The Difference Between A Statist and An Anarcho-Capitalist Society

August 15th, 2011   Submitted by valhelion

A favorite pastime of mine is reading heated debates between statists, usually of the minarchist type, and anarcho-capitalists. In one such thread a minarchist pointed out that Mises wasn’t in favor of anarchism (to no one’s surprise), and an argument ensued where fellow anarchists claimed that Mises likely had no conception of a stateless, yet lawful society. The debate eventually escalated into anarcho-capitalist theory and how law would naturally arise and be enforced. Statists, however, rebuked that the largest private defense agency would take over everything and enforce tyrannical laws because they had the most guns and money.

This is a popular conjecture and has been used against many an anarchist.  The premise is that once a single person, or cabal of rich people, control enough of the legal and protection service apparatus, they will then override their consumers’ preferences and create a de facto state.  The person making the argument usually concludes that since the state is inevitable we should accept this reality and focus on shaping the state in the most preferable way.

The common counter arguments I’ve witnessed are always technical in nature.  They usually run along the lines that in order to establish the private defense and dispute resolution agencies, the proprietors will need to convince both their investors and their customers that they will not engage in this activity.  To prove this a large quantity of insurance will be purchased. Furthermore, accounting statements of what arms and munitions exist will be made public.  Also raised is the looming threat that should such an agency or group of agencies violate their contracts, monthly premiums will stop being paid by their former customers resulting in financial ruin.

Regardless of how effective such counter arguments may be, I believe there would be a deeper, more fundamental barrier preventing voluntary defense agencies from later going on the offensive.  To shed light on this we must first examine where responsibility lay in various historical state models.

The falsely attributed but popular quote from Louis XIV of France,  “I am the state,” exemplifies the idea that ancient rulers were considered to possess the moral authority to do as they wish.  Of course, the problem with being the king is that a king and his head are so easily parted, often resulting in the collapse of the state.  Moreover, simply dying from natural causes could tear apart an empire. Such was the case concerning Alexander The Great, Attila the Hun, Charlemagne, and Genghis Kahn.  With their deaths, so went their states.

Borrowing from the theory that ideas are like organisms, if the state is to survive, then having a central power figure as its embodiment is risky business given the guarantee of the despot to eventually die.  Luckily for the political class, a more resilient state was founded around the same time that the heads of monarchs began to roll in Europe.  An upstart rabble from the American colonies provided just the solution to this age old problem.  The state was reborn by the arcane rite of infusing a document with the powers of state coercion for all to see.  This Constitution, though honorably intended to serve notice to would-be despots and future kings, breathed life anew into the notions of statehood, thus creating an entity far more powerful than the Roman Empire of yore.  Interwoven with the concept of legal person-hood, the state became a purely fictional entity, disembodied from the physical vessel of the despot and transformed into the ephemeral spirit of The Nation.  Now, no matter who lost their head, the faceless, invisible state would live on in the minds of the masses through its flags, anthems, legal charters, and titles.  Now, it seemed, the state might continue forever, save for the fact that it is built upon contradictions.

This wasn’t quite a new development, however, as it had been tried before in ancient Greece and other places.  It had succeeded for quite a while under the Roman Republic and it was no coincidence that a similar form was chosen for the new American Republic.  It  was an old idea made new again, soaring to new heights as evidenced by how many countries around the world adopted similar systems of governance.  Even the Soviet Union had a constitution.

To showcase the disembodied state, consider the prosecution of an individual.  At no point will the judge allow him or her to speak to the state in person.  Facing the state would be a fair request considering that it is their accuser.  But this is an impossibility, of course, as one may only speak with agents of the state, such as the judge.  The same goes for policemen and prosecutors.  Even the Congress and the President are mere agents, only possessed with the greater authority conferred by their title.

Why this is important is very simple; since the state is a fiction, and everyone of its employees are mere agents, then not a one of them is responsible for its actions.  This is the critical feature.  No matter what the agents do, so long as it generally lines up with what is written down upon the holy documents, they are not considered morally responsible for their actions and cannot be held legally accountable.  Complain to a police officer and he will give you the excuse that he is just doing his job.  The state regulator will recite some legalese and say that he is just following the law.  The politician will claim that the Constitution mandates the legislature to do certain things.  The judge will cite past rulings and the pilot who releases his bomb on a target is sworn by oath to obey the will of the state through its officers.

No one is responsible for anything because they are all servants of an unseen, undetectable, all-knowing, all-powerful entity we call The State.  It is a pure fiction.

