This debate at the Spring 1971 Libertarianism Conference at Columbia University arose out of Child’s “Open Letter to Ayn Rand” in which he attacked the concept of limited government and advocated anarcho-capitalism. Jeffery St John defended the objectivist view favouring limited government in this lively and informative exchange. The Q&A session at the end includes a question by Murray Rothbard (Running time 40min, 40sec).
Adjudicator: Jeffrey St John is a news commentator and journalist. He’s a columnist also. He does commentary for the CBS Spectrum series, he’s also the host of his own radio show on Sunday afternoons from 12 to 3, WMCA 570, which is Sunday with St John.
Mr Childs is a freelance writer, frequent contributor to a number of libertarian publications, the author of some very controversial works, such as Objectivism and the State and articles of that nature.
The subject of the debate will be anarcho-capitalism versus limited government. Mr St John will be speaking on behalf of the limited government position. Mr Childs will be speaking on behalf of the anarcho-capitalist system.
The format for the debate will be: each person will deliver approximately a ten minute opening remark and a five minute rebuttal, followed by questions from the audience. I ask you to keep the questions brief, not to engage in debate or argument with the two participants, but pretty much ask your question and leave it to the two parties up here to engage in the debating and dialogue.
I’d request that the speakers repeat the questions from the audience. We’re having trouble picking them up on the tape. We’ll begin. Mr St. John will make the opening remarks.
Mr St John: Good morning and good afternoon. Can everyone hear me? I’m very pleased that there was this large of a turnout.
Since I live in the world of journalism, in concrete contexts, it is a particularly pleasurable thing for me to go back into the discussion of philosophical ideas, particularly their historical significance. And I shall refer to the mystic East only once in my remarks of ten minutes. And that will be to quote you a Chinese proverb: “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name.”
Consider this in regard the term anarcho-capitalism, as viewed from the perspective of the history of anarchy. Historically, anarchy has postulated the abolition of property rights. The anarcho-capitalists claim that property rights is the basis of their beliefs. Anarchy, historically, has generally been socialist and collectivist philosophically. Anarcho-capitalism advocates claim to be individualists. And historically, anarchists have been, in some cases, pacifists. Anarcho-capitalists claim to believe in the right of self-defence and retaliatory force in the defence of individual and property rights.
Another strain of anarchy, historically, has been anarcho-syndicalism, that has allied itself with the trade union movement. The anarcho-capitalists tell us that they regard the trade union movement, as it has been constituted over the last 100 years, particularly with the help of the State, to be inimical to free trade and to free entrepreneurship and enterprise.
Historically, anarchy and revolution and civil wars have often allied themselves with totalitarians like communists. They have often been proven to be the crucial catalyst for the development of dictatorships. Anarcho-capitalists say they are against dictatorships. Good. But yet, Prince Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist intellectual philosopher, must have been certainly shocked and saddened, in his advanced age, when, in 1918, Leon Trotsky ordered the Moscow headquarters of the International Anarchist Association shelled and ultimately had the anarchist movement in Russia suppressed. And, as we know, the anarchist movement played a crucial part in paving the way to power for the Bolsheviks.
Now, it must have been a shock I think to some of the anarchists who were very crucial participants in the Spanish Civil War in the 30s in Spain, to find that their alliance with the communists turned to a hideous nightmare of murder, repression by the Moscow-directed Stalinists, in a place that George Orwell would later enshrine in history and immortalise in his work Homage to Catalonia.
Now anarcho-capitalist advocates claim that an abhorrence of the tactics of terrorism and the initiation of force and blood-letting that has punctured the history of anarchy.
Now have I, in this brief thumbnail sketch to you, done an injustice to the anarcho-capitalist point of view? Well, some anarcho-capitalists have spoken rather approvingly, I might add, of the New Left, who has, as a matter of record, emulated philosophically and tactically many of the revolutionary movements and anarchists which I briefly touched on.
So, I’m only taking the definition of anarcho-capitalism at its word. I’m not trying to deviate from their basic definition.
Now, it would seem to me that the anarcho-capitalists are making a grievous error, understandable as it might be, in calling themselves anarcho-capitalists. Particularly using the word libertarian.
Now anarchy is not a very pleasant word by reason of the fact of some of the historical facts which some of us are familiar with and which I just pointed out. It seems to me, furthermore, that calling oneself a libertarian is in conflict with the term anarchy, if you accept my earlier thumbnail historical sketch.
Libertarian, of course, meaning the doctrine of free will, and one who upholds the principle of liberty, especially in thought and action. Now we know that liberty is only an abstraction if it cannot be validated and made visible by concrete expression. It seems to me, in looking at anarcho-capitalism, that it cannot ensure the protection of any rights, but a limited government can.
