Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State

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Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State (Gerard Casey, 2012)

Gerard Casey, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at University College in Dublin, Ireland, and an Adjunct Scholar at the Mises Institute, has written a concise, excellently sourced treatise promoting the political philosophy he labels “libertarian anarchy”.

Professor Casey writes in large part from a Rothbardian perspective, as one sees by his very first sentence: “States are criminal organizations”. He distinguishes libertarianism from libertinism, noting that libertarians may live by strict moral principles, yet “the law has no business enforcing purely moral considerations”.

Casey describes the “limited objectives” of his compact, well -written and well -argued brief for liberty as the following:

  • To show the anti-libertarian character of states and state action
  • To argue for the presumption of liberty
  • To make the case for libertarian anarchy
  • To show that law does not require state sponsorship
  • To demonstrate the illegitimacy of the modern state by means of an attack on the representative nature of democracy and the validity of state constitutions

He accomplishes these objectives, to this reader, without exception. He provides an apt metaphor of the state as “the Wizard of Oz, a small man with a megaphone pulling levers behind a curtain”.

Casey begins by addressing the overriding myth prevailing in contemporary society, “The belief in the legitimacy and necessity of the state”. He quotes James Scott: “Until shortly before the common era, the very last one percent of human history, the social landscape consisted of elementary, self-governing, kinship units that might, occasionally, cooperate in hunting, feasting, skirmishing, trading and peacemaking…..It did not contain anything one would call a state…Living in the absence of state structures has been the standard human condition”.

Casey shows how statism in inextricably linked to warfare, aggression, and theft. “The making of the modern state and the making of war go hand in hand, and money, other people’s money, lots of it, is required for both.”

Casey attacks the presumed moral legitimacy and ‘special status’ of the state and state actors. “If someone wants to make the case for the privileged moral status of state actors, the burden of proof resides with them”. Further, the “principal concern” of his book is to refute the claim that the “the creation, the administration and enforcement of law” …..”cannot be provided by any other body” than the state.

Casey delivers some knockout rhetorical blows against statism and statists. “The greatness of our historical leaders is built on the mangled bodies of the poor, the defenseless and the politically gullible”. He lists a sample of the “innumerable legion of petty tyrants that have plagued the world” consisting of the “Alexanders, Caesars, Napoleons, Hitlers, Stalins,Clintons, Blairs and Bushes”.

He paints a positive, life affirming portrait of libertarianism, explaining how it is premised upon the Non Aggression Principle (NAP), the Golden Rule (Reciprocity) and freedom, leading to human flourishing. “Freedom is essential to human flourishing…..’Coercing people’, writes Sartwell, ‘reduces them to the status of inanimate objects’ and serves….’to attack the status of human beings as moral agents’.”

While confirming that for libertarians, “liberty must be the default position for any ethical or political theory”, Casey stresses that liberty is not the be all and end all of human existence, but rather the most fundamental social value. In other words, quoting Lord Acton, “freedom is the highest political end, not the highest end of man per se”.

Casey cites the NAP in distinguishing libertarianism from classical liberalism and conservatism, as well as from modern, activist liberalism\leftism. “Both the liberal and the conservative are selective in those spheres in which they will allow liberty to operate”. The conservative allowing liberty in many economic areas but not in morals or military and nationalistic concerns, while the modern liberal is more tolerant of private moral choices, yet is compelled to call for more and more central planning in the economic and industrial areas.

Regarding the always heated disputes as to whether anarcho-commmunism\socialism or anarcho-capitalism represents “true” anarchism, Cases explains:

“I believe we are free to bind ourselves by entering into informal and contractual relations with others, even relations in which we voluntarily subordinate ourselves to other. I do not accept the common claim of anarchists from the left side of the political spectrum that such relations are necessarily anti-anarchic. If we are not free to bind ourselves then we are not really free, our liberty is compromised. The form of anarchism that accepts this radical notion of freedom, our freedom to bind ourselves, I call libertarian anarchism.”

So the author prefers the term “libertarian anarchism”. What about that old rhetorical bugaboo, capitalism? Casey concedes: “The term ‘anarcho-capitalism’ is used by some to name the position I am defending here.”

