Anarchism and Libertarian Ideology


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The following is the first half (roughly) of an article I wrote in 1996 for my own amusement. If there is sufficient interest in the topics discussed here, I may post the second half.

This is largely a conceptual analysis, not a defense of anarchism per se. I would appreciate it if commentators would address one or more of the many topics covered here and not digress too much into the shopworn controversy of which is more "rational," anarchism or limited government. That is a controversy that I have addressed elsewhere, but not here.

My original formatting, such as italics, does not appear in this version. Moreover, as with all of the dozens of unpublished articles that I have written to clarify my own thinking, I did not pay a lot of attention to editorial details, so expect a certain number of typos, dropped words, etc.

Permission to post this article on other websites, whether in whole or in part, is granted, provided proper credit is given. - Ghs

ANARCHISM AND LIBERTARIAN IDEOLOGY

by George H. Smith

1/16/96

A certain heathen came to [Rabbi Hillel] and said to him:

Convert me provided that you teach me the entire Torah

while I stand on one foot.

Hillel said to him:

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor:

that is the entire Torah;

the rest is commentary;

go and learn it.

I

Anarchy, Anarchism, Anarchists

Anarchy is an important theme in modern political thought, though rarely is it discussed or defended as a credible theory of justice and social order. More often than not anarchy has functioned as the political equivalent of hell, a model of unending and unendurable social agony - a perpetual war of every man against every man, as Thomas Hobbes put it in his famous account of the anarchistic state of nature.

Most political philosophers react to the prospect of anarchy with theatrical horror, but they love to talk about it. Indeed, it is indispensable to their discipline, political theory, which historically has been little more than a sustained effort to justify political power in some form or other. Anarchy is to political philosophers what original sin is to Calvinists: the ultimate evil, at once fascinating and repellent. Anarchy, we are told, is so terrible, so destructive, that virtually any kind of government, however brutal or despotic, is preferable to the social poison of anarchy.

Every reader is aware of the cultural and linguistic prejudice against "anarchy," "anarchism," and "anarchists." Many years ago I discussed similar myths about "atheism" and "atheists" in my book, Atheism: The Case Against God. It is necessary to clear the air of myths and misconceptions about controversial terms before we can hope to discuss them reasonably, so I will begin by clarifying key concepts.

Note that I refer to concepts, not to words, which are merely the concrete symbols of concepts. This is important because dictionaries commonly assign the word "anarchy" to at least two different concepts: "1. Absence of any form of political authority. 2. Political disorder and confusion." (The American Heritage Dictionary.) Because these two concepts are attached to the word "anarchy," many people assume that the concepts themselves are identical and interchangeable. Most people cannot conceive of social order without government - they lack the appropriate concept-so they presume that "anarchy" always means "chaos," "violence," and the like.

This helps to explain how the opponents of "anarchy" respond to an uncomfortable fact, namely, that governments themselves are the greatest perpetrators of chaos and violence. To this we are told that bad governments, or governments badly administered, tend to degenerate into "anarchy." (This confusion goes back at least to Aristotle.) Thus we have two radically different concepts--"society without government" and "society with a bad government"-- which have been united by the same linguistic symbol, the same hellish word: "anarchy."

A similar fate has befallen the term "atheism." Many people cannot conceive of morality without God, so they presume that the atheist is necessarily immoral. For centuries philosophers and theologians routinely used labels like "moral monster" to describe the atheist. Not until the late seventeenth century was this presumption effectively challenged by the French scholar and freethinker Pierre Bayle and, a few decades later, by the British philosopher Shaftesbury.

Similarly, I believe that libertarians should rehabilitate the concepts "anarchy," "anarchism," and "anarchist." This is important even for libertarians who do not call themselves, or consider themselves to be, anarchists. Most libertarians, whether they realize it or not, have adopted an anarchistic perspective, however much they may profess to believe in minimal government. This much is certain: When the libertarian "minarchist" (a felicitous label coined by Sam Konkin) calls for minimal government, that government is minimal indeed - so much so as to be virtually unrecognizable as "government" in any historical or conventional sense of the word.

