AnarchoDebates: Barry v. Keegan 5
By: Barry Belmont

Barry’s Final Email


This will need to be the last response. You have gone around in an entire circle and have started doing the very thing that I said frustrates me so much in The Parable of the Pawnbroker. In fact, many of your criticisms take the form those I mentioned in A Critique of Free Markets. As such, I apologize, but my patience has run too thin for me to continue this discussion past this letter. Since this is the case I will wrap everything up. And you won’t have to bog yourself down trying to answer my rhetorical questions.

Anarchocapitalism is the idea that all people own themselves to begin with and all actions between self-owners must be voluntary. It is when we recognize that this is the null position, that voluntary actions should be all that there is, we realize that it should not be the anarchocapitalists who must defend their position, but rather the Statist who must prove it is wrong. A Statist must show that there are certain voluntary actions which people should not be allowed (such as starting their own courts, not paying their taxes, going into the military business) and more generally that there are certain coercive actions which only the State can perform (taxation, as a key example). For too long it has been placed upon the anarchists’ heads to say why we shouldn’t have a State. We can point to the legitimized use of force as an invasion of rights (to see what I mean by this, follow the logic presented in A Philosophy of Philosophy). We can say that it must — practically by definition — be inefficient and that this waste is hidden and unnecessary. We can show that all the arguments in favor of the State are flawed and without merit, more often based upon faith, emotion, and misplaced fear than on logical reasoning and looking at actual effects of a State, rather than its desired effects. We must remember that just because we want something to be true, doesn’t make it so. We may want a State that is kept utterly in check, never strays, is perfectly fair, never overly coercive…but we can’t have it. It’s not possible. To believe you can have that is to believe a lie. This is why we need to have free and open markets actually tell us about the net well-being generated by something: when something succeeds in the market, it is because people feel it benefits them. This cannot be claimed for the State enterprise which lacks the ability to actually know how much its products produce beneficially compare to the costs of stealing money from its citizens.

Since you unfortunately cannot understand arguments of any considerably length, subtlety, or nuance, I will respond directly to your questions. I am assuming that these are your big big big objections, if you have other objections that you gain after reading my responses, maybe you should calm down a bit and take a look at what it is you’re really doing. Are you so sure that you aren’t just looking to disagree for the sake of disagreeing or misunderstanding the point being made in the context it’s being made? I have been told I have a knack for making people disagree with me on principle, are you sure you aren’t falling into the same trap as they are? Let’s hope not. If these aren’t your biggest, baddest objections, then I’m sorry you chose the wrong time to pick a bad question.

How are laws created? Are there multiple sets of laws or does everyone adhere to the same ones?
Unfortunately you misunderstand my position in regards to promoting anarchocapitalism. By way of analogy, consider the difference between an economist and an entrepreneur. Economists speak of how things work and maybe even sometimes what their effects would be, provided its not too fuzzy or beyond their limited scope of sight. They map the landscape. Entrepreneur are the ones who actually put things to work and is rewarded or punished by their effects. They explore the landscape. Entrepreneurs are the ones that make socks and televisions possible while an economist is only able to say if they are possible.

It is the same with me as a proponent of anarchocapitalism: I find myself to be an economist. I can say whether something it theoretically possible, but not how those possibilities will manifest itself. I could tell you in the 50s that a handheld music player was possible, but could I have ever told you about the iPod? No. I don’t know what the ideal handheld music play is, but I am made confident by the laws of economics that the market will tend toward the customers ideal.

Similarly with laws within an anarchocapitalist society. I don’t have to know how the laws are created within each society or whether their are multiple sets of laws or a single set, that is not what the economist needs to answer. I need only show that laws can be created privately and be subjected to the same laws of economics as all other goods and services. Since I have already shown this at great length in my original lecture, I won’t repeat myself here, as this looks to be a long letter anyway. So the exact answer is: only the market will tell. Some entrepreneur may come up with a law making system or a set of laws that absolutely revolutionizes the way we talk about them (much as Apple did with the iPod and handheld music players).

How do you stop the police from arresting innocent people?
I asked you this question and your response was: “the fact that they exist gives me hope. A [...] system with strict rules governing it and keeping its power from growing. A [system] with the ability to vote out people that are overly coercive.” Do you find this convincing it? If so then I merely claim that the system is private and we move on. But obviously that’s not substantive enough. The better answer is to simply ask back (to make it obvious), how do you stop anybody from doing anything bad?

