Here I'll explore anarcho-capitalism, debunk strawmen of it, offer legitimate criticisms of it, and offer some insight on what leads people to it. I'm making this article in the interests of increasing understanding between the different part-good factions and hopefully building some bridges.
My background with the ideology is that Ancaps pretty much converted me away from Chaos Anarchism and convinced me to identify as an Ancap for some time (I'm hesitant to call myself that now). I've spent a lot of time in their circles, debated with them, memed with them, and consider them essential allies and mostly friends.
Anarchism - this is my own dictionary - is the belief that no one can legitimately change the law. In Ancaps' dictionaries, anarchism is generally seen as synonymous with capitalism (for reasons I'll explore later).
Capitalism - in the Ancap dictionary - means property rights and freedom of association, and any government interference with the market is anti-capitalist. This contrasts with the dictionary of their opponents: most who say they oppose capitalism use the word to describe government actions and interventions on behalf of corporations that give business owners legal privileges that contradict market principles. By the Ancap definition of capitalism, these things are anti-capitalist and unethical. Don't use this to strawman anarcho-capitalism.
There are additional differences in how property rights work between mainstream Ancap thought and statist thought: anarcho-capitalists almost always reject intellectual property altogether, but still support land tenure. I'll explore why I think this is inconsistent below.
In Protagonist terms, the ideology is a near-supreme valuation of consent, plus a somewhat flawed conception of what consent is and applies to.
When I talk about Anarcho-capitalism in a vacuum, I'm usually talking about only the combination of anarchism and capitalism, but for this article I'm talking more about the movement than just what the principles themselves entail.
Ancaps describe themselves as libertarians, but adamantly distinguish themselves from the "Libertarian Party", which they often describe as not really libertarian for believing in "minimal" government. They also use the label "voluntarist" or "voluntaryist" (which I think is much better for them PR-wise).
Almost all Ancaps are deontologists. David Friedman is a notale consequentialist Ancap, but deontologism is dominant enough that you can safely assume it.
Many Ancaps (but far from all) consider themselves right-wing and most hate communism as much as statism. The "right" referred to here is other values and cultural norms considered right-wing, minus a few that are obviously anti-anarchist like the conservative infatuation with police.
Ancaps are not pacifists. They recognize the legitimacy of violence in defense or retaliation against aggressors; they use the word aggression to mean initiatory force and are adamant about the distinction; and they usually also recognize a clear threat of aggression as ground to retaliate. You can definitely find a few that are pacifists, but pinning this on all Ancaps is like saying all Muslims support ISIS. This strawman is mostly used by conservatives and minarchists.
Ancaps don't have a problem with modes of organization other than traditional capitalist business models, as long as no one's forced to participate (though their definition of forced is often questioned; see below). There is nothing about an opt-in commune or worker co-op that's incompatible with Ancap ethics.
Derivation and absolutism¶
Ancaps almost always refer to self-ownership and the homestead principle as the basis of their ideology. Many if not most of them rely on argumentation ethics as their basis for their ethics. I've ripped it to shreds here and in a couple of other places, but I've very rarely got a response from an Ancap.
The worst problem with the Ancap movement is their absolutism. Many or most of them claim it's never moral to violate property rights for any reason. You can raise "one person to save the world" and they're prepared to stand by no. You can raise "steal to survive" and most will say that they would be disgusted with that person for not helping and refuse to associate with them, but that using force is still completely unethical (surprisingly, the only one I've heard try to come up with an exception for this was Nullus Maximus with the Reecean Proviso, but I doubt anyone needs me to point out all the glaring problems with his reasoning).
The definition of 'force'¶
A common criticism from Ancoms (or those who are somewhere between the two) is that Ancaps claim they want everything to be voluntary, but support employer-employee relationships that are in fact involuntary because it's practically impossible to survive in a capitalist society without working for a capitalist, and draw an equivalency between "choose your boss" and "choose your tyrant". This criticism makes sense in a way because it's true that the way most people use the words 'voluntary' or 'force' doesn't match how Ancaps use them. To an Ancap, if you technically had a choice in the metaphysical sense, then it's voluntary, period (unless you were threatened with force - meaning you didn't in fact have a metaphysical choice to not associate).
