This post is part 4 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist (ancap).
Property is a more complicated issue than most ancaps give it credit. This post only outlines my rather simple views on the matter and why they differ from what I used to believe as an ancap.
First, we should probably distinguish between property and possessions. There is more than one definition for these words, but for our purposes we might call property the exclusive ownership of the means of production, including land, factories and machines. Exclusivity is the key factor. Ancaps often want to know if their hammers, laptops and 3-D printers are included in this definition, and I would say no: they are possessions, intended only for personal use. If people were monopolizing the hammers and laptops and 3-D printers, that might be a different story. However, these things are widely available.
Infoshop’s FAQ summarizes the anarchist argument against property thus:
The statement “property is theft” is one of anarchism’s most famous sayings. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that anyone who rejects this statement is not an anarchist. This maxim works in two related ways. Firstly, it recognises the fact that the earth and its resources, the common inheritance of all, have been monopolised by a few. Secondly, it argues that, as a consequence of this, those who own property exploit those who do not. This is because those who do not own have to pay or sell their labour to those who do own in order to get access to the resources they need to live and work (such as workplaces, machinery, land, credit, housing, products under patents, and such like).
Many ancaps ridicule the idea of positive rights (such as the right to food and shelter, as distinct from the right to be left alone), and yet assume we have a fundamental right to property, as if property were an unalienable extension of one’s right to the ownership of one’s body. Hey, I like privacy too, but surely my preference alone is not enough to justify forcing someone off land I live on. What if there are refugees, or people evicted from their homes by thoughtless landlords, and I have land and room where they can stay? A communist would surely open his or her home at some point to these people, but even if you fall short of communism, what is the justification for saying they are not allowed to, say, put up a tent on your lawn or shelter in your garage? Ancaps are supposed to be opposed to all initiation of force but disregard the force involved in kicking someone off one’s property. I myself took several discussions to realize this form of force was part of the problem.
Hans Hermann Hoppe tried to put it this way.
Is it not simply absurd to claim that a person should not be the proper owner of his body and the places and goods that he originally, i.e., prior to anyone else, appropriates, uses and/or produces by means of his body? For who else, if not he, should be their owner? And is it not also obvious that the overwhelming majority of people—including children and primitives—in fact act according to these rules, and do so as a matter of course?
Moral intuition, as important as it is, is not proof. However, there also exists proof of the veracity of our moral intuition.
The proof is two-fold. On the one hand, the consequences that follow if one were to deny the validity of the institution of original appropriation and private property are spelled out: If person A were not the owner of his own body and the places and goods originally appropriated and/or produced with this body as well as of the goods voluntarily (contractually) acquired from another previous owner, then only two alternatives would exist. Either another person, B, must be recognized as the owner of A’s body as well as the places and goods appropriated, produced or acquired by A, or both persons, A and B, must be considered equal co-owners of all bodies, places and goods.
Unfortunately, Hoppe’s argument begs the question. He assumes things must be owned. Yet, exclusive ownership of property is a very new institution, invented in most places by the same people who came up with and benefited from the state. Who says this stance is “moral intuition”? Who says “natural rights” are so natural and right? Why does ownership of one’s body necessitate ownership of the product of one’s labor? Why is it so hard for Hoppe to understand we could share things? “Primitives” certainly do NOT make these same assumptions, as any anthropologist can tell you. They do not own things. They do not even understand the concept. They share. If one hunter kills an animal and the other does not, everyone eats. In fact, in some cultures, the successful hunter downplays his or her role in the killing out of a sense of solidarity. If said hunter bragged, even though he or she was the one who brought home the food, the rest of the group would shame him or her. So perhaps Hoppe should learn a bit more about humanity before claiming to speak for all of it.
