Seriously, I like anarcho-capitalists and don’t think anyone should be shot, but no one seemed to be reading this post with the previous title. This site aims to be ecumenical, stimulating discussion between various libertarian denominations to discover the roots of our disagreements, particularly where we fundamentally agree and only use words differently.

Chris Calton denies that anarcho-capitalists aren’t “real” anarchists. Here’s another view.

Anarcho-capitalists aren’t anarchists in my way of thinking, but they’re in good company. Other nominal “anarchists” aren’t anarchists either. Chris makes the latter point well enough, so I’ll focus on the former. I don’t want to make enemies over semantics, but this controversy rages, so let’s explain our terms even if we can’t agree on them.

You may object that my semantics are faulty. “Anarchist” is just a word, and words mean what people commonly mean by them. Some people call themselves “anarchists”, and other people also call them “anarchists”, so they are anarchists. I would agree if self-described “anarchists” could agree on the meaning of the word themselves, rather than continually denying one another’s bona fides. If anarchists themselves can’t agree on who is an anarchist, I need another authority.

If an “anarchist” definitively rejects the necessity or desirability of a state, then the question of who is an anarchist hinges on the definition of “state”. A state definitively is a monopoly of forcible rules in a particular territory. A state imposes its rules by criminalizing any other force imposing rules contradicting its rules. Persons using force this way within well defined boundaries constitute a state. These persons are the state’s constituents, and the systematic standards they enforce are the state’s constitution.

An-caps aren’t anarchists because they are proprietarians, i.e. they presume respect for particular standards of propriety and will enforce these standards wherever they claim resources. An-caps agreeing on standards and enforcing them within specified boundaries satisfy the definition of a state, so they cannot be anarchists. QED

My politics began evolving decades ago when I started calling myself an anarchist after the fashion of Kropotkin, Proudhon and other, nineteenth century “anarchists”, associated more with the “left” than with the “right”. Like Proudhon, I ultimately stopped calling myself an “anarchist”. Proudhon eventually adopted “federalist” instead. I now call myself a minarchist and sometimes a nanarchist. “Nanarchist” is a contraction of “nano-archist”, evoking “nano-technology”. A minarchist advocates a state with very limited powers, sometimes called a night watchman state. A nanarchist advocates a state with even more limited, barely perceptible powers.

In my way of thinking, an-caps are also nanarchists, so when I deny that they’re anarchists, I’m not expressing disagreement with them. I’m expressing agreement. We’re both nanarchists, but though I have many agreements with an-caps, I’m not an an-cap strictly speaking, and I’ll tell you why.

An-caps advocate property rights in the tradition of other proponents of “natural rights”. They essentially inherit Locke’s theory of the genesis of property rights in his chapter “Of Property” in the Second Treatise of Civil Government. There, Locke describes individuals establishing property in parcels of land, on a frontier or from the commons, through a process that modern libertarians call “homesteading”. A homesteader adds value to land by laboring upon it, clearing and planting it for example, and he then enjoys its fruits and claims its exclusive use.

In the Lockean account, individual homesteaders eventually encounter other homesteaders claiming other land from the commons, and all of these homesteaders agree on the boundaries of their respective parcels. Thereafter, they may contract for an exchange of their rights for other property rights and so on.

The an-cap claim to “anarchism” is based upon a presumption that exclusive claims to parcels of land, and other resources, established this way occur naturally and thus require no state imposing systematic standards. I doubt this Lockean story of the development of property rights, historically and anthropologically, and I doubt that imposing these standards forcibly, on everyone everywhere, without exceptions, is consistent with other forms of social organization that human beings commonly prefer.

As an ethical subjectivist, I deny that Lockean propriety is objectively or naturally obligatory. As a voluntarist, I want human beings respecting rules that they prefer, not rules that Locke or Rothbard deem “natural”. Men naturally contest one another for territory, driving competitors from any territory they can successfully dominate by their physical strength, as other primates do, but civilized humanity prefers other means of resolving disputes regardless of the predominance of these contests in nature. Respecting Lockean propriety is one means to civilized ends but not the only means. Many other rules governing the use of land and other resources are possible.

People should be free to respect rules of their choice and to associate exclusively with others freely respecting these rules, but they should not be entitled to impose their rules on everyone everywhere. Other people, preferring different rules, should be similarly free. People ruling themselves this way are ruled by consensus. In a community ruled by consensus, every member of the community consents to every rule. This unanimous consent is meaningful if 1) a person objecting to a community’s rules may leave the community at will seeking another community ruled differently and 2) a sufficient number of persons may always claim sufficient resources to establish a community governed as they prefer.

An an-cap begins with specified standards of propriety, and social organization emerges from the interactions of people constrained by these standards. The standards themselves require no agreement. Disagreeable people are forced to respect them.

A communitarian begins with individuals desiring to live by agreeable standards. Communities, governed by the consensus of community members, emerge as these individuals discover common desires and organize themselves accordingly, in the way that individuals discover compatible mates and form households. Housemates need not agree on every aspect of their lives. They must only want to live together more than they want to live apart. No external authority imposes ground rules governing how they share resources.

Intentional community does not rule out anarcho-capitalism. A group of an-caps may organize a community in which respect for Rothbardian property rights is obligatory and little else is. Intentional community requires this freedom to associate exclusively on Rothbardian terms; however, anarcho-capitalism seems to rule out intentional communities that do not begin with individuals owning resources individually, by Rothbardian standards, and then agreeing to share these resources.

Beginning the process of social organization with individual ownership this way stacks the deck in favor of particular forms of organization, and I doubt both that existing communities began this way historically and that human beings are naturally inclined voluntarily to begin communities this way. Human beings are familial and tribal by nature, not atomistic individuals dividing the world into discrete parts governed exclusively by individuals.

People associating freely respect norms of their choice, and relationships governed this way are necessarily interdependent. More central authorities conquer by dividing, imposing norms channeling the value of synergy toward themselves. “Every man for himself” is the prescription of a state, not a free community.