Where Not To Throw Stones

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There seems
to be a big blind spot in Lew Rockwell’s otherwise superbly written
in which he castigates what he calls “Regime Libertarians”
for misleading the Libertarian Party from their quarters in the
Watergate Complex in D.C. His well-made argument is that that leadership
has been infected by “Beltway Brain” and has ended up offering to
the political power base “solutions” which draw little from their
supposedly libertarian roots, so as to curry its favor and influence.
I think he’s quite right – in fact, I fear he’s understated the
problem, and that departure from principle has affected LP members,
not just leaders – but unfortunately, it seems to me he has fallen
into a directly comparable error himself.

Here’s the
problem: Mr Rockwell reasons that while government should never
be seen as a possible source of liberty (amen!) he adds that
“Laissez-Faire Libertarianism can be anarchist of course, but
it can also hold the view that the state is necessary to intervene
in conflicts over property rights and personal crime…” –
so expressing the view (albeit, as he says, while “holding one’s
nose”) published first by Thomas Paine that even at its best government
is “but a necessary evil.” Here is minarchism writ plain, and if
I’m not mistaken it has been prominent in the Austrian School since
its get-go.

This ought
to be examined with as much intellectual rigor as he uses on the
LP leaders he critiques; for those who live in glass houses should
take care when throwing stones. The view makes three assertions:

  1. An “evil”
    thing may be “necessary”

  2. The State
    alone may be able to resolve property disputes, and

  3. The State
    alone may be able to deal with personal crime.

I think all
three are rubbish, and here’s why.

A Necessary

I wrote more
extensively here
on this, but the very idea is ludicrous. How
can anything necessary for the betterment of human society ever
possibly be evil? How can evil ever be necessary? – only by assuming,
as perhaps Paine did like most of his contemporaries, that humans
are themselves intrinsically evil! That ugly doctrine of “original
sin” stems of course from Judeo-Christian mythology and is long
past-due for burial.

Evil happens,
as I see it, only when a person (or group) holds power over another.
True, that can happen to any power-holder so it might be said that
humans all have the potential for doing evil; but that potential
can readily be de-fused by never handing anyone such power!

A large part
of the argument for a free society is its moral aspect; freedom
not only works, but also freedom is right. Freedom alone
respects the individual and leaves him to take his own decisions.
Yet minarchists, with support here from Lew Rockwell, want us to
suppose that evil is necessary to produce good. Nonsense! A proper,
rational basis for ethics can be derived only from the freedom principle
that each human owns him or herself; so to suppose that the contrary
is needed even in small part, for its survival, would be irrational
and contradictory.


A small child
may throw tantrums when prevented from appropriating another child’s
toys. Is this an example of original sin rearing its head? – not
at all. She would just be exercising her natural instinct to acquire
(without which there would be no human race) before it had been
refined by reason, namely that property rights spring from universal

That vital
concept can be readily understood by the age of 5, so government
agents and other thieves have simply never matured beyond the moral
age of, say, 2.

The notion
that government, which is far and away the biggest violator of property
rights, could ever be considered as a candidate for resolving property
disputes simply boggles the mind. We might wonder whether Mr Rockwell,
for all his many and great contributions to the cause of freedom,
has lost his marbles.

A “necessity”
would arise only if no other way could be proposed, to resolve property
disputes; yet for Rockwell to imply that is clearly false. As he
must well know, they could be resolved readily enough in a free
society by free-market courts and arbitrators; that has been explored
by many authors including David Friedman in his Machinery
of Freedom.
Some may for some reason dislike those methods,
but it just cannot be credibly alleged that they do not or could
not exist, so making the State the only alternative. Indeed some
of them, according to Bruce Benson’s The
Enterprise of Law
already exist.


In a free-market
society, as Mr Rockwell must again surely know, crime as such would
not exist because by definition “crime” is the breaking of a government
law. If there are no laws, there can be no crimes. Of course, that
would not stop the violation of rights by those currently called
“criminals," so we must show how a free society would tend to do
that – but only after using the correct terminology. The bad guy
would be an “aggressor” or a “violator of rights.”

Once again,
it must be said that the State is far and away the most massive
violator of rights that has ever been seen, so it is as insane and
immoral as appointing foxes to guard a henhouse to suggest that
it have any role whatever in reducing such violations by others.
To “set a thief to catch a thief” is not a serious design principle
for an important aspect of human society.

in a free society would face a justice system that, being comprised
of entrepreneurs motivated by profit, would be incomparably more
efficient than the present or any future government monopoly. Government
now detects only a minority of even the most egregious of aggressions
– murder; whereas the profit motive would drive professional
detectors to maximize success in the hunt business. Government prostitutes
the trial function by miserably failing to convict all the guilty
and by convicting some of the innocent; knowledge that personal
suits for malfeasance would await an incompetent court company would
ensure that the trial business minimized such errors. Finally the
resolution business would aim actually to right the wrong (the very
definition of “justice”) by causing the aggressor to compensate
his victim – instead of calling on an unaffected third party
to execute vengeance.

The State
“justice” monopoly does not even set out to do that. Instead it
incarcerates the perp, so ruining his life; gives the victim no
more than a “thank you for your testimony," so leaving him unrestituted;
steals from the taxpayer to keep the perp in prison, so committing
a new round of aggression; rewards the lawyers, so enriching a class
of parasites; and gives its judges a pat on the back as if they
had actually done something useful – so helping perpetuate its existence.
To suggest that such a caricature of true justice should even be
considered for continuation, let alone that it is “necessary," clearly
suggests thought that is obscene as well as irrational.


To allow that
“Free Market Libertarianism” might retain the State to operate a
justice system for resolution of personal and property disputes
would be irresponsible, intellectually idle and morally reprehensible.
Minarchism has no proper place in libertarian thought, just as partial
pregnancy is not an option – and what’s left is a zero-government
society, or anarchism. There is, as a good friend of mine often
says, “no rational alternative to a free market” – in justice,
as in everything else.

22, 2005

Davies [send him mail] is
a retired businessman in New Hampshire. See his

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