- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Why 'free-archy' is a joke

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on July 07, 1999 at 10:11:02:

In Ari Armstrong's light comedyFree-archy, a mainstay of anarcho-capitalist thinking (or so I hear), he suggests:

The main difference between a free-archy, then, and Statist types of governments, is that a free-archy is a type of government
which no single organization of people controls.

Rather, a free-archy consists of many different agencies, all competing for customers, all participating in the selection of
common-law courts to settle disputes. Customers can change defense agencies at will, as they today change banks, grocery
stores, and so forth at will. Different defense companies can come into business or go out of business.

Let's unravel the level of fantasy we see here. People do not appeal to common law disputes to settle transactions like they would pick up groceries at the corner store -- when a dispute is serious enough in real life to make it to a court, it's because a garden-variety dispute has escalated to the point where one side feels compelled to intervene with force. Courts mean cops, cops mean, ultimately, guns. The idea that we can replace government with some kind of competing business in the use of force, is the idea of competing businesses in force, it's government by mafiosi, regardless of Armstrong's pedantic distinction between "government" and the "State," which no one will abide by anyway. If you can make money resolving disputes, you've also got the guns to create your own criminal organization, and what determines that you do is not your ethical objection to the "State," but rather your will to make profit as a business.

Furthermore, business organizations don't go in and out of business like you or I go into or out of Macy's on a Sunday afternoon. Businesses go out of business when they don't make enough money. Like duh. What do you think these "defense" businesses are going to do, when they are threatened with bankruptcy? Like duh.

What would really happen, in free-archy, if Allen thought wearing orange clothing was wrong? If Allen pestered Betty about
her clothes in a threatening or harmful manner, Betty would call *her* defense agency to protect her from Allen. But might
Allen hire a different defense agency to enforce his views of moral clothing? No, because no defense agency in its right mind
would accept the job. Trying to enforce such arbitrary, victimless "crimes" as wearing orange clothing would result only in
unnecessary - and expensive - fighting with Betty and her defense agency. In fact, if Allen continued in his harmful behavior
toward others, he would hardly be able to find any defense agency willing to provide him service, because he would pose too
great a cost.

Sorry, but if Allen has enough money, he can whup Betty's ass in the fight with her "defense agency." What determines the law is not whether defense agencies are "in their right mind," i.e. if they agree with Armstrong's libertarian principles, but who has the money to buy a "defense agency" to enforce their will upon others. The golden rule applies to "free-archy" too: those with the gold make the rules.

Armstrong tries to anticipate this with:

Again, it is *possible* that some criminal gang might be more powerful than the rest of society and thus be able to destroy
free-archy. However, if such a powerful criminal group existed, then *no form* of alternate government would be safe. So,
we must constrain the discussion to a free-archy within a predominantly rights-respecting culture.

Within free-archy, then, Betty's defense agency would protect Betty to its full ability, regardless of how much Betty herself
paid. Otherwise, the defense agency would simply go bankrupt. For, if the agency failed to protect Betty, which of the
agency's clients would feel safe? Putting forth a full effort to protect each client is essential to staying in business.

Sorry, a "defense agency" can only put forth a "full effort" within its financial means, and this financial means can become rather exorbitant when the "defense agency" is defending Betty against wealthier opponents. And claiming that only a "rights-respecting" culture would respect Free-Archy is really to note that, if we want a civilized culture, we have to respect each other more than we respect the profit-motive. This means something more distinct that respecting our "rights" -- a vague term meaning whatever rights one wants to imply one has. What it really means is creating a society based on CO-OPERATION -- we can't, after all, agree on our rights without first co-operating with each other. It's also going to mean a society based on SHARING -- nobody is going to willingly agree to be destitute while others live in the lap of luxury. All of which implies a BETTER society, with less of the tough luck factor, than the one currently inhabiting the dreams of anarcho-capitalists.

