The Gentlest of All Political Systems

This interview with Doug Casey isn’t a bad elementary level introduction to anarchism as a political philosophy. Some highlights and minor quibbles:

If people aren’t open-minded enough to even consider an alternative view, they’re their own worst problem, not my ideas. In point of fact, anarchism is the gentlest of all political systems. It contemplates no institutionalized coercion. It’s the watercourse way, where everything is allowed to rise or fall naturally to its own level.

I have a problem with referring to anarchism as “gentle”. That may be true in the sense that anarchism (properly understood) does not advocate oppressing anyone, except aspiring tyrants, buy the label of “gentle” has pacifistic implications which are not necessarily a part of anarchism. As Pareto said, he who becomes a sheep will be devoured by the wolves. If indeed the Zomia region of Asia is a functioning quasi-anarchy, no doubt its success at self-preservation comes in part from the warrior spirit of people such as the Hmong.

An anarchic system is necessarily one of free-market capitalism. Any services that are needed and wanted by people – like the police or the courts – would be provided by entrepreneurs, who’d do it for a profit.

What Casey means by “free market capitalism” is simply a system of voluntary associations, private property, and voluntary exchange of goods, services, and labor. But’s its a propagandistic mistake to call this “capitalism”. The term “capitalism” is automatically identified in most people’s minds with Big Business, Wall Street, and sweat shops, just like “socialism” is identified with the welfare state or Marxism. Sorry, but all of those terms are taken. “Mutualism” is a much better term as it has yet to be identified with other things many people consider to be undesirable. Also, plenty of history’s most successful anarchies or quasi-anarchies, such as the Icelandic Commonwealth or Celtic Ireland, existed for centuries before “capitalism” as we understand it came into being.

Also, I’m not so sure “for profit” police and courts are the best way to go. Why not volunteer militias, civilian posses, and expanded neighborhood watch programs? Turning protection services into businesses is what invites opportunism. Why not courts comprised of volunteer arbiters, professional jurors who work on a part-time basis, individuals from the community selected for their superior qualities? Why not professional judges selected by “monasteries of scholars” organized on the basis of the old Chinese civil service system? The problem with the judiciary today is that judges are either elected politicians or professional bureaucrats appointed by politicians. We anarchists know that, with rare exceptions, politicians and bureaucrats are worthless. So institutions in an anarchic system need to take every precaution to make sure the state does not creep back in through the back door.

Look, I’d be happy enough if the state – which is an instrument of pure coercion, even after you tart it up with the trappings of democracy, a constitution, and what-not – were limited to protecting you from coercion and absolutely nothing more. That would imply a police force to protect you from coercion within its bailiwick. A court system to allow you to adjudicate disputes without resorting to force. And some type of military to protect you from outside predators.

Unfortunately, the government today does everything but these functions – and when it does deign to protect, it does so very poorly. The police are increasingly ineffective at protecting you; they seem to specialize in enforcing arbitrary laws. The courts? They apply arbitrary laws, and you need to be wealthy to use them – although you’re likely to be impoverished by the time you get out of them. And the military hardly defends the country anymore – it’s all over the world creating enemies, generally, of the most backward foreigners.

In a free-market anarchy, the police would likely be subsidiaries of insurance companies, and courts would have to compete with each other based on the speed, fairness, and low cost of their decisions.

Scratch that idea, Doug. As one who has actually been in the insurance business, I can assure everyone that insurance companies don’t give a flying fuck about “speed, fairness, and low costs”. This issue is the main disagreement I have with Hans-Hermann Hoppe, who has more or less argued for “insurance feudalism.”

In any event, there’s no conflict whatsoever between anarchy and the rule of law, since there are private forms of law and governance. That’s what Common Law is all about.

Yes, common law, merchant law, admirality law, Roman private law, canon law, many other examples.

But I never said a truly free, anarchic society would be a utopia; it would simply be a society that emphasizes personal responsibility and doesn’t have any organized institutions of coercion. Perfect harmony is not an option for imperfect human beings. Social order, however, is possible without the state.

What holds society together is not a bunch of strict laws and a brutal police force – it’s basically peer pressure, moral suasion, and social opprobrium. Look at a restaurant. The bills get paid not because anybody is afraid of the police, but for the three reasons I just mentioned.