Now why do I claim this?
First, looking at the historical consequences of anarchy in practice, not in theory, but in practice.
And second, and perhaps most crucial, is the issue of how men and women use their minds. We may have forgotten that historically anarchists have always seen them as basically good. That by their nature, they were basically decent, potentially rational people. I reject this assertion. Man is neither good nor bad. What determines his character is how he uses his consciousness. The anarcho-capitalist “State”, as theoretically outlined by its proponents, is an assumption that in any kind of State, anarcho-capitalism or not, there are some individuals that are going to act irrationally. They are going to violate men’s rights. Those who believe in the concept of anarcho-capitalism, admit this. They say, yes, this is true.
Morris and Linda Tannehill bring out this point very early in their book Market for Liberty. The solution they offer, seems to me, worse than the problem that they seek to cure. That is, the concept of competing police force or defence agencies. Strangely, anarcho-capitalists object to the exclusive monopoly of force held by the all-powerful State, but seem with what, it appears to me, great intellectual ease, to advocate non-exclusive or multiple use of force among competing groups to offer protection of individual and property rights.
This anarcho-capitalist position rules out of the arena of at least intellectual discussion. To discuss the idea. To not be dogmatic about “I am right and you are wrong.” But to offer, as this conference was intended, to offer discussion of conflicting ideas. It seems to me in reading the literature of the anarcho-capitalist movement, that it rules out entirely an intellectual discussion. That a morally objective limited government is possible. Or, for that matter, that it’s even worth a debate. Now, in other words, they rule out the possibility, ladies and gentlemen. They rule out the possibility that men can use their minds to fashion theoretical concepts of limited government that can be concretised in a constitutional form, that has as its sole function the protection of rights.
On the reverse side of this intellectual coin is the attitude and understandable loathing for the all-powerful State. It seems to me, in looking at this problem, that the anarcho-capitalist advocates make a major mistake by assuming that all we’ve got to do, and it’s a mistake that’s very common, I think, today. There’s the assumption that all we have to do is sweep away the apparatus of the State. Sweep away the apparatus of the State, but not deal fundamentally with the ideas that make the all-powerful State possible.
Now they claim, they claim, the big deal with these ideas, it seems to me, as an observer, that the anarcho-capitalist position assumes that the form and structure of the State is the real enemy and not the ideas that give the State character. That give it, its verve, its tone and its oppressive nature. As the Tannehills however stayed in their work, to paraphrase, “the force which shapes men’s lives is rational ideas.” Maybe we should add: “irrational ideas too.”
Therefore, it would seem to me that the anarcho-capitalists should want to consider overthrowing, not the State, but the collectivist philosophy which sustains it. It seems to me, moreover, that the advocating of any any other position in a limited form of government, with a philosophical precondition for that political concept, namely a libertarian non-violent educational and philosophical approach, and rejecting the position of anarchy and revolutionary violence, is the alternative open to us in shaping the future.
For the histories of revolutions, which anarchy has played such a deadly and decisive part, has almost exclusively ended in posing a far more tyrannical rule than it intended to supplant. It seems to me, moreover, that the anarcho-capitalists could never guarantee liberty or property rights without a limited form of government that contains an objective legal framework. I have yet to see where you could validate the concept of individual rights and property rights within the anarcho-capitalist scheme of thinking.
Anarcho-capitalism, in my judgement, besides being a contradiction in terms and flirting with a historically discredited movement, does not seem to me to possess an objective standard for ensuring the protection of rights, inherent or otherwise.
In fact, its alternative of competing defence agencies is a contradiction in terms, and opens itself to the rule of whim, instead of the concept of reason, which the anarcho-capitalist claim is the basis of their actions. And I draw this conclusion because of the failure of the anarcho-capitalist to make the distinction between proper defence and retaliatory retaliation by force of competing of defence agencies. Here, in other words, the competing governments or defence agency concept will offer a blank check to the initiation of physical force on the slightest provocation.
A limited form of constitutional government, it seems to me, offers the best insurance, but before we can talk about the problems of the State, we must first talk about opposing the philosophical ideas which brought that State into being. Thank you.
Adjudicator: Thank you Mr St John. The next speech will be by Mr Roy Childs defending the anarcho-capitalist position.
Mr Roy Childs: First of all, I am not primarily a debater; I am a logician, and that will be my approach. Mr St John got into the history of anarchism briefly. I want to take up his points and his remarks point by point in my rebuttal. Right now I want to begin by saying that he has pinned a great deal of bloodshed and other such things on anarchism as a movement.
