'You can do many things with bayonets, but it is rather uncomfortable to sit on them.' -Prince Talleyrand

Capitalism Requires Government - Rebutted!

by Ethan Glover, Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - (Edited) Wed, Jan 10, 2018

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an intelligent rebuttal against anarcho-capitalism. The best I’ve come across is pretentious pre-teens who are more interested in arguing and getting negative attention than anything else. I was especially refreshed when I saw an article on Forbes by Harry Binswanger. His article, “Sorry Libertarian Anarchists, Capitalism Requires Government” puts a fresh perspective on the old “monopoly on force” argument. I’ll admit, when I’ve told people that the government is a monopoly on force I’ve never given it much thought. I think like me, many people use it as more of a quip or slogan than anything else. It’s a starting point, something to capture attention so that you may explain the finer details when interest is expressed. Harry takes this concept and does quite a good job of peeling it apart. Unfortunately for Harry, that argument, or more accurately, line, is not anarcho-capitalism itself. Things go much further than that.

It has also been a long time since I have had to start an article by correcting commonly confused words. The most unfortunate part of Harry’s argument is that he has created custom definitions for a few words such as force, economics, and production. I believe this is the biggest point where Harry is misunderstanding the theories and beliefs of anarcho-capitalism. Because of that we should clear things up from the beginning:

Force according to the Oxford English Dictionary means:

  1. by employing violence, by violent means, also under compulsion.
  2. Unlawful violence offered to person or things.
  3. In a non-material sense: Constraint or compulsion exerted upon a person.

Force – Harry:

Force is destruction, or the threat of it. It may be the destruction of a value, as when a hoodlum throws a rock through a store window. Or it may be the destruction of destruction, as when a policeman pulls a gun on that hoodlum and hauls him off to jail.

In a sense, these two are very close except for one distinct point. Harry does not consider the compulsion of an action unto a person as force. As in, forcing them to accept a specific kind of government or system, or forcing them to live by the subjective values of another person.

Economics – Oxford English Dictionary:

The branch of knowledge (now regarded as one of the social sciences) that deals with the production, distribution, consumption, and transfer of wealth; the application of this discipline to a particular sphere

Economics – Harry:

Economics concerns production and trade, not destruction and seizure.

Harry’s definition of economics is meant to be an expansion of his definition of force. His subtle differences when compounded start to form his ideas of anarchy, and it is where is confusions lie. According to OED, can economics and force mix? Can force be capitalistic? Of course, one person can pay another to force somebody else to do something. This is what government does. People are compelled to pay taxes and forced to do so by the threat of violence. But according to Harry’s definitions this is impossible, the definitions are formed around the idea of government specifically to make it an exception. His definitions are only a way to justify his own personal beliefs.

Production – OED:

  1. The action or an act of producing, making, or causing anything; generation or generation of something; the fact or condition of being produced.
  2. The action or process of making goods from components or raw materials; the manufacture of goods for sale and consumption.

Production – Harry:

Production is the creation of value, and trade is the voluntary exchange of value for value, to mutual benefit.

Here, Harry is trying to make sure that production is the opposite of force in order to prove his point. However making these changes for himself not only weakens his own arguments but ignores items that are produced by slavery. Yes, slavery is wrong, that does not mean production is impossible with it. These may seem like arbitrary points, but the changing of definitions is important in understanding the arguments presented in this article and why they do not apply to anarcho-capitalists. When Harry says that anarchists ignore the difference between trade and force he is not only wrong, but he is basing that on incorrect understandings of the language.

Of course, let’s be fair. Harry Binswanger makes some swell points about capitalism. He claims to be a proponent of laissez-faire capitalism.

Laissez-faire: A phrase expressive of the principle that government should not interfere with the action of individuals, esp. In industrial affairs and in trade.

Capitalism: The possession of capital wealth; an economic system in which private capital or wealth is used in the production or distribution of goods and prices are determined mainly in the free market; the dominance of private owners of capital and of production for profit.

Harry correctly states that force should only be used in self-defense, and that threatening to use force to compel someone to obey you is force. However, immediately after making a case for voluntarism he states that we need government in order to be secure from force initiated by criminals, terrorists and foreign invaders. All of the sudden this argument against the “monopoly of force” is the same old tired argument of “What about the police?” Harry talks about the brilliance of the American system that uses checks and balances to make sure that no law which is not necessary and proper can be passed.

That system, as Harry concedes, has failed. Many times, in many countries. The idea of the constitutional republic has been tried many times, maybe hundreds of times around the world, and it has always led to tyranny. The reasons for this, as I’m sure Harry would agree, go to the quip, “Power corrupts absolutely.” There is no possible way to create a single standard without harming a large majority. This creates friction among the people and quite often revolution.

