Anarcho-Capitalism & Moral Subjectivism

anarcho-capitalism-moral-subjectivismIn a recent article I examined the incompatibility of Catholic social doctrine and the Austrian school. I would like to further examine this topic by addressing how some of the followers of the Austrian school generally, and the Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist flavor specifically, argue on behalf of their views. Not only are the Rothbardian political philosophical views erroneous and unworkable, they are often championed by committing various logical fallacies. Maybe I am a glutton for punishment by way of sloganeering, false dichotomies, Utopian machinations, highly moralistic catch phrases and the like; but it is important to confront this vociferous subdivision of “liberty” lovers because these false ideas are finding their way into mainstream Catholic thought. The intention of my effort is to not only help Catholics rid themselves of this annoying little peccadillo of Rothbardian political philosophy, but to also convert non-Catholic libertarians to the one, true, Church. This can only happen, however, after successfully extracting the Rothbardian implant from the cerebellum of the neo-libertarians. Such an extraction will help to free people from the Rothbardian mind, so that the Christ mind can be the corrective lens by which the state, governing institutions, and the political economy may be viewed.

This brings me to a couple of articles perfectly exemplifying the need to prevent modern libertarian factions from infecting the beauty of Catholic social doctrine. The first article is titled, Anarchy as a Moral Imperative, and the second is titled, Why Being Classically Liberal is Wrong About Anarcho-Capitalism.

Let’s start with the alleged moral imperative of anarchy. This article is an impassioned plea for the reader to consider being logically and morally consistent when arguing on behalf of the existence of government, which should lead an honest thinker to become an anarcho-capitalist, or at least this is what the author, Chris Calton, would have you believe. He says,

“This is what I find when I discuss the idea of Anarchy with those people who despise government with every fiber of their being…up until the point at which I suggest abolishing the institution in its entirety.

‘That sounds awfully nice, but…’

‘…but it’s never going to happen!’

Why does this matter? If you agree that government by its very nature is immoral, then is it not worth acknowledging that the absence of this immoral entity is at least worth advocating.

Assume that I agree: anarchy will never actually happen in this flawed world of ours. This does nothing to show how a government is morally permissible. Good God, what if we applied this logic to every application of immoral activity? I believe that no matter what condition the world is in, murder will always occur at some capacity. But that certainly does not mean I’m going to advocate for its continuation as a moral defeat!

Most people, of course, hold what I believe to be a misguided – or even perverse – view that government is a moral necessity. For these people, a different argument needs to be made. But for those people who favor the cause of liberty, I want to make the plea to stop considering the morality of government as an afterthought.”

There are a few problems here; first, the government is not some alien entity that is made up of creatures unlike us. The government is a body of people that exercise their authority in various capacities, sometimes for ill, and sometimes for virtuous purposes. Complaining about the moral permissibility of a governing entity is not even a problem the ancap can avoid in their own societal construction of solipsistic, nominalist individualism. In any society, even the ancap model of society, there will be governing agencies. These agencies, whether a police force, a national defense, or a court system will be privatized. And yet, these private agencies will be “governing” based on the simple fact that law and order must be maintained for any semblance of freedom to prevail.

A significant problem for the ancap position is that it continually commits the fallacy of reification. The fallacy of reification is when an abstract belief, hypothetical construct, or theoretical model, is treated as if it had concrete or real existence outside of its abstractive usage, resulting in the mistaken view that said abstraction does or could take place in concrete reality. The ancap creates a model of society based upon unconstrained, abstract assumptions, such as “pure voluntarism,” and then mistakes these abstractions for possibilities in concrete reality, or the hope that these abstractions can be at some point in the future become concrete realities. The problem is that there is no such thing as “pure voluntarism,” or a “purely free market,” or a “society based on purely voluntary actions.” And by “purely” the ancap intends to mean that there is no coercive influence whatsoever in play when people choose to freely interact. One way to quickly show that this is utter nonsense is by the simple fact that there is no possible way to raise children that does not violate the purifying status of the non-aggression principle. Ancaps take the NAP to be the most fundamental, axiomatic, universally applied principle for a free and just society. However, the free and just society to remain free and just requires healthy familial structures, which necessarily requires an almost perpetual violation of this supposedly universal principle. In order to raise children, parents must by moral necessity interfere with the choices their children make so that they might become virtuous persons in the future. If the ancap seeks to dismiss with a flippant hand wave this component of concrete reality when compared to their immanentized eschaton, then they would be thinking in an arbitrary manner and implicitly recognizing the fact that the NAP is not a universal axiom embedded in the fabric of reality. If the NAP is going to be taken seriously, or provide any meaningful guide for social cooperation, it is contingent upon a mountain of requirements that must come prior to establishing said principle on society at large. Rothbard attempts to work these principles out in his book, Ethics of Liberty, and I will address the reductio nature of these positions below. But it is important to understand that even if the state were abolished, or eradicated, or dismantled, or dissipated according to future evolutionary progressive developments, the family will remain; and the family operates in concrete reality in opposition to the principles espoused by ancap political philosophy.

