Market Anarchism as Stigmergic Socialism .pdf
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BradSpangler.Com (n.p., sep. 15, 2006)
<http://bradspangler.com/blog/archives/473> (aug. 22, 2011).
wikipedia entry on Market anarchisM has been ever so slightly bugging Me
for a while, but I’ve not been able to lay my finger upon the matter of
precisely why until now.
Market anarchism is a philosophy opposing the state and favoring trade of private property in markets. Market anarchists
include mutualists and anarcho-capitalists.
Market anarchists include mutualists (such as Proudhon)
and some individualist anarchists (such as Tucker), who supported a market economy and a system of possession based
upon labour and use. As a result of their adherence to the labor
theory of value, they oppose profit.
The term “market anarchism” is also used to describe anarcho-capitalism, a theory which supports a market economy,
but unlike mutualism, does not have a labor theory of value.
86 | Brad spangler
As a result, it has no opposition to profit.
Agorism might be considered a branch of anarcho-capitalism or individualist anarchism/mutualism. It might be considered an attempt to reconcile anarcho-capitalism with individualist anarchism and even the rest of libertarian socialism
After thinking about this a great deal, I’ve come to the conclusion that
the above exaggerates the differences between anarcho-capitalism and
mutualism as ideologies, but not necessarily as movements – an important
distinction to make. As a result, I’d like to review why I believe anarchocapitalism is, in some ways, incorrectly named and why this, in turn, has
resulted in an anarcho-capitalist movement consisting of a large number of
deviationists insufficient in their adherence to their own stated principles.
Once again, we must explore the various definitions of capitalism and
socialism to see why. Why, for instance, is mutualism considered “socialism” while the Rothbardian strain of market anarchist thought is “capitalism”? To understand, let’s first examine the anarcho-capitalist movement as
There are two sharply divided strands of thought within anarcho-capitalism, based on the stated rationale for a market anarchist society – the
natural law/natural rights thought of Murray Rothbard and the utilitarianism of David Friedman. To understand the differences between the two and
why they matter, let’s look at Rothbard’s “Do You Hate The State?”1
The essay explains in Rothbards own words that genuine Rothbardians
are motivated by a passion for pure and simple justice. The state and its allies are understood to be a criminal gang – an ongoing system of theft, oppression, slavery and murder. The thought of the Friedmanites, by contrast,
is a mere intellectual discourse upon what would maximise total prosperity
in a society. Utilitarianism is an academic exercise suitable for economics
textbooks. Such studies are to be welcomed to the extent that they make
justice (i.e. anarchy) more appealing to the amoral and boost our own
confidence in the workability – but to substitute utilitarianism for natural
rights theory within anarcho-capitalism is to quite literally sell out ethical
principle for a mess of pottage.
For whereas the natural-rights libertarian seeking morality and
justice cleaves militantly to pure principle, the utilitarian only
values liberty as an ad hoc expedient. And since expediency
Murray N. Rothbard, “Do You Hate the State?,” Libertarian Forum 10.7
(July 1977): 1+.
Market anarchism as stigmergic socialism | 87
can and does shift with the wind, it will become easy for the
utilitarian in his cool calculus of cost and benefit to plump
for statism in ad hoc case after case, and thus to give principle
Under a strictly utiliatrian view, then, one loses sight of who the enemy
is. Those who unfairly benefit from plunder, as an aggregate, will never
willingly give up on it.
As an aside, the Anarchist FAQ touches on this matter, while insufficiently illuminating it. In a criticism of Friedmanite utilitarianism, Rothbard explains the problem of utilitarianism lacking an anti-state theory of
property (unlike his own natural law approach). The FAQ offers an out
of context excerpt from a passage that appears to give the impression that
Rothbard was arguing in favor of tyranny, when in fact he was doing the exact opposite (in highlighting the shortcomings of the utilitarian approach).
From the FAQ:
Even worse, the possibility that private property can result in
worse violations of individual freedom (at least of workers)
than the state of its citizens was implicitly acknowledged by
Rothbard. He uses as a hypothetical example a country whose
King is threatened by a rising “libertarian” movement. The
King responses by “employ[ing] a cunning stratagem,” namely
he “proclaims his government to be dissolved, but just before
doing so he arbitrarily parcels out the entire land area of his
kingdom to the ‘ownership’ of himself and his relatives.” Rather than taxes, his subjects now pay rent and he can “regulate to
regulate the lives of all the people who presume to live on” his
property as he sees fit. Rothbard then asks:
“Now what should be the reply of the libertarian rebels
to this pert challenge? If they are consistent utilitarians, they
must bow to this subterfuge, and resign themselves to living
under a regime no less despotic than the one they had been
battling for so long. Perhaps, indeed, more despotic, for now
the king and his relatives can claim for themselves the libertarians’ very principle of the absolute right of private property,
an absoluteness which they might not have dared to claim before.” [Op. Cit., pp. 54-5]
So not only does the property owner have the same monopoly of power over a given area as the state, it is more despotic as it is based on the “absolute right of private property”!
