by Wolf DeVoon
Originally published as "De-Facto Anarchy."
Humans exist in perfect freedom. Obedience is a choice. Government is therefore an illusion. The evidence isn't hard to gather, and it requires no special twist of language, no cognitive somersault. Just pick up the telephone and summon a policeman to attend a crime in progress (robbery, rape, murder, kidnapping). Good luck getting help in time. Nor is it clever to claim that the state's protection exists in a more diffuse, but efficacious realm beyond the average response time of emergency services.
In any public street, the law is observed by its citizenry without police. Los Angeles has 7,000 cops and 7 million citizens. The LAPD are garbage collectors in fancy uniforms, picking up the dead and praying that the rest of us will argue quietly. Our dwellings are rendered safe from fire by homeowners and tenants, employing nothing more coercive than an individual desire to survive. All instrumentalities of community protection and public welfare existed first as private, voluntary organizations (constabularies, fire brigades, libraries, schools, hospitals) before dilettantes and ward-healers proposed that a bureaucracy should monopolize and run them badly.
The historical origins of governments were neither rational nor provident. In every instance, ancient and modern, sovereigns were created by plunder and a fairy tale of divine right (British Empire), a crackpot theory of destiny (USSR), or a bad bargain improvised under duress (U.S.A.) Any student of the U.S. Constitution can see through the myth of glory: the Virginia Plan was a recipe for Civil War.
Noam Chomsky wants government to thwart evil predators. Robert Nozick fears competition. Hobbes, von Mises, and Ayn Rand hail the state as a champion of the weak, a bulwark of liberty. Burke sighs that the established order of ermine and tithes is comfortable; all innovation a threat.
Phooey! Their theoretical defense of an illusion makes no donut disappear from a cop's mouth, no soldier more likely to question his orders, no real evil less vicious. Government is the sole, permanent source of repression and waste. It does not exist of necessity, but rather by virtue of a tragic, almost comical combination of klutzy, opportunistic terrorism against sitting ducks whom it pretends to shelter, plus our childish phobia of responsibility, praying to be exempted from the hard reality of life on life's terms. It is daft to moan about crime. Government cannot stop a thief, a lunatic, or a kid playing with matches. It took the Nazis twenty years to flatter and frighten the German nation into collective obedience -- and still someone shoved a bomb under the Fuhrer's conference table. The state does not and cannot triumph by coercion. Ayn Rand was correct: Evil requires the sanction of the victim.
During the war, German factory owners wheedled endlessly to avoid losing skilled Jewish workers. Twenty percent of all Nazi munitions were duds, sabotaged on the assembly line. The greatest tragedy of the Holocaust was the role of Jewish Councils, who collaborated with and made possible the systematic transportation of innocents. In 1935, SS troops only numbered in the hundreds, not tens of thousands. Jews were ordered to emigrate from Nazi Germany. It is an uncomfortable fact, but the state at its worst and most triumphal was incapable of genocide without the passive compliance of its intended victims. In Soviet Russia, the only tyrant was not Stalin; it was millions of citizens who chanted slogans and perished as a consequence of their own folly. Thirty million British trade unionists, doctors, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers democratically cut their own economic throats in the 1970s with the same Marxist slogans. Harold Wilson did not force them into penury, and Margaret Thatcher did not force the British to wake up and smell the bank statements. We the people do these things to and for ourselves.
In fact and in reality, we are ungoverned and ungovernable. I defy anyone to name a single instance of governmental action that succeeded in achieving its intended outcome. Above all, please don't tell me that you filed an honest tax return, or that you know someone who did. No public work was raised without delay, confusion, cost overrun, graft, or outright disaster as a final consequence. Every morning, the state mangles reason and justice to perform simple tasks that private actors (a) would not undertake because the project is stupid; or (b) could do faster, cheaper, and better than government; or (c) are implicitly required to do anyway, since the state has no competence except that which is supplied by private contractors. All the U.S. politicians and bureaucrats combined could not repair a flush toilet.
