Why Anarchy Can Never Work

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All interactions should be completely voluntary, and people should be left to their own devices because the politically monopolistic entity known as the State is grossly inefficient, immoral, and just an outright waste of resources.

It seems like such a simple, straight-forward, and intuitive concept, right?  Experientially, we know this to be true, and yet people are afraid to trust people to look after their own interests.

There are many good arguments in favor of a Stateless society.  However, I’m going to raise some arguments against it – ones you’ve likely never heard before – that show why it’s simply unachievable.

For starters, there’s the fact that – much like Communism – anarchy can’t work unless the entire world is on board with the idea, which can’t ever happen simply because there will always be those who would prefer to come together, even through voluntary means, to subject themselves to an external political authority.

Anarchists are unhappy with the way a statist society operates; they feel various behaviors are logically or morally inconsistent and violate their consent, and wish to remove themselves from such a society only to find that the self-interests of the system do not want them to leave.

Naturally, I have sympathy for such people and support their right to leave and go off to do their own thing in peace.  However, if we extend the principle that everyone is free to do what they want, we inevitably find that some people actually want to be statists.  As long as everyone within that group only imposes their rules on themselves and each other, while leaving everyone else alone, that is perfectly consistent with the non-aggression principle and property rights, yet winds up creating a State within a stateless society.

“Consent makes the law.  To one consenting, no injury is done.”  That’s the whole point, right?  You want out because you don’t consent, but others still want to remain in.  Everyone’s just looking for their own little political niche.

Freedom of association means giving people the right to enslave themselves if they really want.  You have no more right to force them to accept a stateless society than they have to force you to accept a statist one.  It’s one of the reasons I’m a nationalist and a secessionist, because I think nationalism solves a lot of problems.  States essentially become large-scale political and ideological safe spaces, wherein so long as everyone keeps to their side, everything is fine.  People can freely experiment with the system of their choosing.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that way, so we must ask, What to do with these residual masochistic statists?

“But wait,” I hear you say. “If it’s voluntary association, then it’s not a State because States are necessarily coercive.”

Wrong.  I know anarchists like Larken Rose love to redefine the word to suit their own vision of reality, but that has about the same effect as SJWs redefining racism beyond its commonly understood meaning to include power in the definition.  At best, it’s a semantic argument, rather than one that attacks first principles.  It either renders the word meaningless as it can only be applied to something that doesn’t in fact exist (much like the word “supernatural”), or else it leaves us with the need for a new word to assume that definition.

Just as natural laws for individuals have been discovered by philosophers, so too have natural laws for groups.  This is sometimes referred to as the “Law of Nations,” which has been codified in our Western legal tradition and is even expressly referenced in the U.S. Constitution.  In his book The Law of Nations, Emmerich de Vattel defines a nation or State as follows:

“A nation or a state is, as has been said at the beginning of this work, a body politic, or a society of men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by their combined strength.  From the very design that induces a number of men to form a society which has its common interests, and which is to act in concert, it is necessary that there should be established a Public Authority, to order and direct what is to be done by each in relation to the end of the association. This political authority is the Sovereignty; and he or they who are invested with it are the Sovereign.”

The concept of a State or nation simply refers to the particular organization of individuals as a group with regards to their political rights and duties.  That’s it.  The actual form and means by which it comes about is frankly irrelevant to the question of whether a particular group is or is not a State.

You guys are a walking contradiction.

“So… what?” I hear you say. “You’re in favor of the idea of people ruling over others?”

If it’s done knowingly and willingly, then sure, why not?  Again, consent makes the law.  To one consenting, no injury is done.  That’s the whole crux of the anarchist’s objections to statism; I’m just holding up a mirror, keeping them consistent to that principle.

The natural order of things is to construct a bottom-up voluntary society, rather than a top-down involuntary one.  Individuals come together to form families.  Families form tribes.  Tribes form cities.  Cities form nations.  Nations in turn form international alliances.  That is the natural order of things and is perfectly consistent.  The power disparities and levels of dependence in a family or tribe are far greater than those of a nation.  It’s just that, the higher up the pyramid you go, the more people it applies to, and thus fewer powers must be delegated to it because there is less commonality and agreement among those subjected to it.

