AnarchoDebates: Barry v. Keegan 3
By: Barry Belmont

Keegan’s Third Email

I regret so much bringing up God. The arguments are not analogous at all. But I feel that despite all of this talk we are at exactly the same place. I’m pretty sure I understand your arguments, but I can see that you are either deliberately misunderstanding mine or since you are so used to hearing theist vs atheist arguments you actually are unable to see the difference between this and a religious argument. Much in the same way, I imagine that you think that I don’t understand your arguments because I think that the two arguments are obviously not parallel. I won’t dissect your entire paper (because most of it amounts to contradiction and repetition rather than real argument). But I will address points that I see as new, rare as they may be.

“You hold that people simply couldn’t be moral without a State.”
-I never said that. In fact I think I directly addressed, that that was NOT what I was saying. I simply said that people will not always be moral (with or without a State). Therefore there needs to be some mechanism to disincentive immoral action.

“Where in the literature can you point to examples that say voluntary actions necessarily devolve into chaos without coercive intervention?”
-Again, I never said necessarily, indeed I mentioned an example of where this did not happen (NW coastal Indians). But if you must have an example of where this does happen, look at the Ireland anarchy example. They had slavery. Slavery by definition is coercion.

“I’m not the one making any significantly positive claims.”
-Funny that you mention that because I didn’t think you were saying anything either. If you really don’t see how saying, “A system without coercion is possible” is not making a positive claim, this may be more hopeless than I thought. And this is the very least of your claims.

“*why* would you believe in the legitimacy of one government over another?”
-I’m not going to address the nonsense in which you meant this, instead I’m going to address what you should have meant by this question had you been more prone to discussion rather than bickering. The reason why some governments are better than others is that some of them promote wellbeing more efficiently than others, and some promote longterm stability more than others.

“you imply that you can coherently believe in a State without believing a Total State (a world government) would eventually rise and then a few sentences later claim ‘I think that world government is inevitable.’ ”
-Perhaps you should define your terms better. Had I answered differently you would have defined Total State as being a system run completely by a central system (i.e. communism in its truest form). This is not the the same as world government. If you did actually mean world government when you said Total State, then I change my answer to yes, I do support it. But I would bet dollars to donuts that you didn’t mean that when you first said the term.

“Where is government most optimal?”
-I’m glad you asked. Perhaps the first thing to move this discussion down the road rather than around the track. A federal democracy that is run by a parliamentary system is best. The central government should have a constitution with a Bill of Rights that supersedes all other laws. The constitution should have written in it limitations on the central government and a system of currency (I personally am a fan of paper backed by gold and banning the fractional reserve system, but I’d be open to other possibilities). They should have control over a small military (limited in scope by the constitution) and be in charge of settling disputes between Countries and deciding violations of the constitution (and therefore the bill of rights). This centralized government should be very, very limited, with nearly all authority aside from those previously mentioned delegated to the Countries. These Countries should be able to make any laws that don’t violate those of the central government, and should be able to have any type of government. They should not have the ability to form a military. And under no circumstances should they be allowed to control the flow of people. Therefore any government that is inefficient will find itself devoid of people and in perpetual decline. This incentivizes Countries to create more efficient forms of government. The ideal government for countries I think would be the same type of system, with more and more control being given to the government as it becomes more and more local.

“What makes you think [one group oppressing another] would even happen? The UNR SFL and Circle K are governmentless societies, neither of which oppress the other.”
-They legally cannot oppress one another. This applies to all of the entities you named. In the real world when groups can oppress one another, it sometimes happens. I hate having to spell things out, but since you misunderstood me ever other time, I will say this as clear as I can. I AM NOT SAYING THIS WILL HAPPEN IN EVERY INSTANCE, ONLY THAT THIS WILL HAPPEN IN SOME INSTANCES. Hopefully caps make it clearer to you, in ways repeating it apparently did not.

