One argument made by statists to justify the existence of the state is that without the state that would be roving gangs going around taking everybody’s shit. This argument makes little sense in my opinion. First, it assumes that humans are inherently uncooperative and prefer to take instead of trade. Second, it assumes the state itself isn’t a roving gang of thugs who go around and take everybody’s shit.
Let’s discuss the first issue, the assumption that humans are inherently uncooperative. If the existence of the state is the only thing between modern society and complete chaos then I must know, how did humans cooperate long enough to establish a state? Anti-statists, such as myself, believe humans are inherently cooperative and use the existence of society as proof. What is society after all? It’s groups of humans who have come together to interact with one another, namely in trade. Without the division of labor that society brings each individual would be forced to provide for all of their means themselves. Imagine if you had to make every pair of shoes you’ve owned by hand. This would involve everything from obtaining the leather to creating the thread for the stitching. Then imagine other modern luxuries such as air conditioners and computers. It’s pretty easy to see that the lack of division of labor would mean modern technology would not exist.
Thankfully humans are cooperative enough that we decided to take advantage of divided labor. You perform your part of the work and I’ll perform my part. If I’m a shoemaker I’ll buy my leather from somebody who raises cattle. I believe division of labor is ultimately what lead humans to develop societies. Every task humans perform is made easier by cooperation. Hunting a large wooly mammoth seems a monumental task for one man but is certainly doable for a hunting party.
If humans were uncooperative we would not have modern society, instead we would still be in caves. Unfortunately statists take the rare exceptions to cooperative humans, the thieves, and use them as the rule. Were this true Iceland wouldn’t have enjoyed 300 years of relatively peaceful statelessness.
What about the second assumption? When somebody says the only thing between modern society and roving gangs of thieves is the state they are stating a fallacy for the state is a roving gang of thieves. Everything the state does is pays for though theft. Whether that theft is taxation or printing money (which causes inflation, which is nothing more than the theft of an individual’s purchasing power) is irrelevant, it’s still theft. If you don’t pay your taxes then the state will simply take your shit. Depending on how behind you are on your taxes you may lose your home and your car.
A state can’t stand between modern society and roving gangs because the state itself is a roving gang. They are taking your shit.
2 thoughts on “A Counterargument to a Common Statist Argument”
History indicates that humans are quite cooperative. They cooperate quite well at taking other people’s shit.
The purpose of government is, at its base, cooperating to keep other groups from taking your shit, because coercion works. But government has historically been run for the benefit of the governing, not the governed.
Anarchy doesn’t work because coercion does, and any six or eight guys can cooperate, form a gang and take from any individual. It’s easier than working. The larger and more organized the gang, the bigger the group they can predate on. For centuries, governments were merely gangs writ large. Honestly, there’s not a lot of difference today.
But those shoemakers can’t make shoes if they have to constantly worry about having their products stolen, or their wives and children threatened with rape and murder if they don’t make shoes for the big guys with swords. So people cooperate, get their own sword-swinging gang, and then have to support them – for their own safety.
Humans are highly cooperative. What they are not is non-violent and non-predatory.
First, let me open by saying I read your blog and greatly respect your writings. I appreciate you stopping by and presenting a counterargument. Let me now present my counter-counterargument.
You’ve presented an interesting logical conundrum:
In that case the purpose of government is to replace one gang of thieves with another gang of thieves. Governments exist solely by taking your shit, they merely call it taxation. Instead of roving gangs of hoodlums with rifles coming to your home and demanding your stuff you have roving gangs of hoodlums with rifles and state-issued costumes coming to your home and demanding your stuff.
I don’t see how this could ever be different. A government is nothing more than an entity that claims a monopoly on force within a geographic area. It’s the perfect tool for psychopaths who are interested in taking other peoples’ stuff to wield.
Anarchy has worked historically. Iceland experience 300 years of mostly peaceful stateless existence, Ireland existed until the 17th century under a system of stateless law [PDF], and the Old West was basically an experiment in anarcho-capitalism [PDF]. The only way one can say anarchy doesn’t work is to ignore historical examples of it working. One could say anarchy doesn’t work indefinitely but as no state has existed indefinitely it’s not a criticism unique to anarchy.
Whether it’s easier than working is dependent on many conditions. If you’re a gang of eight guys and you’re trying to rob from a society of heavily armed individuals then working is probably going to be easier. On the other hand if you’re robbing from defenseless peasants then working is probably harder.
Thievery, like anything, is a risk/reward calculation. Before one decides to rely on theft to get by they decide whether or not they believe the risks involved with theft are worth the possible reward. While mugging the man on the street corner may seem like a low risk endeavor he could be armed raising the potential risk. As the likelihood of armed resistance increases the likelihood of robbery is almost assured to decrease.
I would argue that there is no practical difference between a state and any other gang. Both groups use force to take from others. Many gangs will imitate the state in that they will claim to provide you protection. Gangs usually claim territory that they defend fiercely from rival gangs just like a state.
Now we comes to the primary point in the debate, how should services be provided. As history has proven defense can be provided privately, in fact many institutions hire private security. Many buildings in the United States have full time security guards on hand. These guards provide security but, unlike the state, do so on voluntary terms. The building owner makes a mutually beneficial arrangement with the security firm, they provide the security in exchange for what they want (usually money).
The state claims to provide security but it’s done involuntarily. If you don’t want the state’s security you are still made to pay for it at the point of a gun. There is no option to opt-out. It’s no different than mafia protection, if you decide to “opt-out” you will soon find yourself a victim of violence from the hand of your former “protector.”
I hold no delusion that society without a state would be a utopia where violence would not exist. Violence will always exist, that’s the way of nature. What I do believe is that the violence can be managed better through markets. Instead of imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on an entire populace people should be free to seek their own solutions. Perhaps a pacifist doesn’t want armed security in any form. Maybe a building owner feels what’s contained within the walls warrants a heavily armed security team. Others may decide to form a mutual aid group of common defense instead of paying a third-party to protect their community.
What we have today isn’t protection from coercion under the state, we are being coerced by the state. The state threatens us with violence every day if we don’t obey their decrees. If we try to seek another solution to our security needs the state will still force us to pay them and will likely restrict what other solutions are made available to us.
Comments are closed.