National Defense and the Theory of Externalities, Public Goods, and Clubs

Chapter 9 by Walter Block from “The Myth of National Defense,” edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Narrated by George Pickering. http://mises.org The libertarian idea of society without a state appeals to many people, but, however enticing the idea, it is often…

National Defense and the Theory of Externalities, Public Goods, and Clubs

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Chapter 9 by Walter Block from “The Myth of National Defense,” edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Narrated by George Pickering. http://mises.org

The libertarian idea of society without a state appeals to many people, but, however enticing the idea, it is often dismissed as utopian. How could an anarchist society defend itself against large, centralized states? Defense, it has been alleged, cannot be adequately supplied by the free market. It is what economists term a “public good.”

The contributors to The Myth of National Defense dissent from this verdict. In a characteristically stimulating essay, Hans-Hermann Hoppe shows in detail how an anarchist society would deal with protection. He suggests that protective agencies would be linked to insurance companies. Carrying the battle to his statist adversaries, Hoppe contends that Hobbes and his many successors have failed to show that the state that they support is preferable to the state of nature.

Walter Block confronts the public goods problem head-on. It is not true, he says, that defense must be supplied to everybody, the principal claim of those who raise the public goods objection. To the contrary, the market has ways to exclude those who do not buy defense services from receiving protection.

Jeffrey Hummel brings a historical perspective to the argument. Given modern technological conditions, a small but technological defense force, of the sort that an anarchist society could provide, would be able to repel invasions from the mass armies raised by states. Joseph Stromberg looks to the history of guerilla war to illustrate successful defense without a large army, and Larry Sechrest shows how private forces have carried out naval warfare.

The work contains much else; as an example, the distinguished philosopher of science Gerard Radnitzky challenges the view that democracies are more peaceful than other forms of government. Readers in search of a thoughtful alternative to the stale bromides that dominate current thought about national defense will find exactly what they are looking for in this outstanding study.

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Full text of “The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production” available online:

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