THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 166, March 25, 2002
Anarchy v. Liberty?
by Bill Westmiller
Exclusive to TLE
Anarchists scare me. Not in a personal sense, because all the anarcho- capitalists I know are sweet pussy cats or cuddly teddy bears. Nor in a political sense, because I share nearly all of their anger and disdain for statism. What I fear is their apostolic certainty that No Answer is The Answer to every social question. No authority and no rules will always encourage rational self-interest, good will and beneficial commerce among all humans. Scary!
Anarchy only "works" when it isn't obvious that "governance" is everywhere. Among a small group of people who share the same ethical and cultural norms, isolated from any challenge, the rules can be well known and the authority of the enforcers unquestioned. Such a society is not anarchist, it is governed by an historic and persistent consensus about proper social conduct. It may be the most repressive and oppressive society in the world, but there are no alternatives to compliance. This governance by social ostracism and arbitrary norms, usually religious, is what anarchists must fall back on as the only valid ‘solution' to social problems.
Medieval Iceland is not an example of "anarcho-capitalism". It was a patri-*archy* among a handful of families ruled by Chieftains operating a legal system that even included taxes. It had no need for a common defense, until it was too late to create one. It was a government operated purely on seniority and based on religious dictates that suffered no challenge. Not even David Friedman contends that it was an "anarcho-capitalist" utopia.
Governance does imply broad social interaction. Alone on an island, there is nothing other than self-governance. One must conforming to the dictates of nature in order to survive; but these are rules enforced by the death penalty even in the most minor violation. Even Galt's Gulch was a fictional refuge of individualists who all shared a common philosophy. Rand never considered it an "anarchist utopia" and her non-fictional work surely supports the proposition that -- if it had served the purpose of her story -- she would have described the laws, authority and judicial methods of Galt's Government in the Gulch.
If anarchy is the rejection of rules and authority, on what grounds do anarchists propose a rule of social conduct, such as the "non- initiation principle"? By what authority do they propose to enforce the rule? Who will determine whether a violation has occurred? What resources will society use to establish the guilt of the perpetrator? What rules will be applied to determine just compensation or punishment? Again, No Answer is The Answer: people will work it out.
Dependence on "social pressure" assumes a truly utopian society in which there is not only a total consensus on every rule -- and the propriety of every form of retaliation -- but also a level of knowledge bordering on complete omniscience about the circumstances and the guilt of the perpetrator. Even if were a Galt's Gulch where everyone agreed on the rules, there is no Mount Olympus where Gods can divine and settle every violation.
There are huge benefits to broad social interaction which have been evident to every human being, even prior to recorded history. Hunting in packs works. A large society can afford the specialized talents of warriors, whether they conduct offensive pillage or only defend against the threat of pillage by others. The survivors of early history are those societies that established wise rules and an objective authority that made it possible for large groups to live together. Not that they were peaceful, or even prosperous, but that they survived.
Some modern societies have moved beyond the "might makes right" benefits of social organization to discover that there are enormous benefits, beyond survival, which require broad social interaction. Communication and the benefits of individual accomplishment and innovation exceed by far the value of simple physical survival. Very slowly, humanity is discovering that social organization benefits from freedom and novelty much more than it does from arbitrary conformity and blind obedience. Barbarians will likely survive in the world, probably bent on destruction driven by envy, but liberty is the future of all humanity, because it promises -- and delivers -- both peace and prosperity.
But liberty is a fragile idea, based on an understanding of individual rights and freedom from oppression. Rights are purely ‘proper claims' to ownership, based on the nature of human beings. It's an intellectual concept which requires knowledge of the many lessons of history which demonstrate the benefits of voluntary and cooperative conduct. Rights don't just spring out of documents or fall from the heavens. They are arguments, claims, to ownership of self and the products of both intellectual and physical labor. Bringing them to fruition requires a long and persistent advocacy. Those who defend -- not physically, but through persuasion by their just claims -- the value of liberty for every human being are the advocates: libertarians.
And therein lies my primary fear of anarchy: its equation with libertarianism. The two are not the same and the absence of rules is not the same as the absence of oppression. In fact, liberty requires rules that define ownership and an authority for the resolution of disputes. These conditions are not only required by capitalism, they are also necessary to preserve the freedom to pursue novelties and innovation in all forms of human interaction.
We don't have to wait for a utopian world of universally enlightened self-interest and the omniscient application of justice. Yet, that's what anarchy requires. It is a burden, an impediment and a contradiction to the idea of liberty. If there are no fundamental principles of human conduct which can be imposed through law, prosecution and resolution, then we must cast liberty into the "moral equivalence" pile with tyranny, oppression and socialism.
Anarchy -- the denial of any governing rules for society -- is the enemy of liberty.
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