According to popular lore, men are not angels and therefore need a government to constrain them. As Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 51:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
Lots of people subscribe to some variant of this belief. Many people see at least some evil in government and therefore seek to reform it. Satisfied with the evil they do see, they believe that the rest of it is just fine; if only they could excise the evil…
I can’t fault them for trying. At the end of this tract, however, what I want you to understand is this: reform is not possible, and “goodness” is simply not in the nature of this beast.
Anyone who doesn’t go through a “reluctant” phase is probably not a serious libertarian, and certainly not a serious anarchist: arriving at the conclusion that most of the ideologies and theories with which one has been indoctrinated from childhood, on, are misguided (at best) or manifestly and malevolently false (at worst) is quite understandably a tough pill to swallow. It takes a lot of time, effort, reason and examination, to finally make the plunge.
This “reluctant” phase might be characterized by the pipe-dream of a small, limited, and benevolent government; the idea that if only the powers of government were restored to some ideally limited scope (e.g., the Constitution of the United States), that all would be dandy. Of course, I’m speaking from experience and your mileage may vary, but many others seem to have followed a similarly reluctant path:
the last thing I expected to become was an anarchist. For many years I didn’t even know that serious philosophical anarchists existed. I’d never heard of Lysander Spooner or Murray Rothbard. How could society survive at all without a state?
…“But what would you replace the state with?”
One wonders why questions like the one posed above are so often ignored, or as the writer inquires, even asked in the first place! especially by those who claim a disposition towards liberty and human freedom. As the writer comments,
The question reveals an inability to imagine human society without the state. Yet it would seem that an institution that can take 200,000,000 lives within a century hardly needs to be “replaced.”
The only plausible argument for failing or refusing to address this particular grievance, is if one believes the course of human events could have been—nay—would’ve been worse without the State. But the argument that a few bad people would be even worse than they are now, were we to eliminate their financing, their control, their veil of legitimacy, and lift the protection afforded by myths and militaries, is as inconceivable as going in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line.
If one believes that a sufficient proportion of humanity is so depraved as to carry out injustices of a greater magnitude than all the combined barbarism perpetrated by their governments throughout history—paying particular attention to the last 100 years or so—one would be compelled by logic to conclude that no government, indeed no peaceful arrangement whatsoever could be instituted among such a population. The evil ones would never accept it, (or worse, and possibly more likely) they would embrace the institution of government as a source of power and legitimacy.
The belief that regular people—like you and I—would’ve have (could have?) done these things, is certifiably insane.