Attack of the 50-Foot Minarchist

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In response to my Libertarian Cheat Sheet I got a series of long, winding, condescending, occasionally pompous and, frankly, somewhat angry e-mails from a person I have to assume was a minarchist. He had a rather large number of pat complaints against the points I made, the authors I cited, and LewRockwell.com in general. This guy even gave me grief when I asked him — after two L-O-N-G emails — to start using his name versus sniping at me anonymously! (You cannot make this stuff up.) One of his most vociferous complaints was how no "real" minarchist — like, well, him I reckon — seemed to be able to get anything published on LRC. (He forgot Ron Paul.)

Despite this guy's tactlessness, several of the points he raised (some of them repeatedly) deserve further emphasis. And since he seemed so disappointed by the long series of personal effronteries he had supposedly endured, I figured I could "kill two birds with one stone" with this piece.

One, I can publish some of his pet premises, since he is far from the only person to come at me with them. Two, by answering these oft-recited fallacies, I can — hopefully — help others who still believe them. (More likely, I can provide a ready reference to those who have to answer these objections over and over and over again.) As a bonus, my respondent will, through me, get some of his "insights" published here at LRC. Three for the price of one! Wherever possible, I have opted to provide extensive quotes and links from pre-existing libertarian scholarship that addresses these objections. In this way, the reader can examine each of these issues in greater detail as time allows. (Or not.) To-wit:

Complaint #1: Using "libertarian" to mean "anarchist" or where one should use anarcho-capitalist is confusing (as in confusion with those who smashed windows at the WTO gathering in Seattle, WA a few years ago).

I defined market anarchism in three separate articles, culminating with the piece in question. However, I do not actually worry that a libertarian (in the purest sense) and an anarcho-capitalist are all that different anyway. It seems to me that a lot of people want to call themselves libertarians when they really are not. I, like Anthony Gregory, am a proponent of libertarian purity. I favor what Walter Block would refer to as "plumb line libertarianism," i.e., not conservative or liberal, but based directly upon the non-aggression axiom, and all it conveys. It is high time for people to stop trying to water down libertarianism so that the mainstream might better accept it.

Further, and at the risk of seeming condescending, it is simply ignorant and/or naïve to think that the quasi-famous vandals in Seattle were legitimate examples of anarchists or that they exemplify what would happen if the government ceased to exist. It is disingenuous to imply so. I will address this "warlords-will-take-over" objection further below. There are, for anyone who is interested, many places from which one can obtain further information regarding the definitions of phrases such as Market Anarchism. A list, although certainly not exhaustive would include:

For my purposes, I think this definition from Stefan Molyneux's "Market Anarchism: Are You Guys Crazy or Just Nuts" is as good as any. He defines Market Anarchism as:

"… a broad term referring to the theory that voluntary free market relationships can — and should — replace all existing coercive state relationships. It is derived from taking the principle of the non-initiation of force to its ultimate conclusion, and accepting that if using violence is wrong for one person, then it is wrong for every person. If stealing is wrong for me as a private citizen, then it is also wrong for everyone — including those in the u2018government'."

Complaint #2: You speak a lot about morals, but you must know that we all have or could have different morals and when my morals differ significantly enough, the only option is to abridge my freedom or become a relativist.

I am not sure if this is really a complaint or not. Since I am not sure how I could be described as a relativist, I guess the only thing I can say is "yes." I'm quite comfortable abridging the freedom of those who infringe on the liberty of others, or more importantly, seeking a more effective punishment — hopefully one that provides the victim with repayment and society with benefit. The current prison system does little of either. As an aside, I don't even know what a "relativist" is, and I don't care enough to complete a Google search to figure it out.

More generally though, when I speak of morals, it is generally when I use the argument from morality, which, not surprisingly, I defined a couple of times as well. When I speak of morals in that sense, it is about the absolute fact that all people are of the same species and as such, cannot opt to treat others differently than they themselves wish to be treated, unless they are claiming a moral superiority where none can reasonably be shown to exist.

