A Rebuttal to “Sorry Libertarian Anarchists, Capitalism Requires Government”

I find it rather fun to debunk articles about why anarchists are wrong. Mostly, this is because the people writing them are generally in favor of limited government, yet use all of the tactics of their big government counterparts when arguing against voluntaryism. This article called Sorry Libertarian Anarchists, Capitalism Requires Government, by Harry Binswanger was a slightly better critique of anarchism compared to Austin Petersen’s, but essentially makes the same mistake of failing to differentiate between defensive force, and offensive force.

The anarchists object to the very idea of a monopoly on force. That only shows that they cannot grasp what force is. Force is monopoly. To use force is to attempt to monopolize. The cop or the gunman says: “We’ll do it my way, not your way–or else.” There is no such thing as force that allows dissenters to go their own way.

If a man wants to have sex with a woman who doesn’t want it, only one of them can have their way. It’s either “Back off” or rape. Either way, it’s a monopoly.

Does he not realize that this argument says rape need only be deemed legal and the rapist is in the right? Anarchists recognize the aggressor as always wrong. Anarchists understand that force is a meaningless word in the way that he uses it, because he fails to differentiate between types of force. Defending against rape is not monopolizing force, it is monopolizing your body. And monopolizing your own body is where all rights stem from.

You are your own property, and therefore philosophically have total autonomy. He speaks of a “proper government”, which is mythical, unless you count the individual as a government of one. The only thing you have the right to monopolize is your own body, and the property that stems from the right of self ownership (acquired by trade, or original appropriation mixed with labor). This highlights the difference between the force used in rape, and the force used in defense of rape.

Monopolizing force in an attempt to rape would not be “proper government” (defined as a government that does not violate any rights) because it seeks to monopolize more than your own body (and your property which stems from self ownership). Monopolizing force to defend against rape would indeed be “proper government” because you are only monopolizing your own body, and demanding that no other (government or individual) break your monopoly on self ownership.

He really digs his own grave on this point, since all government does is in fact “rape”, by failing to recognizing autonomous individuals who own themselves, and therefore monopolize their own body. Government says it has partial ownership of you, and the proof is that they can force you to do things you do not want to do. And in this sense, he makes the same argument as Petersen: they both believe that just by wielding force, whether defensive or offensive, you are a government. But practically no one agrees with their definition of government.

Governments monopolize regardless of rights, and individuals acting in self defense are monopolizing only in accordance to their rights. If a government only operated without violating others’ rights, this means they would not forcefully exclude a competitor, and therefore would not be a government, but a competing business to fulfill a market demand.

And after all of the effort to show how force will be monopolized no matter what, Binswanger then argues that we need government force in order to protect us from force from others. But he never explains why the government’s force is better than those it protects you from. In essence he admits that there is no difference between “the cop or the gunman,” then arbitrarily chooses the cop’s force over the gunman’s. Binswanger would therefor not necessarily prefer the woman’s monopoly on force to the rapists: first he must check with the government to see which will be allowed under their monopoly.

He then goes on to praise the non-existent “American system” of government, which even in its perfect form violates the individual’s right to self ownership, and therefore does not fit the definition of a “proper government”.

The genius of the American system is that it limited government, reining it in by a Constitution, with checks and balances and the provision that no law can be passed unless it is “necessary and proper” to the government’s sole purpose: to protect individual rights–to protect them against their violation by physical force.

Tragically, the original American theory of government was breached, shelved, trashed long ago. But that’s another story.

No, it is not another story, it is very much a part of this story. What is so genius about a system that could not maintain itself? How was it reigned in by a Constitution, if he admits that it was “shelved and trashed long ago”? As Lysander Spooner said, the Constitution either allowed such a system as we have, or failed to prevent it.

Never has a government existed whose sole purpose was and stayed to protect individual rights, let alone doing so funded through voluntary means! So Binswanger can keep arguing for that type of government, but without saying how to get or keep it, what good does the argument do? I could use this same argument for a monarchy or dictatorship, and just ignore the fact that it would be impossible to always have a benevolent dictator in power.

Anarchy on the other hand, tells you how it will remain free: through market decisions. If the market dictates that force be used not only in self defense, we may end up right back where we are now. But that is a less likely scenario based on everything we know about markets and competition–competition delivers a better product for cheaper. It also speaks volumes that we are currently living in the worst case scenario for how anarchy would turn out: violent monopolization of force without accordance to individual rights stemming from self ownership.

But this last point, Binswanger would argue, is moot, because protection is not production, so it is therefore not an economic service which can be provided by the market.

