Against Authority



Our subject is political authority, the authority rightfully due a state. So to begin, let's define "state."

state - an organization with an effective monopoly on the legal use of force in a given geographic area.

This definition is from Max Weber, who put it thusly: "A state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory." Having this relatively sharp definition of "state" at our disposal, we can better understand and evaluate historic anarchist thought. We are at an advantage over even luminaries like Proudhon and Spooner, in that we have more experience with the modern state, an institutional analysis of the state, and new reasons to distrust and hate the state. We can stand on the shoulders of anti-statist theorists like Tucker, Nock and Rothbard, leverage our greater understanding of economics, and discover new wisdom and new understanding.

Anti-statists tend to see society and state as inherently opposing institutions. Society is the sum total of all voluntary human interaction. Aggression (the violation of rights, the initiation of force or threat of it) is morally wrong. The state is aggression legalized and legitimized.

Anti-statist assertions:
  1. Legitimacy - No state has legitimate moral authority to rule an individual.
  2. Desirability - All states are unnecessary and undesirable.
  3. Purity - All states should be abolished immediately.

The political philosophy that supports all three anti-statist assertions is called "anarchism." Prior to the late 1700's, known anarchist writings were negative, purely a critique of the institution of state. They did not offer a positive alternative. An eloquent example is Vindication of Natural Society by Edmund Burke. Burke stresses that natural society - without artificial government - couldn't possibly be worse than the known bloody and tyrannical history of states. He shows how states fail, and the undesirability of states, but offers no positive vision of a stateless society. Modern anarchists have ideas about how such a society would be organized and brought about. Thus, for full-fledged anarchists there is an additional consideration: How a stateless society may work.

The first positive treatment of what came to be known as anarchism was a book by William Godwin called An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, published in 1793. This first effort at positive anarchism, we see with perfect hindsight, contained two major flaws. The first flaw, one might call the utopian flaw, consisted of the belief that the nature of mankind is sufficiently malleable to allow the abandonment of all legal systems. This attitude basically throws the baby out with the bath water. Since decreed law (state monopoly law) was illegitimate, early utopian anarchists jumped to the erroneous conclusion that all law was bad. This is understandable, since the polycentric law systems that predominated in the Middle Ages were forgotten, cultures with polycentric law were largely unknown, and like today, most people simply assumed that law and state were inseparable. Another flaw seen in early anarchism had to do with economics: a belief in the doctrine of just price. In particular, the early "classical" anarchists held the normative doctrine that "cost is the limit of price," also known as the labor theory of value.

Major Errors in Classical Anarchism
  • Utopianism - the belief that people are quickly perfectable
    • legal utopianism - laws and law enforcement are unnecessary;
      crime would disappear in a stateless society
    • economic utopianism - scarcity and property wouldn't exist in a stateless society
    • ethical utopianism - people can achieve consensus on moral standards and property systems
  • Just price doctrine - all goods and services have an intrinsic just price

Much of modern anarchist thought has been updating the core anti-statist principles to reflect modern thought and scientific advancement in these two areas. As we will see, historians now know more about polycentric and spontaneous law in various cultures and civilizations throughout history. For example, hunter-gatherer tribes were generally not communistic as once thought, but had private property in scarce goods like tools and weapons. We know now that, for these indigenous peoples, land was simply not sufficiently scarce to warrant property status. Early utopians had assumed that these were "noble savages" with a communist bent, and that natural society had to reject private property. Now we know, with our greater understanding of the advantages of division of labor, and the concept of comparative advantage, that freedom of association, trade, and property rights are not only advantageous in terms of individuals' standard of living, but are also absolutely necessary to maintain the number of people on earth today. The modern anarchist tends to be ardently pro-property and pro-market, championing "anarcho-capitalism" - the radicalism of the 21st century. How times have changed!

The second flaw is perhaps the more contentious. The labor theory of value is still believed today by many people. Like the belief in astrology, otherwise rational people hang on to it. Discredited over a century ago by the marginalist revolution in economics, the labor theory yet survives.

There are reasons for this flat earth view of economics. First, some of the original economic luminaries held the labor theory of value. Adam Smith and David Ricardo supported it. It's fair to say that the high priests of "capitalism" planted the seed for the main criticism of "capitalism." Karl Marx quoted Smith and Ricardo to support his condemnation of capitalism. A second reason for the continued popularity of the labor theory of value is that it contains a kernel of truth, at least in its descriptive formulation. The price of a good (or service) can be gauged by the amount of labor expended in producing it. One can argue that other measures are more accurate, or more easily determined. One can argue that the subjective theory of value - supply and demand - is more general in that it explains a broader range of phenomena. One could argue that labor-time is an effect rather than a cause. But as a rough gauge for many goods, labor often suffices as a workable measure of price.