I become bored with discussing the state's incompetence, so obvious a fact. The worst toxic waste sites are government property. The Soviet Union wrought environmental catastrophe, because wanton misery and economic folly are proportionate to the size of government. They never learn, never fail to make stupid decisions. Boris Yeltsin spent $3.5 billion of IMF cash trying (and failing) to defend the rouble, precisely reproducing Black Wednesday, when Britain emptied her purse trying (and failing) to defend the pound's membership in the Exchange Rate Mechanism. Bad protection drives out good, Alan Greenspan used to say, condemning the ludicrous spectacle of government conducted by morons. If the peace and prosperity of the entire world rests on Bill Clinton's shoulders, how does the Commander-In-Chief have time to masturbate in the Oval Office during office hours? Answer: Peace and prosperity don't. Clinton's leadership is an illusion. Politicians have nothing of consequence to do, say, or decide. They are physiocratic windup toys, floating in a bubble bath of lukewarm hysteria, reciting platitudes written by schoolboys. We prosper to the extent that government does nothing. Clinton feels our pain, didn't inhale, whimpers for forgiveness. If there is any justification for this carnival of hot air, it must be discerned from an abstract principle, because none of the empirical data suggest any tangible benefit produced by these sterile public employments.
What Good is the State?
How this justifies Kosovo, the Vietnam War, or the defense of Kuwait is impossible to guess. So, let's suppose that it's 1939 and our national security problem is Adolph Hitler. Selfish plutocrats are weary of throwing good U.S. savings after bad, rescuing England. Jewish Americans raise funds to help their kinfolk in Poland, and German-Americans parade through Wisconsin waving swastikas. These are historical facts. It is undeniably true that, at any moment in history, the community will be divided into rival interest groups, each demanding that all the others contribute to some public good. See The Federalist Papers, No. X.
I am not an infantile individualist, demanding the right to be let alone by my neighbors or by whichever dominant faction has control of the elephantine mousetrap of state. Nor is David Friedman's example of housetrailers in France a solution. We do not live in housetrailers. Our lives and fortunes are deeply rooted in geographical community. Try building a factory or a nuclear power station on a housetrailer! Even in some micro-agrarian society, where the population is geographically dispersed and scatters farther into the hills at the first whiff of trouble, like the peasants of Corsovo, the penalty for isolation is deprivation, and ultimately you run out of room to run. Kropotkin's sensible dictates of [Polish] tribal conscience are a joke, when the problem is a ruthless neighbor like Adolph Hitler, mobilizing twenty Panzer divisions with absolute air supremacy.
The solution is here at ground zero, the foundation of society. If the American government had been disbanded in 1910 (to pick a date when it might have been historically feasible), the problem of Adolph Hitler would never have arisen. The mass suicide of World War I would have ended without Wilson's mismanagement, and there would have been no Great Depression to bankrupt postwar Europe. The American society of 1933, sans Franklin Roosevelt, would have been free of Keynesian doctrine, trading in hard currency and guided by a consortium of wealthy private bankers and industrialists -- a vastly different regime than Kropotkin's tribal conscience. American military adventures in Europe and Asia have always been pointless and unprofitable, from a strictly commercial perspective. War is an irrational waste of resources that no business would dare undertake. Consequently, the capitalist policy of national defense is to: (a) maximize industrial output; (b) maintain a strategic intelligence network; and (c) when necessary, call upon the whole community for men and munitions to meet any clear and present danger, providing capital and moral support to those who volunteer to fight. If this seems preposterously simple, then you have not read the history of the American Revolution. Most people are not mercenaries; they will not fight for money alone, unless they perceive that their communities and their loved ones are in real peril, a natural counterweight to reckless abuse of policy. The only difference between a coercive state and a consortium of leading citizens is competence. In the economic crisis that brought Hitler to power, leading citizens refused to participate. They stupidly entrusted the mechanism of state to Hindenburg, Hoover, and Chamberlain, who preferred National Socialism to Marxism. It is no surprise that German democracy ended badly in 1933. Politicians routinely proffer disaster, since their social contribution consists of flattery, fantasy, hatred and fear.
