It finally dawned on me — actually as I began research for another article — that some concepts foundational to libertarianism are legitimately difficult to grasp. (Yes, I am a slow learner.) I attempted to define Market Anarchism (MA) in my previous articles, "Where Have All the Black Libertarians Gone?" and "The Black Libertarian's FAQ," while providing links for further information. Despite that, people still asked me what MA was. The other night, a woman in a bar told me that she could not become a libertarian because she "didn't want to carry a gun," or words to that effect. Somehow she had concluded that libertarianism requires gun toting. (I apparently overlooked that rule, but hopefully somebody will inform me in due time. Hey, if I need to stock up on ammo, time's a-wasting!) Then, I got an e-mail that really took me by surprise. The respondent said, "I know that libertarians embrace nationalism but under what pretense? Is there nationalism because of residence or because there is an actual investment in national identity?" Say what? Okay, now even I am confused.
While I admit that I am neither the sharpest tool in the shed nor the second coming of Sam Cleamons, if anyone can find anything in my articles that in any way suggests that I have swallowed a heaping helping of the neoconservative "love it or leave it" Kool-Aid, please, for the love of all that's holy, help me out of my stupor — break out the smelling salts! By way of honest admission though, let me also say: It is unquestionably true that some folks, and unfortunately even some folks whom I mentioned as examples of black libertarians, seem tragically mistaken in this regard. There is a fair amount of unfortunate "us-Americans-against-the-world" hysteria out there — and erstwhile (or future) black libertarians are not immune to it. The fact is, a belief in nationalism is without rational basis and logical support in libertarian law. That is my story and I am sticking to it.
By the way, even though my previous articles focused on the relationship of black folks to libertarianism, the truth of the matter is this: libertarianism appeals to me because it is race agnostic — race is (or should be) irrelevant. This is not because libertarianism benefits, or appeals to, any race in particular, but because race should not be used as a proxy for anything of relevance in society. Race is an illusion — truly only skin deep. I strongly encourage anyone who doubts this fundamental truth to study the profound PBS series entitled, "RACE — the Power of an Illusion" for more background and insight. A section entitled, "Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race," found under "Background Reading – Science," is a good place at which to begin.
Realizing that compressing the years I have spent formulating these views into a few minutes of reading might be a little tough, I will still attempt to provide a series of definitions, concepts, and related information for those who are still not grasping the lingo, content, and context of Market Anarchism. Certainly, this will only be the start of a working list. As is my habit, I will also call on better authors than myself for help whenever the opportunity presents itself. But first, maybe we should look at a few of the more popular misconceptions.
Common (Apparently) Misconceptions
As we hack our way through the jungle of state propaganda searching for truth, misunderstandings are bound to crop up. Some of them, however, seem to have taken on a life of their own. Just a sampling of those is:
For libertarians, it's "all about the Benjamins." While a free market approach to society would, I believe, result in widespread increases in disposable income and corresponding improvements in standards of living, money is not really the issue. In the triumvirate of life, liberty, and property, only one item — property — has anything to do with money. Libertarian law is about choice, not cash. Allow everyone choice and the economics will take care of itself. More on this foundational concept — the market — is found below.
Libertarians love guns in general and the NRA in particular. The ownership of firearms is but one item of choice in the spectrum of personal freedom. And given the non-aggression principle, explained below, it is not even necessarily one of ultimate importance, at least not to me. If someone wants to own a handy Glock .40, a well-maintained AK-47, or even a pocket SCUD, I do not care. Similarly, if one wants to arm himself with one of those circus guns that says "Bang!," a cadre of harsh words, and a rapier-like wit, more power to him. Simply stated, that is your business, not mine. Libertarianism is about choices made by people who have both the right and responsibility for doing so. On the issue of the National Rifle Association specifically, let me say this. I generally have little interest in supporting political candidates on any basis. Lobbying them heavily, which the NRA does with aplomb, is just another way for the few to take advantage of the many.