The problem with the just price doctrine is that it goes beyond the descriptive claim that labor-time can be used to measure or predict price; it claims that the measure should be the exchange price. In other words, it makes a normative claim - what the price ought to be - rather than a descriptive claim of fact.

There are other weaknesses in classical anarchist economic theory: it doesn't recognize the information function of price or know the meaning of scarcity, it ignores or underestimates the advantages of a division of labor, its theory of money is non-existent or naive. This is not surprising, given that the theories were worked out in the 19th century. But whatever other economic errors it makes, classical anarchism's most fatal economic flaw is its reliance on that creationism of the left - the labor theory of value as a normative principle.

Before we look at how it may work, focusing on the history of anarchism and the economic aspects - the differences between anarcho-socialism and anarcho-capitalism - let's cover the basics. We first will examine "legitimate authority" in an effort to discover its essence.

What is Legitimacy?

The first contention of anti-statism concerns the moral legitimacy of the state's alleged authority. What do I mean by legitimacy in this context? I mean the moral right to rule. I question the authority of the state, whether I am bound to obey simply because it is the state. Robert Paul Wolff expressed it thusly:
The defining mark of the state is authority, the right to rule. The primary obligation of man is autonomy, the refusal to be ruled. It would seem, then, that there can be no resolution of the conflict between the autonomy of the individual and the putative authority of the state. Insofar as a man fulfills his obligation to make himself the author of his decisions, he will resist the state's claim to have authority over him. That is to say, he will deny that he has a duty to obey the laws of this state simply because they are the laws. In that sense, it would seem that anarchism is the only political doctrine consistent with the virtue of autonomy." - Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism
This is essentially the same concept that 19th century American anarchists called "sovereignty of the individual" or "self-ownership." In Wolff's modern philosophical terminology, it is an issue of moral autonomy. It should be stressed that, in this context, "authority" should not be construed as expertise or council, but as dutiful acceptance of orders precisely because of who they were delivered by. A person may certainly act upon the words of experts, and take advantage of their greater experience or knowledge, without submitting to authority. So long as the decision to utilize (or not) that knowledge is ultimately left to the actor, that actor is self-owned.

One might submit to outright orders of authority figures without necessarily submitting to (moral) authority. If the reason for following orders is a utilitarian calculation, rather than following orders because the state says so, it is not submission to authority. In other words, to obey because you'll be harmed if you don't (or rewarded if you do) is not submission to moral authority; to obey because you were ordered is submission.

The distinction between rational utilitarian advice-taking and submission to moral authority has been made by many anarchists. The great anarcho-socialist Michael Bakunin explained it like this:

The Liberty of man consists solely in this: that he obeys natural laws because he has himself recognized them as such, and not because they have been externally imposed upon him by any extrinsic will whatsoever, divine or human, collective or individual. ... [Liberty amounts to] no external legislation and no authority - one, for that matter, being inseparable from the other, and both tending to the servitude of society and the degradation of the legislators themselves. ...

Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or the engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and censure. ...

If I bow before the authority of the specialists and avow my readiness to follow, to a certain extent and as long as may seem to me necessary, their indications and even their directions, it is because their authority is imposed on me by no one, neither by men nor by God. Otherwise I would repel them with horror, and bid the devil take their counsels, their directions, and their services, certain that they would make me pay, by the loss of my liberty and self-respect, for such scraps of truth, wrapped in a multitude of lies, as they might give me.

I bow before the authority of special men because it is imposed on me by my own reason. I am conscious of my own inability to grasp, in all its detail, and positive development, any very large portion of human knowledge.
- What is Authority?, Michael Bakunin.

