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Applied Philosophy Online

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On Civil Society

By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.



I’ve been having more discussions with anarchists and anarcho-capitalists, and they have a fatal flaw in their argument that will not support the protection of individual rights. That fatal flaw is their desire to be able to use force at their own discretion (either themselves personally or via their private defense service). The whole point of a civil society (of civilization at large) and of proper government is to eradicate the use of force (or fraud) to settle disagreements with others – of upholding the use of reason and not force to settle disagreements – of subordinating might to right. This means that even though you firmly believe that your individual rights have been violated, you do not have the right or the authority to settle matters on your own by using force against the supposed violators of your rights. The whole point of having laws (in a rational society with man's life as the standard), the police, and the court system is to make it necessary and obligatory that you must make your case to impartial observers that your intent to use force can be justified on rational grounds. And if it can be justified, then the proper authorities ought to be called upon to use force against those seeking to initiate force against you. To open up the use of force to the discretion of anyone and everyone in a society is to state that the use of force is the ruling standard and not reason. It is only in the case of actual life-threatening emergencies (a hold-up man or a house break-in, for example) that one is justified in defending oneself immediately with deadly force. Otherwise, one must make a case using reason that your intent to use force to correct a violation of your rights is justified.

Some anarcho-capitalists make the claim that since people operate according to reason, then we can basically trust the use of force as carried out by the rational man. Or that such private defense agencies will operate according to proper business ethics and seek profit and will not run-amuck with their use of force because it would be unprofitable in the long-run and they would go out of business. But following reason or discarding reason is a matter of choice – one’s fundamental choice – and so even the discretion of the rational man to use force must be nullified. It is not possible to know beforehand if he who wants to settle matters with force is rational or irrational, or that he will seek exacting justice according to rational principles. In this regard, the very fact that he seeks to use force to settle a disagreement must be held in suspicion and prevented in the name of living under civil terms of a proper society (one based upon reason as an absolute).

The point is to rein in the use of force – to eradicate force from society so that the rational man can prosper. The fact that under such a system the irrational would also be protected is of a secondary consequence. The primary purpose and function of a proper society with rational laws and a rational court system and police is to guard the rational man from the initiation of force. But this also means that he cannot use force to settle disagreements at his sole discretion, not if he wants to be protected from the initiation of force. To hold otherwise is to invoke a contradiction to the principle that individual rights ought to be protected. That is, even the accused has a right to be so defended against the use of force, and can thus seek protection and to have his side be heard by impartial observers. It has to go both ways if reason as an absolute will be the ruling factor of a proper society.

Under full capitalism, yes, it would be possible and even proper to have private security guards or even private arbitration specialists, but these cannot be permitted to become a law unto themselves in the greater society – that is, it cannot be left up to their sole discretion when and where to use force to settle disagreements. That is, your private security guards could be paid to protect oneself and one’s property, but they could not be judge, jury, and executioner against those believed to have violated your rights. Likewise with private arbiters, who can be called upon to settle disagreements over contracts. In the long-run, these, too, cannot become a law unto themselves, but must make their case to the law courts with impartial observers making the final determination if terms and agreements spelled out in the contract have been violated or not. Otherwise, there is the implication that one can use force at one’s sole discretion, which would be a violation of the terms that must be set to subordinate might to right.


In short, I am against the anarcho-capitalists on moral grounds, as their policies do not subordinate might to right, and do not uphold reason as a moral absolute.