The Instigator
Pro (for)
4 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Anarchism is unfeasible

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/12/2013 Category: Politics
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,788 times Debate No: 30165
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (8)
Votes (1)




I had a debate about this with Yarely, and I've seen it discussed in the forums, and I honestly can't see how it could be possible. So I hope that someone will accept this debate and explain it to me.

Burden of proof is shared.

I also ask that Con skip the acceptance round and go first and then, in exchange, limit her/his round 4 to a sentence or two.

I've put a filter on this debate because I've put up three debates in a row that were forfeited. But I'm happy to debate anyone who won't forfeit, so please put a comment on if you'd like to debate this and are filtered out.


As per Pro's request I'll relegate this round to opening arguments as well as to provide a few opening definitions.


Anarchism: "The theory or doctrine that all forms of government are unnecessary, oppressive, and undesirable and should be abolished."[1] This is the most general definition of anarchism available. As can be expected from any political philosophy, anarchism has wide-spread variance in what it adds on to this definition; as Hess called them "hyphens" e.g. ANARCHO-capitalism, ANARCHO-syndicalism, etc. My purpose here is not to defend some single myopic conception of how best statelessness could be organized, but a comprehensive view of how statelessness itself is feasible.

State: A State is defined as an institution holding a monopoly on provision of goods such as law, defense, roads, etc. States coercively prevent other competing institutions from arising within some defined geographical boundary. Another tenet of States is the ability to tax i.e., to extract wealth of its citizenry in order to pay for services provided as well as for other means.

Feasible: Any political system can be defined as being feasible when it can be enacted and induced in a society without crumbling due to internal contradictions or inconsistencies. For instance, liberal democracy wouldn't be infeasible because of the conceivability of a foreign hostile army ten fold in size. Rather we must look at the institutional structure of the system being investigated to decide if it provides plausible mechanisms for dealing with social problems which plague every society. If a system being absolutely inpentrable to invasion of breakup is the standard for feasibility, than no social system, past or present, would pass the test.


(1) Anarchism has existed and been sustained historically. We have several examples of relatively prosperous and free stateless societies to go on from history. Medieval Iceland is perhaps the best example of a stateless society beign maintained for a long period of time. David Friedman provides a comprehensive sketch[2], arguing that, "Whatever the correct judgment on the Icelandic legal system, we do know one thing: it worked--sufficiently well to survive for over three hundred years. In order to work, it had to solve, within its own institutional structure, the problems implicit in a system of private enforcement." To go off of that to anarchist societies which existed more within the left anarchist paradigm, we need only look to the early Israeli Kibbutz movement[3] which sustained itself for a long period of time based purely off of stateless principles.

Note: this line of evidence is most likely incomplete. This comes as a difficulty in defending the feasibility of any non-enacted social system i.e., it's not in place yet so empirical evidence will necessarily be incomplete. My point here is merely to show that given the historical evidence, we may safely conclude that anarchism has no internal contradictions within it which necessarily evinces infeasibility as Pro suggests.

On any further Con arguments, I'm having difficulty providing them without knowing what specific objections to the feasibility of anarchism that Pro wishes to hash out here. In light of that, I'll merely provide a cursory introduction to anarchism' institutional structures avabile as a means to organizing collectively.

(2) Collective decision making need not include coercion or force. Anarchism as an ethical philosophy is wholly opposed to initiatory coercion regardless of the motives involved or the consequences expected. That being said, consequentialist reasoning seems to be the hallmark of political feasibility so I'll relegate ethical discussions to some other time. On feasibility though, it's unclear why coercion is a necessary mechanism for the provision of collective decision making. Not only can solutions be provided by private-contractual means (ex. via dominant assurance contracts[4]) but small scale communities delegating responsibility to federated respresentation also provides a plausible alternative to States. There doesn't seem to be any reason to conclude that coercion itself is the sole mechanism which makes collective decision making feasible.


This case is by no means comprehensive. We're left with working off of both incomplete historical analysis (owing to anarchism's place outside of the status-quo) and only theoretical argumentation. However, given the successful historical examples of anarchism, in conjunction with the theoretical validity of non-coerced collective action, a prima facie case in favor of anarchism being feasible is certainly possible and I believe I've provided that here.


Debate Round No. 1



1. An anarchist society

I'm not sure if "society" is the right word, but according to Con's definition, a population living according to anarchist principles would have no form of government whatsoever.

2. Government and state

Con defined anarchism as "the theory or doctrine that all forms of government are unnecessary, oppressive, and undesirable and should be abolished". Therefore, we need to agree on what government is and isn't before we can understand anarchism.

