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Anarcho-capitalism is an individualist libertarian philosophy based on the idea of individual sovereignty, and a prohibition against initiatory coercion and fraud. It sees the only just basis for law as arising from private property norms and an unlimited right of contract between sovereign individuals.


  • The basic problem I really have is that whenever I meet leftists in the socialist and Marxist movements, I'm called a petit-bourgeois individualist.  [audience laughs]  I'm supposed to shrink after this—  Usually I'm called petit-bourgeois individualist by students, and by academicians, who've never done a days work life [sic] in their entire biography, whereas I have spent years in factories and the trade unions, in foundries and auto plants.  So after I have to swallow the word petit-bourgeois, I don't mind the word individualist at all!

    I believe in individual freedom; that's my primary and complete commitment—individual liberty.  That’s what it's all about.  And that's what socialism was supposed to be about, or anarchism was supposed to be about, and tragically has been betrayed.

    And when I normally encounter my so-called colleagues on the left—socialists, Marxists, communists—they tell me that, after the revolution, they're gonna shoot me.  [audience laughs, Murray nods]  That is said with unusual consistency.  They're gonna stand me and Karl up against the wall and get rid of us real fast; I feel much safer in your company.  [audience laughs and applauds]

    • Bookchin, Murray, speaking to a crowd of anarcho-capitalists and other libertarians at a Libertarian Party Conference, depicted in Anarchism in America, directed by Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher (15 January 1983).
    • Karl Hess is sitting next to Bookchin at the table.
  • Perhaps the best way to see why anarcho-capitalism would be much more peaceful than our present system is by analogy. Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a housetrailer and speaks the same language. One day, the president of France announces that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next morning the president of France finds himself ruling a peaceful but empty landscape, the population having been reduced to himself, three generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents.
    • Friedman, David, Chapter: "The Stability Problem", The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism (2nd ed.), p. 123.
  • We must ask, not whether an anarcho-capitalist society would be safe from a power grab by the men with the guns (safety is not an available option), but whether it would be safer than our society is from a comparable seizure of power by the men with the guns. I think the answer is yes. In our society, the men who must engineer such a coup are politicians, military officers, and policemen, men selected precisely for the characteristic of desiring power and being good at using it. They are men who already believe that they have a right to push other men around - that is their job. They are particularly well qualified for the job of seizing power. Under anarcho-capitalism the men in control of protection agencies are selected for their ability to run an efficient business and please their customers. It is always possible that some will turn out to be secret power freaks as well, but it is surely less likely than under our system where the corresponding jobs are labeled 'non-power freaks need not apply'.
    • Friedman, David, Chapter: "The Stability Problem", The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism (2nd ed.), p. 123–124.
  • [Government] attracts the worst kind of men to its ranks, shackles progress, forces its citizens to act against their own judgment, and causes recurring internal and external strife by its coercive existence.  In view of all this, the question becomes not, "Who will protect us from aggression?" but "Who will protect us from the governmental 'protectors'?"  The contradiction of hiring an agency of institutionalized violence to protect us from violence is even more foolhardy than buying a cat to protect one's parakeet.
  • Government is an artificial construct which, because of what it is, is in opposition to natural law.  There is nothing in the nature of man which demands that he be governed by other men (if there were, then we would have to find someone to govern the governors, for they, too, would be men with a need to be governed).  In fact, the nature of man is such that, in order to survive and be happy, he must be able to make his own decisions and control his own life…a right which is unavoidably violated by governments.  The ruinous consequences of government's inescapable opposition to natural law are written in blood and human degradation across the pages of all man's history.

Presenting anarcho-capitalism as a form of anarchism[edit]

  • Anarcho-capitalism is a form of anarchism whose prime tenet is that the free market, unhampered by government intervention, can coordinate all the functions of society currently carried out by the state, including systems of justice and national defense. Anarcho-capitalists believe that a system of private property based on individual rights is the only moral system - a system that implies a free market, or total voluntarism, in all transactions.
    • Brown, Susan Love, "The Free Market as Salvation from Government: The Anarcho-Capitalist View", Meanings of the Market: The Free Market in Western Culture, edited by James G. Carrier, Berg/Oxford, 1997, p. 99. (Article is a criticism of anarcho-capitalism. Brown is not an anarcho-capitalist.)
  • There are anarchists of the right such as Murray Rothbard (For a New Liberty [New York: Macmillan, 1973]) who defend private property and free enterprise.
    • DeGeorge, Richard T., "Anarchism and Authority", an essay in the book Anarchism by J. Roland Pennock and John W. Chapman, NYU Press, p. 108.
  • Subterranean anarchist currents once again surfaced in the 1960s...We will sketch its initial impulse in the 1950s, the creation of a broad critical movement in the 1960's, its differentiation into right and left tendencies, and its final shattering into various anarchist splinters. These ranged from Anarcho-Capitalists who desired the organization of society solely on the basis of a "free market" to Anarcho-Communists who sought an individualized society of decentralized communes.
    • DeLeon, David. The American as Anarchist: Reflections of Indigenous Radicalism, Chapter: The Beginning of Another Cycle, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, p. 117.
  • Laissez-faire capitalism, or anarchocapitalism, is simply the economic form of the libertarian ethic. Laissez-faire capitalism encompasses the notion that men should exchange goods and services, without regulation, solely on the basis of value for value. It recognizes charity and communal enterprises as voluntary versions of this same ethic. Such a system would be straight barter, except for the widely felt need for a division of labor in which men, voluntarily, accept value tokens such as cash and credit. Economically, this system is anarchy, and proudly so.
  • Anarchist solutions to social questions have ranged from total communism to an equally zealous individualism. In between are found sundry recipes, from anarcho-syndicalism to anarcho-capitalism.
    • Perlin, Terry M., Contemporary Anarchism (New Brunswick, NJ; Transaction Book, 1979), p. 7.
  • There are several recognized varieties of anarchism, among them: individualistic anarchisms, anarcho-capitalisms, anarcho-communisms, mutualisms, anarcho-syndicalisms, libertarian socialisms, social anarchists and now eco-anarchisms.
    • Sylvan, Richard. Anarchism. A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, editors Goodin, Robert E. and Pettit, Philip. Blackwell Publishing, 1995, p. 231.

