“Filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties”

1 05 2011

There are a lot of responses to Anarcho-Capitalism around the place, but very few hit all the right notes.

While the ideology itself is generally considered a footnote in wider Anarchist theory, it is not going to go away just because it has been ignored or marginalised.  Even where critical analysis exists, it is often sensationalist and doesn’t strike a death blow.  But with increasing numbers of former Anarcho-Capitalists reflecting on the theory and drifting Leftward over time, the critical response has become far more precise and far more threatening.

Though this is not intended to stand as a comprehensive, or even substantial, critical analysis of the ideology, it is hoped that providing more information will lead to better attempts.  For the record, Brainpolice, who blogs at Polycentric Order, has offered a scathing critical analysis of the behaviour and culture among Anarcho-Capitalists.  It is an experience that I share.

I don’t see a problem with going on a polemical, personally motivated critique and psychologizing[sic] of the culture that surrounds ancap. When obvious aristocrats are at the helm of its major institutions and when its major intellectuals all have ties to wishy washy neo-liberal public policy organizations, I think this is worth pointing out. Sure, one can bringing up the youth who subscribe to it that represent its more populist face, but it really seems like the most charitable thing to say is that such people are being manipulated by aristocrats – when they aren’t the children of aristocrats or virtual aristocrats themselves. I also have too much personal experience to avoid noting the degree to which ancap is a magnet for near-sociopathic personalities, but [I] don’t want to go on that tangent.

I’ve recently gotten familiar with the Australian libertarian and ancap scene, and it provides lots of fodder for the thesis about the younger generation of ancaps really are dominantly spoiled, rich college students who can’t see past their own privilege and pretty much are pawns for generally neo-liberal organizations. That pretty much defines the Melbourne libertarian scene, and the ancaps are virtually indistinguishable from the minarchists in practise. It’s alarmingly filled with college students in suits, turtle necks and bowties[sic] giving lectures at university and going to expensive cocktail parties to gossip, with numerous inheritors of legacy wealth with connections to actual governmental organizations being popular figures. Some of these people are virtually conservative career politicians in training (see David Nolan and Tim Andrews).

I don’t think stuff like this is irrelevant at all. Ideologies do have a connection to the social context surrounding the people who invent and subscribe to them. Libertarian ideology all to often does function as a justification for people’s already existing social positions and personalities. Ancap debate with other groups all too often does devolve into what is blatantly a highly personal defensive lashing out by an individual in which they feel that what they own (or their power in general) is threatened, and in which their idiosyncratic immoralities can be justified ideologically. This is all too telling to ignore. The truth of an ideology really can’t be completely disconnected from its use when we are dealing with rationalizations. We aren’t always dealing with an innocent truth claim, we’re dealing with positions handpicked[sic] to rationalize[sic] deeper, unanalyzed beliefs and behavioral[sic] patterns.

The “arguments” too often are underpinned by implicit premises that can’t be justified and are connected to the person’s desires. This includes the (often unargued for) belief in their own legitimacy and oppression in a certain social context. The ideology can’t be properly addressed without this being looked at. That legitmacy[sic] and claim to oppression can end up falling apart when seriously analyzed[sic]. There are too many false victimhood mentalities and dubious feelings of entitlement going around to ignore. It’s a little too convenient to present your personal prejudices in the form of an argument construeing[sic] it as a law of nature or economics or the one true ethical code or whatever. If one really wants to talk about appeals to emotion, you’ll find one underlying many ancap arguments.

Understanding the ideology is not entirely difficult.  It begins by asserting that the Self is property and then asserts property as an extension of this fact.  As a result, all actions against property are a direct action against the Self.  From this, a series of axiomatic principles are extrapolated, such as the Non-Aggression Principle, Property as a Natural Right, Property as an Absolute.

The next step is to appeal to policy, where that policy is usually a particular strain of economics or, in the case of the so-labelled “social issues”, usually all the standard conservative talking points that reaffirm the prejudice and privilege of the adherent.  Mention that property, as constructed under Anarcho-Capitalism, works to legitimise and protect a racist in their discriminatory action against a particular minority, and the response is usually an accusation of “Marxism”, “political correctness” and a statement that, “who cares!?!” because “the market will sort it out”.  The fact that issues such as racism or, say, discrimination based on sexuality threaten the lives and well-being of millions of people around the planet, daily, is ignored entirely.  But if the government declares a tax hike on the rich, well the shit has really hit the fan.

Analysis of an issue or problem, from an Anarcho-Capitalist perspective, becomes little more than a repetitive, almost robotic, application of the Non-Aggression Principle and Absolute property rights to a set of facts in order to derive a conclusion on what makes for good economic efficiency.  It is a tried and true formula.

