A satirical response to John Hospers’ essay “The Libertarian Temperament versus the Anarchist Temperament“. At last weekend’s LNC meeting in San Diego this essay by the LP’s 1972 presidential candidate was included in the meeting binder customarily provided for LNC members. Apparently it had been circulated earlier on the LNC email list. It’s my hope that this satirical reworking of Hospers’ essay will help illustrate just how insulting and hateful Hospers’ essay (and therefore its inclusion in the meeting materials) was felt to be by many of those anarchists who have toiled mightily for the Libertarian Party and for its mission of “nothing more nor less than a world set free in our lifetime”.
I want to distinguish the libertarian temperament from the minarchist temperament; and this distinction is quite important because there are many “minarchists” within the Libertarian Party. While minarchism as a theory may have a lot of arguments in its favor; I do not wish to question these here, or to raise the philosophical issue of minarchism here. I could even assume that all minarchist arguments are quite valid, and yet make the same point. I am concerned here only with psychological aspects of minarchism or, I should say, minarchists. In traveling here and there about the United States during the recent presidential campaign and since, I have come up against many a minarchist. And more than 90% of the poison pen letters I have received have come not from anarchists but from libertarian minarchists. I certainly do not want to be guilty of over-generalization, or to tar everyone with the same brush; but I have certainly noticed, as doubtless many of you have, a recurring personality pattern among those who label themselves minarchists.
Part of it can certainly be called an eagerness to submit to authority; but this, to a libertarian, is quite all right if it means that such submission is completely voluntary in nature. This is indeed a basic principle of libertarianism. But there is more: there is a strong, usually I would say a neurotic, insistence on the desirability of all forms of authority, especially government authority. There is a childish insistence on the obviousness of all points of minarchist doctrine, and of the evil and malevolence of anyone who makes an honest point against it. There is either an unwillingness to enter into calm sustained argument about it, or a childish frenzy in which they conduct argument, which makes it difficult for anyone to enter into it with them without being at the receiving end of name-calling and numerous personal slurs. I have seen this tendency reach the point of petulant screaming and stamping of feet, so that any impartial observer, regardless of whether or not he understood the arguments at issue, would exclaim, “These are a bunch of spoiled children!” Can it be that they have never grown up, that they love to dish it out but can’t bear to take it the way they give it, because they really have no experience in the cultivation of rationality? Many of them take to minarchism because it seems to give them a theoretical justification for their own psychological tendencies: they can’t really get along with anybody for a sustained period of time, and minarchism is the ultimate acceptance of the notion that some external authority must ultimately be in control of your interactions with your fellow men. One doesn’t have to deal fairly with his fellow men to continue in their favor, since in the minarchist ideal “the state” of course is always present to act as a last recourse for disputes. Thus, it is not an accident, I think, that the unconscious formula that the typical minarchist projects is: “Go screw yourself!” The view provides a convenient intellectual camouflage for their psychological propensities. (Egoists vs. egotists.)
Now, all this is very unfortunate from the standpoint of the Libertarian Party. It simply cannot grow as long as it is fractured into warring splinter groups, with the minarchists shouting from the housetops for all the world to hear what stupid idiots or fiendish devils all the other libertarians are. With a group so small to begin with, it is not difficult to imagine what picture the outside world will form of a party some of whose factions at least parade their differences as if they had no principles in common. Most people try to reduce everybody else to a slogan anyway, and the Libertarian Party is not accurately represented by any quick and easy slogans; the first impression people have of us from a couple of sentences in the daily paper is that we are a bunch of crackpots anyway, and this initial impression is only reinforced when they hear the minarchists berating the rest of us. They then feel that their initial impression of us is justified, and don’t bother to go on to investigate our views further; they have already got us tagged, and the tag is as far as it goes in their subsequent attitude toward us. The result is that every time this happens we have lost a possible ally.
Minarchism, as I see it, is an issue for the far future as far as practical application is concerned. If we get to the point where 9/10 of the present government functions are government functions no longer, then we can consider the question whether what remains is best performed by government or by private individuals and organizations. But it is virtually certain that we shall never reach that point if we do not present a united front to the world. What we should be working for together is the limitation of the governmental apparatus, not support of its current unlibertarian institutions. On this point we can all unite against all the other political parties; and, moreover, millions of people are so fed up with big government that they will surely listen to us if we get a chance to speak to them. The principal way in which we ourselves stand in the way of this, I think, is not only the minarchist doctrine but the minarchist psychology. They will not listen to self-styled defenders of reason who simply rant and scream. They already have a big mental block to overcome in even entertaining the word “minarchism” with any sympathy since the word in most minds conjures up images of basement-dwelling readers of Robert Heinlein who sport “Galt/Taggart ‘08” bumper stickers on their cars – if they have cars. And they will surely be turned off totally by a person whose main attitude toward them seems to be that it would be somewhat preferable if they didn’t exist.
Libertarians can’t do without creative disagreement and free discussion within their ranks, but they can jolly well do without the-attitudes of contentious and badly brought up children.