Flag.Blackened.net | OBJECTION #11: The trouble with anarchism is anarchists. They are verbalists, voluntarists, and romantics. They do not understand the problem and they don’t want to. They do not know how to solve the problem and they don’t want to. They are dreamers, not doers.
What prompts these remarks is the preposterous article in your Spring, 1978 issue. Ron Classen challenges you there to be specific and concrete, and you respond with some general and vague reasons for being general and vague. Good grief!
Let me suggest that there is a specific and concrete method for penetrating to the root of political government and destroying it. For lack of a better name, let’s call this method “direct democracy.” The idea behind direct democracy is that as soon as governments must entice customers to support their services rather than being able to coerce them into supporting them, then governments will begin behaving pretty much like any other industry and a host of ancient problems traditionally associated with government will vanish. This is not an overnight project, but it can be accomplished gradually and it is the only feasible approach there is.
I don’t really expect romantic anarchists to accept this approach. Given their utopian attitudes it is certainly no surprise that they fail to see the importance of consumer sovereignty. Every practical man however knows the power of the pursestring, yet this reality seems to have escaped anarchists. Which leads me to predict that anarchism, when it comes, will not be achieved by anarchists, or at least not by romantic anarchists.
I have yet to see a single anarchist document that evidences the slightest awareness or understanding of what is, really, a very simple and obvious defect in the government industry. At first glance you’d suppose that everybody who took Economis 101 would fully understand the problem.
Consumer sovereignty means that each consumer only has his share of control over industry’s total revenues. to the extent that an industry insists on doing what customers don’t want, under consumer sovereignty it shrivels and eventually goes broke. End of problem. To the extent that it does what its paying customers want, they give it the revenues it needs and everyone is happy. No problem.
But when any industry finds itself able to enjoy supplier sovereignty (supplier sovereignty is the ability of the supplier to conrol its own total revenue) it goes unstable and flagrantly acts contrary to its customers’ desires. Government is just another industry. Remember, an industry is defined in terms of its products, and governments are firms engaged in supplying certain kinds of products (sweeping streets, killing crooks, pushing papers).
But all existing governments are political governments. Politics, the acme of supplier sovereignty, is counterproductive wherever it exists. The government problem exists because political governments enjoy supplier sovereignty. Similar problems would exist with any industry that enjoyed the same. This problem can be solved only by eliminating supplier sovereignty and establishing consumer sovereignty. In doing so no utopia will be created. Governments will become no better than other kinds of firms. But they will be no worse, which is the important thing.
What is needed is for citizens themselves to directly and continually be able to determine the total revenues and how these revenues are spent of each and every taxing agency to which each citizen is liable. It’s that simple. He who controls the pursestrings holds the final reins of power.
[At this point, there is described in some detail a system for establishing and conducting “preliminary budgetary ballots.” These, the writer says, could be incorporated into the official, annual election process – MEC]
Elected officials, who naturally desire to be reelected, will stray little from their constituents’ expressed desires. Eventually the process can be made binding as a fiduciary duty upon all elected and appointed officers of government. At which point political government will have been exterminated.
Consumer sovereignty is a necessary condition for any industry to be effective, efficient, and stable. But supplier sovereignty is a sufficient condition for any industry to be destructive, predatory, and unstable. Political government can be destroyed a few percent per year, year by year. It’s the only feasible approach there is.
– J.G. Krol
ANSWER: Because of space limitations I had to condense considerably Mr. Krol’s argument, but I hope I have sufficiently preserved the flavor and content of his objection. Trusting that I have done so, I proceed with an answer.
Mr. Krol makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that government is just another industry providing a range of services. He couldn’t be more wrong, and in his error misinterprets grossly the thrust of the anarchist attack on government.
Government is not – cannot be – defined by the “services” it provides. Historically, its unique characteristic has not been that it has made roads, delivered mail, swept streets, pushed papers or killed crooks. It’s fundamental characteristic has been the means it has used to exist, not the things it has done.
Benjamin R. Tucker defined government as “the subjection of the noninvasive individual to a will not his own.” Whether the person(s) doing the subjecting are lone individuals, gangs of ruffians or “legally” authorized representatives of the state, makes not the least bit of difference. They are all acting as governments whenever they force a non-invasive individual to do something that person doesn’t freely choose to do. Coercion is the key ingredient of government. It is its distinguishing characteristic. It is the thing that makes goverment government.