For example, Ayn Rand, who is revered by many minarchists for her repudiation of anarchism, expressly rejects coercive taxation as a proper function of government and calls instead for voluntary financing, as we now pay for insurance. A similar proposal for "voluntary taxation" was defended in the nineteenth century by the English libertarian Auberon Herbert, a disciple of Herbert Spencer. Herbert's plan was rejected by the minarchist Spencer, who regarded it as anarchistic, but it was repeatedly cited and praised by contemporary anarchists (e.g., Benjamin Tucker), who regarded Herbert as one of them, in substance if not in name. We have the same problem with Ayn Rand and her "principle of voluntary government financing." This is essentially an anarchistic proposal, as everyone on the political spectrum, from Locke to Jefferson to Marx and Mises, well knew. The sovereign right of taxation has often been referred to (e.g., by Hamilton in The Federalist Papers) as the very life-blood of government. The notion of "voluntary taxation" is an oxymoron at best and a contradiction in terms at worst. A "government" without the power to tax is a government in name only. Ayn Rand and her minarchist followers, therefore, are nominal governmentalists; they apply the name of "government" to a totally voluntary system which is indistinguishable, historically and theoretically, from anarchism.

Such confusion over the meanings of "anarchy," "government" and related words are nothing new to political thought. The pluralistic legal system of medieval Europe was dubbed "feudal anarchy" by Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith and others, because it lacked the sovereign territorial ruler of the modern nation-State. Today many historians claim that we cannot properly apply the term "State" to the medieval system, though we can speak of "government." (In the 14th century, Marsilius of Padua, a champion of temporal sovereignty, attacked the notion of plural governments in a manner that is similar to Ayn Rand's polemic against "competing governments.") In the seventeenth century, the theory of "limited sovereignty" (such as defended by John Locke) was repeatedly assailed as anarchistic by defenders of absolutism. A similar charge was made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries against the "republican" defenders of inalienable rights, social contract, and the rights of resistance and revolution. Edmund Burke called the French Declaration of Rights the "Digest of Anarchy," while Jeremy Bentham assailed natural rights as "anarchical fallacies."

More often than not "anarchist" has been used as a term of opprobrium, a smear word to discredit one's political opponents. Consequently, even the most radical of individualists have turned intellectual somersaults to avoid this loathsome label. Consider the case of Thomas Hodgskin (a mentor to Herbert Spencer) who advocated everything from private roads to private protection agencies. Around 1850, while editor of The Economist, Hodgskin published an interesting piece titled "Is Laissez-Faire Anarchy?" According to Hodgskin, the word "anarchy" means "without law." (In fact, the Greek anarkhia is normally transliterated as "without a ruler".) But consistent advocates of laissez-faire, far from opposing law, are firm believers in the "natural laws" of society, such as the laws of economics. Indeed, they wish to replace the artificial laws of government with these natural laws, thereby instituting a free society. Therefore, argues Hodgskin, laissez-faire is not anarchy - because anarchists believe in the rule of natural law.

How seriously should we take this exhibition of conceptual gymnastics? Hodgskin, who favors abolishing all governmental laws, insists that he is not an anarchist, because he favors the "rule" of natural law. I suspect that Hodgskin framed this argument with tongue in cheek, as a kind of private joke on the respectable, middle-class readers of The Economist. Or perhaps he wanted to provide sympathetic readers with some intellectual ammunition, so they could answer the common argument that laissez-faire is "economic anarchy" (which it is, by the way). Whatever his motive for rejecting "anarchy," Hodgskin's argument about replacing the artificial laws of government with the natural laws of society (which he saw as an application of Adam Smith's "invisible hand" to the political sphere) is the bedrock for virtually every kind of anarchism, past and present. If Hodgskin's ideas do not qualify as anarchism, then nothing does, and no true anarchist has ever existed.

II

Definitions

The word "anarchy" refers to a kind of society: a society without government, or State. (I discuss various distinctions between "government" and "State" below; for now I use them interchangeably.) This is a description, not an evaluation. To describe a society as "anarchistic" means that social order exists in some fashion and to some degree without government, for this is implicit in the meaning of "society," but it does not tell us anything more specific. An anarchistic society may be primitive or advanced, violent or peaceful, just or unjust, desirable or undesirable. The anarchist does not endorse every manifestation of anarchy, just as the governmentalist does not endorse every kind of government.

