"They told me there was nothing out there, nothing to fear. But the night my parents were murdered I caught a glimpse of something. I’ve looked for it ever since. I went around the world, searched in all the shadows. And there is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge… Me." ~ Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), Batman Begins
"There are some troubles from which mankind can never escape. . . . [The anarchists] have never claimed that liberty will bring perfection; they simply say that its results are vastly preferable to those that follow from authority…. As a choice of blessings, liberty is the greater; as a choice of evils, liberty is the smaller. Then liberty always says the Anarchist. No use of force except against the invader." ~ Benjamin Tucker
One of my favorite subjects to examine is popular culture. This is true even when most of what passes for pop culture these days is based around such fascinating information as which celebrity will next claim to be the father of Anna Nicole's son. Pop culture — while maybe not as intellectual as, say, the folly of standing pat on a possible inside straight or why the war on drugs is so pointless and immoral — is still interesting for any number of reasons.
Certain aspects of pop culture would seem to shape our beliefs as much as they are a reflection of them. I mentioned the Mad Max scenarios in a previous essay. One's point of view with regard to the roaming warlords of that world, and how likely they are to appear in this one — should the supposedly calming hand of state control lose its grip — speaks volumes about how receptive one might be to the logic of libertarianism. Several recent conversations with well-intentioned leftists, as well as similar debates with ostensible conservatives who fancy themselves libertarians, have illustrated that many, if not most, people actually believe that the state is responsible for the fact that unbridled pandemonium does not erupt in the streets. Let us be clear: nothing could be more false.
With this in mind, I have decided to use the mythical Gotham City as a jumping-off point and relate the violence so prevalent there to our real-life society. I can't take credit for making this connection though. It came from my (then) 15-year-old daughter. She said, while watching the original "Batman" — you know, the one before Michael Keaton decided he'd rather be anonymous than famous — "Why is there so much crime in Gotham City?" Why indeed.
It's a helluva question that had really never crossed my mind until then, at least not in that form. (It is not amazing how messages sent directly to one's psyche tend to not disturb the conscious mind?) It's just as interesting that a sharp young lady would pose such a basic question when her supposedly libertarian father had never even considered it. (You guessed it; she gets her intellect from her mom.)
The question of crime is pertinent not only to Gotham City but our real world as well, and not only to the current societal construct, but also (and more importantly) to how Libertopia or Ancapistan might actually come into being. Some tend to think people are inherently evil. Others think people are inherently good. Frankly, I don't think either is the case, or that any faith in human nature needed, as long as: people act — purposefully — and generally in their own self interest.
In another previous essay I posited some pretty basic premises about why warlords would not take over our society if the state went away, referencing a number of authors. However, as one begins to peel away the layers, particularly vis-à-vis the conclusions I drew from one of Robert Murphy's essays, one could begin to wonder if what I said previously is really true. To-wit:
"If society favors open infringement on the rights of others, neither the anarchic scenario nor the minarchic scenario will result in a positive outcome. Saying that the absence of the State will, in a society primarily composed of robbers, thugs, villains, and killers, result in chaos is rather like saying a society based in the Tropics will have to deal with a lot of rain." [Emphasis added.]
Might it be what is automatically rewarded, and what is automatically punished, as it relates to the structural set-up of society, that will, given time, mitigate or reduce bad behavior and generate "spontaneous" order? Even if we can conclusively determine from whence the violence comes, might we actually be better off — and therefore closer to a peaceful, free society — once everyone understands that regardless of the source of that violence, anarchy will result in the safest and most stable society?
What if the very thing that many people might think provides order — the presence of a coercive state, i.e., police, excessive malum prohibitum laws, jails, etc. — actually exacerbates any existing tendency to aggress? What if, in attempting to curb violent behavior — via gun control laws and the like — the state actually reduces opportunity cost for criminals by raising the fog of war? Could the state's methods actually make us less safe? Absolutely. Simply put, my premise is:
Regardless of proclivities of the individuals in a society toward violence, anarchy — and only anarchy — can mitigate the effects of those tendencies enough to result in an orderly, just, and peaceful society despite the presence of those individuals.
