Does the History of Racism Preclude Ancapistan?

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August 31, 2007

'What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States , at this very hour.'

'Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival...'

~ Fredrick Douglass from 'What to the Slave Is The 4th Of July?' July 5, 1852

One of the things about which I have written that strikes both my statist friends and my black liberal friends as the most unbelievable, bordering on complete, unmitigated, barking lunacy, is a society existing in anarchy without certain members of that society falling victim to violence from roving groups. We've all heard the questions: "But what if some armed mob decides to invade?" "Without an army, your anarchic utopia would be overrun, wouldn't it?" My answer has always been, 'No, of course not.' (Even those who support the state are beginning to admit, in even greater numbers, that anarchy provides the most peace.)

There are many standard anarcho-capitalist answers to this objection. (For the record, no version of an anarchic society I've ever studied could be described as a utopia, but that's for another essay.) For minorities in particular, the experiences at places like Rosewood seem to support the view that without protection ' generally from the State ' certain racist groups might take to lynching, burning crosses, or other activities. One would have to have been sharing some naptime with Rip Van Winkle to not understand that such concerns are legitimate, particularly given history of the United States .

Some might argue that you can have your "own" town -- and you'd better be armed -- or you need the State to protect you from a**holes who will take the law into their own hands. More than one prominent libertarian philosopher has seemed to imply that society might be better off if we rounded up all the [place sexual orientation here] and the [place political orientation here] and expelled them. Yes, I'm over-stating for effect, but I don't think by that much. (If I hear the phrase, "forced association" one more time, I may snap. I'm joking!) Call me crazy, but if people began to act on such suggestions, it might lead to, shall we say, some unpleasantness.

Seriously though, it occasionally seems that some libertarians think Ancapistan, should it ever exist, will be a land of individual city-states, each with a unique ' and quasi-enforced ' ethnic mix, and its own peculiar vision of anarchy. Since I'm not omniscient regarding the future, I really don't know, but I am curious.

I posed the question that titles this essay on a discussion group of which I am part. I posed it on Stef Molyneux's FreedomainRadio Forum as well. I figured I would get a wide variety of well-reasoned responses from which to launch my exploration. I was not disappointed. I present a smattering of them below ' unedited except for clarity ' to provide even more context and content for this exploration.

Feedback from an Internet List-Serve

One of my fellow travelers on my libertarian list-serve felt that any suggestion of State-provided protection was flawed. He said:

The State hardly precludes lynching, etc. and in many cases throughout history has played a central role in ethnic cleansing. So even if violent racism is a threat in anarchy, it could be argued that a people inclined toward violent racism are even more dangerous with a state helping them spread the cost of their violence amongst the indifferent masses.

This is correct. The State provides a way for any evil that lurks in the heart of an individual to find expression while simultaneously externalizing the cost of that aggression. Simply put, if racists can spend taxpayer money versus their own money, they are even more powerful. Hitler is a great example of this truism.

Another forum member echoed these thoughts. He said:

My view is that the number of hateful bastards is a very small portion of the population anywhere. Most people just want to be left alone and get on with their lives. The hateful people have to use flashy rhetoric to inspire those who might be sympathetic to their point of view and thereby get them to perform acts of violence. If you had a purely voluntary society, at least in theory, you would have much less stuff for people to get riled up about in the first place.

But is this true? Does a voluntary society provide less fodder for racial dispute?

Another poster seemed to agree. He further opined that he didn't foresee the history of racism posing any type of long-term problem for the formation of a truly free, anarchic society. He said:

Essentially, the State uses its ability to propagandize the public to encourage bigotry, and that is the major cause for racially-based violence. In a world without the State, people will initially tend to segregate themselves according to lifestyle. I suspect that initially this segregation will be cultural/religious, but that would not be static. For example, parents today can be in no way certain that their descendants will have the same religion, race, vocation, etc.

He went on:

The first 40 years or so would be the worst, since people would still be concentrated in this way, i.e., cultural/ethnic centers. After that, though, I really doubt that this voluntary segregation will continue. One thing which has me most optimistic is that, in light of current ease of communication and travel, anarchy would probably never lead to states again, unless that state was externally imposed, such as in Somalia. Since the US government is the entity which seems most obsessed with such impositions, if we can bring about peaceful anarchy here, it would almost certainly last, and would likely become the world standard with a few generations.