To determine the nature of a good anarchistic society is the business of anarchism, which is a theory of social order without government. This distinction between anarchy and anarchism is crucial. The former denotes a society, any society, without a State, whether good or bad. The latter denotes a particular point of view - a defense and justification of the good society which includes, as a fundamental precondition, the absence of a State. As stated previously, not every form of anarchy is acceptable to the advocate of anarchism, any more than every kind of government is acceptable to the advocate of government. To eliminate government may remove a major source of injustice and violence in society, but this does not mean that justice and social order will automatically fill the void. In other words, anarchism regards the absence of government as a necessary condition for a good society, but not as a sufficient condition.

To summarize: "anarchy" is a negative term that refers to a social condition - the absence of government. Anarchism," in contrast, is a positive term - a theory of justice and social order that rejects government for moral, economic, religious and/or social reasons. Anarchism is a theory about what ought to be, not merely a statement about what is.

Having discussed "anarchy" and "anarchism," we can now approach the meaning of "anarchist," the third term of our trinity. As indicated previously, the anarchist, qua social philosopher, subscribes to a theory of anarchism, but he does not necessarily endorse all types of anarchy. The rejection of government is not a premise from which the anarchist begins; it is a conclusion based on various ideas about human nature, moral values, social order, institutions, and political power. The label "anarchist" refers to a person who rejects government, but it does not indicate why a person rejects government, nor does it specify what the anarchist means by "government," nor does it suggest what an anarchistic society would look like (its values, institutions, and so forth), nor does it indicate how or when an anarchistic society can be brought about (if at all). Many variables and permutations are involved here, which lead to radically different kinds of anarchism.

III

State and Government

If the anarchist desires a society without a State, then he must explain the meaning of "State" if we are to understand the meaning of "anarchy." If we don't have a State, then (to borrow a phrase from Antony Flew) precisely what have we not got? This question is essential to any discussion of anarchism.

The word "State" derives from the Latin status, meaning condition, situation or way of existence. Beginning in the twelfth century, a kingship was called the status regis. This "condition of the king" originally referred to his private possessions and fortune, but it was eventually expanded to include his functions and power.

Beginning in the fourteenth century, status (state in English, stato in Italian) were used as synonyms for power, rule, and governance. When medieval writers wished to express what we mean (roughly) by state, they used the words regnum (kingdom) and respublica ("that which is public"). Not until the end of the fifteenth century do we find State used in the modern sense as an abstract body of government and laws. Many scholars mention Machiavelli as a key figure in this transition.

Max Weber maintains that we cannot define the State in terms of its ends, or what it attempts to do, because virtually every task has been undertaken by a State at one time or another, and no one task has ever been pursued exclusively by the State. "Ultimately, one can define the modern State sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force." (77-8) Weber is careful to point out that force is not the only method employed by States, but force is their distinctive mode of operation. Hence:

[W]e have to say the a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that 'territory' is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the `right' to use violence. (78)

Weber's account is meant to apply to the political organization known as the modern State, or nation-State. This originated in the later Middle Ages, as centralized monarchies grew at the expense of church, nobility, and other corporate groups, until the absolutist State emerged victorious in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. That era witnessed the philosophic development of sovereignty as the essential characteristic of the State, and the meaning of sovereignty is covered in Weber's definition. In the words of A. P. d'Entreves, "the problem of the birth of the modern State is no other than the problem of the rise and final acceptance of the concept of sovereignty."

The State is the legal sovereign of a territory. "Legal" refers to the realm of legitimate coercion. "Sovereign" refers to an ultimate judge or arbiter. "Territory" refers to a geographical area. Hence the "State" is the ultimate judge and enforcer of legitimate coercion within a given geographical area. The State renders the final verdict on the legitimate use of violence and executes that verdict.

If a society lacks a State, does this also mean that it has no government? Are "State" and "government" interchangeable terms? We can address this issue by outlining three possible distinctions between the two concepts.

