Steve G.

John Hospers and the Libertarian Temperament

In Crazy Claims, Libertarian, literature, Personal Responsibility on May 26, 2009 at 9:17 pm

I recently came across an article by former Libertarian Party candidate for president Mr. John Hospers in which he discusses the interaction of both anarchists and minarchists within the libertarian movement.  There are, as one might expect, some good things and some bad things to say of Mr. Hospers’s analysis.  I will first discuss and provide insights on what I like about the article—specifically his call for alliance between the two aforementioned libertarian factions.  I shall then explain what I see to be the failings of Mr. Hospers’s analysis.

Let me begin by saying I agree with Mr. Hospers when he says,

Anarchism, 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.

This is a point Mr. Harry Browne made often, and it is a point with which I agree.

As an anarchist, and one who is optimistic for the long-run but pessimistic in the short-run, I do not believe we will achieve even minarchy (i.e. limited, constitutional government) within my lifetime, let alone anarchy (i.e. the replacement of the entire state with private, voluntary institutions).  Therefore, my own anarchism is explored for predominately philosophic reasons.

That’s not to say that I do not also embrace it for practical reasons.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m not only an anarchist in theory but also an anarchist in practice.  That is to say, I “live anarchy” every day.  In my every interaction with people, I always eschew aggression.  I do not steal, I do not rape, I do not accept welfare, and, if I were to get elected to some legislative body tomorrow, I would refuse to accept even a cent of tax-payer money for the job.  I engage in voluntary action at all times.1

But I recognise that America is not going to accept anarchism yet.  The people are, unfortunately, not yet independently-minded enough to come to a total and complete rejection of all aggression entirely, nor even is a 50% majority yet going to make such a commitment.  Far too many people believe in continuing the war on drugs (as just one of many examples) to as of yet come to a total rejection of aggression.

But this is no reason for me to turn my back on anarchism.  Ultimately, reason compels me to embrace anarchy as the only ethical and practical system of government.  And I see no harm in promoting this view, in explaining politely and hopefully-convincingly to people how the alternative institutions we radical libertarians advocate would function in the real world.

I believe there is no inconsistency in being an anarchist—in promoting anarchism—and in allying myself with minarchists.  As Mr. Hospers implies, should we ever get to the point where the vast majority of the government has been eliminated, at that point we’ll have to get down to the nitty-gritty of what divides anarchist libertarians from minarchist libertarians.  At that point, we’ll have to end our alliance.  In the meantime, Mr. Hospers is right: we should work together toward our common goals.

At the same time, I also hold that there is nothing wrong in trying to convince minarchist libertarians that libertarian anarchism is superior to libertarian minarchism.  And I will attempt to do so because to achieves my own aims.  Thus far, I’m proud to say, I have helped to turn no less than four limited-state libertarians into no-state libertarians.

It should become immediately clear that I therefore have two goals when it comes to the promotion of my political views: (1) to convert non-libertarians into libertarians and (2) to convert minarchists into anarchists.  Since I’ve had far more success with my second objective than my first, I can only conclude that the second objective is easier to accomplish than the former.  But the former is just as important, and if I were somehow able to convert the statists of the world into minarchists en mass, I would consider this a triumphant victory for Liberty.

Because I recognise that both of these tasks are difficult, I try to be respectful when engaging someone in political discourse.  I want to win people over, and I realise that name-calling and temper-tantrums is not the way to achieve this.  So you can imagine just how embarrassed I was by many of my fellow Ron Paul Revolutionaries when I was reading blogs and whatnot two years ago!  I wanted Ron Paul to win, and unfortunately many of his followers were acting like fourth-graders in their discourse with random Internet-users.

Political discourse has been a prime concern of mine for quite some time now.  It’s been such a concern because I truly want us to achieve Liberty, and I know that this will not happen as long as we push people away through rudeness.

This brings me to the unfortunate flaw in Mr. Hospers’s analysis. He readily recognises a problem exists involving discourse. However, he seems to assume that the problem is entirely on the anarchists’ end.  Although he does not say so, he implies that minarchists are always respectful and rational in their outlook while anarchists are chaotic, rude, childish, and emotionally-driven.  I do not believe this stereotype holds.

The reality is much more nuanced.  There are some anarchists, naturally, who are quite rude with people—even with fellow libertarians, much to my chagrin.  There are also plenty of anarchists who are extremely respectful individuals.  Could you imagine the mild-mannered Jeffrey Tucker throwing profanities at a political opponent, or stamping his foot?  I certainly cannot.

