It’s surprising to me that libertarians take presidential campaigns as an opportunity to promote small government candidates — or in some cases establishment candidates with a sprinkling of libertarianism in their rhetoric — when they could be using this time to advance their vision of a stateless society. One reason they don’t, of course, is that many of them don’t support a stateless society. They want the state, but much less of it. Coercion in small doses is just fine.
Another reason is the perennial one: How do you peacefully attain a stateless society? It’s not as if it’s on the ballot or ever will be.
Yet another reason is the election season is so full of juicy stuff to write about. Trump’s “outrageous” faux pas grab the spotlight, but there are others: Who’s the biggest warmonger? Is Sanders a socialist or a Keynesian on steroids, as Gary North describes him? And then there’s the “outsider” theme of this campaign, with Trump and Sanders but especially Trump causing major turmoil within the party elite. It’s possible Trump could end the neocon reign in the GOP, and for libertarians this is cause for rejoicing.
And if it happened it would be. But why set our sights so low?
No job openings for politicians
If there is any clarity in this campaign season it is that people are fed up with Washington. They’re fed up with Wall Street welfare, fed up with Main Street stagnation, fed up with the neocon war machine, and most of all fed up with the political class that is responsible for it all. Instead of choosing someone new to be fed up with, why not get to the source of the problem instead? People are in a throw-them-out mood. Why not give them reasons to throw out the government jobs themselves, so that there would be no need to vote anyone into office?
No one raises the question of state legitimacy. We just try to make it work in our favor, by electing politicians we like. This has not proven to be a winning strategy.
Dictionaries tell us anarchy means disorder, lawlessness, and chaos resulting from a lack of government; it is society without governing authorities.
But they also tell us it is a community organized by the voluntary cooperation of individuals. Could it be that such a community would eliminate many of the problems we experience now?
If so, how do we convince people that a society without government-as-we-know-it — without a ruling authority — is best for our interests?
Why does the state have the right to coerce us?
Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado-Boulder, provides us with extensive intellectual ammunition in The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (2013).
Huemer breaks his discussion into two parts: One, can the state be justified on the basis of commonly-held moral convictions? His answer: No. Most people believe stealing, murder, and kidnapping are wrong, and that a person should keep his promises. The state is notoriously in violation of all of these. The state therefore lacks moral authority, yet we’re all trained to obey it. How did that arrangement come about?
Second, if the state cannot be justified on moral grounds, can society function without it? His answer: Yes. Society can function without state authority. Huemer here presents a justification for anarchy, or more precisely, anarcho-capitalism.
Huemer, in other words, starts from uncontroversial premises and arrives at controversial conclusions, which are:
- Authority is illusory
- Society can function without government
- Anarchy is attainable
He reaches these conclusions based on an axiom: Individuals have a prima facie right not to be subjected to coercion — what libertarians would call the non-aggression principle.
What results from an analysis of government when we apply the individual’s right to be free of coercion? Here are the conclusions Huemer reaches, each one discussed at length in his book:
1. No deliberative process suffices to erase individuals’ rights against coercion.
2. In common-sense morality, majority will does not generate obligations to comply or entitlements to coerce.
3. Subjects of a government satisfy the conditions for the development of the Stockholm Syndrome and also show some of its symptoms.
4. It is not in the government’s interests to solve social problems, since governments get more money and power when social problems get worse.
5. It is not in the interests of the news media to keep close watch over the government.
6. The government cannot be trusted to enforce the Constitution against itself.
7. Different branches of government have no incentive to restrain each other.
His conclusion about government: “Constitutional democracy with separation of powers is much better than totalitarianism, but it does not eliminate political predation.”
The stateless society
He then examines the nature of a society without a ruling authority.
1. A stateless society “differs from traditional government in that it relies on voluntary relationships and meaningful competition among security providers.”
2. Since violence is extremely costly, security agencies would seek peaceful means of resolving disputes.
3. The problem of interstate war is far greater than the problem of interagency war, because governments face much weaker obstacles to declaring unjust wars.
4. Most industries are dominated by production for low and middle-income customers. Protection agencies will provide services for low and middle-income customers.
5. Government does little to protect the poor.
6. Private protection agencies would provide higher quality, cheaper services than government police forces, for the same reasons that private provision of most other goods is cheaper and of higher quality.
7. Criminal organizations would be financially crippled by the legalization of such goods and services as gambling, prostitution, and drugs.
8. Competition prevents protection agencies from becoming abusive.
9. In the protection industry, the most efficient size for a firm would be quite small. This would enable many firms to coexist.
10. Law is best made by contracts and by judges rather than by a legislature.
11. The anarchist justice system would focus on restitution rather than punishment.
12. The end of standing armies would come about through a global cultural shift and a gradual ratcheting down of military forces.
13. Once the military was eliminated and courts and police privatized, someone would probably figure out how to make the politicians go home.
14. Anarchy is most likely to begin in small countries or parts of countries. If the results were promising, the idea would spread.
15. The eventual arrival of anarchy is plausible due to the long-run tendency of human knowledge to progress and to the influence of ideas on the structure of society.
With politicians dominating the air waves in the forthcoming months it makes sense to tell people they don’t have to take them seriously, that there’s a better way to organize our world. Instead of voting to give the current system legitimacy they should “vote” to remove the state from their lives. If the number of nonvoters reaches some critical mass — and the public’s anger might be strong enough to achieve it — the state itself will be on trial. Professor Huemer’s common-sense approach will help them understand the issues involved.