So political authority is a particular kind of authority. Refusing to grant any other authority over yourself is self-sovereignty. If you admit that morality exists at all, that morality has any validity whatsoever, then you are rationally forced to the conclusion that humans, by default, are self-owned. Self-ownership means that for any moral agent, the will (or mind) has a valid property right over the body. In classic Lockean lingo: Every man has the right of life, liberty, and property, and to pursue happiness in any way he wills, so long as he does not infringe on the like rights of others to do the same. This "law of equal freedom" as Herbert Spencer dubbed it, can be justified in many ways. Historically, it was first taken as a creation of God. Later, as enlightenment and science advanced, the supernatural justification was augmented (and eventually replaced by) natural and empirical considerations. The observation of animals, man, and societies and the scientific method led to the formulation of "natural laws" - principles and heuristics that explain or model human interaction and social patterns. The law of equal freedom was justified by saying this is the kind of creature man is, or these are the necessary conditions for the life of man qua man. Meanwhile, the contractarian theorists added that this is what men implicitly agree to when they join society; it is the rational basis for interacting with fellow men. Dr. Wolff appeals to the underlying assumption of any moral system:

The fundamental assumption of moral philosophy is that men are responsible for their actions. From this assumption it follows necessarily, as Kant pointed out, that men are metaphysically free, which is to say that in some sense they are capable of choosing how they shall act. - Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism

This idea that the state is illegitimate shows up very early in the history of liberalism. The writings prior to the late 18th century do not challenge legitimacy directly, perhaps too mired in statism to express such treasonous heresy, and prudently mindful of the rack and scaffold. The first known tract on the subject, written in 1548 by Étienne de la Boétie, aptly describes the servitude of the masses to the state. It left the denial of legitimacy implicit and unwritten but nevertheless quite obvious. Rather than a direct attack, the essay delved into the question of why people submit to state authority, why so many people believe that states have legitimate authority and act accordingly. What allows the few to rule the many? What makes it possible?

La Boétie might be considered the anti-Machiavelli. They both looked at the state as an institution in a practical manner, what me might call "institutional analysis" today. But Machiavelli wrote to instruct a ruler in how to gain and keep power, while la Boétie wrote to promote the opposite: liberty and resistance to tyranny. La Boétie is a philosophical anarchist - he satisfies only the first of the three anti-state assertions. He is not an anarchist in the full-fledged political sense, but he is a quasi-anarchist who inspired later anarchists and thinkers. Leo Tolstoy, the famous Christian anarchist and novelist, cited la Boétie as a major inspiration for passive resistance.

O good Lord! What strange phenomenon is this? What name shall we give it? What is the nature of this misfortune? What vice is it, or, rather, what degradation? To see an endless multitude of people not merely obeying, but driven to servility? Not ruled, but tyrannized over? These wretches have no wealth, no kin, nor wife nor children, not even life itself that they can call their own. They suffer plundering, wantonness, cruelty, not from an army, not from a barbarian horde, on account of whom they must shed their blood and sacrifice their lives, but from a single man; not from a Hercules nor from a Samson, but from a single little man. Too frequently this same little man is the most cowardly and effeminate in the nation, a stranger to the powder of battle and hesitant on the sands of the tournament; not only without energy to direct men by force, but with hardly enough virility to bed with a common woman! Shall we call subjection to such a leader cowardice? ... Of course there is in every vice inevitably some limit beyond which one cannot go. Two, possibly ten, may fear one; but when a thousand, a million men, a thousand cities, fail to protect themselves against the domination of one man, this cannot be called cowardly, for cowardice does not sink to such a depth, any more than valor can be termed the effort of one individual to scale a fortress, to attack an army, or to conquer a kingdom. What monstrous vice, then, is this which does not even deserve to be called cowardice, a vice for which no term can be found vile enough, which nature herself disavows and our tongues refuse to name? - Étienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude

La Boétie's disgust for the servile mentality is clear. But how can such behavior be explained? What causes such subservience, and how can it be overcome? Conquest and force of arms can explain compliance in the short run, but states cannot rule for long by brute force alone. In the long run, people acquiesce to being ruled.

La Boétie had the great insight that what kept rulers in power was their mystique of legitimacy, and all that it takes to topple the rulers is a change in attitude - withdrawal of this grant of authority, this voluntary servitude. One could argue that la Boétie was an early advocate of non-violent resistance and mass civil disobedience.
You sow your crops in order that he may ravage them, you install and furnish your homes to give him goods to pillage; you rear your daughters that he may gratify his lust; you bring up your children in order that he may confer upon them the greatest privilege he knows - to be led into his battles, to be delivered to butchery, to be made the servants of his greed and the instruments of his vengeance; you yield your bodies unto hard labor in order that he may indulge in his delights and wallow in his filthy pleasures; you weaken yourselves in order to make him the stronger and the mightier to hold you in check. From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break into pieces. - Étienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude
Why do people obey states? Étienne de la Boétie answers...
  • Custom - people become habituated to servitude
  • Manufactured consent
    • Bread - Return a portion of the spoils to the public.
    • Circuses - Entertain the public with patriotic sports and diversions.
    • Ideology - Convince the public that the rulers are wise, just, and benevolent; that the state promotes the common good; and is certainly inevitable, alternatives unthinkable.
  • Retainers - Rulers develop hierarchies of subordinate rulers and hierarchies of privilege, both with strong incentive to keep the public servile.

