F.2 What do "anarcho"-capitalists mean by freedom?

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F.2 What do "anarcho"-capitalists mean by freedom?

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 continuing, 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 right-"libertarian" defines freedom.

In right-"libertarian" and "anarcho"-capitalist ideology, 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. Yet this is the logical implication of their view, which raises a serious doubt as to whether "anarcho"-capitalists are actually interested in freedom at all.

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 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 (see section B.4.2). 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 anarchist 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 was on when he argued that a person's "labour service is alienable, but his will is not" and that he "cannot alienate his will, more particularly his control over his own mind and body." 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." [The Ethics of Liberty, p. 40, p. 135 and pp. 134-5] Yet "labour services" are unlike the private possessions Rothbard lists as being alienable. As we argued in section B.1 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 denied this indicates a total lack of common-sense. Perhaps Rothbard would have argued that as the worker can quit at any time she does not really alienate their will (this seems to be his case against slave contracts -- see section F.2.2). 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. 10]

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). "To treat others and oneself as property," argues L. Susan Brown, "objectifies the human individual, denies the unity of subject and object and is a negation of individual will . . . [and] destroys the very freedom one sought in the first place. The liberal belief in property, both real and in the person, leads not to freedom but to relationships of domination and subordination." [Op. Cit., p. 3] 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. That people "consent" to this hierarchy misses the point. As Alexander Berkman put it:

"The law says your employer does not steal 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 always comes to the same: you must work for him. You can't help yourself. You are compelled." [What is Anarchism?, p. 11]

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 section C.9). 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 [right-"libertarian"] 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] Eliminating taxation does not end oppression, in other words. As Tolstoy put it:

"in Russia serfdom was only abolished when all the land had been appropriated. When land was granted to the peasants, it was burdened with payments which took the place of the land slavery. In Europe, taxes that kept the people in bondage began to be abolished only when the people had lost their land, were unaccustomed to agricultural work, and . . . quite dependent on the capitalists . . . [They] abolish the taxes that fall on the workers . . . only because the majority of the people are already in the hands of the capitalists. One form of slavery is not abolished until another has already replaced it." [The Slavery of Our Times, p. 32]

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 characteristics of this condition are captured in the term wage slave." [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. For anarchists 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 has "turned a subversive proposition [that we are born free and equal] into a defence of civil subjection." Little wonder, then, that contract "creates a relation of subordination" and not of freedom [Carole Pateman, Op. Cit., p. 39 and p. 59] Little wonder, then, that Colin Ward argued that, as an anarchist, he is "by definition, a socialist" and that "[w]orkers' control of industrial production" is "the only approach compatible with anarchism." [Talking Anarchy, p. 25 and p. 26]

Ultimately, 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] That this is the case with "anarcho"-capitalism can be seen from Rothbard's wholehearted support for wage labour, landlordism 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. This, undoubtedly, flows from the right-liberal and conservative roots of his ideology. Individualist anarchist Shawn Wilbar once defined Wikipedia as "the most successful modern experiment in promoting obedience to authority as freedom." However, Wikipedia pales into insignificance compared to the success of liberalism (in its many forms) in doing precisely that. Whether politically or economically, liberalism has always rushed to justify and rationalise the individual subjecting themselves to some form of hierarchy. That "anarcho"-capitalism does this under the name "anarchism" is deeply insulting to anarchists.

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 pointed 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.2, 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."

Thus it is debatable that a right-"libertarian" or "anarcho" capitalist society would have less unfreedom or authoritarianism in it than "actually existing" capitalism. In contrast to anarchism, "anarcho"-capitalism, with its narrow definitions, restricts freedom to only a few areas of social life and ignores domination and authority beyond those aspects. As Peter Marshall points out, their "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.

In short, as French anarchist Elisee Reclus put it there is "an abyss between two kinds of society," one of which is "constituted freely by men of good will, based on a consideration of their common interests" and another which "accepts the existence of either temporary or permanent masters to whom [its members] owe obedience." [quoted by Clark and Martin, Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, p. 62] In other words, when choosing between anarchism and capitalism, "anarcho"-capitalists pick the latter and call it the former.

F.2.1 How does private property affect freedom?

The right-"libertarian" either does not acknowledge or dismisses as irrelevant the fact 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 and so 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 and 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 asserted 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 was 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 -- 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 the worse form of oppression and tyranny.

Somewhat ironically, right-wing liberal and "free market" economist Milton Friedman contrasted "central planning involving the use of coercion -- the technique of the army or the modern totalitarian state" with "voluntary co-operation between individuals -- the technique of the marketplace" as two distinct ways of co-ordinating the economic activity of large groups ("millions") of people. [Capitalism and Freedom, p. 13] However, this misses the key issue of the internal nature of the company. As right-"libertarians" themselves note, the internal structure of a capitalist company is hierarchical. Indeed, the capitalist company is a form of central planning and so shares the same "technique" as the army. As Peter Drucker noted in his history of General Motors, "[t]here is a remarkably close parallel between General Motors' scheme of organisation and those of the two institutions most renowned for administrative efficiency: that of the Catholic Church and that of the modern army." [quoted by David Engler, Apostles of Greed, p. 66] Thus capitalism is marked by a series of totalitarian organisations. Dictatorship does not change much -- nor does it become less fascistic -- when discussing economic structures rather than political ones. To state the obvious, "the employment contract (like the marriage contract) is not an exchange; both contracts create social relations that endure over time - social relations of subordination." [Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract, p. 148]

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). Representing employment relations as voluntary agreement simply mystifies the existence and exercise of power within the organisation so created.

