Usually I refer to myself as an anarchist, or maybe an anarcho-capitalist, sometimes even as a voluntaryist. But none of those terms are satisfactory when talking with people that are not well versed in the theory of those terms. And, those terms fall short of describing my motivations and basic views on “right life” in society. Therefor I shall confront you, my dear reader, with the guiding motto of my life: “All that is Peaceful.”
If you ask some random person on the street what he wishes most for himself, the answer usually includes things like “Health, Prosperity, Long Life, Love”. Another term very often given is “Peace”. I view peace as the most important thing I wish for myself, and that I wish for others. Whoever has experienced war or riots can probably second this view wholeheartedly. Others might need a few seconds to appreciate that they have not experienced war themselves, and add Peace to their list of things to wish for. While most will agree that “Peace” is very important, it seems too “shallow” for a guiding principle of life. After all, it cannot stop with Peace, we want material well-being! just compensation! our favorite politician as ruler!. While I do not disagree that material well-being and such things are without importance I do strongly believe that they should be integrated within a broader general concept of “living right” and especially “doing right”. For me this concept is “Peace”, and I’d like to share what it is, and why I think that it is a good and inviting position to take as an anarchist.
When I use the word “Peace” I usually refer to a whole list of “peaces”: Peace with myself, peace with other humans, peace with nature, peace with god, etc.. Here I will only write about the “Peace with other Humans”, while the same principles may apply to other forms of peace.
What is “I” ?
The most fundamental thing to think about is: Who am “I”? What is “I”? Millenia of thought have gone into the question and it remains unanswered in the end. How can an atomic (undividable) something describe itself without reference to anything else? It is pretty much impossible. When I refer to “I”, I usually refer to my will – the core of my decision-making. It is “me” that wants something, that decides what to do, and that is to blame. At the core of things is therefor something referred to as “moral agent”, something or someone who is capable of deciding freely and to bear responsibility for those decisions. I strongly believe that to be the case, that all men (and women, just to make sure) are “moral agents”, able to decide and solely responsible to bear the consequences of their decisions and all actions resulting out of their decisions. Because of everyone being his own moral agent, everyone else is separate and not permitted to coerce decisions onto another moral agent. Otherwise we could force the responsibility for our actions on someone else and go freely, separated from our will, and without any true capability or right to control ourselves. This direct bond between our independent “will” – which makes us moral agents – and our sole responsibility for our actions constitutes the right to Liberty. Liberty means nothing else but our right to not be forced into a decisions, not be obligated to take commands, not be drones, not be able to blame others for our shortcomings. It is essentially the right to be left alone in our decisions and their resulting actions. We are those that have to commit them and those that will be responsible for them – no one else can therefor have a right to command us. We are independent moral agents. And we remain independent moral agents, if we want it or not.
The Personal Sphere
In the previous paragraph I have already referred to the “right to Liberty”. It is one of the three components that I refer to as “the personal sphere”, those things that are our “own”. Many people criticize the use of “terms of property” to describe human beings and their rights, but I am in favor of Rothbard’s opinion that “all (human) rights are property rights”. It is important to realize what property rights are: Property rights specify who owns, and thus who has the sole right to exclusively control, a scarce (because others do not need to be controlled) resource. The question here is really “What may I control?”. I already referred to the right to control our own will (the right to liberty). There are two more rights that belong into the personal sphere: Right to Life and Right to Property.
Because our life is the sole enabler and bearer of whatever makes us able to “will”, able to be moral agents, we do have a direct right to control our own lives exclusively. Since everything that constitutes our biological life naturally depends on our will and the laws of nature, no other human should be allowed to separate our will from our bodies. The right to life only means that no other will but ours has the right to control our life and body. No one else may harm us, kill us, or threaten us with harm.
The results of my decisions and my bodily life are what I refer to as property. Any time we impact nature, leave a footprint in reality so to speak, we gain property over it. Since it was our will that changed it, our life that modified it, it has become an extension of what we already are. The glass of water I scoop out of the river becomes my own, if that river was not previously owned by someone else.
