Deep Anarchy: An Eliminativist View of “The State”
by Max T. O’Connor [Editor: This article is reprinted from Extropy #5, Winter 1990. Extropy was published by The Extropy Institute]
Two of the fundamental extropian values are responsibility for one’s own life and actions, and the determination to do away with constraints on one’s rational will.(1) I believe that the institutions of religion and “the State”(2) are antithetical to these values. I took aim at the dominant Western religion in the last issue and will be dissecting that entropic force again in future. The purpose of this article is to destroy a powerful barrier which stands in the way of personal responsibility and freedom.
Extropians tend towards libertarian politics and a suspicion of the “State.” Many call themselves anarchists, holding that “States” are inherently coercive and should be replaced with voluntary institutions to protect rights and perform other necessary functions.(3) Those who already think of themselves as anarchists are likely to be most sympathetic to my thesis, though the deep anarchy idea goes beyond traditional anarchism, whether of the free market or communalist type.
Traditional anarchists want to abolish the “State.” In planning their strategies and in doing their thinking about this they rarely question the existence or fundamental nature of their enemy. This situation wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that their mistaken beliefs often lead them into counterproductive political strategies. Thus we observe the ludicrous sight of self-named anarchists joining political parties (usually the Libertarian Party) in order to hasten the end of the system. The idea seems to be: We can remove it by being absorbed by it!(4)
I want to suggest that when we talk of “the State” we are not talking of any entity, either concrete or abstract. I will provide two main arguments for this: One from considerations of methodological individualism, and another that could be called “the argument from fuzziness.” “Deep Anarchy” is the view that results from these thoughts; it is the idea that we already live in an anarchy.
2: What is it to Exist?
In order to keep this article to manageable length I will not attempt to provide a complete ontological theory (a theory of what exists). I will only examine the conditions for the existence of complex objects and organisms. I will ignore issues of the existence of numbers, sets, relations, concepts, consciousness, and so on. I will assume that readers accept that complex entities such as tables and humans exist. What about collections of objects? Is a collection also an object? If we wish to accept as objects all the things we normally accept as objects, then it cannot in general be an objection to the objecthood of a thing that it is composed of parts which are themselves objects or individuals:
Case 1: An eagle is a thing, an object, even though it is composed of many parts such as limbs, organs, feathers, and so on. These parts can be further broken down into sub-parts such as cells, and further into organelles, molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles (or fields).
All objects are reducible to collections of more basic individuals except for the fundamental particles or fields, so we face the alternatives of (a) asserting, contrary to all normal usage, that the only really existing things are the sub-atomic particles, or (b) accepting that being a collection of more basic objects cannot, in itself, be a reason for denying the reality of a thing. I take it that everyone will agree that common usage, and the requirements of sanity and workability require us to take the second option. But is any collection of objects itself necessarily an object?
Case 2: Imagine that I have a bag of marbles, each of which we grant is an object. I scatter the marbles on the floor randomly. Now it is quite possible for me to refer to the collection of marbles as a whole rather than to each of the individual marbles. If I’m eccentric I might even give the collection a name such as “Gertrude.” By using the name Gertrude I can then simply refer to the collection of marbles without having to point to or mention any of the marbles individually. Does this mean that we should say Gertrude exists, or that Gertrude is an individual, an object? This is far less plausible than in the case of an eagle.
Consider Case 3: On my desk I have a computer, a glass, a business card, and a sheet of paper with a note scribbled on it. I can now talk about the collection of objects on my desk. The collection is picked out simply by my listing the objects that constitute the collection. Again, if I’m eccentric I might name the collection “Jeremiah.” Should we say that Jeremiah is an individual, an object?
If we answer in the affirmative we should also say that Jeremiah exists. Surely Jeremiah does not exist. There is no object here; there is only a mere collection of objects. By pointing to the objects in turn and then telling you that I’m going to refer to the collection as “Jeremiah” I am just giving the impression of unity and objecthood where there is none. The “components” of Jeremiah are not linked or causally related to each other in any way except one – my arbitrary act of calling them an individual with the name “Jeremiah.” I might just as easily have given the name “Jeremiah” to the conjunction of the glass and computer only. There is nothing special about the group of four objects which I actually named Jeremiah. If a human act of naming random collections were enough to constitute an object then the number of objects in the universe would be arbitrary, indeterminate and limitless.
