We cannot let this pass without comment. First of all, Holcombe is on record with the claim that government is inevitable. But if this is so, “history” cannot show any such thing. All history can do is record the past. At best, history can demonstrate that so far we have never had anarchy: We have always suffered under state rule. Consider the analogous claim: “Sunrises are inevitable, and history has shown this to be the case.” This, too, is a fallacy. If sunrises are inevitable, then history can show only that so far the sun has risen every day, but history cannot demonstrate the inevitability of this process. In contrast, it is inevitable that 2 + 2 = 4, that man acts, and that voluntary trade benefits both parties in the ex ante sense; that is, it is a logical contradiction to suppose the opposite of these assertions, and they also explain events in the real world. But here, history can only illustrate that they are true. It cannot “show” any such thing.
Second, strictly speaking, there is and there can be no “libertarian argument for a limited government.” Limited government is simply incompatible with the libertarian nonaggression axiom. In order to more clearly see this, substitute “crime” for “government.” This should raise no objection from Holcombe, who concedes that even the best of limited governments are criminal organizations, e.g., “predators.” Is this something the true libertarian can accommodate, while still fully adhering to his principles? No, no, no. The libertarian, if he is to be logically consistent, must urge zero crime, not a small amount of it. Any crime is anathema for the libertarian. Any government, no matter how “nice,” must therefore also be rejected by the libertarian. This does not mean that 100 percent of the GDP should be devoted to the eradication of private crime and we all die of starvation. In like manner, the optimal amount of government for the libertarian—whether of the local “nice” variety or the nasty foreign counterpart—is also zero. Similarly, this does not mean it is justified to spend the entire GDP on this quest, or even to engage in it at all (there are pragmatic considerations that apply only in the latter case), but it is the only one fully compatible with libertarianism.
To say that something—government, crime, slavery, it matters not what—is inevitable is to denigrate free will. If everyone, without exception, suddenly converted to libertarianism, on that great and glorious day there would be no government: nada, zip, none at all. Is it a logical contradiction to suppose such a situation? Of course not. So let us hear no more about the “inevitability” of evil.
Socio-biological considerations lead us to believe not that the criminal government (a redundancy) is inevitable, but, rather, that we are hard wired for institutions of this sort through evolution. Who knows: rule by one man over another might well have had some survival value for our ancient ancestors. But we are also, some of us anyway, genetically inclined to murder, rape, and cheat, as well as to be just, invent new technologies, and love our children.
Holcombe’s is a counsel of despair and compromise. Let us, instead, hold aloft our libertarian principles, never compromise with them, and strive, always, for liberty, full liberty. At one time in our nation’s history, slavery, too, seemed “inevitable.” Instead of opting for the softer whips and nicer slave master theory of Holcombe, we should hold out for total and complete freedom.
We can do no better than to end with a quote from Rothbard (1973a, p. 302) in this context:
Thus, the libertarian abolitionist of slavery, William Lloyd Garrison, was not being “unrealistic” when in the 1830s he first raised the glorious standard of immediate emancipation of the slaves. His goal was the morally proper one, and his strategic realism came in the fact that he did not expect his goal to be quickly reached. We have seen in chapter 1 that Garrison himself distinguished: “Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend.” Otherwise, as Garrison trenchantly warned, “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.”