Another consequence of continually committing the fallacy of reification is a misplaced hope that human beings, once transformed by the principles of the ancap model of society, can some how transcend the fallen nature of the human person. Is it even remotely feasible to think that a private governing agency, informed by the principles championed by the Rothbardian anarcho-capitalist, is going to somehow alleviate itself from the sinful corruptibility of man? Can we be honest with ourselves and seriously believe that there won’t be collusion between agencies in the “free-market” to benefit their own interests rather than protect their “customers”? As if the dreaded “false flag” won’t occur if private agencies are the predominant mode of local and regional security? The complaint that Calton has, indeed, the complaint that all ancaps have is not actually against the “government,” or the “State.” It is against the corruptibility of human nature. This is a commonality they have with the progressive liberal – a Rousseauian hatred of governing institutions. On this view, it is the institutions that corrupt man and not man that corrupts the institutions. Since this is the case, on the inherited Rousseauian ancap view, man will increase in virtue when the institutions are eradicated and anarchic voluntarism is freely implemented. This is how you end up in Utopianism and irrational attachment to fantasy. As Rousseau famously said, “Man is born free, but everywhere in chains.” To this, the ancap gives a hearty, “Amen!”

The traditionalist, not so much.

Calton continues by imploring the objectivists, the classical liberal, and the paleoconservative to only think consistently about the morally perverse institutions of state,

“So this is for the Ayn Rand Objectivists. You who eloquently make the case against government violence in economic affairs to please stop advocating for the same government violence in the adjudication of disputes.

This article is for the Classical Liberals who rightly recognize that the free enterprise system is the greatest economic system conceived by man – stop trying to argue the case for some abstract definition of economic efficiency as measured by a flawed metric as justification for just a little bit of coercion.

This is for the Paleo-Conservatives who pragmatically work within the system (a practice I generally do not criticize), to stop making the collective case for ‘national defense,’ as if security is the one sacred cow that falls exception to the beauty of individualism.”

Calton conveniently forgets to mention the Austrians, such as Ludwig von Mises.

Mises argues in Human Action that anarchy is impossible (emphasis added):

“The anarchists overlook the undeniable fact that some people are either too narrow-minded or too weak to adjust themselves spontaneously to the conditions of social life. Even if we admit that every sane adult is endowed with the faculty of realizing the good of social cooperation and of acting accordingly, there still remains the problem of the infants, the aged, and the insane. We may agree that he who acts antisocially should be considered mentally sick and in need of care. But as long as not all are cured, and as long as there are infants and the senile, some provision must be taken lest they jeopardize society. An anarchistic society would be exposed to the mercy of every individual. Society cannot exist if the majority is not ready to hinder, by the application of or threat of violent action, minorities from destroying the social order. This power is vested in the state or governmentState or government is the social apparatus of compulsion and coercion. It has the monopoly of violent action. No individual is free to use violence or the threat of violence if the government has not accorded this right to him. The state is essentially an institution for the preservation of peaceful inter-human relations. However, for the preservation of peace it must be prepared to crush the onslaughts of peace-breakers.[1]

This is an important, yet subtle point often ignored by ancaps, that various Austrians are statists like the rest of us non-anarchists. I have significant and profound disagreements with Mises, but this point made by the modern Austrian fountainhead seems to be relatively obvious. Force is required to maintain peace against those who seek to destroy the institutional structures of ordered freedom. Voluntarism within the ancap construct may work well when safely protected in the structure of the theoretical model, but it is an impossibility in concrete reality.

