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An Anarchist FAQ - F.1 Are "anarcho"-capitalists really anarchists?
PDF version of Section F.
F.1 Are "anarcho"-capitalists really anarchists?
In a word, no. While "anarcho"-capitalists obviously try to associate themselves with the anarchist tradition by using the word "anarcho" or by calling themselves "anarchists" their ideas are distinctly at odds with those associated with anarchism. As a result, any claims that their ideas are anarchist or that they are part of the anarchist tradition or movement are false.
"Anarcho"-capitalists claim to be anarchists because they say that they oppose government. As noted in the last section, they use a dictionary definition of anarchism. However, this fails to appreciate that anarchism is a political theory. As dictionaries are rarely politically sophisticated things, this means that they fail to recognise that anarchism is more than just opposition to government, it is also marked a opposition to capitalism (i.e. exploitation and private property). Thus, opposition to government is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being an anarchist -- you also need to be opposed to exploitation and capitalist private property. As "anarcho"-capitalists do not consider interest, rent and profits (i.e. capitalism) to be exploitative nor oppose capitalist property rights, they are not anarchists.
Part of the problem is that Marxists, like many academics, also tend to assert that anarchists are simply against the state. It is significant that both Marxists and "anarcho"-capitalists tend to define anarchism as purely opposition to government. This is no co-incidence, as both seek to exclude anarchism from its place in the wider socialist movement. This makes perfect sense from the Marxist perspective as it allows them to present their ideology as the only serious anti-capitalist one around (not to mention associating anarchism with "anarcho"-capitalism is an excellent way of discrediting our ideas in the wider radical movement). It should go without saying that this is an obvious and serious misrepresentation of the anarchist position as even a superficial glance at anarchist theory and history shows that no anarchist limited their critique of society simply at the state. So while academics and Marxists seem aware of the anarchist opposition to the state, they usually fail to grasp the anarchist critique applies to all other authoritarian social institutions and how it fits into the overall anarchist analysis and struggle. They seem to think the anarchist condemnation of capitalist private property, patriarchy and so forth are somehow superfluous additions rather than a logical position which reflects the core of anarchism:
"Critics have sometimes contended that anarchist thought, and classical anarchist theory in particular, has emphasised opposition to the state to the point of neglecting the real hegemony of economic power. This interpretation arises, perhaps, from a simplistic and overdrawn distinction between the anarchist focus on political domination and the Marxist focus on economic exploitation . . . there is abundant evidence against such a thesis throughout the history of anarchist thought." [John P. Clark and Camille Martin, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, p. 95]
So Reclus simply stated the obvious when he wrote that "the anti-authoritarian critique to which the state is subjected applies equally to all social institutions." [quoted by Clark and Martin, Op. Cit., p. 140] Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman and so on would all agree with that. While they all stressed that anarchism was against the state they quickly moved on to present a critique of private property and other forms of hierarchical authority. So while anarchism obviously opposes the state, "sophisticated and developed anarchist theory proceeds further. It does not stop with a criticism of political organisation, but goes on to investigate the authoritarian nature of economic inequality and private property, hierarchical economic structures, traditional education, the patriarchal family, class and racial discrimination, and rigid sex- and age-roles, to mention just a few of the more important topics." For the "essence of anarchism is, after all, not the theoretical opposition to the state, but the practical and theoretical struggle against domination." [John Clark, The Anarchist Moment, p. 128 and p. 70]
This is also the case with individualist anarchists whose defence of certain forms of property did stop them criticising key aspects of capitalist property rights. As Jeremy Jennings notes, the "point to stress is that all anarchists, and not only those wedded to the predominant twentieth-century strain of anarchist communism have been critical of private property to the extent that it was a source of hierarchy and privilege." He goes on to state that anarchists like Tucker and Spooner "agreed with the proposition that property was legitimate only insofar as it embraced no more than the total product of individual labour." ["Anarchism", Contemporary Political Ideologies, Roger Eatwell and Anthony Wright (eds.), p. 132] This is acknowledged by the likes of Rothbard who had to explicitly point how that his position on such subjects was fundamentally different (i.e., at odds) with individualist anarchism.
