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Where Is the Line Between a Libertarian State and Anarchy?

This question is actually a response to a comment in Whiskey Sam’s On Civility where he said an inflammatory post title would be “Why Are Libertarians So Afraid to Admit They’re Anarchists?”  I agree that would be an inflammatory post title, but the underlying question is actually a good one. 

I’m sure Sam doesn’t believe that Thunderdome is the ideal libertarian state, and neither do I, but it seems to me…

  1. Fred Cole

    Minarchism v. Anarchism is a big debate in libertarian circles.  Most people are the former, some weirdo kooks are the latter.

    To answer the question in the title of your thread, the line is having a state at all.  And I’d define the state as the entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of the initiation of force.

    You either have one or you don’t.

    And, you mentioned me specifically, I’m on the most extreme end, an anarcho-capitalist.  So, as awesome as they are, please don’t take my commends as representative of some libertarian “norm.”  

    Libertarianism is about individualism, so when you have a bunch of individualists, you’re going to get massive individual variations in opinion.

  2. Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Umm…

    It depends on what you mean by “anarchy”.

    Anarcho-capitalists like David Friedman (Milton Friedman’s son) would say there doesn’t have to be a line — but then again, there are a lot of  other  people calling themselves anarchists who believe that anarcho-capitalists cannot possibly be anarchists (perhaps because anarcho-capitalists still believe in rule of law, though they think rule of law would work better if it were privatized).

    Here’s the thing: when “anarchy” is simply used as a pejorative (which I’ve observed is how most folks seem to use it), and not as a descriptive term for some specific (albeit still hypothetical) arrangement of human affairs, what’s the point of pretending to have an intelligent discussion about it?

    I think the most helpful thing I can do for you is pass along the book recommendation Fred Cole made to me: The Machinery of Freedom by David Friedman.  Really  interesting read. I cannot recommend it highly enough to people who want to discuss anarchy in an intelligible fashion.

  3. Austin Murrey
    Fred Cole: To answer the question in the title of your thread, the line is having a state at all.  And I’d define the state as the entity with a monopoly on the legitimate use of the initiation of force.

    You either have one or you don’t.

    And, you mentioned me specifically, I’m on the most extreme end, an anarcho-capitalist.  So, as awesome as they are, please don’t take my commends as representative of some libertarian “norm.”  

     · 0 minutes ago

    Fred, as far as the initiation of force, does that mean the state is the only one that can proactive action or does reactive use of force count?  If I find a burglar in my home I can legally shoot him, so is that proactive as the burglar hasn’t caused me physical harm or reactive since he trespassed on my property?

    Also you say you’re an anarcho-capitalist: are you saying caveat emptor should be the whole of law?

  4. Austin Murrey
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: Here’s the thing: when “anarchy” is simply used as a pejorative (which I’ve observed is how most folks seem to use it), and not as a descriptive term for some specific (albeit still hypothetical) arrangement of human affairs, what’s the point of pretending to have an intelligent discussion about it?

     · 1 minute ago

    My general impression of anarchy is less people in chainmail and leather chasing each other down a highway and more people largely interracting on the personal level for all interactions – more of a frontier model if you will.

    Personally I’m more comfortable with some level of legal interraction above that, more on the order late 18th, early 19th century American goverment.  Although I’m sure most libertarians would love to roll government back that far, would you want to go farther?

  5. Lord Humungus

    Not to be difficult, but Thunderdome was pretty much a dictatorship. Anarchy would be better demonstrated by Lord Humongous. But, for me Libertarianism is fine on paper; in theory, and it’s probably a noble, if unachievable end. In reality, it has never really worked anywhere that I’m aware of. Starting where we are today, though, Libertarianism and Conservatism share the goal of smaller government (I think); that is a better direction in which to trend than anything else we’re being offered.

  6. Fred Cole
    Austin Murrey

    Fred, as far as the initiation of force, does that mean the state is the only one that can proactive action or does reactive use of force count? 

