What does a Libertarian Terrorist Manhunt Look Like?

In a modern, technological libertarian society, there is nowhere in an urban area to run to. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone has seen your photo and is on the lookout for you. What manhunt?

The number one most popular critical response to my article “Boston Tried a Police State and it Failed” is “What would you have done?” How would I have handled a terrorist on the loose in a major metropolitan area?

That’s a great question. Anyone who criticizes must also propose alternative solutions that remedy their criticisms. Such a practice is simply good faith and integrity – not to mention in desperately short supply!

Lockdown Unprecedented

It’s important to recognize that even the FBI’s official historian admitted that the Boston Lockdown was unprecedented. It had never been done before. That leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the lockdown was a unique event. It’s not standard operating procedure to lock down a major metropolitan area when a fugitive is on the loose, no matter what he is accused of. Even the FBI, the highest civilian police organization in the United States, admits this.

So you can not argue that the Boston Lockdown was normal. You can not argue that it was expected. You can not tell me that it was business as usual. It is impossible to believe that no one was surprised by this. It had never been done before! So don’t try to tell me that the cops were just doing what they always do. Your own FBI says you’re wrong!

Libertarianism: Equality, Peace & Honesty

Very few critics of libertarianism are able to muster a decent critique of it. Most simply do not know a whole lot about libertarianism. It is, at root, the radically egalitarian idea that we are all equal and no one may control you using physical force or any kind of non-physical fraud. That’s it! That’s libertarianism in a nutshell: equality, peace, honesty.

But somewhere between those three gorgeous little words and your TV screen, it all goes horribly wrong. Libertarians are regularly demonized on all kinds of issues that I won’t go into here. My point is that libertarians are frequently misunderstood. In fact, eminent people regularly tell blatant lies about us. So try to set aside your preconceptions and other people’s judgments and make your own decisions about libertarianism for yourself.

Libertarianism is not a Panacea

Libertarianism as a political philosophy – as a guidebook for organizing society – does not pretend to be a panacea. In the final analysis, no system will solve our problems for us. No system will eliminate violence, inequality, poverty, rudeness or feelings of emptiness all by itself, just by the push of a button.

A system is only as effective as the individuals who operate it. In any system, organization, community or family, it is the individuals who make things happen, or not. It is the individuals who provide protection or cause harm. The individuals involved are responsible for what takes place. Results depend on personal characteristics such as conscientiousness, integrity, industriousness, intelligence, perseverance and the taking of initiative.

What libertarianism does really well, however, is recognize that each individual is a world unto herself and that no one can make decisions for the respective individual except for that individual himself. In other words, libertarianism is about liberating individuals and letting them follow their own heart. Each individual must of course also be responsible for the consequences of their decisions. Libertarianism is not just about doing whatever you want whenever you want. It’s also about bearing the responsibility for your actions. Complete liberty and complete responsibility – scary, isn’t it?

A Thousand Libertarian Societies

So how would a fugitive in a libertarian society be caught? It’s first important to understand that there is no one libertarian society. Freedom implies diversity. In the future, there could be millions of unique and different libertarian societies in existence. Liberty is not like the state (it’s the opposite in fact). Libertarian societies need not have borders with guard posts and barbed wire (though some might!). There may be no large countries (empires) like the USA or the European Union. We may see a return to the era of city-states, or even organization on a smaller scale. We might see city-block-level governance.

This does not however mean anarchy (in the sense of destructive chaos). Upon a foundation of individual agreements in the form of associations (think cooperatives), large syndicates (think cooperatives of cooperatives) could be formed with standardized sets of rules and dispute resolution procedures. Decentralized organization does not necessarily mean a tower of babel. It just means that governance is now accountable at the level on which it operates.

For example, today, if you want to legalize the production and consumption of a plant like cannabis, you must travel perhaps hundreds of miles to your state capital and convince hundreds, perhaps thousands or millions of people, to change the rule against it (a rule you never consented to in the first place). And even if you succeed, you may still have to travel thousands of miles to the seat of the federal government where you may have to convince tens or hundreds of millions of people. That’s insane.

In a libertarian society, you might only need to convince the 10 to 100 neighbors on your block or residential community. And if they don’t agree with you, you could move to another block where they do agree with you. And if there is no community that agrees with you, you can go live independently in a place where you can make the rules. You can even start your own residential community where the rules that make sense to you prevail.

Nobody for Mayor of Boston

This preamble is necessary for non-libertarian audiences because in a libertarian future, Boston would most likely be less of a political entity and more of a geographical region. There would be no mayor of Boston, no governor of Massachusetts, no president of the United States. There would be no political leaders per se whatsoever. There would likely be no one person who could demand, much less enforce, a lockdown of any large area.

There could be multiple competing confederations of citizen-controlled security organizations. These confederations could be cooperatives, mutuals, corporations, unions, sole proprietorships or even worker-owned federations of freelance individuals. Citizens and citizen organizations (think business associations, block governance, home-owner associations, civic groups, etc.) would hire these security organizations to provide security for their respective properties. Think ADT but now the home security system is just their entry-level product.

