A Free Society Would Have Safer Subways

The recent Moscow subway bombings brought out the only response the state could make – more cops, harder crackdowns, and tougher talk. But what if there was another way?

There are a number of reasons to believe that without the state, travel would be safer.

Russia, the United States, and all states that have the capability pursue aggressive foreign policies that are a major factor in motivating attacks on civilians. Governments forcibly project their power around the world, expanding their influence and protecting what they consider the national interest (which generally means whatever gives them personally more control).

This does not excuse the actions of those who would incinerate and dismember people who have no influence on foreign policy – nothing makes it okay to murder people who happen to be on the wrong train, plane, or office floor. But it must be recognized that when people are treated badly, they are more likely to act violently. When these people consider it okay to kill children to influence their enemies (like states do) violence will result in innocent deaths.  This is not to say that without an aggressive foreign policy Americans would suffer no terrorist attacks, but a major incentive to do so would be gone.

Governments also create more pressure at home than a free society likely would. Government can be seen as a game in which people scramble to rule over others. Losing factions desperate to grasp the reins of power might be more likely to pursue it using deadly methods (terrorism often resembles state policy done on a small scale). Desperation caused by economic vulnerability also motivates violence. A stateless society with a free and fluid economy, resilient communities, and mutual aid would significantly decrease poverty and would abound with solid support networks.

It would not be unreasonable to assume that there would still be people who want to indiscriminately hurt individuals in a free society. But freedom still holds advantages over statism in preventing terrorist attacks.

Subway passengers and subway security should theoretically have a common interest: neither should want the subway to get bombed. But because of how government functions, police and the public are often at odds. The state does not function primarily to protect individuals – its priority is to protect power from disruption (police are not legally obligated to protect individuals, for example).

When a police officer in New York City looks inside a bag carried by a subway patron, he isn’t just looking for a bomb. The owner of the bag would be led away in chains to a cage if he was found to be exercising his right to possess drugs or a firearm. And because police officers answer to their superiors (who answer to other government officials), and not directly to the public, one cannot expect police in general to be honest or fair. The function of the state creates a hostile, authoritarian relationship when a friendly, mutual relationship would be more productive.

By enforcing laws restricting the carrying of weapons, the state makes it more difficult for individuals to protect themselves from terrorists or other criminals. Firearms in the hands of responsible individuals could have prevented the September 11 attacks from being carried out, and could have at least reduced the number of irreplaceable lives destroyed in the Mumbai, Virginia Tech, and Long Island Railroad shootings. But the state in many places tries to hold a monopoly on violence by restricting the carrying of weapons. They might claim that only professionals trained by the government are capable of handling weapons in certain situations, but the commonplace brutality and incompetence of state agents ought to make one suspect otherwise.

The priority of states (by far the largest customers of the security-industrial complex) is to protect power and prevent disruption of its operations. Protecting individuals is more of a means to this end.

However, organizations in a free society would exist on a consensual basis and could only continue existing if people saw fit to support them over alternatives. For this reason, they would be more accountable to the demands of individuals. They would be more incentivized to meet demands for security that disrupts and intrudes upon individuals as little as possible. If some of the money states spend on empire building instead went into explosives detection technology or similar items, then less intrusive and disruptive security arrangements would likely be more feasible.

The state increases the likelihood of terrorist attacks, works against accountability and cooperation by its authoritarian incentive structure, and often actively works to prevent individuals from defending themselves. A stateless society should be a safer society.

This C4SS commentary has been featured in: The print edition [PDF] of Serf City, newsletter of the Manhattan Libertarian Party

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