However protection is creating a proper environment for economic transactions, just like vacuuming the floor at a shop creates a proper environment: vacuuming is not production, but it allows the store to be more productive by appealing to customers who want to shop in a clean store. A guard does not produce whatever you are selling, he allows you to be more productive by creating an environment where people feel safe shopping, working, or living.

The anarchists do not object to retaliatory force, only to it being wielded by a government. Why? Because, they say, it excludes “competitors.” It sure does: it excludes vigilantes, lynch mobs, terrorists, and anyone else wanting to use force subjectively.

“A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control–i.e., under objectively defined laws.” (Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal)

There can be only one supreme law of the land and only one government to enforce it. (State and local governments are necessarily subordinate to the federal government.)

Yet despite his arguments, governments currently use force subjectively! And how can he claim competition for retaliatory force would be more subjective than monopolization on retaliatory force? What evidence does Binswanger have to show that government can more effectively objectively define laws than competing firms? None! In fact an examination of every government’s laws on earth will yield no such objectivity, especially when their aggressive actions are examined next to their laws. Read the Constitution for proof, and tell me if you think our government is objective in their enforcement.

Vigilantes, lynch mobs and terrorists would all be subject to further retaliation when they violate others’ rights. Not always, but more often than in government, will objective laws come from companies who wish to turn profits, because conflict is costly, and not conducive to the bottom line. Competing entities are not simply competing in force, but in productivity. They must bring people to justice in order to serve their customers, but not invite conflict by going beyond the objective, previously defined contracts they agree to fulfill. In other words, the competing wielders of force have all the incentives to lay out their “laws” and stick to them, while government has no such incentive.

Binswanger does not say what land area a government may cover, so we can assume that governments could be as small as we want, except that he says local and state governments are “necessarily subordinate to federal government” (despite arguing earlier in favor of the Constitution which subordinated the federal government to state governments). But why does a law of the land have to be subject to arbitrary borders? I might assume he would support one world government, because then the ultimate “agreement” across the board would be had over what an individual can and cannot do.

He claims the mythical government that he wants will not get its money through force, but voluntarily, and only wield force in a retaliatory manner. So the monopoly on law is what he really wants the government to have. Throw in the possibility of different courts defining different segments of law, or laws in different regions. The laws would depend on the people who voluntary patronize such firms for protection, while agreeing that they will not violate the laws they are protected with, and voila, we have an anarchist society.

People, consumers, would define the laws by patronizing competing agencies of law–security companies, third party arbiters, crime insurance companies, etc. Desire for profits will keep these competing firms from breaching contracts or waging wars. Governments on the other hand, routinely wage wars when they cannot agree with other governments.

The anarchist idea of putting law on “the market” cannot be applied even to a baseball game. It would mean that the rules of the game will be defined by whoever wins it.

An absurd analogy! In order to play a game at all, it must first be defined! This is a paradox; how can there be a winner if it takes a winner to define what it means to be a winner?! How can a game be won, if there is no game until it is won?

Imagine someone saying, “We’re going to play a game. Okay, I win; now I will tell you what the rules are. The rules are, I win.” That sounds like a government to me.

But let’s follow the baseball example. Two people or companies engaging in free trade would be the baseball teams, and they must both agree on the terms of the game before playing with each other. If they never agree, they never play!

If they agree on the rules, they then both agree on a third party to whom’s authority they will voluntarily submit, in order to engage in the game–the economic transaction–because they both want to play, they both see some benefit in the game. So both teams hire an umpire to call the shots based on rules that both teams agreed to, not that the umpire simply makes up.

Again, it is hilariously cringe-worthy that Binswanger would use an example of a baseball game, that could be compared perfectly to an anarchist scenario. Both teams agree on the end that they want: to play a game. They create law by defining the terms of the game. They know the umpire won’t always make the calls they want, but they also know the game essentially would be chaos–not anarchy–without the third party making the calls. Its a win win, even for the loser, who will have the chance to play other games, since other teams know they play fair.

The market was created by the two teams. The two will not be playing the same game, or in the same stadium, unless they first agree on the rules.

Binswanger also forgets that economics is not a zero-sum game. There is no outright winner in economics, and there is only a loser when the business shuts its doors. Otherwise, the business will stay open to competition. The team may lose one game, and win the next one; that is it may lose one customer, and gain the next one, based on how well it plays the game. But the teams it engages with are always on the same page, or they would not be engaging.

This guy might do better writing for the Onion. Look at these two lines, where he tells us why government functions cannot be accomplished through competition:

Actual competition is a peaceful rivalry to gain dollars–dollars paid voluntarily in uncoerced trade.

