The minarchist fallacy: it’s for leftists too!

What I call the minarchist fallacy has already been pointed out many times in Noam Chomsky (who is, admittedly, a self-professed amateur insofar as politics goes, but being the most prominent Anarchist in the United States has unluckily inherited the mantle) by many people, most recently and eloquently Roderick T Long in an entry called “Chomsky’s Augustinian Anarchism” (mirrored here). I am not going to retread the ideas in Long’s excellent entry, but rather use a quote to merely point out the contradiction. Here is one:

In the long term, I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with federalism and associations and so on. On the other hand, right now, I’d like to strengthen the federal government. The reason is, we live in this world, not some other world. And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private power that are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as anything humans have devised.

There’s only one way of defending rights that have been attained, or of extending their scope in the face of these private powers, and that’s to maintain the one form of illegitimate power that happens to be somewhat responsible to the public and which the public can indeed influence.

Noam Chomsky, “You Say You Want a Devolution”

Chomsky believes that government must be expanded… not at all contradicting Anarchism, mind you!… in order to break up the concentrations of private power. According to him, we can and need to do this because government is accountable to us while corporations are not.

So what is the fallacy committed by Chomsky? Very simply, it is the belief that government can be turned into an agency that breaks down the structures of power, giving more freedom to the individual. But this is a direct contradiction to the actual workings of governments, which expand and flourish by taking away individual freedom, not by giving it back. To expect a government to restore individual freedom is like expecting a corporation to surrender all its asserts and voluntarily give back to the workers the full product of their labour.

In short, why would a “strengthen[ed]… federal government” be “defending rights that have been attained, or… extending their scope in the face of these private powers”? A strengthened federal government would keep doing what strong federal governments do: consolidate its power base, support the corporate system, and keep small businesses and private individuals in their position of subjects through the land monopoly and the money monopoly. There is absolutely no incentive for such a government to stop doing this.

Chomsky also states that government is “somewhat responsible to the public” and that the public can “influence” government. As Chomsky himself knows very well, as his expertise in the failure of democracy in the face of State manipulation proves, this is a straightforward statist lie. The public has absolutely no influence on government and cannot make government accountable. Democracy is a sham used to give people the illusion of choice while ensuring that only the candidates and the ideas selected by the ruling class can be on a ballot. Besides, the vast majority of the government’s activities and important figures are not accessible to the ballot box, a fact which in itself puts to the lie Chomsky’s proposition.

A government has absolutely no interest in allowing anti-corporate measures on its ballots or to restrain corporate activities. To think that it might do so is simply wishful thinking. The government depends on attracting and keeping capitalist activities for its wealth and legitimacy, and any government which delegalized any principle of capitalism would find itself bankrupt in short order.

There is no reason for a government, possessing all the power, to surrender some of it to a subject population. There is no reason for a government to give its subject population any chance of seizing any power.

But this is a side issue. The main problem is the belief that government can be made to protect individual freedom. On this issue, Chomsky can be called, not really an Anarchist, but rather a left-wing minarchist (this is not to say that I do not consider him to be an Anarchist in general). Let us now look at another example of the minarchist fallacy, this time from a right-wing minarchist.

The whole point of a single, constitutionally limited government is to limit force and coercion — by private parties, and by the government itself.

The only “contradictions” rest in the minds of those who want recognition of their personal liberty, while demolishing the only means of rationally determining when individual rights have been violated.

Robert Bidinotto, “The Contradiction In Anarchism”

Bidinotto argues against Anarchism on the grounds that its multiplicity of rulesets, courts, and so on, preclude the imposition of a single, monopoloid standard of rights (and he thinks this is a bad thing!). I know this argument inside and out, because I used to believe in the same abstract ideal.

Unfortunately, pure abstractions only work when you’re doing maths or when you’re high (or if you’re unlucky enough, both at the same time). Bidinotto’s abstraction of the “government that limits itself and rationally determines when individual rights have been violated” has never, and cannot, exist. Like Chomsky’s “anti-capitalist government,”
it is the conceptual equivalent of a five year old drawing a chimera whose body parts don’t even connect right. There is absolutely no reason in the world why a government would want to limit itself, or any means to impose any limits on a monopoly of force. There is absolutely no reason in the world why a government would want to be a “rational arbiter” when it is entirely in its interests and power to be an irrational arbiter in its own favor.

Once again there is the belief that a monopoly of force (favored by Chomsky and Bidinotto precisely because of its power to act, and thus bring about the results they desire, apart from the interests of the agents involved) will somehow, in some way, support individual freedom instead of hindering it or trampling it underfoot. Any level-headed person must have realized by now that this is lunacy. The interests of the ruling class cannot converge with those of the masses they control.

