Good luck to liberty when a leading libertarian qualifies as 'sensible' an article by another leading libertarian that is based on the author's inability to tell the difference between government under the law and a criminal organisation.
I was in two minds, whether or not to post the following comment in response to Legitimacy by Bob Higgs at The Beacon. I decided against publication, so as not to open yet another front - and my experience is, at any rate, that one does not learn nearly as much from the emotional, knee-jerk, regurgitating responses of anarcho-capitalists than from one's own continued (often painfully insightful but also liberating) research. And RedStateEclectic is a safe place in that comments are hardly to be expected, at least not in (a) large numbers or (b) uncivil or downright stupid manner (as most comments are from my esteemed fellow-bloggers).
One of the most important hallmarks of a regime under which it is possible to express judgements of legitimacy or lack thereof is the freedom to express opinions such as that of the author [Bob Higgs in his article] and the possibility to influence the political order to bring it in closer alignment to policies that substantially augment desired claims to legitimacy (legitimacy being always an asymptotic and contestable category). Both conditions are fulfilled in my country, Germany. (I strongly, presume, in the USA, too).
For instance, the Green Party (which I as a libertarian do not support at all) was completely unacceptable to the prevailing political parties in Germany in the 1970s/80s, yet managed against the severest resistance of the powers that be to enter the national Parliament (Bundestag) in the 1980s. Today, the Green party sets the tone for important themes of political correctness in the country.
Similarly, much of the political thrust of the German students’ movement of the 60s - then utterly unacceptable to the state and much of public opinion - has become a dominant theme in German political thinking and practice nowadays, with Joschka Fischer (a militant leader of the students’ movement and later head of the Green party) ending up as Secretary of State.
Outsiders and underdogs, the Greens ("die Grünen") - unlike anarcho-capitalists - were willing to enter the political process and shape the state according to their notions.
Hence, and for a number of other reasons that I cannot go into here, I disagree with the author's assessment that defining legitimacy is a matter of state fabrication, as if the state were an autonomous being, immunised against influences from and perfectly opposed to the population.
Anarcho-capitalists are dogmatically disabled to comprehend that it is perfectly rational for a state to protect personal and property rights/institutions of liberty, and that states like the contemporary German state derive much support from their ability to enforce such rights, notwithstanding equally extant policies adverse to liberty; a mix of liberty-promoting and liberty-adverse policies will be inevitable in any complex and free society, a prospect that anarchists abhor in their simplistic taste for contrasts of black and white, while (classical) liberals ought to be aware of and prepared to deal with this most difficult challenge.
Of course, if the political struggle is left to those of differing views, and morbid moping (about the evil, evil, evil state) is chosen as the default position, it is inevitable that the task of defining legitimacy will be largely assumed by one's opponents.
If legitimacy is framed to be a self-serving concept such that its credible presence in a political system depends on the personal assessment of an anarchist with a preconceived agenda of discrediting (the legitimacy of) the state and the present political order, then, of course, it is practically a foregone conclusion that there can be no such thing as legitimacy, and hence, to all intents and purposes, there appears to be no difference between the state and a criminal organisation.
As a classical liberal I insist, like Ludwig von Mises, however, there is such a difference, and to lose sight of it, is to lose sight of liberty.
It is possible and important to determine the difference between the state and a criminal gang according to criteria that exist independent of the separate question whether the state is thought to be considered legitimate in the views of such and such percentage of the population.
Knowledge and defence of this vital difference and the criteria by which it can be ascertained used to be the essence of (classical) liberalism.
The struggle for “liberty” has become much more convenient these days than it used to be. Just complain about the state and you’ve done your job.
In upcoming posts, I shall try to demonstrate that there are rigorous evolutionary limits to human destructiveness (man cannot go beyond a certain point of destructiveness if he is to survive), and that in this regard there is an analogy between
(a) the alarmism of environmentalists, who overlook that man has evolved to become, of necessity, a net resource-increaser/protector, and
(b) the one-sided anti-state hype of anarcho-capitalists, who entirely fade out the fact that state structures have competitively evolved to support survival on the group level, and therefore, of necessity, comprise elements of self-interest on the part of the state that make it rational for it to foster greater freedom and welfare, irrespective of whether the state is (regarded as being) capable of benevolence or not.
In fact, it is just as compelling for the bandit state to enhance its wealth base as it is for a state consisting of saints.