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Anarchists contend that the Objectivist conception of government -- and its monopoly on the retaliatory use of physical force -- contradicts itself by disallowing the formation of competing agencies in which a private organization seeks to establish its own legal system.

This is encapsulated by Roy Childs Jr. in his article An Open Letter to Ayn Rand where he makes the following argument:

The quickest way of showing why it [the Objectivist government] must either initiate force or cease being a government is the following: Suppose that I were distraught with the service of a government in an Objectivist society. Suppose that I judged, being as rational as I possibly could, that I could secure the protection of my contracts and the retrieval of stolen goods at a cheaper price and with more efficiency. Suppose I either decide to set up an institution to attain these ends, or patronize one which a friend or a business colleague has established. Now, if he succeeds in setting up the agency, which provides all the services of the Objectivist government, and restricts his more efficient activities to the use of retaliation against aggressors, there are only two alternatives as far as the "government" is concerned: (a) It can use force or the threat of it against the new institution, in order to keep its monopoly status in the given territory, thus initiating the use or threat of physical force against one who has not himself initiated force. Obviously, then, if it should choose this alternative, it would have initiated force. Q.E.D. Or: (b) It can refrain from initiating force, and allow the new institution to carry on its activities without interference. If it did this, then the Objectivist "government" would become a truly marketplace institution, and not a "government" at all. There would be competing agencies of protection, defense and retaliation – in short, free market anarchism.

Why is Childs's argument false?

In a previous question, Kyle Haight points out (and I believe rightly so) that when a government "abdicates its role as final arbiter [...] [t]here is nothing to prevent another person from setting up a third legal system, or a fourth, or a hundredth, and there is certainly nothing to guarantee that all such additional legal systems are themselves rights-respecting. With no final arbiter you wind up collapsing into gang warfare, which benefits nobody." Mr. Haight's answer certainly points out the impracticality of anarchism, but only tangentially speaks towards its moral failing (which is not meant to be a criticism of Mr. Haight given the broader context of the previous question). Moreover, the Ayn Rand Lexicon entry on Anarchism discussing "competing governments" does much the same. This question seeks to focus more on the moral deficiencies of anarchism.

Doesn't the flaw in the anarchist augment reside in its conception of force and its wrongful initiation, perhaps derived from their belief that the non-initiation of force principle is axiomatic?

asked Feb 27 '12 at 19:01

JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

JK Gregg ♦
427545

edited Feb 28 '12 at 17:29

I don't think Objectivists has an issue with a private "defense" agency (e.g., security companies). I think they only have issue with a private agency that seeks Justice.

(Feb 28 '12 at 14:05) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Good catch. I meant the latter. I've updated the question's title. Thanks.

(Feb 28 '12 at 17:28) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

For future reference, as a concise answer to the original question as asked, I would like to call attention to the following exchange that occurred in the comments, and expand on it a little.

First, a comment by the questioner:

Childs's criticism simply states that in barring the use of retalitory force, a government is itself initating force. Why is he wrong?

And the response by John:

He's wrong because his view of the initiation of force is concrete-bound. To mount a threat, in the form of an alternative police force, is to initiate force against citizens who are to be protected by the standing police force. The mere claim to be a just government is not sufficient to permit the organization of a police force.

It is not possible to have two independent forces in a single jurisdiction which nonetheless trust each other. The second force is a physical threat to the first and those it protects.

Normally a proper government, as I understand it, would not act against a group who decide to function as a private policing agency until and unless the private agency begins to use physical force (or credibly threatens to do so) without being affiliated with the existing government in any way. The government's intervention in that case is not an initiation of physical force, but only a response to the use of physical force by others.

To further clarify this point, suppose an attacker (A) initiates the use of physical force against a victim (V); V hires private security firm (B) to use physical force on behalf of V against A, in retaliation for the attack by A; then government (G) intervenes and uses physical force against B in response to B's use of physical force against A. Is G then guilty of initiation of physical force against B, thereby making G's use of force immoral?

First, note that G did not start the use of physical force in this scenario. G's use of physical force is entirely a response to the prior use of physical force by B (and A). G's use of force is a retaliation, not an initiation. Recall Ayn Rand's emphasis in Galt's Speech:

Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate -- do you hear me? no man may start -- the use of physical force against others.

Note Ayn Rand's italicized emphasis on "initiate" and "start" here. To initiate just means to start. When a government (G) acts against agency B (and against attacker "A" as well), G is not starting the use of physical force. G is actually ending it.

Speaking of "A", does G in this scenario act against A in any manner? If not, then G is effectively aiding and abetting A, which makes G an accessory to A's attack. In that case, G is as guilty of wrongdoing as A is.

A proper government would act against both A and B. That, in turn, would make any use of physical force by B largely unnecessary. If there is some practical reason why G would need help from B to use physical force in retaliation against A, it could be done by making B an agent of G, subject to proper supervision and restraint by G. That is effectively the system we have today, with private security agencies operating under close governmental supervision, often even being authorized to carry guns and to use them under specific, well-defined conditions enforced by the government.

