Do We Ever Really Get Out Of Anarchy

by Alfred G. Cuzan
Department of Government
New Mexico State University
A major point of dispute among libertarian theorists and thinkers today as always revolves around the age-old question of whether man can live in total anarchy or whether the minimal state is absolutely necessary for the maximi-zation of freedom. Lost in this dispute is the question of whether man is
capable of getting out of anarchy at all. Can we really abolish anarchy and set up a Government in its place? Most people, regardless of their ideological preferences, simply assume that the abolition of anarchy is possible, that they live under Government and that anarchy would be nothing but chaos
and violence.'

The purpose of this paper is to question this venerated assumption and to argue that the escape from anarchy is impossible, that we always live in anarchy, and that the real question is what kind of anarchy we live under, market anarchy or non-market (political) anarchy. Further, it is argued that political anarchies are of two types-hierarchical or plural. The more pluralist political anarchy is, the more it resembles market anarchy. The performance of hierarchical and plural anarchies is evaluated in terms of
their ability to minimize the level of force in society. It is shown that plural anarchies are much less violent than hierarchical anarchies. We conclude that the real question libertarians must solve is not whether minimalism or anarchy, but which type of anarchy, market or political, hierarchical or
plural, is most conducive to the maximization of freedom.

Anarchy is a social order without Government, subject only to the economic laws of the market. Government is an agent external to society, a "third party" with the power to coerce all other parties to relations in society into accepting its conceptions of those relations. The idea of Government as an agent external to society is analogous to the idea of God as an intervener in human affairs. For an atheist, a good analogy might be to assume that omnipotent Martians fill the role we usually ascribe to Government, i.e., an external designer and enforcer of rules of behavior by which everyone subject to those rules must abide.

