Rather than repeat them every time I make an argument, I wanted to put a few principles out up front, before we begin.
First and foremost, although I am an anarchist, I am not a utopian. There is no social system which will utterly eliminate evil. In a stateless society, there will still be rape, theft, murder and abuse. To be fair, just and reasonable, we must compare a stateless society not to some standard of otherworldly perfection, but rather to the world as it already is. The moral argument for a stateless society includes the reality that it will eliminate a large amount of institutionalized violence and abuse, not that it will result in a perfectly peaceful world, which of course is impossible. Anarchy can be viewed as a cure for cancer and heart disease, not a prescription for endlessly perfect health.
It would be unreasonable to oppose a cure for cancer because such a cure did not eliminate all other possible diseases – in the same way, we cannot reasonably oppose a stateless society because some people are bad, and a free society will not make them good.
Secondly, I am not proposing any Manichaean view of human nature in this book. I do not believe that human beings are either innately good, or innately evil. I take a very conservative and majority view, which is that human beings respond to incentives, which also happens to be the basis for the discipline of economics. Human beings are not innately corrupt, but they will inevitably be corrupted by power. Most people will respond to situations and circumstances in a way that maximizes their advantage, not explicitly at the expense of others, though that can happen of course, but we are biological as well as moral beings, and there are very few people who will sacrifice the safety and security of their family in order to follow some abstract moral principle.
When human beings are forced to choose between virtue and necessity, they will in general choose necessity, and will then rework their definition of virtue to justify their own actions.
That having been said, it seems very clear that human beings are driven to a very large and deep degree by virtue. A man can almost never be convinced to do what he defines as evil – but if that evil can be redefined as a good, men will almost inevitably praise or perform it. Very few men would agree to murder for payment – but very few men will condemn soldiers as murderers.
Very few people would openly say that they oppose rape, but support the rapists – however, when the same moral equation is redefined as a good, just about everyone says that they oppose the war, but support the troops.
This is one of the lessons that I explicitly take from our existing ruling class, which is that the power of propaganda to redefine evil as good is a fundamental mechanism for controlling people and making them do what you want. Before any government can truly expand, it first needs to take control of the money supply, in order to bribe citizens, and the educational system, in order to indoctrinate children. A large percentage of the army’s communications budget is dedicated to propaganda, and I assume that these people know more than a little about how to best spend money to control the minds of others.
Thus, I do understand that the reason that the debate about a stateless society is so volatile and aggressive is because anarchists are fundamentally attempting to reclaim the definition of virtue in society – and since society as a collective is largely defined by generally-accepted definitions of virtue, the anarchist approach to ethics is an attempt to fundamentally rewrite society as a whole.
Prior attempts to do this have almost always resulted in disaster, because they have always relied on gaining control of the government and using its power to impose some new version of ethics on a disarmed citizenry. The anarchist approach is particularly unsettling because we say that initiating violence to solve social problems is a great evil – perhaps the greatest evil – and so we steadfastly reject and refuse political solutions.
In the current world of governments, not only is political violence used to solve ethical problems, but also the use of such violence is itself considered virtuous and wise. Thus anarchists are entirely above the existing debate, because we are not trying to grab the gun and point it in the direction that we approve of, but rather are pointing out that violence cannot be used to achieve a positive good within society. Thus not only are existing solutions immoral, but the entire methodology for solving problems is based on a moral evil – the initiation of the use of force.
This is a fundamental rewrite of society, and people are right to be concerned and skeptical about the anarchist approach. It is the most fundamental transition that can be imagined – it is the difference between asking how slaves can be treated better, and stating that slavery is an irredeemable moral evil. It is the difference between asking what transgressions children should be beaten for, and stating that beating children is always and forever immoral.
USING THE PAST TO JUSTIFY THE FUTURE…
An objection to anarchism that I hear fairly often is that human beings are not so constituted as to be able to productively and intelligently rule themselves.
This objection rests on such a fundamental error that it is worth dealing with up front, since it will show up time and again in the upcoming arguments for anarchism.
