Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Left-Anarchism: A Dog Chasing Its Own Tail - Part 2

I came across a post on Stephan Kinsella's blog in which he was expressing some frustration with the claims of left-leaning anarchists. As an ANCAP myself, I'll just say some of the responses he was addressing were, at the least, disheartening. It's a shame that most anarchists are of this variety. As I'll continue saying until I'm blue in the face - Less Proudhon and Marx, more Rothbard please!

In any case, there was a single response to his post by an apparently left-leaning anarchist who ultimately exclaimed that the burden was on the Kinsellas of the world to explain why hierarchy, in any context, isn't wrong. Clearly there is a lot more ground to be gained in arguing with people of more mainstream political persuasions. But, I have to admit, many left-libertarians have well-thought-out views - and they generally put up a much much much better fight than those of the mainstream. They make you defend your position on principled ground. And my arguments for my position have become stronger almost solely at the expense of discussions with other anarchists. For that, I'll show some gratitude.

In any case, the oft-displayed contentions of leftist-anarchists regarding "hierarchy" and "authority" left me to think for a pretty good amount of time on what these terms mean and how it relates to Anarcho-Capitalism. I'll admit to you at the drop of a hat that 99% of anything I've ever thought in the political arena - Rothbard had espoused on it earlier at some point. The guy was thorough if anything. But I have a contention with how leftists view hierarchy that I've never really seen touted before. I thought this was as good a place as any to throw it out there:

I think where most traditional anarchists run aground is in conflating conditional association and “rulership” or absolute authority. I’ve never seen another anarcho-capitalist bring this point to the forefront (so if I’m borrowing an idea that’s already out there I apologize for not tipping the proverbial hat) but I’ve thought quite a bit about this point and it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

Let’s say that I invite you over to my house. A condition for entering my house is that you must remove your shoes. It could be said that I’m asserting some kind of “authority” over you – a hierarchy even – in that I’m somehow forcibly telling you what to do. But is this really the case? Some defenders of private property would say yes. But I think this is an oversimplified way to look at things.

I don’t believe, as property owners, we are ever asserting that we have specific rights to make others do whatever we want. You have just as much of a right to wear shoes when you’re in the house as you have when you’re on your own property. Instead, what I’d like to suggest, is that any power that we have is tangential to our own property rights – that, if we do indeed grant that property is a valid concept, we simply have control over who may or may not use that property and no other enforcible powers beyond that. Therefore, any expression of power or authority as such exists only to the extent to which we may withdraw our explicit or implicit consent for others using that property.

So, to get back to the analogy: If I tell you to remove your shoes before entering my house, I’m not claiming some authority over you in that I have some right to tell you what you can and can’t do. On the contrary, my request only has power to the extent that it is an implicit condition upon which you may use my property.

If we were to take such conditional interaction and, as other anarchists often do, conflate it with authority, then it would make a good deal of fairly ambiguous daily interaction immoral. Families, churches, and many other voluntary organizations would seem malicious and predatory under such a notion. In fact it would seem hard to justify trade as being anything other than malign under such a notion. For, if one was asked to shovel snow out of a driveway in exchange for money we could then say that person was being temporarily subjugated to the will of another. We may say, “Clearly this is absurd – the person in question is not being forced to do such a thing. He’s doing it of free will and association.” And such a point couldn’t ring any clearer. In fact, it would ring just as clear and for the same reasons in regards to the removing of your shoes before you enter my house, or in regards to labor being exchanged for wages on the floor of an assembly line.

This is why anarcho-capitalists will forever clash with anarchists of other stripes. Few self-described anarchists seem to be willing to differentiate conditional association with what ANCAPs would describe as “authority” (forced hierarchy), even if those anarchists (according to their own view) willingly subject themselves to many conditional associations in their everyday lives without recognizing them as such. It presents an inherent problem to their ideology, and I believe it’s largely (maybe even subconsciously) why many dismiss private property altogether, or subscribe to the labor theory of value – it’s the result of cognitive dissonance.

Ultimately the distinction is clear. Private property as such is not simply a throwback to a feudal system (as other anarchists often claim) where owners of large tracts of land claim ownership over the lives of serfs. Instead we claim that any such command or power, as it may be perceived, can exist only, and unequivocally, as an expression of property rights -and nothing else. We submit then that all voluntary association, trade, or hierarchy is derived from the ownership of ourselves and willful consent therein – and that, as such, by nature their exhibition cannot be coercive. Even more clearly, the idea of restraining men from such voluntary association would be, by definition, explicitly coercive. In this way the anarcho-capitalist position is clear; free men of free association born out of an inherent ownership of self, labor, and the product thereof, reasoned simply and deductively. In this way, I don’t believe the onus is on Rothbardians to further justify self-ownership and free association. The onus is instead on detractors to explain why men should not own themselves or should be restricted in their associations with other free men.

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