If Only We Had the Right People In Charge!

from We the Individuals link

[This article is the 1st part of a 2 part essay.]


0239_circular_logicBecoming an anarchist isn’t an overnight transition from advocating a limited state. It takes time, as any anarchist will tell you. If I could fit anarchism onto a bumper sticker, we’d all be anarchists. Unfortunately, it can’t be explained so easily. There are a lot of “what if” and “who would” questions that need to be answered. There are several questions to be answered about anarchism in terms of how the market could provide for the wants and needs of individuals, including the things even limited government libertarians think the State must do. Unfortunately, due to the time and complexity involved in explaining how these things could be provided, I won’t be discussing them here — instead my focus will be to answer some of these objections in a basic manner in order to attempt to plant a seed. I feel that often anarchists jump right into how these things could work, which no doubt is important, before the person we are trying to convince thinks the state is illegitimate. That is, if the person you are talking to still thinks the state is legitimate, they may not care how, say, private law works if they think the state is necessary. One may need to be convinced we can do without the state before the rest is worked out, but through economics and getting them out of their comfort zone, that is possible.


Since I have been a libertarian, I have found this to be nothing new or novel as many prominent libertarians have used the latter of the two tactics. Like Ron Paul when he attacked the use of drug laws after heroin was brought up in the debates; Or Rothbard with his essay Anatomy of the State; You have Nozick with his Tale of the Slave; Spooner in his analogy with The State vs. the Highwayman; and even Milton Friedman in his discussion on greed with Donahue.


As most know, Nozick, Ron Paul, and Friedman weren’t anarchists but this makes no difference. It’s about ideas. These gentleman, along with the above examples of their allegories and methods, are prime examples of how they got readers and listeners to step out of the box for a moment. Obviously, when it comes to anarchism it is more complex than just a simple story or argument. The points raised by each of them need to be put under the microscope for analysis as to why they came to those conclusions, but the points remain. They discussed those concepts in a manner that many have not yet heard. Even those that disagree with what some of the above libertarians said may be curious to know why it was said, which cause them to “tumble down the rabbit hole” further. Sometimes things need to be explained so simply, sometimes things need to be thrown in the face of us all the way these thinkers did in order for a spark to be ignited.


As Rothbard eloquently put it:

“For it is one of the most admirable qualities of the demagogue that he forces men to think, some for the first time in their lives. Out of the muddle of current ideas, both fashionable and unfashionable, he extracts some and pushes them to their logical conclusions, i.e. “to extremes.” He thereby forces people either to reject their loosely held views as unsound, or to find them sound and to pursue them to their logical consequences.”


In the spirit of humility, I don’t expect this to convert limited government libertarians, nor do I claim to be anywhere near the level of stature or intelligence as the men I named, so the best I can do is try and duplicate their methodology for those who read this. My primary aim is for the limited government libertarian to stop and think, “You have a point there”, which hopefully leads to further exploration.


One of the most common arguments against a stateless society (besides the “How would X work in a stateless society?” question) is that due to “human nature” we need a State. Without one, it is claimed, no one is to prevent robbers from stealing from us, murderers from killing us, and so on. Before we address the crux of this argument, there is something to be said about “human nature,” which is the only thing you can say about it without just making shit up: We have preferred ends and employ means to achieve them. Sometimes violence presents itself as a suitable means to a given end — such as the State many people advocate, but this does not mean that humans left to their own devices will automatically degenerate into violence, as advocates of even limited-government seem to think. 


“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?”  


Frederic Bastiat says it perfectly here. Additionally, if I were to ask, I wonder if those individuals would admit they’re violent by nature and it’s only by a superhuman effort feat of meditation and self-control that they are able to stop themselves from slaughtering everyone they see. I doubt they would consider this to be the case, and this also implies that politicians are benevolent angels too (to paraphrase Bastiat and Milton Friedman).


 In the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote in defense of a state, that certain “checks and balances” were needed; that since men are not angels, being without a state would lead to what anarchy, unfortunately, is usually depicted as: chaos.

As Madison argued:

“[T]he great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defence must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”


This objection is rather easy to answer, as an anarchist, and I assume many anarchists reading this are familiar with the response: if humans are as bad as skeptics infer, why would you want to put people in power with a monopoly on force? Or in other words, if people are truly greedy, bad, and desiring to murder us, isn’t it an even worse idea to institutionalize these vices in the hands of people with little to no accountability? So, essentially, if we don’t institutionalize it, some bad things may happen, therefore we must institutionalize it. A private individual can extort money from me and even without the state that person can be brought to justice. However, with a State, it is called taxation. Unfortunately, my only way of alleviating some of that is by voting for someone else who may or may not tax me less (regardless of their campaign promises). Even more so, unlike the state, you see neither individual counterfeiting on a large scale nor individual bombing of other neighborhoods or nations.


