My contribution to the Liberty Matters symposium on Gustave de Molinari is now up.
Since Molinari’s greatest claim to fame is as the father of anarcho-capitalism, and since my fellow symposiasts were Roderick Long (anarchist), David Friedman (anarchist), and Gary Chartier (anarchist) – under the editorship of anarchists Sheldon Richman and David Hart, no less! – I figured it was incumbent upon me to explain the doubts I have about the anarcho-capitalist program.
In a nutshell, I worry that an anarcho-capitalist society would be considerably more violent, considerably more dangerous, and considerably less friendly to individual liberty than most anarcho-capitalists suppose. This essay focuses on the first two of those problems. I expect that I will take up the third in the discussion that follows.
To be clear, I think a lot of the particular arguments that anarcho-capitalists make are quite persuasive. I’m a big fan of John Hasnas’ work on the emergence of private law, for instance. I think Ellickson is terrific, and I admire the work of Benson, Anderson and Hill, Leeson, Friedman, Long, Chartier, and so on.
My problem is this. I don’t find the abstract, theoretical arguments for anarchism all that compelling. Certainly not those based in considerations of self-ownership and non-aggression or in the fact that some people argue with each other. But not those based in broadly consequentialist forms of reasoning either.
These abstract arguments are usually supplemented with concrete examples that are meant to illustrate the possibility of an anarchist society. But I don’t find those examples compelling either. Even if we can find one or two examples of “anarchist” societies where things seemed to work reasonably well, we have lots and lots of examples of anarchist societies where they did not. Cherry picked examples are no substitute for aggregate statistical analysis, if what you’re interested in knowing is how violent, nasty, brutish and short life in stateless vs. state-based societies tend to be. And illustrations of “anarchism” from within state-based societies strike me as even more hopeless. I’m willing to grant that the security forces at Disneyland do a pretty good job keeping blood off their streets, and that private mediation is often more efficient than statist law. But it’s a big jump from there to the conclusion that private security or private law without a background of state security and law would be at all desirable.
Anyway, read the whole thing for yourself and let me know what you think. Friedman, Long, Chartier, Hart, and I will be discussing these matters all month at the Liberty Matters site. It should be a good conversation.