with the dictatorship. They will
aIso be abIe on lheir ovn lo im¡rovise a myriad of s¡ecihc forms of
noncooperation in new situations.
Des¡ile lhe difhcuIlies and dangers in allem¡ls lo commu-
nicate ideas, news, and resistance instructions while living under
dictatorships, democrats have frequently proved this to be possible.
Even under Nazi and Communist rule it was possible for resisters
to communicate not only with other individuals but even with large
public audiences through the production of illegal newspapers,
Ieaßels, books, and in Ialer years vilh audio and video casselles.
With the advantage of prior strategic planning, general guide-
lines for resistance can be prepared and disseminated. These can
indicate the issues and circumstances under which the population
should protest and withhold cooperation, and how this might be
done. Then, even if communications from the democratic leader-
shi¡ are severed, and s¡ecihc inslruclions have nol been issued or
received, the population will know how to act on certain important
issues. Such guidelines would also provide a test to identify counter-
feit “resistance instructions” issued by the political police designed
to provoke discrediting action.
Repression and countermeasures
Strategic planners will need to assess the likely responses and re-
pression, especially the threshold of violence, of the dictatorship
to the actions of the democratic resistance. It will be necessary to
determine how to withstand, counteract, or avoid this possible
increased re¡ression vilhoul submission. TaclicaIIy, for s¡ecihc
occasions, appropriate warnings to the population and the resisters
about expected repression would be in order, so that they will know
the risks of participation. If repression may be serious, preparations
for medical assistance for wounded resisters should be made.
Anticipating repression, the strategists will do well to consider
in advance the use of tactics and methods that will contribute to
achieving lhe s¡ecihc goaI of a cam¡aign, or Iiberalion, bul lhal viII
make brutal repression less likely or less possible. For example, street
demonstrations and parades against extreme dictatorships may be
dramatic, but they may also risk thousands of dead demonstrators.
The high cost to the demonstrators may not, however, actually ap-
ply more pressure on the dictatorship than would occur through
everyone staying home, a strike, or massive acts of noncooperation
from the civil servants.
56 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 57
If it has been proposed that provocative resistance action
risking high casualties will be required for a strategic purpose,
then one should very carefully consider the proposal’s costs and
possible gains. Will the population and the resisters be likely to
behave in a disciplined and nonviolent manner during the course
of the struggle? Can they resist provocations to violence? Planners
must consider what measures may be taken to keep nonviolent
discipline and maintain the resistance despite brutalities. Will such
measures as ¡Iedges, ¡oIicy slalemenls, disci¡Iine Ieaßels, marshaIs
for demonstrations, and boycotts of pro-violence persons and groups
be possible and effective? Leaders should always be alert for the
presence of agents provocateurs whose mission will be to incite the
demonstrators to violence.
Adhering to the strategic plan
Once a sound strategic plan is in place, the democratic forces
should not be distracted by minor moves of the dictators that may
tempt them to depart from the grand strategy and the strategy for a
particular campaign, causing them to focus major activities on unim-
portant issues. Nor should the emotions of the moment — perhaps
in response to new brutalities by the dictatorship — be allowed to
divert the democratic resistance from its grand strategy or the cam-
paign strategy. The brutalities may have been perpetrated precisely
in order to provoke the democratic forces to abandon their well-laid
plan and even to commit violent acts in order that the dictators could
more easily defeat them.
As long as the basic analysis is judged to be sound, the task of the
pro-democracy forces is to press forward stage by stage. Of course,
changes in tactics and intermediate objectives will occur and good
leaders will always be ready to exploit opportunities. These adjust-
ments should not be confused with objectives of the grand strategy
or lhe ob|eclives of lhe s¡ecihc cam¡aign. CarefuI im¡Iemenlalion of
the chosen grand strategy and of strategies for particular campaigns
will greatly contribute to success.

In situations in which the population feels powerless and frightened,
il is im¡orlanl lhal iniliaI lasks for lhe ¡ubIic be Iov-risk, conhdence-
building actions. These types of actions — such as wearing one’s
clothes in an unusual way — may publicly register a dissenting
opinion and provide an opportunity for the public to participate
signihcanlIy in acls of dissenl. In olher cases a reIaliveIy minor (on
the surface) nonpolitical issue (such as securing a safe water supply)
might be made the focus for group action. Strategists should choose
an issue lhe merils of vhich viII be videIy recognized and difhcuIl
to reject. Success in such limited campaigns could not only correct
s¡ecihc grievances bul aIso convince lhe ¡o¡uIalion lhal il indeed
has power potential.
Most of the strategies of campaigns in the long-term struggle
should not aim for the immediate complete downfall of the dictator-
ship, but instead for gaining limited objectives. Nor does every cam-
paign require the participation of all sections of the population.
In conlem¡Ialing a series of s¡ecihc cam¡aigns lo im¡Iemenl
lhe grand slralegy, lhe dehance slralegisls need lo consider hov lhe
campaigns at the beginning, the middle, and near the conclusion of
the long-term struggle will differ from each other.
Selective resistance
In the initial stages of the struggle, separate campaigns with differ-
enl s¡ecihc ob|eclives can be very usefuI. Such seIeclive cam¡aigns
may follow one after the other. Occasionally, two or three might
overlap in time.
In planning a strategy for “selective resistance” it is necessary
lo idenlify s¡ecihc Iimiled issues or grievances lhal symboIize lhe
general oppression of the dictatorship. Such issues may be the ap-
propriate targets for conducting campaigns to gain intermediary
strategic objectives within the overall grand strategy.
These intermediary strategic objectives need to be attainable
by the current or projected power capacity of the democratic forces.
This helps to ensure a series of victories, which are good for morale,
and also contribute to advantageous incremental shifts in power
relations for the long-term struggle.
Selective resistance strategies should concentrate primarily on
s¡ecihc sociaI, economic, or ¡oIilicaI issues. These may be chosen in
order to keep some part of the social and political system out of the
dictators’ control, to regain control of some part currently controlled
by the dictators, or to deny the dictators a particular objective. If
possible, the campaign of selective resistance should also strike at
one weakness or more of the dictatorship, as already discussed.
Thereby, democrats can make the greatest possible impact with their
available power capacity.
Very early the strategists need to plan at least the strategy for the
hrsl cam¡aign. Whal are lo be ils Iimiled ob|eclives` Hov viII il heI¡
fuIhII lhe chosen grand slralegy` If ¡ossibIe, il is vise lo formuIale
at least the general outlines of strategies for a second and possibly
a third campaign. All such strategies will need to implement the
chosen grand strategy and operate within its general guidelines.
Symbolic challenge
At the beginning of a new campaign to undermine the dictatorship,
lhe hrsl more s¡ecihcaIIy ¡oIilicaI aclions may be Iimiled in sco¡e.
They shouId be designed in ¡arl lo lesl and inßuence lhe mood of
the population, and to prepare them for continuing struggle through
noncoo¡eralion and ¡oIilicaI dehance.
The initial action is likely to take the form of symbolic protest
or may be a symbolic act of limited or temporary noncooperation.
If the number of persons willing to act is small, then the initial act
mighl, for exam¡Ie, invoIve ¡Iacing ßovers al a ¡Iace of symboIic
importance. On the other hand, if the number of persons willing to
acl is very Iarge, lhen a hve minule haIl lo aII aclivilies or severaI
minutes of silence might be used. In other situations, a few indi-
60 Gcnc Sncrp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 61
viduals might undertake a hunger strike, a vigil at a place of symbolic
importance, a brief student boycott of classes, or a temporary sit-in
al an im¡orlanl ofhce. Inder a diclalorshi¡ lhese more aggressive
actions would most likely be met with harsh repression.
Certain symbolic acts, such as a physical occupation in front
of the dictator’s palace or political police headquarters may involve
high risk and are therefore not advisable for initiating a campaign.
Initial symbolic protest actions have at times aroused major
national and international attention — as the mass street demonstra-
tions in Burma in 1988 or the student occupation and hunger strike
in Tiananman Square in Beijing in 1989. The high casualties of dem-
onstrators in both of these cases points to the great care strategists
must exercise in planning campaigns. Although having a tremen-
dous moral and psychological impact, such actions by themselves
are unlikely to bring down a dictatorship, for they remain largely
symbolic and do not alter the power position of the dictatorship.
It usually is not possible to sever the availability of the sources
of power to the dictators completely and rapidly at the beginning of
a struggle. That would require virtually the whole population and
almost all the institutions of the society — which had previously been
largely submissive — to reject absolutely the regime and suddenly defy
it by massive and strong noncooperation. That has not yet occurred
and vouId be mosl difhcuIl lo achieve. In mosl cases, lherefore, a
quick cam¡aign of fuII noncoo¡eralion and dehance is an unreaIislic
strategy for an early campaign against the dictatorship.
Spreading responsibility
During a selective resistance campaign the brunt of the struggle is
for a time usually borne by one section or more of the population.
In a later campaign with a different objective, the burden of the
struggle would be shifted to other population groups. For example,
students might conduct strikes on an educational issue, religious
leaders and believers might concentrate on a freedom of religion
issue, rail workers might meticulously obey safety regulations so as
to slow down the rail transport system, journalists might challenge
censorship by publishing papers with blank spaces in which prohib-
ited articles would have appeared, or police might repeatedly fail
to locate and arrest wanted members of the democratic opposition.
Phasing resistance campaigns by issue and population group will
allow certain segments of the population to rest while resistance
Selective resistance is especially important to defend the exis-
tence and autonomy of independent social, economic, and political
groups and institutions outside the control of the dictatorship, which
vere brießy discussed earIier. These cenlers of ¡over ¡rovide lhe
institutional bases from which the population can exert pressure or
can resist dictatorial controls. In the struggle, they are likely to be
among lhe hrsl largels of lhe diclalorshi¡.
Aiming at the dictators’ power
As the long-term struggle develops beyond the initial strategies into
more ambitious and advanced phases, the strategists will need to
calculate how the dictators’ sources of power can be further restricted.
The aim would be to use popular noncooperation to create a new
more advantageous strategic situation for the democratic forces.
As the democratic resistance forces gained strength, strategists
vouId ¡Iol more ambilious noncoo¡eralion and dehance lo sever
the dictatorships’ sources of power, with the goal of producing in-
creasing political paralysis, and in the end the disintegration of the
dictatorship itself.
It will be necessary to plan carefully how the democratic forces
can weaken the support that people and groups have previously of-
fered to the dictatorship. Will their support be weakened by revela-
tions of the brutalities perpetrated by the regime, by exposure of the
disastrous economic consequences of the dictators’ policies, or by a
new understanding that the dictatorship can be ended? The dictators’
supporters should at least be induced to become “neutral” in their
activities (“fence sitters”) or preferably to become active supporters
of the movement for democracy.
During lhe ¡Ianning and im¡Iemenlalion of ¡oIilicaI dehance
62 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 63
and noncooperation, it is highly important to pay close attention
to all of the dictators’ main supporters and aides, including their
inner clique, political party, police, and bureaucrats, but especially
their army.
The degree of loyalty of the military forces, both soldiers and
ofhcers, lo lhe diclalorshi¡ needs lo be carefuIIy assessed and a
determination should be made as to whether the military is open
lo inßuence by lhe democralic forces. Mighl many of lhe ordinary
soldiers be unhappy and frightened conscripts? Might many of the
soIdiers and ofhcers be aIienaled from lhe regime for ¡ersonaI, fam-
ily, or political reasons? What other factors might make soldiers and
ofhcers vuInerabIe lo democralic subversion`
Early in the liberation struggle a special strategy should be de-
veloped to communicate with the dictators’ troops and functionaries.
By words, symbols, and actions, the democratic forces can inform the
troops that the liberation struggle will be vigorous, determined, and
persistent. Troops should learn that the struggle will be of a special
character, designed to undermine the dictatorship but not to threaten
their lives. Such efforts would aim ultimately to undermine the morale
of lhe diclalors' lroo¡s and hnaIIy lo subverl lheir IoyaIly and obedi-
ence in favor of the democratic movement. Similar strategies could
be aimed at the police and civil servants.
The attempt to garner sympathy from and, eventually, induce
disobedience among the dictators’ forces ought not to be interpreted,
however, to mean encouragement of the military forces to make a
quick end to the current dictatorship through military action. Such
a scenario is not likely to install a working democracy, for (as we
have discussed) a coup d’état does little to redress the imbalance of
power relations between the populace and the rulers. Therefore, it
viII be necessary lo ¡Ian hov sym¡alhelic miIilary ofhcers can be
brought to understand that neither a military coup nor a civil war
against the dictatorship is required or desirable.
Sym¡alhelic ofhcers can ¡Iay vilaI roIes in lhe democralic
struggle, such as spreading disaffection and noncooperation in the
miIilary forces, encouraging deIiberale inefhciencies and lhe quiel
ignoring of orders, and supporting the refusal to carry out repres-
sion. Military personnel may also offer various modes of positive
nonviolent assistance to the democracy movement, including safe
passage, information, food, medical supplies, and the like.
The army is one of the most important sources of the power of
dictators because it can use its disciplined military units and weap-
onry directly to attack and to punish the disobedient population.
Dcµcncc sircicgisis sncu|! rcmcm|cr inci ii ui|| |c cxccpiicnc||q !ijµcu|i,
cr impcssi||c, ic !isinicgrcic inc !icicicrsnip ij inc pc|icc, |urccucrcis, cn!
military forces remain fully supportive of the dictatorship and obedient in
carrying out its commands. Strategies aimed at subverting the loyalty
of the dictators’ forces should therefore be given a high priority by
democratic strategists.
The democratic forces should remember that disaffection and
disobedience among the military forces and police can be highly
dangerous for the members of those groups. Soldiers and police
could expect severe penalties for any act of disobedience and execu-
tion for acts of mutiny. The democratic forces should not ask the
soIdiers and ofhcers lhal lhey immedialeIy muliny. Inslead, vhere
communication is possible, it should be made clear that there are a
multitude of relatively safe forms of “disguised disobedience” that
they can take initially. For example, police and troops can carry out
inslruclions for re¡ression inefhcienlIy, faiI lo Iocale vanled ¡ersons,
warn resisters of impending repression, arrests, or deportations, and
faiI lo re¡orl im¡orlanl informalion lo lheir su¡erior ofhcers. Disaf-
fecled ofhcers in lurn can negIecl lo reIay commands for re¡ression
down the chain of command. Soldiers may shoot over the heads of
demonslralors. SimiIarIy, for lheir ¡arl, civiI servanls can Iose hIes
and inslruclions, vork inefhcienlIy, and become ¨iII¨ so lhal lhey
need to stay home until they “recover.”
Shifts in strategy
The ¡oIilicaI dehance slralegisls viII need conslanlIy lo assess hov
lhe grand slralegy and lhe s¡ecihc cam¡aign slralegies are being
implemented. It is possible, for example, that the struggle may not
go as well as expected. In that case it will be necessary to calculate
64 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 65
what shifts in strategy might be required. What can be done to in-
crease the movement’s strength and regain the initiative? In such
a situation, it will be necessary to identify the problem, make a
strategic reassessment, possibly shift struggle responsibilities to a
different population group, mobilize additional sources of power,
and develop alternative courses of action. When that is done, the
new plan should be implemented immediately.
Conversely, if the struggle has gone much better than expected
and the dictatorship is collapsing earlier than previously calculated,
how can the democratic forces capitalize on unexpected gains and
move toward paralyzing the dictatorship? We will explore this ques-
tion in the following chapter.
The cumulative effect of well-conducted and successful political
dehance cam¡aigns is lo slrenglhen lhe resislance and lo eslabIish
and expand areas of the society where the dictatorship faces limits
on its effective control. These campaigns also provide important
experience in how to refuse cooperation and how to offer political
dehance. Thal ex¡erience viII be of greal assislance vhen lhe lime
comes for noncoo¡eralion and dehance on a mass scaIe.
As was discussed in Chapter Three, obedience, cooperation,
and submission are essential if dictators are to be powerful. With-
out access to the sources of political power, the dictators’ power
veakens and hnaIIy dissoIves. WilhdravaI of su¡¡orl is lherefore
the major required action to disintegrate a dictatorship. It may be
useful to review how the sources of power can be affected by politi-
caI dehance.
Acls of symboIic re¡udialion and dehance are among lhe avaiI-
able means to undermine the regime’s moral and political author-
ity — its legitimacy. The greater the regime’s authority, the greater
and more reliable is the obedience and cooperation which it will
receive. Moral disapproval needs to be expressed in action in order
to seriously threaten the existence of the dictatorship. Withdrawal
of cooperation and obedience are needed to sever the availability of
other sources of the regime’s power.
A second important such source of power is numcn rcscurccs,
the number and importance of the persons and groups that obey,
cooperate with, or assist the rulers. If noncooperation is practiced by
large parts of the population, the regime will be in serious trouble.
For example, if the civil servants no longer function with their normal
efhciency or even slay al home, lhe adminislralive a¡¡aralus viII
be gravely affected.
Similarly, if the noncooperating persons and groups include
those that have previously supplied specialized skills and knowl-
c!gc, then the dictators will see their capacity to implement their
will gravely weakened. Even their ability to make well-informed
decisions and develop effective policies may be seriously reduced.
If ¡sychoIogicaI and ideoIogicaI inßuences ÷ caIIed intangible
factors — that usually induce people to obey and assist the rulers
are weakened or reversed, the population will be more inclined to
disobey and to noncooperate.
The dictators’ access to material resources also directly affects
lheir ¡over. Wilh conlroI of hnanciaI resources, lhe economic
system, property, natural resources, transportation, and means of
communication in the hands of actual or potential opponents of
the regime, another major source of their power is vulnerable or re-
moved. Strikes, boycotts, and increasing autonomy in the economy,
communications, and transportation will weaken the regime.
As previously discussed, the dictators’ ability to threaten or
apply sanctions — punishments against the restive, disobedient, and
noncooperative sections of the population — is a central source of
the power of dictators. This source of power can be weakened in
two ways. First, if the population is prepared, as in a war, to risk
serious consequences as lhe ¡rice of dehance, lhe effecliveness of lhe
available sanctions will be drastically reduced (that is, the dictators’
repression will not secure the desired submission). Second, if the
police and the military forces themselves become disaffected, they
may on an individual or mass basis evade or outright defy orders to
arrest, beat, or shoot resisters. If the dictators can no longer rely on
the police and military forces to carry out repression, the dictatorship
is gravely threatened.
In summary, success against an entrenched dictatorship requires
lhal noncoo¡eralion and dehance reduce and remove lhe sources of
the regime’s power. Without constant replenishment of the necessary
sources of ¡over lhe diclalorshi¡ viII veaken and hnaIIy disinle-
grale. Com¡elenl slralegic ¡Ianning of ¡oIilicaI dehance againsl
dictatorships therefore needs to target the dictators’ most important
sources of power.
68 Gcnc Sncrp
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 69
Escalating freedom
Combined vilh ¡oIilicaI dehance during lhe ¡hase of seIeclive re-
sistance, the growth of autonomous social, economic, cultural, and
political institutions progressively expands the “democratic space”
of the society and shrinks the control of the dictatorship. As the civil
institutions of the society become stronger vis-à-vis the dictatorship,
then, whatever the dictators may wish, the population is incremen-
tally building an independent society outside of their control. If and
when the dictatorship intervenes to halt this “escalating freedom,”
nonviolent struggle can be applied in defense of this newly won
space and the dictatorship will be faced with yet another “front” in
the struggle.
In time, this combination of resistance and institution building
can lead to de facto freedom, making the collapse of the dictator-
ship and the formal installation of a democratic system undeniable
because the power relationships within the society have been fun-
damentally altered.
Poland in the 1970s and 1980s provides a clear example of the
progressive reclaiming of a society’s functions and institutions by
the resistance. The Catholic church had been persecuted but never
brought under full Communist control. In 1976 certain intellectuals
and workers formed small groups such as K.O.R. (Workers Defense
Committee) to advance their political ideas. The organization of
the Solidarity trade union with its power to wield effective strikes
forced its own legalization in 1980. Peasants, students, and many
other groups also formed their own independent organizations.
When the Communists realized that these groups had changed the
power realities, Solidarity was again banned and the Communists
resorted to military rule.
Even under martial law, with many imprisonments and harsh
persecution, the new independent institutions of the society con-
tinued to function. For example, dozens of illegal newspapers and
magazines continued to be published. Illegal publishing houses an-
nually issued hundreds of books, while well-known writers boycot-
ted Communist publications and government publishing houses.
Similar activities continued in other parts of the society.
Under the Jaruselski military regime, the military-Communist
government was at one point described as bouncing around on the
lo¡ of lhe sociely. The ofhciaIs sliII occu¡ied governmenl ofhces and
buildings. The regime could still strike down into the society, with
punishments, arrests, imprisonment, seizure of printing presses, and
the like. The dictatorship, however, could not control the society.
From that point, it was only a matter of time until the society was
able to bring down the regime completely.
Even while a dictatorship still occupies government positions
it is sometimes possible to organize a democratic “parallel govern-
ment.” This would increasingly operate as a rival government to
which loyalty, compliance, and cooperation are given by the popu-
lation and the society’s institutions. The dictatorship would then
consequently, on an increasing basis, be deprived of these character-
istics of government. Eventually, the democratic parallel government
may fully replace the dictatorial regime as part of the transition to
a democratic system. In due course then a constitution would be
adopted and elections held as part of the transition.
Disintegrating the dictatorship
While the institutional transformation of the society is taking place,
lhe dehance and noncoo¡eralion movemenl may escaIale. Slralegisls
of the democratic forces should contemplate early that there will
come a time when the democratic forces can move beyond selective
resislance and Iaunch mass dehance. In mosl cases, lime viII be
required for creating, building, or expanding resistance capacities,
and lhe deveIo¡menl of mass dehance may occur onIy afler severaI
years. During this interim period campaigns of selective resistance
should be launched with increasingly important political objectives.
Larger parts of the population at all levels of the society should be-
come invoIved. Given delermined and disci¡Iined ¡oIilicaI dehance
during this escalation of activities, the internal weaknesses of the
dictatorship are likely to become increasingly obvious.
70 Gcnc Sncrp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 71
The combinalion of slrong ¡oIilicaI dehance and lhe buiIding
of independent institutions is likely in time to produce widespread
international attention favorable to the democratic forces. It may also
produce international diplomatic condemnations, boycotts, and em-
bargoes in support of the democratic forces (as it did for Poland).
Strategists should be aware that in some situations the collapse
of the dictatorship may occur extremely rapidly, as in East Germany
in 1989. This can happen when the sources of power are massively
severed as a result of the whole population’s revulsion against the
dictatorship. This pattern is not usual, however, and it is better to
plan for a long-term struggle (but to be prepared for a short one).
During the course of the liberation struggle, victories, even on
limited issues, should be celebrated. Those who have earned the
victory should be recognized. Celebrations with vigilance should
also help to keep up the morale needed for future stages of the
Handling success responsibly
Planners of the grand strategy should calculate in advance the pos-
sible and preferred ways in which a successful struggle might best
be concluded in order to prevent the rise of a new dictatorship and to
ensure the gradual establishment of a durable democratic system.
The democrats should calculate how the transition from the
dictatorship to the interim government shall be handled at the end
of the struggle. It is desirable at that time to establish quickly a new
functioning government. However, it must not be merely the old
one with new personnel. It is necessary to calculate what sections of
the old governmental structure (as the political police) are to be com-
pletely abolished because of their inherent anti-democratic character
and which sections retained to be subjected to later democratization
efforts. A complete governmental void could open the way to chaos
or a new dictatorship.
Thought should be given in advance to determine what is to be
lhe ¡oIicy lovard high ofhciaIs of lhe diclalorshi¡ vhen ils ¡over
disintegrates. For example, are the dictators to be brought to trial in
a court? Are they to be permitted to leave the country permanently?
What other options may there be that are consistent with political
dehance, lhe need for reconslrucling lhe counlry, and buiIding a
democracy following the victory? A blood bath must be avoided
which could have drastic consequences on the possibility of a future
democratic system.
S¡ecihc ¡Ians for lhe lransilion lo democracy shouId be ready
for application when the dictatorship is weakening or collapses.
Such plans will help to prevent another group from seizing state
power through a coup d’état. Plans for the institution of democratic
constitutional government with full political and personal liberties
will also be required. The changes won at a great price should not
be lost through lack of planning.
When confronted with the increasingly empowered population
and the growth of independent democratic groups and institutions —
both of which the dictatorship is unable to control — the dictators will
hnd lhal lheir vhoIe venlure is unraveIIing. Massive shul-dovns of
lhe sociely, generaI slrikes, mass slay-al-homes, dehanl marches, or
other activities will increasingly undermine the dictators’ own orga-
nizalion and reIaled inslilulions. As a consequence of such dehance
and noncooperation, executed wisely and with mass participation
over time, the dictators would become powerless and the democratic
defenders would, without violence, triumph. The dictatorship would
disinlegrale before lhe dehanl ¡o¡uIalion.
Not every such effort will succeed, especially not easily, and
rarely quickly. It should be remembered that as many military wars
are Iosl as are von. Hovever, ¡oIilicaI dehance offers a reaI ¡ossibiIi-
ty of victory. As stated earlier, that possibility can be greatly increased
through the development of a wise grand strategy, careful strategic
planning, hard work, and disciplined courageous struggle.
72 Gene Sharp
The disintegration of the dictatorship is of course a cause for major
celebration. People who have suffered for so long and struggled
at great price merit a time of joy, relaxation, and recognition. They
should feel proud of themselves and of all who struggled with them
to win political freedom. Not all will have lived to see this day. The
living and the dead will be remembered as heroes who helped to
shape the history of freedom in their country.
Unfortunately, this is not a time for a reduction in vigilance.
Even in the event of a successful disintegration of the dictatorship
by ¡oIilicaI dehance, carefuI ¡recaulions musl be laken lo ¡revenl
the rise of a new oppressive regime out of the confusion following
the collapse of the old one. The leaders of the pro-democracy forces
should have prepared in advance for an orderly transition to a de-
mocracy. The dictatorial structures will need to be dismantled. The
constitutional and legal bases and standards of behavior of a durable
democracy will need to be built.
No one should believe that with the downfall of the dictatorship
an ideal society will immediately appear. The disintegration of the
dictatorship simply provides the beginning point, under conditions
of enhanced freedom, for long-term efforts to improve the society and
meet human needs more adequately. Serious political, economic, and
social problems will continue for years, requiring the cooperation of
many people and groups in seeking their resolution. The new politi-
cal system should provide the opportunities for people with varying
outlooks and favored measures to continue constructive work and
policy development to deal with problems in the future.
Threats of a new dictatorship
Aristotle warned long ago that “. . . tyranny can also change into
tyranny. . .”
There is ample historical evidence from France (the
Aristotle, 1nc Pc|iiics, Book V, Chapter 12, p. 233.
Jacobins and Napoleon), Russia (the Bolsheviks), Iran (the Ayatol-
lah), Burma (SLORC), and elsewhere that the collapse of an oppres-
sive regime will be seen by some persons and groups as merely the
opportunity for them to step in as the new masters. Their motives
may vary, but the results are often approximately the same. The
new dictatorship may even be more cruel and total in its control
than the old one.
Even before the collapse of the dictatorship, members of the old
regime may allem¡l lo cul shorl lhe dehance slruggIe for democracy
by staging a coup d’état designed to preempt victory by the popular
resistance. It may claim to oust the dictatorship, but in fact seek only
to impose a new refurbished model of the old one.
Blocking coups
There are ways in which coups against newly liberated societies can
be defeated. Advance knowledge of that defense capacity may at
limes be sufhcienl lo deler lhe allem¡l. Ire¡aralion can ¡roduce
Immediately after a coup is started, the putschists require le-
gitimacy, that is, acceptance of their moral and political right to rule.
The hrsl basic ¡rinci¡Ie of anli-cou¡ defense is lherefore lo deny
legitimacy to the putschists.
The putschists also require that the civilian leaders and popula-
tion be supportive, confused, or just passive. The putschists require
the cooperation of specialists and advisors, bureaucrats and civil
servants, administrators and judges in order to consolidate their
control over the affected society. The putschists also require that the
multitude of people who operate the political system, the society’s
institutions, the economy, the police, and the military forces will
¡assiveIy submil and carry oul lheir usuaI funclions as modihed by
the putschists’ orders and policies.
The second basic principle of anti-coup defense is to resist the
¡ulschisls vilh noncoo¡eralion and dehance. The needed coo¡era-
tion and assistance must be denied. Essentially the same means of
struggle that was used against the dictatorship can be used against
74 Gene Sharp
From Dictatorship to Democracy 75
the new threat, but applied immediately. If both legitimacy and
cooperation are denied, the coup may die of political starvation and
the chance to build a democratic society restored.
Constitution drafting
The new democratic system will require a constitution that estab-
lishes the desired framework of the democratic government. The
constitution should set the purposes of government, limits on
governmental powers, the means and timing of elections by which
governmenlaI ofhciaIs and IegisIalors viII be chosen, lhe inherenl
rights of the people, and the relation of the national government to
other lower levels of government.
Within the central government, if it is to remain democratic,
a clear division of authority should be established between the
legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Strong
restrictions should be included on activities of the police, intelligence
services, and military forces to prohibit any legal political interfer-
In the interests of preserving the democratic system and im-
peding dictatorial trends and measures, the constitution should
¡referabIy be one lhal eslabIishes a federaI syslem vilh signihcanl
prerogatives reserved for the regional, state, and local levels of gov-
ernment. In some situations the Swiss system of cantons might be
considered in which relatively small areas retain major prerogatives,
while remaining a part of the whole country.
If a constitution with many of these features existed earlier in
the newly liberated country’s history, it may be wise simply to restore
it to operation, amending it as deemed necessary and desirable. If
a suitable older constitution is not present, it may be necessary to
operate with an interim constitution. Otherwise, a new constitu-
tion will need to be prepared. Preparing a new constitution will
take considerable time and thought. Popular participation in this
¡rocess is desirabIe and required for ralihcalion of a nev lexl or
amendments. One should be very cautious about including in the
constitution promises that later might prove impossible to imple-
ment or provisions that would require a highly centralized govern-
ment, for both can facilitate a new dictatorship.
The wording of the constitution should be easily understood
by the majority of the population. A constitution should not be so
complex or ambiguous that only lawyers or other elites can claim
to understand it.
A democratic defense policy
The liberated country may also face foreign threats for which a
defense capacity would be required. The country might also be
threatened by foreign attempts to establish economic, political, or
military domination.
In the interests of maintaining internal democracy, serious
consideration should be given to applying the basic principles of
¡oIilicaI dehance lo lhe needs of nalionaI defense.
By placing resis-
tance capacity directly in the hands of the citizenry, newly liberated
countries could avoid the need to establish a strong military capac-
ity which could itself threaten democracy or require vast economic
resources much needed for other purposes.
It must be remembered that some groups will ignore any con-
stitutional provision in their aim to establish themselves as new
dictators. Therefore, a permanent role will exist for the population to
a¡¡Iy ¡oIilicaI dehance and noncoo¡eralion againsl vouId-be dicla-
tors and to preserve democratic structures, rights, and procedures.
A meritorious responsibility
The effect of nonviolent struggle is not only to weaken and remove
the dictators but also to empower the oppressed. This technique
enables people who formerly felt themselves to be only pawns or
victims to wield power directly in order to gain by their own efforts
greater freedom and justice. This experience of struggle has impor-
76 Gene Sharp
See Gene Sharp, Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System (Princ-
eton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990).
From Dictatorship to Democracy 77
tant psychological consequences, contributing to increased self-es-
leem and seIf-conhdence among lhe formerIy ¡overIess.
Òne im¡orlanl Iong-lerm benehciaI consequence of lhe use of
nonviolent struggle for establishing democratic government is that
the society will be more capable of dealing with continuing and
future problems. These might include future governmental abuse
and corruption, maltreatment of any group, economic injustices, and
limitations on the democratic qualities of the political system. The
¡o¡uIalion ex¡erienced in lhe use of ¡oIilicaI dehance is Iess IikeIy
to be vulnerable to future dictatorships.
After liberation, familiarity with nonviolent struggle will pro-
vide ways to defend democracy, civil liberties, minority rights, and
prerogatives of regional, state, and local governments and nongov-
ernmental institutions. Such means also provide ways by which
people and groups can express extreme dissent peacefully on issues
seen as so important that opposition groups have sometimes resorted
to terrorism or guerrilla warfare.
The lhoughls in lhis examinalion of ¡oIilicaI dehance or non-
violent struggle are intended to be helpful to all persons and groups
who seek to lift dictatorial oppression from their people and to es-
tablish a durable democratic system that respects human freedoms
and popular action to improve the society.
There are three major conclusions to the ideas sketched here:
ª Liberalion from diclalorshi¡s is ¡ossibIe,
ª Very carefuI lhoughl and slralegic ¡Ianning viII be required
to achieve it; and
ª VigiIance, hard vork, and disci¡Iined slruggIe, oflen al greal
cost, will be needed.
The oft quoted phrase “Freedom is not free” is true. No outside
force is coming to give oppressed people the freedom they so much
want. People will have to learn how to take that freedom themselves.
Easy it cannot be.
If people can grasp what is required for their own liberation,
they can chart courses of action which, through much travail, can
eventually bring them their freedom. Then, with diligence they
can construct a new democratic order and prepare for its defense.
Freedom won by struggle of this type can be durable. It can be
maintained by a tenacious people committed to its preservation
and enrichment.
78 Gcnc Sncrp
Formal statements
1. Public speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public statements
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions
Communications with a wider audience
7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaßels, ¡am¡hIels, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting
Group representations
13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections
Symbolic public acts
18. Dis¡Iay of ßags and symboIic coIors
19. Wearing of symbols

