I recently had a short discussion with a friend that illuminated a discrepancy in his interpretation of my political views and my own interpretation of them. Or, more simply, I discovered that he thought I believed something that I don’t actually believe. It was an honest mistake on his part, due mostly to a lack of communication on my part, but it got me thinking about how I might be more clear in the future.
Part of the lack of clarity comes from my own lack of complete understanding about politics and economics, something which I am slowly but surely trying to fix as the days go by. But part of it could be helped by simply stating what I believe at this point, since (at least on a foundational level) it is quite simple to explain.
People who know me know that I tend to lean towards what is currently known as Libertarianism. I say “currently” because that label could easily change in the next decade; it certainly has over the last few. However, even that term has so many different variations that it leaves a lot of room for error. To some, it means “liberal” in the old sense; to some, it is almost synonymous with “anarchism.” Take the following helpful (read: confusing) bit of clarification from Wikipedia on anarchism, socialism, and libertarianism:
There is some ambiguity with the use of the terms “libertarianism” and “libertarian” in writings about anarchism. Since the 1890s from France, the term “libertarianism” has often been used as a synonym for anarchism and was used almost exclusively in this sense until the 1950s in the United States; its use as a synonym is still common outside the United States. Accordingly, “libertarian socialism” is sometimes used as a synonym for socialist anarchism, to distinguish it from “individualist libertarianism” (individualist anarchism). On the other hand, some use “libertarianism” to refer to individualistic free-market philosophy only, referring to free-market anarchism as “libertarian anarchism”.
Good grief! This is exactly why I am so hesitant to ascribe to any kind of label whatsoever. Granted, political labels are more prone to misinterpretation than others (“programmer” for example), but even so, it is obviously dangerous to employ the use of such terms when they are so arbitrary and malleable.
So, let’s set the record straight for me. As far as government is concerned, the closest thing I have found to what I currently believe is: Minarchism.
You very well may not have heard of minarchism before. I hadn’t either until a week ago, and upon learning about it, I discovered that it was most accurately represents how I feel about government. Now, before going further, I want to give you a few term definitions, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Communism is a sociopolitical movement that aims for a classless and stateless society structured upon communal ownership of property. It advocates a classless, stateless society, one where decisions on what to produce and what policies to pursue are made in the best interests of the collective society with the interests of every member of society given equal weight in the practical decision-making process in both the political and economic spheres of life.
Anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary and harmful, and instead promotes a stateless society, or anarchy. It seeks to diminish or even abolish authority in the conduct of human relations.
In civics, minarchism refers to a political ideology which maintains that the state’s only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud. (Such states are sometimes called night watchman states.) Minarchists defend the existence of the state as a necessary evil, but assert that it may only act to protect the life, liberty, and property of each individual.
Okay. Why include the first two terms, you might ask? Mainly for comparison.
Communism and anarchism are similar in many ways, but very different in others. Communism is anarchism with a concern for collective social benefit. Instead of individuals making all their own decisions, groups do it instead. Put into practice, communism is effectively democracy without a state.
Now I will say something that may shock you: I believe communism is an excellent idea. Yes, honestly.
However, it fails to account for one single major flaw that means it can never succeed: human nature. Mankind is not “basically good,” as so many people assume or even proclaim. Mankind is basically selfish. Much of the time, this translates into at least nominal cooperation between people, because that’s the approach that tends to get people what they want. But this is not always the case. History is full of innumerable accounts of people who took a different approach because it appeared better to them—an approach that aimed to achieve great gains at the unfair expense of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of others.
In the absence of consequences and whether as individuals or as groups, almost without fail and barring (some types of) religious influences, humans disregard the welfare of others just so they can gain something more for themselves. This is why pure communism can never work. It is the also the downfall of many governments, communist or otherwise, even when there are so-called “checks and balances” put into place. Our own government here in the US was created specifically to combat corruption. The three branches—judicial, legislative, and executive—were given different powers and competing interests precisely to create a deadlock situation rather than let something nefarious happen. The governmental architects knew what political power does to men, and built a government accordingly. As a result, even according to critics, our Constitution is one of the most well-crafted and outstanding foundational government documents in history.
