ON PETER SABATINI’S “LIBERTARIANISM: BOGUS ANARCHY”
: A distinct mainstream movement specific to the United States, Libertarianism had its inception during the 1960s. In 1971 it formed into a political party and went on to make a strong showing in several elections. Libertarianism is at times referred to as “anarchism,” and certain of its adherents call themselves “anarchists,” e.g., the economist James Buchanan.
Buchanan is not an anarchist, never claimed to be an anarchist, and has editted two volumes of essays debating and critiquing anarcho-capitalism. He is a very moderate minimal statist.
: The chronology of anarchism within the United States corresponds to what transpired in Europe and other locations. An organized anarchist movement imbued with a revolutionary collectivist, then communist, orientation came to fruition in the late 1870s. At that time, Chicago was a primary center of anarchist activity within the USA, due in part to its large immigrant population.
Wrong. Anarchy is defined by the anarchist communist Kropotkin as “the condition of society without a government.” Organised movements to abolsh all government were formed even before the European International Working Men’s Association, the primary example being the New England Labour Reform League, which became simply the Labour Reform League, and advocated, in addition to the abolition of government, “Free Markets and Free Contracts.”
George Henry Evan’s movement was older, dating back to the 1830s, advocating the abolition of the state and centering a lot on the abolition of land monopolies and the maintainance of privately minted gold currency.
The Abolitionist movement also contained a movement of people called “The No Government Men” who wanted to abolish “compulsory government,” advocating that all necessary goods be provided voluntarily through the free market.
This is not to forget radicals in the French Liberal school in the early 1800s who were moved by Godwin’s book “Political Justice,” and advocated, in addition to Smithian capitalism, the abolition of government.
So there were plenty of organised movements for anarchy, according to the definition given by Kropotkin, that also advocated capitalism.
: What then does any of this have to do with Libertarianism? In effect, nothing, aside from a few unsupported claims. Libertarianism is not anarchism, but actually a form of liberalism.
So why not an anarchist form of liberalism? If you can have anarchist forms socialism and communism, why not liberalism?
: It does, however, have a point of origin that is traceable to the same juncture as anarchism’s marginalization. So in this limited sense there is a shared commonality. To be more precise, the rapid industrialization that occurred within the United States after the Civil War went hand in glove with a sizable expansion of the American state.
But this industrialisation happened in spite of the state, rather than because of it. State growth, state intervention, was for the benefit of corporate bodies, as a history of the railways will show. Libertarians are opposed to state intervention for companies or for anybody else.
: At the turn of the century, local entrepreneurial (proprietorship/partnership) business was overshadowed in short order by transnational corporate capitalism. The catastrophic transformation of US society that followed in the wake of corporate capitalism fueled not only left wing radicalism (anarchism and socialism), but also some prominent right wing opposition from dissident elements anchored within liberalism. The various stratum comprising the capitalist class responded differentially to these transpiring events as a function of their respective position of benefit. Small business that remained as such came to greatly resent the economic advantage corporate capitalism secured to itself, and the sweeping changes the latter imposed on the presumed ground rules of bourgeois competition. Nevertheless, because capitalism is liberalism’s raison d’etre, small business operators had little choice but to blame the state for their financial woes, otherwise they moved themselves to another ideological camp (anti-capitalism). Hence, the enlarged state was imputed as the primary cause for capitalism’s “aberration” into its monopoly form, and thus it became the scapegoat for small business complaint. Such sentiments are found vented within a small body of literature extending from this time, e.g., Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, The State (1935); what may now rightly be called proto-Libertarianism.
Good. This is totally accurate, if slightly biased. However, this same account is given by anarchist and socialist writers from the 1960s as well, such as famous anarchist communist Paul Goodman, as well as Marxist historian Gabriel Kolko. So not only the Old Right but also the New Left blamed the development of monopoly capitalism on state intervention rather than the natural workings of the free market.
: As a self-identified ideological movement, however, Libertarianism took more definite shape from the 1940s onward through the writings of novelist Ayn Rand.
: The exaltation of liberal individualism and minimal state laissez-faire capitalism that permeates Rand’s fictional work as a chronic theme attracted a cult following within the United States. To further accommodate supporters, Rand fashioned her own popular philosophy (“Objectivism”) and a membership organization. Many of those who would later form the nucleus of Libertarianism came out of Objectivism, including two of its chief theoreticians, John Hospers and Murray Rothbard. Another conduit into Libertarianism carried a breakaway faction from William F. Buckley’s college youth club, the Edmund Burke-style conservative Young Americans For Freedom.