Yet this is precisely how Mr. Hospers paints all of us anarchists.  Writes Hospers,

There is either an unwillingness [no the part of anarchists] to enter into calm sustained argument about it [the virtues of statism], 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.

Hospers does not say that this is simply a problem with specific anarchists he’s encountered, but rather that this is a “psychological aspect[] of anarchism.”  The implication is clear: if you are an anarchist, you are likely immature.  Even if you’re not immature, it’s not because anarchism does not entail this personality defect, but because you’ve somehow suppressed your natural anarchist tendency to embrace immaturity.

But this is simply not so.  For one thing, I would estimate that most libertarian anarchists are those who were at one time libertarian minarchists.  I know that I was a minarchist up until July of 2007, and that I only came to embrace anarchy after years of reflection.  Slowly but surely I came around to conclusion after conclusion that this or that aspect of the state was not necessary, that this or that regulation actually caused more harm than good.  For me, straw that broke the camel’s back was the environment.  I had held that free-market environmentalism was a good and necessary thing, but kept telling myself that we needed the state so that we could have appropriate regulations where needed.  The only problem was, I couldn’t think of a single regulation that only the state and nothing else could provide.  At that point, I had no alternative but to consider the matter of anarchism once more, to consider it objectively and intelligently.  I did not embrace anarchism whimsically, but only after a great deal of reflection and thought.  Even after embracing it, I still gave the matter a great deal of thought and reflection, as I believe was appropriate.  I still question it every once in a while to this day, but every time I do, I come back to the same conclusion: it is the only system that conforms to the way humans really work, the only system that conforms to human nature rather than trying to mould humans in some other image.  It is, in short, the only system that can work.  (After all, as we all know, government doesn’t work.)

Thus, since most libertarian anarchists were at one time libertarian minarchists, either Mr. Hospers would have to hold that their personalities changed upon converting to anarchism or that they were just as immature when they were minarchists as they are now. I do not believe Mr. Hospers wishes to concede either of these points.

For another thing, it is simply incorrect to say that all communication breakdowns between minarchists and anarchists are on the anarchists’ end. Just as there are some anarchists who are clearly immature, there is a great deal of minarchists who are just as immature. Believe me, I have engaged in my fair share of discussions with immature minarchists, people who embarrass me as a libertarian just as much as the immature anarchists do. I do not pretend, however, that there is any uniform minarchist psychological mindset, or that all minarchists are appropriately represented by the immature ones I’ve encountered. In short, some anarchists and minarchists alike engage in unproductive discourse, while plenty in both camps understand that mindless name-calling gets us nowhere.

Mr. Hospers writes, “I have certainly noticed, as doubtless many of you have, a recurring personality pattern among those who label themselves anarchists.” But, alas, if I were to paint minarchists under the same broad brush that Mr. Hospers uses to paint anarchists, would this be anything other than stereotyping?

Where, pray tell, is the respectable discourse in that?


1Among other things, Mr. Hospers claims in his article that anarchists engage in “a strong, usually…neurotic, rebellion against all forms of discipline, especially self-discipline.”  If this point about “living anarchy” proves anything, it is that this Hosperian statement is (in addition to being extremely insulting) fundamentally wrong.

  1. Methinks the psychological impetus for rudeness has less to do with anarchism per se, than the fact that many anarchists follow in the footsteps of Murray Rothbard — who was quite eloquent in the art of the ad homenim attack.

    Dr. Rothbard’s nastiness stemmed from a flaw in his philosophical approach. By taking a limited model of the observability of human desire, he disallowed any rational discussion of trade-offs. But it is such trade-offs that drive libertarian moralist minarchists to advocate some government. Govenment entails initiation of force, but so does lack of government (cf. Somalia). The libertarian moralist minarchist advocates his position based on the (possibly wrong) supposition that a small government can entail less initiation of force that the complete abolition of government. (The concept is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.) The Rothbardian damns anyone for exploring such trade-offs, and focuses on one side of the ledger (the advocation of some government) while ignoring the other side of the ledger (the consequences of the resulting power vacuum). Thus, the nastiness.

    Meanwhile, there are anarchists who do honestly explore the trade-offs and consequences of abolishing all government. David Friedman comes to mind. These anarchists tend to be much more civil than those of the Rothbard school.

    P.S. I got my mail yesterday. Government worked. Harry Browne’s slogan is a silly overstatement.

  2. Alex,

    I read your article with great interest… not so much for your views of the personal (and certainly insulting) comments of Mr. Hospers, but more about your own personal view of anarchism, minarchism and an alliance between the two.

