SOME CLAIM there would be no roads, hospitals, schools, or pollution control. All these activities, as well as production of food, is sometimes claimed to be a result of government. But what is the government? There are only people--individuals--acting everywhere, thus the government or the state is simply made up by the yielding subjects--and the people acting as officers. What gave them this right of deciding what other people can and cannot do? And what came first: man or the state?
It seems to me that, from birth, a person’s thought develops in stages. First, we learn the names of things--mommy, drink, sister, and so on. Then we learn the properties of things--the stove is hot, the floor is hard, the teddy bear is soft. In the third stage we learn relationships--if we’re bad, mommy spanks, if we heat water, it boils, etc. Since most of the people I meet confine their conversation to people and things, that may be as far as they get or want to get. The last stage, at least the last stage of what I am aware, is ideas--can morality be objective? Can there be bread without freedom? Is free will consistent with an omniscient God? For me, ideas are the most interesting subjects for conversation and I assume this is true for most (if not all) intelligent or educated people.
In this essay I present three arguments in defense of a hated and despised yet very powerful and liberating idea: anarchy. Those arguments will proceed from the simple to the more convoluted. Being an anarchist, at least according to my definition of the word, I believe that all three are valid. If you take ideas and arguments seriously I believe you will be anarchist too after reading this essay. Realistically, however, since I have never been able to convince a single person to become anarchist, the most I can hope for is to force you to think of flaws in my arguments.
First, let me define anarchy. The word literally means “no government.” That it also means “chaos” is to me the greatest propaganda success ever, since there is no greater chaos than war, and all wars of any magnitude of which I am aware were carried out by governments. Even the economic chaos of depressions, inflation, shortages, massive waste, etc. are clearly the result of the actions of government people, not of the actions of people who are not in the government. Indeed, only a great natural disaster could exceed the chaos inflicted on us by government people. Not only do government people cause chaos, but the assumption that there can be no order without government is simply false--all sorts of order arise spontaneously without government.
Cities, social customs, business customs, roads, law, money, all arise spontaneously without government because, as Axelrod and others have shown, people benefit most in the long run if they cooperate with other people, and cooperation requires order and rules. We may say, that anarchy means “no ruler” or “no rules.” That is, that under anarchy no one is permitted to openly rule over another person, though people will still create rules for the use of their property by others. By that definition alone, I would think that every decent person would be an anarchist. After all, would a decent person endorse one person forcibly bending another to his will, would he say that people are only “things” so that if they say “no” that “no” need not be respected? No, he would say that people are ends in themselves, not means to the ends of another, that all force must be defensive, not offensive, that one must not aggress against the person or property of another, and that anything that is peaceful or consensual should be permitted.
Remember, too, that to rule over another person means to use force against him. How much force? Well, whatever force is needed to make him yield. If you are not willing to apply enough force--then you no longer rule. This means that if you endorse anything but anarchy you must endorse the killing of hose subjects who will not yield to any force but deadly force. Are you willing to kill people, if necessary, to get things done by government instead of getting them done privately? If not, then perhaps you should consider becoming an anarchist.
That may sound like an argument, but let’s call it a “passing remark” and proceed to the real first argument. This first argument, by the way, is the argument that convinced me to give up statism and become an anarchist.
When I was much younger, and presumably, but not necessarily, less wise than I am today, I fancied myself to be a logical, intelligent political conservative. Of course, I believe, there was a proper role for government, but government today was too big, too powerful, too wasteful, too destructive. The “proper role” included all the “essential” functions--course, police, national defense--as well as providing a decent and civilized environment--roads, schools, pollution control, and elimination of drug sales and prostitution. The “proper role” did not include taking from one person to give to another, preventing people from contracting on mutually acceptable terms, or controlling a man’s business or occupation. This was a position I eagerly defended against all comers, confident in the correctness of my positions.
One day I found myself in a political argument with an intelligent, but more liberal, and thoroughly obnoxious person, and darn if he didn’t catch me in a contradiction. I don’t even remember what it was any more, but there was no doubt that I was trapped and that something had to give way.
“No problem,” I informed him, “I’ll re-think my principles so that they are internally consistent, then get back to you.” Of course, I expected that I would have to change some position--there was no alternative given the contradiction I was caught in, but I figured some minor patchwork would take care of it.
