Open Letter from an Anarchist
To my dear friends and family;
By now some of you may know that I am an anarchist. If this is the first you have heard of it, sit down for a moment; the dizziness is normal but will go away quickly.
Instead of trusting popular stereotypes to represent my view, I would like to lay out exactly what it means to be anarchist, and exactly how I arrived at this position. I also want to talk about why describing me as an anarchist is an incomplete description.
Anarchism, as I use the term, means simply that I advocate for the peaceful abolition of the State. I do not want violence in the streets, bloody uprisings, communism, or chaos. I want society to be ordered – but by an order that arises spontaneously and with which each of us is intimately familiar and which can be seen in action at any social gathering.The reason I am an anarchist can be found in a single moral axiom:
That it is immoral for a person to initiate the use of physical force against another person or their property without consent.
This moral principle, called the non-aggression principle, guides my views on all human relations. According to the NAP, as it is abbreviated, no human being has the moral right to impose his will upon another using physical force or the threat thereof. Of course, since the NAP only prohibits the initiation of force, it is compatible with self-defense and the defense of others, as such is merely a response, not the initiation, of force.
Accordingly, I oppose all those who initiate the use of physical force against others. This includes violent criminals, burglars, and predators. It also includes any organization which uses physical force or threats thereof to achieve its ends – the mafia, street gangs, and human traffickers. It also includes one organization which is much more prominent than these: the State itself. Since the State is the only organization which claims both the legal and moral right to initiate the use of physical force against other people and their property – in violation of the NAP – I oppose it, as I would any such organization.
These two characteristics of the State, that it claims the legal and moral right to initiate the use of force against others, is the core property of the State. This is not some ancillary property that can be reformed, or tweaked; it is the very nature of the State itself, the defining heart of the State.
That being said, I do not oppose law itself, nor welfare programs, nor any public services, as long as they are done in harmony with the NAP, which of course means that they cannot be funded by taxes, which are taken using the threat of force, and cannot be imposed upon people without consent.
To paraphrase the economist Frederic Bastiat, “People often confuse the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, it is concluded that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then they say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then they say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality.”
The reason it may seem like I focus on the evils of the State is because the State is the most chronic and large-scale violator of the NAP, having killed some 262 million of its own people in the last century, not including the additional 40 million soldiers killed in battle. The scope of this plague dwarfs all other violations of the NAP, and I think it is important to focus on the worst problems first. A doctor would be a hypocrite if, upon seeing a patient in cardiac arrest, he began to treat the patient’s hang nail. I would be a hypocrite if, upon seeing the massive and unequaled use of the initiation of force against others by the State, I focused on some other societal ill.
In the end, I care deeply and profoundly about human beings. When I see the harm that is done to human beings by the initiation of force against them, it breaks my heart. When I read about children being killed by drone in Afghan villages while sleeping in the arms of their parents, I cannot contain my deep sorrow. When I see the consequences of the war on drugs – the maimed police officers, the prison rapes, the fatherless children – I am moved beyond words. When I imagine how it must have been for children in Boston being pulled out of their homes at gunpoint by scores of militarized police who were screaming at the top of their lungs at the children and their parents, my heart absolutely breaks. These are living human beings who are being indelibly scarred by those who believe that they have the moral right to impose their will upon others using violence and force as the means.
This belief – that agents of the State have the right to use violence and force as a means – is the greatest evil the world has ever seen. It is at the heart of every great human moral catastrophe – from slavery to Nazism to the mass slaughter in the Soviet Union to the modern genocides around the world.
I’ve had it with the violence, the domination, the cages, the thuggery, and the killing. I can no longer give any kind of support to violent organizations, and I cannot support the threats of violence against other human beings.
Anarchism is a necessary component of the NAP, but it is not a complete picture. A more accurate description of the philosophical position of those who hold to the NAP is voluntaryism – the belief that all human relationships should be based on voluntary consent of all parties, and that no person has the right to enter into a relationship with another person or their property without consent. This philosophical position is the only logically consistent philosophy for those who have accepted the NAP and it is the philosophy which I believe more fully encompasses my values than does the label of anarchist.
At this point, you may be thinking that voluntaryism is great in theory, but this is the real world and there are problems which make voluntaryism a utopian fantasy. My answer to this is simple: one does not compromise moral principles on the grounds of pragmatism.
These ideas are not crazy, and I am not a crazy person. I have no desire to harm anybody, or to do anything violent, even as an act of self-defense, but rather, I simply want to live my life without being threatened, and I want the same for others. You no doubt have several questions and/or concerns about what you have just read. I would be more than happy to discuss them in an honest and open manner, as well as to discuss more about the non-aggression principle, anarchism, or voluntaryism at your pleasure. I look forward to it.