"It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power." ~ David Brin
'Anarchy or Minarchy' Is Only Half the Question, Part 2
Column by Glen Allport.
Exclusive to STR
This is Part 2 of a response to a column by Wesley Messamore. Last week's Part One of this column discussed the following:
· Minarchy: Lighting a Match to the Fuse of Tyranny
· Anarchy: By Itself, Yang without Yin
· The Missing Key
· You Can't Understand (or even truly see) Reality When Using a Bad Paradigm
· Without the State, Who Will Pay for the Roads?
Now on to Part Two:
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Police, Courts, National Defense
Hello again Wesley,
I again want to thank you for inspiring this column; I well remember grappling with the issue you raised in Libertarian Dilemma: Anarchy or Minarchy? when I was about your age – actually, it probably took me a few years longer to arrive where you are now. Getting past the idea that coercive government is somehow necessary took time and a surprising amount of effort. In this second half of my commentary, I'll begin with the specific group of concerns about anarchy (or civil society, as I would usually call it) that you focus on in your column:
"A local police force, for instance, keeps you safe from the aggression of murders, muggings, and theft. A court system serves as a support function for that role by determining who is in fact guilty of aggression and to what degree. A military protects you from foreign aggression. Finally, a representative body of some kind organizes and directs the first three. These are the basic elements of a strictly minarchist state."
My response to that – and I mean this in an entirely friendly way – is, "You're kidding, right?"
These three services (plus the central organizing body) are incredibly dangerous when left in government hands. Of all the traditional "government services," these are the ones most important to move back into the private sector, where market restraints and incentives greatly reduce the risks of corruption, overgrowth, citizen abuse, and murder – including mass murder.
Today's police – and this has been typical of government police worldwide, throughout history – are common agents of aggression against citizens, and if one or more police officers decide to aggress against you (in any number of ways), your chance of obtaining redress or justice of any kind afterward is poor – the "just-us" system often keeps the perps safe as long as the perps have badges (and so much for government courts). In contrast, the security firm I contract with can and will be sued or prosecuted, probably with success, should they assault me, steal from me (Institute for Justice video about asset forfeiture, 2 min 58 sec), or otherwise violate my rights – or the rights of my neighbors, for that matter. The need for customer satisfaction and the reality of legal liability (which the courts still often take seriously, at least where small private firms are involved) work in my favor here (and, again, in favor of my neighbors as well); the market is always safer and more civil than government, because the market is not based on coercion and violence.
Of course, many government police are decent, sincere, and honest, but as with every government entity, the presence of honest, competent employees is not enough to prevent the overall corruption of, and the harm caused by, that entity. From public schools to government regulators to armed alphabet-agency enforcers, this dynamic never fails: coercion ruins what might otherwise have been a positive effort. I call this Ringo's Law (the actual quote from Ringo Starr is "Everything government touches turns to crap"), and indeed Ringo's Law has a level of accuracy and predictive power typical of laws in the physical sciences.
Government courts too often serve government interests in other ways as well, or the interests of corporations (Monsanto, the megabanks, oil companies, corporate copyright holders, and Big Pharma are just a few that come to mind). Having a single entity as a coercive monopoly run the courts and the executive branch and the Congress isn't so much a "separation of powers" as it is a tightly-knit, if sometimes quarrelsome, unified tyranny. Local government systems are often as corrupt and dangerous for the locals as the federal government is for us all; evil and corruption can exist on any scale. At least the local government of a small town back East is unlikely to harm me here on the other side of the continent, so the maxim that small government is preferable to large government makes sense. Thoreau was right, however, when he said (in Civil Disobedience) "that government is best which governs not at all."
I understand and empathize with your concern about a justice system that actually provides justice (although you don't put it quite that way):
"As I wrote earlier: 'True freedom requires rule of law, which means a consistent set of laws administered by an impartial civil body politic.' Without this, it seems impossible to me that there could be any real, meaningful freedom. Yet in order to have one that actually serves its role without disintegrating into anarchy* one vigilante at a time, we need to be okay with an aggressive, coercive monopoly state--and that doesn't sit well with me either."* Note: Wesley, please see Call Me an Abolitionist, Please for a discussion of the term "anarchy" and why (other than in this column, where I am responding to your "Minarchy versus Anarchy" column) I generally avoid this loaded term as a description for non-coercive, civil society.