But then the biggest challenge to the wider Anarcho-Capitalist framework comes in that it relies, almost entirely, on appeals to the universalism of Natural Law on account of the basis assertion that the Self is something which can be considered property.  Something that can be owned and with ownership comes the right of use and abuse — and anyone that knows anything about property is generally well aware that property can be traded, transferred or given away.  This is called ‘alienation‘ — the right to give something away or sell it.

So if the idea of a person selling themselves into slavery does not appeal to you, then the idea of “Self-Ownership” is nothing more than an abstract metaphor for some basic sense of Individual Autonomy or the Self as independent, free and un-governed.

However.

“Self-Ownership” is phrased in terms of property for a reason.  Entirely decoupled from property, the axiomatic principles extrapolated from this concept fall down.  They simply become assertions and are not connected to some greater, higher, universal Natural Law.  They are constructed by of the various thinkers associated with Anarcho-Capitalism.

While the “Non-Aggression Principle” may be a great principle and can find its theoretical and practical support elsewhere, others which derive their existence directly from Self-Ownership, do not.  Property then, is not a Natural Right, but a social construct and the rights, obligations and basis on which property operates, can be questioned, reformulated and reapplied or rejected where problems arise.  At this point, the point of application, Brainpolice’s critical analysis applies and we are forced to deal with people who’s only response to a serious attack on their system is blind faith.  “The market will take care of it!” and if this doesn’t work, you can always look to the linguistic lingo and peculiar use of language to confuse the situation a little more.

Anarcho-Capitalism is simplistic in theory and application.  With time, there is a notable tendency of Anarcho-Capitalists to drift Left.  If nothing else can be taken from this, the biggest question will still remain:

Why?


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5 responses

1 05 2011
vaguelyhumanoid

Great article.

1 05 2011
Royce Christian

Thank you, even if I had to make a couple of rewrites. Wasn’t strong enough for my taste.

9 05 2011
The Anarchist Township» Blog Roll Call for the Week of 5/1/11

[...] Some decent critiques of anarcho-capitalism. [...]

24 05 2011
MadSteak

Thanks for the article.

I have also noticed that AnCap methods typically involve discussion more than actual application of AnCap philosophy (NAP being a possible exception). Speaking of NAP, it is certainly a valid principle, though I have long been unconvinced by the Self-Ownership argument from many libertarians.

Would Socio-Anarchists be in a similar state of non-application of theory?

I think the reason Agorists can claim to be genuine anarchs is the fact that Agorist theory is designed to be applied. OTOH, AnCap largely comes from the Austrian school of economics, and is hence focussed on studying economics, rather than running a black-market or grey-market business.

25 05 2011
Royce Christian

It’s difficult to answer your question MadSteak without making any sweeping statements.

It’s interesting you bring up Agorism. For the most part, I find it dangerous to separate the talking from the doing as whatever a person talks about will have an immediate impact on how they relate to others and the rest of the world, within their own personal sphere of influence. Although there may not be a formal Anarcho-Capitalist centre for activism, groups of Anarcho-Capitalists will each be doing different things to promote their views. It’s a form of doing, albeit a limited one.

Agorism is just prefigurative politics applied to Anarcho-Capitalism, and the prefigurative element is something other Anarchists have been doing for a very long time, already. And again, like you said, their claim to the Anarchist label is more apt because they make an active connection between thought and practice and then seek to embody the conclusions drawn from theory. Agorists tend to be more radical than the other varieties of Anarcho-Capitalists and market Anarchists as a result, but largely they cling to those fundamental AnCap principles.

Over time, the Agorist tends to value that prefigurative element much more than the core AnCap principles which it is supposed to apply. It comes to a point where those principles aren’t enough — for me it was when confronted with National Anarchism, and seeing a whole bunch of Anarcho-Capitalists and Agorists lend their support to such nonsense simply because those principles weren’t enough to give a full analysis and highlight the tyrannical bullshit being passed off as “Anarchism”. At some point, there’s a realisation that a sort of blind spot exists with those principles where a lot of oppression gets through unopposed. It’s then you start to look elsewhere.

Anyway, to answer your question, prefigurative politics plays a huge role in Anarchism and has always played a major role in “socio-Anarchist” discourse. If you believe it, you live it. There is a wider level of critical analysis and application which is at once anti-authoritarian while recognising that all oppression is connected. The tendency to reduce Anarchism to an abstract academic exercise to be played out in conferences held at 5-star hotels is very small. There are a lot of networks, a lot of activists working in a number of fields and areas. Whether it’s a SEASOL or the NoBorders network, or even on such a level as a group of artists, musicians or kids, you’ll find them having an impact within their sphere of influence. Around the world there are numerous instances, particularly at the present, where Anarchists have been in the forefront of a movement. Notably, Anarchists in Greece, Spain, England and North America have all had a presence in various actions.

So yeah, socio-Anarchists are having a greater impact on people’s lives in a number of struggles around the world. I’m not sure whether that answers your question, but it is my assessment on the way things stand.

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