AnarchoDebates: Barry v. Keegan 1
By: Barry Belmont

There will likely be a series of debates all throughout the summer between me and various individuals about the plausibility of anarchocapitalism. Hopefully what these exchanges include will help you solidify your own positions in regards to the necessity/injustice of the existence of a State. All of these exchanges assume you have watched Anarchocapitalism Pt 2. Please do enjoy.

Keegan’s First Email

Hello Barry,

I hope all is well for your classes and such.  Mine are a bitch, which is probably why I spend so much time procrastinating with this discussion.

I did watch the entire lecture before replying, so there is no reason to be snide (unless you weren’t implying that I didn’t actually watch it-in which case, sorry I misunderstood).

My biggest objection would be in-group out-group mentality.  If you can show me that people do not do this, I still will not claim you are right (since there are too many other unanswered problems), but I will admit you are on the right track.

This is not the same as saying that people have empathy or altruism.  This is saying that people will not form groups which will help themselves above others, and/or help themselves at the expense of others.

If one of these books addresses this issue (not morality as a whole) then I will read it.  But I will admit it would take some pretty impressive evidence to convince that I am wrong on this issue (as it is evident in most human cultures and in most primate cultures).  ”Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

If you feel that this is an answerable question, and that you are on a role, you might want to also address why a thief or a murderer would ever willingly put himself under the authority of a court system.  They have everything to lose and nothing to gain.

And if you really feel like these are flies to be swatted down with the flick of a wrist, you might also want to address the issue of the courts and police being biased towards the people paying the bills.

I suspect that you, like me, have spent some time arguing with Creationists.  And if there is one thing that they all seem to do (aside from quote scripture at me), it is to give me a reading list of twenty or thirty books which prove Creation.  I don’t want to spend years of my life becoming a scholar to a theory I don’t believe in, and if you have been in my position I am sure you can understand my reasons for feeling this way.  I will read one book on why in-group/out-group mentality does not actually exist, and I will read one other book that you feel is in defense of anarchocapitalism.  More than that I will probably be unwilling to do.  And even that will have to wait until I get through the books currently on my plate.  There are four that I have to read, but I should be done with them in less than a month (I was also going to attempt “Tragedy and Hope”, but it is far too daunting and boring).

You don’t need to give me a lengthy response to anything.  I’m pretty good at being able to see the argument from the other side, so if you just give me the gist, I can fill in the meat of the argument myself (in this way you might be able to quickly cover the 12 (although only 10 are important) problems mentioned previously).


P.S.  I would have expected you to respect a critical response, or at the very least to give positive lip-service to it.

Barry’s Response


It is ironic that you should bring up your discussions with “creationists.” Most likely they are of the new flavor of ‘Intelligent Design.’ It is ironic because presumably you see through the flaws of their arguments quite easily: no intelligent designer is necessary to create the order and complexity we see around us. We know this because there is evidence that a bottom-up system called natural selection does this. In fact, evidence presented in favor of intelligent design (the human eye, the nervous system, prefrontal cortex, bacteria flagellum, etc) all not only point toward natural selection but would be really silly evidence in favor of an intelligent designer (for instance, why would an intelligent designer put the eye upside down and backward?). You are able to see quite easily the flaws in their arguments in favor of “intelligent design” but when you are asked to reconsider your beliefs in an intelligent designer, namely the State, you get just as up in arms as they do. Indeed, it seems you fall into many of the same traps they do.

Consider for instance that you are an anarchist to every other government but your own. You certainly do not recognize the legitimacy of the Egyptian government’s claim over you or France’s sovereignty over you. You don’t recognize the Queen of England as anything more than a figurehead, the same goes for the Pope and the Dalai Lama. You recognize the American government’s dominion over you simply because you happened to have been born under it. Had you been born in Egypt or France you would have claimed they had dominion over you. There is an obvious parallel to be made to which religion you happen to subscribe to. One supports intelligent design because they just happened to have been born a Christian in contemporary America. This Christian knows what it’s like to be an atheist to all other gods, just as you know what it’s like to be an anarchist to all other governments.

More to the point how can one coherently believe in a State without believing there should be a Total State? All the currently governments have lived in a state of anarchy amongst each other, have they not? If Amsterdam has marijuana legalized and America does not, who is to remedy this injustice? Or are laws as fickle as all that? And if they are, if laws are so arbitrary and context specific, why call them laws? If one advocates the existence of a State, invariably they must follow this logic to its bitter end with all people under the banner of a single (hopefully benevolent) State.

