Recently, there was a comment from a reader that I included as an update to the post “Questions for Minarchists.” I had a few posts in mind that I wanted to complete first, so I am just now getting around to replying with the thoughtful response it deserves. For convenience’s sake, I broke up the comment point by point, and the excerpts are indented below.
While anarchy may be viewed as a Utopian state, so long as a single individual wishes to undermine the rights of their (sic) neighbor, the response will always be a de facto government. As soon as you have de facto government, you will have those that will advocate that the role of that government extends out into providing services that are viewed to be not efficiently achieved individually.
I think that is a fair point. I like rules, and those rules need some governance to be implemented. If that is called a government or a dispute resolution organization, I don’t mind. It’s like when Frederic Bastiat said just because he does not want the state to raise grain that does not mean he wants to go hungry. I don’t agree it is necessary for a single organization to claim a monopoly by force on the enactment and enforcement of rules that others must follow. That is an imposition of a positive non-consensual obligation on the individual.
The knock that a stateless society is utopian because it is believed neither practical nor achievable is commonplace. Yet, we wouldn’t say that a law against murder is utopian even though no one thinks it could prevent all murders. And if I am at fault for holding grand, immaculate goals for what is possible in this world, that is how I would rather spend my short time on Earth.
Total liberty as a function of society is therefore not achievable and the degree of liberty achievable is reliant on the morality of those that control government’s decisions.
I think the breakdown begins in our meaning of liberty. For me it is simple, the absence of coercion. Hayek and Rothbard differed on the meaning of coercion, but that is a much simpler disagreement than trying to divine the meaning of 200-year-old colloquial phrases in the constitution. When I speak of complete liberty, I don’t mean that everyone in society lives in peace. That is probably unattainable given human history. However, it is the norm that most individuals live a condition of complete liberty with one another every day. I only seek to abolish those institutionalized usurpers of our liberty — when people are ready for it.
Another interesting point raised is who controls the government. I contend that the actual reason for establishing a state is for a tiny minority to impose its will on the majority. I’ll explain my thinking below because it ties into how a stateless society might resolve conflicts between different legal standards, an important point of concern.
“… it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
To advance a state of anarchy is to advance that man has another alternative for the protection of life, liberty and property. Time and time again, man has come to the conclusion that only laws will protect and therefore has rightfully rejected anarchy.
I do think there is another process, the marketplace, which serves as the bridge among differing people. I understand the appeal to moderation, that some government is necessary to protect our liberties. However, just because something has existed for a long time does not mean it is valid. And even if it were valid, there would be no reason for it to be implemented by force unless those who did not agree were using force. Slavery was considered a natural part of the human condition, too, for thousands of years. We wouldn’t say the slaves approved of slavery just because there had always been slaves. I mean, what’s with all the whips and chains? The fact that the majority of people believe something is irrelevant as well. After all, it is no coincidence they support government since most everyone went to the same 12-year indoctrination camps to stunt their imagination and curiosity in favor a deference to authority.
Better yet, I don’t understand how it is accurate to say that the majority of people believe laws are necessary to protect them. There are laws to prohibit stealing, to take property by force or the threat thereof. But some are given an exemption to steal and call it taxation. Max Stirner said, “The State’s behavior is violence, and it calls its violence ‘law’; that of the individual, ‘crime.’ ” If laws are our means of protection, then why are those with grossest history of abuses not governed by them? The state conclude that stealing is both morally necessary and emphatically evil. The state is hypocrisy, for it allows a tiny minority to steal but punishes the masses for the same behavior.
If that is the way people choose to live, saying morality is relative and not universal, who am I to say they shouldn’t? But the state is about imposing one set of values over others. If the argument is that might makes right, then I don’t understand how a state is necessary either. The costs of maintaining the state and checking its growth is terribly expensive and a waste of resources to impose it by force if most everyone supports it. The state is actually composed of a number of special interests minorities seeking to impose their own values on others. They could never exercise control without it. Bastiat said as much: “The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.” The foolhardy thing is that everyone thinks they are getting the best of everyone else.
Libertarians are also a tiny minority, so why haven’t they gotten their way? First, for libertarians to gain control that would mean that everyone else would have to relinquish theirs. Liberals would have to give up their economic planning schemes and social welfare experiments. Conservatives would have to stop imposing their own cultural preferences on everyone. So there is a lot of resistance to libertarianism. Second, most importantly, strict libertarians have no power to lend to others. Electoral politics works like a buddy system, where enough people support each other’s projects to get them all passed. Strict (principled) libertarians aren’t willing to do this, so they never get traction. That is why electoral libertarianism, even with all the evident failures of government, has made no material progress as the state marches on. Libertarianism proper has made measured progress, meanwhile, in the areas of education and circumventing the controls of government.
A Possible Solution for Conflicting Legal Norms in a Stateless Society
It is important to recall that under today’s conditions, the state subsidizes aggression with taxes on consensual behavior like earning an income or trading goods. For example, wars are very costly and they are financed with money from income taxes or through Federal Reserve debt. If only the neo-cons who supported the Iraq war had to pay for it, they might have a little more humble and judicious foreign policy. However, they get to shift the costs on everyone else, including future taxpayers. That is why you see a steady escalation in the size of government. Only a few thousand might benefit from a post office in rural Kansas, but legislators work in concert to support each other’s projects and everyone pays for them. Then, they are left to create subsidiary laws to finance their plunder and restrict competitors.
The way I imagine a stateless society functioning is that people would join dispute resolution organizations (DROs) for their protection and see to it that their contracts are honored. You might even have after-the-fact DROs that provide assistance only once coercion has occurred. One concern is that people might contract with DROs that are really aggressive. They hunt down people with little or no evidence of guilt, go after political enemies, and cause general mayhem in the community. Basically, they would act like every other government.
The important point to remember is that DRO policies are just some means to an end. Each policy provides a cost and benefit of implementing. If you’ve got a bunch of extraneous policies that you want to impose, then someone has to be paid to enforce them. In a stateless society, people who want to practice aggression will face the full expense of that decision. An additional burden of enforcing excessive or aggressive policies is going to the lack of reciprocal relationships with other DROs willing to enforce them. The reason e-mail is a valuable services is because service providers have adopted the same protocol standards necessary to transmit messages across servers. So the more people who use it, the more value the service provides — like how credit cards can dispense cash around the world in local currencies. This could be true for dispute resolution. If a DRO is so burdensome that other DROs are unwilling to deal with it, then its customers are limited to confidently trading with the number of people in the same DRO. This will not immediately dissuade all DROs from implementing highly onerous regulations, but the price mechanism will limit their reach. A framework to this could be reputation rating services and insurance providers. There really is no telling with the dynamism of the market system. How this might come about is up for debate. Might it come about by supplanting the government policing apparatus, as agorism prescribes? Or might it come about through the gradual dissolution of government as its credibility is shattered? A lot of it is speculation, which is necessary to evolve beyond institutionalized coercion.
It makes sense to assume that most people don’t favor using open violence against others, so they would not support DROs that did either. If I am assuming wrong, then a government won’t help because those same people who favor aggression will most likely control it. In fact, it would be worse because the victims would in some way be forced to fund their own oppression. It’s an easy trap to be caught in. If we can’t think of a way to resolve conflicts consensually, then we need immaculate violence to obliterate conflicts. The truth is we don’t need it, no more than slaves needed their masters.