Bryce Muir in Blue   Allen in Red

From Letter to Bryce Muir:

I defined government as "those people who hold the generally accepted (99.99%) monopoly on the rightful use of violence.”

Bryce Muir writes:

I guess my next question is: how is "rightful use of violence" defined? Self defense? To "protect" or disseminate one's ideology, religion, etc? To sustain economic advantage?

I happen to agree with the right to bear arms in defense against tyranny, but find the pattern of gun use in this country obscene, from street violence to slob hunting. By glorifying violence as the ultimate form of discourse don't we run the risk of silencing other forms of speech?

And what constitutes "violence?" Physical harm? Against persons? What about the destruction of institutions, or the environment? In the latter case, surely the government has no monopoly on that sort of violence. The power of the state was used to destroy the left in this country in the 1950s, without a shot being fired. The violence done to the free exchange of ideas, and to the lives of those painted red, was just as harmful to democratic ideals as the shooting at Ruby Ridge.

So my next question is: are you a "democratic" anarchist? Does ANARCHISM as you see it have a position on those mythic grails of the American Story: Freedom and Equality?

To Bryce Muir:

I’m inserting the first few pages of Laws of the Jungle since that is my best explanation of government. If you skip the preface, it only amounts to 2 or 3 pages of reading. I’ll send you a copy of the book if you want one.

You ask how “rightful use of violence” is defined and so ask the only question that I regard as important in political science. Since government holds the monopoly on the rightful use of violence, government defines what it rightful and what is not. It is now right (and even commendable) to throw a person in prison for smoking marijuana or sawing off the barrel of a shotgun or persisting to claim that some vitamin is useful in treating cataracts. It is now acceptable for a doctor (but not you or me) to abort a fetus but unacceptable (in many states) for a doctor to prescribe lethal doses of a drug to assist in a suicide.

The libertarian definition of violence is the simple straight forward definition of the word. In law, we have assault and battery. Battery involves contacting a person’s body with intent to harm or coerce him. Assault is the threat to commit battery coupled with the ability to do so. Libertarians reject the idea that metaphorical force, such as “he did great violence to the language,” should be viewed as actual violence. In general, libertarians do not regard self-defense as violence. However, such an exception leads to many detailed, acrimonious, and boring arguments. This exception allows libertarians to conceive of a government without the use of violence. They believe that government’s only legitimate function is the protection of people and their property.

I part company with them on this point. From my point of view, the demand for a government that protects life, liberty, and property is no more a sly way to obtain free police protection.

You ask about violence to the environment. This is not violence but a metaphor. Such a phrase is used to justify actual assault and battery. For instance, the state may declare that it is illegal to drain a swamp. First, government will assault you with the threat of arrest; and if you persist, it will commit battery upon you by throwing you in jail. Economic violence is another such metaphor. The IRS will assault you with threats and its agents will batter you if you do not comply.

Some people want to use public property as their own personal garbage dump; some want to own the view without paying for it. It is obvious that many people feel very strongly about protecting the environment; it is equally obvious that many feel that their rights in their own property are being trodden on. We have a question that goes beyond one’s own fence: What rights do you have in your own property?

The very complexity of the question makes it a perfect illustration of the difference between radical libertarians and everyone else. Everyone who gives the matter some thought has an answer to the question. It becomes self-evident to him what should be done. My kind of anarchist has no clear answer. He says, “I don’t know. The interested parties are just going to have to work it out themselves. If the matter degenerates into violence, so be it. Order will eventually come.” Anarchists have the same attitude toward the economy. “Compromise, separate, fight, do what you want. Sooner or later an equilibrium will be reached.” The interested parties may achieve this equilibrium without the use of violence. The government, though, uses violence as the first and only answer to the dispute.

In contrast to this human ecology, we have the state. The state offers you a leader. He will identify the villains and heroes for you. He will fight for the self evident or the cause of right. Most of all, he will take your money, 40% to 50% of the Gross National Product. What he will not do is solve the problems to the satisfaction of most people. He will take your money and then invite you to dress up as a gladiator and enter the arena to fight some other slob for your share of your own money to spend on your own goals. If you decline the struggle, he calls you a bad citizen.

You say that the power of the state was used to destroy the left in the 1950’s without a shot’s being fired. Those in power will always demonize and marginallize anyone with ideas that are not in the narrow band that they find acceptable. When you say that no shot was fired, you allow the government to define your words. I’m not sure what you actually object to in the 1950’s, but from my point of view, government owes its existence to the extortion practiced against taxpayers. Without that threat of jail, the politicians have no ability to do any more than you or I. If you were to detail this war against the left, I would agree with you in condemning anything that used the threat of violence or was supported by extorted money.

Personally, I’m extremely antileft; but I say, let the leftists form their own society and see how it does. If they feel the need to liberate a few major industries to finance themselves, then let those industries pay for their own protection. If those industries want my help, they should ask for it and not talk about “property rights.”