Yes, I am saying what you think I'm saying. I don't care what kinds of people are believed to make up a society. Be they rotten-toothed Capital One commercial rejects or saintly disciples of the one true messiah (whoever he is), the results will generally be the same — orderly, just, peaceful — if that society lives under anarchy. Conversely, the presence of a coercive state will generate some baseline level of violence that is both higher and more virulent than would be found in the same society living under anarchy. Further, the more ostensible control imposed by that coercive state (or similar construct), the more violent the resulting society would be. This is why Gotham City is so violent.
Self-government — no state with final authority; each person governs himself or herself; disputes among people are resolved by private courts and arbitrators; resort to private courts is encouraged by self-interest, social pressure, boycott, ostracism and market forces such as the denial of insurance and of access to real estate to those with a history of improper self-help.
Even with this very minor quibble — over usage of the term anarchy versus self-government — Ostrowski's working paper is a tour de force of insight into this subject. I also agree with Ostrowski when he asserts that no state ever exists out of anarchy. That question was asked and answered once and for all by Alfred G. Cuzán, in his oft-neglected and seminal Journal of Libertarian Studies essay, "Do We Ever Really Get Out of Anarchy?"
Background: Market Anarchism versus Statism
In discussions with Paul Edwards, another anarcho-capitalist, several points came into clear focus vis-à-vis the likelihood and benefits of an anarchic society. First of all, as long as human nature is what it is, praxeology suggests that anarchy is feasible. That is, we are generally self-interested enough and intelligent enough, as humans, to live very well under anarchy despite our criminal elements. There is no group of men, who are too stupid to be educated enough to understand the better benefit to anarchy over anything else. This is especially true when they see it demonstrated, and, it is demonstrable both logically and empirically. Quoting Paul directly:
"We know that the state is founded in the premise that it legitimately possesses a territorial monopoly of jurisdiction and taxation. In other words, it claims a monopoly to a right to criminally aggress against non-aggressing individuals within its geographical boundaries. To put it more bluntly, the state is without exception, always a criminal organization in its very essence. It is therefore inconceivable, in the long run, that any society that operates under the delusion that the state is justified or somehow the better of the two ostensible evils — statism versus anarchism — will not find itself eventually dominated by tyrants and despots. However, although men are intelligent enough and self-interested enough to understand that anarchy is optimal they are also gullible, foolish, envious and lazy enough to be susceptible to accepting an argument advocating a state."
Paul and I agreed that some of this susceptibility, likely a large portion of it, is due to the propaganda taught in the (state-sponsored) educational system. Paul went on:
"I liked Hoppe’s discussion of small geographical regions of anarchy as starting places for [widespread] anarchy, as discussed in "Democracy: the God That Failed." This is a hybrid formula. Not the big button formula wherein the whole world is suddenly in anarchy, yet it is a big button of sorts for this new region — which exists in pure anarchy. This region would have been founded by people intellectually aware of Austrian law and the beauty of anarchy. These places would do very well economically, culturally, socially. They would be beacons of liberty. Others would be attracted to it and would be interested in understanding it. Therefore the ideas would spread and people would understand what anarchy and liberty are all about."
One could argue, as does Hoppe, that the downfall of any early libertarian movement in the U.S. was that the proponents were not consistent. They failed to rely on logic and reason enough to realize that what they needed was no central state at all, versus a constitutionally-mandated small central state. Even the Declaration of Independence reflects the Founders' ignorance of the impossibility of the state doing what only the free market can do: provide liberty and justice.