(1) Max Weber identifies two kinds of political organizations. The first, which I shall call government, is the more general of the two. A government is an administrative staff which continuously employs physical force, or the threat of force, in a given territorial area - but which does not necessarily claim or uphold a monopoly of legitimate force. This typology treats government as the genus, or general class, of political organizations, while the State is classified as a species, or type, of government - namely, one that "successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order." [Weber,I, 54]

Weber's distinction between government and State is based on the criterion of sovereignty. A State is a coercive monopoly, whereas a government is not. Both kinds of political association claim the right to use legitimate violence, but only the State claims this right exclusively. When Weber says that the State "claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force" this does not mean that the State is the only social institution that can use legitimate violence in society; but other institutions do so only with the sanction of the State, and they are answerable to the State for their activities. "Monopoly," therefore, does not refer primarily to the use of legitimate violence, but to the ultimate right to decide when violence is and is not legitimate. This is the essence of political sovereignty.

(2) According to Robert Bierstadt, the State is an institution (i.e., an abstract system of norms, procedures, and roles), whereas a government is a particular association (i.e., an organized group of people). In this sense, we may say that the American State was established by the Constitution and has existed continuously since its ratification. Within the framework of this State, however, various governments have come and gone, as different ruling associations have been elected or appointed according to Constitutional procedures. In this view, a government (an association) is the flesh-and-blood manifestation of a State (an institution).

(3) Albert Jay Nock, in Our Enemy, the State, discusses "two distinct types of political organization." Government is formed for the purpose of protecting individuals from fraud, theft, assault, murder, and the like. The State, in contrast, is a predatory institution, rooted in conquest and plunder, whereby one class (the rulers) systematically exploits another class (the ruled).

According to Nock, Thomas Jefferson was confused when he claimed that various Indian tribes were able to maintain a high degree of social order "without government," as was Herbert Spencer when he pointed to various societies that have no "definite government." Nock claims that all such communities, though they may lack a State, do nonetheless have a governmental mechanism to protect members and adjudicate disputes. No society can subsist without government.

Of these three distinctions between State and government, that of Nock - who was heavily influenced by Franz Oppenheimer - is the least plausible. For Nock, government and State are not just different, they are diametrically opposed in terms of their functions and basic purpose. A State cannot be a government, and a government cannot be a State. This is a forced and artificial distinction. As an analytic tool, it has little or no value. As a conceptual model for historical investigation (or ideal type, to use Max Weber's term), it is equally barren.

Nock believes that government is morally justifiable, but not the State. Since Nock was a self-professed anarchist, this implies that belief in "government" is compatible with anarchism. This is a strange and paradoxical assertion, to say the least. True, we sometimes speak of the "governing body" of a social institution, e.g., the board of directors for a private corporation. But to call this a "government" is highly misleading. Jefferson was quite correct when he observed that some Indian communities were anarchistic. I cannot here discuss his thinking on this subject, except to point out that Jefferson was keenly aware of the difference between social institutions and political institutions. Social institutions are based on the voluntary reciprocity of equal rights, whereas political institutions are based on the domination and subordination of unequal rights.

Whatever conceptual distinction we may wish to draw between government and State, we must always remember that both are political institutions. Governments, even if they seek to protect rights, always claim a privileged status; they relegate certain rights and powers exclusively to themselves, while denying them, by force of law, to everyone else. Both governments and States operate by the political method of domination and subordination, not by the social principle of reciprocity. This was well known to Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Herbert Spencer, and to many others in their tradition.

In addition to Nock, we briefly examined two other distinctions between State and government. (For the sake of convenience, I have associated these with Weber and Bierstadt, although similar distinctions have been made by others.) In Weber's scheme, the State is an institution which claims a rightful monopoly to decide all matters involving legitimate coercion. Government is an institution that claims the right to exercise political power (legitimate violence), but does not necessarily claim this as an exclusive (sovereign) right. For Bierstadt, the State is an institutional structure of laws, procedures, etc., whereas government is a concrete association of people who work within the institutional framework of the State.

Both of these distinctions are suggestive and useful, depending on the context in which they are applied. Weber's model is especially fruitful in historical investigations, where his ideal types enable us to trace the modern development of State sovereignty, in contrast to the legal pluralism of medieval governments. Bierstadt's model, on the other hand, is more helpful in sociological analysis.

