Monday, February 8, 2010

Joe Sobran: The Reluctant Anarchist

Hans [Hoppe] argued that no constitution could restrain the state. Once its monopoly of force was granted legitimacy, constitutional limits became mere fictions it could disregard; nobody could have the legal standing to enforce those limits. The state itself would decide, by force, what the constitution “meant,” steadily ruling in its own favor and increasing its own power. This was true a priori, and American history bore it out.


As Hoppe argues, this is the flaw in thinking the state can be controlled by a constitution. Once granted, state power naturally becomes absolute. Obedience is a one-way street. Notionally, “We the People” create a government and specify the powers it is allowed to exercise over us; our rulers swear before God that they will respect the limits we impose on them; but when they trample down those limits, our duty to obey them remains.


Other things have helped change my mind. R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii calculates that in the twentieth century alone, states murdered about 162,000,000 million of their own subjects. This figure doesn’t include the tens of millions of foreigners they killed in war. How, then, can we speak of states “protecting” their people? No amount of private crime could have claimed such a toll. As for warfare, Paul Fussell’s book Wartime portrays battle with such horrifying vividness that, although this wasn’t its intention, I came to doubt whether any war could be justified.


For most people, anarchy is a disturbing word, suggesting chaos, violence, antinomianism — things they hope the state can control or prevent. The term state, despite its bloody history, doesn’t disturb them. Yet it’s the state that is truly chaotic, because it means the rule of the strong and cunning. They imagine that anarchy would naturally terminate in the rule of thugs. But mere thugs can’t assert a plausible right to rule. Only the state, with its propaganda apparatus, can do that. This is what legitimacy means. Anarchists obviously need a more seductive label.

“But what would you replace the state with?” 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 Reluctant Anarchist

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