Mises Wire

State Intervention and Anarchy

gender bathrooms

In Against the State, Lew Rockwell emphasizes that the assault on our liberties from the state is not merely “the product of temporary malfunctions. To the contrary, the state is by nature evil.” Rockwell shows that the state is founded on coercion and maintains its power by use of force.

In recent years, following the rise of environmentalism, public health “safetyism,” and the war against “hate,” state interventions have encroached even further into private and family life. Against the State shows that these interventions are not only coercive but also antihuman in prioritizing their goals above human life. A striking example of this was the lockdown policy of closing schools and playgrounds, on the basis that children are resilient and so there is no reason why the state should not keep them under house arrest for several months of their lives.

Another example is the prioritization of the needs of the socialized medicine behemoths such as the United Kingdom’s cultish National Health Service: the British journalist Sherelle Jacobs comments that “with NHS spending now more than that for education, transport, the Home Office and defense put together, Britain is arguably now merely a health service with a state attached.” Similarly, in Canada, private healthcare is banned, and citizens struggling to cope with life are offered state assistance in killing themselves.

With the state on the rampage enforcing the “public good,” its defenders see no need to limit the power conferred on it to achieve that goal—after all, if the goal is noble and worthy, why should there be limits on the power to achieve it? In this way, the ideal of limited government is extinguished.

Rockwell also highlights the fact that the state creates the very problems for which it is then said we need state power to resolve:

The state is not a neutral observer. It will pass environmental legislation. It will regulate relations between races and sexes. It will put down this religion in order to raise that one up. In each case, the intervention only exacerbates conflicts, which in turn creates the impression that there really is an intractable conflict at work.

An example of state interventions fueling conflict is the protected status given to different groups based on their identity, notably race, sex, religion, and gender.

Identity-Group Conflict

Civil rights and human rights legislation have conferred mutually conflicting “rights” on different identity groups, and this legislation in turn has spawned million-dollar institutions devoted to litigating and enforcing these rights. These institutions are often funded by the state as part of its efforts to promote “equal opportunities.” The ongoing gender wars, for example, are largely driven by the “protected grounds” assigned to both women and men who have reassigned their identity to become “women” by means of a legislative concept known as “legal sex.” Both groups are legally protected from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their protected status, and the legal definition of harassment puts each group in direct conflict with the other. In Scotland, each group will now have power to have the other group jailed for harassing them, as transgender hate is included in the new hate crime law and discussions are underway to include misogyny.

As defined, the legal rights conferred on both groups of women (or putative women) are mutually exclusive. Harassment in the UK is defined as unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating the person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for that person. In the United States, harassment is defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as “unwelcome conduct” toward members of protected groups “that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive,” and US civil rights protections based on sex discrimination are interpreted to include sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Equality policy in the UK confers on women the right to have women’s bathrooms designated as women-only spaces and the right to be protected against men using women’s bathrooms, and at the same time, it confers on men the right to reassign their gender, to receive legal certification that they are now women, and to be protected against harassment if they attempt to use women’s bathrooms. The result of the bathroom wars is inevitable—conflict between both groups “protected” by the state as each group considers the other to be creating a hostile environment for their own group and lobbies the government to intervene further on its behalf. Schools and businesses are forced to seek “guidance” from the government on the construction and designation of bathrooms. The government mandates that government offices must have “single-sex lavatories” for women and, at the same time, declares that government employees “could face disciplinary action if they object to male-born colleagues using single-sex lavatories.” This is because, of course, both women as well as male-born “women” have a right to go in whichever bathroom they choose.

Who benefits from this escalating intergroup conflict? Rockwell shows that only the state wins. The power of the state has grown exponentially as now nothing, not even the most mundane of personal functions, can be accomplished without state guidance. This remains true even for the group that benefits from the outcome of a particular decision by the state. As Rockwell observes:

But who is the real winner in this game? The state and the state alone. By purporting to be the great social referee, it accumulates more power unto itself and leaves everyone else with less freedom to work out their own problems. And here is the real problem with racism or any—ism that fails to understand the capacity of the free society to work out its own problems through exchange and mutual benefit.


In Against the State, Rockwell asks, “Instead of entrusting our protection to a predatory state, why not rely on peaceful cooperation of people in a free market?” He argues that “the state by its nature cannot be just,” and therefore justice demands that the state and all state institutions be dispensed with.

The usual reaction to that proposal is for skeptics to wonder how society could possibly function without a state. The political philosophy of anarchy addresses concerns about the inevitability and indispensability of the state. Gerard Casey defines anarchy as “the rejection of any form of non-voluntary domination of one person or group of people by another.” Based on a historical inquiry, Casey rejects the myth that the state is a voluntary association whose power is justified by the consent of its citizens. Casey argues that, on the contrary, states emerge from histories of violence, war, and conquest and are characterized by two main features: “the monopoly of violence” and “the coercive extraction of taxes.” In that context, he observes that “anarchy is the position in which the members of a society naturally find themselves when they are not subject to the power of a state.” Further, Casey shows how individuals and private agencies may accomplish social goals that are currently assumed to be only capable of accomplishment by the state, arguing that public services including “justice, law and order can be provided without a state.”

Against the State argues that in a free society, most problems would be resolved by the market. For example, racism or any other form of “hate” would self-evidently be unable to proliferate on its own without being powered by state-enforced legislation. Except in cases where people are forbidden by law from interacting with each other, “the market always tends to bring people together in peace, neither compelling nor forbidding exchanges.” This does not mean that there would be no racists in a free society but that racists in a free society would have no power to prevent other people from entering market exchanges with each other. A racist can refuse to trade but cannot compel others to refuse to trade. The fact that racism is unable to proliferate on its own, without being enforced by the state, explains why both Jim Crow and apartheid systems were propagated not by “hate” but by a system of race-based legislation backed by state force. Racial segregation in these systems was a legal requirement, not an organic movement spread by haters. The notion that now animates “hate crimes,” namely that the proliferation of hate is a threat from which we all need state protection, is simply yet another strategy to maximize state power.

For these reasons, Casey rejects the state altogether, arguing that “the only mode of social organization that is ethically acceptable is one that respects our liberty, namely, anarchy . . . anarchy is not chaos or disorder or mayhem but the spontaneous order that arises from free and mutually acceptable human interactions.”

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