Originally published in the Front Range Voluntaryist, article by Mike Morris]
There’s one thing I think in particular that keeps many from coming around to accepting anarchism, besides the connotations the word carries of chaos and violence, which is of course the way of the state. It isn’t necessarily our principles they question, which are quite straightforward and unambiguous. The skepticism stems largely from the viability or feasibility of having a society without a state. “Is it even possible”, they ask, “to have/get to anarchism?”, as if the impossibility, say of eliminating crime, is a good enough reason to not oppose it.
Besides, the fact the criminals exist is not a case against anarchism; criminals may well always exist. And it surely isn’t a case for the state. Indeed, what is the state but a criminal gang whose subsistence is based upon expropriation, caging anyone who resists, and murdering if necessarily to maintain its slavery? The state, built upon aggression, is a magnet for sociopathic types who like the idea of dominating others, whether physically as part of their police and military forces, or economically by way of rent-seeking and gaining special privileges over competitors, among other options.
That humans are the way they are doesn’t logically lend to the idea that some (members of the state) should have the exclusive right to live under another law than the law of private property, which says that every man owns his body, that just ownership of property is that which has been originally appropriated, and that invasions thereof are criminal. The libertarian can make no exceptions to these principles for the men calling themselves “the government.” They are human, too. At least as far as we know.
It is recognized that there is a state, and that it probably isn’t going anywhere in our time, or in the foreseeable centuries. This should not take away from ethics, however. I believe we can posit how the world should be, while recognizing that it is not the way we wish for.
How to organize society?
Everyone sees the easy state solution: monopolize goods and services and have a single, tax-funded agency to distribute these resources and control them. How to have road? Well, the state just taxes everyone and they fund the road. How to have schools? Same thing; and force the kids to attend them too. How to have security? Again, you just tax everyone and fund the compulsory security service, the police and military.
This is the only way most people can see things. Collectivizing these things that supposedly benefit “everyone” as to remedy the externality, as the mainstream economic rationale goes, is the only way to organize society. Society, however, is but an abstraction that ignores the individuals who make it up. Forgetting about the individuals within that “society” allows for legitimating tyranny over a population. This logic is dangerous as it’s an open door to endless statism, i.e., a world-government, as it justifies all resources be in the hands of a centralized agency in the name of some “common good.”
Why this jurisdiction stops at present national borders is arbitrary for the statist, who has an emotional connection and allegiance to “his” government. The consistent would see no reason why there can be many ungoverned governments, and that a superstate world-government is needed to settle this unacceptable “anarchy.”
Since this is all most anyone knows, it becomes hard to wonder (to think for once!) how things could be done in a more decentralized manner, without compelling men who don’t consent to being expropriated in the name of “the common good”, in order to have all the things formerly provided monopolistically, now by the market instead. That is, how a society based on voluntary payments could function and provide us with the resources we need for our everyday survival, which are indeed essential services—too much so to have them in the hands of the state! There is the much neglected alternative of liberty in the much politicized world we’ve made it to.
Indeed, the first hurdle is that the above – society and the state – are inextricable concepts to the statist. Without the state, man is in a constant state of war; society and civilization come about only once man is coerced into living under political institutions. This is the essence of the Hobbesian myth, which has infected most today, that the state is necessary to exist as a peacemaker or to provide “law and order.” Anarchists would be right to simply point out that it must be considered contradictory to have an agency founded in aggressive theft and violations of property rights to come around and say “we’re here to protect you.” And if they went further, that states have a history of violently-using that which they violently appropriate (expropriate).
Where are libertarian-anarchists coming from?
Philosophically, our principles are on solid ground. Building up from (1) the objective fact that man owns himself and his body (self-ownership), and that (2) thereby he has the right to the fruits of his labor (private property) which he originally appropriates (as opposed to expropriation) for himself (ground-land, natural resources), being that he must use resources to survive, we reach thus (3) a guiding principle for organizing society which is that of non-aggression (the non-aggression principle or NAP). What this says is: the initiation of violence is morally wrong, whether by private theft or harm, or publically, by calling this theft “taxation” or this harm “war.”
The idea of “voluntary” can only be conceived of with the private property ethic in mind. Violence is just and moral in defense, but it is criminal when initiatory. Violence per se is not condemnable; the context of who owns what plays a decisive role in its legitimacy.