People forget that we once had global anarchy in the pre-civilization era, and life sucked.  We formed tribes, and then states, for a reason.  At first, it was through largely voluntary means that social compacts were formed as a protection against other groups who came together to initiate force on them, seeking to impose their will through involuntary means because they coveted scarce resources.  The relation between scarcity and freedom is the history of politics, and is why something like The Venus Project is actually more pro-liberty than most libertarians realize, because it removes (at least part of) the incentive to control others.

The alternative to forming states for collective defense was being conquered by a more powerful self-organized collective.

A while back, before I started writing for Being Libertarian, I crafted an allegory entitled Birth of the Minarchist Syndicate, which attempted to illustrate how and why humanity might make such a transition from statelessness to minarchy.  The idea is that political power, like all other forms of power, is amoral and neutral.  Its morality depends upon the wielder, which is why, as Sargon of Akkad correctly points out, the absolutist argument that governments and states are always bad lacks nuance, because it is built upon a false dichotomy.  Some people are good.  Some people are bad.  The key is in figuring out which is which and getting the good to control the bad.

Of course, if you really want to adhere strictly to raw natural law, then coercive force falls under the purview of might makes right, the will to power, and survival of the fittest, all of which precede even symbiosis – Nature’s precursor to the later human concept of voluntarism and contract from which all other law derives.

Short of global anarchy, which we’ve already shown to be impossible, the only other way to give anarchists what they want would be to have statism exist in parallel to anarchy.  Whether it’s majority anarchists or majority statists is irrelevant as the result would ultimately be the same. Statists would carve out territory for their nations while the anarchists would carve out territory for Ancapistan.

However, this would be a logical contradiction. A “stateless state,” would not believe in public borders, or delegation of sovereignty to a collective, only private ones and individual self-ownership, respectively. For this situation to work, a public dividing line between the two groups must exist.

If you kill all the authoritarians, does that make you authoritarian?

In demarcating the two territories, a unifying social organization to enforce the statelessness of that society so that the ideologies of both groups are forced to remain isolated would have to be present, which is yet another contradiction for anarchists, though it remains perfectly consistent with the statist worldview.  It even remains consistent with other non-anarchic forms of libertarianism, since minarchy and nationalism are not mutually exclusive concepts.

Of course, this raises an interesting question.  Why are territorial borders necessarily a bad thing?  I get that, in practice, they’re largely arbitrary and imposed by fiat or through the momentum of historical tradition.  However, at least in the abstract, there is nothing inherently nefarious about the concept of public borders.  It’s a famous quip of anarchists to say that borders are just imaginary lines; but if you think about it, the same can be said of your body and your land, and no anarchist would ever argue that property rights and self-ownership are immoral.

Well, except for an ancom, that is.

Again, this goes back to the bottom-up philosophy.  If I, as an individual, can define and establish property rights, then part of that right necessarily includes the ability to delegate or otherwise alienate such a right to a collective.  For instance, a family, club, or business can own property jointly because the several individuals within it can, and their wills are in alignment.  Why would this be any different for larger scale organizations like cities and States?

Absent such a centralized organization, every individual’s property would become its own nation under Castle Doctrine, which would lack sufficient political, military, and economic force to fend off attacks by other entities of greater or equal scale, such as state actors.

This may actually be an argument you have heard before – the sort of Mongol Army style conquest wherein some powerful, organized force of evil intent rides through, conquering small patches of weak individuals here and there until eventually the whole continent is brought under heel and a tax farm is imposed.

Such a scenario actually has numerous historical precedents, from the Mongols, to Western imperialists, to the Nazis, to the several states under the Articles of Confederation who chose to band together for fear that Britain would reclaim them one by one if they didn’t (which it nearly did in the War of 1812).  Threats such as these are quite real and a perfectly valid concern.

