There are lots of reasons to reject the legitimacy of the state’s claim to authority. But, as I try to show in The Conscience of an Anarchist, a number of those reasons are ones with which bleeding hearts should find it especially easy to resonate.
1. Poverty and workplace inequity can occur for multiple reasons. But neither could be expected to be remotely as prevalent in the absence of the state. The state raises the cost of self-employment, boosts the cost of living, and increases the liabilities associated with being poor. The practical result is that people are denied opportunities to better their economic positions and channeled into often unappealing work environments because the state has eliminated viable alternatives. The state makes and keeps people poor and makes and keeps workers subservient.
2. The state confers privileges on the wealthy and well connected. It protects favored industries with tariffs and grants of intellectual property rights, sanctifies large-scale theft by elite groups, hands out direct and indirect subsidies, implements regulatory regimes that suppress competition, constrains the most effective union activity, uses the tax system to benefit politically favored businesses and hamper the activities of others, employs eminent domain to boost the profits of developers and big box retailers, awards staggering bailouts to cronies in the financial and manufacturing sectors, and otherwise furthers the interests of elites and others. The state masquerades as the protector of the defenseless against big business, when it is actually very much the ally and enabler of the corporate elite.
3. There is nothing the state does that is more destructive than war-making. And if the violence and loss associated with war aren’t natural bleeding-heart concerns, it’s hard to know what could be. The state is hardly the only source of violence, but it is by far the most significant source. States fund wars using taxes, unconstrained borrowing, and inflationary money creation—strategies unavailable to the ordinarily violent. Those who want war, whether for ideological or financial reasons, can shift the costs of satisfying their preferences onto the unwilling; they might be far less willing to be bellicose if they were required to shoulder these costs themselves. States use the vast means at their disposal to propagandize for war and to promote it covertly. They use standing military forces to breed deference to authority and to repress dissent. The availability of standing military forces, economically unfeasible in the state’s absence, creates an irresistible temptation to executives to enhance their own power and to use military force at their discretion. And the existence of the state’s war machine makes attacks on ordinary people’s privacy and safety, as well as their pocketbooks, increasingly unlikely. The state dramatically intensifies the problem of violence.
4. Crime is a statist notion: crimes were first against the person of the king; then, in the king’s absence, the modern state claimed to be the victim of criminal conduct. The very existence of the criminal law, which severs the link between legal liability and harm, makes possible an ongoing reign of terror. Zealots and bigots can make the ordinary taxpayer who doesn’t share their goals bear the burden of funding the realization of these goals. Police violence and broken lives are predictable consequences of the War on (Some) Drugs, with members of minority communities suffering vast and disproportionate losses. A culture of retribution breeds brutal penalties and a prison system that stunts people’s lives and, increasingly, channels vast sums of money into the pockets of the state’s corporate cronies in the private prison industry. The criminal justice system is a creature of the state and neither the system nor its destructiveness would be realistically conceivable in the state’s absence.
People who favor markets, as I do, often defend anarchism by arguing that the state’s monopoly of force and law and its taxation of its subjects violate people’s rights. Without dismissing this sort of argument at all, I want to argue that principled people on the political left—the sort of people who could be expected to listen, at least, to arguments from bleeding heart libertarians—should find anarchism attractive precisely because the state unavoidably harms people on a vast scale through its attacks on the poor, its support for corporate privilege, its war making, and its assaults on personal freedom.
Jeff Riggenbach’s gracious review of Conscience seems to cast what I’m doing in the book as a matter of rhetoric—as an attempt to frame libertarian ideas in ways that will make them attractive to principled leftists. But while I do think that libertarians of all sorts often don’t know how to communicate with principled leftists, I think I’m up to more than rhetorical reframing: I believe that a leftist politics can and should be an anti-statist politics, a libertarian politics. And (while bleeding heart libertarians won’t all be leftists, of course), it seems clear to me that bleeding heart concerns can be effectively addressed by opposing, not just this or that misdeed by the state, but the state itself.