Are libertarians wrong about government?

Is it possible that only libertarians are truly pro-government? #tlot Retweet
Can you imagine saying…

“I wish we had a government. Because what we have now isn’t one?”

This brief 400 word article will make the case for saying exactly that!
Ask people what libertarians are against. Most will quickly say, “the government.” But is that really true? Are libertarians against…

  • Law?
  • Order?
  • Due process?
  • Juries?
  • Self-defense?
  • Compensation to victims?

Of course not! Even libertarians who call themselves anarchists favor ALL these things. In fact…
These functions are the very definition of what libertarians think government SHOULD do, or what libertarian-anarchists think some kind of institution should do. So…
Is it really accurate to say that libertarians are anti-government?
And if NOT, then why do we give people that impression? More importantly…
What if we turned it around? What if we started saying…

“We’re the ONLY people who FAVOR government, because we’re the ONLY people who oppose the initiation of force.”

What if we took it even further and declared…

“Our current so-called government isn’t a government at all, precisely because it initiates force, which is a criminal act contrary to the whole idea of law and government.”

Can you imagine how it would turn heads if people started hearing libertarians say…
“I wish we HAD a government? Because what we have right now isn’t one.”
Talking this way will be a struggle for many libertarians. We’re so practiced at complaining about “the government” that some of us will find it impossible to embrace the word and make it our own. But consider the benefits…
We could STOP sounding like the opponents of law and order, and START sounding like the greatest defenders of those virtues.
Perhaps we would no longer be seen as primarily anti-government. Instead, we’d be viewed as passionate advocates of the Zero Aggression Principle. Might this approach be more attractive? And more linguistically accurate?
We hope this idea intrigues you, and that you’ll adopt it as your own, and share it with others.
If you like our work, and want to promote it, please consider making a contribution or starting a monthly pledge.
ZAP The State and have a nice day,
Perry Willis & Jim Babka
Co-creators, the Zero Aggression Project

Show Comments 23


  1. I do not consider myself a full-blown Libertarian. I like many Libertarian ideas, but not all. However, I do agree totally with this short article. Government is essential, but only government that stays within the boundaries of its legitimate sphere.
    Thank you for the Zero Aggression Project. I like what you guys are doing. We MUST change the thinking of our lost and blinded countrymen.

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    2. “…only govt. that stays within the boundaries…”?? I’ve heard that for 5 decades and I’m still waiting for it. When I ask: “Who will protect us from our protectors?” all I get is, “We need to…” or “We should..” followed by the same old rhetoric that has failed for 200+ years. No one has an answer as to how the monster can be controlled. Meanwhile, govt. supporters pay for their own enslavement, unable to imagine a world without rulers/ruled. Self-governance instead of servitude is unthinkable, thanks to a lifetime of indoctrination. Freedom does not exist, but citizens, all around the world believe they are free. No wonder self protection instead of self sacrifice cannot be seen as an answer. One must admit there is a problem before a solution can be conceived.

  2. I like this idea very much as a rhetorical tool.
    It nicely stands on its head the idea of Alfred G. Cuzán that one can never escape anarchy, that currently the state, which claims to be the sole final arbiter of all disputes, holds a monopoly on anarchy.
    Given the inescapability of anarchy, the only question remaining is: Who is to set its terms?

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    2. My definition of anarchy is: no state.
      My definition of the state is: An institution that employs the initiation of force as its primary means of social interaction.
      Given my definitions I cannot make sense of a state that has a monopoly on anarchy because that would mean a state that can only be no state.
      Would you define state and anarchy?

      1. @voluntaryist
        I suppose that the statement can be made clearer. The point is that, whatever the agency for making ultimate political decisions — whether a state, or a individuals voluntarily acquiescing within a group — there must be some ultimate decision-maker of whom it can be said: “There is no higher agency that can veto or supersede this decision-maker.” Thus, the ultimate decision-maker is αναρχικός, an-archic, without law, above the law — kind of an Ontological Argument for political power.
        Cuzán’s article states that there’s no escape from anarchy, “that the real question is what kind of anarchy we live under, market anarchy or non-market (political) anarchy.”

        1. I’m not sure what you are saying. Are you defining anarchy as the agency of final authority? The agency that makes the final decision? Are you saying that the ultimate decision maker cannot be avoided, will always exist? We can’t choose to have no final decision maker, only how the final decision is made?
          What about how that decision is enforced? Surely, if by voluntary consent which is later withdrawn, then there needs to be a mechanism operating on some principle to deal with the conflict? Not so with the political anarchy. The only principle involved is: might makes right, i.e., the physically strongest decides, and enforces. It’s a very simple solution. It’s a decision process that doesn’t work well, in fact results in net destruction (collapse).
          By contrast, the voluntary decision making process is very complicated, comparatively. Every decision conflict (agreement) must be adjudicated on a case by case basis. But by what principles? Now we have to look at the reason we chose the voluntary system in the first place, over the involuntary one. This is where it gets interesting. This is where the hard work to achieve justice begins.

