As a proponent of abolishing the state, and transferring the few seemingly “legitimate” state functions to private enterprise to provide in a free and open marketplace, I am frequently asked how I think we could ever manifest this, what plan would we implement, how do we get there from here, etc.?
And more often, I’m criticized as delusional, or naïve, or utopian.
Problem is, most people can’t envision society without a coercive, authoritarian state. But I can.
And it’s probably closer to the truth that people can’t—or, more likely, don’t wish to, or perhaps simply refuse to—envision a society in which they can’t steal from others in order to pay for what they want. I mean, how would anybody go to college, if they can’t steal from others to pay for it? How would anybody pay for their health care, without stealing from others to do so? How would we ever have sports stadiums, or parks, or roads? How would our automotive companies ever survive? Or the airlines, when the government arbitrarily shuts them down for three days? Or the banks and financial institutions, when they gamble their clients’ money and lose? Or—ironically—the government itself? Without government, who would collect the taxes?
What’s more, I think it’s only human nature for people to want to control others. By making everybody else live the way we think they should, or the way we ourselves do, it reduces their perception of chaos, of uncertainty. They can avoid having to deal with so much scary stuff—the different, the unknown, the misunderstood.
And what better way to control others, to force everybody else to live the way they think they should, or the way they live themselves, than through the force of the state? There is safety, and certainty, in numbers, too; by simply gathering enough people on their side to get a majority—or at least a highly vocal minority—and thus sway the decisions of those in authority, they can rest assured that they, the collective, are in the right; after all, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, right? And besides, they’re forcing their values, ideals, principles, beliefs on others for their own good, right?
So it’s not surprising that the vast majority of people cannot envision a society without the state—without coercive, authoritarian government—because what they’re really saying is they don’t know how they would get what they want without the convenience of forcing others to pay for it via the state, or how they would control others—thus preventing the “chaos” of anarchy—without access to such a convenient tool of force as the state.
And this is precisely why asking how society could ever function without the state is akin to asking how society could ever function without slavery…
It seems that the concept of free and voluntary exchange, and voluntary cooperation among individuals, in order to solve problems, achieve goals, create a peaceful and prosperous society, and improve the quality of life for all, is impossible for most people to grasp—not only because they have a hard time accepting the loss of the force of state through which they currently rob and control others, but also because there is so much uncertainty in the prospect; nobody knows for sure how society would be managed, how private enterprise could provide the “legitimate” functions and services currently ascribed to the state. Again, we’re back to the driving factor in all of this: fear of the unknown.
But without the state, who would build the roads?
But I argue that simply not knowing, at this point in time, exactly how private enterprise would bring such provisions to fruition in a society, in a way that the market finds to be an acceptable—or even preferable—alternative to state provision, shouldn’t prevent us from trying the concept. After all, Voluntaryism is an ideology, not a system; it is a framework in which to move forward, come what may, in a stateless society—it is not a system, or construction of methods, by which all the nuances of such a society would be addressed.
There was a time in history when nobody knew how manned flight would ever work—and yet private enterprise eventually brought it to fruition, and continues to improve upon it to this day. And there are countless other examples we can point to. For instance, most of us don’t know how a 55″ flat-screen TV works, or how to build one—and yet, we have them. Millions of them, around the world. And cell phones and computers and helicopters and submarines and every conceivable type of automobile; microwave ovens, satellites, the Internet…
My point is this: arguing against a stateless society—assuming it won’t work, or can’t work, simply because we are unable to predict today the successful workings of such a society in the future—is an invalid argument.
But the entire debate may be moot anyway; I happen to believe that a stateless society is inevitable…
For one, the Internet, along with universal access to easy, affordable, efficient world travel, are rendering geographic boundaries—which all states are based upon, and dependent upon—irrelevant. In addition, real crime has been steadily dropping over the past two decades—not due to state action, laws, or today’s over-abundance of police officers—but due to advancements in technology. Cell phone cameras are virtually everywhere (now even cops are getting caught breaking the law); surveillance cameras, security systems, instantaneous communication—around the globe, in real time—are all contributing to a safer, more secure world for all of us. So it’s technology (provided by private enterprise)—not anything the state has done or provided—which is enabling people to protect themselves and their property much more effectively, and thus making it more and more difficult for people to get away with criminal activity.