However, that the idea of Government exists is no proof of its empirical
existence.? Few of us would be convinced by an argument such as: ''I believe
the idea of God is possible, therefore God exists." Yet such is the structure of
the argument which underlies all assumptions about the existence of Gov-
ernment. That societies may have some form of organization they call the
"government" is no reason to conclude that those "governments" are empiri-
cal manifestations of the idea of Government.
A closer look at these earthly "governments" reveals that they do not get
us out of anarchy at all. They simply replace one form of anarchy by another
and hence do not give us real Government. Let's see how this is so.
Wherever earthly "governments" are established or exist, anarchy is
officially prohibited for all members of society, usually referred to as subjects
or citizens. They can no longer relate to each other on their own terms-
whether as merchants at a port or a vigilante unit and its prey in the open
desert or the streets of Newark, N.J. Rather, all members of society must
accept an external "third partyw-a government-into their relationships, a
third party with the coercive powers to enforce its judgments and punish
For example, when a thief steals my wallet at a concert, I am legally
required to rely on the services of members of a third party to catch him
(policemen), imprison him (jailers), try him (prosecutors, judges, even "pu-
blic" defenders), judge him (trial by a group of individuals coerced into jury
duty by the courts), and acquit or punish him (prisons, hangmen). At most, I
am legally authorized to catch him, but I am prohibited from settling the
account myself. Such prohibitions have reached tragi-comic proportions, as
when government punishes victims of crime for having defended themselves
beyond the limits authorized by "law." In short, I or any other citizen or
subject must accept the rulings of government in our relations with others.
We are required to abide by the law of this "third party."
However, such a "third party" arrangement for society is non-existent
among those who exercise the power of government themselves. In other
words, there is no "third party" to make and enforce judgments among the
individual members who make up the third party itself. The rulers still
remain in a state of anarchy vis-2-vis each other. They settle disputes among
themselves, without regard for a Government (an entity outside themselves).
Anarchy still exists. Only whereas without government it was market or
natural anarchy, it is now a political anarchy, an anarchy inside power.3
Take, for example, the rulers of our own Federal government. It is a
group composed of congressmen, judges, a president and a vice-president,
top level bureaucrats in civilian and military agencies, and their armies of
assistants who together oversee the work of the millions of public employees
who man the several Federal bureaucracies. These individuals together make
and enforce laws, edicts, regulations and vast arrays of orders of all kinds by
which all members of society must abide.
Yet, in their relations among each other, they remain largely "lawless."
Nobody external to the group writes and enforces rules governing the
relations among them. At most, the rulers are bound by flexible constraints
imposed by a "constitution" which they, in any case, interpret and enforce
among and upon themselves. The Supreme Court, after all, is only a branch
of the government, composed of people appointed by and subjected to
pressures from other members of the government. Moreover, their decisions
are enforced by some other branch of the government, the executive, over
whom the judges have no power, only authority. Further, the Congress,
through vocal pressures and the manipulation of budgetary allocations to
the judiciary, also exercises pressures which the judges must contend with.
Similarly, congressmen have no "third party" arbiters either among them-
selves or in their relations with the executive. Furthermore, even the various
Federal bureaucracies and all their component parts are without a "third
party" to govern their relations, internally or externally. In short, looking
inside the government reveals that the rulers remain in a state of anarchy
among themselves. They live in a political anarchy.
The anarchic relations of government officials can be illustrated in the
following example: Suppose that a congressman manages to divert streams
of moneys from the government's flows to his private estate. This is a crime,
theft, the stealing of money. But from whom? From you or me? Only in the
sense that we were coerced into contributing to the public treasury which the
congressman viewed as booty. It was no longer ours, it belonged to someone
else. But who? Why, the members of the government who have the power to
allocate those flows of resources.
In short, the congressman stole from other government officials-
congressmen, bureaucrats, a president, etc. But what is done about the
crime? Is the congressman publicly accused, indicted, and tried for his crime
like an ordinary citizen who steals from another citizen? Sometimes; hut
what usually happens is a flurry of political maneuverings at high levels;
mutual threats are delivered behind closed doors and forces marshalled
against each other; occasional battles take place in which either reputations
are destroyed, money changes hands, or resource flows or access to them are
The hue and cry is soon forgotten, the congressman receives a "clean bill
of health" by the prosecution, or the charges are dismissed or not pressed,
and thc congressman wins re-election at the polls. Occasionally, if the
infractor was a weak or declining public figure, or one much hated by his
colleagues, he is brought before the courts, tried, and given a minimal or
even a suspended sentence. In most instances, small fish near the bottom of
the bureaucracies are sacrificed for the crimes higher-ups either directed,
profited from or sanctioned. But make no mistake: no "third party," no
Government, ever made or enforced a judgment. The rulers of the govern-
ment themselves literally took the law into their own hands and produced
what outside the government would be considered "vigilante justice."
In short, society is always in anarchy. A government only abolishes
anarchy among what are called "subjects" or "citizens," hut among those
who rule, anarchy prevails.
Figure 1 illustrates this situation. The circle on the left shows a state of
true or market or natural anarchy, in which all members of society relate to
each other in strictly bilateral transactions without third party intervention.
The circle on the right shows the situation prevalent under government. In
the higher compartment we see individuals whose relations among each
other are no longer bilateral. All relations are legally "triangular," in that all
members of society are forced to accept the rule of government in their
transactions. However, in the lower compartment, inside the "government"
itself, relations among the rulers remain in anarchy.
Having shown that anarchy is not completely abolished by government but
reserved, so to speak, for the rulers only, among whom it is the prevailing
condition, it is proper to inquire whether this is beneficial for society. Its
proponents and defenders claim that without government society would be
in a state of intolerable violence. Thus it is logical to inquire whether the
effect of government is to increase, reduce, or in no way affect the level of
violence in society.
Is political anarchy less violent than natural or market anarchy? Minimal-
ists argue that it is, provided government is strictly confined to the role of
acting as a third party in property disputes. While government necessarily
involves the use of limited violence, minimalists say. the level of violence in a
minimal state would he lower than that in natural anarchy.
Fig. 2
I I gov.
anarchy min. gov.
Figure 2 illustrates the minimalist idea. By providing the amount of
government of the minimal state, the level of violence in society drops below
the level in natural anarchy. Presumably, judging from the vociferous anti-
interventionist stand of the minimalists, if government grows beyond the
size of a limited state, either there are no further gains in reducing violence-
and thus more government is pointless and costly in other ways-and/or
beyond a certain size the level of violence in society rises to meet or perhaps
surpass the amount of natural violence. (See Figure 3).
violence Fig. 3*
,/ ,
,, ,/
, /
, ,
anarchy min. go".