He acknowledges that ‘capitalism’ “carries so much emotional and conceptually confusing baggage” that it is not likely to “be used in a neutral, descriptive way”. He notes that Rothbard, perhaps the father of anarcho-capitalism, or at least its most well known proponent, distinguished between ‘free market capitalism’ and ‘state capitalism’. The latter, of course, is what passes for free enterprise capitalism today in most people’s eyes, the corporatist, bailed out, propped up, subsidized, mercantilist, bastardized version of real freedom in economic pursuits. As Rothbard put it, the difference between these two versions of ‘capitalism’ is “precisely the difference between…peaceful, voluntary exchange” and “violent expropriation”.

So, providing that no coercion is used, any set of economic arrangements is acceptable. Libertarian anarchists, according to Casey, believe that their role is not to endorse any particular economic system but, quoting Sneed, “to destroy the state in order to allow all economic systems to complete on a voluntary basis”. To that, Casey clarifies, “any set of voluntary arrangements that do not violate NAP”.

Casey goes on to discuss fundamental principles of property rights, and addresses common criticism of anarchy, and anarchists. He weaves into the discussion, succinct and pointed analysis of political theorists, philosophers and economists, from the ancient to the contemporary, including Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Bastiat, the great Lysander Spooner, Kirk, Hayek, Walter Block, Bruce Benson, Randy Barnett, and innumerable others.

He explains how law is not imposed from above by those in authority, but derives from the common experiences and reasoning of the people who subscribe to the law, community norms, usual and customary standards, judicial opinions and the like (otherwise known as common law). However, the judicial opinions, legal standards and rulings are not some mysterious gift handed down by above, but tried and true principles, rules and rational decision making used to resolve disputes. In other words, the laws of a society are created and rise from the bottom up, and are not properly viewed as hierarchical edicts imposed on a people, or a community. Legal change occurs by evolution, not (legislative) revolution.

Of course, as NAP is entirely consistent with the universally sacred concepts of respect of human dignity, individual autonomy, the golden rule\reciprocity, and natural rights, what hopefully evolves in any given society will be completely consistent with natural law. Those societies and communities that respect and honor natural law and natural rights will expect to grow, prosper and flourish, especially over time. Moreover, due to respect of universal human natural rights such as individual sovereignty, the right to travel, freedom of association and the abolishing of arbitrary, government imposed borders and barriers, communities (business, legal and otherwise) needn’t be tied to artificial and geographical restrictions.

Casey discusses anarchic societies, of varying sizes and times, to give examples of “anarchy in action”. He emphasizes the importance of kinfolk, restitution, and non- violent and non-coercive methods of keeping law and order, including such varied, voluntary approaches as disapproval, ostracism, boycott, blacklisting, blackballing, banishment and expulsion\exclusion, for those who refuse to obey societies norms, pay their debts, honor legal judgments, respect the rights of others, maintain a surety or insurance, or membership in a DRO.

Casey clarifies that he is not claiming these societies are examples of pure libertarian anarchism or any kind of imaginary utopia, but he brings them up “to show that there have been societies that functioned without a state apparatus”. As even (neo-conservative historian) Francis Fukuyama wrote, all over the world for most of human history people owed obligations “not to a state but to kinfolk, they settled disputes not through courts but through a system of retributive justice”. Casey then specifically discusses a few examples, including Eskimo society, Somalia, ‘medieval’ Ireland (really, about 500 BC to 1600 AD), with an emphasis on the use of customary, kritarchic (rule by judges) as well as polycentric law for private dispute resolution, including use of surety’s, dispute resolution organizations (DRO’s), and what today would be called insurance. For more examples of anarchic societies throughout history, be sure to check the end notes and bibliography.

Casey’s fundamental thesis, as one would expect, is that the state is illegitimate, its “office holders” thieves, authoritarian control freaks, and frauds. He demolishes trite, grade school “social studies” propagandistic canards like the myths of political democracy, “representation” and the completely discredited notion that states can effectively “limit” and restrain themselves through Constitutions and “checks and balances”. The preposterous idea that statist Constitutions are “contracts” (‘social’ or otherwise) is fittingly and easily disposed of.

Casey concludes his work, stating: “What I have tried to do in this book is to make the case for libertarian anarchy and the illegitimacy of the modern state- two sides of the same coin.” He recaps how he accomplishes this, by citing to the ideas of other brilliant minds, and including many of his own.

The book is very well sourced and includes a bibliography that any “libertarian anarchist” (or classical liberal\minarchist) would enjoy perusing. For any of you interested in the topic, and indeed, whether one is anarchist, minarchist, or simply interested in competing political theories and analytical discussion, I highly recommend this extremely readable, engaging and instructive work.

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