I had to click on an article called “5 Reasons Why I’m Not An Anarchist” by Austin Petersen on The Libertarian Republic to see if it offered any new perspective I hadn’t considered.
The article was chock-full of logical fallacies notably the straw-man, red herring, and non sequitur. Petersen’s main method of argument was what socialists use against the free market: “well how would that work?” Austin Petersen can’t think of how private property would work without monopoly government force, so his conclusion is that it cannot. He starts off right from the beginning in a way that makes me question his basic understanding of libertarian philosophy.
1. “Rights are Guarantees”
A right is something that MUST be provided. Any society aimed at protecting natural rights must use some type of force to guarantee those rights. Any mechanism of force used to guarantee those rights have [sic] the same effect as government, no matter what that form may take.
Already his first sentence is so wrong. A right is absolutely NOT something that must be provided. A right is something that occurs naturally. You are alive, so you have the right to live. You are un-harmed, so if someone tries to harm you, you have the right to fight back. You built a home without kicking anyone else off the land, so you have a right to that property.
The reason a right is not something that must be provided is because that right would necessarily infringe on others’ rights, because they will be forced to provide “the right” in a non-voluntary society. If you have “the right” to medical care, that means you have “the right” to force others to provide medical care for you. A real right is expressed in the negative, not requiring action (No one may assault me), not a positive, requiring the action of a third party (someone must make sure I am not assaulted).
Also, needing “some type” of force to guarantee rights does not mean you need aggressive force. Defensive force is the only acceptable type to use in a voluntary society. Governments inherently use offensive force, or aggression, to achieve their ends, including supposedly “protecting natural rights” –which they violate by regulating non-aggressive actions without consent of the governed using stolen money. Well if we don’t have a natural right to not be robbed of the product of our labor, what do we have?
“Any mechanism of force” to retain rights does not have to be a government. Just because something has the same effect as government (or better) does not mean that the thing is a government, or has to be accomplished with coercion, as with government. My gun helps me maintain my right to live. Shooting an attacker protects my right, and does not require government. And contrary to what Petersen later argues, voluntarily creating a defense coalition does not necessarily make the organization a government.
Then Petersen does what liberals do when defending government welfare. He pretends that if the government doesn’t protect the poor, the poor will have no protection.
A fully privatized law system would be justice for sale to the highest bidder…
…the constitution laid out the means for citizens to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, cruel or unusual punishments, or from things like double jeopardy. It means that while citizens have the right to defend themselves, they must also be defended if they are too weak to defend themselves.
It would not be “justice for sale to the highest bidder” because there would be competing interests. The government is currently selling justice to the highest bidder, precisely because it doesn’t have competitors! With competition, nothing is stopping other companies from taking your business if you sell to the highest bidder. Nothing is stopping other companies from stepping in on behalf of injured parties.
Corporations today buy off politicians for relatively small amounts of money in campaign contributions. A single person or corporation would have to spend too much money to manipulate the multitude of other companies that would be involved in various levels of the justice system. There would be no overarching authority preventing whistle-blowing. With government, the corporations spend a little money to make a lot in subsidies, regulations, or laws. It would quickly become more profitable to simply not be a corrupt company in the law enforcement industry. People would run legitimate businesses because of consumer demand and competing suppliers: no, the free market doesn’t suddenly fail when it comes to the defense industry!
Also, how is the constitution doing stopping unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, and keeping poor folks from being “railroaded” into prison? It’s not. But the market would punish police and courts for these miscarriages of justice for the poor, unlike our current system.
Petersen’s definition of a “right” is wrong, he fails to understand the basic nature of what “government” is, and does not distinguish between defensive and offensive force.
2. “…unable to protect its citizens from foreign invasion”
A fully anarchist society with no collective means of defense is at the mercy of foreign powers who have not abdicated such means of survival. An anarchist state is at the mercy of anyone who wishes to expand into their territory unchecked. The Native Americans can attest to this.
