E A T U R E
||Anarchists aren't just scruffy Starbucks-bashers
and bandana-wearers. Anarcho-Capitalists believe
we'll all have freedom in a world where...
Make No Law
David Barnes • October 2000
While tedious speakers at the Democratic National Convention in Los
Angeles tried to explain how the government will fix every problem, Rage
Against the Machine was holding a protest concert outside. It was intended
to let everyone know that the Democrats’ boring, white fascist empire would
crumble underneath the force of “democracy in the streets.” The protesters
were a motley crew of Communists, Greens and anarchists. People are fairly
familiar with the first two, because they are remarkable similar.
Many Yalies have swooned for Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate for
president, and his socialist project. Anarcho-syndicalists, or anarcho-socialists,
however, represent a very different strain of Leftism.
Anarcho-syndicalists describe themselves as
the modern heirs of Socialism and Liberalism. This is true only in that
they have Socialist goals which they attempt to mask with the ideals of
liberalism. The Socialist believes that central control of the economy
is essential for efficient production to be efficient, and that the capitalist
class system is the primary enemy of the workers. Liberals want to remove
government imposed barriers that inhibit voluntary interactions.
The central tenet of anarcho-socialism is
that authority of any type is inherently destructive. Thus society must
be free from coercion of any kind. Coercion, as they understand it, comes
from any institution: the Church, the State, or the Family. The only just
organizations are voluntary collections of workers—trade unions or syndicates.
This can be contrasted with another strain of anarchy, called free-market
anarchism, voluntaryism, or, more commonly, anarcho-capitalism. This is
the anarchy of the Right. The only similarity between the anarchy of the
protesters and anarcho-capitalism is that they both understand the
State as little more than institutionalized violence.
Anarcho-capitalists spring from a tradition
of property rights and individualism. Individuals acting freely will lead
society towards an order in which consumers’ needs are met. While this
is easily seen to work in standard exchanges of goods, many are skeptical
that people can shop around to find the best police protection and judicial
systems. The anarchist wants to replace government force with choice. Collectivists
want this to be democratic choice, and capitalists want individual choice.
Archists, those who believe that the State is a necessary part of society,
criticize this system as exalting choice as the ultimate value, and say
that this philosophy will dissolve the family and every other institution.
Many institutions in our society encourage public virtue without government
enforcement. Until Statists can show which virtues require State enforcement,
there is no reason that an anarchist society would be necessarily less
virtuous than our current society, which does not seem to be a terribly
high standard. While capitalism differs from other systems in that it is
entirely based on freely arranged, mutually beneficial exchanges, it relies
on hierarchical institutions to stabilize society in a way that is alien
to anarchists of the Left, and which is rapidly becoming alien to our current
Statist culture. While each anarchist has his own views on which institutions
should be encouraged and which others should be done away with, they all
should agree that coercive force is not an acceptable means of interaction
between institutions and those who have not chosen to be a part of them.
Under an anarcho-capitalist system, people would be allowed to sign away
any and all of their rights, if people were willing to create a real social
contract and start the State anew. In this way, anarcho-capitalism envelops
anarcho-syndicalism, in that it accounts for some people’s desire to form
small collectives. Anarcho-capitalists, however, will not force the rest
of society to do so as well.
Anarcho-syndicalists have an inconsistent
view of the role of force. They reject any authority and hierarchy, and
therefore reject force. This is impossible politically, because either
way, someone must enforce property rights (in the first case) or democratic
rights (in the second). This is why every possible anarcho-syndicalist
outline for change requires some type of force, which anarchists call “Direct
Since the two major strains of anarchist thought differ from each other
so radically, it is more useful to compare them to the current system than
to each other. Right now, the State controls most aspects of our lives,
albeit many of them indirectly. The State tinkers with the value of your
money through the Federal Reserve. It subsidizes those industries favored
by the powerful legislators and interests. It forces people to help the
poor inefficiently, no less. An anarchic system would be even more highly
ordered than our own, but the order would be adopted because of pressures
applied by individuals desiring free trade.
This means that it is nearly impossible to predict the course of the
future. Each industry will develop in its own organic manner, and it is
nigh impossible to predict the manner of this development. The best we
can do is to investigate models which work well under the current system
and could be easily adjusted to fit an anarchic world.
The first step towards comprehending anarcho-capitalism
is to understand that taxation is theft. It is very difficult to define
taxation in a way in which it cannot also be used to describe an act of
theft. Taxation is one group of people demanding that another group pay
their salaries. It is tribute paid to our masters in Washington. In exchange,
for our tribute, various services might be provided. Over millennia, people
have come to view the government as more legitimate that the band of robbers
it was in the beginning; this lets the government thieves pretend that
our tributes are voluntary. Just because some people pay taxes willingly
does not mean we all do, and any attempt at tax collection is always backed
up with the force of armed compulsion.
Those who willingly pay their taxes usually
do so because they believe the government is providing services that they
require. People do require roads, police protection, and a legal framework
under which to live. However, it is not at all clear that only the government
can provide these things.
Privatizing roads is one possible first step of the anarchist revolution.
When people are in control of the streets on which they live, they will
take care to maintain them in order to facilitate travel to and from their
businesses and homes.
