For "anarcho"-capitalists, the concept of freedom is limited to the idea of "freedom from." For them, freedom means simply freedom from the "initiation of force," or the "non-aggression against anyone's person and property." [Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty, p. 23] The notion that real freedom must combine both freedom "to" and freedom "from" is missing in their ideology, as is the social context of the so-called freedom they defend.
Before starting, it is useful to quote Alan Haworth when he notes that "[i]n fact, it is surprising how little close attention the concept of freedom receives from libertarian writers. Once again Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a case in point. The word 'freedom' doesn't even appear in the index. The word 'liberty' appears, but only to refer the reader to the 'Wilt Chamberlain' passage. In a supposedly 'libertarian' work, this is more than surprising. It is truly remarkable." [Anti-Libertarianism, p. 95]
Why this is the case can be seen from how the "anarcho"-capitalist defines freedom.
In a right-libertarian or "anarcho"-capitalist society, freedom is considered to be a product of property. As Murray Rothbard puts it, "the libertarian defines the concept of 'freedom' or 'liberty'. . .[as a] condition in which a person's ownership rights in his body and his legitimate material property rights are not invaded, are not aggressed against. . . . Freedom and unrestricted property rights go hand in hand." [Op. Cit., p.41]
This definition has some problems, however. In such a society, one cannot (legitimately) do anything with or on another's property if the owner prohibits it. This means that an individual's only guaranteed freedom is determined by the amount of property that he or she owns. This has the consequence that someone with no property has no guaranteed freedom at all (beyond, of course, the freedom not to be murdered or otherwise harmed by the deliberate acts of others). In other words, a distribution of property is a distribution of freedom, as the right-libertarians themselves define it. It strikes anarchists as strange that an ideology that claims to be committed to promoting freedom entails the conclusion that some people should be more free than others. However, this is the logical implication of their view, which raises a serious doubt as to whether "anarcho"-capitalists are actually interested in freedom.
Looking at Rothbard's definition of "liberty" quoted above, we can see that freedom is actually no longer considered to be a fundamental, independent concept. Instead, freedom is a derivative of something more fundamental, namely the "legitimate rights" of an individual, which are identified as property rights. In other words, given that "anarcho"-capitalists and right libertarians in general consider the right to property as "absolute," it follows that freedom and property become one and the same. This suggests an alternative name for the right Libertarian, namely "Propertarian." And, needless to say, if we do not accept the right-libertarians' view of what constitutes "legitimate" "rights," then their claim to be defenders of liberty is weak.
Another important implication of this "liberty as property" concept is that it produces a strangely alienated concept of freedom. Liberty, as we noted, is no longer considered absolute, but a derivative of property -- which has the important consequence that you can "sell" your liberty and still be considered free by the ideology. This concept of liberty (namely "liberty as property") is usually termed "self-ownership." But, to state the obvious, I do not "own" myself, as if were an object somehow separable from my subjectivity -- I am myself. However, the concept of "self-ownership" is handy for justifying various forms of domination and oppression -- for by agreeing (usually under the force of circumstances, we must note) to certain contracts, an individual can "sell" (or rent out) themselves to others (for example, when workers sell their labour power to capitalists on the "free market"). In effect, "self-ownership" becomes the means of justifying treating people as objects -- ironically, the very thing the concept was created to stop! As L. Susan Brown notes, "[a]t the moment an individual 'sells' labour power to another, he/she loses self-determination and instead is treated as a subjectless instrument for the fulfilment of another's will." [The Politics of Individualism, p. 4]
Given that workers are paid to obey, you really have to wonder which planet Murray Rothbard is on when he argues that a person's "labour service is alienable, but his will is not" and that he [sic!] "cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 40, p. 135] He contrasts private property and self-ownership by arguing that "[a]ll physical property owned by a person is alienable . . . I can give away or sell to another person my shoes, my house, my car, my money, etc. But there are certain vital things which, in natural fact and in the nature of man, are inalienable . . . [his] will and control over his own person are inalienable." [Op. Cit., pp. 134-5]
But "labour services" are unlike the private possessions Rothbard lists as being alienable. As we argued in section B.1 ("Why do anarchists oppose hierarchy") a person's "labour services" and "will" cannot be divided -- if you sell your labour services, you also have to give control of your body and mind to another person! If a worker does not obey the commands of her employer, she is fired. That Rothbard denies this indicates a total lack of common-sense. Perhaps Rothbard will argue that as the worker can quit at any time she does not alienate their will (this seems to be his case against slave contracts -- see section 2.6). But this ignores the fact that between the signing and breaking of the contract and during work hours (and perhaps outside work hours, if the boss has mandatory drug testing or will fire workers who attend union or anarchist meetings or those who have an "unnatural" sexuality and so on) the worker does alienate his will and body. In the words of Rudolf Rocker, "under the realities of the capitalist economic form . . . there can be no talk of a 'right over one's own person,' for that ends when one is compelled to submit to the economic dictation of another if he does not want to starve." [Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 17]
Ironically, the rights of property (which are said to flow from an individual's self-ownership of themselves) becomes the means, under capitalism, by which self-ownership of non-property owners is denied. The foundational right (self-ownership) becomes denied by the derivative right (ownership of things). Under capitalism, a lack of property can be just as oppressive as a lack of legal rights because of the relationships of domination and subjection this situation creates.
So Rothbard's argument (as well as being contradictory) misses the point (and the reality of capitalism). Yes, if we define freedom as "the absence of coercion" then the idea that wage labour does not restrict liberty is unavoidable, but such a definition is useless. This is because it hides structures of power and relations of domination and subordination. As Carole Pateman argues, "the contract in which the worker allegedly sells his labour power is a contract in which, since he cannot be separated from his capacities, he sells command over the use of his body and himself. . . To sell command over the use of oneself for a specified period . . . is to be an unfree labourer." [The Sexual Contract, p. 151]
In other words, contracts about property in the person inevitably create subordination. "Anarcho"-capitalism defines this source of unfreedom away, but it still exists and has a major impact on people's liberty. Therefore freedom is better described as "self-government" or "self-management" -- to be able to govern ones own actions (if alone) or to participate in the determination of join activity (if part of a group). Freedom, to put it another way, is not an abstract legal concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all their powers, capacities, and talents which nature has endowed them. A key aspect of this is to govern one own actions when within associations (self-management). If we look at freedom this way, we see that coercion is condemned but so is hierarchy (and so is capitalism for during working hours, people are not free to make their own plans and have a say in what affects them. They are order takers, not free individuals).
It is because anarchists have recognised the authoritarian nature of capitalist firms that they have opposed wage labour and capitalist property rights along with the state. They have desired to replace institutions structured by subordination with institutions constituted by free relationships (based, in other words, on self-management) in all areas of life, including economic organisations. Hence Proudhon's argument that the "workmen's associations . . . are full of hope both as a protest against the wage system, and as an affirmation of reciprocity" and that their importance lies "in their denial of the rule of capitalists, money lenders and governments." [The General Idea of the Revolution, pp. 98-99]
Unlike anarchists, the "anarcho"-capitalist account of freedom allows an individual's freedom to be rented out to another while maintaining that the person is still free. It may seem strange that an ideology proclaiming its support for liberty sees nothing wrong with the alienation and denial of liberty but, in actual fact, it is unsurprising. After all, contract theory is a "theoretical strategy that justifies subjection by presenting it as freedom" and nothing more. Little wonder, then, that contract "creates a relation of subordination" and not of freedom [Carole Pateman, Op. Cit., p. 39, p. 59]
Any attempt to build an ethical framework starting from the abstract individual (as Rothbard does with his "legitimate rights" method) will result in domination and oppression between people, not freedom. Indeed, Rothbard provides an example of the dangers of idealist philosophy that Bakunin warned about when he argued that while "[m]aterialism denies free will and ends in the establishment of liberty; idealism, in the name of human dignity, proclaims free will, and on the ruins of every liberty founds authority." [God and the State, p. 48] This is the case with "anarcho"-capitalism can be seen from Rothbard's wholehearted support for wage labour and the rules imposed by property owners on those who use, but do not own, their property. Rothbard, basing himself on abstract individualism, cannot help but justify authority over liberty.
Overall, we can see that the logic of the right-libertarian definition of "freedom" ends up negating itself, because it results in the creation and encouragement of authority, which is an opposite of freedom. For example, as Ayn Rand points out, "man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave." [The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z, pp. 388-9] But, as was shown in section C, capitalism is based on, as Proudhon put it, workers working "for an entrepreneur who pays them and keeps their products," and so is a form of theft. Thus, by "libertarian" capitalism's own logic, capitalism is based not on freedom, but on (wage) slavery; for interest, profit and rent are derived from a worker's unpaid labour, i.e. "others dispose of his [sic] product."
And if a society is run on the wage- and profit-based system suggested by the "anarcho" and "libertarian" capitalists, freedom becomes a commodity. The more money you have, the more freedom you get. Then, since money is only available to those who earn it, Libertarianism is based on that classic saying "work makes one free!" (Arbeit macht frei!), which the Nazis placed on the gates of their concentration camps. Of course, since it is capitalism, this motto is somewhat different for those at the top. In this case it is "other people's work makes one free!" -- a truism in any society based on private property and the authority that stems from it.
Thus it is debatable that a libertarian or "anarcho" capitalist society would have less unfreedom or coercion in it than "actually existing capitalism." In contrast to anarchism, "anarcho"-capitalism, with its narrow definitions, restricts freedom to only a few aspects of social life and ignores domination and authority beyond those aspects. As Peter Marshall points out, the right-libertarian's "definition of freedom is entirely negative. It calls for the absence of coercion but cannot guarantee the positive freedom of individual autonomy and independence." [Demanding the Impossible, p. 564] By confining freedom to such a narrow range of human action, "anarcho"-capitalism is clearly not a form of anarchism. Real anarchists support freedom in every aspect of an individual's life.