As we argue further in the section F.3, 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 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 point. 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 (i.e., the state), 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 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 institutions are the state and capitalist social relationships (and the latter relies on the former). It should also be noted that, unlike gravity, the power of the landlord and boss depends on the use of force -- gravity does not need policemen to make things fall!

The right "libertarian," then, far from being a defender of freedom, is in fact a keen defender of certain forms of authority. As Kropotkin argued against a forerunner of right-"libertarianism":

"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.

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! Ironically, it can also allow a state to appear "libertarian" as that, too, can be considered voluntary arrangement as long as it allows its subjects to emigrate freely. So equating freedom with (capitalist) property rights does not protect freedom, in fact it actively denies it. This lack of freedom is only inevitable as long as 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.

F.2.2 Do "libertarian"-capitalists support slavery?

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.

This can be seen from "anarcho"-capitalist Walter Block, who, like Nozick, supports voluntary slavery. As he puts it, "if I own something, I can sell it (and should be allowed by law to do so). If I can't sell, then, and to that extent, I really don't own it." Thus agreeing to sell yourself for a lifetime "is a bona fide contract" which, if "abrogated, theft occurs." He critiques those other right-wing "libertarians" (like Murray Rothbard) who oppose voluntary slavery as being inconsistent to their principles. Block, in his words, seeks to make "a tiny adjustment" which "strengthens libertarianism by making it more internally consistent." He argues that his position shows "that contract, predicated on private property [can] reach to the furthest realms of human interaction, even to voluntary slave contracts." ["Towards a Libertarian Theory of Inalienability: A Critique of Rothbard, Barnett, Smith, Kinsella, Gordon, and Epstein," pp. 39-85, Journal of Libertarian Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, p. 44, p. 48, p. 82 and p. 46]

So 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.

This 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 and Block just takes it to its logical conclusion. This is because his position is not new but, as with so many other right-"libertarian" ones, 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, 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," a war waged against aggressors. [Section 85] 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 many right-"libertarians" calling a spade a spade. They incorrectly assume 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 their lifetime's labour 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, that is sell their labour for a lifetime rather than piecemeal.

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.

Some right-"libertarians" are obviously uneasy with the logical conclusion of their definition of freedom. Murray Rothbard, for example, stressed the "unenforceability, in libertarian theory, of voluntary slave contracts." Of course, other "libertarian" theorists claim the exact opposite, so "libertarian theory" makes no such claim, but never mind! Essentially, his objection 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." However, as we noted in section F.2, Rothbard emphasis on quitting fails to recognise the 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 -- they consider the slave contract as an extended wage contract. Moreover, a modern slave contract would likely take the form of a "performance bond," on which Rothbard laments about its "unfortunate suppression" by the state. In such a system, the slave could agree to perform X years labour or pay their master substantial damages if they fail to do so. It is the threat of damages that enforces the contract and such a "contract" Rothbard does agree is enforceable. Another means of creating slave contracts would be "conditional exchange" which Rothbard also supports. As for debt bondage, that too, seems acceptable. He surreally notes that paying damages and debts in such contracts is fine as "money, of course, is alienable" and so forgets that it needs to be earned by labour which, he asserts, is not alienable! [The Ethics of Liberty, pp. 134-135, p. 40, pp. 136-9, p. 141 and p. 138]

It should be noted that the slavery contract cannot be null and void because it is unenforceable, as Rothbard suggests. This is because the doctrine of specific performance applies to all contracts, not just to labour contracts. This is because all contracts specify some future performance. In the case of the lifetime labour contract, then it can be broken as long as the slave pays any appropriate damages. As Rothbard puts it elsewhere, "if A has agreed to work for life for B in exchange for 10,000 grams of gold, he will have to return the proportionate amount of property if he terminates the arrangement and ceases to work." [Man, Economy, and State, vol. I , p. 441] This is understandable, as the law generally allows material damages for breached contracts, as does Rothbard in his support for the "performance bond" and "conditional exchange." Needless to say, having to pay such damages (either as a lump sum or over a period of time) could turn the worker into the most common type of modern slave, the debt-slave.

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 who 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 and children or their labour to capitalists (as 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). 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 and so they argue that such contracts would be very hard to enforce. 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 "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.

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 a defining characteristic 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] This is Rothbard's position.