We can all understand that it would be completely irrational to say that slaves cannot be freed, because they lack initiative and education. We all perfectly understand that slaves are barred from education, and punished for taking initiative. It is like saying that a totalitarian economy cannot be privatized because all of the workers are lazy – it is clear that this “laziness” actually arises out of a totalitarian economy, rather than any innate habits of the workers. Nutritionists might as well say that fat people cannot lose weight, because they are fat. The entire purpose of an expert is to help undo the habits that ignorance and a lack of opportunity has bred, and substitute more rational and positive behaviors in their place.
It is certainly true that people who come out of a statist educational system tend to be functionally retarded in many ways – they do not understand law, they do not understand politics, they do not understand economics, they do not understand philosophy, they have very likely never taken a course in logic – or even been offered one – they do not understand the scientific method, and they fundamentally do not know how to think or debate from first principles.
These are just the natural and disgusting results of the existing system – to say that men cannot be free because they lack the habits that freedom would have inculcated is a completely circular argument – it is like saying that newborn chicks of geese that have had their wings clipped can never fly, or that the daughter of a Chinese woman who suffered through foot binding will be born with bound feet.
Rejecting the virtues of the future for the sake of the evils of the past creates a closed-loop system that we can never escape. When anarchism comes to pass, there will doubtless be challenging and wrenching transitions for many people – but so what? This is actually an argument for anarchism, rather than against it. The harder that it is to transition out of a violent statist society, the more it is necessary to do so, and to prevent it from ever reemerging again. We do not say that heroin is less dangerous because it is so hard to quit, or so addictive – this is a central reason why heroin should not be taken in the first place! Constantly increasing our dosage of heroin because it is hard to quit would scarcely be a rational response to the problem of deadly addiction. The harder it is to quit, the more we should try to quit it, and the more we should strive to avoid re-addiction.
YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY KIND PERSON ON THE PLANET…
Another point that I would like to make up front is that there always seems to be a strange disconnect or isolation in people’s concerns about the helpless and dependent in society.
For instance, whenever I talk about getting rid of public schools, the response inevitably comes back – automatically, it would seem, just like any other good propaganda – that it would be terrible, because poor children would not be educated.
There is a strange kind of unthinking narcissism in this response, which always irritates me, much though I understand it. First of all, it is rather insulting to be told that you are trying to design a system which would deny education to poor children. To be placed into the general category of “yuppie capitalist scum” is never particularly ennobling.
A person will raise this objection with an absolutely straight face, as if he is the only person in the world who cares about the education of poor children. I know that this is the result of pure indoctrination, because it is so illogical.
If we accept the premise that very few people care about the education of the poor, then we should be utterly opposed to majority-rule democracy, for the obvious reason that if only a tiny minority of people care about the education of the poor, then there will never be enough of them to influence a democracy, and thus the poor will never be educated.
However, those who approve of democracy and accept that democracy will provide the poor with education inevitably accept that a significant majority of people care enough about the poor to agitate for a political solution, and pay the taxes that fund public education.
Thus, any democrat who cares about the poor automatically accepts the reality that a significant majority of people are both willing and able to help and fund the education of the poor.
If people are willing to agitate for and pay the taxes to support a State-run solution to the problem of education, then the State solution is a mere reflection of their desires and willingness to sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of educating the poor.
If I pay for a cure for an ailment that I have, and I find out that that cure actually makes me worse, do I give up on trying to find a cure? Of course not. It was my desire to find a cure that drove me to the false solution in the first place – when I accept that that solution is false, I am then free to pursue another solution. (In fact, until I accept that my first “cure” actually makes me worse, I will continue to waste my time and resources.)
The democratic “solution” to the problem of educating the poor is the existence of public schools – if we get rid of that solution, then the majority’s desire to help educate the poor will simply take on another form – and a far more effective form, that much is guaranteed.
“Ah,” say the democrats, “but without being forced to pay for public schools, no one will surrender the money to voluntarily fund the education of poor children.”
Well, this is only an admission that democracy is a complete and total lie – that public schools do not represent the will of the majority, but rather the whims of a violent minority. Thus votes do not matter at all, and are not counted, and do not influence public policy in the least, and thus we should get rid of this ridiculous overhead of democracy and get right back to a good old Platonic system of minority dictatorship.
This proposal, of course, is greeted with outright horror, and protestations that democracy must be kept because it is the best system, because public policy does reflect the will of the majority.
