Monday, September 14, 2009

The Death Knell of Minarchism

Say what you will about rabble-rousing congressmen and gun-toting protesters, the political tension in this country is palpable. And given the controversy surrounding many of our present challenges, and their proposed solutions no less, it's not really that hard to see why so many people, on all sides of the paradigm, are feeling antagonistic. I have to admit, as someone who often finds himself in agreement with several conservatives on various issues, there is a part of me that admires their noble efforts in pushing back against the state. But there is a larger part of me that can't help but recognize the folly and hopelessness of those efforts. And it's not so much a lack of sympathy for their cause that's dissuaded my faith but rather a realization that they are running headstrong into a gun-fight with knives.

What's lacking here is the intellectual will and fortitude to appropriately combat the nonsense that's being thrown in their direction. They are suffering from the same malady from which their opponents suffer; namely, an eagerness to react emotionally, and without reasoned forethought. And while there are clearly things that one can certainly get emotional over regarding the use of government, blanket statements like "the government wants to kill old ladies with death panels" and "no one should die because they don't have insurance" only scratch the surface of the issues, and in an entirely child-like way at that. The issue at hand here is the moral, philosophical, and political efficacy of proposed solutions to the problems in front of us. And while I think that the claims of many on the left on these grounds are both weak and pedantic, I feel that they will ultimately walk away the victor. Not only are the views of many conservatives somewhat conflicted in their own right, but they have seemingly lost the ability to even frame their arguments correctly.

To be perfectly fair, I have to at least acknowledge that the views of those on the left regarding federal government are obviously far more atrocious than those on the right. All my dealings with those on the left have led to the conclusion that their view of the role of the federal government is unambiguously arbitrary and quite frankly almost limitless. In fact, about the only time I've ever heard liberals clamor about the limits of government are in matters surrounding censorship. Even their deep-seeded hatred for GWB seemed to stop at the edge of simple disagreement with policy. We've all certainly heard the phrase "illegal war," but few took the time to elaborate on the propensity of such a statement. In any case, it's always seemed to me that social democracy was their prime directive, and by proxy the federal government should be able to do whatever the people wish it to do, simply because they have majority support. It's ironic because, you'd think, after eight years of an administration they hated so much, that they would fear the unwieldy power of the state, and subsequently the nature of their views on democracy and federal power. But that isn't the case. In fact, I believe part of the reason, and maybe subconsciously, that many of them still frame the Bush years with the qualifier that he "stole" the election is that it legitimizes the efficacy of the democratic process in their minds; that the past eight years were simply a proverbial systemic hiccup and that a real democracy wouldn't produce that kind of outcome.

Of course, our forefathers knew better than this. Which is why they not only felt that government power should be spread out amongst competing states, but that federal power should be severely limited. These limits are of course embodied in our federal Constitution, which legally binds the government to a very small set of powers and responsibilities. And this is where conservatives and libertarians can find the low-lying fruit for their arguments. As the closest things to minarchists we have today, these groups should be furious about how far the government has been allowed to overstep its boundaries. But that's not what we're seeing at the forefront of discussion. Instead we're left with rants about spending and tax policy; which is important, don't get me wrong. But how far into an argument about how much the government is going to spend do you wade before you bring up the fact that the programs in question are far out of the legal jurisdiction of the federal government in the first place? The constitutional argument has been so lost in the fray that I'm starting to hear retorts regarding the claims of socialism that reference the police and roads. To which any minarchist should be able to easily refute with a simple, " mean things that are actually constitutional?" But that refutation isn't even coming to the forefront anymore. It's as if this entire country, over time, has become so divorced from the idea of limited government that not only do those on the left seem to ignore the idea entirely, but those who purport to uphold it can't even seem to cite the writ binding the idea in and of itself, our constitution.

And as if this isn't bad enough, minarchists ultimately must face the philosophical consequences of their position. And if they aren't even willing to point to binding legislation to combat perceived aggressors, I think we can safely say they aren't going to start delving into the inner-workings of their own beliefs. At some point even the minarchist has to justify the line he's drawn in the sand. We've seen the rather wide and lateral scope of neo-liberal conceptions of centralized power, but we've yet to entertain the reciprocally arbitrary views of those who believe in limited government. We laugh voraciously, and other times gawk in abject horror, at the left's inability to really hold federal power to any standards of limitation, yet we rarely think to laugh at the arbitrary nature of the line that people have drawn before us. It's bad enough that minarchists seem rather unwilling, or even incapable, of playing their tried and true trump card, the constitution. But if they can't even bring themselves to make such an argument, how are they ever going to deal with others pushing the prodding even further? After all, exactly why is it alright for the government to supervise the building of roads and post offices and not insurance plans?

There are other arguments, outside of the constitution, for these limited roles, albeit weak ones in my opinion. Fortunately, as a self-described anarchist, I don't have quite the same uphill battle to fight. And although I find myself sympathizing with so many people of that mindset, in many ways they are not as distant, philosophically, from their opponents as they think they are. In fact, in many ways, these two groups are two sides of the same coin, keeping us in spin with the centripetal force of their supposedly opposed convictions. But in a very real way, both points of view ultimately seem to leave us with a government that doesn't respect individual sovereignty. With the wealth we've been able to amass over such a short time as a nation, it does suddenly seem all for not if we've simply left the back door open for thieves. In fact, in an odd way, to the extent that free markets had been allowed to persist, it seems in some ways as if it's only contributed to our prolonged self-cannibalization. The disease of government almost feeds on our discretionary wealth and complacency like a rich alcoholic overseeing the slow construction of his own distillery.

Most anarcho-capitalists envy and admire the intellectual efforts of the purveyors of limited government that laid the foundations of our country. But we've also seen how, in many ways, that this noble experiment has crumbled over time, turning into an anathema in light of those very foundations. We understand that the arguments regarding the nature of man that progressives hold up as evidence of the NEED for strong government are the exact reasons why men, elected or not, cannot be trusted with such plenary powers. If conservatives and libertarians are going to convince the left that government power has grown unchecked, and that our current course must be changed, then they must be prepared justify their own beliefs in limited government...or at least be able to acknowledge the fact that one is legally owed to us.

"The United States Constitution has proven itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

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