In fact, non-government mediation groups, insurance companies, subscription-based security providers, and other elements of the market can (and to some extent already do) provide better results than our horrific government "justice" system does now – more justice, more focus on restitution, and less incarceration of people for non-crimes like pot possession. (Part One of this column, for readers who haven't seen it yet, includes links and references about the provision of public services by civil society rather than by coercive government – there is actually quite a lot of material on the subject and it is worth seeking out. Here's another resource: Reinventing Civil Society: The Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics [pdf] by David G. Green,
Civitas, London, 1993).
Your instinctive concern about "aggressive, coercive monopoly" is laser-accurate. There is no way to prevent the growth and corruption of such a monopoly into an escalating tyranny. It's been tried, over and over again, and the result is always that the monopoly on coercion attracts and enables psychopaths, gets bought by corporate and other special interests, and is increasingly enforced in ways that twist justice into horrifying caricatures of the real thing. Limiting government income can help – exactly what the Constitutional prohibition of an income tax (repealed by an amendment the states were conned into supporting in 1913) and the requirement for a gold and silver money were meant to do, but despite the Constitution's Article 1 Section 10 never having been repealed, this country's money has been pure fiat since Tricky Dick Nixon declared national bankruptcy ("shut the gold window") in 1971.
As I keep saying: you can try to limit the growth of evil, but once you've invited evil into your house, it will not be contained.
Onward, to the subject of national defense. You already know what I'm going to say; you could write it yourself, really. The minarchy created at our Constitutional Convention in 1787 has, almost from the beginning, maintained the standing army that the wiser founders warned us against. With the ocean of money pulled from Americans by the income tax and the Federal Reserve, this standing army has grown to where some are asking if we don't actually have a de facto military dictatorship. This is a concern for several reasons, especially now that widespread unrest in America seems likely in the near term, given the dramatic and ongoing fall in living standards for many Americans. How will our military behave then? I am not optimistic. Governments in the Middle East – America's "client" governments, in many cases – are murdering and beating and torturing their citizens (Youtube video of murdered Libyan protesters, 1 min 46 sec; requires verifying you are 18 or older by signing in or signing up due to extremely graphic content) simply because the people are fed up with imposed poverty and tyranny; this does nothing to lessen my concern for what Americans may soon face, especially given that the federal government continues to paint those who support America's founding principles as domestic terrorists. The federal government has gone all in on the fascism thing in the last decade: when I was a kid, we laughed when a movie's cold-eyed Nazi goons barked "your papers, please" at German citizens; now, the TSA and government's 24/7 surveillance of phone, email, Internet, and security camera feeds is so much tighter and colder than Hitler could even dream of that most Americans are, I think, stunned into silence about it.
But hey: freedom isn't free, right? We have to put up with some loss of freedom to be safe, don't we? That didn't work out well for the Germans, and it won't work out well for us, either. Government (minarchy included) is a group given legal monopoly on force and violence. What could possibly go wrong?
Government's most consistent behavior over the centuries has been theft, which is the central reason governments exist; governments evolved from intermittent raids on productive societies by plunderers, who eventually figured out that if they moved in, they could plunder their productive neighbors constantly while also avoiding the dangers of violent raids.
Another common government behavior, however, is murder – and this, by itself, is enough to make government the worst and most dangerous possible way to provide national defense.
The level and frequency of murder by government is astounding, terrifying, and literally traumatic to even contemplate. The human ability to repress awareness of overwhelming threats and traumatic pain comes into play; everyone knows that governments are murder machines but few – including professionals in related fields, according to R. J. Rummel, author of Death by Government – allow themselves to be aware of that knowledge. Rummel pulls no punches on the topic: "I think the ignorance of the incredible murder by government is a moral, intellectual, and academic scandal. It is the biggest and most significant black hole in our educational system and literature."
