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Guest Author: Anarcho-Capitalism is not Liberalism.

Black and yellow flag symbolizing anarcho-capatalism

- By CFF Guest Author Thomas Elmgren, masters student, political science at Aarhus University.

 

Young and idealist – these words cling together as almost a law of nature. In the liberal tradition this idealism has by many been driven to so-called ‘purity’ by a small, but often loud, group calling themselves ” Anarcho-Capitalists”.

This essay represents my humble attempt at explaining why the assumption of many young liberals, that Anarcho-Capitalism is the so-called ‘pure’ form of liberalism, is false. Before I present my case I will first give a short introduction on my thoughts on these ‘titles’ and their followers – and also briefly explain where I stand and from what point of view I write. This, hopefully, will allow the reader to sort out any apparent bias on my assumptions and thus be able to form an opinion on his/her own.

First of all, classifying oneself under a headline/title is always hard – the lines between classical liberalism, ordo-liberalism, neoliberalism, libertarianism and so forth are blurred, and no precise distinction can be made in a way that satisfies everyone. And none should be made. Classifications all too easily serve as dogmatic boundaries that, instead of being a helping guideline, become abstract ideals that one must always obey, at any cost. This in turn results in intellectual and philosophical blindness, where rationality is long gone. Classification, with its hard core interpretation of ideology, becomes the dogmatic driving force of people that lose the ability to think critically. There is nothing wrong with principles, but being able to reflect on ones arguments and listening to others’ is a strength.

Now with this in mind I will not venture into classifying myself, but suffice at stating that I am firmly planted somewhere in the liberal/libertarian group – Probably around the classical liberals. Thus one can argue that these are just the rambling attacks on young idealists – or one can argue that this is in fact a cry of frustration as well as a helping, well-meaning attempt at guiding people ‘back into the fold’.

 

My case and argument is as follows:

Most(!) Anarcho-Capitalists are in fact deluded young liberals who in the spur of the moment, most likely surrounded by a bunch of likeminded people, embrace anarcho capitalism as the only true form of liberalism (I say ‘most’ for surely there are actual anarchists out there, knowing fully what they believe and why). They venture to this extreme, not as the result of a philosophical awakening, but because extremism flourishes among people who are likeminded. In a fashion similar to group-think people try to outdo the opinions and arguments of others, and slowly but surely we move towards the extremes (extreme is not normatively loaded in this essay).

For those that simplify liberalism to being only negative liberties – the right to do whatever one wants to do as long as you’re not hindering someone else in doing the same – I can understand why this jump to anarcho capitalism is made. For, if this is the core of ones beliefs, then having even a minimum of state is still forcing people to obey the state. No matter how liberal and small the state might be, their mere existence of the state is a violation of everybody’s freedom.

Now – this is the first time a liberal should stop and think. If this was true, then how come only so few of the many brilliant liberal thinkers through time have reached this conclusion? How come Friedman, Hayek, Bastiat, Von Mises and so on did not support abolishing all of the state, but only minimizing it? Could there be something that we, in our search for pure liberty, have forgotten?

 

The answer is, of course, yes. For liberalism is so much more than negative liberties. In the moral philosophy of Adam Smith, the Leviathan of Hobbes and so forth are many descriptions of humans and human nature. And so, beginning with Hobbes’ natural state of man, liberals can accept – in fact want – a state, to make sure that people do not kill each other. Man in a natural state of anarchy will kill, struggle and fight, and quickly a new natural order of survival of the fittest will be reality. This is, skipping a lot of philosophical remarks and criticisms, why a minimal state is in fact liberalism. A state that exists solely to make sure that we in fact can enjoy our negative liberties is a liberal utopia. This is the ‘goal’ – where liberalism ends, so to speak.

Now Anarcho Capitalists will most likely agree to what is stated above, but simply remark that people are free to form a state, as long as they are also free to choose not to join. To this I argue that whilst that is of course true, the people standing outside of the support and security of the state will simply, as a matter of nature, be weaker and thus fall into the category of “least fit”. If police and justice systems works for me, for I am part of the society, but not for you, then disputes will be solved to my advance, for you are not entitled to the protection of the state.

You band together with others, who do not wish to be part of my state, and form an opposition, so that I may no longer abuse you? Well good for you! You just started your own state. In order to balance individuals that exploit their natural given strength people will band together until those alone are gone, and all are included in one group or another.

To overcome basic necessities in an anarchic world, it will be survival of the fittest, and the fittest will be the state.

One may disagree and argue that man will, when he has chosen an anarcho capitalist society, not be violent and everything will be based on agreements between equals. That man will live in peace, because he himself has chosen this, and that those who band together in states will do so while respecting those outside the state.

This is, as I see it, where Anarcho-Capitalists resemble something I find not only utopian but almost religious: During the many terrible years of the Soviet Union a state project was established. The goal of the project was to create a “soviet man” – a man born with a new set of values and a new soviet, communist nature. This man would work hard and be satisfied with only what he needed.
The Soviet Union started this work to speed up the process that was expected – communism is based on man being like this, unselfish and collective. Thus, for communism to work and be natural man needed to reach a new state of evolution.

