The Epistemological Basis of Anarchism:
An Open Letter to Objectivists and Libertarians
by R.A. Childs, Jr., continued

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Fourth page


In prefacing my discussion of government, let me emphasize one major point. "A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess." (From Ayn Rand's essay "Collectivized 'Rights'") Since a government is merely a group of men, an institution, let us bear this in mind while proceeding with our case for anarchism. [6]

Up to this point, most Objectivists and libertarians will have come along with me for the most part — quibbling, perhaps, on a few minor points. But now we take issue with each other. Seeing the need for recognition of individual rights, the necessity for renouncing the use of invasive force, and the need for self-defense and retaliation, most of these people (happily, a shrinking number) conclude that what is needed to attain this is a government, which is defined as "an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area." (From Ayn Rand's essay "The Nature of Government." This should not be taken as a sign of my agreement with her definition, which is not true.) [7]

Why is government necessary? "If a society provided no organized protection against force, it would compel every citizen to go about armed, to turn his home into a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door — or to join a protective gang of citizens who would fight other gangs, formed for the same purpose, and thus bring about the degeneration of that society into the chaos of gang-rule, i.e., rule by brute force, into the perpetual tribal warfare of prehistorical savages. The use of physical force — even its retaliatory use — cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens." [8]

Now there are a number of things which might be said about this, but I will not go into most of them, having gone into them in my essay, "Objectivism and the State: An Open Letter to Ayn Rand," published in the August 1969 issue of The Rational Individualist. [9] But a few things should be brought up in any case. First — the use of retaliatory physical force cannot be left by whom up to the discretion of individual citizens? Surely this implies that self-defense and retaliation are permissions rather than rights. But whose permissions are they? Who is the super-being who can grant and revoke them? Secondly, what is this presumed entity — society — which needs "protection," which has to have "organized protection against force"? It seems clear that society is not an entity, and thus has no needs other than those of individual men. Now individual men do indeed have a need to use self-defense and retaliation when it is justified. But what constitutes "organized protection"? Individual men do indeed need protection. Which is to say nothing except that they have need of certain conditions of existence — the absence of initiated coercion being the fundamental condition. Period. That is the sole and only need of man in a society which is different from individual needs outside of society. That is all Ayn Rand has shown. The rest has been asserted with admittedly clever rhetoric. But it has not been proven.

To prove that a government is needed, that a single agency which holds an absolute monopoly on the power to enforce certain rules of social conduct over a given geographical area [is needed], she would have to prove that (a) government is competent (i.e., able) to enforce such rules while others are not, and hence government is different in kind from the individuals who compose it, or (b) government alone may morally enforce such rules, which is, seemingly, a variant of ethical subjectivism. Let us consider the issue in more depth. Remember that the fundamental question at this point is this: granted that men may need institutions (which are but means to attain ends) to protect them from force, why is government somehow the only agency which can perform such functions? Or: how can a government exist which does not, to maintain its monopoly status in a given geographical area, have the power to coercively prevent other agencies from performing the same (supposedly proper) functions as it does itself? Or: How can a government exist without initiating force? It is clear that if a government must initiate force to remain a government, it is immoral, as has been proven. And, given the derivation of ethical-moral principles, it is also clear that the immoral is not necessary, in any sense, for man's well-being. Quite the contrary.

"The government [of a 'free nation' — RAC] is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of its citizens and has no rights other than the rights delegated to it by the citizens for the specific, delimited task (the task of protecting them from physical force, derived from their right of self-defense). The citizens of a free nation may disagree about the specific legal procedures or methods [of implementing] their rights (which is a complex problem, the province of political science and the philosophy of law), but they agree on the basic principle to be implemented: the principle of individual rights." (From Ayn Rand's essay "Collectivized Rights") [10]

Now there are several strange things about this passage. The concept of an "agent" or representative is an economic concept, and has a specific meaning. In a social context, it arises when one specific individual approaches another individual or institution, and delegates to them a specific power (which was moral when performed by him) for a specific purpose and for a specific period of time. Representation is not, in short, either "general" or "nonspecific"; it is not open-ended. It requires, in addition to specific terms or conditions, that each of the two parties concerned, both the agent and the client, give their specific, voluntary, uncoerced consent. If the specific, voluntary consent of either party is missing, the alleged representation is invalid. There is, in short, no such thing as involuntary representation, since the essence of an agent is that he carries out the expressed will of his client. Involuntary representation would entail the absurdity of one man carrying out another's will against his will — clearly a contradiction in terms. Furthermore, the corollary of representation is responsibility. The client, in delegating certain powers (not "rights") to an agent, assumes partial responsibility for the man's actions, for the man acts in his name by his agreement. And there can be no such thing as responsibility in a moral sense for any actions not subject to your control in any way whatever, which is the case when you are not free to choose to your own representative. So what happens to Ayn Rand's conception of and justification for government when this highly specific representation and delegation of powers is absent? Since only individuals possess rights, only individuals can delegate them, or the legitimate powers arising from them, to anyone else. No two people can delegate powers to a third on behalf of both themselves and a fourth. [11]

Miss Rand comes close to realizing this when she states that the citizens of a "free nation" may disagree on the specific methods of implementing their rights (presumably they may rationally disagree), but ignores an obvious implication of this: if they may disagree, and are within their rights, then it is immoral to force them to accept a single monopolistic institution, or method of implementing their supposedly inalienable rights, if they in fact do not consent to it. The problem is that of having slipped in the concept "the citizens," which is not defined. It is "the citizens" who supposedly delegate their rights, and surely they can do this. But unless there is unanimous consent as to the method and personnel for implementing their rights, there is absolutely no reason why a single agency will come out of this process of delegating powers. For those who do not delegate such powers obviously retain them for themselves, and if they have the right to delegate them to an agency, then they can do that — but there is no reason why they have to choose the same agency as the "citizens" who so merrily consented to the Objectivist government. For either they possess the right of self-defense and retaliation, or they do not. If they do not, then there is no need for government, since there is nothing for the government to protect. If they do possess these rights, then it is absurd to say that one has the right to use force against them if they do not delegate them to the government, for that is tantamount to saying that one has a "right" to violate rights. Clearly anyone who maintains this last proposition does not understand the derivation of the principles of rights. What he is in fact saying is that the "rights" of self-defense and retaliation are not in fact rights at all; they are permissions, for it is only permissions which can be revoked. But the defense of anything, and the use of retaliation to recover it once it has been violated, is a direct function of ownership, so one can be said to have a "permission" to self-defense and retaliation only if someone else owns one — i.e., there has to be someone to get the permission from. Hence the question to ask when such an approach is made is: by whose permission? Clearly the question is absurd in this context.

Even barring these objections, Miss Rand's statement still does not make sense in the full context of her philosophy. For let us see what it implies. If independent judgment is the primary virtue, and if men may rationally disagree concerning the methods of implementing or protecting their rights, why cannot men be left free to act on the basis of this rational dissent? If a majority, or a minority, or any group seizes power, in effect, by implementing their means while denying others the same right, aren't they initiating force against those others, especially since one manifestation of the initiation of physical force is to cause a person to act against his own judgment?

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Published by permission of the Hoover Institution Archives, Elena S. Danielson, Ph.D., archivist.

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