The anarchistic ideal

There is a curious phenomenon when one is talking about freedom. It seems we usually tend to associate freedom with a lack of restraint. Therefore, the reasoning goes, a free political system would be one where there is no government – an anarchy. “anarchism” in politics is the generic term used to designate a system lacking a formal governmental structure. Libertarianism is also often confounded as an anarchistic system, but the mistake here is obvious, since libertarianism is by definition a minarchy (the terms are more or less synonymous).

Therefore anarchism has replaced communism as the favoured “utopia”. But does the use of the word “freedom” justify it ? Freedom is the attribute of owning oneself, as opposed to being owned – as property – by someone else. But the right of self-ownership is the very basis of libertarianism ! Because by definition anarchism supports no right of societal restriction, it cannot claim to be a utopia of freedom any more than any other system.

Man began in an anarchistic state : although hierarchies of power are present in higher animals, formal governments are not inborn. What advantages did our ancestors see in formal groupings that they did not see in disparate action ? This advantage is most likely freedom – the protection from other people’s passions, and the cohesion of work and trade (and of course the waste of time and energy that results from the absence of these two factors). Since most historical systems, even totalitarist, provided these basic functions (albeit in a wrong way), anarchism is in that respect vastly inferior. However, we have no examples of modern anarchistic countries or systems in order to make empirical inductions. With the evolution of self-defense and communication technologies, there is no doubt that an anarchistic system would not collapse as easily as it would have in more primitive times.

Why, then, is anarchism wrong ? We know that libertarianism is the optimal political system. But it might be that anarchism can achieve equivalent results without the need for a formal structure. But this is not intuitive. Suppose all formal structures are removed from society in a libertarian system. Saying that there would not be any disorder or profound problems in that situation seems to be delusional, let alone that our economical and social systems would continue to function in their current form.

Some people are anarchists because they believe that it is the only way to eliminate power, or that only the people can decide for themselves. However, both of these objections are misguided. The first is usually the result of a false dichotomy between authoritarian governments or no government, while the second is born from the delusion that governments are composed of exceptionally corrupt individuals. While it is true that power corrupts, the population in general is not any more honest than its politicians, if only because they have elected them.

At any rate, when we analyze the results of anarchism, we arrive at the surprising conclusion that anarchism is a functional democracy. This may seem counter-intuitive, since after all anarchism is partly a reaction to the failure of democratic systems. However, they both partake of the same stupidly optimistic view of human nature. The nature of a democratic process is that the decision-making agent is the population, thru representation, direct voting, or otherwise. But by destroying formal, and therefore bounded, systems (note that free market entities under an anarchy are not formal, and therefore not bounded, systems), anarchism inevitably puts the burden of decision-making on the population. In concrete terms, this means that since no laws are enforced by a central authority, the limits on an anarchistic society are established by the individuals that compose it. While representational democracy is the tyranny of the mass, anarchism is the tyranny of the strongest.

As a functionally democratic system, anarchism is therefore burdered with the same flaws as any other such system. The most proeminent of them is a stupidly optimistic view of human nature. As demonstrated by empirical evidence, the rule of the majority has rarely wielded any positive result. Because of man’s fallibility, an optimal pattern of rights becomes a democratic limit case. Of course, it is a possibility, but it would require a large majority of people to be highly intelligent, which is unlikely. The fact that libertarianism establishes everyone’s rights without any need for such restricted limit cases makes it a superior form of government.

What, then, about anarcho-capitalism ? Astute readers will have noted that the term is a quasi-oxymoron. Capitalism needs property rights in order to exist, because it is the economical system based on free trade. However, there cannot be an exclusivity of free trade if the breaking of property rights is not regulated (for example, the breaking of contracts). But emergent property rights in an anarchy cannot exist except in limit cases, as I just explained. Therefore anarcho-capitalism is merely another way of describing this limit case.

At any rate, the attraction of anarcho-capitalism, the capacity of choosing one’s own way of life and political system, is already present in libertarianism under the form of contractual groupings (see my article “The community idea”), while maintaining the protection of one’s rights which is necessary for the establishment of economical and social systems. In essence, the community idea steals the anarcho-capitalistic thunder.