This week marks the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. A group of about 300 survivors revisited the camp where 1.1 million people were murdered by agents of the German state. The general feeling among many of them was a need to ensure that future generations do not forget the lessons of the Holocaust after those who experienced it first-hand, most of whom are now at least in their 80s, have left us.
But what are the lessons of the Holocaust? There are several which are commonly discussed; that hatred based on ethnic or religious affiliation can lead people to commit atrocities, that active euthanasia programs victimize innocent people, that being obedient to authority can psychologically allow people to do that which they would never do on their own. But there is one that does not receive the discussion that it deserves.
When libertarians have discussions with statists, we are frequently asked questions such “But without government, who will build the roads? Who will provide military defense? How will criminals be stopped and punished?” Then we are asked for empirical examples of these ideas in action. Such questions have been dealt with by many writers, myself included. But sometimes it is best to answer a question with a question. Without government, who will build the death camps?
Of course, there are no examples of anarchist death camps or anarchist genocides. Let us examine why this is the case. The absence of a state within a geographical area means that there is no group of people who exercise a monopoly on initiatory force within that area. This has many important implications.
No monopoly on initiatory force means that no one has the ability to impose laws upon everyone. This means that no centralized force would be making people discriminate against a particular minority group. Therefore, anyone who wants to do business with members of a particular minority group can do so. This helps members of that group remain economically connected to the rest of society, giving other people less cause to view them as evil aliens worthy of violent opposition and more cause to view them as partners in trade. As Bastiat said, when goods cross borders, armies do not.
No monopoly on initiatory force also means that there is no government monopoly on education. Thus, there would be no single curriculum which could be corrupted by racists to create a generation of people who hate a particular minority group. Some curricula might still contain racist elements, but other curricula would not, and competition in education has a tendency to eliminate falsehoods. Therefore, less children would be taught to be racist than in a statist society where racists control the curriculum.
But suppose that trade and proper education are insufficient and someone still proposes to build and operate an extermination camp for members of a particular minority group. That camp must be located on some piece of physical property. Everyone who opposed such an operation could simply buy up any land considered by those who wish to build an extermination camp and refuse to sell it. Without a state and its powers of eminent domain, there would be no entity that could legally make them sell.
Now let us dispense with any naïveté. Those who are so evil as to want to start exterminating members of a particular minority group are not going to be deterred by oppositional public opinion or peaceful measures of resistance like occupying and refusing to sell land. Such people will necessarily resort to force to achieve their goals. Without a government monopoly on military services, such services would be open to free market competition. This means that those who wish to commit genocide would not have the entire military might of a statist society where they wield power. They would only have whatever military might that they could pay for. It also means that another private defense force, quite possibly larger, would be standing in their way, as those who are targets for extermination would be looking for protection and quite willing to spend money for it. The lack of monopolized laws also means that there would be no gun control (or more appropriately, victim disarmament) laws, so the targeted minorities would be much better able to take matters into their own hands than they would be in the presence of a state.
Finally, suppose that the worst happens. Education fails to produce a less racist society, trade does not lead to tolerance, property rights are trampled, and defensive violence fails to stop the aggressors. The only thing left to do is to flee. No government means no immigration policy or national borders. Thus, the minority group members can escape to other lands much easier than they could in a statist society. Historically, those who commit genocide are seeking to remove people of a certain group from a certain geographical area and will settle for a mass exodus if they cannot carry out an extermination.
To conclude, there are so many factors weighing against the possibility of genocide in an anarchist society that it is a virtual certainty that without government, no one will build the death camps. As such, the most important lesson of the Holocaust is that the state is an enabler of the worst kinds of evil. It is imperative that the state be abolished so that the occurrence of another genocide of that magnitude is made impossible.