This Iisl, vilh dehnilions and hisloricaI exam¡Ies, is laken from Gene Shar¡,
The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Two, The Methods of Nonviolent Action.
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures
Pressures on individuals
31. ¨Haunling¨ ofhciaIs
32. Taunling ofhciaIs
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils
Drama and music
35. Humorous skits and pranks
36. Performance of plays and music
37. Singing
38. Marches
39. Parades
40. Religious processions
41. Pilgrimages
42. Motorcades
Honoring the dead
43. Political mourning
44. Mock funerals
45. Demonstrative funerals
46. Homage at burial places
80 Gcnc Sncrp
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 81
Public assemblies
47. Assemblies of protest or support
48. Protest meetings
49. Camoußaged meelings of ¡rolesl
50. Teach-ins
Withdrawal and renunciation
51. Walk-outs
52. Silence
53. Renouncing honors
54. Turning one’s back
Ostracism of persons
55. Social boycott
56. Selective social boycott
57. Lysistratic nonaction
58. Excommunication
59. Interdict
Noncooperation with social events, customs, and institutions
60. Suspension of social and sports activities
61. Boycott of social affairs
62. Student strike
63. Social disobedience
64. Withdrawal from social institutions
Withdrawal from the social system
65. Stay-at-home
66. Total personal noncooperation
67. Flight of workers
68. Sanctuary
69. Collective disappearance
70. Protest emigration (hijrat)
Action by consumers
71. Consumers’ boycott
72. Nonconsumption of boycotted goods
73. Policy of austerity
74. Rent withholding
75. Refusal to rent
76. National consumers’ boycott
77. International consumers’ boycott
Action by workers and producers
78. Workmen’s boycott
79. Producers’ boycott
Action by middlemen
80. Suppliers’ and handlers’ boycott
Action by owners and management
81. Traders’ boycott
82. Refusal to let or sell property
83. Lockout
84. Refusal of industrial assistance
85. Merchants’ “general strike”
ActInn by hn!dcrs nI ñnancIa! rcsnurccs
86. Withdrawal of bank deposits
87. Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments
88. Refusal to pay debts or interest
89. Severance of funds and credit
90. Revenue refusal
91. Refusal of a government’s money
Action by governments
92. Domestic embargo
93. Blacklisting of traders
94. International sellers’ embargo
95. International buyers’ embargo
96. International trade embargo
82 Gcnc Sncrp
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 83
Symbolic strikes
97. Protest strike
98. Quickie walkout (lightning strike)
Agricultural strikes
99. Peasant strike
100. Farm workers’ strike
Strikes by special groups
101. Refusal of impressed labor
102. Prisoners’ strike
103. Craft strike
104. Professional strike
Ordinary industrial strikes
105. Establishment strike
106. Industry strike
107. Sympathetic strike
Restricted strikes
108. Detailed strike
109. Bumper strike
110. Slowdown strike
111. Working-to-rule strike
112. Reporting “sick” (sick-in)
113. Strike by resignation
114. Limited strike
115. Selective strike
Multi-industry strikes
116. Generalized strike
117. General strike
Combinations of strikes and economic closures
118. Hartal
119. Economic shutdown
Rejection of authority
120. Withholding or withdrawal of allegiance
121. Refusal of public support
122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance
Citizens’ noncooperation with government
123. Boycott of legislative bodies
124. Boycott of elections
125. Boycott of government employment and positions
126. Boycott of government departments, agencies and
other bodies
127. Withdrawal from government educational institutions
128. Boycott of government-supported organizations
129. Refusal of assistance to enforcement agents
130. Removal of own signs and placemarks
131. RefusaI lo acce¡l a¡¡oinled ofhciaIs
132. Refusal to dissolve existing institutions
Citizens’ alternatives to obedience
133. Reluctant and slow compliance
134. Nonobedience in absence of direct supervision
135. Popular nonobedience
136. Disguised disobedience
137. Refusal of an assemblage or meeting to disperse
138. Sitdown
139. Noncooperation with conscription and deportation
140. Hiding, escape and false identities
141. Civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws
Action by government personnel
142. Selective refusal of assistance by government aides
143. Blocking of lines of command and information
144. Stalling and obstruction
145. General administrative noncooperation
84 Gcnc Sncrp
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 85
146. Judicial noncooperation
147. DeIiberale inefhciency and seIeclive noncoo¡eralion by
enforcement agents
148. Mutiny
Domestic governmental action
149. Quasi-legal evasions and delays
150. Noncooperation by constituent governmental units
International governmental action
151. Changes in diplomatic and other representation
152. Delay and cancellation of diplomatic events
153. Withholding of diplomatic recognition
154. Severance of diplomatic relations
155. Withdrawal from international organizations
156. Refusal of membership in international bodies
157. Expulsion from international organizations
Psychological intervention
158. Self-exposure to the elements
159. The fast
(a) Fast of moral pressure
(b) Hunger strike
(c) Satyagrahic fast
160. Reverse trial
161. Nonviolent harassment
Physical intervention
162. Sit-in
163. Stand-in
164. Ride-in
165. Wade-in
166. Mill-in
167. Pray-in
168. Nonviolent raids
169. Nonviolent air raids
170. Nonviolent invasion
171. Nonviolent interjection
172. Nonviolent obstruction
173. Nonviolent occupation
Social intervention
174. Establishing new social patterns
175. Overloading of facilities
176. Stall-in
177. Speak-in
178. Guerrilla theater
179. Alternative social institutions
180. Alternative communication system
Economic intervention
181. Reverse strike
182. Stay-in strike
183. Nonviolent land seizure
184. Dehance of bIockades
185. Politically motivated counterfeiting
186. Preclusive purchasing
187. Seizure of assets
188. Dumping
189. Selective patronage
190. Alternative markets
191. Alternative transportation systems
192. Alternative economic institutions
Political intervention
193. Overloading of administrative systems
194. Disclosing identities of secret agents
195. Seeking imprisonment
196. Civil disobedience of “neutral” laws
197. Work-on without collaboration
198. Dual sovereignty and parallel government
86 Gcnc Sncrp
I have incurred several debts of gratitude while writing the
original edition of this essay. Bruce Jenkins, my Special Assistant
in 1993, made an ineslimabIe conlribulion by his idenlihcalion of
problems in content and presentation. He also made incisive recom-
mendalions for more rigorous and cIearer ¡resenlalions of difhcuIl
ideas (especially concerning strategy), structural reorganization, and
editorial improvements.
I am also grateful for the editorial assistance of Stephen Coady.
Dr. Christopher Kruegler and Robert Helvey offered very important
criticisms and advice. Dr. Hazel McFerson and Dr. Patricia Parkman
provided information on struggles in Africa and Latin America, re-
spectively. However, the analysis and conclusions contained therein
are solely my responsibility.
In recent years special guidelines for translations have been
developed, primarily due to Jamila Raqib’s guidance and to the
lessons learned from earlier years. This has been necessary in order
to ensure accuracy in languages in which there has earlier been no
eslabIished cIear lerminoIogy for lhis heId.
“From Dictatorship to Democracy” was written at the request
of the late U Tin Maung Win, a prominent exile Burmese democrat
who was then editor of Khit Pyaing (The New Era Journal).
The preparation of this text was based over forty years of re-
search and writing on nonviolent struggle, dictatorships, totalitarian
systems, resistance movements, political theory, sociological analysis,
and olher heIds.
I could not write an analysis that had a focus only on Burma,

as I did not know Burma well. Therefore, I had to write a generic
The essay was originally published in installments in Khit Pyaing
in Burmese and English in Bangkok, Thailand in 1993. Afterwards
it was issued as a booklet in both languages (1994) and in Burmese
again (1996 and 1997). The original booklet editions from Bangkok
were issued with the assistance of the Committee for the Restoration
of Democracy in Burma.
It was circulated both surreptitiously inside Burma and among
exiles and sympathizers elsewhere. This analysis was intended only
for use by Burmese democrats and various ethnic groups in Burma
that wanted independence from the Burman-dominated central
government in Rangoon. (Burmans are the dominant ethnic group
in Burma.)
I did not then envisage that the generic focus would make the
analysis potentially relevant in any country with an authoritarian
or dictatorial government. However, that appears to have been the
perception by people who in recent years have sought to translate
and distribute it in their languages for their countries. Several per-
sons have reported that it reads as though it was written for their
The SLORC military dictatorship in Rangoon wasted no time
in denouncing this publication. Heavy attacks were made in 1995
and 1996, and reportedly continued in later years in newspapers,
radio, and television. As late as 2005, persons were sentenced to
seven-year prison terms merely for being in possession of the banned
Although no efforts were made to promote the publication for
use in other countries, translations and distribution of the publica-
tion began to spread on their own. A copy of the English language
edition was seen on display in the window of a bookstore in Bangkok
by a student from Indonesia, was purchased, and taken back home.
There, it was translated into Indonesian, and published in 1997 by a
major Indonesian publisher with an introduction by Abdurrahman
Wahid. He was then head of Nadhlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim
organizalion in lhe vorId vilh lhirly-hve miIIion members, and Ialer
88 Gcnc Sncrp
President of Indonesia.
During lhis lime, al my ofhce al lhe AIberl Linslein Inslilulion
we only had a handful of photocopies from the Bangkok English
language booklet. For a few years we had to make copies of it when
we had enquiries for which it was relevant. Later, Marek Zelaskiewz,
from California, took one of those copies to Belgrade during Miloso-
vic’s time and gave it to the organization Civic Initiatives. They
translated it into Serbian and published it. When we visited Serbia
after the collapse of the Milosevic regime we were told that the book-
Iel had been quile inßuenliaI in lhe o¡¡osilion movemenl.
Also important had been the workshop on nonviolent struggle
that Robert Helvey, a retired US Army colonel, had given in Budapest,
Hungary, for about twenty Serbian young people on the nature and
potential of nonviolent struggle. Helvey also gave them copies of
the complete The Politics of Nonviolent Action. These were the people
who became the Otpor organization that led the nonviolent struggle
that brought down Milosevic.
We usually do not know how awareness of this publication has
spread from country to country. Its availability on our web site in
recent years has been important, but clearly that is not the only factor.
Tracing these connections would be a major research project.
“From Dictatorship to Democracy” is a heavy analysis and is not
easy reading. Yet it has been deemed to be important enough for at
least twenty-eight translations (as of January 2008) to be prepared,
although they required major work and expense.
Translations of this publication in print or on a web site include
the following languages: Amharic (Ethiopia), Arabic, Azeri (Azerbai-
jan), Bahasa Indonesia, Belarusian, Burmese, Chin (Burma), Chinese
(sim¡Iihed and lradilionaI Mandarin), Dhivehi (MaIdives), Iarsi
(Iran), French, Georgian, German, Jing Paw (Burma), Karen (Burma),
Khmer (Cambodia), Kurdish, Kyrgyz (Kyrgyzstan), Nepali, Pashto
(Afghanistan and Pakistan), Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Tibetan,
Tigrinya (Eritrea), Ukrainian, Uzbek (Uzbekistan), and Vietnamese.
Several others are in preparation.
Between 1993 and 2002 there were six translations. Between
2003 and 2008 there have been twenty-two.
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 89
The great diversity of the societies and languages into which
translations have spread support the provisional conclusion that the
persons who initially encounter this document have seen its analysis
to be relevant to their society.
Gene Sharp
January 2008
Albert Einstein Institution
Boston, Massachusetts
90 Gcnc Sncrp
A Note About Translations
and Reprinting of this Publication
To facilitate dissemination of this publication it has been placed in
the public domain. That means that anyone is free to reproduce it
or disseminate it.
The author, however, does have several requests that he would
like to make, although individuals are under no legal obligation to
follow such requests.
ª The aulhor requesls lhal no changes be made in lhe lexl, eilher
additions or deletions, if it is reproduced.
ª The aulhor requesls nolihcalion from individuaIs vho inlend
lo re¡roduce lhis documenl. Nolihcalion can be given lo lhe
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beginning of this publication immediately before the Table of
ª The aulhor requesls lhal if lhis documenl is going lo be lrans-
lated, great care must be taken to preserve the original meaning
of the text. Some of the terms in this publication will not trans-
late readily into other languages, as direct equivalents for “non-
violent struggle” and related terms may not be available. Thus,
careful consideration must be given to how these terms and
concepts are to be translated so as to be understood accurately
by new readers.
For individuals and groups that wish to translate this work,
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92 Gcnc Sncrp
For Further Reading
1. The Anti-Coup by Gene Sharp and Bruce Jenkins. Boston: The
Albert Einstein Institution, 2003.
2. Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Language of Civil Resistance in
Ccnßicis by Gene Sharp. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
3. On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Funda-
mentals by Robert L. Helvey. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institu-
tion, 2002.
4. The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 vols.) by Gene Sharp. Boston:
Extending Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973.
5. Self-Liberation by Gene Sharp with the assistance of Jamila
Raqib. Boston: The Albert Einstein Institution, 2010.
6. Social Power and Political Freedom by Gene Sharp. Boston: Extend-
ing Horizons Books, Porter Sargent Publishers, 1980.
7. There Are Realistic Alternatives by Gene Sharp. Boston: The Albert
Einstein Institution, 2003.
8. Wcging Ncntic|cni Sirugg|c. 20in Ccniurq Prcciicc cn! 21si Ccniurq
Potential by Gene Sharp. Boston: Extending Horizons Books, Porter
Sargent Publishers, 2005.
For order information, please contact:
The Albert Einstein Institution
P.O. Box 455
East Boston, MA 02128, USA
Tel: USA +1 617-247-4882
Fax: USA +1 617-247-4035
E-mail: einstein@igc.org
Website: www.aeinstein.org
|rcm Dicicicrsnip ic Dcmccrccq 93
No. II.
~ht QI;oustitutiou.
Entered-according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867,
in the Clerk'. officeof the District Court of the United States, tor the District
ot Masaachuaettl.
NO. :IX.
" We, the people of the United States, in order to form &
more perfectunion, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility,
provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare,
and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of
The meaning of this is simply: We, the people of the United
States, acting freely and voluntarily as individuals, consent
and agree that we will cooperate with each other in sustaining
such a government 88 is provided for in this Constitution.
The necessity for the consent of "the people" is implied in
this declaration. The whole authority of the Constitution
rests upon it. If they did not consent, it 1IJaS l!f no validity.
Of course it had no validity, except as betioeen those who
actually consented. No one's consent could be presumed against
him, without his actual consent being given, any more than in
the case of any other contract to pay money, or render service.
And to make it binding upon anyone, his signature, or other
positive evidence of consent, was as necessary as in the case of
any other. contract. If the instrument meant to say that any of
II the people of the United States" would be bound by it, who
did not consent, it was a usurpation and a lie. The most that
can be inferred from the form, " We, the people," is, that the in-
strument offered membership to all U the people of the United
States j" leaving it for them to accept or refuse it, at their
The agreement is a simple one, like any other agreement. It
is the same as one that should say: We, the people of the
town of A--, agree to sustain a church, a school, a hospital,
or a theatre, for ourselves and our children.
Such-an agreement clearly could have no validity, except as
between those who actually consented to it. If a portion only of
"the people of the town of A--," should assent to this con-
tract, and should then proceed to compel contributions of money
or service from tho~ who had not consented, they would be mere
robbers j and would deserve to be treated as such.
Neither the conduct nor the rights of these sigtfers would be
improved at all by their saying to the dissenters : We offer you
equal rights with ourselves, in the benefits of the church, school,
hospital, or theatre, which we propose to establish, and equal
voice in the control of it. It would be a sufficient answer for the
others to say: We want no share in the benefits, and no voice in
the control, of your institution j and will do nothing to support it.
The number who actually consented to the Constitution of the
United States, at the first, was very small. Considered as the
act of the whole people, the adoption of the Constitution was the
merest farce and imposture, binding upon nobody.
The women, children, and blacks, of course, were not asked to
give their consent. In addition to this, there were, in 'nearly or
quite all the States, property qualifications that excluded probabl,
one half, two thirds, or perhaps even three fourths, of the white
male adults from the right of suffrage. And of those who were
allowed that right, we know not how many exercised it.
Furthermore, those who originally agreed to the Constitution,
could thereby bind nobody that should come 'after them. They
could contract for nobody but themselves. They had no more
natural right or power to make political contracts, binding upon
succeeding generations, than they had to make marriage or busi-
ness contracts binding upon them.
Still further. Even those who actually voted for the adoption
of the Constitution, did not pledge their faith for any specific
time j since no specific time was named, in the Constitution,
during which the associationshould continue. It was, therefore,
merely an associationduring pleasure j even as between the origi-
nal parties to it. Still lees, if possible, has it been any thing
more than a merely voluntary association, during pleasure, be-
tween the succeeding generations, who have never gone through,
as their fathers did, with so much even as any outward formality
of adopting it, or of pledging their faith to support it. Such
portions of them as pleased, and as the States permitted to vote,
have only done enough, by voting and paying taxes, (and unlaw-
Cullyand tyrannically extorting taxes from others,) to keep the
government in operation for the time being. And this, in the
view of the Constitution, they have done voluntarily, and because
it was for their interest, or pleesure, and not because they were
under any pledge or obligation to do it. Anyone man, or any
number of men, have had a perfect right, a.t any time, to refuse
his or their further support j and nobody could rightfully object
to his or their withdrawal.
There is no escape from these conclusions, if we say that the
adoption of the Constitution was the act of the people, as individ-
uals, and not of the States, as States. On the other hand, if we
say that the adoption was the act of the States, as States, it
necessarily follows that they had the right to secede at pleasure,
inasmuch as they engaged for no specific time.
The consent, therefore, that has been given, whether by indi-
viduals, or by the States, has been, at most, only a consent for the
time being j not an engagement for the future, In truth, in the
case of individuals, their actual voting is not to be taken as proof
of consent, even for the time being. On the contrary, it is to
be considered that, without his consent having ever been asked, a
man finds himself environed by a. government that he cannot
resist; a. government that forces him to pay money, render ser-
vice, and forego the exercise of many of his natural rights, under
peril of weighty punishments. He sees, too, that other men
practise this tyranny over him by the use of the ballot. He sees
further that, if he will but use the ballot himself, he has some
chance of relieving himself from this tyranny of others, by sub-
jecting them to his own. In short, he finds himself, without his
consent, so situated that, if he use the ballot, he may become a
master; if he does not use it, he must become a. slave. And he
has no other alternative than these two. In self-defence, he at-
tempts the former. His case is analogous to that of a. man who
has been forced into battle, where he must either kill others, or
be killed himself. Because, to save his own life in battle, a. man
attempts to take the lives of his opponents, it is not to be inferred
that the battle is one of his own choosing. Neither in contests
with the ballot - which is a mere substitute for a. bullet - be-
cause, as his only chance of self-preservation, a man uses a ballot,
is it to be inferred that the contest is one into which he voluntarily
entered; that he voluntarily set up all his own natural' rights, as
a. stake against those of others, to be lost or won by the mere
power of numbers. On the contrary, it is to be considered that,
in an exigency, into which he had been forced by others, and in
which no other means of self-defence offered, he, as a matter of
necessity, used the only one that was left to him.
Doubtless the most miserable of men, under the most oppres-
sive government in the world, if allowed the ballot, would use it,
if they could see any chance of thereby ameliorating their con-
dition. But it would not therefore be a legitimate inference tha.t
the government itself, that crushes them, was one which they had
voluntarily set up, or ever consented to.
Therefore a. man's voting under the Constitution of the United
States, is not to be taken as evidence that he ever freely assented
to the Constitution, even for the time being. Consequently we
have no proof that any very large portion, even of the actual
voters of the United States, ever really and voluntarily consented
to the Constitution, even for the time being. Nor can we ever
have such proof, until every man is left perfectly free to consent,
or not, without thereby subjecting himself or his property to
injury or trespass from others.
The Constitution says:
cc Treason against the United States shall consist onll in levy-
ing war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving
them aid and comfort."
This is the only definition of treason given by the Constitu-
tion, and it is to be interpreted, like all other criminal laws, in
the sense most favorable to liberty and justice. Consequently
the treason here spoken of, must be held to be treason in fact,
and not merely something that may have been falsely called by
that name.
To determine, then, what is treason in fact, we are not to look
to the codes of Kings, and Czars, and Kaisers, who maintain their
power by force and fraud j •who contemptuously call mankind
their "subjects j" who claim to have a. special license from
Heaven to rule on earth j who teach that it is a. religious duty of
mankind to obey them j who bribe a. servile and corrupt priest-
hood to impress these ideas upon the ignorant and superstitious j
who spurn the idea. that their authority is derived from, or de-
pendent at all upon, the consent of their people j and who attempt
to defame, by the false epithet of traitors, all who assert their own
rights, and the rights of their fellow men, against such usur-
Instead of regarding this false and calumnious meaning of the
word treason, we are to look at its true and legitimate meaning in
our mother ~ngue j at its use in commonlife j and at what would
necessarily be its true meaning in any other contracts, or articles
of association, which men might voluntarily enter into with each
The true and legitimate meaning of the word treason, then,
necessarily implies treachery, deceit, breach of faith. Without
these, there can be no treason. .A traitor is a betrayer-one
who practices injury,. while professing friendship. Benedict
.Arnold was a. traitor, solely because, while professing friendship
for the .American cause, he attempted to injure it. .An open
enemy, however criminal in other respects, is no traitor.
Neither does a man, who has once been my friend, become a
traitor by becoming an enemy, if before doing me an injury, he
gives me fair warning that he has become an enemy j and if he
makes no unfair use of any advantage which my confidence, in
the time of our friendship, had placed in his power.
For example, our fathers - even if we were to admit them to
have been wrong in other respecta-c-certainly were not traitors
infact, after the fourth of July, 1776 j since on that day they
gave notice to the King of Great Britain that they repudiated his
authority, and should wage war against him. .And they made no
unfair use of any advantages which his confidencehad previously
placed in their power.
It cannot be denied that, in the la~ war, the Southern people
proved themselves to be open and avowed enemies, and not treach-
erous friends. It cannot be denied that they gave us fair warning
that they would no longer be our political associates, but would,
if need were, fight for a separation. It cannot be alleged that
they made any unfair use of advantages which our confidence, in
the time of our friendship, had placed in their power. Therefore
they were not traitors in fact: and consequently not traitors
within the meaning of the Constitution.
Furthermore, men are not traitors in fact, who take up arms
against the government, without having disavowed allegiance to
it, provided they do it, either to resist the usurpations of the
government, or to resist what they sincerely believe to be such
It is a maxim of law that there can be no crime without a crim-
inal intent. And this maxim is as applicable to treason as to any
other crime. For example, our fathers were not traitors in fact,
for resisting the British Crown, before the fourth of July, 1776-
that is, before they had thrown off allegiance to him- provided
they honestly believed that they were simply defending their
rights against his usurpations. Even if they were mistaken in
their law, that mistake, if an innocent one, could not make them
traitors in fact.
For the same reason, the Southern people, if they sincerely
believed - as it has been extensively, if not generally, conceded,
at the North, that they did - in the so-called constitutional
theory of "State Rights," did not become traitors in fact, by
acting upon.it j and consequently not traitors within the meaning
of the Constitution.
The Constitution does not say who will become traitors, by
" levying war against the United States, or adhering to their
enemies, giving them aid and comfort."
It is, therefore,' only by inference, or reasoning, that we can
know.who will become traitors by these acts.
Certainly if Englishmen, Frenchmen, Austrians, or Italians,
making no professions of support or friendship to the United.
States, levy war against them, or adhere to their enemies, giving
them aid and comfort, they do not thereby make themselves
traitors, within the meaning of the Constitution j and why?
Solely because they would not be traitors in fact. Making no
professions of support or friendship, they would practice no
treachery, deceit, or breach of faith. But if they should volun-
tarily enter either the civil or military service of the United.
States, and pledge fidelity to them, (without being naturalized,)
and should then betray the trusts reposed in them, either by
turning their guns against the United. States, or by giving aid
and comfort to their enemies, they would be traitors in fact; and
therefore traitors within the meaning of the Constitution j and
could be lawfully punished as such.
There is not, in the Constitution, a syllable that implies that
persons, born within the territorial limits of the United States,
have allegiance imposed upon them on account of their birth in
the country, or that they will be judged by any different rule, on
the subject of treason, than persons of foreign birth. And there
is no power, in Congress, to add to, or alter, the language of the
Constitution, on this point, so as to make it more comprehensive
than it now is. Therefore treason in fact - that is, actual
treachery, deceit, or breach of faith - must be shown in the case
of a native of the United States, equally as in the case of a
foreigner, before he can be said to be a traitor.
Congress have seen that the language of the Constitution was
insufficient, of itself, to make a man a traitor - on the ground
of birth in this country - who levies war against the United
States, but practices no treachery, deceit, or breach of faith.
They have, therefore - although they ,had no constitutional
power to do so- apparently attempted to enlarge the language
of the Constitution on this point. And they have enacted:
"That if any person or persons, owing allegiance to the
United States of America, shan levy war against them, or shall
adhere to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort, '*' '*' '*'
such person or persons shall be adjudged guilty of treason against
the United States, and shall suffer death."- Statute, April SO,
1790, Section 1.
It would be a sufficient answer to this enactment to say that it
is utterly unconstitutional, if its effect would be to make any
man a traitor, who would not have been one under the language
of the Constitution alone.
The whole pith of the act lies in the words, "persons owing
allegiance to the United States." But this language really
1eav~ the question where it was before, for it does not attempt to
show or declare who does "owe allegiance to the United States iIt
although those who passed the act, no doubt thought, or wished
others to think, that allegiance was to be presumed (as is done
under other governments) against all born in this country, (unless
possibly sla.ves).
The Constitution itself, uses no such word as "allegiance,"
"sovereignty/' "loyalty," "subject," or any other term, such
as is used by other governments, to signify the services, fidelity,
obedience, or other duty, which the people are assumed to owe to
their government, regardless of their own will in the matter. As
the Constitution professes to rest wholly on consent, no one can
owe allegiance, service, obedience, or any other duty to it, or to
the government created by it, except with his own consent.
The word allegiance comes from the Latin words ad and ligo,
signifying to hind to. Thus a man under allegiance to a govern-
ment, is a. man bound to it;" or bound to yield it support and
fidelity. And governments, founded otherwise than on consent,
hold that all persons born under them, are under allegiance to
them i that is, are bound to render them support, fidelity, and
obediencei and are traitors if they resist them.
But it is obvious that, in truth and in fact, no one but him-
self can bind anyone to support any government. And our
Constitution admits this fact when it concedes that it derives its
authority wholly from the consent of the people. And the
word treason is to be understood in accordance with that idea.
It is conceded that a person of foreign birth comes under
allegiance to our government only by special voluntary contract.
H a native has allegiance imposed upon him, against his will, he
is in a worse condition tha.n the foreigner j for the latter can do
as he pleases about assuming that obligation. The accepted in-
terpretation of the Constitution, therefore, makes the foreigner
a free person, on this point, while it makes the native a slave.
The only difference- if there be any - between natives and
foreigners, in respect of allegiance, is, that a native has a right-
offered to him by the Constitution - to come under allegiance to
the gcrernment, if he so please; and thus. entitle himself to
membership in the body politic. His allegiance cannot be re-
fused. Whereas a foreigner's allegiance can be refused, if the
government 80 please.
The \)onstitution certainly supposes that the crime of treason
can be committed only by man, as an individual. It would be
very curious to see a man indicted, convicted, or hanged, other-
wise than as an individual; or accused of having committed his
treason otherwise than as an individual. And yet it is clearly
impossible that anyone can be personally guilty of treason,' can
be a traitor in fact, unless he, as an individual, has in some way
voluntarily pledged his faith and fidelity to the government.
Certainly no man, or body of men, could pledge it for him, with-
out his consent; and no man, or body of men, have any right to
presume it against him, when he has not pledged it. himself.
It is plain, therefore, that if, when the Constitution says
treason, it means treason - treason in fact, and nothing else-
there is no ground at all for pretending that the Southern people
have committed that crime. But if, on the other hand, when the
Constitution says treason, it means what the Czar and the Kaiser
mean by treason, then our government is, in principle, no better
than theirs j and has no claim whatever to be considered a. free
One essential of a free government is that it rest wholly on
voluntary support. And one certain proof that a. government is
not free, is that it coerces more or less persons to support it,
against their will. All governments, the worst on earth, and the
most tyrannical on earth, are free governments to that portion of
the people who voluntarily support them. And all govern-
ments - though the best on earth in other respects - are never-
theless tyr8.nnies to that portion of the people- whether few or
many - who are compelled to support them against their will.
A government is like a church, or any other institution, in these
respects. There is no other criterion whatever, by which to de-
termine whether a. government is a free one, or not, than the
single one of its depending, or not depending, solely on voluntary
No middle ground is possible on this subject. Either" taxa-
tion without consent is robbery," or it is not. If it is not, then
any number of men, who choose, may at any time associate; call
themselves a. government; assume absolute authority over all
weaker than themselves; plunder them at will j and kill them if
they resist. If, on the other hand, "taxation without consent is
robbery," it necessarily follows that every man who has not con-
sented to be taxed, has the same natural right to defend his
property against a taxgatherer, that he has to defend it against a
It is perhaps unnecessary to say that the principles of this
argument are as applicable to the State governments, as to the
national one.
The opinions of the South, on the subjects of allegiance and
treason, have been equally erroneous with those of the North.
The only difference between them, has been, that the South has
held that a. man was (primarily) under involuntary allegiance to
the State government i while the North held that he was
(primarily) under a. similar allegiance to the United States
government j whereas, in truth, he was under no involuntary
allegiance to either.
Obviously there can be no law of treason more stringent than
has nowbeen stated, consistently with political liberty. In the very
nature of things there can never be any liberty for the weaker
party, on any other principle j and political liberty always means
liberty.for the weaker party. It is only the weaker party that is
ever oppressed. The strong are always free by virtue of their
superior strength. So long as government is a mere contest as
to which of two parties shall rule the other, the weaker must
always succumb. And whether the contest be carried on with
ballots or bullets, the principle is the same; for under the theory
of government now prevailing, the ballot either signifies a bullet,
or it signifies nothing. And no one can consistently use a ballot,
unless he intends to use a. bullet, if the latter should be needed to
insure submission to the former.
The practical difficulty with our government has been, that
most of those who have administered it, have taken it for granted
that the Constitution, as it is written, was a thing of no impor-
tanee ; that it neither said what it meant, nor meant what it said j
that it was gotten up by swindlers, (as many of its authors doubt-
less were,) who said a great many good things, which- they did
not mean, and meant a great many bad things, which they dared
not say j that these men, under the false pretence of a govern-
ment resting on the consent of the whole people, designed to en·
trap them into a government of a part, who should be powerful
and fraudulent enough to cheat the weaker portion out of all the
good things that were said, but not meant, and subject them to
all the bad things that were meant, but no~ said. And most of
those who have administered the government, have assumed that
all these swindling intentions were to be carried into effect, in the
place of the written Constitution. Of all these swindles, the
treason swindle is the most flagitious. It is the most flagitious,
because it is equally flagitious, in principle, with any; and it
includes all the others. It is the instrumentality by which all
the others are made effective. A government that can at pleasure
accuse, shoot, and hang men, as traitors, for the one general
offence of refusing to surrender themselves and their property
unreservedly to its arbitrary will, can practice any and all special
and particular oppressions it pleases.
The result-and a natural one-has been that we have had
governments, State and national, devoted to nearly every grade
and species of crime that governments have ever practised upon
their victims; and these crimes have culminated in a war that
has cost a million of lives; a war carried on, upon one side, for
chattel slavery, and on the other for political slavery; upon
neither for liberty, justice, or truth. And these crimes have
been committed, and this war waged, by men, and the descend-
ants of men, who, less than a hundred years ago, said that all
men were equal, and could owe neither service to individuals, nor
allegiance to governments, except with their own consent.
No attempt or pretence, that was ever carried into practical
operation amongst civilized men - unless possibly the pretence
of a " Divine Right," on the part of some, to govern and enslave
others - embodied so much of shameless absurdity, falsehood,
impudence, robbery, usurpation, tyranny, and villany of every
kind, as the attempt or pretence of establishing a government
by consent, and getting the actual consent of only so many DS
may be necessary to keep the rest in subjection by force. Such
a government is a mere conspiracy of the strong against the
weak. It no more rests on consent than does the worst govern-
ment on earth.
What substitute for their consent is offered to the weaker
party, whose rights are thus annihilated, struck out of existence,
by the stronger? Only this: Their consent is presumed /
That is, these usurpers condescendingly and graciously presume
that those whom they enslave, consent to surrender their aU
of life, liberty, and property into the hands of those who
thus usurp dominion over them'! And it is pretended that this
presumption of their consent - when no actual consent has been
given - is sufficient to save the rights of the victims, and to
justify the usurpers! As weUmight the highwayman pretend to
justify himself by presuming that the traveller consents to part
with his money. As well might the assassin justify himself by
simply presuming that his victim consents to part with his life.
As well might the holder of chattel slaves attempt to Justify him-
self by presuming that they consent to his authority, and to the
whips and the robbery which he practises upon them. The pre-
sumption is simply a presumption that the weaker party consent
to be slaves.
Such is the presumption on which alone our government relies
to justify the power it maintains over its unwilling subjects.
And it was to establish that presumption as the inexorable and
perpetual law of this country, that 80 much money and blood
have been expended.