First of all, history is irrelevant for the validity of an idea. Secondly, historically, the state, government, has been responsible for more bloodshed, murder, robbery and enslavement than any other institution known to man. Now if we’re going to attack anarchism as a movement on the grounds of what some of its perpetrators or adherents have done, I think that next to what the State has done throughout history, it’s just a drop in the bucket.
I want to cover very briefly some of the basic ideas behind anarcho-capitalism.
Mr St John has said that anarchism seems not open, anarcho-capitalists seem not open to debate or discussion. Yet, if you look, just take two stacks of papers. Take on the one hand, all the things written by Objectivists in favour of limited government, opposing the ideas of anarcho-capitalism. And then take the things that we anarcho-capitalists have written, and you’ll see which one is not considering the issue open to discussion.
The main point and the only point is, can a government or a state exist without initiating physical force against those who have not themselves initiated physical force? Mr St John, I suggest, and all Objectivists who advocate limited government are in the same philosophical position as YAF which advocates the draft as slavery, the violation of individual rights, for what purpose? In order to protect individual rights.
Now I tell as a logician, briefly. If you know anything about a syllogism, you know that you cannot have a premise in a series of syllogisms which states that X is true and ever come up logically with a conclusion that X is false. I suggest that the position of limited government starts out with a premise that individual rights should never be violated. And it ends up advocating the violation of individual rights. And hence, I’m saying that the very concept of a government limited only to retaliation is a contradiction in terms. I’m saying that it’s a meaningless concept, in other words.
Now the quickest way of showing why a government must either initiate force, as I claim it must, or cease being a government, as an agency that is, is the following. Suppose I were distraught with the services of a government in an objectivist society. This, incidentally, is taken from my open letter to Ayn Rand, one paragraph. Suppose that I judge, being as rational as I possibly could, that I could secure the protection of my contracts and the retrieval of stolen goods at a cheaper price and with more efficiency. Suppose I either decide to set up an institution to attain these ends, or patronise one which a friend or business colleague has established. Now, if he succeeds in setting up an agency which provides all the services of the objectivist government, and restricts his more efficient activities to the use of retaliation against aggressors, following objective principles in morality, there are only two alternatives as far as the government is concerned.
A: It can use force or the threat of force against the new institution in order to keep its monopoly status in a given territory. Thus, initiating the use of physical force against one who has not himself initiated physical force.
B: It can refrain from initiating force and allow the new institution to carry on its activities without interference. If it did this, then the Objectivist government would become a truly marketplace phenomena, that is, it would be merely one agency among many competing agencies.
Now, the question, then, is if an institution arose in an objectivist society which sold the service of retaliation or defence to customers voluntarily in an agreed upon price, then this agency, as long as it follows objectivist principles, which are, of course, discoverable by man’s reasoning. Government does not consist of men who have powers of epistemological leaders; that means they have no means of knowledge not available to other men. So if an institution sells this service voluntarily at an agreed upon price, then it would not be initiating force. And any attempt to prevent it, I maintain, from selling such a service, would ipso facto involve the initiation of force.
For to forbid people to buy and sell any good which does not involve aggression, would be to use initiatory force itself.
Another way of putting this very simply is: either what the government is doing is legitimate, or it is not. If it’s not, then the government should be dissolved immediately. They should cease and desist. If what the government is doing is legitimate, that is, if it follows objective principles, then it cannot properly stop others from doing exactly the same thing, because by stopping them it’s saying that what you’re doing is not legitimate. Okay.
Now let’s get to the notion of limited government. Now first of all, I’m going to say that limited government I think is a redundancy. All governments are limited. No government can do everything. Every government, every institution, everything that exists has a specific nature. So the question is: limited to what? The objectivist contention, and the contention in many political philosophies, is limited to the retaliatory use of physical force.
How is it going to be limited? Well, the answer usually given is a rigid constitution. Okay. My response:
If a constitution can mimic the power of the state, that is, if a constitution has such power, then why not eliminate the middle man? That is, if a document has such mysterious powers, then why not simply issue a document prohibiting everyone, every person, from initiating force?
Now my point here is that you cannot answer the question of how to limit the power of government quite so simply. You cannot just say, limited government by a constitution. And more, you cannot, at the same time, both have an institution which is a final authority over the use of force, and one which is limited. Because to limit something, one must have a means of limiting it, of doing that, in other words. And in the case of government, that means must either be a part of the state, the means of limiting it. Or not.