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 abridgement 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 non-democratic 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 why the early workers' movement called capitalism "wage slavery" and why anarchists still do. It exposes the unfree nature of capitalism and the poverty of its vision of freedom. 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 (and let us not forget that Nozick also had no problem with autocracy -- see section B.4). 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).

So the real contrast between genuine libertarians and right-"libertarians" 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 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 proposed by some people under the name of liberty. 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:

"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 support for 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 theoretical support for permanent and temporary voluntary slavery and autocracy indicates a deeper authoritarianism which negates their claims to be libertarians.

Comments

"freedom" and the body

I thought this was a very interesting and cogent analysis. I haven't read the whole thing thoroughly, so it's possible you addressed this already, but I wanted to add a note of support to your expose of the contradictions in the Nozickian/Rothbardian analysis of freedom. I've always thought the "will" concept was bizarre, with little substantive support other than the fact that human beings are theoretically able to say no to anything - but not practically able to say no to everything. Rothbard's explanation of it is really pretty awful, and Nozick's is worse for being deliberately ambiguous.

The connection between the will and its objects is completely arbitrary (no pun intended) - they take the labor theory at face value without looking into the difficulties of judging who did what in a laborious effort (instances of guys alone in the woods growing their own food are few and very far between, and that's beside the fact that determining whether the tools they bought were purchased justly according to the propertarian's measure). "Labor" can't be a connection between the will and its property for the simple reason that there's no way to determine who did what in any group labor above and beyond the most menial tasks (even if we accept the specious and historically local distinction between "inner" wills and "external" objects). Sorting who did what on the level of the enormously complex civilization we have is impossible, so there's no means of legitimately instituting a propertarian society in the first place. They have to fall back on historically contingent standards that are publicly determined in order to do this, which means that the "will" of the benefitted is most likely in control of deciding who was allocated what in the process of working, and what outcomes are tagged to those efforts such that they can be said to be the fruits of labor. This is, of course, philosophically inept - if you can't explain a priori how the will attaches to its objects then you don't have a transsubjective measure of whether or not a property was legitimately acquired, and the decision most often comes down to force.

The ambiguity also shows in the varying concepts of violence - e.g. letting someone starve when it could be prevented is not a form of violence but locking someone in a cell is. If "violence" is defined by infractions of the body, this means it could be a huge multitude of things, and certainly not limited to holding someone "at gunpoint" (which, as you pointed out in section F1 is not something any state actually does, insofar as it allows dissenters to leave, which is formally indistinct from the property owner's allowing others to leave his property). The body can be infracted by pollution, poison, etc. Since Nozick loves crazy and improbably hypotheticals, here are two.

First pair, which shows that the difference between "negative" and "positive" liberty is meaningless. In one situation, there is no state - somehow the propertarians got their way. In this situation, someone owns a large estate and one night someone else seals him in his house, barricading him in and welding the doors shut. This person leaves, and a couple of days later, another person who had nothing to do with the crime comes along. The person in the house asks to be let out, and the person who just came along says "I'll let you out if and only if you cede all of your estate to me." He hasn't locked the person in, so he didn't do anything to make the person's difficulties occur, but he has no obligation to solve the problem - he has the torch that's going to free the guy inside the house, but there's no one "forcing" him to use it, even if the guy inside might die. How is this significantly different than this other situation? A man has no money and no job, but he has a car with two gallons of gas. He lives in New Mexico, so the next nearest town is beyond the range he can drive and he certainly can't walk because it's the desert. Wal-mart is the only employer in the area, but they won't pay him enough to live. They say "we're not obligated to give you a job, or even the gas to get to another place." How is that significantly different than the first case? Unless you beg the question of the relationship between capacity and autonomy, or you take the physical but functionally indistinct difference between walls and deserts as meaningfully different, they're not different. So how the hell do the propertarians make that distinction? On the basis that one supports their value system and another doesn't. It's completely arbitrary.

Second. Trace amounts of cyanide are found in bitter almonds, but if you eat one or two you'll be fine. That means that the human body is capable of digesting cyanide on some level. The difference among peoples' respective abilities to digest it are different, and therefore we can't say with any precision how much cyanide human beings can ingest as such. If I and my friends like putting trace amounts of cyanide in peoples' glasses of water, so be it. According to Nozick we're not even required to inform people that we're doing it. If one of them dies, no single one of us is responsible, nor is the whole group responsible, since, by the standards according to which propertarians measure violence, no one person committed an act of violence. I'm suggesting here that the concept of "violence" is based solely on the individual propertarian's ex cathedra definitions - the same principle also applies to pollution (Nozick's section on pollution is woefully inadequate given our current technological capacities). This means that Nozick is arbitrary in his decisions about what features of "the body" are signs of violence - "at gunpoint" is not a priori different than "at starvation point," or "at pollution point," so the concept has no legitimate measure, and therefore the body is a weak sign of whether or not the will is violated. This isn't even to mention how much we know about human neurology - we have enormous amounts of information that suggests that the mind can be swayed by psychological interventions. Where is the will in all of this?

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