The constitution laid out the means through which American society can protect itself. If I band together with my neighbors to form a mutual defense pact, and we call that a constitution, it would necessarily have the same effect as government.
Austin is very confused about the difference between voluntary and involuntary collectives. The constitution is not a contract, because we didn’t sign it. Are you responsible for adhering to contracts you didn’t sign? If you sign one with your neighbors, great! That’s anarchy. If you force the neighbor who didn’t sign to go along with your rules on their own property that is a government.
But again, Petersen says it would “have the same effect as government,” [emphasis added] not: “it would be a government.” I must however assume he is conflating something having a similar effect to government, with something being a government. Otherwise, why would he write a piece against anarchism when his statements support the idea? Voluntary associations would have the same effect as government, but without the coercion. So we can safely bet a voluntary system would yield better results as well; the old, you’ll know the tree by the fruit it bears.
I’ve talked about this before, why anarchist societies would not be conquered. Basically, without any central control mechanism (government) what is there to take over? An invader would need to force every individual, business, and household to comply, which would be a problem if they were all armed. But if you conquer a country that already has a central oppressive system, you simply get to take over the puppet strings and be done with it: keep collecting taxes for your plunder. Otherwise it would cost more to invade than could be gained.
And of course governments prey on their own people as often as they invade foreign lands; a government is no guarantee that your own government won’t do worse things than the feared invading army. So take your pick of who you want to be pitted against. I would choose a foreign invader who everyone recognizes as an aggressive enemy versus a homegrown monster who you can’t defend yourself against.
In America, under the constitution he keeps mentioning, the “defense” was what originally victimized the Native Americans! Is Petersen simply arguing that it is better to be on the winning side? That would explain the offensive military juggernaut that the military has become today, creating more enemies than it repels.
The idea that we need government to defend a homeland rests on no morals grounds, and at best shaky strategic grounds.
3. “Anarchy means the non-aggression principle is optional”
If you believe in the non-aggression principle… who’s [sic] job is it to enforce it? If someone breaks into your home, and you are unable to defend yourself, or pay for private security, who do you call? If you have a dispute with your neighbor, who (you allege) stole your life savings, how will you sue them or have them arrested to get it back, assuming you might be correct?
Who did they call for protection when the constitution was written, Austin? The constitution was never meant to provide protection, it was meant to allow you to provide for your own protection in whatever way necessary. The government agents almost never prevent a crime, they just do a poor job investigating it, and a poor job bringing the assailant to justice.
What the constitution did provide was a way for the government (with a monopoly on criminal justice) to invade your neighbors home to search it if the same government grants itself a warrant saying the government has sufficient evidence to invade that home. Perhaps a search warrant would still be issued in an anarchist society, but it would not happen by monopoly decision, without any oversight from independent agencies.
I would rather live in a world where a man is still innocent until proven guilty, and unmolested until hard evidence of a crime is uncovered. With hard evidence, an anarchist society and the markets therein could bring justice better than government currently does or can.
Breaking the non-aggression principle does not mean it doesn’t exist, just like violating a right does not mean the right didn’t exist. Austin clearly believes in rights. Well, the non-aggression principle sums up every right. It says that naturally the attacker is in the wrong. The attacker doesn’t have to agree to the Non-aggression principle, but that won’t stop him from being shot, or apprehended, if he breaks it. An attacker might also not agree that you have the right to life, but you can still defend yourself against him, and dole out justice for his violation of your right/ the non-aggression principle.
Enforcing the non-aggression principle would come down to individuals and the people they hire. Vigilance will always be required, like the vigilance that would have been required to retain our rights from the Bill of Rights. But control over government, wielded through voting, is a sham, while the effect vigilant consumers have over the free market is proven.
The non-aggression principle is a natural law. That doesn’t mean it is never broken, it means the one breaking it is always in the wrong. Remember that Austin doesn’t understand the difference between aggressive and defensive force, but an aggressor does not have to agree to me defending myself.