He certainly sounds optimistic!

A side issue raised by these posters is particularly interesting relative to my initial premise. They posit that the State encourages bigotry. If this is true, it would make Ancapistan less racist than the statist paradigm. The posters seem to be saying that state-encouraged bigotry is the ethos of racial unrest. But how does the State encourage bigotry?

Most obviously, the State is quite capable of actually employing people for the specific purpose of inciting unrest. Such incidents have occurred quite recently, in fact. As the linked article states:

Over the past decade, there have been several high-profile public disclosures that Canada 's most notorious Neo-Nazis, such as Grant Bristow and Carney Nerland, were actually agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Their violent and viciously racist activities provided the justification for Canada 's oppressive hate crime laws that now infringe on the rights of all Canadians.

More abstractly, the existence of a state guarantees the existence of mechanisms whereby the few can soak the many. Most often, the lever to activate these mechanisms will rest upon the stone of special interest. When the State seeks to guarantee equal opportunity, it generally resorts to measuring outcome. Outcome-based state programs always depend upon ways to differentiate people. Things like the number of minority graduates; the number of female undergraduate science majors; the number of left-handed, red-headed guys on the Ultimate Frisbee team, etc. are typical rubrics.

When these types of measures are used to drive 'equality,' the inevitable result is unrest among those thought to be discriminated against, and animosity against those thought to be undeserving. Those who are on the receiving end of this state-enforced gift don't always feel comfortable getting it, and those who feel like they got 'short-changed' because of the gift don't always go quietly.

Without something like the State attempting to guarantee an outcome, the chips could fall where they may, and no one could legitimately complain about favoritism. Call me na've, but that's what I want. Don't do me any favors. And don't whine when you're getting a good view of my rear end out in front, assuming that happens. That's all I ask.

If there is no state, and a true meritocracy, no one can blame special interests for his position in life. No one will have given [place special-interest group here] anything at the expense of another. It seems that the State, as expected, stands in the way of Ancapistan, but again, what about the existing racism? Even without a state, does racism preclude a truly anarchic society?

Yet another of my libertarian list colleagues had this to offer in answer to that question. He spoke specifically of the 'protection' any group could obtain when he said:

I am not certain that it is 'unlibertarian' to get another violent gang ' an even a larger one ' to protect oneself from an initial violent gang. In some sense, this is theoretically what the Civil Rights Movement, to the extent that it conformed to the mythology, was attempting to do when they appealed to the State.

I am sure that you are as aware as anyone on this list the extent to which racism is a product of the State. I guess, though, my responses to your question ' knee-jerk or not, are:

  • 1. In a real sense the way to fight racism, much like the way to fight statism, comes through education and persuasion; and,
  • 2. History is just that, history, gone, in the past.

What I mean by this last point is that many people, including many on this list, tend to think the legacy of slavery is not a reasonable cause for black inner city crime. (By the way, to that particular assertion, I would respond 'B.S.')

However, that isn't really relevant to the question you ask because we know that, leaving the legacy of slavery aside, ending the war on (some) drugs would have a far greater effect on cutting black crime rate, victimization, etc. than most other suggestions one might make. The most important thing to take from all this is: Something may be historically causal without being future determinative.

The point this poster makes about 'getting a bigger gang' is a not-at-all-uncommon suggestion. In fact, one could describe the ostensible constitutional view of the U.S. military as exactly this: a large, well-equipped, gang whose job is to keep all other violent gangs from attacking our peaceful civilization. Of course, the problems with this belief are several, aside from the lack of peace. First of all, standing armies don't stand around for very long. They never have; they never will.

To keep any hired gang from turning on you, you'd have to control them with more than just money; otherwise, someone else could just offer them more cash to attack the very ones who hired them! This is why mystical constructs like 'honor,' 'patriotism,' and 'love for your country' are vital to having a standing army. The mystical constructs keep the fighting men in line. Given my quest to rid myself of delusions ' of which the State is but one ' I've no interest in protecting myself with deluded mercenaries.

The last sentence quoted above is powerful enough to deserve further emphasis by itself: Something can be historically causal with being future determinative. People learn. They adapt. The injustices experienced by their forebears, while possibly limiting in the short run, do not need to limit the long run.

