Objection I: Anarchists are Utopians, Rebutted
(This is Part I of a ten part series. Read the Introduction, here, before you start the series.)
Objection 1: Anarchists are utopians. Anarchy, as a system of order, will never work. We’ll kill and eat each other, children will be slaves, etc. because human nature is selfish and violent.
This is probably the most common objection that I personally hear, but I also think it’s the easiest to refute. From here on, I’ll call it the “Anarchists-as-utopians objection.” (Before you call me out for refuting a strawman, please note that my tongue is firmly in my cheek; I obviously embellished the actual objection for humorous effect. However, I didn’t embellish all that much; I am usually told that horrible things will happen if the state disappears.)
There are a couple of things wrong with the anarchists-as-utopians objection, but it may not be immediately evident because there are some half-truths in it. Yes, some anarchists are utopians. Yes, some people are selfish and/or violent. You cannot, however, make blanket statements like this about anarchists or humanity because we are all unique individuals, a fact that is lost on statists whenever talking about society or the market.
Are Anarchists Utopians?
First, I’ll respond to the “anarchists are utopians” aspect to the objection. Since I’m big on defining your terms, we must define “utopia.” Utopia is taken from the Greek “ou” (not) and “topos” (place): Literally, nowhere. The word first appeared in Sir Thomas More’s book Utopia to describe an island where life is perfect. Calling someone a “utopian” is generally not meant to foster debate, but rather to smear. The purpose is to ridicule anti-government types as being naïve and out of touch with the world at large. If your knee-jerk reaction is that anarchists are naïve, put it to the test: talk to one. Find out if she thinks we’ll all just hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” when (not if) your government collapses. I’d be willing to bet the answer is “no.” Whether you agree with her or not, she is probably VERY well versed in politics, history, current events, and sociology. The reason for this is because of the stigma surrounding the word “anarchy.” Those who seriously use it to describe themselves know what comes to mind when most people hear the word “anarchy.” They know that they are in the minority and will have to defend and explain themselves, so they make sure they know what they’re talking about. Again, you may disagree with the conclusions, but will probably find the anarchist is very well versed in geopolitics, economic theory, and sociology.
I can hear the rebuttal now: “Just because someone is well educated and informed does not mean that they are realistic about a solution. Yes, the anarchists recognize political and economic problems in our current statist world, but they don’t realize the problems will be made worse without a state.” It is a fair point that education and access to information do not automatically make someone good at critical thinking or problem solving. (I think the rise of the internet and social media has proved that.) However, I’m not saying here that anarchists are correct or incorrect; what I’m saying is the “utopian” smear is invalid because it implies ignorance. Will the problems really be worse without a state? That’s really a different objection which I’ll tackle in the next post. (Spoilers: “No.”)
Smearing someone as a utopian is not new, and it’s applicable to other political movements besides anarchism. Karl Marx called the early socialists “utopian” socialists due to their hypothetical visions of an abundant and peaceful society through the means of socialism. Critics, such as Marx and Engels, called them “utopians” since their view of a futuristic society was not in line with the current conditions of life of planet Earth and they did not present a cohesive or scientific plan for how the socialist economy would be put in place. It’s important to note that the “utopian socialists” did not call themselves utopians, it was a smear. The same goes for those who label the anarchists as “utopians.”
For further information about the utopian socialists, check out the embedded video from the Mises Institute, an educational institution devoted to Austrian economics, sound money, and classical liberalism. (It’s named after famed Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.) It’s about an hour long, but it’s highly enjoyable if you have an interest in the history of economic thought.
Are Humans Violent by Nature?
The “human nature is violent” statement is half true, but it’s misleading. Think of it this way: If you are reading this, you speak English and you know how to use the internet. Speaking English and being tech-saavy are part of your identity and part of your nature, but you were not born with those traits. You had to learn them. If you were a member of a native tribe living deep in the Amazon, you would not do either of these things, yet you would still be human, of course. How much of our nature is inherited and genetic and how much is determined by our upbringing and environment is an ongoing debate in the scientific and sociological communities.
