Monday, September 11, 2006

What is Government?

Given that market anarchists have a specific political framework, it therefore follows that they also must have a specific way of looking at government. Government is, after all, nothing more than another name for the vast organization from which most of the force in any statist society originates. Government is what all anarchists reject. So what is it exactly that we reject?

The standard definition of government is "a monopoly of force on a given territory". This definition, while quite useful, is incomplete. After all, other individuals in a statist society do use force- criminals, for example. A given person, granted reasonable physical abilities, can murder pretty much anyone. What he cannot do is unilaterally decide to get away with it. He can only get away with it if he doesn't get caught by the state's police. And if he is caught, the government has the legitimacy needed to punish him as a criminal.

Based on this observation, here is the definition I propose for "government":
A government is a monopoly of order on a given territory.

What is the difference? Not that much, and yet still a lot. Our murderer may be an agent of force, but he is not an agent of order. I define order as the social result of an apparatus by which actions are evaluated and judged. Order necessarily implies legitimacy. I can claim that your actions are criminal and that you should be in jail, but that will probably have no effect in the society at large, because my power to praise or condemn is not recognized as legitimate.

In a statist society, the apparatus of order consists of the government, more specifically the police, courts and law-makers. The police arrests individuals, and the courts judge them, based on the monopolous system of law created by the law-makers. The role of the law, therefore, is to codify government exploitation in a legitimate manner.

But this is not the sole possibility by far. As any market anarchist understands, private agencies and courts can fulfill the same role. Public law and monopolous public courts are actually a fairly recent invention- for the large majority of mankind's history, the law was developed by private individuals solving conflicts and exchanging their solutions. There would be no law as we know it today without the innovations of private individuals.

In a market anarchy, therefore, the law would not be one document but rather a great number of documents, which would be supported and changed by consumer demand, and arbitrated by private courts. This dynamic set of documents would only resemble the law as we know it insofar as they are both order-bearing documents, but this is a rather superficial resemblance.

To take a rather trivial example, I could start my own court with this simple rule : "Anyone whose first name comes first on alphabetical order is in the wrong, and must be executed". It's an extremely stupid rule, but it's order-bearing (i.e. it permits me to evaluate and judge social agency). Of course, no one would agree to use my services, since it would place them at the mercy of a simplistic, irrational and easily manipulated rule.

A government or its law, therefore, is not needed at all for order to exist in a society. All we need is a legitimate agreement on what is permitted and what is not permitted, and an enforcment of said agreement. In a statist society, this agreement is the result of legislative struggle. In a market anarchy, this agreement is the result of consumer demand.

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