Rummel documents this willful ignorance among historians and political scientists at length in Death by Government. What, exactly, is being ignored? This, for starters:
That more than a QUARTER-BILLION people were murdered by governments during the 20th century (Rummel's most recent estimate, in his The Blue Book of Freedom, is 272,000,000).
That is in addition to war dead, including those incinerated in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Tokyo, and so many other large cities during World War II. It is in addition to the 80,000 cancers, including 15,000 dead, that the U.S. government says (in a 2002 report) were caused by fallout from nuclear testing during the Cold War. It is in addition to torture, unjust imprisonment, infliction of systematic terror, massive levels of theft, and many other crimes against humanity. It is in addition to the many millions of children orphaned by the State. That quarter-billion murders is in addition to millions of deaths (even just in the US) caused by other means such as the FDA, which the Life Extension Foundation's William Falloon calls "the number one cause of death in the United States."
When a government agency designed to protect Americans from harm is in the running for "number one cause of death," one has to ask if a government agency specifically designed to kill people and armed to the teeth might be a bit too dangerous (and not only in the ways one might expect). It certainly gives some punch to Jefferson's famous comment that he "would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."
In any case, Wesley, I doubt you would argue that the Pentagon is keeping us safe. We literally have no enemies other than the ones we create by our aggression; our military has been needlessly angering foreigners and thus endangering America for a very long time. (Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq is a well-written look at the topic). We attack nations that are clearly no threat to us, cover their land with radioactive poison – each DU weapon is a dirty bomb; a single such weapon used in Manhattan would be rightly seen as a major terrorist attack – and kill so many civilians in the process that, once again, Americans simply go numb to the whole thing. The corporatist media facilitates this by treating our wars and occupations, with their civilian murders, errant drone attacks, dismembered children, and horrific DU-caused birth defects, as faint and distant non-news, worthy of occasional mention but far less important than Charlie Sheen's cocaine-and-hooker binges.
Would Americans be more secure without our vast and aggressive military? Of course we would. The only "security" we are now protecting with our military is security for the military-industrial complex itself; and for the oil, banking, and other corporations the military is often deployed on behalf of; and for the truly evil and corrupt regimes that are protected, trained and often installed by Uncle Sam.
This is what minarchy has evolved into in the United States. I really don't see how we could do any worse. It's impossible for me to believe we can't do better by finally putting an end to the sick fiction that a gang of men, no matter how small and "restrained," must be given a get-out-of-jail-free card for use of coercion and violence against the rest of us.
Coercion is neither necessary nor useful in genuine provision of services, no matter what real service is involved. If you want real protection from crime, court and mediation systems that actually provide justice, and efficient national defense that won't let a bunch of hijacked airliners roam the country for nearly an hour before slamming into skyscrapers, then you want an end to the ancient evil of the coercive vampire State.
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Bringing More Love and Freedom Into the World
It starts early; earlier than most people probably think. And it cannot, ever, be done or helped in any way, long-term, by the use of coercion. Every thought you might ever have on how coercive government can be used to bring more love and compassion into the world is on par with a desperate person's sudden insight that robbing the bank down the street could solve all his problems.
Coercion and violence will never bring love and freedom into the world. Yes, you can point to temporary, isolated situations where it seems to work, and even where it DOES work for a time, assuming you ignore the hidden damage and corruption and theft being done to make it all happen. But long-term, even that superficial goodness does not last, and cannot last, anymore than eating the seed corn works out well in the long run for subsistence farmers. Coercion and violence destroy love and freedom, and no amount of sophistry or twisted theory or teeth-gritting belief can ever change that.
So if we can't bring more love into the world with government programs, how can we do it? The answer has been known and taught for thousands of years because it is, literally, a part of us, a built-in genetic need and predisposition. If we can quiet down inside enough to hear and feel it, that answer will become obvious, in the same way that the meaning of life is obvious to dogs and to every other form of life. No modern pushbutton miracle will do the job; no political candidate will do the job; this is work for Everyperson, for families and churches and service organizations and nurses and doctors and neighborhoods and other people and groups in civil society.
