Mere Anarchy: Can A Society Without Government Be Better Run Than What We Have Now? + Agorism
by J Neil Schulman ......................................... The title of this essay has two meanings. The first is the reference to the Yeats poem quoted under, The Second Coming. The second is a reference to C.S. Lewis’s immensely popular book of Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity, a phrase C.S. Lewis picked up from a Christian apologist writing three centuries earlier, Rev. Richard Baxter.
Turning and turning in the widening gyreW
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– from The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
hat Yeats meant was the end result of entropy; what Lewis and Baxter meant was core sustainable beliefs. Clearly I’m choosing to deal here with antithetical thoughts. In common usage the word “anarchy” is a synonym for chaos and anomie, just as in common usage “anarchist” is a synonym for terrorist or nihilist. It places an immediate communications burden on anyone who believes, as I do, that a stateless society can be not only as well-ordered and agreeable as any society which attempts by a constitution to limit the powers of government for the purpose of ensuring common individual rights, but in theory could do a better job of preventing a reemergence of tyranny.
I’m not alone in this skepticism regarding the American experiment with Constitutional government. This caution comes from one of its original authors.
Upon leaving the Constitutional Convention of 1787 Benjamin Franklin answered a lady’s question whether the convention produced a republic or a constitutional monarchy with the bitter and prescient warning, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
If we’ve kept the Constitution at all after: A Civil War A century of central banking and income tax A three-decade drug war An undefined War on Terror A Supreme Court that considers legislative intent more than original intent An elected Congress whose rate of change is about that of Britain’s House of Lords Orwell’s Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace State, County, and Local Government officials eunuched whenever a federal agent shows up Demand for government secrecy paired with demand for citizen transparency Eminent Domain Laws that steal property from one private citizen as a political payoff to another A Bill of Loopholes where a Bill of Rights is supposed to be; and An Imperial Presidency …
… it’s only by the skin of its teeth. In 223 years of mastication, many of the Constitution’s teeth have fallen out, some are impacted, many have cavities requiring root canal, and even the remaining relatively healthy teeth are dulled, loose, and painfully difficult to chew with.
In my lifetime the Constitution is more Poligrip than Politics.
So why — when the Constitution of the United States is clearly in crisis as to whether it can sustain its original intent to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” — are alternatives offered to try and do the job better looked upon with such fear and loathing?
Well, for one thing, the proposed alternatives have never worked on a large scale before.
Various forms of anarchism have been tried out in microcosmic experiments. The Old Testament tells us of a time before Kings when the Israelites had only Judges.
In his book The Machinery of Freedom David Friedman has written of the ancient Irish túatha where — while you had a king — at least you were free to choose which one you wanted.
There were anarchist-based communes both in Europe and in America. None of them expanded into the general population and few survived into a second generation.
And — well — historically too darned many high-profile anarchists have in fact been nihilists, trouble-makers, and terrorists.
Yes, yes, yes, I know. There is a rich and peaceful tradition of individualist anarchism, which includes Henry David Thoreau who wrote in his 1849 essay Civil Disobedience:
.I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe – “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.
No less than Mohandas K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have each attributed their successful uses of non-violent resistance to the anarchist Thoreau.
Other historical anarchists — William Godwin, Lysander Spooner, Voltairine de Cleyre, Benjamin Tucker, Emma Goldman, and Thomas Hodgskin — as well as anarchists I’ve known personally in my lifetime — Murray Rothbard, Robert LeFevre, L. Neil Smith, David Friedman, Victor Koman, and Samuel Edward Konkin III — have all advocated anarchistic visions of society that are neither chaotic nor nihilistic — and one can convincingly argue that, despite their protests, both Ayn Rand and Robert A. Heinlein made far better cases in their fiction for anarchistic societies than they made for government in their nonfiction.
Plus I must note here that Franz Oppenheimer and Albert Jay Nock found it necessary to make a clear distinction between government and the State.But cutting to the chase, are any of these visions of a stateless society both doable and sustainable?