We can therefore conclude that from the start, liberty was destined to fail, not because of any innate failing in mankind but because the theory upon which the U.S. was initially built was flawed. The presence of a state — and any commensurate attempts to drive behavior via coercion — will, invariably, result in less freedom without more security and safety. Paul concluded our discussion with:
"It is no small observation to note that every state and tyranny, and also all forms of liberty, turn on ideas. What do the masses know about property and liberty? If they are ignorant, they will be dupes of statist swindlers. If they are educated, they will understand the threat such criminals pose and will deal with them accordingly. Can the people remain diligent and educate their children of the truths surrounding liberty? It hinges on that single thing. Will every family be armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and all necessary means of defense against invasion by any aggressor? If they are, what will that mean for society and the tendency for violence at large?"
In order to answers these questions and test the hypothesis above, we probably need to examine as much "real world" data as is available. A few notable examples to study further immediately come to mind. Let us look at each one in turn.
Case Study: 19th Century United States — the Oregon Trail
Again we can refer to "What is Anarchy" from Butler Shaffer, only this time we look at a different portion of that essay than I have previously mentioned. To-wit:
"A very interesting study of the orderly nature of anarchy is found in John Phillip Reid's book, Law for the Elephant. Reid studied numerous diaries and letters written by persons crossing the overland trail in wagon trains going from St. Joseph, Missouri to Oregon and California. The institutions we have been conditioned to equate with “law and order” (e.g., police, prisons, judges, etc.) were absent along the frontier, and Reid was interested in discovering how people behaved toward one another in such circumstances. He discovered that most people respected property and contract rights, and settled whatever differences they had in a peaceful manner, all of this in spite of the fact that there were no “authorities” to call in to enforce a decision. Such traits went so far as to include respect for the property claims of Indians. The values and integrities that individuals brought with them were sufficient to keep the wagon trains as peaceful communities."
One could argue that this example from the Oregon Trail simply illustrates the point alluded to by Murphy. A society composed of just, lawful, decent people will operate with justice and lawfulness regardless of the presence of laws or law-givers. So what? While this supports the more general premise that such a society can operate successfully under anarchy, it does not necessarily help us feel better about removing the hand of the state from a society not similarly comprised. In other words, this example does not preclude the possibility that Gotham City needs lots of police.
Case Study: 10th Century Iceland — the Icelandic Free State
The example of Iceland has been used as an example — on both sides of the anarchy debate — for about as long as there has been a debate. No less of a scholar than Jared Diamond said:
"Medieval Iceland had no bureaucrats, no taxes, no police, and no army. … Of the normal functions of governments elsewhere, some did not exist in Iceland, and others were privatized, including fire-fighting, criminal prosecutions and executions, and care of the poor."
It is worth noting that the anarchic society in Iceland lasted for over three hundred years, which is longer than the current United States republic has existed. It would seem pretty obvious then, that a society without a central state can exist, can flourish, and can be stable. Furthermore, even when that Icelandic Free State devolved into widespread violence, it was still much less violent than what we modern folks are accustomed to. Roderick Long opines in "Privatization Viking Style: Model or Misfortune":
"Even at the [Icelandic] Free State's worst, during the system's catastrophic breakdown into intestine warfare in the 1200s, the body count was fairly low."
Long doesn't provide any exact numbers, but after 300 years of anarchic peace, hey, let's give the Vikings a pass on a few needless deaths. (What's that you say? No. I will not forgive the invasion of Iraq on the same basis, but thanks for asking.) Unless the inhabitants of ancient Iceland were of a different species — somehow not prone to the violence so (ostensibly) prevalent in today's America or in mythical Gotham City — we now have an example, and a very good one, showing that peace can exist without a coercive state. The state is not needed to impose safety and security. What about more modern examples?
Case Study: 21st Century United States — any City, USA
Let us examine a selection of cities in the U.S. to get an idea of the amount of crime present in those environments. The tables below compare Rochester, NY, Boulder, CO, Washington, D.C., and New York City directly against each other in terms of several key measures of violence, using data obtained from City-Data.com.