It has always happened that tyrants, in order to strengthen their power, have made every effort to train their people not only in obedience and servility toward themselves, but also in adoration. - la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience

Both la Boétie and Edmund Burke point out the role of religion in maintaining the mystique of legitimacy. Religion is an ancient and powerful legitimizing force for statism.

Tyrants themselves have wondered that men could endure the persecution of a single man; they have insisted on using religion for their own protection and, where possible, have borrowed a stray bit of divinity to bolster up their evil ways. If we are to believe the Sybil of Virgil, Salmoneus, in torment for having paraded as Jupiter in order to deceive the populace, now atones in nethermost Hell. ... If such a one, who in his time acted merely through the folly of insolence, is so well received in Hell, I think that those who have used religion as a cloak to hide their vileness will be even more deservedly lodged in the same place. Our own leaders have employed in France certain similar devices, such as toads, fleurs-de-lys, sacred vessels, and standards with flames of gold. - Étienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience
Civil Government borrows a Strength from ecclesiastical; and artificial Laws receive a Sanction from artificial Revelations. The Ideas of Religion and Government are closely connected; and whilst we receive Government as a thing necessary, or even useful to our Well-being, we shall in spite of us draw in, as a necessary, tho' undesirable Consequence, an artificial Religion of some kind or other. To this the Vulgar will always be voluntary Slaves; and even those of a Rank of Understanding superior, will now and then involuntarily feel its Influence. - Edmund Burke, Vindication of Natural Society

La Boétie and Burke wrote as quasi-anarchists, questioning the institution of state but not explicitly opposing it in principle. La Boétie can be construed as only opposing tyrants, certain current players or personnel in ruling roles. But he seems, with his triumvarate classification of states, to include all states in his considerations. If so, he satisfies anti-statist assertion #1, the denial of moral legitimacy, but not the others. Edmund Burke makes an eloquent case that states are even worse than statelessness, but does not come close to saying all states should be abolished immediately. He seems to satisfy assertions #1 and #2, but not #3.

Interestingly, neither of these gentlemen published their quasi-anarchist essays using their own name. La Boétie's "The Politics of Obedience" was distributed privately with due anonymity, and Edmund Burke attributed his "Vindication" to a dead man - the late Lord Bolingbroke, who had been known for radical opinions. Both apparently wanted plausible denial of any anarchist sentiments. Both soon became functionaries of the state and political elites. Both may have been anti-statist in their younger days, but both went quickly over to career statism.

What is Property?

Once we know what a state is, and what legitimacy and authority mean, we can define anarchism precisely. It is taken to mean a political philosophy which satisfies three conditions: it denies the state's authority, asserts the state to be undesirable, and demands the state's immediate abolishment. These are the features of all anarchist schools of thought. But these assertions are purely negative in nature - they do not provide a vision of a free society, a goal society without a state. This positive model or prediction of how it might work varies greatly among the different anarchist writers and schools of thought.

Some of the earliest proto-anarchisms, and even proper anarchisms, have been religious-oriented. Various groups of Quakers and Mennonites have declared civil law to be illegitimate - that only God's law written on their hearts is valid. These groups tended to be anti-parliamentarian, meaning that participation in state such as voting or running for office was considered wrong. Besides boycotting electoral activity, "non-resistants" would passively resist the draft, and for some, taxation.

Other categories of anarchism focus on size or technology. Leopold Kohr argued that "small is beautiful," and that when an organization is sick or malevolent, it is almost always because it is too big. Decentralization is a theme in all forms of anarchism, but here it takes the central role rather than merely strategic tool for reducing statist authority. Technology-oriented anarchisms range from Luddite anarcho-primitivism, hoping to roll back the industrial revolution and return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, to crypto-anarchism, which sees computers, the internet, and strong cryptography as the key to vanquishing the state. Other anarchisms are basically anarchist oriented special issue or identity groups. Green and eco-anarchism and anarcha-feminism fall into these categories.

The most salient forms of anarchism, the most prolific in theoretical writings and popular movements, have been the economic-oriented anarchisms. What one sees as justice in wealth and property, and the process of production and satisfaction of human material needs and desires, takes central stage. This is not to say that the other categories of anarchism based on religion, size, technology, and special issues don't have an economic component. But in the following economic schools economic theory drives and colors the political theory, and often the strategy and tactics pursued.

