Just Ignore Them


Here's a cheery thought on this gloomy Tax Day: government is one of the few problems that can be gotten rid of by ignoring it. In this respect it compares favourably with such hardier ills as tornadoes, swarming piranhas, and male pattern baldness. There's a catch, of course. If only a few people ignore the government, it won't go away; instead it will come down on those few people like a ton of CS gas. But if the number of people ignoring the government ' treating its commands as one would treat the commands of some delusional street person ' were to reach critical mass, the power of the state, resting essentially as it does on the complaisance of the governed, would melt away like butter in the Arizona sun. As 'tienne de la Bo'tie wrote in his classic essay Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (read it online or buy it):

Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces.

This is one of the advantages of anarchism as a political program. Those who seek to replace one system of governmental control with another cannot achieve this goal by ignoring the government; they have to take active steps to seize the reins of power, probably by violence. But not so for anarchists. Now if government leaders were Kryptonian superbeings, ignoring them would not be sufficient to achieve anarchy either; one would need to convert the rulers to anarchism or else start developing kryptonite-based weapons. But in fact government rulers are human, all-too-human, and do not command sufficient strength in their own persons to compel the obedience of their subjects. The rulers' power consists crucially in the legitimacy granted to them by those they rule ' what Ayn Rand called the 'sanction of the victim.' Withdrawing that sanction reduces the rulers to the same status as everybody else ' the strategy dramatised in Eric Frank Russell's delightful satirical novel The Great Explosion (read it online or buy it) and documented theoretically and historically in Bryan Caplan's article The Literature of Nonviolent Resistance. Hence one of the chief goals of anarchist political activity must be to help build a cultural milieu in which the inclination to ignore the government will be widespread enough to achieve critical mass. (Such a set of cultural attitudes will also come in handy after the anarchist (r)evolution. Critics of anarchism often ask how the protective associations with which anarchists propose to replace government can be trusted not to abuse power themselves. I've argued before that such associations will have far less opportunity to abuse their power than do governments today, and I think those arguments are good ones; but it's also worth noting that a populace that has rendered itself ungovernable by the state will be equally ungovernable by competing associations.)

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Columns on STR: 22

Roderick T. Long is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University; President of the Molinari Institute; Editor of the Libertarian Nation Foundation newsletter Formulations; and an Adjunct Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.  He received his Ph.D. from Cornell in 1992.  His last book was Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand; his next book will be Wittgenstein, Austrian Economics, and the Logic of Action.  He maintains a blog on his website, Praxeology.net.