To attempt to refute any of these principles through argumentation – that humans own themselves, that private property is an absolute, axiomatic, eternal, universal principle in ethics, or the non-aggression principle – one must engage in performative contradiction, thereby accepting them. The only alternatives are absurdity: that some men may own other men (he doesn’t own himself); that someone else has a better claim on the product of another man’s labor than he does (that his property isn’t his); or that “I may hit you but you can’t hit me.” There is no slave-theft-aggression principle.
Most sane people after reasoning for a moment do not reject the idea that man owns his physical body as well as those resources which he appropriates for himself, and that therefore all human interaction should be voluntary. This is how they live every day. This reasoning changes though, not just when it comes to being consistent and applying them to the people who call themselves the government too, but when it comes to the prospects of achieving this libertarian world or how it could all work otherwise.
But whether or not we can get to liberty and whether or not everything can work in a self-governed society, without the notion of centralized militaries that coerce payment for protection or social programs to supposedly help the poor, is somewhat besides the point. We here are interested in taking an ethical stance against aggression, and therefore opposing the state on principle, despite what else follows (despite that we do believe a free society can work).
A principle is something that can be universalized, i.e., apply to everyone. This is why self-ownership, private property, and non-aggression are our consistent principles. Taking some people’s stuff and giving to others (the ethic of socialism) is not a principle because it cannot be equally applied to everyone (and so much for their claim of equality anyway, right?): someone has to be the tax-payer, the other, a tax-recipient. The only principle we can hold is that no one steal from no one.
So what’s the one thing?
A major factor would seem to be the pressure one knows they would experience to be one of those who challenge the way things are now; to buck the system and thus be one of the ones who must explain in great detail how this alternative system would operate as compared to the status quo of the statist order when voicing their stance.
This is what essentially all statists do to the anarchist in an alleged refutation and dismissal of their position: “I demand that you conceive of every possible detail of your admittedly conjectural stateless society for me, or we must keep the patently corrupt, unworkable, and evil state until you’ve thoroughly convinced me of your alternative.” Somehow, they make it to where the burden of proof is on us, when they’re the ones whose proposed system is based on the ethic “I can hit you, but you don’t get to hit me”, i.e., that rights don’t apply equally to everyone. The state may tax (steal) and murder (war), but it’s criminal (and rightfully so) when you or I commit aggression.
But, as for any other criminals, opposition to the state is a normative ethical position to take. We are saying how things should be, not always how to get there, though this should be covered too at times. From a philosophical point, we’re simply stating that we condemn aggression. There doesn’t necessarily need to be any more to it than this. That the state is that entity which has the legal right (and monopolistic capability) to violate property rights, whether in our persons or our physical property and possessions, whether by raiding our homes, taxing us, or aggressing against our bodies in another way, etc., is a reason for those adherents of non-aggression to reject the concept of this institution outright as it is built on such. I submit they need not paint a detailed picture of the free society to uphold this.
I realized that when I took the plunge, however, that I wouldn’t be content to just assert this position and leave it; I had to defend it to the fullest. This required an economic understanding, philosophy, history, on top of plenty of independent thought, all of which is a never ending process. But I also realize that not everyone is like that, and to expect others to be interested in the same things as myself might leave others forever disinterested in the ideas of liberty, and would be to forget about our economic principles such as value subjectivity and that each individual is unique in his desires.
Therefore, anarchism is usually left to be adopted by those who are more passionate for liberty, ideological for it, and whom are willing to take on the subject at great lengths in its defense. While one may be passionate to the point that they wish to conceive of ways in which a stateless society might function, such as how to fund roads without coercing people into paying for them, and basing this off historical precedents or economic logic, one need not be an anarchist theoretician in order to reject aggression. This is the thesis of this piece: you can be a moral anarchist right now, and leave it at that if you wish. They only alternative is for one to concede that they believe some people (“the government”) have a moral right to use violence against peaceful, non-violent people, while others don’t.
Ways to refute it?
It would be to ignore the subjective, unique, individualistic attributes of all men, as well as the specialization of the division of labor which makes us all prosperous, to think that everyone should think and be alike, and be interested in the social sciences as many who reject the state are.
While economics can teach us that state intervention has negative effects on the economy, such as relative impoverishment, unemployment, etc., not everyone is interested in economics. And they don’t have to be! Economics is indispensable for a thorough refutation of the state, but one needn’t be an economist to reject it. This “dismal science”, as bad economists have called it, is not for everyone anymore than guitar is.
