'The autonomous individual, striving to realize himself and prove his worth, has created all that is great in literature, art, music, science and technology. The autonomous individual, also, when he can neither realize himself nor justify his existence by his own efforts, is a breeding call of frustration, and the seed of the convulsions which shake our world to its foundations.' --Eric Hoffer

Am I On the Road to Serfdom?

by Ethan Glover, Sun, Oct 13, 2013 - (Edited) Sun, Oct 13, 2013

Every once in awhile, maybe every two weeks, an article pops up claiming to have the answers on why anarcho-capitalism doesn’t work. 9 times out of 10 these articles have no real understanding of the philosophy and even where it comes from. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but there is something wrong with speaking as if you were an expert. Donald Hank, who is a language expert, but no libertarian expert, wrote one such article called, “Anarcho-Capitalism: the road less traveled to serfdom”. Like many of these articles it is full of misunderstandings, complaints and no real content. In the first paragraph Donald Hank complains about American libertarians being “indoctrinated” by Mises while European libertarians “lean toward” Hayek. This point is not worth responding to and I hope readers and Donald himself sees why this should have been left out.

Other than that, I hope that I may clear up some of the basics for Donald so that he may better criticize the system. If he takes the time to learn from his mistakes and comes back stronger, I would love to see a little more effort and knowledge behind his words. Give the article a read and see what you think. Am I on the road to serfdom? Are you? Read on!

Never Been Tried

The first claim that really stands out is that anarcho-capitalism does not stand on any philosophical conjectures. A conjecture, being synonymous with opinion and guesswork, is probably not the best thing to claim. However, anarcho-capitalism is based on philosophy, reason, evidence and logic. Ludwig von Mises is not the best representation of it, and in fact, may not be a representative at all. Instead, it is better to point to Murray Rothbard who wrote about the non-aggression principle, which is of course a very logical base for self-defense and property. Further beliefs in anarcho-capitalism can be derived from voluntarism, which most libertarians adore, but refuse to recognize because they’d rather be socialists. Now, I realize it may look like I’m trying to avoid the claims of Donald by changing them, but a lot of what is said in this article is simply not relevant to anarcho-capitalism. Instead, I choose to fix his arguments so that they do provide some sort of challenge and are at the very least worth a response. This is what I mean when Donald is obviously not an expert of the subject matter. He does not even know enough to form a real argument. He is like the anarcho-communist who insists on redefining capitalism as a way to prove it can not work. If you want to argue against this philosophy, great, but take the time to fully recognize the beliefs of the people who hold it. Don’t just guess and throw it out there for drama’s sake.

Next, there is the idea that anarcho-capitalism has never been tried on a large scale and is, therefore, impossible. He claims that small scale attempts have been met in failure and as an example points to the industrial area of a town in Pakistan which found itself with crime problems. The article he references [Link no longer available.] of course doesn’t explain this, it’s a newspaper article on a Law and Order Sub-Committee of the town requesting more government intervention. The place was not anarchy to begin with. It just had problems. No writer should be pointing to small articles like this and claiming it to be evidence. Donald is using an unrelated event and giving it as little detail as possible to try and paint a connection. Instead, as is mentioned in the end of Donald's article, we must look towards models that work. Current projects to create voluntary based societies (despite the government) include the Free State Project, the Blue Ridge Liberty Project, Cafayate, Argentina and Startup Cities. Within these societies, you see little to no crime with enough freedom to economically thrive and grow. With the bonus of having a caring and loving community for support. No, anarcho-capitalism has never been tried on a large scale, but libertarianism has. It started with the Declaration of Independence and eventually created the Articles of Confederation. Through power plays and abuses, the Constitution was written with the purpose of giving the federal government strong and central powers. As the anti-federalists warned, that has been taken advantage of to a great degree. Every government starts out minarchist, and every government ends up as tyranny.