Thus, I concur with John that the answer to the Roy Childs argument is that G's use of force against B normally would not qualify as an initiation of physical force, since G did not start it. But if G fails to act against A at the same time, then G becomes a de facto accomplice of A and shares A's moral status as a wrongdoer.

To repeat, a proper government does not use physical force against B unless or until B has actually started to use physical force, or has built up enough of an arsenal of weapons and ammunition with corresponding indications of intent to use them. There are many private investigative agencies today, for example, that are free to investigate within the limits of the law, but are not agents of government and have no police authority -- no authority to compel witnesses to give evidence, no power to arrest anyone (other than the ordinary power of "citizen's arrest" that every citizen has), no power to obtain search warrants and conduct searches, and so on. The government does not act against such agencies until they go beyond the bounds of any authorization they may have from the government in using physical force.

answered Mar 12 '12 at 03:55

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Say you have two legal systems, A and B, with the same jurisdiction. If, under system A, a given act is punishable, but under system B, the same act is NOT punishable, then if I commit said act, system A would aim to punish me, whilst B would seek to punish the agents of system A for attempting to punish me.

The obvious result would be warring gangs of cops, with no higher authority to settle the dispute.

This is why government, as such, must be unified and hold a monopoly on the legal use of retaliatory force.

It's not that it is morally wrong to attempt to be an agent of the defense of individual rights. It's that if more than one agency considers itself authorized to use physical force to achieve its ends, conflicts will arise which will, of necessity, be settled by force.

It's hard enough having one government. Two governments means two sets of laws you must follow -- two sets of potential thugs you must keep on the good side of, and no guarantee that if you succeed in creating positive change in one of the governments, that it will be government that has the most power to affect your life.

Government must codify and execute the rule of law. If you don't like those laws, you cannot set up your own government that follows different laws. One set of laws means one government.

If instead, you are talking about competing police forces which are somehow magically able to stay out of each other's way, and who are somehow able to both magically follow one book of law which makes them never run afoul of each other, and which appeal to a single legal authority for trying criminals, then perhaps it could work. But the sum of all of this would still be one government.

Governments, of necessity, rule over everyone in a particular jurisdiction. There can't be two governments because it is logically impossible for them to rule over each other.

answered Feb 28 '12 at 19:15

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦
1002956310

This is another good example of the impracticality of anarchism, but does anarchism's refutation stop there? Is there not something to be said of the moral relativism of a competing legal systems theory?

(Feb 28 '12 at 19:30) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Moreover, aren't arguments (like Childs's) which condemn governments that stop anarchists from developing their own private legal systems a miscarriage of the initiation of force principle? In other words, does anarchism, in and of itself, present a threat worthy of attention by a government?

(Feb 28 '12 at 19:32) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Childs's argument implicitly assumes that both governments will be fully aligned in motive -- that they provide exactly the same service, but only with more or less efficiency. There's no moral relativism there.

(Feb 28 '12 at 20:08) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image
1

The issue is epistemic. There's no way two separate legal systems can independently arrive at exactly the same set of laws, and stay in perfect sync with each other while remaining independent of each other. The anarchistic argument presumes omniscience on the part of the two governments -- and that they would never, therefore, run afoul of each other. That premise is simply fantasy, and so one government has to win out.

(Feb 28 '12 at 20:12) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I think we're getting caught up in Childs's alternative to government and not his criticism of objective government. Childs's alternative surly is flawed and impractical, but what of his criticism of an objective government's dismanteling of a fledgling independent legal system? This was meant to be my focus.

(Feb 28 '12 at 20:54) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

An independent legal system is an outlaw system. Should we expect the police to sit idly by while another police force, ostensively to enforce an alternate set of laws, is organized?

I'm failing to see the merit of the criticism. Such criticism seems to rest on a fantasy.

(Feb 28 '12 at 21:02) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Childs's criticism simply states that in barring the use of retalitory force, a government is itself initating force. Why is he wrong?

(Feb 28 '12 at 22:10) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image
3

He's wrong because his view of the initiation of force is concrete-bound. To mount a threat, in the form of an alternative police force, is to initiate force against citizens who are to be protected by the standing police force. The mere claim to be a just government is not sufficient to permit the organization of a police force.

It is not possible to have two independent forces in a single jurisdiction which nonetheless trust each other. The second force is a physical threat to the first and those it protects.

(Feb 29 '12 at 01:06) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I think the key differences is whether the jurisdiction is the same or not. If it's not the same, then you end up with the equivalent of separate countries.

(Feb 29 '12 at 02:26) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Yes, but if they are different countries, then they aren't properly considered "competing legal systems".

The notion of "competing legal systems" is contradictory. To be a legal system is to claim jurisdiction, with the legal power to use force against anyone in that jurisdiction. Force is not competition.

"Competing legal systems" is just gang warfare.

In a very important sense, the government is a gang -- because they can use force. We hope, and work, to keep that force under objective control, and that task would be impossible with two or more gangs.

(Feb 29 '12 at 09:31) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

She viewed it as the libertarians viewed it.

(Mar 05 '12 at 00:09) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

"Say you have two legal systems, A and B, with the same jurisdiction."