Mainstream economists are often too stuck on hypotheticals to remember that the state is not this benevolent institution that serves the common good of man which can act as the vehicle for correcting so-called “market failures”, and so they come to ask about externalities, asymmetric information, or other questions in economics and have forgotten about, or never thought of, what the state is which they advocate for under this economic rationale that it can centrally plan “monetary policy”, etc.
If they would really apply consistently their theory of monopoly to the state (that monopolies are bad and inefficient), too, which is indeed defined as a coercive monopolist, they would see that monopolists of defense (the state) would mean that the quality of the service must deteriorate while the costs rise. They can escape this no less than if they were to take control of food production. Price controls work the same from apples to healthcare.
Thus if they do have principles in economics, to not hold them consistently across industries would be to invalidate them altogether. That is, if they don’t apply to defense and law too, they don’t at all. Some might contend they don’t at all; perhaps economics is a “bourgeois” concept, or nothing can be said to be true. But for those who do realize that there are natural laws of the universe in the social sciences, they apply to the government too, as much as the things they otherwise are willing to leave free (though basically every industry, from agriculture/food, banking, healthcare, the airlines, etc., is regulated by the state, as in, the rent-seekers have consolidated their cartels in Big Ag, Big Banking, Big Pharma, etc).
The significance of deducing a science of economics, as has been done logically to the greatest extent by economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard, the latter which included ethics into his analysis (where the former was lacking) to create a system of what we now call austro-libertarianism (combining economics and libertarian philosophy), is that it can establish that man acts to achieve his highest-valued ends, what he subjectively assesses as being of the utmost utility to him (the importance he attaches to an end). And therefore, government intervention is a disutility to those actors and hurts rather than helps. If A was offering a job to B at $10/hr., and B was willing to accept this job, to declare (by a minimum wage law) that they cannot do so, and that this must be at $15/hr., which thereby ceases the job offer, is to hurt both parties: A, who valued his money less than what he gains in labor, and B, who values the money more than the energy spent working.
We could use economics to explain why the quality of security and justice continues to deteriorate while the price continues to rise, or why minimum wage laws cannot work any more than rent controls, or why paper-money inflation doesn’t create real wealth, but usually these arguments don’t suffice. Most people are scratching their heads as to why the police have gone bad, why the roads are potholed, the schools are falling apart, there’s jobless men, prices are rising, etc. Besides, as I’m arguing, one needn’t go to such great lengths to take a position against the idea of statism.
And aside from economics, while one might be empirical and wish to show historical examples of the private provision of all goods, including law and defense, which have all existed and precede the state as we know it, one needn’t be a historian either. History is indispensable, too, for a thorough refutation of the state, but one needn’t be a historian to reject it. One could show that states killed hundreds of millions of people in the past century alone, that they’ve increased the amount of theft and violence in the world, that they’ve turned conflicts into world wars, but none of this usually suffices either. The victim of Stockholm Syndrome does not care that its master has an awful track record for abuse. Here again, the skeptic will ask you to “show me an example of a stateless society in history.” While we could point out some examples, one shouldn’t feel stumped here. They can, once again, uphold their ethical position against aggression.
One might philosophize all day, but it doesn’t change that the issue at hand is in one’s acceptance or rejection of aggression as an organizing principle. True enough, no statists are really philosophers either! They have accepted their position largely through indoctrination by the state itself, beginning early in the government schools, into higher education, and throughout life altogether. Most of them wouldn’t even make the connection that the state action they advocate is an endorsement of violence.
Hardly anyone, I imagine, has given it long thought on the necessity of the state apart from the illogical minarchist who insists it must remain in order to protect private property, though this is of course a contradiction to assert a monopolist who comes into power by way of the expropriation of private property could in turn be a defender of it. For the most part, statism is the default within people. It takes convincing for them to move toward liberty.
But, how might things work?
The idea of explaining how everything might turn out in the absence of the state, with a spontaneous order emerging in place of a centrally planned one, is admittedly stepping outside the bounds of positive economics or history, though both can assist in constructions of this society, to theorize how things might work in the future. For instance, that security might be a product offered by insurance companies or volunteer militias steeped in the libertarian philosophy, or, that disputes might be arbitrated through private judges offering their services in the event of conflicts, etc. Economics can help explain how most fears of the statist are really non-problems, like unemployment, or inequality, etc.
