May 12, 2015
"Libertarianism, in my view, in the current world, is just a call for some of the worst kinds of tyranny, namely unaccountable private tyranny. Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that's internal to private power concentrations."
"Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs."
"The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended."
"At the Last Judgment, libertarianism may find itself reduced to a minority of one, and its name will be not Legion, but Rothbard."
Venture into the wilds of any libertarian message board, or the comments section on any libertarian article, or any of a lovely variety of subreddits or Twitter feeds, and you inevitably encounter quite possibly the most unfortunate figure ever witnessed in political discourse: The anarcho-capitalist.
These human whirligigs of confusion perpetually pirouette between discussions, trying desperately to live in some undefinable area of the political spectrum. They are at once a refutation and a vindication of the horseshoe theory of politics -- that the extreme Right and the extreme Left end up in the same place; a refutation because neither the extreme Right nor the extreme Left wants anything to do with them, but a vindication because they seem to end up in those sad places all the same. Theirs is an existence marked by endless conspiracy theories, utopian delusions, and rags soiled by the reading of the latest Lew Rockwell blog posts.
For a mercifully long period of time, they have been irrelevant. However, in the present age, they have become a menace to the liberty movement, mostly by virtue of their ghoulishly enthusiastic willingness to apologize for, and make alliances with, the web-grown species of Left-wing fascism known as "Social Justice." But this is not a surprise. Anarcho-capitalism is simply a Trojan horse for Left-wing anarchism, and those that believe in it are either too deluded to see this, or too beyond reason to care. As to the form Left-wing anarchism takes, it can only be described as, with apologies to Thomas Hobbes, bellum Tumblrum contra omnes.
In short, anarcho-capitalism is stupid, delusional, crypto-Leftist garbage.
Oh yeah, you thought Austin's listicle was bad? It was gentle. He at least believed in this nonsense at one point, and saw the light. You'll find no such charity here. Anarcho-capitalism is rotten down to its warped bones. It is optically suicidal, congenitally toxic, and philosophically incoherent. At its best, it is nothing but a confused defense of subsidiarity. At its worst, it is sophistry designed to permit fascism of every variety. What is more, it has been tried, and we have seen the outcome, in the real world, or as close as anyone will let this bloodyminded worldview get.
It is about this last point that I'll spend most of my time, but we should touch on the first few briefly just as groundwork. First, there is the philosophy's optics problem. No point wasting time: Anarcho-capitalism is the best friend of the entire clickbait-driven Left, which constantly tries to tar libertarianism as an unreasonable, fringe ideology. It is to every Gawker, Salon, or Daily Show writer what the Scarecrow was to Dorothy Gale: A brainless strawman useful only as a crutch for venturing deeper into their personal fever dream.
And what about its intellectual roots? Well, you can't talk about anarcho-capitalism without properly naming its original exponent as Murray Rothbard. Now, as anyone who knows the career of Murray Rothbard will remember, Rothbard began life as a Lockean libertarian before transitioning into being a Maoist in the 60's, and finally into an ally of David Duke and white nationalists in the 80's and 90's. In other words, he transformed from a reddit user to a Tumblr user into a Stormfront user. If he were to be brought up on the "Stormfront or SJW" subreddit, he's one of the few people for whom you could make a case for "both." This is anarcho-capitalists' hero?
Then there's its philosophy. This will take a little more time to unpack, so bear with me. First of all, anarchism itself is difficult to envision as a plausible system of political organization. C.S. Lewis, in his book "The Great Divorce," describes Hell as an endless grey town where the houses get further and further apart as the individual souls living in each house get more and more determined to avoid each other. This is probably the most convincing picture of a purely anarchist society yet described. However, this sort of solitary confinement would scarcely work in a world with limited space, or with scarcity in general, since people inevitably will have to encroach on each others' land or goods in order to survive. And the trouble is that the instant multiple people end up living and cooperating together, some form of dispute resolution has to kick in, whether it's simple violence or a complex court system. Even an individual family has some sort of concept of authority, or at least of proper procedure by which disputes are resolved.
This is where the "confused defense of subsidiarity" comes in. If anarcho-capitalism means simply "every family a kingdom, with their own homestead and weapons," then it's really just an extreme form of minarchism where the individual states are no larger than family units -- a form of government, yes, but one so close to the people it's almost invisible. And if that's what you want, fine. There are problems with it, but fine. At least it's not trying to argue for a world with no state at all.
