If Two Men Go Into the Woods Without a Police Officer, How Many Will Come Out Alive?

Recently by Mark R. Crovelli: Cops Should Act Like Firemen in a FreeSociety

A few weeks ago, I was lounging on the edge of a beautiful corn field in Eastern Colorado having one of the most interesting conversations of my entire life, although I didn't realize it at the time. My friends and I were in the field that day in the hope of doing some dove hunting, but there were virtually no birds flying. As a consequence, I was sprawled out in the hot grass with my shotgun tossed out in the dirt. My friends and their shotguns were similarly situated, which left us completely unprepared for the two or three birds that did show up.

We had plenty of time to chat, since there was nothing to shoot at, so I eventually managed to bring the conversation around to anarchism, as is my habit. A few of them were not aware that I am an incorrigible anarchist, so I took the opportunity to explain to them why I think free-market anarchism is ethically and economically superior to every other conceivable social arrangement.

Their response to my arguments, unsurprisingly, appealed to the Hobbesian idea that men would act like barbarians or beasts in the absence of government. Without cops, everyone would be running around robbing, raping and killing one another until the species died out completely.

Now, setting aside the fact that anarchism does not imply an absence of law or defense, and setting aside the fact that Hobbes' ideas about the state of nature are completely ridiculous, just consider how interesting their claim was in that particular situation. Five armed men sitting in a field dozens and dozens of miles from a police officer having a civil chat about anarchism without any one of us trying to rape, rob or kill any of the others is a rather remarkable thing if Thomas Hobbes is right about human nature. Equally interesting is the fact that none of us feared or even contemplated the possibility of being raped, robbed or killed by anyone out there in the wilds of the Colorado plains that day. Like Coloradoans of the 19th century, we met scores of armed men over the course of the day, none of which we personally knew, and yet it never even crossed any of our minds to be concerned for our chastity, our wealth or our lives.

What is more, none of my friends grew fearful when they learned that I was an anarchist. If Thomas Hobbes is right that men are wolves, one would think that my friends would have sprung to their feet, seized their shotguns, and slowly backed out of the field upon learning that there was a man who despises government in their midst. If government is necessary to keep men from butchering one another, then how could my friends have ever turned their backs on a savage like me who despises cops, detests politicians, and thinks government judges are below contempt? How could such a man ever be trusted – especially out on the lawless plains of Colorado, where cops are about as scarce as doves were that day?

Yet, my friends did not bat an eye when they discovered I am an anarchist. It's true that they found it intellectually startling, but we all nevertheless continued to laze and chat in the hot prairie grass, sipping cold beer and looking for birds that never arrived.

This situation starkly illuminates the fact that Thomas Hobbes is wrong about human nature, and he is wrong about what keeps men from robbing, raping, or killing one another. It is simply absurd to think that what keeps thousands of heavily armed men on the Colorado prairie from raping or killing one another is fear of some hick police officer fifty miles away eating grits in a diner, or fear of the politicians in the Colorado State Capital Building who are busy writing legislation to pad union pension plans. What keeps the men on the Colorado prairie from raping and killing one another is the fact that men are by nature cooperative and peaceful, for the most part. If this were not so, no quantity of hick cops and corrupt politicians could possibly keep the hoards of armed men on the Colorado prairie from butchering one another.

Defenders of government, including Thomas Hobbes himself, seem to intuitively understand this, because they intentionally avoid talking about real government actors. They talk about government only in the most abstract terms, as if they know instinctively that their argument would be transparently absurd if they allowed real cops and real politicians into the debate.

They use terms like "government," "police," and "courts" only in the most abstract and evasive sense. They never point to real politicians and say things like "Man, without that Nancy Pelosi in Washington telling us what to do, we would all be raping and killing one another." They never point to real police officers and say things like "Well, it's pretty obvious that without Larry – he's the heavy-set guy in the blue costume with the mustache eating grits over there – you and I would probably be fighting to the death right now." And they never point to real government courts and say things like "You have to admit, Mark, that the judgments handed down by government courts in Colorado are always as fair and just as can be humanly imagined. No judicial arrangement could ever be better than what we have right now."

If you live in a city, as I do, and you are surrounded by cops giving speeding tickets, government teachers "educating" your children, government regulators with their hands on the throat of your business, and slimy politicians hassling you for your vote, it is understandable that you might come to accept and rationalize the existence of these parasites. They are so deeply embedded in the life of the modern American city that it almost seems impossible to conceive of life without them.

That's why it is so important for a man's mind to get out of the city from time to time with a posse of his friends carrying guns. There is nothing more freeing than sitting in hot prairie dirt with a shotgun and a cold beer hundreds of miles away from smarmy politicians, government teachers, corrupt cops and judges, and, worst of all, tax collectors. It's not just the sense of physical liberation that this engenders, but the mental freedom that comes with it. To be able to look back at the tax collectors, politicians and cops with a free mind and ask whether such parasites are even necessary is a spectacular thing.

Give it a try, and see if it doesn't make you an incorrigible anarchist too.