Mises Daily Articles
States, Cartels, and the Anarcho-Capitalist Opposition
“Every man,” argued the philosopher William Godwin, “has a certain sphere of discretion, which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbours. This right flows from the very nature of man.” Market anarchists agree with Godwin and thus oppose the state simply as one specific example of invasion or aggression against peaceful individuals. After all, by definition, governments must aggress against innocents just to exist. As soon as we subject government to the same moral rules and standards to which we subject every other individual or group, we see at once that government is the foremost lawbreaker and evildoer acting in society. As Murray Rothbard argued in his classic libertarian manifesto For a New Liberty, since we “make no exceptions” to general morality for the state, we must “simply think of the State as a criminal band,” an organization of plunder seizing tribute from peaceful, productive society. The state presents us with no good or compelling reason why it ought to enjoy the prerogative of killing, stealing, and doling out special privileges to its courtiers at the expense of legitimate free market actors. Presented with a nation blighted by the sequelæ of past state misdeeds, our overlords nevertheless assure us that the only way forward is to entrust the political elite with more power still.
The glaringly contradictory logic of such a course of action was percipiently noted by the British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay when he wrote, “The calamities arising from the collection of wealth in the hands of a few capitalists are to be remedied by collecting it in the hands of one great capitalist, who has no conceivable motive to use it better than other capitalists, the all-devouring state.” Macaulay, anticipating the public choice theory of politics, understood that the state is a human institution, that the individuals who make it up and brandish its enormous power are motivated by all the same impulses and incentives that drive the rest of us. If, for good reason, we generally distrust the concentrated power wielded by coercive monopolies, we ought to avoid at all costs placing more power in the state, the ultimate embodiment of monopoly — indeed the source of all monopoly power. When statists of all stripes — progressives, socialists, “liberals,” etc., — propose to empower the state further, clamoring for more laws and regulations, they aggravate the problem that they propose to remedy, short-circuiting more and more of the competitive pressures that are in point of fact the only effective safeguard against the abuse and concentration of power. Anarchists instead propose an economic system of pure voluntary exchange, a real free market within which the one and only way to amass any economic power is to serve consumers consistently and responsively. Contrast such a system to the American fascism which governs the United States today. In his new book, Against the State, Lew Rockwell writes, “Fascism is the system of government that cartelizes the private sector, centrally plans the economy to subsidize producers, exalts the police State as the source of order, denies fundamental rights and liberties to individuals, and makes the executive State the unlimited master of society.” There is no denying that the foregoing definition of fascism provides an accurate description of conditions now prevalent in the United States.
The anarchist, having established that the state is a war on and the principal obstacle to a free and peaceful society, suggests the “utopian” notion of simply not permitting a glorified mafia to prey on the innocent. Anarchism, therefore, is hardly a provocative, pie in the sky notion, and is hardly the straw man put up by its statist opponents. Neither is it advocacy for chaos and lawlessness, which much better describe a system in which justice is meted out arbitrarily and unevenly, in which American citizens can be murdered without due process, and constitutional protections reveal themselves as the impotent parchment guarantees they are. Because it undermines the fascist, Washington, DC-instituted status quo, the free-market anarchism that we espouse will be fighting an uphill battle for as far as the eye can see. As Rothbard wrote, “[S]pecial interests and ruling elites will not surrender their ill-gotten gains so readily. They will fight like hell to keep it. Libertarianism is not a message of treacle and Camelot: it is a message of struggle.” Lacking the money, power, or connections of the ruling power elite, anarchists must be content to approach that struggle with the strength of our ideas — propitiously, when it comes to those, we have the upper hand.