The Right to Ignore the State

by Herbert Spencer

Originally Chapter XIX in the 1851 edition of Social Statics.
Herbert Spencer


Government by consent is a classical liberal (now libertarian) theme. Herbert Spencer gives six arguments against the notion that everyone must consent to the State (unless they immigrate.) This alleged implied contract is often called "the social contract." Spencer argues that people should be allowed to opt out of the State (without property confiscation or other legal penalty.)

His six arguments for the right to ignore the State:

  1. Natural rights argument based on Law of Equal Freedom
  2. Legal rights argument based on Blackstone
  3. If you believe that people are the legitimate source of power, that government's power is delegated from the people, then it follows that someone may ignore the state
  4. Majoritarian democracy should not trump individual rights. A scathing demolition of democracy!
  5. Current opinion asserts that taxes are voluntary. This amounts to saying that it's okay to opt out of the State. More democracy bashing - can A and B agree to tax C?
  6. If you support religious freedom and pluralism, "Dissent," the right to opt out religiously, then logically you must support it for any other conscientious involvement with the State.

Spencer summarizes by telling statists not to worry too much about mass exit from the State, since few people will do it until society has evolved quite a bit.

Go to Spencer’s essay "The Right to Ignore the State"


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