In his article “How Small Should Government Be?” (where, interestingly, he discusses Anarchism), Harry Browne asked a famous question:
Suppose there were a magic button sitting in front of you. And suppose that button would instantly reduce the federal government to only, say, $200 billion.
Would you refuse to push the button — even if you want the federal government to be 0 dollars? Would you refuse to push the button — even if you think the federal government should be $500 billion?
Obviously any libertarian would press the button. Any Anarchist would press the button. It’s a no-brainer. All other parameters being equal, a world where the US government’s budget is around 3 trillion dollars (as it is today) is less desirable than a world where the US government’s budget is 200 billion dollars. It means less money for the military, less money for the police, less money for the drug war, less money for oppression, more freedom to spread our ideals and put them into action.
But now let’s turn the question to us. If there was a magic button that would instantly make the State disappear, would you press it?
Yes, as Anarchists, that is our main goal, and we should be eager to press that button. But, think of what would happen if this button got pressed. The great majority of people are still indoctrinated to believe that government is necessary for order. They won’t try to build a better world: they’ll just make a government even stronger to make sure that whatever made the last government fall doesn’t happen ever again. What we would see is a dictatorship established in short order.
Does it seem paradoxical that Anarchists don’t want to eliminate the State? The problem is the method of that elimination, not the elimination itself. Violence cannot be used, and neither can magic be used, because neither of them lead to permanent freedom. Look at what happened in the US: a group of influential politicians hijack the Articles of Confederation, impose their new, powerful federal government on the people and immediately attack anyone who rebels against their rule. The so-called “Civil War” was merely a continuation of this absolutist doctrine.
Anarchy is not just a desire to eliminate the State: it is a moral commitment to voluntary interactions and non-violent principles. The Anarchist is a person committed to helping his fellow man, not hurting him through either political means or more mundane criminal means. To press the magic button would be the equivalent of coercion, as the facts of reality would be changed without the targets’ consent.
Here is a different question: would I press a magic button that would get the State out of my life? Yes, definitely! But it wouldn’t be worth it if the magic solution was to isolate me from the rest of society (in fact that would hardly be magic at all: I can do that myself). I would assume that I would still be able to remain in society while being outside of the purview of the State. Would I also push the button to free my friends in this way? Yes, of course.
The State has one inherent limit to its expansion: how legitimate it appears in the eyes of the people. But this limit goes both ways. Anyone who seeks to shrink government (an impossible task if there ever was one) or abolish government faces the same problem of legitimacy. This is a greater side of the problem, since government has indoctrinated its subjects to believe in its own necessity. Freedom has no thugs available to brainwash people, and indeed such a notion would be contradictory at best. But it does present an initial, imposing barrier.
Unlike the statist libertarian, the Anarchist libertarian is faced with the problem of the perceived lack of legitimacy of Anarchy, as indoctrinated by government itself. Our enemies have defined us in the minds of the masses. They have manipulated black flagger groups and displayed them as “Anarchy.” This is the situation we now face.
As for the magic button: if there was a magic button that could undo the indoctrination of the State in everyone’s minds, I would press it with no hesitation whatsoever. The next day, there would be no more government, no more religion, no more hierarchies or authorities. Just people living their lives as they see fit. Isn’t that a dream?
(oh, and for those of you who didn’t get the joke on my title: it’s from MST3K)