Within a free market system when someone does something that customers don’t like, they are punished financially for the blunder, often times to the point of going out of business. Just as good businesses are rewarded. Do you honestly believe a police force that was known for assaulting innocent people would last? No. I’m not going to claim that no private police force will ever arrest an innocent person, that would be ridiculous. But when you arrest the wrong person, you’ll pay for it (whether actually financially or in reputation or whatever the market decides). (The market of course being “the sum total of all voluntary actions between self-owners.”)

So once again, directly, the way you stop police from arresting innocent people is to rely on their good judgment not to and to punish them financially (maybe even physically) when that judgment is off. This is exactly how people are kept from doing anything bad. People are presumed to be innocent and when they’re not they’re punished.

If a person refuses to pay the courts, can they receive justice? If a person refuses to pay the police, can they get protection?
Watch it again. These are answered directly.

How do you ensure that all courts accept that human beings own themselves?
This is just a variation on the how-do-you-keep-people-from-doing-bad-stuff critique answered above.

But on the off-chance that’s not good enough, consider the two possibilities the court has under a free market: it can either fail or it can succeed. If people don’t like courts that don’t presume self-ownership, that business is not likely not going to stay in business long at all. If on the other hand people love it, can’t get enough of it, then that business will succeed. Either way it directly reflects what individuals want in a judicial system.

Your story
I hate it when people present lifeboat situations as their main objection to something. “You know, an iPod won’t work if you leave it in your car for a long time during the summer, that proves that it isn’t a viable option…” Do you honestly believe that your situation would be a frequent occurrence? Frequent to the point of detrimental? Or significant to the point of inviability. For any system of justice there will be a lot of individual scenarios that we can try to spice up with details and muddle to make it harder to find a clear answer. When a ship is sinking who gets on the lifeboat first? Women and children? Which ones? Why? Why not the others? Why not the men? Such a situation — just like the private courts in your story — would have to be handled at the individual level with people using their best judgments to try to sort out a difficult situation…just as iPod manufacturers must decide whether to go with chip A or chip B both of which run only exclusive softwares 1 and 2 (and never the twain shall meet). My job is not answer every tiny detail of something as complex as a judicial system, but only to argue that “justice without coercion upon innocent people” is better than “justice with coercion upon innocent people.” (You’ll recognize the most prominent form of “coercion upon innocent people” as taxation at this point.)

And that’s why when I criticize a State run justice system I don’t have to present an infrequent, overly-detailed situation, I have only look at the current system, which is your system, your solution to the problem of justice. Your solution to the differences of courts problem is to aggress against everybody and spread the injustice around by having everyone go to the same arbitrator, the State. But what happens when you have a complaint against the State? See, no tricks, no fancy details, no life-boat scenarios, just simply who do you turn to when the State wrongs you? We all understand the importance of objectivity in matters of justice, but this is glaringly missing when someone brings a suit against the State, as they are their own arbitrators (as I have already discussed at length in my lecture).

A Brief Interlude
I’d like it you to notice, just for your own sake in the art of argumentation, that 647 words into your 2,380 word response you claimed “I don’t really want a response to anything said after this point.” What this suggests in the remaining 70+% of what you had to say is worthless. Utterly pointless and tangential to the conversation. Not worth either your time and mind. It was this, above all else, that “did it for me” and has made me realize you’re not interested in a discussion about the plausibility of anarchocapitalism.

Deus ex Machina
Your critique of anarchy is not new nor particularly significant: in fact it’s the reason you and many others give to support “a State.” You claim anarchy is unable to provide “a system of lawmaking, enforcement, and [a] judicial system” and thus we must call upon tyrants to give it to us. But this is equivalent to saying “I cannot think of how A would occur on the free and open market, therefore A cannot occur on the free and open market, therefore A must be provided by something extraneous to the free and open market.” Practically every objection to anarchocapitalism is of this flavor “I can’t see how police could be provided on the free market. Since it can’t be provided on the free market, the State is thus necessary to provide this.” It is a categorical error lacking all meaning since A can be anything: roads, medicine, defense, shoes, ice cream, you name it. It’s exactly akin to me saying “I can’t think of how television would occur on the free market, hence they can’t occur, thus they must be provided by the government.” There is, at base, no difference in the nature of “being a product” between a police force, a television, an iPod, an email service, or a judicial system. They all rely upon honest signals coming from voluntarily acting individuals. Everything does. And it’s when we pretend that a judicial system or a law-creating apparatus is absolutely removed from such market signalling that we make the foolish claim that Only The State Shall Provide.

