Analyzing Ancapistan

Two weeks ago, I discussed state-society, the libertarian minarchists’ vision of a perfect society. What I did not discuss was libertarian anarchism or anarcho-capitalism and for obvious reasons: anarchism demands the abolishing, not the taming, of the state. Today I will address that oversight by analyzing Ancapistan, the goal of anarcho-capitalism, not strictly to criticize it, but to draw out nuances of anarcho-capitalist theory. My argument, put simply, is that anarcho-capitalists should become neoreactionaries.

One advantage state-society has over Ancapistan is that it is much easier for us living today to conceptualize. State apparatus’ are so broad, so firmly entrenched, and have existed for so long that imagining in concrete terms how society would look without the state is much harder than imagining how society would look with a much smaller state. Indeed, the way anarcho-capitalists sometimes talk about Ancapistan makes it sound like some kind of Underpants Gnome scheme:

Step 1: Abolish the state.

Step 2: ??????

Step 3: Profit!

To ameliorate this difficulty, let’s start with something simple. Suppose everyone in the U.S. woke up tomorrow morning a committed anarcho-capitalist and with whatever knowledge is necessary to coordinate the dismantling of the state. Everyone then participates in dismantling the state and at all levels, so there is no more federal government, no more states, no more counties, no more cities, what-have-you.

But then people start rebuilding the old state institutions: the people living in Auburn form a corporation called “the City of Auburn,” and it is located within territory controlled by another corporation—“the state of Alabama”—which in turn is part of “the United States of America.” These institutions are built up in libertarian fashion, with voluntary contracts and property transfers, and there is no conscious scheme or active coordination toward this end; it simply emerges out of the spontaneous order of the market process. Eventually, exactly the same system that presently exists, with all the same agencies, bureaus, powers, and prerogatives, comes into being.

So why did we bother abolishing the state? Everything we didn’t like about the present day has been restored and with the imprimatur of anarcho-capitalism. What good has it done us to tear down the United States of American only to see it replaced with the United States of Ancapistan?

The anarcho-capitalist may respond with a variety of changes I have not noticed. For instance, fractional-reserve banking may not exist in the U.S.A. anymore, police brutality may have been reduced, along with corruption in general, or the U.S.A. is less imperialistic in its foreign policy. But all this is small potatoes next to abolishing the state: if these were the things we wanted, establishing Ancapistan seems like an extremely inefficient way to accomplishing them.

The United States of Ancapistan does offer one feature that the United States of America did not: the possibility of legal exit. If you don’t agree with the process leading to the restoration of the U.S.A. (or if you want out later), you don’t have to participate. At least, no official appears at your door telling you that you are participating whether you like it or not. You may be subject to boycotts or other forms of shunning; there may be some vandalism or other attacks against you that just can’t be solved; or if you can receive justice through the U.S.A. system, the wheels may turn very slowly. If there are a lot of you, y’all could band together and support each other, but even so, there might well be very strong incentives to either acquiesce or leave.

Theoretically, you can exit quite easily; practically, that proposition becomes rather trickier.

It seems that if you expect people to reestablish existing institutions—in other words, if people are basically satisfied with the state structure today—then there is little reason to support anarcho-capitalism. All the fruits of abolishing the state can be reaped more easily by simply reforming the state.

Now let’s shift gears and consider a different scenario, one radically different from the U.S.A. Imagine that some catastrophe strikes the world and utterly destroys society as we know it. However, there is a small group of anarcho-capitalist preppers who survive and form a community somewhere in the wilderness. These preppers band together for mutual support and collective protection from outsiders, and they establish protocols for dispute resolution. To top it all off, each adult swears an oath to abide by the laws of the community.

Years pass and children grow to be adults. When a child reaches the age of majority, he or she is given the choice of swearing the same oath as the founders or being exiled from the community. As the population grows, people begin to appropriate unused land, and the territorial extent of the community begins to grow. Disputes may become more frequent, considering that there are more people to have them, but they are still resolved according to established law, and the Free Town of Ancapistan flourishes.

Now let’s throw some wrenches into this system.

Let’s suppose that the preppers didn’t swear an oath, or at least didn’t make their kids do it when they grew up. Everyone still knows the rights and responsibilities of town citizenship, and people who openly refuse to accept these terms are still exiled, but there is no ritual whereby a person indicates that they consent to the community contract. As long as they don’t leave, they are assumed to give tacit consent.