But as you said, there exists in-group/out-group (IG/OG) mentality within the human race. Fair enough. I can accept that. But how is this such a bad thing? We must separate the issues. In-group/out-group doesn’t mean anything by itself. People are either a part of UNR SFL or they’re not. I treat people who are members differently than those who are not. There is nothing wrong with this. The problem would come if I aggressed against someone because of this. But this is a separate issue. It’s not the IG/OG that’s bad, it’s the coercion. Mets fans may hate Yankees fans but so long as there isn’t any violence or threats of violence, then where is the harm? Do you see why we must pull these two issues apart? If there is no actual harm in being a part of a group, then, what exactly is wrong with it?

So say I want to be part of private society A and you wanted to be part of private society B. One like country, the other likes rock’n'roll. One likes chunky peanut butter, the other smooth. Just completely irreconcilable societies who won’t even trade with one another, that’s how much this bitter feud has gone on. So long as it’s all completely voluntary there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. What if, you may object, they hate each other so much that they decide to fight? But remember that is a different issue. It’s not the tribalism that is wrong there, it is the coercion. The exact same critique can be made of existing States: what happens if Canada finally gets sick and tired of America and decides to attack them? Or New Mexico decides to fight Old Mexico or Arizona. Detroit vs Luxembuorg. Certainly numerous scenarios can be presented as “What if A, *verbs* B?” As long as the *verbs* part is voluntary in nature (“loves,” “trades with,” “hates”…) there is nothing wrong with it. There can’t be…unless you think that there are voluntary actions which people should not be allowed to freely engage in. It’s when *verbs* becomes coercive (“fights,” “kills,” “invades”…) that problems arise.

I don’t think you would be so bold to claim that tribalism necessarily causes violence, but let’s assume you were. This claim has already been undermined by the fact that UNR SFL is tribal in nature and is completely nonviolent. Adherents to Jainism are tribal and by their very nature non-violent. There are tons of examples ranging from basketweaving classes to high schools to basketball teams’ fans to you name it that are very much prone to IG/OG mentality and yet are not violent to a significantly larger extent than would be predicted by chance alone. So this empirical claim of IG/OG -> violence is not viable.

Where does this leave us? I think I have shown that your objection to the idea of a purely voluntary society on the grounds of IG/OG is not strong enough to warrant casting such a society aside and replacing it with a coercive State apparatus. Simply because IG/OG mentality exists is not evidence in favor of the necessity of coercion, of taxes, of a monopoly of defense services. Indeed, imagine if your IG/OG argument was strong enough to overturn the idea of a voluntary society: it would necessarily be strong enough to overturn the idea of even a governable society on two accounts: 1) The governed and the governing would split into two groups that would not peaceably interact. If they could peaceably interact than the coercive apparatus between them wouldn’t be necessary. 2) What is to prevent the monopolistic agent of defense services, an in-group, from aggressing against all other out-groups, to the point of eliminating them entirely as they are the only ones with a sizeable supply of tools for eradication? What is to prevent IG/OG aggression  in this realm and not others? It is quite clear that if IG/OG dynamics wouldn’t reach a crescendo in such an environment as that between the monopolistic defense agency and all others (what could be easier than the military extorting us all for money?) then clearly IG/OG is not a sufficient criticism of a voluntary society.

I know you had more in that letter of yours, but I would like to ask that we try to remain focused in this series of letters. I don’t mind a tangential point or example periodically, but we should really hammer home one point at a time. For instance, I asked a very specific question when I asked you to participate in this: what are the conditions that I need to meet to convince you that anarchocapitalism is a good idea? In other words, I would like to know that you are willing to change your mind and what it would take to do this. We should be up front with one another about this. For example, I would renounce anarchocapitalism entirely if it turned out people weren’t mostly “not-bad.” Or I would believe in a benevolent dictator if it could be shown that it would vastly improve the human condition. Or I would believe in democracy if it turned out the majority was always right. These are very specific things which someone could convince me of. I would like to know that you are willing to be convinced that a voluntary society is possible. Because if you’re not, then we likely won’t have nearly as fruitful a conversation as I had imagined.

Hope this helps,


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