Buy one get one free, like it or not

Originally at Libertarian Home. It seems I got the wrong end of the stick at one point here. Richard’s “mutual defense associations” are just that, apparently. Although, as he gives no reason why these genuinely anarchist associations would become new states I’m now entirely at a loss as to his point. The stuff about specialist defense agencies below reflects my scepticism about traditional market anarchist responses to dealing with disputes in a voluntary society.

Richard Carey wrote a post about anarchy last week in response to a post of mine that was not about anarchy. My views on the possibility of anarchy (along with a corrective to Richard’s fond beliefs about “social contracts”) can be found in Anarchy, and nothing but anarchy, but there are a few criticisms of Richard’s post that I’ll make here.

Firstly, given the title of Richard’s post it’s unfortunate (not to say, ironic) that when it comes time for presenting us with an argument for why anarchy will fail, he instead  gives us this: men might band together in groups that could become states; these groups will become states. Clearly, there is a gap here. We could, if we were so inclined, put it like this:

1. There is a chance this will happen.
2. ?
3.This will definitely happen.

As I said, unfortunate; though quite understandable. Finding just the right South Park clip on Youtube to go with your snappy title is bound to be a very time consuming process, so naturally a man will have that much less time available to check that he hasn’t glossed over anything important. Still…

Much more serious, Richard gets the order wrong: “abolishing government” comes after “harmony among men”, in theory just as much as in practice. If we are reasoning from anarchy to government, then the conditions for anarchy must have existed. But what are those conditions? That the vast majority of people believe that human interaction is only just if it is voluntary. This being so, any “criminal” elements must be outnumbered by a tremendous margin – even more than they are now, and always have been, as it happens. This is not “idealism”: there are currently approximately 170,000 men, women and youths locked-up in the UK out of a population of approximately 64,000,000. Assuming everyone locked-up actually deserves to be, that’s 0.26%. Given that “big” criminals get “big” doing stuff that’s lucrative simply because it’s currently illegal, and given that unhampered markets will outperform state monopolies, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over the prospect of the “bad guys” taking over if I were you, reader.

The “good guys”, the specialist defense agencies, taking over though? Well, that’s a far more serious problem; indeed, once created it may even be an unsolvable one. While we can point to various aspects and effects of unhampered markets (free entry, need for customer approval, cost of aggression,  free riding, etc) that would work against specialist agencies either alone or in concert becoming states once created, it is probably not worth the risk to invent principal-agent problems unneccessarily. My guess would be that this is why no anarchist society in history has created (perhaps tolerated is a better word) specialist defense agencies.

It’s worth noting that in Robert Nozick’s telling of the tale – which Richard is echoing – the minimal state is created by defense agencies forcing non-joiners (those who would occupy Richard’s second class: those who are happy to “keep aloof… [and] live peacefully and possibly self-sufficiently” – anarchists, in other words) to join, then “compensating” them according to its own satisfaction post facto. That is to say, the minimal state, whether inevitable or not, is most certainly not arrived at from anarchy in a manner “compatible with libertarian principles”. Perhaps this should give us pause.

Developing this point, it’s very interesting – for connoisseurs of all things compatible with libertarian principles at least – to note that in Richard’s post “natural rights” are both conspicuous and conspicuously absent; this is odd because he is usually terribly enthusiastic about them. They get a mention early on to justify the creation of the specialist defense agencies that may or will become the state, but by the time we get to the meat, they are gone: anarchy is rejected on practical grounds. 

Now, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that in practice anarchic societies are bound to devolve into a state-ridden societies. The question is, Is that a good enough reason for libertarians not to be anarchists? Can forcing those who are “aloof but peaceful” to join a state ever be compatible with libertarian principles? Unless we want to invent a “natural right to govern”, obviously not. But states surely must do this when they are formed, and they certainly continue to do this throughout their existence (there are anarchists after all, and one is all it takes). This being the case, it seems that libertarians, if they want to be true to their philosophy, must be anarchists.

Twitter @StrictlyLiberal

Google+ Rocco Bogpaper


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