Think about it, what exactly about stealing money from others leads to law-creation? I think you think you have answered this, in fact many people think they have, but how is a State able to do something that freely acting individuals cannot? What is it about “stealing money from others” that is better in the realm of defense services than “freely trading with others.” It’s clear that nothing is better and that most people are only defending the status quo. Everyone grows up believing in this Great God the State and few are able to critically evaluate why they believe that States (or just a single State in your case) should exist. Think about what it is you believe…you somehow believe there is this barbarism inherent in anarchocapitalism (lacking justice, defense, laws apparently) and that from out of nowhere, benighted individuals step forward with unquestionable power over other people, steal from them legitimately, force their labor, invade their sovereignty, and bring justice and law and order to all the inferior others. It’s the ultimate Just-So story.

The End
From what I’ve gathered you support a State above anarchy. As I hinted at, I see this as nothing more than you (and the many others like you) trying to rationalize your support for the status quo by working backward rather than trying to start from first principles and work your way forward. Otherwise it would entail that if you were living in a voluntary society that seemed to be thriving just fine, you would rally against it and say we need kings and rulers and tyrants to protect us from ourselves.You would claim that coercion and taxation and physically forcing others into things would vastly improve the human condition. We can see this as absurd. There is nothing about coercion and taxation and physically forcing others into things which would vastly improve the human condition, and yet these are the only attributes we have agreed that a State possesses. There is nothing inherent in the nature of a State that it provide equitable justice or fair laws or non-oppressive defense service, these are colors you add to your picture which are not actually present: you’re trying to spruce up your definition of a State so that people will come to better enjoy it, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with a State. You want justice and you want good laws, why not subject it to the same forces of voluntary human interaction when we want good iPods or clothing or houses or food? There is nothing about coercion that leads to a good society. Are all States better than anarchy? Every single one?

I have tried to be clear that what I am against in States is their inherent monopoly of defense services and their use of physical coercion through the legitimized theft known as taxation. I have absolutely no problem accepting a society based on democratic principles or communist ideals or benevolent kingships, so long as its voluntary. But a State can never be voluntary, by its very nature. Too often those who try to debate against the idea of anarchocapitalism say without a State there would be no law, no order, no justice, no defense: it would be chaos. Upon what evidence is this claim based? I have shown within the bulk of my lecture that private police, courts, and laws can function within a society on principle, and this is all I needed to prove. Am I to be blamed because tyrants and their adherents maintaining the status quo have not allowed the experiment to be run in real life? We have seen the failures of States time and time again, we have seen what coercion (in a thousand different flavors) can do to the human condition. Don’t you think its time we try the social experiment of a voluntary society? A private society? A society free of States?

If you still feel that stealing from people (and then giving back in a bastardized form) in order to exert a power you feel you justly possess over them is the best way to run a society, then this will now be your problem, and not mine. I sit on the side of angels. I feel that personal responsibility and a lack of legitimized coercion and a society based upon the corrective actions of free and open markets — which are merely the sum total of all interactions between voluntarily consenting adults — must necessarily better the human condition far more than one based upon tyranny, coercion, and fear, as all States systems must inevitably found themselves in.

Looking back upon this conversation, you should be convinced, if nothing else, in the illegitimacy of the State. I have addressed the fact that you are an anarchist to all other States, I have pointed out that you must believe in a world-wide government to be logical consistent, I have shown that in-group/out-group mentality is a non-issue. I have asked you how the governing and governed can peaceably coexist under coercive forces and not under voluntary conditions, I have asked why people can’t be moral or remain moral without a State, I have ask you to prove why States should exist and why we should reject the anarchist position. You need only critically look upon your responses and mine to see why this debate is over. You have not really addressed any of these topics, nor why State oppression is more tolerable than private “oppression” or why it is okay for someone from the IRS to literally steal your money but an everyday crook should be punished. In fact you still have not gotten over the first big hurtle: in supporting a State you are necessarily agreeing to the idea that there are certain voluntary interactions which innocent, consenting adults cannot be allowed to do.

