Anarcho-Capitalists: A Threat Within the Libertarian Movement

Anarcho-capitalists - libertarianism

Having begun my life in the libertarian movement as a bit of purist myself, I have become more pragmatic over time.

For example, I have come to a greater appreciation that the libertarian movement needs to be careful and prudent. However, in recent months, it has struck me that this call for pragmatism – for an emphasis on gradual changes that will not alienate the masses – is being undermined by a particular group: the anarcho-capitalists.

I do not mean all anarcho-capitalists of course, but there are a considerable number committed to opposing any move towards pragmatism, seeing it as a betrayal of liberty.

This refusal to be pragmatic is deeply harmful to the cause of freedom since it pushes people away from the libertarian movement and reduces the electability of libertarian candidates – without such support and such candidates, there will be fewer pro-liberty advocates in the legislatures.

How might this be so?

The main example of how the anarcho-capitalists often alienate people is through a refusal to allow any form of taxation.

For many of this political persuasion, reducing taxation is not enough; it must be abolished outright, and – for more radical advocates – it must be done immediately.

Now, I sympathize with this. Given taxation is theft; it would seem moral to do away with it outright and immediately. However, to the vast majority of people, the outright abolition of taxation is an obvious absurd decision and they are not wrong.

If the US abolished tax, it would default on its debt.

This is not something to view in the abstract; it would trigger an economic crisis worse than the Great Depression. This is not a controversial view among economists. Iceland provides an insightful case study from recent times, though the effect on the US would be magnified due to size.

If the US were to default, there would be a nearly $20 trillion black hole in the global economy (to put that into perspective, that is more than the GDP of the whole of the European Union), this would trigger inflation (likely hyper-inflation) as the dollar would quickly depreciate, unemployment would surge, investors would flee, and a major global knock-on would occur, because the US economy is an internationalist economy.

Likewise, it would default on its public spending.

The army would cease to be, courts would shut down, police officers would be laid off, schools would close, the millions dependent on welfare would become homeless, and so on. This is inevitable because there would be no finances to pay for them. Again, the general public know this which is why they see the anarcho-capitalist proposal of the outright abolition of taxation as absurd.

No-one wants to experience a default of either kind since it would put the US on par with the Venezuela for quality of life. Couple that with other absurd ideas often entertained by anarcho-capitalists, like the abolition of driver’s licenses, and you have a cocktail of ideas that will keep libertarian candidates out of political office and out of legislatures where they can make real changes. I appreciate anarcho-capitalists dislike of government, but it is the only way that one is likely to make gains for freedom at this time.

Anarcho-capitalists often retort that, after this initial devastation (which, in fact, would likely never recover to pre-crash levels under their system), a freer society could be built without tax and government. However, the public likewise see this as a delusion.

If you have no government, and you need tax for that, natural rights are in peril. You cannot have your property rights upheld because there are no police to do so. You cannot have your court case heard as there are no judges. Indeed, even if you had judges, you would have no laws for them to enforce, for in the absence of government there would be no legal codification of natural rights.

The solution often proposed is that you could privatize these functions in a free market – but again, this idea is utterly unconvincing to most.

If you have a free market of judicial systems, there is no law.

Unless a court holds power over you, it can do nothing. How would the courts get power over you in an anarcho-capitalist system?

Are they chosen by the mutual consent of the population?

If they are, you just have established government; a system whereby a majority consensus empowers certain individuals to use force against others.

If not, then they rely on the use of coercion, of force, without individual consent. As such, the existence of a fair judiciary is incompatible with anarcho-capitalism.

This is no small problem: without a fair judiciary (to which everyone is held to account) there is effectively no law, and our natural rights and liberty are at risk.  There is no legal redress for the violation of those rights.

This only scratches the surface of the problems with anarcho-capitalism.

It is not my intention to write in great detail here, but the central point is clear: anarcho-capitalist purism is as idealistic as Marxist utopianism. This utopian purism completely undermines the libertarian movement.

I, as well as other libertarians, constantly find ourselves having to say ‘I’m a libertarian, but not that kind of libertarian.’

The motto ‘taxation is theft’, while true, is far outside the Overton window as it is. The last thing the libertarian movement needs is for radical anarcho-capitalists to push the cause of liberty further away from it.

I have for a long time now tried a more conciliatory tone with anarcho-capitalists because I do understand where they are coming from (philosophically speaking), but there is a real need for the libertarian movement to demarcate itself from those anarcho-capitalists who refuse to unify around a pragmatic, pro-liberty agenda.

