Seeking Utopia

One of the more common accusations leveled against proponents of a free society is that of utopian-ism. This claim is most often raised as an objection to the supposed flaws in the ideas of a free society, where people cooperate to mutual benefit. Since the ideas of liberty most often exclude the state, and it is an authority structure of the state that is believed to enforce social grace and general calm, it is no surprise that the vision of a stateless society should cause most indoctrinated with state propaganda to chafe at such a vision. However, there is little evidence that social interaction absent the state would be any more than voluntary or cordial.

The confusion likely surfaces concerning free people and the ability to choose coercive means to achieve ends. In an anarchic or libertarian society, it is not supposed that all people will interact with grace. In fact, the frailties of human kind dictate the logical approach of libertarian societies; since humans cannot be trusted with power, there exists no rationale for granting power to some to control the lives of others. This limitation on power encompasses all human interaction and leads liberty loving people to oppose granting power wherever possible. In other words, utopia cannot be reached by expecting humans to behave in ways counter to their nature.

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A Well Regulated Militia

Earlier this week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals found a distinction between the types of weapons protected under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and those not protected. While this may be in keeping with previous court rulings on the subject, it ignores both the letter and the spirit of the amendment in question.

The U.S. Constitution is a severely flawed document which Lysander Spooner famously said “has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.” The Second Amendment, in particular, has been challenged for its lack of specificity:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

However, when we consider the rationale behind writing the constitution in the context of the time, we know that this particular amendment spoke to the need for people to have the means to stand up against tyranny. The American Revolution was fought in response to tyranny. It was a revolution of people seeking the freedom to govern themselves. The means used was a popular uprising of militias pulled together for a single purpose.

While today’s definition might be different, at the time the term “well regulated” referred to being trained and equipped. Beyond that necessary distinction, the wording is relatively clear enough, particularly where the phrase “shall not be infringed” appears. Sadly, courts and opponents of self-defense have found it easy to introduce categories of weaponry in an effort to do just that: infringe.

Chasing Meaning in Anarchy

During the protests that accompanied the swearing in of Donald J. Trump, a great deal of violence and destruction was done in the name of anarchy. While the term anarchy has its roots in Greek and medieval Latin (“lack of a leader, the state of people without a government“), its use has evolved since it first appeared in English during the 16th century. By the end of the 19th century, the term became synonymous with the violent overthrow of capitalist institutions and governments.

Within the ranks of those who still consider themselves anarchists remains some faction that clings to an anti-capitalist sentiment. In short, they seek a world with neither capitalism nor rulers. These can generally be referred to as anarcho-communists. In the tradition of Marxism, anarcho-communists believe that all property is owned in common.

Property rights exist for a reason: humans inhabit a world of scarcity. Without property rights, there are no clear lines of ownership for scarce resources. Lacking clear ownership, conflicts over scarce resources will become more likely. In the world sought by anarcho-communists, where no private property exists, there are no guiding principles through which use of scarce resources can be known in advance. If everyone owns everything, all people possess an equal claim for the same property at the same time.

For example, if a person harvests fruit from a tree, that person can’t claim ownership of the fruit in an anarcho-communist society. Therefore, individuals have no incentive to harvest fruit since the results of their labor can never be claimed as their own. In such an environment, shortages and conflict over scarce resources will more readily result. Since anarcho-communists oppose the existence of rulers, there would remain no method for resolving such conflicts. Such a society could not long survive.

On the opposite side of the anarchy spectrum are those opposed to government but respectful of private property and individual rights. These can be referred to as anarcho-capitalists. In a world of anarcho-capitalism, there are clear rules of ownership regarding private property. While such rules would not eliminate conflict over scarce resources, they would ensure that all parties understood moral claims to property. Under such a system, there would remain no need for rulers. Additionally, the existence of private property creates an incentive to work: the results of a person’s labor would always be claimed as their own.

When we consider the protests held during the inauguration, it should be clear that anyone who claimed to be an anarchist while engaging in violence and the destruction of property would certainly fall into the anarcho-communist category. Anarcho-capitalists recognize the Non-Aggression Principle as well as the sanctity of property rights.