Anti-State is Anti-Freedom, Part 2
Yaron Brooks and Don Watkins against anarcho-capitalism
[continued from yesterday]
Libertarian Anarchists Advocate “Might Makes Right”
If you value your life, you should value an ideal, fully free social system, and fight restrictions on freedom wherever you find them. But if you value your life, you should also value what’s good in today’s system. The freedom we have in countries like the United States is substantial. The formulation of the ideas that lead to this freedom and the (partial) implementation of these ideas in practice have been real and noble achievements.
Objectivists appreciate these achievements and seek to build on them—to create governments that don’t protect rights partially, but fully and consistently. What libertarian anarchists propose is that, if we should ever succeed in creating a fully rights-protecting government, our next step should be to destroy it.
True freedom, they say, is not to be found in a society where the government brings the use of force under objective control—it’s to be found in the government standing aside and letting anyone, anywhere deploy force against its citizens. Under a constitutionally limited government, the state will zealously stop a prosecutor from introducing evidence that hasn’t been secured by a lawfully governed chain of custody—anarchists demand that the state do nothing as masked Antifa thugs and white supremacists impose their notions of “justice” at the point of a gun.
Conventional statists at least have the decency to openly oppose the creation of a rights-protecting government; libertarian anarchists say they want to see a rights-protecting government come into existence and then tear it down.
“We don’t want to tear it down,” they say. “We need to transition to anarchy.” But “transition” is just a euphemism for vigilantes taking up arms against their fellow citizens while the government stands by and does nothing.
“We don’t support vigilantes,” they say. “We support defense agencies.” Another euphemism. There is nothing in what anarchists propose that limits these “agencies” to defending their customers. Under anarchy, people can pay for any use of force they desire. But, anarchists assure us, people will generally only pay for laws that libertarians like—though anarchist David Friedman acknowledges:
Whether these institutions will produce a libertarian society—a society in which each person is free to do as he likes with himself and his property as long as he does not use either to initiate force against others—remains to be proven. Under some circumstances they will not. If almost everyone believes strongly that heroin addiction is so horrible that it should not be permitted anywhere under any circumstances, anarcho-capitalist institutions will produce laws against heroin. Laws are being produced for a market, and that is what the market wants.
This admission should disturb anyone who values freedom. Anarchists do not seek to subordinate might to right but to subordinate right to public auction. If enough people are willing to pay enough money, then that is the law they will get. What will happen to abortion rights? Patent rights? Banning CO2 emissions? Breaking up “monopolies”? A supporter of freedom works to create a system that will protect what’s morally right. An anarchist aims to tear down the state and leave you to try to outbid anyone who wants to violate your rights. Does your womb belong to you? No. It belongs to whomever pays the most to control it.
The anarchist will reply that the situation is no better with government, where your fellow citizens can (and often do) vote to violate all these rights. But this a false equivalence. The government of a free society is constitutionally limited to the task of protecting the rights of all citizens, each citizen has an equal say in choosing who will govern him, and each citizen can appeal to a legal system that, in principle, places his rights beyond the reach of government or popular opinion. The system, whatever its failures, is designed to protect an individual’s rights because it is right.
This is precisely what anarchy is not designed to do. It is not designed to protect rights but to auction the use of force. Libertarian anarchists insist that their system is, in Caplan’s words, “a miniscule step” from a rights-protecting government. But if we look at their theory as they advocate it, its closest cousin is not a rights-protecting government but the pressure group warfare that characterizes the worst aspects of a mixed economy.
In mixed economies, people live under force with no recourse to the principled, objective, impartial use of retaliatory force. They have to band together into gangs (pressure groups) in order to seek protection from other gangs (other pressure groups), with each gang seeking to advance its members’ particular interests over the interests of rival factions without regard for principle. But this is just a description of anarchy.
