This has been a constant issue in the libertarian movement: between non-libertarians attacking our movement because they mistakenly view Somalia as an example of a failed libertarian state and the thriving size of the anarcho-capitalist faction in the movement that includes prominent candidates, philosophers, and activists, a serious discussion over the interaction between liberty and anarchy needs to occur.
Now, I believe the half of the government could be feasibly eliminated as can the taxes that match. However, only to certain people in the libertarian movement does this make me simply a moderate. To many, anarchism is a more extreme version of libertarianism, but I argue it should be seen as something entirely different from libertarianism completely.
The beginner’s guide to libertarianism is socially liberal and fiscally conservative, but the guidelines is to protect free will. Now, the philosophical idea behind a right is certainly an abstract one, but a plausible definition is one that prevents the free will of others to protect a greater right of mine. Thus, my right to life supersedes another’s right to murder me, but by acknowledging they would otherwise have the right to murder people and are competent, I also prove they too have rights because they are capable of free choice. The far more common and simplified way of looking at this is the non-aggression principle. While having rights usually means eliminating oppressive institutions in government, a small state and maximized liberty are not always synonymous (but normally are).
Thus, at the very least, in a classical liberal context, the role of the state is to define the intersections between individuals, and protect the rights and liberties of those people. The problem with a stateless society is that property rights won’t be respected. Of course, there are many utilitarian and economic arguments for property rights, as Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar once estimated the value of dead capital in the world to be $9.3 trillion, with this problem being the most severe in poorer nations. Thus, while governments have historically used their power to disregard basic human rights in the form of military drafts, heavy tax burdens, corrupt justice systems, and at the very worst, genocide, it also has the capability to protect rights and facilitate them. Thus, the elimination of a good justice department that acts to mitigate violation of rights and prevent non-victimless crimes would be detrimental to a libertarian society that embraces freedom. (This is not an endorsement of the US Department of Justice.) At the very least, an impeccable justice department will have a code of laws that prosecutes rapes, murders, theft and every other crime that includes a victim, but won’t bother with punishing someone for jaywalking to buy 19th century British opium (or supposedly other drugs).
For similar rationale, a military is also vital. The state’s obligation in a classically liberal sense is to protect the free will of the people. If Canada suddenly becomes an oppressive authoritarian regime and invades the United States, the US government would’ve failed in protecting the free will of the American people. For defensive purposes, the military is necessary. This should go without saying that an unprovoked war abroad that causes tax hikes, involuntary drafting, and the deaths of many is by all means inconsistent with libertarian philosophy, but the pure existence of an adequate military isn’t by nature tyrannical.
Further, it even can play a vital role in the marketplace. While many libertarians may have already declared me a heretic, there are examples when the government can improve the economy or society as a whole. For instance, during the 2008 financial crisis, looking past the appalling bailouts, the Federal Reserve also utilized Term Auction Lending, which made capital available and eliminated the stigma of financial institutions taking out loans. Another instance is in Iran, a nation that has created a market for kidney transplants where there wasn’t one. While hundreds of thousands of people internationally pray for a miraculous kidney to appear from someone willing to donate without incentive, Iranians can buy and sell kidneys through a government-organized program, and the results have been spectacular. It is ultimately true that the government can be instrumental in the economy insofar as they can create markets and maintain safe markets where they didn’t previously exist.
Further, some safety regulations can also be necessary, for instance, if someone built a house that was only fifteen by fifteen feet, but was a hundred feet tall, causing the house to collapse and fall on other people’s property and violate the sacred non-aggression principle. Additionally, common sense regulations act as a way to ensure the transaction is fair. If a person purchases food, there is a reasonable expectation that the food will not contain a rare disease or rat poisoning that will threaten the consumer. By purchasing the product, the consumer has a right to be given the product that the producer presented, and the producer has a right to non-counterfeit currency. Ensuring that the local burger joint isn’t flavoring their beef with rubbing alcohol and lead isn’t a burdensome regulation as much as it is a regulation intended to satisfy both parties of a safe and fair transaction. So while it may be plausible to repeal Dodd-Frank, support free trade, and privatize social security, most but not all regulations are destructive towards liberty and the economy.
Of course, one of the common arguments presented against libertarianism, next to the “roads” question, would be the ultimate collapse of Somalia. Logically, there are two defenses against this misleading claim and criticism: either Somalia isn’t a failed state or Somalia isn’t libertarian in nature. My argument mostly touches on the latter. Siad Barre’s government in Somalia withered away in 1991, and since then there has been violence and famines. However, without any form of legal system, while also maintaining other institutions that fostered the protection of individual and natural rights, the country did struggle. Now, this isn’t to make an unfair false equivalency with the totalitarian regimes of Stalin’s USSR or Mao’s China, which were far worse by nearly every measurement including the scale of the famines, but Somalia hasn’t been a utopia, isn’t libertarian by nature, and libertarians should stop defending it.
The closest nation to a libertarian society, while not necessarily perfect or ideal, is Switzerland. The politics of Switzerland are characterized by non-militaristic foreign policy, a top income tax bracket of 12%, the decriminalization of nearly all drugs, very relaxed gun laws, protection of gay rights and so on. When measured by the percentage of GDP that is government spending, Switzerland is the lowest in the entire European continent with the exception of Albania, although sources vary. My one major attack against Swiss policies is the mandatory military service the country practices, which I condemn because it is naturally coercive. Overall, the nation represents libertarian values well and has a defendable record of remarkable economic growth, an extremely low crime rate, and a very prosperous society.
It is easy to want to try and stomp out every last remnant of government because of the many frustrating acts of oppression that governments have enacted on people throughout the world over the years, but it is foolish to lose sight of the goals of libertarianism, which is to protect rights and free will. While authority is often abused, it can be instrumental in protecting rights when they are violated. Humanity is neither universally innately good nor innately bad, and there will be instances when conflicts arise between individuals and a legal authority must both prevent this from happening and resolve it when it does.
A military, legal system, code of laws, public works, and a few regulations are necessary to a libertarian society, because if used correctly, they promote these goals. There can be a discussion for keeping the EPA, public education, and so on from a more utilitarian or economic point of view, but the ones listed above are absolutely necessary. (And I would actually argue for maintaining those two parts of the government, despite the fact I admit both need massive reforms.)
I will certainly consider anarcho-capitalists and anarchists allies to the libertarian movement and can most definitely sympathize with their distaste for government and understand why a rational person would identify with such a philosophy. Further, I will note the importance of having a radical faction that will ensure that the ideological purity of the movement doesn’t dwindle away. However, I object to their end goal of eradicating the entirety of the state, including the institutions that are not intended to impede the personal freedoms and excellent markets we adore, but try to or successfully further free will and libertarian ideals.
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