Which Aspect of Government Do Anarcho-Capitalists Favor?

by | Mar 21, 2023

Which Aspect of Government Do Anarcho-Capitalists Favor?

by | Mar 21, 2023

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The short answer to that question, and an accurate one, is none of the above. That is the very definition of this philosophical perspective: the state is merely a gang of robbers and murderers, and the ideal is to banish it entirely.

States Mr. Libertarian on this matter: “…if you wish to know how libertarians regard the State and any of its acts, simply think of the State as a criminal band, and all of the libertarian attitudes will logically fall into place.”

However, there is indeed an entirely different and also a proper way to answer that question: whichever aspect of it is most compatible with the libertarian ideal of non-initiatory aggression and private property rights is favored by libertarians in any specific case.

For example, during the New Deal, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was for a time balked by the Supreme Court. The former tried to implement a socialist policy, and the latter was having none of it, continually finding his initiatives unconstitutional. FDR threatened court packing and the nine justices caved in.

What, pray tell, would be the radical libertarian position on this matter? Obviously, to favor the Supreme Court. That is, only in comparison to the president in this case. The support would thus be a relative one. Supporters of economic freedom would rank the initial behavior of the nine justices higher than that of Roosevelt.

Take another case. President Reagan threatened the mayor and City Council of New York City that if the latter strengthened its rent control laws, the federal government would withhold funds from the Big Apple. We stipulate, arguendo, that rent control is an unjustified uncompensated “taking” from landlords, and thus per se unjustified (it also ruins the housing stock of any jurisdiction which implements this policy). Where does the libertarian fall out on this one? In an instance of “strange bedfellows” the supporter of property rights sides with the federal government. Again, not absolutely, of course, only relative to the city authorities.

What about drug legalization? Oregon has decriminalized not only marijuana, but cocaine as well. The federales have not even made legal the former, except for medicinal purposes. On which side of this disparity does the freedom philosophy come down on? Obviously, the former. Hooray for the Beaver State! It is a rights violation to interfere with what adults place into their bodies, on a voluntary basis.

To be sure, libertarians typically side with lower levels of government, vis-à-vis their more centralized counterparts, but only when other things are equal, or at least nearly so. That is because the more powerful is a governmental institution, the greater threat it is to liberty. And, it cannot be denied that that the federal level outranks in this regard the state, as does the latter, the city. But when the more centralized element of the state is clearly on the side of liberty, it violates no libertarian principles to favor that contending party. On the other hand, the disparity must be pretty clear, as it is in the above cases, lest precedent unduly erode the relative power of the less centralized entity.

I realize that what I have said above will appear controversial, even in libertarian circles (even in radical libertarian ones). Every fiber of our being cries out against the central state in Washington DC. Less so against the 50 states, and far less so against the mayors of our towns and cities. After all, if we find the latter obnoxious, we can move away, just a matter of a few miles, and avoid the loathsome practices. Escape from a state is more difficult, unless you live on the border of a contiguous state. If you live near the four corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, you have three other choices. When you migrate to another state, you might have to commute a bit further, but you can typically keep your job, friends, social groups, intact; the language spoken is the same. To move to an entirely different country, to escape from our masters in Washington DC is entirely a different ball of wax.

Thus, the thought that upon occasion we should prefer the federal government to a local one sticks in our libertarian craws. But upon consideration, I suspect that most libertarians will agree that every once in a rare while, this would indeed be the correct libertarian analysis.

About Walter E. Block

Dr. Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair in Economics at Loyola University and a senior fellow at the Mises Institute.

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