To James On Anarcho-Capitalism

Source: Mises Canada

paintingmelbourneBetter late than never I suppose! I hope this response finds you and your associates at Mises Canada well, James.

Back in July you took issue with a now-deleted article, where I weighed-in on the topic of anarcho-capitalism. Specifically, you disagreed with my assessment that the ideology is a hopeless contradiction. You put considerable effort in being both fair and reasonable with your arguments; I will do my best to return the favor.

Before I begin, I concede that it was incorrect to write off the ideology as I did. That was a low-hanging fruit that I’m sure any seasoned rhetorician could level against any opposing ideology. While I still find the combination of “anarchy” and “capitalism” to be somewhat incongruent, while I think the thought experiments and real-world examples offered by ancaps aren’t that convincing, it doesn’t really cut to what I believe to be the ultimate failing of your ideology.

…Which I will get into after I first clear up two minor quibbles with this article.

1: While perhaps the title better fit my style at the time your article was published, to lump me in with the neoreactionary milieu would be unfair to them. The neoreactionaries are developing a robust, interesting and unique school of thought…  that I largely find myself in disagreement with.

I will get along just fine with you describing me as a “conservative” in future correspondence.

2: The following is taken from your article:

“He issues some deserved criticism at anarcho-capitalist pontificators who use language drenched in moralistic pathos – a crime my own writing can sometimes be guilty of.”

Preferring to appeal to the pathos over the logos does not reflect the overall quality of one’s argument. An idea will stand on its own regardless if it appeals to the heart or to the brain. One does not have to read like a sterilized tome on Austrian economics to signal intellect. If anything, playing with your cards so close to your chest signals insecurity to opponents.

Moving on to the topic at hand.

I concede all the detached arguments and thought experiments I have offered in the past don’t cut to the fundamental flaw with the ideology. Which is that in anarcho-capitalism, the final and ultimate authority is the individual. It is solipsism and narcissism disguised as a coherent and meaningful worldview.

This is usually not explicitly stated, and I’m sure some will argue that I am confusing the ideology with individualist-anarchism. That would be a valid retort were it not for the fact that you will not find an ancap that doesn’t believe the individual has intrinsic rights over and above that of social institutions, norms and beliefs (including anarcho-capitalism itself). This in fact makes the individual the final authority on matters of interpretation. Sorry.

The individual being final authority explains the existence of C4SS types who interpret anarcho-capitalism as having a more Marxist flavor. This explains why you will find such a dizzying array of interpretations among people who ostensibly claim the same ideology, from outright racists to hardline egalitarians, from blowhards like Larken Rose to affable ole’kooks like Jeffrey Tucker.

This individualism explains why people who call themselves ancaps tend to take criticism very hard. Being the center of their ideology, the adherent sees a criticism of the ideology as a criticism of their own mental faculties. This explains why many ancaps shut down when criticized; they view even the most objective criticism as a personal attack on their character.

This also spells out why those who stop believing in the ideology typically take it very, very hard.  Myself included.

People want to believe in something greater than themselves. They want to believe what they think and work for in this life will lead to something better. Even the most objective and enlightened thinker will betray this idealism in his work. Human action requires this very human element of hope and desire. Without such a drive a man would become inert, would be consumed by despair.  (As an aside, it would do the sterile utilitarian thinker good to bring themselves down to the level of the filthy existentialist once in a while.)

Anarcho-capitalism offers the framework for someone to construct an ideal in their own mind. This allows for some very interesting ideas and concepts at times. Being entirely reliant upon the individual, however, it can never go beyond the self. Beyond vague human interactions in a specific and constricting formula, it does not reconcile the individual with ideas bigger than his or herself. If anything, it encourages them to be fearful of, even hostile towards such superstitions.

To be fair, very few ancaps fall into full solipsism. Most are content with experiencing a sort of smug superiority and detachment towards the majority of humanity and their machinations.

For many ancaps the real existential crisis begins when they find themselves among fellow believers.

Eventually your ideas of ancap paradise will conflict with another person’s. Maybe you will even find someone who built a nightmare with the same tools you were given. You will likely be challenged with “no true scotsman” argumentation at some point; I know that I experienced such condemnations numerous times as an ancap.

I know for a fact James, that you could be challenged by a fellow ancap for even suggesting that you would be willing to work with statists. You are sacrificing your ideals and no true believer in anarcho-capitalism would work with the enemy to blah blah. I know you’ve heard that before.

This ideology deigns to facilitate human cooperation, yet in reality it becomes a constant battle among adherents to climb up the pecking order. And for what? If you ever find yourself separated from the bickering mass, what will you see? What does the milieu actually look like from the outside?

If you actually attempt to fly too high you will be accused (correctly, I might add) of attempting to build a new state, a new social construct. In your milieu no higher ideal exists beyond modeling fedoras, wow-ing fellows with your personal ideas that are neutered by the fundamental notion that it’s ultimately “like, just your opinion, man.”

And that really sucks.

I look forward to hearing back from you, James.  I also know you sent an article in the past; I will read it shortly and either respond to it or publish it. Maybe both. I promise not to take months in responding in the future.