Complaint #3: The solutions proposed by market anarchists will result in a police state worst than the one we already have.

Let me amplify this objection by further quoting my respondent:

"The ultimate result of the kind of stateless society spoken of by Molyneux, and the DROs upon which it is based, would be people being forced into some small space at the point of a gun until they starve or sign some agreement to join a DRO — involving constant surveillance and controls on behavior that would make a sharia society blush. If this is what you would exchange or advocate, I question your love of liberty."

He went on to say:

"If you consider it [Market Anarchism] better than statism or really don’t care one day if you have to get daily body cavity searches and drug screens by your DRO, please say so in one of your articles (One lucky feature of the state is inefficiency — even at tyranny and oppression; the last thing I would want is to be oppressed with market efficiency)."

Either this guy hadn't actually read any of the many essays available on how anarchy would affect the amount of violence in society, or he's just a slow learner. Using Molyneux's own analysis from "Violence, Anarchy and the State" to address the point that my respondent evidently does not understand, we have:

"There are several circumstances under which violence will tend to increase, rather than decrease — and interestingly enough, a centralized state creates and exacerbates all such circumstances."

Molyneux continues, "thus we can see that the existence of a centralized state creates the following problems in regards to violence:

  1. The use of violence tends to increase when the risks of using that violence decreases;
  2. The risks of using violence tends to decrease as the disparity of power increases;
  3. There is no greater disparity of power than that between a citizen and his government;
  4. Therefore there is no better way to increase the use of violence than to create a centralized political state."

Exactly! For the State, and generally for only the State, the risks of using violence are passed on to those who pay for it against their will and away from those who facilitate said violence. When you don't have to pay the cost of violence, you tend to use it more frequently. No one pays a lower cost for such violence than the State. Conversely, when that cost is incurred immediately, the propensity to embrace violence is reduced.

To further amplify this point however, let me again quote Molyneux directly, in a message he posted over at the Freedomain Radio Forum, where he says:

"You can always choose to live without DRO's — but if DRO's are inexpensive, moral and effective agencies, then refusing to deal with them probably doesn’t paint too good a picture of you, and your economic life will be greatly crippled. [However] if DRO’s become problematic, then it won’t be considered so bad to live without them. That’s how a real balance of power is maintained!"

In other words, if DRO's start to become corrupt "mini-states," since they are voluntary, we can opt out. Try that with the State and you'll be sharing a cell with a guy named Bubba. (Don't drop the soap.) It is in fact, axiomatic that the voluntary nature of a DRO is exactly keeps it from becoming too powerful. It must meet its customers' needs and simultaneously interact with other DRO's in a way that maximizes profit. This is counter to the model of the State, where all are required to participate and no market pressure to please one's customers exists.

Complaint #4: No one has produced an example of a "stable anarchy" and, until they do, assuming that Market Anarchism is a reasonable possibility is hubris.

My respondent had the gall to say:

"If the reason you support MA is because you consider the market would result in a more moral result, you must be engaging in the same hubris in describing even in this narrow way what the market would do in place of the state."

I apologize in advance for saying so, but this is a moronic objection. I'm frankly a little tired of hearing minarchists, some of them apparently very learned, espouse this kind of stuff. Even if one completely ignores the example of Iceland, where an anarchic society existed for something like 300 years (yes, three hundred years), he doesn't have to look all that far. If one wants other examples of stable anarchy, he only has to look in one place — everywhere! I contend that every government, every State ever conceived, up to and including the United States, exists in perpetual anarchy. This is based upon two unassailable facts, which are:

  1. All government hierarchies eventuate with people "at the top" who answer to no one but themselves.
  2. All societies are composed of people who interact based upon unwritten laws that almost everyone, with a few notable exceptions, seems to follow without enforcement.