Little or no distinction is usually made between the meanings of "State" and "government" in everyday usage. This can cause problems for the social theorist who needs to draw an important technical distinction that is not reflected in the conventional meaning of words. Some sociologists, most notably Talcott Parsons, seek refuge in technical, pretentious jargon - partly because they don't know how to write good prose, partly because they want to appear "scientific," and partly because there is no other way to express muddled thoughts except in muddled language. Other sociologists, such as Weber and Bierstadt, have an abiding philosophic respect for ideas and their clear embodiment in language, so they formulate technical (or "precising") definitions for ordinary words. Rather than coin new words, they seek to render ordinary words more precise for the purpose of technical analysis. This is unobjectionable (indeed, necessary) so long as the technical definition remains within the general parameters of conventional meaning. Different technical definitions, such as the distinction between State and government, can be equally valid in different contexts, if they yield significant conceptual insights, suggestions, and refinements. The distinctions of Weber and Bierstadt, in my judgment, pass this test.

Where does this leave our investigation of anarchism? Does anarchism oppose the State alone, owing to its pretensions of sovereignty, or does it repudiate all political institutions? Here, of course, we risk lapsing into an endless debate about the meaning of "political." When Aristotle asserted that man is by nature a political animal, he was thinking of the Greek polis, which was far broader than what we understand by "government" or "politics." In some respects the meaning of polis is similar to the English word "society," since the polis included all public institutions, whether familial, religious, educational, recreational, or governmental. Hence, where Aristotle says "political," later Aristotelians frequently added or substituted "social" - and this "natural sociability of man" became a mainstay of individualist thought.

Earlier I drew a common distinction between two kinds of institutions, social and political. (This schema is reflected in the bipolar titles of many libertarian classics: Man Versus the State, Our Enemy the State, The Natural and Artificial Rights of Property Contrasted, Nationalism and Culture, Freedom and Domination, etc.) Given this distinction, into which category shall we place the "private protection agencies" that have been proposed by free-market anarchists (beginning in the nineteenth century) as a substitute for the governmental protection of rights? Are these agencies social or political? Since they claim to use legitimate force against violent aggressors, they seem to be quasi-political. But such agencies claim no superior or exclusive power over individuals. They function instead as agents for those individuals who have expressly and voluntarily delegated their natural right of self-defense. In this respect private protection agencies differ not at all from other social institutions.

A solution to problems like this was suggested by John Locke, Thomas Paine and other social contract philosophers who discuss civil society - a third type of association that stands midway between the purely social (the unorganized "state of nature") and the purely political (government). A civil society is formed by the unanimous consent of its members, who associate to protect and enforce their natural rights. This primary "social contract," which is logically prior to the formation of government, establishes a common set of rules and procedures through the voluntary cooperation of every participant. And though the early social contract philosophers tended to view civil society as a mere stepping-stone to government, their theory that voluntary civil associations (or "intermediate institutions") were possible without government proved highly suggestive to later anarchist thinkers, who argued that civil associations are sufficient by themselves to maintain justice and social order. Indeed, government, by violating the principle of voluntary interaction, actually disrupts the natural order and harmony of interests in civil society. (This anarchistic twist owed much to the development of spontaneous order theory, especially in the works of Adam Smith and Thomas Paine. More than a few nineteenth-century anarchists acknowledged their debt to both men.)

Any number of problems - and pseudo-problems - can be generated from rubber words like "political" and "social." (For example: Is anarchism properly described as a political theory or is it an anti-political theory?) A coherent and systematic theory of anarchism is based on a key-cluster of ideas - rights, property, coercion, and the like - so the anarchist, in his role as a philosopher of anarchism, must undertake a careful analysis of the ideas that constitute his own ideology. This may not, and probably will not, significantly influence public opinion, but it may stimulate interest, originality, and creativity among serious students of liberty.

[To be continued, maybe]

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Note that I refer to concepts, not to words, which are merely the concrete symbols of concepts. This is important because dictionaries commonly assign the word "anarchy" to at least two different concepts: "1. Absence of any form of political authority. 2. Political disorder and confusion." (The American Heritage Dictionary.) Because these two concepts are attached to the word "anarchy," many people assume that the concepts themselves are identical and interchangeable. Most people cannot conceive of social order without government - they lack the appropriate concept-so they presume that "anarchy" always means "chaos," "violence," and the like.

