“Constitutions, bills of rights, statements of principle, party platforms, and all other Guarantees can never be more than self-imposed restrictions which cease to affect the people who run a government the instant they cease to believe in their rightness, or as soon as it is clear that the people will not punish the government for ignoring them.”
~ Per Christian Malloch, "The Theory of Anarcho-Capitalism and its Libertarian Opponents" (unpublished)
I have an admission to make. It isn't that earth-shattering, nor will this be the first time I've made this particular admission. Nonetheless, my admission is: I learn much more by writing these essays than anyone will ever learn from reading them. This truth plays out over and over each time I submit a piece to LRC, or Strike-the-Root, or a newsfeed to the John Birch Society website, or when one of my pieces appears in print anywhere else.
This truth manifests in any number of ways, including the insight I absorb as a natural result of doing the research. It also manifests when I read and consider the feedback I receive. To illustrate, I'll examine two recent examples, both of which speak to something that occasionally seems obscure: No one has precise knowledge of how to facilitate the transition from the current situation to a stateless society. One might even argue that there is little to be gained by fiercely debating such strategic matters. More importantly, as has been mentioned before, several times, by several people, there is no need to "get to" anarchy anyway, since it's already here and therefore cannot be escaped. Writes Cuzán:
…a “third party” arrangement for society is non-existent among those who exercise the power of government themselves. In other words, there is no “third party” to make and enforce judgments among the individual members who make up the third party itself. The rulers still remain in a state of anarchy vis-à-vis each other. They settle disputes among themselves, without regard for a Government (an entity outside themselves). Anarchy still exists. (Emphasis in original.)
A Funny Thing Happened Along the Road to Ancapistan
In response to my "Would You Push the Button to End the State?" essay, I received several notes from an LRC reader in Somalia. As an aside, that a person in far off Somalia thinks my modest musings are worthy of not only reading, but also thoughtfully responding to, is immensely flattering and intellectually rewarding. (Interesting fact: The Internet is awesome.)
In response to my "Teaching Freedom Early?" newsfeed, I read a not-so-complimentary comment on the JBS website. That a person thinks I need to "get a life" and feels compelled to say so publicly, albeit anonymously, helps to balance out any flattery-induced-ego-boost I might experience from the example above. (Interesting fact: The Internet presents a low barrier-to-entry, which when combined with the ability to remain anonymous, sometimes makes people brazen and occasionally insulting. Then again, I've noted that phenomenon before.)
The main issue of the first respondent's e-mails, which covered quite a bit of philosophical and political ground, resolved to: Is minarchy between the current (statist) condition and full-fledged anarchy? And if this is true, why not start with getting closer to minarchy as a strategic means to achieving full-fledged market anarchism? In contrast, the main issue of the second respondent's comments seemed to be that I was a pseudo-intellectual with too much time on my hands. (Frankly, I can't argue with that!)
The first respondent felt that the primary questions were about "day 1" not "day 1000." That is, he felt that few could reasonably argue with the logical superiority of market anarchism in the long term. Rather, he asked, "What about the short term?" He posed several rather typical questions about moving from statism to anarchy. Among them:
- How does one privatize the existing (and quite large) stockpile of weaponry?
- What of the courts? Who polices and locks up criminals?
- How can one enforce contracts, since the right to seize property requires police and accounting?
- Who oversees a system that can facilitate assets: property and liquidity?
- Who regulates Natural Monopolies?
I reckon these are valid questions. Certainly, I hear them often enough. Not surprisingly, there have been a plethora of answers to these types of questions as well. Despite my attempts to answer some of them, the best primer to these issues might be Roderick Long's "Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections," which covers some of these issues, and others, in excellent philosophical and historical detail.
The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single … Question?
One of my radical libertarian colleagues has a pet theory that he has shared with me several times. He thinks that few people, if anyone, ever follows the links in a piece like this. Given my own reading habits, I tend to agree, and am therefore tempted to extensively block quote from Long (and others) below, turning this essay into a type of one-stop-shop for answers to these recurring "how-to" questions about market anarchism.
You know what though? I won't. Actually, I refuse to do so. The reason was provided some time ago by another colleague of mine, Manuel Lora. He writes:
The problem starts when the “viability” of freedom becomes contingent upon the “answer” to those questions. That is, if the “right” and fully satisfactory answer is not achieved (ignoring that no such answer could ever be 100% correct), then somehow the desire for liberty is lessened and statism creeps back in.