The change from defending liberty to defending (property) rights has important implications. For one thing, it allows right libertarians to imply that private property is similar to a "fact of nature," and so to conclude that the restrictions on freedom produced by it can be ignored. This can be seen in Robert Nozick's argument that decisions are voluntary if the limitations on one's actions are not caused by human action which infringe the rights of others. Thus, in a "pure" capitalist society the restrictions on freedom caused by wage slavery are not really restrictions because the worker voluntarily consents to the contract. The circumstances that drive a worker to make the contract are irrelevant because they are created by people exercising their rights and not violating other peoples' ones (see the section on "Voluntary Exchange" in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 262-265).
This means that within a society "[w]hether a person's actions are voluntary depends on what limits his alternatives. If facts of nature do so, the actions are voluntary. (I may voluntarily walk to someplace I would prefer to fly to unaided)." [Anarchy, State, and Utopia, p. 262] Similarly, the results of voluntary actions and the transference of property can be considered alongside the "facts of nature" (they are, after all, the resultants of "natural rights"). This means that the circumstances created by the existence and use of property can be considered, in essence, as a "natural" fact and so the actions we take in response to these circumstances are therefore "voluntary" and we are "free" (Nozick presents the example [p. 263] of someone who marries the only available person -- all the more attractive people having already chosen others -- as a case of an action that is voluntary despite removal of all but the least attractive alternative through the legitimate actions of others. Needless to say, the example can be -- and is -- extended to workers on the labour market -- although, of course, you do not starve to death if you decide not to marry).
However, such an argument fails to notice that property is different from gravity or biology. Of course not being able to fly does not restrict freedom. Neither does not being able to jump 10 feet into the air. But unlike gravity (for example), private property has to be protected by laws and the police. No one stops you from flying, but laws and police forces must exist to ensure that capitalist property (and the owners' authority over it) is respected. The claim, therefore, that private property in general, and capitalism in particular, can be considered as "facts of nature," like gravity, ignores an important fact: namely that the people involved in an economy must accept the rules of its operation -- rules that, for example, allow contracts to be enforced; forbid using another's property without his or her consent ("theft," trespass, copyright infringement, etc.); prohibit "conspiracy," unlawful assembly, rioting, and so on; and create monopolies through regulation, licensing, charters, patents, etc. This means that capitalism has to include the mechanisms for deterring property crimes as well as mechanisms for compensation and punishment should such crimes be committed. In other words, capitalism is in fact far more than "voluntary bilateral exchange," because it must include the policing, arbitration, and legislating mechanisms required to ensure its operation. Hence, like the state, the capitalist market is a social institution, and the distributions of goods that result from its operation are therefore the distributions sanctioned by a capitalist society. As Benjamin Franklin pointed out, "Private property . . . is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society."
Thus, to claim with Sir Isaiah Berlin (the main, modern, source of the concepts of "negative" and "positive" freedom -- although we must add that Berlin was not a right-Libertarian), that "[i]f my poverty were a kind of disease, which prevented me from buying bread . . . as lameness prevents me from running, this inability would not naturally be described as a lack of freedom" totally misses the point ["Two Concepts of Liberty", in Four Essays on Liberty, p. 123]. If you are lame, police officers do not come round to stop you running. They do not have to. However, they are required to protect property against the dispossessed and those who reject capitalist property rights.
This means that by using such concepts as "negative" liberty and ignoring the social nature of private property, right-libertarians are trying to turn the discussion away from liberty toward "biology" and other facts of nature. And conveniently, by placing property rights alongside gravity and other natural laws, they also succeed in reducing debate even about rights.
Of course, coercion and restriction of liberty can be resisted, unlike "natural forces" like gravity. So if, as Berlin argues, "negative" freedom means that you "lack political freedom only if you are prevented from attaining a goal by human beings," then capitalism is indeed based on such a lack, since property rights need to be enforced by human beings ("I am prevented by others from doing what I could otherwise do"). After all, as Proudhon long ago noted, the market is manmade, hence any constraint it imposes is the coercion of man by man and so economic laws are not as inevitable as natural ones [see Alan Ritter's The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, p. 122]. Or, to put it slightly differently, capitalism requires coercion in order to work, and hence, is not similar to a "fact of nature," regardless of Nozick's claims (i.e. property rights have to be defined and enforced by human beings, although the nature of the labour market resulting from capitalist property definitions is such that direct coercion is usually not needed). This implication is actually recognised by right-libertarians, because they argue that the rights-framework of society should be set up in one way rather than another. In other words, they recognise that society is not independent of human interaction, and so can be changed.
Perhaps, as seems the case, the "anarcho"-capitalist or right-Libertarian will claim that it is only deliberate acts which violate your (libertarian defined) rights by other humans beings that cause unfreedom ("we define freedom . . . as the absence of invasion by another man of an man's person or property" [Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, p. 41]) and so if no-one deliberately coerces you then you are free. In this way the workings of the capitalist market can be placed alongside the "facts of nature" and ignored as a source of unfreedom. However, a moments thought shows that this is not the case. Both deliberate and non-deliberate acts can leave individuals lacking freedom.
Let us assume (in an example paraphrased from Alan Haworth's excellent book Anti-Libertarianism, p. 49) that someone kidnaps you and places you down a deep (naturally formed) pit, miles from anyway, which is impossible to climb up. No one would deny that you are unfree. Let us further assume that another person walks by and accidentally falls into the pit with you.
According to right-libertarianism, while you are unfree (i.e. subject to deliberate coercion) your fellow pit-dweller is perfectly free for they have subject to the "facts of nature" and not human action (deliberate or otherwise). Or, perhaps, they "voluntarily choose" to stay in the pit, after all, it is "only" the "facts of nature" limiting their actions. But, obviously, both of you are in exactly the same position, have exactly the same choices and so are equally unfree! Thus a definition of "liberty" that maintains that only deliberate acts of others -- for example, coercion -- reduces freedom misses the point totally.
Why is this example important? Let us consider Murray Rothbard's analysis of the situation after the abolition of serfdom in Russia and slavery in America. He writes:
"The bodies of the oppressed were freed, but the property which they had worked and eminently deserved to own, remained in the hands of their former oppressors. With economic power thus remaining in their hands, the former lords soon found themselves virtual masters once more of what were now free tenants or farm labourers. The serfs and slaves had tasted freedom, but had been cruelly derived of its fruits." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 74]
However, contrast this with Rothbard's claims that if market forces ("voluntary exchanges") result in the creation of free tenants or labourers then these labourers and tenants are free (see, for example, The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 221-2 on why "economic power" within capitalism does not exist). But the labourers dispossessed by market forces are in exactly the same situation as the former serfs and slaves. Rothbard sees the obvious "economic power" in the later case, but denies it in the former. But the conditions of the people in question are identical and it is these conditions that horrify us. It is only his ideology that stops Rothbard drawing the obvious conclusion -- identical conditions produce identical social relationships and so if the formally "free" ex-serfs are subject to "economic power" and "masters" then so are the formally "free" labourers within capitalism! Both sets of workers may be formally free, but their circumstances are such that they are "free" to "consent" to sell their freedom to others (i.e. economic power produces relationships of domination and unfreedom between formally free individuals).
Thus Rothbard's definition of liberty in terms of rights fails to provide us with a realistic and viable understanding of freedom. Someone can be a virtual slave while still having her rights non-violated (conversely, someone can have their property rights violated and still be free; for example, the child who enters your backyard without your permission to get her ball hardly violates your liberty -- indeed, you would never know that she has entered your property unless you happened to see her do it). So the idea that freedom means non-aggression against person and their legitimate material property justifies extensive non-freedom for the working class. The non-violation of property rights does not imply freedom, as Rothbard's discussion of the former slaves shows. Anyone who, along with Rothbard, defines freedom "as the absence of invasion by another man of any man's person or property" in a deeply inequality society is supporting, and justifying, capitalist and landlord domination. As anarchists have long realised, in an unequal society, a contractarian starting point implies an absolutist conclusion.
Why is this? Simply because freedom is a result of social interaction, not the product of some isolated, abstract individual (Rothbard uses the model of Robinson Crusoe to construct his ideology). But as Bakunin argued, "the freedom of the individual is a function of men in society, a necessary consequence of the collective development of mankind." He goes on to argue that "man in isolation can have no awareness of his liberty . . . Liberty is therefore a feature not of isolation but of interaction, not of exclusion but rather of connection." [Selected Writings, p. 146, p. 147] Right Libertarians, by building their definition of freedom from the isolated person, end up by supporting restrictions of liberty due to a neglect of an adequate recognition of the actual interdependence of human beings, of the fact what each person does is effected by and affects others. People become aware of their humanity (liberty) in society, not outside it. It is the social relationships we take part in which determine how free we are and any definition of freedom which builds upon an individual without social ties is doomed to create relations of domination, not freedom, between individuals -- as Rothbard's theory does (to put it another way, voluntary association is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for freedom. Which is why anarchists have always stressed the importance of equality -- see section 3 for details).
So while facts of nature can restrict your options and freedom, it is the circumstances within which they act and the options they limit that are important (a person trapped at the bottom of a pit is unfree as the options available are so few; the lame person is free because their available options are extensive). In the same manner, the facts of society can and do restrict your freedom because they are the products of human action and are defined and protected by human institutions, it is the circumstances within which individuals make their decisions and the social relationships these decisions produce that are important (the worker driven by poverty to accept a slave contract in a sweat shop is unfree because the circumstances he faces have limited his options and the relations he accepts are based upon hierarchy; the person who decides to join an anarchist commune is free because the commune is non-hierarchical and she has the option of joining another commune, working alone and so forth).
