Previously I discussed and refuted the most common defenses for government legitimacy. However, some people have avoided the burden of proof completely by claiming that the question of government legitimacy itself is not even a valid issue. This appeal ad populum is essentially based on a false dichotomy. They claim that only governments are able to provide law and order while completely ignoring the historical evidence showing the vast amounts of chaos and lawlessness caused, both directly and indirectly, by governments themselves. Within this missive, I will show that government is not the sole method available to promote law and order.
Before jumping into the issue directly we must first establish a common base of terminology and assumptions from which this case will be made. To begin with, all men (in the connotation of mankind) are the sole owners of their own bodies; no movement or thought is possible without the use of that individual’s faculties. Additionally, human labor is impossible without the purposeful exertion of the body. Therefore, since man owns his own body and labor is impossible without use of the body, man is also the sole owner of his labor by extension.
While it may be possible to force a man to perform actions he may not otherwise perform, the labor is only brought about by coercing the individual – the owner of the body – to induce purposeful exertion. Even in situations such as this where the ends of labor are appropriated for uses by another, the labor itself remains in the sole ownership of the individual.
Secondly, man acts in order to reduce real or perceived uneasiness. (Uneasiness being defined as a lack of satisfaction of all needs and wants.) If he wishes, man is able to utilize his labor and fairly acquired property to sustain his life without the assistance or intervention of any other humans or outside social entities. However, living in a solitary environment is not ideal for most since man is unable to satisfy all of his needs and wants alone.
Finally, in order to satisfy some needs and wants man must interact with other humans. The market exchange system evolved naturally from human uneasiness in order to provide goods intended to satiate these needs and wants. Additionally, a variety of government systems evolved naturally from human uneasiness in order to provide law and order.
Early government enjoyed a monopoly over the people within a region due, primarily, to large armies and police forces. Power at this time was based in land and resource ownership. Therefore, government was in place not by the whims and preference of the common man but due to concentrated power in the hands of a relative few. For example, monarchies commonly justified governance due to divine right; those who disputed this right were treated to a dizzying variety of methods of torture and death. But in all cases, the law and order eventually provided by the government came about by the threat of violence. In other words, peace was kept at the end of a hangman’s noose.
Law is a derivative of the idea that man owns his own body. Law was created by man in the absence of government as a way to acknowledge the rights held in common between all men. While most rights are generally universally acknowledged, there are undoubtedly particular issues and situations which tend to be gray areas not accepted by all. Of course there are also those who do not respect the rights of others at all without some form of resistance to their lawlessness. However, these are generally the exceptions to the rule.
In a society based on the division of labor, man is forced to interact and depend upon other men for survival. While some may not comprehend it, the standard of living for all men increases when voluntary exchange is the basis for realizing the various means and ends of human life. By attempting to use force and subterfuge to attain the satisfaction of needs and wants, man places an undue burden on his fellow man in the form of reducing the local standard of living as well as redirecting productive assets to the purposes of defense. Notice that this is simply human nature and has no relevance to the existence or non-existence of government.
In a hypothetical isolated region such as Robinson Crusoe’s island, law and order is provided naturally as the needs and wants of the inhabitants so demand. Supposing that only one man inhabited the island there would be little need for established law since there would be no potential for his rights to become violated. However, upon adding a second inhabitant it now becomes possible for both men to desire the same limited goods available to them on the island. They will likely quickly verbalize their intentions to build suitable homes and traps in various parts of the island which do not interfere with the other person’s plans. Should they both desire the same location they would be forced to come to an agreeable resolution to their differences without the assistance from an outside government. Obviously it could be as simple as one man clubbing the other until he perished and the dispute would be over. However, the assets are plentiful in this hypothetical region and the murderer would be forgoing the benefits of a division of labor, thus reducing his potential standard of living. As more inhabitants came to live on the island a formal set of codes would likely be agreed upon in order to make life agreeable for all inhabitants.
In the real world today, law and order is required by the market in order to efficiently provide goods to consumers. Since the market rewards those entrepreneurs who operate more efficiently with higher profits, companies are forced to attempt to minimize the costs due to government intrusion and interference by relocating and/or changing the nature of their business. Large multi-national corporations continually move their production facilities and headquarters around the globe in order to enjoy the least onerous government regulation and taxation. Labor intensive manufacturers relocate worldwide regardless of the final destination of the consumer goods they produce due to the ability to cheaply transport goods globally.
Advances in technology have rendered the nation-state an ancient relic which is unwilling to fade into the pages of history. International trade exceeds hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods on a daily basis with no direct government oversight. If law and order were not possible outside the purview of government then a large portion of the globe would be without food, vehicles, energy, electronics, textiles, and a great many other highly demanded goods.
Until very recently in human history, agriculture was the profession of a great majority of the population due to the high level of labor intensity involved in food production. As technology progressed it became possible to feed the entire growing population with a smaller and smaller labor force. Similarly, government had been assigned the role of keeping law and order simply because there was no technically feasible alternative available. There seemed to be no method available to let consumers know which retailers were fraudulent; no way to alert businesses of suspected or known thieves; no imaginable system to protect individuals and communities from threats of outside violence; and no conceivable alternative to codified government law. Government held the monopoly on these issues due in large part to the expense of information.
Today, information is extremely cheap to distribute. Free and extremely cheap services continually emerge which have the ability to compete with and replace government programs. There is no reason not to believe that even more private services would step up to replace additional government programs if they were eliminated. Consumers have a multitude of services available to determine the honesty of retailers. Businesses continue to invest in better security features and more efficient manpower. News of important events such as invasions and riots can be nearly instantaneously transmitted across the globe. And many aspects of life are performed in a completely private manner with only the coercion available from peers.
In a world without government intrusion, taxation, regulation, war, genocide, and restriction, enormous amounts of capital would be freed to perform useful functions actually desired by individuals. One of these useful functions would be the provision of law and order. Organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and arbitration companies would multiply. Competition and the availability of information would keep the vast majority of individuals in check. The lack of a false sense of security provided by community police forces would likely increase the ownership of defensive weapons while the removal of punitive taxes would allow participation in private security plans. With a removal of the government monopoly of law and order, new and currently unthinkable ideas would spread across the globe.
Consider fraud for instance, insurance companies could offer policies protecting clients from fraud. In order to protect themselves from paying out huge sums for fraud claims, the insurance providers would likely collectively fund a number of quality assurance companies (such as Consumer Electronics) which would ensure that manufacturers are legitimate and follow certain industry accepted codes (i.e. laws). In turn, the insurance companies could refuse to cover fraud which occurs in relation to a business which does not allow the quality assurance companies access to production lines and records. This would remove a great portion of the potential consumer market and effectively shut the business down thus creating law and order sans government violence.
In sum, it is extremely difficult to participate in the world unless you do so civilly and cooperatively in today’s highly specialized division of labor. There is no reason to assume that a highly coercive and inefficient government is the only system available to provide law and order simply because “that is how it’s always been done.” Just as methods of material production become more efficient with technology and time so advances the methods of production for law and order. Most importantly, it is impossible to draw any conclusions about the potential alternatives to government when they have never been utilized or even allowed to exist.