Why You Should Be Optimistic About Anarchism

A major stumbling block for people which prevents them from making the leap to anarchism is skepticism that a competitive legal system could peacefully resolve disputes without devolving into violence and warfare. The idea is that there needs to be a single legal system with a single set of laws to guarantee that violence doesn’t break out between competing factions. In what has been my favorite blog post so far this year, Bryan Caplan provides an excellent example of why this argument is greatly overrated. See: Crazy Equilibria: From Democracy to Anarcho-Capitalism. Bob Murphy makes a very similar point in his pithy youtube: Wouldn’t Warlords Takeover?

What people who hold this view seem to be taking for granted is the incredible degree to which democracy also requires peaceful social cooperation to avoid devolving into violent conflict. Stable democracy is not an automatic byproduct of the institutional arrangement. It isn’t the case that whenever there are conflicting views about how society should be organized, all you need to do is hold an election and, as if by magic, the problem is solved. Those who lose the election (or even those who win and are inevitably subject to laws they didn’t vote for) must make the conscious decision to peacefully accept the outcome and forego violent resistance. As we have seen in Egypt recently, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that this will happen.

In case you haven’t been following the drama in Egypt, after months of protests, dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power. Following his ouster, Egyptians held free and open elections in which Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were elected. However, a sizable portion or the population refused to peacefully accept the outcome and returned to violent protest. Morsi was then deposed in a military coup and now Morsi supporters have turned to violence resistance.

For any social system to work, including democracy, people must be civilized enough to peacefully work to resolve their disputes. Where they are not, the social system will fail. It doesn’t matter if it’s democracy, anarchism or something else. In many countries of the West, people have overwhelmingly demonstrated that they are civilized enough to come to peaceful resolutions to their conflicts, even when the resolutions are less than optimal. In America, the party that loses the election doesn’t take up arms and attack the winning party. Instead they repudiate violence, learn to live with laws they don’t like, and use peaceful persuasion to try to influence the outcomes. If Americans are capable of doing that, why are we so pessimistic about the ability of groups of people to peacefully select neutral arbiters and abide by their rulings?

I for one am not pessimistic and I believe as we continue to work towards ever greater liberty the obviousness of this conclusion will become evident to more and more people.

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