Tacit consent is a notion frequently invoked to counter anarcho-capitalist claims about the legitimacy of present-day states: the statists claim that everyone knows the terms of living in a country, and if they don’t like those terms, they are free to emigrate. “America: love it or leave it,” they say.

Does reliance on tacit consent transform the Free Town of Ancapistan into the People’s Republic of Prepperville? Is the divide between state and non-state merely that in one you raise your right hand and say some words when you turn 18? Presumably not, but if not, then contemporary states have legitimacy: their subjects do consent to being ruled by them. The problem with states, then, is what they do and how they rule, not that they lack the consent of the governed.

Returning to Ancapistan, let’s not worry about the oath and go in a different direction. Imagine that the Free Town of Ancapistan has a neighbor, the Free Town of Nozickville. Ancapistan and Nozickville each control a certain territory by dint of original appropriation, but this isn’t all the land they use. There is a forest where both Ancapistanis and Nozickvillers hunt deer, which could lead to conflict between the two towns. Fortunately, the Ancapistanis and Nozickvillers reach an agreement on hunting rights, stipulating that the forest will be reserved for hunting, that hunters from both towns will be permitted to hunt there, and that the number of deer each town may hunt will be limited in order to maintain the deer population. They furthermore agree to defend the forest from any outsider who tries to hunt there.

This sounds like a fine exemplum of anarcho-capitalistic legal practice: two parties settling their differences through negotiation and respect for property rights. The problem is that neither town has the right to enforce their claim on the forest against anyone else because they didn’t originally appropriate it. Sure, a hunter owns the deer he kills, but that doesn’t mean he owns the grass the deer eats or the forest where it lives. Even if the towns build a fence around the forest, you don’t automatically own land you enclose with a fence.

So when hunters from the Free Town of Rothbardia come to the forest and kill some deer, Ancapistan and Nozickville naturally protest, but according to anarcho-capitalist theory, they have no grounds to do so, and the Rothbardians would be completely within their rights to ignore their agreement and hunt in the forest anyway. If both sides prove obdurate, what results is war.

Well, crud. Anarcho-capitalism was supposed to prevent war, but here it is causing it. On the one hand, the Ancapistanis and Nozickvillers claim that they had an agreement establishing their exclusive right to use the forest; on the other, the Rothbardians claim that they cannot be bound by an agreement to which they were not party. The root of the dispute is whether property rights have to be established by original appropriation or whether they can be established by convention instead.

Now an anarcho-capitalist would here claim that the two parties would not go to war but instead seek arbitration by a third party. Perhaps, but why should they? If the disputants’ power is lopsided—that is, if Rothbardia could easily capture the forest, or if Ancapistan and Nozickville could easily hold the forest—then the stronger party has little reason to risk their claim by submitting to arbitration. Arbitration might be cheaper, but war is more certain. Only if their powers were comparable would arbitration be expedient, and even then they might well war until they realized its futility.

The only other defense by the anarcho-capitalist would be to say that Rothbardia is in the right—property rights cannot be established merely by convention but only by original appropriation. This has the advantage of preventing war, but it also causes a tragedy of the commons: because no one has property rights over the forest, there is overhunting and the deer die out.

Convention-based property rights are extremely useful for managing resources that are consumed when they are appropriated. You own the deer that you kill through original appropriation, but you only own the wild herd through convention. They’re also useful for settling disputes before they have a chance to fully develop. For instance, Ancapistan and Nozickville could negotiate borders well beyond the territory they have originally appropriated in order to prevent conflicts over land in the future. The only problem with convention-based property rights is that even a committed anarcho-capitalist is not required to respect them if he is not party to the convention that established and sanctioned them. This leads to conflicts which anarcho-capitalism cannot resolve peacefully.

Let’s now try to summarize what we’ve learned by examining these hypothetical Ancapistans.

From the United States of Ancapistan, we learned that abolishing the state is only worthwhile if we think people really want something radically different; otherwise they will just rebuild exactly what we tore down. We also determined that the goal of “exit,” which both anarcho-capitalists and neoreactionaries seek, requires more than the abolition of the state. Eliminating the state, at least as it is currently constituted, may be a necessary condition for “exit,” but it is not sufficient.

From the Free Town of Ancapistan, we learned that whether or not people expressly consent to their government should not be a major concern. If the governing institution is constructive, then tacit consent should be sufficient for us to accept it; if the governing institution is destructive, then we should oppose it because it is destructive, regardless of whether or not people consent to it.

Fetishizing consent is a distraction.