Philosopher Harry Binswanger captures this overall point eloquently:
Under a governmental system, the government is the agent of all citizens, providing each with “equal protection under the law” and equal representation. Under “anarcho-capitalism,” each private militia would be the agent of just those who are paying it, as attorney’s today are of their clients. The proposal to put coercion “on the market” means: “Let’s arm the lawyers.”
The Underwhelming Argument for Anarchy
Anarchists can offer responses to these criticisms, but they all amount to the claim that anarchy will approximate by “market forces” what a rights-protecting government achieves by design and on principle. And to the extent their responses have any plausibility it is because they imagine their “defense agencies” will act like a government.
Consider: In their anarchic fantasy, do the competing defense agencies all view one another as legitimate and do they all accept some single legal code and overarching framework for how and by whom decisions to wield retaliatory force will be made in cases of disagreement? If so, then these agencies jointly constitute one complex institution with a monopoly on force—one government. If they don’t, then there’s no difference at all between what anarchists are proposing and neighborhoods dominated by gangs competing with one another and with the government.
Let’s go further and fantasize that we have a society with a freedom-loving culture that tries to implement libertarian anarchism. Most people in this society, let’s imagine, agree on what the law should be, and how it should be interpreted and enforced, and so the defense agencies most people hire differ from one another only in minor details.
Nevertheless, there will be a few minorities with different views who form their own defense agencies. There’s the anti-immigrationists who forcibly eject people from the country (fearing that they might take jobs or establish a government). There are the anti-abortionists who try and execute certain doctors for their crimes against the “unborn.” There are the Sherman brigade that forcibly breaks up large companies for the “crime” of being monopolies. There are the Warriors of Lived Experience who are opposed to the phallocentric, Eurocentric standards of evidence used by most of the courts and who summarily execute those accused of wrongdoing by members of historically marginalized groups. There are agencies that “defend” Muslims from speech that mocks the Prophet, that prosecute gays for crimes against nature, that protect pedophiles from what they call “consensual” sexual relationships with young children.
These illiberal agencies are all small and have few members. But they are killing people, menacing them, threatening them with force. Is it okay, to the anarchist, for the more dominant, liberal defense agencies to ban and forcibly disband these agencies on the grounds that they enforce unjust laws by unjust means? If so then these dominant agencies are enforcing a single, monopoly standard concerning the use of retaliatory force (even if there may be options within it), and (insofar as they cooperate through treaties and the like) they jointly constitute some sort of government. If they cannot forcibly disband these agencies, then libertarian anarchy unleashes, not freedom, but brute force and injustice. Their theory leads to precisely the real-life examples of anarchy they disclaim.
In short, if libertarians subordinate might to right, they cease being anarchists—and if they remain anarchists, they refuse to subordinate might to right.
The question is: why bother? Why concoct these elaborate schemes of “competing defense agencies” if only to argue—unconvincingly—that they will mimic what we know a rights-protecting government can do by design?
There ought to be some compelling answer. There ought to be something so potentially superior about libertarian anarchy—superior at least in theory—that it would make sense for self-proclaimed advocates of freedom to endorse overthrowing a rights-protecting government, or demanding that a rights-protecting government stand back as citizens unilaterally unleash force on one another.
But shockingly, we find nothing like that. Bryan Caplan, for instance, treats the issue almost as an afterthought. After arguing that there is little difference between a rights-protecting government and anarchy, he says:
If the distance from minarchy to anarcho-capitalism is so small, who cares? My best answer is that even the smallest government carries a high demagogic risk. Under minarchy, power-lusters will continue to turn to politics—and gradually rechart a course back to big government. In free markets, in contrast, what drives elites is not power-lust, but greed. Which, as my book in progress argues, is much better and much safer. In slogan form: Markets do the good things that sound bad; governments do the bad things that sound good. If we ever get to minarchy, refusing to take the final step into anarcho-capitalism would be short-sighted indeed.
