Anarchism, vs. Minarchism, vs. Liberty Realism

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I often run across the perpetual idle (or sometimes fevered) debate among libertarians about what is the supposedly ‘best’ form human order from a consistent pro-liberty perspective. The two major views are anarchism (no-state, or the belief there is no legtimate civil government is the ‘real’ libertarian position) and minarchism (a view that people can legitimately delegate the defense of their basic rights to a minimal state).

Voluntaryists (advocates of non-political, non-violent strategies to achieve a free society), who typically reject electoral politics, tend to side with the anarchists in opposing any concept that there can be a legitimate government from a liberty perspective. Voluntaryists believe government has no basis for asserting its monopoly claims (as some people are not inclined to support it), and it too often (soon, or eventually) takes the form of authoritarian tyranny.

This definition presumes an approach to ‘libertarian principle’ that makes it no different than anarchism, in that it recognizes no possible legitimate basis for civil government. The minarchist view holds that the size and scope of government should be limited strictly to that large enough to protect individual rights to life, liberty and property, and no larger. This is consistent with libertarian principles, because the use of force by such a state would be defensive, thus not an initiation of force or aggression.

If individuals have a right to self-defense use of force with respect to their basic rights, then so does the government they delegate to protect those rights. In fact, one of the reasons the LP’s non-initiation of force pledge is written that way was to accomodate both the anarchists and minarchists under the libertarian umbrella, by appealing to both group’s opposition to the offensive use of force.

The pledge silently implies the defensive use of force by a minimal state is therefore legitimate, but does not go into it due to the myriad variations of opinion between anarchists and minarchists about applying or delegating this to government. The point being, there can be voluntaryists who are consistent minarchist libertarians. The attempt to define libertarianism as being innately opposed to electoral politics is in error, since libertarians support electoral politics to facilitate achieving a minarchist state, which is in fact compatible with voluntaryism.

My own take on this dispute (as a Christian Libertarian) is otherwise to introduce a bit of “liberty realism” into the fray, which incorporates the input of the fundamental document of Western civilization (the Bible), the actual track record of history, and the key factor of human imperfection (or doctrinally speaking, the sin nature).

From a biblical point of view, in practice no form of human-based governance, anarchist or minarchist, works in the long run. The real obstacles to liberty in either order is ultimately not tyranny or the State, but sin and Satan. A people that does not acknowledge God or His moral law will not find a way to navigate challenges to a anarchic system once people disagree about resolution of issues (the “who decides what private law is?” question). A lack of recognition that God is the ruler of the nations tends to defacto lead to rule by the Prince of the air and his devils, playing on the sin nature of men.

About the only successful anarchist system was the ancient Israelite history of Judges following their settling after the Exodus, which went on for several centuries before the people decided to trade it in for setting up a kingdom (in other words, due to sinfully envying their neighbors). The prophets verified their authority through miracles and correct prophecy, which helped resolve disputes without need for courts or other civil institutions. It worked because it was a theocratic anarchy based on God’s law and kingdom, which the Israelites voluntarily entered into as a matter of contract or covenant (thus eliminating the issue of disagreements over private law, or authoritarian elements associated with theocracy). The millennial kingdom following the Second Coming of Christ will likely run along the same lines.

The pattern of history is otherwise one of, with humans left to institute anarchy or government on their own, one tyranny after another, sometimes interrupted by attempts by the people to restore a free order. That order, no matter how carefully constructed or articulated in law, has tended to fall away as the people abandoned the vigilance to maintain it, or kept advancing rulers who ignored the law or limits supposedly placed on their power. Even when no order was chosen, the anarchy broke down even more rapidly, when sinful strongmen took over and seized power from within, or the land would be overrun by invaders from without.

The lesson of world history is that 6,000 years of human civilization shows we cannot rule ourselves in a manner that keeps people free either with limited civil government, or no civil government. The debate as to which is theoretically better becomes moot, in this context. God, the Author of liberty, is the secret sauce to make liberty work, in either case. In the meanwhile, a man-based minarchist government is the defacto preferred interim order from a practical perspective, as the legal limits it puts on state power tends to preserve a free order longer than a man-based anarchic order would.

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