“Attorney General Eric Holder,” reports the Associated Press, “announced the arrests of more than 100 people [last] Thursday in Brooklyn.” Calling it the “biggest mob bust in recent history,” the Los Angeles Times said that the arrests are the result of investigations into possible “extortion and racketeering,” as well as murder and money laundering.
Federal law enforcement’s latest round-up of apparently prominent organized crime figures has, for anarchists, a special and maddening irony. In a pamphlet criticizing the tyrannical rule of Cromwell in the mid-seventeenth century, William Allen — often thought to be a pseudonym to protect the author(s) — advanced a trenchant presentation of the anarchist view of the state. He asked, “[W]hat can be more absurd in Nature and contrary to all common sense, than to call him Thief and kill him that comes alone or with a few to rob me; and to call him Lord Protector and obey him that robs me with regiments and troops?”
Allen regarded the state as “that universal Pirate under whom and for whom these lesser beasts prey,” looking on it as no more than a protection racket swathed in legitimacy (but for no good reason). Indeed, if we follow Murray Rothbard’s famous tract and anatomize the state, we find, judging it by its actions, that there is little to distinguish it from organized crime. The most easily detectable differences — the scale of the state’s crimes and its masquerade of legitimacy — would actually seem to undercut the notion of statism’s moral superiority to general crime.
The irony, then, is that the state engages in all of the bad deeds associated with the Mobsters it prosecutes (and in far greater proportions), but we nonetheless see it as “Lord Protector.” As noted, the state’s monopoly on defense ministrations is itself racketeering and extortion, an aggressive crime recast as a benign, protective service to the community.
The state punishes murder, but what are the state’s wars if not murder executed in dimensions that would be unattainable to even the most dominant Mafia group? Likewise, its money-printing central bank, the Federal Reserve System, is simply a nonpareil counterfeiter, forcing us into the exclusive use of worthless paper only to dilute it for the benefit of powerful interests. Both its taxation and its exaction of usurious fees for access to property stolen on behalf of giant, multinational corporations are the pinnacle of organized theft and money laundering.
Through its complex of regulations, subsidies and other crimes against free and voluntary exchange, the state oversees the ultimate crime racket; it makes the Mob look like a bunch of softies, like kindergarten crooks rehearsing for the big time (and this is not at all to sympathize with organized crime).
The rudiment of anarchism’s canon “no masters,” its starting point, is an unambiguous attention to basic and widely-accepted moral values, not an involved, scholarly rationale but an affirmation of principles that almost all of us adhere to anyway. In this way, anarchism, explains George H. Smith, seeks simply to “persuade people to apply the same moral standards to the State as they apply to anyone else,” ditching the special exception we’ve been taught to allow it.
Even orthodox comparative political science, using an analytic framework that juxtaposes states themselves, embraces the implicit assumption that some practices are morally superior to others. Although we all acknowledge that states can be better or worse depending on their observance of certain norms of behavior, that analysis typically stops short of challenging the very existence of states. But assuming that we’re competent to differentiate between and judge states, why not hold states up against alternative, consensual social institutions that could take their place?
Anarchism favors holding itself out as a philosophy “against all authority” — and it’s true — but it is arbitrary, coercive authority that it resists. General morality, things like the prohibition against stealing from or using violence against others, involves a different kind of authority, one that the state flouts by its very nature. It is this latter kind of authority — the higher kind that flows through conscience and demands self-government — that anarchists appeal to and espouse.