Arguments often turn out to be severely hampered just by different definitions of voluntary. One can define a word any way one wants as long as one's clear about it, but I do think the Ancap definition is better because it's one that can't easily be represented without that word, but this is exactly why my own moral system treats consent and compassion as separate values either of which can be outweighed by a large enough amount of the other. I find it absolutely insane to think you can't violate property rights to save a life, or even for a smaller need than that (like to save someone from being raped). So my solution is to use the Ancap definition of voluntary but admit that it isn't all there is to ethics, and sometimes it's more ethical to use involuntary means.
Ancaps and Ancoms are always fighting about who's the "real anarchists". Both insist the other is inherently authoritarian and effectively statist. It's really sad to see. What I've noticed from debating with them is the way they define statism:
Because Ancaps think aggression is always wrong and that anything non-aggressive is okay, they actually define statism to be aggression. I don't know how many of them realize it, but they do. You'll hear them say things "if there's anything, even one case, where you want to initiate force against an innocent party, you are a statist, because by definition, you're calling for a state to be formed, because the state is the means by which you get the perceived legitimacy to initiate force". That statement isn't even internally inconsistent. He says "by definition" it makes you a statist, but then explains that the reason it makes you a statist is that the state is the necessary means for your ends; in other words: it's not "by definition".
Meanwhile, Ancoms seemingly define statism to be "hierarchy".
I define statism to be the idea that some group of people can legitimately change the law. So I consider both of them valid anarchists.
The inconsistency with property mechanics¶
Ancaps say intellectual property is invalid because ideas are not scarce and so can't be owned. But here's the thing: neither is land use. While land itself is physically scarce, the relevant corollary of scarcity isn't present because someone can generally "trespass" on your land without depriving you of it. If you really believe that it can't violate property rights to benefit from someone's labor without their consent because it doesn't deprive them of it, doesn't that collapse absentee ownership altogether? As long as I can use it without depriving you of it, it's effectively non-scarce, so why can't I trespass, or (insert euphoric Marxist) use your factory equipment without your consent?
I've yet to get a satisfactory answer to this from an Ancap.
I have another disagreement with them on property rights, namely sharing nature, but that's not an inconsistency on their part.
One of the core appeals of NAP purism is its simplicity. It promises to answer basically all questions about ethics with a single, sweeping answer.
In one reddit argument, a proponent raised the point that "The reason morals are necessary is to resolve conflicts". For a moment there, I thought that was insightful. That day I first saw the lure of argumentation ethics. It makes sense. It's elegant. It would be so satisfying to believe that.
But on closer inspection, that destroys the whole point. As soon as you say the words "the reason morals are necessary ...", you imply that morals are something we make up to achieve some amoral goal, which destroys the whole concept of morals. If morals themselves are a means to an end, then there are no morals.
The danger of logic¶
Ancaps are a sparkling example of what might be a way deeper insight I'm starting to have: logic is dangerous. A misguided loyalty to "logic" can lead you to some very dark places ideologically.
Ancaps have their "logic" showing that aggression is never okay period, and they'll follow this anywhere. Since the logic is so clear and vindictive to them, it starts to replace their conscience as a moral compass. And the bigger the disparity gets, the more I suspect they decide that their "conscience" is just biased emotions and not even a reliabale moral compass. Almost no Ancap makes any reference to conscience anywhere. They don't believe in it anymore. To them, adherence to self-ownership has become the definition of good.
So naturally they lose any sympathy they might've had for "what if I have to use aggression to survive" arguments. With no caveats, homesteading and property ethics gain a shocking aesthetic resemblance to might-makes-right: you're entitled to whatever you can acquire, basically, and nothing else, with only the one caveat that you can't use initiatory force.
Nullus Maximus is the best example of what this can do to someone. He regularly talks about how "every man is entitled to whatever he can capture and hold, nothing more and nothing less", and in this comment replying to an Ancom, he literally says "If people are too incompetent to homestead anything and die as a result, then good riddance. Natural selection eliminates the unfit.". He sees the aesthetic resemblance to might-makes-right. And he likes it. That's the really horrifying thing. When you let "logic" distort your mind for long enough, you can come to positively like what it does to you.