I feel you should be convinced by my arguments, can you honestly say the same to me?

Until next time,

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View Comments Posted in AnarchoDebates
  • Yuri

    Boom, headshot?

  • Jack

    That was frustrating. As soon as you start laying out your position clearly, you disallow any further response. All that stuff about disbelief in anarchocapitalism being equivalent to disbelief in evolution was garbage. One has a huge amount of empirical supporting evidence, the other doesn’t (as you said: “tyrants and their adherents maintaining the status quo have not allowed the experiment to be run in real life”). Intelligent design is not testable (falsifiable), whereas normative metrics could be theoretically measured to compare an anarchocapitalist society to one governed by any number of state types (rates of violent crime, health metrics, citizen satisfaction surveys, whatever). In practice, this is infeasible, since there are too many variables to control for, but the difference is still significant.

    Whereas Keegan displayed faith in the state, you displayed faith in capitalism. There really isn’t enough evidence to say which one would be better. Yes, your way necessarily does not require taxes to be paid and allows people to form militias whenever they want. Thats great, but does it make people’s lives better? I’d love to see the experiment done-to see an anarchist society formed-so that we could determine whether it actually works better. However, you shouldn’t brush off skepticism with such animosity. Consider me not convinced (I wish you could have kept this going; this was a really entertaining discussion).

  • Barry Belmont

    Capitalism has immense empirical evidence in favor of benefiting the human condition (especially given the other options). One merely needs to look at a comparison of the “economically freest” places on earth side by side with those whose systems of trade are mired in State intervention. [Hong Kong v. Cuba, Ireland v. China,

    While we’ll never get pitch perfect experimental set-ups for something like anarchocapitalism, we can get close by looking at historical and contemporary examples of the tenets espoused by the philosophy. So this includes looking at those societies which favor free and open trade versus those that do not; cultures where human rights are more symmetrical across lines of gender, race, and age as contrasted with those that believe women are the property of men, blacks the subordinates of whites, young working for the old; nations that uphold property rights compared to those that merely let a free-for-all ensure in regards to who owns what. In the vast majority of these cases (well past the standard scientific 95% level of significance) you see that the places that are more prosperous, the places you would like to live in more, the places that truly are “better” are those that asymptotically approach the ideal anarchocapitalism.

    And I rely on that being true. If it wasn’t true, if it turned out the freest markets led to the worst situation, I would reject them in a heart beat. I guess I’m a bit of a utilitarian in that regard, in that I support free markets for an ultimate practical reason: they parsimoniously promote the best possible human condition.

    And I feel I should clarify that this exchange was prompted by Keegan’s expressing dissatisfaction at my original presentation: (which is a follow-up explaining the place of justice and defense in an anarchist society to my original original lecture: In these two pieces I feel I more explicitly lay out my interpretation of anarchocapitalism. This is why in my responses there is specific “laying out my position clearly” because it was assumed that such a position was already understood. Perhaps I should have been clearer in this regard, and for that I apologize.

    However, I feel I could be game to do another series of these AnarchoDebates…so if you’re interested, shoot me an email at

  • Keeban3

    Jack, its not that I put my faith in the state. The state scares the hell out of me and is wasteful besides; why else would I be part of this group? Its maybe the worst entity in our society. It was simply a lack of faith in the ability to function without it (much the same as I hate policemen–private or public–but wouldn’t want to live in a society without them). I know that society can function with government, albeit poorly as it does. I do not know whether it can function without it, but I cannot imagine it getting past certain obstacles. True, this is an argument from personal incredulity or possibly an argument from ignorance, but such objections seem valid when discussing imaginary worlds that have no empirical evidence either way.

    BTW Barry, you should have assumed that I did not understand the exact questions that I asked otherwise I wouldn’t have asked them because it was the same questions throughout the argument.

  • Keegan

    I did eventually switch over to anarchy, but I’d imagine that its a different sort of anarchy than Barry was promoting this argument, but I could be wrong (I did win the award afterall).

    So if some lost soul on the internet ends up reading this debate and feels that my objections were legitimate, here is the answer to those objections in three parts: 

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