Defending Property and Voluntary Hierarchies

Left anarchists are the best! Francios Tremblay runs a blog here and asked me to write a post clarifying some things in this post I wrote here. So here it goes! Below are the things he wishes to have clarified

* “the left anarchists desire for equality [is] a desire that makes their dream of a stateless and property-less society impossible when one follows their ideology to its logical conclusions.” (since the State and property rights lead to widespread inequality, this claim is self-contradictory)
* “anti-hierarchical advocates are just as much for hierarchies than anyone else.” (this is a direct contradiction: if they are anti-hierarchical, then they are not “for hierarchies”)
* “[the] two fundamental principles in economics… make [exploitation] ok” (factual statements cannot alone justify ethical statements, so this claim is pure gibberish)
* “The abolishment of private property and the abuse of scarce means by economic actors, which leads to shortages, increases the likelihood that violence over the control of resources will occur.” (none of these points are demonstrated: I assume you were clumsily trying to refer to the Tragedy of the Commons argument, which has been discredited and does not, as you say, “conform with reality” insofar as the commons went)
* “They dislike the idea of enforcing such a way of life on those around you through threats of violence and force.” (any system of ownership or property implies violence, therefore your claim is a tu quoque fallacy)

I’m not advocating for state protected property. In fact private property is in opposition to statism. Ludwig Von Mises argued in his book Liberalism (pages 67-68) that “Private property creates for the individual a sphere in which he is free of the state. It sets limits to the operation of the authoritarian will. It allows other forces to arise side by side with and in opposition to political power. It thus becomes the basis of all those activities that are free from violent interference on the part of the state. It is the soil in which the seeds of freedom are nurtured and in which the autonomy of the individual and ultimately all intellectual and material progress are rooted.”

The state itself seeks to abolish private property when it can and only tolerates it when it must. Guess what? You, just like the state, seek to abolish private property because it creates for itself a sphere for the individual that you cannot influence. Thus, every left anarchist I have talked to talks about using coercion and violence to force someone like myself to adhere to their way of life and perspective on property. Gee… That sounds an awful lot like a monopoly on violence within a given set of boundaries. That sounds like a state.

You seem to not grasp in what context I’m talking about private property since you view ownership as “minarchism” and you seem to think that because past violence occurred it justifies you initiating violence right now in the present or future in order to create a hegemonic “rule by collective”.

This is easily defended against your accusations. You own your body right? If we were to meet in person, we would understand it to be fundamentally wrong if I were to just start violently beating you, or you me. If I started using violence against you and your person, you would defend yourself. You wouldn’t say “I’ve taken my hatred of private property to its logical end and so I have no claim on my body, therefore, Jon is perfectly justified in beating me to death right now.” You say: “any system of ownership or property implies violence, therefore your claim is a tu quoque fallacy”. But are you then going to say that you would be wrong in the above example if I assault you? If you seek to abolish property (and the defense of property) than you must allow for the abuse of what creates private property; people’s bodies. Yet I’m sure you find rape and murder abhorrent. But if you can claim the rewards of labor you did not labor for, you can claim the bodies that labored as yours too. So if you acknowledge that you own your body, you must acknowledge ownership of the things your body creates. Lets now transport the both of us to a deserted island where it is just you and I. You go to one end of the island because you hate my guts for a being a filthy, private property loving capitalist. You find an unused piece of land and gather resources scattered about to build a hut. You have used your body and your bodies labor and mixed it with previously unclaimed materials in order to improve the land. Through homesteading, you are now the legitimate owner. You get to make the rules of how this hut is used because it was your body, which you own, that caused it to become reality.

Now lets say that I come over to the side of the island that you are on and I was a lot less productive in hut building than you were. I’ll now use the methods you left anarchists use and claim that your creation and use of the hut is oppressing me so I am going to take it by force and live in it too (remember, you hate my guts). Any opposition you would show me I would claim is you oppressing me from having access to adequate shelter. This is exactly how you left anarchists sound when you talk about ownership of property as “coercive”. I will now come to you under my “oppressive” capitalistic methods of private property and voluntary trade. Lets say I find your hut and “oppress” you by saying “Francios, I’m terrible at building huts but I do need one. I have brought some fish, fire wood, and coconuts in exchange for your services in hut building.” You then, through your subjective valuations of labor and my goods, agree or disagree to the trade. If you value the time and labor it would take to build me a hut less than the coconuts, fish and fire wood I offer, you will accept the trade. If you value your labor more than the goods I’m bringing to the trade, you can demand a higher wage. Lets say you do value your labor more. You say “I saw some berries in the hills. Bring me two handfuls of berries and two extra fish and I’ll build your hut.” I then have a choice to make. If I value all of the trade goods less than the hut, I’ll consent to the trade. If I do not, I’ll pass on the trade. Let us say that I do agree to the trade. I go off and collect the berries and I catch two extra fish. I bring it all to you and you build me my hut. We shake hands and go on our ways. You have a bunch of fish, berries, coconuts and firewood and I have my shelter and protection from the elements. We both walk away from the trade happy. It is precisely the inequity in valuations that allows me to exploit your labor and hut building skills (through your consent)  and you my resource gathering skills (through my consent) in a peaceful manner towards the accomplishment of desired ends that vary between us. But no, you say that above scenario is oppressive even though we were both able to get what we wanted by serving each other. This is how a factual statement about economics becomes an ethical one and this is were the action axiom, and varying preferences (which are the foundation of the Subjective Value Theory) allow us to peacefully trade through private property.