If roads are needed, communities have local bankers, landlords, and employers to determine and pay for local development. Ditto schools and hospitals. Every example of American philanthropy was an Andrew Carnegie or Sam Walton rags-to-riches story. My proposal is very simple. Do not let these men (or anyone else) compel obedience via legislation. Make the law of society de jure anarchy and promulgate the idea that some will govern more than others, not by virtue of piecrust campaign promises and balloon drops at a party meeting, but as a consequence of diligence, effort, savings, and sobriety.
Inequality, Legal Fictions & Legal Rights
It is silly to cry fascism! as an objection to my proposal. The operative feature of fascism was direction of industry by government. I would hope that critics have enough sense to say that an elite banking consortium constitutes an oligarchy -- i.e., rule by a few -- and is hence undemocratic. Quite so. Yet democracy is a disaster. Nothing you can say will convince me that your vote is equal to mine, or that the two of us together have a legal right to silence one of our economic or intellectual betters, or that someone's childish whims deserve to be given a free microphone in aid of the public good. I am not in favor of free speech by morons and children. Nor do I believe that free speech exists in contemporary society. Speech is the weapon of broadcasters. These are trifling side-issues, but it won't hurt to sweep them aside. I am a media exile. My works don't have a hope in hell of publication. As far as I'm concerned, CBS is a predatory force and their New York headquarters should be short-listed for a surgical strike.
The society in which we live is neither democratic nor fair. Take away their Federal license to print money, and CBS falls tomorrow. We cannot be rid of them too soon. Their agenda of glib vacuity, opinion polls, blandishments, and flashy manure is anesthetizing our society. Sport is next on my hit list. If I were a religious man, I'd fall on my knees and beg God to turn the NFL into thirty pillars of salt, ending one of the vainest vulgarities in human history.
I hope I have demonstrated a core proposition: that your vote and mine are incompatible and cancel one another. If you comfort yourself with the knowledge that a majority agree with your preference, I hereby denounce your brainless majority as de facto fascism and blame you for wrecking the American economy. Forty-four of GDP is government outlays. When the market crashes, don't look for oligarchic villains on Wall Street, or State Street, or in Grand Cayman. The next Depression will be of your own majoritarian making, because you pretended that political wishes were horses and beggars could ride, if enough of them wanted to.
Ayn Rand had the right idea. The guiltiest of men are the natural oligarchs, who abdicated their leadership of an anarcho-capitalist revolution. Instead of giving Harry Truman the atomic bomb, it could have and should have been developed in a laboratory at Galt's Gulch. This is the moral meaning of inequality. When the men of brains collaborate with a mob of dullards, it's unfair to blame the resultant calamity on a crowd of pickpockets and cheerleaders. Sadly, a moral principle never reaches beyond itself. Its ethical arms are too short, extending no farther than one man's soul, one man's purpose and lifespan. We have to look elsewhere for political guidance, because the thing at issue is a nation of laws and not of men.
I deal in very simple ideas. The rotten timber is a fiction, so let's blast the fictions. In reality, there are living human beings whose freedom and interest are the subject of this debate. There is no divine right of incorporation, whether as a government, or a Subchapter S tax dodge, or a family trust that never dies like a natural person. I hereby propose that the law abolish all corporations. Let each parcel of land, each railroad and airline, every road and factory be the property of some individual (or partnership of individuals). Legal cases shall be A vs B, two natural persons. I don't care if embryos, animals, and plants qualify for legal standing. Fine. Whatever. But no more fictitious, disembodied, immortal corporate persons like the United States of America, or CBS Inc. Let's get the bullshit out of the way and call some real defendants in court, to explain their guilt or innocence.