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*+,&-+./&0 &1+, .!!"20& 3!- )!)4'!550-'+#2 (/-(!,0,
+# $/'? +# @/) +--*"2)-& "- -/ -=& /*"?"'+$ #/)*%&7 A&&$
>*&&7 B/ >/* "-7 C+.& +- "-7 D:*&+( -=& E/*(7
F' -=& /-=&* =+'(G @/) 5#$ !"# #2&0- !- #** &! &10
&06& +) #)$ 7#$7
1'( @/) 5#$ !"# -0(-!*/'0 !- *+,&-+./&0 #)$ (#-&
!3 &1+, 7!-" 3!- '!550-'+#2 (/-(!,0,G :&*"/(7 8! )!&
*! 0+&10- !3 &1!,0 &1+)9,7



This look is foi you if... 1
This look is nol foi you if... 2
Whal exaclIy is a snilch` 3
Whal nakes snilches so dangeious` 5

IART ONL: Recognizing and Avoiding Snilches

IIRST RULL: Leain and piaclice good secuiily consciousness 7
Recognizing a snilch 9
Whal nakes snilches so peisuasive` 12
"Meie" snilching vs aclive enliapnenl 15
Dangeious nylhs aloul snilches and undeicovei agenls 17
Whal lo do if you leIieve a snilch is peisonaIIy laigeling you 19

IART TWO: A Snilch Uncoveied

If you leIieve lheie's a snilch in youi gioup 21
HISTORICAL vays of deaIing vilh knovn snilches 25
Hov do YOU lieal an exposed snilch` 27
Repaiiing lhe danage snilches do 31
ßevaie of accusing soneone vho nighl nol le a snilch 32


You nay le piessuied lo lecone a snilch 33
Do NOT laIk lo cops. Ieiiod. 35
The poIice officei is NOT youi fiiend 37
The Iiisonei's DiIenna 39
Mindsel: The connon leiiiloiy lelveen snilches and viclins 41
Whal happens if you iefuse lo snilch` 42
Whal happens if you lecone a snilch ~ and iegiel il` 44
Whal happens lo you if you snilch and youi fiiends find oul` 46
The iesl of youi Iife if you do snilch 47

!""#$%&' )* +,# -#&% .$/#00123/&1$ +#4,$&56#+7 89
!""#$%&' :* ;1<# =1<<1$>#$># ?";#4 @A
!""#$%&' B* C&$# 6" 3 D3EF#0 AG
!""#$%&' 8* ?/,#0 ,#D"H6D 0#>1604#> A:

I inlended lo acknovIedge lhe dozens of peopIe vho
conliiluled lo lhis look. Civen ils louchy suljecl nallei, I
figuied I'd use onIy lheii onIine nyns, nol ieaI nanes. ßul,
sadIy, aInosl eveiyone I asked iesponded, "Don'l nenlion ne!"
Such is lhe naluie of lhe poIice slale.
So lhe onIy conliilulois ciediled anyvheie in lhe look aie
lhose vho viole ilens especiaIIy foi lhis piojecl oi vhose
connenls on ny lIog, !"#"$% '())*+,
I iepiinled heie. Theii
nyns appeai vilh lheii conliilulions.
Despile lhe Iack of ciedils, lhis look vas liuIy a
coIIaloialive piojecl. Conliilulois incIuded Iavyeis, foinei
cops, secuiily speciaIisls, poIilicaI aclivisls, nenleis of lhe
diug cuIluie, lusiness execulives in "sensilive" fieIds, oulIav
likeis, and in a coupIe of cases peopIe vhose idenlilies aie so
deepIy seciel lhal I couIdn'l ciedil lhen even if I vanled lo. (To
guaid againsl lhe possiliIily of any snilch synpalhizei pIanling
nisIeading infoinalion, oulIavs, foinei snilch viclins, and
Iavyeis checked lhe lexl !"#$% noie "officiaI" foIk had lheii say.
I'n ieIieved lo slale lhal, vhiIe nany peopIe added vaIualIe
infoinalion as lhe look giev, nolody in lhis veiy expeiienced
ciovd spolled anylhing faIse oi suspiciousIy "coppish.")
Conliilulois cane fion aII vaIks of Iife ~ fion lhe uIlia-
iespeclalIe lo lhe undeigiound. AII shaied lhe sane goaI of
heIping non-vioIenl peopIe save lhenseIves fion snilches and
~ hopefuIIy, soneday ~ ending lhe coiiupl and eviI "snilch
cuIluie." Once I puIIed lhe look logelhei vilh aII lhal heIp, an
anonynous pioofieadei and a fiiendIy Iayoul ailisl look il fion
lheie. Theie aie lvo peopIe I an aIIoved lo ciedil: covei
designei Keilh Ieikins and iIIuslialoi Tiavis HaIveison, vhose


!"# %&''(")! *%&+(", -#.)// 0("* &' '12 2"* #0 '12 3##45
6&71 &"* 282%- 7#"'%(3.'#% +&9 & 8#/."'22%5 :1(9 3##4
7#./*")' 1&82 1&;;2"2* +('1#.' '12<5

!"#$ &''( #$ )'* +', #) ---
You aie a non-vioIenl peison engaged in any aclivily lhal
nay le conlioveisiaI, iIIegaI, oi neieIy "sensilive" oi
unconvenlionaI. These days, anylhing oul of lhe oidinaiy can
nake you a laigel.
Sone peopIe vho couId use lhis look:
Anli-vai oi enviionnenlaI aclivisls
ReciealionaI diug useis
Iailicipanls in lhe undeigiound econony oi anylody vho
does lusiness in cash
Ciilics of IocaI oi nalionaI poveis-lhal-le
Anyone vhose piofession invoIves "sensilive" infoinalion oi
Cun ovneis oi deaIeis
Thiid-paily oi "fiinge" poIilicaI aclivisls
Hollyisls vho voik vilh dangeious naleiiaIs
ReIigious dissidenls
IeopIe vilh offshoie oi unconvenlionaI inveslnenls
(incIuding peifeclIy Iegilinale ones)
Il doesn'l nallei vheie you faII in lhe poIilicaI specliun oi
even if you'ie apoIilicaI. If poIice nighl laigel you oi youi
aclivilies, you need lo undeisland hov snilches couId ness up
youi Iife.

!"#$ &''( #$ )*! +', -'. #+ ///
!"# %&' (" )"''&( *&"+,-), %.%&-/( &--"),-( 0,"0+,1 2- (3%(
)%/,4 5,0"5(&-. "- 6"# &/-7( /-&()3&-.4 &(7/ /,+8 9,8,-/,1


!"#$ &'#($)* +, # ,-+$(".
Theie aie a Iol of diffeienl lypes of snilches. We couId viile
an encycIopedia defining lhen. ßul ve'ie going lo keep lhis
Ioi puiposes of lhe look, a snilch is anylody vho inseils
hin- oi heiseIf inlo youi non-vioIenl aclivilies on lehaIf of
goveinnenl. "Coveinnenl" nay nean IocaI cops. Il couId aIso
nean lhe IßI, lhe Depailnenl of HoneIand Secuiily, oi a hosl
of olhei slale oi fedeiaI agencies. Il's alsoIuleIy nind-loggIing
hov nany seeningIy innocuous agencies lhese days have
aiiesl poveis, ained enfoiceis ~ and snilches enpIoyed in
sneaky sling opeialions. And lhousands of lhen use snilches.
Theie aie lvo connon calegoiies of snilch you need lo Iook
oul foi:
/"& +-0+)$1#$213#4&-$ 51262(#$&71. This is soneone (oflen a
piofessionaI) vho is inseiled inlo a gioup foi an aclive
puipose, such as disiupling lhe gioup, oi voisl, laIking
foineiIy innocenl (oi al Ieasl foineiIy non-vioIenl) peopIe
inlo connilling ciines in oidei lo lusl lhen. Agenls
piovocaleuis nay, anong olhei lhings, liy lo luin non-
vioIenl piolesl inlo vioIenl aclion, lhus disciediling
novenenls, giving excuses foi ciackdovns, and giving noie
pulIicily and povei lo goveinnenl agencies.
/"& +-0218&13+-0218#-$9 This snilch is oflen a Iegilinale
nenlei of a gioup oi sociaI ciicIe vho conlinues lo le aclive
vhiIe giving infoinalion lo lhe poIice. This peison nay le
acling undei duiess (lo save his ovn skin aflei leing
aiiesled, foi inslance). This peison nay le hoping lhe cops
viII pay vilh noney, diugs, oi ongoing ciininaI innunily
foi hei dulious "seivices." WhiIe lhis peison isn'l necessaiiIy
a piofessionaI agenl piovocaleui, he nay neveilheIess liy lo
laIk fiiends inlo connilling ciines so he can gel noie

!"#$%&%'%() +" "#,-"$. /"+0 1%. 2+'%!# 1-3$'#".4
51#.# -"#36( (1# +3') ()2#. +/ .3%(!1#.4 7+" #8-02'#9 (1#"#6.
-'.+ ,1-( ,#6'' !-'' (1# !"##$%&'(") +'$(#,! : (1+;<1 $%$-(
+'$(#, 0%<1( &# 0+"# -22"+2"%-(#4 51%. %. (1# 2#".+3 ,1+
.%02') !-36( =##2 1#" 0+;(1 .1;( -&+;( %''#<-' +" !+3("+>#".%-'
-!(%>%(%#.4 ?+2. !"#$ (1#.# <;).@ 51#) $+36( #>#3 1-># (+
(1"#-(#3 (1#09 2-) (1#09 1%"# (1#09 ("-%3 (1#09 +" <-%3 -3)
'#>#"-<# +>#" (1#04 51#) A;.( .%( &-!= -3$ '%.(#3 (+ (1#0 "#>#-'
51#3 (1#"#6. (1# ()2# +/ .3%(!1 (1# B"%(%.1 !-'' - ./"++ -3$ +'$
C0#"%!-3 <-3<.(#". 0%<1( 1-># !-''#$ - +(--) 0$.&-'" 51%. %. -
2#".+3 ,1+ &'-&. (+ !+2. +" +(1#" <+>#"30#3( -<#3(. %&'$( )+;
D-3$ 2"+&-&') 1#E 1-># -'"#-$) &##3 -""#.(#$4 51%. 2#".+3 %.36(
<+%3< (+ %3(#"/#"# ,%(1 )+;" -!(%>%(%#.F (1-(6. -'"#-$) &##3 $+3#4
G#6. H+3')H <+%3< (+ <%># .,+"3 -//%$->%(. -3$ !+;"("++0
(#.(%0+3) -<-%3.( )+;9 A;.(%/)%3< %( -. - 0#-3. +/ .->%3< 1%.
+,3 .=%34 51#"#6. 3+( 0;!1 )+; !-3 $+ -&+;( (1%. 2#".+34 B)
(1# (%0# )+; '#-"3 +3# +/ )+;" /+"0#" /"%#3$. %. - H.(++'%#9H %(6.
(++ '-(#4
51#"# -"# 1&'.&"'#& +'$(#,&+ 2#+2'# ,1+ (;"3 +3 /"%#3$.
-3$ -..+!%-(#. -/(#" 1->%3< - /-''%3< +;( +" 3+( <#((%3< (1#%"
,-)4 51#"# -"# 2"$),-3+& +'$(#,&+ : #%(1#" $#'%&#"-(#') 2'-3(#$
%3 )+;" !#'' -/(#" )+;6># &##3 -""#.(#$ +" A;.( +22+"(;3%.(. ,1+
1-22#3 (+ &# (1#"# -3$ -"# ,%''%3< (+ .1-"# ,1-(#>#" )+; .-)
D+" 0-=# ;2 '%#. -&+;( (1%3<. )+; .-%$E4
)%*+ -3$ #>#") +3# +/ (1#.# 2#+2'# %. - &#("-)#" +/ /"%#3$.1%2
-3$ (";.(4 C'' +/ (1#0 -"# A;.( 2'-%3 (%', : -3$ (1#)6"# -.
,#'!+0# %3 (1# !+02-3) +/ <++$ 2#+2'# -. "-(. -"# %3 - 2-3(")4
5+ =##2 (1%3<. .%02'# ,#6"# <+%3< (+ !-'' (1#0 -'' .3%(!1#. :
(1+;<1 ,#6'' $%//#"#3(%-(# ,1#3 ,# 3##$ (+ 1#'2 )+; '++= +;(
/+" .2#!%/%! 2"+&'#0.4

!"#$ &#'() )*+$,"() )- .#*/(0-1)2
3*+$,"() #0( (4(056"(0( #*. $"(+0 1)( +) /0-6+*/7 In nany
cases, genuine poIice invesligalions inlo acluaI ciines aie
aInosl a lhing of lhe pasl. Coveinnenl agenls jusl iound up
sone snilches, gel lhen lo Iie oi ain-lvisl lhen inlo spying
and !"#$%& an inslanl and easy case againsl viiluaIIy anyone
lhey vanl lo laigel. Sonelines lhey gel eveiylhing lhey need
fion sone anonynous peison vho nakes faIse accusalions via
a lips holIine.
3*+$,"() 8#*. ,-9): ;+( #;; $"( $+&( #*. /($ #6#5 6+$" +$7 So
do pioseculois and viiluaIIy aII goveinnenl invesligalois.
Cood Iuck "pioving youi innocence" if sone Iiai says you veie
pail of a diug deaI, Iaundeied noney, pIolled lo lIov up a
liidge, oi asked hin lo heIp you nuidei sonelody. Nevei
nind lhal, in oui IegaI syslen, lhe goveinnenl is supposed lo
have lo piove youi guiIl, lhal's lecone a quainl nolion.
3*+$,"() .#&#/( +*.+4+.1#;)< -0/#*+=#$+-*)< #*.
&-4(&(*$) even lefoie lhey acluaIIy ial on anylody. The neie
feai of lhen deslioys liusl, fiiendship, and cohesiveness. Sone
aie deIileialeIy inseiled inlo gioups lo cause exaclIy lhal soil of
chaos and dissension.
>"(5 $#0*+)" -$"(06+)( ;(/+$+&#$( 9-;+$+,#; &-4(&(*$)7
When lhe nedia iepoils lhal nenleis of Cioup X oi
Movenenl Y have leen caughl iunning diugs oi guns oi
pIolling lo dunp loxic chenicaIs in a ieseivoii, guess vhal
slicks in lhe pulIic's nind youi Iegilinale goaIs oi lhe "facl"
lhal you'ie a lunch of leiioiisl vhackos` Lalei, vhen il cones
oul lhal lhe enliie pIol vas a ficlion ciealed ly an agenl
piovocaleui vho gol a fev naiginaI nenleis lo go aIong vilh
a schene lhe goveinnenl ilseIf cooked up, haidIy anyone
nolices. AII lhey lhink is, "Oh, Cioup X, yeah, lhey'ie a lunch of
vioIenl Ioonies. Thank Cod lhe IßI saved us fion lhen."

!"#$ &#'( )#*)+# ,* )-.&*'/ Sonelines innocenl peopIe.
Oflen lhe viclins of snilches have connilled "ciines" lhal aie
nuch Iess seiious lhan lhose of lhe snilch hinseIf. A snilch is
oflen eilhei a ieaI scunlag vho's in lhe pay of poIice oi a
foineiIy decenl peison liying lo save heiseIf (oi faniIy
nenleis oi fiiends) fion a Iong piison senlence ly gelling
olheis lo connil ciines.
!"#$ 01$ +.,#-1++$ 2*&, $*3
$*3- +.4#5 $*3- 4*-,3'#5 1'( $*3-
&12-#( "*'*-/ Nol lo nenlion youi
faniIy, youi fieedon, youi fiiends,
youi jol, youi savings, and youi
iepulalion. !"# #%"&' ()*+(", '-*'
.),/,. (""%0,"0, 1(22 3/%',0' 4%56
The noie innocenl you aie, lhe
noie you'ie IikeIy lo le lIindsided
and huil ly one of lhese leliayeis
lecause innocenl, naive peopIe
nake easy laigels.
!"#$ 2*--3), #',.-# 23+,3-#&/
Think of Lasl Ceinany undei lhe
STASI oi lhe oId Soviel Union.
LileiaIIy huslands couIdn'l liusl
lheii vives. Iaienls couIdn'l liusl
lheii chiIdien. ßiolheis couIdn'l
liusl liolheis lecause so nany
veie iepoiling lo lhe slale. Nov,
sone counliies lhal knev lhe
hoiioi of snilch cuIluie foilid oi
Iinil lhe use of snilches. Al lhe
sane line, foineiIy fiee nalions aie ieIying on snilches foi
eveiylhing and encouiaging eveiy noion in lhe Iand lo "see
sonelhing and say sonelhing."
6 412, ,* -#0#07#-
This look couId heIp
you avoid leconing lhe
viclin of a snilch. Il couId
even heIp you avoid leing
piessuied inlo leconing a
snilch youiseIf.
ßul lheie aie NO
guaianlees. Snilches aie
effeclive pieciseIy lecause
lhey'ie so haid lo delecl.
Snilches piey on lhe
naive and unsuspecling
and on nispIaced
fiiendship. No look is a
sulslilule foi connon
sense and heaIlhy
skeplicisn. You have a
liain: USL IT.
You have a gul. When il
leIIs you you'ie in dangei,

!"#$ &'(
#)*+,-./.-, 0-1 "2+.1.-, 3-.4*5)6

78#3$ #9:(;
:)0<- 0-1 =<0*4.*)
,++1 6)*><.4? *+-6*.+>6-)66
The niIilaiy caIIs lhis OpSec ~ OpeialionaI Secuiily. Il
neans conducling youiseIf in such a vay as nol lo give avay
seciels oi vaIk slupidIy inlo avoidalIe dangeis.
Don'l laIk aloul seciel oi iIIegaI aclivilies oulside youi
Wilhin youi gioup, laIk aloul
lhen onIy lo peopIe vho have a
need lo knov.
Keep gioups snaII. Mayle even
as snaII as a "ceII of one."
If you use enaiI, enciypl il. Nol
onIy lhal, lul enciypl aII enaiI
you possilIy can, nol jusl enaiI
conlaining sensilive naleiiaI.
Lnciypl youi cule cal jokes and
youi discussions of Iasl nighl's
favoiile TV shov (lhal vay you
don'l caII speciaI allenlion lo
youi nosl confidenliaI
Do nol posl sensilive naleiiaI on sociaI nedia (a no-liainei,
lul appaienlIy sone sliII do il).
"44+<-)? 60@)4? 4.=;
A Iavyei vho consuIled
on lhis look says:
"When deaIing vilh
poIice, pioseculois oi lheii
agenls, do NOT lase youi
lheoiy-of-lhe-gane on TV,
novies, oi olhei souices.
Oi on conslilulionaI lheoiy
you nay have Ieained in
schooI. The olhei side is
pIaying foi keeps and lo
lhen iuIes aie iiieIevanl
inconveniences. Ask
ßiadIey Manning."

Do nol posl sensilive naleiiaI on sociaI nedia !"!# %&!# '()*
+*,"-.' /!00,#1/ -22(% (#2' 34*,!#5/3 0( /!! ,0. A 2O12 couil
iuIing said il's peifeclIy okay foi lhose "fiiends" lo luin
aiound and shov youi aIIegedIy piivale info lo goveinnenl
Do nol laIk lo cops oi indeed any goveinnenl agenls ~
aloul anylhing. Lvei. The nosl innocenl ienaiks can le
used againsl you. The "nicesl" cop is sliII nol youi fiiend.
(We'II have noie on lhis in Iail Thiee and in lhe appendixes.
This is !60*!7!2' inpoilanl!)
Knov lhe Iavs, polenliaI senlences, and IikeIy pioseculoiiaI
piaclices againsl any ciines you'ie connilling.
If you'ie a poIilicaI aclivisl, keep youi nose cIean in olhei
vays. Ioi inslance, if you'ie an anli-diug-vai aclivisl, don'l
seII diugs on lhe side. Don'l nake youiseIf an easy laigel foi
spuiious (oi voise, ieaI)
ciininaI chaiges.
UnIess you acluaIIy vanl lo le
aiiesled lo lecone a lesl case (a
dangeious lul sonelines usefuI
laclic), lhen do eveiylhing you
can lo avoid giving anyone
annunilion lo lainish you oi
youi cause.
Do youi lesl lo nake suie youi
associales aIso foIIov good
secuiily piaclices.
Cel youiseIf -%-' fion associales vho aie lIalleinoulhs,
loasleis, Ioose-Iipped diunks, oi "fiiends" vho insisl on
posling lheii (and youi) eveiy aclivily on lhe Inleinel.
We iepeal: CLT YOURSLLVLS AWAY fion anylody vho
can'l keep his noulh shul!
!"# %&'( )*#)&")+,)-
This cones fion a fiiend of
nine vho spenl "lhe voisl
lvo veeks" of his Iife in jaiI,
couilesy of a snilch: "Don'l
hang vilh peopIe vho aie
dishonesl oi Iie, even in
snaII, uninpoilanl lhings.
They have no honoi lo Iose
and eveiylhing lhey say
and do is lased on piofil oi
lenefil lo lhen."

!"#$%&'('&% * +&',#-
WhiIe sone cIunsy snilches aie olvious, nany noie aie
neaiIy inpossilIe lo iecognize. Whal foIIovs aie onIy
guideIines. Use lhen as an aid lo youi ovn liain and youi ovn
gul, lul undeisland lhal vhen you oiganize vilh olheis lo do
conlioveisiaI lhings, you veiy piolalIy !"## have al Ieasl one
snilch in youi nidsl. Theie is sinpIy $% gioup lhal cannol le
infiIlialed. The Iongei you conlinue and/oi lhe noie
conlioveisiaI youi aclivilies, lhe noie IikeIy you aie lo alliacl
one oi noie ials.
Sone lypicaI lhings snilches and/oi agenls piovocaleuis do:
A sliangei oi casuaI acquainlance liies lo gel you lo do oi
advise on iIIegaI aclivilies.
A fiiend suddenIy slails pushing you lo do oi advise on
iIIegaI lhings.
A peison joins youi gioup and
slalenenls he/she nakes aloul
his/hei lackgiound jusl don'l
add up.
A peison joins youi gioup and
slails sliiiing up lioulIe and
ciealing divisions.
A peison joins youi gioup and is
oveiIy eagei lo le usefuI, lo pay
foi lhe gioup's aclivilies, lo
iniliale aclivilies, suppIy equipnenl, lo escaIale dangeious
aclivilies, elc.
Soneone goes oul of his vay lo gain youi liusl, lo le ieaIIy
luddy-luddy vilh you. Then, vhen you iesisl gelling inlo
dulious aclivilies, he diops aII inleiesl in you (he's Iooking
foi an easiei naik).
./0'#" 12$3
,-" 4&/"2%2$4&/
This uIlia-lasic piece of
advice goes lack al Ieasl lo
lhe agilalois of lhe 196Os.
Yel peopIe sliII gel
enliapped ly ignoiing il:
"You can aIvays leII lhe IßI
agenl. He's lhe one vho's
liying lo gel you lo lonl

You'ie asked lo do iIIegaI oi dulious lusiness vilh a "fiiend
of a fiiend." This is a lig one. Il's anazing hov nany
"fiiends of fiiends" (vheie conlioveisiaI aclivilies aie
invoIved) aie acluaIIy undeicovei cops.
Soneone asks you lo do sonelhing iIIegaI oi dangeious lhal
he couId jusl as easiIy do hinseIf oi have done eIsevheie.
Soneone slails agilaling lo have youi gioup do sonelhing
oulside lhe gioup's puiposes. ("Hey, ve jusl iun a IillIe of
lhis 'sluff' acioss lhe loidei and il'II nake us a Iol of noney
lhal ve can use lo do good.")
An oIdei, "noie expeiienced" peison joins youi gioup oi
ciicIe and soon lecones a counseIoi of soils lo lhe youngesl,
nosl edgy, nosl insecuie, nosl angiy, oi nosl naive
nenleis. He "culs lhen oul of lhe heid" in oidei lo puII
lhen inlo iIIegaI pIols. (This is a cIassic laclic of lhe agenl
Anyone in youi gioup slails agilaling foi vioIenl aclion.
IeopIe vho agilale foi iIIegaI aclivilies nay le snilches, !"
lhey nay le genuine fooIs vho viII alliacl snilches.
These aie nol lhe !#$% vays snilches gel you in lioulIe. ßul
lhey'ie anong lhe nosl connon ones.

!" $%& '$%&( %)"*+ ),,&)()"-&. -)" /& *&-&010"23
An onIine connenlaloi vho goes ly lhe handIe ßuIucanagiia
Sone yeais ago I vas ieluining fion a jol inleiviev. I vas
changing luses in dovnlovn Cincinnali vhen I sav lhal lheie vas a
henp iaIIy aloul lo legin. NaluiaIIy I slayed on lo enjoy lhe
Coning fion a jol inleiviev I vas diessed casuaIIy, lul ialhei
niceIy, sIacks, lullon dovn shiil, decenl shoes. AIso, I'n a faiiIy Iaige
vhile guy vilh shoil haii, ny piefeience lecause vhen ny haii

giovs oul I Iook Iike a used Q-lip.
So, I'n slanding al lhe lack of lhe ciovd vhen a land cones on lo
vain up lhe ciovd. The singei inlios lhe song ly saying, "This is
dedicaled lo aII lhe undeicovei cops oul lheie loday ..." and aloul a
dozen peopIe luin and Iook al ne vilh knoving expiessions. I had lo
Iaugh oul Ioud!
The fiisl speakei cones oul (Calevood CaIliailh RII), and soon
sone naif spaiks up a joinl ... and is innedialeIy aiiesled ly lhe lie-
dyed, Iong-haii, leaided hippie! Again I couIdn'l heIp nyseIf and
Iaughed oul Ioud. I've snoked ny shaie of The DeviI's Lelluce lul
sonelines polheads jusl ain'l loo liighl.
My poinl is lhal anolhei polenliaI sign of a pIanl is sonelody vho
seens lo nalch aII lhe sleieolypes of lhe gioup you'ie in. The agenl
invoIved nay le snail and sullIe enough lo piovide a nuanced
poiliayaI of a "feIIov liaveIei," oi he nay le an ignoianl jackvagon
vho leIieves aII lhe hype pul oul ly his oveiIoids and lhinks of his
quaiiy as cailoon chaiacleis. Il's liue lhal sleieolypes lecone so ly
geneiaIIy leing liue, lul il's doullfuI lhal any one individuaI vouId
enliace lhen aII.
Again, lhis seens Iike sonelhing a savvy peison vouId aIieady
undeisland lul, since ve'ie liying lo expIain lhese lhings lo ignoianl
fooIs (i.e. ne 3O yeais ago), I lhoughl I'd shaie.


