Anarchy Is the Solution to the Evil Idiocy of the State
L: Doug, you keep saying you’re an anarchist. I suspect most of our readers know that doesn’t mean you like to wear black army boots and throw Molotov cocktails at McDonald’s restaurants during WTO protests, but I’m not sure how many really know what it is you do mean. And since this is central to your world-view and hence touches on all your thinking as an investor and speculator, it seems useful to clear the air. Few may agree with us on this topic, but let’s talk about anarchy.
Doug: Sure. If people aren’t open-minded enough to even consider an alternative view, they’re their own worst problem, not my ideas. In point of fact, anarchism is the gentlest of all political systems. It contemplates no institutionalized coercion. It’s the watercourse way, where everything is allowed to rise or fall naturally to its own level. An anarchic system is necessarily one of free-market capitalism. Any services that are needed and wanted by people — like the police or the courts — would be provided by entrepreneurs, who’d do it for a profit.
Look, I’d be happy enough if the state — which is an instrument of pure coercion, even after you tart it up with the trappings of democracy, a constitution, and what-not — were limited to protecting you from coercion and absolutely nothing more. That would imply a police force to protect you from coercion within its bailiwick. A court system to allow you to adjudicate disputes without resorting to force. And some type of military to protect you from outside predators.
Unfortunately, the government today does everything but these functions — and when it does deign to protect, it does so very poorly. The police are increasingly ineffective at protecting you; they seem to specialize in enforcing arbitrary laws. The courts? They apply arbitrary laws, and you need to be wealthy to use them — although you’re likely to be impoverished by the time you get out of them. And the military hardly defends the country anymore — it’s all over the world creating enemies, generally, of the most backward foreigners.
In a free-market anarchy, the police would likely be subsidiaries of insurance companies, and courts would have to compete with each other based on the speed, fairness, and low cost of their decisions. The military presents a more complex problem, beyond our range here.
L: That’s a lot for most mainstream folks to swallow at once, Boss. On the other hand, the way I see it, it would be inconsistent with my libertarian principles to demand that anyone agree with me — but I don’t need to be helping those who would enslave me to make money anyway. That said, let’s try to ease into this…
Doug: So, let’s start with a definition. Many people think of anarchy as being chaos. They see riots and chaos on TV from some place in conflict and think, “What anarchy!”
L: That’s if the talking heads don’t tell them that what they are seeing is anarchy to begin with.
Doug: Right. But chaos and bomb throwing are not anarchy. Chaos is the actual opposite of anarchy. Anarchy is simply a form of political organization that does not put one ruler, or ruling body, over everyone in a society. Whether that’s actually possible is a separate matter. This is what it means. And I see it as an ideal to strive for.
L: I’m looking at Webster’s, and it says that anarchy is: A: Absence of government. B: A state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority. C: A utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government. People might say you’re focusing only on C.
Doug: Look at the etymology. It comes from the Greek anarchos, meaning “having no ruler,” an-, not, and archos, ruler. Definition B has come into popular use, but that doesn’t make it right.
“Anarchy” is a word that’s been stolen and corrupted by the collectivists — like “liberal,” It used to be that a liberal was someone who believed in both social and economic freedom. Now a liberal is no better than a muddle-headed thief — someone who’s liberal only with other people’s money.
I refuse to let the bad guys control the intellectual battlefield by expropriating and ruining good words.
In any event, there’s no conflict whatsoever between anarchy and the rule of law, since there are private forms of law and governance. That’s what Common Law is all about. So the correct definition is a combination of A and C.
But I never said a truly free, anarchic society would be a utopia; it would simply be a society that emphasizes personal responsibility and doesn’t have any organized institutions of coercion. Perfect harmony is not an option for imperfect human beings. Social order, however, is possible without the state. In fact, the state is so dangerous because it necessarily draws the sociopaths — who like coercion — to itself.
What holds society together is not a bunch of strict laws and a brutal police force — it’s basically peer pressure, moral suasion, and social opprobrium. Look at a restaurant. The bills get paid not because anybody is afraid of the police, but for the three reasons I just mentioned.
L: I saw some of this in Argentina over the last few days. Here we are at your Harvest Celebration. Two hundred people, most of whom have never met before, a hundred miles from nowhere — I don’t know if the nearby town of Cafayate even has a cop, but if it does, he’s well hidden. For all anyone can see, it’s us, the grape vines, and the mountains.
And yet, there was order. The Estancia is private property. Your people organized things, and the guests went along with it and had a great time. Why? I don’t think many of them calculated the odds of getting killed if they tried to use violence to get everything they wanted, though a rational person making such a calculation would decide it wasn’t worth it.
Most people are brought up to be decent, and the people you tend to attract have a certain moral fiber. In other words, the event was governed by a culture of voluntary and honorable cooperation.
Doug: Just so. It’s like when people form lines at movie theaters or ski lifts. There doesn’t have to be a cop with a gun there to make everyone take turns. Everyone knows that if they take turns, it all works out better for everyone — and they are brought up to act that way, so they usually don’t even have to make that calculation.
A more obviously government-like example is Disneyworld, which is nothing less than a private city, complete with numerous rules that would be called laws if it were run by politicians instead of a corporation.
Why would anyone go along with rules that aren’t laws? Because they want to go to Disneyworld. They agree, and for the most part, they go along, and if they cause too much trouble, Disney kicks ‘em out — which they have every right to do as owners of their private property.