Issues of Law and Justice

Donalds concerns on law on justice are certainly legitimate and something that I can understand. This is the subject that usually keeps libertarians back and wanting to aggress against others while forcing their systems on entire areas whether people want it or not. When Donald Hank talks about libertarianism, I fear he is not talking about the non-aggression principle and constitutional government. Rather he is simply looking at some statistics and saying, “Here! This works!”. While this is OK, it should not be the basis of your thinking. While anarcho-capitalism takes such statistics, facts and reason very seriously, there are core values that we always consider and try to work with. There are ways to build societies without theft and force. As it so happens, those ways are generally agreed to by libertarians. Libertarians will often agree that without military intervention, the U.S. wouldn’t have so many enemies. Without enemies and with free trade, the U.S. wouldn’t need a standing army. Yet, without enemies and free trade, they claim we need a full government based military? It is this love for particular public services over others that make minarchist libertarians just as bad as every other statist.

Just because there is no state, that doesn’t mean there is no law. How is law decided now? It is not simply a process of congressman writing some stuff on a paper and voting for it. The ideas for these laws come from real world issues. People have always reacted as problems come up. Public law institutions such as courts act as experts in past cases and lawyers act as defenders based on their expertise. There have been millions of court cases that lawyers present in the courtrooms as a way to show why their client is innocent. However, given the time, one could easily find many court cases that give the exact opposite ruling. This is especially the case when it comes to government law interfering with basic property rights. Just like now, a private court system would be subject to controversy and a jury may make irrational decisions from time to time. However, here’s the difference. A private court is subject to the free market and the power of competition. When one makes decisions that are looked more positively on, when a court takes an approach of protecting people rather than convicting them no matter what, they are more likely to earn. Then the issue becomes what prevents the mafia from running their own court? And here’s the kicker. Private courts are not protected by their own laws like public courts are. There are other courts that can make decisions against corrupt courts. Instead of sitting around and waiting for a superhero politician to save you from bad court decisions (they don’t and won’t), you go after the company and the judges. If McDonalds was run by racists, and they started putting poison in the food of black neighborhoods what happens? In today's society, they get fined, and people move along. But in the anarcho-capitalist society, the owners are arrested, tried and convicted. What happens when a court system is blatantly abusing the natural rights of people? The owners and judges are arrested, tried and convicted. That is something you will never see in a society with government. When you centralize law, you get corruption and abuse. When it becomes decentralized you put power back into the hands of people, and you get competition in which the people who do the best job win.

Moving on Donald expressed a few concerns about private security being too expensive and only the rich having access to the “latest security systems”. Now, I really do hate to bring up logical fallacies. In all I have written for this site, I have not done it once. I believe fallacies should be a guide for the writer, not a target for the reader. Instead, people should just be clear about what they think instead of hiding behind the word “fallacy”. But in this case it feels necessary. That sentence, that only the rich would have access to the latest security systems is a blatant appeal to emotion and holds no content or point. Yes, rich people would have access to the “latest security systems”, but it’s not only them, it’s the people willing to take on the cost. That’s like saying only rich people have access to the newest iPhone.

This claim of the “little guy” not having anything should be an argument Donald is very familiar with if he is a libertarian. What does he say to those who claim only the rich can afford private schools? Everyone, whether rich or poor, is forced to pay for public security, whether the police do their jobs or not. That force monopoly is some seriously tough competition for private security. *Note: When I say private security that does not just mean 24/7 bodyguards, it can mean a force that mirrors patrols and the on-call system of public police, or any other variant. If you were to create a private security company with the purpose of serving poor neighborhoods, you may find yourself in for a surprise. Unless you can offer an insurance model system like the Threat Management Center has done, in which service to the poor is based on profits from the rich, you’ll find it impossible to lower your prices enough in a way to get the poor to pay for both public and private security. However, if they were given the choice, you may find that your private security company can offer a lower price than what taxes currently cost, therefore, if they were to pick one, it would more than likely be the private company.

On a final point on security Donald concludes that the “little guy” is a sitting duck to the rich criminals. Except, the little guy is already a sitting duck to the rich criminals. The only example of rich criminals I can think of are the CEO’s of government protected corporations and the government officials themselves. I can’t for the life of me think of the names of any evil criminal masterminds that are plotting to take over the world. When you remove the monopoly on justice and enforcement and remove the legal protections the “rich criminals” currently have you put everyone on an equal playing field. Those criminals become responsible for their crimes and legally liable. Again, if Donald is paying attention to the criticisms of his own libertarian philosophy, this should be a question he is answering on a regular basis. The big government types often have the same concerns about libertarianism, but their concerns would be unfounded and led by a misinformed direction of thinking. Just because the rich may be able to afford fancier security, doesn’t mean they can direct that security to attack the poor and steal from them. In fact, I don’t know why they would want to. When we break down and look at this point, it becomes absurd. Security companies aren’t just going to try and invade areas and take them over. Remember, there’s no tax, theft is theft. Doing so is a blatant crime and is answered by the hundreds of competing security companies across the “country” or thousands or millions across the world. (Depending on the size of the theoretical society in which we’re talking about.) When there is only one security company, the state, they have ultimate power and are generally free to do what they please.

