There are many people who do value liberty but find the
idea of a world without the state impractical. They might even
think anarchism would work, but that we have no hope of getting
there: "It's not on the menu." The state pervades modern
life and statist attitudes are rampant among the public. The "man-in-the-street"
is so far from holding anarchist views that the only viable approach
is to try and roll back the state a bit at a time. There is no
way, these folks will tell us, to reach a minimal state or a stateless
society for many generations.
Many of these people are sincerely attempting to do the best
that they think can be done in the fight for liberty. However,
they are mistaken.
Fortunately for us, there were brave pioneers who gave us an
example of how to eliminate a pervasive but unjust institution,
in only a few generations. They were the abolitionists, and the
institution was slavery.
As Stephen Carson recently said in a brilliant piece:
These evangelicals were faced with a choice. They could try to
convince the majority of people of the correctness of their theological
doctrine, part of which was that slavery is wrong. But to make
the whole world Methodist or Baptist might take thousands of years.
In the meantime, if they cooperated with others who shared their
opinion of slavery, they could achieve a great good in the near
future: the end of human slavery.
Achieving their "short-term" goal did not involve compromising
their long-term objective. One could still argue that Methodism
was the true path, while cooperating with a Quaker to abolish
This is how we usually behave in our day-to-day lives. For example,
I consider Bob Murphy a good friend. (I must warn you, however,
that when I recently mentioned in public that we were good friends,
Bob wrote asking, "Since when?") Nevertheless, we sometimes
have fierce disputes over theoretical issues. Well, so what? We
are still friends, and we are still able to collaborate in areas
where we agree.
If we were basketball players, I would say that while we may
at times have different philosophies of how to play basketball,
we are still on the same team. The philosophical differences should
not distract us from trying to beat the other fellows.
This embrace of diverse metaphysical bases for anarchism might
lead some people to accuse me of relativism. The suggestion is
slanderous. I don't for a minute contend that all metaphysics
are created equal, or that there is no best worldview. There certainly
is a best worldview: mine.
But I do realize that not all of you agree with me on
everything, at least not at present. (Many of you will
come to see the light. I'm certain of it.) When I go to my butcher
to get a roast, I don't worry about whether he holds the same
view I do of metaphysical dualism. Similarly, when I look for
allies in the fight against the state, their opinion on the doctrine
of transubstantiation is of minor importance to me. (This is not
to belittle the importance of such topics. They are just not important
to the task at hand, be it buying beef or eliminating the state.)
I am more interested in ethical behavior than in ethical systems.
To my way of thinking the system supports, not determines, the
behavior. I applaud any ethical system that leads its followers
away from violence as a means of getting one's way. For instance,
I'm quite in favor of rationalist, objectively correct ethical
systems, particularly since there are so many from which to choose.
But while a dispute over the relative value of these various
systems is worthwhile, that is not how we will reach our goal.
To rid ourselves of the state, we must convince "the Average
Joe." I've met him, and believe me, he has little interest
in the issue of whether there is a synthetic a priori.
What will reach the average person are straightforward examples
of concrete behavior that illuminate the real nature of state
action. We are not trying to convince him to overthrow his whole
worldview and adopt ours. We are alerting him to the fact that
he already has the knowledge, within his existing worldview, that
this sort of thing is wrong.
Jörg Guido Hülsmann has done us a great service by pointing out
the state-generated fog swirling through our language. Theft is
called "asset forfeiture," murder is called "law
enforcement," budget increases are called "cuts in spending."
The mists are necessary to prevent everyone – including those
creating the mists! – from seeing what is really occurring. Our
job is to burn off the fog.
I was talking the other day with a friend, who is something along
the lines of a CATO-type libertarian. He is intensely interested
in politics, but less so in political theory. He asked me about
anarchism. I told him the following tale:
Imagine that you, Dick, Mark, and I go camping. Along the trail,
you, Dick, and I decide to build a lean-to, so that we have
a sheltered spot to rest in on the way down.
"Come help us, Mark," we shout to him.
"No thanks, I'll go on ahead and set up the camp site."
"What do you mean, no I won't?"
"What we mean is, you have to help us. We're the majority.
And, you see, we're prepared to kill you if you don't."
"Not that we want to. At first, we'll just
beat you up a bit. But if you continue to resist, eventually we'll
"Now," I asked my friend, "how is this essentially
different than the Democratic State, supposedly the epitome of
just and fair governance?"
He looked thoughtful and said, "Yeah, it really isn't, is
You see, most people already know that the action of the campers
is wrong. (And we'll never convince the few who don't with any
system.) We don't have to change their whole worldview. We just
have to alert them to the fog that has kept them from seeing that
the state is unjust judged from within their current ethical
Hülsmann shows that it is this fog that keeps the state's legitimacy
generally unquestioned. It creates the illusion that the state
stands apart from ordinary human values and judgments. The state
somehow represents the mystical "will of the people,"
or our "voluntary, collective choices." In a recent
piece Murphy says: