Anarchism vs. Minarchism

A Libertarian Quarrel

by Tibor R. Machan <mailto:Tibor_R._Machan@…>
by Tibor R. Machan

Within the USA there has always been a relatively strong libertarian
voice, in contrast to most other countries. And within the libertarian
movement two strands have quarreled in a civil but not altogether gentle

I have in mind the argument between those who believe in limited
government - usually called minarchists - versus those who want no
government at all - called anarchists. (This last, however, does not,
akin to classical anarchists, reject all laws and their enforcement.)
Before discussing these two positions, it will help to place
libertarianism in perspective. Throughout human intellectual history
there have always been a few voices raised against statism, the belief
that in human communities sovereignty rests with the government. This is
embraced in monarchy, socialism, fascism, communism, and theocracies.
Government is seen either as God-on-earth or the-will-of-the-people (as
a whole). In all these statist outlooks the individual members of
society are taken to be subservient, lowly beings, or simply cells in
the body of the society, which is the locus of value.

Now and then statist views have been challenged but since power has been
concentrated in the state, they rarely got sufficient airing. When
government owns the presses, forums of discussion such as universities,
or parks where speeches may be given, it is no wonder those who support
one or another version of the powerful state stand in the limelight,
with the few opposite voices basically marginalized if not killed off
outright. After a while, though, governments proved to be so corrupt, so
unruly, and so capricious that too many folks began to see it as a
threat and the ruse that it is. The lie that it's God's representative
on earth or it expresses the will of the people just could not be made
believable enough to suppress all the opposition. The power of monarchs
- tsars, pharaohs, and such - began to be questioned and in time
contained. The idea that royals aren't anything special, after all -
that all the self-important ministers and their favored nobility were
just pretending to be endowed with special rights (divine rights, it
used to be called) - began to catch on.

Eventually, certain thinkers who studied these heretical thoughts
developed solid arguments and got published somehow and the notion of
the sovereignty of human individuals, as opposed to states, became
palatable enough to inspire influential and clever people to translate
them into law and public policy. The American Founders were the most
successful of these people, managing to declare to the world that it is
individual human beings who have unalienable rights to their lives, to
their liberties and to the pursuit of their happiness. However much or
little they succeeded in curtailing the powers of the state, the idea
that this may well be a good idea could no longer be kept out of

Unfortunately, bad habits are difficult to shed, so the actual legal
order they forged didn't fully recognize and protect unalienable
individual human rights. And many elements of the old system were kept
intact, such as taxation, conscription, secondary citizenship for
various groups, and so even slavery. But the cat was out of the bag,
intellectually - as Abe Lincoln somewhat duplicitously put it, "No man
is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent."

The result was the eventual development of the libertarian alternative
to all varieties of statism. This development, however, didn't resolve
one of the questions that has always been on the minds of political
thinkers, namely, whether government of any type is evil, a criminal
organization disguised as something necessary for society or is the a
germ of legitimacy to the institution, only it has been twisted by power
hungry rulers and their apologists to serve corrupt ends.

Libertarians, unlike old line anarchist, recognize the value of law and
even law enforcement. What some of them argued is that any law
enforcement agency must itself be deprived of its monopoly status, be
competitive, so it is subject to a repeated cleansing process. Just like
other things people want or need, law, too, must be possible to be
offered by many agents who can provide it.

Those libertarians who think government has merit, provided it is kept
within proper bounds, disagree with this but only to a relatively minor
degree. They think that in some ways law enforcement will always be
monopolistic, but not different from, say, how an apartment house or
department store is monopolistic - namely, only one can exist in one
geographical spot. If you want to get to a competing agency, you need to
move there.

Most libertarians do not see this as a deal-breaking dispute. They are
mainly concerned with the central point: Who is to rule our lives? Is it
to be individuals, within their own delimited sphere, wherein no one may
enter who hasn't obtained permission, where no governing may occur
unless consent of the governed has been given? Or is it to be some
self-selected persons or groups, people who either rule others on their
own initiative or who claim to speak for everyone and impose their
(majority, minority) plans on all, never mind consent.

The libertarian alternative is still marginalized. This is perhaps
analogous to how the idea of equal standing under the law for women is
marginalized across the globe. Both of these ideas, of course, deserve a
serious hearing and, as best as I can tell, ultimate success.

February 17, 2004

Tibor Machan [send him mail <mailto:Tibor_R._Machan@…>
]holds the Freedom Communications Professorship of Free Enterprise and
Business Ethics at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman
University, CA. A Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford
University, he is author of 20+ books, most recently, Putting Humans
First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite

Copyright (c) 2004 Tibor Machan

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