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7.2.2014

T h e In d e p e n d e n t In s t it u t e

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Pr int Window

Co mme n t a ry

W hy W e C ouldn't A bolish Slavery Then and C an't A bolish Government N ow

By R obe r t H iggs | Po ste d : Th u . Au g u st 2 0 , 2 0 0 9

Sla ve r y e xiste d fo r th o u sa n d s o f ye a r s, in a ll so r ts o f so cie tie s a n d a ll p a r ts o f th e wo r ld . T o im a g in e h u m a n so cia l life with o u t it r e q u ir e d a n e xtr a o r d in a r y e ffo r t. Ye t, fr o m tim e to tim e , e cce n tr ics e m e r g e d to o p p o se it, m o st o f th e m a r g u in g th a t sla ve r y is a m o r a l m o n str o sity a n d th e r e fo r e p e o p le sh o u ld g e t r id o f it. Su ch a d vo ca te s g e n e r a lly e licite d r e a ctio n s th a t r a n g e d fr o m g e n tle a m u se m e n t to h a r sh sco r n a n d vio le n t a ssa u lt.

Wh e n p e o p le b o th e r e d to g ive r e a so n s fo r o p p o sin g th e p r o p o se d a b o litio n , th e y a d va n ce d m a n y d iffe r e n t id e a s. In th e fir st co lu m n o f th e a cco m p a n yin g ta b le , I list te n su ch id e a s th a t I h a ve e n co u n te r e d in m y r e a d in g . At o n e tim e , co u n tle ss p e o p le fo u n d o n e o r m o r e o f th e se r e a so n s a n a d e q u a te g r o u n d o n wh ich to o p p o se th e a b o litio n o f sla ve r y.

In r e tr o sp e ct, h o we ve r , th e se r e a so n s se e m sh a b b y—m o r e r a tio n a liza tio n s th a n r e a so n s. T h e y n o w a p p e a r to n e a r ly e ve r yo n e to b e , if n o t u tte r ly sp e cio u s, th e n sh a ky o r , a t b e st, u n p e r su a sive , n o twith sta n d in g a n o cca sio n a l g r a in o f tr u th . No o n e n o w d r e d g e s u p th e se id e a s o r th e ir co r o lla r ie s to su p p o r t a p r o p o sa l fo r r e e sta b lish in g sla ve r y. Alth o u g h ve stig e s o f sla ve r y e xist in n o r th e r n Afr ica a n d a fe w o th e r p la ce s, th e id e a th a t sla ve r y is a d e fe n sib le so cia l in stitu tio n is d e fu n ct. Re a so n s th a t o n ce , n o t so lo n g a g o , se e m e d to p r o vid e co m p e llin g g r o u n d s fo r o p p o sin g th e a b o litio n o f sla ve r y n o w p a ck n o in te lle ctu a l p u n ch .

Str a n g e to sa y, h o we ve r , th e sa m e id e a s o n ce tr o tte d o u t to ju stify o p p o sitio n to th e a b o litio n o f sla ve r y a r e n o w r o u tin e ly tr o tte d o u t to ju stify o p p o sitio n to th e a b o litio n o f g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) . L ib e r ta r ia n a n a r ch ists b o ld e n o u g h to h a ve p u b licly a d va n ce d th e ir p r o p o sa l fo r a b o lish in g th e sta te will h a ve e n co u n te r e d m a n y, if n o t a ll, o f th e a r g u m e n ts u se d fo r ce n tu r ie s to p r o p u p sla ve r y. T h u s, we m a y m a ke a p a r a lle l list, a s sh o wn in th e ta b le ’s se co n d co lu m n .

In th e ta b le , m y r e p e titio n o f th e cu m b e r so m e e xp r e ssio n “ g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) ” m a y se e m o d d , o r e ve n ir r ita tin g , b u t I h a ve ch o se n to ta x th e r e a d e r ’s p a tie n ce in th is wa y fo r a r e a so n . Wh e n th e typ ica l p e r so n e n co u n te r s a n a d vo ca te o f a n a r ch ism , h is im m e d ia te r e a ctio n is to id e n tify a list o f cr itica l g o ve r n m e n t fu n ctio n s—p r e se r va tio n o f so cia l o r d e r , m a in te n a n ce o f a le g a l syste m fo r r e so lvin g d isp u te s a n d d e a lin g with cr im in a ls, p r o te ctio n a g a in st fo r e ig n a g g r e sso r s, e n fo r ce m e n t o f p r iva te p r o p e r ty r ig h ts, su p p o r t o f th e we a k a n d d e fe n se le ss, p r o d u ctio n a n d m a in te n a n ce o f e co n o m ic in fr a str u ctu r e , a n d so fo r th . T h is r e a ctio n , h o we ve r , sh o o ts a t th e wr o n g ta r g e t.