If Mr. Krol doesn’t accept this definition, then let him show why the anarchist definition of government is inadequate. Let him show us that coercion is not the distinguishing characteristic of that institution that throughout history has carried the name “government.” Otherwise, we will be embroiled in a hopeless and purposeless semantic debate.
Like other mini-government people, Mr. Krol appears more to be threatened by the word “anarchism” itself than by the actual philosophy of anarchism. Like the rest of us he was raised with the idea that government is a necessary part of social life. He hasn’t been able to break the bonds of that indoctrination. He knows that coercion is evil, so he fantasizes that somehow, somewhere a non-coercive “government” can be organized that will be fully responsive to its constituents’ wishes. It will keep the streets clean, carry away the garbage, and deliver the mail and for all these services the people will voluntarily pay the bill. Mr. Krol’s idea is that all we have to do is find a way to let the people vote how much they want to be taxed and how they want their tax money spent and we will have found the secret to non-violent government.
Any notion that government will let its victims (that is, the general populace) determine how much tax money will be taken and how the tax money will be spent is folly. By confining yourself to Economics 101, you might think that Mr. Krol’s plan is realistic and workable. But a glance at Political Science 101 will convince even the dullest-witted that government isn’t going to allow any such thing to happen. After all, what would be the purpose of governing if you couldn’t govern? Without control of the pursestrings, as Mr. Krol so well points out, you cannot rule. And ruling is the business of government.
Mr. Krol argues that we can have government (a coercive institution) by “consumer sovereignty” (that is, through voluntary consent). He has constructed a dream-world institution that has no relationship to any government that has ever existed or ever can.
He refuses to understand the true nature of the enemy the anarchists are really fighting.
By its nature government takes what it wants – it doesn’t ask for it. The monies we pay into its coffers aren’t free will offerings any more than the draft was voluntary service.
Using Mr. Krol’s guidelines we can reasonably imagine a group of people voluntarily contributing money to form a pirate organization which is designed to steal from others and to make slaves of people outside the organization. Those inside the organization will not adversely feel the theft or slavery. They could enjoy 100 percent “consumer sovereignty” (the government does exactly what they want it to). For them “consumer sovereignty” is working just fine. But for the exploited it’s still exploitation. As much as Mr. Krol might like to ingnore it, “consumer sovereignty” is no protection from the evils government forever creates.
The mafia and other “criminal” gangs are criminal not because of what they do (because what they do really isn’t much different from what the government does), but because a prevailing and more powerful gang of thugs has “outlawed” them. If the mafia were able to overpower the now dominating ring of governors and establish itself as the single coercive agent in a given area, then it would assume the same status the government enjoys today. It would “legitimate” its power and find all manner of excuses why it should rule.
Whether a government wields its power democratically (by counting the power of noses), or aristocratically (by assuming that some are better than others and therefore ought to rule), or by simple conquest (might makes right), it rules because it holds the balance of coercive power.
Mr. Krol suggests that anarchists are our own worst enemies. We are visionaries and idealists who have no contact with reality, he says.
Perhaps to some extent he is right.
So long as a free world is kept from being because of a group of government meddlers, then it must remain only a dream. So long as some choose to coerce others, then to that extent we will not have an anarchist society. Anarchists are not interested in perpetuating the ugly scars created by government interference in the natural life of society. We don’t want the wars and persecutions and terro government for centuries has plagued us with. We believe in a social order built on human cooperation and mutual aid.
If these be idealistic notions, then we are glad to be idealists. We don’t offer detailed and grand plans for how a free society can be achieved and held together. We are not interested in building systems and then making people fit into them. We trust that when left to ourselves we will freely find a multitude of ways for dealing with each other and the problems that arise between us.
Mr. Krol seems annoyed that I won’t draw out plans for how a free society will be organized. But in doing so he fails to understand the very roots of anarchism. We are not system builders – that is, we are not afflicted with governmentitis. Rather, we advocate letting people find the free and peaceful systems that best handle their peculiar problems. We don’t want to organize society, we want society to organize itself.
Because of the length of this Objection to Anarchism and the several points raised here, I felt it was necessary to divide the objection into parts – each of which has been assigned a number. In responding to the objection these numbers will be used as reference points. Read Entire Article
by Michael E. Coughlin
Objections to Anarchism – The Principles of Anarchism are Timeless Truths was originally published in serial form in the dandelion between Summer 1977 and Summer 1979.