Many small government libertarians claim that while the existence of government is unjustified, it is the lesser of two evils. Although I think there is a place for the lesser of two evils principle in the discussion about liberty and government, I do not believe it has the force to justify minarchism. I explain why in this video.
Hello everyone, this is My 2 Cents. Today I’m going to address an objection to Anarcho-Capitalism that I hear quite frequently from my Minarchist friends. That is of course that even if it is the case that the non-aggression principle is a valid deduction from first principles of logic and the existence of the state cannot be justified, we have to be pragmatic. The vast majority of people support the existence of government for emotional or volitional reasons, and they simply will not be convinced by logical proofs, no matter how sound. Further, there will always be nefarious people seeking to violate the NAP to their own benefit, manipulating the vulnerable among society, and bringing about evils so great that even the most principled anarchist will beg for the state’s assistance. As such, we need to allow for some minimal amount of government. The state’s existence may be unjustifiable, but it is the lesser of two evils.
This objection has powerful appeal, and as someone who considers himself to be a pragmatist, I do feel it’s force. However, I none the less believe that while there is a legitimate place for the lesser of two evils principle in this discussion, it does not have the force to make the existence of government legitimate or even preferable. To understand why, let’s first look at what the lesser of two evils principle is.
The lesser of two evils principle essentially states that situations may arise where a person is faced with only two options, both of which are unethical or at least lead to an unethical outcome. However, no other options exist, and the person must do something. In such a situation, it is preferable to pick the so called “lesser of two evils,” or the decision that leads to the least amount of harm. This does not make that decision an ethical one, but it is none the less preferable to making the decision that leads to a greater harm.
The classic scenario used to illustrate this is where a man finds himself standing in front of a set of railroad tracks and sees that there is one man trapped on a particular set of tracks and four on another while a speeding train approaches. If the train continues on its current path, the four trapped men will be killed. However, there is a track switch in front of our observer that if activated will change the train’s path to the track where only one man is trapped. The result of course is that this one man will be killed, but the four others will be saved. It is clearly immoral to make a decision that directly results in someone’s death, but under the circumstances, doing nothing will result in four people dying. Therefore, under this set of circumstances, the most ethical choice is to pull the track switch and save four people even though the unavoidable consequence is that one person dies.
People often invoke the lesser of two evils principle around election season as well. In 2016 there were Republicans and Democrats alike who said, “I hate Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, but one of them is going to win the election, and not voting or voting for a third-party candidate could increase the likelihood that the worse candidate will win. Therefore, I must vote for the lesser of two evils.”
Of course, what makes these types of discussions sticky is that the lesser of two evils principle could only be invoked if there was truly no ethical decision available. If it turned out after the fact that there was in fact an ethical decision that would have avoided both undesirable outcomes, the lesser of two evils decisions would not have been justified. There’s also the doctrine of double effect, which attempts to differentiate between otherwise moral decisions that have immoral outcomes and blatantly immoral decisions that have desirable outcomes, but for this video I won’t be diving into that discussion.
For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to grant that the lesser of two evils principle can be appropriately invoked with regards to the initiation of force. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there exists at least one situation where the initiation of force by the state is in fact the lesser of two evils. Failing to collect taxes, draft young men into the military, or some other action will result in some greater evil, so utterly heinous that it would be unethical not to initiate force and prevent this evil. Does this thereby justify the perpetual existence of a government if only one that is limited in scope?
I would say no. It would only justify the initiation of force until such time as the greater evil has been dealt with, at which point the state would have an obligation to cease its actions. Consider the following thought experiment.
A man comes home and discovers that a group of thugs has invaded his house and is preparing to do unspeakable things to his wife and children. After quickly considering all his options, he determines that the only possible action he can take to save his wife and children is to break into his neighbor’s house, steal a firearm, and use it to confront the thugs. I am assuming for the sake of argument that this is in fact the only course of action that can guarantee the safety of his family.
Under these circumstances, I believe most people would agree that violating his neighbor’s private property rights for the purpose of saving his family is justified. However, that does not change the fact that the man has violated his neighbor’s rights. While his actions were necessary under the circumstances, he will still be required to return the firearm to his neighbor once the ordeal is over and he may be required to compensate his neighbor for any damages to the property that resulted from the break in.
Imagine if after this ordeal the man decides he’s going to keep the firearm saying, “I need to hang onto this firearm indefinitely because what if this happens again? In fact, all my neighbors should have to allow me to confiscate their property at any time because if not, these kinds of heinous actions by thugs could continue to occur.”
Would anyone think this is justified? Of course not. Just because under a very specific set of circumstances, the initiation of force was required to prevent a greater evil, the man in question does not now have blanket authority to initiate force whenever he wants because it might happen again.
However, this is precisely what a minarchist government amounts to. Even a small state is not initiating force as a last resort to prevent a greater evil, it is constantly initiating force on the basis that if it didn’t, greater evils MIGHT occur. Further, since the minarchist grants that the state’s existence is justified on the basis that greater evils could result if it didn’t exist, at what point would any action taken by the state be unjustified? When politicians vote to expand the authority of the state, they claim some heinous evil would result if they didn’t. Is this not precisely what the government claims every time it expands the scope of its authority?
For this reason, I don’t believe minarchism can be justified on the basis of the lesser of two evils principle. The lesser of two evils principle could only allow the state to exist as a necessary evil for a limited amount of time under very specific circumstances. It could not justify the perpetual existence of the state, and once established, how would the minarchist consistently argue against an expansion of the state’s authority?
As I said in my recent article “Why Government Elections are a Farce,” positive change cannot be achieved until people start seeing the state itself as the source of their problems, not the solution. This wouldn’t necessarily preclude the initiation of force sometimes being justified as the lesser of two evils, but it does not provide for the government being seen as something inherently good that ought to exist, even in a limited capacity.
I understand many of you watching may be minarchists as opposed to ancaps, so I want to hear what you think. Do you think the perpetual existence of the state can be justified? If so, is it on the basis of the lesser of two evils principle, or some other basis, and how would you prevent the state from expanding its authority? Leave a comment below, or feel free to make a response video.
And that is My 2 Cents. Take it for what it’s worth.
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