We also discovered that anarcho-capitalism has a serious dilemma: either it must accept that its own system can produce conflicts in which both parties have justification or it must deny the validity of convention-based property rights. Such rights may be extremely useful, but they also open the door to irreconcilable conflict.

Neoreaction and anarcho-capitalism share a deep disquiet about contemporary affairs, a feeling that there is something very wrong with the Western world as it is presently constituted. The main difference is that anarcho-capitalism claims to have found a solution to our problem: abolishing the state and establishing respect for private property. Once this is accomplished, those of us who seek “exit” will be free to leave and build our own institutions, and the destructive elements of our current society will stand revealed and be dismantled.

Neoreaction does not have a solution because we think the situation is much more complex. The state is not the only social evil, nor is it always and invariably the worst social evil. Indeed, the fact that people have created states so frequently indicates that the state arises from some inherent feature of human nature, the irrational desire to enforce one’s will on the world and to dominate others. If the state can put limits on this lust for domination, allowing a basically peaceful society to exist and flourish, we shouldn’t worry too much about whether people actually consent to it or whether every single property right accords with anarcho-capitalist norms. We won’t make the perfect the enemy of the good when it comes to the state.

Anarcho-capitalism, on the other hand, is obsessed with the state and with property rights. An anarcho-capitalist believes that if the proper forms are filled out and filed correctly, all solvable social problems will solve themselves. Sure, not everything wrong with society will be fixed in Ancapistan, but that’s just because we can’t eliminate scarcity. Ancapistan isn’t supposed to be a utopia, just the next best thing.

The road from anarcho-capitalism to neoreaction is paved with the realization that the Cathedral and Leftist entryism are even graver threats than the state. It is easy enough to see that Leftism, with its hostility toward private property, is a natural enemy to anarcho-capitalism, but its institutions and tactics make it an especially dangerous foe.

Anarcho-capitalism accepts that the state requires ideological support in order to survive, but its understanding of the relationship between the state and the organs of propaganda is primitive. It takes as its model the bandit lord who settles down and hires a press agent, assuming the state always holds the upper hand. This is not the case in democracies, where Cathedral-type networks are the actual decision-making bodies. Just on a pragmatic basis the Cathedral is a greater threat than any state: even if you could somehow abolish a Cathedral-controlled state, the Cathedral would simply rebuild it.

Leftist entryism is another phenomenon that is simply too complex for anarcho-capitalism to handle. Physically removing Leftists from Ancapistan is one thing, but given Leftists’ propensity to lie about their motivations and intentions until they acquire the power to enact their agenda, ferreting out hidden Leftists and keeping them out of positions of influence have to be significant concerns for Ancapistan. It does us no good to build a functioning society only for Leftists to swoop in and destroy it.

Neoreaction marks an improvement upon anarcho-capitalism with its flexibility. Anarcho-capitalism is an important set of ideas, emphasizing the importance of private property and the effectiveness of non-state institutions at solving problems today considered solvable only by the state. Combining anarcho-capitalism’s political and legal insights with empirical knowledge of which other practices and institutions contribute to human flourishing will not help us create a perfect society, but it will make our best practicable approximation more resilient.

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15 Comments

  1. The reason that An-caps oppose the state is quite simple. Once the government exists it will inevitably grow and grow until it inevitably results in tyranny.

    Given the failure of the Constitution to restrict government power the best solution therefore is to abolish the state entirely to escape the cycle.

    1. And monopolizing conglomerates can’t induce tyranny at all. Just don’t call it government.

    2. This is incorrect. Governments have only grown at a cancerous rate since the ‘Enlightenment’. Government prior to this follows a relatively static pattern of size with minimal oscillation usually in response to severe environmental or geopolitical events. Governments in 1300 BC were largely the same size as those in 1300 AD. A check on the size of government is the removal of ideological politicking which must both promise an expanded state to greedy citizens and pursue the building of their desired utopia. When government is a set of concrete interests rooted in practicality and a theological sense of order, they don’t bother to build departments of education. They are far too busy using their meager (by today’s standards) collection of tax for projects like grand temples and palaces.

  2. These institutions are built up in libertarian fashion, with voluntary contracts and property transfers, and there is no conscious scheme or active coordination toward this end; it simply emerges out of the spontaneous order of the market process. Eventually, exactly the same system that presently exists, with all the same agencies, bureaus, powers, and prerogatives, comes into being.

