Hey An-Caps, I've got a question for you.

Bonnie Kristian
Apr 19, 2010 at 6:33 AM

Those who've been reading my posts here for the year and a half or so that I've been making them (an impressive feat which I don't necessarily recommend) may have gleaned that I'm more of a minarchist libertarian than an anarcho-capitalist.  Yes, I very much appreciate Rothbard et al. -- read and learn from their works, and agree with many of their ideas, etc. -- but I'm not totally on board.  Nonetheless, YAL bloggers fortunately make up a broad spectrum of libertarianism, no doubt representing variations of anti-government thought on all sides of my own position, which is awesome and makes for a much, much better blog.

Anyway, enough prologue.  This morning I read this article by Dan McCarthy on his blog at TAC.  McCarthy (also not an an-cap) questions what he sees as some underlying egalitarian assumptions in anarcho-capitalism:

If the ghost of Murray Rothbard pressed a magic button and made the state disappear tomorrow, the result would not look like a Lockean state of nature, or even Nozick’s picture of a highly developed state of nature in which property and protective associations and whatnot exist....All the social power and leverage built up by groups that have benefited from or manipulated the state would still exist, and the reservoirs of wealth in these groups could readily be applied to creating a new justice system that would serve the same de facto ruling class as exists now.

The anarcho-capitalists aren’t unaware of the difficulties here, and Murray Rothbard and Walter Block at least have talked about the need to rearrange property rights in accordance with their theory work. They would do this by restoring property that has been confiscated by or unjustly privatized by the state to its true legitimate (by Lockean lights) owners....Even as a theoretical exercise, these considerations have always seemed to me to be a glaring weakness in theoretical anarcho-capitalism. Redistributing property generations removed from its legitimate owners is a recipe for strife, regardless of how perfectly just you imagine your tribunal (and the rights theory behind it) might be.

None of this is an argument in favor of the state as we have it; rather, it seems to me that my anarcho-capitalist friends should examine more closely the egalitarian assumptions embedded within their own theorya...

This is something I've vaguely considered before, if not put into so cogent a critique.  So my anarcho-capitalist friends (I'm looking at you, Matt Cockerill), what do you think?  I don't want to start an unfriendly debate here; I just think that (while I haven't decided if I agree with all of them) McCarthy makes some good points in his post and I'd like to know how you'd respond.  (I also think that YAL commenters, by and large, tend to be so extremely civil and thoughtful that a good discussion can happen.  Hopefully I'm right.)

The full article is available here.

His/your first point about egalitarianism seems to me largely a misinterpretation of Rothbard/Block's intentions.

Rothbard and Block are vehemently opposed to all forms of egalitarianism. Rothbard even wrote a great essay disparaging egalitarianism titled Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature. They would not support any policy proposals (in this case wealth/land redistribution) on egalitarianism premises.

What Rothbard/Block are is deontological natural law philosophers. They dont desire to give the land back to the Native Americans(or any oppressed group) to establish some sort of equality and balance. They believe that the actions of our government against these groups violate "natural law" and the "natural rights" of these people, and that they thus deserve just compensation for the aggression committed against the them.

That being said, other natural law ACers would disagree that it is sound morality to punish future generations and populations for injustices committed against people hundreds if not thousands of years ago. One act of aggression does not justify another. Moreover, there are plenty of ACers who are not deontologists but utilitarianisns, and would oppose this redistribution because they believe, like most of us here, that wealth redistribution is not in the interest of the greater good.

His following query is a misconception about market realities:

 but I’m interested in the possibility that there could be something like an anterior oligopsony, a market structure in which a relative few people have so much more purchasing power than other consumers that they determine what kind of justice/security products succeed in the market

The wealthy would never make up a large enough consumer base to out-influence the middle class and poor in regards to justice/security products. This would require a very small percentage of society to have a (much) greater demand for justice/security than all the rest.

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From N. Stephan Kinsella's article "What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist":

"Libertarian opponents of anarchy are attacking a straw man. Their arguments are usually utilitarian in nature and amount to "but anarchy won’t work" or "we need the (things provided by the) state." But these attacks are confused at best, if not disingenuous. To be an anarchist does not mean you think anarchy will "work" (whatever that means); nor that you predict it will or "can" be achieved. It is possible to be a pessimistic anarchist, after all. To be an anarchist only means that you believe that aggression is not justified, and that states necessarily employ aggression. And, therefore, that states, and the aggression they necessarily employ, are unjustified. It’s quite simple, really. It’s an ethical view, so no surprise it confuses utilitarians."

Link: http://www.lewrockwell.com/kinsella/kinsella15.html

The entire article is worth a read. A libertarian theory of justice on how to redistribute improperly acquired property is still in need of some fine-tuning, no doubt, but that doesn't in any way weaken the anarcho-capitalist position.