There would be no more police, as we know them today. The function of providing security is transferred to the equivalent of private security guards. There would be no police or government to limit the abilities of these security organizations. They would be limited by their customers, their competitors, their respective insurance companies and society-at-large. So they’re not mall cops. They’re real cops. They’re simply very accountable. There is no more de facto sovereign immunity for police officers who commit crimes on the job.

Since these security organizations now operate at the behest of individual property owners (business owners, high-rise building owners, street owners, home-owners, etc.), they can set up extremely tight security on the property they are responsible for – if that’s what the property owner wants. They can set up cameras (that actually work, unlike a lot of current government surveillance cameras). They can frisk people who wish to enter the property. They can use all types of security screening to ensure that your block, neighborhood, street, workplace, office-building, sporting complex, airport, etc is safe.

In a libertarian society, you can actually have better, tighter and more effective security than you had in Boston’s police state on Friday and without violating anyone’s rights. Did I blow your mind? Don’t believe me? Read on.

What about my civil liberties and my privacy? In your home, on your property, you are the master and may maintain your privacy as you wish. But when you set foot into my home, you have to agree to my rules if you want to come in. It’s like the dad who says to his son, “My house, my rules.” I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but that is a pithy way of summarizing libertarianism.

No one is forcing you to enter my office building. If you want to come in, you have to abide by the rules. And the rules say that you must submit to a stringent security screening.

But that’s not fair! Good, I’m glad you think so. Since there are hundreds of office buildings in a large city like Boston, and now we have freedom, each building owner (doesn’t have to be an individual, the owner could be a cooperative of the individual office owners) can decide for herself what level of security she thinks is appropriate. The owner of the Sears Tower (taking examples from Chicago), for example, may insist on the strictest of security measures during a terrorism scare while the owner(s) of the Hancock Building may only instruct their security organization to use passive security measures when there is no terrorism scare.

What if all of the office building owners band together and they all use the same Orwellian security measures? I want to work in an office and now I can’t because I don’t like those kinds of security measures. Great observation. You could try another city, or, if there are enough others who agree with you, you can get financing to build your own, more libertarian, office building. If people like your security better, you may even force the other office building owners to change.

What if there is a lazy, obstinate, absentee property owner (of a building, sports complex, block, etc.) that doesn’t take appropriate security precautions? Great question. Since there are no governments now to bail property owners out of their losses, property owners will need to manage risk another way. In fact, they already manage risk in other ways. I’m thinking of insurance.

Insurance exists to mitigate risk. You get car insurance in case you hurt someone with your car, so you don’t have to pay to make the person whole again out of your own pocket. You get property insurance in case your house burns down, so you don’t have to rebuild out of your own pocket. You get life insurance in case you die, so that your surviving loved ones don’t have to struggle financially as they rebuild their lives. There is insurance to mitigate many of the risks we face in life.

In a libertarian society, each individual may have to carry insurance just to step out of their own home and onto the property of another person, be that the street, another home, a workplace, a sporting complex or an airport. Owners of property may have to carry insurance to make sure that if someone is hurt on their property, that the injured party is made whole. In a libertarian society, the complex web of free interactions will likely be protected against misconduct (force and fraud) at all levels with insurance policies.

But these policies don’t just pay out when something goes wrong. The insurance companies writing the policies have a strong financial incentive to make sure that nothing goes wrong in the first place! Returning to the lazy, obstinate, absentee property owner who refuses to take appropriate security measure at, let’s say, his sporting event (for example, the Boston Marathon), he will not be able to hold the event in the first place if he can’t get insurance coverage.

In order to get coverage, the insurance company will in all likelihood require him to have adequate security policies and personnel in place. Otherwise, they won’t cover him and he won’t be able to hold the event. If they don’t ensure that he carries out the event safely, it’s their skins on the line. If people are hurt or killed, they stand to pay out millions.

In fact, their reputation will suffer. People will call into question the security not just at the location of the successful terrorist attack, but at every single property that this lackadaisical insurance company covers. In a freed marketplace, this insurance company could be put out of business overnight as its customers restore confidence by changing to another insurance provider. In the end, it’s just a lot cheaper to ensure adequate security.

So, in a libertarian society, the pressures to do the right thing will most likely be many times stronger than they are right now in the statist society. Not to mention that people will be free of state restrictions (laws) that, in a surprising number of situations, currently prevent them from doing the right thing.

A Libertarian Manhunt

But even if terrorists are able to penetrate tight security, where will they run to? Everything is under surveillance. There are security guards on every block, either in person or via camera. There might be drones in the sky keeping an eye on things. Even the streets have owners now, and those owners are responsible for providing security. If they don’t, they can be sued – and not in super-slow government court! They will have surveillance measures in place, if only to ensure that the cars on their streets have the appropriate insurance stickers and have paid their fees for the use of the road.

