Friday, February 1, 2013

Robert Ringer's Strawman Anarchist

In a recent post, the self-proclaimed libertarian and NYT best-selling author, Robert Ringer wrote:
In a perfect world, I’d be an anarchist not only in theory, but in reality.  But the rational side of me tells me that anarchism would open the door to my being victimized by the same criminals who now rule us.  With anarchism, there would be no laws to even slow them down.  That’s why I reluctantly believe that we need laws to protect our lives and property.  Unfortunately, most of today’s laws violate our lives and property.
What Ringer has done here is create a strawman libertarian anarchist society, or more specifically, a strawman anarcho-capitalist society. Nowhere do those writing about an anarcho-capitalist society, what I like to call a private property society, suggest that there would be no laws or, more correctly, no basic principles upon which such a society would be based. Indeed, Murray Rothbard wrote an entire book, For A New Liberty, discussing just such principles and how they would exist in a private property society. He begins the book by writing:

The libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else. This may be called the "nonaggression axiom." "Aggression" is defined as the initiation of the use or threat of physical violence against the person or property of anyone else. Aggression is therefore synonymous with invasion.
If no man may aggress against another; if, in short, everyone has the absolute right to be "free" from aggression, then this at once implies that the libertarian stands foursquare for what are generally known as "civil liberties": the freedom to speak, publish, assemble, and to engage in such "victimless crimes" as pornography, sexual deviation, and prostitution (which the libertarian does not regard as "crimes" at all, since he defines a "crime" as violent invasion of someone else's person or property). Furthermore, he regards conscription as slavery on a massive scale. And since war, especially modern war, entails the mass slaughter of civilians, the libertarian regards such conflicts as mass murder and therefore totally illegitimate.
How's that for a start for those who claim anarcho-capitalism doesn't have any laws or basic principles?

The entire idea behind an anarcho-capitalist society is that the society would be based on the non-aggression principle, which would include no monopoly on law enforcement. How Ringer can state that in such a society there would be "no laws to even slow them [criminals] down," is baffling.

The rules are clear, aggression is out. Moreover, as opposed to Ringer's implication, the people who currently violate the non-aggression principle most frequently are those in government, by enforcing victimless "crimes" laws, taxation and requiring us to follow all kinds of other rules that do little but interfere with our freedom and our private property.

An anarcho-capitalist society would eliminate this entire layer of government criminals. A society based on the non-aggression principle and respect for private property is a long way from the picture Ringer paints of a society with criminals running wild. He is confusing what we have now, with a society that would be much more free and peaceful.

As far as Ringer separating an anarchist view in "theory" versus "reality," Rothbard had this to say:
If a theory is correct, then it does work in practice; if it does not work in practice, then it is a bad theory. The common separation between theory and practice is an artificial and fallacious one. But this is true in ethics as well as anything else. If an ethical ideal is inherently "impractical," that is, if it cannot work in practice, then it is a poor ideal and should be discarded forthwith. To put it more precisely, if an ethical goal violates the nature of man and/or the universe and, therefore, cannot work in practice, then it is a bad ideal and should be dismissed as a goal. If the goal itself violates the nature of man, then it is also a poor idea to work in the direction of that goal.
So we must ask Ringer and those who claim that a private property society is good in "theory," but not "reality,": Are they thus focused on an unreachable goal? In short, are they in favor of a  theory that can never be achieved, that is, in other words, a goal that is in conflict with the nature of man? Or are they mistaken in their view of man?  Are they mistaken that total liberty is not achievable?

Deep thought causes us to reach the conclusion that societies based on the non-aggression principle and a respect for private property would result in societies that have the most freedom, almost by definition, and will also tend to have the highest standards of living. They are beautiful  rich and productive societies. Further, empirical evidence shows us that certain societies, such as early America, have come close to such a goal and thus suggest that it is not out of the reach of man, especially now since giants like Rothbard have explained to us how such a society would operate. That is, thanks to Rothbard, we are not working with some hazy idea, but with a well developed framework for a libertarian society. It is, therefore, much easier for us to grasp the idea  and move toward it.


  1. This is why I prefer the term "Autarchy" versus "Anarchy".

    "Anarchy" literally means "without ruler" whereas "Autarchy" means "self-rule" or "self-govern".

  2. As Nock pointed out, there is no possibility of anarchy where there exists natural resources or labor to exploit. Anarchists fail (time and time again) to point out an example of a successful anarchic society that REMAINED anarchic. Such societies are always overtaken, either from without or within, by some form of state, unless they have no resources or labor to exploit (like tribal areas of Africa).

    1. This is an idea I've grappled with for a while, too. It seems that the people who profit most from a free society end up opposing the free society. Rothbard's libertarian society would result in a rapid increase in wealth. The big danger is that one group of people would be able to amass enough wealth to buy or violently take over the whole society.

    2. how about Tiwanaku in Boliva? or the Medieval Chachapoya people? or the old west? and because the 'State' has only existed for maybe a couple hundred years, you have to separate out the territories where there is hundreds of little hitlers all struggling for ultimate power.