In free-archy, there is no money in defending
irrational, rights-violating people. So, in most cases, both parties *would* agree to an arbiter, because doing so would be
cost-effective and it would maintain their reputations as honorable people. Courts which reached fair, cost-effective decisions
would become popular and make more money; courts which reached questionable verdicts or cost too much would fail.

Sorry, Armstrong, your expectations and reality are two different things. You may dream that there's no money in defending irrational, rights-violating people, but successful thieves will be able to pay for the defense of their loot. And arbiters do not always defend the reputations of all people who dream of themselves as law-abiding and honest -- they sometimes create winners and losers, and who wants to lose? Besides, one's reputation as an honorable person can always be manufactured by other means, look at Richard Nixon, pathological liar, who won the 1972 Presidential election by the biggest majority in US history on the platform of "peace with honor"...

What's at the heart of Free-Archy, however, is Armstrong's pedestrian assumptions about human behavior, wherein he justifies Free-Archic government:

No matter how many good people there are in the world, there will always continue to be bad people. People who rob, kill,
rape, defraud, and destroy property. An important defense against such people is "self-defense," which means that, on an
individual basis, we protect our own property and lives with our own weapons.

The observant reader will note, here, that crime in any real society (excluding fantasy societies dreamt-up by anarcho-capitalists) is largely, though not entirely, a product of the material conditions and other conditioning that its members receive. From within a culture where ALL members receive both mandatory parenting and mandatory schooling (whether public or private, it's still conditioning), Armstrong has here COMPLETELY DISCOUNTED the role of conditioning in creating what he calls "criminals," itself a judgment based on a fallacy. See, Armstrong makes a qualitative judgment about people based merely on his subjective acceptance/rejection of them. "No matter how many good people there are, there will always be bad people" -- thus making into a logical axiom his own refusal to examine how "good people" or "bad people" CAME TO BE. Did they pop out of their mothers' wombs with the letters "G" or "B" emblazoned on their foreheads, so we could easily distinguish between them? I don't think so.

However, self-defense simply isn't always adequate. Not all people have the physical ability to defend themselves. Most
people don't have the resources to pursue criminals who get away. Sometimes, a criminal group is too powerful for any
individual to successfully subdue. In such cases, a broader organization of people is necessary to effectively deter crime.
This organization is part of the "government."

Look, if an individual doesn't have the power to defend him/herself, what says he/she has the money to pay someone else to do the same, and what says that someone else is going to respect that money? You need a government that enforces laws for everyone, regardless of cost, to enforce respect for that money. In short, if you're going to presuppose criminals, you're going to have to presuppose the socialization of government, a government that governs for everybody regardless of their ability to pay for such service.

And what's to distinguish the criminal conspiracies from the "defense groups"? Perhaps if we checked their foreheads, to see if the marks on them are of the letter "G" or "B"? Should we pass a law against fraud, so that all criminal organizations represent themselves as such? Will such criminal organizations willingly obey such a law?

The point of all this critique is that Ari Armstrong, and anarcho-capitalists of his ilk, have not proceeded in their model of humanity beyond the "good boy-bad boy" level of moral theorizing discussed in the developmental psychology of Jean Piaget, nor have they dared to reflect upon the conditions that make "good" people as versatile as they are in their moral thinking. Their model of the human being is thus too primitive, what they idealize as the individual ready for Free-Archy is in fact a rather deprived specimen of humanity who will be in desperate need of a "State" despite the most fervent pleas of anarcho-capitalists.

In short, people must create a society based on co-operation and sharing BEFORE the world of nation-states will wither away. Many aspects of the society based on co-operation and sharing are already evident in European social democracies, whose desire to proceed further along these lines (despite the corporate control that dogs these governments in real life) was evidenced by the recent triumph of Red-Green coalitions in the French and German national elections.

Without such a society, humanity will get what is evolving now, a New World Order as the hired police force of an international ruling elite who does it all in the name of "free trade". And what anarcho-capitalist could be against free trade, given its prominent position in the pantheon of capitalist values as a linchpin of the rights of entrepreneurs?

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