What is Anarcho-Capitalism?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Anarcho-capitalism is an anti-statist political philosophy that is built around free market capitalism. It is viewed by most of its proponents as a school of anarchist thought, but many other anarchists see its adoption of capitalist ideologies as directly antithetical to anarchism itself. Anarcho-capitalism is often referred to as free-market anarchism by those who believe that capitalism has too many negative connotations within the anarchist community.

The largest difference between anarcho-capitalism and most other schools of anarchist thought is its acceptance of private property. While most anarchist schools believe in voluntary communalism as the main mode of disbursing goods and services, with nominal trade occurring as it will, anarcho-capitalists see the free market as having a key role in resource distribution. While communalism is still possible in an anarcho-capitalist system, it is not the cornerstone upon which this anarchist system is built.

The main difference between anarcho-capitalism and current forms of capitalism is a lack of reliance on the state as a coercive agent. Anarcho-capitalism holds that in modern capitalist societies, trade is facilitated and governed by a controlling state that colludes with wealthy businessmen and interests to manipulate and subvert the true free market. Anarcho-capitalism promotes free market trading unfettered by a government of any sort, allowing for truly voluntary trade agreements.

In addition to opposing the state because of its role in limiting the free market, through taxation, trade barriers, and public monopolies, anarcho-capitalism also opposes the state because of its role in limiting personal freedoms. Anarcho-capitalists are strong libertarians, believing in personal liberties relating to things such as ownership, drug use, education, and conscription. For this reason, anarcho-capitalism is not generally accepted as a mainstream theory within capitalist circles, which believe the state should have some role in enforcing protections and limitations on personal freedoms.

Most social anarchists, for their part, are extremely distrustful of anarcho-capitalism because of its embrace of capitalism as an ideology. Capitalism is viewed by many as being predicated upon authoritarianism, as the market allows for the concentration of resources, which allows for the exercise of undue power by some members of society. Similarly, the ideals of the free market, which allow for things like landlordship, are seen as being antithetical to the socialist ideals of mutual aid that form the foundation of many anarchist philosophies.

The grandfather of anarcho-capitalism is generally agreed to be Murray Rothbard, an economist of the Austrian school, who wrote in the 1950s. He attempted to combine many of the philosophies of Austrian economics with the ideals of individualistic Anarchism, creating a synthesis that reflected the earlier libertarian capitalist philosophies of thinkers such as Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, and Frederic Bastiat.

Historically, many people point to the American Wild West as having many elements of an anarcho-capitalist society. Since there was little actual government presence in the West, extra-governmental institutions sprang up to fill the protective role of government, with private security agencies offering the security that a police force would ordinarily offer. Similarly, ancient Iceland is sometimes pointed to as anarcho-capitalist, with the state having very little role in legal enforcement, which was largely undertaken by capitalist private organizations.

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