Should Anarchists Be Tolerated?

Column by Paul Bonneau.

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I had earlier addressed the question of tolerance of anarchists, in this article. At some point, it occurred to me to actually ask the question. After all, we have these wonderful forum tools that include polls!
I went to my favorite gun forum, one I recommend, by the way, Oleg Volk’s Gun Rights Media. On a sub-board called “Ethics of Liberty” (visible only to members, sorry) I started a poll thread entitled, “Should anarchists be tolerated?” Of course even there I had to make a decision--should I use the word “anarchist” instead of something with less baggage, like “voluntaryist”? I decided to go ahead because in the scenario I would use in the thread, our opponent the Ministry of Propaganda would surely be using the word “anarchist” on us. Might as well see what the worst case response is.
The question considered the possibility of a new anarchist community being formed down the road from where the respondent lived. The poll choices were these (followed by the number who picked that response):
1) I’d join them. (4 responses)
2) I’d have no problem with it, and would trade with them. (13 responses)
3) I'd have no problem, but wouldn't want to associate with them. (3 responses)
4) I think it's a great way to prove anarchism can't work, but otherwise I'd leave 'em alone. (9 responses)
5) All laws and regulations should be enforced against them, even if some might be killed over it. (4 responses)
6) Other, or don't know. (2 responses)
7) I am an elected official or bureaucrat or employee of a government. (1 response)
Number 7 should have been left off. My reasoning is that I wanted to filter out government employees, but this makes no sense and just confused the issue.
There is little difference between 3 and 4, but I thought I’d capture the “anarchism can’t work” crowd and point out (in a sly fashion) that one way to prove that assertion is to let it happen.
Anyway, 80% of the 36 votes were tolerant ones, and some of the others were not necessarily intolerant. I think that is a pretty good result!
Caveats: I had talked about anarchism with this crowd before, so they weren’t completely ignorant. This board tends to be conservative/constitutionalist, with a sprinkling of liberals and libertarians. Oh, and I completely left out any distinction between anarcho-capitalists and left-anarchists in the discussion.
In creating the scenario, I made the mistake of assuming there would be a lot of objections of a practical nature dealing with how the communities could interact; so, I put some things in there to counteract these objections. For example, I specified that anyone joining this anarchist community would be contractually bound to obey the existing laws and regulations when outside the community, and even that sales in the community to outsiders would include the collection of state sales tax. (But of course there would be no other taxes in the community, and no tax-funded services.)
Imagine my surprise when nobody came up with any of the practical objections I had anticipated; but instead several told me, an anarchist, that anarchists would never agree to any such stipulations, because anarchists hate rules! This led to a useful educational discussion in which I noted that rules are perfectly compatible with anarchy, as long as those subject to the rules explicitly agree to them. Although, I did concede at one point, that if too many stipulations were put in place in the contract, I might have a hard time finding enough anarchists willing to sign on to living there. But I think the discussion changed some peoples’ minds about what anarchy is.
The other sticking point was an objection that I took some time to understand properly. Eventually it sunk in that the fellow could not even comply as a statist, to the community rules I had stipulated. For example, when selling some property on Craigslist, how many people charge sales tax and remit it to the state, even though they are legally required to? He said my stipulations would force him to be more law-ridden than he already is in his thoroughly-statist community! So my stipulations turned out to be a bust, in that respect. I kinda outsmarted myself.
Anyway, I think this is a useful exercise that all of you should try out, in one of your more general forums--although perhaps one could learn from my mistakes here in doing so. I can’t think of a better way to get people thinking about tolerance, and about what anarchy is, than asking this question and watching the discussion work over these issues. This technique seems to bypass the indoctrination completely. 
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Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


Jim Davies's picture

Very creative, Paul! Most interesting result.

Am I right in supposing that the views of this gun-rights group would _not_ be echoed by government people, if such an enclave were actually formed?

Paul's picture

Well, that''s why I wanted to filter out the government employees, thinking they would skew the results. But if you think about it, that makes no sense. For one thing, not all government employees would have a problem with an independent community. They are individuals too. For another thing, government employees affect what happens just as much as (if not more than) everybody else. So they really have to be included.

Suverans2's picture

Just read your article, Paul, VERY GOOD, but (I know, get your "butt" out of the way), I happened to see this comment or reply before completing it.

I am of the opinion that 14th Amendment citizens, i.e. "citizens of the United States", are "employees" of the United States corporation.

Jim Davies's picture

As individuals, yes I agree - most of them behave in their private capacity much as "civilians." By "government people" I was thinking more of those who form and execute the will of government in their official capacities.

For an anarchist enclave to form, there would have to be some kind of secession, right? - a government-free zone. Since 1861, it's been clear that governments do not tolerate those very well.

In fact, one might reason that in their own survival interest they _dare_ not tolerate them. Once one such enclave forms and prospers, there will be an insatiable demand for more.

Suverans2's picture

You are absolutely right, well, not "absolutely" in the strictest sense of the word, about that; just look at what happened to the Doukhobors of Leo Tolstoy's day.

Paul's picture

"For an anarchist enclave to form, there would have to be some kind of secession, right?"

Not necessarily. It only means that for example, enforcers see it is in their own self-interest not to enter the anarchist community. In various times and places enforcers have operated this way, at least unofficially. After all, they don't get paid so much that any and all threats, complications, and pains in the ass are worth it. Most government employees want a life of ease and security, not strife and danger.

There is also the notion of pro-forma compliance. A community might have a sheriff as required by state law, but it might be a sheriff who does nothing. The first anarchist communities will no doubt fly under the radar with such dodges.

But this is somewhat beside the point of the article. I was trying to do mainly two things - determine what the general population would tolerate (testing the indoctrination) which after all has some effect on the actions of government, and also to use the discussion as a foil for educating people about anarchism (although the latter was almost an accidental or ad hoc aim).

Xerographica's picture

Here's my argument why there's no point to argue for anarcho-capitalism. Let's say that taxpayers were allowed to choose which government organizations received their own, individual, hard earned taxes. If taxpayers were truly satisfied with the private provision of A,B,C then why would they voluntarily allocate any of their own, individual, hard earned taxes to the public provision of A,B,C?

Paul's picture

They would because most people remain believers in the government religion. However as with conventional religion, most people do not believe that adherence to one mandates literal war with all others.