L ib e r ta r ia n a n a r ch ists d o n o t d e n y th a t su ch so cia l fu n ctio n s m u st b e ca r r ie d o u t if a so cie ty is to fu n ctio n su cce ssfu lly. T h e y d o d e n y, h o we ve r , th a t we m u st h a ve g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) to ca r r y th e m o u t. L ib e r ta r ia n a n a r ch ists p r e fe r th a t th e se fu n ctio n s b e ca r r ie d o u t b y p r iva te

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Pr inte r Fr ie ndly V e r sion

p r o vid e r s with wh o m th e b e n e ficia r ie s h a ve a g r e e d to d e a l. Wh e n I wr ite a b o u t g o ve r n m e n t “ a s we kn o w it,” I a m r e fe r r in g to th e m o n o p o listic, in d ivid u a lly n o n co n se n su a l fo r m o f g o ve r n m e n t th a t n o w e xists vir tu a lly e ve r ywh e r e o n e a r th .

Re a d e r s m a y o b je ct th a t a t le a st so m e e xistin g g o ve r n m e n ts d o h a ve th e p e o p le ’s co n se n t, b u t wh e r e ’s th e e vid e n ce ? Sh o w m e th e p r o p e r ly sig n e d a n d witn e sse d co n tr a cts. Un le ss a ll o f th e r e sp o n sib le a d u lts su b je ct to a g o ve r n m e n t’s cla im e d a u th o r ity h a ve vo lu n ta r ily a n d e xp licitly a cce p te d its g o ve r n a n ce o n sp e cific te r m s, th e p r e su m p tio n m u st b e th a t th e r u le r s h a ve sim p ly im p o se d th e ir r u le . Pr o p a g a n d a sta te m e n ts, civics te xts, o p in io n su r ve ys, b a r r o o m a lle g a tio n s, p o litica l e le ctio n s, a n d so fo r th a r e b e sid e th e p o in t in th is r e g a r d . No o n e wo u ld th in k o f p r o ffe r in g su ch fo r m s o f e vid e n ce to sh o w th a t I h a ve a va lid co n tr a ct with Vir g in M o b ile , wh ich su p p lie s m e with te le lp h o n e se r vice . Wh e n will th e g o ve r n m e n ts o f th e Un ite d Sta te s, th e sta te o f L o u isia n a , a n d St. T a m m a n y Pa r ish se n d m e th e co n tr a cts wh e r e in I m a y a g r e e ( o r n o t) to p u r ch a se th e ir “ se r vice s” o n m u tu a lly a cce p ta b le te r m s?

T h e sim ila r ity o f a r g u m e n ts a g a in st th e a b o litio n o f sla ve r y a n d a r g u m e n ts a g a in st th e a b o litio n o f g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) sh o u ld sh a ke th e fa ith o f a ll Am e r ica n s wh o still la b o r u n d e r th e m isco n ce p tio n th a t o u r s is a “ g o ve r n m e n t o f th e p e o p le , b y th e p e o p le , fo r th e p e o p le .” F r o m wh e r e I sta n d , it lo o ks d istr e ssin g ly like a n in stitu tio n a l co m p le x th a t r e sts o n th e sa m e sh a ky in te lle ctu a l fo u n d a tio n s a s sla ve r y.

Arg u me n t s Ag a in s t t h e Ab o lit io n o f Sla v e ry a n d Arg u me n t s Ag a in s t t h e Go v e rn me n t ( a s We Kn o w It )

Ab o lit io n o f

Sla ve r y is n a tu r a l.

Go ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) is n a tu r a l.

Sla ve r y h a s a lwa ys e xiste d .

Go ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) h a s a lwa ys e xiste d .

Eve r y so cie ty o n e a r th h a s sla ve r y.

Eve r y so cie ty o n e a r th h a s g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it)

T h e sla ve s a r e n o t ca p a b le o f ta kin g ca r e o f th e m se lve s.

T h e p e o p le a r e n o t ca p a b le o f ta kin g ca r e o f th e m se lve s

With o u t m a ste r s, th e sla ve s will d ie o ff.

With o u t g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) , th e p e o p le will d ie o ff.

