Huemerian Anarchist Libertarianism

Huemerian anarchist libertarianism is the political position that the vast majority of people (due to having roughly liberal values) would arrive at if they became convinced of the two main theses of Professor Michael Huemer’s book The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey:

  1. No government (nor any other person or group) genuinely possesses the special moral property called political authority.
  2. Establishing or keeping governments is not highly likely to result in a much better society than all other possible courses of action.

Very few people currently accept either of these theses.

Acceptance of the first thesis leads a typical person with roughly liberal values to minarchist libertarianism. The term Huemerian minarchist libertarianism can be used to describe anyone who came to be a minarchist libertarian because they accepted Huemer’s first thesis that governments lack political authority.

Acceptance of the second thesis as well leads one to anarchist libertarianism. A Huemerian anarchist libertarian is someone who is a libertarian anarchist because they—unlike the Huemerian minarchists–have accepted the second thesis and thus no longer see governments as being justified on consequentialist grounds.

Acceptance of these two theses in this order is what brought me to anarchist libertarianism. I know I’m not unique in this regard: Many libertarian anarchists (also called anarcho-capitalists or free market anarchists) have followed a similar intellectual path.

The Problem of Political Authority

My Intellectual Journey to Anarchist Libertarianism

In 2010, before Michael Huemer had written The Problem of Political Authority, a libertarian anarchist friend of mine challenged my unconscious assumption that it was okay for governments to engage in a wide range of activities prohibited to all other persons and organizations.

He pointed out that if anyone else acted like the government—such as by taxing people or commanding them to not engage in certain peaceful activities and then imprisoning them for disobeying—I would believe they were guilty of extortion, kidnapping, and so on.

Most government activity suddenly seemed criminal in nature. I suddenly felt a strong need to find a good explanation for why governments should be permitted to act in this manner.

It didn’t occur to me that maybe they shouldn’t be permitted to act in these ways until after I spent many hours considering hundreds of arguments for why they should be able to and failed to come up with anything satisfactory. I suppose I have status quo bias to thank for this. I didn’t question the status quo. My friend questioned it for me and I made every effort to defend it. I was a reluctant Huemerian minarchist libertarian.

Even after I acknowledged that governments shouldn’t be granted a special moral status above everyone else, I still didn’t begin to question the status quo. Instead, I maintained that small, minimal governments were necessary to address certain essential societal problems.

I then entered the six-month phase. Joke: “What’s the difference between a minarchist and an anarchist? …Six months.” In my case it took approximately seven months.

If I was reluctant to accept the first view that there is no good reason to believe that governments have the special moral authority that people treat them as having (and thus was reluctant to become a minarchist), I was even more reluctant to accept the second view that governments weren’t necessary to provide essential services and thus couldn’t be justified on consequentialist grounds (and thus was even more reluctant to become an anarchist).

I remember the moment clearly, sitting in my dorm room my freshman year of college in January 2011. I was sitting at my desk, re-reading some long debates I had had with my anarchist friend about the workings of a society without a state, realizing that I had been wrong about so many things—so many services addressing important problems could be provided in a voluntary fashion, as he had argued. It wasn’t necessary to have a government to threaten and bully people in an effort to solve the problems like I had assumed.

Eventually I had to acknowledge that a society without a state would not be a violent, chaotic, nightmarish, Hobbesian world after all. While I now agree that “We’re nowhere close to the case where government would be justified“—(meaning the expected result of replacing government with a polycentric legal system of competing providers of security and dispute resolution services is much better than would be necessary for it to be justified for people to act as agents of government or otherwise support their existence)—at the time I still thought that anarcho-capitalist societies might produce mediocre results. Still, despite society without government possibly being mediocre, I knew that it would not be so bad as to justify the existence of political-authority-less governments. Therefore, despite my ingrained desire to continue believing that having a government was a good thing, I reluctantly admitted that even a minimal state is not justified.

“Guess what… I’m an anarchist,” I said to my roommate in surprise and disbelief the moment I admitted it to myself.

“Whaaat,” he said, thinking I was crazy.

I had thought it was crazy too and never expected it to happen. Me? An Anarchist? Yeah, right.

But I no longer think it’s crazy. Polycentric Law, a.k.a. Anarcho-Capitalism [is] No Big Deal. I agree with Michael Strong that “we need to get people to realize that polycentric law, or anarcho-capitalism, is just no big deal and we should get over it already.” It’s very important that we help others understand this.

Anarchist Libertarianism is Not Extremist

The above story of my intellectual journey to libertarian anarchism (the same journey that Michael Huemer attempts to create for his reader) is more a story about psychological biases and barriers than it is a story about anything else.

Libertarianism is not extremist.

Anarchism is not extremist.

I hold the same values as I did five years ago before I had taken any time to think about politics or political philosophy.

I more or less hold the same values as my friends and family.

Libertarian anarchists don’t have significantly different values than most other people; they’ve just realized that popular political views and the current structure of societies aren’t consistent with those values.

Nobody should see libertarian anarchism as being extremist. The reality is that it’s common sense.