explicitClick to confirm you are 18+

Anarchy won't work

RhetHypoSep 16, 2018, 8:04:21 PM

Intro: A quick preamble

Let me start with this short disclaimer; Anarchists are among the more open minded and intellectually charitable individuals I've conversed with online that I disagree with. This is not an attack on them, this is my honest critique of a philosophy about government. I accept any criticism offered, and I will try to engage honestly. I'm perfectly aware that I might be wrong on something, and when writing something of this length I'm almost certain of it.

However, I won't address comments that do a point-by-point "debunking" of this article. Comment sections are not suited for things like that, so I kindly ask that if you have a large amount of issues with this, you write your own blog and link it in the comments. I can read it, offer my own short criticisms, or write a response blog if the critique is lengthy. If people ignore this rule and post lengthy diatribes in the comments, I may just delete them. I don't do this lightly, I have at this point never deleted a comment on any of my posts before, but I don't want the comments on this to escalate into an unreadable and unproductive flame war. So, consider this my fair warning.

Also, if you don't want to read this whole thing, I added TL;DR summaries for each section, and overall. You can check those out if you only want a summary.

Now, to start... my working definition of Anarchy. If this isn't your definition of Anarchy, the rest of this article isn't arguing against your version. Maybe post your alternate definition, but otherwise don't bother attacking my arguments. They may not even apply.

Anarchy: Complete lack of any central government. All local and  governmental agencies(police, firefighters, foreign policy, regulation of businesses, etc.) are instead performed by private citizens and businesses, or not at all. Only rule that is codified is the NAP(Non-Aggression Principle), which is enforced by the community rather than by the government.

With that out of the way, Let's begin:

Issue 1: Comparing IRL Democratic Republic to Utopian Anarchy

This is probably my main pet peeve on this subject. People will compare Anarchy - where everyone mostly leaves each other alone, and just cooperates - to real world governments, where corruption exists and people commit crimes.

Any functioning social system needs a method for dealing with bad actors, and Anarchy kinda just hand waves it as the community will decide on judgement. We do that currently, in a fashion; people vote on representatives, representatives make laws, and the government enforces them. Anarchy leaves this far less defined, so it gives anarchists the room to make all kinds of statements on how these criminals will be punished. Sure, they might institute a fair and balanced system where burden of evidence is at an appropriate level, and punishments are fair to both victims and perpetrators - not letting the criminal get away with it, but not being too harsh. 

But people do not agree on laws. If they did, you wouldn't be reading this article where I discuss the problems with a theory on best maintaining social order. Local codes will differ wildly, and factions will clash as people treat each other differently and claim each other are being too authoritarian or too lax. Is abortion legal? How about prostitution? How about sex trafficking? What is the punishment for theft? The punishment for murder? At what point do you lose the right to own a gun? Who enforces laws? What is the recourse for when an enforcement agency becomes corrupt? What about the agencies that might enforce said enforcement agency(who watches the watchers)? Sure, our current system can be abused, but it distributes government power to reduce the possibility of widespread collusion and corruption. What actually prevents widespread corruption for an anarchic society?

If your answer is the people, I have news for you. That's the last defense against corruption in our current system, too. Anarchy has less safeguards before reaching that point than our current system. So, Anarchy is more prone to corruption than a structured government.

Going off of this, you get two scenarios which are honest. Utopian Democratic Republic has everyone more or less agreeing on laws, acting in good will, and the government remains mostly corruption free. Compared to Utopian Anarchy, things are basically the same. Dystopian Democratic Republic has corruption, bad actors, and plenty of crime. But compared to Dystopian Anarchy, where bad actors infiltrate agencies and act against the people's best interest, there is a safeguard in that power is separated by structure. It takes a long time and a truly apathetic public to override those separations of power. Anarchy does still allow the eventual creation of a de-facto dictatorship by the establishment of a collection of agencies that all collude to silence their opposition and control the masses, as long as the people do not oppose it adequately. This is made easier, not harder, by the lack of established governing structure that separates the ruling powers.

TL;DR: Functioning governments at least have safeguards to prevent centralization of power, Anarchy does not.

Issue 2: Evil is Profitable

One argument for Anarchy is that people will act in their best interest, which involves helping each other and behaving morally. This is true as long as there is a strong moral code followed by the citizenry, but this is separate from the type of government. For arguments sake, let's assume people aren't perfect, as otherwise almost any form of government would work(a moral dictator would make sure everyone is treated fairly, and moral lower tier officials would not abuse people either).

