Don’t start fights. Don’t threaten people. Don’t damage other peoples’ property. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat people. There’s nothing mysterious about any of these, is there? Nothing complicated, nothing opaque. I’d bet, reader, that you agree with all of them. I’d bet you condemn anyone that goes against them. So, how come you’re not an anarchist?
Maybe that sounds like an odd question. Surely it’s us anarchists that should have to explain our deviation? But the question really shouldn’t sound odd given that the whole world subscribes to the beliefs listed above. “Libertarianism”, “Market anarchism,” these are fancy sounding terms. They reek of high theory. And there’s plenty of that in there if you’re looking for it, it’s true. But fundamentally libertarianism contains nothing other than the basic principles almost everybody lives by. All that stuff about it being wrong to steal and wrong to use violence to get your way that everybody believes – market anarchists believe it, too. We really, really believe it. We believe it’s wrong in every case. And, for us, that doesn’t change just because the government is the one doing it.
In the most generous, non-judgemental, non-prejudicial way of putting it, a government is a group of people who provide certain services within a certain area. What (and how many) these services in fact are differs from government to government; what (and how many) they “should” be differs from one supporter of government to the next. Perhaps government provides schools; perhaps it provides shoes. Perhaps it “should” provide both; perhaps neither, but instead content itself with the provision of police and courts, say. It matters not. Government provides services, which it makes available to people living within its reach.
There’s a Chinese takeaway near me that delivers within a three mile radius. If you want a meal you can ring them up, and if you live within that radius, a driver will drop it off for you. You’ll have to pay for your food when he does, of course, but no one would argue with this. But say the owner comes round my house out of the blue, and demands money from me. When I ask him why he thinks I owe him money, he tells me that it’s because I live within three miles of his business. He provides a service available to people living in this area, therefore I must pay up. When I protest that I’ve not ordered any food, that I don’t want any food and that I’m not interested in anything he has to offer, he tells me it doesn’t make any difference. I live in the area where he offers his services, so I must pay for them whether I asked for them or not, whether I use them or not. What is more, he tells me that, should I refuse to pay, then men wearing the official uniform of his Chinese takeaway business will descend upon my home and forcibly extract ‘payment’ from me. But I shouldn’t make a fuss, he says, because I could easily move to somewhere a bit further away if I didn’t want to give him any money. Now, were this to actually happen everyone would agree that this man – assuming he had not simply lost his mind – was a criminal. It would be perfectly obvious that this was robbery.
Again, down the road from me there’s a mini supermarket. Just like any other shop, you can buy stuff from there if you want. But if you’re not interested, you don’t have to give them any money – no one forces you to shop there. But what if, walking past one day, I were to be grabbed by the manager. He demands to know where I live. I tell him. That’s within walking distance, he says. He offers a service to people within walking distance of his shop, therefore I must pay him a certain sum of money. I protest that I haven’t asked for him to provide me with any service, that I’m not interested in any service that he offers. Doesn’t matter, he says. A number of people who live near me currently benefit from his services, and by not paying him I’m being “anti-social,” shirking my “fair share”. And, if I refuse to hand over any money, some men dressed in the official uniform of his shop will pay me a visit to take it from me. Were this to actually happen it would be completely obvious that this man was a criminal. No one would doubt for a moment that he was robbing me.
Examples could be multiplied without end, but the results would not, and could not change. Any private individual who behaved in such a fashion would be regarded by all as a villain. Private individuals who force their services on unwilling recipients then demand payment backed up by threats are recognised as robbers. And if a service is of the nature that it cannot be refused, this doesn’t justify the demand. If anything it makes it more outrageous. For example, were a brass band to perform unannounced and uninvited in a park, then go around demanding money on the grounds that “you all heard the music we played, you all received a service from us”, who would regard this as anything other than robbery? Or again, say you had a neighbour with a well-kept garden full of beautiful, exquisitely fragranced flowers. If he were to attempt to force you to give him money because you ‘benefit’ from smelling the flowers in his garden, you’d see him for the disgraceful crook he is.
No one would accept behaviour such by private persons. No one would defend such behaviour by private persons. Why on earth should anyone tolerate them from governments? For what is a government but a group of men? If you really believe robbery is wrong; if you really believe initiating violence is wrong; if you really believe in private property; if you really believe in free markets, then there’s only one thing you can do. You must be consistent. You must apply the same standard to government that you apply to individuals. In short, you must become an anarchist.