Will V Succeed?

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[Note, all page references refer to V for Vendetta except where noted otherwise.]

Introduction

Throughout the novel, the character V commits to a variety of actions that he hopes will bring about the peace and order of anarchy.  These actions include the bombing of buildings that we should presume are empty (with the exception of a criminal named Brian Etheridge employed by a band of criminals calling itself the state, p. 185), the execution of criminals who were being protected from punishment by the criminal state, and the dissemination of information to the public through tapping into the state’s broadcasting system.  But would these actions bring about the demise of chaos and the state, bring about the ascension of society into an anarchy?  Would it?

On the one hand, we can conclude that V’s actions are just (save for his one evil, criminal act against Evey, pp. 142, 148–162).  But the question here isn’t whether his actions are just; rather, the question is, would it work?  Are they, it addition to being perfectly ethical, expedient?  Will they, in short, yield the desired goal?  And it is here that I believe we must answer no.

No, V’s actions will not likely yield the peace and spontaneous order of anarchy.  Or, at least, I have my grave doubts about his tactics working.

Education

Mr. Benjamin Ricketson Tucker

V’s most effective tool would be his use of the media.  Most people never bother considering anarchism because they don’t understand it.  They simply assume it is chaos, and never bother reading the many scholarly articles and books dealing with the subject.  In short, most people are woefully ignorant about what anarchism even is, let along the fact that anarchy is not lawlessness, unlike anomie.

Whereas anomie means without rules, anarchy means without rulers.  In fact, these states of existence are diametrically opposed to one another, for any system that prohibits rulership necessarily promotes rules, most specifically the rule that there may be no rulers.  As such, anarchy is that system that forbids any and all aggression, where aggression is defined not as the use of force per se but rather the initiation of force specifically.  If person A attacks person B and person B uses equal and opposing force to defend herself from person A, it is person A who is the aggressor, not person B.  Thus, the anarchist would find person A’s actions to naturally be criminal, while she would find person B’s actions to be perfectly within the (natural) law.  This prohibition on aggression, what we call the nonaggression axiom, is the whole of the law in an anarchy, and enforcement of this law would effectively eliminate all coercive hierarchies.

Whenever A rapes, steals from, or murders B, A is committing an act of aggression against B, and thereby creating a coercive hierarchy with A as lord and B as serf, with A as master and B as slave, with A as sovereign and B as subject.  When this takes place, anarchy (in the specific locale of the crime) ceases to be, having been replaced instead by the establishment of a “state.”  Anarchy is only restored when the criminal, A, pays restitution to B, restoring to B what is rightfully hers and providing extra compensation for B’s loss of time preference.  In the case of rape, B may demand a non-monetary punishment if she wishes, such as having A’s penis cut off.  Further, if she wishes to pull a gun on her would-be rapist to prevent his vile act of aggression, I think this is also fine.  Moreover, I have nothing against the execution of murderers (as long as the victim consents to the execution, as long as the murderer is truly guilty of murder, and as long as the execution is not committed by a state).  Not all anarchists agree with me on this, of course, and that’s perfectly fine.  We are free to disagree with one another.  Thus, the anarchopacifist like Tolstoy or Robert LeFevre would reject all retaliation against aggressors, advocating instead a policy of turning one’s cheek.  While anarchopacifism is a valid philosophical approach to anarchism, I shall treat it here no further as it is not relevant to the story, as we can be sure that V is not a pacifist.

In any event, anarchism is widely misunderstood, and for this reason, educating the public could go a long way.  Indeed, anarchists have a long history of trying to educate the public.  Take for example Benjamin R. Tucker, who started a journal of anarchistic thought called Liberty back in 1881.  According to Brian Doherty, “Tucker believed [that e]liminating the state through revolution without first convincing people that they donít need one merely guarantees that another state will quickly arise in its place” (Radicals for Capitalism, p. 46).  Thus, for V’s revolutionary model, education can be viewed as vital.

