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

Our Roy Childs table of contents


Fifth page


The major objection to government is then that it must initiate force to remain a government. But elaboration is necessary. In his essay "The Assault on Integrity," Alan Greenspan states: "To paraphrase Gresham's Law: bad 'protection' drives out good. The attempt to protect the consumer by force undercuts the protection he gets from incentive." [12] This is as true in the area of protection of individual rights as in any other area, something Greenspan does not mention. Specifically, any protection which involves the abandonment of the right and use of independent judgment and action is worse than no protection at all: it involves the abandonment of the epistemological foundation and justification for rights, and hence for protection itself. Since it is always necessary for the individual to judge, in every activity and aspect of his life, the function of a "limited government" is to undercut this necessity in the crucial area of protection and defense of values, and in retaliation against aggressors. It, in effect, tells its "citizens" to abandon judgment, or to judge, but "leave the acting to us."

Now, it might be argued that protecting oneself constantly against violence is an unproductive expenditure of time and energy. This is true — which is why institutions or businesses will evolve in a free market to perform such proper services. There are only two kinds of goods in reality: free goods, or those which are so abundant that they are not the object of human action, and economic goods, which subsumes any scarce good or service having to be produced by effort. All economic goods, without exception, are capable of being produced and sold on the free market at a profit. For an economic analysis and proof of this, see Murray N. Rothbard's masterly Man, Economy, and State. [13]

Thus, in any case, this is true of defense, which is an economic good. The fact that men require a service, however, is precisely what guarantees that it will be produced. Thus, the mere fact that something is an objective need of man's existence does not constitute a reason for giving anyone the exclusive power to produce it, excluding competitors. Quite the contrary. The more basic or fundamental a need is, the more it should depend on individual, independent judgment, especially when rational men may differ as to what method to use in attaining the sought-after end.

Hence, epistemologically, government is an institution built on the logical fallacy of context-dropping, which consists of ignoring the context which gave rise to a dispute in considering the dispute itself. [14] For government is "derived" from the individual's right of self-defense, which is derived from individual rights, which are derived from the requirements of man's proper survival in a social context — the primary requirement being the necessity of man to act according to his own independent judgment (which is the social-existential application of that root or primary virtue: thinking).

Now, if all this is true, then no institution ultimately grounded in the necessity of independent judgment can at any point be justified in negating this primary — not even to save itself. But this is exactly what the institution of government does — and hence it is unjustified.

The mistake should not be made at this point of assuming that by advocating "independent judgment" in the realm of self-defense, one is advocating "arbitrary whim" as a basis for action. Quite the contrary — for the cornerstone of truly independent thinking or judgment is logic or reason. The point is that if there are objective principles of human behavior governing proper self-defense or retaliation, these principles are merely an aspect of ethics — since a code of ethics subsumes behavior subject to choice. And there need not be a "final authority in ethics" — not in this or any other realm. (See Ayn Rand's masterly analysis of the question "Who is the Final Authority in Ethics?" in The Objectivist Newsletter) [15] There need not be some special, "elite" group gifted with mysterious powers — what is called a government. If such principles are objective (which they are — see above), then they are discoverable the same way any other ethical principle is and are applied the same way — by using reason to apply the principle in a given, appropriate, context.

What advocates of a government proclaim is that the state and it alone shall have the power to "make" and enforce objective principles in this area. First of all, one does not "make" an objective principle; one observes and discovers it — and then applies it. Secondly, to "enforce" an objective "law" (social principle) is merely to act according to it. So what advocates of a government are necessarily saying is: (a) Government alone can discover objective "laws," and hence it alone can act according to them; (b) Anyone can discover them, but Government can (or should) act according to them; or (c) Anyone can discover them or observe them, and anyone can act according to them, by using reason.

