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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Hacking Leviathan

“Libertarian populism” is all the rage in the Beltway blogosphere. The idea, more or less, is that something of a political platform is emerging. Everybody hates cronyism and the rigged game that sustains it. The game keeps good people back and diverts money into the coffers of the wealthy. People would hate the system if they knew more about it. All the center-right has to do is explain everything and promise to dismantle the infrastructure of cronyism. This will usher in a new-age love fest for libertarian messages among the laity. That’s a sketch, anyway.

All well and good. We’re not particularly sanguine about the idea of dismantling the corporate state through old-fashioned democratic political means. But we’re happy to let the Beltway types have their conversation and hope the voters get wise to the game. Who knows? Maybe it will become a platform. Maybe people who care more about must-see TV right now will finally start to care about public choice economics. We’re just not going to sit around and wait for that fire to catch.

We’d prefer to get behind what we call “hacking Leviathan.”

If you’re worried because “hacking” has a negative connotation, please know we’re not suggesting people do anything illegal. That’s between you and your risk-benefit analysis. What we’re suggesting is that “hacking” has positive connotations and tremendous potential to liberate people. 

Consider so-called “life hacking”: Wikipedians refer to it as “any productivity trick, shortcut, skill, or novelty method to increase productivity and efficiency, in all walks of life; in other words, anything that solves an everyday problem in a clever or non-obvious way.” Sounds good. What about a form of hacking that uses shortcuts, novelty methods and innovation in general to circumvent or shake up the status quo?

Hacking Leviathan taps more into this spirit than into the notion of becoming a virtual safe-cracker. Government is slow, not very innovative, and its rules are becoming increasingly obsolete. This State sclerosis is due largely to special interests that accrete and harden around old ways, old laws, and old public troughs. They’re going to protect the gravy train, and they’re pretty good at it, usually. But if enough people are developing creative workarounds and new good things, the State and its functionaries will simply be bewildered by it all. That’s the hope, anyway. By the time the technocrats (and their cronies) catch up to the action, it will hopefully be too late. Large constituencies will have formed around, say, Bitcoin (peer-to-peer private payment), Bitmessage (p2p private messaging), Airbnb (p2p temporary apartment rentals) or Uber (p2p cab services). 

And a Leviathan-hacker needn’t be a techie, even if a lot of the jargon—to say nothing of the general attitudes—comes from that world. There are doctors who charge small sums and are developing “concierge” models to ditch the Obamacare-industrial complex. Hondurans have amended their constitution so as to upgrade their social operating systems, making room for startup cities (officially known by the acronym ZEDE). Someone might reject a bad system simply by opting out—for example, simply by choosing a diet that isn’t based on the government food pyramid. Our own distinguished fellow Jeffrey Tucker has made a cottage industry out of telling people how they can seize their showerheads back from the State, or raise glasses of bourbon to Michael Bloomberg at 8:30 a.m. 

Whatever people do, we are excited by the prospects of creative collaboration in an age of rapid social and technological evolution. And that leads us back to this question of libertarian populism.

James Poulos, writing for, suggests a form that dovetails nicely with liberty hacking, particularly when we move from the merely political to the anthropological. He writes: 

The anthropology I’m proposing [is all about] unforeseeable transformations, at the personal level and the human level. That’s the essence of a game that’s anything but zero-sum: inherently creative, open-source, universal, and unable to be captured by planners and forecasters.  

Such an anthropology is consonant with what we have called “networked libertarianism.” And it is certainly a libertarian populism suitable for a small-but-inspired army of Leviathan hackers.


  • The Freeman is the flagship publication of the Foundation for Economic Education and one of the oldest and most respected journals of liberty in America. For more than 50 years it has uncompromisingly defended the ideals of the free society.