What Would Life Be Like Without Government Essay

The Market for Liberty by Linda and Morris Tannehill, Foreword by Karl Hess (Fox & Wilkes, 1993. 169 pgs.) 

One of the problems with being a so-called anarcho-capitalist is the battery of questions that people always throw at you: What about product safety? Won’t the Mafia take over? How do we defend ourselves from foreign invasion? And so on.

If I think the person is genuinely curious, I usually recommend Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty. The problem with this, though, is that some people don’t want to read 321 pages, and many find the natural law approach (adopted by Rothbard) to be out of reach.

That’s where The Market for Liberty comes in. Written in 1970, it is a slender volume (only 169 pages) that provides a blueprint for the completely free society. The Tannehills first establish the libertarian prohibition on initiated force, and from this conclude that all forms of government are immoral. In contrast with Rothbard’s approach, our authors adopt an unabashedly Randian foundation for their ethics. This is the only weakness in the book (aside from several typos), for its specifically moral considerations will carry only the strength (or weakness) that the reader ascribes to Objectivism itself.

The worst example of this tendency occurs in the Tannehills’ discussion of a criminal who refuses to work off his debt:

 Since there will be cases of mental imbalance even in the most rational of cultures, it is probably [sic] that there will be an occasional individual who will refuse to work and to rehabilitate himself, regardless of the penalties and incentives built into the system. Such an individual would be acting in a self-destructive manner and could properly be classified as insane. Obviously, neither the rectification company, the defense service that brought him to justice, nor the insurance company or other creditor has any obligation to go to the expense of supporting him….Nor would they wish to turn him loose to cause further destruction. And if they allowed him to die, they would cut off all hope of recouping the financial loss he had caused [through his crimes]. What, then, could they do?

 One solution that suggests itself is to sell his services as a subject of study by medical and psychiatric doctors who are doing research on the causes and cures of insanity. This should provide enough money to pay for his upkeep, while at the same time advancing psychological knowledge and ultimately offering hope of help for this aggressor and his fellow sufferers. (p. 103)

Fortunately, such occasionally hyperrationalist judgments do not constitute the meat of the book. Indeed, for any given statist argument, our authors usually deploy three or more objections; even if one is unappealing, the case for liberty still stands. In the matter of crime, the Tannehills make a very persuasive case for replacing the punitive state—which relies on corrupt judges, ignorant juries, and incompetent police—with a voluntary, contractual system in which insurance companies and competing defense services protect the property and lives of their customers.

Unlike the Marxists, who dismissed all nuts-and-bolts questions of the workings of a socialist utopia as unscientific, the Tannehills go out of their way to address the really tough issues. They devote an entire chapter to "Warring Defense Agencies and Organized Crime" (pp. 109-115), and another to "Foreign Aggression" (pp. 126-135). Even if the reader is not completely convinced by these sections, it is clear that the Tannehills are not asking us to take a "blind leap of faith."

(On this note, I should add that the book caused me some embarrassment. Rereading it now after so many years, I realize that many of "my" arguments for anarchy were in fact already developed by the Tannehills. Imperfect memory and unjustified pride often lead one to forget his intellectual debts.)

One of the most pleasing features of the book is its wonderfully polemical style. ("To advocate government is to advocate slavery. To advocate limited government is to advocate limited slavery." [p. 35] "Price control, like all other political controls and regulations imposed on the market by legislative force, is…people control!" [p. 18, emphasis and ellipsis in original]) Our authors make not merely a reasonable, but also an eloquent, plea for liberty:

Throughout history, the vast majority of people have believed that government was a necessary part of human existence…and so there have always been governments. People have believed they had to have a government because their leaders said so, because they always had one, and most of all because they found the world unexplainable and frightening and felt a need for someone to lead them. Mankind’s fear of freedom has always been a fear of self-reliance—of being thrown on his own to face a frightening world, with no one else to tell him what to do. But we are no longer terrified savages making offerings to a lightning god or cowering Medieval serfs hiding from ghosts and witches. We have learned that man can understand and control his environment and his own life, and we have no need of high priests or kings or presidents to tell us what to do. Government is now known for what it is. It belongs in the dark past with the rest of man’s superstitions. It’s time for men to grow up so that each individual man can walk forward into the sunlight of freedom...in full control of his own life! (pp. 168-169, emphasis and ellipses in original)

Such rhetorical flourishes do not detract from the rigor of the Tannehills’ analysis. Our authors possess a solid command of economics, referring their readers in a footnote to Rothbard’s "most excellent treatise" Man, Economy, and State (p. 20). This appreciation of Austrian economics shows in the concise yet comprehensive chapter, "The Self-Regulating Market" (pp. 16-31), which alone makes the book worthwhile. Ludwig von Mises’ central theme in Bureaucracy—that government agencies must rely on rigid and often senseless rules while private businesses can be guided rationally by profits and losses—is evident in the Tannehills’ discussion of the arbitrariness of government procedures (pp. 38-39).

The Market for Liberty is a powerful book that is even better now than when I first read it as an idealistic undergrad. By tying true morality to enlightened self-interest, the Tannehills make a compelling case that the just society—i.e. the totally free one—is also the efficient society. Although the book will not convince, say, Rush Limbaugh, it is an excellent starting point for the person who asks,  "Under anarchy, who would write the laws?"

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In my opinion a society without laws is a society in a state of chaos. A state without laws and government would be anarchy. By definition anarchy is a state of disorder due to the absence or recognition of an authority figure. Life without some type of rules to control us would literally be a state of disorder.

We are all human beings, and by human nature we have flaws. If these flaws are not controlled in some way, they can get out of hand and wreak havoc upon a person and the people around him. If there were no laws, people would do as they pleased. On a daily basis you would see theft, murder, rape and cruel and harsh life that would apply Darwin’s theory; only the strong would survive. The weaker people of a society who could not survive in a completely free state would suffer and diminish because their rights would in no way be protected. There would be no justice. If a family member were murdered, there would be no one to turn to.

The government enforces laws such as not killing people. In this type of society the people who would prosper would be uncontrollable. For example the law requires that people show up for their jobs or else they are fired. These jobs provide a basic lifestyle for us. If one day when laws were gotten rid of, people just didn’t show up for work, we would lose all things that are vital for our everyday lives. Such things are food, transportation, and education. Without laws controlling these people they could simply not show up for work and we would be left without farmers to grow our food, city transportation worker who take us from one place to another, and education which prepares us for life.

But like everything else in the world, there is a good side and a bad side. Even in a lawless state of chaos there are a few positive aspects of this type of lifestyle. For example a person can chose if they wish to receive an education unlike today’s society where every person is required by law to have at least completed 10 years of education. Also people would be free to make their own choices. They wouldn’t have to conform to the everyday expectations of today’s society.

Even though there are positives in this situation they could also be viewed from a negative angle. A person with no education doesn’t develop the common sense that is required for a normal lifestyle. These people could be living a very backward and primitive lifestyle based solely on intuition. This is a bad situation because when a person relies on intuition many things may go wrong. They could miss interpret their intuition and in turn hurt someone because they think they are right. Education teaches you to understand and control your emotions. So without an education a person would be very disorderly. The idea of a person being able to make his or her own choices would also be a positive facet that could turn out as a negative facet. Making your own choices based solely on selfish desires could lead to very horrible situations such as being robbed.

So in conclusion a society without laws is a society in a state of mayhem. Such a state is called anarchy and is a state of disorder due to lack of disorder. The law is an order that controls people’s behaviors for their own good.

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