All in all, the right-Libertarian concept of freedom is lacking. For an ideology that takes the name "Libertarianism" it is seems happy to ignore actual liberty and instead concentrate on an abstract form of liberty which ignores so many sources of unfreedom as to narrow the concept until it becomes little more than a justification for authoritarianism. This can be seen from right-Libertarian attitudes about private property and its effects on liberty (as discussed in the next section).
The right-libertarian does not address or even acknowledge that the (absolute) right of private property may lead to extensive control by property owners over those who use, but do not own, property (such as workers and tenants). Thus a free-market capitalist system leads to a very selective and class-based protection of "rights" and "freedoms." For example, under capitalism, the "freedom" of employers inevitably conflicts with the "freedom" of employees. When stockholders or their managers exercise their "freedom of enterprise" to decide how their company will operate, they violate their employee's right to decide how their labouring capacities will be utilised. In other words, under capitalism, the "property rights" of employers will conflict with and restrict the "human right" of employees to manage themselves. Capitalism allows the right of self-management only to the few, not to all. Or, alternatively, capitalism does not recognise certain human rights as universal which anarchism does.
This can be seen from Austrian Economist W. Duncan Reekie's defence of wage labour. While referring to "intra-firm labour markets" as "hierarchies", Reekie (in his best ex cathedra tone) states that "[t]here is nothing authoritarian, dictatorial or exploitative in the relationship. Employees order employers to pay them amounts specified in the hiring contract just as much as employers order employees to abide by the terms of the contract." [Markets, Entrepreneurs and Liberty, p. 136, p. 137]. Given that "the terms of contract" involve the worker agreeing to obey the employers orders and that they will be fired if they do not, its pretty clear that the ordering that goes on in the "intra-firm labour market" is decidedly one way. Bosses have the power, workers are paid to obey. And this begs the question, if the employment contract creates a free worker, why must she abandon her liberty during work hours?
Reekie actually recognises this lack of freedom in a "round about" way when he notes that "employees in a firm at any level in the hierarchy can exercise an entrepreneurial role. The area within which that role can be carried out increases the more authority the employee has." [Op. Cit., p. 142] Which means workers are subject to control from above which restricts the activities they are allowed to do and so they are not free to act, make decisions, participate in the plans of the organisation, to create the future and so forth within working hours. And it is strange that while recognising the firm as a hierarchy, Reekie tries to deny that it is authoritarian or dictatorial -- as if you could have a hierarchy without authoritarian structures or an unelected person in authority who is not a dictator. His confusion is shared by Austrian guru Ludwig von Mises, who asserts that the "entrepreneur and capitalist are not irresponsible autocrats" because they are "unconditionally subject to the sovereignty of the consumer" while, on the next page, admitting there is a "managerial hierarchy" which contains "the average subordinate employee." [Human Action, p. 809 and p. 810] It does not enter his mind that the capitalist may be subject to some consumer control while being an autocrat to their subordinated employees. Again, we find the right-"libertarian" acknowledging that the capitalist managerial structure is a hierarchy and workers are subordinated while denying it is autocratic to the workers! Thus we have "free" workers within a relationship distinctly lacking freedom (in the sense of self-government) -- a strange paradox. Indeed, if your personal life were as closely monitored and regulated as the work life of millions of people across the world, you would rightly consider it oppression.
Perhaps Reekie (like most right-libertarians) will maintain that workers voluntarily agree ("consent") to be subject to the bosses dictatorship (he writes that "each will only enter into the contractual agreement known as a firm if each believes he will be better off thereby. The firm is simply another example of mutually beneficial exchange" [Op. Cit., p. 137]). However, this does not stop the relationship being authoritarian or dictatorial (and so exploitative as it is highly unlikely that those at the top will not abuse their power). And as we argue further in the next section (and also see sections B.4, 3.1 and 10.2), in a capitalist society workers have the option of finding a job or facing abject poverty and/or starvation.
Little wonder, then, that people "voluntarily" sell their labour and "consent" to authoritarian structures! They have little option to do otherwise. So, within the labour market, workers can and do seek out the best working conditions possible, but that does not mean that the final contract agreed is "freely" accepted and not due to the force of circumstances, that both parties have equal bargaining power when drawing up the contract or that the freedom of both parties is ensured. Which means to argue (as many right-libertarians do) that freedom cannot be restricted by wage labour because people enter into relationships they consider will lead to improvements over their initial situation totally misses the points. As the initial situation is not considered relevant, their argument fails. After all, agreeing to work in a sweatshop 14 hours a day is an improvement over starving to death -- but it does not mean that those who so agree are free when working there or actually want to be there. They are not and it is the circumstances, created and enforced by the law, that have ensured that they "consent" to such a regime (given the chance, they would desire to change that regime but cannot as this would violate their bosses property rights and they would be repressed for trying).
So the right-wing "libertarian" right is interested only in a narrow concept of freedom (rather than in "freedom" or "liberty" as such). This can be seen in the argument of Ayn Rand (a leading ideologue of "libertarian" capitalism) that "Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state -- and nothing else!" [Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 192] By arguing in this way, right libertarians ignore the vast number of authoritarian social relationships that exist in capitalist society and, as Rand does here, imply that these social relationships are like "the laws of nature." However, if one looks at the world without prejudice but with an eye to maximising freedom, the major coercive institution is seen to be not the state but capitalist social relationships (as indicated in section B.4).
The right "libertarian," then, far from being a defender of freedom, is in fact a keen defender of certain forms of authority and domination. As Peter Kropotkin noted, the "modern Individualism initiated by Herbert Spencer is, like the critical theory of Proudhon, a powerful indictment against the dangers and wrongs of government, but its practical solution of the social problem is miserable -- so miserable as to lead us to inquire if the talk of 'No force' be merely an excuse for supporting landlord and capitalist domination." [Act For Yourselves, p. 98]
To defend the "freedom" of property owners is to defend authority and privilege -- in other words, statism. So, in considering the concept of liberty as "freedom from," it is clear that by defending private property (as opposed to possession) the "anarcho"-capitalist is defending the power and authority of property owners to govern those who use "their" property. And also, we must note, defending all the petty tyrannies that make the work lives of so many people frustrating, stressful and unrewarding.
However, anarchism, by definition, is in favour of organisations and social relationships which are non-hierarchical and non-authoritarian. Otherwise, some people are more free than others. Failing to attack hierarchy leads to massive contradiction. For example, since the British Army is a volunteer one, it is an "anarchist" organisation! (see next section for a discussion on why the "anarcho"-capitalism concept of freedom also allows the state to appear "libertarian").
In other words, "full capitalist property rights" do not protect freedom, in fact they actively deny it. But this lack of freedom is only inevitable if we accept capitalist private property rights. If we reject them, we can try and create a world based on freedom in all aspects of life, rather than just in a few.
Ironically enough, "anarcho"-capitalist ideology actually allows the state to be justified along with capitalist hierarchy. This is because the reason why capitalist authority is acceptable to the "anarcho"-capitalist is because it is "voluntary" -- no one forces the worker to join or remain within a specific company (force of circumstances are irrelevant in this viewpoint). Thus capitalist domination is not really domination at all. But the same can be said of all democratic states as well. Few such states bar exit for its citizens -- they are free to leave at any time and join any other state that will have them (exactly as employees can with companies). Of course there are differences between the two kinds of authority -- anarchists do not deny that -- but the similarities are all too clear.
The "anarcho"-capitalist could argue that changing jobs is easier than changing states and, sometimes, this is correct -- but not always. Yes, changing states does require the moving of home and possessions over great distances but so can changing job (indeed, if a worker has to move half-way across a country or even the world to get a job "anarcho"-capitalists would celebrate this as an example of the benefits of a "flexible" labour market). Yes, states often conscript citizens and send them into dangerous situations but bosses often force their employees to accept dangerous working environments on pain of firing. Yes, many states do restrict freedom of association and speech, but so do bosses. Yes, states tax their citizens but landlords and companies only let others use their property if they get money in return (i.e. rent or profits). Indeed, if the employee or tenant does not provide the employer or landlord with enough profits, they will quickly be shown the door. Of course employees can start their own companies but citizens can start their own state if they convince an existing state (the owner of a set of resources) to sell/give land to them. Setting up a company also requires existing owners to sell/give resources to those who need them. Of course, in a democratic state citizens can influence the nature of laws and orders they obey. In a capitalist company, this is not the case.
This means that, logically, "anarcho"-capitalism must consider a series of freely exitable states as "anarchist" and not a source of domination. If consent (not leaving) is what is required to make capitalist domination not domination then the same can be said of statist domination. Stephen L. Newman makes the same point:
"The emphasis [right-wing] libertarians place on the opposition of liberty and political power tends to obscure the role of authority in their worldview . . . the authority exercised in private relationships, however -- in the relationship between employer and employee, for instance -- meets with no objection. . . . [This] reveals a curious insensitivity to the use of private authority as a means of social control. Comparing public and private authority, we might well ask of the [right-wing] libertarians: When the price of exercising one's freedom is terribly high, what practical difference is there between the commands of the state and those issued by one's employer? . . . Though admittedly the circumstances are not identical, telling disgruntled empowers that they are always free to leave their jobs seems no different in principle from telling political dissidents that they are free to emigrate." [Liberalism at Wit's End, pp. 45-46]
Murray Rothbard, in his own way, agrees:
"If the State may be said too properly own its territory, then it is proper for it to make rules for everyone who presumes to live in that area. It can legitimately seize or control private property because there is no private property in its area, because it really owns the entire land surface. So long as the State permits its subjects to leave its territory, then, it can be said to act as does any other owner who sets down rules for people living on his property." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 170]
Rothbard's argues that this is not the case simply because the state did not acquire its property in a "just" manner and that it claims rights over virgin land (both of which violates Rothbard's "homesteading" theory of property -- see section 4.1 for details and a critique). Rothbard argues that this defence of statism (the state as property owner) is unrealistic and ahistoric, but his account of the origins of property is equally unrealistic and ahistoric and that does not stop him supporting capitalism. People in glass houses should not throw stones!