As Pareto’s Law indicates, there’s inevitably a bad element in most places. 80% of folks are truly decent, and 20% are perhaps problematical. And 20% of that 20% are bad apples. You have to have a culture that keeps them hiding under rocks, rather than rising to the top — as they wind up doing quite often in government.
The reaction of a person to the idea of a truly free society is an excellent moral litmus test. The more negative the reaction, the more likely you’re dealing with a sociopath.
L: What would you say to people who point out that when the government collapsed in Somalia a few years ago, bloodshed ensued, or that when the government disappeared from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, ugly chaos did erupt?
Doug: It’s as you said: a cultural matter. If you have people who’ve been brought up to believe that the only limits on what you can or should do is the force exerted by the authorities, it’s no surprise that when the greater power disappears, they reach out to take whatever they want, by force.
That’s clearly the case in Somalia, but it’s also true of the people stranded in New Orleans, who were primarily those with no money to flee — in other words, the inhabitants of government housing projects. It’s not politically correct to point this out, but those people had, on average, a distinctly different culture from that of the average American.
Actually, ex-police states are the most dangerous places — like Russia in the early ‘90s, the Congo in the early ‘60s, or Haiti today, because they have a culture of repression that’s like a pressure cooker. When the lid comes off, it’s a mess.
L: I seem to recall a flood in West Virginia in recent years that wiped out half of a small town. Instead of raping and robbing each other, those not hurt helped the victims. They housed them, fed them, and even helped them build new houses. And no one made them do it. It wasn’t a case of better government — it was just their culture to do so.
Doug: And culture is a matter of education, which means that societies that function on voluntary cooperation, as in Cafayate, Disneyland, or the town you’re talking about in West Virginia, are possible.
There is nothing in human nature that makes it impossible to create a society of people who respect each other’s rights and follow accepted systems for working out differences, like getting in lines at movie theaters. There would still be criminals and sociopaths to deal with, as these occur in a standard distribution in every population — but the point is that the society doesn’t have to be built around an essentially criminal organization, the state.
L: And those sociopaths would be limited to whatever mischief they could wreak personally, instead of having access to the machinery of the state to multiply the harm they can do. But I think most people would balk at your characterization of the state as essentially criminal.
I know that’s a big topic people have written whole books about, but can you give us something brief to substantiate your view?
Doug: Well, it’s really not that complicated. We can probably agree that it’s wrong for me to point a gun at you and take all your money. Some people might feel sorry for me if I did that to buy medicine for my dying mother, but it’s still a crime, because it violates your human rights. And it’s still a crime if I ask someone else to do the same thing for me — and still a crime if a whole bunch of people vote to ask someone with a spiffy uniform and a badge to do the same thing.
It wouldn’t matter any more if a group of people calling themselves Congress went through some rituals that involved a leader putting some ink on some paper and said a violation of your rights was now “legal” than if a witch-doctor told a tribe’s warriors that it was okay to take slaves and sacrifice them to the gods. Laws are just a “civilized” man’s taboos.
L: Obamacare is a case of exactly this. Socialized medicine puts you and me in the position of the tribe’s sacrifice, because the mass of voters want free goodies at the expense of those who produce more than they do.
But to get back to the word “criminal” — you’re saying that the state is inherently criminal because it violates human rights. But does it have to be that way? Didn’t Ayn Rand have an idea for a kind of government that would not violate anyone’s rights?
Doug: I don’t think she ever came up with a detailed plan. I find it interesting that her “Galt’s Gulch” in Atlas Shrugged was clearly a private city. It was built on land owned by Midas Mulligan, and people who bought in agreed to his terms. There was no mention of police or elected officials. What Rand said was that a moral government could not violate anyone’s rights, and that meant raising revenues through user fees and other voluntary means — no taxes. That’s a great step in the right direction, but leaves a lot of unanswered questions as to how to do this.
Here’s the rub; imagine that the Quebecois decided unanimously that they really didn’t want to be part of Canada anymore but wanted to be an independent, French-speaking country. So they peacefully vote and take their marbles to play their own game. In doing so, they don’t violate anyone’s rights, so there is no moral way the government of Canada can stop them. They could use force, but that would violate the rights of the Quebecois, who would not be hurting anyone. And if the Quebecois could do this, so could Disneyworld, or your neighborhood — or you individually.
There’s no moral way to prevent peaceful secession — but if a state doesn’t prevent secession, it soon disintegrates. People always want to do things differently, and they would if the threat of force from the state didn’t stop them. Brute force — although gussied up with myth, propaganda, and red, white, and blue bunting — is what holds the state together. That force is ugly and corrupting.
No matter how benign a state might be, even one that found a way to fund all of its activities without resorting to force, it must still violate the fundamental human right of self-determination in order to preserve its own existence. That’s why the state is inherently a criminal organization — it must rely on force. Even the best of them are never based entirely on consent of the governed; there is coercion of the non-consenting minority. And there are always some who do not consent.
Democracy is no solution — it’s just 51% bossing the other 49% around. For God’s sake, Hitler was democratically elected. Democracy is just mob rule dressed up in a coat and tie.
You and I do not consent to Obamacare, but we’re forced to accept it. Of course socialized medicine is totally counterproductive, as we discussed in our conversation on health.
I suppose I can live with the idea of a state, as long as there were about seven billion of them in the world — and everybody had one. That would show that the whole idea of the state is just a scam, where everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. But the only people who really benefit are the guys on top.
April 14, 2010