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Aug 8, 2005 5:03 pm


Thoughts on Sciabarra



Excellent piece Chris. Let me share two thoughts.

1. I tend to call myself a "radical libertarian" as well. I prefer that to "anarchist" or "market anarchist" or even "anarcho-capitalist" for two reasons. One has to do with the rhetorical problems the anarchist label raises, but the other is that whether or not I'm an anarchist depends upon my mood that day. More seriously, I don't think the case for anarchism is completely convincing. My disposition is to accept it but I'm not completely convinced enough to use that label (rhetorical problems aside). Understand, of course, that I think the set of issues where government might be justified is pretty small, hence my comfort with "radical libertarian." The fact that I see myself as a person of the left who happens to believe that markets and other voluntary institutions are the best means to the left's ends also makes me comfortable with the "radical" label. (Having been called a "PC libertarian" and a "neo-conservative," not to mention a fraud and a liar, in the last 48 hours, labels are kind of fun these days.)

2. In my "Comparative Economic Institutions" course, I spend part of a very early class day explaining why I will NOT use the terms "capitalism" and "socialism" in that class (a promise I keep to a large degree). My reasoning is Hayek's - the terms were both invented by those sympathetic to socialism. Moreover, the very terms bias the debate. To add some more meat to Chris's argument, look at the words themselves. "Capitalism" suggests a "belief in capital" and it puts capital as the central organizing principle around which the system is built, or at least around which "the goods are delivered." By contrast, "socialism" suggest a "belief in society as a whole" and puts society as the central organizing principle or recipient of the benefits in that system. I would suggest that both implications are incorrect (i.e., capitalism [truly free markets] doesn't primarily benefit capitalists, and socialism benefits the few at the expense of the many).

More important, though, is that neither term speaks to the institutional arrangements that each system requires. Thus, I prefer the language of "markets" and "planning" to "capitalism" and "socialism." Although these are not without their problems, they have the advantage of allowing us to talk about how social coordination will take place in each system and what varieties of arrangements those fundamental coordination processes might produce. For example, we can talk about markets in which there is worker ownership or not. And with planning, we can talk about the differences between, and challenges facing, democratic planning institutions versus more centralized, autocratic ones. This dichotomy forces us to ask questions about how social coordination takes place and what sorts of institutions forward it. It should lead us to ask "how do/would markets work?" and "how does/would planning work?"

It also gives us room to talk about real world systems as being neither purely markets nor purely planning, and to explore whether the coordination processes can be combined, or whether one will tend to crowd out the other (or at least cause unintended undesirable consequences) when they are significantly mixed. It provides an institutional analytic framework for doing applied work, including exploring economic history.

In any case, Chris's post is right on, both as a question of how to talk to the Left and as a really serious question of how libertarians understand our own worldview.


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Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

It is not "government" per se that is the problem, as Tibor Machan has noted. We can say that a free society with no states has "government" but no states. The question is whether there is a state. A state is an entity that both taxes people and forcibly outlaws competition. There is no reason to say that private justice agencies would have these characteristics. See on this, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Private Production of Defense, http://www.mises.org/journals/scholar/Hoppe.pdf

"You can call it a non-government, but the entity with the most capacity for force is going to BE a government as far as I'm concerned."

But this assumes there is one dominant agency (even then, I would not assume it's going to "be a government" [state]).


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

Horwitz: "I don't think the case for anarchism is completely convincing."

Does there need to be a "case" for anarchy? Anarchy simply means the absence of an institutionalized means of aggression. If one is already against aggression, why does a "case" need to be made that it is good to avoid having an institutionalized source of aggressoin? And if one is not against aggression... to whom is the "case" to be made, and by whom?

Libertarians should not have to be defensive and prove their "contention" that they have rights. If someone wants to attack you, you don't have some obligation to first "prove" your rights; rather, you simply fight back as best you can--hopefully obliterate the uncivilized naked ape who is attacking you. Likewise, the question re anarchy is whether the *statists* have proved their "case" that the state is justified. If the state--which obviously uses aggression--is not shown to be justified, then it is what it appears to be: a mafia that has fooled knaves and dupes into believing it is "legitimate". The person who is NOT fooled has no obligation to "justify" why he is not fooled.


Stephan (K-dog) Kinsella - 7/14/2005

"A case needs to be made because in the real world, states are overwhelmingly preponderant. This is particularly so in industrialized societies, which have never to my knowledge had a functioning anarchy."