I picked these cities at random, mostly. I live in Rochester. Boulder has a crime index below the national average. Washington, D.C. is the seat of the U.S. government, as well as being one of the most violent cities in the U.S., so its inclusion is warranted on both accounts, not to mention that there is, or was, a gun ban there. I include New York City because its position as a pre-eminent example of a large U.S. city is unassailable. (The fact that many associate New York City with the mythical Gotham City from Batman is an irony I couldn't help but respond to as well!)
One might expect, were he inclined to believe that the state imposes peace, that the seat of government for what is ostensibly one of the freest societies on Earth — the United States of America — would provide a shining example of the splendor of state-imposed peace and tranquility. As we will see below, this is far from the case.
A caveat about these tables: although I am well aware of the folly of using statistics — the argument from effect — I will begin there anyway. I believe the numbers will provide context for further comparison. As always however, I will return to the argument from morality as the capstone to this essay. Additionally, while a thorough analysis of these numbers relative to other measures, such as average net worth, educational levels, race, and other factors, might prove interesting, it is not my intent to use these numbers for any other purpose than showing the folly of state control.
All numbers are calculated ratios per 100,000 people.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Murder (higher means more, U.S. average = 5.5)
Note that the number of murders per 100,000 people is markedly different across all four cities, with Rochester having higher and Washington, D.C. having tremendously higher numbers in every year shown. Note also that the murder rate in a huge city like New York is lower, by a seemingly substantial amount, than that of Rochester. Clearly, the sheer number or concentration of people is not what causes this particular crime.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Rape (higher means more, U.S. average = 32.4)
Interestingly, the number of rapes per 100,000 people is nearly identical for all the cities except New York City, even given the large difference in population for New York City.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Robbery (higher means more, U.S. average = 136.7)
For this metric, the differences between Washington, D.C., Rochester, and New York City are much smaller, while Boulder, CO remains far below the others. Note also that Rochester has switched places with New York City over the timeframe examined.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Aggravated Assault (higher means more, U.S. average = 288.6)
This metric reflects a tendency very similar to that shown for robberies.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Burglary (higher means more, U.S. average = 730.3)
For the first time (but not the last) Rochester displays a higher metric than any of the other three cities examined. Furthermore, Washington, D.C. seems closer to Boulder than to Rochester.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Thefts (higher means more, U.S. average = 2362.3)
This metric emulates burglaries in terms of Rochester exceeding the performance of Washington, D.C., Boulder, and New York City.
U.S. Crime Rates 1960 – 2005 Auto Theft (higher means more, U.S. average = 421.5)
For this metric, the differences between Washington, D.C. and Rochester are much smaller, while Boulder and New York City remain far below the others. The numbers in New York City are different enough from Washington, D.C. as to almost draw their validity into question. Clearly, people in New York City, where the population is in an entirely different and larger regime than either Boulder or Rochester, are not experiencing anywhere near the threat of a stolen car as those in smaller cities like Rochester and Washington, D.C. are experiencing. (Might this have to do with mass transit? I have no idea, but that point does not affect this analysis.)
City-data.com Crime Index (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 327.2)
This last rubric is intended to provide an overall measure of crime. As shown, the U.S. average is 327.2; both Rochester and Washington, D.C. exceed the average by a sizeable amount. Without trying to compute statistical significance or any other measure on these numbers, it seems pretty clear that Rochester is closer to Washington, D.C. than Boulder both in terms of individual crimes and in the general probability that a citizen will be negatively impacted by crime.
Interestingly, is would also appear that New York City, with a population several times that of either Rochester or Boulder, is almost as "safe" as Boulder. While I have little direct knowledge of Boulder, I have lived in Rochester during the timeframe shown. It strikes me as interesting that throughout the years examined, there has been a constant hue and cry from the citizenry for the city government to "clean up the streets" and other traditional statist requests. No doubt there are those who suggest that Giuliani's aggressive stance against violence is the reason for the improvement in New York City. This might be true if the things done in New York City were unique.