In fact, the right-wing fallacy is even more absurd than the left-wing one. If hoping that the government will restrict corporate power, on which part of its own power depends, is absurd, then hoping that the government will restrict its own power must be doubly absurd.

We can state the fallacy in the following way:

The sole function of government in the capital-democratic system is to generate, steal, concentrate, sustain and manipulate power. Anyone positing the government as doing anything else is contradicting reality.

From this point, the statist will argue that we therefore leave only violence as possible means of resolving the issue. This of course is a straw man: violence and political means are not by far the only means to change political systems. In fact, neither of them are liable to work very well, have done so very seldom, and have never in the history of mankind brought about long-term freedom to the masses. Anarchists preach resistance through education, mutual aid, and direct action, which is both non-violent (at least, not insofar as hurting people) and rejects the absurd notion of getting government to limit itself through voting.

But of course statists want you to believe that the only alternatives are political means (them) and violence (the “media anarchists”), because this entails that rejecting political means (i.e. rejecting the system) marginalized you into an advocate of violence. It’s just another one of those false dichotomies they use to make you believe that your ideas are outlandish and on the margins. If you are not left or right then you’re nothing, if you’re not in favour of government “services” you must be a nihilist, if you don’t support political means you must support violence.

The two fallacious cases I have given are paradigmatic and pretty mundane. I was inspired in starting this entry by a rarer sort of case, an actual Anarchist committing the fallacy:

Throughout all of the arguments presented by anarchists, it is never disputed that people who choose to live under a government have the right to do so. The arguments for anarchism boil down to having the right to individual secession. So consequently this means that I’m not asking you to prefer living under anarchy yourself, I’m merely asking that you recognise the right of all individuals to choose what type of society they would like to live in for themselves.

Stephan, from Democracy Sucks, “Personal preference regarding the State vs Anarchism

Which begs the question, secession from what? The concept of secession is meaningless without something to secede from. Does it mean to secede from the nation? But there is no such thing as a nation. Does it mean to secede from the government? But this would imply that the government is legitimate. From the Anarchist standpoint, there exists nothing to secede from, only organized force. Government is not a thing with which to negotiate or to cajole: it is an illegitimate structure which must be eradicated.

More importantly, why would any government recognize to individuals the right to secede? Why would any government, whether in an Anarchist world or a statist world, voluntarily mutilate its local monopoly by letting some residents secede from it? It would mean less taxation revenues, barriers to law enforcement, and ultimately the disintegration of its democratic system. No government in the world would engage in such a course of action.

It will not do to say that surrounding Anarchists would keep people safe from the reach of such a government. Asking a statist to “recognise the right of all individuals to choose what type of society they would like to live in for themselves” is in essence a demand to abolish the monopoly which constitutes the very nature of the State, let alone government (as you may know from reading my blog, my concept of the State is much more vast than government). It is merely another way for Anarchists to try to use political means (that is to say, control) in order to bring about freedom: a logical contradiction.

19 thoughts on “The minarchist fallacy: it’s for leftists too!

  1. Roderick T. Long January 23, 2009 at 21:52

    Thanks for the plug — but I’m pretty sure I’m not Lew Rockwell.

  2. David Z January 23, 2009 at 22:27
  3. Stephan January 24, 2009 at 01:39

    Francois, I’m not sure what definition of the word secede/secession you are operating under, because when I use the word, I’m talking about the act of withdrawing from an organisation. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/secede

    Withdrawing from an organisation is not the same as saying that that organisation is valid.

    “Does it mean to secede from the government? But this would imply that the government is legitimate.” – I don’t think the 2nd statement is true, I agree that the government is organised force, and it is organised force that I want to secede from.

    Stephan

  4. Francois Tremblay January 24, 2009 at 03:49

    “Thanks for the plug — but I’m pretty sure I’m not Lew Rockwell.”

    Sorry bout that… corrected.

    “Francois, I’m not sure what definition of the word secede/secession you are operating under, because when I use the word, I’m talking about the act of withdrawing from an organisation.”

    I’m using the same.

  5. Stephan January 24, 2009 at 03:59

    Ok so we’re using the same, then how is it that withdrawing from an organisation legitimates that organisation?

    “Does it mean to secede from the government? But this would imply that the government is legitimate.” – How does this 2nd sentence make any sense? If I withdraw from a gang of thieves, that doesn’t mean I supported their thievery in the first place, and similarly with the state.

  6. Francois Tremblay January 24, 2009 at 04:10

    Why would you feel the need to “withdraw” from something that is illegitimate and that you therefore do not recognize? Did you send a letter of unbelief to Santa Claus?

  7. Stephan January 24, 2009 at 10:53

    When you say “Did you send a letter of unbelief to Santa?” – This isn’t a fitting analogy because I’m not suggesting that people should send a letter of unbelief to the state either. I’m saying people should just live their own life, free of the state.

