The Worst Case Scenario Under Anarchy

Let's pretend for a moment that governments on all levels vanished instantly. What would happen?

Well, if the governments had vanished because people embraced the ideals of liberty, property, peace, and non-aggression, I honestly think that within a couple decades, poverty as we know it would be gone from most of the earth, warfare would nearly go extinct, and voluntary cooperation and the free exchange of goods, services, and ideas would bring about an amazing, unbelievably high standard of living for almost all people of the world.

We would have flying cars, cures for cancer, even faster internet connections, a wonderful plethora of new foods, music, arts, and technology. There would be less fighting in the streets, less rudeness on the roads, much less cultural intolerance among different peoples, and the life spans of mortal human beings would continue to climb, perhaps beyond 200 years.

I really believe this. There would still be some violent crime, and there will always be uptight jerks everywhere. But even the prevalence of these would decline greatly.

Some of my favorite websites and organizations would likely go under, which would be one down side. With the state uprooted, Strike The Root would have less a reason to go on, other than, perhaps, to feature the wonderful photos by Rob. and would likely lose their financial base. The Independent Institute, where I work as an intern, would have to find new targets of criticism and analysis, or also close down.

The Libertarian Party would split. Those in the organization who are anarchists at heart would feel relieved that they do not have to devote so much time to the gruesome political process anymore. Those in the party who are minarchists, or who actually like working within the system, would focus their efforts on bringing the state back into existence, just so they could have something to do.

All of these downsides would be quite tolerable for the benefits I'd expect from a truly free society.

Let's say, however, that the masses are not devoted to freedom, peace, and markets. Let's say that they are still prone to accept the institutionalization of violence. What, then, would be the worst-case scenario under anarchy?

First, various bands of crooks with adequate resources and skills in propaganda would begin to dominate whatever geographic areas they could. They would split the land up among themselves, and protect their boundaries with turf wars and armed goons.

They would likely extort 'protection' money from the peaceful inhabitants of their geographic area. At first, the theft would be slight. Eventually, they would come to exact, through threats of force, larger and larger portions of the incomes of the people they claim to 'protect.'

If these criminal gangs were truly astute, they would begin to monopolize, through violence, various industries. They would dominate the roads, the local shops, communications, and major manufacturers. The more money they stole through their protection rackets, the easier it would be for them to cartelize industry. The more they cartelized industry, the easier it would be to exact more in protection money.

If the gangs really wanted to control the population, they would attempt to control money itself, monopolizing banking, forcing participation in their money racket, threatening competitors with violent retribution, and counterfeiting cash whenever they needed more than they could extort directly ' empowering and enriching themselves and their cronies while impoverishing the general population.

They would need to keep enough of the masses on their side through propaganda and clever schemes of handing out some of the loot they stole, lest the masses revolt. They would ' in the worst-case scenario, that is ' try to get parents to surrender their children to indoctrination camps, calling them 'schools.' Again, they could only get away with this if those parents still believed in the institutionalization of violence.

Maybe the warlord criminal gangs would begin claiming ownership over everyone's lives, telling inhabitants of the geographic regions that they dominate what those people could and could not do with their own bodies. The gangs would also try to take away everyone's guns, and make sure they monopolized the deadliest weapons.

Once in a while, the criminal gangs would have serious conflicts with each other, either over territorial disputes or simply for the purpose of showing off, and they would engage in terrible shoot-outs with each other, killing innocent bystanders and even forcing innocent people to fund and fight in those battles.

So, if people cling on to and accept the institutionalization of violence in their lives, then under anarchy there might emerge ' in the very worst-case scenario ' governments. This is basically how governments emerged in the first place.

Of course, if governments come to be, it would cease to be anarchy, and we would be back to square one. Strike The Root would be back in business, and we anarchists would return to our efforts to scale back the state ' a task that would primarily entail getting people to abandon their acceptance of the institutionalization of violence.

The worst-case scenario I outline is very unlikely to occur under anarchy, because governments are not simply going to vanish overnight. We won't get anarchy unless general attitudes change. If people outright reject the institutionalization of violence, they will refuse to let governments or any criminal gangs steal their money, push them around, or kidnap and indoctrinate their youth.

When people reject institutionalization of violence, it will cease to be. In this sense, anarchy is unrealistic only so long as most people think it is.

But if the worst-case scenario ' and I mean the worst-case scenario ' that we can expect under anarchy is simply the end of anarchy and the reemergence of government, it seems we have very little to lose in calling for an end to state violence. If the worst-case scenario of something coming to life is that very same thing dying out, that hardly seems sufficient reason not to work toward its birth. Many good things worth working toward die eventually.

We can always hope for the best, or even the not quite worst. And if we do get the worst, it's no worse than what we now have.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
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Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is