This is not to say that being "tough on crime" is necessarily ineffective. It is simply more complicated than that. As David Stolinsky notes in "America: The Most Violent Nation?" causality is difficult to attribute. While any relatively recent fall in homicide rate could be associated with "three-strike" laws and an increasing use of the death penalty, it could just as easily be associated with low unemployment and a strong economy. As an aside, it is worth further quoting Stolinsky, particularly with regard to gun laws and their causal relationship to violence. He writes:
"Israel and Switzerland, where most adult males keep military-type guns at home, have low homicide rates, so easy access to guns cannot be the key factor in homicide. Some nations with strict anti-gun laws also have low homicide rates, but is this cause and effect? The low homicide rate in the United Kingdom holds for both gun and non-gun homicides; strict gun laws cannot account for a low rate of fatal beatings. Japan has harsh anti-gun and anti-crime laws and a low homicide rate, but Japanese-Americans, who live under our laws and have access to guns, also have a low homicide rate. … The best we can do is observing what happens when new gun laws are passed in the U.S. and Germany, or when Japanese live in the U.S. In these cases, little effect of gun laws is seen." [Emphasis in original.]
I know that aggressive citizen disarmament campaigns, along with the all-too-typical increases of police presence and related steps, have taken place in Rochester. Yet the crime index rises. Apparently all these measures have done is make Rochester more and more like D.C. Does this indicate that more evil people are moving to Rochester simultaneous with the crackdown on urban violence? I rather doubt it. Maybe all the evil people who could have moved to Boulder instead chose to come north? Not likely. Why is New York City, often thought of as a haven for organized crime and graft, so much closer to Boulder than Washington, D.C.? Clearly population alone is no indicator.
Kennesaw, GA is an interesting story as well. This is one of the relatively few U.S. cities that require residents own a gun, via an ordinance passed in the 1980s. The town reportedly passed the law after another city, Morton Grove, IL, passed an ordinance outlawing all gun ownership. Additionally, residents of the town felt that robberies and thefts were much higher than they should have been. The policy is (still) working, according to those who live there. Quoting previous police Chief Dwaine Wilson from 1994:
"Before the law was passed we had 11 burglaries per 1000 in population. As of 1992 we had 2.7 burglaries per 1000 population. Over the years, it may fluctuate 1% higher, or 1 or 2% lower, but it's something that’s stayed in line from ’83 all the way up to today."
It is worth noting that Kennesaw's population has quadrupled since the gun law was passed. By the same token, and in fairness, the city that was supposedly the reason for Kennesaw's original passing of the gun law, Morton Grove, is similarly safe, at least as far as the bulk of the numbers indicate, although the population there has not grown at near the rate of Kennesaw. One thing is clear. The relative abundance of guns in Kennesaw has not resulted in mass, B-movie-style, Wild West shootings, and the burglaries have decreased, even compared to Morton Grove. Similarly, the ostensive lack of guns in D.C. — as per the ban on guns — has not resulted in more safety.
In short, whatever the powers-that-be are doing to decrease crime in Washington and Rochester is not working. Just as obvious, crime rates in Boulder seem rather constant as well. No doubt the city fathers in Boulder are attempting to drive crime rates down. Yet they remain constant, and in some cases — though not many — higher than U.S. averages.
Another factor is at work here, and it relates directly to the difference between the anarchic status of Iceland and the Old West, and the coercively pseudo-controlled status of the modern U.S. environment. The natural tendency in modern statism is to increase the number of laws — make more and more things illegal — in an effort to control behavior. Paradoxically, this tends to actually exacerbate violence, particularly in the case of vices. As a result, disputes that could otherwise be resolved via peaceful means such as mediation are resolved with violence.
In other words, the more activities that people partake of that are declared illegal, the more likely that those who continue to partake in those activities will do so with the addition of violence — where none need exist — to that activity. This is the unintended consequence of attempting to control behavior with law versus understanding praxeology and the necessity of allowing people to make their own decisions, particularly regarding vices.