So, it behooves us to ask: What is property?

The fundamental economic concept is property. First let's define "property" in its most generic sense. This necessitates stepping back and asking, "What is the purpose of property?" Why have it at all? The answer to this is obvious after due deliberation: The purpose of property is to solve the scarcity problem. The scarcity problem is that humans desire more than they can gain or consume. Put another way: Man has unlimited wants and desires, but only limited goods and services are available.

"The science of mine and thine - the science of justice - is the science of all human rights; of all a man's rights of person and property; of all his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." - Lysander Spooner, Natural Law

We use "scarcity" in the economic sense. In particular, something cannot be scarce without it necessitating exclusivity in use. You and I cannot both use my hammer at the same time, but we can both read "Huckleberry Finn" at the same time, or use Microsoft Excel at the same time. Thus the hammer, being scarce, is property, but the novel qua string of letters and the software qua string of bytes are not property. Intellectual property does not qualify as property under this scheme, since it does not satisfy the exclusive use condition. Some very common things may not be scarce simply because there's so much (given current demand.) The outdoor air we breath is not scarce. Neither was land in the hunter-gatherer epoch, when man had about the same population density as bears.

property - A socially recognized relationship between a person (or group) and a scarce entity regarding disposition and control. Also used to refer to the scarce entity in this relationship; "Owner" is used to refer to the person or group.

This is a rather tolerant and encompassing definition of property. It includes tribal communal property, worker-owned factories, geoist ground-rent, and absolute private property. The "socially recognized relationship" leaves the conventions and particulars spectacularly open-ended. Everyone from Rockerian communist to Randian capitalist should be on board so far.

It would be nice to detect a pattern or find a model for some of the known property systems. Even better, if we could only measure them using some commonality. One idea is to use a well-recognized system of property as a guideline or standard, and measure the "distance" from the standard system to the other system. Luckily, from both logic and history we can find our benchmark - Neo-Lockean private property, that is, the traditional "use and abuse" absolute jurisdiction keep it 'till you trade it property associated with "capitalism." I will call it "sticky property" here, to avoid ambiguities and unfortunate connotations. European anarchism from Proudhon on has been largely a critique of sticky property. So whether you are friend or foe of sticky property, you will recognize the concept.

sticky property - a property relationship characterized by private jurisdiction, homesteading, ownership lasting until consensual transfer, with no restrictions on who may own.

Homesteading is taking something from unowned status and making it become yours. It is how non-property becomes property. Most property theorists hold that merely finding something first does not by itself make something into sticky property - it also takes labor. One must "mix your labor" with it, or somehow imprint your personality upon it for it to become bone fide property. The classic Lockean examples are: cultivating former wilderness land, and drawing water from a public spring.

Sticky property has no restrictions on who may own; any person or groups may legitimately own anything so long as they acquire it through a consensual process of production and trade. In a sticky property system, an owner usually keeps his property until he consents to part with it. This voluntary alienation of property takes the form of a trade or gift. Sometimes sticky property is abandoned, returning to unowned non-property status, available for anyone to homestead.

The most famous anarchist critique of traditional decreed property is the 1840 essay "What is Property" by Pierre Proudhon. In this essay, he described and advocated an alternative form of property called "possession." This is privately controlled like sticky property (though less absolute as it prohibits destruction), but only while the object is in use. Hence another name for this type of property: usufruct. For example, a farmer owns the land only so long as he cultivates it. If he leaves it fallow for too long, anyone else may gain ownership by planting there.

possession property - a property relationship characterized by private jurisdiction, homesteading, lasting only while continuous use or occupation is maintained, with no restrictions on who may own.

A third type of property is collective property. Things can only be owned by certain specified groups or types of groups, and are non-transferrable (either entirely or at least to individuals and non-specified groups.) For example, many communists contend that "everyone" (the whole world in common) owns the land and natural resources. Others contend that the workers in a factory should own the factory. Yet others see municipalities, communes, or townships, bioregions, and guilds as the natural owners of land and/or capital goods. And of course, statists see the state as the sole ultimate owner.

collective property - a property relationship characterized by group, class, or caste jurisdiction, with limited power to transfer, and significant restrictions on who may own.
Now we define "propertarianism," which will be our standard of measurement.

propertarianism - support for sticky property systems
Hard propertarianism is the belief that only sticky property systems are desirable/moral.
Soft propertarianism is the belief that sticky property systems are morally permissable. It leaves open the possibility that other systems may be appropriate or desirable in some cases.

