Response to Jennifer’s and Chris’s Comments

by Roderick T. Long

Brief Response to Jennifer McKitrick

Jennifer rightly points out that merely requiring bigots to internalise the costs of enforcing their bigotry, while it may reduce the level of such enforcement, offers no guarantee of eliminating it. I think this is in fact a good argument for the “thick,” “dialectical” version of anarchism that Charles defends in his chapter – particularly the idea that establishing a free society requires organised campaigns for cultural change, and not merely the elimination of the state. (This was in fact the topic of our Molinari symposium three years ago.)

But while internalising the costs of enforcing bigotry is not enough to eradicate such enforcement, it certainly helps; when you increase the cost of doing something, people generally do less of it. For any given level of support for enforced bigotry in a society, then – be that level low or high – we should expect to see that level result in less enforcement under a competitive market system than under a tax-funded monopoly system. Hence the percentage of bigots who are willing to pay to have their preferences enforced is, while not zero, significantly smaller than the percentage of bigots who would merely be willing to vote for it. Hence bigoted PAs will tend to be less well funded than their more liberal rivals.

Moreover, there are grounds for optimism concerning the ability of economic incentives to erode even strongly held illiberal preferences. A good example is the blood feud in early stateless England and Iceland, where it was originally a matter of honour to avenge one’s kin on the kin of the enemy rather than accept financial compensation; yet over time the lure of wergild tamed the blood feud, as restitution was increasingly chosen over a continuation of the cycle of vengeance. If economic incentives can get even angry Vikings to play nice, there’s hope.

As for suicide bombers, it’s worth noting that the percentage of those who are driven solely by the desire to enforce bigoted preferences seems to be fairly small as compared with the percentage of those who are also driven by more defensive grievances. (As Robert Pape’s research has shown, for example, coming from a country suffering military occupation is a more reliable predictor for suicide bombing than being an adherent of Islamic fundamentalism.) More generally, with both good and bad movements, those driven primarily by ideology tend to be heavily outnumbered by those driven by pragmatic considerations (albeit ones viewed through the lens of ideology).

Brief Response to Chris Morris

Most of Chris’s comments apply to Crispin’s formulations and I’m happy to let Crispin answer them. And while I disagree with Chris’s claim that states could in principle be voluntary, my reasons for so disagreeing are ones I’ve essentially covered in my response to Nicole. So let me focus just on Chris’s closing remarks.

Chris notes that states have largely displaced their rivals, and concludes that anarchy is “not ... evolutionarily stable.” This conclusion seems to me too quick. Consider: 250 years ago it could have been argued – and indeed frequently was argued – that monarchy was the form of political organisation destined to prevail henceforth. Nearly all advanced societies had by then become monarchies of some sort; representative republics were few in number compared with earlier millennia 2 and there were norepresentative republics of the particular form that is now so prevalent. It would have been easy to conclude – and it was concluded – that alternatives to monarchy were, in effect, not evolutionarily stable. Yet in fact monarchy was on the verge of speedy collapse. Thus it’s always dangerous to announce the end of history.

One problem with monarchy is that the means that it employed to prosper in the short run – whether iron self-assertion or flexible accommodation – were the very means that were undermining its viability in the long run. Either monarchy resisted the rising power of the common people, and so got shattered, as in France – or else it accommodated that power, and so gradually dwindled to a figurehead, as in England. Thus triumph after triumph led it straight toward disaster.

The growth of the modern centralised state owes much, I think, to the fact that Western technological and industrial development – itself largely the legacy not of the state but of mediæval Europe’s long period of political decentralisation – has made possible so much wealth creation that parasitic states are able to extract far more in the way of resources without killing off their hosts than would formerly have been possible. But the very factors that make more powerful states possible are also working to increase society’s ability to resist and bypass the state; the internet is a good example. So it’s too soon, I think, to declare the state victorious; the state may well be riding the very crest that will end by dashing it against the rocks.

Roderick T. Long
Philosophy, Auburn University