Why is the first case clearly one of a collection constituting a higher-level object (or meta-object) whereas the second and third cases are examples of collections which we would not say constitute a meta-object? The answer to this will determine what we should say about “States.” My suggestion is this:
Functional Integrity Thesis: In the case of the existence of objects, what determines whether a collection of objects is itself an object is the degree of functional integrity possessed by the collection.
Secondary Thesis: (a) For each (kind of) object, there is a lower limit of functional integrity below which a collection will not constitute an object.
(b) Where that limit is will vary depending on the kind of object under consideration.
An object exists when its parts possess a sufficient degree of functional integrity. Alternatively, we can say that an object exists when it possesses the requisite properties of an object of that type. This is equivalent to the previous definition: Properties will only exist where there is a sufficient degree of functional integrity. The existence of an object can therefore be thought of as requiring a second-order functional integrity – sufficient functional integrity of properties (or parts), each of which must have a sufficient degree of integrity.
The three examples given above, and many others that could be given, are a major motivating factor behind the Functional Integrity Thesis. The collection of objects on my desk is a mere collection. Nothing makes them into a collection or set apart from the bare fact of my having arbitrarily put them into a group. The collection or group has no existence apart from my specification. My referring to the separate objects by means of a name is not sufficient (or necessary) to make them into a genuine object. Collections formed by fiat are not thereby objects. Such collections are not things; we can rightly say that such collections do not exist. By saying this we are not denying that, in the situation at hand, there is something more than the four objects; there is also an act of grouping or of collective reference, but that is all. This act cannot constitute a new object.(5) I might point in the direction of the eagle and list the eagle’s parts: it’s wings, lungs, eyes, liver, etc. I then assert that the collection of parts constitutes an object, a thing. That object is an eagle. Now, though, the individuality of the eagle is not constituted by my act of referring collectively to the group of the eagle-parts. The eagle exists independently of my acts of grouping and referring. There is an objective grouping of parts such that there is a higher-level object in existence.
The Functional Integrity Thesis claims that what makes the difference, what gives the collection of eagle-parts an independent existence, is the functional integrity of the collection. There are various very specific and specifiable causal interrelations between the parts. The internal parts of the organism are causally related in a more intimate and systematic manner than the relation of the parts to the environment. There is no rigid separation of organism from environment since air, food and drink are incorporated into the body from the surroundings. Yet the organism is clearly distinguished from its environment by the tightness of its internal organization and by the causal history of its constituent parts. For the eagle to exist the organs must function in a coordinated manner and the skeletal and muscular systems must be appropriately linked up with the rest of the assembly. If the eagle gets torn into pieces we say that the eagle no longer exists. Only its parts continue to exist.
The first part of the Secondary Thesis requires more comment than I have space for, but a brief explanation must suffice. It might be thought that objects exist more-or-less, that there is no way of saying when an object is sufficiently integrated to exist. The idea would be that functional integrity is a matter of degree and so we should hold existence to be graded into degrees.
Certainly functional integrity is a matter of degree, and there will be borderline cases where, even given all the facts, we will have to decide what to say. However, the existence of borderline cases does not show that there are no clear cases of existence and nonexistence. The fact of twilight does not mean there is no night or day.(6) Higher level properties and objects may not arise at an instantaneous point, but conceptual clarity and communication will mean that the extension of a concept is limited. Cognitive systems such as the human brain are well built to handle fuzzy boundaries while being able to categorize the world usefully.(7)
The second part of the Secondary Thesis contends that the minimum degree of functional integrity necessary for a collection to constitute an object depends on the kind of object at issue. Living organisms tolerate less loss of functional integrity before they cease to exist than some other objects. Objects like clouds and oceans can exist with a rather low degree of integrity. Unlike living creatures (or works of art, or even buildings), oceans and clouds don’t require any very specific arrangement of their constituent parts; a loose conglomeration will suffice. Some limits do have to be imposed however. If the parts of a cloud are too separated they no longer form a cloud, though they may form more than one cloud.