To be honest, I’d probably pay a lot less bills if there were no police.

If you have people who’ve been brought up to believe that the only limits on what you can or should do is the force exerted by the authorities, it’s no surprise that when the greater power disappears, they reach out to take whatever they want, by force.

That’s clearly the case in Somalia, but it’s also true of the people stranded in New Orleans, who were primarily those with no money to flee – in other words, the inhabitants of government housing projects. It’s not politically correct to point this out, but those people had, on average, a distinctly different culture from that of the average American.

Actually, ex-police states are the most dangerous places – like Russia in the early ’90s, the Congo in the early ’60s, or Haiti today, because they have a culture of repression that’s like a pressure cooker. When the lid comes off, it’s a mess.

Absolutely! This observation also indicates that America will be a very, very messy place when the shit finally hits the fan.

As Pareto’s Law indicates, there’s inevitably a bad element in most places. 80% of folks are truly decent, and 20% are perhaps problematical. And 20% of that 20% are bad apples. You have to have a culture that keeps them hiding under rocks, rather than rising to the top – as they wind up doing quite often in government.

The reaction of a person to the idea of a truly free society is an excellent moral litmus test. The more negative the reaction, the more likely you’re dealing with a sociopath.

I don’t really buy this. It sounds like an anarcho-libertarian version of Adorno’s “authoritarian personality” theory. Also, I’ve encountered plenty of obvious sociopaths in anarchist circles.

It wouldn’t matter any more if a group of people calling themselves Congress went through some rituals that involved a leader putting some ink on some paper and said a violation of your rights was now “legal” than if a witch-doctor told a tribe’s warriors that it was okay to take slaves and sacrifice them to the gods. Laws are just a “civilized” man’s taboos.

Here’s the rub; imagine that the Quebecois decided unanimously that they really didn’t want to be part of Canada anymore but wanted to be an independent, French-speaking country. So they peacefully vote and take their marbles to play their own game. In doing so, they don’t violate anyone’s rights, so there is no moral way the government of Canada can stop them. They could use force, but that would violate the rights of the Quebecois, who would not be hurting anyone. And if the Quebecois could do this, so could Disneyworld, or your neighborhood – or you individually.

There’s no moral way to prevent peaceful secession – but if a state doesn’t prevent secession, it soon disintegrates. People always want to do things differently, and they would if the threat of force from the state didn’t stop them. Brute force – although gussied up with myth, propaganda, and red, white, and blue bunting – is what holds the state together. That force is ugly and corrupting.

Democracy is no solution – it’s just 51% bossing the other 49% around. For God’s sake, Hitler was democratically elected. Democracy is just mob rule dressed up in a coat and tie.

All sensible political philosophers since Plato have agreed with this.

The Mormon Church, for example, exerts a very significant amount of regulation of the private behavior of its members. I’m not a Mormon, of course, but I’ve lived in predominantly Mormon communities, and I have to say they tended to be cleaner, nicer, safer, etc. I’d say the Mormon religion exerts more control over its adherents than any state’s laws have ever exerted over citizens – but those regulated like it. They believe they benefit from it, and most important of all, they are physically free to leave any time they want.

Not so for the state. This is why I’ve said in the past that the state is not a necessary evil but merely necessarily evil.

The Amish and Mennonites provide other examples, although religious communities are entirely too uptight to suit my taste. And UL is a good one too, because people worry that businesses would all turn rapacious if the state weren’t there to regulate them. But electronics producers are not required to get UL seals on their products. They go to the extra expense of meeting UL standards because they know they’ll make more money if their products have the UL seal of approval on them.

Best Western hotels are the same way. Best Western doesn’t own the hotels; it’s largely a private regulatory agency that inspects hotels and gives those that make the grade the right to put a Best Western sign out front, which is worth a lot to a small mom-and-pop joint.

These are essential points. Contrary to what our “leftoid-libertarian” and “anarcho-leftoid” enemies may say, anarchism is neither a free-for-all nor simply an orgy of political correctness.

I’m of the opinion we’d already be living with the technology of Star Trek if it wasn’t for the state slowing things down.

That’s a bit of a reach.

Not a bad interview, all in all.

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