Anarchism or Minarchism?

This should be one of the most frequently discussed issues in the world libertarian movement. It is one of a few “great divides” in the movement, and correctly so. This divide, however, is much greater philosophically than it is practically or politically, even though it is not often recognized as such. Instead, minarchists and anarchists tend to often agree “more or less” on the goals and how to get there.

But the difference between minarchism and anarchism lies not in the details, the real difference is in the very tenets of the philosophy: how one sees man, society, and how liberty is valued.

I was recently attacked (yes, “attacked” is really the right word for it) by an objectivist who claimed to analyze an article of mine on his blog (in Swedish only). The analysis is the worst kind of crap one can ever think of within the category “analysis.” It is completely based on a strawman, and the interpretations of my viewpoints are nothing but far out, to put it mildly. As a matter of fact, he fails utterly to understand my perspective, and even though I took the time to respectfully comment on his “analysis” he would not back down. Contrarily, he claimed, cheered by the objectivist readers of his blog, my questions were either insults or attacks on him (rather than his ideas).

Even though this might sound like a very unimportant point (which is true), the “analysis” and following debate in the comments section really, at least implicitly and – probably – unknowingly, hits the bull’s eye. It is straight to the point, even though this particular objectivist really had no clue he was this close to the truth.

What is so interesting here is not the arguments and comments back and forth, even less interesting were the rather obvious misinterpretations of standpoints. The points of interest here is really the fact that there were misinterpretations, and that they were of such magnitude (read: far off).  This fact tells us a lot, even though we should understand that some of the misinterpretations were in part results of a need to satisfy the objectivist audience and in part the limitations inherent in being “true” to the objectivist lingo.

But nevertheless these misinterpretations along with the obvious unwillingness to understand contra-arguments tells us something: there is a huge difference between minarchism and anarchism. This difference is philosophical as well as political and practical.

So how can we bridge this difference between the two factions? How can we understand “both sides” and through it conduct a real, neutral analysis of the differences in assumptions and arguments?

The problem here is that the two views are of different paradigms – one is radical yet stands firmly on statist ground (minarchism), the other (anarchism) has gotten rid of all mental ties to government and the need for its monopolized services. The question is thus not how to understand the arguments, but how to communicate across the boundaries of paradigms.

In this world we are all, at least in the western world, born statists. This means we all set out on life’s journey with a mind fixed in the tenets of statism: that people cannot take care of them selves fully, that chaos will doubtlessly arise if there is no exterior power making people respect each other and each others’ rights.

This is a basic assumption in statist theory – that a market, a society, a family, any group of people will degenerate into a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man.” There is always, the thinking goes, someone who will use the fact that there is no superior power to punish evil deeds, and thus whoever can forcefully claim power will do so – in his or her own interest.

Many classical liberals and minarchist libertarians would probably not agree that their philosophical view of man and society is based on Hobbes. But the inherent threat from other people is an underlying fact in most of the questions asked, like in the most frequent question of all: how would it work? Or rather: how could it work?

Would this question be this interesting if individual liberty was really the number one priority? No. Man’s liberty is a fundamental principle, a guiding such, that should not be subjected to practical matters – the choice is liberty or force, not exactly how liberty “would function.” Asking how it would function means the principle of liberty is subjected to practical details, and focuses rather on the political structure of society rather than whether it is truly free.

What is demanded by minarchists when asking this question is really a structure. The emphasis in this question is not on “structure,” but on “a.” Somehow any explanation of competing “systems,” decentralized protection of rights, and a market solution to justice is disqualified. Whenever the anarchist tries to answer the structure question the minarchist responds with asking for the guarantees of the system. Yet again a system is assumed as the only possible outcome.

How so? Why would liberty only be able to exist in an environment consisting of one standardized system?

The reason must be that minarchism is statist, if not in many (or most) of its policies at least in a fundamental sense: there has to be a system.

Minarchists wouldn’t (ever) admit that this is so, and they might be right in claiming so. But that does not explain why the questions asked – and the “solutions” demanded from anarchists – all seem to imply a need for A System. Minarchists simply have a lot to explain if they are not to be, by anarchists that is, identified as statists or archists. For one thing, why automatically disqualify competing systems of justice, i.e. a market solution for justice protection, while the market obviously is advocated as the superior solution to any other problem?

The blogger mentioned above makes the exact mistake explained here – he demands (as if he was in a position to do that) answers: how would you (i.e. me) make sure this or that is secured and guaranteed? The obvious anarchist response is “I wouldn’t,” but that is hardly convincing for a minarchist – just as it isn’t convincing to liberals, conservatives, or socialists. Power (used in a certain way) is not only asked for and “demanded,” it is a fundamental assumption – a given – in the philosophy of statists.

This is just a premier identification of statism, I do know that I do not offer any convincing arguments that minarchists are really nothing but statists. But a lot of minarchists tend to think they have traveled far on the political map and thus left everything called statism behind, while they are fundamentally assuming a state and thus an exterior guarantee to whatever scheme they wish to uphold. Why is this so?

I will return to the study of anarchism and minarchism in a future blog post, but this identification will suffice for now. Please do comment on my thoughts.