Monday, March 21, 2011

Limited Government vs Anarchy

Brett responded to my attempt at thinking through the issue in last Thursday’s post. I spent the weekend thinking about it. The comment disappeared for reasons unknown to me, and then reappeared this morning. So I thought I’d respond at least to parts of it. What we’re discussing, I think, is whether a person should ever under any circumstances submit to a government. I think it is practical and healthy for a civilized society to do so—within the limited government outlined in our Constitution. Brett argues that it is always unwise, because there will always be a chance that the majority will decide differently from you, leaving you coerced.

Brett’s comment is copied here, for convenience of reading, with my responses interspersed in italics.

But not 100% of people within the United States consented to the Constitution. I agree that IF everyone agrees to something it isn't coercion and does not go against Natural Rights. That is not what happened in US or anywhere else in history.

I grant that not 100% of people consented; I do abide by my statement that virtually all of the populous consented (or else left). If a person has granted a lower level authority to make certain decisions by majority rule, that is essentially consent even when there is not agreement. But I concede your point.

So if you enter into a contract with someone, your children are responsible for your signature even if they are adults and never consented to it? I assume your answer is no, but that govt is somehow different. Why does the relationship between people that call themselves government and people who are called citizenry allow for rules of contract that are completely alien to the right of contract?

Actually there are many things related to inheritance where children do assume the responsibilities signed onto by the parent. If a grown child inherits a mortgaged property, for example, from a parent’s estate, the grown child takes on the mortgage, or allows the property to be sold to pay off the mortgage as well as any liens or other debts to be paid by the estate, before the grown child receives a monetary or physical inheritance. If such heir receives a property in, say, an HOA, the same covenants apply to the new owner as to the old. If the heir does not want to sign on to these contracts that are already in place, the choices still require the heir’s action, i.e., to sell the property to someone who will abide by the contract. (In some cases, refusing the accept the inheritance might be a possibility if the executor can then grant the property to a willing heir, but the heir's refusal is taking action nevertheless.)

Is citizenship an inheritance? Our laws are set up such that it is. So the heir must take action in order to not receive the inheritance—typically by leaving the jurisdiction and taking up residence/citizenship in the location of his choice.

Let me ask a question, a different challenge of sorts. Then I'll give my thoughts.

Question- It comes from Robert Nozick:

Thoughts-Further, although someone can enter into an organization and agree to its terms (examples: 1)decisions will be made by majority vote and regardless of outcome, I submit to each decision.2)I agree to box you. I may not like every punch but I will accept each one if you allow me to also do the same.3)Although not a member of the LDS church, someone can attend BYU by signing the Honor Code [referred to in my post on March 5, "Civilization in Action."] where they must follow church standards regardless of belief while in attendance), this is very different from the reality of all government, including the one put forth by the Constitution. Some people may consent to government, and they may have theirs, but to those who choose not to are not allowed to live apart from govt intervention. If they do not want the protection of the police, they CAN NOT contract out because it is "illegal" (illegal according to govt, not natural law) for anyone to compete with the US.

In a truly free/civil society, people can submit to a government with all of its coercion, but those who do not must be allowed to use their property to their desires. They must be able to allow services and goods that compete with the government of the day. Government can not claim a territorial monopoly so that the choice is either government or nothing.

A recent example of this was a home fire where the homeowner, on the outskirts of the jurisdiction had refused to pay for the fire protection service. The fire fighters were on hand to protect the fire from spreading to those contracting for the service, but the home burned to the ground. There was outrage that the fire fighters would not voluntarily serve even where not contracted. Even though there was no breach of contract, the devastation that resulted made the fire fighters (and any governmental entity directing them) to appear unreasonable and uncivilized. If the house had not been on the outskirts, but right in the center of the jurisdiction, but with an opting out homeowner, confusion would ensue, as well as an assumption that the fire fighters should put out fires no matter what--unfairly burdening those who contract for the protection. Just an example. I don't know if you could come up with an opt-out system that would be workable.

It can not be said, "but no one owns the land they are on, it is the property of the US." According to Homesteading, a principle of Natural Law, property is obtained by mixing your labor with nature to make it productive. The US can not just simply claim empty tracks of land as their property, it is no ones property. The people who moved there and settled it own it, not the government.

I’m not going to argue this point with you. I grew up in a state with above 80% of land claimed by the federal government, which is pretty much obscene.

It is not incumbent on someone living under the involuntary monopoly of a government to use the political process that government created to change its policies (though you have expressed revolution as a potentially just method). That individual IS being oppressed on and the monopoly should withdraw its force from them until consent is actually given. The individual has a right to not have force initiated against it. An individual may enter into a legal agreement with a government and be bound to it, but their posterity is not held to that standard, especially once they are adults and are fully capable of contracting themselves. They too must agree to the government they live under. They are, by default, free people until their consent is given. The default is not that they are to be subject to government as slaves of the majority. They are not born into legal slavery/oppression. They are not allowed freedom only upon paying a tax, leaving their property, and moving to a different territorial monopoly (govt) in another location in the world.