So I began by trying to describe what I thought the permissible relationships between two ordinary people ought to be. This was relatively easy, and took me all of ten minutes. Everyone was simply required to respect the right of others to their persons and property; i.e., don’t alter the people’s bodies or property without their permission; don’t aggress; don’t initiate force--use force only defensively. Of course, how the principle should be applied to particular situations could still generate a lot of arguments, but there was no denying that the principle itself was clear, elegant, and had the ring of truth about it. But what about the state? There would have to be exceptions to the principle so that some people could tax, regulate, prohibit drug sales and prostitution, etc. Surely, there was a second simple principle that would define the role of those people who acted for the state. All I had to do was find it. Several problems arose immediately. Who could act for the state and who could not? What rule would define the selection of those people? What if everyone or no one wanted to act for the state? I worried that since a person acting for the state could seize the property of another person as his tax, this would be a highly desirable job for a lot of unscrupulous people. Would a simple rule ensure that only the virtuous got the job? What simple rules would define the limits to what “state people” could do to the rest of us?
Even more basic, how was the “state” to be defined--by the people who voluntarily joined it, so that a state was an organization of Mr. Jones, Mrs. Smith, etc.? Or should it be defined geographically, by mountains, rivers, and oceans; linguistically, by the area where particular languages are spoken; democratically, by the area in which some or all of the people want the government? Would the state have land boundaries and, if so, would they shift as rivers moved, languages changed, or most of the people voted for a different state?
Who should decide the policies of the state--the majority of its members, its victims, or both? Or should policy be decided as it is in the United States--by who can pay Congressmen the largest bribes? Who would be subject to the state and who would not? Should people be free to join or secede at will?
Then I pondered another problem: A person acting for the state would be wearing that hat only part of the time--the rest of the time he would be an ordinary person. How was one to know what he was? Suppose you thought he was ordinary, but he turned out to be acting for the state--what should the consequences be? How could the two jobs be kept separate so they did not intermix or contaminate each other?
Another question: Suppose a citizen of one state got in trouble with another state. What rules would tell what could happen to him? What of people who were citizens of more than one state or of no state?
Consider the problem from a different angle. If you argue that too much government (i.e., totalitarianism, fascism, or communism) is bad and that too little government (i.e., anarchy) is also bad. Then you must take the position that there is an optimal amount of government, which can be defined by upper and lower limits. But how can non-arbitrary, defendable limits be set? And, since all government involves the use of offensive force against some individual, a lower limit can be justified only on the ground that the injuries suffered by the victims of government force are outweighed by the benefits to the beneficiaries of that force. But again, how can non-arbitrary, defendable rules on permissible injuries to achieve particular benefits be set when one cannot even measure the sufferings of the victims or the pleasures of the beneficiaries?
It was easy to think of questions like this, and the more questions that occurred to me, the more obvious it became that there were no simple rules that would define the state and its role in our lives. Try as I could, and I tried for many weeks, I could find no simple natural rules for the state. This was puzzling because one simple rule did define relationships between ordinary people--don’t aggress. Why, if the state was such a natural thing for mankind, was it so hard to find simple rules for it?
In the end I was faced with an alternative: Either spell out thousands of arbitrary and completely undefendable rules about the state or get rid of the state. This came down to a very basic ontological question for me: Is there an underlying order to the world? That is, is the world of politics like the world of the natural sciences? Natural phenomena are extremely complex, but there is no doubt that they are governed by simple laws. Is the rest of the world--psychology, economics, politics, even art--like that, too, or is it just a mish-mash, a jumble of faddish pretty principles that arise for a few moments, then disappear?
It took a leap of faith to answer that question, but, with my background in science, I did not hesitate--the world does make sense, it does operate according to simple, beautiful, elegant principles. It is not a randomized soup of momentary no-no’s. How could I think otherwise when Einstein and other physicists even used that as a test for the validity of a theory--he new Relativity had to be correct because it was elegant, simple, and beautiful. And, since the existence of the state was inconsistent with such a world view, the state had to go.
