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.