A necessary evil, redux. A reply to @Veresapiens.

Last weekend’s post on minarchism versus anarcho-capitalism and my long winded explanation as to why I put myself in the former category rather than the latter prompted a response from @Veresapiens, one of the people I’d been discussing the topic with on Twitter beforehand. @Veresapiens said he didn’t intend to debate my conclusions but to add a little food for thought. Since the answers to his points shed a little more light, and also because Safari went tits up part way through, I’m making the reply in the form of another blog post

One subtle assumption running through the post is that Australia is always considered as a single entity, whether ruled by a State or not (eg wondering how ‘the country’ could be defended in an anarchy). My view is that you have essentially 23 million ‘sovereigns’ and their properties in an anarchy, and Australia remains only the name of the continent.

True, I did talk about Australia as a single entity but generally I intended it to be in a geographic sense. It is, Tasmania and some mostly nearby islands aside, a very large single landmass roughly the size of the 48 contiguous US states. There are 23 million people spread extremely unevenly around that area, and my hypothetical ancap and minarch Australias assume the same. I imagine the minarch one would probably keep most or all of the existing states and territories, but shrink the federal government to a fragment of its current real world self while devolving nearly all its power downwards to the states and beyond into local/municipal councils and finally into homes and individuals, which is where most libertarian types would hope the vast bulk would end up. I probably should have put in a paragraph covering this but it was in the mental draft of the follow up post. Mea culpa.

That, in itself, changes the nature of ‘conquest’. With a central authority and defense force, an invader’s goal is to cause the central authority to surrender (to save its own skin) and turn over its defense infrastructure to the invader. Without a central authority, who does the invader have to defeat? Everybody. In every town. Defeat and occupy. Not an easy task to occupy every bit of Australia. Might be easier to trade with the locals than to occupy them. (Although the US does seem to prefer the occupy route…)

This is the nub of the problem in Australia. You said it’d be no easy task, but I think in fact it’d be very easy due to the fact that Australia has among the lowest population densities of anywhere in the world. Further, the population is heavily centred toward the south east while the north west coast is practically uninhabited. From memory the largest town between Perth and Darwin, Broome is under 9,000, and has almost halved in the last decade. There’s got to be close to 3,000 km of coast between Broome and Darwin in the north and I’d guess around double that south to Perth. Much of it isn’t sparsely inhabited, it’s simply uninhabited.

Things are no better in the interior. Alice Springs, in the rough centre of the country, is under 30,000 or so, and there’s nothing bigger it between there and Adelaide in the south or bigger than 10,000 between Alice and Darwin in the north. South east of there is Anna Creek Station, a farm larger than New Hampshire inhabited by about 10,000 cattle and, as far as I can tell, fewer than fifty people, and that’s counting the town of William Creek (population in the high single digits). Free people able to defend what’s theirs because it’s in their interest to do so is a great idea, but for how long could the 50 most well armed free individuals in New Hampshire hold the entire state against even, say, the smallest National Guard of any of the other 49 states? Why would anyone want to take over somewhere like that? Maybe nobody apart from possibly McDonalds would, but not far away (in Australian terms) is Olympic Dam, a very large multi-mineral mine and the largest known uranium deposit on the planet. The area’s not quite as unpopulated as Anna Creek Station but the two local towns that support the mine still have only around 4,500 people between them, about a third of whom are under fifteen years old.

The problem’s that Australia has a lot of empty space. As I said in the original post I’m far from any kind of expert on this, but I have looked at a map and thought about what would stop someone landing a big force somewhere on the empty coast south of Broome and simply marching across the country, rolling over all the small towns of a few hundred or a couple of thousand until it was ready to besiege the larger places. You can get a very long way between defenders, and for most of the way across those defenders are always going to be in very small numbers. If done very quietly and with a bit of luck you might even get quite far into the interior before anyone was able to raise the alarm that they were under attack or notice that other places had mysteriously gone silent. In reality that’s not possible because there’s the Australian Defence Force in the way: a navy to see you coming and harass you at sea, an air force and army to join the navy attacking the forces trying to land and, if successful anyway, to trade all that empty space for time and make you spend every inch of the 4,000 kilometres you have to go to the populous south eastern cities wondering when they’d bomb the ever-loving fuck out of you again.

Imagine driving from Seattle to Disneyworld and being periodically shot at the whole way there. That, but mostly in a desert with few restaurants and fuel stops, all of which have even more people there shooting at you. The ADF can do this. They might not have the numbers and strength to guarantee an outright victory against a large invader, but they don’t need to. They just have to be good enough to inflict enough pain and damage to make it too much effort. I’m not convinced any non-state alternative could do the same. The population density is just too low for the idea of invaders having to fight for every yard to work for long, and I don’t see how private military companies defending people on a subscription model would work unless the PMCs of Melbourne and Sydney were up for attacking enemies as they try to cross the Gibson Desert – the free rider problem here would have a large geographical element to it too.

I’m a little dubious of the argument that even though we don’t want a State, if we don’t have a State of some sort to defend us against invaders, we might be invaded and conquered and end up with a State. And it will be a bad State.

I’m wasn’t really making that argument with the post. I was attacking the counter argument – that millions of free individuals could offer enough resistance to be an effective deterrent – on the grounds that it doesn’t apply everywhere and offering Australia as an example of somewhere that there’s a strong possibility, if not a probability, it would fail.

As to anarchy in general, I don’t envision that we would get a nice efficient homogeneous anarcho-capitalist society in the absence of a State. All I have in mind is that absent the State, people would be allowed to interact voluntarily and form social structures that suit their needs. The capitalists, syndicalists, communists, etc, could all try out their philosophies. Some would work and some wouldn’t. There would also no doubt spring up evil little mini-states of various sorts. Very dynamic – probably very messy for awhile.