For me to be a human, rather than a collection of flesh or a dead body, very many conditions of bodily integrity must be satisfied. My organs must be in the right place, connected up properly, and their parts must be precisely arranged. Integrity is required right down to the level of the cells and their molecular components, otherwise I am not a living human. In deciding on the degree to which something exists, then, we must take account of the kind of thing that it is. Things of the same kind require the same degree of functional integrity of their parts.
3: Argument From Fuzziness
I am now ready to apply these general ontological theses to the case of “the State.” Applying the Functional Integrity Thesis (FIT) to perceivable physical objects such as tables, chairs, condoms and cars, is a simple enough matter. Even in those cases we have to take care to identify exactly the kind of object we are looking for, in order that we can correctly determine the degree of integrity needed for a collection to constitute that object. Unfortunately, applying the FIT to objects of a different order is more difficult. Some purported objects that we need to consider are “States,” corporations, clubs, and societies.
Where is “the State” to be found? I’ve never seen one and I don’t think anyone else has either. What I do find is a large number of people who claim to be “politicians,” “policemen,” “tax collectors,” “federal agents,” “judges,” “government workers,” and so on. I also come across buildings and collections of individual human beings which I am told are “the Department of…, ” “Congress,” “The White House,” “The Supreme Court,” “the IRS,” etc. Amongst all these people, buildings, guns, pieces of paper, and assorted equipment I cannot find a “State.”
Of course “the State” is supposed to be the collection of these things. But now I have two problems: First, exactly which people and things are to be included in the collection that supposedly constitutes a “State”? Second, how can a “State” act, have responsibility, or authority, if it is a collection whose parts (persons) themselves have these qualities? The second of these problems will be discussed in the section “The Argument from Methodological Individualism.”
If the “State” is to exist, if it is to be a thing, it must be (a) a clearly identifiable collection of parts, and (b) a collection which exhibits a high enough degree of functional integrity. Neither of these conditions are fulfilled. Max Weber offers the most helpful definition of a “State.” Essentially this comes down to saying that a “State” is a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a geographical area. Each element of this definition is necessary. If no force were involved then “it” would be merely a voluntary organization. “Governments” or “states” have to use force or coercion in order to finance themselves – the system of taxation-extortion common to all governments.
Even more essential is the idea of a monopoly, since someone could argue that it is at least conceivable that a “government” be financed entirely by voluntary contributions, even if this has never happened (and almost certainly never would happen). Yet, if the “State” is not a monopoly then it just cannot be a “State.” The deepest and most essential function of such an institution is that it decides what laws there are and enforces them. No one else has the right to do this, except and to the degree that the “State” grants this right (a right which it retains the power and authority to remove). The idea of legitimacy comes in here; only “the State” may rightfully make decisions about laws and allowable coercion.(8)
Furthermore, I ask: who or what is supposed to hold the monopoly of power? I suggest that this is simply a myth. As will be argued in the next section, the wielders of power and coercion are individual human beings. Each person makes his or her own choices about the use of coercion. We observe no organism, person, or creature with a monopoly on the use of force, legitimate or otherwise. The illusion to the contrary is made possible simply because many people who coerce others wear uniforms, carry badges, or otherwise claim to “represent” “the State.” The wearing of uniforms, the carrying of badges, and the claims of some people that they are part of “the State” does nothing to show that there is such a thing.
To clarify the issue, before finishing with “States,” let us consider other collections of persons. Do corporations exist? Does a club exist? The answer depends on how the question is to be taken. If it means “Is there literally a creature which thinks, acts, plans, and makes agreements?” then the answer is no (see next section). If the question is merely “Does the collection of persons involved possess a high enough degree of functional integrity to constitute a thing?” then I believe the answer is plausibly in the affirmative. There are corporations, although they are not things that literally plan, act, or think – though we may treat them as if they have these powers, considering this to be a useful fiction. What gives a corporation its functional integrity?