Thus he claims that the state is evil and its claims to authority/power false simply because it acquired the resources it claims to own "unjustly" -- for example, by violence and coercion (see The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 170-1, for Rothbard's attempt to explain why the state should not be considered as the owner of land). And even if the state was the owner of its territory, it cannot appropriate virgin land (although, as he notes elsewhere, the "vast" US frontier no longer exists "and there is no point crying over the fact" [Op. Cit., p. 240]).
So what makes hierarchy legitimate for Rothbard is whether the property it derives from was acquired justly or unjustly. Which leads us to a few very important points.
Firstly, Rothbard is explicitly acknowledging the similarities between statism and capitalism. He is arguing that if the state had developed in a "just" way, then it is perfectly justifiable in governing ("set[ting] down rules") those who "consent" to live on its territory in exactly the same why a property owner does. In other words, private property can be considered as a "justly" created state! These similarities between property and statism have long been recognised by anarchists and that is why we reject private property along with the state (Proudhon did, after all, note that "property is despotism" and well as "theft"). But, according to Rothbard, something can look like a state (i.e. be a monopoly of decision making over an area) and act like a state (i.e. set down rules for people, govern them, impose a monopoly of force) but not be a state. But if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it is a duck. Claiming that the origins of the thing are what counts is irrelevant -- for example, a cloned duck is just as much a duck as a naturally born one. A statist organisation is authoritarian whether it comes from "just" or "unjust" origins. Does transforming the ownership of the land from states to capitalists really make the relations of domination created by the dispossession of the many less authoritarian and unfree? Of course not.
Secondly, much property in "actually existing" capitalism is the product (directly or indirectly) of state laws and violence ("the emergence of both agrarian and industrial capitalism in Britain [and elsewhere, we must add] . . . could not have got off the ground without resources to state violence -- legal or otherwise" [Brian Morris, Ecology & Anarchism, p. 190]). If state claims of ownership are invalid due to their history, then so are many others (particularly those which claim to own land). As the initial creation was illegitimate, so are the transactions which have sprung from it. Thus if state claims of property rights are invalid, so are most (if not all) capitalist claims. If the laws of the state are illegitimate, so are the rules of the capitalist. If taxation is illegitimate, then so are rent, interest and profit. Rothbard's "historical" argument against the state can also be applied to private property and if the one is unjustified, then so is the other.
Thirdly, if the state had evolved "justly" then Rothbard would actually have nothing against it! A strange position for an anarchist to take. Logically this means that if a system of corporate states evolved from the workings of the capitalist market then the "anarcho"-capitalist would have nothing against it. This can be seen from "anarcho"-capitalist support for company towns even though they have correctly been described as "industrial feudalism" (see section 6 for more on this).
Fourthly, Rothbard's argument implies that similar circumstances producing similar relationships of domination and unfreedom are somehow different if they are created by "just" and "unjust" means. Rothbard claims that because the property is "justly" acquired it means the authority a capitalist over his employees is totally different from that of a state over its subject. But such a claim is false -- both the subject/citizen and the employee are in a similar relationship of domination and authoritarianism. As we argued in section 2.2, how a person got into a situation is irrelevant when considering how free they are. Thus, the person who "consents" to be governed by another because all available resources are privately owned is in exactly the same situation as a person who has to join a state because all available resources are owned by one state or another. Both are unfree and are part of authoritarian relationships based upon domination.
And, lastly, while "anarcho"-capitalism may be a "just" society, it is definitely not a free one. It will be marked by extensive hierarchy, unfreedom and government, but these restrictions of freedom will be of a private nature. As Rothbard indicates, the property owner and the state create/share the same authoritarian relationships. If statism is unfree, then so is capitalism. And, we must add, how "just" is a system which undermines liberty. Can "justice" ever be met in a society in which one class has more power and freedom than another. If one party is in an inferior position, then they have little choice but to agree to the disadvantageous terms offered by the superior party (see section 3.1). In such a situation, a "just" outcome will be unlikely as any contract agreed will be skewed to favour one side over the other.
The implications of these points are important. We can easily imagine a situation within "anarcho"-capitalism where a few companies/people start to buy up land and form company regions and towns. After all, this has happened continually throughout capitalism. Thus a "natural" process may develop where a few owners start to accumulate larger and larger tracks of land "justly". Such a process does not need to result in one company owning the world. It is likely that a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand, could do so. But this is not a cause for rejoicing -- after all the current "market" in "unjust" states also has a few hundred competitors in it. And even if there is a large multitude of property owners, the situation for the working class is exactly the same as the citizen under current statism! Does the fact that it is "justly" acquired property that faces the worker really change the fact she must submit to the government and rules of another to gain access to the means of life?
When faced with anarchist criticisms that circumstances force workers to accept wage slavery the "anarcho"-capitalist claims that these are to be considered as objective facts of nature and so wage labour is not domination. However, the same can be said of states -- we are born into a world where states claim to own all the available land. If states are replaced by individuals or groups of individuals does this change the essential nature of our dispossession? Of course not.
Rothbard argues that "[o]bviously, in a free society, Smith has the ultimate decision-making power over his own just property, Jones over his, etc." [Op. Cit., p. 173] and, equally obviously, this ultimate-decision making power extends to those who use, but do not own, such property. But how "free" is a free society where the majority have to sell their liberty to another in order to live? Rothbard (correctly) argues that the State "uses its monopoly of force . . . to control, regulate, and coerce its hapless subjects. Often it pushes its way into controlling the morality and the very lives of its subjects." [Op. Cit., p. 171] However he fails to note that employers do exactly the same thing to their employees. This, from an anarchist perspective, is unsurprising, for (after all) the employer is "the ultimate decision-making power over his just property" just as the state is over its "unjust" property. That similar forms of control and regulation develop is not a surprise given the similar hierarchical relations in both structures.
That there is a choice in available states does not make statism any less unjust and unfree. Similarly, just because we have a choice between employers does not make wage labour any less unjust or unfree. But trying to dismiss one form of domination as flowing from "just" property while attacking the other because it flows from "unjust" property is not seeing the wood for the trees. If one reduces liberty, so does the other. Whether the situation we are in resulted from "just" or "unjust" steps is irrelevant to the restrictions of freedom we face because of them (and as we argue in section 2.5, "unjust" situations can easily flow from "just" steps).
The "anarcho"-capitalist insistence that the voluntary nature of an association determines whether it is anarchistic is deeply flawed -- so flawed in fact that states and state-like structures (such as capitalist firms) can be considered anarchistic! In contrast, anarchists think that the hierarchical nature of the associations we join is equally as important as its voluntary nature when determining whether it is anarchistic or statist. However this option is not available to the "anarcho"-capitalist as it logically entails that capitalist companies are to be opposed along with the state as sources of domination, oppression and exploitation.
Of course, it is usually maintained by "anarcho"-capitalists that no-one puts a gun to a worker's head to join a specific company. Yes, indeed, this is true -- workers can apply for any job they like. But the point is that the vast majority cannot avoid having to sell their liberty to others (self-employment and co-operatives are an option, but they account for less than 10% of the working population and are unlikely to spread due to the nature of capitalist market forces -- see sections J.5.11 and J.5.12 for details). And as Bob Black pointed out, right libertarians argue that "'one can at least change jobs.' but you can't avoid having a job -- just as under statism one can at least change nationalities but you can't avoid subjection to one nation-state or another. But freedom means more than the right to change masters." [The Libertarian as Conservative]
So why do workers agree to join a company? Because circumstances force them to do so - circumstances created, we must note, by human actions and institutions and not some abstract "fact of nature." And if the world that humans create by their activity is detrimental to what we should value most (individual liberty and individuality) then we should consider how to change that world for the better. Thus "circumstances" (current "objective reality") is a valid source of unfreedom and for human investigation and creative activity -- regardless of the claims of right-Libertarians.
Let us look at the circumstances created by capitalism. Capitalism is marked by a class of dispossessed labourers who have nothing to sell by their labour. They are legally barred from access to the means of life and so have little option but to take part in the labour market. As Alexander Berkman put it:
"The law says your employer does not sell anything from you, because it is done with your consent. You have agreed to work for your boss for certain pay, he to have all that you produce . . .
"But did you really consent?
"When the highway man holds his gun to your head, you turn your valuables over to him. You 'consent' all right, but you do so because you cannot help yourself, because you are compelled by his gun.
"Are you not compelled to work for an employer? Your need compels you just as the highwayman's gun. You must live. . . You can't work for yourself . . .The factories, machinery, and tools belong to the employing class, so you must hire yourself out to that class in order to work and live. Whatever you work at, whoever your employer may be, it is always comes to the same: you must work for him. You can't help yourself. You are compelled." [What is Communist Anarchism?, p. 9]
Due to this class monopoly over the means of life, workers (usually) are at a disadvantage in terms of bargaining power -- there are more workers than jobs (see sections B.4.3 and 10.2 for a discussion why this is the normal situation on the labour market).
As was indicated in section B.4 (How does capitalism affect liberty?), within capitalism there is no equality between owners and the dispossessed, and so property is a source of power. To claim that this power should be "left alone" or is "fair" is "to the anarchists. . . preposterous. Once a State has been established, and most of the country's capital privatised, the threat of physical force is no longer necessary to coerce workers into accepting jobs, even with low pay and poor conditions. To use Ayn Rand's term, 'initial force' has already taken place, by those who now have capital against those who do not. . . . In other words, if a thief died and willed his 'ill-gotten gain' to his children, would the children have a right to the stolen property? Not legally. So if 'property is theft,' to borrow Proudhon's quip, and the fruit of exploited labour is simply legal theft, then the only factor giving the children of a deceased capitalist a right to inherit the 'booty' is the law, the State. As Bakunin wrote, 'Ghosts should not rule and oppress this world, which belongs only to the living'" [Jeff Draughn, Between Anarchism and Libertarianism].
