Several months prior to the election I met a young lady at a local pub – a tall, attractive and spunky political science major. She was talking to some friends about the upcoming election, offering her opinion on who to vote for. When it comes to political science majors and statists in general, they’re about as predictable as a bowling ball under the pull of gravity. I tried in futility to steer the topic away from the petty political-party bickering about where the state gun should be pointed and by whom it would be best used, and towards the philosophical question of whether it is moral to point it at all.
She asks for whom I plan to vote. I tell her, “I’m voting for myself; I don’t think it is moral to force others to support solutions to social problems at gunpoint.” The reaction is predictable: like the cracking *thunk* a bowling ball makes as it forms a crater in the concrete, I get the following statement with the ol’ thousand-yard stare:
“Yeah, but that would be anarchy…”
As if I’m a halfwit for not having already arrived at that conclusion. Yet when moral propositions such as the non-aggression principle are applied in a logically consistent and universal manner, that is the only conclusion that can be reached – at least that I am aware of.
The young woman’s response entails several assumptions, one of which is that we agree on what anarchy means. For a discussion to be effective, it is crucial that all terms be objectively defined among the participants; otherwise, the resulting “debate” is not unlike two television sets facing each other.
Etymologically, anarchy comes from Greek for “no ruler”, and modern English dictionaries still offer this as a definition of the word – simply the absence of government. But dictionaries also reflect more loaded uses of the term that have evolved over time. For example, Dictionary.com gives the following as definition 2:
Political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control.
Definition 3 is quite different:
A theory that regards the absence of all direct or coercive government as a political ideal and that proposes the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups as the principal mode of organized society.
Somewhat similarly, Merriam-Webster offers:
A utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government.
However, negative connotations associated with the word utopia give this definition a pejorative undertone.
How do statists define anarchy? Typically the “political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control” definition is behind their use of the term, with the implication that the presence of government/state entails order and tranquility.
Spiky-haired punks hurling Molotov cocktails or kooks living in the mountains of Montana – this is what comes to mind for most people I talk to, university professors and political science students in particular. They seem to think that philosophical thought with respect to government and societal organization reached its apotheosis in Thomas Hobbes’s unfounded theory that without a state, society would fall into chaos and civil war, a savage state of nature in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (An old friend of mine wryly twisted Hobbes’s famous words: “The nature of the state is nasty, brutish and bought.”)
Unquestioning statists don’t consider (or perhaps don’t know) that Hobbes was not only on the king’s payroll, but under the king’s protection from the church, and that he provided no evidence or logical support for his theory. It was a mere scare story, a myth. A myth that a massive gang of people with a monopoly on the use of violence is necessary for the existence of a peaceful, stable society.
The common assumption that violence is inherent in anarchy, whereas governments ensure peace and order, persists despite the fact that not only is the state supported by violence, but almost all of its solutions are coercive and thus violence-based – from the killing and destruction wrought by militaries, to theft and enslavement through all forms of taxation, to drug prohibition, to the regulation of health care, to compulsory public education, to the welfare state, to endless laws and regulations. And that’s in western “democracies” like the United States or the United Kingdom – those examples don’t even touch on the additional abuses and atrocities perpetrated by authoritarian, theocratic, and totalitarian states.
When these points are made, the statist may then propose that the problem with anarchy is not violence per se, but “unofficial” or “unsanctioned” use of violence.
This raises the issue of what criteria determine when violence is “official” and when it is “unofficial”? Does it have anything to do with the sprinkling of fairy dust? In response to that question we hear the terms: “Will of the people” or “majority rule”. What these terms imply is that somehow majority opinion can change the moral status of unethical behaviors. The faultiness of that approach becomes apparent when it is applied to, say, gang rape.
Somehow, state-sanctioned killing is deemed okay, while any killing not sanctioned by the state is wrong, because the killer is killing someone he/she is not “allowed” to kill, or was not ordered to kill by men in fancy uniforms. If anarchy is defined as disorder and chaos, these confusing and inconsistent moral principles are quite disorderly and chaotic themselves – even a cursory look at the behavior of governments quickly corroborates this assertion. When moral hypocrites make arbitrary rules which cannot be applied universally in any consistent manner, violence is the only means by which disputes can be resolved.
When debating a statist, it’s worth noting that the individual is choosing to debate with me, despite his/her principle that violence is the best way to resolve disputes. To be sure, many statists don’t realize (or refuse to acknowledge) that that principle is the primary underpinning of statism. In any case, nobody I’ve debated has ever pulled a gun on me, or otherwise threatened me, demanding that I agree. And they deny using violence to resolve other disputes and problems in their daily personal lives. Do they really believe in their own principles?
Yet they have no problem verbally advocating that I be forced by the state to agree with them on those principles and with any endeavor they support.