This, I claim, is basically the same assumption that Anarcho-Capitalists are forced to revert to, when pushed to defend why man will not go Hobbesian and states won’t rise from this infighting.

Thus, Anarcho-Capitalists need man to be not a soviet man but a capitalist man – and this is where anarcho capitalism breaks from liberalism, just as this in the other end of the scale is the tipping point, roughly put, between socialism and communism. Liberalism and socialism do not need to assume that man evolves into something completely different from now; anarcho capitalism and communism does.

 Conclusion:

So to conclude on my brief outline above, Anarcho-Capitalists are not a pure form of liberals. Liberals share the belief in capitalism, but anarchy has nothing to do with liberalism. It is a philosophical entity of its own, and cannot be assumed to be the end point of liberalism. The difference comes from the moral and philosophical assumptions that liberalism is built on. Liberals can accept a minimal state even in the extreme for it is natural for man to make states, and thus, for the young and idealist youth out there, the minimal state should be the goal, not abolition of the state. One can dream of evolution in mankind, but as long as we live in these days and times I implore everyone considering the label Anarcho-Capitalism to think twice. Do you really wish to base your views on assumptions of a new kind of human nature, or should we stay in the present world?

- The Author wants to note that while some of the concepts in the article are not his own, due to the essay like style of the article he holds that referencing is unnecessary.

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Sasa Kovacevic

About Sasa Kovacevic

Sasa Kovacevic is an official CFF author and founding member. He is currently studying at Aarhus School of Business and Social Sciences and working full time with his company 37. oktober. Go to www.sasa-kovacevic.dk for more info.

12 Responses to “Guest Author: Anarcho-Capitalism is not Liberalism.”

  1. Niklas Bastholm Hansen says:

    "…for it is natural for man to make states, and thus, for the young and idealist youth out there, the minimal state should be the goal, not abolition of the state."

    I always love when people use "mans nature" to refute something. I am surprised at how many libertarians/liberals/minarchists out there who actually does this without referring to any litterature about this at all. this article is a total FAIL because of that.

  2. Thomas says:

    Do note the last few lines beneath the essay before making such comments, please. Due to the form references are not included, and if you actually care to read the text, you just might find that it is argued, why it is natural for man to make states, in the liberal tradition – thus making your remark..

  3. Daniel says:

    Ancaps do not assume that people will change. This is why they basically support all the institutions of the state. They just want to fund it differently. Your essay is not very good, and you seem ignorant of basic ancap philosophy.

    Ps. not an ancap myself.

  4. Sebastian Køhlert says:

    Drawing conclusions on the political views of Ludwig von Mises is impossible. You can take a lot of quotes in his books, and argue that he was in fact a bit of an anarchist. Granted, he never made it the whole way over, but these simplified conclusions on his political views is idiotic. His ideas of the state and, what he called “the right of self determination” was very unique and closer to anarchism, than the classical liberal tradition.

    More over i would argue, that most self described anarcho-capiltalists dosn’t find their political inspiration in the classical liberal or the french laissez faire school. They find most of their political influence – as did Rothbard – in the individualist anarchist tradition. Rothbard took the best from the individualist – socialist – anarchist tradition and the austrian school of economics and formed “anarcho-capitalism”.

    No freedom loving people would find their inspiration in totalitarians like Hobbes. The classical liberal tradition is one big contradiction. Anarchism has always and will always be a left side ideology.

  5. Daniel says:

    Rothbard did NOT find the bulk of his inspiration in the individualist anarchist tradition. This is simply untrue. For the most part it does indeed come from classical liberalism, with some added anarchist inspiration and of course the individualist tradition of the maerican right, which one could argue is Rothbard’s strongest influende. I think that if one only knows of the american individualist anarchist tradition through the writings of Rothbard, then one might come to the conclusion that you do, Sebastian. But really, Rothbard is not very truthful when it comes to such people as Tucker etc. I recommend that one reads the original texts if one is interested.

    Don’t get me wrong. i love Rothbard, but he was so flawed in so many ways and one should always be sceptical towards his writings.

  6. natermer says:

    “You band together with others, who do not wish to be part of my state, and form an opposition, so that I may no longer abuse you? Well good for you! You just started your own state”

    Your definition of state is wrong. Your understanding of AnarchoCapitalist sensibilities is wrong.

    ANCAP is specifically against ‘State Government’ and uses the ‘Non-Agression Principal’ (NAP) as well as ‘Natural Laws’ (rules that govern the operation of the universe) as the governing over the ethical questions it wrestles with.

