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Ep. 58 Using World War I to Prove the Incompetence of State Militaries

Bob uses some samples from Dan Carlin’s amazing podcast, Hardcore History, to illustrate the flaws with State-provided military services. Bob concludes that minarchists have nothing to fear, and they should embrace the full vision of a voluntary society with no institutional coercion.
Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:

The audio production for this episode was provided by Podsworth Media.

About the author, Robert

Christian and economist, Research Assistant Professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech, Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute, and co-host with Tom Woods of the podcast "Contra Krugman."


  1. Tel on 09/10/2019 at 10:21 AM

    The ancient Greeks already tried the idea of decentralized governance with their city-states … each of which was a separate society with some features common to the others … yet also independent and self-governing to allow experimentation and local decision making. Alexander the Great and his Macedonian troops were the most powerful army of their day. The same group of heavy dudes walked all the way from Greece to India, defeated EVERYTHING in their path and went hand to hand against elephants and won that battle too.

    And yet, only a few generations later the same Greek city states were defeated by Romans (although Sparta stayed independent for quite a while longer, presumably because the pragmatic Romans took a peek, shook their heads, and kept going). Here’s an example of what went wrong.

    The Seleucid Empire attempted to lend their support to the other Greek city-states in their time of need. Since Alexander the Great put the Seleucids into power, and since they were culturally Hellenistic … it made sense that they would not want to see Greece defeated (also, logically they understood the Romans would come for the Seleucids next). However, projecting power is expensive and the conquered people ruled over by the Seleucid Empire saw no reason why their taxes should go towards fighting a far away foreign war against Rome. Then came the Maccabean Revolt weakening the Seleucid dynasty and leading to a brief period of Judean sovereignty.

    The Greeks found themselves unable to coordinate their defense and Rome was victorious … indeed the Romans followed in the steps of Alexander the Great and conquered most of the Middle East. When the Judean people tried to stand up to Rome they were smashed far more brutally than anything the Greeks had ever imposed, and eventually the Romans were fed up with the uprisings and exiled trouble-makers from the land.

    Rome was successful because at every stage it maintained central power and the ability to coordinate forces and draw resources from a massive base. This was despite the Greeks having a head start, and the Greeks having excellent technology and science as well as a demonstrated world-beating military. The Greek scientists were so good that Romans saw them as prized possessions when they took those Greeks prisoner. Both the Greeks and Romans were eclectic cultures … very willing to adopt the technology of others they met either via trade or conquest. Even though Greece had pioneered many discoveries, the Romans quite quickly adapted and gained access to similar technology. This is one problem for a world power depending primarily on technology to stay ahead … it’s intrinsically much easier to copy a design than it is to be the first to design a new thing.

    Rationally (and with the benefit of hindsight) the Maccabeans would have been better off putting up with mildly imposing Greek kings instead of the Romans who came after them … but it’s hard to explain to people because we don’t agree on what’s rational. The festival of Hanukkah still celebrates the Maccabean victory today … even though this uprising led to the defeat of BOTH the Greeks and the Judean people themselves at the hands of ascendant central power projected from Rome.

  2. Bob on 09/11/2019 at 2:07 AM

    Hey Dr. Murphy, 1) you are amazing! 2) I greatly admire your theoretical work on how a private property society (“Ancapistan”) might work with respect to issues like security. However I’ve not seen you or anyone else address the really thorny problems created by the shady actions of the world’s many intelligence agencies. Have you done any work in this area? Can you recommend any material on this? Specifically I’m thinking about something like Operation Northwoods. If you haven’t read that short declassified memo I recommend searching “operation northwoods pdf” and reading it for yourself (it’s the stuff of nightmares!). How might Ancapistan deal with these kinds of threats? A simple answer is that insurance companies or general security services (etc) would have to deal with this just like all other threats, though I don’t think that level of answer does justice to how tricky the problems are in this space. From 2500 years ago with Sun Tzu to the Roman Catholic Church’s “Santa Alleanza” intelligence services 500 years ago to the modern CIA and CIS and GRU and so on, there have been and are massive use of spies and subversion and trickery to accomplish the goals of the powerful. Protecting against the risks of propaganda and false flag attacks and so on without violating libertarian principles seems like an under-studied topic. Or at least I haven’t found the treasure trove of books and articles that will clear this up for me. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them! Thank you for all that you do, you rock!

    • Robert Murphy on 09/11/2019 at 3:07 PM

      Hi Bob, in my work in Chaos Theory I very briefly discuss counterintelligence. But that’s the most I’ve written on it.

  3. Daniel Herkenhoff on 03/01/2020 at 11:03 PM

    Hi Bob,

    I am reading one of Asimov’s books (a compilation of his short stories—Nightfall and Other Stories—and one of them is quite funny in dealing with state war (well, in that case World State war, or, maybe Worlds State war.

    I think you’re gonna like it. The name: The Machine That Won the War.

    Keep doing great work!

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