“And yet it all seems to hunky dory when the US sends troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and kills thousands of civilians and even journalists (on camera!) in the name of Democracy or Liberty or Human Rights or WMDs. Where is your outrage?”
-I find outrage better spend on trying to change things than simply complaining about them. Governments in their current state are under no laws. In essence the only system of anarchy currently to be seen can be observed by watching governments interact with one another (since I know you are going to misinterpret that statement, just act like I didn’t say it. This is why world government will be beneficial. It will stop this type of atrocity.

“The only reason we find “democracy” acceptable over “tyranny” is because the cost endured compared to the benefits is less in one than in the other.”
-The reason we find democracy more acceptable is that you can change democracy if you don’t approve of the way it is going. That said I think having a constitution and bill of rights superseding a government is infinitely more important than the type of ruling system.

I will say one more thing here before moving on. Coercion is always necessary. You say to people obey the rules or leave. This is true of anarchy as well. You will claim, “No, people have a right not to obey the laws put on them by society in an anarchy.” But they will be ostracized by the people (boycott or exile). Or they will be punished by the people (the lynchmob or “private protection” you talk about). In the end laws will always be enforced by coercion. How do you stop someone from stealing? You slap his hand. How do you stop someone from killing you? You kill him first.

“how do you keep coercers from overly-coercing citizens?”
-Ah yet another good question. They may be few and far between but the fact that they exist gives me hope. A federal system with strict rules governing it and keeping its power from growing (America went wrong from the beginning when it included the anything necessary clause). A parliamentary democracy with the ability to vote out people that are overly coercive. And a bill of rights that supersede more local laws.

“But you have still yet to prove why this apathy tax is better than no tax.”
-I’m not quite sure proof applies here, but taxes are better than the alternative because without taxes there is no way to stop one group from oppressing another. The only argument that you throw up is that oppression doesn’t always happen. This is as flimsy as the paper it is written on. The only question is whether or not you know that it is bullshit but keep it up to win the argument without a care of actually being correct, or whether you truly think this is a valid point. Its like saying, “What is the point of an umbrella? There are days when it doesn’t rain.”

“you make the extraordinarily strange claim that “the proper way to do government is to have the people with the power to oppress others robbed of the ability to do so.” Perhaps the confusion is merely on my end, but what exactly is that suppose to mean? If I understand you right it means that we’ll put some people A in charge of the military that protects B, but give B the power to control A (through some sort of means). Hence a president is elected by the people he reigns over.”
-I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to illustrate this than the President example. So basically, yea, thats right.

“I feel you need to fully answer at least one of the questions I have presented so far, perhaps starting at the beginning and explaining why some voluntary interactions shouldn’t be allowed. This is ultimately what the argument comes down to. In believing in the necessity of the State, you must believe that there are certain voluntary actions that people should not be allowed to do.”
-Not quite true. Its saying that there are involuntary interactions that should not be allowed. And that the only way to stop these involuntary actions is by coercion. In essence its not saying certain voluntary actions should not be allowed, its saying that some involuntary interactions must be forced to prevent more egregious involuntary interactions from being allowed.

If you understood nothing else that I said, I hope you understood that (well, ‘hope’ implies a degree of expectation, perhaps I should say, ‘wish’ instead)

I know I was a dick there for a lot of that but this I think that you deliberately tried to misunderstand my arguments. And after all of this, you still have not addressed any of the basic reasons I mentioned to doubt the feasibility of a coercionless state. If your next response is more whining and repetition, then I am done.


Barry’s Third Response


It is most unfortunate that you cannot see the obvious parallels between faith in a god and faith in a government. Hopefully I’m not beating a dead horse, but I feel this connection should be made apparent, as it seems that you find arguments for religion lacking, while finding your own arguments in favor of the necessity of a State utterly convincing. And it appears that if I can show you how intertwined the two ideas really are that there is the possibility I can convince you that coercing innocent people is not the best way to better the human condition.