At this point we can look at various property "systems" (schemes, notions) in history, and try to use our concept of propertarianism as a basis for comparison. How propertarian or anti-propertarian is property system X? We get a rough estimate on a zero to ten scale by giving zero, one, or two points for each question below.

0 1 2
Capital goods collective possession sticky
Products of labor collective possession sticky
Land collective possession sticky
Profit from other's labor crime vice neither
Is money necessary? no maybe yes

Questions that property theories need to answer:

  1. Which type of property is capital goods - collective, possession, or sticky?
    Capital goods are machines/tools used to produce things, aka "means of production."
  2. Which type of property is products of labor - collective, possession, or sticky?
    This is intended to mean consumer goods, not capital goods.
  3. Which type of property is land - collective, possession, or sticky?
  4. Is profiting from someone else's labor ("usury") a crime, vice, or neither?
    I.e. should it be forbidden, allowed but peaceably discouraged, or is it okay?
  5. Is money necessary? No, maybe/don't know, or yes.

Index of Propertarianism

0 1 2
Capital collective possession sticky
Products collective possession sticky
Land collective possession sticky
Profit crime vice neither
Money no maybe yes

Capital collective possession sticky
Products collective possession sticky
Land collective possession sticky
Profit crime vice neither
Money no maybe yes
Capital collective possession sticky
Products collective possession sticky
Land collective possession sticky
Profit crime vice neither
Money no maybe yes
Collectivist anarchism
Capital collective possession sticky
Products collective possession sticky
Land collective possession sticky
Profit crime vice neither
Money no maybe yes
Communist anarchism
Capital collective possession sticky
Products collective possession sticky
Land collective possession sticky
Profit crime vice neither
Money no maybe yes
Collectivists and communists do acknowledge that personal items such as clothes and toothbrush are an individual's sticky property, but other products are considered collective.

Left to right it goes from least propertarian to most propertarian. Anarcho-primitivism is not really an economic school, as primitive tribalism is its main thrust, but in economic theory it is identical to anarcho-communism. The main difference between the communist school (associated with Peter Kropotkin) and the collectivist school (founded by Michael Bakunin) is the position on money. The communists favor a "gift economy" without money; the collectivist may still use money, but in the form of labor notes rather than commodity receipts.

Mutualists are commonly considered more socialist than capitalist. This assessment seems quite mistaken. The index shows that mutualists are in substantial agreement with propertarianism, and are closely akin to anarcho-capitalists. Probably mistyping mutualism as a kind of socialism is due to historical reasons, in particular the change in meaning for the term "socialism" that occurred during the 20th century. In the 19th century, anyone who had a plan to make society better was a socialist. Later, it came to mean opposition to concentration of wealth in the hands of the few. Thus individualist anarchists like Benjamin Tucker called themselves "socialist." Today socialism is usually defined as collective control of the means of production (capital goods.) By this modern definition, mutualists are not socialist, as they favor private ownership (sticky or possession) of the means of production.

Geoism (also called "Georgism" after its founder Henry George) is the most esoteric form of anarchism at this time. Only a handful of people call themselves geoanarchists - most geoists are minarchist rather than anarchist. However, geoism has an influence on other schools, particularly mutualist anarchism and the environmentalist schools. Minarchists tend to like the "single-tax" ground rent idea as arguably a non-aggressive way to fund their night-watchman state. Environmentalists often see ground rent as a solution to the tragedy of the commons and a way to make mining and logging firms pay society for their exploitation of resources and pollution.

What is Aggression?

"Be it or be it not true that Man is shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin,
it is unquestionably true that Government is begotten of aggression and by
aggression." - Herbert Spencer, Man Versus the State

In further examination of the state, we will need to use the notion of political power. Before we can adequately define "political power," we need to know what aggression is.

  • the violation of someone else's rights
  • non-consentual use or damage of someone else's person or property
  • the initiation of violence (or threat of it) against another person

The first definition is most general and most abstract. We ask skeptics of natural law to be patient. In the next chapter we explain why rights language makes sense, even for those who consider natural law to be "nonsense on stilts." Similarly, we appeal to egoists to bear with us - we will show the non-absurdity of rights even for those who consider them "ghosts in the mind." To satisfy almost everyone, two other arguably equivalent definitions are given.