    First, I am disturbed by your implication that, in the end, one or the other must eradicate the other:

    “As Mr. Hospers implies, should we ever get to the point where the vast majority of the government has been eliminated, at that point we’ll have to get down to the nitty-gritty of what divides anarchist libertarians from minarchist libertarians.”

    I am also disturbed by what I see as a a value of yours which is inconsistent with a libertarian philosophy… actively trying to ‘convert’ anyone rather than offering them information, answering questions and demonstrating the value and common sense of your personal beliefs by how you live your own life.

    “It should become immediately clear that I therefore have two goals when it comes to the promotion of my political views: (1) to convert non-libertarians into libertarians and (2) to convert minarchists into anarchists.”

    I see a value and necessity of an alliance between what you call the factions of the anarchist libertarians and the minarchist libertarians. What I do NOT see is that an end point cannot allow BOTH philosophies to co-exist and respect each other.

    Using the divisions you give, I would have to say that I fall into the minarchist camp. However, the most politically active person I know is an avowed anarchist who I would do anything for to have in a position of influence, if not in our current government. Even though this person sees a completely different end-game than I do, even though we want to help create different ideal governments, I do not see their ideal government not existing side-by-side with mine. I think that we need vision and intelligence like theirs in the game because it would benefit ALL of us. I wouldn’t even mind if they got that 90% mentioned above as long as those of us who are minarchist get out place to have our 10%.

    I could never be an anarchist because I do believe in government. I might want a government which protects all of our rights to be free and make all decisions about ourselves without government control, but I want that same government to be there to protect all of us from others who would try to impose their own will upon others.

    I see a beauty and an elegance in a well-designed and operated government. I see honor in personal service to our fellow man. I see justice in a government which strives to protect and care for its weakest members and those in its minorities. And I see a search for truth in the desire to perfect government rather than in trying to get rid of it. The anarchism I feel that you are advocating is as cruel and impersonal as any Randian Objectivist philosophy.

    I also have a personal philosophical objection to mass movements and of actively recruiting or converting people to a specific belief system or cause. I think that causes and movements are faceless things that fall victim to group or mob mentality. I do not think that they are rational or operate by reason. It is too easy for a government or other group to label a movement as dangerous and try to wipe them out wholesale. In 1989, I remember how easy it was for the government to use the cover of night to shoot and roll tanks over thousands of people who were peacefully gathered while the next day one single man standing in the middle of the road in broad daylight holding nothing more that two mags of groceries stopped an entire column of tanks. What that single man inspired in me can never be compared to the lack of emotional connection raised in my by weeks of peaceful gatherings by the thousands.

    Finally, getting back to the ‘end’game’, I invision a world with many, many small nation-states, each one governed according to the will and comfort of its citizens. I support any part of a larger nation-state which wants to separate from the larger one and govern itself… Palestine, Chechnya, the Basque region, the Kurdish lands, Tibet, Scotland, Wales, any and all of them. While I might disagree with some of their methods or intentions (a desire to seperate because of negative, isolationist, angry and agressive motivations is, even if sucessful, only wanting a nation-state that cannot stand and will, in fact, tear itself apart), I support any peoples who dream of self-rule. I envision a world with hundreds, if not thousands of small nation-states experimenting with every imaginable form of government which allow people to move freely from one to another in order to find the government they are most happy with. I also think that many smaller nation-states can co-exist and cooperate better than large ones for many reasons, not the least of which is that it limits the resources which are available to any one and requires them to trade and interact with other to acquire the other resources that they need.

    Thus, while you seem to see a world, or at least a nation, in which it would come down to one OR the other, I see one in which, through cooperation and mutual assistance we get both… and many others besides.


    Rhys M. Blavier

  3. I thank both of you for your responses. I’ll try to respond to them later today, after class.

    Alex Peak

  4. This interesting post caught my eye from Knapp’s FND. I first read Hospers in his discussion of Objectivism’s moral code (and I’m pretty sure the stolen-concept, or self-exclusion, fallacy as well) in Introduction to Philosophical Analysis (’67 edition)–both of which were devastatingly effective tools for challenging the ideas of my philosophy professors at the time (early 90s). From there, Ayn Rand’s works painted the entire philosophical picture.