Outside this definition of anarchism, Con did not define or refer to government. Instead, he spoke of "states": Institutions able to control monopolies within a defined geographical boundary and collect taxes. So, for example, a private company that owns a motorway and collects tolls would be a "state" according to Con's definition. But a nomadic community with a ruling chaste, strict laws and no geographical boundaries would not be a state.

Respectfully, I think Con's definition of state is misleading. Even standard definitions of "state" are tied up with the idea of territory and national identity. These are concepts that are not central to the definition of anarchism, which is a rejection of all forms of government.

I'm wary of trying to pin down a definition of government too precisely at this point, because I want to leave Con scope to discuss anarchism properly, which may mean using his own definition of government, which I'm interested to see. However, surely it must include the idea of a governing body with authority to act and make decisions on behalf of the population. This authority could be granted through some democratic process, inherited, seized by force or in any other way assigned.


Anarchism is unfeasible

Some form of government is an inevitable consequence of large group decision-making. Consider the following process.

1. The community has meetings where decisions are made. The meetings are open to everyone, but voluntary (no coercion). Not everyone comes. Those people who do come make decisions for the community as a whole.

2. Certain individuals are granted authority to implement the decisions. Smaller committees also might be formed with authority to manage defined activities (childcare, for example, or building a bridge).

3. When those authorized groups or individuals go to implement the decisions they are met with resistance. Maybe it's from people who weren't at the meeting, or maybe from people were there but didn't speak up or have since changed their minds.

4. Those authorized delegates can either overcome the resistance (coercion!), or they can allow the resistance to prevent the activity. The principles of anarchism make it clear they must take the latter course.

5. The result of yielding to all resistance will be widespread, overwhelming inefficiency. The larger the group, the more inevitable the disagreements and variety of opinions. Group decisions and policies would regularly have to be delayed and abandoned as they meet resistance in implementation.

6. For society to operate even at a very basic level requires certain rules and procedures to be set up and observed. "Coercion" might be social pressure or encouragement. It might be a system or rewards and punishments. It might be physical coercion. This all implies the existance of some form of government.


Con gave four examples in support of anarchism, two historical and two theoretical. I will discuss them in turn.

medieval iceland

According to Con's source (1), medieval Icelandic society had a parliament, judges and several levels of law courts which had the power to outlaw people, meaning they could not be given shelter and could be killed with impunity. The government did not have a defined executive branch, perhaps, but it was still a government.

the early kibbutz movement

Kibbutzim, then and now, have operated according to strict rules. Notoriously (or famously, depending on your point of view) babies were separated from their mothers and raised separately. Parents were only allowed to see their babies and children for a few hours each day. Whether or not you agree with this policy, it was something that was imposed on new mothers by the group. It was a form of government. One mother remembers that “as soon as I had my first child, I realized it was a terrible mistake. I cried for about a year and a half." (2)

The other thing about kibbutzim is that they had control over who came in. They could reject people, and people who disagreed with the kibbutz government decisions could leave. For any political system to be feasible, in a general sense, it must provide solutions for the population as it is. It can't rely on selecting an elite of like-minded people.

Kibbutzim have also been embedded in and supported by the nation of Israel and very active in its creation and expansion so it’s an extraordinary choice, really, for an example of anarchism.

private contracts such as dominance assurance contracts

According to Con's source (3), dominance assurance contracts operate by an entrepreneur paying workers just for turning up in addition to giving them shares in any output. I would really appreciate it if Con could spell out for me how this is an argument for anarchism. Yes, paying people is a good way of persuading them to do something. Does this have anything to do with group decision-making and coercion?

Con said, "small scale communities delegating responsibility to federated respresentation also provides a plausible alternative to States"

"Delegating responsibility to federated representation" sounds exactly like government to me. How is it not? Seriously.



Noumena forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Con forfeited. All arguments extended.



Pro has taken issue with my definition of the State. He first alleges a difference between 'States' and 'governments'. For the purposes of this debate though we can safely assume the two are synonyms. At least that's what I did in defining a 'State'. Pro gives us some idea of what he would supplant in place of my definition ("a governing body with authority to act and make decisions on behalf of the population.") but I don't see wherein it contradicts my own. In fact, an institution monopolizing and delegating the provision of law and defense would seem to fit in perfectly well with his own definition. The only problem I see is with "on behalf of the population". Nowhere should it be presumed that States (or governments) must act benevolently. It's perfectly conceivable to speak of a State which acts against its citizens interests.

Now I'll move on to my refutations of Pro's arguments before defending my own.

