- 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.
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.