This is because when we trade on this level, we are respecting the sovereignty of the other person. If I were to come over and threaten you with violence in order to make you construct me a hut or make you let me live in yours, I’m claiming ownership over property I did not mix my own labor with to create. This means I am claiming your labor. If I am claiming your labor, I am claiming that which labored, your body. If I am claiming ownership of your body, I am claiming to own you and I am establishing a hierarchical order to our relationship on the worst possible level. It is also the worst kind of hierarchy, an involuntary one you did not consent to. You see, where ever violence against another person and their property (for which they labored) is used, there is no mutual benefit to both parties like the resources for a hut exchange I’ve outlined above. When violence is used in “trade”, the trade only ever benefits the person initiating the violence and not the person being coerced. I’d like for you to read this Rothbard quote that shows the irony of you left anarchists. You can read the full article it is from here.

In syndicalism, each group of workers and peasants is supposed to own its means of production in common and plan for itself, while cooperating with other collectives and communes. Logical analysis of these schemes would readily show that the whole program is nonsense. Either of two things would occur: one central agency would plan for and direct the various subgroups, or the collectives themselves would be really autonomous. But the crucial question is whether these agencies would be empowered to use force to put their decisions into effect.

All of the left-wing anarchists have agreed that force is necessary against recalcitrants. But then the first possibility means nothing more nor less than Communism, while the second leads to a real chaos of diverse and clashing communisms, that would probably lead finally to some central Communism after a period of social war. Thus, leftwing anarchism must in practice signify either regular Communism or a true chaos of communistic syndics. In both cases, the actual result must be that the State is reestablished under another name. It is the tragic irony of left-wing anarchism that, despite the hopes of its supporters, it is not really anarchism at all. It is either Communism or chaos.

You see, without private property, individuals are incapable of economic calculation on an accurate level. This is because to abolish private property means you must abolish true market prices and the profit and loss mechanism. Like I explained, if everything is owned in common, each economic actor will act as if they can use all resources open to them towards the satisfaction of their varied ends. Just because you have made ownership of the means of production communal does not mean you have somehow abolished scarcity in reality. Think of this scenario: You and I live in a community where there is only one car and it is owned in common. At the exact same time you and I both need to use it. You need to go to point A and I need to go to point B. Obviously the means, the car, is scarce and our ends are in opposition to each other. This is true of any other means you hope to hold in common with anyone else. Private property doesn’t solve scarcity either but it at least allows for accurate economic calculation and peaceful trade like the hut for resources example above. Since, without property, economic calculation is impossible (since all individuals vary in preferences) the collective in your left anarchic paradise must be able to use violence against people in order to limit the varied preferences they wish to accomplish.

This is why I said your obsession with equality and hatred for all hierarchies, even consensual ones, means your ideology can only be done through the coercion of peaceful individuals (the establishment of a coercive hierarchy). It is why you left anarchists are so hypocritical when you accuse someone like myself for not advocating for “pure” anarchism when your ideas lead to a state on their own. You posit property as the source of violence rather than coercion that is in opposition to private property (all the way down to claiming ownership of another’s labor which is claiming ownership of people themselves). You are in opposition to private property which makes your goals the same as the states. You said “factual statements cannot alone justify ethical statements”. Well, communal ownership of property is not “ethical” because a collective of syndics says so and it doesn’t give you the right to coerce people into accepting it. And again, like I said in my original post, I have no issue with your ideology if you choose to live that way. My issue is your tendency for violence in enforcing your views. My views only require that you leave me and my things alone. Your views make it clear that you need to initiate violence against those that disagree. You are incapable of leaving people alone. But please, continue to argue that someone like myself that wants to just be left alone to live his life as he wants without initiating violence against others is somehow more coercive than you using violence to seize the means of production to be used in common.

2 thoughts on “Defending Property and Voluntary Hierarchies

  1. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the quite moral impulses that left anarchists have are twisted into immorality by a deliberately flawed and cynically motivated theory of natural monopoly that informs their natural feelings of envy. Despite having good and noble impulses for justice and to not be ruled, the concept of natural monopoly is intended as apologia for rulers, and can be used to no other end. You can’t start with a premise of natural monopoly and end up with a stateless society, no matter you call it ‘anarchism’.

    I’ve posed the following thought experiment countless times, always to be disappointed.

    if we had to freely formed communities, one syndicalist and one voluntaryist, if by some chance the syndicalist community becomes vastly more wealthy you know by our principles the free community will be no threat, except perhaps some ancaps might ask to immigrate.

    If the free community becomes vastly more wealthy and people start leaving the syndicalist community, can you say that the voluntaryist community will be left alone? Of course they can’t, and always evade the question. At some point a free community will inevitably be able to make everything more efficiently than the syndicalist and so long as you have a community which deifies envy, the community so infected, is inherently unstable and inherently tends to be a threat to any other community, free of not. Even between crypto-stateful communities, which a syndicalist community certainly is, there will be some that do better than others, which invites envy. Which is just what we see today.

    It’s like asking a progressive, will you agree on an absolute upper limit on taxes, and what would that limit be? They never answer. They don’t envision any limit.


    • For me it comes from them not focusing on the right “wrong”. They are obsessed with equality and of course private property is not dispersed evenly in a free society. Therefore everyone must be made equal to fight the potential of a hierarchical and abusive system. But conflating voluntary hierarchies (like in a business) with coercive ones and using a coercive hierarchy where the collective is more important than any individual creates the kind of system they hate.

      But they are so busy focusing on equality they don’t see the massive level of statism they are advocating for (or what will at least turn into statism).


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