A corporation exists where there is a fairly tight set of relations between persons, each of whom has the capacity to reason, plan, decide and contract. A corporation is essentially a set of agreements between persons; these are agreements to perform certain duties and functions, to accept certain responsibilities, and to receive certain benefits under specified conditions. It is quite definite and determinate who is and who is not part of a corporation. A customer is not a part since he or she does not have the necessary kind of relation to the other people. The corporation is limited in various ways. When a person who is part of the structure of the company steals, rapes, or does anything outside of the functions and activities agreed to in joining the corporation, she is not acting as part of the company. She is individually entirely responsible for the effects of her actions. If, on the contrary, her actions are in accordance with the structure of agreements which constitutes the company, other people may (depending on their contractual agreements) share in responsibility.(9)
There is no similar means of determining who the people are who are to constitute a “State.” The reason is that there is no set of contractual relations to be found at the level of a “State.” This is because of the coercive nature of statism binding contractual relations are not possible while under threat. It would be more promising to argue for the existence (but not the legitimacy) of groups like the Los Angeles Police, The Chicago Police, The Internal Revenue Service, and the House of Representatives. Within each of these bodies more specific functions can be identified and there are definite agreements between the people involved.
Putting all of these bodies together does not create a “State.” Where is the functional integrity necessary to the existence of a further thing? People who go to voting booths and pull levers or make marks on paper next to the name of a politician also have certain relations to those men and women sitting in Congress, and relations (at a far remove) to “the police,” and yet no one claims that voters are part of “the State” or are really also policemen. So the fact that we can find some relation between those people who might be thought to form “the State” is not enough to show that there is such a thing.
True, there is more of a connection between members of “Congress” and tax-extortion collectors than there is between the four items I arbitrarily picked out on my desk. However, there is insufficient coordination between the various agencies mentioned to form a higher level agency. They generally have no specific contractual linkage – the only linkage is externally imposed by “law.” I have many interactions and relations with my friends, yet there is no thing composed of myself and a friend. In the same way, these agencies can have many links without constituting anything. They do have something in common – statist behavior. But the statist behavior of the individuals in any of these agencies does not differ in kind from that of other individuals who are not thought of as part of “the State.” This leads into a related argument, in the course of which I will develop this point about the spectrum of statism.
4: Argument From Methodological Individualism
What kind of thing is “the State” supposed to be? It is supposed to be an agent capable of making decisions, having justification, and acting. This is nonsense: Only an individual has a mind and can perceive, think, decide, choose values, and act. In this sense no governments (or corporations or nations) exist or act. If groups (such as corporations) pass the functional integrity test and so exist in some sense, they are still merely “metaphorical constructs for describing the similar or concerted actions of individuals.”(10) In the case of “the State,” since it fails the functional integrity test, there is a more serious failure of reference when we refer to an action of “the State.” At least when we talk of a corporation’s action we manage to refer to certain fairly definite actions of specifiable individuals. “The State” is not only not an ultimate actor or agent, it is not a thing of any kind.
Since “the State” is not any kind of thing, we cannot truly speak about it. However, we are doing something when we say “the State is pursuing a War on Drugs.” We are making an inaccurate and misleading reference to a wide range of differing behaviors in many individuals. We are saying – at least – that certain persons calling themselves “policemen” (or “soldiers”) are initiating physical violence against drug users; other individuals (politicians and bureaucrats) are issuing orders and directing activities; others (judges) are telling the seized persons that they are guilty of a crime; others (prison guards and administrators) are constraining the freedom of the drug users; and many individuals are encouraging these activities by voting, paying “taxes” and by verbal support.
As Ludwig von Mises noted, “It is the meaning which the acting individuals and all those who are touched by their action attribute to an action, that determines its character… A group of armed men occupies a place. It is the meaning of those concerned which imputes this occupation not to the officers and soldiers on the spot, but to their nation.”(11) We understand fully the actions of a group only when we understand the subjective beliefs, decisions, and actions of the individual human beings comprising the group.
