Anarcho-Statism

If anarchism means anything, it is a rejection of the state, meaning, a rejection of an institution claiming and maintaining a monopoly on violence.

Of course, anarchists find themselves in the real world, in which such monopolies clearly exist. Some of the things states do we might even approve of, at least circumstantially. If an anarchist is being mugged, and a police officer comes by to stop the crime, the anarchist would likely accept the assistance. Perhaps he would rationalize it as merely accepting a service that he already pays for through taxes, which would exist in some form in anarchy; or perhaps because in that instance the police officer is not acting necessarily as a state agent, but rather as a good human being.

This can be a slippery slope, and I know some 'anarchists' who have slid right down to the bottom.

My friend, who calls himself an anarchist, is an unapologetic, wholesale supporter of the very statist War on Terrorism. There are other 'anarchists' who have bought into advocating what I consider the worst US government program in many, many years. I call these people anarcho-statists.

an'ar'cho'stat'ism n. The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are oppressive and undesirable and should be abolished, but in the meantime those governments should go on doing what governments do, for the most part. (Modified from American Heritage Dictionary)

Now most anarcho-statists I know believe that taxation is theft; that the Drug War is bad; that government should not intrude in the businesses or private lives of people, disarm them, or otherwise push them around.

However, when it comes to extracting hundreds of billions of dollars from Americans to drop bombs on thousands of innocent people and occupy their land via martial law ' I guess government is just a necessary evil.

Actually, these anarcho-statists would claim that government is not necessary, but it is not always evil. Under anarchy, the market would provide for the dropping of bombs on thousands of innocent people, so until we have anarchy, the government will have to suffice.

This is the exact opposite of what I argue, especially when talking to leftists, when I say that atrocities such as Shock and Awe would never emerge in the free market, that wars might 'privitize' the benefits to certain corporations, but their existence depends on the socialization of costs through the coercive state.

But in anarchy ' both the antiwar statist and the pro-war 'anarchist' insist ' there would be warfare. The antiwar statist thinks such warfare would be bad, or even worse. The anarcho-statist thinks it would probably be better, more efficient, and more profitable ' but in the meantime, the government will have to suffice.

My anarcho-statist friend has come around to believing that virtually all US wars in the last 150 years were just ' the precise opposite of what I believe ' and that many of those wars would have occurred under anarchism. Sherman 's murderous March to the Sea simply emulated what abolitionists would have done under anarchy. (Of course, under anarchy, there would be no slaves.) US actions in World War II, including the terror bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, would have likely come about, albeit at a cheaper price, had it been left up to the free market.

If I believed in any of this, I would not be an anarchist or a fan of the free market. What's the point of being an anarchist when the worst things the US government has done throughout the last 200 years would have still been done by the private sector?

Indeed, I don't see how the pro-war 'anarchist' argument cannot apply to any other government program. A free market would provide charity. Why shouldn't the government do so until we have anarchy? A free market would regulate business and produce currency. Why not have the state carry out those functions as long as it's around?

Anarcho-statists might agree that taxation should not finance what they believe the government should do, but I can just as easily say I support government welfare: I only regret that taxes fund it.

One of the conceptual problems for these anarcho-statists is that they don't apply libertarian or other solid ethical principles to their conception of anarchy. If anarchy simply precludes a monopoly on aggressive violence, but aggressive violence is still largely accepted and condoned, a stateless society will not be anarchistic at all. I can imagine coercive institutions and protection rackets in an anarchy unguided by principles. If there were anarchy, but people still believed in institutionalized coercion, governments would simply reemerge. In fact, the Mafia is an example of a miniature government. Our efforts to sway the masses should be aimed at their belief systems, and in leading people to reject state aggression, we have to explain that it is because we reject aggression. (By aggression, I of course mean initiated violence, not defensive violence.)

As anarchists, we must not reject states only because they are called 'states,' but because what they are and what they do. In fact, I tend to believe a good way of looking at governments is to judge them not as governments, but simply as organizations of people. Take away the mysticism of the state, and all you see are huge, dangerous criminal gangs.

Perhaps the anarcho-statists think that the criminal gangs they believe would exist under anarchy, which would carry out their crazy wars, are permissible under anarchist standards, and so it is well within anarchist principles for the government to mimic the behavior of these hypothetical non-governmental gangs.

Perhaps this is true under the twisted definition of anarchy as chaos that we civil anarchists have been fighting for years. But simply opposing states because they are states is bad theory. It leads one to justifying the actions of agencies that are not called states, and takes one down the road of rationalizing the behavior of states because of their similarities to non-state states.

The best litmus test for the true anarchist, I believe, is determining whether a state or other entity is employing aggression. The police officer that stops a mugger from brutalizing an innocent person is hardly aggressing against anyone, and the taxes that support him really are beside the point in this case. Surely, people would help each other out in this manner even if there weren't states. It does not legitimize government police to say this, any more than it legitimizes government roads to drive on them. If there were no government roads or police, I would be the last to push for their creation, just as I would oppose any increase in the budget of any government program.

If a police officer came across Osama bin Laden and shot him in the head with a tax-funded bullet, it would not be a major assault on anarchistic or libertarian principles. If the principled anarchist feels bad thinking so, he should send the money for the bullet himself.

Statism is not essential to stopping a mugger or shooting a bad guy ' in fact it's a very rare exception for the state to do such a thing. Statism is essential to war, however, or at least all the wars the US government has ever engaged in.

The War on Terrorism, needless to say, fails my litmus test miserably. Thousands of innocent people have been murdered. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been extracted by force. Iraq is now a country burdened not only by the aggression of the US government, but also by the aggression of the puppet government put in place by the US .

How anyone can believe that libertarianism, free markets, or anarchy have anything to do with the forceful creation of one government by another, at the cost of so many lives, so much stolen money, and so many freedoms, is totally beyond my comprehension.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
Columns on STR: 41

Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at LewRockwell.com. His website is AnthonyGregory.com.