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