Classical Liberal Organization hosts discussion on libertarian thought
Both viewpoints of anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism share the goal of limited government, according to Classical Liberal Organization faculty advisor and Chairman of Economics Charles Steele.
In a Feb. 18 event hosted by the Classical Liberal Organization and alumnus Christian Betz ’20, students discussed the viability of anarcho-capitalism and the similar ideology of libertarianism.
Steele, who joked that he alternates between anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism depending on the day of the week, opened the event with brief remarks on the topic of “What is Anarcho-capitalism?”
“I believe the government should be as small as possible,” Steele said. “It’s a good saying to get that across.”
He defined anarcho-capitalism as a system in which the private sector provides all goods and services on a for-profit basis, including public goods typically associated with government, such as law enforcement services.
After Steele’s remarks, Betz, who joined via Zoom, summarized similarities and differences between anarcho-capitalism and libertarianism. He presented each ideology’s view of the role of government, the efficacy of the free market to provide goods and services, social contract theory, and the non-aggression principle (the idea that the use of force on a person or his property is inherently unjust.)
While Betz noted that he grew up with sympathies for the “ancap,” shorthand for anarcho-capitalist, he credited his Hillsdale education for shifting his beliefs toward minarchism, a school of libertarian thought which argues that the scope of government should be limited to providing a few essential public goods like law enforcement, a military, and courts.
“I can’t say any particular professor, but my education overall at Hillsdale pushed me in a direction toward minarchism coming from a more ancap set of ideals before that,” Betz said. “Just my time at Hillsdale, growing up, learning more, etc., my views shifted more gradually.”
After Betz spoke, the event was opened up to discussion among the roughly 25 audience members. Nearly everyone in attendance contributed to the discussion.
Junior Luke Sherman spoke in favor of anarcho-capitalism, criticizing libertarians for holding an inconsistent view of social contract theory.
“Anarcho-capitalism is the logical conclusion of libertarianism. There’s a lot of problems with social contract theory, mainly the idea that if you don’t like it you can leave, which denies private property rights,” Sherman said. “If you start from the premise that the government derives its authority from the consent of the governed, you ultimately have to say that individuals can choose to not consent to government without leaving. You have to have explicit consent from each individual member of society in order to claim that the government derives its power from consent.”
Senior and Classical Liberal Organization President Haakon Santaella praised the quality of discussion and enthusiasm of participants.
“There were a lot of energetic participants to discuss the presentation between each side,” Santaella said. “It was a good, open, intellectually honest discussion. Both sides presented fair points.”
In addition to focusing on which ideology is morally correct, Santaella said he would have liked for the discussion to address which position would be more practical.
“Implicit in the libertarian argument was that this is something that works and is desirable as opposed to anarcho-capitalism,” he said. “There is a question about whether the outcomes of anarcho-capitalism are desirable and whether they are desirable in contrast to the outcomes of social contract theory in the U.S. Constitution.”
“Another thing is whether an ancap system can exist or function,” he said. “I think the answer is yes, but certain conditions must be met for it to be a stable system and function the way we hope it would. On the other hand, these may be the same conditions for a limited state like we supposedly have under the Constitution. It’s a two-edged sword.”
Despite the differences between libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, most participants seemed to agree on the importance of coming together to tackle a shared enemy: the tyranny of unlimited government.
“The person a libertarian hates the most is a libertarian who believes slightly differently than them,” Betz said. “We agree on a lot of things and want a lot of the same ideals. We can all support each other and push towards that ideal.”
“My position is that I think if we’re going to have a system of government, I think you should be involved in the process, and I don’t think it’s self-contradictory to the anarchist position,” he said. “At the end of the day, libertarians and anarchists have much more in common than we do differences.”