Now that we made the point that more democracy is not desirable, let’s look at the opposite suggestion: no democracy at all.
This post is about an idea, an articulated attitude and approach to political participation. It is not personal challenge of the views of Stefan Molyneux. I chose his formulation of the Anarcho-capitalists position, because it is the clearest, loudest and most captivating representation of the position. It also happens to be the most extreme, most passionate appeal to act (or rather – not) based on his arguments. I could offer you the explanations of some real philosophers of liberty (such as Hans Hermann Hoppe) but their arguments would not be this engaging.
The problem, according to the anarcho-capitalists, is the coercive nature of the state. The system of representation, the electoral process and the parliamentary system are just tools to legitimize it.
What Stefan Molineux says in his videos, (The truth about voting #1, #2 & #3) is that voting just legitimizes the state, the status quo, the system. It does in effect, legitimizes oppression and immorality. Voting is bad because it is dehumanizing, the voters are, in effect, begging the government to get pennies back from what was taken from them by force.
(You may also want to watch his debate with Ernest Hancock: Can voting accomplish anything?)
Here are some quotes from the above performance (the first one):
“The facts are that voting means nothing. It’s worse than meaning nothing. It encourages participation in a coercive and destructive system. It gives sanction to evil.”
“The spectacle of me running around and begging for people to give me back what they have stolen from me, when they’ll never going to do it anyway is too shameful. It is too embarrassing. It is too pitiful for me to engage in that behavior.”
“ Do not participate in this institution founded on crimes which executes war crimes, genocide, wars, murder, kidnapping, imprisonment on a daily basis. Don’t participate! Don’t beg! Don’t beg!”
While most anarcho-capitalists would not get this worked up, they mostly agree on the following elements/arguments:
Participation is ineffective and therefore it is pointless.
Participation legitimizes the state and the process and therefore it condones immorality.
Participation compromises the libertarian principles and therefore it is hypocritical and self-defeating.
The arguments are supposed to come across as rational, moral and principled. The way it does come across is a very emotional appeal.
The anarcho capitalist image
I have a problem with the expression itself. The words anarchy, anarchism and anarchists do not have very good connotations. The word can, of course, be explained away, but the history attached to it cannot. Anarchists are the people who blow things up! They were the jihadists of the late 19th-early 20th century. The anarchists are not the good guys. They are violent revolutionaries. Not just were, they are. Look at the anarchists today! Yeah, yeah, you can try to explain that those are the left-anarchists and the anarcho capitalists are different because they do not believe in violence, but when you look at their behaviour, their phraseology, the iconography, their gatherings and arguments, it is nearly impossible to tell them apart from violent breed. When you go to Facebook groups such as the Humans for Individual Secession the image you see is a quote from Errico Malatesta, a violent anarchist and advocate of violence.
Just imagine that you just explained to your aunt Mabel the concepts of the non-aggression principle individual secession. She goes on to facebook to learn more about it and this is what she finds: (a picture from individual secession group’s photos)
She will be convinced that you just joined a blood-thirsty violent death cult. The message is that “we are more violent than the communists.”
The perception of libertarians is that they are a bunch of rigidly ideological, disgruntled, angry, selfish, anti-social, individualist grouches. The anarcho-capitalists don’t do anything to dispel this image. They are actively working on creating it.
We do not control language, and we cannot control public perception. We can talk all we want about the non-aggression-principle, as long as we associate ourselves with the notion of anarchy and groups representing it, we will be seen as part of that angry, violent movement. If we, libertarians, ever want to be taken seriously, we should clearly divorce ourselves from the images of anarchy. I am not an anarchist and I do not want to be seen as one.
The image of the anarcho capitalists is not very good. Is the vision better?
The anarcho capitalist vision
The perception is demonstrated perfectly in a very poorly written article on Bloomberg trying to make the case that Libertarians Are the New Communists. Molyneux was quick to answer with a (48 minutes) rebuttal. The points of the rebuttal were mostly right but it did not address the question of the perception. The general appeal of the catchy title speaks to people because there is something to it.
The anarcho-capitalist vision of the future is just as utopian as that of the communists. It has almost as many unanswered questions and fuzzy promises.
They both see their goals as an unquestionable absolute, as some sort of holly ideal, an oh-so-ever-perfect paradise on earth.
They are both skimpy on the details of how to reach it.
They are both very aggressive weeding out ideological impurities.
They both see themselves as a vanguard elite riding on the crest of a wave of historic inevitability.
They both preach peace but are very hostile toward their ideological opponents.
They both have quasi-religious elements in their set of believes.
Both communists and the AnCaps believe that we need a new kind of man to realize the dream hence their focus on personal betterment and the proper education of the next generation.
They both believe that the world of their dreams will be completely self organizing – the general will for the communists and the spontaneous order for the anarcho-capitalists.
I could probably find more examples, but I am sure you are getting the point. They are both about the end, the dream, worshiped with religious reverence. What’s missing, again, is a real plan, although we cannot say that they do not have any.
The anarcho capitalist action plan
The action plan is simple: Stick your head in the sand!
It is, of course, expressed in more detail, but every suggestion is, in essence, an example of ostrich politics: if we refuse to acknowledge it, the statist reality will cease to exist for us.