Well... I don't see what the argument is here. Murder is prevalent in every country and society on earth. That does not mean a "case" needs to be made by those who oppose murder; rather, the opposite is the case (no pun).

"As to the state employing force, of course it does."

Of course, I said it's an institutionalized source of aggression, not force. Libertarians don't equate aggression with force. We are not pacivists. It is aggression--initiated force--that is prohibited, not all force. Responsive force--force in response to initiated force--is not aggresion.

Campbell: "Your line of argument assumes that defense agencies or protection agencies under free-market anarchy would not themselves be institutionalized sources of aggession. Indeed, that they could not be institutionalized sources of aggression."

I don't think it assumes that at all. I simply say that states, because they necessarily commit aggression, are therefore immoral and unjustified. The recognition of this fact does not imply that a PDA would not be a state--what it implies is that IF a PDA is an institutional source of aggressoin, it is then a state or like a state in that it is immoral and unjustified.

Recognizing that something is aggression and immoral has nothing to do with a prediction about whether it's possible to eradicate it. I can state that all murder is wrong and all murder should stop or be stopped, and this normative proposition is not contradicted by the *fact that* murder will not be completely stopped.

"People who don't already agree with you are most unlikely to grant that assumption."

As I've noted before, libertarians always want for some reason to convert a substantive issue into a question about tactics and strategy--they want to judge a statement's validity or truth by asking whether it's a good strategical argument in the "fight" for liberty. I don't know if you are doing this, but it seems like you're hinting at it.


Jason Kuznicki - 2/6/2005

1. Calling a government a mafia is not an argument. It is merely a slur, and I do not feel the need to respond to it.

2. When there is not a dominant agency, there is almost inevitably civil war: How else do you expect multiple agencies all employing force to compete with each other--if not by force?


M.D. Fulwiler - 2/6/2005

The mafia employs both retributive and initiatory force all the time, but if possible I would move it toward only the first type.

... the entity with the most capacity for force is going to BE a mafia as far as I'm concerned. After that, the only question is whether it is a good or a bad mafia.


Jason Kuznicki - 2/5/2005

When I wrote "force," do note that I did not write "initiatory force."

The state employs both retributive and initiatory force all the time, but if possible I would move it toward only the first type.

Robert Campbell's analysis of anarcho-capitalism above more or less sums up what I believe of it too: You can call it a non-government, but the entity with the most capacity for force is going to BE a government as far as I'm concerned. After that, the only question is whether it is a good or a bad government.


Robert L. Campbell - 2/5/2005

Stephan,

Your line of argument assumes that defense agencies or protection agencies under free-market anarchy would not themselves be institutionalized sources of aggession. Indeed, that they >i>could</i> not be institutionalized sources of aggression.

People who don't already agree with you are most unlikely to grant that assumption.

Robert Campbell



Jason Kuznicki - 2/5/2005

"If one is already against aggression, why does a "case" need to be made that it is good to avoid having an institutionalized source of aggressoin?"

A case needs to be made because in the real world, states are overwhelmingly preponderant. This is particularly so in industrialized societies, which have never to my knowledge had a functioning anarchy.

As to the state employing force, of course it does. Certain people are always going to be more inclined to force than others, and the state is a clever device for making them fight against one another--state versus mafia, state versus gangs, state versus terrorists. Without the state, those who incline toward force would perhaps join one of these other institutions. The state is a two-way check on violence, and that's another reason why I think it's worth keeping.


Jason Kuznicki - 2/5/2005

Historically, it is preposterous to say that statism is an early mistake of liberalism--as if any bona fide theory of anarchism existed in the days of Grotius, Hobbes, and Locke. It just didn't happen that way. Liberalism has almost always contained a theory of the state in some form, and anarchists have generally considered this a fundamental difference between themselves and liberals.

You may argue that anarchism is preferable to statism--and even to a minarchist liberalism--but that's quite another issue.


John T. Kennedy - 2/4/2005

Statism is an early mistake of liberalism, but that doesn't make it the core.


Jude D Blanchette - 2/4/2005

I completely agree with Dr. Horwitz on both counts. However, I think there must be a much firmer distinction between the terms "anarchist" and "libertarian." Libertarianism as a doctrine is simply the extension of liberalism. At its core, it holds a belief in the state, albeit an aggressively limited one. This is in distinction with anarchism (or anarcho-capitalism, or market anarchism, etc.). While there is certainly a fair amount of agreement between the two groups, they are two distinct concepts and for the purpose of verbal clarity, there should be a strict delineation.

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