!"#$ &#'() )*+$,"() )- .(/)0#)+1(2
Snilches, especiaIIy piofessionaI agenls piovocaleuis, can le
naslei nanipuIalois. Many olheivise-snail peopIe have leen
diavn inlo lheii liaps lecause lhey faiIed lo iecognize nol onIy
lhe specific lechniques Iisled in lhe Iasl seclion lul lecause lhey
faiIed lo undeisland lhe psychoIogy of snilcheiy and
Snilches pIay on youi liusl and/oi youi desiie lo go aIong
vilh olheis.
They nay appeaI lo youi IoyaIly oi youi feai oi sone olhei
enolion ("You von'l do il` Wov, and heie I lhoughl you
veie one of us." "C'non, if you had any guls you'd do lhis."
"Hov aie ve evei going lo change lhings if ve don'l lake
iadicaI aclion`")
They nay IileiaIIy "cul fion lhe heid" lhe nosl naive,
liusling, fooIish, oi disconlenl of youi associales, isoIale
lhen, and psychoIogicaIIy nanipuIale lhen inlo connilling
They nay pielend lo le youi fiiend. ~ especiaIIy a fiiend in
need. ("I knov you don'l usuaIIy deaI, lul couIdn'l you jusl
seII ne a IillIe fion youi slash`" "Look, jusl heIp ne gel lhis
noney oul of lhe counliy, il's no lig deaI." "Hey, I knov you
have a nachine shop in youi gaiage, hov aloul heIping ne
cul dovn lhe laiieI on lhis sholgun` I'II pay you.")
They nay acluaIIy !" youi fiiend ~ lul a fiiend vho has
gollen inlo IegaI lioulIe and has luined lo snilching lo save
lhenseIves fion a Iong piison senlence. (Sane soils of
uigings as in lhe Iasl luIIel poinl, lul lhis line coning fion
sonelody foi vhon lhal vouIdn'l le chaiacleiislic
They nay nake il easy lo connil ciines ly nol onIy
pushing lhe idea, lul acluaIIy suppIying lhe funding, lhe

equipnenl, lhe lianspoilalion, and lhe pIanning foi lhe
ciine. They nay cone acioss as naluiaI Ieadeis ("Tiusl ne, I
knov hov lo do lhis!")
They nay nake hypei-sliong appeaIs lo youi cause ~ lhen
use lhe Ieveiage lhey gain lo nake equaIIy sliong appeaIs foi
connilling ciines.
They oflen pIay upon a noinaI hunan desiie lo vanl lo DO
sonelhing vhich is IikeIy vhy, if you'ie a poIilicaI peison,
youie a nenlei of lhe gioup in lhe fiisl pIace.
And finaIIy ~ Iel's nevei foigel ~ sone snilches pIay on
lhal nosl lasic inslincl of aII ~ S.L.X. Spy agencies have
knovn lhis as Iong as lheie have leen spy agencies. The
KCß used lo caII il "lhe spaiiov liick", gel a ied-lIooded
heleiosexuaI naIe up cIose vilh an allenlive, nanipuIalive
fenaIe and said naIe viII evenluaIIy vhispei aII nannei of
seciels inlo hei eai. These days, il piolalIy voiks lhe olhei
vay aiound, loo. And no doull honosexuaI alliaclion can
lIind eyes and Ioosen Iips jusl as effecliveIy.

!"#$ &' ()&'*+ ,*$-$ ."/0
Haug is one of lhe agenls piovocaleuis lhe IßI pIanled vilh lhe
Hulaiee MiIilia ~ a gioup lhal lasicaIIy did nol do nuch vhiIe ils
nenleis spouled unpIeasanl poIilicaI iheloiic. Haug inseiled
hinseIf so peisuasiveIy inlo lhe gioup lhal he lecane lhe lesl nan al
lhe Ieadei's vedding.
And aII lhe vhiIe he vas iecoiding hundieds of houis of
conveisalions and aggiessiveIy liying lo gel lhe gioup lo cook up a
"lonl pIol." A judge evenluaIIy lhiev oul aII lhe najoi chaiges, lul
nol unliI sone Hulaiee nenleis had spenl lvo yeais in jaiI availing
- - -
Il's aIso voilh noling: One of lhe olhei snilches vho heIped liing
dovn lhe Hulaiee vas a noulhy iadio-shov hosl caIIed HaI Tuinei.

Tuinei used anolhei infanous laclic of snilches, he conslanlIy uiged,
and even lhiealened, vioIence againsl pulIic officiaIs. AII lhe vhiIe
he vas on lhe aii, iousing dinvils inlo a fienzy, !" $%& %'&( % )%*+ ,-.
*/0(12%/34 1")(13*/5 (/ 3!" 6"17 )"()'" !" $%& */8*3*/59 And lhal's nol al
aII unusuaI oi suipiising.

!"#$%&' )#*"$ $# '&+&+,&' -,#.$ /"*$0%&/
This cones fion "jusl vailing," vho aIso conliiluled lhe exceIIenl
piinei on inleiiogalion lhal you'II find in lhe appendices. He noles:
"WhiIe aII snilches aie covaids, nol aII snilches aie vinps oi sissies.
}usl lecause ve laIk aloul lhen as Iessei leings doesn'l nean sone
of lhen aien'l lough as naiIs ~ fighleis and liavIeis.
"If nolhing eIse, snilches shov a veiy deveIoped sense of seIf-
pieseivalion and a viIIingness lo do anylhing lo save lheii ovn ass.
ßeing a ial doesn'l dininish lheii aliIily lo fighl, il jusl changed lheii
laclics and focus lenpoiaiiIy."
So levaie: Anolhei vay snilches can le dangeious is lo physicaIIy
huil you if you gel in lheii vay.

!"#$#! &'()*+(', -& .*)(-# #')$./0#')
ßack in lhe Iale sixlies oi lheiealouls, lheie vas a fedeiaI
case in vhich Tieasuiy agenls Ialched on lo a piinlei vho vas
viIIing lo fanlasize aloul doing sone counleifeiling.
Undeicovei Tieasuiy agenls
encouiaged hin lo ieaIIy do il.
Despile leing a piinlei, he didn'l
have lhe speciaI pIales iequiied lo
piinl noney. So lhe Tieasuiy
agenls piovided lhen. Then he
didn'l have lhe speciaI papei
iequiied lo piinl noney. So lhe
Tieasuiy agenls piovided il. And
so on.
A judge lossed lhe case. And
iighlIy so. Theie vouId nevei have
leen a ciine, had lhe fedeiaI
agenls nol piovided lhe neans and
a lig chunk of lhe nolivalion.
Thal's enliapnenl.
Today, lhal dunl sap of a
piinlei vouId le in piison foi a
Iong, Iong, line. As ßovaid says,
slandaids have changed. AIlhough
a juiy viII occasionaIIy decide lhal
sone acl of enliapnenl is so
oulIandish lhey'II iefuse lo convicl
(do an Inleinel seaich on "ICIA
Afiica Sling" foi a gieal exanpIe),
viclins of enliapnenl have ended
up seiving decades in piison foi
going aIong vilh pIols cooked up
enliieIy ly goveinnenl agenls.
Lven lhose evenluaIIy found nol
1(0#& +.-# *+.',#2
3 '4) 54$ )+# 6#))#$
In a !"#$%&$ ailicIe, }anes
ßovaid viole: "Up unliI lhe
eaiIy Sevenlies, defendanls
oflen successfuIIy
chaIIenged enliapnenl as a
vioIalion of due piocess.
ßul in 1973, lhe Supiene
Couil, in an opinion
viillen ly Chief }uslice
WiIIian Rehnquisl, gulled
nosl defenses againsl
goveinnenl enliapnenl ly
focusing aInosl soIeIy on
lhe 'suljeclive disposilion'
of lhe enliapped peison. If
pioseculois can find any
inkIing of a defendanl's
disposilion lo lhe ciine,
venl Rehnquisl's Iogic,
lhen lhe peison is guiIly, no
nallei hov ouliageous oi
alusive lhe goveinnenl
agenls' lehavioi. }uslice
WiIIian ßiennan dissenled,
vaining lhal lhe decision
couId enpovei Iav
enfoicenenl agenls lo
'iound up and jaiI aII
'piedisposed' individuaIs.'"

!"#$%& ()& $*+, ,-,.&%/#0! #0 %/, ,11*.% %* +)-, %/,(+,$-,+2
3#%/ 4*".%+ )$$*5#0! (*., )06 (*., )4%+ %/)% 5*"$6 *04,
/)-, 7,,0 4*0+#6,.,6 #$$,!)$ ,0%.)8(,0%9 (*., )06 (*.,
:(,.,: +0#%4/,+ )., "+#0! %/,#. 5#$,+ %* %)$; 8,*8$, #0%* #$$,!)$
6,,6+ )06 )., ,-,0 8.*-#6#0! %/, (,)0+ )06 (*0,& %* 4)..&
%/*+, 6,,6+ *"%2 </, $#0,+ 7,%5,,0 :(,.,: +0#%4/,+ )06 )!,0%+
8.*-*4)%,".+ )., 7$"..#0!2
=,5)., *1 )0&7*6& 5/* 0*% *0$& 5)0%+ &*" %* 4*((#%
#$$,!)$ )4%+ 7"% !*,+ *"% *1 /#+ 5)& %* :/,$8: &*" 6* +*>

!"#$%&'() +,-.) "/'(- )#0-1.%)
"#2 (#2%&1'3%& "$%#-)
Theie aie lvo huge nylhs aloul snilches, naics, undeicovei
agenls and olhei cop-associaled ials lhal you'II heai aII lhe
line. The peopIe spouling lhis ßS aIvays sound as if lhey knov
il foi a facl. ßul lhe onIy facl is lhal lhey'ie nisinfoined ~ and
aie dangeiousIy nisinfoining you.
Heie aie lhe lvo nylhs:
4,-. 567 89 ,'( "): 09 )'+%'#% 0) " #"&1; -.%, ."3% -' -%<<
NO lhey don'l. The nylh hoIds lhal if you say, "Aie you a
naic`" oi "Aie you a cop`" and lhe peison iepIies, "No," lhen
lhey can nevei, evei lusl you. ßaIoney! Lveiy vaiiely of snilch
can Iook you sliaighl in lhe eye and say, "I'n nol a snilch" ~
lhen luin iighl aiound and Iand you in jaiI. Couil cases aiound
lhe nalion a seaich engine is youi fiiend, heie have affiined
lhe iighl of goveinnenl agenls lo Iie lo lheii laigels. Which
liings us lo:
4,-. 5>7 ?'@) "&% #%3%& "<<'A%2 -' <0% -' ,'(=
OMIC, cops and aII kinds of olhei goveinnenl agenls
Iie and lhey Iie and lhey Iie. And in neaiIy eveiy case lhe couils
aIIov lhen lo gel avay vilh il.
ßul lhal liings up a ieIaled suljecl. IncieasingIy, !"# can gel
in lioulIe foi Iying lo $%&'. Lven an innocenl and hainIess
nisslalenenl can le lvisled inlo a piison senlence foi you
(seaich on "Mailha Slevail piison" foi an exanpIe).
Theie ()& a fev soils of Iies lhal aie so egiegious lhal if a
poIice officei leIIs lhen lhe case againsl you nay le lhiovn oul
of couil (alloiney }anie Spencei gives an exanpIe heie
). ßul


!"#$ !"#$% $!&'() *))" *&+,)-. +/01)- !&, !2 $!&1 34,+. -)514()-
!2 $!&1 51!5)1,$. 0"- 5)1605+ -14()" 4",! *0"71&5,/$8
9! :&+, 1););*)1< =!5+ 0"-
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;!+, )(4# #401+ 4" ,6) 3!1#- ?
*)/0&+) ,6)$ 60() 5!3)1 ,! 6&1,
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0#;!+, 0"$,64">8 @2 $!& 7"!3. !1
)()" 60() >!!- 1)0+!" ,! +&+5)/, ,60, +!;)!") 4+ 0 /!5 !1 0"$
+!1, !2 >!()1";)", 0>)",. AB CBD DEFG DB DHIJ' E*!&,
0"$,64">8 A!"', ,1$ ,! !&,34, ,6);8 A! "!, ,1$ ,! ,&1" ,6) ,0*#)+
!" ,6);8 A!"', )()" ,0#7 0*!&, ,6) 3)0,6)1 01!&"- ,6);8 D6)
!"#$ ,64">+ $!& )()1 30", ,! +0$ ,! 0 /!5 01) ,64">+ #47). KE; @
21)) ,! >!L.K K@ -! "!, /!"+)", ,! 0 +)01/6.K !1 K@ 34## "!, +5)07 ,!
$!& 34,6!&, 0" 0,,!1")$ 51)+)",8K
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E -0$ !1 ,3! +5)", 4"
:04# *)/0&+) !2 0 21&+,10,)-
>!()1";)", 0>)", *)0,+ 0
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!2 0 ()1*0# ;4++,)58

!"#$ $& '& () *&+ ,-.(-/-
# 01($2" (0 3-40&1#..* $#45-$(15 *&+
Lel's assune lhal you suspecl ~ lul aien'l suie ~ lhal
soneone in youi ciicIe is a snilch. And voise, you lhink lhe
peison is, oi even nighl le, laigeling you. Whal do you do`
Again, gel avay fion lhe peison
Do nol liy lo oulsnail lhe peison
Do nol feed lhe peison faIse infoinalion (lecause if lhal
peison is an undeicovei agenl lhis couId le a ciine in and of
Do nol connil vioIence againsl lhe peison
}usl gel avay ~ even if il neans Ieaving a gioup
If you lhink you've aIieady said oi done sonelhing
conpionising vilh lhis peison, see a good Iavyei and iead
lhe seclion of lhis lookIel on hov lo conducl youiseIf if you
gel aiiesled.
Anolhei lip fion lhis look's heIpfuI alloiney: "Considei
naking youi OWN conpIainl lo lhe aulhoiilies aloul lhis
'nullaII' |lhe peison you suspecl of leing a snilchj. This a)
puls you on lhe iecoid as NOT leing in led vilh lhe snilch,
l) aIeils lhe snilch and his handIeis lhal youie avaie of hin
and aie lhus Iess IikeIy lo le an 'easy laigel,' c) cieales an
appeaiance lhal youie nol one of lhe lad guys since
youie nol hiding anylhing, and d) nayle vilh a IillIe Iuck
lhe snilch ends up in jaiI hinseIf foi sone line. I vouId
nol considei lhis 'do nol liy lo oulsnail' desciiled alove
(vhich I agiee vilh)." Of couise, if he luins oul !"# lo le a
snilch, you nay have hained an innocenl peison ly caIIing
lhe cops on hin. Il's a iisk. ßul if lhe peison ieaIIy $% an agenl
of lhe goveinnenl, lhis can le a pielly good acl of seIf-
pioleclion. Oh, and one of ny fiiends vho speaks fion

expeiience, poinls oul lhal if you'ie going lo iepoil a snilch
lo lhe cops, il's lesl lo do il lhiough a Iavyei. Olheivise
you'ie laIking lo cops, vhich is a no-no.
It's an n!d jnkc, but ...
SleiIingSliings viiles:
ßack in Soviel Russia, lvin liolheis veie loin. They sIepl in lhe
sane ciil. As lhey giev oIdei, lhey venl lo lhe sane schooIs, and
enleied lhe sane niIilaiy duly side ly side. Aflei lhe niIilaiy, lhey
slailed voik nexl lo each olhei in lhe sane facloiy. They veie
naiiied on lhe sane day, and iaised lheii faniIies nexl dooi lo each
olhei in lhe sane apailnenl luiIding.
The yeais go ly, and lhe liolheis find lhenseIves as oId nen,
silling on a paik lench, shaiing a lollIe of vodka.
"Whal do you lhink of lhese nev iefoins lhey keep laIking
aloul`" asks one liolhei.
"Nyel" Says lhe olhei, "One of us nighl le KCß!"
As I said, oId joke, lul an eIenenl of liulh. The sad ieaIily is,
eveiyone has lheii veision of lhe "lhiily pieces of siIvei." Iiessuie on
a faniIy nenlei, feai of jaiI line, exposuie of a daik seciel ...
anylody can le luined. The liick is in iiding lhe fine Iine lelveen
necessaiy liusl and ovei exlending youiseIf and pulling youiseIf al
iisk. IeisonaIIy, I'n in favoi of conpailnenlaIizing infoinalion.
Discuss "X" vilh one peison/gioup, shaie "Y" vilh anolhei gioup,
and keep youi yap shul aloul "Z".
AIso, ienenlei lhal lhe Inleinel is lhe giealesl snilch oul lheie.
Lveiy cIick, eveiy seaich, eveiy aclion CAN le iecoided. I have no
evidence lhal il's leing done successfuIIy, lul il can le done. Thal's
enough foi ne lo nevei use a singIe poinl of enliy lo lhe WWW. Visil
lhe pulIic Iiliaiy foi sone, youi IocaI coffee shop foi noie, do sone
Iighlveighl sluff al hone, and don'l suif and ieseaich al lhe sane
line. Iind sluff, dala dunp il lo a secuie souice, and iead il Ialei. If
you find il iiieIevanl, liash il lhen.
Heads dovn, eyes up!

!"#$ $&'
" ()*+,- .),/01213

45 6/7 819*101 +-121:; < ;)*+,- *) 6/72 =2/7>
We've laIked aloul hov lo iecognize snilches and vhal you,
as an individuaI, shouId do lo piolecl youiseIf. Again, ve have
lo sliess lhal lheie aie no nagic luIIels, you nighl le
lIindsided and seveieIy danaged ly a snilch despile youi lesl
inslincls and lesl effoils al OpSec. The advice in lhis lookIel
can Iessen lhe chance of lhal, lul nolody can give you any
Lel's say, lhough, lhal you leIieve you've spolled a snilch
and lhis snilch is nol onIy in a posilion lo hain you, lul aIso a
gioup you leIong lo ~ vhelhei lhal le a lunch of dope-
snoking fiiends, a gioup of hollyisls oi gun ovneis, an
aclivisl poIilicaI oiganizalion, oi a ieIigious gioup.
The fiisl lhing lo do, as ve have said lefoie and viII say
again, is lo gel avay fion lhal peison and his oi hei infIuence.
Hovevei, nov you've gol olhei peopIe lo voiiy aloul.
Sone nenleis of youi gioup nay le alsoIule innocenls.
Sone nay le lIalleinoulhs oi edgy lypes vho aie vaIking
slupidIy inlo lhe snilch's liap. Sone nay le fiiends vilh lhe
snilch and hosliIe lo anylody vho expiesses doulls aloul lhe
peison. Sone nay even le associales in lhe snilch's pIan lo lusl
you (il's nol unusuaI foi goveinnenl agencies lo pIanl nuIlipIe
agenls inlo one opeialion and lhe lillei oId joke lhal, if nol foi
lhe snilches, sone neelings vouId le enply, isn'l lhal fai


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'2./8( 0.,'0&3/; -..$3/;1 $' ,')/$.0#,$ #/( 83.1 $". 1/3$,"
-#( $.88 "31 "#/&8.014
Start a Facts, Acts, and Circumstantial file. After each incident
write details down. Facts are the time, date, occasion, incident,
characteristics of the person(s). Acts are what they did.
Circumstantial is the impressions and anything odd about the
situation. Use the FAC file and keep notes from unsettling
situations and see if a pattern emerges. (Note: This item also
appears in Appendix 2, where you will find details on how to do
this, along with many other commonsense OpSec tips.)
+' /'$ -#=. '2./ #,,)1#$3'/1 )/8.11 (') "#:. 20''6
2'13$3:. '6 1/3$,".0( '0 ,'2/.11 C#1 >"./ D.> A'0=
E37.0$#03#/ F#0$( #,$3:31$1 C1.. 7.8'>G 12'$$.& # 6'0-.0
H1)123,3')1H -.-7.0 3/ $". !"# %&'( )*+",9 ".823/; $". IJ5
>3$" #/ #00.1$G4
+31,)11 >3$" (')0 -'1$ $0)1$.& #11',3#$.1 >"#$ $' &'4
K)1$ #1 (')0 6301$ 3/&3:3&)#8 -':. 31 $' =..2 #>#( 60'- $".

suspecl individuaI, lhe lesl gioup aclion nay le lo sinpIy
shul lhe peison oul. Slop laIking vilh lhen. Slop inviling
lhen lo neelings. Slop asking lhen lo le invoIved in
piojecls. Iieeze lhen oul of aII aclivilies and discussions.
In a seiious case, you nay end up having lo shul dovn lhe
enliie gioup lo foiI a snilch oi agenl piovocaleui. If so, have
a pIausilIe excuse if you can.
AIvays, aIvays nake suie lhal you and lhe olhei "on lhe up
and up" nenleis of youi gioup ienain on iecoid as NOT
advocaling iIIegaI, and in pailicuIai vioIenlIy iIIegaI,
aclivilies. Col a lIog, a Tvillei accounl, a Iacelook page`
Make youi opposilion lo ceilain aclivilies cIeai and pulIic.
Iuilheinoie, nake suie you slay on iecoid as NOT
advocaling lhings lhal lhe snilch vanls. Do nol Iine up
lehind, oi even pielend lo agiee vilh, lhal peison's poIicy
ieconnendalions, slialegies, oi laclics. Renenlei, you nay
veII le leing iecoided. You do nol even vanl lo appeai lo
supeificiaIIy agiee vilh lhings an undeicovei opeialive is
liying lo laIk you inlo.
Again, finaIIy, you nay have lo iecognize lhal you can
neilhei heIp noi save lhose vho do nol vish lo le heIped oi
saved. Il nay le lhal youi finaI acl has lo le luining youi
fiIes ovei lo sone olhei liusled nenlei of lhe gioup and
Ieaving. You aIvays have a chance of finding anolhei gioup.
Youie nol going lo have a chance lo find anolhei you.
!"# %"&#'#(&%") *&+,-)+ ./")#',-(0 1/2 &, 34 ("%&5+#(
In his youlh, Sleve vas a nenlei of a nunlei of gioups lhal
alliacled lhe allenlion of cops and snilches. Theie veie so nany iffy
hangeis-on lhal lhe liny coie of soIid peopIe veien'l suie vho vas a
cop oi vho jusl sneIIed Iike one, oi vho vas a snilch and vho nighl
jusl le a nisfil oi an idiol.
Then lhiee peopIe hil on a pIan. Sleve expIains:
"Thiee of us vho faiiIy liusled each olhei vondeied hov lad ve

veie conpionised and decided lo liy a lesl. We veie a Iol of IooseIy
oiganized gioups vilh a vaiiely of hangeis on. Lach of us nel vilh
sone of lhese peopIe and caIIed a 'seciel' neeling. Il vas a cop's vel
diean ~ vilh guns, diugs and heavy peopIe pionised. One of us
venl lo each of lhese neelings and il vas onIy sone of lhe peopIe
loId aloul il and a nassive poIice piesence al aII of lhen. (The snail
peopIe slayed hone.) Il lecane unpIeasanl vhen lhe Ieds, cops and
such ieaIized il vas a liick.
"Il Iefl ne vilh lhe depiessing feeIing lhal il vas nexl lo
inpossilIe lo pul a heavyveighl gioup of noie lhan one peison
logelhei vilhoul a snilch."

!"#"$% '(" )*+ ,' %-', * %(.,/01
OnIine connenlei ßusyIooiDad viiles:
Yeais ago, vhen lhe Nev Yoik Lileilaiian Iaily vas slailing up,
a nev nenlei joined and lecane aclive. He said he vas fion a Iov-
incone neighloihood, voiked a nanuaI Ialoi jol, and did nol knov
nuch aloul poIilics. He Iooked lhe pail lul lhings jusl did nol add
He knev hov lo sel a lalIe foi a foinaI dinnei, used lhe Roleil's
RuIes veiy veII, and fil in veiy veII vilh lhe highIy educaled
nenleis. Aflei aloul foui nonlhs of voiking vilh us, he jusl
slopped coning. This soil of lhing happened a Iol lul lheie veie no
signs of disconlenl. He vas aIvays viIIing lo do eveiylhing he vas
asked lo heIp do (pelilion, iun NoIan chail lalIes, elc.).
Aloul a yeai Ialei he vas spolled in lhe NY Tines hoIding on lo
soneone aiiesled ly lhe IßI foi sonelhing.
His lackgiound jusl did nol fil vilh hin. We nevei sav hin
ieading looks, he laIked aloul valching TV and voiking al a
vaiehouse, lul he vas alIe lo le cuIluied, had a good vocaluIaiy,
and ieaIIy vanled lo le pail of eveiylhing.

!"#$%&"'() +,-. /0
12,3456 +478 !"#$" .547982.
Since, as one vag olseived, lhe fiisl snilch aiose shoilIy aflei
lhe fiisl seciel, hisloiy offeis us Iols and Iols of exanpIes of
hov gioups have handIed lhe leliayeis in lheii nidsl.
We do nol ieconnend any of lhese nelhods! On lhe
conliaiy, ve advise in lhe sliongesl leins possilIe !"!#$%&
lhen. This is jusl lo nole hov seiiousIy peopIe have hisloiicaIIy
laken lhose vho leliay lhen. ßul, again, lo le lIunl DO NOT
DO ANY OI THIS! These exanpIes aie foi hisloiicaI,
educalionaI puiposes '$().
The IRA used lo shool leliayeis in lhe kneecaps. Il vouIdn'l
kiII lhen, lul eveiyone vho sav a foinei aclivisl Iuiching
dovn lhe slieel on deslioyed knees knev vhal he vas.
The Mafia vouId fanousIy send slooI pigeons lo "sIeep vilh
lhe fishes."
Resislance gioups, pailicuIaiIy duiing vailine, have leen
knovn lo Ieave lhe lodies of leliayeis in pulIic squaies
vilh nessages pinned lo lhen oi even caived in lhen.
WhiIe sliII saying il's a lad idea, il did have lhe effecl of
discouiaging lhe geneiaI popuIace fion voiking vilh lhe
eneny. Today snilches and leliayeis oflen see lenefils and
face novheie neai enough diavlacks foi lheii diily voik.
In lhe 198Os and 199Os, lhe Afiican NalionaI Congiess
punished peiceived coIIaloialois vilh lhe nonslious
nelhod caIIed "neckIacing." They'd shove a gasoIine-fiIIed
liie ovei a niscieanl's neck and ains and kiII lhe peison ly
selling lhe liie aIighl.
Aflei WoiId Wai II, nany vonen vho had sIepl vilh oi
olheivise coIIaloialed vilh Nazis veie huniIialed ly
having lheii haii hacked off vhiIe nols scieaned, "Nazi
vhoie!" This nighl nol sound Iike nuch conpaied vilh

!"#$%&' )*+,$-."+%$ &,/" +"0/&#0,+12 3*% )*!&,0 -*.,&,#%,4+5
$-*++,+15 #+6 %-" #%%#0/ 4+ %-",7 8".,+,+,%' 9#$ -*1"&'
6"17#6,+1 #+6 )$'0-4&41,0#&&' 6#.#1,+12

!"# %" &'( )*+,) ,- +./"0+% 0-1)234
Since you aie nol a Mafioso, and since (so fai) ve aie nol in
an ouliighl shooling vai vilh an eneny slale, lheie is no
juslificalion foi hisloiicaI haidcoie laclics. We'II say il again:
youi lesl lel is jusl lo gel avay fion lhe snilch and lake
pioleclive neasuies as desciiled alove.
Hovevei, if you'ie veiy suie a peison is a ial and you vanl
lo lake fuilhei sleps lo iendei lhe snilch ineffeclive oi
niseialIe, heie aie sone niIdei, lul polenliaIIy effeclive,
of lhese lhings. They nay le good oi lad ideas, depending on
lhe peopIe and lhe ciicunslances. They'ie jusl possiliIilies:
5/*+,% )3+ #"*%6 Use sociaI nelvoiks lolh onIine and in lhe
ieaI voiId lo nolify olheis lhal lhe peison is an infoinanl. ße
as facluaI and give as nuch evidence as possilIe. (Theie is
even a velsile lhal conlains a nalionaI dalalase of knovn
ials, lul since il's a paid nenleiship sile, ve'ie nol
ieconnending il heie. Do a Slailpage.con oi
DuckDuckCo.con seaich
lo find il if you'ie inleiesled.) Iosl
lhe snilch's pholo, addiess, oiolhei peisonaI delaiIs onIine
unIess lhal vioIales a Iav in youi aiea. This slialegy is,
hovevei, a seiious lvo edged svoid as lhose nelhods aie
ones lhal nay le used ly agenls piovocaleuis in allenpling
lo danage a gioup ly fuilhei deslioying liusl. In facl, such
laclics nay veII end up vilh YOU leing IaleIed no nallei
hov unfaiiIy oi incoiieclIy as lhe snilch! In facl, ienoving
conpelenl and liuslvoilhy peisonneI fion a gioup is high
on a snilchs lo-do Iisl, and lhis can le a gifl fion on-high lo
a snilch.
7./+8 )3+ /+*0"- 9*": )3+ ;*"</6 You can do lhis quielIy ~
peihaps jusl ly noving neelings and faiIing lo infoin lhe

Both are more secure than Google

peison of lhe nev pIace. Oi you can do il pulIicIy, IileiaIIy
hoIding a puige oi a lype of liiaI vheie you piesenl lhe
evidence againsl lhe peison.
!"#$%&'( $ *+,%%&%#- Shunning has hisloiicaIIy leen a !"#$
laclic in cIose connunilies. Shunning neans shulling a
peison (and sonelines his faniIy nenleis) oul of viiluaIIy
aII oidinaiy aclivily. A laigel of shunning isn'l veIcone inlo
peopIe's hones, can'l gel seived al ieslauianls, doesn'l have
his gieelings ieluined, can'l gel heIp fion any of hei foinei
fiiends, and is geneiaIIy unalIe lo funclion vilhin lhe
connunily. OlviousIy in nany vays lhis has lecone
haidei lo do as ve've lecone Iess ieIianl on oui lovns and
neighloihoods. On lhe olhei hand, lhe Inleinel has nade
olhei, non-liadilionaI foins of shunning possilIe.
.,"% /+(0 &% /1 /+( 23(#&/&0$/(2 $,/+1"&/&(*- We nenlioned
lhis oplion lefoie as a neans of piolecling youiseIf and youi
liue fiiends. The sane laclic nay voik lo haIl lhe snilch in
ils liacks oi even pul il in jaiI. Snilches aie oflen seiious
ciininaIs. They nay veII le up lo nefaiious deeds lhal lheii
handIeis in lhe poIice depailnenls oi goveinnenl agencies
don'l knov. Oi a snilch vho's voiking foi lhe IocaI ID nay
le unknovn lo lhe IßI, vho nighl le inleiesled lo Ieain
aloul olhei lhings he's up lo. Again, ve aie veiy, veiy
squeanish aloul lhe idea of luining any non-vioIenl, non-
lhieving peison inlo lo %&' Iav-enfoicenenl agency. ßul ...
veII, you'II need lo judge foi youiseIf vhal lhe snilch in youi
nidsl deseives. And of couise, do lhis lhiough a Iavyei.
Don'l laIk diieclIy lo goveinnenl agenls.
4,% $%5 #$0(*- Again, lhis is a laclic "# $% &%' (#)%**#&$.
Hovevei, liadilionaIIy il's leen used as a IoveIy lil of
ievenge and a vay lo keep snilches lusy vilhoul Ielling
lhen knov you'ie aIieady on lo lhen. The idea is lo keep lhe
snilch iunning in ciicIes vilh faIse Ieads. Sel one snilch
spying on anolhei. Oi give lhe snilch faIse evidence lo focus

on vhiIe you go aloul youi ieaI lusiness unnoIesled. We
considei lhis lo le in lhe calegoiy of liying lo "oulsnail" lhe
snilch ~ vhich is nol vise. And you nusl le especiaIIy
caiefuI lhal you nevei pul youiseIf in a posilion vheie you
can le accused of "Iying lo Iav enfoicenenl," since you can
go lo piison foi lhal even vhen you'ie innocenl in eveiy
olhei vay. ßul such ganes can le fun vhiIe lhey Iasl.
!"#$%&'&($(" $*+ ($," (#" -*&(.# %$., &*(/ 0/12 .&2.'"3 Theie
aie peopIe vho leIieve lhal sone snilches especiaIIy
young, inexpeiienced peopIe vho gel in ovei lheii heads, gel
in IegaI lioulIe, and aie inlinidaled inlo leconing snilches
shouId le foigiven, iehaliIilaled, and evenluaIIy lioughl
lack inlo lhe foId of liusl. A veiy hunane anaichisl, Ton
Knapp, look lhis posilion vhen young anli-diug-vai aclivisl
Slacy Lilz vas aiiesled and piessuied inlo leconing a diug
infoinanl. Nol nany peopIe synpalhized (and Lilz nade
hei ovn iepulalion voise vilh hei onIine viilings). ßul
sone veiy decenl foIks nighl vanl lo open lheii ains lo a
"iefoined" snilch. AII ve can say is, if you vanl lo go lhal
vay, nake danned suie lhe ial has acluaIIy iefoined fiisl
and can piove il lhiough aclions, nol neie voids.

