Are “anarcho”-capitalists really anarchist?

In a word, no.

This particular gem comes from the FAQ section at anarchism.pageabode.com, though nearly any page you got to on the internet regarding anarchism is going to offer the same insight.

Anarcho-Capitalists aren’t really anarchists.

I know I really shouldn’t let these school-yard arguments get under my skin, but when they distract from the actual debate of ideas (and this certainly does), it bothers me. So in my frustration, allow me my attempt – futile though it may be – at laying this silly criticism to rest. I will gladly make certain concessions to the arguments of left-anarchists regarding their history, but I will not be conceding their claim to the term.

This website goes on to make the claim that, “While ‘anarcho’-capitalists obviously try to associate themselves with the anarchist tradition by using the word ‘anarcho’ or by calling themselves ‘anarchists’ their ideas are distinctly at odds with those associated with anarchism” (emphasis added).

This, really, is explicitly false. While I do not intend to be so audacious as to speak for all free market anarchists, I will claim that for the bulk of us, we want to distance ourselves from the left-anarchist tradition as much as possible. As this website states, we “use a dictionary definition of anarchism” but then goes on to claim that “this fails to appreciate that anarchism is a political theory.”

Let me ease your minds, syndicalists. The only similarity that we wish to associate with the left-anarchist tradition is merely “the dictionary definition.” We fully understand that historical anarchism is a political theory centered around socialism. You can keep that. We don’t want it. We don’t want to be associated with it. We fight uphill battles with people trying to convince them that ours is not that kind of anarchy. We think your political theory is garbage; why would we try to associate with it at all?

But the problem with your argument is that there is an actual dictionary definition of the word anarchy, and by your own concession, it applies to our ideology. If we call a mass anarcho-capitalist meeting to huddle together to figure out what to call ourselves, the general debate is going to come down to “So how do we describe the fact that we want to abolish the government entirely? Isn’t there a word for that already? Oh yeah…it’s called anarchy.”

This means that the divergence in our views comes down to nearly everything except the part that the term “anarchy” actually describes. Thus the insertion of the hyphenation. The distinction between anarcho-syndicalism (to name one branch of left anarchism) and anarcho-capitalism strikes me as something worth appreciating. It specifies those areas in which we may actually agree: the “anarcho” part (we probably agree that it is bad that governments have murdered about 100,000,000 people in the past century) and the “syndicalism/capitalism” part (I think private property is a-okay). These hyphenates establish where we want to be and what we believe it will look like when we get there. They can be useful tools in engaging people in the discussion of ideas (when you’re not squabbling over terminology).

So when you make blanket claims like, “You can’t call yourself an anarchist unless you also believe in [socialism, atheism, etc]” you essentially paint yourself as anarchy’s version of the South Park Gothics:

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I will make some concessions:

You’re right when you claim that the first person to actually claim to be an anarchist (Proudhon) also claimed to be a Socialist. But as Benjamin Tucker – an American anarchist claimed by both the left- and right-wing segments of anarchy – wrote of Proudhon (arguments I’m echoing in this very piece):

“Proudhon, then, being the Anarchist par excellence, let us examine his attitude towards Communism in order to test thereby General Walker’s assertion that ‘all Anarchistic philosophy presumes the Communistic reorganization of society’ and that ‘Anarchism means Communism.’

It probably will surprise many who know nothing of Proudhon save his declaration that ‘property is robbery’ to learn that he was perhaps the most vigorous hater of Communism that ever lived on this planet. But the apparent inconsistency vanishes when you read his book and find that by property he means simply legally privileged wealth or the power of usury, and not at all the possession by the laborer of his products. Of such possession he was a stanch defender.”

Yes, socialists! The first anarchist did also claim to be a socialist – but even he wouldn’t fit in the strict and multi-faceted definition of anarchy that seeks to exclude all impurities.

