"It [the State] has taken on a vast mass of new duties and responsibilities; it has spread out its powers until they penetrate to every act of the citizen, however secret; it has begun to throw around its operations the high dignity and impeccability of a State religion; its agents become a separate and superior caste, with authority to bind and loose, and their thumbs in every pot. But it still remains, as it was in the beginning, the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men." ~ H.L. Mencken
More on Minarchism as Evil
Column by Per Bylund.
Exclusive to STR
My previous two articles on minarchism versus anarchism [1, 2], and why minarchism is “evil,” have stirred up quite a debate online. This was expected, since minarchists desperately want to see themselves as radical (whereas compared to anarchists they clearly are not) and anarchists almost as desperately seek alliances and ideological kindred to increase our numbers (and thereby, it is assumed, our chances of changing the world we live in). I don’t find the discussion or even the sometimes not-so-respectful tone troubling. Contrarily, I have explicitly stated that this is a very important issue to discuss – it is a discussion on fundamental principles.
However, it is quite disturbing that so many seem so willing (eager?) to misrepresent what I write. I can fully understand that many minarchists cannot wrap their minds around the difference between anarchism and mini-statism; indeed, I shared that same statist mindset and the inability to think out of the statist box. It is not easy to learn how to think anew, and many of us (this author included) had to seek answers from others to do so. What is really disturbing is the inability of both anarchists and minarchists to identify the real issue.
In the previous columns, I have argued exclusively that a full-scale alliance (in the sense of an integrated, all-encompassing, and unified movement) is both counterproductive and impossible. Whereas minarchists and anarchists can agree on many issues, the fact that we disagree on a very fundamental issue makes us different – we are not brothers and not even cousins in the political family tree. In fact, the issue of government – as monopolized, institutionalized, and “legitimate” coercion – is so fundamental that we cannot have a unified movement spanning both proponents and opponents of this monstrosity.
Actually, I would argue that this issue is so fundamental that libertarian anarchist (or market anarchists, if you will) have more in common with other anarchists than with minarchists. I see no problem at all with cooperating extensively with mutualists and individual anarchists – and most of the time we can stand shoulder to shoulder with socialist anarchists as well. The reason for this is that we market anarchists, like other anarchists, have a passion for justice – and we identify that power, coercion, and aggressive force is always unjust. It is not a matter of degree, size or extent – it is a matter of principle.
I personally identify much more with other anarchists than with minarchists. Of course, there are differences (leftist anarchists’ utter ignorance of what the market is and how it works, is an obvious issue), but the fact is that in a stateless society, our differences do not matter much – we agree that nobody has the right to force their own way of life down other people’s throats. This is unfortunately not the case for minarchists, who by definition support throat-shoving of specific ideals as a means toward their end.
It is true, as some have argued, that all statists are not alike and that we should see statists as individuals. I could not agree more, but the problem is that this does not apply for minarchists: the fact that minarchists are proponents of government – no matter how small – they do not care about the individual as much as they care about the system. Many minarchists (if not all), would claim the opposite: that they are individualists, tolerant of individuals’ choices, and wish for every individual his “complete” freedom. But a claim does not make the statement true; one cannot both have a government and have all individuals’ freedoms. It does not matter how small and uninvasive the minarchist government is – it is still a government, a coercive system that applies itself on everybody whether or not we wish it. It does not matter what arguments are offered in its support, it is still oppressive in its very nature.
In this sense – and perhaps only to this extent – minarchism is evil and to any anarchist necessarily as evil as any kind of big-governmentism. This is what “principle” means; it is not a matter of “how much” force is used, “how much” coercion affects us, or “how much” our daily lives are affected by as-little-as-possible government – the fact that there is government means the whole system is bad, oppressive, and evil. Minarchists generally refuse to see this point. Even those who wish complete freedom but are intellectually unable to figure out how society could function without government (i.e., those who argue that government is evil but “necessary”), and in this sense may realize the point, still support an oppressive system that unavoidably and inevitably must be forced on everybody (“by necessity”).
This does not mean that anarchists and minarchists should refrain from cooperating on issues, and I have been very clear on this throughout my articles. Wherever we agree, we should of course cooperate. But a single and unified movement cannot successfully be built across this great divide of “government or no government.” It is a fundamental principle, where anarchists say “no” and minarchists say “yes, but only a little.”
The issue is further confused and complicated by the fact that many self-proclaimed anarchists (especially anarcho-capitalists, it seems) have not fully taken the step from minarchism to anarchism. Instead, they have replaced outright government with their own blueprint of exactly how a stateless society will function. Rothbard often seemed to make the same mistake, and argued that a free society must be based on certain rights and then drafted a system of protection agencies and market courts. As an example, such a planned system may have value, but one cannot thereby escape the fact freedom cannot be engineered, structured, or planned. There is no free system, freedom has no blueprint (a point that I have previously stressed on STR here, here, here, here, and here).
Again, there is a subtle difference here that is of great importance: examples of how a free society might work may help borderline anarchists dare to take the step, but when such examples are made the goal then government is simply replaced by a structure doing the same thing but called something else. Any such structure that does not insist on everybody taking part in it is not a blueprint and does not describe how society would work – it is only a mental image of how things might end up. As such, it is not problematic and it can be purely anarchist. But when the example is made a goal and arguments are based on what the system would look like, then the principle of no government disintegrates – you are yet again in statist territory.
Those who truly believe in a society with no masters and no slaves cannot provide a blueprint for how that society will work. If people are truly free to collaborate with whoever they wish and do so on whatever terms they voluntarily agree, then any blueprint for society is a completely worthless and possibly treacherous mind game. It but creates an illusion of anarchism being able to provide guarantees that are always impossible – government or no government.
Statists are victims of the grand illusion of government somehow providing a fixed and steady basis of certainty, on which society can be constructed. But the fact is that there is no such thing as a guarantee in this world, no matter how hard we wish for it. Society is volatile and ever-changing, and it is what we make of it. If we institutionalize force and make coercion the cornerstone of our world, then we cannot ever be completely free. The issue of anarchism vs. minarchism boils down to this fundamental point: We either construct a society based on the principle of coercion and power, or we refrain from attempting to force a system or structure on people’s lives and let a thousand flowers bloom.
If we set people free, there is no limit to what wonders we can achieve. Government is neither the starting point nor the end for civilization. We are our society, and we can thrive in freedom. All we need to do is refrain from instituting masters and refuse to be slaves.