Last summer, while working at Koch Summer Fellowship Program, I went out to lunch with a colleague. We had decided to go out to discuss career opportunities and where we were going next after the summer, but our talk quickly devolved into the (excellent) experience that KSFP had afforded us, particularly the exposure to different ideas. I started griping about another friend, “…and he’s an anarcho-capitalist, which I just don’t understand. I mean, he even wants to privatize nukes!” My colleague quietly smiled then stated, “I’m an anarcho-capitalist. I think you have to be if you want to be philosophically consistent.”
I was surprised. I respected this person immensely. Serious people didn’t subscribe to anarcho-capitalism. As a Democrat-turned-libertarian, I thought that minarchy would be the end-all-be-all. I was wrong.
Minarchy is alternatively known as a “night watchman state.” In this libertarian paradigm, the state’s only function is to provide courts for infractions of the non-aggression principle (like breaching contracts or theft). In conjunction with this, the state is allowed a police force, legislators, prisons, and taxes to pay for this system. Minarchy, in other words, allows for the minimal involvement of the state in everyday life.
Anarcho-capitalism advocates that no state should exist. The free market, private property rights, and individual choices and actions should rule beyond any government; some equate it with voluntaryism. There are a variety of theories that accompany anarcho-capitalism that describe what an ideal stateless society could or will look like, but most of them stem off ideas of non-coercive action and privatizing everything.
For me, I struggle between labeling myself as a minarchist and anarcho-capitalist. A minarchist state is much easier to imagine. Police will provide for some protection from a Mad Max world, and society will function similarly to what we have now, just at a higher level. It is easy to imagine this world, and thus minarchy was easy for me to subscribe to. However, a minarchic world has the same corruptibility as the world we live in now. Who works these courts? Who can buy off those who run the courts? Who will prevent the government from growing into beyond a minarchic state?
Anarchy wholly solves the problem of government. It does away with corruption and coercion from an entity that monopolizes force—and it is philosophically consistent. However, what the world will look like in such a society is so unclear that I can’t even begin to fathom what a true anarcho-capitalist society would look like. How will people address the non-aggression principle? What about difficult property rights problems, like pollution? What about collective action problems?
Ultimately, I am toeing the line between minarchism and anarcho-capitalism, and I think many libertarians are just as confused as I am. Political philosophy drives many of us, so being caught between two of them can be difficult. Here’s my take on where to go if you can’t decide between either: think about steps forward.
The frank reality is that, for me, if anarcho-capitalism works, that would be the preferred choice. A society without governmental coercion is ideal; what libertarian wouldn’t want that? But because I can’t even conceive of the paradigm that would allow for anarcho-capitalism, I hesitate from labeling myself as such. For now, minarchy works, but only because I can conceptualize it.
That all said, I think that minarchists and anarchists can agree that stepping forward means looking at the now, not at the future. We can start with legalizing drugs, gay marriage, and reducing taxes. While both camps might disagree on the end product—minarchy or anarchy—we have a lot of work to do before we get there. Let’s focus on moving forward first as a unified force before considering the alternative end goals.