Many people dismiss the liberty movement and defend government with a nice bit of circular logic that goes something like:
“We need government because your idea won’t work. Your idea won’t work because we need government. We need government because your idea won’t work…”
One of our regulars here, Lance, commented on my last article called “Does the government grant us freedom?” He had the following to say about my “model” by which society should follow:
Liberty in the jungle is rampant. If liberty is really what you seek, I’d suggest visiting central Africa. But I don’t think that is what you actually want, where the big chimp steals all the bananas with impunity. I think really you want a place where you are free to do anything you want provided it doesn’t infringe on the liberty of another. Necessary government for your model is what guarantees the prosecution of the violators. Its like the preppers on tv. Nice idea, having all those food cans, but how to deal with a sniper rifle?
First of all, using the chimp example as a metaphor, why does the big chimp get to steal all of the bananas with impunity? Are the chimps not able to gather together and defend their bananas? Why don’t they get some sticks and rocks and show the big chimp that it’s going to cost him physically if he wants to steal their bananas? That wouldn’t deter him? Or maybe the other chimps could build some sort of device that locks the bananas away or makes them difficult to steal. The big chimp will reach the point at which the cost of stealing the bananas, i.e. physical harm or lost time, is not worth the bananas.
So what do we say of the man with the sniper rifle? Why would people not protect themselves from him on their own? Could the government adequately protect the people from a sniper? They couldn’t protect John F. Kennedy from sniper Lee Harvey Oswald. Heck, the government couldn’t even keep Lee Harvey Oswald from being shot and killed by Jack Ruby while he was in their custody!
How did the government do protecting people against the shooter in the Beltway sniper attacks? It took them three weeks to catch him. Ten people were killed and three others were critically injured. If you want to criticize and reject the market because it is insufficient in protecting against sniper attacks, then it would be improper to accept the government as the solution if it cannot do a better job.
Furthermore, why should we worry more about snipers without the supposed protection of government? If the government were to cease its operations, would people get out of their recliners and say, “You know what? I’m going to grab my rifle and pick off some people walking down the street for no reason.” Who’s going to go on shooting sprees just because there’s no government to tell them no?
Let’s assume that the snipers don’t come out just for kicks. Let’s assume that there is some sort of “real” benefit they would get in return. Maybe he’s a competitor to your business. He believes your death would help his business. Would society around you be okay with that? Refer back to the big chimp and the bananas. There would definitely be a market for investigating these types of attacks because people value their lives and generally care about murder.
So what happens if the sniper is able to kill you without anyone being able to figure it that he did it? I guess he gets away with it. But if he’s able to accomplish this with no one finding out, then how would the government bring him to justice if no one knows he did it?
Why is government the only institution that people consider suitable to protect the liberty of an individual? (We won’t even consider the ironic fact that the existence of government* violates everyone’s liberty.) Is it because you know it is the only solution or is it because you cannot think of any others? If you know that it is only possible solution, then you have put the burden of proof on yourself to show it to be true. If you cannot think of any other solutions, how does that make it the only solution?** If I were to give you a difficult math problem to solve, does your inability to find a solution render it unsolvable? Surely it doesn’t.
How individuals would protect their own liberty absent of a government apparatus is a simple thought experiment that more people should attempt. Unfortunately, so many people accept the false notion that government is an absolutely essential component of a peaceful society, so the thought experiment never happens.
*For the sake of discussion, we’ll consider all governments to be coercive in nature. Non-coercive, voluntary associations that perform some actions while not simply claiming to have some special authority that others don’t have would be permissible.
**Hat tip to someone (I forget who it was) on r/Anarcho_Capitalism for this method of questioning the statist’s rejection of market solutions.