The Humble Libertarian

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anarchy vs. Minarchy: Allport's Answer

Earlier this year, I published a piece here entitled "Libertarian Dilemma: Anarchy or Minarchy."

In this short essay I posed this problem:

Essentially, I am faced with the alternatives of minarchy and anarchy, but I find that each alternative has its own unique and seemingly insoluble problem. To briefly define my terms: libertarians want to maximize human liberty, but disagree as to what form of society will accomplish this best. Anarchy would be a society with no government at all, while minarchy would be a society with a very "minimal government."

As I wrote above, I think that both alternatives have a critical problem and I haven't yet come up with a satisfying solution for either. If I were pressed for which I believe is right in the end however, I would have to say minarchy. True freedom requires rule of law, which means a consistent set of laws administered by an impartial civil body politic.

My friend Glen Allport, a reader at THL and a columnist at Strike the Root, was so kind as to write out a very thoughtful response to my dilemma, but alas-- it came during my final two weeks in Paris where I was staying with a libertarian friend, so I didn't get around to reading and responding to it, and when things get put on the back burner with me, there's no telling when I might take them up again!

I hope that for Glen and most readers of this website, my tardiness is excusable, as Paris is quite possibly the most marvelously distracting city I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. I have just now come around to finishing Glen's essay (which is divided into two parts here and here) and I encourage you to give it a look yourself if you have the time. Following Glen's lead, I'm going to continue our correspondence in public so that others may benefit from our discourse:

Glen, I appreciate you taking the time to write this response. Reading through it, I agree with much of what you say and we are certainly very much on the same page in terms of our love for liberty and general distrust of government. To put it briefly: you're definitely talking my language. But throughout your essay, you spend your entire time simply reinforcing the seemingly insoluble problem I already concede that I have with minarchy, both on a moral level and in terms of its practical effects. I didn't see anywhere, however, that you satisfactorily addressed my seemingly insoluable problem with anarchy, which I stated thusly:

True freedom requires rule of law, which means a consistent set of laws administered by an impartial civil body politic. Otherwise, as Ayn Rand-- a minarchist (who really detested anarchists)-- argued, a man might go breaking into the houses of anyone who he suspects might have stolen his property, and then take their dirty look as guilt and summarily execute his "justice" upon them for their "crime."

What would need to stand in place of this kind of "justice?" A clear and consistent set of laws, clearly defining illicit behavior, and an impartial justice system for sorting out who is guilty of what and how they should be sentenced- which looks an awful lot like a government to me. What would a "minimal government" look like? It would be one that carries out only a single function-- and that function is to ban, prevent, and oppose aggression between human beings.

I suppose your solution to the problem is to say that anarchy (or civil society, as you prefer, but for our purposes, I'll use "anarchy" because to a minarchist, an ideal minarchy would be a civil society, while anarchy would be John Locke's less-than-ideal state of nature) is necessary, but not sufficient, that in addition to a lack of government, we need the positive existence of love in our hearts. But this doesn't solve the problem to my satisfaction. I think it's a cop out. Of course I agree love is necessary and civilizing, and that without it no society or human can flourish or be happy.

But that doesn't refute the assertion that freedom requires rule of law, and it doesn't refute the assertion that rule of law requires a single, civil body politic. It doesn't address the problem posed by lack of a civil body politic: which is a lack of impartiality in law, a lack of consistency in law, and a lack of proportionality in law. You say that law and its enforcement can be outsourced to private firms, saying that they can be kept accountable in ways that government cannot because you can sue them for wrongful damage to life or property, but I ask: sue them in what courts? Private ones? In whose private courts?

What if they don't agree to answer your suit in a private court? How will you force them to comply? With another outsourced, private, law enforcement agency? So one group of private armed police, on your word, goes to make an arrest of another armed group of police, so that they will appear in the private court of your choosing. What happens when both armed groups meet? What if the first private police force alleges that the second one is out of order and unfairly damaging their liberty and violating their property? And decides to sue them and you too? Do you see what people mean by the negative connotation they ascribe to "anarchy?" The less sophisticated envision something crude when they think of the term, but this is what I envision.

This is my insoluble problem with anarchy and the reason for my belief in the need for a minimal government despite the theoretical problem I have with it as well. I think this one seems much more difficult to untangle. Love alone does not answer these questions. Anybody-- as you very nearly say yourself-- can say their system would work if only they had that crucial ingredient: love. I can assert the same right back to you, that of course minarchy doesn't work unless love and liberty reign in people's hearts. In fact I believe that is true, which leaves the two systems no different on that account. My question isn't about love, whose necessity I take as a given, but about law.

Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
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