Thursday, April 13, 2006

Is it true that the government that governs best, governs least?

'The Government that Governs Best, Governs Least.' That's true, but it's not the whole truth -- which just shows you how reliable bumper-sticker philosophy can be. What's missing from that analysis is what gets too many libertarians confused.

What's missing is this: Size isn't always important (and just try selling that line after dark). In particular, size is not the primary consideration when judging governments. What is of primary importance is not that government is small, but that it protects individual rights. That, after all, is what government is for - to protect you from me, and me from you. Size is a consequence of that primary role, not the generator.

To protect me from you and you from me -- in other words, to protect our individual rights -- a government needs to be big enough to be able to do that job properly, and it needs to be properly constituted so they don't do you over themselves. There are too many example of small but vicious governments that don't do the job, and some rare examples of big governments that (sometimes) do -- and some very rare but truly exceptional examples of small governments that very often do, and hardly ever don't. In judging them all, small is better, but proper protection of individual rights is best.

As the T-shirt might well say, 'There's No Government Like No Government - Unless it's Very, Very Small, and it Properly Protects Individual Rights.'

TAGS: Libertarianism, Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Politics

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, why aren't you an anarcho-capitalist? Presumably you want to maximize the protection of individuals' rights. Clearly you think a small government does this best. But an anarcho-capitalist society could potentially do it better. In lieu of evidence, why are you so confident a government is needed?

4/13/2006 11:36:00 am  
Anonymous James said...

Anon....can you imagine rugby being played without a referee or linesmen? No...? Theres why.

4/13/2006 12:20:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Anonymous, you ask me why I am "so confident a government is needed" to protect individual rights? YOu then assert without proof "But an anarcho-capitalist society could potentially do it better."

Let me give you two answers, a long one and a short one.

Here's the short one: How?

Here's the long one: Cue Card Libertarianism -- Anarchy. Come back if you like when you've digested it all. :-)

4/13/2006 12:54:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anarcho-capitalism is the logical conclusion of libertarianism. Anarcho-capitalism by definition is free of coercion, whereas any government by definition is not. It thus logically follows that anarcho-capitalism has the potential - in theory - to protect individual rights better than any government.

How, you ask? Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, and others have theorized how it might work. Private competing security firms etc. (Anarchy is not the absence of rules; it is the absence of rulers. Your Cue Card article gets this wrong.)

But my point here is that, your libertarian principles should lead you to embrace their logical conclusion - anarcho-capitalism. You should only fall back to a government if it is clear that anarcho-capitalism in practice results in less protection of individuals' rights than said government. But there is no real world example of an anarcho-capitalist society, so the only justification you have for claiming the necessity of a government is theory. How can you compromise your principles so thoroughly and unquestioningly because of theoretical worries?

4/13/2006 02:21:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

UNfortunately, Anonymous, your anonymous comments (why anonymous might I ask?) show that you haven't read what I posted. It is neither thae case that "Anarcho-capitalism by definition is free of coercion" any more than "any government by definition is not."

Coercion is the non-retaliatory use of force. Properly-constituted government is objectively constrained to only exercise retaliatory force -- as the links I posted explain. Whereas under anarchy, anything goes, including any restraint on coercion. Your theorists have theorised, but with the best will in the world and in the face of any absence of restraint, the only possible outcome of anarchy is the gangsterism of competing warlords (aka competiong 'private security firms').

No. Thank. You.

As I said in the post itself, "What is of primary importance is not that government is small, but that it protects individual rights. That, after all, is what government is for - to protect you from me, and me from you. Size is a consequence of that primary role, not the generator."

The principle at stake here is not one of no governmnt (which is idiocy) or of small government (which is merely derivative of the main underlying principle) but as I specifically said one that protects individual rights. That is the specific principle I'm arguing for here, and the one that must be uncompromised (and the one, incidentally, that you overlooked).

Whatever its hypothetical starting point, your anarchy can never offer that, which is why anarchy is at odds with liberty.

4/13/2006 02:46:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why anonymous? Because I'm no one you know, and I like anonymity.

"Coercion is the non-retaliatory use of force. Properly-constituted government is objectively constrained to only exercise retaliatory force -- as the links I posted explain."

!? This is a novel claim. A purely voluntary government that only exercises retaliatory force, is not a government. It's a business. It's an anarchist private security firm. What makes a Libertarianz government a government, is that it coercively monopolizes definition and enforcement of law.