Or, in other words, right-Libertarianism fails to "meet the charge that normal operations of the market systematically places an entire class of persons (wage earners) in circumstances that compel them to accept the terms and conditions of labour dictated by those who offer work. While it is true that individuals are formally free to seek better jobs or withhold their labour in the hope of receiving higher wages, in the end their position in the market works against them; they cannot live if they do not find employment. When circumstances regularly bestow a relative disadvantage on one class of persons in their dealings with another class, members of the advantaged class have little need of coercive measures to get what they want." [Stephen L. Newman, Liberalism at Wit's End, p. 130]
To ignore the circumstances which drive people to seek out the most "beneficial exchange" is to blind yourself to the power relationships inherent within capitalism -- power relationships created by the unequal bargaining power of the parties involved (also see section 3.1). And to argue that "consent" ensures freedom is false; if you are "consenting" to be join a dictatorial organisation, you "consent" not to be free (and to paraphrase Rousseau, a person who renounces freedom renounces being human).
Which is why circumstances are important -- if someone truly wants to join an authoritarian organisation, then so be it. It is their life. But if circumstances ensure their "consent" then they are not free. The danger is, of course, that people become accustomed to authoritarian relationships and end up viewing them as forms of freedom. This can be seen from the state, which the vast majority support and "consent" to. And this also applies to wage labour, which many workers today accept as a "necessary evil" (like the state) but, as we indicate in section 8.6, the first wave of workers viewed with horror as a form of (wage) slavery and did all that they could to avoid. In such situations all we can do is argue with them and convince them that certain forms of organisations (such as the state and capitalist firms) are an evil and urge them to change society to ensure their extinction.
So due to this lack of appreciation of circumstances (and the fact that people become accustomed to certain ways of life) "anarcho"-capitalism actively supports structures that restrict freedom for the many. And how is "anarcho"-capitalism anarchist if it generates extensive amounts of archy? It is for this reason that all anarchists support self-management within free association -- that way we maximise freedom both inside and outside organisations. But only stressing freedom outside organisations, "anarcho"-capitalism ends up denying freedom as such (after all, we spend most of our waking hours at work). If "anarcho"-capitalists really desired freedom, they would reject capitalism and become anarchists -- only in a libertarian socialist society would agreements to become a wage worker be truly voluntary as they would not be driven by circumstances to sell their liberty.
This means that while right-Libertarianism appears to make "choice" an ideal (which sounds good, liberating and positive) in practice it has become a "dismal politics," a politics of choice where most of the choices are bad. And, to state the obvious, the choices we are "free" to make are shaped by the differences in wealth and power in society (see section 3.1) as well as such things as "isolation paradoxes" (see section B.6) and the laws and other human institutions that exist. If we ignore the context within which people make their choices then we glorify abstract processes at the expense of real people. And, as importantly, we must add that many of the choices we make under capitalism (shaped as they are by the circumstances within which they are made), such as employment contracts, result in our "choice" being narrowed to "love it or leave it" in the organisations we create/join as a result of these "free" choices.
This ideological blind spot flows from the "anarcho"-capitalist definition of "freedom" as "absence of coercion" -- as workers "freely consent" to joining a specific workplace, their freedom is unrestricted. But to defend only "freedom from" in a capitalist society means to defend the power and authority of the few against the attempts of the many to claim their freedom and rights. To requote Emma Goldman, "'Rugged individualism' has meant all the 'individualism' for the masters . . . , in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues' while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom . . . is denounced as . . . evil in the name of that same individualism." [Red Emma Speaks, p. 112]
In other words, its all fine and well saying (as right-libertarians do) that you aim to abolish force from human relationships but if you support an economic system which creates hierarchy (and so domination and oppression) by its very workings, "defensive" force will always be required to maintain and enforce that domination. Moreover, if one class has extensive power over another due to the systematic (and normal) workings of the market, any force used to defend that power is automatically "defensive". Thus to argue against the use of force and ignore the power relationships that exist within and shape a society (and so also shape the individuals within it) is to defend and justify capitalist and landlord domination and denounce any attempts to resist that domination as "initiation of force."
Anarchists, in contrast, oppose hierarchy (and so domination within relationships -- bar S&M personal relationships, which are a totally different thing altogether; they are truly voluntary and they also do not attempt to hide the power relationships involved by using economic jargon). This opposition, while also including opposition to the use of force against equals (for example, anarchists are opposed to forcing workers and peasants to join a self-managed commune or syndicate), also includes support for the attempts of those subject to domination to end it (for example, workers striking for union recognition are not "initiating force", they are fighting for their freedom).
In other words, apparently "voluntary" agreements can and do limit freedom and so the circumstances that drive people into them must be considered when deciding whether any such limitation is valid. By ignoring circumstances, "anarcho"-capitalism ends up by failing to deliver what it promises -- a society of free individuals -- and instead presents us with a society of masters and servants. The question is, what do we feel moved to insist that people enjoy? Formal, abstract (bourgeois) self-ownership ("freedom") or a more substantive control over one's life (i.e. autonomy)?
It is often argued by right-libertarians that the circumstances we face within capitalism are the result of individual decisions (i.e. individual liberty) and so we must accept them as the expressions of these acts (the most famous example of this argument is in Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia pp. 161-163 where he maintains that "liberty upsets patterns"). This is because whatever situation evolves from a just situation by just (i.e. non-coercive steps) is also (by definition) just.
However, it is not apparent that adding just steps to a just situation will result in a just society. We will illustrate with a couple of banal examples. If you add chemicals which are non-combustible together you can create a new, combustible, chemical (i.e. X becomes not-X by adding new X to it). Similarly, if you have an odd number and add another odd number to it, it becomes even (again, X becomes not-X by adding a new X to it). So it is very possible to go from an just state to an unjust state by just step (and it is possible to remain in an unjust state by just acts; for example if we tried to implement "anarcho"-capitalism on the existing -- unjustly created -- situation of "actually existing" capitalism it would be like having an odd number and adding even numbers to it). In other words, the outcome of "just" steps can increase inequality within society and so ensure that some acquire an unacceptable amount of power over others, via their control over resources. Such an inequality of power would create an "unjust" situation where the major are free to sell their liberty to others due to inequality in power and resources on the "free" market.
Ignoring this objection, we could argue (as many "anarcho"-capitalists and right-libertarians do) that the unforeseen results of human action are fine unless we assume that these human actions are in themselves bad (i.e. that individual choice is evil).
Such an argument is false for three reasons.
First, when we make our choices the aggregate impact of these choices are unknown to us -- and not on offer when we make our choices. Thus we cannot be said to "choose" these outcomes, outcomes which we may consider deeply undesirable, and so the fact that these outcomes are the result of individual choices is besides the point (if we knew the outcome we could refrain from doing them). The choices themselves, therefore, do not validate the outcome as the outcome was not part of the choices when they where made (i.e. the means do not justify the ends). In other words, private acts often have important public consequences (and "bilateral exchanges" often involve externalities for third parties). Secondly, if the outcome of individual choices is to deny or restrict individual choice on a wider scale at a later stage, then we are hardly arguing that individual choice is a bad thing. We want to arrange it so that the decisions we make now do not result in them restricting our ability to make choices in important areas of life at a latter stage. Which means we are in favour of individual choices and so liberty, not against them. Thirdly, the unforeseen or unplanned results of individual actions are not necessarily a good thing. If the aggregate outcome of individual choices harms individuals then we have a right to modify the circumstances within which choices are made and/or the aggregate results of these choices.
An example will show what we mean (again drawn from Haworth's excellent Anti-Libertarianism, p. 35). Millions of people across the world bought deodorants which caused a hole to occur in the ozone layer surrounding the Earth. The resultant of these acts created a situation in which individuals and the eco-system they inhabited were in great danger. The actual acts themselves were by no means wrong, but the aggregate impact was. A similar argument can apply to any form of pollution. Now, unless the right-Libertarian argues that skin cancer or other forms of pollution related illness are fine, its clear that the resultant of individual acts can be harmful to individuals.
The right-Libertarian could argue that pollution is an "initiation of force" against an individual's property-rights in their person and so individuals can sue the polluters. But hierarchy also harms the individual (see section B.1) -- and so can be considered as an infringement of their "property-rights" (i.e. liberty, to get away from the insane property fetish of right-Libertarianism). The loss of autonomy can be just as harmful to an individual as lung cancer although very different in form. And the differences in wealth resulting from hierarchy is well known to have serious impacts on life-span and health.
As noted in section 2.1, the market is just as man-made as pollution. This means that the "circumstances" we face are due to aggregate of millions of individual acts and these acts occur within a specific framework of rights, institutions and ethics. Anarchists think that a transformation of our society and its rights and ideals is required so that the resultant of individual choices does not have the ironic effect of limiting individual choice (freedom) in many important ways (such as in work, for example).
In other words, the circumstances created by capitalist rights and institutions requires a transformation of these rights and institutions in such a way as to maximise individual choice for all -- namely, to abolish these rights and replace them with new ones (for example, replace property rights with use rights). Thus Nozick's claims that "Z does choose voluntarily if the other individuals A through Y each acted voluntarily and within their rights" [Op. Cit., p. 263] misses the point -- it is these rights that are in question (given that Nozick assumes these rights then his whole thesis is begging the question).
