How I Became *Gasp* An Anarchist.

February 1st, 2011   Submitted by William Green

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.”

I responded:

…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.

27 Responses to “How I Became *Gasp* An Anarchist.”

  1. Very well written – a gem of understanding. Thank you for sharing your path.

  2. FrankNo Gravatar says:

    It’s Obvious! (pdf) 😉

  3. MamaLibertyNo Gravatar says:

    Bravo! Very well said.

    I went from libertarian as a teen, to anarchist, to voluntaryist by the time I was 40. I’m now 64, and practice self ownership/responsibility guided by the law of non-aggression in everything.

    I do the best I can to live free in an unfree world.

  4. Bob ConstantineNo Gravatar says:

    I commend the writer on an excellent and thought provoking article.
    I wonder….is he still a public school teacher?

  5. Duane Horton IINo Gravatar says:

    Hello, I have just finished reading this article and I have to say…it’s definitely very interesting. I do have a couple questions though. But first, I shall introduce myself, my name, is Duane, and I am a 16, almost 17 year old right-libertarian who is bordering on agorism. Personally, I find much of what you say, to be interesting. However, I do believe, I have found at least, one possible purpose for the government. For example, I’m not interested in getting into a debate on when life begins, but let’s say, for the sake of example that life begins at conception, okay? Now, let’s say that a women, had a one-night stand, and is now pregnant…should she be able to have an abortion? Some people say yes, I however say no, since I believe that is a human life, and thus it is murder pure and simple to abort the pregnancy. However, this is even more heinous, since the unborn baby can’t even defend itself, and who is supposed to defend it, if it’s own mother wants to kill it? Ergo, according to my logic, while government is evil, it is a necessary evil, since who will protect those, who can’t protect themselves, and have no one who will protect them? While admittedly, most, if not all, government officials wouldn’t be doing it out of the kindness of their hearts, but still, they are willing to help protect those who cannot protect themselves, and have no one who will do it for them…not by protect I mean that literally, as in, protect against physical harm. How would you deal with this, in you hope society ends up as…?

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Duane, you’re asking some excellent questions here. But I’m not going to answer them. Instead, I’d rather you answer it yourself. You see, when people are confronted with the anarchist solution, one’s mind often wonders to what they consider the “worst case scenario” that justifies government. And they want an immediate answer to that question or else anarchism is just fooey.

      Well, the problem is that answering a question like that is like trying to teach calculus to somebody who never learned multiplication. You’ve got to learn the basics first. And the basics, my friend, are in the book For A New Liberty by Murray Rothbard. It’s available for sale in my STORE section as well as for free online at the Mises Institute. Read it and you will be able to answer that question yourself.

      But before I go, I will ask you one question that you might enjoy chewing on some. Do you believe that theft(AKA forced taxation) and conscription are justified to slay dragons overseas? If not, then would you consider theft justified to raise a police force and a jail to kidnap women who abort the unborn? If I, Seth King, am not in favor of such a policy, is it justifiable to steal from me to support a war on abortion? I assure you this question is much more deep than it appears on the surface, because it leads to some very interesting conclusions. Again, that is where For A New Liberty shines. It will take a lot of the guesswork out of it for you.

    • Duane: Great question. Tough issue. Rothbard deals with it here: http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/fourteen.asp

      I’m not sure I agree with him, but he makes a good case. In any case, however, we don’t need a coercive government to deal out retribution for injustices. This can be taken care of at the individual/private level and sorted out by private courts.

    • travisNo Gravatar says:

      the question is do you have a right decide what goes on inside another person.

  6. Duane Horton IINo Gravatar says:

    Okay, thank you, I’m definitely going to do some thinking, and am going to check out that book, and that link. Again thanks for responding.

  7. Duane Horton IINo Gravatar says:

    Oh also, just to let you know, the “moral” and “just” argument isn’t overly important to me, since while I find it nice, for an anarchist/minarchist society to be just, that’s only a side benefit. My main goal is, as a consequentialist libertarian, is the society being logical, efficient, and having the best outcome for society as a whole. For example, here’s a link that describes it pretty well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentalist_libertarianism

    • Duane: That’s interesting. I assumed you were coming from a moral perspective in opposing abortion as you did. How do you justify prohibition of abortion from a consequentialist perspective?

      • Duane Horton IINo Gravatar says:

        Now just to warn you this is going to be very long-winded, and I may seem to ramble at times. My consequentialist logic for banning abortion, is like this, if abortion is, legal…then who determines when the unborn baby “alive” and can’t be murdered. (I admit that it is an entirely ambiguous answer and because of that my opposition to abortion, is about half consequentialist and half moral), for example, there is a man, in the Obama administration, can’t remember his name, just that he is one of Obama’s “czars” as some people will call it. The “science czar” I think. He believes, that until the child has a sense of self, it is not alive and it should be legal to abort them. So a parent could commit murder, of a child, even though they are clearly alive, and human. Doing so, cheapens, human life, in general, and in particular the life of a child, which could cause an increase in physical abuse, of children, i.e. the initiation of violence, and also a lot of unloved children which can seriously screw them up, and make them unproductive, or at least inefficient members of society, and that’s not even getting into the morality of child abuse.