Unfortunately, his communication to the public is so uninforming that it is doubtful that the public could gather the slightest understanding from it of why they oughtn’t attempt to reconstruct the state following the demise of the Norsefire government.  On pages 112 through 118, V admonishes the people for allowing themselves to be ruled by “a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics” (p. 116), but fails to note that his ultimate goal is not chaos, and fails also to explain that order can arise spontaneously.  His only other communication, on pages 186 and 187, merely informs the public that, because the state will be unable to witness their crimes, they may do what they want.  (The new V makes one public address on page 258, but I believe that is of little relevance here.)

Demolition

Next, let us consider V’s bombing of buildings.  This could be either effective or ineffective, depending upon certain circumstances.

If the buildings have any innocent people in them, like the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in the Oklahoma City bombing or the World Trade Center on 9/11, then not only will the bombings have no positive effect, it would render the bomber a criminal and a terrorist.  Of course, only a scumbag would kill innocent people.  Only a scumbag would write-off the killing of innocent people as “collateral damage.”  Thus, blowing up buildings with innocent people inside of them is strictly out of the question.  If even one innocent person is killed, game over, you’ve lost all credibility.  Period.  (See Murray N. Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 189–190.)

But even if the buildings are empty, should it turn out that the buildings are privately owned by a just owner (as opposed to someone who came into ownership of the building through unjust or statist means), then blowing them up is still a mistake.  Legitimate property can only be acquired in one of three ways: (A) through homesteading, (B) through receiving a piece of property from a previous just owner as a gift, or (C) through receiving a piece of property from a previous just owner through trade.  If a person has justly acquired a given piece of property, then taking or altering that property without the owner’s consent is nothing less than usurpation, than theft.  (For example, if I am a farmer who has homesteaded a previously-unowned plot of land through mixing my labour with the soil, and you come onto my land and spread salt thereupon without my consent, you have thereby violated my rights, you have usurped from me control over my land.)  Taking or altering such a legitimately-owned property without the consent of the owner is an act of aggression, and thus establishes a coercive hierarchy, where the taker or alterer is the master and the legitimate owner is the slave.  Of course, the goal of anarchists is the disestablishment of all coercive hierarchies, and since the means never justifies the ends, it can never be just to establish a coercive hierarchy in order to fight other coercive hierarchies.  Therefore, it is not just to destroy a justly-acquired, privately-owned building, even if said building is empty.

V blows up Parliament on the
night of 5 November 1997

Luckily for V, he does not destroy any buildings with innocent persons inside of them (to our limited knowledge) and does not blow up any privately-owned buildings (again, to our limited knowledge).  The only buildings he blows up are government buildings, presumably with no innocent people inside of them.  As mentioned earlier, there are only three ways by which one can justly come to own a piece of property.  The state, of course, didn’t come—through any legitimate means—to acquire the building it controlled; rather, it acquired all of “its” property through expropriation.  Therefore, the state could not legitimately own any of the buildings that V bombed, and therefore the buildings were unowned, and in a state of nature.  Since these buildings were properly understood to be unowned, we must conclude that the bombing of these buildings does not constitute destruction of property.

So, would the bombing of unowned, government-controlled buildings in which no innocents were harmed help to promote anarchism?  Potentially yes; if the bombing of these symbols of tyranny helps to galvanise the public, then it would be a very good thing.

However, this assumes that the government doesn’t simply turn on its propaganda machine and lie to the public, telling said public that innocent people were harmed in the bombings.  If the Norsefire party can successfully convince the public that the vigilante hero V has murdered one or more innocent people, then no good will come of the bombings.  The public will simply assume that V is a terrorist, and the revolution will be a complete failure.

In the book, this doesn’t happen.  I know not why the Norsefire government, in the book, apparently fails to spin the facts to make V appear to be a crazed murderer, but they do not.  In real life, I have no doubt it would.

Further, there’s the difficult matter of ensuring that zero innocents are injured or killed.  V may have been able to succeed at this because of his ability to hack into the state’s computer network, Fate (p. 201), but in the real world, it may be far more difficult.

Tyrannicide

Finally, let us consider the issue of tyrannicide.  While I believe V was justified in his execution of the various criminals in the government, the question we must consider is: would these executions work?

I come unequivocably to one answer: no.