88 | Brad spangler
And remember, Rothbard is arguing in favour of “anarcho”capitalism”…
The passage mirrors a passage making the same point in For a New Liberty:
Let us illustrate with a hypothetical example. Suppose that libertarian agitation and pressure has escalated to such a point
that the government and its various branches are ready to
abdicate. But they engineer a cunning ruse. Just before the
government of New York state abdicates it passes a law turning over the entire territorial area of New York to become the
private property of the Rockefeller family. The Massachusetts
legislature does the same for the Kennedy family. And so on
for each state. The government could then abdicate and decree
the abolition of taxes and coercive legislation, but the victorious libertarians would now be confronted with a dilemma. Do
they recognize the new property titles as legitimately private
property? The utilitarians, who have no theory of justice in
property rights, would, if they were consistent with their acceptance of given property titles as decreed by government,
have to accept a new social order in which fifty new satraps
would be collecting taxes in the form of unilaterally imposed
“rent.” The point is that only natural-rights libertarians, only
those libertarians who have a theory of justice in property
titles that does not depend on government decree, could be
in a position to scoff at the new rulers’ claims to have private
property in the territory of the country, and to rebuff these
claims as invalid.
So, that part of the Anarchist FAQ critique would appear to lead to
an inaccurate perception of what Rothbard was arguing for. It applies
to Friedman’s version of anarcho-capitalism, and Rothbard was the one
who first pointed it out – long before the Anarchist FAQ was even
In fact, Rothbard’s natural law theory very much laid an alternative
foundation for understanding of why the distribution of property under
existing capitalism is unjust – because the so-called “property” of the plutocracy is typically unjustly acquired. Natural law theory and the resulting
radically anti-state Rothbardian take on Lockean principles of property can
potentially be expanded upon to offer a framework for the revolutionary
Market anarchism as stigmergic socialism | 89
anti-State redistribution of property – in that state granted title to property
is often a fraudulent perk of the political class.
The only genuine refutation of the Marxian case for revolution,
then, is that capitalists’ property is just rather than unjust, and
that therefore its seizure by workers or by anyone else would
in itself be unjust and criminal. But this means that we must
enter into the question of the justice of property claims, and it
means further that we cannot get away with the easy luxury of
trying to refute revolutionary claims by arbitrarily placing the
mantle of “justice” upon any and all existing property titles.
Such an act will scarcely convince people who believe that they
or others are being grievously oppressed and permanently aggressed against. But this also means that we must be prepared
to discover cases in the world where violent expropriation of
existing property titles will be morally justified, because these
titles are themselves unjust and criminal.
Refer also to Rothbard’s “Confiscation and the Homestead Principle.”
In it, he makes the case for anarcho-syndicalist style worker takeover of
large enterprises that have become mammoth concentrations of capital because of markets being skewed in favor of the corporation by government
favoritism. I believe he only retreated from this position because he did
not see a clear path to revolution and did not trust the state to redistribute
property in an ethical manner. Yet if the matter of who defines the bounds
of property rights is handled in a de-statized manner with open registries
for proerty claims that must stand up to popular approval if those claims
will be of actual use in resolving disputes in a market anarchist “court” (i.e
arbitration) system, such can and should be an organic component of market anarchist revolutionary strategy of the sort Konkin envisioned.
Compare the above with the matter of why mutualism is considered
“socialism.” Mutualism is considered “socialism” because of its foundation
on the labor theory of value. Socialism, however, has never been a mere
intellectual discourse upon why the labor theory of value was supposedly
a superior line of academic thought. Socialism is not and never has been a
“club.” Socialists have always been motivated by a passion for social justice
as best they understand it – which naturally implies that understanding is
capable of being raised to a greater degree of accuracy and sophistication.
The labor theory of value previously provided the chosen theoretical understanding for why and how the lower classes in society were systematically
robbed by the upper classes. That understanding of existing capitalist soci-
90 | Brad spangler
ety as systematic theft (oppression) and speculation about how to achieve
a more just society has, I contend, always been the defining quality of all
It is my contention that Rothbardian anarcho-capitalism is misnamed
because it is actually a variety of socialism, in that it offers an alternative
understanding of existing capitalism (or any other variety of statism) as
systematic theft from the lower classes and envisions a more just society
without that oppression. Rather than depending upon the the labor theory
of value to understand this systematic theft, Rothbardian market anarchism
utilizes natural law theory and Lockean principles of property and selfownership taken to their logical extreme as an alternative framework for
understanding and combating oppression.
I’ll say it – although his cultural roots in the Old Right would, if he
were still alive, admittedly cause him fits to be characterized as such, Murray Rothbard was a visionary socialist. The inconsistencies in Rothbardian
thought derive from Rothbard’s failure to fully develope libertarian class
theory and a theory of revolution – work that was largely completed within
the Rothbardian tradition by Konkin.