Under the current system, the people petition
the State to maintain its property which they must use. But there is obviously
a very interested segment of the population who would take on the job of
When everyone owns the road immediately surrounding his property, the
cost will be shared only by those who will somehow make use of this road,
as opposed to the current system under which everyone pays for it through
taxation. Businesses will modify their prices to offset the costs and homeowners
will regain control of the money they save on municipal taxes. All the
stores on a street may enter into co-operatives to fund road repairs by
themselves, or they may lease the road to a separate firm which minimizes
its costs by owning a network of roads. Whichever method ends up being
adopted by the majority of people is impossible to predict, and is largely
irrelevant. The important fact is that the most successful model to keep
the roads well maintained, and the consumers happy, will win out.
Once people can own their own roads, they
will need someone to protect those roads. As most corporations use private
security forces to protect their office buildings and gated communities,
rent-a-cops will likely be most effective at policing privately owned streets.
Individuals could decide exactly how much they are willing to pay for whatever
level of protection they like. This also allows people to change security
providers when the protections promised them is insufficient or the security
guards do not act properly, as opposed to the current police state in which
the populace has little recourse when the police are either ineffective
or excessively brutal. This would probably result in the formation
of various protection agencies to meet the demand for safety.
When the police are privatized, courts are
not far behind. There are already thousands of private arbiters who
can settle matters between corporations without the red tape of the judicial
system. Arbiters are effective because each side consents to the judgment
of the court beforehand. This means that there is no lengthy appeals system,
and that each side can be better assured of a fair deal, because they can
examine each judge thoroughly beforehand. Under our current system, judges
are arbitrarily assigned to each case, even though they might have little
knowledge of the circumstances of the case. For example, the judge assigned
to the Microsoft anti-trust case had almost no knowledge of basic differences
between Microsoft and Apple. In a privatized system, “justice consumers”
might well select knowledgeable judges with a reputation for impartiality.
Without an overarching body of laws to regulate
the system, some might think that society will degrade into chaos. Anarchists
believe that this will not happen as long as a majority of the population
prefers peaceful co-existence to the state of nature. Different agencies
would enter into agreements with one another in order to provide a framework
for resolution of any disputes which might occur in the future. As long
as people will want their protection agency to avoid war (which jacks up
the agency’s prices), they will only sign on to those which have such arrangements
and will abide by them.
The anarcho-syndicalist road to serfdom begins in a general strike
where all of the working men grind the wheels of production to a halt until
the workers can take control of their factories. Everyone will have a common
claim to everything, because private property is the basis of exploitation.
Anarcho-syndicalists view property as theft, while anarcho-capitalists
practically hold property as sacred.
An individual’s right to his own property
is the foundation for any coherent system of rights. Without a right to
personal property, it is difficult to justify to self-ownership, in the
sense that each person should be able to make his own decisions. Anarcho-syndicalists
do not seem to believe in such self-ownership. In their worker’s paradise,
everyone votes on everything that happens. If someone wants to switch
jobs, the other workers vote on it. Imagine a system under which one’s
co-workers could vote to fire whomever they please whenever they please.
Workers will form factions in order to vote their enemies out of the factory
and to get their allies into positions of power on the worker’s congresses.
Promotions will be based on political favors instead of hard work. No one
will be sure of their position and their ability to work in whatever job
they please will vanish.
Under the anarcho-capitalist model expounded
by Murray Rothbard, everything usually understood under the context of
human rights is founded on property rights. From where do we get
freedom of speech? Anyone can say whatever they please on their own property,
or anyone else’s as long as they have permission. From where do people
get the right to freely assemble? Anyone can protest on privately held
roads once they get permission of the owners.
When property is publicly owned, both sides
of an issue have conflicting and equally valid claims about how to use
the property. Sometimes people want to hold a protest on very busy intersections
and block off traffic, but the businesses around the area know that this
will cause problems. Both groups have valid claims. Anarcho-capitalists
solve the problem by giving control of the streets to those who use them
the most, those who live and work on them. These businessmen can make their
own conclusions about the merits of each protest and decide accordingly.
The existence of clearly defined guidelines is one of the most important
factors for a stable society. In a system based on contracts and a firm
understanding of property rights, people are best able to make plans for
the future, because they know that no government policy can be suddenly
changed and no law can be selectively enforced.
The various groups protesting in Los Angeles
had one thing in common, even if they won’t admit it; a hatred of real
freedom. What the Left actually wants people to have is not freedom but
power. And an increase in someone’s power is usually a decrease in someone
else’s freedom. Anarcho-syndicalists want to give people freedom to work
without evil capitalist coercion, but this is only possible by restricting
other people’s freedom. If someone wants to work in any particular job,
an anarcho-syndicalist would want to force other people to not try to compete
for that job. If you think employees never use force to get their way,
remember that people have been attacked for crossing picket lines.
Freedom is based entirely on voluntary associations.
These voluntary associations can take the form of economic dealing (trading
value for value) or social exchanges (like a marriage vow). There are two
options for human interaction; contractual, freely chosen arrangements
or arrangements based on force. Every State throughout history has relied
on force to influence its subjects.
These two different “anarchist” pictures of
a possible society are both based on political philosophies radically different
from the republican democracy of our current society. Anarcho-capitalism,
however, will look remarkably similar to America. Your day could be exactly
the same as it is now; you would just get higher quality services at lower
prices than what we usually get from the government. An anarcho-syndicalist
world would look just like Soviet Russia was supposed to. The only justification
for life would be providing for the collective. The anarcho-syndicalist
world would be an attempt to revive the worst regime in history.
—David Barnes is a sophomore in Branford College
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