Alexander argues that while it may be possible to describe one view as more libertarian than another, such comparisons hold only at the level of principles, not of policies. In particular, he denies that anarchism is more libertarian than minarchism. One cannot describe one policy as more libertarian than an alternative, he maintains, unless that policy is “logically required by libertarian principles.”
This position strikes me as unduly restrictive. Suppose two different policies are each minimally consistent with libertarian principles, but one more fully embodies the spirit of those principles than the other does; doesn’t this fact entitle the first to be considered the more libertarian of the two – just as, of two beautiful landscapes, one may be more beautiful than the other; or of two large animals, one may be larger than the other; or of two brilliant theories, one may be more brilliant than the other; or (to cite a eudaimonist example) of two human modes of life, one may be more human than the other?
Whether anarchism is logically required by libertarian principles is going to depend on what those principles are, a question I’ll let stand for now. But even granting arguendo that anarchism is not thus logically required, I think there are still good reasons to consider anarchism as being at least prima facie more libertarian than minarchism.
Libertarians surely favour, in general, opening up coercively monopolistic industries to free competition – typically both for consequentialist reasons (competition renders industries more efficient and less prone to abuses) and for natural-rights reasons (whatever one has a right to do, all have a right to do). If theorist A favoured competition in the clothing industry generally, while theorist B favoured competition for most items of clothing but made an exception for shoes, holding that the manufacture and sale of shoes should be a coercive monopoly, then all other things being equal it would be natural to say that theorist A is more libertarian than theorist B.
Since anarchists want to open up the provision of security (including legal adjudication and rights protection) to competition, while minarchists prefer to leave these services under state monopoly, then all other things being equal it again seems natural to say the anarchists are more libertarian than the minarchists.
Admittedly such a conclusion is in principle defeasible. If it could be shown that there is something special about security such that free competition here is unworkable, or unstable, or likely to lead to a breakdown of social order, then I do not think it would be obviously right to say that anarchism is more libertarian than minarchism. So the question of which positions are most libertarian cannot always be settled independently from questions about how they would work if implemented. That’s why I applied the term prima facie to anarchism’s status as more thoroughgoingly libertarian.
But suppose it turns out (as so far it seems to have done) that the arguments for security’s being a special case fail, and that there is no inherent reason to treat the market for security as different from the market for shoes or insurance. In that case, the question of whether to be an anarchist as opposed to a minarchist will simply be one of deciding to open up one more monopolised field to competition. In that case, could one seriously claim that anarchism is no more libertarian than minarchism?