John deLaubenfels responds to my previous column on minarchists being “the enemy.” His response is a case in point. Even though it is surely not his intent, his “quick response” directly supports the thesis of my original column. This is also true with most of the e-mails and comments I have seen by those disagreeing with me. This rejoinder is not meant as a personal reply to Mr. deLaubenfels or any other commentator, but rather a once-and-for-all response to the numerous commentators wishing to rebut my claim that minarchists are enemies of liberty.
What I find striking about the rebuttals and arguments offered in response to my column is that each and every one of these individuals seems to have a different view of what their “minimal” government is supposed to do. Whereas anarchists can want different things and even aim to realize different kinds of societies, they have that luxury simply because they – as free and equal individuals – must rely completely on voluntary means to establish whatever. There is no government and therefore no structured, monopolized power to wield in the service of one’s own ideals (and likely to the detriment of everybody else). Whatever any anarchist wants will have to be done voluntarily, and anarchists will have to get together and cooperate in the same voluntary manner if they wish to form any kind of large society. And they need possession of property on which to settle in order to do so.
This is not the case for minarchists, who by definition rely on government to provide monopolized services based on force. Judging from the aforementioned comments, even minarchists do not agree on what exact powers their government should be granted. How, then, is this government not to be considered oppressive? How is any society based on (minimalist) government free, when even minarchists themselves cannot agree on what are the functions and services of government and what are the rights of people living under its reign?
Minarchists simply don’t have the luxury of wanting different things if they want their view of government to be taken seriously. In fact, it is easy to show that minarchists themselves differ in degree regarding the size and scope of the state, just like statist socialists do. The difference between the two “camps,” as I mentioned in the original column, is one of degree. Some want it smaller and others want it bigger, but what unites them is that they all want it. What they are bickering about is that they want to go in different directions; those who want it small want it much smaller, and those who want it big want it much bigger. But if you want it – for whatever reason, “necessary evil” or otherwise – you are still a proponent of the state.
As an anarchist, it is comical to observe these statists quarreling simply because they have such different views of what is. Those who want it small say it is already at (or close to) the goal of those wanting it big, and that’s why it doesn’t work and that’s why it is oppressive. And those who want it big say it is already at (or close to) the goal of those wanting it small, and that’s why it doesn’t work and that’s why society is oppressive. This makes it obvious that it is a matter of degree, and that these statists’ goals are relative to their views of what is – not an absolute and measurable goal. It is all about degree.
Anarchists are different. We can without any doubt say that we are nowhere close to what we want, no matter how big it is; when one is anti-government on principle, it doesn’t really matter if government is really big or really small or anywhere in-between. Of course, a small government would grant us more liberties and freedoms than a big government. But note the words: it would grant us these liberties – government still keeps the right to use force against us if we misbehave or the leaders of the state happen to change their minds.
One of my arguments in the original column stated that minarchists are “nothing but gutless wimps; they are statist socialists with a fetish for smaller government.” Many were offended by this statement, and I can see why – I too would have been offended had I been a small-government proponent. But it needs to be read in its proper context, and this is the reliance on government’s grandeur (which is what that whole paragraph is about). I realize not all minarchists would take the easy way out when involved in ideological disputes with their bigger-government statist siblings, but perhaps they should. When pushed hard by bigger-than-minimal statists, the minarchist really has only two responses: either use the government trump card or spend a lot of time in a long and messy chain of arguments about how the market may be able to provide a solution.
The government trump card is no doubt the easy way out, and it is easy because fellow statists would have no problem understanding that government would properly take care of this matter (“properly” need not be defined in statist discourse). The other response ultimately means losing the debate. Either you lose the audience (and perhaps your adversary) in trying to describe the free, bottom-up, decentralized market process (they will no doubt fail to understand this or assume your seemingly complex solution is wrong), or you expose yourself to the big-government statist using the government trump card. Because if the market can take care of these seemingly very complex things, why can’t the market take care of the rest too? Obviously, the statist reasons, government is needed – but then why not rely on government to provide a few more important things in life to solve a few more problems?
The anarchist, while possibly having a hard time arguing for any and all kinds of freedom in this statist world, takes the principled stand against force, aggression, and power: nobody, with or without badges or ballots, has the right to aggress on any other. There is no imaginary “guarantee” for whatever kind of societal structure we would personally prefer; we realize this and call bullshit to such ridiculous claims. Also, we do not discriminate – government is evil no matter what size it is or what shape it has, and therefore we oppose all governments and all government-type action. We are all for voluntary.
This does not mean we cannot cooperate on certain issues with those who agree with us on those specific issues. For some reason, many seem to have interpreted my column as saying that all minarchists, like the rest of the statist pack, should be shot (which, by the way, would be a great example of government-type action). On the contrary, anarchism is about living and letting live. I would be happy to cooperate and coordinate campaigns with anyone who agrees with me; but a long-lasting, all-encompassing alliance with statists is so much more than a bad idea. It is counter-productive in every sense of the word, regardless of whether the alliance would be with small-government statists (who would grant us “more” freedoms) or with big-government statists (whose state would suffer from its own weight to such a degree that it would be quite impotent).
The problem is not that I, as an anarchist, disagree with minarchists on certain issues; I disagree with many people, but can still accept them and perhaps even enjoy their company. This is, after all, what anarchism is about: no matter our differences, we can live together and respect each other. And if we dislike each other, we go separate ways.
The real problem is that every minarchist by definition wants to (at some point) force their ideals down my throat and replace the chains I am in for their own chains. Like any statist, the minarchist finds his chains much better and more comfortable than any other chains. But to any anarchist, they are still chains.
Published February 18, 2011
Strike the Root