That is probably the most eccentric reason anyone has ever given for becoming an anarchist, but it was mine. As the implications of this reasoning dawned upon me, I felt as though a door had opened and I had been permitted to see a truth that others were not privy to. It was almost a religious experience, closely reminiscent of the day, as a teenager, when I concluded that there was no God. It even stirred the same anxiety I had felt then--then, that I would be ostracized and persecuted by Christians, and now, that I would be followed and harassed by the FBI. So I became a reluctant anarchist. I did not want to be an anarchist--the state was such a convenient way to get things done--but I could not honestly say that this argument, and the other we will soon come to, were wrong.
The implications of this position seemed outrageously impractical--how would we get police, national defense, roads, schools, etc. without taxes? What would happen to the poor, to pollution, to prostitution? It took several years before I had read enough libertarian literature to satisfy myself that these problems could and would be handled spontaneously and privately, and handled better than they were handled by state people.
One final note on this argument: Ideas have value only if the world operates according to underlying principles that can be expressed as ideas. If you believe in the value of ideas, you must believe that there is such an underlying order. But the state is not consistent with an underlying order. Therefore, you must, it seems to me, either dis-value ideas where the state is concerned and leave a blind spot in your philosophies, or you must do as I did, and get rid of the state.
Now my second argument also has a very powerful premise--that everyone is equal. Equality is a drawing card that pulls us all together. It dissolves racial, religious, and ethnic differences. You are no batter than I, and I am no better than you--we are both human beings, we are both equal.
Very few people would argue with that as a premise, yet very few people are anarchists. But, I claim that if you accept equality, you must be an anarchist. Why? Well, when we say that all people are equal, in what respect are they equal? Surely not in ability, talent, beauty, strength, wealth, health, or any other attribute. We mean that all people are equal in rights. No one should have special rights that others do not have. No one should have a license to kill or a license to steal. If you have the right to kill me, then I have the right to kill you. If you have the right to take my property, then I have the right to take your property. If you have the right to tell me what I can eat, smoke, drink, grow, say, who I can hire, what I can pay them, and so on, then I have the right to control you in the same way.
This second argument really has a second premise--that only people have rights, or at least that the state does not have rights. If the state has rights, then someone can say that it is not he who takes your property, but the state--hew is acting only as an agent for the state. And, of course, the state would have superior rights to any individual. To defeat the argument that a state can have rights, I will argue that rights are not something that can be arbitrarily given out to any object or idea that one wishes. Rather, rights arise naturally from the nature of the right-holder.
This may be somewhat complicated, but I will proceed slowly in steps. First, I contend that only beings having free will have rights. Free will, to me, is not a vague notion, but has a precise meaning, which I will now explain.
An event is a change in the physical world. If one event causes another event according to physical law, there is a chain of causation. “Free will” is the ability that certain beings have to initiate a chain of causation. I believe that such beings must necessarily be conscious since the initiation of a chain of causation by a being having free will is necessarily purposeful. The purpose is to change the physical world, or preserve it from change, in order to achieve a desired, and imagined, future satisfaction, which I will call a “value.” Consciousness is required to “visualize” the future state that one believes may result if one acts and the future state that one believes may result if one does not act and choose between them. If a being having free will has a valid claim to the value he or she seeks to achieve from changing or preserving from change a bit of the physical world it is his or her “right.” A right is a valid claim to a value achieved in the physical world through changing it or preserving it from change.
Thus, since states are organizations of people and are not conscious and do not have free will, they cannot have values or rights. If someone claims that it is not he who has rights superior to yours, but the state for which he acts as its agent, he is lying. Since the state is not a being with a conscious mind it cannot authorize anyone to act as its agent. Moreover, even if it did have a conscious mind, and rights, it would still have the burden of proving that its rights were superior to yours. No, if anyone rules over you, he does so because he arrogantly and wrongly believes that he has rights that are superior to yours, and that we cannot tolerate if we believe in equality. Thus, equality means equal rights, and rights can be equal only if there is no ruler, which means anarchy.
A similar argument can be based on truth, rather than equality, as a noble goal for humans to strive for. I further contend that if you value truth then you must be an anarchist. Why? Because the values that we try to achieve by our acts of free will are not physical things, but thoughts--ideas. By the use of force or threat of force to prevent a person from acting, a ruler suppresses the idea his victim was trying to actualize. If you believe that truth is not given by God to the ruling class but must be discovered through a free expression of ideas, you must oppose the suppression of ideas inherent in any form of government, and be an anarchist.