Murray Rothbard, on the other hand, in Confiscation and the Homesteading Principle, takes an almost syndicalist view of ownership. He looks at Yugoslavia and how state-owned factories became co-ops owned by the people who worked there. He looks at the USSR, where all means of production were in the hands of the state, and says the workers have already homesteaded them and therefore should own them. (It would certainly have been better than the disastrous way things ended up transitioning to capitalism.) “The principle in the Communist countries should be: land to the peasants and the factories to the workers”. He makes no distinction for “stolen property”, by which he means property owned by the state or slaveowners–those who have worked in these corporations or the slaves who worked the land have already homesteaded it. He even made the case for reparations, as slave-plantation-owners’ descendants were still alive, and thus reparations can be quite specific.
His article also says the following.
Alan Milchman, in the days when he was a brilliant young libertarian activist, first pointed out that libertarians had misled themselves by making their main dichotomy “government” vs. “private” with the former bad and the latter good. Government, he pointed out, is after all not a mystical entity but a group of individuals, “private” individuals if you will, acting in the manner of an organized criminal gang. But this means that there may also be “private” criminals as well as people directly affiliated with the government. What we libertarians object to, then, is not government per se but crime, what we object to is unjust or criminal property titles; what we are for is not “private” property per se but just, innocent, non-criminal private property.
Does it not follow if business owners have acquired their wealth through some kind of violence, even if the violence occurred generations ago, that wealth is a reasonable target for confiscation?
A house is a possession. If you are living in your house, it is not sitting idle, and if you do not want to let others in, I do not think it would be right to force you. However, if you have a house sitting unused, can you not see why an anarchist would say you should open it up to others to stay there?
But perhaps you do not have a large income and need to rent out your house to live. A bigger fish to fry is corporate ownership of property. Look how many houses banks in the US own. Preventing people from squatting there is the same kind of violence as protecting a nation state’s borders.
Some ancaps envision gated communities and yet assume the borders of the nation state are illegitimate. What is an independent, gated community but a small nation with closed borders? What if all the decent land and water in the area are claimed already? Where do “immigrants” go? Who asked you to build your house there and put a fence around it? Why does nature belong to you?
The ideal is not to wall off what is mine and yours in the name of scarcity but to share in the name of ending suffering. Sharing does not require permission from everyone else in the world before planting a tree, as Hoppe states later in the same essay. It merely means if a man comes along who is hungry, “it’s my tree because I planted and tended it” is not a moral basis to deny him food from it. If you are afraid of free riders, join with people in your community to shame able-bodied scroungers into contributing something. But please do not wrap your fear of scarcity up in a moral basis for private property.
This post is part 2 of my series on why I am no longer an anarcho-capitalist.
A pure focus on the state distracts somewhat from the more general problem of hierarchy. Not all “authority” is bad, since I defer to the authority of the carpenter, the tailor, the bus driver and so on every day. That is ad-hoc authority: I follow them for now for my own benefit. Institutionalized authority is the problem. Anarcho-capitalists (ancaps) agree with this idea but limit their focus to the institutions of the state. But it is not only the state’s authority that is harmful.
Power corrupts. The state is not the only source of power. In a world where money buys influence, the lack of a state would only partially diminish that power. Money could still buy authoritative-looking media sources and spread any kind of lies, fear, hatred, etc.; it could be used to bribe any kind of leader (such as union leaders or town elders); it could be used to raise a private army, and once those things had taken place, the non-aggression principle (or NAP) would be no longer a norm but would return to, as it is today, little more than an ideal to aspire toward. The state would be reborn.
I disagree with other anarchists who look down on anarcho-capitalism because they think it would be even more tyrannical than today. If that were true, why would the rich not be at the forefront of calls to eliminate the state? They are the true beneficiaries of the state. They might be able to reconstitute the state if it were eliminated, but without it the accumulation of wealth and power would be more difficult. When I was an ancap, I wrote about how people in a stateless world could defend themselves against people trying to restore the state. I do not disagree with ancaps on everything. However, I no longer see anarcho-capitalism as the ideal. We could go much further toward freedom and justice if we dig deeper into anarchist theory.