Presenting anarcho-capitalism as being a form of, an evolution of, or related to, individualist anarchism[edit]

  • Although anarchism rests on liberal intellectual foundations, notably the distinction between state and society, the protean character of the doctrine makes it difficult to disinguish clearly different schools of anarchist thought. But one important distinction is between individualist anarchism and social anarchism. The former emphasizes individual liberty, the sovereignty of the individual, the importance of private property or possession, and the iniquity of all monopolies. It may be seen as liberalism taken to an extreme conclusion. 'Anarcho-capitalism' is a contemporary variant of this school.
    • Bottomore, Tom, Dictionary of Marxist Thought, Anarchism entry, p. 21 (1992).
  • Although part of the classical liberal tradition, contemporary anarcho-capitalists are descendants of nineteenth-century individualist anarchists such as Josiah Warren, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker.
    • Brown, Susan Love, "The Free Market as Salvation from Government: The Anarcho-Capitalist View", Meanings of the Market: The Free Market in Western Culture, edited by James G. Carrier, Berg/Oxford, 1997, p. 99. (Article is a criticism of anarcho-capitalism. Brown is not an anarcho-capitalist.)
  • The Anarcho-Capitalists, who had more of a historical sense, did occasionally cite past anarchists like Spooner and Tucker as "the forefathers of modern libertarianism," but only a few individuals like Murray Rothbard, in Power and Market, and some article writers were influenced by these men. Most had not evolved consciously from this tradition; they had been a rather automatic product of the American environment.
    • DeLeon, David, The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), p. 127.
  • Today individualist anarchists in the US call themselves anarcho-capitalists or libertarians...
    • Heider, Ulrike, Anarchism: Left, Right and Green (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1994), p. 3.
  • The American Benjamin Tucker (1854-1939) believed that maximum individual liberty would be assured where the free market was not hindered or controlled by the State and monopolies. The affairs of society would be governed by myriad voluntary societies and cooperatives, by, as he aptly put it, “un-terrified” Jeffersonian democrats, who believed in the least government possible. Since World War II this tradition has been reborn and modified in the United States as anarcho-capitalism or libertarianism.
    • Levy, Carl, "Anarchism", under the "Anarcho-individualism" heading, Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2006.
  • Individualist, as distinct from socialist, anarchism has been particularly strong in the USA from the time of Josiah Warren (1798-1874) onwards and is expressed today by Murray Rothbard and the school of 'anarcho-capitalists'.
    • Ostergaard, Geofrey, Resisting the Nation State - the anarchist and pacifist tradition, Anarchism As A Tradition of Political Thought. Peace Pledge Union Publications.[1]
  • In distinguishing sharply between society and state, both individualist and socialist anarchism build on liberal foundations. The former may be seen as liberalism taken to an extreme, or logical, conclusion...nineteenth-century individualists sometimes thought of themselves as socialists. But their successors today, such as Murray Rothbard (1973), having abandonded the labour theory of value, describe themselves as 'anarcho-capitalists'....A generation after the eclipse of anarcho-syndicalism, anarchist ideas reemerged, sometimes spectacularly, in the context of the New Left movements of the 1960s...At the other end of the political spectrum, individualist anarchism, reborn as anarcho-capitalism, is a significant tendency in the libertarian New Right.
    • Outhwaite, Blackwell, Dictionary of Modern Social Thought, Anarchism and Libertarianism entries (2006).
  • Pro-capitalist anarchism is, as one might expect, particularly prevalent in the US where it feeds on the strong individualist and libertarian currents that have always been a part of the American political imaginary. To return to the point, however, there are individualist anarchists who are most certainly not anti-capitalist and there are those who may well be.
    • Tormey, Simon, Anti-Capitalism: A Beginner's Guide, One World, 2004.
  • Individualist anarchism…stands in rigorous opposition to attacking the person or property of individuals.  The philosophy revolves around the "Sovereignty of the Individual"—as an early champion, Josiah Warren, phrased it.  …  Largely due to the path breaking work of Murray Rothbard, 20th century individualist anarchism is no longer inherently suspicious of profit-making practices, such as charging interest.  Indeed, it embraces the free market as the voluntary vehicle of economic exchange.  But as individualist anarchism draws increasingly upon the work of Austrian economists such as Mises and Hayek, it draws increasingly farther away from left anarchism.
  • Workers are propertyless and forced to wage labor because they cannot finance their self-employment: the state monopoly over money is the problem. Let the people issue their own private, fiduciary moneys and the choice between working for an employer or for oneself will become entirely voluntary. This is the individual anarchism (or anarco-capitalism) championed by Lysander Spooner and Benjamin Tucker in America and Gustave de Molinari in France.