    Unfortunately, Hospers is indeed off the mark in his analysis of libertarian anarchism and anarchists, whom he refers to as “contentious and badly brought up children.” In this age of pre-logic and compulsion, casting such aspersions is yet another way to avoid the truth in these matters. Minarchism contains the same statist premise as any of the more tyrannical political ideologies. All forms of statism are authoritarian and contradictory, because they all entail the initiation of force (destruction of human choice). The idea of “necessary evil” is contradictory too, e.g., a government that supposedly protects you from the “vacuum of force” allegedly caused by anarchism, as Eric Sundwall proffered above. Thugs may exist without government of course, but thugs commit their thuggery much more easily when they belong to some “government,” or mafia with a flag, i.e., when their rights-violations are widely viewed as legitimate and virtuous (hence committed with impunity).

    Morally speaking, minarchists grant legitimacy to government (i.e., to people who “legally” initiate force). Thus they perpetuate the premise of statism and various obedience-to-“authority” memes. This clearly demonstrates that libertarian anarchists and minarchists are morally at odds. Because they don’t share the same moral principle of free individual choice (applying it equally to all people and groups of people, including those in “government”), they can’t join logically in common ethical and political cause; they can’t be a “united front,” as Hospers implores–at least not without ignoring their fundamental philosophical disagreement.

    Further, to promote the premise of statism is to make the goal freedom unattainable. There can be no “tradeoffs” here without engaging in insuperable contradictions. Pragmatic thinking permeates many aspects of our culture, to be sure. The moral and the practical are sometimes considered to be mutually exclusive, especially in regard to “government.” Yet determining the pros and cons of using initiatory force is an affront to human dignity–even with the best of intentions or to achieve possibly otherwise unreachable ends. The end (liberty) doesn’t justify the means (unjust coercion).

    In addition to glossing over the fundamental philosophical disagreement between anarchists and minarchists, perhaps the biggest mistake of libertarians (myself included, up to a few years ago) has been engaging in and promoting party politics, or partyarchy. By lending credence to what is, essentially, a corrupt process, and not condemning it–in principle–we greatly hinder our culture’s evolution to political freedom. Samuel Edward Konkin III explained it quite well:

    “Our Enemy, The Party” by SEKIII posted by Wally Conger

    Ridding our minds of the contradiction of statism also means disavowing its irrational, immoral, and unjust rules for pleading for more freedom as well.


  5. @Wes, thugs DO exist without government! Read up on pirates and slave traders. It is far better to be at the whim of a modern Scandinavian welfare state than a privately owned slave ship of three centuries ago.

    Then there are mixes. William the Conqueror was a government in the sense that he was a French nobleman. (However, back then the distinction between landholder and local government was quite blurred!) But William did not conquer England using just his own subjects. He put out want ads around France saying “who wants to be a conqueror?”. England has yet to fully recover from the effects of this semi-private army.

    All this said, a modern form of anarchy may work better than modern governments. But have a civil tongue when dealing with those freedom lovers who are loathe to risk the existing life and liberty of millions on problematic experiments. Minarchists are minarchists because of a love of liberty, for the same reasons you are an anarchists. They just look at the data.

  6. @Wes,
    Your points are exactly the ones I made on my show Monday Wednesday night. It seems, to me anyway, the height of arrogance for minarchists to suggest to EVERYBODY that they’ve got it wrong; the Rs and Ds have too much government and anarchist want too little. Once you allow for any government action, who decides where it stops? Apparently some minarchists think they are the only people gifted with the ability to make those decisions for everyone. That said, as a woman who actively participated in the LP before “growing up” and moving on to anarchy, I’ve no problem working with anyone who may be interested in reducing the scope of government force no matter what label they wear.


    edit to add: I’m not suggesting that all minarchists are arrogant or anything else. I have many friends in that camp and I realize that we just view things differently and therefore have different end goals. Still love them to pieces.

  7. Can I ask a sincere question… no attempt to troll or cause conflict but:

    “It seems, to me anyway, the height of arrogance for minarchists to suggest to EVERYBODY that they’ve got it wrong.”

    How is a statement like this any different from any other statement which uses a broad stroke brush to paint entire ‘categories’ of people… ‘Dems say…’, ‘Repubs always…’, ‘Conservatives hate…’, ‘Liberals aren’t…’, ‘why is that women…’, ‘it’s always the blacks who…’. I have learned over the past few months that I have a severe dislike for when people use broad attacks or statements which they do not or cannot document their justification for their claims. I have pointed out to friends that The Constitution very clearly and narrowly defines treason in the United States and, thus, it is inappropriate to just blithely accuse people with differing beliefs of being guilty of treason. I told friends during the last election that there were very real reasons to not support either candidate and asked them to articulate real reasons for their stances rather than resorting to meaningless catch phrases like ‘McSame’ or ‘Obama bin Laden’.

