Public Order and Safety Absent a State

How could violence be avoided and disputes resolved in a society where state sanctioned laws, courts, and public safety services no longer exist?

One possible answer given is that a private system of law courts, arbitration services, and private defense associations (PDA) would arise and compete with each other to provide the desired services. These services would include contract enforcement, conflict mediation, property protection, and public safety, and would be performed on a fee for service basis. These entities would provide these services formerly provided by government police.

But would these private, non-governmental entities be as good or even equal to the ones they replaced?

Different law courts, law firms, mediators, public safety, and security firms will have different levels of resources at hand depending upon their capitalization. So prices and quality of services will be assorted by price.

The option facing the less wealthy people, groups, or businesses would be to select a firm which best defended their interests and property that they could afford, or handle the security issue themselves as they saw fit. Just as with most goods and services, ranges of services are available at different prices. Markets have a knack for filling the gap between necessity and desire when there is profit to be made.

The market for dispute resolution and personal and property protection would no doubt adapt to the different price-based demands for their services, just as any other free market does. Here are just two likely alternatives that anyone could avail himself or herself of.

Contingency payments [1] to lawyers for representation, or the greater use of insurance coverage to protect against loss might be in the offing under these circumstances.

The absence of a state to provide law courts, property protection, and public safety and orderliness is at once a burden and an opportunity for society. There are no state-provided police or fire departments to call if needed, but there is nothing preventing a person or group from taking their own measures to provide whatever level of risk protection they deem prudent or necessary. What they can't cover themselves they could insure for loss or take a risk that nothing will happen, and keep their fingers crossed that nothing does.

People and firms would be free to not use any of the private security or safety service options at all if that was their preference.

The answer to the question of what constitutes perfect justice is both subjective and relative to the person making the decision about which comparisons to use to derive an answer. But contrast it with what exists now and you come see that the present systems in use leave much to be desired.

What happens when the state provides these functions is that people are ever more secure, or so they imagine, but are also by equal degrees less free as well. The socialization of the final cost for state-provided justice, order and safety is also a theft from people who desire lesser protection than the state provides for the cost.

I may not care if my neighbors hunt for deer or rabbits in the wooded area behind my house. So I would not require any funds of mine be spent for security for this land. But on the other hand, I most certainly would mind people going into my home, garage, or shed and poking around. So I can put up fences, install alarms, or purchase security coverage from a PDA to deal with that issue, or I can put up with the risk, or move away.

My concerns, judgment, and expense are the only criteria. I cannot foist any of the costs for my fence or alarm system on my neighbors, smokers, beer drinkers, or income earners, by using the extortion processes of electoral politics.

Absent a state, I don't have to pay for narcotics teams to fly around in expensive and noisy helicopters looking for cannabis plants, or for them to break into homes looking for voluntarily purchased chemicals or beverages. The cost of trials, prisons, and all the rest of the Police-Prison Industrial Complex products and services are the single biggest expense of most microstates.

Even when the state joins the rest of the dinosaurs in extinction and we can finally face life without oppressive hierarchies, what then? We will still have to work, raise our kids, brush our teeth, pay our bills, and look both ways when we cross the street. Men will still cheat on their spouses, women will still think their bums are too big, kids will still want better toys for Christmas, and dogs will still have fleas. All the minutiae of daily living aren't going away, folks.

In fact, in strict utilitarian terms, liberty may be even worse than what some of us have already. If someone steals your car, or tries to, and you don't have insurance, what are you going to do? If you're in an enclave that has security guards or a neighborhood PDA, or you have decent theft insurance in force, you might be inclined just to let 'em have it. You're covered for the loss.

But what if you aren't so well off or well prepared? Are you willing to run out the door with a ball bat or a shotgun and take back your property? Well guess what? You may have to. Or else immediately decide the old Ford isn't worth getting your teeth knocked out, or having your ass beat unconscious as well as losing the car.

One of the things that perplex many of us Freedomistas is the obliviousness of the average person as to their actual condition of liberty. People just don't see that the state entity, which dominates their lives and holds them in check with coercion, force, and violence, is financed with funds stolen from them in the first place. Many people cannot fathom this scheme as being oppressive either, no matter how often it is explained to them, or flaunted in their very faces.

A step by step breakdown of how state repression goes from mild to deadly in orderly, progressive increments was written by George Reisman when he wrote that all 'government action, good and bad, represents the use of physical force. There is an expression in Latin, 'nulla lege sine poena''which means, in translation, 'there is no law without punishment.' Every law, edict, ruling, decree, or regulation that a government issues is backed by the threat of physical force'even to the point of killing whoever does not obey it. And this applies even to the most minor offenses, such as refusal to wear a seat belt or to pay a parking ticket. First may come reminder letters, increasingly less polite, asking for payment of the initial fine. If they are ignored then may come greater fines. Beyond the fines comes the threat of arrest and imprisonment. And if, when the officers come to make the arrest, one resists, then whatever force is required to overcome one's resistance will be applied, including the use of firearms and sharpshooters."

The original reasons that scholars posit caused states to form [2] in the first place are still present today. What has changed is our ability to fend for ourselves due to technological progress in the ensuing centuries.

What is needed today is the will to act on our desires for security with freedom. Asking a state to protect you and your property is as idiotic as asking a trembling, strung-out, drug addict to guard a pharmacy. There are those who say the marketplace and individual choice won't provide society with perfect protection. I agree with that view, but I would reply that the state's system doesn't, either. Critics further say that markets are efficient but have no sense of conscience. To which I would respond that neither do states when it comes to violence, oppression and theft. Liberty may do nothing 'for' me, but unlike a state, it doesn't actively attempt to hinder my ability to adapt or adjust to the dangers and threats I must deal with, either. I will be less secure in some ways, but far freer in many more.

To a Freedomista, which to chose, liberty or a state, is an easy choice.


1 Contingency fees are an arrangement where a lawyer accepts a case without a retainer or fee, but if successful, receives a percentage of any monetary awards the plaintiff receives.

2 Schwartz, Herman. 'The Rise of the Modern State : From Street Gangs to Mafias,' States Versus Markets. New York : St. Martin 's Press, 1994, pp. 10-42. New York : St. Martin 's Press, 1994, pp. 10-42.

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Ali Hassan Massoud's picture
Columns on STR: 43

Ali Massoud is a proud old-school isolationist who writes for the Internet and blogs.