It seems like nothing inherent in society generally, or mankind taken individually, should preclude Ancapistan, certainly nothing racial.

Feedback from an On-Line Forum

I pursued the question in other venues as well, as I mentioned. From a frequent poster on FreedomainRadio (FDR) I got this:

This is hairy territory to be sure. I disagree with the view of some libertarian philosophers that Ancapistan will consist of a bunch of ethnically separatist communities. I would think that the incentives for social cooperation would be so high that there would be quite a degree of integration. I think that the only way to achieve ethnic isolationism in the way that some seem to predict would be through protectionism.

While it is undeniable that there will be some degree group-based banding together, it is impossible to sustain such a situation in the absolute if we are allowing free market activity to reign. Simply put, there will always be willing sellers and buyers outside any such group. The only way to achieve ethnic isolation of the sort envisioned by the separatists would be to forcibly, coercively stop willing sellers and buyers from engaging in trade.

So, the only way to keep people from buying and selling without regard to supposed differences is to impose rules that promote or force such actions? The Montgomery Bus Boycott, while pretty widely heard of, is often misunderstood in this context. Without support of the State, this boycott would have been less necessary and not lasted as long.

First of all, it was the rules of the State that were being implemented vis-'-vis where people of different races could sit on 'public' transportation. (Certainly, the individual tendencies and beliefs of racists were finding expression, but the rules and the enforcement of them came from above.) The market, and all who would use it, was being directly shaped by the laws of a group of armed men known as the government.

Secondly, it was the State, via its apparatus of police and people such as the mayor, who precluded the existing options available to the black citizens from fully supplanting the need for bus rides. Left alone, black taxis and other means could have taken the market away from the bus company. Knowing this, the city officials used the force of men with guns to keep the free market from doing what it is 'designed' to do: meet the needs of consumers.

The instant the bus company began to lose significant money from reduced rider-ship, of which a significant portion was black, there would have been pressure to 'let those Negroes sit wherever the hell they want!' Only outside influence, in the form of political power, could preclude this basic economic outcome.

Even if the bus company had been determined to maintain racist policies, other means would have arisen to take up the slack. Black bus companies would have been started. Black (or other) cab companies would have begun special services. It is only because the guns of the State were trained on these options that necessitated the boycott lasting for so long. It is directly because of the State that the market didn't fix the problem.

The poster from FDR went on:

While 'Joe Racist' is free to disassociate himself from all ethnic minorities or any other group that he does not like, and while it is theoretically possible to form a small community made up of nothing but Joe Racists, Joe Racist is denying himself ' or the community of Joe Racists are denying themselves ' the benefits of social cooperation to such an extent that he/they could very likely end up poor and exiled.

A small community made up of people that refuse to sell or buy goods and services to large groups of people is simply shooting itself in the foot - it will kill itself off in the same way that a small country that blocks imports and exports will. Racists lose on the free market. The incentive structure under anarcho-capitalism will be such that ethnically isolated pseudo-Ancapistans will be very hard to bring about in the first place and impossible to sustain for very long.

Disassociation doesn't come without its consequences. I think these separatist-elite philosophers have it backwards: if anything, it is the people who wish to be total separatists that will end up exiled in Ancapistan; not by force, but as a consequence of their own choice to disassociate with so many people.

While all this certainly made sense to me, I engaged this poster in a bit of a debate, simply to further tease the point out. I said, 'When you suggest that a locale with a restrictive immigration policy will lose wealth, I think you are making some assumptions about: a) how wealth is created generally; b) why immigration helps/hurts the generation of wealth specifically; and c) the opportunity costs of ethnic purity.'

I went on, 'Let me posit it this way, as I've heard it presented more than once. If a particular race is more creative or more peaceful or more inventive, or hell, just smarter, that race will not lose anything by keeping other races out. In fact, they are (likely to be) negatively impacted if they let other 'inferior' races be part of their community. This is what seems to be at root of a certain philosophers' statements regarding involuntary association and immigration. If you know your race is superior then you correspondingly will believe that allowing any other race to interact with you will drag you down.'