    I’m not suggesting “Let’s all ASK the state for the right to secede”, I’m suggesting that people just go ahead and do it, regardless of what the state wants. I’m also trying to convince them that it would be ‘legitimate’ for people to do this, which is perhaps where the confusion is coming from.

  8. Stephan January 24, 2009 at 10:54

    Sorry, just to clarify: when I said “I’m also trying to convince them…” – “them” refers to individual people, not the government.

  9. Mike Gogulski January 24, 2009 at 12:00

    Splendid post. There’s still a stray “Rockwell” up there, though :)

  10. Francois Tremblay January 24, 2009 at 13:12

    What does it mean to secede from something that does not exist?

  11. Stephan January 24, 2009 at 19:11

    I don’t think you’re really going anywhere with that question.

    If you mean to suggest that the violent gang called the government doesn’t exist in reality, then why do you even run a blog about anarchism?

    So clearly this gang called the govt does exist, even if it is illegitimate. A person choosing to secede from that gang doesn’t legitimise the actions of the gang in any way.

    I think you should just concede the point dude, you’re not really getting anywhere with this line of questioning.

    “Does it mean to secede from the government? But this would imply that the government is legitimate.” – This 2nd sentence just plain isn’t true

  12. Michael Wiebe January 24, 2009 at 21:35

    I think you’re wrong on the secession issue.

    “From the Anarchist standpoint, there exists nothing to secede from, only organized force.”

    If we define secession as “withdrawing from an organization”, or more precisely as the “unilateral disruption of a hegemonic relationship by the subject”, then there obviously IS something to secede from: the hegemonic relationship.

    “More importantly, why would any government recognize to individuals the right to secede? Why would any government, whether in an Anarchist world or a statist world, voluntarily mutilate its local monopoly by letting some residents secede from it?… No government in the world would engage in such a course of action.”

    This is why governments violently resist secession, and why secession is such an effective strategy. Secession is rarely a bilateral, mutual agreement. It is a unilateral declaration of independence, as in the 13 colonies from Britain. The king didn’t agree to let them secede.

  13. Francois Tremblay January 24, 2009 at 23:04

    “If you mean to suggest that the violent gang called the government doesn’t exist in reality, then why do you even run a blog about anarchism?”

    Anarchism is a statement about hierarchies and coercion, not about government specifically. Because we do not recognize a gang of thugs as legitimate does not mean we don’t recognize their force.

    “I think you should just concede the point dude, you’re not really getting anywhere with this line of questioning.”

    I think you should just stop commenting on it, since you’re going in circles, “dude.”

  14. Stephan January 24, 2009 at 23:19

    “Why would you feel the need to “withdraw” from something that is illegitimate and that you therefore do not recognize?” – A person who secedes, withdraws from the organised violence BECAUSE he/she doesn’t recognise govt authority over them.

  15. Roderick T. Long January 25, 2009 at 02:31

    Maybe the following is what François is thinking: When you flee from a criminal gang, you don’t call it secession. So calling it secession when you withdraw from a “government” is conceding, erroneously, that a government is different from a criminal gang.

    But in that case I don’t see why Stephan can’t reply: When you flee from an ordinary criminal gang, you don’t call it secession. But “secession” is the standard term for withdrawing from one specific kind of criminal gang, namely one that is a [fill in “largely successful claimant to a territorial monopoly of the authorisation of force” or whatever your favourite definition of the state is]. So calling it “secession” concedes only that the criminal gang you’re seceding from differs from other criminal gangs in that respect (and not, say, in respect of legitimacy).

  16. Francois Tremblay January 25, 2009 at 05:26

    Roderick, that seems pretty fair, although to me “secession” implies the political recognition of that which you are seceding from. I may be wrong on that one though.

  17. rmangum2001 January 25, 2009 at 22:11

    You do have to wonder, given Chomsky’s faith in making the government “accountable to the people”, why he is an anarchist at all, except for keeping it as some sort unattainable utopian ideal or a literary construct.

    This is sort of the reverse of many classical liberals who favored laissez-faire, yet supported fascist movements in order to “preserve” a market economy against the incursion of communism. But what was left of classical liberalism after that?

  18. John Famularo February 1, 2009 at 20:46

    Pure anarchism, like perfect government, is impossible to describe unambiguously much less achieve in reality.

    An analogy: Desalinization of sea water is impossible. There will always be trillions of sodium and chlorine ions remaining in solution. However, it is possible to remove enough salt to make the remaining saline solution potable.
    If you were dieing of thirst would you refuse to drink “partially” desalinated water because it was not “perfect”?

  19. Francois Tremblay February 1, 2009 at 20:48

    Your analogy does not work because it’s not apparent what the hell you are analogizing with. What does salt represent? What does water represent?

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