===Pro Case===

Pro's argument is essential that government (or States) is an inevitability. He undertakes to show this by recourse to what appears to be an insanely cursory generalization of humanity. His argument is that in large scale decision making (presumably being binding over the populace?), inefficiency inevitably erupts as to the issue of consent. In order to work past this inefficiency, coercion is necessary on Pro's argument. There are a few major problems with his analysis though.

(1) He presupposes the historical "Statist" view of human decision making. That is, he presumes that decisions need to be made in a public square binding to all. But is this really the case? Anarcho-capitalists and private law anarchists would argue not. In order to defend myself and my property I need not delegate how someone else does so so long as they don't aggress against me. Pro has failed to justify his social decision making context.

(2) Pro outlines a possible solution to the problem in social pressures. This is in line with anarchism as anarchists only oppose aggression and coercion i.e., physical domination of someone else. Pro has therefore defeated his own case.

(3) Pro has also failed to refute the idea of dominant assurance contracts as a method of large scale decision making. He summarizes it incorrectly in describing it as merely an entrepreneurial mechanism. Perhaps that was my mistake in how I described it. In short, dominant assurance contracts function in such a way that people pay into a good with the expressed condition that they are only held to their payment in the event that enough parties sign (how ever many it would take to actually produce the good). If not enough people sign up, their money is refunded. This eliminates the commonly held notion that public goods (like defense for instance) cannot be provided for by free consent. More information can be found here (

===Con Case===

(1) Pro has taken his time to point out why my examples were not pure anarchist societies. But that was not my claim exactly. My claim was that they more or less (to an extent) exhibited anarchist principles and didn't devolve into chaos. That Medieval Iceland technically had a government is a moot issue since the problems of arbitration and retribution/restitution were largely carried out privately. The Kibbutz movement, while now by and large relinquishing it's anarchist principles, did for a long time function more or less anarchistically. A private community rejecting others or delegating rules (as a pretext for joining said *voluntary* community is also not evidence of a State. If Pro's only attack is that they weren't fully anarchist (while entirely failing to show why it was the elements of Statism that made the societies stable and workable) than my point remains.

(2) As I dealt with dominant assurance contracts above I'll spend some time defending my conception of libertarians socialism/anarcho-communism as distinct from States as Pro has implied otherwise. States and non-States are here differentiated in their means not by their internal organization. In my house I might act as a King would over his kingdom but my house is not a State. Why? Because I don't use coercion or aggression to control my house. I bought it legitimately and hence my "rule" over it is so. States on the other hand (from the definition I provided) coercively monopolize decision making and delegation of the rule of law and defense over their territories. This form of aggression is what makes it a State rather than simply a community or a business.

Under libertarian socialism, people come together voluntarily to delegate some decision making to representatives. This is distinct from a State in that this committee doesn't employ aggression or coercion as a means to power. Rather people voluntarily will them to make some decisions. The difference lies in the means by which they act, though the internal organization of the two institutions may be similar.
Debate Round No. 3


Since Con forfeited round 2, the debate has been shortened to two rounds. This is frustrating because there's no point presenting further arguments as Con has no reply (he agreed not to do a round 4 to make it even).

Even so, thank you to Con for his two rounds. He has obviously done a lot of research on anarchism and given it a lot of thought and his opinions and arguments are valuable.

On coercion

According to Con, an anarchist society is defined by its lack of coercion. In particular, Con says:

"In my house I might act as a King would over his kingdom but my house is not a State. Why? Because I don't use coercion or aggression to control my house. I bought it legitimately and hence my "rule" over it is so. States on the other hand...coercively monopolize decision making and delegation of the rule of law and defense over their territories."

coercion (noun): the action or practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats (1)

force (noun): coercion or compulsion, especially with the use or threat of violence (2)

Con argues that "social pressures" are not a form of coercion and are therefore in line with anarchism. Of course at other times and in other societies, social pressures are indeed a devastating form of coercion. Because with very rare exceptions, individuals cannot live independently of society. If an individual is rejected by the group and forced to live alone in the wilderness, say, then they will die or at best suffer harsh deprivation.

Note that the two societies Con highlighted as being closish to anarchism both featured banishment as a solution for non-conformers. In Con's Iceland example, when someone became an outlaw it meant that people could be prosecuted for offering her shelter, and she could be killed with impunity. It's true that the Icelandic government had no executive arm. But it's absurd to suggest that the "social pressure" of outlawing people is not coercive.

