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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What is Political Action?

By: Michael Richards
In Franz Oppenheimer's work, The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically explains that there are two ways in which wealth is acquired. These two ways are either economically (through labor and trade) or politically (through violent coercion). Certain Austrian economists also view politics as the "art of ruling". However these views are not only inaccurate, but fail to see the overall study of politics as the foundation of law and human interaction.

The reader should not get the idea that economics has no part in political science. Economics is the very foundation upon which political science rests; along with the science of ethics. Unlike economics however, the foundation of political science does not concern itself primarily with the allocation of scarce resources. Instead politics is really the science of how society organizes itself among competing and cooperating groups. All-in-all, political science is more about how rules are made, rather than how to rule society.

The primary source of rule making is ideas. As Steven Kinsella and Murray Rothbard stated, ideas are not scarce resources. Rules are ideas which create scarcity by restricting which actions are and are not permissible for those which exist in an organization. An organization may be large (like society) or small (like a family). The primary subject of economics is how individuals act in a world of scarce resources and how resources are allocated amongst those individuals at the various stages of production. To state differently, economics deals with the means of allocating limited resources so as to fulfill the subjective wants of individuals. Political science deals with how rules are developed by individuals to restrict the actions of other individuals and/or themselves which they deem to be against their interest. How these rules effect the economic organization of society is the primary subject of a mixed branch of science known as political economy.

Rules can either be developed voluntary amongst individuals acting on behalf of their own self interest or through violent coercion on the part of some individuals hoping to impose their will on other individuals. Seeing how political science has more to deal with how rules are made rather than the traditional approach which attempts to discover the cause and effect of those rules; it will hopefully add to the debate between those favoring a voluntary society and those who feel the need to have some form of government.

Since economic action is the ground work from which political action springs up, it should come to no surprise that political science will use several economic terms and concepts to explain the rule making process. This work will mostly draw from the Austrian School of Economics, focusing on the theories of Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, Hoppe, Benson and Klein. Others writers of importance are Boetie, Bastiat, Spooner, Locke and Madison.

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What is Political Action? by Michael Richards is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


  1. A voluntary society would never exist so long as self-interest exists. Some people's self-interest requires greed and corruption, thus relegating any "free" or "voluntary" society a null hypothesis. The self-interest that propels keeping others from harming others essentially turns into a government entity. Then when the corrupted cannot beat them they join them and enforce their corruption through the guise of law. Just a nasty cycle that proves pure anarchy will never work.

  2. My hypothesis does not rest on any theory of justice, that is the subject of ethics. Mine is political behavior and law making. With or without a government, voluntary societies do exist (even within the government itself). My theory is what is the difference in the foundations of voluntary and coercive laws, and how do they differ in terms of enforcement.

    You are correct in assuming that corruption is always possible in any society and that justice and laws can be made to serve a single group who prevert the system. I will treat the practicability and ethical assumptions of a completely voluntary society some time when I understand more fully the arguments provided by Hoppe and Rothbard. I am currently leaning towards the arguments for the completely voluntary society and consider myself ethically and politically to be an "anarchist". Also with the theory of Frank Chodorov's ideas of the state, it too will only destroy itself proving that it is unworkable from the start.

  3. I recommend Hayek on common law as a spontaneous order. He provides for an anarchic system of rule/law formation to be differentiated from legislation. On this his Law, Liberty, and Legislation is excellent (The Constitution of Liberty introduces the idea, but LLL is better overall).

    The great thing about economics is that it takes self-interest and greed into consideration and transforms them into positives for society. Government either tries to legislate these things (and, thus, reality) away, while taking full advantage of corruption (see Hayek's "Why the Worst Get to the Top" in The Road to Serfdom).

  4. I never knew Hayek wrote on common law. I read Robert Murphy's Chaos Theory, Hoppe's Democracy the God that Failed, Bruce Benson's Customary Law with Private means of Resolving Disputes and Dispensing Justice, and some of Lysander Spooner's Constitution of No Authority. I will make sure to read your suggestions though.

    I have read that part of the Road to Serfdom btw, your write it was interesting :D

    I'll try to check these out, but most of the books I read are free since I am a broke college student (and Hayek's work is hard to get free sometimes).

    Thank you for your post. Also, I agree with you about economics (particularly Austrian Economics), it really does get to the heart of human nature and the world that humans live in.