“How would roads work? How can a flu pandemic be prevented? What about organ trafficking? Would we need car insurance? How much? Who would [we] determine that? What if drugs are cheap and widely available? I don't want people to have AK-47s! What about licensing and standards? If everyone can make their own money, then it's going to be chaos!”
Lora then answers the question:
So let me answer the question as clearly as I can. I am not a socialist!
Lora is noting, quite correctly, that the answers to every conceivable implementation issue cannot be deduced a priori. Simply put, if central planning worked, there probably wouldn't be any market anarchists! I'll go Lora one better regarding these types of questions and any other similar questions that anyone is tempted to send me via e-mail in the future. My answer, as bad as it might sound, is: How should I know?! Besides, as my second respondent implies, anyone who endeavors to answer every conceivable question about the future not only has too much time on his hands, but fancies himself a version of Kreskin on steroids as well! (If Shrubya can raise a tragic lack of intellectual curiosity to high art, I can get a pass for not caring once in a while, no?)
Granted, discussing and attempting to answer such questions can be very interesting. (Full disclosure: I'll likely be involved in such a discussion before week's end!) Honestly though, I don't really give a large rat turd who oversees a system that facilitates assets in a stateless society. I rarely worry about regulation of natural resources or monopolies after the EPA is closed. The rather obvious fact that I've only a faint clue to the answers to such questions is just icing on the cake. What does concern me is individual liberty. Luckily, it is upon this foundation that everything else is based anyway. As an aside, was the fact that few could accurately predict where the newly-freed slaves would work or live sufficient justification for keeping them chained up?
I don't want to be stolen from, enslaved, or unfairly imprisoned. I don't want to steal from anyone, enslave anyone, or imprison anyone, particularly for a behavior, that while possibly unwise, infringes upon no one else. I believe in private property. Just because you and a couple of other folks supposedly voted to steal that property from me doesn't change the morality of the action. (If it does, then this whole discussion is moot.)
If we start there — with the argument from morality — I'm willing to take my chances that the polar bears, the Rain Forest, and the planet will survive just fine. Given the amounts of my own money and time I've voluntarily invested, I'm also pretty confident that the poor and the sick will be cared for as well. I'll even admit that some issues with which mankind might be faced in the future might be large enough to require cooperation. Here's the thing. Cooperation doesn't come out of the barrel of a gun. Is it too much to ask that the self-righteous busy bodies spend only their own money (or money given voluntarily to them) and stop making war on the rest of us?
Fighting the Battle in the Locale that Houses It
A while back, as I spoke to another father at one of my son's Boy Scout camp-outs, something he said made me think. He had just asked me which of the contenders for president I'd be supporting and I had answered, "They're all lying, thieving, killers, so who cares?" or words to that effect. To his credit, he admitted that I had a point. (The number of times this has happened is low enough for me to think that not everyone has figured this out, but I've already beaten that horse to within an inch of its life.) He then wondered aloud: "How does one remain hopeful for the future, after such a conclusion?"
That's an interesting question. I don't think cynicism is the inevitable result of deducing that megalomaniacs, interested in lining their own pockets and not much else, run the State. In fact, I remain convinced that by realizing where the battle will ultimately be fought and won — in my head — I don't have to become cynical at all. Just because it becomes apparent that the lying, cheating, stealing, buttheads I used to think were "my leaders" are just, well, lying, cheating, stealing buttheads is no reason for sadness. Ridding oneself of delusion is a liberating experience, not a depressing one!
A clue to why what we think is more important than what we experience comes from Victor Frankl, who noted that the battle is in the mind when he said:
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (Emphasis in original.)
The battle then is won or lost not without but within. As someone said long ago, "What happens to you is way less important than what happens in you." The battle for freedom and liberty is fought by the individual with himself and his beliefs, not against faceless bureaucrats in D.C. or elsewhere.
Maybe Zhuge Liang offered a further clue with:
Those who are skilled in combat do not become angered, those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid. Thus the wise win before they fight, while the ignorant fight to win.
My philosophy: Win the battle for freedom in your own head, against your own ignorance, first. Enter the battlefield of ideas and share them with others, if you like, soon thereafter. Worry about who pays for the roads in Libertopia much later, if ever. Trust a bureaucrat, even a well-armed bureaucrat, with the future, never. (That complicated pre-existing conditions will have to be dealt with is actually rather exciting!)
If what I say here has not convinced you, that's okay. In fact, I'm pleased. I don't want to convince you. I want you to convince you. If I can convince you about market anarchism today, some other A-hole can convince you about statism tomorrow. I'd rather have you make you own decisions — with or without help from my pedestrian erudition — and go from there, voluntarily. I'll still take my chances. Will you?
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.