Anarchy, Libertarian Style


The old-style liberal summed up his recognition of the necessity of a limited form of government in the familiar dictum: "Government which governs best governs least." Today's anarchist, like his predecessor, concludes that minimization of the latter will maximize the former; hence the very best government is no government at all. But, unlike his forerunner, the libertarian anarchist advocates the efficient free market and believes the profit motive and competition will streamline the service of protection. Why reject the concept of government? What is proposed to replace it? How realistic are the proposals? These broad questions may be answered briefly.


A major tenet held by libertarian anarchists is that it is inherent in the nature of government to expropriate its means of support. For example, economist-mentor Murray Rothbard, in his POWER AND MARKET, is keenly aware that a government is functioning contrary to purpose when, rather than upholding the rights of its citizens, it proceeds to hold-up its citizens through taxation. But what is it supposedly inherent in the nature of government that necessitates this initiation of force? Is there no alternative to government by expropriation except anarchy? Although it is not the purpose of this essay to consider the best means of voluntary support of government—which clearly would require far less amounts to operate than the leviathan of today—voluntary support should at least be recognized as an alternative.

Anarchists conceive government as self-contradictory, basing their claim less on theory than on an assortment of government interventions and on historical examples of societies reverting to barbarism with governments wielding the oppressive force. Therefore, it is not surprising that they impart taxation—an improper function of government—to the nature of government itself. The error patent in such reasoning may be called overgeneralization, historical determinism, or "political arithmetic". It is no less crude than that contained in the doctrine of the "iron law of wages," which in its time had an apparent plausibility viewed historically. It is senseless, however, to set up a necessarily evil (strawman) concept of government as the only alternative to anarchy, since the concept of government as a voluntary supported institution is readily at hand.


Actually, the system proposed is not anarchy per se, because a "legalized" use of force by "competitive protection agencies" or "governments" is condoned. It is an eclecticism which seeks to incorporate political and economic functions. The goal is to avoid the disorder of anarchy by assigning governmental functions to protective agencies which, through competition, presumably will provide better insurance against tyranny being imposed throughout a large area.

It should be emphasized that the essential difference between government and "competing protective agencies" is that the former monopolizes the legalized use of physical force whereas the latter competes in "legalized" force.

That these protection agencies or "governments" will use force is a point conspicuously deemphasized by their advocates; but it is well worth keeping in mind. The following passage from POWER AND MARKET is illuminating in this and other respects: "…any sort of force used against a man not yet convicted of a crime is itself an invasive and criminal act which could not be consonant with the free society we have been postulating." The fact ignored is that conviction, which is the result of judicial process, presupposes the power of prior arrest. According to the above reasoning, litigation may not proceed unless a man voluntarily accepts the role of defendant, which is absurd if he is really guilty and improbable if he is innocent, finding the charge audacious and humiliating, and the would-be trial burdensome. It is difficult to see how such a system of protection can achieve its ends.

As soon as we drop the unrealistic assumption that everyone would voluntarily submit to the judicial process, we are headed away from such fantasies as shopping for the best buy in whatever would constitute an approved court. Like reading a well-written science-fiction novel, it is perhaps fascinating to conjecture the unlimited possibilities in the variety of services which a mixture of economic and political functions could produce. But until and unless these projections are provided with theoretical support, they remain fiction not science.


Jurisprudence is difficult and complex, and it is farfetched to assume "competing governments" would deduce exactly the same "laws" in all areas (e.g., penalties), not to say in one. Imagine the consequences of various "governments" attempting to apply different "laws" within the same territory. Or imagine the situation in which a client of one "government" is coerced by another "government," neither one recognizing the other's authority in toto or as appropriate to some specific action undertaken. Equality before the law would be impossible, that is, justice would be impossible. Government may function improperly, taking invasive action on a large scale. But, as a corollary, it is the only form of organized force which can insure the protection of rights on a large scale. The problem is not government per se but the principles to which it subscribes and on which it functions. The lack of territorial jurisdiction, peculiar to the idea of competing agencies of force, guarantees that no one's rights are safeguarded anywhere.


It is said that "social agreements" would be made; therefore, "political uniformity" would obtain, as it necessarily does under a system of government operating under objective law. The notion is so tenuous in light of the above considerations that it can hardly be taken seriously. In a recent work titled IN DEFENSE OF SOVEREIGNTY, W.J. Stankiewicz states the appropriate structural principle:

A practical legal order requires a point beyond which disputes cannot be carried if order is to be maintained. It is this difficulty which requires us to postulate a sovereign legislator in the state viewed dynamically.

If binding (i.e., enforced) agreement (law?) cannot be made and maintained regarding the point of ultimate decision—and it cannot by the competitive nature of the system postulated in which no one agency or collective can be considered sovereign—the ultimate decision function is necessarily absent.


I sympathize with those who are struggling to reverse the trend toward statism. But some forget that even the most perfect mechanism of organized force will become destructive if it is not operated according to the principles and purposes for which it was designed. Would libertarian anarchists reject the concept of a constitution because, say, of the 16th amendment? No pro-life social system can long withstand a continuous seepage of irrational philosophies into its foundation.

Let anyone who believes a system of "competing governments" is possible first take the effort to work it out theoretically if he or she can, not leaving it floating—like the Marxian utopia on Hegelian dialectics—later to be grounded in action which leaves destruction and suffering in its wake. That a free society can prevail while government withers away is now and, I expect, will always be an article of faith, not reason.

Mr. Kuffel, an economist and research editor for ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA, is currently working toward a doctorate at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.