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What Is Anarcho-Tyranny?
How the state can act as a tyrant while letting all hell break loose.
Anarcho-tyranny is a term you may have heard lately — it’s been somewhat prevalent since 2020. But what exactly does it mean, and how is it relevant to you?
At first, it sounds like a complete oxymoron like “mandatory option,” “non-dairy creamer,” or “military intelligence.” (With apologies to the late great George Carlin.) How can anarchy — a lack of government — coexist with tyranny — an excess of government?
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But as we’ll see, anarcho-tyranny is one of the effects of decay we’re experiencing today, and once you learn to spot it, you’ll see it everywhere.
The Definition and Shady Origin of Anarcho-Tyranny
Balaji Srinivasan, a smart guy who was once painted as a paranoid by the tech press for sounding the alarm on COVID-19, recently illustrated the concept, even if he avoided the term:
Srinivasan’s definition of anarcho-tyranny, and my personal favorite: “the law is powerless to help you, but it can still harm you.”
In simple terms, anarcho-tyranny is when the state stops upholding its end of the social contract to use its monopoly on violence for its own ends.
Srinivasan didn’t use the term “anarcho-tyranny” probably for the same reason I’ve been reticent to use it: it was invented by Samuel T. Francis, an avowed white nationalist, who was too racist for The Washington Times… in the 1990s. (He was fired after being called out by Dinesh D'Souza in The Washington Post. Apparently, he used to be a fan of cancel culture. It was a different era.)
As a term, “anarcho-tyranny” has always had a far-right connotation. That said, we all know the origins of Volkswagen, yet people still drive them. I cannot think of a better term than “anarcho-tyranny” to describe the current state of Western governments that are unable to solve real problems but have broad authority to harshly lord over the citizenry. And you’ll probably gain an appreciation for the concept even if you lean left.
Examples of Anarcho-Tyranny
There are several examples of anarcho-tyranny, especially in the current decade. We’ll start with the one that might make Francis spin in his grave a bit.
I’m sure you remember the summer of 2020. Police seemed to be on a murder spree against black people, which sparked riots across the country. However, when those riots broke out, the police largely stood by and did nothing as cities like Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. literally burned. Unless, of course, you were defending yourself or your property, in which case you were punished severely.
That’s anarcho-tyranny in a nutshell.
Another example: the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which we’ve covered before. Police literally stood around checking their phones and rubbing down with hand sanitizer while children were screaming as their classmates were blown to pieces. In fact, the only thing the cops seemed interested in was stopping any parent (including fellow officers) from intervening. One mother escaped the cops and got her kids out, only to be harassed by them later.
Again, anarcho-tyranny. The state doesn’t enforce order by stopping the guy who’s murdering schoolchildren, but does manage to taze, handcuff, and harass citizens actually courageous enough to help.
And of course, there were the state and corporate responses to COVID. Over a million people have died from COVID here in the United States. Still, many people lost jobs and businesses due to lockdowns, and many lost jobs due to the mandate of a vaccination that doesn’t prevent the spread of COVID. You can look to more extreme examples in China and New Zealand, both of which literally put people in quarantine camps to prevent any spread of COVID, which most of us now realize is an impossible task.
My personal favorite example of anarcho-tyranny is: despite widespread government mass surveillance of online communications, mass shootings are still prevalent even if the shooter announces his intentions well in advance. It’s a grim running gag that these mass shooters always end up having been on the FBI’s radar without the FBI actually stopping the guy.
There are many small examples you might experience every day. Think of a public school that ruthlessly and harshly enforces dress codes but graduates ignorant students who can barely read. Or a small-town police department that regularly nabs people in speed traps but won’t do anything about your neighbor cooking meth next door.
Srinivasan offered many examples in the Twitter thread above:
It also took San Francisco 20 years to reopen a public bathroom. There was even a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The Pentagon spent $1.7 trillion on the F-35 fighter jet, which is by most accounts useless, and now obsoleted by unmanned drones.
Numerous failures in our Navy. My personal favorite is the $13 billion supercarrier that can’t launch and land aircraft.
