I'm an anarchist -- in the upstanding, honorable tradition of Lysander Spooner, Murray Rothbard, Walter Block, David Friedman. Yet as soon as the designate rolls off my tongue, I know what pops into the other person's head – a malcontent with intentions to harm. Therefore, I immediately qualify what anarchy is – without state government -- and through example what I am and am not: I am tonsorial and sartorially conservative, generally reserved and mannerly, vociferous on important matters and indifferently diffident on most others. I am not what most in the media wrongly label an ”anarchist."
Association is the intractable obstacle that keeps anarchists spinning their wheels: Government is tethered by a Gordian knot to the law; therefore, no government, no law. To live in a lawless society would be the ultimate dystopia. Laws are the lubricate that enable an efficient civil society. Anarchism is everywhere misunderstood; everywhere it's associated with lawlessness.
But government has little association with laws, of which there are precious few – and all organically derived. A proper society needs to engage no more than a handful of laws to maximize utility: Prohibition against aggression and trespass, protection of property rights, enforcement of voluntary contracts just about does it. Anything more is superfluous and leads to disutilty.
And government, if anything, excels at disutility, because government is master of legislation – the great enabler of control and the great dispenser of privilege. Legislation is nearly always tyrannical and ad hoc: Prohibiting 32-ounce soft drinks in New York City, requiring identification to purchase drain cleaner in Illinois, forbidding liquor stores to sell chilled soft-drinks in Indiana are trifling examples of tyranny (though when multiplied hundreds of thousands of times across federal, state, and local government aren't so trifling).
On a grand sweeping scale, we suffer tyrannical legislation that enables income taxes, universal mandatory eduction, a minimum drinking age, vaccination mandates, ethanol subsidies, sugar tariffs, and on and on --and on more still.
Worse yet, legislation undermines law. People realize most legislation is asinine, so they skirt legislation anytime they perceive benefits outweigh possible costs. To ease their conscience (though most people believe legislation asinine, most also believe it is legitimate), situational ethics are conjured: “Income taxes are theft, so I'll regain some of my property with bogus deductions.”
Fair enough, but a slippery slope appears when the line between legislation and law blurs. When the line blurs. so does the legitimacy of the ethics: “Income taxes are theft. If government can steal from the private sector than so can I.” On the margin, the next piece of legislation weakens not only all previous legislation, it weakens actual law as well.
But what about the universal objection? Without government, rapists, murderers, and thieves would rule the roost. R.J. Rummel has coined a neologism – democide – for murder by government. Rummel estimates that over 260 million people were victims of democide in the 20th century. Nothing tops war – the epitome of government power – at promoting rape, murder, and thief. Is the prospect of an anarchical society really so bad in comparison? But I digress.
Under the current regime, we have no shortage of rapists, murders, and thieves. I won't deny that the threat of government retribution provides some mitigating benefit, though the costs tethered to those benefits are onerous: taxes, fines, police brutality, false imprisonment, legislation enforcement, and, of course, democide.
Private markets and individuals are fully capable of providing protection.
Begin by looking in the mirror. Given the freedom, incentive, and confidence to defend yourself, you will. Self defense should be encouraged similarly to way the primary activities of walking and talking are encouraged to toddlers. Yet people are frequently discouraged to defend themselves because a paternalistic government has infantalized society to the adult concept of self protection. We are inculcated from day one to trust government; thus we put our lives in the hands of organizations that can do no more than draw an outline around a body and possibly arrest and convict the perpetrator. On the front line, where life and death is determined, police are nowhere to be found – but you are.
On a macro level, Hans-Hermann Hoppe has written in detail and with faultless logic on private police protection. Here's the Cliff Notes version: Protection, which is insurance, can be delivered by the private market like any other insurance, only better, because private organizations are properly incentivized. Aside from yourself, who more than a private police agency, one looking to minimize costs and maximize profits, would be more willing to minimize costs and maximize profits by ensuring you survive a front-line event?
Cynics claim anarchy is a libertarian fairyland. In the real world, examples are few and confined to minor antediluvian tribal societies. Technically that's correct; practically not so much.
Albert Jay Nock provides a very real anarchical representation in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man. Nock reminisces on life growing up in upstate New York in the late 1800s. He and is family lived in a company town, where an official form of governance was far removed, yet society functioned as any civil anarchical society would: People with like mores and values developed laws organically. By Nock's recollection, it worked: property and contracts were honored, and personal trespasses were minimal.
The Argonauts venturing into uncharted territory west of the Mississippi River provide another de facto example of anarchy in practice. Once the Mississippi was transgressed, the Argonauts were on their own. Society relied on self-imposed laws and the character of each individual. No federal or local bureaucrat was around to enforce laws, arbitrate differences, or muck things up.
As for modernity, I'm sure we'd find many isolated communities in the Appalachians, Alaska, the Rocky Mountains that are functioning de facto anarchical societies. (On a personal level, I travel to Mexico frequently. I consider the experience anarchical: Should I be harmed, I am under no illusion the perpetrator will be caught and punished. My well being is predicated on the lawfulness of the local Mexicans. That thought is always in my mind.)
If a society is composed of civil people, pulling one from the ranks to oversee the rest adds nothing to civility. To the contrary, it subtracts. That privileged person will invariably be corrupted by his position and seek to extract tribute and distribute largesse for his own benefit. And if a society is composed of lawless cretins? Elevating one from their ranks won't amplify civility either; it will simply institutionalize cretinism.
Mark Twain said, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." When referring to bands of thugs and hooligans, use thug or hooligan. When referring to someone simply desiring to escape the shackles of government, use anarchy.