The Age-Old Question: Is Anarcho-Capitalism Anarchism?

I have a much broader definition of what anarchism is than this author, but this is a very good articulation of the general left-anarchist perspective. I am more of the view that left-anarchism (with its many schismatic subdivisions and hyphens) is one major branch of anarchism. The liberal-libertarian-anarchist tradition (anarcho-capitalists and other “free market” anarchists” is another). “Conservative” anarchism (like Albert Jay Nock, Robert Nisbet, or France’s “anarchisme de droite”) is another. Stirnerite egoism is still another. And each of the “spiritual” categories of anarchism (Christian, Jewish, Islamist, Buddhist, Pagan, Gnostic, Taoist, Mormon, New Age) are their own schools. Panarchism, Indigenous Anarchism, Primitivism, and National-Anarchism are still other kinds. There are other schools that really merit their own category as well. A distinction has to be made as well between explicit anarchisms (like Bakunin, Emma Goldman, or Murray Bookchin) and implicit anarchisms (like Fourier, Gandhi, or Abbie Hoffman, just to name a couple).

By Center for a Stateless Society

Is anarcho-capitalism a form of anarchism? The resounding cry from anarchists of all stripes—including myself—is NO! The debate rages on, but two questions are raised by this claim: why isn’t it anarchism and if it isn’t anarchism then what is it? I believe the answers are: because it fails to meet the deeper commitments of anarchism and is actually a form of radical libertarianism. And this brings up the further question: what then is the relationship between libertarianism and anarchism? I will attempt to substantially elaborate on the former response in order to lead to an open ended exploration of the latter. First though, it bears mentioning that, for much of the world, libertarian and anarchist are used more or less interchangeably. ‘Libertarian’ was first used in a political sense by anarcho-communist Joseph Déjacque and remains in use as an inherently leftist idea in much of the world outside of the United States. However, in 1955, Dean Russell proposed that classical liberals abandon the public title of liberal and advanced that “those of us who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own . . . the good and honorable word ‘libertarian.’” So libertarian in its common usage in the U.S. really just means, at least at its core, liberal. And the meaning of liberalism can be found in its etymological root, with Bettina Bien Greaves writing in the preface to Ludwig von Mises’s Liberalism: In The Classical Tradition that “[t]he term ‘liberalism,’ from the Latin ‘liber’ meaning ‘free’  referred originally to the philosophy of freedom” and summing up its real-world applications as represented by “the free market economy, limited government and individual freedom.” Essentially: liberalism takes the form of a belief in the essential liberty of the individual, the real-world practice of which is the greatest possible minimization of the state and the greatest possible maximization of the market. These are therefore the basics of libertarianism.

Of course, liberalism now dominates the world in its corrupted, hegemonic form of neoliberalism, but at its inception, as Kevin Carson writes, “[t]he liberalism of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and the other classical political economists was very much a left-wing assault on the entrenched economic privilege of the great Whig landed oligarchy and the mercantilism of the moneyed classes” before primarily taking “on the character of an apologetic doctrine in defense of the entrenched interests of industrial capital” [1]. So while libertarianism has a common origin with neoliberalism, it is certainly not the status quo and can therefore be identified as this original radical essence of liberalism brought to bear in the 20th and 21st century. Admittedly, this is giving a lot more credit than is due to vulgar libertarians who, as Carson accounts, “use the term ‘free market’ in an equivocal sense,” seeming “to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles” and consequently become apologists for the status quo and ruling elite, but Jason Lee Byas argues that libertarianism—despite its misuses—is still fundamentally a radical form of liberalism and further that “[t]o say that libertarians are radical liberals is to say more than just that we are more extreme.” It means “taking an idea to its roots, and applying that idea consistently.” Radical liberalism leads to the conclusion that “although our interests are naturally aligned, they are wildly at odds in the world around us. This unnatural disharmony comes from the imposition of power and the way aggression feeds upon aggression” and that though “[t]here is little adrenaline behind the legislator’s vote, the bureaucrat’s checklist, or the policeman’s casual stroll, . . . they are acts of war all the same. Throughout that monotonous charge, the unknowing infantry’s supreme objective is always the protection of political authority.” In turn, radical libertarianism—radical radical liberalism—takes these observations regarding power and violence and the aforementioned aspects of individual freedom, limited government, and the free-market economy to the conclusion of absolute individual sovereignty, zero government, and everything being provided by a market. This is the vision of anarcho-capitalism as described by thinkers like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman, and it may sound like anarchism in the colloquial sense, but the abolition of the state and voluntary association of a genuinely free market is not enough to qualify as anarchism.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

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