Stephen Kinsella Needs to Take a Nap

by Scott McPherson

Writing on the LewRockwell.com blog on June 19, Stephan Kinsella claims that it “is a surprise…that we have libertarians who are still in favor of government – so called ‘minarchists’…It should be clear by now that minarchism is just another form of statism.

“America was not some minarchist paradise,” continues this invective, “it was a flawed utopian experiment resulting from an illegal coup…It was a society that condoned slavery, one of the worst evils ever, while establishing a constructivist new order based on a ‘rational, scientific’ paper document and rejecting traditional, superior [sic], unwritten, monarchist limits on state power, thus setting the world on the path of democracy and democratic tyranny, and all the evils of the 20th Century.”

Mr. Kinsella is essentially saying that if someone refuses to embrace “anarcho-capitalism” then they are, by definition, a statist. Further, anyone who sees the foundation of the American system as a dramatic improvement in how people are governed, relative to anything that ever came before, must also be a statist.

Worse, such people are no different, in theory, from any dictator, and are instead following the “path of democracy and democratic tyranny, and all the evils of the 20th Century.” (I guess it is a sign of my own corrupted, statist mindset, but I thought it was flawed moral ideas – collectivism and paternalism, for example – that brought us all these bad things. No, says Mr. Kinsella, it was a “path”.)

Am I really to believe that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Clarence Carson, Henry Hazlitt, Jacob Hornberger, and Ron Paul are the moral equivalent of Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Abraham Lincoln, Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Franklin Roosevelt, Augusto Pinochet, Fidel Castro, and Osama Bin Laden?

Objectivist author David Kelley, in his book The Contested Legacy of Ayn Rand, wrote about the danger of Objectivists’ equating libertarian “anarcho-capitalists” and nihilists with communist dictators. Kelley argued that to say libertarians are no better than butchers means butchers are no worse than libertarians – a position he rightly calls “moral hysteria”. Such hysteria destroys the concept of morality altogether.

If one were to ask a self-described “liberal” to define the term, he would likely refer to himself as a “progressive” who advocates racial tolerance, “social justice”, and “equality”. But if push came to shove – if pressed hard enough – he would admit that what he really wants is a centralized society with government control over the economy, or at least a large part of it.

But originally the word “liberal” meant someone who wanted government to maintain law and order and otherwise leave people free to regulate their own economic and social affairs – a world view that has since come to be identified as “libertarian”. Though the self-proclaimed “liberal” of today would likely bristle at the term, a more fitting description of his political ideal would be “statism”.

One wonders if Mr. Kinsella ever thought about consulting a dictionary before insulting many of his fellow libertarians. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1994, page 1149) defines “statism” as the “concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government.” Employing the arbitrariness of a spoiled child, Mr. Kinsella would change the definition to “any system that isn’t anarcho-capitalism.”

To suggest that minarchists or limited-government libertarians are really statists stretches the word so far as to destroy its meaning. That was the goal of  those who co-opted the word liberal. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Kinsella, and some of his fellow anarcho-libertarians, see themselves as the self-appointed Protectors of All Libertarian Virtue, and wish to drum from the Freedom Movement anyone who doesn’t see through the exact same prism as they do – exactly the tactic used by the statists to destroy liberalism (and by Objectivists, to purify their own sacred pool). In this way, at least, Mr. Kinsella shares more in common with the statists and – Shock! Horror! The Objectivists – than he would ever care to admit.

After the mis-labeled “Republican Revolution” of 1994, some libertarians were actually threatened by the possibility that a conservative majority in the Congress might begin to tear down the Welfare State and start moving America back towards a system of limited government. What to do when your life’s work is realized?

I wonder if some anarcho-capitalists – threatened by the current momentum of the Freedom Movement – are seeing themselves as ever-smaller fish in a growing pond. Or could it be that with more people joining the movement the anarchist is pressed to distinguish himself from us lesser mortals? Either way, let’s not let delicate egos and delusions of superiority destroy all our good work. The true statists would love nothing more than a major rift in our ranks.

My personal views on government did not develop without a great deal of consideration, study, discussion, and debate, and it is not my intention to revisit the “anarchy vs. limited government” argument here. Feel free to email me your 8 page dissertation on the virtues of anarchism, if you like. My Delete buttons works just fine. But if you wish to call me a statist, or a sellout, or in any other manner question my commitment to  freedom, I sure wish you’d say it to me in person. I’ve dedicated over a decade of my life to this cause, and have reached the conclusion that the best hope for freedom is to educate people on the value of capitalism, individual rights, limited government, and private property. If this be treason, make the most of it!

Scott McPherson is a policy advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation and a member of Seacoast Liberty. He would be very easy to find in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

8 Responses

  1. Too many people use the word “libertarian” to mean too many things. No matter what connotations you connect to it, it’s too broad to make statements for either way.