Now, I already know some anarcho-capitalists are going to be racing for their keyboards now. I can practically read the emails now. "THAT'S NOT A STATE YOU FASCIST THAT'S JUST A VOLUNTARY ASSOCIATION!" "FUCK OFF NEOCON SCUM GO BACK TO THE GOP!"
To which I say, okay, so you say it's not a state? Why not? Most anarcho-capitalism, Rothbard's included, seems to rely on a definition of a state as an entity that has a "monopoly on force/coercion/violence." But that doesn't help us, because then we get to the next question: What is force? I ask because according to some people, it's only physical violence (and physical violence that you initiate, for that matter, because these same people often think self-defense is okay), but for others -- like, say, Cathy Reisenwitz, or John Stuart Mill -- it includes more indirect forms of persuasion like shaming or even the passive power of majority opinion.
And you know what? I think Reisenwitz and Mill have a point.
Unless you want to argue, a la Jeremy Bentham, that there's some cardinal utility function that proves a lost limb is worse than a lost reputation (something that no economist or philosopher accepts anymore, btw), then you have to accept that for some people, having a gun pointed at their head might be preferable to having their Twitter besieged by hashtag activists. Which means that in a world of people with diverse preferences and interests, force/coercion/whatever can include pretty much any form of suasion on the face of the earth. In short, the hole in anarcho-capitalist thought through which you can drive a Phoenix Durango car full of asphyxiated sociologists is the concept of force.
And that's really as far as the philosophical conversation needs to go. You don't even have to talk about the insane ideal state offered by some anarcho-capitalists, where people can purchase armies-for-hire, and rights are sold to the highest bidder -- in other words, the world in which people under the thumb of any organized crime organization actually live. You don't even have to talk about the utopian idea that everyone could be induced to agree with the non-aggression principle (which, by the way, is a prerequisite for a humane anarcho-capitalist state). People have to agree on what aggression is before they can agree not to do it, and that's just as hard of a concept to sell everyone on, if not a harder one.
Now, I know what the next line of attack is going to be. "I bet you love the welfare state and want everyone to live in Mao's China!" No. In my ideal world, the state would be made up of a standing army, a standing police force, a nuclear weapons cache (with appropriately secured launch codes), and a printing press for money because yes, I am totally a Friedmanite. You could fit the people required to run that into one small government building. I want a government as lean and mean as it can get while still being capable of enforcing its peoples' rights.
But you know who's totally cool with living in Mao's China, but on a smaller scale than China itself? Anarcho-capitalists.
You know what that dystopia is called? Twitter.
[divider]Bombs Over Hashtags[/divider]
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending an event called #GGinDC at Local 16. The hashtag stood for "#Gamergate in DC," and as you might expect from an event dedicated to that particular hashtag, controversy wasn't far behind. Specifically, we were the subject of an utterly spurious bomb threat.
Let me say that again: A bomb threat. Over a hashtag. Welcome to anarchism, or to give it its proper name, welcome to pure mob rule.
Actually, that's not fair. The police were at least summoned in our case. In an anarchist world (especially an anarcho-capitalist one), they could've been bribed not to show up. And an actual bomb could've been planted and exploded. And there would have been no legal recourse for anyone in attendance. At all.
But let that pass for the moment, and let's focus on the hashtag thing. If 2014 familiarized us with anything, it was the horrific practice of Twitter shaming that undid the careers of such otherwise innocent people as Justine Sacco. The inimitable British journalist Jon Ronson even wrote an excellent book on the phenomenon and its frightening consequences.
I mention this because Twitter is one of the closest things to anarchism that we have in real life. Think about it. Twitter feeds are, in their own funny way, sort of every user's independent virtual kingdom. They can write what they want, retweet what they want, follow who they want, and yes, block and mute who they want. If they wish, they can make alliances with other people either publicly or through direct messages, and can call on their aid to defend themselves or attack other users for perceived misdeeds. They don't even have to use their real names if they don't want, and if they don't, there's a pretty liberatory level of privacy involved. It is one of the most voluntary systems of social interaction yet conceived.
