This article was published in the Spring 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Political Curriculum:
Education Essential to Keep a Free Society
by Philip E. Jacobson

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--1.1 The Prior System
--1.2 The New System
--2.1 Basic Institutional Foundations
--2.2 How the Social Institutions Relate to Each Other
--2.3 How the Social Institutions Relate to the "Timeless" Needs of Humanity

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No matter what one's vision of a future Libertarian Society, the key to that society's survival is in the education the society provides to its citizens regarding the society's history and its approach to social change. This, of course, assumes that the Libertarian Society already exists, that it already has what it takes to come into being (and there are a wide variety of possibilities). It is not necessary that it came into being because all its citizens participated in its creation or because all understood what was going on at that time. But in order for the Libertarian Society to have its best chance for survival, it should make sure that its citizens know how it got there, why it still stands, and what kind of flexibility will be necessary for its continued survival.

There are many visions of a Libertarian Society. No effort will be made here to express a preference for one over another. It is conceivable that such an achievement may occur more than once, and in more than one way, or even that many libertarian societies, each with a distinct tradition, might thrive side by side. Yet for each society there will be a system of education, through which that society's citizens learn about it. Many styles of education are conceivable. For instance, the educational system may be strict and formal, or it may be very informal. But style is not a concern of this essay either. The style will be a function of the society's specific nature. What is important here is content the content of the curriculum regarding the subjects of history and of social change.

No society can remain static in its nature. For any society to survive, it must be able to react to change. The society must be able to adapt to changes in its environment and to changes in its own needs and resources. It must be able to change what is not vital to its survival when necessary, but it must resist changes which will threaten its survival and its citizens need to know, if only at a gut level, which are which. To meaningfully enact change or resist it, a society's citizens must have a view of the history of that society and a philosophy of social change.

The level of education on the subject of social change can be relatively poor for some societies, and yet these societies might survive. It is possible for a society to exist in which the average citizen's view of social change is that it does not happen or that it should not be encouraged. Change will still occur and decisions will be made, if only by default and across a great deal of time. It is possible for a society to exist where only a few citizens, perhaps a nobility, have clear views of social change, and that change is made largely as a product of the decisions of these few citizens.

But a Libertarian Society cannot afford the "luxury" of neglecting the average citizen's education with regard to social change. A Libertarian Society would give the average citizen significant power to influence the course of that society. Any citizen of a Libertarian Society might at any time be motivated to become involved in public affairs as an activist. Though only a few of its citizens may choose to exercise this power at any one time, it is not possible to predict which citizens these might be, so as to make sure those citizens in particular receive an education in the society's tradition of social change. Nor is it wise to attempt to select a favored group in this respect, since that group would immediately be tempted to use that knowledge to gain special privileges.

It may be that many citizens refuse to involve themselves in social change and refuse to take interest in it. This would be their right, and for that reason there should be no conscription into "citizenship" classes of any kind. Yet it would also be the right of these citizens to change their minds and become involved. At that point, there should be in place the means for the citizen to learn about history and social change. In other words, the Libertarian Society needs to provide an opportunity to all its citizens for this education. And it should be done in an interesting way, and in a way that does not require a serious academic commitment before the student can get practical value from it.

In some societies, the objective of education in the subjects of history and social change is to paint a flattering picture of the society itself and of its past, even at the expense of accuracy. Those who develop the curriculum deliberately avoid certain materials or deliberately distort them in order to paint the desired picture. But this strategy of education is useful only when the average citizen's loyalty to authority or to tradition is valued above the citizen's ability to make critical decisions. Such a system is contrary to the needs of a Libertarian Society, where the average citizen's responsibility to make independent decisions which will have real-world consequences is a prime value. Thus the curriculum of a Libertarian Society's educational system should be one which attempts to present the world as it is. Honest disagreement on what the world is like will exist and should be tolerated even encouraged. But the practice of deliberately misinforming students in order to achieve "desirable social ends" should be condemned.

