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Debate the State

June 3, 2007

The inaugural issue of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, in 1977, was devoted to a symposium on Robert Nozick’s attempt, in his landmark work Anarchy, State, and Utopia, to justify the minimal state against the case, by Murray Rothbard and others, for free-market anarchy. In the years since, the debate among libertarians as to the necessity and desirability of the state has continued. Inasmuch as 2007 marks the 30th anniversary of the Journal of Libertarian Studies, it seems appropriate to commemorate the date by devoting a symposium issue, 21.1, to the anarchist/minarchist controversy.

  • Nozick had argued that in a free-market anarchy, a dominant protection agency (DPA) would be justified in using force to ban its competitors (thereby evolving into a justified monopoly state) in order to protect its customers from risky judicial procedures, so long as “independents” – those who wished to engage in rights-enforcement without the DPA’s involvement – are compensated. In “Nozick’s Failed Defense of the Just State,” Eric Roark maintains that Nozick has not shown that a ban on risky procedures could justly be extended to all independents, and also argues against the existence of the procedural rights on which Nozick’s case depends.

  • In a previous exchange, Randall Holcombe had argued that government, however undesirable it may be, is inevitable, since any stateless region is likely to be swiftly conquered by either an existing or a newly arising state; hence, rather than fighting the state, we should be working to construct the best state we can, lest a worse one be imposed on us by others. Walter Block had replied that government cannot be inevitable since it has not prevailed everywhere, and had taken issue with some of Holcombe’s examples. Now in “Is Government Really Inevitable?,” Holcombe responds that Block has mistakenly read Holcombe as arguing for the logical inevitability of government, whereas Holcombe meant only that government was inevitable given prevailing human characteristics and motivations; he also defends his examples, arguing that in any case government is more prevalent than Block recognizes. In “Rejoinder to Holcombe on the Inevitability of Government,” Block charges that Holcombe has retreated to a less interesting thesis, and adds that in any case government would still be worth combating even if it were inevitable.

  • Tibor Machan has argued previously (abstract here) that the disagreement between anarchists and minarchists is merely verbal, since the sorts of private protection agencies that market anarchists favor would necessarily have to enjoy the same sort of territorial monopoly that minarchists claim for the state. In “Anarchism and Minarchism; No Rapprochement Possible: Reply to Tibor Machan,” Walter Block retorts that anarchism and minarchism are essentially incompatible, and denies that any territorial monopoly is necessary in the provision of legal services; in “Defining Government, Begging the Question: An Answer to Walter Block’s Reply,” Machan maintains that Block fails to answer Machan’s case for territorial monopoly, and charges Block with begging the question against Machan by defining government as essentially coercive.

  • In “Contra Anarcho-Capitalism,” a critique of several market anarchist pieces including one of mine, Jordan Schneider argues that market-based law is impracticable because markets cannot provide either objectivity or a final arbiter, and also because firms will have an incentive to become abusive. “Anarchy Defended: Reply to Schneider,” I maintain that markets can provide objectivity, do not need to provide a final arbiter, and constitute a checks-and-balances restraint on incentives to abuse power.

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