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

Our Roy Childs table of contents


Sixth and final page


There are a few other minor points to be considered.

Nathaniel Branden, in his consideration of anarchism in the lecture on "Government and the Individual" in the BASIC PRINCIPLES OF OBJECTIVISM course, states that anarchism is a species of ethical hedonism and holds that there are no objectively valid principles of human behavior. [19] It should be clear at this point that this is not true in the least, and is a misrepresentation — probably not intended. In any case, anarchism is not a species of hedonism, though some individual anarchists have held this fallacious theory. But, then too so have some advocates of limited government. This has nothing to do with the validity of either theory.

Some people maintain that the reason government is necessary is that men have to think and act long range, and have to plan in terms of a lifetime — thus necessitating some sort of a quasi-permanent institution. But it must be shown that this has to be a government, and, more important, that there must be only one such institution. And it has to be shown that somehow all this justifies abandoning independent judgment and action in contexts which involve coercion.

It is maintained that if there are two or more agencies, the "competition" between them will result in the "forcible restraint of men," in short, of competition in aggression. This too is based on a misunderstanding. What free-market defense agencies would compete in would obviously be: competition for the business of their customers, not competition in retaliating against criminals. Anarchism, since it is based on the right of independent judgment, leaves it up to every victim to decide what course of action to take (recognizing that if he engages in "overkill" or injustice, he can be stopped). Thus, it is up to every consumer as an individual to decide if he wants to patronize an agency of defense or not, and if so, what agency. No person has the right to retaliate against a criminal in the name of someone else unless that someone else delegates such a right to him by appropriate, specific means. Anarchism, thus, is based on the doctrine of representation applied literally. If someone aggressed against one, it would be up to one to have, prior to or after the crime, contracted with an individual or agency to do something about it, if he wants something done. (Retaliation is not a moral obligation; the decision to retaliate or not is a contextual one, properly speaking.) Competition in the area of defense would be the same as for any other business. Different institutions would simply advertise what services they offered and one could patronize them if one wished. Without someone's assuming and usurping the alleged right to act, even retaliate, in one's name, there surely would not be any kind of competition in restraint of men, let alone warring parties. Free-market defense agencies would compete on the basis of the quality and cost of the services they offer.

What about warring defense agencies? Since men possess free will, there is always the possibility that men may choose to fight things out, rather than reason about them — even with a government. Thus a government does not automatically provide a "peaceful" way of resolving disputes. Furthermore, it would obviously not be in the rational self-interest of different agencies to fight things out in the streets. Besides scaring away potential customers, they would face extreme losses of capital in such conflicts. The agencies would hence probably choose to figure out some way, in advance, to resolve such disputes. Again, the existence of a single monopoly government in an area provides no guarantees at all that the same thing will not happen — under the guise of war or anything else. Also, under which society do checks and balances really exist? In a governmental society, where everyone is disarmed except the state, which is "bound" by a constitution (which it interprets — thus, standing outside of the state, there is no limitation on its power, since the agency which does in fact interpret the "constitution" will be itself a part of the government); or an anarchist society, in which no one is left disarmed against his will? Remember, in an anarchist society, if one defense agency becomes an aggressor, one can always hire another to defend oneself against it. In a state-society, one can do nothing except decry the activities of the state and "vote." Again, anarchism is based on the right of self-defense and independent judgment totally. There is never any absolute guarantee that an agency will not become corrupted, but anarchism clearly leaves more room for objective checks and balances against aggressors.

Ultimately, of course, this whole line of attack leads to a particularly interesting conclusion: the limited-government libertarian will describe in all its horror the possibility of one agency taking over bit by bit, destroying other agencies of defense, usurping power over everyone in a given geographical area, establishing a monopoly on the power to enforce certain rules of society conduct ... But it usually occurs to him somewhere in the midst of his graphic tirade that his major objection to anarchism is ... (gasp!) that it might actually develop into a government! But of course the retort to this is that that is what we have already, and that is what he is advocating in any case. If he is really afraid of one agency's developing into a monopoly, why is he advocating that as an ideal to begin with? Surely if such a thing did happen to an anarchist society, there would be one inestimable benefit: people would at least be aware of the process by which the defense agency became a government — by initiating force. There would be no illusions.

