Dale Carrico (excerpts):
“Libertarianism in this idiosyncratic, “anarcho-capitalist” denotation tends to have three primary characteristics:
First, these curious market-fundamentalist libertarians take an appealing commonsense Millian (or, I suppose, even more broadly, “Golden-Rulian”) commitment to a general Non-Initiation of Force as if it represented a kind of axiom, and then treat that axiom as the foundation from which one might then exhaustively characterize a just, stable, and prosperous social order.
Because the non-initiation principle delineates an essentially negative concept of liberty, I routinely describe these figures as “negative libertarians.” One could usefully distinguish, for example, purely negative libertarians from civil libertarians for whom a “positive” conception of liberty is necessary to affirm what is valuable in a human rights culture, or in the support of civic institutions like a separation of church and state, an independent press, vibrant and widely accessible education and so on. (My use of the terms “negative” and “positive” here is derived from the canonical formulation by Isaiah Berlin.)
Second, negative libertarians will thereupon tend to reduce all conceivable political and public relations to contractual relations (as against acts of force or fraud which they will identify as criminal and so anti-political, or acts of love, familial obligation, or generosity which they will tend to privatize and domesticate as intimate or charitable and “hence” pre-political, or simply not-political).
Third, negative libertarians will tend to identify the outcome of whatever they apprehend as a proper market exchange as always both the most optimally efficient and optimally fair or just, or at any rate the most practical and defensible, outcome on offer. Of course, what actually counts in the world as a “market” outcome is in fact profoundly contingent historically and territorially, and depends on a context of agreements, protocols, implicit and explicit norms, and so on. But technophiliac market libertarians very widely seem to conceive of market orders as spontaneous and universal upwellings out of what is deeply and immutably calculating and acquisitive in human nature as they conceive of it, or as if emerging from the sloppily sloshing tidal forces of supply and demand treated as deeply and immutably analogous to physical principles like the Laws of Thermodynamics.
Because of their stubbornly provincial misreading of contingent generalizations from the market conditions that prevail in their own neighborhoods as if they delineated eternal principles, I will sometimes describe these negative libertarians likewise as “market naturalists.” It is among the many ironies of the apparently irresistible allure of market naturalism among negative libertarian technophiles, that many of these ideologues otherwise cultivate a profound suspicion of deployments of the idea of “nature” to justify customs, institutions, or norms — especially whenever the deployment of such customary putatively “natural” intuitions would inhibit an embrace of or access to emerging technologies.
Now, against the purported spontaneity and inevitability of “market” relations, so-called, market libertarians typically array what they take to be the countervailing and always-only coercive machineries of national states. All governance, and all the conduct of government representatives, is reduced to its “essence” as an expression of Weberian state coercion and so the market libertarians tend to discern in governing nothing but monotonously reiterated acts of violence and repression. From there, they then declare, practically as a matter of fiat, that “market outcomes” (and typically market behavior will be treated as synechdochic with corporate conduct) are always-only non-coercive.
Never mind that extraordinarily many real-world corporations, of course, routinely use physical threats and engage in exploitation and deliver harm in the effort to improve their bottom lines. And never mind that legitimate governments, of course, whatever their flaws, routinely enagage in social administration that is the farthest imaginable thing from physical threat. Once one puts the negative libertarian blinders on every nice social worker and dedicated public servant suddenly becomes a jack-booted thug and every corporate titan, even if he is little better than a mafia don, suddenly becomes a Randian Archetype of boundless dynamism and benevolent creative energy.
Minarchists and neo-classical liberals will for the most part affirm all three of these three planks as their own worldview, but for whatever reasons, will compromise their applications in certain key areas, usually on utilitarian or strategic political grounds. Typically these compromises are experienced as exceptions that prove the rule rather than deep challenges to the overall correctness of the negative libertarian viewpoint.
While the coterie of technology enthusiasts who espouse market fundamentalism in an undiluted form remains in fact a vanishingly small one (though unbelievably noisy for its scale), it is key to recognize the extent to which the more “mainstream” neo-liberal and neo-conservative practical and institutional universe, with its incessant drumbeat for deregulation without end, its lust for “market discipline” for the poor and military-industrial welfare entitlements for the rich remains importantly (and unfortunately) continuous in its assumptions, in its sense of the problems at hand, and in many of its aims with an extreme “market fundamentalist” negative libertarian world-view this mainstream would presumably and properly explicitly disdain in practice.
Of course, quite a few people will affirm the appeal of a non-aggression pact in some form or other, but I think few would go on to affirm its adequacy as a self-evident axiom on the basis of which one might erect an adequate social order. “Non-initiation of force” is a purely negative conception that will rely for its intelligibility and force on all sorts of implicit (some of them likely disavowed) positive conceptions of what constitutes initiation in the first place, what counts as force, what is and isn’t violation, and a whole host of assumptions about what all of this is good for. Hence, for many people, defenses of individual autonomy and deep suspicions of authoritarian concentrations of power will be complemented by equally foundational defenses of a need for fairness, say.