    Banding together and governing yourself is not the same the same as creating a ‘state government’. State government is a very specific form of martial-style government that in the west is descending from European empire-based sensibilities. A ‘state government’ operates through having a monopoly on the aggressive use of force. They also have a monopoly on the court system . They also maintain a series of other monopolies, guarded through the use of violence, that they see fit to create for themselves out of their own self-interest.. such as a monopoly over ‘first class mail’, or monopoly over the governing of radio spectrum.

    Also you seem to miss that under a ‘NAP’ sensibility using violence as a force to resist aggressive use of violence against other people is legitimate and acceptable.

    It’s not a rejection of all forms of government. There are lots of different forms of government out there. All sorts of possibilities.

    What is rejected is the specific form of ‘state government’ with it’s monopoly court systems and it’s aggressive use of violence. There is a promise behind every law, statute, and ordinance that if you do not obey you will be killed.

    Now for most people this is like telling people in Medieval Europe that it’s possible to be a Christian without obeying the Pope or that there are other ways to worship. It’s a alien concept. To most modern people all government is ‘state government’ and without government you have complete anarchy and in complete anarchy the only way people will manage to survive is by praying on the weaknesses of others.

    This is, of course, complete and utter bullshit. Most of the world has existed without state government for the majority of times. Centralized governments only existed in limited areas of the globe because the wealth needed to support a ruling class is excessive. And they did not exist without government. They just existed without state government. It’s not until modern times that the military influence of Europe manage to infect the world with it’s ‘White Man Devil’ style government.

    So if you want to be a critic against ‘AnCap’ that is fine, but you first need to make sure you know what you are criticizer. Which so far you don’t.

    Better luck in the future. Don’t stop thinking.

  7. Very interesting points gentleman. One thing, please keep the language decent.

  8. Sebastian Køhlert says:

    Daniel:

    I’ve read most of the individualist anarchists stuff. I’ve read Warren, Spooner, Tucker, etc and most important of all; the source of most anarchists writings Proudhon, so i don’t have my knowledge from Rothbards books.

  9. Thomas says:

    Thanks alot for the many comments so far.

    I would never claim to be an expert in ancap-thinking, which is of course why I highlight that I myself write from a liberal point of view, and thus what I write is how I see anarcho capitalism. It is also why the essay first and foremost is a cry to those who in search of pure liberalism jump into anarcho capitalism as if was it the natural ending of liberalism. This, I see, have gotten no comments at all.
    That said, I have (naturally) a few remarks to the critics above:

    @Daniel:
    As I argue in the essay, I find that ancaps base their view of how to finance the state (your words) on a change of man – in order to have society functioning in the ways that ancaps believe it could/should, you would need a basic change in mankind, to a sort of capitalist man. Otherwise I do not see how the ancap society could work, just as there is a need for change of mankind for a communist society to work.

    @natermer:
    First, the sentence you pick out is, read in context, not an image of my view of states. I am not sure that I agree with the common definition of states as you give it – I realise that it is the normal and academic definition, but that is perhaps another topic, and not one that I care to dwell much on here.
    Secondly, You correctly point out, that man has almost always lived without states as we know them today, and fx. german sociological libertarians base their analyses of war and conflict directly to the creation of the state as we know it today. But when you look at the rise and fall of states in Europe after the Westphallian peace (where our understandings of states is institutionalized), it is clear that the states are today needed in order to stay independent and to survive.
    Thus the dream of a society without some sort of centralized decisions forum is, though I understand the wish for it, a utopia. I simply do not believe it can be done.

    Now, in the end I find that you maybe overdo your image of the centralized state. Yes it requires the monopoly on violence, and with that usually follows a centralized justice system. But from that sort of minimal state, with maybe just a few basic laws (eg. Harm-principle laws (J.S. Mill)) to nationalized postalservice and radiochannels is a stretch. You can find that in centralized states, yes, but it certainly is not a crucial part of the state.

    Finally, as I write in the essay, you band together and createyour own ‘state’ as a response to others banding together in ‘states’. Granted, this is a poor choice of words, for ofcourse I am also refering to what could be called local communities. Basically my line of thought is, that if one group of 10 bands together to steal all of your stuff, then you band together with another group of the same size. For these groups to last, there has to be some sort of rules – If I’m attacked, you have to come help and the other way around.
    Now, when the ten of you come into contact with larger groups, you will have to expand (balancing the threat) og join them (bandwagoning). This will, as I see it, in the end result in something like small states, with basic rules and institutions. This may not have been very well elaborated on in the essay, but it is the basic thought.

  10. Torben Snarup Hansen says:

    Tocqueville and Bastiat are of course must reads for freedom lovers. But in the world of real politics the Founding Fathers of the American Independence are by far the supreme achievement. Problem is the their religious language and their reference to “nature”. Nature is criminal. Nature wants you dead! They knew that of course. Their political philosophy was – is – sound, and their heritage is one gigantic rebuttal of Rousseau. We should never forget that this jerk was revered as a god by state addicts like Robespierre and Marx, and Lenin, Stalin, Castro and Guevara wanted to create “the new man”. This infernal creed still dominates the universities

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