That is the fundamental difference between an anarcho-capitalist society and a government.  Individuals are responsible for their actions.  There are no magical super-conscious entities that they can blame for their misdeeds.  And that is the reason why a group of people who make agreements to offer protection under specific terms will not later go around tyrannizing everyone after they have accumulated large amounts of weaponry.  There simply will not be anyone else to bear the burden of blame for their actions.

Statism’s evil lies in that it gives people an excuse to behave badly by transferring moral responsibility onto a fictional being that isn’t real.  Anarchism is the rejection of that myth and as a consequence it places moral culpability where it belongs, the individual.

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44 Responses to “The Difference Between A Statist and An Anarcho-Capitalist Society”

  1. I.M. PericlesNo Gravatar says:

    Notice how Your Owners managed to destroy Ron Paul? Did you really think they would allow him to win? Most people are Statists and Stupid thanks to the Political Terrorist’s indoctrination camps and TV programming. There is no way you can escape being their slave. Most people want to be slaves…That is how pathetic the human animal is at this time. Nothing has changed since the days of Jesus. I am sure Jesus gave up and wanted to die because of the gut-wrenching stupidity of the peasant slaves around him.

    Don’t forget to Vote! LOL!

  2. Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

    You’ve described very well what I call “collective responsibility.” That is, when everybody is responsible for an injustice, nobody is.

    Having gotten to an Anarcho-Capitalist society, I agree that a new state will not be easily created, because in order for an Anarcho-Capitalist society to come about in the first place, the paradigm shift will needed to already have happened, that being, people understand that individuals are responsible for their own actions, and that pointing the finger at others would be universally recognize as kicking the can, and thus not legitimate.

    You’ve also done a good job of showing that the state is in many ways like a religion. It’s a bunch of people claiming to act on God’s(the state’s) behalf.

    Excellent article. Well done!

  3. pnoqueNo Gravatar says:

    This is an outstanding article, my friend. I keep imagining you as Toto pulling back a curtain.

  4. BrodieNo Gravatar says:

    The problem in the first place is suggesting there will be organizations like PDAs.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      Do you care to elaborate?

      • BrodieNo Gravatar says:

        Well first of all, state laws keep guns out of the hands of peaceful people. In a free society, those restrictions will be gone, making crime that much more dangerous to commit. State laws also make people hesitant to use guns for self-defense. In a free society, those restrictions would of course be gone as well, making justice much more swift, I believe, in most cases. Next, the state creates crime by creating black markets. All that crime would be gone. Altogether, we would have a society with much less crime, IMO. Then we have to ask ourselves, what does justice involve? It involves investigating crimes and then resolving differences. We already have private investigators. We also already have private dispute resolution services. And individuals already have access to weapons. Why voluntaryists feel those services and products need to combine is beyond me. Suggesting we need PDAs is akin to suggesting we need police, IMO. But who wants to wait around for five minutes for a police officer to arrive instead of having a gun on hand? The same goes for PDAs.

        • valhelionNo Gravatar says:

          I agree with all of those things you stated. I would add that also having dispassionate third parties for peace keeping purposes (not of the U.N. variety) is something many people would value. Not necessarily to stop a crime in progress, but rather to act as an interdicting force prior to the crime being committed such as in the case of a domestic dispute that is about to get out of hand or a bunch of unruly teenagers hanging around a store. Hence arriving to ‘keep the peace’. I’m not arguing that is the only way, but rather that I expect to see that in an ancap society as well as do-it-yourself justices and protection if only for reasons explained by the division of labor and comparative advantage.

          Most of my focus was toward so-called, national defense, so perhaps I should have been clearer in that regard in the article.

          • BrodieNo Gravatar says:

            Ah. Well, I still see the same problem. I don’t think there would be national PDAs either. However, this is an extremely difficult concept to explain to statists. The military is the muscle of the state. It is there to protect the state. Without a so-called state, there is just individuals. Another state would not target a society that has no state, because there are just individuals there. It would not be able to invade such a place or willing to for a number of reasons. The populace would not be compliant, as such, almost impossible to rule (they would not pay taxes or obey laws). The populace would be well armed. Using WMDs would be highly frowned upon by the world at large, as well as the government’s own populace. It’s the same reason they are not used today. Also, we know that increased trade results in more peaceful relations, and in a stateless society, we would have free trade. So attacking such a society would be like shooting yourself in the foot. For all these reasons, there would be no PDAs. There would be no need, IMO. Of course, statists will just believe we would get invaded regardless, since people just like to attack others for no reason.

            • valhelionNo Gravatar says:

              Once again, I agree with your assessment that we should expect a reduced amount of threat to our society in the absence of a standing army and nationalist idolatry. Switzerland during WW2 is a good example. The Nazi warmongers considered the costs too great to invade, partially because of the treacherous mountain terrain, but also because the entire population was heavily armed.

