Anarchy as no hierarchy
I would love if humans had such a perfect culture and such perfect natural tendencies as to make an utterly equal society possible, but that is not the case. Genetic differences in temperament leading to higher or lower drives for achievement, genetic differences in ability for whatever is the most lucrative skill at any given period, and much else will—for the foreseeable future—create hierarchy. Hierarchy whether fleeting or enduring, de facto or de jure, will occur. And it is not just genetics. Random and unforeseeable differences in environment will likely have a similar impact, leading some lucky people to excel and others to fall behind. Most of the time these differences, whether natural or chance, accumulate over time. This has been the case for most of human history, and I see little evidence that this will cease being the case if anarchists lead had their way.
Libertarianism.org says that anarcho-capitalism is “a capitalist economic system, it requires markets, property, and the rule of law…” Anarcho-capitalists believe that “rule production, protection (deterrence of rule violations), detection (capture of rule violators), adjudication (determination of guilt), and punishment” can all be provided by private market-based entities absent a government. The first notable thing here is that the oft cited claim that anarchism just means no hierarchy isn’t true here. I know of few private companies that don’t have hierarchy (a board of directors, CEO, etc.). Even franchises have hierarchy and ladders of power of a different sort.
To say the least, I’m skeptical a bunch of for-profit companies operating paramilitary bands of Pinkertons are going to lead to a more fair and equitable prosperous society with the most net amount of liberty. If they were to be as effective as a state in preventing violence, private providers would become monopolies. They’d be able to price fix because they’re above democratic scrutiny (unlike public alternatives). As a result, universal coverage would be destroyed, providing only for those who can afford it and thereby creating a setup that undermines any meaningful legal equality.
Additionally, what is best for the market is not always what is best for society; what is best for a company is not necessarily best for the individual; what is best for the short term is not necessarily best for the long term. The market has obvious places it fails. For example, healthcare. When people are faced with excruciating pain or death they will become willing to pay well above what supply and demand would place a price at—and corporations will (unethically) jack up the price accordingly. Climate change is another example. We’ve already done irreparable damage, and the free market didn’t stop it.
If every consumer was ridiculously informed on virtually every product and service they consumed and was highly ethical and highly conscious of long-term consequences, anarcho-capitalism might stand a chance. But none of those conditions are met today. People are ignorant, people are selfish, and they are short-sighted. People don’t know where their food is grown, where their smartphones are assembled, what is in their user agreements of every app they use, and so on. Without that knowledge, “voting” for companies by purchasing from them while ignorant is no more superior than voting for elected representatives while ignorant. Actually, knowing all available info on a representative is more practically feasible.
This isn’t a argument for authoritarianism. Just because all people can’t be assumed to be all-knowing and all-benevolent doesn’t mean the opposite can be concluded. Any system should be designed around how people are, not how you think people should or would be in the perfect society.
The idea that all forms of human association should be voluntary is silly and unrealistic. People often don’t volunteer to do the right thing. There is always a balance of cheating enough to gain power while avoiding too much cheating and being just honest enough to be able to psychologically consider yourself to be a good person (Chance, Gino, Norton, & Ariely, 2015). Cheating or “free-riding” will almost certainly occur, and would be a particular problem in voluntaryism.
But would voluntaryism even be ethical? If we knew for a fact a synergistic action of the populous would be better than the sum of its parts; if we knew that forcing all people to work together in a certain way would greatly increase the living conditions and overall prosperity of the populace, would it be moral not to do that? The answer is, if you care about actual consequences more than hollow philosophic platitudes, no. If net freedom—considering positive and negative liberty—was increased by forcing people to act as a synergistic team, then we should absolutely use that force.
That is what government is. Or at least, that is what it attempts to do. And realistically, that is more likely to happen than that everyone will become informed, be ethical, and think long-term.
There is little difference between the ideal anarchy and the ideal government – both are little more than wishful thinking which would require that people behave as perfect or near-perfect moral agents. Since that is not the case in real life, anarchy would in practice reduce to serfdom and Monarchy or despotism, just as government in practice often reduces to corporatocracy.
The important difference is that in a real-world anarchy, the people have no power except for that of force. Whereas if people have at minimum a well-established government where the populace has a say, change can come from peaceful means. Force would only become necessary if all other channels fail. Although even in that circumstance consideration should be given to the fact that violent revolution can just as easily bring an equal or worse despotism.
Ideally we could have Communism. Ideally we could have only the invisible hand of Adam Smith. Ideally we could have Anarchy. Ideally we could have Democracy. But in practice, we need to restrain each other from the use of force, with the use of force.
The type of society and environment we’d need for anarchy in any form (communist or capitalist) would make it superfluous because such a perfect society could make any system work equally well. My argument is that given natural human tendencies and the current state of culture and society, our current imperfect democratic republican system will lead to better results—more prosperity, more net liberty—than any anarchist system if attempted today or in the near future.
- Chance, Z., Gino, F., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2015). The slow decay and quick revival of self-deception. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01075