Libertarians do not care about the poor. Now that one hurts! I am working on a full article that examines some of the fallacies regarding the state and how much it really "helps" those in need, but for the time being, let me put this into simple terms. Since the implementation of the "Great Society," poverty in the U.S. has gotten worse. (If that's helping, how does one know when to stop?) I have seen first-hand how the recipients of rent money via my local department of social services simply cannot go from having their rent paid for them to paying it themselves. In many years of owning and managing rental property I never saw one person make the change successfully. Not one. (Listen, I have been self-sufficient for a while, and managing my money is no walk in the park for me. Thankfully I got to practice.) Giving a man a fish, no matter well-intended, or how nutritionally satisfying for that matter, will never impart to him the skills necessary to catch his own fish. In fact, supply him with fish for long enough and he will, almost without exception, forget that fishing was ever a necessity. (And even if he somehow does not forget, his progeny have no chance of remembering that which they never had to learn or practice.) This logic is unassailable. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Libertarians think America is the best country around. While oft-repeated by many across the political spectrum, this sentiment — be it true or false — is irrelevant. (I mean really, who cares? What difference does it make?) Regardless of how much I enjoy Wendy's, the NFL, and cable TV, the United States is no more immune to or un-needing of improvement than any country that we invade ostensibly to install democracy. Count me among those who feel that flying, sailing, or otherwise traveling the globe to spread democracy — usually through the barrel of an M-16 — is hegemonic lunacy in the tradition of Hitler and Stalin. The type of irrational hubris necessary to buy into such psychosis would hardly be worthy of comment were it not so widespread. The rhetoric of which I take part here is designed, more than anything else, to help prevent, in some small way, America from falling any further into the abyss of fascism, fundamentalism, and nationalism. More importantly, libertarianism is based upon the individual not the collective. The very basis of nationalism is irrational when examined in this light.
Libertarians do not understand that the state maintains order. The objection that without the state life will devolve into a constant battle between rotten-toothed bands of evil men and all us helpless sheep (like a Capital One commercial gone terribly awry) is based, I believe, upon a misunderstanding of what anarchy is, combined with an overabundance of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome-inspired pop culture polluting mainstream thought. (Hey, I love the whole Mad Max series, but c'mon, even in the movies it is clear that the government caused those problems! How can we intelligently call upon the government to fix them?) One of the best articles on this misunderstanding was written by Butler Shaffer and is entitled, "What Is Anarchy?" Here is a u2018money quote' from that piece.
"I am often asked if anarchy has ever existed in our world, to which I answer: almost all of your daily behavior is an anarchistic expression. How you deal with your neighbors, coworkers, fellow customers in shopping malls or grocery stores, is often determined by subtle processes of negotiation and cooperation. Social pressures, unrelated to statutory enactments, influence our behavior on crowded freeways or grocery checkout lines. If we dealt with our colleagues at work in the same coercive and threatening manner by which the state insists on dealing with us, our employment would be immediately terminated. We would soon be without friends were we to demand that they adhere to specific behavioral standards that we had mandated for their lives."
While Butler Shaffer is not the only eloquent speaker on behalf of anarchy, he is a great place at which to start. From that jumping-off point, I would recommend a piece from Stephan Kinsella, entitled, "What It Means to Be an Anarcho-Capitalist." Secondly, I would recommend a piece from Brad Edmonds, entitled, "Why Abolishing Government Would Not Bring Chaos," from a series I link below. Finally, for those who wonder if anarchism has existed in the U.S., this Murray Rothbard article, entitled, "Pennsylvania's Anarchist Experiment" should be quite informative. To continue the learning process, I now offer a few useful concepts for the budding market anarchist.
