Market Anarchist Theory on criminals’ rights

It is a common misconception that Anarchists do not wish to defend themselves against criminals. This is called pacifism. Most Anarchists are not pacifists (although pacifists should be Anarchists, if they wish to effect their values in the society at large). We do desire to defend ourselves against aggressors. This is not the same as saying that we want to defend ourselves against criminals (even in the Anarchist sense of “crime,” which is an action that goes against voluntarily chosen rules), but for the purposes of this entry I will use both terms interchangeably.

A right, once again, is a justification of the use of force. We are justified in using force to defend ourselves, our property and our freedom, by virtue of logical necessity (as demonstrated by Kinsella’s estoppel argument). This obviously also includes the criminal.

The paradox proposed to us is this: how can we attack the criminal for aggressing us, when he also has the right to be free from our aggression? But seen from the Market Anarchist perspective on rights, this paradox is swiftly dissolved. The criminal does not have the “right to be free from our aggression.” For us, a right only has bearing on the justification of the individual’s actions, not on anyone else’s. Given this, yes, the criminal also has the right to defend himself against aggression (and the very idea of punishing someone for “resisting arrest” is ridiculous and laughable, no matter the system), but we do not deny him that at all. All we are doing is affirming our right to defend ourselves against his initial aggression.

This reasoning, however, does not apply to the State as hypothetical “criminal stopper.” The State’s agents are not justified in using force against people it declares criminals, for two reasons:

1. The State’s arbitrary definition of who is or is not a criminal has no relation to actual aggression committed against its subjects, and therefore any act committed on its basis is unjust.

2. The State is an illegitimate entity, and thus its agents are not acting within anyone’s rights (in short, they have no rights to defend in the first place). Any aggression committed in its name by wielders of force (policemen, soldiers, armed bureaucrats, courts and prisons) cannot be justified, and is therefore immoral.

A statist may reply that the State is defending our rights, and that we delegated the defense of our rights to the State’s thugs. In that case, State aggression might be justifiable (if it wasn’t for point 1), but obviously we do not delegate the defense of our rights to the State. Such a delegation would imply consent, which is not present here. The belief that we delegate our defense to the State is merely a statist rationalization to explain away the brutal facts about the relationship between ruler and subject.

Now, the statist answer to the paradox is also woefully incomplete. Statists tell us that the State is justified in using force against criminals because the criminal has “surrendered his rights” by committing the crime. He has signaled that he is “opposed to society,” and thus deserves to be punished. This makes some vague sense, until we combine it with the belief that rights are inalienable. If the criminal’s rights are inalienable, how can he “surrender” them? You cannot surrender what is not yours to surrender.

Not only that, but how is this surrender effected? Who does the surrender? Does the criminal surrender them of his own free will? But surely many criminals do not. What is the difference between a man whose rights have been “surrendered” and one who still has his rights? Apart from the State’s behaviour towards him, is there any concrete difference at all? I highly doubt it!

Even in a free market, it is impossible for the individual to surrender all his rights, if only because he cannot be outside of his own body. One can abdicate from the expression of a right for unrelated reasons while still retaining it fully. I think a pacifist would be in that category.

The question then arises: how do we decide who is a criminal? In the case of statism, it’s easy: the State makes up its own rules. In the case of Anarchy, what we have is a society where individuals adhere to their own rules. Yet this need not be chaotic. For one thing, most people already agree on most points, as we are all against murder, assault, theft and fraud. The details will vary from person to person and from city to city, but this need not be any more problematic than the current Anarchy of “laws” from nation to nation.

But what is a criminal does not accept our conception of rights? As I have pointed out before, any organization of criminals in an Anarchy would quickly collapse, as no other organization would accept its rules in any arbitration. But an individual criminal may still refuse to obey anyone’s rules. He has the right to do so: but we also have the right to prevent him from breaking our rules.

So what we have here is a sort of Social Contract, but nothing like the Social Contract proposed by statists. The statists try to make you believe that you have a contract with the government in order to keep society working. We know that government is not needed to keep society working, and that in fact government is a parasite on a healthy society. If it pushes us to accept any duty towards government, living in society must encourage us to fight government, to denounce it, to scorn it.

The Social Contract I am talking about is derived from the necessity of natural rights. Because I engage in discussion, persuasion, trade with other people, they should naturally expect me to be peaceful towards them. To suddenly steal from them or attack them is to deny the respect that I was previously granting them. Unless I was simply faking my desire to interact with them in order to gain their confidence, my actions are completely contradictory.