  • Broken lints represent possible effects on violence from enlarging governmunt heyond thc

minimal state.
That violence under political anarchy might exceed the violence of market
anarchy is not inconceivable. Hiller's concentration camps and Stalin's
Gulags are evidence of violence in such proportions that one could hardly
venture to say that natural anarchy would be worse than that. Similarly, the
political anarchy of nation-states has produced interstate violence on such a
scale that it must give pause even to the most devoted disciple of Hohhes.4
A third view is possible and theoretically the most interesting. This view
says that the relation between government (the substitution of political for
market anarchy) and violence, is qualified by a third element, the structure
of the government, measured along a centralization dimension. The more
authoritative powers are dispersed among numerous political units, the
more pluralistic the government. The more centralized the structure, i.e., the
more authoritative powers are concentrated, the more hierarchical the
government. Note that the more hierarchical the government, the more
government is run on the assumption of an ultimate arbiter. In other words,
the more centralized the structure, the greater the effort to creale a single
"third party" inside the government itself in the form of a God-like figure
such as a Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Castro. Such a "third party," however,
remains in complete anarchy from the rest of his countrymen and the rest of
the world.
The more plural the politics of a country, the more the rulers behave
without any reference to a "third party" and thus the more society resembles
natural anarchy. The less plural or more hierarchical the politics of a
country, the more society appears to be ruled by a truly "external" element, a
God-like figure sent from the heavens of history, religion or ideology.
A cursory glance at contemporary societies and recent history shows that,
empirically, it is precisely those societies ruled by such earthly personifica-
tions of Government where the level of violence in the form of political
repression, coercion and intimidation is highest. In contrast, violence is
lowest in societies with highly pluralistic politics, such as Switzerland. This is
true even in the "communist" world: the more pluralistic communist politics
of Poland or Yugoslavia are less violent than the more hierarchical politics
of the Soviet Union. Similarly, in the Western world, the more pluralistic
politics of the United States are less violent than those of Italy, where
politics are much more hierarchical.
But why would the degree of centralization determine whether political
anarchy is violent in hierarchical states such as China or Cuba, and relatively
peaceful in pluralist states such as India and Costa Rica? The answer may be
simply in the fact that centralized states are more likely to make mistakes
than decentralized states.5 Political mistakes are in the form of wrong or
false conceptions about the nature of bilateral relations in society and in
politics, such as conceptions held about the relation between worker and
capitalist in communist states. If judgments are wrong, they are not volun-
tarily accepted by one or both of the parties to the transactions. Under those
conditions, the only way for the rulers to enforce their "third party" concep-
tions is to use force, which, under different conditions, will or will not be
resisted by the opposition.
In a pluralist government, wrong conceptions about bilateral relations in
society are less likely to occur. This is because there are numerous units
independently interacting with each other and with the citizens and subjects,
so that more and better information about the effect of these judgments on
bilateral relations exist. Moreover, wrong conceptions are more easily
checked as various autonomous political units, each capable of marshalling
political resources of their own, confront each other in a successive series of
political transactions.
In a hierarchical government, however, not even the members of the
government are permitted to settle disputes among themselves. AN relations
are subjected to the judgment of some supreme leader. Such a leader must
maintain a vast network of spies and enforcers to accomplish such a super
human feat. Of course, one man's ability to control the behavior of others is
quite limited, and so even in Hitler's Germany, truly Machiavellian, feudalis-
tic deals were made right under the Fuehrer's nose. Naturally, such arrange-
ments were prohibited so everyone lived in a state of fearful insecurity, not