In which case we need have no fear that the poor will not be educated in a free society, since the majority of people very much want that to happen anyway.
Exactly the same argument applies to a large number of other statist “solutions” to existing problems, such as:
• Old-age pensions;
• Unemployment insurance;
• Health care for the impoverished;
• Welfare, etc.
If these State programs represent the desires and will of the majority, then removing the government will not remove the reality of this kind of charity, since government policies reflect the majority’s existing desire to help these people.
If these programs do not represent the desires and will of the majority, then democracy is a complete lie, and we should stop interfering with our leader’s universal benevolence with our distracting and wasteful “voting.”
We will get into this in more detail as we go forward, but I wanted to put the argument out up front, just to address the ridiculous objection that removing a democratic State also removes the benevolence that drives its policies.
A fundamental anarchic argument is that a democratic State uses the genuine benevolence of the majority to expand its own power, and exacerbates poverty, ignorance and sickness in order to justify and continue the expansion of that power.
This is not the first time that the benevolence of good people has been used to control them.
We only need to think of the example of organized religion to understand that…
One final point, and then we shall begin really rolling up our sleeves and having some fun figuring out how a free society can truly work.
Although the ideas of anarchy can be alarming, it is important to remember that anarchy is not an untried and untested system. As I talked about in my last book, anarchy is the foundation of how we organize our own personal lives, and it is also the root of how the government manages to survive, at least for as long as it does, despite its corrupt and evil nature.
Prior approaches to re-writing social ethics failed because they did not evolve out of what works in our personal lives. We fully accept that theories of physics cannot contradict that which is directly observable within our own lives; that which describes a falling planet cannot contradict our direct perception of a falling brick.
Indeed, since we would so strenuously resist the incursion of State power into our own personal and practical “anarchy,” it can be easier to understand how statism is a violent and artificial solution, not anarchy.
If we look at something like communism, we can see that it represented a radical reversal of what actually works in our own personal lives. We retain and trade property constantly in our own lives.
Stripping us of the right to own and trade property is an entirely artificial “oppositional solution,” which is why it had to be imposed through endless violence, murder and imprisonment.
In the same way, when we look at something like religion, we can see that it represents a radical reversal of what we actually believe to be true in our own personal lives. Children do not need threats, bribes and propaganda to believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, that gravity works and concrete is hard on the knees. They do not need to be bullied in order to learn language, or grow physically and mentally, or ask endless questions and explore their environment.
However, to believe that some ancient and fantastical Jewish zombie died for their “sins,” and that they are trailed and judged by an omnipresent and invisible ghost, and that they need to eat and drink symbolic flesh and blood to commune with some universal and incorporeal mind – well, that takes an enormous amount of propaganda, bribery and bullying. Religion is an entirely artificial “oppositional solution” to the question of existence and ethics. It must be repetitively and aggressively inflicted on children, because it scarcely comes naturally to them at all.
Anarchy, however, does not fall into this category.
For instance, when you face a problem at work, I can’t imagine that you ever sit your team down and say:
“I’ve come up with the perfect solution to our problem – what we’re going to do, see, is pick two of us, give them guns, and then those two are going to force the rest of us to do whatever they want for the next few years, and then we are going to perhaps pick two other people who will get those guns, and then they’ll be able to force us to do whatever they want us to do for the next few years, and then we’ll start all over again…”
I have yet to see a business book with anything close to the title of: “Creating A Violent Internal Monopoly To Solve Your Customer Service Woes!”
In the same way, if you face problems in your relationship, you may go to a marriage counselor, but I have never heard of any couple going to the Mafia, and saying: “We can’t quite agree on how we should be spending our money, so we’re going to buy you guys a bunch of guns and bombs, and we want you to tell us what to do, and if we disobey your orders, we want you to kidnap us and throw us in some dank and horrible cell, where we can only hope to be raped by other people!”
If you are looking for a job, I do not imagine that you will kidnap someone and force him to hire you.
If you want a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, I cannot believe that you will chloroform and kidnap someone you are attracted to, like the protagonist in John Fowles’s “The Collector.”
If you are having trouble parenting, it does not seem at all likely that you will hire someone to kidnap you if you parent in a way that he disagrees with for some reason.