While we do know the state is bad, we don’t know everything about a future yet unfolded. No one in the 1980s could have predicted what internet companies would have came about, how many there would be in twenty years, the speed of the connections they would provide, the price of those services, etc. In fact, America’s beloved Keynesian economist Paul Krugman predicted in 1998 that, “By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.” This one didn’t quite pan out for the man.
Most anarchists have made it their full-time hobby to refute the state, taking on all the literature possible. I can’t knock them for this; we need those types out there. But everyone doesn’t have to be one. You can simply take an ethical stance against aggression, and go on to pursue your other dreams, career, taking care of the family, or whatever it is that you do.
I think people feel, “well, I want to be an anarchist, but I don’t feel I can defend the whole system”, so therefore they reason that they’ll just sit around and wait. But for what? To reject aggression? There’s no need to wait! You can do it now, before you finish reading this.
Though it might be true the bulk of anarchists are also interested in theorizing too, this is by no means necessary for one to become a non-aggressionist. It shouldn’t keep anyone from accepting this ethical position because they fear defending it against the sure slew of relentless aggressionists who will definitely give them a hard time for not being a democratic socialist like everyone else.
This intellectual masturbation might get us off, but really, it’s only that. We can imagine and dream, but in reality we need to beat back the state at any chance. Minarchists are as much our allies in the grand scheme of things as others who have seen past their notions of maintaining a monopolist of defense.
But expecting markets to be planned is the statist mindset. Markets develop spontaneously. We don’t need central planners to guide production. That’s what the price system, profit and loss, entrepreneurship, and people freely trading do on their own.
The state has corrupted money so far, turning gold to irredeemable paper (with the Keynesian fascists presently seeking a cashless society and a forced fiat currency for the world!), that people have come to believe money is a convention of the state. They wonder how we could have money if the government didn’t have a paper money monopoly anymore. One of the founders of the Austrian school of economics, Carl Menger, proved in his Origins of Money that money was not instituted by any central power, but arose naturally as a need for the more marketable good in which to act as a medium of exchange between other goods. Gold can act as money. But since empires cannot expand unless they gain control of the natural money, convert it to “unbacked” paper notes, and inflate it to their advantage, the American system has done just that. Such is why the imperialist U.S. welfare, warfare, national security state has grown to be what it is today.
We need markets, not government
Markets will emerge to meet the demands of consumers, fulfilling their needs, and for that preferences are always changing is why these markets cannot be planned in advanced. They must be freed, is our contention. And nor are they “perfect” either, as “market failure” theorists who ignore the state’s imperfection like to think we assume. They’re preferable; superior to the state. Nothing is perfect in this world. Criminals—in the libertarian definition, those who violate property rights—aren’t going anywhere, and yet they don’t have to in order to condemn their actions. In fact, I’m sure I’ll die with states reaching into every corner of the Earth, having never coming close to achieving this free society (though I do believe, with the power of ideas, the tides could turn toward liberty, and very quickly, and we could be reaching a new epoch in history of human evolution). Shouting “utopian” to the libertarian is a sure strawman.
There are indeed criminals out there, and they probably will always exist. But here’s the excellent point which might ring with the skeptics of anarchism: one can oppose rape, murder, and other such crimes, while knowing that they perhaps will never be eliminated from mankind. We are not ignorant to mankind. Libertarianism works just how man is right now (self-interested), unlike communism which requires a New Socialist Man to emerge for it to work, for it to overcome even the most basic incentive problem that will be evident once they expect all the comrades to come together for the common cause. If man cannot be free because of some moral failing or imperfection, then nor by that same logic should he be given power.
We should answer “is anarchism even possible?” when it’s asked to us, because we should do anything and everything to convince people to abandon the statist doctrine bred deep within, but I submit that anarchists don’t have to. Only those involved in pushing these ideas hard should be burdened with answering “but who will build the roads [without coercing everyone]?” for the nth time.
The politicization of society
If anyone looks around, they might see, not to my surprise, the politics breeds conflict. Living under a common, centralized state with millions of people will inevitably mean many who cannot reconcile their differences will become agitated, often taking to the [public] streets to be heard. “Antifa” and the “alt-right” are fighting in the [public] streets. This is no way we should be living.
