A common objection to libertarianism is the claim that liberty will not fix problem “x” or problem “y.” This objection is made while ignoring the fact that government is already doing a really bad job with both “x” and “y.” In reality, a free society should not be measured against perfection, but against the work of the current batch of thieves and incompetent do-gooders that run this (and every other) country. First, a few reminders of their handiwork:
Problem a: drug abuse
For 50 years and more the state has waged its “war on drugs,” in response to the problem of drug abuse. The government first stepped in to control and prohibit the manufacture, sale or possession of many drugs and thereby created a massive black market run by organized, violent criminals. Then the government created a police state to catch, prosecute and house the same criminal gangs that their laws had coaxed into existence, all of which is paid for (involuntarily) by the taxpayers. In the end, this decades-long experiment managed to fill the prisons without solving the problem.
Problem b: Military interventions
If the “war on drugs” has been futile, the country’s real wars have an even worse track record. In the almost twenty years since 9/11 the U.S. military has been constantly at war in the Middle East: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria. The cost has been high: the dead and maimed American soldiers as well as trillions of dollars wasted. Hundreds of thousands of civilian lives have been lost, and far more made homeless. Tens of millions of Muslims rightfully hate us for destroying their countries.
All this, and yet it’s all done so very badly. The government somehow manages to make each new military scheme backfire in a new way. Today we are killing “terrorists” who were allies five years ago. Next week, it will be the other way around. We never learn.
Problem c: over-regulation
The state seems to muck up everything it touches. Under the guise of protecting the public, the state restricts who may hold certain jobs by requiring a government license to practice that profession. The supposed benefits of licensing are seldom realized. Instead, the overriding effect of occupational licensing is the higher price which consumers pay to an artificially restricted pool of professionals. Perhaps a hands-off approach would cause less mischief.
At some point, reasonable people will ask, “What can be done? Can we get by without the state?” But just as quickly, someone will ask: “What will we replace it with?”
Perhaps we worry too much. We should step back, look at what the state is doing, then ask: If they weren’t trying to manage everything, would the world be better or worse? So much of what government offers turns out to be a bad bargain.
Does the state need to be replaced?
The use of violent force is the defining characteristic of every state, yet it is so easy to pass over—and even excuse—the evil that governments do. We need to stop and consider how malignant the state can be. Let us compare the evil done by individuals and that done by the state. For simplicity, let’s go to the gold standard for evil, that is, killing people, especially innocent people.
Private sector killers
Individuals can be shockingly evil, and the harm people do to one another is in the news every day. The notoriety of serial killers lives long after them:
Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 victims; John Wayne Gacy killed 23; Ted Bundy, 35; Stephen Paddock 59 and there is also the Orlando Night Club, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook killers. History records many such monsters, some believed to have killed hundreds. Such horrors could seem insignificant, however, when set against the death toll when governments go to war.
Killing in war
In the 20th-century, governments exceeded all previous wars by destroying more than 60 million human beings in World War II. In World War I, there were 10 million dead, not counting civilians. Dozens of wars have killed a million or more people.
There should be no surprise that history’s most prolific individual serial killer was able to obtain that distinction only with the help of the state. The record goes to Soviet Major General Vasili Blokhin, who personally shot 7,000 Polish officers in the space of 28 days in 1940. Thirty of Stalin’s NKVD agents were needed to bring the victims to Blokhin and then remove their bodies afterward.
Genocide: killing with a capital “K”
Finally, even war cannot match the most prolific murderers of history: government against its own citizens. R.J. Rummel, in Death by Government, estimated that in the 20th-century, mass murder, genocide and political murder by government caused the death of more than 212 million souls, not including combat deaths. While other scholars give lower estimates of the number of killings by Communist regimes (60–100 million vs. Rummel’s 148 million), the numbers are still staggering.
It seems that mankind’s most accomplished serial killers have been embarrassingly ineffective when compared to the state.
What would we replace the state with?
Joseph Sobran wrote how the staggering evil of the state in the 20th century turned him from “deep respect for authority and a horror of chaos” to philosophical anarchism. He writes this confession in his article The Reluctant Anarchist:
“But what would you replace the state with? The question reveals an inability to imagine human society without the state. Yet it would seem that an institution that can take 200,000,000 lives within a century hardly needs to be “replaced.”
“Christians, and especially Americans, have long been misled about all this by their good fortune. Since the conversion of Rome, most Western rulers have been more or less inhibited by Christian morality (though, often enough, not so’s you’d notice), and even warfare became somewhat civilized for centuries; and this has bred the assumption that the state isn’t necessarily an evil at all. But as that morality loses its cultural grip, as it is rapidly doing, this confusion will dissipate. More and more we can expect the state to show its nature nakedly.
“For me this is anything but a happy conclusion. I miss the serenity of believing I lived under a good government, wisely designed and benevolent in its operation. But, as St. Paul says, there comes a time to put away childish things.