This is Chapter 36 of "Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism" by Peter Marshall.
Thanks to Richard J. Winkel (firstname.lastname@example.org) by way of K.K.Campbell (email@example.com) for making this available.
Anarcho-capitalism has recently had a considerable vogue in the West where it has helped put the role of the State back on the political agenda. It has become a major ideological challenge to the dominant liberalism which sees a role for government in the protection of property. The anarcho-capitalists would like to dismantle government and allow complete laissez-faire in the economy. Its adherents propose that all public services be turned over to private entrepreneurs, even public spaces like town halls, streets and parks. Free market capitalism, they insist, is hindered not enhanced by the State.
Anarcho-capitalists share Adam Smith's confidence that somehow private interest will translate itself into public good rather than public squalor. They are convinced that the 'natural laws' of economics can do without the support of positive man-made laws. The 'invisible hand' of the market will be enough to bring social order.
Anarcho-capitalism has recently had the greatest impact in the United States, where the Libertarian Party has taken it up as the house ideology, and where Republicans like Ronald Reagan wanted to be remembered for cutting taxation and for getting 'the government off peoples' backs'. In the United Kingdom, neo-Conservatives argue that 'there is no such thing as society' and wish to 'roll back the frontiers of the State' -- a view adopted evangelically, in theory if not always in practice, by Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. State socialism is attacked not so much because it is egalitarian but because it seeks to accrue more powers for the State to exercise centrally.
The phenomenon of anarcho-capitalism is not however new. With the demise of Benjamin Tucker's journal Liberty in 1907, American individualist anarchism lost its principal voice; but its strain of libertarianism continued to re-emerge occassionally in the offerings of isolated thinkers. The young essayist Randolph Bourne, writing outside the anarchist movement, distinguished between society and the State, invented the famous slogan 'War is the Health of the State', and drew out the authoritarian and conformist dangers of the 'herd'.
FRANZ OPPENHEIMER's view of the State as 'the organization of the political means' and as the 'systematization of the predatory process over a given territory' influenced libertarians and conservatives alike in the twenties. The Jeffersonian liberal ALBERT JAY NOCK reached anarchist conclusions in Our Enemy The State (1935) at the time of the New Deal. A conservative of the laissez-faire school, he foresaw 'a steady progress in collectivism running into a military despotism of a severe type'. It would involve steadily-increasing centralization, bureaucracy, and political control of the market. The resulting State-managed economy would be so inefficient and corrupt that it would need forced labor to keep it going.
Nock's warning did not go unheeded. FRIEDRICH A. HAYEK spelt out in The Road to Serfdom (1944) the dangers of collectivism. In his restatement of classic liberalism in The Constitution of Liberty (1960), he rejected the notion of social justice and argued that the market creates spontaneous social order. But while he wished to reduce coercion to a minimum, he accepted the need for the coercion of a minimal State to prohibit coercive acts by private parties through law enforcement. He also accepted taxation and compulsory military service. While a harsh critic of egalitarianism and of government intervention in the economy, he was ready to countenance a degree of welfare provision which cannot be adequately provided by the market. His views have had an important influence on neo-Conservatives, especially those on the right wing of the Conservative Party in Britain.
Anarcho-capitalists like David Friedman and Murray Rothbard go much further. In some ways, their position appears to be a revival of the principles of the Old Right against the New Deal which sought government interference in the economy, but they are not only motivated by a nostalgia for a thoroughly free market but are aggressively anti-authoritarian. Where Tucker called anarchism 'consistent Manchesterism', that is taking the nineteenth-century laissez-faire school of economists to their logical conclusion, anarcho-capitalists might be called consistent Lockeans.
Following Locke, classic liberals argue that the principals task of government is to protect the natural rights to life, liberty and property because a 'state of nature' where there is no common law the enjoyment of such rights would be uncertain and inconvenient. The anarcho-capitalists also ask, like Locke in his Second Treatise, 'If Man in the state of Nature be so free as has been said, if he be absolute lord of his own person and possessions, equal to the greatest and subject to nobody, why will he part with his freedom?' Unlike Locke, however, the anarcho-capitalists do not find such a state of nature without a common judge inconvenient or uncertain. They maintain that even the minimal State is unnecessary since the defence of person and property can be carried out by private protection agencies.
DAVID FRIEDMAN sees such agencies as both brokers of mini-social contracts and producers of 'laws' which conform to the market demand for rules to regulate commerce. Each person would be free to subscribe to a protective association of his choice, since 'Protection from coercion is an economic good'. Apart from adumbrating The Machinery of Freedom (1973), Friedman has populated Hayek's defence of capitalism as the best antidote to the serfdom of collectivism and the State.
