Roy Childs on anarchism
by Ronald N. Neff, continued

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Part four

Anarchism and justice

Early in 1971, an essay titled "Every Man for Himself," by Kriste Xerinye and N. Strakon, appeared in INVICTU$, another small libertarian publication, this one published by Lou Rollins in California. It had been submitted both to The Individualist and to Reason, which was then just emerging from the obscurity of a well-designed but small-circulation periodical with decidedly Randian premises; both had rejected it. In it, the authors argued that "the virtue of selfishness" actually precluded and invalidated the concept of rights as derived by Rand.

Roy was much exercised over this essay and its arguments, and was eager to attack what he saw were its errors. In the course of many discussions with me he decided at last to compose his own derivation and validation for the concept of rights. Instead, he began what would become his largest — though incomplete — work on anarchism, "Anarchism & Justice." The plan for "Anarchism & Justice" was to consider justifications for the state, starting with philosophical and political positions very hostile to Objectivism and moving on through a continuum ending with Objectivism.

Sections I-V, published in the May 1971 issue of The Individualist as part 1, presented Roy's derivation of the concept of justice and announced his thesis: that anarchy is a condition necessary for man's proper survival in a social context. Although he did not mention by name "Every Man for Himself," its authors, or even the publication in which it had appeared, his arguments were intended to refute Xerinye and Strakon's main claims, and they occupied the literal center of Part 1. [11]

Section VI (published with Section VII as Part 2 in the June issue) presented his reply to logical positivist arguments, using works of John Austin and Hans Kelsen as his lightning rods.

Section VII dealt with the arguments of Ludwig von Mises.

And Section VIII, published in the July-August issue as Part 3, addressed those of conservatism. Among several standard objections to tradition as a basis of justification for the state, Roy pointed out an epistemological difficulty: "Without an outside ethical standard, how do [conservatives] know that action B, which they oppose, might not itself be a part of a new tradition...? How can they ever claim that one tradition or set of traditions is better than any other?"

There was no installment in the September issue. Section IX, published in the October issue as Part 4, dealt with issues emerging from the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. Here Roy's lightning rod was Mortimer Adler's recently published Common Sense of Politics (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971), both because Adler had taken the issue of anarchism seriously and because he had spent nearly one-fourth of his book attempting to refute it. [12]

Section X, the reply to John Locke, and Section XI, the reply to Ayn Rand (and to a lesser extent to Tibor Machan, for whom Roy had a high regard), were never, so far as I know, written or even begun, but Roy had hinted that there would be new material in Section XI; it would not be merely a restatement of his earlier work.

There is some discussion in "Anarchism & Justice" of the need for intellectual independence and the implications of that need for political theory, but Roy was much more concerned in this work with the connection between justice and society. Once he had developed his theory of justice (in Part I), he used it to examine one attempt to justify the state after another. In the course of examining how these attempts hold up and whether they are consistent with the requirements of justice, he developed other tools for critiquing the arguments. The result is a masterpiece of demolition.

He crafted one such tool by introducing into the discussion a principle of parsimony. Briefly, all theories of government are meant to solve a problem. What Roy was contending is that most such theories merely assert that the form of government being presented solves certain problems in society. They seldom shoulder the onus of proving that their government actually solves the problem posed; neither do they attempt to show that it is the simplest solution possible; more important, they seldom attempt to prove there is actually a problem in need of a solution. If there is no problem, he argued, "the construct, and the institution, can be done away with in a strictly scientific manner." (Part IV, p. 22)

Early in the essay, Roy contended that the burden of proof for the necessity of government is always on those who maintain that a state is necessary or legitimate. But he was not content merely to spotlight various errors or misunderstandings of the authors he examined; each installment in the series also showed how they had contradicted themselves or had simply presupposed what they had set out to prove.

In this connection, I must not omit to mention specifically one element in his critique of Ludwig von Mises. Although he had great respect for Mises, he criticized the Wertfreiheit which Mises had demanded in the study of economics. Murray Rothbard had previously shown that the concept imposed certain limitations on economics (notably in his discussions of taxation and the impossibility of interpersonal value judgments), but Roy found what he regarded as a fundamental flaw in it, to wit: without a concept of justice, one cannot talk about property. It is only in the context of a theory of property that one can even tell what counts as government intrusion into the economy. Without a concept of ownership, "there can be no distinction between intervention and non-intervention.... Mises, who has spent his entire life combating government intervention into the market, can logically have no DEFINITION of what constitutes intervention." (Part II, pp. 11-12, emphasis in the original). [13] He was to return to this theme at the fifth Libertarian Scholars Conference in 1977. [14]


The "unspeakably beautiful" doctrine

In the August 1974 issue of Books for Libertarians (pp. 2, 4), Roy reviewed K. Codell Carter's abridged edition of William Godwin's Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press [Clarendon], 1971).

Although he had taken his own starting place in "Epistemological Basis" from Godwin, he did not mention it in this review. Instead, he marveled at the brilliance and expansiveness of Godwin's treatment of social ills and social organization. He allowed more than a third of the piece to be taken up with quotations, something he seldom did in his reviews.

An important theme of the review was Godwin's characterization of "the universal exercise of private judgment" as a doctrine "unspeakably beautiful." He closed the review first with this quotation from Godwin:

Certainly every man who takes a dispassionate survey of this picture [the record of man's crimes], will feel himself inclined to pause respecting the necessity of the havoc which is thus made of his species, and to question whether the established methods of protecting mankind against the caprices of each other are the best that can be devised.

And then he added his own words:

In his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, William Godwin paused, and questioned. I think that one might profitably spend a few evenings alone with this work doing the same.


Robert Nozick

No libertarian has yet made a bigger splash in the nonlibertarian, "consensus world" than Robert Nozick made with the publication of his Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974). Roy critiqued it in "The Invisible Hand Strikes Back," and his discussion can almost be regarded as a "Section XII" of "Anarchism & Justice." [15] Once again, Roy deployed the argument that a government can emerge only by a final act of coercion against all other entities attempting to administer justice. In so doing, he unpacked and re-examined a key concept in Nozick's argument: compensation.

In the end, Roy showed that what counts as compensation can be discovered only by the interaction of free men who make uncoerced choices to trade or not to trade. That is, liberty and the free market serve a vital epistemological function in society. Nozick's "final authority" pretends to be able to serve the same function, but instead it serves up only violence.

In making his argument, Roy implicitly relied on the notion of the free market and its pricing system as a Hayekian conveyor of information. He argued that entrepreneurship and free economic choices determine degrees of risk and the appropriate response to risk. Indeed, it is only the free market that can determine what counts as risk. Though Roy does not put it this way, entrepreneurship and free economic choices are a social parallel to intellectual independence and integrity.

In his last completed work dealing with anarchism, then, Roy had found yet another epistemological basis for anarchism.

To part five.

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© 2003 by Ronald N. Neff. All rights reserved by author.

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