Why minarchism is the greatest delusion. {Part 1/3}

It may be rather inconvenient for me to display such opinions, given that most people who are libertarians are also minarchists, but I truly believe that minarchism is the most addle-headed political delusion that exists. Minarchism is not only statism, it represents its most Utopian form.

Minarchists, very simply, are people who believe in government but also believe that government should be limited. I will now present a list of four principles I would consider fundamental to the minarchist mindset, with principle number 1 also providing a more expanded definition of minarchism.

Note that for the purposes of this entry, I use “government” in the sense of “concrete expression of the State,” as minarchists do, not as “agency of governance”: the agents of the State can only be said to provide governance in the loosest, most amoral sense possible.

1. Basic definition. Government must always be kept “limited,” said limit being far lower the scope of governments of today. This limitation is achieved by binding the government to “checks and balances” (internal competition) and/or to follow some set of doctrines such as the US Constitution, as well as enforce it.

2. Utilitarian justification: the sovereignty argument. There must be a final authority present for society to operate, otherwise we would have chaos.

3. Government is a “necessary evil”: despite its inherent corruption and immorality, we need it to enforce point 2.

4. Moral justification. Government is based on consent, or should be based on consent. Anarchy cannot work because people would naturally establish governments.

In this list, I would consider 1 the most fundamental principle for minarchists, as it basically defines their political framework. The other principles are either arguments they use against Anarchy, or moral positions they take about the State. I would also say that the vast majority of minarchists, from my experience, believe in these four basic principles. I certainly did when I was a libertarian minarchist, and so do most minarchists who have argued with me on the topic.

Given this, it should be instructive to examine how these principles harmonize with, or contradict, each other, taking care to examine possible reformulations so as to not be merely knocking straw men. Note that, for the purposes of examining the interactions between these premises, I will not question the content of those premises, reserving this for later. For now, let us take them completely at face value.

Let’s start with what is indeed harmonious: points 1 and 3. If government must be limited and is not in and of itself desirable, then we can indeed say that it is a “necessary evil,” which we must always guard against.

Are 1 and 2, and 1 and 4, harmonious points? Point 1 says that government must be limited in accordance with either a principle of checks and balances or a doctrine. And yet points 2 and 4 present entirely different rationales for government: one, that government exists in order to be the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, and the other, that government must exist in forms that people consent to.

But this is contradictory. Either government is limited by some standard, or it is moved by sovereign rulings or consent, both of which have no inherent limitations. A government based on such principles may become smaller, or bigger, than the minarchist may establish from principle 1.

How can we reconcile this? We can argue that, principle 1 being most important, these standards represent the absolute limits within which people may consent or not, or within which the government may play arbiter or not. But this presents only more problems. Suppose people refuse to consent to a rule inscribed in one’s chosen minarchist doctrine, or against which checks and balances alone do not protect. Or suppose that the ruling class (for who else could decide this?) decides that its sovereignty demands new rules which do not fit those limits.

Then what? A premise must necessarily be abandoned. If we abandon premise 1, then we abandon minarchism. If we abandon premise 2, then the utilitarian justification for government is defeated. If we abandon premise 4, then the moral justification for government is defeated. Our only possible conclusion, from this paradox alone, is that the minarchist system is inherently unstable, even if we do not involve class theory in the picture and merely look at its basic premises. Either a minarchist government is limited, it is consensual, or it is a sovereign entity that imposes right and wrong in order to prevent chaos. This is a no-win situation.

Continue to part 2.

11 thoughts on “Why minarchism is the greatest delusion. {Part 1/3}

  1. […] As I already discussed, the basic premises of minarchism are mutually contradictory. It is absurd to claim that government, by its very nature, does most things badly but is needed to perform some other functions, let alone be the final arbiter of social rules. It is equally absurd to claim that government must be the final arbiter, which implies that it could not be limited by anyone or anything, but then to limit it to certain functions or a certain size. […]

  2. timothy January 8, 2009 at 13:09

    I fall into minarchism for I have not been shown any other gathering to classify myself..Bottom line we have a monetary system that has no intrinsic value whatsoever and is eventually doomed..If I do not do everything in our power as to subside this ill practice of worthless paper then WE have failed our children and our country…Their are no other parties currently that will place ending the federal reserve at such a high priority other than being of a minarchism state of mind…Drastic times demand drastic measures…Where else would you have us gather for if we cannot decide on where to congregate and we leave the simpleness of a definition stray you away then we lose more time..In fact we may have already lost to much time..

    I agree there needs to be some sort of sanity brought to your analogy of this but the clock is ticking…

    In the words of JFK “There is a revolution looming and we can act now and demand a peacful one and control the character of it or wait either or it is coming” No exactly what he said but close enough..

    Thankyou for your post it was a great read!!

  3. Ryan March 3, 2009 at 01:09

    Wait – I’ve spotted a problem. You assume in your essay that a government must have a particular moral code in order to determine what is right and wrong. You probably base this assumption on the moral code underlying current governments around the globe. Most governments are based on religious ideologies which are hundreds of years old. Almost every law has some origin in a religious text. The Minarchist solution which I promote is that the very moral code underlying the legal system must *change.* We needn’t abolish it entirely; we need to change the moral framework itself.