The libertarian movement is increasingly being identified with this group, and we must break away from that equivocation. If the movement cannot do that, it will be perpetually regarded as a band of lunatics, committed to ideas that most people know would never work in reality and which would – if implemented – cause tremendous harm and risk huge losses to liberty.

I acknowledge I will be vilified for taking this view, ‘Statist,’ ‘Commie,’ ‘Sell-out,’ and so on, will no doubt be terms of abuse hurled at me. However, ask yourself, have I said anything unreasonable?

All I have said is that the libertarian movement needs to unify around a pragmatic, pro-liberty agenda and demarcate itself from radical anarcho-capitalists who are increasingly bringing the movement into ill-repute.

Does that make me a ‘statist,’ a ‘communist,’ or a ‘sell-out’? No – in fact, I’m following in the footsteps of most great libertarian thinkers here.

I’m all for free markets, for civil liberties, and so on, but government has a (small) role, and that necessitates low taxation.

Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman supported the existence of small government. Must we call them ‘commies’ too? Anarcho-capitalists need to either get on board with a pragmatic and moderate agenda that introduces pro-liberty changes at a pace that does not undermine the movement, or get off the libertarian train; because as it is, they are pulling the movement in a separate path.

Libertarianism should be about fiscally responsible government with great respect for rights and freedom – that’s an idea people can get behind, that can help make real gains for freedom, and we cannot let that be hijacked.

* Matthew James Norris is a history and philosophy graduate. He is currently undertaking historical research on Henry III and early modern social history.

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  • Mpiyakhe Dhlamini

    How is international law established?States sign treaties with each other,even states with incompatible judicial systems,because the existence of the treaty benefits both parties more than it’s absence. Now,libertarians believe only the individual is sovereign,taken to it’s logical conclusion it points a way forward for how a justice system could be established,not everyone would sign up but just as the treaty between NATO members has a mutual defense clause,such a contract between free individuals would have a similar clause protecting natural rights.

    As to the bit about taxation and sovereign debt,there are two ways of handling it:cutting spending to zero and paying off debt or allowing individuals to choose whatever currency they want(crypto-currency,dollars,gold,goats,whatever) and allowing enough time for people to convert to their currency of choice before abolishing taxes.The writer of the article has said nothing new,even the part about electability is stupid because you can make the same point about my minarchist friends,why not choose the much more electable conservatism of the republican party?Is your answer pragmatism?

  • Mpiyakhe Dhlamini

    To make it explicit:A court would get power over you the same way the ICC got power over the heads of African states,they signed up.And no,this is not government,you agreed to the force before it was used against you.

    People who don’t choose to sign up can be handled through self-defense:we each agree that we have an obligation to protect each other’s natural rights,if someone outside of our contract uses force against me then it’s ok to use force against them,this is also not government,unless you think one of your neighbourhood watch members shooting someone who’s about to assault you somehow makes your local watch the government.

  • Bull Moose

    AnCaps are not a threat. They’re allies. Someone is who agrees with me 80% is not 20% my enemy.

    If you think an Anarchist Judicial system is problematic then you need to sit in on the Court rooms of our left coasts as they blatantly ignore both the constitution and their laws. California attorneys are even now getting laws passed to make themselves immune to Malpractice lawsuits.

    As for our existing police, education and welfare systems being shut down… are you trying to sell it to me? The police steal more through asset forfeiture than all thefts combined and they’re above the laws that get common people charged with murder. The schools are failing to teach. The welfare system is creating the peasants who become too scared to upset the Masters they learn to be dependent on. We’re never going to make any of these systems do what they’re supposed to if we’re afraid to tear them down and start over.

    From a Libertarian perspective AnCaps represent the opportunity to do just that. Burn down the field of weeds so that we can replant it. Don’t fear Anarchy, embrace it as a transition (Just as the Cultural Marxists use the AnComs to create the Superstate Tyranny they want to create after the chaos). Anarchy of any form never lasts.

  • Jeffrey Boyd Garrison

    Lol, “without police, who will uphold property rights?!?” You gotta be kidding… what sort of cuckery is this?

  • Alex Knight

    This drooling baboonery doesn’t even approach the dignity of a response — except to say that it’s pretty obvious AnCaps are winning when it comes to actual libertarianism. And that is nothing but good news.

    • A. Alexander Minsky

      Just how are AnCaps “winning”? Is taxation on the verge of being abolished? Are private courts, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments the order of the day? Are motorists refusing to drive on public roads so as to express their disgust with government as an institution? Are the works of Hoppe and Rothbard now topping the bestseller list?