As such, it would be fair to say that most "anarcho"-capitalists are capitalists first and foremost. If aspects of anarchism do not fit with some element of capitalism, they will reject that element of anarchism rather than question capitalism (Rothbard's selective appropriation of the individualist anarchist tradition is the most obvious example of this). This means that right-"libertarians" attach the "anarcho" prefix to their ideology because they believe that being against government intervention is equivalent to being an anarchist (which flows into their use of the dictionary definition of anarchism). That they ignore the bulk of the anarchist tradition should prove that there is hardly anything anarchistic about them at all. They are not against authority, hierarchy or the state -- they simply want to privatise them.
Ironically, this limited definition of "anarchism" ensures that "anarcho"-capitalism is inherently self-refuting. This can be seen from leading "anarcho"-capitalist Murray Rothbard. He thundered against the evil of the state, arguing that it "arrogates to itself a monopoly of force, of ultimate decision-making power, over a given territorial area." In and of itself, this definition is unremarkable. That a few people (an elite of rulers) claim the right to rule others must be part of any sensible definition of the state or government. However, the problems begin for Rothbard when he notes that "[o]bviously, in a free society, Smith has the ultimate decision-making power over his own just property, Jones over his, etc." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 170 and p. 173] The logical contradiction in this position should be obvious, but not to Rothbard. It shows the power of ideology, the ability of mere words (the expression "private property") to turn the bad ("ultimate decision-making power over a given area") into the good ("ultimate decision-making power over a given area").
Now, this contradiction can be solved in only one way -- the users of the "given area" are also its owners. In other words, a system of possession (or "occupancy and use") as favoured by anarchists. However, Rothbard is a capitalist and supports private property, non-labour income, wage labour, capitalists and landlords. This means that he supports a divergence between ownership and use and this means that this "ultimate decision-making power" extends to those who use, but do not own, such property (i.e. tenants and workers). The statist nature of private property is clearly indicated by Rothbard's words -- the property owner in an "anarcho"-capitalist society possesses the "ultimate decision-making power" over a given area, which is also what the state has currently. Rothbard has, ironically, proved by his own definition that "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist.
Of course, it would be churlish to point out that the usual name for a political system in which the owner of a territory is also its ruler is, in fact, monarchy. Which suggests that while "anarcho"-capitalism may be called "anarcho-statism" a far better term could be "anarcho-monarchism." In fact, some "anarcho"-capitalists have made explicit this obvious implication of Rothbard's argument. Hans-Hermann Hoppe is one.
Hoppe prefers monarchy to democracy, considering it the superior system. He argues that the monarch is the private owner of the government -- all the land and other resources are owned by him. Basing himself on Austrian economics (what else?) and its notion of time preference, he concludes that the monarch will, therefore, work to maximise both current income and the total capital value of his estate. Assuming self-interest, his planning horizon will be farsighted and exploitation be far more limited. Democracy, in contrast, is a publicly-owned government and the elected rulers have use of resources for a short period only and not their capital value. In other words, they do not own the country and so will seek to maximise their short-term interests (and the interests of those they think will elect them into office). In contrast, Bakunin stressed that if anarchism rejects democracy it was "hardly in order to reverse it but rather to advance it," in particular to extend it via "the great economic revolution without which every right is but an empty phrase and a trick." He rejected wholeheartedly "the camp of aristocratic . . . reaction." [The Basic Bakunin, p. 87]
However, Hoppe is not a traditional monarchist. His ideal system is one of competing monarchies, a society which is led by a "voluntarily acknowledged 'natural' elite -- a nobilitas naturalis" comprised of "families with long-established records of superior achievement, farsightedness, and exemplary personal conduct." This is because "a few individuals quickly acquire the status of an elite" and their inherent qualities will "more likely than not [be] passed on within a few -- noble -- families." The sole "problem" with traditional monarchies was "with monopoly, not with elites or nobility," in other words the King monopolised the role of judge and their subjects could not turn to other members of the noble class for services. ["The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy and the Idea of a Natural Order," pp. 94-121, Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 11, no. 2, p. 118 and p. 119]
