Through discussions concerning political philosophy I have encountered various challenges to Anarchism—the most valid concerning, as it calls into question the ethics and morality of Anarchism, the nature of man. Classically, this issue has been addressed as a simple dichotomy; is man inherently good or evil? The question is inadequate, as it is possible to arrive at more that two opposing starting assumptions. If both the opponent and proponent of Anarchism can agree that man is inherently evil, and still disagree on how human nature will play out in the societal construct of Anarchism, we need to go a step further. Operating with the assumption that man is evil, the next question must address what man will do with the evil inside him, or in the context of a society, how would the majority choose to act? Would the populace rather live peaceful lives or, as Alfred Pennyworth said in The Dark Knight, “Just want to watch the world burn?”
How a political philosophy deals with morality and ethics tends to be the standard by which we judge forms of government. “Moral Law,” as defined by a dear friend of mine, is the “perfect standard of morality known only by God, who judges the heart.” Ethics (which we will refer to as “Natural Law”) is, as said friend defines, “that portion of Moral Law which can be fully understood and enforced by mankind.”
Opponents of Anarchism argue that laws concerning ethics and, at times, morality need to be set in place and enforced by a governing body. Following the logical train of thought, they have answered the defining question in the manner of Alfred. Those who hold Anarchism in high esteem, such as myself, would go the opposite route. I believe that, generally, men want to live a peaceful life of non-aggression, making a government unnecessary.
Non-Aggression is a key point in this discussion. It is generally accepted among Libertarians that the Principle of Non-Aggression would reign as the implied law of the land and lay an ethical framework for all interactions. Non-Aggression is a simple principle reminiscent of the golden rule. It put’s things in terms of property rights, stating that you have ownership of your material possessions as well as your life and body. You are allowed to do whatever you wish with your property provided that you do not infringe on someone else’s right to do the same. Doing so relinquishes your property rights to the extent of your trespass. To put it in defined terms, what you do with your own property would fall under the jurisdiction of Moral Law, enforceable only by God himself—a place where many Evangelicals would part ways with me. When another’s property is involved, the action would be considered under Natural Law. The specifics of enforcement of Natural Law in an Anarchist state is open for interpretation. Some circles say that the individual must enforce Natural Law on his own, which could be deemed as revenge for simplicity’s sake. Others prefer a more communal approach. I think both have their place.
A a real world example of Anarchism at work can be drawn from the Frontier West. In Tom Woods’ book, 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask, he explains how we grow up learning, primarily from Hollywood, that the “Wild West” was a violent place with murderers and bank robbers running rampant. Woods lets us know we have been misinformed.
“Even in the absence of government, the old West was far less violent than most American Cities today. Frontiersmen developed private mechanisms to enforce the law and define property rights.” -Tom Woods
Citing historians Richard Shenkman, Robert Dykstra and Larry Schweikart, Woods dissolves the fantasy of the “Wild West.” He appeals to research from Shenkman and Dykstra to dispel the idea that homicides were common.
“Many more people have died in Hollywood Westerns than ever died on the real Frontier, in the real Dodge City, for example, there were just five killings in 1878, the most homicidal year in the little town’s Frontier history: scarcely enough to sustain a typical two-hour movie.” -Richard Shenkman
Dysktra took a look at five of the major cattle towns finding only forty-five reported homicides from 1870-1885. He also makes the interesting note that in the supposed wild town of Abilene there were no reported killings until a sort of police was formed.
Shweikart compared the number of bank robberies in the Frontier West to modern day Dayton, Ohio, where is a professor at the University of Dayton. He concluded that, from 1859 to 1900, the entire “Wild West”, there were fewer than a dozen bank robberies in the whole Frontier. There are more bank robberies in a single year in Dayton.
It is important to dissolve the idea of the “Wild West” because, as Woods says, “in the absence of government,” or in a form of Anarchism, there was order—which gives weight to the saying “government breeds violence.” It would seem that those who resided in the Frontier West valued peace, and attained a relatively high level of harmony by wearing guns on their hips and maintaining a high respect for Natural Law. This is partially why Libertarians today believe the Second Amendment is as invaluable as the people thought it to be at the time of the Constitution did.
The debate between Anarchism and Statism, like most, comes down to starting assumptions. The Nature of Man has ended up in the center of this dispute, which is unfortunate because there will never be a unanimous decision concerning it. Man, in his foolishness, continues to brew evidence supporting both sides. But the question must still be asked. What is Man’s Nature?