Anarchy Versus Libertarianism 8

Hat tip to TGGP for digging up this old blog post from David Friedman.

What I have often found the most bewildering about many anarchists is their rather naive presumption that the specific institutions they claim preference for will necessarily produce the results they want.

Most anarchists of the Left claim to prefer some kind of “direct democracy” of the New England town meeting variety. But when the town meetings of New England had real force the results were that of a Calvinist theocracy-not exactly a manifestation of the left-anarchist ideal.

Anarcho-capitalists favor institutions that are completely privatized: private police, private courts, private law, private prisons. Otherwise known as feudalism. One can just imagine systems of private police and private law pitting pro-lifers against abortionists, Muslims against Christians, blacks against whites, “Aryans” against Jews, feminazis against misogynists, and so forth.

It was after studying anarchist theory for a number of years and coming to understand the weaknesses of these approaches that I came to fully embrace the pan-separatist or anarcho-pluralist outlook. Ultimately, the only way to achieve peace between forces with irreconcilable differences is through territorial and institutional separation. Otherwise, a strong arm state is needed to prevent society at large from degenerating into warring factions. Of course, some anarchists argue that the solution is to maintain a cultural foundation that is conducive to one’s preferred form of “anarchy.” For instance, left-anarchists will insist that the way to avoid having direct democracy degenerate into theocracy is the development of a culture that rejects “hierarchy,” which is more or less a euphemism for the usual laundry list of Isms and Phobias. But the flaw in this approach is its universalism. Otherness is inevitable, as the intra-left-anarchist race war that transpired between Anarchist People of Color and Crimethinc a while back illustrates. Here we had the edifying spectacle of blindly fanatical anti-racist, anarchist, people of color engaged in open combat (fortunately non-lethal, so far) with blindly fanatical anti-racist, anarchist, people of non-color (un-color?). Can we assume that following the anarcho-leftoid revolution the various ethnic factions will start attacking each other with their respective “Smash Racism” signs?

8 comments

  1. I’m not sure why you identify anarcho-capitalism with feudalism. Central to feudalism was a system of territorial sovereignty–if you held land in a particular place, you held it from a particular feudal lord. Whether desirable or undesirable, that is quite different from a system where individuals are free to contract with any rights enforcement agency that is willing to have them as customers.

    Further, feudal systems involved a hierarchy reaching up to a sovereign, although one whose rights and powers were much more limited than in the system of absolute monarchy with which feudalism is sometimes confused. There is nothing corresponding to that in an anarcho-capitalist society, at least one along the lines I have sketched in the past. The relations are pairwise between rights enforcement agencies, not hierarchical.

  2. David,

    First, it’s a pleasure to be discussing this with you. Reading your book “Machinery of Freedom” years ago is what got me on the road to thinking about these questions.

    I realize the theoretical differences between feudalism and anarcho-capitalism. My suspicion, however, is that anarcho-capitalism would, at least over time, produce a system comparable to feudalism where a particular private defense agency, or rights enforcement organization, would monopolize territory without theoretically constituting a state, at least not in the conventional sense.

    If there are to be competing criminal codes within the same territorial area, what happens when the pro-life PDA declares abortion to be a capital crime but the pro-choice PDA declares it an inalienable right? Either the two sides would go to war, and one would suppress the other by force, or one would buy the other off in exchange for acquiescence or negotiate some kind of middle ground. How is this any different from what happens in the present system?

    In the current system, law is made through backroom deals between politicians, lobbyists, interest groups and so forth, and votes for pieces of legislation are traded off for votes on other pieces. If it comes down to it, the losing side is suppressed by force. I’ve read the works that you, Rothbard, the Tannehills, Benson, Barnette, etc. have published on this question, and if the kinds of institutions you advocate were put into practice, I think we would basically have territorial monopolies by armed insurance agencies. I’m making no argument or value judgement as to whether this would be a good or bad state of affairs. I’m just trying to call them like I see them.

    Btw, Hans Hermann Hoppe has stated that feudal society was stateless. I take it you disagree with that. What would be your rebuttal to Hoppe?

    My approach is fairly similar to your son Patri’s ideas on seasteading, except a little more modest. I think those pursuing a particular lifestyle or political ideology should simply colonize particular geographical regions that are most conducive to their interests (like the Free Staters are doing) and start agitating for secession on the model of Norway’s secession from Sweden.

    The only way to have anarchy is to have near unanimity of opinion on most major issues within a particular territory. That way, no one has any need to suppress anyone else. The only way to do with is with small, self-managed communities organized along specific cultural or ideological themes agreed upon by their inhabitants. For instance, a separatist community of drug users and prostitutes could theoretically have their own police and security forces, but ones that uphold their interests rather than attacking them.

  3. David, part of the problem is, as Bob Black explained in My Anarchism Problem, anarchy itself is rather poorly defined. As Black notes, Kropotkin seemed to think the medieval towns were anarchic. From the other end of the spectrum, Hans Herman Hoppe seems to have a fondness for that era, Spencer Heath’s vertically integrated proprietary communities (“Georgism turned on its head”) are something like it, and your son Patri’s Seasteads are similar. This is also why left-wing critics often deride plumb-line or right-libertarians as feudalists or royalists.