In line with our discussion of property rights, the second definition seems solid and clear. In light of our discussion about self-ownership, "person or property" could be shortened to simply "property." As we saw in the previous chapter, there are various systems of property. It follows that there are various criteria for what actions constitute aggression. For example, squatting an abandoned house is aggression with respect to sticky property systems, but not aggression in possession property systems. Charging rent or interest is aggression in possession systems, but not in sticky systems.

This conflict between different evaluations of conduct has been generally overlooked by anarchist schools in the past. There has been some "panarchist" thought that is pertinent to this issue, but it seems to address different governing systems rather than different property systems. We will attempt to enlarge panarchy's competing governments to competing property systems in the later chapter Panarchy Unbound. The third definition is an attempt to operationalize the notion of aggression; it has an empirical component lacking in other explanations. The implicit assumption is that the only way rights can be violated is by using violence - interpersonal force - or threatening to. "Person" should be interpreted as an individual and his property. The abstract notion of rights is made concrete by observing who struck first, or who fired the first shot. This formulation of aggression was proposed by Ayn Rand, and allows a bridge from theory to practice. But one must be careful: empirical observation alone cannot determine whether aggression occurred. History is a critical consideration. If someone sees Ms. Smith forcibly taking a watch from Mr. Jones, one cannot know whether aggression has taken place unless one knows the history of the watch. Perhaps it rightfully belongs to Smith, and Jones stole it from her yesterday.

political power - aggression perpetrated by the state, or the ability to engage in such aggression.

At the concrete level, the different anarchist schools have numerous disagreements over what constitutes aggression. This is a natural consequence of their different conceptions of just property. On a conceptual level, with the different property systems abstracted away, aggression is the central commonality of all forms of anarchism. Anarchism opposes the state because it is an instrument of legitimized aggression.

Virtually all anarchists base their political position upon the ethical principle of non-aggression. The critique of the institution of state, analysis of economic systems, authority, hierarchies, and so on all come down to the question of whether it constitutes or necessitates aggression. The way hot-button words like "exploitation," "wage slavery, "usary," "free trade" and "voluntary exchange" are understood ultimately comes down to whether these respective practices are seen as aggression or not.

non-aggression principle (NAP) - in the context of civilized society, aggression is morally wrong.

The hedge "in the context of civilized society" attempts to qualify the principle enough to account for emergency situations ("lifeboat ethics"), otherwise a rich source of counterexamples. If we restrict the NAP to an ethical environment where physical survival is not an issue (the realm of man qua civilized man), it seems to hold up splendidly. This implies a kind of middle way for ethical principles, neither absolutism nor relativism. It acknowledges that different life situations may require different principles of conduct. This restricted relativism might be called "modal absolutism."

The initiation part of the third definition is vital. If violence is used in retaliation against those who initiate it (for example by Ms. Smith to get her stolen watch back) it is not aggression. The first use - initiation - of force contrasts with retaliatory or rectificatory force.

Before the mid-20th century most anarchists appealed, not to the NAP, but to a similar principle - the law of equal freedom (law of equal liberty).

The Law of Equal Freedom (LEF) - "Every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man." - Herbert Spencer, Social Statics

This principle was often cited in the 19th century by libertarians and anarchists of all stripes. The religious pointed to scriptural foundation: seeing the Golden Rule as saying essentially the same thing. The more philosophically-minded saw the law of equal freedom as a direct moral application of Kant's categorical imperitive.

Note that the law is about freedom, and not equality in the modern redistributive sense. Spencer was careful in using precise wording: "like liberty" rather than "equal liberty." The equality is only in what others should not forcibly prevent you from doing. It is equality in a condition: absence of legitimate authority over someone else's life. It is not equality of talent, wealth, ability, productiveness, or beauty, but equality of moral jurisdiction.

Spencer's Law of Equal Freedom is redundant. For if every man has freedom to do all that he wills, it follows from this very premise that no man's freedom has been infringed or invaded. ... The concept of "equality" has no rightful place in the "Law of Equal Freedom," being replaceable by the logical quantifier "every." The "Law of Equal Freedom" could well be renamed 'The Law of Total Freedom.'" - Murray Rothbard, Power and Market

How is the non-aggression principle related to the law of equal freedom? The LEF talks about "the fullest liberty ... compatible with ... the like liberty" of others. Clearly aggression constrains liberty, thus is not compatible with maximum liberty. Also, aggression makes the aggressor more able to "exercise his faculties" than the victim, at the expense of the victim, thus violating the "like liberty" condition.