Let us examine these two points in detail, and let us take our time because this is vital. I have, on multiple occasions, linked papers by others that attempt to lay out these issues. (See: "What is Anarchy?" and "Do We Ever Get Out of Anarchy?" and "What It Means to Be An Anarcho-Capitilist.") Each of these papers puts context around the premise that we inhabit a society that is more anarchic than many believe.

A more important, and misunderstood point is this. Any rational and unsentimental analysis of the "highest law in the land" — the U.S. Constitution — shows that it binds no one and never did. But I didn't discover that, other people much sharper than I did. (See: "The Constitution of No Authority" and "Spooner And Beyond.") Certainly we all believe that if the State followed the constraints of the Constitution, many, many negative consequences would go away. Given that the attempts of those in power to circumvent constitutional constraints began approximately with the second presidential election ever held in the U.S., if not sooner, it probably does not make much sense for anyone to hold his breath in the interim.

The first fact listed above is easy to illustrate. What over-riding force keeps the U.S. government from posting soldiers in any neighborhood they wish, or simply taking any property they deem fit? (Let us for a moment forget about the Kelo decision!) I can hear the answers being screamed out — yes, the Constitution. Of course, and how could I forget? But here's the thing that confuses me. If the government decided to disobey the Constitution, how would we stop them? I mean, sure, we all could recite the Bill of Rights and whatnot, but really, when push came to shove, what really keeps them from just going completely Kim Jung Il on the American public?

Nothing but ethics! Nothing but a set of premises — which I might designate as "morals" — that are only enforced by the sense of right and wrong passed down since time immemorial and followed voluntarily. If that's not anarchy I don't know what is! The "top dogs" of the U.S. government, for better or worse, are the best examples available to illustrate that the abolition of the State would not result in pandemonium. They have no one to stand in their way and yet, here we are, enjoying our HBO and NFL, all snug and secure! (Now certainly, one could argue about the relative lawlessness of the last few administrations, particularly in comparison to the ideal, but that is for another article.)

The second fact is equally easy to illustrate. Ask yourself a couple of questions. What rules govern how you treat the many people with whom you interact daily? Do police and other "law givers" follow you around to make sure you act in a way that supports an orderly society? Of course the answer is no! Each of us has hundreds, if not thousands, of interactions with other people daily and seldom do we need any final arbiter to keep the peace. This is a working example of the spontaneous order that undergirds society.

But furthermore, everyone knows, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that should they desire to do something that infringes upon another person in some way, they are absolutely free to do it. You read that correctly. We all know that if we wanted to steal something from a friend, or eat a full helping out of the bulk containers at our local grocery stores, or consume half a box of cereal in that same place, that nothing would stop us. Furthermore, most of us know for an absolute fact that we can speed — disobeying the traffic laws — almost without concern. And yet, we still act civilly in parking lots, allowing people who signal to obtain a parking spot that we could get to ahead of them if we wished. We walk around in crowed theatres never yelling "Fire!" We retrieve wallets dropped in front of us and chase the owners down to return them. We select the behavior and act voluntarily — almost as if we were, I don't know, deciding how to act without the threat of enforcement!

Before I leave this objection to rot in peace one more subtle distinction needs to be drawn. There are a number of vocal utilitarian libertarians, some of whom would describe themselves as "moderates." While they understand and appreciate the truth of the non-aggression axiom, they also feel that baby steps are what is needed to get our society moving toward kind of freedom that anarcho-capitalists believe will only come when we abolish the State completely. Suffice it to say that this utilitarian point of view is not one to which I subscribe. There are also more than a few essays that address the fallacies of this approach. (See: "The Trouble with Libertarian Activism," and "Atomic Libertarianism is Nonsense.") As he explains why the premise of "atomic libertarianism" is nonsense, Lora says, "A postponement libertarian is an oxymoron." While I agree wholeheartedly, I might be inclined to take off the "oxy" part in my description of this point of view!