The writings of AYN RAND, a refugee from the Soviet Union, best represent the intellectual background to the new right-wing libertarianism in the United States. In her The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964), she attempted a philosophical defence of egoism while in her novels she portrayed a superior individual fighting the forces of collectivism, particularly in the form of the State. Her superior individual, driven by a Nietzschean will to power, appears in the guise of a capitalist entrepreneur who is presented as the source of all wealth and creator of all progress. Rand claimed that she had a direct knowledge of objective reality, and her 'Objectivist' movement had a considerable vogue in the sixties. Like most anarcho-capitalists, she is convinced of the truth of her own views, which to others appear mere dogma. She remains a minimal statist rather than a strict anarchist.
Amongst anarcho-capitalist apologists, the economist MURRAY ROTHBARD is probably most aware of the anarchist tradition. He was originally regarded as an extreme right-wing Republican, but went on to edit la Boetie's libertarian classic Of Voluntary Servitude and now calls himself an anarchist. 'If you wish to know how the libertarians regard the State and any of its acts," he wrote in For A New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (1973), 'simply think of the State as a criminal band, and all the libertarian attitudes will logically fall into place.' He reduces the libertarian creed to one central axiom, 'that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else'. Neither the State nor any private party therefore can initiate or threaten the use of force against any person for any purpose. Free individuals should regulate their affairs and dispose of their property only by voluntary agreement based on contractual obligation.
Rejecting the State as a 'protection' with an illegitimate claim on the monopoly of force, Rothbard would like to see it dissolved, as would Friedman, into social and market arrangements. He proposes that disputes over violations of persons and property may be settled voluntarily by arbitration firms whose decisions are enforceable by private protection agencies.
Rothbard described an anarchist society where 'there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual'. But where Tucker recognized no inherent right to property, Rothbard insists on the need for a 'basic libertarian code of the inviolate right of person and property'. In addition, for all his commitment to a Stateless society, Rothbard is willing to engage in conventional politics. He helped found the Libertarian Party in the USA which wants to abolish the entire federal regulatory apparatus as well as social security, welfare, public education, and taxation. Accepting Bourne's view that war is the health of the State, the Party wants the United States to withdraw from the United Nations, end its foreign commitments, and reduce its military forces to those required for minimal defence.
Rothbard argued at the 1977 Libertarian Party Congress that to become a true libertarian it was necessary to be 'born again', not once but twice, in a baptism of reason as well as of will. Since in his view libertarianism is the only creed compatible with the nature of man and the world, he is convinced that it will win because it is true. Whatever the workers and bureaucrats might think or want, Statism will collapse of its own contradictions and the free market will prevail throughout the world.
However libertarian in appearance, there are some real difficulties in the anarcho-capitalists' position. If laws and courts are replaced by arbitrary firms, why should an individual accept their verdict? And since he 'buys' justice, what assurances are there that the verdicts would be fair and impartial? If the verdicts are enforced by private protection agencies, it would seem likely, as ROBERT NOZICK has pointed out, that a dominant protective agency (the one offering the most powerful and comprehensive protection) would eventually emerge through free competition. A de facto territorial monopoly would thus result from the competition among protection agencies which would then constitute a proto-State. The only difference between the 'ultraminimal' State of a dominant protection agency and a minimal State would be that its services would be available only to those who buy them.
Nozick's work State, Anarchy and Utopia (1974) is widely regarded as one of the most important works in contemporary political philosophy. Inspired in part by individual anarchist arguments, especially those of Spooner and Tucker, and replying to the libertarian view of Rothbard and Rand, he calls for a minimal State to oversee private protection agencies to ensure contracts are kept by property-owning individuals. He insists however that a man ruled by others against his will, whose life and property are under their control, is no less a slave because he has the vote and periodically may 'choose' his masters.
Nozick has helped to make libertarian and anarchist theory acceptable in academic circles. But in the end he opts for a nightwatchman State in order to protect the individual's rights to life, liberty and property. In his 'framework for utopia', he proposes a society of independent city-States organized according to their inhabitants' preferences. He defends capitalism under the theory of just entitlement, arguing that just acquisitions and just transfers made in the absence of force or fraud legitimize the distribution of wealth resulting from capitalist exchange. However poorly a person may fare in the exercise of human liberty, there is no moral reason to correct market forces by redistributing wealth. The acceptable maxim of capitalism for Nozick is therefore: 'From each as they choose, to each as they are chosen'.