My last argument is based on the premise that man has free will. It is a complicated argument that may be difficult to understand, so I will go slowly and hop that you will bear with me. The argument takes the form that if A leads to B and A also leads to C, then B cannot contradict C. If B does contradict C then either B is wrong or C is wrong. The “A” in the argument is free will, the “B” is a distribution of rights, and the “C” is a personally-selected morality.
I have already explained what I mean by “free will.” Now let us see how a distribution of rights can be deduced from free will. If a value from a bit of the physical world is not claimed by anyone and a first valuer changes or preserves it to serve his value, he makes a claim of ownership or right to that value. In the absence of any later valuers making contrary claims, the claims of first valuers would automatically and naturally result in an assignment of ownership in all bits of the physical world that serve values, which I will call “property.”
If a later value changes the property, or prevents its change by the first valuer, in a way that prevents the first valuer from achieving his value, the later valuer is not only also asserting a claim of right to the property, but is impliedly asserting that his claim is superior to the claim of the first valuer. Because he is claiming a superior right, the act of the later valuer implies that he has weighed the importance of the value he hopes to achieve versus the importance of the value achieved by the first valuer, and has found the former to be the more important value. To compare the importance of the two values, however, he must measure the importance of his value to him and measure the importance of the first valuer’s value to the first valuer. This is not possible because values are subjective and therefore there can be no unit by which the importance of values can e measured. As a result, the later valuer’s claim to a superior right must fail and we can conclude that no later valuer can ever make any valid argument that he has a superior right to the dimension of the physical thing serving the first valuer’s value. This means that the first valuer’s claim of right cannot be challenged, and the assignment of rights in accord with the claims of first valuers must be left standing An assignment of ownership or rights is therefore deduced from the premise of free will.
Now let us explicitly deal with personally-selected morality. First, I will argue that free will is in the sine qua non of morality. If there is no free will, there is no morality, for it is only free will that creates morality. If there is no free will, then choices are determined by prior physical facts and there is no good or evil, only the inexorable march of physical law. It is only when one is metaphysically free to choose the questions of right or wrong, good or bad, arise.
Second, and many persons find this assertion more tenuous, no one in his own mind chooses evil. That is, one defines what is “good” by the choices one makes. This does not mean that what is good to you is necessarily what someone else chooses, only that what is good to him is what he chooses. Nor does it mean that he will later agree that what he chose was good. It means only that at the moment of action, he believed his action was morally justified. Even if he commits murder, he says to himself at the moment of action that it is justified because of the wrong done to him, because of his uncontrollable anger, because his goal was so noble and unselfish, or because eggs must be broken to make an omelet. If one takes the position that “good” can be defined other than by an act of free will, then one necessarily asserts that morality is exogenous to free will. But morality cannot be exogenous to free will if one agrees that it is the act of free will itself, and only that act, that creates morality. Thus, one’s acts define one’s code of morality.
Thus, out of free will arose an assignment of rights and out of free will also arose an individual’s chosen code of morality. Suppose that the chosen code of morality contradicts the assignment of rights. Is that possible without something being amiss? No, I maintain that if B is deduced from A and C is deduced from A, then B cannot contradict C. If it does, then either B or C must be wrong. And, of course, I maintain that the assignment of rights, being general, is not wrong. Therefore, the conclusion is that any moral code that contradicts the assignments of rights cannot be correct moral code. Furthermore, it follows readily that only anarchy is consistent with that assignment of rights, and therefore that only anarchy can be morally consistent with rights.
Note carefully that the conclusion contains no ought statement; no “ought” was deduced from an “is.” Yet if one accepts the premise of free will, the other premises used, and the logic of the arguments, one is left with an anarchist morality. Which concludes my three arguments for anarchy.
by Richard D. Fuerle
All content on Anarchism.net is carefully chosen and professionally edited by the editors of Anarchism.net to ensure the quality of the site. All contributions are highly appreciated, but the editors cannot guarantee your essay will be published unedited.
The founder and editor bears overall responsibility for choosing and publishing, as well as editing, all essays for publication. The authors are ultimately personally responsible for the content of signed essays. Unsigned essays are written and edited by the Anarchism.net editors.