Hobbes' Mistake - The Rational Case For Anarchy
Times of India, May 2001
In his classic "Leviathan", written in 1651, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes established the liberal case for the state. He said that, without the 'mortall god' of the state to hold us all in awe, society would disintegrate, there would ensue "a war of each against all" and life would be "nasty, poore, brutish and short". Since then, liberals in the West have upheld statism - and have encouraged state-building in the Third World. Today, it is seen that almost all the states of the Third World are predatory states, enemies of the people. They are huge kleptocracies which amass and then misuse economic powers and keep people poor. When libertarians talk of the need to do away with states and statism, we are accused, even by our liberal friends, of being anarchists. How do we defend ourselves from this charge?
The fact is: Thomas Hobbes was wrong. Very wrong. The following thought experiment will show how. Carry a tray of ripe bananas before a group of monkeys. What will happen? The monkeys will snatch and steal all the bananas: the Hobbesian war of each against all. Now take another tray of ripe bananas and carry them to a place where there are no monkeys but lots of human beings: Chandni Chowk, Connaught Place, Crawford Market... What will happen? No one will steal your bananas. If they want your bananas, humans will politely ask whether you will offer them in exchange for money. Homo Economicus is a moral creature. Because he has the ability to exchange, which the monkey does not, Homo Economicus does not snatch and steal. He has an inborn morality that respects property rights. In stark contrast, the Constitution of India does not recognise property rights!
Now, hang around in the market a little longer and observe who are the monkeys amongst us. Then you will see the policeman extorting goods for free; you will see the municipal functionary preying on urban commerce. These are the cutting-edge personnel of the predatory state. This clearly shows that: 1) the market is a secular basis of human morality; and 2) power corrupts.
Yet, it is important to note that Thomas Hobbes was a liberal. In Leviathan he does mention that every man would very much prefer to rule himself. We sacrifice some of our freedoms in exchange for the law and order that the state creates. The original cover illustration of Leviathan shows a huge king-like figure wielding a massive sword. A little careful examination reveals that the body of the 'mortall god' is completely made up of little people: the citizens. "Leviathan bears the body of the citizenry," Hobbes says. In predatory states it is obvious that the sword of state is not borne by a 'mortall god'. Rather, it is in the hands of a huge monkey. And its body is not composed of the citizenry; rather, it is composed entirely of little monkeys. Why should the entire Third World continue to suffer this situation? Will not absolute freedom - anarchy - be better?
The word anarchy has a beautiful meaning: no ruler. It does not mean chaos, as the enemies of freedom would have you believe. It means, quite simply, that the king is dead, and there are to be no more kings. All human beings are free and equal. There is no one to lord over us. There is no one with power. Before dismissing this option outright, let us inquire into what forces within civil society will maintain morality and order in the absence of the state.
Under conditions of anarcho-capitalism - no state - all the people will seek their survival in the free market. Statists believe that under such conditions robbery and thievery will ensue, but are their fears based on reality? After all, in a free market, cheating succeeds only in the short term. Every capitalist knows that, for long-term success, he has to protect his reputation. That is why brand names and brand equity matter so much in assuring us of quality. Only those who satisfy customers will succeed in the long run, and that is why morality will rule.
Secondly, in a completely free market, credit will go only to the creditworthy. Unlike today, when political allocation of credit prompts many to not pay their dues, under anarcho-capitalism, everyone will realise that creditworthiness is something to be cherished and carefully nurtured. Free banking will ensure more moral behaviour than politicised banking.
Thirdly, human beings, apart from being economic creatures, are also sexual creatures. This prompts them to raise families. Without a state that will look after them in times of trouble, under anarcho-capitalism, the family will be the main source of support. Families will be strong. Children will be well brought up. This shows that there are only two secular bases of human morality: the market and the sexual union. Not the state, which is a promoter of immorality.
Some will say that the free market cannot exist without supporting institutions. This is true. There must be courts and justice. But law is also an enterprise. Today, the monopolistic state courts system is hopelessly clogged and does not deliver timely justice. Further, it is based on the socialistic disregard for property rights, which cannot co-exist with the free market. We will need property rights to be enforced; we will need disputes to be settled or adjudicated. All this can happen easily under anarcho-capitalism.
Lastly, we will need some form of policing. This must be done because there will be a few thieves, rapists and murderers amongst us: a free society is not a perfect society. But, throughout history, such plunderers have come from outside the city, and the city people have always organised themselves for their own protection. Today, in our cities of joy, entire communities get murdered with tacit state police support. Tomorrow, with self-policing, we shall surely be safer.
The entire Third World, comprising two-thirds of humanity, is suffering because of Thomas Hobbes' mistake. We must unitedly reject the notion of Leviathan. Statelessness and anarcho-capitalism will make us rich, moral and safe. We will all achieve our destiny. The path we must take is not to reform the state and its institutions, but to do away with them altogether. What is required is shifting the paradigm from nation-states to associations of free trading cities: limiting politics to the polis.
New Delhi, Saturday, May 26, 2001
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