This list can of course go on and on, but the basic reality is that we never look for statist solutions to problems that we face in our own lives. We never create a localized monopoly, arm it and give it the right to take half our income at gunpoint, and then force us to obey its whims.
STATISM AND ISOLATION
There is something about statism, some aspect of it, which profoundly isolates us from our fellow citizens. We turn from animated problem-solvers to mindless defenders of the status quo. As an example, I offer up the inevitable response I receive when I provide an anarchic solution to an existing State function. When I say that theoretical entities called Dispute Resolution Organizations (DROs) could enforce contracts and protect property, the immediate response is that these DROs will inevitably evolve into a single monopoly that will end up recreating the State that they were supposed to replace.
Or, when I talk about private roads, I inevitably hear the argument that someone could just build a road in a ring around your land and charge you a million dollars every time you wanted to cross it.
Or, when I talk about private defense agencies that can be used to protect a geographical region from invasion, I am promptly informed that those private agencies will simply turn their guns on their subscribers, take them over, and create a new State.
Or, when I discuss the power of economic ostracism as a tool for maintaining order and conformity to basic social and economic rules, I am immediately told that people will be “marked for exclusion” unless they pay hefty bribes to whatever agencies control such information.
It is the same story, over and over – an anarchic solution is provided, and an immediate “disaster scenario” is put forward without thought, without reflection, and without curiosity.
Of course, I am not bothered by the fact that people are critical of a new and volatile theory – I think that is an essential process for any new idea.
What does concern me is the fundamental lack of reciprocity in the minds of the people who thoughtlessly reject creative solutions to trenchant problems.
I don’t mean reciprocity with regards to me – though that is surely lacking as well – but rather with regards to any form of authority or influence in general.
For instance, if people in a geographical region want to contract with an agency or group of agencies for the sake of collective defense, what is the greatest fear that will be first and foremost in their minds?
Naturally, it will be that some defense agency will take their money, buy a bunch of weapons, and promptly enslave them.
How does a free society solve this problem? Well, if there is a market need or demand for collective defense, a number of firms will vie for the business, since it will be so lucrative in the long term. The economic efficiency of having a majority of subscribers would drive the price of such defense down – however, the more people that you enroll in such a contract, the greater everyone’s fear will be that this defense agency will attempt to become a government of some kind.
Thus no entrepreneur will be able to sell this service in the most economically efficient manner if he does not directly and credibly address the fear that he will attempt to create a new government.
We are so used to being on the one-sided receiving end of dictatorial edicts from those in power – whether they are parents, teachers, or government officials, that the very idea that someone is going to have to woo our trust is almost incomprehensible. “If I am afraid of something that someone wants to sell me, then it is up to that person to calm my fears if he wants my business” – this is so far from our existing ways of dealing with statist authority that we might as well be inventing a new planet.
It is so important to understand that when we are talking about a free society – and I will tell you later how this habit is so essential for your happiness even if anarchism never comes to pass – we are essentially talking about two sides of a negotiation table.
When it comes to government as it is – and all that government ever could be – we are never really talking about two sides of the table. You get a letter in the mail informing you that your property taxes are going to increase 5% – there is no negotiation; no one offers you an alternative; your opinion is not consulted beforehand, and your approval is not required afterwards, because if you do not pay the increased tax, you will, after a fairly lengthy sequence of letters and phone calls, end up without a house.
It is certainly true that your local cable company may also send you a notice that they’re going to increase their charges by 5%, but that is still a negotiation! You can switch to satellite, or give up on cable and rent DVDs of movies or television shows, or reduce some of the extra features that you have, or just decide to get rid of your television and read and talk instead.
None of these options are available with the government – with the government, you either pay them, give up your house, go to jail, or move to some other country, where the exact same process will start all over again.
Can you imagine getting this letter from your cable company?
Dear Valued Customer:
Your cable bill is now increasing 5% per month. You cannot cancel your cable. Ever. You cannot reduce your bill in any way. If you turn off your cable, your bill will remain exactly the same. If you rip your cable out of the wall, your bill will remain exactly the same, with the exception that we will charge you for the damage. Your children will be unable to cancel your cable contract.
Also, please note that we will be reducing our delivery of channels by approximately 1 every month. As we deliver fewer channels, you can anticipate that your bill will sharply increase.