    3. You mean, much like a democracy that remained a democracy, or a "small government" republic that remained a "small government" republic.

      But hey, let's not focus on the morality of violence. Let's not focus on trying to remove the cancerous tumor completely even though it may return at a later point.
      Let's all keep that malignant tumor alive, try to limit it while naively claiming we can limit it and keep it small, and pretend it is better for your overall health than completely removing it.

      Here's another one: has there EVER been a society without crime? Well no. So why should we try to root out crime altogether for the mere reason that it would be the moral thing to do. We can't eliminate crime, so let's embrace the concept of some small amount of crime as superior to the concept of no crime at all, right?

      See the picture yet? Even with YOUR "logic", your arguments against anarchism are stupid, immoral and irrational.
      And don't even pretend to be in favor of anarchism in theory, because you're fooling nobody.

    4. A government with a monopoly on retaliatory aggression, that is also properly restricted from initiatory aggression, is far superior than any imaginary anarchic system.

      You act like a liberal when you get all emotional like that and start throwing out derogatory terms.

  3. 9/10/2001: Rumsfeld says $2.3 TRILLION Missing from Pentagon

    Does anybody know what has come of this? Or is this why we went to war on 9/11?

  4. My qualm about libertarian anarchism isn't that it wouldn't work as well as government, obviously it would, but my thing is realistically how the hell do you get there? In a society where almost no one is for it?

    1. Build services that beat the State's services so effectively that society chooses to move to the freer model. Look at Google's self-driving car and think about how much that is going to destroy the relevance of the DMV. Or how the internet is letting private currency like Bitcoin compete with fiat currency. We are freer than ever before in history, and less at risk of violence and death, so just keep pushing!

    2. Your first premise is laughably absurd. In what way does government "work"? Of course "work" is a term that is meaningless in itself because it must be defined further in terms of goals/ends.

      If you have goals/ends that most people would consider good, such as peace, prosperity, justice, the maximization of individual and cooperative human potential, then "government" does not "work" at all, but is demonstrably destructive towards those ends. Not just in practice, but in theory because government is aggression and aggression is contrary to all those wonderful goals. That any we experience any of those things is in spite of government, and yet even then, only scraps from the table when the whole feast is denied us.

      If your goal is to exploit your fellow man, experience the sexual thrill of dominating other people, to steal, kill, and enslave from other people and due to their indoctrination, not only not suffer the consequences, but be praised by your victims as a "public servant" (instead of shot dead in the act, or incarcerated for a lifetime of labor to repay your victims as justice requires), then government works really well.

      This confusion, when using the term "works" without defining ends is no better illustrated than in the government school system. Parents mistakenly think the purpose of the school system is to teach their children to learn, to encourage and foster creativity and critical thinking skills, to prepare the student for life as a vibrant, moral, well-equipped adult. If this is the goal, the government schools do not work at all. They are a miserable failure. But if you read the actual goals of the architects of this system, you can see their purpose (ends) were to create submissive drone citizens, suitable for menial labor and submissive to "authority". When viewed in light of these goals, government schools are a resounding success!

      So while I support libertarian anarchism (basically genuine libertarianism, since there are no libertarian states, theoretically or empirically) because justice demands it, I would certainly not be hopeful if I thought it would "work as well as government". What a horribly pessimistic thought!

    3. "My qualm about a society without slaves isn't that it wouldn't work as well as a society with slaves, obviously it would, but my thing is realistically how the hell do you get there? In a society where almost no one is for it?" (translated the argument 200 years back in time)

      Hey, why not simply flick a switch? That oughta do it.

      Seriously, if you think it was going to be easy and quick in order for it not to deserve "qualms", may i suggest you keep to solving 100 piece jigsaw puzzles instead?

      We've had the state for 10.000 years. We're not going to get to an anarchistic society within our lifetime. That still doesn't mean it deserves any "qualms". We're not talking about painting a house.

  5. Another flaw Ringer makes, and one that opponents of capito-anarchism always start with, is the "Perfect World" fallacy. Nowhere does Austrian economics ever state that we must live in a perfect world for any of the statements to be true. Unlike the hypothetical constructs of the Keynesians, which make huge Perfect World style mistakes all the time by holding subjective, changing values as quantifiable, persistent values, Austrians only rely on praxeological statements of plain truth about the current, imperfect world. This is BECAUSE we want an accurate understanding of the world around us, not some braindead model that allows for tyrant parasites, war, theft, and imperfect liability, which is what anybody who is against capito-anarchism is, by necessity, for. Don't hate on us for pointing it out.

  6. Although my heart is definitely in the anarcho-capitalist camp, there is, IMHO, a fundamental flaw: defense on a large scale.

    History has shown over and over again that the current state of a small number of people wanting to exert force over as many of their peers as possible is normative. We certainly see that today.

    Anarchists assert that they can defend themselves voluntarily against such a force.