Which simply confirms the anarchist critique of "anarcho"-capitalism, namely that it is not anarchist. This becomes even more obvious when Hoppe helpfully expands on the reality of "anarcho"-capitalism:
"In a covenant concluded among proprietor and community tenants for the purpose of protecting their private property, no such thing as a right to free (unlimited) speech exists, not even to unlimited speech on one's own tenant-property. One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very purpose of the covenant of preserving private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance towards democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and expelled from society. Likewise in a covenant founded for the purpose of protecting family and kin, there can be no tolerance toward those habitually promoting lifestyles incompatible with this goal. They -- the advocates of alternative, non-family and kin-centred lifestyles such as, for instance, individual hedonism, parasitism, nature-environment worship, homosexuality, or communism -- will have to be physically removed from society, too, if one is to maintain a libertarian order." [Democracy: the God that Failed, p. 218]
Thus the proprietor has power/authority over his tenants and can decree what they can and cannot do, excluding anyone whom they consider as being subversive (in the tenants' own interests, of course). In other words, the autocratic powers of the boss are extended into all aspects of society -- all under the mask of advocating liberty. Sadly, the preservation of property rights destroys liberty for the many (Hoppe states clearly that for the "anarcho"-capitalist the "natural outcome of the voluntary transactions between various private property owners is decidedly non-egalitarian, hierarchical and elitist." ["The Political Economy of Monarchy and Democracy and the Idea of a Natural Order," Op. Cit., p. 118]). Unsurprisingly, Chomsky argued that right-wing "libertarianism" has "no objection to tyranny as long as it is private tyranny." In fact it (like other contemporary ideologies) "reduce[s] to advocacy of one or another form of illegitimate authority, quite often real tyranny." [Chomsky on Anarchism, p. 235 and p. 181] As such, it is hard not to conclude that "anarcho"-capitalism is little more than a play with words. It is not anarchism but a cleverly designed and worded surrogate for elitist, autocratic conservatism. Nor is too difficult to conclude that genuine anarchists and libertarians (of all types) would not be tolerated in this so-called "libertarian social order."
Some "anarcho"-capitalists do seem dimly aware of this glaringly obvious contradiction. Rothbard, for example, does present an argument which could be used to solve it, but he utterly fails. He simply ignores the crux of the matter, that capitalism is based on hierarchy and, therefore, cannot be anarchist. He does this by arguing that the hierarchy associated with capitalism is fine as long as the private property that produced it was acquired in a "just" manner. Yet in so doing he yet again draws attention to the identical authority structures and social relationships of the state and property. As he puts it:
"If the State may be said to properly own its territory, then it is proper for it to make rules for everyone who presumes to live in that area. It can legitimately seize or control private property because there is no private property in its area, because it really owns the entire land surface. So long as the State permits its subjects to leave its territory, then, it can be said to act as does any other owner who sets down rules for people living on his property." [Op. Cit., p. 170]
Obviously Rothbard argues that the state does not "justly" own its territory. He asserts that "our homesteading theory" of the creation of private property "suffices to demolish any such pretensions by the State apparatus" and so the problem with the state is that it "claims and exercises a compulsory monopoly of defence and ultimate decision-making over an area larger than an individual's justly-acquired property." [Op. Cit., p. 171 and p. 173] There are four fundamental problems with his argument.
First, it assumes his "homesteading theory" is a robust and libertarian theory, but neither is the case (see section F.4.1). Second, it ignores the history of capitalism. Given that the current distribution of property is just as much the result of violence and coercion as the state, his argument is seriously flawed. It amounts to little more than an "immaculate conception of property" unrelated to reality. Third, even if we ignore these issues and assume that private property could be and was legitimately produced by the means Rothbard assumes, it does not justify the hierarchy associated with it as current and future generations of humanity have, effectively, been excommunicated from liberty by previous ones. If, as Rothbard argues, property is a natural right and the basis of liberty then why should the many be excluded from their birthright by a minority? In other words, Rothbard denies that liberty should be universal. He chooses property over liberty while anarchists choose liberty over property. Fourthly, it implies that the fundamental problem with the state is not, as anarchists have continually stressed, its hierarchical and authoritarian nature but rather the fact that it does not justly own the territory it claims to rule.
