Libertarians are a motley crew of rebels, but we all share in common skepticism or outright hatred of power — particularly government power. Within the Libertarian movement, expect to encounter either one of two different subspecies:
Minarchists, who advocate for the smallest government possible, a State that exists only to protect the individual rights of the people. Basically, a “nightwatchman” State;
Anarchists, who advocate for the complete abolition of government in favor of private businesses and charities, which will fulfill the services formerly run by the government.
Today, I will address minarchy, why it is virtually impossible, and why anarchy is the only solution.
Most Libertarians identify as minarchists. These are the type that most likely fashion themselves as “realists.” Anarchists, on the other hand, are the minority, but we’re a emboldened, radical minority that is swiftly gaining ground. In fact, it’s my hunch that, if you could sit down with a mainstream minarcho-Libertarian over coffee for several hours and show them that it is possible not simply to shrink the State, but to exist totally without it, it’s nearly certain that they will become an anarchist. Most anarchists, including myself, begin our intellectual journeys as minarchists who just didn’t know that there is an alternative. There’s even a running joke among anarchists, and it goes like this:
“Hey, what’s the difference between a libertarian and an anarchist?”
“I don’t know, what?”
Given enough time alone in a room with a bookshelf full of Rothbard or Friedman, any reasonable minarchists should be eventually convinced by the idea of a stateless society. Minarchists reason that a large government is dangerous, so a smaller government must be better. They find themselves in a never-ending quest of chipping the government down in radioactive half-lives, from 100 percent, to 50 percent, to 25 percent, 12.5 percent, 6.7, trimming and dieting the State down until it is a lean, mean governing machine. A minarchist would be thrilled to see a continental government small enough to fit inside of a village courthouse.
From here it should follow that, if the smallest government possible is the best government, then why not settle for no government at all?
Yet if you propose anarchy to anyone in the mainstream libertarian movement, the idea of transitioning from a miro-government to no government is damned as an apocalyptic, intellectual blasphemy that induces a paroxysm of incoherent, lip-frothing, violent condemnation rivaling that of proto-Communist Social Justice Warriors in their fervency for State power. One would think by their caustic reaction that, without government, rape would be rampant, thieves would plunder and kill, the sun would blacken in the sky and swarms of demonic locusts would devour the human race.
“Anarchy is a utopian philosophy,” so we are told. “It is a dangerous, insane idea. A small government is great, but it’s just simply impossible to organize a society at all without even the merest shadow of a State.”
One of the most trite and infuriating accusations against anarchy is that always fails — whenever a government collapses, anarchy ends up failing and giving way to a new government.
Did the pot just call the kettle black? When was the last time a small government remained small and didn’t abuse its power over its own populace?
The idea of a self-controlled, limited government should be tucked into a dusty shelf, to be studied merely as a curious relic of an ancient and barbaric past alongside such myths as the Garden of Eden, Asgard and El Dorado. It is an ancient and absurd fairytale. No government in history has ever remained within the cage it was locked. When power is fed, it will always find a way to grow and to escape.
Two hundred years ago, the Founding Fathers established the American government based upon every minarchist principle in the book, from John Locke’s conception of laws that enforce justice rather than break it, to Montesquieu’s political doctrine of a governing entity bound by an elaborate system of checks and balances. No Enlightenment philosopher could have drafted a superior code of law than the United States Constitution.
That dream died the day that it began with the Whiskey Rebellion, when President Washington sent the new continental army to crush the militia risen up against the first tax on a domestic product. It died a little more eighty years later, when this federal government waged a war against half of its own states in a war of unprecedented brutality and slaughter. Before the Civil War, the old national government played a very minimal role; most affairs were settled on the state or local levels of government. There was no national banking system and no tax system. When the war broke out, it resulted in the drafting and murder of 600,000 young white men and many millions, more than one million more casualties and left in its wake a billowing pall of destruction of a scale that no previous war had ever seen in history. The Lincoln administration abandoned the gold standard, seized the economy and mobilized it for battle, and the federal government has never since loosened its tentacled clutches. When the dust settled, there emerged a transfer of political power to the capitalists and industrialists of the North. The act of political secession was declared illegal. The modern nation state was thus born.
Now, it is dead and rotting. The federal government all but rears its subjects from the cradle and sets them down into the grave. A massive Social Security program that is all but bankrupt. A warmongering military-industrial complex. An inflation-driven economy poised to collapse. A public school education system that brainwashes and infantilizes children. It is a natural law of the universe: a small government never stays small. Thus is the tragic tale of American history.
Yet the delusion of a small, self-controlled government persists. Its survival is owed to the mysterious, quasi-mystical, nearly indefinable concepts for which government is defended — the State, we are told, exists to ensure “public safety,” or to benefit “the good of the people,” or for “the general welfare.” What these notions actually mean and how exactly they are enforced, is entirely up to whoever is in power and who is voting for that power. And that’s the whole crux of the problem…
That perfect, small government will be established, but after the old generation which spilled its blood and battled for that liberty passes, a new generation arises with no memory, no caution and a slightly more generous conception of these principles. “National defense” justifies the State unleashing its army in a pre-emptive war of aggression against another State. “The general welfare” justifies the coercive redistribution of wealth and the regulation of the economy in favor of a privileged elite. “Public safety” justifies wire-tapping the phone lines, limiting civilian firearms and an overbearing police force. The very core of the Constitution, that “all men are created equal,” suddenly justifies imposing a litany of federal programs to achieve gender and racial quotas in schools, courts and companies.
As the truth of liberty is twisted and warped over the fires of hyper-compassion and social justice, we will one day wake up to find that the State has morally justified its conquest of every aspect of human life. We will be encompassed in the smothering embrace of our loving Big Brother, and it will all be done for what we’ll be told is our own good.
The State feeds upon abstractions. It will eventually twist the vague conceptions of justice it is meant to protect in order to imperialize our lives. In this respect, I find the State to be a mystical entity, assuming itself as the conclusion to any mystery in the universe that Science nor Philosophy cannot yet grasp. The State, for materialists, is that mysterious “God of the gaps.”
Then there is that trite metaphor among Statists, this romanticizing of government by likening it to a beautiful garden — in order to reap the bountiful harvest of justice, must necessarily be weeded from time to time. The trimming of the hedges of the hierarchy is a sweaty, painful yet acceptable burden if there is to be order in society.
Or what about the popular idea that the government is like a car? If the car is broken, then electing a new driver every four years is never going to make it run again. One requires a mechanic (a democratic socialist with an awful haircut, no doubt) to repair the vehicle.
Anarchists are the “purest” of libertarians. Perhaps we are the only true Libertarians. We have taken the Non-Aggression Principle to its ultimate end — if the initiation of force is always immoral, except in self-defense, it means that the State is forever a contradiction of that principle and must be abolished. The State cannot survive without feeding from the tax money of its subjects. Taxation is theft and violates the principle of non-aggression — even if we are given roads and libraries in return. Anarchists do not compromise.
Minarchists have the problem of squabbling amongst themselves the size of an acceptable government. Anarchy is absolute. We are united in the single consensus that there is only one acceptable size for government. That is, zero.
Anarchists do not owe an explanation as to what force of order will replace the State, though we have many answers. The very idea of a controlled government is purely utopian. For all the reasons that anarchy is dismissed as insane and impossible, so a limited and controlled State can be dismissed as well.
We have tried government, and government has failed. Anarchy has yet to be tried.
Some excellent further reading:
“Can Government Really Be Limited?” by Chris Pacia
Limited Government, An Impossible Dream by John Sampson
Limited Government: The Impossible Dream by Bill Buppert