    I do it myself, I admit. We seem to be raised to think in these terms, but I am trying to be conscious of it and do better about this myself. The thing is that if we do not do our part to elevate the debate in this nation then how can we get upset when others don’t make reasoned, rational or quantifiable arguments.

    As for the specific quote I referenced, although I had never even heard the term before I read this article, I guess that I would be classified as a minarchist and, while I will talk in great depth about what I believe, I try to keep foremost in my mind not that everyone ELSE is wrong but that *I* might be. I think that everyone and every belief system, EVERY one, has at least a part of the truth. What I am interested in is finding what truth is, where ever I find it. I think that there are many out there like me from all walks of life, all ranges of the political spectrum. While it might seem that, and may very be true, that MANY people in any category might be an idiot, that doesn’t mean that we all are.


    Rhys M. Blavier

  8. You know, Rhys, I thought that I’d qualified that well enough using the word some and then going on to edit at the end. Your comment shows me that I was unclear and for that, I apologize.

    What I meant to question was who decides what is the right amount of government at all? If a minarchist says, for example, that the government shouldn’t be involved in healthcare but government is needed to police, what he is saying is I know better than you what is needed for you. While I don’t doubt (usually) that person’s motives, I question how it differentiates the minarchist from anyone who believes that a larger government regulator is necessary within the other areas of life. I think (again, my opinion only) that it’s arrogant whether the subject is healthcare, public schools or business regulation no matter who’s doing the talking.

    Hosper’s article focuses on the whiny anarchists who are keeping the LP from making progress but I think he fails to see that the problem is telling people that you know better than them what they need. As it stands now, the LP (or some of the minarchists within the party) is saying to the members of the R&D parties that there is too much government (true in my opinion) and the anarchist faction that the 10% version of government lite is A-Ok for now and maybe we’ll get around to working on that later. It is my opinion that those who share the Hospers opinion are being hypocrites or arrogant and I wonder sometimes if they ever think about how it comes across.

    If government force is wrong in healthcare, retirement and other areas, how can one say -with a straight face anyway- that it’s right other areas, but only the areas the minarchists think important? I think that the LP may grow once that little problem is reconciled. Until then, I’m still happy to work with anybody who wishes to reduce the role of the State although not from within the party’s national office. I won’t call people who believe differently “badly brought up children” but I will ask why they think they know better than the rest what is needed.

  9. Alex,

    Thank you for clarrifying that. I also think that you are emphasizing a very important point which many people miss, advocating for ANY government but drawing lines as to how far it goes is no different than drawing a line in a principle and saying below this line a principle is too unimportant to fight for. That is what I admire about the philosophy of Anarchy, it doesn’t draw any lines like that, it simply says that there is no level of external government which is acceptible or can be trusted. It requires an amazing amount of faith… in yourself AND in other people, to be able to want actually see Anarchy as an achievable goal. I see it more as a shining light in the sky, a star, to give us something to steer towards but, like a star, our skip can never actually reach it, we can do more than use it for guiding us.

    Those things that I do believe in… like a woman’s right to choose, are absolute and unwaivering because I believe that once you do start putting limiting qualifiers in those rights, you make it easy to move that line closer and closer to telling a woman what she must do with her body, or not do with it. As I said, I DO believe in government, limited though I want it to be, but I believe that it must be carefully designed to clearly and absolutely deliniate the lines of power and authority which it has. Those lines cannot be arbitrary or flexible for that allows them to move out farther and farther to the benefit of the government and at the expense of the people.

    About ALL things, however, *I* may be wrong so I hope that you will never hear THIS minarchist make insulting remarks about the people as a whole who advocate other views of an idea government… I might insult individuals or mindsets, but ultimately most of us have a vision of a government (or lack thereof) which will benefit the most people… how can it be bad if any of us are proven wrong by someone else getting it right. Does that make sense?


  10. Oops. I just noticed that I addressed that to the articles author (Alex) instead of to the comments author (Michelle). I sincerely apologize about that. If it can be edited to correct my mistake I would appreciate it, if not, then this serves as my public and sincere apology.


  11. Dear all,

    Sorry for taking so long to respond. I’m still working on getting Spooner’s No Treason ready for publication, and I realised recently that something I was doing with formatting was unadvisable. In any event, here I am.

