I believe it's a grave error to think that government can behave in any other way than it currently does.

What would Murray Rothbard say?

First, the question, then some background info:

Q: What would happen, in the United States, if the government "went away" right now?

Some friends and I had this discussion the other day, and one theory was that society would basically devolve into "warlord states", whereby whoever has the most guns would control resources and thus maintain a position of power. This is the scenario that is inevitably postulated by military-types, and indeed the friend who insisted on the certainty of this outcome is a military-type guy.

This is, admittedly, a pretty easy scenario to swallow. Much like the various riots that occur on college campuses after football games, or in cities where law enforcement is temporarily rendered useless for whatever reason, it's easy to believe that the sudden lack of government would give many people a sense that they could get away with whatever they wanted. For a short period of time, at least, it's certainly conceivable that there would be a great deal of rampant crime, probably mostly theft and destruction of property. But once that initial "high" is gone, what would happen?

I suspect that the initial rioting wouldn't be as bad as most people believe it would be, and I further suspect that it would be confined primarily to urban areas that already have high rates of crime. For many people, life would go on as usual. People would still have bills to pay, and most of them would still have jobs to go to in order to pay those bills. Of course, there would be thousands of government employees looking for work, so that presents some problems, but that issue is somewhat tangential to the main question. The lack of law enforcement does raise one interesting question...what incentive does anyone have to pay their bills or continue to pay their mortgage if there's no government to punish them if they don't? Can we rely on the honor system or the goodness of peoples' hearts to make sure contracts are adhered to, bills owed for services rendered are paid, and private property is respected?

I must admit that I didn't have a good rebuttal against this argument. I'm a pretty smart guy, but I'm having trouble bringing this scenario to its full, logical conclusion in an Austrian framework. The only thing I've come up with so far is that this scenario would instantly increase the market for private protection. Many former policemen and women would find plenty of work guarding individual homes and communities from would-be aggressors. In addition, the market for private collection agencies may increase as well, thereby helping to ensure that money owed is remitted in a timely manner. Still, there must be other reasons to believe that anarchy can be peaceful and organized. I realize, of course, that peaceful interaction does not presuppose the existence of government...the original immigrants to the U.S. interacted with one another peacefully while basically government-free. Some may attribute that to their particular ideology, but I think there's more to it than that. I'm just not 100% sure what that is.

So the challenge I present to all who wish to participate is to provide examples of inherent mechanisms that foster peaceful interaction in the absence of government. Hopefully we'll all learn something from the exercise.


Bostwick said:

Good topic!

I believe that today Americans are sufficiently liberal to be able to make a stateless society work. If the State disappeared, it could stay gone.

After the immediate collapse you will see the less educated and oppressed commit violence, but it would not be overly damaging to society. Its possible that sub-cultures that are already in decay may be too far gone to be rescued, but the collapse of the State would not be to blame, that blame lies on State oppression.

People would do what was practical to keep themselves safe and doing so will create free market protection. It would start out as vigilantism and old west gunsling, but it would quickly evolve into  industries and private courts. This process could happen much more quickly than any attempt to reestablish the State, though I'm not sure it would matter fundamentally.  

Any major violence would occur from people who want to reestablish the state and its likely some  would try. But the State is still in place in America because of the religion it has built around itself, people are loyal to the ideas of democracy more than the idea of power.

The American people would not tolerate naked violence to create a new state. Success would depend on the ability to adopt democracy to create a state. I'm not sure thats ever been done. Democracy has been used to defend the State in decline and ward off defeat.

A stateless America would not be much different than present day in that sense. Peace and freedom would depend not on individual violence, but institutionalized violence. And the ability to ward off government would depend on majority public opinion.

# October 12, 2007 11:25 PM