Even worse, the possibility that private property can result in more violations of individual freedom (at least for non-proprietors ) than the state of its citizens was implicitly acknowledged by Rothbard. He uses as a hypothetical example a country whose King is threatened by a rising "libertarian" movement. The King responses by "employ[ing] a cunning stratagem," namely he "proclaims his government to be dissolved, but just before doing so he arbitrarily parcels out the entire land area of his kingdom to the 'ownership' of himself and his relatives." Rather than taxes, his subjects now pay rent and he can "regulate the lives of all the people who presume to live on" his property as he sees fit. Rothbard then asks:
"Now what should be the reply of the libertarian rebels to this pert challenge? If they are consistent utilitarians, they must bow to this subterfuge, and resign themselves to living under a regime no less despotic than the one they had been battling for so long. Perhaps, indeed, more despotic, for now the king and his relatives can claim for themselves the libertarians' very principle of the absolute right of private property, an absoluteness which they might not have dared to claim before." [Op. Cit., p. 54]
It should go without saying that Rothbard argues that we should reject this "cunning stratagem" as a con as the new distribution of property would not be the result of "just" means. However, he failed to note how his argument undermines his own claims that capitalism can be libertarian. As he himself argues, not only does the property owner have the same monopoly of power over a given area as the state, it is more despotic as it is based on the "absolute right of private property"! And remember, Rothbard is arguing in favour of "anarcho"-capitalism ("if you have unbridled capitalism, you will have all kinds of authority: you will have extreme authority." [Chomsky, Understanding Power, p. 200]). The fundamental problem is that Rothbard's ideology blinds him to the obvious, namely that the state and private property produce identical social relationships (ironically, he opines the theory that the state owns its territory "makes the State, as well as the King in the Middle Ages, a feudal overlord, who at least theoretically owned all the land in his domain" without noticing that this makes the capitalist or landlord a King and a feudal overlord within "anarcho"-capitalism. [Op. Cit., p. 171]).
One group of Chinese anarchists pointed out the obvious in 1914. As anarchism "takes opposition to authority as its essential principle," anarchists aim to "sweep away all the evil systems of present society which have an authoritarian nature" and so "our ideal society" would be "without landlords, capitalists, leaders, officials, representatives or heads of families." [quoted by Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution, p. 131] Only this, the elimination of all forms of hierarchy (political, economic and social) would achieve genuine anarchism, a society without authority (an-archy). In practice, private property is a major source of oppression and authoritarianism within society -- there is little or no freedom subject to a landlord or within capitalist production (as Bakunin noted, "the worker sells his person and his liberty for a given time"). In stark contrast to anarchists, "anarcho"-capitalists have no problem with landlords and factory fascism (i.e. wage labour), a position which seems highly illogical for a theory calling itself libertarian. If it were truly libertarian, it would oppose all forms of domination, not just statism ("Those who reject authoritarianism will require nobody' permission to breathe. The libertarian . . . is not grateful to get permission to reside anywhere on his own planet and denies the right of any one to screen off bits of it for their own use or rule." [Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer, Floodgates of Anarchy, p. 31]). This illogical and self-contradictory position flows from the "anarcho"-capitalist definition of freedom as the absence of coercion and will be discussed in section F.2 in more detail. The ironic thing is that "anarcho"-capitalists implicitly prove the anarchist critique of their own ideology.