          1. @voluntaryist
            Right: an “ultimate decision maker cannot be avoided”; you can’t choose not to have one. If you were able to avoid ultimate decisions (to choose “no decision”), then all group decision-making and all human co-operation would be at an end.
            In the case of political anarchy, the last decision-maker — the thug that no one dare contradict (write in “Supreme Court” or “IRS” or “President” or whatever modern shibboleth suits you) — makes the ultimate decision in any conflict.
            In the case of voluntaryists, that choice is made by the market — the market being those who voluntarily choose to participate in a given transaction. The decision is enforced by whatever mutually acceptable enforcement agencies have been agreed to by the participants.
            Surely you can see the validity of the foregoing, yes? However, your insistence signals to me something that I have long suspected of “voluntaryists” — that merely by asserting voluntary agents in the market that all problems magically disappear. But not only do they not disappear, the “voluntaryists'” position must result in either a state of affairs contrary to their hearts’ desire or in a complete performativer Widerspruch:

  3. I’ve been a Libertarian since – well, my member number id in the 20,000 range. Anyhow I always saw them as shouting about what’s “wrong” with government and how do we fix it. More recently I have been reading about Natural Law, which by definition is no government at all. I see what you are saying and it hit’s the nail on the head. There can not be a revolution with guns and bombs. It must be created by people who know the nature of Freedom and can articulate it to others. I truly believe that we can nullify the government by living a Natural lifestyle.
    The best book I found which spells out the nature of a society with no government is titled “The Market for Freedom”. Although it is 40 some years old, it reads as if it was written tomorrow. It’s online in many places as pdf, text and free audio book format. I totally recommend it.

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      “The Market for Freedom” is indeed a great book. One of my favorites. But I think it does not posit “no government at all.” Rather, it posits non-state forms of governance, and that is what we too are promoting. We should be pro-government, but anti-state. And the government we are in favor of is any institution that only uses force defensively.

      1. Nice catch, Perry. It is true that I was incorrect. What I actually meant was “The Market For Liberty” https://mises.org/blog/free-audiobook-market-liberty
        I apologize to anyone who was confused by the post.
        Regards to Government, see Chapter 4.
        “To put it simply, government is the rule of some men over others by initiated force, which is slavery, which is wrong.
        Those who maintain that government is an institution which holds monopoly on the use of retaliatory force (in a given geographical area) carefully omit to mention what kind of monopoly such an institution would be, and for obvious reasons. To claim that a government is a market monopoly is patently absurd, since competition must be prohibited; with competition, it would not be a monopoly, and, therefore, it would not be a government (according to their “definition”). If they admit that government is a coercive monopoly, they could not fail to see that they were advocating an institution which is inherently evil and that to advocate that which is wrong is, itself, evil. It is perfectly clear that every government which ever existed, including today’s governments, has maintained its existence by initiated aggression against its citizen-subjects and, further, could not continue to exist without such aggression which violates human rights. To claim, therefore, that government holds a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force is to surrender to and condone initiated force; an institution of initiated force can hardly, by any stretch of rational imagination, hold a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force. Such a notion is worse than absurd, as it helps to maintain the idea that government is good.”

  4. Enjoyed your article but would suggest you insert the word “constitutional “before the word government. Then I could be in agreement.

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      1. They don’t ignore the parts that violate rights, e.g., taxation, eminent domain. They use law when it benefits them, and ignore it when it doesn’t. In the hands of a monopoly on force, the law becomes a tool of psychological control, exploitation, and injustice.
        Before we make law, we need to decide on a fundamental principle of social interaction. Will we interact voluntarily or not? If so, then we can ask why, i.e., what is the reason we choose cooperation instead of threat of, or violence? A theory of rights will be our guide to law.

  5. Indeed, I have been promoting the idea of a smaller limited government for some time. One whose purpose is to protect individual rights from corporations and other individuals, and does not extort taxes from the people to fund aggression. Without any government, the war lords would take over. With a government that is too big and powerful, corporations and special interests fight to control it at the expense of others for their own gain. Good government would be as local as possible and only do those things that a local majority have agreed to. State and federal government would only do those things that can not be done at a more local level.
    Certainly a government that has forced private banker FRN’s on all oil exporting nations is an aggressive government under the control of these bankers and serves corporations instead of people. We can do better.

    1. L. Riechart White has postulated that any group that exceeds 150 becomes impossible to govern. The loss of face to face interaction allows psychopaths to gain power. He give examples of small groups who value psychopaths in time of outside aggression for their ruthlessness and emotionless efficiency in killing. But that same characteristic (genetic trait) becomes a danger to public safety in peace time. It is countered by direct action involving murder. The murder is understood as self defense by the group who all recognize the psychopath among them.

  6. “The Market for Freedom”? I think you mean David Friedman’s 1989 “The Machinery of Freedom”.

  7. Terry: I thought I said social interactions were simple, but doomed to failure with slavery. Moreover, I stated that a voluntary society would be a more complex one, with successes and failures , not a “magic bullet”.
    Somehow you have interpreted my comment to means the exact opposite of what I thought I said.

  8. Yes. The only thing I really hate about trying to fix bad laws, like drug prohibition, is that I feel like I’m hatin’ on “the government” when what I really want is true and honest leadership.

    1. Asking (expecting, hoping) to be led is no different in practice from being ruled, being a subject. It is an act of surrender of our power. Can we be free after that? Can we appeal the result? To whom? Once given away, power is reclaimed through enlightenment. Self responsibility is not just a burden, it is self confidence building, character building, the path to self growth.
      Therefore do not put your faith in “true and honest leadership”, be your own leader, be selfish. Who better knows what you need than you? Who better to guild your growth, than you? Learn by experience “The Virtue of Selfishness”.

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