First, however, I think it is best if we define our terms, in fact I believe you referred to this yourself. I have been up to this point assuming that our definition of a “State” was one and the same. This is quite clearly not the case. When I refer to a state I have taken as my definition (as mentioned in my lecture) the one by Rothbard wherein a State “as that institution which possesses one or both (almost always both) of the following properties: (1) it acquires its income by the physical coercion known as “taxation”; and (2) it asserts and usually obtains a coerced monopoly of the provision of defense service (police and courts) over a given territorial area. An institution not possessing either of these properties is not and cannot be, in accordance with my definition, a state.” From your letters it appears that you have slightly different in mind when you’re talking about a State. Since we’re treading the territory of anarchocapitalism it would probably be better for all involved to stick to Rothbard’s definition. Any other notion you have of a State should be placed by the wayside, at least for this conversation.

Second, I’d appreciate it if we could get on the same page about what we’re talking about. Rather than a point by point semi-refutation of my previous letter, I would have rather seen the overarching theme addressed. I said as much at the very end when I asked you why certain voluntary actions shouldn’t be allowed. That is, in my opinion, what this entire debate is about, as one cannot logically believe in the necessity of a State without also simultaneously believing that there are certain voluntary actions that some people should not be allowed to engage in. I really want to underscore the significance here, as it was given short shrift in your last response, so you’ll pardon me if I take this part slowly. What I am claiming is that if you believe in a State, it means you cannot believe all voluntary actions to be permissible. An action like “not paying your property tax” is punishable, even if someone doesn’t want to be part of a State (remember the Philadelphia farmer example?). As you’ve stated previously, you’re “pretty good at being able to see the argument from the other side,” so you should be able to “fill in the meat of the argument” yourself and see that there are hundreds and thousands of examples where States necessarily impinge upon the basic liberties of individuals, without any real reason. You kept claiming that it wasn’t that voluntary actions were being limited, but rather that involuntary ones were being prevented. But this simply isn’t true. What exactly is it about taxation that prevents injustice? How is a monopoly of defenses a better thing than a free market competition among defenses? Is one giant really better than twelve dwarfs? How can you tell?

Sorry, I feel as if I’m really giving that poor horse a lashing at this point, but I want to be clear. When you believe in a State you think it is okay to coerce innocent individuals. You seem to have it that a State merely punishes criminals. Yes, this is true, but so would an anarchist society. Anarchist police forces can arrest people just the same as State sanctioned ones the only difference is that when a private police force does something wrong *they* are actually punished for it. Do you really think there is any significant portion of a modern society that enjoys thieves and crooks and corrupt, inefficient cops in its company? No. Our brains were made to hate liars and criminals in our ancestral environment. What makes you think any society, anarchist or not, would tolerate high levels of criminality? It depresses me to hear when I discuss anarchism with people that they somehow equate it to barbarism and backwater days. It’s not like the internet disappears if government goes away. Nor does Wal-Mart. Planes don’t start falling out of the sky. What you feel when I say there should be no State is exactly what religious people say when someone says there is no god. I need to make you understand that.

Maybe it would do us some good to take a page from Sam Harris’s book and note that there are basically three ways that one can defend the necessity of a State: 1) argue that your specific State is the right one (as you have done with “A federal democracy that is run by a parliamentary system”); 2) or you argue that States are useful; or 3) you attack anarchism. The only argument that should be relevant at all in any discuss is the the first one. In it is a logical necessity that if one believes in liberal democracy one cannot also be a supporter of a communistic dictatorship. This much must be true. But this goes back to my original point in saying you are an anarchist to every government but your own. Before I address this first rationale, I’d just like to dismiss the other two right off the bat. Clearly attacking anarchy is not a form of promoting government. Even saying something like “anarchy will cause mass human suffering” is not evidence in favor of a State. It’s just like when creationists attack evolution to promote their views. This form of debate is never evidence in favor of the position one holds. One must present positive evidence in favor of one cherished theory, not just evidence against something else.

