Where Not To Throw Stones

There seems to be a big blind spot in Lew Rockwell’s otherwise superbly written recent article 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 Evil?

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.

Property Disputes

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 self-ownership.

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.

Personal Crime

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.

Aggressors 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.

Anarchism

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.

July 22, 2005

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts