Blogs > Liberty and Power > Strangers on a Train?

Jan 27, 2008 12:33 pm

Strangers on a Train?

Charles Johnson had a good post the other day questioning the extent to which anarchists and minarchists are really “on the same train”; he has an even better follow-up now. I note especially his comparison of the track records of electoral versus counter-economic means in combating immigration controls.

(I would link to his post from my own blog as well, but it’s not there right now, and hasn’t been for a couple of days. Yahoo tells me they’re “investigating the problem.”)

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Roderick T. Long - 2/1/2008

Well, of course we should engage in friendly outreach toward monarchists.

Aaagghh! Minarchists! Minarchists! Can you believe that after all these years I never got around to educating my spellchecker about "minarchy"? There, now it's done.

Roderick T. Long - 2/1/2008

Well, of course we should engage in friendly outreach toward monarchists. But Charles' argument, I take it, was that the appropriate anarchist strategy is to try to disable the state's enforcement capacity form below, rather than trying to get in power and direct that enforcement capacity toward the right things. That strategy is one in which cooperation with lefty anarchists is (often) possible. Whereas minarchists, inasmuch as they don't want to disable the state's enforcement capacity, by definition aren't cooperators in that strategy (though they certainly can be cooperators in broader strategies like education).

The metaphor of the trains assumes that the anarchist strategy should look like the minarchist strategy right up to the end; shave a bit off the state here, a bit there, then a bit more, until there's just a tiny but left, at which point the minarchist stops while the anarchist keeps going. Given that assumption, it makes perfect sense to see the two sides as cooperators. But the anarchist strategy that Charles is suggesting is one that begins by targeting the one little bit that the minarchist wants to keep -- on the grounds that if that goes, so go all the rest. Now whether a particular non-private-property anarchist is or is not an appropriate ally for market anarchists will depend on the details, but at least such an anarchist is not ruled out in principle as a cooperator in that strategy. (This of course isn't true for anarchists like Noam Chomsky, who would fight to the death to prevent the premature elimination of the state, because the state is all that stands between us and the power of the big corporations -- heh, ya can't make this stuff up.) Whereas a minarchist is -- virtually by definition -- ruled out as a cooperator in that strategy.

I don't think I'd want to go so far as to say we shouldn't regard ourselves as being in the same movement as minarchists, though. Rather I'd say that it's possible to be a member of multiple movements, some intersecting, some subsets of others, and so on. Thus I think of myself as a member of a libertarian movement that includes minarchists, of an anarchist movement that includes anarcho-communists, of an Austrian movement that includes statists (e.g., Friedrich Wieser), of a market anarchist movement that includes paleos, and so on (all the way down to some splinter so specific it includes only me). But I do tend to agree that the dominant (not necessarily sole) strategy for market anarchists should be undermining the state from below rather than reforming it from within, and the extent to which minarchists can be partners in that endeavor is quite limited.

Aeon J. Skoble - 1/29/2008

I'm not saying we shouldn't engage in what you call "friendly libertarian outreach" with left-anarchists, but why isn't that also true of libertarian minarchists?

Roderick T. Long - 1/29/2008

Well, I doubt Charles meant that we should ally with any and every flavour of anarchist.

I take it, though, that your argument is something like this:

1. Any given anarchist either would or wouldn't allow market transactions in their version of anarchy.
2. If they would, they're market anarchists and so not "other" anarchists.
3. If they wouldn't, they're not appropriate allies for market anarchists.
4. Therefore, there are no anarchists other than themselves with which market anarchists should ally.

My worry about this argument is twofold:

a) It's ambiguous what counts as "allowing market transactions," since various anarchists disagree as to what counts as a market transaction. If anarchist X thinks that land, or intellectual property, or nuclear weapons, counts as a legitimate form of property while anarchist Y doesn't, are they both market anarchists, or not?

b) Many lefty anarchists (not all!) assume that various particular kinds of market transactions would not be viable under anarchy -- that they are propped up only by government intervention; and they may have been encouraged in that belief by the fact that they've only encountered vulgarlib forms of market libertarianism. Therefore they haven't (yet) given much thought to the question of whether these sorts of exchanges should be permitted. But they (or many of them) might be moved toward a tolerant answer to this question by friendly libertarian outreach. In what category should they count?