Definitions, Principles, and Commonly-Used Phrases
While any such list is bound to be incomplete, I find that the nexus of libertarianism in general and radical libertarianism in particular — Market Anarchism — is founded basically upon only a few principles. Four that immediately come to mind are:
The Non-Aggression Principle — This is the basis of libertarian law. Fully stated, it says, "The initiation of force is never justified." This is a natural extension of the most basic foundations of life, liberty, and property. It also calls upon the most epistemological underpinnings of civilization. Killing is wrong. Unwarranted forcible confinement is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Furthermore, taking any action that could reasonably be seen as leading — directly or indirectly — to either of these outcomes is wrong as well. One might, were he raised with sufficient exposure to organized religion in the U.S., think that this principle also calls upon that most basic of Christian spiritual dogma, The Ten Commandments. Not really. The basis here is not spiritual, it is logical.
Following the non-aggression principle is not intended to provide one with a ticket to the land of milk and honey or a chance to ride on the streets paved with gold. Regardless of what may or may not happen in the afterlife (whether one believes it exists or not) killing, unwarranted forcible confinement, and stealing — in this life — would still be wrong. The fact that thousands of years of recorded history supports this truth notwithstanding, no one, and definitely no one currently enjoying western civilization, needs to read an ancient text to understand it. The fact that almost every organized religion espouses these beliefs is all the more ironic since the existence of the state absolutely guarantees that at least one practice prohibited by the non-aggression principle — stealing — and likely all three, will routinely be practiced on behalf of those the state ostensibly serves. And yet, many who enjoy and support the power of government also espouse a belief in religious dogma as well. The pot and the kettle are lovers!
The Argument From Morality — This was originated, as best I can determine, by Stefan Molyneux, a libertarian podcaster and fellow LRC contributor. Based upon the concepts of reciprocity, consistency, and rationality and conceived out of a passion for the unbiased approach of the scientific method — this principle can be described simply and fully as: What is good for you is good for me, and what is good for me is good for you. Some may detect a bit of that hackneyed expression, "What's good for the goose is good for the gander." Well, that does about sum it up. Others may detect a little bit of The Golden Rule in there too — "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Again, you are on target. But again, the basis here is not religious or spiritual. The basis is logical and scientific.
If you and another person are of exactly the same moral nature — of the same species, enjoying the same corporeal existence, endowed with the same powers of mind and body, feeling with the same senses, prone to the same frailties and needs, hampered by the same limitations, etc. — then your actions toward each other are, as a logical result, fixed in a moral sense. If they are not fixed, then some objective moral basis must exist to justify that difference. Furthermore, no group comprised of similarly endowed individuals, can somehow have additional rights or different powers or privileges that you or that other person do not have individually. The existence of a group of individuals does not automatically endow that group with powers the individuals do not themselves each have, unless it is by magic, or sorcery, or the divine right of kings, or some other irrational belief — or via overt violence — or via megalomaniacal propaganda.
Epistemology — This is a supporting thesis of not only my approach to libertarian law but also to life in general. And it is, in fact, what attracted me to Market Anarchism most strongly. According to Dictionary.com, it is defined as:
"Epistemology — the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity."
Since I fancy myself a scientist and an empiricist, I am a willing to be a slave to facts — actually I require it of others and myself. As a result, epistemology is the rubric by which I determine what to believe and what to ignore. A more thorough definition is found at The Galilean Library, which says, among many other things, that:
Epistemology, then, is concerned with the following:
- The nature of knowledge: what is knowledge? What do we mean when we say that we know something?
- The sources of knowledge: where do we get knowledge from? How do we know if it’s reliable? When are we justified in saying we know something?
- The scope of knowledge: what are the limits of knowledge? Are there any in the first place?
Even if the reader cannot accept the logic of libertarianism, or the siren call of Market Anarchism, I cannot strongly enough recommend a study (and an embrace) of this fundamental philosophical approach.