              I think the concept of PDA and DRO are more of a helpful intellectual device that people need during transition between limited statism and anarchism in order to assuage their fears about so-called public goods, which I think are propaganda to keep people corralled in their thinking.

              However, I think it is wise to consider how decentralized defense can be achieved in a stateless society against military incursion, if only to demonstrate the supremacy of Hayekian emergent order over central planning of military operations. I intend to write a blog, or series of blogs, covering this topic.

            • FrikkiNo Gravatar says:

              Though late in the debate, I’d like to add that we in Iceland don’t have a military force.

    • valhelionNo Gravatar says:

      I wouldn’t agree that suggesting PDA’s are a problem, but I do agree that considering defense only in the narrow view of a capitalistic enterprise needs to be elaborated upon. I’ve been thinking heavily on this issue and may put it to pen.

  5. SpiralOut11235No Gravatar says:

    A force far more powerful that its guns keeps the states thriving: our fellow slaves believe the state has the moral authority. As Rothbard discuses in For a New Liberty, an ancap society would not view a rougue defence agency exacting “taxes” as anything more than a criminal organization committing theft/assault etc.

  6. AuNeroNo Gravatar says:

    I never heard of this before. That it’s the moral perceptions and the consequences of them, that will dis-incentivize tyranny in an anarcho-capitalist society. “I was just following orders” can’t be used as an excuse. Good point.

  7. Keisha CoakleyNo Gravatar says:

    Awesome article! I totally agree with you.

  8. Kevin W. CornellNo Gravatar says:

    Properly speaking, “The State” is not at all “a fictional being that isn’t real”; rather, it is a criminal syndicate whose existence many attempt to justify with fictions.

  9. AmandaNo Gravatar says:

    Many good points in this article; I particularly liked the last two sentences. But the problem with anarchism is the same as the problem with statism: people with power and freedom from outside control do not always have ethics and self-control. Everyone is corruptible, including anarchist-created defense companies. Founding a society on moral principles will not protect it from people with immoral principles, or people who don’t even think about principles, or from mistakes made by principled individuals.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      There are always going to be evil people out there with evil ends. They really aren’t too big of a problem by themselves. It’s when men and women of good conscience unwittingly support these ends that the problems become great. As more and more individuals recognize evil and resist it, the less power evil has.

      Imagine if all of the anti-war people in America were suddenly pro-war. America would be much more destructive than it is now. I say this, because oftentimes people feel that it’s hopeless and that no progress is being made. Even I have these feelings sometimes. But then I think about how much worse things would be if all of the good people weren’t good, but instead bad.

      • AmandaNo Gravatar says:

        I agree with everything you wrote, especially the need for hope, but none of it says anarchy rather than a limited government that abides by the non-aggression principle. An anarchist society can become indifferent and permissive of evil just as easily a a statist one, with the same result: might becomes right.

        • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

          I am curious what you mean by a limited-government that abides by the non-aggression principle. To me, that is an oxymoron. Government must tax in order to survive. Since all taxation is theft, and theft is a violation of the N.A.P. then all governments violate the N.A.P.

          Also, I would say that we are already living in an anarchist world. There just happens to be large criminal organizations that a lot of people believe in.

          • AmandaNo Gravatar says:

            A government could conceivable exist which collects taxes only from citizens, with all citizens free to leave at any time, but unlike the anarcho-capitalist model, does not limit it’s protectional jurisdiction to only those who have paid it, but protects life, liberty and property in any circumstance it can, abiding by the non-aggression principle.
            Technically speaking, since everyone can do whatever they have the power to do, we do have anarchy. 🙂 But I think most anarchists are aiming for something more.

            • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

              I wouldn’t call what you’ve described government. But now it’s just semantics.

              • AmandaNo Gravatar says:

                I suppose calling that government would be stretching it. If you define government as an organization that exercises authority, it would count, but so would businesses and churches. Hmmm.

            • JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

              “A government could conceivable exist which collects taxes only from citizens, with all citizens free to leave at any time, but unlike the anarcho-capitalist model, does not limit it’s protectional jurisdiction to only those who have paid it, but protects life, liberty and property in any circumstance it can, abiding by the non-aggression principle.”
              -Government collects taxes from citizens
              -Freedom to leave
              -Will protect you even if you haven’t paid

              So then why pay taxes? I disagree with the idea that this is conceivable.

  10. KristNo Gravatar says:

    Nice read!
    Keep up the good work.

    A lot of great comments too.

