About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Is Anarchism A Cult? Just Askin'

A week or so ago James A. Miller at his blog called "Miller's Genuine Draft" asked this question: Should the State Be Hated?" Miller is the Editor in Chief at the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. At the conclusion of his blog entry he answers his own question:
To answer the original inquiry, yes, the state should be hated.  It should be laughed at, ridiculed, questioned, protested against, and seen for the criminal syndicate it truly is.  But above all, it should inspire the detestation of anyone who tires of being oppressed.  American founding father Thomas Paine famously declared “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”  I would hasten to correct him that government, in all shapes in forms, is indeed evil but not at all necessary for a lasting peace.
Notice in the last sentence Miller concludes that "government, in all shapes in [sic] forms, is indeed evil..."

Really? Any shape or form of government is evil? My town board is a "criminal syndicate?"

Far be it from me to defend statism. I agree with Miller when he describes the characteristics of statism:
It’s as if they hold no contempt for the tax collector who happily helps themselves [sic] to the hard-earned wealth of others.  It’s as if they don’t wince at the merciless beating of someone who finds themselves on the wrong side of a police officer drunk on his own power.  It’s as if don’t feel anguish for the innocent bystanders that happen to be in the path of the endless bombings for democracy.  It’s as if they could care less that some faceless bureaucrat monitors their private electronic correspondence without their permission. It’s is as if they don’t find it repulsive that their very freedom is being taken away by one decree after another.
The problem, as I see it, is that Miller is not criticizing statism per se, i.e., the abuse of power by those who hypostatize the concept of "state" and hold the interests of that supposed entity superior to the interests of individuals. Rather, Miller is asking me to believe that the state is "an inherently evil institution that oppresses the greater majority of mankind [emphasis mine]."

Moreover, Miller conflates the concepts of "state" and "government," concluding that both are "evil." Indeed, he criticizes "supporters of laissez faire" who "fail to show any radical aversion to the state itself" and, presumably, to any form of government itself.

On top of all this, Miller impugns the motives of the average voter who participates in the evil of state and government:
These aren’t intellectual mistakes.  They are daily occurrences sanctioned by a mass of voters still feverishly dedicated to the idea that government is theirs to control.  The average voter is often too preoccupied with his political buy-off to realize it is his neighbor’s money he is now in possession of.  Whenever their government is engaged in an imperialistic, corpse-ridden crusade of freedom, voters pay no mind to their dollars directly funding mass murder.  To them, the state is a religion and monarch rolled into one.  They pay tribute with their wealth, labor, and admiration only to be rewarded with their lives being more and more micromanaged.
This all sounds cultish to me. It certainly is not logical analysis. No longer is it enough to criticize statism or abuses of power by those in government. Critics must properly "hate" the very concepts of both "government" and "state" as inherent evils or they risk being labeled as "evil" themselves. If you vote, if you pay taxes, if you participate in politics, you are not making an intellectual mistake. You are proactively participating in evil. Thus, you are morally deficient. Or so Miller implies.

First off, how does Miller know whether an action is an intellectual mistake or a purposeful attempt to do harm?

Secondly, what possible good does it do anyone to hate a concept, especially a concept that few in our society understand the way Miller wants them to understand it?

I think it is ironic and instructive that a few days before Miller's article was published, an article by Wendy McElroy appeared on the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada website entitled: "What Is Society? What Is The State?" In her article McElroy distinguishes between the concept of "society" and that of "state." She also considers a third concept, "government:"
At this point in his argument, Nock introduced a third concept: government. To Nock, government, unlike the state, provided a valuable service. It protected the individual rights of society, presumably in exchange for a fee, such as that embodied in a reasonable tax rate.

Nock was not alone in distinguishing between government and the state, and in giving a nod to the former while frowning upon the latter. Ayn Rand also embraced a limited government that would function as a night watchman who unobtrusively protected the person and property of those within his territory.

We now live under a state, not a government. And true to the title of Nock’s book, the state is the enemy of our rights and property. Unlike the government envisioned by Rand, it is not a night watchman but a prison guard both day and night.
Not only does McElroy clearly distinguish between state and government, she clearly does not think government is inherently evil. In fact, neither does Nock, whom Miller also quoted in his article to buttress his argument that the state is evil.