4 5/+"2* -#1**&*6
In lhe nid-199Os, ßol ßIack vas a veiy veII-knovn anaichisl.
Then, aflei a peisonaI dispule vilh feIIov viilei }in Hogshiie and
Hogshiie's vife (a "he said-she said" encounlei vhose facls aie
knovn onIy lo lhe lhiee vho veie piesenl), ßIack did lhe
And in lhis case lhe unlhinkalIe vas veiifialIe. On Ieliuaiy 21,
1996, ßIack viole a Iellei lo lhe Naicolics Division of lhe SeallIe
IoIice Depailnenl, accusing Hogshiie of a nuIlilude of diug ciines,
and inpIying lhal Hogshiie vas ained and dangeious.
IaianiIilaiy poIice descended on lhe Hogshiies' apailnenl. They
confiscaled peifeclIy IegaI ilens (incIuding diied poppies and a nug

vainei lhey nislook foi a diug-veighing scaIe). ßolh }in and Heidi
Hogshiie spenl lhiee days in jaiI. Lven lhough a judge evenluaIIy
disnissed lhe chaiges, ßIack's accusalion nade a heIIacious ness of
Hogshiie's Iife, cosl hin lens of lhousands of doIIais, and conliiluled
lo lhe lieakup of his naiiiage.
In lhe Iong iun, hovevei, il vas ßIack vho paid lhe liggei piice.
His pulIishei (vho vas aIso Hogshiie's pulIishei) deslioyed aII
ienaining invenloiy of ßIack's looks and pulIished an ailicIe
exposing ßIack's peifidy. Anolhei pulIishei ßIack had voiked vilh
viole an open Iellei in defense of Hogshiie. Yeais Ialei, aichives aII
ovei lhe Inleinel sliII leII lhe sloiy, you can easiIy find a copy of
ßIack's snilch Iellei. AIlhough as of lhis viiling, ßIack has nanaged
lo keep his Wikipedia page sciulled of lhe goiy delaiIs, lhe evidence
viII le oul lheie on olhei siles as Iong as he Iives and fev peopIe viII
evei again give seiious ciedence lo an "anaichisl" vho iepoils peopIe
lo lhe cops lhe nonenl he gels iiiilaled vilh lhen.

!"#$%&%'( *+" ,$-$(" .'%*/+". ,0
UnfoilunaleIy, il's quile possilIe you'II nevei le alIe lo
iepaii lhe danage done ly a snilch. You oi soneone you caie
aloul nay end up in piison, lioke, oi olheivise ladIy huil. A
gioup oi novenenl you leIong lo nay coIIapse oi nenleis
nay spIil off in angei and disliusl.
As one foinei goveinnenl agenl poinled oul aflei ievieving
a diafl of lhis look, iuining aclivisl gioups is "al Ieasl one of lhe
auxiIiaiy funclions of snilches."
ßul finding a snilch in youi nidsl can aIso le a vaIualIe
Ieaining expeiience.
Il can leach you lhe inpoilance of good secuiily piaclices.
Il can ieveaI vho's liuslvoilhy and vho's nol.
Il can leach gioup nenleis nol onIy lo le Iess guIIilIe, lul
leach lhen vhal signs lo Iook foi vhen a snilch is laigeling
Uncoveiing a snilch can heIp lhe ienaining liuslvoilhy
nenleis of a gioup lo puII logelhei.
If you'ie Iucky and lhe aclivilies of youi snilch aie
pailicuIaiIy egiegious, you nighl even gel synpalhy,
donalions, oi ieneved posilive allenlion once good peopIe
ieaIize vhal eviI lhal peison and hei handIeis liied lo do lo
In pail, lhe Iong-lein iesuIls of leing laigeled ly a snilch
depend on hov you and youi associales handIe lhe piolIen.
Aflei lhe iniliaI shock and iecoveiy, Iook upon il as a chance lo
Ieain and leach olheis.


!"#$%" '( $))*+,-. +'/"'-"
#0' /,.01 -'1 2" $ +-,1)0
Il can le veiy, veiy difficuIl lo delecl a snilch ~ unliI il's loo
Iale. We sonelines face lhe eviI choice of naking a faIse
accusalion againsl an innocenl peison oi keeping quiel aloul
oui suspicions and ending up vilh sonelody (nayle even us)
gelling lusled.
The danage a faIse accusalion of snilching can do is
hoiiifying. Iiisl, an innocenl peison suffeis a giave viong. He
Ioses his iepulalion unjuslIy. She nay le allacked ly olheis.
Second, youi gioup of associales nay lieak dovn in chaos.
Youi ieaI voik nay suffei.
Then lhis aIso happens a viongIy accused peison vho
gels expeIIed, shunned, oi allacked !"# "%&'"((# )*%+!* " ,-.&%/
.- 0*1*-2*3
Il's aIso inpoilanl lo ienenlei lhal a peison vho nakes a
faIse accusalion of snilching is acling Iike a snilch hinseIf. And
in facl, one laclic a snilch nighl use lo diveil suspicion fion
heiseIf is lo poinl lhe fingei al soneone eIse.
So if you suspecl soneone of snilching lul you have no soIid
ieason foi youi suspicions, il's usuaIIy jusl lesl lo delach
youiseIf fion lhe peison vhiIe ienaining valchfuI. Do nol do
anylhing in lhal peison's piesence oi vilhin lhal peison's
knovIedge lhal you vouIdn'l do in fionl of youi nolhei.
QuielIy encouiage olheis lo le valchfuI (il's jusl good OpSec,
aflei aII), lul do nol nake pulIic accusalions vilhoul ieaI
Is lheie a dangei in such a vail-and-see appioach` You
lelcha. Aiound snilches, and in a "snilch cuIluie" Iike ouis,
lheie is "(4"#, dangei in nany foins.

!"#$ $&#''
(&"$ &"!!')* +,
-./ 0'$ 1/*$'23

-45 678 9: ;<:==5<:> ?4 9:@46: 7 =AB?@C
Il happens aII loo oflen lhese days. You gel lusled and lhe
nexl lhing you knov lhe cops aie eilhei lhiealening you oi
sveel-laIking you inlo snilching on sonelody eIse. They nay
pionise lo "heIp" you if you agiee lo lecone an infoinanl.
They nay leII you lhal a fiiend aiiesled vilh you is aIieady
singing Iike a liid, and you shouId, loo, if you vanl lo save
youi ass (see "The Iiisonei's DiIenna" Ialei in lhis look). They
nay say lhey aIieady "knov eveiylhing," so you nighl as veII
leII "youi side of lhe sloiy" lo nake olheis Iook voise lhan you.
If lhey lhink you'ie pailicuIaiIy dunl and hainIess, lhey
nighl even lake you oul and luy you donuls vhiIe laIking you
inlo leing lheii pavn (yes, IhiIadeIphia cops acluaIIy did lhal
in lheii successfuI effoil lo luin anli-diug-vai aclivisl Slacy
Lilz inlo a diug-vai infoinanl).
You nay inagine, silling heie ieading lhis, lhal you'd nevei,
evei, evei sloop lo snilching on olhei peopIe. ßul lhe facl is,
unliI ve've leen lesled, nol one of us ieaIIy knovs vhal ve
nighl do undei lhe iighl kind of piessuie oi peisuasion.
The good nevs is lhal jusl a lil of advanced piepaialion can
heIp any of us undeisland hov poIice gel us lo voik againsl
oui ovn inleiesls and hov lhey luin scaied peopIe inlo
infoinanls. Sone pielly nininaI knovIedge can heIp us
piolecl ouiseIves and oui iighls. Sone of lhis knovIedge can
heIp us avoid leing lusled in lhe fiisl pIace. Sone of il can heIp
us vilhsland lhe cynicaI nanipuIalions of cops and pioseculois
if ve do gel lusled.

!"#$%&'(&) "#$%&$ '$%( )*$ %')+,#$ -. )*$ /$+( +.)$''-0%)+-.
)$,*.+12$ 3456 )*%) %77$%'& )-8%'( )*$ $.( -9 )*+& :--;#$)< 4*$ /$+(
)$,*.+12$ +& 2&$( := 7-#+,$ )- >%.+72#%)$ %''$&)$$& +.)- ,--7$'%)+.0
? 8*+,* >%= +.,#2($ $@$'=)*+.0 9'-> ,-.9$&&+.0 )- % ,'+>$ =-2
(+(.A) 3-' (+(6 ,->>+) )- %0'$$+.0 )- '%) -2) =-2' 9'+$.(&<
4*$ %')+,#$ 8%& 8'+))$. := % >%. 8*-B %& % =-2.0 -2)#%8B 8%&
)8+,$ &2:C$,)$( )- /$+( +.)$''-0%)+-.&< D$ )*$. 0'$8 27 )- &)2(= %.(
$>7#-= )*$ /$+( 4$,*.+12$ +. *+& 7'-9$&&+-. %& %.
/$%( %.( *$$( +)< F-2A'$ 9%' #$&& &2&,$7)+:#$ )- >%.+72#%)+-. -.,$
=-2 2.($'&)%.( *-8 )*$ >%.+72#%)+-. 8-';&<

"# $%& '()* '# +#,-. /012#3.

If you aie confionled ly a Iav-enfoicenenl officei undei any
ciicunslances al youi fionl dooi, duiing a liaffic slop,
lecause you've leen fingeied ly a snilch, oi foi any ieason
vhalsoevei !" $"% %&'(. If you gel aiiesled, !" $"%
The onIy lhings you shouId )*)+ say lo a poIice officei aie
lhings Iike lhese:
No, you nay nol seaich ny vehicIe.
No, you nay nol enlei ny hone.
I do nol consenl lo any seaich.
An I fiee lo go`
On lhe advice of ny Iavyei, I cannol laIk lo you.
I viII nol laIk vilhoul ny Iavyei piesenl.
You shouId nevei Iie lo a cop lecause lhal in ilseIf nay le a
You shouId nevei inagine you can oulsnail a cop vilh
cIevei laIk. They've heaid il aII.
You shouId iesisl lhe lenplalion lo lallIe neivousIy (veiy
difficuIl foi sone of us).
Do nol liy lo expIain youiseIf (aIso veiy difficuIl foi sone of
Do nol liy lo laIk youi vay oul of a silualion ),-)./ vheie
453 106067018 9:01;'<25= >0 -(; (7#?' 5#' '()*25= '# +#,- ()-#
=#0- @#1 0:01;A -25=)0 *253 #@ =#:015605' (=05'A )#+()A -'('0A
5('2#5()A #1 25'015('2#5().

you can slale a IegaI oi conslilulionaI piincipIe lhal
denonsliales youi innocence. This is a lechnique lhal can le
used ly peopIe vho phologiaph oi videolape cops al voik,
peopIe vho IegaIIy open-caiiy veapons, oi peopIe vho aie
IegaIIy piolesling. (Lven lhen you nay sliII gel lusled and/oi
leal up, lul you'II le ciealing a case in youi favoi lhal nighl
cone in usefuI Ialei.)
Oh yeah. And if you gel lossed inlo jaiI, !"#$% %'() %"
*"+, -.((/'%.0 ", %1. 2'3(.,04 .3%1.,. You can chilly-
chal vilh youi ceIInales lo pass lhe line and keep lhen fion
lhinking you'ie a jeik, you can piolalIy aIso Ieain quile a lil
fion lhen. ßul !" #"% %'() aloul anylhing lo do vilh youi
case. Lven if you don'l lhink you'ie adnilling anylhing
inciininaling, you'ie opening youiseIf up lo eveiy jaiIliid vho
nighl vanl lo liade infoinalion, even faIse infoinalion aloul
you, lo lhe cops.
!"#: Knov a good Iavyei, keep his oi hei caid on you, and insisl
on laIking lo lhal Iavyei if you evei gel lusled oi even accosled ly a
cop vho von'l lake no foi an ansvei.
Avoid using pulIic defendeis if you can. Nol aII of lhen aie lad,
lul nany of lhen aie oveivoiked and/oi jusl geaied lo piocessing
cases as fasl as lhey can. They oflen deaI vilh pelly ciininaIs vho
expecl nolhing noie lhan lo le "piocessed." Wilh iaie and nolIe
exceplions, lhey aie piolalIy nol youi lesl iesouice if you ieaIIy
hope lo le iepiesenled as you vish.

$%%&'()* ,-.)%* %/01
This video, nenlioned again in lhe appendices, is possilIy lhe lesl
and nosl usefuI 49 ninules you viII spend on lhis lopic vilhoul
paying an alloiney fiisl:

!"# %&'()# &**()#+ (, -.! /&0+ *+(#12

Conliaiy lo vhal you nighl
have Ieained in kindeigailen ...
conliaiy lo vhal you nighl hope ...
and conliaiy lo lhe inage lhe
officei nighl le liying lo fake ...
!"# %&'()# &**()#+ (, -&!
.&/+ *+(#-0. Lel us say lhal
again, jusl in case you didn'l gel il
lhe fiisl line: !"# %&'()#
&**()#+ (, -&! .&/+ *+(#-0.
UnIess you've leen Iiving in a
cave nosl of youi Iife, you've
piolalIy heaid of lhe "lad
cop/good cop" lechnique. When
you've leen aiiesled and aie leing
inleiiogaled, one cop viII luIIy
and inlinidale you unliI you'ie jusl
a IillIe puddIe of leiioi. Then
anolhei cop (vho nay le piesenl
al lhe sane line oi vho nay cone
in Ialei) viII pielend lo synpalhize
vilh you and vanl lo "heIp" you.
Don'l 1213 leIieve il.
If you've done youi piopei voik
and jusl said no lo inleiiogalion oi
said you'd onIy speak vilh youi
Iavyei piesenl, you nay avoid lhis
345(1 +#6#67#+8 9:#+/;"(14 <# ,5/ 57&0; 1&; ;5'=(14 ;& )&%,
5',& 4&#, *&+ #:#+/> ,(14'# =(12 &* 4&:#+16#1; 54#1;> '&)5'> ,;5;#>
15;(&15'> &+ (1;#+15;(&15'?
3;;&+1#/ ,5*#;/ ;(%8
|In lhe lad cop/good cop
Officei A viII lhiealen
you, youi faniIy, youi
fiiends, youi pels, vilh
seveie hain going lack
nigh unlo lhe 1Olh
geneialion. Officei ß viII
lhen caII hin off and
suggesl lhal "jusl a IillIe
coopeialion" on youi pail
viII heIp aveil aII lhal.
AIso le avaie lhal
sonelines lhey don'l
HAVL lo Iie lo gel vhal
lhey vanl fion you.
SeiiousIy, I've Iosl counl of
lhe nunlei of defendanls
I've deaIl vilh vho veie
skaaaaaRLWLD ly laIking
lo lhe ID and vho loId ne,
"ßul lhe officei vas so
NIIIICL." Nol eveiy officei
is going lo le Officei
McCiuff - lhe "Officei
IiiendIy" nodeI can
achieve anazing iesuIls.

!"#$%&'("# *+#, +* ,"-%!'("$%+-. /'$ 012#232# "-4 012-232#
5+' ,22$ " &+! +# "-5 *242#"( "62-$ +# %-327$%6"$+#8 " 9"%(2# +#
" !#+72&'$+# 01+ "&$7 (%:2 12;7 <+- 5+'# 7%42< +# 0"-$7 $+
<12(!< 5+' +# !#+,%727 $+ 62$ $12 757$2, $+ <6+ (%61$2# +- 5+'<
!"#$% '"( )*+,*-* ,%.

!"# %&'()*#&+( ,'-#../
When "lhe aulhoiilies" have aiiesled you and vanl lo luin
you inlo a snilch, lhey have a poveifuI phenonenon on lheii
side. Il's pailicuIaiIy usefuI if you've leen lusled aIong vilh
fiiends oi associales, oi even if lhe cops peisuade you lhal lhey
have lusled oi viII soon le lusling olheis in youi ciicIe. (And
ienenlei again, cops aie anong lhe liggesl Iiais on lhe
In gane lheoiy, lhe phenonenon is caIIed The Iiisonei's
DiIenna. Il voiks sonelhing Iike lhis:
Tvo (oi noie) peopIe aie aiiesled lul lhe poIice don'l have
enough infoinalion lo convicl eilhei of you.
They sepaiale lhe aiieslees and offei each a siniIai deaI, if
you coopeiale (leslify againsl youi fiiend, agiee lo lecone a
snilch) and youi fiiend ienains siIenl, you'II go fiee. Youi
fiiend viII le hil vilh lhe fuII IegaI penaIly.
On lhe olhei hand, if you ial each olhei oul, you nay lolh
gel a Iessei senlence.
On yel anolhei hand, you ieaIize lhal if you lolh ienain
siIenl, you !"#$ nay go fiee ~ lul you have alsoIuleIy no idea
vhal youi conpanion is doing ~ and lhe cops have given you
lolh quile a Iol of incenlive lo ial each olhei oul.
In gane lheoiy, accoiding lo Wikipedia, "... lhe IogicaI
decision Ieads each lo leliay lhe olhei, even lhough lheii
individuaI piize vouId le giealei if lhey coopeialed." In
ieaIily, if you and youi feIIov aiieslee veie aIIoved lo discuss
youi decisions, you'd piolalIy lolh opl lo cIan up, il's pail of
lhe goodness of hunan leings lhal ve'd ialhei coopeiale lhan
leliay. Hovevei, lhe poIice aie going lo keep you apail
lhiough lhis piocess as lesl lhey can, vhich nakes lhe
lenplalion lo leliay seen lhe onIy IogicaI, seIf-pioleclive
couise of aclion.

Silling heie, safeIy ieading lhis lookIel, you nighl veiy veII
say lo youiseIf, "I'n a good peison. I vouId nevei ial oul ny
fiiend." You inagine youiseIf lhiusling oul youi chin and
saying, "NO!" no nallei vhal lhe peisonaI cosl lo you.
And lheie aie ieaIIy sone peopIe vho vouId do lhal. ßul
lhey'ie in lhe ninoiily.
In ieaIily, you don'l knov hov scaied you'd le. You nighl
le silling lheie voiiying aloul vhal youi nolhei vouId lhink
if you venl lo jaiI. You nighl le leiiified of Iosing youi jol and
leing unalIe lo pay youi liIIs. You nay have a pel oi chiId al
hone you'ie despeiale lo gel lack lo. The poIice viII ienind
you lhal if you go lo jaiI you'd le Ieaving youi nevloin laly oi
disalIed spouse vilhoul pioleclion. The poIice nighl ladgei
you unliI you'II agiee lo anylhing jusl lo have sone peace.
ReIalionships lelveen fiiends and associales conpIicale
nalleis, loo. Seeking seIf-juslificalion, you nighl leII youiseIf
you'ie jusl an innocenl vho gol diagged inlo lhe vhoIe
silualion ly lhe olhei peison. You nighl lhink, "Hn, veII ßiII's
piolalIy ialling ne oul iighl nov," oi "WeII, lheie vas lhal
line vhen Maiy didn'l lieal ne faiiIy, so vhy shouId I saciifice
nyseIf foi hei`" One snilch juslified hei leliayaI of piincipIe ly
leIIing heiseIf lhal she'd le "noie effeclive" as a poIilicaI aclivisl
if she didn'l go lo jaiI, she loId heiseIf she vouId onIy snilch on
ceilain peopIe, ones she didn'l knov veII oi Iike veiy nuch.
So you nevei knov.
If you'ie aiiesled and noie lhan one peison in youi ciicIe
nighl join you, lhe onIy vay lo avoid The Iiisonei's DiIenna
is lo decide in advance lhal you !"## %&' '(#) and nake
suie aII youi associales aie veII schooIed in lheii IegaI iighl lo
keep siIenl. Have lhen iead lhis lookIel!
ßul as aIvays, lheie aie no guaianlees. We keep saying lhal.
Il's sadIy liue.

!"#$%&'( *+& ,-..-# '&//"'-/0
1&'2&&# %#"',+&% 3#$ 4",'".%
Anolhei ieason lhal il's oflen easy foi cops lo luin viclins
inlo snilches is lhal lheie's sonelines a connon nindsel
lelveen peopIe vho snilch and peopIe vho faII inlo lhe liaps
sel ly snilches.
OlviousIy, lhis isn'l liue of eveiylody vho gels lusled oi
olheivise lecones lhe laigel of a snilch. ßul lolh snilches and
lheii easiesl "naiks" aie fiequenlIy:
OveiIy naive and liusling
Unpiepaied foi lad lhings happening lo lhen
Cocky and oveiIy confidenl
Loudnoulhed oi pione lo lIal infoinalion vilhoul lhinking
Iione lo leIieve lhal "nice" cops ieaIIy do vanl lo "heIp"
lhen (yes, il's anolhei foin of leing oveiIy naive and
liusling, lul il leais iepealing lecause if you gel caughl
lecause you liusled a ial you'ie noie IikeIy lo luin aiound
and liusl lhal ial's handIeis)
Veiy good al ialionaIizing lheii ovn Iess-lhan-sleIIai
(Oi conveiseIy) So ideaIislic and slaiiy-eyed lhal ieaIily,
vhen il hils, knocks lhen foi a Ioop.

!"#$ "#&&'() *+ ,-. /'+.)' $- )(*$0"1
If you iefuse lo snilch oi olheivise coopeiale vilh
goveinnenl, lhe pioseculoi nay pin noie chaiges on you and
nay puisue lhen vilh noie deleininalion. Woise, pioseculois
nay lhiealen lo liing chaiges againsl lhose you Iove.
Oi lhal nay nol happen. Sonelines piessuie lo snilch is jusl
a ganlil and nolhing leiiilIe viII happen lo you foi iefusing.
If you do iefuse lo snilch and "lhe nan" lecones noie
lhiealening, considei going pulIic vilh youi couiageous
iefusaI. This !"#$% offei you sone pioleclion and viII veiy
IikeIy gain you fiiends and suppoileis. As soon as you'ie oul on
laiI, leII youi associales vhal happened lo you. ßIog aloul il.
Iul il oul on sociaI nedia. LxpIain lhe kind of piessuies lhal
veie pul on you. Desciile vhal you feIl and enduied. Desciile
vhy and hov you iefused lo lecone a looI of lhe poIice.
You'II le vise if you have a good Iavyei on youi side fion
lhe gel-go. Oui heIpfuI alloiney noles: "This is a good ieason
foi 'Iavyeiing up' in lhe fiisl pIace. IeopIe nake fun of
Iavyeis, lul lheie's a &'()*+ ve exisl. Of couise, keep in nind
lhal lhe pioseculoi is a Iavyei, loo, so il's nol necessaiiIy aII lo
lhe good."
!"#$ *+ ,-./ 2#3,'/ #45*)') ,-. $- )(*$0"1
Sone Iavyeis in sone ciicunslances viII advise a cIienl lo go
ahead and accepl an offei lo snilch in exchange foi noie Ienienl
liealnenl. Sonelines lheie aie piaclicaI ieasons: you'ie guiIly as heII,
lhe cops have lhe evidence lo piove il, and youi Iavyei lhinks lhal
coopeialing vouId le lhe lesl vay foi you lo avoid a Iong piison
senlence. Sonelines, on lhe olhei hand, youi Iavyei's jusl a Iazy SOß
vho doesn'l give nuch of a dann and lhinks luining snilch is lhe
easiesl iesoIulion ~ foi hin.
If you aie sliongIy opposed lo snilches and snilching, leII youi
Iavyei up fionl lhal, vhalevei eIse happens, you'ie nol going lo do
lhal. Then if youi Iavyei piessuies you lo accepl any agieenenl lhal

!"#$%#&' '"!)*+!",- ,&) . "&/ %./0&12
3"4 1&5&56&1- !)7%% 81$6.6%0 +&%8 0$91 *.'& . %$) !: 0$9 3;<=>
?3@A=BC ?< ?DE F<@=GE2 3? 3@@2


!"#$ "#&&'() *+ ,-. /'0-1'
# )(*$0" 2 #(3 4'54'$ *$6
If you aie ieasonalIy caulious in youi ieaI-voiId deaIings
and if you have piepaied youiseIf NOT TO TALK TO
COVLRNMLNT ACLNTS, lhe chances aie good lhal nolody
viII successfuIIy ain-lvisl oi sveel-laIk you inlo leconing a
snilch. Lven if you gel lusled, you'II handIe youiseIf in a vay
lhal viII nake you Iess vuIneialIe lo nanipuIalion. (NOT
TALKINC nay aIso heIp you in olhei vays, lul heie ve'ie jusl
laIking aloul avoiding leing piessuied inlo snilching.)
ßul lhe sinpIe facl is lhal !"#$%&# can lieak undei lhe iighl
kind of piessuie and goveinnenl agenls aie liained in
sophislicaled leiioi and nanipuIalion laclics. Once you faII inlo
lheii cIulches, you nay sinpIy le in ovei youi head. So vhal if,
undei piessuie, you agiee lo lecone a snilch ~ and iegiel il
Ialei` Whal if you agiee lo do il, lhen lefoie you acluaIIy snilch
on anylody, you ieaIize you don'l vanl lo, can'l, and von'l
leliay olhei peopIe`
If you lecone a snilch and &%"'( iegiel il enough lo slop,
lhen lo heII vilh you.
ßul having agieed lo snilch, lhen changed youi nind, you've
gol a lough diIenna and you couId use sone assislance gelling
oul of il. You aie going lo have lo le caiefuI, liave, and noie
lhan a IillIe lil Iucky lo handIe lhe silualion veII.
7*4)$8 ,-. (''3 # 9::; <#=,'4> You shouId have had one
lefoie you agieed lo snilch, lul definileIy gel one lo advise you
?-()*3'4 5-*(5 &./<*0 =*$" ,-.4 )*$.#$*-(> TeII youi
associales vhal happened lo you. ßIog aloul il. Iul youi sloiy
oul on sociaI nedia. LxpIain lhe kind of piessuies lhal veie pul
on you. Desciile vhal you feIl and enduied vhiIe leing
pushed inlo agieeing lo snilch. Then slale in lhe sliongesl leins

!"# #%& '()*+,(- #%& !%&*- .%/ ).- 0%&*- .%/ -% +/1
!" $%"$&%"' () *)+" +)," -%."/'+0 2%& 3)# !"#$ 4'+(.-5 ).-
5&66%'/('5 7# %6(.*# '(8()*+.9 "%! /"( 0%65 /'()/(- #%& ).-
"%! #%& &*/+3)/(*# '(5+5/(-1 :&/ 5%3( 6(%6*( !+** -+5/'&5/ #%&;
/")/<5 =&5/ '()*+/#1

!"#$ "#&&'() $* +*, -. +*, )(-$/"
#(0 +*,1 .1-'(0) .-(0 *,$2
Chances aie, if you'ie a non-vioIenl poIilicaI aclivisl oi snaII-
line deaIei of "coIIege lype" diugs vho gol lusled and luined,
youi fiiends viII hale you lul von'l leal you up oi kiII you if
lhey Ieain you snilched on lhen.
Hovevei, youi iepulalion viII le iuined and good Iuck
eaining il lack.
If you snilch and gel caughl, al lhe veiy Ieasl le ieady lo
hunlIy accepl vhalevei lhose you leliayed dish oul lo you,
you onIy nake lhings voise ly naking excuses.
If youi snilching has gollen olheis inlo IegaI lioulIe, you
shouId accepl lhal, al lhe veiy Ieasl, you ove lhen ieslilulion.
This nay le difficuIl lo do, especiaIIy since you nay le facing
seiious ciininaI chaiges and huge expenses youiseIf. ßul il's
youi iesponsiliIily and you'II have lo do il if you evei expecl lo
le laken seiiousIy again.
If you aie pail of a vioIenl gioup oi you deaI haid diugs,
don'l le suipiised if you gel kiIIed. Oi as oui heIpfuI alloiney
says (vilh a nod lo Caplain MaI ReynoIds of !"#$%&'), "Iiepaie
lo le suipiised veiy liiefIy. Oi peihaps nol so liiefIy, loiluie
nay le invoIved fiisl."

!"# %#&' () *(+% ,-)# -) *(+ .( &/-'0"

If you agiee lo snilch on youi fiiends oi associales, knov in
advance lhal you'ie going lo have a lig piice lo pay.
Al lesl, snilches have lo spend lhe iesl of lheii Iives Iooking
ovei lheii shouIdeis.
Youi "fiiends" in lhe poIice depailnenl oi any fedeiaI
agency lhal you snilch foi viII luin oul nol lo le youi ieaI
fiiends. They viII loss you aside Iike a piece of naggoly neal
vhen you no Iongei seive lheii puiposes. Those pionises lhey
nade lo piolecl youi anonynily` !"#$% lhey'II keep lhen, lul
lhey'ie jusl as IikeIy lo Ieak youi nane oi "accidenlaIIy" pul
youi nane inlo a pulIic docunenl. They nay even foice you
inlo Iife-lhiealening silualions and nol give one lil of a dann
vhal happens lo you. Aflei aII, you'ie jusl a snilch. Snilches aie
a dine a dozen ~ and even lhe cops knov lhey'ie scun.
Wanl lo see hov nuch "Iove" cops give lheii snilches` Read
lhis &%' )*+,%+ ailicIe aloul young, naive ~ and nov DLAD
~ snilches. (The Thiovavays
Youi snilching viII piolalIy nol le inpoilanl enough lo
eain you a spol in lhe Wilness Iioleclion Iiogian, nol even if
you pul youi Iife in dangei foi youi cop-handIeis' sake.
You viII le on youi ovn and in peiiI.
You viII have lo Iive vilh youiseIf and if you have any seIf-
avaieness al aII, eveiy line you Iook in a niiioi, a peison you
don'l vanl lo le viII slaie lack al you.
If you snilch on fiiends oi olheivise-hainIess peopIe, you
shouId and (if you have any decency) you viII feeI an
olIigalion lo nake lhings iighl ly paying ieslilulion oi


!"#$"%&'%'& )* &+) ),+# *-) *. $/%0*'1 2,%0 *34%&")%*'5 6,%!,
7*- #%&,) '+8+/ 3+ "34+ )* .-4.%445 !*-49 ,"-') 7*- ),+ /+0) *.
7*-/ 4%.+1
:' ),+ *),+/ ,"'95 ),%'&0 !*-49 3+ /+0*48+9 8+/7 +"0%471
;*-/ 3+)/"7+9 "00*!%")+0 #"7 <%44 7*- "'9 7*- 6*'=) ,"8+ )*
6*//7 "3*-) "'7 *. ),%01

!""#$%&' )

*+, -,./ &01,223451.30 *,6+0.78, 9*:;
<= >?8@1 A5.1.04>
Okay, so you find youiseIf undei aiiesl lecause of a snilch.
HopefuIIy youve Iislened lo lhe advice eaiIiei in lhis lookIel.
Youve cIeaned up youi acl and youi suiioundings once you
knev lheie vas a snilch in youi nidsl, and lhe onIy lhing you
veie aiiesled foi is infoinalion given ly lhe snilch.
Iiisl lhing lo undeisland: Once you aie aiiesled, ALL of lhe
iighls you had as a US cilizen aie gone excepl foi lvo: lhe iighl
lo ienain siIenl and lhe iighl lo have an alloiney piesenl
duiing queslioning. USL THLM!!!
No one in Iav enfoicenenl (LL) is youi fiiend, and NO ONL
vanls lo heIp you. They onIy vanl you lo confess and do
lheii viII.
The poIice can and viII Iie lo you. DO NOT LIL TO THLM!!!
Moie on lhal Ialei. They viII leII you lhey have
evidence/vilnesses/lapes lhal donl exisl. TheyII poke, piod,
and push eveiy lullon lhey can lo liy lo gel you lo iespond.
TheyII leII you youi fiiends aie snilching on you in lhe olhei
ioon. TheyII leII you lhe onIy vay lo save youiseIf is lo leII
youi side of lhe sloiy. TheyII lhiealen lo caII youi loss.
TheyII leII you youi kids aie going lo le laken avay and
iaised ly lhe slale. TheyII leII you hov il viII iuin youi
paienls' iepulalion. TheyII even leII you youi dog is ugIy.
TheyII nake viId, laseIess accusalions ~ anylhing lo gel a
iesponse. ßecause once lhey gel you lo !"#$" laIking, lheyie
liained in hov lo &''( you laIking.

