Why Anarcho-“Capitalist” and Not Just “Anarchist”? – Opting Out

anarcho-capitalist anarcho-capitalism anarchocapitalism anarchy anarchism

I’m a Lockean when it comes to language – I don’t believe that “words mean things,” as the Twitterites like to remind us. Sometimes they mean things, for some things, and to specific people, but not objectively. Language is an imperfect but pragmatic way of explaining things. Words only “mean things” insofar as it assists in our perennial struggle to explain what we mean. So the only hard and fast rule is: don’t be confusing.

As long as we define what we mean before we start any discussion, then I’m not married to any particular term. If we can agree that what I believe is called “socialist,” then I’m a socialist. If it’s more pragmatic to call me a “capitalist,” that’s what I am. Let’s just get to the hearts of the issue, please.

That said, there are what I think reasonable grounds for calling myself an “anarcho-capitalist.” “Anarcho,” because I don’t believe the state is morally legitimate and we’d be better off without it. This is a widely-accepted term to describe a stateless society, so I think it’s fine to use it. The only reason why it would be confusing would be to those who believe that “anarchy” simply means chaos. It has been used in that context before, so to those people I would say I believe in the rule of law without the state. A bit more of a mouthful, but useful in that specific situation.

I’m a “capitalist,” because I think that private property owners should be permitted to exist and trade freely, including accumulating capital. I think the private ownership of the means of production is the most moral economic system, protects against conflict and produces the most prosperity. I also think that in the stateless society, this is the economic system that will flourish.

A reasonable claim against calling myself a “capitalist” would be that “libertarian” is a much more fundamental principle of mine. In a truly libertarian society, that is, a society free of coercion, nobody would be forced to participate in any kind of economic system. Although I prefer capitalism, I have no problem with workers that want to voluntarily come together to run an enterprise, or to live in a society of “mutual aid” where work and product are divvied out evenly. Absolutely no issue with that at all.

The problem arises with some people that advocate for these kinds of “left”-libertarian arrangements. I insist that it is these others that have started this debate about whether anarcho-”capitalist” is appropriate. I would have been quite happy to just call myself a libertarian anarchist were it not for the ubiquity of what I feel is deliberate terminological inexactitude of some of these lefties.

To be specific, I take my aim at Kevin Carson, of the Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS), whose sole aim in life, it seems, is to be as confusing as possible in his use of language. Back in 2009, he wrote “Socialism: A Perfectly Good Word Rehabilitated”, which illustrates what he’s trying to do:

“… it’s a fairly common observation among market anarchists that genuinely free markets have the most legitimate claim to the label ‘socialism’.”

The arguments seem sound enough on the surface: the individual anarchists who once described themselves as “socialist” do not differ greatly from the modern libertarian anarchist in their opposition to state-offered privileged at the expense of the productive class. Others will cite Hoppe, who attempted to reconcile Marx’s class analysis with Austrian economics. There’s plenty of crossover and integration to consider.

Then Carson has a reasonable point against identifying as a capitalist:

“Why name an economic system based on free markets after one factor of production in particular, especially when even neoclassical orthodoxy regards capital as only one coequal factor among several? The choice of terms, perhaps unwittingly, suggests a system in which the interests of capital have an especially privileged status; it may also suggest something about the sympathies of those who chose the term.”

Yet the real issue here is one of confusion: why so eager to jettison the word “capitalism” for “socialism” when the latter word is no less nebulous? Most people in real life could not possibly conflate these two concepts. Socialism, for most people, means a command economy with mega-statism. If “capitalism” is inappropriate, surely “socialism” is more so.

Could it possibly be because Carson identifies with real-life socialism and is trying to conflate it with libertarianism? He has tried to rescue the labour theory of value. He believes that anybody earning over $250k is a parasite. He has called for the guillotine of telecom executives. If it weren’t for the selective Rothbard citings, his work would fit-in in a Worker’s Party pamphlet.

This is mostly why I identify as an anarcho-capitalist: to distinguish myself from those whose agendas are less than clear.

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James Smith

Writer and film-maker from the United Kingdom. Digital nomad. Author of 'The Shy Guy's Guide to Travelling'.