Libertarian Forum, Vol. 10, No. 7, July 1977.
have been ruminating recently on what are the crucial questions
that divide libertarians. Some that have received a lot of attention
in the last few years are: anarcho-capitalism vs. limited government,
abolitionism vs. gradualism, natural rights vs. utilitarianism,
and war vs. peace. But I have concluded that as important as these
questions are, they don't really cut to the nub of the issue,
of the crucial dividing line between us.
us take, for example, two of the leading anarcho-capitalist works
of the last few years: my own For
a New Liberty and David Friedman's Machinery
of Freedom. Superficially, the major differences between
them are my own stand for natural rights and for a rational libertarian
law code, in contrast to Friedman's amoralist utilitarianism and
call for logrolling and trade-offs between non-libertarian private
police agencies. But the difference really cuts far deeper. There
runs through For a New Liberty (and most of the rest of
my work as well) a deep and pervasive hatred of the State and
all of its works, based on the conviction that the State is the
enemy of mankind. In contrast, it is evident that David does not
hate the State at all; that he has merely arrived at the conviction
that anarchism and competing private police forces are a better
social and economic system than any other alternative. Or, more
fully, that anarchism would be better than laissez-faire which
in turn is better than the current system. Amidst the entire spectrum
of political alternatives, David Friedman has decided that anarcho-capitalism
is superior. But superior to an existing political structure which
is pretty good too. In short, there is no sign that David Friedman
in any sense hates the existing American State or the State per
se, hates it deep in his belly as a predatory gang of robbers,
enslavers, and murderers. No, there is simply the cool conviction
that anarchism would be the best of all possible worlds, but that
our current set-up is pretty far up with it in desirability. For
there is no sense in Friedman that the State – any
State – is a predatory gang of criminals.
same impression shines through the writing, say, of political
philosopher Eric Mack. Mack is an anarcho-capitalist who believes
in individual rights; but there is no sense in his writings of
any passionate hatred of the State, or, a fortiori, of
any sense that the State is a plundering and bestial enemy.
the word that best defines our distinction is "radical."
Radical in the sense of being in total, root-and-branch opposition
to the existing political system and to the State itself. Radical
in the sense of having integrated intellectual opposition to the
State with a gut hatred of its pervasive and organized system
of crime and injustice. Radical in the sense of a deep commitment
to the spirit of liberty and anti-statism that integrates reason
and emotion, heart and soul.
in contrast to what seems to be true nowadays, you don't have
to be an anarchist to be radical in our sense, just as you can
be an anarchist while missing the radical spark. I can think of
hardly a single limited governmentalist of the present day who
is radical – a truly amazing phenomenon, when we think of
our classical liberal forbears who were genuinely radical, who
hated statism and the States of their day with a beautifully integrated
passion: the Levellers, Patrick Henry, Tom Paine, Joseph Priestley,
the Jacksonians, Richard Cobden, and on and on, a veritable roll
call of the greats of the past. Tom Paine's radical hatred of
the State and statism was and is far more important to the cause
of liberty than the fact that he never crossed the divide between
laissez-faire and anarchism.
closer to our own day, such early influences on me as Albert Jay
Nock, H. L. Mencken, and Frank Chodorov were magnificently and
superbly radical. Hatred of "Our
Enemy, the State" (Nock's title) and all of its works
shone through all of their writings like a beacon star. So what
if they never quite made it all the way to explicit anarchism?
Far better one Albert Nock than a hundred anarcho-capitalists
who are all too comfortable with the existing status quo.
are the Paines and Cobdens and Nocks of today? Why are almost
all of our laissez-faire limited governmentalists plonky conservatives
and patriots? If the opposite of "radical" is "conservative,"
where are our radical laissez-fairists? If our limited statists
were truly radical, there would be virtually no splits between
us. What divides the movement now, the true division, is not anarchist
vs. minarchist, but radical vs. conservative. Lord, give us radicals,
be they anarchists or no.
carry our analysis further, radical anti-statists are extremely
valuable even if they could scarcely be considered libertarians
in any comprehensive sense. Thus, many people admire the work
of columnists Mike Royko and Nick von Hoffman because they consider
these men libertarian sympathizers and fellow-travelers. That
they are, but this does not begin to comprehend their true importance.
