Yes, If We Can Achieve a Stable Version of Your System, Then That Will Be Stable

I really don't do web lectures. I either want to lay down on the couch and watch a DVD of a lecture, when I’m in passive mode, or be active on the web, where I can jump from task to task, skim a text, write when something hits me, etc. Web lectures just don’t do it for me.

So, although if I did watch web lectures, Bob's might be the first I watched, I don't. So all I have to go on from his lecture is the snippets I get in text form. But this remark struck me as significant:

"I think there are strong reasons to suppose that civil war would be much less likely in a region dominated by private defense and judicial agencies, rather than by a monopoly State."

Well, yes, a region "dominated" by ancap-style private defense agencies and judicial systems would not have civil wars, because, per the theory of these entities, they will be non-aggressive and will respect property rights. But what in the world makes one think we can get to such a world? Can anyone actually present any instances of a modern state breaking down, after which a whole bunch of "private defense agencies" simply hang their shingles up on Main Street and begin selling defense services? Bob apparently cites the civil wars of Colombia, Iraq, and Somalia as evidence for his thesis, but they seem to me to be counter-evidence: when these states lost sovereignty over their territories, what ensued was civil war, not a bunch of variations of "Lenihan, Slavitt, D'Antonio & Sons, Private Defense Agency."*

I understand perfectly well that ancaps envision a world of multiple private defense and private law businesses like the mom-and-pop ice-cream-shop down the street, all peacefully offering an array of defense and law services. It is a very lovely vision! I would happily live in such a world. Similarly, Marx's communist utopia is a lovely world, in which I would happily live. But when you actually try to achieve Marx's vision, you get the Soviet Union. And when the state actually breaks down, you get Somalia.

The Kingdom of God is not of this world. And attempts to create it here typically result in the Kingdom of Satan.

NOTE: I have asked Bob for a text version of this lecture. Perhaps all of my worries will be answered when I read the full talk. I fully admit that this post is just based on sketchy impressions.


* That's a little joke: in my home town, the perfect insurance or law firm had an Italian, an Irish, and a Jewish name on the door, because that was my town's basic ethnic composition. The town was also 15% black, but apparently the restrictions on the supply side of black lawyers were sufficient to ensure that black residents would find satisfactory whatever Irishman, Jew, or Italian with which they were matched.


  1. In Somalia, the ensuing civil war was actually calmed by the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts, and there was private defense in the sense that businesses oftentimes raised small armies to protect themselves from the warlords who were trying to take over whatever was left of the Somali government. In fact, private law and defense in Somalia went a long way; it was foreign governments, like Ethiopia's, which funded remaining warlords. The UIC was finally dismantled (in favor of the "transitional" government), in large part, due to the decisive Ethiopian occupation in the late 2000s.

    1. I know the Somalian situation is complex, Jonathan. But this "anarchy" could not prevent the incursion of a neighboring state.

  2. The argument is actually that if we got to that system (with no assumption of stability), then for various reasons (given in the argument) it would tend to stay that way.

    However bad it is, the argument doesn't assume its conclusion.

    1. Yes, I think you are correct, Silas. I misspoke.

  3. I think the flaw here -- on both sides -- is in criterion.

    While it's true that ancap theory has a big theoretical hole around the notion of "stability," so does nation-state experience.

    Like the poor, we will always have instability with us.

    1. Tom, I agree with you here! I don't expect any social system to be more than "relatively stable over a relatively long period": think Switzerland. To me, that's about as good as we have reason to hope for.

    2. Gene,

      I don't think we agree on the notion of stability as either inherently desirable or as an essential criterion in evaluating the practicality of a (theoretical or existing) system.

      But, when I say I don't agree to those two points, I am not saying I have concluded the opposite of either, either.

    3. Well, Tom, I think it would be quite dull-witted to make stability the only or even the primary criterion for the goodness of some regime: a stable "Cultural Revolution" a la Mao would just be a stable horror show! But we humans need *some* stability, or we will lack any ability to plan our lives and to flourish as best we can.

    4. Gene,


      I suspect if I made a list of qualities I wanted to see in a mode of social organization, "stability" would make that list.

      But, as apparently with you, it would be well down the list, below things like "no red guards running around cutting deviationists' heads off with impunity." I'd certainly put up with a high degree of "instability" to avoid living in, say, present-era Pyongyang.

      I guess that in terms of evaluating something like Murphy-posited anarcho-capitalism, my filter would start with "is it good in ways a, b, c, d ...?" and run through "is it achievable?" before getting to "is it sustainable?"

    5. Except, Tom, very low stability would raise stability way up my evaluation scale. Let's say we found out: Murphy's system will be grand... for one hour. Then it will give way to a Stalinist hell.

      That would be a pretty strong anti-recommendation, says me.

    6. Gene,

      Stipulated. But I wouldn't consider stability a key variable even there. "Good A necessarily devolves into Bad B" would be plenty for me, the sped with which it does so being very secondary.

  4. Well, if you want the text version, just search for it.

    But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?

    Mises Daily: Thursday, July 07, 2005 by Robert P. Murphy

    1. i thought just asking Bob would be enough, but I guess I'm no longer "in."


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