The Road to Serfdom?

So, Donald Hank thinks that in the anarcho-capitalist world, rich people will conspire together to rule over the poor. This inevitably leads to serfdom, which he says is a system we’re already living in. I love how every complaint against anarcho-capitalism comes down to, “Yeah. I get it, but what if a government takes over?” The idea of everyone becoming serfs is obviously a desperate argument meant to make the entire philosophy look bad. I’m sure that in such a society free labor would exist. Or labor for food and housing instead of pay. Especially when it comes to menial jobs that require little to no training or skill. This isn’t a bad thing. It allows for people to gain some work experience and it allows for young people to learn how to handle work situations in a place where it is not such a big deal to make a mistake. Serfdom, however, is really the same thing as slavery except the slaves may keep a certain amount of what they produce. The key here is of course the idea of forced labor. There is no place for this in anarcho-capitalism. Everybody understands that this is wrong, even without historical cases on laws and cultural enlightenment. It’s OK to work for someone through your own adult decision, but slavery is undeniably inexcusable.

The basis for this argument comes again from Donald’s belief that all the rich people will become sociopathic criminals and collude to take over the world. He recognizes that the banks own the current system but says without government, they’d adapt and take over the stateless system. My question is, when there is nothing to take over, what do you take over? Yes, it’s possible to scam people, but you can only do it so much before you get caught and arrested. Bankers aren’t arrested now because they are protected by… wait for it… the government with the monopoly on law and justice. Donald’s big fancy conclusion is that tacit carte blanche (unrestricted power) becomes explicit carte blanche. Or to put in simpler words, being tricked into obeying a criminal syndicate that harms you becomes purposely obeying and supporting a criminal syndicate that harms you. See the absurdity? When people recognize crime for what it really is, they don’t just turn around and support it while saying, “OH! Well… it’s been going on for this long… YAY! Steal from me first!” When people have the power to choose what is right for them and what isn’t, they have the power to create a society that fits them. Any libertarian should recognize the power and importance of individualism. When you force a system on everyone, most people suffer. When people are allowed to live as they see fit, everyone wins. And that’s the magic bullet of anarcho-capitalism. It allows for government societies, so long as it is not forced. If you think most people want a national army, subject it to the free market and find out. If problems arise because of that, more people will contribute. If the majority wants government, why do you need to force them to make that decision? Why do you need a “social contract” when you can obviously create a real contract that people actually have to sign?

Look at what works. Donald claims that anarcho-capitalism doesn’t do this and instead is based on untested theories. He then complains about Keynesian economics, except by complaining about Mises in the beginning, he’s limited himself and can not talk about Austrian economics which is something at the base of libertarian philosophy. Donald Hank is more interested in complaining about these theories than showing a little curiosity and learning what it is all about. He needs to recognize that he is not an expert and he needs to be open to explanation and correction. Throughout this article I have linked multiple things that have been tried, are being tried and are working. There are many more, but first we must get past this wall of not accepting the philosophy thanks to a few misinformed first steps in learning about it.

Slavery and Conclusions

So, can public officials and bankers today be called anarchists? Considering they don’t support voluntarily-funded competitors, they support taxation, don’t support an open market, don’t support natural law and private law, use politics to their advantage and often speak out for victimless crimes and crimes against the state… I think it is fair to say that they do not fit Donald’s own definition of the anarcho-capitalist society. By saying that a philosophy is everything it stands against Donald Hank shows that he has no real argument against it other than, maybe it wouldn’t last forever. No anarchist wants to enslave you, and if one should ever attempt to do so, defend yourself and make it clear that you and you alone have the right to your body and your property. If the government comes for your income and tells you to pay them for living on their land? Remember they will kill you if you say no too many times because you are nothing but a serf with no ownership. You are a slave to them and owe them your life and production whether you like it or not.