Things don’t work out perfectly now. Petersen acts like if a neighbor steals your money, the police will clear it right up! If there is hard evidence, the scenario would be no different, except that the profit motive for private courts would make it more fair, since they would be out of business if they weren’t. Currently, you just have to have the right judge: one corrupt person, not a whole corrupt company. Current courts are never defunded no matter how horrible they are. A private court would lose their business if they were unfair.
Then Austin does what liberals do when they argue against the free market and against “greedy businesses”:
In an anarchist state, no one is responsible for defending life, liberty, or property unless they are paid to do so. Crimes such as theft, fraud, breach of contract, or murder could be committed against those who do not have the means of self-defense. In Ancapistan… no one can hear you scream. And no one cares.
Because if something is not done by force, it can’t be done, right? Because the market delivers the best results which lift all ships… but not when it comes to security?
If you understand that the poor will be provided for through voluntary charity in a prosperous free market world, then you should also understand that those without protection will be provided for in a prosperous free market world. And that doesn’t even consider the probability that poverty and crime would be virtually eliminated in a free market world, judging by a comparison of relative poverty among a regions’ poorest members, between current freer market versus less economically free regions.
4. “The Non-Aggression Principle? I didn’t sign sh*t!”
The Non Aggression principle is a social contract… but I didn’t sign it, and neither did the enemies of liberty. Anarchist often sneer at constitutionalists, arguing that they didn’t sign the document, nor did they agree to it. Then they claim that the only thing we need to live in peace and harmony is the non-aggression principle. The only problem? I didn’t sign it. And neither did Kim Jong Un, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, or any other statist dictator on the planet. The non-aggression principle is a social contract, but there is zero obligation to live by it. Indeed, it would be dangerously naive to submit to any form of a non-aggression principle, for as soon as one party signs, those who have not could feel free to decline, and everyone who chooses to live life in a pacific state would be easy prey for those who do not live according to that principle.
Wrong again! That is 0-4 for everyone keeping score at home. The constitution is an involuntary grouping, or social contract, because no one alive today signed it.
The non-aggression principle is not a social contract, because it does not force any obligations on you. Not aggressing, or not violating another persons’ rights is not an obligation; like a right, it is expressed in the negative: an inaction. The constitution is an obligation, a positive, requiring an action of a non-aggressive party who did not agree to adhere by it.
Agreeing not to aggress on someone does not mean you agree to be freely aggressed upon! There is a difference between not attacking someone and allowing yourself to be attacked. You don’t have to sign the non-aggression principle, because it is not forcing you to do anything, it is a statement that whoever aggresses is naturally in the wrong. It is not a social contract, because it does not require the consent of both parties. It is a statement: if you attack me, you are in the wrong, and I will fight back.
Also, I suspect Petersen knows, and just ignored, that the non-aggression principle is not a statement of pacifism. I can’t stress this point enough: offensive force, attacking, is what violates the non-aggression principle, NOT defensive force, force used to protect yourself from an attacker.
Just being in the wrong doesn’t mean you will be punished. But if enough people asserted the non-aggression principle, it would very quickly be in every individual’s self interest to adhere by it. They don’t have to, but I also don’t have to follow laws. I will go to jail if I don’t however, and if you don’t follow the non-aggression principle, you might get shot, because you attacked someone!
Also, in many cases the non-aggression principle forbids the basic principle of a preemptive attack for the purpose of self-defense. Anarchists argue that there is “no harm, no crime,” however, if that is the case, then someone pointing a gun at you is not a crime. For if someone points a gun at you, it could be considered aggression, but if they do not shoot, then there is no harm. A minarchist society punishes threats and rightly labels such acts as aggression.
Where does he come up with this stuff? Of course aiming a gun at someone is aggression; the harm is in the threat! Shooting someone who aims a gun at you is not a preemptive strike. You don’t have to wait until you are punched, if someone is winding up to punch you; they have began the aggression against you. But yes, an actual preemptive strike IS aggression!
Now, what if Kim Jong Un placed a nuclear weapon on the launchpad aimed at Los Angeles… the equivalent of pointing a gun? Is it then moral or ethical to destroy their means of aggression.