Having made an argument regarding the desirability of education on the topics of social change and history, I would like to proceed to outline the topics within that education. Since the history of a given Libertarian Society will depend on its real world situation, I cannot itemize the curriculum beyond general topics. But I think the topics listed below should be a part of the average citizen's education in any Libertarian Society.

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1.1 The Prior System

1.1.1 How the prior system came to be

No fully Libertarian Society exists on the earth, as of this writing (Winter,1996). Therefore any Libertarian Society to come will have replaced an "old regime," or possibly several old regimes. Given the dominance of Statist Societies in the world today, probably the Libertarian Society will have emerged from one or more of these. It is important to the student of the Libertarian Society's history to understand the prior society and its origins. In this way the student understands the root environment and formative period for the Libertarian Society itself.

1.1.2 How the prior system worked: why it survived as long as it did

At least some understanding of the prior Statist Society's mode of survival is useful to the student of the new Libertarian Society's history. Statist Societies, as a type, have been able to thrive for millennia. How did they do it? How was it that they had the strength to suppress individual liberty for so long?

1.1.3 How the prior system became susceptible to change

Given the existence of the Libertarian Society, the society it replaced would have undergone decline before the new Libertarian Society could spring forth. Why did it lose its appeal to the citizens who eventually formed the Libertarian Society? Why was it unable to continue to hold these citizens in its domain by force, or why did it choose to let them go? Did it lose all its appeal or do some still support it, at least in theory?

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1.2 The New System

1.2.1 How the idea of the new system arose

The idea for the new Libertarian Society would have roots. Perhaps, hopefully, we who are discussing it now will be seen as a part of those roots. The student of the Libertarian Society's history should be shown how the idea for a Libertarian Society first arose and how it came to be adopted by relatively large groups of citizens. The student should get a grasp of the intellectual climate, within which the idea grew, and why it appealed to those who adopted it. The student should also be shown how the idea first shifted from a theoretical to a practical form.

1.2.2 How the new system came to be instituted

If a Libertarian Society has been achieved, then at some point the practical efforts of its advocates would have started to take effect. What were the early years of practical activism like? What ideas were tried? Which practical approaches worked first, and why? Which failed, and why? How did the current form of practical libertarianism begin to take hold, and why?

How did the old regime finally fall? Or did it? How did the sovereignty of the new Libertarian Society finally become established? Were there social forces, movements or ideas at work during the transition which have since been abandoned as unnecessary? Might some of the old experimental ideas be worth reconsideration?

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2.1 Basic Institutional Foundations

2.1.1 Military

There has not been a lot of discussion about the nature of military activity which would be sanctioned by a Libertarian Society. But more than one idea on the subject has been advanced. One or more of these (or possibly a pacifist doctrine) will have become the real world approach of the Libertarian Society. The student should know how the society reacts to the threat of initiated force, whether by renegade citizens or by non-citizens. Initiated force, if successful, would change the Libertarian Society for the worse. How does the new society prevent that?

2.1.2 Legal/Ethical

There may be more than one philosophical system practiced within the Libertarian Society. This is because there are many ways to conclude that it is immoral to initiate force. If only one such tradition exists (a condition the author feels highly unlikely), how has it maintained its monopoly, philosophically? How does it enforce its values? If more than one tradition exists, how does each survive, and how do they relate to one another? How do these systems of political morality relate to other philosophical questions in the respective traditions? How did the tradition or traditions practiced come to predominate in the Libertarian Society? Has there been an evolution of these traditions since the Libertarian Society was formed?

2.1.3 Economic

It is hard (though not impossible) to imagine a static economy within a Libertarian Society. One can easily imagine a militia or other military system which has not changed for many years. It is also easy to imagine ethical doctrines and dispute resolution systems which have not changed for many years. A Libertarian Society such as that of the Amish (who strongly resist technological innovation) might exist, but it is unlikely that all citizens would see a static economy as desirable. Even a minority of economic-change-oriented citizens would have serious impact on the society as a whole. It is likely that economic change would be a major component of any Libertarian Society.

