Sunday, 11 September 2011

Response to comment on my video "Conflict Resolution in a Free Society"

This is a response to a youtube comment left on my video "Law Without Government Part 2: Conflict Resolution in a Free Society" by WelcometotheUnknown.

WelcometotheUnknown says:

[At 4:20 in the video you say] "...threatening to use force against him if necessary." This is a tyrannical government then. It differs from our current governments in that there are multiple governments competing for the voluntary funding of individuals on a market. While this would be a lot better than our current system, it still does not qualify as anarchism as Dawn Defense will use force to make Bill pay whatever amount DD deems is fair. Under true anarchy, the enforcement of this will be by ostracism not coercion.

It seems to me that what you are advocating in this video is not a truly free society (anarchy). What you are advocating is competing governments in a single geographic area. You say that rather than being forced to pay taxes to the US government and their courts, police, and law systems, I can choose which law organizations I wish to subscribe to. This does not qualify as anarchism because you still give these law organizations political power.

The ability to "legitimately" use physical coercion to make Bill pay the $10,000 is called political power, something that is non-existent in a free society. If Bill agrees to follow by the ruling of his protection agency or dispute resolution organization and agrees to have the agency enforce their rulings against him should he not follow them, then if his agency says he owes the person $10,000 and he refuses to pay, then the coercion is justified.

But, if he does not agree to have the organization's ruling on the crime imposed against him forcefully to make him pay X in retribution, then that is illegitimate in terms of the non-aggression principle that defines a free society. Thus, if Bill doesn't agree to follow the rulings of any protection agency like DD, etc, then we cannot justly use force against him to make him pay retribution. Using physical force against Bill is only justified in self-defense.

So you might ask, how then is society to deal with thieves such as Bill? Easy, if someone in society doesn't agree to follow the rulings of some third party dispute resolution organization, then ostracize that person, because you know that if a dispute should arise (such as whether or not he committed a crime or how much he has to pay up if he did) then there will be no easy peaceful way of dealing with it.

By "ostracize" I basically mean to cut all economic (and/or social) ties with him. People are very dependent on each other. If there is someone who does not wish to submit himself to some third party arbitrator who can make dispute resolution easier, then that person is too difficult to live with. Don't buy anything from him, don't sell him anything, etc, unless he agrees to accept the rulings of some organization like DD when he fails to resolve disputes himself.

Thanks for this thoughtful response, which is worthy of a detailed reply.

First, let’s not get bogged down in terminology. We’re using several words differently. You are saying any security firm (like Dawn Defense) that uses force is by definition a government, and any such force is “political power”. I use a different definition of government. I would say that government is by definition a monopolist, so Dawn Defense is not a government. I use the term government interchangeably with State; all governments are compulsory; all governments tax. So “multiple governments competing for the voluntary funding of individuals on a market [in the same geographic area]” is a misuse of the term government, by my definition. If they’re competing for customers, they’re not governments.

Anarchy, since it means anti-government to us both, means different things to us because we have a different definition of government. To me, the situation in my video – multiple firms competing in the same territorial area competing for voluntary funding - is the definition of anarchy. The only requirement for anarchy is no monopolist. To you, it is not anarchy because there is still force being used against aggressors. I would call this situation pacificism, which is a kind of anarchy.

Now to our substantive disagreement about the kind of society we advocate. My position is that a pacific society (what you call anarchy) is desirable, in fact ideal. However, I also consider it somewhat utopian. Yes, ostracism would be a very powerful check on criminals, but the question is: would it be enough to maintain order? We can speculate about this, but we’ll only know by finding out, through a competitive law system.

My opinion is that voluntary actions like ostracism would not be sufficient, at least at first, for maintaining order. Ostracism just isn’t a big enough deterrent against some criminals; force would be needed against them. I may be wrong. I hope I am wrong. It may be that a competitive law system will become less and less coercive over time, until coercion is not used at all, and law becomes voluntary.

My video is an attempt to describe competitive law, and I used competitive-coercive law as I think that it is more realistic, and takes things one-step-at-a-time. The competitive part is what makes this society anarchy, by my definition. You are advocating a society of competitive-voluntary law. The voluntary part, to you, is necessary for it to be called anarchy. This is a mere terminological difference; our essential point of disagreement is that we speculate differently about whether coercion will be used in a competitive law system. We both agree it would be ideal; I say it is also unrealistic.

The current situation, of course, is monopolistic-coercive law, and both of us oppose the monopolistic part. That’s the most important thing; whether law is to be coercive or voluntary is just speculation about how things might turn out in a competitive environment.

You bring up the non-aggression principle.

So we must now step out of the descriptive realm (where we think about how a competitive law system might work in practice) and into the normative realm (where we think about what kinds of actions are justified according to libertarian principles)…

I insist that, if Dawn Defense did use force against Bill to take their $10,000, they would NOT be violating the NAP. The NAP forbids aggression, which is the initiation of coercion. What Dawn Defense did was retaliatory coercion; coercion in response to aggression. This is defensive action, not aggressive action, and thus not a violation of the NAP. Dawn Defense is acting on behalf of Alice, who was aggressed against, and she is entitled to retaliate, at least to attain restitution.

Within libertarian circles it is up for debate how much retaliatory coercion is justified. That is, at what point retaliatory coercion becomes a new aggressive action, and thus forbidden. Stephan Kinsella, for example, would say that retribution is primary; the “equal suffering” principle. The Rothbardian position is that retaliation is acceptable only to attain restitution; the “restore the victim” principle.

You say that using physical force is justified only in “self-defense”. The question is: what do you include within this term? Surely Alice has a right to use force take back her stolen handbag, if nothing else? And surely she also has the right to pay someone to use force on her behalf?

If by “self-defense” you mean she is not allowed to pay someone to use force on her behalf, then that is an odd rejection of the division of labor. What’s wrong with Alice’s wrestler boyfriend going round Bill’s house to grab the stolen handbag?

If by “self-defense” you do not include any right of Alice is to use retaliatory coercion even to attain restitution, then you are at odds with most libertarians, who are at least restitutionists (Rothbard, Block, Long), if not retributionists (Kinsella) as well.

In fact, the term “self-defense” is often used very loosely by libertarians. It is used interchangeably with “defense”. When someone like Rothbard says “only force used in self-defense is justified” he might as well say “only force used in defense is justified”. He does not mean to imply any of the two interpretations above by the use of “self-defense” rather than merely “defense”.

It may help if you can clarify what degree of retaliatory coercion you see as justifiable.

In my video, I left it ambiguous whether Dawn Defense were demanding $10,000 as retribution, or restitution only, or how they came up with the amount. It could be, for example, that Alice had $10,000 cash in the handbag Bill stole, so Dawn Defense are demanding pure restitution only. If Bill does not admit his guilt and voluntarily give the money back (perhaps ostracism is no worry to him), do you maintain that Dawn Defense are still violating the NAP if they threaten Bill with force to get him to pay the money back? If so, you are using an uncommonly broad definition of “aggression”, which extends the NAP to forbid far more than it usually does. It extends so far that criminals are justified in keeping the proceeds of their crimes, since it is unjustified for the victim to take back his property using force.


  1. WelcometotheUnknown11 September 2011 at 21:16

    I wrote a long response to this, but it did not immediately appear when I clicked "Post Comment." This is a shorter test message to see if the length was the reason it didn't post.

  2. WelcometotheUnknown11 September 2011 at 21:23

    Length does seem to be the reason it didn't post. I uploaded it to Google Docs. You should be able to see it here:

  3. I have responded here:

  4. Your article is quite detailed

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