Our biggest practical problem, as I see it, is that the only name we have for a just and humane society is also the name for an orgy of violence and insecurity: Anarchy. For those of us who regard the state as an organ of violence itself, the language problem is severe: We are trying to redefine a word in the public mind, to mean precisely the opposite of its familiar meaning.

Minarchism (with all its faults) attempts to solve the problem a different way: Rather than attacking the state as a whole, the Minarchist identifies specific abuses by the state, characterizes them as abuses, and pulls for the abolition of those parts of the state that are most onerous. As a practical program, it has the advantage in terms of its own (limited) aims, but can a civil society ever be achieved by this process? Minarchism implies an admission that some level of state force should continue, even in the ultimate triumph. Minarchism typically does not even aim at Anarchy; its usefulness as a tool for achieving a practical Anarchic society is undermined.

A more serious question about Minarchism is not whether it can achieve Anarchy, but whether it can achieve Minarchy; can a political program overcome politics? The onerous parts of the state grow from its fundamentally irresponsible core; the reason a monster like the FDA can devastate the life and health of the country is because the Congress is empowered by the people to create monsters, and this is a power that cannot be separated from the power to coerce. The question for Constitutionalists, Minarchists, Classical Liberals, etc. is how the environment of power can be anything but a greenhouse for the the growth of new abuses, the creation of new powers. Is it possible to prune the tree swiftly and vigilantly enough to prevent it flowering into tyranny? History would suggest not.

But this question of possibility is even less satisfactorily answered by Anarchism; the Anarchist advantage is all philosophical. Anarchism is a consistent program of morality, a thing so shocking and unfamiliar in political philosophy that its enormity goes unseen. The Anarchist insight is alike to Newton, connecting the movements of the planets to the movements of ordinary objects; and the jumble of political science that tries to set different rules for governments than for individuals is much like the mess of pre-Newtonian speculation about the workings of the skies. This fundamental thought, that there is only one moral standard for both king and citizen, rebukes even Minarchist government to the extent that a Minarchist government is generally assumed to still exercise powers like imprisonment or taxation, which have no equivalent among citizens except crime.

One revealing thing about this collision is a corollary to the definition of the state: The state is an institution exercising a territorial monopoly of “legitimate” powers. The legitimacy, however, lies not in the institution itself, but in the attitude of the citizens, the neighbors of the targets of the state’s powers. The unique thing about the state is not that it can drag me away for resisting its edicts, any street gang worth its salt could achieve the same work. The unique thing is that even my own family would probably blame me and not the state if that happened. The “legitimacy” that powers the state is the at least passive acceptance of the state’s claims that Rothbard, Mises, and Hoppe have to keep reminding us about. The geniuses of Liberty must repeat themselves, because it is easily forgotten that the state is not simply powerful enough to rule by mere force; it is powerful because it is believed in. The meaning of “legitimate” powers is this and only this: The powers that the onlookers believe to be legitimate.

Armed with this knowledge, let’s consider the important catchphrase: “We are the government.” There’s an important sense it which this is true; the unresisting masses really are complicit in the public crimes of the government, in the sense that they do not object as their neighbors are dragged away. Even worse, those who are active in politics and pull for this or that legislation for their own benefit are engaged in attempting to use the “legitimacy” of government to sanitize their own crimes. Where it would be criminal and against conscience to send thugs to burn down a rival store, it is wholly legitimate to convince the city council to revoke its license; the wand of government is being waved over acts to make them moral. This specific facet of the phenomenon of government is fascinating to me: The state has evolved into an entity through which immoral acts can be committed without guilt. It is a loophole in conscience. And this can be seen most clearly by observation of public sentiment during any popular war. The Statists would hit nearer the mark if they said, “The government is us, minus our consciences.”

It is this, and exactly this superstition that must be the target of our attacks: That an act may be right for a man with a badge, and wrong for a man without one. The power of such symbols to silence the conscience of a people is the most grovelling idolatry and it is a disgrace that such idiocy has not been blasted apart by the intellectual powers of the generations. In foolishness, it rivals astrology and racism; in destructiveness, it has no rivals. The superstition of the legitimizing state, as an organ by which otherwise immoral acts can be permitted and ennobled has been a long-standing intellectual error, deserving the full energies of the abolitionists and the full fury of Voltaire. It is much like finding human sacrifice enshrined in our modern society, having somehow slipped through the Age of Enlightenment unharmed, to find men still excusing the bombardment of cities because of a state’s “war.”

I began this on the topic of Minarchism, and the almost-insurmountable problem of practical reform of society in the direction of justice and humanity. And my conclusion is this: The Minarchist method, of attacking specific, visible abuses is correct, in light of the above test for abuses. The abolition of the state, in the sense that we want it, could not be accomplished by the closure of all government departments as long as the superstition of the state remains popular; the devil would return to find the room swept and clean waiting for him, and bring in seven more. But likewise, the continued existence of the present departments and buildings could not prevent the emergence of civil society in the face of a collapse of the superstition of the state. Without this superstition, the state is defanged by noncooperation.

Much more important is the effect on the current Statists; a majority that is considered, I think, too little in our plans. It is perhaps impossible to convince them that the Department of Education, say, does harm and not good, but it may just be possible to convince them that it should confine itself to doing the good they believe in, and leave off using methods that would be criminal if you or I used them. This is not a matter distinct from undermining the superstition of the state; it is the superstition of the state that says funding your favorite department through counterfeiting and extortion is permissible. One need not convince the lover of a government service that the service is wholly foul (though it often is) but only that it is employing methods that are foul, and that it could continue without those methods. If every Federal department were funded by subscribers, and lacked the power to compel anyone to do anything, we might call it Anarchy, in the good sense. For those who look upon existing services of the government as essential, voluntary funding might be a bitter pill, but it is clearly reasonable (especially if the above superstition is dispelled) and it does not entail the unthinkable abolition of their favorite services. From a rhetorical standpoint, we are isolating the evil from the perceived good, when we talk about opt-out and voluntary funding.

Further, on the rhetorical side, we are actually aided by the rivalrousness of public finance. The lover of the department of education is often a hater of the Pentagon, and vice versa, because, though the Statist is happy to fund one department, part of his tax check is rerouted to the other. From a merely practical standpoint, even the most ingrained Statist must admit that voluntary funding is sure to clean out the pork. His only defense (of the tax system as against voluntary funding) is to assert that the stupid public will not sufficiently fund what He deems to be best for them, which is excellent if there’s a crowd of the stupid public around to hear him do it.

If we can undermine the popular superstition of the state, as a device capable of making evil acts permissible, we need not even enter into the struggle over whether some popular program is to be bulldozed and its consumers left out in the cold. Instead, the legitimacy upon which the state depends will disappear, and piece by piece it will be either shuttered or de-fanged of the powers of compulsion, taxation, imprisonment, and every other evil which this barbarous fetish has uleashed upon mankind.