Students should be taught basic economic theory, but also should be shown how the (author's expected) wide variety of economic institutions relate to one another. Students should explore ideas about how economic change comes about, and should be taught some options for personally coping with it. They should be taught the techniques of voluntary boycotts as political alternatives to initiated force when seeking social change. But above all they should be taught that making positive changes is often the best way to avoid negative changes.

2.1.4 Other

Without itemizing, it should be noted that the student should be exposed to other social institutions and the social changes which they cause and which affect them.

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2.2 How the Social Institutions Relate to Each Other

Students should be taught that social institutions are not isolated from one another. Each institution has an impact on all others, to some degree. Social change caused by a crisis in one institution will inevitably put pressures for social change on the other institutions. No one can monitor all components of society, and students should not be made to feel that they must do so, or even that it is particularly desirable to do so. Yet students should be able to develop an overall appreciation for each of the social institutions and how they interact. In this way, whenever a citizen wishes to explore a particular social problem or opportunity, that citizen will be able to appreciate the large picture as well.

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2.3 How the Social Institutions Relate to the "Timeless" Needs of Humanity

Sociologists and anthropologists have attempted to itemize the values that various social institutions are meant to address. This subject can become quite controversial, but it should be addressed by the student's curriculum. The student should (in this author's opinion) be taught that, while it may not always be possible to see what "timeless human needs" a given social institution is addressing, there nevertheless are such needs being addressed. Each student should get at least some exposure to several social theories and be encouraged to engage in independent thought on this subject.

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3.1 Little Changes; Minor Reforms; Fine-Tuning

People can often relate better to small changes than to large ones. But it is still a good idea to note the need for fine tuning of social institutions. Examples of how this has been done should be given along with some of the methods for making such changes smooth.

3.2 Medium Changes; Major Reforms; Serious Amendments

If students have been given a good grounding on the way the Libertarian Society works they will, hopefully, appreciate which parts of the society are crucial (such as freedom of speech) and which are merely specific types of implementation which might be changed without destroying the society's libertarian character (such as documenting agreements electronically instead of on paper). Students should also be able to appreciate that major social changes, though ethically and practically acceptable, are expensive and often take a lot of time. Students should also appreciate some of the practical techniques which can be used to advocate and implement reforms. Above all, students should be educated in game theory and the fact that change does not always mean that there must be both "winners" and "losers."

3.3 Big Changes: The Next Revolution

As mentioned above, there are many ways to organize a Libertarian Society. The differences between these types can be quite extreme. For instance a fully Communistic society, where all property is held in common, is theoretically possible within a framework of completely voluntary social relations, as is a fully Proprietary society, where everything is owned by private individuals (and no collective ownership is ever recognized). For a given existing Libertarian Society of the future, one or more of these ways will have proven practical. Yet the situation where that society came into being may change with time to the point where the basic type of libertarianism being employed may not work any more. At this point a new kind of libertarianism may need to evolve from the "old reliable" pattern of the then existing Libertarian Society.

This would be very revolutionary to the citizens when it happened. Yet it may be both necessary and vital to the continuation of voluntary relations between the citizens. Thus the student should be exposed to theories of social revolution. Students should be open to the possibility of radical social change in their own lifetimes in such a way that they will be able to critically appraise suggestions for radical change as these are offered. Students should be familiar with doctrines of peaceful revolution, being shown that violent revolution, though common enough to social change in Statist Societies, need not be at all necessary in achieving radical social change. Students should be familiar with the notion of secession and with the techniques of inter-society diplomacy such as extradition. They should be taught different theories of property, including the fact that different societies can have different (yet still totally voluntary) concepts of property.

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A Libertarian Society will probably produce a good educational system as a natural byproduct. But education on the topic of social change, including the history of the society itself, is of special importance to a society which is to be "governed" via freely chosen relations between its citizens.

One additional benefit might accrue from a concern about education in social change. Once the Libertarian Society is achieved, what will all the libertarian theorists do? It seems a good way to channel their energies and intelligence for them to concern themselves with providing the citizens with a good education on the topic of social change. D


Phil Jacobson has been an activist and student of liberty in North Carolina since the early 1970s. For a living he sells used books, used CDs, and used video games.

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