Now if it is a part of the state, then the government limits itself, which is not very much of a limitation, I suggest. Now if this means is not a part of the state, then the state is not such a final authority.
Okay. Just a couple of other quick points. I’d like to get in questions. I’d like to concentrate on theoretical things for a while. There are some experts here, like Murray Rothbard, Morris Tannehill, and Jarrett, who can talk about “how would you” questions. And there’s also a great book by Woodridge over there, Wooldridge, I think the name is, which discusses how private courts and private police have functioned for centuries and centuries.
Now, objectivists advocate a social contract theory, and I want to make one point about that before I shut up.
There’s a distinct problem, I maintain, under any sort of social contract theory applied to a government. For a government isn’t generally taken to be the supreme authority in a specific geographical territory. But if this is so, and if the relationship between the government and the citizen is contractual, that is, if there’s a constitution, a constitution is a contract between the citizen and the government. This brings in the concept of agency, can the citizen break the contract with the government unilaterally, as he could if they were literally his agent? Or much the government itself has ultimate authority over this contract as it does all others. In short, must the citizen have the sanction of the government before he can release it from its duties?
If not, then I suggest that the concept of representation, and I’d like to elaborate on this later, does not apply to a government, not to a limited, objectivist type of government, or any other kind of government. Because the government cannot be your agent. You cannot dismiss at will. In fact, since it has the final authority, it can interpret the law and can interpret the constitution itself but it can decide what you can do. You can’t decide what it can do, which is the case if it were in fact your agency.
Adjudicator: We will now begin the rebuttals and first with the rebuttal will be Mr Childs.
Mr Childs: I would like to say, as a preface to my rebuttal, that I disagree with every major point which Mr St John made.
First of all, my background in the history of anarchist thought. I was formerly a student of philosophy and history at the State University of New York at Buffalo under Dr Lewis Perry. I did a special seminar under him on anarchist thought. He’s the co-editor of Patterns of Anarchy, one of the most definitive collections of essays. So I know what a little bit about history of anarchist thought. I’d like to touch on what Mr St John said here.
One, he said, historically, anarchism has postulated the abolition of property rights. This is not true. Not true of not true with any anarchist you’ve ever heard of. What is, in fact, true is that they have a different theory of justice in property rights. What is, in fact, true is that we disagree with them. We anarcho-capitalists disagree with them. They hold one theory, we hold another. But every single anarchist has always criticized, with the popular exception of Kropotkin, has always criticized the existing status quo on the basis of it being founded on an unjust distribution of property titles. That is, they advocate the abolition of property in some cases. But only where they thought it was unjust.
Two. Mr St John says that anarchism has been collectivistic. This is not true. Especially among United States Americans. Native American anarchists. I refer you to James J. Martin’s book Men Against the State. The Native American anarchist tradition is completely individualistic and is completely founded on the doctrine of individual rights.
Three, on the point I made before, he goes into history a lot, but I submit that history is irrelevant.
Four, he says that anarchism cannot protect any rights. Well I maintain that the very concept of limited government is self-contradictory, that it involves using initiatory force or a violation of rights to protect rights. If this is true, then the absence of government or the absence of the state is the only possible moral social condition of existence proper to man. What is a state of no government, or no state, that is a condition of anarchism? Anarchism means no state, anarchism, to use Benjamin R Tucker’s definition, advocates the abolition of the state, and advocates having only affairs of men controlled by individuals and voluntary associations.
He said that anarchists have historical claim that man is inherently good. This is, again, not true. It’s true in some cases, not true in others. Again, it’s irrelevant.
Six. He says anarchism rules out discussion debate rules out the possibility of men using their minds to come up with a moral limited government. My answer to this is it is impossible to come up with a viable workable self-contradictory institution.
Seven. He said that we had the assumption that all we must do is sweep away the apparatus of the State, the theory is not necessary, it is not necessary to dig into ideas. Again, far much more work has been done by anarcho-capitalists in this area than by advocates of limited government. Rand’s writings in the field of political philosophy are relatively sparse, and few and far between, as compared with the writing of, say, Rothbard, Wolfstein, Tannehill, myself, and many many others. And it’s also, again, absurd to say that we rule out debate, when it’s mostly advocates of limited government who haven’t said anything.
Eight, he said, again, that we advocate overthrowing the State, rather than mere ideas. Well, this is not an either/or dichotomy. We can advocate both. We advocate spreading certain ideas, getting rid of a the collectivist mentality, getting rid of the doctrine that people have the right to use aggression to gain their ends, getting rid of the mystique of the State, before we can do this. I don’t know of any anarchist who thinks you can abolish the State before you establish certain preconditions, including, basically, starting to destroy some myths.
