What Would We Do Without Police, Prisons, Surveillance, Borders, Wars, Nukes, and Capitalism? by David Swanson

Abolish the Police sign in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 27, 2020

Image by Lorie Shaull via Flickr

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Let’s Try Democracy, Sept. 27, 2022
October 1, 2022

What would we do in a world lacking police, prisons, surveillance, borders, wars, nuclear weapons, and capitalism? Well, we might survive. We might sustain life on this little blue dot a little longer. That — in contrast to the status quo — ought to be sufficient. We might, in addition, do a lot more than sustain life. We might transform the lives of billions of people including each person reading these words. We might have lives with less fear and worry, more joy and accomplishment, more control and cooperation.

But, of course, the question I began with might be asked in the sense of “Wouldn’t the criminals get us, and the forces of law and order be imperiled, and evildoers take away our freedoms, and sloth and laziness deprive us of updated phone models every few months?”

I recommend, as a way to begin answering that concern, reading a new book by Ray Acheson called Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages.

This tremendous resource surveys the seven different candidates for abolition in my opening question. In each of seven chapters, Acheson looks into the origins and history of each institution, the problems with it, the faulty beliefs that support it, the harm it does, the harm it does to particular groups of people, what to do about, and how it overlaps and interacts with the other six practices whose time has come and really needs to go.

As this book is of a reasonable length, there’s only so much on what to do about each institution, how to get rid of it, what to replace it with. And there’s very little explicit responses to typical counter-arguments from the unconvinced. But the real strength of this book is the richness of the investigation into how the seven systems interact with each other. This strengthens each case in a rare manner — principally because most authors of books about domestic reforms try to pretend that wars and militarism and weapons and their funding do not exist. Here we get a thorough case for abolition radically and surprisingly improved by dropping that pretense. The cumulative impact of the several arguments may also strengthen the power of each one to persuade — provided that the unpersuaded reader keeps reading.

In part, this is a book about the militarization of police, the militarization of incarceration, etc., but also about the capitalization of war, the warification of borders, the surveillancification of capitalism, and so on. From the failures of police reforms to the incompatibility of predatory capitalism with terrestrial ecosystems, the case for ending, not mending, rotten structures and ways of thinking piles up.

I’d like to have seen a bit more on what works to reduce crime, and on acts like murder that, unless they are eliminated, really can’t be redefined into something non-concerning. I think Acheson makes an important point in stressing that a transformation will involve experimentation and failures along the way. This is even more so when we consider that it will be resisted and sabotaged at every step. Still, the chapter on police could have used a bit on how to handle inevitable emergencies, most of which it’s pretty easy, I think, to show people are better handled without police. But there is a great deal here on what to do, including on the demilitarization of police, which many of us are working on.

The survey chapter includes a wonderful survey of the problem, though less on what to do about it or what to do instead of it. But readers who’ve already understood the problems with police should be able to understand that we don’t need to empower police with surveillance.

The case for open borders may be the most needed, least understood, by the most readers, and it’s very well done:

“Opening borders means opening them for labor, which will strengthen protections for people and planet, and it means opening them for human rights, which will improve the lives of all.”

At least if done right!

Maybe the best chapters are those on war and nukes (the latter technically being a part of war, but one that it is critical and timely that we address).

There are, of course, people who want to work very hard for the abolition of one or more of these things while adamantly insisting on maintaining the others. We need to welcome those people into those campaigns they can support. There’s no reason one can’t abolish any one without the other six. There’s no reason to place any one upon a pedestal and declare its abolition necessary for the others. But there are systems of thinking and acting that cannot be abolished without abolishing all seven. There are changes that can best be made by abolishing all seven. And if we can unite more of those who favor abolition of some of these into a coalition for the abolition of all of them, we will be stronger together.

This list of books keeps growing.


Abolishing State Violence: A World Beyond Bombs, Borders, and Cages by Ray Acheson, 2022.
Against War: Building a Culture of Peace 
by Pope Francis, 2022.
Ethics, Security, and The War-Machine: The True Cost of the Military by Ned Dobos, 2020.
Understanding the War Industry by Christian Sorensen, 2020.
No More War by Dan Kovalik, 2020.
Strength Through Peace: How Demilitarization Led to Peace and Happiness in Costa Rica, and What the Rest of the World Can Learn from a Tiny Tropical Nation, by Judith Eve Lipton and David P. Barash, 2019.
Social Defence by Jørgen Johansen and Brian Martin, 2019.
Murder Incorporated: Book Two: America’s Favorite Pastime by Mumia Abu Jamal and Stephen Vittoria, 2018.
Waymakers for Peace: Hiroshima and Nagasaki Survivors Speak by Melinda Clarke, 2018.
Preventing War and Promoting Peace: A Guide for Health Professionals edited by William Wiist and Shelley White, 2017.
The Business Plan For Peace: Building a World Without War by Scilla Elworthy, 2017.
War Is Never Just by David Swanson, 2016.
A Global Security System: An Alternative to War by World Beyond War, 2015, 2016, 2017.
A Mighty Case Against War: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now by Kathy Beckwith, 2015.
War: A Crime Against Humanity by Roberto Vivo, 2014.
Catholic Realism and the Abolition of War by David Carroll Cochran, 2014.
War and Delusion: A Critical Examination by Laurie Calhoun, 2013.
Shift: The Beginning of War, the Ending of War by Judith Hand, 2013.
War No More: The Case for Abolition by David Swanson, 2013.
The End of War by John Horgan, 2012.
Transition to Peace by Russell Faure-Brac, 2012.
From War to Peace: A Guide To the Next Hundred Years by Kent Shifferd, 2011.
War Is A Lie by David Swanson, 2010, 2016.
Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace by Douglas Fry, 2009.
Living Beyond War by Winslow Myers, 2009.
Enough Blood Shed: 101 Solutions to Violence, Terror, and War by Mary-Wynne Ashford with Guy Dauncey, 2006.
Planet Earth: The Latest Weapon of War by Rosalie Bertell, 2001.
Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence by Myriam Miedzian, 1991.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include Leaving World War II Behind (2020), Curing Exceptionalism: What’s wrong with how we think about the United States? What can we do about it? (2018) and War Is A Lie (2010; 2nd Ed. 2016). He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee and U.S. Peace Prize Recipient. Support David’s work.

From the archives:

Interview with Chris Hedges: The Greatest Evil is War

PSL Editorial: Democrats Deepen Embrace of the Cops with Police Funding Bills

David Swanson, et al: How to Get to a World BEYOND War + Why Abolish War, by David Swanson

The “American Experiment” Is Dying. What Will Replace It? by Rainer Shea

William I. Robinson: Capitalism’s Structural Crisis and the Global Revolt

The Chris Hedges Report: Breaking the Cycle of American Violence, with James Gilligan

Will Griffin: Origins of the Modern Surveillance State

Police Are a Lie, by David Swanson

Geo Maher: A World Without Police + Nonviolence and Restorative Justice (Must-see)

Abolishing Police and Abolishing Militaries, by David Swanson

David Swanson and Greta Zarro: How to Demilitarize Police

3 thoughts on “What Would We Do Without Police, Prisons, Surveillance, Borders, Wars, Nukes, and Capitalism? by David Swanson

  1. Pingback: Ralph Nader: Big Tech Spying – Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: Chris Hedges Is Right: The Greatest Evil Is War, by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  3. Pingback: Playing Games with Armageddon, by Robert C. Koehler – Dandelion Salad

Please add to the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s