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Friday, January 18, 2008

Government and "people with guns"

Responding to Michael Kinsley's "chin-scratching," Brian Doherty explains "Real Libertarianism":

It's about limiting as much as possible the areas of social life in which decisions are made and legitimized by people with guns ordering other people around or taking their money. (Anyone who doesn't see the guns behind government has never tried disobeying a law.)

But we don't often have a simple choice between "people with guns" and "no people with guns." We often have a choice between relying on one level of government or another, all with guns. An aversion to federal power in practice often means more power for the states. A disdain for any distant governmental authority means more power for the local sheriff. They all have guns.

Fine, you say, let's minimize--or, better yet, abolish--government at all levels and rely on the free market. But the free market too ultimately relies on "people with guns ordering other people around" to enforce contracts and property rights. That would still be true--more true than ever, I suspect--in a society with zero government and lots of private security agencies.

Plus, of course, there exist foreign governments and terrorist organizations, which is why government is needed for national defense, a point that's more or less conceded in Doherty's article, but which underscores that government is not necessarily about waving a gun in someone's face. Government is also about preventing a gun from being waved in someone's face.

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