August, 2011

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Anarchist Libertarianism: A Fool's-Gold Standard

The Case for Miniarchism

By The Libertarian Heretic

An Internal Libertarian Issue

I am a miniarchist. That is a species of the genus libertarian. This essay about the relative merits and superiority of the miniarchist position is intramural in focus. That means it is not directed at non-genus members -- and yes, that means most of you. Rather, it is designed to argue from inside a libertarian philosophical and common sense framework the reasons why miniarchism is philosophically and morally preferable to anarchism/anarcho-capitalism within libertarianism.

(For outsiders still peeking and awake, libertarian "anarchists" should be distinguished from left-wing "anarchists". The latter are usually found rioting near International Monetary Fund events and railing about some “neo-liberal yada yada” or whatever it is they rave against. Not that international state-funded financial institutions are essentially or particularly good, mind you, nor even particularly “liberal”, neo- or otherwise. Just they have a bug about liberal economics that libertarian anarchists don't.)

The debate basics.

Miniarchism basically postulates that settled societies will inevitably have a government, and a government of some sort is actually desirable in order to protect liberties. But to perfect that aim, of course, government is still best and really only justified when, in the famous Jeffersonian phrase, it governs least. Anarchism, however, essentially holds that only the complete negation of government will best preserve and enhance human liberty, morally and practically.

Sadly, I will defend miniarchism below also by invoking the dread (to me) Ayn Rand, despite her general Rosary-bead procession of unhelpful moral, philosophical, political, literary, and personality disorders. My apologies, but she intelligently contributed to the debate in a way that helps greatly clarify the key arguments here.

But first, to the principles.

Common Principles of Libertarianism

Despite the differences among libertarians on the miniarchy versus anarchy questions, those who embrace the l-word share a common set of values regarding human interaction and individual entitlements. These should be the key starting points for a debate on the wisdom the existence and scope of government.

Let's revisit them.

Basically, the common libertarian idea is that individuals have intrinsic rights. In ye olden days these were called “natural rights”. These rights, it is generally agreed, include individual freedom of thought, expression, communication, self-defense, voluntary peaceful association, and the peaceable and free maintenance, acquisition, use, and transfer of property. More poetically expressed, with even a touch of Rand, they imply the non-obligation of being compelled to live and work for the benefit of others, without freely accepting or risking that obligation.

Self-sovereignty, in simpler terms.

Viewing the same question from another very important angle, the nature of governance, libertarianism can also be expressed as a belief that it is immoral -- and violently resistable when it happens -- for others (individuals, groups, governments) to initiate coercion (force or threats of force) against anyone. Most libertarians would additionally include as constituting resistance-worthy aggression the initiation of deception (i.e. fraud) when done with the goal of getting someone to part with an entitlement under their rights.

The Grand Thesis

I argue that it is impossible and undesirable, and thus immoral in a consequentialist way, to pursue the above worthy aims without a government; just as it is indeed also dangerous, requiring constant vigilance, to protect these rights with a government.

Governments Are Inevitable In A Non-Pacifist World

Of course, anarchism is actually a noble fantasy ideal. A delightful example is found in the science fiction of Erik Frank Russell. But his elegant and entertaining parable nevertheless seemed to understand a key point -- that anarchism may work only in a world where pacifism is prevailingly accepted and internalized.

That's because once you have one willing gun-user (or spear- or solid-fist user, for that matter), you pretty much have a government already. Or the 9 month fetus of one.

And therein lies the rub of anarchist libertarianism.

A world with guns -- more generally meaning the will and capacity to use threats and force -- and anarchism simply do not go together. The strength and accuracy of miniarchism is the realization that guns are to be used only in self-defense and the protection of rights, and cannot and should not be eradicated, or taken from those who may need it. Anarchists agree with this, of course, but don't follow to the next step, namely, carefully contemplating and incorporating into the picture certain empiric realities of human nature which also make government valuable and necessary, if kept minimized.

The reason for government being necessary and desirable for a species among whom force is doable comes from two hard and fast realities of human nature. First, humans are not impeccable (devoid of evil) and second, humans are not infallible (devoid of error). These realities mean that the real practical problem of social order is to determine what is, or should be, the appropriate use of force in a given situation involving actual living breathing force-prone humans in ordinary real world chaotic interactions and conflicts. (Incidentally, these human failings are also a good part of the reason humans should have maximum liberty from the ownership and mastery of others.)

There thus needs to be armed well-planned institutions to make the determination and enforcement of boundaries between creatures who may not be all that smart, or honest or honorable, and who therefore are regularly in violent or potentially violent disagreement on the scope of their interactions and mutual treatment.