A further objection to anarchism is one based on a misconception of the nature of "objective law." This view holds that an objective law is primarily a law which is written down (a statutory law) and which states exactly what constitutes a crime and why, and prescribes certain punishments for those who break such "objective laws," in advance of the crime, so that the criminals know what is in store for them. But by this analysis, a law which clearly stated that all Jews older than 35 years of age were to be immediately put to death for the crime of being old Jews would be classified as an "objective law." It should be clear that being written down is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for a law to be "objective." An objective law is one which is derived from objective principles of justice, such as those developed in brief before. There is no particularly monstrous problem surrounding this: the only thing which would be prohibited in an anarchist society would be the initiation of force, fraud, or intimidation, and anyone who did so would become liable to retaliation to the extent of being forced to pay damages. Why is this so difficult to remember? Those who oppose competing defense agencies have a mistaken concept of how it will probably operate: they merely transpose their own Objectivist political institution onto the structure of the competing agencies — statutory law, political parties, elections, the whole bit. But there is clearly no need for such things. In an anarchist society, agencies of retaliation or defense would most likely be hired by those who have the greatest stake in keeping the peace and preventing value-losses through aggression: insurance companies. (I owe this suggestion in part to Morris and Linda Tannehill.) [20] There would be no problem of "conflicting statutory laws" because there would most probably be no statutory laws. The punishment for an act of aggression cannot be prescribed before the crime because the purpose of retaliation is to force the criminal to repay his victim, and the losses suffered by the victim cannot be determined, obviously, before the crime occurs. So what precisely is the problem? In any case, there is little difficulty for U.S. citizens today in traveling from state to state, even though in this context there are innumerable conflicts in their statutory laws.

Now, would everyone, under anarchism, have to understand the principles of objective "law"? Of course not — they would merely have to understand the principle of individual rights, and its corollary, nonaggression. The market operations of the division of labor and the founding of free-market defense agencies will take care of the rest. Not everyone has the time or the inclination to learn how to make steel either, yet this is no reason whatever to have one monopoly which has the power to prohibit those others who do from competing. What about the incompetents who might try to become free-market agencies of defense? They, obviously, will go out of business — since no one will patronize someone to resolve conflicts if all they do is create more. The objective key is profit.

A final note on the application of the principles of retaliation is in order here. A number of self-styled libertarians and Objectivists are morally opposed to the concept of revolution as a means to attain social and political change. Surely from the standpoint of traditional "revolutions" this might be justified. But what, after all, is a revolution? A revolution is a process of rapid and radical social and political change, involving possibly, but not necessarily, the use of violence. Now few libertarians and Objectivists oppose rapid and radical change per se; what they focus on and oppose is the use of violence. But this is absurd. For, indeed, violence is always to be condemned when it is used as initiatory violence. But the question of retaliation is contextual, i.e., every individual who is aggressed against by the state (which includes everyone, since there is always the threat of enforcement of invalid laws, i.e., there is always intimidation) must look rationally at his context and judge whether or not it is to his rational self-interest to retaliate against those who initiate force against him. To condemn violence employed against the state per se is tantamount to opposing retaliation per se, opposing it out of context and in defiance of context, or making the assumption that the state does not in fact initiate violence against anyone. The first of these is pacifism, and is in error because it does not understand the function of moral principles — which is to serve life, not to allow it to be destroyed or thwarted. The second is the fallacy of context-dropping, which consists of ignoring the fact that the application of the principle of retaliation, like all other principles, is a contextual matter to be determined by an individual acting in his rational self-interest. It may be, in a given context, stupid as a tactic, but one still possesses the right to retaliation, and hence to revolution. The third of these three alternatives is a blatant evasion. For the state today everywhere rests on the foundation of aggression and intimidation; all states today have three fundamental characteristics in common, which serve to unite them into a specific kind of institution (criminal) and differentiate them from other institutions in society. These attributes are: {1} All states obtain their revenue, not through a process of production and exchange, but through confiscation and intimidation, through the robbery of taxation, which is initiated force; {2} All states have usurped or assumed power over everyone in a geographical area, regardless of their will in the matter, which is enslavement; and {3} All states prohibit others from competing with them in functions which are morally proper (under ideal conditions), such as retaliation and issuance of currency. Hence, all states are based on the foundation of blatant aggression against peaceful men, through regulation, robbery, and enslavement, not to mention the mass murder of the wars which states periodically engage in, in order to maintain their illicit status. Moreover, since even their one (potentially) proper function — retaliation — is not conducted according to objective principles of justice, no state is justified in doing, qua state, anything whatever.

