Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Is the Point of My Libertarian Anarchism?

By Robert Higgs

In college in the 1960s I was not a political person. Although I took a keen interest in politics, especially in the war that was raging in Vietnam, I concentrated on my studies, earning a living, and chasing women. After I began work as a professor, in 1968, I gravitated quickly from my collegiate New Leftism toward classical liberalism. As I learned more about Austrian economics, political economy, public choice, and history, I became increasingly libertarian (minarchist variety). My views continued to evolve, however, and by the time the 21st century arrived, if not sooner, I had finally reached my destination as a libertarian anarchist.

Although I make no apology whatever for this ideological identity, I do not share the seeming expectation of some of my fellow libertarian anarchists that a revolution is now, or soon will be, occurring in the direction of my preferred political ideals. Indeed, my expectation is, if anything, the reverse: it seems to me much more likely that the USA will continue to drift and lurch toward totalitarianism, though this system will surely have a unique red, white, and blue coloration to suit the American people’s history, culture, and tastes. I do not expect a dictator with a funny little mustache and a horde of brown-shirted thugs to take power after smashing heads in the streets. I expect instead an elected dictator who looks like George W. Bush or Barack Obama and a horde of police dressed in riot-suppression gear to turn the trick, though most people will not need to have their heads smashed and will go along gladly.

If I comprehend the world in this way, what, some people wonder, am I doing by embracing libertarian anarchism? Well, I am obviously not taking this position in order to come out on the winning side. If that were my goal, I would already have found a way to make myself useful in the military-industrial-congressional complex. No, I have put myself where I am now somewhat as Martin Luther did when he announced: “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

In my case, this declaration means most of all that I am simply doing what seems to me the decent thing; that taking any other ideological position would entangle me in evils of which I want no part. Although I sincerely believe that a stateless world would be better than the present world in countless ways, such as better health, greater wealth, and enhanced material well-being, I am not a libertarian anarchist primarily on consequentialist grounds, but instead primarily because I believe it is wrong for anyone—including those designated the rulers and their functionaries—to engage in fraud, extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. I do not believe that I have a defensible right to engage in such acts; nor do I believe that I, or anyone else, may delegate to government officials a just right to do what it is wrong for me—or you or anyone—to do as a private person.

Still, one might ask, if I do not expect that my vision of a just world can ever be realized, why do I persist in evaluating the events of the nasty “real world” by the standards realizable only in my ideal world? The answer is that everyone must have an ideal; without one, there is no standard against which one may assess the imperfect actions and events of the actual world. Without a standard, one may only shrug his shoulders, like a character in an existentialist novel, in nonchalant indifference to the political wickedness raging on all sides. Just as a devout Christian seeks to live a Christ-like life, knowing full well that no one can live up to the standard set by Jesus, so I aim to live and to make my judgments of the events I hear about in the light of the nonaggression axiom. The initiation of violence or the threat of violence against innocent others is wrong, regardless of the noble ends that one might cite to justify such violence or threat. It is wrong for me, wrong for you, and wrong for the president of the USA and his flunkies.

Read the rest here.



  1. Higgs is always a delight to read. If I may ask though, I recognize four of the six pictures on the bad Quaker website, but who are the third and the sixth one?

  2. Thanks for posting this. I wrote something very similar recently in a comment section to reply to so called libertarians (conservatives really) who claimed anarchism is childish and we could not win.

    I believe I too cannot win, but I stated it as follows. Anarchism is like perfect justice - A pipe dream! But nevertheless is something worth fighting for.

  3. There goes a good man! And does not evil win if good men do nothing?

  4. not that I'm a judge but...this is a fine, fine, fine, piece of writing. Well done Dr. Higgs. Very well done.

  5. Everyone must have an ideal. Now, you see, herein, lies the problem. *Ideals*? We are plagued by them. My conclusion, based on decades of observation, is that if everybody thought like I did, the world would have a lot fewer problems. Thank you!

  6. The problem with this fantasy is that it assumes that if we had no big, bad government, (which would sure be nice), but here meaning no government at all, that we would be safe and happy and free. It assumes that if we were to rid ourselves of the oppression of a government-gone-wrong-by-trampling-the-Constitution, that a totalitarian state would not follow immediately. Look anywhere in the world and tell me where anarchy leads to freedom. It does not - because men will not govern themselves. As the author said, even with Christ we have a difficult time to exercise self-control. And He is the only one I know of that will help us control ourselves when we request His help of our own free will. But anarchy-libertarianism assumes freedom of religion, or no religion. So all those without Christ by their choice, will be left to govern themselves by themselves. Fallen men cannot do that at all except for selfish pursuits. Without the guiding light of Christ pride, arrogance, self-preservation and a naturally rebellious heart will quickly arise in the face of adversity or prosperity. And with no decent and limited government there will be chaos and/or barbarian tribalism or, on the other side, totalitarianism. We cannot live in peace without government of self (with the help of God) or by good government, led by a moral people (God fearing -meaning they exercise self-control for the sake of others). Our founding fathers understood that and that was the intent of our Constitutional Republic. They understood the righteous requirement of the Law of God was summed up in this, "to Love God... and love your neighbor as yourself". It was in the hope of this guiding principle that the founders established the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. And they knew that without it the republic could not stand. So I think it is better to "fight for" what we had initially in America. A limited government led by a morally directed people. America is failing, not because the Constitution and Declaration were somehow wrong-headed or inadequate (as our president believes) but because they required God-fearing leaders with a Biblical moral Standard to guide them for their own good and the good of the people, which we do not now have. If we want liberty we must live within the two simple restraints God gave us. But, like a calf let out to pasture in the spring - he is free and happy as long as he lives within the restraints (fences) his owner has established for his own good. When he jumps the fence he becomes road-kill for the inevitable Mac truck. If he persists his owner will confine him more and more "for his own good" until he is tied in a stanchion with zero freedom "so he does not kill himself". In America we have left off the God given restraints of the simple 10 Commandments (which imply self-control) and have made ourselves subject instead to the laws of men - that are endless. We continually jumped the fence until we now have little freedom left "for our own good". We have used the freedom found in Christ as an occasion for the flesh (leading to hedonism) rather than by love serving one another, and have ended up being entangled again with the yoke of bondage, spiritual and governmental. We will be set free only when we submit once again to the leadership of Christ, Who is our only hope and in whom there is no change. He is calling America to repentance once again, to turn to Him, not because He is a narcissist like human leaders we know, but because He is love and He does want us to be free and He is the only way to true freedom. True liberty is found only "in Christ". "He whom the Son sets free is free indeed". And we have thrown Him out!

    1. BS at its best.

    2. "Look anywhere in the world and tell me where anarchy leads to freedom. It does not - because men will not govern themselves."

      Well yeah, of course. They all still have the statist-collectivist mindset.

      There needs to be a solid intellectual revolution for anarchy to work. You have to change peoples minds about the legitimacy (or rather lack thereof)of the state. That is what Higgs is helping to do.

  7. Quite nicely written. Describes my philosophy to a T.

  8. Simply excellent. You aren't alone. I have written something very similar for a popular blog. It's about personal integrity.

    Spot on. Thanks.