If we were to talk about “checks and balances”, how is competing governments, the subject of this article, not the ultimate form of that? Harry assumes that if there is no central power, there would be chaos, even later hinting at world government by putting down the idea of sovereign governments creating treaties. This again is not an original argument. The premises Harry uses are indeed refreshing, but they are nothing new that anarcho-capitalists have not answered many times before. He doesn’t have a very tight grasp of how the philosophy works and exactly how flexible it is. This is understandable considering the strict nature of objectivism.

When he claims that anarchists do not object to retaliatory force and that they only reject to force being used by government he ignores his own statements and again misses what anarcho-capitalism is entirely. First of all, Harry has already correctly noted that anarcho-capitalists are open to “competing governments”, what he doesn’t mention is that they would likely steer clear from them entirely. This is just the idea that they are willing to allow people like objectivists and leftists to create the societies they want in mutual aid without all the needless resistance and waste coming from those who do not want it. When it comes to “retaliatory force” Harry himself does not reject it by its strict definition, this is just a fancy way of saying self-defense. But he defines “retaliatory” as crimes by groups of people who do not see what they’re doing as crime.

He expands by saying that under anarcho-capitalism, any person or group who claims that they are “competing” is not subject to the law. As an example, he lists vigilantes, lynch mobs, terrorists, and even a band of strangers on main street with machine guns. First of all, this “band of strangers” may not be welcome on private property. I don’t think the police in any case would “helplessly” watch them march down their street, and presumably commit a crime. I’m not sure where that story was going. Law, in AnCapistan, is built by mutual interaction, not by force. It is made through basic agreements and enforced through whatever systems are deemed necessary. There is less of a threat of corruption than in a public system because people may simply opt out and stop contributing. A simple move to the next town is like moving to another country. Refusing to pay protection agencies and relying on self-defense means total freedom and total responsibility over those consequences. Many companies may allow those who have “not contributed” to make a one time call to the police for an extra fee. (Think pre-Obamacare insurance.) This idea of justice is what Harry misses completely. He just assumes that anything that is not centrally controlled is not controlled at all, and somehow everyone becomes a criminal and biker gangs with machine guns start coming out of the woodwork’s to rape churches and burn women.

If people want to just go around “using force subjectively” they must answer to those people who don’t want to be subject to that force. They must answer to the greater majority of people who aren’t interested in joining evil biker gangs but instead living a happy life with friends and family. Those people who join together make agreements and create a society for mutual benefit. That’s the entire premise of society, not hunting each other down like we’ve all got deep psychological issues.

When Harry says that a “proper government” functions according to objective, philosophically validated procedures, he is not talking about anything objective at all. He is talking about his personal opinions. Some cultures are more religious than others and fully accept things like Sharia law. As long as people agree to living under such law, it is their business and their business alone. Is it wrong for someone to hire a dominatrix who will physically harm him and even destroy parts of his body for pleasure? Of course not. Not that it’s the same thing, but why is it wrong when you scale up? If you subjectively believe it is harmful to agree for someone to harm you, there’s no reason to force that belief on others. The interaction is mutual, what you see as destruction may not be force at all.

For instance, another character of Harry’s “proper government” (according to his subjective opinion) says that a government should allow people to defend themselves, but should require him to prove the legitimacy of his self-defense in court. This in itself is not a disagreeable statement. The problem comes when someone tries to defend himself from an encroaching government. I don’t want your government to steal my money for a standing military. I don’t care how “objective” you think it is to have one. It is not anyone’s place to force that decision on another. Harry talks a big game about the problems with force, but he ignores entirely the force of his system. Government that is put upon the people whether they like it or not is force. It is only in anarchy that you see true voluntary interactions.

In the cases of the leftists, Palestinians, pro-lifers, and Islamists destroying lives and property due to personal beliefs is again the assumption of a world without law. Harry thinks that a central government, possibly a world government with supreme law, is the clear-cut line between “might or right – by street fighting” and the “application of objectively validated legal procedures”. He creates a black and white scenario and pretends that these are the only two options. Nothing could be further from the truth and as an objectivist he should understand the frustration of seeing such things and having to answer to them.

Anarcho-capitalists do understand the idea of force full and well and take it very seriously. We do not redefine it to fit any specific philosopher. We work with it and make sure it is not used. We do not ignore the problem. We face it head on and work around it. All the talk and defining in the world is no match for reality. Yes, rape is force. So is putting people in cages for not agreeing with your personal political beliefs. When Harry says that we want markets to be backed up by “competing force,” he entirely misunderstands the idea of the “monopoly on force” argument and is taking that line a little to far without understanding the context. When people agree to the system and work for mutual benefit, not the gratification of seeing their pet projects get supported by votes, that is not force in any sense of the word. It means a true and physical “social contract” that may not be disputed.

I know Harry Binswanger is a smart guy so I will merely pose a question to him. I will create a false ultimatum just as he has created a false ultimatum to his readers. If the government did not exist, if you could not create one, if it were impossible to force people under a single system, if there was no single “police force”, if you had nothing but your current resources, including communication, how would you protect yourself from would-be criminals? The answer is probably pretty simple. That is anarcho-capitalism.