Liberty Matters

Anthony de Jasay on whether he is an anarchist


The following is a transcription of a section of the interview with Anthony de Jasay by Hartmut Kliemt in 2000 as part of Liberty Fund's Intellectual Portrait Series:[18]
HK: Now some people might say that you are a kind of anarchist. Would you describe yourself as an anarchist, or reluctant archist?AdJ: No, I don't mind. If I were the only anarchist I would be very happy to bear the title. What embarrasses me about it is that the few other anarchists many of them are crazy and I don't feel like being identified with them. So that embarrasses me. But if I have to tell you the truth, yes I am an anarchist. But that doesn't mean I believe that anarchy here and now is possible. It is desirable but not possible.HK: Would that be a conceivable possibility at all in a world where somebody might invent the state anyway and use it as a predatory instrument? Don't we need some kind of state then to defend us against this kind of aggression?AdJ: Well you maybe right, but of course then is the remedy not worse than the disease? I mean, it is rather like saying, let's infect ourselves with some terrible infectious disease because otherwise we might get it.HK: Well, but if there is a difference between a state like Poland and a state like France even though you don't like either of them, wouldn't it be worth while to go for the one against the other?AdJ: From a short term perspective, yes. From a long term perspective, I'm not sure.HK: Tony, you always have insisted government that has an intrinsic proclivity to grow and you also pointed out that democratic governments will tend to grow very strongly because they have all these redistributive concerns involved. Wouldn't you say that, would you claim this?AdJ: Yes. I think the idea is that, when you have collective choice and individual choice side by side it is within the power of collective choice to preempt individual choice, but never vice-a-versa. I mean, a collectivity can always decide to include within its competence something that has been individual until then, such as, to give you a very mundane example, a collectivity can always decide that instead of leaving you half of your income to be spent as you wish, it will only leave you 45% of your income to spend as you wish and take, preempt, 55. This is always within the realm of, within the power of collective choice. Now, the question then is, can you limit this power? This is the problem of limited government. There is this intrinsic capacity of collective choice to eat up the scope for individual choice, and how do you limit this appetite? And of course, if I believed that it is a matter of will, a matter of wish, or a matter of conviction to limit government, like I suppose Jim Buchanan believes, then I would not be an anarchist, because I would say, well this is a marvellous, lovely compromise. We will have a bit of government but not too much. Fortunately, I'm led to the conviction that this is wishful thinking and the reason why I believe this is because if you have any democratic choice you have anonymous voices, the decision is taken by voice count, everybody counts for one and nobody for more than one. Now within this group that is competent to make this collective choice, like an electorate, the rule, whatever the rule is, the rule provides for a blocking minority which can prevent the decision. Now under majority rule this is 50% and one vote, 50% and the tie breaker. But of course, you could have a super majority where the blocking minority is much, much smaller. But no matter how small, provided it is not one person, i.e. which means veto right, which in my language is not collective choice. No matter how small your blocking minority, no matter how careful and cautious and rigorous your supermajority rule, so as to protect society from the tyranny of, so-called tyranny of the majority, there is always a way to split that blocking minority. I mean if it takes two people to block that decision, only 2 people, everybody else may be of one mind, but there are two people who don't want it. Those who do want it can always bribe the poorer of the two with the money of the richer and say "Do come in with us and let's exploit this rich man". This is potentially always a maximising strategy. That's why I believe that in this valley of tears there is no limited government.[19]
[18.] The interview with Jasay is available online in audio formats: The Intellectual Portrait Series: A Conversation with Anthony de Jasay (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000). Duration 67 mins. Jasay is interviewed by Hartmut Kliemt.