A popular but inconsistent argument often employed against anarchists is the argument from psychology. This rather condescending theory (which was used by the aforementioned girl at the pub) holds that anarchists have psychological issues with authority figures – that they are losers, resentful of the successful and powerful. Perhaps they’re raging against their controlling parents, or perhaps they’re simply nuts.
But could this also be the other way around?
Those who use this argument need to realize that as with all theories, any given principle must be reversible, and that therefore they must apply this same psychological theory to themselves.
Why is it that their definition of authority is that which is gained not through achievement of credibility but rather through the barrel of a gun? Fear is not respect, yet to the statist, authority and respect are gained by instilling fear rather than truly earned via the establishment of credibility, the way a doctor or other professional earns authority and respect in his/her field of expertise.
Could this suggest anything about their own parents? Were their parents arbitrary, inconsistent, and/or abusive? Did their parents earn respect through credibility, or did they use coercion and fear to control their children’s behavior? Aren’t statists who use this argument from psychology showing obvious symptoms of what is commonly called Stockholm syndrome?
Another thing: you won’t hear them apply their argument to soldiers or cops either. Can soldiers and cops not also be unemployable, indecisive losers, and/or have had abusive parents who bequeathed to them a misdirected rage? Might they not be acting on that rage, violently, by blowing people away whenever some guy in a fancier uniform tells them to? The anarchist is typically against the use of violence, not for it. When statists associate anarchists with violence, the word projection comes to mind.
Even sillier are other inconsistencies in statists’ thinking. For example, politicians are widely accepted as being sleazy and corrupt, while soldiers are considered to be honorable and disciplined. Why? Because they’ll obey the orders of said sleazy and corrupt politicians without question? I’m not sure how that works. The mafia is never considered to be an honorable, disciplined unit, except perhaps in films like “Goodfellas” and “the Godfather”. To better convey the perverse irony regarding soldiers, let me paraphrase Stefan Molyneux:
Soldiers are these “warrior philosophers” who understand virtue to the degree that they are fine with shooting anyone they are told to. Typical soldiers are around 19 years old, barely literate, poorly educated, unread, and inexperienced, yet are often glorified as being at the very height of philosophical depth, honor and virtue, such that they can take human life, feel that it is perfectly moral, and pretend it isn’t just obedience to a hierarchy.
27% of U.S. Army enlistees can’t read training manuals written at the 7th-grade level. .
Anyway, does this mean that I don’t “support the troops” (or cops)? Well, please explain why I should be so inconsistent as to condemn those who command violence from afar, yet praise those who actually go afar to obey and carry out those commands? Why should I support the paid hit men who commit murder, but not the mafia don who orders it?
Again: anarchists are against violence.
The term anarchy has become so corrupted by intellectuals, artists, media, the film industry and state propaganda that I would prefer to just let them have it. Besides, the term stateless society is a better description of what is meant by anarchy anyway. This is why it is so important, when in discussions with statists, to ask them what they mean by anarchy. For coherent debate, it is vital to know that all participants are talking about the same thing.
If they define anarchy as a society without rules, then they are implying that a state-based society is a society with rules. If that is the case, what are the rules?
If the rules include don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t enslave, don’t steal, then we have a problem, because these rules are not being followed by those people who claim to make the rules, the rulers. For example, sometimes you’re praised, given medals and pensions for killing people, other times you are thrown in prison.
The state organization itself is supported by slavery (income tax) and theft. There are also property taxes, capital gains taxes, payroll taxes, sales taxes, gas taxes, communications taxes, digital media taxes, and a plethora of additional taxes too numerous to list, all of which we are coerced to pay at the point of the state gun. Adding this up we spend six months out of the year working without pay for this violent institution. Where slavery is moral for members of the state it is immoral for everyone else.
Then there’s the brutal rape that occurs in prisons. Little to nothing is ever done to address this appalling problem – for example, the report from a prisoner that his hearing officer suggested that he find a rapist to protect him from other rapists. Other sick, twisted abuses that go on in prisons are too nauseating to mention here. (Perhaps in another article and on an empty stomach?)
Let’s face it: a society without rules is exactly what we have now. Ohhh, but we have due process… right?
Imagine that you’re in a nineteenth century town where a large group of husbands get together every Sunday to pass new rules about when and when not to beat their wives – they make up arbitrary, inconsistent rules that may or may not change each week. Furthermore, the wives are never informed of these rules. What is a wife told when her husband hits her for breaking one of these rules that she says she doesn’t know? She is told that ignorance of the rule is no excuse and that she is to trust that the rule is written somewhere among the countless growing and changing volumes of rules.
