Book Review: The Sovereign Individual (1997)

Mastering the transition to the Information Age
by James Dale Davidson and William Rees-Mogg
Review by Brian R. Wright

sovereign_individualThis book was drawn to my attention by a fellow Free Stater—thanks, Shuvom. The title alone is compelling, and I have actually met one of the authors back in the earlier days of the Libertarian Party (LP) phenomenon. James Davidson was in Ann Arbor, as I recall, as a speaker for an LP of Michigan convention. In those days he was a fairly well known leader of the National Taxpayers Union, which he founded in 1969. Don’t know the man, Lord William Rees-Mogg, nor what percentage of the book he wrote or edited, but I consider The Sovereign Individual a fine addition to the literature of liberty. And I do rather wonder why it’s seldom mentioned as a leading work in the oeuvre.

The central idea of the book, which is consistent with my own development of the Sacred Nonaggression Principle, is there has been and continues to be a natural progression away from domination by others, or by central coercive systems, and toward the full flowering of the individual as an end in himself/herself. For such a person, the need for whatever services government has claimed a monopoly on thru the ages—protection, money, schooling, what have you—becomes a market decision that the person is qualified to make. And morally entitled to make.

But the book—composed toward the end of the 20th century—does not dwell on the moral aspects of this assertion of one’s own self-rulership/self-ownership, it prefers instead to point out the economic realities that drive the imminent demise of the nation-state. Basically, just as the Medieval Church (of Rome) toward the end of the 15th Century was decaying as a moral or political authority, the same thing is happening with the Church of the Holy Nation-State at the end of the 20th Century. [In the case of the former, the printing press and its dissemination of ideas hastened the end; for the latter, the main agency of coercive-power-dispersion is the digital computer and the Internet.]

The argument of this book clearly informs the decision to redeploy your capital, if you have any. Citizenship is obsolete. To optimize your lifetime earnings and become a Sovereign Individual you will need to become a customer of a government or protection service, rather than a citizen. Instead of paying whatever tax burden is imposed upon you by grasping politicians, you will be better positioned to prosper in the Information Age by freeing yourself to negotiate a private tax treaty that obliges you to pay no more for services of government than they are actually worth to you. — page 398

So the focus is economic. The appendix includes practical resources for moving one’s wealth to locations and accounts less threatened by the modern Western, primarily American, nation-state. The book is happy with the situation, and regards the nation-state as a barbaric relic, much as coercive taxation per se. Yet the authors never go so far as to make any strong moral case against centralized government coercion, e.g. taxation, only to show how cumbersome and ill-suited many practices of the Leviathan State have become in satisfying real human political needs… that is, to be secure in life, liberty, and property.

There’s a lot more to the book than the above central points. In fact, a large part of the book is historical analysis of Continental economics. It sometimes reads like Guns, Germs, and Steel, only the subject area is in the European context. One learns a lot about what it was like being a serf, or being a knight, or being a lord, or being a cleric, etc. Davidson and Mogg—my speculation is Mogg is the historian and, thus, responsible for the majority of page count—bring up several notions that seldom come up. Such as the canonization of business practices that serve an oligarchy:

… The famous ban on eating meat on Friday originated in the same spirit [as making use of cheaper alum from Turkey a sin]. The Church was not only the largest feudal landowner, it also held major fisheries. Church Fathers discovered a theological necessity for the pious to eat fish, which coincidentally ensured a demand for their product at a time when transport and sanitary conditions discouraged fish consumption. — p. 114

You can see the same bureaucratic convenience at work today with the American nation-state: my favorite example, banning cultivation of or commerce in agricultural hemp. The ostensible reason is the state’s holy mantra that drugs are bad for you and hemp contains miniscule quantities of THC, so the state must ban hemp to prevent drug use. The real reason is hemp is a HUGE threat to protected industries: paper, linen, building materials, protein, seed, energy.

[I have often speculated the value of a free hemp industry in the United States will reach $1 trillion per year within five years of legalization. This is solely based on a quick read of the GDP for various products hemp will, in part, supplant. Thus, I truly feel, considering American ingenuity and the restoration of the family farm with all the technology Americans have, the $1 trillion/year number is grossly conservative.]

On a readability scale, I have to grade Sovereign as middlin’. The type is small, and aside from the few chapters that make the salient point that we can take practical steps toward achieving personal freedom by claiming, at least, economic sovereignty from existing nation-states, it’s easy to get bogged down. The writing is very good, and the subjects described are fascinating—the manner of existence for Europeans during the second millennium AD makes for erudite consumption. But all right already, we know history moves toward the nonaggression ideal.

We learn, further, that mass industrial democracies with their bureaucracies have qualities that actually impede this nonaggression and promote war… much as the ancient feudal conflicts were fueled by incentives for violence toward other fiefdoms. Probably my chief observation and reservation about The Sovereign Individual is its neglect of all those non-economic, or distinctly political, discoveries such as the Rights of Man that motivate people to uphold the nonaggression principle against tyranny. It ain’t just economics, bro. It’s the freedom to be what you want to be, and even to eventually remediate existing societies by removing the weeds of centralized, sick power exercised for a few oligarchs.

Nor does Sovereign make much of what I refer to as the external cause of the Barrier Cloud: ongoing entrenched conspiracies of power that sit behind all the economics: in our day located in the Western central banks and their international monopoly superbank, the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), in Switzerland. “He who has the gold makes the rules.” And the banksters have had a sweet, secretive mega-racket going since emergence of the Rothschild and Rockefeller dynasties in the late 18th thru the entire 20th centuries.

Sovereign’s authors seem to feel deep-systematic violence and aggression are natural to humans, when in fact these qualities only pertain to a handful of—extremely rich and politically powerful—psychopathic men suffering from a peculiar disease that likes seeing other men suffer from aggression, esp. hidden aggression. [The majority of normal men have no interest in aggression, but abide it because they have been tricked and have not yet, en masse, been able to undo malfunction of their limbic systems (primitive “blind obedience to authority” brain structures).] Separate issue.

I do recommend The Sovereign Individual. The phrase itself captures the essence of the new man/woman of freedom, and serves as a rallying cry as we press our struggle toward victory over the oppressive corporatist megastate—once and for all.

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