We Are All Anarchists Now

Not only are we all anarchists now, there are abundant examples of anarchism working fabulously well. However, instead of opening anarchic relationships to everyone, governments have worked to abolish them from the private sphere and instead centralize anarchic relationships into the hands of politicians. I know it sounds strange that anarchy exists internally within government. My point here is to demonstrate that anarchic relationships are omnipresent.

Before beginning, I want to note that critics of market (or individualist) anarchism will point out that the market functions best with an impartial judicial system ruling on comprehensible law. I readily agree. Supporters of government also claim there needs to be a final body, such as the Supreme Court, which entails a supreme law that settles disputes once and for all. I don’t think it matters either way, especially since the political system does allow for disputes to continue in the legislative process even after the final court proceedings. I also don’t believe that a monopoly could provide an impartial judicial system or a comprehensible law. However, for the sake this discussion, I will concede all three points.

In “Two Treatises on Civil Government,” John Locke said there are two things wanting in a “state of nature”: “established, settled, known law” and “a known and indifferent judge” (emphasis in original work). To clarify, my understanding is that a government functions as a third party that provides ultimate dispute settlement within a given territory. Again, for the sake of this discussion, I will concede that an “established, settled, known law” exists. So without an “indifferent judge” whose decisions are commanded, by force if necessary, anarchy exists. For the sake of this discussion, I will concede that there is always sufficient force to command a judge’s decision. So really, the question is if there is an “indifferent judge” or not. (I’ve written a little here and here why I believe a market-based legal system is more able to provide equitable justice.)

The first basic anarchic relationship is between government and its citizens. The second is among different governments. The third is between citizens and foreign governments. The fourth basic anarchic relationship is among citizens of different governments. (More elaborate anarchic relationships can be read about here.) With this understanding, it becomes abundantly clear that government cannot eliminate anarchy; it is ever-present. Government can only centralize and transform it, many times with devastating effects.

The first form of an anarchic relationship is between the United States federal government and American citizens, for example. There is no “indifferent judge” when the federal government comes into conflict with individuals or groups of individuals. In those cases, the federal government prohibits a third party from resolving the dispute. It is helpful that a different branch hears the case, but that branch is appointed by and subject to the pressures of another branch of government responsible for enforcing the court’s decisions. Supposedly, that is the purpose of the constitution’s checks and balances — to bind the federal government, yet the federal government is also responsible for interpreting and enforcing its own limitations. Politicians also act in a state of anarchy with each other. There is no external agency that enforces rules among them, and so they exist in a form of “political anarchy” as opposed to natural “market anarchy,” according to Alfred G. Cuzan, who said:

[I]n their relations among each other, they remain largely “lawless.” Nobody external to the group writes and enforces rules governing the relations among them. At most, the rulers are bound by flexible constraints imposed by a “constitution” which they, in any case, interpret and enforce among and upon themselves. … In short, society is always in anarchy. A government only abolishes anarchy among what are called “subjects” or “citizens,” but among those who rule, anarchy prevails.

Since governments get to decide conflicts, they are so inclined to create conflict and then rule in their own favor, expanding their authority.

To give some state governments credit, there have been calls throughout the years to nullify particularly outrageous federal legislation. But those states can only do so much because the federal government controls the currency and can hand out goodies to those states willing accept expansive federal powers. In the United States, the federal government’s dispute authority is not as centralized as, say, North Korea, where the final authority is given to a single person. In effect, Kim Jong-il has abolished anarchy is North Korea for everyone but himself.

In the second form of anarchic relationships, the federal government also exists in a state of anarchy with all other governments around the world. There is no mandatory final arbiter of disputes between Canada and the United States, for example. If the Canadian government is accused of price fixing, the disagreement is settled by the World Trade Organization, per their membership agreement. Both governments had a mutually agreed-upon dispute resolution process. The United Nations is the closest thing to a world government, but even its membership is voluntary. The United States government could even opt out and no longer be responsible to funding it or abide by UN resolutions within its territorial borders so long as the federal government did not threaten to aggress against other UN member governments. National governments voluntarily cooperate by honoring visas and legal documents (like marriage certificates and drivers licenses) and ratifying all sorts of treatises. So empirically, there is no need for a world government for other governments to peacefully coexist. But of course, nations do not always interact so peacefully.