    [snip]

    Also you say you’re an anarcho-capitalist: are you saying caveat emptorshould be the whole of law? · 2 minutes ago

    As to your second question, that’s an interesting way to put it.  I’ll have to meditate on that.

    As to your first question, the whole idea is based on concept of the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), the idea that its morally wrong to initiate the use of force (aggress) against another person.

    If you apply the NAP not just to people, but also organizations, specifically governments, then you end up either a minarchist state that can’t collect coercive taxes (Ayn Rand’s view) or anarcho-capitalism.

    The NAP only covers initiation of force.  If someone hits you, you’re allowed to hit back.

    As to your burglar example, if you find one in your house, he’s already aggressed against you, so you can use force to stop him.

  7. Fred Cole
    Austin Murrey

    My general impression of anarchy is less people in chainmail and leather chasing each other down a highway and more people largely interracting on the personal level for all interactions – more of a frontier model if you will.

    Personally I’m more comfortable with some level of legal interraction above that, more on the order late 18th, early 19th century American goverment.  Although I’m sure most libertarians would love to roll government back that far, would you want to go farther? · 5 minutes ago

    The frontier model is interesting.  I’d recommend The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robt Heinlein.  It describes an anarchist society.  In fact, the above mentioned David Friedman said its what led him to anarcho-capitalism.

    The problem with the 19th century in America is that for 65% of the century, half the country had an economic system based on chattle slavery, which requires a government recognizing it to function.

  8. Fred Cole
    Central Scrutinizer:

    Libertarianism is fine on paper; in theory, and it’s probably a noble, if unachievable end. In reality, it has never really worked anywhere that I’m aware of. 

    Depends on which elements you’re talking about.

  9. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Austin Murrey

    My general impression of anarchy is less people in chainmail and leather chasing each other down a highway and more people largely interracting on the personal level for all interactions – more of a frontier model if you will.

    So you already have some idea as to what anarchy might be, rather than an incoherent antipathy to the very word. Good.

    Personally I’m more comfortable with some level of legal interraction… on the order late 18th, early 19th century American goverment.  Although I’m sure most libertarians would love to roll government back that far, would you want to go farther? 

    Know what? I’m still not sure, at least in theory.

    Although I’m a moral traditionalist, my reasoning about politics is almost purely consequentialist. I’m pretty sure that human beings would flourish the most under minimal government. How minimal that minimal could be (for example, whether it could in fact be zero) is not something I feel confident answering yet.

    But as a practical matter, I would be simply  thrilled  if government could be returned to early 19th century size — and very skeptical that we could make even  that  much progress in the foreseeable future.

  10. Austin Murrey
    Fred Cole

    The frontier model is interesting.  I’d recommendThe Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robt Heinlein.  It describes an anarchist society.  In fact, the above mentioned David Friedman said its what led him to anarcho-capitalism.

    The problem with the 19th century in America is that for 65% of the century, half the country had an economic system based on chattle slavery, which requires a government recognizing it to function. · 1 minute ago

    Interesting point about the South’s economy at the time, although I’m uncertain how much the average Southerner relied upon slavery to make ends meet even into the Civil War – or even if you could quantify that.

    Do you think that large plantations and the economic benefits they supplied to the government via tariff income made it easier to have lower government involvement in the South? 

  11. Austin Murrey
    Central Scrutinizer: Not to be difficult, but Thunderdome was pretty much a dictatorship. · 33 minutes ago

    I was thinking less Tina Turner’s rule and more the “two men enter, one man leaves” aspect that anarchy or extreme libertarianism’s portrayed as by lots of folks.  There’s an awful lot of “you’ll be on your own and helpless before bullies” aspect to big-government rhetoric.

  12. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Austin Murrey

    Do you think that large plantations and the economic benefits they supplied to the government via tariff income made it easier to have lower government involvement in the South? 

    As Thomas Sowell has documented (see, for example, pp191-205 of his Race and Culture), it’s a mistake to simply assume that plantations run by slavery were a net economic benefit, even for whites.

    Slaveholding satisfies one’s desire for personal aggrandizement, for lording it over others, but it’s not an efficient way to get productivity out of people.

