Why I Am No Longer An Anarcho-Capitalist

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login date: 2021-12-09




1. A Fundamental Confusion Of Values

My primary problem with anarcho-capitalists, as I mentioned in another essay ('Two Principles of Anarchism') is that they are fundamentally confused about values. The value at the heart of all libertarian movements is autonomy, often referred to as liberty: the desire to be a free individual, making one's own choices about one's life, labor, and associations, according to one's own plans. This is why people are attracted to any form of libertarianism or individualist anarchism. We want to be free to live our lives how we see fit, and we want other people free to do likewise, because when people are free to find the best solutions to their problems, things are generally better for everyone. This is borne out in the philosophies of countless right-libertarians, from Ayn Rand, to Mises, to Rothbard.

The problem is that right-libertarians, and especially anarcho-capitalists, notice that one of the things that best guarantees one's autonomy is property, and so they elevate property to the top of their hierarchy in place of autonomy itself. They are right that property is important, because without a sphere over which one has control, without the ability to own the tools needed to produce with one's labor, without ownership over the product of one's own labor, it is indeed extremely difficult to be free. However, they essentially take something that is crucial for autonomy, and maps onto it in some situations, and try to make it replace autonomy entirely, not realizing that the map is not the territory. Property may be liberty, but it only protects part of the autonomy that libertarians value. Property is also theft: the ownership of property and enforcement of the rights thereto can be just as oppressive as a system of state or collective ownership of all property; after all, if property defines the limits of one's autonomy, then one's autonomy expands and contracts along with how much property one has. If someone else owns the tools you need to work and the property where you live, than you are at their mercy, and your time, associations, and the products of your labor are not your own. You are just at much at their mercy as at the mercy of a communist state! This is hinted at in the logic even of anarcho-capitalists themselves, even though they don't realize it:

The basic flaw in the liberal separation of “human rights” and “property rights” is that people are treated as ethereal abstractions. If a man has the right to self-ownership, to the control of his life, then in the real world he must also have the right to sustain his life by grappling with and transforming resources; he must be able to own the ground and the resources on which he stands and which he must use. In short, to sustain his “human right”—or his property rights in his own person—he must also have the property right in the material world, in the objects which he produces.1

1

See Rothbard, Murray N. “Property Rights and 'Human Rights'.” For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, 2nd ed., Ludwig Von Mises Institute, United States, Alabama, 2006, pp. 51-51.

This sounds like a right to own the means of production and land under any circumstances, does it not? This does not sound like an argument for individuals to be satisfied with somebody else owning the tools and machines they use to produce with their labor, and the ground they stand (and live) on; after all, ownership of those things is what would allow them to exercise their individual autonomy. Why should they not seize it, if nobody else is using it for that purpose? That would not even undercut their own claim to property they use for such a purpose. This is also an argument for why absentee ownership does not benefit individual autonomy much, if at all: after all, it is not necessary for the life, or physical ability to stand somewhere to exercise one's freedom of speech and association, or to produce with one's own labor.

Right-libertarians, especially ancaps, try to obfuscate this fact by defining autonomy/liberty in terms of property, so that it becomes a meaningless statement to say that someone's property rights are not being violated, but yet they are unfree. For example, here is what Rothbard says in For A New Liberty:

Freedom is a condition in which a person’s ownership rights in his own body and his legitimate material property are not invaded, are not aggressed against. A man who steals another man’s property is invading and restricting the victim’s freedom, as does the man who beats another over the head... Freedom and unrestricted property rights go hand in hand.2

2

See Rothbard, Murray N. “Free Exchange and Free Contract.” For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, 2nd ed., Ludwig Von Mises Institute, United States, Alabama, 2006, pp. 50–50.

This is farcical, however: a real definition of liberty that maps meaningfully onto the very reasons they give for valuing it would not, and does not, correspond simply to whether property rights have been violated in one's person or the product of one's labor. This is something that is often repeatedly pointed out to them, but usually from a statist or communist angle; however, statism and communism, while they may protect individual autonomy from property in one respect, also massively curtail individual autonomy in so many other respects that the criticism (somewhat rightly) falls on deaf ears: libertarians value liberty/autonomy, so of course they will not be interested in the arguments of those who want to create more liberty in one area only to destroy it in so many others.

In the process of elevating property rights, as a hidden representative for individual liberty or autonomy, to the top of their value hierarchies, many libertarians, especially anarcho-capitalists, start to treat property rights as absolutes: for them, property rights must not be violated under any circumstances. This leads to absurdities such as the suggestion that one should not clamber onto a private lifeboat if the owner has not invited you aboard. This is a more fundamental confusion about values: in confusing property for liberty itself, anarcho-capitalists come to conclusions that would only make sense if that were absolutely and completely true, conclusions which we know to be absurd because that is not true. If property were the ultimate value, voluntarily committing suicide by jumping off a cliff to avoid trespassing on some landowner's property would sound totally sensible to someone comitted to liberty, but it doesn't precisely because that is not what we value!

