F. A. Harper’s book Liberty: A Path to its Recovery is an attempt to define liberty and a call to reverse the growth of government. Published in 1949, the evils of the state that Harper refers to may seem quaint compared to the economic havoc wreaked by modern governments, but the general principles still apply.
Harper says that, “Liberty exists when a person is free to do whatever he desires, according to his wisdom and conscience.” This is a good definition for freedom, which is often conflated with liberty. Actually, Harper’s discussion of liberty is much more instructive than his actual definition, as he digs into the fact that liberty is related to how people interact and that people who live in solitude have complete liberty:
“If he is prohibited from doing this, by another person or by any combination of persons who are not direct parties to the deal, his liberty is thereby transgressed. And further, it makes no difference, so far as liberty is concerned, under what name the act of prohibition is paraded; or whether it is by a corporation, a cooperative, a labor union, a trade union, the government, or what not.”
Despite the flavor of anarchy in the above quote, Harper explicitly calls for limited government. He simply assumes that limited government produces the “optimal” level of liberty without Continue reading
There’s no capitalism, but anarcho-capitalism.
When I explain anarcho-capitalism to the average person, I usually say that it is a philosophy that combines the peaceful society advocated by libertarianism with the rapid technological progress and high standard of living produced by capitalism.
Saying that anarcho -capitalism produces the most peaceful world, the best technology, and the most wealth is true. However, those are really just the effects of anarcho-capitalism. They are a kind of a hook to show how appealing ancapistan would be, but they do not really explain what it is.
To dig deeper, we need to define two things: freedom and liberty. Continue reading
Libertarianism says that people should not cause conflict. It wants everyone to get along. That’s why the non-aggression principle, which libertarianism is based on, is so simple. It does not tell you how to live your life. It just says not to cause problems in the lives of other people. This rule is great in theory, but not in practice. Not because libertarianism isn’t practical. It is. However, applying the non-aggression principle to everyday situations can be quite difficult.
The reason is that people do many different things each day. They make choices and take chances that can potentially affect the lives of other people. Trying to evaluate whether any particular thing you might do will cause conflict, and thus violate the NAP, could take a long time. Try doing that for everything you might do in a day and you won’t have time to do anything else.
So how do we protect liberty without bringing life to halt? Continue reading
Anarcho-capitalism is a social system that aims to maximize freedom. It does this by combining the peaceful coexistence of libertarianism with the optimal productivity of laissez-faire capitalism. Peace is important because any conflict between people reduces at least one person’s freedom. Productivity is important because every bit of capital that people produce increases someone’s freedom. So to have the best life possible, we want to minimize conflict and maximize capital.
Libertarianism minimizes conflict with one simple rule: do not cause conflict. All other libertarian ideas like “stealing is bad” are derived from this non-aggression principle. The non-aggression principle limits the freedom of individuals by forbidding certain behaviors like theft, murder, etc. Though this rule directly reduces everyone’s freedom, it tends to produce a society with more freedom than a society with no rules at all. You don’t get to kidnap other people but, Continue reading
Freedom is the ability to do whatever want. Unfortunately, there are many things that might get in the way. Gravity prevents you from jumping over buildings like an old-school superman. Poverty could prevent you from travelling to southern Australia to see the little penguins that live there. Your love interest might prevent you from sleeping over even though you sent all of those romantic selfies.
With so many constraints on how you can live, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if one were truly free. You could go anywhere and do anything. You would know everything, if you wanted to. These god-like powers would let you live your life exactly how you want. That is the ideal, so what is the reality?
Humans are nowhere near total freedom, but we have made great progress in improving freedom in some respects. Most prominently, new technology has continually pushed back the limits of nature. Access has improved to food, water, travel, information, and many other things that enable us to live more how we want. Science and technology free us in a very real sense, but they are not the only engines of progress. They are just part of a more general term for this type of freedom called capital. When most people talk about capital, they mean physical goods that allow people to do things: hammers, horses, and houses. Yet, capital can be other things too, like the knowledge of how to build a car, or the organizational structure that allows everyone in town to play soccer together, or the supply chains that keep cities fed every day without a farm in sight.
The relatively pleasant lives that people enjoy today, compared to five hundred years ago, is due primarily to the huge amounts of capital accumulated since then. Continue reading
Pompeii was a wealthy city in Southern Italy until its population was destroyed by the eruption of a neighboring volcano in the year 79 CE. However, the eruption left much of the city intact, and preserved it under several meters of ash. It is slowly being dug out and has become a tourist attraction where people go to see what life was like at the beginning of the common era.
Pompeii was impressive for its orderly neighborhoods, metal water pipes, and some clever civil engineering. It was much smaller, and much less grand, than the city of Rome located a short distance to the north. Yet, in comparison, Pompeii seems to shine as a city that never lived past its prime. Rome, on the other hand, is a shadow of its former glory.
The interesting question, however, is not whether Pompeii would have suffered the same decline as Rome, but why so many civilizations seem to rise and fall with the historical tide. Is it part of human nature that societies must decay? Continue reading
Opponents of libertarianism often ask the following question: if libertarians hate government, why not live somewhere like Antarctica or Somalia? From a very narrow perspective, they have a good point. Anarcho-capitalists could enjoy total liberty by living alone on a deserted island.
However, this would simply be trading one kind of freedom for another. Ancaps want to have freedom from crime, which is called liberty. Yet, they also want freedom from the the constraints of nature. That means technology, wealth, and division of labor in the free market. In a word: capital. If an individual only cared about liberty, any wasteland devoid of people would be paradise. However, ancaps care about capital, too. Hell, it’s in the name.
This is evidenced by the large ancap populations in places like New York City, where taxes are high, the nanny state is only overshadowed by the police state, and the government occasionally kills people for selling cigarettes. They prefer to suffer under the yoke of government and enjoy the high standard of living provided by capitalism. It is not perfect capitalism, but even the hampered market can produce an amazing abundance of prosperity. Continue reading