On May 12, Austin Petersen published an article called “5 Reasons Why I’m Not an Anarchist” in which he argues that anarchist libertarians do not really understand the basics of force, fraud, life, liberty, or property, and that some state is necessary. In this rebuttal, I will show on a point-by-point basis that he has failed to make the case, demonstrated blatant and willful ignorance on several issues, and actually made a case against libertarianism.
#1. Rights are guarantees
A right is something that MUST be provided.
This is the definition of an obligation, not a right. A right outlines an action which one should be free to perform without external interference. The idea of a right is prescriptive of the way people should interact, not descriptive of the way they do interact.
Any society aimed at protecting natural rights must use some type of force to guarantee those rights.
Petersen says this as though it is in dispute, but it is not. The only way that this would not be true would be for there to be no aggressors in the world, which has never been and likely never will be the case.
Any mechanism of force used to guarantee those rights have the same effect as government, no matter what that form may take.
Defending oneself from aggressors or hiring other people to assist one in doing so is much different from the effect of a group of people exercising a monopoly on initiatory violence in a geographical area. If one is dissatisfied with one’s current defense arrangement in the absence of a state, one can hire different defenders or acquire better weapons and armor, both of which are generally problematic if not illegal in a statist society, especially if one is seeking to use self-defense against the state, the ultimate aggressor in the area.
If there is a natural right to a lawyer if you are accused of a crime, then that right means that there must be resources expended to provide citizens with a defense against the government’s accusations.
There is not a natural right to a lawyer if one is accused of a crime. This would entail a right to force some lawyer to work for a particular person, which violates the lawyer’s rights of bodily ownership and freedom of association. These are natural rights because attempting to argue against them results in a performative contradiction. Also note that we need not worry about accusations from a government if there is no government.
A fully privatized law system would be justice for sale to the highest bidder. Citizens without the means to defend themselves could be railroaded into arbitration that works against their interests and for whoever paid for the judge.
It is interesting to note that the problems that statists believe will happen without a state do happen with a state. At present, those with money can bribe politicians and judges to get the results they want. This means that citizens, who lack the means to defend themselves from the state, are railroaded into the government monopoly legal system that works against their interests and for whoever paid for the politicians and judges. In a free society with multiple options for dispute resolution, those with money can try to bribe judges, but those judges will lose credibility and thereby lose customers to other judges who make fairer decisions. There is also no conflict of interest as there is in a statist system, where a citizen taking the government to court will do so before a government judge. Failing this, victims who cannot get justice by peaceful means would have an easier time employing defensive or retaliatory violence against those who have wronged them, as there would be no government monopoly on defense ready to defend the aggressors from vigilante justice. The aggressors would only have what protection they could afford, not the military might of a state.
For that reason, the constitution laid out the means for citizens to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, cruel or unusual punishments, or from things like double jeopardy.
The Constitution has done no such thing. In fact, it is the problem because it purports to establish and justify the institution that commits such wrongs against people. The interpretation of the Constitution is also left up to government agents, which means that foxes are guarding the chicken coop.
It means that while citizens have the right to defend themselves, they must also be defended if they are too weak to defend themselves. Members of the Arizona militia don’t worry about home invasions, but 90-year-old grandmothers in Massachusetts might.
Petersen is attempting to justify robbery and slavery here, which is obviously anti-libertarian. To say that someone must be defended is to say that someone must do the job and someone must pay for it. This means that if no one is willing to do it, then someone must be forced to do it. Forced labor is a form of slavery, and forcing people to fund something is a form of robbery. But according to Petersen, this is acceptable because he thinks it is necessary.
Of course members of the Arizona militia are not worried about home invasions. They have the means to exterminate those who would invade their homes. Where elderly women lack such means, it is generally because government gun control laws have forcibly prevented them from getting such means.
