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2007-07-25

Practical anarcho-capitalism

What would anarcho-capitalism look like, if we had it? How would it work? How would we solve all the problems that government now solves for us? It is easy to see how the need met by such things as government postal delivery might be met. It is not so easy to see how defense would be handled, or how we would be protected against tyranny.

Many people love the original Constitutional United States government system because they believe it to be the best system mankind has discovered for protecting liberty. Often you'll see such good patriots attempting to educate today's public about the fact that the U.S. system is not a democracy; it is instead the superior system of a Republic. Of course, in practice our system has been attempting to devolve from republic to democracy, and from there to socialism (did you ever know a Communist nation that didn't like to refer to itself as "The People's Democratic Socialist Republic of [Region]?"). And personally I think the similarities between republic and democracy are greater than their differences. But I do agree that Republican government was a great protection for liberty, and a great check against tyranny.

History has produced a long list of such checks against tyranny:

  • the rule of law

  • Constitutional government

  • law applying to the ruler as well as the ruled

  • democracy

  • republicanism (not the political party, the form of government)

  • separation of powers

  • bills of rights

  • checks and balances


In the end, though, none of these is sufficient to guarantee liberty is never violated. And in fact some of them don't work nearly as well as advertised. And unfortunately many of them get equated with "liberty." Right now we say we want to spread "democracy," and we act as if that means spreading "liberty." The very definition of democracy is actually incompatible with liberty.

Anarcho-capitalism surpasses them all. And what's more, anarcho-capitalism actually is liberty.

I think a Republic was a great advance and a great protection for liberty, but in the end I think it always devolves again into tyranny. I do not believe one government can check itself, even if you have separation of powers. I believe governments can only be checked by the people, or by other governments.

Being checked by the people has always been a part of government's existence, even under tyranny, even since the first raiders rode into a peaceful town and proclaimed themselves kings. The government takes a lot from its people, in the form of liberty and resources. It loudly gives a large portion back in the form of services. They give enough back to keep the people from revolting, and this keeps their power and income sources secure. It's a little more civilized under a Republic, thankfully.

This necessity that government be checked by the people is always the reason for the need for the rights granted by the US second amendment to be secure and absolute. I know a lot of people think the 2nd amendment is about hunting (I used to), or personal defense against local criminals (I used to think that, too), but the reason the founders talked about was the need to protect from the main criminals of history: government.

The second way of checking government is why a Republic is not the greatest hope for human government, and anarcho-capitalism is. Under such a system, every person would have the right to secede from their government, as well as the right to form new governments within the same territory. Noone would have the right to compel anyone to be a citizen of their government; government would be by true contract. If a government became tyrannical to its citizens, they could form a new one (or several) to protect themselves from its depradations. If a government acted tyrannical to those who were not its citizens, they could protect themselves by forming their own government. And this is pretty much exactly what the Declaration of Independence says, that government is an institution with the special purpose of securing rights, and that all people have the right to form such an institution as seems best to them (though I doubt Jefferson envisioned multiple such institutions in the same geographic region).

Noone has the right to do that which is wrong, not even governing officials, and in all history the biggest threat to man's rights has been the government; therefore the most pressing reason to form a government is to protect its citizens from another government. Under our present system government does much which is wrong. As it exists, taxation is simply legalized theft (indeed, the government is simply a group that has a monopoly on breaking laws such as this with impunity), and much of the rest of what governments do is simply legalized slavery. Under a system of anarcho-capitalism this could not be the case. A government's only citizens would be people who had explicitly agreed to its terms, which would include whatever fees the previous citizens or founders had deemed necessary. Governments could actually compete for citizens by trying to offer the best protection for the best price.

People who wanted to keep the existing institution, the United States federal government, could do so. They could support it with their taxes, pledge their allegiance to it and salute its flag, think of it as the greatest country on earth, and everything they want to do now. They just couldn't compel other people to do so, and they'd have to allow their children to make the decision for themselves when they grew up, and they certainly couldn't force everyone who lived in their land after they died to be bound to the same institution for hundreds of years or forever. They'd have to grant everyone else the right to be free.

I'm going to say something you might not have realized anarcho-capitalists believed: we do need government. At least, we need to have our rights protected, and we need to create institutions to do that for the common good. What we don't need is to take away the rights of other people in order to protect that for ourselves. Government as it exists today rests on the premise that you and I cannot protect ourselves unless we force other people to furnish the means and manpower to do it, and to surrender complete allegiance to our system and any decisions it makes as well. This is not true! It might provide some form of protection, but it is inferior to what could be developed in a world of true freedom, it weakens the foundations of society by making us interact together in forced ways rather than those we would naturally choose, and it damages our economy because of the damage to our freedom, resulting in decreased wealth and therefore decreased capacity for the very defense we were trying to achieve, as well as decreased capacity to enjoy the fruit of our labors.

9 comments:

Timotheus said...