Case Study: The NBA and Professional Sports
As far back as the 1950's, George Orwell observed in "The Sporting Spirit" that, "Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.” Few, if any, sports fans missed the reports of the "malice at the Palace" — the epic fight that broke out between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, who play at a place called The Palace at Auburn Hills. Based upon that example, it seems that Orwell was generally correct.
Some, and dare I say many, might suggest that the "thug life" permeates the NBA and therefore it's no real surprise when fights break out. To this logic, I would quote the name of that TV show hosted by Penn and Teller, but I want to keep this essay G-Rated. (Suffice it to say that "cow excrement" just doesn't have the same ring!) Fights break out in the NHL all the time, so much so that the saying, "I went to see a fight and a hockey game broke out" makes perfect sense.
I assert that the thug life and the influence of Hip Hop music has little to do with fighting in the NBA. I further assert that the prevalence of fighting in the NHL says nothing about the tendencies of the players toward violence generally. I suspect that the young men involved in the fights in either sport almost never get into fights at home. I bet they seldom trade blows with their friends. I bet that they frequent many public places, encounter all manner of people — some of them talk radio rejects come to life — and almost never hit anyone "up side the head." (Sure, it has happened, but not at a rate indicative — I would argue — of any systemic problem.) Why? People don't want to face a direct and immediate response for their aggression against others.
It is a rare bird indeed that will go into a bar and pick a fight with a stranger. The number of times one sees this in B-movie westerns notwithstanding, it is just lunacy to think it happens normally, if at all, in real life, even among those supposedly steeped in a thug lifestyle, whatever that is. Recall that the experience along the Oregon Trail and in Iceland shows that even in a situation without obvious "law givers" people are not programmed to act aggressively without cause. Pandemonium does not break out.
So why do fights occasionally occur in the NBA? (In many years of playing basketball "on the blacktop" I've very rarely seen a fight or a purposely hard foul.) Fights happen in the NBA for the same reasons that lying, active-duty-dodging chicken hawks like those who advise President Bush foment so many wars. (Wait. Did I write that, or was I just thinking it? Must…focus…on…subject.) They happen because the opportunity cost is artificially lowered. The fact that so much testosterone is flowing doesn't help.
If a person feels emboldened by the presence of backup and has the additional safe-guard of authorized law-givers to settle any disputes (they call these people referees in the NBA and NHL) the possibility of really having to fight, in the NBA at least, is almost nil. If you get too physical with someone, the whistle will blow, and the victim will be rewarded. So why not get "your money's worth" if you do break the rules?
In the case of the NHL, fights are an accepted part of the sport. You can fight almost at will and you'll just get a "time-out" — a few minutes off the ice. What's the risk? In both cases, the NBA and the NHL, the opportunity cost is lowered to a point where anyone would (and frankly, should) take advantage of the situation occasionally. The same is true of society at large, and it is this truism that drives violence in our everyday lives.
Demonstrable Benefits of Anarchy (or Self-Government)
Against the backdrop of these simple case studies, one can hopefully begin to see the folly and challenge with trying to impose safety via coercion. The system offering both the most freedom and the most peace must make use of the innate self-interest of people. In other words, the state cannot change the facts of praxeology, nor can it properly take advantage of them via coercion. Anarchy does so. The benefits of anarchy are:
- The fog of war is preserved.
- The argument from morality is honored.
- The opportunity cost for violence remains appropriate.
When a criminal knows his victims are unarmed his opportunity cost for violence is artificially lowered. Furthermore, and maybe more importantly, when those ostensibly authorized to "serve and protect" know that they — and only they — can inflict "lawful" violence upon others, they have a tendency to overreact when faced with a choice to use violence. Each time we hear about a citizen being shot multiple times by groups of police, or policemen actually breaking the law by selling drugs or other contraband, this truism is fully illustrated. Yet, when no one has an advantage — and generally only then — everyone is enticed to act accordingly.
