Editorial Introduction: The Government Controversy Revisited


One of the most exciting aspects of libertarianism is the opportunity to develop analyses and theory along hitherto uncharted areas. Although libertarians are in agreement on certain fundamentals, the philosophy of libertarianism has not been exposed to systematic and rigorous analysis as to many of its ramifications.

As we observed in the introduction to REASON's interview with Murray Rothbard and Leonard Liggio last month, libertarians agree on fundamental premises which recognize the right of an individual to his life and property, and the right to be free from the initiation of force. Within the libertarian movement today, there exist various distinct schools of thought as to the proper application of these premises. Perhaps one of the most interesting areas of disagreement among libertarians involves the question whether government has a proper role in providing defense, police protection and a court system, or whether even a government limited to only these functions is inherently coercive and antilibertarian.

In our March 1972 issue, REASON presented a Special Supplement on Anarcho-Capitalism, containing three articles addressing the concept of anarcho-capitalism, which holds that all goods and services should be provided by the free market, including courts, police protection and defense. Originally, REASON had intended to present both pro and con views in the Anarcho-Capitalism Supplement. However, articles which we had planned to include in the Supplement in support of anarcho-capitalism were not received. As a result of the one-sided presentation, REASON has been both praised and attacked from many quarters.

At this time, we would like our readers to be aware that REASON takes no editorial stand either in favor of or against the anarcho-capitalist position. As we stated last March, we consider the subject to be an important one, deserving of serious discussion. We consider it essential that all libertarians be united on the objective of eliminating coercion as to all areas of human rights, but from a tactical standpoint, the controversy concerning governmental vs. a private system of courts and police does not seem necessary to resolve as a matter of the first priority. At the same time, it is pertinent to observe that the widespread cynicism and distrust of government and government officials, together with the costly, inefficient and nonresponsive performance of the state in the area of police protection and judicial services make it desirable for individuals to search for new approaches, entirely aside from any commitment to libertarian premises.

The ongoing debate between libertarians who espouse limited government and those who advocate no government will be greatly enriched by the publication of what must surely be the definitive statement of the case for free market courts and police: Murray Rothbard's lead article in this issue. Rothbard's article is based on a chapter from his forthcoming book, FOR A NEW LIBERTY, which will be published this spring by The MacMillan Company.

In his article, Rothbard shows how the free market could provide competitive defense agencies, in lieu of utilizing the state, to provide necessary defense against violent invasion of person and property. Rothbard's position is founded on his view of an inherent incompatibility between the coercive nature of government vis-a-vis the individual and his right to life and liberty. Although Rothbard recognizes the impossibility of presently attempting to blueprint a system of police and judicial service in the hypothetical libertarian society, he does focus in detail on practical aspects of the problem, suggesting how a totally free market could satisfactorily respond to demand for necessary protective services. Rothbard's article presents immensely valuable insights for future libertarian legal theoreticians in the quest to spell out the outlines of a libertarian society. The need to focus on the problems involved in developing and implementing a libertarian legal code is a task of the highest priority for those that seek to eliminate the presence of the State in its entirety. With the publication of Rothbard's analysis, significant guidance is offered for those concerned with confronting this task.

Also bearing on the theme of government/no government are this month's articles by Adam Reed and Carl Watner. Watner focuses on "Lysander Spooner: Libertarian Pioneer," and sets forth Spooner's innovative attacks on the concept of representative government. Reed, in his article, "Resolving Disputes in a Free Society," attempts to reconcile the conflict between anarcho-capitalists and supporters of limited government by focusing on approaches to resolve civil disputes. He suggests that the use of governments with exclusive territorial jurisdiction, which are selected by the owners of territory in which the government would have jurisdiction, would be a means of resolving disputes without the initiation of force.

No doubt this issue of REASON will provoke as much controversy as our Supplement a year ago. We expect that our letters to the editor will provide lively debate on the subject for months to come.