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.

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

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