The best that can be said of this is that it is naïve. Are we to believe that power lusters will not maneuver for the profits and power offered by “defense agencies”?
But the full truth is worse because the intellectuals promoting libertarian anarchists are too smart to be naïve. Caplan knows full well that a profit-seeking company attracts its share of envious power lusters. And he also knows that what protects us from profit-seeking power lusters is precisely that, in a free society, they don’t have the power to use force. Their only power is economic, not political.
But it’s the distinction between economic and political power—between the dollar and the gun—that libertarian anarchists want to abolish. Just as the left conflates economic and political power, insisting that a hungry man is not free and that a business exploits us by offering us jobs and products, so the libertarian anarchists conflate economic and political power by speaking of “markets” in force and “competition” in law. The left conflates economic and political power in order to shackle businesses—libertarian anarchists conflate economic and political power in order to arm them. Binswanger explains why no defender of freedom should ever conflate these two kinds of power by speaking of a “market” in coercion.
Production must be kept strictly separate from destruction. A business deals in the creation of goods and services to offer on a free market; a coercer deals in destruction. The proper use of destruction is to combat destruction—to wield retaliatory force against the initiators of force. But retaliatory force is still destruction, not production. There is no such thing as “the market for force-wielding.” For there to be a market in the first place, those who would simply seize goods must be met with force. The benefits of a free market presuppose that freedom has been established. Market mechanisms can’t establish or protect the precondition of there being a market.
There is something else that Caplan knows, or ought to: namely, that the cause of statism’s growth is not demagogs. Hitler (or even Trump) could not have taken power in the United States in 1789. Anarchists attribute the growth of statism to facts inherent in government, but such accounts cannot explain the many areas and eras where governments have become freer and less interventionist throughout history.
What, then, does explain the trajectory of political systems? Ultimately, it’s a culture’s dominant philosophy. This is a point Rand discusses throughout her work and we have argued at length elsewhere, so we will not belabor the point.
What’s relevant is that this is the best anarchists can do to explain why we should overthrow a proper government. That fact is revealing. It is like building a healthy marriage and being told that it is at a high risk of falling apart if your wife cheats, so the best solution is to become swingers. You would not believe that a person offering such advice was genuinely interested in the health of your marriage. The same goes for libertarian anarchists claiming to be champions of freedom. Their theories do not reveal a love of freedom but a hatred of the state.
They are not impractical idealists. They are enemies of a free society.
The authors wish to thank Harry Binswanger and Greg Salmieri for inspiring many points that appear in this essay.
 Conflicts over issues like abortion and climate certainly exist today with government. But the reality is that governments have wildly successful at allowing us to resolve these conflicts through the ballot box. As divided as the US is today, we have not had to resort to civil war to settle these debates. Anarchists have absolutely no grounds for thinking their system could equal that achievement.
 Bryan Caplan, “Anarcho-Capitalism Isn't Crazy, Just Ahead of Its Time.”
 Bryan Caplan, “Reflections on the Brook-Caplan Anarcho-Capitalism Debate.”
 One issue that deserves further comment is the false model of human behavior that informs most libertarian arguments for anarchy. For a non-Objectivist analysis that points out some of the flawed assumptions behind anarchist reasoning, see “Against Anarcho-Capitalism.” Objectivism holds that it is in a person’s rational self-interest to respect the rights of others (see Gregory Salmieri, “Selfish Regard for the Rights of Others,” in Foundations of a Free Society). But human beings have free will, and people regularly act against their own interests. Indeed, the default is for human beings to function close to the perceptual level, particularly in circumstances where their rights aren’t secure, which leads to tribalism and conflict rather than peaceful cooperation. Elan Journo discusses the Objectivist view of tribalism in “The Virulent Pull of Tribalism.” The larger lesson is that we cannot use assumptions that are derived from situations where force has been largely extracted from social relationships and use them to predict how human beings will function when force hasn’t been extracted from social relationships by a government.