“The State” is really nothing more than statist behavior and belief – and elements of this can be found in almost everyone. I have argued that there is no boundary which can divide off some behavior as constituting “the State” from other behavior. This point can be made more forceful by considering the wide range of statist behavior and thinking found in society (or “society”!). If it were possible to order these instances along a spectrum we might arbitrarily draw a line beyond which we would say the collection of behaviors was “the State.” However, apart from the fact that it would be arbitrary (unlike the division of eagle parts from non-eagle parts), there is no single dimension to be ordered into a spectrum. People can be more or less statist at different times and in very different and incomparable ways.
Political office holders, who make laws and oversee and coordinate a wide range of statist behaviors, are clearly guilty of statism much of the time, as are the physical enforcers of unjust laws. Obviously they can be more or less statist depending on what they do and say. Bureaucrats who organize and execute statist activities, lowly office workers in the FDA, DEA, IRS, and INS, and those who support their activities are all sources of statism. Business people who gladly accept and encourage subsidies, tariffs, and “government” licenses are not excused from charges of statism simply because they are supposedly not part of “the State.” Workers in state-run and monopolized businesses – such as the post office and state schools, are also contributing to statism. Voters are statist because they legitimize the system. The person who uses the power of a “State” agency unjustly against someone (rent control, for example) is being statist. Anyone voting for, verbally supporting, or turning a blind eye to statism is thereby statist.
In so far as there is any sense to talk of “the State” then, it is talk of statist behavior. And this is not confined to easily specifiable individuals. We may all be statist at times. Perhaps even the least statist of us sometimes choose statism in order to protect ourselves against worse behavior by others. In a corrupt system, behavior that you would otherwise reject may be the only rational course of action. This is the tragedy of the institutional effects of statism. For example, in a socialist country where everything is owned by “the State” (= everything is run in a statist manner), you may face the choice of working in a statist institution or starving. In this country, if you wish to mail a letter first class, you must choose between the “government” monopoly or nothing. What are you to do?(12)
5: Bringing About a Better Anarchy
We already live in an anarchy. There is no “State.” There are only individuals acting in a statist manner, often because they believe it to be right, to be necessary, and because they see no alternative. Extropians who wish to bring about a more rational social system, a system more capable of allowing diversity, of encouraging rational responsible behavior, and of minimizing conflict, should not join political parties, or try to attack “the State.” What is needed is a micro-politics, a politics of individual behavior.(13)
We should seek to minimize our own contribution to statism, and to persuade others to do the same. We should withhold all support for statism whenever possible without seriously endangering ourselves. We should avoid paying tax-extortion (the life blood of statism) and should pay no heed to unjust laws whenever we can. We should encourage a cultural change, by rewarding and praising voluntaristic and anti-statist behavior, art, fiction, movies, and role-models and by pointing out what is wrong with their contraries. And in doing this a sense of humor can only help us. Sometimes it is a grim fight, but extropians are dynamic optimists and realize that hard fights against stupidity and coercion are best fought with high ideals conjoined with humor and understanding, not anger, hatred, or violence. Our goal is to increase understanding and increase rationality and responsibility, not to destroy.
One of the four central extropian principles(14) is that of self-responsibility for one’s values, choices, and thinking. Living up to this principle is the best way to fight statism and to bring about the universal extropian community proper to intelligent beings. A focus on the individual and the rationality of behavior will not only break down statism, but all other forms of collectivist irrationality such as racism, sexism, and nationalism.
In a forthcoming issue, in my article on spontaneous orders, I will illuminate the theoretical underpinning of the voluntarist society that should succeed statism as our intelligence and rationality expands over the coming decades and centuries. We have changed enough to do away with monarchies and theocracy, and totalitarianism is breaking down all over the planet as advanced communications technology inescapably brings awareness of superior alternatives to the peoples of those countries. Centuries ago, the idea that humans could handle the freedom of modern limited democracies would have been ridiculed. Let us not be deterred from seeking a spontaneous voluntarist society by cynics who stand for stagnation. Freedom is our evolutionary future.(15)
1. Aleister Crowley expressed the second of these values in his Thelemic dictum: “Do what thou wilt’ shall be the whole of the law.” This does not mean “do whatever you feel like doing”; rather it implies a deep investigation of one’s individual nature and a commitment to actualizing that self, while taking into account one’s context of internal and external facts and relations.