Governments are necessary–because we need to be secure from force initiated by criminals, terrorists, and foreign invaders.

Peaceful competition cannot exist without violent force. Allowing violent force to be used against you is the only way to prevent violent force from being used against you. Peaceful competition is the ideal, therefore we must accept violent force to make sure all competition is peaceful. He should be embarrassed that he wrote these two sentences in the same article, let alone right next to each other.

Government forcing you to fund and use their services is coerced trade! A voluntary trade would be hiring a firm who agrees to protect you from criminals, terrorists, and foreign invaders. And you would hire the best firm, not the one that says it will cage you if you refuse to engage, as the current government does.

Binswanger has already said that the only moral use of force is to defend rights, yet even when governments have defended some of these rights, they do so by first violating them in order to gain their funding through violent theft via taxation. It is a contradiction of objective morality, unless he somehow thinks paradoxically that an immoral act is required to stop other immoral acts.

The attempt to invoke individual rights to justify “competing” with the government collapses at the first attempt to concretize what it would mean in reality. Picture a band of strangers marching down Main Street, submachine guns at the ready. When confronted by the police, the leader of the band announces: “Me and the boys are only here to see that justice is done, so you have no right to interfere with us.” According to the anarchists, in such a confrontation the police are morally bound to withdraw, on pain of betraying the rights of self-defense and free trade.

First of all, whose rights have been violated? Men walking down the street with guns is not an infringement on any rights. On the other hand, armed police officers walking down the street, paid and armed through theft of the citizens wages, is itself an immoral act (according to his own definition) due to the rights violated to make it possible. Of course the police are morally required to withdraw.

But say it was just two gangs of gun toters: the immoral party would be the first one to fire a shot unprovoked. This isn’t hard: the people in the wrong are the ones who initiate force, who violate others’ rights, who infringe on the self ownership of others, who seek to break the monopoly that the individual inherently has over himself.

And anarchists think a free market for the services government provides would more often hold the wrongdoers accountable, based on the fact that the free market more often serves the consumers’ demands in every area in which the government doesn’t interfere.

Anarchy is no guarantee that a man’s rights will not be violated. Government is a guarantee that a man’s rights will be violated.

Economic competition presupposes a free market. A free market cannot exist until after force has been barred. That means objective law, backed up by a government. To say it can be backed up by “competing” force-wielders is circular. There is no competition until there is a free market, and some agency has to protect its condition as a free market by the use of retaliatory force.

He’s got it all backwards! The only natural law, that offensive force is barred. If you allow government to wield the force, then force has not been barred, and it is not a free market, which is presupposed for competition!

The question is, what is the most effective way of getting to a truly free market? Recognizing all force as immoral would be a good place to start, as opposed to giving government the magic power of abracadabra, and they are somehow not guilty of an immoral act.

If you can disassociate, and refuse to do business with someone, that is a free market. Government, which forces you into their marketplace, does not create a free market.

Competing force wielders would be more constrained by the market than monopoly force wielders, thus being more likely to lead to a freer and freer market, until economic incentives dictate the only rule that ever needed to exist: do not initiate force against others.

And at that point there will be 7 billion “proper governments” on earth called sovereign individuals.

4 thoughts on “A Rebuttal to “Sorry Libertarian Anarchists, Capitalism Requires Government”

    • Exactly. Last i heard walmart will let you return an item you bought somewhere else. The RMV told me to take a day off from work in order to get down there when they are open. And then the girl looked at me like i was crazy when we asked if they were open on saturdays.

  1. Hi Joe, I read Binswanger’s older version of his “Anarchism vs. Capitalism” article when it was published in The Objectivist Forum in the early 1980s. He used very much the same arguments as this Forbes article. I was thinking all along that from the get-go, the U.S. government and constitution were unfit because they did not defend property at all. Slavery existed from the day the ink was wet on that paper they wrote the constitution and existed until the 1860s. The Sedition Act of 1798 was 12 years after the ratification of the constitution. The Whiskey tax which led to the Whiskey rebellion in 1791, four years after the constitution. Harry Binswanger is the utopian, like Rothbard said, the minarchists are the real utopians, they want to put all the firepower in the hands of a monopoly and say “limit yourself.” Well the limit never happened. And Robert Higgs: The mayhem and chaos of anarchy is completely conjectural, but the mayhem and bloodshed of the State is a fact. Binswanger violates the objective ideal of “check your premises.” He starts of with false premises.

    • Exactly, and i could hardly believe some of his statements like security is not an economic activity, or that defense is force. Really absurd coming from a libertarian. The fact that he admits the constitution was trashed but still says it limitted government…. so much wrong with his ”reasoning”.

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