He said that anarchism cannot validate the concept of individual rights. Well, I hold that concept of individual rights is based on man’s nature as a rational being. And the way you validate a concept is by means of reason. If you’re in or out of government, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. You do it by means of reason. The government has no special non-rational, non-sensory means of knowledge. Therefore it has no rational, no non-sensory means of coming up with definitions of property rights which other men don’t also have. The way you do this is obviously through reasoning and libertarian social philosophy.
Finally, he said that competing agencies offer a blank check on initiatory force. I think that this is blatantly false. The agencies which most anarchists advocate would be strictly limited, because they would have specific customers who could fire them, and things like this. Now there are problems with this, granted. But I maintain again that nowhere in the history of mankind has there ever been a government, a state, which is not guilty of such crimes against humanity, against individuals, such mass bloodshed, enslavement, slaughter, robbery, as to make the possible crimes of one key defence agency to be almost irrelevant by comparison.
Adjudicator: Now with his response, Mr St John.
Mr St John: It seems to me, that the most consistently used word to evade coming to grips with some of the questions I posed, was the word irrelevant. It was used eleven times in five minutes. Mr Childs began by saying he’s not a debater, and then he used the oldest debating trick in the world. Ridicule to evade answering an idea. History is irrelevant, hmmm? History is irrelevant to ideas. Then how, pray tell, do you then judge theoretical ideas? [Childs responds to rhetorical question.] I thought I was gonna do my thing. You see already we haven’t even got to an anarchist state and already he wants to break the rules that were set down. Which tells you, which, in a very selective, admittedly way, I am suspect of anarchism.
It’s quite true what Mr Childs says, that anarchism, that the state has been a bloody monster. But let me remind Mr Childs, that the people who paved the way for the all-powerful state, at least in the last 150 years, were certain particular revolutionaries and anarchists. So if we’re going to talk about the creation of the all-powerful State, let us also talk about the ideas which brought that all-powerful state into being.
I object very very strenuously and am kind of morally indignant to somehow equating objectivism with YAF. Now that is irrelevant. It is irrelevant, simply the fact that Miss Rand and the objectivists have consistently taken a moral and philosophical stand on the abolition of the draft. This is not an objectivist society, I wish it were; the question is to discuss the ideas which make for a objective society as opposed to a society ruled by whim.
Now, all governments are limited. Ask Sinyavsky and Danieil and the 40 million people of how unlimited the Stalinist terror was. If that’s limited government, then tell me, what is unlimited government?
Constitutions are only as good as the men who create them. It is only as good as the individuals who think in principle, because men violate the constitution, Mr Childs makes mention of the fact that, well, this 13th amendment has the clause to involuntary servitude. Just because men do not live up to stated principles, doesn’t necessarily mean that the concept is wrong. It simply means that some people don’t think in principle.
Rebuttal. He conceded most of my points, in terms of the area as far of the history of anarchists. But it’s a kind of tacit, yes, that’s true. But. In his paper, he emphatically says to us in his paper on the epistemological basis of anarchism, an open letter to objectivists and libertarians. He concedes he uses as the basis, Godwin, who he admits was both an individualist and a collectivist. And essentially that’s one of the problems of anarchy. Is that there is this flux and flow between individualism and collectivism. That’s why I tend to be more inclined toward objectivism than I am towards anarchy when limited government.
Now here let’s get something very straight right now, who in the hell ever said that Ayn Rand was a political theorist? She is the parent of politics. And everybody in this room is a demonstration of that. You’ve all been profoundly influenced by Ayn Rand.
The New Left is down the hall.
The parent of politics is philosophy. Ayn Rand is not a political theorist; she is a philosopher.
He grants the point that, yes, it’s quite true there are problems with the issue of competing defence agencies. But we’ll work those out. Well I suggest that we start basically with ideas, and not with debating points. Thank you.
Adjudicator: Thank you. We will now take some questions from the floor.
Questioner: […] Not once have I heard you comment on the fact that we have in 195 years a continuous and mounting failure of limited government. Now I see that the American patriots who fought the revolution had the best intentions in regard to liberty. But they failed. I’d like to know your comment on the nature of government, and the fact that governments cannot be successfully limited, to the American experience for 195 years. Nature of the monopoly, it will always be … and unlimited.
