I have been told by a lawyer type in recent days that I am no libertarian since I am an anarchist. That particular lawyer type is a progressive who pretended to be a Cato/Reason Libertarian for a long time so we don’t really care what she thinks but it does raise a good question that does not get enough inspection. Rothbard looked at that question as early as back in the ’50s but that essay was never published until the Mises Institute found it at some point.
… In the first place, there is no accepted meaning to the word “anarchism” itself. The average person may think he knows what it means, especially that it is bad, but actually he does not. In that sense, the word has become something like the lamented word “liberal,” except that the latter has “good” connotations in the emotions of the average man. The almost insuperable distortions and confusions have come both from the opponents and the adherents of anarchism. The former have completely distorted anarchist tenets and made various fallacious charges, while the latter have been split into numerous warring camps with political philosophies that are literally as far apart as communism and individualism. The situation is further confused by the fact that, often, the various anarchist groups themselves did not recognize the enormous ideological conflict between them. …
I don’t think that Rothbard would need change a word of the above quote even after more than half a century has passed. The public still views “anarchists” as very bad, bomb tossing weirdos who want to see society devolve into chaos. The government, press, and the schools work hard to make that the accepted definition! In fact the average American even thinks that “chaos” and “anarchy” mean the same thing. Such is the power of the American school system to keep people ignorant.
So what is an “anarchist”? The Mises Wiki says:
Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. It seeks to diminish or even abolish coercive authority in the conduct of human relations. Anarchists may widely disagree on what additional criteria are required in anarchism. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy says, “there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance.”
I normally go with the much simpler idea that anarchy is the idea of having no monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a given area. No State in other words. No rulers with guns. This fits nicely with the ethical stance called the Non-Aggression Principle where “Aggression” is defined as the “initiation” of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property. Since the State in all its form uses force, fraud, and coercion to rule we see that one can not hold to the Non-Aggression Principle of ethics and believe in a State.
So what is a libertarian? Again, from the Mises Wiki we see:
Libertarianism is a political philosophy that views respect for individual choice and individual liberty as the foundation of the ideal society, and therefore seeks to minimize or abolish the coercive actions of the State as that is the entity that is generally identified as the most powerful coercive force in society. Broadly speaking, libertarianism focuses on the rights of the individual to act in complete accordance with his or her own subjective values, and argues that the coercive actions of the State are often (or even always) an impediment to the efficient realization of one’s desires and values. Libertarians also maintain that what is immoral for the individual must necessarily be immoral for all state agents, and that the state should not be above the natural law. The extent to which government is necessary is evaluated by libertarian moral philosophers from a variety of perspectives.
The modern “libertarian” is called that since the “liberal” of “Classical Liberalism” came to mean the opposite of liberty after the socialists stole the word long ago. But one can look that the liberals of the 18th and 19th century and see where the libertarians came from; even though the name has changed slightly. I once saw a writer claim that all the above boil down to the assertion that all libertarians believe in the Non-Aggression Principle. I think that is a fair litmus test. After all, the only way to minimize the coercive actions of the State is to make it adhere to the Non-Aggression Principle.
If both the anarchist and the libertarian need to adhere to the Non-Aggression Principle then it is clear that libertarianism will sooner or later lead a person to anarchy. Many if not most libertarians start as “small government” types but find over time that government action always leads to harm and comes to believe in the old saying that “that government that governs least governments best and no government at all is perfection”.
We seek that perfection of no government. But we don’t think that no government leads to the perfection of men; only that market anarchy is the best system fallible men can use on this planet.
All of the above is in addition to the fact that we have also learned from the Austrian School of Economics that all government intervention into the market makes people poorer than they would have been without the intervention and that leads one to consider anarchy also. I’ll delve into that in again in a latter post. Till then, let us work to educate the masses on the liberty movement.