    So lets look at the reality. If you advocate aggression, on any issue, then I oppose your stance on that issue and your activism to move towards it. If you advocate rejecting or resisting aggression, then I stand with you.

    Some people advocate that “order” can only be maintained by selective aggression. I disagree and oppose the acceptance of that. That same person may stand for less taxes, open borders, an end to the drug war, and I stand with them.

    My doors are open wide. I stand with liberals when they stand for liberty. I stand for conservatives when they stand for liberty. And I stand against libertarisn when they stand for aggression.

  2. “One wonders if Mr. Kinsella ever thought about consulting a dictionary before insulting many of his fellow libertarians. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1994, page 1149) defines “statism” as the “concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government.” Employing the arbitrariness of a spoiled child, Mr. Kinsella would change the definition to “any system that isn’t anarcho-capitalism.””

    The libertarian supporters of the state sure seem to get annoyed when you point this out.

  3. Kevin, good point: “I stand against libertarisn when they stand for aggression.”

    Of course, libertarians who are not anarchists support the state, and since the state necessarily commits aggression, they are supporting aggression. Libertarians who support aggression! What’s next, pacifists for war?

  4. ‘One wonders if Mr. Kinsella ever thought about consulting a dictionary before insulting many of his fellow libertarians. Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1994, page 1149) defines “statism” as the “concentration of economic controls and planning in the hands of a highly centralized government.”’

    That sounds more like a definition of state-socialism than of statism, a necessarily broader concept. If arguing in favor of a state, even on a single issue, doesn’t make you a “statist”, what does? When does a state become “statist”? When it becomes too large? When it doesn’t have enough constitutional limits (like those will do any good anyway…)? At what non-arbitrary point can one be called a statist?

  5. Scott,

    The virtues of anarchism can be summed up in less than 8 pages. It is unjust to aggress against another human being. Any system, even limited government, that coerces with taxes, or maintains legal monopoly through the use of force, is corrupt.

    Now I am sure you can make a utilitarian argument for aggressing against people based on some sort of collectivistic idea like a greater good.

    But you can’t stake out a moral position if you are willing to use force against honest, innocent people trying to live their lives peacefully and voluntarily. And minarchism would demand this. Government by definition, exists based on collective majoritarianism, not libertarianism.

    I see you have dedicated time to your position, but please don’t be afraid to evolve to a position that is much clearer and much more ethical.

  6. Scott McPherson:

    “I wonder if some anarcho-capitalists – threatened by the current momentum of the Freedom Movement – are seeing themselves as ever-smaller fish in a growing pond. Or could it be that with more people joining the movement the anarchist is pressed to distinguish himself from us lesser mortals? Either way, let’s not let delicate egos and delusions of superiority destroy all our good work. The true statists would love nothing more than a major rift in our ranks.
    My personal views on government did not develop without a great deal of consideration, study, discussion, and debate, and it is not my intention to revisit the “anarchy vs. limited government” argument here. Feel free to email me your 8 page dissertation on the virtues of anarchism, if you like. My Delete buttons works just fine. But if you wish to call me a statist, or a sellout, or in any other manner question my commitment to freedom, I sure wish you’d say it to me in person. I’ve dedicated over a decade of my life to this cause, and have reached the conclusion that the best hope for freedom is to educate people on the value of capitalism, individual rights, limited government, and private property. If this be treason, make the most of it!”

    Mr. McPherson: I don’t know you, but am glad you are a libertarian. That said, I am a libertarian because I oppose aggression on principled grounds. As I explained in What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist, the only way you can be in favor of the state is if you are in favor of aggression, or if you think the state does not necessarily employe aggression. I find it hard to believe any smart libertarian is naive enough to believe the latter, so I have to assume you realize the state commits aggression but are in favor of it anyway. And surely you realize some libertarians have a principled opposition to aggression. If you have some libertarian argument that shows that aggression is in fact in some cases justified, you ought to share it.

    As for your other comments: It does not seem to me that anarchists are an ever-smaller portion of “The Freedom Movement”; but a growing part. But that’s just my experience. You could be right; but so what.

    “Either way, let’s not let delicate egos and delusions of superiority destroy all our good work.”

    I am in favor of your good works-that is, your opposition to aggression; but the same reason I am for it compels me to oppose it when you endorse aggression.

    “I’ve dedicated over a decade of my life to this cause, and have reached the conclusion that the best hope for freedom is to educate people on the value of capitalism, individual rights, limited government, and private property. If this be treason, make the most of it!”

    I tend to agree with this, except for the “limited government” part, which is a chimera. What in the world makes you think limited government is possible?

  7. BTW the name is Stephan.

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