Libertarian Anarcho-Capitalist Pacifism

From: T
Sent: Tue 7/25/2017 4:08 PM
To: Walter Block
Subject: System of boycott instead of private defense organizations.

Hello Dr. Block, Lately, I’ve been watching a bunch of your videos, most recently the anarchism vs minarchism debate with Jan Helfeld. I know that when we anarchists are confronted with how society would function absent a government, the tendency is to mention these private defense/court organizations followed by the inevitable questioning of how those could potentially work. At the same time, I know that we as anarchists would not seek to force society to be organized through these defense organizations but we just believe that they may pop up spontaneously absent any coercion. Years ago when I was exploring the ramifications of the NAP for myself, I questioned whether force employed by myself (or a defense organization on my behalf) in an effort to achieve justice was initiatory force (and therefore illegitimate) or non-initiatory force (and therefore acceptable). My conclusion for myself was that if the offender was not currently on my property and the offense was not actively in progress then any violence after the fact would be initiatory and for me unacceptable. I know other anarchists disagree and I accept that but still I wanted to see whether I could imagine a system that had some hope of achieving justice but with no violence whatsoever. I believe such a system is possible and will describe in next paragraph and would like your opinion. If such a system is viable then wouldn’t that be preferable for anarchists, even for those who believe defense organization force is justified?

Basically, the way I believe the system could work is based on organized boycott. Here’s an example. Let’s say someone comes to my house and beats me up. I can then go to a private court and prove that he did it. Then, his crime is registered in a reputation system but the court doesn’t set a punishment. Instead, every individual gets to go to the reputation system and say what penalty they believe is fair and who they are willing to boycott until the offender willingly satisfies the penalty. Let’s say everyone says they are willing to boycott all the road companies, water companies, grocery stores, electric companies, gas companies, phone companies, etc. if those companies continue to sell to the offender. 1) So, the offender has a choice, they can lose all their utilities and access to store bought food and can’t leave their property or they can willingly pay the penalty that people are asking. Given no one is self-sustaining these days eventually I think they’d willingly pay the penalty. 2) The businesses also have a choice, they can continue to sell to offenders who haven’t paid their penalties and lose all the business from almost everyone else who has agreed to boycott them if they sell to unpenalized offenders. Given the choice between losing the business of one offender versus everyone else the choice is clear for them to not sell to unpenalized offenders. 3) Everyone else in society also has a choice. They can choose what they think is proper punishment for each type of crime and who they are willing to boycott until the penalty is paid. So, all of this is just based on freedom of association with no violence.

Again, there are hundreds of objections here. What about people registering outrageous penalties? First, after all the reasonable penalties are paid by the offender the businesses may have to decide between maintaining the business of offenders who have paid reasonable penalties versus retaining the business of people who desire outrageous penalties and the number of the latter may be fewer and so their outrageous penalties come back to bite them because now they have to boycott those utilities. Second, everyone’s registered penalties for crimes would be public knowledge in the boycott system. It is then possible for people to boycott other people who start putting in outrageous penalties. Third, while people could register their desires in the boycott system themselves, most likely they would pay a fee to some organization that shares their worldview and that organization would then register a common set of reasonable penalties into the boycott system on behalf of all their subscribers.

One sticky point is for something like abortion where half of society thinks something should be punished and are willing to boycott to make it happen while the other half is willing to boycott anyone who tries to boycott to have abortion punished. This could cause a split where you’d have a set of liberal utilities and a set of conservative utilities and these two groups would be perpetually boycotting each other which in practice perhaps isn’t much different than what we already have. Have you come across this idea before? What do you think? If you got this far, thank you for taking the time to read my email. Regards, T

Dear T: I read every word of your fascinating letter. There is indeed a tradition of pacifism on the part of anarcho-capitalists. My friend Bob Murphy fits this bill. I do not subscribe to it. In my view, yes, a boycott against criminals is justified, but, they also richly deserve that the violence they perpetrated upon their victims be turned against them. To me, justice, in part, consists of making criminals take some of their own medicine. You are quite correct that there are many “sticky points” to this thesis. Another is lack of information. We live in a world of seven plus billion people. If someone commits a crime in, oh, Australia, and goes to live in, oh, Argentina, it will be difficult to boycott him for this reason.


2:48 pm on July 30, 2017