Adjudicating those boundaries; hopefully guided solely by the aim of justice through individual rights-protection; is what good government is and does, and why it is necessary in a world of violent disagreeable but rational beings.

Government: Desirable And Inevitable As Final Dispute-Resolver

A government then is properly seen as the institution that decides on the proper use of force when an impasse in a potentially or actively violent dispute exists, i.e. when boundaries are in unresolvable forceful disagreement. A good limited government then applies the greatest force in that situation (or confirms the propriety of private force) where coercion is needed to protect rights among predictably uncooperative human beings who may honorably or dishonorably dispute or reject the judgment or misperceive the situation.

The above decision process is what we call "due process". It is the single greatest defining invention of civilization other than money. Governments, properly effectuated, define and refine a process that embraces reason, fairness, and fact-finding, to come to a just conclusion in places where conflicting claims of the rights of individuals are at a threatening or already bloody impasse. And then, as importantly, it can deliver predominant force against unjust or uncooperative persons to ensure the decision is carried out and rights are restored, defended, and compensated.

These processes are created thorugh social contracts or sets of them. And they will be complex and institutional. That is because in order to be fair and accurate in decisionmaking about (and by) members of our fallible, dishonest and predatory species, there would have to be employed a significant amount of regular conscientious labor, along with incorporating redundancy processes for safety, credibility, predictability, and accountability. Add to that extensive recordkeeping, inspection and investigational activities to sustain its processes . All that will in turn require multiple types of specialization too. The process of coercively regulating interpersonal disputes over claims of rights is something that is profoundly costly and in need of systemization.

Anarchists -- non-pacificist ones -- cannot escape the above logic. Now anarchists also do see that associations can or will form – armed ones – to protect rights. OK. But the strongest one of those at any time WILL NECESSARILY BE a government, if not THE government, call it what you will. And if it is an honorable one it will be required to dothe complex institutionalized wealth-and-labor-consuming dispute resolution process described above, in order to stay honorable in terms of respecting the libertarian framework of rights.

Armed groups, to remain libertarian ones, will need to be organized and systematized and standardized. They will become governments in form and substance. And the beneficiaries will need to pay dues in terms of contributory labor, or wealth exchangeable for it, for it to work.

Anarcho-capitalism will become miniarcho-capitalism. Inevitably, and it should be conceded, helpfully for liberty, if done right.

And if kept right.

Naturally such covenanted bodies will be quite dangerous, threatening always to grow to "Leviathan" levels. Pretty much all actual governments and human political history illustrate that. That is because of the same defects of human character discussed above. All government still thus needs to be made “mini” and carefully vigliantly watched and designed by those who are affected by its covenants. And that is the real challenge of libertarianism: keeping the mini in the --archism, but not living in denial of the inevitable -arch of the covenants.

Ayn Rand's Useful Definitional Error

Ayn Rand may have something to do with inducing part of the philosophic attraction of anarchism, through a well intentioned error of hers. A government is not, in Ms. Rand;s unhelpful phrase, an institution that “holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force.” For even totalitarian states and collectivist societies will grant some use of physical force to individuals or subgroups in emergency self-defense, whatever their views on private possession of weaponry (Saddam Hussein didn't even ban guns.). A still somewhat more careful definition in Rand's writings -- that a monopoly on a retaliatory use of force is what a government is -- is also in error. Authoritarian governments can and do allow private acts of family and tribal revenge or “honor” violence depending on the society and system. Or private bodyguards for the powerful.

No, in the end per above, a government is simply the largest and most systematically effective last resort armed dispute resolver in a given area. Armed dispute resolution is the root of government, and as argued above, inevitable and desirable if limited to the smallest level to be effective in a narrow area of rights protections, and policed and structured to be fair.

Anarchism: The Fool's-Gold Standard

Anarchism, the unknowable ideal, is sadly an impossible social phenomenon. It is the libertarian "fool's-gold" standard. It may work in a pacifist world where there is no need to adjudicate the boundaries of force. But unless you think pacifism is a moral and practical universal reality, anarchism isn’t going to happen, nor should it. An anarchism that believes in armed self-defense and protection of rights will eventually and necessarily summon into existence a government -- or even two or three -- to resolve disputes forcefully and institutionally.

I will add yet another practical argument for miniarchism versus anarchism. This derives from expedience and should be understandable to those who still hold to the anarchist utopian vision. If one believes anarchy is the goal, the road there, in this world of leviathan-sized governments, leads through miniarchism. And so as an intermediate goal, it still would stand.

{Final note: I see these themes – no surprise -- have been developed elsewhere though I did not consult them in writing this. I hope I have added to them with my own independent "first-principle" arrival at similar conclusions or critiques.}