The challenge to minarchism – the impossibility of sustaining a libertarian state

Posted on November 11, 2010


While minarchist philosophers claim that the emergence of a state is inevitable and that therefore efforts must be concentrated towards establishing a “minimal state” to protect freedom, thorough analysis points to the inverse problem, that no minimal state can prevent its collapse to anarchy without compromising all of its laws and principles.

A few years ago I presented the following challenge to libertarians who consider themselves “minarchists”, that is to say they believe that freedom can only be preserved by a traditional state which is limited to the minimal possible powers that can be afforded to a traditional state. The challenge rests on the only basis for how such a state can be formed – only through a revolutionary libertarian wave that overthrows an existing, non-minimalist regime.

Suppose that a glorious revolution overthrows the government of your country and the revolutionaries assemble in order to draft a new constitution. The two main factions are the majority Sons of Liberty (pro-state) and the Congress of Free Courts (anti-state). As per the minarchist ideology, the new constitution establishes a monopoly on justice that grants legislative power to an elected body. The minority Congress of Free Courts walks out of the assembly in disgust and vows to disobey the new government.

Once you have been elected president of the new minarchist republic, would you launch a war against the CFC in order to subjugate them to your new government?

Most minarchists abstained from answering for the simple reason that the challenge overturns the very basis for their belief in the state – that any system of power must collapse into a monopoly and that this monopoly must be controlled by libertarians. In the above scenario, the system of power is very unstable, and a breakaway faction declares itself an independent force. In order for a minarchist state to remain an exclusive sovereign, it must then organize and fund a permanent war to root out those breakaway factions. To fund this permanent war, the executive of this state will have to levy taxes that the members of rebel societies do not have to pay, thus causing the exit of an even greater number of citizens to the rebels. In fact, the only way to prevent any kind of upstart rebellion from challenging the minarchist state is to transform into a police state, thus causing the total contradiction of the libertarian ideal.

Suppose that the president of the new state decides not to fight and destroy the rebels, what then will happen to this state? It will be compelled to obey a law above its own and be deprived of the power of legislation, since there will exist within its borders a society capable of opposing its force. The constitutional constructs of this new state will therefore be irrelevant – the true constitution of the country will be whatever arrangements are made with the independent society and any other future upstart society in order to create a common framework of justice. This, however, is a total contradiction of the statist ideal of a single, unchallenged sovereign over the nation. Unless all competing societies are destroyed, the libertarian state remains externally limited in its power, instead of being internally limited by its own constitution as minarchists seek.

Some minarchists try to avoid this problem by proposing some compromise, for example dividing the country between a libertarian state and a free state. However, because the rebels do not recognize the necessity of a libertarian state, they have no reason to surrender any of their possessions or leave any of their homes in order to fulfill their ambitions. They can continue their lives under the protection of their own society wherever they did beforehand. It is still necessary to make war on the rebels to compel them to accept a “two-state solution.” If the libertarian state compromises to the point that all rebel property can exit the libertarian state’s dominion, then, once again, nothing stops any other upstart rebel society from doing the same, and the libertarian state collapses into an anarchy once again.

In conclusion, not only is minarchism impossible to sustain, it is also an impossible objective to pursue, as it requires the conquest whole of an entire traditional state to bring about. The creation of a rebel society capable of opposing the traditional state and thus compel it to reduce down to a libertarian state is a much more realistic and attainable objective, and the process through which it can liberate a country I will detail in an upcoming post.

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