One point that I find interesting is the idea that national defense is in scare quotes, while juxtaposed with the “beauty of individualism.” To the contrary of this suggestion, in the military individuality is subordinate to the collective whole; whether it is the team, squad, platoon, company etc. This is not a controversial position to hold regarding the necessity of such military organization and institutions. It is the simple recognition that the individual person comes into a world that is bigger than, well, the individual. The individual is preexisted by their family, community, county, state, nation etc. There is a significantly larger reality than individual subjective preferences. Indeed, communal responsibility may at times call on men to sacrifice their individuality for a noble cause, such as the need to protect the continued existence of a way of life experienced by a people in a national stage against a foreign enemy. To put it in terms most children grow to understand, the world does not revolve around you and your demands.

Calton ends by stating that anarchy, rather than being a political philosophy, is a moral imperative. This is simply confused. Anarchy is not a moral philosophy, nor is it a collection of homogenous moral claims. It is, contrary to Calton’s suggestion, a political philosophy attempting to explain the best way to organize a society. This should be obvious, since various moral philosophies can inform the political philosophy of anarcho-capitalism. For example, an ancap could be a consequentialist, or a natural law theorist, or a deontologist, or even a nihilist. Indeed, anarcho-capitalism is not morally neutral, but to claim it is a moral imperative is mistaken.

The confusion, however, does not stop with this article. Calton attempts to persuade the reader that anarchy is a moral necessity, and to deny anarchy in favor of some form of government institution is “misguided” and “morally perverse”; while at the same time claiming that morality is subjective. He makes the case for moral subjectivism in his article titled, Why Being Classically Liberal is Wrong About Anarcho-Capitalism.

The first point I want to address from this article is the often repeated, “not every ancap is Rothbardian” or “not every ancap adheres to the non-aggression principle.”

Calton states,

“There are actually two misconceptions that should be addressed regarding this point. The first is the notion that subscription to non-aggression principle is necessarily an Anarcho-Capitalist requirement. With the rise of the Austrian Anarchists following the Ron Paul Revolution, this has become the majority of Anarcho-Capitalists today, but there are many consequentialist Libertarians who arrive at Anarchy for practical means. This point is only worth mentioning because rejection of the NAP is not in itself a rejection of Anarcho-Capitalism.”

This is a move often made by Austrians and Rothbardians alike; they require all points of view to be refuted or none of them have been refuted, or rather, nuance for me but not for thee. Ancaps will make little effort to recognize the nuanced views that can be found among conservatives, whether “neo” or “paleo” because on their view both of them intrinsically “statist.” But when discussing anarcho-capitalism, they are quick to point out the importance of nuance. Calton’s reference to consequentialist ancaps is entirely irrelevant, and oddly enough, for the very reasons he states — Ron Paul followers usually become acquainted with Rothbard (rather than David Friedman, for example) and Rothbardians are the majority of contemporary ancaps. Given this criterion, it would seem relatively obvious that most people critical of this political philosophy will wind up arguing against Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism, while any references to differing ancap views are red herrings. In fact, Lew Rockwell would agree with me,

“There are many varieties of libertarianism alive in the world today, but Rothbardianism remains the center of its intellectual gravity, its primary muse and conscience, its strategic and moral core, and the focal point of debate even when its name is not acknowledged. The reason is that Murray Rothbard was the creator of modern libertarianism, a political-ideological system that proposes a once-and-for-all escape from the trappings of left and right and their central plans for how state power should be used.”[2]

If you plan on engaging critically with libertarian thought, be prepared for the endless dodging that will most certainly ensue just as soon as any libertarian position has been shown to be philosophically problematic.

This defensive dodging maneuver looks something like this:

  1. Positions X, Y, and Z are shown to be either problematic, logically inconsistent, totally incoherent, or completely unworkable from the presuppositions of the libertarian political philosophical worldview.
  1. The typical libertarian response is not to show said criticism to be mistaken, rather, they want to know why you haven’t dealt with positions A, B, and C. Why haven’t these libertarian positions been adequately dealt with?
  2. Positions A, B, and C are then shown to be either problematic, logically inconsistent, totally incoherent, or completely unworkable from the presuppositions of the libertarian political philosophical worldview.
  1. The typical response will be to ignore these additional criticisms of said positions the libertarian brought to the table, and will want to know why positions D, E, and F have not been properly dealt with.

This defensive tactic goes on and on until you are back at the beginning of the critique and have to start all over again. All the while, the libertarian following their Rothbardian masters will plug their ears, close their eyes, and grit their teeth while their beloved ideology is once again demonstrated to be incorrect.

If this tactic doesn’t work, there is always the straw man fallacy that is readily available. If you aren’t a libertarian groveling at the feet of Jeffrey Tucker, or insert the name of any libertarian celebrity, that means you must worship the state, love big brother, hate freedom, ad nauseam.

