Exit and ideology

Exit, the ability to leave, has been gaining traction as an institutional arrangement. If exit costs are sufficiently low, people can choose the ideal community for their preferences. Further, the low exit costs force competition between institutional regimes to satisfy client preferences.

Though best enunciated by a liberal economist, Albert Hirschman, exit has largely been associated with the right. In America, secession, the ultimate form of exit, has forever been tainted by racism due to our own War of Secession. However, exit was once a celebrated value of the left. The Guardian, hardly a bastion of conservatism, offered mild support for the south during the American Civil War:

The great stumbling-block issue for the Guardian and many other liberals was the right to self-determination. The paper believed that the south had the right to secede and to establish an independent state.

Of course, if exit is to be a primary political value, the right to exit must extend to all persons, something the south did not do. While intellectually exit has been associated with the right, politically some the distinction is less clear. American states decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing gay marriage in contravention of federal laws has been a milder form of exit, in pursuit of leftist values.

In a very interesting piece Scott Alexander tries to reclaim exit as a liberal (in the modern American sense) value. He envisions competing communities:

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

While he desires a world government to prevent war and ensure the protection of children, he acknowledges that his ideas are largely analogous to Nozick and Moldbug, the advocates of libertarian exit and conservative exit respectively.

I am a fan of exit, though I am less interested in defining it as the culmination of a particular ideology. In some ways it transcends ideology, allowing communist communities to live next to libertarian ones. More importantly, once we agree on the preferred institutional framework, I fail to see the importance of fitting it within a tradition of thought. Once the end is agreed upon, the next question is strategy.

Here I think leftists have the advantage. The people who could benefit the most from exit are those currently the worst off, people in the third world. However, third world countries tend to be more constrained by international institutions. The UN has far more sway in Ethiopia than it does in America.

The acceptance of exit by powerful international institutions is crucial if we are to achieve our stated goals. The UN and similar organizations tend to be controlled by leftists. By framing exit as a leftist value, liberal institutions are more likely to accept it. Therefore, framing exit as a leftist value is our best chance of achieving a plethora of competing communities to choose from.


  1. Nowhere is the disconnect between liberalism and leftism sharper than on this issue: Liberals just want to breathe free and, in principle, allow others the same; Leftists want to conquer. The Leftists are winning. And have been since at least 1861.

    Clearly the liberals have the better of the argument, but making a fetish out of exit (i.e., a “good options” as a opposed to a “final choice for survival”) makes a couple of errors:

    1) A state-like actor powerful enough to shore up the fences between particular patches as envisioned by Alexander, is powerful enough to destroy patches. This is precisely what happened when Massachusetts co-opted the power of the United States Government to destroy the slave-holding US South. This is precisely what happens today with the UN, wherein the wishes of the US Dept of State are dramatically over-weighted in influence.

    How do you guard against one patch co-opting the central power for its own purposes vis-a-vis another? For now, I’m going with: You cannot.

    2) It is in the nature of man to be attached to blood and soil. The English (and their descendants) around the world are, for a variety of interesting historically contingent reasons, among the least so attached. But for most of humanity, exit, as anything other than a last ditch effort for survival, is a terribly hard sell, and it really isn’t that popular even among Anglophones.

    3) Exit costs, of course, have never been lower in terms of travel and communications. The major driving force between continued lowering of exit costs are psychological. Which is to say: drive down the psychological attachment that peoples feel toward blood and soil. I happen to think we’ve suffered far too much of that already.

    It is good and right to be attached to blood and soil. It is, therefore, improper for imperial powers to force together into one polis people who do not well get along with each other. Given that the latter has already been done, exit of course remains a viable option for those powerful enough to achieve it. But I hardly think of it as a good first option.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am somewhat wary of banding together to take control of communities because people often have different goals in communities. I feel exit, though I appreciate what I take to be your objection to the word, to be superior because it allows people to congregate with others who have similar goals.


    1. 1. Agreed, I didn’t mention the world government because I thought it was tangential to his main point.
      2. I think exit as a effort to survive is more important than exit to create like minded communities. The latter is a luxury good, the former a necessity.
      3. Agreed, which is why I think articles like Alexanders are good, they lower the psychological cost of exit.


    2. Arguably exit costs have never been higher. Almost by definition, being an expat makes you part of the transational world, which is really the only thing worth getting away from.


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