Mr St. John: I don’t accept the basic supposition that the state is self-aggrandising. It’s like the point that I raised about constitutional government. Just because some men don’t live up to the principles of the constitution, doesn’t necessarily mean that the theory is wrong. And to say that limited or any kind of government or that we’ve had limited government and that the well meaning founders … You have to remember something, which I think is overlooked. The creation of the concept of our particular type of Republican form of government, Murray Rothbard and others seem to call it a democracy, and it’s not a democracy, it’s still a representative Republic in theory. We’re moving towards that despotic state of pure democracy by reason of a number of things.
But my point is that you certainly know, sir, that the time of the American Revolution, we were going through a transition period. Remember that the economic system of this country was basically dominated by mercantilism. Now the revolution essentially was a break for free trade. Now philosophically and intellectually, the mixed kind of ideas that were fermenting at the time of the American Revolution accounts for the contradictions, the commerce clauses that exist in the constitution.
Now I suggest that we know more. We understand more. We have a larger body of knowledge in science. And particularly in terms of the last two hundred years of the nature of government. On which to postulate a new philosophical and political renaissance. And to say that because it failed then, that we must abjure the idea of limited government, is to not basically come to grips I think with with the issue of the conflict that is being presented here.
And that is that objective moral government in my view is possible. And that the alternative, postulated by Mr Childs and anarchism, is to ensure no rights, and possibly to ensure just the opposite of what certainly he would want, he would desire.
Roy Childs: I’ll just respond in one aspect. I think that history is irrelevant in this sense too. I think that, well, see I’m sort of defending you because he’s using the same kind of argument against you that you did against me.
Mr St. John: No, I’ll defend myself.
Roy Childs: Fine. But history is irrelevant in this sense. History can show you what can happen. It can show you what man has done, but not what he can do if he sets his mind to it. In other words, history can give you illustrations, but it cannot by itself prove that any doctrine can or cannot work. So on and so forth. This is true I think of limited government. I think it can’t work for other reasons that historical, although I think your points are correct.
I think it’s also true of the doctrine of anarcho-capitalism and I don’t like being linked up with other anarchists who maybe threw a bomb and maybe did not. I don’t know. But I’m saying that that kind of argument is not a philosophical argument.
Adjudicator: Just very briefly, I think, in deference to Mr Childs and to respective positions here in the auditorium, that we have to keep one thing in mind, a very crucial thing, that we are talking about theoretical philosophical principles. And the vote is still out. That is to say, nowhere in the history, has an anarchic society succeeded. Nor has a limited government society succeeded, what we would ideally like. And it is important to keep that perspective, I think, in mind. And the real conflict, seems to me, and the real acid test, is how the tests that we apply to these particular conflict of views, logic, reason, but history is not irrelevant. It’s an important mirror which can help guide men’s actions.
Murray Rothbard: I have two questions for Mr St John. One is, suppose there happen to be two competing defence agencies in a certain geographical area, for some benighted reason. Which one of these would he consider to be the rational objective one, and what criteria would he have of opposing the will of one of them? The second question is, how big is the geographical area he’s talking about, and what rational criterion does he have for determining the borders of geographical boundaries of a monopoly government?
Mr St John: I don’t understand, Dr Rothbard, how I can possibly answer a theoretical question with a theoretical answer? Iffy questions are just that, they’re iffy. Since I don’t believe in the idea of competing defence agency, why should I even bother to answer the question?
Rothbard: But if one happened to pop up.
Mr St. John: No, no, yeah. If one happened to pop up. Well, I’ll tell you something. If one did happen to pop up, I would probably go to a monastery in Tibet.
Difficult to hear question from audience: … Well, couldn’t this be explained by the fact that you more or less … held by the masses, which were not changed by who, in themselves, did not call … positions, almost ensured the rise of authoritarian government?
Mr St John: Here you’ve got the same problem that you had in the American Revolution. Remember the serfs by the time the revolution had not been freed yet a hundred years. That’s the first point.
The second point is that the peasants had not literally, they joined ultimately in the revolt, but you remember there was a period from the time of Alexander I until Nicholas II, of a long period of intellectual ferment. Lenin’s brother was involved with the assassination attempt, of I think, Alexander II. There was this long period of student intellectual unrest. Now, I suggest, and here I have to agree with a Democratic Socialist by the name of Louis Fourier, maybe some of you have read his book, Conflict of Generations, in which he points out the indispensable role that intellectuals and intellectual ideas played as the precursor. We know why Nazism came to Nazi came to Germany. It had nothing to do with the masses. It happened to do with the long string of philosophical schools that had permeated, going back to Kant and Hegel. And so I would suggest that your question, what is really at stake here is the examination of the ideas that lead to these tragic consequences. Not only for the peasants, because we know what Lenin’s betrayal, program of betrayal.
