The Obviousness of Anarchy
By John Hasnas
[Excerpts from Roderick Long and Tibor Machan (eds.),
ANARCHISM/MINARCHISM (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2008); ISBN 0 7564 6066.
Found at http://faculty.msb.edu/hasnasj/GTWebsite/AnarchyDraft.pdf. Permission granted
by Lilly Chesterman of Ashgate Publishing in email dated September 12, 2007. For other
penetrating articles by John Hasnas see the Short Bibliography below.]
By Carl Watner
Lector, si documentum requiris, circumspice
Christopher Wren, the famous English architect, died in 1723, and was
buried in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, a building which he had designed.
His son, Christopher Jr., memorialized his father by placing on a wall
near his father's tomb, "one of the most famous of all monumental
inscriptions:Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice
('Reader, if you seek a monument, look around')."
Hasnas has done the same thing. He writes that "A wise man once
told me that the best way to prove something is possible is to show
that it exists." Well? If proof (documentum) is required,
LOOK AROUND! There are countless examples of voluntaryism in everyday
life and in American history. We know that "a stable, successful
society without government can exist" because it "has, and
to a large extent, still does" exist. This, in fact, is one of
the ongoing purposes of The Voluntaryist and my anthology, I MUST SPEAK
OUT: to document the historical instances of non-political cooperation
among human beings.
State cannot be everywhere, nor can it be all things to all people,
and as John Hasnas points out there had to be a peaceful community before
there was a State. As I have written before, every service provided
by the State and paid for by compulsory taxation (with one major exception
- world war) has been provided at one time or another in history by
people. Private schools, private coins, private libraries, private charitable
aid,private roads, private post offices, private arbitration
and mediation, private courts, time zones, weight and measure standards,
our English language - all these are examples of voluntaryism, not statism.
an article footnoted in "The Obviousness of Anarchy," Professor
Hasnas writes that "Anglo-Saxon and early Norman England ... offers
a wonderful test case of how human beings behave in the absence of central
political authority." [pp. 127-128] The result was the English
system of common law, on which most of English and American jurisprudence
depends. The evolution of the common law demonstrates human beings need
rules and regulations to govern their interactions; but it also proves
that centralized government authority is not a prerequisite to their
existence. Most of the formal and informal institutional arrangements
of human society reached their zenith before the advent of modern nation-State.
brilliant and magnificent essay directs our attention to what should
be an obvious fact. Readers: LOOK AROUND! The evidence to prove that
anarchism is a viable, sustainable way of life exists, if we can only
The Obviousness of Anarchy
am presenting an argument for anarchy in the true sense of the term
- that is, a society without government, not a society without governance.
There is no such thing as a society without governance. A society with
no mechanism for bringing order to human existence is oxymoronic; it
is not "society" at all.
am arguing only that human beings can live together successfully and
prosper in the absence of a centralized coercive authority.
are, of course, certain rules that must apply to all people; those that
provide the basic conditions that make cooperative behavior possible.
Thus, rules prohibiting murder, assault, theft, and other forms of coercion
must be equally binding on all members of a society. But we hardly need
government to ensure that this is the case. These rules evolve first
in any community; you would not even have a community if this were not
do not spring into existence complete with government police forces.
Once a group of people has figured out how to reduce the level of interpersonal
violence sufficiently to allow them to live together, entities that
are recognizable as government often develop and take over the policing
function. Even a marauding band that imposes government on others through
conquest must have first reduced internal strife sufficiently to allow
it to organize itself for effective military operations. Both historically
and logically, it is always peaceful coexistence first, government services
second. If civil society is impossible without government police, then
there are no civil societies.
government begins providing services formerly provided non-politically,
people soon forget that the services were ever provided non-politically
and assume that only government can provide them. ... Traditionally,
police services were not provided by government and, to a large extent,
they still are not. Therefore, government is not necessary to provide
a visitor from Mars were asked to identify the least effective method
for securing individuals' persons and property, he might well respond
that it would be to select one group of people, give them guns, require
all members of soceity to pay them regardless of the quality of service
they render, and invest them with discretion to employ resources and
determine law enforcement priorities however they see fit subject only
to the whim of their political paymasters. If asked why he thought that,
he might simply point to the Los Angeles or New Orleans or any other
big city police department. Are government police really necessary for
a peaceful, secure society? Look around. Could a non-political, non-monopolistic
system of supplying police services really do worse than its government-supplied
you ever wonder why people believed in the divine right of kings? They believed in it because they were taught to believe in it and
because they could imagine it was so, regardless of all evidence to
the contrary. We no longer believe in such silly things as the divine
right of kings. We believe that government is necessary for an orderly
peaceful society and that it can be made to function according to the
rule of law. We believe this because we have been taught to believe
it from infancy and because we can imagine that it is so, regardless
of all contrary evidence.
should never underestimate the power of abstract concepts to shape how
human beings see the world. Once one accepts the idea that government
is necessary for peace and order and that it can function objectively,
one's imagination will allow one to see the hand of government wherever
there is law, police, and courts and render the non-political provision
of these services invisible. But if you lay aside this conceptual framework
long enough to ask where these services originated and where, to a large
extent, they still come from, the world assumes a different aspect.
If you want the strongest argument for anarchy, simply remove your self-imposed
blinders and look around.
"Toward a Theory of Empirical
Natural Rights," 22 SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY AND POLICY (2005), pp. 111-147.
"The Myth of the Rule
of Law," 1995 WISCONSIN LAW REVIEW (1995), pp. 199-233. Reprinted
in THE VOLUNTARYIST, Whole Number 97 (April 1999), and Whole Number
98 (June 1999).
"The Loneliness of the
Long-Time Libertarian," http:lewrockwell.com/orig4/hasnas1.html.
John relates the story of how he became a libertarian at age ten. This
article may also be accessed through "Links" at John Hasnas's