Studying the Differences: Libertarian Paradigms

In a recent blog post I elaborated a little on the fundamental philosophical difference between minarchism and anarchism. I also claimed the two philosophies, even though they often go together as distinct parts of the same movement, are really not two different expressions of the same fundamental conviction – they are parts of different philosophical and political paradigms.

The interesting thing about paradigms is that there really is no way of being part of both – the existence of paradigms is generally a situation of mutual exclusivity. Simply put, paradigms are “either–or” – not both. So you cannot really be part of both ways of thinking, you have to belong to one of them, and that will make you quite unable to understand the other point of view.

Another interesting thing about paradigms when applied on statism vs. anarchism is the fact that statism is very obviously normality. No one, at least in the western world, is born anarchist – we are all born in statist societies with statist people having nothing but statist agendas. So movement between the two paradigms, which might be called “individual paradigm shifts” (or rather: cross-paradigm travel), is necessarily from one to the other – not the other direction.

Of course, we shall not claim there is no one who is now minarchist but used to be anarchist. Those people do exist, and they might for all I know be many (it is just that I haven’t met very many), but following the fact that they were born in a statist society, presumably by statist parents, they must have traveled from statist to anarchist first. Traveling back isn’t half as difficult as taking the first step, at least I don’t think it is.

What this really means in the minarchist vs. anarchist debate is that there really are no minarchists who can fully understand the anarchist position, while every anarchist presumably has been a minarchist!

This should not be interpreted to mean that I claim minarchists cannot possibly fully understand the anarchist position (even though it is unlikely), and it also doesn’t mean that all anarchists understand the minarchist position. It is however less unlikely that any random anarchist libertarian would fail to understand the minarchist position in such a way that this failure exceeds the failure of any random minarchist to understand the anarchist position.

We need thus assume that it is more likely that any random anarchist would understand the minarchist position better than any random minarchist would understand the anarchist position, than the opposite. This is a very interesting conclusion – especially if we use it as a tool for analyzing a political-philosophical discussion between an anarchist and a minarchist. What do we get?

Well, the first conclusion we must come to is that the frequent misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and misconceptions between a minarchist and an anarchist should be mainly the result of minarchist ignorance. It is highly unlikely that the anarchist in such a discussion would be totally misunderstanding the minarchist position – the probability of the anarchist failing utterly to understand the minarchist’s use of terms and concepts must, judging from the arguments supplied above, be much, much less than the probability of the minarchist doing the same. Thus, most misconceptions and misunderstandings are likely the product of the minarchist not being able to understand the anarchist position.

What does this teach us? Except for the many deep problems of paradigmatic differences in philosophy, it doesn’t really tell us much. We cannot claim the anarchist is automatically right and the minarchist automatically wrong, but we can safely assume that the misunderstandings that are so common in anarchism vs. minarchism debates are mostly the result of the minarchist being unable to change mindset from the statism into which he (or she) was born rather than the inability of the anarchist to understand his own former position.

What you should learn from this is not for me to tell you, but one should be able to draw quite a few conclusion based on this preliminary analysis. I believe it should be somewhat comforting for the libertarian anarchist, while the minarchist might want to consider a more humble approach.