The problem is the assumption that what is right is also in people's short term and long term best interest. If you are willing to violate your own morals, you can make a lot of money. Selling drugs? Trafficking people? Assassinating people? There are markets for these. Very high paying markets. You could argue that incredibly wealthy people won't be this evil, as their success is based on mutual transactions where they provide value without abusing people. But this ignores a belief almost always held in Anarchism as one of the reasons why the government should be abolished; power corrupts. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that some(not all) people who become phenomenally successful then feel threatened by other upstarts that they wish to stop before they supplant them, or simply wish to spend their enormous money on forbidden endeavors(like buying drugs or sex slaves, thus funding those industries). Heck, people do these things now, despite these things being codified as illegal, and severely punished if caught.

One, again, might argue that the central government being bribed by powerful individuals is what lets this happen, but again; there is nothing stopping private agencies from suffering the same fate. Money is a kind of power, and that power can be used to bribe, blackmail, oppress... just about everything a government could do, a sufficient amount of money and influence could also do.

TL;DR: Crimes aren't committed by cartoon villains, or only by the government against its citizenry - they are committed by people who knew they were wrong, but rationalized them for any number of reasons. Most frequently money.

Issue 3: Might is Right

So, possibly the most important question; who leads a society under Anarchy? I've heard it pointed out that Anarchy still has leaders, they are just voluntary. But let me put this scenario forward...

Private company establishes water purification system. They build an entire empire that eventually becomes the majority supplier for a very large region. Now, they start making demands the public does not wish to concede to; it hardly matters what they are, the part that matters here is the public does not wish to comply.

One argument that might be made is monopolies are not allowed to control a single resource like water. This can be easily circumvented, as again; no government can exercise authority over the company, and up until this point they have done nothing considered unethical. The company merely needs to become the majority supplier. Smaller and publicly available sources might still exist, but if the majority supplier cuts off their supply to a region, they cause a drought and people who can't afford the increased costs will suffer, possibly die. This gives the water company the ability to lean on the citizenry. It doesn't even violate the NAP; they are simply refusing to engage in mutual transactions. 

A Democratic Republic can establish anti-trust laws to prevent these types of things, protecting competition and preventing this centralization of power. Anarchy does not offer such protection, as any laws dictating how all businesses are allowed to operate violates the NAP.

Also, a more extreme example; what happens with a more overt threat? Such as, a large mercenary group rolls in and threatens people to do as they say or else? The community has to fend for themselves. Assuming they all have guns, they can put up a fight, but they only have whatever alliances they may have established as additional help. What if the mercenary group establishes a much larger coalition, especially against a group they find morally inferior/bankrupt(these have existed throughout history, and still exist)? If one says even then, that the small group of people still have a chance by using guerrilla tactics and teamwork...

Why not do this now? Consider a nations current government this oppressing force. Just refuse to pay taxes or follow their laws, and form one's own community. If one then states this isn't possible, consider why. Because whatever argument is presented then also applies to the overpowered mercenary coalition that has everything to gain by establishing feudal vassals to provide them resources.

This goes back to a central belief I hold; people gravitate towards evil, for multiple reasons. A person left to their own devices, that has not cultivated a strong moral framework, is not innately good. If you steal something, you are objectively better off than before, because you have something you previously didn't. One might argue they aren't better off since they face the repercussions for their actions, but consider that for a moment; if they have the power to avoid those repercussions, and that cost is less than what they gain from theft, then it is still in their best interest. In a hyper-objective sense, might becomes right under an anarchic moral framework.

Now, Anarchy is only a pseudo-moral system. It's more of a non-government stance than an actual moral philosophy. But it's still presented in moral terms; statements like "a tyrant is a tyrant, even if you vote for them", and "government is inherently authoritarian". I don't believe someone could, in good conscience, deny that Anarchy has no moral component. And the idealistic lack of nuance it holds poses serious questions that different anarchists might answer in wildly different ways, or not at all by saying "the community would figure it out".

One last note; someone might ask what prevents a government from doing this. Well, going by the American government... the Bill of Rights. These specifically restrict government powers over the citizens. Anarchy does not have this, it has the NAP which I just demonstrated can be used to gain power, then can be simply discarded once critical mass is achieved.

