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.