    Mr. Sundwall,

    Having now read your piece, I must say that this paragraph stood out to me:

    I was recently interviewed on a local AM station before the election by a radio host who also claimed to be libertarian. He made a particular effort to distance the idea of libertarians from anarchists. I responded that there was in fact a group within the party who considered themselves anarchists and that they should in fact be differentiated from the bomb throwing nihilists of the late 19th Century. I concluded that they were more concerned about the moral justifications of government and that their overall goal wasn’t chaos next Tuesday. He of course went to the next shiny object in his bag of AM radio host tricks and the issue wasn’t pursued.

    It sounds to me like you handled the topic perfectly.

    I must dissent, however, about your post regarding Tucker’s post on the LP. I don’t interpret Tucker’s position as being that all LP activists are sell-outs or whatnot. This certainly would be a view some agorists hold, but I do not think Mr. Tucker is particularly agorist. It appears to me that Tucker was simply expressing his personal view that the LP is a hopeless wreck that tends more and more these days to shun intellectualism. I think this is a position that even many Reformers may agree with, even if they disagree with Tucker on the policy the LP should advocate.

    Mr. Milsted,

    Firstly, I believe you misinterpret Browne’s position. He does not mean to imply that the state is incapable of getting a piece of mail from point A to point B. It has certainly achieved this objective on many occassions. The point, rather, is to say that government is inefficent at everything it does. Even though Browne does not promote the abolition of the state, he admit that the state is inherently inefficient—something to which even most statists admit.

    He would often couple his claim with the point that the government never keeps its promises. A certain policy is promoted under the promise that it will help the people, perhaps by lowering the cost of oil, for example. But, then, the government takes actions that invariably either (A) cause the exact opposite to happen or (B) achieve the stated goal only by causing some other, greater problem (i.e. unintended consequences).

    Yes, you receive mail through the USPS. But would any of us who understand the functions of the market concur with the position that the USPS’s government-imposed monopoly on first-class mail actually benefits consumers, it allows the USPS to function more efficiently than it would otherwise? Would any of us conclude that a free market in mail delivery would not be an improvement?

    Not only will most economists agree with this position, but moreover I’m sure you agree as well. The matter is so clear that even most statists would have to admit that the USPS’s monopoly on first-class mail does not serve the consumer.

    To your comment on Somalia, a legitimate challange can be offered.

    Writes Walter Block, “[I]f we define anarchy as places without governments, and we define governments as the agencies with a legal right to impose violence on their subjects, then whatever else occurred in Haiti, Sudan, and Somalia, it wasn’t anarchy. For there were well-organized gangs (e.g., governments) in each of these places, demanding tribute, and fighting others who made similar impositions. Absence of government means absence of government, whether well established ones, or fly-by-nights” (The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics 2, no. 3 (Fall 1999): 67).

    I generally hold to this view. With that said, Benjamin Powell did write a fascinating article three years ago title “Somali Anarchy Is More Orderly than Somali Government.” While I do not agree with the claim that Somalia is anarchist, the changes to their society is certainly interesting to witness.

    I think you are incorrect when you say that the lack of a state “entails” the initiation of force. However, if you tweak the statement, I believe we could come to some common accord.

    I would say that whenever a man commits a crime against another, he is effectively creating a coercive hierarchy with himself on top and his victim below. Another word for this coercive hierarchy, in my vocabulary, is “state.” In other words, when a man places a gun to the head of another man in the state of nature, what he is doing is establishing a government with himself as ruler. He is, in other words, de-establishing anarchy.

    Only when the victim regains those things stolen from him by the aggressor can we say that anarchy has been re-established.

    But, of course, there is never a guarantee—no matter what system of government one chooses (whether it be democratic, fascist, state-communist, or anarchist)—there is never a guarantee that the criminal will be captured, that justice will be served. Thus, every system of government—anarchy included—requires what Jefferson termed “eternal vigilance” and what the French classical liberals called a revolution in permanence.

    In a state of nature, there will continually be small “states” created whenever and wherever aggressions occur. The objective of the alternative institutions that anarchists wish to create is to eliminate this miniature “states,” to ensure justice for the victims of crime in other words. But since no system is perfect, since utopia is impossible, there will always be criminals who get away with their crimes—no matter what system of government one chooses. (I advocate a stateless system because I believe it will be most effective at eliminating injustice and establishig order, but I have no illusions—it will not be utopian.)

    If you say that anarchy “entails” aggression (i.e. the inituation of force), I will have to disagree. But if you tweak the statement to say that the adoption of anarchism will not succeed in fully eliminating aggression, then I will agree. The adoption of anarchism cannot eliminate the potential for aggression (hence the need for a revolution in permanence), but I do believe it will go far more toward limiting aggression than the alternatives. And this, my good sir, is why I advocate it.

