Promoting the two tenets of anarcho-capitalist philosophy can be a difficult balancing act considering the attitudes of most people. Those who believe in capitalism typically despise anarchism for failing to protect big business, and those who believe in anarchism typically revile capitalism. That leaves anarcho-capitalists in the unfortunate situation of having to defend both of their main principles to the other side. It is the anarchist criticism that I would like to take issue with today, the claim that anarcho-capitalists are not anarchists at all.
The argument typically goes something like this, usually spewed from the mouth of an enraged AnCom filming a video in his parents’ basement: “Those filthy anarcho-capitalists are not anarchists because they believe in hierarchy. While AnCaps misinterpret anarchism as solely an opposition to government, it was historically a left-wing philosophy that included opposition to all forms of hierarchy, including capitalism. AnCaps stole our word!”
Aside from the hilarious contradiction of communists treating the word “anarchism” as if it were their private property, there are a few other problems with this argument, the main one being that even the most staunch believers in a horizontal society still participate in hierarchy.
Most anarchist philosophies act like hierarchy is inherently wrong, but provide little evidence as to why. In reality, hierarchy, cannot be avoided. Even the most radical anti-hierarchal anarchist would not want to do away with such relationships as parent and child, or teacher and apprentice. These basic relationships are predicated on the fact that one party, the teacher or parent, has more experience, and therefore has some claim to respect from the other party if they provide them with valuable information they will need in the future. It goes without saying that humans need these things. Children begin life helpless without their parents, and a student’s skills can improve rapidly with the influence of a good teacher. In these situations, an acknowledgement of the hierarchal nature of these relationships is not only harmless, but beneficial. If these hierarchies are beneficial, what differentiates them from the voluntary contract between an employer and employee?
Anti-hierarchal anarchist views resist this reality, and deny it in two main ways. First, they falsely equate every hierarchy to a master-and-slave relationship. Such views pretend that the positive forms of hierarchy shown above are just as bad as the oppressive systems of the state. However, a truly realistic system would only regard hierarchies that achieve their power through threats and violence as oppressive. This would rule out anything voluntary, leaving only slavery, the state, and any organization that sanctions authoritarian power as unacceptable.
Secondly, a truly anti-hierarchal society would insist that you esteem a newborn and an elderly person as the same in experience, and judge the world’s best brain surgeon and the barista who forgets your coffee order as having the same value to society. Without hierarchy, one man could work twice as hard at his job as another, and contribute several times more value to the company, and the two would still be paid the same and be seen as equals. Denying any semblance of hierarchy would mean forcing the naturally unequal masses of humanity to adapt to the lowest common denominator. It would be like pretending it’s perfectly fair to allow Dream Theater to enter a high school battle of the bands, and then accusing the voters of being unfair when they win.
That is the mistake these critics of anarcho-capitalism make. The voluntary hierarchies seen in an anarcho-capitalist system do not exist to oppress those on the lower rungs, they only exist to ensure that those who improve society are paid their worth. Unlike any other anarchist philosophy, anarcho-capitalism accounts for life’s natural tendency towards hierarchy, but holds as one of its key tenets that any use of force to maintain that hierarchy is unjustified. It safeguards against the forced equality that kills work ethic, and provides the natural societal structure that allows any individual to better themselves on their own terms. If anything destroys a society, it is neither capitalism nor anarchism, but a devotion to the false idea that equality is maintained by force.