The Kingdom paradox

Today’s text (via John T. Kennedy, on Facebook):

“Here is an unfair way of choosing political systems: compare the worst form of anarchy to the best form of government; one then finds that government looks pretty good. The comparison between Somalia and the United States would be a case in point. A fairer comparison would be between Somalia before and after its government collapsed, or between Somalia and other societies in the same region that have governments.[8] Even better would be to compare the best feasible governmental system with the best feasible nongovernmental system. That is what I suggest in the book,[9] and that is the comparison that I tried to conduct over the course of part II. Anarchists do not hold that all anarchic situations are desirable any more than advocates of government defend all governments, including those of Nazi Germany, Uganda under Idi Amin, and the Khmer Rouge.”

What interests me here is WHY the disparity in comparisons exists. This discussion will involve both politics and theology, so both my Catholic and political friends will find something to offend them. Take the things that you don’t believe in as metaphors.

We have a fairly good idea on how to fix suboptimum governments. If they are only slightly dysfunctional, and are democratic, we can replace bad people with good people, who will replace bad law with good law. In practice, this is difficult, as good people tend to become bad people, and because the virtue of the citizenry is a limiting factor; i.e., they have to be able to look beyond their own narrow self-interest. If the dysfunction is deeper, the entire system can be replaced through revolution. This is very expensive in terms of blood and capital, and of uncertain success. But there is a long tradition of doing so.

But we have no idea at all on how to fix suboptimum anarchies, because we have no tradition of anarchy. One does not fix an anarchy through voting, because there are no elections, and nothing to elect people to. One does not do so through revolution, as there is nobody to revolt against, and any armed force strong enough to reset the institutions of an anarchy is a de facto government. It would seem that one must destroy the anarchy in order to save it.

If one posits an anarcho-capitalist / market anarchy society, it functions through the voluntary cooperation of its citizens. Thus, if the society functions suboptimally, it must be because cooperation is suboptimal. If one compels the citizens to cooperate, one no longer has an anarchy. Thus, one must persuade one’s fellow citizens to improve their cooperation. If the failures are fairly specific, they can be addressed by concrete proposals: “If we did THIS, things would work better.” “This” could be tried in a community, and if it proved successful, other communities would adopt it. And of course market forces are one of the main means of cooperation.

But what if the breakdown in cooperation was due to the will of the citizens? What if they don’t WANT to cooperate in a particular way? What if their self-interest conflicts with their neighbor’s interest? One possible solution would be to fix the moral basis of the citizenry, so that they see their neighbor’s self-interest as their own. But that’s a solution many libertarians are uncomfortable with, as it implies religion.  And “to fix” anarchism in such a way implies either forcing religion into the citizenry  (in which case, no anarchism), or else taking the matter out of political philosophy entirely and concentrating on religion. Since we have no other acceptable idea on how to fix anarchies, it is natural to use the worst anarchy in comparisons. On the other end, the better governments and anarchies are, the more they resemble each other. I call this the “Kingdom of Heaven paradox”: Is Heaven a perfect government where Christ rules with a rod of iron, or is it a perfect anarchy, since everyone there seeks to do the will of God?  Can you be forced to do what you want to do anyway? The better citizens are, the less government is necessary; the worse they are, the more government is necessary. So perhaps the most revolutionary act is to guide the citizenry toward holiness. This means friction with the State, because the State’s self-interest is to discourage reliance on anything besides itself, and the State will do what it legally can to erode morality and moral institutions.  This suggests that a necessary activity of religion is to erode the State. There are plenty of peaceful ways of doing this without directly confronting power: agorism and mutual aid are two examples. The Amish can be our guide here.

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