Being in college, I’ve met plenty of people with some crazy politics, but I’ve only started to learn about their specific ideas or why they have them. Of course they all spout the usual platitudes about helping the poor and promoting equality and maintaining civil order, and always the ol’ “But what would you do about ______?” My answer to this question is, “Ah, yes, the one question everyone likes to ask libertarians. It’s funny no one else has to answer that question, seeing as how they’re the ones who screwed everything up.”
Since their arguments consist entirely of things like this — “But that couldn’t work!," “But how would this work?!," “Libertarianism is just a cruel, greedy, heartless, every-man-for-himself, social-Darwinist philosophy” — I have learned more from contemplating their ideas than from hearing about them. I would like to regale you with some of the ideas two communist friends of mine have. One is a self-described communist, though he is not quite as communist as you’d think. The second calls herself a feminist.
The guy’s objections to freedom seem to revolve around police protection. I’ll try to constrain my rant for the sake of brevity, as Brad Edmonds, Bruce Benson, and Mary Ruwart have already explained why such fears are unfounded. He thinks people would form security companies with guns, bombs, and armies for the sole purpose of robbing the people in the next town over who don’t have as large of an army. People have been doing that for thousands of years, except they didn’t call them companies, they called them governments. No company has ever killed lots of people, and this isn’t because of the supervision of their gracious governments. I had lots of simple refutations of this fear, but I’ll content myself with one: It is humanly impossible to think even a semi-large group of people would voluntarily contribute their own money and bodies to go to “war” against a non-aggressing group without a state involved.
He also thinks the poor in the inner city would simply have no police protection (in stark contrast to their current situation). What about everyone else’s protection against their agents, our elected criminal class, who take our money without hesitation? We literally have no recourse against them, no protection whatsoever. Where is our state-provided police protection? It would be the crime of crimes to protect ourselves against agents of the state who come to take our rightfully earned property to help someone who neither knows nor cares about us, who thinks it is his right. Forgive me if I don’t jump at the chance to have money taken from me instead of giving it voluntarily. Maybe if they were allowed to have their God-given rights, the wealthy and middle class would help the poor to have the basic necessities of life that any civilized member of society deserves. Perhaps if they let it happen, the poor who haven’t enough money for police protection would receive the charity — corporate and individual — that supposedly would not be available in a dark, selfish, greedy, capitalist libertarian world. I, personally, would prefer to do business with security companies that did something to help the poor over companies that didn’t: the good PR alone would boost their business and their stock, enriching me.
Apparently my argument that we already pay for police protection now, somehow, so if we had even more money in an even stronger economy, we could even more easily pay for it, doesn’t convince him. The free market always has and always will make more goods available for more people at lower prices. Yes, police protection would be one of many tough issues a libertarian society would have to deal with, but how about food, water, housing, electricity, schooling, and transportation? Those seem just a tad more basic to me, and the free market has done pretty well with them, where it’s allowed to. Plus, prosperity reduces crime. (And don’t give me that “rich get richer while the poor get poorer” crap. Read this.) But their problem isn’t just doubting that there would be enough money to pay for police protection for everybody; their problem is with the free market, which, as Milton Friedman so aptly noted, underlies “a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
He has other similar objections. They exemplify the alarming misconceptions about libertarianism possessed by young Americans, which I try to combat, in part, by sharing my experiences here. “Oh, if this were a libertarian society, no one would have any water because one person would buy the whole city’s water supply and say, ‘Ah, sucks for you! You want my water? $8 a glass.’ No one could afford it!” “Oh, if this were a libertarian society, there would be no laws, we could just drive on any side of the street, in any direction, whatever!” “Oh, I’m a libertarian, I’m going to go kill babies and animals because there are no laws in a libertarian society!” Obviously, he’s sort of joking, but he could just reword them seriously and present them as his real objections to a free society. It’s sad. I just make fun of him anymore, rather than refuting him.
His main problem is his sort of romantic fondness of the Soviet Union. He has a hammer-and-sickle flag in his apartment, a T-shirt that says “CCCP," and one of them fur hat-type dealies he bought from bornintheussr.com. Ushankas, I think they’re called. I think he just likes the camaraderie, the hardiness, the nationalism of the Soviets, the loyalty to Great Mother Russia when they were an evil empire.
The girl is a slightly more interesting case. She does not call herself a communist or a socialist, but something she said identifies her as one. My roommates, several friends, and I were in our living room watching a Georgia away game together, her and the communist included. Somehow the topic of shooting intruders in self-defense came up, and the aforementioned communist easily agreed that people have every right to shoot anyone who breaks into their home or business. (See? He has more common sense than you’d think.) This liberal feminist, on the other hand, said — are you ready? — that we have a right to defend ourselves if our lives are in danger, but we have no right to use force to protect our property. I guess this also includes the threat of force. It would have to, logically. We would be unable prevent someone from breaking and entering with no weapons, since she would say no gun owner could claim a threat to his life from an unarmed intruder. Then again, her solution would undoubtedly be to remove all guns from society, excluding the government, of course, so that would get rid of all violent crime altogether, right?