I think where the state might finally die a long overdue death would be in the more populous countries. Imagine if the people of North America or Europe decided that they could realistically defend themselves against aggressors without a state, that there’d be enough armed free individuals willing to fight because it’d be in their self interests to do so that all potential enemies put the idea of invasion into the too hard basket. Eventually it’d be the smaller nations like Australia left with militaries and states wondering what the hell they need them for when all the former big boys, including the ones supplying the small countries, are giving up on them. Then it’d get really interesting, and I agree with you that it’d probably also be quite messy as everyone worked out their preferences and how to accommodate them without demanding a state force them on everybody else.

Bottom line for me, still, is that even if you are right about the best way to secure the local populations from invasion, your sincere desire to do good is not sufficient justification for taking away the independence of any individuals who disagree with your approach. And unless your minarchy can force participation, it doesn’t differ, essentially, from the anarchy case where people voluntarily contribute to defense.

I agree that desire to do good isn’t a good reason to take away even one individual’s freedom to choose not to participate, and also that a minarchy where nobody in general participates is functionally identical to anarchy. I feel the problem with the concept of the state is not just the monopoly of force but its universal application of force on the citizenry. It’s no good having competing education systems, healthcare, police, etc, if you’re forced to pay for the state provided services anyway. Defence might sound like a special case but what I’m suggesting is not to the exclusion of free individuals being able to defend themselves and their homes too. Funding the state provided service without force is the tricky part, so what I’m trying to develop is an idea of minarchy that forces participation only in extremely limited areas that anyone from the poorest to the wealthiest person could opt out of with no significant effect on their personal lives, meaning the state could be – in fact would be – destroyed at any time if enough people got sufficiently annoyed with it to change their behaviour into forms that starve rather than feed the beast.

In fact I suspect the real challenge is getting enough people to see the state as a beast that may require starving to death or near death occasionally until the point is reached that it’s entirely surplus to requirements. I don’t expect I’d live to see that happen even if I was born just seconds ago, and I’d be lying if I said I thought the process would take much less time than the Renaissance. Like I said last week, I see no way we can get there from here and even minarchy is a long way off.

Posted on June 22, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. @Veresapiens: (from your earlier comments)

    “All I have in mind is that absent the State, people would be allowed to interact voluntarily and form social structures that suit their needs. The capitalists, syndicalists, communists, etc, could all try out their philosophies. Some would work and some wouldn’t. There would also no doubt spring up evil little mini-states of various sorts. Very dynamic – probably very messy for awhile.”

    From my recollection of history, that pretty much sums up the Greek city states of the 6th-8th Centuries BCE and they were fighting pretty much tooth and nail continuously, especially between the two main confederations, the Achaean League and the Aetolian League.

    I suspect that true anarcho-capitalism could only arise after a global catastrophe (i.e. widespread nuclear war, pandemic or other extinction level event). Even so I suspect that we’d go from the anarcho-capitalism of a hunter/gatherer society back through absolutism and feudalism to where we are now.

    Any successful anarcho-capitalist society of sufficient size would would be crushed by the emerging city states as a threat to it’s own existence. You don’t want people going around saying “King Chuckles is a right pain in the arse, why don’t we fling him over the cliff and do without like AynRandopolis does”.

    So yes, I still think we need a state, even if it is limited in scope to protection of borders and nothing else, ergo a minarchist or night-watchman state approach.

  2. I would like to think that a modern free-market society would create enough wealth that it could afford to defend itself against its economically challenged statist neighbors.

    • I think that above a certain population density, which admittedly I have no idea how to even begin to determine, it probably can. My argument is that there’s a point where this become too hard. Neighbours can defend each other when their properties are 50 feet apart, and wouldn’t be significantly affected if that became 500 feet or 1500 yards. When neighbours are separated by several hours and hundreds of miles they’re effectively on their own no matter how much wealth they’ve created and how much powerful weaponry they may have been able to buy. This isn’t just due to the sticker price of high tech, long range weapons, though that’s a big part of it. It’s that operating a lot of that stuff effectively means doing very little else with your time.

      For instance, many of the world’s mega-rich could easily a modern fighter plane. Bill Gates could probably spring for a squadron of F22. But if Bill Gates had chosen to focus on becoming a good fighter pilot it’d almost certainly have been to the exclusion of much else Bill Gates has done with his time, including creating the multi-billion dollar fortune needed to buy his own F22.

      That leaves the formation of PMCs, and I touched on the problems there in the post. They still need paying for and there’s an obvious free rider problem with any kind of subscription based model that might well work with, say, fire services or policing. Not only that but it’s possible that they’d need to defend someone much further away than the furthest of their subscribers.

      It’s worth pointing out that in Australia this is also a possible consideration with fire services due to the bushfire risk. At the moment this is dealt with mainly at state level despite the possibility of a single fire crossing a state border (I don’t know if that happens often to be a consideration but I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer’s no). Could it be shrunk to cities and shires (rough Aus equivalents of counties) and privatised? Possibly, but what if a bushfire can best be contained by allowing the loss of a property belonging to a subscriber to stop it from reaching a dozen properties, three or four of which are not subscribers? Ironically, this was the case in my state until very recently despite the Country Fire Authority and Metropolitan Fire Brigade being state bodies.

  3. I definitely agree with your concluding paragraph – that anarchy and even minarchy are a vanishingly long way off. I’ve actually switched my focus to something more agorist – or as I sometimes refer to it ‘concurrent voluntaryism’. The idea is to try to encourage a community of voluntaryists, to expand their presence in parallel with the current State. This is a key post outlining ‘The Plan': http://trulyhumansociety.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/concurrent-voluntaryism-the-plan/ (comments and critiques welcome).

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