Given what are widespread and prevailing misconceptions, one could perhaps be forgiven for identifying anarchy with unmitigated chaos and libertarianism with today’s corporate avarice. At the same time, Statists — whose systems have rendered nothing but destitution for those they purport to aid — enjoy an opposite but related misbelief, namely, that theirs is the philosophy concerned with economic or social justice. Not only, then, do the state and its influential manipulators use brutality to exploit productive individuals and despoil society of its wealth, they have also inveigled almost everyone into believing that their tools of plunder proceed from a genuine concern for those among us with the least. The coercive apparatuses of the state, however, have never been commanded by the poor and powerless, instead falling under the sway of elites all grasping at the levers of power in attempts to accomplish their ends through force as against voluntary, peaceful means. As characterized by political economist Frederic Bastiat, “When … the legal code imposes mutual sacrifices on the citizens, human nature is not thereby abrogated. Everyone will then direct his efforts toward contributing little to, and taking much from, the common fund of sacrifices. Now, is it the most unfortunate who gain in this struggle? Certainly not, but rather the most influential and calculating.” So in the mainstream, general discourse a view contending merely that no one ought to be able to initiate force against another is misconstrued as merciless and inhuman while the ethics of violence and theft are raised to the level of genuine charity.
Notwithstanding the obvious ethical problems with a social system that places brute force at the center of all human interactions, it should be clear from the empirical evidence that the state has been completely incapable, through its welfare apparatuses, of achieving anything but the most emetic failure, creating a system that is so obviously dehumanizing and arguably racist that it is incredible anyone can defend it in polite society. It is libertarians, though, who are the lepers under the political orthodoxy of today, who must defend voluntaryism as if coercion could ever be a morally tenable option. It is indeed difficult to imagine an arrangement less conducive to charitable giving than one that steals from individuals to provide services that do not even help their recipients, one that fritters away wealth for nothing but the consolidation of entrenched power. It is therefore the state and its flag-bearers who need to carry the burden of proof on the claim that violence and favoritism are the best way to alleviate the hardships of the poverty-stricken.
Rather than advocating the hyper-individualism that libertarians are so often arraigned for, market anarchism is the optimal expedient for social cooperation and harmony, substituting mutual respect between individuals for chaos and its actual source, the state. Though it may at first seem counterintuitive to associate anarchy with order and statism with chaos, even the most cursory inspection of the question reveals that truth. Owing to the state’s aggressive and unwarranted intrusion into our lives, we live at this moment in chaos, with violent crimes against the individual as the norm and with an absence of consistent rules or predictable outcomes. The state, the rule-giver and professed embodiment of order, is actually an institution defined by its regular and arbitrary breaking of social rules, both its own and those demanded by ethics, violating the rights of individuals with complete impunity. While the classic Hobbesian formulation insists that, without the “artificial man” of the state, society would plummet into a lawless war of all against all, that state is more appropriately and accurately descriptive of the strivings of special interests in a democracy than of an anarchic, natural order society. In our lives under the state, everyone competes in what Hans-Hermann Hoppe calls “the production of ‘bads,’” essaying toward positions that will allow them to avail themselves of the advantages of the “political means” to wealth. In contrast to this enshrinement of violence is anarchy’s consistent observation of rules, not capricious or authoritarian rules, but simple rules limiting permissible behavior and regarding what philosopher Roderick Long calls “equality in authority.”
This is what is meant by the statement often made by libertarians that “liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order”; it is a restatement of the simple but far-reaching truth that excluding the use of aggression from human relationships necessarily gives rise to a “spontaneous order” and amity in society. Similarly, William Aylott Orton said, “In the end, given liberty to learn, men will find that freedom means community.” Anarchy therefore unites individuals as an engine of — in the truest sense — socialization, affirming the words of Friedrich Hayek that the “argument for liberty is not an argument against organization, … but an argument against all exclusive, privileged, monopolistic organization, against the use of coercion … .” Order is the natural and automatic upshot of freedom, individuals aligning their interest not because they are forced to, not even necessarily by purpose or design, but because, insofar as everyone observes the rights of everyone else, it is to their benefit to do so. The organization contemplated by the state, on the other hand, was perhaps best articulated by Hegel, who wrote, “A single person, I need hardly say, is something subordinate, and as such he must dedicate himself to the ethical whole. Hence if the state claims life, the individual must surrender it.” Under such a view, the state is the entity with autonomy and volition, and the individual is relegated to the status of a mere organ in the body politic, to obediently — or, better still, reflexively — discharge its duty to that empyrean thing called “the state.” “[A]ll the worth which the human being possesses, all spiritual reality,” continues Hegel, “he possesses only through the State.” It is no surprise that such a notion, completely disregarding individuals and treating them as disposable means to an end, would yield enmity and contempt between neighbors, dissuading them from philanthropy as they painfully endure the unremitting theft of the state. Statism is hyper-individualistic in the disadvantageous sense of isolating people from one another, of situating people in a defensive, inward-looking framework wherein no right is secure or certain.
This might be thought of as an overly paranoid, cynical assertion, but trade — meaning freed markets — is the most powerful tool human beings have for communication, for interaction between people of assorted cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. When two ostensibly very different people trade voluntarily, something edifying takes place on a psychological and emotional level. Differences, however ephemerally, fall away in the face of the realization that all individuals share the same basic needs, that they can treat one another with dignity despite any disagreements as to worldview. Conceptually, it may be useful to think of the full scope of state action as economic isolationism or protectionism, its decisions governing which of our wares or services can leave our own borders as sovereign individuals and which can enter. In making these decisions, the state accordingly determines how many of the incidents of ownership over our property we lose to its control and how many we retain. What might be thought of as the economic sphere cannot be severed from the rest of human life because, by forcefully hindering trade, the state chooses the areas of our life that are open to persuasion and free exchange as against monopoly. If individuals were allowed to make any consensual exchanges they so desired, then the state would necessarily vanish, its own very definition requiring it to forcibly prohibit any competition with it in the market for those services which it monopolizes.
The new communitarian philosophers have fulminated against what they see as a growing “atomism” and, concomitantly, dearth of higher virtues in our society. Libertarian anarchists could find much in their arguments with which to agree. It will never be possible for individuals to more fully turn their attention to the cultivation of their minds and souls until those minds need no longer be occupied with the war of “all against all” that the state has foisted on society, rather than delivering it from. The advantages of community, advantages that libertarians should more often celebrate, could never be attained through the state’s “safety nets,” or through anything else the state might do. As an institution, it cannot act but to wage war, whether against an individual or a number of them. In a free society, voluntary associations insuring for retirement or against loss of one’s job would replace government’s machine of violence and subjugation. In this way, rather than individuals living cordoned off lives with their property neatly sequestered from one another, they would be interconnected in voluntary relationships of varying complexities, a peaceful collectivism based on market principles. The anarchists have always known that we would have to rework our semantic frameworks if we were to understand how a free society, a society without a state, might look. “Liberty without socialism,” noted Bakunin, “is privilege, injustice; socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.” No great theoretical leap is required to appreciate what Bakunin probably meant, that complete freedom to do anything, without some reciprocal respect for rights within the human community, would result in entropic pandemonium. Similarly, he knew that the objectives of social justice, to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, could never be realized if the state — organized violence — were allowed to insert itself into relationships, only capacitating exploitation.