Wrong. William Buckley was outspoken against libertarianism from the outset. He moderated his views when he saw how libertarianism was competing so successfully against his conservatism, but not much, and his paper, National Review, continues to oppose libertarianism, especially objecting to Lew Rockwell.com. The YAF was officially opposed to libertarianism, and there was split in its ranks when a sizeable minority split off to follow Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess, advocating anarcho-capitalism. This new faction set up a new organisation, seperate and distinct from the YAF. They left the YAF.
: More academic input arrived from the Austrian school of neoclassical economics promulgated by F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises (of which the economist Rothbard subscribes). All these marginal streams intermingled during the mid to late 1960s, and finally settled out as Libertarianism in the early 1970s.
Don’t forget the New Left. Many people came to libertarianism from the New Left, because libertarianism, like the New Left favoured decentralisation, civil rights, voluntary co-operation, and opposed the corporate warfare-welfare state and the war in South East Asia (Vietnam).
: It is no coincidence that Libertarianism solidified and conspicuously appeared on the scene just after the United States entered an economic downturn (at the same time Keynesian economics was discredited and neoclassical theory staged a comeback). The world-wide retrenchment of capitalism that began in the late 1960s broke the ideological strangle hold of a particular variant of (Locke-Rousseau) liberalism, thereby allowing the public airing of other (Locke-Burke) strains representing disaffected elements within the capitalist class, including small business interests. Libertarianism was one aspect of this New Right offensive. It appeared to be something sui generis. Libertarianism provided a simplistic status quo explanation to an anxious middle class threatened by the unfathomed malaise of capitalism and growing societal deterioration, i.e., blame the state.
A: Why is that a status quo explaination, and B: Why is that different from anarchism?
: And this prevalent grasping at straws attitude accounts for the success of Robert Nozick’s popularization of Libertarianism, Anarchy, State, And Utopia (1974). It rode the crest of this polemic rift within liberalism. The book was deemed controversial, even extreme, by establishment liberals (and social democrats long pacified by the welfare state), who, secure in power for decades, were now under sustained attack by their own right wing. Yet at bedrock, Nozick’s treatise was nothing more than old wine in a new bottle, an updating of John Locke.
Firstly, these were straws grasped at by the New Left thinkers too, they just saw a different solution. Their critique came to the same thing, though – the state is to blame.
Secondly, Nozick never claimed to be doing anything more than updating Locke anyway.
Thirdly, Nozick’s book was also considered radical by the right, such as conservatives. For instance, look at Roger Scruton’s criticisms.
: Libertarianism is not anarchism. Some Libertarians readily admit this. For example, Ayn Rand, the radical egoist, expressly disavows the communal individuality of Stirner in favor of liberalism’s stark individualism. Plus Robert Nozick makes pointed reference to the US individualist anarchists, and summarily dismisses them. This explicit rejection of anarchism is evidence of the basic liberalist ideology that Libertarians hold dear.
No it isn’t. Rand never accepted the label “libertarian,” firstly because she associated it with anarcho-capitalism, and secondly because those libertarians which are minimal statists but only took selectively from her philosophy were philosophically inconsistent in her views.
So she criticised libertarian anarchists, like Rothbard and Friedman as much (at least) and other anarchists. She did so on the grounds that she felt that they weren’t real liberal individualists. So this either proves that Rothbard wasn’t a liberal individualist as this author says he was, or that Rand was wrong. The consequence of this can only be that either there can be liberal anarchism, if Rothbard was correct and Rand wrong, or that anarcho-capitalism is not liberalism, if Rand was correct and Rothbard wrong. Neither conclusion supports the thesis of this paper.
Nozick, it is true, dismissed the individualist anarchists. However, even a cursory glimpse at the end notes of his book will show that he included the anarcho-capitalists such as Friedman and Rothbard under the title “individualist anarchist.” So again we are left with the dilemma that faces the author in the Ayn Rand example above.
: But more specifically, within the movement itself there exist factional interests. There are Libertarians who emphasize lifestyle issues and civil liberties (an amplification of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty). They want the state out of their “private” lives, e.g., in drug use and sexual activity. Others are chiefly concerned with economics. They champion laissez-faire/“free-market”/ neoclassical economics, and fault the state for corrupting “natural” capitalism. Although both groups despise the state intensely, neither wants to completely do away with it. This minimal state position, sufficient by itself to debar Libertarianism from classification as anarchism, is embraced by Rand, Buchanan, Hospers, and Nozick.
