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Are Libertarians anarchists? It's time to decide
By Dr. Carl S. Milsted, Jr.
Interaction by Kevin Craig in this column.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the initiation of force is the highest evil, that no social cause, be it feeding the poor or protecting an endangered species, can justify the initiation of force.

"For the sake of the argument." Does that mean that Dr. Milsted does not agree with the premise? The initiation of force against the life, liberty, or property of another is not a violation of that person's rights to life, liberty and property?  I would like to see the "argument" (from a Libertarian perspective) which justifies the initiation of force. If Mr. Jones wishes to feed the hungry Mr. Smith, he cannot commit armed robbery against Mr. Brown.

Does this assumption lead to a moral requirement for anarchy? Is all taxation forbidden?

Yes and Yes. "An-archy" is moral because "archism" is immoral. Taxation is immoral because it is contrary to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." Taxation is theft. This is certainly not a "politically correct" position, and a Libertarian in Congress might find himself on the short end of a 434-1 vote.

The answer is no! Abolish a government and the most likely scenario is war.

The logic here is faulty. We're led to believe that a defense of the "no" answer is forthcoming. A logical answer would take the form, "Taxation is not immoral because...." But there is no justification offered for the moral/philosophical postulate that "Not all taxation is immoral."
  Instead, we're given the enthymeme which, when expanded, reads something like this:

1. War is wrong.
2. Abolition of taxation would lead to war.
3. Therefore taxation is not immoral.

The key is the second premise. Why is it that if a mass-movement of libertarianism developed, with millions of people coming to repudiate the initiation of force, concluding that taxes should be abolished, and electing legislators who abolished all taxes and replaced them with user fees, which resulted in competitive and wholly privatized welfare, education, and defense industries, that war would result? Who would initiate the attack? Why would competitive defense industries not deter this attack? Why would competitive defense industries not end the attack quickly?

Abolition of taxation would, by definition, result in the abolition of "the State," because the State is, by definition, the institution which claims a monopoly on the initiation of force to collect revenue. But abolition of  taxation, while it would end The Department of Health and Human Services, would not end all health and human services. While it would end The Department of Education, it would not end all education. And while it would end The Department of Defense, it would not end defense. And what we know about capitalism and socialism suggests that there would be more health, more charity, more education, and more defense in the absence of the State.

Someone will try to fill in the power vacuum. Either it will be another government or warlords within the region of anarchy. There will be no vacuum. There will be no long faces and reminiscing about "the good ol' days" of tax withholding, regulation, and pre-emptive wars. There will be MORE health, MORE education, and MORE defense. The only vacuum that will exist is the initiation of force to collect revenue. But if there had been a prior mass movement of libertarian education and conversion, and widespread acceptance of the immorality of the initiation of force, who will run for "power vacuum" on a platform of "restoring limited tyranny?" Who will vote for that candidate?

This is a net increase in the amount of force used.

There is no logic or evidence behind this claim. Who will be initiating force? Why will it be greater than all the force that libertarian legislators had already abolished?

Recorded history has shown this time after time. When a government collapses, either the people resort to tribalism, with every able-bodied male a soldier; the rich use their personal bodyguards to become feudal lords; neighboring peoples send in raiders to pillage, loot, and capture slaves; other governments conquer the region; and/or warlords within the region fight civil wars until a new government is established. None of these outcomes are pleasant.

It would be nice if libertarians had access to numerous historical examples of legislated anarchy; of societies that were once "archist," but experienced a "great awakening" of libertarian thinking, and abolished all "government." Libertarian apologists are always looking for these historical examples of successful libertarianism. Some have suggested Iceland, but this has not met with universal acceptance. Alas, such examples are hard to find. Dr. Milsted, on the other hand, claims to have numerous examples ("time after time"). He should share them with the rest of us.
  Imagine that the subscription rate for Reason magazine grows larger than the New York Times and the Washington Post combined. Imagine that -- by popular demand -- the federal budget has been slashed by 99%, with nearly all government programs being privatized. Ron Paul is elected President, running unopposed, and Robert Poole is Vice President. Imagine that President Paul submits a final budget of zero dollars to a libertarian legislature, elected by a population which overwhelmingly repudiates the initiation of force and elects representatives to make the transition to pure anarcho-capitalism, which finally abolishes the last vestiges of "the government." America is once again "the land of the free and the home of the brave." Why is it that the instant this final piece of legislation is signed by President Paul and the minimal "nightwatchman state" is completely privatized and abolished, that all of the sudden libertarian America begins a rampage of raids, pillaging, looting, and enslaving?  How do impoverished socialist dictatorships conquer the most technologically advanced anarcho-capitalist defense industries in human history? Why does Harry Browne all of the sudden become a "warlord?" Is it something in the water? Dr. Milsted offers no plausible explanation.

All of them are less libertarian than a modern welfare state.

We move from 99.9% libertarian to a statism more statist than the present welfare-warfare state. Why? What could account for this?

Yes, there are some rare cases in recorded civilized history where people have prospered without government as we know it. But these were the aberrations, not the norm. And they happened in isolated areas and/or among peoples who had shared traditions and religion.

America has never allowed "traditions" of human sacrifice, thuggism, or cannibalism to thrive here. But any tradition or religion which repudiates the initiation of force would certainly be allowed freedom in America. Why is complete privatization of social services impossible in such a  cosmopolitan society?

