by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief
They want you to show them a real-world society without government.
You ensure they realise that just because anarchocapitalists oppose government providing, say, defence, it does not mean we oppose every other organisation providing it also. The ridiculousness of claiming otherwise can be made clear to your opponent by pointing out that they are opposed to government supplying food, yet no one accuses them of being opposed to the supply of food altogether.
They respond that defence is different to food; after all, food is not currently provided by government, so there’s a real-world example of that, and it is only because there is government that food can be provided by the market anyway.
You then point out that every area that government now controls has been, at one time or another, provided by the market.
You then give them examples. Good ones. And present them charmingly.
They’re not convinced, and their real question, as they now make clear, is whether law and order have ever been provided without government.
They say that Iceland was a long time ago and, well, in Iceland, and that Somalia is not exactly utopia. And, anyway, they’re not talking about Iceland or Somalia, but the Western world today.
You point out that each individual voluntary transaction is a testament to the workability of anarchocapitalism.
They say, what about a large-scale example?
You say, it is fine to extrapolate from the smaller examples to the larger, since large societies consist of the same people that smaller societies do.
They say, nice try, but what about a large-scale example?
You then point to shopping centres that provide their own security, roads and paths.
They point out that that is not so large-scale, and there is still a government overseeing the shopping centre.
You say that there is no government overseeing the people in government, so government itself is in a state of anarchy.
They point out that there is some international government organisation that oversees it.
You point out that no one is overseeing that, so that international government is itself in a state of anarchy.
They say you are just playing with words.
You say you’re not.
They say you are.
They repeat the call for an example of where anarchocapitalism is working in the Western world today.
You point out the manufacture of pencils and explain how the market operates in ways superior to government.
They says pencils aren’t used any more and that talking about pencils is almost as bad as talking about Iceland.
You say they don’t get it.
They say you don’t get it.
You say they don’t get it.
They yet again repeat the call for an example of where anarchocapitalism is working in the Western world today.
Reflecting on the way the argument has progressed, you see that a different strategy would be wise. You admire their strategy. You use their strategy against them.
You regret not doing this to begin with, but figure that they might have been genuinely interested or of an intellectual level to comprehend the power of your examples.
You ask whether they oppose theft and murder, and to show you a modern large-scale Western society where there is no theft and murder.
You then ask, that, since they do not know one, is it not impractical that they advocate a world without theft and murder, when no society ever has existed without them?
This will clinch the case. They cannot possibly wriggle out of this one. We have found the Holy Grail of anarchocapitalist advocates. The revolution is nigh.
So we see that the common request to be shown a society without government is not actually a request for historical examples, but an indirect way of saying that they object to anarchocapitalism because they think it is unlikely to happen.
The moral is, when we are asked this question, we need not bring historical knowledge into an argument, and doing so will often be disadvantageous.
Disadvantages of bringing historical knowledge into an argument include: it will tend to mean a listing of references which people can always say they don’t have time to read; and if they do have time to read, it usually only means enough time to nitpick, and find an alleged counterexample, and so it just increases the length of the argument, without bringing it any closer to a showdown.
To recap, next time someone asks for an example of anarchocapitalism in the modern Western world, try asking them in response, “You are impractical in opposing theft and murder, yet show me a modern Western society where theft and murder is absent? So, why is it okay for you to maintain that theft and murder is wrong, and not for me to maintain my impractical opinions?”
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