Anarchists oppose institutional hierarchy. Hierarchy as we know it today is largely a product of state violence, what Marx called primitive accumulation, but does not exist solely in the state. It has transformed people from hunter-gatherers and self-sufficient farmers into dependent cogs in the wheels of the capitalist/corporatist/whatever-you-call-it system. The majority is, by the design of the system, locked out of making decisions regarding it. That is just as true in a corporate hierarchy as in the state.
People with money are far more likely to become owners and bosses than people without money. They can afford the best education and the best means to impress others (eg. nice suits, lavish parties). They can afford to start their own businesses and do not have to work for minimum wage. They can afford the accountants and lawyers necessary to navigate the complex regulatory state. The owners and bosses make decisions, including the decisions about whom to promote up the ranks. Hierarchy thus reproduces itself. When there are other hierarchies in society, such as in unions, powerful people can co-opt them by buying the influence of the leaders. Hierarchy thereby creates a class system, buoying the people on top not only through the state but through their informal influence, and keeping the people on the bottom down by locking them out of the decision-making process.
But why should workers not participate in decision making at the organizations where they work? It seems cruel to tell them they should buy stock in the company or start their own when these things are far easier said than done. It sounds a bit like “if you don’t like it here, move”. Moreover, ancaps often say those things in regard to the current economic system, not some ideal free market. It is almost as if they are mocking people for not having enough money to buy influence over decisions that affect their lives when the system they live under makes doing so impossible.
That is why anarchists believe in non-hierarchical or horizontal organization–no superiors, no subordinates, everyone on an equal footing regarding decision making. In my view, that does not necessarily mean equal salary: I might choose to divide my time between two organizations and thus take only half the salary from each. It does, however, mean all employees can decide those things together, and do not have to beg or butter up their bosses for raises and time off or live in constant fear of getting fired for some mistake or failing.
To address the ancap concern, non-hierarchical organization does not require violence. It requires creating such structures as viable alternatives to the life of class, money and power. It could mean starting cooperatives, where employees are also owners; it could mean starting communes, where property is voluntarily given up; it could mean any other form of mutual aid, working with the people around you to solve your problems. The abolition of hierarchy is an ideal to be striven for, just like non-aggression.
Turning fear into empowerment motivates people and reduces stress. They take responsibility. They are accountable to each other. They do not need to compete for dominance. These things distinguish communities from corporations. Hierarchy, on the other hand, creates stress and fear, as people worry about getting told off or fired or merely docked an hour’s pay for coming in five minutes late. The people in charge have no responsibility to their employees beyond the necessarily unequal terms on which they were hired. (And in a stateless society, who is to force a boss to honor a contract? I have written on this subject too, and yet can no longer see how someone begging to be hired could ever bargain on equal terms with a rich person who can afford better representation.) As such, bosses can, say, fire employees en masse with no notice. Hierarchy creates positions of better pay and power over others that only a minority can fill, which others can only compete for like crabs in a bucket. (And if you do not think the ability to fire another for any reason you like is power over that person, we must agree to disagree. Being able to quit, at least in today’s world, does not compare, since the company can simply hire someone else.) People jockeying for power are forced to defer to the people on top, to kiss their boots, to show themselves willing to serve and dominate, to play a rigged game with a smile.
To illustrate the problem, consider racism. A racist seeks to impose a kind of hierarchy. A racial hierarchy is not very different from a social hierarchy. I know of no perfectly fluid class societies where it is a simple matter for poor people to get rich. At least one survey has found a majority of poor Americans never even make it to the middle class. A racial hierarchy makes it impossible for all within the subordinate race to reach the top (without a revolution), though the masters can elevate some members of the subordinate race by creating house negroes and field negroes, dividing the subordinate race and refining the hierarchy. A social hierarchy is only somewhat less bad in that it makes it impossible for most to reach the top. That should come as small consolation to the poor.
Hierarchy necessarily creates inequality. Though my next post will focus on inequality, for the time being I can point out inequality is not an ideal. Forced equality is not, either, of course (again, anarchists are not Stalinists), but most inequality is simply unnecessary and harmful and too readily tolerated by ancaps. If we somehow eliminated the state without eliminating the stark inequality of power in society, the dominance and submission we know today would not disappear. It would simply regroup and return in a different form.