It is important to emphasize here that our personal sphere – the rights of liberty, life and property – refers to those things we are directly responsible for and that we alone have the right to control. None of those rights imply that we have a right for those things be given to us. We have them. They are already there. And it is our sole responsibility to sustain them. Nothing magical in nature can be sued for not giving life to some “I” that isn’t there yet. No one can be forced to give us property (because it must come out of ourselves), no one can be forced to make decisions for us (because we are the moral agents). These rights are not rights of procurement, but rights to control things that are already present. They are “negative rights” that define a barrier between what is “us” (our own, what we control), and “everything”/”everyone” else.
What have all these things to do with “Peace”?
First off, taking responsibility for our personal sphere and realizing that we are the sole owners of it is what constitutes a major part of “Peace with ourselves”. It enables us to realize that we are “whole”. But there is more to it:
Realizing that what is true for us, is also true for others – that they themselves have personal sphere that is “their exclusive own” – is the first step to peace with others. Respecting and not interfering with the personal sphere of others constitutes the first “law” of peace. It is not my right to harm you, not my right to steal from you, not my right to force your will. My sphere ends where it would harm yours. To assert that I have a personal sphere also includes asserting that you have your own personal sphere, and that all intrusions into your sphere are not permissible for me. The first rule thus is Respect.
Respect is where the troubles begin for most people today, and why there is so little actual peace on this planet. Our lawbooks are full of rules that only concern the personal sphere of people. Taking drugs? How is that not your personal sphere. What to do with your property? Personal sphere again. What decisions I make, what I do to my body, how I treat my property – those things are my personal sphere and not the responsibility of someone else. There are no ones business to control but my own. For me to be peaceful thus means that I do not make it my business to keep you from doing whatever you want with what is yours, be it your liberty, life or property. I may think that what you do is stupid or harmful to yourself, but nothing entitles me to force my opinion or will onto you.
Many people will now respond that this is just a lame excuse to not care about others. It is quite the contrary. Should not my first care be to accept and honor my fellow man as being a moral agent? Should I not first be aware that he is the one bearing the consequences of his actions? Should it not first be up to me to see that my wisdom might be limited, and to show some humility? Intruding upon the personal sphere of someone else is just a statement of disrespect, pride and self-exaltation. It has to do nothing with care, but with making my fellow man into a lesser being, refusing to accept that he is a moral agent, stealing his dignity from him, making him less-then-human. Learn to Respect! (yo!)
Just existing one next to another and watching each others personal spheres would leave humans in a desperate state. We could not interact in any mutually profitable manner. But there are peaceful means of interaction, and these are called “trade”. It is limiting to think about trade as just being an economic transaction involving the exchange of goods and services. Trade is more:
As I have mentioned above, everyone is the sole owner of his personal sphere and an inseparable moral agents. This allows everyone to voluntarily open his personal sphere to someone else. I may decide to contract with you (and thus agree to give you a certain influence on my liberty, according to my willful decision), I may also decide that I donate you some blood, or invite you on my property. To be able to trade, a meeting of minds is required. Because each of us opens his personal sphere to the other, the only way to rightfully do it is that everyone decides about the extend and the specifics of how much of his personal sphere he is going to open to the other. This bilateral process requires each of us to decide upon an action that is mutually acceptable. This is exactly what “meeting of minds” describes: Two persons agreeing freely on a mutually acceptable course of action.
Almost all interactions between humans fall under this concept of “trade”. Shaking each others hands, having sex, sharing a meal, doing business, helping each other. All these are examples of voluntary agreements on a mutually acceptable course of action. Because we are moral agents owning ourselves, our lives and our property this is the only possible path of peace, the only path that does not constitute conflict.
War and conflict is when someone intrudes upon the personal sphere – liberty, life, property – of someone else without the rightful owner consenting. Anytime someone steals (taking property without consent of the owner), harms (taking or hurting life without consent of the owner) or threatens (forcing action without the consent of the moral agent), peace is violated. All actual crimes fall into this category. This is where evil is committed. Refraining from all courses of war and conflict is the path of peace. Resisting all conflict and not giving in to evil is what peacemaking is.
