Is It a Contradiction?

Is It a Contradiction?
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paintingIs anarcho-capitalism a contradiction?

Neoreactionary writer “Bulbasaur” seems to believe so. In a recent post at the “The Right Stuff” blog, he contends that anarchy and capitalism are always at odds with one another. He issues some deserved criticism at anarcho-capitalist pontificators who use language drenched in moralistic pathos – a crime my own writing can sometimes be guilty of. He also finds it necessary to blast the cultural sensibilities and aesthetics of self-identified anarcho-libertarians.

Amidst all these attacks on personal preference – some deserved, some not – Bulbasaur makes his case against anarcho-capitalism as an ethical philosophy. He declares that anarchy reduces “capitalism to the law of the jungle.” When this mix of “low-trust and high-trust” swirls together, it creates the kind of conflict that brings down societies. To get a good picture of his argument, imagine a clean, well-kept Target department store being overrun with indecent hooligans. They tear items off the shelf, break fragile goods on purpose, engage in outright thievery, and overall have a lack of respect for order while on private property. This is the irreconcilable blend of Bulbasaurian anarcho-capitalism. The two simply cannot gel together into a functional system.

With anarchy and capitalism, Bulbasaur avers there can only be one choice; that libertarians must “serve one master over another.” Without facing the dissonance created by the two concepts, anarcho-capitalists are then liable to do destructive things. Bulbasaur’s example is noted cop-hater and provocateur Chris Cantwell.

How legitimate is this criticism? Before addressing Bulbasur’s argument, it helps to put it in the context of disagreements that are similar but from a different school of thought. This isn’t the first time capitalism has been severed from anarchy. Leftist anarchists are very fond of the same argument. Anna Morgenstern of the Center for a Stateless Society attempted to build the same dichotomy by perverting the meaning of capitalism. Like their Marxist brethren, lefty anti-statists see capitalism not as the free trading of private property, but an oppressive system of wage slavery. Under anarchy, a capitalist economic system could thus not exist. Its replacement would presumably be a series of worker syndicates.

Bulbasaur’s claim is similar, except he disagrees with the “anarchy” part of anarcho-capitalism. Capitalism, he asserts, is perfectly fine when it comes to ensuring society’s living standards continue to increase. Anarchy takes the stableness out of capitalism’s necessary reliance on private property.

The issue is not necessarily the functionality of a hypothetical anarcho-capitalist society, but of definition. The etymology of anarchy is simple: the ancient Greek meaning is simply “without rulers.” Are so-called “rulers” necessary for capitalism? Yes and no, depending on one’s general understanding.

Private property itself needs rulers – that is the owners of the property themselves. The same goes for hierarchy. If a rentier owns land that people agree to live on, there is a clear distinction between who’s in charge. These are fairly obvious points, but they must be made in order to parse out what are usually seen as rulers. Since we’re dealing with political philosophy, the anarcho-capitalist uses the term rulers as to mean government agents and politicians. Thus, he opposes their claim to authority, unless the relationship was explicitly agreed to.

Neoreactionaries tend to value property ownership and hierarchy over liberty. Their understanding is flawed because freedom does not mean a lack of rulers or an orderly society. It does not mean chaos and lawlessness. Liberty only means that nobody has the extra-legal right to harm anyone else. If, as human beings, we have the natural abilities to exercise free will, own property, and build families, then our liberty is only in peril when those actions are forcibly suppressed. This is the essence of anarcho-capitalism; don’t harm others or interfere with their property. Anarchy isn’t the law of the jungle. It’s a political ethic constrained to the subject of governance. It says that only man has the rightful authority to rule himself, and that anything else is a contradiction in logic and nature.

The question of how anarchy and marketable defense would function is an interesting one. Neoreactionaries like Bulbasaur are correct to inquire about specifics, and why natural rights provide the ethical foundation of anarcho-capitalism. In a previous post, he points out that “Man’s actions are not magically protected by an outside force.” That’s exactly correct; and you would struggle to find any anarcho-capitalist who disagrees with that notion. When an innocent person is aggressed against, the libertarian doesn’t expect a godly hand to appear out of the sky and swat away the attack. What happens is that the action is regarded as wrong and unjustified. Thus it is permissible to deflect aggression with the use of force. So Bulbasaur is correct to note that libertarians do regard natural rights as “a set of perceived privileges or permissions.”

Does the rational deduction of a natural law mean that anarchy is unworkable? It’s hard to see how that conclusion can be drawn. If anything, the lack of firm ownership to property is what impedes capital accumulation and economic prosperity. States may provide a type of order beneficial to the rulers, but the rest of society is left guessing as to how bureaucrats will abuse their power next. There’s a reason Franklin Roosevelt’s incessant meddling during the New Deal-era prevented the Depression from ending. Many business owners were unsure of how secure their property rights were.

If capitalism is to be capitalism, then it needs the assurance of property ownership. Market economies can thrive under limited state rule, but they can’t truly be free. There is always the threat of coercion or rent-seeking.

The neoreactionaries don’t get everything wrong. While I firmly reject statism as a doctrine of unjustified coercion, Bulbasaur’s version of hard-right reactionism is refreshing in the modern lexicon of egalitarian philosophies, each hardly distinguishable from each other. Ideologies currently in popular demand have little basis in moral precepts, but are more the products of public school indoctrination. As Albert Jay Nock wrote, today’s conception of democracy, socialism, equality, and fairness are all “so-many trade-names for collectivist Statism, like the trade-names for tooth-pastes which are all exactly alike except for the flavouring.”

Just for being an iconoclast to the moralizing progressivism that’s corrupting generation after generation in government classrooms, I have to give the hard-right reactionaries their due. They might not get anarchism right, but they surely aren’t wrong when it comes to the egalitarian, postmodern left. And while it would be nice to share Bulbasaur’s rosy outlook on the future, my personal Nockian disposition makes me think otherwise. Even so, there’s no reason Rothbardian libertarians and neoreactionaries can’t all just be friends. Our common enemy is the overly aggressive state. Let’s at least agree to limit that as much as possible, then we can talk about whether it’s worth disposing of entirely.

  • Alexius Wyman

    'Neoreactionary writer “Bulbasaur” seems to believe so.'

    This is the best sentence ever of all.

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James E. Miller is editor-in-chief of Mises Canada and a regular contributor to the Mitrailleuse . Send him mail

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