Advocates for a free and stateless society are often called upon to defend and explain their position by the intellectually curious, skeptics, and outright tyrannical statists. One of the most common methods of questioning is to use the template, “but what about [insert any social group or economic good here]?”

Examples include the elderly, the young, the schools, and the roads.

These questions are perfectly reasonable, and advocates of radical societal change should have answers to them. Yet, to be able to answer all the possible questions with detail and completeness would require a level of knowledge that is simply not achievable for most people (who no doubt are busy actually living their lives and who don’t have time to spend hours a day researching esoteric economic data).

To the one asking the questions, “I don’t know, and I don’t have time to figure out” is a rather unsatisfying answer. How, then, can the everyday anarchist give a satisfying answer at a moment’s notice to any of a number of these questions?

There are several possible methods, and in this series I will describe a few of them in some detail. These methods can be used by libertarians of all types to advocate for non-State solutions to various societal problems.

The first method is to challenge the unstated premise of the question that the State is actually taking care of the problem in question. Nobody asks, “in a free society, who will grow lettuce?” because the answer is obvious: the same people who grow lettuce in a State society. The question is only asked of things which are generally perceived as being provided by the State.

To be able to give any answer, both parties must have a common definition of the State. I propose the following:

Simply put, the State is that organization which claims both the legal and moral right to impose its will on others using aggressive physical violence.

In this definition, aggressive is used to differentiate the actions of the State from those using defensive violence. If my home is burgled, I claim the moral and legal right to impose my will on the burglar to evict him from my home. The State claims the right to impose its will on others offensively, not just defensively.

Physical violence, in this context, means the application of physical force to cause someone to do something without their consent.

There are other organizations which claim the moral right to use violence to accomplish their ends, such as the mafia, but these organizations do not claim the legal right. The State is distinguished from all other organizations in this way. Everything else the State does is also done by other organizations. The State offers protection services, but so do other non-State organizations. The State offers welfare services, but so do other organizations.

If we use this definition (as I regularly do in conversations like this without any resistance), then we can see that the question becomes, “how can we solve this societal problem without one group imposing its will on others using violence.”

But that’s backward! The burden of proof is on the one who is proposing to use violence. The advocate of non-State solutions grants that any method to solve a given problem can be used, except for aggressive violence. To ask how something can be done outside the State is to ask how something can be done without aggressive violence. To use this as an objection to statelessness is silly.

To put this in practice, let us imagine that someone has objected to statelessness by asking, “how would poor children be educated?” In other words, given that poor children exist, and that people are concerned about them (as indicated by the fact that the person asking the question is, in fact, asking it), the objection argues that the only way to solve the problem is to introduce aggressive violence into the situation. But by the very question, we know that there are people who are indeed concerned about this and who are willing to work to solve it. This applies to all societal problems.

Which social problems can be solved (or at least improved) by the introduction of aggressive violence? And what is the mechanism for that? And who can be trusted to use that violence?

Those who advocate for non-State solutions to societal problems need only point out that most problems are made worse, not better, by the addition of aggressive violence, and that no solution is often better than a so-called solution which uses violence.

The elderly need care? Let’s use an organization of violence. The homeowners need a way to get their cars to the shops? A little bit of violence can fix that! Some people are unemployed? If only we had a little more violence! A couple is getting divorced and they both want custody of their children? If reason and negotiation can’t solve it, surely violence can!

The libertarian can confidently answer these questions. He can, with full propriety, say, “I don’t know for sure how this would be handled. I have some ideas, which I would be happy to talk about, but the one thing I know that would definitely not happen is that an organization would use aggressive violence to try to solve it. That isn’t any kind of solution; it’s just adding problems onto problems. Once we agree on that, then we can move forward to talking about real solutions.”