These conditions do not apply to the United States of the 21st Century. The idea that well-behaved private protection services will peacefully fill the power vacuum is highly speculative, unsupported by experiment. Modern experimentation with zero government is best tried with a small isolated country not a huge superpower.

What supports society-wide good behavior is a shared philosophical commitment opposing the initiation of force.

We can have a well-ordered grocery industry, a well-behaved computer industry, and a peaceful education industry, without the initiation of force which "the government" represents. The existence of a "huge superpower" presupposes the existence of a strong centralized federal government. Abolish the federal government and America would be a number of emerging or evolving regions linked together by commerce, not by the initiation of force.

To abolish government in the U.S. would be an incredibly dangerous experiment, likely leading to more tyranny, not liberty.

To convince millions of Americans to become libertarians, to repudiate the initiation of force, and to elect legislators who will privatize formerly-private industries, is not a "dangerous experiment," but a return to a Constitutional Republic, and then to mature in terms of the libertarian presuppositions of America's Founding Fathers, who could not have been expected to envision a pure laissez-faire society.

Most freedom lovers favor some government, even though that means supporting some taxation and regulation. For this reason, most freedom lovers reject the Libertarian Party as it currently stands.

Most "freedom lovers" today are lovers of freedom for themselves only. What would happen if they became convinced of the moral necessity to defend freedom for all others? Tyranny? Why?

The current LP membership pledge does not allow for limited government. Some initiation of force is required for a government to do its job.

The moral principles of Christianity and Libertarianism do not allow for the initiation of force. They press us toward "utopia." True, "the government" cannot exist without the initiation of force. But an orderly society can exist.

Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited!  Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God....What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be.. John Adams, Works, Vol. II, pp. 6-7, diary entry for February 22, 1756.

Some taxation is necessary. Dr. Milsted never proves his contention: "Some taxation is necessary," the corollary of which is "User fees cannot fund all necessary social functions." "People will not pay for what they want unless they are forced by police and prisons." Why? This is a huge assumption about sociology, political science, and the nature of man. It cries out for proof.

To obey the LP membership pledge requires calling for the effective abolition of government. And many of the provisions in our current platform reflect this mandate, especially our call for the "repeal of all taxation."

This is why I am a Libertarian.

There is a moral libertarian case for some government.

No there isn't. The initiation of force is immoral. But let's not get into a "yes it is, no it's not, yet it is" argument. Why would someone who believes in the inescapability of government force want to join the Libertarian Party? Why not be a Republican? Aren't they the party of "limited government?" Why would a libertarian dedicate himself to making the case for NOT abolishing all initiation of force? I said up above that "I would like to see the argument (from a Libertarian perspective) which justifies the initiation of force." More directly, I would like to see the argument (from a Libertarian perspective) which precludes, rules out, or obviates the abolition of all socialism, all government, all initiation of force. Why should the libertarian party be the party which argues against pure libertarianism?
The initiation of force will always be with us. This is a statement of one's eschatology, perhaps. It is not an argument against opposing immorality. Murder will always be with us. Legalize it? Child porn will always be with us. Does that mean I  have to sell it?
The option of no such force is not available; advocating such is equivalent to advocating free energy or time travel. One can imagine the Tories saying something similar to Thomas Jefferson: "The option of no king is not available; advocating such is equivalent to advocating free energy or time travel."

Never before had I heard the authority of kings called in question. I had been taught to consider them nearly as essential to political order as the sun is to the order of our solar system.
Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, upon first hearing of Locke's rejection of the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings.

The best we can do is minimize the initiation of force, and the overwhelming historical evidence indicates that this minimum requires some government with some war, police and taxation authority.

Why should we "minimize" the initiation of force if this might ultimately lead to greater force?

Should we succeed in implementing the current LP platform, our nation will be at great risk of conquest and civil war.

This is an apologetic for the neoconservative agenda.

But we won't succeed, because most libertarians and virtually all Americans refuse to support such a risky experiment. Most libertarians understand the need for some government, for some taxation. This is a major reason why our vote totals are so small. At present, we are not a libertarian party, we are an anarchist party.

It is critical to realize -- and to point this out during campaigning -- that libertarianism is not going to be adopted in one fell swoop, instantaneously, with no prior education, propagandizing, shift in popular opinion, and laying of foundations. If I'm elected to Congress, I will be the first Libertarian, in the presence of  433 non-libertarians and one Ron Paul.

It is time to decide: If we want to continue being an anarchist party, we should practice truth in advertising, and change the name to Anarchist Party. Or, if we want to be a truly libertarian party, we need to either change or eliminate the membership pledge.

Why is it that "truly libertarian" does not equal "anarcho-capitalist?"

We also need to update the platform to allow for that minimal state that maximizes liberty.

How would such a platform differ from the Republican Party Platform?

Which will it be?

I do not want someone initiating force against me. As a Christian, I am not permitted to initiate force against others. I vote to keep the LP Pledge.

-- About the author: Dr. Carl S. Milsted, Jr., of Asheville, N.C., is a member of the LP's 2006 Bylaws Committee, a former LNC alternate representative, and Webmaster for the Libertarian Reform Caucus.

Kevin Craig is the LP candidate for Congress in Missouri's 7th District.
Copyright 2005 National Libertarian Party