The second point I wanted to address was the case made on behalf of Rothbard’s view on children and children’s rights. In Rothbard’s book, The Ethics of Liberty, he argues in favor of;

  • Abortion (Pg. 98)
  • Infanticide of normal and/or deformed babies by way of starvation (at least) (Pg. 100, 101)
  • The right of a child of any age and for any reason to run away from home whereby the parents cannot do anything but persuade their children to return home with them as the lawful guardians. (Pg. 103)

Calton would have us believe that this is no big deal, because the “more important point” is that in a, “Libertarian society, the existence of a free baby market would lead to less neglect than we actually see with legal protocols in place to prevent it.”

The solution to abortion and infanticide is a laissez-faire market where the free exchange of babies can take place unfettered by the moral restraints of government regulation. Never mind important philosophical questions of personhood and the morality of human trafficking; no need to examine those questions. We are supposed to be entirely comfortable with the outcomes of a suggested “baby market” regulated only by the individual actors and their subjective preferences when it comes to purchasing infants. Case closed. No further debate is needed because the often repeated “the market will handle it” mantra is the perpetual fallback for complicated questions in public policy. Moreover, there is not a shred of data offered to support the idea that the trafficking of babies on the free market is going to actually mitigate the evils that Rothbard argues should be legally permissible in the first place. How are we to know that children will not be bought for the specific purposes of the sex trade? How do we know that babies will not be purchased for the “advancement” of scientific research, where the babies are then deprived of their humanity for specific experimentation? To lazily chant, “the market won’t allow it,” which is the characteristic move made by the ancap, is to display a profoundly naïve view of the market mechanism, as well as an extreme category error when treating human persons at the same level of commodities to be traded on a whim.

Instead of philosophical speculation, let’s examine a real world situation. According to this article, these parents starved their 3-month-old child to death. They are rightfully receiving a harsh penalty for such actions.

On Rothbard’s view, the penalty levied against the parents for starving their 3-month-old son is a violation of their liberty, and their rights. You read that correctly. On Rothbard’s view, this is a not a violation of the child’s rights, but of the parents. Apparently the concept of a right to life escaped the mind of Mr. Libertarian. Rothbard would have you believe that the ethics of liberty requires that no legal punishment should exist for a person that starves their children to death; that an egregious form of child abuse such as this should go unpunished under the law. Moreover, who would represent the dead child in a court of law, given the fact that the child has no means to secure legal protection from a private law firm in the first place? Who would press charges against this kind of barbarism?

The ancap would have you believe that allowing evil actions such as this, is far better than paying taxes, say a tariff on imported sneakers. This tax is the real evil, not the murder of children in the womb or infanticide, as Rothbard argues in favor of in his libertarian ethical credo.

It is important to remember that this is not some ad hoc consideration, or an unfounded consequence of the non-aggression principle. Rothbard is working out what the consistent application of such a principle would look like for the broader society. To state that this is a point of disagreement among followers of Rothbard is to ignore the fact that the system is holistic in its nominalist metaphysical assumptions. To disagree with one point, such as the immorality of starving children to death, is to not only call into the question the entire ancap theoretical construct, but the nominally construed myth of moral neutrality necessary for seriously considering torture by starvation a right of parents. To put it bluntly, the entire Rothbardian apparatus collapses under the weight of its own reductio.

The third point needing examination is the claim that morality is subjective. I found this to be an odd claim to make given the moral grandstanding Rothbardians routinely exhibit. If morality is purely subjective, as BCL suggests and Calton agrees with, then their claims against the immorality of say, a communist or socialist political economy, are entirely arbitrary and merely an opinion with no basis in reality. The fervent distaste of taxation, aggression, force, coercion, and war strutted by vituperative ancap argumentation are merely suggestions broadcasted from a soapbox. Indeed, if morality is subjective, then their opinion of Stalinist communism is no different than a difference of opinion over ice cream flavors.

It is worse than that. If moral subjectivism is true, as Calton suggests, then there has been zero moral improvement throughout American history (or any civilization for that matter). The freeing of the slaves didn’t advance a superior moral truth than the pre-Civil War era; what took place was a forceful change in opinion. On this view, Lincoln wasn’t a tyrant, nor was Jefferson Davis, they had different opinions on slavery, and that’s it. In fact, they didn’t even disagree on the morality of slavery. Allow me to demonstrate;

Lincoln – “I think slavery is immoral.”