The fact that the common use of 'anarchy' is usually like "2. Political disorder and confusion" should make people who want to further the idea of limited government avoid this term. It would make more sense to find another formulation without the common connotations and build on that, IMO.

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Note that I refer to concepts, not to words, which are merely the concrete symbols of concepts. This is important because dictionaries commonly assign the word "anarchy" to at least two different concepts: "1. Absence of any form of political authority. 2. Political disorder and confusion." (The American Heritage Dictionary.) Because these two concepts are attached to the word "anarchy," many people assume that the concepts themselves are identical and interchangeable. Most people cannot conceive of social order without government - they lack the appropriate concept-so they presume that "anarchy" always means "chaos," "violence," and the like.

The fact that the common use of 'anarchy' is usually like "2. Political disorder and confusion" should make people who want to further the idea of limited government avoid this term. It would make more sense to find another formulation without the common connotations and build on that, IMO.

It would make no sense in the first place for someone who wishes "to further the idea of limited government" to refer to himself as an anarchist.

I almost never have occasion to use the word in normal conversations. I simply call myself a "libertarian." For the most part, it is only when I am discussing political theory with other libertarians (or with philosophically-inclined people) that the word even comes up.

But when the occasion is appropriate, I don't avoid the word. If another label is used, one will be asked what it means; and upon explaining what it means, the response will usually be, "Oh, you're an anarchist."

As I suggested in the passage you quote, it's not only the word per se that causes problems, but the concept of a society without government. For most people, this concept, whatever it may be called, will evoke a negative reaction.

Ayn Rand faced a similar problem with the word "selfishness." Merriam-Webster defines "selfish" as "concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others" -- yet this is not what Ayn Rand meant by the word.

Throughout the history of ethical theory, "selfish" actions were typically distinguished from "self-interested" actions. Selfish actions were regarded as actions where the interests of others, including their rights, are totally disregarded. Self-interested actions, in contrast, were seen as actions where one's own interests are one's primary concern. In most cases, no opprobrium was attached to "rational self-interest" (or "cool self-love," as Bishop Butler called it in the 18th century).

Despite all this, Rand chose to rehabilitate the word "selfishness," making it synonymous with a concern for one's rational self-interest.

Ghs

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I think Rand did a similar thing with 'morality', which she seems to have made synonymous with 'rationality', hence the "you need morality to survive on a desert island" idea.

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I think Rand did a similar thing with 'morality', which she seems to have made synonymous with 'rationality', hence the "you need morality to survive on a desert island" idea.

Not quite - she stated that morals or ethics were guides to furthering one's life, not commandments - the understood, not the ordered... this in itself was a different viewing of morality than what others proposed, tho a valid one I would say - and as such fits quite well into needing it on a desert island as it involves both the personal as well as the social [whereas most of the others involved morality as a social necessity, leaving the personal usually subordinate if there at all]...

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George:

Refreshing to read, clearly explained and exactly what we were discussing and arguing over in the 60's and 70's within the anarcho-capitalist groups I was involved with. I have stated to folks in even routine discussions that essentially, I am an anarcho-capitalist.

It does have it's shock value today and essentially, that is what I am after to stimulate certain groups. I used it in a discussion with the membership in a Quaker church in Virginia. Since they respected me, they were more than willing to listen to exactly what I meant by that phrase.

Wonderful group of people.

Excellent work George.

A solution to problems like this was suggested by John Locke, Thomas Paine and other social contract philosophers who discuss civil society - a third type of association that stands midway between the purely social (the unorganized "state of nature") and the purely political (government). A civil society is formed by the unanimous consent of its members, who associate to protect and enforce their natural rights. This primary "social contract," which is logically prior to the formation of government, establishes a common set of rules and procedures through the voluntary cooperation of every participant. And though the early social contract philosophers tended to view civil society as a mere stepping-stone to government, their theory that voluntary civil associations (or "intermediate institutions") were possible without government proved highly suggestive to later anarchist thinkers, who argued that civil associations are sufficient by themselves to maintain justice and social order. Indeed, government, by violating the principle of voluntary interaction, actually disrupts the natural order and harmony of interests in civil society. (This anarchistic twist owed much to the development of spontaneous order theory, especially in the works of Adam Smith and Thomas Paine. More than a few nineteenth-century anarchists acknowledged their debt to both men.)

