There should be no question about the horrors of the emerging police states in North America and Europe, and that I oppose the state in any form – especially in the outright oppressive shape of a police and surveillance state. So please don’t misunderstand when I say that there are, in my view, some positive aspects of this development towards total power and Hitlerian oppression in so-called liberal democracies.
This positive development lies only within the anarchism movement, and specifically in a small part of it. I am talking about the different forms of anarchism sometimes described as market anarchism, including mutualism, individualist anarchism, and anarcho-capitalism. Especially within the latter, there is a constant problem of vulgar libertarianism among proponents.
As Kevin Carson, who coined the term, writes in his Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, chapter four:
Vulgar libertarian apologists for capitalism use the term “free market” in an equivocal sense: they seem to have trouble remembering, from one moment to the next, whether they’re defending actually existing capitalism or free market principles. So we get the standard boilerplate article arguing that the rich can’t get rich at the expense of the poor, because “that’s not how the free market works”–implicitly assuming that this is a free market. When prodded, they’ll grudgingly admit that the present system is not a free market, and that it includes a lot of state intervention on behalf of the rich. But as soon as they think they can get away with it, they go right back to defending the wealth of existing corporations on the basis of “free market principles.”
I claim the problem with anarcho-capitalism lies in its historical roots. The reason it doesn’t fit with the other anarchisms is that anarcho-capitalism uses a rather “right-wing” terminology whereas the rest of the anarchist movement in general uses the “left-wing” counterpart. This makes anarcho-capitalism sound very different from other anarchisms, even though it, in essence, is not. When an anarcho-capitalist says capitalism he refers to the free market and how things are arranged without state or other oppression – basically what an individualist anarchist would term socialism. And with socialism the anarcho-capitalist refers to the regulated market, state power, and oppressive measures and privileges – what in individualist anarchist lingo would be labeled capitalism.
Anarcho-capitalism thus “enjoys” problems of being accepted by other anarchist branches simpl because they refuse to understand each other. But anarcho-capitalism should be seen as a great opportunity for anarchism to reach people of a somewhat “rightist” bend, which is something that the anarchism movement dogmatically refuses to do. People who haven’t adopted the labor movement terminology can also be anarchists, and they sometimes are, but they are turned off by the common anarchist use of language while they would gladly adopt the ideas and values if they could see through the words used.
What we have is a problem arising from people of the left and right both being too dogmatic to join forces – even when they essentially agree with each other. (I’m not saying the anarchism movement should embrace anyone on the right – only that there are quite a few anarchists on the right who don’t join the movement for the same reasons many anarchists reject anarcho-capitalism.)
The problem for the movement is thus dogmatism in terminology rather than substantive ideas or values. And here anarcho-capitalism, especially in its agorist form, could play a very important part in making the movement bigger and stronger.
The problem for anarcho-capitalism is however not the petty problem of people choosing a dogmatic language. The problem is that the rightist language and the “rightist outreach” sometimes make people adopt some of the anarchist views while clinging to a rightist knee-jerk defense of corporations and big business. This is the vulgar libertarianism Carson speaks of, and it is a problem with the anarcho-capitalist movement that vulgar libertarians aren’t shown the contradiction in their views and that their views are gladly accepted by the rest of the movement (whereas “leftist” anarchist views may not be).
Anarcho-capitalism isn’t itself vulgar in the Carsonian sense, but many anarcho-capitalists tend to be.
This is where the police state could have a positive effect. While vulgar libertarians tend to defend business interests (without ever questioning those interests) against state regulation, they do not only support business but oppose the state. The police state, making its horrible powers and oppressive machinery obvious, makes vulgar libertarians embrace both sides when they are obviously contradictory.
I have yet to see a vulgar libertarian defend corporations such as Blackwater USA (I really don’t think that will ever happen). This corporation is far too much entangled with the federal government to be considered private, “private” being a key word in the vulgar libertarian defense for corporations. But as the police state grows, more private corporations will make a business out of the state’s demand for more efficient technologies to subdue and control the populace. Clearly, the distinction between government oppression and business seems to fade away as private corporations produce and sell the tools of torture to our oppressive governments.
Vulgar libertarians would gladly defend Microsoft against more state regulation. A worthy cause, perhaps (all state regulation is bad), but Microsoft is not only crippled by regulation – it feeds of state-enforced and state-invented monopoly rights such as “intellectual property.” But there has not, to my knowledge, been an attempt by vulgar libertarians to defend the company TASER, which produces and sells the stun guns used in numerous police “incidents” (such as brutal attacks and even killings of peaceful people who committed no serious crimes).
I claim there is a reason vulgar libertarians defend Microsoft while not doing the same for TASER. The former may feed off government-enforced privileges, but it produces products that are meant for the general public and that would probably be supplied in a free market. There is no reason to assume there wouldn’t be operating systems and word processors if the state was abolished. But TASER has one main market: the State. And the products are sold/purchased and used for the sole purpose of aggressing on people – the stun gun is supposed to make people immovable so that they can be apprehended by police officers, and they are not generally for use by the public (if at all allowed).
My prediction is that vulgar libertarians will continue to defend Microsoft, but only for as long as they do not actively develop software for e.g. face recognition or Internet traffic control to be used mainly or exclusively by government (and make this a great part of their business). If the connection between a corporation and oppressive measures taken by government is too obvious, vulgar libertarians tend to draw the right conclusions. They oppose the State and therefore a corporation working purposefully to assist the State in its illegitimate oppression and control of citizens do not get to be defended by vulgar libertarians.
It would thus be very surprising to see a vulgar libertarian defense for the company making the “EMD Safety Bracelet”:
The police state thus provides the means to unify anarchism to a degree not before possible, and it provides a context in which vulgar libertarians will begin to realize that the defense of big business might not be a good idea. At least, it does not fit at all with their other view: anti-statism. This is therefore, in a sense, a positive aspect (or effect) of the police state, even though the police state itself – just like the State per se – is a brutal, oppressive beast to the detriment of us all.
This is an opportunity to be recognized and taken advantage of. After all, we need more allies and less internal conflicts if we are to ever achieve a free society.