    It’s easy to imagine a City of Ancap Auburn, or a State of Ancap Alabama re-emerging. A bit more difficult to imagin the Whole Friggin United States of Ancapistan re-emerging. Of course, the thing causing them re-emerge (or not) would be: is it profitable to the owner(s)? And rightly so. One can imagine a profitable United States of Ancapistan emerging, provided it restricted itself doing property management for profit, as if for condo-owners. But it seems extremely unlikely that 97% of the bureaucracies we’ve come to know and hate would re-emerge under such a dynamic.

    1. Indeed, such a scenario is most unlikely. Almost as unlikely as everyone waking up tomorrow morning a committed anarcho-capitalist.

      1. I don’t think any ancaps suggest people will wake up committed ancaps. They recognize the difficulty of the enterprise. That said few in 1985 saw a peaceful collapse of Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact and replacement with new regimes, but it happened. So rapid socio-political change is possible.

        I do think the lack of an ancap society anywhere is a strike against it. Having a functional ancap place (with say competing defense/insurance agencies) would be a huge step towards proving the model is workeable. The SU collapse had the Western “capitalist with some social democracy” model to try and copy. Whereas of right now we don’t really have a working ancap society to model after in case of USG collapse or replacement.

        Hence the enthusiasm of some for Patri’s Seasteading or charter cities in third world countries.

  3. Aren’t you forgetting human capital? Almost 3/4 of the planet could be described as anarcho-capitalist, if I understand the definition. Especially Africa.

  4. In the interests of what I hope is constructive critique, David, Alrenous strenuously objects to your characterization of Ancap.

    1. Thanks, Nick; I’ll take a look at it.

  5. Tyranny? You might want to ask Brendan Eich, Paula Deen and that dentist who killed the lion about that. I’m sure they could give you an earful! And not an agent of the state in sight.

    1. Not dening such incidents. Yet such incidents do not compare to the 100+ millions killed by democide in the 20th century.

      And in the 21 century.

      1. Jay, the only reason those are not occurring today is because the United States has beaten and connived its enemies into submission, with many dying deaths of their own making. There are no global forces which truly stand in strong opposition to the United States’ dominion over most corners of the globe in both the economic and military spheres.

        The same mass murdering psychopathic element still exists today, as it did in the 1700s, as it did in the 1800s, and as it existed indeed in the last century, however it is momentarily quelled by this settling of power that sees the USA unquestionably on top. The infection is not limited to governments, it is present in people at large, but obviously governments can project more power. I agree that the witch hunts against the people listed are in a different class to genocide, but they are byproducts of the same disordered worldview and trending current.

        We may see a return to the darkest of its expressions within our lifetimes I fear, but it might be necessary to exit this quagmire once and for all.

  6. Modern Western government is founded on the premise that governments derive legitimacy from “the consent of the governed”. As a practical matter this is measured by elections.

    The Cathedral is a spontaneously coordinated effort to take over the mechanism of the state through skipping “getting elected” and replacing it with “get the loyalty of a majority of voters through various means”.

    If an anarcho-capitalist state retained “consent of the governed” as its justification it would be vulnerable to the Cathedral – it would just have to develop different means of attack – which it certainly would. There’s too much value in capturing the state for it not to try.

    They’d throw sand in the gears of protective agencies and demagogue the results. They’d set up conflicts where their pets could look like the victims of bullying and try to make association with protective agencies that defy them radioactive, etc.

    The Cathedral is the result of a structural weakness in the system of government and the long corrosive action of the past work of the Cathedral.

  7. In the tradition of Mr Libertarian, Murray Rothbard, I offer a response here: http://freihals.blogspot.com/2015/08/beyond-known-steps.html .
    While I consider this analysis quite lacking, I believe it is worth engaging in what I hope can be a constructive exchange of information and understand in the future. I will not hijack the comment but simply provide a link to my response. Good hunting!

  8. I think Spandrell had a better take on libertarianism (including ancap) [here](https://bloodyshovel.wordpress.com/2015/07/27/trade-and-peace/). Without being too sophisticated he identifies one of the problems with libertarianism in general and anarchocapitalism: cooperation is often more costly than coercion or outright violence, esp. when there is no state around.

    Of course, libertarians could reply that they prefer a non-state agency to prevent violence (make it costly) and complain about state’s monopoly on aggression (monopolies tend to be less efficient). But state’s monopoly on aggression is analogous to owner’s monopoly to his property. And because libertarians are basically lockeans they see property rights as first while in reality state’s monopoly on aggression must come first because it creates conditions for property rights.

    Libertarians are liberals and believe in freedom and equality.

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