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.[1] 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.

[1] in addition to published responses and comments on STR, see also here in English and here, here, and here in Swedish.


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Per Bylund's picture
Columns on STR: 63

Has a passion for justice.


Michael Kleen's picture

I won't argue with the logical consistency of your argument. If you take all your premises to be true, your conclusion makes sense. So you're presenting a perfectly sound argument coming from one narrow, uncompromising view. My disagreement has always been with its practical application. I believe that the way you frame your argument actually makes it impossible for you to ever see any progress toward your goals.

A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

(1) The objection, "coming from one narrow, uncompromising view", is an attempted poisoning of a well with inexpensive innuendo, but 'tis no substantive criticism whatever.

(2) "My disagreement has always been with its practical application."

What is "practical application" when you are the one digging in your heels, like any obstructionist, and refusing to budge?

(3) "I believe that the way you frame your argument..."

Ok, reframe it. Then we will see if you understood it, much less read it.

(4) "... makes it impossible for you to ever see any progress toward your goals".

The first goal is to persuade statists, all statists, that they are wrong, but you are plugging your ears while at the same time playing the false friend with "I won't argue...". Now, read "[t]his does not mean that anarchists and minarchists should refrain from cooperating on issues, and I have been very clear on this throughout my articles."

(5) Be mindful of your split infinitive. The marker, "to", must precede immediately its verb, which in English is usually the 1st person singluar. An infintive, however, is a noun, as in "to be is to take a firm stand." Take a look at Per's essay, for example. He didn't split a single one, and English isn't even his mother tongue.

jd-in-georgia's picture

Greetings, Per. This is the point. This is the perspective.

I don't know when or if people will move past the idea that we must "institute" government. However, the idea that we could pull it off as a species needs to get out there. Anarchy must be a good idea because no energy or money (taken from the masses) whatsoever is spent by the government to explore the notion that government in itself may not be necessary after all.

As a budding Christian Anarchist/Free Market Anarchist, I often find myself going back to scriptures when I witness the political turmoil happening all over the world. I am only going to say that what I believe works for me. I am not here to recruit, proselytize, or preach. Yet, whether one believes in God or not, in 1st Samuel, Chapter 8:6-18, most people can see that the Baron Acton quote on "Absolute Power" is found right there.

The idea that we can go back to a time with no "king" (by king I mean government), is not impossible. For me anyway, this political dilemma found in the Old Testament is shown to be resolved in the New Testament. The kingdom of the God I am seeking is within me (as found in Luke 17:21). I know this sounds weird and maybe irrelevant to some of my fellow Root Strikers, but is not this what real freedom is all about? On an individual basis, do we not look inside ourselves when we need answers to the really big questions?

May it be good, that whatever it is that drives us to be part of the solution to this worldly governmental quagmire so that we (me and you... not a president, king, parliament, congress or prime minister) can do unto our neighbor as we would have them unto us. Do we really need a government to do this for us? Are we that inept as a species? I don't think so.

Samarami's picture


"...I know this sounds weird and maybe irrelevant to some of my fellow Root Strikers..."


I'm Israelite (NOT "Israeli" or "Jewish"), and know well the Book from which you quote. Turns out it still remains an all-time best seller hands down in the Western World. It's sold in dozens (perhaps even hundreds by now) of variations of versions and translations and renditioning (generally to benefit the dogma of the specific guru at the head of the particular "religion" publishing it). But the Book has become so sullied by the thousands and thousands of religions laying claim to It that many anarchists and libertarians have seen no other option than to reject it out-of hand. Classic Orwellian obfuscation.

The Book is a call to anarchy. It is about government -- from stem to stern. Its subject matter is at the heart and core of the debates we have surrounding libertarianism, liberty, mini-anarchism, etc. Its ascribed Inspirer at the very outset is reported to have given the first created human beings a set of Laws (later inscribed as a contract with their progenitors upon two tablets of stone) and told to avoid the temptation to develop their own ideas of "knowledge of good and evil". "You can have government Of The Creator, By The Creator, and For the people!"

Along came the first recorded politician, incorrectly and poorly translated "serpent" in many renditions. He, and later his offspring until right here, right now, was able to convince them, "...G-d lied! You can have government of the people, by the people, for the people...!"

And so we have The State. And Debate. And misunderstanding of just how "mini" is mini-statism.


Samarami's picture

Per, as usual I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this and your previous great essays on the subject. I'll repeat: you are an inspiration to me and countless others on our journeys to sovereignty and freedom. You are absolutely correct that this is perhaps among the very most important subjects with which we as freedom advocates should harmonize. You have done excellent work in bringing this to the table for rigorous discussion.

There is NO SUCH THING as "smaller government". The State, by its very nature, can NEVER be "downsized" (not by all the Ron Paul's in Texas, bless his mini-statist heart). Mini-statism is like mini-pregnancy. A "Libertarian" political party is an oxymoron at best, an absurdity on down the scale.

The problem that often tarnishes anarchism debates is that each proponent if she's not careful will want to argue from a position of enforcement: " are 'we' going to impose liberty and freedom upon ALL???..." "How will 'our stateless society' deal with crime and property and boundary disputes???..."

In my 74 years I've finally developed an appropriate response: anarchy works just fine. For me. But that's because I'm free -- a sovereign state. And I didn't even have to move up to New Hampshire (or is it Vermont?).

