Francis Dashwood Tandy on Private Defense (1896)

In nearly every large city business men either employ special night watchmen, or else subscribe to some merchants’ police company, in order to have their stores protected. Here are men who are compelled to pay the State for protection that is so inadequate and worthless, that they voluntarily pay a private institution to perform the same services. The State fails to perform its duty but still continues to collect the money for it by force. Meanwhile private enterprise steps in and does the work properly. Is there any danger that a community, in which the rights of life and property are held in such high regard that men will pay twice over for their protection rather than go without it – is there much danger that such a community will fail to protect itself from crime if left to do so without State intervention?

The work of insurance companies is suggestive of a method by which this might be done. If the State collects taxes from you to save your house when it is on fire, insurance companies will, if you pay your premiums, reimburse you for all your loss. The former thrusts its services on you unasked, and makes you pay for them whether you want them or not. The latter is a purely voluntary arrangement, and is perfectly willing to leave you alone if you do not molest it.

There are accident insurance companies which insure elevators. Should any person get hurt while riding in an elevator so insured and sue the owner of the building, the insurance company will settle the whole matter and pay such damages as may be awarded. In Colorado – I don’t know how it may be in other States – there is no State elevator inspector, consequently insurance companies inspect the elevators themselves and issue proper certificates. These companies have everything depending upon the correctness of their inspection. The loss of large sums of money and the shaking of public confidence are the penalties they must pay for mistakes. So their certificates are far more reliable, and command much greater public confidence, than those of irresponsible State boiler inspectors or State inspectors of mines, who have nothing to lose by issuing as many certificates as are demanded. The experience of all who have had any dealings with State inspectors teaches them that they are nearly always either dishonest or incapable and sometimes both. If you abolish such offices, those who have a vested interest in the inspection will have it performed to their satisfaction and at their own cost. As soon as State protection is removed, individual enterprise steps in and affords a better article at less cost.

It is surprising how easily people will get what they want without State interference if the State will only let them do it. The best way to protect a man is to let him protect himself.

Pinkerton men have a very bad name, especially among labor leaders. But this is due to the action taken by them in labor troubles. This in turn is due to the economic system which creates those troubles. Once solve the economic problem and you trim the claws of private enterprise, rendering it incapable of great evil, while retaining its good qualities. But even now Pinkerton men are not one whit less responsible than ignorant ward politicians in brass buttons and blue coats. Pinkertons derive their support only from the men who employ them, whereas policemen are paid as much by the victims of their tyranny as by those that tyranny benefits. The ill repute in which Pinkertons are held is in itself an argument in their favor. If a man is unjustly assaulted by one, he has no compunction at resisting him. But if he is unjustly clubbed by a brutal policeman, he has the glorious remembrance that he himself is paying for the club which hits him, and so he is deterred from resistance by a superstitious veneration for the idol of his own creation.

Such institutions as I have suggested would derive their support, both financial and moral, from their subscribers. Any that were unjust or tyrannical would soon lack patronage, and so competition would give us the best article at the lowest cost, in the administration of justice as in everything else.

The oft quoted argument that this is merely abolishing the State in order to establish a lot of little States is hardly worthy of comment. These institutions lack all the elements which are essential characteristics of the State. The State is primarily invasive, these are defensive. The State is founded on compulsory co-operation, while these are distinctively voluntary. The State claims absolute control over all within its borders, while these permit the freest competition. In other words, one is the State, and the other an honest business undertaking. What we do demand, if you wish to put it that way, is that the State shall restrict itself to the protection of person and property and the maintenance of Equal Freedom, and then, in conformity with that principle, cease to compel anyone to support it. If you wish to call what is left “a State,” our only disagreement will be on the use of the word.

Credit: Francis Dashwood Tandy, “Defence of Person and Property” abridged from Voluntary Socialism