What It Means To Be an Anarcho-Capitalist
            by N. Stephan Kinsella

            Butler Shaffer's recent LRC article, What is Anarchy?,
prompted discussion on the Reason blog and inspired me to set down a
few ideas I've also had along these lines.

            Libertarian opponents of anarchy are attacking a straw
man. Their arguments are usually utilitarian in nature and amount to
"but anarchy won't work" or "we need the (things provided by the)
state." But these attacks are confused at best, if not disingenuous.
To be an anarchist does not mean you think anarchy will "work"
(whatever that means); nor that you predict it will or "can" be
achieved. It is possible to be a pessimistic anarchist, after all. To
be an anarchist only means that you believe that aggression is not
justified, and that states necessarily employ aggression. And,
therefore, that states, and the aggression they necessarily employ,
are unjustified. It's quite simple, really. It's an ethical view, so
no surprise it confuses utilitarians.

            Accordingly, anyone who is not an anarchist must maintain
either: (a) aggression is justified; or (b) states (in particular,
minimal states) do not necessarily employ aggression.

            Proposition (b) is plainly false. States always tax their
citizens, which is a form of aggression. They always outlaw competing
defense agencies, which also amounts to aggression. (Not to mention
the countless victimless crime laws that they inevitably, and without
a single exception in history, enforce on the populace. Why
minarchists think minarchy is even possible boggles the mind.)

            As for (a), well, socialists and criminals also feel
aggression is justified. This does not make it so. Criminals,
socialists, and anti-anarchists have yet to show how aggression - the
initiation of force against innocent victims - is justified. No
surprise; it is not possible to show this. But criminals don't feel
compelled to justify aggression; why should advocates of the state
feel compelled to do so?

            Conservative and minarchist-libertarian criticism of
anarchy on the grounds that it won't "work" or is not "practical" is
just confused. Anarchists don't (necessarily) predict anarchy will be
achieved - I for one don't think it will. But that does not mean
states are justified.

            Consider an analogy. Conservatives and libertarians all
agree that private crime (murder, robbery, rape) is unjustified, and
"should" not occur. Yet no matter how good most men become, there will
always be at least some small element who will resort to crime. Crime
will always be with us. Yet we still condemn crime and work to reduce

            Is it logically possible that there could be no crime?
Sure. Everyone could voluntarily choose to respect others' rights.
Then there would be no crime. It's easy to imagine. But given our
experience with human nature and interaction, it is safe to say that
there will always be crime. Nevertheless, we still proclaim crime to
be evil and unjustified, in the face of the inevitability of its
recurrence. So to my claim that crime is immoral, it would just be
stupid and/or insincere to reply, "but that's an impractical view" or
"but that won't work," "since there will always be crime." The fact
that there will always be crime - that not everyone will voluntarily
respect others' rights - does not mean that it's "impractical" to
oppose it; nor does it mean that crime is justified. It does not mean
there is some "flaw" in the proposition that crime is wrong.

            Likewise, to my claim that the state and its aggression is
unjustified, it is disingenuous and/or confused to reply, "anarchy won
't work" or is "impractical" or "unlikely to ever occur."1 The view
that the state is unjustified is a normative or ethical position. The
fact that not enough people are willing to respect their neighbors'
rights to allow anarchy to emerge, i.e., the fact that enough people
(erroneously) support the legitimacy of the state to permit it to
exist, does not mean that the state, and its aggression, are

            Other utilitarian replies like "but we need a state" do
not contradict the claim that states employ aggression and that
aggression is unjustified. It simply means that the state-advocate
does not mind the initiation of force against innocent victims - i.e.,
he shares the criminal/socialist mentality. The private criminal
thinks his own need is all that matters; he is willing to commit
violence to satisfy his needs; to hell with what is right and wrong.
The advocate of the state thinks that his opinion that "we" "need"
things justifies committing or condoning violence against innocent
individuals. It is as plain as that. Whatever this argument is, it is
not libertarian. It is not opposed to aggression. It is in favor of
something else - making sure certain public "needs" are met, despite
the cost - but not peace and cooperation. The criminal, gangster,
socialist, welfare-statist, and even minarchist all share this: they
are willing to condone naked aggression, for some reason. The details
vary, but the result is the same - innocent lives are trampled by
physical assault. Some have the stomach for this; others are more
civilized - libertarian, one might say - and prefer peace over violent

            As there are criminals and socialists among us, it is no
surprise that there is a degree of criminal-mindedness in most people.
After all, the state rests upon the tacit consent of the masses, who
have erroneously accepted the notion that states are legitimate. But
none of that means the criminal enterprises condoned by the masses are

            It's time for libertarians to take a stand. Are you for
aggression, or against it?


              1.. Another point: in my view, we are about as likely to
achieve minarchy as we are to achieve anarchy. I.e., both are remote
possibilities. What is striking is that almost every criticism of
"impracticality" that minarchist hurl at anarchy is also true of
minarchy itself. Both are exceedingly unlikely. Both require massive
changes in views among millions of people. Both rest on presumptions
that most people simply don't care much about.
              2.. Though the case for anarchy does not depend on its
likelihood or "feasibility," any more than the case against private
crime depends on there never being any acts of crime, anarchy is
clearly possible. There is anarchy among nations, for example. There
is also anarchy within government, as pointed out in the seminal and
neglected JLS article by Alfred G. Cuz�n, "Do We Ever Really Get Out
of Anarchy?" Cuz�n argues that even the government itself is in
anarchy, internally - the President does not literally force others in
government to obey his comments, after all; they obey them
voluntarily, due to a recognized, hierarchical structure. Government's
(political) anarchy is not a good anarchy, but it demonstrates anarchy
is possible - indeed, that we never really get out of it. And Shaffer
makes the insightful point that we are in "anarchy" with our
neighbors. If most people did not already have the character to
voluntarily respect most of their neighbors' rights, society and
civilization would be impossible. Most people are good enough to
permit civilization to occur, despite the existence of some degree of
public and private crime. It is conceivable that the degree of
goodness could rise - due to education or more universal economic
prosperity, say - sufficient to make support for the legitimacy of
states evaporate. It's just very unlikely.
            January 20, 2004

            Stephan Kinsella [send him mail] is an attorney in
Houston. His website is

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