Commentary for the Molinari Society’s 2008 Symposium

by Jennifer McKitrick

I want to thank all of the authors for their contributions, Crispin Sartwell for his Against the State and all the contributors to the Anarchism/Minarchism anthology. I thoroughly enjoyed reading and thinking about what they had to say. I find that I have a difficult task, serving as a “critic” for such a wide range of views and arguments. All of the authors deserve full consideration, but since I have limited time, I have to narrow my focus.

The authors present for this symposium (with the exception of William Thomas) defended anarchism in their writings. In the spirit of “author meets critics” instead of “critic attacks authors who aren’t here” I’ll focus my criticisms on the defenders of anarchism.

Drawing on an example in Roderick Long’s chapter “Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism,” I will present an argument that anarchism is incompatible with libertarianism, or more modestly, that an anarchist society is unlikely to be a libertarian society. While the example is somewhat specific, I hope that it will have broader implications for other authors and issues as well.

In order to argue that anarchy is unlikely to be libertarian, I’m working from the concepts of libertarianism and anarchy given by various contributors to the Anarchism/Minarchism anthology.

John Roger Lee defines libertarianism as the view that “every individual should be free to do as he judges best, either individually or cooperatively with others, so long as nobody’s action impedes a like liberty for other individuals or groups of individuals.” (15)

And likewise Jan Narveson defines libertarianism as “the view that we may do what we want, subject to the constraint that we may not do what injures, harms, or more generally imposes loss on any other person.” (103)

So, a libertarian society would be one in which individuals are free to do what they want, subject to certain constraints.

For instance, in a libertarian society, I would be free to enjoy various recreational activities the privacy of my own home as long as they didn’t harm others or infringe upon their liberties.

If I were vulnerable to others interfering with my doing what I want in the privacy of my own home, it would seem to me that I was not living in a libertarian society.

As for “anarchy” John Hasnaas defines it as “a society without a central political authority” (111). The kind of anarchy defended, by and large, in the second half of Anarchism/Minarchism is a society in which there are no central legislative, judicial, or law enforcement agencies, but a plurality of protection agencies and arbiters which individuals have options to employ.

In his chapter in Anarchism/Minarchism, Roderick compares the advantages of a society with competing protection agencies over our society with “One Big Protection Agency” that we call The Government.

One advantage of competing protection agencies, he argues, is that they would decrease the extent of paternalistic interference in our lives. Under the current system, it’s relatively inexpensive for some people to “demand that the government impose their particular values on society.” But not so under market anarchism.

Roderick says:

“suppose that, under market anarchism, when you get your monthly bill from Acme Security Company, you see that you’re paying 100 hayeks for ‘basic service’ (protection against force and fraud) and 800 hayeks for ‘premium service’ (snooping on your neighbors to make sure that they’re not taking drugs or having abortions or playing violent video games). The number of bigots who would be willing to pay to have their own values forcibly imposed is bound to be smaller than the number of bigots who merely advocate for such imposition; talk is cheap. (And the few fanatics who are willing to put their money where their mouth is would be easier to deal with under anarchy; you can’t arrest people who lobby for government imposed aggression, but you can arrest people who aggress.” (147).

I started thinking about how Roderick’s example would play out. In his scenario, there are agencies that offer “premium service” and some customers who purchase it. Now, I suppose the bigot (as Roderick calls such a customer) is not merely curious about what I’m doing in the privacy of my home. In Roderick’s words, he wants “to make sure I’m not taking drugs” etc. So, I presume the premium service includes some enforcement of the bigot’s values. So, in the event that bigot’s PA does detect some unsavory conduct going on in my home, to fulfill their contract with the bigot, the PA must come to my home and “make sure” I’m not doing the thing that the bigot doesn’t want me to do. Surely I will protest. It’s the PAs job to coerce me to comply.

Depending on my situation in this hypothetical scenario, I can see a few ways it might play out.

1. I don’t employ a PA, so am on my own to resist (by my own force or deception) or comply.
It seems to me I am not free to do what I want. Unless I hire a PA.
2. I employ a PA.
Either it is the same PA as the bigot or a different one.
     2a. If I employ the same one, either the PA will enforce the bigot’s values or it won’t.
          2ai. If the PA does enforce the bigot’s values, then I’m not free to do what I want, unless I get a different PA.
          2aii. If the PA doesn’t enforce the bigot’s values, the bigot has a rightful claim of breach on contract, and if he holds his values very strongly, he should get a new PA.
So, whether we started out that way or not, we end up with a situation in which
     2b. The bigot and I have different PAs.

I doubt that the PAs want to go to war over whether I’m doing something the bigot doesn’t want me to do. So, they will probably go to arbitration.

     Either the arbiter will side with the bigot’s PA or with mine.
          2bi. If the arbiter sides with the bigot’s PA, then I’m not free to do what I want.
          2bii. If the arbiter sides with my PA, then the bigot has a legitimate claim against his PA – it was unable to deliver the services he paid for. Especially if, as Roderick suggests, the bigot gets arrested.
          And perhaps the bigot’s PA should get arrested as well. By the arbiter’s standards, it would seem that they were aggressing as much, or more, than the bigot.
     Now, if the arbiter sides with my PA, it would seem fraudulent, or perhaps imprudent, for the bigot’s PA to offer the premium service to anyone in the future.
      Or, in the future, the bigot’s PA could look for a different arbiter.
      Or, in the future, the bigot could look for a different PA – one that would be willing to fight for his moral crusade.

... and then I wouldn’t be able to do what I want!

My complaint is not that there’s no final say. I think Roderick is right that the sense that the state gives us a “final say” is either an illusion or its scary.

My worry is that, as long as bigots are determined to impose their values on me, then I’m vulnerable to others interfering with my doing what I want in the privacy of my own home, and therefore, I am not living in a libertarian society.

Roderick’s hope seemed to be that the bigots would not go to the extra trouble it would take under market anarchism to enforce their values.

But whether the bigots would wither away and leave me alone seems to me an empirical, culturally contingent matter of human psychology. And I’m afraid that I’m less optimistic than Roderick.

$36 million was raised in support of California’s proposition 8 (Wikipedia).
Many people picket outside their local abortion clinics for hours every day.
People blow themselves up for their holy wars too frequently to count (Wikipedia).

How many people would be willing to pay an extra 800 hayeks to enforce their moral views? And how are they going to react when they don’t get what they pay for? The answers to these questions could make market anarchism very un-libertarian.

It is common for anarchist libertarians to respond to such arguments as follows:

Anarchy is not utopia. We’re always going to have to deal with thugs and bigots, no matter what the social context. You’re comparing a worst-case scenario anarchy with a best case scenario state. But that’s not fair. The state is no better, and is probably worse, at protecting you from bigots than competing PAs.

I think there’s some truth in that.

Except that I’m not comparing market anarchy to any kind of state.

I’m just saying that a market anarchy is unlikely to be a libertarian society.

Jennifer McKitrick
Philosophy, University of Nebraska - Lincoln