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'What are states but warlord organizations?'


Anarchists are constantly tempted to respond to their critics in a way that verges on the tu quoque fallacy — in children's playground lingo, "it takes one to know one" — because often a critic's claim about the horrors that anarchy would bring is essentially a claim that it would bring about a condition that already exists under the rule of states. Why the warlords would take over, the critic claims. But what are states but warlord organizations in their most developed expression? Why we'd have no protection against thieves and marauders, the critic claims. But today's police provide no such protection. They are either marauders themselves or, at their best, worthless note takers who show up long after a private crime has been committed and pretend to go about bringing the wrongdoer to justice. But there would be no justice under anarchy, the critic declares. Such claims ignore the absence of real justice today in the state's so-called criminal justice system, a machine for punishing people who have violated no one's natural rights and dishing out arbitrary and senseless punishments through plea bargains extracted from hapless victims caught in the state's unjust web of lies and arrogant pretense.

Of course, no sensible anarchist expects that the abolition of the state will create heaven on earth. Such an anarchist understands full well that even the best feasible form of human social organization will be vulnerable to any number of crimes and other wrongs — after all, we're dealing with real flesh-and-blood human beings here. But under anarchy, voluntary cooperation, peace, and justice have, so to speak, at least a fighting chance, which is one helluva lot more than we can say about social life under state domination. It's tiresome to be told again and again that anarchy is utopian, as if the belief that government can be limited is NOT utopian. I don't expect anarchy to be embraced, ever, by more than a handful of people; so I don't expect it to become established anywhere long enough to matter. Therefore I try to avoid being sucked into barroom debates about exactly how we can establish anarchy or exactly how it would work once established. Such topics are essentially irrelevant in a practical sense, given that this type of social arrangement is simply not in the cards.


However, to get back to the alleged utopianism, let us be plain: anarchy is utopian only in the same way that condemning robbery, extortion, assault and battery, and murder and believing that they ought to be stamped out are utopian. Yes, it is not feasible to stamp them out entirely, but it is altogether praiseworthy that some of us support ceaseless efforts to condemn such crimes and to reduce them as far as possible within the constraint that expected benefits exceed expected costs — and to do so regardless of whether the perpetrators be state officials or ordinary men and women. Resigning oneself to government as we know it is tantamount to shrugging one's shoulders while being dominated and plundered by mega-criminals. Even if we cannot change this type of exploitation and brutality, we certainly need not go out of our way to say kind words about it and to ridicule those who consider it outrageous and morally vile.


Dr. Robert Higgs is retired and lives in Mexico. He was a senior fellow in political economy for the Independent Institute and longtime editor of The Independent Review; he was also a senior fellow of the Mises Institute. He is the 2007 recipient of the Gary G. Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Cause of Liberty, and the 2015 Murray N. Rothbard Medal of Freedom.

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