If you do not pay your bill on time, the ownership of your house will revert to us, and we will lock you in an undisclosed location, where you will be forced to do tech support, and where we will be unable to protect you from assault and rape.
If you attempt to defend yourself when we come to take your house, we are fully authorized to gun you down.
The Statist Cable Company
We would consider this kind of letter to be utterly criminal – and we would be outraged at the dictatorial one-sidedness of the letter, as well as the threats of violence it contained.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of communication that we get from our governments all the time – and in many ways, it is not unrelated to the kind of non-negotiated dictums that we received from our teachers when we were children.
Thus, when a philosopher of anarchy proposes private solutions to public services, we automatically and almost unconsciously feel that we are back on the receiving end of one-sided and dictatorial commandments, and fear this multiplicity of small “quasi-governments,” and imagine that instead of receiving a few such ugly letters a year, we shall get perhaps dozens per month.
However, if you do not understand that anarchism is always and forever a two-sided negotiation, then you will remain forever untempted by its rational and empirical pleasures, and continue to confuse coercion with voluntarism, which is about the most fundamental error that can be made in moral understanding.
If you feel the need for collective defense, but you are afraid that whoever you contract with for such defense will end up ruling over you, you can just sit back, put your feet up on the desk, clasp your hands behind your head, and just see who comes along with an offer that satisfies you.
Once you grasp this fundamental shift in thinking – in understanding – then you can “flip over” to the other side of the table and use your real creative mojo to start solving the problem.
In this way, you can ask yourself, “If I really wanted to sell collective defense services to a group, how could I best address and alleviate their fears that I would turn into some kind of local dictator?”
What do you think? If you could personally make $10 million a year by solving this problem, what would you come up with? How would you address and alleviate people’s fears that you would take their money, go buy an army, and rule over them?
There are as many creative and productive answers as there are people interested in the problem – here’s one that occurs to me, just off the top of my head…
I would deposit $5 million in a third-party bank account, and offer it as free payment to anyone who could prove that I was not fulfilling my contract with my customers to the letter. I would publish my accounts and inventory as widely as possible, and give free access to anyone who wanted to come by and inspect my business and its holdings.
In this way, people could rest assured that I was not amassing some secret army of black helicopters and men in robot suits.
“Ah,” you may say, “but what if no one wanted to come forward and perform these kinds of inspections?”
Again, that is easy to solve. I would just pay an organization $1 million a year to audit my business – and promise them that if they ever found me accumulating any kind of secret army or weaponry, then I would then pay them the $5 million in the third party bank account. In this way, external audits would be certain to be performed, and those auditors would have every incentive to turn over every filing cabinet in search of a miniature robot army.
“Ah,” you may say, “but what if you were secretly paying this auditing organization $2 million a year to only pretend to audit your business?”
Well, here we are starting to get into some very strange economic territory, which would be utterly unsustainable in a free market, because my company would then be out $5 million up front, be paying $1 million for an auditing company, and then a further $2 million to produce fake audits –such a company would never be able to offer competitive rates relative to a company that operated on the up and up.
But even if this were possible, it would still be an easy problem to solve, by simply paying five companies to perform audits if necessary – paying $5 million a year out of a profit of $10 million a year still leaves you $5 million ahead!
“Ah, but what if..?”
We all know that this game can go on for forever and a day – the mindset that I strongly urge you to try and get yourself into, however, is that you do not have to contract with anyone who is not willing to satisfy your desires!
What happens if no entrepreneur is able to offer you a deal that successfully calms your fears?
Why, then you do not have to take any deal at all.
“Ah,” you may then say, “but then I am leaving myself open to the risk of foreign invasion!”
Well, that is very true, but clearly, if you reject all offers from entrepreneurs who want to protect you, because you feel that their protection carries too much risk, then clearly you prefer the risk of invasion to the risk of protection.
With that in mind, you may well choose one entrepreneur’s scheme – not because it is risk-free, but rather because it is less risky than the risk of invasion.
If you wish to be presented with a risk-free choice, then unfortunately you wish to be presented with a different kind of universe than the one we inhabit, since risk is an inevitable and natural part of life.
With that in mind, let us turn to one of the first great objections to the idea of a stateless society, which is collective defense, to provide an example of the methodologies we will use in this book.