Suppose someone beats me up, and I enlist some friends to take money from the perpetrator so that I can pay my medical bills. A process entirely consistent with natural justice. Yet the Libertarianz government would enter the scene, use non-retaliatory force - coercion - to punish me and my friends for not using the government's justice system.

That, fundamentally, is why the Libertarianz government is coercive, and anarcho-capitalism is not.

Or would the Libertarianz government allow private enforcement of law as defined by them? Well, now we're very close to anarcho-capitalism indeed. The Libertarianz police force would effectively be a private security firm. All firms would theoretically be restrained by the Libertarianz court system, but this may well be no different than anarcho-capitalist security firms all agreeing to obey a common law created by private courts. And in practice the degree of control one firm might have over another could easily be as limited as in anarcho-capitalism.

"Your theorists have theorised, but with the best will in the world and in the face of any absence of restraint, the only possible outcome of anarchy is the gangsterism of competing warlords (aka competiong 'private security firms')."

You denigrate my theorists as merely theorising, then assert your theory with certainty, backed up by no more evidence than them?? My entire point here is that when you say "the only possible outcome of anarchy is gangsterism", that is a theory. You cannot be sure, because anarcho-capitalism hasn't really existed yet. And based on this theory, you will compromise your principles of liberty and allow government to exercise a coercive monopoly on law and law enforcement.

And yes, I know that you want a government that protects individual rights. I hardly see how you say I overlook that - it's central to my points here. I assert that as a logical necessity - as a matter of definition - government is coercive, thus cannot be uncompromised in protecting individual rights. Anarcho-capitalism on the other hand, could theoretically - with competing security firms all enforcing justice - be absolutely free of "legitimate coercion". Given the competition between firms, it could theoretically also be more free of illegitimate coercion, i.e. crime, than the Libertarianz alternative.

4/13/2006 03:42:00 pm  
Blogger PC said...

Anonymous, whom I don't know but who likes anonymity, I believe your questions are already answered in the links provided, but I will answer your questions over the weekend (unless someone else wants to chime in), and I'll repudiate now your various aspersions cast on myself and Libertarianz.

What I support is neither coercive, nor does it require any valid principle to be compromised. Anarchy however...

PS: Perhaps PJ O'Rourke could update his little quip, do you think? Forget Beirut -- the first thing an anarchist would be saying when visiting war-lord ravaged Somalia might be: “Uh, more police please.”

4/13/2006 05:04:00 pm  
Blogger Yacap said...

Anon: don't bother talking to Randroids like PC about anarchism :) Rand didn't like it because she didn't understand it, so they're obligated not to like it either.

Of course you're right: any true libertarianism is necessarily anarchism (and any true anarchism is necessarily libertarian/capitalist)

4/17/2006 12:51:00 am  
Blogger Brian S said...

"...anarcho-capitalism hasn't really existed yet"

The former Kowloong Walled City in Hong Kong was an example of a working anarcho-capitalist society. Interestingly, although it bred all the vices that PC cites, it also housed innumerable successful small businesses and was actually safer than surrounding Hong kong. And what is truly astounding is that it housed up to 35000 people on a tiny swatch of land measuring about 100m by 200m. The Walled City is also interesting from an architectural standpoint. There were no regulations or building standards, and nary an architect! It was both a vast slum and a successful mega-organism. I visited the site of the Kowloon Walled City recently. The site is now a park - a rather pretty one. The Walled City was demolished in 1993 by order of the city of Hong Kong. Looking at that small park, I found it very difficult to get my head around that 35000 people once lived here - it certainly made me think that anarcho-capitalism could have some credibility!

4/17/2006 10:16:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The weekend is over, and the promised response isn't here yet!

4/17/2006 03:33:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we can argue about how many angels fit on the head of a pin, when we can get to the point where the distinction between libertarian and anarcho-capitolism matters. While the real world has effectively demonstrated that communism, collectivism, dictatorship of the proletariate, socialism, pretty much all Parens Patria, systems fail, we do not have real world examples of anything vaguely even libertarian much less anarcho -capitalist actually working.
As too the initial proposition - I will accept whatever government or lack thereof best protects individual liberty. But since at the moment my personal liberty does not even reach to the issues within my own home, the proposition is still about angels and pins.

2/12/2008 11:57:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^anonymous, why must you drag on for years about this stupid fight? why not just drop it and live your life in peace? so much anger is not needed in this world.
-_-

9/13/2010 03:45:00 pm  

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