And we must add (before anyone points it out) that, yes, we are aware that many decisions will unavoidably limit current and future choices. For example, the decision to build a factory on a green-belt area will make it impossible for people to walk through the woods that are no longer there. But such "limitations" (if they can be called that) of choice are different from the limitations we are highlighting here, namely the lose of freedom that accompanies the circumstances created via exchange in the market. The human actions which build the factory modify reality but do not generate social relationships of domination between people in so doing. The human actions of market exchange, in contrast, modify the relative strengths of everyone in society and so has a distinct impact on the social relationships we "voluntarily" agree to create. Or, to put it another way, the decision to build on the green-belt site does "limit" choice in the abstract but it does not limit choice in the kind of relationships we form with other people nor create authoritarian relationships between people due to inequality influencing the content of the associations we form. However, the profits produced from using the factory increases inequality (and so market/economic power) and so weakens the position of the working class in respect to the capitalist class within society. This increased inequality will be reflected in the "free" contracts and working regimes that are created, with the weaker "trader" having to compromise far more than before.
So, to try and defend wage slavery and other forms of hierarchy by arguing that "circumstances" are created by individual liberty runs aground on its own logic. If the circumstances created by individual liberty results in pollution then the right-Libertarian will be the first to seek to change those circumstances. They recognise that the right to pollute while producing is secondary to our right to be healthy. Similarly, if the circumstances created by individual liberty results in hierarchy (pollution of the mind and our relationships with others as opposed to the body, although it affects that to) then we are entitled to change these circumstances too and the means by which we get there (namely the institutional and rights framework of society). Our right to liberty is more important than the rights of property -- sadly, the right-Libertarian refuses to recognise this.
Yes. It may come as a surprise to many people, but right-Libertarianism is one of the few political theories that justifies slavery. For example, Robert Nozick asks whether "a free system would allow [the individual] to sell himself into slavery" and he answers "I believe that it would." [Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 371] While some right-Libertarians do not agree with Nozick, there is no logical basis in their ideology for such disagreement.
The logic is simple, you cannot really own something unless you can sell it. Self-ownership is one of the cornerstones of laissez-faire capitalist ideology. Therefore, since you own yourself you can sell yourself.
(For Murray Rothbard's claims of the "unenforceability, in libertarian theory, of voluntary slave contracts" see The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 134-135 -- of course, other libertarian theorists claim the exact opposite so "libertarian theory" makes no such claims, but nevermind! Essentially, his point revolves around the assertion that a person "cannot, in nature, sell himself into slavery and have this sale enforced - for this would mean that his future will over his own body was being surrendered in advance" and that if a "labourer remains totally subservient to his master's will voluntarily, he is not yet a slave since his submission is voluntary." [p. 40] However, as we noted in section 2, Rothbard emphasis on quitting fails to recognise that actual denial of will and control over ones own body that is explicit in wage labour. It is this failure that pro-slave contract "libertarians" stress -- as we will see, they consider the slave contract as an extended wage contract. Moreover, a modern slave contract would likely take the form of a "performance bond" [p. 136] in which the slave agrees to perform X years labour or pay their master substantial damages. The threat of damages that enforces the contract and such a "contract" Rothbard does agree is enforceable -- along with "conditional exchange" [p. 141] which could be another way of creating slave contracts.)
Nozick's defence of slavery should not come as a surprise to any one familiar with classical liberalism. An elitist ideology, its main rationale is to defend the liberty and power of property owners and justify unfree social relationships (such as government and wage labour) in terms of "consent." Nozick just takes it to its logical conclusion, a conclusion which Rothbard, while balking at the label used, does not actually disagree with.
This is because Nozick's argument is not new but, as with so many others, can be found in John Locke's work. The key difference is that Locke refused the term "slavery" and favoured "drudgery" as, for him, slavery mean a relationship "between a lawful conqueror and a captive" where the former has the power of life and death over the latter. Once a "compact" is agreed between them, "an agreement for a limited power on the one side, and obedience on the other . . . slavery ceases." As long as the master could not kill the slave, then it was "drudgery." Like Nozick, he acknowledges that "men did sell themselves; but, it is plain, this was only to drudgery, not to slavery: for, it is evident, the person sold was not under an absolute, arbitrary, despotical power: for the master could not have power to kill him, at any time, whom, at a certain time, he was obliged to let go free out of his service." [Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Section 24] In other words, like Rothbard, voluntary slavery was fine but just call it something else.
Not that Locke was bothered by involuntary slavery. He was heavily involved in the slave trade. He owned shares in the "Royal Africa Company" which carried on the slave trade for England, making a profit when he sold them. He also held a significant share in another slave company, the "Bahama Adventurers." In the "Second Treatise", Locke justified slavery in terms of "Captives taken in a just war." [Section 85] In other words, a war waged against aggressors. That, of course, had nothing to do with the actual slavery Locke profited from (slave raids were common, for example). Nor did his "liberal" principles stop him suggesting a constitution that would ensure that "every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his Negro slaves." The constitution itself was typically autocratic and hierarchical, designed explicitly to "avoid erecting a numerous democracy." [The Works of John Locke, vol. X, p. 196]
So the notion of contractual slavery has a long history within right-wing liberalism, although most refuse to call it by that name. It is of course simply embarrassment that stops Rothbard calling a spade a spade. He incorrectly assumes that slavery has to be involuntary. In fact, historically, voluntary slave contracts have been common (David Ellerman's Property and Contract in Economics has an excellent overview). Any new form of voluntary slavery would be a "civilised" form of slavery and could occur when an individual would "agree" to sell themselves to themselves to another (as when a starving worker would "agree" to become a slave in return for food). In addition, the contract would be able to be broken under certain conditions (perhaps in return for breaking the contract, the former slave would have pay damages to his or her master for the labour their master would lose - a sizeable amount no doubt and such a payment could result in debt slavery, which is the most common form of "civilised" slavery. Such damages may be agreed in the contract as a "performance bond" or "conditional exchange").
In summary, right-Libertarians are talking about "civilised" slavery (or, in other words, civil slavery) and not forced slavery. While some may have reservations about calling it slavery, they agree with the basic concept that since people own themselves they can sell themselves as well as selling their labour for a lifetime.
We must stress that this is no academic debate. "Voluntary" slavery has been a problem in many societies and still exists in many countries today (particularly third world ones where bonded labour -- i.e. where debt is used to enslave people -- is the most common form). With the rise of sweat shops and child labour in many "developed" countries such as the USA, "voluntary" slavery (perhaps via debt and bonded labour) may become common in all parts of the world -- an ironic (if not surprising) result of "freeing" the market and being indifferent to the actual freedom of those within it.
And it is interesting to note that even Murray Rothbard is not against the selling of humans. He argued that children are the property of their parents. They can (bar actually murdering them by violence) do whatever they please with them, even sell them on a "flourishing free child market." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 102] Combined with a whole hearted support for child labour (after all, the child can leave its parents if it objects to working for them) such a "free child market" could easily become a "child slave market" -- with entrepreneurs making a healthy profit selling infants to other entrepreneurs who could make profits from the toil of "their" children (and such a process did occur in 19th century Britain). Unsurprisingly, Rothbard ignores the possible nasty aspects of such a market in human flesh (such as children being sold to work in factories, homes and brothels). And, of course, such a market could see women "specialising" in producing children for it (the use of child labour during the Industrial Revolution actually made it economically sensible for families to have more children) and, perhaps, gluts and scarcities of babies due to changing market conditions. But this is besides the point.
Of course, this theoretical justification for slavery at the heart of an ideology calling itself "libertarianism" is hard for many right-Libertarians to accept. Some of the "anarcho"-capitalist type argue that such contracts would be very hard to enforce in their system of capitalism. This attempt to get out of the contradiction fails simply because it ignores the nature of the capitalist market. If there is a demand for slave contracts to be enforced, then companies will develop to provide that "service" (and it would be interesting to see how two "protection" firms, one defending slave contracts and another not, could compromise and reach a peaceful agreement over whether slave contracts were valid). Thus we could see a so-called "anarchist" or "free" society producing companies whose specific purpose was to hunt down escaped slaves (i.e. individuals in slave contracts who have not paid damages to their owners for freedom). Of course, perhaps Rothbard would claim that such slave contracts would be "outlawed" under his "general libertarian law code" but this is a denial of market "freedom". If slave contracts are "banned" then surely this is paternalism, stopping individuals from contracting out their "labour services" to whom and however long they "desire". You cannot have it both ways.
So, ironically, an ideology proclaiming itself to support "liberty" ends up justifying and defending slavery. Indeed, for the right-libertarian the slave contract is an exemplification, not the denial, of the individual's liberty! How is this possible? How can slavery be supported as an expression of liberty? Simple, right-Libertarian support for slavery is a symptom of a deeper authoritarianism, namely their uncritical acceptance of contract theory. The central claim of contract theory is that contract is the means to secure and enhance individual freedom. Slavery is the antithesis to freedom and so, in theory, contract and slavery must be mutually exclusive. However, as indicated above, some contract theorists (past and present) have included slave contracts among legitimate contracts. This suggests that contract theory cannot provide the theoretical support needed to secure and enhance individual freedom. Why is this?
As Carole Pateman argues, "contract theory is primarily about a way of creating social relations constituted by subordination, not about exchange." Rather than undermining subordination, contract theorists justify modern subjection -- "contract doctrine has proclaimed that subjection to a master -- a boss, a husband -- is freedom." [The Sexual Contract, p. 40 and p. 146] The question central to contract theory (and so right-Libertarianism) is not "are people free" (as one would expect) but "are people free to subordinate themselves in any manner they please." A radically different question and one only fitting to someone who does not know what liberty means.
Anarchists argue that not all contracts are legitimate and no free individual can make a contract that denies his or her own freedom. If an individual is able to express themselves by making free agreements then those free agreements must also be based upon freedom internally as well. Any agreement that creates domination or hierarchy negates the assumptions underlying the agreement and makes itself null and void. In other words, voluntary government is still government and the defining chararacteristic of an anarchy must be, surely, "no government" and "no rulers."