Aeon J. Skoble - 1/29/2008

I'm afraid I must disagree.
"as market anarchists, our primary allies shouldn’t be minarchists. They should be other anarchists"

One problem with this line of reasoning is that it's not clear that there are "other" anarchists. Do we mean anarcho-communists? Are they not crypto-statists? Do we mean the bomb-throwers? They're no friends of liberty. Just as libertarians who espouse anarchism are fundamentally committed to individual liberty, analogously commies who espouse anarchism are fundamentally opposed to individual liberty. In anarcho-communism, can I make voluntary exchanges of property with other consenting adults? If yes, it's not any different from market anarchism. If no, it's not anarchism at all. Which brings me to this claim:
"That’s what being a minarchist means: government always comes out of the barrel of a gun, and that’s true whether the government is unlimited or limited, maximal or minimal."
Um, yes. So that's not just minarchist libertarianism, it's also the Che-T-shirt/smash Starbucks/anarcho-syndicalist crowd.
"If you try to move, in any concrete way, from minarchy towards anarchy, those minarchists you spent so many years working with are still going to try to shoot you."
I am much more worried about being shot by the commies than by minimal state libertarians. Who is ultimately more reliant on State Force, the president of your local campus libertarian or objectivist club, or the guy firebombing a Starbucks and claiming that Che was a great hero to the people?
Sorry to be overusing the rhetorical questions - I'll say it more directly: market anarchists have more in common with minarchist libertarians than they do with commies. Minarchists can be shown why their own core value of individual liberty is contradicted by the state. Commies don't value individual liberty in the first place.

Roderick T. Long - 1/28/2008

For the moment, anyway ....

Less Antman - 1/27/2008

As an anarchist who has given time and money to the Ron Paul campaign, and who plans to spend more time working within the LP, it might seem odd for me to offer an argument on Charles' side, but I try to be honest, and I think he missed a doozy:

Eliminating a minarchist government would probably be much, much harder than eliminating the present one, because government is a legitimized monopoly, and a minarchist government would probably have MUCH more legitimacy in the eyes of the general public. Even if a limited government had fewer resources to fight secessionists and those wanting to make alternative arrangements for security and dispute resolution, it would have the most important resource: public opinion. That is the most important sense in which I think anarchists and minarchists are not on the same train.

That said, my objections to Charles' point of view are:

(1) Who said anarchists have to honor the Dallas Accord? I didn't sign the US Constitution OR the Dallas Accord, and there is nothing in the non-aggression pledge I signed committing me to it. Just as pro-life LP candidates have regularly stated their personal views while pointing out the LP platform was pro-choice, I had no trouble running for office in 1982 as an anarchist and pointing out that my personal view did not represent the majority opinion in the LP. Neither did Joe Fuhrig the same year when he ran for US Senate: he discussed his anarchist views openly in virtually every interview he gave during the campaign. The gag on LP anarchists is illusory.

(2) The "minarchism" in the LP platform is the radical minarchism that Charles said (correctly) was effectively no different from anarchism. Here is a copy of the current LP of California Platform ( Since I'll be voting on the platform next month, I'd appreciate any comments on statements inconsistent with anarchism (for those too busy to read it, it rejects sovereign immunity, allows the secession of ANY individual from the jurisdiction of the government with no approval needed from others, and denies the legitimacy of any form of taxation).

(3) The decision to participate in politics is individual, not collective. Whether or not I participate, the LP will exist. Whether "we" should use electoral strategies is as inappropriate a question as whether "we" should teach free market economics in the schools. It is an I choice, not a we choice. By participating personally in the party, I've gotten a chance to do outreach to LP members who still see anarchists as allies, and most current anarchists of my generation, including anti-electoral anarchists, spent time in the LP. It has proven itself as a gateway drug to hard core anarchism over the decades. Having anarchists participate facilitates that process.

(4) The fact that LP candidates are running for office and proposing reforms doesn't mean the progress of liberty will involve LP candidates being elected to office and implementing reforms. Any sane libertarian who wants to get elected should realize they need to run as a Republican or Democrat. LP campaigns are educational opportunities to talk to the general public when they are most in the mood to listen to discussions of public affairs, and to change their minds about the role of government. I think it likely that the LP will continue to fail as an electoral institution but help lay the intellectual groundwork for when the collapse of the overseas empire or the domestic entitlements to the elderly causes a sea change in our society. I think the change will be more like a dam breaking or a landslide than a train ride toward liberty. The success of the Paul campaign won't be his election, but the fact that many young people will never again think the same way about foreign policy, and that non-interventionism is now a topic on the table.

I agree with Charles about the Dallas Accord. The answer is for LP anarchists to ignore it like any good black marketeer. Not once in 1982 was I accused of violating the Dallas Accord, and anarchists with courage will discover that the glass floor on the size of government they can advocate is only in their own minds.

BTW, I thought Charles did an excellent job of disposing of many other objections to his position.