I believe you can be sovereign also.

But that might take a while, depending upon "whom you is".


A Liberal in Lakeview's picture

Per, you nailed down a painful truth with the blunt assertion, "we are not brothers and not even cousins in the political family tree."

Indeed, and every person is either a statist or not a statist. There is no middle ground whatever between the two positions, just as there's no middle ground between being pregnant and not pregnant or between 'A' and 'not A'.

However, I cringed when I read the claim that "most of the time we can stand shoulder to shoulder with socialist anarchists as well." Why cringe? Because I've never met or heard of any such thing as a socialist who is not a statist of the worst kind. The socialist anarchist, so called, differs from Marxists and Leninists in terms of the means through which he would establish the paradise of propertylessness, but he is nonetheless a statist. His system can't work without authoritarianism to direct what will be done with the matter used to produce consumer goods. So that person is neither brother nor cousin.

Take Francois Tremblay, for example. "Libertarian Socialism", he informs his readers, "is an Anarchist position, basically, socialism through equality instead of hierarchies." Francois is counted among "socialist anarchists". A moment's reflection about what he wrote at his blog reveals that his Anarchism is a form of statism that should be established by means other than electoral democracy. He also means that while while working to establish the communistic paradise, socialists should pose as antistatists. That business about equality is just dreamy mush. I'd much rather stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Pat Buchanan, and while doing so he wouldn't pretend to be anything other than what he is.

Now, I wouldn't mind standing next to a socialist anarchist, so called, in a literal sense, as when objecting to some neocon's demands for war against the Iranians, but Pat Buchanan, too, will oppose that war. But to stand next to a socialist anarchist in a figurative sense? Sorry, but no. Most of the time the socialist is wrong, wrong, wrong, as you noted, and so perverse is its darkened thinking that little good can come from such interaction. In Tremblay's case, the darkened thinking includes sympathy for the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Again I'd prefer Pitchfork Pat's company any day.

Part of the trouble here is linguistic. The word anarchist in socialist anarchist indicates a very different concept than when anarchist is used in market anarchist, and this difference exists before the adjectives are added. These two creatures are simply not two different kinds of a single more fundamental type of anarchist. The former objects to some regimes but not necessarily to all of them; the latter opposes all regimes whatever their stripe. The former craves a system that must have a central authority to manage land and the things extracted from it while at the same time prohibiting personal property in producers' goods; the latter abhors any such central authority. The former is a statist, and the latter, not. So the former is not an anarchist.

In fact, the term socialist anarchist has a redundancy, for the concept of socialism is already indicated with the word anarchist as it is used in that phrase. Likewise, market in market anarchist is redundant. It would be better to abandon these adjectives altogether. When referring to knaves like Tremblay, just say "socialist" when the context is clear and "socialist who poses as an anarchist" when the context is not so clear.

von's picture

I agree with Per on principle, however I think Michael is more realistic. I've approached literally thousands of people over the years with the anarchist message, only to be dismissed or rejected on my first attempts. It's highly unlikely (IMHO) that your going to persuade people to do a 180 paradigm shift immediately by being so blunt, even if it is accurate/true. My experience is that the vast majority of people have been immersed in a life-long government forced indoctrination (and don't even know it) and breaking that spell may take some time and effort. Some get it sooner than others. Mass mythologies don't always go down easy. ;^)


rickdoogie's picture

Per, thanks for clearly stating the principle, "we cannot have a unified movement spanning both proponents and opponents of this monstrosity."
The real issue that defines this entire debate is the clear line that anarchists draw between legitimate, moral use of immediate defensive force vs. illegitimate, immoral use of force for various other social purposes. Minarchists do not see this delineation, they do not accept it, they do not allow it. In my experience, they throw fog around the issue whenever they debate the merits of their mini-state. They muddy the issue for themselves and every other liberty lover who is seeking to strike the root.
No matter that most anarchists have previously been minarchists, and that most of us have come to anarchism via the minarchist path. I'll gladly urge minarchists to keep evolving their anti-statism, but I'm also very aware that a small "minarchist" government acts as a springboard to the very worst totalitarian state.
A small government allows the market enough freedom that the state can quietly feed on massive amounts of tax revenue at very low tax-rates, eventually releasing all of that energy in an explosive expansion of state power. Greece, Rome, United States, - what other giant Leviathon states began with a nearly idyllic "minarchist" state?

Suverans2's picture

It started to play, stopped at the same place near the beginning every time, couldn't get it to play any further.

John T. Kennedy's picture

"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."

Per seems to think that market anarchism will arise from and be sustained by moral and philosophical agreement. I think that's flat wrong. Markets will gain ascendency if and when people become too expensive to govern, regardless of their moral and political views.

If you made freely available a device that protected individuals and property from physical attack, all government would be finished and market anarchy would prevail regardless of anyone's moral views or political philosophy.

If you could provide a device that could teleport people and property very cheaply across borders, governments would lose the power inherent in a territorial monopoly and they'd effectively become private agencies competing for business, again regardless of philosophy.

I think the real path to market anarchy is through the production of goods and services that make people progressively more expensive to govern, and all the talk about morality, political philosophy, movements and alliances is mostly irrelevant to the project.