The Social Contract can be described in a few words:

I don’t hurt you, you don’t hurt me, everyone ends up happy.

10 thoughts on “Market Anarchist Theory on criminals’ rights

  1. ethanleevita May 22, 2008 at 12:22

    While I do agree with you (free market anarchist myself), I would take like to take the liberty to critique your essay. I hope you don’t mind.

    “All we are doing is affirming our right to defend ourselves against his initial aggression.”

    What occurs if he is successful though? There needs to be a way to punish the criminal and compensate the victim. You or statists may argue that force against him would be unethical, but that is a hasty conclusion. By his usage of force against you, he validates force against himself for either self-defense(as you said) or for punishment. He cannot argue that using force against him is unethical for that would leave him admitting that he behaved unethically. Therefore, punishment(a form of force) can be exacted against him for he has given permission (in his case) by his usage of violence.

    “One can abdicate from the expression of a right for unrelated reasons while still retaining it fully. I think a pacifist would be in that category.”

    Thank you for that elucidation, it was a new aspect I have not yet heard and rings true.

    “He has the right to do so: but we also have the right to prevent him from breaking our rules.”

    It truly depends on the situation here. This statement is too general.

    It is important to note that we generally can prevent rules being broken, but can only punish them.

    If we have a rule that says that I must be given $10 for every word spoken to me and he doesn’t pay up, can we punish him from breaking our rules? Now if he had entered into a contract with him, he would be correct in punishing him for breaking a rule he agreed to follow in a contract.

    However, there will be a necessity to have universal rules to protect people – protection from force or threat of force (NAP as I’m sure you know). If he breaks a window of someone’s house, he should be punished regardless of whether there was a contract. And this is where the argument for usage of force against someone who initiated force comes into play.

    I eagerly expect your thoughts on this.

  2. Francois Tremblay May 22, 2008 at 12:50

    “What occurs if he is successful though?”

    Then he is successful, and we need to protect ourselves better, since obviously what we’re doing is not working.

    “There needs to be a way to punish the criminal and compensate the victim.”

    Maybe the word “punish” here was a mistake, but certainly I don’t subscribe to the punishment-style justice of the State.

    “You or statists may argue that force against him would be unethical, but that is a hasty conclusion. By his usage of force against you, he validates force against himself for either self-defense(as you said) or for punishment. He cannot argue that using force against him is unethical for that would leave him admitting that he behaved unethically. Therefore, punishment(a form of force) can be exacted against him for he has given permission (in his case) by his usage of violence.”

    I see you are using Kinsella’s estoppel argument. That’s all well and good, but what does that have to do with anything? I never said that “force against him would be unethical” in my article, so I think you are confused here. I said the STATE is never justified in using force against aggressors. That’s all.

    “If we have a rule that says that I must be given $10 for every word spoken to me and he doesn’t pay up, can we punish him from breaking our rules?”

    Ignorance of the rules is an excuse. But if he does know the rule and still does not shun you for the insane lunatic that you are, then it’s his fault if he breaks your rules.

    “Now if he had entered into a contract with him, he would be correct in punishing him for breaking a rule he agreed to follow in a contract.”

    Except of course that such an insane rule would quickly relegate you to the dung heap of any rational sane society.

    “However, there will be a necessity to have universal rules to protect people – protection from force or threat of force (NAP as I’m sure you know). If he breaks a window of someone’s house, he should be punished regardless of whether there was a contract.”

    I don’t believe in NAP, and I don’t think it’s compatible with Anarchy. I do agree that people will generally agree that certain things (murder, fraud, assaults) are criminal, but I don’t think “universal rules” are a good idea.

  3. Ethan Lee Vita May 22, 2008 at 16:20

    “Then he is successful, and we need to protect ourselves better, since obviously what we’re doing is not working.”

    That is true in an economic sense, and I agree with you. But from what I understood from your essay is we have no right to punish him from his act of aggression.

    “Maybe the word “punish” here was a mistake, but certainly I don’t subscribe to the punishment-style justice of the State.”

    Perhaps that may be the key, but I leave form of justice/punishment/compensation up to the market to decide. It will likely not be the state version(look how inefficient it is), but we can only guess at how the market will work. All we have to do is analyze people’s former market predictions to know this.

    “I never said that “force against him would be unethical” in my article, so I think you are confused here.”

