On the Supposed Necessity of the State


“The State is: an institution run by gangs of murderers, plunderers and thieves, surrounded by willing executioners, propagandists, sycophants, crooks, liars, clowns, charlatans, dupes and useful idiots-an institution that dirties and taints everything it touches.” -  Hans-Hermann Hoppe

I don’t like libertarian ‘infighting’, but I also have a passion for justice and truth. For some time I have been agonising over whether to write a short response to an article at The Libertarian by Joseph Wyly[1] and I have obviously just reached a decision.

Wyly writes on the supposed necessity of the state and takes a generally patronising tone toward anarchists even with the title of his piece. If he has indeed read or heard any of the consequentialist or moral arguments against the existence of a state, I will be surprised. I doubt it, though, as every point he makes in ‘Sorry Anarchists, But the State is Probably Necessary’ has been responded to by every prominent anarcho-libertarian from David Friedman to Murray Rothbard.

Wyly’s first argument concerns human nature. He says that if certain areas of the US are allowed to secede from the federal government, this will be of no value to us as some people will always murder, rape and steal from others and likewise the same would hold true for the hypothetical ‘totally free society’, for which Wyly unsurprisingly gives no definition.

If humans are, then, by their nature ‘imperfect’, as Wyly argues today and Thomas Hobbes argued centuries ago, then a state is supposedly necessary to keep man from destroying himself. But, what I can’t figure out is how a state is actually capable of doing this. Firstly, the government is made up of human beings, like you and me, not of super-humans who have different natures to everyone else, therefore, why should we expect them to be capable of saving humanity from itself? And secondly, how on earth does legitimated aggression prevent aggression? Libertarians, of course, aren’t pacifists, and we defend each man’s right to defensive violence. But the state has a legal right to tax its citizens and to forcibly prevent them from choosing a private police force or a private criminal law arbitration agency. And so, yes, humans are imperfect, but so is an institution of ultimate decision-making and taxing power which is made up of members of the same, imperfect, human race.

Next, Wyly argues that in the ‘totally free society’ people would resolve their disputes through the use of private arbitration. Yes, they would. And Wyly says that this already happens to a great extent today. Yes, because the state courts are so lousy, unjust and inefficient, private individuals often try, when possible, to seek private arbitration. However, as Wyly points out, the state still has ultimate decision making power over ‘its’ territory.

However, we soon come across a problem: What of the example of a car accident? Suppose that A crashes with B and it is generally conceded that it was A’s fault, but, A doesn’t want to pay B for the damages. Apparently, from hereon there would be literal ‘anarchy’ and A would start fighting B or B’s agency would be hired to beat up A and then A’s agency would beat up B, and so on. On this point in particular I recommend that Wyly reads ‘The Machinery of Freedom’ by David Friedman and ‘The Market for Liberty’ by Linda and Morris Tannehill.

Would there really be a war of all against all? I think not. Firstly, it is in everybody’s self-interest to resolve a conflict as quickly and cleanly as possible and secondly it is particularly in the interest of the ‘Rights Enforcement Agencies’ or ‘Private Protection Agencies’ to ensure that the right person wins. We can imagine a scenario in which these agencies would be very much like insurance companies; If you pay me so much per year, I will protect your property. However, there would of course be different ‘premiums’ for different levels of risk and so it is likely that a defence agency would provide discounts to those customers that did not provoke aggression. Also, insurance companies are inter-linked, so to speak, and they often own much property themselves and so we can understand why it is that they will rarely, if ever, not punish a criminal. If a criminal goes unpunished, then property values will decline and the insurance companies will have to pay out more money to their client each time a crime is committed.

A concept David Friedman often talks about is the ‘discipline of constant dealings’. What he means by this is that, generally speaking, in the free society we all want, people will rarely not fulfil their contractual promises (be they businessmen, arbitrators, whoever). This is because if they break a promise this time, then they know that the other guy will decide not to fulfil his side of the bargain and that nobody will want to deal with him the future. While it is still probable that contracts will be enforced in some way in the free society, contracts will generally ‘enforce themselves’.

Finally, Wyly has supposedly met many ‘capital anarchists’, whatever he means by that term, and so one would think he would have ‘got it’ by now. These ‘capital anarchists’ are of course valuable to him, but he also believes that they discredit the entire libertarian movement. That’s a big ‘but’. Why does he believe this? The reason he gives is because anarchists are ‘idealists’ who aren’t dedicated to ‘real change’.

This I find particularly rich coming from a statist.

“Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.” – William Lloyd Garrison

“Theoretical compromise or gradualism will only lead to the perpetuation of the falsehoods, evils, and lies of statism, and only theoretical purism, radicalism, and intransigence can and will lead first to gradual practical reform and improvement and possibly final victory.” – Hans Hermann Hoppe


[1] http://the-libertarian.co.uk/sorry-anarchists-but-the-state-is-probably-necessary/

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