Good. These libertarians are obviously not anarchists, never claimed to be, criticised anarchism (including anarcho-capitalism). However, since some libertarians are and claim to be anarchists, it has yet to be proved that this latter group aren’t really.
: More revealing, however, is why Libertarians retain the state. What they always insist on maintaining are the state’s coercive apparatuses of law, police, and military.
Which libertarians? The ones the author has dismissed above, or the ones, like Rothbard and Friedman, that he hasn’t got to yet?
: The reason flows directly from their view of human nature, which is a hallmark of liberalism, not anarchism. That is, Libertarianism ascribes social problems within society (crime, poverty, etc.) to an inherent disposition of humans (re: why Locke argues people leave the “state of nature”), hence the constant need for “impartial” force supplied by the state. Human corruption and degeneracy stemming from structural externalities as a function of power is never admitted because Libertarianism, like liberalism, fully supports capitalism.
This is firstly, not true, and secondly, question begging. If it were true that libertarians do not criticise structure because they support capitalism, then they would also have to support the welfare state, which is a social structure. Also, most notably, both David Friedman have criticised state structures for causing or promoting “degeneracy,” firstly with the involvement of enforcing laws against victimless crimes, and secondly through the fact that a nationalised police force promotes bribery.
: It does not object to its power, centralization, economic inequality, hierarchy, and authority.
Thats because they also argue that these things come from voluntary agreements under capitalism, and so to interfere with them would mean attacking peaceful people doing as they choose.
: The “liberty” to exploit labor and amass property unencumbered by the state is the quintessence of capitalism, and the credo of Libertarianism and liberalism, all of which is the utter negation of anarchism.
Again, this is circular and question begging. Claiming that the word “capitalism,” by definition means “the exploitation of workers” and then saying “therefore capitalism involves the exploitation of workers” is a logicaslly incoherent argument. Any libertarian could simply turn around and say, “fine, since what we support doesn’t involve the exploitation of workers, we are not capitalists.” That capitalism involves exploitation is the very issue we are discussing. Using a conclusion as a premise to prove that conclusion is illogical.
: Lastly to be addressed is the apparent anomaly of Murray Rothbard. Within Libertarianism, Rothbard represents a minority perspective that actually argues for the total elimination of the state. However Rothbard’s claim as an anarchist is quickly voided when it is shown that he only wants an end to the public state. In its place he allows countless private states, with each person supplying their own police force, army, and law, or else purchasing these services from capitalist venders.
OK, so what is a state, then? Here the issue really seems to be that Rothbard wants to abolish what he calls the state, but not what the author calls a state. Since the accepted definition, accepted by sociologists the world around, is that a state is an organisation that monopolizes the use of force over a particular geographic area, or, better, an organisation the promises to punish, to the best of its ability, all those who use force without its permission within its jurisdiction, Rothbard seeks to abolish the state, according to the accepted definition. After all, Rothbard’s suggestion would, as Tucker pointed out, lead to the possibility of each member of a single household belonging to a seperate “state,” and there being more than one “state” in England. Such an outcome is incompatible with the accepted definition of a state.
: Rothbard has no problem whatsoever with the amassing of wealth, therefore those with more capital will inevitably have greater coercive force at their disposal, just as they do now.
Not necessarily. They may have greater force at their disposal, but whether they have greater coercive force at their disposal is a different matter. There are market failures attached to the provision of non-libertarian law which mean that non-libertarian (that which aggresses against person and property) will tend to be under supplied on a free market relative to the supply of libertarian law (that which protects person and property against agression).
: Additionally, in those rare moments when Rothbard (or any other Libertarian) does draw upon individualist anarchism, he is always highly selective about what he pulls out. Most of the doctrine’s core principles, being decidedly anti-Libertarianism, are conveniently ignored, and so what remains is shrill anti-statism conjoined to a vacuous freedom in hackneyed defense of capitalism.
Can you give examples of where individualist anarchists are “anti-libertarian.” They were anti-monopoly capitalism, anti-rent and anti-interest. However, they did not support compulsory mutual banking, and so they necessarily supported the right of individuals to try to make profit, rent, and interest in a free market. They simply didn’t think they would have much success, not that they shouldn’t be allowed to try.
: In sum, the “anarchy” of Libertarianism reduces to a liberal fraud. David Wieck’s critique of Rothbard, applicable to Libertarianism in general, will close this discussion.