You might find it interesting that two biggest problems I see in America today are considered leftist bogeymen: the military and the war on drugs. We could defend America with 10% to 20% of our present military. Think of the money that would freed up to buy products that people were actually willing to pay for. If the state decriminalized all drugs, about 50% of crime would disappear overnight. Ninety five percent of drug related crime is actually drug law caused crime. Of course, there might be a 10% increase in drug use. But that’s not my business.

What would people do without government? What would slaves do without slavery?

Everything. We would be appalled by some of it.

From Bryce Muir:


Feel free to quote me at will.

I have read through your reply and your site, but am still confused.

My dictionary defines "violence" as "Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing." It defines "violate" variously, including: "To break (a law...", "To injure the person or property of...", "to do harm to...", etc. By these definitions I find that violence includes physically damaging the environment, harming individuals (by force), and maybe even the harming of (legal) institutions. But these are all semantic quibbles.

I would contend that the government doesn't hold the monopoly on violence, "rightful" or otherwise. If I can beat you over the head because you are a striker and I'm a winked-at strike breaker, my lack of "rightfulness" is meaningless, as is your plea for justice. In such a case the contending parties (you and I) can be seen as either partisan individuals, or as representatives of factions, union and corporation. The government turns a blind eye (or did in the days of Jim Hill). This is precisely the hazard in an anarchic polity. The bigger goons win. You say that's what government is: the bigger goons. I won't argue with you. But the alternative: that we can all fight it out as lesser goons, and find some better world.. I don't see it.

If I can legally destroy ecological habitat, that's a violent act. Chucking out the government won't make such violence disappear. If we gang up to stop it, how does that differ from government intervention?

What's the objective ideal of an anarchic system? Simply to do away with government? It can't be to do away with violence, as you suggest that violence may well result from anarchy.. but let the best man (or team) win. So far all I can see as anarchic objectives are to do away with taxes (a nice "conservative" credo), and to remove any restraining force on individual activity. Let 'em duke it out, you propose. Well, if I can't thump you, I'll gang up with others of my persuasion. Then you'll gang up. Then we'll have parties. And what's that but the beginning of government? Maybe we'd go back to clans for starters, but would kings be far away?

In a capitalist economy the guy with the most bucks carries the biggest stick. In an anarchic polity the only ways a little guy could avoid the sort of assault and battery you now attribute to government, which would then be applied by the more affluent, would be (a) mutual association, (b) sabotage, (c) prestidigitation. The invisible hand of Adam Smith carries a cudgel, and wears a white glove. Personally, I prefer the sleight of hand, but have discovered that even the cleverest little guy usually gets cornered in the end. If the rational choice for self-defense against assault and battery is mutual association, it looks as if government, of some kind, is inevitable.

You may argue that mutual association doesn't infer coercive governance, but any group action ultimately limits individual freedom, in the name of common interest. So, my acquiescence in a common undertaking is of the same essence as the social contract we were taught about in Gov101. I don't believe we can always act freely in our own interest in any political, or anarchic, society. The remote villages I've lived in had no law enforcement, but traditional sanctions were just as restrictive as legalisitc governance. People always make rules of behavior.

Is our current system bloated and misdirected? You bet. Might we be better to throw all the bums out and start afresh? Maybe. But live without government? I suspect that government is part of the fundamental problem, which is human nature.

Here's my take: don't throw out the current (terrible) bathwater.. roil the waters. The more chaotic the system, the more freedom of individual action. Why try and foment a revolution, which has always led to an over-reaction, when you can get the same results by blowing smoke.

I honor your idealism, Al. I'd like to think that we could throw the bums out, and live without a bums' rush, but I distrust the capitalist imperative as much as I loath the bureaucratic one. Self-perpetuating institutions have no regard for individual human activities, and, unfortunately, that's where I live.

In my book there aren't enough parties in the ring. The left was eradicated. The Republicrats are all mealymouthed. All we have in contention are the government you bewail, and the corporations which only see the bottom line (and they're usually in cahoots). MORE CHAOS IN GOVERNMENT! (and more corporate bankruptcy) is my motto.

Confusion to your enemies


From Allen:

Dear Bryce:

I was just having fun downloading and reading more details from the Starr report and I remembered that I was going to write to you. I was looking for more information on the use of Altoid Mints before oral sex. Unfortunately, ABC.COM where I found some material hasn’t transcribed it all yet. I was sort of thinking about finding who owns Altoid mints and buying some stock in it. Two problems: too lazy and too poor.

I noticed an interesting metaphorical shift since Clinton’s mea culpa speech: Both his defenders and attackers have changed their imagery. They used to portray the President as a father figure and now they talk about him as though he were a child. Curious.

I think I can give you a little clearer picture of Libertarians and anarchists. I’ll use the word “anarchists” even though many anarchists hold varying leftist beliefs. I will use it to mean libertarian anarchists. I’m also going to assume that your position on the environment is rather hard line and not very popular in the general population. I know that you are very thoughtful and have not detailed your ideas to me; but please except my characterizations for the sake of explanation about libertarianism. They may be close to correct in spirit.