If you donl liusl youiseIf lo exeicise youi iighl lo ienain
siIenl, exeicise lhe second and ask foi a Iavyei. Renenlei, you
can decide lo ienain siIenl oi ask foi a Iavyei al any line
duiing youi queslioning oi inleiiogalion.
You knov lhe kinds of lhings youve leen doing. If you aie
a high-vaIue laigel, if you knov oi associale vilh high vaIue
laigels, oi if youi aclivilies iise lo lhe IeveI of inleiesl lhal
poIice vanl lo queslion you, LL agencies enpIoy an
inleiiogalion nelhod knovn as lhe Reid Technique. Il is a
nelhod of inleiviev and inleiiogalion (iead: psychoIogicaI
nanipuIalion) specificaIIy designed lo pioduce confessions.
Thal is one lig ieason you shouId heed lhe eaiIiei advice
inleivieved/inleiiogaled nayle 1OO oi noie peopIe and I've
found, aInosl as a iuIe, lhal peopIe have lhe haidesl line
keeping quiel. They vanl lo defend lhenseIves, lo leII lheii
sloiy. I've yel lo neel lhe peison vho can sil quiel foi 1O
ninules vhiIe soneone eIse laIks aloul lhen, even Iess vhen
Iies and unliue accusalions slail lo fiII lhe aii. Lven foi
soneone vho has ieguIai, unfavoialIe conlacl vilh LL, even
peopIe Iike ne vho have leen Reided, lhe haidesl lhing lo do
is lo shul up. When soneone nakes a slalenenl oi aIIegalion,
ils hunan naluie lo vanl lo iefule il.
So, if you find youiseIf leing inleiiogaled and you feeI you
!"#$ defend youiseIf, al Ieasl liy lo nininize lhe danage.
Iiisl: As I've said lefoie, DO NOT LIL TO LL! You viII gel
caughl. Lies change vilh eveiy leIIing, lul lhe liulh ienains a
conslanl. LL aie liained in delecling lhe snaIIesl, sullIesl
change in youi sloiy and iipping il vide open. Danle hinseIf
did nol inagine a loiluie in heII Iike vhal you viII expeiience
fion LL if you gel caughl Iying lo lhen. IIus, you aie nov
suljecl lo aiiesl foi nev chaiges, usuaIIy, Lying lo LL oi
Olsliuclion, indiclalIe ciines, and youve done so on lape.
This is hov sone of LLs lesl snilches aie nade!

Second: If you can liulhfuIIy do so, DLNY LVLRYTHINC.
Do il sinpIy and calegoiicaIIy. Don'l ianlIe and nake excuses.
}usl say, "I didn'l do il," "I'n innocenl," "Thal's faIse." As you'II
see leIov, lhey'II do eveiylhing vilhin lheii povei lo liy lo
slop you fion doing lhis. If you cannol honeslIy decIaie youi
innocence, lhen jusl say, "I vanl a Iavyei."
Thiid: If you feeI you have lo ansvei an inciininaling
queslion, quaIify youi ansvei. I donl lhink I vas al," "I
donl iecaII seeing," and "I nay have nel aie aII
appiopiiale quaIifieis lo pievenl leIIing an ouliighl Iie.
LL has sludied lhe neaning of eveiy nove, eveiy
novenenl, eveiy faciaI expiession, eveiy queslion, eveiy
ansvei. They idenlify and expIoil veaknesses you didnl knov
you had. They valch and heai eveiylhing you do and say foi
Repeal lhe queslion lefoie ansveiing` Thal ansvei is a Iie.
LillIe oi no diiecl eye conlacl` Youie evasive.
Too nuch diiecl eye conlacl` Youie cocky and/oi
Change fion is" lo vas" oi a lo lhe` Youie changing
youi sloiy lo hide sonelhing.
Sil up sliaighl, sIouch, foId youi ains in youi Iap, foId lhen
acioss youi chesl` Youie scaied, youie cocky, youie
defensive. Lveiy novenenl, posluie and expiession has a
neaning lo LL.
The suiesl vay lo knov lhe Reid Technique is aloul lo le
used is lhe ioon lhey pul you in aflei youie aiiesled. YouII
knov il vhen lhey open lhe dooi. And once lhey open lhal
LAWYLR! Once lhe inleiiogalion legins, LL vonl slop unliI
you ask foi a Iavyei oi lheyve gollen vhal lhey vanl.
Renenlei, you can ask foi a Iavyei al any line duiing lhe

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The !"#$#%& ()*%+#,-%& ."%&/0#0 is supposed lo veed oul
innocenl suspecls, lul in ieaIily lhis is vheie LL deleinines
youi suscepliliIily lo fuilhei queslioning and picks lhe slialegy
lhey viII use againsl you. IßA slails lhe nonenl of youi fiisl
conlacl vilh LL. The Iav-enfoicenenl officei (LLO) asks
sinpIe, conveisalionaI, non-accusaloiy queslions and Iislens lo
lhe vay you fiane youi ansveis, valches youi faciaI
expiessions, lhe vay you sland. LLO has leen liained in vhal
eveiy aclion and novenenl nean. Wilhin lhe fiisl 3O seconds,
LLO knovs vhelhei you viII le susceplilIe lo queslioning and
if heII le alIe lo gel you lo laIk. If LLO asks if you knov lhe
line, ienenlei lhal lhals a yes oi no queslion. If you ansvei,
Yes, ils 3:3O, youve shovn a viIIingness lo pIease and lo
give noie infoinalion lhan is asked. Youie a peifecl
candidale foi successfuI inleiiogalion!
The officiaI Reid !"$)--,1%$#," has nine sleps, leginning
vilh an accusalion of guiIl and ending vilh a confession. To
LL, lheie aie no olhei acceplalIe oulcones. If you veie
aiiesled as a iesuIl of a snilch, and look lhe advice of leing
aiiesled cIean, LL has nolhing noie lhan lhe accusalions lhe
snilch has nade. Renenlei, donl Iie, lul if you can'l iesisl
laIking, al Ieasl DLNY LVLRYTHINC! A good Iavyei viII iip a
snilch apail and deveIop ieasonalIe doull in lhe eyes of a
judge oi juiy. Snilching and vilness ciediliIily donl exaclIy go
LL viII invaiialIy offei you a chance lo leII youi side. This
is cop laIk foi nake a fuII confession. Cops liag al pailies
aloul hov fasl lhey have gollen suspecls lo do il.
If you donl slail vaiIing and confess lo eveiylhing, lhe nexl
lhing lheyII liy is shifling lIane. TheyII liy lo lIane soneone
eIse and suggesl lhal nayle you veienl invoIved lul jusl gol
caughl up in lhings. TheyII give you scenaiios in vhich lo
nininize youi pailicipalion and guiIl. TheyII liy lo nake il

sonehov sociaIIy acceplalIe, suggesling il vas a ciine of
passion ialhei lhan a pienedilaled evenl. LL caIIs il
deveIoping a lhene, vhal lheyie ieaIIy doing is piesenling
oplions foi you lo pick fion lo confess lo. Reacl lo !"# %"& of
lheii scenaiios oi agiee lo anylhing lhey suggesl heie, and
youie nol gelling avay unliI you sign a confession and give
lhen lhe nanes and infoinalion lhey vanl.
AII lhioughoul, LL viII do eveiylhing lhey can lo keep you
fion denying youi guiIl. They viII disiupl you nid-void,
leII you lo shul up, leII you il's nol youi luin lo laIk, anylhing
jusl lo keep you fion denying youi guiIl. They viII liy lo laIk
ovei any cIain of innocence so lhal deniaIs aie nevei cIeai on
lhe iecoidings.
Why` ßecause opposing vhal LLO is saying luiIds seIf-
confidence, sonelhing lheyie voiking haid lo sliip fion you.
And secondIy (and nayle noie inpoilanlIy), if you
conlinue lo deny, dispule, deny foi lhe fiisl 1, 2, 3, oi 4 houis of
lhe inleiiogalion, lhen confess lo sonelhing in houi 5, a good
Iavyei viII denonsliale coeicive inleiiogalion laclics veie
used and hopefuIIy have youi confession lhiovn oul.
So quaIify if you have lo Iie. Renenlei lhose "iffy"
slalenenls ("I don'l iecaII ..."), lul deny leing lheie, deny any
knovIedge of evenls, deny knoving peopIe, deny eveiylhing
you honeslIy can.
If you havenl asked foi a Iavyei and havenl leen denying,
lhe inleiiogalion noves on lo lhe nexl sleps. This is vheie a
nev LLO nighl cone in. He undeislands youi silualion, hes
synpalhelic, hes youi luddy, he doesnl agiee vilh lhe olhei
LLO's inleiiogalion laclics, eilhei. HeII leII you hes leen
valching and lhal lo hin, you donl seen lo le lhe kind of
peison vho couId do sonelhing Iike vhal youie accused of.
He'II leII you he vanls lo heIp you. Youve seen good cop/lad
cop on TV, veII, lhis is il in ieaI Iife.

Cood cop viII appeai lo le sinceieIy caiing aloul youi
piedicanenl. HeII laIk quielIy. HeII Iay oul a lunch of
diffeienl scenaiios lhal nininize youi guiIl, aII lhe vhiIe
Iooking foi lhe cIue you give hin lhal hes hil on a vinning
lhene lo foIIov. And lhal cIue is so sullIe you donl even
knov youve given il. ßul he does.
Cood cop viII give you acceplalIe juslificalions. HeII give
you lvo oplions, you pIanned vhal happened oi il vas jusl a
one-line lhing. Wilh eilhei oplion, youie sliII naking a
confession. Cood cop aIvays Ieaves oul oplion #3, you can
DLNY lhal youie guiIly al aII!
Cood cop vanls lo see youi leais, he knovs he has you
vhen you ciy.
Once you have leen lioken dovn and aie ieady lo adnil lo
anylhing (seaich on "CenliaI Iaik }oggei case" foi faIse
confessions) LLO viII allenpl lo gel you lo leII youi sloiy lo his
associales oi viile dovn and sign youi sloiy. AII of youi
piolesl and deniaI has leen foi nolhing once you confess.
So ienenlei lhese lhiee key poinls: 1) The poIice aie nol
youi fiiends and do nol vanl lo heIp you, 2) If you donl liusl
youiseIf lo ienain siIenl, denand a Iavyei (you can do so al
any line), and 3) if you feeI you jusl have lo laIk ~ donl Iie,
quaIify and especiaIIy if youie innocenl, deny, deny, deny.

!""#$%&' )

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If you wish to have a private conversation, leave your home and
your office and go outside and take a walk or go somewhere public
and notice who is near you. Dont say anything you dont want to
hear repeated when there is any possibility of being recorded.
Never leave a copy of a document or list behind (unless you want it
found) and take a minute to duplicate an irreplaceable document and
keep the duplicate in a safe place. Back up and store important
computer disks off site. Sensitive data and membership list should be
kept under lock and key.
Keep your mailing lists, donor lists and personal phone books away
from light-fingered people. Always maintain a duplicate off site in a
safe place.
Know your printer if you are about to publish, your mailing house
and anyone you are trusting to work on any part of a project that is
Dont hire a stranger as a messenger.
Checks for electronic surveillance are only effective for the time
they are being done, and are only effective as they are being done if
you are sure of the person(s) doing the sweep.
Dont use code on the phone. If you are being tapped and the
transcript is used against you in court, the coded conversation can be
alleged to be anything. Dont say anything on the phone you dont
want to hear in open court.

Dont gossip on the phone. Smut is valuable to anyone listening; it
makes everyone vulnerable.
If you are being followed, get the license number and description
of the car and people in the car. Photograph the person(s) following
you or have a friend do so.
If you are followed or feel vulnerable, call a friend; dont tough it
out alone. They are trying to frighten you.
Start a Facts, Acts and Circumstantial file. After each incident
write details down: facts are the time, date, occasion, incident,
characteristics of the person(s). Acts are what they did; Circumstantial
is the impressions and anything odd about the situation. Use the FAC
file and keep notes from unsettling situations and see if a pattern
Do freedom of information requests for your file under the FOIA
and pursue the agencies until they give you all the documents filed
under your name.
Brief your group on known or suspected surveillance.
Report thefts of materials from your office or home to the police as
criminal acts.
Assess your undertaking from a security point of view; understand
your vulnerabilities; assess your allies and your adversaries as
objectively as you can; dont underestimate the opposition and dont
take chances.
Recognize your organizational and personal strengths and
Discuss incidents with cohorts, family and your group.
Call the press if you have hard information about surveillance or
harassment. Discussion makes the dirty work of the snitches overt.
Addendum on note-taking
(Facts, Acts, and Circumstantial)
Although some might consider the following to be overkill, MJR
also has experience facing opponents in court and offers this brief
primer on taking the kind of notes that can guide you through a very
tough grilling by police or prosecutors. He writes:

When preparing a "Facts, Acts, and, Circumstantial" list you are
going to have to take notes about what is going on. The notes should
be written in a clear and concise way. Use professional language and
be prepared to substantiate what you record. One never knows, you
could be wrong and get sued or if you do get arrested this could be the
basis for a defense from entrapment.
The notebook that you use should be lined with a margin on the
left. Each page should be numbered.
What to put in the notebook to make it legal
First you should start with the date. Then on the next line write the
weather conditions. The reason for the record of what the weather
was like is that the usual first question from a prosecutor or the other
sides lawyer usually is about the weather. This is an attempt to
discredit your memory.
When you make your first entry, write the time an event happened
in the left margin. Next write down what happened or what you found
and write down the location (address or approximate location). Then
write down the actions taken by those involved and the names and
addresses of any witnesses. If you make a mistake draw one line
through the word and write your initials next to it. Oh and dont leave
any lines blank. If more things happen during the day they all go
under the same date. If the date changes you should start a new date
with the weather. When you finish the last entry of the day sign your
name. This makes it a legal document. Write the notes as soon as
possible after an incident. Last, but never least... If you are going to
use this book in court under no circumstances should you rip out any
of the pages, this will only give the other side ammo to use against
you. The questions you will face will revolve around you hiding
Here is an example of what the
notebook should look like


!""#$%&' )

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562 76 8+4- 78- !"#$% 1023-4
1. Lveiy peison engaging in oi pIanning lo engage in iIIegaI oi
conlioveisiaI aclivilies 2$$', lo have an alloiney aIieady on Iine.
Aflei you've leen lusled and aie slanding aiound al lhe poIice
slalion is NOT a good line lo le Ieafing lhiough lhe yeIIov pages. Al
Ieasl nol if you'ie seiious aloul avoiding a Iong slay in cuslody.
2. You shouId aIso expecl lo diop sone noney up fionl on a
consuIlalion vilh a polenliaI defense alloiney. Again, caIIing fion a
poIice slalion is NOT a good nonenl lo find oul lhal lhe alloiney
vhose nunlei you've leen caiiying in youi pockel hales youi cause,
doesn'l lake cases Iike youis, oi has a confIicl of inleiesl. (In lheoiy,
even an alloiney vho hales you and eveiylhing you do shouId le
alIe lo give you a good defense, lul lhal vaiies and is definileIy nol
voilh lhe iisk. Make suie you and lhe alloiney aie confoilalIe vilh
and have sone ieasonalIe lasis foi liusling each olhei, lecause if
you gel in lioulIe you aie going lo have lo le seiiousIy ieady lo open
up lo youi alloiney if you vanl a chance of vinning.)
3. Ioinei DAs and foinei pulIic defendeis aie a good fiisl choice.
ßul leai in nind lhal DAs oflen aie of lhe "Iock-en-aII-up" fiane of
nind, vhiIe pulIic defendeis aie fiequenlIy used lo jusl pIeading
lheii cIienls oul lo gel lhe lesl deaI possilIe, vilhoul concein foi
acluaI guiIl oi innocence. This is anolhei ieason you vanl lo have
consuIled vilh lhe alloiney ßLIORL you need one. And yes, lhis
nay veII nean you go lhiough a coupIe inleivievs and pay a coupIe
of fees lefoie you find lhe "iighl one."
4. ßy inleiviev I nean "find oul hov nuch lhe Iavyei chaiges foi

a haIf-houi of line on a consuIl lhen go in expecling lo pay lhal."
When you fiisl inleiviev an alloiney, you don'l have lo Iay oul in
delaiI vhal you'ie up lo ~ peihaps jusl say lhal you'ie a fiee-speech
advocale oi a diug IegaIizalion advocale (oi vhalevei lhe geneiaI
liulh is) and lhal you have leen advised lo have a good ciininaI
defense alloiney on lap lecause lhese days even innocenl peopIe aie
al peiiI fion snilches and sIoppy juslice. Ask lhe alloiney's lhoughls
on youi geneiaI aclivilies. His oi hei Ienglh of line voiking in
ciininaI defense (geneiaIIy Iongei is lellei, lul nol aIvays). His oi
hei expeiience vilh peopIe vho've leen accused ly snilches. His oi
hei viIIingness lo shov up al 2:OO a.n. if lhal's vhen you gel lusled
(nol !"# %" a deaI kiIIei, lul le piepaied lo spend lhe nighl in jaiI
5. If you aIieady have an alloiney you Iike and liusl, lul vho
doesn'l do ciininaI Iav, you can ask vho he oi she vouId
ieconnend. Again, you'd sliII vanl lo do an advance
consuIl/inleiviev vilh youi pioposed alloiney. Spending a fev
doIIais on a consuIlalion can save you a LOT of noney and
headaches dovn lhe ioad.
6. Nevei foigel youi iighl lo ienain siIenl, excepl foi, "I'd Iike ny
alloiney, pIease." Repeal as necessaiy.

!""#$%&' )

*+,-. ,-/012/ .-342.5-3

%-6/789 :7+, 387+5,-3
!"#$%& ~ Tiansciipl of a IßS/IionlIine docunenlaiy on lhe
vhoIe diily lusiness of snilching.
'($ $&* +(,,(- .#/0 1(2 !"#$%&*0 ~ Hov iadicaI gioups of lhe
pasl have deaIl vilh snilches and hov conlenpoiaiy gioups
can Ieain fion lhe pasl.
;4: +4 ;68</- +,- =87+5, 6+ >.76/ ~This guide, ly Iavyei
Jeffrey W. Jensen, is written for defense attorneys. If you get in
trouble because of a snitch, it might help your defense.
How cops deal with snitches
"The Throwaways"— A New Yorker article on young, naive
snitches who were murdered because the cops they were pressured
into working for didn't give a rat's butt about them.
*8/78- 6<?75- 48 <-6/789 :7+, 04/75-
@/-A B42. C79,+3 ~This oiganizalion has onIine videos, DVDs,
and lons of advice on hov lo handIe youiseIf duiing poIice
encounleis. Topics incIude "Don'l gel liicked," "When do I have
lo shov ID`," "Hov lo iefuse seaiches," "1O RuIes foi deaIing
vilh lhe poIice," and nuch noie.

!"#$% '()* %" %+, -")./, ~ A Iav-schooI piofessoi (foinei
defense alloiney) and a cop expIain vhy you shouId nevei,
evei laIk lo poIice even (and peihaps especiaIIy) if you'ie
innocenl, even if you'ie leIIing lhe 1OO° liulh. This expIains, in
giaphic delaiI, vilh exanpIes, aloul hov poIice viII lvisl youi
voids and/oi Iie aloul you if you say !"#$%&"' !$ !)) lo lhen.
0# "#).#, 12.3, %" .#%,44"1(%."# %,/+#.52,6~ This sile
conlains an exliacl fion TM 3O-21O Depl. Ainy TechnicaI
ManuaI "Inleiiogalion Iioceduies." AIlhough designed lo $*!+%
inleiiogalion, il can aIso heIp viclins of inleiiogalion iecognize
and lhvail lypicaI inlinidalion and queslioning lechniques.
You & the Police! by Boston T. Party
Snitch Culture: How Citizens are Turned into the Eyes and Ears of the
State by Jim Redden
Snitch: Informants, Cooperators, and the Corruption of Justice by
Ethan Brown


Two Essays On
Market Anarchy

Robert P. Murphy

With an Introduction by
Jeremy Sapienza

Illustrations by
Robert Vroman

RJ Communications LLC
New York

All men with honor are kings. But not all kings have
honor.—Liam Neeson, Rob Roy

Copyright © 2002 Robert P. Murphy

All rights reserved.

Published by
RJ Communications LLC
51 East 42
Street, Suite 1202
New York, NY 10017


My intellectual debt in anarchist theory belongs, hands down,
to the late great Murray Rothbard (1916-1995). More broadly,
my view of “how the world works” is due primarily to that
fount of wisdom, Ludwig von Mises’ treatise Human Action.

The original idea (and Introduction) for this book came from
Jeremy Sapienza. Robert Vroman provided the wonderful (if
somewhat disturbing) artwork that so mercifully interrupts the
monotony of the text. Matt Pramschufer laid out the cover

Zach Crossen and Pete Johnson reviewed an early draft of this
book. I am grateful for the kind remarks of Lew Rockwell and
Gene Callahan—two modern-day heroes in the war of ideas—
featured on the back cover. I would like to thank the
participants on anti-state’s Forum for their constant (if
sometimes crude) criticism and questioning of my decidedly
unorthodox views. Rachael Anne Fajardo played an
indispensable role in providing constant encouragement and

And finally I must thank Ron Pramschufer, and the rest of the
staff at RJ Communications, for making it look like I’ve
published before.

April, 2002


So, Chaos Theory, huh? Yeah, it’s not actually about chaos
but it is a really cool title. And the book itself—may
be the most important to date on anarchist theory and its
possible application to the “real world.”

When I first read the draft of Bob’s book, I was blown away by
the sheer simplicity of his arguments, something I think is
lacking in much of the existing important anarchist literature.
His simple explanations, a smart mixture of common sense and
slimmed-down economic theory, provide a perfect starting
point for the curious non-anarchist, or a fantastic finishing
point for the committed anti-statist who has a few logistical
doubts about the stateless society.

I’ve known Bob for a while now, since “way back” when we
were regular columnists on LewRockwell.com. In May 2001,
he helped me set up anti-state.com, which has grown into the
largest market anarchist site on the Internet (seriously!). He
continues, with this book, his generous contribution to the next
generation of anarchist evolution, which seems to have
stagnated until recent months. The continued expansion of the
philosophy of non-aggression and cooperation hinges on the
ability of its supporters to bring high economic and moral
theory down to the level of the common man.

Bob addresses the most common arguments against the
abolition of the State—and completely obliterates them. “Who
will protect the borders if there’s no State?” Nobody, moron.
There are no borders, except for those of private property. And
that’s defended without the State the same way we do it now
with the State.

I know. “What about a psycho neighboring State that has it in
for the stateless country that vastly outperforms it economically
(and in every other area)?” Well, just because there is no State,
it does not follow that there is no defense. It’s a common tactic

of statists to accuse us of wanting to abolish, say, assistance for
poor people, since they think that would be impossible without
the State. But this isn’t true at all: We don’t want the State to
steal our money and give it to those who don’t deserve it. We
want the right to our property, including all our money, and the
right to help out whomever we deem deserves it. This is
consistent with the only rule of libertarianism: the Non-
Aggression Principle.

In the first section, Bob explains how a society without
government would still have laws and “regulations.” There
would be no (legal) violations of the rights of property owners.
In market anarchy, justice would be based on restitution, not
retribution, meaning that criminals would have to pay back
their victims rather than be punished by the sadistic State.

In the second section, Bob brilliantly tackles the issue of
private defense. I refuse to ruin it for you—hurry up and read
this intro then get to the first chapter.

To sum up my impression of the book, basically: intelligent;
succinct; and most important of all, written in the language of
the common person, without the haughty academic snobbery so
present in the currently available body of work, which tends to
be a major problem for those of us trying to popularize the

This is sure to become a fixture in the personal libraries of
countless libertarians and anarchists, and a classic in the realm
of anarchist and Austrian economic theory.

Jeremy Sapienza, Editor

Chaos theory is the “qualitative study of unstable aperiodic behavior in
deterministic nonlinear dynamical systems.” See


The NAP states that “no one has the right, under any circumstances, to
initiate force against another human being, nor to delegate its initiation.”
So simple, you’d think it would catch on more widely. Oh, and having the
State do your dirty work is delegating, so the State, by its very existence,
violates the NAP.

Private Law

Without question, the legal system is the one facet of society
that supposedly requires State provision. Even such champions
of laissez- faire as Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Mises
believed a government must exist to protect private property
and define the “rules of the game.”

However, their arguments focused on the necessity of law
itself. They simply assumed that the market is incapable of
defining and protecting property rights. They were wrong.

In this essay, I argue that the elimination of the State will not
lead to lawless chaos. Voluntary institutions will emerge to
effectively and peacefully
resolve the disputes arising in
everyday life. Not only will market law be more efficient, it
will also be more equitable, than the government alternative.

Just as right-wing hawks embrace the Orwellian notion that
War is Peace, left-wing egalitarians believe that Slavery is
The hawks wage endless war to end war, while the
social democrats engage in massive theft—or “taxation” as
they call it—to eliminate crime.

It is high time to abandon such monstrous paradoxes. It took
no king to produce language, money, or science, and it takes no
government to produce a just legal system.


First, we must abandon the idea of a mythical “law of the
land.” There doesn’t need to be a single set of laws binding
everyone. In any event, such a system never existed. The laws
in each of the fifty states are different, and the difference in
legal systems between countries is even more pronounced. Yet
we go about our daily lives, and even visit and do business
with foreign nations, without too much trouble.

All actions in a purely free society
would be subject to
contract. For example, it is currently a crime to steal, because
the legislature says so. A prospective employer knows that if I
steal from his firm, he can notify the government and it will
punish me.

But in a stateless society there wouldn’t be a legislated body of
laws, nor would there be government courts or police.
Nonetheless, employers would still like some protection from
theft by their employees. So before hiring an applicant, the
employer would make him sign a document
that had clauses to
the effect of, “I promise not to steal from the Acme Firm. If I
get caught stealing, as established by Arbitration Agency X,
then I agree to pay whatever restitution that Agency X deems

We immediately see two things in this contract. First, it is
completely voluntary; any “laws” binding the employee have
been acknowledged by him, beforehand. Second, the existence
of Arbitration Agency X ensures fairness and objectivity in any

To see this, suppose that it didn’t. Suppose that a big firm
bribed the arbitrators at Agency X, so that lazy workers (who
were going to be fired anyway) were (falsely) charged by the
employers with embezzlement, while Agency X always ruled
“guilty.” With this scheme, the big firm could bilk thousands
of dollars from its bad employees before terminating them.
And since the hapless employees had agreed beforehand to
abide by the arbitration outcome, they could do nothing about

But upon consideration, it’s easy to see that such behavior
would be foolish. Just because an arbitration agency ruled a
certain way, wouldn’t make everyone agree with it, just as
people complain about outrageous court rulings by government
judges. The press would pick up on the unfair rulings, and
people would lose faith in the objectivity of Agency X’s
decisions. Potential employees would think twice before

working for the big firm, as long as it required (in its work
contracts) that people submitted to the suspect Agency X.

Other firms would patronize different, more reputable
arbitration agencies, and workers would flock to them. Soon
enough, the corrupt big firm and Arbitration Agency X would
suffer huge financial penalties for their behavior.

Under market anarchy, all aspects of social intercourse would
be “regulated” by voluntary contracts. Specialized firms would
probably provide standardized forms so that new contracts
wouldn’t have to be drawn up every time people did business.
For example, if a customer bought something on installment,
the store would probably have him sign a form that said
something to the effect, “I agree to the provisions of the 2002
edition Standard Deferred Payment Procedures as published by
the Ace legal firm.”


Under this system, legal experts would draft the “laws of the
land,” not corrupt and inept politicians. And these experts
would be chosen in open competition with all rivals. Right
now one can buy “definitive” style manuals for writing term
papers, or dictionaries of the English language. The
government doesn’t need to establish the “experts” in these
fields. It would be the same way with private legal contracts.
Everybody knows the “rules” of grammar just like everyone
would know what’s “legal” and what isn’t.


Of course, one of the most basic stipulations in any contractual
relationship—whether entering a mall or living in a
neighborhood co-op—would be strong prohibitions on murder.
In other words all contracts of this type would have a clause
saying, “If I am found guilty of murder I agree to pay $y
million to the estate of the deceased.” Naturally, no one would
sign such a contract unless he were sure that the trial

procedures used to determine his guilt or innocence had a
strong presumption of innocence; nobody would want to be
found guilty of a murder he didn’t commit. But on the other
hand, the procedures would have to be designed so that there
were still a good chance that guilty people would actually be
convicted, since people don’t want to shop in malls where
murder goes unpunished.

And, because all contracts of this sort (except possibly in very
eccentric areas frequented by people who liked to live
dangerously) would contain such clauses, one could say that
“murder is illegal” in the whole anarchist society, even though
the evidentiary rules and penalties might differ from area to
area. But this is no different from our current system,
and no
one doubts that “murder is illegal” in the current United States.

Profitability the Standard

The beauty of this system is that the competing desires of
everyone are taken into account. The market solves this
problem everyday, in reference to other goods and services.
For example, it would be very convenient for customers if a
deli were open twenty- four hours a day. But on the other hand,
such long shifts would be very tedious for its workers. So the
market system of profit and loss determines the “correct” hours
of operation.

In the same way, we saw above how evidentiary rules would be
determined under a system of private law. Because people
would be submitting themselves contractually to the rulings of
a certain arbitration agency, the agency would need a
reputation for objectivity and fairness to defendants. But on
the other hand, the owners of stores, firms, rental cars, etc.
would want some means of restitution in the event of theft, and
so the arbitration agencies couldn’t be too lenient. As with the
hours of a store’s operation, so too would the legal procedures
be decided by the profit and loss test. Maybe there would be
juries, maybe there wouldn’t. We can’t predict this
beforehand, just as we can’t say a priori how many tricycles

“should” be made this year; we let the market take care of it,


The contractual system described above seems to work well,
except for one nagging problem: How can people afford to pay
these outrageous fines? Granted, someone might sign a piece
of paper, pledging restitution to his employer if he is caught
stealing. But suppose he steals anyway, and is found guilty by
the arbitration agency, but has no money. Then what?

Well, how does our present system of auto damages work?
Right now, if I sideswipe someone, I must pay a stiff penalty.
Or rather, my insurance company does.

It would be the same way with all torts and crimes under the
system I’ve described. An insurance company would act as a
guarantor (or co-signer) of a client’s contracts with various
firms. Just as a bank uses experts to take depositors’ money
and efficiently allocate it to borrowers, so too would the
experts at the insurance company determine the risk of a
certain client (i.e. the likelihood he or she would violate
contracts by stealing or killing) and charge an appropriate
premium. Thus, other firms wouldn’t have to keep tabs on all
of their customers and employees; the firms’ only
responsibility would be to make sure everyone they dealt with
carried a policy with a reputable insurance agency.

Under this system, the victims of a crime are always paid,
immediately. (Contrast this to the government system, where
victims usually get nothing except the satisfaction of seeing the
criminal placed behind bars.) There would also be incentives
for people to behave responsibly. Just as reckless drivers pay
higher premiums for car insurance, so too would repeat
offenders be charged higher premiums for their contract

And why would the person with criminal proclivities care
about his insurance company? Well, if he stopped paying his
premiums, his coverage would be dropped. With no one to
underwrite his contractual obligations, such a person would
make a very poor customer or employee. People wouldn’t hire
him or trust him to browse through a china shop, since there
would be no “legal” recourse if he did anything “criminal.” In
order to get by in society, it would be extremely useful to keep
one’s insurance coverage by always paying the premiums.
And that means it would be in one’s great interest to refrain
from criminal activity, since that would be the way to keep
premiums down.

