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Before Vandanarchists, there were … Randanarchists!

From Oct. 2005 LRC blog:


Posted by Stephan Kinsella on October 18, 2005 04:42 PM

Don’t exist, apparently. Here’s Capitalism magazine trotting out the tired, old, weak arguments against libertarian anarchism. Notes the headline in typically breathless and stark Randian prose, “Anarchism is not a form of capitalism; anarchism is a form of collectivism, where individual rights are subject to the rule of competing gangs.”

This is ridiculous. As I have previously noted, to be an anarchist simply means you (a) recognize that aggression is not justified; and (b) recognize that the state necessarily commits aggression.

Now Randians claim to believe in individual rights and to oppose the initiation of force–aggression. So if they are not anarchists they must believe that states do not necessarily employ aggression.

But they admit that the “government” they favor “is an agency with a monopoly on the power to legally use force in a specific geographic area”. A monopoly on the power to legally use force means that this government has outlawed similar agencies. To outlaw is to use force against. If this force is initiated, it is aggression and a violation of rights by Rand’s own admission.

Now the Randians can argue that it is for some reason necessary that the state use force at least to the extent it has to outlaw competitors (even those who are not themselves aggressors), and perhaps to fund itself (taxation–who really believes a lottery will suffice?), and perhaps to expropriate private property (see, e.g., the endorsements of eminent domain by neo-Objectivist Tibor Machan (2) and Objectivist Michael Kelly). But just because they view it as “necessary” does not mean it is not aggression. It just means that, like conservatives and liberals, they prefer some value above conflict-free interaction and peace; they are willing to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

How can Objectivists deny that one self-proclaimed defense agency’s outlawing another is not aggression? Yes, they can plead their case that it’s necessary–necessary aggression, that is, but how they can pretend it’s not aggression, I cannot fathom.

In my view anti-anarchist Objectivists cannot have it both ways: they cannot be principled opponents of aggression while opposing anarchy. To seriously oppose anarchy they have to favor some aggression. There is no way around this.

(Some Objectivists might counter by resorting to the tired refrain that “oh but you are context dropping”. Egad, context has its place but the overuse of this concept by Objectivists makes me sick of ever hearing it again. They will often attack libertarians’ opposition to aggression by saying that it’s context-bound and requires an entire philosophy to defend and uphold the individual rights that are correlative to the opposition to aggression. In other words, they imply that libertarians cannot coherently mount a case in defense of individual rights, or against aggression; indeed, we cannot even coherently define aggression, without adopting the whole of Rand’s philosophy, hook line and sinker–presumably this includes her pet preferences on music, capes, cigarettes, and the obvious fact that a woman “should not” be, or even want to be, President, which preferences she held up as more than mere preferences. Yet, this harping on the necessity of “context” and Rand’s entire philosophy just to define what force is flies in the face of this key statement by her alter ego, John Galt: “Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate–do you hear me? no man may start–the use of physical force against others.” Wow, seems to me like Galt is implying here that the initiation of force–aggression–is a coherent, stand-alone concept that does not require a Ph.D. in philosophy or professional training to understand; that aggression is a simple, obvious thing that we can all point to and recognize. So spare me the “context” yammering, please.)

The “Capitalism” site’s attack on anarchy is riddled with errors and fallacious reasoning. The title states, “anarchism is a form of collectivism, where individual rights are subject to the rule of competing gangs”. Well, this is just a nonsense assertion. Objectivists favor a state that they hope would protect (and not violate) individual rights (despite the fact that every state that has ever existed has done a bad job of protecting, and a good job of violating, rights; but let’s not let history or reason stand in the way). But it is possible, if not inevitable, that such states would become “gangs”. And assuming the Objectivist has not become a utopian one-worlder (see my comments on Objectivists and One World Government in Libertarian Centralists; see also my comments here, and here), they presumably favor a world system of multiple states, some of which might be or become gangs. How is this different than their distorted caricature of libertarian anarchy? Well they might say, “no no, we only favor a proper government ruled by objective law” (whatever the hell the catchword “objective” means in this … um… context). Oh oh, so it’s okay for them to posit a “good” government. Okay. Fine. Then we can just posit “good” private defense agencies–you know, ones that all have as their goal the defense of and adherence to individual rights; ones that act reasonably and work with each other to apprehend and bring criminals to justice instead of “warring” with each other.

They also write,

Under capitalism, corporations are the result of a specific contractual legal framework (provided by government), based on the principle of individual rights. Without government, the distinction between public (state owned) and private no longer exists. Corporations cannot exist without individual rights, and governments to protect those individual rights. [However, keep in mind that corporations are not creatures of the state, no more then individuals are.]