Davis – “ I think slavery is moral. “

We think they are in disagreement, but the fact of the matter is, if moral subjectivism is true, they are not even disagreeing. All subjectivism amounts to are the suppositions of an individual opinion. Lincoln dislikes slavery. That is his view. Davis likes slavery. That is his view. The slaves probably didn’t dig their slave status, but that is just their opinion as well. The proclamation of each moral claim is only addressing the view held by the specific individual, and not a condemnation of the other according to a reality that supports such a claim.

The fourth point I want to address is Calton’s blatant appeal to ignorance. Calton says, “In the strictest sense, it is true that there is no definitive evidence proving anarchism – but this is for the very same reason that there is no definitive evidence disproving anarchism: namely, there are no existing anarchist states (there have been small pockets of civilizations throughout history that could be considered anarchist, but they are difficult to compare economically to a modern, Western society).”

The argument presented here is the exact form of the appeal to ignorance fallacy.

  • There is no evidence to disprove X, therefore X.
  • There is no evidence to prove X, therefore ~ X.

This is incorrect reasoning. What a reasonable person should do, given the lack of evidence in either case, is to suspend judgment. Calton may have a hunch, but he certainly doesn’t have a claim to knowledge on this issue.

Calton proceeds to argue that there is a direct correlation between limited government and economic prosperity, but then incorrectly suggests that we should extend this correlation resulting in, allegedly, zero government with maximum economic prosperity. At least this is what the ancap would have you believe to be the case if they want to be consistent. Contrary to this view, however, evidence exists suggesting that “less government” does not always result in “more freedom.”

Francis Fukuyama calls this the “Fantasies of Statelessness,”

“There is in fact a curious blindness to the importance of political institutions that has affected many people over the years, people who dream about a world in which we will somehow transcend politics. This particular fantasy is not the special province of Left or Right; both have their versions of it. The father of communism, Karl Marx, famously predicted the ‘withering away of the state’ once the proletarian revolution had achieved power and abolished private property.”[3]

Fukuyama continues,

“The fantasy of statelessness most prevalent on the Right is that the market economy will somehow make government unnecessary and irrelevant…

Indeed, the kinds of minimal or no-government societies envisioned by dreamers of the Left and Right are not fantasies; they actually exist in the contemporary developing world. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are a libertarian’s paradise. The region as a whole is a low-tax utopia, with governments often unable to collect more than about 10 percent of GDP in taxes, compared to more than 30 percent in the United States and 50 percent in parts of Europe. Rather than unleashing Entrepreneurship, this low rate of taxation means that the basic public services like health, education, and pothole fillings are starved of funding. The physical infrastructure on which a modern economy rests, like roads, court systems, and police, are missing. In Somalia, where a strong central government has not existed since the late 1980s, ordinary individuals may own not just assault rifles but also rocket-propelled grenades, antiaircraft missiles, and tanks. People are free to protect their own families, and indeed are forced to do so. Nigeria has a film industry that produces as many titles as India’s famed Bollywood, but films have to earn a quick return because the government is incapable of guaranteeing intellectual property rights and preventing products from being copied illegally.”[4]


“The existence of states able to provide basic public services cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, part of the reason many countries are poor is precisely that they don’t have effective states. This is obvious in failed or failing states including Afghanistan, Haiti, and Somalia, where life is chaotic and insecure.”[5]

Despite the counter-evidence provided from the Fukuyama texts, even if Calton were correct that zero government, or no state, would result in maximum liberty, it is merely a subjective opinion, and admittedly there is not one scintilla of evidence to support his correlation.

The evidence provided above also hints at something that ancaps routinely miss – the market is a product of culture. People are not hardwired to build a modern market mechanism to distribute goods and services according to the spontaneity of prices. If a culture has not developed the necessary moral code and correct political institutions, the market mechanism will not flourish at its most efficient or moral capacity. The ancap would have you believe the reverse of this is true, that culture is the product of the market, but history tells us otherwise.

Philosopher, Roger Scruton, has suggested that the endorsement of subjectivism means the person sanctioning the view is begging you not to believe them. In this case, Chris Calton is that person. Let us oblige his desire by rejecting his way of looking at the world, and ignore his mere subjective proclamation of an anarchic moral imperative.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] Pg. 149

[2] For a New Liberty, Introduction

[3] The Origins of Political Order, Pg. 11

[4] Ibid, Pg. 11, 13

[5] Political Order and Political Decay, Pg. 52, 53

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