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.
Edit edit, 2/7/17: This post no longer reflects what I believe. I am still an anarchist but I have come to understand why anarchists are so opposed to capitalism. Please see this blog’s most recent posts if you are interested in how I think.
Edit, 17/12/13: The post below was written two and a half years ago. My views have changed considerably since then, and I noted these changes in the second edition of my book, available here for free. Unsurprisingly, my opinions have evolved since this last attempt to enshrine them, and I would be glad to discuss them on this blog or on Facebook.
This is the first post of the Rule of Freedom, a blog about why anarchy and voluntarism are preferable alternatives to democracy and statism. This first post is about how I became an anarchist, and some of the reasons why it makes sense to me.
It’s hard to know exactly why we believe what we do, because there are so many large and small influences on our opinions and what we choose to read and believe. But it is possible to trace the trajectory of our beliefs. I have been studying politics and government for about 9 years now. My degree is in political science; I still study it. I had some vaguely socialist tendencies in university, but after a while I started realising that freedom was more important than forced equality. Freedom seems to me the best way to achieve equality of opportunity, and equality of wealth and power is more or less impossible in a world where each individual is so different from the next. I started reading economics, and began to believe that the freer the market, the more fairly goods are distributed. By that time you could have called me a libertarian. But I was still a democrat, which means I still believed we needed government, because I hadn’t been exposed to other ideas.
One day I was on a Facebook forum for libertarians and someone wrote something to the effect that libertarians should look into anarcho-capitalism. I might have just scoffed but the next sentence was something like “Scoff if you like, but you can’t really call yourself open minded until you read about other ideas, can you?” That made sense to me. I wanted to continue to call myself open minded, so I checked it out on Wikipedia. At the bottom of the page it listed a few people I could go to for further reading. One of them was a guy named Stefan Molyneux, a name some readers will be familiar with. I read Stefan’s book Everyday Anarchy, and every page made sense to me. I realised that everything he wrote was the logical extension of what I already knew and believed about politics and government. I came to the conclusion that, not only could we be better off without government, government itself is an inherently immoral institution.
I remember one day in kindergarten, I hit my friend, and my friend started to cry. And my teacher said to me, why would you hit other people? Would you like it if they hit you? No, of course not. Since then, I realised something that I think most people can agree on: that the initiation of force is immoral. Using force in self-defence is understandable and moral, as long as it is just enough to end aggression, but initiating force is immoral. Most anarchists believe what they believe, that government should be replaced with voluntary institutions, because they understand that government is based on force and coercion. That is the most important thing for anyone reading this to understand: government is based on violence. Here’s why.
Governments could not exist without taxation. Taxation is forcing you to pay for whatever it is the government wants to do. You have no choice but to pay. If you do not pay, you go to jail. If you resist going to jail, they shoot you. Taxation is a gun pointed at your head. Similarly, you have to do everything the government tells you to do, like a bad boss at a job you can’t quit. That is called the law. If you do not follow the law, you go to jail. And hey, people who persistently or maliciously hurt others should be locked up somehow. But what about people who do not hurt anyone else with their actions? You can’t sell sex to a willing buyer. The government, in its self-declared wisdom, has decided that you can only have sex if you do not pay for it. As a result, the entire sex industry has been driven underground and it is much harder to prevent violence against the women involved. You can’t do drugs, even though they do not hurt other people. Oh, sorry, I mean, you can’t do those drugs the government has deemed illegal. You can smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or pop pills as much as you like. If the government made riding your bike illegal, you could go to jail for that too. Whatever this small clique of decision makers decides, you must follow. They know better than you, and if you think otherwise, you’d better be a fast runner.
Now, it is sometimes argued that, despite a few bad laws, the government represents the will of the people. If the purpose of government is to represent the will of the people, how about the people represent themselves? But that is not the point of government. It never has been. The point of government is to consolidate power in the hands of a few, who do not need to listen to all the people, so that the few can control society as they see fit. If that is not true, why do they have to use force for everything? Why can’t they just suggest?
The competitive party system could not possibly represent all the people, because only a few win. An election is when people who think their views are right vie for power in order to impose those views on everyone else. An anarchist will not try to impose his or her views on anyone. An anarchist does not mind what you do with your money and will not try to take it away from you by force and call it taxation. An anarchist will not turn a gun on anyone for smoking some herb that does no one else any harm. He only hopes that you will give him the same respect.
Your life, if you think about it, is mostly anarchic. You do most things without being forced by government. Government doesn’t decide what food you eat, whom you marry or hang out with, which job you take (with some exceptions), which car you buy or whether you should take your bike instead. Now, we are capable of making those decisions without being forced into them. Why would we want the government in on any of them? But statists think that there are many things, like schools, hospitals and our own safety, that we are simply too stupid or selfish or disorganised to decide for ourselves. We must let this other group of people, whom we just have to hope are smart, selfless and efficient, tell us what to do.
Anarchy is really about freedom. Democracy only allows as much freedom as the people on top are willing to give you. Anarchy means you do what you think is right. Freedom brings many more benefits than just the ability to decide your own path. It allows economies and the arts to flourish. It means scientific advances and technological innovation. And it forces responsibility on those able to handle it while still allowing for us to help each other. In a democracy, we help each other, but not as much as we could, because we have less money, because it’s taken away from us, and because we expect and rely on government to take care of people on our behalf. We feel better when we vote for left-wing parties that promise more money for the poor, letting us sweep the poor under the rug of our consciences and pretend government has solved one of society’s problems.
I think most people living in our society can agree it is simply naïve to believe that politicians, bureaucrats, the police and the military are looking after your best interests. They just don’t have to. The only real mechanism for accountability in government is elections, and no matter how many you have, it is really hard to escape the corruption of human beings that comes with power. If you believe that, because you vote, they have to listen to you, I suggest thinking very critically about your beliefs. Has any party or politician you have ever voted for truly represented you? If it has never gained power, it cannot represent you. If it has gained power, did it do what it said it would? My answer is, represent yourself. You don’t need a violent institution that does not care about you.
Government cannot and will not eliminate evil, but it does provide the tools of its perpetuation through the initiation of force, the concentration of power, the taking of other people’s property, opaqueness and secrecy, the ability to dole out favours with someone else’s money, control of education and the ability to make war. We will deal with all of these subjects and more in coming posts on this blog.