If you grant that the only way to violate rights or violate the LEF is by using aggression, we have an equivalence between the two principles.

"Equal liberty means the largest amount of liberty compatible with equality and mutuality of respect, on the part of individuals living in society, for their respective spheres of action." - Benjamin Tucker, Instead of a Book,

"What is crime under anarchism? Nothing but deliberate violation of the law of equal freedom." - Victor Yarros, Adventures in the Realm of Ideas

State Aggression

"Government is not reason. Government is not eloquence. It is force. And, like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." - George Washington
"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." - Mao Tse-Tung
Anarchists see the power of social contract theory, but unlike the liberal statist, takes it seriously. A contract requires consent - unanimous consent of every participant. One is able to opt out of a contract, with due compensation for any consequent damages. This self-sovereignty, the right to enter or not enter into association, is a central anarchist theme.

A social contract of some sort seems to be the basis for voluntary association, but not for a state. Historically, states came about by marauding bandit gangs who realized that sustainable spoliation with oversight is more lucrative than pillage and destruction. The rate of return is higher, it's more dependable and less dangerous, and the masses can rather easily be indoctrinated into servitude. In short, the state is the organization of institutionalized plunder. Certainly the state has changed its spoliation technology over time, from plunder in kind to taxation to fiat money inflation. No doubt the control points of society have changed, and techniques for manipulating public opinion. But the essence of the state, as a criminal organization with aura of legitimacy, as a vampire feasting on the blood of society, does not change.

Here's how Lysander Spooner recounts the beginning of states in Natural Law:

All the great governments of the world - those now existing, as well as those that have passed away - have been of this character. They have been mere bands of robbers, who have associated for purposes of plunder, conquest, and the enslavement of their fellow men. And their laws, as they have called them, have been only such agreements as they have found it necessary to enter into, in order to maintain their organizations, and act together in plundering and enslaving others, and in securing to each his agreed share of the spoils.

All these laws have had no more real obligation than have the agreements which brigands, bandits, and pirates find it necessary to enter into with each other, for the more successful accomplishment of their crimes, and the more peaceable division of their spoils.

Thus substantially all the legislation of the world has had its origin in the desires of one class - of persons to plunder and enslave others, and hold them as property.
But with increased commerce and later the industrial revolution, slave labor became less efficient than wage labor. In Spooner's view, the state came about because masters calculated they could increase the rate of plunder by emancipating their slaves and controlling them with a state.
These liberated slaves, as they were called, were now scarcely less slaves than they were before. Their means of subsistence were perhaps even more precarious than when each had his own owner, who had an interest to preserve his life. They were liable, at the caprice or interest of the landholders, to be thrown out of home, employment, and the opportunity of even earning a subsistence by their labor. They were, therefore, in large numbers, driven to the necessity of begging, stealing, or starving; and became, of course, dangerous to the property and quiet of their late masters.

The consequence was, that these late owners found it necessary, for their own safety and the safety of their property, to organize themselves more perfectly as a government and make laws for keeping these dangerous people in subjection ...

These laws have continued in force for hundreds, and, in some countries, for thousands of years; and are in force to-day, in greater or less severity, in nearly all the countries on the globe.

The purpose and effect of these laws have been to maintain, in the hands of the robber, or slave holding class, a monopoly of all lands, and, as far as possible, of all other means of creating wealth; and thus to keep the great body of laborers in such a state of poverty and dependence, as would compel them to sell their labor to their tyrants for the lowest prices at which life could be sustained. ...

And the real motives and spirit which lie at the foundation of all legislation - notwithstanding all the pretenses and disguises by which they attempt to hide themselves - are the same today as they always have been. The whole purpose of this legislation is simply to keep one class of men in subordination and servitude to another.

Spooner sums things up:

What, then, is legislation? It is an assumption by one man, or body of men, of absolute, irresponsible dominion over all other men whom they call subject to their power. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to subject all other men to their will and their service. It is the assumption by one man, or body of men, of a right to abolish outright all the natural rights, all the natural liberty of all other men; to make all other men their slaves; to arbitrarily dictate to all other men what they may, and may not, do; what they may, and may not, have; what they may, and may not, be. It is, in short, the assumption of a right to banish the principle of human rights, the principle of justice itself, from off the earth, and set up their own personal will, pleasure, and interest in its place. All this, and nothing less, is involved in the very idea that there can be any such thing as human legislation that is obligatory upon those upon whom it is imposed. - Lysander Spooner, Natural Law

Lysander Spooner
Natural Law Anarchist (1808-1887)


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