Bronze-level articleAnarcho-capitalism

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Anarcho-capitalism is a political philosophy which combines elements of anarchism and capitalism. From anarchism, it borrows the concept of elimination of the state, and from capitalism it borrows the concepts of the free market and private property. While libertarians advocate minimizing the state, anarcho-capitalists advocate the complete elimination of the state. Anarcho-capitalists believe the institution of state is antithetical to capitalism.

Anarcho-capitalists believe that compulsory taxation is a violation of individual liberty. Thus they oppose compulsory taxation and believe law enforcement, courts, and all security services should be provided by voluntarily-funded competitors, such as private defense agencies.



Non-aggression axiom

Murray Rothbard wrote:
"The basic axiom of libertarian political theory holds that every man is a self owner, having absolute jurisdiction over his own body. In effect, this means that no one else may justly invade, or aggress against, another's person. It follows then that each person justly owns whatever previously unowned resources he appropriates or "mixes his labor with." From these twin axioms – self-ownership and "homesteading" – stem the justification for the entire system of property rights titles in a free-market society. This system establishes the right of every man to his own person, the right of donation, of bequest (and, concomitantly, the right to receive the bequest or inheritance), and the right of contractual exchange of property titles." [3]
The non-aggression axiom is prohibition against force of any kind, against person (violence, murder) or against property (burglary, taxation). Thus according to non-aggression axiom, taxation is a kind of force or coercion against property.

Private property

Self-ownership is a concept central to anarcho-capitalism. Hans-Hermann Hoppe writes: "Everyone is the proper owner of his own physical body as well as of all places and nature-given goods that he occupies and puts to use by means of his body, provided only that no one else has already occupied or used the same places and goods before him. This ownership of "originally appropriated" places and goods by a person implies his right to use and transform these places and goods in any way he sees fit, provided only that he does not change thereby uninvitedly the physical integrity of places and goods originally appropriated by another person. In particular, once a place or good has been first appropriated by, in John Locke's phrase, 'mixing one's labor' with it, ownership in such places and goods can be acquired only by means of a voluntary – contractual – transfer of its property title from a previous to a later owner." [4]

Intellectual property

Anarcho-capitalsts tend to be divided on the issue of copyright. Rothbard supported copyright [5] while Stephan Kinsella opposes it.[6] All anarcho-capitalists oppose patents.

Private Defense Agencies

Some anarcho-capitalists advocate Private Defense Agencies (PDAs) for ensuring law and order. Some would simply leave the matter of protection up to whatever evolves in the market, with some hiring private security or rent-a-cops, and others relying on their personal marksmanship skills and arsenal of firearms. It is important to note that as anarcho-capitalists advocate abolition of the state, law and order would be completely based around defense of private property; there would be no body of "law" per se, excepting possibly some recognition of natural law residing in absolute private property rights. There would likewise be no national defense, except and unless individuals freely agree to pool their resources and hire a private mercenary army for some sort of collective defense (say, of a town or a group of properties).


Anarcho-capitalists claim descent from a body of 19th century anarchist writers, of the individualist variety (Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner), the mutualist variety (Pierre-Joseph Proudhon), and the egoist kind (Max Stirner). They stop short, however, of trying to claim any descent from collectivist and anti-capitalist anarchists such as Kropotkin and Bakunin. But Tucker and Proudhon were also anti-capitalist, and even Spooner's Jeffersonianism-run-amok did not exactly view modern capitalism in a good light. Leftist and collectivist anarchists also claim descent from the same body of early anarchist writers. A bigger influence in reality was a group of "classical liberal" writers during the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt who wrote anti-New Deal books proclaiming the state, itself, as the problem and verged on anarchist rhetoric if not sentiments. Typical of these were Our Enemy, the State (1935) by Albert Jay Nock (a former Georgist), and The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane (1943). However anarcho-capitalists are generally critical of classical liberalism.[1]

As the early libertarian movement was getting off the ground during the 1960s, libertarian interest in anarchism as an antecedent was sparked by James J. Martin's history of early American anarchism, Men Against the State. Meanwhile, Robert LeFevre (see below) and Andrew Joseph Galambos were both giving for-pay lectures on political theory in which they began with a set of postulates and then, taking those postulates to their logical extreme, concluded the state itself would have to be abolished in order to have a truly free market. LeFevre's lectures were influential (and involved, among other associates and guest lecturers, James J. Martin and Rose Wilder Lane); Galambos' less so due to his crank ideas on intellectual property. Many budding activists on the right moved in and out of political circles ranging from Ayn Rand's Objectivism, to the John Birch Society and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign during that period, and discovered the LeFevre or Galambos lectures.

