One of the fascinating and less-known ideological subcultures of the Right are the anarcho-capitalists. While their more aggressive cousins, the anarcho-communist Antifa, have made waves within the intellectual dark web (as the mainstream media seems to be studiously ignoring the problem), the anarcho-capitalist movement remains largely unnoted. This is partly because anarcho-capitalist have a much milder temperament; at least towards violence, and partly because Antifa is being covertly supported by radical professors and administrators at universities.
Regardless, the anarcho-capitalist ideology is worth exploring, because though many of their base suppositions are wrong – I will get to that in a moment – their ideology is arguably the most “correct” of the anarchist clique. When I say “clique” I am, of course, talking about the four loose grassroots anarchist movements. From Right to Left: Anarcho-capitalism, Mutualism, Anarcho-communism and Primitivism. Mutualism is actually quite interesting, (though again, more wrong than anarcho-capitalism), enough so that it really deserves its own article, so I will not delve into it here. Suffice to say, it combines the Marxist notion of the means of production being owned by the people, and combines it with individualism (so every single person literally owns a means of production). Anarcho-communism, in short form, is communism wherein you replace the authoritarian state with mob violence. Massive censorship, mob rule and an intentional lack of leadership characterize this movement.
I thought I had reached the pinnacle of intellectual stupidity when I researched anarcho-communism, but I was wrong. So horribly, terribly wrong. At least communist ideology is dense enough that with enough social pressure and ideological indoctrination, its faults can be readily concealed. Primitivists have no such defense. To be a primitivist is to view the hunter-gatherer model as the optimum model for society. Primitivist don’t just want group-orientated communes; they want to erase everything humanity has built and return us to the technological state of the ice age. I have rarely come across anything so simultaneously troubling and hilariously pathetic. Troubling, that someone could be hoodwinked into following such an ideology; or even worse, actually believe it wholeheartedly with both a full understanding of their relatively privileged life and the natural consequences of the ideology’s implementation. Pathetic, because it is ultimately a rejection of the reality of the world in favour of fantasy.
So out of this motley group of anarchist movements, anarcho-capitalism comes out on top. Not particularly hard to do, but still remains a point in their favour. They got at least some things right, which is more than can be said for the rest. The anarcho-capitalist’s social designs will not be discussed at length, as that would make a veritable essay out of this article. Instead, the focus will be on the fundamental flaws in anarcho-capitalist economic theory, and the problems it would manifest in society (to say nothing of the problems created by taking a free-market lens to every aspect of society, as anarcho-capitalist doctrine dictates).
Now, let’s delve a little deeper into what actually characterizes an anarchist. If governmental influence in society was measured on a linear scale, anarchists would find themselves at one end, and totalitarians at the other. After anarchism comes libertarianism, and after totalitarianism comes authoritarianism, which explains in part why anarcho-capitalists have very large libertarian tendencies. It is, after all, a manifestation of the same idea (low or no governmental influence in society) except far more extreme. It is also worth noting that governmental influence is independent of the left/right political dichotomy. Fascism and communism are totalitarian by nature, while anarcho-capitalism and anarcho-communism are anarchistic by design.
So, given that both anarcho-capitalists and anarcho-communists want zero governmental apparatus, what underlying concept causes their respective ideologies to diverge so sharply? The answer is hierarchies. Here the ideologies not only diverge, but actually approach the issue from opposite ends. Anarcho-communists see hierarchies as perpetuators of oppression and inequality, and thus wish to tear down all hierarchies. In their place, they want to create a non-hierarchical society, whether it group-ruled or hunter-gatherer (the latter studiously ignoring that most evidence suggests that even early humans and Neanderthals had a tribal system of leadership).
The anarcho-capitalists, on the other hand, see hierarchies and by extension inequality as not only necessary, but actually the ultimate expression of competence and merit. Hierarchies are the religion of the anarcho-capitalists, and Darwin is their god. Even the way the anarchists view the government is filtered through the hierarchical lens; anarcho-capitalists sees the government as a menacing body, interfering with the natural order and oppressing the meritorious through the jealousy of the mediocre. Anarcho-communists, on the other hand, do not see the government as interfering with hierarchies, but instead perpetuating them. The truth is that both positions hold a kernel of truth, and the answer is somewhere in the middle, as the government is both of those things to varying degrees.
Where anarcho-capitalists got it right is in their notion that competence and meritocracy should be prized values. Not the ultimate value(s), but prized nonetheless. Where anarcho-capitalists make their principal mistake, however, is the failure to differentiate between hierarchies. A hierarchy of competence and merit cannot exist in a vacuum; it must be carefully maintained. The default hierarchy is not one of merit, but one of savagery; success, at every cost. The hierarchies of competence that have served the West so well remain forever in the shadow of their eldest brother: the hierarchy of survival.
Ayn Rand is the closest well-known philosopher to the anarcho-capitalist ideology. In her book, Atlas Shrugged, an overly meddlesome government of the mediocre eventually causes the meritorious to create their own enclave, away from the burdensome restrictions of the masses. Ayn Rand’s work does hold truth; but is a half-truth. It shows only the bright side of the coin, while ignoring its darker twin. Rand, like most anarchists, holds an overly optimistic view of human nature. Anarcho-capitalists are the same, blinded by the potential of the good that could be done should the shackles be lifted on the competent. They remain, as Rand, willfully ignorant of the irreverent evil and casual apathy that coil the human heart.
