Anarchy, that is the absence of rulers (not rules!), is a very attractive institutional arrangement. It would be the ultimate state of freedom for humanity. I have many friends and there are many intellectuals I respect who are anarchists, and I am highly sympathetic to their cause. However, I am not an anarchist for the simple reason of property rights. Property rights, which are the key to exchange and prosperity, cannot exist in anarchy.
A property right is an enforceable claim. This means the claim must be 1) legitimate and 2) enforceable. If, for example, I claim I am the rightful heir to the throne of the Roman Empire (in other words, the throne and all its rights are my property), and I can prove it somehow, the claim is not a valid property right. It is unenforceable since the Roman Empire doesn’t exist any more.
In anarchy, how would rights be legitimized and enforced? A standard answer is through agreements: I build my home on a plot of land, you build your home on a neighboring plot, and we both agree where our boundaries will lie. An outside arbitrator can resolve any disputes (provided both parties accept the legitimacy of the arbitrator).
That’s all well and good, but what about competing claims? Let’s go back to our earlier example. You and I have our separate agreements. Unbeknownst to us, another neighbor is concluding an agreement with a person which gives him a title to land which encapsulates elements of our lands. Naturally, this would lead to some kind of conflict, which will revolve around the answer to the question: whose claim is legitimate? Is our claim legitimate because we concluded our agreement first? Is our neighbor’s claim legitimate because her family has hunted on that land for generations? It’s a tricky question with no right answer. The situation may be able to be resolved with an agreement (like before) but it provides us no clear answer on what a legitimate claim is. In fact, since any two claims would need to go to some kind of arbitration, a person could easily game the system: with no clear delineation of what makes a title legitimate, a person could claim rights for all kinds of things and, when challenged, leave with some kind of payment, whether or not he had a reasonable claim in the first place. I strongly suspect such a system would lead to anarchy without rules.
Without some kind of uniform understanding of property titles (what makes a claim legitimate), property rights aren’t worth anything. There needs to be some uniform standard, agreed upon by all*, that determines who owns what and documents such claims (to prevent fraud and make it easy for newcomers to see ownership). Furthermore, to prevent defection or gaming, this standard would need to be enforced. Whatever body develops and enforces these titles is, in a literal sense of the word, a government; they govern property rights.
At this point, I want to be perfectly clear: I am not arguing property rights originate with a government. In our above example, we see the rights originate from natural use (hunting) or from contract between two people. In other words, property rights derive from natural use of the property (the use of its resources), or from contractional use. Neither of these were created by the state, simply legitimized and enforced according to the will of the participants.
Property rights are a deep and confusing issue spanning multiple disciplines: economics, law, political sciences, history. The writings in this post will not, indeed should not, be accepted by everybody. This is merely my explanation on why I am not an anarchist.
*When I say “agreed upon by all,” I am using the phrase in the Rousseau/Buchanan sense: members of a group are presumed to agree to the conditions under which they live so long as they 1) have freedom of movement and 2) dwell within its borders.