I am not impressed by the need to combine capital for big projects. The laws of banking and agency are sufficiently imaginative for any requisite venture. When J.P. Morgan owned J.P. Morgan, there was no legal limit to his activities or scope of responsibility as proprietor. He bailed out the Federal Government twice (the damn fool). When a natural person dies, his fortune can be willed to anyone he chooses, but not to a charitable ghost. All religious groups and trade unions are hereby dissolved. Associate as you please, go where you like, and sing your heart out in the choir -- but legal ownership of property pertains to real persons from now on. God owns nothing, unless he shows up in court and speaks for Himself.
The Initiation of Force
Every kind of force is an evil? Does that include Toyotas and Beamers, screeching past me as I attempt to cross an intersection? The way Landauer talks, you'd think that anarchists have to foreswear use of pesticides and cash registers. Lord-amighty! -- I might economically force someone to act differently by bribing her, or threatening to withhold a job promotion. (Sound familiar?) Does Landauer expect all anarchists to be Buddhist monks, or what?
Let's put this on a sensible basis. Force is good. I like force. I wish I had more of it at my disposal, and that I was able to wave a battalion or two at my enemies. However, being a hothead by nature, some years ago I made a moral decision not to carry a handgun -- mainly because I was tempted to shoot two or three people a day. If I began to indulge the habit of shooting people, it was unclear to me how I might ever wean myself from the practice. So, I decided to Just Say No to homicide. Don't laugh. This is serious business. When I got held up at gunpoint in Beverly Hills, had I been armed, there would've been at least two dead and several injured. I passionately hate being threatened at gunpoint.
The rule in current law, as I understand it, is that initiation of force is not an issue. (Attention, all Objectivists. Initiation of force is irrelevant.) The crime of assault is the threat of violence. Victims can take whatever actions seem reasonable under the circumstances. It is a complete justification for killing someone, if you can prove in the context of the situation that you had reason to believe that your life or the life of another was in jeopardy. If you kill somebody by mistake (wrongly believing that he meant to kill you) it still isn't murder -- just manslaughter. You could be paroled in two years, assuming that you hadn't killed anybody before and you were genuinely sorry for killing an innocent person by mistake. That's the law.
Where does that leave us? Clearly, the government intends to hunt us down if we refuse to pay taxes. If we resist, like Randy Weaver or the Branch Davidians, the FBI will use lethal force. That's their whole game plan, eerily reminiscent of Hitler. Obey or die.
Having resisted the Federal Government by nonviolent means (in court), I suggest that their intermediate weapon of coercion (imprisonment) is just as deadly. My life was in jeopardy on numerous occasions while in custody, and I witnessed several deaths. The practical enterprise of coercive government is to take life, liberty, and property for the enrichment and satisfaction of government officials. Motives are another story. Tyrants always think well of themselves and explain their activities as some kind of public service. Hitler certainly did.
But the law is quite firm on this point. You do not have to understand an assailant's motive. All you have to do is reasonably interpret his behavior as a clear threat to your life or the life of another, and you are legally justified in launching a preemptive strike. Of course, the law grants special immunity to government employees. You are never justified in disobeying or impeding the actions of a sovereign -- not even when he aims a gun at you, or drops napalm on your village, or regulates your employer out of existence, or orders your child to die as a conscript, thus sparing Bill Clinton the inconvenience of interrupting his political career.
I admit that I am sometimes overwhelmed with bitterness, because Jefferson's Declaration of Independence is never far from my heart. No sovereign has the right to take life, liberty, or property. The historical cost is numbered in hundreds of millions killed, two billion enslaved by Communism, five billion denied an example of liberty -- largely because America chickened out in 1787. The Framers lost the courage to say that all men were created equal.