2. I write “the State” in inverted commas in order to highlight my view that there is no State. This isn’t strictly necessary since we don’t normally refer to “unicorns” but to unicorns. The point of this device is that far more people believe in “States” than in unicorns and so I wish to emphasize its mythological nature.
3. The libertarian free market anarchist view (or “spontaneous voluntarism”) is best explained and defended in David Friedman’s The Machinery of Freedom (Open Court, 1973, 1978, 1989), but also see Murray Rothbard, For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto; Power and Market; The Ethics of Liberty; and “The Anatomy of The State” in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and other Essays,; and Morris and Linda Tannehill, The Market for Liberty.
4. An exception to this sad tendency is the group called “The Voluntaryists.” The Voluntaryists oppose voting and standing for election as being an endorsement of statism. Voluntaryists are more consistent methodological individualists than other libertarians.
5. Of course there is much more to be said here. One problem is that though things have causal natures – relations and natures that they have independently of our acts of classification, at the level of human perception and normal discourse it may be unclear which classification is most accurate. We may also be selective about the interrelations on which we choose to base our categories, since we may require a constrained view of what we are referring to in order to suit our conscious purposes. For instance, in everyday non-scientific talk we may refer to “genes” as if they were distinct units. In doing this we should be aware of what we are doing and be prepared to speak more accurately if necessary. This will require reducing the thing to be explained to its constitutive elements. See C.A. Hooker, “Towards a General Theory of Reduction. Part I: Historical and Scientific Setting, Part 11: identity in Reduction, Part III: Cross-Categorical Reduction,” Dialogue 20: 38-59, 201-236, 496-529 (1981).
7. In the heyday of logical positivism many thought that all concepts were individuated by precise necessary and sufficient conditions. The concept of art, for example, should be exactly definable even if this proves difficult. This view is now seen as wildly implausible. Theories of concepts arising from cognitive science tend to emphasize the fuzziness of conceptual boundaries and explain their content in terms of cognitive structures such as neural networks. We decide whether something falls under a particular concept by seeing whether the input to the cognitive system (brain of synthetic neural network) activates the set of nodes (group of neurons and synapses) which encode the concept. There will be threshold effects, so that some inputs will be insufficient to activate the network. Those will not be instances of the concept. See: Barasalou, “The Instability of Graded Structure”; Armstrong, Gleitman, and Gleitman, “What Some Concepts Might Not Be,” (Cognition 1983); Osherson and Smith, “On the Adequacy of Prototype Theory as a Theory of Concepts,” (Cognition 1981); Rey, “Concepts and Stereotypes,” (Cognition 1983); E. Rosch “Principles of Categorization,” in E. Rosch and B.B. Lloyd (Eds.) Cognition and Categorization, (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum); Paul M. Churchland, A Neurocomputational Perspective (MIT Press, 1989); David Kelley, “A Theory of Abstraction,” (Cognition and Brain Theory, Volume VII, Number 3 & 4, Summer/Fall 1984).
8. Arguments surrounding the justification of the legitimacy of some agency are complex and cannot be considered here. It should be obvious that such arguments are not independent of the question of the existence of the agency: If there is no such agency we will have to refocus the discussion to one of the legitimacy of individual acts or types of acts.
9. There is an interesting question about limited liability when it is imposed by law and not by contractual agreement. This feature of currently existing corporations (and trade unions) seems to be unacceptable in my view (and in the views of other libertarian writers).
11. Mises, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949), p. 42. See also Friedrich Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press 1955), pp. 53-54.
13. An excellent and empowering source of ideas on how to control your own life free from coercion is Harry Browne’s How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World (Avon Books Macmillan,1973). I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It addresses not only typical political issues, but also friendships romantic relationships, work problems, and various constraining psychological traps.
15. My early deeply anarchistic thoughts were fostered by Chris Tame and others of the Libertarian Alliance in England (1 Russell Chambers, The Piazza, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8AA, UK – New address: 25 Chapter Chambers, Esterbrooke Street, London SW1P 4NN). Andre Spies’ highly extropic Meta-Information spurred the development of these ideas. Conversations with Tom W. Bell helped sharpen the idea for me and induced me to write this article.