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The Irrelevance of the Impossibility of Anarcho-Libertarianism

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A 1982 article, The Impossibility of anarcho-capitalism, was recently called to my attention. In it, the author, one Tony Hollick, argues that the “components” of anarcho-capitalism are:

  1. A belief that a fully-fledged free-market private property based social order can be realised and maintained without the existence of a single, finally arbitrary system of lawmaking and enforcement which asserts jurisdiction over non-consenting parties.
  2. A preference for the imagined advantages of that social order however conceived.
  3. A willingness to advocate attempts to instantiate it as an actual experiment in the more or less foreseeable future.

This type of argument is typical of those who want to argue for states and the aggression states commit, while still adopting the libertarian label. It is a way of changing to subject away from the aggression they favor, by insinuating the presumption that the anarchist is for something, and thus needs to prove it before we abandon the current (statist) order and “adopt” the system known as anarchy. This approach tries to color anarchy as just one of many prima facie equally valid competing possible systems. Anarchists have the burden of proving we should “adopt” it just like a socialist bears the burden of proving we should adopt socialism. Thus, it is not surprising Hollick concludes, “One can only be struck by the similarities between ’socialism’ and ‘anarchism’. Partisans of every kind rush to show that their vision is uniquely realisable; and the visions cover the entire range of mutually contradictory systems and practices.”

But, of course, anarchists don’t advocate a “substitute system”. We are not for something, other than respect for rights. Rather, we are an-archist, “without (belief in) (political) rulers.” We simply are not persuaded that political action is justified. This is because we see that states by their nature commit aggression–and as we are libertarians and against aggression (see my What Libertarianism Is), we are thus against states.In other words, to be an anarcho-libertarian is simply to be opposed to aggression, and to recognize that states are inherently aggressive. It does not mean, for example, as Hollick asserts, that we anarchists, qua-anarchist, maintain “A belief that a fully-fledged free-market private property based social order can be realised and maintained without [whatever].” The anarchist is not someone who has a belief about “what will work”. Rather, he is someone who opposes aggression in all its forms. As I explained in What It Means to be an Anarcho-Capitalist:

Conservative and minarchist-libertarian criticism of anarchy on the grounds that it won’t “work” or is not “practical” is just confused. Anarchists don’t (necessarily) predict anarchy will be achieved – I for one don’t think it will. But that does not mean states are justified.

Consider an analogy. Conservatives and libertarians all agree that private crime (murder, robbery, rape) is unjustified, and “should” not occur. Yet no matter how good most men become, there will always be at least some small element who will resort to crime. Crime will always be with us. Yet we still condemn crime and work to reduce it.

Is it logically possible that there could be no crime? Sure. Everyone could voluntarily choose to respect others’ rights. Then there would be no crime. It’s easy to imagine. But given our experience with human nature and interaction, it is safe to say that there will always be crime. Nevertheless, we still proclaim crime to be evil and unjustified, in the face of the inevitability of its recurrence. So to my claim that crime is immoral, it would just be stupid and/or insincere to reply, “but that’s an impractical view” or “but that won’t work,” “since there will always be crime.” The fact that there will always be crime – that not everyone will voluntarily respect others’ rights – does not mean that it’s “impractical” to oppose it; nor does it mean that crime is justified. It does not mean there is some “flaw” in the proposition that crime is wrong.

Likewise, to my claim that the state and its aggression is unjustified, it is disingenuous and/or confused to reply, “anarchy won’t work” or is “impractical” or “unlikely to ever occur.” The view that the state is unjustified is a normative or ethical position. The fact that not enough people are willing to respect their neighbors’ rights to allow anarchy to emerge, i.e., the fact that enough people (erroneously) support the legitimacy of the state to permit it to exist, does not mean that the state, and its aggression, are justified.

In other words, it just won’t do for Hollick to attack anarcho-libertarianism by arguing we haven’t shown that “a fully-fledged free-market private property based social order can be realised and maintained without [whatever]“. In fact, since anarcho-libertarianism just means stringent opposition to aggression, to attack anti-aggressionism just is to defend aggression. And you can’t justify aggression by alleging that libertarians have not proved that a private property order can “work.” What kind of argument is that? “Sir, why are you robbing me? Why are you entitled to do this?” “Why, because you haven’t proved that a private property order can work, that’s why!”

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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