POL: Libertarians and Minarchists (Of Old School Philippics and Foundations)

Sun, 7 Mar 1999 08:51:53 EST

If one must live and work in the world, being both a libertarian and a minarchist is perfectly rational and consistent. In my own personal and perhaps idiosyncratic use of the terms, "libertarian" refers to a political philosophy derived from a set of political ideals, while "minarchism" refers to a set of practical political values derived from those ideals. Thus, the libertarian ideal of non-initiation of force is expressed in the minarchist value of curtailing state action wherever practically possible, in the circumstances one actually faces. An example of this in a specific historical context is the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, which was, by the standards of its day, a substantially minarchist expression of libertarian ideals.

Note that a similar mapping of terms can be used with other pairs of words expressing political ideals and actual expressions. Thus, "monarchism" can be seen as a set of political values expressing the ideals of "absolutism". The philosophical supporters of the Crown in 16th and 17th century England were absolutists; their institution of monarchy represented a set of compromises with history with which I am sure they were dissatisfied. While Tudor and Stewart absolutists would have wished it otherwise, the Crown was required to share power with a whole host of other political institutions, from Parliament and the Church, to the web of common law centers of power in local practice.

A dichotomy between ideal and real must be recognized the moment one descends from the ivory tower of pure principle into the historically-based reality of political action in the real world. The ideological purist may take comfort from his unwillingness to compromise, but he will achieve little in the real world. Accepting minarchism as a guide to action, illuminated by the ideals of libertarianism, on the other hand is, in my opinion, a workable practical political platform.

Even constrained by the limits of the achievable, there will always be a spectrum of choices involving more or less government coercion. Adopting a principled program of consistent minarchism leads to practical programs such as privatization of previously state-controlled industries, the use of arbitration in place of monopoly state legal regimes, the tolerance of individual choice in personal matters, the consistent minimization of regulation and taxation and the encouragement of personal responsibility.

Beyond this, accepting a distinction between political ideals and practical political values avoids the well-known dangers of ideological zealotry. I acknowledge that libertarianism is the one ideology which least lends itself to revolutionary zeal: After all, there is something comic about the image of a zealous libertarian, since non-initiation of force is the sine-qua-non of the libertarian ideologue. One has difficulty imagining the excesses of the guillotine employed by thorny individualists. Instead, libertarian zealotry is much more likely to express itself in a debilitating, fractious factionalism, which of course leads to the ultimate paradox of libertarianism in the real world: Libertarians eschew most of the tools of political power that history provides to those who would work some change in the world. I fear most those libertarians who do not see irony in the slogan,
"Individualists of the world unite!", but I also understand that dealing with
the reality that lends that irony is a necessary condition for effective change.

	Greg Burch     <GBurch1@aol.com>----<burchg@liddellsapp.com>
	   Attorney  :::  Director, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide
	http://users.aol.com/gburch1   -or-   http://members.aol.com/gburch1
	           "Good ideas are not adopted automatically.  They must
	              be driven into practice with courageous impatience." 
	                      -- Admiral Hyman G. Rickover