Another poster joined into our debate and answered my query with aplomb when he said:

Even if the separatists are better at everything, the theory of comparative advantage would seem to make it costly for them to isolate themselves. If they allow (outside) workers and such to provide labor, social interaction will be inevitable, which will erode racial purity. There is basically no way these societies will last in some sort of static form and remain libertarian at the same time.

This anarchy maven concluded with this:

It is possible to sustain racial purity. It is possible to sustain freedom. It is impossible to sustain both.

This is absolutely on point. It is always in the best interest of country X to (voluntarily) exchange with country Y. (Or community A to exchange with community B.) Always. This is one of the simple lessons from very early in Callahan's Economics for Real People.

Even if your country or community or [place collectivist grouping here] is supposedly better at creating a certain product, you still need customers. In fact, you obtain more customers (and other benefits) from without than within, even if all of your products are superior and even if that which you might receive in exchange from those without is inferior to what you might create on your own.


So, does the history of racism preclude Ancapistan? I say no. Of course we can't be sure, but my conclusion is based upon my understanding of both economics and human action. The only thing that can preclude self-interested action between willing buyers and sellers, and the type of free society this interaction brings, is the State. I've already been pretty clear, in many previous essays, about where I stand on that entity: Abolish it.

Lest anyone misinterpret my conclusion for a belief that some racial utopia will rise like a Phoenix out of the long history of tribalism that is the history of mankind, I believe nothing of the sort. Tribalism will remain, and along with it the driving force to voluntarily segregate. My fear, when I began this exploration, was exactly the opposite: that the long and storied history of racism ' regardless of the State's influence ' might be enough to preclude a truly anarchic society that was safe for everyone, even the supposedly marginalized. (I have already addressed why anarchy is safer, ceteris paribus, than statism, and I'm far from alone in this view.)

Certainly history is full of examples that undergirded my initial fear. In fact, even among libertarians there appears to be an enchantment with classification of people based upon race and a willingness to use the coercive powers of the State to maintain a fictitious national border that I find troubling. (It seems to me that if Mises' methodological individualism is what interests you, worrying about whether or not 'blacks' who stayed in Africa are less smart or smarter than 'blacks' who left Africa and evolved into 'whites' simply isn't that important in the grand scheme. But I digress.)

If it makes my life better to have people who can offer a wider range of services I enjoy nearer by than further away, regardless of the additional qualities they may have ' racial, sexual, etc. ' then I'm likely to opt for the range of services. (I'm much more about having my needs met than staying by myself and living less large!) This is not a guarantee, of course, just a possibility. Certainly people's innate desires to be with those of similar [pick quality here] will remain. I just don't think those qualities will always be racial. Let us return to Mises, who (generally) says it better than I, with my added emphasis:

Society is joint action and cooperation in which each participant sees the other partner's success as a means for the attainment of his own. Social cooperation has nothing to do with personal love or a general commandment to love one another. People do not cooperate because they love or should love one another. They cooperate because this best serves their own interest.

The advantages derived from peaceful cooperation and the division of labor are universal. They immediately benefit every generation, and not only later descendants. For what the individual must sacrifice for the sake of society he is amply compensated by greater advantages. His sacrifice is only apparent and temporary; he foregoes a smaller gain in order to reap a greater one later.

Unless you want to live in your own little enclave, without at least some of the niceties that interacting with other parts of society could provide, you cannot exist in a world surrounded by only those who 'look like' you or with whom you share some other characteristic. However, it could be argued that as long as people keep to themselves and don't infringe upon others, living in separate enclaves, such as the Hutterites, is absolutely compatible with anarchy.

It seems to me that individuals, outside special cases like the Hutterite, will, over time, learn to enjoy associating with ethnically diverse peoples for exactly the same reasons so many non-Asians visit China Town in New York City : a craving for some good fried rice and real green tea! And again, as per the Hutterites and similar groups, even if they don't want to mix, life will remain peaceful anyway.

Otherwise, the law of comparative advantage virtually assures that no society, even one conceived by supposed philosophical elites, will long last unpolluted by some type of diversity. I heard it said a long time ago that no one wants to shoot a customer.

This is, in the words of Bill and Ted, 'Excellent!'

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Wilton D. Alston's picture
Columns on STR: 14

Wilt Alston writes from Upstate, NY.  When he's not training for a marathon, or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.