I believe they are, if certain conditions are met. It must be a society that recognizes the concept of Sovereign Rights. The concept of a Sovereign Right means that each one of us has the individual sovereign power to do whatever each of us wants without prior consent of anyone else, providing that by our doing so it does not invade the equal sovereign right of anyone else to be left unmolested. In the case of any being or even any thing which is regarded as having such sovereign rights, the test is whether such an entity can be held accountable for the consequences of its actions. If the answer is “no” then some other individual with Sovereign rights whom Nature has appointed or who has otherwise agreed to be held answerable for that irresponsible entity — whether fetus, child, mental incompetent, animal, tree, or Frankenstein’s Monster — is the guardian, overseer, in loco parentis, and steward of that entity until such a time as the entity can answer for the consequences of its own acts. The organizing principle must be that arbitration can only be initiated where one or more Sovereign Individuals file a complaint. So, for example, possession of a substance with the intent to use it could not be a crime because possession of a thing, nor an intent to do something with it, is not Action; and unless you Act against Someone Else no Sovereign Rights Violation has yet occurred. Making a threat against someone is an action; and could be adjudicated. Possessing something which by its nature is a danger to others would have to prove that the danger is real and present, not theoretical, statistical, or only under unlikely conditions. Private property rights must be recognized as the natural boundaries between competing claimants for needed places and things, and peaceful non-neighbor-impacting individual use of them must not not be overly burdened by entailments, covenants, contracts, and restrictions. A social ethic of laissez faire — live and let live, what people do on their own property within their own circles is none of my business so long as they don’t throw their garbage on my lawn and interrupt my sleep with blaring music — must dominate social interaction. TANSTAAFL — There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. You want it, you pay for it. You want me to support it in mutual aid, charity, or common cause, you ask me instead of telling me. The most you can do to punish me for refusing to sign on to your holy crusade is to have nothing further to do with me. Law is necessary for a peaceful and stable society, and may be either a commercial product or a product of non-profit organizations just like any other useful thing. Judges can offer their own law books in private arbitrations, and even cut the court costs by offering their trials as public entertainment — such as all the TV Judge Shows, which are already private arbitrations held in public. A General Submission to Arbitration is the necessity and hallmark of a responsible neighbor and a free society. The absence of a General Prior-to-Conflict Submission to Arbitration is the primary reason that no anarchist society has worked in an Industrial or Post-Industrial Mega-Population Society. If this is a new drug to fix the ills of society, I say let’s start the Clinical Trials now. The right of self-defense includes the right to kill in self-defense … and to be held accountable for it by a standard of reasonable men in a court with a judge to which the accused has consented, with a presumption of innocence, all the accused’s procedural rights protected, and with no civil or criminal penalties imposed without a conviction by a jury of the accused’s peers. The Bill of Rights got almost all of this correct. Finally and most important, the right to self defense is always present, and the weapons and techniques enabling effective and efficient self-defense are always legal in a free society. I won’t argue that there is no place for professionals in the fields of defense, security, and protection — and I won’t even argue about the necessity for standing military or posse comitatus to be prepared for threats — but no society can remain free or stable in the long run if the individual is not the first and last line in defense of his own rights and the rights of his loved ones, family, friends, neighbors, and nation.Assuming for a moment that such a society is practical, is there a way to get there?
I believe that answer is also yes.
Even a society under the thumb of a totalitarian government– some would say especially societies under the thumb of totalitarian governments — have black markets.
Historically black markets are populated by criminals with few ethics and less self-control. Without any “honor among thieves” crime and violence are endemic.
But what if black-markets were operated by people more lawful, rational, and ethical than in the legal-edict society rather than less lawful, rational, and ethical?What if the black markets had less crime than the above-ground markets because property-rights were better recognized and enforced by private arbitrations?What if the bare minimum of business structure was cheaper to operate in — and fostered more productivity — than trying to start a business under layers of burdensome bureaucratic regulations, taxes and payoffs to politicians and their appointees?What if — even with the extra costs of maintaining secret communication, transportation, and protection operations — it was still far cheaper to operate your business in these underground networks than in a debt-ridden, inflation destabilized, highly taxed and regulated, and hostile business environment as we now see in our current Constitution-impaired society?Would not capital naturally flow into such better-operated markets and act to enrich them, empowering better use of technology and more efficient allocation of scarce resources for the purposes of expansion and growth?What if the next tax haven wasn’t offshore but a well-concealed and protected network of markets right under the government’s stuffed nose?
