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The Moral Case for Anarchy

May 18, 2011 - 9:40pm
Nick Coons by Nick Coons


On the show, we've discussed a completely free society, the reasons for advocating it, and its benefits. These discussions usually touch on key aspects. In this article, my goal is to actually run through the argument from the beginning.

The aim of this article is to make the argument for the moral case for anarchy. Answers pertaining to questions of the form "but how will X, Y, and Z be handled without government?" is outside the scope of this piece -- Those sorts of questions will be addressed at a later point in time (and many of them have been addressed in previous articles). The purpose of this article is to simply step one in arguing for anarchy; putting forth logical reasons why any system of government should be morally opposed. There is no reason to explain to someone how you can solve their illness until you've first established that they are ill. Likewise, there is no reason to put forth answers of how one's favorite government program (like education or the military) will be replaced in the absence of government until it is first established that there is a problem in need of solving. Nor will I argue in this article how to institute rational anarchy. That will be saved for later.

The first thing I'll do is establish some definitions of the terms I'll be using to make sure that we're all on the same page. Terms like "morality", "anarchy", and "government" do not have established definitions that everyone agrees on -- Each person seems to have their own interpretation of what these terms mean, so I want to make sure that any disagreements don't come out of a lack of understanding of how the terms are being used.

"Government" is the conceptual entity, which is a collection of people, that claims the moral authority to initiate the use of physical force against other people. For those that haven't heard this definition before, it may seem controversial, so I'll elaborate. A definition of something must necessarily exclude things that the word does not refer to. A horse has four legs, but a horse is not the only animal that has four legs, so "an animal that has four legs" is not an accurate definition of a horse. Likewise, "an entity that protects individual rights" is also not a good definition of government. Fundamental individual rights (such as the right to life, property, etc) are protected by many different organizations. Alarm companies help protect houses and offices. Security guards protect private property from vandalism and protect people from attack. Collection agencies protect lenders from having their funds stolen. Businesses build products like "the club" intended to deter car thieves. While I could go on with countless examples, suffice it to say that "the protection of individual rights" is not an accurate definition of government. The one thing that distinguishes government from any other entity is that they claim the moral right to initiate the use of force against other people. You or I can't take someone's money without their consent; that's called stealing. A government can do this, and if you don't agree, they can use force against you to take it against your will. If any "government" were to exist that put itself forward as the protector of rights, but did not initiate the use of force against anyone, nor did it claim that ability, then it would not be government. It would be a business operating by payment from customers that contracted for its services, or offering its services for free as a charity. I do not oppose an entity such as this, I would not define this entity as "government", nor is the existence of such an entity incompatible with anarchy.

"Anarchy" is the absence of government, that is, the absence of an entity that claims (and which the population generally accepts) the moral authority to initiate the use of physical force against others. The term "anarchy" is used in many ways to represent different societal situations. To be clear, when I use the term "anarchy" as the concept for which I argue, I'm not referring to violent overthrows of government that are replaced by tribal rule (because these tribes, which rule by threating the use of the initiation of force, fits the above definition of "government"). I am referring to a rational view of societal interactions, where when an instance of the initiation of force in any form is enacted, it is recognized by the general populace as evil, in the same way that rape and murder is recognized as evil in the west. So rational anarchy (which I will further refer to as just "anarchy") in practice is a society in which most everyone recognizes that the initiation of force by anyone is evil, rejected, and dealt with (again, "how" will be left for another time).

"Morality" is defined as universally preferable behavior. This doesn't mean behavior that everyone prefers, but rather is any rule about human behavior put forward that claims to apply universally. For instance, the rule "murder is wrong" is a moral claim, because implied in the statement is "no one should murder", thus it is a rule that applies to everyone in all places and at all times.

Whether a given moral claim is true or not is not important at the moment in first defining morality. However, it does bring up the next concern that many people raise when discussing morality. The view of morality is either that it's objective (that it's logical, consistent, and not simply a personal preference) or that it's subjective (that it's simply a matter of opinion). I can work with either one of these premises and still come to the same conclusion about anarchy, so let's start with the premise that morality is objective.

Since morality is universally preferable behavior, then any moral claim put forth applies to all people at all places and at all times. Therefore, any claim that imposes a positive obligation on someone (that is, an obligation to do something rather than to not do something) is false, because anyone not engaging in the prescribed behavior at any point in time is evil by definition. For instance, if one argues that murder is morally good, then the person I am murdering is evil because they are not murdering someone. The remaining possibilities about any claim is that a given action is morally evil, or morally neutral. The method in determining which category a given claim falls into can be determined deductively. For instance, if murder is morally neutral (and carries the same weight that, say, the claim "chocolate is delicious" carries, nothing more than a personal preference), then that means that one cannot morally impose that belief on others because it is a neutral, but murder by definition is imposing one's belief on someone else, so it's self-contradictory. When running through the gambit of possible moral rules, one will find that those actions that are morally evil are those that involve initiating the use of physical force on others. Since government is the entity that initiates the use of physical force against others, government is, by definition, morally evil and should not exist on those grounds. The argument for objective morality as summarized in this paragraph is expanded upon in Stefan Molyneux's book "Universally Preferable Behavior, A Rational Proof of Secular Ethics."

Now, let's look at a situation where the claim of morality is one of subjectivity. If one claims that morality is subjective and therefore should not be imposed on others, then the argument for supporting government falls apart, because by definition government imposes its beliefs, by force, on others. One cannot logically argue that morality is subjective and is only the personal preference of each person while simultaneously arguing that a government should exist which imposes a uniform set of rules on everyone.

Thus, whether morality is objective or subjective, government should not exist because it is, by deduction, a moral evil, and therefore anarchy is the logical result of such a conclusion.

Related Content:

Murder In The Streets - Nick Coons
Dreaming of Freedom - Nick Coons
The Case Against the State - Anarchy, Not Chaos - Nick Coons

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