Of course, the "anarcho"-capitalist has another means to avoid the obvious, namely the assertion that the market will limit the abuses of the property owners. If workers do not like their ruler then they can seek another. Thus capitalist hierarchy is fine as workers and tenants "consent" to it. While the logic is obviously the same, it is doubtful that an "anarcho"-capitalist would support the state just because its subjects can leave and join another one. As such, this does not address the core issue -- the authoritarian nature of capitalist property (see section A.2.14). Moreover, this argument completely ignores the reality of economic and social power. Thus the "consent" argument fails because it ignores the social circumstances of capitalism which limit the choice of the many.
Anarchists have long argued that, as a class, workers have little choice but to "consent" to capitalist hierarchy. The alternative is either dire poverty or starvation. "Anarcho"-capitalists dismiss such claims by denying that there is such a thing as economic power. Rather, it is simply freedom of contract. Anarchists consider such claims as a joke. To show why, we need only quote (yet again) Rothbard on the abolition of slavery and serfdom in the 19th century. He argued, correctly, that the "bodies of the oppressed were freed, but the property which they had worked and eminently deserved to own, remained in the hands of their former oppressors. With economic power thus remaining in their hands, the former lords soon found themselves virtual masters once more of what were now free tenants or farm labourers. The serfs and slaves had tasted freedom, but had been cruelly derived of its fruits." [Op. Cit., p. 74]
To say the least, anarchists fail to see the logic in this position. Contrast this with the standard "anarcho"-capitalist claim that if market forces ("voluntary exchanges") result in the creation of "tenants or farm labourers" then they are free. Yet labourers dispossessed by market forces are in exactly the same social and economic situation as the ex-serfs and ex-slaves. If the latter do not have the fruits of freedom, neither do the former. Rothbard sees the obvious "economic power" in the latter case, but denies it in the former (ironically, Rothbard dismissed economic power under capitalism in the same work. [Op. Cit., pp. 221-2]). It is only Rothbard's ideology that stops him from drawing the obvious conclusion -- identical economic conditions produce identical social relationships and so capitalism is marked by "economic power" and "virtual masters." The only solution is for "anarcho"-capitalist to simply say that the ex-serfs and ex-slaves were actually free to choose and, consequently, Rothbard was wrong. It might be inhuman, but at least it would be consistent!
Rothbard's perspective is alien to anarchism. For example, as individualist anarchist William Bailie noted, under capitalism there is a class system marked by "a dependent industrial class of wage-workers" and "a privileged class of wealth-monopolisers, each becoming more and more distinct from the other as capitalism advances." This has turned property into "a social power, an economic force destructive of rights, a fertile source of injustice, a means of enslaving the dispossessed." He concluded: "Under this system equal liberty cannot obtain." Bailie notes that the modern "industrial world under capitalistic conditions" have "arisen under the regime of status" (and so "law-made privileges") however, it seems unlikely that he would have concluded that such a class system would be fine if it had developed naturally or the current state was abolished while leaving that class structure intact. [The Individualist Anarchists, p. 121] As we discuss in section G.4, Individualist Anarchists like Tucker and Yarrows ended up recognising that even the freest competition had become powerless against the enormous concentrations of wealth associated with corporate capitalism.
Therefore anarchists recognise that "free exchange" or "consent" in unequal circumstances will reduce freedom as well as increasing inequality between individuals and classes. As we discuss in section F.3, inequality will produce social relationships which are based on hierarchy and domination, not freedom. As Noam Chomsky put it:
"Anarcho-capitalism, in my opinion, is a doctrinal system which, if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history. There isn't the slightest possibility that its (in my view, horrendous) ideas would be implemented, because they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error. The idea of 'free contract' between the potentate and his starving subject is a sick joke, perhaps worth some moments in an academic seminar exploring the consequences of (in my view, absurd) ideas, but nowhere else." [Noam Chomsky on Anarchism, interview with Tom Lane, December 23, 1996]
Clearly, then, by its own arguments "anarcho"-capitalism is not anarchist. This should come as no surprise to anarchists. Anarchism, as a political theory, was born when Proudhon wrote What is Property? specifically to refute the notion that workers are free when capitalist property forces them to seek employment by landlords and capitalists. He was well aware that in such circumstances property "violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism . . . [and has] perfect identity with robbery." He, unsurprisingly, talks of the "proprietor, to whom [the worker] has sold and surrendered his liberty." For Proudhon, anarchy was "the absence of a master, of a sovereign" while "proprietor" was "synonymous" with "sovereign" for he "imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control." This meant that "property engenders despotism," as "each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property." [What is Property, p. 251, p. 130, p. 264 and pp. 266-7] It must also be stressed that Proudhon's classic work is a lengthy critique of the kind of apologetics for private property Rothbard espouses to salvage his ideology from its obvious contradictions.