Market Anarchism — This is the resulting condition of a society if (and when) the principles above are adopted by enough of the population. (Many of us anarchists use the term anarcho-capitalism interchangeably with market anarchism.) By the way, I have not the faintest clue if this term is the best descriptor or even an accurate descriptor for the societal condition we desire, but I also do not care. I seek to force neither the description nor the condition onto anyone. A society wherein everyone decides for himself — with reciprocity in mind — and thereby drives reactions from everyone else that are, by definition, self-interested and universal as well, should logically lead to peace, order, and prosperity.
So, what are some of the results of applying the concepts defined above, after clearing away the misconceptions? And what basic nuggets of truth should one keep in mind as we all struggle in our shared quest? From my standpoint, just a few of them are:
The state (i.e., the government) is fundamentally about force. Epistemologically, this is absolute fact. And once this fact is clear, the necessity to abolish the state comes into clear focus. I defy anyone to explain how the state can exist without force as a natural and necessary component. The first thing any government must do is collect taxes. Without taxes, the state cannot pay an army — another "must-have" item for any government seeking to acquire and maintain control. Furthermore, the collection of taxes itself requires that an enforcement mechanism exist for those with the impertinence to actually try to keep their money. Hence, the state equals force — period. Luckily, one is not stuck with my musings on this subject. Brad Edmonds has a 6-article series that speaks to this idea and what it means, in great detail. He also provides some excellent background information and recommends some other foundational authors. Start at the bottom with the piece entitled, "Why Government Must Be Abolished," and read up.
The Tyranny of the Majority is still tyranny. Just because an ostensible greater number of people — a majority — selects a certain path forward does not make that path accurate, reasonable, just, or anything else. Nor does it mean that the minority should somehow be morally bound by the decision. The first person I heard use the term "tyranny of the majority" was Lani Guinier, although the astute readers of LRC will likely know that this is actually a line from Alexis de Torqueville's classic "Democracy in America." No matter from whence it arose, the concept meets my logical requirements — if your choice becomes my choice just because you and another guy made it, then I do not really have a choice. (And I never did.) That does not sound like freedom to me.
The market works just fine without help. This is the one libertarian premise that often gets the most push-back from those who "know" that without help, or control, or rules and regulations, some evil person somewhere will take advantage of the unwashed proletariat, make a ton of money, and dump the resulting toxic waste into the nearest aquifer — probably while driving an SUV, twirling his handlebar mustache, and smoking an unfiltered cigarette. (Snidely Whiplash lives!) I openly admit that I believed this until I spent just a few years running my own business. Few endeavors can put misplaced incentives and ham-handed charity into plain view and perspective like full-contact entrepreneurship — in my case, owning, rehabbing, and managing inner city rental property. Rather than spend one more moment regaling you with my own hard-learned lessons, I recommend that anyone with any questions in this arena begin by consulting none other than Murray Rothbard via an article entitled, appropriately enough, "What Is the Free Market?" If Rothbard cannot convince you, then I am, and likely have been, wasting both your time and mine.
Freedom begins at home. While railing against the government is a fine pastime (and I am experiencing intense withdrawal as we speak) the real battle resides in one's mind. See my previous article for a favorite Carter G. Woodson quote, from "The Mis-Education of the Negro" — powerful truth is contained therein, and despite the title — for more than black folk alone. If your personal life is based upon and controlled by slavery to plans, beliefs, and practices that are not your own, why worry about the state? He who wants to change the world would be wise to clean up his bedroom first, no?
After all that, are we any closer to Libertopia? Likely we are not; but if the war was that easy to win we would probably have won already. We all want freedom — I hope. We all should understand that imposing our will upon others, no matter how divinely-inspired we think our will might be, is not freedom. You and I are the best arbiters of what is good for each of us. You and I have the ultimate responsibility for obtaining it. You and I are in the best positions to determine when we each have it. Libertarianism is the embodiment of these truths. I hope these few points of emphasis will drive more discussion and maybe, just maybe, result in a few new converts to libertarianism. I look forward to the challenging, interesting, and foundational discussion that we will all partake in during our shared quest for truth.
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.