That was the strategy of countereconomics — the philosophy of Agorism — proposed by myself and Samuel Edward Konkin III, presented first by Sam at the two CounterCon conferences I organized in 1974 and 1975, presented first in fiction (as Ayn Rand did with her philosophy in Atlas Shrugged) in my 1979 novel Alongside Night
, and first presented in a work of nonfiction a year later in Samuel Edward Konkin III’s New Libertarian Manifesto
Now, some may say what I’ve proposed above is not anarchy at all, but limited Constitutional Government.
I won’t argue the semantic point.
Call it what pleases you. Sam Konkin and I called it Agorism. This is the Thoreau-inspired vision of a free society I’ve been working towards in the past four decades of my life.
The basic principle which leads a libertarian from statism to his free society is the same which the founders of libertarianism used to discover the theory itself. That principle is consistency. Thus, the consistent application of the theory of libertarianism to every action the individual libertarian takes creates the libertarian society.
Many thinkers have expressed the need for consistency between means and ends and not all were libertarians. Ironically, many statists have claimed inconsistency between laudable ends and contemptible means; yet when their true ends of greater power and oppression were understood, their means are found to be quite consistent. It is part of the statist mystique to confuse the necessity of ends-means consistency; it is thus the most crucial activity of the libertarian theorist to expose inconsistencies. Many theorists have done to admirably; but we have attempted and most failed to describe the consistent means and ends combination of libertarianism.
Whether or not this manifesto is itself correct can be determined by the same principle. If consistency fails, then all within is meaningless; in fact, language is then gibberish and existence a fraud. This cannot be over- emphasized. Should an inconsistency be discovered in these pages, then the consistent reformulation is New Libertarianism, not what has been found in error. New Libertarianism (agorism) cannot be discredited without Liberty or Reality (or both) being discredited, only an incorrect formulation.Let us begin by sighting our goal. What does a free society look like, or at least a society as free as we can hope to achieve with our present understanding?
Undoubtedly the freest society yet envisioned is that of Robert LeFevre. All relations between people are voluntary exchanges - a free market. No one will injure another or trespass in any way.
Of course, a lot more than statism would be to be eliminated from individual consciousness for his society to exist. Most damaging of all to this perfectly free society is its lack of a mechanism of correction. All it takes is a handful of practitioners of coercion who enjoy their ill-gotten plunder in enough company to sustain them - and freedom is dead. Even if all are living free, one "bite of the apple," one throwback, reading old history or rediscovering evil on his own, will "unfree" the perfect society.
The next-best-thing to a free society is the Libertarian society. Eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty (Thomas Jefferson) and it may be possible to have a small number of individuals in the marketplace ready to defend against sporadic aggression. Or large numbers may retain sufficient knowledge and ability to use that knowledge of basic self-defense to deter random attacks (the coercer never knowing who might be well versed in defense) and eliminate the profitability of systematic violence initiation.
Even so, there remain two problems inordinately difficult for this system of "Anarchy with spontaneous defense." First is the problem of defending those who are noticeably defenseless. This can be reduced by advanced technology to people who are quadriplegic morons (assuming that won't be solved by sufficient technology) and very young children who require constant attention anyways. Then there are those who for a brief time go defenseless and the even rarer cases of those who are overwhelmed by violence initiators wishing to test their skills against a probably weaker foe. (The last is most rare simply because of the high risk and low material return on investment.)
Those who need not - and should not - be defended are those who consciously choose not to be: pacifists. LeFevre and his disciples need never fear some Libertarian will use methods they find repugnant to defend them. (Perhaps they can wear a "dove" button for quick recognitions?)
Far more important is what to do with the violence initiator after defense. The case in which one's property is violated successfully and one is not there to protect it comes readily to mind. And finally, though actually a special case of the above, is the possibility of fraud and other forms of contract violation.
These cases may be settled by the primitive "shoot-out" or socially - that is, through the intervention of a third party who has no vested interest in either of the two parties to the dispute. This case is the fundamental problem of society.
Any attempts to force a solution against the wishes to both parties violates Libertarian principle. So a "shoot-out" involving no risk to third parties is acceptable - but hardly profitable or efficient or even civilized (aesthetically pleasing) save to a few cultists.
