Anarcho-capitalism is truly radical in the sense that it strikes at the root of societal problems and attempts to offer solutions to these problems through market forces. Given the philosophy’s relatively young age, anarcho-capitalist thought merits a proper analysis in order for novices to fully comprehend it.
Understanding the Philosophy of Anarcho Capitalism
The concepts of self-ownership and the non-aggression principle largely define anarcho capitalism. Individuals have full control of their lives and can pursue their own goals as long as they do not transgress on other people’s rights. The non-aggression principle makes it clear that individuals cannot encroach on the person or property of any other individual.
The initiation of force against others is categorically rejected under this philosophy’s precepts. This does not only apply between regular individuals but also between the relationship of the individual and state.
The state itself is viewed as a coercive institution that is centered on said aggression through its practice of taxation and monopoly on violence. In addition, state activities such as economic and social regulation, prohibitions, and other forms of government intervention in people’s private affairs are categorically rejected by proponents of this philosophy.
The History of Anarcho Capitalist Thought
For starters, the word anarchy has a stereotypical perception of being associated with radical leftist political movements in most Western nations. However, the perception of anarchy as a leftist movement is warranted given its history.
Most strands of anarchism, above all, the European variants, tend to have origins on the Left. There is still a broad consensus among anarchists sects on issues of state authority, which they generally eschew.
Luminaries such as Peter Kropotkin, Joseph-Pierre Proudhon, and Mikhail Bakunin led the way in giving anarchism a coherent vision for people to follow during the nineteenth century.
The anarchism of 19th century European radicals viewed private property in a negative light and were skeptical of capitalism. In many respects, these groups were adjacent to the ascendant Marxist movement that grew concurrently with classical anarchist thought.
Some movements within the anarchist sphere had a revolutionary bent and were willing to engage in acts of political violence. Numerous statesmen such as Russian Tsar Alexander II and American president William McKinnley were assassinated by anarchists.
The impact of these assassinations firmly ingrained in Westerners’ minds the idea that anarchism was associated with violence, thus requiring states to put tabs on these movements.
However, the entry of anarcho-capitalism in the 1900s gave anarchism a new twist by not dismissing capitalism outright. In fact, the average anarcho-capitalist embraced the market and saw it as a tool to fight against the state. By taking a look at the roots of this subsect of anarchism, we can get an idea of how free-market anarchism came about.
Early European Figures of Anarchist Thought
Across the pond, existed some precursors to American-style anarcho-capitalism. Etienne de la Boétie (1530-1563), a French judge, was an early proponent of anarchist thought.
In his work, the Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, he advocated for civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance. Mr. libertarian himself, Murray N. Rothbard praised de la Boétie’s work for its emphasis on civil disobedience against unjust state actions.
The French intellectual Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) played an unheralded role during his career making the case for capitalism.
His political theory of liberty was spelled out in his magnum opus, The Law, in which he made the case for a laissez-faire economy and viewed the use of state power in economic affairs as an immoral act.
Although he was a minarchist, Bastiat was one of the 19th century’s strongest proponents of individual rights and an inspiration for Austrian economists such Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek in the subsequent century. Bastiat’s The Law remains an influential introductory text for pro-capitalist adherents.
Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), a Belgian political theorist, was another European figure who gave a unique spin to the anarchist movement. De Molinari was one of the most notable pre-Rothbardian anarchist figures who blended anarchism with capitalist thought.
In his work, the Production of Security, de Molinari made the case for private defense and property rights and railed against state monopolies. Modern anarchist figures such as Hans-Hermann Hoppe have lauded de Molinari’s work for being ahead of its time in pushing for anarchism with capitalistic features.
The German philosopher Max Stirner also contributed to developing anarchist thought in Europe. Stirner was renowned for his emphasis on individualism and is seen as the father of modern individualist anarchism. His magnum opus, The Ego and Its Own is filled with anti-authoritarian and individualist themes that have been passed on to succeeding generations of anarchists.
Although not an anarchist per se, the British philosopher Herbert Spencer was known for his firm advocacy of capitalist principles in the latter half of the 1800s. Murray Rothbard described Spencer’s Social Statics as “the greatest single work of libertarian political philosophy ever written.”
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– Milton Friedman