Minarchy & Anarchy: Both Utopian, and also not.

Gene points to this discussion of that old chestnut, minarchism vs. anarchism, in Liberty. Gene says he agrees with David Friedman that minarchism is utopian. That's a fun thing to say because one might think that anarchism is pretty utopian. What Friedman means is that once you've got a government, you're going to get a big government. He may be right.

I think of a scheme as utopian if there is no way to get there from here, our present historical dispensation. The way things happen to be put a lot of constraints on where you might go, and my gut sense is that it is utopian to think the US could be either a minarchy or an anarchy (of course, there is no US in an anarchy, but you know what I mean.) Yet, my gut sense is also that there is no reason whatsoever to believe that either minarchism or anarchism are utopian per se, i.e., that there is no plausible set of conditions that could give rise to a sustainable minarchy or anarchy. But by and large I find the argument sort of pointless. For if one could establish the possibility of minarchy or anarchy, and also establish that one of these is the best system under the conditions in which it arises, this is not enough to establish either as a regulative ideal by which we ought to judge policy proposals from here. If the US, say, may never become a minarchy, for example, given the full set of relevant constraints, then it may be quite wrong to promote reforms of one sort or the other because their implementation would bring us to a closer approximation of minarchy.

I think something like this issue comes up in the dispute between libertarians who would like to see a policy put in place because it would make government more efficient and libertarians who argue against such policies because they only entrench and encourage the state–it's not only better government, but it's better government, and we don't want government to be better, we want it to go away. Myself, I vacillate between these positions, but I fear the latter position may be a result of not really grasping or internalizing the theory of the second best.