Another book which proved influential was The Market for Liberty (1970) by Morris and Linda Tannehill, written with all the zeal of new converts after the Tannehills had discovered, and eagerly devoured, the works of Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. Somehow in the process of studying Rand and Mises, the Tannehills seized upon the idea (unlike Rand and Mises) that government itself should be abolished. It was from the Tannehills' book that the early development of such ideas as private defense agencies and marketplace systems of arbitration and restitution (to replace government courts and prisons) began to take form.

The biggest influence however turned out to be Murray Rothbard. Rothbard had gone from being a "Taft Republican" to an Ayn Rand follower to an independent "old right" conservative who advocated alliances with the "new left" over opposition to the draft and the Vietnam War. He, along with former Goldwater speechwriter-turned-new leftist Karl Hess, were influential in starting the modern libertarian movement. But Rothbard went further: while his activities were in the political realm and he had no qualms about voting or involvement in trying to influence public policy, his real sentiments were in favor of abolition of the state itself. His book Power and Market (1970) was the second major work in the modern anarcho-capitalist canon, after the Tannehills'; followed in 1973 with For a New Liberty, written as a manifesto for the libertarian movement as a whole. While an anarchist himself, Rothbard continued to be a major influence among most libertarians, most of whom stop well short of advocating abolishing all government.

David D. Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) is a major anarcho-capitalist figure today. (Milton was a "Chicago School" market economist and a favorite of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, his naughty son David apparently going rogue down the anarchist path.) David Friedman's 1973 book The Machinery of Freedom was the third major anarcho-capitalist book, but took the "consequentialist" view of the Chicago School rather than the "natural rights" based anarcho-capitalism of the Tannehills and Rothbard.

Much ideological back-and-forth bickering has taken place since beetween followers of Friedman's consequentialist versus Rothbard's natural law versions of anarcho-capitalism. One major difference between the two is that in Rothbard's model, a single body of law that had been reached by a consensus of legal scholars would be enforced by private parties, but in Friedman's model each private party could make its own law to enforce. This was an outgrowth of their opposing ethical theories


These four are all forms of anarcho-capitalism as they each advocate both laissez-faire capitalism and complete abolition of the state, but differ from other anarcho-capitalists in that they have a main area of emphasis (pacifism, counter-economics, living mobily, etc.) not shared by most other anarcho-capitalists:

Robert LeFevre advocated a combination of anarcho-capitalism and pacifism, which he extended to total non-coercion in all relationships between individuals. (He defined voting, for example, as a form of coercion and therefore a violation of both pacifist and libertarian principles.) He called his philosophy "autarchism" to distinguish it from anarchism.

Samuel Edward Konkin III advocated a variant on anarcho-capitalism which he called "agorism". He advocated that people drop out of the regulated and taxed above-ground economy and shift all their economic and other activity to the black market or to untaxed and unregulated avenues. He called this "counter-economics" and defined it broadly to include everything from people using offshore bank accounts and tax evasion, to engaging in illegal activities like drug use or prostitution, to buying via yard sales, bartering, or shopping in another state to avoid paying sales taxes. Thus would the government become irrelevant and whither away. Agorists, however, do not generally self-identify as anarcho-capitalists, and indeed one agorist blogger, Brad Spangler, describes the "left-Rothbardian" philosophy of agorism as libertarian socialist.

Carl Watner advocates something called "voluntaryism", apparently a combination of both LeFevre's pacifism and Konkin's counter-economics. Watner also seems to have had some involvement with Neo-Tech as he is the author of one of their books, Businessmen vs. Neocheaters.

The concept of "vonu" was also advocated by several libertarian writers (many of them associated with Eden Press or the now-defunct Loompanics), which basically means living mobile and under the radar. This concept is somewhat similar to what is now being called "Going Galt", or to The Who's song "Goin' Mobile" ("watch the police and the tax man miss me").

Criticism and response

Criticism from minarchists and left-anarchists

Anarcho-capitalism faces criticism from capitalists who support the existence of the state. On the other hand, anarcho-capitalists have accused them of not being true capitalists. Critics claim private defense agencies could create defense monopolies. Some critics claim they will be like mafia groups, and a "gang war" will arise among them. Anarcho-capitalists have dismissed this criticism by claiming that free market competition will prevent monopolies. Additionally, the other anarchist schools of thought stand united in critiquing anarcho-capitalism as not anarchism, since the rest view capitalism as inherently oppressive and hierarchical. Some have labeled anarcho-capitalism to be merely "private state capitalism." Minarchist (minimal government) libertarians may support most of the same things as anarcho-capitalists - private roads, private certification associations replacing occupational licensing - but view complete anarchism as unworkable and recognize a need for a small government remaining in place to prevent the emergence of tyranny out of a power vacuum.