Causes of Anarcho-Tyranny
Large, systemic problems like anarcho-tyranny are difficult to pinpoint, but we’ll identify some of the root causes.
One is lack of funding. As we discussed in our civil war post, there’s the concept of “starving the beast” to get rid of excess government programs. The idea is that since getting rid of government programs is politically unfeasible, politicians simply cut funding until they magically go away.
But that’s not how that works. In fact, if you consider the root of the metaphor, it’s obvious. A bear doesn’t simply curl up in a cave and die. It becomes angrier and more vicious as it seeks out any available food source to stave off death.
Governments do the same thing. If a city’s tax base dries up, the city doesn’t just fold and say “Oh well2.” The city manager rings the police chief and tells him he has to bring in so many speeding tickets per month or he doesn’t get paid3. The cops start taking advantage of civil forfeiture laws to rob the people like bandits so they can buy a margarita machine. You call the fire department for a house fire, and after you’ve lost everything they slap you with an $800 bill for their trouble.
You’ve probably heard the Dune quote, “The spice must flow!” Likewise: the bear must eat.
Starving the beast forces the beast to be leaner, more vicious, and more efficient. And when you get right down to it, the core of government is its monopoly on violence, and that monopoly costs money to maintain. A lean, efficient government is effectively a killing machine without amenities like smooth roads or trips to the moon.
We’ve seen this in action over the past couple of years with failed “defund the police” efforts. The cops are still behaving badly, but now they’re more likely to let shoplifters run free.
As for what the heck is wrong with police in this country, I’m not touching that particular topic because it’s beyond my understanding. However, my first inclination that something was wrong came in fifth grade when our teacher4 — married to a cop — asked for video game recommendations on games that would let him shoot as many people as he wanted since he didn’t get to shoot many people as a cop. I recommended Lethal Enforcers — a long-forgotten epitome of carefree ‘90s violence.
Another cause of anarcho-tyranny is a focus on low-hanging fruit. When a career bureaucrat gets into a position of power, their job survival depends on results. Unfortunately, thorny problems take years to solve, and effective action may not be immediately obvious. Take a school principal for example. The new principal may not have a clue why the 8th-grade class is reading at a 2nd-grade level or how to fix it, but he can quickly call out all the girls whose skirts are an inch too short, and then take those “results” to the school board.
Until marijuana was effectively legalized here in Tennessee5, you’d constantly see front-page headlines in small-town papers bragging about big pot busts while driving past meth labs every day. As it happens, the hippies growing weed in the woods are a lot more chill and easier to bring in than those meth guys. No sir, those dudes don’t screw around. And you definitely don’t want to cross the cartels. No sir, we ain’t going there.
Of course, another reason is plain old corruption, like a sheriff in cahoots with the local meth producers. Anybody who’s ever confronted a “good ol’ boy network” (Travis) understands how deep those bonds can be.
The final reason we’ll offer — and this is a tricky one — is post 9/11 mentality. We could do an entire post on this, but if you don’t remember America before 9/11, it was a very different place. Then one day people were suddenly calling the United States “The Homeland” and every police department in America had a federally funded SWAT team armed with military surplus. The Barney Fifes of the world gleefully took over as Americans cowered in fear, in exchange for the promise of safety.
Do you feel safe?
Admittedly, I’m using “government” in the laziest possible way here, when in fact we’re discussing federal, state, county, and city levels that are semi-independent but interact in various ways. The purpose here is simplification.
Yes, occasionally, a small town will unincorporate, usually due to loss of population, but it’s not common.
Police departments deny that such quotas exist and they’re illegal in many states. Regardless, police departments are regularly caught using clever workarounds. The bear must eat!
They’re both long dead, so don’t ask.
It’s kept kind of quiet, but it’s absolutely true. Many stores sell big tubs of CBD weed and the police have no idea if you have the legal stuff or not. Even more amusing, due to a legal loophole, Delta-8 THC products are totally legal and will get you high as a kite while Delta-9 THC, just a molecule off, is a Schedule I narcotic. I’m convinced this loophole was completely on purpose to monetize marijuana while not spooking the squares too much. Otherwise, the error would have been quickly corrected. See also: Minnesota “accidentally” legalizing weed.