How to Approach Anarchism without Degenerating into Chaos

Too many theoretical disputes about anarchism vs. statism lead to a dead end because they focus primarily on who has or should have the means of enforcement, such as weapons and surveillance. They typically degenerate into disputes about cronyism, war, civil war, mobs, and chaos.

I think it is important not to be too utopian–by assuming that, empirically, agents will peacefully avoid all disputes among themselves via their own commitment to the rules–but it is also important not to be too authoritarian–by assuming all disputes can only be resolved by a well-armed, third party. After all, what separates third parties–such as governments–from other agents is not necessarily that they are more moral or just, but that they have access to greater threats or applications of the means of enforcement, such as physical force. (See Locke’s Second Treatise, Sect. 13***).

The best way to achieve enforcement of rules of the game when they are violated is ultimately an empirical question depending on specific historical conditions, and it cannot be addressed merely by means of political ideology. However, the way to a better society is not merely an issue of who holds the ability to threaten or enact physical force, monitor other people, and exogenously impose their will on others. Rather, it is a question of whether and to what extent agents can be or actually are endogenously committed to the rules of the game.

Instead of existing merely on a spectrum of (a) government gets the means of enforcement vs. (b) everyone gets means of enforcement, the theoretical possibilities also exist on a spectrum of (1) nobody is trustworthy or nobody trusts anybody because nobody is committed to the rules of the game vs. (2) everybody is trustworthy or everybody trusts everybody because everyone is committed to the rules of the game.

***From Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, Sect. 13:”To this strange doctrine, viz. That in the state of nature every one has the executive power of the law of nature, I doubt not but it will be objected, that it is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. I easily grant, that civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniencies of the state of nature, which must certainly be great, where men may be judges in their own case, since it is easy to be imagined, that he who was so unjust as to do his brother an injury, will scarce be so just as to condemn himself for it: but I shall desire those who make this objection, to remember, that absolute monarchs are but men; and if government is to be the remedy of those evils, which necessarily follow from men’s being judges in their own cases, and the state of nature is therefore not to be endured, I desire to know what kind of government that is, and how much better it is than the state of nature, where one man, commanding a multitude, has the liberty to be judge in his own case, and may do to all his subjects whatever he pleases, without the least liberty to any one to question or controul those who execute his pleasure? and in whatsoever he doth, whether led by reason, mistake or passion, must be submitted to? much better it is in the state of nature, wherein men are not bound to submit to the unjust will of another: and if he that judges, judges amiss in his own, or any other case, he is answerable for it to the rest of mankind.”