Admittedly, such arguments seem fanciful. But they are no
more farfetched than the modern credit card system. People
have huge lines of credit advanced to them, sometimes only by
filling out a form, and it is extremely easy to engage in credit
card fraud. A prodigal may run up a huge bill and simply
refuse to pay it, yet in most cases nothing physical will happen
to him. But most people don’t behave in such an irresponsible
manner, because they don’t want to ruin their credit history. If
they do, they know they’ll forever more be cut off from this
wonderful tool of the capitalist society.


We have now established that a system of voluntary,
contractual law can be imagined theoretically, and would even
work in a society populated with self- interested but ultimately
rational people.

But what about the really tough cases? What about the
incorrigible bank robber, or the crazed ax murderer? Surely
there will always be deviant, antisocial individuals who,
through malice or ignorance, ignore the incentives and commit
crimes. How would a system of market anarchy deal with such

First, keep in mind that wherever someone is standing in a
purely libertarian
society, he would be on somebody’s
property. This is the way in which force could be brought to
bear on criminals without violating their natural rights.

For example, the contract
of a movie theater would have a
clause to the effect, “If I am judged guilty of a crime by a
reputable arbitration agency [perhaps listed in an Appendix], I
release the theater owner from any liability should armed men
come to remove me from his property.”

So we see that it is not a contradiction to use force to capture
fugitives in a completely voluntary society. All such uses
would have been authorized by the recipients themselves

But where would these ne’er-do-wells be taken, once they were
brought into “custody”? Specialized firms would develop,
offering high security analogs to the current jailhouse.
However, the “jails” in market anarchy would compete with
each other to attract criminals.

Consider: No insurance company would vouch for a serial
killer if he applied for a job at the local library, but they would
deal with him if he agreed to live in a secure building under
close scrutiny. The insurance company would make sure that
the “jail” that held him was well-run. After all, if the person
escaped and killed again, the insurance company would be held
liable, since it pledges to make good on any damages its clients

On the other hand, there would be no undue cruelty for the
prisoners in such a system. Although they would have no
chance of escape (unlike government prisons), they wouldn’t
be beaten by sadistic guards. If they were, they’d simply
switch to a different jail, just as travelers can switch hotels if
they view the staff as discourteous. Again, the insurance
company (which vouches for a violent person) doesn’t care
which jail its client chooses, so long as its inspectors have

determined that the jail will not let its client escape into the
general population.


Although superficially coherent and workable, the proposed
system of market law will certainly engender skepticism. In
the interest of brevity, I will deal with some common (and
valid) concerns.

“What about someone who has no insurance?”

If an individual didn’t carry insurance, other people would
have no guaranteed recourse should the individual damage or
steal their property. Such an individual would therefore be
viewed with suspicion, and people would be reluctant to deal
with him except for single transactions involving small sums.
He would probably be unable to get a full- time job, a bank
loan, or a credit card. Many residential and commercial areas
would probably require that all visitors carried valid policies
before allowing them to even enter.

So we see that those without insurance would have their
options, including their freedom of movement, greatly
restricted. At the same time, the premiums for basic contract
insurance, at least for people without a criminal history, would
be quite low.
So there wouldn’t be very many people
walking around without this type of insurance. It’s true, some
people would still commit crimes and would have no insurance
company to pay damages, but such cases are going to occur
under any legal system.

Furthermore, once someone (without insurance) had
committed a serious crime, he would still be chased by
detectives, just as he would be under the government system.
And if these (far more efficient) private detectives found him at
any time on a normal piece of property, they would have the
full right to arrest him.

Warring Agencies

Critics often dismiss private law by alleging that disputes
between enforcement agencies would lead to combat—even
though this happens between governments all the time! In
truth, the incentives for peaceful resolution of disputes would
be far greater in market anarchy than the present system.
Combat is very expensive, and private companies take much
better care of their assets than government officials take care of
their subjects’ lives and property.

In any event, those engaging in “warfare” in a free society
would be treated as any other murderers. Unlike government
soldiers, private mercenaries would receive no special
privileges to engage in condoned violence. Those agencies
interpreting the law would not be the same as the firms
enforcing it. There is no intrinsic reason to worry about battles
between private enforcement agencies,
any more than battles
between the government army and navy.

“Won’t the Mafia take over?”

It is paradoxical that the fear of rule by organized crime
families causes people to support the State, which is the most
“organized” and criminal association in human history. Even if
it were true that under market anarchy, people had to pay
protection money and occasionally get whacked, this would be
a drop in the bucket compared to the taxation and wartime
deaths caused by governments.

But even this concedes too much. For the mob derives its
strength from government, not the free market. All of the
businesses traditionally associated with organized crime—
gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, drug dealing—are
prohibited or heavily regulated by the State.
In market
anarchy, true professionals would drive out such unscrupulous

“Your insurance companies would become the State!”

On the contrary, the private companies providing legal services
would have far less power under market anarchy than the
government currently possesses. Most obvious, there would be
no power to tax or to monopolize “service.” If a particular
insurance company were reluctant to pay legitimate claims, this
would become quickly known, and people would take this into
account when dealing with clients of this disreputable firm.

The fear that (under market anarchy) private individuals would
replace politicians, overlooks the true causes of State mischief.
Unlike feudal monarchs, democratic rulers don’t actually own
the resources (including human) that they control.
Furthermore, the duration of their rule (and hence control of
these resources) is very uncertain. For these reasons,
politicians and other government employees do not exercise
much care in maintaining the (market) value of the property in
their jurisdiction. Shareholders of a private company,
however, have every interest in choosing personnel and
policies to maximize the profitability of the firm.

All the horrors of the State—onerous taxation, police brutality,
total war—are not only monstrous, but they’re also grossly
inefficient. It would never be profitable for anarchist insurance
and legal firms to mimic the policies set by governments.


The question of children is one of the most difficult. As a first
pass, let us note that, obviously, concerned parents would only
patronize those schools, and live in those apartments or
housing complexes, where the protection of their children was
of paramount importance to the staff.

Beyond this, the basic “prohibitions” on parental child abuse
and neglect could be stipulated in the marriage contract. In
addition to whatever romance may be entailed, a marriage is
ultimately a partnership between two people, and prudent

couples will officially spell out this arrangement, with all of its
benefits and obligations. For example, before abandoning her
career to raise a man’s children, a woman may require a
financial pledge in case of divorce (i.e. dissolving the
partnership). In the same way, a standard clause in marriage
contracts could define and specify penalties for the improper
treatment of children.

Another point to consider is the enhanced role of adoption in a
free society. Much as it shocks modern sensibilities, there
would be a fully functioning “baby market,” in which parental
privileges were sold to the highest bidder.
seemingly crass, such a market would surely reduce child
abuse. After all, abusive or negligent parents are probably the
ones most likely to offer their children for adoption, when
loving couples are allowed to pay them handsomely for it.

The controversial issue of abortion, just as other conflicts in a
private law system, would be handled by competing firms
setting policies to best match the desires of their customers.
Those people sufficiently horrified by the practice could
establish a gated community in which all residents agreed to
refrain from abortion, and to report anyone caught performing

Title Registry

In market anarchy, who would define property rights? If
someone hands over the money to purchase a house, what
guarantees does he have?

This is a complex issue, and I won’t be able to give specifics,
since the actual market solution would depend on the
circumstances of the case and would draw on the legal
expertise (far greater than mine) of the entire community.
can, however, offer some general remarks.

Whatever (if any) the abstract or metaphysical nature of
property law, the purpose of public titles is quite utilitarian;

they are necessary to allow individuals to effectively plan and
coordinate their interactions with each other. Specialized firms
(perhaps distinct from arbitration agencies) would keep records
on the property titles, either for a specific area or group of
individuals. Title registry would probably be accomplished
through a complex, hierarchical web of such firms.

The fear of rogue agencies, unilaterally declaring themselves
“owner” of everything, is completely unfounded. In market
anarchy, the companies publicizing property rights would not
be the same as the companies enforcing those rights. More
important, competition between firms would provide true
“checks and balances.” If one firm began flouting the
community norms established and codified on the market, it
would go out of business, just as surely as a manufacturer of
dictionaries would go broke if its books contained improper

Infinite Regress

A sophisticated critic may charge that my proposal rests upon a
circular argument: How can people use contracts to define
property rights, when a system of property rights is necessary
to determine which contracts are valid? After all, Smith can’t
sell Jones a car for a certain sum of money, unless it is
established beforehand that Smith is the just owner of the car
(and Jones the owner of the sum of money).

To see the solution, we must break the problem into two parts.
First, we should ask, “Could the free market provide a
foundation for social interaction?” I believe the previous
sections have demonstrated this. That is, I have shown above
that if we had a system of property titles recognized by
competing firms, then a contractual system governing the
exchange of those titles would form a stable basis for private

Now, it is an entirely different question to ask, “How are these
titles initially defined and allocated?” This is a broad topic,

and will be addressed in the next section. But to deal with the
issue as it relates to the alleged infinite regress, let us consider
contract law.

Contract law is a specific branch of law, much as tort law or
constitutional law. It is used, for example, to determine
whether a contract between two parties is legally binding.
Now surely contract law can’t be established in an anarchist
system of contractual law, for wouldn’t this beg the question?

No. The contractual pledges made by individuals would
contain provisions for all of the contingencies handled by
today’s contract law. For example, the insurance company
backing up a customer would be promising, “We will make
good on any debts that our client fails to pay, so long as the
obligations have been spelled out in a valid contract, according
to the terms described in the Standard Contract Law pamphlet
published by the Ace legal firm.”

This pamphlet would perhaps require signatures in black ink,
notarized oversight for large sums, and that the signers to a
contract were of sufficient age and sobriety, and were not
under duress, when the contract was made.
As with all
elements of private law, the precise rules governing contract
interpretation would be determined by the (possibly
conflicting) desires of everyone through the profit and loss test.

Finally, keep in mind that the ultimate judge in a given case
is…the judge. No matter how voluminous the law books, or
how obvious the precedents, every case will ultimately depend
on the subjective interpretation of an arbiter or judge who must
deliver the ruling.

We must never forget that written statutes as such are
powerless unless used by competent and equitable individuals.
Only in a competitive, voluntary system is there any hope for
judicial excellence.

“How do we get there?”

The route to a free society will vary according to the history of
a region, and consequently no single description will do. The
path taken by North Korean market anarchists will no doubt
differ from the course of similarly minded individuals in the
United States. In the former, violent overthrow of unjust
regimes may occur, while in the latter, a gradual and orderly
erosion of the State is a wonderful possibility. The one thing
all such revolutions would share is a commitment by the
overwhelming majority to a total respect of property rights.

All societies, no matter how despotic their rulers, must possess
a basic degree of respect for property rights, even if such
respect is given due to custom rather than intellectual
appreciation. All people know that it is a crime to rape or
even rapists and murderers know this.

Such universal, intuitive notions of justice would constitute the
foundation for a system of private law. This widespread
agreement would allow for more specific, contractually defined
rights to evolve.
The process would be continuous, with one
stage of codified property titles and legal rules forming the
basis for the next generation of judges and scholars to
systematize and extend.

Regular people understand the waste and senselessness of
conflict; they will go to great lengths and make great
compromises to achieve consensus. For example, despite the
lack of a formal government, newly arriving miners during the
California gold rushes respected the claims of earlier settlers.
To take a more modern example, even inner city toughs
unthinkingly obey the “rules” in a pickup game of basketball,
despite the lack of a referee.

In market anarchy, free individuals, through their patronage of
competing judicial and insurance firms, would foster a humane
and just legal system. Those antisocial individuals who

disrupted the process (by blatantly violating obvious property
rights) would be dealt with in the ways described earlier.

Legal Positivism?

Some readers may wonder how I can propose a replacement for
the State’s “justice” system when I haven’t first offered a
rational theory of the source and nature of legitimate property

The answer is simple: I don’t have such a theory.
Nonetheless, I can still say that a market system of private law
would work far more effectively than the State alternative, and
that the standard objections to anarchy are unfounded.

There is widespread distrust of allowing the market to
“determine” something as crucial as, say, prohibitions on
murder. But “the market” is just shorthand for the totality of
economic interactions of freely acting individuals. To allow
the market to set legal rules really means that no one uses
violence to impose his own vision on everyone else.

Murder isn’t wrong merely because it fails the market test; of
course not. But its intrinsic immorality will find expression
through market forces. We can all agree—contractually—to
refrain from murder, and to abide by the decisions made by an
arbiter should we be tried for such a crime. In this way, we
know we are not violating anyone’s rights.

Now, after we have reached such agreement and are secure in
our lives, we can let the philosophers and theologians argue
about why murder is wrong. Legal scholars offering a priori
constructions of just law would certainly have a place in
market anarchy; after all, their tracts might influence the
judges’ decisions. However, in this essay I focus on the market
forces that will shape private law, not on the content of such


So far I have concentrated on the crucial issues in a theoretical
discussion of private law. Now I would like to illustrate the
versatility of such a system in a wide variety of areas, and
contrast its performance with the monopolized government

Product Safety

One of the most common charges against pure laissez-faire is
that a completely unregulated market would leave consumers at
the mercy of ruthless businessmen. We are told that without
benevolent government oversight, food would be poisonous,
television sets would explode, and apartment buildings would
It’s true, such critics might concede, that in the long
run, shady companies would eventually go out of business.
But surely someone who sells a deadly hamburger should be
immediately punished for this, on top of forfeiting future

As with other areas of law, I believe the market would deal
with these sorts of cases through contractual pledges. When a
consumer bought something, part of the package would be a
guarantee such as, “If this product causes injury, as determined
by a reputable arbitration agency, the customer is entitled to the
standard damages.” And, just as individuals would likely need
to be backed by a large insurance company before anyone
would do business with them, so too would businesses need to
be insured against possible customer lawsuits, if they wanted to
attract customers.

We immediately see that this system avoids the nightmare
scenarios cooked up by proponents of government regulation.
Let’s take the case of air travel. The Federal Aviation
Administration “guarantees” that airplanes have had proper
maintenance, pilots are rested, etc. So customers don’t need to
worry about their planes crashing. In contrast, many people
allege, under a free market customers would have to keep

statistics on how many crashes each airline had, and they’d
have to be experts in airplane maintenance to see which
companies were best.

But this is nonsense. All a flier needs to do is make sure that
when he buys a plane ticket, part of what he buys is a pledge
(backed by an insurance company) saying, “If you are killed in
a plane crash, our airline will pay your estate $y million.”
Now, since the insurance companies stand to lose millions if
the planes of this airline crash, it is they who will hire trained
inspectors, keep meticulous maintenance logs, etc. They
would say to the airlines: “Yes, we will underwrite your
contractual pledges to customers, but only if you follow our
safety procedures, allow our inspectors to look at your planes,
work out an adequate pilot screening process, etc., and if we
catch you violating your agreement, we will fine you
accordingly.” Since they are out to maximize profits, the
insurance company will gladly pay for preventive efforts if this
will lead to a greater savings in expected payments of claims to
those killed in a crash.

This stands in sharp contrast to the present system. The FAA
too sets up guidelines, but what are its incentives? If there is a
plane crash, the FAA itself will get more funding, since
everyone will say the crash shows how awful the “free market”
in airplanes is. Bloated government agencies always
mismanage their resources, so that there will be too many mid-
level managers and not enough inspectors. Most important,
since there is no competition, there is no benchmark against
which to compare the FAA’s oversight. Some lowly mechanic
might have a great idea to improve airline safety, but the
bureaucratic FAA would take years to implement it.

Professional Licensing

Closely related to the area of product safety is professional
licensing. Let’s use the example of medicine. Without
government regulation, many believe, patients would be at the
mercy of quacks. Ignorant consumers would go to whatever

brain surgeon charged the lowest price, and would be
butchered on the operating table. To prevent this, the
benevolent government must establish guidelines—backed up
by guns—to limit those who enter the medical profession.

This of course is nonsense. Voluntary organizations would
probably arise, allowing only qualified doctors into their ranks.
Concerned consumers would then patronize only those doctors
endorsed by reputable associations. Before undergoing risky
procedures or ingesting prescribed drugs, patients would
require contractual pledges for restitution in the event of injury.
In this case, it is again the insurance companies who would
make sure the doctors they were underwriting were in fact
qualified. Since they’d stand to lose millions in malpractice
suits, the insurance companies would be very careful when
setting their standards.

Such a system would be far preferable to the present one. As it
is, the American Medical Association is little more than a
glorified union, which requires immense schooling and training
to artificially restrict the number of doctors in order to drive up
their salaries (and health care costs in general). Without its
monopoly, the AMA would be unable to check the growth in
“alternative” therapies, such as herbal, that sidestep the current
cozy alliance of big pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and
the government.

One must also realize that the incentives of the Food and Drug
Administration render it far too conservative: If people die
because of a new drug that the FDA has approved, the FDA
will be blamed. But if people die because the FDA has not
approved a new drug, it won’t be held accountable; the
sickness itself will be blamed. Consequently, many potentially
life-saving drugs are currently being withheld from dying
patients. In a purely free market, patients would be allowed to
take whatever drugs they wanted.

Gun Control

I realize that many libertarians find certain aspects of my
system a bit unnerving. Without unconditional guarantees of
abstract rights, it seems there would always be a danger of
smuggling the State in through the back door.

Rather than dance around such issues, I’ll give the best
example I can think of to demonstrate the difference between
the conventional libertarian approach and my own: gun control.
As we’ll see, I don’t think my approach is inconsistent with the
libertarian creed, but I do think it will (at least initially) make
many libertarians uncomfortable.

The standard arguments over gun control go like this:
Opponents say gun control will render people defenseless
against criminals and leave citizens at the mercy of their
government rulers; only when someone has actually used his
gun against innocents can the law rightfully step in.
Proponents of gun control, however, argue that this position is
too dogmatic; surely some preventive measures are justified in
the public interest.

As with most debates held within the context of a government
legal system, I think both sides have legitimate points.
Certainly we cannot trust the government to protect us once it
has disarmed us. But on the other hand, I feel a bit silly
arguing that people should be able to stockpile atomic weapons
in their basement. (A strict interpretation of many libertarian
arguments would mean just that.) Fortunately, the system of
private law that I’ve described allows us to sidestep this
apparent “tradeoff.”

Recall that the penalties for injury and murder would be
established by contractual pledges, underwritten by insurance
companies. People allow Joe Smith onto their property
because they know if he hurts someone, either he will directly
pay the damages or his insurance company will. The insurance
company makes its money by charging appropriate premiums,

tailored to the individual client. If Joe Smith has been deemed
guilty in the past of violent behavior, his insurance premiums
will be accordingly higher.

But there are other factors that an insurance company would
take into account when setting premiums, besides past
behavior. And one of these factors would undoubtedly be:
What sort of weapons does this client keep around the house?
After all, if the insurance company is going to agree to pay,
say, $10 million to the estate of anyone Joe Smith kills, the
company will be very interested to know whether Smith keeps
sawed off shotguns—let alone atomic weapons—in his
basement. Someone who keeps such weapons is much more
likely to harm others, as far as the insurance company is
concerned, and so his premiums will be that much higher. In
fact, the risk of a client who kept nuclear (or chemical,
biological, etc.) weapons would be so great that probably no
policy would be offered.

This approach is superior to the governmental one. Truly
dangerous weapons would be restricted to individuals willing
to pay the high premiums associated with their ownership; kids
couldn’t buy bazookas at the local K-Mart. On the other hand,
there wouldn’t be the slippery slope that there is now with all
government gun control. We would never fear that all
handguns would be banned, since the insurance companies
would be out strictly to make profit, and it would be far more
profitable to allow people to keep handguns and pay slightly
higher premiums.

As with all contracts under my system, those “regulating” guns
would be completely voluntary, involving no violation of
libertarian rights. The insurance company is not forcing people
to give up their bazookas. All it is saying is this: If you want
us to guarantee your contracts with others, you can’t own a
bazooka. The insurance companies are the just owners of their
money, and it is thus perfectly within their rights to make such
a request.

This is far preferable to the government system, which has no
accountability. If politicians ban guns and cause thousands of
people to be victimized by crime, nothing happens to them.
But if an insurance company makes unreasonable demands of
its clients, they will switch to a different company and it will
quickly go out of business.

Dangerous Criminals

The supposed tradeoff between individual liberty and public
safety is also exemplified in the debates over legal
“technicalities.” Conservatives like to complain about cases
where a known murderer is set free by a bleeding heart judge,
simply because the police coerced a confession or forgot to
read the suspect his rights. Liberals (such as Alan Dershowitz)
respond that although such cases are unfortunate, they are
necessary to keep the police in line.

As with gun control, I am sympathetic to both sides in this
debate, and again I think my system can avoid both sorts of
absurdities. To see this, let’s suppose that through some quirk,
a clearly “guilty” murderer has technically not violated any
contractual provisions. Or, suppose an arbiter—who would
only be hearing murder cases because of past excellence in his
rulings—for some reason makes an outrageous ruling, and
finds someone innocent of murder despite overwhelming
evidence to the contrary.

Because he was technically acquitted, the murderer would not
have to pay damages to the estate of his victim. However, the
rules governing this episode would be quickly revised to
prevent its recurrence; private companies would be under much
greater pressure than monopoly governments in the face of
such bad publicity.

There is another difference. Under a government system,
someone acquitted on a technicality gets off scot- free. But
under the private law system I’ve described, the killer’s
insurance company could still increase the premiums they

charged. It wouldn’t matter whether their client had been
actually convicted of a crime; their only concern would be the
likelihood that he would be convicted (of a different crime) in
the future, because then they’d have to pay the damages.

This analysis also resolves the issue of parole. Although most
crimes would involve financial restitution, rather than
imprisonment, there would still be individuals who were too
dangerous to be allowed loose. The insurance companies
would determine this threshold. As long as a company were
willing to pay for any damages a criminal might commit in the
future, people would offer him work, let him rent a room, etc.
Rehabilitation would thus be in the great financial interest of
the companies, in order to increase their pool of paying

On the other hand, truly dangerous individuals would not be
“paroled.” Right now, the government has psychologists and
other “experts” decide when sex offenders and murderers
should be let back on the streets. Since they have no
accountability, these ivory tower intellectuals often test out
their theories on the hapless victims of recidivist criminals.


This essay has outlined the mechanics of purely voluntary,
market law. The main theme running throughout is that
competition and accountability would force true experts to
handle the important decisions that must be made in any legal
system. It is a statist myth that justice must be produced by a
monopoly institution of organized violence.

The arguments of this essay are admittedly incomplete; surely
more thought is needed before a move to market anarchy
becomes feasible. However, I ask that the reader resist the
temptation to dismiss my ideas as “unworkable,” without first
specifying in what sense the government legal system “works.”


This essay is based on three articles originally featured on anti-state.com.
More accurately, disputes will be handled relatively peacefully; force may
occasionally be required. Although market anarchism is thus not pacifism,
we note that true pacifism—the refusal to engage in violence—implies
anarchism, since all State action is based on (the threat of) violence.
In the original, “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.” George Orwell, 1984 (New
York: Signet Classics, 1984), p. 7.
A free society is one in which property rights are (generally) respected.
The existence of a State—an institution that uses force to place itself above
property rights—thus precludes freedom as we shall use the term.
I hasten to note that the system of market law that I describe is not entirely
congruent with the vision of some other anarcho-capitalist writers. They
believe the “just” system of property rights is deducible axiomatically, and
that objectively valid law will be discovered and enforced by private firms.
For an excellent introduction, see Linda and Morris Tannehill, The Market
for Liberty (New York: Laissez-Faire Books, 1984); and Murray N.
Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New York: Collier, 1978).
An appeals process might be included in the arbitration procedure, but
then the big firm could just bribe those judges, too.
For example, only some states have the death penalty.
In this context, libertarian implies a respect for “natural” rights. The
libertarian’s ultimate credo is the non-aggression axiom, namely that it is
illegitimate to initiate force. Although market anarchy (as I will describe it)
does not rest upon libertarianism, I will argue that it is (largely) consistent
with this philosophy. Divergences between the two are, I believe, points of
weakness in the libertarian position.
Even if it weren’t literally signed every visit, the agreement would be
understood implicit ly.
Of course, if someone tried to simply barge onto another’s property,
without agreeing to any contractual obligations, then the owner would be
perfectly justified in using force to repel him. Although this default may
seem unilateral, it would at least be codified and publicized. Later sections
will deal with the problem of initially drawing up property boundaries.
Many of these points were inspired by fruitful discussion with Matt
Lasley, David Pinholster, Chris Redwood, Stephen Carville, Stephan
Kinsella, and Dan Mahoney. However, the objections do not necessarily
reflect the views of these thinkers.
Such a statement brings to mind the horrors of identification papers and
checkpoints. However, State abuses should not discredit the valid concerns
of property owners. As argued most notably by Hans Hermann Hoppe,
individuals do not possess an inherent “freedom of movement.” If owners
wish to restrict the people who travel on their roads, that is entirely their
prerogative. On the other hand, in an established anarchist society,
customers wouldn’t show ID every time they entered most stores, just as in


our present society people don’t draw up labor contracts every time they
hire the neighbor’s kid to mow the lawn.
To repeat: under this system everybody would buy homicide insurance,
just as right now surgeons buy medical malpractice insurance; the insurance
company is pledging to compensate the estate of anyone killed by its
clients. Because the probability of an individual (with no prior record)
being convicted of murder in the next year is very small, his premium
would also be small. If the company’s actuaries estimate that a potential
client has, say, only a one in a million chance of killing in the next year, and
the standard damages for murder are, say, $10 million, then the company
would only need to charge roughly $10 per year to break even.
As explained in section III, most property would have a clause in which
all guests agreed to submit to arrest if the guests were “wanted” by a
reputable arbitration agency.
This statement does not hold for the systems of private law (elaborated by
other anarcho-capitalists) in which agencies unilaterally punish anyone
harming their clients. In such a system, the lack of a monopolist would
create an additional theoretical problem for the advocate of private defense
agencies. However, even here the incentives for a peaceful resolution of
legitimate disputes are tremendous.
The mob is also strengthened by unions, which (in their modern form) are
anything but voluntary organizations.
It may be true that currently, insurance companies are bureaucratic and
overbearing. But I think this has more to do with their close relationship
with the government legal system, rather than with their nature as such.
Yes, insurance companies don’t like paying damages, but people don’t like
going to work everyday, either. This doesn’t mean the free labor market
isn’t a viable system; if people are lazy, they get fired. And if an insurance
company doesn’t pay its claims, it will eventually go out of business.
For the sake of argument, let us suppose (quite implausibly) that everyone
agreed to sell his or her land to a single individual, who then became
landlord of the entire population, and that as part of the lease, everyone
agreed to give the landlord the power to “tax” earnings. Even so, this
landlord would never set the tax rate above the “Laffer point,” i.e. the point
that maximized revenues. Because it is influenced by non-pecuniary
motives, however, the modern State doesn’t respect even this sensible rule.
This device only works, of course, if at least one of the partners is
concerned for the welfare of future children. Yet this should be sufficient
for most cases, since surely very few couples dream of becoming abusive
I am purposefully skirting the question of whether parents would legally
“own” their children. So long as a child voluntarily remained with his
parents, “living under their roof,” they could of course set any rules they
wished. The only problem arises when a child runs away, and does not
wish to return. I personally am sympathetic to the notion that so long as a


child can support him or herself, parents can’t force the child to return
These voluntary solutions would be far preferable to the government
approach, in which ill-informed and often self-righteous “social workers”
rip families apart and place children in the horrible foster care system.
This would not prevent others from forming a community in which
abortion were legal, of course.
My stance may appear slippery, but imagine that a Cuban economist
advises Castro to abolish socialism and allow a free market to develop.
Must the economist predict beforehand whether and how many shopping
malls will exist under his proposal?
For example, one firm might issue land titles for an entire city, but
actually delegate the delimitation of the respective rights of two neighbors
to a different firm specializing in residential affairs.
The knowledgeable reader may notice that this objection—and its
solution—are similar to the alleged infinite regress involved in a marginal
utility explanation of money demand.
The purist might object that this remedy is insufficient. After all, I am
simply assuming that people know what the concept of a contract is. To
this charge I plead guilty. As mentioned in the Foreword, my purpose in
this essay is not to “prove” the ethical superiority of market law. Despite
the occasional normative statement, I am really just describing the world I
envision under market anarchy. And in such a world, I do not predict that
people will have trouble adopting the convention of contracts (even without
a proper philosophical definition and justification), just as I don’t predict
they will need to be versed in economic theory before using money.
In a private legal system, there still would be publicized laws and
adherence to precedent, for this would allow greater predictability in rulings
and hence appeal to customers.
Of course, the major hurdle of anarchism is to convince people that
murder is wrong even when duly elected “representatives” order it.
To illustrate: Suppose that the distribution of this book causes every U.S.
citizen to endorse market anarchism. Private firms would arise to codify the
property titles that were previously regulated by government agencies. It
would be “obvious” that people retained ownership of their homes (and
mortgages), cars, etc. This basic framework of property would then allow
for a voluntary, contractual solution to the more difficult problems, such as
assigning titles to government housing projects (since both tenants and
taxpayers might claim rightful ownership).
The reader may consider this a poor example, since after all fouling is
more flagrant in outdoor courts than in, say, an NBA game. But this is the
point: There still is such a thing as a foul (and other rules) recognized by
the transgressor in a pickup game; he will simply deny that he committed
one. (For a different example, no player would claim that his shot should
be awarded ten points.)


Now, the market solution to such ambiguity and bias, for games
deemed important enough to warrant the extra cost and hassle, is to appoint
official referees to apply the “law” (which they too unthinkingly respect).
Notice that at no point is a violent monopoly needed to achieve this orderly
Because I am not advocating pacifism, this accusation of violence may
seem hypocritical. However, the State requires the threat of violence on
admittedly innocent people. If a person (whom everyone agrees is not a
criminal) started a legal or insurance firm that infringed on the State’s
monopoly, it would punish him.
An analogy may be useful: For a variety of reasons, I oppose public
schooling and advocate its immediate abolition. I am quite confident that
private schools would provide excellent education for all children, rich and
poor. Now, I say this even though I cannot construct an a priori theory of a
proper education. Nonetheless, I am confident that the market system will
be better than the State’s approach, even though I cannot list the necessary
and sufficient conditions of goodness (in this context). And of course,
nothing guarantees that the market solution will be optimal; after all, if the
parents in a certain town were evil or stupid, then market incentives would
lead to (what we would consider) horrible curricula.
I point out in passing that television sets did explode in the Soviet Union,
and many apartment buildings did collapse in statist Turkey after a mild
If an individual liked to live dangerously, he’d be perfectly free to buy a
computer from a firm that did not carry insurance. But if something went
wrong, it would be much more difficult for him to get his money back. It
would thus be in the great interest of most people to only do business with
companies that had their contracts backed by large, reputable insurance
In fact, households with conventional firearms might enjoy lower
premiums, if the insurance company thinks this will reduce the incidence of
crime in the area enough to justify the incentive.
To charge higher premiums to those who wish to own multiple weapons
is no more unjust than the present practice of offering discounts to drivers
for taking a driving safety class, or to homeowners for installing an alarm
system. If a particular insurance company is staffed by people who fear
guns, then gun owners will shop around for a different insurance company.
I stress that cases like this are going to happen under any system. I am
not conceding anything by admitting such possibilities; rather, I am trying
to show the strength of my approach by explaining its response to such
Again, this process does not involve a violation of anyone’s rights. It no
more discriminates against clients than the present practice of charging
young males higher car insurance premiums, even if their driving record is
snow white. We don’t need to fear a roundup of all mentally handicapped


people, or all young black males, because such practices would not be
profitable. If a certain individual were truly being charged a premium
higher than he “deserved,” he could shop around for a different insurance
When I watch America’s Most Wanted or read books explaining how the
FBI catches serial killers, I am shocked by how many current murderers and
rapists commit their crimes while on parole.