Nozick joins a group of American philosophers like JOHN HOSPERS and ERIC MACK who adopt 'minarchy' rather than anarchy. They call for a minimal State, restricting the scope of the modern state to Locke's 'common judge with authority' to make laws (for the protection of property), to punish thieves and malefactors, and to defend the nation against foreign aggression. They are right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists in the tradition of Jefferson, insisting 'that government is best which governs least'.
A more thorough-going philosophical defence of anarchism has been put forward by ROBERT PAUL WOLFF. He rejects the political legitimacy of the State on a neo-Kantian principle of moral autonomy. he assumes that in so far as people are rational and are to act they must be autonomous. The autonomous man who determines his own acts refuses to be ruled and denies all claims to political authority: 'For the autonomous man, there is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a command.' Wolff does not however see any immediate implications for his philosophical anarchism and ethical individualism. In his 'Utopian Glimpses of a World Without States' in A Defense of Anarchism (1970), he maintains that a high order of social co-ordination in a society in which no one claims legitimate authority would only be possible after its members had achieved a high level of moral and intellectual development. Indeed, rather than offering a defence of anarchism as a political theory, he seems more concerned with elaborating a form of moral and political scepticism.
Wolff's practical proposals are also problematic. He recommends a form of 'instant direct democracy' based on a system of 'voting machines' in every home linked to a computer in Washington. Each Bill would then be voted on by all the people after it had been discussed by their representatives in a national assembly. But such a system could easily lead to representatives manipulating their votes as they do in existing parliamentary democracies. There is also a big difference, recognized in part by Wolff, between the passive role of listener and the active role of participant in a debate. The kind of direct democracy practiced in ancient Athens, which actively involved all the citizens, would appear to be preferable to television viewers being merely able to register their response to decisions made by an elected elite. Wolff's proposal would turn citizenship into little more than a spectator-sport. He allows no meaningful debate or collective discussion of ends.
Although he recommends extreme economic decentralization, Wolff alines himself with the anarcho-capitalists and right-libertarians by wanting to retain private property and the market to co-ordinate human behavior. Again, he suggests that the army could be run on the basis of voluntary commitment and submission to orders but this would seem little different from existing forms of voluntary conscription.
In the utopias of the anarcho-capitalists, there is little reason to believe that the rich and powerful will not continue to exploit and oppress the powerless and poor as they do at present. It is difficult to imagine that protective services could impose their ideas of fair procedure without resorting to coercion. With the free market encouraging selfishness, there is no assurance that 'public goods' like sanitation and clean water would be provided for all. Indeed, the anarcho-capitalists deny the very existence of collective interests and responsibilities. They reject the rich communitarian tradition of the ancient Greek polis in favor of the most limited form of possessive individualism. In their drive for self-interest, they have no conception of the general good or public interest. In his relationship with society, the anarcho-capitalist stands alone, an egoistic and calculating consumer; society is considered to be nothing more than a loose collection of autonomous individuals.
The anarcho-capitalist definition of freedom is entirely negative. It calls for the absence of coercion but cannot guarantee the positive freedom of individual autonomy and independence. Nor does it recognize the equal right of all to the means of subsistence. Hayek speaks on behalf of the anarcho-capitalist when he warns: 'Above all we must recognize that we may be free and yet miserable.' Others go even further to insist that liberty and bread are not synonymous and that we have 'the liberty to die of hunger'. In the name of freedom, the anarcho-capitalists would like to turn public spaces into private property, but freedom does not flourish behind high fences protected by private companies but expands in the open air when it is enjoyed by all.
Anarcho-capitalists are against the State simply because they are capitalists first and foremost. Their critique of the State ultimately rests on a liberal interpretation of liberty as the inviolable rights to and of private property. They are not concerned with the social consequences of capitalism for the weak, powerless and ignorant. Their claim that all would benefit from a free exchange in the market is by no means certain; any unfettered market system would most likely sponsor a reversion to an unequal society with defence associations perpetuating exploitation and privilege. If anything, anarcho-capitalism is merely a free-for-all in which only the rich and cunning would benefit. It is tailor-made for 'rugged individualists' who do not care about the damage to others or to the environment which they leave in their wake. The forces of the market cannot provide genuine conditions for freedom any more than the powers of the State. The victims of both are equally enslaved, alienated and oppressed.
As such, anarcho-capitalism overlooks the egalitarian implications of traditional individualist anarchists like Spooner and Tucker. In fact, few anarchists would accept 'anarcho-capitalists' into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice. Their self-interested, calculating market men would be incapable of practising voluntary co-operation and mutual aid. Anarcho-capitalists, even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists.
(End of chapter.)Mike Huben (firstname.lastname@example.org)