The libertarian world can be summed up, ultimately, as freedom from crime. Based on the principles of private property and non-aggression, many anarcho-capitalist writers propound and rework “ideal” visions of a “libertarian world”. Events and interactions in such a world usually include, for example, a free market healthcare system, unencumbered by the coercion of government, a free banking system which places the production of money and regulation of interest rates into a free market, varying forms of education that serve the specific demands of market participants, and so forth.
What must never be admitted into such a world by writers of this stripe is a coercive government, even when it is admitted that force will nevertheless exist such a world. (This is dealt with by such writers with a handy stroke of the pen: there will of course be a relative demand and consequent production of police and protection services by freely exchanging individuals). But there seems to be something slightly amiss in this idea, even perhaps at a first glance. Such writers theorize a world in which no force is used by individuals who make up a State, but wherein force is used by still other individuals, such as petty thieves or gun-wielding extortionists—aggression which is usually admitted as impossible to fully eradicate.
If the non-aggression principle were the absolute mark of a libertarian society, the society would be characterized by purely voluntary interactions between individuals. This, of course, means no crime, no rape or murder, no robbery or extortion, nor any other act of aggression. Such things would not exist in a society in which property rights were universally recognized and respected. However, it is inherent in human action that individuals prefer to gain goods with the least amount of effort and time, and it is beyond dispute that people will sometimes prefer the more direct route to gaining goods even if it means infringing on another person’s property rights in order to do so. In theory, this is dealt with quite easily: protection will increase to meet the amount of aggression that takes place. Thus, at best, the libertarian world assumes that aggression and protection tend constantly toward an equilibrium in which protection is adequate relative to aggression, thereby preventing aggression from occurring.
But it must be realized that insofar as one admits the existence of unwarranted force into such a society—and it would indeed be absurd to pretend that it would be otherwise—one must also admit that compulsory states exist in it too. For if one admits robbers and murderers and extortion rackets will crop up in any degree, there is no degree to which individuals of this kind will be necessarily limited. In a perfectly libertarian world, the degree of aggression is nil, or, if one wishes to concede a bit, is at least met by a certain level of protection. An ideal libertarian world as most libertarian authors think of it is not an exposition of the principle of non-aggression per se, but a world in which force is kept to a lower degree than the world in which we actually find ourselves. This is to say the kind of aggression is not different from the lone gunman to the execution squad; it is only a matter of the extent to which such aggression is carried out.
There is another critical point one must consider: the influence that thieves have over their victims. Aggressors, given enough skill, can create a shortage of willingness and ability of individuals to protect their property and wherein the aggressors have the ability to continuously plunder individuals of their possessions, at least until individuals are willing to reclaim their right to protect themselves. This is the natural state of affairs, and would be met by increased protection by individuals of their possessions. But one may quite fairly assume that thieves might gain lasting influence over their victims and create a permanent shortage of protection by convincing their victims, in whatever way (say through direct force or threat of it) to begrudgingly accept their theft. This is how extortionists gain the ability to regularly plunder their victims, and indeed how compulsory states themselves come into existence.
There is nothing unnatural about this; that a thief gains a handy amount of influence over his victim is precisely analogous, in the theoretical sense, to the individual producing too much protection for himself, perhaps by direct force or intimidation in regard to the thief. (This claim is only to say that these things occur in the regular course of events—it is not to say that either party is in the right or in the wrong.)
The libertarian who stoutly extols the principles of private property and non-aggression stands admirably fast, but the world that some libertarians theorize as “the world that would exist absent the State” is simply misleading. In actuality, we are living in a libertarian society, and states do exist in it. Public opinion has been warped to such a degree that it allows the Leviathan state to have massive influence in the affairs of individuals. But it must be stressed that there is nothing particularly unnatural about this. Rather, it leaves it to the individual to decide for himself whether to succumb to aggression or to reclaim his right and ability to protect his own property.
Libertarianism is merely a euphemism for looking at reality in a different way. Libertarians, of course, think that we would live in a better world without the State or theft or crime. It is a matter of seeing these things for what they are and chasing the noble ideal of ultimately stamping them out. Every end toward that goal is a step in the right direction. In light of this, one may guard oneself more properly—in an intellectual regard—against systematic acts of aggression in the real world. At any given moment, one may simply withdraw consent from such aggression.
La Boétie advises us to free ourselves and end any plunder that we may from time to time encounter “by merely willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.” Though we cannot go back in time, we surely can be aware of our present surroundings and prevent such evils from perpetrating themselves today. Just as large-scale aggressors regularly influence opinion en masse to accept their rule, by merely recognizing and disobeying those that purport to lord over us, we ourselves can end any plunder as we speak—it is only a matter of choice.