Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Anarchism, Limited Government, and the Surveillance State

The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.
--Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2007
This story raises a question for advocates of limited government. It's easy for an anarchist to oppose the construction of this Orwellian database. The state is illegitimate per se -- it cannot exist without violating the nonaggression principle -- and thus cannot be trusted with such power. Even if we assume the database could be used legitimately and confined to catching criminals, the state can be counted on to abuse it.

The libertarian advocate of limited government will agree that the state is likely to abuse the power, and he will therefore oppose the FBI's plan. But ... he also believes the state is necessary -- indeed, indispensable -- to protect individual freedom. That puts him in the awkward position of opposing the end but not a means. When his conservative opponents chide him for wanting to leave Americans vulnerable to terrorism or other crime, the minarchist will have little to argue in response except to say that the database won't be work as promised. But how does he know this? Even if the state uses the database against noncriminals, that doesn't rule out the chance that it will also be used to catch real rights violators.

Anarchists are not subject to this criticism because they embrace a full free market in protective services. We know that entrepreneurs in a free market will devise innovative ways -- consistent with liberty -- to protect people from criminals, including terrorists. Comprehensive private property is an essential institution for preventing crime without violating rights. Considering John Robb's thesis in Brave New War, the state is increasingly unsuited to protect us because potential enemies are highly decentralized, flexible, and entrepreneurial. Only free-market protection is up to the task.

What say you, limited-government advocates?


steven said...

Sheldon, I can't say whether I agree or disagree with you at this point. I have a lot of work to do.

You say that free market entrepreneurs will devise innovative ways to protect people from criminals. But they also can and do devise innovative ways to voilate the rights of individuals, just as governments do.

In either situation (anarcism or limited government) the only thing that can protect the rights of individuals is the eternal vigilance of those of us who value the idea of individual freedom for all human beings.

Sheldon Richman said...

Steven, the state has countless ways to dissolve vigilance toward it, beginning with its ideological mystique, which disarms most people. The same can't be said for private companies. (I recommend Robert Higgs's Crisis and Leviathan regarding how the state dissolves vigilance.)

petey said...

"the state has countless ways to dissolve vigilance toward it, beginning with its ideological mystique, which disarms most people. The same can't be said for private companies."

the contrast isn't between the state and individual private companies, it's between the state and corporate capitalism (or maybe even just plain capitalism), which has its own ideological mystique to fend off vigilance.

littlehorn said...

Well I would say, not as a limited-government advocate, but as some guy who has a nickname, this is the wrong way to go.

And while we concentrate on what's right and what's wrong, we forget that it isn't natural that some guy from the other side of the world would feel the urge to kill us by the thousands.

It is a just foreign policy that will end terrorism, not some super powerful tool of the state. A tool that will inevitably be used against all dissidents and therefore a tool that must be rejected.
Now, I agree with steven. Corporations are not exempt from the vicissitudes of power. They do not care about liberty, as proved by today's state of affairs in America.

steven said...

Sheldon, thanks for your reply. I will read that book you suggested.

Sheldon Richman said...

Petey, if private businesses are barred from having political privileges -- which is one consequence of market anarchism -- there would be no mystique. Who'd go to war because Wal-Mart urged him to?

Rhys said...

The question is pertinant to anarchists. I've been playing with a thought for a while, and this seems a good place to air it for the first time.

I am an anarchist because I believe that humans live in a state of anarchy. That is, anarchy is not something that is imposed from outside society, but like economic law, is an inherent part of reality.

As such, the question is not, should we have anarchy? But the question is, Since we live in a state of anarchy, what rules shall we have to ensure the proper distribution of political power.

I do not believe it makes sense to ask whether we should implement the laws of economics, but instead we should ask, given that humans are subject to the laws of economics, what rules shall we have that allow for the fair distribution of resources.

Given that humans are subject to the laws of anarchy, what rules shall we have that allow for the fair distribution of political power?

Since, the rules that allow for the fair distribution of political power are violated by states that operate without consent, no police action should occur at the Federal level. When the Federal government returns to its smaller more Constitutional size, then we can evaluate whether the tax dollars should be moved from another area into the databasing of physical parameters.