Steve Patterson explains how he evolved “from conservative to anarchist”:
[Ron Paul] was consistent, and he kept coming back to the following principle: what is the proper role of government? Before we argue about cutting 10% of the Department of Education’s budget, shouldn’t we discuss whether or not it should exist in the first place? Is it appropriate, or even Constitutional, for the Executive Branch to send troops into foreign counties for an extended amount of time without Congressional declaration? Before we nibble around the edges of government spending, we need to talk about what government should do in the first place.
To me, he was precisely correct, but it revealed an unsavory truth: Republicans and Democrats aren’t so different from each other. One party might want to raise spending 5%; the other might want to cut spending 5%, but both favor the status quo and support big government in their respective areas. Liberals and conservatives are like two sides of the same coin. Constitutional conservatism, I thought, represented a real alternative.
But my journey didn’t stop there, because Ron implanted a little seed in my head. When he spoke, he often mentioned the “Austrian School of Economics”. I never heard of it, but eventually, I decided to Google around. What I discovered changed my life. I came across the Mises Institute, which had a number of free books and lectures online about Austrian Economics. I was immediately enamored. The explanatory power of Economics was breathtaking. After diving into the literature, I didn’t simply believe government was inefficient, I understood why. This had an enormous impact on my political philosophy, and it started my transition to radical libertarianism.
I now believe it’s impossible to have a clear understanding about how the world works without Economics. The coordination of prices, profits, and losses in a market is awe-inspiring. No exaggeration – it is almost miraculous. I will write extensively about this at a later time. But suffice to say, Economics became a pillar around which I would develop my other political beliefs.
The further I learned – the further I went down the rabbit hole of Austrian Economics – the more “radical” I became. Not only was government inefficient at delivering mail, but they were inefficient everywhere they intervened. The same economic principles apply to the Post Office as apply to the Patent Office. Of course, this wasn’t radicalism for the sake of radicalism, it was just consistency. And if you apply economic principles consistently across the board, you are left with a very grim perspective of government. however, I was no anarchist…
My first interaction with an anarchist, ironically enough, was as an intern in Ron Paul’s congressional office. I was given the opportunity to be his intern in DC for a semester, and one of his staffers considered himself an anarchist. He was a nice guy, but I didn’t take his ideas too seriously.
But that changed in the summer of 2010. I was fortunate enough to attend a conference for students at the Mises Institute – the organization I held in such high regard. The conference was called “Mises University”, and it would be a week long, focusing solely on Austrian Economics. I was elated, and it turned out to be one of the most intellectually stimulating weeks of my life. I was surrounded with the smartest peers I’ve ever met.
A few lectures hinted at the possibility of complete statelessness – the idea that private entrepreneurs could better provide all the services of government, including courts, military, and police. Supposedly, for the same reasons we don’t want government to monopolize the production of shoes, we don’t want them to monopolize the court system or the production of national defense. I wasn’t convinced.
During the middle of the week, I was forced to adjust my beliefs a little bit, so I called myself a “Secessionist” for a few days. But I was no anarchist. I agreed with some core ideas – that taxation is fundamentally coercive and is therefore theft. I agreed that markets were based on voluntary, peaceful human interaction, while governments were necessarily based on violence or threats of violence; and I agreed that, in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need any coercion whatsoever – voluntary decisions would reign supreme. But, I thought, we don’t live in a perfect world, and surely in some circumstances, large groups of people wouldn’t care about the “rights” of an individual. Statelessness might sound nice in theory, but in practice, people wouldn’t respect the property rights of a lone anarchist, declaring his independence in the middle of a city.
Until one night, when I was challenged by a fellow student named Dan. He was a pretty burly guy, former Air Force I think, and we were hanging out at one of the local bars after the lectures. (Of course, “hanging out at the bar” at Mises University really meant “talking loudly about nerdy ideas in public places”. I remember some locals dancing at the bar, but they were outnumbered 3-1 by sweaty geeks talking about monetary history.)
I told Dan about my hesitations with anarchism, and he said he understood. “But,” he said, “let me ask you this: if I want to opt out of government services, should I be able to?” It’s a simple question, but I didn’t know how to respond. I wanted to say, “Of course you should be able to opt out of government services! If you don’t want to pay, you don’t have to, but then you don’t get to use the services.” But alas, such an admission would be tantamount to anarchism. After all, government services are by definition tied to taxation, and you can’t opt out of taxation. Doing so would be opting out of government, which is precisely what these anarchists were talking about.