No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.QUOTED BY JUDGE GIDEON J. TUCKER
OF NEW YORK, C. 1866
Many libertarians advocate not anarchy but limited constitutional government. In my discussion of the public good problem in national defense, I accepted their arguments to the extent of conceding that there might be circumstances in which voluntary institutions could not defend themselves against a foreign state. Under such circumstances a limited government might perform a useful function. The same public good argument applies, in varying degrees, to things other than defense. Why, then, do I take as my objective a society of completely voluntary institutions? Would it not be better to have a severely limited government doing those few things which it could do better?
Perhaps it would be—if the government stayed that way. Here we run into the problem discussed in Chapter 4. One cannot simply build any imaginable characteristics into a government; governments have their own internal dynamic. The internal dynamic of limited governments is something with which we, to our sorrow, have a good deal of practical experience. It took about 150 years, starting with a Bill of Rights that reserved to the states and the people all powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government, to produce a Supreme Court willing to rule that growing corn to feed to your own hogs is interstate commerce and can therefore be regulated by Congress.
Suppose that a government is given the job of doing only those things that cannot be done well privately because of the public good problem. Someone, almost certainly the government, must decide what things those are. Practically every economic activity has some element of public good. Writing this book will not only benefit those who are entertained by reading it, it will also, I hope, increase at least infinitesimally the chance that I, and you, will live in an increasingly free society. That is a public good; I cannot make America free for me without making it free for you and even free for people so benighted as not to have bought this book. Does that mean that our ideal limited government should control the publishing industry? My judgment is no; the element of public good is small and the costs of public control enormous. The judgment of a government official, with his eye on power and patronage, might be different.
The logic of limited governments is to grow. There are obvious reasons for that in the nature of government, and plenty of evidence. Constitutions provide, at the most, a modest and temporary restraint. As Murray Rothbard is supposed to have said, the idea of a limited government that stays limited is truly Utopian. Anarchy at least might work; limited government has been tried.
Of course, one should ask the same questions about anarchist institutions. What is their internal dynamic? Will private rights enforcement agencies, once established, continue as private profit-making concerns or will they conclude that theft is more profitable and become governments? Will the laws of private arbitration agencies be just laws, allowing individuals to pursue their own affairs without interference, or will they allow self-righteous majorities to impose their will on the rest of us, as do many present laws? There is, after all, no absolute guarantee that the laws of an anarchist society will themselves be libertarian laws.
These are questions I attempted to answer in Chapters 30 and 31. My conclusion was one of guarded optimism. Anarchist institutions cannot prevent the members of a sufficiently large and impassioned majority from forcing their prejudices into private law codes and so imposing them on the rest of us. But they make it far more difficult and expensive, and therefore more unlikely, than under governmental institutions. Anarchist institutions cannot guarantee that protectors will never become rulers, but they decrease the power that protectors have separately or together and they put at the head of rights enforcement agencies men who are less likely than politicians to regard theft as a congenial profession.
For all these reasons I believe that anarchist institutions, if they can be established and maintained, will be better than any government, even one initially limited and constitutional. I am willing to accept a slightly less than optimal production of a few public goods in exchange for the security of there being no government to expand into the 95 percent of human affairs where it can do nothing but damage. The ultimate objective of my political actions is not limited government. It is anarchy.
At this point another question is sometimes raised. We are a long way from the objective of a severely limited government and a longer way still from anarchy. Even if anarcho-capitalism is ideally a better system, is it not wise to focus on the more immediate goal of reducing the government and put off to the future any discussion of abolishing it?
I think not. It is important to know what road we must take, but it is also important to know where we want to go. In order to understand our position ourselves and explain it to others it helps to know what we ultimately want, not just what compromises we may be forced to accept.
I suspect that one reason for the enormous success of the socialist ideas of fifty and a hundred years ago—ideas which in many cases are the orthodoxy of today—was the willingness of socialists to be Utopian. Their politics were Fabian but their polemic was not. Their vision of an ultimate perfection was one of the most effective weapons in the practical struggle.
There are Utopias and Utopias. A Utopia that will work only if populated by saints is a perilous vision; there are not enough saints. Such a vision—liberalism, socialism, call it what you will—we have followed; it has led us to where we now are. I have not tried to construct a Utopia in that sense. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to describe plausible institutions under which human beings not very different from ourselves could live. Those institutions must evolve over a period of time, as did the institutions under which we presently live; they cannot be instantly conjured up from the dreams of an enthusiastic writer. The objective is distant but not necessarily unreachable. It is well to know where one is going before taking even the first step.