Post-anarcho-capitalismJanuary 5, 2007 at 3:57 am | Posted in Anarchism, Decentralism, Political theory | 8 Comments
[Founding thoughts of the blog: subject to continuous revision.]
I became an anarcho-capitalist almost the instant I read the concept in 1995. Shortly before that I became a libertarian, and this seemed the natural and unescapable conclusion of consistent libertarianism.
Now, I think that anarcho-capitalism (as the an-caps understand it) is necessary but insufficient to preserve liberty alone. Unfortunately, we made the same mistake for which we accused the anarcho-socialists.
We claimed that the collectivization demanded by anarcho-socialism creates a central authority that would not restrain itself from abusing the power once placed in its hands. Similarly, governments make written constitutions. They agree to certain principles to limit power. But in the end, states by design provide themselves the temptation and power to break self-imposed limitations of power.
All this is true enough, but anarcho-capitalism allows any distribution of property, state of affairs, power structure, etc. that derives only from voluntary transactions to be a legitimate and acceptable state of affairs. But what if everyone decided to give all the guns to Mr. Ancap the Hero’s Protection Service, and voluntarily contract to no longer bear arms individually?
Because this is a voluntary change, An-Caps say, “Well it would be legitimate, but no one in their right mind would do that!” Unfortunately, history is filled with people voluntarily making such dumb choices. It must be seriously considered, and occasionally expected. Mr. Hero, or his successors would eventually become Mr. Villain.
Businesses can become very powerful. Power creates temptation. A disproportionately large amount of power in one place weakens the ethical self-imposed barrier between economic power (voluntary interaction) and political power. Radically successful businesses therefore create exactly the same temptation for political action that collectivization does to socialists because power is in the hands of the few.
So what is the solution? Those who want to maintain liberty must seek the limitation of power as an additional goal in itself. This cannot be put above respect for legitimate contracts and property, but beside it. It is further impossible to place it above contracts and property as the attempt requires a direct contradiction.
To limit power, it must be decentralized. In the defense of some anarcho-socialists, particularly those following Kropotkin, decentralism was a tenant from the beginning. Ludwig von Mises called this syndicalism and said it wasn’t even socialism at all. True enough as Mises defined socialism. So when consistent, criticisms of socialism while defined as “centralization of the means of production” don’t apply to any type of decentralist. Or if taken to the extreme, was Mises attacking the “centralization” inherit in a nuclear family structure? No, he was addressing socialism on a national or international scope. His argument gets relatively less true for increasingly smaller scopes, till at some point disappears, perhaps at only slightly bigger than the nuclear family.
What does limiting even voluntary power then mean in practice? If some legitimate business appears to be gaining monopoly-like power, that is enough to be concerned. Support the underdog. Instead of patronizing Microsoft, Intel, and Walmart, use products from Linux, AMD, and local stores.
That’s not the only problem I now have with anarcho-capitalism. “Finders Keepers” for first owner of land regardless of scarcity just doesn’t necessarily work. If Friday shipwrecks on Crusoe’s tiny island, does Crusoe really have the right to make Friday get off and drown unless Friday agrees to any contract Crusoe demands, just because Crusoe has “mixed his labor” with the “whole” tiny island first?
Rothbard rejected the Coase theorem which argued that the original owner isn’t important (assuming no transaction costs) because the market would allocate efficiently. But doesn’t Rothbard’s argument against Henry George boil down to arguing that the original owner of land isn’t important because the market would allocate efficiently? That’s not properly detailed enough to really be accurate, but I’m intending to start an essay on this to straighten my own thoughts out.
I’m not a Georgist, and not sure if I should consider myself a Mutualist. I still prefer the term free market anarchist, but won’t call myself an anarcho-capitalist proper. I would guess that any leadership structure of a sovereign society too big to know all the people, whether corporatist, feudalist, or democratic, is too big to control its temptation for political power. When it ceases to be personal, it becomes impersonal. Is that not a dangerous step towards the political? A fundamental characteristic of politics is the claim to represent someone’s best interests contrary to their stated interests. This is much harder to rationalize if everyone you so claim to represent knows you personally and can regularly complain to your face.
What am I? A decentralist.