Anarcho-Libertarianism and Common Sense

A couple years ago I wrote an article titled Capitalism, Unions and the Social Contract in which I discussed the idea of an implicit “social contract” between citizens and government.  When I posted that article on a different web site, an individual whom I know quite well left the following comment.

“The only hint of any sort of elaboration upon social contract theory you give here is “The citizens agree to comply with the laws established by their government to maintain social order.” You conveniently neglect to even allude to the most crucial aspects; namely being that each individual possesses intrinsic rights derived from the axiomatic principle of self-ownership, that for any individual to initiate coercive force against the person or property of others would be to violate those rights, thus the only just scope of coercive force in society is the defense of the intrinsic rights of individuals (as any use of force beyond that must necessarily violate the rights of some), and individuals have the right to combine for the constant, collective defense of equal individual rights, and finally the “contract” that each agrees to defer their right of defense of person and property to the collective institution of justice, as this is more conducive to social justice and order than if each individual acted as their own personal agent of defense and justice.

What this implies is that the only just and legitimate scope of any institution of organized coercion calling itself “government” is strictly negative, as in the impartial defense of the equal rights of all individuals pertinent to the “contract.” The government cannot go beyond this limited scope without necessarily violating its own terms of the contract (and thus contradicting its only legitimate purpose for even existing), and it should be noted that the contract theory in no way assumes that any individual has an inherent obligation to participate at all, let alone be compelled to finance and bow down to the subjective whim and discretion of the political class.
The only obligation any individual has, is to refrain from initiating coercion against the person or property of others, and to submit to providing just restitution to any so harmed by acts thereof.”

If you boil down all the prose, this says that the only legitimate function of government is to enforce the rights of individuals and to protect their property.  Furthermore, any participation by the individual in the organized defense of these rights is purely voluntary.

What isn’t stated, but is a resultant conclusion, is that the enforced collection of taxes is a form of robbery by the state, since participation in any organized government activity should be purely voluntary.

This view of government is an extreme (to say the least) extension of libertarianism.  There are two “flavors” of libertarianism; minarchists, who want a minimal State, and anarchists, who pursue the total elimination of any kind of state structure.   The individual quoted above is obviously of the latter flavor.

Now, I have tried to debate this guy, but he is a lot smarter than I am, and very well-read on this subject.  He always wins the debate.  That doesn’t mean he’s right.  It just means he’s smarter than I am.  It’s been very hard on my self-esteem.

I decided to look around for somebody who shared his views but wasn’t quite as smart, so that maybe I could win for a change.  But I immediately ran into a problem.  I guess it could best be described in terms of set theory.

Let A = the set of all my acquaintances who are anarcho-libertarians.

Let B = the set of all my acquaintances who are dumber than I am.

Now both of these are pretty small sets. Some might even say that B is the empty set, ∅ but that’s just a nasty rumor, and I defy them to prove it.  But in order to find the individual I am looking for, I needed to find the intersection of A and B, A ∩ B.  The intersection of two sets is defined as the set that contains members that are common to both.  Unfortunately that set does appear to be ∅.

So if I am going to have a conversation with a (relatively) dumb anarcho-libertarian, I’m gonna have to create him out of thin air.  Herewith is a fictional conversation between such an individual and yours truly.

Oh, one more thing:  In the interests of efficiency, and to save you a lot of extra reading, I will only give my side of the conversation.  I think in most cases you will be able to figure out what he said from my responses.  And besides, this way I am guaranteed to win.

“Hi, Doofus, howya doin’?”

“Yeah I just finished my taxes too.  It’s painful, but I really feel good that I am doin’ my duty as a citizen to support this great nation.”

(much later)

“So you don’t think there should be any government at all, and taxes are robbery.  We should just tell all our soldiers to go home and get a job?  And policemen and firemen too?  I don’t think that would work very well.”

“Oh, those folks are needed to protect people and property, so we need to keep ‘em on the job.  But if government can’t collect taxes, who pays for ‘em?”

“Do you really think people would just voluntarily cough up money for those things?  Look at how much trouble the IRS has gettin’ people to pay now, and they can go to jail if they get caught cheatin’.  If it was voluntary, forget it.”

“Oh, if I don’t pay, my friends and neighbors will apply a little friendly neighborly peer pressure persuasion.  But that means they have to know that I haven’t paid, which means that there’s a public record of who has paid and who hasn’t.  Kind of a violation of my privacy.  What’re they gonna do, post the list in the town square?  And another thing, who decides how much I should pay?  Is it based on my income?  That means everybody’s gonna know how much everybody else makes.  More violations of privacy.”

“Oh, there will be some people who will monitor all that, and find anybody who is cheatin’…er…refusing to make his voluntary contribution.  That’s a big job!  Just ask the IRS.  People can be damn creative at hidin’ their income.  Who pays those people, and where does THAT money come from?  And who watches THEM?”

“Okay, let’s change the subject.  You say each community or group or whatever gets together and decides to cooperate on things like police and fire protection.  So they all agree on how much it’s gonna cost, and how much each person pays.  But what about national defense?  Is each community gonna have its own army with its own tanks and jet fighters and ICBM’s?”

“Oh, so there DOES have to be some kind of national government for that stuff.  Where does the money for that come from?”

“I can see how a small group of people could cooperate on hiring a cop or two and buyin’ a fire truck, but when you talk about a national army and all its costs, I can’t see everybody agreein’ on exactly what’s needed, and if everybody just pays for the parts that THEY think are needed, who figures out how much they owe?  I mean, it’s voluntary, right?  They don’t HAVE to pay anything.  What if an individual or even a whole city decides not to contribute any money to national defense because they don’t think it’s needed?  Does the army refuse to protect them when the Chinese or the Russians or the Iranians or whoever invade?  Or do they get a free ride?”

“I dunno, this whole idea of “voluntary” contributions that aren’t quite voluntary…I guess you could call them ‘coerced voluntary’…sounds crazy to me.  Seems like a citizen has a responsibility to contribute to the common interests of the nation, and in return he enjoys certain protections.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch, though, and if you make those contributions voluntary, some people will just disagree that it’s needed and refuse to pay.  It’s human nature.

“Another thing…think about roads.  We have city streets, and county roads and state highways and interstate highways.  Who decides how much each individual owes to maintain all those roads?  And who is responsible for doin’ the maintenance if there isn’t any government except for defense and fire and police…and maybe tax…er…voluntary payment…collection?  Does each little town take care of the part of all those roads that go through it or around it?  That doesn’t sound like it would work very well.”

Let’s talk about the environment.  What if one city builds a bunch of factories that belch out all kinds of toxic smoke, and the wind blows it onto another town?  Who tells the first city they can’t do that?  Gotta be either a higher government…or maybe God, I guess.”

“Y’know what I call your ideas?”

“Utopian nonsense.”

I win!

For anyone who thinks this might be a bit oversimplified as a critique of anarcho-libertarianism, here is a web site with a lot more information on libertarianism and its claims.

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