Now this is not to claim that I agree with everything – or even much of what Proudhon believed. The actual history of anarchism (despite what the left-anarchists would have us believe) is rather dynamic on the issue of property long before Murray Rothbard came into the picture, ranging anywhere from the true leftist position of the abolition of all private property (advocated by anarchists such as Peter Kropotkin) to the near-Rothbardian defense of property seen among the self-proclaimed Socialist Lysander Spooner (his definition of socialism would quickly fail the left-anarchists’ test of ideological purity).

I will concede that prior to Rothbard, anarchists typically believed in Marx’s fallacious Labor Theory of Value. My concession here indicates an important distinction that I rarely see in left anarchists – namely, the ability (or willingness) to acknowledge where I disagree with a person while accepting what I do agree with.

This means that when Proudhon debated with Fredric Bastiat, I could – without an ounce of contradiction – agree with various points from either person. It should come as no surprise that I will find more points of agreement with Bastiat, but I’m more than willing to acknowledge that Proudhon, for all his faults, is in the right on some issues, and Bastiat, despite all his merits, is wrong on some (for example, his advocation of basic welfare programs via the state).

Most anarcho-capitalists will make the same acknowledgements. We do not, so to speak, throw the baby out with the bathwater. We are willing to think critically and logically on the different ideas, and acknowledge that which we admire from our ideological opponents.

I will vehemently deny Peter Kropotkin’s assertion that “All belongs to all. All things are for all men, since all men have need of them,” but I will gladly cite his words:

Legislators confounded in one code the two currents of custom . . . the maxims which represent principles of morality and social union wrought out as a result of life in common, and the mandates which are meant to ensure external existence to inequality. Customs, absolutely essential to the very being of society, are, in the code, cleverly intermingled with usages imposed by the ruling caste, and both claim equal respect from the crowd. “Do not kill,” says the code, and hastens to add, “And pay tithes to the priest.” “Do not steal,” says the code, and immediately after, “He who refuses to pay taxes, shall have his hand struck off.”

Because while I do not agree with Peter Kropotkin, I absolutely agree with those words. They apply to anarcho-capitalists at least as much as they applied to any leftist version of anarchy.

The reality is that left-anarchists could find much to agree with in the philosophical writings of free market anarchists. Do we not all agree on the evils of war? Are we not making the same observation of the move toward despotism of all political bodies?

Do not mistake this as my pleading for alliance. Rather, consider it good-spirited advice that, perhaps, your ideas would be less-readily dismissed if you weren’t whining about your abstract claim to a word.

I, however, enjoy the distance between our ideologies that you’ve created. I enjoy the effort that the leftist faction has made in assuring people that our two ideologies are nothing to compare. It makes it that much easier for me to point out to people that it is the Socialist faction of anarchy responsible for the laundry-list of violent acts – many of which were waged on non-governmental entities (a prominent example being Alexander Berkman’s assassination attempt on Henry Clay Frick, a private industrialist) thus demonstrating that it is the Socialist faction who is willing to use violent means to represent all aspects of their anarchism except, in these cases, the non-government part.

I am grateful that when people point to the Galleanist bombings as evidence that “anarchists just want chaos” it is that much easier to assure them, “No, not our kind of anarchy!”

So please, left-anarchists, continue your practice of griping about your exclusive right to a word (a property right even I won’t defend), while I point out the ideological inconsistencies in your slipshod philosophy. I’m happy to let Noam Chomsky claim (albeit correctly) that the term Libertarianism was originally coined by a Socialist Anarchist, while I point out to inquiring minds that his version of anarchy involves defending the Federal Reserve, an institution that was chartered by government, has its chair appointed by government, is granted monopoly privileges by the government, and is used to fund the excesses of government.

When your basic philosophy on anarchism is apparently, “if we can’t have zero government, let’s at least have a whole lot of it,” I suppose it’s no wonder that your go-to argument against us can essentially be reduced to “We called dibs on that word!”

So please, “true anarchists” that you are, continue to police our usage of a word, while we continue finding people to claim it.