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Anarchism and anarcho-capitalism (Part 2)

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Posted 10/30/07 - 5:12 AM:
Subject: Anarchism and anarcho-capitalism (Part 2)
In part 1 I looked at the foundations of anarchist theory, some aims and objectives of anarchism and objections to the theory. I concluded that anarchism has weaknesses of workability, relies on questionable assumptions of human nature and may not (if it were to exist) provide the freedoms that the anarchist so badly wants.

Let us now look at a modern variant of anarchism, anarcho-capitalism. Often attributed to Murray Rothbard, this variation of anarchist theory claims that the state should be abolished and that private individuals and private companies should control all social and domestic affairs. Rand and Nozick have put forward broadly similar theories, based on an absolute right to private property. Block has further argued that all economic transactions, including prostitution and drug pushing, should be decriminalised, as they represent ‘voluntary’ transactions.

I would want to question the term ‘voluntary’ in this context, and this leads us into an initial objection to a-c theory. How can a theory which raises the transaction between a desperate drug addict and their pusher be seen as a paradigm of fairness? A-c theorists seem to turn a blind eye to the inequalities and human miseries concomitant with unrestrained capitalism, in their efforts to maintain coherence of their theory.
Indeed, even regarding everyday employment as ‘voluntary’ in the a-c sense is questionable, as the employee is often obliged by constraints, such as the need for food and shelter, and these constraints can be tightened via certain coercive private property systems. There are some deeper questions of economic distribution here, which would repay further examination.

We should also note here an underlying problem of selection. Whilst the a-c theorist wants to base a theory on an assumed state of human nature, this theorist has selected certain human activities as natural and dispensed with other human activities as unnatural. This is not obviously the case, and leaves us to argue over which human activities are to fit the ‘natural’ bill, when it may be that all human activities are a part of human nature, including those activities that the a-c theorist doesn’t like.

Another objection, acknowledged by Nozick, (Anarchy, State and Utopia) reflects the problem of workability that I raised in part 1. For example, by dismantling the territorial and judicial control of the state, how could we avoid private agencies competing with each other and eventually producing locally dominant monopolies? It is easy to see an analogy between the a-c scenario and that of gang warfare, in which rival gangs compete for their turf. An a-c theorist might counter that a-c theory contains a non-aggression principle which would avoid these conflicts, but who is to police such a principle? We also have the objection that a non-aggression principle relies on the dubious claim that all violence is state violence. History does not bear this claim out.

Further to the moral and workability objections above, we also have to look at the problem of benefits. It is descriptively clear that there are benefits to be had from territorial security: a military, roads and transport systems, hospitals, parks etc. These benefits make modern life easier, indeed possible. Utilitarians have therefore argued that an a-c theory leads us in the wrong direction, away from maximum utility and why would we want that? A-c theorists can argue, of course, that they are not interested in the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’ and this leads us into another objection.

There is nothing in a-c theory to underline our obligations to help others. A-c theorists can simply say that this is a private matter for the individual and not any kind of moral imperative. A critic can object that this is selfish, but this is a hard question of ethics (not just in a-c theory) and requires deeper debate at that level.

In conclusion, we have a number of objections to a-c theory, the more obvious being lack of workability and lack of benefits. These objections imply an a-c world which many of us would not choose to live in. However, the harder objections, coming out of voluntariness and selfishness/altruism go much deeper and are IMO most interesting. We might ask, what practical choices would we enjoy in the a-c world and how would we relate ethically to others in that world?

In the final analysis it may be that an examination of these questions will tell us something not just about the theory, but about ourselves.


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