        Also since a child is NOT property, while some people might believe children are property of the parents, I firmly believe that, that concept is a load of bullcrap. After all, if a child is property, what’s to stop an adult from being property as well? It’s basically just another type of slavery, which in addition to being morally repugnant, is incredibly inefficient, and ineffective, at pretty much everything except staying in power over someone else. My point in the statement “A child is not property” is that, since in my opinion, life begins at conception, that, that unborn baby, is a human being, and cannot be aborted without it being murder, just like if I were to kill any adult, with the only difference being that the unborn children don’t even have the chance to defend themselves.

        Also in my example, since life begins at conception, to abort the fetus is a violation of the Zero Aggression Principle. Which I find, to be very logical, from a consequentialist perspective, from the simple fact that, if no initiation of violence is tolerated, then it improves society, since people either don’t have to worry about being, mugged, or beaten, and if they do worry, they know that they can have some type of justice. If people don’t live in fear, they are more productive, which makes for a more prosperous society. Also, if you can justify the initiation of force, in some situations, like say the aborting of a child, then it is quite possible that you have started going down a very slippery slope that leads to hypocrisy and a near-total lack of logic. Also while in some cases an initiation of force, could be logical and cause a better outcome for society, e.g. assassination of a political figure that is beginning to turn the society in question into a hell on earth, I think that case, is so rare, that it should be devoted minimal attention. Of course I’m not advocating the assassination of people, I’m just using it as an example. Plus, if you are trying to logically advocate an example of aggression, as being better for society, how do you know that your logic isn’t faulty, and it really is better for society? My point, is that the zero aggression principle, is very logical, and should be followed, and because of that, it is a bad idea, and hypocritical to advocate abortion. While, admittedly there are some advantages to legalized abortion, I firmly believe that the possible pros, are far outweighed by the possible cons Thus is my (attempted) justification for banning abortion from a consequentialist perspective. And sorry if it was hard to follow, I’ll gladly try and clear up anything you want me too…also if you can’t tell I’m relatively new to debating, since most of the people who disagree with me, on a point, just end up flinging ad hominem attacks like a monkey flings crap, ergo, I have little experience with calm, rational debates…or at least those where the person I’m debating is being cam and rational, like me…plus I’m pretty young too, at least, younger than I’m assuming most people in the agorist/consequentialist-paleo-libertarian group are.

  8. Duane Horton IINo Gravatar says:

    Thanks, and while I agree, that morality equates with good consequences, you do have to consider that good consequences don’t always equate with morality.

  9. BrettNo Gravatar says:

    @Duane

    “Plus, if you are trying to logically advocate an example of aggression, as being better for society, how do you know that your logic isn’t faulty, and it really is better for society?”

    In order for a government to carry out a ban on abortion it would have to use aggression to do what you feel is best for society. Walter Block takes the evictionist stance (a theory he developed that was highly influenced by Rothbard). I like it, and you can find it on iTunes U. The Mises Institute is on there and has a lecture series titled Radical Austrianism, Radical Libertarianism. I’m almost 19 myself and love to see other young people seriously thinking about these things.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      You’re excited to see young people thinking along these lines? I’m ecstatic! The baby boom generation isn’t going to fix this mess. It’s up to mine and your generations.

  10. Davidus RomanusNo Gravatar says:

    Duane. How do you know that, without gov’t, there will be no one to defend fetuses? You seem to be pretty fond of them. Wouldn’t you and others like you do your best (without, of course, initiating force) to convince every individual and society as a whole that abortion is not a moral option? While this may not end abortion, it will surely lower the numbers signifigantly. If every woman knew that a child carried to term would be cared for and grow up as happy and healthy as possible, wouldn’t that lower the number of abortions? In a voluntary society, everyone against abortion would do their best to (voluntarily) prevent unwanted pregnancies, care for the children who were concieved but unwanted, and disasociate with people who performed/condoned abortions. But they would realize that they live in an unperfect world and sometimes wrong things cannot be prevented.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      You make a good point here. I’m of the opinion that we’re never going to END ABORTION. Just like we’re never going to end murder or theft or the state(since the state is nothing more than the initiation of violence). But we can end the institutionalization of these things. Look, right now the federal government SUBSIDIZES abortion. Get rid of that money and you’ll see a lot less abortion. Couple it with more voluntary ways to end it, such as education and possibly even purchasing unwanted babies, and you will see a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions, which is pretty much all one can hope for.

  11. Duane Horton IINo Gravatar says:

    Hm..those sound like good ideas..and definitely logical. I’ll have to think about it.