Private Defense

Virtually everyone agrees that a government is needed to
provide the essential service of military defense. People with
an open mind may be genuinely sympathetic to the arguments
for a free society. Yet they regard all the clever blueprints for
an anarchist social order as hopelessly naïve, because a
community based on voluntary relations would apparently be
helpless in the face of neighboring States.

This essay claims that such a view, though widespread, is
completely false. There is nothing intrinsic to military defense
that requires State provision. The free market can provide
defense more cheaply and more effectively than the
government can. It is foolish and reckless to entrust the State
with the protection of civilian lives and property. Private
defense forces would enjoy a tremendous advantage, and in all
but the most lopsided contests would slaughter their
government adversaries.


In an anarchist society committed to the sanctity of private
property and contract, insurance companies would most likely
oversee defense services.
To see how this market would
operate, an analogy will be useful.

Imagine a large city located on a major fault line. Every so
often, the residents endure a severe earthquake, which kills
dozens of people and causes billions of dollars in property
damage. To cope with the risk of such disasters, people
purchase insurance for their lives and property. Policyholders
pay a fixed premium, while the insurance agencies pledge to
indemnify the estates of anyone who suffers bodily or financial
harm during an earthquake, according to the precise terms
specified in the contract.

The force of competition keeps the price of such insurance
reasonable. Actuaries can estimate the expected costs per
period of providing certain levels of coverage, and thus
calculate the minimum premiums that would allow the insurer
(all things considered) to break even in the long run. If the
market rates exceed these minimum prices, new firms will have
an incentive to enter the insurance market to reap the profits.
Their entry would drive insurance premiums down towards the
actuarially fair rates.

It is crucial to realize that the behavior of the residents greatly
influences the city’s vulnerability to earthquakes, and thus the
total bill paid out by insurance companies following each
disaster. Buildings, roads, and bridges can be designed with
varying degrees of structural integrity and construction costs;
the better the design, the greater its expense. Through their
premium structure, insurance companies provide incentives for
safer designs, thus defraying their higher costs. Profit- hungry
businesses will thereby produce buildings and infrastructure
exhibiting the optimal combination of durability and price,

without any need for government codes and inspectors.

In addition to encouraging sturdier designs, insurance
companies could use other means to reduce their exposure.
They might employ teams of seismologists to forecast
earthquakes and publicize these findings as a service to their
customers. For those clients too poor to afford housing in
quake-proof buildings, the insurance companies can construct
shelters, and require that these policyholders evacuate their
buildings and retire to the shelters in an emergency.
general, an insurance company will gladly spend funds to
protect its clients and their property, so long as the expected
reduction in liability claims is sufficient to justify the

Just as the free market can provide the optimal response to
dangerous earthquakes, so too can it provide the best protection
from foreign militaries. Like natural disasters, wars bring
widespread death and destruction. In market anarchy,

insurance companies would provide coverage for these losses
too, and would thus have a great financial interest in deterring
and repelling military attacks.


It is easy enough to imagine a system of private mail delivery
or even highway construction. In contrast, free market defense
presents a conceptual hurdle, since it is not clear what would be
the voluntary analogs to government taxation and military

Defense from foreign aggression is a classic “public good” and
as such seems the perfect candidate for government provision.

Without the ability to extort revenues from all citizens, how
could private firms raise the funds required by modern
militaries? (After all, any individual citizen could refuse to
buy the “product,” yet still enjoy the security made possible by
his neighbors’ contributions.) On a practical level, hundreds of
small, decentralized armies would surely be wiped out by a
consolidated attack from a neighboring State.

The framework described in the first section avoids these
apparent difficulties. In a free society, it is not the average
person, but rather the insurance companies, that would
purchase defense services. Every dollar in damage caused by
foreign aggression would be fully compensated, and thus
insurers would seek to protect their customers’ property as if it
were their own.
Because of economies of scale, coverage for
large geographical regions would likely be handled through a
few dominant firms, ensuring standardized pricing and a
coordinated defense.

It will be useful to elaborate on this hypothetical consolidation.
Suppose we start in an initial anarchist society with no defense
services at all. Imagine that the one serious military threat is
invasion and conquest by a certain mercurial neighbor. The
residents of this free society take out insurance policies on their

lives and all major property, such that the total claims that
would follow an invasion are estimated at one trillion dollars.

The insurance agencies hire geopolitical consultants and
believe that the annual risk of attack is ten percent. They must
therefore collect roughly $100 billion per year in premiums to
cover themselves. If the society is composed of ten million
people, the per capita expenditure on insurance from foreign
aggression is $10,000. On top of this hefty expense, the
residents remain completely vulnerable.

In this bleak situation, an executive at the Ace insurance
company has a brilliant idea. He can undercut his rivals and
offer the same level of coverage for only, say, $5,000 per
person—half the price charged by his competitors. He can
afford to do this by spending some of his revenues on military
defenses, and thereby lower the probability of foreign
conquest. For example, he might pay private defense agencies
$40 billion per year to maintain helicopters, tanks, trained
personnel, etc. and be on the constant alert to repel any attacks.
If these preparations reduced the chance of foreign invasion to
only, say, one- half of one percent per year, then they would
“pay for themselves.” The innovative insurance executive
would reap huge profits and capture the market for military
liability, while the residents would enjoy increased security and
lower premiums. With property safe from foreign
expropriation, investment and population growth would be
stimulated, allowing greater economies of scale and further rate

Free Riders

Does the above system really avoid the perennial problem of
private defense? That is, can it overcome the “free rider”
problem? After Ace Insurance entered into long-term contracts
with defense agencies, what would stop a rival firm, such as
Moocher Insurance, from undercutting Ace? After all, the
likelihood of property damage would be the same for
Moocher’s clients as for Ace’s, yet Moocher wouldn’t spend a
dime on military expenditures.

This reasoning is perfectly valid, yet the case for private
defense remains strong. In the first place, the clients of the
insurance companies are not homogeneous, and consequently
the market for defense is far more “lumpy” than assumed in
standard economic models. Although above we discussed per
capita premiums, this was only to give the reader a rough idea
of the expenses involved. In reality, large firms would provide
the bulk of revenue for the insurance industry. The policies
taken out on apartment complexes, shopping malls,
manufacturing plants, banks, and skyscrapers would dwarf
those taken out by individuals.

Consequently, there wouldn’t be the nightmarish bargaining
problem that so worries the skeptics of private defense. The
brilliant executive at Ace Insurance would be perfectly aware
of the above considerations. If necessary, he would write only
long-term contracts, and would make them conditional on the
acceptance of a minimum threshold of clients. In other words,
he would offer a package deal to the major companies, but the
special, low rates would only apply if a sufficient number of
these policies were sold.

It is true that this suggested remedy is rather vague. There are
many interesting issues (studied in cooperative game theory)
concerning the bargaining process of these large firms, and
how the costs of defense would be split among them. But
make no mistake, military defense would be adequately funded,
for the simple reason that shareholders of rich companies are
anything but reckless when it comes to money. Because of
their size, the biggest companies couldn’t ignore the effect of
their own behavior on military preparedness.

Furthermore, certain types of property—airports, bridges,
highways, power plants, and of course, military equipment—
would be far likelier targets of foreign attack, and their owners
would thus constitute an even smaller group to benefit
disproportionately from defense expenditures. This
heterogeneity would weaken further the “spillover” character
of defense services, making an efficient arrangement all the

easier to achieve. Those companies that ended up paying the
most might perceive the arrangement as unfair, but there would
nevertheless always be an arrangement.
The highest
contributors might even advertise this fact, much as large
corporations make ostentatious donations to charity in order to
curry goodwill.

Thus we see that the “lumpiness” of a realistic defense industry
mitigates the impact of the positive externalities (spillover
effects) of military spending. Because a few critical industries
will pay for a basic level of defense regardless of contributions
from others, the only possible harm of free riding would be an
“unfair” burden placed on certain corporations. In any event, it
isn’t obvious that there would even be widespread free riding.
As we shall now argue, defense services can largely be
restricted to paying customers, after all.

In the earlier discussion, we treated a foreign invasion as an all-
or-nothing proposition; the neighboring State either quickly
conquered the anarchist society or was effectively deterred
from attacking. In reality, wars can remain in stalemate for
many years. During such protracted struggles, insurance
companies would certainly be able to deploy their military
forces so as to limit gratuitous protection for non-clients.

Most obvious, naval escorts would only protect convoys of
paying customers. All other shipping would be at the mercy of
foreign fleets. Antiaircraft and missile defenses would only
protect those regions in which paying customers owned
property. And of course, the owners of real estate on the
border would always pay for its protection, lest the defense
agencies pull their tanks and troops back to a more defensible

Government vs. Private Military Expenditures

The above considerations show that people living in market
anarchy could overcome the free rider problem and raise funds
adequate for their defense. Yet there is a symmetric

counterargument that is generally overlooked. It is true that
coercive taxation allows governments to acquire immense
military budgets. But this advantage is more than offset by the
tendency of governments to squander their resources. For any
meaningful comparison between government and private
defense budgets, the latter needs to be multiplied severalfold,
since private agencies can purchase equivalent military
hardware at only a fraction of the prices paid by governments.

Everyone knows that governments are profligate with their
money, and that military budgets are always a huge component
of total spending. Since their operations are often conducted in
foreign lands and shrouded in secrecy, a military can spend its
funding with virtually no accountability. Taxpayers were
shocked when an audit revealed that the U.S. Pentagon had
spent $600 per toilet seat. What few people realize is that this
example is typical. Because of the government’s monopoly, no
one has any idea how much an F-14 Tomcat “should” cost, and
so its $38 million price tag shocks no one.

This last point is important, so I want to stress that it is caused
by the very nature of government, not merely the accidents of
history. If a government raises its funds through taxation, then
it must justify this theft by spending the money on “the public
good.” Except in the most despotic regimes, the rulers can’t
simply pocket the money. Consequently, not a single official
in the entire government has any personal incentive to identify
and eliminate wasteful spending.

In market anarchy, on the other hand, defense services would
be sold in the open market. Fierce competition among
suppliers and cost consciousness among the buyers would keep
the prices of toilet seats as well as fighter jets as low as


The first two sections demonstrated that military defense, like
any other service, can be provided on the free market. To
appreciate the tremendous advantage that this gives to the
anarchist society, it will be useful to first explore the peacetime
superiority of private industry versus government planning. To
this end, we will review the critique of socialism.

The traditional opponents of socialism argued that it had
insufficient incentives for the average worker; without tying
pay to performance, people would shirk and output would be
far lower than in a capitalist economy. Only if a new “Socialist
Man” evolved, who enjoyed working for his comrades as much
as for himself, could a socialist system succeed. Although
valid, this criticism misses the essence of the problem. It took
Ludwig von Mises to explain,
in a 1920 paper, the true flaw
with socialism: Without market prices for the means of
production, government planners cannot engage in economic
calculation, and so literally have no idea if they are using
society’s resources efficiently. Consequently, socialism suffers
not only from a problem of incentives, but also from a problem
of knowledge.
To match the performance of a market
economy, socialist planners would not need to be merely
angels, committed to the commonweal—they would also need
to be gods, capable of superhuman calculations.

At any time, there is only a limited supply of labor, raw
materials, and capital resources that can be combined in
various ways to create output goods. A primary function of an
economic system is to determine which goods should be
produced, in what quantities and in what manner, from these
limited resources. The market economy solves this problem
through the institution of private property, which implies free
enterprise and freely floating prices.

The owners of labor, capital, and natural resources—the
“means of production”—are free to sell their property to the
highest bidder. The entrepreneurs are free to produce and sell

whatever goods they wish. The ultimate test of profit and loss
imposes order on this seeming chaos: If a producer
consistently spends more on his inputs than he earns from
selling his output, he will go bankrupt and no longer have any
influence on the manner in which society’s resources are used.
On the other hand, the successful producer creates value for
consumers, by purchasing resources at a certain price and
transforming them into goods that fetch a higher price. In the
market economy, such behavior is rewarded with profits, which
allow the producer in question to have a greater say in the use
of society’s scarce resources.

None of this is true in the socialist state. Even if they truly
intended the happiness of their subjects, the government
planners would squander the resources at their disposal. With
no test of profit and loss, the planners would have no feedback
and would thus be operating in the dark.
A decision to
produce more shoes and fewer shirts, or vice versa, would be
largely arbitrary. Furthermore, the individuals to ultimately
decide the fate of society’s resources would be selected
through the political process, not through the meritocracy of
the market.


The general advantages of private industry over government
planning operate just as well in the field of military defense.
Because the military derives its funding in a coercive manner,
the link between output and consumer satisfaction is severed.
Because of their monopoly, a State’s armed forces can bumble
along indefinitely, with no benchmark of comparison. Even in
a limited State, whose subjects enjoy a large degree of
economic freedom, the armed forces constitute an island of

To get a sense of the problems involved, imagine the situation
faced by Josef Stalin during World War II. As absolute
dictator, Stalin had at his disposal every resource—including

human—in the Soviet Union. Stalin needed to use these
resources to achieve his goals, the foremost of which (we shall
assume) was the preservation and expansion of his political

Some of Stalin’s choices were obvious enough. Clearly he
needed to overthrow the Nazi regime. And clearly this
required (before their surrender) defeat of the German armies
besieging Stalingrad.

As we become more specific, however, Stalin’s choices
become less clear. Yes, he should use all available steel for the
production of military equipment; there is no need for new
tractors at the moment. But how much of this steel should be
devoted to planes? to tanks (and which models)? to mortars? to
bombs? or to railroads (needed to move materiel to the front)?

Yes, all civilians—young and old, sick and healthy—should
devote their lives to repelling the Huns. But precisely how
many people should engage the enemy? work in tank factories?
dig trenches around the city? or forage for food (to ensure
survival through the winter)?

Even those tactical and strategic decisions normally made by
military commanders have the same flavor. Yes, a
sharpshooter such as Vasily Zaitsev should be used as a sniper,
rather than as bomber pilot or factory worker. But how best to
exploit Vasily? Should he be ordered to kill as many Germans
as quickly as possible? Surely not, for with every shot he
reveals his position. But it would also be far too conservative
to have him wait months in the hopes of getting one clear shot
at a general.

It is evident that Stalin (or his subordinates) must make all of
these decisions and thousands more just like them largely
through arbitrary guesswork. The wartime goal of expelling
the enemy is no different from the peacetime problem of food
production. In both cases, Stalin’s actions led to the deaths of
millions of his own people. Just as a free market in agriculture

would have prevented famine, a free market in defense would
have prevented such monstrous casualties.

Private Defense

Economic calculation allows entrepreneurs to judge whether a
plan has been profitable. It allows successful ventures to
expand and causes failed operations to disband. The market
constantly readjusts itself to the changing data: conditions of
supply, consumer demand, technical knowledge.

Now that we understand the manner in which insurance
companies could objectively and quantitatively appraise
military success, it is easy to see the advantages of private
defense. In a situation comparable to the Battle of Stalingrad,
the anarchist community would respond in the most efficient
manner humanly possible. Insurance companies would
determine the relative value of various military targets, and
place bounties on them (for capture or elimination).
Individuals left to their own spontaneous devices would try
various techniques to produce this “service.” Some might buy
tanks and hire men to attack the Germans head-on; others
might hire sharpshooters to snipe at them from afar. Some
might buy mortars and shell them. Some might hire
propagandists and offer bribes to lure defectors.

Over time, only the best defense firms would survive. They
would expand their operations, increasing the overall efficiency
of the war effort. Because they would be operating in a system
of property rights, they would need to purchase all of their
resources, including labor. This would ensure that the
resources were being used as effectively as possible. (For
example, those areas on the front in urgent need of soldiers or
ammunition would bid up their wages or prices, avoiding the
arbitrariness of government troop deployment and supply.)
Even if—to reduce transaction costs and maximize response
time—a single firm monopolized the defense of a region, the
firm could still engage in internal cost accounting and calculate
the profitability of its various branches.

Perhaps more important, free competition would ensure that
technological and strategic advances were rewarded and
quickly implemented. In contrast, a government military must
rely on a bureaucratic chain of command where innovation,
especially from outsiders, is stifled. In a very real sense, a
military confrontation between a statist and a free society
would be a war of a few minds versus millions.

Apples and Oranges

This theoretical discussion is sure to provoke the cynic to
remark, “I’d like to see what your insurance companies would
do if they met a Panzer division.”

But such a question misses the point. We have demonstrated
that a private defense system is the most effective, not that it is
invulnerable. Yes, a small society of anarchists would be
unable to repel the total might of Nazi Germany. But a small
society of statists would fare even worse—and in fact, plenty
of government militaries were obliterated by Hitler’s armies.


One might wonder whether private individuals would be as
knowledgeable about military affairs as government
professionals. Surely Colin Powell makes a better general than
Bill Gates.

This fact rests on the monopoly status of the U.S. military. If
private individuals were allowed to compete with Pentagon
generals, the incompetence of the latter would be manifest.
The average stockholder is no expert in professional sports or
foreign cuisine, yet private ownership still yields excellent
baseball clubs and French restaurants. Savvy executives hire
others to identify talented individuals.


Even if a military bound by property rights and contract would
have fared well in wars of an earlier era, what of modern
warfare, with its sophisticated espionage? Could there be
anarchist spies?

Private defense agencies would gather research just as any
company does. They would hire analysts and collect
information in any way legally possible. Presumably the most
powerful computers and smartest code breakers would reside in
an anarchist society. Whatever (if any) the loss caused by
prohibitions on wiretaps and torture, it would be more than
recovered in efficiency.

On this topic, we note that counterintelligence would probably
be quite limited. Defense agencies would have (possibly)
several major buyers and would be operating in an open
market. Consequently, they would need to advertise the
capabilities of their products. This openness, however, is a
virtue: What better way to avoid military defeat than by
showing potential enemies how advanced their anarchist foe
would be? The defense agencies in a free society would have
nothing to hide from governments.

“Do or Die”

The nature of military defense makes it less amenable to the
trial and error correction mechanism of the free market. A
nation can spend years in preparation for an attack, without
receiving any feedback on the quality of its efforts. A sudden
invasion could then wipe out the private defenders before they
had a chance to adapt. This situation is different from the
typical industry, in which repeated transactions day in and day
out allow experimentation with various techniques and the
weeding out of inefficiencies.

To meet this objection, we must remember that private defense
agencies, unlike their government counterparts, need not be

limited to regional clients. A multinational defense agency

could provide, say, fighter jet services to several insurance
companies in various areas of the world. Although inadequate
strategies or training
might remain hidden until a sudden
disaster, at most only one of the agency’s “franchises” would
be lost. The others would study the incident and learn to avoid

In such an environment, military strategists from all over the
world would collaborate in the new art of defense. While
government planners guarded their precious secrets and
protocols, anarchist agencies would hire the best and brightest
minds. Expert personnel would be rotated from region to
region, providing training in the latest tactics and equipment.

High-tech weapons would be stockpiled in central locations,
and loaned out to anarchist societies under imminent threat of
attack. This sharing—unthinkable among government
militaries except in the direst circumstances—would further
reduce the costs of private defense.

Nuclear Weapons

The case for private defense must deal with the possibility of
nuclear blackmail. In modern warfare, it would seem that only
a nation that can credibly threaten to obliterate its opponents is
safe from a first strike.

The anarchist society would probably not develop or even own
nuclear weapons. In the first place, the term defense has been
adopted consciously in this essay, and is not the euphemism as
used in government propaganda. Because they would gain
nothing from foreign conquest—since this would constitute
theft and would be fully prosecuted within the anarchist
courts—the owners of defense agencies would have no reason
to spend money on weapons that were ill- suited to tactical
Precision of weaponry would be of paramount
importance, since battles would be fought near or amidst a
defense agency’s customers.

Another, perhaps more significant, consideration is that
defense agencies would most likely be legally prohibited from
owning “weapons of mass destruction.” The anarchist legal
system would operate on the same principles of voluntary
contract that underlay the defense industry. Insurance
companies would vouch for individuals and pledge to
compensate anyone victimized by their clients. In an effort to
limit their liability, insurers would require certain concessions
from their customers. It is hard to imagine that an insurance
agency would pledge, say, $1 million for any (innocent) person
killed by Defense Firm X, when Firm X held a stockpile of
hydrogen bombs.

Despite its probable lack of nuclear weapons, the anarchist
society remains a viable option. Most obvious, there are statist
societies that currently survive without nuclear devices. By its
very nature, the anarchist society would be a completely
harmless neighbor.
No State would ever fear attack from an
anarchist military, and so there would be no need to
preemptively strike it (unlike the Japanese on Pearl Harbor).
With no taxation, regulation, tariffs, or immigration quotas, the
anarchist society would be of tremendous value to all major
They would surely act to protect it from
intimidation by a rival nuclear power.


The historical record supports our theoretical discussion.
Government military campaigns are characterized by gross
blunders that would be comical if not so tragic.
The only
reason certain powers, such as the United States, maintain their
aura of dominance is that they only fight other governments.

So far we have restricted attention to government militaries per
se. In reality, of course, a State hampers all of its operations
with wartime controls, further weakening its military
effectiveness. Price controls cause not only consumer
vexation—through ration cards and “Meatless Tuesdays”—but

also reduce output.
Modern wars are won with materiel. It is
no accident that the freest nations usually win their wars.

It is a statist myth that abuse of rights must be met in kind.
Bertrand de Jouvenal in his classic On Power argues that the
other European countries had no choice but to institute
conscription in response to Napoleon.
Yet this example only
proves the dismal imagination of government planners. Surely
a resilient anarchist society would have used its superior
technology and industrial capacity to furnish voluntary
with forts, cannons, horses, and protective armor,
sufficient to repel more numerous yet ill-equipped and poorly
trained conscripts.

The analogy of France fighting other European powers is
inappropriate. If a government army ever attacked an anarchist
society, the situation would be akin to the Vietnam War with
the technological roles reversed. There would be a clash of
cultures similar to the encounter between Pizarro and the Incan
emperor Atahuallpa.

The advantages of private property are as manifest in the
production of defense services as with any other. There is
nothing magical about government military forces; if they have
fewer tanks and planes and an inferior organization, they will
lose to their anarchist opponents. A tiny country such as
Taiwan can outperform communist China in the economic
arena. It could defend itself just as efficiently if its residents
would only abandon their faith in government police and
armies, and embrace total freedom.

This is the standard view among anarcho-capitalist writers. See for
example Linda and Morris Tannehill, The Market for Liberty (New York:
Laissez-Faire Books, 1984); Murray N. Rothbard, For a New Liberty (New
York: Collier, 1978); and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, “The Private Production
of Defense,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 14:1 (Winter 1998-1999), esp.
pp. 35-42. Even though these thinkers have outlined a feasible mechanism


for private defense, insurance companies may not be the vehicle actually
used in a real anarchist society: there could exist an even better market
solution, yet to be imagined.
Suppose there are two construction firms, Shady and Reliable, and that
there is one major earthquake per year. A bridge designed by Shady costs
only $10 million, but in the event of an earthquake will collapse 10% of the
time. A bridge designed by Reliable, on the other hand, costs $15 million
but during an earthquake has only a 1% chance of collapsing. (Assume the
bridges are identical in all other relevant respects.) The annual policy
ensuring a Shady bridge would be priced at roughly $1 million, while the
premium for a Reliable bridge would be roughly $150,000. So long as the
interest rate is no higher than approximately 20%, the savings on insurance
premiums justify purchasing the safer (yet more expensive) Reliable bridge.
(For simplicity, we have ignored depreciation of aging bridges, the time it
takes to rebuild a collapsed bridge, and the liability claims from killed
customers.) Note that this preference for the safer design has nothing to do
with altruism on the part of bridge owners, who are merely trying to
minimize their costs.
The precise arrangement would be specified contractually. For example,
an insurance policy might require that clients tune in to a certain TV or
radio station during an emergency, and follow the instructions. Of course,
the clients would be free to disregard these warnings and remain in their
(relatively unsafe) homes, but would thereby forfeit any compensation
should they suffer personal injury during the quake.
In mainstream economic literature, a public good is both non-excludable
and non-rival in consumption. In other words, the seller of a public good
can’t limit it to paying customers, and one person can consume the good
without reducing its availability to another. Clean air is a prototypical
public good.
In economist jargon, the insurance agencies would internalize the positive
externalities (among their customers) of defense spending.
Such a scenario raises an interesting question: Why would people buy
insurance from foreign conquest? What good is it to receive a check for
damaged property if it too would be confiscated? One possible market
response would be to diffuse ownership over large areas. For example, real
estate agencies would own property in every major city, rather than
concentrating it in one area. Investment firms would consider a financial
asset’s “location” when assembling their diversified portfolios. In this way,
even if a free society fell entirely to a State, the (multinational) insurance
companies would still need to indemnify the absentee owners of much of
the seized property.
Even Moocher Insurance would recognize the dangers of luring too many
of these big customers from Ace, since Moocher’s premiums would be
based on the accustomed level of security provided by Ace’s defense


The typical economist who explains why the free rider problem renders
private defense impractical also argues that cartels are inherently unstable
because of incentives for cheating. Yet the countries of OPEC always
manage to reach an agreement to limit output and distribute the gains.
In the extreme, we can even imagine defense agencies providing explicit
intelligence to foreign enemies, specifying which neighborhoods could be
bombed without reprisal. The statist commanders—perhaps after verifying
that such reports didn’t constitute a trap—would be delighted to adjust their
attacks, since this would allow them to achieve their objective, i.e. carnage,
with less resistance.
The use of audits only pushes the problem back one step. Government
auditors are under far less pressure than private sector ones, since their
employers—the legislators—do not desire frugality, but only the
appearance of frugality to the taxpayers.
For a fuller discussion, see Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic
and Sociological Analysis (Liberty Fund, 1981).
Strictly speaking, the “knowledge problem” (stressed by Friedrich Hayek)
is not quite the same as the more general calculation problem, but the
difference lies outside the scope of this essay.
An example may illustrate the problem: Everyone knows that it would be
incredibly “wasteful” to construct a bridge out of solid gold. Yet the vast
majority of the planners’ decisions—not only of what to make but how to
make it—are not so obvious.
The CIA, despite its sweeping powers and immense budgets, failed to
predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, harbored a mole for years, caused
the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy, and failed to prevent the
9/11 attacks (despite the discovery of similar terrorist plans as early as
Certain precautions would obviously be taken. For example, a factory
owner wouldn’t hire an enemy diplomat for fear of sabotage. But as factory
owner such a policy is perfectly within his rights; he wouldn’t need any
special “wartime powe rs.”
Hoppe writes, “[A]ll insurance companies are connected through a
network of contractual agreements of mutual assistance and arbitration as
well as a system of international reinsurance agencies, representing a
combined economic power which dwarfs that of most if not all existing
governments” (p. 36).
Warren Earl Tilson II has proposed that private defense forces could
maintain their edge by engaging in televised competition, a suggestion that
would also ameliorate the funding problem. We note that (like professional
sports) these contests would be fair, in sharp contrast to, say, the Pentagon’s
rigged ABM tests, on which billions of dollars of pork depend.
It is true that government military officers engage in the same types of
behavior, but on a far smaller scale than would be the case in a free market.


For example, would George W. Bush be spending $1 billion per month
bombing caves in Afghanistan if it were his money?
These considerations also show why an anarchist society need not fear a
foreign government using their own (advanced) weaponry against them.
Private defense firms would likely sell their wares to foreign buyers
(depending on the legal status of governments in the anarchist courts), but
these would be designed for defensive use. There would likely be no
aircraft carriers, long-range bombers or subs capable of transoceanic
This of course implies that a world of anarchist societies would be free
from war.
The cynic may believe that major governments would perceive a
successful anarchist society as a threat. Although this would be true to
some extent, politicians aren’t stupid; they rarely destroy lucrative trading
partners, especially ones with the ability to defend themselves.
This argument is admittedly an odd one; it seems to acknowledge the
benefit of some coercive apparatus. But note how the critique has changed.
Usually the critic of private defense says that it may work in theory but not
practice. Now the critic complains that private defense may work in
practice but not theory.
General Washington’s troops at Valley Forge were absurdly ill-equipped,
many lacking shoes. During the Civil War, Union generals delayed the
introduction of a newer rifle for fear their men would waste ammunition.
Proponents of air power were ridiculed in the first World War. British
admirals stubbornly refused to convoy their ships in response to German U-
boats, until their U.S. allies convinced them otherwise. Maginot’s Line
proved to be a bad joke. The Polish army used cavalry against the
blitzkrieging Germans, after telling its men the tanks were made of
cardboard. The intelligence failures surrounding Pearl Harbor were so
monumental as to lend credibility to conspiracy theorists. Silent Service
captains learned in the early stages of World War II that, due to a problem
in the pin mechanism, direct hits would fail to explode their torpedoes, and
so they purposely aimed for glancing shots. The manufacturer managed to
deny the problem for years before finally correcting it . Examples abound of
military blunders.
The inability of a coalition of the world’s strongest governments to
eliminate a single man—Osama bin Laden—after months of “resolve”
underscores the limits of State power.
Price controls are particularly disastrous for countries enduring a
blockade. Without lucrative profits, why would smugglers risk confiscation
or even death?
Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power: The Natural History of Its Growth
(Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993), p. 164.


The use of paid soldiers, who viewed their work as just an occupational
choice, would also avoid the dangers posed by standing armies, which
governments inevitably use against their own subjects.
Conscription, far from being a valuable tool of governments, only allows
them to squander their most precious resource. On paper, the Southern
states should have easily survived Northern attacks. But their
commanders—trained at West Point—eschewed ungentlemanly guerrilla
tactics and instead rounded up their able-bodied men and marched them into
Union guns. See Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving
Free Men (Chicago: Open Court, 1996), pp. 178-179.
We also note the relative difficulty Napoleon would face in conquering an
anarchist (versus statist) neighbor. With no centralized government, there is
no institution with the authority to surrender to a foreign power (see Hoppe
p. 49). By creating a coercive apparatus of taxation and control over their
subjects, the other European states made Napoleon’s task that much easier.
In contrast, it took the British years to subdue Ireland, with its decentralized
In one of the most lopsided military victories in history, “Pizarro, leading
a ragtag group of 168 Spanish soldiers, was in unfamiliar terrain, ignorant
of the local inhabitants, completely out of touch with the nearest
Spaniards…and far beyond the reach of timely reinforcements. Atahuallpa
was in the middle of his own empire of millions of subjects and
immediately surrounded by his army of 80,000 soldiers….Nevertheless,
Pizarro captured Atahuallpa within a few minutes after the two leaders first
set eyes on each other.” See Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (New
York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999), p. 68.

About the Anarchists

Robert P. Murphy is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at New
York University, where he is working on a dissertation on
monetary and interest theory. He is Senior Editor of anti-
state.com, a regular columnist for LewRockwell.com, and a
frequent contributor to Mises.org. He has a personal website,

Jeremy Sapienza is a web developer in Miami Beach. He is
founder and Editor of anti-state.com, assistant webmaster for
antiwar.com, and a regular columnist for LewRockwell.com.
He runs a free email service for anarchists at anarchomail.com.

Robert Vroman is an economics student at St. Louis
University. He is on the committee of the St. Louis Libertarian
Party and an organizer of the Free State Project. His personal
websites are EndAuthority.com and Anti-Marx.com.