Limiting the Scope of Violence: Complex Production and “The Roads” in a Consensual Society

I don’t often delve into the more technical details of a what a stateless legal structure would look like because I figure it’s a bridge we can burn when we come to it. Several other niggling details need to be worked out first, like obtaining a critical mass of people who see something wrong with firebombing peasant villages, using torture in the pursuit of justice, caging poor people for smoking vegetation, etc.

I do have some thoughts in the area of material progress, though, and how to “grow” a sustainable social order/infrastructure that can support the billions of folks alive today and the billions that are on their way. I’ll introduce my thoughts by responding to an “classic” anarcho-debate between the the anarcho-capitalists (hereafter referred to as the right) and anarcho-everybody-else (the left).

In a well structured essay, Anarcho-Syndicalism: A Recipe for Ruin,
Daniel Sanchez, coming from the right, outlines this point of contention quite nicely:

According to prominent mutualist [left] Kevin Carson, mutualists “believe in private property, so long as it is based on personal occupancy and use.”[1]
For convenience and for lack of a better term, . . . workers would own all the capital goods they work with. There could therefore be no “absentee” ownership and no wage labor. A capitalist could not hand capital goods over to hired workers without thereby losing title.


To clarify, “private property” in this context is that which one can legitimately defend with the use of force. Uncontroversially, despite the statutes of nation-states, this category includes one’s self and the products of one’s labor. The difficulty comes, when we fast forward in complexity to the kinds of structures of capital that are required to meet the consumption needs of billions of people.

Daniel Sanchez holds that private property, and the legitimacy of violent defense must extend beyond the individual and what she can occupy, produce, and use to include anything for which she can contract:

Say there is an entrepreneur who would have been able to make a profit by allocating a huge inventory of capital goods to be operated by hired workers in a really long, but hugely productive production process. However, he cannot because his capital goods would have been lost to him as soon as he handed them over to anybody. That would be a huge loss to all the many consumers (the majority of whom are also workers, by the way) who would have enjoyed the later, but greater, comforts and security that the foregone highly productive process would have provided.

We must, therefore, include things owned “remotely” in the sacred circle of private property or we will be unable to meet the needs of a global population.

A shorter version of the claim might be, we must expand the scope of violence a little bit beyond self-defense, because of the societal necessity of the results obtained. Organic/peaceful human organization cannot address this problem any other way.

The Roads

A parallel discussion that leads to my also illustrates my yet-unmade point involves The Roads. For all of human history, the value of The Roads has lead to a general acceptance of the need for slave labor, seizure of property, and massive theft in order to build reliable infrastructure connecting population centers.

To mirror D. Sanchez’s argument above (though I’m not claiming he would make this argument), the inability of the builders of infrastructure to use violence to overcome the obstacles inherent in large infrastructure projects would be a huge loss to all the many people who would have enjoyed/benefited from the end result.

But while The Roads are of obvious value to concentrations of capital, it is less clear that they are of value to everyone else. A road rapidly and drastically alters market conditions allowing for more ready exploitation of rural areas by urban, of urban areas by capital cities, of local business by regional or global corporations. The creation of a road changes the relative costs of labor, material and transport, usually out from under those who are far from political power and usually with the foreknowledge of (and hence a great benefit to) the politically connected.

In the modern west, The Roads have brought urban sprawl, racial re-segregation, drastic increases in carbon emission, huge commutes, and have put a multi-thousand dollar entrance fee for employment.
The creation of roads inevitably involves the seizure of land as well from people who’d rather live where they’ve always lived, but are forced to move in the name of “progress”.

I am not anti-road. With all that connecting two (or more) populations of people entails, however, I believe it should be done in a consensual manner. How would a road be build in a free economy?

The first hurdle is a surplus of capital in a given region. A sufficient number of individuals in a community would need to have satisfied all their more pressing needs. They would have to see sufficient long-term benefit in investing in construction of a given road. Under these conditions, money could be voluntarily allocated to the task[1].

But before construction begins, everyone directly affected needs to be satisfied with the conditions of construction. The notable newcomers to this group will be those whose land is needed for the project. Each one will need to be compensated adequately to get their participation. The road’s layout will depend on who is willing to sacrifice their land and for what price. Of course, some people will be eager to have increased traffic by space they can use/sell/rent for commerce–some might even subsidize the project. Whatever the case, the process is negotiated, not mandated.

The length of time that such an undertaking necessarily requires and the public nature of the process allows everyone to adjust to the coming reality of a more densely connected region. The shock is thereby lessened and both the positive and negative effects are more equally and equitably distributed.

Aaand Back to Production

In much the same way, the structures for maintaining just ownership of resources throughout a complex production process should be negotiated, flexible, and sustainable. Including these means of production in the same category as self and products of labor–i.e. legitimizing the use of violence in their defense–is a quick way to get complex manufacturing underway; much as eminent domain is a quick way to get infrastructure development underway.

Rather than give into this cheat, and build remote ownership on the threat of force, why not build it on a series of negotiated agreements between equal participants in production? This doesn’t mean that division of labor and even unequal division of products are disallowed, it simply means that everyone is satisfied with their cost/benefit ratio with regards to the production process in the absence of violence.

How is it that a possessor of capital finds it impossible to entrust the means and materials of production to the workers hired to craft some product? If, as D Sanchez imagines, worker-run enterprises suffer with relation to those where planning and labor are separate tasks, then there are greater potential benefits for the workers who take part in a greater division of labor.

Would machinists “take over” a factory that was run efficiently and from whose profitability they directly benefit? It seems unlikely that all but a few would forgo a pay cut and increased responsibility of management given the chance. The inclusion of means of production in the category of private property serves to deny workers the ultimate sanction against a bungling, inefficient, or unjust management.

Negotiating working relationships that protect against the defection of workers, management, or the providers of capital will, of course, slow down the formation of complex production processes. Like creation of infrastructure, manufacturing processes and ownership agreements in a stateless world will require wider reaching consensus than they currently do. Increasing size and scope will depend on improving on templates for contracts and arbitration allowing longer production processes become possible and decreasingly risky.

My Point

When re-imagining the provision of societal needs currently underwritten by force, it behooves us to resist the easy, traditional solutions and imagine non-violent alternatives. Not only does this provide a stronger moral foundation for our imagined social institutions to rest on, but it also allows the creative capacity of billions of people to devise, test, and revise approaches and solutions to the problem. It allows healthy, sustainable relationships between the human participants in manufacturing to be discovered and improved on, and allows the greatest degree of human activity to remain outside the realm of coercion.

  1. [1] I imagine that riskier roads would be built by greater concentrations of capital who would see larger benefits therefrom. More obvious connections between wealthier communities might be financed, and the dividends shared by a larger range of economic actors.
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