This is most easily seen in the extreme case of the slave contract. John Stuart Mill stated that such a contract would be "null and void." He argued that an individual may voluntarily choose to enter such a contract but in so doing "he abdicates his liberty; he foregoes any future use of it beyond that single act. He therefore defeats, in his own case, the very purpose which is the justification of allowing him to dispose of himself. . .The principle of freedom cannot require that he should be free not to be free. It is not freedom, to be allowed to alienate his freedom." He adds that "these reasons, the force of which is so conspicuous in this particular case, are evidently of far wider application." [quoted by Pateman, Op. Cit., pp. 171-2]
And it is such an application that defenders of capitalism fear (Mill did in fact apply these reasons wider and unsurprisingly became a supporter of a market syndicalist form of socialism). If we reject slave contracts as illegitimate then, logically, we must also reject all contracts that express qualities similar to slavery (i.e. deny freedom) including wage slavery. Given that, as David Ellerman points out, "the voluntary slave . . . and the employee cannot in fact take their will out of their intentional actions so that they could be 'employed' by the master or employer" we are left with "the rather implausible assertion that a person can vacate his or her will for eight or so hours a day for weeks, months, or years on end but cannot do so for a working lifetime." [Property and Contract in Economics, p. 58]
The implications of supporting voluntary slavery is quite devastating for all forms of right-wing "libertarianism." This was proven by Ellerman when he wrote an extremely robust defence of it under the pseudonym "J. Philmore" called The Libertarian Case for Slavery (first published in The Philosophical Forum, xiv, 1982). This classic rebuttal takes the form of "proof by contradiction" (or reductio ad absurdum) whereby he takes the arguments of right-libertarianism to their logical end and shows how they reach the memorably conclusion that the "time has come for liberal economic and political thinkers to stop dodging this issue and to critically re-examine their shared prejudices about certain voluntary social institutions . . . this critical process will inexorably drive liberalism to its only logical conclusion: libertarianism that finally lays the true moral foundation for economic and political slavery."
Ellerman shows how, from a right-"libertarian" perspective there is a "fundamental contradiction" in a modern liberal society for the state to prohibit slave contracts. He notes that there "seems to be a basic shared prejudice of liberalism that slavery is inherently involuntary, so the issue of genuinely voluntary slavery has received little scrutiny. The perfectly valid liberal argument that involuntary slavery is inherently unjust is thus taken to include voluntary slavery (in which case, the argument, by definition, does not apply). This has resulted in an abridgment of the freedom of contract in modern liberal society." Thus it is possible to argue for a "civilised form of contractual slavery." ["J. Philmore,", Op. Cit.]
So accurate and logical was Ellerman's article that many of its readers were convinced it was written by a right-libertarian (including, we have to say, us!). One such writer was Carole Pateman, who correctly noted that "[t]here is a nice historical irony here. In the American South, slaves were emancipated and turned into wage labourers, and now American contractarians argue that all workers should have the opportunity to turn themselves into civil slaves." [Op. Cit., p. 63]).
The aim of Ellerman's article was to show the problems that employment (wage labour) presents for the concept of self-government and how contract need not result in social relationships based on freedom. As "Philmore" put it, "[a]ny thorough and decisive critique of voluntary slavery or constitutional nondemocratic government would carry over to the employment contract -- which is the voluntary contractual basis for the free-market free-enterprise system. Such a critique would thus be a reductio ad absurdum." As "contractual slavery" is an "extension of the employer-employee contract," he shows that the difference between wage labour and slavery is the time scale rather than the principle or social relationships involved. [Op. Cit.] This explains, firstly, the early workers' movement called capitalism "wage slavery" (anarchists still do) and, secondly, why capitalists like Rothbard support the concept but balk at the name. It exposes the unfree nature of the system they support! While it is possible to present wage labour as "freedom" due to its "consensual" nature, it becomes much harder to do so when talking about slavery or dictatorship. Then the contradictions are exposed for all to see and be horrified by.
All this does not mean that we must reject free agreement. Far from it! Free agreement is essential for a society based upon individual dignity and liberty. There are a variety of forms of free agreement and anarchists support those based upon co-operation and self-management (i.e. individuals working together as equals). Anarchists desire to create relationships which reflect (and so express) the liberty that is the basis of free agreement. Capitalism creates relationships that deny liberty. The opposition between autonomy and subjection can only be maintained by modifying or rejecting contract theory, something that capitalism cannot do and so the right-wing Libertarian rejects autonomy in favour of subjection (and so rejects socialism in favour of capitalism).
The real contrast between anarchism and right-Libertarianism is best expressed in their respective opinions on slavery. Anarchism is based upon the individual whose individuality depends upon the maintenance of free relationships with other individuals. If individuals deny their capacities for self-government from themselves through a contract the individuals bring about a qualitative change in their relationship to others - freedom is turned into mastery and subordination. For the anarchist, slavery is thus the paradigm of what freedom is not, instead of an exemplification of what it is (as right-Libertarians state). As Proudhon argued:
"If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him." [What is Property?, p. 37]
In contrast, the right-Libertarian effectively argues that "I support slavery because I believe in liberty." It is a sad reflection of the ethical and intellectual bankruptcy of our society that such an "argument" is actually taken seriously by (some) people. The concept of "slavery as freedom" is far too Orwellian to warrant a critique - we will leave it up to right Libertarians to corrupt our language and ethical standards with an attempt to prove it.
From the basic insight that slavery is the opposite of freedom, the anarchist rejection of authoritarian social relations quickly follows (the right-wing Libertarians fear):
"Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my liberty; every contract, every condition of a contract, which has in view the alienation or suspension of liberty, is null: the slave, when he plants his foot upon the soil of liberty, at that moment becomes a free man. . . Liberty is the original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the nature of man: after that, how could we perform the acts of man?" [P.J. Proudhon, Op. Cit., p. 67]
The employment contract (i.e. wage slavery) abrogates liberty. It is based upon inequality of power and "exploitation is a consequence of the fact that the sale of labour power entails the worker's subordination." [Carole Pateman, Op. Cit., P. 149] Hence Proudhon's (and Mill's) support of self-management and opposition to capitalism - any relationship that resembles slavery is illegitimate and no contract that creates a relationship of subordination is valid. Thus in a truly anarchistic society, slave contracts would be unenforceable -- people in a truly free (i.e. non-capitalist) society would never tolerate such a horrible institution or consider it a valid agreement. If someone was silly enough to sign such a contract, they would simply have to say they now rejected it in order to be free -- such contracts are made to be broken and without the force of a law system (and private defence firms) to back it up, such contracts will stay broken.
The right-Libertarian support for slave contracts (and wage slavery) indicates that their ideology has little to do with liberty and far more to do with justifying property and the oppression and exploitation it produces. Their support and theoretical support for slavery indicates a deeper authoritarianism which negates their claims to be libertarians.
Many "anarcho"-capitalists and other supporters of capitalism argue that it would be "authoritarian" to restrict the number of alternatives that people can choose between by abolishing capitalism. If workers become wage labourers, so it is argued, it is because they "value" other things more -- otherwise they would not agree to the exchange. But such an argument ignores that reality of capitalism.
By maintaining capitalist private property, the options available to people are restricted. In a fully developed capitalist economy the vast majority have the "option" of selling their labour or starving/living in poverty -- self-employed workers account for less than 10% of the working population. Usually, workers are at a disadvantage on the labour market due to the existence of unemployment and so accept wage labour because otherwise they would starve (see section 10.2 for a discussion on why this is the case). And as we argue in sections J.5.11 and J.5.12, even if the majority of the working population desired co-operative workplaces, a capitalist market will not provide them with that outcome due to the nature of the capitalist workplace (also see Juliet C. Schor's excellent book The Overworked American for a discussion of why workers desire for more free time is not reflected in the labour market). In other words, it is a myth to claim that wage labour exists or that workplaces are hierarchical because workers value other things -- they are hierarchical because bosses have more clout on the market than workers and, to use Schor's expression, workers end up wanting what they get rather than getting what they want.
Looking at the reality of capitalism we find that because of inequality in resources (protected by the full might of the legal system, we should note) those with property get to govern those without it during working hours (and beyond in many cases). If the supporters of capitalism were actually concerned about liberty (as opposed to property) that situation would be abhorrent to them -- after all, individuals can no longer exercise their ability to make decisions, choices, and are reduced to being order takers. If choice and liberty are the things we value, then the ability to make choices in all aspects of life automatically follows (including during work hours). However, the authoritarian relationships and the continual violation of autonomy wage labour implies are irrelevant to "anarcho"-capitalists (indeed, attempts to change this situation are denounced as violations of the autonomy of the property owner!). By purely concentrating on the moment that a contract is signed they blind themselves to the restricts of liberty that wage contracts create.
Of course, anarchists have no desire to ban wage labour -- we aim to create a society within which people are not forced by circumstances to sell their liberty to others. In order to do this, anarchists propose a modification of property and property rights to ensure true freedom of choice (a freedom of choice denied to us by capitalism). As we have noted many times, "bilateral exchanges" can and do adversely effect the position of third parties if they result in the build-up of power/money in the hands of a few. And one of these adverse effects can be the restriction of workers options due to economic power. Therefore it is the supporter of capitalist who restricts options by supporting an economic system and rights framework that by their very workings reduce the options available to the majority, who then are "free to choose" between those that remain (see also section B.4). Anarchists, in contrast, desire to expand the available options by abolishing capitalist private property rights and removing inequalities in wealth and power that help restrict our options and liberties artificially.
So does an anarchist society have much to fear from the spread of wage labour within it? Probably not. If we look at societies such as the early United States or the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, for example, we find that, given the choice, most people preferred to work for themselves. Capitalists found it hard to find enough workers to employ and the amount of wages that had to be offered to hire workers were so high as to destroy any profit margins. Moreover, the mobility of workers and their "laziness" was frequently commented upon, with employers despairing at the fact workers would just work enough to make end meet and then disappear. Thus, left to the actions of the "free market," it is doubtful that wage labour would have spread. But it was not left to the "free market".