So, ironically, Rothbard repeats the same analysis as Proudhon but draws the opposite conclusions and expects to be considered an anarchist! Moreover, it seems equally ironic that "anarcho"-capitalism calls itself "anarchist" while basing itself on the arguments that anarchism was created in opposition to. As shown, "anarcho"-capitalism makes as much sense as "anarcho-statism" -- an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The idea that "anarcho"-capitalism warrants the name "anarchist" is simply false. Only someone ignorant of anarchism could maintain such a thing. While you expect anarchist theory to show this to be the case, the wonderful thing is that "anarcho"-capitalism itself does the same.
Little wonder Bob Black argues that "[t]o demonise state authoritarianism while ignoring identical albeit contract-consecrated subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst." ["The Libertarian As Conservative", The Abolition of Work and Other Essays, pp. 142] Left-liberal Stephen L. Newman makes the same point:
"The emphasis [right-wing] libertarians place on the opposition of liberty and political power tends to obscure the role of authority in their worldview . . . the authority exercised in private relationships, however -- in the relationship between employer and employee, for instance -- meets with no objection. . . . [This] reveals a curious insensitivity to the use of private authority as a means of social control. Comparing public and private authority, we might well ask of the [right-wing] libertarians: When the price of exercising one's freedom is terribly high, what practical difference is there between the commands of the state and those issued by one's employer? . . . Though admittedly the circumstances are not identical, telling disgruntled empowers that they are always free to leave their jobs seems no different in principle from telling political dissidents that they are free to emigrate." [Liberalism at Wit's End, pp. 45-46]
As Bob Black pointed out, right libertarians argue that "'one can at least change jobs.' But you can't avoid having a job -- just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can't avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters." [Op. Cit., p. 147] The similarities between capitalism and statism are clear -- and so why "anarcho"-capitalism cannot be anarchist. To reject the authority (the "ultimate decision-making power") of the state and embrace that of the property owner indicates not only a highly illogical stance but one at odds with the basic principles of anarchism. This whole-hearted support for wage labour and capitalist property rights indicates that "anarcho"-capitalists are not anarchists because they do not reject all forms of archy. They obviously support the hierarchy between boss and worker (wage labour) and landlord and tenant. Anarchism, by definition, is against all forms of archy, including the hierarchy generated by capitalist property. To ignore the obvious archy associated with capitalist property is highly illogical and trying to dismiss one form of domination as flowing from "just" property while attacking the other because it flows from "unjust" property is not seeing the wood for the trees.