In a system that optimized for individual liberty or autonomy directly, Lockean property rights might be a general rule, but there would also be systemic limitations of that kind of property rights in order to preserve absolute individual autonomy (not in order to preserve the 'public good' or the state). The property rights more directly respected might be more along the lines of use and occupancy norms, not the absolute dictats of absentee property and Neo-Lockean natural rights. This would ensure that those who actually use property (to extend their autonomy), for instance, as a place to live and have a sphere separate from the spheres of others, or as a means to produce with one's labor, would be guaranteed that ability, maximizing autonomy and individuality from others for them, while those who would use the sole access to property (protected by force) to dominate and exploit others would be unable to do so, also maximizing autonomy for all. This is not a consequentialist calculus in the traditional sense either; it is just that each person who values their own autonomy will cease to respect the claims to rights of those who use those rights to restrict their autonomy severely, especially if those claims are not themselves strongly based in protecting autonomy.3

3

For more on this, see 'Two Principles of Anarchism.'

2. Cultural Problems

Furthermore, there is a problem with the culture surrounding anarcho-capitalism, that made me hesitant to associate myself with the label, preferring 'market anarchist' even before I became a left-market anarchist and/or mutualist. That problem stems from a fundamental inconsistency between the cultural and social beliefs of the people that involve themselves with the right-libertarian movement, and those that would most naturally follow from their core values. This is something I laid out even before I became a left-market anarchist, in 'Synthesis Libertarianism: A Manifesto': the values of individual autonomy, fairness, and concern for the historical acquisition of just property means that a consistent libertarian would have to take on leftist values. Tradition destroys individuality, social coercion binds people into identical little communities, and authority, even when not backed up by the threat of force, makes people less autonomous, less free. If you truly wanted a community of people that was as independant and free as possible, one that was the least likely to be swayed by the rhetoric of some would-be ruler, would you not want independant thinkers who apply their reason to figuring out the best solutions for themselves in their individual situation, instead of blindly applying the solutions of their forefathers? Yet, right-libertarians seem predominantly culturally right-leaning: they think that 'Western values' and 'Judeo-Christian morality' are the only valid ways to live, and are the last bulwarks standing between life as we know it and chaos/communism. They think the 'nuclear family' and the 'protestant work ethic' are the ways to achieve economic prosperity and a meaningful life. These are not the beliefs of consistent human beings in favor of individual liberty.

I think this is because many anarcho-capitalists are proto- or crypto-fascists. I do not level this accusation lightly, as some of my comrades do on the left. No, I mean this literally. Many in the Mises Institute circle, which is where most ancaps exist, come from an alt-right, neo-Nazi, and/or Neo-Confederate background4, and they have not left behind those values. Instead, they have merely adopted a new cloak under which to hide them. They embrace property rights not because they actually want people to be free to live their own lives, but because they personally do not want to be interefered-with by people they disagree with, and because they want to be left alone to make microstates ('covenant communities') where they can build little ethnostates in peac. Even this commitment to being 'left alone' is only really because they do not think they can seize the apparatus of state and cultural power; if they could, they would do so in an instant, and cast aside all their 'libertarian' trappings. This can be seen also in how little bothered they are with the restrictions on actual human liberty that property can bring about — in fact, they welcome them!

4

I am speaking here of Jeffery Tucker, Thomas Woods, and others.

To back up my claims a little here, let us read some quotes from Hans-Hermann Hoppe, the main inheritor of Rothbard's legacy:

In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists... naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise, in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They – the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centered lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism – will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order.5

That may not seem so bad, merely an application of freedom of association and property rights in land, but the problem is not that Hoppe allows such things (necessarily, anyway; there is more to be discussed about that), it is that he gleefully pictures the worst and most segregationist, fascist-adjacent applications of what property rights technically allow, and advocates for them! His personal views are even more odius:

Did this not imply that vulgarity, obscenity, profanity, drug use, promiscuity, pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, polygamy, pediphilia or any other conceivable perversity or abnormality, insofar as they were victimless crimes, were no offenses at all but perfectly normal and legitimate activities and lifestyles?6

It gets worse. The same passage continues, saying:

Not surprisingly, then, from the outset the libertarian movement attracted an unusually high number of abnormal and perverse followers. Subsequently, the countercultural ambiance and multicultural-relativistic "tolerance" of the libertarian movement attracted even greater numbers of misfits, personal or professional failures, or plain losers... They fantasized of a society where everyone would be free to choose and cultivate whatever nonaggressive lifestyle, career, or character he [sic] wanted, and where, as a result of free-market economics, everyone could do son an elevated level of general prosperity. Ironically, the movement that had set out to dismantle the state and restore private property and market economics was largely appropriated, and its apperance shaped, by the mental and emotional products of the welfare state: the new class of permanent adolescents."6

Are we to understand, then, that homosexuality (to say nothing of the other sexualities that exist) are 'abnormal' and 'perverse,' to be mentioned in the same class as pedophiles? That it is a sign of 'permanent adolescence' and a product of the 'welfare state'? Are libertarians not to desire a society in which everyone is free, tolerant, and better-off? This is the kind of company one must keep, if one is to be an anarcho-capitalist, and this is not company one would want to keep if one was committed to any kind of sane and non-bigoted principle.