When I was a kid, although there were occasional fights, most of them amounted only to shoving matches. Often even the most ardent emotional dispute would end up with two kids staring each other down face-to-face and nothing more. Thinking back upon these "interactions" the simple wisdom of one of our sayings about them strikes me. We would often say, to anyone watching one of these staring matches, "One of them is scared and the other one is glad of it!" That, sports fans, is the essence of appropriate opportunity cost. Basic logic dictates: if you know you're going to have to pay for the aggression, you are generally slower to take part in it. The opportunity cost for violence remains appropriate under anarchy.
The primary result of any coercively implemented government attempts at disarming evil people is the disarmament of law-abiding citizens. Gun-control advocates, like those mentioned by Richard Poe in "The Disarming of Black America," seem to believe that an authoritarian crackdown on having firearms will reduce violence by making everyone equal, i.e., equally unarmed. The fact of the matter is this can never, ever happen. The example of Kennesaw, GA provides a direct proof of the falsity of this premise. Cesare Beccaria, a legal theorist from the 1700’s, who some believe greatly influenced Thomas Jefferson, explains why with this unassailable logic.
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes…Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants."
Stated differently, those who respond to laws, such as turning-in unregistered weapons, are, by definition, law-abiding citizens. They are not the ones about whom we have to worry! Those who have no plan to obey the laws are unimpressed by such pleas. Worse yet, they expect that those they hope to prey on will respond to such requests. As a result they know that their victims are unarmed. Few things can embolden a person who has the tendency to aggress against another like knowing for a fact that he is safe to do so. The fog of war is preserved under anarchy.
One of the underlying assumptions in every environment where citizens have been disarmed via state coercion is that certain people, and only these people, are qualified and empowered to partake in certain practices. For example, the police are always armed. No one in his right mind would suggest otherwise. What objective moral criterion makes a policeman different than a regular citizen in this regard? Is it the uniform? Unlikely; uniforms provide no qualification in and of themselves. Is it the training? No; anyone can be trained. Is it via the consent of the governed? No; I am unqualified and unable bestow a right away that I do not have.
Stated hypothetically, I cannot reasonably suggest that an acquaintance of mine, call him "Bob" can have a gun, while simultaneously requiring that another acquaintance, call him "Rob" cannot be armed. What is different about the police and who made it so? Bob, Rob, and I are of the same species, sharing the same natural rights and privileges, and endowed with the same frailties. Only mysticism or irrationality can justify my elevation of one or the other to a status that we each cannot obtain on our own. (As an aside, some may recognize this quality of anarchy as a direct, but somewhat simplified restatement of the concept of universalizability.) Whatever one prefers to call it, the same conclusion can be drawn. The argument from morality is honored under anarchy.
When you know you'll be safe at home — or in Washington — while those who respond to your orders are getting their butts shot off in Iraq, or Somalia, or Mogadishu, or wherever, you won't care anywhere near as much as you otherwise could. Similarly, if you know the home you are about to enter cannot be inhabited by anyone who can defend himself you are safe to enter at will. In the latter case, the fog of war is lifted, to the detriment of the inhabitant. In both cases, the opportunity cost for aggression and violence is depressed, to the benefit of those who wish to aggress.
I think it's about time that the cost got evened out, don't you?
Let me end this essay by returning to the previously quoted Ostrowski working paper.
"My suspicion is, even if the world pondered the question and was inexorably drawn to the common sense definition of peace proffered herein — the absence of violence or the palpable threat of violence against persons and their property — most people and most politicians and most intellectuals would recoil in horror at the prospect of such a world."
"It's not that these people don't like peace in general terms; it's just that there are many things they value more highly. Many of these things can only be achieved by the use of democratic violence or the palpable threat of democratic violence against persons and their property. That is why we live in such a violent world. We are lying in the bed we have made. Most people don't want peace, not really. If they did, it could be achieved without enormous difficulty since u2018There is no way to peace; peace is the way.'"
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.