  11. AgoristTeen1994No Gravatar says:

    While I do agree that a limited government that abides by the NAP is an oxymoron, I do have to disagree with you Seth, on that the have to tax people…they could for example have a lottery, where the winner of the lottery wins say, one percent or a tenth of a percent of the money raised…that way it’d be totally voluntary and the gov’t would still be able to get money…though personally I still would prefer no gov’t.

    • Seth KingNo Gravatar says:

      I’m just saying that if you raise your funds in a strictly voluntary fashion, it’s no longer taxation. If it’s no longer taxation, it’s no longer government, unless you’re still initiating violence against peaceful people in other ways.

  12. AgoristTeen1994No Gravatar says:

    …I’m starting to think we might have an issue of semantics though that’s fine…even if everything was totally voluntary and it was still “government” I’d much prefer no government since that way there’s no monopoly.

  13. JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

    If someone runs a lottery and reaps the profits, why would they use it to set up a charitable defense agency? It’s possible, but as a realistic model of how we could expect the world to work, it doesn’t contribute anything.

    Government exists to govern, or rule. If you aren’t taxing, you can’t rule, and can’t be a government.

    Coming up with “voluntary government” as an example of where minarchism and anarchism “overlap” is just a way for statists to try to steal our thunder.
    If you define things in a ridiculous way, you can get ridiculous results.

  14. JustSayNoToStatismNo Gravatar says:

    Also, the discussion of “voluntary government” has been addressed thoroughly in the forum. Here’s the beginning of one such discussion:,94.msg837.html#ms g837

    and another,589.0.html

  15. AgoristTeen1994No Gravatar says:

    I suppose you’re right.

  16. shane cunninghamNo Gravatar says:

    Austrian economics calls this the tragedy of the commons. Also Mises was a classical liberal, a minarchist essentially. thus a minimal statist believing the economy and state should be separate, unregulated. also the individual republic states comprising the whole of the union are sovereign and independent from the service agency in Washington District of Columbia dba United States of America [USA]. just as nato is not a sovereign or united nations are not a sovereign, the are mere service agencies. Men will cooperate in anarchy and form private law societies. these societies as long as they remain voluntary like cities, townships, homeowners associations, with insurance companies operating in free market un coerced by a state. and inline with natural law. offering market protection services etc etc…is viable and will form into communities. how big they become is unknown. if i want to leave california i can and in a new state I must sign up and prove residency to receive their collective efforts… if its to much and i perceive no benefit i can move.
    so free market anarchy can be lawful and resemble government… as backward as that sounds. the dupery begins when a service agency not unlike the gang in washington dba USA takes control and acts as central planner… this is what Mises was against a central planner.and controller of a massive geographical area that i can not voluntarily leave. additionally this service agency controls the economy inflates it artificially controls interest rates and expands credit. not to mention they have their hand on my back and another in my wallet compelling me to perform or else. Mises believed in these smaller units of government without travel restrictions and without economic regulations, a no central planner government… handling only crimes with victims, and contract law. Read Murray Rothbard and Hans Herman Hoppe they have described this natural law society very nicely.

  17. shane cunninghamNo Gravatar says:

    also Mises believed in private property. and did not believe in public property. so in any state or government Mises imagined, gov did not engage in building dept planning and inspections , roads construction and planning, bridges and infrastructure, this would all be done via market mechanism. more efficiently and with better innovation …. non-central planner. also any government he imagined did not inflate, adjust interest rates, and force expansion of credit.
    so today’s STATE is a coercive enterprise. engaged in multiple monopolies of of any service they can dream up. Mises called this socialism.

  18. An excellent article. Truth.

  19. A voter! That’s what I want to be!

  20. Mark DavisNo Gravatar says:

    Excellent article. A subtle nuance in this argument that I haven’t seen before. Well done Seth.

  21. Justin LeeNo Gravatar says:

    Also raised is the looming threat that should such an agency or group of agencies violate their contracts, monthly premiums will stop being paid by their former customers resulting in financial ruin.

    An agency or collection of agencies could just as well run a protection racket in order to stay in business, just as an existing private “defense” agency called the United States federal government does to exclude competitors, right?

  22. MamazeeNo Gravatar says:

    Neal Stephenson described a closer version in his novels “Diamond Age” and “Snow Crash”: opt in “states” like franchises, coexisting in the same city with franchises all over the world, owning property on behalf of their citizens, with hugely different rules of citizenship, privileges, cultures. But all people having the freedom to choose with whom they will align..

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  25. Freed SlaveNo Gravatar says:

    Great article. It gets to the heart of the only reason the state will always fail. Self-interest minus personal accountability. I think one angle that gets missed in formulating this argument concerns business. The state is a giant wealthy organization whose stakeholders have bare no liability. Sounds just like the ultimate corporation. This might be a helpful argument when trying to educate the brainwashed drones.

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