Is Albert Jay Nock a Statist Too?

By Scott McPherson

In his classic Our Enemy The State, Albert Jay Nock writes that “It may…be easily seen how great the difference is between the institution of government, as understood by [Thomas] Paine and the Declaration of Independence, and the institution of the State…The nature and intention of government…are social. Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by it primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him.” [Emphasis added]

Nock seems to think that a limited government is possible, at least theoretically, and that it is distinguishable from a State. Is he a statist too?

Anarchists claim that anyone who advocates “aggression” is a statist. I have written a number of commentaries over the last decade, so perhaps I’ve overlooked something, but could someone please refer me to where in any of them I have advocated aggression?

And while were on the subject, I have to ask, would aggression be possible in an anarcho-capitalist world, or, with government (or the State, I can never tell which they want to get rid of) abolished will we all be too busy holding hands and singing Celtic tribal chants to aggress against anyone else?

If the answer is yes – and I pray my anarchist contemporaries haven’t gone so completely off the deep end that they will answer otherwise – then won’t government, oops, a “rights protection agency” be called in to settle the matter? That’s starting to sound a lot like government to me.

And will this system of government ever itself act in a non-libertarian fashion? According to David Friedman, in his blueprint for anarcho-capitalism, The Machinery of Freedom, the answer is…Yes.

In Chapter 31, “Is Anarcho-Capitalism Libertarian?” Friedman writes,

I have described how a private system of courts and police might function, but not the laws it would produce and enforce; I have discussed institutions, not results. That is why I have used       the term anarcho-capitalist, which describes the institutions, rather than libertarian. Whether these institutions will produce a libertarian society – a society in which each person is free do           do as he likes with himself and his property as long as he does not use either to initiate force             against others – remains to be proven.

Under some circumstances they will not. [Emphasis added]

So I have to ask: Is Friedman a statist too? I don’t think so. I think he’s honest when he says that people can, theoretically, hire a “rights protection agency” (none dare call it government) that violates the rights of others and potentially create a non-libertarian society. That sounds pretty anti-social to me! It also sounds a little like what Ludwig von Mises – that evil statist – meant when he talked about the free market being the best means of allocating resources, but that it will not necessarily create good things. That is up to the consumer.

If a limited government – and I mean that in the Nockian since of the word – will always, according to the anarchist, grow into a State, therefore making its supporters de facto “statists”, then wouldn’t a supporter of anarcho-capitalism have to wear the same label, since it too can produce un-libertarian results?

Maybe the anarcho-capitalists should come down from their high horse, and recognize that the difference between what a principled limited-government libertarian wants and what an anarchist wants is only separated by a disagreement over means, i.e., one government within a specific geo-political boundary providing protection of our rights, or many of them.   Far too often they jump to conclusions about what other people believe — simply because we don’t believe them.  I, for one, am unconvinced that “competing governments” will work out.   The idea seems better suited to a fantasy roll-playing game.  Somalia seems like a good example of that in practice.  But I also admire the anarchist for thinking and working towards the system of government that he wants. I’m with Nock, that noted anarchist, when I say that I want a government, and that a government limited to the protection of my rights is possible. That may make me naïve, or foolish – but it doesn’t make me a statist.

Scott McPherson is a member of Seacoast Liberty.

Stephen Kinsella Needs to Take a Nap

by Scott McPherson

Writing on the 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.