  13. kesbar

     If that government that rules best which rules least, where is the least you would propose and how do we reconcile that with the conservative who looks at the existence of the Department of Education and says “too much” but looks at the DEA and says “just right”?

    We have a system that will answer this if we would only enforce the 10th amendment.    If each State is allowed to decide what agencies to create, what laws to pass and what activities to regulate, we would have 50 active experiments moving incrementally towards the best balance for their residents.   The one-size-fits-all experiment from the last century is simply not sustainable.  We will either return to Federalism or something else will replace what we have today.

  14. Austin Murrey
    kesbar

     If that government that rules best which rules least, where is the least you would propose and how do we reconcile that with the conservative who looks at the existence of the Department of Education and says “too much” but looks at the DEA and says “just right”?

    We have a system that will answer this if we would only enforce the 10th amendment.    If each State is allowed to decide what agencies to create, what laws to pass and what activities to regulate, we would have 50 active experiments moving incrementally towards the best balance for their residents.   The one-size-fits-all experiment from the last century is simply not sustainable.  We will either return to Federalism or something else will replace what we have today. · 11 minutes ago

    The DOJ has several national policing agencies because crime is not limited to a single state.  Would strict Federalism be eliminating these agencies and if not what kind of Federal government oversight should be allowed?

    Personally I like the idea of an FBI that has the manpower to track down serial killers, for example, when a small town (or state) police force is out of its depth.

  15. Ed G.
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    Austin Murrey

    My general impression of anarchy is less people in chainmail and leather chasing each other down a highway and more people largely interracting on the personal level for all interactions – more of a frontier model if you will.

    So you already have some idea as to what anarchy might be, rather than an incoherent antipathy to the very word. Good.

    …..

    Midge, I know we’ve clashed in this realm before; I don’t think we need to retread that ground. However, please allow me to pop in only to say: antipathy isn’t necessarily incoherent.

  16. Austin Murrey
    kesbar

    Austin Murrey

    The DOJ has several national policing agencies because crime is not limited to a single state.  Would strict Federalism be eliminating these agencies and if not what kind of Federal government oversight should be allowed?

    Personally I like the idea of an FBI that has the manpower to track down serial killers, for example, when a small town (or state) police force is out of its depth. · 3 minutes ago

    There are crimes mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.  Among those are piracy, counterfeiting and treason.  This would be reason to keep the DOJ in some form, but there is no need for the DEA, ATF or the other agencies.  The reason for this is corruption; who watches the watchers?  Let the States handle those LE responsibilities and let them finance the cost by taking the Federal Government’s power to tax individuals away and give that power to States exclusively.  · 59 minutes ago

    So how would the federal government work and/or fund itself?

  17. Barkha Herman

    Same place as between biblical marriages and sharia laws?

    (end inflammatory rhetoric)

  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    Ed G.

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake

    So you already have some idea as to what anarchy might be, rather than an incoherent antipathy to the very word. Good.

    Midge, I know we’ve clashed in this realm before; I don’t think we need to retread that ground. However, please allow me to pop in only to say: antipathy isn’t necessarily incoherent. 

    Of course antipathy isn’t necessarily incoherent. If it were, the adjective “incoherent” would be superfluous, wouldn’t it?

    Still, “anarchy” is one of those “bogeyman words” that often elicit an incoherent response from normal people. That’s not to say that there can’t be principled objections to it, too.

  19. Lord Humungus
    Fred Cole

    Central Scrutinizer:

    Libertarianism is fine on paper; in theory, and it’s probably a noble, if unachievable end. In reality, it has never really worked anywhere that I’m aware of. 

    Depends on which elements you’re talking about. · 2 hours ago

    Little help please?

  20. Whiskey Sam

    I’ll clarify my position, I don’t think Libertarians are closet Anarchists.  I was only using that as an example of what might be inflammatory based on the reaction I’ve gotten from Libertarian friends when I’ve used variations of that line to needle them.  It is a point worth discussing, though.  There is at some level a perception of the two being nearly synonymous.

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