Secession, which is one of the chief proposals of libertarians, is looking more needed than ever before. Secession is considered seditious or treasonous by the state, and even racist by many. But it is the means of breaking up with a partner (Washington) that no longer represents our needs, as many already feel. Secession is the idea that no man is bound to a sprawling political institution by virtue of his geographical location and some contract his ancestors allegedly made centuries ago, and that a means of achieving liberty is to decentralize all the way down to the individual in principle, even if there may be some practical limitations to this.
“Without a state”, they say, to divide us and pit one man against each other in a coerced political association, “we’d all be in a constant state of war with each other.” To the contrary, I’d say: it is why were are at each other’s throats now. It is the idea that a central state, whose subjects are comprised of many different people with different preferences and traditions, many “nations” if you will, that these hundreds of millions of people cannot settle their differences and instead take to the streets. We cannot reconcile them through the next vote, either.
States make life fully politicized. Look at what politics does to us: we make non-issues issues, people are obsessing over identity politics from all sides, all the news headlines are about something the state has ruined, whether health care, the budget shortfalls, the roads, the function of security. “Transgender bathrooms rights?” Look how far we’ve come that we need to talk about getting the state out of the bathrooms. Give me a break!
Government, especially democracies, give us the idea, since they present the political means of achieving them, that we have a right and interest in controlling other people and their property. People begin to think more outward than what their focus should be. They forget that life should be about adventure, discovery, and taking care of your own. We’re losing touch with nature, caught up in the grind of politics, made ever more pervasive by social media. We should all be trading with each other, producing, enriching our lives through leisure and relationships, raising a family, doing what we love, making art and music, advancing civilization in other words. But humanity as a whole isn’t yet willing to evolve past the notion of organizing society by way of aggression.
If I’m out in public, at the bar, I hear political conversation. But I often wonder what would we be talking about if politics didn’t dominate our culture? The things we love, learned, and our future journeys, of course.
How to roll it back?
In the private, market economy, goods are allocated according to people's needs in a decentralized manner. Again, public goods are political in nature. If it's not privatized, it will inevitably be political. People will fight over access and rights to the public good. This is a great advantage for the state: to socialize healthcare is to politicize it, with the goal being of keeping the people begging the state for a piece of it rather than privately paying cash. If healthcare is left to the private and competitive market, though, it is a private matter. We see now how the issue of health in America has become largely political, with people bickering over what a Democrat or a Republican should do with it when the solution is simply to get the government out of it. Government-healthcare won’t be fixed by slapping a new politician’s name on it other than a Democrats, which is seemingly the only Republican gripe with its present status.
What is needed is to allow the market economy to function; to end state monopolies and allow for free entry into the market. The state, unlike private business, is not subject to profit and loss. The private businessman works to avoid losses (value lost) and maximize profits (value added to society), and he uses his knowledge of the market, his customers, with the help of the price system, to decided what it is that people might want in the future since nothing is stagnant. Any sort of central control system must be working in the dark though, unable to maximize efficiency and rationally allocate resources. All government actions are arbitrary.
If private property is inextricable to civilization, it stands to reason public property—and protests and politics—means degeneracy. The way to end the politicization of society is through privatization; the way to end the power, through decentralization. We must depoliticize or progress for humans is at stake.
It is my hope that having read this article, you yourself might accept this reasoning and say, “aggression is never morally justified, even when the people who call themselves government do it”, and that it matters less what will come of this spontaneous, stateless social order than taking a principled stance against it. Really, if one rejects anarchism, what they’re saying is “we need politicians!” Don’t you think that sounds stupid yet?
We’ve long lost any ability to question the status quo. Not only is the state a given, it must be democratic, too! It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t need a state, the coercive monopolist that has the sole right to acquire its income through non-contractual means, i.e., violating the private property ethic. Everyone should be equal before the law, not the socialist idea of equal outcomes for everyone. No one should have a special right to initiate violence against others, allegedly on their own behalf.
You don’t have to be an economist, historian, philosopher, or libertarian theoretician to accept this ethical position against aggression. This, I feel, is what keeps people from biting the bullet. You can go about your career, specializing in whatever it is you do best, as a doctor or whomever, and accept the non-aggression principle as a guiding means of how society should be organized: with the absence of aggression, private or public.
Ask yourself: do we really need politicians and bureaucrats to tell us how to live our lives? This is the only way? We can’t self-govern? You can call it anarchist if you want; I’m for a political-less society.