The common rebuttal to this argument is that a determined and vigilant group of anarchists would rise up in armed rebellion against such an entity, reject the occupiers’ claim of legitimacy, and fight to the death in defense of their honor and liberty until they all died valiantly, or the conquerors were ousted.

My response to this rebuttal is threefold.  Firstly, it’s unlikely you could ever rise up to defeat them if you couldn’t defend against them initially.  I can’t think of a single instance in history wherein a conquered people rose up to overthrow their masters without help from another state-sized entity, or which didn’t have to wait hundreds of years for the political system to collapse under its own weight.  So, small comfort there.

Secondly, it’s naïve to think that everyone can or would have the courage of Patrick Henry to stand in the face of evil and say, “Give me liberty or give me death.”  I know I’m certainly not such a person.  Are you?  I envy you if you are, but the reality is you’ll always be in the minority.  If it were that easy, we wouldn’t have this sort of problem in the first place.  People would have stood up to the income tax and the Federal Reserve and gotten it thrown out in 1913, instead of trying to justify and defend it.

Dying in a blaze of glory doesn’t actually solve the problem; it just leaves fewer people to resist in the future, sort of like how not voting doesn’t convince the political class to become anarchic, it just means there are fewer objections the incumbents have to ignore.

That’s not to say I’m out to defend such things.  I’m simply pointing out that reliance on self-rule for all things is naïve because not everyone is willing or able to do it.  Some people really do require a government to tell them what to do, even if you personally don’t.  Again, it’s a false dichotomy to say that all should be ruled or no one should be ruled.  Indeed, some should and some shouldn’t.  The key is to get those who should rule to rule those that need to be ruled.

Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of children around.

Whether through cowardice or apathy, or inability, or simply the division of labor, there will always be those who prefer to outsource the defense of their liberties to others.  That some need, or wish, to be ruled creates a need for rulers; and as with any other commodity or service, there is a nuance to the relationship created between the haves and have-nots.  In a way, you could say the State itself is just another child of the free market.

So long as it’s all done voluntarily, this is in keeping with the natural order of things; and so long as they’re not subjugating anarchists, the anarchists have no recourse to tell the statists they can’t be statists if that’s what each group feels best protects their own self-interests.  Again, the main issue is in separating the one from the other and figuring out which is which.  I get that it’s complicated, but the solution is not blanket generalizations and false dichotomies.

This brings me to the third part of my rebuttal, which is: if vigilance is the price of liberty, why is that true only of anarchy but not minarchy?  Or for that matter, any other form of government?  As Thomas Jefferson said:

“Though written constitutions may be violated in moments of passion or delusion, yet they furnish a text to which those who are watchful may again rally and recall the people.  They fix, too, for the people the principles of their political creed.”

Some anarchists like to claim that minarchy can never work because the Constitution either permits authoritarianism or is otherwise powerless to stop it.  It is that very argument which Jefferson’s quote rebuts by pointing to the fact that the Constitution is a set of expressed principles around which people can rally because it’s the people who allow tyranny or liberty.

Indeed, people are the key to everything.  The character of people is ultimately what creates good and evil and what defines whether a political system will work or not.  The people are more important than the system.  If we could reliably roll Marcus Aurelius and Solomon every turn, even dictatorship could be made to work.  The only reason we shy away from that is because those are long odds, but even a completely voluntary society will still have evil men seeking power.

Power is neutral and amoral; the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Whilst I might have my own qualms with the Constitution, if it were at least adhered to, it would be a far better situation than what we have presently, and I don’t think most anarchists would get out of bed to protest tariffs and the post office if that were the case.  At most, they might quibble about it over the Internet, but somehow it just doesn’t strike the same chord as irradiating children in Iraq.

Minarchy has the best payout-to-odds ratio, and has the benefit of not falling into the same logical or pragmatic contradictions as anarchy.  The only thing that is lacking is for that dedicated group of people to actually hold government accountable.

