The other day I bravely took on the might of the United Kingdom Libertarian Party in the comments on Facebook. They were sharing their manifesto for 2015, that I was keenly interested in, but something about their post bothered me. This is what they felt was the most appropriate thing to say in announcing their policies:

“What does the Libertarian Party stand for? Take a look at our Manifesto 2015. We are a sensible Party which chooses the best of the Libertarian philosophy and discards the crackpot parts that conflict with the important bits. We’re not Anarchic, we are Minarchist, and will always remain so”

Even without dissecting the logic behind this bizarre statement, the fact that they had to say it in the first place is indicative of the hopeless attitude to anarchism large swathes of the larger libertarian movement has.

This was my response:

“Can’t argue much with the manifesto, but as a sensible anarchist, that is an anarchist that believes in private property and rule of law, I am nonplussed by your post. This is a great opportunity to advertise your manifesto, but instead of making a powerful summary of libertarian political philosophy, you make a bitter jibe at anarchists. Why? To annoy anarchists and confuse everybody else?

And you guys think that by religiously assuring the mainstream that you’re not ‘crackpot’ anarchists you will actually get more popular. Well, I’ll respond to that with a quote from Ron Paul, the most effective libertarian of all time: “I think being an anarchist is a great idea”. Oh dear :/”

Looking back I think I was being too kind. What on Earth were they thinking?? Even from a neutral standpoint, why would a political party seeking support make their primary statement a rebuke of an ideology that they see as 1) significantly opposed to theirs and 2) fringe and irrelevant?

I’m serious about the manifesto: despite glaring omissions, such as scaling back the drug war, it is by far the best manifesto that has been put out by a British political party. If I was into political action, it might have been something to get behind. As it is, even if I could look past the minarchist attitude, I wouldn’t even be allowed to join the party.

Why hate the anarchists so much that you not only make statements against them but actively prohibit them from joining? This is a huge mistake: anarchists make up a robust sub-section of libertarians, with their own tradition and way of looking at things, but they are ultimately very strong libertarians that believe in 99% of what minarchists believe – freedom of the individual, property rights and the rule of law.

Minarchist writers: do you understand how weak your argument looks when, in the middle of a perfectly sound paragraph, you casually dismiss anarchy? Fellow anarchists will know what I mean, especially reading a book by a writer that is sympathetic to freedom and capitalism, who still feels the need to reassure everyone that they’re not a crazy anarcho-kook.

Mises did it, Hayek did it, Hazlitt did it, Milton Friedman did it: right in the midst of a seemingly impenetrable defence of liberty, they’ll throw in, “Of course, some government is necessary lest society devolve into chaos, but…”, or something like that, a flaccid supposition with no evidence, then they move on. It’s understandable that the older generation of writers, seeing as there were few in the way of anarchists in the liberal tradition back in the early 20th century, wouldn’t feel the need to expound on it; but modern writers have no excuse: read Rothbard, the Tannehills, David Friedman, address their existence in your work and respond to their arguments.

Waving away anarchism like a mosquito doesn’t work anymore. It’s lame, and undoes all of the good expounding you’ve done up to that point. Statists pick up on it: the point at which Rothbard became an anarchist was when he couldn’t find a satisfactory response to his lefty friends who called him out on his inconsistency – if individual freedom is so great, and the government so bad, why should there be a government at all? Questions of this sort cannot be convincingly answered by glib dismissals.

One might respond that anarchism is such a ridiculous idea that it is barely worthy of note, but why not also dismiss socialism, which is surely equally or even more ridiculous? Your average minarchist writer would agree with Mises’ contention that “a socialist management would be like a man forced to spend his life blindfolded”, such is the absurdity of the socialist doctrine, yet would devote tens of thousands of words refuting it. Anarcho-capitalists, for all their supposed faults, do not advocate the “repudiation of the rational economy”. If socialism is a serious enough ideology that it requires systematic rebuke, anarchism must also deserve a fair hearing.

Socialism is more popular, true, as it was in Mises’ time, but anarcho-capitalism is a rapidly growing force with reputable intellectual support, so why not address it? More libertarians are willing to come out of the proverbial closet and identify as anarchists. Libertarian anarchism has developed a crossover with left-anarchism, bringing new ideas and approaches to issues of the state and the market. Some of the most popular figures in the liberty movement are anarchists. You can’t get away from it, so attempting to brush it under the rug just makes you look old-fashioned.

Those who do not dismiss anarchism may offer a general criticism, yet fail to address any of the arguments that have been put forth in response. They will throw out a tired rhetorical, questioning how an anarchist society might provide defence from invading armies, and present that as the damning argument as if the thought had never even occurred to anarchists. In fact, questions concerning national defence, law and courts, policing and of course, roads have been discussed by anarchist writers for literally decades.

Check out The Market for Liberty, by Morris and Linda Tannehill, For a New Liberty and The Machinery of Freedom. Bob Murphy’s Chaos Theory is a short work that specifically addresses issues of law and defence. For roads, Walter Block steps up with The Privatisation of the Roads and Highways. These are not minor figures in the movement; we should pay attention to them.

Why not go the path of Robert Nozick, a minarchist that did the hard work of entertaining the anarchist position? Only after that, he provided his argument for minimal government in Anarchy, State and Utopia. Before extolling the virtues of constitutional minarchism, Isabel Paterson devoted an entire chapter of God of the Machine to ‘the fallacy of anarchism’, and this was in 1945.

If these guys can fully and fairly criticise anarchism, so can you. Or is the reason you won’t because you can’t come up a good argument?


This was originally posted on CinemActivism