    Well, your essay implied it with ‘All we are doing is affirming our right to defend ourselves against his initial aggression.’ and ‘Given this, yes, the criminal also has the right to defend himself against aggression (and the very idea of punishing someone for “resisting arrest” is ridiculous and laughable, no matter the system), but we do not deny him that at all.’ However I did reread your essay and saw ‘The criminal does not have the “right to be free from our aggression.”’ So whether it is a matter of uncritical reading or bad wording (not that it matters), perhaps I should ask how you combine the two? To me the criminal not having the right to be free from our aggression and yet retaining the right to defend himself from aggression seems contradictory.

    “Ignorance of the rules is an excuse.”

    Even if he was aware of the lunatic’s rule, but did not agree to abide by it, the lunatic cannot punish the rule breaker.

    “Except of course that such an insane rule would quickly relegate you to the dung heap of any rational sane society.”

    True, but besides the point – the lunatic would be correct in exacting punishment if the rule breaker broke a contract he explicitly (very important concept as opposed to implicit consent of the state) consented to.

    “I don’t believe in NAP, and I don’t think it’s compatible with Anarchy. I do agree that people will generally agree that certain things (murder, fraud, assaults) are criminal, but I don’t think “universal rules” are a good idea.”

    Do you have an article covering such a discussion or can you explain why? How would your anarchist society react to the situation of the glass breaker?

  4. Ethan Lee Vita May 22, 2008 at 22:01

    My apologies for my spelling and grammar mistakes. I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t proofread my two comments. If there was any confusion, I’m sorry, and I’d be happy to clarify any statements for you.

  5. Francois Tremblay May 23, 2008 at 00:38

    “But from what I understood from your essay is we have no right to punish him from his act of aggression.”

    No, that’s not what my essay was about at all. I don’t know how you got to such a conclusion. I would advise you to read it again.

    “To me the criminal not having the right to be free from our aggression and yet retaining the right to defend himself from aggression seems contradictory.”

    How so? I don’t see the contradiction. He is free to defend himself against it, but the aggression itself is legitimate (because it seeks to stop or repair his criminal activities).

    “Do you have an article covering such a discussion or can you explain why? How would your anarchist society react to the situation of the glass breaker?”

    I do explain it in detail in my book.

    And of course there is no “your anarchist society.” That’s a ridiculous premise. We don’t want a specific society: if we did, we’d be statists.

  6. Ethan Lee Vita May 23, 2008 at 11:45

    “No, that’s not what my essay was about at all. I don’t know how you got to such a conclusion. I would advise you to read it again.”

    I quoted your essay further down in my response on how I gathered that conclusion. I realize your essay was not about that, but there were sections that could lead to such a conclusion.

    “How so? I don’t see the contradiction. He is free to defend himself against it, but the aggression itself is legitimate (because it seeks to stop or repair his criminal activities).”

    But I don’t believe he has the right to defend himself against our aggression. I believe he has forfeited the right to not be shown aggression when he used aggression against others as per the estoppel argument. Since the purpose of defense is to defend yourself from illegitimate aggression (aggression that you did not explicitly agree to in a contract) and our aggression is legitimate, he therefore has no right to defend himself.

    “And of course there is no “your anarchist society.” That’s a ridiculous premise. We don’t want a specific society: if we did, we’d be statists.”

    Agreed, perhaps I should have said “your theoretical anarchist society that you assume will rise”?

  7. Francois Tremblay May 23, 2008 at 13:37

    “But I don’t believe he has the right to defend himself against our aggression. I believe he has forfeited the right to not be shown aggression when he used aggression against others as per the estoppel argument.

    Since the purpose of defense is to defend yourself from illegitimate aggression (aggression that you did not explicitly agree to in a contract) and our aggression is legitimate, he therefore has no right to defend himself.”

    That means you disagree with the point of my article, which was that the statist rights dynamics, such as “surrendering rights,” is absurd, and that a criminal still has full rights based on an Anarchist conception of rights. So all you’ve said so far is that you disagree with my entry, perhaps on semantics or on actual ideas, not sure.

    If you disagree, that’s fine, but why?

  8. […] dispute, and thus the concept of rights should not be controversial. The Anarchist framework also eliminates the absurd idea of “taking away a person’s rights” when they commit a criminal […]

  9. […] 8. Market Anarchist Theory on criminals’ rights […]

  10. […] is that they “surrender their rights” by committing a crime. It is absolute nonsense, as I’ve argued before, but if Pakaluk accepts throwing people in jail (to be fair, I do not know if he does or not, […]

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