Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
I was asked the other day why I always propose abolishing the state when confronted with one of its problems and/or depredations, rather than simply trying to reform it. The intimation is that it’s a totally irrational solution to the problem. Still, it is a valid question for people to ask libertarians/anarchists and one that deserves a good answer, which I hope to provide herein.
Questions like this have several presuppositions which need exploration to provide an answer. The three I will address here are:
And more specifically when talking about abolishing the US or state governments, that their particular forms of government are just fine in concept, but bad in practice or due to bad people. Not surprisingly, since all statism is essentially the same, this is the same argument you’ll get from proponents of communism. This one deserves its own separate post, perhaps as a review of Hoppe’s book, Democracy: The God That Failed.
The responses to these presuppositions combine to form the answer as to why the state must be abolished, not reformed.
The question here is, necessary for what? There are many answers to this question, ranging from road-building to wealth redistribution, but the most common and minimalist answer is that it’s necessary for law, order, and justice. This is also where the fallacy begins. There is a confusion of the ends with the means.
Yes, mankind living in a fallen and sinful world needs law, order, and justice. But it does not necessarily follow that the way to achieve the most lawful and just society is through the use of an all-powerful state with a monopoly on the use of violence.
The free market is perfectly capable of providing any service which people deem valuable, including the services of protection and justice. More so, only the free market is capable of providing these efficiently and without coercion or violence. Those who argue that it’s not possible without the state are suffering from either the prejudice of their current world, a limited understanding of history, a lack of imagination, or a combination of these.
If you are reading this and disagree, but are seriously thinking about these things, I urge you to read Gerard Casey’s book Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State.
There is a further presupposition in this one, that there is an ideal size/configuration/form for a state which will result in the greatest amount of human flourishing and the least amount of human suffering. There is, however, no agreement between all statists as to what this scope should be, with the range of opinions varying from very small (protection and justice) to ubiquitous (wealth redistribution, social safety, and regulation of everything).
But even assuming everyone agreed on the scope, there is no method for guaranteeing that the state will remain within its scope and not expand its power and authority. The United States government, once one of the least tyrannical in the history of the world, morphed into a hegemonic global superpower in just over 200 years, despite the fact that its constitution specifically prohibits virtually everything it does.
To buttress this argument, one can look at the specifics of the constitution which provide the means to amend it and grant more authority than originally given. These methods are never used, however, and instead the words written on animal skin are merely ignored by the people who run the state.
Returning to our minimalist example of the “services” the state must provide, protection and justice, it then follows that the state must have moral authority in these areas if it is to be the final arbiter of these things. To have moral authority means it must be perfect and not violate its own set of rules in providing said justice.
Supposing that the state was capable of properly providing the services of protection and justice (which they are not), in order to deliver these services they must first steal (tax) from those they are providing the “service” for. Theft is an aggressive and inherently unjust act. The idea of committing an injustice against one to supposedly deliver justice to another is ludicrous.
The accusation normally leveled at anarchists is that we are blind to the evil and violence which men are capable of and that is why our “anarchist utopia” is not achievable and why we must have a state.
But this is not so. It is the statists who are in denial about this.
To kick the final leg from the “moral authority” stool, we need only examine the character of those who run the state. To believe that a state can and will be run by moral people is an idea which runs counter to reality. Ask anyone if they think politicians are trustworthy and they will answer in the negative. Everyone knows that they are all crooks and liars.
In fact, they are the worst, not the best of society. They are people who crave power and love to rule over other people. They are, in fact, the very people statists argue an anarchistic society would be unable to deal with.
Taking together these three points, that all services can be provided better (economically and morally) through voluntary exchange (the free market), that the state can never be limited to any given scope even if it were a moral entity, and that it has no moral authority to begin with, I must conclude that the answer to the state’s problems is not reform but abolition.
This is an admittedly short answer to the original question, and I know it will not satisfy everyone, but I hope it will at least spark some conversation about anarchism and whether there is a need for the state.