15 October 2010

If Men Were Angels

There was, what I considered to be, a truly outstanding article over on the Mises Daily this morning about the "disaster" that would befall mankind if the State were to disappear. I'm going to shamelessly reprint portions of it here. The author starts by quoting a portion of The Federalist No. 51:
The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.[1]
and derives the following table from Madison's writing:

Anarchy State Control
Men == Angels OK OK
Men != Angels Impossible Best that can be done

The author then argues:
One need not spend much time, however, to find theoretical arguments — some of them worked out in great detail and at considerable length[4] — about why and how a stateless society could work successfully. Moreover, researchers have adduced historical examples of large stateless societies, ranging from the ancient Harappan civilization of the Indus Valley[5] to Somalia during the greater part of the past decade and a half.[6] Given the enormous literature that has accumulated on stateless societies in theory and in actual operation, we may conclude that, if nothing else, such societies are conceivable.[7]
and derives the following table in light of his argument:

Anarchy State Control
Men == Angels OK OK
Men != Angels Bad Worse

Finally, he supports his conclusion by stating:
Although I admit that the outcome in a stateless society will be bad, because not only are people not angels, but many of them are irredeemably vicious in the extreme, I conjecture that the outcome in a society under a state will be worse, indeed much worse, because, first, the most vicious people in society will tend to gain control of the state[8] and, second, by virtue of this control over the state's powerful engines of death and destruction, they will wreak vastly more harm than they ever could have caused outside the state.[9] It is unfortunate that some individuals commit crimes, but it is stunningly worse when such criminally inclined individuals wield state powers.

Lest anyone protest that the state's true "function" or "duty" or "end" is, as Locke, Madison, and countless others have argued, to protect individuals' rights to life, liberty, and property, the evidence of history clearly shows that, as a rule, real states do not behave accordingly. The idea that states actually function along such lines or that they strive to carry out such a duty or to achieve such an end resides in the realm of wishful thinking.


  1. Well, anarchist Somalia was VERY far from the paradise ancaps tried to paint it as. The direction of migration shows this clearly.

    Even more importantly, it did not last. A force was organized under a strong ideology - and took it over in teh absence of centralized defence. The ideology was Islamism, the force was the Union of Islamic Courts (aka al-Shabab). It got to control much the country outright, then the Ethiopians intervened - the rest has nothing to do with anarchy.

    And that's where it ends. Remove the state, get a shady anarchist balance and then a worse state in its place.

  2. The best moral reason for anarchy as a political ideal is that statism always means using coercive force against the innocent. To remove the state violently would then itself violate the ideal. So how the state is removed matters.

    Anarchy would be an ideal achieved by replacing state functions with private ones. Where this happens, this does not involve waking up one morning and suddenly being left without a state. It would be over time seeing the state's functions replaced one-by-one with better private providers. In situations where the state collapses overnight, the people are capable of living well under neither a state nor anarchy.


Please be relevant, civil, and brief... in that order.