Simply put, technological advancements are quickly bringing us to the point that crime no longer pays.
So, I ask: with geographical boundaries quickly becoming irrelevant, and real crime continuing to decline due to advancements in technology—how long will it be before the vast majority of people begin to question not only the functions of the state, but its very existence? (Not to mention the immense burden on, and enormous cost to, society…and for what?)
So I believe stateless society is inevitable, is the future. The only question is whether the state will be abolished gradually, through cultural evolution, or abruptly, through bloody revolution? Only time will tell. But I believe it will happen, one way or the other.
And people will eventually figure out how to make a stateless society work, because there will be no other choice.
Like Stefan Molyneux says, we had Feudalism, until we didn’t anymore; we had slavery, until we didn’t anymore. And I believe the same goes for the state—we’ll have the state, until we don’t anymore.
And I believe Butler Shaffer has it right: people won’t become free once the state ends; the state will end once people become free.
And the Internet, and technology in general, is freeing us all, around the world, at a very rapid rate.
And yet, as true as all this may be, being a Voluntaryist—advocating abolishment of the state—is still considered heresy; why, we have to have government—how else would society function?
But in a recent article by Robert Higgs, entitled Why We Couldn’t Abolish Slavery Then and Can’t Abolish Government Now, published over at Independent Institute, he points out the parallels between the historical arguments against abolishing slavery, and today’s arguments against abolishing our current conception of government (which, in my opinion, and apparently his too, are one and the same):
“The similarity of arguments against the abolition of slavery and arguments against the abolition of government (as we know it) should shake the faith of all Americans who still labor under the misconception that ours is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” From where I stand, it looks distressingly like an institutional complex that rests on the same shaky intellectual foundations as slavery.” ~ Robert Higgs
I won’t go into all of the comparisons he makes here; rather, I highly recommend you read his article. But I would like to mention his final point, in which he compares the American people today with the slaves of yesteryear. It’s sobering, realizing that today we are nothing but modern-day slaves:
Argument Against The Abolishment of Slavery:
“Forget abolition. A far better plan is to keep the slaves sufficiently well fed, clothed, housed, and occasionally entertained and to take their minds off their exploitation by encouraging them to focus on the better life that awaits them in the hereafter.”
Argument Against The Abolishment of Government (As We Know It):
“Forget anarchy. A far better plan is to keep the ordinary people sufficiently well fed, clothed, housed, and entertained and to take their minds off their exploitation by encouraging them to focus on the better life that awaits them in the hereafter.”
But I myself go even further than merely advocating abolishment of the state. I not only believe that the state is unnecessary for—even antithetical to—the creation of a peaceful and prosperous society, and that it therefore should be abolished, but even go so far as to say that the state must be abolished, if mankind is to survive (at least under any condition other than world-wide slavery under a global government).
Another Dark Ages lurks just around the corner, as governments around the world have incrementally enslaved their citizens and stifled liberty. And since it’s been proven throughout history that governments can not and will not be limited, by law or otherwise, then the only course of reversal of this centuries-long trend toward totalitarian government, even one-world government, is wholesale abolishment.
Total eradication of the tumor of government is the only viable course; no amount of voting, changing, reducing, or restricting will suffice, for leaving any amount of the governmental tumor in place—no matter how small—will eventually lead us right back to where we are today.
So the introduction and manifestation of a better, more peaceful way of creating civil society—a stateless society, or voluntary society, or anarchy, or whatever we wish to call it—is, I believe, the only remaining viable option for humanity. And, though people fear the prospect of a stateless society, fear the loss of the “legitimate” functions of the state—there are many examples today we can look to as models for the private provision of current state functions.
But presently, many people cannot conceive how we could ever abolish the state, just as several generations ago, many people couldn’t conceive how we could ever abolish slavery. But the arguments against both are virtually the same—and, needless to say, back then the abolitionists were right.
And we are right today.
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