Because the market anarchist society would be one in which the matter of systematic theft has been addressed and rectified, market anarchism
(with the exception of Friedmanite utilitarian anarcho-capitalism) is best
understood a new variety of socialism – a stigmergic socialism. Stigmergy is
a fancy word for systems in which a natural order emerges from the individual choices made by the autonomous components of a collective within the
sphere of their own self-sovereignty. To the extent coercion skews markets
by distorting the decisions of those autonomous components (individual
people), it ought to be seen that a truly free market (a completely stigmergic economic system) necessarily implies anarchy, and that any authentic
collectivism is necessarily delineated in its bounds by the the natural rights
of the individuals composing the collective.
In conclusion, lack of adherence to the labor theory of value does not
mean Rothbardian market anarchists are not socialist. The labor theory of
value served as an attempted illumination of the systematic theft the lower
classes have always suffered from under statism. Rothbard’s natural law
theory and radically anti-state version of Lockean property rights theory
serves the same role.
I would suggest, as I have before, that no anarchism is ‘capitalist’ if capitalism is understood as the status quo and that it is oppressive in an economic sense as a result of the monopolization of capital.
Rothbardian market anarchism as a body of theory, particularly as contextually modified by Konkin’s theories of revolution and class, answers the
Market anarchism as stigmergic socialism | 91
social question (i.e. it addresses the problem of ‘capitalism’) and is therefore
just as much a part of the libertarian socialist tradition as Tuckerite/Proudhonian mutualism. In some ways, it’s very nearly the same thing explained
with different rhetoric.
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beholden to fake grants of title to politically favored interests).
We’re socialists. Get over it.
In fact, it could even be argued that we’re “redder” in the sense that having a theory of revolution that Tucker and Proudhon never had makes us a
tad more insurrectionary. Anarcho-socialism is a misnomer. Anarchism (all
of anarchism) is libertarian socialism.
Anarcho-socialism is a misnomer. Anarchism (all of anarchism) is libertarian socialism.
The argument that anarcho-capitalism is not anarchism because it’s
“capitalist” is shown to be wrong once capitalism is properly understood
as state driven monopolization of capital. Rothbardian market anarchism
is socialism because it meets the most basic (and original) definition of
socialism – attempting to answer “the social question.” (It’s actually anticapitalist, and therefore misnamed.)
Most of what we’ve come to see as indicators of socialist thought (hostility to markets & true [labor-based] property rights, pro-state authority –
are actually indicative of a subset of socialist thought that gained influence.
The labor theory of value was simply the leading edge of economic theory
at the time in the 1800’s. Now it’s subjective value theory and the Austrian
school generally. We’re still answering the social question. Our answer is
simple: free the market!
Almost everything post-liberal attempts to answer “the social question.”
The context of this is that the term “the social question” arose as a search
for what was wrong with liberalism (i.e. classical liberalism or minarchism
or libertarianism as conventionally understood in the “small government”
Before liberalism was monarchy and aristocracy – the “ancien regime.”
After the liberal ascendancy of the American and French revolutions, the
mercantilism of state monopoly trading privileges that Adam Smith opposed morphed into state driven monopolization of capital (“capitalism”)
as the industrial revolution swung into high gear.
So, yes, almost everyone except monarchists and minarchists are some
sort of socialists. Wouldn’t the average Ron Paul fan agree that everyone in
92 | Brad spangler
Congress except Ron Paul is a socialist? The point is that after the experiences of the 19th century, any successful political doctrine has to address
the question of what was wrong with liberalism. Let me stress – this is one
important reason why a classical liberal political party will never succeed.
And the US Libertarian Party is a classical liberal political party despite
having anarchists in it, because the nature of electoral politics is such that
anarchists involved with electoral politics are operatively something else –
classical liberals, nominally “democratic” socialists or nominally “progressive” social democrats.
Liberty 6.6 (March 8, 1890): 4.
arMies tHat overlap
BENJAMIN R. TuCKER
TwenTieTh cenTury has been doing a good deal in the way of
definition. Now, definition is very particular business, and it seems to
me that it is not always performed with due care in the Twentieth Century
Take this, for instance: A Socialist is one who believes that each industry
should be coordinated for the mutual benefit of all concerned under a government by physical force.
It is true that writers of reputation have given definitions of Socialism
not differing in any essential from the foregoing – among others, General
Walker. But it has been elaborately proven in these columns that General
Walker is utterly at sea when he talks about either Socialism or Anarchism.
As a matter of fact this definition is fundamentally faulty, and correctly
defines only State Socialism.
An analogous definition in another sphere would be this: Religion is
belief in the Messiahship of Jesus. Supposing this to be a correct definition
of the Christian religion, nonetheless it is manifestly incorrect as a definition of religion itself. The fact that Christianity has overshadowed all other
forms of religion in this part of the world gives it no right to a monopoly
of the religious idea. Similarly, the fact that State Socialism during the last
decade or two has overshadowed other forms of Socialism gives it no right
to a monopoly of the Socialistic idea.
f late the