Anarchy without Fear
October 17, 2002
These, you might say, are bleak days for
libertarians, except that libertarians never have a nice day. Experience
keeps proving them right, but still, after the Reagan
Revolution and the final flop of the Socialist Motherland, alias the
Soviet Union, they cant make a dent in the political duopoly
dedicated right here in America! to saving the welfare
All one can say is that
libertarians days used to be even bleaker; a lot bleaker. They can
remember when socialism, and the Soviet Union, used to look like the
wave of the future, and opposing the trend was known as
trying to turn back the clock.
libertarians ideas have had an influence their political weakness
doesnt reflect. Many conservative Republicans would vote for the
Libertarian Party if they thought it had any chance of winning, rather than
helping the Democrats win.
divided between conservatives and anarchists. The former think there
must be some minimal state, or limited government. The
anarchists think the state is evil in principle and must be totally
eliminated. A radical position, to be sure, but an interesting one.
The first great
American anarchist was Lysander Spooner, who died more than a century
ago. His argument was simple. There is a natural and unchangeable moral
law, which forbids slavery. No man has the right to force others to do his
will. The state not only claims such a right, but claims a monopoly of
force the right to force its subjects to accept its laws as morally
binding, no matter how arbitrary and unjust those laws may be.
That is, the state
claims that its commands supersede the moral law. It claims it can add
to, and subtract from, the eternal law of God. It never actually says this,
but the claim is implicit in its supposed authority. If it has a legitimate,
limitless monopoly of force, we all have a limitless duty to obey it. And
this, Spooner says, is absurd. It amounts to saying that the state has the
right to violate all our rights. Once we grant the principle, we are already
slaves of the state.
Conservatives have tried to rein in the state with constitutions
confining it to a few specific powers, but these constitutions have never
worked for very long. The reason is simple. The state itself
interprets the constitution in such a way as to broaden its
own powers constantly or it simply disregards the constitution as
soon as its powerful enough to get away with it.
There is no getting
away from it: at bottom, the state is nothing but organized force. Its only
abiding rule is this: Obey, or we will hurt you.
What is force? Simone
Weil defined force as that which turns a person into a thing a
corpse or a slave with no will of its own. Of course even a slave
exercises his own will to some degree, but only by sufferance of his
master. The state itself has to allow its slaves some latitude, but its
permissions arent genuine rights. Even the Soviet rulers had to
permit some degree of the economic freedom it had abolished in principle;
otherwise the socialist state would indeed have withered
away through famine. If the slaves dont eat, the
master starves too.
Most men today can
hardly imagine living without the parasitic force-systems we call states.
However bad the state may be, they assume that anarchy would be
somehow even worse, even after a century of world war, mass murder, and
general waste and destruction claiming hundreds of millions of lives and
creating poverty where there might have been plenty.
By now, if men learned
from experience, they would talk about the state in the same tones in
which Jews talk about Nazis. Instead, they continue to imagine the state
as their savior and protector, and as the natural solution to all their
problems. Yet its self-evident that the bigger the state, the larger
the ratio of force in human life, and the smaller the scope of free action.
The measure of the
states success is that the word anarchy frightens people,
while the word state does not. We are like those African slaves
who believe that their master is their benefactor, or those Russians who
still believe that Stalin was their guardian.