Limited Government is Not Anarchy

Advocates of limited government, such as myself, are sometimes accused of advocating “anarchy.”


Let’s first define anarchy. Here’s what one online dictionary says:

1. a state of society without government or law
2. political and social disorder due to the absence of governmental control
3. lack of obedience to an authority; insubordination
4. confusion and disorder

A limited government is not a state of ‘no government or law.’ It’s dishonest and frankly stupid to accuse an advocate of limited government of “anarchy.” This is equivalent to saying, “You’re for limited government? That’s a state of society with no government.” This makes no sense.

The whole point of limited government is to have a strong government — for the sole and express purpose of protecting individuals from force and fraud. That’s it, and that’s plenty!

Anarchy would absolutely lead to a state of political and social disorder, and widespread confusion. But government involvement in areas where it does not belong leads ultimately to the same thing.

For example, consider a government which decides, “People should be paid a certain amount of income.” This means that some people will have their incomes set by the government, and others will not. (We call them labor laws.) Or, some people will have medical care provided by the government, and others will not. (We call it Medicaid, or Medicare, or now Obamacare.) In turn, some employers will have mandates forced upon them — about how much to pay employees, for example — while other employers will not. Some people will have to pay for the health insurance of others, while others won’t have to pay for anything, ever.

If you ask me, this rampant inconsistency and unfairness is an illustration of anarchy, no less than a society with no government at all would be. The moment government starts forcing some people to pay for or do things for others is the moment individuals are no longer equal under the law. It’s the beginning of anarchy, ironically enough.

The proper definition of anarchy, obviously, is a society with no laws and no government. To argue, as I do, that the government’s role should be strictly limited to protecting individuals from force or fraud is not to advocate anarchy. You’re entitled to disagree with my idea of what a proper government should be, but you’re not entitled to label my position something that it is not.

In the minds of many people, anarchy refers to a state of affairs where certain behaviors are not being controlled the way a person thinks they should be.

“People are using drugs. That should be controlled. Drug use should be illegal.” But why? Of course drug abuse is irrational, and self-defeating. But why is that government’s concern? If somebody under the influence of drugs does physical harm to a person or property, then of course it’s government’s business. An anarchist would say, “Government shouldn’t exist,” so there would be no police to call if somebody did harm to you. But an advocate of limited government will say, “Government should become involved if a person is a threat to the physical well-being of another, or assaults another’s property. But what a person inhales, smokes or eats is frankly not the government’s business.”

THIS is the dividing line. Members of the Big Government majority (which includes both Democrats and Republicans) will say, “That’s anarchy! How can we live in a world where people are allowed to ….  [fill in the blank with behavior I don’t like.]”

The basic error here is confusing moral appraisal with government. They are two different things. It’s one thing to say a certain behavior is undesirable, unhealthy, irrational or otherwise not morally or psychologically good for the person doing it. It’s another thing to say that a person should be coerced into not doing it.

It’s not anarchy to say, as I do, that “The government has no obligation or right to save people from themselves.” Actually, the government cannot succeed in saving people from themselves anyway. Is drug abuse or addiction self-evidently wrong, unhealthy, undesirable? Of course. Has the government been able to even put a dent in drug addiction through decades of coercion? Self-evidently: NO. Yet the mere suggestion that it’s wrong for government to be involved in the War on Drugs in the first place leads the Big Government majority to scream, “Anarchy! Anarchy!”

Probably the single biggest thing I have learned from my twenty-five years of being a psychotherapist is how many people falsely believe that they can control others, when they cannot. Not a week goes by when my office does not get 3 or 4 calls with one person calling about another (usually a family member): “You’ve got to help so-and-so. He’s not being healthy and rational. You’ve got to make him that way.” OK, so-and-so has a problem. Will he please call or email me so we can get to work? “Well, he’s not willing. But I’m going to make him.” You can lead a victim to a therapy office, but you cannot make him or her think. It will actually make matters worse, even to try.

I have likewise spent hours and hours in therapy with significant others of people, trying to explain and help them see that you cannot get into the heads of another and operate their free will for them. Many see this intellectually, but emotionally still resist the truth. Others are bewildered and look at me like I’m speaking an alien language. They actually believe people can be forced to change internally, against their will.

It’s little wonder that this erroneous thinking translates into a persisting majority for Big Government. Forget left-right distinctions here. Sure, people on the left don’t want a Big Government to control people’s sex lives or reproduction. But they do want a Big Government to control just about everything else. And people on the right would love to see a Bigger Government use government funds to teach religion to young people, or to prevent people from having certain attitudes or beliefs about drugs or sex they would rather them not have. But it all boils down to the same thing: Use of force to control others.

It’s wrong, but it also cannot work!

Notice that one of the dictionary definitions of anarchy is “lack of obedience to authority; insubordination.” I don’t agree with this as a definition of anarchy. Anarchy, like I said, refers to a political position that there should be NO laws or government, period. Lack of obedience to authority refers to a psychological attitude of a person towards another person or persons in a position of authority. Although I don’t agree with this as a definition of anarchy, its presence in a definition is revealing. This is, in fact, how many people define anarchy, on a subconscious or psychological level. They stop short of saying it, but what they actually feel and think is: “You won’t do what I want–that’s anarchy!”

Many people rebel and do foolish, even self-defeating things simply to show that they CAN. They resent, even hate, the idea that somebody believes they know what’s best for them.

It’s a mistake to rebel merely for the sake of rebelling. But it’s a common reaction to the authoritarianism and control of people who really don’t understand how human nature operates. And these same people who seek to impose force on others — “for their own good,’ actually thinking it will work — would never tolerate the same thing done to themselves. The hypocrisy and double standards are staggering.

If it’s anarchy you oppose, then you ought to reconsider your position of using Big Government to force people to do things they don’t want to do. This policy is actually leading us to more anarchy, not less.