In response to these "problems", the capitalists turned to the state and enforced various restrictions on society (the most important being the land, tariff and money monopolies -- see sections B.3 and 8). In free competition between artisan and wage labour, wage labour only succeeded due to the use of state action to create the required circumstances to discipline the labour force and to accumulate enough capital to give capitalists an edge over artisan production (see section 8 for more details).
Thus an anarchist society would not have to fear the spreading of wage labour within it. This is simply because would-be capitalists (like those in the early United States) would have to offer such excellent conditions, workers' control and high wages as to make the possibility of extensive profits from workers' labour nearly impossible. Without the state to support them, they will not be able to accumulate enough capital to give them an advantage within a free society. Moreover, it is somewhat ironic to hear capitalists talking about anarchism denying choice when we oppose wage labour considering the fact workers were not given any choice when the capitalists used the state to develop wage labour in the first place!
Simply because they lead to the creation of authoritarian social relationships and so to restrictions on liberty. A political theory which, when consistently followed, has evil or iniquitous consequences, is a bad theory.
For example, any theory that can justify slavery is obviously a bad theory - slavery does not cease to stink the moment it is seen to follow your theory. As right-Libertarians can justify slave contracts as a type of wage labour (see section 2.6) as well as numerous other authoritarian social relationships, it is obviously a bad theory.
It is worth quoting Noam Chomsky at length on this subject:
"Consider, for example, the 'entitlement theory of justice'. . . [a]ccording to this theory, a person has a right to whatever he has acquired by means that are just. If, by luck or labour or ingenuity, a person acquires such and such, then he is entitled to keep it and dispose of it as he wills, and a just society will not infringe on this right.
"One can easily determine where such a principle might lead. It is entirely possible that by legitimate means - say, luck supplemented by contractual arrangements 'freely undertaken' under pressure of need - one person might gain control of the necessities of life. Others are then free to sell themselves to this person as slaves, if he is willing to accept them. Otherwise, they are free to perish. Without extra question-begging conditions, the society is just.
"The argument has all the merits of a proof that 2 + 2 = 5. . . Suppose that some concept of a 'just society' is advanced that fails to characterise the situation just described as unjust. . . Then one of two conclusions is in order. We may conclude that the concept is simply unimportant and of no interest as a guide to thought or action, since it fails to apply properly even in such an elementary case as this. Or we may conclude that the concept advanced is to be dismissed in that it fails to correspond to the pretheorectical notion that it intends to capture in clear cases. If our intuitive concept of justice is clear enough to rule social arrangements of the sort described as grossly unjust, then the sole interest of a demonstration that this outcome might be 'just' under a given 'theory of justice' lies in the inference by reductio ad absurdum to the conclusion that the theory is hopelessly inadequate. While it may capture some partial intuition regarding justice, it evidently neglects others.
"The real question to be raised about theories that fail so completely to capture the concept of justice in its significant and intuitive sense is why they arouse such interest. Why are they not simply dismissed out of hand on the grounds of this failure, which is striking in clear cases? Perhaps the answer is, in part, the one given by Edward Greenberg in a discussion of some recent work on the entitlement theory of justice. After reviewing empirical and conceptual shortcomings, he observes that such work 'plays an important function in the process of . . . 'blaming the victim,' and of protecting property against egalitarian onslaughts by various non-propertied groups.' An ideological defence of privileges, exploitation, and private power will be welcomed, regardless of its merits.
"These matters are of no small importance to poor and oppressed people here and elsewhere." [The Chomsky Reader, pp. 187-188]
It may be argued that the reductions in liberty associated with capitalism is not really an iniquitous outcome, but such an argument is hardly fitting for a theory proclaiming itself "libertarian." And the results of these authoritarian social relationships? To quote Adam Smith, under the capitalist division of labour the worker "has no occasion to exert his understanding, or exercise his invention" and "he naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exercise and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become." The worker's mind falls "into that drowsy stupidity, which, in a civilised society, seems to benumb the understanding of almost all of the inferior [sic!] ranks of people." [cited by Chomsky, Op. Cit., p. 186]
Of course, it may be argued that these evil effects of capitalist authority relations on individuals are also not iniquitous (or that the very real domination of workers by bosses is not really domination) but that suggests a desire to sacrifice real individuals, their hopes and dreams and lives to an abstract concept of liberty, the accumulative effect of which would be to impoverish all our lives. The kind of relationships we create within the organisations we join are of as great an importance as their voluntary nature. Social relations shape the individual in many ways, restricting their freedom, their perceptions of what freedom is and what their interests actually are. This means that, in order not to be farcical, any relationships we create must reflect in their internal workings the critical evaluation and self-government that created them in the first place. Sadly capitalist individualism masks structures of power and relations of domination and subordination within seemingly "voluntary" associations -- it fails to note the relations of domination resulting from private property and so "what has been called 'individualism' up to now has been only a foolish egoism which belittles the individual. Foolish because it was not individualism at all. It did not lead to what was established as a goal; that is the complete, broad, and most perfectly attainable development of individuality." [Peter Kropotkin, Selected Writings, p. 297]
This right-Libertarian lack of concern for concrete individual freedom and individuality is a reflection of their support for "free markets" (or "economic liberty" as they sometimes phrase it). However, as Max Stirner noted, this fails to understand that "[p]olitical liberty means that the polis, the State, is free; . . . not, therefore, that I am free of the State. . . It does not mean my liberty, but the liberty of a power that rules and subjugates me; it means that one of my despots . . . is free." [The Ego and Its Own, p. 107] Thus the desire for "free markets" results in a blindness that while the market may be "free" the individuals within it may not be (as Stirner was well aware, "[u]nder the regime of the commonality the labourers always fall into the hands of the possessors . . . of the capitalists, therefore." [Op. Cit., p. 115])
In other words, right-libertarians give the greatest importance to an abstract concept of freedom and fail to take into account the fact that real, concrete freedom is the outcome of self-managed activity, solidarity and voluntary co-operation. For liberty to be real it must exist in all aspects of our daily life and cannot be contracted away without seriously effecting our minds, bodies and lives. Thus, the right-Libertarian's "defence of freedom is undermined by their insistence on the concept of negative liberty, which all too easily translates in experience as the negation of liberty." [Stephan L. Newman, Liberalism as Wit's End, p. 161]
Thus right-Libertarian's fundamental fallacy is that "contract" does not result in the end of power or domination (particularly when the bargaining power or wealth of the would-be contractors is not equal). As Carole Pateman notes, "[i]ronically, the contractarian ideal cannot encompass capitalist employment. Employment is not a continual series of discrete contracts between employer and worker, but . . . one contract in which a worker binds himself to enter an enterprise and follow the directions of the employer for the duration of the contract. As Huw Benyon has bluntly stated, 'workers are paid to obey.'" [The Sexual Contract, p. 148] This means that "the employment contract (like the marriage contract) is not an exchange; both contracts create social relations that endure over time - social relations of subordination." [Ibid.]
Authority impoverishes us all and must, therefore, be combated wherever it appears. That is why anarchists oppose capitalism, so that there shall be "no more government of man by man, by means of accumulation of capital." [P-J Proudhon, cited by Woodcock in Anarchism, p. 110] If, as Murray Bookchin point it, "the object of anarchism is to increase choice" [The Ecology of Freedom, p. 70] then this applies both to when we are creating associations/relationships with others and when we are within these associations/relationships -- i.e. that they are consistent with the liberty of all, and that implies participation and self-management not hierarchy. "Anarcho"-capitalism fails to understand this essential point and by concentrating purely on the first condition for liberty ensures a society based upon domination, oppression and hierarchy and not freedom.
It is unsurprising, therefore, to find that the basic unit of analysis of the "anarcho"-capitalist/right-libertarian is the transaction (the "trade," the "contract"). The freedom of the individual is seen as revolving around an act, the contract, and not in our relations with others. All the social facts and mechanisms that precede, surround and result from the transaction are omitted. In particular, the social relations that result from the transaction are ignored (those, and the circumstances that make people contract, are the two unmentionables of right-libertarianism).
For anarchists it seems strange to concentrate on the moment that a contract is signed and ignore the far longer time the contract is active for (as we noted in section A.2.14, if the worker is free when they sign a contract, slavery soon overtakes them). Yes, the voluntary nature of a decision is important, but so are the social relationships we experience due to those decisions.
For the anarchist, freedom is based upon the insight that other people, apart from (indeed, because of) having their own intrinsic value, also are "means to my end", that it is through their freedom that I gain my own -- so enriching my life. As Bakunin put it:
"I who want to be free cannot be because all the men around me do not yet want to be free, and consequently they become tools of oppression against me." [quoted by Errico Malatesta in Anarchy, p. 27]
Therefore anarchists argue that we must reject the right-Libertarian theories of freedom and justice because they end up supporting the denial of liberty as the expression of liberty. What this fails to recognise is that freedom is a product of social life and that (in Bakunin's words) "[n]o man can achieve his own emancipation without at the same time working for the emancipation of all men around him. My freedom is the freedom of all since I am not truly free in thought and in fact, except when my freedom and my rights are confirmed and approved in the freedom and rights of all men who are my equals." [Ibid.]
Other people give us the possibilities to develop our full human potentiality and thereby our freedom, so when we destroy the freedom of others we limit our own. "To treat others and oneself as property," argues anarchist L. Susan Brown, "objectifies the human individual, denies the unity of subject and object and is a negation of individual will . . . even the freedom gained by the other is compromised by this relationship, for to negate the will of another to achieve one's own freedom destroys the very freedom one sought in the first place." [The Politics of Individualism, p. 3]
Fundamentally, it is for this reason that anarchists reject the right-Libertarian theories of freedom and justice -- it just does not ensure individual freedom or individuality.