More on Anarchy

If you’ve followed the comment thread at No Treason, you’ll understand this post. If not, it’s going to leave you going “huh?” Because HaloScan has a “feature” of dropping comments after some time, I want to record this exchange in the blog.

Reader Aaron Gunn took exception to my dismissal of the Anarchist position. Here is our comment exchange (to date) on the subject:

Kevin,

It’s Aaron Gunn from Phoenix. I read most of the comments on No Treason and I’m on the side of the anarchists (and have been for two years now). I even went so far as to go to the Mises Institute for their Summer University session, and got a nice piece of paper for the trouble.

On your comments at No Treason, I sympathize with your objections but I don’t agree with them. Most of them seem to attack anarchism for not preventing things the government claims it can prevent, but is equally powerless to affect (corrupt judges, suicide bombers, etc.). In fact, I posit that it is in any government’s primary interest to create as many of these evils as possible, so that it can continue to find fault with any human freedom and guaranty ever more of the ideal.

Anarchy isn’t a utopian ideal because it doesn’t promise that everything will be hunky dory. An anarchist recognizes that true anarchy is not possible because imperfect man will always engage in aggressive coercion, even in the absence of a formalized state.

Truly the only thing that separates the anarchist from the rest is that he regards all coercive aggression as equally evil, whether it comes from a thug, a burglar, or a formalized state. A real anarchist’s goal is to reduce all forms of coercive aggression through private, cooperative (voluntary) solutions (the market).

Finally, on your last comment about most people preferring security over freedom, I can only respond with a Ben Franklin quote that I’m sure you know very well: “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”

However, Aaron, Wince points out one flaw in the anarchist’s theory: Organized crime can and will flourish in the system. And that leads to my objection: Organized crime is just another name for “government.”

Government just won’t go away. People will allow themselves to be coerced, because when presented with the choice of “yield or die” most will choose to yield, Franklin notwithstanding. Only complete equality of power can prevent organized crime from flourishing, and “complete equality of power” is a utopic ideal.

Since government won’t go away, the best option is to have a form of government that is least offensive to the rights of individuals. A Constitutional Republic appears to be that best option.

I think I made it pretty clear that I agree that even in the absence of formalized government, there would exist coercively aggressive organization (mafia, for instance). So I don’t disagree with you. However, I do disagree with you that the solution is to compromise those principles that we know to be right (namely, that coercive aggression is wrong).

A society that places voluntary moral limits on its behaviour precludes the necessity for a state. Therefore, my solution to create a society free from both state AND mafia is to encourage everyone around me to adopt higher moral standards.

P.S. …and also to keep a loaded gun in the house. Almost forgot that part.

“A society that places voluntary moral limits on its behaviour precludes the necessity for a state.”

And this isn’t a utopian ideal?

Well, just like a perfectly anarchist society is a utopian ideal, so is a perfectly moral society impossible to achieve. Rather, it’s a matter of degrees. The more moral society begets a freer society, as a freer society necessitates moral rectitude in its members. It’s a matter of degrees.

Understanding that they are complimentary parts of a whole, I move forward to encourage more of both.

That’s the difference between anarchism and socialism/communism. S/C requires you to violate principles in order to achieve them (coercion will bring cooperation). Obviously, that is fallacious and disingenious. Anarchism is much harder, because it requires strict adherence to the selfsame principles it espouses.

In fact, this is the source of most Austrians contempt for the general libertarian movement, which more often than not desires freedom from morality, not freedom from coercion.

Let me know if I’m weighing in, or even making sense.

And that’s the very point I was trying to make. Because we cannot achieve the utopian ideal of an anarchistic society based on people all voluntarily living under uniform moral limits, instead we end up with coercive rule.

The best option, then, is to make the coercion as minimal as possible. History indicates that we are trending towards less and less coercion, but also that things are cyclical. Each iteration of the cycle seems to produce a “more free” society, and a greater percentage of the total population experiences greater freedom, but the down-cycles are pretty damned bad.

Perhaps, after a few or a dozen or a hundred more cycles the anarchist’s ideal might be reached, but I doubt it. Freedom from morality seems so much more attractive than freedom from coercion.

I guess it comes down to differences in perspective. My dad pounded in to me relentlessly as a child that no matter what other people do, it is never okay to use other people’s lack of morality/principles to justify violating your own morality/principles. Legitimizing any form of coercion opens the door to legitimizing all forms of coercion, and I won’t do that.

On a more every day note, I actually would be okay with small city states, on account of the limited amount of trouble they can get into. My rule of thumb for government is that the more power I give you over me, the closer I want you to live so that I can more freely hand out knuckle sandwiches to those who abuse their position. Grant you, I wouldn’t think it was right for them to exist, I probably would just have much bigger things to worry about then.

In that case, it’s people like you that should be the ones running the government – and that’s the problem. Over time, the power-hungry are the ones who seize the reins and drive the whole shebang over the cliff. That’s the part of the cycle we seem unable to break.

I understand that coercive government is a given. Anarchists pine for that utopic people with self-inforced morals who will render such government obsolete, and kick it like a crushed beer can to the side of the road, but I don’t. I’m willing to live in a world where coercion is reality, but where I and others do what we can to minimize it. The Anarchists detach themselves from the political process because coercion is illegitimate, so they don’t help restrain it. They give up, and just hope things get better after the inevitable crash.

Granted, living in the declining era of a great civilization isn’t all it could be, but I don’t see it as reason to quit.

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