“But that would be ANARCHY!” Implicit in such an outcry is the idea that anarchy is a state of chaotic lawlessness, where murderers, thieves, and rapists (along with other violent criminals) run rampant with no consequences for their aggressive and immoral actions. Without government, it is supposed, moral rules would cease to be followed entirely as society devolved into a “war of all against all”. This nightmare scenario is taught to every young schoolchild throughout their government-run “education”, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is decidedly false. There are many major problems with such a hypothetical situation. As the rest of this article will demonstrate, this fear is instilled in children not because it is true, but because it serves the interests of the state and its benefactors.
To start with, assume for a moment (despite what will be shown later) that this scenario really would occur if the state disappears. It certainly sounds like a horrible scenario. I definitely wouldn’t want my neighborhood dissolving into gunfights and rampant aggression. But there is also a point to be made here. The state doesn’t prevent this! Such a situation is quite common in inner cities under state rule. But why would this exist despite various laws and police enforcement of those laws? The reason for this is simple – state prohibition.
As can be seen by examining the results of alcohol Prohibition under the Volstead Act, we can see that prohibition drives commerce into black markets. Many of these black markets are quite violent, both due to fighting against law enforcement, but also because there is no longer incentives to compete peacefully in the market. (As one is already committing criminal acts that will lead one to imprisonment or worse, violent actions against competitors is simply another crime.) Drug cartels exist because of the state, as does every other large criminal organization including underground gambling.
Further, the greatest violence is not committed by individuals, but by state organizations. A violent-minded individual may have a bomb or a gun to use to perpetrate his crimes. A violent-minded political leader has tanks, jets, and armies at his beck and call. These allow for aggressive war, tyrannical oppression, and outright mass murder. While it may be supposed that government is necessary to protect people from the violence of anarchy, it was governments – not anarchists – that committed the great atrocities of history.
It was not anarchists that perpetrated the Holocaust. They did not impose the South African apartheid regime. It was not anarchists that starved millions of people in the USSR under Stalin. They did not attempt the genocide of Armenians in Turkey. It was not anarchists that killed millions of Chinese in the “Great Leap Forward”. They did not attempt the murder of anyone with education in Cambodia. It was not anarchists that locked Japanese Americans in internment camps. The US government, not anarchists, dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians. It was not anarchists that legalized and enforced slavery and Jim Crow. Governments, not anarchists, started WWI. Anarchists did not practice child sacrifice in South America. It was not anarchists that experiment with syphilis on African-Americans against their will, nor did they intentionally infect Native Americans with smallpox. Anarchists were not behind the Crusades. Nor were anarchists responsible for the Hundred Years’ War. And they did not drive the imperialism and colonialism of the European powers.
If the history of mankind demonstrates anything, it is that the state – any state, whether democratic, dictatorial, or monarchical – presents a dire threat to the freedoms, health, and welfare of its subjects. What it does not demonstrate, in any way whatsoever, is the supposed chaos and disaster that anarchy would mean (according to State-run education systems, of course). In the words of economist Robert Higgs, “Anarchy’s mayhem is wholly conjectural; the state’s mayhem is undeniably, factually horrendous.”
Additionally, there is no reason to believe that the hypothetical “war of all against all” is a reality. For such a scenario to be valid, one has to accept the premise that all moral rules cease to be followed once the threat of punishment disappears. Not only is this unlikely, but it is contradicted by daily experiences and the very stance of the person who worries about this.
When one goes to the grocery store, they don’t pay because the alternative is getting arrested. They pay because they believe stealing is wrong! This is the same reason they don’t assault their neighbor – not because they will be thrown in jail for it, but because they believe it to be immoral. Were all of society to be possessed of violent and aggressive motivations held in check only by the threat of punishment, a small cadre of law enforcement would be utterly unable to maintain order. They would simply be overwhelmed. Society stays civil and peaceful not because of the threat of violent state response, but because of generally accepted moral sentiments.
Of course, one can see this if they look at their own responses. They are not concerned at all with what they will do if anarchy were suddenly to replace government. It’s what their neighbors (especially the ones they aren’t friends with) might do that they worry about. But if the majority of people know they won’t suddenly lose their morality if the government disappears, why do they believe that everyone else will? Such a conclusion is utterly inconsistent with the general sentiments of the people that would be in the situation.
We must admit that, just as now, there would be some individuals that did engage in aggressive acts against others. Eliminating the government will, of course, not eliminate murderers, thieves, and rapists from society. These individuals would still have to be dealt with. However, this does not require government to be a monopoly provider of criminal justice systems. In fact, it can be argued that a free market can provision this service cheaper, more effectively, and more justly.
Competing police agencies would be forced to follow the same moral rules as the rest of society, as well as be funded through voluntary purchases. As a result of working within a market framework, competition would allow consumers to leave ineffective or corrupt agencies behind and such agencies would lose funding. Consumers would be able to choose between varying levels of protection and police action. Aggressive war would be virtually impossible without the taxing power of the state – voluntary payment methods would allow customers to cease payment upon any indication of aggression on the part of their security agencies. Such a system would function more justly, more fairly and with more effectiveness than the geographical monopoly on law and order that is the state.