    I’m an avid reader of Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson, so I draw a lot of my ideas from their work. Basically, Leary and Wilson suggested that mankind must overcome its religious morality and replace it with a *hedonic morality* before we can make any significant progress in government, and ultimately, space migration and life longevity. You could make a lot of philosophical arguments about how Hedonism can’t work as a basis for a legal system, but I actually think it can work. I won’t dive into that here, as it gets very complicated. In short, Hedonism is the moral philosophy of the future, and when humankind embraces it, then a minimal, utilitarian, and moral government is possible, as outlined in Minarchism.

    Out of curiosity, you say you were once a Minarchist; so what are you now?

  4. Francois Tremblay March 3, 2009 at 01:43

    “Wait – I’ve spotted a problem. You assume in your essay that a government must have a particular moral code in order to determine what is right and wrong.”

    One must have a moral code in order to have functional concepts of right and wrong. One must have a particular moral code in order to agree with *my* conceptions of right and wrong (and the same can be said for yours, and anyone else’s).

    “The Minarchist solution which I promote is that the very moral code underlying the legal system must *change.* We needn’t abolish it entirely; we need to change the moral framework itself.”

    Its moral framework is “might makes right.” There is no reason why any government would follow your recommendations and change its moral framework, because that’s how it justifies and maintains its power.

    “Basically, Leary and Wilson suggested that mankind must overcome its religious morality and replace it with a *hedonic morality* before we can make any significant progress in government, and ultimately, space migration and life longevity.”

    I don’t believe in “mankind.” Who must “replace his religious morality”? Politicians? All of us? How do you propose to convince others that your morality is superior?
    (I don’t believe it is)

    “In short, Hedonism is the moral philosophy of the future, and when humankind embraces it, then a minimal, utilitarian, and moral government is possible, as outlined in Minarchism.”

    There can be no such thing as a “minimal and moral government,” for the reasons I discussed in my three-part entry. A monopoly of force cannot be limited or controlled. You are talking about pure chimeras.

    “Out of curiosity, you say you were once a Minarchist; so what are you now?”

    Mutualist.

  5. Ryan March 3, 2009 at 01:56

    “Its moral framework is “might makes right.” There is no reason why any government would follow your recommendations and change its moral framework, because that’s how it justifies and maintains its power.”

    First, you must understand that my argument only applies to a mid-to-distant future when there is a fundamental paradigm shift. (Minarchism only makes sense from the reference frame of futurism. It is obviously not attainable anytime soon because no government would accept this paradigm shift currently, as you said.) This paradigm shift, in theory, will consist of a mental evolution of the human species. I refer to Timothy Leary’s 8-circuit model of consciousness. It’s not an exact theory, but it is accurate for what it is. According to this model, the mentality of the human race will gradually shift to a hedonic, rather than mythic or religious, reference frame.

    “How do you propose to convince others that your morality is superior?”

    If the theory of mental evolution is accurate, then I won’t need to convince anyone of anything. It will happen naturally because we will eventually need it to happen. Just as with physical evolution, it is determined by the needs of survival. In the future, when the earth’s resources begin to deplete, humankind will need to begin migrating into space and extending the length of life. The main reasons why we do not put much effort into these areas currently is morality. In order for the human race to continue past a certain point, we will need to abandon our ancient morality in favor of a more hedonic one. Hedonism is the moral philosophy that the only good actions are actions that directly result in happiness, while bad actions are actions that result in any kind of pain or suffering. Leary also was aware that ideology and morality are the chief causes of human suffering. He wrote several books on the subject.

    “There can be no such thing as a “minimal and moral government,” for the reasons I discussed in my three-part entry. A monopoly of force cannot be limited or controlled. You are talking about pure chimeras.”

    I think it might be possible. The worst mistake is to think you know anything with certainty. Calling someone else’s ideas “fantasy” makes you quite open to fallibility.

  6. Francois Tremblay March 3, 2009 at 02:15

    “First, you must understand that my argument only applies to a mid-to-distant future when there is a fundamental paradigm shift.”

    So we’re talking about fantasy then. All right.

    “According to this model, the mentality of the human race will gradually shift to a hedonic, rather than mythic or religious, reference frame.”

    So far there seems to be absolutely no letting down of mythic/religious frameworks, even in the most advanced societies. We just substitute one kind of myth for another.

    “Hedonism is the moral philosophy that the only good actions are actions that directly result in happiness, while bad actions are actions that result in any kind of pain or suffering.”

    There is no such thing as an action that directly results in happiness: happiness is the result of value-fulfillment, it is not a value in itself. And if a bad action is one that leads to suffering or pain, then going to the dentist is a bad action. Your moral philosophy is half-baked to say the least.

    “I think it might be possible. The worst mistake is to think you know anything with certainty. Calling someone else’s ideas “fantasy” makes you quite open to fallibility.”