But few people are actually doing that, few enough that we can’t even solve the big problems right now, let alone the petty ones.  I’m talking about things the vast majority of people agree are bad, like income taxes, the Federal Reserve, the DMV, or marijuana prohibition, compared to tariffs, IP, and the post office.

An anarchist’s daily struggle.

This brings me to my final point: anarchists tend to hyper-focus on ideology and moral posturing whilst ignoring – or worse, decrying and obstructing – the practical steps needed to actually reach their goals. This is why their ideology will never come to fruition.

I can’t think of a single anarchist who wasn’t at one point a statist and who didn’t first pass through the gateway of minarchy to reach their present position of anarchy. Not even guys like Larken Rose or Stefan Molyneux made such a giant leap (the latter even recently admitted he gave up on the abstract things he can’t change, to pursue the tangible things he can change).

They all went through phases to get there.  So if that’s true of individuals, why would it be any less true for society as a whole?

The vast majority of social media anarchists I’ve talked to tend to hold all other libertarians’ feet to the fire with ideological purity tests. They argue with non-anarchists and get really angry and emotional over petty shit like the morality of roads while the rest of us are focused on those aforementioned big things, like children being bombed in Syria or Gaza. Such disagreement actually hurts their cause by wasting time, resources, and political capital. Worse still, we non-anarchists allow ourselves to get caught up in minutia.

Getting kind of sick of “taxation is theft” and “muh roads” memes to be honest.

Nearly all anarchists remove themselves from the political process, whether out of disenfranchisement with the system or a sense of adherence to their principles.  This leads to less political support for libertarian political action, which in turn means those candidates most likely to help bring about freedom are less likely to win.

If that wasn’t bad enough, couple it with the fact that authoritarians are actively trying to import and/or breed more statists to expand their voting block, and the situation appears even more bleak. It will only be a matter of time before a downward spiral is created from which we will never again have sufficient political power to escape.

Anarchy is simply a logical contradiction, an impractical strategy, a romantic fantasy. It’s a Utopian ideal, and we need to get back to the real world, refocus our priorities, and deal with things pragmatically, because we’re running out of time to preserve our liberty.

If history is doomed to repeat itself, if America is reliving the same phases that Rome went through, then Trump is our Gaius Gracchus – the last breath of republicanism before the modern equivalents of Marius and Sulla emerge to lead us irrevocably towards dictatorship. We dodged a bullet with Hillary, but we libertarians need to get our acts together fast.  Anarchy won’t be enough. Anarchy won’t save the republic, or the people. Anarchy isn’t the answer because anarchy can never work.

* Marushia Dark is a fantasy novel writer, founder of The Freeman State, and an admin at Just Statist Things. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Too many anarchists approach freedom in a backwards fashion that ignores the reality of the world. At its heart is an acknowledgement of the Non-Aggression Principle but not necessarily strict adherance. I think libertarians can agree that violations of the NAP are, simply put, failures to establish civil society in the absence of force. That is not to say that one cannot make valid arguments as to the necessity of such force. As an Anarcho-Capitalist, believe that Libertarians are generally on the right path about this topic. While most Anarchists are just delusional communists, I think valid Anarcho-Capitalists are directly in-line with Libertarians with one caveat. Anarcho-Capitalists believe that the quest to expand our freedoms should never end. But not at the expense of civilization as a whole and any step to remove key statist structures should be done tentatively with a sound understanding of the free markets strengths and weaknesses with fail safes. Obviously, none of this can be achieved without the vast majority of the population accepting Capitalism and freedom as the most important guiding criterea to forming policy. We are simply not there. This is where Libertarians, Conservatives and Anarchists can join forces with a common goal. Espousing the advantages of the free market and fighting the propaganda of those who seek to increase the power of the state. To me, Anarchism is an ideological target that we must strive to achieve in a pragmatic way. The reason Libertarianism is insufficient is simply the fact that it is innevitable that future generations will grow soft and let the state grow once again. Dismantling the institutions that justify the use of force to solve non violent problems is the only way to prevent this predictable cycle.

