Does Freedom Mean Anarchy?
December 18, 2006 4:08pm CST
From the invention of "anarchism" in the 17th century, the word has almost always been employed as a pejorative. As a political theory, it has usually been befriended by a tiny minority of political cranks. It has, however, been popular with some libertarians. Many, if not most, libertarians believe that it is always wrong to initiate the use of force. This leads them toward anarchism: after all, how can you have a government that does not initiate force, if only to collect taxes to finance its activities and to enforce its claim to exclusive jurisdiction? Some who advocate the non-initiation imperative, such as Ayn Rand, have tried to fudge the issue, by concocting arguments to the effect that government coercion is somehow not coercive or that government can somehow exist without coercion. But many who advocate the non-initiation imperative, most notably Murray Rothbard, have surrendered to the ineluctable logic that leads to anarchism. Many other — perhaps, indeed, most — advocates of the non-initiation imperative see the logic of the anarchist conclusion but are troubled by the practicality of anarchism. Wouldn't a society without government lead to armed conflict among its citizens? How could it defend them against external enemies? And why, if anarchism is such a good and practical way to organize society, has human history seen so few social organizations that even approach anarchy?Libertarians whose thinking is not rooted in the non-initiation imperative are bound to be interested in this argument. Some of them argue that a society without government is perfectly plausible and is preferable to the minimal government approach, while others argue that there is an indispensable core of social functions that can be performed only by a coercive government, and that the task of political and legal thinkers is to minimize the coerciveness of the state.