In Praise of Anarchy

Left alone, good people tend to do good things. And, when unobstructed by coercion, force, violence or any other tool employed by the state in order to foster and maintain a more “responsible,” “socially conscious” citizenship, most people tend toward being good people…all on their very own.

Nowhere was this sentiment better expressed during the past few weeks than in the flood-stricken state of Queensland, Australia (and, more lately, in the state of Victoria, to Queensland’s south).

The rains that inundated an area the size of France and Germany (combined!) across the Sunshine State wrought havoc and destruction upon its people. Lives were lost, property damaged and industry crippled.

When the worst of Mother Nature’s wrath had subsided, Queensland residents were left with a monumental clean up.

To their credit, these individuals, in the face of near-immeasurable disaster, performed admirably. They did what came naturally. Contrary to the patriotic rally cries of politicians, they didn’t do what Queenslanders do; they did what good people do. And it was beautiful.

The general feeling was perhaps best summed up by Wally “The King” Lewis, a retired national football hero, who spent the last week of his holidays helping his fellow Brisbane residents prepare sandbags and to bail rising flood waters out of their homes. (It is worth pointing out here that, for many Australians, there is no higher office to be attained in the land than that of venerated sporting legend.)

Speaking to National Nine News from the waterlogged front yard of a neighbor – whom he had never met – Wally said, “If someone’s doing it tough, I think it’s the right thing to do to put the hand up and ask them if they want any help.”

The interviewer then turned his microphone to another volunteer. “What was your reaction when Wally Lewis turned up?”

Typifying the laid back disposition of the crowd, the young man casually replied, “[Laughs] Yeah, I was a little surprised but…you know…people help out. It’s all good.”

The Australian people appeared to be perilously close to discovering something very important about themselves; something, perhaps, they’ve always known; an instinctual tendency toward human solidarity, the natural urge to help a neighbor in distress, to lend a hand; in short, to volunteer.

Alas, barely had the first piece of debris been cleared away when the media, as it typically does, lost sight of the bigger picture. Alongside inspirational stories of non-violent, voluntary cooperation, the local papers turned their attention to the state’s role in the cleanup. Should the state and federal governments remain focused on returning “their” budgets to surplus, or should they deploy funds to assist those in need of help? In other words, how “best” should the state spend its citizens’ money…as if the only just, honest option had not already expired on point of expropriation in the first place? [The answer, in other words, is not to steal it.]

While sifting through the news reports and reading comments about what the state “should” do, we wondered how people who are so ready to do what is natural, to cooperate freely with neighbors and “mates down the street,” could so miss the overarching lesson in all this tragedy. Why do hostages of the state turn to their captor when it comes to arbitrating issues of freedom, issues they are, individually and through voluntary cooperation, demonstrably capable of resolving for themselves?

Perhaps it has to do, at least in part, with the misrepresentation of the concept of anarchy itself; a misrepresentation that serves not the interests of individuals, but of the state itself. We are taught that “anarchy” means violence, looting and the aggressive form of chaos that all-too-often flourishes in the wake of natural disasters. We are told that this is what happens given the absence of state control. Nothing could be further from the truth. The state IS control. It is the very incarnation of force and violence from which it purports to protect us.

As Murray Rothbard, the man credited with having coined the term anarcho-capitalism, expressed in Society and the State:

“I define anarchist society as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual. Anarchists oppose the State because it has its very being in such aggression, namely, the expropriation of private property through taxation, the coercive exclusion of other providers of defense service from its territory, and all of the other depredations and coercions that are built upon these twin foci of invasions of individual rights.”

We can expect nothing more from an agent of force than that which is its primary, defining characteristic; namely, more force. A mule is no more capable of giving birth to a unicorn than the state is capable of “granting” freedom.

Last night, with all this in mind, your editor telephoned his father. Dad lives about an hour south of Brisbane, where the post disaster clean up continues. In the aftermath of the flood, volunteer posts were set up around the city where groups of concerned individuals could assemble to donate their time and/or resources to help get the place back on its feet.

“Sixteen thousand people turned up to help on the first day,” Dad told us. “They came with their own equipment and made their own way there. In the end, they had to turn people away.

“I put my name down to lend a hand,” he continued, before adding, with sincere disappointment in his voice, “but I haven’t been called up yet.”

Then, as a man who has spent his life helping people, he added, enthusiastically, “but I’ve still got two more days of holiday left, Sunday and Monday. Hopefully I’ll have the chance to get up there and help out then.”

To those who would argue that coercion is necessary to foster freedom, that force is a prerequisite for peace and that the expropriation of individuals’ property on threat of violence is compulsory to fund an agency that, alone, is capable of guaranteeing safety and prosperity, we say: you don’t know the real meaning of anarchy, you don’t know what voluntarism is and, until you do, you will never know what it means to be truly free.

Thank you to all the people in Queensland – and around the world – who do understand these concepts and, through their fine example, prove statists everywhere and always wrong on a daily basis.

Joel Bowman
Whiskey & Gunpowder

January 24, 2011