    (SIDE-NOTE: This is not to imply that I do not also advocate it because of my view that the state is unethical. Although I would have no problem with Auberon Herbert’s “voluntaryist state,” and consider it to be a fully ethical organisation of government, I do not believe that that organisation of government can honestly or accurately be called a “state,” since I define the state by its willingness to use aggression to achieve its ends. A government that in all ways eschews aggression does not merit so dishonourable a label as “state” in my view. But that I oppose the state of ethical grounds should not go to imply that I believe there is a bright line between natural law and those ideals one considers to be utilitarian. Perhaps its by shear coincidence, but it seems to me that those things that are required by natural law also happen to universally be the most utilitarian options available. I refer the reader to pages 4–5 of Brian Doherty’s Radicals for Capitalism (2007).)

    Finally, Mr. Milstead, you bring up Dr. Rothbard. I have to agree with you that Rothbard unfortunately had a tendency to burn bridges, a tendency that, when reading over his work from various periods, can only lead to disappointment. As much as he helped and grew the libertarian movement, and as important as he was to libertarian intellectualism, his nasty habit of burning bridges obviously was not a boost to the movement in any way. I find it a real shame that he had this habit.

    With that said, your post still assumes that rudeness is an explicitely anarchist problem. Not only do I still reject this, but I fail to see exactly how Dr. Rothbard’s personality defects would in any way rub off on anarchist libertarians collectively.

    I’m far more inclined to believe that those anarchist libertarians who do act rudely (as well as the non-anarchist libertarians who act rudely) do so for the same reason so many non-libertarians in general act rudely: our current culture, coupled with the newness of the Internet to communication.

    People act more rudely in general on the Internet than they do in real life because, if for no other reason, the lack of faces. They never have to worry about actual confrontation. Worse yet, because of our inability to pick up on communication cues from text alone, we’re more likely to see hostility in the words of others than is intended, which then leads many to fly off the handle. This is a problem that is experienced across the political spectrum—it is not unique to libertarians and especially not unique to any sub-group within the libertarian movement.

    Mr. Blavier,

    1. I did not mean to imply that either minarchists or anarchists would have to “eradicate” the other group once we reach minarchy. I merely meant that once we reach that point, our alliance will have served its purpose, and no longer be necessary or useful. At that point, we’ll have to start debating with one another about the merits of statelessness and whether or not it is feasible. But I do not propose a war between the two camps or the “eradication” of either. I’m sorry if you misinterpreted my position.

    2. You write, “I am also disturbed by what I see as a a value of yours which is inconsistent with a libertarian philosophy… actively trying to ‘convert’ anyone rather than offering them information, answering questions and demonstrating the value and common sense of your personal beliefs by how you live your own life.”

    I don’t believe there is anything un-libertarian about converting people, and in fact would argue that the method you describe is the best method of conversion.

    I am agnostic. However, in a free society, people would have every right to try to convert me to, say, Islam or Hinduism or whatever. Ultimately, it’s my individual choice whether to take up their views or not. But it certainly would be un-libertarian to prohibit them from preaching, to prohibit them from attempting to convert others.

    Perhaps its the word “convert” you do not like. I do not wish to imply that I would convert people by force. Instead, all I mean to imply by the term is that I hope they will be swayed to my point of view by the soundness of my logic. Force, of course, should be solely reserved for defensive purposes. If a statist walks past me, I will certainly not pull a gun on her and kill her; if, conversely, a statist pulls a gun on me, I will not hesitate to defend myself in whatever manner appears to be (A) most ethical and (B) most successful at that time.

    Again, I apologise if I was at all unclear.

    3. You write, “What I do NOT see is that an end point cannot allow BOTH philosophies to co-exist and respect each other.”

    Coexistence and mutual respect are not things about which I am arguing against. Quite the contrary.

    It’s notable that there are a bunch of different anarchist philosophies, ranging from anarcho-communism to anarcho-capitalism. I believe those those from all the various anarchist camps who adhere to complete voluntaryism should be able to co-exist peacefully. I would not want my anarcho-communist brothers to force me to give up private property just as I know they would not want my to force them to give up communal life. In a truly free society, everyone should be free to live within the social structures they believe best enhance human Liberty, so long as they do not aggress against anyone else.

    There are some “anarcho”-communists who do believe in using aggression, just as there are some “anarcho”-capitalists who also believe in using aggression. It is my contention that these are pseudo-anarchists. (See the bottom paragraph of this, for example.)