Mr. Leon Czolgosz

Throughout recent history, the execution of statist criminals by nonstatists has not succeeded in jumpstarting revolutionary activity.  I think, of course, of Leon Czolgosz’s execution of the criminal William McKinley.  Among other things, the criminal McKinley enslaved the whole of the people of the Philippines, and in response to their attempt to throw off his shackles, he engaged in a vicious campaign to kill innocent people in the Philippines and drive the rest into submission.  Unfortunately, nobody was going to punish McKinley for these evil acts because he was a member of the political class.

Leon Czolgosz was an anarchist who shot and mortally wounded the criminal McKinley on 6 September 1901.  He believed that in assassinating this tyrant, he would jumpstart an anarchist revolution.  But people often react negatively to violence, even if the violence be just.  After Czolgosz twice fired his pistol, James Parker, who was standing behind Czolgosz in line, punched Czolgosz in the face and tackled him.  Czolgosz was subdued by an enraged crowd, tried, found “guilty” of “murder,” and was murdered by the government on 29 October 1901.  After McKinley’s execution, Congress would officially charge the Secret Service with the physical protection of U. S. presidents.

Not only did Czolgosz’s execution not lead to an anarchist revolution, it arguably hurt the anarchist movement by (1) confusing people into further thinking that anarchism is anethical and (2) encouraging the state to better engender its own protection.  The state loves any excuse to exacerbate its power, and what’s better, in the eyes of the state, than to crack down on anarchists?  Thus, should we be surprised that innocent anarchists were arrested following Czolgosz’s execution of McKinley?

No, V’s various acts of tyrannicide, although just, would not have been necessarily effective.  It is quite possible that they would have backfired, allowing the state to (A) gain more sympathy from the uneducated public and (B) excuse its further infringements upon the rights of the people.  For this reason, I strongly reject tyrannicide as a method.

I believe a far more practical method is nonviolent civil disobedience.  When a cop attacks you for refusing to obey his unlawful orders, do not fight back.  It may be your natural, inalienable right to fight back, but don’t.  Let him beat you with his baton.  Let him turn the hose on you.  Let him sick his dogs on you.  The state is a violent institution.  All of its violations of natural law and of your natural rights are enforced by the guns of government.  Let people see the violence inherent in the system.  Let them see that the state violently attacks the nonviolent.

Nonviolent civil disobedience was very effective in our fight against government-enforced segregation and Jim Crow in the ’60s, and it can be just as effective against the state at large.

Conclusion

Mr. Darrin Knode holding a poster he designed

Unfortunately for V, his tactics will not bring about anarchy.  They will, likely, only bring about chaos instead, out of which another state shall rise.

V correctly recognises that chaos is not anarchy.  Chaos is what breaks out after V destroys the state’s audio and visual surveillance divisions, called “the Ear” and “the Eye” respectively.  When Eve asks V if the rioting and uproar is anarchy, V responds that it is not, that “[w]ith anarchy comes an age of ordnung, of true order, which is to say voluntary order” (p. 195).

Unfortunately, V’s tactics would likely only lead to further authoritarianism on the part of the state if tried in the real world.  The state would twist the facts and use the situation as an excuse for further crackdowns on individual liberty.  And even if the vigilante is successful in throwing off the shackles of the state, the people, being unknowledgeable about liberty, would, just as Benjamin Tucker feared, assume that order could only come from the establishment of yet another state.

A far better method for revolution would be the agorist method of engaging in counter-economics.  Agorism is a revolutionary libertarian approach to abolishing the state by systematically depriving the state of funds, its lifeblood, while building the alternative institutions we wish to see replace the state now, rather than waiting for the state to be smashed before building said alternative institutions.  Its method of doing this is through supporting the black and grey markets while eschewing the white and red markets, building up the voluntary institutions and organisations operating on the black market until the point where the state, being weakened, can be eliminated just like any other criminal gang.  This method does not require mass education of the public as the public will simply adapt to the new institutions as they become available.  At least, that’s how the theory goes.  In any event, unlike V’s revolutionary tactics, this method is proactive in that its users don’t just wait around for alternative institutions to form, they go about building the foundation of their free society now.