The solution then requires a judge, "Fair Witness" or arbitrator. Once an arbitrator to a dispute or judge of an aggression has performed judgment and communicated the decision, enforcement may be required. (Pacifists may choose arbitration without enforcement, by the way.)
The following market system has been proposed by Rothbard, Linda and Morris Tannehill, and others; it need not be definitive and may be improved by advances in theory and technology (as this author has already done). At this stage of history, it seems optimal and is presented here as the beginning working model.
First, always leaving out these who choose not to participate, one insures oneself against aggression or theft. One can even assign a value to one's life in ase of murder (or inadvertent manslaughter) which may range from the taking of the violence-initiator's life to taking replaceable organs (technology willing) to restore life to the payment to a foundation to continue one's life's work. What is crucial here is that the victim assigns the value to his life, body and property before the mishap. (Exchangeable goods may simply be replaced at market rate. See below.)
A finds property missing and reports it to the insurance company IA. IA either through another division or through another division or through a separate detective agency (D) investigates. IA promptly replaces the object to A so that loss of use of good is minimized.  D Now may fail to discover the missing property. In that case, the loss to IA is covered by the premiums paid for the insurance. Note well that in order to keep premiums low and competitive, IA has a strong incentive to maximize retrieval of stolen or lost goods. (One could wax eloquent for volumes on the lack of such incentive for monopoly detection systems such as State police forces, and their horrendous social cost.)
IF D does discover the goods, say in B's possession, and B freely returns them (perhaps induced by reward), the case is closed. Only if B claims property right in the object also claimed by A does conflict arise.
B has insurance company IB which may perform its own independent investigation and convince IA that D erred. Failing that, IA and IB are now in conflict. At this point, the standard objections to market anarchy have been brought up that the "war" between A and B has been enlarged to include large insurance companies which may have sizeable protection divisions or contracts with protection companies (PA and PB). But wherein lies the incentive for IA and IB to use violence and destroy not only its competitor's assets but surely at least some of its own? They have even less incentive in a market society long established; the companies have specialists and capital tied up in defense. Any company investigating in offense would become highly suspect and surely lose customers in a predominantly Libertarian society (which is what is under discussion).
Very cheaply and profitably, IA and IB can simply pay and arbitration company to settle the dispute, presenting their respective claims and evidence. If B has rightful claim, IA drops the case, taking its small lose (compared to war!) and has excellent incentive to improve its investigation. If A has rightful claim, the reverse is now true for IB.
Only at this point, when the matter has been fully contested, investigated and judged, and still B refuses to relinquish the stolen property, would violence occur. (B may have only been bothered so far as being notified of IB's defense on B's behalf, and B may have chosen to ignore it; no subpoena could be issued until after conviction.) But PB and IB step aside and B must now face a competent, efficient team of specialists in recovery of stolen property. Even if B is near-mad in his resistance at this point, he would probably be neutralized with minimum fuss by a market agency eager for a good public image and more customers - including B himself some day. Above all, PA must act so as not to invoke anyone else or harm other's property.
B or IB is now liable for restoration. This can be divided into three parts: restitution, time preference, and apprehension.
Restitution is the return of the original good or its market equivalent. This could be applied even to parts of the human body or the value set on one's life.
Time preference is the restitution of the time-use lose and is easily determined by the market rate of interest which IA had to pay to immediately restore A's property.
Apprehension is the sum of the cost of investigation, detection, arbitration and enforcement. Note how well the market works to give B a high incentive to restore the loot quickly to minimize apprehension cost (exactly the opposite to most statist systems) and to minimize interest accrued.
Finally, note all the built-in incentives for swift, efficient justice and restoration with a minimum of fuss and violence. Contrast this with all other systems in operation; note as well that in parts all this system has been tried successfully throughout history. Only the whole is new and exclusive to Libertarian Theory.
This model of restoration has been spelled out so specifically, even though it may be improved and developed, because it solves the only social problem involving any violence whatsoever. The rest of this Libertarian society can be best pictured by imaginative science fiction authors with a good grounding in praxeology (Mises' term for the study of human action, especially, but not only, economics.)