Competitive policing and private security would be available, but public security for those who can’t protect themselves is a natural right if the aim of society is to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Society does not exist; each individual person exists. Therefore, society has no aim apart from the aim of each individual person. The reason why public security cannot be a natural right was explained in the previous section.
A virtuous society would also hopefully include the unborn in that definition.
This is not an argument, but a personal preference, so we may move on.
#2. An anarchist society is unable to protect its citizens from foreign invasion.
A fully anarchist society with no collective means of defense is at the mercy of foreign powers who have not abdicated such means of survival. An anarchist state is at the mercy of anyone who wishes to expand into their territory unchecked. The Native Americans can attest to this.
This is a straw man fallacy because no one is seriously proposing a fully anarchist society with no collective means of defense. In fact, most proposals involve private defense agencies armed with nuclear weapons to deter states from invading, along with a heavily armed population that is ready and willing to exterminate invaders on contact. This fallacy is made quite strange by Petersen’s previous mention of the Arizona militia.
Petersen is also shifting the burden of proof because the burden of proof is on the person who makes a positive claim. The statist must show that the state is the only way to provide military defense; it is not incumbent upon the anarchist to prove that the state is not the only way until the initial burden is met. One can understand why Petersen would shift such a burden, of course. The burden is impossible to bear because for the state to take a portion of one’s property to fund a defense of one’s property makes it a expropriating property protector, a contradiction of terms.
The Native Americans did not have anarchist societies. Most of them would be called social democracies in modern political terms. They also had a huge technology gap against the Europeans that anarchists will not have against statists. And was it not a relatively minarchist government that committed genocide against them?
The constitution laid out the means through which American society can protect itself.
The Constitution empowered the principal enemy against which Americans have not been able to protect themselves.
If I band together with my neighbors to form a mutual defense pact, and we call that a constitution, it would necessarily have the same effect as government.
If you and your neighbors form an organization that has the same effect as government, then it is not a mutual defense pact. The effect of government is to force people to engage or refrain from engaging in certain behaviors, as well as to force people to pay for certain goods and services. In a free society, your constitution would be treated as a charter for a criminal organization.
If government is to exist, its number one job is to protect citizen’s liberties, and after that to protect their lives through a reasonable national defense that is not overly interventionist or burdensome on its taxpayers.
It is impossible for a government to protect the liberties of its citizens because it inherently violates them. The best it can do is to act like a farmer and treat the citizens like sheep. The sheep may be protected from the wolves, but they are not safe from the farmer, who also intends to exploit them and quite possibly slaughter them in due time.
Citizens should absolutely be free to seek the means of self-defense, and should not be prohibited from exercising those means vigorously to defend their own lives, liberty, and property. They should be free to join together for mutual protection, provided they do not infringe on the fundamental natural rights of other citizens in doing so.
I suppose even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut. And sometimes, a person arguing against libertarianism manages to destroy his own arguments.
#3. Anarchy means the non-aggression principle is optional.
The non-aggression principle is always optional. Just because everyone should observe it does not mean that they will. The relevant question is always what penalties or retaliations, if any, one will face for violating the non-aggression principle.
If you believe in the non-aggression principle… who’s job is it to enforce it?
Anyone who wishes to use violence against aggressors may do so, as their violation of the non-aggression principle estops them from making a complaint when someone gives them a taste of their own medicine.
If someone breaks into your home, and you are unable to defend yourself, or pay for private security, who do you call?
This assumes that no one would ever defend another person without being paid to do so, which is false due to a great multitude of counterexamples. People would not suddenly lose what good will they have toward each other simply due to the absence of a violent criminal organization called the state. It also assumes that no company which only services paying customers would ever be proactive. Why would a defense company that is interested in providing better services than its competitors at a lower cost wait until an aggressor robs or kills one of its customers when that threat can be eliminated before such a crime happens? Their customers would demand no less, as it is against the rational self-interest of property owners to have aggressors running around their neighborhoods, even if their own properties have not yet been directly affected.
