Short Shrift for Anarchists

December 21, 2008

I was very upset when I read Mark Bowden’s piece in the Washington Post, “The Guns of Anarchy.”

And, since I’m a really prominent person, I felt the need to respond, thusly:

Mr. Bowden,

You didn’t include in your article “The Guns of Anarchy,” the response from the scruffy anarchists when you told them they could test their theories about anarchy by moving to Somalia. Hopefully, that response was something along the lines of, “your statement is a complete non-sequitur; it’s intellectually dishonest nonsense.”

Look, I understand that your anarchist interlocuter was just a convenient device to make your narrative more compelling. Honestly, you were successful, and it was an interesting opening. Still, your article is about how things are really horrible in Somalia, not about “anarchy” per se.

A reasonable anarchist would never argue that every possible anarchy is superior to every possible government. On the other hand, it is equally nonsensical to argue that every government is superior to every anarchy. This is particularly true when talking about government in Africa.

A well-designed “experiment” would compare the anarchy that Somalia has with the government that Somalia would be likely to get, not some idealized “best possible government.” Of course Somalia would be better off with United States-style liberal democratic government than with its current anarchy. But given that there is absolutely no way that government is going to develop, it’s much more useful to compare Somalia’s anarchy with the dominant model for government in Africa: brutal, dictatorial kleptocracy.

I may, on occasion, be scruffy-looking, but despite being an anarchist, I’m not an idealistic dreamer who believes that all our problems would go away if only there were no government. Not all anarchies are the same, just as not all governments are the same. Even though you support government, I do not expect that you are unable to see the difference between North Korea and France. Advocates for government deserve better than such a careless grouping, and serious anarchists deserve more respect than you gave them in your article.

For an example of what I would have liked to see, please refer to Pete Leeson’s paper on Somalia’s anarchy. You may disagree with the author’s conclusions, but his method is correct. You cannot seriously examine Somalia’s anarchy without considering what Somalia was like under government.

Thanks for your attention,
William Bruntrager
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