How Anarchists Should Confront the Enemy Within

The Challenge

In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, a commenter calling herself Mrs. Lemuel Struthers on Reason’s Hit and Run threw down the gauntlet:

What I’d really like to hear is a libertarian/classical liberal approach to approaching this problem of a minority of anti-liberals within a society engaging in war-like behavior (murder) while using the values of the society they live in to promote their ideology. The enemy within – if you will. While at the same time demographic and immigration trends tend to support the likely enlargement of populations who will tolerate and even encourage that ideology.

And, just to be clear, I was really asking how France should address its issues from a an-cap perspective, not the USA.

I take up her challenge with this post.  The post actually contains two mini essays. One about France like she asked. But first, I will start with an essay about Ancapistan… the one she said she wasn’t interested in (because the essay about France would be incomprehensible without it)! ;)


In considering how the citizens of Ancapistan react to the enemy within, one must first start with what sort of place Ancapistan has to be to be worthy of the name. First, the residents must be largely anarchists, practicing the sort of anarchism that Tolkien described as “philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs”. There are many institutions that are critical to civilization that today are administered by the state: institutions such as judiciaries, policing, lawmaking, punishing of lawbreakers. Ancapistan would have these institutions, albeit not administered by a state. In Ancapistan, there would be no alternative other than to have the institutions be dependent on voluntary support and for the institutions to be self funding. Furthermore the institutions could not engage in preventative punishment or collective punishment. The form of these institutions is hard to predict – since we view them with the same ignorance that a 17th century proponent of the freedom of the press would have towards our Internet era.

The reaction of the people of Ancapistan would be for each individual to do what he thought right to protect him or herself, his business, his family, or his country from the threat.

Even though we are ignorant of the institutions providing security and justice there, we can guess at the form these individuals’ reactions would have to take for Ancapistan to remain Ancapistan:

First, people, being responsible for their own defense would naturally take steps to defend themselves. Some people might chose the path of submission to the enemy within. Others will try to protect themselves by refusing potential enemies access to their property. A third group will fight the enemy within.

Lets start with the second group. They might promulgate a rule: “no muslims in our store/on our road”. They might ban burqas or headscarfs from the schools they administer. They could harass “bad” muslims with hostile rules to the point they don’t come to their business. They could refuse to sell books, or serve web pages that help the enemy. The ones running telecom companies might spy on customers whom they suspect might be up to no good. They may purchase bomb proof glass and secrete hand-guns or even battle rifles behind their counters with which to kill suicide bombers etc. They may kill attackers in the commission of the attacks and display their abused and defiled corpses on their property as a warning to the others. In Ancapistan, thanks to the freedom of association and their freedom to defend themselves, the citizenry have a great deal of latitude in how they deal with the public. There are no public accommodation laws, no bans on weapons, no laws to dictate how people interact with their customers.

The third group’s ‘fight’ would take several forms. Some portion of the group would concentrate on propaganda seeking to persuade people not to join or to leave the “enemy within”. A lack of libel laws would permit people to name names (rightly or wrongly), to organize boycotts of people or organizations that were supporting the enemy within. So, the gun store selling guns to suicide bombers might find itself facing a boycott campaign and negative publicity. The imam who preaches violent imposition of Islamic law on the unbelievers would find himself surrounded by hostile propaganda. His loved ones would be harassed for their relationship with him.

Some would try to train the rest of society to defend themselves. They might publish books with titles like “Know Your Enemy”. They might infiltrate the enemy and publish their inner communications and out their leadership.

Some members of the third group would take a more violent set of actions. They would seek to monitor potential bad guys, and when they go out to do bad things, they would warn potential victims or even engage them directly. The ruthless among them might – for example – build a device that emits the signal that is used to detonate car bombs, and patrol hostile neighborhoods emitting that signal.This would be – in spirit – a violation of ancap principles against collective punishment, but I can see people reasoning that if you didn’t want to car bomb your neighborhood, you shouldn’t have assembled a car bomb there!

Unconstrained by bureaucratic rules, the violent members of the third group could flexibly adapt their tactics and strategies to the threat they faced. They would be constrained by funding and their access to manpower. Unlike the self-interested public servants who clog the state’s security organs, this group would be self-selected to be very motivated people who were willing to sacrifice their time, money and even lives for their cause.

In many ways, the reaction of Ancapistan would be more ruthless and vicious than what modern republics would tolerate. It would also be more decentralized and resilient to the enemy within.

Naturally, Ancapistan would have several advantages over modern republics. The free economy and absence of a welfare state are the carrot and stick that keep people gainfully employed. People would be more prosperous and the optimism that one has a bright future would be more widespread. You would have many fewer disgruntled idlers who were talented yet under or unemployed. The enemy within would have a much harder time recruiting foot soldiers.