Adam

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. . . .

[anarchism] denotes a particular point of view - a defense and justification of the good society which includes, as a fundamental precondition, the absence of a State.

. . . .

The rejection of government is not a premise from which the anarchist [qua social philosopher] begins; it is a conclusion based on various ideas about human nature, moral values, social order, institutions, and political power.

. . .

It is the anarchist’s validation of anarchism that is of primary interest to me. Validation must explain how the theory of anarchy accords with the requirements of a political theory.

I have stated that “The role of political philosophy is to derive the fundamental principles and the required institutions to properly resolve [political] conflict. The fundamental principles enable identifying the political freedom that is placed in danger by a conflict, and the required institutions apply force or the threat of force to protect the political freedom so identified.” (A Political Standard for Absolute Political Freedom, to be published in The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1)

In a political conflict, one side wishes to exercise a political freedom and the other wishes to violate that political freedom. The uniquely valid solution to the conflict requires the political institutions to apply force or threat of force against those who would violate a political freedom, and also apply force or threat of force against those who would prevent use of force against that violator. I am curious as to how anarchism conforms to these fundamental conditions for a valid political theory.

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Robert:

In your statement, is there a presumption that there is an external, uncorruptable "judge" that would operate free of the "passions" that occurred in the political conflict arena?

What you refer to as "...the required institutions to properly resolve [political] conflict."

Adam

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Robert: In your statement, is there a presumption that there is an external, uncorruptable "judge" that would operate free of the "passions" that occurred in the political conflict arena? What you refer to as "...the required institutions to properly resolve [political] conflict."

All we have are reality and the people in it. As in any other area of our interest, cognitive or normative, it is the responsibility of each of us to seek truth to the best of our ability.

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I think Rand did a similar thing with 'morality', which she seems to have made synonymous with 'rationality', hence the "you need morality to survive on a desert island" idea.

Not quite - she stated that morals or ethics were guides to furthering one's life

What does this mean? What kind of guide does one need to survive on a desert island?

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As I suggested in the passage you quote, it's not only the word per se that causes problems, but the concept of a society without government. For most people, this concept, whatever it may be called, will evoke a negative reaction.

Personally, it does not evoke a negative reaction per se, however, I don't think it's possible for humans to form a society without some form of government.

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Personally, it does not evoke a negative reaction per se, however, I don't think it's possible for humans to form a society without some form of government.

If by "government," you mean some agency that adjudicates disputes according to just legal principles, and enforces its decisions, then you will get no disagreement from me. But this issue has never been the point of contention between libertarian "anarcho-capitalists" and advocates of limited government.

Rather, the crux of the debate is whether this justice agency need be a coercive monopoly. Minarchists say yes, libertarian anarchists say no.

For more on this, see my article "In Defense of Rational Anarchism" at:

http://folk.uio.no/thomas/po/rational-anarchism.html

I should mention that this article was patched together (by the guy who runs the website) from a number of posts that I submitted to the elist Atlantis in 1997. This was a written debate, with two anarchists opposing two minarchists, so my later remarks specifically addressed some of the arguments and objections raised by my opponents. Unfortunately, those arguments and objections are not included as part of this article (and I no longer have them), so some later parts are a bit out of context. But I think the key arguments are clear enough.

Ghs

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One more thing. The subheadings and boldfaced paragraphs in my "Rational Anarchism" article were not in my original posts. They were added by the website guy. I would never write something with that much stuff in boldface, italics, or whatever.

Ghs

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  • 10 years later...

This old thread of Ghs’s goes back to 2010 but the idea of anarchism was debated on the old Atlantis back in 2000, and here is one letter from that time, though I cannot remember when I wrote my letter. Remember the term, "prudent predator?" Peter

ATL: Emphasizing a Post by George Smith Ellen Stuttle Sun 6/11/2000 8:56 PM To: atlantis. I must apologize for blipping back in after saying I was going to stay out of this for the next month or so.  (I'll never make it to Vancouver on time if I don't stay out of it!)  But I couldn't resist taking advantage of a post submitted by George:

Date: Sun, 11 Jun 2000 07:37:11 -0500   From: "George H. Smith"  Subject: ATL: Reply to Vince Cook. Please, everyone interested in the prudent predator debate, *study* George's post.  I think he makes abundantly clear that no way does Rand's "egoism" sanction "prudent predating." In the light of George's comments, I want to re-iterate a point I've tried to make before:  A basic problem which keeps cropping up in these rights debates is that people are taking as *central* to the Objectivist ethics a statement which Rand herself said is NOT central. Ixnay. Niet. NOT.

