Why Anarchocapitalism Cannot Work

(Note: This post was written in two parts with about 9 hours of extremely necessary sleep in between them, so if it seems a little disjointed or the publication time doesn't jive with events described, it's not your imagination.)

God's Teeth, but I do love eating Paleo. One of the absolute best things about it is the weekly "cheat meal" on Saturdays, which allows a hopeless wino like me to eat whatever the hell I feel like- and, more importantly, drink as much of God's Blood and God's Spirit as I want without feeling the least bit guilty about it. For whatever reason, I seem to be quite productive when pleasantly buzzed on several glasses of wine, beer, and God-blessed Scotch, too, which is why I wanted to put pen to paper (so to speak) regarding a topic that's been on my mind for some time now.

As anyone who has been keeping up with these posts can surmise by now, I hate government. I hate what it stands for. I hate what it does to people. I hate the methods it uses to exercise its power. I hate its very existence. Yet, I have never quite been able to bring myself to accept the idea of a land without government; to me, government is a foul but often necessary evil that has to be endured but kept strongly confined. This may, at first, seem like an utter contradiction in terms- how can one truly despise the existence of government and yet simultaneously accept that existence? The only real way to answer that question is to investigate whether a world without government of any kind is possible.

On the surface of it, the answer should be "yes". Examples abound of "spontaneous order", a concept that is very probably as old as civilisation itself. When rid of the rotten and corrupting hand of government, befouling all it touches, free people are more than capable of deciding for themselves how best to allocate their own time and resources to achieve ends that are as beneficial as possible to themselves. Empirical studies on this subject have found that in settings as diverse as maximum-security prisons, WWII POW camps, roads without traffic lights, and the Wild West (which was actually more peaceful and better ordered than most big cities of the time), people were able to adjudicate among themselves and establish a sort of spontaneous order that required no outside intervention or influence in order to effect a stable form of economic order that matched supply of goods and services with demand for the same.

There is a lot to like about the concept of anarchocapitalism. Probably the very best book on the subject is one that I've been reading on and off for some time now- Democracy: The God that Failed, by the brilliant Prof. Hans-Herman Hoppe. In this book, via a series of interconnected essays and discussions on the nature and responsibilities of government vis-a-vis the maintenance of economic order, Prof. Hoppe builds a logically valid and (almost entirely) sound case for the minimisation and dispersion of government insofar as possible to the individual level. The basic idea of anarchocapitalism is that there is no state- i.e. no real government, no central authority, with every man a fully responsible and autonomous individual.

If this idea could work, then it would be truly wonderful to see in practise. Think about it for a moment. Every man would be quite legitimately able to own firearms. There would be no income tax whatsoever. Fiat money would be an absurdity, with gold, silver, or some other legitimately useful substance used for sound currency. People would band together for their own mutual interest and defence, forming communities as and when necessary, unmolested by the hand of government to do as they please and to live their lives happily free from unwanted outside interference. Perhaps the finest example I have ever seen of this idea put into concrete terms comes from a brilliant web-comic (now very sadly defunct) called "Escape from Terra". [If you have the time, I strongly recommend that you spend a few days reading from the very first strip on down to the last, for it will really open your eyes to the possibilities available to an anarchocapitalist society. It's a comic for thinkers.]

It all sounds truly brilliant- a society founded on the Non-Aggression Principle, dedicated to the idea that Man is sovereign over himself and himself alone, that accepts and understands the indisputable fact that no man, power, or body can fully organise and manage any economy or set of decisions (a concept beautifully illustrated by Leonard Read's outstanding essay, "I, Pencil").

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this concept in practise that make anarchocapitalism at best a distant dream.

First, and foremost, is the fact that an anarchocapitalist society is a Lake Wobegon society- a place in which everyone is above average. As far as I can tell, in order for anarchocapitalism to work, everyone in the society would have to have a minimum IQ of at least 120. The reason for this is simple: the stupid and mentally infirm cannot be counted upon to look after themselves, and those of no better than average intelligence will always and inevitably seek to take from those who have more than they do, through whatever means of force (whether legitimate or not) are available to them. They will do this because they have not the wit, wisdom, or intelligence to understand that the property of others is sacrosanct and cannot be infringed; they will always fall prey to the siren song of "fairness". This has been borne out throughout history, repeatedly, and the lessons of the past tell us very clearly that the weak and the stupid will inevitably overwhelm the rest of us through sheer force of numbers. There are very good historical and cultural reasons why an AnCap society would never work in large parts of Asia. Or South America. Or Africa, come to think of it. The AnCap way works very very well when applied to a very specific period in time and a very specific people- a deeply religious, highly productive, industrious people with a tradition of individual liberty in their very bones, such as the colonists who came to God's Country and built America upon its lands.