That’s not to say that some things wouldn’t also in some ways be easier for the enemy within in Ancapistan. The relatively higher prosperity associated with a freer society would permit them access to more resources with which to wage war. The children of wealthy families – analogues to the upper-middle class kids of the U.S. who joined the Weather Underground to give their otherwise empty lives meaning – might well join the enemy within for the same reason. They would bring more money, and more destructive technology to bear in their revolution. They would be able to afford plasma rifles in the 40MW range, several of them, unlike guys who are peeling fireworks to get the explosives for their kettle bombs in a less developed country. And when they placed the order for those rifles, they would likely not go on any watch lists and the rifles would be delivered with a money back guarantee…

One should note that there is no guarantee that Ancapistan can withstand the enemy within.  It shares this trait in common with countries ruled by states.  In this sort of conflict, there is no guarantee of victory.  The question of Ancapistan’s survival will depend on the citizenry’s loyalty to the ideals of their free society; the strength and resilience of its institutions; and their willingness to face enemies with cool reason backed with courage.

Which brings us to France.

The French

The question of what the French should do is a bit of a head scratcher; it’s not clear whether it’s the French State or the people of France I am supposed to address. I’ll therefore try to address both.

The French people should take the individual steps to protect themselves that any citizen of any country should do, whether a citizen of Pakistan or a citizen of Ancapistan. They should arm themselves for self defense. They should be more choosy about who they do business with. They should produce the propaganda that they feel will help their cause or hurt their enemies.

Sadly, many of the reasonable steps they could take are illegal; the French State will punish them if the state’s agents should discover them arming themselves or turning away suspicious characters from their stores or producing propaganda denigrating the salafists. Sadly, they face a more extreme variant of the problem faced by all of us who live under the thumb of nation states: balancing their own personal desires against the threat of state punishment. Whether they choose to risk breaking the law is up to them, their conscience, and their own personal cost-benefit calculation.

Now let us turn to the French State.

I could be uncompromising and recommend that it dissolve itself. But that would be ridiculously implausible. So I have to make recommendations that assume the state carries on. I’ll leave the question of whether any of these recommendations are Ancap ones for the sorts of people who adore pointless pedantic arguments.

The state has several institutional roles it plays that would exist under an ancap society. They provide protection, and investigate and punish crimes. They should provide these services in relation to islamist terrorism. They should investigate the bombings, identify the perpetrators and punish them. They should provide protective services and also repeal the laws that prevent the citizenry from protecting themselves. The latter is a tall order, since the French Republic is notorious for its expansive role of the state in civil life. Similarly the laws preventing people from speaking their minds freely should be repealed. The state should finally repeal any and all public accommodation laws. I much doubt that the French state will be wise enough to do these things.

Next, the state should privatize transport, especially air travel, train travel, and the road network. Privatizing this infrastructure would allow the owners to decide who is permitted to use their property, whom they will exclude, and what sort of security posture to present at their customers. When the state provides a service, the expectation is that it will provide this service to all without discrimination; thus the state lacks a very critical tool that private actors can legitimately turn to – turning away sketchy customers.

Next, the state should liberalize the economy. Unemployed men on public assistance are living proof of the saying that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Give people the opportunity for meaningful work and remove the idleness-promoting crutch that is state welfare to the able-bodied.

Next, the state should apply to rule of law to all its territory. I have read that there are banlieues where the police fear to tread, and the locals harass and drive out those who fail to follow the banleieu’s customs. If the law will disarm the man who lives next door, if the law will forbid him separating himself from these people, then the law must equally disarm those who would oppress him.

This may seem paradoxical; how can we call for a state to disband itself in one paragraph and call for it to more vigorously to impose itself in another?

The answer is that there is no contradiction.  The state arrogates for itself critical roles in providing protective services, criminal apprehension and conflict resolution – preventing private actors from providing those services.  If it refuses to perform these roles in some neighborhoods, while preventing private actors from providing those services, it leads to a societal breakdown into a state of lawless violence.

A republic must apply its laws evenly, or some portion of the population will be rewarded for oppressive behavior while the other portion will be punished for its peaceable behavior. Let the Hindus build their funeral pyres and let the British build their gallows and let both act according to their custom.

As for making war on ISIS, that wouldn’t hurt. Historically speaking states, that practiced a sort of armed neutrality – wherein they left their neighbors alone, but were willing and able to engage in punitive military campaigns against those who violated that neutrality or attacked them – have enjoyed longer periods of peace than their more interventionist neighbors.

The final question has to do with accepting refugees. The state should neither support nor prevent migration. Thus, it should neither provide welfare to refugees (or anyone for that matter) nor prevent a refugee from getting a job as a gas station attendant and attempting to build a better life for him and his children.  There is no chance whatsoever of this recommendation being followed. I suspect that in the end, given the choice of sacrificing the welfare state or their openness to help refugees, most French will choose to do away with the latter.

In summary the appropriate reaction of the French government to these attacks should be

  1. Repealing itself.

– or, failing that –

  1. Repealing the laws that prevent the residents of France from defending themselves against terrorism.
  2. Repealing the laws that prevent the residents from exercising their freedom of association.
  3. Repeal all hate crime laws.
  4. Reestablish the rule of law in the banleieus.
  5. Conduct a punitive campaign against ISIS.

A Question for the Reader

Consider your current situation. How would you, left to your own devices, free of any worries of the law stopping you, but acting within the strictures of the nonagression principle, personally protect yourself, your family or your country against the enemy within?   That will be an ancap response.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.