    I hold with absolutely no doubt, based on millenias of human nature operating on social institutions and based on basic understanding of human nature, that a monopoly of force will never willingly limit or reduce itself. It is not “possible.” To believe that this can happen is as much a fantasy as the virgin birth or Jonah and the whale.

  7. Ryan March 3, 2009 at 03:29

    “So we’re talking about fantasy then. All right.”

    So you think the future and paradigm shifts are fantasy? Close your eyes for five seconds and open them again. Do you doubt that in another five seconds you won’t exist? And paradigm shifts have occurred throughout history. When the Europeans began to explore the Americas, that was a result of the paradigm shift regarding the Atlantic Ocean. One day this kind of shift will occur for the space beyond the earth. Why would you not think this is plausible? The burden is all yours, sir.

    “So far there seems to be absolutely no letting down of mythic/religious frameworks, even in the most advanced societies. We just substitute one kind of myth for another.”

    I agree. That’s because we’re primarily stuck in the Socio-Sexual Circuit, and we’ve only begun testing the Neurosomatic Circuit. Remember, I was referring to future possibilities.

    “And if a bad action is one that leads to suffering or pain, then going to the dentist is a bad action.”

    No, I go to the dentist in order to prevent future pain by getting my teeth cleaned, thus preventing them from rotting, which causes pain. (If the dental procedure hurts, they use anesthetics, which is good because it reduces pain.) Hedonism is more complex than you might think. There are lots of arguments against it, and there are just as many counterarguments. I find it quite beautiful.

    “I hold with absolutely no doubt, based on millenias of human nature operating on social institutions and based on basic understanding of human nature, that a monopoly of force will never willingly limit or reduce itself.”

    That may be true – I am open to your view. But if you’re not open to mine, then you’re at a disadvantage, because certainty about knowledge is, in principle, impossible. Having no doubt is the worst quality a person can possess. There are thousands of Evangelicals who hold with absolutely no doubt that Jesus was born from a virgin. Now, I’m not trying to compare you to an Evangelical, because you do have evidence for your beliefs. I’m just pointing out the principle that ANY belief could be mistaken, including yours. I try to maintain a general agnosticism about everything in life. You might try it; it’s quite satisfying.

  8. Francois Tremblay March 3, 2009 at 03:49

    “So you think the future and paradigm shifts are fantasy? Close your eyes for five seconds and open them again. Do you doubt that in another five seconds you won’t exist? And paradigm shifts have occurred throughout history.”

    I do not deny either of these facts. I know I will exist “in another five seconds” only because that knowledge will simply no longer exist if I cease to exist. The proposition “I have ceased to exist after five seconds” can therefore never be true. This does not imply what you have in mind, however.

    “I agree. That’s because we’re primarily stuck in the Socio-Sexual Circuit, and we’ve only begun testing the Neurosomatic Circuit. Remember, I was referring to future possibilities.”

    After reading an overview of this system, I must say that I remain unconvinced.

    “No, I go to the dentist in order to prevent future pain by getting my teeth cleaned, thus preventing them from rotting, which causes pain.”

    Your definition didn’t say anything about future pain, only of pain, period. In fact, if one tried to escape all pain and suffering, he would very soon end up dead. Pain and suffering are necessary elements of human life. This is one of the reasons why I believe that hedonism (and its counterpart, epicureanism, trying to evade all pain, a worldview now supported by the Buddhists) is misguided. In fact, it is easily demonstrated that hedonism can only lead to the complete breakdown of human society, of which we witness the first steps in obesity, the Internet and iPods.

    “That may be true – I am open to your view. But if you’re not open to mine, then you’re at a disadvantage, because certainty about knowledge is, in principle, impossible.”

    We agree on that point.

    “I try to maintain a general agnosticism about everything in life. You might try it; it’s quite satisfying.”

    In my discussions and debates, I’ve found that by far the most annoying, insufferable, irrational people are agnostics. Please note that this is only my personal experience, so I’m not saying this makes agnosticism wrong or immoral or corrupting. But so far I have found this to be always true.

  9. Ryan March 3, 2009 at 04:59

    Are you a green anarchist or anarcho-primitivist? How do you justify the claim that the Internet will lead to the breakdown of society? I did some research on Ted Kaczynski recently out of interest, and from what I read, I disagreed with the philosophy. But I am interested in learning more about it.

    Regarding agnosticism, when I say “general agnosticism” I am referring to the view that certainty about knowledge is impossible, which you agreed with. It has other names: model agnosticism, fallibilism, epistemological nihilism – they all refer to the same thing. You can’t agree with one and not the others. If you were referring to theological agnostics, I do not fall into that category. I am a theological non-cognitivist (or “ignostic”).

    By the way, can I contact you via e-mail? At this point our discussion has gone way off topic, and I’d be more comfortable continuing it through some private form of communication. My email: ArcadianGenesis@aol.com

  10. […] process, paper constitutions, checks and balances, and so on. As I have discussed in the past, no method to control government or hold it accountable can succeed. Subjects believe that they collectively control their rulers, but they do not. Regardless, they […]

  11. […] 4. Why minarchism is the greatest delusion. […]

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