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Volume 29, Number 3, Spring 2011

The Conscience of an Anarchist:
Why It’s Time to Say Good-bye to the State and Build a Free Society

By Gary Chartier

Cobden Press, Apple Valley, CA, 2011
Reviewed by Jerry Jewett

The siren of liberty would lure women and men alike from the security of the State to the uncertain future of self-determination and personal freedom. Of course, the State loathes this kind of thing, supplying much wax with which to stop the ears of those who might hear such a call. But liberty will out!

Such anarchists as Kropotkin and Emma Goldman were known among themselves and to others as libertarians, so let us not forget the anarchism at the root of the term ‘libertarian’ as it has been used historically. Of course, certain idealists fancy there can be a working “night watchman state.” This would consist perhaps of watch and ward to supply vigilance against intrusions, trespasses and theft by night and day, a hue and cry to take the offender, a constable to hold the accused and a justice of the peace to determine culpability and consequences: public officers.

However, the theme of a pure private market as to security, justice, and remedies for harms caused by some to others has its own cachet, which has been explored in various writings. One of the most recent is Gary Chartier’s book of the above title. Here, in the brief span of 114 pages, Professor Chartier (Professor of Business Law and Ethics at La Sierra University, who has his law degree from UCLA and a Ph.D. from Cambridge as well) deals with the moral and spiritual consequences of Statism and the principled reasons to retreat from the institutional coercion and arbitrary use of violence by the State against people causing no harm to anyone save themselves.

Another fascinating point raised is the origin and function of the criminal law. A look far enough back into Anglo-American legal history reveals that intentional harms to another, fatal or otherwise, gave rise to claims which had to be paid out in compensation to the injured, or survivors, as the case may be. However, over time the sovereign claimed to be the administrator of the peace, such that intentional harms of another were recognized as crimes, acts against the Kingdom, commonwealth, or what have you. The victim was but a witness to the proceedings, with the Crown the moving party and the accused the defendant. This was recently seen in the attempt by the Los Angeles District Attorney to bring Roman Polanski back from Europe to face charges based on his flight to avoid prosecution. The female victim of Polanski’s criminal acts was herself vehemently opposed to his return and her having to participate in the proceedings if he were extradited. Her sentiments were a matter of indifference, highlighting that it is the State and not the victim who is the offended party in criminal law as we see it today.

Over the course of much time, the list of crimes expanded dramatically if not exponentially. Harm to another no longer became the key element; rather, traversing the will of the sovereign lay at the heart of many offenses. Mere possession without any intent is enough to send the bearer of proscribed personal property to prison, whether it be a short-barreled rifle or a quantity of controlled substances.

But criminal law, curious institution though it be (neither aiding the true victim nor in any meaningful way rehabilitating the offender, only punishing the wrongdoer at considerable cost to society in many ways), is not the only State-spawned legal oddity.

The role of the State in institutionalizing socioeconomic classes and maintaining difficult barriers to entry of innovators and entrepreneurs is anything but a secret. Professor Butler Shaffer’s book In Restraint of Trade: The Business Campaign Against Competition 1918-1938 documents such efforts by “the Establishment” to maintain preferred positions and repel outsiders. The movie rendition of Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Part I very nicely highlights the insidious connivings between Congress and Wall Street to prop up inefficient enterprises and eliminate competition which would shrivel the revenues of the obsolescent industries. But seldom does anyone highlight, point by point, the legal and administrative techniques the means of which The Old Order is kept in power.

Here, Chartier exposes the bulk of the mechanisms used to keep the poor in their place and the rich on the ascent. Korzybski used to speak of the “survival of the fittest-in-time,” implying that the better Time-Binders would prosper. But Social Darwinism requires a good deal of Statism to work out. “The fact that the state serves the interests of the elite while frequently undermining the well-being of workers and the poor is not an accident. As long as there is a state, it will be vulnerable to lobbying and manipulation, and the wealthy will be best equipped to lobby and manipulate.”

Chartier also explores how war and empire would be well-nigh impossible but for the institution of the State. Only a State can support a standing army. As he notes, “George Bush and Dick Cheney may be out of office, but the War Party—made up of the people, whatever their party affiliations, who favor using war to achieve the state’s imperial goals—is still in power...”

What can be done to escape or minimize the State’s pernicious influences? Chartier offers questions and points to answers without pretending to be the final arbiter or ultimate authority. Relying less on the State, working out justice and charity privately, behaving in a cooperative way where possible, educating oneself as to historical and contemporary alternatives to State power and action, and similar means are recommended. Nowhere do we see the stridency of Bakunin or the bluster of Goldman, but rather the quiet and well-reasoned concerns of someone for whom economics is neither the only purpose of liberty nor its only justification.

Chartier writes as an amiable libertarian of the left, not offending libertarians of other persuasions. The dialogue he invites is itself a wholesome alternative to typical partisan railing. As C.S. Lewis has Miss Hardcastle tell Mark Studdock in That Hideous Strength, “Don’t you understand anything? Isn’t it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right, both on their toes and terrified of each other? That’s how we get things done.” Bridging the Right/Left gap is good work, which this book goes some way towards achieving.

Woodward and Bernstein notwithstanding, how much can we rely on “the free press” to alert and inform us? Per Lewis, “They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived.” And, as Chartier notes, “the media promote deference to military, intelligence and police agencies and valorize authoritarian behavior and political power.” (p. 88). Happily, there are such periodicals as Prometheus, whereby the people can be informed. The Conscience of An Anarchist covers much ground very deftly, shedding light along the way without pretending to have final answers, but raising some very good questions and working answers.

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