We live in a world where people label everything. If ten different people say they are “libertarian” we don’t really know if they are all talking about the same thing. More than likely no one is on the same page. We need to define the terms so that we know what we are really talking about if we say “libertarian” or whatever.
The great economist and Rothbardian professor Walter Block once summed up the attributes of various labels:
- Anarcho-capitalism. This is earmarked by strict adherence to the non-aggression principle (NAP) and property rights, based on homesteading. All government is rejected as illicit, since it necessarily violates the NAP (for one thing, no one agreed to pay it taxes). The foremost exemplar of this viewpoint is Murray N. Rothbard.
- Minarchism, or (very) limited government: Here, the state apparatus is limited to an army, courts and police. All three institutions have but one role: to protect the persons and property rights of domestic residents. The most famous adherents of this philosophy are Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick (well, at least for a while, in the latter case.)
- Constitutionalism. These are strict constructionists of the U.S. constitution. Dr. Ron Paul is the foremost exponent of this libertarian perspective.
- Classical liberals. They favor free enterprise and the marketplace, but accept numerous exceptions to the system of laissez faire capitalism. The highest profile examples are Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.
I think that if everyone would adhere to the labels above, many arguments and misunderstandings would be avoided. Unfortunately, the list does not include the “anarchists” who are really communists, but that is alright as I don’t have enough space in this short essay to cover those crazy people.
It should be obvious that number one above is the best of all possible worlds here on earth and that succeeding label is a drop in freedom. Those who expose the viewpoint of Anarcho-capitalism are telling us how we should live. Unfortunately, mankind has been dominated for centuries by the State and all its evil. Hence, getting from the totalitarian present to a free future is going to be a difficult task. The road is full of danger and errors will be made.
Some readers will disagree that the Anarcho-capitalism is “better” or “more free” than, say, “Classical Libertarianism”. Let us start with Classical Libertarianism and see how each level is better that the one below it. The idea of this exercise is that I want to take a look at tactics that libertarians should use to help the world (USA in particular) reach freedom and so a clear understanding of the problems of each ideology would be most useful.
Classical liberalism, which was just called liberalism in those days, once dominated the west. The idea of laissez-faire capitalism (even with the exceptions they favored) along with property rights brought us the industrial revolution and our modern industrial society. Classical liberalism brought the downfall of feudalism and the stagnation that system gave humanity.
So what was so bad about classical liberalism? The ideology supported the state and thought the state could be contained and controlled. History proves that idea was a mistake. Classical liberalism gave us the United States and the history of just the USA shows that the state will continually amass power and will come to dominate the citizens. The tyranny of today’s USA came from the classically liberal beginning. That shows us that the Classical Liberals made a serious mistake thinking the State could be contained and controlled.
The problem with those who think that the piece of paper called the Constitution will constrain the State is that the State itself interprets the words in the constitution. Naturally the State always finds for itself increasing “constitutional powers” that no one saw before. Essentially the constitutionalists make the same error as the Classical Liberals made.
Minarchism, or (very) limited government
Those who propose a government so limited that one can barely tell it is there have an advantage in that they claim to provide honest and impartial legal services to the people. They claim to provide national defense. The problem is that the state will grow in size and become exactly what we have today. Besides that, even a very limited state will reward its friends and become a bastion of crony-capitalism. It is true that a very limited government would beat the tyranny we have today but the ultimate goal must be for more than this.
The idea of no State at all and how people would craft a society blows the mind of most people. I recall thinking that Murray Rothbard was good on most things but just went too far when he said that we could have a society without a State. Then I realized that society is not the State and that the State is the enemy of society. Protection of the weak does not mean there must be a monopoly sate.
People will find ways to govern themselves and there will be “bad guys” that must be dealt with. But competing police services, courts, and legal services beat the monopoly that the State enjoys today.
I think the example of Ireland for at least a 1,000 years without a state and perhaps as much as 9,000 years cured me of any doubt about a stateless society.