If Petersen would be consistent here, then he should abandon libertarianism and call for full socialization of everything that he thinks people should not have to do without.
If you have a dispute with your neighbor, who (you allege) stole your life savings, how will you sue them or have them arrested to get it back, assuming you might be correct?
Petersen demonstrates willful ignorance here because anarchists have set forth proposals for how this could be done and he does not appear to have bothered with reading them. The most notable proposal involves a number of dispute resolution organizations which one may choose to resolve the dispute. These would operate like a hybrid of an insurance company, a credit rating agency, and a mediation service, with private defense agencies on call when needed. If it is found that a person has committed an act of theft, then that person would have the choice to either pay restitution or become an outlaw who may be attacked by anyone at any time without penalty, as no DRO or PDA would want the reputation of protecting a person who ignores DRO decisions.
In an anarchist state, no one is responsible for defending life, liberty, or property unless they are paid to do so. Crimes such as theft, fraud, breach of contract, or murder could be committed against those who do not have the means of self-defense. In Ancapistan… no one can hear you scream. And no one cares.
Ignoring the fact that an anarchist state is a contradiction of terms (much like Libertarian Republic, the name of the website where Petersen’s essay is published), Petersen is once again worrying that the problems which do occur with a state might be problems without a state. That which may or may not work is always a better option than that which is known not to work. With a state, even those who are supposedly paid to defend life, liberty, and property are under no obligation to do so, as the state has monopolized the courts and may indemnify its agents for failure to provide defense services. No matter the system, crimes may be committed against those who do not have the means of self-defense. In a statist society, the state frequently victimizes people while the masses cheer for the oppressors and no one cares about the victims, and the victims are deprived by law of the means to defend themselves from the state.
#4. The Non-Aggression Principle? I didn’t sign sh*t!
The Non Aggression principle is a social contract… but I didn’t sign it, and neither did the enemies of liberty. Anarchist often sneer at constitutionalists, arguing that they didn’t sign the document, nor did they agree to it. Then they claim that the only thing we need to live in peace and harmony is the non-aggression principle. The only problem? I didn’t sign it. And neither did Kim Jong Un, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, or any other statist dictator on the planet. The non-aggression principle is a social contract, but there is zero obligation to live by it.
The non-aggression principle is not a social contract. It is a moral statement about what constitutes the acceptable use of force. (Nor is the Constitution a social contract; it is a slave contract written by slave-raping hypocrites who had no right to force their contract upon anyone who did not agree to be bound by it at the time, let alone those of us who live almost two centuries after its last surviving signatory died.) Petersen then uses another straw man, as no one is seriously claiming that the non-aggression principle is that the only thing we need to live in peace and harmony.
If Petersen truly believes that there is zero obligation to live by the non-aggression principle, then he should stop calling himself a libertarian, because he is not one.
Indeed, it would be dangerously naive to submit to any form of a non-aggression principle, for as soon as one party signs, those who have not could feel free to decline, and everyone who chooses to live life in a pacific state would be easy prey for those who do not live according to that principle.
The non-aggression principle is not the non-violence principle. Using defensive violence to deter, repel, and kill aggressors as necessary is allowed by the non-aggression principle. Petersen also demonstrates complete ignorance about the definition of a contract. A valid contract is not unilateral (this is why the social contract is invalid, but Petersen also fails to understand this), but is an agreement between two or more parties who enter the agreement in the absence of both coercion and fraud.
People who choose to live as pacifists are easy prey, period. History shows us that those who choose not to defend themselves will be exploited by those who are willing to prey upon them. The state itself is the most triumphant example of this.
Also, in many cases the non-aggression principle forbids the basic principle of a preemptive attack for the purpose of self-defense.
This is false because threatening someone counts as initiating the use of force and may be responded to with as much force as necessary to end the threat.
