At LRC, Walter Block recently posted an interview he did with the NBC affiliate in Baton Rouge. Subsequently he posted the background story – a video of apparently the entire, unedited interview. As with anything Dr. Block writes or says, this longer video is well worth the time.
I will focus on one segment of the interview, where Dr. Block discusses the libertarian spectrum. It is an interesting topic, especially to those of us who find our way into this political theory and struggle with where exactly in this scale we might find comfort.
I do not have a transcript of the interview, so what I attribute to Dr. Block is paraphrased.
He begins at the top, with what he describes as the most consistent libertarian position, being an anarcho-capitalist position. As one of the pillars if not the pillar of libertarian theory is the non-aggression principle, Dr. Block points out that there cannot be government. He places himself within this camp.
Next on the spectrum is the minarchist, one who believes that government exists solely for the purpose of protection of people and property. Toward this end, appropriate government functions are limited to a defensive military, the police (but only for crimes of aggression), and courts. He places Ayn Rand in this camp.
Third is described as a Constitutionalist – one who accepts government within a strict reading and understanding of the Constitution – which Dr. Block describes as not authorizing much more than a military, police, and court; but also including a post office and a few other offices. He suggests that Ron Paul is an example of a libertarian with this position.
Finally he includes classical liberals – those with relatively good free market inclinations and favoring relatively smaller government. In this context, he mentions Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Rand Paul.
As one of the best thinkers in libertarian theory, it seems to me that if Walter Block can be open to such a broad spectrum under the umbrella of “libertarian,” perhaps the myriad internecine struggles within our community on the litmus tests might be seen as petty. Although Rothbard makes clear that we should regularly remain open to debating such issues amongst us, as it helps both to clear up faulty thinking and to further develop the theory.
So right off the bat, I will take a whack at one of the four categories that Dr. Block includes as “libertarian” – I personally cannot include the fourth category within a spectrum of what I would describe as libertarian – especially given the names he associates within this view.
However, this is tangential to my main purpose in this post. Dr. Block’s comments offer an opportunity to explore this idea of “government.” It is a term that has come to mean one thing today – a monopoly institution of legalized coercion; an institution charged with legislating, executing, and adjudicating the law. In times of old, such an institution would have been labeled a tyranny.
“Are you an anarchist?” “Do you believe in government?” For many who find comfort within the libertarian spectrum, if the answer to one of these questions is yes, the answer to the other must be no.
It seems to me that the answer to both depends on definitions. I won’t spend significant time on my definition of anarchism – suffice it to say it is consistent with that which is understood within much of the libertarian community. Call it Rothbardian.
However, I will explore the concept of government. Over the years, I have decided it would be virtually impossible to live in a world without government. Shocked? Please, bear with me.
There are many types of government. First might be considered self-government. Reasonably healthy adults typically are able to restrain themselves from becoming rabid animals in social settings. They attempt to be productive members in society; they meet their financial and personal obligations.
There is the government of the family structure. Raising reasonably healthy children, providing guidelines and sanctions, and setting expectations for behavior all are aspects of or otherwise require government.
There is the church, providing moral and ethical counsel. The church provides guidelines for behavior, and sanctions relative to the guidelines. There is an expectation of performance if one wants to remain within the church family.
There is the community – be a good neighbor. If one wants to live in relative peace with his neighbors, it is important to understand community expectations and figure out ways to satisfactorily live within these expectations.
There is the market – find ways to profitably serve your fellow man. Do a good job and you are rewarded with resources to continue and grow; do a poor job and see resources drained and eventually you are forced to stop.
All of these are forms of government that seem to me to be quite acceptable. For this reason, I can answer yes to both questions.
What, then, is unacceptable about the term “government”? In what criteria would I answer “no” to the question above?
It is the issue of monopoly and the initiation of force. It is the violation of the non-aggression principle.
I am all for government that doesn’t violate these. I don’t know how society could exist without such “government.” Perhaps a better term that fits within my cube would be “governance.”
I am against government that exists via such means and in order to perpetuate these. Perhaps the term to apply to such a government is the “state,” or “tyrant.”
This is the struggle I have when I am asked one of these two – or both – questions. I consider myself to be an anarchist is the best Rothbardian sense. I also believe in government (governance) in the sense I describe here.
I am all for government; just don’t violate the non-aggression principle when delivering it!