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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/11289/sobrans-classic-the-reluctant-anarchist/

Sobran’s Classic “The Reluctant Anarchist”

December 20, 2009 by

I was recently reminded of “The Reluctant Anarchist,” a wonderful piece by the great columnist Joseph Sobran about his intellectual journey from conservatism to strict constitutionalism to anarchist–thanks to Rothbard and Hoppe. Highly recommended.


Terri K December 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Thank you for this; it is wonderful and I don’t recall having read it before. While nowhere near as well-read or well-connected as Sobran, his journey to anarchism mirrors my own. For me, it was a matter of simply thinking things through to their logical conclusions once I realized that The Almighty State was not the benevolent entity I had believed it to be, and when it became blatantly obvious that those on the right who talked about limiting government did anything but.

Perhaps anarchists need a more seductive name; perhaps it’s more a matter of educating and enlightening our own spheres of influence so others know they have nothing to fear from us.

David C December 20, 2009 at 4:26 pm

The journey to anarcho-capitalism has been a long journey for me too. I came from a similar conservative philosophy of limited government. I often find myself hiding my anarchy from people I know, but inside my mind that’s how I think any more. I can’t help it, it works. Name one state ever that has ever remained restrained. I wish I could believe in the dream of limited government, one that just secures liberty and nothing else. But that’s the problem. If liberty is an ends, you can’t get more of it by taking it away any more than you assume you can find truth by accepting little lies.

Stephen December 20, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Yes, thanks for the heads-up on this excellent intellectual autobiography; I must confess, I had never heard of Joseph Sobran before.

The classical and literary references are instructive, especially the bit about Aristotelian ‘rational limits’ and Sobran’s realisation on the path toward anarcho-capitalism: ‘Everything had to have its own nature and limitations, including the state; the idea of a state continually growing, knowing no boundaries, forever increasing its claims on the citizen, offended and frightened me. It could only end in tyranny.’

Such an article is a necessary cautionary for ‘wet’ Tories (like me) who persist in seeing some value in the state, limited though it must be. Even Sobran noted that ‘St. Thomas Aquinas took a more benign view, arguing that the state would be necessary even if man had never fallen from grace; but he agreed with Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all, a doctrine that would severely diminish any known state.’

Peter Hume December 20, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Great article.

Once we understand that the principle driving human society is the division of labour, and that man attempts by action to increase his marginal utility, I think you have to ask, what is it about the existence of a monopoly of force, that allows us to assume or assert it is necessary or beneficial for society defined as all its subjects?

Ken December 20, 2009 at 8:14 pm

My experience has been much like Sobran’s, although I may have been further left than he was when I was in college.

Gil December 21, 2009 at 12:29 am

Trying jumping over a gun-toting Libertarian’s fence and see if there would be “no monopoly of force” in Anarchtopia.

MRLazare December 21, 2009 at 6:36 am

A few points:

a) Even if there were no other problems with your sentence, your death at the hand’s of this “gun-toting Libertarian” would not be indicative of a monopoly of force; just a use of force.

b) Saving the most salient point for last, I would further add that shooting people who trespass on your land is, to say the least, not a core tenet of libertarianism. Libertarianism rightly understood, ahem, simply combines the axiom that it is wrong to initiate force with the concept of property rights. This is just the undergirding maxim of the philosophy, however; not the alpha and omega. The concept of proportionality — in this case, that it is not ethical to reply to trespass with lethal force — is something that Rothbard and others have averred to be integral parts of a libertarian legal order — the sort that might conceivably develop in what you derisively term “Anarchtopia.”

c) Finally, you yourself recognize that the land cordoned off by the fence is the rightful property of the “gun-toting Libertarian.” Although he’s not justified in killing you for doing so, neither are you simply free to walk all over land that is rightfully his. For the same reason that I’m not justified in stealing an apple that is rightfully your mother’s. Or punching a face that is rightfully yours.

Gil December 21, 2009 at 9:29 am

Duh, MRLazare! The U.S. is claiming a ‘monopoly of force’ over U.S. soil. France is claiming a ‘monopoly of force’ over French soil. The gun-toting Libertarian is claiming a monopoly of force over his land. There’s no contradiction.

MRLazare December 21, 2009 at 9:59 am

There’s a major contradiction in your treating as equal the relationship between a private citizen and his land, and the relationship between a government and the land over which it claims jurisdiction. In the case of the former our gun-toting libertarian may very well have acquired his land justly. Let us for the sake of argument assume he genuinely came upon untrammeled land that had never before felt touch of man. Let us assume he made it his own; drained it, cleared it, built upon it, and fenced it off. Do you disagree that this has become his land?

The case of governments is much different. They do not homestead land in this manner. Rather, they simply claim jurisdiction — that is, a monopoly of force — over a given territory. A territory which is comprised of land that people own. In essence, then, government makes a claim on the peoples’ land that supersedes their own, prior claims.

To return to our gun-toting libertarian, let us postulate that he goes about his life in isolation, unaware of and insouciant toward the affairs of other men. One day a young guy in a suit knocks on his door and tells him he owes several thousand dollars in back-taxes to the government. “To what?” he asks. “To your government,” replies the man. “You see, your government has been protecting your land from invasion and providing you all the many services that make civilized life possible. Taxes, as a great man once said, are the price you pay for civilization.” The gun-toting Libertarian looks puzzled and replies, “I never asked for any of these services and I don’t intend to pay for them.” “It matters not whether you asked for them,” says the man in the suit, “they have been rendered and recompense must be made — on pain of death.”

Okay, usually the tax collectors don’t say “on pain of death,” but the story begged to be cut short. In a nutshell, the difference is: the gun-toting Libertarian has stolen from no one; he has simply made land that was previously uninhabited his own. The government, on the other hand, has effectively stolen all the land over which it claims jurisdiction. Is the difference not stark?

fundamentalist December 21, 2009 at 11:54 am

“As Hoppe argues, this is the flaw in thinking the state can be controlled by a constitution.”

There was no flaw in the thinking at all. The writers of the Constitution were very much aware of the limitation of a document, or even the rule of law, on the behavior of people. They said many times that the Constitution would work only as long as people believed in its principles and wanted it to work. In other words, as long as people were self-disciplined.

Anarchy has the same problem. Eliminating the state is no more of a stake through the heart of the state than is a constitution. Just as the American people lost interest in the principles of the Constitution early on, even so anarchists can lose interest in anarchy and resurrect at any time the dreaded state. The problem never has been with the Constitution, but as Mises repeatedly wrote, the problem is with the people.

Vanmind December 22, 2009 at 1:54 am

Sure, fundamentalist, and just as free markets can guarantee only a minimal existence of catallactic fraud compared to mixed or totalitarian economies (i.e. never zero fraud), so too anarchy promises only minimal recourse for those who scheme to impose their “plans” on others.

There can be no utopia, ever. How does it follow that anyone must rule?

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