Would we be better off without the state?

Given the crimes of the state, is it time we gave ‘libertarian anarchy’ a go?

Kropotkin, above, ‘pointed out that the national postal union came about without state control’. Photograph:  Edward Gooch/Getty Images

Kropotkin, above, ‘pointed out that the national postal union came about without state control’. Photograph: Edward Gooch/Getty Images

 

From an early age, we are taught to honour the state. We learn anthems, salute flags and give thanks for services rendered by government. But do we ever pause to ask: is the state entirely necessary?

As philosopher Gerard Casey puts is: “Where does it say some kind of political Moses came down from heaven with tablets of stone saying this is how it shall be?” Casey, who had a brief foray into politics in the 1990s, says he once believed it was important to get your hands on the “tiller” of government. Now, he says, he realises the problem is there’s a ship of state in the first place.

Casey is the author of Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State, and he is now writing a history of western philosophy from a libertarian perspective. Describing states as “agents of violence”, he points out that “the almost 200 million deaths that took place in the 20th century were produced by states or by people who wanted to be states. Ordinary violence produces something considerably less.”

He advocates a return to informal, voluntary means of societal co-operation, providing today’s idea: The world would be better off without states.

 

You say states are criminal organisations. How so?

Gerard Casey: “I mean it literally. If you’re walking down the street and somebody holds a knife to your throat and says, ‘Give me your money,’ that’s a criminal action. Now, the state actually takes money from everybody in the country and it does it by the threat of force.”

 

But is it not legitimate to trade off some human freedom for the state benefits in areas such as health care and education?

“No, it’s not. Your question is based on the presupposition that if the state was not providing these services, they would not be provided. That’s a classic argument in favour of state, but it’s nonsense.

“Historically, all of these services began to be provided before the state became interested in them. And if the state were no longer interested or no longer able, we would go back to the situation where we provide these things for ourselves.”

 

Interview

How does libertarianism fit into the left-right divide?

“The heart and soul of libertarianism is very simple. It says human beings are free. And their freedom should not be constrained unless they are using it to aggress against other human beings. That’s it.

“People on the left are in favour of personal freedoms but severe restriction of business. People on the right – conservatives – tend to be in favour of restricting personal freedoms but are economically liberal. Both discriminate as to where you will be free and where you won’t be free. A libertarian says freedom everywhere or freedom nowhere.”

 

From a libertarian view, is equality a social evil?

“Equality in itself is not that significant, but how you arrive at equality is, as is whether your inequality is maintained by discrimination and by factions and monopolies and special privileges.

“When people object to current ‘capitalism’, what they are talking about is what I call crony capitalism; in other words this is capitalism that is in bed with government, that has special privileges extended to it. That’s not the free market as I see it.

“In crony capitalism you can win but you can’t lose. In my kind of capitalism, free-market capitalism, you can lose. You lose your own money, not other people’s money, not the state’s money, not the taxpayers’ money, and, if you make a lot of money, you only make it because people are prepared to pay for your goods and services. In that world, some people will have more than others but in the end it doesn’t really matter because nobody has got it by cheating, stealing or fraud.”

 

Historically, a significant amount of property and wealth has been accumulated by force. So wouldn’t relaxing restrictions now only compound that crime? 

“On the contrary, it will have the effect of dissolving to a certain extent, and over time to a complete extent, any wrongs that have been perpetrated in the past.

“The position I hold is: if you can establish a crime has taken place in terms of the involuntary transfer of property, you have to go back and rectify it. That means, for example, in South America if you can establish that the ancestors of the people now working on the land are the people from whom the land was originally taken by force, then it has to be restored to them. Now how left-wing is that? This is not a conservative doctrine.”

 

Do you not need the state to tackle big problems such as climate change or global terrorism? 

“Even if parts of climate change are being induced by man’s behaviour and we knew what that was, the question is, what can we do about it – or, more importantly, should we do anything about it?

“So yes, we have problems. I’m not saying we can solve every problem here and now. Nor am I saying that a libertarian world would be a Garden of Eden. It’s not a question of perfection. It’s a question of which one is better, and the libertarian world allows people to use their ingenuity, to operate independently, to form groups and associations, or even super-associations for particular purposes.

“Kropotkin, the 19th-century anarchist, pointed out that the national postal union came into existence without state control. People could send a letter from here to South Africa in the middle of the 19th century. No states were necessary.”

 

You say the education system is breeding apologists for the state: are you simply talking about graduates to the professional classes here? 

“It is deeper than that. If [as a state] you can construct a social system in which certain questions become ‘unaskable’, or any answer other than the obvious one becomes inconceivable, then you have done a brilliant job; this is a bit like Nineteen Eighty-Four. I would like to see a separation of state and education, just as we should have a separation of state and church.”

 

 

ASK A SAGE

  • Question: Hegel described the state both as the “mind objectified” and as “the march of God through the world”. So which one is it?
  • Arthur Schopenhauer replies: “Hegel, installed from above by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan, who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.”

 

philosophy@irishtimes.com

Twitter @JoeHumphreys42

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