Utopianism, Anarchism and the Government


July 16, 2012 by galudwig

I’ve often been labeled a utopian because I think a society in which there is no government would be superior. An anarcho-capitalist society would never work, the argument goes, because people can’t be trusted to not kill and murder each other if there is no state to prevent this from happening.

The true utopia

A utopia is an ideal state or place where everything works perfectly, a state of affairs which is usually considered outsides the realms of reality.

Now, with this definition in mind, I ask you, what is more ‘utopian’: an absolutely perfect government which acts in the interests of the public good, provides added value everywhere it intervenes, without any unintended consequences, or a spontaneous order of voluntary cooperation where violence is not the basis for dealing with one another?

The original Utopia, as penned by Sir Thomas Moore, was in fact a vision of a more or less totalitarian state. Every utopia thought up ever since is in some way a plan for the reorganization of society according to the preferences and ideology of a single mind.

A perfect government is utopian. But can the same be said for the free market?

Is it really that utopian to assume that cooperation without violence is possible? Is the idea that people can deal with one another on a voluntary basis really that unthinkable and impossible?

I for one sincerely hope that is not the case. Because if the majority of people is right, and the above is in fact a recipe for disaster, then there is nothing to hope for anymore. Then the future will never be peaceful.


5 thoughts on “Utopianism, Anarchism and the Government

  1. Holden says:

    I tend to be more libertarian in general and always a proponent of less government but then I took a job in an environmental engineering/consulting agency a few years back and now the world is a much foggier place.

    I saw the worse of both worlds. Excessive government regulation halting economic growth. EPA exercising fines on business that seemed ridiculous and unreasonable, to the point that an agency meant to protect the citizens is actually hurting them very much by destroying jobs.

    But I also saw corporations pay my organization to essentially fabricate reports freeing them of liability for completely destroying ecosystems, contaminating groundwater to the point that it was poison and leaving so many heavy metals in the earth that to eat wild game from the area would very likely make you ill or give you cancer. People really do get sick and die slow, painful, cancerous deaths due to the actions of corporations just doing their business. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes too many times.

    My point being, there needs to be a cop on the scene. There simply has to be. Corporations exist to create as much profit as possible. It isn’t good or evil, it is the nature of the business- to maximize shareholder value. And in the case of manufacturing, this means employing processes and practices that might quietly kill people, destroy their local ecosystems or make the land unusable for years and years to come.

    Just look at recent news regarding silver mining in southern Mexico if you need a good example. Canadian mining companies completely destroying the environment of indigenous people hundreds of miles away in a country that is not their own, in search of maximizing profit for their shareholders. It isn’t good, it isn’t bad. Its business.

    A world without any form of government is no world I care to live in.

    • galudwig says:

      Hello and thanks for your comment.

      I actually agree with this key point of yours: “there needs to be a cop on the scene”

      In fact, I would go further and say: “the more ‘cops’, the better”, because every single ‘cop’ can be corrupted by these same processes.

      Competition leads to better outcomes, including in areas which are usually considered purely public goods, such as law enforcement. If a world without a government were a world without law and order, I would not want to live in it either. However, I believe the only reason why we find it so difficult to conceive of a beneficent spontaneous order arising in law and environmental protection is because we have simply gotten so used to the government monopolizing the matter.

      In practice, what I propose in the case of your very valid concerns is: free market environmentalism, based on tort law and defense of property, and for-profit corporations who insure, litigate and enforce contracts and laws. If you are interested, google Rothbard and Walter Block on those issues.

      Again, I totally agree with the spirit of your comment though. I’m very well aware of the fact that individuals will seek gain whichever way they can. I only believe that a coercive monopoly only creates more ways for this gain to be achieved in an antisocial manner.

      • Holden says:

        I agree with you and in most cases, YES, the free market can sort it out. In this case it even can. But get this….

        I worked on a project that heavily polluted a riverbed in the 1930s. In 2012, that riverbed was still superbly polluted due to that heavy metal pollution. The corporation has essentially risen and now fallen to a much smaller org. The market wrote it off. The ramifications of its actions exist for generations to come.

        This is why in this case, the market isn’t efficient to deal with these issues. Because long after the market correction, the problem will persist.

        • Holden says:

          There is also another major problem with the free market environmentalism idea.

          The idea of private property rights and right to do what you will on your property doesn’t work out so well when it comes to dealing with industrial waste. Pollution knows no boundaries sadly, and once the deed is done, you simply can’t undo it.

          And we could argue, “Hey, the market will see these corps as bad and quit buying their products” only how much does the general public know about industrial waste? I knew little until I got knee in the environmental engineering business.

          How much do you know about heavy metals, volatile chemical compounds, or the effects of different kinds of pollution in ground water or a myriad of other issues? Most people know nothing about any of this. They simply know that one day they wake up with a serious illness, or their environment is poisoned, etc…. and once that is mess up, its messed up. You aren’t simply going to go out and scoop up the mess and clean it up.

        • galudwig says:

          Yet, in this particular case, the market was not entirely at work. I don’t know the specifics of the situation, but I doubt that the riverbed was owned by a private individual or group who allowed the heavy metal pollution to occur.

          I do agree with you that in some cases, a mixture of market forces and governmental control can yield extraordinarily bad results. If a natural resource is owned collectively and then ‘leased’ out or allowed to be exploited ad libitum by private organizations, the result is without a doubt a ‘tragedy of the commons’. This is one case where full government control is probably preferable to a ‘mix’. For free market environmentalism to work, all natural resources must be owned privately, a feat that is surely very difficult, politically unthinkable, but not impossible, to achieve.

          To be sure, I am not claiming that this particular situation would not have happened in an anarcho-capitalist society. It may very well have happened. But it happened in the 1930s as well, and it may even happen again. While today the government takes it upon itself to manage and prevent environmental damage, write environmental legislation to cover the matter and punish those who are caught transgressing these laws, in a free market situation there still would be rules. Only, the ‘cops’ would be private organizations who act in the interests of those who are affected.

          To answer your comment below, I doubt private individuals whose property or body has been damaged by pollution (I am talking about damage from ‘negative externalities’ here, not direct damage to eg the owner of the river stream) would prosecute and do the research themselves. Rather, they would hire professionals in the matter to determine the cause of the damages, combine with other affected individuals and engage in class action lawsuits.

          Thank you for the comment, I do appreciate them. Free market environmentalism is one of the least ‘obvious’ parts of anarcho-capitalism and one which I regrettably know less about than I want to. Your valid concerns help me to think more deeply about the subject. When I have some more time, I’ll probably write a short post with more links 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: