As an anarchist I have been told countless times that anarchy just can’t work. It is a pipe dream and you would come closer to catching unicorns than finding any anarchy working in the “real world”. I have been told that I am just a Utopian dreamer. I have even been told by progressives that market anarchy would be a tyranny worse than Stalin!
Can anarchy work?
One of my favorite writers is Butler Shaffer. I have read every article he ever posted at LRC as far as I know. I have read many of them over again, and one that I have read many times is called, “What Is Anarchy?” Professor Shaffer writes with such a gentle and warm style while nailing the truth that he is utterly amazing. He must be a wonderful father and husband. To me; he is a source of inspiration when I get angry at the situation I see around me caused by the irrational faith in government that the majority seem to be unable to drop.
In his article he wrote:
… Nor can we ignore the history of the state in visiting upon humanity the very death and destruction that its defenders insist upon as a rationale for political power. Those who condemn anarchy should engage in some quantitative analysis. In the twentieth century alone, governments managed to kill — through wars, genocides, and other deadly practices — some 200,000,000 men, women, and children. How many people were killed by anarchists during this period? Governments, not anarchists, have been the deadly “bomb-throwers” of human history!
Because of the disingenuous manner in which this word has been employed, I endeavor to be as precise in my use of the term as possible. I employ the word “anarchy” not as a noun, but as a verb. I envision no utopian community, no “Galt’s Gulch” to which free men and women can repair. I prefer to think of anarchy as a way in which people deal with one another in a peaceful, cooperative manner; respectful of the inviolability of each other’s lives and property interests; resorting to contract and voluntary transactions rather than coercion and expropriation as a way of functioning in society.
I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives.
Should you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched, required to show a passport or driver’s license, fined, jailed, threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful, voluntary, and devoid of coercion.
I would normally answer the question “has anarchy ever existed in our world” with reference to the Anarchy in the Aachen or the anarchy of ancient Ireland (here or here) but Butler Shaffer has an excellent point about everyday anarchy. One should read his entire post and I encourage everyone to do so. (link to it is here)
Stephan Kinsella wrote that the Butler Shaffer article referenced above set off a long discussion on Reason Magazine’s Blog and I remember that but unfortunately I don’t have a link to that discussion thread anymore and the link in Kinsella’s article is broken. But the discussion prompted Dr. Kinsella to pen a wonderful post on objections to anarchy called “What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist”.
I really liked this part of Stephan Kinsella’s post:
Libertarian opponents of anarchy are attacking a straw man. Their arguments are usually utilitarian in nature and amount to “but anarchy won’t work” or “we need the (things provided by the) state.” But these attacks are confused at best, if not disingenuous. To be an anarchist does not mean you think anarchy will “work” (whatever that means); nor that you predict it will or “can” be achieved. It is possible to be a pessimistic anarchist, after all. To be an anarchist only means that you believe that aggression is not justified, and that states necessarily employ aggression. And, therefore, that states, and the aggression they necessarily employ, are unjustified. It’s quite simple, really. It’s an ethical view, so no surprise it confuses utilitarians.
Accordingly, anyone who is not an anarchist must maintain either: (a) aggression is justified; or (b) states (in particular, minimal states) do not necessarily employ aggression.
Proposition (b) is plainly false. States always tax their citizens, which is a form of aggression. They always outlaw competing defense agencies, which also amounts to aggression. (Not to mention the countless victimless crime laws that they inevitably, and without a single exception in history, enforce on the populace. Why minarchists think minarchy is even possible boggles the mind.)
As for (a), well, socialists and criminals also feel aggression is justified. This does not make it so. Criminals, socialists, and anti-anarchists have yet to show how aggression — the initiation of force against innocent victims — is justified. No surprise; it is not possible to show this. But criminals don’t feel compelled to justify aggression; why should advocates of the state feel compelled to do so?
Criticism of my position as an anarchist on the grounds that it won’t “work” is something I hear all the time. I read people who claim that only a world full of angels could live without the iron fist of government pounding the people every time they did anything that the government deemed “illegal”. This argument is ridiculous on its face of course. The record of the nation-State is so horrific that no one could seriously claim that the foul and odious States are better than mankind cooperating voluntarily with one another. If some competitive private defense agency went over the line at some point in an anarchy — how in the world could they equal the foul record of the abuses of power that our own State police forces have committed over the decades? How could private defense agencies possibly equal the horrors that the nation Stated poured out on their own citizens in the 20th century when States murdered over 200 million of their own citizens? (see Democide)
When someone tells me that anarchy as a goal is just not practical he usually means that I will not live to see a state-less society so I should just give up. But I don’t have to believe that I will live to see a stateless society to preach the fact that the State is evil incarnate. I don’t have to come up with all the answers that the market will provide in the future in an anarchy to know that it will beat hell out of what we have now. Just knowledge of the results of the Austrian School of Economics tells me that the closer we get to anarchy the better for the masses.
States can not be justified unless you believe that raw aggression against the innocent can be justified. Do you believe that aggression is justified or don’t you? I reject aggression.