This is the final conclusion of Hoppe’s (Democracy – The God That Failed);
this is the aim of the individual secessionist movement;
this is what the guru of the FDR cult is preaching to his acolytes,
this is what the Liberty through technology folks believe in.
Let me quote Stefan again: “Don’t participate! Don’t beg! Don’t beg!”
“love and pride and virtue in our private lives will spread the strength we need to outgrow our slavery”
DeFOOing and peaceful parenting? That’s the plan, Stefan? THAT’S THE PLAN?? That we “outgrow our slavery? By keeping it secret from the slave master?
The plan is that we walk away from 21st century society or just pretend that it does not exist?
Hope that bitcoin will be such a success that the central banks of the world will fold without raising any objection? That the David of Open Source applications on our phones will slay the NSA Goliath?
That masturbating in hermetically closed libertarian circles will create an intellectual revolution that will sweep over the world? The one we cut ourselves off from? The one we refuse to engage? That’s the plan?
The anarcho-capitalists are probably right in saying that the present course is untenable and will collapse. Their recipe is that we just have to wait for that moment of tabula rasa when we will have to start anew. We will arrive to a point in time when suddenly, by some divine intervention, by some well expected miracle, everybody will realize that the Libertarians were right all along and start living exactly the way the libertarians envisioned it for them in their closed little navel gazing circles.
These ideas are not only preposterous and stupid, they are dangerous. Every delusion is.
Where do I stand?
At some point we have to ask whether the anarcho-capitalist approach to liberty is the crystalized essence of the libertarian political philosophy or the most important hindrance on the road toward its realization.
I say the answer is both. If you are intellectually honest, you must agree that anarcho capitalists do bring the idea to its logical conclusion. But then I have to say: So what? Knowing what the theoretical conclusion of the idea is will not take me anywhere. The question is how to get there, how to find the path to liberty. The anarcho-capitalists do not want to get anywhere. The moment they found their libertarian principles, a good excuse to do nothing and blame the world for it, they arrived. I believe that rejecting the political struggle is lazy, selfish and cowardly.
Libertarianism is both a political philosophy and a political movement. The anarcho capitalists are like the orthodox Jews. Living off the work of the moderates while working on doctrinal perfection and smugly rejecting everything that does not live up to their doctrinal expectations. But intellectual purity is easy. Ruminating over the tenets, discussing it with the like-minded is comfortable. You may think that it is some intellectual heavy lifting, but it isn’t. Rethinking, refining, embellishing an existing set of ideas is an easy job. Making it acceptable to those who oppose it, making them see the light is the hard one. It is hard to deal with our friends and relatives who just don’t get it.
The narcissistic withdrawal of the AnCaps into an alternate universe is selfish as well. When we have a collapsing world around us they want to focus on themselves. They are elitists who care more about their self –image than about the world around them. They have the answers but if you do not agree with them 100%, all you get from them is contempt.
Running away from the battles is not a sign of principles, it is just cowardly. Walking away is capitulation. I very often had the feeling that libertarians in general, not just the anarcho-capitalists, are afraid of engagement, especially with people they like. Not participating is just a sign of fear. Fear of losing, fear of feeling inadequate, fear of encountering the question we do not have an answer for.
No matter how hard I try, I cannot find anything respectable about the anarcho-capitalist approach to libertarianism as a political movement. The Edmund Burke quote should have a corollary:
There are times when you cannot call yourself a good man if you do nothing.
= = = = = = = =
When I posted the little intro to this ‘debate’ that probably will not happen, I got an immediate response from one of the Stefbots starting with quote from the post:
“No democracy on the other hand is an open invitation to dictatorships and violence. Somalia…”
Oh wow, it won the statist bingo. Thank you for playing.
This was a particularly telling comment. I replied:
What can I say, Aldo, you won. Probably without actually reading the dead serious libertarian study about Somalia written in 2007
It is one of the worst mistakes made by libertarians looking for a successful manifestation of anarchy
To which I got:
Just because the church crumbles, it does not make the people around it atheists. Same with states/monopoly of violence eg warlords.
I loved this second point. A clear indication that this was not an evidence, but a faith based conversation.
The base point, however, is more interesting. Ever wondered how did Somalia got onto the statist bingo? The ‘statists’ did not invent the idea of the libertarian paradise there.
In 2007, an article was published in the Journal of comparative Economics written by Peter T. Leeson titled: Better off stateless.
Here are some words from the summary:
Could anarchy be good for Somalia’s development? If state predation goes unchecked government may not only fail to add to social welfare, but can actually reduce welfare below its level under statelessness. Such was the case with Somalia’s government, which did more harm to its citizens than good. The government’s collapse and subsequent emergence of statelessness opened the opportunity for Somali progress. This paper investigates the impact of anarchy on Somali development. The data suggest that while the state of this development remains low, on nearly all of 18 key indicators that allow pre- and post-stateless welfare comparisons, Somalis are better off under anarchy than they were under government.
This was not written by a statist, but a libertarian. I heard about it from Libertarians. It was, discussed in libertarian circles for a few years, Even Stefan talked about it in one of his early podcasts. It was all very libertarian until the warlords came and discussing the subject became a little embarrassing. The document was available on several web-sites. The only place I was able to find it now was the author’s personal site.
The story has two morals: do not be too quick to embrace some news that seem to validate your hopes; and the important one: Power abhors vacuum.
If the world falls into anarchy, it will not be a paradise.