Are humans naturally violent? There is very strong evidence linking violence in human beings to upbringing and home life. Just do a quick search for “domestic cycle of violence.” Pretty much every scientific study on the matter links violence committed by adults to violent and/or abusive childhood experiences. Another example to consider is the military. Most of boot camp is mental. They have to break you down before they can build you up into a killer. Even with the psychological training, many soldiers still will not fire their weapons at their supposed enemies. If humans were all naturally violent to one another, this conditioning would be unnecessary. I think the only things you can say about human nature for sure is that it is malleable and that we respond to environmental stimuli. If you grow up in a violent environment, you will probably be a violent adult. If you are raised in a peaceful environment, you are likely to be a peaceful adult.
Playing Devil’s Advocate
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that either every human on the planet is selfish and violent, or at least some people are naturally violent like the “anarchists-as-utopians” objection claims. Well, if this is true, having a government is a very bad idea, and your objection collapses. I’ll explain using logic.
In a statist society, everyone fits into one of two categories within the power structure: the rulers (those who write and enforce laws for government) and the ruled (everyone else). With me so far? There are only five combinations of where violent/non-violent actors fall within this society:
- All people are peaceful.
- All people are violent.
- The rulers are violent, but the ruled are peaceful.
- The rulers are peaceful, but the ruled are violent.
- Both rulers and ruled are made up of some combination of violent and peaceful.
If all people are peaceful, then we don’t need a government because people will resolve their problems peacefully. Easy.
If all people are violent, then that means the rulers are too. (Who runs the government if not people?) Should we give violent politicians the right to take other peoples’ money by force (taxation), lock them up in prisons, and give them access to nuclear weapons and armed drones? (Unfortunately, this is what’s already been done.)
If the rulers are violent and the ruled are not, that’s an even worse scenario, because the non-violent people will undoubtedly be murdered and oppressed and will not fight back.
If only some of the people are violent, how do you keep the violent ones out of positions of power? Won’t they be more attracted to jobs where they can kill and cage people? (I personally believe that this scenario is the closest to our current reality.)
The only way the objection works in favor of having a government is if the ruled are violent but the rulers are not. I think you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone that that’s the case. Aren’t politicians usually the worst people in society? We joke about how they’re all liars and crooks, but then we keep voting for them anyway, hoping the next one will be a decent person.
Check out the excellent “If Men Were Angels” analysis, here for a more in-depth exploration of this line of thinking.
Whether human nature is violent or not, having a state doesn’t improve the situation.
Next: Corporations will take over. Without a state, the corporations/drug cartels/mafia will take control in the resulting power vaccuum!
Objections to Anarchy Rebutted
- Anarchists are utopians. Anarchy, as a system of order, will never work. We’ll kill and eat each other, children will be slaves, etc. because human nature is selfish and violent.
- Corporations will take over. Without a state, a power vacuum will be created in which the corporations/drug cartels/mafia will just take control!
- How will (roads, police, schools) be provided?
- How do you provide for national defense against a foreign invasion?
- Examples of anarchist societies in history have all been small and have all been failures.
- What about the social safety net? (Welfare, Social Security, unemployment)
- How do you get people to participate in civic issues in an anarchist society?
- How do you handle private crime/small scale violence in an stateless society?
- What about the environment? How do you hold corporations accountable with no state?
- How is there accountability when traveling to different geographical regions with different cultural histories?
A Disclaimer About My Politics
Thanks for reading this post, I hope I challenged you in some way. Agree with me? That’s cool. Disagree? Even better. I’m just a random guy on the internet, voicing his opinion (at the time of writing this blog post – check the date; opinions change as more facts and experience are gathered). But imagine if I had the political power and will to force you to agree with me! That would be terrible, and that’s the point of voluntarism and non-aggression. You should not be forced to agree with me. Please extend me the same courtesy.
“The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’ meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’.” -Larry Hardiman
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- Leaders vs. Rulers
- Libertarianism is Better Than Progressivism
- Why I Do Not Vote (And Neither Should You)
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- Top Five Reasons I Don’t Argue Politics on Social Media
- Why Meaningful Debate is Impossible
- Dos and Do Nots for the Liberty Minded
- “There ought to be a law…”
- A Defense of Fugitive Slaves
- Conspiracy Theories are Dumb
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