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But why be an anarchist then?  I think that just about every Constitutionalist, libertarian, or person who believes in limited government believes that in a utopian, perfect world, anarchy is best.  However, if you believe that anarchy is not possible at this point in time, why argue it?  By your standards, the founding fathers were anarchists.  They believed that men could govern themselves, however, there were certain things that were needed in order to make sure that those immoral few wouldn't ruin it for everyone else.  If people really don't believe that the Constitution is the perfect document in its original condition and original intent, then we need to study history and government, not just philosophy, in order to figure out what is truly the best course of action at this point in time; just as our founders did.

KTSontag's picture

I'm not an anarcho capitalist myself either, but I see a couple problems with this argument.

1. I don't see how it applies any differently to anarcho-capitalism than it does minarchy. Someone could level the same argument against the idea of a minarchist society, saying that even if we achieved it, the inherent advantages that the current establishment has amassed over centuries, would help it build up another out-of-control state from the ashes of the old one immediately.

If anything, the argument should be more troubling to minarchists than anarchists, because with the structure of a fully-functioning state intact, acknowledged as legitimate by the people, it would be even easier for the establishment to seize and grow the state piece by piece as we have seen it do already, crushing the new minarchist order. I don't see any way that you or McCarthy could explain why minarchy would be different from anarchy in this respect.

2. As for both minarchy and anarchy, I don't see the argument as a problem or challenge to libertarianism because I believe that the productive explosion that would occur at the hands of the newly unfettered men of genuis (that Rand admired so much) would be so great as to entirely reorder society along the lines of merit, not coercion.

Even within the context of a coercive, centrally planned, over-taxed, and over-regulated society, look how much these people have achieved? See how two kids in a garage revolutionized our economy and our world in the 1970s? With all the advantages the existing establishment had, they could not withstand the merit of those two young men and the people who followed them.

They currently cannot withstand the information revolution that has been unleashed therefrom, pushing the establishment media into increasing obsolescence. The power of capitalism has been eloquently proven in how far it has managed to take us- how radically it has managed to transform society, while shouldering the burden of trillions of dollars in conficscation, and untold riches worth of wasted money and opportunity because of barriers to entry, coercive monopolies, and runaway regulation.

Imagine all those fetters erased! Those binds broken and those burdens shrugged! Oh how the humble would be exalted and the exalted would be made low! The crooked would be made straight and the rough places would be made a level playing field! If the state were restricted to its proper role as a nightwatchman against aggressors (or even abolished altogether, though again, I am not an anarchist myself), there can be no doubt in my mind, that the meek would inherit the earth!

Wes Messamore's picture

Interesting comments.

All legal/moral systems are coercive and are enforced via power.

In an an-caps system, enforcement of laws/morals requires either hive-like cooperation of citizens (the biology of which has yet to evolve) or some enforcement mechanism greater in power than the violators of the system.

If the enforcement mechanism becomes the violator of the system, some other enforcement mechanism greater in power than the previous one will have to be created to preserve the system.

Ad infinitum.

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IOW, outlaws hang the sheriff when there are enough of them.

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BBQBrain,

 

I think you are entirely right.

 

But there are always enough outlaws to hang the Sheriff.  They simply do not usually sufficiently collude to hang the sheriff, except when they presume to employ their own sheriff(s).

 

If the nature of government is coercion then we must recognize that governments and those who support them are substantially the same as your example 'outlaws'.  They simply differ in the amount and type of impetus under which they will use coercion as a means of expropriation.

 

I like the idea of An-Cap on the surface.  But I think that just as socialists omit facts of human existence, such as an understanding of incentives, in order to make their system possible and just, so An-Caps omit an understanding of humans' universal tendency to resort to coercion in order to have their way.

 

The example of the sheriff is apt.  The Sheriff and his deputies act in a unified way to apply offensive force against specific chosen instances of extra-legal behavior.  In this way the Sheriff does not have more force than the outlaws, but only more force at a particular location, at a particular time.  This is called the application of Unified Action in order to produce Mass Effects.

 

When the outlaws similarly apply Unified Action to Mass Effects at a particular place and time, they can, as you said, hang the sheriff.

 

The problem with An-Cap is that all humans suffer from perceptual distortions to their view of reality under certain conditions.  These conditions occur when they clearly perceive a value, but do not clearly perceive the consequences of seizing that value, or do not perceive the validity of other's claims to that value. 

 

With the power to make the seizure comes the psychological impetus to distort one's perception of reality in favor of gaining the value.  Only compelling knowlege of a negative consequence can counteract this tendency to distort.  And different humans have differing, but universally limited, ability to know the negative consequences.