But, as is painfully apparent, it’s not perfect, and it’s suffered many setbacks and alterations for the worse throughout its existence. The lust for power is very, very strong, and those who seek it always seem to find ways to circumvent the limits put in place to stop them.
Communism is extremely susceptible to this. Anarchism is less so, because it doesn’t assume that multiple people will act for their common benefit, but it still completely ignores human nature and assumes that everything will turn out okay since everyone is striving for the same level of control, and it will balance out on the whole. But people form cliques with dominating leaders, leading to factions and mini-dictatorships within the system (if indeed you can call anarchy a system).
So, why minarchy? How is it better?
As I’ve mentioned before, my current understanding of government is that it should adhere to (and enforce) what Richard Maybury calls the Two Laws: (1) Do all you have agreed to do, and (2) do not encroach on other persons or their property. These fundamental laws come from old English Common Law and form the basis for contract law and some criminal and tort law.
Government should exist solely and primarily to enforce these two laws. It should not exist for any other reason, and its power should be limited to the minimum necessary to accomplish this goal.
This is what minarchism is. From the summary definition, it says that “the state’s only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from aggression, theft, breach of contract and fraud.” Also, it “defend[s] the existence of the state as a necessary evil, but assert[s] that it may only act to protect the life, liberty, and property of each individual.”
It defends ultimate personal liberty as long as you are not breaking one of the Two Laws, and it provides for defense (not excluding a trained army and, if necessary, wars of defense). But that’s all.
No public education.
No public healthcare.
No Social Security.
No government welfare.
No government-mandated currency.
No socialized banks.
No FDA, FAA, or FCC.
All of those areas that we have become accustomed to having Federal hands in—appreciated or otherwise—would be handled by the private sector instead, in a true free-market system. Such a government (or economy) has as far as I know never really been tried in all of history. But it sure makes for a good target.
The existence of the state is a necessary evil precisely because of human nature. Consider this: let’s say that 98% of humans would cooperate on their own without the existence of a state, simply because it’s the easiest way to get at least most of what they want out of life. Without a state, the remaining 2% will fill the power vacuum at the earliest opportunity, and nothing would be in place to stop them unless the 98% recognize what is going on and band together (i.e. into a pseudo-state) to stop them.
If those 98% recognize that the 2% are a dangerous wildcard and potential threat, then they can create a minimal state to establish defense mechanisms against such a power grab. The state requires minimal participation (except by a relative few) and some funding through taxes or contracted payments to keep it running and effective. The government is there for protection, and incapable of anything else. It is effectively a social insurance policy against economic, political, and physical disruption.
What about our beloved republic? Especially the constitutional republic that has managed to withstand so much over the last 220 years—despite taking a significant beating? Well, actually, you can certainly have a constitutional minarchist republic. In it’s purest sense, there is nothing mutually exclusive about these two political ideas. Here’s Wikipedia’s intro definition of a republic:
A republic is a form of government in which the people or some portion thereof retain supreme control over the government, and in which the head of government is not a monarch. The word “republic” is derived from the Latin phrase res publica, which can be translated as “a public affair”.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a minarchy is a very pure, minimal version of a republic! The people would have to retain supreme control over the government to ensure its efficiency keep the inner workings transparent.
The minarchist government I described a few paragraphs above could be very similar to the government we have now, with one exception: the Constitution defining such a government would need to be considerably more limited than ours. It is quite obvious how often and through which loopholes our current governing document has been taken advantage of. To revise it and start over would be one heck of a social experiment, that’s for sure.
So there you have it. I am a minarchist. I am not fundamentally against government, or taxes, or even war. I am just for something much, much more limited in power than what we have.