Libertarianism and anarchism are necessary adjuncts to any theory, but as theories themselves, they are shit.
Now, if I were as clever as Nietzsche, I could leave it at that: the man knew that aphorisms are so much more delightful—for the writer of them, at least—than their elaborations.
But I am duller than the mad German, more (if only fitfully) dutiful in extending my pronunciamentos into argument.
Still, I am in an aphoristic mood, so allow me to miss the dot-and-cross of explanation in favor of elision and leap and speculation: after all, even political theorists have to play.
And so, declaration upon declaration, a piling up standing in for the more consequential lock of link by link:
I had stated previously that no theory of politics which cannot take account of how we humans are deserve the name of theory; I may even have used the term political science fiction.
And, alas, as much affection as I hold for anarchism, it is as fantastical as libertarianism in its approach to human being. If libertarianism can’t think of value beyond liberty, anarchism cannot imagine the irreconcilability of interests. Libertarianism conceives of humans as adults emerging fully formed from the mud, anarchism sees us instinctively in communion. They see the state, the corporation, as the obstacles to our true selves, the heavy gate locking us away from utopia.
In short, libertarianism is too small in its understanding of humans, while anarchism would have us floating above the ground. One thinks too little of humans, the other, too much; neither knows what to do with coercion.
And there’s the rub: there is no human polity without coercion, no human congress at all, so any political theory which is to direct us has to take coercion’s measure, calculate how to deploy and constrain coercion in a manner most congenial to that theory’s purpose.
Neither libertarianism nor anarchism is fitted to such calculations. Libertarianism falls into hysterics at the merest whisper of coercion, imagining itself Mel Gibson’s William Wallace rasping out “Freedom!” as it is gutted by the king’s men, while anarchism, too, imagines that if it gets rid of kings and bosses it gets rid of coercion. They share the delusion that if only individuals or the people were left alone, that if the state and the corporation were to disappear, power and interest would disappear with them.
Forced to toil in service to real theory, however, these adjuncts serve a real purpose. Libertarianism reminds one of the massive accumulation of coercive power in the state, and how easily that state may justify to itself any use of that power; if one cares at all the liberty and integrity of the individual, it is good to have a counter-valence to the state. Anarchism remembers that these same individuals and the communities in which they live are capable, often more capable, than is the central state in providing, or at least arranging the provisions, for themselves.
To put this more simply, when serving as a minor chord in a major theory, they are forced to reckon with elements they would otherwise dismiss, and by this reckoning they provide a leavening necessary to the continued functioning of that theory. Their resistance creates breathing room that theory in its denseness would not otherwise provide.
Libertarianism and anarchism, then, are honorable resistance fighters, but it is best if they rarely, if ever, defeat what they resist.