Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Push the Button?

by Robert Capozzi

In a thoughtful critique of our own Carl Milsted’s “The Need to be Anarchists,” attorney Stephan Kinsella makes some interesting points here. Kinsella suggests that “We principled libertarians have no problem recognizing the difference between what is right and true, with what is likely and what we can get away with.”

In disputing Milsted’s utilitarian argument, Kinsella concludes: “However, if libertarianism is at root about the opposition to aggression and the desire for peace, harmony, and cooperation – as I believe it ought to be – the proposed normalization of theft simply isn’t libertarian.” Taxation and all government is based on theft, he claims, and “principle” dictates that it is all unjustified.

OK, fair enough. Let’s test that. Let’s take Leonard Read’s liberty button one step further. There’s an anarchy button, that, if pushed, would instantly end government and taxation.

An interesting thought experiment, that. All coercion ends tomorrow. There is no national defense, no police, no courts. Further, there is no way to enforce contracts, save individuals taking matters into their own hands. All transit systems stop. All airline travel stops, for there is no air traffic control. Most water and sewage systems stop. Street lights go off. Nuclear missile silos are abandoned, or commandeered. With all this going on, few would go to work, in both the government and the private sector. Why work when you can’t get there, and your paycheck is worthless?

Sure, some things might still function, but clearly there would be a profound setback in everyone’s standard of living. Perhaps there would gradually spring up new, non-coercive mechanisms to keep the peace. But, then again, perhaps not.

In the post-anarchy-button-pushed world, we would be in a state of nature. The concepts of “rights” and “property” would be as meaningless as they are to flora and fauna.

I suppose Kinsella might say, “Yes, well, but at least pushing the anarchy button is the right and true thing to do, albeit impractical.” This line of thinking, IMO, is more science fiction than political philosophy, for political philosophy cannot be entirely divorced from process. This “vision” is horrific and unappealing to virtually everyone, except perhaps nihilists.

It seems obvious that if Kinsella wouldn’t push the anarchy button, then he is acceding to utilitarian considerations.

-Robert Capozzi

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R-dog, as I replied in email: I don't think the question is meaningful. You are leaving too many means out. You are assuming too many magical things. Clarify it and I can answer it.

For example, what do you mean, end gov't w/ a push of the button? how does the button do this? Turn poeple into robots? change their mind? blow up go'vt buildings? the only way to get rid of the state really is for most poeple not to believe in it. Are you saying woudl I PREFER most poeple not believe in the state's legitimacy? Or would I push a button that would make them change their minds? If so, how?

As I wrote elsewhere ,
"I will tell you I have no idea what this means. Magic makes no sense to me. I could only answer such a question if the means by which the end occurs is described. For example, if the magic button destroys all life on earth with a billion hydrogen bombs, that would be one way of achieving your proposed end result. I would not be in favor of that. Presumably you have some other meachanism in mind that achieves some defined result--could you explain the mechanism, and the result? That would allow other libertarians to evaluate whether they believe this action would be consistent with liberty or not."

# posted at by kinsella

BTW I have more comments on my article here:

# posted at by kinsella

For more on the incoherence of Leonard Read type "push the button" hypotheticals, see links collected here

# posted at by kinsella

one of many:

"As a recovering activist/do-gooder I whole-heartedly thank you for writing this fine article. The brevity and clarity of it will provide me with a far better tool than my normal rambling to explain to others why I now detest all activists, and the harm their unprincipled actions cause.

Thank you for your efforts to share the light of a principled existence."

# posted at by kinsella

Bob Cappozi wrote:
>[Under anarchy], there is no way to enforce contracts, save individuals taking matters into their own hands.

Bob, it's already that way! Have you ever actually had a real contract dispute?

I have, and the only way to deal with it is for an individual to take matters into his own hands. Of course, if you want to, you, as an individual, can try going to other individuals who call themselves "government employees" and try to get those other individuals to help you.

Want to bet as to whether they will help you?

Even if you get an individual who labels himself a "judge" to enter "judgment" in your behalf, you still, have to "take matters into your own hands" to try to collect the judgment. Best o' luck!

The central point we anarchists are trying to make is that the only thing that actually exists is a bunch of individuals. They exist now, and they will still exist if "government" is abolished. All that "government" consists of is simply a bunch of individuals who have figured out how to get away publicly with a lot of activities that would get most people tossed in jail (or lynched). They get away with all this mainly by convincing people (including most "libertarians") that they are really not just a bunch of thuggish individuals but a mystical entity, the all-saintly "government."

Kinsella and I are not interested in playing that game, whether as "Libertarians" or anything else. Kinsella and I do both have an occasional urge to point at the emperor and mention that he is naked.

Anarchy's not a system -- it's simply each individual looking at the emperor and seeing that he is actually unclothed.


# posted at by DrDave