Another terrible consequence you can see on them is how this absolutist loyalty to self-ownership drives them away from being able to make any moral judgements of peaceful actions. The better Ancaps realize that it's legitimate for them to think an action is bad even if it's peaceful (and thus 'ethical'), but others seem to really want to hide from that concept.
So what the hell's with the "alt-right"?¶
TLDR: it's mostly the twin powers of reactance and groupthink, and frustration with other Ancaps having a myopia in their judgement of revolution.
I hate talking about the "alt-right" as it legitimizes the term that's so often weaponized as a smear against libertarians, but I can't deny any longer that there's something real it refers to, and that many Ancaps become it. When I talk about the alt-right I'm talking about a loose faction defined by:
Legitimate bigotry of the sort liberals are always crying wolf about: misogyny and white supremacism. Usually alt-righters will talk about how minorities are more violent and less intelligent (statistics on IQ are a favorite) and draw completely insane conclusions about how this somehow isn't explained by cultural and economic factors and indicates some sort of inherent inferiority. (The comments on that Stonetoss comic are saying that blacks have smaller brains than whites.)
A deeply concerning loss of ideological compassion: alt-righters are drenched in the enforcement fallacy, blind to moral conflict, and they love the might-makes-right imagery of homesteading ethics (and don't think or care about the possibility that someone could fail to homestead anything due to being unlucky instead of "incompetent"). Alt-righters feel little sympathy for the victims of state violence even where they recognize the injustice.
I'd say alt-right sympathies are partly an infection Ancaps contract from culture battling liberals. When you mostly deal with people who want to use the state to enforce their ideas of social justice and equality, and you know the state is evil, it's easy to start to feel that social justice and equality are the problem too, that they're somehow inherently linked with statism. When you hate someone so much, you want to disagree with them on everything you can. They can't just be wrong about enforcement. They have to be wrong about their goals too. They have to be wrong about everything. No one likes the feeling of agreeing with someone they hate.
The other factor of causation I've noticed is feeling alone in the realization that defensive violence against state agents is a requirement to ultimately end the state. Most Anarchists aren't on board with that - they try desperately, and succeed, to convince themselves that agorism will somehow eventually just make the state go away. In fact, some "libertarian" organizations even ban you for advocating self-defense. This one I feel really bad this because it's totally the goodguys' fault. Most alt-right transformees I've seen are people who realized that "violence" has to be the last phase of any attempt to end the state, and the rest of the libertarian community wrongly rejected them. Cast out from what seemed like the smallest circle with the sharpest ideas about liberty for having too sharp ideas about liberty, it's not too surprising that they turn to more violent ideas.
And of course once an Ancap starts to develop alt-right sympathies, they see those farther fallen from grace in a more positive light and let their guard down around them. Those who fall an inch are dragged down much farther by those already more steeped in it.
Stonetoss is an example of an alt-right transformee. His scariest comic is this one seemingly arguing that libertarians have to use the state to crush leftists out of self-defense. I can genuinely see how a former libertarian would get to that now.
Whenever an Ancap mentions Antifa, rest assured they'll portray them as a domestic terrorist organization with no redeeming traits and seem to have little basis for thinking so. This happens even without any alt-right transformation (I've seen Filthy Heretic talk about them), but it gets more intense; Nullus Maximus published an article basically giving the state advice on crushing Antifa. Note "13-15" in that article.
It's so tragic. That guy taught me so much about the virtues of markets. I admired him so much when I first found his site as a Chaos Anarchist. I don't know how much of his fascistic tendencies were out there back then that I didn't come across. But I think I witnessed his fall from libertarianism. I followed him on Twitter for a while. It's gotten to a point where the guy is just infatuated with the imagery of monarchy (verbatim tweet: "A democratic state is an assault on private property. A monarchic state is private property.") and retweets nazis like Nick Fuentes. I'll say it without reservation now: Nullus Maximus is a fascist and a threat to libertarianism.