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Tibor Machan in Essay on “Government” v. “State” distinguishes between state and government, and says:

Labeling an allegedly “near pure” libertarian opponent a “supporter of the state” or “a statist” does carry a painful sting. One would hope, however, that just this temptation is resisted by serious scholars.

Now, sure, if you distinguish government from state, it’s unfair to call an advocate of government a statist, just as it’s unfair to call anarchist pro-chaos. However, anarchism is anti-state, not anti-government–if we are keeping these distinctions in mind. So if you carefully distinguish government from state, so that you are advocating only government but not advocating the state, it seems to me this makes you an anarchist. That is, unless you are advocating government and the state, in which case the charge of “statism” is more accurate.

So are anarchists in favor of “government,” as distinct from the state? well, I suppose it comes down to a question of what you mean by “government”. If we all agree that libertarians should be against “the state,” and we all agree that even anarchists favor some institutions regarding justice, defense, law, then the question now is: is the government you advocate a state, or merely a private institution?

And I think we can answer this not by engaging in continually nuanced semantics but in looking at the fundamentals of libertarianism: the anarchists oppose the state because they oppose aggression (see my What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist and What Libertarianism Is). If there is an agency that commits institutionalized aggression then they (we) oppose it because it commits aggression. And they have to give a name to this “agency that commits institutionalized aggression”: we call it “state”. Hoppe, in my mind, accurately defines “state” as follows:

Let me begin with the definition of a state. What must an agent be able to do to qualify as a state? This agent must be able to insist that all conflicts among the inhabitants of a given territory be brought to him for ultimate decision-making or be subject to his final review. In particular, this agent must be able to insist that all conflicts involving himself be adjudicated by him or his agent. And implied in the power to exclude all others from acting as ultimate judge, as the second defining characteristic of a state, is the agent’s power to tax: to unilaterally determine the price that justice seekers must pay for his services.

Based on this definition of a state, it is easy to understand why a desire to control a state might exist. For whoever is a monopolist of final arbitration within a given territory can make laws. And he who can legislate can also tax. Surely, this is an enviable position. [See Hoppe, Reflections on the Origin and the Stability of the State.]

So when you talk about government, the question is not how we classify it or what the best words are for state, government, etc., semantically: but rather: the question is: does the “government” that “minarchists” (?) favor engage in institutionalized aggression, or not? If not, it’s not a state, and it’s not unlibertarian. If it does, it’s merely a type of state.

Now the anarchists believe you can have private institutions provide law, justice, defense, without necessarily engaging in systematic and institutionalized aggression–that is, without being a state. Whether you want to call such institutions “government” or not seems to me to be purely semantic, esp. if we grant there is a distinction between state and government. The remaining question is simply what type of government the “minarchists” (?) favor: do they favor a government that has the authority to commit institutionalized aggression, or not? If they do, then they are pro-state, since such a government is a state. If they do not, they are anarchists, it seems to me, since private, non-state, non-aggressive institutions of law, justice, and defense is exactly what we anarchists favor.

[Mises crosspost]

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Paul Vahur March 29, 2010, 9:07 am

    So the state is monopoly government and anarchy is (peacefully) competing governments?

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