Randolph of Virginia was not a fool, Benjamin Franklin no devil. I'm sure that Madison hoped for the best, and Hamilton thought that the survival of the Republic mattered more than technical issues of justice. Washington admitted that he was a simple man, unable to understand what ought to be done or why. Few imagined that the Constitution would survive more than a few decades, and Jefferson expected a revolution every 20 years or so. No one believed we would fight a Civil War. No one wanted it. They did everything possible to avoid it -- and yet, it was implicit from the first signature in Philadelphia. I have made the point elsewhere, but it bears repeating, that the Civil War was fought as a result of protectionist trade tariffs. It was the government's sole source of revenue at its inception. When the South was denied a voice in the Senate, saw her economic prospects sinking, and knew that Randolph's Compromise was being eclipsed by westward expansion, the Constitution was finished.
Until the moment of secession, the Federal Government never exerted substantial coercion against anyone, neither private citizen nor state nor foreign power. (I am not discussing Native Americans: the topic is not germane to my present thesis.) Hamilton's doctrine of implied powers sat on the shelf, disused. For the umpteenth time, President Andrew Jackson vetoed the construction of the Cumberland Road, saying that the Federal Government had no lawful power to promote the general welfare. Banking and commerce were still in the hands of private individuals. There were few corporations. America was not a world power.
If Murray Rothbard felt free to argue natural law, he inherited a tradition that skipped twice into the American Experiment and died at the Ford Theater. Jefferson's inspiration became Lincoln's epitaph: that all men are created equal. I spent a long time studying Lincoln's claim (If A may enslave B, why not B steal the same argument and enslave A?) because his was a beautiful eulogy of American common law, on the occasion of its eclipse by hardship and chicanery, paper greenbacks and Federal land grants -- the desperate acts of an embattled, failing leadership. When the Supreme Court reconvened, after a million Americans had been sacrificed in battle against one another, the American Experiment was legally ended. In the Legal Tender Cases, common law was buried by the will of the sovereign. Graft and power politics took over. Henceforth, the only thing that mattered were votes.
So, I find it somewhat remote and nostalgic, to discuss initiation of force and common law assault. The notion of justice survives because we live in constructive, actual liberty. We are self-governing in daily life, and we use justice to regulate our private intercourse. But it is no longer operative in law. The will of the state is our master, and We The People are servants, unequal as a matter of legal principle. If you are a government official, you are exempt from personal liability -- in fact, you aren't even present in court; you are a manifestation of the immortal, disembodied, corporate Sovereign (local, state or federal, it doesn't matter). So long as government employees execute the will of the sovereign, they are immune from prosecution, like the guards at Auschwitz who were only following orders. Oliver North was able to take this another step farther, claiming that he served his country by intuition, without asking for embarrassing orders. His conscience was clear. It was his duty to shred documents.
As a citizen, you are guilty with nothing to say in your defense, if you refuse to obey or to provide such information as the state may demand. The state has first claim on your property, perpetual title to your liberty. In tax matters, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. If you refuse to speak, you can be jailed without trial. In antitrust, trade and consumer protection law, you are guilty without knowing what might constitute a crime. In immigration law, you are guilty by reason of your place of birth.
At the moment, none of this matters to the American people. Unemployment is low, inflation a distant memory. The stock market quadrupled in value in ten years. Life is good. Television is amusing and familiar, like an old family friend. What could possibly go wrong?
The Right of Revolution
It is difficult to understand how the reputation of the state was enhanced by the Unabomber, inasmuch as he remained 100 percent invisible to the FBI for a decade until his mother turned him in. Nor is the arrest and prosecution of Timothy McVeigh quite the same thing as preventing Timothy McVeigh from blowing up a Federal office building. Had the attack taken place at night, with no one killed except DEA and ATF agents, our national reaction would have been different.
