If most people did not already have the character to voluntarily respect most of their neighbors’ rights, society and civilization would be impossible. Most people are good enough to permit civilization to occur, despite the existence of some degree of public and private crime.
I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives.
Should you come over to our home for a visit, you will not be taxed, searched, required to show a passport or driver’s license, fined, jailed, threatened, handcuffed, or prohibited from leaving. I suspect that your relationships with your friends are conducted on the same basis of mutual respect. In short, virtually all of our dealings with friends and strangers alike are grounded in practices that are peaceful, voluntary, and devoid of coercion.
For instance, take dating, marriage and family.
In any reasonably free society, these activities do not fall in the realm of political coercion. No government agency chooses who you are to marry and have children with, and punishes you with jail for disobeying their rulings. Voluntarism, incentive, mutual advantage - dare we say "advertising"? - all run the free market of love, sex and marriage.
What about your career? Did a government official call you up at the end of high school and inform you that you were to become a doctor, a lawyer, a factory worker, a waiter, an actor, a programmer - or a philosopher? Of course not. You were left free to choose the career that best matched your interests, abilities and initiative.
What about your major financial decisions? Each month, does a government agent come to your house and tell you exactly how much you should save, how much you should spend, whether you can afford that new couch or old painting? Did you have to apply to the government to buy a new car, a new house, a plasma television or a toothbrush?
No, in all the areas mentioned above - love, marriage, family, career, finances - we all make our major decisions in the complete absence of direct political coercion.
Thus - if anarchy is such an all-consuming, universal evil, why is it the default - and virtuous - freedom that we demand in order to achieve just liberty in our daily lives?
If the government told you tomorrow that it was going to choose for you where to live, how to earn your keep, and who to marry - would you fall to your knees and thank the heavens that you have been saved from such terrible anarchy - the anarchy of making your own decisions in the absence of direct political coercion?
Of course not - quite the opposite - you would be horrified, and would oppose such an encroaching dictatorship with all your might.
This is what I mean when I say that we consider anarchy to be an irreducible evil - and also an irreducible good. It is both feared and despised - and considered necessary and virtuous.
If you were told that tomorrow you would wake up and there would be no government, you would doubtless fear the specter of "anarchy."
If you were told tomorrow that you would have to apply for a government permit to have children, you would doubtless fear the specter of "dictatorship," and long for the days of "anarchy," when you could decide such things without the intervention of political coercion.
Thus we can see that we human beings are deeply, almost ferociously ambivalent about "anarchy." We desperately desire it in our personal lives, and just as desperately fear it politically.