This article was published in the Autumn 1996 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Who Are the Realists?
by Roy Halliday

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When people first hear an anarchist calling for abolition of the state, they think of all the valuable services that the state provides, and they come to the state's defense, because they want those services to be continued. They may readily agree with the anarchist when he says taxes are too high, wars are evil, there are too many restrictive laws, and the government has taken away too much of our freedom. But they assume that abolition would entail foregoing all the valuable government services, and that is too high a price to pay for the additional freedom. They do not ask, "Who will systematically steal our wages? Who will start wars and conscript our young men to fight in them? Who will deprive us of our freedom after the state is abolished?," because they would like to do without these government services as much as the anarchist would. Instead, they criticize the anarchist for overlooking the positive contributions of the state. They think that the anarchist has not thought through the consequences of his position.

After a moment's consideration, the average person believes he has discovered insurmountable objections that the anarchist has not thought of. The average person then tries to show the holes in the anarchist position by asking a series of questions about practical matters. The dialogue goes like this:

"If we abolish the state, who would collect the garbage, deliver the mail, and educate our children?"

"Garbagemen, mailmen, and teachers of course."

"Yes, but who would pay for it?"

"People who want their garbage collected, mail delivered, or children educated."

"Yes, but who would pay for the people who want these services and don't have the money?"

"Friends, neighbors, relatives, charitable organizations, or nobody."

"Can't you see that the government has to provide these services?"


Sooner or later the average person comes to the conclusion that the anarchist is hopelessly blind to the obvious need for the state and goes away shaking his head. What the average person doesn't realize is that the services he is concerned about have been provided privately in the past and could be provided privately again if the state didn't prevent it.

The state jealously guards its coercive monopoly of the services it provides. Many attempts have been made to replace or circumvent the government by free-market alternatives only to be driven underground. In Uncle Sam the Monopoly Man, William Wooldridge provides historical examples of commercially successful private mail delivery companies in the 1840s that were put out of business only by special acts of Congress.1

Wooldridge also provides examples of successful private businesses engaged in minting coins, building and owning roads, providing education to poor children in urban ghettos, and even arbitrating disputes and dispensing justice in private courts. All of these businesses were able to compete successfully with the government despite the legislative roadblocks put in their way deliberately to discourage them.

We do not have to resort to theoretical arguments to prove that the state is unnecessary. There are historical examples of societies that functioned quite well without a state. The people of Ireland had a society for 1000 years without a state.2

Two points that people often bring up are that man is not perfect, and that there will always be crime. They assume that anarchists overlook these basic facts. This is particularly annoying to individual-rights-based anarchists, because our anarchism is fundamentally an anticrime philosophy. The primary reason we oppose the state is that the state is a criminal organization. It is precisely because we are aware of man's moral weakness that we want to make the powerful machinery of the state unavailable to evil men.

Individual-rights-based anarchism, rather than being opposed to all law, maintains that there are objective, eternal, and universally valid principles of law. Anarchists use the natural law to judge the legitimacy of the various man-made laws. It is the statist, not the anarchist, who denies natural law and imposes an artificial, temporal, inconsistent, and often arbitrary set of "laws" on society. Any system of so-called "law" that opposes voluntary associations is opposed to the real laws of society.3

Anarchism can be thought of as a philosophy of law and order. Like most other legal philosophies, anarchism is opposed to private crimes such as murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, and robbery. However, anarchists differ from other people by continuing to oppose these activities even when they are engaged in by authorized agents of the state. Anarchists judge all actions by the same principles, whether the perpetrator is acting on behalf of the state or as a private citizen. It doesn't matter whether he wears a badge, or dog tags, or lives in the White House, a criminal is a criminal.

The amount of money stolen by private individuals each year is tiny compared to the amount confiscated by the state. The number of private murders committed by civilians does not approach the number of innocent people murdered by agents of the state. According to R. J. Rummel's book Death by Government, in the 20th century, states have murdered 169,198,000 of their subjects. If we add the military combatants who died in wars, the total is 203,000,000 people.4

Anarchists are accused of being utopian or unrealistic because they do not believe in the theories, fictions, and myths used to justify the state, all of which are attempts to obscure or deny the historical evidence that the state has its origin in conquest and confiscation and that it maintains its existence by violence. The people who deny the facts, the statists, are the unrealistic ones. D


1 William Wooldridge, Uncle Sam: The Monopoly Man, p. 24:

"To recapitulate the extraordinary: in five years private competition captured between a third an a half of the American letter-carrying business, drove postage down to one-eighth of its former maximum, and brought the United States Post Office within sight of extinction."

2 Joseph R. Peden, "Stateless Societies: Ancient Ireland," in Libertarian Forum, April 1971.

3 Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, p. 103:

"But the city would seem to be a conventional or fictitious unity. For what is natural comes into being and exists without violence. All violence applied to a being makes that being do something which goes against its grain, i.e., against its nature. But the city stands or falls by violence, compulsion, or coercion. There is, then, no essential difference between political rule and rule of a master over his slaves. But the unnatural character of slavery seems to be obvious: it goes against man's grain to be made a slave or to be treated as a slave."

4 These numbers are from a review by Richard Ebeling of R. J. Rummel's book Death by Government, which appeared in the October 1994 edition of Freedom Daily.

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