The Logic of Anarchy

By Carl Watner

[Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in THE LIBERTARIAN FORUM, February 1983, page 5.]

In 1793, William Godwin wrote that “To dragoon men into the adoption of what we think right, is an intolerable tyranny.” [1] Godwin asserted that the advocate of coercion is in a logically precarious position. Coercion does not convince, nor is it any kind of argument at all. The initiation of coercion is “a tacit confession of imbecility. If he who employs coercion against me could mould me to his purposes by argument, no doubt he would. He pretends to punish me, because his argument is strong; but he really punishes me, because his argument is weak.” [2]

The presupposition that the one who initiates violence is in a morally and logically indefensible position is the epistemological bias against violence. As Godwin added, “Force is an expedient, the use of which is much to be deplored. It is contrary to the nature of the intellect, which cannot be improved by conviction and persuasion. It corrupts the man that employs it, and the man upon whom it is employed.”

Historically, man’s original condition was anarchic. Government arose through conquest; through the initiation of coercion against the unwilling. Anarchism is the doctrine that the State, as a social institution, should not exist; that mankind should be allowed to return to its natural state of no-government. Epistemologically, we must start out as anarchists, too. The advocate of the State must convince us that the positive belief in government is justified. The burden of proof is not on the anarchist to justify the absence of government. Logically, this burden of proof rests on the advocate of the State.

Roy contended that the burden of proof for the necessity of government is always on those who maintain that the state is necessary or legitimate.
– Ronn Neff in “Roy Childs on Anarchism”

This point was made clear by those who argued against compulsory vaccination in late 19th Century England. They presented two independent arguments: (first), that the medical and scientific claims of the vaccinationists were wrong; and, (second), that the initiation of compulsion was wrong in and of itself. For them, the hallmark of civilization was the abandonment of legalized compulsion. As John Morley put it, “liberty, or the absence of coercion, or the leaving people to think, speak, and act as they please, is in itself a good thing. It is the object of a favourable presumption. The burden of proving it inexpedient always lies, and wholly lies, on those who wish to abridge it by coercion . …” [4]

Without realizing it, the anti-vaccinationists hit upon the logic of anarchy. Whether their medical argument was correct or not was essentially beside the point. The epistemological bias against violence precludes the initiation of force. This prevents the existence of the State (or legislation) which is by its very nature invasive. If those who advocate the State must rely on force in order to bring it about, then their arguments are already tainted. The anti-vaccinationists claimed that “vaccina­tion is either good or bad. Its goodness removes the need for compulsion and its badness destroys the right to coerce those who oppose it.” [5] So for the State. It is as illogical as it is wicked. In the nature of the case, the more the government protects, the less need there is to make it compulsory. On the other hand, the less it protects, the more infamous is its compulsion. In their anxiety to coerce others, statists demonstrate their own lack of faith in the prescription which they assert affords complete protection from anarchy.

End Notes

[1] William Godwin, ENQUIRY CONCERNING POLITICAL JUSTICE (1798), Book IV, Chapter i, Paragraph 10.
[2] ibid., Book VII, Chapter ii, Paragraph 9.
[3] ibid., Book IV, Chapter i, Paragraph 14.
[4] John Morley, ON COMPROMISE, London: Macmillan and Co., 1888, pp. 253-254.
[5] See Joseph P. Swan, THE VACCINATION PROBLEM, London: C. W. Daniel Company, 1936, p. 317, and William White, THE STORY OF A GREAT DELUSION, London, E. W. Allen, 1885, p. 508.

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