This may be the reality of the world that is called Earth, but it is not just according to Natural Law. Natural rights do not justify involuntary government. Anything more than voluntary interactions can only be justified by utilitarian arguments, for natural law rejects it.

Posted by Brett to Spherical Model at March 21, 2011 8:43 AM

In a truly free/civil society, people would have only limited (and typically very local) need to submit to government at all. In the actual world, tyranny and chaos are the typical choices. In a relatively free country, if you choose not to submit to the government of your land, you can leave. In a theoretical world with plenty of uninhabited but self-sustaining islands, you could set up your own island nation with just yourself (plus maybe chosen family members) and live freely without any ruling government whatsoever. But, even in that theoretical world, what would prevent an invading force from taking over your island? Your personal resources for self-defense only. Let’s assume that, unlike in Swiss Family Robinson, such resources are inadequate. You are then coerced into losing your property or using it only in such ways as the new ruling power allows you to.

Anarchy (lack of government) is not actually the opposite of tyranny—unless you are alone on an uninvadable island—it is tyranny by the force of whoever is biggest, strongest, best armed (like in gangs), rather than a state tyrant that is biggest, strongest, and best armed. (See description of southwest quadrant in “The Political World Is Round.”)

So, in the real world, you either submit to a state or anarchical tyrant, or you submit to a limited power government, designed by consent of the governed to protect life, liberty, and property without otherwise interfering with free choice. When it is a choice of southern hemisphere (the typical choice in history) or the northern hemisphere—particularly the northern freedom zone as our founders designed the US Constitution—I’ll take that northern freedom zone by choice.


  1. When anarchy is referenced, it is usually as an interim between governments. This is usually a period of chaos because a government that had made a population dependent on it for certain functions such as contract enforcement is suddenly gone. People are left with a huge problem that needs an immediate solution and the market process for services like arbitration and defense tend to take some time to develop. During this time, those with power take control, often with a new government replacing the old (sometimes more, sometimes less tyrannical than the one before).

    This is not the same thing an anarchist is advocating for. Especially from a Voluntaryist like myself. Typically non-government societies are brought about because government has weakened society until the government and society collapses into turmoil, but a Voluntaryist seeks to obtain a voluntary society by strengthening society until it is able to perform for itself the functions typical of government so that government is no longer needed.

    Since Voluntaryists only use nonviolent means (ends do not justify the means mentality). Their only tools to establishing 'anarchy' include education, civil disobedience, and agorism (the use of counter-economics to replace the state).

    The only demand I have of a constitutional government is to simply allow competition. Allow a business to try to create its own defense services, private coinage, and/or arbitration services, etc. It is not the provision of defense that is a problem, it is the monopoly status of defense that is an issue. If government dissolves into nothing it is because they are not needed. If they stick around it is because they are providing legitimate services that no one else can.

    Further, is a limited coercive government possible???

    “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”-George Washington

    “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”-Thomas Paine

    Let's not pretend that government is just. Even the smallest amount of involuntary taxation(even if only $20/person) is theft. The founders understood that. The idea that government can have only the rights people have (natural rights) argument suggests that all government, including the US Constitution is outside the proper role of government. A natural rights argument can not justify the Constitution.

    The debate is not about rather or not it is evil, it is rather or not it is necessary. This is the realm of utilitarianism (note: utilitarianism coupled with natural rights asks the question, which system BEST protects the rights of the people). If an anarchic state truly is more tyrannical than limited government then we say, "Yes it is evil, but we'll pick a limited government not because it is just, but because it is the least immoral."

    I feel that there is a system that is based on human behavior and requires no government that would better protect the rights of individuals and it is based on markets, property, and competition. That may be incorrect, but lets debate the practicality, not the morality of it.

  2. The concerns about an opt out system expresses that perhaps government has a legitimate function when the good or service is public in nature (

    To me that moves away from a natural rights argument and towards a utilitarian one. If someone could benefit from other people's actions and not have to pay for those benefits then the system would not work, therefore government must somehow fix those externalities (taxing those who are benefiting, subsidizing good behavior, or simply being the sole provider of the good and charging everyone for it rather they want it or not). This would create an argument for government far more intrusive than has ever existed on this earth. (see

    I do believe that markets tend to offer very creative ways to get around goods and services that are typically characterized as public in nature. Robert Murphy in his book Chaos Theory briefly addresses the opt-out problem in defense.

    "Anyone who reads that chapter at the outset of an exploration of what used to be called the liberal philosophy will have already faced the ultimate challenge. If you accept that the free market is a better tool of social management, are you willing to forgo "national defense"? If not, you must consider why you make an exception in this one area but not most other areas. If there is something about government that is uniquely suited to providing this most important function, can we really rule out the possibility government has competence in a full range of other areas too?"- Jeffrey Tucker