In a modern, technological libertarian society, there is nowhere in an urban area to run to. There is nowhere to hide. Everyone has seen your photo and is on the lookout for you. What manhunt?

Even in today’s statist society, there are many libertarian aspects and enclaves. On the popular news and discussion site Reddit, motivated individuals created a subreddit to find and identify the Boston Marathon Bombers shortly after it happened. (Predictably, law enforcement and the media denounced it and Reddit shut it down after a short but fascinating existence.) Individuals on social networks, on their cell phones, on mass media and in real life shared photos of the suspects. It is a factual reality that bombing suspects can be rapidly identified and that their photos can be rapidly shared with tens of millions of people, each of whom serves as a lookout with direct cellular access to a security force that is capable of apprehending the suspects. That already exists!

Even in today’s statist society, it was not the 9,000 paramilitary troops in Boston that found the surviving Tsarnaev brother. It was a lone individual who came out of his house for a smoke once the government lifted its lockdown order.

Those of us who are paying attention to the rapid pace of technological and societal innovation taking place today will recognize that egalitarian systems are more powerful than top-down hierarchies. Crowdsourcing, open source software development, Wikipedia, peer-to-peer systems like bittorent, social media – these are examples of libertarian ideas in action. They have had a powerful and far-reaching impact on our daily lives already. Imagine what we can achieve if we experiment with these ideas in even more areas of our lives?


Sure, there are lots of likelys, coulds, shoulds and mights in this article but you can clearly see that the incentives in a freed society are pointing us all towards common goals. Like a chain, a system is only as good as the individuals that make up its individual links. But a system based on freedom, equality and the utmost respect for individual sovereignty gives us the best chance to achieve our shared goals.

This is just a short (well, it got rather long) article so there are many aspects of a stateless society and polycentric law that I haven’t touched on. This doesn’t mean that libertarian solutions don’t exist in these areas! It just means that I’ll write about them in the future.

But there are plenty of resources out there on these topics. Please google them if you want to learn more. I surely didn’t invent them. I am still learning about them, in fact. And there are better individuals than I who have written better pieces than mine on these topics. The Center for a Stateless Society is one noteworthy organization that is putting out serious work on these issues on a daily basis and has been doing so for years. I recommend them. Their content is free and they like it when you repost it.

But this is not an issue of just idle speculation about one possible future. A lot of libertarians are convinced that the most pressing ills of our society – war, violence, poverty, the high cost of healthcare, excessive imprisonment, inequality, unemployment, terrorism and more – are precisely caused by the statist form of societal organization. And we also have good reason to believe that, by tweaking our form of societal organization towards radical liberty, we can enable individuals to significantly alleviate, if not outright eliminate, these ills.

What’s at stake here is not just our own respective individual futures and the futures of our kids, but also our future as a species. And that’s serious business for any human being. These ideas merit your consideration.

By George Donnelly

I'm building a tribe of radical libertarians to voluntarize the world by 2064. Join me.

9 replies on “What does a Libertarian Terrorist Manhunt Look Like?”

George, you present the Reddit/4chan investigation of the Boston Marathon Bombing as an example, but it’s a rather poor one. The “crowd sourced” investigation misidentified multiple innocent people, who were then harassed by online mobs. I believe one family that was harassed was a family of a missing teenager.

Supposedly, this is part of the reason why Boston PD has released photos of the suspects so early – to minimize damage to innocent people.

No, I said that that subreddit was an example of a libertarian mode of organization, but not an example of a way that a libertarian society might ideally investigate a crime. You’re misinterpreting what I wrote just a little. I can see that I should have been clearer.

I am not saying that criminal investigations would be crowdsourced in a libertarian society. Anything is possible where people have freedom, but I don’t think it’s an optimal way to organize a criminal investigation. A security organization and possibly the syndicate it belongs to, or mutiple syndicates, should handle that in a way that is consistent with commonly-accepted criminological procedures.

At the same time, any harassment that happened is less the fault of the subreddit and more the fault of immature people. I can’t fault the redditors involved in the investigation because they were simply looking for the truth (I assume, since I did not read every post in that subreddit). A search for the truth is always admirable and to be encouraged.

The harassment is obviously counterproductive, to say the least. The kind of stateless libertarian society I describe here would not be mob justice. It would simply be accountable justice.

On the issue of the immature people, it’s an example of how any system will rise and fall on the quality of the behavior exhibited by the people involved in it.

I hope that clarifies what I was trying to say and thanks for your comment.

So you don’t actually have a better way to do what the police and civilians in the area did. The police were, by the way, roving the streets in squads and patrols during the nor’easter, it is called public safety. It is part of their job.

Either you didn’t comprehend what I wrote or you don’t know what happened in Boston.

Like I said, I don’t think that 9,000 paramilitary cops were roaming the streets to enforce the stay off the roads suggestion and definitely not doing house to house searches.

Two issues: (1) calling this an “article” (it’s a “column” or “essay” or “blog post”) and (2) promoting C4SS (decent organization, but too much bad economics to be found there).

Other than that, excellent piece.

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