This article was published in the Summer 1997 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Anarchy, Order, and Functions Performed by Government
by Richard O. Hammer

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How Do Our Needs Get Filled?
One Possible Use for Government
An Excercise for Minarchists
We Seek Order.  Life Must Seek Order

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The word "anarchy" often conjures up negative images. But as I have studied the organization of human affairs, I have come to think of anarchy in a positive sense. Anarchy, meaning no rule, implies no government meddling—which implies that voluntary order, a market order, may grow.

Consider the adjoining table which lists human needs. I will use it to illustrate my argument about anarchy, and also to make a few other points which might interest libertarians. I find it useful to list human needs in this way because I think it helps to expose gaps in peoples' thinking about government.


and thus
possible functions of state
deliver mail
provide information on nutrition of foods
teach proper way to express feelings
nullify improper contracts
regulate the bearing of children
care for the needy
regulate land usage
assure safety of buildings
regulate pollution
regulate usage of scarce resources
register deeds
decide upon prices
provide education
provide medical care
provide food
get to bed early enough to get enough sleep
provide clothing
tax, or otherwise get money to pay for necessities
build streets
assure competence of professionals
decide what acts constitute crimes
judge whether accused are guilty
catch dangerous criminals
control immigration
monitor public health for epidemics
decide who marries whom
defend the nation's borders
protect people from unwanted exposure to pornography
decide what drugs are safe
halt use of unsafe drugs
register marriages
teach family values
stamp out sin
punish criminals


The table lists only a subset of human needs, enough I hope to illustrate my points. But please think of your other needs as well. In this discussion I mean to include each and every human need.

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How Do Our Needs Get Filled?

Now, join me in making the following twelve observations.

1. Every human need correlates with a possible function of state. Government might try to fill the need directly with its own employees. Or it might try to regulate private organizations as they try to fill the need.

2. Different governments take responsibility for different subsets of needs from the list. So governments differ, and probably no two governments are exactly the same.

3. Each government is just a collection of agencies, with each agency intended to satisfy some need. So we do not need to struggle with one big decision, of whether to accept or reject government as a whole. Rather we can divide this decision into many little decisions, with one decision for each need.

4. Different people believe government should fill different needs from this list. And this difference, as I see it, drives most debate about public policy.

5. In spite of the evil motives which can cause people to advocate expansion of government, I believe that many well-intentioned advocates for more government are simply trying to fill needs and have focused upon government rather than upon voluntary institutions.

6. When government grows (as seems to be its habit) it does so by taking responsibility for fulfillment of new needs from the list.

7. We can predict, in some cases, that statists will think libertarians must be either crazy or evil. When a libertarian resists the insistence of a statist that government must act to satisfy a need, the statist, who does not share the libertarian's trust in voluntary means to fill the need, tries to guess the motives of the libertarian. The statist may conclude that the libertarian must derive some profit or pleasure from prolongation of this need.

8. Returning to my effort to make "anarchy" an easier pill to swallow, we can subdivide anarchy into functions just the way we can subdivide government into functions. It is the other side of the same coin. When a person thinks some need on the list can be filled by civil society, without government intervention, then I would say that person prefers a system of anarchy for filling that need. So anarchy does not mean disorder. It means that the order which does exist has not been forced by government. Every person who finds at least one need which he or she thinks should not fall under government control is an anarchist—at least as far as that need is concerned. (Welcome to the fold, you crazy, radical, dangerous person.)

9. Notice that, for each need, each person has expectations about the best way to fill that need. And most of us, I assert, exhibit this pattern in our beliefs: when we have grown in a culture in which government fills a particular need, then we will expect government is the best way to fill that need; we will greet with shock or surprise the suggestion that fulfillment of the need might be privatized.

10. Now most of my readers whom I assume to be libertarian might agree with me and think that I am writing about other people, about non-libertarians. Well, yes. But I am also writing about libertarians, because most libertarians, I believe, are minarchists. Most libertarians will select a few needs from the list, and believe that there must be some kind of minimal, night-watchman state.

11. If you have not heard it before, I invite you to consider this argument which suggests that it might be possible to get rid of government entirely. For each need it is possible to find a society which exists now, or which has existed in the past, in which that need was filled by civil society. That is, for every need we can show with experience that humanity can succeed without government inserting itself into the process of filling the need. Since we can get rid of each part of government, this suggests we might be able to get rid of the whole.

12. But notice this. Two people who are diametrically opposed, say one from the right and the other from the left, who might select non-overlapping sets of functions for their ideal governments, might nevertheless agree on one point—that government is necessary—even though each would veto all the other's programs.