We don't have to say it. We have it. My friend lives in Los Angeles. There are two governments, California, and the United States, which both claim jurisdiction over Los Angeles. Under the laws of the US, medical marijuana is illegal. Under the laws of California, it is legal. So far the two governments are working out this dispute peacefully (at least peacefully between the two governments, not peacefully for the arrested pot growers).

(Mar 08 '12 at 11:22) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"not peacefully for the arrested pot growers". There's your problem.

(Mar 08 '12 at 11:50) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

What do you mean it's my problem? Obviously any government with any non-perfect laws is non-perfect. This is true regardless of the number of governments in any particular geographic location.

(Mar 08 '12 at 11:56) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Federal law supersedes state law. There's no peaceful coexistence between contradictory governments. Regardless of what the state law-makers tell you, if you use marijuana, you are at risk of arrest by federal agents. That the feds just haven't yet overridden the state laws. It's not peaceful coexistence. It's chaotic semi-tolerance.

(Mar 08 '12 at 20:18) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Only federal law made in pursuance of the Constitution supersedes state law. Whereas any powers not delegated to the US are reserved by the states. And then only because a document signed by the states says it does. I don't see how that's fundamentally any different from any other treaty/agreement between multiple governments.

I don't understand your last two sentences. Are you saying that the US system of dual sovereignty is chaotic (and therefore improper)? Should we turn state governments into mere administrative districts of the federal government?

(Mar 09 '12 at 08:23) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Obviously multiple governments governing a single geographic location have to have a treaty/agreement for how to handle disputes, lest those disputes be handled through violence. This is true regardless of whether or not the governments govern a single geographic location anyway, as cross-border crimes will always be possible.

(Mar 09 '12 at 08:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Oops. Grammar error. I meant that any toleration, by federal government, of state laws allowing marijuana use, is not on principle, but simply out of a refusal to enforce. The feds are in control, but they turn a blind eye (if they do).

http://marijuana-as-medicine.org/Federal%20&%20State%20Law.htm

State governments exist, effectively, by federal permission. That permission can be either codified, as in the Constitution, or not, as in the chaotic state of marijuana law enforcement.

(Mar 09 '12 at 11:42) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

So, effectively, in certain states, marijuana use is effectively governed not by the rule of law, but the rule of men. And that is not good.

If the state governments had full jurisdiction, rather than conditional jurisdiction, this wouldn't be a problem, but we'd then have 50 independent countries.

Conditional jurisdiction means that the Feds, on policy, reserve the power to override state law. This can be good, as when a state law is struck down as unconstitutional, or it can be bad, as in the case of drug law.

Regardless, though, Federal power over states is a fact.

(Mar 09 '12 at 11:51) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

"Regardless, though, Federal power over states is a fact." Yes. I thik the American Civil War pretty much established that point.

(Mar 09 '12 at 13:20) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

And the federal government exists, effectively, by state permission. And both governments exist, effectively, by the consent of the governed.

"Regardless, though, Federal power over states is a fact."

Meaning what? That the Federal government has a stronger army? Federal power is limited to certain enumerated areas. In some areas (e.g. handgun possession), the power is quite clearly held by the states.

In some areas (e.g. marijuana possession for private personal use), the jurisdiction is in dispute, and hasn't yet been resolved.

(Mar 13 '12 at 10:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Federal power over the states means it has an army which can be used to subdue any state which attempts to rebel or secede.

Let us be clear: the federal government is the government of the United States. State governments are state branches of government. They are not governments separate from the federal government. They exist and operate by permission of the federal government. State law cannot contradict federal law with the expectation that such law can stand, and will be permitted, by the federal government on principle.

(Mar 13 '12 at 11:08) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

"Federal power over the states means it has an army which can be used to subdue any state which attempts to rebel or secede."

Surely that depends on the issue over which it is fighting.

"State governments are state branches of government."

Where are you getting that from? It is clearly not historically accurate. And even after the civil war, the Constitution was not completely rewritten to state this. It does not in any way describe how state governments are actually run. And it is contradicted time and again by court rulings throughout the entire life of the United States.

(Mar 13 '12 at 11:25) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"Surely that depends on the issue over which it is fighting." How? Do certain issues magically render the U.S. army impotent?

"Where are you getting that from?"

That states are branches of the country is a direct implication of federal power. It has nothing to do with the Constitution, nor how state governments are run. It's simply that state governments are not independent governments. They are sub-governments, qua "under the thumb" of the federal government.

(Mar 13 '12 at 11:32) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

"Do certain issues magically render the U.S. army impotent?"

There's nothing magical about the fact that there are issues which members of the army would refuse to fight over, nor about the fact that some laws are easier to enforce than others. The US army can't even maintain order in Iraq, a state with a population less than the population of California. And that's with the help of the states.

"It's simply that [US] state governments are not independent governments."

So what about EU state governments? Are they also not independent governments? If there's a difference, what is it?

(Mar 13 '12 at 11:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Feb 27 '12 at 19:01

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Last updated: Mar 13 '12 at 11:55