Anarchists like Miller assume that once the structure of state and government crumbles individual freedom and liberty will enjoy an unfettered golden age. They believe this because they know that the science of economics demonstrates irrefutably that the system of capitalism and free markets provides for the largest quantity of goods and services to be distributed in the most satisfactory way at the lowest possible price to the widest range of demanding consumers. They assume that capitalism and free markets will provide individuals essential, societal services, like defense, property protection, conflict resolution and contract enforcement, more satisfactorily than either the state or government.

But is such an assumption valid?

I, like many "supporters of laissez faire," have grave doubts that it is. I will continue to have grave doubts until anarchists stop assuming and begin proving. In short, Miller should make his case. He should stop hating and persuade me that anarcho-capitalism is possible, practical and preferable to the classic nightwatchman form of limited government.

In "Theory and History" Ludwig von Mises writes:
The way toward a realistic distinction between freedom and bondage was opened, two hundred years ago, by David Hume's immortal essay, On the First Principles of Government. Government, taught Hume, is always government of the many by the few. Power is therefore always ultimately on the side of the governed, and the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. This cognition, logically followed to its conclusion, completely changed the discussion concerning liberty. The mechanical and arithmetical point of view was abandoned. If public opinion is ultimately responsible for the structure of government, it is also the agency that determines whether there is freedom or bondage. There is virtually only one factor that has the power to make people unfree-tyrannical public opinion. The struggle for freedom is ultimately not resistance to autocrats or oligarchs but resistance to the despotism of public opinion. It is not the struggle of the many against the few but of minorities-sometimes of a minority of but one man-against the majority. The worst and most dangerous form of absolutist rule is that of an intolerant majority. Such is the conclusion arrived at by Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill.
I think Miller and his anarchist friends understand implicitly that it is "tyrannical public opinion" that oppresses them and makes it possible for government to "steal" from them. Hence, Miller's virulent rants against the outrageous power wielded by officials of the state and the voters who sanction that power and "pay no mind to their dollars directly funding mass murder."

But what's an anarchist to do about it?

McElroy suggests two reasonable strategies:
“Gulching” and “Going Galt.” Gulching, named after Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged, means withdrawing from society into an isolated community. Going Galt, named after the early strategy of John Galt in the same novel, means removing your support from the state without leaving society.
So why doesn't Miller act on McElroy's suggestion? If his hatred of "tyrannical public opinion" is so unbearable, why stick around? Why embark on the thankless mission of convincing a bunch of mistaken intellectuals and immoral numbskulls to hate the concepts of state and government with a vitriol equal to his? Why not simply "Gulch" or "Go Galt?"

McElroy has the answer:
Society offers tremendous benefits, including friendship, expanded knowledge, culture, a division of labor, the free market of exchange, family and romantic love. Society can maximize your range of choice because many of your decisions require the presence of other people; for example, the decision to have a child. The maximization of choice is itself a form of freedom...
...It takes a great deal of theft and corruption by the state to outweigh the extraordinary benefits of society. Whether or not we are at that point is a judgment call. My judgment is that we are not there yet. The tipping point may be perilously close but the state has not yet succeeded in reversing the advantages of being in society.

No matter how you slice it, whether you want to entice individuals to join you in a new, anarcho-capitalist society or in a reformed America with limited government, you must persuade individuals to cooperate with you, or the benefits of cooperation you now enjoy will be squandered.

Well, guess what. The key to cooperative action is voluntary and mutual agreement. And the only means of attaining voluntary and mutual agreement is persuasion, not vitriol and flame-throwing.

Don't get me wrong. There are individuals in America who are just plain "evil," or who at least knowingly and purposely act in "evil" ways to rip-off and torment their neighbors. These individuals might deserve a huge helping of hate. However, these individuals aren't prospective cooperative partners anyway. There is little chance of persuading them to change their evil ways.

On the other hand, it is possible to persuade well-meaning Americans of goodwill to right their intellectual mistakes and cooperate in like-minded fashion for mutual benefit. All I'm sayin' to Miller is: cool it!

Stop cultishly demonizing individuals and their beliefs.

I, for one, will be more likely to cooperate with you if you stop demanding that I "hate" government as viscerally as you do.

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