  2. Too many anarchists approach freedom in a backwards fashion that ignores the reality of the world. At its heart is an acknowledgement of the Non-Aggression Principle but not necessarily strict adherance. I think libertarians can agree that violations of the NAP are, simply put, failures to establish civil society in the absence of force. That is not to say that one cannot make valid arguments as to the necessity of such force. As an Anarcho-Capitalist, believe that Libertarians are generally on the right path about this topic. While most Anarchists are just delusional communists, I think valid Anarcho-Capitalists are directly in-line with Libertarians with one caveat. Anarcho-Capitalists believe that the quest to expand our freedoms should never end. But not at the expense of civilization as a whole and any step to remove key statist structures should be done tentatively with a sound understanding of the free markets strengths and weaknesses with fail safes.
    Obviously, none of this can be achieved without the vast majority of the population accepting Capitalism and freedom as the most important guiding criterea to forming policy. We are simply not there. This is where Libertarians, Conservatives and Anarchists can join forces with a common goal. Espousing the advantages of the free market and fighting the propaganda of those who seek to increase the power of the state.

  3. So, if we extend the ridiculously flawed logic contained in the entire article….:

    As some people wanted to remain the property of the slave owner (because of the food, shelter and protection etc. that slavery provided), abolishing slavery should/could have never worked either?

    “anarchy can’t work unless the entire world is on board with the idea”. Who says that is a necessary prerequisite
    and controvertible truth? That’s a whole lot of ‘garbage in’ so early in the piece that predictably resulted in a mountain of garbage out for the rest of it. Was the whole world on board with the idea of abolishing slavery in the USA before abolition was achieved? Is the ‘entire world’ on board even now?

    Like slavery, why couldn’t it be available in one area/country at a time? Nobody would be forced to live there if they preferred to be a slave. We already have places/countries that range from obscenely totalitarian to ‘almost’ free. Totally free wouldn’t be extending that range all that much from the wide range that already exists. If it was seen to work and be better than what we have, would the ‘willing’ slaves still be so fearful of leaving the plantation? I guess some might – but I’m sure many others would see the example and replicate it locally or even seek to improve upon it – thereby offering even more choice for everyone – no matter what level of ‘servitude’ they prefer.

    Will it happen? Probably not in my lifetime – and definitely not while so many have mentally imprisoned themselves with the idea that it “Can never work”.

    “There are many good arguments in favor of a Stateless society. However, I’m going to raise some arguments against it – ones you’ve likely never heard before”

    LOL – Go on, have a wild guess why they haven’t been heard before.

  4. “Anarchy can’t work unless the entire world is on board with the idea”, “It’s a Utopian ideal”.

    If “but what about the roads” was argument #1, this has to be argument #2. How an anarchist reads this argument:

    “Me not enslaving people can’t work unless the entire world is on board with the idea”
    “Me not murdering people can’t work unless the entire world is on board with the idea”
    “Me not stealing from people can’t work unless the entire world is on board with the idea”
    “Me not enslaving people is Utopian. Not murdering people is Utopian. Not stealing from people is Utopian… THEREFOR, I’m going to legitimize and support enslavement, murder, and theft. Because otherwise it’s Utopian.”

    That is a terrible argument.

    “Minarchy has the best payout-to-odds ratio.”

    The payout of minarchy is morearchy, and you’re still legitimizing slavery, murder, and theft- so that makes you someone I really wouldn’t want to associate with. You are trying to make the moral consequentialist argument that the ends justify the means. That’s fine if you want to make that argument, but I have yet to be convinced that consequentialism leads to anything other than the legitimization of more terrible means.

  5. If I cannot trust you to govern yourself, you give me no reason to even assume I should trust you to ever govern anyone else whether it’s supporting the right law or the right representative. So who are you to tell me what works or doesn’t work, when you admit that not everyone (including yourself) can be trusted?

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