Love is both goal and method here, but we in the 21st Century have some tricks up our sleeves that our ancestors did not. We have science, new understandings, and finely-grained detail about how the world works. Surprisingly, perhaps, some of that can be helpful if we put it to use. Opposing forces are in play; the job of the freedom movement (and of any person who sincerely wants to improve the human condition) is to be clear-minded enough and compassionate enough and energetic enough to make whatever headway we can, in whatever way is right for us, against those opposing forces – to, if we can, bring enough more love into the world that the Dark Side fades into distant, patchy shadows and then finally washes out completely in the light and warmth of a free and healthy world.
Never doubt the work is needed. In a column at STR, Will Groves makes the case that "the world feels wrong because psychopaths run it." Shocking as that may be to first contemplate, Groves is right. You know he is right, and that truth – that the world is in the hands of psychopaths – is almost too much for a sane and decent person to live with. It calls into question the idea that love and freedom can actually overcome evil. But they can: Love and freedom together have power that nothing else even approaches, and there are ways to put that power to use. I will start with an example – one that I wish every freedom-minded person would study and take to heart – and every peace activist, for that matter, and everyone else who simply wants a healthy, decent world in place of the corrupt, polluted, and darkening global tyranny we have now.
This first example is Summerhill School in England. Founded in 1921, Summerhill is no flash in the pan, no unsustainable Utopia, no idiocy run on the basis of some disconnected, over-intellectualized theory. Summerhill is for real, and if you want to see what a free and compassionate world looks like in microcosm – and how to create such a thing – you need look no further. (Well, looking further can add important detail, some of which I'll describe later, but Summerhill by itself makes the case for love and freedom AS THE CURE for the long-standing horror of the human condition).
That last is worth repeating: Love and freedom ARE THE CURE for the human condition. There is no other path to a truly civil society.
Below is an excerpt – brief; only about 225 words – from a June, 1949 report on Summerhill by British Government inspectors. This material was written by outsiders, in other words, who spent a few days at the school a generation after it was founded. Here is what the school and its children were like in that June of 1949, according to the British report (my emphasis below):
"The main principle upon which the School is run is freedom . . . . the degree of freedom allowed to the children is very much greater than the inspectors had seen in any other school and the freedom is real. No child, for instance, is obliged to attend any lessons. As will be revealed later, the majority do attend for the most part regularly, but one pupil was actually at this School for 13 years without once attending a lesson and is now an expert toolmaker and precision instrument maker. This extreme case is mentioned to show that the freedom given to children is genuine and is not withdrawn as soon as its results become awkward."
". . . the children are full of life and zest. Of boredom and apathy there was no sign. An atmosphere of contentment and tolerance pervades the School."
". . . the children's manners are delightful. They may lack, here and there, some of the conventions of manners, but their friendliness, ease and naturalness, and their total lack of shyness and self-consciousness made them very easy, pleasant people to get on with."
". . . initiative, responsibility and integrity are all encouraged by the system and that so far as such things can be judged, they are in fact being developed."
"Summerhill education is not necessarily hostile to worldly success."
The report backs up that last point with a list of degrees held and careers followed by former pupils. Summerhill does not produce adults who cannot live in the real world; it produces adults who know what they want, know how to get it, know that only they themselves are responsible for getting it, and who have grown up learning to respect others and to expect (and insist if necessary) on respect from others. Summerhill children develop a sense of compassionate connection with others because they have spent their childhoods in a community that takes every person's needs and rights seriously – a community in which the smallest child is as important as the headmaster or any staff member, and which self-governs with a natural wisdom (most of which flows from the children themselves) that is both grounded in real needs (violence against others cannot be tolerated, for example) and tempered with compassion in ways that often surprise outsiders and which are literally healing in their effects.
