This article was published in the Winter 1998-1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Defending a Free Nation:
The Status Economy
by Gary F. York

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Using Status to Motivate Defense
A Modest Proposal

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This article was written in response to an article by Roderick T. Long, "Defending a Free Nation," that was presented at the 15 October 1994 Forum, which I discovered in the Archives.

Mr. Long introduces Phil Jacobson's distinction of Three Economies: the Profit Economy [*], the Charity Economy and the Labor Economy. It occurred to me that there is one further economy that could be addressed, the Status Economy, that offers possibilities of its own for the provision of national defense.


As human beings, despite years being bombarded by egalitarian propaganda, we remain creatures who value status, recognize it in others, and seek it for ourselves. Despite an egalitarian facade, we look for the visible signs of status in others and offer respect and deference to those we identify as having higher status than ourselves just as we expect deference from those we identify as of lower status than our own. Just as goods can be taken by force of arms, status can be demanded and deference compelled. But in a free society, goods are exchanged voluntarily, status is determined by personal achievement, and deference is offered freely as a token of respect for those achievements.

I would suggest that, as we have come to recognize the social utility of profit seeking or "greed" and the futility of systems that attempt to deny or suppress such behavior, we should also recognize the social utility of status seeking and cease to disparage such behavior. The pastor who delivers a thunderous sermon on the evils of greed may still recognize the "social utility" of awarding gold stars or Certificates of Attendance as incentives to desired behavior. A gold star may carry less social cachet than a Doctoral Degree, but then, it took less effort to achieve.

If we want individuals to contribute their time, money, and, where indicated, their lives to our national defense, we must be prepared to offer them the respect and deference appropriate to the magnitude of their contribution.

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Using Status to Motivate Defense

Let us consider a man who has agreed to underwrite the expense of defending a segment of Libertaria about the size of a county. Would we admire the beneficence of this man? Would we nod to him in passing or tip our hats? Would we clamor to attend his parties?

What if we knew him to be a champion of liberty? What if we knew him to be a man of honor, bound by his word? What if he uttered in public a great oath to defend with his life and all his resources: our liberty, his honor, and his nation? Would that not be noble? Would we acclaim his nobility? Could we do any less? Would we cheat him by withholding our respect and admiration?

Would it do us any damage to acclaim him, "Count?"

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A Modest Proposal

I propose an Aristocracy of Service. We could call it something fancy like: "The Noble Order of the Protectors of Liberty" (NOPL) or, "The Libertarian Order of Righteous Defenders of Sovereignty" (LORDS) or even "National Organized Bastion of Libertarian Enterprise" (NOBLE).

In an anarchy this Order could be a completely private institution. For that matter, there should be competing Orders and Orders specializing in different competencies, perhaps one or more for each so-called "public good." It may seem a little absurd at the moment to contemplate "The Noble Order of Bridges and Roads," but it might not be entirely out of line. A minarchy might want to take official notice of military Orders as a means of regularizing defense, but there would be no truly compelling reason to do so.

Any such Order would lay out the requirements for acquiring a Patent of Nobility of each degree awarded. Some, those based on no real commitment or significant contribution, would be a joke. Those boasting of such "Patents" would be rightly seen as silly climbers of no merit, worthy only of being snubbed by the more discriminating. Others would require real contribution, impose serious and sometimes deadly obligations, and merit very real respect.

If I were running such a military Order, I'd make Knighthood available to those serving in the Order's militia who had demonstrated good character and dedication to the defense of liberty and who had achieved the military rank of Captain. One way then of encouraging citizens to participate in the militia is to have it be the "poor man's" route to the Aristocracy. As I envision it, anyone should be able to achieve a knighthood by his mid twenties if he's willing to trade about as much time as is now required for participation in the US National Guard and is trainable and of good character. If individuals are selected a couple of years in advance for potential candidacy and "apprenticed" to existing Knights, it might be useful to identify them as "Squires" or "Cadets." The major benefit to the Squire, as I see it, is that he gets to attend better parties while in the company of his Knight and, while not yet actually a member of the Aristocracy, he's clearly identified to the local ladies as having good prospects.

Alternatively, it should be possible to simply buy your way in—at least at the lowest levels and presuming some test of character and willingness to assume the duties and obligations of the rank. Perhaps a month or two of obligatory Officer Candidate School and intensive schooling in "Customs and Courtesies" would be required in addition to a donation, of say $100,000 to $200,000, to the Order's defense fund.

Finally, some Knighthoods (and the accompanying training) would be conferred on a few young people of special merit who sought a military career and exhibited extraordinary aptitude.

Moving up; perhaps a Million gets you an Earldom and Ten Million a County. (Or perhaps the other way around.) At some level, you're more of an administrator than a military man—you HIRE military men—and this is better suited to those industrialists and entrepreneurs who, having made far more than enough to ensure their personal comfort, are ready to expend some funds and time acquiring status.

With some luck, the Aristocracy will prefer to hobnob with others of their class and, by preference, trade with them as well. I consider this a feature, not a bug. The Aristocracy will be more willing to do certain deals on the shake of a hand and the given word with fellow members of the Aristocracy. After all, that bit about "good character" isn't just smoke screen and ritual. It means someone has looked into your past dealings! If you hope to join the Aristocracy some day, better keep your dealings "squeaky clean." Exemplary behavior (as a libertarian) is what we're looking for. Not just keeping "the letter of the contract" but adhering to its spirit as well. Nothing that even hints of shady dealing allowed.

If the incentives all work out, the aristocracy of wealth (who have come by their wealth honestly) will seek to become members of the Aristocracy of Service. And members of the Aristocracy of Service, if not wealthy already, will have opportunities, over time, to join the aristocracy of wealth.

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It is possibly too late (or unwise) to draft the status symbols of an earlier age for the defense of our nation. We may need to create new, more appropriate means of recognizing and designating status: symbols, rituals, rank, and hierarchy with less accumulated baggage. Regardless, the desire to acquire status is a powerful motivating force in human beings and its use should not lightly be discarded.

Men of good heart and sound mind will always offer their genuine respect and deference to those who demonstrate great achievement, honor, and valor. In this sense, there will always be an aristocracy whether acknowledged as such or not. Those who have honestly come by their wealth will always be a part of that aristocracy. They who extend their protection beyond the bounds of self and immediate family and who, with their life and labor, shield the rest of us from harm also deserve to have their nobility recognized.

By acknowledging and legitimizing the status-seeking needs of human beings, we can preempt some of the overt symbols of status and direct that normal quest for the recognition of our fellows into behavior that explicitly advances the security and welfare of our country. D


Gary York is a longtime libertarian and software contractor now residing in the Midwest.


[* Web Editor's note: discussed in greater detail by Phil Jacobson in "Three Voluntary Economies," Formulations, Vol. II, No. 4]

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