So you can’t have contracts without the government? You can’t have individual rights without the government? Well, this implies the government (the state) is not governed by the consent of the people; it means the Constitution is a lie. Because for the state to be subject to the consent of the governed, to have powers “delegated” to it as our Constitution pretends; for the people to “establish” it as Locke would have it–presupposes a pre-state type of contract law, does it not? It presupposes the pre-state ability of people to form binding agreements, such as that underlying the delegation of authority to the state, the faux “consent” of the governed to establish the government. And it presupposes the people already have individual rights, some of which they either give up, or at least exercise, to form the state. In other words, the very existence of the mythical entity known as limited government itself presupposes some pre-state (gasp–anarchical!) body of contract law (and some version of individual rights). Unless, that is, the Objectivists want to just admit the truth that the state is not based on the consent of the governed, that no one ever delegated any power to it–that is is just naked force wielded by a gang of thugs (sort of like the gangs they imagine in the horrible world of anarchy. Thank GOD we dont’ have anarchy now, otherwise we might have multiple, competing, thuggish agencies of aggression ruling the globe! … uhh… waitasec…)

Those who attempt to combine anarchism with capitalism, make the error of confusing the peaceful form of competition of capitalism — trade, ideas, and dollars — with the brutal “jungle” form of competition of anarchism — brutality, whims, and bombs.

Well, I was going to reply, but the strategic, nuanced use of “whim” here knocked me out of the ring. No way I can respond to that; they have me dead to rights!

Seriously, how can you respond seriously to this uber-serioso, goth-talk?

Have you ever thought what happens when one ‘corporate protection agency’ disagrees with another? By what method do they solve their dispute? They do it by competition not with dollars, but with guns.

Wow. Deft use of assertion. Hey, I know, let’s use more assertions to solve the various intractable problems of philosophy and other fields. Is the universe infinite? “YES.” Wow. Thanks. Ummm, how did dinosaurs die out? “A mutated virus from the archeopteryx.” Cool. Was there really a Jesus? “Yes, but he lived in 70 A.D. and had 3 sisters and 1 brother.” Did Fermat himself know the solution to Fermat’s last theorem? “No.” Great, man, you are a regular Ask Jeeves.

They go on, “They seek to solve their dispute by resorting to force against each other, i.e., a perpetual state of civil war. Under such a system, which gang wins? The one that is the most brutal.”

Ummm, hey, even if this were true (and it’s not; have these people even READ the Tannehills?)–ummm why is it not true of a multi-state world? (See on this the quote by Hoppe on liberal economies and the tendency to war, quoted and discussed here.)

Anarchism is not a form of capitalism; anarchism is a form of collectivism, where individual rights are subject to the rule of competing gangs. Under such a system, any individual would beg to be placed in the relative safety of a dictatorship. The only peaceful solution to such disputes is to have one agency with the power to settle those disagreements, according to one set of objectively defined laws — a government. This is what corporations do under capitalism, when they have a dispute with each other — they go to court (government).

Ummm, now we are back to “one agency” again. I guess the Objectivists are one-worlders. But ummm, I thought they opposed dictatorship. Oh, I see–it’s possible to have a one-world state that is Rational. Oh joy! Yippee! We can transform man’s nature! Marx was a genius! Ummm… waitasec. I guess these people never heard of dystopian novels. Like, Oh, I don’t know, ANTHEM?? Atlas Shrugged?!

One last delicious quote:

On a micro-level one can observe anarchism in black markets, where drug dealers compete with each other on the same “turf” to “protect” their interests. It is to subject “might” to “right”, that one requires rights, and that one requires a government to protect those rights.

Well, the black market might also include private evasion of taxes and other immoral laws. Or the purchase or sale of medical marijuana, which some might call “heroic”. And let’s get this straight: people operating on the black market are unable to appeal to the state to protect their rights, and to resolve disputes with other black market actors … er, um, because that very government outlaws peaceful activity and thereby creates the black market in the first place…? So, um, this proves that the state is, um, necessary? Sorry, but I can’t follow the pea in this shell game.

There’s another word for black market: free market. Sickening to hear purported defenders of the free market snidely disparage it.

{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Tibor Machan July 28, 2009, 7:47 am

    It is not aggression to retrieve what one has promised to one. ( Only Robert LeFevre thought so! And he was a pacifist.) So, despite the unfounded assertion by Kinsella, properly applied eminent provisions are consistent with strict libertarianism. As one of my favorite philosophers, the late commic Myron Cohen used to put it, “everybody has to be somewhere,” which includes defense agencies or governments.

  • Stephan Kinsella July 28, 2009, 9:41 am

    Tibor, I appreciate your view, but am not persuaded. Individuals have to be somewhere too but I don’t think this gives them the right of eminent domain. A defense agency has to be somewhere, but somewhere in particular? And if we assume a free society where these agencies are supported by the populace voluntarily so that they don’t need to tax, surely we can assume the population will make sure it has a place to exist, or that it can use its funding to rent or buy a facility.

  • Tibor Machan July 29, 2009, 4:06 pm

    Persuaded or not, it is not aggression to forcibly collect from someone what he or she has contractually promised to provide (in certain circumstances, via due process). If I am a citizen of a country so justice can be secured and this requires occasional use of my private property (with proper compensation), that is what I have promised to deliver upon demonstrated need. Nothing aggressive about this, nada. One can shout a scream that it is otherwise but it ain’t.

  • Guilherme Marinho March 14, 2013, 10:34 am

    Great article mr. Kinsella.
    I’m just seeing now how objectivism fails. In much more aspects then simply the IP issue.

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