People who do not leave their hometowns or countries of origin, or who leave them only with closed minds, have trouble understanding what is wrong with their own culture, ideas and beliefs. The same can be said of people who choose an idea and do not question it. For about three years, I was committed to what its adherents call anarcho-capitalism, along with its close cousins, voluntaryism and agorism. If you have followed this blog, page and book, you will have heard my perspective mostly through the voluntaryist lens. But as I strayed into deeper waters, I began to see the flaws and limitations of my ideas. This post is part one of a summary of what I have learned since I finished my book.
Many people who think they are right simply refuse to listen. I have been one of these people many times in my life, certainly when I was part of the online anarcho-capitalist (ancap) community. I have never heard any anarchist say we need to create a state. Creating a state is antithetical to all variants of anarchism. Yet ancaps have insisted to me, repeatedly, without ever backing up their claims, that anarchists want to create a state. Indeed, I have explained anarchism and communism as decentralized, with no state and no need for a state, with no hint of wanting to centralize power, and ancaps have told me I want to create a state.
Presumably, this belief stems from their further claim that anarchists want to forcibly collectivise everyone and everything. Again, I have never heard anyone say that, but it has been repeated so many times among ancaps it has become an article of faith, a given, a fact that needs no facts to back it up. They want to kick you out of your homes, we are told, and collectivise everything you have, right down to your toothbrush (though that part might be a joke). Who says? Why would they? Because they do not believe in property? Different definitions of property are part of the root of this misunderstanding, though different attitudes toward it are as well. (I will discuss property vs possessions in a future post.)
Many of the same ancaps also refer to all anarchists who are not capitalists as “commies”, by which they seem to mean Stalinists. Anarchism is the opposite of Stalinism. Communism has more than one definition and many self-styled communists want to destroy the state and give, as the slogan goes, all power to the communes. The ones who want strong states, armies and gulags while calling themselves anti-imperialist are usually referred to as tankies and have virtually nothing in common with anarchists. Yet, so many ancaps lump tankies and ancoms in together and call them all “leftists” and assume “leftists” all want to recreate the state and force you to live a certain way. Not all communists are tankies and, by the way, not all anarchists are either capitalists or communists, and if you do not know that, you have only a limited understanding of anarchism and communism.
Neither have I ever heard anarchists say they want to stop free and peaceful trading of goods or labor by force, yet I have been told that is exactly what anarcho-communists (and presumably anarcho-syndicalists, but to most ancaps, again, any anarchists that does not identify as a capitalist must be a commie) want. What they want, in fact, is to make trading unnecessary by sharing everything. There is a world of difference between trying to make something that is imperfect unnecessary and using force to ban it. I seriously doubt anyone, ancom or otherwise, has any desire to intervene in some trade you are making with your neighbor. These strawman arguments serve no purpose other than to dismiss other anarchists without having to listen to them.
In fact, some ancaps believe their own tales to such an extent they say “capitalists are the real anarchists”. To be true, this statement requires extremely narrow and uncommon definitions of both capitalism and anarchism. People who laugh at the supposed contradiction of “libertarian socialism” do not get that “libertarian” meaning anarchist, favoring freedom and equality in opposition to capitalism, predates the more American definition of favoring free markets.
On a related note, “socialism” does not mean “anything the state ever does”. No definition of socialism means that except the ancap definition. Anarchism is stateless socialism. To most anarchists, socialism means decentralized or common ownership of the means of production. Likewise, there are not many people other than ancaps who think “capitalism” means completely free trade. So why do ancaps feel the need to interrupt every conversation about capitalism as it is by saying “that’s not capitalism”?