I lived through an interesting period in American history. I was in Madison when the Army Math Research Center was blown up. I was in Milwaukee when an anarchist was shot dead as he attempted to firebomb a supermarket. I was in Washington when half a million students fought a U.S. Marine Corps division, hoping to stop the Vietnam War. The revolutionary cell had guns, explosives, and a medical team. We were at war. People died. With other survivors of that struggle, I concluded that the enemy was not Richard Nixon or Dow Chemical. It was the American majority -- an overfed, self-satisfied, obedient bourgeoisie. To the majority it is a matter of indifference whether their salaries are paid by Lockheed or IBM or the Dept of Paperwork. Their moral sense is superglued to their stomachs. We cannot expect acts of revolutionary sacrifice to play in Peoria, where folks applaud Bill and Hillary.
Ayn Rand said it best: It's earlier than we think. Revolutions are, of necessity, occasioned by hardship and oppression. We simply have to wait for a 21st-century Stamp Tax. Those of us in the vanguard have plenty to do in the meantime. Idle libertarians can concentrate on agitprop activities, such as:
But we cannot win without direct action. Real revolutionaries must implement John Galt's strategy, persuading American industrialists to shut their factories, American bankers to quit. It doesn't matter whether this happens by accident or design, but it is vital to strip as much competence as possible from the economy, to hasten and deepen the inevitable crash.
In answer to Murray Rothbard, there is no such thing as natural law or human rights. All that exists are natural persons and human interaction.
In answer to David Friedman, invisible hand utilitarianism is impossible to test or measure, because historical data are incomplete, and because the greatest good is conjecture. I don't care what happened in medieval Iceland.
In answer to Karl Marx, property rights are created and maintained by general consent. If the anarcho-capitalist oligarchy imposes a tyranny, the downtrodden will revolt. The masses will not accept a paradigm shift until their majoritarian welfare state hits an economic brick wall, creating an opportunity to rally them behind a new set of Founding Fathers. I think we need to rewrite the common law definition of property to defeat Marxist liberals like Ralph Nader.
Should there be restitution for crime? No. I favor an Old West Nevada approach to crime. In previous writing, I suggested deportation of unwanted criminals to Upper Michigan. Public prosecution is not part of my scenario. All court cases are A vs B. Nor do I see the courts as a beehive of activity. Anarchy means conducting your affairs in propria persona, choosing good partners, consulting mentors as needed, and taking risks.
Pareto-optimal calculations are lost on me. It all sounds like Garrett Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons and an excuse for environmentalists to join the debate as intellectual equals, which they are not.
I have suggested above that mankind exist in perfect freedom, and that government is a choreographed ritual, nothing more than a public parade, or a secularized religion of quack faith-healers. We can increase or decrease the size of government at will. In a totalitarian state, the parades are bigger, there are more people in uniform, and they have less to eat. There is only one way to end tyranny: from within. Hitler was not defeated by Churchill or Eisenhower. He was defeated by stupidity and disobedience. Tyrants exude the former and inspire the latter.
My theory does not rely on a moral code. I view morality as a personal choice. Perhaps that makes me an emotive anarchist.
Because government does nothing and alters nothing, I am far more concerned with personal choice and private action. Hitler could not have come to power without the support of his intellectual superiors, who wrongly assumed that they could control him like a puppet. This is also the tragic legacy of American political history since the Civil War. So long as scientists and businessmen support the majoritarian fable, average Americans have no choice but to admire the Emperor's New Clothes with embarrassment and concealed terror. They know that something is wrong with our country, despite reports of a strong economy and everyone's best efforts to parade in cheerful rhythm. But the figures tell a different story, and I name Alan Greenspan as the guiltiest man in America for withholding the bottom line. Public debt as a percent of M2 has risen to wartime levels. Public spending will exceed 50 percent of GDP in FY2015. When it does, the IMF cannot rescue us. We are the IMF, boys and girls.
How each person chooses to cope with this unfolding disaster is unimportant. I cannot say that survivalists have it wrong, nor the whores led by Rupert Murdoch, nor the vultures led by George Soros. But I speak the truth as I understand it, and I accept the risk of public humiliation, rather than wait in silence for another, smarter person to someday speak for me and proclaim: All government is theft.
from The Laissez Faire City Times, Vol 3, No 16, April 19, 1999