James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Defense of The State

UPDATE: In light of the first comment, I should clarify that this post was more a "musing" than an argument. My intention was only to say, "I can see this side of it," a defense of the State, not the defense of the State. In any case, I don't see what's so "silly" in my argument that anarchism rests on people respecting the rights of others. Here's the original post:

Will an anarchic society be total chaos, "every man for himself?" I doubt it; I suspect there'd be a great deal of cooperation, as that is how human beings are. But when the mores or sensibilities of the community are violated when the public becomes aware of an individual not living how they think he ought, what will happen?

Imagine there is no State. You know that someone in the neighborhood is running a dogfighting operation on his estate. Would you be willing to personally use physical force - alone or with a group of neighbors - to stop the cruelty? Would you use lethal force to break it up? Once you've broken up the operation, would you then leave the participants alone, or would you lock them in a cage for some period of time? Perhaps torture them? Publicly humiliate them?

Many people would say "Yes!"

Now imagine that the fellow next door sells recreational drugs. Would you take the same measures you did against the drug dealer as you did against the dogfighter?

Again, a lot of people would say, "Yes!"

What if, instead, he engaged in deviant sexual practices?

A smaller but surprisingly large number would say Yes.

What if he drew satirical cartoons about religion? Or desecrated national symbols?

Again, a good number would say Yes.

What if he bought goods from the other side of the world at below-local market value?

Again, a good number would use violent means to destroy his goods and run him out of town.

In a way, this actually makes the State look good. Without the State, who knows how much people would interfere with the peaceful activities of their neighbors. Despite the too-many victimless crimes on the books, the State's armed agents can't be everywhere at once. At the same time, would-be meddlers are themselves deterred by the State from taking violent action against their neighbors for doing things they don't like. They recognize they have no right and no authority to interfere. Their attitude of "the law is the law"and sheep-like obedience is hardly a sophisticated interpretation of natural justice, but it does constrain them.

The road to anarchy must include persuading the vast majority of people to live in peace with their neighbors, including a high degree of toleration of their peaceful activities. Short of that, there is something to be said in defense of the State. It's a paradox: in a free society, Michael Vick would not be headed for jail. But in a stateless society, Michael Vick may well be dead by now, done in by mob justice.


  1. Um... no. Your conclusions are very, very silly.

  2. Anonymous7:23 AM PDT

    It's true that how well anarchy will work must depend in part on the degree of cultural tolerance in the population.

    But the good news is that since it costs more to impose oppressive policies personally than merely to vote for them, we should expect the supply of such policies to be lower under anarchy than under government even if the degree of tolerance remained unchanged.