In addition, we must note that such inequalities in power and wealth will need "defending" from those subject to them ("anarcho"-capitalists recognise the need for private police and courts to defend property from theft -- and, anarchists add, to defend the theft and despotism associated with property!). Due to its support of private property (and thus authority), "anarcho"-capitalism ends up retaining a state in its "anarchy": namely a private state whose existence its proponents attempt to deny simply by refusing to call it a state, like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. As one anarchist so rightly put it, "anarcho"-capitalists "simply replaced the state with private security firms, and can hardly be described as anarchists as the term is normally understood." [Brian Morris, "Global Anti-Capitalism", pp. 170-6, Anarchist Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, p. 175] As we discuss more fully in section F.6 this is why "anarcho"-capitalism is better described as "private state" capitalism as there would be a functional equivalent of the state and it would be just as skewed in favour of the propertied elite as the existing one (if not more so). As Albert Meltzer put it:
"Commonsense shows that any capitalist society might dispense with a 'State' . . . but it could not dispense with organised government, or a privatised form of it, if there were people amassing money and others working to amass it for them. The philosophy of 'anarcho-capitalism' dreamed up by the 'libertarian' New Right, has nothing to do with Anarchism as known by the Anarchist movement proper. It is a lie . . . Patently unbridled capitalism . . . needs some force at its disposal to maintain class privileges, either from the State itself or from private armies. What they believe in is in fact a limited State -- that is, one in which the State has one function, to protect the ruling class, does not interfere with exploitation, and comes as cheap as possible for the ruling class. The idea also serves another purpose . . . a moral justification for bourgeois consciences in avoiding taxes without feeling guilty about it." [Anarchism: Arguments For and Against, p. 50]
For anarchists, this need of capitalism for some kind of state is unsurprising. For "Anarchy without socialism seems equally as impossible to us [as socialism without anarchy], for in such a case it could not be other than the domination of the strongest, and would therefore set in motion right away the organisation and consolidation of this domination; that is to the constitution of government." [Errico Malatesta, Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 148] Because of this, the "anarcho"-capitalist rejection of the anarchist critique of capitalism and our arguments on the need for equality, they cannot be considered anarchists or part of the anarchist tradition. To anarchists it seems bizarre that "anarcho"-capitalists want to get rid of the state but maintain the system it helped create and its function as a defender of the capitalist class's property and property rights. In other words, to reduce the state purely to its function as (to use Malatesta's apt word) the gendarme of the capitalist class is not an anarchist goal.
Thus anarchism is far more than the common dictionary definition of "no government" -- it also entails being against all forms of archy, including those generated by capitalist property. This is clear from the roots of the word "anarchy." As we noted in section A.1, the word anarchy means "no rulers" or "contrary to authority." As Rothbard himself acknowledges, the property owner is the ruler of their property and, therefore, those who use it. For this reason "anarcho"-capitalism cannot be considered as a form of anarchism -- a real anarchist must logically oppose the authority of the property owner along with that of the state. As "anarcho"-capitalism does not explicitly (or implicitly, for that matter) call for economic arrangements that will end wage labour and usury it cannot be considered anarchist or part of the anarchist tradition. While anarchists have always opposed capitalism, "anarcho"-capitalists have embraced it and due to this embrace their "anarchy" will be marked by relationships based upon subordination and hierarchy (such as wage labour), not freedom (little wonder that Proudhon argued that "property is despotism" -- it creates authoritarian and hierarchical relationships between people in a similar way to statism). Their support for "free market" capitalism ignores the impact of wealth and power on the nature and outcome of individual decisions within the market (see sections F.2 and F.3 for further discussion). Furthermore, any such system of (economic and social) power will require extensive force to maintain it and the "anarcho"-capitalist system of competing "defence firms" will simply be a new state, enforcing capitalist power, property rights and law.
Thus the "anarcho"-capitalist and the anarchist have different starting positions and opposite ends in mind. Their claims to being anarchists are bogus simply because they reject so much of the anarchist tradition as to make what little they do pay lip-service to non-anarchist in theory and practice. Little wonder Peter Marshall said that "few anarchists would accept the 'anarcho-capitalists' into the anarchist camp since they do not share a concern for economic equality and social justice." As such, "anarcho"-capitalists, "even if they do reject the State, might therefore best be called right-wing libertarians rather than anarchists." [Demanding the Impossible, p. 565]
Anarchist FAQ Index
Table of Contents
Section A - What is anarchism?
Section B - Why do anarchists oppose the current system?
Section C - What are the myths of capitalist economics?
Section D - How do statism and capitalism affect society?
Section E - What do anarchists think causes ecological problems?
Section F - Is "anarcho"-capitalism a type of anarchism?
Section G - Is individualist anarchism capitalistic?
Section H - Why do anarchists oppose state socialism?
Section I - What would an anarchist society look like?
Section J - What do anarchists do?
Appendix - Anarchism and "Anarcho"-capitalism
Appendix - The Symbols of Anarchy
Appendix - Anarchism and Marxism
Appendix - The Russian Revolution