Anarchists argue that there is ‘no harm, no crime,’ however, if that is the case, then someone pointing a gun at you is not a crime. For if someone points a gun at you, it could be considered aggression, but if they do not shoot, then there is no harm. A minarchist society punishes threats and rightly labels such acts as aggression.
Not all anarchists take this position. No victim means that no restitution is owed and that once the aggressor is subdued, then no force beyond what is necessary to prevent the aggressor from victimizing someone in the future is justified. Thus, an anarchist society can also punish threats and rightly label such acts as aggression.
Now, what if Kim Jong Un placed a nuclear weapon on the launchpad aimed at Los Angeles… the equivalent of pointing a gun? Is it then moral or ethical to destroy their means of aggression? Who may be targeted ethically in such a situation?
If the weapon is ready to be launched and its target is known, then the weapon as well as those who are intent on using it are valid targets, just as one may shoot at a robber’s pistol or at the robber himself. One could also put one’s own nuclear missile on a launchpad and aim at Kim Jong-un’s location in response.
Is there any level of collateral damage acceptable in defending oneself from attack? If there is collateral damage, should there be forced redistributive justice against the citizens defending themselves and to those unfairly harmed as a consequence of being in proximity to destroying the nuclear weapon’s launchpad?
The first question is essentially about whether it is acceptable to harm human shields, and the answer is yes. To answer the second question, those who are in proximity to an implement that is being used for an act of aggression and suffer ill effects from its destruction are homesteaders of their own misery and may not pass that misery onto others in the form of a forced redistribution of wealth.
In even the most rudimentary of scenarios, the non-aggression principle does not provide for the means of adequate self-defense. Not in national defense, or personal.
This is not the function of the non-aggression principle. A moral statement about what constitutes the acceptable use of force would only serve as a guideline for such means.
#5. Private Property
Who defines what is private property? In an anarchist society, there is no commonly accepted definition.
Private property requires an anarchist society because having a state makes private property impossible. Private property is property which a individual has an exclusive right to control and use. In the presence of a state, the state will fund its activities through taxation, which is the taking of private property for state use. If any person or organization may take property from its rightful owner without penalty, then the owner’s right to exclusive control and use has been violated. Therefore, the only possibility for private property rights is to have no state.
Over time, a commonly accepted definition will arise within a particular area because it is less dangerous and more productive to avoid unnecessary violent conflicts, and the purpose of private property is to avoid violent conflicts.
Some may choose to argue that intellectual property is private. Some may decide otherwise and begin acquiring that property for their own benefit.
Some may choose to argue that two plus two equals potato, but they are speaking nonsense, as are those who try to apply the concept of private property to that which is not scarce, not rivalrous, and has no particular form in physical reality. As the entire concept of intellectual property is logically indefensible, there is no means to acquire that which cannot exist.
Some may argue that they have a right to food, and thus their neighbor’s surplus should be rightly theirs, seeing as how the creek from their property fed the crops next door. The farmer next door might argue that the creek actually belongs to him, since it flows across his fields. The beggar next door might argue that the fields are his, since he has been sleeping in them for longer than the farmer has sown them.
Again, people may try to argue for anything, but facts trump opinions. The fact is that while a person may own the ground upon which a creek flows, the water that constitutes the creek is passing from property to property, owned by no one unless someone gathers and uses it, mixing one’s labor with the unowned natural resource. The beggar has no rightful claim because he has not mixed any labor with any unowned natural resource.
Without a firm definition of what constitutes private property, there can be no reliable transactions between parties.
While true, this is not a problem for an anarchist society, as shown above.
An anarchist society can attempt to define what is truly property, but they cannot enforce it, even if they all agree.
Several possible means of enforcement have been discussed above.
To conclude, Petersen fails to prove any of his five points, has committed numerous logical fallacies, and has argued in favor of several anti-libertarian positions. But this is what one should expect in an argument for an idea that has internal contradictions, such as an expropriating property protector or a defense agency that threatens to become an attacking force if one does not submit to its whims.