Ownership of a non-precision weapon (which means not only a specific intended target can be hit) is de-facto aggression, because it cannot be used without aggressing on innocent parties in the vicinity of the guilty target. It would indeed be defense to disarm a nuclear weapon pointed at your city.
5. “Private Property”
Who defines what is private property? In an anarchist society, there is no commonly accepted definition. Some may choose to argue that intellectual property is private. Some may decide otherwise and begin acquiring that property for their own benefit. Some may argue that they have a right to food, and thus their neighbor’s surplus should be rightly theirs, seeing as how the creek from their property fed the crops next door. The farmer next door might argue that the creek actually belongs to him, since it flows across his fields. The beggar next door might argue that the fields are his, since he has been sleeping in them for longer than the farmer has sown them.
Without a firm definition of what constitutes private property, there can be no reliable transactions between parties. An anarchist society can attempt to define what is truly property, but they cannot enforce it, even if they all agree.
This is Petersen’s best point, but that is sort of like saying gonorrhea is the best STD: they all suck. So his solution to property disputes is to have a third party decide by force? Well couldn’t the same thing be done through arbitration in an anarchist society, but without force?
The difference would be that the third party is performing a service in an anarchist society, and therefore must keep their customers (both people in the dispute) and potential customers (people shopping around for dispute resolution) happy in order to maintain profits. Government will maintain profits (stolen tax dollars) regardless of the outcome, and actually has an agenda of its own, which will often dictate with whom government sides, regardless of who is right or wrong.
We can refer to the non-aggression principle to understand property rights. Are there going to be quarrels? Of course! But the question is, do we settle these by force, or by agreement? Right now, the two hundred some odd landowners regularly quarrel over borders (war), and involve all their subjects at dire costs in human life, and production. By allowing these governments to “solve” our land disputes between neighbors, we allow a whole larger monster that would otherwise never erupt beyond the Hatfields and McCoys.
Is the solution to the stream problem that the EPA owns it? That is where Petersen’s precious constitution has ended us. Is the answer to the hobo in your fields property taxes, in order to exclude the poor and income-less from calling a piece of land their own?
Do we all need to agree perfectly on private property to get along? Nope. Through our free interactions a definition of private property will be developed that is more fair than the one we currently have: we can be sure of it just as we are sure that the market will provide better options for deodorant, restaurants, and grocery stores.
We don’t have to know exactly how private property will be designed. But it will be much easier to be vigilant over the local business that make that call, than to be vigilant over our convoluted statist juggernaut between the local, state, and federal government.
Please check back next week for a complete article on property rights in an anarchist society, as the subject deserves more discussion.
Conclusion: Austin Petersen Doesn’t Understand Basic Philosophical Concepts
It simply amazes me that someone could make so many logical errors, and have such little understanding of concepts such as rights, principles, and voluntary versus involuntary grouping. I don’t know if Petersen willfully ignores the difference between defensive and offensive force, or honestly doesn’t understand the different.
And this is a guy who calls himself libertarian! That means we know he would make all these exact opposite arguments in a discussion with bigger statists than himself. Libertarians argue against the need for state welfare because the free market will raise all ships through trade and charity: Petersen argues that the poor would have no protection without government. Libertarians argue that the second amendment and gun rights are to protect us from our own government: Petersen argues that individual gun ownership could not protect us from foreign governments. Libertarians argue that government is a poor regulator that would be well replaced by a free market: Petersen argues that we need government to regulate private property, regulate security businesses, and guarantee rights (by violating others’ rights in order to pay for the guarantee).
Is this guy even a libertarian? He is seeking the nomination to run for President under the Libertarian Party. If Austin Petersen ever happens to read this, and I hope he does, please know there is an open invitation for a public debate over whether or not we need government.
Fiction helps a lot of people envision a voluntary, anarchist society, so I encourage you all to read my novel “Anarchy in New England,” in order to explore a world without government, and some ideas of how that society might function.