Wh e r e th e co m m o n p e o p le a r e fr e e , th e y a r e e ve n wo r se o ff th a n sla ve s

Wh e r e th e co m m o n p e o p le h a ve n o g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) , th e y a r e m u ch wo r se o ff ( e .g ., So m a lia ) .

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Ge ttin g r id o f sla ve r y wo u ld o cca sio n g r e a t b lo o d sh e d a n d o th e r e vils.

Ge ttin g r id o f g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) wo u ld o cca sio n g r e a t b lo o d sh e d a n d o th e r e vils.

With o u t sla ve r y, th e fo r m e r sla ve s wo u ld r u n a m u ck, ste a lin g , r a p in g , killin g , a n d g e n e r a lly ca u sin g m a yh e m .

With o u t g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) , th e p e o p le wo u ld r u n a m u ck, ste a lin g , r a p in g , killin g , a n d g e n e r a lly ca u sin g m a yh e m .

T r yin g to g e t r id o f sla ve r y is fo o lish ly u to p ia n a n d im p r a ctica l; o n ly a fu zzy- h e a d e d d r e a m e r wo u ld a d va n ce su ch a co cka m a m ie p r o p o sa l.

T r yin g to g e t r id o f g o ve r n m e n t ( a s we kn o w it) is fo o lish ly u to p ia n a n d im p r a ctica l; o n ly a fu zzy- h e a d e d d r e a m e r wo u ld a d va n ce su ch a co cka m a m ie p r o p o sa l.

F o r g e t a b o litio n . A fa r b e tte r p la n is to ke e p th e sla ve s su fficie n tly we ll fe d , clo th e d , h o u se d , a n d o cca sio n a lly e n te r ta in e d a n d to ta ke th e ir m in d s o ff th e ir e xp lo ita tio n b y e n co u r a g in g th e m to fo cu s o n th e b e tte r life th a t a wa its th e m in th e h e r e a fte r .

F o r g e t a n a r ch y. A fa r b e tte r p la n is to ke e p th e o r d in a r y p e o p le su fficie n tly we ll fe d , clo th e d , h o u se d , a n d e n te r ta in e d a n d to ta ke th e ir m in d s o ff th e ir e xp lo ita tio n b y e n co u r a g in g th e m to fo cu s o n th e b e tte r life th a t a wa its th e m in th e h e r e a fte r .

7.2.2014 Pr inte r Fr ie ndly V e r sion Ge ttin g r id

Ro b e rt Hig g s is Se n io r F e llo w in Po litica l Eco n o m y a t T h e

In d e p e n d e n t

In s t it u t e a n d Ed ito r a t L a r g e o f th e In stitu te ’s q u a r te r ly jo u r n a l T h e

In d e p e n d e n t Re v ie w. He r e ce ive d

h is Ph .D. in e co n o m ics fr o m Jo h n s Ho p kin s

Un ive r sity, a n d h e h a s ta u g h t a t th e Un ive r sity o f Wa sh in g to n , L a fa ye tte Co lle g e , Se a ttle Un ive r sity, a n d th e Un ive r sity o f Eco n o m ics, Pr a g u e . He h a s b e e n a

visitin g sch o la r a t Oxfo r d Un ive r sity a n d Sta n fo r d Un ive r sity, a n d a fe llo w fo r th e Ho o ve r In stitu tio n a n d th e Na tio n a l Scie n ce F o u n d a tio n . He is th e a u th o r o f m a n y b o o ks, in clu d in g De p re s s io n , Wa r, a n d Co ld Wa r.

F u ll Bio g ra p h y a n d Re c e n t Pu b lic a t io n s

7.2.2014 Pr inte r Fr ie ndly V e r sion Ge ttin g r id

Ne w f ro m Ro b e rt Hig g s !

CRISIS AND L EVIAT HAN ( 2 5 T H ANNIVERSARY EDIT ION) :

Crit ic a l Ep is o d e s in

t h e Gro wt h o f Ame ric a n Go v e rn me n t

T h e size a n d sco p e o f g o ve r n m e n t p o we r h a s g r o wn in r e sp o n se to cr ise s o f wa r a n d e co n o m ic u p h e a va ls. Su ch in cr e a se d p o we r r e m a in s lo n g a fte r e a ch cr isis p a sse s, th r e a te n in g b o th civil a n d

e co n o m ic lib e r tie s, a ll a t th e b e h e st o f sp e cia l in te r e st g r o u p s.

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