5

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann.Democracy: The God That Failed.Translation Publishers, 2003, pp. 216–218. 6: Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. Democracy: The God That Failed. Translation Publishers, 2003, pp. 206.

It gets worse, too. Since Rothbard's alliance with the New Left fell apart (which is what Hoppe is talking about above), the primary effort among anarcho-capitalist circles has been to "unite the right." That is, to ally with fascists, neo-Nazis, neo-reactionaries (scientific racists and anti-feminists), and other alt-right ideologies, simply because they (to some degree) also value property rights. This is dangerous for obvious reasons, because the sort of intellectual cross-pollination and pandering that happens when this sort of thing is done has real effects on the intellectual as well as cultural development of the movement. Moreover, the fact that ancaps would be so willing to work with such dispicable people denotes a severe lack of care for real issues of oppression, which are readily to be expected when someone puts property, and property alone, at the top of their value hierarchy.

There is more, but I think I have made it crystal clear that there is something fundamentally broken about anarcho-capitalist values, both culturally and philosophically. It should also be clear, being a bisexual transgender woman in a polyamorous relationship, why I do not feel comfortable associating with these people.

3. A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Markets

Another problem with anarcho-capitalists is that their picture of 'free markets' assumes that, besides a few changes here and there, the elimination of the state will lead to largely the same market structure, with its prevalence of corporate hierarchies, that we see today. They confuse capitalism for a necessary and unavoidable result of markets, in much the way Marxists do. They seem incapable of grasping, or unwilling to grasp, either the revolutionary nature of their economics, or the radical structural distortions that the existence of the state and its regulations might actually be responsible for.3 A picture of truly freed markets could be radically different than what we see today, but besides cherry picking regulations to talk about whenever people criticize modern capitalism, they seem incapable of seeing the bigger picture. Anarcho-capitalists seem quite happy, on a case-by-case basis, to respond to each criticism that people give of free markets with an explanation of why that criticism is the result of state intervention, but somehow it does not add up in their heads to a picture of systematic priviledge and distortion, as it does for me and those who share my views.

They also seem unwilling to consider the idea that, thanks to state-aided primitive (but ongoing) accumulation (of the less-than-savory sort, contra Adam Smith), many or most of the modern gigantic corporations and oligarchs do not deserve their wealth, and should be stripped of it if possible. Anarcho-capitalists seem perfectly happy to be apologists for big business and the corporate elites even as even their own principles leave them nowhere to stand on the matter. I can only speculate that this is born out of an affection for the current order, a desire for it not to change too dramatically (maybe losing a few taxes here and there), because it largely works for them. They do not seem ready to accept the fact that pushing for the abolition of the state might actually (this is my shocked face) have some radical implications.

4. Excessive Normativity

Another problem with anarcho-capitalism is its strange assumption that, without the state or any other centralized mechanism of enforcing law, the same set of moral norms will, and must, be followed. Somehow they expect that, under anarchism, a system that is inherently diverse, fluid, decentralized, and distributed, everything will form up around a particular (and particularly rigid) conception of the free market and property rights. Even if they wanted to advocate for following those norms themselves, and to convince others to follow them, there is no way that it would be possible (or even moral if it were possible even according to their own rules) to ensure such a uniform adherence. Anarchists often appeal (justifiably) to culture to prevent hierarchies, authority, and the state from forming, but culture is not that powerful, nor that unified in motive force.

This is the inherent absurdity at the heart of Rothbard's book The Ethics of Liberty: he sets out an incredibly specific set of laws which he expects, and desires, anarchist societies to follow, and believes that simply because they are (supposedly) derived from natural facts about humans, everyone will naturally fall to following them. That is simply not the case, as can be seen by all of human history, not to mention the fundamentally infertile nature of natural law itself as a form of ethics.

The desire to force an anarchist society to some one set of norms leads to the height of all absurdities: an anarchist constitution. The fanciful idea behind this is that the market, by some natural homogenizing mechanism, will ensure that, eventually, polycentric law will give way to law that is primarily made after a single template, and that that template will be one that anarcho-capitalists draw up. This is simply ludicrous on a number of levels. First of all, it ignores the many variations of individualist anarchism, the varying cultural and ethical beliefs that people have about what is just, fair, and right. It igores the fluid and extremely diverse needs of various communities. It also igores the fact that competition, on features as well as pricing, is an inherent product of markets. Not to mention the fact that if law did tend to unify in this way, it would be akin to the claim that markets lead to monopoly: not a very good claim, actually, for a market anarchist of any stripe to make!

4. Conclusion

I am not claiming that every anarcho-capitalist shares the exact same views regarding these things. However, I think I am stating what the vast majority of them believe and value, and something that is justifiably viewed as the paradigmatic version of anarcho-capitalism, based on what the main philosophical texts they treat as gospel say. Furthermore, although the culture I describe in anarcho-capitalist circles is not universal — I was a part of a group of right-libertarians on Quora that was not quite this bad — it is a very strong overall trend. I think there are very good reasons, therefore, to be skeptical of anarcho-capitalism as a philosophy, and I would highly recommend that anyone who adheres to it look into individualist anarchism outside of that sphere, including mutualism.