Rebirth of Reason


Anarcho Capitalism as an Inevitable Consequence of Minarchist Libertarianism - A Personal View
by Duncan Bayne

There is a sharp divide amongst advocates of smaller government: there are those who call for government to be restricted to certain core services they deem essential for the protection of individual rights (the minarchist-libertarians), and those who call for government to be abolished and core services privatised and provided in a competitive marketplace (the anarcho-capitalists).

SOLO Founder Lindsay Perigo has argued against anarcho-capitalism (see A is A; Anarchism is the Arbitrary), claiming that it would lead to a subjectivism-driven breakdown of society into warring factions, whereas others (notably Roderick T. Long) argue in its favour, claiming that a competitive free market for core government services is the only practical and just means of providing objective law (see Why Objective Law Requires Anarchy).

As you've probably guessed by the title of this article, I see this division as false and unnecessary, because there is a natural and inevitable progression from a genuinely non-coercive minarchist-libertarian government to anarcho-capitalism. One is simply a subset of the other: minarchist-libertarianism is simply anarcho-capitalism with one provider holding a (most likely very short-lived) monopoly.

Perhaps it'd be best if I illustrated this with an hypothetical example: the proposed minarchist-libertarian government that the Libertarianz party of New Zealand (of which I am a member) seeks to create (see A Constitution for New Freeland).

This government would (after a transition period involving a reduction of taxation, and privatisation of government-owned assets to pay off debt and superannuation) implement voluntary taxation (a fixed amount per citizen, rather than a proportion of income), and provide such services as courts, defense, and police. It would have powers delegated to it by the citizenry, and so could legitimately use force in the protection of the rights of its citizens. Other than that, it would have no powers—it couldn't regulate any voluntary actions between consenting adults.

The cultural change that would have to be effected in order to bring about such a system of government, and moreover to make it work in the long term, is immense. Such a system would be entirely unworkable given the contemporary culture, and this is an important context: the existence of any stable minarchist-libertarian government presumes the existence of a culture capable of individualism, self-governance and benevolent cooperation.

Note that under this government, taxation would be voluntary. A citizen could withdraw his financial sponsorship of the government of the day, presumably at the cost of access to courts to resolve disputes, police to solve crimes, etc. This is consistent with the principle of non-initiation of force (hereafter NIOF)—no government can morally force people to contribute to it financially.

So—there is no requirement for any given citizen to financially support the government. There can't be, in accordance with NIOF.

Furthermore, the government has no right to prevent citizens from forming their own private police forces (perhaps modeled on existing security and private investigation firms), militia, or even courts. After all, the powers those groups would exercise are voluntarily delegated to them by the citizenry—and, presumably, those citizens not financially supporting the government aren't delegating those powers either.

Is this starting to sound familiar to anyone?

I can't see a minarchist-libertarian government holding a monopoly for a minute longer than it would take someone to say, "I don't want some damn fool judge in Wellington deciding how the law should be applied in Auckland." This is as predictable and likely as the proliferation of professional lawyers, security firms and hamburger chains has been under our current system of government.

At that point, people will set up their own courts, their own police forces, militia, and so on. The government would be, and ought to be, powerless to prevent this—at which point they'll simply become one of a number of competing service providers in a free market.

Thus, a minarchist-libertarian government would quickly change into anarcho-capitalism, unless that government was prepared to initiate force against its citizenry to prevent it (at which point the citizenry could rightly rebel, according to the Constitution for New Freeland).

This leaves us with two questions:

1. Is anarcho-capitalism likely to fall apart into a system of warring gangs (well, more warring gangs than we have today in South Auckland)?

2. If so, does that potential collapse justify a minarchist-libertarian government's enforcement of its monopoly on core services?

My initial answer to the first question seems a little glib, in that I don't think there'd be any difference between the systems, because minarchist-libertarianism would become anarcho-capitalism very, very quickly. The transition would be so fast that there's no sense in considering them separately.

If I were for argument's sake to take the conventional position, and consider the two systems as separate and stable, rather than one as a subset and natural progression of the other, I think the odds of an anarcho-capitalist country degenerating are only marginally higher than the odds of a minarchist-libertarian country degenerating.

Consider the cultural changes required for a shift to minarchist-libertarianism—the citizenry would need to be markedly individualistic, self-responsible, productive, benevolent and cooperative. A minarchist-libertarian government would be a consequence of such a culture, not something imposed upon it.

Anarcho-capitalism would require the very same cultural changes, and would likewise be a consequence of those cultural changes. A society too subjective, too warlike, or too irrational to last under anarcho-capitalism would fail as quickly, and for the same reasons, as it would under minarchist-libertarianism.

The only reason I give anarcho-capitalism slightly worse odds than minarchist-libertarianism, given the same cultural context, is that the latter is closer to what we have now, and have had in the past, so in theory at least we ought to run into fewer unknowns when building it, while hopefully avoiding some of the errors we've made in the past.

The answer to the second question is "no." It really doesn't get any simpler than that; I can't see any justification for a government using force to prevent its citizens from establishing their own competing providers of law—this would be a clear-cut case of initiation of force by the government.

So, where does this line of reasoning leave me, as an erstwhile supporter of minarchist-libertarianism?

Firstly, I'm still a supporter of minarchist-libertarianism as a definite political goal. I see it as a part of a natural and inevitable progression from contemporary statism towards anarcho-capitalism. Certainly, a voluntary minarchist-libertarian government would provide essential core services in the time it took competitors to emerge, in the same sense that Telecom New Zealand was the sole provider of telecommunications services for the short while it took competitors to establish themselves and provide alternatives after the market was deregulated in the 1980s.

Secondly, I don't think there's any need for antagonism between the minarchist-libertarian and anarcho-capitalist camps—indeed, there's no reason that the groups should be separate at all. Really, we should all be thinking about the nature of the progression from one to another, and how best to facilitate it—perhaps even by legislating to liquidate the government once a suitable number of private service providers come into being, or upon a referendum on the matter.

Thirdly and lastly, the issue of progression to anarcho-capitalism should affirm the importance of positive, significant, and lasting cultural change to those seeking a change towards libertarian government. I'm now at the stage where I consider such change to be much more important than working within the political system itself, and will be modifying my approach accordingly.
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