The Beautiful Possibility
MARCH 27, 2013 by THE FREEMAN
The beautiful possibility can become an infectious, transformative meme. Currently, the word “anarchy” conjures up images of Molotov cocktails, rioters, and looters. It should conjure up images of peaceful cooperation, community, and emergence happening all around us every day. It is a rare and wonderful ideal, but it’s held back by the enduring rationale of Hobbes, and by the tendency of people to project paternal feelings and utopian designs onto the apparatus of the State. These habits of mind aren’t easily overcome.
Some in the classical liberal tradition—Spencer, Spooner, Rothbard, and Nock—argue not only that the world can do without the State, but that the State is not justifiable. But here’s a different question: Could it be that human emergence is an unfolding process—a flowing toward something like true self-government?
No one can say for sure. Change in the right direction could happen in fits and starts, if it happens at all. But there are some positive signs.
Indeed, there are some identifiable stages to our development as a species that suggest more liberty and less violence may be in our future. Many of our readers will disagree with Steven Pinker’s somewhat Hobbesian “better angels” thesis, in which he argues the world has gotten more peaceful thanks largely to the rise of the nation-state. It’s certainly possible that the nation-state was a necessary steppingstone in an emergent order that points toward increased liberty. But if the State was such a steppingstone, it has since become something of a stumbling block.
Science writer John Horgan, writing in Slate about the better angels idea, points out that “democracies rarely if ever fight against each other.” But maybe it’s also that democracies trade with each other more.
In the late twentieth century we saw the global rise of what one might call the “commercial age.” It wasn’t just that democracies didn’t fight because they were more alike; it was also because they traded. Our economic interdependence meant we were less and less likely to go to war. Old enmities were broken down due to the gains from trade. Whatever one thinks of the U.S. government’s playing world constable, peace through commerce has been a major factor in global stability.
Now we’re rapidly making our way into the “connected age.” As we connect and cross borders, we’re seeing less “like a State” and more like individual human beings of infinite variation with distinct hopes, aspirations, and communities. And yet we’re growing closer together. This isn’t just some cultural cosmopolitan fancy.
The age of connectivity is being built atop the commercial age like a layer of virtue. Things could go horribly awry, of course, like they did in 1914. But outbreaks of peace might continue as we spend more face time with each other.
So what’s next? Could it be that yet another layer is built atop the commercial and connected ages? An age of peace, liberty, and complexity? We sure hope so. An intermediate stage may look something more like panarchy—a stage in which our governance technologies operate more like our online technologies.
But even if we enjoy a phase of decentralization we might want to keep hold of the beautiful possibility—not because we are committed to any dogmas or abstractions nor because we’re terribly sanguine about the human capacity to overcome urges of violence and domination. Rather, it may simply be possible to abandon the need for social organization based on monopoly force. We can then welcome an age of social order that arises from people engaged in voluntary cooperation, community, and pluralism.
Here at FEE, we argue about these esoteric questions among ourselves, but we are committed to remaining fixed on our mission. We believe that mission involves exploring strands from across the classical liberal tradition. This issue is devoted to exploring one such strand.
When it comes to the State, the relevant debate isn’t whether the State is always needful or always hurtful. It’s whether statelessness is preferable to any realistic alternative in a given place and time, says Ben Powell.
Anarchism is the understanding that human society flourishes all around us despite the State’s constant interference, says Jeffrey Tucker.
In this month’s interview, Paul Green, Jr., of the Morning Star Self-Management Institute discusses how a workplace without bosses works.
Markets have been generating rules and enforcement mechanisms for centuries, without the State. Edward Stringham says PayPal’s fraud division is a case in point.
Rahm’s Rule helps us understand how opportunistic politicians can ensure that pork gets delivered to favored constituents while everyone else is distracted by the looming crisis, says Bruce Yandle.
Henry Ford’s Brazilian disaster illustrates the perils of trying to duplicate something that normally happens organically. Tom Bell has the story.
Wendy McElroy asks why the government is trying to make more people dependent on it for their food.
Dorm room construction is booming even as people are realizing that college is overpriced. Douglas French sees another bubble.
Perhaps as much as any songwriter or artist, three judges appointed by the Librarian of Congress determine the future of your music. Melissa Daniels has been listening closely.
Algae might hold the key to replacing fossil fuels, but as Jacob Borden explains, the market’s discovery process— not the government—should figure that out.
Our columnists have plenty for you. Sandy Ikeda says getting the U.S. on the Swedish model might require it to become Greece first; Sarah Skwire reviews a great literary mind at work in the business world; and Michael Nolan says your choice in movies can affect more than just how you kill a couple of hours.
Robert Batemarco reviews a book on the gold standard with a map for how to get there