THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 168, April 8, 2002
Why Minarchy Is a Pipe Dream
by Rick Gee
Exclusive to TLE
"Itís too late to work within the system, but too early to shoot the bastards!" -- Claire Wolfe
One of the enduring debates within libertarian circles centers around the "minarchy or anarchy" question. Minarchists favor a small government limited to its constitutional mandate to provide postal service, courts, national defense, etc. Anarcho-capitalists, AKA free market anarchists, would prefer no government at all and believe even the few government functions minarchists favor would be better provided by the private-sector free market.
In recent articles posted on The Libertarian Enterprise, two writers have attempted to make the case against anarchy. In "Why Anarchy Wonít Work," Patrick K. Martin begins by apparently making the case for anarchy:
"I like the idea of an anarchistic society. I believe that I could get along in a world where the only governance is self-governance. The idea that I, and only I, would determine what will be done for me, or by me, is one that I find very attractive. I say this in the full knowledge that I might starve and die in the gutter in such a world, but I would rather risk that than live in the world we have now, where every swinging Richard on the planet can come along and tell me what to do with my life."
So far, so good. But then Martin identifies a major problem with this scenario -- the predominance of the sheeple:
"Sheeple (or sheep-people) are those who have no desire, much less the ability, to live their lives without being led by somebody (usually the guy who is looking to shear them). You know them, they are the ones who blindly accept everything from Virgin-births to gun-control to Hegelian- dialects. They do have brains, they just refuse to use them. . . . The Sheeple are probably the biggest single impediment to anarchistic society."
Martin fails to mention the reason for the proliferation of sheeple. As Bill Clinton might have said, "Itís the public schools, stupid." Following the Prussian model for compulsory education, 19th century American intellectuals like Horace Mann and John Dewey were instrumental in promoting the wonders of compulsory government schooling. Beginning in 1852, with the infamous "Know-Nothing" Massachusetts legislature, universal, "free" education was mandated nationwide.
By 1889, U.S. Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris was assuring railroad magnate Collis Huntington that American schools were "scientifically designed" to prevent "over-education" from occurring. In 1896, John Dewey at the University of Chicago said "independent, self-reliant people were a counter-productive anachronism in the collective society of the future." Dewey went on to assert that, in modern society, "people would be defined by their associations -- not by their own individual accomplishments."
So we see the true purpose of the public schools is not, as Martin claims, "providing children with the intellectual tools to survive in the larger world." On the contrary, this government monopolyís paramount goal is not to create independent thinkers, but to mold dim collectivists who will act as worker bees for industry and go to the polls to legitimize the coercive State. In other words, public schools are not so much education centers as they are propaganda and indoctrination camps.
Despite this fact of American life, Martin implicitly endorses this monstrosity when he asks, "Do you think that allowing people to educate their children, or allowing any fool to set up a school without any standards beyond what he can convince parents to accept, will make this situation better?"
While Martin rejects anarcho-capitalism because he could cope with ultimate liberty but the "dunderheads" would flail about, Bill Westmiller, in his recent piece "Anarchy v. Liberty," posits the curious notion that anarchy is the "enemy of liberty." This is true, according to Westmiller, because
"... the absence of rules is not the same as the absence of oppression. In fact, liberty requires rules that define ownership and an authority for the resolution of disputes."
By making this assertion, Westmiller conflates anarchy and chaos. He denies the reality that a system of anarcho-capitalism would have rules based upon voluntary association and contract. He also implies resolution of disputes would be impossible without government courts, which, after all, are merely another branch of government. This implication ignores that private arbitration is more popular than ever, even in our statist world.
Westmiller also exalts the "huge benefits to broad social interaction which have been evident to every human being, even prior to recorded history" without explaining why a government that has the power to kill with impunity is necessary for broad social interaction to occur. Does Westmiller truly believe a world (or country) without government would devolve into an "every man for himself, kill or be killed" Mad Maxian state of perpetual chaos?
Both Martin and Westmiller wheel out the "anarchy is utopia" canard. I donít know a single anarcho-capitalist who argues that a world sans government would be a an ideally perfect place. We do believe, however, anything government does can be done better by free men associating in a voluntary manner. If youíre not convinced of that, pick up a copy of Linda and Morris Tannehillís The Market for Liberty or read Hans-Hermann Hoppeís seminal essay "The Private Production of Defense."
If one presumes that Martin and Westmiller are libertarians, he must also infer that their attacks on anarchy mean they are minarchists. Believing that the United States government could somehow be rolled back to its 18th century size and scope is tantamount to believing in Santa Claus. The natural tendency for government is to expand; in fact, it never contracts. And if, as F.A. Hayek argues in The Road to Serfdom, the worst always make it to the top, this will continue to be the case as long as our system of government allows those among us who seek to shear the sheep the power to reward their friends and punish their enemies.
Like the drones who go to the polls to penetrate the chad representing "the lesser of two evils," minarchists advocate a lesser amount of evil in the form of limited government. But just as the lesser of two evils is still evil, limited evil is still evil. Minarchists seem to be saying that itís OK for government to steal my money and yours as long as they spend it on programs that the minarchists favor.
I and many of my anarcho-capitalist brethren have been heard to declare something along the lines of, "While I would prefer no government, I suppose I would settle for the Constitutional republic that our founding fathers fought so heroically to attain." Alas, we are pragmatists who realize that this will never happen. We understand that minarchy is a pipe dream. We know that politicians have been ignoring the Constitution with impunity since before the ink on the parchment was dry.
At the top of every issue of The Libertarian Enterprise lies the following quote from L. Neil Smith:
"A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."
Even if the fantasy of minarchism could somehow be realized, would it not still involve the initiation of force (or the delegation of its initiation) to fund its programs? I would argue that Mr. Smithís definition of "libertarian" refers directly to anarcho-capitalists. Anarchy is liberty in its purest form. Anarchy is most assuredly not, as Bill Westmiller avers, the enemy of liberty. On the contrary: it is the only logical conclusion to the path of libertarianism.
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