The anarcho-capitalists do believe in something that is eminently desirable, and is the ultimate expression of a successful hierarchy of merit: the free market. The free market as Adam Smith conceptualized it was far more limited, however, than even some Libertarians would have you believe. Monopolies, excessive taxation and undue interference by the government are of course absolutely undesirable. However, the government does serve several vitally important roles in governing the free market.
The first and most important role is the application and maintenance of legitimate boundaries in the free market. This is largely done through the judicial system, and ensures a fair playing field, so that competence constrained by the boundaries of individual rights remains the method to rise. As soon as the legitimate boundaries break down, as the government becomes ineffective and/or corrupt, the free market quickly devolves into a hierarchy of survival. It will inevitably produce negative outcomes for many people. Adam Smith noted many times in the Wealth of Nations that Justice was a necessary and prudent restraint on economic activity.
The free market cannot be trusted to perpetuate itself. It can do a great many wonderful things when let loose within the boundaries of the economic system, but it cannot arbitrate the boundaries themselves. No system can maintain itself with any degree of efficacy, after all. Just look at the public sector. The inertia of the government should not necessarily be universally condemned, however, as it is one of the checks against tyranny and oppression. Thus, apart from maintaining itself, the government also necessarily maintains the boundaries of the economic system, allowing individual actors within to act with freedom and produce extraordinarily efficient and meritocratic outcomes. It is a truly wonderous thing to behold; that merit, and merit alone within a given domain can determine your place on the hierarchy.
Corruption is inevitable in the maintenance of these boundaries, but it takes much longer to take root than within a self-policing system, and is much easier to dislodge. If the markets should ever regulate their own boundaries, Justice herself will weep tears of blood, whether now or a hundred years hence, as the human heart inevitably turns to darkness. After all, in an unconstrained regime, the most benevolent of dictators will invariably be replaced by the cruelest of tyrants (and history tells us this occurs sooner rather than later).
The next role of government is the maintenance of the public good in the economy. While this sounds very nebulous, it manifests itself in a number of practical ways. There are numerous examples, but here are a few. Food regulations, for one, prevent health crisis and increase transparency in the food industry. The same is doubly valuable in the pharmaceutical industry, where long-term negatives effects of a product might not be felt until years after a consumer has ingested it. It also has largely demolished the legal sale of placebo items; nowadays found in the form of pills (though their 18th century equivalent were narwhal horns, among other entertaining items).
A second example is the regulation of public utilities. No companies hold so much power over their consumers as public utility companies. This power imbalance makes it a very difficult market to regulate, and far more prone to corruption than other sectors of the economy. Still, it is better than the alternative, where powerful companies gouge their consumers through the teeth for the most basic of necessities. This is a combination of two factors: the first is that services provided by the public utilities are vital to the individual, and thus they must accept any price. The first would be fine should the market for public utilities be competitive, but unfortunately that is far from the case. Because of the huge start-up costs and financial barriers to entry, an unregulated and privatized public utility market inevitably ends in an oligopoly or monopoly. This is not to say that public utility companies should be nationalized; as a general rule that only leads to mismanagement and massive governmental debt. Rather, they should remain private but moderately regulated institutions.
The third example is a term that all those who have taken Economics 101 have heard: the tragedy of the commons. Most of the time in the free market, individuals pursuing their own economic ends produce positive outcomes for society. However, there are cases where a large number of individual actors all pursuing personal gain cause untold harm to the common good. Hence, the “tragedy” of the commons. This most obviously manifests itself in renewable resource extraction. Plants and animals require a certain threshold of abundance to reproduce over the long term. This requires careful controls on the amount of resources that can be extracted from these renewable sources, as many individuals would sacrifice long-term sustainability for short term profit.
The impacts of this cannot be understated. Numerous animals, most notably the rhino, are being hunted to the edge of extinction with no thought to the long-term consequences. Overfishing remains a vast problem across the world today, and the amazon forestry crisis is a looming catastrophe waiting to happen. Over time, the tragedy of the commons produces very negative effects in the market, but depending on the timeframe it could be decades before these effects are felt by the actors. Long-term growth is prized above all by economists, and the manifest effects of the tragedy of the commons not only hinders this, but sometimes even destroys the prospect altogether (see: the Rhino horn market in ten years).
All of these aforementioned issues would be pervasive within any society that implemented anarcho-capitalism. The anarcho-capitalists are ultimately, like all anarchists, overly optimistic about human nature. They confuse hierarchies of competence in a given domain with the overall hierarchy of survival, and their social theory leaves very important things out of the equation (i.e. national armies and, you know, roads). Again however, their inclinations within the economic realm are not wrong per se. They simply only look at one half of the equation. Yes, the free market is one of the West’s most pre-eminent institutions, but it also could become an instrument of injustice should its boundaries be imprudently maintained. Yes, the government is a collective of the mediocre that hates the successful, but it is also the neutral arbiter of justice in the economic realm. The latter role is vital, and with mainstream conservative ideology and taxation, the former role can be minimized. All in all, perhaps the greatest thing to come from anarcho-capitalism is not the ideology itself, but the memes.