Presenting anarcho-capitalism as something that is not a form of capitalism[edit]

  • Rothbard is surely right in thinking that what we now call free-market libertarianism was originally a left-wing position. The great liberal economist Frédéric Bastiat sat on the left side of the French national assembly, with the anarcho-socialist Proudhon. Many of the causes we now think of as paradigmatically left-wing—feminism, antiracism, antimilitarism, the defense of laborers and consumers against big business—were traditionally embraced and promoted specifically by free-market radicals. ... I like calling the free market a left-wing idea—in fact, I like calling libertarianism the proletarian revolution.
  • The word capitalist was indeed first used disparagingly by opponents of "capitalism."  But it is important to realize that among those opponents were advocates of property rights and free markets, such as Thomas Hodgskin and later Benjamin Tucker.  Why?

    The reason is this:  In the periods regarded as classic "capitalist" eras, government intervention on behalf of capital was commonplace.  …  Thus capitalism did not mean the free market, or laissez faire, back then.  It's not that the system fell short of an ideal.  To the people on the ground, and to historians looking back, this was the system that was intended.  Thus pro-business interventionism has a far better claim to the term capitalism than any unrealized free-market system.  …  At the semantic level, capitalism is an unfortunate word when applied to the free market.  It suggests a privileged status for capital over other factors of production, which is not the case in a free market.

  • My main beef with Phelps and Ammous's essay is their use of capitalism to name the economic system that corporatism corrupted.  Like many others, they believe that word "used to mean" the free market.  To be sure, it was used that way beginning in the mid-twentieth century.  But there was an older usage (of capitalist specifically), coined by free-market liberals like Thomas Hodgskin who predated Marx, associating it with government privileges for the capital-owning class.  That undertone has never left.

Criticisms of anarcho-capitalism[edit]

  • Anarcho-capitalism, in my opinion, is a doctrinal system which, if ever implemented, would lead to forms of tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history. There isn't the slightest possibility that its (in my view, horrendous) ideas would be implemented, because they would quickly destroy any society that made this colossal error. … I should add, however, that I find myself in substantial agreement with people who consider themselves anarcho-capitalists on a whole range of issues; and for some years, was able to write only in their journals. And I also admire their commitment to rationality — which is rare — though I do not think they see the consequences of the doctrines they espouse, or their profound moral failings.
    • Chomsky, Noam in Z Net, Answers from Chomsky to eight questions on anarchism, 1996.
  • The philosophy of 'anarcho-capitalism' dreamed up by the 'libertarian' New Right, has nothing to do with Anarchism as known by the Anarchist movement proper. It is a lie . . . Patently unbridled capitalism . . . needs some force at its disposal to maintain class privileges, either from the State itself or from private armies. What they believe in is in fact a limited State -- that is, one in which the State has one function, to protect the ruling class, does not interfere with exploitation, and comes as cheap as possible for the ruling class. The idea also serves another purpose . . . a moral justification for bourgeois consciences in avoiding taxes without feeling guilty about it.
  • Though admittedly the circumstances are not identical, telling disgruntled employees that they are always free to leave their jobs seems no different in principle from telling political dissidents that they are free to emigrate. In either case freedom affords little or no protection against the demand for conformity. The problem with the libertarian argument is that negative liberty, defined as the absence of coercion, cannot guarantee individual autonomy, or positive liberty, the freedom to choose one's actions independently. Though autonomy may be jeopardized by the use of force, its opposite is not coercion but dependency.
  • Individuality is not to be confused with the various ideas and concepts of Individualism; much less with that “rugged individualism” which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality. … “Rugged individualism” has meant all the “individualism” for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking “supermen.” America is perhaps the best representative of this kind of individualism, in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues; while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as “unAmerican” and evil in the name of that same individualism.
    • Goldman, Emma, "The Individual, Society and the State," contained in Red Emma Speaks, p. 112.
  • The first man who, having fenced off a plot of land, thought of saying, ‘This is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors might the human race had been spared by the one who, upon pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget the fruits of the earth belong to all and that the earth belongs to no one.’

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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