Logical fallacies

Anarcho-capitalist books tend to read like Marxist books - dense and full of provocative ideas that sound good in theory, but are presented as "this is the way it would work" when it has never really been tried. The Market for Liberty makes blanket statements such as "in a laissez-faire society, only gold would be accepted as the standard of monetary value" (how do they know?); competing educational systems would "forever end squabbles over cirriculum" (how?); eliminating medical licensing would "end the doctor shortage and drastically reduce the cost of medical care" because "anyone could practice medicine in any area in which he was competent, regardless of the number of years he spent in college" but we needn't worry about quacks performing surgery because "reputable physicians would probably form medical organizations which would only sanction competent doctors, thereby providing consumers with a guide"; and we needn't worry about private defense agencies becoming like warring Mafia gangs because "a defense company which committed aggression...would be left with no customers, associates, or employees except for undesirables." Not very reassuring. The book brings up many objections in a straw man manner and dismisses them without serious discussion, and uses "always", "never", and "will probably" far too much.[2]

Samuel Edward Konkin's The New Libertarian Manifesto posits five hypothetical stages in which government is supplanted by a black market "counter-economy" led by a "New Libertarian Alliance". Again, this is purely hypothetical and smacks of Marxist historical determinism and Leninist vanguardism; how does he know?

Competing private courts enforcing competing polycentric bodies of law, as envisioned by David Friedman, presents an especially confusing mess. The implications of this are best left to the reader to imagine.

Assorted crankery

As with any fringe ideology, anarcho-capitalism is riddled with people stacking their own crank views on top of it, including views that conventional wisdom might hold to be incompatible with anarchism (and capitalism for that matter) to begin with. A short list could include the aforementioned Galambosian view on intellectual property; Hans-Hermann Hoppe's asinine support for monarchy; Eric S. Raymond's wingnut views on the War on Terror; the Robert A. Heinlein fan club who think fascist tripe like Starship Troopers is their idea of a libertarian society; and Gary North, a dominionist Christian who runs in anarcho-capitalist circles (we don't know whether he considers himself an anarcho-capitalist, but he hangs around with them).

It also has a history of people who abandon it as soon as they find themselves in a position of power (see Greenspan, Alan; Rohrabacher, Dana).

Would it work?

One question is whether anarcho-capitalism would work at all as envisioned by its proponents, or whether there would be so much chaos that private defense agencies, the owners of private highways, private courts with their own bodies of law, and private medical associations among others would soon coalesce into a new de facto state - with no clue as to what sort of state, which could be a minarchist one but possibly could be one far more dictatorial than the one anarcho-capitalism replaced. We simply don't know.

Societies with minarchist governments have existed and worked; no examples exist of societies with no government that didn't soon evolve (or devolve) into government. Anarcho-capitalists cite medieval Iceland and 17th century Pennsylvania but if anarchism really worked why did they soon develop governments? Both were really minarchist societies to begin with - Iceland's althing and Pennsylvania's caretaker state government during the colonial era, and more to the point, both were monolithic, agrarian, and isolated cultures at the time; it worked in Pennsylvania at the time because of the Quaker influence of living in peace.[3] What might happen in a multicultural, globalized world with high technology, large cities, and weapons of mass destruction is anyone's guess.

One recent cautionary example of what could happen might be the failed state of Somalia, where warring warlords, gangs, and organized crime could be viewed as the competing private defense agencies envisioned by anarcho-capitalists but again, this is hardly reassuring. Somalia is riddled with crime and piracy, and ones' safety as well as ones' ability to conduct business depend on whom one can bribe. However, the question most Anacho-Capitalists ask themselves when looking at cases like this is not whether such an example of anarchy is bad, they ask themselves how worse it would be if there was a state in this anarchist territory. Somalia has shown improvement in all areas except in education since the collapse of its state.[4]. Also, neither different territories controlled by warlords, nor the breakaway de facto state of Somaliland, are anarchies to begin with, they are states. Hilariously (and perhaps frighteningly), there are some anarcho-capitalists who cite Somalia as an example of a thriving stateless society.[5]

The problem is; how does one solve disputes without a government that maintains a monopoly on force to mitigate disputes under a single objectively defined framework of law? While there is very little known precedences within Government-maintained economies, some have studied the political economies of outlaws, such as Pirates.[6]

See also

External links


  1. Classical Liberalism versus Anarchocapitalism
  2. Quotes are from The Market for Liberty by Morris and Linda Tannehill, 1970, Cobden Press 2009 edition.
  3. "Pennsylvania's Anarchist Experiment: 1681-1690" by Murray Rothbard describes a minarchist society with a government that did very little, not an anarchist society.
  4. [1]
  5. No, I'm serious: Stateless in Somalia, and Loving It
  6. "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization"[2]
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