Tuesday, 17 May 2005

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Anarchy

Anarchy is the absence of government and law. Some anarcho-libertarians maintain that anarchy is the only state consistent with liberty, or that if we are to have government at all, it should take the form of private, competing governments. Most, including me, emphatically oppose these positions, arguing that whatever the nominal starting position of such a society, the result is gangsterism en route to something worse.

All that is spoken about by anarcho-capitalist ‘hippies of the right’ about the systems of anarchy amount in this view to no more than wishful thinking about the state of things and the nature of men. Some men. As James Madison said, “If all men were angels no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” But all men ain't angels, hence the need both for goverment and for controls on that government. We call those controls a constitution, just as Madison did.

Government and law then, ideally speaking, exist to protect the individual from physical coercion and from its derivative, fraud; in the absence of government and law there can be no such protection, and no proscribing of coercion in the first place. One cannot rely on spontaneous benevolence to effect a miraculous disappearance of compulsion from human affairs; human beings are volitional, and as such, capable of error and evil, from whose coercive forms it is legitimate to institute protection.

The agency of protection can be likened to a referee, beholden to no particular player, ensuring with scrupulous impartiality that the rules of the game (in this case, no murder, theft, rape, etc) are observed. To advocate anarchy is tantamount to saying that each player may make up his own rules and then enforce them as best he can – by enlisting anyone he chooses, in the case of advocates of private governments – clearly a prescription for the rule of brute force.

The need for an objective, neutral agency to which citizens can repair in the event of force being initiated against them is inescapable. That agency is government; good government is the means by which the retaliatory use of physical force is placed under objective control.

For more on this topic please see The Contradiction in Anarchism by Robert Bidinotto, Freedom vs. Anarchy by Lindsay Perigo, and A Comment on Anarchism by David M. Brown. And just remember what P.J O’Rourke said was the first thing an anarchist would be saying when visiting mid-eighties Beirut: “Uh, more police please.”

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by NZ libertarians. Originally published in The Free Radical. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.