Also to argue that a State is useful will not always suffice, at least not directly. This is a subtle point of fact, but one which is all too often muddled. Saying “State A will make people more moral” or “State B gives people a high standard of living” is not enough to prove that either A or B should exist. This is directly related to tactics 1 and 3, as one must not only prove that a given State is better than anarchy (3) but also show that it is better than all other possibilities (1), and hence is the one correct State. You can clearly see that if I argue that a State should be put in place because it would easily allow me to become a famous movie actor, this would be an inadequate reason for the existence of coercion. I say, No, no, this State will be great, it will have defense services, and healthcare, and every actor that is not me will become unemployed and I will be the most sought after person in the country. What exactly is wrong with this reason for the usefulness of a State. I say States should exist to benefit my acting career, what is wrong with this? Certainly something is wrong. This implies that there are good and bad reasons for having a State. What are these reasons and how do they differ from a private anarchist version of society?

Perhaps this is why I have found your response lacking, if you’ll excuse me, you haven’t put forth any positive reason for the necessity of your particular State. In response to my asking “where government is most optimal” you went on at length about your form of a perfect government, but you didn’t say why all of your decisions were chosen why they were. You didn’t analyze your apparatus, and I’m afraid that I can’t see any rhyme or reason behind it on my own. As an example, I will now quote what you said in response altering the words slightly.

“A confederate republic that is run by a benevolent dictator is best. The central government should have a piece of paper with a Bunch of Rights that subservient to all other laws. The piece of paper should have written in it limitations on the central government and a system of currency (I personally am a fan of gold backed by paper and with a strong emphasis on the fractional reserve system, but I’d be open to other possibilities). They should have control over a large military (expanded in scope by the piece of paper) and be in charge of settling disputes between Countries and deciding violations of the piece of paper (and therefore the Bunch of Rights). This centralized government should be very, very large, with nearly all authority aside from those previously mentioned taken from the Countries. These Countries should be able to make any laws that don’t violate those of the central government, and should be able to have any type of government. They should totally have the ability to form a military. And under no circumstances should they be allowed to control the bowel movements of people. Therefore any government that is inefficient will find itself devoid of people and in perpetual decline. This incentivizes Countries to create more efficient forms of government. The ideal government for countries I think would be the same type of system, with less and less control being given to the government as it becomes more and more local.”

Hopefully you can see why I have such a hard time following your train of thought. The government you have put forth is devoid of all but a mechanical syntax. My satirizing of your proposal is not intended to be offense, but only to show that I am rightly unconvinced by what you have brought to the table so far. Why is a democracy better than a republic? A federal government better than a confederation? A small military better than a large one? I don’t mean to sound dense, however, I can see absolutely no reason why I should agree that coercing innocent people into things (such as taxes, military conscription, etc) is better than its opposite in what you have given me so far. I’m willing to be convinced that a government that has no control over the flows or bowel movements of its citizens is better than one that does, but you have to give me sufficient evidence and reasons that I should.

Now I suppose I can try to the YouTube style of conversation and respond to the slew of incidental points that have built up. However, I find such one-off criticisms to be a waste of nearly everybody’s time, I agreed to this conversation because I thought you would have substantive points to make that would be drawn out in well-thought out letters that kept its prose tight and its focus narrow. I ask that in future responses we do away with the quibbling back and forth about minor points and focus on the bigger issues. As I have criticized others in the past, you are not seeing the forest from the trees. So, in what follows I will attempt to clean up a few misconceptions and miscellanea in a rapid fire sequence.

- When I said “Total State” it was clear from context that I had meant a worldwide government. If you back to my first response, its meaning can quite easily be seen from context. I would ask that we attempt to do this from now on: obtain meaning from context. Yes, we are probably going to throw around a whole bunch of words with a whole bunch of meanings and weighed down by eons of history. If this is the case, and we feel we might be misunderstood, I suggest we take the time to define our terms.

