Anarchism or Nation-Statism?
by Per Bylund
by Per Bylund
The problem anarchists have with minarchists isn't really that they advocate a monopolized legal system with a monopoly police corps and monocentric law. Usually people think this is the reason anarchists and statists cannot go together. But it isn't so. Anarchists can accept statists living next-door or a block down the road, and living the way they find most satisfying. No problem. And statists should be able to accept anarchists just the same way.
But this isn't really what the seemingly never-ending and often very irascible discussion between anarchists and minarchists is about. The problem has to do with perspective and force, not really of whether the "proper functions" of government should be a community monopoly or not. And this is what makes it so confusing when libertarians discuss utopia — they appear to say almost the same things, yet seemingly hate each other more than "the enemy."
Anarchist and statist libertarians may agree on the supremacy of the free market, private schooling, abolishing the war on drugs, free trade, and even the right to secession. The problem lies in perspective and the use and meaning of force, and that is what makes it impossible to bridge the seemingly non-existent difference in political program.
The perspectives are totally different, and this is where anarchists and minarchists are on opposite sides vertically speaking. Anarchists generally see society from the bottom up, thereby demanding valid arguments for any structure above the level of the individual. It doesn't really matter what good a structure may bring about or how promising it looks; if it isn't voluntary and sprung out of the spontaneous order it should not be. The general conclusion is here that such a structure is oppressive and must be fought.
This also means that polycentric law comes naturally, just as the rights of the individual come before the rights of any abstraction of individuals (such as the family or the state). Whenever polycentric law tends to become oligocentric or monocentric anarchists get cold feet. It doesn't really matter if it comes about voluntarily, spontaneously and on the market and thus legitimately — if it is centralized it is intimidating. Centralization inevitably means the risk for oppression and usury is increased.
Minarchists generally have a total lack of understanding for this fear. They speak about the superiority of a "minimalist" state preserving the natural rights they so generously have defined for everybody in order to give us all the freedom and liberty they say we need. The problem to them today is not that there is a state with monocentric law, monopolistic interpretation of it and how people are allowed to act, or the monopoly of the police. The problem is there is way too much state, too much monopoly.
Whereas anarchists to statists should seem much exaggerated about the risks and too nervous about power transferred to abstract organizations, statists to anarchists seem overly naïve about the threat and dangers of power.
The other anarchist libertarian—statist libertarian mismatch is horizontal rather than vertical. This has to do with the limits and extent of the application of utopia and how it is enforced. As we have already seen, anarchists and statists are often completely different in terms of perspectives, and adding force to the equation makes an unbridgeable ravine of this difference.
If each and every one of us was an [introvert] "state" in himself there would be no problem — even anarchists would be statists. Actually, anarchists have no problem accepting voluntary associations of people agreeing on monocentric law and the monopolized enforcement of such law. Polycentric doesn't necessarily mean individualistic even though the choice must always be the individual's. This is why I began this article by stating that anarchists generally do accept statists — and even state communities — next-door or down the road.
In such a community society statists should have no problem with anarchists either. Statists would obviously live in state communities and they would likely band together in nice hierarchies and super-community power structures. There is no reason to believe anarchists and statists would ever interact; they have no real reason to. Anarchists of course want nothing to do with the statists' state, and statists should live happily ever after with their monopolies.
It does not even matter what perspective you have if you accept the view of a free society consisting of a multitude of communities with different laws and different ways of life. And since communities might merge into still greater communities, statists could even have a chance to enjoy (!) bureaucracy.
The problems enter when we start talking of the minimalist state or minarchism. Of course, having minarchist communities would be no problem; I bet there would be fewer problems within minarchist communities than within mammoth welfare-distributing bureaucratic communities. The latter would have greater incentive to seize the wealth of neighboring communities, since their money would continuously disappear in the black hole of bureaucracy and programs of redistribution.
But this isn't the issue — the reason libertarians don't go along well is minarchists insist minarchist society must encompass the whole nation-state. Secession is fine, but only by states from the federation or by counties from states. The basis of thinking is still the political system and its monopolist powers, and therefore there is no room for anyone wanting to live differently. Society under the minarchist state might offer a multitude of ways to live, but only within a "framework" of a state.
It is all about the application, and this is where perspective yet again becomes important. If you think of society as individuals spontaneously seeking other individuals in order to establish agreements or contracts for mutual benefit, there is no reason why you can't accept other people with different values getting together and organizing in a completely different way than your preferred choice. But if you see society from above and wish to structure a society as you think it should be structured, then you cannot accept people organizing very differently. Such actions would ruin your plans — anarchists, communists, religious people or whoever would jeopardize the minarchist Great Plan for society!
This is the violence of The State anarchists are so fond of talking about and so terrified of. It does not really matter how small or "proper" the state is if it is all-encompassing and territorial. Such a state necessarily means someone's (and most likely your own) freedom is compromised, and that cannot be accepted. This nature of the state means the difference in principle is necessarily between anarchist theories on the one hand and statist theories on the other — minarchists obviously belonging on the statist side. And this is why anarchists in reality cannot live their lives as they see fit next-door to minarchists: they are not allowed to.
Minarchists do claim they will allow a multitude of communities and accept a variety of lifestyles, but they are all subordinate to the rights-maintaining minarchist state. Minarchism means everybody enjoys the freedom to organize one's life according to one's own preferences — but only as far as the state can allow. Of course, if that was not the case they would in reality be anarchists.
August 10, 2006
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