I think tearing down the state would be one of the best things humanity could do for itself. I know most people disagree, but I wonder if that is partly because they don’t know much about spontaneous order.
One of the main reasons we still have the state is humans have a bias toward needing to feel in control. We believe not only that we can control our surroundings but that we should. Control means order, right? The more control we have–over the whole world, ideally–the safer we are. The theory of spontaneous order demonstrates the shortsightedness of this argument (as does the incredible damage the state has done to the world since its inception).
Spontaneous order is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, but most people do not know it by name. Spontaneous order, or self-organisation, has been used to explain the expansion of the universe and the movement of celestial objects, the evolution of life on earth, the formation of snowflakes and crystal structure, the activities of cells, ant colonies, beehives, flocks of birds, language, culture, markets and cities. It is the order, contrary to what we tend to expect, that arises when we stop trying to control things and let them be. A single ant could not direct an ant colony; a beehive is not run by a committee of bees. Likewise, central planning fails miserably while free people build wealth for themselves.
When people are freed from whoever is constraining or oppressing them, the norm is not rioting and Hobbes’ war of all against all. It is people peacefully cooperating to do what they agree is important. Look at what happens during revolutions. Look at what happens during wars. When all law and order break down, to the extent they can, people often work together, because they need each other. Spontaneous order is the phenomenon that explains it. Never mind humans; when anything, particularly life on earth, is left alone by outside or artificial constraints, it tends to flourish.
As far as we know, the idea dates back to ancient China. Here is something Laozi said over 2000 years ago.
The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men’s weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.
Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and the people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.
Statism is just one idea for organising society. The state is very good at fulfilling its purpose: concentrating power in the hands of a few people: once kings and courtiers but now politicians, top bureaucrats, heads of the security apparatus and corporate clients. But it is not good at leaving people alone to reach their potential.
When we are free, economies thrive, because individuals are far more empowered and responsible. Science and technology speed ahead. The most free and open complex societies in history are the ones that made all the most important advances in knowledge and the arts—not China in its days of oppression but in its days of openness. Not in today’s Middle East with its corrupt dictatorships but in the Middle East that advanced mathematics, astronomy and medicine and saved all the books the Europeans had thrown out as blasphemous. Not that Europe; the Europe since the beginning of the Enlightenment. But not the Europe of today, either, with its seemingly endless regulations, bureaucracy and welfare state. Europe used to consist of many small states with little power to regulate their societies. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe puts it,
Contrary to orthodoxy, then, precisely the fact that Europe possessed a highly decentralized power structure composed of countless independent political units explains the origin of capitalism—the expansion of market participation and of economic growth—in the Western world. It is not by accident that capitalism first flourished under conditions of extreme political decentralization: in the northern Italian city states, in southern Germany, and in the secessionist Low Countries (Netherlands).
People all around the world have so much wealth in their communities that, if they could own and transform however they like, could lift them out of poverty. Instead, they either do not have freedom to own and defend their property so they cannot use it, or are told not to work for themselves but to come and pick up a cheque so they can remain part of the wider economy. Their potential is still there, though. The benefits of freeing people from artificial constraints demonstrate the amazing power of spontaneous order. It is something voluntaryists and other freedom-minded people should help others understand better in order to make their case.
Have you ever read the book or seen the movie Lord of the Flies? Lord of the Flies is about a group of schoolchildren marooned on a desert island. At first, they are somewhat disorganised but they soon learn to cooperate to solve collective tasks and divide labour. They have certain simple rules they have learned in school for conducting themselves, though they might not understand the logic behind them. But the situation deteriorates. “Might makes right” prevails as most of the boys follow an alpha leader. Without grownups to keep order and feed them and take care of their every need, the boys revert to a state of what we typically imagine as savage. Within what seems a matter of weeks, they kill one of the boys. The island has become a zone of no mercy.
I believe this story is accurate. Children, or anyone, in a “state of nature” might create mayhem in a way that the state keeps in check. So why would anyone want that?
Anarchy has come to be synonymous with chaos. It is understandable. The boys on the island resorted to savages in a state of anarchy, which means the absence of rulers. Anarchy as chaos is “bad” anarchy; at least, I don’t personally know any anarchist or any other adult who wants chaos. I wonder, though, what would have become of the island society. Even young boys do not stay cruel and savage forever until there is no one left. The book Anarchy in Action describes the case of August Aichhorn, who ran a home for maladjusted children in Vienna. One especially aggressive group went around smashing all the furniture, the windows and the doors. Kids hurt each other, of course. Yet, Aichhorn and his colleagues believed that, out of anarchy arises order. As Proudhon once said, “Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.” They did not waver in their beliefs and restrained themselves. Self-governing order took time to arise, but it did nonetheless. The children settled down. They developed strong attachments with others and learned how to cooperate. Aichhorn could now proceed to work with the students to get an education free of the limitations of the real world.
All this is based on spontaneous order. Anarchy based on spontaneous order, or self organisation, can be “good” anarchy.
As I have written elsewhere, spontaneous order describes how all manner of processes, from the development of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth to language, the internet, the market economy and the Egyptian revolution. Spontaneous order, leaving people alone to live their lives, among adult humans has driven the industrial and scientific revolutions and given us most of what some people call progress. Jeffrey Tucker says, “Anarchy is all around us. Without it, our world would fall apart. All progress is due to it. All order extends from it. All blessed things that rise above the state of nature are owed to it…. [W]e need ever more absence of control to make the world a more beautiful place.”
Anarchists have all kinds of different beliefs and ways they would like to live. Some want an economy free of all government intervention, vastly equalising opportunity, creating vast prosperity for most or all people, and creating new markets for security, education, health and so on. Others want to live free of both government and corporate influence, where pollution is minimal, nature abundant, and technology is for helping, not hurting, people. These things are all possible in the absence of coercion by a higher power.
They don’t mind moving away and starting communities, or living off the grid. Part of the problem is that, even when they consume no state resources, the state usually tries to reincorporate them by force. The other option is secession, whether as an individual living in towns and cities or as a community, based in any given sized territory. Anarchists would not force others to do the same, but they do want everyone to have the option.
Good, bad or whatever, anarchists want the freedom to live in the form of system—including none—they like, and would not want to take the same option away from you.