Complaint #5: The market does not always work, in fact the market may or may not reward force with a profit or bankruptcy. So we might end up with lots more violence.

My respondent said:

"My minarchist position is that force is never to be encouraged, either by government or the market (and there is a third dimension of non-market volunteer groups like churches, or Linux developers, or the Lions club). There are a small number of people who refuse to forgo the use of force or fraud or other things that disrupt liberty itself, and will only stop upon threat or actual violence. I consider even that an evil, but a necessary and unintended one, much like chemotherapy — most sicknesses can be suffered through, but if the body will be destroyed, strong medicine is justified, but only then."

This is again, a rather typical minarchist complaint. And similar to the point raised in Complaint #3 above, it rests upon both a misunderstanding of the driving forces for violence and a detrimental reliance on the ability of the State to mitigate, versus exacerbate, such violence. Basically, this is yet another restatement of what I call the "warlords-will-take-over" objection.

Roderick Long, in "Anarchism as Constitutionalism," answers this objection when he says:

"The superiority of anarchy over government here lies in the fact that under government the tie between the decision to commit aggression and the cost of that aggression is far weaker than under Market Anarchism. Under a governmental system, the cost of state policies leading to war is borne by taxpayers and conscripts, not by the politicians who crafted those policies. Under Market Anarchism, by contrast, agencies who resolve disputes through violence rather than arbitration will have to charge higher premiums and will thus lose customers."

My respondent also said, "[The] government imposes larger costs which makes rights violations uneconomic." Of course this is a fallacy, since even the simplest logic shows that the State reduces the opportunity cost for violations by the biggest rights violator of all — the State itself. Individuals who wish to violate the rights and property of others is a much more minor concern. Nonetheless Long addresses this issue as well when he says:

"The number of bigots who would be willing to pay to have their own values forcibly imposed is bound to be smaller than the number of bigots who merely advocate such imposition. Talk is cheap. And the few fanatics who are willing to put their money where their mouth is would be easier to deal with under anarchy; you can't arrest people who lobby for government-imposed aggression, but you can arrest people who aggress."

Finally, in attempting to further justify this objection, my respondent said, "Violence is an outgrowth of our fallen nature. We are basically good with evil tendencies." This is apparently a restatement of a Biblical view of human nature to which I do not subscribe. Frankly, no one can make such a statement without appealing to the supernatural. Whether or not mankind is basically good or basically evil, and how much it matters is, in fact, another misconception. People have free will and so are neither "basically good" nor "basically evil." There is no need to presuppose that we are determined by nature or nurture to be one or the other. Our basic nature is not good or evil: it is volitional.

Brad Edmonds addresses this misconception in "Why Abolishing Government Would Not Bring Chaos," when he says:

"Remaining are the u2018human nature' objections to freedom from forcible government. A common protest is that a completely free market requires that u2018people are basically good.' This is not correct; to the contrary, what makes a market work is that people are self-interested."

Indeed. I am not that worried about the goodness of my fellow man, as long as the market rewards him for treating me as he wishes to be treated or the existing structure penalizes him when he does not. And as for those rare folks who do not subscribe to a paradigm of non-aggression: they are effectively uncontrolled regardless of the make-up of the society or the presence of the State. Again, any perceived problem with anarchy would have to be addressed in a minarchic society as well.

Complaint #6: There exists a just right amount of government, which is optimal for allowing liberty for the populace but control for the bad elements in society and from without of our nation.

Again, this misses one very basic fact. If one only has a "small government" there will exist many, many functions currently handled by the State that will have to be handled privately. If private means can handle those things, why would it not be able to handle the remaining few items supposedly reserved for this minarchist state? What makes those remaining functions special?