There are a couple of reasons why violence committed by governments have been so devastating. Mainly, it has to do with the imbalance of power between governments and citizens. That is the reason cited by many constitutionalists for their defense of the right to keep and bear arms, as recognized by the Second Amendment. Some of the greatest genocides in history have been perpetrated against an unarmed populace. If the theory holds, it would seem that the greater the imbalance of power the more deaths that have resulted, while greater peace would occur as a result of a more evened balance of power. In fact, the figures seem to say just that. In the past 100 years, 262 million people were killed by their own government. (I am using “own government” very loosely.) Approximately 35 million others were killed in combats with a foreign government. (It was unclear how many were civilians and how many were soldiers.) In a fourth form of anarchic relationships, foreign citizens are in state of anarchy with citizens of other nations. The largest foreign civilian murderer was Osama bin Laden, who allegedly orchestrated the death of 3500 people in part to demonstrate his grievances with the foreign military occupation of the Arabian Peninsula. Interestingly, nuclear-armed nations, which have nearly an equal capability for destruction, have never been in direct conflict. (That may be because the political leaders are in direct harm’s way.)

We can conclude that civilians face the greatest danger from their own government, where the balance of power is so astounding. Equally powerful governments are relatively peaceful toward one another. And civilians face the least danger from other civilians. To be fair, that could be because governments are in place to punish lawbreakers. That effect seems marginal, at best, because most people do not have reasonable access to a functioning judicial system for civil cases, nor do they have much confidence in police apprehending criminals who have victims.

According to the FBI, less than 20 percent of reported burglaries, property crime, theft, car theft, and arson are “cleared.” Keep in mind, that only includes reported crimes, and not all “cleared” cases result in conviction. Police can pin crimes on deceased or incarcerated suspects. Murders are cleared about 60 percent of the time, forcible rape about 40 percent of the time, aggravated assault about 55 percent of the time. Keep in mind, those figures include wrongful convictions based on faulty eye-witness testimony, unimpartial juries, fabricated evidence, and incompetent public defenders.

Citizens have no constitutional right to have their rights protected, which is allegedly the entire purpose of forming a government according to the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “That to secure tnhese rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ….” The United States Supreme Court justices have ruled multiple times that federal, state, and local governments have no positive obligation to provide protection from “killers or madmen.” So if police do respond to a 911 call, it is solely out of the good will put upon by social pressures within the community or from commanders conforming to social pressures.

A second reason governments are capable of so much more violence is because those people supporting escalation do not have the full burden of paying for their military adventures, but can channel the benefits of their policies to themselves and their supporters. Basically, the costs can be socialized, and the benefits are privatized — like any other government program.

Successful Anarchism in Practice

The political process is a perfect example of how market anarchism can work even under the most crippling conditions. (I lifted this from Stefan Molyneux‘s video “The Proof of Anarchy.”) It is fairly well known that political contributors and lobbyists are some of the biggest recipients of special treatment by the government. Year after year, the government increases in size and power. Pork-barrel spending and corporate bailouts are never-ending. Upwards of 80 percent of Americans support greater restrictions on campaign finance contributions, so people have an innate sense that those in power are pretty rotten. Yet — even though politicians and political contributors cannot make written agreements, contributors can never have their agreements enforced by a functioning legal system, no one can be made aware of a politician’s broken agreement, the government will violently punish anyone who can be proven to have made such an agreement, and media reporters are paid good money to uncover such agreements — politicians are repeatedly re-elected about 90 percent of the time and lobbyists receive more and more handouts and exemptions from the law. Under the worst market conditions, lobbyist and politicians continue to work harmoniously. If lobbyists were able to publicize broken quid pro quo agreements or have them enforced by a legal system, then lobbyists would have an even greater effect. As it stands, politicians are not forced into compliance with their lobbyists; the only threat to the politician is that the lobbyist will support his or her opponent in the next election. You have the market process flourishing even in the face of significant obstacles.

Building Liberty

As I’ve tried to demonstrate, government cannot totally eliminate anarchism. Cuzan said:

We have shown that anarchy, like matter, never disappears — it only changes form. Anarchy is either market anarchy or political anarchy. Pluralist, decentralized political anarchy is less violent than hierarchical political anarchy. Hence, we have reason to hypothesize that market anarchy could be less violent than political anarchy. Since market anarchy can be shown to outperform political anarchy in efficiency and equity in all other respects, why should we expect anything different now? Wouldn’t we be justified to expect that market anarchy produces less violence in the enforcement of property rights than political anarchy? After all, the market is the best economizer of all — wouldn’t it also economize on violence better than government does, too?

One method capitalizing on the anarchic relationships formally denied to citizens is the practice of agorism, which emphasizes working within black and gray market industries as a way of building alternatives to government-imposed services. In that way, the government — a so-called necessary evil — will no longer be seen as necessary. In time, it will be seen for what it is, just evil.

Image credit: Joe Gratz, with Creative Commons license