Questioner that is hard to hear
Mr St John: Young lady, I’m the last person to advocate monopolies on anything. What I’m suggesting is that in the crucial area of initiation of force, I’m not going to concede the idea that anarchism can fulfil that responsibility. We’re talking about a specifically limited government. I think Miss Rand, in what political writings that she has engaged in, “The Nature of Government” is one particular article, has specifically defined what she thought would be in terms of courts, police, etc. But certainly nothing approximating a monopoly on anything. Leave people alone. But, there is a certain degree which, not degree, but a certain structure, a legal code one I think needs to have. And I don’t think it can be found in the kind of anarchist situation.
Roy Childs: Your basic claim is that I, and presumably other anarcho-capitalists, place government services in the same arena as other goods and services. My answer is, in one respect, yes, in another, no.
First of all, the respect in which they are not the same. Other goods and services, when you have an exchange in the free market, both parties in the exchange are willing. Both parties go along with the deal, if I exchanged $5 for a pair of shoes that you’re selling.
In the case of defence and retaliation, the criminal doesn’t consent, so it’s different in that respect.
But what we have to focus on here is the moral issue: Is defence and retaliation, when guided by objective moral principles, moral, that is legitimate, or not? If it is, then my claim is that other agencies, in addition to government, can perform these actions without the government being justified in using force to stop them.
I’m saying at the same time, that, if these things are not moral, if these are not legitimate, then the government of course should not exist at all.
My basic argument then, is that they are in the same arena in one respect, and that is the respect of the key issue of morality.
Just as my exchanging $5, if its my $5, for your shoes, if they’re your shoes, is a moral action. So is my acting to recover the money if you stole it from me. If that action is moral, then they are right in that respect. And that’s what you have to focus on. Can the government prohibit, by the use of force, other agencies from acting as defenders and protectors of man’s rights and from retaliating against criminals, or not?
I think that if the government does, it has initiated force, hence limited government in Mr St John’s sense is a contradiction in terms. If it does not, it ceases in being a final authority, in which case, it’s no longer a government by Miss Rand’s definition.
Questioner, hard to hear: Would Mr St John, please, either materially or formally, refute the logic that Mr Child’s used in his open letter to Ayn Rand? This is the passage that Mr Childs opened his introductory remarks with.
Roy Childs: You want me to read it? I can read it pretty quick. I’m starting with one of the premises, Miss Rand’s definition of government, as holding a monopoly on the use of physical force on a given geographical area, or being the exclusive, having the exclusive right to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area. The quotation:
Suppose I were distraught with the services of the government in Objectivist society. Suppose that I judge being as rational as I possibly could, that I could secure the protections and defence of myself, etcetera, with another agency. Suppose I patronise another such an agency and it is established. Now if the agency is set up and it provides all the services of the government and restricts its more efficient or even less efficient activities to be used of retaliation, guided by objective principles against aggressors, I maintain that there are only two alternatives as far as the government is concerned.
A: It can use force or the threat of it against a new institution in order to keep its monopoly status in the given territory, thus initiating the use or threat of physical force against one who has not himself initiated force.
B: It can refrain from initiating force and allow the new institution to carry on its activities without interference. If it did this, then the Objectivist government would become a truly marketplace institution. In any case, there would be competing agencies, there would be no monopoly; therefore, no government, by Miss Rand’s definition.
Mr St John: It seems to me that when you start talking, I’m not sure that in an objectivist kind of government. Now here’s where I think the fallacy lies. He is making assumptions, and I’ve noticed in Mr Childs that he jumps a league ahead. He says that he is a disciple of Aristotle and he does it again with that marvellous quote from I think his Metaphysics in that, the wisdom for which all philosophers are in search are the causes of things, a first principle. Now the first principle, I don’t think that these conditions which Mr Childs alludes to would essentially be necessary if we had the kind of morally objective limited government. In other words, there would not be a necessity for him to go off, and as a consequence set up his own competing defence agency.
Roy Childs: The only way I can respond is by talking just very briefly about the concept of agency. And the concept of an agent, or a representative, is an economic concept, and it has a specific meaning. In a social context, it arises when one specific individual approaches another individual or institution and delegates to them a specific power which was moral when performed by him, for a specific purpose, and for a specific period of time. Representation is not either general or non-specific, it is not open ended. It requires, in addition to specific terms or conditions, that each of the two parties concerned, both the agent and the client, give their specific voluntary uncoerced consent.
If the specific voluntary consent of either party is missing, the alleged representation is invalid. There is, in short, no such thing as involuntary representation, since the essence of an agent is that he carries out the expressed will of his client. Involuntary representation would entail the absurdity of one man carrying out another’s will against his will. Clearly a contradiction in terms.
