What do you do when you wake up and realize that you are an anarchist? What will people think? Will visions of Molotov cocktail-tossing terrorists fill their minds? Will they think you have finally lost your mind? After all, no reasonable person can reject the idea of government. Without government, all of society would erupt into chaos and barbarism!
But I had no choice. I had discovered that I was an anarchist.
I used to be a card-carrying conservative, so I was already a bit of an anomaly in my native Connecticut. But I viewed government as a necessary and good institution, designed to serve and protect. Like most Americans, I just wanted it on my side. I wanted to make sure it passed laws that were favorable to me, laws I thought were right. Granted, as a conservative, I figured this was pretty much limited to protection of life and property. But I also allowed for prohibitions of what I considered risky or harmful behavior as well as military aggression, and of course, taxation for all of these purposes. I respected the Founders, and longed for the early days of the “Republic.” One of my fondest memories was singing the national anthem in the shower in high school. I belted it out, the tones resonating with the tiles. Coach Heidelberger, former WWII marine, was moved with emotion. I loved America.
Granted, I saw many flaws in our system. I believed most government programs were wasteful and misguided, at best. This included public education, even though I had become a school teacher. That’s why we homeschooled our kids from day one.
And that’s how the trouble started. That’s how I found FEE, and it was all “downhill” from there. My pre-teen kids became involved in a homeschool speech and debate league (the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association), and the Foundation for Economic Education sponsors some of their tournaments. I began reading some their magazines and materials, especially the free copy of Frederic Bastiat’s The Law they gave my son, and the die was cast: “But how,” wrote Bastiat, “is legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.” This concept would unravel my whole perception of the State.
I began to see that the real problem with all of these government programs was not just that they were misguided, but they were morally illegitimate, founded on what Bastiat called legal plunder. I began to read voraciously any libertarian literature I could get my hands on: Henry Grady Weaver, Hazlitt, Rand, the Freeman, Galt, Nozick, and Paul. Yet, at the time, I still I held to the idea of a just government. I believed that government was just as long as it stuck to its basic task of protecting life and liberty. Then a turning point occurred when a “liberal” visitor to my blog challenged me about my position on taxation:
“Is it wrong to take money from someone who doesn’t want to give it? Sure. Then why should I have to pay taxes at all? Isn’t it wrong for the government to rob me of my livelihood without my consent? Your argument is senseless in that it is basically attack on government itself, not necessarily any particular policy…
But if a government cannot tax, a government cannot exist, no matter how small it is. How would the politicians be paid? Would you expect them to hold their positions out of civic duty, or would you expect the public to “voluntarily” give funds toward their pay? I find either to be unrealistic.”
…you are right. It is difficult to justify taxes at all.
But I think it may be possible to justify taxes with something like this:
1. It is legitimate for a person to protect his own life, liberty, and property.
2. It is legitimate for a person to enter into association with others for this same purpose.
3. This legitimizes the role of government in this protection.
4. Of course, for the government to so act, funding may be necessary.
Who should pay for this funding? All who receive the benefit.
Yet I had the sinking feeling that something was wrong with my philosophy. I wondered: If it is not okay to take money from others to pay for welfare or health care, how can it be okay to take from others to pay for protection or courts? I realized that if I was going to be consistent I was going to have to leave the state behind, once and for all.
I wanted to be consistent and to live with integrity. I had concluded that my happiness was up to me, and that the only reasonable way to live my life was to try to maximize my happiness. I believed that I would be fulfilled if I lived my life, and ordered my thoughts, correctly. I started to explore the rational The Foundations of Morality, and came to believe that the highest fulfillment comes through living according to higher values, like justice, compassion, love, honor, and integrity. Then, when I looked at coercive government in this light, I could not justify it. How could it be just to use force against another when they were not using force against me? And if I do not want others to force me against my will to do what they want, is it reasonable for me to do so to them? (The golden rule? Can it be that simple?)
Finally, I found Mises.org, and Rothbard, and knew that I had become an anarchist, or as I like to call myself, a voluntaryist. I had come to understand that without freedom, man becomes robot or animal. Freedom is of the essence of man and essential to his fulfillment. A society that maximizes man’s fulfillment is one that maximizes his freedom, nurturing his will to do anything that does not infringe upon the freedom of another. A free society is one in which no one is forced to do anything against his or her will and no one is sanctioned to initiate coercive force against his or her neighbor: All interactions between individuals, economic and social, are free and voluntary. In this environment, man thrives. He freely exchanges goods and services with others, freely associates, freely loves, freely gives, and flourishes. Order arises from these free, undirected, individual choices. Markets, laws, customs—society and civilization, grow as if guided by an invisible hand.
I guess I underwent a true Kuhnian paradigm shift–I saw the world, and myself, differently. No longer was I a slave to the whim of the majority, just as I was no longer a slave to my own animal nature, or to anything else. It all went together like a big package deal. Since then I have been trying to figure out a way to justify the State, but I haven’t been able to do it. I guess for now I will remain part of the “lunatic fringe” of voluntaryists, rejecting what Oppenheimer and Rothbard called, “political means,” slowly trying to extricate myself from the State wherever its tentacles infiltrate my life. Am I crazy? Maybe. But it feels good to live according to reason.
Bill Green received his Ph.D. at Mississippi State University in 1998. He currently teaches high school chemistry and operates a private tutoring service. He frequently writes for the Examiner.