Second, an anarchocapitalist society can only work with a largely homogeneous people. Anarchocapitalism and nation-states cannot coexist- the very concept of a nation-state makes no sense whatsoever in an anarchocapitalist society. However, people do have collective identities to which we attach ourselves, and quite strongly at that; all of us identify very closely with a certain set of collective values, whether they be values of a family, a religion, or a nation. If the people who hold those values are largely homogeneous, and remain that way for an extended period of time, then a non-existent state is not only possible, but probable. The moment you introduce immigrants, with their often complicated historical and parochial baggage added to the mix, things become very complicated very quickly. This is precisely what happened in the USA during the 150 years after the Revolution. The Founders of this country were descended from English and Dutch Protestants- God-fearing men who were simply trying to reclaim the rights that they viewed as being theirs from birth simply by virtue of being citizens of the British Empire. When Scandinavian and German immigrants came to this country, bringing with them a love of statist solutions to individual problems, that beautiful dream began to transform during the Progressive Era. And today, with basically untrammeled immigration between Mexico and the USA- and you people aren't importing the Mexican elite, who are basically indistinguishable from modern white Spaniards- your country is rapidly going the way of ancient Rome and will almost surely collapse entirely with the span of a single generation.

Third, anarchocapitalism works if and only if property rights are absolutely maintained. If property rights are not maintained- if, for instance, someone decides to break the Non-Aggression Axiom simply by virtue of having bigger guns and more ammunition than you have- then the entire basis for an AnCap society simply falls apart. And property rights can be maintained only if all obey the Non-Aggression Principle to the absolute letter. The moment anyone deviates from the NAP, even for a short time, the entire basis for an AnCap society falls apart. The best theoretical demonstration for this comes from game theory, during multi-period games like the Repeated Prisoner's Dilemma, in which the optimal strategy may actually be for one party to break with the one-shot strategy of mutual cooperation in favour of the short-term strategy of non-cooperation, depending on the punishments and "trigger strategies" involved. (It's complicated, go look it up.)

Fourth, as indicated above, anarchocapitalism cannot work with nation-states. The two are mutex. Anarchocapitalism entails complete freedom of trade, movement, and action- the very things that nation-states exist to prevent. And it is by no means certain that complete free trade is an unrestricted good. Vox Day's criticism of the Ricardian analysis of free trade can be found in The Return of the Great Depression, and it is an excellent rebuttal to the idea that unlimited free trade, and unlimited movement between lands, is also an unlimited boon. The evidence of free trade tells us that it is most suited for small, open, trade-based economies with limited natural resources (like Singapore or Hong Kong), and rather less suitable for countries like the USA or China. As long as the concept of a nation-state exists- and it will do so as long as humanity divides itself along racial, ideological, spiritual, and/or economic lines- the core elements of an AnCap society will never be practical.

Fifth, some legal foundation has to exist for a society to function. It is all very well to claim in grand fashion that natural rights are all that are needed for a man to be happy- and, if one were to strictly obey the Commandments of God and the restrictions of the rights to life, liberty, and property, he would be a happy and contented man. The problem comes in the details. If you have a contract of employment with your employer, who upholds the legality of that contract? If you have a rental agreement with your landlord, who enforces those provisions? If you buy a home from a bank, does the bank have the right to storm your house and repossess it by force when you fall behind on the mortgage payments? This is why we have government- to apply a universal standard of contractual rights that are established between the people and their State, with the people being the ultimate arbiters and defenders of those contractual rights. Where you have gone horribly wrong is in letting your government write its own laws, beholden to nothing and no one, pretending that democracy is somehow different from outright mob rule.

As a paleolibertarian, I have great respect for the idea of anarchocapitalism. I could discuss the idea and its merits for hours. The reality is, though, that AnCap will almost surely never be implemented on any meaningful scale. The reason is given right there in your own Declaration of Independence:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
Within that beautiful document of timeless wisdom, this one sentence tells you all you need to know about the nature of ordinary men. The hard fact is that most people don't care enough about their freedoms to fight for them. It is unrealistic to expect that an AnCap society is going to be built upon such men and women. Never forget that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty". In an AnCap society, every last man, woman, and child would be needed to hold the line against those who will inevitably come to take those freedoms. How many people do you know who would be willing to pay that price?

Anarchocapitalism is a beautiful idea. I would like few things better than to see it implemented successfully in real life. But experience and human nature tell us that such a society would be short-lived at best.


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