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.
My fellow anarchists, please stop this yellow-red, ancap-ancom, East-West-rap feud nonsense. You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Many anarcho-capitalists (and voluntaryists) and anarcho-communists (and mutualists) claim to be the only true anarchists. This claim is unhelpful, divisive and unfair. They claim the ideas of the other side would lead to a mere rearranging of capitalist property relations or rehashing old, failed communist policy. These claims are unlikely to be true, as, whether you can admit it or not, all anarchist theories are revolutionary. If you do not see that, it is unlikely you have spent much time trying to understand them.
This feuding is, in fact, typical of people who do not expect to succeed in their missions. The main political parties in any country work together, at least on some issues; the weakest are constantly bickering among themselves. It is possible governments place agents provocateurs among anarchists and other minorities to keep them divided. I do not know how to tell such a person online. Suffice to say, it is easy to make a guy feel he is right and you (and your whole team) are wrong: just dismiss his argument without appearing to consider it. We can resist these divide-and-conquer tactics by committing to unity of principle and purpose while encouraging diversity of opinion. But it tends not to work that way in practice.
Stupid anarcho-communists still don’t understand that we have to have property rights to have a free society. Damn anarcho-capitalists want to maintain hierarchies and classes by allowing property and bosses. They are not even anarchists! Anarchists are what I say they are. Well, are you against rulers? Then you are all anarchists. The debate rages, while the stateless society is still a glint in the revolutionary’s eye. Is there nothing more laudable on which we could be spending our time? Many anarchists spend hours a day arguing over the minutiae of what a stateless society should look like. They get angry and fall into disunity over questions that do not matter at present. The common goal is the removal of the state. The target is clear. It does not matter how many feathers are on our arrows. Work together. It is not as hard as you are making it.
I have a problem with anarcho-capitalists who claim a kind of absolute right to property. What if some people do not have anywhere to stay and want to squat on land you have claimed? What if they want to drink from a river or a part of a river you call your own? Anarcho-communists would say that is aggression. They also point out there is possession, distinct from property, which means you can hold on to something. But simply because you had more money or got there first is not a good reason that you have permanent and complete power over it.
Green anarchists would also point out though homesteading may not mean stealing from another human, it may destroy the environment and steal from other living things. Build homes, but do not shoot anyone who steps on your lawn. Build farms and factories, but not so big they flatten the landscape. At an extreme, property is illegitimate to someone who believes aggression is immoral.
My problem with anarcho-communists is the likelihood that a society without any ownership at all leads inevitably to the tragedy of the commons. Not all property is legitimate, nor does it need to be in the hands of individuals when it could be held by communities; but it seems necessary to me that someone consider it their property in order to take care of it. Property is useful because in a world of scarcity and anonymity, all resources are contestable and many of them will be contested. We can assign property to the person and people with the best link to the resource, thus making conflicts far easier to resolve. See chapter 3 of my book for further discussion of property in a stateless society.
So I disagree with you but I disagree with everyone on something. That does not mean I am not the right kind of anarchist and should be insulted and cast aside. It means I have something different to contribute.
Until you convince another few million people, your ideal society will be little more than a dream. You might need to work with others–especially those whose ideals are actually pretty similar to yours–to achieve it.
When one takes action to solve a problem, it is important that one strikes the root of the problem. One sees nowadays a proliferation of JPEG memes on the internet that show that people posting them want change, but they do not know where the root of the problem is. This post looks at some of those memes in order to reveal the root.
If they want to leave me alone, why do they need the government? Aren’t they leaving me alone right now? Power corrupts, not just left- and right-wing politicians but everyone. How about no one gets to take over the government? (See more on power here.)
I think this one is supposed to be anti-libertarian but I am sure many libertarians agree with it. Again, the goal is to reduce or constrain government, usually with a constitution. But if it is about freedom, why do people need to be governed? Why not let them decide, with their communities and other associations, what are the right rules, forms of currency and means of security? Why would any of those things needs to be centralised and monopolised?
The small government envisioned by the Founding Fathers has grown into the largest statist monstrosity the world has ever seen. The constitution has, in the end, done little to stop it.
Why love either? Nationalism and statism feed off each other. If you and your millions of compatriots are truly a nation, you need representatives; hence the government. If you have a government, it will foster a sense of nationalism in order to make you believe you need national institutions and national defense and so on to create loyalty to the state preserving them.
If the state did not cover more than a city or a community, it would have far fewer resources than it has today. Do you think a municipal state would try to track you with spy drones or cause trillion-dollar financial crashes? But nationalism magnifies the power of the state many times, because nationalism legitimises a national state with far greater resources. (See more on nationalism here.)
Just what the world needs—another nation state. It is understandable to want statehood in the present world, as nation states supposedly prevent the rapacious foreigner from invading. (Well, if they are strong enough; and no state anywhere near Israel is.) But they do not prevent the rapacious local from stealing anything; in fact, they institutionalise local corruption.
Palestinian people, if you want a state, consider what life has been like under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Surely, what you really want is freedom and justice and peace. Those things are not handed to you when you get a state. They are won when the people overcome the state.
There is no such thing as “majority rule”. Democracy, in its modern form, necessitates a government, and a government is a small clique of rulers. Voting every few years and hoping one’s vote has an effect does not mean one is in charge. All government is minority rule. As Will Durant said, “the political machine triumphs because it is a united minority acting against a divided majority.” Oligarchy is the norm. (More on democracy here.)
SOPA is a great example of how a specific bill can face a wave of opposition, die, then get resurrected sneakily as something even more sinister (CISPA). The problem is not one or more laws, but the fact that a small group has a monopoly on making rules and enforcing them at gunpoint. (Find my assessment of the problem of law here.)
Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that legalising all drugs would bring in some $40b in tax revenues at all levels if the drugs were taxed at rates similar to alcohol, and we would save another $40b in incarceration and court costs. But as he points out, this might not make much of a dent in the colossal US government budget deficits; and one reason to legalise all drugs is that “all the people who want to use drugs are being somewhere between mildly inconvenienced and grossly harmed by the policy of prohibition. We are not helping drug users in any way, shape or form.”
Moreover, as economist Walter Block points out, giving more money to the government would not be a good thing. “It is sometimes argued that one of the benefits of legalising addictive drugs is that they could be taxed, and the government revenues enhanced,” he says. “From this perspective, this would be the only valid case against legalisation.” How about we legalise drugs and do not tax them?
Likewise, those who say they need to be regulated do not know what government regulations are. Regulations are not there to help all people but special interests. They mostly work to create oligopolies, like we see in cigarette, alcohol and pharmaceutical markets.
But all this talk about marijuana misses the bigger picture. The real reason to end all regulation and taxation of drugs is that no one has the right to tell you what you can and cannot put in your body when the consumption of that substance does not affect anyone else. Our bodies are our property, and no one can take away a free man’s property. Unless we are irresponsible children with no judgment, drug markets should be freed. (My indictment of the War on Drugs is here.)
By now, you may be able to guess my attitude toward the gay marriage thing. I do not care who gets together, as long as it is between consenting adults—it is none of my business—but why does marriage involve the law at all? Why would the state give extra benefits to people because they are married, or deny them anything because they are not. Time to get marriage out of the hands of the state altogether. (Here is David McElroy on the subject.)
Find lots more memes—ones that I agree with—at the Rule of Freedom Facebook page.