no third solution

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After “Limited Government”, Then What?

November 9th, 2010

This is how I normally enter a discussion about the merits of “limited government”.

Is there really some baseline amount of violence and (admitted) imperfection which is necessary to keep the rest of us from going Mad Max?  In order to prevent crime we must empower a small group of criminals to perpetrate crimes (which is what they’d be if done by any other) and thereby protect us from ourselves?  Do you understand how ridiculous that sounds?

Being so “negative” all the time doesn’t make you welcome in political discussions.Suffice to say that I do not often enter such discussions, because I am usually deafened by the sound of cognitive dissonance.

A common objection is “So what! Governments aren’t perfect.  How will the dread anarchy perfectly resolve all of the problems at which government fails?”

This objection, aside from being a glorious example of shifting goalposts and double-standards, assumes that minarchism is pragmatically superior to any other social organization, and therefore should be praised for its practicality.  Then again, if we can’t come up with a foolproof system for something as relatively uncomplicated as roads then there is zero reason to believe that we can come up with anything even approaching a foolproof system for governance.

The designs of “limited government” are admirable, or at the very least more admirable than the machinations of those who seek omnipotent government.  But I disagree that they’re any more practical than totalitarianism, or pure anarchism or anywhere else on the spectrum of politics. You need only examine minarchism’s historical record with a critical eye to understand that it often gives rise to, or conceals some of humanity’s worst.

The paragon of limited government — colonial America — ruled over and permitted two of the most brutal institutions ever to scar this planet: human trafficking/chattel slavery and the genocide of American aboriginal people and the expropriation of their lands. Excuse me, but I do not find it particularly alarming, that this isn’t exactly the sort of movement that people are willing to rally behind.

But let’s say we get limited government to “work”. I suppose this means all of the good things about colonial America and none of the bad things like slavery, genocide, the disenfranchisement of women and/or non-landowners, etc. OK. Now what?

I’m not putting the cart before the horse. Assume we get there, first. Now what. Can’t we do better than that? Even just a little bit? At some point, the “limited government”, and the structure of social arrangements and institutions of community that would arise in the absence of the omnipotent State, becomes almost in-discernably different from “no government at all”.

I don’t necessarily believe in the “incrementalist” approach, but if followed it inevitably leads here. At that point, would we still be arguing about this? If you hold restrict, threaten, force us or hold us back, well then you’re no better than any of the evil “big governments” you previously opposed. But I don’t think it would come to that. At least I hope it wouldn’t.

And at that point if you let me go my way, well then, Salut! Comrade, you’re an anarchist. You just didn’t know it.

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no third solution

Blogging about liberty, anarchy, economics and politics