For example, if the U.S. reverted to the size of government described by the Founders and envisioned by the typical minarchist, I suppose that we would close, at a minimum, the EPA, the FDA, the FCC, the FTC, the FAA, the FRA, the DEA, HUD, the TSA, the NTSB, most of the DOJ, a good chunk of the IRS, and most, if not all, of the ATF. (Okay, maybe we should assume that we'll still need the TSA, because of, you know, all the terrorists.) If all those functions are not necessary, why should I think that the remaining ones, which are just as pervasive, are somehow different? If we still need a department as large as the TSA for a danger that as infinitesimally small as terrorism, what about other issues? Why, for example, isn't protecting the environment from all the self-interested manufacturers just as important?

At some point it becomes clear that either we need an ever-growing list of protection agencies, or we can let the consumer, via the market, handle it by himself. If that works some of the time what logic suggests that it cannot work all of the time? And how do we decide which time is which? And what makes that decision true going forward? And if it's true for all time, won't we simply end up with a growing government that is exactly just like the one we have?

Complaint #7: Market Anarchism provides no authority superior to both the assassin and the victim to say the former is wrong, merely that the market result was that the price/cost/benefit of violence exceed that of protection/security.

Our minarchist friend is making any number of poor assumptions about what does and does happen under Market Anarchism, and frankly, what must happen in a minarchy as well. I would term this the "final arbiter" objection.

Again, we can consult Roderick Long, from "Anarchism as Constitutionalism, Part 2," who could actually be talking to my respondent when he says:

"[He] thinks that Market Anarchism will be chaotic because there's no agency to serve as u2018final arbiter.' But under minarchy, isn't there an analogous problem within the monopoly agency? Unless the government is a dictatorship, there's no one person in the government who can serve as final arbiter. (This is precisely why 17th-century theorists of royal absolutism, like Thomas Hobbes and Robert Filmer, thought that one-man dictatorship was the only stable form of government.) Nor are government officials characterized by unanimity. Yet most of the time government officials are not waging war against one another."

Long continues:

"What matters is institutional structure, with checks and balances and other incentival and informational mechanisms. When minarchists ask what anarchists can rely on to maintain order in an anarchist society, the answer is: the same thing minarchists rely on to maintain order within a minarchic government."

Long completes the point with:

"A u2018final arbiter,' i.e. an agency that refuses to submit its use of force to external adjudication, is by definition lawless; thus anarchy is the completion, not the negation, of the rule of law. Anarchy u2018comes not to destroy but to fulfill the law.'"

While Long's prose certainly handles the logical misunderstandings in this complaint, there is a more basic issue at work in this objection. Simply put, it is false. Market Anarchism is not based on the false hope that all cases of violence will be mitigated because of the profit motive. Such a premise could rightly be classified as lunacy. Furthermore, the existence of anarchy does not suggest that anyone can "opt out" of the system, be he a robber or a victim. In fact, under both anarchy and minarchy it cannot be true that a person is only subject to legal measures to which he has consented. In either case, laws will have to exist and there will have to be consequences for breaking them. It is only in from whom these consequences come that differs in Market Anarchism.

Complaint #8: Market Anarchism relies on property rights, which are not universally agreed or supported.

My respondent said:

"So if I don’t agree that u2018I stole your bike' is true, but u2018I took a bike' is because I don’t believe in private property we have a disagreement. How do you resolve it? Telling a collectivist he stole something is like saying an atheist is guilty of blasphemy – they don’t believe in the offended party."

There are few premises I find more annoying and frankly, ludicrous, than the argument that property rights do not exist. The fact that the people who espouse such theories always seem to actually own things is a clue to the duplicity of the premise. Whenever I speak with such a person, they never seem to get the joke when I ask them to give me their wallet!

While I am being a little facetious here, it is only a little. What I am really doing is providing a much-simplified version of the "reflexive" justification for rights made by Hans-Hermann Hoppe in his seminal discourse on argumentation ethics. Author Stephan Kinsella provides a rather complete working overview of these concepts in his "New Rationalist Directions in Libertarian Rights Theory" paper wherein he presents a summary of Hoppe's concepts, along with his own concept of estoppel with regard to property rights.

