In defence of Anarchism

As some of you may know, I’m not a big fan of Anarchism. I consider it either to be vulgar, immature right-wing politics for those who want to be anti-establishment without donning a Che Guevara T-shirt, or hopelessly deluded left-wing politics for those who have a hopelessly utopian vision of fundamental human motivations. I’m happy to have a go at either trend, but if you asked me which one I thought was the true definition of anarchism, I would immediately give the former; for I think that in reality, Anarchism would be the wet nightmare of right-wing politics that not even the most extreme capitalist would wish to have.

A real capitalist, of course, would not wish to see a true free market anyway, at least, not if they were busy applying their skills in the modern economy. For one thing, a market favourable to a big business often delivers it the power to try and prevent said market from changing, or at least to try and control the rate of change — stability of the market is something in the interests of any business, so it follows naturally that businesses, even rivals, are not opposed to all government intervention — just some.

Generally, up til here, a Marxist would be agreeing with me, so I’m tempted to turn on marxists next, just to keep the trend up of irritating as many ideological trends as possible. But I’m not going to, because I’m trying to give this a point and some direction, so I’ll come back to right-wing politics, capitalism, and the free market.

Recently, I have been made aware of a trend in ideological (or “intellectual”) thought, that I must confess I did not realise existed beyond the fringes of the internet; that which advances “fundamental property rights”, and an entirely free market. Quite why both ideas go together I am not sure, though I do believe that those who take this disturbingly narrow-minded direction of thought economically and politically may have made the fatal mistake of believing in more than one fundamental truth: for everyone knows that the person who only accepts one premise as true is impossible to argue with.

It is still incredibly difficult to counter this, generally because the complexity of society throughout history being what it is, there is actually no real example that comes to mind of an entirely free market with absolute property rights (to which one is tempted to add, “Thank goodness” or “I wonder why”). This means that it is very difficult to argue that one knows with a certainty what such a society would look like, given lack of historical precedent. One place where it appears reasonable to start, however, is in the basic distinction between the absolute property rights and free market (hereby abbreviated to APRFM) school, and anarchist (of the honest sort, that recognises the oxymoronic nature of “left-wing” anarchism).

The difference is that the APRFM school of thought does not disagree with all features of government — presumably because it can see how in a perfectly ‘free’ society, property rights and freedom of trade might not be achieved (due to the irrationality of free human beings, one supposes, who cannot see the bountiful advantages that come with free trade and absolute property rights). Instead, the APRFM concede that a “strong”, but “very small” government is needed, to enforce property rights, and ensure free trade.

The latter idea is problematic, for in a free market society, it follows that money is (purchasing) power (of whatever is profitable to sell in the market). It also follows that businesses are allowed to expand as the market allows, without restriction, and thus gain more power than they might be allowed to in a regulated market society that had laws to limit the scope of business expansion.

So far, so straightfoward. Now the real problems begin to appear: we have already established the need for government (“to enforce property rights, and ensure free trade”, remember), so therefore the power of businesses in relation to government sets off immediate alarm bells. There are two options: either government is small, and businesses are allowed to dominate government via exercising their market power; or government is strong enough to insulate itself from business interests, in which case it will almost certainly have to be very big. And if it is this big, it stands to reason that it may start to get ideas into its head about society beyond the market, and want to start intervening in ways other than those involving the protection of free trade and property rights.

So either way, a sustainable free market looks unlikely, given that either way you have it, there is at least on powerful interest (or set of interests) attempting to dominate the process of government. Either established businesses will attempt to dominate the process of government to their exclusive advantage, or government will be big enough to get ideas of its own. Heads I win, tails APRFM lose.

That’s one half of the equation — the free market. Believe it or not, it’s not until here that it starts to get juicy, as we get on to (“absolute”) property rights.

The concept of absolute property rights strikes me, I must admit (in fact, I take pleasure in admitting) as a strange one, as it seems to be self-contradictory when one thinks through the possible ramifications. Presumably, absolute property rights entail an absolute right of ownership of whatever is classed as one’s property. It would seem logical to assume that certain basic things are automatically one’s property from birth: such as one’s body, one’s labour, one’s skills. Therefore it follows that with absolute property rights, these uncontested items of private property can also be sold on the market. Or, in a language everyone will be able to understand: slavery.

The thing is, this rather amusingly demonstrates that the all too frequent ideological core of the APRFM school, that “the property rights of some should not be violated for the benefit of others” is breached by the concept of absolute property rights, which is at the heart of their ideology. For if one person owns another in the absolute sense, owning their body, labour and skills, then they themselves have control over said person’s property rights. But if you attempt to limit the owner’s property rights so the slave’s property rights are intact, then you merely breach the owner’s property rights. Absolute property rights is thus a self-defeating concept.

As is the free market. Setting aside the tendency toward monopoly for the time being (which APRFM apparently do not “accept”), absolute property rights would clearly infringe upon the concept of free market, as the market would no longer have a universal consumer and distributer base due to the legitimisation of slavery, but curbed property rights will be a limitation on the market, which would also prevent it from being free. Both rights are at odds with one another, as well as with themselves. Internally and externally, the school of thought is inconsistent.

And this is before we get into anything remotely practical. How APRFM see their ideology being inforced when it comes to intellectual property, for instance, I do not know. Attempt to regulate internet providers, or shut down the survers hosting filesharing sites, and you’re infringing upon the free market and property rights, but leave filesharing websites unchallenged and you’re failing to support the intellectual property rights of artists and record companies. Heads I win, tails APRFM lose.

And then there are areas where enforcement on an individual level of property is so difficult as to be impossible: such as what are currently territorial waters and the oceans. The whole concept of building a school of thought upon two absolute, contradictory and internally contractory premises, whose scope is limited to what is possible for any holder of property, is utterly ridiculous.

In defence of Anarchism? Well, after analysing that, Anarchism looks rather good in comparison.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Grace on September 28, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Have you read the book “in defence of anarchism”? it’s actually really good


  2. I’d love to sometime, although it’s fairly low down my spending priorities. I must confess the title of this blog post was slightly tongue in cheek — though I was wondering where I’d heard the phrase before.


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