I was taken aback by this. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t think anyone could think one but not the other. We can defend our bodies, but not what we earn and produce with our bodies? This is what passes for logic among college students? This is the level of understanding of civics, society, politics, and property possessed by young American adults who can vote?
So to whom does it fall to protect private property, defend against criminals, punish perpetrators? I guess that’s the almighty, omniscient government’s job. If she had read the wonderful, beautiful, short treatise on government that I recommend to everyone who will listen, Bastiat’s The Law, she would not have such dangerous ideas contaminating her otherwise robust mind.
In The Law, Bastiat explains how the law (government) “is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.” The government is not some extraneous entity that graciously watches over us like a lord or a god and rights what it thinks is wrong. It is not outside society, apart from us. Rather, the government — or whatever name is given to a society’s system of property protection — is an extension of each citizen. (And by “lawful,” he of course means abiding by the moral, human laws given to us by our creator, the ones that are engrained into the universe, not the ones that corrupt men in legislatures wrote.) “Each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two. For what are our faculties but the extension of our individuality? And what is property but an extension of our faculties?”
But why do we have these innate rights? Why is the protection of one dependent on the other two? This paragraph sums it up nicely: “Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” This might very well be my favorite political quote of all time. I feel I must stop with The Law before I get carried away and just quote the entire pamphlet.
By separating possession of property (an individual function) from protection of property (a state function), her notion separates the state from the society, which isn’t entirely surprising since the state and society are incompatible and mutually exclusive.
Under this type of state, assuming we still have the rights to own and acquire property, why do we have them? Why do life, liberty, and property supposedly exist? Because the state “protects” them. Because it gives them to us. Because it says so. Which means it can say not. It can take them away. The logic is clear to me, but if you don’t see that it follows logically, it certainly follows realistically, that if the government is the supreme protector and arbiter of “our” property, then it will eventually become the owner of “our” property. It is easy to grasp how easily and naturally a government that is granted extra-societal status will soon begin to follow extra-societal rules, i.e., rules it makes up on its own. These rules are, by definition, different from our innate, individual human laws. This means it can and will do things we individually cannot do. In doing so, it violates the very rights it was created to protect! This is why the state and civilization are mutually exclusive. Where one exists, the other must not exist.
Even if not one of its subjects nor the elected and unelected criminals in the government realizes this, it will happen. Rights will be violated, little by little, intentionally and unintentionally. It has happened in every human society that ever existed, and will happen in every one that exists for a considerable time into the future, until people slowly get it right. Maybe one of God’s tests for us is to achieve an entirely stateless human universe, to eliminate coercive government altogether. We will definitely be settled on moons and planets in other solar systems before that happens, if we can survive that long. If not, I think we’ll know what to blame.
What my friend and millions of other leftists do not understand is that if our intrinsic right to defend our property is not recognized, then our rights to own and acquire property become equally unrecognized. If this communist policy of hers were enacted, then no, our rights to our current and future property would not magically vanish in practice as they do in logic; they would, rather, become steadily less and less recognized and thus less and less allowed, until the state’s position as our lord and master were so engrained into the minds of its subjects that private property rights of any kind would become unrecognized. This is precisely the essence of any communist state. The state will always grow, by its nature, no matter what you do. If you make it not only legitimate but necessary that the state be large and powerful, then its growth is thereby accelerated greatly.
Just as the government would no longer be an extension of society, our property could no longer be considered an extension of ourselves. The one necessarily implies the other. This is because government (just government) is the protection of property. By taking away our supreme rights to what we own, the state would be taking away what we have produced, which are the fruits of our labor, which is, in effect, our labor itself, which means it would be taking away what we have done — our past. Our past actions are part of ourselves, and no person or entity can claim a part of another person’s life. But this is what an inability to protect our property amounts to. It is not always easy to see, and less easy to elucidate, but it is true nonetheless.
I know her solution to the problem of unbounded state power is, “Well, if we could just elect enough Democrats, or the right Democrats, and not such a large proportion of them men, who are violent and aggressive by nature, then our gracious government would protect us justly, as it should.” Yeah, right. Typical leftist anti-realism, which unfortunately has been exhibited by the leftists in that other party an awful lot, too.
I will probably never know what leads her and other communists to think self-defense does not include defense of property. It isn’t a lack of exposure to libertarian literature such as The Law, because I have thought shooting intruders was not only a right but a noble service to society ever since I was a child. It isn’t hubris, envy, or scapegoating, which are the root causes of all evil acts ever committed. Now, it is certainly hubris that leads one to think that a government that is both powerful and just isn’t a metaphysical impossibility, and that a powerful government run only by liberal feminist Democrats would both do what she wants and engineer the economy and society to something resembling harmony or prosperity. But it doesn’t explain why she thinks we don’t have a right to injure or kill someone who is forcefully taking our property. Maybe there is no root psychological reason. Some people are just wrong about things, and only the observation of the harmfulness of their ideas put into practice can make them see that. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
March 10, 2004