Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Fatal Naïveté of Anarcho-Libertarianism

The anarcho-libertarians at the Ludwig von Mises Institute are at it again. They're flogging "The Production of Security," by Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912). The idea, as usual, is to sell the notion that police services and even national defense can be provided through competitive, private firms. Toward the beginning of the essay Molinari asserts that
if everyone had, in one word, an instinctive horror of any act harmful to another person, it is certain that security would exist naturally on earth, and that no artificial institution would be necessary to establish it. Unfortunately this is not the way things are. The sense of justice seems to be the perquisite of only a few eminent and exceptional temperaments. Among the inferior races, it exists only in a rudimentary state. Hence the innumerable criminal attempts, ever since the beginning of the world, since the days of Cain and Abel, against the lives and property of individuals.
Well, there seem to be enough of "the inferior races" (of all races) to guarantee that "criminal attempts" will continue, without abatement, unless the potential victims of those attempts establish institutions for the purpose of deterring and punishing crime. Molinari, of course, believes that private institutions can do the job. Toward the end of the essay he says that
[u]nder the rule of free competition, war between the producers of security entirely loses its justification. Why would they make war? To conquer consumers? But the consumers would not allow themselves to be conquered. They would be careful not to allow themselves to be protected by men who would unscrupulously attack the persons and property of their rivals. If some audacious conqueror tried to become dictator, they would immediately call to their aid all the free consumers menaced by this aggression, and they would treat him as he deserved. Just as war is the natural consequence of monopoly, peace us the natural consequence of liberty.

Under a regime of liberty, the natural organization of the security industry would not be different from that of other industries. In small districts a single entrepreneur could suffice. This entrepreneur might leave his business to his son, or sell it to another entrepreneur. In larger districts, one company by itself would bring together enough resources adequately to carry on this important and difficult business. If it were well managed, this company could easily last, and security would last with it. In the security industry, just as in most of the other branches of production, the latter mode of organization will probably replace the former, in the end.
The "customers would not allow themselves to be conquered"? Tell that to those who pay gangsters for "protection" and to the residents of gang-ridden areas. Molinari conveniently forgets that the ranks of "competitors" are open to "the inferior races," who in their viciousness will and do "unscrupulously attack the persons and property of their rivals." If not everyone is honorable, as Molinari admits, why would we expect private providers of security be honorable? Why would they not extort their customers while fighting each other? The result is bound to be something worse than life under an accountable state monopoly (such as we have in the U.S.) -- something fraught with violence and fear. Think of The Roaring Twenties without the glossy coat of Hollywood glamour.

Molinari and his anarcho-libertarian descendants exhibit the Anne Frank syndrome. About three weeks before Frank and her family were betrayed and arrested, she wrote this:
It'’s a wonder I haven'’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.
Molinari and his ilk do not express the jejune belief that all "people are truly good at heart," yet they persist in the belief that the security can be achieved in the absence of an accountable state. That is, like Anne Frank, they assume -- contrary to all evidence -- that "people are truly good at heart." But competition, by itself, does not and cannot prevent criminal acts. Competition, to be beneficial, must be conducted within the framework of a rule of law. That rule of law must be enforced by a state which is accountable to its citizens for the preservation of their liberty.

The present rule of law in the United States is far from perfect, but it is far more perfect than the alternative dreamt of by anarcho-libertarians.

Related posts:

Defense, Anarcho-Capitalist Style
But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?
My View of Warlordism, Seconded