But if “we have never had capitalism before” because it is a perfect free-trade society, why do so many ancaps resort to telling socialists they would never have all the good things they have without capitalism? Whatever “capitalism” means, that argument begs the question. There are not only two possible economic systems, capitalism and Stalinism. Anarchy would mean a major unleashing of economic potential and people would choose various forms of organization and production. But why would you favor business when mutual aid has been the norm throughout human history? How will poor, sick and disabled people get by without mutual aid? And why trust charity, a top-down approach, over treating people as equals?
The next post will be about the danger of tolerating hierarchy in social institutions.
He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression. – Thomas Paine
If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all. – Noam Chomsky
Nowadays, everyone claims to believe in freedom. Most people, however, do not. This post aims to expose hypocrisy.
Total liberty would yield any number of predictable and unpredictable benefits. But not everyone is convinced. To them (thanks in part to Hobbes), we need a hegemon or overarching power to keep us in check. But why? We have spent most of our history either without rulers or trying to avoid being subjugated by them. Collective security emerges whenever it needs to. We are told history shows the more powerful and better organised militaries always triumph over the masses, which is basically true. That is not a reason to give up and accept our servitude. It is a call to help more people see through the lies and unite against the power that aims to enslave us. Working together we can stay both safe and free. It has happened before and can happen again with the right ideas.
Many who claim to favour freedom believe in strict gun control. How do we defend ourselves against tyranny of those who have all the guns without equal forces? Others say we need to limit immigration. These people believe either freedom should be reserved for those inside our political boundaries, or else it is simply untenable.
Those who advocate real freedom are frequently told they should move somewhere else (usually Somalia). It is clear those who say you should leave the place where you live in order do not believe you should be free where you are. The idea of secession is derided as untenable, which simply means those who want to try it are foolish. But if that were the only problem, people who care about free would still defend those who wished to secede. Instead, they are told they cannot, because, as the nationalist refrain goes, if you try to split my country I will kill you.
But the most hopeless cases are those who claim to defend freedom but in fact loathe it. I refer to soldiers and their supporters. Not all of them, of course; many have indeed seen through the lies and realise how much damage war causes. Too many, however, hold contradictory positions. Their claim is they defend freedom. While there is no actual evidence for this claim, let us assume it is true. Why, then, would they also continually tell the rest of us to stop criticising the wars and the troops? Why would they not encourage it as a sign freedom exists? They actually threaten us with violence, seeing no contradiction between this action and what they claim to have fought for. Their lack of logic, their utter incomprehension of freedom, their inability to see through the lies of the war and the elite that send them to war hold us all back. It is sad that the most well-meaning people, those who could be defending the people against the state, are doing exactly the opposite.
Thus we have the fairweather friends of freedom, those who speak freedom out of one side of their mouths and yet advocate authoritarianism in practice. The list of objections to freedom is endless, but it all amounts to the same: you cannot be trusted to govern yourself, therefore you need to be under the threat of violence at all times. I urge those who believe freedom must be limited to reconsider their positions based on the evidence. See the links above for more.
In only 18 days in early 2011, Egyptians succeeded in a major step toward revolution. (They unfortunately did not take the opportunities thus presented them but that simply makes their example more educational.) In only four days, from January 25 to 28, the people rose up in the millions, defeated the security forces in the streets and destroyed the legitimacy of the regime. You want to know how to defeat your oppressors? You want to learn from the Egyptians? Perhaps Etienne de la Boetie could explain both the causes and the effects of the uprising.
All this havoc, this misfortune, this ruin, descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourselves render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in your cities; he has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves? How can he have so many arms to beat you with, if he does not borrow them from you? The feet that trample down your cities, where does he get them if they are not your own? How does he have any power over you except through you? How would he dare assail you if he had no cooperation from you?
…From all these indignities, such as the very beasts of the field would not endure, you can deliver yourselves if you try, not by taking action, but merely by willing to be free. Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.
That is what Egyptians did. They had to fight the police, but the state is necessarily a minority; as such, when enough people join in, even just through providing onions and vinegar to survive the tear gas, the state loses. The people denied the state its authority for FOUR DAYS and only four days, and it evaporated. All we need is enough people who decide to disobey.