    But ignoring thr pseudo-anarchists for now, those who truly believe in voluntaryism should have no problem with minarchists voluntarily living in city-states or whatnot—so long as the minarchist “state” in question does not actively force citizens to remain within its borders. If you wish to mutually form an organisation similar in appearance to the structure of the American republics (with extremely-strict constitutional limits) in which every member of society consents to being a part of the system, it would be unethical for me to step in and force you out of that system.

    Moreover, I honestly don’t believe I’d have to force anyone to give up the minarchist government. I believe that they would see the anarchist society functioning better, and will readily leave that system voluntarily.

    So I would have no need to initiate force against you. If your minarchist state, however, decides to expand itself into the anarchist region, and tries to steal my land, I will have no qualms hiring a defence agency to arrest the criminals. But presumably the minarchists would not allow this expansion to happen since it would violate their own libertarian credo.

    In short, I do believe there is an ability to coexeist peacefully.

    4. You write, “I could never be an anarchist because I do believe in government. I might want a government which protects all of our rights to be free and make all decisions about ourselves without government control, but I want that same government to be there to protect all of us from others who would try to impose their own will upon others.”

    Some within the anarchist movement would say that there is a difference between a government and a state. I tend to share this view. Anarchism is not opposed to “government” per se, assuming that you define a government to be any institution for the public welfare. Market anarchism is a form of government under this definition, just as is anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, &c. Each would allow for institutions for mutual protection.

    The state, on the other hand, is any government that employs aggression as its means. If it steals money so as to fund itself, it is a state. If it bans some non-violent activity, it is a state. If it enforces a monopoly on, e.g., the provision of goods or services, it is a state.

    Auberon Herbert famously claimed to not be an anarchist because “anarchists do not understand themselves.” He said that they misunderstand themselves because they believe themselves to be opposed to government even though a “government” would continue to exist even in an anarchy. Thus, Auberon Herbert, the founder of voluntaryism, advocated what he called the “Voluntaryist State,” a government that would not tax, would not regulate non-violent activity, would not maintain any monopoly in the provision of goods or services. I personally have no problem at all with the voluntaryist “state” except that I don’t believe it actually constitutes a “state.”

    Whether you mean to say you believe we need a state or merely a government, I cannot say for sure. And I am not inclined to hate you either way, for even if it is a state that you believe is necessary, and not merely a government, I can still relate to you as I had advocated the existence of a state for so many years. I can hardly hate you for advocating the exact same thing I advocated three years ago.

    But if you do mean to say you advocate the existence of a state, I hope that, over time, I may convince you otherwise; and if you merely intended to say that you believe government is necessary, then I would have to say there is nothing in your position that prevents you from being an anarchist. 🙂

    5. You write, “And I see a search for truth in the desire to perfect government rather than in trying to get rid of it.”

    As my prior statements have made clear, I don’t believe any government, not even anarchy, can be “perfect.” But I do believe anarchy to be a more perfect form of government than the state. 🙂

    6. You write, “The anarchism I feel that you are advocating is as cruel and impersonal as any Randian Objectivist philosophy.”

    I see aggression as cruel everywhere and anywhere it arises. As the state institutionalises aggression, I see it as an inherently cruel institution. A stateless society, on the other hand, can embrace many voluntary institutions to resolve the problems society faces and meet the needs of the needy.

    My own form of market anarchism falls somewhere between anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-syndicalism, since I have neither a problem with firms owned by worker collectives nor firms owned by a single person. Moreover, I believe that in a fully free market, that business structure that is most beneficial for society is the one that will come out on top. I do hope it turns out to be the worker-owned firms, but ultimately I am unwilling to bet either way.

    With that said, although I do not personally embrace anarcho-socialism or anarcho-communism, I do believe that those systems will co-exist with the other forms of anarchism. Anarcho-communists would be free to form communies in which they collectively choose how to delegate responsibilities or resources, while anarcho-socialists will undoubtedly form similar social organisations to meet the needs of the less fortunate. (Many religious groups will share this goal, undoubtedly.)

    I see nothing cruel or impersonal about any of this. Will it be a perfect system? No. Crime will still take place (although less frequently than in statist society), some people might not have as much wealth as others (although the anarcho-socialists will always be looking for new and innovative, albeit voluntary, methods for improving the situation), disease will not likely be fully eradicated, &c—in other words, this will not be a utopia, but it will be a more perfect system.

    With deep and sincere respect,
    Alex Peak

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