The statement I'm referring to is from the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness (pg. xiii, NAL hardcover). She writes, "The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action...."

It seems that every time I read an argument which claims that there's a problem squaring Objectivist "egoism" with universal rights, this quote from Rand is taken as central. What's lost sight of is the whole context in which this statement appears.  Precisely what she's arguing in her Introduction to VOS is that the issue of beneficiaries is NOT the central issue of ethics.

"The choice of the beneficiary of moral values is merely a preliminary or introductory issue in the field of  morality.  It is not a substitute for morality nor a criterion of moral value, as altruism has made it [and as certain interpreters of Rand herself are making it]. Neither is it a moral *primary* [her emphasis]: it has to be derived from and validated by the fundamental premises of a moral system."

She continues -- and this is where the statement which seems to cause much of the trouble appears: "The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own *rational* self-interest.  But his right to do so is derived from his nature as man and from the function of moral values in human life -- and, therefore, is applicable *only* in the context of a rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral principles which define and determine his actual self-interest." [her emphases]

I submit that "*rational* self-interest" and a "rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral principles," though they're given fleeting lip service by champions of prudent predating, are in fact ignored. Ellen

And here is the one from me several years ago.

One more letter and then I will stop huffing and puffing. Market Anarchy you posit? Underground commerce is *anarchy.* Drug deals are *anarchy.* When governments collapse or cannot extend their jurisdiction to their farthest, wildest outposts – that is *anarchy.* Somalia is anarchy. The mafia is anarchy. Road rage is *anarchy.* Inner cities are *anarchy.* Unsupervised school yards or neighborhoods are *anarchy.* Whether planned or accidental, anarchy is not good and it is not just one thing. It varies as does the weather. Sometimes, somewhere you just might meet a decent sort of chap, or you just might meet Jack the Ripper. Who is quicker on the draw, cowboy?

Who prospers in anarchic situations? The person with “the edge.” Who loses? The losers of the world. Who relishes these situations where their cunning and power is pitted against someone else’s cunning and power? Generally men, Prudent Predators, and the crooks. Who are the habitual losers? The weak, women, the less violent, and the less intelligent.

You might say, “That is not MY rational anarchy.” But, brother you would need to be all powerful to have your vision of anarchy. And you don’t have that power. If you did we could call you King George. There is NEVER any certainty in anarchy.

There are good and bad governments and some are better than anarchy. The governments that COULD BE worse than anarchy are the oligarchies, military dictatorships, and absolute monarchies. Of course on no particular day, anarchy could be as bad, or worse than the worst government. Many of the bad governments are combinations of bad restrictions on liberty. Generally there is some sort of uneasy truce between bad governments and its citizens, but the onerous rules are more stable than ever changing anarchy.

And there is certainly a “power creep” with good governments. We need to fix that. Western republics are much better than no government. What have governments throughout history done for us? Crikey mate! Read some books or articles about hominid anthropology. Read history. Accept no romantic visions of utopia where everything is honey and roses, and where peace and enlightenment reign . . . and every sovereign citizen is above average. Someone, undoubtedly an anarchist, is trying to scam you.

Who wants to live in the jungle where the rules between humans change daily? Who wants to live in fear? Who wants to join THE most powerful group to gain security when you will lose your rights to the gang leaders or boss?

I have a suggestion for “market anarchists.” Voluntarily join in their activities. There are already anarchic drug, arms trade, and underground economic activity as I have mentioned. Who cares? I know Michael Marotta has mentioned this many times. Go for a walk in those anarchic neighborhoods and countries I have mentioned. Just be sure to let us constitutionalists voluntarily accept limited government, with checks and balances, where we can expand the ways to fix our less than perfect government. Peter

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