OK, here's a scenario. I live on & own a piece of property. I and the owners of every adjacent piece of property, and perhaps others, form a voluntary government (group A) for collective defense of our rights. Over time, the leadership selected for this coalition grows more tyrannical, until I secede. Now, maybe I want to join another group (B) to secure my rights. But I am land-locked by my neighbors in group A. How would B even be able to provide any defense if they are not allowed by group A to cross their property?

A.B. Dada said...

I've always believed that the only reason we utilize 2D transportation (cars, trains, buses) is because of government subsidized roads (via theft). I wouldn't doubt that the market would provide for cheap and efficient family-sized air travel in the event of a dissolution of public roads. I'm not saying that would DEFINITELY happen, but who knows?

Timotheus said...

I wasn't really talking about physical access -- I meant, if our voluntary local government ceases to be voluntary, who's going to stop it from doing what it wants? If it won't "let" me secede, and I'm outgunned, then I'm stuck with it. I bring this up because the post was titled "practical anarcho-capitalism", and I don't think there's anything practical about anarchy -- like ultraheavy chemical elements created in a lab, it cannot exist for more than a very brief time before deteriorating into something else. Someone will fill the coercive void.

Ideally, I guess we have our snake-handling-but-not-poison-drinking Christian commune over here, and our left-handed Vietnamese barber community over there, and the pro-child-molesting NAMBLA group down the road, etc., all living in harmony and respecting each other group's right to exist and self-govern as they see fit, and nobody attempting to annex unaffiliated parties. But who is going to enforce the voluntarism? If nobody does, then the communities will be completely free to become progressively non-voluntary -- and they will -- and you no longer have anarchy. If somebody does take it upon themselves to enforce the voluntary nature of other communities, then they become a de facto state and are themselves exercising authority over those who did not consent to be under it -- again the anarchy has disappeared.

I've seen nothing in human nature or history to make me think that these sort of problems would somehow be self-correcting.

voice said...

Tim, it might help to realize I'm not necessarily talking about governments existing over contiguous regions, like you and all your neighboring houses. Imagine government more like a membership organization.

In fact, imagine if the NRA was an organization you joined not just to lobby for your second amendment rights, but because they are in the business of coming out and helping shoot anybody who wants to take away your guns.

So you pay your membership dues, which are probably far more expensive than they are today, because you're getting a much more expensive service, but you can afford them because nobody else is taxing you for the monopoly defense organization. Every fifth house in your city has an NRA member in it. Now your four neighbors decide to oppress you, and your NRA buddies come out and help you teach your neighbors to respect your rights.

It doesn't guarantee that rights violations never occur. But it does give you the right to collaborate with other like-minded individuals for your protection. And I'm sure you know that in our present environment there are a lot of like-minded individuals on the subject of gun rights. ;)

Rights violations would still occur, just as we have crimes today. But the government would not have a monopoly on prosecuting them, nor would they attempt to assert a monopoly on your right to defend yourself. You wouldn't be able to compel other people to protect you.

Timotheus said...

And when the NRA becomes the oppressor?

voice said...

You found a new one.

Timotheus said...

With more guns?

Timotheus said...

I guess what I'm getting at is that we already have exactly what I think would ultimately result from the system you describe. The vast, vast majority in this country DO consent to be governed by the existing State, and that gives that State the might it needs to immorally force itself on the tiny minority that doesn't consent. Saying "... the government would not have a monopoly on prosecuting [crimes], nor would they attempt to assert a monopoly on your right to defend yourself" is only meaningful if there is enough credible, lasting competition to stop the government if they do attempt to assert such a monopoly. It's difficult to envision that situation being tolerated, ever, anywhere, in any human population of more than a handful of people -- but especially not in this century, in North America.

If we flipped a switch tomorrow, and created all the governmental options you propose, do you really think most anti-gun people would be satisfied knowing that the NRA people are still out there running around loose? Do you think drug warriors are going to satisfied knowing that other people are free to put inflict whatever substances they like on their bodies? Do you think anti-abortion activists are going to be satisfied knowing that there are effectively NO limits on abortion (or even murder of older children, among those who choose not to affiliate with any government that outlaws it)? Will socialists, government employees and entitlement recipients be satisfied with a system where only other socialists are taxed?

Most people are totalitarians at heart, would find a voluntary system unacceptable, and would happily vote and/or pay taxes to kill anyone who seriously threatened the non-voluntary status of the State.

voice said...

Well, I'll wholeheartedly agree with your comment that most people today are totalitarians at heart. But I also believe in the power of the Gospel to make people do right. If I argue for making things as right as they can possibly be, some people will listen, and some things may gradually get better.

I guess the real question your last comment raises is: Is the American revolution, where people rose up and took up arms to defend their liberty and their property and won, a historical anomoly, or something that can happen often? There's a lot of reason to think it's a one-time event; there's been a lot of times such people have lost. On the other hand, the history of guerilla warfare in the twentieth century suggests that people dedicated to fighting government power can in fact succeed, or at least retain a measure of independence.

There are certainly totalitarians. That doesn't mean that there will always be enough of them to win, nor that I shouldn't preach against the sin. Even in the form it usually takes: the average voting Christian American.