A Libertarian Solution to Northern Ireland

By Cruz Marquis

The island nation of Ireland has been a battleground from time centuries out of living memory. Though the seat of government in Dublin is fully independent, the nation has never been united under one true Irish state, owing to the little speck of the United Kingdom that still occupies the north.

The continued existence of this speck of property, a holdover from the transplantation of many thousands of English protestants to the island, has been the cause of much violence and civil strife, culminating in the creation and exploits of the Irish Republican Army in the latter part of the last century. Though the guns have been silent since the Belfast Agreement, the intractable problem remains: in the nation that is linguistically, religiously, culturally, and ethnically contiguous, there is another separate entity, which by all prevailing logic, should be a part of the Irish state. So long as Northern Ireland remains governed by London, the friction will continue.

Though the comfortable stalemate continues, the injustice remains: a piece of land wanted by two states with convincing cases for control. If libertarians controlled London, Dublin, and Belfast, what would we do to fix the problem?

The Libertarian Connection

Libertarians have had a certain affinity for Ireland since Murray Rothbard’s revolutionary 1973 treatise For a New Liberty outed the island nation as having been a stateless one for most of the Middle Ages:

The most remarkable historical example of a society of libertarian law and courts, however, has been neglected by historians until very recently. And this was also a society where not only the courts and the law were largely libertarian, but where they operated within a purely state-less and libertarian society. Theis was ancient Ireland –an Ireland which persisted in this libertarian path roughly a thousand years until its brutal conquest by England in the 17th Century. And, in contrast to many similarly functioning primitive tribes (such as the Ibos in West Africa, and many European bribes), preconquest Ireland was not in any sense a “primitive” society: it was a highly complex society that was, for centuries, the most advanced, most scholarly, and most civilized in all of western Europe.[1]

The Irish libertarian heritage is promising, but sadly, centuries of English domination have accustomed the island to statism, which is the greatest problem in the split.  

The core of the libertarian ethos is principled opposition to the state qua state. This can be taken a number of ways: the idea of the minimalist states, as espoused by the original classical liberals, and the Jeffersonians in America, the complete abolition of the state and its replacement with nothing as per Murray, Rothbard, and the anarchists, and the theory of competing microstates, voluntary societies, communes, duchies, ecclesiastical estates, etc. as per Hans Hoppe. 

Of these, the last one is most instructive here, competing governments. It takes cues from Europe of the middle ages, particularly the Germanic center of Europe, which was the most fractious, disunited, and consequently, freest part of Europe until relatively recently, when centralizing trends defeated these long-standing norms.

The theory runs like this: if the state cannot be abolished, or cannot be immediately, the goal should be the multiplication of states. At first, the uninitiated may think this incongruous: libertarians talking about making more states, but there is an internal logic to this which gets to the core of competition. 

The state is the territorial monopoly on the use of force with land being a fixed quantity, no one can legislate a few thousand more square miles into the center of Europe for instance. If there are more sovereign entities, each one must be smaller relative to their size if there were fewer of these. Since power follows the law of economies of scale, it will be more efficient in larger polities and the converse. Smaller states will be unable to produce oppression on the scale of larger ones, the verification of this is that no one feels threatened by Liechtenstein which could hardly field an army, but the better part of mankind is very threatened by the People’s Republic of China.

If there are more states which are smaller, not only will they be less efficient at oppression, but people will be able to feasibly vote with their feet. If one microstate decides the hour of the revolution has come and wants to adopt Socialism, it is much easier to flee. An entity the size of Liechtenstein is easier to flee than the Soviet Union, if for no other reason than that the maximum distance of traveling needed is lower.

Since the libertarian is the enemy of the centralizer, he should not be campaigning for the absorption of Northern Ireland into the rest of the island nation, instead, he should favor the independence of Northern Ireland as its own separate entity. The benefits of this strategy are numerous.

The English protestants of the north are culturally, ethnically, and religiously differentiated from the population of Ireland as a whole, and their rights as individuals should in no way be sacrificed to the majority who are, of course, Irish, Catholic, etc. If the north was its own state, it could take on overtones that are more consistent with its own identity, and would not have to wrestle with being submerged by the Dublin government. 

Northern Irish independence may even clear up some of the difficulties arising from Brexit-era trade. Ireland is a major backer of the European project and it is proving exceedingly difficult to organize immigration and trade over the land border between the UK and Ireland with one being inside and one outside the EU. Independence would mean the people of Northern Ireland would be able to decide if they want to forgo this difficulty all together and remain within the union and forgo the bureaucracy forced on it by the new Brexit deal.

Though Britain still maintains some interventionist aims, few feel threatened by oppression from the Irish. That being said, the political power of both states would be reduced by alienating the tax base away from both London and Dublin making them both relatively less efficient and less able to oppress anyone.

The only difficulty would be walking a tight rope between Britain and Ireland, two larger powers which would be interested in the absorption of the new country whenever possible. States by their nature are expansionary because of the drive for economies of scale, and a larger tax base, which explains the predation of larger states against smaller ones. With the current state of domestic politics in both countries however, it is supremely unlikely that London will opt for a re-creation of the 1916 ruthless takedown of the Easter Rising and equally unlikely are the prospects of an Irish military Reconquista of the north.

In belated honor of the holiday named after the patron saint of Ireland, the libertarian must say: let Northern Ireland be free!

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[1] Rothbard, M. (1973). For a New Liberty. Macmillan Publishers. Page 286.






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