OK, so this author ends here. Arguing that collectivist/syndicalist/communist anarchism is the only real anarchism, by default of “showing” that capitalist anarchism isn’t real anarchism, he neglects to cover the topic of what anarcho-socialists will do about capitalists in world without states. Supposing the logical possibility that people may try to own land for their own use, or to rent or sell it to others to use;that some people may want to work for others, and those others may want to employ them; that some people may want to exchange their goods amongst each other rather than add them to the common store, and may eventually end up using some commoddity solely for the purpose of facilitating such exchanges, he has yet to show what anarcho-socialists will do about this.
Either they will permit such actions, allowing these people to live their lives as they choose, or they won’t – they will prevent this.
If anarchism is incompatible with preventing people from being capitalists or working for a capitalist, if thats what one wants, then anarchism is incompatible with preventing capitalist acts between consenting adults.
This logically implies that anarchism is compatible with not preventing capitalism. Since not preventing something is the same as allowing it, anarchism is, therefore, compatible with allowing capitalism. Therefore, anarchism means that people can be total capitalists if they want – it means that nobody should stop you being a capitalist. This is all logically deduced from the proposition that, in a world without a state, it would be incompatible with anarchism for anarcho-socialists to prevent people from behaving in a capitalist manner if thats what they, and those involved wanted.
But if anarchism is compatible with preventing this, then I would like to know how socialist anarchists are to do it. Would they have anarchist police to prosecute these people under the anarchist law against capitalism, drawn up by the anarchist government? An odd form of anarchism!
Anarcho-socialists may respond that anarcho-capitalists believe that you can have “police” (of sorts) enforcing laws in an anarchist society. However, anarcho-capitalists would respond that these would be police that subscribers choose to pay for, enforcing the laws that subsribers choose to pay for. No worker wanting to work for an employer would hire a protection agency to enforce a law against hiring workers, and no employer wanting to employ a worker would do so either. Nobody wanting to buy from a seller would hire a protection agency to enforce a law against selling, and no seller wanting to sell to a buyer would want to hire a protection agency to enforce a law against buying. So it is clear that any “anarchist police” that socialist anarchists want to enforce a law preventing people from performing capitalist actions would have to be forced upon those people, this law would have to be imposed by force, upon the workers and consumers it claims to be protecting, as well as on the capitalists themselves.
In a world without states, and so no monopoly of force, these workers and capitalists would be able to use force, or get others to use force, to protect their ability to engage in capitalist acts against the “anarchist police” that the socialist anarchist would want. To prevent this, the socialist anarchist’s “anarchist police” would have to be able to prevent others than themselves from using force, at least within that area. This, however, would make them fit the accepted sociological definition of a state. So we would have an “anarchist state.”
Thus it is easy to see that if anarchism is incompatible with allowing people to be capitalists if that is what those involved wanted, if anarchism means preventing such things, then anarchism must be pro-state! It must have a government, laws, and police imposed on people whether the like it or not, protected by a monopoly of force, in order to suppress the capitalist acts of those who want to perform or get involved with capitalist acts. It must be in favour of society controlling the individual.
This is a weird kind of anarchism, an anarchism incompatible with Kropotkin’s and Proudhon’s definition of anarchy.
Since the belief that anarchism is incompatible with allowing people to be capitalists if they want leads to a state, which is incompatible with any form of capitalism, it is clear that anarchism must be compatible with allowing capitalism. Given this, anarcho-capitalism has a clear place in the anarchist ideology. Socialist anarchists may argue that nobody in a stateless world would have any interest in engaging in “capitalist acts between consenting adults,” because their prefferred socialist variety of anarchism would provide for people’s needs enough for them not to bother with capitalism. But then this would cease to be a debate about whether anarcho-capitalism is really anarchism, and become a debate about whether it would work better than other forms of anarchism.
So this historical essay is all very interesting, but when it touches on capitalism is simply question begging, when it touches on anarchism argues that libertarians who themselves deny being anarchists aren’t anarchists, and then fails to say what the author would do about those who wanted to be capitalists in a stateless world, without erecting a new state to stop them from being so.
It is clear from simple deductive logic that allowing capitalist acts amongst those who want to be involved in them in perfectly compatible with anarchism, because suppressing them would require governments and states, so anarcho-capitalism is compatible with anarchism. Given this, get off our backs and simply discuss whether it would work or not, instead of whether we are anarchists or not.