Some people stop short here. They refuse to see and accept the consequences and necessities of these evils being committed. Someone steals a pack of chewing gum and for sure you will hear the words “why do you care, it’s not that bad”. Or someone got beaten up and the words “leave it alone, you can’t change it anymore” will be uttered, someone stolen from and “don’t chase them, it’s not worth it” will be uttered from the dark. Peace can only blossom if it is defended. Wrongs must be made right, criminals must be punished, tyrants must be resisted, bullies must be put into their places. Not defending the boundaries of our personal spheres will not only invite others from overstepping them constantly. It also makes us wondering if we are still “whole”. And it removes the consequences from those moral agents that violated us. Justice must be served. There is no peace without defending it anytime everywhere. As long as it is up to us we should live at peace with everyone, but where the peace is broken evil must be answered, resisted and deterred by all means appropriate.
Writing the word “war” as I did above has a reason. W.A.R. stands for “Without Any Respect”. The source of war is a lack of respect for the personal sphere of others. It is where the seeds of future violence are sown. This is why we must meet challenges to peace even if they are just intellectual. As soon as someone starts to argue that some other people are “worth less”, or that there is “too much property”, or that someone has the “mandate to lead” someone we must wake up and take appropriate action. We have to keep and make peace, and arguing for respect is the first step to it.
The highest form of peace-making for me is “love”. While I will not even try to define love or explain it, there is a part of love that directly has to do with peace. And that is to protect the personal sphere of someone else without intruding into it. When someone unilaterally decides to risk or even give up parts of his own personal sphere to defend the liberty, life or property of someone else you can be pretty sure that you see love in action, especially if it is done without grand announcement, in secret, even anonymously. There is a great line from a book I very much adore: “There is no greater love then laying one’s life down for someone else.”
Love of this kind seems to run contrary to human nature or self-interest, and I will not argue that anyone has to do it. Everyone is an independent moral agent, and that both means that it is not up to me to make people act like it, or question those that put this kind of love into action for themselves. I do respect both those that do and those that don’t. But have to admit that I admire the former more.
It should be clear by now that peace cannot be forced upon anyone. Peace finds its source in every single person. It is an individual decision to not start a conflict with someone else, to respect others. Peace cannot be forced, it can only be made (argued for), or defended.
If you look at what peace means you will notice that we are currently lacking it everywhere. Not “just” in the current warzones (which are close to 200), but even in those societies where weapons aren’t fired constantly. The greatest deterrent standing against peace is the modern concept of “the State”. Hundreds of millions of people were killed through the cooperate action of humans being legitimized by “the State”, not just in wars, but in programs of social shaping and transformation. Hundreds of thousands where tortured, many of them in the name of “protection” and “justice”. Hundreds of millions of families have been torn apart by laws punishing consensual behavior (like drug use and prostitution). Uncounted people have faced each other off in “class warfare”, with the state stealing from the one in the name of the other. It is simply impossible to envision peace on earth without crying out loud about all these atrocities, crimes, evil deeds of inconceivable horror. The longing for peace and justice should tear every good man’s heart apart.
And still, our own societies, and especially our politics, lack the fundamentals for peace. Because there is no respect for personal spheres. In the name of social justice they steal, in the name of “caring” they incarcerate, in the name of “good behavior” they coerce. Claiming to fix the shortcomings of human nature, the free market, or society in general the peace is broken every day. People argue for conflict from their positions as school teachers, media makers, politicians and even from church pulpits. “Do-Gooders” violate by forcing others to do the good chosen for them. Peace is no where to be found.
I personally choose to not participate in this. When asked what I think what should be done I answer “All that is peaceful.” Peace, Liberty, Justice… these things lead to prosperity and development of mankind, they are good social ethics. Take one away and you curse the generations to come. But if we nurture them and we might even see some love.