Defense and Law Enforcement in an Anarchist Society

Write-up by Josh Wiley posted to

This article is for the irate minority who, like myself, have come to the realization that government, by its nature, constitutes a monopoly on force.

Sadly, we live in a world in which there exists at least two classes of citizens: The average public Joe and the enforcement arm of the state. Unlike a “normal” citizen whose right to self-defense is severely limited by law, law enforcement and military do not have such restrictions. In fact, they are virtually void of restrictions at all, having the legal authority to incarcerate, attack, and even murder other individuals who lack their uniform and shiny badge.

Historical examples of such abuse of power are countless – the Kent State massacre; numerous undeclared wars, facilitated in our modern age by armed drones; the murder of Amadou Diallo; the illegal and racist stop-and-frisk policy of the NYPD, etc. Recently, the Occupy Wall Street protests (regardless of any  opinion one may hold of the protesters) have put the issue of police brutality back into the public discourse:

Despite the sheer audacity of the expansion of the police state, there are indeed evil people in the world who are not part of military or law enforcement, a point which opponents of anarchy are keen to bring up whenever the term enters discussion. “If there’s no government, who would police the homefront? If there’s no government, who would defend our country from foreign invaders?”  The short answer to these questions is that you and I, the average citizen, would take up this responsibility.

The debate over having a standing army in America is by no means a new one. The argument extends back to the genesis of the country, the results of original cogitation on the subject being a matter of public record. Like so many Constitutional edicts, the original intent of the Founders has been muddled over the centuries by the expansion of Executive power. However, this deliberate manipulation of law to allow State force by fiat does not change the words of our forefathers, whose position on a standing army is clearly and unambiguously defined in one short sentence:

“To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.” — Article I, Section VIII, United States Constitution

Thanks to the modern war paradigm spearheaded by the Military Industrial Complex, these original limitations on a standing army have long since faded from public memory. Despite clear wording stating that an armed land force in America could last only two years and would not be comprised of a national army, but instead by a coalition of State and private militias to be supported by the Federal government, the United States has institutionalized multiple permanent standing armies and spends more on them than the rest of the world combined.

Should my interpretation of the Constitution not suffice, I would invite the reader to instead analyze the words of some of the very men who penned it:

“As the greatest danger to liberty is from large standing armies, it is best to prevent them by an effectual provision for a good militia.” — James Madison

“The Greeks and Romans had no standing armies, yet they defended themselves. The Greeks by their laws, and the Romans by the spirit of their people, took care to put into the hands of their rulers no such engine of oppression as a standing army. Their system was to make every man a soldier and oblige him to repair to the standard of his country whenever that was reared. This made them invincible; and the same remedy will make us so.” — Thomas Jefferson

At the very least, it should be clear that some of our founders had enough foresight to expunge from the Federal government the power to maintain a permanent ground force. It should be noted, however, that such provisions have not stopped executors from seizing such power regardless of the Constitution, a problem that will persist so long as there exists a centralized body with the power to steal from its citizens to fund such endeavors.

Despite its brilliance, the Constitution does provide for a permanent Navy, proponents of which argue that, while a land force could potentially be used by elected tyrants to threaten the citizenry, a force relegated to the seas has no potential to do so. Jefferson advocated such a position in a letter to James Monroe in 1786.

“Every rational citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion, and should fear to see it on any other element than the water. A naval force can never endanger our liberties, nor occasion bloodshed; a land force would do both.” — Thomas Jefferson

It is important to note that while Jefferson’s technical distinction between a standing army and navy may hold true, a permanent naval force allows for imperial conquest at great expense to both human life and the taxpayer. Astute students of American history will recall that Jefferson himself was indeed the first person to use the American navy as a force for conquest.

The case for the abolition of a standing army in favor of an armed citizenry extends into modern history with the advent of World War II. An unsourced quote, supposedly attributed to Japanese General Isoroku Yamamoto, has been floating around the Internet for a few years now, contending that Japan feared a ground invasion of America due to the high rate of gun ownership among the populous. No historical evidence has been found to substantiate this quote; however, a similar quote uttered by an unnamed Japanese officer in conversation with Navy veteran Bob Menard aboard the USS Constellation years after the war may well be the source of this oft-mis-attributed statement:

“We did indeed know much about your preparedness. We knew that probably every second home in your country contained firearms. We knew that your country actually had state championships for private citizens shooting military rifles. We were not fools to set foot in such quicksand.”

— Unnamed Japanese Naval Officer

At the very least, it should be abundantly clear that Japan had no desire to invade the United States; not because of Her military might, but because of the sheer rate of private gun ownership. With the right to bear arms severely limited by government, it’s easy to see how the concern of the Japanese over citizen armaments would have been magnified if Americans were allowed to own war machines currently only allocated for military use, such as tanks and missiles.

Up to this point, the reader will most likely notice that the bulk of this article has dealt with anarchic military as opposed to police. This is deliberate, as we have now entered an era in which there is virtually no distinction between soldiers and supposed “law enforcement.”

graphic via
graphic via

Amidst the implementation of military-style checkpoints by DHS on American streets, the purchase of armored vehicles by police departments, and the use of armed surveillance drones by local police, the militarization of police in the wake of the War on Terror paradigm is blatantly obvious. As the old saying goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”

Quack. Quack. Quack.

Technical ramifications and pragmatic applications as to how the use of force would be managed in an anarchist society vary greatly depending on the school of anarchism; libertarian socialists and anarcho-syndicalists argue for the stateless collectivization of law enforcement, while anarcho-capitalists (like myself) believe a truly open and  free market would provide for society’s enforcement needs. Whatever camp one may fall in ideologically, a schema for law enforcement in a stateless society should be built upon the non-aggression principle, a moral axiom that could be easily agreed upon by anarchists of all persuasions.

For those interested in learning more about one possible archetype for law enforcement and military in an anarchist society, I leave you with an excerpt of the late Murray N. Rothbard‘s book For a New Liberty detailing how such a system would operate. Rothbard, the father of anarcho-capitalism, articulates this point far more eloquently than this writer could hope to do.



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