Some hallmarks of this society - libertarian in theory and free-market in practice, called agorist, from the Greek agora, meaning "open marketplace" - are rapid innovations in science, technology, communication, transportation, production and distribution. A complementary case can be made for rapid innovation and development in the arts and humanities to keep up with the more material progress; also, such non-material progress would be likely because of total liberty in all forms of non-violent artistic expression and ever-more rapid and complete communication of it to willing recipients. The libertarian literature extolling these benefits of freedom is already a large body and growing rapidly.
One must conclude this description of restoration theory by dealing with some of the arcane objections to it. Most of these reduce to challenges to ascribing value to violated goods or persons. Letting the impersonal market and the victim decide seems most fair to both victim and aggressor.
The latter point offense some who feel punishment is required for evil in thought; reversibility of deed is not enough for them.
Though none of them has come up with a moral basis for punishment, Rothbard and David Friedman in particular argue for the economic necessity of deterrence. They argue that any percentage of apprehension less than 100% allows a small probability of success; hence, a "rational criminal" may choose to take the risk for his gain. Thus additional deterrence must be added in the form of punishment. That this also will decrease the incentive for the aggressor to turn himself in and thus lower further the rate of apprehension is not considered, or perhaps the punishment is to be escalated at ever-faster rates to beat the accelerating rate of evasion. As this is written, the lowest rate of evasion from state-defined crimes is 80%; most criminals have better than 90% chance of not being caught. This is within a punishment- rehabilitation system where no restoration occurs (the victim being further plundered by taxation to support the penal system) and the market is banished. Small wonder there is a thriving "red market" in non-State violence initiation!
Even so, this criticism of agorist restoration fails to note that there is an "entropy" factor. The potential aggressor must put the gain of the object of theft against the loss of the object plus interest plus apprehension cost. It is true that if he turns himself in immediately, the latter two are minimal - but so are the costs to the victim and insurer.
Not only is agorist restoration happily deterrent in a reciprocal relation with compliance, but the market cost of the apprehension factor allows a precise quantifiable measurement of the social cost of coercion in society. No other proposed system known to this time does that. As most libertarians have been saying, freedom works.
Nowhere in agorist restoration theory do the thoughts of the aggressor enter into the picture. The aggressor is assumed only to be a human actor and responsible for his actions. Furthermore, what business is it of anyone else what anyone thinks? What is relevant is what the aggressor does. Thought is not action; in thought, at least, anarchy remains absolute.
If you sit up in shock to find I have crashed through your picture window, and then made sure everyone will continue to live, you don't particularly care if I tripped and fell through while walking by or I engaged in some act of irrational anger jumping through or even whether it was a premeditated plan to distract protectors across the street from noticing a bank heist. What you want is your window back pronto (and the mess cleared). What I think is irrelevant to your restoration. In fact, it can be easily demonstrated that even the smallest expenditure of energy on this subject is pure waste. Motivation - or suspected motivation, which is all we can know  - may be relevant to detection and even to prove plausibility of the aggressor's action to an arbitrator if there may be two equally probably suspects, but all that matters for justice - as a libertarian sees is - is that the victim has been restored to a condition as identical as possible to pre-harm. Let God or conscience punish "guilty thoughts."
Another objection raised concerns what will be done about violence initiators who have paid their debt (to the individual, not "society"), and are "free" to try again - with greater experience. What about recidivism, so prevalent in statist society?
Of course, once one is marked as an aggressor, one will probably be watched more closely and thought of first when a similar crime is committed. And while work-camps may be used to repay restitution in a few extreme cases, most aggressors will be allowed to work in relative freedom on bond. Thus no "institutions of criminal higher learning" like prisons will be around to educate and encourage aggression.
The distinguishing characteristic of a highly efficient and accurate system of judgment and protection will be that it will occupy a negligible fraction of an individual's time, thought or money. One can then argue that we have not portrayed 99% of the agorist society at all. What about elimination of self-destruction (which Libertarianism does not deal with), space exploration and colonization, life extension, intelligence increase, interpersonal relations and aesthetic variations? All that really can and need be said is that where present-man must spend half or more of his time and energy serving or resisting the State, that time-energy (physicist definition of action) will be usable for all other aspects of self-improvement and harnessing of nature. It takes a cynical view of humanity indeed to imagine anything but a richer, happier society.