There are millions of laws – so many that the problem-solving “free” market created a profession of individuals who study specific areas of these countless laws – they’re called lawyers. You could study 14 hours a day for your entire life, and still not gain a full understanding of what is legal and what is not. We can’t even find the law where it says that we are obligated to pay income tax.
Try starting a manufacturing plant or refinery and see if you ever get to the bottom of all the rules – you never will. You’ll have to bribe a few people and hire consultants and lawyers to navigate all the mazes of rules and regulations. The existence of so many laws makes it easy for the government to nail you at any time for any reason. They keep us jumpy and obedient. Is this a distraction to keep us all from criticizing the state?
Furthermore, new laws and regulations are continuously piled on – thousands every year. We are told that ignorantia legis non excusat (ignorance of the law is not an excuse), yet not even the best lawyers can be familiar with more than a tiny fraction of them.
Entire markets have sprung up in response to the convoluted busy work the state continuously creates. For example, you can hire a tax preparation service to prepare your income tax return so that you don’t have to keep up with the myriad rules added or changed in the tax code each year. Unfortunately, while it is always gratifying to observe the market addressing a problem, in these cases it isn’t progress; the market is addressing needless, colossal productivity losses created by government. If you can’t figure out what’s legal and what’s not, if the tax code is too labyrinthine for many citizens to prepare their own returns, then you’re in a state of de facto lawlessness and chaos.
When bills get attached to other bills, some of which are “defense appropriation bills” that can’t be rescinded, how can citizens be expected to know what is going on?
Another problem: the ungodly length of laws and regulations. You may have heard the urban legend that while the Declaration of Independence is only about 1300 words (true), U.S. government regulations on the sale of cabbage run 26,911 words. Although this cabbage bill is a myth, there are endless all-too-real examples that are just as bad or worse.
For example, Code of Federal Regulations Title 9 (Animals and Animal Products), Chapter II Part 201 has 21,337 words.
And that’s just one part of one chapter of one Title of the CFR.
And in case that wasn’t enough to cure your insomnia, there are enough food safety regulations to keep you curled up in your favorite reading chair for the rest of your life.
The infamous Patriot Act is 57,504 words long – more than double the length of that mythical cabbage-sale bill. By way of comparison, again, the Declaration of Independence is about 1300; the U.S. Constitution about 8100.
Do you think that the average American knows what’s in it, let alone has a clue regarding all its possible interpretations and ramifications? When laws are passed for shakedown purposes without any consent or voting, when they are in constant flux, when citizens are held accountable for knowing the law but can’t reasonably be expected to know even a tiny fraction of it – how different is this from what people mean when they say “but that would be anarchy…”? Is it really that unlike Hobbes’s dreaded “state of nature”?
If laws are too numerous and complex for citizens to comprehend, if they are inconsistent, hypocritical, and allow some but not others to engage in murder, enslavement, theft, rape, counterfeiting fiat currency, etc., then there are no laws, there are no rules.
Consider the mafia-like legislative practice of “juicing” – the drafting of bills that would burden a particular industry – manufacturing, chemical, medical, finance, insurance, etc. The potential introduction or passage of the bill is designed to elicit campaign contributions in exchange for their withdrawal.
Put bluntly, it’s extortion: legislators are coming at business with guns, and business has little choice but to respond, “Okay, okay! Here’s some money! Now go away!” The tobacco and fast-food industries are well-publicized examples: they’re having to pay billions of dollars to fight off these shakedowns.
Can you hear Joe Pesci’s chapped, bristly New Jersey accent? “We’re gonna need that money and who knows, your store might burn down and that would be a real shame now wouldn’t it?”
Juicing drives up the cost of a wide range of products and services, from food to gasoline to health care. (So much for government “caring” about the poor. In discussions, people often ask, “But what about the poor?” – it never having occurred to them to wonder whether the state does more to worsen than ameliorate their condition.)
When lawmakers can draft any legislation they like for the purpose of extorting money from their constituents, is that not tantamount to lawlessness and chaos? Is that not what statists typically mean when they use the word “anarchy”?
After an industry is shaken down like a lemon tree for contributions and the politicians involved are re-elected, then come the favors, a process known as pork barrel politics.
Sometimes these favors need to be disguised in order to get the bills passed; this can be done in a number of ways.
They can use special interest propaganda such as “helping the poor” or “saving the environment”, or they can just hide it in another bill.
Whatever the means, the ultimate victims in this cycle of racketeering and pork are the market and consumers.
Statists often express the concern that that in a state of anarchy, corporations would try to use violence to crush their competition and become monopolies. If statists are so worried about monopolies, they might want to take a look at that big monopoly known as the state first.
Violence is expensive. So if you’re a corporation that would rather have goons hamstring your competitors than actually compete based on the merits of your products and services, then what better provider than the state, a violent monopoly that makes its money off the backs of slaves? You pay for the state’s services whether you use them or not – might as well take advantage, right?