Healing was often needed when Neill ran the school because many children arrived at Summerhill after being kicked out of other schools for vandalism, bullying, and other delinquent behavior (this was true in the decades that founder and long-time headmaster A. S. Neill wrote about in his 1960 Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, but that book quickly became a worldwide best-seller and fame brought many to the school from America and other countries around the world; I don't know how common it is now for new Summerhill students to have been kicked out of other schools).
Among my favorite examples of Neill's attitude and approach to children involves the door of a shed that Neill had painted when the weather cleared after a heavy rain. Shortly after finishing, Neill walked by the shed to find a young boy throwing handfuls of mud at his freshly-painted door. Neill writes that with most boys at the school, he'd have intervened to stop this and shown some genuine and quite natural anger (but of course non-violently; spanking of any child would be out of the question). But this boy was newly arrived from a school and perhaps a home life where coercion and punishment were the norm; his behavior was perfectly understandable to Neill. Reacting to the boy with anger or even a stern request to stop would have only reinforced the inner dynamic being expressed with those handfuls of mud, so Neill walked up beside the boy with a smile, bent down and grabbed his own handful of mud and threw it at the door. The two continued lobbing mud at the door, side by side and laughing I imagine, just two lads having some fun. Neill's comment on this (as I recall) was that the boy needed to learn that he was more important to Neill than the door on a shed or any other mere object; the boy needed to know Neill was on his side, valued him as a person, cared about him, and would not mistreat him the way other adults had in the past.1 It worked, as life in Summerhill often did for damaged children who transferred to Summerhill – the boy gradually came to understand and to believe that he was safe in his new home and that everyone in the community – including himself, but also including all the staff and other children – had their person and belongings* respected, and that if necessary the school government (composed mostly of children) would step in to protect anyone who was not being respected. Not every damaged child can make such a transition, and the older the new arrival, the poorer the odds for healing. Even being immersed in a free and compassionate environment like Summerhill will not cure everyone, including some very young children. But it often can and has cured neurotic children of much of their misery and acting-out, which is in its own way as wonderful as the fact that such an environment reliably prevents creation of the emotional damage so common in the world.
* Young children are not the same in regards material objects as they will become later, however, and adults must take that (and other facts about the nature of small children) into account: "Adults find it very hard to realize that young children have no regard for property. They do not destroy it deliberately – they destroy it unconsciously." (Italics in original) Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Child Rearing, p. 138 – in a chapter titled "Destructiveness."
Summerhill is not the only school that takes freedom for children seriously. Sudbury Valley School (a day school, not a boarding school) was founded in Massachusetts by Daniel Greenberg in 1968 on the Summerhill model. Years after starting the school, Greenberg published Free At Last: The Sudbury Valley School – a book as revelatory as Neill's Summerhill. Many books and essays by staff and students are available at the Sudbury website. Other schools modeled on Summerhill and on Sudbury (Wikipedia link) exist in the United States and in other countries.
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Does the idea of improving the world by improving the lives of children (including opposing the inherent cruelty of the coercive State) sound too plebian, too slow, or unworkable in some other way? It is the only thing that WILL work and has the potential to work with surprising speed, considering that positive social change is not something that can be affected in toggle-switch fashion. For one thing, adults who focus on love and freedom for children cannot help but be more in tune with love and freedom generally. I admit that improving the lives of children doesn't have the quick-acting fantasy punch of electing a Special Person to the White House; that sounds like Hope personified to many people; it sounds like an instant, effortless way to create the "kinder, gentler" nation that George Bush the First promised in his campaign ads, shortly before invading Iraq for the first time. The power elite count on that misperception of government as a force for compassion and on the desperate need people have to believe in a quick and painless method of removing evil from this world. Electing one of the elite's hand-picked sock-puppets is, we are constantly told, the exact and only method for Change. Don't forget to vote, partner!