      AnCaps may be “winning” online debates, but that is about the extent of their victories in present day America.

      • Alex Knight

        You mean, because the “libertarians” who believe in voting and politics are having such stunning success?

        Winning the philosophical high-ground is the first step in any movement. Once a movement is sure of what they want, then they work to achieve it — not the other way around. Statists with pretensions towards libertarianism aren’t even sure of what they want yet. AnCaps are. Which is why the former are quite correctly being marginalized and the lion’s share of the movement are tilting AnCap.

        Which is the sole formula for long-term victory over statism.

        No matter what, things aren’t going to change for a long, long time. So stop looking for ineffectual, self-contradictory shortcuts. It will never pay.

  • Matthew Swaringen

    “Unless a court holds power over you, it can do nothing. How would the courts get power over you in an anarcho-capitalist system?” – Listed to the Tom Woods podcast with Bob Murphy recently on law without the state. It covers this. If you have a significant reply to it, make one, but this is not that. the closest you get is by claiming there is no “individual consent” which is an odd concern given that you don’t believe in this way of thinking and the state hardly achieves that.

    It is not the claim of ancaps that the party facing a trial must consent to go before the court in all cases. This is very desirable, and any court that did not take measures to ensure this happens as much as possible would not be respected, but the idea that it must always occur is simply untrue. There would still be judgments in absentia, and the courts would be limited in doing this willy nilly by competition. If anyone tried to do this too often they are likely to get violent reprisal, which is extremely costly, so they have every reason in addition to competition to attempt to act as justly as possible.

  • Matthew Swaringen

    As for separating yourself from ancaps who don’t care about pragmatic politics, by all means, more than likely they want nothing to do with politics to begin with, so how are they a hindrance to you anyway? I’m not in that group, I think political action can in some cases be of benefit (mostly at the local level), but I really don’t see how they are an actual problem. The real problem in the libertarian party is those concerned about “electability” for a party that has never ever had that. They don’t understand that the whole role of the party is to spread philosophy at points like this, and that they are choosing the weakest people by trying to play like moderates that fit somewhere between the Democrats and Republicans when true minarchists (like Austin Petersen) are far more radical than Gary Johnson or Bill Weld.

  • DeaconofDemons

    Hilarious. Libertarians are statists now.

    • A. Alexander Minsky

      And judging from you avatar, AnCaps are now alt rightists. Don’t forget Richard Spencer is on record expressing his love for socialism.

  • PL

    You don’t have the high ground here. Many like me left the libertarian party over the last pathetic display of ‘libertarianism’ in the 2016 election. I too got tired of repeating the mantra ‘I’m a libertarian, but not that kind of libertarian.’

    You need to read up on your history – the Hanseatic Leauge. That’s what worked. That’s what I want. If that’s ‘lunatic’ – good luck with your pragmatic liberty-lite.

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  • Daniel Turnquist

    As a purist myself I couldn’t help but be embarrassed when I was told that voting for a libertarian candidate was a violation of the NAP

    • Spoonman44

      Its not aggression ..but its a waste of time and lends to state credibility

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  • ax123man

    recent graduate huh? you have a lot to learn and I doubt studying Henry III is going to help you much.

  • Don’t confuse pragmatism with compromise. It is pragmatic for minarchists and anCaps alike to bind Libertarian officeholders to libertarian principles – as outlined in the Platform. Elected Libertarian officials who raise taxes or fail to reduce them when the opportunity arises have succumbed to compromise, and must be reprimanded for their un-libertarian, rogue, Republocrat-like behavior.

  • Spoonman44

    This guy clearly should not have a license to write articles…. So ridiculous and uninformed

  • TimUwe

    Help, I can’t stop laughing.

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  • I totally agree. I used to be a pure anarcho capitalist, however quickly realized that it would be as extreme as being a communist. It just doesnt work. He end the article with “Libertarianism should be about fiscally responsible government with great respect for rights and freedom – that’s an idea people can get behind, that can help make real gains for freedom, and we cannot let that be hijacked”. However, I would add (very)small before fiscally responsible government. This is the only way libertarians may gain popularity and hopefully one day, get a say in politics. Else, it will just be regarded as an extremist group.

    • notJoeKing

      How would one shrink the government that has grown to encompass every aspect of people’s live as well as employ millions of people, and, once you’ve managed to shrink it, how long do you think it would take to massively balloon up again? If the US experiment proves nothing, it proves how quickly and easily a “limited” government can unrestrict itself and grow into the behemoth it is today

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