The Myth of Limited Government: Anarchy Vs. Minarchy

“Statism is the utopian ideal that just the right amount of violence used by just the right people in just the right way can perfect society.” -Keith Hamburger

Essentially minarchy is the above quote personified. It’s the idea that if we just have the right amount of coercion and the the right amount of violence, we can reach our maximum potential in society. In what way does that sound like a good idea? Furthermore, how does that sound less fanciful than a completely voluntary society like what the anarchist advocates for? Lets explore all the various arguments minarchists use to argue their case.

Government is a Necessary Evil
The idea that government is a necessary evil is the argument that evil is necessary. There is no hiding this once you reduce the logic of limited government down to its most basic form. As stated above, minarchy or limited government, is the fanciful idea that you can give an individual or a group of people a monopoly on the ability to initiate violence and force on others, and at the same time, expect them to limit themselves. That is a fantasy if there ever was one.

I used to believe in this. It was purely utilitarian even though I knew for a long time that anarchy was the logical end of the non-aggression principle and capitalism. I knew that the experiment of limited government had been tried and failed miserably, yet I felt that government was never going to go away so I would be better off if I learned to work within it. This is a compromise of morals and principle though. I realized that one cannot say they value freedom and liberty, and at the same time, tolerate the state with it’s tendency towards trampling freedoms. I realized that you are either an anarchist or a slave, there is no middle ground.

The “freedom” lovers that are afraid to take their philosophy of freedom to its logical end, namely anarchy, are under such delusions. They cannot separate government from society nor can they grasp the idea that governments do not truly exist. The idea that governments are not separate from individuals is an axiom they would rather not contemplate simply because, if they did, they would come to the conclusion that government is simply a group of individuals exercising their will over others by violence and force. This is a direct contradiction to their fantasy of having liberty, freedom and personal choice along with a the safety net of a central government. It’s pure fantasy. It’s also logically inconsistent. Statists, including advocates for minarchy (or limited government), advocate that it’s for the greater good. It’s the pragmatic argument that the ends justify the means. This is another reason why minarchists never bother to take their philosophy of freedom to it’s logical end, they like having government in a moral vacuum. F.A. Hayek said “The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualists ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.”1 The statist argument for any amount of government falls flat once one makes their morals consistent. The same morals that apply to the individual must also apply to government since government is really only composed of individuals acting towards common ends.

Anarchists Make “Perfect” the Enemy of “Good”
It is often argued by supposed advocates for “free markets” and “freedom” that anarchists are unreasonable because they are unwilling to accept realistic freedom due to their fanciful ideas of what perfect freedom should be. If only the anarchist could understand the utilitarian perspective of the minarchist; that government has a role in the protection of private property and freedoms! Unfortunately, the state and private property (which is the basis for all freedoms) do not mix. Ludwig Von Mises, who was himself an advocate of limited government, conceded that the state and private property do not voluntarily coexist with each other.

“All those in positions of political power, all governments, all kings, and all republican authorities have always looked askance at private property. There is an inherent tendency in all governmental power to recognize no restraints on its operation and to extend the sphere of its dominion as much as possible. To control everything, to leave no room for anything to happen of its own accord without the interference of the authorities. This is the goal for which every ruler secretly strives. If only private property did not stand in the way! Private property creates for the individual a sphere in which he is free of the state. It sets limits to the operation of the authoritarian will. It allows other forces to arise side by side with and in opposition to political power. It thus becomes the basis of all those activities that are free from violent interference on the part of the state. It is the soil in which the seeds of freedom are nurtured and in which the autonomy of the individual and ultimately all intellectual and material progress are rooted. In this sense, it has even been called the fundamental prerequisite for the development of the individual. But it is only with many reservations that the latter formulation can be considered acceptable, because the customary opposition between individual and collectivity, between individualistic and collective ideas and aims, or even between individualistic and universalistic science, is an empty shibboleth.

Thus, there has never been a political power that voluntarily desisted from impeding the free development and operation of the institution of private ownership of the means of production. Governments tolerate private property when they are compelled to do so, but they do not acknowledge it voluntarily in recognition of its necessity.”2

Mises, like many advocates for limited government, simply accept the “fact” that government is a necessary evil. They call it “good”, and in the process compromise a critical component of freedom, namely, the freedom to be free from violence and coercion and the ability to truly own one’s self. This brings us the to next point. The minarchist calls limited government “good” where as the anarchist cannot call such an institution anything but unnecessary and evil. Lysander Spooner said “But whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.”3 Any amount of government is an encroachment on liberty therefore the anarchist cannot call any amount of government “good”. Even the United States government with its holy document known as the Constitution, falls far short of what was idealized originally. If one is truly honest with one’s self, how can one call anarchy an “idealist” position and at the same time, expect an all powerful institution to be limited by a piece of paper? One would have to be heavily propagandized and delusional to truly believe such a position as solid and moral. Anarchists are not making “perfect” the enemy of “good”, they are making freedom the enemy of slavery. The minarchist position is that of “a little cancer is better than a lot of cancer” when no matter what, you still have cancer. Government is a cancer if it can be likened to any modern disease and the only cure is a stateless society. The minarchist essentially advocates for a little bit of slavery rather than a whole lot of it. In the end, you are still a slave.

Conclusion: Minarchy is the True Fantasy
Minarchism, not anarchism, is the true fantasy and pipe dream. The minarchist is unwilling to take their beliefs to their logical end simply because (like other statists) they refuse to apply the same morals individuals follow to that of a collection of individuals (government). In one breath they say “government is efficient and too large to function in a proper way!” Us anarchists clap our hands and nod in agreement. Unfortunately, the minarchist isn’t done talking. They continue by saying “that is why government, an inefficient and incompetent entity, should be responsible for on the most important and crucial tasks!” At this point, we anarchists cannot help but shake our heads, especially when we are the ones accused of attempting to attain the unattainable!

1. Hayek, Friedrich A. Von. The Road to Serfdom. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago, 1944. Print.
2. Mises, Ludwig Von, and Bettina Bien. Greaves. Liberalism: The Classical Tradition. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005. Print.
3. Spooner, Lysander. No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2004. Print.

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