But in our society today, "social pressure" does seem trivial. Why? Because we live in the context of strong government. We cannot be banished even if people loathe us. Resources we need to survive will not be withheld. Worst case, we can move to another part of the country, collect welfare if needs be, and start afresh. All this because the government provides all its citizens with certain living standards. Without this security, we would go back to relying on our network of relationships for survival and social pressure would once more become coercive.

Note also that Con's best example of a non-coercive society his himself, alone, wandering around his house. One person in a house is not an example of a society, of course. But with this example, Con seems to recognize, as I do, that coercion is inherent in human interaction.

governments are inevitable

Con argues "that [the early Kibbutz movement and Medieval Iceland] more or less (to an extent) exhibited anarchist principles and didn't devolve into chaos."

I have never suggested that anarchy would mean chaos. Quite the opposite. I believe that human societies inevitably organize and form governments. My evidence for this is every single human society that has ever existed. Con cannot provide a single successful example of anarchism because there have been none.

Clearly, anarchism doesn't occur spontaneously. Even if it got set up, there would need to be a mechanism to prevent government forming. This mechanism would be coercive and so immediately we have a paradox.

Con would no doubt try to argue that the mechanism needn't be coercive. Perhaps he would bring out his dominant assurance contracts again (3). Even these would require a coercive mechanism. According to Con's source, dominant assurance contracts work by people pledging a certain amount of money to a project, which only goes ahead if a target sum is reached. If it doesn't go ahead, those people get their money back plus a little bit extra. The extra bit is supposed to motivate people to pledge. However. Suppose the person who proposed the project decided not to pay the extra bit? After all, why should they? They put all the work in setting up the project and are disappointed it fell through. It's a bit much to have to pay as well. Defaults would be commonplace. There would need to be some mechanism to force people to comply. Otherwise, the system of dominant assurance contracts would fail because people would know it to be unreliable.

on large group decision-making

Con complains that "[Pro] presumes that decisions need to be made in a public square binding to all. But is this really the case?...In order to defend myself and my property I need not delegate how someone else does so so long as they don't aggress against me. Pro has failed to justify his social decision making context."

It's true, of course, that decisions don't need to be made in a public square and my example was rather naff. I was trying to present the most pared down example I could to show the inevitability of conflict and the consequent imposing of authority.

It seems as if Con is arguing that cooperation is unnecessary. Again, we're going back to the man alone in the house argument. No. People need to live together in societies, to share work, knowledge and resources, and to do that they need to make cooperative decisions.


Government in some form is an inevitable consequence of human society. As a theory, anarchism sheds light on the status quo in an interesting way, but it is not workable. A large number of men each in his own house, each defending his own property, never making group decisions is not a society. It's a prison. When people start working together, they inevitably create authoritative groups and coercive situations. This has been the case in every society at every point in history.

Anarchism is unfeasible.



Thanks for the debate I suppose. Vote con. As per the rules I won't post an argument this round.
Debate Round No. 4
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
It was in her final round, when you couldn't rebut. :/

Oh well.
Posted by Noumena 5 years ago
Lol I must have missed where he refuted dominant assurance contracts.
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
This debated pretty much cemented in my mind that an anarchy precludes an organizational model. The following quote from CON demonstrates how isolated one must be to care only about private property:

CON: "In my house I might act as a King would over his kingdom but my house is not a State. Why? Because I don't use coercion or aggression to control my house. I bought it legitimately and hence my "rule" over it is so. States on the other hand...coercively monopolize decision making and delegation of the rule of law and defense over their territories."

PRO debunked the feasibility of dominant assurance contracts, and was easily able to demonstrate that most of CON's assertions, suggestions, and historical examples are indeed examples of states, and not a state of anarchy. Therefore, IMHO, anarchy does not offer a feasible alternative to the current state model.

Arguments to PRO, conduct to PRO for the one round FF.

P.S. - I must add that Rothbard, probably the anarchist I respect the most, advocated coercion. I would say that the concept of anarchy is itself in a state of anarchy.
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
Well, that was disappointing... :/
Posted by rross 5 years ago
I wish I could be correspondingly scathing, but actually I've always been kind of impressed by Noumena.
Posted by Noumena 5 years ago
Meh, I saw the guy's argument with Yarely and wasn't too impressed. He mostly just benefited from arguing with someone who had no idea what they were talking about.
Posted by wrichcirw 5 years ago
This looks to be interesting. I know both of these people are capable of a substantive argument. :D
Posted by ZakYoungTheLibertarian 5 years ago
i am willing to do this debate but do not qualify based on rank
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by wrichcirw 5 years ago
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Total points awarded:40 
Reasons for voting decision: see comment.