Libertarians and anarchists are not in the least interested in revolution for the very reasons you give. They are almost unanimously committed to persuasion. As long as we live in democracy and have freedom of speech, revolution is simply a means to tyranny and those who promote it want power for themselves.

You suggest that libertarianism is simply a means to get rid of taxation. You have put your finger on it. Some critics of libertarianism have called them dope-smoking Republicans. Would this were so. In the “revolutionary” Congress of 1995, Clinton proposed increasing the budget by 5%; the Republicans countered by advocating a 3% increase.

The libertarians say “Taxation is theft,” but that is only half the problem. A thief will steal your money and run away. Government takes your money, tells you what to do, and lectures you about civic responsibility. Government uses money to pay for many goods and services that are necessary, usually in a very wasteful way; but it also uses vast amounts of money to do things that would not occur in a completely free market. That is to say, the state buys goods and services that no group or individual would be willing to pay for willingly.

Libertarians and anarchists both disagree with your concept of “violence to the environment.” We see a fundamental distinction between the use of force against a human being and cutting down a tree or harming an abstraction, the environment. Let’s suppose you own huge tracks of land filled with naturally growing marijuana. Furthermore, let’s invent a bird that needs those plants to avoid extinction. You want to cut down that marijuana. In one case, you want to sell it as a drug; in another case, you want to plant corn on your property. In both cases the state comes in and arrests you, either for drug dealing or damaging the environment. In either case, the libertarian says that you have every right to do as you please with your property and that the state has committed a violent act against you.

Libertarians see your “violence against the environment” as just a rhetorical excuse to violate someone’s rights in his property. They want a government that will protect your life and property and do very little else. Here’s where I part company with the libertarians. I say that their creation of a libertarian state presupposes a general agreement on property rights, a presupposition, as it happens, that does not recognize violence against the environment.

I don’t believe that there is substantial agreement on property rights, either historically or even in the present. How are these differences to be straightened out? The government simply declares what is right now. It may agree with some of your ideas on the environment but not all. Besides, it promotes a host of other policies that you dislike.

Suppose there is no state. It’s not unthinkable. Most of humanity has lived most of its existence without a state, and I could give you a dozen different blueprints for a future stateless society. If a person wants to keep you from taking drugs, he can try persuasion, bribery, violence, whatever. He could do the same if he wanted you to protect the environment. But what if he fails? If he fails, that should tell you that he is out of step with humanity.

Through persuasion, education and the violence of the state, American attitudes toward drug and alcohol use have changed over the past two centuries. Were we to remove all laws, would these changes vanish. I suspect that we would not return to alcohol soaked days of the 18th century. Perhaps we will change our attitude concerning property rights and the environment. We now believe that our actions on our own property have greater effects on our neighbors than we thought before.

Our conception of property rights is in flux and a libertarian state would only attempt to chisel our current ideas in stone. This is one reason that I’m an anarchist. My own guess is that the vast majority of people would be indifferent to most drug use and most environmental issues if they had to spend their own time and money in these struggles. But times change and ideas change.

You wish for more bankruptcies. It might surprise you to know that Libertarians are in agreement with you. Actually, they would like to see more corporations go out of business and pay their debts in the process. When a corporation goes out of business, it means that the resources and workers of that company are being forced to find even more productive pursuits. Business failure is good and beneficial to the general population. Protection by the state in any form is very detrimental to productivity and real wages. As an anarchist, I extend this concept to our ideas of property and personal rights. Let the best ideas prevail.

By the way, there are many libertarian articles and books that suggest that a libertarian state would have the effect of being environmentally friendly. If I remember correctly, they accent two points: 1. unowned property is the most polluted (e.g. the Soviet Union, public rivers, public streets); 2. environmentalism is a cause of the rich and libertarianism is about making everyone wealthier.

You honor my idealism. I think idealism is a major problem, particularly idealism that doesn’t cost anything, idealism that can be practiced by voting. What I say in Laws of the Jungle can only be understood by those who have given up on ideals. Anarchy tells people that they have the power that democracy promised them; can the anarchist then tell people what they “ought” to do or be? You mention that a striker can be beaten and the state could wink at the crime. You would then agree with Max Stirner that a “handful of might goes much farther than a wheelbarrow full of right.” But the striker was a good citizen; he already surrendered his power to the government.

Can there be a stateless society? I can tell you where to read of a 100 utopias, each of which will give you detailed answers to your questions regarding force. I’ve even dabbled in Utopianization a few times myself, but only with suggestions.

The real question is how there can be a state. The most enduring governmental system on Earth was the Pharaohism. Under this scheme, a person was scientifically bred for the greatest likelihood of idiocy and then given absolute control of the government and the religion. It lasted 4000 years more or less. Human beings can make anything work because of what you say about the remote villages. People will always find a way to make life livable. Democracy recognizes the fundamental instability of government by allowing for its constant change. I don’t know if democracy is the final step before ridding the world of government or the cleverest means yet invented for ruling the peasants.