 

All the evidence says that when confronted with a fundamentally Anarchy-Capitalist environment (like the one on planet earth) people will form associations for the purpose of coercive expropriation.  Those whose mental and psychological defects lead them to distort their view of reality more easily than the norm will use their personal coercive powers to get what they want habitually.  Those who distort within a normal range will require more impetus.  The first group are generally called 'outlaws'.  The second group are called 'citizens'.  And those who distort reality rather less than the norm will become libertarian.

 

At no point is an Anarcho Capitalist existence possible, unless you could permanently and infallibly separate the libertarians from the rest.  This is not a utilitarian argument about anarcho-capitalism 'working' but a critique stating that the reason why it won't work is because it doesn't adequately take into account the fact that humans are INATELY corruptable, and simply corrupt at different rates with the application of power. 

 

The reality is that nature IS inherently anarcho-capitalist.  It ceases to be so with the introduction of humans because human flaws make it impossible for it to continue. Limited geography make it impossible for the libertarians to continually separate themselves from the rest.  Thus the anarcho-capitalist theory is a priori incorrect.

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"The problem with An-Cap is that all humans suffer from perceptual distortions to their view of reality under certain conditions."

Any political solution that requires omniscience is going to have a hard go of it in the real world. :)

But I think I would have to disagree with this:

"The reality is that nature IS inherently anarcho-capitalist.  It ceases to be so with the introduction of humans because human flaws make it impossible for it to continue."

The default/root morality of the universe is power. If it is within your power, you can do so. More simply, 'Can you?' The food chain is based on violating the property 'rights' of others. The biosphere is appropriative in nature. Within that root level of morality are spheres (societies) of subjective rule systems. Many species of animals are social and establish their own rules for socialization and cooperation. Humans do the same. The rule systems employed by various species are based on their own subjective biological interests.

Humans are neither solitary units nor a hive. We will find solutions for society in neither extreme. Non-hive societies in nature always (as far as I know) use force to maintain the society. Where there is individuality, coercion is necessary. Humans are only flawed if Nature is. 'Virtue' and 'Perfection' are artificial abstractions, IMO.

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That was to you, Gordon. I should have hit the reply link.

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BBQBrains,

 

Nature is anarcho capitalistic.  Nature is not anarcho-capitalist libertarian.

 

Undeniably, nature sans human lacks a government and is anarchic.    Similarly, the market of life makes all decisions, and each individual of each species seeks to leverage the life capital it has acquired - thus it is capitalistic.

 

The practice of mutual non-agression by pact or convention, ergo libertarianism, pertains only to humans - as only humans have pacts or conventions.

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I think we would both agree that society on the extremes, be it libertarian or communitarian, is unnatural and would require significant amounts of coercion.

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I read it seems as though you're focusing on corporations that have been fattened up by the government via contracts, tax breaks, etc. It is impossible to ever quantitatively gauge how much these special interest corporations have ever benefitted from the government. Because of this, it would only be counterproductive to ever try and recoup these losses, especially because every taxpayer would have to be reimbursed properly. The 'an-cap' solution, in my opinion, should be to approach the problem the same way any other is approached: let the market work. Many of these corporate giants rely on government subsidies and legal impunity to make their business models work. Without subsidies, these companies will either have to change their business model radically or fail. Most of the out of control corporations we see today would hardly reach their size without government assistance of some sort. 

Brian Beyer's picture

An-cap scenario:

UFOs vaporize our government, steal a few humans for munching on the way to Ceti Alpha V, and fly away. The libertarian revolution is a success!

Exxon wants some previously off-limit Native American reservation land because it suspects large natural gas deposits exist there. Exxon buys up or pushes out small businesses on the reservation. Then it buys land around the reservation and doesn't permit any transportation of goods across its land. The tribe can't afford air drops and is cut off from the outside world and unable to sustain itself by any means other than returning to unproductive agriculture in abject proverty. So the tribe sells out to Exxon (or a competitor) for pennies and has to make life elsewhere.

Is this a free market solution or injustice? If it is an injustice, how will the case be judged? Who will enforce it? If justice is a free market solution, who has more money to buy the solution?

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UFOs vaporize our government, steal a few humans for munching on the way to Ceti Alpha V, and fly away. The libertarian revolution is a success!

Exxon wants some previously off-limit Native American reservation land because it suspects large natural gas deposits exist there. Exxon buys up or pushes out small businesses on the reservation. Then it buys land around the reservation and doesn't permit any transportation of goods across its land. The tribe can't afford air drops and is cut off from the outside world and unable to sustain itself by any means other than returning to unproductive agriculture in abject proverty. So the tribe sells out to Exxon (or a competitor) for pennies and has to make life elsewhere.

The scenario you laid out contradicts itself.  You said the tribe would sell out to Exxon or a competitor.   If competitors are bidding for the rights, the tribe wouldn't get "pennies".   For that matter, competitors could easily offer support for the rights.   So I don't see what the problem is.

 

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