Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) kicked off his presidential exploratory committee on Tuesday (April 26). Freedom-loving Americans may be tempted to get behind Paul’s presidential bid. At the very least, they might be curious about the relationship between libertarian ideas in general and the political process. Paul’s campaign raises the question of how people who genuinely care about equal rights and nonaggression should regard the pursuit of the very power they rightly look upon with skepticism.
We have reason to wonder whether there’s anything in the nature of the state itself that prevents it from harmonizing with liberty, provided someone like Paul occupies the White House. Since it’s often said that Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns help spark interest in libertarian ideas, an examination of “straight up” libertarianism’s — in other words, market anarchism’s — fundamental theses is in order.
A noteworthy feature of arguments for coercive authority is how often they take for granted that which they purport to prove. And they have little trouble getting away with it. In contrast, when arguing that hierarchy and force are unnecessary for — and are actually antithetical to — the achievement of positive results for society (for instance, the prevention of crime and the just distribution of wealth, etc.), anarchists find themselves ridiculed as entertaining an overly-optimistic, non-realistic view of human nature.
The state, its proselytizers argue, is necessary as an external, neutral means of disincentivizing what we might call “bad behavior,” for ensuring that human nature’s dark side (greed, wrath, etc.) isn’t left unchecked. And if the state really could be thought of as something apart from the actual human beings that comprise it, then that argument would be persuasive enough. By “the state,” we’re meant to imagine something that can be abstracted away from the fact that it is, in fact, a human institution, subject to all of the same characteristic flaws that it is purportedly established to counteract. Do we imagine that Ron Paul could change any of this?
Anarchists are assured that rival organizations for defense, without monopoly power or captive markets, would surely shoot it out in the streets, while the single, overarching authority that we have at present will act only for the common good. So although statists are allowed to impute godlike qualities to their apparently preternatural institution, it is anarchists who are said to have a Panglossian vision of human nature and society.
We are supposed to imagine that the best results are achieved from an organization that has absolutely no incentive to serve the citizenry, that itself is subject to no outside check on its power, but why? If human nature really is as gloomy as Hobbes was convinced that it was, with the brutish war of all against all sitting just below the surface of all human affairs, then indeed the state seems to be the very worst and most ill-conceived of our possible options for the good society.
For all other goods and services, we tend to harbor an instinctive skepticism toward lone providers, setting a high standard of proof for claims that a monopoly is either necessary or inevitable due to the nature of the case. For the state, however, we reverse those presumptions, accepting monopoly as necessary from the outset and ruling out any argument that calls it into question.
To divest societies of the state is not to welcome chaos, but to, in the words of Lysander Spooner, “get rid of the usurpers, robbers, and murderers, called governments, that now plunder, enslave, and destroy them.” Market anarchists seek to expose the myth that unopposed aggression is capable of doing anything at all that voluntary cooperation and exchange cannot. We seek to demonstrate, by both the force of logic and empirical evidence, that the state’s first purpose, rather than creating order, is to allow a few to live off of the labor of all others — that every secondary purpose that seems to contradict the first is only an ameliorative measure.
Even some professed anarchists have, in the past, supported Ron Paul’s candidacies for political office, arguing in essence that dismantling the state from within is the best chance we have. There is little reason, though, to think that those in positions of power are capable of pulling violent hierarchies to pieces from inside of those hierarchies. The best chance we really have is to form peaceful institutions to rival those of the state, to fill up social life with the moral and practical power of the voluntary order.
A Ron Paul presidency shouldn’t be the fantasy of those who want a true libertarian revolution. The state, its every piece and office, must be disapproved and resisted at every step. Only then will its illegitimacy become apparent and its voluntary counterparts grow stronger.