And it is a paradise for Social Justice Warriors. Why? Because they know how to organize their followers and other allies into mass shaming campaigns that, if they were ever carried over into real life, would make the Salem Witch Trials look gentle. Fortunately, that will never happen, because one of the great features of Twitter is that you can log off. But imagine a world where you couldn't. Where everything worked the way it does on Twitter. Where someone might refuse to sell you food because of something you said, or just because they didn't want to be targeted by the same roaming bands of persecutors who went after you. Where you might be tossed out of your home if you rent it, or someone might actually hire a private army to try and kill you because you "triggered" them. I hope at least one idiot will tell me I'm just not ready for freedom, because if you think a world that allows this kind of constant fear of retaliation counts as a free world, then f--k you.
Oh, but I know what comes next. "So start your own community where people won't do that to you, statist!" Let's set aside the enormous amounts of resources and practical difficulties involved in that, and assume it's possible. In fact, assume it's just as possible to found your own community in anarcho-capitalist paradise as it is to found a new message board. Here's a thought: Walk onto any message board and see how long it takes you to find someone trying to wreck the community in the name of their pet political cause.
The great controversies over political correctness haven't occurred because of an outright, open invasion. They've occurred because infiltrators have tried to disrupt preexisting communities that were supposed to be built to keep those sorts of infiltrators out. Atheism+? Sexism in gaming? Metalgate? The Center for a Stateless Society? The Hawkeye Initiative? All movements/organizations led by Social Justice ideologues trying to infiltrate other communities and bend them to their will. Hell, you want a real life example? Look at how Colorado turned blue after a bunch of liberals realized it had a nicer economy than their states and moved there. Or look at the Rotherham scandal in Britain. Except make both worse, because there would be no state to resort to for anything even approaching equal justice when the invaders come. This is what anarchy looks like. This is why your purely "voluntary communities" will never be safe.
Now, of course, I know that the anarcho-capitalists are going to say, "No, you don't understand, this isn't crazy left-wing anarchy. This is anarcho-capitalism! The market will solve these problems." Okay, chuckles. You think the law of economics can stop Social Justice Warriors? The laws of economics are freaking child's play. These are people who can run around convincing segments of society to treat them like actual animals just because they wear ears and a tail, and claim they were born in the wrong species. These are people who say "f--k you" to the laws of linguistics and invent new pronouns out of whole cloth, and actually get sizable communities to treat people who refuse to use them like they're the problem. The laws of economics are supposed to stop them? The laws of biology can't do that, and biology is a much harder science than economics.
Sure, you might hire an army to keep them out for a while. But what happens when Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, the #FullCommunism people, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and every other Leftist pools their collective Patreons and hires an army of their own? Who says they'll even need one? Have you seen the kind of things desperate people will do when they think their condition is someone else's fault? It makes Rapture look nice, and if you don't believe me, just walk down a street in Baltimore.
Social Justice is successful because it caters to the lowest denominator and tells them that anyone who dares to look down on them needs to have a gag stuffed in their mouth. And yes, I said "lowest denominator," not "lowest common denominator." These people have no floor on who they will appeal to. And if you think that message doesn't have a market for it, you must not have been reading Salon or watching MSNBC. In fact, if you want to know why anarcho-capitalism will inevitably devolve into Leftist anarchist mob rule, here's a simple exercise: Look at the traffic numbers for LewRockwell.com and compare them with the traffic numbers for Gawker. Now imagine every one of those unique visitors has a gun and ask yourself, which army wins?
Fortunately, we in the United States have a government that can preserve individualism, and often does, even when it makes the special snowflakes melt. It's not perfect, not by a long shot, and we have a duty to fix that, but these idle, unproductive fantasies about anarcho-capitalism are simply excuses for the cranks, demagogues, and the habitually confused within the liberty movement to get airtime for their own neuroses. It is no accident that the people most attached to it are the ones most enthusiastic about torching the Constitution -- they'd rather live in a world governed by the rules of a Youtube comments section than by a document designed to protect the elevated few against the petulant hordes.
The plural of libertarian is not Tumblr. And as a movement devoted to individual will, rather than the will of all, we should bring down the banhammer, and send these hopeless trolls scurrying back to their safe spaces.
Oh, and by the way? There are anarcho-capitalists who defend those, too.