    Nick Szabo, who is somewhat libertarian but not an anarchist, has written a lot about feudalism and property rights in jurisdiction. He is quite critical of your use of the Coase theorem in discussions of anarcho-capitalism. I’d be interested to hear your response to him.

    keith, your note about anarchy being possible within similar communities seems sort of supported by Elinor Ostrom’s work on self-governing commons. David himself made a similar point in his video/lecture on market failure/public goods. I haven’t read it yet, but Ellickson’s “Order Without Law” gives examples of that happening among neighboring farmers in California (though this is an example of people already living under a state). Will Wilkinson did a diavlog a while back with the author of a book criticizing economics called “The Dismal Science”. His main counter-example is the Amish, who are of course a small likeminded religious group who don’t find a state necessary. I apologize if I’m throwing out to many references, but Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” says one of the major differences between cities & suburbs (or small towns) is the presence of strangers. The mechanisms that smaller communities rely on break down with strangers, whereas cities rely on their heavy presence (yet also having some long-established local figures to play key roles). Cities need to rely more on impersonal interaction and institutions which support them. This helps to explain why, as Ed Glaeser has pointed out, urbanization leads to liberalism.

  4. Pingback: Strangers & the State « Entitled to an Opinion

  5. Either the two sides would go to war, and one would suppress the other by force, or one would buy the other off in exchange for acquiescence or negotiate some kind of middle ground. How is this any different from what happens in the present system?

    In the current system, law is made through backroom deals between politicians, lobbyists, interest groups and so forth, and votes for pieces of legislation are traded off for votes on other pieces.

    Go read my dad’s “Anarchy And Efficient Law” (http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Anarchy_and_Eff_Law/Anarchy_and_Eff_Law.html). There is a clean and specific argument why the deals made in democracy don’t tend to produce the economically efficient compromise, whereas deals made between protection agencies do produce it. You may or may not agree with the argument, and if you disagree i’d be interested to hear why, but the quoted section indicates that you are not familiar with the argument.

    Now, I happen to think there is a decent chance that territorial monopolies are stable and anarchy isn’t, but that is a separate issue. I think the case is quite solid that while anarchy exists, it will produce compromises in a fundamentally different way than democracy, and one which is more likely to create net wins.

  6. Good to hear from you, Patri. Thanks for your participation.

    I’ve read quite a bit of your father’s and other works by leading anarcho-capitalists. I find anarcho-capitalist legal theory to be fascinating, and I’m not opposed to an-caps as a matter of principle. No greater or more reliable allies against the State can be found anywhere. But like all other proposed utopias, I think it would turn out differently in practice than what it is supposed to be in theory.

    It may well be that polycentric private law might turn out to be more efficient than monocentric state law. The first question is how do you define “efficiency” in the first place? Beyond that, there’s still going to be winners and losers in any kind of system. There may be more net wins but there will still be losers. That’s why I tried to use the abortion controversy as a means of illustrating this problem. There can be no reconciliation between those who believe abortion is a crime against humanity and those who regard it as an inalienable right. Ultimately, one is going to have to submit to the one who has superior force in any system: democracy, anarchy, fascism, theocracy, or communism.

    I certainly think legal systems without territorial monopolies can exist. There’s plenty of precedent: the Ottoman millet system, medieval Europe with its overlapping authorities of Church, manor, city, merchant law, etc., the Icelandic Commonwealth your dad has written about. But ultimately there will always be someone who draws the sword or the gun and says, “The line stops here.”

    Btw, good luck with your seasteading project. I’d very much like to see a proliferation of anarchic sea-nations. I might even relocate to one.

  7. >I realize the theoretical differences between feudalism and anarcho-capitalism. My suspicion, however, is that anarcho-capitalism would, at least over time, produce a system comparable to feudalism where a particular private defense agency, or rights enforcement organization, would monopolize territory without theoretically constituting a state, at least not in the conventional sense.

    Its not a new assumption, as it is also made by Nozick and is his basis for original rejection of anarchy.

    In general, most of it is based on opinion, as empirical knowledge of such an outcome is scant, and debate on the subject tends to decline into a mudfight about whether or not the proponents of a given non-territorial protection scheme should be exiled to Somalia or not.

    My guess is that the viability of a polycentric/non-terriotrial protection system would not be about economic efficiency as much as it would be about culture; a culture where “live and let live” mentality prevails would possibly allow a polycentric law system to flourish; one where the typical “fuck it all, let the winner take the spoils whatever the cost” would see it succumb to whoever is bent on domination and has the resources to see such an intention through, which would then become any choisce to state monopoly on law and policing; kleptocracy.

    (I’d add that Feudalism can be seen as a decentral form of a monarchial order, like Federalism is a decentralised form of modern national statism).

    As usual, there are no silver bullets.

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