Hoppe's view, simplified for presentation here is this. When attempting to convince someone of an error in his thinking, we all, almost without exception, use what Hoppe refers to as "argumentation ethics." In effect, we presuppose that our opponent is within his rights to not agree with us, and that we have no choice but to respect this right and "argue" — that is, use words only — to convince him to change his mind. If the concept of self-ownership, which is by definition a property right, did not exist, then following such a basic construct of social interaction would not make sense. We would simply aggress on the person and make them agree with us.

My respondent's hypothetical actually presents a version of what Kinsella terms the rights-skeptic position. This position is intellectually bankrupt. Kinsella underscores the fallacy of this train of thought when he notes:

"If there are no rights, then there is no such thing as the justifiable or legitimate use of force, but neither is there such as thing as the unjust use of force. But if there is no unjust use of force, what is it, exactly, that a rights-skeptic is concerned about? If individuals delude themselves into thinking that they have natural rights, and, acting on this assumption, go about enforcing these rights as if they are true, the skeptic has no grounds to complain. To the extent the skeptic complains about people enforcing these illusory rights, he begins to attribute rights to those having force used against them. [Emphasis added.]"

In other words, if rights do not exist, and the collectivist in my respondent's example is justified in ignoring my ostensible ownership of the bike, then he correspondingly should not care if I defend my bike "ownership" with force. If the original "owner" cannot defend his property, then the collectivist cannot defend it either. (As an added benefit, if private property rights don't exist, the bar for calling an anarchic society "stable" is a lot lower!) Suffice to say that I fully support the right of the owner of some property to defend it, even against a person who does not respect property rights.

To another more general point I think my respondent is trying to get at, in the event of a dispute involving ownership, there will, of course, have to be a mechanism for resolving contested ownership. Again, this is a requirement of any stable society, be it anarchic or not. I simply assert that private agencies could perform this task. The many examples of voluntary arbitration currently in use provide ample proof.

Complaint #9: If the market favors violence, force, fraud, theft, and other destruction of rights (including property rights which will destroy a free market), should that be regulated or left to happen and develop?

This objection represents yet another poor assumption. The market "favors" whatever society favors. If society favors open infringement on the rights of others, neither the anarchic scenario nor the minarchic scenario will result in a positive outcome. Saying that the absence of the State will, in a society primarily composed of robbers, thugs, villains, and killers, result in chaos is rather like saying a society based in the Tropics will have to deal with a lot of rain.

The simple fact is that in order to reach the point where a society is truly anarchic requires that the population become more and more libertarian as a prerequisite. Hence, if we reach that point, the members of that society will have to be, by definition, not pro-theft, or pro-violence, or "pro" any other negative practice.

Robert Murphy covers this issue in, "But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?", when he says:

"When dealing with the warlord objection, we need to keep our comparisons fair. It won't do to compare society A, which is filled with evil, ignorant savages who live under anarchy, with society B, which is populated by enlightened, law-abiding citizens who live under limited government. The anarchist doesn't deny that life might be better in society B. What the anarchist does claim is that, for any given population, the imposition of a coercive government will make things worse. The absence of a State is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to achieve the free society."

Murphy continues:

"For the warlord objection to work, the statist would need to argue that a given community would remain lawful under a government, but that the same community would break down into continuous warfare if all legal and military services were privatized."

Again, of course a society chock full of evil will not be improved by a move to Market Anarchism! No one is suggesting otherwise. However, such a society won't be a picnic no matter how much the State attempts to impose order. But here is another question. What if our current society actually rewards violence and aggression? Should we not consider an alternative?

Conclusion

In conversation with some of my fellow anarcho-capitalists, we often remark about the fact that many of the objections raised by those who decry Market Anarchism are of the tried-and-true variety. I attempted to address some of the more popular ones above. Either way, I hope any future minarchist respondent will save us both some time and send the next unpublished treatise directly to Lew!

Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.

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