Rocco: Without the State, who will protect us from zombies?

Yeah, that’s right, I’m doing a post about zombies. Never let it be said that we here at Bogpaper shy away from tackling the really big issues confronting the world today. If any of you haven’t already, click the ‘About’ section of this blog, and right there under “We favour smaller government”, and “We favour lower taxes”, and “We favour a fairer society” (you’ll realise immediately I didn’t write these, I hope), there’s this: “We favour informing our readers about what would happen in the admittedly somewhat unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse”. [Correct at time of writing. R]

Now, I was actually going to do a genuinely serious piece on the libertarian case for open borders this week. I was going to call it “Free Movement 2: Move Harder” or something awesome like that. Then probably follow that up with “Free Movement 3: Move Freely with a Vengeance”. But I’ve been under the weather lately, and, as everyone knows, when a man is ill his mind is led, as if by some invisible hand, to thoughts of zombies. So I’ll put that on hold for now. Also copyright reasons.

There’s a profoundly statist prejudice underlying almost all zombie movies. An irrational prejudice that flies in the face of historical evidence and our current everyday experience. Don’t take this literally. I’m not saying we have historical evidence of zombie apocalypses. Neither am I saying that we are currently experiencing one. [Correct at time of writing. R]. Just that what we know about human action in the past and the present speaks against the pessimistic view of humanity’s chances of surviving the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The pessimistic view so eagerly seized upon and promoted by the liberal media, I might add. (That “liberal media” line is tongue in cheek, obviously. But, should you be reading Bogpaper simply because you hate James Delingpole, do feel free to tweet “ZOMG! Redneck libertarians blame ‘liberal media’ for zombie pessimism!!!” Free publicity is always appreciated.)

In popular culture, a zombie apocalypse is shorthand for life in the absence of government. And it’s not hard to see why, from a practical point of view at least, the scenario that in the event of a zombie outbreak the world would quickly descend into chaos has become the norm. Fiction writers want to present tales of heroic struggles in the face of overwhelming odds; the consumers of fiction want to be told tales of such struggles. If ‘civilisation’ has collapsed then there are countless ways for these struggles to play out. So it’s a useful device, as it were.

What of the non-un-dead casts of these tales? In zombie fiction things typically culminate for them in one of two ways. In the first, the “good guys” barely scrape by, all alone out there in the wastelands until, at long last, they find the remaining representatives of government, who, quite naturally, save the day. Or, in the second, radically different version, the “good guys” barely scrape by, all alone out there in the wastelands until, at long last, the remaining representatives of government find them: the government rides in on a heavily armed white stallion and, quite naturally, saves the day. That is, in either case it ends with the “good guys” being rescued by the “better guys”. The “best guys”. You know, the “government guys”.

Prior to being rescued by their benevolent overlords, good guys are scavengers, bad guys are bandits. The scavengers live by consuming things left behind by civilization; the bandits live by robbing the scavengers. Only one of these methods is, properly speaking, destructive – but neither is creative, neither is productive. Which is incredibly odd when you think about it. Because, if there’s one thing that humans do, it’s create things. Man is the productive animal. Are we to believe that in the wake of a zombie apocalypse humans would simply stop cooperating with one another to create things? Do we need government in order to produce new goods? Hardly. Why do men produce anything at all? Because doing so benefits the State? No! It’s because it benefits them, either immediately in the case of consumption goods, or mediately in the case of goods of a higher order (the “means of production”) or goods made specifically for exchange. Saving, which makes increases in future production possible, is not undertaken because the State commands it, nor is it done on a whim. Men save because their thoughts are not confined to the range of the moment: men plan for the future. As for the benefits of specialisation and trade, men had figured this out for themselves millennia before Ricardo was even born. In a word, government doesn’t make production possible, production makes government possible.

Possible, but not necessary. It’s alleged that without government men will not cooperate with each other. The State must force them to cooperate. But this doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. In the first place, as mentioned above, production (via taxation) makes government possible. That is, men must already have seen the benefits of cooperation for themselves, must already have actually been cooperating for sometime before the State could even exist. For another thing, how – if men will not cooperate without a State – could they set about forming a State in the first place?

Rather wonderfully, the best argument against Hobbesian criticisms of voluntary society is Leviathan itself. In 1979, Alfred G. Cúzan wrote a paper called “Do we ever really get out of anarchy?” Very briefly his argument is this: If men must have a third-party rule over them lest their society fall apart, then how is government itself possible? The government is self-governing, there is no super-government standing above it. Governments are self-regulating bodies, they make and apply their own laws to their members without need of threats from any outside agency. The government is itself in a state of anarchy. And yet, as we know, life for members of the government is not “nasty, brutish and short.” Far from it.

So there we have it. A zombie apocalypse needn’t be the end of the world. And while we can’t say that zombies bringing about a stateless society is impossible, it is incredibly unlikely. Ironically it’s that very unlikeliness that is the worst part.

  • Bob H

    I am used to Bill Bonner at the Daily Reckoning describing state beneficiaries as zombies feeding off the productive sector. This was difficult to read due to the metaphors swirling in my head!

    • Rocco

      Ah well, you got through it, that’s the main thing. And – even better – you left a comment. Thanks very much, Bob.