The obvious conclusion to draw from this is that all present states are criminal organizations at root, and differ, one from the other, on a fundamental level only in degree. Superficial differences are apparent. They are also morally (on a fundamental moral level) irrelevant. In any case, since the state (all states) is a criminal organization, anyone is justified in retaliation (using retaliatory violence) to preserve or regain any value whatever. Furthermore, anyone who counsels, on moral, rather than tactical, grounds, otherwise, is advocating an immoral position, which means: a position which is anti-life. [21] It is to attempt to morally disarm the victim of an aggressor, which is morally equivalent to sanctioning the criminal and helping him to get away with his crime. The moral stature of any such individual is obvious. It is not necessary here to go into the question of libertarian tactics; it is not necessary to provide a roadmap of how to attain liberty. All that I have been concerned with here is providing a moral justification for the use of retaliatory violence against individual aggressors in the state apparatus, which means: a justification for revolution. This, needless to add, is a valid position regardless of whether or not one is an anarchist. But of course should Objectivists succeed in setting up their government, and should it attempt to maintain a territorial monopoly on retaliatory violence by initiating force against people performing proper actions, then it would be liable to retaliation itself.

In any case, this is the epistemological basis of anarchism: independent judgment and its social implementation — individual rights. The corollary of independent judgment is, of course, the rejection of any "final authority in ethics," and since ethics subsumes all of human behavior subject to choice, including interpersonal relationships, it is obvious that the quest for a constitutional republic is a quest for just such a "final authority" in one aspect of ethics: the issue of retaliation, which is a subdivision of justice. What the case comes down to is simply an understanding of the objectivity of moral principles. Briefly, my case has been this: either the functions monopolized by government are morally legitimate, or they are not. If they are not, then the state is an immoral institution, since it is performing improper functions.

If, on the other hand, they are morally legitimate, then there is no justification for the state's use of coercion to prevent others from doing the same thing, for the alleged derivation of the government's power of retaliation was the basic right of self-defense and retaliation possessed by the individual; the justification of the government's power was in no way derived from the irrelevant (morally) question of geographic extent. Thus, so long as the state uses aggression to maintain its monopoly over physical force in a given area, it is immoral. When it stops and allows others to compete for customers by supplying the same legitimate service, it is no longer a state in the sense defined.

This essay has been the first in a series dealing with questions bothering Objectivists and libertarians in various fields, specifically what is generally called "political theory." Subsequent essays shall expand on some arguments, answer objections, and present new theories in various fields; [22] in general they shall continue in the same vein as this essay. I welcome comments on this, the issue of anarchism, and other issues raised. To those who are still "archists," I can only say that I hope you will attempt to answer my arguments, and those of others, in depth. Thus far, your position is relatively undefended and is everywhere being abandoned. If you wish to preserve it, then defend it. [23]

To those who are now free-market anarchists (no matter what awful circles you might go through to avoid that name), I can only say to you: you have taken the first step. Integrate what you have learned, and other radical steps will come in time. Principles are not irrelevant to man, or to life on this earth. It is principles which make both possible.

November 30, 1969
Posted July 3, 2003

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