For throughout the writings of Royko and von Hoffman, as inconsistent
as they undoubtedly are, there runs an all-pervasive hatred of
the State, of all politicians, bureaucrats, and their clients
which, in its genuine radicalism, is far truer to the underlying
spirit of liberty than someone who will coolly go along with the
letter of every syllogism and every lemma down to the "model"
of competing courts.
the concept of radical vs. conservative in our new sense, let
us analyze the now famous "abolitionism" vs. "gradualism"
debate. The latter jab comes in the August issue of Reason
(a magazine every fiber of whose being exudes "conservatism"),
in which editor Bob Poole asks Milton Friedman where he stands
on this debate. Freidman takes the opportunity of denouncing the
"intellectual cowardice" of failing to set forth "feasible"
methods of getting "from here to there." Poole and Friedman
have between them managed to obfuscate the true issues. There
is not a single abolitionist who would not grab a feasible method,
or a gradual gain, if it came his way. The difference is that
the abolitionist always holds high the banner of his ultimate
goal, never hides his basic principles, and wishes to get to his
goal as fast as humanly possible. Hence, while the abolitionist
will accept a gradual step in the right direction if that is all
that he can achieve, he always accepts it grudgingly, as merely
a first step toward a goal which he always keeps blazingly clear.
The abolitionist is a "button pusher" who would blister
his thumb pushing a button that would abolish the State immediately,
if such a button existed. But the abolitionist also knows that
alas, such a button does not exist, and that he will take
a bit of the loaf if necessary – while always preferring
the whole loaf if he can achieve it.
should be noted here that many of Milton's most famous "gradual"
programs such as the voucher plan, the negative income tax, the
withholding tax, fiat paper money – are gradual (or even
not so gradual) steps in the wrong direction, away
from liberty, and hence the militance of much libertarian opposition
to these schemes.
button-pushing position stems from the abolitionist's deep and
abiding hatred of the State and its vast engine of crime and oppression.
With such an integrated world-view, the radical libertarian could
never dream of confronting either a magic button or any real-life
problem with some arid cost-benefit calculation. He knows that
the State must be diminished as fast and as completely as possible.
that is why the radical libertarian is not only an abolitionist,
but also refuses to think in such terms as a Four Year Plan for
some sort of stately and measured procedure for reducing the State.
The radical – whether he be anarchist or laissez-faire –
cannot think in such terms as, e.g.: Well, the first year, we'll
cut the income tax by 2%, abolish the ICC, and cut the minimum
wage; the second year we'll abolish the minimum wage, cut the
income tax by another 2%, and reduce welfare payments by 3%, etc.
The radical cannot think in such terms, because the radical regards
the State as our mortal enemy, which must be hacked away at wherever
and whenever we can. To the radical libertarian, we must take
any and every opportunity to chop away at the State, whether it's
to reduce or abolish a tax, a budget appropriation, or a regulatory
power. And the radical libertarian is insatiable in this appetite
until the State has been abolished, or – for minarchists
– dwindled down to a tiny, laissez-faire role.
people have wondered: Why should there be any important political
disputes between anarcho-capitalists and minarchists now?
In this world of statism, where there is so much common ground,
why can't the two groups work in complete harmony until we shall
have reached a Cobdenite world, after which we can air our disagreements?
Why quarrel over courts, etc. now? The answer to this excellent
question is that we could and would march hand-in-hand in this
way if the minarchists were radicals, as they were from the birth
of classical liberalism down to the 1940s. Give us back the antistatist
radicals, and harmony would indeed reign triumphant within the
N. Rothbard (1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic vice
president of the Mises Institute.
He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell — of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor. See