TL;DR: Anarchy becomes the survival of the fittest, to the detriment of the weak. The strongest might like this, but consider that those currently ruling in government might be the same rulers under this system that doesn't restrict their power over you.

Issue 4: Required Conformity

Another argument I've also seen is that Anarchy is more of a proper/moral way of thinking instead of a rigid system. It is a social order that works once people become "enlightened", and realize that the moral thing to do is not interfere with other people's lives. Live and let live, don't oppress your fellow man, and respect each other's differences. Very admirable mindset, to be honest. Kinda zen like.

Basically, in a moral society, there are no need for laws. People will get along. But as I talked about before, this type of society would work under any system, assuming the leaders are also moral. By saying everyone just needs to have the right mindset, the right worldview...

You are suggesting total intellectual conformity of the citizenry.

But this is probably the most insanely utopian version of Anarchy I can imagine. Getting everyone to agree on a moral system? If you accomplish that, we basically have world peace. Forget solving government corruption, you've solved a lot more than that. You've literally created a utopia.

If you can do this, then yes, Anarchy would work. For that matter, Communism could work, as everyone would agree with how best to distribute resources, or at least how best to decide on how to distribute resources. The only way I know of to actual do this in reality, though, is almost a theocracy, where the government(or the group of highest prestige individuals and thought leaders) dictates what is fundamental moral or not as a representative of a higher power(in this case, the sacred principles followed by those pushing this framework). And I don't think that is what those who argue this position really believe.

TL;DR: People disagree. Asking to have everyone follow the same school of thought is not only ludicrous, it's inherently authoritarian.

Issue 5: Myth of Authority

I almost didn't even address this one, since it gets into a philosophical realm rather than the pragmatic workings. Basic premise is, many anarchists I see argue that one person does not have any authority over another person. It is a belief that the worst atrocities of the world are committed when people turn off their own moral compass and blindly follow orders. To an extent...

Yeah, I agree.

However, authority does exist. A parent has authority over a child. A boss has authority over an employee. A government has authority over a citizenry. These were created as social institutions for a reason; leadership, organization, cooperation, and accountability. What can override these individuals, though, is one's own morals. I think it is moral for a child to disobey their parent if they are told to lie, cheat, or steal, and the same applies for a boss and a government. This is what a whistle-blower usually is; someone who saw wrongdoing or were asked to perform wrongdoing, and ignored chain of command to bring the evil to light.

Try as you might, you can't destroy the existence of this concept. Authority is being implicitly acknowledged as being incorrectly allocated by this argument that governments are using it incorrectly.

Anarchists DO believe in authority, even if they deny it. They believe in a moral authority that dictates how people should act. They believe in the NAP, they believe that governments oppressing people is using authority they do not have; instead, that authority belongs to THE PEOPLE. They believe authority over an individual is only held by the individual, but they conveniently ignore all other examples of this(for example, the authority of someone to punish a wrongdoer). They might claim it is okay if authority is voluntary, and that is why governments aren't valid. But that falls apart when you realize people made those governments specifically to hold each other accountable.

There are abuses of authority, sure, but that doesn't destroy the very concept of authority. Another word for it is responsibility. Anarchists trying to destroy authority is equivalent to them attempting to destroy their responsibility. I think a certain LEVEL of taxes are valid(not all taxes are good, some are clear overreaching of government), as they are payment for the country protecting your interests by acting on your behalf. You can't avoid receiving this benefit just like you can't avoid being raised by your parents, except by the most extreme of methods. You owe a debt, and they continue to protect you from very real threats that would harm you, as I have shown in my previous scenarios up to this point. Before you claim I'm just excusing control, consider those scenarios. You would need to show how such instances wouldn't occur, despite us having substantial evidence that they would, as people attempt to abuse each other despite it being illegal.

TL;DR: Authority exists, otherwise Anarchists wouldn't care about its abuse.

Final: Appropriate Level of Bureacracy

Finally, above all, I would like to point out that all governments work to some extent. Sure, a dictatorship can function. So can a communist system, and so can an oligarchy. The measure of value for these systems, though, is based on how stable they are and how well they treat their citizenry.

I think Anarchy certainly does better than Communism. But I think some form of functional government does better than Anarchy, for one reason; organization.