While Milton Friedman and Bastiat were no anarchists his point on politicians not being angels still rings true. To put it in other words as Milton and Bastiat did, are politicians angels or benevolent when they go into office? Are they not human? Don’t they pursue their own “greedy” and “evil” self-interest, the same as everyone else?  Why, then, do we expect that elected officials will be any more inclined to not abuse power than the men and women that the State is to protect us from?


Austrian Economist and historian Robert Higgs, also an anarcho-capitalist argues contrary to the likes of Madison, who is obviously influenced by the likes of Locke and Hobbes. Higgs, among other anarchists, would contend although a stateless society may not be perfect, that it is nowhere close to the amount of horrific acts carried out by the state.


As Higgs puts it:

[…]Although I admit that the outcome in a stateless society will be bad, because not only are people not angels, but many of them are irredeemably vicious in the extreme, I conjecture that the outcome in a society under a state will be worse, indeed much worse, because, first, the most vicious people in society will tend to gain control of the state  and, second, by virtue of this control over the state’s powerful engines of death and destruction, they will wreak vastly more harm than they ever could have caused outside the state. It is unfortunate that some individuals commit crimes, but it is stunningly worse when such criminally inclined individuals wield state power.


This counterargument reveals the circular logic of their argument, or at least causes one to stop and ponder. Yet, even with this point raised some minarchists may have a counter argument of their own. The claim is by having the “right people” in power this will ensure that a) society won’t plunge into a Mad Max dystopia and b) the State doesn’t run amok. Basically, the idea is that if we have a Congress and Oval Office full of anarchists or libertarians in office, what limited government libertarians fear will happen under anarchy and/or big government, won’t happen.

Ok, let’s think about that for a moment. Set aside the debate on how we reach a society where the state has a small-to-nonexistent role to play in our lives (as that will be addressed in a later article), let’s look at this ideal minarchist society, once accomplished. Say we are living in Minarchistan. Similar to what our founders envisioned, we have a republic which is made up of politicians who are all similar to us. Each politician that we voted in has views congruent with our principles 100%. That is, they didn’t vote on bills we didn’t want, they didn’t spend taxes on things we didn’t want. Yet, if this person is a reflection of you and I, lined up with our ideals perfectly, then what is the difference with that person being in power and us governing ourselves? Aren’t they just doing what we would or wouldn’t be doing? Why don’t we just eliminate the middle man?

What makes it even more difficult is that since all individuals are not the same, politicians we vote in won’t be either, i.e., libertarian A wants the Center for Disease Control or muh roads but libertarian B doesn’t.  Even most politicians that are labeled as libertarians aren’t the same. Even if these elected officials match up with the views of their consitutents about 50%, the other percentage is voting on bills or spending taxes on things we oppose. That’s not even including those citizens that wouldn’t be libertarians in Minarchistan who would want their “Obamaphone” or foreign military intervention and would vote their guy in to ensure it happens, making it more difficult for Minarchistan to maintain its ideal limited government. Even some minarchists have their own pet project they may want to keep, but it’s the same counterproductive thing going on and it all adds up to the State we have today after 300 million people each put in their pet program. The problem with making political decisions is that you’re making choices for other people against their will. Let me choose what’s right for me, so long as I don’t interfere with your life, and you do the same. The point is that nobody is competent to make those decisions for others. Least of all people who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of power rather than, say, the mastery of economics.

I will concede that educating others and ideas would have a large impact in ensuring that such a society is “defended.” As Benjamin Franklin is given credit for saying, the US was originally “[a] republic, if you can keep it.”However, I would suggest that this simply illustrates my argument. If we can keep the republic of Minarchistan as ideal as described above, that just takes us back to square one of why not just govern ourselves? We have all heard the point raised that we wouldn’t mind taxes if we can decide where those taxes are spent. This is analogous to what I am trying to convey. If we are able to choose where our taxes go, then that is an argument against taxation — we don’t need the tax compulsion in this case. If we are against where taxes are being spent, that is also an argument against taxation. If we could choose what tax dollars went toward, it would be more beneficial to keep the money and spend it on our own, versus a third party doing so for us; akin to not needing a politician to live our life either.


You don’t hire people to run a country. The problem isn’t that the people in charge are unintelligent or corrupt — the problem is that there are people in charge. If there must be people in charge, it would be nice if they had a correct understanding of, say, economics, but if that were the case they’d just sit around all day “being in charge,” and there wouldn’t be anything to pay them for.

As  Jesús Huerta de Soto argues,


“The fatal error of classical liberals lies in their failure to realize that their ideal is theoretically impossible, as it contains the seed of its own destruction, precisely to the extent that it includes the necessary existence of a state (even a minimal one), understood as the sole agent of institutional coercion.”


Indeed. Having a monopoly, the State has all the power it could ever want, it just doesn’t dare increase its exercise of it too quickly, just incrementally. Nonetheless, the state gives incentive to those to seek power and to use power at others expense, which is problematic if you are not a libertarian and now have a tool to use to achieve this.  As soon as you have an institution with the power to compel taxes, plus a constituency that think they benefit from the exercise of this power, it is recipe for an endless series of excuses to incrementally expand that power.

Part 2: Voting the Right Guy In