Thursday, June 16, 2005

Anarchy versus the Abominable Dr. X


Volumes -- fiction and non-fiction alike-- have been written on the hypothetical scenario in which an anarchist society is confronted with the attempted emergence of a state or a state-like attempt to "corner the market on force." I can't deal dispositively with that hypothetical in a blog post as those books attempt to at length, but I do find the question interesting. Here it is, as posed by Robert Bell of Libertopia fame, in a comment on my recent airport security/civil disobedience article:

Suppose, however, that all security was private, with no state monopoly. Further suppose that uber wealthy Dr. X insists that his personal security detail, dispatched at every airport, conduct an extensive search of every individual before allowing them to board their plane. The purported rationale is that Dr. X has business interests throughout the world that could be hindered by interrupted air travel, resulting from another hijacking or fear of such. This conflicts with the airline’s security policy of unmolested access to all paying customers. How is this resolved peaceable without someone’s ox being gored? Whose liberty stands and whose is abrogated? Who is to be the final arbiter?


My reply:

- It's Mr. X, not Dr. X -- he's a soon-to-be-lawyer. And, frankly, I'm shocked, shocked! at his hypothetical behavior. I'll try to get together with him soon over a bottle of bourbon and talk some sense into him.

- Replace "Mr. X" with "Uncle Sam," and you've got exactly the current situation with exactly the same questions raised. Is there any particular reason why, in order to be (as Robert puts it) "feasible," anarchy must pass tests that the state does not? Let's assume that, in an anarchy, there would be substantial risk that Mr. X would try to impose a monopoly on airport security for his own protection. Right now, in a non-anarchy, that's not just a risk ... it's a reality. The only real difference is that, in an anarchy, Mr. X would presumably have had to accumulate the wealth to hire an army and impose his will on the market substantially via the voluntary mechanisms of that very market, where in a state system, the current reality is financed by robbery-at-one-remove-from-gunpoint from the victims.

- In hypothesizing an anarchy, it needs to be hypothesized in full. We can't just assume that a population, some large portion of which in the past had (certainly tumultuously and possibly violently) rejected the state would react to provocations in the same way as a population which continues to accept and accomodate the state.

- We especially can't assume that owners of businesses (such as airports) would simply stand aside as someone occupied those airports and attempted to take over some function of, or institute some new function in, the operations of those airports. My first line of argument is that Mr. X's personal security detail, "dispatched at every airport," would be in turn quickly find themselves dispatched to nearby morgues. This is not especially hypothetical -- it happens to people who try to burglarize homes or rob liquor stores every day. The difference between those homes and liquor stores and airports right now is that the state has asserted a monopoly on airport security and that airport owners (not surprisingly including many local governments which have "socialized" air travel in their locales) have accepted that assertion. In an environment where the state had been rejected, it can safely be assumed that that distinction would cease to exist. Armed thugs would be treated like armed thugs, not deferred to. Obviously, this is not a "peaceful" resolution. I reject the notion that all problems are now, or ever will be, even in an anarchy, settled peaceably. That notion is utopian and unrealistic.

- Of course, this also begs the question of whether our overbearing Mr. X would even attempt what you posit him as attempting. If he's "uber wealthy," why wouldn't he just buy or build his own air fleet and airports, or else make an offer to incentivize existing businesses for doing things his way? If he maintained his own fleet and ports, then his security procedures would obtain with them. If he "bought the security franchise" for existing businesses, then the customers of those airlines and airports would be free to accept his security procedures ... or to patronize other airlines and airports which did not deal with Mr. X, or, finally, to in turn buy or build their own airlines and airports. Mr. X didn't likely build his fortune by being an idiot, and so he would likely realize that it was cheaper to go his own way or to offer incentives than to attempt to impose and maintain a standing army on other people's properties against their wills. That latter is an expensive proposition -- so expensive that it takes the state, with its coercive power of taxation, to accomplish it.

In summary:

- All arguments are not resolved peaceably in a state environment. The instant case is an example -- in order to "resolve" its argument with Mr. Kanning, the state resorted to kidnapping him, then holding him hostage and demanding (an admittedly small) ransom. There's no likelihood that all arguments would be resolved peaceably in an anarchy, either, and no particular reason to demand that anarchy pass a test that the state itself doesn't pass in order to be considered a "feasible" alternative. In one respect, however, anarchy is preferable to the state on this test, and that is that in an anarchy, no entity would have a prior enforceable claim on the wealth of everyone within the polity to use for the purpose of resolving disputes unpeaceably, as is the case now.

- Oxen are going to be gored. Everyone does not get everything they want. Anarchy is not some weird utopia in which disputes never arise or in which all disputes are somehow magically resolved to everyone's satisfaction. That's life. However, once again, in an anarchy no entity would have a prior enforceable claim on the resources of others for the purpose of purchasing extra horns, and maybe some body armor, for its oxen.

- Whose liberty stands and whose is abrogated? Ultimately, that question is answered every day, state or no state, as follows: The liberty of those who can and do defend their liberty stands. The liberty of those who can't or won't defend their liberty is abrogated. It seems obvious to me that decentralization of power away from state and to individual makes it easier for people to defend their own liberty and that of others, and more likely that they will choose to do so when it is threatened.

- The idea of an over-arching "final arbiter" is a myth. With the exception of deity, if there is such a thing, no such arbiter exists, and any pretense that the state constitutes, or ever has constituted, such a final arbiter is utterly false. In order for any arbitration to be final, all parties must accept its outcome, an acceptance that no state has ever achieved. Objectifying the state and attempting to place outside of the context in which it operates so that it can wave magic wands and resolve disputes with finality is superstition.

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