Now, if they are saying (a), then they are clearly granting government some epistemological abilities not possessed by men, i.e., some sort of mystical insight. But if this is true, two things must be asked: (1) How does anyone outside of the government know this to be the case? and (2) What is government besides — MEN? But then we come to point (b). If they mean to say that anyone can discover or know the principles, the objective "laws," but only government is capable of acting according to them, they are granting to some men a capacity which other supposedly do not have. Yet this mystical power is merely asserted. It seems pretty clear that if some men, i.e, those in government, can perform a certain action, so can others. So the second alternative comes up for consideration: that all men can know what these principles are, but should not act according to them, i.e., are morally wrong in acting according to them. But supposedly these objective "laws" or principles are principles of right and wrong, i.e., they are moral principles. But if this is so, then it is absurd to say that it is morally wrong for a person to take actions which are morally right. What the advocate of government must say at this point is that the actions are moral if taken by some men (i.e., the government) but immoral if taken by another. This is ethical elitism, however, and in order to show that a principle applies to group A, but not to group B, it must be shown (1) that the two groups are different in kind with respect to one or more characteristics, and (2) that there is a causal link between that attribute and the principle in question. Otherwise, the assertion is merely stated and is epistemologically worthless. Now some Objectivists and libertarians at this point rush in to point to the concept of "geographical area" as having more relevance to this issue. But mere geographical area comes in if and only if the area you are talking about is owned by the group or individual in question. Furthermore, the supposed basis of government is not in its territorial extent, but in the individual right of self-defense. It is clear, then, that the territorial extent of the government is morally worthless as an argument on its behalf.

If this is true, then, our advocate of limited government is driven to (c), that is, to the belief that anyone can know the relevant principles and anyone can morally act according to them. But if this is so, then we have in fact done away with government itself, for government was held to be an institution holding a monopoly on the power to enforce certain rules of social conduct.

This, of course, is the doctrine of anarchism.

Now, if it be retorted that the reason that government is needed is to ensure that the principles are enforced in reality, it can be answered that this is a variant of the illusory search for a "final authority in ethics." For, in reality, only individual minds exist, can hence think, judge, or regulate action. Each individual mind must use reason in each and every context — which is as close to an "authority" as we can get. But this is no authority at all. The limited statist is asking: "But who decides what is objective or not? Who makes the final decision? Who is the final authority?"

The answer to this is supplied in principle by Ayn Rand's essay "Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?" "Who 'decides' what is the right way to make an automobile, to cure an illness or to live one's life? Any man who cares to acquire the appropriate knowledge and to judge, at and for his own risk and sake. What is his criterion of judgment? Reason. What is his ultimate frame-of-reference? Reality. If he errs or evades, who penalizes him? Reality." [16]

Note that this general principle will apply to every activity of man. To seek a "final authority" — a government — is to seek knowledge without individual effort, an absolute guarantee where none is possible. This search for an ultimate authority, arbiter of disputes and absolute guarantee of liberty is, in the words of John Galt (used in a somewhat different context): "a desperate quest for escape from the responsibility of a volitional consciousness — a quest for automatic knowledge, for instinctive action, for intuitive certainty...." [17] The political conclusion — the alleged necessity for government — is based on a subjectivist premise. The person who seeks a "final authority" is seeking to reach a conclusion without independent judgement. He is seeking some super-consciousness which will create the reality he wishes to evade. The question and the quest are alike absurd.

Perhaps it will then be pointed out that men make mistakes and hence we need a government to protect the innocent. There are several flaws to this argument. First, men do indeed make mistakes. But governments are men — hence if men cannot be trusted to make decisions, neither can governments. In short, the contention simultaneously declares that men are and are not competent to judge.

But if a "private citizen" (meaning, supposedly, an individual human being) should in fact initiate force in pursuing self-defense, or an institution in serving a client, would not the "government" have the "right" to retaliate, that is, to stop it by force? Yes. But it works the other way around, too — if government should initiate force, any other person or institution can morally stop it. Any other position would negate the alleged justification for government in the first place: the individual's right to self-defense.

But, again, since the defining characteristic of government is its monopoly on coercion in a given area, this would not in any way be a government, since anyone could morally do what it is doing.

The principle involved has been well-stated, but ill-applied, by Ayn Rand: "It is important to note the epistemological significance of a free society. In a free society, the pursuit of truth is protected by the free access of any individual to any field of endeavor he may choose to enter. (A free access ... means the absence of any forced restrictions or legal barriers.) This prevents the formation of any coercive 'elite' in any profession — it prevents the legalized enforcement of a 'monopoly on truth' by any gang of power seekers...." (From "Who Is the Final Authority in Ethics?") [18]

But what else, then, is a government?

To the conclusion.

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

Notice  to visitors who came straight to this document from off site: You are deep in The Last Ditch. You should investigate our home page and table of contents.