How does this apply? Simply, I maintain that, Mr St John was right when he says, that a constitution is just as good as the men who make it and who enforce it. I also agree that men have certain inalienable rights as individuals, not as members of a group, and therefore they can delegate these two agencies, and that there is no reason why they should be prevented from patronising more than one such agency, that is, delegating the rights to more than one such agency within a given geographical area.
If they are prevented, then I think it’s tantamount to saying that they don’t really have these rights in the first place, that they’re really permissions. But then the question is, whose permissions?
Adjudicator: I was wondering if on this issue of the two parties would care to go another round on it.
Mr St John: Well it seems to me that the conflict here is essentially in that, as I understand Miss Rand’s basic ideas about limited government, and as I hold them, is that in such a condition, not only would it not be necessary, but no other agency would be allowed to have a monopoly on physical force. I think, as essentially is the basic inherent nature of a limited form of government. And therefore I think it would be a conflict between what Mr Childs is postulating. He’s postulating, in other words, he’s not accepting or at least examining the fact of the nature of an Objectivist government, and of course he has been talking in the context of saying that this … basing it not on the kind of absurd government and irrationality we have today, but in terms of his disagreement with what he sees as the basic principles underlying the Objectivist belief in limited government.
And I would say that if, and I will get theoretical now, if, by reason of a magic of Merlin, what you talked about in terms of things are getting just more irrationally stated. Let’s assume for a moment, and I don’t like working on theoretical kind of dubious assumptions, but let us assume for a moment that this was a different world. That the climate, that Objectivist government did exist. It would seem to me that Mr Childs’ desire to go off and have his own whatever would be fine. But we have to remember, in a specific area, which deals with what is essentially police power. That’s essentially what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about services and goods and other things. We’re talking essentially about the police power in dealing with specific acts, which violate a particular agreed upon constitution through a representative constitutional form of government.
Roy Childs: This response will be quick. I think that in a social context the only geographic area which is important is an individual’s property. And the right of agency comes from this and not from anything else. My questions is if Mr St. John, Mr Peikoff and several other people own property surrounding me or so on and so forth, and I, Rothbard, Tannerhill, Walter Block and several other people own property adjacent to this, can we delegate our right to self-defence to an agency which differs in personnel and possibly it’s form as well, a different agency than the Objectivist-oriented people would?
Do we have this right? Why do we have to leave? Since the only morally important …. It’s my only question.
[Can’t hear questioner]
Roy Childs: I’m sure you do, and I mean it seriously too. If I didn’t take it seriously, I wouldn’t have written all of the things that I’ve written.
Miss Rand defines the government, first of all, I don’t accept her definition as a good, legitimate definition, but she defines the government as an institution which holds the exclusive power, exclusive power, to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area.
She says in her essay, The Nature of Government, that the concept of community governments, so on and so forth, is absurd. What I would call competing defence agencies cannot morally function. My question is this, if all rights are individual rights, including the right to self defence and retaliation, can I, who live next door to you, delegate my right to self-defence and retaliation to a different agency than you, or keep it myself, or will the objectivists force me, force me, to give up this right to its agency?
I see the contradiction as being the hold that their agency will hold a monopoly on physical force, used only in retaliation. Yet I maintain that they cannot keep this monopoly. If there’s any dissent whatsoever, they cannot keep this monopoly, except by initiating force against other individuals and agencies who don’t like the specific agency that the objectivists are dealing with. I see this as being an inherent contradiction. I do not see how it can be limited to retaliation and at the same time keep a coercive monopoly on police and judicial services.
Mr St John: Apropos to what you’ve said. It seems to me that when we talk about a limited constitutional form of government, we’re also talking about an issue called referendum. We’re talking about those individuals in positions of responsibility to be accountable for their actions. Not only in terms of their personal, but also in terms of the people that have delegated to them this limited constitutional form of representative republicans. And I think that’s important to keep that in mind. That somehow it seems the impression has gotten in hand that somehow we’re just going to be one big bad policeman wielding a club. I think by the nature of, talking in terms of constitution of government, in terms of the checking of recognising, as even Mr Child does, or at least the argument that is put forth by those who share Mr Child’s beliefs. That the aggrandisement feature attributed to government.
Adjudicator: I know there are a great many more questions. Unfortunately our schedule has to be confined, too, somewhat. I think this has been a very, very important event. I’m glad we had two such excellent spokesmen for both positions, because I think the issues are very important. I’d like to thank both of them for giving us of their time.