    There is a substantial number of people who currently desire an anarcho-capitalist existence, yet they are currently unable to defend themselves against those who have no problem exerting force over them "for the better good" (in reality, mostly for their own profit by taking from the productive).

    It is my belief that we will not achieve an anarcho-capitalistic society until we work out a way for a small number of people to defend themselves effectively from a large number of people. It will probably take a technological advance -- possibly space travel just to use distance as the defense.

    1. There is not going to be any anarcho-capitalist society if the majority is statist, period.
      Which is why the "political solution" is so ridiculous.
      Which is why Ron Paul deserves respect and admiration for his education of the masses.
      Which is why the notion of Rand Paul, Justin Amash and the likes "deserving support" despite their damaging compromises, distractions and deviations, is so ridiculous.

      Politics in general need to be completely delegitimized. The veil needs to be lifted from the machinery without end. And children need to be raised on absolutely correct non-violent morality.

    2. "That’s why I reluctantly believe that we need laws to protect our lives and property. Unfortunately, most of today’s laws violate our lives and property."

      Dumb ass. Laws are made not to protect us from the rulers, but for the rulers to rule over us. Why else would laws be made BY the rulers? Why else are they always above the law? Why else is government theft called "taxation" instead of government theft? When laws are made by a monopoly of violence, why - in any logical reality - would they create laws meant to limit themselves instead of those over whom they rule?
      Why would judges be part of the government? Why would the army and police forces be part of the government, if their purpose was to protect us FROM the government?

      There is an inherent logical contradiction in the concept of a violent monopoly that makes the very laws that are supposed to protect us from them.

      Ringer misses the whole point of a government monopoly so obviously, and like Wenzel states makes such an obvious straw man about anarcho-capitalist society being "lawless", that it doesn't surprise me in the least that he's a fan of Ayn Rand.

      It's such a waste that intelligent people "blank out" about government because their worship of Ayn Rand is so great it overwhelms any desire for independent and critical thinking.

  7. Thanks for clarifying about respect for private property and principles of non-aggression as basic features of anarcho-capitalist society. My present understanding understanding of anarchism is total absence of government rule. Is my understanding correct? Do anarchists believe that a society could possibly without a government even in its limited form? Do anarchists reject all types of laws either just or unjust?

  8. 1. I submit that private neighborhoods and communities could and would have strict contractually based rules against all types of behaviors. "Progressive" private communities could insist that all occupants are indeed true blue "progressives" and that they act as such. The same with conservative Christian communities. Don't those strict contractually based rules count as "laws"?

    2. In private communities where the streets will be private and the community perhaps gated, criminals won't even be allowed in the neighborhood or on the private streets or anywhere near the private schools that would/could vet all of their students. How could criminals possibly cause any trouble at all?

    3. Ringer's critique resembles the same garbage attacks we constantly endure from the Keynesians and statists who refuse to acknowledge and/or comprehend that we are merely proposing a more strict, rigorous and meticulous respect and enforcement of our pre-existing well-understood and well-known notions of private property and contractual rights. The problems facing mankind have always been war, genocide, theft, rape and pillage, not a "lack of aggregate demand" or "discrimination" in the market. Strict enforcement of private property and contractual rights solves those basic problems.

  9. BTW, I'm all for completely dumping the word "anarchy" for use in describing a system of rigorous enforcement of pre-existing notions of private property and contract rights. We cannot even get people to understand the concept of "economic calculation" which I used to think was so simple, you could teach it to your poodle. "Lord Keynes" disavowed me of that idea.

    Among the established meanings of "anarchy" are:

    a state of lawlessness or political disorder due to the absence of governmental authority

    absence or denial of any authority or established order

    We're going to wind up spending the next 50 years arguing about the TERM while the planet goes Mad Max on us.

  10. Good article by Wenzel. I agree with most of what he has said here. Unfortunately, he makes a number of wild leaps based on one sentence in my article: "With anarchism, there would be no laws to even slow them down." I was generalizing. In a pure anarchist society, there would be one law only - the law of nonaggression. but a pure anarchist society is not possible, because the same political animals who commit criminal acts against us today would find ways to do the same in an anarchist society. They can't help it; it's their nature. In my article that Mr. Wenzel refers to, I was talking about good people like him who believe in Natural Law so strongly that they view most other anti-statists as not pure enough. Democrats and Republicans love this flaw in libertarians and anarchists because it keeps them divided. I've witnessed this sad state of affairs for more than forty years.


    1. I rejoiced when you said "the same political animals who commit criminal acts against us today would find ways to do the same in an anarchist society " This is great news: we can switch immediately to an anarchist society, and we'll be NO WORSE OFF, because it will be nearly identical to the status quo, but without government power over individuals. My first step will be to form a profitable, private security company that will protect individuals from these political animals.

      Rather than "anarchist", I prefer the term "voluntary society" as it represents the goal of the structure rather than the means. I've yet to run into a person who can argue against the axiom that in an ideal world, every individual would be free, and relations would be voluntary.

      - RJD