You Are An Anarchist. The Question Is: How Often?

The Freeman
Mar. 18, 2013

Classical liberals have long debated whether they should support a minimal state or no state at all. Unfortunately that debate is usually framed as an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you believe that “a minimal state is everywhere and always necessary” or that a “state everywhere and always does more harm than good.” This polarization is a mistake. Everyone, at least sometimes, is an anarchist.

Consider Cambodia in the late 1970s. The Khmer Rouge government intentionally killed more than two million of its own citizens. That’s an average of eight percent of the population killed each year while government simultaneously inflicted countless other horrors. Do you think the Cambodian people, faced with that government, would have been better off with no government at all? Congratulations. You are, sometimes, an anarchist.

The anarchist-minarchist debate usually revolves around how well an ordered anarchy could work. How well could law and order be provided without State provision? That is an important question—one that Murray Rothbard, David Friedman, and James Buchanan made important theoretical contributions to in the 1970s. Bruce Benson and others started making historical contributions in the 1980s. And starting in the late 1990s, scholarship on the question virtually exploded.

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