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One Possible Use for Government

From the drift of my presentation you might have guessed that I personally do not have much use for government. But I think that we in the free nation movement should weigh this last point, that most people think that government should exist even though they disagree on what it should do.

To get our free nation we need to gather a critical mass of people moving with us toward a shared goal. And to get that critical mass it looks to me like we probably will need to erect something on which we hang the sign "Government." This will ease the fears of many people, even if the government does almost nothing.

Perhaps people need to identify with something larger than themselves. Perhaps identity with a nation state satisfies some human need which must be satisfied, one way or another. I think this question is important enough that perhaps we should make it the topic of a future Forum.


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An Exercise for Minarchists

During the last several years I have enjoyed the luxury to study and think, following the curriculum laid out for FNF. At one point, early on, I had heard arguments that local fire departments could be privatized. And I accepted those arguments. But I still believed, or had never questioned, that local police departments should be run by government. Then, in the course of our study, we announced that we would hold a Forum on "Systems of Law." I needed to prepare to do my part in the Forum, so I needed to educate myself.

I had noticed a title, The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, in book catalogs. Since I had never exposed myself to the arguments which this title suggested, I thought I should check it out. This book changed my outlook. If you believe that there needs to be, in theory, some kind of minimal state to assure domestic law and order, I bet you have not read this book.1.

If you believe that, in theory, government must fill certain human needs, I invite you to try this exercise. Think of one need that you think government must fill. Now think of another need which you think can be filled by voluntary institutions but which is similar in some ways to the first need. Now probe into that difference. Ask yourself why government must do one but not the other. I bet you will find that you have not thought about it much, and really cannot deliver a convincing argument for why government must do one but not the other.

For example, consider these two similar needs: first, the need to police the short streets which make up part of the property of a large shopping mall; second, the need to police municipal streets in a neighborhood which adjoins the mall. Suppose, as is usual, private police protect the private property but municipal police protect the municipal streets. And suppose you think that is right. Why? What is the difference that requires that one need, but not the other, be filled by government?

Another example currently in the news in America concerns the provision of education. If government should provide education through the level of high school, should it not also provide education through the level of junior college?

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We Seek Order. Life Must Seek Order.

What is "order"? I think of it as a synonym for "predictability." We need order so that we can fill our needs. Our ability to plan grows from our ability to detect order in our environment.

Hayek described order this way:

"By 'order' we shall throughout describe a state of affairs in which a multiplicity of elements of various kinds are so related to each other that we may learn from our acquaintance with some spatial or temporal part of the whole to form correct expectations concerning the rest, or at least expectations which have a good chance of proving correct."2. To prove the necessity of order, consider its absence. Suppose you find yourself in a universe which contains no order. In that universe you will not benefit from planning, or from thinking, because a plan can succeed only if you have detected some order and realized a way to exploit that order to your benefit. Without order we may as well act randomly; without order purposeful actions would succeed no more frequently than random actions.

This is physical reality. To survive we need order. To flourish we need more order.

So naturally we always seek to discover existing order around us, that is, to "understand" events. And we try to act to create new order where before we could perceive none, since this will give us more capacity to benefit from actions which we plan.

I sometimes see government in this light, as a natural quest for order. For what appears to cost only a vote plus a share of taxes, I can receive promises that government will force an easy-to-understand order upon the means of fulfillment of my needs. The alternative means available to me to fill these needs appear more complex and difficult.

Of course we libertarians understand that government, because it forces rather than entices, causes a net loss in the summation of the order desired by all people involved.

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As humans we have needs. And we must have order to fill our needs. But we libertarians often find ourselves on the defensive when facing statists, because in arguing against government we appear to be arguing against a source of order. We know better. But libertarians who hope to save the world from statism face a monumental task of persuasion.

We libertarians in FNF have taken on only a much smaller task. We strive to build belief that a new free nation can succeed. And rather than try to convince everybody, we target only an audience that is already libertarian. This audience should be easier to convince. On the day when enough of us believe it, when our doubts about the viability of a new free nation have been erased, on that day we will make it. Our own doubt is the only thing holding us back. Join us.

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1. Bruce Benson, The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without the State, Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy.

2. Friedrich A. Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty, Volume 1, Rules and Order, p. 36, The University of Chicago Press, 1973. Italics in the original.

Richard O. Hammer holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from SUNY at Buffalo and an M.S. in Industrial Administration from Carnegie-Mellon. This year he decided not to renew two government licenses, as building contractor and plumbing contractor. So when fate drives him back to paying work he will find another trade.

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