- I asked you for examples where voluntary actions necessarily devolved into chaos without coercive intervention against innocent people and quite brusquely disregarded it. This is quite an important criticism, one which I pointed at a lot in my previous response, but one which never received an adequate response from you, and hence bears repeating. In my support of anarchocapitalism I put forth the claim that voluntary actions can be self-regulating. Bad behavior can be squashed and good behavior can be promoted, just like in the free and open market. Anarchy doesn’t mean criminals get a pass by saying “you know what, I’m not a part of your society, therefore I can kill one of your citizens.” No one, and I mean No One, would ever agree that such a society promotes well-being. Criminals would be punished under anarchism just as under a State. What an anarchocapitalist society does not allow (unlike a State) is the legal possibility of coercion against innocent people or their property. What exactly is so bad with the idea that innocent people shouldn’t be terrorized by coercive overlords?

- I feel you aren’t actually listening to my arguments all the way through and are instead criticizing at the sentence by sentence level. This causes you to be confused about points which have already been covered at length previously. Since I do not wish to be misunderstood, this forces me to repeat a point again and again (such as the fact that it is coercion against innocent people I have a problem with, not “coercion” against criminals). As I said before delving into this minor-point-escapade, this leads to you not seeing the forest from the trees. We should let one another’s arguments simmer and marinate in our minds for awhile before responding. You’ll notice that I have given your arguments due consideration and often given them days of critical thinking, the same cannot be said of your near instantaneous responses.

There are surely a few other minor points that could be addressed, but let us not quibble.

I am concerned about a point you brought up “without taxes there is no way to stop one group from oppressing another.” As with your description of the Perfect State I was looking forward to an explanation of why this should be so, but was left wanting. Why is it that taxes are required to stop someone from oppressing another? I don’t see the justification between stealing money from innocent people and protecting someone (presumably with that money). You may recall the YMCA radio example from my lecture. There are certainly others. One could certainly rationalize stealing a whole slew of things/money to spend on things we feel people need, in fact, this is what we see with much of State funding. But the question always remains, how can an institution with no incentive to spend money efficiently because it can “legitimately” steal it better than one that must rely upon customer satisfaction and delivering the best products at the cheapest rates? I fail, utterly fail, to see how we should trust a thief in one domain more than a thief in another. From basic economic theory to hifalutin ethics we can see that sharing (spending money) with those who voluntarily consent to such an agreement is much better than trying to reason with a wasteful crook. I claim that voluntary actions when compared to their counterpart in actions based upon violence or the threat of violence are always better and produce better results. And please don’t, as I feel you might, misunderstand me: these are actions such as trade and social interactions, not rapists who don’t want to stand trial. When I speak of actions between individuals, I always have innocent individuals in mind. Criminals are criminals and have already violated one of the two basic premises of libertarianism (as presented in the lecture and elsewhere)…they are not entitled to the same liberties as those that have not violated these principles. My claim is not that an anarchist police force wouldn’t have the ability to go out an arrest somebody, rather that if that police force happen to hurt an innocent person would be held accountable for it (unlike current police forces which are almost entirely above the law).

Hopefully this clears up much of the confusion you have had about this argument. Just looking at your last paragraph “you still have not addressed any of the basic reasons I mentioned to doubt the feasibility of a coercionless state” shows quite simply that you and I were not talking about the same thing. A coercionless state? There’s no such thing. And I’m not even talking about a coercionless state. I’m talking about NO State at all. That is a State by the definition I have been using this entire time (from my lecture) and now presented in this letter. As such I feel I have addressed a great many of your concerns (after all your “biggest objection [was] in-group out-group mentality” which I spent the entire first letter discussing), though you seem to keep changing the target of your “objections.” I would like you to remember the Parable of the Pawnbroker and see it from my perspective now. You present an argument, I address it, and you move on to an entirely new one as if your old one didn’t matter. Your treatment of IG/OG mentality is a perfect example.

So in closing so that I’m not misunderstood: force can be legitimately used in an anarchist society, just not against innocent people.

Please don’t let me be misunderstood,

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