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Harry Binswanger, Anarchism vs. Objectivism: A Rebuttal

Category: Blog

Binswanger's article "Anarchism Vs. Objectivism" was written more than 29 years ago, so one cannot know what he still believes. Since many current Objectivists hold the same or nearly the same views as he expressed in 1981, those ideas are critically examined here.

For the sake of clarity, I will use the term "anarchy" to denote the social system in which initiation of force is prohibited for everyone. That is, one (anyone) may use force in self-defense, defense of himself or herself or their property or the self or property of another person, but only when said self or property is attacked or threatened with physical harm. Binswanger seems to be using this definition in the beginning of his article, but near the end, ascribes other attributes to anarchists that I don't share, e.g. "The real target of the anarchist's attack is objectivity." Certainly there may be people who call themselves anarchists who include in that term beliefs that I don't share, just as there are people who call themselves Objectivists who disagree on what Ayn Rand said or meant in particular writings of hers.

Binswanger writes:

"A proper government is restricted to the protection of individual rights against violation by force or threat of force. A proper government functions according to objective, philosophically validated procedures, as embodied in its entire legal framework, from its constitution down to its narrowest rules and ordinances. Once such a government, or anything approaching it, has been established, there is no such thing as a 'right' to 'compete' with the government -- i.e. to act as judge jury, and executioner. Nor does one gain such a 'right' by joining with others to go into the business of wielding force.

"To carry out its function of protecting individual rights, the government must forcibly bar others from using force in ways that threaten citizens' rights. Private force is force not authorized by the government, not validated by its procedural safeguards, and not subject to its supervision."

[Binswanger, 1981, HBL]

Notice that Binswanger doesn't tell us how this so-called proper government gets established. Is it by coup, by democratic elections, by dictator seizing control and declaring, "I have established a proper government?" Presumably Binswanger would oppose someone or some group using overt force to obtain power. That leaves the possibility that this "proper" government was established by democratic elections. But a democratic election is simply one in which group A, which outnumbers group B (and C, D, etc.), puts its candidates in office to wield power. By what right is group A allowed to do this? Surely a group does not gain rights by outnumbering another group. In fact, Binswanger admits this when he says, "Nor does one gain such a 'right' by joining with others to go into the business of wielding force." Therefore any claim by one group that its candidates have been duly elected to office (or put in office any other way) and therefore are authorized to take actions that ordinary citizens are not allowed, violates this principle: Rights belong only to individuals, not groups, and do not accrue by virtue of the number of people claiming them.

Much of the rest of Binswanger's article is laced with other self-contradictions and a tirade against imagined bogeymen and chaos that would result from the absence of government. He says, "The attempt to invoke individual rights to justify 'competing' with the government collapses at first attempt to concretize what it would mean in reality. Picture a band of strangers marching down Main Street, submachine guns at the ready. When confronted by police, the leader of the band announces: ' Me and the boys are only here to see that justice is done, so you have no right to interfere with us.' According to the 'libertarian' anarchists, in such a confrontation the police are morally bound to withdraw, on pain of betraying the rights of self-defense and free trade." A private police force is only morally bound to withdraw if there is no objective threat to anyone. On the other hand, what if the band of people marching down the street is actually the government police or military, declaring the right to enter people's homes and seizes their guns? This is, of course, exactly what happened in New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane. We have over 200 years' experience of the use of growing arbitrary force by the United States government in almost every sphere of Americans' daily lives. So there is overwhelming empirical evidence for the use of arbitrary force on the side of government and Binswanger cites none for supporting his illustration.

"There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force AND (emphasis added) delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense, for the purpose of an orderly, objective, legally defined enforcement," states Binswanger. He gets it half right. Everyone should denounce the use of physical force. But that in no way obligates them to delegate their right of self-defense to another entity, governmental or not. Furthermore, the fact that some people may choose to delegate their right to self-defense to, say, a private police force, in no way obligates the others in society to do the same. Binswanger wants to at once renounce the use of physical force and then immediately deny people (using force!) the right to self-defense or self-chosen defense. Logically, he can't have it both ways.

Finally, Binswanger claims that dispute resolution cannot possibly be done fairly or effectively absent a government in the role of final arbiter: "The most twisted evasion of the 'libertarian' anarchists in this context is their view that disputes concerning rights could be settled by 'competition' among private force-wielders on the 'free market.'" Again, the overwhelming evidence is against him. Many private civil disputes today are solved through non-legally enforced arbitration. Private dispute resolution organizations -- DRO's as Stefan Molyneux has discussed -- would have to constantly prove their effectiveness and fairness or go out of business. The court system in the United States today at every level is notoriously ineffective and expensive. Even in criminal cases, the court system isn't so concerned about the victim and restoring, if possible, his or her rights, but rather in punishing the criminal -- often in ways that are counterproductive for both him and society.


In summary, no one can claim that one entity has a right to a monopoly in providing law enforcement, defense, civil dispute resolution, or criminal apprehension and, at the same time, that no one can initiate force against others. Such a claim is -- to use Binswanger's own words -- a "self-defeating contradiction."



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