Let's say you have an Anarchy, and you need to perform foreign relations, maybe a foreign trade or border dispute. A foreign leader likely won't be willing to meet with the leader representing ten people, as they would then need to meet with an unmanageable number of people to sort out any large scale issue. So, the various anarchic groups need to come together and elect a smaller number of representatives. This will require either delegation of power to certain groups to handle this, or the occasional voluntary election across large numbers of societies to debate, vote, or whatever to figure out who to send. Not only does this start to look like the formation of a government(something staunchly opposed by Anarchy), but it's less structured and much more ambiguous. Which means it will be out-competed in efficiency by a more established system. For example... a Democratic Republic, which has positions established and the ability of certain offices to appoint diplomats that hold official representative status.

One might then argue that an Anarchic group might decide this well in advance, to avoid this issue. But what happens when there is less than a unanimous decision? What happens when everyone is divided on who best to send? What happens when they want to overturn the system? What are the rules for doing so?

I consider this principle in most things I do; what is the appropriate level of organization necessary to do something? If you and a group of friends are going to the movies, you don't need to elect a leader. You just talk things out and handle any issues as they arise. If, however, an entire school goes to the movies as a field trip, they need to assign groups and leaders to keep things running smoothly. Someone to buy tickets, sort out transportation... you need more organization than a small group of friends. Scale this to an entire country; the more people included, the more organization is required for things to run smoothly.

Basically, Anarchy doesn't scale well. More people means more bickering, more conflicts, more bad actors. Small societies can function as well as, maybe even better, than a structured Democratic Republic. But the lack of certain common rules/rights, conflicts of interest between parties, and tendency of power to corrupt causes Anarchy to become less feasible the larger a society grows. Maybe you think societies SHOULD be smaller, and maybe you would be right; but you can't control other countries and prevent them from growing to massive sizes, and then oppressing the smaller anarchic societies through a variety of means(as pointed out in Issue 3). After all, smaller Anarchic societies are divided by definition. Any coordinated effort requires pretty much unilateral support, and that might not be attainable in times of existential threats.

TL;DR: Using a level of structuring, an organized government can out-compete small groups of Anarchic societies on the world stage.

Closing remarks

Let me end this by saying this; I don't think our current government is perfect, and can't be improved. Certain things that were previously impossible to properly fund without broad spectrum taxes could now be funded using new technology. Cryptocurrency might eventually replace the need for government minted currency, which was originally the answer to gold being too hard to transport and trade in normal transactions. I personally think you could pay for a roads on a usage basis, using a kind of toll system that tracks how much you drive on privately owned and maintained roads - enterprising individuals could even build their own roads, and earn money from people using them.(I've even read that the government really screwed things up with their road infrastructure; I think that in particular is better suited to the private sector, or at least local communities) These things were simply not possible before the creation of modern technology. 

But I caution people who adopt radical utopian views on how government should be run(or just abolished); this debate is as old as humanity itself. Highly intelligent people have been working together to try and make the best system possible for time immemorial. If there is something in government you simply don't understand and think should be scrapped, consider the idea that maybe such a strange policy was put there for a reason.

I've written a fair amount of code for a living, and there is this occasional urge to just rewrite the whole thing. This is sometimes necessary when a program becomes too malformed to be maintained, or the requirements have drastically changed from the beginning. But usually, it's far less expensive to fix the current system than to throw the whole thing away and start from scratch. You lose all the nuances, all the small fixes added to address problems you might not even be aware of. Because, in the real world, you don't get to write an entire application alone. You usually work with a team, or at least work on pre-existing code that has been passed down. To compare this to Anarchy, scrapping entire governments and starting over has happened multiple times in various revolutions throughout history. Frequently, you end up with a system worse or only marginally better, and the revolutions themselves are frequently violent, bloody, and costly to all involved. Sometimes revolution is necessary, as is scrapping a code base, but it's a really drastic course of action. The cost is high, and the results will vary.

TL;DR for this whole document: Our government isn't perfect, but Anarchy isn't either. It doesn't deal with the core problems of people hurting other people, and removes protections that the weak would normally have under a reasonably well structured administration. It's kinda like liposuction, except where the fat is the government and the poor lifestyle is the oppression of the masses; if you remove the government but don't treat the core issue, it remains. And most likely, you will just end up with a new government that isn't much better than the first.