Democracy and anarchism

Aristotle The Geek has written a partial response to the debate on my previous post. He writes

What is an “unfree” market? Let me ask the question the other way round – what is a “free” market? It is a market in which the State does not interfere (the only “interference” would be of the enforcement of contracts kind). Political/ economic freedom is always defined in terms of the State, not in terms of non-State actors. The latter don’t lay any claim to morality when they engage in fraud, theft, murder, confinement etc. It is the State which does that. So, an “unfree” market would be one with State interference.

At this point I would ask “What is the State?” Ayn Rand defines government (which I will use interchangeably with State) as
A government is an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area. (emphasis in original)

I will modify it to make one aspect of it more explicit
A government is an institution whose exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area is generally accepted.

Compare that to a modern democracy. Modern democracies are characterized by the lack of acceptance of any fundamental rule for social conduct. Any rule or law (no matter how fundamental) passed by a legislature may be repealed, completely modified or contradicted in its next session. Read this very illuminating article about how Oliver Wendell Holmes’ dissent in a famous case has served to create a legal orthodoxy that believes that the American constitution does not contain any fundamental principle. In a modern democracy, there is no inviolate fundamental principle that the state or its members are bound by. This means that the modern state lacks an identity. The state is a collective and the identity of a collective is determined by the identity of its constituents. But the modern democratic state is highly disparate. The only thing that is generally accepted is that there are no fixed rules.

The state in a modern democracy is an ever-changing group of men who enforce certain ever-changing rules of social conduct in a given geographical area.

This is about as close to anarchism as I think (and hope) we will ever get. Anarcho-capitalists such as Rothbard (based on some quotes by ATG) write of competing (while also cooperating with each other) private defence agencies. If these competing-yet-cooperating private agencies bind themselves by fundamental principles and refuse to allow other private agencies that do not accept those principles, then they together form an entity which is remarkably similar to a state. If they do not bind themselves by any fundamental principles but still cooperate among themselves, then they are remarkably similar to a modern democracy – a disparate set of power wielders that manages to avoid open warfare.

The only difference between anarchism and modern democracy is the issue of the size of government. But the size of the government is an inessential characteristic. What is essential is the principles that make up its identity. Modern democracies are constantly increasing the size of government and at the same time destroying its identity. But no entity can last long without an identity, especially large ones. A large government devoid of any fundamental identity is just waiting for some autocratic group to seize it (something that seems to be beginning in the U.S.). Anarchists want to do away with government altogether. But that is something that can never happen. Anarchy must degenerate into smaller states (waiting to be conquered by a more powerful state intent on conquest) or into a democracy for the reasons in the paragraph above.

5 Responses

  1. I accept your definition: “The state in a modern democracy is an ever-changing group of men who enforce certain ever-changing rules of social conduct in a given geographical area.”…

    And I agree that the cooperation of agencies in anarchy is an undesirable end point as you infer: “then they are remarkably similar to a modern democracy”.

    So what, then, of “principle”? Sets of ideas embraced and sustained as both necessary and sufficient to enable civil people to interact with minimal friction?

    Liberty appears to require certain conditions and behaviors found not at points of stability, relative minima, along the graph of societal structures.

    To sustain the “Ideal Laws for Civil Society: (1) Do not encroach on others of their property; (2) Do all that you agreed to do” (source ?) requires sustained attention and energy from and among the participants.

    Folks who are capable of such behavior are scarce in any age, and I do not hold much hope that the great experiment begun with the Declaration 233 years ago will survive much longer.

    Democracy had irreparably damaged and will destroy the Republic.

  2. Correction of typo: (1) Do not encroach on others or their property

  3. requires sustained attention and energy from and among the participants
    Yes, sustaining a civil society requires effort and participation.
    Folks who are capable of such behavior are scarce in any age
    I will concede that – but only partially. There are plenty of activists today – men who attempt to create a better world. The problem is that they are misguided and so their efforts achieve the opposite of their intentions. With a sound philosophy, it should be possible to perfect what the Declaration of Independence achieved. Doing so will require effort and patience. But surely it is possible.

  4. “The problem is that they are misguided…” and the mis-leaders are selling bread and circuses for votes.

    For this reason, among others, I have developed a great distaste for democracy.

    To acquire the “sound philosophy” of which you speak requires much more than activism and good intention.

    Pre-requisites to a sound philosophy are independence of spirit, a desire to observe and evaluate both behaviors and facts, and the integrity to accept responsibility for ones’ situation and actions.

    “But surely it is possible”… yes, but consider the probability of a critical mass of voters equiped with these attributes given a century of public education.

    Best Regards –

  5. All of what you wrote is quie true. And yet, the evil has no strength of its own. If we believe we know what is good and what is not, we must also believe that what is good must prevail.

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