Most people are likewise sensitive to the ways in which many so-called “market-exchange” outcomes in particular will often seem profoundly improper in fact, that they can occur under conditions of duress that the beneficiaries of an exchange can readily rationalize away while the losers have relatively little room to protest the outcome. And in any case, few would claim it is even possible to characterize actual contract-making and contract-adhering behavior exclusively in contractual terms, let alone adequately capture all of the complex, unpredictable, often unconscious political relations in which they are enmeshed through the figure of explicit contractual agreement.
If it really is true that the debate between markets and central planning was concluded in the twentieth century, it seems to me that something uninspiring like “regulated markets” were the verdict of that debate. And since there has never been, nor could there ever be a “pure” market against which one properly arrays an alien and antithetical force of regulation, it seems the time has come to describe the principle of market regulation itself as the norm rather than always as a compromise of a market ideal that does not exist and hence cannot function as a norm.
The modern “liberal” state, whatever its deficiencies and whatever occasional pretensions to the contrary are voiced by those it most empowers, is simply not a straightforward sovereign state in that its powers are not exercised unilaterally. Regulation is always already multilateral in the modern state, contested through a rough-and-tumble separation of powers at the state level and further diffused through the competing demands of diverse civic, cultural, media, business, and consumer interests. To a significant extent broadly liberal, imperfectly democratic hegemony seems to recuperate and so tolerate resistances. Given these complexities, the market libertarians seem to me to be enraptured by models of power, authority, consent, autonomy, and exchange that were already hopelessly simplistic by the nineteenth century, let alone the twenty-first. No doubt this accounts for an important measure of their allure.
We can all easily agree that coercion is wrong. We can all agree that many of the sources of coercion and exploitation inhere in human nature, such as it is, and probably we can agree that conspicuous asymmetries will invite exploitation and abuse. The liberal state seeks to diffuse the ineradicable violence and risk of coercive governance through competing state apparatuses and the multilateral institutions of civic society. Negative libertarians simply define coercion out of existence by declaring “market” outcomes as non-coercive by fiat. Liberals recognize the abuses of our system as is, but seek to ameliorate coercion through reform, while market naturalists seem stubbornly wedded to their word-magic and pie-charts.
To what can we attribute the ongoing allure of the sadly sociopathic libertarian imaginary, especially to American technophiles? Perhaps it is a matter of technical-minded people who prefer the clarity of reproducible results to the ongoing and unpredictable reconciliation of contending ends among the multiple stakeholders to social problems. Perhaps it is a matter of the elitism of the highly educated or the early adopters, or the more straightforward elitism of people who believe that they are innately superior and hence will always be among the winners in any outcome where there are winners and losers. Perhaps it is simply the commonplace disavowal by the privileged of the extent to which individual accomplishment inevitably depends on the maintenance of social norms, enforced laws and material infrastructure beyond itself.
Lately, I have begun to suspect that at the temperamental core of the strange enthusiasm of many technophiles for so-called “anarcho-capitalist” dreams of re-inventing the social order, is not finally so much a craving for liberty but for a fantasy, quite to the contrary, of total exhaustive control.
This helps account for the fact that negative libertarian technophiles seem less interested in discussing the proximate problems of nanoscale manufacturing and the finite and problematic benefits they will likely confer, but prefer to barrel ahead to paeans to the “total control over matter.”
They salivate over the title of the book From Chance to Choice (in fact, a fine and nuanced bioethical accounting of benefits and quandaries of genetic medicine), as if biotechnology is about to eliminate chance from our lives and substitute the full determination of morphology — when it is much more likely that genetic interventions will expand the chances we take along with the choices we make.
Behind all their talk of efficiency and non-violence there lurks this weird micromanagerial fantasy of sitting down and actually contracting explicitly the terms of every public interaction in the hopes of controlling it, getting it right, dictating the details. As if the public life of freedom can be compassed in a prenuptual agreement, as if communication would proceed more ideally were we first to re-invent language ab initio (ask these liber-techians how they feel about Esperanto or Loglan and you will see that this analogy, often enough, is not idle).
But with true freedom one has to accept an ineradicable vulnerability and a real measure of uncertainty. We live in societies with peers, boys. Give up the dreams of total invulnerability, total control, total specification. Take a chance, live a little. Fairness is actually possible. Justice is in our reach. Radical technological development regulated to ensure that costs, risks, and benefits are all fairly shared can emancipate the world. Liberty is so much less than freedom.”