Robert Ringer’s Strawman Anarchist

by Robert Wenzel Economic Policy Journal

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In a recent post, the self-proclaimed libertarian and NYT best-sellin author, Robert Ringer wrote:

In a perfect world, I’d be an anarchist not only in theory, but in reality.  But the rational side of me tells me that anarchism would open the door to my being victimized by the same criminals who now rule us.  With anarchism, there would be no laws to even slow them down.  That’s why I reluctantly believe that we need laws to protect our lives and property.  Unfortunately, most of today’s laws violate our lives and property. What Ringer has done here is create a strawman libertarian anarchist society, or more specifically, a strawman anarcho-capitalist society. Nowhere do those writing about an anarcho-capitalist society, what I like to call a private property society, suggest that there would be no laws or, more correctly, no basic principles upon which such a society would be based. Indeed, Murray Rothbard wrote an entire book, For A New Liberty, discussing just such principles and how they would exist in a private property society. He begins the book by writing: The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the “nonaggression axiom.” “Aggression” is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion. If no man may aggress against another; if, in short, everyone has the absolute right to be “free” from aggression, then this at once implies that the libertarian stands foursquare for what are generally known as “civil liberties”: the freedom to speak, publish, assemble, and to engage in such “victimless crimes” as pornography, sexual deviation, and prostitution (which the libertarian does not regard as “crimes” at all, since he defines a “crime” as violent invasion of someone else’s person or property). Furthermore, he regards conscription as slavery on a massive scale. And since war, especially modern war, entails the mass slaughter of civilians, the libertarian regards such conflicts as mass murder and therefore totally illegitimate.

How’s that for a start for those who claim anarcho-capitalism doesn’t have any laws or basic principles? The entire idea behind an anarcho-capitalist society is that the society would be based on the non-aggression principle, which would include no monopoly on law enforcement. How Ringer can state that in such a society there would be “no laws to even slow them [criminals] down,” is baffling. The rules are clear, aggression is out. Moreover, as opposed to Ringer’s implication, the people who currently violate the non-aggression principle most frequently are those in government, by enforcing victimless “crimes” laws, taxation and requiring us to follow all kinds of other rules that do little but interfere with our freedom and our private property. An anarcho-capitalist society would eliminate this entire layer of government criminals. A society based on the non-aggression principle and respect for private property is a long way from the picture Ringer paints of a society with criminals running wild. He is amazingly confusing what we have now, with a society that would be much more free and peaceful. As far as Ringer separating an anarchist view in “theory” versus “reality,” Rothbard had this to say: If a theory is correct, then it does work in practice; if it does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory. The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently “impractical,” that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith. To put it more precisely, if an ethical goal violates the nature of man and/or the universe and, therefore, cannot work in practice, then it is a bad ideal and should be dismissed as a goal. If the goal itself violates the nature of man, then it is also a poor idea to work in the direction of that goal. So we must ask Ringer and those who claim that a private property society is good in “theory,” but not “reality,”: Are they thus focused on an unreachable goal? In short, are they in favor of a  theory that can never be achieved, that is, in other words, a goal that is in conflict with the nature of man? Or are they mistaken in their view of man?  Are they mistaken that total liberty is not achievable? Deep thought causes us to reach the conclusion that societies based on the non-aggression principle and a respect for private property results in the societies that have the most freedom, almost by definition, and will also tend to have the highest standards of living. They are beautiful  rich and productive societies. Further, empirical evidence shows us that certain societies, such as early America, have come close to such a goal and thus suggest that it is not out of the reach of man, especially now since giants like Rothbard have explained to us how such a society would operate. That is, thanks to Rothbard, we are not working with some hazy idea, but a well developed framework for a libertarian society and how it would work. It is, therefore, much easier for us to grasp the idea  and move toward it.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

2013 Economic Policy Journal