In the meantime, as we wait for that political Change! to stop destroying love and freedom and to start improvingthings instead, we can begin paying more attention to what really works: We can take human nature to heart, including its sensitive dependence on early conditions. If we want more love and more freedom in the world, we must provide more love and freedom to the very young. Unloved, unfree children do not – as a group; individuals vary – grow up into loving adults who respect the freedom of others (see Alice Miller's For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Childhood and the Roots of Violence and her other writings for detail on the topic) – and that brings us to my last point.
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Empathy is The Heart of Civil Society
Americans today, as a group, show little or no concern for the horrors their government inflicts abroad, or even for the horrors it inflicts on many here at home. Government cruelty, including outright torture, has become both common and openly discussed in the United States. Wikileaks and other sources provide photographic, videographic, and other proof that our government tortures prisoners of the "War on Terror" and that military units have killed civilians not only by mistake, not only as commonplace "collateral damage," but perhaps even for sport. Readers will understand that this list could be extended to cover a great deal more, even just in regards what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now in Libya. Yet the outrage Americans express over this cruelty and criminality seems muted at best.
During the Vietnam War in the '60s and '70s, Americans expressed massive outrage over the war. Huge protests and demonstrations were common, and this widespread opposition was surely a factor in moving Congress to eventually defund the war, bringing it to an end.
There are many factors that might account for today's lesser response to the horrors of war (better news control by the power elite, the ongoing economic disaster, a much higher percentage of the population now imprisoned for drug and other offenses, etc.), but one factor stands out: Americans are losing the sense of connection with others that makes civil society possible.
That is more than a personal impression. A recent study found that today's college students score 40% lower on a measure of empathy than students of 20 and 30 years ago. The authors of the study cite a number of possible reasons for this, but I would like to suggest another: the American trend towards impersonal, technological approaches to birth and early infancy. For example, midwives and natural childbirth (often at home) are typical in most developed nations, but not in the United States, where, as Abby Epstein, director of The Business of Being Born, puts it:
"The business of being born is another infuriating way medical traditions and institutions – hospitals and insurance companies – actually discourage choice and even infringe on parents’ intimate rites, ultimately obstructing the powerful natural connection between mother and newborn child." [emphasis added]
That connection – the connection we are now so often obstructing – is the heart of civil society. Without a strong early bond between mother and child, the sense of compassionate connection to others never has a chance to fully develop. Without a large majority of people who feel that connection to each other, no nation can long remain free – or safe, or even sane. My concern, to put it bluntly, is that corporatism in the United States is now creating a nation of semi-sociopaths – a citizenry who, on average, feel less empathy for others than is necessary to maintain a society that is actually civil.
Love and freedom are the only shield against rampant cruelty, against the nightmare State, and against a descent into mega-horrors like those which stained the 20th Century.
As I said: It starts early, this connection to others, this compassionate view of life, this respect for the freedom of self and others. We either learn to value and support love and freedom, or we will increasingly find ourselves in a world without those qualities.
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Shield and Strength: The Power of Love (mostly an intro to the longer column below)
Summerhill and the Central Thread of Life (includes discussion of the sick and bizarre views of Summerhill held by many, including in the educational and other elites)
1) On the mudslinging incident: I pulled one of my copies of Summerhill: A Radical Approach to Childrearing from the shelf and browsed it looking for Neill's account (no searchable electronic version exists, so far as I know) but did not find it before giving up and returning to my keyboard, so my account is from memory. (I am fairly certain the incident is in this particular title, but perhaps it is in one of Neill's other books or articles). While browsing the text, however, I came across so many other powerful, enlightening vignettes and simple yet wise observations by Neill and his students that I want to again encourage anyone interested in the human condition to obtain a copy of the 1960 original and read it. Copies are often available in used book stores and at Amazon and other internet book vendors. A later, posthumous version with a different title (Summerhill School: A New View of Childhood) and with a slightly different collection of material was published in 1995. Omitted from this new version is some of the Freudian material that deserves a place on the cutting-room floor but also some of the most emotionally powerful and enlightening sections of Neill's original. Amazon has at least three different sets of pages that offer used copies of the long-out-of-print original; in addition to the one at the top of this paragraph, see also here and here.