This kind of thing happens all the time – a well-publicized example was Netscape’s antitrust case against Microsoft. Instead of coming up with better products and competing, Netscape used the state to cheat like an armed poker player in the old west, getting the Department of Justice to put the shakedown on Microsoft. The state functioned as a monopolistic gang of hired thugs, the fees for its services forcibly stolen from the people in the form of taxes.
Without government, would Netscape have had the means to play dirty? No – they’ve have had to serve their investors by investing in research and development. Unfortunately, however, the state was there to force consumers to pay for a product that they otherwise would not buy.
The degree to which force is required to produce market share for a particular product or service is the degree to which consumers do not want to pay for that product or service. How much did consumers not want to buy Netscape’s products? As much as the amount of resources that the Department of Justice misallocated to its attack on Microsoft.
So what was the outcome of that debacle? Well, Microsoft had to recuperate the enormous costs of its defense (like lawyers’ and consultants’ fees). These costs were passed on to consumers, as well as to other software developers who create products that run on Microsoft’s operating systems. These other developers, in turn, had to pass their increased costs on to consumers. Thus, almost all software ended up more expensive. This destructive process amounts to the state vs. everyone else.
To the statist, I would ask: Just how different is this from what you mean by “anarchy”? And do you really believe it to be the most preferable alternative?
For the sake of argument, let’s take it as given that government really is necessary and desirable. There’s still a big looming problem.
What will happen when the government runs out of money? The United States has a massive – and constantly increasing – debt of over eleven trillion dollars, the value of over 1,000,000 metric tons of gold measured by it’s current value! There isn’t even that much gold on the planet. This debt could not be paid off even if budgets for all government programs were cut by 90%!
And if you were going to attempt to pay it off, which programs would you cut first?
You could end the Iraq war, eliminate the military, close all military bases, and eliminate the Department of Defense, and that still won’t cover it. You could then eliminate the Department of Education and all welfare and that still won’t cover it.
You could end the “war on drugs” and abolish the DEA, DHS, NSA, CIA, FBI, EPA, and the rest of the alphabet, and still have nowhere near enough to cover the national debt.
Besides, it’s a moot point, because no such drastic cuts are even close to being politically viable.
This situation of gross deficit spending and ever-mounting debt can’t continue indefinitely. Later or sooner, the state is doomed. We can speculate on how it will happen, but like a rock falling from a cliff, we don’t know how the rock may spin, tumble or bounce but what we do know is that it will eventually hit the ground.
This is why we should be looking at alternatives. If your house were in the path of an approaching tornado, would it be unreasonable to ask, “Hmm, what kind of house should we live in next? Because this one’s not going to be there anymore.”
There are no rules – this is how organized crime works. A significant difference is that moral justification is offered for the existence of government, while the mafia makes no such pretense: its actions are unabashedly taken to obtain desired results.
We’re forced to pay for murders abroad, forced to pay for social programs that only make conditions worse, forced to pay for everyone’s deplorable state education, and forced to pay to throw nonviolent drug users and traders in prison. We’re forced to pay whether we agree or disagree. As lobbyists, CEO’s and other citizens attempt to seize the power of state guns to his own naturally self-interested advantage, as individuals are sent overseas to slaughter and kill or be killed, we find that we already are in a war of all against all.
Somehow, it is argued, a society based on voluntary contributions is considered “anarchy”, whereas a society based on coercion, forced association, and avalanches of incomprehensible, inconsistent regulations is considered “order”. Somehow this is considered an organized society based on “rule of law”.
Black is white and up is down, freedom is slavery and war is peace, why is everything so backwards? Why does nobody seem aware of it? Is it because the state gets the children for 13 years while they’re young? Is it because children are inflicted with propaganda from an early age that this is normal and desirable? Is it because children are born into a “social contract” of bad, monopolistic relationships? Where do we learn that coercion is voluntary and that voluntarism is violence?
Complex problems require complex solutions – the “solution” of coercion and violence only creates more problems. The state is a scam that amounts to breaking your leg in order to sell you a crutch while the market has continued to deliver voluntary solutions to a vast range of problems including those generated by government.
I have shown how the market has developed solutions to government-generated problems in many fields, from law and accounting to manufacturing, engineering and software development. Given that, is it so unreasonable to suggest that if individual entrepreneurs had the opportunity, they would be capable of creating new and improved solutions to the problems that the state is “supposed” to handle?
These problems would be addressed in a far more efficient and less chaotic (not to mention more voluntary and less violent) manner by innovators like you and I, inspired by the endless possibilities of a free and unfettered market.
But hey – that would be anarchy.