  12. AlgorithmNo Gravatar says:

    Duane,

    Don’t get taken in by the “eviction” argument. It is flawed. The innocent human being is not aggressing, it is in the womb despite any will it may have. If it were a 1-week baby, could it not be said that it was “aggressing” against the mother by its very existence, as well? Demanding food, care, etc? In the absence of anyone who could take it in, who would make the argument that she should throw the child outside to die?

    Conception is a natural process. If the embryo/fetus is a living human individual, do you believe you have the right to kill a non-aggressor?

    Gene Callahan handled the situation aptly. http://www.lewrockwell.com/callahan/callahan168.html

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      I rarely say this, but that is one article from LRC that I totally disagree with. If you say kicking the guy off of your boat is murder, then you are really opening pandora’s box for all sorts of socialism.

  13. DavidNo Gravatar says:

    Good article. Makes me think of my own story.

    I grew up a patriotic über-conservative much like yourself. I longed to return to the founding principles and couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could enlist as an Army Ranger. I started to branch out and consider myself a libertarian in my mid-teens, but I was really more of a domestic states-rights constitutionalist with an interventionist neo-con streak when it came to foreign policy. I started to get very interested in Ron Paul during my senior year when he was running for president, but always got a little hung up whenever he mentioned his foreign policy.

    The thought that taxes were nothing but theft had always plagued my mind, but I figured that it was just youthful rebelliousness. I figured that I knew far to many good, upstanding citizens who believed in taxes for such a radical notion to be correct, so I doggedly stuck to the idea that, even if for no other reason than to pay for “national defense,” taxes were a necessary and inescapable evil.

    About 2 weeks after I graduated I shipped off to basic training to start training to become an Army Ranger. I loved it at first, but about 6 months into my training I started to have second thoughts. I was beginning to question whether or not our mission was as noble as Fox News had told me it was. Long dormant anarchic thoughts about the illegitimacy of government began to resurface, but I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and re-focused on my training. A couple months later I deployed to Iraq with 3rd Ranger Battalion. At first I was thrilled to feel like I was doing something for my country, but after 4 months of enforcing draconian gun laws, roughing up detainees who ended up being “guilty” or nothing, and arbitrarily vilifying an entire civilian populace, I finally manned up and got honest with myself: I was becoming the very jack-booted thug I thought I was enlisting to fight.

    The next few months were a very confusing time for me. As a guy who carries a gun regularly and is a strong proponent of self-defense, I knew that I wasn’t a pacifist, and yet I just couldn’t believe in what we have come to know as war. I reconsidered EVERYTHING I had ever been taught about the “noble” wars of our past. In November 2009, I applied for discharge as a conscientious objector.

    In the process of conducting research to back up my Conscientious Objector Obligation, I stumbled across LewRockwell.com and several other austrian and anarcho-capitalist websites. I was amazed to find that the logical filter I had started to run all my thoughts through over the last few months had brought me to the EXACT same conclusion as so many other people. I wasn’t merely in general agreement with these people, we saying virtually the exact same things in every aspect of our worldview, right down to the terms and thought processes we were using. As hard as it was to purge myself of lingering statist sentiment, things were starting to click and make sense in my head.

    By January 2010, I was a full-blown anarcho-capitalist/agorist/voluntaryist. Being a devout Christian, this has led to some interesting confrontations with family and friends, who are often DISGUSTED to find that I consider myself an anarchist. I’ve even come to half-jokingly talk about “coming out as an anarchist.” There’s been some rough spots as I purged myself of so many of my old beliefs, but the last year or so has only reinforced my anarchic worldview. In fact, many of the beliefs that I held dearest have only been further solidified in my conscience upon seeing just how well they old up to the logical examinations of anarchist thoughts. Going back and reading the teachings of Jesus without the taint of staunch conservative preaching ringing in my ears has been truly enlightening.

    I finally received my discharge in December 2010, and am back in southern Oregon working as a roofer and working in my spare time on film making, which is my true passion. It is down-right exhilarating at times to realize that I am back out in the civilian world fighting for something that I REALLY believe in, and I hope that my film making will one day attain me a platform from which to teach these things to people.

  14. Doug CarkuffNo Gravatar says:

    Do you remember those old religious movies with people like Charleton Heston – I’m thinking of the story of Moses particularly. You know the way that the people go berzerk when Moses leaves and goes up on the mountain top – rapin’, pillagin’, idol worshipin’, cats and dogs sleeping together and so on? That represents the view of humanity shared by many folks. That without some overriding moral authority, be it government or religion or something else, ordinary people can not be trusted not to turn into barbaric maniacs. It is this view, a false one, that sits at the heart of people’s fear of anarchy. In fact, it is authority which grants people license to butcher and exploit others because it removes personal responsibility. All the horrors perpetrated on humanity have been committed under the color of authority/government of one sort or another.