knowing when his enemies would succeed in turning Hitler against him6
Whether this explanation is a good one or not, we still have with us the
explanandurn, i.e., the fact that hierarchical politics are more violent than
pluralist politics. But if society with a pluralist political anarchy experiences
less violence than societies with a hierarchical or "governed" government,
isn't it logical to inquire whether natural anarchy is less violent than political
anarchy? Why should the relation between government and violence be
curvilinear? Isn't it possible that it is upward sloping aN the way, so that
government always produces more violence than the market?
Summary and Conclusion
We have shown that anarchy, like matter, never disappears-it only changes
form. Anarchy is either market anarchy or political anarchy. Pluralist,
decentralized political anarchy is less violent than hierarchical political
anarchy. Hence, we have reason to hypothesize that market anarchy could
be less violent than political anarchy. Since market anarchy can be shown to
outperform political anarchy in efficiency and equity in all other respects,'
why should we expect anything different now? Wouldn't we be justified to
expect that market anarchy produces less violence in the enforcement of
property rights than political anarchy? After all, the market is the best
economizer of all-wouldn't it also economize on violence better than
government does, too?
- -
I. Even Gordon Tullock writes, "If, as I believe is correct, people under anarchy are every bit
as selfish as they are now, we would have the Hobbesian jungle.. .."From the point of view
of this paper, it is interesting that in the very next sentence he adds: " … we would be
unable to distinguish a fully corrupt government from no government." Gordon Tullock,
"Corruption and Anarchy," in Gordon Tullock (ed.) Furrher Explororions in the Theory of
Anarchy (Blacksburg, Virginia: University Publications, 1974).
2. Paul Craig Roberts, in Alienorion and the Sovier Economy (Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico Press, 1971), argues similarly that to be able to conceive of central planning is
no proof of its empirical possibility. Roberts shows that formally planned economies like
the Soviet Union are not centrally planned at all, but are plural economies guided by nan-
market signals. Roberts' conclusion that central planning does not exist is analogous to my
own conclusion that Government does not exist either. I am grateful to Murray Rothbard
for pointing out the parallels in the two arguments.
While the body of this paper was being typed, I read Michael Bakunin Godondrhc Srote
(New York: Dover Publications, 1970), and was struck by the similarities between Baku-
'nin's argument against Gad and my argument against Government. This is not surprising,
since many assumptions used to justify government refer to man's evil nature. It's as if
government took God's place an earth to keep evil humans in line. That governments are
themselves made up of ordinary human beings who remain in a stale of anarchy among
themselves seems to have escaped those who adhere to this view.
3. Of course, the rulers of any government have as their power base interest groups in and our
of government. The leaders of non-governmental interest groups often hold the key to the
political survival of even the mast powerful politicians. Hence, the strict dichotomy
between governmental and non-governmental members of society breaks down. Around
the edges of government, many private individuals live in a state of anarchy vis-a-vis
government officials. George Meany is probably as good an example as any. 1 am indebted
to my colleague Cal Clark for pointing this out.
Also living in anarchy vis-a-vis aavernment officials are all those members of under-
around criminal oreanizations which suodv consumers with a vast arrav of illeeal mods
with local crime chiefs.
4. This is an argument which Murray Rothbard makes and which implies that true archists
should logically favor a single world government in order to abolish anarchy among nation-
states. Yet few of them do. (Murray Rothbard, in letter to the author, September 21, 1978;
and Walter Block, in letter to the author, October 26, 1978.)
See Gordon Tullock, The Polirics of Bweoucrocy (Washington, D.C.: The Public Affairs
Press, 1965), for a full theoretical development of this idea.
See Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich (New York: Avon Books, 1970), Part 11.
Murray Rothbard, Power and Morker (Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel, Inc.,

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